The Wrong Way to Start a Reading Challenge

With the new year stretching out before us, anything seems possible. Because of that, I’m challenging myself to read 50 books this year.Last year was my first attempt at counting the number of books and I might have lost count, but it came to less than 50. It’s possible that I’ve never read anything close to that in a year. It wouldn’t be much of a challenge though if I tried for an easy number like 10 or 20, so I decided to go for 50.

Then I started reading The Brothers Karamazov. I’ve enjoyed it so far, but couldn’t help nodding off two or three times while reading it last weekend. I could blame the dog. She gets blamed for most things anyway and she kept me warm while making a quick nap look like a great idea at the time.

hibernating

Still, I managed to get through 70 or so pages. While feeling pretty good about that, I checked to see the total number of pages in the book: 770. That means I’ve only got 700 pages to go before finishing my first book of a 50-book challenge. I’m feeling challenged already.

How many books can you read in a year? Will you be doing a reading challenge? Do you know of any easy reads that should be added to my list?

One Hundred Fifty Years Later, Charles Dickens Is Making Me Laugh

Dickens’ Dream photo courtesy of Wikipedia

It amazes me that anyone can pick up a book and read the words and thoughts of someone who lived hundreds of years ago.

Classic literature isn’t always treated with the reverence it deserves. Some may describe it as boring or outdated. Yet it can teach us so much, not only about history, but about ourselves.

I didn’t think A Tale of Two Cities would make me laugh as much as it has so far. But it does make me laugh because much of what Dickens describes is still relevant today. He shows that people can be funny, whether they know it or not (and whether they want to admit it or not). To show you what I mean, here are a few passages:

“Except on the crown, which was raggedly bald, he had stiff, black hair, standing jaggedly all over it, and growing downhill almost to his broad, blunt nose. It was so like Smith’s work, so much more like the top of a strongly spiked wall than a head of hair, that the best of players at leap-frog might have declined him, as the most dangerous man in the world to go over.”

“The mildewy inside of the coach, with its damp and dirty straw, its disagreeable smell, and its obscurity, was rather like a larger dog kennel. Mr. Lorry, the passenger, shaking himself out of it in chains of straw, a tangle of shaggy wrapper, flapping hat, and muddy legs, was rather like a larger sort of dog.”

“Cramped in all kinds of dun cupboards and hutches at Tellson’s, the oldest of men carried on the business gravely. When they took a young man into Tellson’s London house, they hid him somewhere till he was old. They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson flavour and blue-mould upon him. Then only was he permitted to be seen, spectacularly poring over large books…”

Dickens is famous for his characters. For any writers who might be struggling with character description, I’d recommend reading one of his books. Not only is he entertaining, but he tackles the “show, don’t tell” rule in a very fun way.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth. Luckily, we can still laugh with and learn from people who lived hundreds of years ago.

What are some of your favorite classics? Which authors make you laugh?

A Few Favorite Books and Why I Love Them

Melk Benedictine Abbey Library

Image via Wikipedia

“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks / And all the sweet serenity of books.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.”  
– Jorge Luis Borges

Libraries are filled with endless possibilities. Whenever I walk into one, I wish I could read every book. Yet no matter how many books I manage to read, my list of all-time favorites has stayed pretty much the same for a while now. Here’s the list so far:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
The Stand by Stephen King
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Contact by Carl Sagan
Ireland: A Novel by Frank Delaney
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
The Given Day: A Novel by Dennis Lehane
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Even though they’re fiction, I’ve learned something from all of these books. Others have been entertaining to read but it’s always a little disappointing to me if I feel like I haven’t learned anything by the end of a book, whether it’s something about a certain time period or the universe or people or even myself.

I love books that pay attention to language and the sound of language. One of the pleasures of reading is to stumble on a perfect sentence or paragraph that illuminates everything. The Grapes of Wrath and All the King’s Men are full of phrases like that. They’re masterpieces and I’m in awe of the authors every time I read those books. Cannery Row is much shorter but it’s still a masterpiece. I love the descriptions of people, from the very first paragraph on.

Maybe I’m a little obsessed with the apocalypse, but Earth Abides is a book that helped me learn more about myself. Different traditions or customs slip away in the post-apocalyptic world, and I was surprised at how upset I’d get whenever the characters let that happen. Then I’d catch myself and wonder why it was so upsetting. It made me realize how ingrained a culture can become. The Stand is also about the apocalypse but its greatness is more in the way the characters are described.

I love Contact for everything it says about the universe and people. Ireland: A Novel weaves history and myths into an already interesting story and the storyteller character is perfect. Pastwatch shows the effects history has on people while imagining a different world if only some events could be revisited and corrected. The Given Day: A Novel describes the time period after World War I so well that I felt like I lived through it with the characters. The descriptions of the Great Molasses Flood alone are worth the read.

People seem to either love or hate A Confederacy of Dunces. I thought it was one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Everyone in this book is a true character and I love how they all affect each other in different ways.

What are some of your favorites and what kinds of things do you look for in a favorite book?