Last January, I promised myself I’d read 50 books by the end of 2015.
The MMD reading challenge motivated me to reach that goal. Recommendations from fellow book lovers on Pinterest helped me find incredible books to read and clever challenge categories like ‘a book originally written in a different language’ inspired me to pick up books I wouldn’t usually read. By New Year’s Eve, I’d read 57 books!
This year, I’m aiming for 100 books. One of my goals this year is to read more good books. Given the success with last year’s challenge, I joined the 2016 MMD reading challenge and I’m super excited about the new challenge categories. (pictured above)
If you’re looking to read more in 2016, I highly recommend jumping on board. It’s simple, a ton of fun, and totally worth your while—just read 12 books from 12 different categories in 12 months. I spent a few days pinning books that fit into each category for me and narrowing down my list (a challenge in itself given the number of books in circulation and my extremely long TBR list). Without further adieu, here are my challenge picks…
A book published this year
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This memoir comes out next Tuesday, January 12th. I’m pretty sure it’s incredibly moving and beautifully written like his NY Times Op-Ed piece, How Long Have I Got Left?
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.
A book you can finish in a day
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
I’ve been meaning to read O’Nan for years and this little book sounds like the perfect place to start.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: The Red Lobster perched in the far corner of a run-down New England mall hasn’t been making its numbers and headquarters has pulled the plug. But manager Manny DeLeon still needs to navigate a tricky last shift with a near-mutinous staff. All the while, he’s wondering how to handle the waitress he’s still in love with, what to do about his pregnant girlfriend, and where to find the present that will make everything better.
A book you’ve been meaning to read
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben MacIntyre
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Master storyteller Ben Macintyre’s thrillingly ambitious A Spy Among Friends tackles the greatest spy story of all: the rise and fall of Kim Philby, MI6’s Cambridge-bred golden boy who used his perch high in the intelligence world to betray friend and country to the Soviet Union for over two decades.
In Macintyre’s telling, Philby’s story is not a tale of one spy, but of three: the story of his complex friendships with fellow Englishman operative Nicholas Elliott and with the American James Jesus Angleton, who became one of the most powerful men in the CIA. These men came up together, shared the same background, went to the same schools and clubs, and served the same cause–or so Elliott and Angleton thought. In reality, Philby was channeling all of their confidences directly to his Soviet handlers, sinking almost every great Anglo-American spy operation for twenty years. Even as the web of suspicion closed around him, and Philby was driven to greater lies and obfuscations to protect his secret, Angleton and Elliott never abandoned him. When Philby’s true master was finally revealed with his defection to Moscow in 1963, it would have profound and devastating consequences on these men who thought they knew him best, and the intelligence services they helped to build.
A book recommended by your local bookseller
The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew
I always get such great recommendations from my local bookseller. Last summer, I read (and loved) The Expats by Chris Pavone thanks to a recommendation from my favourite bookstore employee. I also added Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich to this year’s winter reading list after a bookstore employee raved about it. So when I asked my favourite bookstore employee for her latest favourite read and she raved about this one, I trusted I was in good hands.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: A moving father-son reconciliation told by a charismatic First Nations broadcaster, musician and activist.
When his father was given a diagnosis of terminal cancer, Winnipeg broadcaster and musician Wab Kinew decided to spend a year reconnecting with the accomplished but distant aboriginal man who’d raised him. The Reason You Walk spans the year 2012, chronicling painful moments in the past and celebrating renewed hopes and dreams for the future. As Kinew revisits his own childhood in Winnipeg and on a reserve in Northern Ontario, he learns more about his father’s traumatic childhood at residential school. An intriguing doubleness marks The Reason You Walk, a reference to an Anishinaabe ceremonial song. Born to an Anishinaabe father and a non-native mother, he has a foot in both cultures. He is a Sundancer, an academic, a former rapper, a hereditary chief, and an urban activist. His father, Tobasonakwut, was both a beloved traditional chief and a respected elected leader who engaged directly with Ottawa. Internally divided, his father embraced both traditional native religion and Catholicism, the religion that was inculcated into him at the residential school where he was physically and sexually abused. In a grand gesture of reconciliation, Kinew’s father invited the Roman Catholic bishop of Winnipeg to a Sundance ceremony in which he adopted him as his brother. Kinew writes affectingly of his own struggles in his twenties to find the right path, eventually giving up a self-destructive lifestyle to passionately pursue music and martial arts. From his unique vantage point, he offers an inside view of what it means to be an educated aboriginal living in a country that is just beginning to wake up to its aboriginal history and living presence.
Invoking hope, healing and forgiveness, The Reason You Walk is a poignant story of a towering but damaged father and his son as they embark on a journey to repair their family bond. By turns lighthearted and solemn, Kinew gives us an inspiring vision for family and cross-cultural reconciliation, and a wider conversation about the future of aboriginal peoples.
A book you should have read in school
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Charlotte Brontë’s first published novel, Jane Eyre was immediately recognized as a work of genius when it appeared in 1847. Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood charity school, Jane Eyre nonetheless emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity. How she takes up the post of governess at Thornfield Hall, meets and loves Mr Rochester and discovers the impediment to their lawful marriage are elements in a story that transcends melodrama to portray a woman’s passionate search for a wider and richer life than that traditionally accorded to her sex in Victorian society.
A book chosen for you by your BFF
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
One of my closest friends recommended this one from the late Colombian novelist many, many years ago. For some reason, I keep putting off reading it.
Synopsis from Amazon.ca: In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs–yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.
A book published before you were born
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I can’t believe I haven’t read this beloved classic before. This category gave me the push to finally add it to my list! It was published on April 10, 1925.
Synopsis from Amazon.ca: The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.
A book that was banned at some point
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Synopsis from Amazon.ca: One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.
A book you previously abandoned
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
I just realized how many books I’ve abandoned over the years! But Cahalan’s memoir stood out to me as the one that really deserves to be read in its entirety this year. This book really gripped me and I remember reaching three-quarters of the way through before my fear took over. Books on medical conditions scare me and keep me up at night.
Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.
When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?
In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.
A book you own but have never read
The Scapegoat by Sophia Nikolaidou, translated by Karen Emmerich
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: In 1948, the body of an American journalist is found floating in the bay off Thessaloniki. A small-time Greek journalist is tried and convicted for the murder…but when he’s released twelve years later, he claims his confession was the result of torture.
Flash forward to contemporary Greece, where a rebellious young high school student is given an assignment for a school project: find the truth. And as he begrudgingly takes it on, he begins to make a startling series of gripping discoveries–about history, love, and even his own family’s involvement.
Based on the real story of famed CBS reporter George Polk—journalism’s prestigious Polk Awards were named after him—The Scapegoat is a sweeping saga that brings together the Greece of the post-World War II era with the Greece of today, a country facing dangerous times once again.
A book that intimidates you
Inside the O’Briens by Lisa Genova
I tend to stay away from books dealing with medical conditions. But so many people have recommended this one to me since it came out that I figured it’s worth a try.
Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s disease.
Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?
As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.
A book you’ve already read at least once
Spin by Catherine McKenzie
I read Catherine McKenzie’s debut novel years ago. It’s a laugh-out-loud funny page-turner and I finished it in less than 48 hours. A fun read with substance. Definitely one of my favourites over the years.
Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Katie Sandford has just gotten an interview at her favourite music magazine, The Line. It’s the chance of a lifetime. So what does she do? Goes out to celebrate — and shows up still drunk at the interview. No surprise, she doesn’t get the job, but the folks at The Line think she might be perfect for another assignment for their sister gossip rag. All Katie has to do is follow It Girl Amber Sheppard into rehab. If she can get the inside scoop (and complete the 30-day program without getting kicked out), they’ll reconsider her for the job at The Line.
Katie takes the job. But things get complicated when real friendships develop, a cute celebrity handler named Henry gets involved, and Katie begins to realize she may be in rehab for a reason. Katie has to make a decision — is publishing the article worth everything she has to lose?
What are your reading goals this year? Have you ever done a reading challenge? I’d love to hear your thoughts.