The house has been read all the way down!
Reading Down the House was a challenge I set for myself in November 2013. I gave myself 14 months to read a stack of 17 books that I had bought but never read. I let them pile up over several years while constantly being distracted by newer books I wanted to read more – usually from the library. I could have given the books away (or sold them) unread, but I did want to read them – just not urgently. The original reasons I chose the books were murky, and it was likely that “someday” would never come.
I usually read about 4 books a month. This year I read 6 – in effect, the four I would have read anyway, plus one for Reading Down the House and one for my book club. So my reading time definitely increased as a result of having this goal.
Here are the last few books I completed for the challenge:
Citizen Girl by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. I saved this until nearly the end because I thought it would be a fun read. I enjoyed their Nanny Diaries book when it came out. Unfortunately, I did not find Citizen Girl readable. At all. It was the only book of the 17 that I put down and couldn’t read. So, I chose another chick lit book from the library to take its place. I picked up Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. It is a novel about a young woman works as a caregiver for a successful businessman who has become a quadriplegic. He is surly and hates being dependent. It is obvious they are going to fall in love. That in itself would have been a romance with a twist and enough of a story for most authors. Not a spoiler: soon it is revealed that Will wants to end his life, and his loved ones race against the clock creating reasons for him to go on living.
I was impressed by the medical and other research the author did. Unexpectedly, I was drawn in by the main character, Louisa’s, relationships with her extended family. It is the best depiction of the complicated bonds between sisters that I’ve read, and that wasn’t even a key theme in the book. But most of all I was very surprised by the author’s willingness to take on some very serious and perhaps unpopular views. So I will go ahead and say it, I think this book transcends its genre. Highly recommended!
Next I read a book that I both anticipated and dreaded, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I looked forward to it because I like other authors who have used magic realism, even though this guy did it first! And procrastinated because it looked long and serious. Spoiler alert: The novel seems to be a parable about the founding of Colombia, and also a generational saga, with lots of magic and mayhem. At first I thought the hapless Buendia family would triumph in the end, but that wasn’t the point. I think the point is that life itself is a mixture of the glorious and the odious, and sometimes we don’t know which is which. Lives begin and end, we are players on the bizarre stage that is our very own political context, everything crumbles in the end, and you can laugh or you can cry.
Lots of elements in the book made me feel uncomfortable, and most of the characters were hard to like. I was still glad I read it. It made me think, Huh, life is like that. I realize there is a complex subtext which has generated reams of literary criticism but luckily I am not in school.
My very last book for the challenge was From the Velvets to the Voidoids: the Birth of American Punk Rock by Clinton Heylin. Right up my alley! I have read a lot of books on the history of rock music and specifically on the history of punk. I’m always up for another. This one focused on the CBGB scene in New York in the early to mid 1970s, and included a lot of information I didn’t know about the Cleveland/Akron scene. The book is mainly for music geeks, and the author took great pains with his fact-checking – and he heaped scorn on others who published inaccurate info! It included details of band line-ups, club appearances, set lists, demos and early recordings, signings, and so on. I liked that the author focused not just on the bands, but on the growing scene – he described venues, fanzines, managers and record labels. Just a few of the bands included were Television, The Ramones, Blondie, the Talking Heads, Suicide and Patti Smith. What an era! (The book is probably mis-titled if you believe punk started in the UK in 1977. Really, it could have been called “The Birth of Underground Art Rock.”) Anyway, for me it was a must-read!
So here are my conclusions.
Reading one book a month of “required reading” was somewhat character-building. My normal way of reading is to bring home a stack of books from the library once or twice a month, send half of them back unread, and dabble in the rest before deciding. Then I have one or two books always on the go, plus another on my e-reader, so I can read “what I feel like” any given day. It makes me feel like a hummingbird, hovering around books but never resting. Both my book club books and RDTH books “forced” me to sit down and read for hours at a time, to meet my deadlines if nothing else! That served to build my attention span (a lot!) so it now feels normal to me to sit down and read for two hours or more at a stretch. I am less distractible and it has quelled my urges to check my email and my blog stats continually! Because how can they compete with finding out what happened to Jose Arcadio Segundo or Johnny Thunders?
It’s also taught me about why I buy the books I do. When I browse bookstores, airport news stands, flea markets and other places that sell books, I am attracted to fiction that is literary or serious or classic. I want to buy that book because it represents my best self and what I aspire to, rather than what I am on any given day. It’s not that I want a prestigious looking bookshelf. Most of my reading comes from the library. But when I can make myself focus, books really do improve me. They make me see beyond where I am situated and who I know and what I believe. And it gets better – then I can actually discuss them with people I know, and we can share our insights, or even just bond over liking or disliking the same books. It’s both a solitary-in-my-head experience and a social thing.
Here is the lot:
Reading rocks 🙂
Be sure to tell me what you’ve been reading!