Three years ago, I was determined to get out of my reading rut. Enter: The Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge.
What I love most about the challenge is how simple it is–just read twelve books from twelve different categories in twelve months.
I credit the MMD challenge with helping me to rediscover my love of reading. I am a huge fan of memoirs and for years, that’s all I read. But this challenge expanded my reading horizons and inspired me to give books I wouldn’t normally read a chance. Side note: I will forever be grateful to Anne for introducing me to the wonderful world of translated books! Who knew I would end up loving them as much as I do?
In 2016, my goal was to read 100 books. I sat down with a notebook and jotted down a list of 100 books I wanted to read by the end of the year. I went a step further and shared the list on the blog to keep myself organized and accountable. It worked like a charm! I found the simple act of checking titles off my list deeply satisfying and by December 31st, I had read 82 books!
This year, life is wayyyyy busier than its been in a long time. I am juggling school and work and its been tricky finding time to rest much less read. So for 2018, I am focusing on quality over quantity. I want to devote the precious few hours I have to reading books that are worth my time.
If you’re looking to read more books this year alongside an incredibly supportive community of book lovers, I recommend jumping on board. After all, good books are meant to be shared!
You can sign up for the reading challenge here. You can also connect with fellow challenge participants and share (and get) book recommendations via the 2018 Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge Pinterest board.
After much deliberation, here are the books I’ll be reading for this year’s challenge…
A classic you’ve been meaning to read
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This one has been on my reading list for the past two years and I am soooo excited to finally cross it off my list.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.
Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.
A book recommended by someone with great taste
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam
Recommended by Anne Bogel. Thanks Anne!
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: It’s an unquestioned truth of modern life: we are starved for time. We tell ourselves we’d like to read more, get to the gym regularly, try new hobbies, and accomplish all kinds of goals. But then we give up because there just aren’t enough hours to do it all. Or if we don’t make excuses, we make sacrifices- taking time out from other things in order to fit it all in. There has to be a better way…and Laura Vanderkam has found one.
After interviewing dozens of successful, happy people, she realized that they allocate their time differently than most of us. Instead of letting the daily grind crowd out the important stuff, they start by making sure there’s time for the important stuff. When plans go wrong and they run out of time, only their lesser priorities suffer. Vanderkam shows that with a little examination and prioritizing, you’ll find it is possible to sleep eight hours a night, exercise five days a week, take piano lessons, and write a novel without giving up quality time for work, family, and other things that really matter.
A book in translation
In Every Moment We Are Still Alive by Tom Malmquist, translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch
My love for translated books runs deep and I try and read at least one every year.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: In Every Moment We Are Still Alive tells the story of a man whose world has come crashing down overnight: His long-time partner has developed an fatal illness, just as she is about to give birth to their first child … even as his father is diagnosed with cancer.
Reeling in grief, Tom finds himself wrestling with endless paperwork and indecipherable diagnoses, familial misunderstandings and utter exhaustion while trying simply to comfort his loved ones as they begin to recede from him.
But slowly, amidst the pain and fury, arises a story of resilience and hope, particularly when Tom finds himself having to take responsibility for the greatest gift of them all, his newborn daughter.
Written in an unforgettable style that dives deep into the chaos of grief and pain, yet also achieves a poetry that is inspiring, In Every Moment We Are Still Alive is slated to become one of the most stirring novels of the year.
A book nominated for an award in 2018
To be determined
A book of poetry, a play, or an essay collection
Guidebook to Relative Strangers by Camille T. Dungy
This category gave me the most trouble to fill. After asking for recommendations and engaging in some heavy-duty browsing, I finally decided on this essay collection I spotted on Book Riot. It sounds like a good one!
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: As a working mother whose livelihood as a poet-lecturer depended on travel, Camille Dungy crisscrossed America with her infant, then toddler, intensely aware of how they are seen, not just as mother and child, but as black women. With a poet’s eye, she celebrates her daughter’s acquisition of language and discoveries of the natural and human world around her. At the same time history shadows her steps everywhere she goes: from the San Francisco of settlers’ and investors’ dreams to the slave-trading ports of Ghana; from snow-white Maine to a festive, yet threatening, bonfire in the Virginia pinewoods.
With exceptional candor and grace, Dungy explores our inner and outer worlds—the intimate and vulnerable experiences of raising a child, living with illness, conversing with strangers, and counting on others’ goodwill. Across the nation, she finds fear and trauma, and also mercy, kindness, and community. Penetrating and generous, Guidebook to Relative Strangers is an essential guide for a troubled land.
A book you can read in a day
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida, translated from the Japanese by KA Yoshida & David Mitchell
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Naoki Higashida was only a middle-schooler when he began to write The Reason I Jump. Autistic and with very low verbal fluency, Naoki used an alphabet grid to painstakingly spell out his answers to the questions he imagines others most often wonder about him: why do you talk so loud? Is it true you hate being touched? Would you like to be normal? The result is an inspiring, attitude-transforming book that will be embraced by anyone interested in understanding their fellow human beings, and by parents, caregivers, teachers, and friends of autistic children.
Naoki examines issues as diverse and complex as self-harm, perceptions of time and beauty, and the challenges of communication, and in doing so, discredits the popular belief that autistic people are anti-social loners who lack empathy.
This book is mesmerizing proof that inside an autistic body is a mind as subtle, curious, and caring as anyone else’s.
A book that’s more than 500 pages
New York by Edward Rutherfurd
This sweeping historical novel from the British author was on my 2017 reading list, but I never got around to it. I recently bought a copy and I can’t wait to dive in this winter.
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 by a favourite author
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
Two years ago I read and loved Haruf’s novel Benediction and fell in love with his beautiful writing. Last January, I picked up Our Souls at Night and read it in an afternoon. I can’t wait to read his debut novel.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they’ve ever known.
From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition.
A book recommended by a librarian or indie bookseller
The Boat People by Sharon Bala
This award-winning new release comes highly recommended by one of my favourite bookstore employees. I trust his taste and I’ve discovered books I would never have picked up on my own thanks to him. (I LOVED his past recommendations like The Door by Magda Szabo and The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola.)
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: When the rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and five hundred fellow refugees reaches the shores of British Columbia, the young father is overcome with relief: he and his six-year-old son can finally put Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war behind them and begin new lives. Instead, the group is thrown into prison, with government officials and news headlines speculating that hidden among the “boat people” are members of a terrorist militia. As suspicion swirls and interrogation mounts, Mahindan fears the desperate actions he took to survive and escape Sri Lanka now jeopardize his and his son’s chances for asylum.
Told through the alternating perspectives of Mahindan; his lawyer Priya, who reluctantly represents the migrants; and Grace, a third-generation Japanese-Canadian adjudicator who must decide Mahindan’s fate, The Boat People is a high-stakes novel that offers a deeply compassionate lens through which to view the current refugee crisis. Inspired by real events, with vivid scenes that move between the eerie beauty of northern Sri Lanka and combative refugee hearings in Vancouver, where life and death decisions are made, Sharon Bala’s stunning debut is an unforgettable and necessary story for our times.
A banned book
Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson
I didn’t want to read any of the popular banned books for this category so I asked a bookstore employee for a recommendation. He didn’t hesitate and raved about the Native Canadian’s first novel. He explained that it was banned in certain communities. This a book I probably would never have discovered on my own.
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: Monkey Beach combines both joy and tragedy in a harrowing yet restrained story of grief and survival, and of a family on the edge of heartbreak. In the first English-language novel to be published by a Haisla writer, Eden Robinson offers a rich celebration of life in the Native settlement of Kitamaat, on the coast of British Columbia.
The story grips the reader from the beginning. It is the morning after the narrator’s brother has gone missing at sea; the mood is tense in the family house, as speculations remain unspoken. Jimmy is a prospective Olympic swimmer, seventeen years old and on the edge of proposing to his beautiful girlfriend Karaoke. As his elder sister, Lisa, faces possible disaster, she chain-smokes and drifts into thoughts of their lives so far. She recalls the time when she and Jimmy saw the sasquatch, or b’gwus – and this sighting introduces the novel’s fascinating undercurrent of characters from the spirit world. These ghostly presences may strike the reader as mysterious or frightening, but they provide Lisa with guidance through a difficult coming of age.
In and out of the emergency room as a child, Lisa is a fighter. Her smart mouth and temper constantly threaten to land her in serious trouble. Those who have the most influence on her are her stubbornly traditional, machete-wielding grandmother, and her wild, passionate, political Uncle Mick, who teaches her to make moose calls. When they empty fishing nets together, she pretends she doesn’t feel the jellyfish stinging her young hands – she’s Uncle Mick’s “little warrior.”
We watch Lisa leave her teenage years behind as she waits for news of her younger brother. She reflects on the many rich episodes of their lives – so many of which take place around the water, reminding us of the news she fears, and revealing the menacing power of nature. But Lisa has a special recourse – a “gift” that enables her to see and hear spirits, and ask for their help.
A memoir, biography, or book of creative nonfiction
A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold
Columbine was one of my favourite reads last year. It was a difficult read, but such an eye-opening and important one. My friend Sarah from Glowing Local said I need to add A Mother’s Reckoning to my list and I always, always enjoy the books she recommends. I am really looking forward to this one!
Synopsis from Penguin Random House Canada: On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.
For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?
These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.
A book by an author of a different race, ethnicity, or religion than your own
The Break by Katherena Vermette
This award-winning first novel from Métis author, Katherena Vermette has been recommended to me more times than I can count. I am starting with this one tonight!
Synopsis from House of Anansi Press: When Stella, a young Métis mother, looks out her window one evening and spots someone in trouble on the Break — a barren field on an isolated strip of land outside her house — she calls the police to alert them to a possible crime.
In a series of shifting narratives, people who are connected, both directly and indirectly, with the victim — police, family, and friends — tell their personal stories leading up to that fateful night. Lou, a social worker, grapples with the departure of her live-in boyfriend. Cheryl, an artist, mourns the premature death of her sister Rain. Paulina, a single mother, struggles to trust her new partner. Phoenix, a homeless teenager, is released from a youth detention centre. Officer Scott, a Métis policeman, feels caught between two worlds as he patrols the city. Through their various perspectives a larger, more comprehensive story about lives of the residents in Winnipeg’s North End is exposed.
Have you ever done a reading challenge? What are your reading goals for 2018? I’d love to hear in the comments!