On January 1st, 2016, I set a Goodreads Reading Challenge to read 40 books in 2017.
I read a total of 10,523 pages across 36 books. My shortest book was 64 pages (The Grownup by Gillian Flynn) and my longest book was 480 pages (Ill Will by Dan Chaon). My average rating was a 3.6 out of 5 stars.
To some, reading 40 books over the course of a year might seem easy — just ask my friend Melanie, who read 71 in 2017 or Emily, who read 205! To others, it’s an implausible, difficult goal. But for me, it was a solid balance between stretching myself to read more without setting the bar so high that I think I have no chance of ever reaching it.
As this year draws to a close, I’ll finish with 35 on the list. I started off the year strong, but my reading level dropped when trying to juggle my last semester of college, applying for jobs, and preparing for graduation. I began devouring books weekly by the beginning of fall, but I was too far behind to catch up.
No, I didn’t hit my goal, but I’m made progress by reading almost ten more than last year. There’s no champagne or confetti waiting for me at the other end, but reading is something I truly enjoy. Committing to intentionally spending more time with a book in hand is fulfilling. I don’t want the prospect of hitting a goal to make me a reluctant reader. The challenge is just that — a challenge. It does not make me a good or bad reader. If you read, you are a reader.
If you’re looking to expand your literary purview, I invite you to join me in setting a reading goal for the year. Check out my blog post on how to read more here: click!
Now for the breakdown of my 2017 reads: I’d like to emphasize that the rating is a personal opinion, not so much a statement about the quality of the book. I am one of those readers who believes all reading experiences, all experiences with art, in fact, are about perspective and interpretation. I don’t believe I am in a position to make a universal statement about how good a book is; I can only say what I liked or didn’t like about it, and why, and maybe some people will relate to that and find it useful. We rate books based on how they make us feel, and how they make us feel is based off of our own life experiences.
= PERFECT. I will read this over and over and over and over.
= I really enjoyed this! Definitely engaged me and I very highly recommend it.
= Good story, but it just didn’t blow me away.
= Meh, this was okay. I wouldn’t recommend it. I just didn’t feel it or it had some serious issues.
= This book was pretty bad. I don’t like it. I want my money and time back.
DNF (Did Not Finish) = I couldn’t even get through it/it didn’t hold my interest.
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman
Backman takes his reader so deep into his character’s hearts that you actually feel as though you inhabit their bodies. This novella was mercifully short, but every word was perfect. Few books could relay the emotion that this book does, and few authors are equipped to tell their story in such a compact manner.
Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon
A practical and philosophical discussion of what it means to put yourself out in the world as a creative. I preferred Kleon’s other book, “Steal Like an Artist” because I do identify as an artist, so nearly everything in there felt written for me. “Show Your Work!” is more about how to self-promote and be an entrepreneur with your art, which at this juncture doesn’t appeal to me, but the writing quality is great.
Steal Like an Artist by Thich Nhat Hanh
Steal Like an Artist gives ideas that apply to anyone who’s trying to inject some creativity into their life and their work, which I hope is everyone! The underlining theme is to stop making excuses and make something. The rest is a collection of ways to help you get started. It’s a short, fun book, and an exciting way to spend 30 minutes.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
I’m not one to read a love story. The Notebook made me gag. The Fault in Our Stars didn’t move me. And Me Before You didn’t make me cry…it made me BLUBBER. I choked on my own hot tears. I laughed. I cried. I holed myself in my room and ignored people to read it. I stayed up well into the early hours of the night. This book broke me down into tiny little particles.
Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler is an unfailingly good storyteller and her books are my favorite way to escape. She knows how to create compelling stories and absorbing characters out of non-existent plots. Searching for Caleb concerns the search for a long gone family member, but that’s really a minor plot point. The book is really about the urge to get away from our families of origin and just how hard that can prove to be. The gap an absent person leaves behind creates drama that everyone else has to cope with.
Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
There are all kinds of people in the world, and this book makes sure that you know you are not alone. It simply gets you drunk on everything you love about being a human being.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is an absolutely stunning, gripping, and emotional story of betrayal and redemption that made me feel like ripping my heart out because it hurts to have feelings. The prose magnificently and beautifully paints the deep, but flawed relationship between two boyhood friends, Amir and Hassan. Other novels seem pale in comparison to this vivid tale – one that I put down with a sigh and wished were longer. Hosseini’s protagonist may be cowardly, but the novel itself is full of courage.
Happiness Is… by Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar
I got this book as a gift and it is ADORABLE. This little sunny gem is filled with cute illustrations and sweet thoughts. While it’s not profound literature, I enjoyed reading it and it put a smile on my face. 🙂
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
The Virgin Suicides is a blurry kaleidoscopic picture of beauty and decay. It cleverly fakes being a book about teen suicide, but its real exploration is into the delicate dynamics that keep a family together, the death of innocence (re: the title), and how men view young women in our society.
For me, the plot, though unique, is not what makes this story great–it’s the poetic prose. Nearly every single sentence of this startlingly is perfect. There are passages that made me toss the book down and scream into my pillow. The writing is so lovely that it induces a dreamlike state in the reader.
Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens
This was my first Chevy Stevens and wow…I fell deep into this book. My heart was pounding and I was on the edge of my seat from page one. I absolutely loved how Stevens keep me guessing until the end of the book. It’s hard to put down and it’s hard to keep reading. I felt anger, sadness, fear and confusion.
Today Means Amen by Sierra DeMulder
Have you ever caught yourself sobbing uncontrollably on public transit? Have you ever swallowed a book in pieces so hefty, that your body collapses into itself, unable to withstand the collision?
How can I describe this book, this bundle of pages that describes the heart so poignantly that my eyes dribbled like rainwater and I continued reading with heavy sighs. Gasping. My mind had a hole, and her worlds curled themselves into it. Thank you for healing me, Sierra.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
A literary mystery with painful observations about racial barriers, the burden of familial expectations, and the basic human thirst for belonging. Five strands of family drama are weaved beautifully, uncovering wounds going back decades and tracing the scars they’ve left behind them. Overall, a wonderful contemporary drama packed with powerful familial relationships and an intriguing, sorrowful mystery.
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
This book made me actually gasp out loud. I literally threw it on the ground and screamed. To put it colloquially, THIS BOOK LEFT ME SHOOKETH. To say this book is like a roller coaster ride doesn’t do Mackintosh’s writing justice. Her story twists and turns, but each move is calculated and precise. Even when you think she’s pulled the last piece out from under you, and surely her story can’t withstand another twist, she does it. And then she does it again.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
This book is entirely atmospheric, so the plot moves very slowly. I felt like I was with the main character in this tiny, unknown place in 19th Century Ireland. Between the religious fanaticism and its infuriating sexism, I got so caught up in everything. The characters intrigued me and kept me glued despite not being consistently exciting. I’m struggling to explain what exactly I liked so much, but this book certainly made me feel.
The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
Firstly, Gillian Flynn is flawless in every way and I’ve never read a work of hers I didn’t slab five stars on. Secondly, The Grownup was a crazy and perfect mind-fuck like her other books. From the first line to the likable, unnamed protagonist, to the spooky vibes, I loved every moment of it.
My only complaint: The ending is lackluster. Ambiguous endings work sometimes, but this was a little too much of a non-ending for me. I know short stories are often notorious for having shock endings so that you aren’t left feeling robbed of a full book, but I didn’t know quite to make of this one. It was unexpected, definitely. The book is so short, it’s worth the read anyway. Hell, I’d NEVER turn away a novel from this brilliant author.
My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
A quiet, thoughtful read. The book is very readable and I finished it in one sitting. Lucy Barton is a great character to spend time with, but I felt there was just something missing, like there was so much more to discover, right under the surface. I wanted it to punch me in the gut, I wanted to feel the emotion, but it only went so far and raised a little lump. I wanted much more detail. Lucy’s background stories were too vague and hazy. This is definitely a book that I need to re-visit in the future as I think after a re-read, I may think differently on it.
Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham
Lauren Graham is every bit as charming, funny and adorable as Lorelai Gilmore. All I want to do is have her phone number so I can text her sometime.
Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick
I felt like I was sitting down with a friend (who is, admittedly, much cooler than me) and having a nice little chat. It already confirmed what I know to be true: Anna and I should be best friends. She’s relateable, weird, and honest.
If You Find This Letter by Hannah Brencher
I loved Hannah’s honesty, the beauty of her words. It wasn’t perfect, but it made me FEEL. The analytical part of me could probably find critical things to say about the book, but the emotional part of me doesn’t care. It made me think about my life, my passions, and my calling. I needed this book at this exact point in my life, when I’m trying to find my way in the world.
Ill Will by Dan Chaon
This is a dark, sadistic, disturbing novel told through shifting narrators, and in the hottest moments, pages break into three columns of text so that we experience these horrors from different but parallel perspectives. Chaon’s writing often stops mid-sentence to exacerbate that sense of disorientation.
I don’t think I will forget this book anytime soon, if ever. The book is F’d up. Chaon does pull a few punches I didn’t like at the very end, and many parts of the story were hard to grasp since it was written in a disjointed way, so I can only give 4 stars instead of five. However, I have got to give it to the author for creating this crazy ride.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
This book made me think and think and think and think. Some books are written to make you feel, but this one was definitely written to make you think, make you want to grab someone and talk about it. I enjoyed this book not because the writing, plot, or even characters were good, but because it is so in-depth and the layers, the symbols, and the metaphors are endless.
1984 by George Orwell
A scary, thought-provoking, and realistic read. 1984 is about a society that is purely controlled by the government. They monitor everything you do, everything you say, and even think. The book does have some flaws. The initial introduction to the world is excellent, but there is a long stretch of boring, mostly in the last half, where I wasn’t invested in the story. Fortunately, the book does pull it together at the end.
What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah
The book is good and the writing is beautiful, but it was a little difficult to remember and appreciate the entire collection when the styles changed so frequently. The stories range from brief prose-poems to straightforward narrative to sci-fi, so they felt somewhat disconnected from each other. The collection does not disappoint, and I definitely had my favorites, although some of the stories later in the book are too chunky. Overall, I’m left with a sense of wanting more and I will definitely read her other works.
Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia
I recommend this for anyone who likes Lifetime movies and is looking for a nice beach read. It’s easy and entertaining (I finished it in a day), but I did not feel there was anything original or particularly memorable. Lined with overused characters, the ending was easily identifiable. Not badly written, just predictable.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Wonder is a really good book…but it’s too happy. Too bright. Too sweet. The ending is picture perfect. My biggest beef with the book is that the author had a chance to really send messages about self-acceptance and self-love, but she totally missed the mark. I hated that the way Auggie made friends was by making fun of himself along with them. I felt as if the majority of love and recognition Auggie got throughout the story came only because of his disfigurement. And let’s not even mention the insinuation that the people who did befriend him are just saints. I don’t even want to get into that.
The Girls by Emma Cline
A very interesting premise — what gets people to join cults? — went downhill fast and I was stuck with a teenager trying to figure out her emotions for 370 pages. The overflowing prose was too much for me. Then there’s the plot itself, which is a monotonous drag sprinkled with a few disturbing sex scenes. I don’t mind character-driven books, but I didn’t like any of the characters, so I caught myself just dragging along with them.
Always Watching by Chevy Stevens
If you are looking for a quick read with unlikeable characters, lackluster dialogue, and a sorely predictable and disappointing ending, give this one a go! Yikes. Maybe that’s too harsh. There isn’t anything technically wrong with it, but I didn’t enjoy as much as the author’s other novels.
The Girl Before by Rena Olsen
It took me a while to settle into the story and it was quite predictable, though I still wanted to see it end. Ultimately, I think if fell pretty flat. The reason why Clara is being held by authorities is crystal clear from the start, so to have the author tease at it without revealing it for a while was frustrating and made for a slow start.
The writing wasn’t terrible, but it was so dragged on and over-explained. The plot went around and around in circles. There was so much repetition, and I wish the author used much of the repetitive sections to dive into detail about the many unanswered questions the story left. The ending did pick back up, but it was a little too late and my mind was already made up.
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
Initially, what attracted me towards this book was the cover. Even the blurb looked interesting to me, but that’s where it ends. I so wanted to love this book. I certainly did not dislike it, I just feel quite neutral. This book definitely had its strong points but was unable to captivate me and make me care.
I feel that more time should have been spent on the characters because they were really flat and development was left entirely on the readers’ shoulders. The style and structure of the book was very readable, the past/present narratives were well-executed, and the appreciation for readers was quite beautiful. However, these things did not make up for the characters, the slow and boring plot, and the unforgivable, vague ending.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The greatest first 30 pages ever. The worst rest. As gruesome and horrible as this sounds, the death scene was the only interesting part, and the rest of the book died along with the protagonist. The metaphors were horrendous (check this one out: “Her pupils dilated, pulsing in and out like small, ferocious olives.”) and there was no plot, no forward movement and no building of suspense. The absolutely nonsensical ending alone was enough to perhaps say this is one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Heed this warning and don’t waste your time on this.
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
I begin to get irrationally angry when I think about this book. The author’s writing flares towards the wildly and laughably dramatic. Any with, like, 13 characters, why does NOTHING happen? The book was nothing but inner monologues and no actions to match! They barely interact with each other which makes the majority of them interchangeable and disposable. I didn’t care what happened to any of them, and I just wanted them all to die off, and I almost died of boredom myself. Dramatic? Nice! I learned it from Hawkins herself.
The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan
What started out so lovely quickly tumbled downhill. The narrator was whiny, annoying, and self-absorbed and the forced romantic subplot was useless. Not what I expected at all, and I had such high hopes for this book. Too sweet, too fairytale, and corny beyond belief. I think I audibly groaned at some point. I enjoyed the small stories about the missing items so much more, and I feel like this author couldn’t fulfill this incredible idea.
Those Girls by Chevy Stevens
There was no plot other than girls being continuously tortured and abused… and go back for more?! If a story is going to start off that dark then the rest of the book should be a revenge story with a very satisfying ending, but there wasn’t any of that. I was yelling out loud about how asinine the main characters were. There is nothing thrilling about the book, so basically, you’re just reading a tale of continual sexual abuse.
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
This book made me think a lot… about burning it.
The whole thing is told to us in simple sentences! Every single detail is explained. Every thought or action is told and in an instructional way, almost like a manual. Every single thing is laid out for the reader, every angle, every possibility, every theory. Absolutely nothing is left to the imagination. I feel as though I was being repeatedly hit with a sledgehammer, and I think I rather would be than ever pick up this book again.
Did Not Finish:
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
I made it to 60% and was out. I think this book is crap. Yes, I am saying it. I have no idea why this is a classic, but maybe that’s why I don’t get it. To me, this is just a glorified and accepted account of pedophilia. And it’s BORING as hell.
It’s tedious, verbose, and pretentious. It lacked depth. It lacked revelations. Nothing about this book surprised me or really changed my view about anything in life. And the main character is nothing more than a perverted asshole who never owns up to being a perverted asshole. All he does is continually justify himself.
I found it offensive and boring; I’m not sure which is worse. Yeah, you could just say the book is this great fascinating study of a sicko’s mind, but no such illumination or depth came to me. But hey, I’m sure I read it wrong.
This year, I have pledged to read 40 books by 2018. If you’d like to keep up with my reading, I’ve attached a widget on my sidebar (right), or you can always visit my Goodreads account here. I also post some of my reviews on my blog.
What will your reading challenge for this year be?
Do you have any book recommendations?
What is your favorite part about reading?