The Thirteenth Challenge

Reading in a Cafe

Lucky 13 is the reading challenge. Like a ninja, it is stealthy, and has been hidden in the background, waiting until it can spring up and kick my ass if I procrastinate. The 13th Challenge spans all 12 months. We have to read 50 books in one year, to fulfill categories such as: Award winning book, book that came out the year you graduated, YA book, nonfiction, memoir, etc. The categories were carefully selected by friends to expand our worlds, challenge us, and force us to read outside our comfort zones.

Last year’s reading challenge helped me fall in love with words again. As I tore through book after book I found myself paying more attention to story-structures, to writing, to words. Listening to audiobooks, I could hear the phrases or words that are used repetitively, I rewind and listen again to things that catch my attention.

I want my love of books to continue to grow. As a self-proclaimed writer (depending on the day), I have always loved to read, but I became lazy. Books that helped me escape, that required nothing of me became my easy pick. The cute, dumb guys of books – enjoyable but not worth keeping around long. When I flip through my Kindle, there are many books from over the years that I find myself looking up because I can’t remember if I read them or not.

Recently I found a Ted Talk about a woman who “read the world”. She looked at her book shelf and realized that the majority of her books were from English-speaking countries. Through her blog, friends, and crowd-sourcing help from people around the world, she was able to read a book from each country in the world. If a country didn’t have any books published in English, she read unpublished versions, for a few countries, she found help in volunteers who translated sections of books into English for her. In doing so she was able to humanize and personalize the world and cultures.

I’m not striving to read the world. Instead I am using this opportunity to force myself to read beyond myself. To learn about different cultures, to learn new things, to understand other people’s experiences as they see them. Any other benefits (improved writing!) will be side effects of the 13th Challenge.

Another benefit? Being able to sit with my mom and sister when they came to visit, each of us excited about the books we’re reading. We compared, discussed, recommended, looked them up, and they motivated me to finally get to the new-ish public library. Mom gave us her love of reading. One of my favorite things is when I discover a book I know she’ll love and being able to share it with her.

In January, I read eight books. Apparently becoming recently single and traveling half of the month left me with a lot of time to read and listen to audiobooks. I read on planes, in hotel rooms, listened while cooking, while walking, I read when I should have been sleeping. I read to avoid thinking and feeling, I read to get ahead (I’m competitive), and I read because I had to finish my book for book club.

What books did I choose? Here is what I read in January and my informal thoughts about each:

The Orphan Master’s Son – Read for book club. A tough read and a very bleak book. Images from throughout continue to haunt me and I only hope the author made up the atrocities described in the North Korean prisons and around the country. At its heart though it is about stories, and the importance of telling and owning the story, as illustrated through the national propaganda of North Korea.
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline – I can not believe I didn’t listen to friends years ago when they told me to read this book. The plot centers around a video game contest, that is what stopped me. Don’t make the same mistake! This book is well-written, has a great premise and is an love letter to the 80’s. At times it was very vaguely reminiscent of the Hunger Games, but I’m blaming that on the fact that it is centered around a contest and there are kids. It had me in the first few pages when it quoted lyrics from Oingo Boingo.

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman – A sweet book from Sweden about an old curmudgeon who is heartbroken after his wife’s death and tries to kill himself. His unknowing neighbors don’t let him. It reminded me somewhat of a Swedish book I read last year The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed out His Window… Who knew the Swedes exported so many books about old men?

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell – OMG this was long. It was well-written and interesting but it seemed to go on forever. The first half was intriguing, the second half was not. The only reason I finished it was because I was already ⅔ of the way through when I was mentally done with it and I wanted to finish. It was about a group of people who live forever in different bodies after one dies. Some were good, more were bad. Read The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, somewhat similar idea, better executed, and shorter.

Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert – I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up Big Magic. I practically hated Eat, Pray, Love.  Years ago she gave a Ted Talk about creative inspiration. In the 20 minutes of her talk, she made me laugh, think, and inspired me. A friend sent me the link only with a note that said, “she reminds me of you,” I’m stlll flattered at the comparison after watching it. Regarding Big Magic, at times I found myself skimming through it, other times I found myself rereading sections that resonated with me. I think Bird by Bird, by Annie Lamott is better book about writing and creativity, but this did have it’s good parts. I’m sure I’ll read it again at some point.

Mime Order, by Samantha Shannon – This book was for my enjoyment. It is a Young Adult (YA) book that was the second in a series. It has a strong female character, is well-written and tightly crafted, but I thought the first one was better, probably because I guessed the ending. I’ll read the third though.

Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo – A quick read, I spent the first ¾ of this book trying to figure out why it was one of Amazon’s top YA picks. The author made some of the same novice writing mistakes that I made when I was trying to fly through my novel in November. A published book shouldn’t include the same weak writing that is found in my first draft. However, by the end I was pulled in and want to know what happens next to the young, ragtag group of criminals.

It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, by Lynsey Addario – This book is the most unique of everything I read in January. A memoir of a war photojournalist, I listened to it late into the night when I should have been sleeping. After I finished last night, I looked online for her photography and it is stunning. I rarely give any thought to what is required of people to take those photographs. The story of her life gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of what it means to take photographs, or create art that can capture and define a war, a rebellion, a movement, and a country. I’ve  thought about the writers, but rarely the photographers since writing has always been my perspective. I’m glad for the insight. Check out her stunning photography.

The year is just starting and I have 42 books left to read. What are yor favorites? I’m always looking for recommendations!


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