Reading challenge books

I read a lot, so I can check a lot of books off the Reading Challenge 2016 without really trying. I read the books I would read anyway, then go through the list and check off books that fit. A book set in Europe? I’ve read at least a dozen recently.

A murder mystery? I’ve read several this year. A science fiction novel? I don’t read as much science fiction as I did when I was younger, but that’s not because I’ve lost interest, only because the genre pumps out so many books each year that it’s hard to know which ones are worth reading. (When I was growing up I simply read all the science fiction I could find.)

But some books on the Reading Challenge are … more of a challenge. A romance set in the future? I hadn’t known that futuristic romance was a category of novels. But I discovered there were lots of choices, and I selected Naked in Death by J. D. Robb. I don’t care for romance novels in general (I read several one year as a teenager, then decided they were the literary equivalent of cotton candy), but as it was also a murder mystery, it was not a bad read. (Not that I’ve gone looking for any of the sequels to read next.)

A book written by a celebrity? I take very little interest in celebrities, since what they’re known for is generally not the quality of their writing. But I found a couple of books in the biography section of the library, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future  by Michael J. Fox and Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. They both count as celebrities, but if I can count Michael J. Fox as a comedian, then I can check off a book written by a comedian also. (And I found one website that does list Fox as a comedian.)

Fox’s book is one of the shortest I’ve read (but I had already checked off book you can finish in a day), and appears to be addressed to high school graduates, one of those gift books you give young people to provide a bit of wisdom as they head off into the wider world. There’s not a whole lot there, but it’s good as far as it goes, and it’s definitely entertaining – as one would expect from someone like Fox. Plus it’s interesting to learn a bit about the person behind the characters of popular TV shows and movies.

I found Carrie Fisher’s book less entertaining, perhaps because I don’t care for her style of humor. The book was adapted from her one-woman stage show, and several reader reviews on point out that it probably works better as a stage show than a book. I knew next to nothing of Fisher prior to reading the book, other than that she played Princess Leia in Star Wars, and I was curious about what it was like to be part of those blockbuster movies.

Fisher tells very little about Star Wars. Probably she’s tired of being known primarily as the person who played Princess Leia (she begins the one chapter about Star Wars by saying the George Lucas ruined her life). But also the book seems to focus mostly on being part of a dysfunctional family, substance abuse, and mental illness, and while her celebrity from Star Wars may have contributed in some ways to her problems (celebrity rarely seems to do good things for people, however much non-celebrities like the idea of fame), it wasn’t a central part of the story she was trying to tell.

While I found most of the book pretty forgettable, I found myself thinking about what she says in her Author’s Note at the end. She is baffled how there can be so much stigma with regard to mental illness, since living with manic depression takes a lot of courage. “Not unlike a tour of duty in Afghanistan.”

One category on the Reading Challenge that I struggled with was first book you see in a bookstore. I love bookstores, but in my experience the books that are placed most prominently are rarely ones that I want to read. And the very first books are often the clearance books in the entryway. So I tried to walk into the bookstore without actually noticing any titles in the entryway.

It didn’t work. I couldn’t help seeing a copy of For All Time by Jude Deveraux placed front and center as I walked in. Oh no! A picture of a bridal gown on the cover. I did not want to read a romance by a popular romance writer.

But short of making another trip to the city to visit the bookstore again (I love bookstores, but we don’t get there often), reading Deveraux’s book was the only way to meet the Reading Challenge requirements. Fortunately I read good reviews of it online, and as a bonus it turned out to have a time travel element, which I always appreciate. I could have done without the romantic clichés, some plot elements were pretty far-fetched, and I read reviews claiming historical inaccuracy in the time-travel episodes. But for a book I didn’t want to read, it was pretty good.


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