I absolutely love to read, and over each summer I aim to read at least 20 books. Except for last year, when the Summer Reading Challenge started.
Bryce bet that I couldn't read 30 books over the summer. Challenge, accepted.
And I "won," because last summer I read 32 books before the first day of school with kids. And I got to go out to a fancy dinner at a place where they serve you complimentary bubbly if you are celebrating something, and that something was reading more than 30 books in less than 10 weeks.
But this past summer, Bryce set the stakes even higher. He set them to 36 books. THIRTYSIX books. Um, I am a fast reader but I was nervous about that one. And as summer was drawing to a close and I hadn't yet read 25 books as of the end of August, I admitted defeat.
It's not just sour grapes, but I don't want to do the reading challenge anymore. (Definitely not because I ended up having to do cat boxes for four months straight as a result.)
The thing is, last summer was so very different from this summer. Last summer I was overwhelmed and, frankly, depressed, and so I did less and read more. I am all for reading, and it is my favorite thing to do to relax, but you read a heck of a lot more if you're not, say, out for hikes or actually gardening with some regularity or going for amazing two-week trips where you do things out and about all day. Last summer was very much an "insulate myself and get lost in other people's lives because my own is a bit of an exhausting mess" type of deal.
And this summer? This summer was our honeymoon. It was the beginning of our new reality. It was the summer of making my office out of a nursery, which was horribly difficult but also very cathartic all at once. I love that stupid room. I spend a lot of time there. It was a time of healing and getting together with friends and family and just trying to figure out...what now.
So reading, while still a big part of my summer (the count ended up at 26), wasn't quite as all-consuming. I think that's okay. It was a different summer, a new beginning, a rebirth of sorts, and that took an awful lot of energy.
The challenge actually stressed me out. It made me feel like I wasn't enjoying the reading time as much; I felt too often that I was just clocking hours. I'm all for goals, but this time I found myself not reading books that I wanted to because I wasn't sure if they'd afford me the time to read others within the parameters of the challenge due to length or complexity, and so I feel that I lost in more ways than one. It was fun last year, when I needed a distraction, but I think I like it better when I am in control of why I am reading, and how much.
I keep my lists on Google Keep for what I've read during the school year and each summer, as well as books I want to read. I love it, because I can easily tell you what I read and when. And I read some great books! Some were eh, but that's always the case. I'm proud of my list of 26 books, and feel a little freer knowing that I can read without parameters moving forward, that a challenge is fun but when it interferes with enjoyment...not worth it anymore. Plus I am so sick of doing the cat boxes. Ha.
In case you are interested, here is my list from this summer.
The Books of Summer 2017:
1) The Raven King by Maggie Steifvater If you haven't read the Raven Cycle GO DO IT. It is SO good. This is the fourth and final book in the series. I cried when it was over, because it was such a great world to inhabit for a time.
2) The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud Loved this one for her voice, and maybe because I could relate to the main character in some ways. Great betrayal in here, too.
3) The Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg Really good Swedish crime fiction. Super disturbing and twisty, a nice fast read.
4) The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix So many people I know read this last year, so I decided to give it a try. I loved it. What a great interweaving of stories, what a great dysfunctional family.
5) The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas LOVED this book. If you enjoyed All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely, you'll love this one too. Also reminiscent of Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Really thought-provoking, totally relevant to current events, and the second book this year to have me looking up interesting stuff on TuPac Shakur.
6) The Raft by S.A. Bodeen Same author as The Compound, a really disturbing YA novel, and this one was a plane crash/survival at sea story. Gripping, and I want credit for reading it less than two weeks from leaving on a plane to California.
7) When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi This was beautiful, and haunting, and a lot of reading about death from the perspective of a doctor and the perspective of someone who is actually dying. It made me feel very sad, and while it was worth reading, I felt perhaps it wasn't the best choice for summer.
8) How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip by Hitha Palepu This was a birthday present from Bryce, and it was the BEST BOOK EVER for streamlining my packing for the trip. Some of her advice is a little wacky (like when to get your manicure and blowout pre-trip, or having girlfriends over to drink wine and help you pack), but because of this book I discovered packing cubes and the joys of a travel jewelry case, and it was a lot easier to fit everything in my bags and not be overwhelmed. Great little book.
9) And the Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman I love Maira Kalman, and last year got The Principles of Uncertainty for Christmas from Bryce, and this one I found in a little shop in Rhinebeck, NY while visiting with my best friend. It was a bittersweet thing though, because it was written when President Obama was inaugurated and was all about the hope and optimism of everything and now I am NOT FEELING HOPE AND OPTIMISM when it comes to our leadership, and so I think I may have cried while reading this one (and not for When Breath Becomes Air, which is just odd). But the illustrations are gorgeous and the paper is heavy and glossy and her thoughts are so quirky and fill me with joy. Love her.
10) Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett Loved this book, a quirky coming of age story involving deadly sleepwalking and potentially deadly sleepeating. It was really, really good.
11) Commonwealth by Ann Patchett I love just about anything Ann Patchett does and am slowly making my way through all her books. This one was a new favorite, and I didn't throw it across the room by page 26 (unlike State of Wonder, which had an infertility subplot that was pretty pervasive).
12) The Nix by Nathan Hill This was recommended by the English teacher I work with, and he read it twice last year because it was a new favorite. It was so, so good. I loved the twists, I loved the un-like-ability of some (most) of the characters, I loved the arc of the story...it was just plain lovely. Highly recommend.
13) All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker Um, this one I struggled with. For lack of a better term, it was real rape-y. The concept was interesting -- a treatment is available for people who have sustained trauma of various types that allows them to forget the traumatic experience, but is it really the best thing? If it keeps you from remembering things that could bring your rapist to justice, is that okay? If you don't have memories of the trauma but you still have the aftermath of having sustained a horrific trauma, what good is that? Fascinating premise, but SO MUCH BRUTAL SEXUAL ASSAULT. Again, not sure what I was thinking since I read this one in California.
14) Chemistry by Weike Wong This one made up for #13. It was really clever, very cute, lots of funny (and true) references to the hell of doctoral programs, a romance gone horribly wrong and a bit of a breakdown. Now THAT I could relate to (not the romance bit, but the falling apart and feeling like goo part). Highly recommend.
15) The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy This one was super creative -- sort of futuristic, a world where you can become a Body and take these pills called Lotuses so that you can become a vessel for a client's dead loved one's spirit. What could go wrong there? It has murder mystery, it has romance, it has intrigue, it was really a fascinating concept. Loved it.
16) How to Be a Wildflower: A Field Guide by Katie Daisy Ok, this one was totally a bit of a cheating choice, but Bryce bought it for me in Carmel-by-the-Sea and it was part beautiful watercolors and part inspiring things about the importance of surrounding yourself with nature on a regular basis, and it was just a real feel-good piece of fluffiness. And it was physically beautiful.
17) Mischling by Affinity Konar Nothing says summer vacation like Josef Mengele's "Zoo" where he kept twins captive for horrific experiments. While not a light, funny read, this was absolutely beautiful and a testament to resilience. It was brutal (because it WAS brutal), but also beautiful. An important read.
18) Life Without Baby: Surviving and Thriving When Motherhood Doesn't Happen by Lisa Manterfield I don't think I really have to say anything further about this, other than that I slowly made my way through it starting in May, and finished it over the summer. I still have some journaling prompts to do. This is a really helpful, but emotionally difficult, book.
19) Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman Last summer I read My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by the same author, and loved it (it was one of two absolute favorites that year). This is a continuation of the story for Britt-Marie, a character who is not entirely likeable in Grandmother but who winds her way thoroughly into your heart in this book. Loved her, loved it. (Nope, still haven't read A Man Called Ove)
20) The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge This was a birthday present from Bryce, and it was really intriguing YA fiction. It involves a tree that grows a fruit when you feed it lies that you've spread, and the difficulty with being a person of religion when Charles Darwin brought evolution to the forefront. There's "accidents" and murder and lies and a feisty young woman. Great historical fiction with a little supernatural bent.
21) In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume Second plane crash book of the summer! I waited on this one until AFTER the flights to and from California, and was glad, but LOVED it. It was so interesting, in part because it really happened, and because of the masterful way Judy Blume interweaves storylines and so deftly writes coming of age stories.
22) The Red Tent by Anita Diamant I have had this book on my shelf for years, borrowed from my best friend, and I never read it. At first I was like ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME? because I was like, "ah, that's why I never read it, it's all about fertility and the womanly bonds of motherhood and blah blah blah." But it's about a lot more than that. And plus, it has the whole thing with Rachel who was infertile and had a baby through Bilhah...and if that sounds familiar it's because IT'S THE BASIS FOR THE "CEREMONY" IN THE HANDMAID'S TALE! Whoa. It was quite good once I got past the fact that everyone was getting pregnant or not getting pregnant and the central theme was reproduction.
23) Green Angel by Alice Hoffman This was another cheating one, because it's a real slim YA volume, but it was BEAUTIFUL. Nobody does magical realism like Alice Hoffman. The cover art turned out to be real interesting in the context of the book, too. Gorgeous little book.
24) A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielson This was YA historical fiction, but it wasn't WWII, it was the Berlin Wall era. A family is separated the night the wall goes up, and the daughter and son left behind by their father and younger brother need to figure out how to convince their mother that they need to get out from under the oppressive and brutal rule of the police in East Berlin, and then execute that plan without getting imprisoned or shot. It was tense and believable and the first Cold War historical novel I've read.
25) Thrillplex Theater by Brandon Swarrow File this one under "real weird." It was a question mark book given at Christmas to me by Bryce, and it was sort of a screenplay, sort of a novel, definitely someone who has an interesting view of teachers, and after going to Universal, particularly fascinating for the design of the Thrillplex Theater. I think it's self published (distracting things like a blank spread in the middle threw me off).
26) The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs. Okay, I know it's weird to end the summer with yet another memoir of someone dying of cancer, but THIS WAS AN AMAZING BOOK. It is one to go out and read, because Nina Riggs was a poet, and it is evident in how she writes this beautiful tribute to a life that ended so unfairly, but that she squeezed every last drop out of with her family and her friends. It's the kind of book that makes you shake your fist in the general direction of whatever diety or force you may believe in, but it makes you think about the glory of this life we get. I may have cried and cried while reading. At the gym. On my kindle. On the elliptical. I would read this one again and again.
The end...thanks for sticking around, happy reading!