Category Archives: Books

My 2020 Reading Challenge – A Little Less Challenging

For the past few years, I have done the Goodreads Challenge by pledging how many books I plan to read within the year. Usually, it’s around 50ish. I shoot for a book a week so 50 seems like a realistic number (with a couple of weeks cushion).

This year, however, I am setting my goal to be much lower… like, to 30. Why? Because a book a week is great when I’m having a typical, normal week. But far too often, my weeks have not been typical or normal. And on those weeks when I can’t finish the book I’ve been reading, I don’t want to feel guilty about it.

My Goodreads goal for 2019 was 55 books (originally). I’ve since had to change it to 53 because I knew by December that I wasn’t going to reach my goal. Life happened and suddenly reading didn’t become a priority anymore. In November, I ran into some health issues and suddenly my focus and desire for reading diminished significantly. As a result, I was spending my usual reading time binge watching Jane the Virgin on Netflix. (To be fair though, Jane the Virgin is an amazing show!)

There’s another reason why I set my goal a good bit lower. I want to be able to pick books without worrying so much about the page count. If there’s a book that is unusually long, I don’t want that to prevent me from reading it because I know I won’t be able to finish it within the week.

I also would like to feel less restricted with my books. I want to try out books that I wouldn’t normally read and have the freedom to put them down if they don’t work for me and I’m not interested. I don’t want to feel like I have to finish a book I don’t like simply because I’ve already started it.

So this year the pressure’s off. This doesn’t mean I love reading any less. If anything, it means I love reading more.

Kindle Unlimited – Is it worth it?

I recently saw an ad for Kindle Unlimited which offered a deal: get three months of Kindle Unlimited for only 99 cents. It’s about $9.99 per month after that. I figured this might be a good time to try out the service for the first time.

For anyone unfamiliar with Kindle Unlimited, it’s a book subscription service through Amazon which lets you access books through the Kindle store. According to Amazon, the subscriber has access to a large selection of titles including books, audiobooks, and magazines. The user has access to up to 10 titles at a time, but these are borrowed titles, you don’t own them.

For years I’ve known about this service, but I’ve been reluctant to subscribe. It didn’t seem worth it to me because of my own reading habits. I read about a book a week. I also have a subscription to Book of the Month. Plus, I’m a heavy library user. So if you account for 1 month of reading, that would be 1 book from my Book of the Month club, probably 1 book from the library, and let’s say 2 books from the Kindle Unlimited service. Most of the books from Kindle Unlimited are between $3 and $5 and they are independent books, many of which I’ve never heard of. If I had just bought the books I would probably only pay a total of $10 a month at most. That happens to also be the full price of the subscription. This is why I assumed the service would not be worth it to me.

But then… I found that the Kindle Unlimited service included many books that were a little more well known. For example, I discovered that all of the Harry Potter books are now available through Kindle Unlimited. I also saw a Jodi Picoult book, “The Storyteller,” that is also available. It would cost me $12.99 to purchase the book through Amazon, so borrowing it through the subscription would be cheaper.

For readers who burn through multiple books a week and are open to new and independent authors then this service is likely for you. But for casual readers (like me) who read 4 or less books a month, the decision on whether to subscribe or not to subscribe becomes a little more complicated.

I still haven’t decided whether I’m keeping the subscription or not. If I keep seeing books that are of interest to me and if these books cost more to purchase than to borrow with the monthly fee, then maybe I’ll keep on subscribing.

For now, I will enjoy my 3 months of Kindle Unlimited and try to get the most bang for my buck. If I find I’m not using it as much as I hope, I will reluctantly cancel. In the meantime, I will keep reading. FYI… that Jodi Picoult book is amazing so far! If you decide to get the subscription for yourself, be sure to check that one out!

The Night Circus and My Insomnia

As of the beginning of September, for absolutely no apparent reason, I have developed horribly severe insomnia. I’m not exaggerating. I didn’t sleep for three nights straight and that was WITH sleep aids. Since then, I have gotten some nights where I sleep a few hours here or there, but the insomnia has never really gone away. I’ve tried all types of over the counter medications… Niquil, ZZzzquil (which I gather is kind of the same thing), Melatonin, Unisom, and Sleepytime Tea. I tried going without any screen time at night. No lights, no phone, no TV, no Kindle. I’ve meditated, listened to Podcasts and light classical music, exercised everyday until my body became exhausted, and still have gotten nowhere.

So I did what any avid reader who can’t sleep would do. I picked up “The Night Circus,” by Erin Morgenstern. No, it didn’t cure my insomnia, but I felt like it would be a good read since it falls into the theme of my life right now: dark, sleepless, and mysterious (the mystery in my life being… why the hell can’t I sleep right now?)

The Night Circus is about a circus that is only active at night, much like my brain these days. When it was published in 2011, it gained a lot of hype and is still very popular with readers 8 years later.

Although it’s often categorized as a fantasy/romance, I figured I’d give it a try despite not being a fan of either one of those genres. Currently, I’m about 300+ pages into this and I would personally say it’s more fantasy than anything else. There’s a little bit of romance, which I can only assume escalates further along in the book, but it’s not what drives the plot.

Speaking of the plot: it’s slow. Lots of things happen, but I’m not seeing a lot of movement. I’m guessing these plot points get tied up at the end, but I can’t say until I actually finish the book. I still have a good 150 pages or so to go. Yeah, it’s long. My paperback edition is over 500 pages.

The main story line follows two magicians, Celia and Marco, who are competing against each other in a mysterious battle, much of which is not known to the reader. Despite this rivalry, the pair fall in love.

I found some of the minor characters to be far more interesting than Celia and Marco. There’s Widget and Poppet, a pair of red-haired twins who possess magical powers; the German clock-maker, who creates clocks that are more like pieces of artwork; and Prospero the Enchanter, Celia’s father, who is also a magician. These are just a few, but each of the characters in The Night Circus has something interesting to add to the story. It seems like nobody is just plain ordinary.

The thing I love about this book is the descriptions of all things strange and bizarre. Morgenstern has an amazing imagination and her attention to detail really brings the magical scenes to life.

I felt like this was a good book to pair with my insomnia. It’s strangely comforting to read in the late hours when I can’t sleep. And even though I’m not dreaming, my mind is travelling into a new fantasy world that is stranger than any dream I could ever imagine.

Literary Fiction or Genre Fiction?

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Do you prefer to read literary fiction or genre fiction? Up until I was in college, I didn’t realize there was much of a difference. Isn’t literary fiction the same as genre fiction? Apparently not.

In publishing, literary fiction is considered “high brow” literature with more “merit.” Whereas genre fiction is more commercialized. Something like “Severance,” by Ling Ma, would be severanceconsidered literary fiction. It has more to do with character development than plot. But a book like “The Da Vinci Code,” by Dan Brown would be more like genre fiction. It has a set plot and the reader eagerly flies through each page to find out what happens at the end.

I was thinking about the two different forms of fiction and asked myself whether I had a clear preference. To answer this question, I went on my Goodreads page and started browsing the list of books I’ve read over the years. It seems like I mostly prefer genre fiction with a scattering of literary fiction thrown in here and there. If I’m being honest, I do prefer a book that forces me to ask “what’s going to happen next?” At the same time, some of my more favorite titles have fallen into the MyYearofRestcategory of literary fiction. For example, one of my favorite books is “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” by Ottessa Moshfegh. It’s about a woman who is independently wealthy and lives in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Her goal is to hibernate and alienate herself from the world with the use of some heavy drugs. As you can imagine, not a whole lot happens with the plot of this book. Yet, I still found it to be an engrossing novel.

The irony of the two different forms of literature is that even though literary fiction is considered “high brow” and its books are often short/long listed for some notable literary prizes (think Booker Prize, Orange Prize, etc), they don’t sell as well as genre fiction. As much as I loved “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” very few people have actually heard of it, or even heard of Ottessa Moshfegh for that matter. Yet, everyone has heard of Dan Brown. And everyone has heard of Nicholas Sparks, Nora Ephron, Lee Child, John Grisham, etc. But those aren’t the writers who win the greatest awards in literature. Even so, they still earn the most money.

It’s not just the publishing industry that is like this. Movies are similar. Whenever I watch the Oscars, I noticed that many of the movies nominated are movies that I’ve never seen or heard of. Most of the movies that were my favorites are often not nominated at all. Many of the movies I like go on to make millions at the box office, but it’s the lesser known movies that get the awards. In that regard, books and movies are similar.

Even so, probably the majority of my reading is still going to be from “commercialized” books. What can I say? They’re entertaining. And sometimes it doesn’t matter that something carries more merit in our society. At the end of the day, we read what we want to read. And even though I consider myself to be a “serious” reader, today I may just read “Crazy Rich Asians,” and escape from my own reality.

The Girls at 17 Swann Street, by Yara Zgheib

The Girls at 17 Swann Street

Synopsis (taken from Goodreads):

Anna Roux was a professional dancer who followed the man of her dreams from Paris to Missouri. There, alone with her biggest fears – imperfection, failure, loneliness – she spirals down anorexia and depression till she weighs a mere eighty-eight pounds. Forced to seek treatment, she is admitted as a patient at 17 Swann Street, a peach pink house where pale, fragile women with life-threatening eating disorders live. Women like Emm, the veteran; quiet Valerie; Julia, always hungry. Together, they must fight their diseases and face six meals a day.

Favorite Quote:

“I am not anorexic. I am out of control. I know it but I cannot stop. I am a child in a body that grew up too soon, found adulthood and real life a scam, and now is trying to lose enough weight to lift off the ground, fly away.”

Overall Thoughts:

“The Girls at 17 Swann Street,” reads like a memoir and it’s hard to believe that this is a work of fiction. Zgheib’s writing really shows the reader what it’s like inside the mind of someone who is struggling with this awful disorder. Anna’s thoughts are so raw and powerful. At times, they are difficult to read.

“I understand her anorexia more than she knows, wings banging on the inside of a cage. But I say nothing; she does not want my understanding. She wants quiet and to grieve.”

When I was in high school, I remember learning about anorexia as well as other eating disorders. There seemed to be a lot of misinformation going around. It was often assumed that people who had anorexia were just superficial girls (mostly) who only wanted to be skinny so that they could be more attractive. But I learned that it was never that simple. I remember reading about other people who were battling the disorder, how they had a desire for control over their lives. How food was the only way they could gain back that control.

“You can’t control your life, love, future, past, but you can choose what you put, or not, in your mouth.”

Anna’s disorder is complicated and clearly is a result of a traumatic past that she is reluctant to acknowledge. Each day is a struggle that Anna must force herself to get through. While living in the home at 17 Swann Street, she is forced to eat three meals a day with snacks in between, which is a huge challenge for her. For someone like Anna, eating is not a pleasant experience. It is a battle against the voices in her head that tell her that she shouldn’t be eating these things. To eat the foods that she is being forced to eat is like dismantling the only control she has in her life.

This book is by far one of my favorites that I’ve read this year. Although it is a short book and is relatively easy to read, it’s emotionally difficult. I found myself tearing up throughout most of its short chapters as I was becoming more and more attached to Anna’s character.

Overall Rating:

5stars

How can I give this book anything but 5 stars? This book is beautiful and heartbreaking. I felt so connected to Anna through the author’s powerful writing. “The Girls at 17 Swann Street” is an excellent read, but be sure to have the tissues handy!