My Reading Plan for 2019

I’m going to be a bit less formal in my reading plan for 2019 than I was last year.

First, because I read so many books last year, I’m boldly going to increase my annual Goodreads challenge to 50 books for 2019.

Second, I’m going to avoid any other particular reading challenges and instead just encourage myself to read in the following categories:

    • translations
    • science fiction
    • speculative fiction
    • memoir
    • biography
    • general nonfiction
    • plays
    • poetry
    • books by local authors
    • books by people of color or about other cultures

Third, I’m going to make the effort to cross off at least four titles from my original Classics Club list.

What about you?

Do you devise a reading plan at the beginning of a new year, or do you prefer to choose books as you go along?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Please Pardon My Absence

My husband and I will be traveling internationally until mid May 2019. During that time our internet access will be limited and SLOW. I’ll try to post periodically, but new posts will probably be few and far between.

However, I will try to catch up by publishing back-dated posts after we get home in late May. I hope you’ll check for new posts periodically but won’t give up if you don’t see anything new for a while.

Thanks for your understanding and patience.

Did I Fulfill My Reading Plan for 2018?

Back in January I put together My Reading Plan for 2018. My follow-through has been mixed: I overly fulfilled some intentions but failed woefully in others.

Reading Challenges

Goodreads Challenge

I crushed my Goodreads challenge to read 45 books by knocking off 63.

Here, according to Goodreads, are my additional statistics for 2018:

  • I read 22,380 pages across 63 books.
  • The longest book I read was A Column of Fire by Ken Follett, at 927 pages.
  • The average length of my books was 355 pages.
  • My average rating was 3.7.
  • The most popular book I read was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which was read by a total of 659,539 people.
  • The least popular book I read was Cash McCall (1955) by Cameron Hawley, which was read by a grand total of 51 people (and I’m surprised the number is that high).
  • Of all the books I read, the one with the highest overall rating on Goodreads is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, with a rating of 4.56—which doesn’t surprise me at all. It was THAT good.

Finally, a number of the books I read every year are unabridged audiobooks. I’m not sure whether their page equivalents are included in Goodread’s algorithm for total pages read or not.

Off the Shelf’s 18 Reading Resolutions for 2018

(1) Read more books by women

Although this intention leads off this challenge, I didn’t much worry about it or even track the titles I read that fulfill it because I always read a lot of books by women—not by conscious intention, but because many women write in the fictional genres that I primarily read, mysteries and psychological thrillers.

(2) Read more diverse books

  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I need to do much better on this one in the future.

(3) Read a book more than 500 pages

I am not afraid of Big Books.

  • A Column of Fire by Ken Follett, 927 pages
  • Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy, 703 pages
  • Penmarric by Susan Howatch, 704 pages
  • The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons, 624 pages
  • Lethal White by Robert Galbraith, 647 pages

(4) Read a book written by someone under the age of 35

  • My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
  • The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

(5) Read a book written by someone over the age of 65

  • A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

(6) Read a collection of short stories

None

(7) Read more nonfiction

I find it hard to believe, but I read only one work of nonfiction this year: Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann.

(8) Read a novel based on a real person

  • A Column of Fire by Ken Follett, based on the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth and some of her supporters

(9) Read a collection of poetry

  • Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

(10) Read a book about an unfamiliar culture

  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra

(11) Read a book from a genre you might not normally read

  • Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart (romantic suspense)
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (science fiction)
  • The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August by Claire North (fantasy, or at least some variety of speculative fiction)
  • The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons (ditto)

(12) Read a book by a local author

  • The Twilight Wife by A.J. Banner
  • Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
  • The Writer by D.W. Ulsterman
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

(13) Read a book about mental health

  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
  • Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay

(14) Read a “guilty pleasure” book

  • My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart
  • Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
  • Penmarric by Susan Howatch

(15) Read a book with an LGBTQ theme

  • Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy

(16) Read a book to learn something new

Most people would assume that this category refers exclusively to nonfiction. But I gained a lot of factual knowledge from fiction this year:

  • A Column of Fire by Ken Follett taught me about the Elizabethan era, particularly about the origin of espionage and the political machinations involved in acquiring and maintaining power.
  • The epic Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy taught me about World War II, especially the French Resistance.
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra taught me about the Russian invasion of Chechnya, about which I had known almost nothing.

(17) Read an inspirational memoir

Alas, I didn’t read any new memoirs this year, although reading Dorothy Allison’s autobiographical novel Bastard Out of Carolina felt like reading a memoir.

(18) Read a book you’ve had on your shelf for years but haven’t gotten to yet

  • Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
  • Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Personal Reading Goals

In an effort to read outside of my usual comfort zone (primarily psychological novels), I planned to read some of these types of books in 2018:

translations

  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, trans. by Ann Goldstein
  • The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, trans. by Ann Goldstein

science fiction

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

biography

None

fantasy

  • The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (at least it’s speculative fiction)
  • The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August by Claire North (ditto)
  • The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons (ditto)
  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (talking dogs are fantasy, right?)

plays

None

poetry

  • Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

The Classics Club

I had planned to tick off six items this year, but I only managed three:

  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
  • The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
  • Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters

 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

5 Big Books I’ve Read or Reread Recently

It’s been a while since I wrote about my love for Big Books (tomes of 500 or more pages). Here are the five most recent ones I’ve read.


A Column of Fire by Ken Follett, 928 pages

This is the final entry in Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge trilogy. (The first two are Pillars of the Earth, set in the 12th century, and World Without End, set in the 14th century.) This novel begins in the latter part of the 16th century, as young Princess Elizabeth is poised to become queen. One of Follett’s strengths is the creation of strong, well defined fictional characters, and he creates a cast of them here. In their interactions with a few historical personages of the era, these characters live through the religious battles and shifting loyalties of the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants.

I found particularly fascinating Follett’s picture of how the young Queen Elizabeth, facing enmity from most of Europe, created a network of spies and secret agents. This novel covers about a half century but, as in the other two novels in this series, the story never seems to go on too long. Follett is a genius at keeping a large cast of characters interesting while moving through an extended narrative arc.


Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy, 703 pages

What a gem of a novel! I discovered it through one of the newsletters of Kindle deals I receive daily.

Piercy uses 10 narrators—four men and six women—to cover the full breadth of World War II and its effects. The characters include soldiers, intelligence officers, code breakers, factory workers, French resistance fighters, and women entering jobs left vacant by the departure of the male work force. As she does in much of her work, Piercy here emphasizes the women characters, but her male characters are equally as individualized and important.

Like Ken Follett, Marge Piercy keeps a large cast of characters moving coherently over the wide sections of time and place necessary to encompass the vastness of an entire world at war. This is a novel that at some time in the future will appear on a list of Big Books that I’ve reread.


Penmarric by Susan Howatch, 704 pages

Penmarric is the only reread on this list. I think I originally read it about 35 years ago (it was first published in 1971), so I’d had enough time to forget the details and therefore relished the chance to reread it.

This is one of those big, sprawling family sagas that I enjoy so much when they’re well done. And this one is very well done. Like Marge Piercy and Ken Follett, Susan Howatch keeps a large cast of characters moving across an extended time span.

The novel covers the years 1890–1945 and three generations of the Castallack family. The story focuses on Penmarric, the huge ancestral home on the family estate of Penmar located in Cornwall (the same area where the current PBS drama Poldark is set). The house represents the family fortune and tradition, but it’s actually the Cornwall region that focuses the characters’ desires and keeps them grounded. It’s a big family, with big dreams and aspirations, and Howatch introduces us to these several characters as individuals forced to live out the consequences of a father’s decision and of the social conventions of an era.


The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons, 624 pages

The introverted, learned, meticulous novelist Henry James meets the dashing fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. What’s not to like?

At the heart of the novel lies a philosophical conundrum. Holmes is in the midst of his hiatus after the incident at Reichenbach Falls, when he was supposedly killed by his archenemy, Moriarty. Holmes has faked his own death and disappeared because his powers of ratiocination have suggested to him that he is a fictional character. While Holmes ponders his own existence, James is left to think about how own question: If Holmes is fictional, what does that make the novelist himself?

Despite their existential crises, James and Holmes have work to do: They’ve come to America to solve the mystery of the 1885 death of Clover Adams, wife of Henry Adams, scion of the family that produced two U.S. Presidents. Was Clover Adams’s death the suicide it appeared to be, or does it involve sinister forces and matters of national importance?


Dune by Frank Herbert, 535 pages

My husband, daughter, and sister-in-law all love this novel, but I had put off reading it for 50 years because I don’t like much science fiction. What convinced me to read it, finally, is not the realization that this novel has become a major icon of science fiction literature, but rather our retirement relocation to Tacoma, WA, home town of Frank Herbert. Herbert was influenced to write his masterpiece by the presence for nearly 100 years in Tacoma’s North End, very near to where we now live, of a copper smelting and refining plant. The final incarnation of the company that owned the plant was known as American Smelter and Refining Company (ASARCO). ASARCO closed the plant in 1985 because of a decline in the market for copper and the need for pollution control.

The company that was originally one of Tacoma’s biggest employers was also one of its biggest polluters. Its giant smokestack, built in 1917, dominated the area at 571 feet tall. The smokestack finally became a symbol of environmental pollution, and it was demolished in 1993. The area became a Superfund toxic cleanup site. The soil around where we leave is still being tested for contamination as older property is sold and new building projects started.

This local experience prompted Frank Herbert to write Dune, which many people consider the seminal work of ecological science fiction. I don’t love the book anywhere near as much as my family does, but I am glad I finally read it (if for no other reason than I can now include it in my list of Big Books read).


© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

My Reading Plan for 2018

I’ve spent the first three days of the new year putting together my reading plan for the next 12 months.

Reading Challenges

I usually only do the Goodreads challenge of reading a certain number of books during the year. After meeting the goal of 40 books for the last several years, I’m increasing my magic number to 45 for 2018.

And this year I’ve also decided to do Off the Shelf’s 18 Reading Resolutions for 2018. I chose this one because 18 seems like a manageable number. Here are the categories:

1. Read more books by women
2. Read more diverse books
3. Read a book more than 500 pages
4. Read a book written by someone under the age of 35
5. Read a book written by someone over the age of 65
6. Read a collection of short stories
7. Read more nonfiction
8. Read a novel based on a real person
9. Read a collection of poetry
10. Read a book about an unfamiliar culture
11. Read a book from a genre you might not normally read
12. Read a book by a local author
13. Read a book about mental health
14. Read a “guilty pleasure” book
15. Read a book with a LGBTQ theme
16. Read a book to learn something new
17. Read an inspirational memoir
18. Read a book you’ve had on your shelf for years but haven’t gotten to yet

Personal Reading Goals

In an effort to read outside of my usual comfort zone (primarily psychological novels), I’ll try to read some of these types of books in 2018:

  • translations
  • science fiction
  • biography
  • fantasy
  • plays
  • poetry

I also need to catch up on the Classics Club list that I drew up some time ago. I haven’t made a dent in it in a LONG time. In fact, a look at my original list reveals that I’ve only read 11 of the 58 titles on that list.

Therefore, in 2018 I plan to cross at least six items off that list.

How About You?

Do you set annual reading goals, or do you prefer to pick up the books that call to you during the year? There’s something to be said for either approach.

If you’d like to give the reading-challenge approach a try, Google “2018 reading challenges” and you’ll find a LONG list. And if you’d like to set up your 2018 reading plan by constructing your own challenge, here’s a good place to start:

50 DIY READING CHALLENGES TO MAKE 2018 THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR READING LIFE

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

The 15 Best Books I Read in 2017

Since I’m choosy about what I read and mostly read only books I’m interested in, it’s often difficult to choose the titles that belong on my year-end “best books I read this year” list.

And this year the task was particularly difficult. After much adding and subtracting, I’ve finally hit on this list of the 10 best plus 5 honorable mention.

The Best

Backman, Fredrik. A Man Called Ove
Connelly, Michael. Two Kinds Of Truth
Crouch, Blake. Dark Matter
Harper, Jane. The Dry
Honeyman, Gail. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Jenkins, Reid Taylor. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Macdonald, Helen. H Is for Hawk
Ng, Celeste. Everything I Never Told You
Rooney, Kathleen. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Sternbergh, Adam. The Blinds

Honorable Mention

Cahalan, Susannah. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
Dolan-Leach, Caite. Dead Letters
du Maurier, Daphne. My Cousin Rachel
Eskens, Allen. The Life We Bury
Fuller, Claire. Swimming Lessons

How About You?

What books made your list this year?

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown