2014 Reading Challenge Complete!

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At the beginning of the year, I made a commitment to read 52 books by the end of 2014. Well, I did it! In fact, I finished way ahead of schedule, completing¬†my¬†52nd book of the year early last week. So here are the last of my¬†reviews from this year’s¬†reading challenge! (There are so many!) You can find reviews of the other books I’ve read in 2014 by exploring the ‘Book Snippets‘ category.

52 books in 52 weeks challenge: 34/52
Night Train by Pascal Mercier

‘Night Train to Lisbon’ opens with the lead character, Raimund Gregorius encountering a strange, young Portuguese woman. Their brief interaction stirred something in Gregorius, leading him to a bookstore to discover a book written in Portuguese by Amadeu de Prado. Gregorius, a language professor teaching in Bern, decides in the span of a few hours to leave his life in Switzerland to move to Portugal, where he will study the language and uncover de Prado’s life story. The book includes pieces of de Prado’s book alongside Gregorius’ journey to Lisbon so it is filled with philosophical questions and thought, unsurprising as the author is a philosopher and professor himself. While it is dense at times, it is never boring. Instead, it offers the reader a chance to explore ideas that they might have previously left unexplored, perhaps out of fear about where those ideas will lead. Questions of God, the purpose of life, the soul, and the existence of love are themes threaded throughout the book. The impact of de Prado’s life on all those who knew him shows us the weight of our own lives, reminding us of our own possible impact. Though it often felt more like a thought experiment than a novel,¬†I really enjoyed following Gregorius’ adventure while reading this book.¬†(4 stars out of 5)

52 books in 52 weeks challenge: 35/52
The Circus Fire¬†by¬†Stewart O’Nan

This book recounts the events leading up to, during, and after the horrible fire at the Ringling Brothers Barnun and Bailey Circus on July 6th, 1944 in Hartford, Conneticut. Honestly, I struggled to get through this. In the forward, the author, Stewart O’Nan, tells us that he decided to tell this true story in an unconventional way, in a novel. But this did not fee like a novel at all! It was dense, filled with too many characters to keep track of. It was dull, despite the dramatic event it was describing. It was gruesome, too, with lengthy passages describing the sights bodies and smell of burnt skin. I often found the writing choppy, switching between characters and settings too quickly and without proper transitions to give the reader context. That said, it was clearly incredibly well researched, with lots of detail from police reports, newspapers, and also interviews O’Nan completed while preparing to write the book. The work put into writing the book is admirable but its end product is not even close to “exceptionally moving”, as the back cover promises. Instead, despite the deep emotions behind the tragedy, the book feel like a compilation of research. The vignettes we get of characters isn’t enough for us to connect with their emotional pain. It was just the facts; there was no story and the attempted mystery at the end fell flat. While it’s definitely documenting an important piece of history, it’s not a book I would ever encourage others to read unless they had a specific interest in the precise events of this particular fire.¬†(2 stars out of 5)

52 books in 52 weeks challenge: 36/52
The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year by Sue Townsend

Eva Beavers, a former librarian, is the mother of genius twins who just moved out of the house for their first year of university. Disenchanted with her duties as ‘wife’ and ‘mother’, Eva decides to get into bed and not leave for a while – a whole year, in fact. The novel follows the consequences of this decision. It’s a story about a woman who is sick and tired of all the tasks that she does that everyone else takes for granted. While I didn’t find the novel nearly as funny as everyone else seems to think it is, I sped through it in an afternoon so I clearly enjoyed it. I love that it’s a book that is light yet still has important social commentary, most notably about the division of household labour between men and women. The first half of the novel was much more engaging to me, though. I found the second half less interesting because I didn’t get to look into Eva’s thoughts as much as I wanted to. I was curious about what she was contemplating, spending all this time in her bed, but little was actually revealed so I just got frustrated with her (as did the people around her) because I never got to explore the reasoning behind her staying in bed. Furthermore, I found the ending quite unsatisfactory – in fact, it was more of a ‘non-ending’ than anything else. I think it could have used a couple of extra chapters to properly wrap things up. I was taken with author Sue Townsend’s writing style so I’ll definitely read more by her in the future. Her style seems suited to a lazy afternoon by the woodstove in the winter or poolside in the summer and I know I have a couple of her other books on a shelf somewhere at home.¬†(3 stars out of 5) Continue reading

Reading Challenge Update

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Since my last post about my reading challenge this year, I’ve been quite busy traveling around Ghana and, yes, reading a lot, too! I’ve made it up to thirty-three books read so far since the beginning of January, leading me to believe that I’m definitely on target to complete my challenge for 2014.

While I’m really enjoying all the reading I’ve done this year, I’m having some second thoughts about the usefulness of reading challenges. First, I fear that they put pressure on a activity that is supposed to be a fun and stress-free hobby. Moreover, I worry that reading challenges might encourage readers¬†to stick to books that are ‘quick reads’ like young adult books and ‘chick lit’ instead of tackling more challenging books since they’d take longer to read, taking up precious ‘reading challenge’ time.

I have not found myself feeling pressured to read or feeling drawn to shorter books for the purposes of completing my challenge quickly but these concerns have made me think that once I finish my challenge (which may well be quite before the end of 2014), that I will draft ‘reading goals’ instead of following a reading challenge. Reading goals would focus more on the kind of books I want to read including genres and authors, giving me the inspiration to keep reading without the possible negative implications of a reading challenge. For example, a reading goal could be¬†a commitment to reading¬†more¬†books by authors of colour and another could be an interest in reading¬†more graphic novels.

For now, I’ll just finish off my challenge and brainstorm ideas for my future reading goals. If you have ideas for reading goals, let me know. Here’s what I read recently over the past month or so!

52 books in 52 weeks challenge: 19/52
I Am The Messenger by Markus Zusak

Ed Kennedy is pretty sure he’s just a regular, boring loser stuck in his small hometown. He’s nineteen years old and working as a cabbie, which he describes e more of an excuse than a job. Then, one day, he receives a mysterious playing card in the mail that sends him on a journey and leads him to find and create meaningful¬†connections with others. This is such an odd book but I loved it. The writing style is very clipped, with many short sentences used to show Ed’s thought process as he tries to understand what he’s experiencing. Ed is a surprising and genuine character, with a bit of an attitude that often made me smile. He’s more than his cheekiness though, which we learn with him as embraces his role as ‘the messenger’. It’s a really touching book without being nostalgic. It also cuts close to home by reminding us that we are not the only ones in the world, that everyone has a story if you only take the time and make the effort to listen to it. This is a great book to read if you’re looking for inspiration!¬†(4 stars out of 5) Continue reading

Co-op Update & New Book Snippets

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Some of you might have noticed a couple of things: I haven’t posted anything about my co-op job or permanent accommodations and, if you’re my Facebook friend, I’ve been pestering you with a lot of book reviews as part of my ’52 Books In¬†52 Weeks’ reading challenge. These are, in fact, related. How? Well, I’ve been co-op placement limbo as I wait for things to get going so I’m finding myself with a lot of time on my hands, hence all the reading.

Unfortunately, my supervisor at work has been quite ill so it looks like I won’t be officially starting my work term until later this week. (I’ll let you know how things¬†go once they happen, of course!) And, in regards to housing, I’m still in a guest house here in Bibiani as I wait for my apartment to be prepped for me, which has taken a little longer than anticipated.

While these delays have come with some challenges, of course, I’ve been working hard to enjoy my time relaxing (forgive the¬†oxymoron). One of my favourite ways to relax is to read, so much so that I’ve read several books just in¬†the past few days. So, to continue my ‘Book Snippets’ category (which I will be¬†expanding beyond these mini-reviews once I’m finishing my 2014 challenge!), here are the reviews for the books I’ve read over the past few weeks. As proof that reading has been filling my time¬†as of late, note that the last six books I’ve read in the past four days!

52 books in 52 weeks challenge: 12/52
The Death Cure by James Dashner

This the last book of The Maze Runner series. (Well, there’s a prequel but it’s the last if we’re going chronologically…) ‘The Death Cure’ follows the story of Thomas and his friends who are caught in a dystopian future where the world is overrun by a horrible disease called The Flare but I won’t say anything more about the¬†plot since I don’t want to be a Spoiler for the first two books. I enjoyed the first book, ‘The Maze Runner’, but had some issues with the second book ‘The Scorch Trials’ but I was really pleased with how this final book wrapped up the story. I think Dashner did a really good job of bringing everything together at the end and answering most of the questions brought up by the first two books. He also didn’t shy away from the terrible realities of the world he created, which makes for some sad and disturbing scenes but they really add to the book in my opinion. The character development is still a little weak for me, though. For example, even though he’s the narrator, I find I still want to know MORE about Thomas. I appreciated that there was a lot less explaining of the plot so there was a lot more action. It could have used one more chapter at the end for a less abrupt goodbye but, in all, the book was a very satisfying end to the series.¬†(3 stars out of 5)

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Introducing… Book Snippets!

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I’ll admit it: I’m a chicken. Why? Well, I’ve wanted a blog for a few years but I¬†avoided it¬†for a number of reasons that mostly¬†relate to self-doubt.¬†The only reason I finally plucked up the courage to finally start this blog is because I want to document my co-op placement in Ghana. But I called this blog ‘Snippets of Katherine’ and not ‘Katherine’s co-op placement in Ghana’ for a reason: I want to share many different parts of me, not just my adventures in Ghana. After all, a ‘snippet’ is a small piece of something and I want this blog to be a collection of small pieces of me and my life.

A really significant part of my life has always been reading. For my New Year’s Resolution, as previously discussed, I’ve embarked on a 2014 Reading Challenge of completing fifty-two books before the end of the year. As part of this challenge, I’ve been posting mini book reviews on my personal Facebook page. I’ve really enjoyed doing this¬†not only because it keeps me accountable to my goal but it has also stimulated¬†connections and conversations both online and offline. People will check in on me, for instance asking how my reading challenge is going or giving me book recommendations.

Yesterday, I asked a couple of friends if I should stop posting the reviews on my personal Facebook because I was worried I was bombarding people’s news feeds with clutter. I was really encouraged when they both told me to continue posting the reviews because they thought they were fun to read. My Reading Challenge posts¬†had even impacted their reading habits by inspiring them to read more and by giving them suggestions of what to read next. Spurred by this positive feedback, I’ve decided to make my book reviews more public by adding them to a new section of¬†this blog I’m calling¬†‘Book Snippets’.

To help catch up with what I’ve read so far in 2014, please see below¬†the¬†eleven mini book reviews I’ve posted on my Facebook so far. And stay tuned for more book reviews as I continue my 2014 Reading Challenge and add to the Book Snippets section! Continue reading