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Book Recommendations Reading

Resources for Putting Together a Reading Plan for 2021

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Do you have a reading plan for 2021? If you’ve never put a reading plan together, the task can seem overwhelming. Here are some resources I’ve collected that can help. 

But you don’t have to develop a formal reading plan to find these articles useful. Maybe you’d like some advice on how to keep track of the books you read. Or perhaps you’re just interested in finding a few reading challenges to motivate you or help you discover new kinds of literature. 

Either way, you might find something you can use in these articles.

Introducing the 2021 Reading Log

Tirzah Price has developed a spreadsheet for keeping track of her 2021 reading. She provides a link where you can download a copy of her template, which you can then modify to fit your own needs. She even provides a video tutorial to help you work with the spreadsheet.

Book Riot’s 2021 Read Harder Challenge

2021 is the seventh year for Book Riot’s annual Read Harder Challenge. This year’s challenge “has 24 tasks designed to help you break out of your reading bubble and expand your worldview through books. With new genres, new authors, and new points of view, the challenge will (hopefully) help you discover amazing books you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up.”

Read Native 2021 Challenge

From the American Indian Library Association, which offers book lists and activities.

11 Ideas to Tackle As 2021 Reading Goals

If you want to put together your own challenge, here are some ideas to help you find some activities that will serve your purpose.

2021 Reading Lists and Challenges to Expand Your Reading

Here’s a list of five specific challenges for 2021. For even more choices, simply do a Google search for “2021 reading challenges” and see how many hits turn up.

My 2021 Reading Challenge: 10 Goals to Expand My Literary Horizons

Instead of using someone else’s challenge categories to expand her reading horizon, Sharon Van Meter created her own. See them here, along with a book recommendation that illustrates each one. 

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book News Fiction Last Week's Links Reading Writing

Literary Links

Reading, That Strange and Uniquely Human Thing

“How we evolved to read is a story of one creative species.”

young girl reading

Lydia Wilson explains how writing developed from a system to record the ownership of particular goods to one capable of creating great works of literature.

Turning the Page on the Year

“If ever there were a new year that called for a new notebook, this would be it.”

Dr. Perri Klass admits that she loves notebooks even if she’s not as diligent in writing in them as she’d like to be. I used to write in a journal just about every day, but for about two years, when we were traveling extensively in early retirement (and hopefully we’ll be able to do that again some time), I let myself fall out of the habit. (Yes, it’s much easier to let a habit lapse than to build a habit in the first place.)

But I’ve been building up the old habit over the last couple of months and intend to do much better this year.

Memorial by Bryan Washington review – a masterclass in empathy

I include this review because Memorial is one of the novels on my TBR shelf that I’m determined to read soon.

a shelf filled with upright hardcover books
See Memorial over there on the end on the right?

Notable Novels of Spring 2021

“We continue to experience a publishing pile-up, as books postponed from 2020 spill over into the new year’s catalogue. As a result, this season offers an embarrassment of riches for the reader of novels,” writes Cal Flyn, deputy editor of Five Books. Although this article follows the traditional Five-Books approach of featuring five covers, Flyn discusses additional titles in the discussion.

Top 10 most dislikable characters in fiction

The question of fictional characters’ likability comes up often. (See Must We Like Fictional Characters? and Why I Don’t Need to Like Fictional Characters.)

Here novelist Louise Candlish puts a particular spin on the discussion: “dislikable is not the same as irredeemable, and for this reason, there is no place on my list for any love-to-hate Tom Ripleys or morbidly mesmerising Humbert Humberts.”

Here she explains why she dislikes these 10 irredeemable characters. Because this list is in The Guardian, her emphasis is decidedly British. But #9 is the product of an American author, and #10 is from a very recent novel.

Ray Bradbury at 100: A Conversation Between Sam Weller and Dana Gioia

“Ray Bradbury is one of the most important American writers of the mid-20th century. He transformed science fiction’s position in American literature during the 1950s. There were other fine sci-fi writers, but Ray was the one who first engaged the mainstream audience. He had a huge impact on both American literature and popular culture.”

The Villainous White Mother Was All Over the Domestic Novel This Year

In this article, which came out at the end of December, Kelly Coyne writes, “It is often in the home where the plainest expressions of politics appear. This year, you could see it everywhere in the domestic novel.”

Coyne reflects on recent novels that “thrust white liberal parents into a harsh light” in the ways in which they interact with domestic workers.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Discussion Personal Reading Writing

My Reading & Writing Goals for 2021

What I Learned from COVID-19

illustration: 2021 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2021 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2021 by clicking on either link above.


I keep reading things like “I can’t wait to be done with 2020 and move on to 2021.” Do most people truly believe that merely taking one calendar off the wall and hanging up another one is going to change their day-to-day existence? Such magical thinking. Reality doesn’t work that way. The truth is still out there.

As I write this post in the first full week of January, we are in our 44th week of lockdown. (The last social event we attended was a monthly lunch excursion to a restaurant on March 6, 2020.) Even with the good news of the arrival of vaccines, I expect we won’t see any substantive change in our daily lives until July 1, 2021, at the earliest. I’m preparing for another six months, at least, just like the previous nine months:

Reading reduces stress levels—there’s scientific evidence for that. But stress levels also reduce reading. Anxiety ruins your focus, wipes out your short-term memory, makes you thick-headed, makes you jittery. You can’t keep track of who’s who or what they said or what it means. Stress, maybe especially the kind of stress we’ve all been going through where everything seems like the end of the world, also wrecks your equanimity and sense of proportion: being unable to read, if you’d previously thought of yourself as a reader, makes you feel monstrously guilty for what seems, to your addled brain, like a towering failure. You can’t read, so you are ashamed, so you can’t read, so you are ashamed.

Jess Zimmerman

Looking back on how well I fulfilled my reading plan for 2020 made me realize that the year well illustrates the validity of the old proverb  “Man plans. God laughs.” And there are some lessons to be learned from this realization.

The biggest lesson is that, since we probably won’t see significant change in our current situation for at least half of this new year, the whole notion of a plan feels irrelevant. Last year I had my whole year’s reading planned out, month by month. But when COVID-19 hit and brought with it heightened anxiety along with reader’s and writer’s block, I was only able to get back to reading by ditching the plan. I allowed myself to stand in front of my TBR shelves and look for the book that called to me the loudest. I kept up that process, sometimes letting one book lead me to the next, at other times finding a new book to set me off on a different chain of association.

I have therefore decided not to use the label of plan at all for 2021. Instead, I’m going to focus on some goals that will still be possible no matter which particular books I may read. For example, one part of my plan for last year was to use the Blog Discussion Challenge to motivate me to write some substantive blog posts. Even though I didn’t meet my original quota, I was able to write about just about anything—including a look at why I was having trouble reading and writing—and call it a discussion post. So this year I’m going to talk about reading and writing goals instead of a reading and writing plan.

After looking at last year’s plan, I’m describing this year’s goals in relation to last year’s in two major areas:

  • I. Elements I’m keeping from last year
  • II. Elements I’m dropping from last year, replacing, or adding

I. Elements I’m Keeping from 2020

Most of these are general challenges and goals.

1. Goodreads Challenge

I did make last year’s goal of 55, but I had to rush and include a couple of particularly short works. I’m therefore going to dial my challenge goal back to 50 books, a number I think I can more easily achieve.

2. The Classics Club

Although I had good intentions last year, I didn’t come even close to my goal of crossing six books off my Classics Club list.

I’m going to cut back this year’s goal to four and hope for the best.

3. 2021 Book Blog Discussion Challenge

I signed up for the 2020 Discussion Challenge to motivate myself to write substantive posts on literary topics. Despite not writing as many discussion posts as I had wanted to (because, you know, COVID-19), I enjoyed working on the 12 that I did manage and was pleased with the results. I’m therefore signing up for the 2021 Discussion Challenge  with the goal of writing one discussion post per month.

II. Elements I’m Dropping, Replacing, or Adding

For 2021 I’m taking the focus off reading exclusively and incorporating the intention to write about more of the books I read. Not every book I read warrants a review on the blog, but many do, and I need to make more of an effort to discuss those. For me, writing seems to take some time; thoughts swirl around in the unconscious before percolating to the surface of awareness. It’s too easy for me to finish reading one book, then immediately pick up another one without going back to revisit the first one again.

The first process, to receive impressions with the utmost understanding, is only half the process of reading; it must be completed, if we are to get the whole pleasure from a book, by another. We must pass judgment upon these multitudinous impressions; we must make of these fleeting shapes one that is hard and lasting.

—Virginia Woolf, How Should One Read a Book?

I will need to follow through and return to each previous book to finish the reading process. And this emphasis on writing may have a secondary effect of influencing me to choose more meaty books to read so that they’ll be ones I’ll want to review. 

Here, then, is a new goal I’m adding for 2021:

4. to review 50% of the books I read on this blog

I’m also adding another reading goal this year:

5. to read more of my TBR books

Here is my current TBR shelf of Book of the Month editions I haven’t gotten to yet:

The shelf contains 22 books, with two more to be added as soon as my January box arrives. And those are just my Book of the Month books. Several other shelves contain books I’ve been wanting to read for some time, including Where the Crawdads Sing, All the Light We Cannot See, The Hours, Crime and Punishment, A God in Ruins, and Trust Exercise.

I do not acquire books haphazardly; I chose every book on these shelves for particular reasons. They’re all good books that I want to read.

When I jettisoned the calendar part of last year’s reading plan at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing myself to choose whatever book I wanted to read next proved to be a tremendously freeing experience. Suddenly reading became an adventure again, not just some productivity goal to tick off on a to-do list.

This rediscovery of the joy of reading convinced me not to include a specific reading calendar in this year’s goals. I still have several reading projects I’m interested in pursuing, so I’m keeping the list of projects, but I’m treating them as possibilities rather than requirements tied to specific completion dates.

I’m beginning 2021 with an emphasis on my analysis of horror literature. As the year progresses I’ll move on to other projects such as these:

  • comparison: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf & The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  • a deep dive into the life and works of Patricia Highsmith, the centenary of whose birth will be on January 19, 2021
  • a look at evil children in literature
  • a rereading of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout followed by a reading of the sequel, Olive, Again
  • a study of some novels featuring Older Adults in Literature
  • a rereading of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale followed by a reading of the sequel, The Testaments

But my overall goal for 2021 is to enjoy being a free-range reader and to share that reading joy on this blog.

How about you?

Do you make annual reading plans? If you do, what’s on your list for 2021?

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book News List

Books to Be Published in 2021

Which Book Should You Read First in 2021?

This quiz from Book Riot can help you answer the question. “Personally, I’m usually looking for something I think will be a 5-star read to start off the year,” writes quizster Rachel Brittain.

13 New Books to Watch For in January

News flash! There’s a new book arriving this month about Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S. (1849) and her sister, also a physician. Elizabeth was the major figure about whom I wrote my dissertation, so I’m excited and have preordered this book.

2021 in books: what to look forward to this year

I place this one near the top of the list because it provides a monthly list of literary events, from specific book publications to award announcements and film/TV adaptations. (Publication dates in countries other than the U.K. might differ from those listed here.)

27 Debuts to Look Forward To in the First Half of 2021

From Electric Literature: “Start off the new year by pre-ordering books from new and emerging authors.”

Books We’re Excited to Read in 2021

A list of 40 upcoming publications from Penguin Random House.

Rick Morton, Alice Pung, Stan Grant, Anita Heiss and others: the books to look forward to in 2021

“Every year an abundance of new titles beg for a spot on your crammed bookshelf. Here are some highlights from Australian authors.”

Is It 2021 Yet? All the Books We’re Looking Forward to Next Year

The folks at Off the Shelf advise, “If you pre-order these fabulously gripping reads now, you’ll thank yourself when the books arrive in the new year, and you’ll have plenty to look forward to throughout 2021.”

22 of the Best Books Arriving in 2021

From BookBub: “From swoon-worthy romances like One Last Stop and Act Your Age, Eve Brown to fantastic fantasies like Hall of Smoke and The Gilded Ones, 2021 is packed with exciting releases.”

25 Book-to-Movie Adaptations to Look Forward to in 2021

List compiler Ann Foster writes, “Several of these works featuring all or mostly-white characters in print have been adapted to change some characters to POC, but the dearth of adaptations of books by BIPOC and women is notable yet again in 2021.”

Winter Fiction Preview: 20 Novels for 2021

From AARP.

Tantalizing Translation Recs for 2021

At Literary Hub, Heather Cleary shares the titles of translated works she’s looking forward to in 2021.

Our critic picks 20 of the most eagerly awaited books of 2021

From Moira Macdonald, book critic for the Seattle Times.

12 books we’re excited about this year

From CNN. I’m especially excited about the last book listed here, Women in White Coats: How the First Women Doctors Changed the World of Medicine, by Olivia Campbell, due out in March. 2021 seems to be THE year for interest in the history of women in medicine, with The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice P. Nimura coming out later this month. (See my latest 6 Degrees of Separation post.)

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Author News Book News Ebooks Last Week's Links Literary History Publishing

Literary Links

Overlooked No More: Clarice Lispector, Novelist Who Captivated Brazil

“Critics lauded her stream-of-consciousness style and described her as glamorous and mysterious. But she didn’t always welcome the attention she received.”

“This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.”

From the New York Times, a look at Russian-born Clarice Lispector, who,  beginning in the 1940s, fascinated “Brazil’s male-dominated literary world.”

How (and Why) to Spring Clean Your Digital Book Clutter

I think I have more than 3,000 books on my Kindle. Because I only recently discovered how to use collections, there’s very little order to my ebooks. Here Ashley Holstrom offers advice on how to organize your Kindle cloud and your Goodreads shelves. She also tells us to create Goodreads shelves to log our entire elibrary, but I’m not sure I’m going to invest that much time in this project.

Charles Dickens, the Writer Who Saw Lockdown Everywhere

You may have heard the story of how Charles Dickens never outgrew the fear of incarceration after his family’s stint in debtor’s prison in 1841. Here Laurence Scott reports that “In her 2011 biography, Claire Tomalin notes that, in adulthood, Dickens became ‘an obsessive visitor of prisons’” and looks at examples of passages from his works that illustrate his obsession.

11 Words to Spice Up Your Book Blurbs and Reviews

John Maher splendaciously offers 11 words collected by the editors at Merriam-Webster who host the podcast Word Matters.

Who Did J.K. Rowling Become?

“Deciphering the most beloved, most reviled children’s-book author in history.”

If you haven’t kept up with the recent controversy swirling around J.K. Rowling, here’s a very detailed analysis of what it’s all about and what it all means.

Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?

The New York Times reports on “a mysterious international phishing scam that has been tricking writers, editors, agents and anyone in their orbit into sharing unpublished book manuscripts.” 

Both big-name writers—like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan—and unknown writers have been targeted, and no one seems to know where manuscripts submitted through the scam end up. “When copies of the manuscripts get out, they just seem to vanish. So why is this happening?”

A Year of Historical Turning Points in New Yorker Fiction

Deborah Treisman, fiction editor for The New Yorker, comments on some of the fiction that appeared in the magazine during the “historically pivotal” year of 2020: “It’s hardly surprising that some of the anxiety of this unmooring year trickled into fiction—or sent us to stories that explore other historical turning points and what led to them.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: Women Healers

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

For this first 6 Degrees of 2021, we start with the winner of the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction, Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. This book is next up on my to-read list. I understand from reading about this highly praised novel that it portrays the death of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet, at age 11 in the plague of 1596. 

But the book focuses not on the playwright, but on the child’s mother, Agnes, who learns from her mother about the power of plants and about understanding her own premonitions. In other words, Agnes is a witch.

1. Thinking about Agnes’s role immediately brought to mind The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. In this novel for young people an orphaned young woman, Kit Tyler, travels from Barbados to live with a relative in the Connecticut Colony in 1687. Since I grew up in Connecticut near the place where this novel is set, reading it was de rigueur when I was in elementary school. I reread it a few years ago and was pleased to realize that the portrait of Hannah, an ostracized Quaker woman whom young Kit befriends, still fulfills the standard stereotype of a witch.

2. In her nonfiction work Woman as Healer, Jeanne Achterberg examines the role of women in the Western healing traditions, from their honored position as healers in ancient cultures through the persecution of such healers as witches in the Middle Ages and then into more modern roles of women as midwives, then nurses, and now physicians.

3. In 1849 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States. In 1895 she published her autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women.

4. Just a few days ago I discovered a new book scheduled to be published by W.W. Norton later this month: The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine by Janice P Nimura. The book focuses on the life work of Elizabeth Blackwell and her younger sister, Emily Blackwell, who also became a physician.

5. At the outbreak of the Civil War in the United States, the Blackwell sisters lead efforts to organize women to help care for wounded soldiers. Their efforts met with strong opposition from the United States Sanitary Commission, whose male leaders resented the women’s incursion into the traditionally male-dominated profession of physician. The novel My Name Is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira presents the difficulties a young midwife faces as she tries to train as a physician with a male doctor during the war.

6. The novel The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati, set in New York City in 1883, provides a look at how women worked to defend their right to practice and to define their role as physicians during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Anna Savard, a graduate of the Woman’s Medical School, works to protect and care for immigrant and orphaned children on the city streets and in the rudimentary orphanages.

Bonus: The second book in this series, Where the Light Enters, set in 1884, tells the story of Anna’s cousin, Sophie, an obstetrician and the orphaned daughter of free people of color.

I have very much enjoyed this exercise in exploring how women have experienced and redefined their role as healers over the centuries.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal

Happy New Year! Feed Your Soul

We’ve all been waiting for 2021, and finally it’s here!

And to get this new year started off right, The Guardian has put together The 31-Day Literary Diet for January:

“From a Shirley Jackson short story to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 30-minute Ted talk, nourish your mind with our one-a-day selection of literary treats.”

Categories
Author News

Notable Literary Deaths in 2020

Notable Literary Deaths in 2020

Lit Hub has compiled this “Incomplete List of the Writers, Editors, and Great Literary Minds We Lost This Year.”

Among the many unhappinesses of this year, we lost what seems like an unusually large number of members of the literary community, from poets to novelists to editors to critics to publishers to booksellers. To them, we say a last thank you, and goodbye. They will be missed.

Categories
Book Recommendations List Personal

The Best Books I Read in 2020

Most of the annual best books of the year lists refer only to books published during the stated calendar year. But my annual list always refers to books I read this year, regardless of when they were published.

Here, then, are the 10 best books I read this year, listed alphabetically by author, plus 5 more honorable mentions.

The Best

Alam, Rumaan. Leave the World Behind

Clark, Julie. The Last Flight

du Maurier, Daphne. The House on the Strand

Fowles, John. The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Mandel, Emily St. John. The Glass Hotel

Moore, Liz. Long Bright River

Murakami,Haruki. 1Q84

Reid, Iain. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Shute, Nevil. On the Beach

Toews, Miriam. Women Talking

Honorable Mention

Brodesser-Akner, Taffy. Fleishman Is in Trouble

Connelly, Michael. The Law Of Innocence

Foley,Lucy. The Guest List

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road

Wrobel, Stephanie. Darling Rose Gold

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal Reading

Did I Fulfill My Reading Plan for 2020?

2020 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2020 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2020 by clicking on either link above.


Related Post:

I just went back and reread my reading plan for 2020. Then I had a good laugh.

I did relatively well with Part I: Specific Challenges and Goals. I didn’t meet most of the goals, but I’m being gentle with myself in evaluating how well I did under the COVID-19 circumstances.

Here’s a look at those original goals, with my current assessments presented in the white paragraphs.

Part I: Specific Challenges and Goals

1. Goodreads Challenge

Since I easily exceeded my 2019 goal of 50 books, I’m cautiously raising my 2020 goal to 55.

I did make this goal, even though I resorted to a couple of books from my “short-enough-to-be-read-in-one-day” TBR shelf.

Here are my stats, according to Goodreads:

  • books read: 58 pages read: 19,629
  • shortest book: How Should One Read a Book? by Virginia Woolf, 64 pages
  • longest book: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, 1,157 pages
  • average book length: 338 pages
  • my average rating: 3.9 

2. The Classics Club

Even though I just met my goal of 4 books read from this list last year, for 2020 I’m increasing my goal to 6. If I don’t increase my efforts, I might not get through my Classics Club list in my lifetime.

I failed miserably at this one. I only read 2 books from my list, and I didn’t write the follow-up reviews (although I have high hopes of catching up on this omission in 2021).


3. 2020 Book Blog Discussion Challenge

Although I’m staying away from most challenges that require me to read books in specific categories, I’ve signed up for this challenge to motivate myself to write more substantive blog posts in 2020. I’m aiming to write 2 discussion posts per month.

Two posts per month would total 24 such posts. My final count, including this post, will be 12. That’s not too bad, considering that my pandemic experience included the lack of ability to focus on one idea long enough to write about it.

You can find the list of my discussion posts here.


Part II: The Calendar

I’m setting myself specific monthly challenges. I hope that these projections will allow me sufficient time each month to read other works, such as my monthly book club selection and my monthly choice from Book of the Month, in addition to new releases.

January-February

The Jackson Brody novels by Kate Atkinson:

  • Case Histories
  • One Good Turn
  • When Will There Be Good News?
  • Started Early, Took My Dog
  • Big Sky

And here is where we end. I did finish Atkinson’s 5 Jackson Brody novels, but, once again, I didn’t blog about them. The rest of my carefully constructed dated assignments dissipated in the pandemic fog.

For 10 of the first 15 days of March I couldn’t read at all. When I thought I was once again ready to pick up a book, I told myself to just choose the book that interested me the most (which turned out to be Long Bright River by Liz Moore). For the rest of the year I followed the same procedure, standing in front of my TBR shelves and choosing whatever book seemed to call to me at that time. 

The experience of this past year will affect how I formulate a reading plan for 2021, but I’m still processing exactly how. Thanks for listening, and I hope that, if you evaluate your own 2020 year in reading, you’ll be gentle with yourself. Congratulate yourself on what you did accomplish and don’t worry about what you didn’t. Whatever, if you’re still around to read in 2021, you’re one of the lucky ones.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown