BookTubeAThon 2017 is Coming Up

I’ve been taking a purposeful break from the blog, but I wanted to pop back in to let you know that BookTubeAThon 2017 has been announced! The dates are July 24th through July 30th, and I will be participating for my third year in a row. If you want to join me, check out the BookTubeAThon channel on YouTube to get the updates. They haven’t announced the reading challenges yet, but those should be coming soon.

Good luck!

 

 

The POPSUGAR 2015 Reading Challenge – Update!

I did it you guys. I completed the 2015 POPSUGAR 50-book challenge in less than 24 books.

When I started this challenge back in February I didn’t think I’d ever actually get them all. But once I realized I could do it, I had to do it. Here’s what I read in 2015:

How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adlertwilight
A non-fiction book

Walden by Henry David Thoreau
A book more than a 100 years old

Twlight by Stephanie Meyers
A book that became a movie
A book with nonhuman characters
A book by a female author
A book at the bottom of your TBR list
A book with bad reviews
A book with a love triangle
A book set in high school
A book with magic
A book by an author you’ve never read before
A book with a one word titlesecret_life_of_bees_grande

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
A memoir

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
A book your mom loves

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
A book from your childhood
A book that made you cry
A book with a number in the title

Strangers in Paradise by Terry Moore
A book a friend recommended
A book you can finish in a day
A graphic novel

18007564The Martian by Andy Weir
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to go

The Wizard of Seattle by Kay Hooper
A book that takes place in your hometown
A book by an author who had your same initials
A classic romance (I don’t know what they mean by ‘classic romance’, but this was a romance novel and I was never going to read Pride & Prejudice)

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
A book with a color in the title

Little Murders by Jules Feiffer
A play

All My Friends Are Dead by Avery Monsen
A book based entirely on its cover
A funny book

Divergent by Veronica Rothdivergent-insurgent-allegiant
A book written by someone under 30
A popular author’s first book

Insurgent by Veronica Roth
A book set in the future

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
A Trilogy

Postsecret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God by Frank Warren
A book with antonyms in the titleSIB cover

Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs
A book published this year
A book based on or turned into a tv show
A mystery or thriller

Beloved by Toni Morrison
A Pulitzer Prize winning novel
A banned book

Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman by Richard Feynman
A book published the year you were born

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
A book based on a true story
A book that scares you515VzrFPOKL
A book you were supposed to read in school and didn’t
A book you own but never read
A book you started but never finished

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
A book set in a different country
A book that was originally written in another language
A book set during Christmas

The Best of Roald Dahl by Roald Dahl
A book with short stories
A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet
A book with more than 500 pages

For those keeping track, I completed my challenge in only 22 books, however I kept my goal of at least 24 books for the year with a couple of the books I read during BookTubeAThon that didn’t fit into any of the POPSUGAR challenges.

Screen Shot 2015-12-31 at 4.02.05 PMI really loved doing this challenge, but I am definitely not doing the 2016 version. As much fun as it was, there’s a whole list of books I’m dying to read that don’t happen to fit into these categories, and my TBR list is getting too long for my tastes. I’d also like to focus more on books that I actually own, since I’m trying to slowly reduce the size of my personal library.

If you’re interested, check out the 2016 POPSUGAR challenge for a list of next year’s categories. Or maybe try out the New York Public Library’s challenge. Or this one from Book Riot. Personally I’m giving myself only two challenges: read 24 books in a year, and read (almost) exclusively from my TBR list.

_____

A Book That Scares You

When I was first reading over the list of 50 challenges in the Pop Sugar 2015 Reading Challenge, there was one book I knew I had to read. It fit with:

book that became a movie
a book you were supposed to read in high school
a book you started but never finished
a book based on a true story

and most importantly of all:

a book that scares you

on-the-road-jack-kerouac-front

______

In 11th grade English we had a vibrant assistant teacher. She was a movie character come to life: the optimistic young white women sent to get the kids to realize their potential. She wanted to get us excited about learning, excited about English literature. She wanted us to try new things and experiment. So we didn’t just write book reports – we made art and journals and brought in songs and did all sorts of insanity none of us really appreciated at the time. And we didn’t really appreciate her either. I think at most I had a sort of objective appreciation. I felt like I knew who she was – the dreamer who hadn’t yet had her spirit broken by a thousand terrible school board decisions. I somehow felt like I knew more about how the world worked than she did, like I had already outgrown the naiveté that causes a person to believe they can change humanity through education. I was cynical and sixteen, and I respected her for being something else.

I remember talking a lot about the supposed American Dream in that English class, and at some point in the year we were assigned On The Road by Jack Kerouac. We learned about Stream of Consciousness writing and fell in love with it, as I assume all 16-year-olds do. We got our copies of Kerouac and we all underlined that same beautiful passage near the beginning of the book. The one I assume is underlined in every used copy of On the Road in existence.

because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!””

I wrote in books back then. I didn’t when I was young, but my best friend Sarah did all the time and somehow she convinced me it was something free spirits did. Sarah convinced me of a lot of things that free spirits did, because that’s what we both powerfully needed to be at that time. We were middle-class white girls who didn’t do drugs or have sex. But we were smart, and we had to use our minds to form our rebellion. We liked making jokes no one else understood. We liked being obsessed with things other people found old or dull. We listened to lyric-intensive songs and wrote our own poetry and once tried to convince our whole 10th grade English class that “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” was about Santa Clause.

We were outright brats.

I always had trouble finishing books in school. From elementary through college, I struggled with getting my reading done on time. This was strange, since as a child I always tested above my grade in reading. But as I grew older I never wanted to read what they assigned in class. And I quickly learned that I didn’t have to. I had perfect attendance, good notes, and I picked things up fast. I finished few books, but received many As.

Sarah loved On the Road, I think because part of her longed to be a drug-addled madman. There was something exotic and enticing about being a true deviant, not just playing one from the back of the class. I liked the idea myself. The drugs didn’t hold much fascination, but the dangerous and winding jog across the country did. What an amazing thing to do, being free like that. Freedom is all that matters when you’re in high school and oppressed by everything at once yet nothing in particular.

I started to read On the Road. I really loved it. I loved the way Kerouac could start a sentence with monotony and end it with poetry. I loved the way the whole thing flowed, never telling the reader what was and was not important, and glossing over what felt like monumental events. It was beautiful. I got through 72 beautiful pages.

I can’t tell you what interrupted me the first time. School work I suppose. Watching TV late at night. Being in a play. Whatever it was, I wasn’t able to finish the book before whatever test or paper concluded the unit (I did fine on that test or paper by the way. I don’t remember it of course, but I know I did fine because I was an honor student and I always did fine).

With the pressure from class gone, love of the text wasn’t nearly enough of a reason for me to keep reading. It never was. Life went on and other books I never finished came and went. That summer Sarah and I went on vacation together and I brought along my copy of On the Road with the intention of finishing it. Months had passed so I had to start at the beginning. This time I got through 98 pages.

There was a third attempt about a year later. Another vacation, another chance to convince myself I could read a book in my free time. When Sarah saw me pull out the same beat-up copy of our high school text, she laughed.

“You are never going to finish that book,” she said.

I don’t know what it was. Something about her tone. Something about being high school girls and by definition as much friends as we were enemies. Something about her expectations of me and her expectations of herself. Something. She was so sure of my failure. And she was right.

I made one more attempt a few years later before finally taking Sarah’s curse to heart. I was never going to finish this book. And if I did, it would most certainly kill me. My ignorance of the ending had turned into some demented horcrux – if I destroyed it I would destroy myself.

Years went by. Sarah and I became closer friends. Then roommates. Then things got difficult. She had troubles I couldn’t save her from. I loved my friend so much I thought maybe I could fix it all if only I stuck around long enough. It took me months to realize our relationship didn’t exist anymore. I left. It was terrible and I felt like a monster. It tore her apart and I knew it would, but I had to get out. I had to get out before it got me.

I moved into a new apartment, then a house, then a studio, then another apartment. I still had the book. The book with my notes in it. It had her notes, too. She used to scribble on my copy in class when she wanted to make it clear she wasn’t paying attention to the teacher. Alongside the underlined passages were our inside jokes. Stupid, immature, inside jokes that don’t make me laugh anymore. And that one dumb line about falling in love with the mad ones.

______

The beginning of On the Road was just as captivating this time around as it had always been. As narrator, Sal Paradise is the best mix of idiotic and wonderful. He does the stupidest things, the bravest things, the strangest things. And with each paragraph you meet a new and unusual character, the mad people that populate his life on the road. And the whole time you’re feeling that same anxious desire he feels: you can’t wait to see Dean and the gang.

But then you meet Dean. You meet the gang. And after some time with them and California you go back across the country, away from the mysterious West. And you’re outside New Jersey for awhile, and then back driving across the country, and the whole thing has so little purpose, no course to pin your anxious desires to. You start to wonder what Sal’s problem is, why he never seems to want anything enough to go after it.

As I read through the endless travels, I was driven by my own benchmarks: the old bookmarks that I’d left between the pages. There was a receipt with nothing itemized, a sad letter I’d received from a friend, an old ticket to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from 1999 that was in the book when I first bought it. With each piece of paper I got one step closer to my goal of reaching the end of this damn book. With each piece of paper, I had done just a little bit more than I’d done before.

It was difficult. Every time I sat down to read it felt like a slog. I couldn’t get into it. I wasn’t fascinated like I was when I was young, like I was when I read those first glorious chapters. I told my boyfriend about my sneaking suspicion.

“I’m starting to think maybe I just don’t like this book,” I said.

He laughed at me. “I could have told you that,” he said, “It’s taken you ten years to read it.”

____________

As I muscled through the last 100 pages, it was becoming very clear what I couldn’t stand about On the Road. Dean and Sal aren’t just unsympathetic, they are the poster children for oppression nostalgia. It’s that feeling you get sometimes when you read about how things used to be and find yourself looking back with longing, completely forgetting how grateful you are to live in a world without polio. If you want to look back at the 1950s with affection then On the Road is the perfect book for you. If you want to remember a time when people were free and loved life and roamed the land and weren’t all stuck up in cubicles, then Sal Paradise has a story for you. But a requirement for reading it is forgetting that one man’s rebellious youth often comes at the cost of another man’s liberty. To enjoy On the Road you need to be willing to overlook the powerful stack of inequalities that allowed Dean Moriarty to blow through life like a petulant three-year-old while the rest of the world suffered for his benefit. You have to assume that the 1950s were just a safer time, rather than acknowledging that men like Sal Paradise could go wherever they liked, wrapped in the secure embrace of unspoken privilege. You have to do that to enjoy On the Road. And I can’t do it anymore.

I can’t feel for Sal when he wishes he were born a ‘negro’ because they apparently live such simple and beautiful lives, while he’s stuck having to actually think about who he is and what he’s supposed to do in the world. I can’t sympathize with Dean when he goes from one woman to the next, making promises only slightly faster than he can break them, and leaving in his wake a trail of broken marriages and fatherless children. I just can’t be on their side.

I could do it back in high school because in high school I didn’t really know oppression. I didn’t know systematic injustice. In high school sexism was on the way out and racism was defeated sometime around 1959. But the person I am now has trouble revering a story about pushing the limits of human decency in the name of celebrating the straight white man’s freedom. I can’t enjoy Sal’s story because all I can see are the “colored girls” he fetishizes and abandons, all the times when he should have ended up in prison instead of my high school classroom. Liking On the Road required a certain ignorance on my part – an ignorance I am anxious to outgrow.

_______

On an unassuming Saturday morning more than 12 years after I first read the opening lines, I finally finished Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. In the very back of my copy was a post-it note, folded in half so it wouldn’t stick to the pages. On it were the words “You were right Sarah, I never finished it.” I’d signed my name at the bottom. This note was my insurance policy in case I died without telling my dear friend that she was right all along. I took the note out from between the pages and threw it in the trash. Not all dreams are meant to be admired. Not all prophecies will come to pass.My Copy of On the Road

BookTubeAThon 2015 Wrap Up

I DID IT.

During BookTubeAThon 2015 I read seven books over the course of seven days. SEVEN.

(For details on BookTubeAThon, including the list of challenges, click here)

Day One

On my first day I started the morning off with the audiobook version of The Martian by Andy Weir, a book I really wanted to read. After ten minutes I worried I’d made a huge mistake. I could tell the main character was supposed to be funny, and I didn’t find him very funny. I soldiered on.

At the end of the day I grabbed The Go-Giver, a business fairy tale by Bob Burg and John David Mann. It was the last book I acquired. It read like the stories my old boss used to tell me – tales of how attitude can determine fate. These stories are usually told by conservative old white men whose fate started out in a pretty good place, but they are useful even so. I liked my old boss, and I liked The Go-Giver. Just in case I wouldn’t be able to do it later in the week with another book, I read the whole thing without putting it down. It was 132 pages and took me less than two hours.

That night I opened up The Wizard of Seattle, a pulp fantasy romance novel whose author has the same initials as me. I thought it would be a great readathon book, a classic popcorn read. After two hours, I had only done 71 pages. My goal for the day had been 110. This wasn’t going to be easy.

Day Two

Realizing that Wizard was going to be a slow read, my first instinct was to take it to work. I was working out of a different office all week, an office far enough away to make afternoon traffic miserable. My plan was to take books with me all week, and after the work day was over I would just hang out at the office and read. Unfortunately one of the privileges you lose when you become a manager is that ability to openly read books with shirtless wizards on the cover, so I knew the romance novel had to stay at home. Instead I took Rob’s favorite book, The Man in the Ceiling by Jules Feiffer. I got through about 60 pages before I was too hungry not to go home for dinner, and I listened to more of The Martian in the car. At this point I was listening at 1.5 speed all the time, which made the tense moments just a bit more thrilling and the slow moments go by quickly. The main character was growing on me.

Day Three

My original plan for listening to the audiobook of The Martian had me listening to about 50 pages a day over the course of the entire week. By day three I was almost done, having read 139 pages on Wednesday alone.

After work I tried to follow some well-traveled readathon advice to change up my location. I took a blanket and headed down towards the water near my house. All week it had been gorgeous, but I managed to go outside during the one cloudy and windy day. It made it even easier to breeze through Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, a graphic novel that I read without putting it down.

I managed a meager 54 pages of Wizard before I had to give up for the night.

Day Four

Do not, I repeat, do not listen to the last 40 pages of The Martian while driving on the freeway. It was so tense I had to keep reminding myself to take my foot off the gas. The book ended just as I was pulling into work for the day. During my lunch break I moved on to the audiobook for Wolf in White Van. It was hard to know what to pay attention to in the beginning of the book. Everything felt important, but maybe nothing was.

I edged a bit further forward in Man in the Ceiling. Instead of bothering with The Wizard of Seattle, I read all of my seventh book, a play called Little Murders. I read it without putting it down, even though I’d already satisfied that challenge twice. I didn’t even get off the couch. It’s a play after all, it can’t take longer to read than it does to perform.

Day Five

I drove to Hood Canal on Friday for a retreat weekend. I was carpooling which meant no audiobook in the car. I did manage to listen to a little bit getting ready for bed at the retreat center, and my tiny room provided a perfect, distraction-free place to get some reading done. The Wizard of Seattle was becoming more interesting, though I couldn’t pinpoint why. I suppose I was just getting closer to the end, and more questions were being answered than asked.

Day Six

On Saturday I finished The Man in the Ceiling. I hadn’t been very interested in it, but I fell in love with the last few pages. I could see why it was one of Rob’s favorite books.

I also finished The Wizard of Seattle on Saturday. I got pretty into it by the end, and about 20 minutes after I put it down I realized why I hadn’t been able to engage with they story for most of the book. There were zero stakes. Yes, there was the one big set of stakes that caused the main characters to go back in time, but for individual moments there was very little. They made a friend right away who helped them avoid suspicion in the city. They found the guy they were looking for fairly quickly. When little problems crept up, they were dealt with easily. Despite going to an island full of wizards who hate each other, there were only two wizard fights in the entire book, both of them short. Things generally went smoothly and according to plan. At the end the main characters made it to their time portal without trouble. I repeat: there was a time portal and they made it through without trouble. They had to be in a specific place at a specific time and make it back home before all of Atlantis was destroyed by some unknown disaster, and they encountered zero trouble. They didn’t even have to jog.

Day Seven

My last day was my easiest. All I had was 70 pages of audiobook, which I conquered easily as I unpacked my things from the retreat. Wolf in White Van ended suddenly but still had a sense of conclusion. It reminded me a bit of Pulp Fiction in that regard. If you’re interested, don’t be scared off by any descriptions you read. It’s really good and not nearly as weird as it sounds.

_______

When I first made my stack of books to read, I was excited. As it sat next to my desk for a week, and I started to think I was crazy. Each book seemed to get bigger just sitting there, and I thought for sure I’d never make it. But I should have known better. I set myself a task with clear markers for failure and success. And I do not do well with failure.

The 2015 Reading Challenge

Ever since I completed the mini BookTubeAThon challenge last December, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the full challenge in July. And I guess I’ve decided I can’t wait anymore, because I’ve just accepted a year-long challenge that I can start right now.

After much back-and-forth about what I should choose as my goal number for 2015, I settled on 24 books. If I kept up my book-a-month pace and finished seven additional books in July for the BookTubeAThon, getting to 24 would only require a little extra effort. Plus the GoodReads page shows your books for the year in rows of six, so I wanted to hit an even multiple.

This was all well and good. I had my goal, I had some books on my shelf and a few I planned to grab at the library. And then the other day my friend Kristina told me about the Popsugar 2015 Reading Challenge. Because so many avid readers and booktubers choose 50 books as their yearly goal, Popsugar released a set of 50 challenges for what kind of books they should read. This is exactly how BookTubeAThon works, but on a much larger scale. I asked Kristina if you were allowed to double up on challenges (fulfill two challenges with the same book). She said the recommendation was to do that no more than three times, and she was going to try to get through the list with no doubles at all. I looked at the challenges.

“I bet I if I doubled up on every one, I could hit all 50 challenges and still only read 24 books.”

“You have to try that,” she told me.

Agreed.

So what are my challenges? Here’s the entire list:

  1. A book with more than 500 pages
  2. A classic romance
  3. A book that became a movie
  4. A book published this year
  5. A book with a number in the title
  6. A book written by someone under 30
  7. A book with nonhuman characters
  8. A funny book
  9. A book by a female author
  10. A mystery or thriller
  11. A book with a one word title
  12. A book with short stories
  13. A book set in a different country
  14. A non-fiction book
  15. A popular author’s first book
  16. A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet
  17. A book a friend recommended
  18. A Pulitzer Prize winning novel
  19. A book based on a true story
  20. A book at the bottom of your TBR list
  21. A book your mom loves
  22. A book that scares you
  23. A book more than a 100 years old
  24. A book based entirely on its cover
  25. A book you were supposed to read in school and didn’t
  26. A memoir
  27. A book with antonyms in the title
  28. A book you can finish in a day
  29. A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to go
  30. A book published the year you were born
  31. A book with bad reviews
  32. A Trilogy
  33. A book from your childhood
  34. A book with a love triangle
  35. A book set in the future
  36. A book set in high school
  37. A book with a color in the title
  38. A book that made you cry
  39. A book with magic
  40. A graphic novel
  41. A book by an author you’ve never read before
  42. A book you own but never read
  43. A book that takes place in your hometown
  44. A book that was originally written in another language
  45. A book set during Christmas
  46. A book by an author who had your same initials
  47. A play
  48. A banned book
  49. A book based on or turned into a tv show
  50. A book you started but never finished

For better or worse, I’ve already read one book and started on three more, so my first four books are set no matter how few challenges they meet. So between four books, I only got five challenges (and not very hard ones).imgres

How to Read a Book
A non-fiction book

The Forgotten Desert Mothers
A book by a female author
A book set in a different country

Blue Highways
A memoir

Walden
A book more than a 100 years old

The other night I spent at least an hour looking at the challenges, the books on my shelf, and the books on my To Be Read list. I found a few winners that can hit a number of challenges. The only one that doesn’t hit at least two is In a Sunburned Country. My main reason for wanting to read it anyway is that I’m currently editing my own travel memoir book, and it’s helpful to look at similar books in the genre when making cuts.

imgres-1In a Sunburned Country
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to go

Wolf in White Van
A book with a color in the title
A book by an author you’ve never read before

Post Secret: Confessions on Life, Death, and God
A book with antonyms in the title
A book you can finish in a day

Midnight Assassin
A mystery or thriller
A book based on a true story

The Best of Roald Dahl
A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet
A book with more than 500 pages
A book with short storiesimgres-2

Monstrous Regiment
A book you own but never read
A funny book
A book a friend recommended

Walk Two Moons
A book from your childhood
A book with a number in the title
A book that made you cry

Beloved
A Pulitzer Prize winning novel
A book with a one word titleimgres-4

Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant
A Trilogy
A book written by someone under 30
A book set in the future
A popular author’s first book
A book that became a movie

The Wizard of Seattle
A book by an author who had your same initials
A book that takes place in your hometown

On the Road
A book you were supposed to read in school and didn’t
A book you started but never finished
A book that scares you

After working my way down the list, I suddenly found myself staring at a set of nine challenges I could fulfill with a single book. Might not be the best choice, But I couldn’t resist.

Twilight
A book with nonhuman characters
A book at the bottom of your TBR list
A book with bad reviews
A book with a love triangle
A book set in high school
A book with magic
A banned book

A few things have been left undecided. I found three good contenders for a book published the year I was born (Ender’s Game, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman, and Contact) however that would be the only challenge any of them fulfill. Ender’s Game would be worth it for the cultural knowledge, Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman was already on my To Be Read list, and Contact is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ll leave it undecided for now.

This leaves me with nine challenges and only five books to capture them all:

  • A classic romance (what exactly does this mean anyway?)
  • A book published this year
  • A book your mom loves
  • A book based entirely on its cover
  • A graphic novel
  • A book that was originally written in another language
  • A book set during Christmas
  • A play
  • A book based on or turned into a tv show

Will I manage to hit all 50 without going over 24 books? It’s possible, but unlikely. Then again that’s not really the point. Part of the reason silly reading challenges like this are fun is that they force you out of your reading comfort zone. Let’s face it, if left to my own devices I was probably never going to read a book like The Wizard of Seattle, but now I’m actually excited about it.

So while I’ll do my best, I don’t intend to stress about this challenge. I probably can’t get them all. Or maybe my mother has a favorite book that’s a classic Christmas romance originally written in another language and made into a TV show. Either way, I’m reading more, and that’s got to be worth something.

Take a Look, It’s in a Book

last-night-at-the-lobsterIn February of this year, something very embarrassing happened to me. I was browsing Reddit (despite having better things to do), when a question popped up on the writing subreddit: “How many books do you read a year?” It seemed like a simple enough question. I knew that I didn’t read much – hardly at all really. I’d wanted to start reading more as a way to improve my writing, so I thought it would be good to look at the responses and get an idea of how much my fellow authors were reading.

Fifty.

Excuse me?

Fifty to sixty books a year. Some claimed a bit more, a few claimed a bit less. But the answers were routinely hovering around one book a week. I was shocked. In 2013 I had read two books. Total. Even then, I ended up skimming a lot of the first one, and the second one was a very short book of very short stories (it was also brilliant and I highly recommend it: Sum by David Eagleman).

This was my wakeup call. While I knew it was possible that people were over-selling themselves, they could be doubling their results and still outpacing me twelve to one. It was unacceptable. I had always been a great reader – the top of my class. By junior high I was testing as “13+”, meaning beyond the standard 12 grades and past the point where they keep track. Thirteen Plus. I was so good at reading, I was off the chart. There was a plus sign to prove it.

9780440508830_p0_v1_s260x420Looking back, the problem started early. I was good at reading, yes, but I didn’t enjoy it. More specifically, I didn’t enjoy the books I had to read for school. I didn’t enjoy The Picture of Dorian Gray. I didn’t enjoy The Scarlet Letter or A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. There were a few hits of course. The Little Prince was worth it. The Good Earth was surprisingly engaging, as was A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. But those were anomalies. I didn’t like most of the books. More importantly, I loved television. I spent hours in front of the television, internalizing the five-act plot structure and studying the timing of commercial breaks. These days most people know that a half hour show is really just over 20 minutes, but that’s because we watch shows on Netflix. I learned it the hard way – with a stopwatch and an unhealthy fascination.

The point is, I didn’t like what I was forced to read, and I didn’t bother reading anything in my spare time since I preferred television to books. It got worse in college when I discovered passing a class was a matter of reading the material OR attending the lectures. You didn’t need to do both, and I’ve always had great attendance. Besides, in high school and college I crammed my schedule so full of activities that the idea of leisure reading was absurd. I read on vacation. That was it.

And now? Now I don’t even go on vacation, so I don’t read anything at all. At least, that’s where I was in February of 2014 when I got my wake up call. I needed to do something. And I needed to start immediately: twelve books in the next twelve months.

It wasn’t easy at first. There’s a pretty big gap between two and twelve. I wasn’t used to reading every day. I wasn’t used to reading in the day at all in fact. I had always tried to read before bed, which is probably why reading makes me so sleepy. I started reading more during the daylight hours. I would give myself the freedom to only read a few pages and stop as soon as I felt myself nodding off.

By the end of February I finished my first novel, and I had another book done not long after March. I stayed on track, and by the end of July I was at eight books. I had made up for my late start and even managed to get ahead.

FermatThen in September I hit a wall. I got stuck with a book that didn’t interest me, but for unrelated reasons I knew I had to finish. I tried starting a second book so I could alternate between the two, which didn’t work. I would get interrupted when I didn’t read a high-demand library book fast enough and had to return it for a few weeks. It was a rough couple months. I lost the cockiness I’d developed in July.

But I got a second wind and now I’m halfway through book seventeen. Even if it hadn’t been for my last minute participation in the Christmas BookTubeAThon, I still would have hit my goal and then some. I’m finally a reader again.

The problem with setting goals is that once I achieve them I instantly want to set higher ones. I’m already planning on doing the July BookTubeAThon, so twelve books shouldn’t be much of a challenge. How many should I shoot for in 2015? Eighteen? Twenty-four? Perhaps I’ll need to set more specific goals, like a certain number of novels (I read mostly non-fiction this year) or a minimum page count (some of the books were quite short). Or maybe I just need to get back to the reader I once was. Maybe I already know what the real goal should be, next year and every year for the rest of my life: 13+.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 3.06.16 PM

I created a GoodReads account to track my goals and the books I want to read next. If you’d like to be my friend on GoodReads, look for NoodleDrive.

Christmas BookTubeAThon 2014

This last summer one of my friends participated in BookTubeAThon, a seven day reading challenge on YouTube. The overall challenge was to read seven books in seven days, along with sub-challenges to determine which books to read (read a classic, finish a series, etc). There were daily video challenges for people to post and Twitter sprints to help you keep going. I thought it sounded terrifying and wonderful, especially as a slow reader. I was hooked from the day I heard about it…which happened to be two days after it started. No BookTubeAThon for me.

Then this last Thursday I saw a few photos pop up on my Facebook wall for Christmas BookTubeAThon (known as #xmasbooktubathon), a shortened version of the regular challenge. I was feeling busy and swamped and overwhelmed and for some reason it seemed like the perfect time to commit to something gigantic.

For #xmasbooktubeathon this year, there were four challenges:

1) Read a book with red and green on the cover

2) Read a book you really wanted to read this year

3) Read a book that was gifted to you

4) Read three books in three days

The book I wanted to read this year was The 4-Hour Workweek, which I started Friday morning and took to work to read on breaks. For the last few weeks I’ve been listening to Tim Ferris’s podcast, which is really interesting despite Tim being a terrible interviewer. He just knows a lot of fantastic people who are all willing to talk with him for hours on end. I’ve known about The 4-Hour Workweek for years, but discounted it because I thought it was all about high-powered executives outsourcing their lives to India in order to dump their 70-hour workweeks in favor of golf in Havana. Not really my scene.

It’s a little strange to read a book at work that says “WARNING: DO NOT READ THIS BOOK UNLESS YOU WANT TO QUIT YOUR JOB” on the back, but I did it anyway. And in the end, some of the best take-aways from the book were ways I could improve efficiency at work and interact better with the staff. While there’s plenty in the book that I disagree with, I found myself recommending it to two different people by the end of the weekend.

2014-12-20 18.01.53Finding a book with red and green on the cover proved surprisingly difficult. I went through every book on my shelf looking for one, even looking to my boyfriend’s bookshelf for a while. Eventually I found Century Girl: A Hundred Years in the Life of Doris Eaton Travis, Last Living Star of the Ziegfield Follies. It’s half biography, half scrapbook. It’s full of images and drawings, which meant it would be an especially fast read. Since this was my first attempt at BookTubeAThon, I thought at least one truly fast read was acceptable. The whole thing took me about two hours, three with breaks.

I wasn’t sure how much I’d like Century Girl, but Doris led a truly fascinating life. From lying about her age to get into vaudeville, to staring in silent movies, to doing ten-cent taxi dances to make it through the depression, to being on the ground floor of the Arthur Murray empire, owning a horse ranch, going to college at 77, and eventually performing at 100 years old on the same stage she started on, Doris was a pretty outstanding lady. Not to mention she was physically and mentally sharp after 100 years having never taken a single pill (she was a Christian Scientist).

Sunday morning I opened The Partly Cloudy Patriot, my choice for a book that was given to me. It was small enough that it didn’t terrify me to read it in a day, and large enough that it counted as a real book. It’s a series of essays about Sarah Vowell’s travels through America. You know, exactly the kind of thing I write. While it was generally good, a few of the essays were a bit dated and not all of them moved as quickly as I’d hoped. I like Sarah’s work on This American Life, so maybe I just don’t like hearing her through my voice.2014-12-18 19.10.19-2

I closed the final page at around 10:30PM on Sunday night, proud of my accomplishment and surprised it was so easy. Sure I didn’t pick anything especially long or dense (the longest was 300 pages), but it was still three books, start to finish, in three pages. Monday morning I was talking to a co-worker about the challenge. “I wish I had time to read three books in three days,” he lamented.

“I didn’t have time,” I replied, “but I did it.”

I recently overheard some people talking about how there’s no good time to have a baby, which is why there’s no use in couples waiting for the timing to be right. It’s true. There’s no good time for a baby, no good time to write a novel, no good time to drive around the country. There’s no good time for almost anything worth doing, and yet somehow it manages to get done.

If reading seven books in seven days sounds like something worth doing, I suggest you mark your calendar for July 2015, the next BookTubeAThon. I know I’ll be there.