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I did it!

Today I finished the last book of the Popsugar Book Challenge.  It has been a strange and unique experience because I read a wide variety of books that I probably wouldn’t have read.   I was responding to arbitrary and random requirements for reading and therefore started reading all over the place.  Which–in the past–hasn’t been that unusual for me.  But in the last few years, it has been so hard to read books (children!), and I have been far more selective about what I would spend my time on.

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Mistakenly.

Totally and completely mistakenly.  I should have been willing to branch out more.  To read things that I wasn’t sure I wanted to read.  To read things that appealed slightly or that were maybes or that I would consider, pass, and then consider again.

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When I went to look at my Goodreads list for the year, I discovered some interesting things.  Namely, I had totally met my challenge of 52 books for 2015.  As of right now, I have read 70 books so far this year and am in the middle of two I expect to finish early next week.  Which is significantly higher than what I read in 2014.  But also, I had on average read far more classics than 1 per month.  I did miss May when I was in the wonder of the Larry Correia catalogue.  But I have met my goal on average.

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And my favorite books so far this year?  Ruling out books I had read previously–all of my favorites, I probably wouldn’t have read without either the classic challenge I have given myself or the Popsugar challenge of randomness.  How awesome is that?!  Things I probably wouldn’t have read!  (This is why I have decided to make my own random list of arbitrary requirements that is directing my reading still.  Amanda’s Popsugar Book Challenge Part 2, has already helped me discover a new and awesome book I probably wouldn’t have read.  (The Martian by Andy Weir.)

But for the book challenge.  Here are the best of the books:

5.)  The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

This one is super interesting.  The main POV is something that becomes more and more intriguing and you realize what you are dealing with, but explaining would be SPOILERS.  And I don’t want to do that to you.

4.)  The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R Carey

Interestingly enough, the exact same statement would apply to this book as to The Girl on the Train–but they are completely different books.  Loved them both.  I liked the end much better of Girl on the Train–and really it’s a toss up of which one I liked better.  They’re pretty solidly tied.

3.)  Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Depending on my mood, I might have picked up this one.  I like end of days books.  They are so lonely.  Though this one is much less so.  This one had an interesting premise.  In reality–it isn’t that different from The Stand or The Road, but it has several things going for it over those ones.  And that is–despite things being awful post end of days, it doesn’t go to the dark, dark, dark places.  Those things happen–but it’s got a quick fade out so it doesn’t make you want to slit your wrists like after the baby-eating scene in The Road.  

That being said–the construction of the novel is freaking amazing.  This chick has writing chops.  Also her description and the characters and how she handles the mass of characters for the traveling group and how she makes you care about a dude who totally died at the first of the book.  She’s just super, super clever.  Totally enjoyed this one so much.  

2.)  Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

I don’t read memoirs or non-fiction very often. I definitely wouldn’t have bought this even though it sounded interesting.  I LOVED IT.  I am looking forward to reading the sequels.  I LOVED IT.  I loved the old-lady, cake-stealing nun.  I loved the story of that couple who doesn’t speak the same language but are so, so happy.  I love the insight into a life and time so different from our own.  I LOVED IT.  It brought me to tears on multiple occasions and I find myself thinking about the people–the honest to goodness, real-life people she described often.

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1.)  Hard Magic by Larry Correia

If you looked at this book on the shelf, you would think CHEESE BALL.  But it isn’t.  It’s wonderful.  Take my recommendation here and GET THE AUDIO.  It is read by Bronson Pinchot who is amazing.  I loved this book so much I read the entire Larry Correia catalogue (almost) looking for those same flashes of brilliance.  And you see them on occasion, but here they are condensed.  Man, this is a GOOD book and the rest of the trilogy is equally good.   This is one of those trust me situations because you wouldn’t think that this book should be above the ones I just listed.  (And I’m sure many, many people would disagree with me.) 

But for me, this book is excellent.  I don’t envision a time when Larry Corriea isn’t an auto-buy for me.  

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The winner:  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Did you see how I did that?  I totally snuck in an extra book by having a “winner.”  And it sort deserves to be separated.  Because the thing about The Grapes of Wrath–it made me furious.  FURIOUS.  I got so freaking pissed about a ton of things.

  1.  What the hell did this even happen for and how dare they do things like throw away oranges when people are starving?!??!??!  WHAT THE FREAKING HELL???
  2. Why?  Why?  Why?  Did I get to my age without having read it before??  I’m not trying to be snobby here when I say I’m not an average reader.  But, I read a LOT of books.  I’ve read a ton of classics.  All on my own.  To challenge myself.  I have taken a ton of literature classes.  I would love to take one right now.  I love books and reading them and discussing them.  If I weren’t totally imprisoned by my kids most of the time, I’d be part of a book club in 10 seconds flat.  But more!  MORE, DAMN IT, MORE.  Why wasn’t this something we read in American History when we studied the depression?  I can tell you that my point of view on this part of American History would have been massively different if they had done things in school like combine literature of the history with the facts.  But it’s also more than that.  I mean–I took like 14 literature classes in college.  Easily more.  I read The Heart of Darkness 4x in college.  That’s not a joke.  I can see how people who weren’t English Majors didn’t read this book.  But I was.  I honestly think I should have read it in high school during american history.  But if I hadn’t read it then, it should have been assigned before Heart of Darkness (4 separate times!!)
  3. Speaking of things that I think about often–this book–I think about this book often.  I think about the people who were in it.  I think about the times.  I think about the horror of it all and what it must have been like for those families that lived through such terrible things.  This book makes me sad.  Like Call the Midwife–it opened to my eyes a time that I didn’t really understand and a life that I couldn’t really imagine.  This book is powerful.  It is wonderful.  It’s many things, but for the purposes of this list–it is the winner.

So there you have it.  6 books.  1 classic.  Three award winners or nominated.  Three books set in Great Britain.  Three books set in the United States.  Two books based on real things.  Two books with odd and interesting narrators.  Two books that have something else in common, but I can’t tell you because SPOILERS.

How will this change my reading in the future?  I don’t know.  I’m gonna throw down my own version of the book challenge and see how it goes.  I expect I’ll be reading some more award winners in the near future.  Those books are pretty much guaranteed to be powerful and amazing.  I expect I’ll be more willing to read books recommended to me on a passing fancy.  If someone enjoys a book enough to tell you they loved it, it is worth a second or third thought especially if they sound energized and excited by the book.  That reason is, after all, why I read The Girl with All the Gifts, The Girl on the Train, and Station Eleven.  I expect that I’ll be more willing to look for something that is a bit of a challenge, because that is ultimately why I decided to read Steinbeck.  I expect that I’ll be finishing the Steinbeck catalogue in the next year or so as well as L.M. Montgomery’s.  And I’ll be looking up Steinbeck’s contemporaries.  I’ll be looking for more indie authors–that’s how Correia started as far as I can tell.  I’ll be looking for the books that people ARE EXCITED ABOUT.  Even if it isn’t something you’d normally read, a book that someone “buzzes” is likely to be pretty damn good, using the reading from the last 7 months and 8 days as a guideline, anyhoosen.

~Amanda

ps On my personal pop sugar challenge, I’m reading Anne’s House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery (I can’t remember why this one in particular, but I’m going to finish out the series all the way through Rilla of Ingleside.)  I’m also reading The Martian by Andy Weir.  (As for this one, given how good the last few SF books I’ve read are–I’ll be looking for the ones that people are buzzing.  So often they’re over-written, techno-babble bullshiz which is hard to wade through to find the story.  But, like with all good books, the genre doesn’t really matter.  End of days, suspense, murder mystery, romance, or cheesy noir / fantasy books–well written books sell themselves despite their setting.)

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