Category Archives: 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge

2020 EDIWTB Reading Challenge!

Now that 2019 is almost behind us, it’s time to announce the categories for the 2020 EDIWTB Reading Challenge!

As I mentioned in my 2019 Reading Challenge wrap-up post, I wanted to make 2020’s categories a little more fun and less of an obligation. My hope with these is that you’ll find lots of books you want to read within these categories, without having to scrounge around for something that you don’t love and wouldn’t have read otherwise. I am also a big fan of reading your bookshelves, and hopefully you can do that more with this list than last year’s.

Here is the Google spreadsheet to keep track of your reading. If you’re new to the Challenge, just add your name to the list and you can keep track of your books here if you’d like. It’s also fun to see what other people are reading for the challenge.

HERE ARE THE CATEGORIES FOR 2020:

  1. An Epistolary Novel. This can also be a book told through texts/emails/etc. – doesn’t have to be letters.
  2. A Book That’s Been Sitting On Your Shelf For 2+ Years
  3. Pick A Book, Any Book. Close your eyes, walk up to your bookshelf, and read the first unread book you touch. (No do-overs!)
  4. A Book With The Word “Love” In The Title
  5. A Book That You Learned About From A Podcast/Blog
  6. A Celebrity Memoir
  7. A Book Involving Time Travel
  8. A Debut Novel
  9. A Book With A Blue Cover
  10. A Non-Fiction Book
  11. A Book About Sports. This can be fiction or non-fiction.
  12. A Book By An Author You Love That You Haven’t Read Yet

I am really excited about this list and hope that you are too! Please spread the word – if you have reader friends who would enjoy a fun, manageable book challenge and want to join a supportive, interesting community of readers, please send them this link.

Looking forward to kicking this off in January!

2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge: Wrap-up

So this was the first year I participated in a reading challenge – on my blog or anywhere. I’ve always avoided them, because the ones I’ve considered always had categories that I just didn’t want to spend my precious reading slots on, like “books with a flower on the cover” or “books with something sweet in the title”. I read too slowly and life is too short not only to find books that fit the bill, but then to read books I otherwise wouldn’t have read.

But last year, my friend Stephanie came up with a list of categories that seemed pretty manageable, and with her permission and some tweaking by me, I launched the 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge. My goals were to push myself to read some books that I should read but probably wouldn’t prioritize during the year, and to diversify my reading list a bit. I hoped that it wouldn’t become a chore and that I’d find some great books that, looking back in December, I’d be grateful that I’d been pushed to read. I knew going in that it wouldn’t be hugely mind-expanding – I didn’t choose categories like Political Memoirs or Science Fiction or Social Justice- but I did want it to broaden me a bit.

I would say the Challenge mostly accomplished those goals, but not entirely. Some of the categories – Memoir, Debut Novel – were very easy to fulfill, and I read several that fit the bill (all of which I would have read anyway). Campus Book and Short Stories were also easy. When I got to books like Unread Classic and Humor, my enthusiasm started to wane, because the books I read – while decent – felt like obligations rather than free choices, like when book club chooses something you don’t really want to read that badly.

By Q4, when I had Pulitzer Prize Winner and Self-Help and Birth Year left, I became downright resentful. There are so many books I am so excited to read, and between my various book clubs and this challenge, they were getting further out of reach. In the end, I am glad I read Interpreter of Maladies and The Best Skin Of Your Life Starts Here, but it was that process of getting myself psyched up, mentally, to read and finish them that I didn’t enjoy. I was cursing the Challenge and rethinking its direction and purpose.

So, I am relieved the Challenge is done, I am glad I did it, and I am most of all so happy that so many of you EDIWTB readers did it too. That has been the best part: the Facebook group and the camaraderie around it.

But I want to improve it.

Later this week I will reveal the categories for the 2020 EDIWTB Reading Challenge, and I hope you all will return for it and invite your reader friends to join too. I’ve picked categories that are less onerous, in that they allow you more flexibility and freedom to read your bookshelves and choose the books you’re most excited about. I can pretty much find a book for each one that I genuinely want to read, and will hopefully avoid the dreaded December pileup of reading obligation. I want you all to feel energized and purposeful, rather than needing to cross categories off the list.

To conclude:

Favorite books I read for the 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge: Becoming, In The Pleasure Groove, The Dreamers

Least favorite books I read for the 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge: Charlotte Sometimes, I’ll Give You The Sun

Easiest categories: Memoir, Debut Novel

Least favorite category: Birth Year

Which were your favorites and least favorites??

Thanks again for participating, and stay tuned for the 2020 list!

CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES by Penelope Farmer

For the twelfth and final category of the 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge, I had to choose a book that came out during my birth year. This proved surprisingly difficult. I had a hard time finding something appealing from that year that I could get my hands on easily and that wouldn’t take forever to read. (This category will not be making a repeat appearance next year.) I ended up choosing a children’s book called Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer about a time-traveling teenager in 1950s England who visits 1918 every other day.

(Incidentally, this book is the inspiration for the Cure song of the same name.)

First, YAY, I FINISHED THE CHALLENGE.

Second, Charlotte Sometimes was just OK. It’s about Charlotte Makepeace, a girl who starts at a new boarding school in England. After a few nights in her new school, she wakes up in the same bed and the same building, but 40 years earlier. She has changed places with someone named Clare, who is also attending the boarding school along with her little sister Emily. Every other night, Clare and Charlotte change places. This leads to much confusion among their classmates and teachers and poses challenges to the two girls themselves, who learn to communicate with each other via notes stuffed into the bedpost. When Charlotte (as Clare) finds herself trapped in 1918 because she and Emily are sent to live with a family and she’s no longer sleeping in the magic bed, she faces questions about who she is, where she belongs and what would happen if she did not return.

Here’s why I didn’t love Charlotte Sometimes. It’s slow and boring at times, with a lot of extraneous detail that bogged down the story and made my mind wander. I listened to Charlotte Sometimes on audio and it was a struggle to concentrate. But even more important, Farmer did not take advantage of time travel, which is a literary and narrative goldmine. Think of all the things that can befall someone living in another era: cultural confusion, astonishment at technological advancement (or its converse), and, of course, the ramifications of doing things that can affect your future self or the people you love. Time travel books make my head hurt in the best way; they are confusing and mind-bendy and intellectually challenging. Charlotte Sometimes barely scratched the surface of time travel. It almost never acknowledged the differences between the two eras, other than that there were no airplanes in 1918, and Farmer didn’t even address the logic fallacy of time travel until the very end. What a waste!

As I mentioned, I listened to Charlotte Sometimes on audio. Narration by Hannah Gordon was precise and dramatic like British narrators often are, but even she couldn’t keep me focused on large swaths of the book. Despite her capable narration, I was relieved when I finished.

OK – 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge completed. Stay tuned for my wrapup and the announcement of the 2020 EDIWTB Reading Challenge.

THE BEST SKIN OF YOUR LIFE STARTS HERE by Paula Begoun

You probably know people in your life who are good at makeup, intuitively know how to care for their skin and look polished and fresh all the time. I am definitely not one of those people. When it comes to my skin, I need all the instruction I can get. So when I had to choose a book for the Self Help category of the 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge, I picked one about skin care that has been on my shelf since 2016: The Best Skin Of Your Life Starts Here by Paula Begoun.

Here’s what’s good about this book. It gives very clear instructions for exactly how to take care of your skin. This is the kind of self-help book I like – one that gives very practical guidance that you can implement as soon as you read it (like Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up or Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall’s Hungover). I am not into self-help books about being happy or productive or relaxed, or business books about effective habits and smart leadership. But a book that tells me to use a cleanser and then a toner and then an exfoliant and then a moisturizer? Yes.

The Best Skin Of Your Life Starts Here covers how to establish a skincare routine, which essential elements should be part of that routine, how to tell what kind of skin you have, how to treat acne, how to treat other skin problems and what plastic surgery and injections can accomplish. The book can be repetitive, but that just made me learn the content faster. A few key takeaways:

  • The most important thing you can do for your skin is wear sunscreen! ALL THE TIME.
  • Vitamin C does wonders for your skin.
  • Consistency is key when it comes to skincare regimens.
  • Don’t buy products in clear glass bottles or use old products.

I learned a lot from The Best Skin Of Your Life Starts Here and have implemented a new skincare routine since I finished Chapter 2. I also totally overhauled my bathroom counter and now actually understand what I have and what it’s used for.

Soon I’ll look 10 years younger. Right?

INTERPRETER OF MALADIES by Jhumpa Lahiri

For the Pulitzer Prize Winner category of the 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge, I chose Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I am a big fan of Lahiri’s, and enjoyed her books The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth and The Lowland. Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of short stories that follows the same themes as Lahiri’s novels: immigration, loneliness, identity and connection in unexpected places.

Most of the stories in this collection involve Indian immigrants to the U.S., usually in the 70s or 80s, and usually to Massachusetts. There are couples learning to love each other after arranged marriages, graduate students trying to assimilate into American culture, and Americans to understand immigrants. Like in her other books, Lahiri has deep compassion for her characters and, in her quiet, elegant way, conveys the isolation and rootlessness they feel living in a new place and trying to find their way. There is restraint to Lahiri’s writing, just as her characters are often emotionally restrained in how they relate to each other and express their feelings.

I don’t love short stories because I often feel they lack staying power, and I feel similarly about Interpreter of Maladies. I enjoyed the stories a lot while I read them, but to write this review, I had to flip back through the book to remind myself of the different plots. The strongest one is the first, “A Temporary Matter,” about a married couple finally communicating with each other about the stillborn baby they lost months earlier. Sadly, the gulf of silence that has grown between them proves to be uncrossable and they separate by the end of the story. I also enjoyed “Mrs. Sen’s”, a story about an American boy who spends his afternoons in the care of an newly immigrated Indian woman who is isolated in her house because she’s too afraid to learn to drive.

I am glad I finally got to Interpreter of Maladies, which had been on my shelf for years. (Also my daughter is going to read it for school in January, so I can talk about it with her.) And I ticked another category off the challenge list. One more to finish!

I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson

This is the longest stretch I’ve gone all year without finishing a book. I mostly blame baseball – my beloved Washington Nationals made an unprecedented postseason run from the Wild Card game to the World Series, surviving several elimination games and beating the odds to win the pennant. We are a baseball house, which meant late nights throughout October and much exhaustion and distraction during the days. My reading ground to a halt. I stopped and started about 4 books, getting nowhere, before finally just accepting that I was not going to be getting any reading done until the end of the Series.

Another reason for the inactivity: the one book I was reading/listening to just wasn’t doing it for me. For the “Movie in 2019” category of the 2019 EDIWTB Reading Challenge, I chose I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson, a YA novel that I JUST DISCOVERED IS NOT COMING OUT AS A MOVIE IN 2019. OH MY GOD. How did that happen? I can’t believe I read this book for no reason. I may have confused it with another book? It is in development, but no release date has been set. WHY DID I READ THIS BOOK? I may just give myself a pass on this because I truly believed it was coming out this year. My blog, my challenge, right?

I’ll Give You The Sun is about twins in Northern California – Noah and Jude – who used to be inseparable but became estranged between ages 14 1/2 and 16. The story of why they stopped speaking to each other unfolds throughout the book in alternating chapters, with the early years narrated by Noah and the later years narrated by Jude. In those intervening years, the two grapple with a lot of complicated things: sexual identity, death of a parent, competition between them for academics and their parents’ attention, sexual assault. It sounds like it should be an interesting book, and I am particularly drawn to books about twins because I am a twin mom, but I had a really hard time with this one.

Things happen in I’ll Give You The Sun that are implausible or make no sense. There are weird supernatural effects throughout, such as conversations with dead family members. Noah and Jude are totally self-absorbed, even for adolescents, and act in unforgivably selfish ways. There are inappropriate sexual relationships and underdeveloped characters who fall in deep love with little explanation. The plot was hard to follow. And, it was boring! It took me SO LONG to finish this book. And I didn’t enjoy it at all.

Maybe this is an age thing? People seem to love this book.

I alternated between listening to and reading I’ll Give You The Sun. It is narrated by the excellent Julia Whelan and Jesse Bernstein. I thought Bernstein in particular did a great job with Noah – I actually googled him because he was so convincing as a 14 year old and I wanted to see what he looked like. But even this duo couldn’t save I’ll Give You The Sun. I found my mind wandering as I listened to it – the death knell for an audiobook.

At least I completed one of the challenge categories… kind of.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie

I picked up And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie for the Unread Classic category of the 2019 Everyday I Write The Book Reading Challenge. I *think* I read it when I was pretty young and was going through an Agatha Christie phase, but I didn’t remember much about it. It’s one of her classic mysteries: ten unconnected people are summoned to a remote island under vague circumstances. One by one, they start dying. Who is killing them, and why?

And Then There Were None is definitely one of Christie’s creepier mysteries. There is no way on or off the island, so the killer has to be one of the ten people there, right? Who can be trusted? When the deaths start mirroring a children’s maudlin poem framed on the wall of the each of the guest rooms, the tension is ratcheted even further. You know HOW the people are going to die, but you don’t know WHO will die, or when.

My podcast co-host Nicole warned me not to read And Then There Were None at night, especially while in strange hotels when I was traveling. So I saved it for the plane ride home, which was a crowded daytime flight flooded with sunlight. That ended up being a good choice, because I wasn’t all that scared. It was a good mystery, and the characters’ backstories made it interesting. The resolution is pretty satisfying, if a bit (!) unrealistic. I was struck by one thing: this book is outdated! One minor character is referred to as a “dirty Jew”, and the deaths two of the victims – a butler and a maid who are married – are barely even acknowledged because they are hired help. I didn’t realize that Christie was anti-Semitic and that other racist language had appeared frequently in her works. This book actually had two earlier titles, both of which were racist and had to be changed.

I could have gone in a million directions with this category of the reading challenge, and this was a painless, if not terribly memorable, way to tick a book off the list.