Friday, December 2, 2016

100 Books

Three years ago I decided that I was going to read 100 books in one year. That's about two books a week, I thought to myself, How hard can it be?

Pretty hard, as it turns out.

I failed that year at 82 books, and the next year at 71. Frustrated, I decided that I would try it just one more time, to see if it was possible. I was really going to push myself to see if I could get there.

And today it happened: I finished my 100th book in 2016.

So now I'm  going to write about it.

The Experience, Overall

Having done what I set out to do three years ago feels pretty great. I read a lot of really great books (and a few bad ones), and I got to re-read a lot of things that I hadn't read since I was in my early teens, which was fun. The one thing I find regrettable, though, was that I had to choose a lot of books that I knew would be fast reads, instead of some of the books that I really wanted to read. Two books a week is a LOT when you have school and work in the mix, so I needed to read books that would fill in the gaps and not be too distracting from my real life responsibilities.

The second year I attempted this I wanted to read only books that I had never read before. I would love to be able to do that again someday, but fitting all of that into a year without slipping into comfortable old favorites would be almost impossible for me to do. To read all new books seems like a worthier goal than just "read as fast as you can to say that you did it", but I am still super proud of what I have accomplished.

I have to say, though, it will be more fun reading books this December now that  don't feel like I'm in a race. The 100 book challenge is not for sissies.

The Low Points

I feel like with every bundle of good things, there have to be at least a few bad things thrown into the mix. The wormy apple, the rainy Saturday, the poisonous spider in your shipment of grapes... these books are those things.

B.C. by Johnny Hart
I actually read four B.C. books this year, since my dad has a bunch of them. I used to like looking through them when I was a kid, and I remembered them as being funny even though most of the jokes (I'm sure) sailed over my head. Now that I have read them as an adult, I can say with conviction that they are not my cup of tea. There were still a few things that made me smile, but for the most part I found the humor in them to be either boring or in poor taste. It was an attempt at reclaiming my childhood that went spectacularly awry.

"The Bazaar of Bad Dreams" by Stephen King
This one hurts a little, because I love Stephen King's short stories as a general rule, but so many of these were just too far off the mark for me. I didn't find it frightening or thrilling, or even compelling. I mean, the first story in there is about an alien car that eats people. It just felt ridiculous, and it was really hard to drag myself through.

"The Screwtape Letters" by C.S. Lewis
I was actually surprised that I had such a hard time with this one, since I remember loving it when I read it at age fourteen. Not to say that I don't like it now (it was still a good read), but I found some of the concepts in it to be at odds with how I feel about doubting and faith, et cetera. It may just be how it was presented, or how I felt at the time I was reading it, but this just didn't do it for me this time. I might have to revisit it again next year, just to see of my opinion changes again on another reading.

The High Points

These books were the icing on my big, 100 book cake. They are the books that touched me deeply, in one way or another, and I'm excited to get to talk about them now.

The Memoirs of Jennifer Worth (The Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse, Farewell to the East End)
Any watchers of Call the Midwife on BBC or PBS will know what these stories are about at surface level, but reading these books is like immersing yourself in her life. You come away just amazed at the hardships that these women had to endure, and so appreciative of what you've been given. As someone who has watched the show, it was also interesting to see the character changes that they made, and just how many sad endings that they made "TV happy" (which surprised me, because they are not afraid to make you cry, either). I found the entire series to be fascinating and heartwarming, overall.

"Swamplandia!" by Karen Russell
This is a book that chews you up and spits you out and horrifies you in the most fascinating way. I always find Karen Russell to be incredible, because the way that she writes makes you feel every single thing that the characters are feeling. You feel all of the loss and the confusion and terror, but you also feel the joy and the whimsy of it all. It is definitely a trip. For anyone looking to read it, though, I'm going to throw up a HUGE child abuse trigger warning. It sneaks up on you and it is not pleasant, and if you have serious problems with it I suggest you stay away. This book does not really have a happy ending, but it's definitely still worthwhile and still one of my favorites of the year.

"Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" by Robin Sloan
Anybody who likes mysteries will love this book. That said, I feel like I can't say much about it, so that I don't give anything away. I will say, however, that it totally blew my mind, and that the ending was so perfectly satisfying.

"Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe" by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
This was the last book I read in this challenge, and it was the perfect ending to a successful experiment. Sáenz is definitely a poet at heart, and this book shows that. The prose flows like water, and all of these different songs and emotions run together so well that the resolution is just about perfect. It was also one of the best love stories I have ever read. Also, it was super refreshing to read a piece of Teen Fiction that actually has depth to it. More books for young people should be like this.

In Conclusion

I love books. I am a firm believer in the power of reading and the necessity of a home library. Reading 100 books was such a cool experience for me, and I think that the best part about it was that it allowed me to focus on the act of reading in a way I never had before. I had forgotten how joyful it can be to sit down with a book and just lose yourself for an entire afternoon. I had forgotten what it felt like to have your world so expanded, and I am so grateful that I was able to do this. I feel like I have learned a lot, and I have reawakened a passion that I had been missing in my life.

This was exactly what I needed.

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Who else had a book goal for 2016? I want to hear about it!

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There are obviously a whole lot of books that I wasn't able to talk about here, but if you want to talk to me about any of them just let me know. I am always willing to get into book talk. The full list can be found on Goodreads.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

My Buddy

One year ago today, you came into the world. I didn't know you then, but three months later you would come into my life and everything would change for the better. I knew the minute that I first held you that you were destined to be my buddy for life.

Three months old, right after we met.
Your first year of life wasn't easy! Health problems (along with the regular puppy stuff) had us going to the vet almost every month. You took being poked and prodded like a champ, but I think it gave you your weird phobia of car rides that persists to this day. Your year of tests, tests, and more tests finally came to a close in January, when you were able to get the surgery you needed to be a healthy and happy pup. I wish I could tell you that your medical journeys are over for good, but unfortunately you will probably have to have surgery again someday. I can tell you, though, that you won't have to go back to the vet for a LONG while. I hope that you are as happy about that as I am!

After your surgery, grumpy about the e-collar.
I have learned a lot of things about you over the past year, but most of it can be boiled down to one thing: you, Puppy, are super weird. This is okay, because I am weird, too.

There are a lot of things about you that I will never understand. For example, I will never know why you feel the need to walk when you poop, or why you hate bathtime but love puddles. I will never know why you like to chew on my fingers when you are sleepy, or why you feel the need to spread your food all over the floor before you eat it. I will never understand the need to incessantly bark at strangers (but we're working on that). You are a goofball, for sure, but you're my goofball.

About six months old, having fun in the grass.
I love everything about you. I love your tiny toes and your snaggletooth. I love your Yoda ears, your whiskers, and the way you chase your tail when you get really involved in playtime. I love the way that you melt into me when you are sleepy, and the way you seem to always know when I need a cuddle. I love the weird snorting noises you make when you're happy, and your "ferocious" growl when you encounter a toy that wants to fight back. I love watching you play in the snow, because you really do look like a little fox when you are in your element.

Snow nose! Eleven months old.
I really could go on forever. There is just so much about you to love.

My dear little Watson, I am so glad that you exist. You have, in your first year, taught me that true love is grand, and that it could cross oceans and back without changing. You have taught me to be patient, and to be more selfless. You have made my life better in every way, and I am so grateful to be the person entrusted with your care.

Happy Birthday, my little love. Here's to many more to come!