2019 Reading Challenge Update

One of my resolutions this year was to publish a blog post a month which I have already conclusively failed at. In order to try and claw some credibility back, this is my second post in only a few days within March, to make up for the absent February…

The topic of this post is to discuss the progress made so far on my 2019 reading challenge. My Goodreads target, as you’ll remember, was 45 books and so far I’ve read 11. My second challenge was the one I created for myself to make attempts to read more widely, and I’ve ticked a fair few of these off the list within those 11. Shorter reviews on them below; much of this is covered on Goodreads so follow me there for real time updates.

Recap – my reading challenge

3) A book by a woman of colour

For this, I read Homegoing, the debut novel from Yaa Gyasi, a Ghanaian born writer. It was published in 2016 and despite hearing a lot of good things about it, I’d never gotten around to reading it. Whilst it is one book with the thread of common lineage, it’s made up of separate stories of the different generations of one family, stemming from two sisters – one sold into slavery and one the wife of a slave trader. I thought I might get frustrated with the brevity of each of the stories, and want to know more, but Gyasi struck a good balance of continuity and diversity in each chapter. The stories were all well-rounded and equally fascinating that each of them captured my interest enough to bring me along in the journey instead of dwelling on what happened previously. It is very accomplished for a debut novel, especially considering the number of characters and storylines that she presents, and the complexity of the themes that she deals with. Creative and effective – I loved it. 4/5

4) An autobiography

My choice for this was the hottest autobiography of the moment, Becoming by Michelle Obama. Released in November 2018 and selling 1.4 million copies in its first week, it was the best-selling book in the U.S. after just 15 days. Naturally, I had to see what the fuss was about. Like many others, I have long admired Michelle Obama and been inspired by the work she has done as First Lady. The autobiography is, like her, full of grace and dignity, honest yet polished, elevated and respectful with an undertone of ‘realness’. If I’m honest, I was hoping for more juice but, on reflection, it was an unrealistic expectation to have. The former First Lady is hardly about to start dishing the dirt on the secrets of the Oval or fling out criticism of those she worked with. The most ‘controversial’ if it can be called that, revelation was the story of her struggle to conceive and the journey of IVF, which was touching and only really added to the carefully crafted image of Michelle Obama as ‘one of us’. I wouldn’t say that there was much that was surprising in it, or even much that departed from the conventional, but it was interesting to hear her story and her reflections on what being involved with politics meant to her. Make no mistake, it’s a highly political book, despite her transparent distaste for much of that life. However, it’s also warm, genuine and inspiring. Listen to it on Audible for the gentle reassurance of Michelle Obama talking directly to you for 19 hours. 4/5

6) A book with more than 500 pages

I seem to be reading a lot of non-fiction at the moment, which continues to surprise me (even as I keep doing it). For this category, I made a return to fiction and read The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. It was a wonderful homecoming and made me remember the joy of a good old fashioned story. The first two thirds of the book are more compelling than the final part. I felt that it did tail off a little in terms of intensity, and I think this may have been because the focus changed onto characters that I had less of a connection to. I don’t know if you were supposed to love Ralph from the start… personally, I found him to be quite predatory, despite there being no real evidence of misconduct. I thought that this would make it impossible for me to embrace the love story so I was quite surprised when I did. Although it’s very frustrating and far fetched at times (the boar!!), I roared through it and enjoyed it immensely. 4/5

16) A history book

Technically, I started this in 2018 but I am going to count it anyway because I still read most of it in 2019. My choice was Andrew Marr’s The Making of Modern Britain, a history of Great Britain from the Victorian era to the end of the Second World War. It’s the prequel to his extremely popular A History of Modern Britain which picks up the documentation of our history since WW2. This is a long book but it’s very readable due to Marr’s style of telling history which focuses on some lesser known anecdotes that seem to sum up the feeling of the country at the time. Through this, you get access to more than just ‘what happened’ – indeed, if you’re looking for this, you would find this book a little thin on the ground – you get a more varied, colourful and diverse picture (as much as you can for Edwardian Britain, anyway) of the country, from the art, culture, media coverage, famous individuals and business developments of the times. The focus on the two world wars is limited, as Marr chooses to pay more attention to events in the country itself. The largest proportion of the book is dedicated to the interwar years, trying to dissect how our recovery from one major conflict, and entry into another has affected our psychology as a country today. 3/5

19) A book of true crime

I saw I’ll Be Gone in the Dark as winning critical acclaim on Goodreads so immediately selected it as my true crime book for the challenge. I really enjoy true crime as a genre although I probably listen to and watch more of it than I read. This started really well, but then I found that it got very repetitive. The whole final section, part three, felt unnecessary and like padding – it contained the same material as had already been covered and didn’t seem to add any new perspectives. Whilst McNamara is a good storyteller, excellent at conveying both the brutality and banality of a crime scene, and getting a good pace to her narrative, the number of different crime scenes (and the similarity of them) became confusing as she jumped around in the timeline. I think the book wins some critical acclaim from the tragedy surrounding the author. Worthless as it is to say, it would have really benefitted from the ending and story that McNamara wanted to tell; the end created by her friends and colleagues just didn’t do the rest of her research justice. It’s a very intriguing book, but it wouldn’t stick as the most compelling true crime that I’ve encountered. What’s also good to know now is that despite this being unsolved when McNamara wrote and published, the perpetrator has now been arrested. One final big tip – it is vivid enough to send your imagination wild so don’t read this at home alone in the dark. 2.5/5

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