Tag Archives: 2015ReadingChallenge

Yeah, About that Reading Challenge …

Remember a year ago when I wrote about a 12-book reading challenge that I wanted to tackle for 2015, and it seemed totally realistic, and I began by reading three books in a month-and-a-half? Well, I kept going, devouring new books left and right, and ended up surpassing my goal and finishing the year with a whole new set of titles that challenged, entertained and educated me! Well, then my infant became mobile, I applied, interviewed for, and accepted a new job at a new university, moved two states away, started the new job, bought a house, moved into that house, dealt with a broken water heater, hosted visitors every month from August to December, had a first-birthday party, a third-birthday party, celebrated the holidays, and went on vacation with friends in Palm Springs. So, 27 excuses later, I definitely did not finish that reading challenge.

I did make progress, although didn’t blog about it after February. So now, on my last night of Christmas/New Year’s vacation, I thought it was finally time to post an update, at least about what I can remember. Maybe this time next year I’ll be completely done.

A Book Recommended by Someone with Great Taste

wheredyougoUnlike me, my best friend, Melody, does an incredible job of making time for books, and she is constantly offering high-quality recommendations. So for this category, I read one of her suggestions: “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” by Maria Semple. The story  is centered around a precocious teen girl, her brilliant/neurotic architect mother (Bernadette), and her also-brilliant, overworked father, set in upscale hippie Seattle. After suffering a series of mental breakdowns, Bernadette disappears, and the daughter starts an investigation to find her. Told largely through letters, emails, and records, it’s funny and tragic and moving. I was disappointed in the ending–it felt rather abrupt and unfinished. But overall, a lovely book. Apparently Richard Linklater and Cate Blanchett are doing the movie, so, yay!

A Book You’ve Been Meaning to Read

writingforstoryI checked out “Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Non-Fiction,” by Jon Franklin from the UT library literally years ago and just kept re-reserving it every time it came due again. When we decided to move to Tucson, I finally got my act together to finish it.

Franklin has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for his newspaper writing, and this book shares his painstaking process for how he crafts his masterpieces. It’s full of tremendous advice, tools, and perspective on researching, structuring and editing stories, and demonstrates that writing is hard work, not a mysterious art. But the most useful parts were two of his articles reprinted in the book, in original format and also with footnotes explaining the different storytelling techniques he uses. They are masterfully written and must-reads for anyone who puts pen to paper (so to speak) for a living or hobby.

A Book Published This Year*

commaqueenMy dad gave me “Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen,” by Mary Norris for my birthday. Norris is an editor at The New Yorker, and the book is part-memoir, part grammar and language exploration. As someone who writes and edits for a living and has always loved language, I was excited to dig in. I enjoy the parts of the book where Norris gives a behind-the-scenes look at how the copy department works at The New Yorker, but other parts, mainly her own personal history, are less compelling. I’m about halfway through the book, (I think–Camden lost my place) so I’m only partially counting it as a 2015 read.


There have been a few other books that I’ve started, but the only other significant one I finished was “Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times,” by Jennifer Worth. Unfortunately it really doesn’t fit in any of the categories in the challenge. My review: it’s amazing and beautiful and heartbreaking, and I’ve never been so grateful to have given birth in the 21st century. I’ll get around to watching the show one day–after I read a few more books.



Reading Challenge Update #2

One-and-a-half months in on my 2015 Reading Challenge, and I’m feeling pretty good, having already finished three books. And that doesn’t even acknowledge a few others I’ve got on my nightstand and desk at work that I’m working my way through since I started them before the challenge. Hopefully this isn’t like a marathon runner who sets an overly ambitious pace at the beginning of the race and then passes out on mile 20. Not that I’d know the feeling because running is terrible.

Tales of Woodsman PeteFor my second book of the challenge, I tackled “A book in a genre you don’t typically read,” with a graphic novel called “Tales of Woodsman Pete,” by Lilli Carre.

It’s super short, so I finished it with just a couple of quick pre-bed readings. It was quirky and had a folk-art quality to it that I like. And while it was certainly enjoyable, I do wish I had picked a meatier book for my first graphic novel. I don’t feel like I really got a good sense of the genre’s strengths and potential for compelling stories. I’ll probably try another one in the future.


downloadNext I took the plunge with Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl” for “A book that’s currently on the bestseller list.”

I love mysteries, but had been hesitant about this one because the general aura around it seemed to be pretty gruesome, and I don’t like stories that ruin your life. (I’m looking at you, 21 Grams.)

But I was also super curious about the book and the movie and didn’t want anything spoiled if I did end up reading it.

After talking to a few different people who had read the book, I decided to give it a shot. My hope was that the suspense of the plot and quality of writing would balance out the unpleasantness of the subject matter.

For me, it did. This text I sent Travis pretty much sums up my response to the book:



I sent that Friday afternoon after finishing part one. I completed the book by Sunday night.

I hate spoilers and will try not to give anything away, but proceed at your own risk if you haven’t read it.

I was hooked from the very first page, which also immediately had me stumped as to what to make of the main character, Nick Dunne. His way of explaining how much he loves (-ed?) his wife is to imagine peeling back her skull and exploring chunks of her brain. You know, real sappy stuff.

While the vitriol the characters express at times is alarming and twisted, I do think parts of the book realistically depict how two people can shift from happily ever after to … less happy in just a few years. Of course ultimately the plot follows a more sensational path that bears no resemblance to average marital strife. But even in that sensational universe, there was only one plot point that seemed out of character to me. (If you’ve read it, I’m thinking of the way things conclude with the money belt in the cabin.)

That’s not to say I didn’t find it unsettling. I did. And it’s certainly not for everyone. But Flynn is a very effective storyteller, and I found myself repulsed by and yet sometimes bizarrely rooting for the two main characters. (Ok, rooting for them against my will. Like, something bad would happen to them, and I’d think, ‘Oh no!’ And then I’d realize I was feeling sympathy for a terrible person. It’s like feeling concern for Frank Underwood. Shudder.)

So to sum up, I enjoyed it, as strange as that seems. It didn’t ruin my life. And I think Ben Affleck is just the most absolute perfect casting for the movie, which I definitely plan on seeing.

Three books down, nine to go.



Reading Challenge Update #1

I did it! I read a book! In some kind of miraculous surge, I finished a book less than three weeks after starting it. I think reading it on the Kindle app of my giant iPhone 6 Plus was the key because I always had it with me.

InterruptedThe first book I chose for my 2015 Reading Challenge was “Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity,” by Austin’s own Jen Hatmaker. This checks off the “A book by a favorite author” category. It was a quick but convicting read, focusing on Hatmaker’s awakening to a deeper, grittier faith, one that compels us to truly care for, engage with, and serve our neighbors and communities. A great read for anyone interested in social justice and living missionally.

Next up I’m tackling “A book in a genre you don’t typically read.” Now, I have pretty wide-ranging interests and enjoy everything from historical fiction to mysteries to Malcolm Gladwellian non-fiction. So I decided to Google a list of book genres to find something that’s so atypical that it wouldn’t even occur to me. And there on Wikipedia I found it: graphic novel. Perfect! Never read one, never been particularly interested.

Tales of Woodsman PeteSo I turned to my favorite pop culture blogger, who I remembered loved graphic novels. And I discovered she had been laid off. Nooo! But all her graphic novel recommendations are still online, and I came across “Tales of Woodsman Pete,” by Lilli Carre. Here is the description:

“a collection of vignettes and stories about a solitary albeit gregarious woodsman with a loose grasp on his own personal history and that of the outside world. He forms relationships with his inanimate surroundings and muses to a dead audience, specifically his bear rug Phillippe.”

I’ll take it!



Reading Challenge

All year my social media feeds are flooded with new challenges people are signing up for: abs, real food, writing, not shaving, remembering to take out the trash. What have you.

I can honestly say that I’ve literally never cared about any of them. You go girl with your 30 days of crunches. I’ll be over here binge-watching The Good Wife on Amazon Prime Video. (I see what all the hype is now about that show! I mean, Christine Baranski’s jewelry alone is worth the watch. Those chunky rings. But I think Julianna Margulies is too hard on her daughter about the faith stuff.)


The other day I finally saw one I could get behind:


I LOVE reading. It’s all I want to do on vacation or a plane. Or a train if I ever rode those. But with a toddler and infant and full-time job and two dogs and dishes and Facebook and Netflix, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to find time or energy to read. I’m also a rather slow reader, so it takes me awhile to finish something even when I do find time. I have 121 books on my Goodreads to-read list. I have stacks of books in the house that I’ve been meaning to read for years.

So when I saw this challenge (from a website called Modern Mrs. Darcy, shared by The Art of Simple), I was intrigued. I liked the categories, and it sounded like something that would motivate me to CREATE time to read, to really make it a priority. But in a fun way, not a 30-days-of-crunches way.

First on my list is Interrupted, by Jen Hatmaker. I’m putting that in the “book by a favorite author” category because I adore her writing. And because the Kindle version was on sale the other day for $1.99.

And since one of the categories is “a book recommended by someone with great taste,” I’d love your book recommendations. Because I’ve managed to surround myself with people who have great taste.

I was also drawn to this challenge because, while I’m not making any resolutions this year, I do want to try and live more intentionally in 2015. Making decisions and spending time on things and people I really care about. Hopefully that will also include more posts here. But it definitely won’t include a month of crunches. Just to be clear.

P.S. – If you’re like me and feel like you don’t have the time, check out Austin Kleon’s 7 tips on how to read more.