Reading is my drug. I use it to escape, I do it compulsively. The stories I read invade my dreams and disrupt my sleep. If I let it get out of hand, reading gets in the way of interacting with actual live humans. I have to ration myself, to stay in control rather than letting it control me.
One way I stay in control is to push at the boundaries of my reading comfort zone so that I’m stretching my mind and not just gorging on familiar comfort food. I do this by joining reading challenges and being in a book club.
This year I also participated in a fundraising Readathon, inviting my sponsors to choose the books they wanted me to read (I had a TBR list for them to choose from, but most of them ignored it and nominated their own favourites).
So with all my stretching and flexing of reading muscle, I read widely and deeply and almost managed to pull off a Books Bingo.
A book with more than 500 pages – Well, this was a deliberate FAIL. I baulk at reading long books because either they are: a) so immersive I neglect the rest of my life, or b), they are not immersive enough and it’s a struggle to finish them. I have this thing about always completing a book, no matter what I think of it. I did read several in the high 400s though, so my pick for this is: Proxima, by Stephen Baxter (456 pages). I stayed up late to finish this (it’s clearly in category A) and am heading to the library ASAP for the next in the series.
A forgotten classic – Wild Cat Falling, by Mudrooroo, AKA Colin Johnson. This is apparently the first published novel by an Aboriginal Australian. A friend nominated this for my Winter Readathon, and it also helped me achieve my goals for my Indigenous Reading Challenge. It was published in 1960 and most disturbingly, shows little has changed in the past 55 years, with regard to the arbitrary incarceration of Aboriginal people.
A book that became a movie –The Martian by Andy Weir. For the record, I read this one before I realised it was to being made into a movie, but at the time I felt the whole book was written with film rights firmly in the author’s sights. If you want to read about Mars, skip this one and read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy instead.
A book published this year – Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck. I heard the author being interviewed on the radio and suggested this to my book club. I loved the wintery setting and foreboding atmosphere, but my fellow clubbers, realism fans that they are, were not keen on the fantasy elements.
A book with a number in the title – FAIL 😦 However, here are some numbers to compensate: if you add this fail to my other deliberate fail (500 pages) and partial fail (short stories), that adds up to 2.5 fails. This equates to a failure rate of 10%, or to put it another way, achievement of 90% success with this particular Book Bingo.
A book written by someone under thirty – Oops, this one was difficult, must do better next time. I read Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven for the Winter Readathon and my Indigenous Reading Challenge, and because she’s an up and coming young Indigenous writer. I liked the longer pieces in this book of short fiction.
A book with non-human characters – Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor – for Kinna’s African Reading challenge. The gods and goddesses of Lagos come to life. Oh, and there’s aliens too. I felt this book wasn’t as good as Okorafor’s debut novel, Who Fears Death, but months after reading it, the images and ideas are still in my head, so I reckon it’s better than I thought, to have such long-lasting impact. My review on GoodReads.
A funny book – Truckers by Terry Pratchett, flowed closely by the sequels Diggers and Wings. All Pratchett’s books are funny, but they also have bite.
A book by a female author – The Mountain, by Drusilla Modjeska. I admit to being terrible at supporting Australian authors, so I’m glad my book club made me read this. Set in Papua New Guinea, it explores different aspects of colonialism and independence, from a ‘personal is political’ perspective.
I visited PNG in the early 1980s, not long after the main events of this novel take place. What with the political analysis, critique of anthropology (which I was a student of, back then), interracial romance and evocative descriptions of PNG’s dance, textile art, and magnificent landscapes of PNG, I found a lot I could relate to. More thoughts here.
A book with a mystery – Present Darkness by Malla Nunn. This is the 4th in her Emmanuel Cooper series. I’m not usually a fan of crime fiction but Nunn’s books are gripping mysteries that also expose the brutalities and contradictions of living under the apartheid regime. I read this for fun, but also for Kinna’s African Reading Challenge.
A book with a one word title – Longbourn, by Jo Baker. I loved this retelling of Pride and Prejudice from a maid servant’s point of view. I read this book purely with the expectation of pleasure, not for a Challenge, Readathon or book club. That expectation was fulfilled to overflowing, especially with the inclusion of a mixed race character (at last, a British historical novel that acknowledges Black people exist!) and also with its exploration of the hypocritical sexual politics of the day.
A book of short stories – Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke. Okay, full disclosure, I’m slightly cheating, I’m only half way through it. I am really not a short story fan so I keep putting this one to the bottom of the pile.
FREE SQUARE – My choice is The Swan Book by Alexis Wright, which I read for my Indigenous Reading Challenge, because it is extraordinary. My totally inadequate review here (with links to other much better reviews).
A book set on a different continent – Foreign Gods Inc. by Okey Ndibe, which I read for Kinna’s African Reading Challenge, is set in both the US and Nigeria. My review here. This space on the Bingo chart is easy to fill; almost everything I read was set on another continent (or another world, and in several cases another universe). My review here.
A book of non-fiction – Am I Black Enough for You by Anita Heiss, read for my Indigenous reading challenge. This category is also easy to fill, I read a lot of non-fiction. My review here.
The first book by a favourite author – The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett. Pratchett wrote this when he was 17, but that version must be a collector’s item, if indeed he didn’t buy all extant copies so that he could burn them. I read the edition that he edited and republished when he was 43. I inherited almost the entire Pratchett collection from my brother and I’m prolonging the pleasure of reading them all for as long as possible. My response here.
A book you heard about online – Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. I found out about this via Kinna’s African Reading Challenge. My review here.
A best-selling book – I’m really not one for best-sellers, although you’ll see from this list that I’m a Terry Pratchett fan & everything he’s written is a best seller. But for this square on my Bingo card, I choose Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie. I read it for Kinna’s African Reading Challenge, but it was already on my TBR list because I enjoyed her other books so much. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much, but that’s just about personal preferences rather than a criticism of her work. She writes elegantly and as always, her insight into the impacts of racism and sexism is spot on.
A book based on a true story – The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, is based on the life of an early American suffragette, Sarah Grimke. A friend asked me to read this for my Winter Readathon, and I am so pleased that she did. The book provides insights into the ‘peculiar institution’ of slavery and its relationship to early feminism.
Grimke was also an abolitionist, although this was not a popular stance among many of her supporters. Monk Kidd suggests Grimke’s activism was due to her own experiences growing up in a slave-owning family, through telling her life story in tandem with that of a fictional character, Hettty (‘Handful’), a female slave given to her as a child.
A book at the bottom of your TBR pile – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard. This was actually in my TBR again pile. I first read my brother’s copy back in the 1970s, and when he died I kept his copy of it to read again, because I had such fond memories of my first reading. He died in 2010 and I re-read it in January this year, so it’s been at the bottom of the pile for a while. My review on GoodReads.
A book your friend loves – Hadji Murad by Leo Tolstoy. A friend nominated this for my Winter Readathon. My review here.
A book that scares you – Maus, by Art Spiegelmen. This graphic novel tells the story of the author’s parents’ survival of the Holocaust. All characters are portrayed as animals, with Jews as mice. It’s scary because it’s a true story that shows the worst of human nature.
The friend who suggested this for my Winter Readathon worried that I might find it too disturbing. I did find it disturbing, mainly because reading it during a year when religious fundamentalists have inflicted so much violence on innocent people around the globe, it was hard to be optimistic that as a species we have made any progress at all since World War 2.
A book that is more than 10 years old – The Samurai’s Garden, by Gail Tsukiyama, published in 1995. This delightful, poignant book was another of the books nominated for my Winter Readathon.
The second book in a series – The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. I read the first in this series, The Long Earth, when it was first published, but held off on completing the series until all four books were out. The series explores the possibilities presented by a multiverse. Very cool, and I’m now a fan of Stephen Baxter as well as Pratchett.
How many squares do you think you could fill?