Tag 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.

Noir at the Bar at the Wonderland Ballroom

Last weekend, I did something that I have never done before. I went to a bar in DC to listen to crime fiction writers read out loud in front of a crowd of people. It was at the Wonderland Ballroom, in DC. I had never been there, but heard about the event, called “Noir at the Bar,” through Facebook. A friend of mine who is a writer would be reading there and so it posted on my news feed. I was intrigued. I had heard of slam poetry at bars, but I didn’t realize that the same could be done for fiction. I guess it makes sense. So I decided to go, and lucky for me, my amazing husband agreed to go too.

The Wonderland Ballroom was a bit smaller than I had imagined. Noir at the Bar was being held upstairs and started at 6. We reached there at about 6:15 and the place was already packed. The only available seating was way in the back, by the bar.

There were 9 readers in all, including my friend, Natasha Tynes, who was there to promote her new book “They Called Me Wyatt.” Many of the readers were fantastic and I really admired their bravery for getting up there on stage and expressing themselves. I can remember writing short stories in school and having to get up in front of the class to read and feeling miserable about the whole situation. I was never confident enough! But these people really showed me how it’s done. I was even inspired a little bit to get back into writing. Maybe… who knows?

The presenters from Saturday’s performance were:

Mark Bergin
Bill Beverly
Jenny Drummey
James Grady
Nik Korpon
Christina Kovac
Matthew Jones
Natasha Tynes – my favorite, of course!
Caroline Walker

After everyone got a chance to read, the audience voted for who did the best job. The lucky winner then received a black t-shirt that reads on the front “I won D.C.’s Noir at the Bar and all I got was this dumb t-shirt.” Then on the back it says, “Oh, and herpes.” Unfortunately, my friend didn’t get the shirt. I’m sure she probably didn’t mind.

Golden Child, by Claire Adam

golden childI confess the main reason why I chose this book from January’s Book of the Month Club was because it takes place in Trinidad and it was written by a Trini author, Claire Adam. Although I, myself am not from there, my husband is. Since we’ve been married, we’ve traveled back and forth to Trinidad several times. So I was very excited to pick up this book!

The story is about a family that lives in rural Trinidad. The father, Clyde, works long hours and is having trouble providing for his wife, Joy, and their sons, Peter and Paul. Although the two boys are twins, they are nothing alike. Peter excels in school and has a promising future, while Paul is the complete opposite. The parents assume that Paul struggles because of complications he experienced during birth.

One night, after Paul doesn’t show up home from school, Clyde goes out to find him. Hours become days and still, there is no sign of Paul. As Clyde slowly unravels the mystery of what happens to his son, he must make a decision that will affect the family dramatically.

Although the book is sort of a slow burn, I really appreciated the vivid descriptions used by the author to describe Trinidad. Far too often, when I hear people talk about the island nation, I only hear the same things over and over again. It’s beautiful and laid back. The food is delicious. It’s the home of Calypso and Carnival. All of those things are true. But it’s a little more complicated than that.

triniscenic

Like any other country, Trinidad has its problems, particularly with poverty and crime. Adam does not shy away from this in her story and she shows that these problems are as ubiquitous as the natural beauty of the island. Make no mistake, this book is not intended to help tourism in Trinidad, but neither is it intended to scare people away. I think Adam’s intent was to show how a real family lives, feels and survives in Trinidad.

Every time I’ve visited Trinidad, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to actually live there. It’s a far cry from my home in Maryland. In Port of Spain, I noticed barbed wire circling many of the buildings, even the schools, with the backdrop of palm trees and a tropical landscape. The houses range from modern, colorful structures to smaller dwellings with galvanized tin roofs in a typical shanty town. Many of the  modern houses have electric gates to block the houses from intruders, much like the ones described in Adam’s book.

Overall, I think “Golden Child” is a very well written and engaging story. I would recommend it to anyone with a curiosity for West Indian life.

Is it ever okay to hate a literary classic?

I had a very interesting conversation with my aunt about Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” Here’s a confession: I always hated that book. My aunt asked “How can you have an English degree and hate Pride and Prejudice?” Good question. How can I not like something that has been loved by millions of people around the world? Something that has consistently been named one of the most beloved classics of all time?

Frankly, I found it dull and boring. I realize that by admitting this, I come off as uneducated and classless. And I really hope you don’t think that of me. But I can’t for the life of me bring myself to like this book.

Don’t get me wrong… there are many classics that I completely fell in love with. “The Great Gatsby” is by far one of my favorites. I felt like I could identify with Jay Gatsby and his need for belonging. I remember in college I devoured everything by Shakespeare and I loved the Bronte sisters. There were so many books that I felt a deep connection with. In fact, I think that’s why I chose to major in English in the first place. So it’s not like I didn’t like classics, I just didn’t like “Pride and Prejudice.”

So this brings me to my question: Is it ever okay to hate a classic?

Here’s my best answer: yes. I think it is completely unrealistic to  assume that people will love every classic ever written. I’m sure even my fellow English majors would agree. I can remember hearing my peers saying things like “Not Hamlet again!” or “I can’t stand “Wuthering Heights.” Yet, we all survived college and earned our English degrees just the same.

To this day, I’m sorry that Pride and Prejudice never appealed to me. I read the thing twice in an attempt to try and force myself to find something about it that I liked. But in the end, it wasn’t meant to be.

I’m sure Jane Austen would forgive me.

 

Pride and Prejudice

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh, follows the story of an unnamed protagonist who has decided to take the year off from life by “hibernating.” She uses prescription medications to sleep throughout most of the day in her upscale, New York City apartment. Due to a large inheritance from her recently deceased parents, the main character is settled financially without ever having to work. 

My Year of Rest and RelaxationThis book is more about character development than it is about plot. If you read this book in hopes of finding out what’s going to happen next, you will likely be disappointed. But if you enjoy doing a deep-dive into the thoughts and history of the protagonist, there’s a high possibility that you will enjoy this book as much as I did.

The juiciest parts  are in the details of each character. This is what makes the book as enjoyable as it is. From the misanthropic main character, to the overly demented Dr. Tuttle, to the materialistic and superficial best friend, Reva, the characters are really what drives this book.  

Would I recommend this book to most people? Probably not. But I think anyone who appreciates quirky characters and dry humor would really enjoy it.