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My 2012 Olympic Reading Challenge

 This article appeared in the Nov/Dec issue of NewBooks Magazine; see newbooksmag.com for more…

In this year of sporting achievement, I set myself a typically sedentary challenge: to read a different theme or genre each month. Although voracious, I usually vary styles and subjects, avoiding repetition. This year, I wanted to challenge myself to read more widely, to pull more books off my groaning shelves, to see what gems I’ve been ignoring. I sketched out twelve themes to explore with a rough idea of which books to include, allowing reading group commitments and impulsive choices to slip in; permitting certain books to ‘hangover’ into other months.

 

I had an easy start to the year, reading female romantic fiction in January: from Marian Keyes’ This Charming Man to More Than Love Letters and Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict (amongst others), I was surprised at the quality and variety of writing but was ready for ‘meatier’ stuff in February:

‘male adventure and historical fiction’. Bernard Cornwall’s The Winter King and Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth were both rollicking adventure romps with a definite male flavour; nubile women in diaphanous robes; strong and resolute male heroes. Before I Go To Sleep snuck in, as did Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, a great alternative pair for half-term holidays.

 

March’s non-fiction was a non-starter, despite my enthusiastic pile to read: If Walls Could Talk, She-Wolves, The Diamond Queen, and Watching the English were all dipped into. It whetted my thirst to vary my ‘diet’ with a few more factual reads.

 

April is a cruel month so I enjoyed ‘murder in my library’ with classic British crime. By side-stepping Christie, I discovered the delights of Josephine Tey, Patricia Wentworth, Margery Allingham and Gladys Mitchell with some MC Beaton slipping in. (My notes also say I read Fifty Shades of Grey this month; less said the better!)

 

May was ‘merrie’ with historical fiction, moving from Tey’s Richard III’s ‘mystery’, The Daughter of Time to Phillipa Gregory’s The White and Red Queens. H.Rider Haggard’s She was finally finished by Kindle and A Gathering Storm by Rachel Hoare was a quick weekend-away treat.

 

June welcomed Stephen King. He’s written so much; I’ve read so little. I read parts one and two of The Dark Tower; they were sufficient. Under The Dome was quickly aborted for August’s ‘Another Country’ theme.

Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows was a beautifully lyrical family and national saga; The Song of Achillies an ancient but fast-paced love story; The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency an amusing, light start to a series, counteracted by Winter in Madrid with tales of spying, love and nationalism. The much anticipated The Far Pavilions remained far off…

 

With a deep breath, I launched into September’s sci-fi/fantasy month. I started on familiar ground with H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (Edwardian visionary thrills) and Alan Garner (Welsh/Cheshire myths and adventures). I found gems in Julie Myerson’s beautifully disturbing Then, Adam Roberts’ bleak Snow, Erin Morgenstern’s magical The Night Circus, but was deadened by (and gave up on) Iain M Banks’ Culture novels. I’ll save the Game of Thrones for another time.

 

October felt academic with ‘unread classics’: dipping into Shirley, Lady Audley’s Secret, Anna Karenina, The Scarlet Letter, and Persuasion.

November (at the time of writing) will be a combination of ghost stories with vampires: MR James, Sheridan le Fanu, Edgar Allan Poe, Let the Right One In, The Passage.

I’ll round the year off, appropriately, with Dickens.

 

I’ve relished following up recommendations and discovering books I’ve always wanted to read. I’ve been more disciplined in my reading choices and reflected on why I like what I usually choose. Each month, I’ve run out of time; my children, husband, and life make loud demands! Having only skimmed the surface of genres and authors this year, I look forward to continuing the experiment into 2013.

What would you suggest I try next: Nordic Noir? Regency? Iris Murdoch? Hilary Mantel? Both Trollopes? Do let me know!

 

Amabel Craig (@bookworm78) will continue to blog about her experiment at https://bookwormmum.wordpress.com.

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Posted by on 31/12/2012 in End of month review

 

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2012: My Year In Books

No comment or reflection, just a list of the 70 books I’ve found time to read this year. Marks are given out of 5. RG = Reading Group book; K = read on Kindle. As you’ll see, I wasn’t very strict with my themed reading; will try harder next year.

January

  1. Requiem for a Mezzo    – Carola Dunn (4)
  2. Secrets – Jaqueline Wilson (5)
  3. The Boy In the Dress – David Walliams (5)
  4. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict  – Laurie Rigler (3)
  5. Don’t You Want Me? – India Knight (3)
  6. More Than Love Letters  – Rosie Thornton (3)
  7. Snowdrops – A D MIller  (3) (K, RG)
  8. Mistress of Mellyn – Victoria Holt (4)
  9. There But For The – Ali Smith (5)
  10. Emily Goes to Exeter – M C Beaton (4) (K)
  11. This Charming Man – Marian Keyes (3)

February

  1. The Winter King – Bernard Cornwall (3)
  2. Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson (5)
  3. The Wives of Henry Oades – Johanna Moran (4) (RG)
  4. Before I Go To  Sleep – S J Watson (5) (K)
  5. The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett (4)
  6. The Library Book – Various (5)

March

  1. Dark Matter: A Ghost Story – Michelle Paver (3) (RG)
  2. Stop What You’re Doing And Read This! – Various (5)

April

  1. The Rules of Civility – Amor Towles (3)
  2. The Paris Wife – Paula McLaine (4) (RG)
  3. Minerva – M C Beaton (4)
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey – E L James (2)
  5. And Now The Shipping Forecast – Peter Jefferson (3)
  6. Half of the Human Race – Anthony Quinn (4)
  7. The Taming of Annabelle – M C Beaton (4)

May

  1. The White Queen – Philippa Gregory (4)
  2. The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey (4)
  3. Sweet Danger  – Margery Allingham (3)

June

  1. The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop – Gladys Mitchell (4)
  2. The Chinese Shawl – Patricia Wentworth (4)
  3. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? – Agatha Christie (4)
  4. The Case of the Guilded Fly – Edmund Crispin (4)
  5. She – H. Rider Haggard (4) (K)
  6. The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes (2) (RG)
  7. A Gathering Storm – Rachel Hoare (3)
  8. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger – Stephen King (3)
  9. The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three – Stephen King (3)

July

  1. The Song of Achillies – Madeline Miller (5) (K)
  2. Into the Darkest Corner  – Elizabeth Haynes (5)
  3. Cameron on Cameron – Dylan Jones (3)
  4. The Revelations – Alex Preston (2) (K)
  5. Death At Pemberley – P D James (5) (K)

August

  1. A Perfectly Good Man – Patrick Gale (5)
  2. One of Our Thursdays Is Missing – Jasper Fforde (5)
  3. Daughters in Law – Joanna Trollope (4)
  4. Sleepyhead – Mark Billingham (4)
  5. Jubilee – Shelly Harris (3) (RG)
  6. The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency  – Alexander McCall Smith (4)
  7. Pure – Andrew Miller  (4) (RG)
  8. Winter In Madrid – C J Sansom (5) (K)

September

  1. The Weirdstone of Brisingamon – Alan Garder (5)
  2. The Night Circus – Erin Mortgenstern (4) (RG)
  3. Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie (5)
  4. Poetry: Fierie – Jackie Kay (5) / Family Album – Sheree Mack (5)/ Out of the Blue – Simon Armitage (5)

October

  1. The War of the Worlds – H G Wells (5) (K)
  2. Then – Julie Myerson (5)
  3. Zoo Time – Howard Jacobson (4)
  4. The Moon of Gomrath – Alan Garner (4)
  5. The Greatcoat – Helen Dunmore (5)

November

  1. The Last Weekend – Blake Morrison (5)
  2. Shirley – Charlotte Bronte (4)
  3. Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon (5) (K)
  4. Emma Brown – Clare Boylan (3)
  5. The Betrayal of Trust – Susan Hill (5)

December

  1. One Night Of Love – Mary Balough (4)
  2. A Weekend With Mr Darcy – Victoria Connolley (4) (K)
  3. The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals – Wendy Jones (4)  (RG)
  4. The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year – Sue Townsend (4)
  5. Crocodile on the Sandbanks – Elizabeth Peters (4) (K)

So, that was my year. Not a particuarly large number, but respectable for a mum of 2. More comment to follow, along with plans for more themed reading in 2013…

 
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Posted by on 31/12/2012 in End of month review

 

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