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The FINAL 2017 Reading Challenge Update

We are finally here! I have officially completed the 2017 Popsugar reading challenge, reading 52 books over the course of the year. This is the most I have ever read in a year and it has been great. I have read so many different genres and types of books. It has really challenged and pushed me out of my comfort zone, and I have found a greater understanding in the type of books I enjoy reading.

I also gave a bit more of a conscious effort to read a few more books published this year as I have never really made any effort to read current books. About 9 of the books I read this year were published in 2017, and about another 10 or so in 2016. This is something I hope to keep up next year as I want to have an opinion on the books that appear on the best books lists at the end of the year.

The prompts for the 2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge are out – check them out hereI won’t be doing it again next year as I think it is a bit too much of a strain to do it every year however as always, I strongly recommend that you give it a try. Even if you don’t actually complete it, it is the perfect way to get yourself reading more and looking for books outside of your comfort zone. There are so many books that I can’t wait to read now that the challenge restrictions are gone so I still hope to read a similar number of books next year.

Here we go, the final books that complete the 2017 Reading Challenge!

A book that’s published in 2017: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (2017)

This was my most anticipated read of the year. I had read so many great reviews that I couldn’t wait to pick it up myself. Sometimes anticipation is not a good thing. I think maybe my hopes were too high, but I came away feeling a little underwhelmed.

To me, this book didn’t do much to hold my intrigue. It started well but the tangents that it went on I found more distracting than illuminating. There were certain parts of the story that I did love, and they made the book worthwhile for me, however I had expected to love it so much more than I did.

I think I would keep this book in the category of unlikable characters. I struggled so much to connect with any of them, much less have sympathy for their situations. I think the exploration of Mia and her relationships is really interesting as she challenges everything that the town of Shaker Heights stands for aka structure, order and strict plan. The Richardson Family is dysfunctional at best and their attempt to live in complete order without disruption to the community I found somewhat irritating.

The best bit of the book is when friends of the Richardson’s try and adopt a Chinese baby and the moral questions about adoption, motherhood, and culture all come out to be questioned. If the book had been more focused on this, then I think I would have rated it more highly. Maybe I just didn’t get what everyone else did when reading this one, but that is the beauty of literature, there is plenty out there and we don’t all need to like the same things.

A book from a genre/sub genre that you have never heard of: Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre (1938)

I was always going to have to read something weird for this category. The easiest way out would have been to read something science fiction as there are so many weird sub-genres popping up. Like most categories, I really wanted to try and find something that would interest me, so I landed on the genre of existentialist fiction. A whole genre of books based on questioning existence…that sounded fun!

Jean-Paul Sartre was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism and throughout his career he questioned existence and challenged social expectations. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964 but refused it. He sounded like a pretty interesting fellow, so I decided to give his first novel Nausea a read as he always declared it to be his best work.

I actually found the book really interesting. It is written as a diary, very stream of consciousness, exploring his character’s inner thoughts as he undertakes mundane and routine daily life. The whole book is an internal battle as he struggles to define himself. He questions inanimate objects and their place within existence. He questions everything and this overwhelming sensation of being unable to define himself causes what he calls nausea.

A very interesting read, probably not one I would pick up again, but again I thank this challenge for allowing me to step outside my comfort zone. I always thought I found the question of existence interesting, however after doing quite badly at my philosophy course at university, I didn’t expect to read (and enjoy) something like this again.

A book based on mythology: Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece by Stephen Fry (2017)

This was a category that I knew would be a tough for me to find something that I would find interesting and enjoy reading. Most books that would fall into this category are re-imaginings of the original stories and honestly without me knowing too much at all on the subject of mythology I didn’t think I would get much out of them.

This book came out just when I was stuck for options. It was described as a telling of Greek Myths in a simple to understand way with a healthy dose of Fry’s famous wit. It sounded like this would be an opportunity to learn a little on a subject I knew nothing about.

Fry tells each story in a way that allows you to understand each characters place within mythology. He makes it very clear he is not here to provide an opinion on the meaning of each story, just to write them in a way that can be understood. I found the way Fry told the stories really easy to understand. He made an effort to keep the chronological line going throughout the book so you could understand the evolution of the Gods.

If you are interested in Greek Mythology, I think this book would be a great place to start. As mentioned, I found it interesting to learn about the origins of the Gods such as Zeus and Athena, and I now have a background understanding when it comes to references to mythology.

A book you bought on a trip: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (2016)

I bought this book at the airport, right before I boarded a flight from Brisbane to Zurich with a short stopover in Singapore. It was roughly 20 hours of being in the air and I wanted something interesting to read. And, completely unlike me, I didn’t actually read a single page on those flights! I slept for most of it (yay) and stared watching the TV show This Is Us, and am now addicted. As for this book, I ended up picking it up and reading it one day while watching the snow melt outside my window while staying in a little swiss town.

Now to confess, this has been my plan all year. I have wanted to read this book since it came out but once I started this challenge I realised that there wasn’t really a category to place it in. Then the glorious loophole of ‘a book you bought on a trip’ shone in my eye. I could literally pick any book I wanted, as long as I made the purchase while away from home. Perfect.

I have been a massive fan of Mark Manson since I read this article. I found the honesty and the simple approach to how he chooses to write so damn refreshing. I was nodding along just yelling, this is my actual life! He has some pretty mental ideas and opinions at times, but the majority of his way of communicating I find so relatable in that it is just truth – nothing else. It also helps that he is a smart dude and understands the underlying principles of what he is saying, whether psychological, biological or sociological.

This book is like deep-diving into his brain. It is more intense and complex than his blog posts (which is obvious as it is a book…) but I really enjoyed the opportunity that allowed him to explore concepts in more detail, using analogies both from his own life and from history. This is not a self-help book, it is a guide to helping you change the way you think. The way you interpret information, the way you react to information, and the way you shape your thoughts that get you through your everyday. As expected, Manson delivered and I loved the book pretty much devouring it in a single sitting.  

An espionage thriller: A Single Spy by William Christie (2017)

I don’t think I had ever read a spy novel before. It is such a huge genre and narrowing it down to find something I wanted to read was difficult but I landed on this one as it was set around the second world war in Germany and the Soviet Union – something that was on my mind a bit as I was travelling through Germany.

Alexi is a 16 year old orphan and thief from Azerbaijan when he is captured, taken to Moscow and forced to become a spy for the Soviet Union. He undergoes training and we learn a little about his past. He is then sent to Germany under the name of a childhood friend who’s uncle is a high ranking Nazi Official.

Once in Germany, Alexi lives his role and finds himself working for Nazi intelligence. He is now in the middle of two ruthless and powerful dictators in Hitler and Stalin. The story provides an interesting historical insight into life under these men, however Alexi’s only goal is to stay alive so he plays the game.

I found it quite interesting to read while I was actually in Berlin and surrounding myself in the terrible history of the Nazi’s. The novel’s climax is when Alexi is selected by the Gestapo to infiltrate a conference of Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill in Iran to plot their assassination. This is where the story got a little far fetched for me. I liked this historical element, and I understand the assassination plan is heavily disputed by Germany and Russia, however I did not find the ending particularly believable.  

From a historical perspective, this book was excellent, but as far as the narrative went, I think it is particularly aimed at males due to the large number of pointless sex and violent scenes that didn’t assist with character development or form any critical role in the movement of the story.

A book with multiple authors: Murder On Christmas Eve: Classic Mysteries for the Festive Season by Various (2017)

It’s Christmas time, so why not read a collection of stories that centre around this time of year? Short stories are very hit and miss for me as often it is difficult to get any form of depth to characters in just a short period of time. And it is often for this reason that mysteries do not tend to do so well in short story form. This collection is taken from some of the genres most prolific authors so again, not being something I would normally read, I decided it might be a good place to start.

Some stories are of course better than others. And despite the title, not all of them actually center around murder. I did enjoy some of them though and found it to be a good light holiday read.

I think my favourite story was by G.K. Chesterton called The Dagger With Wings. It was more traditional in the sense of a murder mystery and even had a good little twist at the end. I enjoyed Father Brown’s character and how he came to the conclusion based on his understanding of the scene as it unfolded around him. A couple of other stories stood out as well but overall I think it was a good collection of simple mystery stories based around the common theme of Christmas.

A book with a red spine: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (2012)

This is one of those weird categories. I read mostly through Kindle now, so without a physical copy of the book, how am I to know what colour the spine is? Also, so many books have various covers (this one as well) so depending on the edition it may or may not actually fill this category.

I therefore had to do a little research through the Goodreads forums and found this suggestion. I had been wanting to read this book since I watched the movie. I only really watched the movie as Will is played by the same guy who plays Finnick in The Hunger Games – who I love. I was surprised at how good the movie actually was, not just a typical horrifically sad romance with characters with zero personality aka Nicholas Sparks.

The story follows Louisa Clark, an average girl from a hard background with a quirky and eccentric personality and sense of fashion. After losing her long time job, and without any specific qualifications or experience, she takes a position as an in home carer for Will Traynor a 35 year old quadriplegic. Will and Louisa are very different, having both grown up in the same small town, their lives were completely opposite with Will having come from a life of privilege and experience while Louisa remained in her hometown living with her parents and sister.

What I love most about this book is the exploration of the individual characters and the question that is placed around our choices. It asks you as a reader to develop an opinion for assisted suicide for people who are in incurable situations and are experiencing daily pain and a low quality of life. It asks questions of what it means to live as well as what it means to die, and more specifically to die by choice and with dignity.

This story is beautifully written and explores really difficult topics in a light hearted and enjoyable way. I’m not going to lie, I had many tears (which happened when I watched the movie as well) but I think that shows how powerful Moyers words are.

***

Want more reading inspo? Check out my updates from the year.

2017 Reading Challenge Update #1
2017 Reading Challenge Update #2
2017 Reading Challenge Update #3
2017 Reading Challenge Update #4
2017 Reading Challenge Update #5
2017 Reading Challenge Update #6
2017 Reading Challenge Update #7

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