Expand Your Horizons: Final Thoughts

Expand Your Horizons

I created my own reading challenge, and I stuck to it. Near as I can tell, nobody else did–I publicized it some in the first few months of the year, but I never found anyone using the hashtag. Which is fine! But slightly disappointing.

I set out to read one book a month from four categories: Classics, Nonfiction, Banned Books, and #ownvoices. And I did, so the challenge was a success in that way. But how did making an effort to read outside my comfort zone really go?

Classics

  1. Moby Dick – DNF, 1/5 stars
  2. A Room of One’s Own, 4 stars
  3. Frankenstein, 3/5 stars
  4. The Awakening, 1/5 stars
  5. The Aeneid, DNF, 1/5 stars
  6. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, 4/5 stars
  7. My Ántonia, 5/5 stars
  8. The Once and Future King, 3/5 stars
  9. The Trial, 1/5 stars
  10. Dracula, 2/5 stars
  11. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 5/5 stars
  12. The Maltese Falcon, 5/5 stars

Didn’t finish two, rated 1/4 of them at 5 stars but 1/3 of them at 1 star. Mixed bag, those classics.

Nonfiction

  1. The Art of Language Invention, 5/5 stars
  2. Your Inner Fish, 3/5 stars
  3. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, DNF, 1/5 stars
  4. Steering the Craft, 5/5 stars
  5. The Island at the Center of the World, 3/5 stars
  6. Medieval Lives, 2/5 stars
  7. The Sixth Extinction, 5/5 stars
  8. News of a Kidnapping, DNF, unrated
  9. The Professor and the Madman, 3/5 stars
  10. The Bookseller of Kabul, 2/5 stars
  11. Under the Banner of Heaven, 2/5 stars
  12. The Snow Leopard, 1/5 stars

Didn’t finish two, didn’t rate one because I was clearly not the target audience and couldn’t bring myself to rate it poorly. Only two of them got a single star, while three got the full five, but lots of them didn’t live up to my expectations based on my interest in their subject matter.

Banned Books

  1. Fahrenheit 451, 1/5 stars
  2. The Color Purple, 4/5 stars
  3. The Giver, 5/5 stars
  4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, DNF, 2/5 stars
  5. Women in Love, DNF, 2/5 stars
  6. Big Breasts & Wide Hips, DNF, 1/5 stars
  7. Speak, 5/5 stars
  8. The Golden Compass, 3/5 stars
  9. The Dead Zone, 2/5 stars
  10. Grendel, 2/5 stars
  11. The Lightning Thief, 4/5 stars
  12. One Hundred Years of Solitude, DNF, 1/5 stars

Didn’t finish four, a big jump from the first two categories. Lots of 1’s and 2’s, only two rated at 5 stars. Disappointing overall.

#ownvoices

  1. Three Strong Women, DNF, 1/5 stars
  2. How Stella Got Her Groove Back, 2/5 stars
  3. The Hate U Give, 3/5 stars
  4. The House on Mango Street, 2/5 stars
  5. Women of the Silk, 3/5 stars
  6. The Death of Vishnu, 2/5 stars
  7. Daughter of Fortune, 3/5 stars
  8. The Gift of Rain, DNF, 2/5 stars
  9. Saving Fish From Drowning, 2/5 stars
  10. A Day Late and a Dollar Short, DNF, 1/5 stars
  11. A Free Life, DNF, 1/5 stars
  12. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, 2/5 stars

The theme for these was definitely different cultures–I’ve got a mix of black, Hispanic, and Asian authors, plus one each from India and Afghanistan. What I’m sorely lacking is queer voices, though I did read some queer lit not for this challenge; also books by/about neurodivergent or disabled people. Massive oversight, though every single one of these came from my previously-owned collection (because of Mount TBR) so if I’d been choosing from books I didn’t own, my selections might have been broader. I didn’t rate any of these particularly highly, though my quibbles mostly tended to be with the quality of the writing rather than the story or message presented. Still, I could have done better, and though I don’t intend to do this challenge again formally, I am still going to make an effort to seek out quality #ownvoices works from a wider range of authors.

Overall? I’m glad I pushed myself this way, but it was a hefty challenge and I’m looking forward to a lighter 2019 without this.

Expand Your Horizons: December TBR

Expand Your Horizons

It’s the final month! If you’ve just joined me recently, I’ve committed to reading one book each, every month in 2018, from Nonfiction, Banned Books, Classics, and #ownvoices.

Here’s my December TBR:

Horizons TBR December

  • Nonfiction: The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen
  • Banned Books: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez
  • Classics: The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
  • #ownvoices: The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, by Nadia Hashimi

If you’re curious about the challenge, you can find all the details here, and be sure to use the #horizonsreadingchallenge tag on your social media so everyone can see what you’re reading!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #44)

154 - Under the Banner of Heaven

#154 – Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, by Jon Krakauer

This book is obviously well-researched; I’ve never read nonfiction with so many footnotes or such an extensive bibliography. I appreciate that Krakauer made his sources as plain as possible for anyone who wished to check for themselves, because it was clear from the very beginning that this was going to be a controversial book.

What I liked far less was the lack of clear focus. I feel almost as if I were tricked into reading this by the sensationalism of the true-crime aspect; but most of the book is actually the history of Mormonism and the fracturing of its mainstream and fundamentalist versions. I found that valuable, as I didn’t know any of it–I was raised in various Christian (Protestant) faiths through my childhood, LDS was certainly not one of them, and I’ve only ever lived in the Midwest, where the presence of Mormons is minimal.

The problem is, that’s not the book I thought I was going to be reading; and the history was presented with such a high level of detail that it dragged. I understand what a rarity it is to have access to that much detail, how exciting it would be to a bona fide historian–but did it all need to be included for us laymen, when the pace suffered because of it? I would rather have been given a condensed, clear narrative.

In addition, the final chapters moved from nonfiction quickly into a quasi-medical/philosophical debate about whether or not religious belief was an indicator of mental illness, re: the Laffertys’ retrials, ordered on the basis that they were not competent to stand trial originally. While it’s an interesting question (to those it doesn’t mortally offend because of their own religious beliefs), the debate, along with the inclusion of narcissistic personality disorder as a possible explanation for a non-insanity scenario, is not a satisfying conclusion, either to the story as presented, or as a conclusion to the loose hypothesis of the book that the Lafferty brothers committed their murders because of their fundamentalist beliefs. After spending a whole book showing us the history of this “violent faith” I’m dissatisfied with a shrug, I guess we’ll never know ending, even if it’s the truth.

155 - The Lightning Thief

#155 – The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan

It was almost perfect.

I adored the chapter titles and every other bit of snarkiness, sass, and wit. I love that the hero is a “bad” kid, I love that there’s disabled representation, I love the clever ways Riordan modernized classical Greek monsters.

My complaints boil down to three things.

1. (Minor) I dislike the depiction of Hades. It’s entirely possible I’ve been spoiled by so many romanticizations of him (and other versions of Death) over the years, but in my mind, he’s much more complex than the simple evil he is here.

2. (Slightly less minor) The story heavily favors action over emotion. Which is certainly fitting for a quest, but the moments for characters to connect with each other are few and brief. I wouldn’t mind so much, except that at the end, when Percy is betrayed, I didn’t feel much of anything because I didn’t feel he and his betrayer actually had much of a friendship to begin with.

3. (Major) I have deep issues with how Smelly Gabe meets his end. Sally married him to protect Percy; she used him. I understand that motivation, and being in a loveless marriage with a guy like him was a self-inflicted punishment for her actions. Fine, as far as that goes. But using Medusa’s head on him, selling the statue as art, and making a better life for herself off the profits? Listen, I don’t care that we find out he’s an abuser, he’s still a person. Sally married him under false pretenses–if she felt trapped by the marriage, it was a trap of her own design. I’m not excusing Gabe’s behavior, because abuse is never justified, but killing him is a far more extreme corrective action than I expected, and far worse than I think he deserved. Leave him? Absolutely. Kill him? Not a good message to send.

156 - First Night

#156 – First Night, by Lauren Blakely

A quick indulgence in sexy times. Pros: communication, communication, communication. Even though this is a one-night-stand setup, they talk to each other. Cons: Not into Julia’s size-queen attitude; some of that communication I’m praising for its presence is stiff and wooden (puns certainly not intended.)

As a standalone story, it’s thin, but as a teaser for the first book in the series, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do.

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#157 – Night After Night, by Lauren Blakely

It’s rare that I read a romance novel where two characters have such palpable and instant chemistry, so that’s definitely in its favor. I don’t even mind that it ends on a cliffhanger, because I knew going into this that it was part of a series romance (multiple books, same characters) and the relationship couldn’t move too fast. Clay and Julia are just beginning to realize how much they might mean to each other, if they can get this relationship off the ground.

And from a kink point of view, since I’ve read my fair share of BDSM novels, it’s fun to see two switches go at each other. The actual level of kinkiness involved is light, but the talk is plenty dirty, and the two of them bounce back and forth in control easily and believably.

My problem with this is the same as it was with First Night, the teaser novella (which I totally wouldn’t have bothered to download separately if I’d known my edition of this had it at the beginning anyway, making it less of a novella and more of just the first four damn chapters of the book)–I love that Clay and Julia talk to each other so much, and that real emphasis is placed on them getting to know each other outside of bed; but the dialogue is just so stiff sometimes. With the longer run time on this, I managed to figure out why, something I couldn’t pinpoint in the novella: body language is almost completely absent. Unless Clay and Julia are actively engaged in seduction or sex, almost nothing is said about what their body is doing during dialogue, and that makes them both read like ventriloquist dummies at times.

I applaud what this story was trying to do, and I might even read the rest of the series, I’m surprisingly invested. But I do wish it had more polish.

Expand Your Horizons: November TBR

Expand Your Horizons

Ten months done, two to go! If you’ve just joined me recently, I’ve committed to reading one book each, every month in 2018, from Nonfiction, Banned Books, Classics, and #ownvoices.

Here’s my November TBR:

Horizons TBR November

  • Nonfiction: Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer
  • Banned Books: The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
  • Classics: 2001, by Arthur C. Clarke
  • #ownvoices: A Free Life, by Ha Jin

If you’re curious about the challenge, you can find all the details here, and be sure to use the #horizonsreadingchallenge tag on your social media so everyone can see what you’re reading!

Expand Your Horizons: October TBR

Expand Your Horizons

Nine months done, three to go! If you’ve just joined me recently, I’ve committed to reading one book each, every month in 2018, from Nonfiction, Banned Books, Classics, and #ownvoices.

Here’s my October TBR:

Horizons TBR October

  • Nonfiction: The Bookseller of Kabul, by Åsne Seierstad
  • Banned Books: Grendel, by John Gardner
  • Classics: Dracula, by Bram Stoker
  • #ownvoices: A Day Late and a Dollar Short, by Terry McMillan

If you’re curious about the challenge, you can find all the details here, and be sure to use the #horizonsreadingchallenge tag on your social media so everyone can see what you’re reading!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #36)

124 - The Trial

#124 – The Trial, by Franz Kafka

After the first fifty pages, I could see clearly that this story is a brilliant metaphor for the absolute ineptitude of governmental bureaucracy. I said as much to my husband, then added, “But I’m already bored. Does it really need to be three hundred pages long?”

He answered, quite firmly, “Yes.”

I see his point. The longer the absurdity that stands in for real plot goes on, the stronger the metaphor gets.

Of course, that comes at the cost of reader enjoyment, because my word, the stiff prose and silliness that engaged me at the beginning with that absurdity drove me half out of my mind by the time I was done.

Finishing this was an exercise in masochism, and I don’t recommend it.

125 - Saving Fish from Drowning

#125 – Saving Fish From Drowning, by Amy Tan

A book of massive contradictions.

On a page-by-page basis, I often found this quite enjoyable. By setting up the narrator as omniscient via being dead, Tan was free to dive deep into the characters’ heads in search of knowledge and emotion that the reader couldn’t have known otherwise. Some of the page-long asides about minor characters were interesting mini stories.

But that led to a disturbing lack of personality on the outside of the characters, who made few decisions and took few actions. Everything happened to them, rather than because of them. Unless you count absolute stupidity/gullibility across the board as the primary motivator.

Seriously, these idiots will go along with anything. Twelve people in an ensemble cast are all that stupid about traveling safely? Really?

Yet there’s a contradiction inherent in that too, because one of the things I did enjoy about the book, even though it’s not to my home country’s credit, is the accuracy of the portrayal of Americans abroad. The struggle between desiring luxury and craving authenticity. The arrogance and ignorance. The expectation that the world should cater to them, contrasted with the genuine humanitarian desire to help those they see as suffering–even when that “suffering” is simply not living by the same first-world standards, and not any real misery or squalor. (Though, obviously, the suffering is sometimes incredibly real.)

By the time I reached the end of the book, I was disappointed by my lack of connection to any of these selfish/stupid people (with the possible exception of young Esme and her puppy), and the movie-style montage “where are they now” wrap-ups for the major characters left me cold. Near the beginning, the tone was that of a comedy of errors, broadly winking at the audience, yet I never found any of the mishaps funny; at the end, finally discovering the cause of the narrator’s death didn’t satisfy me. I don’t know if this book would have been better if it had taken itself more seriously, but I wish it had tried.

126 - The Lace Reader

#126 – The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry

  • Read: 9/11/18 – 9/13/18
  • Challenge: The Reading Frenzy’s Pick It For Me Challenge
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

A lovely, disturbing, and surprising read.

Some people undoubtedly read this and predicted the twist–I did not. The clues were there, I saw quite a few warning flags for troubled waters ahead, so I knew something was up. But the shape it ended up taking was not any of the half-formed then discarded ideas I’d left by the wayside as I read.

This is not a novel for the faint of heart, dealing as it does with domestic abuse and sexual trauma. But to keep those dark aspects in balance, it’s also got a lot to say about family, sisterhood both in the direct sense and the communal one, and making peace with yourself.

It did start slowly, enough that I was questioning the pace, and the heavy reliance on place-setting the narrative in a semi-fictional Salem, Massachusetts. Once I got past the first hints of mystery, though, I was hooked–I read from page 100 to the end in one afternoon.

Many of the questions I had throughout are firmly settled at the end, which I appreciate–but quite a few things are still tugging at the edges of my brain, asking me to put the pieces together myself. Which is great–I look forward to rereading it from a more writerly perspective to study the foreshadowing, story structure, and the skill with which Barry crafted a truly unreliable narrator.

Expand Your Horizons + Pick It For Me: September TBR

Horizons TBR September

I usually would have had this posted sometime last week, but since The Reading Frenzy is hosting the Pick It For Me Challenge this month, I wanted to wait to see what my assigned partner (whose name is also Elena!) chose for me.

I told her to pick three books from my unread-and-owned-physical shelf. (It’s bigger than my Kindle TBR, I’ve been working on whittling it down.)

I got:

  1. The Lace Reader, by Brunonia Barry
  2. The Trial, by Franz Kafka
  3. Gates of Thread and Stone, by Lori M. Lee

The Trial will work perfectly for Classics for Expand Your Horizons, and here’s the rest:

  • #ownvoices: Saving Fish From Drowning, by Amy Tan
  • Nonfiction: The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Winchester
  • Banned Books: The Dead Zone, by Stephen King

I think (the other) Elena’s choices are a decent representation of the eclectic composition of my used-book TBR: she chose a YA fantasy, a heavy classic, and gothic magical realism, which sounds strange but also fascinating. So I’m excited for this TBR!