Friday, August 16, 2019

August 1-7 // The Week I Read Seven Books and Didn't Die

Back in 2016, I remember pushing myself to read as much as I possibly could. I read 175 books and ended up burning myself out before the year was even over, to the extent that I’ve had trouble regaining that reading speed. When Abby and I decided to have our own private readathon at the beginning of the month, my first instinct was to pick three books that would fit all seven challenges so I wouldn’t have to push myself too hard or risk failing. I didn’t want to be reminded of how much my reading speed still suffers. But I ended up deciding, mainly because I’ve been feeling the press of my overwhelming TBR, to aim for seven and forgive myself if I fell short.

The challenges were as follows:

1. Read a book with purple on the cover.
2. Read a book in the same spot the entire time.
3. Read a book you meant to read last year.
4. Read an author’s first book.
5. Read a book with a non-human main character.
6. Pick a book that has five or more words in the title.
7. Read and watch a book to movie adaptation.

At the beginning, I had grandiose dreams of finishing exactly one book per day. Simultaneously, I also figured I would be less likely to get bogged down if I had multiple books going at once, this all while working full time. Those two visions didn’t coexist well. Had I had the whole week off, I could have sped through the reading material more quickly, but that would have made the challenge less…challengy. It did begin on my two days off, where the only break from reading was hanging out with a friend for seven hours, as you do. After that, I used the time in the morning I typically devote to writing. I had a couple hours every evening as well, although it’s a little distracting trying to read when your kitten keeps biting your book (or you), so I spent a good deal of time outside, where her teeth and claws couldn’t find me.

Here’s a quick review of each book I read (in the order I finished them), along with their corresponding challenges.

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman—Read and watch a book to movie adaptation.

The Golden Compass had potential, and I liked the steampunk elements and the action, but there is something a little nauseating about setting out to teach children that evil might actually be good. I know that Pullman wrote Compass as a response to the Chronicles of Narnia, and I envision some future writer penning a series in response to His Dark Materials, followed by another response from a different writer, and on and on, for the rest of publishing history.

Room, by Emma Donoghue—Read a book you meant to read last year.

This was a hard read, one I wanted to pick up but found myself actively avoiding. The fact that it’s narrated by a five-year-old is meant to shield you from the horrors of what is actually happening, but speaking as someone who was once five, I think it makes it more painful. You have to lean into the nuance; you have to pay more attention to see past what he’s saying. You have the option to look away, but he’s so guileless, you don’t know to in time.

Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green—Read a book in the same spot the entire time.

I was slower to attempt this one, since I’d read some negative reviews, and I’m not a super committed John Green fan in the first place. But Abby read it and recommended it, so I decided to give it a go. It was well-written, and it was a quick read. The plot fell a little flat for me, but the mental work was worth it. I think this would be an eye-opening read for people who want to understand OCD and anxiety.

Jack the Ripper and the Case for the Scotland Yard’s Prime Suspect, by Robert House—Pick a book that has five or more words in the title.

This is another book I was hesitant to read, and it was a last-minute choice for my reading challenges (I’m going to just refer to it as Jack the Ripper for brevity). I’d already read another, more comprehensive book on Jack the Ripper, covering all the murders and several suspects. I bought this book before I determined that Aaron Kozminksi, the suspect this work puts forth, could not possibly be guilty, so I wasn’t sure I would learn anything. But the tone of Jack the Ripper is pretty calm. The author is not trying to force you to believe anything; he is merely presenting the facts as he sees them.

He included details that had been swept aside or simply excluded in the book I’d previously read. The problem with reading anything by Ripperologists is that there are so many emotions involved. Everyone has their own hill they are perfectly willing to die on, and that means they are willing, even if they don’t believe they are, to twist and present evidence to support their personal beliefs and disbeliefs.

Before reading Jack the Ripper, George Chapman was my strongest (though still only circumstantially-likely suspect), but after reading it, I realize that there is more evidence supporting Kozminski’s guilt than I had previously thought, and somehow arriving at that conclusion was perfectly satisfactory for me, even though I left with no real answers and no final resolution. 

(Quick content warning: If you’re squeamish, it does included a horrific crime scene photo and a disturbing post-autopsy photo. But like, you’re reading about the world’s most famous serial killer. What did you expect?)

Borne, by Jeff Vandermeer—Read a book with a non-human main character.

If you read and loved The Southern Reach trilogy, also by Jeff Vandermeer, then this book will be right up your alley. It’s weird and trippy, and the writing style is amazing. There’s an enormous flying bear, too, if you’re still on the fence about it.

The Truth About Keeping Secrets, by Savannah Brown—Read an author’s first book.

So I got into Savannah Brown when I watched her slam poem, Skinny Girls Bleed Flowers, on Youtube, but I didn’t keep up with her as faithfully after that. When Victoria @ The Endless Oceans of My Mind visited, she told me about it, and I didn’t even finish listening to her tell me what it was about before I bought it. It has some of the weaknesses of first novels, but the writing—I mean, that’s some really good writing.

A Room Away From the Wolves, by Nova Ren Suma—Read a book with purple on the cover.

Not going to lie, I’m always nervous starting a Nova Ren Suma book, not because I don’t know if I’m going to like it, but because I know it’s going to be good and disturbing and it will be a while before her next one comes out. This one had a similar feel to Imaginary Girls, with a somewhat ambiguous ending where you kind of think you know what’s happened, but also you have to sit there for a few minutes trying to figure out what Suma just did to your brain. You should definitely read it.

So how do I feel after the readathon?

There’s the fact that I may or may not have drunk more coffee than was good for me. And maybe I slept less than was good for me, too, but be that as it may. I wouldn’t do this every week, or every other week. But I didn’t burn out or lose interest in reading. I’m still maintaining a faster reading pace than I had pre-readathon, and I would say that I feel the lightened load of my TBR, but actually, almost as soon as the readathon finished, I’d already added seven more books to the list.


  1. I didn't know His Dark Materials was a response to Narnia! Hmm, that is interesting. It's been a long while since I read it... I remember I was intrigued by the concept, but parts of it were very disturbing, like you said.

    I started Turtles All The Way Down, but never finished it. Maybe I'll have to give it another shot sometime.

    "I would say that I feel the lightened load of my TBR, but actually, almost as soon as the readathon finished, I’d already added seven more books to the list." Ain't that the truth.


  2. A readathon sounds like so much fun! I'm such a slow reader though that I usually avoid doing readathons unless I have absolutely nothing to do by some unexpected turn of events. I think the only time I read fast enough for a readathon was when I went camping with my family and read nearly five books. Buddy reading is also something I avoid since I read slow. But I just antagonized two of my friends to buddy read The Raven Boys. Because it's an autumn-ish book, and August isn't summer, it's Autumn Eve. And one of them happens to read SUPER fast and is very enthusiastic about this idea.

    Oh, yes. I haven't read Room, but I know exactly what you mean by child narrators in traumatic or dangerous situations. It really doesn't soften the blow. It augments it by, like, twenty times. It's a great choice of narrator if the writer really wants the readers to feel the full weight of what's going on. But it's sooo difficult to read. It's either easy to read fast because you want it to end or difficult to motivate yourself to pick it up again.

  3. I’m happy this was a successful venture for you! This sounds like a fun challenge!

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