Two years ago, I rediscovered my love of reading thanks in part to the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge. Two weeks ago, I signed up for the 2017 challenge and I couldn’t be more excited. This year, readers have the opportunity to choose their own reading adventure: Reading for Fun or Reading for Growth.
In 2015, I was determined to make the time to read more. In 2016, my reading goal was to read 100 books; I read 82 (the most I’ve ever read in a year). This year, I want to stretch myself and read those books I usually avoid (like a book that’s over 600 pages or an essay collection), so I’m taking the Reading for Growth route.
After two weeks of careful planning (browsing book lists on the Internet and asking the librarian at my local branch for recommendations), I’ve finally settled on the books I’m reading for each challenge category. Today I’m sharing my list with you.
A Newbery Award winner – A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
The teen librarian at my local branch recommended this historical fiction which won the Newbery Medal in 2002.
Synopsis from Amazon.ca: In this Newbery Medal-winning book set in 12th century Korea, Tree-ear, a 13-year-old orphan, lives under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a potters’ village famed for delicate celadon ware. He has become fascinated with the potter’s craft; he wants nothing more than to watch master potter Min at work, and he dreams of making a pot of his own someday. When Min takes Tree-ear on as his helper, Tree-ear is elated – until he finds obstacles in his path: the backbreaking labor of digging and hauling clay, Min’s irascible temper, and his own ignorance. But Tree-ear is determined to prove himself – even if it means taking a long, solitary journey on foot to present Min’s work in the hope of a royal commission . . . even if it means arriving at the royal court with nothing to show but a single celadon shard.
A book in translation – The Door by Magda Szabó, translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix
When I asked one of my favourite booksellers for an incredible translated book, he didn’t even pause to think. I’ve enjoyed every single book he’s recommended to me in the past and I can’t wait to dive into this one from the late Hungarian author.
Synopsis from Amazon.ca: The Door is an unsettling exploration of the relationship between two very different women. Magda is a writer, educated, married to an academic, public-spirited, with an on-again-off-again relationship to Hungary’s Communist authorities. Emerence is a peasant, illiterate, impassive, abrupt, seemingly ageless. She lives alone in a house that no one else may enter, not even her closest relatives. She is Magda’s housekeeper and she has taken control over Magda’s household, becoming indispensable to her. And Emerence, in her way, has come to depend on Magda. They share a kind of love—at least until Magda’s long-sought success as a writer leads to a devastating revelation.
A book that’s more than 600 pages – New York by Edward Rutherfurd
This category gave me the most trouble to fill, but I finally decided on British author Edward Rutherfurd’s historical novel, New York.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: A blockbuster masterpiece that combines breath-taking scope with narrative immediacy, this grand historical epic traces the history of New York through the lenses of several families: The Van Dycks, a wealthy Dutch trading family; the Masters, scions of an English merchant clan torn apart during the Revolution; the Hudsons, slaves who fight for their freedom over several generations; the Murphys, who escape the Famine in Ireland and land in the chaotic slum of Five Points; the Rewards, robber barons of the Gilded Age; the Florinos, an immigrant Italian clan who work building the great skyscrapers in the 1920s; and the Rabinowitzs, who flee anti-semitism in Europe and build a new life in Brooklyn.
Over time, the lives of these families become intertwined through the most momentous events in the fabric of America: The founding of the colonies; the Revolution; the growth of New York as a major port and trading centre; the Civil War; the Gilded Age; the explosion of immigration and the corruption of Tammany Hall; the rise of New York as a great world city in the early 20th-century; the trials of World War II, the tumult of the 1960s; the near-demise of the city in the 1970s; its roaring rebirth in the 1990s; culminating in the World Trade Center attacks at the beginning of the new century.
A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection – Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith
I plan on reading all of Zadie Smith’s books this year, so I’m kicking things off with her essay collection.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House: Split into five sections–Reading, Being, Seeing, Feeling, and Remembering–Changing My Mind finds Zadie Smith casting an acute eye over material both personal and cultural. This engaging collection of essays, some published here for the first time, reveals Smith as a passionate and precise essayist, equally at home in the world of great books and bad movies, family and philosophy, British comedians and Italian divas. Whether writing on Katherine Hepburn, Kafka, Anna Magnani, or Zora Neale Hurston, she brings deft care to the art of criticism with a style both sympathetic and insightful. Changing My Mind is journalism at its most expansive, intelligent, and funny–a gift to readers and writers both.
A book of any genre that addresses current events – The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Civil Rights Litigator Michelle Alexander’s book has been on my To Be Read list for three years.
Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as “brave and bold,” this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.”
An immigrant story – Small Island by Andrea Levy
One of my favourite booksellers raved about the British author’s 2004 Prize-winning novel calling it “the perfect immigrant novel”.
Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Hortense Joseph arrives in London from Jamaica in 1948 with her life in her suitcase, her heart broken, her resolve intact. Her husband, Gilbert Joseph, returns from the war expecting to be received as a hero, but finds his status as a black man in Britain to be second class. His white landlady, Queenie, raised as a farmer’s daughter, befriends Gilbert, and later Hortense, with innocence and courage, until the unexpected arrival of her husband, Bernard, who returns from combat with issues of his own to resolve.
Told in these four voices, “Small Island “is a courageous novel of tender emotion and sparkling wit, of crossings taken and passages lost, of shattering compassion and of reckless optimism in the face of insurmountable barriers—in short, an encapsulation of that most American of experiences: the immigrant’s life.
A book published before you were born – The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola, translated from the French by Mark Kurlansky (Originally published in 1873)
I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this book. When I asked my trustworthy bookseller to recommend a book for this category, he picked this one. He assured me I would LOVE it.
Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Part of Emile Zola’s multigenerational Rougon-Macquart saga, The Belly of Paris is the story of Florent Quenu, a wrongly accused man who escapes imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Returning to his native Paris, Florent finds a city he barely recognizes, with its working classes displaced to make way for broad boulevards and bourgeois flats. Living with his brother’s family in the newly rebuilt Les Halles market, Florent is soon caught up in a dangerous maelstrom of food and politics. Amid intrigue among the market’s sellers–the fishmonger, the charcutière, the fruit girl, and the cheese vendor–and the glorious culinary bounty of their labors, we see the dramatic difference between “fat and thin” (the rich and the poor) and how the widening gulf between them strains a city to the breaking point.
Translated and with an Introduction by the celebrated historian and food writer Mark Kurlansky, The Belly of Paris offers fascinating perspectives on the French capital during the Second Empire–and, of course, tantalizing descriptions of its sumptuous repasts.
I’ve been a huge fan of Canadian author Catherine McKenzie since I devoured her addictive debut novel, Spin one afternoon in 2009. I also re-read it back in November for the ‘a book you’ve already read’ category of the 2016 Reading Challenge.
A book by an #ownvoices or #diversebooks author – The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, translated from the Japanese by KA Yoshida & David Mitchell
This little book has been on my radar for years. I bought a copy yesterday and I can’t wait to get started.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House: You’ve never read a book like The Reason I Jump. Written by Naoki Higashida, a very smart, very self-aware, and very charming thirteen-year-old boy with autism, it is a one-of-a-kind memoir that demonstrates how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives, and responds in ways few of us can imagine. Parents and family members who never thought they could get inside the head of their autistic loved one at last have a way to break through to the curious, subtle, and complex life within.
Using an alphabet grid to painstakingly construct words, sentences, and thoughts that he is unable to speak out loud, Naoki answers even the most delicate questions that people want to know. Questions such as: “Why do people with autism talk so loudly and weirdly?” “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?” and “What’s the reason you jump?” (Naoki’s answer: “When I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky.”) With disarming honesty and a generous heart, Naoki shares his unique point of view on not only autism but life itself. His insights—into the mystery of words, the wonders of laughter, and the elusiveness of memory—are so startling, so strange, and so powerful that you will never look at the world the same way again.
A book with an unreliable narrator – Fig by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz
Initially, I planned on reading an adult novel for this category. But when I turned to one of the librarians at my local branch for help, she said she could think of several YA novels that would work. She promptly jotted down her favourites, gave a little synopsis of each, and shared why she loved them. I don’t read much YA, but she sold me on Schantz’s debut novel. I also plan on adding all her other recommendations to my 2017 reading list.
Synopsis from Simon & Schuster Canada: Love and sacrifice intertwine in this brilliant debut of rare beauty about a girl dealing with her mother’s schizophrenia and her own mental illness.
Fig’s world lies somewhere between reality and fantasy.
But as she watches Mama slowly come undone, it becomes hard to tell what is real and what is not, what is fun and what is frightening. To save Mama, Fig begins a fierce battle to bring her back. She knows that her daily sacrifices, like not touching metal one day or avoiding water the next, are the only way to cure Mama.
The problem is that in the process of a daily sacrifice, Fig begins to lose herself as well, increasingly isolating herself from her classmates and engaging in self-destructive behavior that only further sets her apart.
Spanning the course of Fig’s childhood from age six to nineteen, this deeply provocative novel is more than a portrait of a mother, a daughter, and the struggle that comes with all-consuming love. It is an acutely honest and often painful portrayal of life with mental illness and the lengths to which a young woman must go to handle the ordeals—real or imaginary—thrown her way.
A book nominated for an award in 2017 – TBD
A Pulitzer Prize winner – Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
I’ve never read any of Lahiri’s books and that’s about to change. Her short story collection won the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 and it’s been recommended to me more times than I can count, but I never got around to reading it until now.
Synopsis from Amazon.ca: Navigating between the Indian traditions they’ve inherited and the baffling new world, the characters in Jhumpa Lahiri’s elegant, touching stories seek love beyond the barriers of culture and generations. In A Temporary Matter,” published in The New Yorker, a young Indian-American couple faces the heartbreak of a stillborn birth while their Boston neighborhood copes with a nightly blackout. In the title story, an interpreter guides an American family through the India of their ancestors and hears an astonishing confession.
Have you ever done a reading challenge? What are your reading goals for 2017?