Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Results: Four Book Challenge

It took me a few hours shy of one week to finish the four books I chose for my challenge. Normally it would have taken me a couple of weeks per book to read all of them (of course keep in mind I was challenging myself).

I didn't rush the reading of any of the books, just switched between them when I got bored. I did try to read during times when I don't normally (i.e. at work), but this was mainly because I would read on the train to work and then get into the plot and want to keep going.

In addition, there wasn't a single day during the week that I didn't read, despite being very busy most days. I attribute this to a lack of boredom in what I was reading. If I wasn't in the mood to read about the crazy English kings and queens of old, I'd read crazy childhood stories instead.

Plus, the stories were in different genres and therefore different enough for me to read them all and not confuse the plots - a problem my father brought up when I talked about my challenge. He also asked me when I was publishing my research on relay-reading. Haha.

So on to the reviews. The four books I chose to read were:

  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Houssini (Fiction)
  • The White Princess by Philippa Gregory (Historical Fiction)
  • The Cuckoo's Calling by J.K. Rowling under pseudonym (Mystery)
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (Nonfiction)

I started off my reading the first chapter of each book to get a feel for the writing style. I finished the Houssini in two days with some breaks to read more stories in the Sedaris (this was the last book I finished because I interspersed reading the stories with reading long sections of the other books) and a few more chapters of the other two books.

I am an avid lover of fiction, and Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns are two of my favorites. I wasn't surprised by the style of And the Mountains Echoed. It started off right away with a folktale. I was a bit confused by that because we hadn't been introduced to any characters yet, but I figured it out once the father started naming the children. Houssini tends to weave tales through time, so that you don't get a whole picture and people aren't connected until the ending. Each of the perspectives was it's own life story, yet they were so intertwined with these people that only us readers had met - it made me think about the lives that I touch and those that touch me without me even realizing. People you pass every day or that you grew up with are living parallel lives to you. They could be meeting your best friend for coffee or end up in the hospital where your neighbors' daughter works as a nurse. You just don't know. Anyway, that is the global takeaway for me. As always, Houssini uses Afgan history and settings and compares the generations before and after war and insurgency. I wouldn't say the book is extremely happy, but it is comforting.

I thought that The White Princess was going to be the hardest for me to read because English history is not my strong suit, not to mention everyone has the same names and my Kindle screen is too small to see the genealogy chart. However, I found it quite similar to books I read as a kid by Carolyn Meyer, only obviously meant for adults. The history mixed with fiction, assumptions, and guesses is convincing. It is a good thing I don't know a lot about English history or the story might have been ruined by what I know to be historically proven. But I don't, so it was entertaining and informative. The book very much immerses you in the politics of being a woman, a queen, a king, and a person of the court. There is a lot of pressure expressed by the story to not show feelings and keep information in the right hands. It is not a love story. I would call it a fear story in fact. I can't imagine how exhausted Elizabeth of York (wife of Henry VI, they don't mention her number) might have been allaying the intense paranoid fears of her husband. He never sat comfortably on the throne, and that is mainly because he listened to his mother instead of his wife.

The Cuckoo's Calling started out slow, but I ended up finishing it about the same time as The White Princess because the mystery was so well done. I had literally no idea who the killer was until the end. Usually with mysteries I can figure it out, but the detective kept us in the dark. I was also distracted by the interesting characters Rowling creates. This is what I define as her style. She makes full and complete characters with histories and makes you feel lots of emotions towards them. I think people often discount her non-fantasy writing (probably why she wrote under a pseudonym) because they expect it to be fantasy, but she's not a one-trick pony. Her skill is in the details - that is what made us love Harry Potter so much. I also like that her stories show real pain. This is especially true of her non-fantasy work. She shows the gritty reality of losing a leg in Iraq, being the adopted child, ending an on-again, off-again relationship for good, and going broke doing something you love. All this and it touches the plot but doesn't define it - no one character or problem gets front billing. It's just life and the crappy things that happen.

David Sedaris is my favorite one-trick pony. I like him a lot, mostly because we share a similar dark, mean humor, but everything I've read by him is about his childhood. His childhood is very interesting and I love reading about it, but sometimes I wish he'd branch out a bit into fiction fiction. But heh - write what you know right? Me Talk Pretty One Day is a themed book of short stories that focuses on poor communication, from lisps to parental distance to French class. It is funny, and dark. I found myself wondering if Sedaris has any positive memories from his childhood. This was a good one to alternate with the others since there was no plot to follow. You could read one story and be done. I think he needs to put a timeline in there though, because he did a lot of shit in his life and it's super hard to follow where he is in time. I think he does a fine job depicting his days wandering from job to job, especially as a creative person. This is a character that many people of my generation can relate to, as we grew up hearing that we could do whatever we wanted with a college degree, and now our college degrees aren't worth very much, especially if they are in a creative field.

Now that I've sat with these books for a week I feel prepared to move on to another set of four. I wish I'd done this when I was doing my 50 book resolution from that year. Even with a break every other week I could have read 100 books. Please, try this method yourself. Maybe I will one day publish research about relay-reading, or maybe I'll keep it as my own personal belief that I will one day share with students and my own kids. I think if I was still 8 years old, I could probably read 8 books a week just because as kids there is more time in the day and the books are shorter. Of course I'm lucky that I have a passion for reading and am able to do it (Thanks Dad!). That's a whole other strategy for another post. Enjoy. Read.

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