A Year of Reading: What I’ve Read So Far (Books 1-15)

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THE FIRST FEW HOURS of 2020. Like most everyone, I had grand plans for the new decade. Being an enthusiastic list maker, I wrote all those plans down. I listed, categorized, and mapped out all the wonderful things I was going to do this year. The list was lengthy, but I made sure to write down the most important resolutions first. That way, even if I don’t get past the fifth item on my list, I’d still have the most crucial bases covered.

At the very top, (the ones I felt were do or die), were these three goals:

  1. Spend more time with family.
  2. Keep traveling. (On the list were Vietnam, Japan, Cambodia, and Singapore.)
  3. Read 52 books this year.

Obviously, a lot has changed in the last few months. Most of my plans have gone out the window. Where I’m at, a simple family visit or a quick trip somewhere is a complicated affair. My city hasn’t come out of lockdown/quarantine since March 16, so non-essential travel still isn’t allowed. So that’s #1 and #2 out of the running.

This brings us to #3. Well, I’m happy to say that #3 still holds a lot of promise. Don’t get me wrong, reading 52 books is a tall order for me. See, I’m a slow reader and a lingerer. I like to read books at least twice—the first time for pleasure and the second time for reflection. Plus, I take notes and that takes forever.

                                         The book that started it all.

Thank God for Children’s Books. In my experience, these books are like sanity balms for these insane times. These books are short, sweet, and soul-saving. There’s a predictability to them that’s comforting. It also doesn’t hurt that these stories rarely stretch past the 200-page territory. Now, I’m bringing this up because you’re going to be seeing a lot of children’s books in this list. Fair warning, my friend.

As I’m writing this, I’m 35 books into my goal. I’m feeling confident about my pace and am also really excited to share my thoughts on each book with you. But because this is an ongoing list (and a really long one too), we’re turning this into a three-parter.

And now, without further ado, here are Books 1-15 in my Year of Reading.

P.S. I’ll be lumping book series together.

#1 Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix;
#2 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; and
#3 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
Rating: A
Note: Maybe it was the holidays, but last December I was in a nostalgic mood. In terms of reading, I didn’t want the excitement of new books. I wanted the steadiness and the familiarity of old favorites. So, I went on a full-on Harry Potter binge. I wanted to see if the books were as good as I remembered.

Long story short, they were. The part where Harry tells Dumbledore that he was Dumbledore’s man through and through made me cry. Hard.

Book 4: Emma by Jane Austen
Rating: A
Note: After having read Emma for the nth time, I find myself slowly softening towards Ms. Woodhouse. I used to find her insensitive, manipulative, and spoiled. I still do. But what I regarded before as willfulness, now comes across as blind optimism or good intentions coupled with botched execution.

Book 5: Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Rating: A+
Note: Still my favorite book from Austen with Persuasion as a close second.  The angry exchange between Marianne and Elinor—the following immortal lines from the book… perfection.

“What do you know of my heart? What do you know of anything but your own suffering. For weeks, Marianne, I’ve had this pressing on me without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature. It was forced on me by the very person whose prior claims ruined all my hope. I have endured her exultations again and again whilst knowing myself to be divided from Edward forever. Believe me, Marianne, had I not been bound to silence I could have provided proof enough of a broken heart, even for you.”

 

I have very strong feelings about this book. Few of them are good. (But admittedly, it is a book worth reading.)

Book 6: Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
Rating: B
Note: I know a lot of people love this book, but I have very mixed feelings about it. That it is well-written is a given. D.H. Lawrence was a very talented writer. However, I also found Women in Love to be dragging at points and its characters absolutely repulsive. The rot, the deception, the pretentiousness of Gudrun, Birkin, Ursula, and Gerald just bled through the pages. They felt so much like real people who I could and would really dislike in real life.

Book 7: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Rating: A+
Notes: I don’t know why it took me so long to pick this book up and give it a go, but I sincerely wish I read it sooner. To Kill a Mockingbird is the best fiction I’ve read this year. The way it tackles such difficult and painful subjects like racism, injustice, and prejudice using a child’s perspective just doubles the impact of the work.

Book 8: 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin
Rating: A-
Notes: One of the best self-help books I’ve read in the last few years. Amy Morin offers solid and practical advice for people who want to become mentally tougher. Definitely a book I’d recommend reading this pandemic.

Book 9: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
Rating: A
Notes: While The Haunting of Hill House remains my favorite novel from Shirley Jackson, this is a close second. We Have Always Lived in the Castle draws the reader into the twisted world of Merricat and Constance Blackwood. And though you may disagree with Merricat’s reasonings and actions, you do end up understanding or at least following, her warped logic.

Book 10: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Rating: A
Notes: When I was a child, I thought Charlotte’s Web was a good children’s book. Wilbur’s antics made me laugh and Charlotte’s final sacrifice made me cry, but that was that. As an adult, however, I can fully appreciate how good of a book Charlotte’s Web is. It’s heartwarming and impeccably written, although the latter is to be expected. Author E.B. White did cowrite the writing bible The Elements of Style, after all. But what I like most about this book is its delicate but truthful treatment of topics like death and loneliness. 10/10 would read to my future kid.

                            It was a summer for tomato sandwiches…

Book 11: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Rating: A
Notes: As a child, Harriet M. Welsch was my spirit animal. I thought we had a lot in common. We were both prickly, borderline rude, and awkward wannabe writers who were really close to their nannies. I liked Harriet the Spy so much that for an entire summer I snacked on nothing but tomato sandwiches. Mayo and tomato, a dash of pepper, and occasionally, a slice of cheese. Now that still makes my mouth water. Rereading the book as an adult, I see that Harriet wasn’t as nice as I remembered her to be. But she’s still my favorite spy and this is still one of my most-loved books of all time.

Book 12: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Rating: A
Notes: This was the children’s book that began the binge, (outside of Harry Potter, of course). I picked up a new copy of The Hobbit and thought it would be a good time to revisit Bilbo’s adventure. I must say, the book’s pacing was a lot faster than I originally remembered. Still a fantastic journey though. And because I’m in no rush to get to the next scene, I took my time appreciating J.R.R. Tolkien’s stellar writing.

Book 13: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Rating: A
Notes: Like Charlotte’s Web, The Graveyard Book tackles difficult topics like murder, revenge, and death. The difference is that Gaiman takes a slightly more straightforward/realistic approach. Instead of farm animals, we have a living boy surrounded by ghosts, a vampire guardian, a werewolf, and a witch. It’s a beautifully written and heartwarming book with a dose of horror and a dash of adventure to boot. In short, it has something sweet for every type of reader.

                                As important today as it was in 1949.

Book 14: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
Rating: A+
Notes: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird might be the best fiction I’ve read this quarantine, but The Second Sex is hands-down the most important book I’ve read in the last few years. Though the book was written in 1949, Simone de Beauvoir’s masterpiece is just as relevant today as it was during that period. You don’t have to be a feminist to appreciate this book, though if you are a feminist, this is a seminal piece you wouldn’t want to miss.

Book 15: Matilda by Roald Dahl
Rating: A
Notes: I can’t help but compare Matilda the book and Matilda the film. Don’t get me wrong, both are fantastic and the film does stay true to the book. But somehow, the book feels darker. Miss Trunchbull reads meaner and more despicable. The neglect that Matilda suffers and the emotional torture that Miss Honey goes through are also more palpable in print than on celluloid. I don’t know why. Either way, it’s a great book. Just fair warning, it does gets dark at times.

And that’s what I have so far. I’m currently writing the post for Books 16-30. Will be adding the link here once that post goes live.

How about you? What literary landscapes have you been exploring this quarantine? Any recommendations for me? Come, drop me a line. 🙂

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