50 Book Challenge: January update (5/50) and reviews

This year, one of my goals was to read 50 books. Typically I will read anywhere from 25 to 40 books over the course of a year, so 50 was enough of a challenge. This also gave me an excuse to go to the library and read all of those books I’ve been meaning to read. While I don’t have any rules for myself against re-reading, my ultimate goal is to read 50 new books. But who cares if I don’t, really.

If I don’t go back and write about what I have read, review or discuss it, I will not remember a damn thing. Isn’t that the point of reading – to learn things? Even if it’s just a new joke, or that you really hate romance novels? My time as an English major taught me as much. If I rewrote my notes before an exam, I did not have to do any other studying. If I wrote a paper on a subject, I understood it enough to write essays months later. I will be writing “reviews” here in an attempt to remember and learn, though they may end up just as stream-of-consciousness reflections.

January started off excellently, as far as goals are concerned. I completed 5/50 books and started the sixth. What did I read? Well, here you go.


1. Paradise by Toni Morrison: I was introduced to Toni Morrison for the first time (much later than I should have been) in 2011 by my favorite professor. In my literary criticism class we read A Mercy, and ever since then she has topped my list of favorite authors. Morrison has a particularly unique way of presenting her worlds: equal parts confusing and enlightening, visceral and lovely. Paradise is no exception; however, I found myself confused more often than enlightened. Characters are often referred to by vague pronouns, scenes from odd points of view, so the story becomes slightly disjointed and/or difficult to follow. But this is Toni Morrison we’re talking about here. Parts of the novel were so good it hurt. I won’t say this was her best work, but it’s a hell of a lot better than so many other things out there. This, I feel, deserves a more critical re-read.

2. After Dark by Haruki Murakami: Another favorite author I discovered far too late in life, Murakami has never failed to capture me. After Dark is short and sweet; I read it in three days, a feat (for me) in regards to any Murakami works. It did not seem to have the same depth as Kafka on the Shore or The Wind-up Bird Chronicle did, but I found myself enjoying it nonetheless. The novel is simple and straight-forward, but still requires active reading and pause for thought. I read a review that said Murakami is “for people who enjoy thinking about feelings.” Factual.

3. Columbine by Dave Cullen: After the Sandy Hook tragedy, I found myself fascinated with gun violence in schools. A morbid curiosity I suppose. It seemed only natural that I read Columbine, in an attempt to grasp, at the very least, facts on one of the most famous episodes of school gun violence in America’s history. I do not feel like I will ever understand the why of such things, but certainly the who, what, when, and where. Cullen presents a mostly unbiased view of the events, structured in a non-linear narrative that feels more compelling than chaotic. Cullen leaves few stones unturned; the ones that do remain are buried deep with the bones of Eric, Dylan, and their victims. I read this in 2 days, perhaps to speed past my many feels. I closed this book with a heavy heart and moved onto something else as quickly as possible, but I feel like it was an important, necessary read. I can only hope something so thorough is written for the other confusing acts of infamous violence.

 4.  Legends I, part 3/3 edited by Robert Silverberg: The only reason I own this multiple-part anthology is because of George R. R. Martin, the heart-eating, soul-crushing author whose world won’t even let my brain go.  I love him and hate him. His epic Song of Ice and Fire, incomplete yet, has left me needing more Westeros, so I sought out his “Dunk and Egg” stories. They are only published in anthologies so far: Legends I part 2, Legends II, and Warriors I. After purchasing Legends I part 1 without realizing there were three parts, I went ahead and bought the remainder of the anthology because can’t bear not to have a complete set of something. I also can’t bear not to finish something once I have started it, as far as books go at least. This volume took me a while to finish because I am lazy sometimes. Other books got in the way. Fortunately, it is comprised of four novellas, meaning it is easy to take breaks between them without having to attempt to remember what happened before.  I started it back in November and finished it some time early in January.

These anthologies have introduced me to a world of new fantasy epics that I am almost afraid to tackle. Jumping between worlds was exhilarating and terrifying. Can I really take down Wheel of Time AND The Dark Tower series? Perhaps. I certainly am going to try.

5. The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente: This book is part one of two incredibly magical, engrossing novels. Stories within stories within stories, folded together masterfully, create a rich fantasy world that feels so deep and real.  In the Night Garden is lush with beautiful prose and unique, well-developed characters. At first I wondered why the books were separate, as the could have been one very large volume, but this novel has a slightly different feel to In the Cities of Coin and Spice. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Valente is now among Morrison, Murakami, and Martin as my top modern authors. I cannot wait to read more of her novels.


February preview:

6. The Orphan’s Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente (completed 2/8/13)
7. 1Q84  by Haruki Murakami
8. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
9. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Current status: 6/50 books read


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