2018 Reading Challenge: Book Recommendations

It seems like everywhere I look, people are starting reading challenges for the new year. Some are aiming to read 18 books, some 80… I set my own 2018 reading challenge at 55 books. The way I see it, that’s roughly a book per week, which I think is a reasonable, realistic goal. Some weeks I’ll go through three books for research, while one lovely, long book might take me a couple of weeks. It should balance out all right.

Setting a reading goal helps me to be thoughtful about what is important to me (reading books) and to be deliberate about managing my time to prioritize that.

I thought I would share some of my favorite reads from the past year and a half or so (this isn’t all of them, but a fairly good bunch). These books are all different from each other. I’m a big believer in reading all kinds of books, and not comparing them to each other. I love both a good piece of cake and nicely roasted vegetables, but I can’t really compare them to each other or rank them. I need them both in my life!

Non-fiction

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

  • Genre: Biography, Social Justice, Race
  • I feel like everyone knows this book as it was everywhere when it came out. It won the National Book Award in 2015 and is a must-read for all Americans.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

  • Genre: Science, Nature
  • This shares surprising facts about trees that will make you think twice about what “humanity” means and your place in the world (for example: they mourn when a tree in their group dies, they communicate with each other) from a German forest manager.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

  • Genre: History, True Crime
  • An incredible true story of what it took to set up the 1893 Chicago World Fair. You really get a sense of what the world was like then, the long-lasting impact of the fair, and how people could disappear for so long without any questions asked…

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

  • Genre: Essays
  • With humor and sharp observations, this Canadian author writes about immigration and being a woman today.

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

  • Genre: Science, Memoir
  • A wonderful exploration of the intelligence and consciousness of this mysterious sea creature

Fiction

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

  • Genre: Thriller, Suspense
  • One of my favorite quotes comes from this book:

“Because what if instead of a story told in consecutive order, life is a cacophony of moments we never leave?” ― Noah Hawley

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

  • Genre: Young Adult
  • One of the most popular books of recent times. So beautifully written, every sentence makes you stop, and yet you can’t stop reading at the same time.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

  • Genre: Contemporary, Adult
  • This book stands out as perhaps a top two of the past year. Its beautiful writing and story will challenge you in unexpected ways.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • One of my favorite books is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and this epistolary novel set during World War II has a similar feel. I spent a very enjoyable entire Sunday with this book.

How many books do you hope to read in 2018? And are there any books you really enjoyed reading during the past year or so that you recommend?

Advertisements

‘Heart Museum’ by Durga Chew-Bose

The heart of Durga Chew-Bose’s book of essays Too Much and Not the Mood is the first and longest piece, “Heart Museum.”

A reader will notice in the index that this essay is 92 pages long and wonder both how they will get through and how (and if) the writer will pull off such a length without losing her readers’ attention and focus.

That’s the most startling thing about the piece: in an age when our attention spans barely last a few pages before we might check our phones or flip restlessly through the pages of the book we’re reading (even if we love it, it’s just the energy of our time) to see where the essay or chapter ends so that we may anticipate our commitment and when we’ll get our reward, “Heart Museum” forces you to pay attention, to keep reading, both out of sheer curiosity of what exactly the writer is getting at or might do with the essay, and precisely because no matter how many pages you flip you won’t see the end so you have nothing left to do but read. And that’s surprisingly freeing.

Around twenty pages in, Chew-Bose writes,

Isn’t it fun to read a sentence that races ahead of itself? That has the effect of stopping short–of dirt and cutaway rocks tumbling down the edge of the cliff, alerting you to the drop?

That is exactly what it feels like to read “Heart Museum.” You’re sitting in Starbucks reading, and you don’t understand why your heart is starting to race as you try to keep up with the words. You want to keep going though you don’t always know why, especially if there’s a tangent that’s not for you. Still, you want to see where she goes with her observations and questions.

“We’re the type to ask too many questions–an irritating amount, really. But who ask without claim or exigency. The want is the want and it goes on like that.”

At the end, I was filled with admiration at what the writer does with her essay. She brings together seemingly meaningless and scattered bits and makes the reader interested in them because of the energy of the pace. She connects the end of the piece to the beginning in a way you couldn’t expect when you’re wondering halfway through how she’ll manage to finish and make it all work as you’re starting to realize the point of the essay is to create a museum of the heart, any heart it honestly doesn’t matter who it belongs to, because you understand her hope:

That awareness isn’t merely a stopgap; that it develops a tally.

 

The rest of the pieces in the book do slow down but also have bright moments, like the short “Miserable” and the lovely “Summer Pictures,”  though the success of the pace in the first essay stays with the reader until the last page.

For me, Chew-Bose’s strength is writing when there’s apparently no point or focus until she reminds us  “how crucial it is to preserve a sense of the special,” along with beautiful, telling sentences like:

“My skin is warm. It does not cool. The heat is in the seams.”

“…I tasted city smog outside another city’s airport and knew right then that I was a city kid.”

With the holidays and the end of 2017 approaching, Too Much and Not the Mood is a good read as we begin to ask ourselves what the year has meant, or as Chew-Bose asks in her “Heart Museum:”

“Aren’t we all overrun by the blotting-out that is inevitable? How every year we claim that this year went by faster. What was realized? Did I connect? If I’m mostly–often only–the sum of what I’ve noticed, should I keep better track?”