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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Reading for a Challenge


pile of books with checkmark in front of them
We're closing in on two weeks left in 2015. And everyone knows what that means, right?

It means it's make or break time for your Goodreads Reading Challenge (or other reading challenge of choice)! Now, knowing both that my response to competitive activities is generally to hide under the covers and opt out, and that opting not to read anymore would be an extremely poor life choice for a librarian, I've never publicly posted a challenge goal in my 3+ years as an avid user of the Goodreads site. But you can bet your bestseller list that:

  • I keep track of my stats; 
  • I DO have a goal in my head (last year it was so many pages read, this year it was a certain number of books); and 
  • I grow more keenly aware of how likely I am to reach that goal as the year progresses.


books from NoveList Plus
NoveList recommendations to go with Smile
Whether your own reading goal is private or public, MCPL can help you generate an emergency list of books that just might get you to the finish line by January 1.

One great resource for finding potential reads that you can access from anywhere is NoveList Plus. I often use it to help customers find read-alike lists for their favorite authors and books. You'll also see suggestions and reviews from NoveList Plus when you look at a title in our online catalog. It offers great options to limit your search by genre, audience, author's nationality, length—or a combination of the above!

The hectic pace of November and December means they're often not big reading months for me. So in September I started trying in earnest to get to the 50-book (now you know my secret!) goal I had set for 2015. I selected my books using a combination of resources: NoveList Plus, other book lists I found online, titles from my to-be-read list, and recommendations from customers. Some turned out to be not my cup of tea, but others were fantastic—and I might not have picked them up if I weren't trying to read the maximum number of books in the minimum amount of time.

wonder cover
Since I help all age groups daily, I considered all types of books fair game when trying to reach my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal. While I didn't count picture books towards my total, some of the best books I read were fiction books for older children. Wonder by R.J. Palacio has won a host of awards since its publication in 2012, and my five hanky, review-inspiring reading of it left me with no doubt about why.

Similarly, the sometimes-controversial 2007 Newbery medalist The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron is a winning and beautifully illustrated story, with tender wisdom about life, love, and family. Speaking of illustration, Raina Telgemeier's graphic novel Smile, which is so often requested by bright-eyed, excited young readers in our libraries, is a gem that should convince any skeptical parent of the merits of the graphic novel format.

There is great literature for all ages being produced by graphic novelists, and Roz Chast's 2014 National Book Award Finalist Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a good place to start for any adult who still has their doubts. Two other legendary adult graphic novels, Maus and Persepolis, still loom large on my to-be-read list, but, alas, I will not get to them this year.

man seated at a desk in a room with bookshelves on the wall
Tolstoy in his study
In more traditional adult reading, it doesn't get much more satisfying for those of us who have been defeated so far by Tolstoy's epics War and Peace and Anna Karenina, than to polish off the exceedingly slender Death of Ivan Ilyich. Not only did it count as one more legitimate whole book towards my challenge goal, it gave this reader an unforgettable taste of why the Russian master is a literary giant. Maybe I'll finally conquer one of his longer works in 2016.

Reading the iconic Death of a Salesman by eminent American dramatist Arthur Miller, on the other hand, was one of the more depressing experiences I had this year. The power of Miller's writing was not lost on me though, and I plan to watch one of the several well-regarded performances.

I savored every word of modern American writer Marilynne Robinson's short-ish Housekeeping (Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award  winner). Robinson's prose dazzled me when I read her slightly longer Gilead a few years back, and the deliriously beautiful language of Housekeeping only reminded me why she is such a master of her craft. Similarly, although slightly beyond the 300-page limit that I initially chose for what I thought of as my Great Short Reads project, Maya Angelou's heartbreaking memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, made the reasons for Ms. Angelou's outsized literary stature abundantly clear. I've never been so keenly aware that a non-fiction writer is also a poet than when reading her story, and am eager to dive into her later volumes. Memoir is a favorite genre for me, so I also tackled the more recent, well-reviewed Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget during my autumn reading binge. Although Sara Hepola's tale of her downward alcoholic spiral is a bit weak in its second part, it is still well-written and compelling, and could be a lifesaver for readers who struggle with drinking.

how I live now cover
I finished my fiftieth book, Meg Rosoff's stunningly imagined if disturbing teen novel How I Live Now, on November 30. With two more books currently in progress, I may just reach that most coveted, book-a-week number of 52 by New Year's. Don't let the stats fool you, though. I spent several weeks last winter poring over Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain and only got a little more than halfway through before giving up on the philosophical tome. The two or three books-a-week pace I kept in September and October pushed me over the finish line, and strategic choices definitely helped. In 2016, I aim to get back to The Magic Mountain, as well as John Hersey's short but grueling Hiroshima—one of the first books I put on my short reads list—which I started but didn't finish.

If you need help crafting your own list, whether for a Goodreads Reading Challenge or any other reason, just stop by any MCPL Information Desk or fill out our What Do I Check Out Next online form to have reading suggestions emailed to you. There's nothing we librarians like more than a good reading challenge! (And keep an eye out for MCPL's 2016 Reading Challenge—details coming soon!)


woman's face
Caitlin M.

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