More Reading Challenge books

As we get close to the end of 2016, I am trying to check off more books on my 2016 Reading Challenge. Earlier in the year, I could just pick books that appealed to me, then find a place to check them off the list. Now I have to use Google to find books that fit some categories.

A book about a road trip

I picked up On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, one morning while waiting my turn at the blood donor center. Usually there is no waiting, so I had not brought anything to read, and the small bookshelf there has very little that interests me (mostly romances). On the Road was not exactly what I was looking for but was less unappealing than most of what they had.

I didn’t get very far before it was my turn, but the beginning had been somewhat more interesting than I had thought it would be, so I decided to look for it in the library, so I could finish off one more item on the Reading Challenge. I found an audiobook copy of On the Road and that was the best way to “read” a book that I might find difficult to get through in print (i.e. when there are lots of other things to do with my time, including other books I like better).

One reader review at amazon.com describes the book as “an easy read that propels you from start to finish.” I agree it’s easy to read in terms of vocabulary and style, with no deep thinking required (though personally I prefer deep thinking). But it did not in the least propel me from start to finish. Only the fact that I have all that time to listen in the car during my 42-mile commute, and not a whole lot else to do (I don’t care much for most radio programs and I prefer words to music to keep me alert while driving), kept me listening rather than giving up and finding a more interesting book about a road trip.

Another review wonders why there are so many negative reviews. “ I can’t fathom what it is they were expecting, and why they just couldn’t sit back, smile, and take the ride with the rest of the gang.” Well, I wasn’t expecting much, other than an interesting story, and I did sit back (though it got harder to smile as I got more bored) and took the ride. I just didn’t find it enjoyable.

With most audiobooks, I am almost sorry to arrive at home/work and have to leave the book for several hours or overnight. But some days I struggled to even stay awake while listening to On the Road. Listening to the practice CD for Poulenc’s Gloria (for a community chorale concert this fall) is a welcome change (usually I have to really push myself to set aside an audiobook and listen to practice CDs).

A list of 100 best novels published by The Guardian explains that On the Road is about “the quest for ultimate fufilment before the sun goes down,” and that “for the Beats, it’s the journey, not the arrival, that matters.” I agree that the journey matters, and too often we focus so much on the destination that we miss a lot along the way. But the nature of the journey is not independent of its goal. And “ultimate fulfillment” does not come by way of irresponsible behavior, leaving behind damaged property and damaged lives.

An autobiography

This is another category that I decided an audiobook would be best, so as to finish the book even if I didn’t really enjoy it. There are probably autobiographies somewhere that I would enjoy, but I browsed the biography shelves at the library several times without finding anything I was interested in.

I finally found Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson in the Biography section of the audiobooks. The cover identifies it as “A Mostly True Memoir” rather than an autobiography, but it was tagged as Biography by the library and Lawson tells about her own life. So it’s an autobiography, right?

It is a mix of funny and poignant, filled with stories so outrageous that they probably are true (who would make stuff like that up?), and now and then a nugget of wisdom about dealing with the bad stuff in life. Lawson explains (at the end) that she has come to appreciate the bad stuff (pain, embarrassment, disappointment, etc.) because that’s how she became the person she is.

A book about someone with your occupation

This one was really tough. It’s hard enough to describe what I do at work. I’m sure there must be other people who do the same thing, somewhere, but it’s pretty unlikely anyone has written such a person into a novel. I decided to simplify and look for a book about a computer programmer. Not exactly what I do, but I do sometimes write scripts in SQL, which is a sort of programming (though not what the programmers in any novels I’ve read do).

Even so, there aren’t exactly tons of books about computer programmers. At least, not that I could easily filter out of the tons of books about computer programming. There were some sci-fi novels that I considered, but they were darker than I was in the mood for, and could easily fit the category of Dystopian novel, which I still need to read.

I finally settled on The Status of All Things, by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. The fact that there was an element of time travel was a plus. As it turned out, the fact that one of the important characters is a computer programmer turned out to have absolutely no significance that I could tell, but it was a mostly enjoyable book to read.

I did find it hard to pick up a few times, mostly because I dislike seeing a character do something foolish, and Kate just kept doing foolish things. She seemed awfully shallow and self-centered at the beginning, and as the story progressed she didn’t seem to be learning very well from her mistakes.

It’s an interesting premise, however: what would you do if you had the chance to go back in time and re-live a portion of your recent past? How could you use what you knew of what would happen to make better choices? And how would knowing what would happen make it harder to deal with situations you had already had to live through one time before?

There’s nothing very deep here (which might be a plus for some readers looking for just a quick easy read). Kate is almost more of a caricature of someone obsessed with social media than a believable real person. But there is warmth and humor, and a reasonably good ending as Kate finally grows up a bit.

A graphic novel

I have never had any interest in graphic novels, but at least this book would be one I could get through fairly quickly, it being the nature of such books that there is not a lot to read. At bookstores I have seen various classic books adapted as graphic novels, so I figured I would pick some classic I had not read and see whether the graphic novel got me interested in it enough to read the real thing.

But when I browsed our library’s graphic novel section, I saw little besides what I would have called comic books. But apparently the term comic books refers to periodicals where the story continues from one issue to another, while a graphic novel is a self-contained story within the one volume. I’m not sure, in that case, whether the Calvin and Hobbes collections qualify as graphic novels, since they are compilations of what originally appeared in daily and Sunday papers. But frankly I’d rather read them than most of what I found on those shelves. I never took an interest in the superheroes that seem to be the most popular subjects for both comic books and graphic novels.

I had made up my mind, however, to read some kind of classic, so I examined the shelves more closely, and finally found Graphic Classics: Mark Twain. I had read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as a girl, and some of Twain’s other writing in an American Literature class in college. But this volume contained mostly material that was new to me.

About the best I can say is that it was moderately interesting and accomplished my goal of checking one more book off my list. I don’t know how well the adaptation does justice to the original, but it certainly didn’t motivate me to read either any more graphic novels or any more Mark Twain. From amazon.com I can see there is a newer edition of the book with a somewhat different selection of stories, I assume an improved collection in the view of the editors. But if at some point I decide I do want to read more of Twain, I will do it the old-fashioned way.

After all, the reason I like books is for the words and the pictures they evoke in my mind. Having someone draw the pictures for me might occasionally be useful when I have difficulty figuring out the layout of a house or town. And there are writer/illustrators such as Bill Watterson (creator of Calvin and Hobbes) who convey as much with their pictures as with their words because that’s the medium they choose for telling stories.

But classic  novels are classics because they are written so well that they continue to appeal to people generation after generation. (I can’t imagine any of these graphic novel adaptations having that kind of staying power.) Their strength is in their words, not merely in the story and ideas the words convey.

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