Books I read in December

January 1, 2020

According to goodreads.com, I read 148 books in 2019. Fifty of these were for the PopSugar Reading Challenge (not counting where I read more than one for a category), twelve were for the local library book club, and a few were for a Bible study group. Thirty-three were audiobooks that I listened to either while riding the exercise bike or during my daily commute.

Some of these were novellas rather than full-length books, but it adds up to a lot of pages read! I used a spreadsheet this year for tracking the number of both books and pages I read for the PopSugar Reading Challenge; for 2020 I decided to track number of books and pages for all books I read.

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Books I read in November

December 7, 2019

In November I finished what I had planned on being the last book to complete the 2019 PopSugar Reading Challenge. But then I found a downloadable audiobook edition of one of the books I had initially planned to read but at the time could only find as an ebook (I read magazine and newspaper articles online, but with rare exceptions, I don’t do ebooks), so now I’m listening to that.

The book I did finish was to meet the category of a book you see someone reading on TV or in a movie. Since I don’t watch TV and rarely watch movies (two this year, I think), it would be pretty difficult to find a book for this category based on my own TV or movie watching. But there are lists of these things online, and I found out that a character in The Dark Knight Rises is seen reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I generally try to be precise in finding books to meet these categories (which is one reason I’m listening to the audiobook I just mentioned, because I wasn’t sure the other book I had read really fit the category), but since it’s a reading challenge, I did not see a reason to watch the movie just so the book would fit the category better. My husband would no doubt have enjoyed watching it with me, but from the reviews I did not think I would like it much.

I did enjoy A Tale of Two Cities, however. I had read it for 9th grade English, and remembered having liked it, and had thought a number of times over the years of rereading it. So I decided it was finally time. What surprised me was how very little I recognized from having read it back then. I remembered Sydney Carton, and the famous last lines of the novel, as well as how he ended up where was at the end. I remembered Madame Defarge and her knitting. Other than the historical setting, that was it. Usually when rereading a book I at least recognize characters and events once I read about them again, but except for Lucie Manette and her father, nothing seemed familiar. That, of course, made it more interesting, in a way, as though I were reading it for the first time, even though I knew how it ended. Some parts at the beginning went pretty slowly, but I knew I had liked the book before and I knew it had a good ending, so it was not hard to keep going. As a side note, I suspect that this novel was where I first learned John 11:25-26, which became my favorite Bible verses after I came to faith in Christ the following summer.

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Books I read in October

November 3, 2019

This is the first month this year I haven’t completed any books for the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge, but I’m on my last book, and listening to an mp3 LibriVox recording during the twelve minutes on my exercise bike weekday mornings, which means it takes quite a while to finish a book. Of course, having finished the rest of the books in the challenge, I have more time to read other books.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a book I’d been planning on reading for over a year. It’s long, however, and when I browsed through it on the college bookshelf, it didn’t look like a light read. I finally decided to read it when I was working on a speech for Toastmasters on making choices. I’m not sure how much it helped with the speech (the purpose of which was to include humor), but it was fascinating reading, and not at all dull or heavy. Other readers might disagree, of course, but I found it very enjoyable – in part because I really enjoy learning new things, and learning how our minds work is one of those meta-topics that relates to absolutely everything else.

Also while working on the speech, I came across references to The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz, and since that ended up being the specific topic of my speech (that choosing from among fewer options can make us happier), I was pleased to find the book in the library, and read through it in two or three days. I had read several articles, including one by Barry Schwartz, discussing that topic, so the ideas were not new but it fleshed them out more, and helped me decide how to structure my speech.

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Books I read in August

September 2, 2019

Near the end of the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge, I’m mostly reading books just for the enjoyment (or to occupy my mind while driving). But I did fit in a few to meet the challenge, in those categories I have been finding more challenging.

We read Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata for the local book club, but it conveniently turned out to be a good fit for a book with no chapters / unusual chapter headings / unconventionally numbered chapters (in this case, a book with no chapters). It’s kind of a strange book, hard to tell what message it’s trying to get across. That everyone should be allowed to be different, I guess, even if other people think they’re missing out on important things in life (relationships, family, children). A couple of us in the book club speculated that the main character is on the Autism spectrum, but it never says so in the book, so I have no idea whether that’s what the author had in mind. A person who can “hear” what the store wants is odd, though…

I was looking for a book published posthumously, and found After the Fire by Henning Mankell in a list of posthumously-published books. This novel was published in the original Swedish in 2015, the same year Mankell died, but I don’t know which came first. The English translation was definitely published posthumously, and while I’m not sure that counts for a purist, I decided it was good enough. It’s a slow-moving book, unlike most of Mankell’s books I have read (I have not read Italian Shoes, to which this is in some sense a sequel), more about relationships and coming to grips with the losses of aging and approaching death than about solving crimes. Not entirely satisfying, but then perhaps it is supposed to be melancholy. It was, after all, Mankell’s last book, and as he had cancer he no doubt was reflecting a lot on these issues of living and dying.

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Books I read in July

August 9, 2019

As I get near the end of the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge (only about 5 to go, though I may pick additional books for a few categories), I’m down to the categories that are hardest to find books to fit. Some that I have picked have been disappointing, but a few were excellent, the sort that justify this kind of reading challenge that gets me to read books I otherwise would not have known about, much less chosen to read.

It took me a while to decide on a reread of a favorite book. To be considered a favorite, to me that means a book I have read multiple times (otherwise it’s just a book I liked a lot). I don’t often reread books, partly because I have to have forgotten enough to not finding it somewhat boring to reread, but mostly because there are so many good books I haven’t yet read so I prefer spending my time on those. In the last few years, I have reread several of my favorites (usually for one of these reading challenges), so I had to find one I hadn’t reread recently. I finally settled on Heidi by Johanna Spyri, which was one of my favorites as a child but which I had not read since then (nor had I kept the copy I had back then, a prize for reading the most books in third grade). I remembered the overall story, but was surprised to see how much I had forgotten, and yet how readily I recognized not only the details but also at least an echo of the feelings I had when reading as a child. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much if I had read it the first time as an adult – the moralizing seems somewhat heavy-handed and Heidi seems unrealistically cheerful and well-behaved – but as a reread of a childhood favorite it was still very enjoyable as an adult.

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Books I read in June

July 11, 2019

I always intend to spend more time outdoors in the warm weather, but warm weather turns to hot weather so fast! I come indoors after what doesn’t seem like that long working in the yard (though it probably is longer than I think, considering my tendency to underestimate how long anything takes except while I’m riding the exercise bike), and my face is so red I look like I’m sunburned (I’m not, I just get red in the face quickly in the heat). So I spend a good deal of time indoors where it’s cooler, reading books.

Since it looks like the movie adaptation of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine may well not be released until next year, I had to find another book becoming a movie in 2019 for the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge. I picked The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba, which was so good that I suggested watching our family watch the movie together on Netflix. I found his story fascinating, how he taught himself science from books because his family did not have money to pay school fees, and how he was able to use items from a junkyard (plus his father’s bicycle) to make a working windmill. His story also includes a lot about the history and culture and economy of his country, and how that shaped life for him and his family. I was somewhat disappointed in the movie, as there is no narration, only dialog (which confusingly switches between English and his native language with English subtitles), so I was not sure how well I would have understood several scenes if I had not read the book.

I had already read a book that fit my favorite prompt from a past POPSUGAR Reading Challenge (in fact, I read three about a bookstore or library), but Lies, Damned Lies, and History by Jodi Taylor also fits this category, as another favorite prompt was a book about time travel. If you like time travel books, this series is a lot of fun. And while some aspects of each book are predictable (mostly in a good way, I think), there are also surprising plot developments and character development. I look forward to continuing the series.

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Books I read in May

June 1, 2019

I wondered a few times this past month whether I had too many books I was trying to read. But I just keep finding more books that sound interesting and I want to read them. So I keep reading, and enjoying them (mostly), and learning.

For the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I picked Pop by Gordon Korman for a book with “pop,” “sugar,” or “challenge” in the title. It was a very interesting story, about football and people who love to play it, but more, it was about people and their relationships, the power of friendship, and how what we see from the outside is often so different from what is really going on.

For a novel based on a true story, I chose The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. I listened to the audiobook, and only learned when reading reviews afterward that the printed book has an afterword by the author, discussing what aspects of the book are based on actual history. Some audiobooks include such material, and I am disappointed that this one did not. I enjoy historical fiction even when it is not based on actual people, but as one reason I read this book was because it was based on a real person, I would have liked to hear more about the real Louise de Bettignies. I have read a variety of books set in WWII, but very few set in WWI, and none previously from the perspective of a female spy in WWI. That story is interspersed with another story set shortly after WWII, when the spy is much older, and is persuaded to help track down someone missing since 1943. I agree with other reviewers that the WWI story is better in many ways, but I have to admit it was a relief sometimes to read the WWII chapters, where the suspense was less and the descriptions of danger and death were from the past, not the present and imminent future.

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