Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge has definitely broadened my reading horizons in 2017. Since my progress report in May I’ve braved fantasy, artificial intelligence and a graphic novel – I hardly know myself anymore!
Read a book about books
The New Life by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Guneli Gun
The narrator reads a book & goes off to find the meaning of life & win his beloved Janan. Slow to start, I was soon immersed in Pamuk’s rich, lyrical prose. His sentences are intricate, but so exact they stop you in your tracks. I love the layers of meaning & imperfect characters. (My full review is here).
Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez, translated by Anne McLean
I love the originality of Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s work (although rooted in the tradition of such greats as Gabriel Garcia Marquez), and his rhythm – taut & lyrical, the prose flows beautifully with a wistful tone: “the nostalgia for things that weren’t yet lost”. He creates a strong sense of place – Colombia from the 1960s to 1980s – and a story within a story. Antonio’s slow, believable decline is matched by the sympathetic characters Ricardo, Elena & Maya.
Read an all-ages comic
Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chang, Matthew Wilson and Jared Fletcher
Not my usual genre! This was a fun, beautifully illustrated, fast-paced comic. I loved the strong protagonists (12 year old girls), smart, sometimes wrong, dialogue – showing the 1980s era – and detailed pictures. The inventiveness took me back to my youth, but it’s unlike anything I read when I was young.
Read a travel memoir
The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold by Tim Moore
Tim Moore has the somewhat mad idea of riding a 1967 shopping bike from the German Democratic Republic the length of the Iron Curtain (20 countries, 9,000km). The result is a mix of travelogue and memoir of a previous trip in 1990, mixed with history. Moore has a wonderfully self-deprecating style; it’s often laugh-out-loud funny. He paints a dismal picture of soviet Russia, and is glib at times, but also savours moments of friendly goodwill. A unique trip.
Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location
Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar
A slow start but I enjoyed this – in the end the thoughtful writing, immersion in the desolate landscape and determination of Hester kept me reading. The isolation, and the settlers’ cruelty to the Aboriginal inhabitants of South Australia depressed me (knowing it’s based on fact). Would be a good discussion for book clubs. My full review is here.
Read a fantasy novel
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
I struggle with fantasy because it requires that extra suspension of disbelief, but Philip Pullman succeeds in creating a rich world with human concerns. I’m glad I read this, inspired by Kate and Rob from Adventures with Words, who are (re-)reading the series in anticipation of The Book of Dust, with La Belle Sauvage due out on 19 October. Lyra is a great protagonist: a strong, street-smart but caring 11-year old girl who goes on a quest to save her friend and uncle. Pullman creates vivid, alternate Victorian England and Lapland settings and nuanced characters. A well-crafted fantasy with much to think about.
Read a non-fiction book about technology
It’s Alive! by Toby Walsh (to be published in the US as Machines That Think)
Artificial intelligence & the possibility of ‘thinking machines’ is fascinating – & happening faster than we think. Robots can already write poetry and make music, so there is no reason they cannot learn to be more creative. We don’t know how conscious they can become though. My brain starts to hurt when I think about this.
Toby Walsh cuts through the hype to explore the likely advances, the benefits and dangers – in particular he warns against autonomous weapons, or ‘killer robots’, in war. Wonderful engaging style, clear writing & he brings expertise & thoughtfulness to the topic. Recommended.
Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (banned in Chicago schools and challenged in other states)
This is Marjane Satrapi’s story of her childhood in Iran during the revolution and Iran-Iraq war. It has not been banned or challenged in Australia to my knowledge, but it was a great prompt to read a book I would not otherwise have discovered. The beautiful pictures capture movement and emotion and her words are honest, to the point and unsentimental, with wry humour. I loved the feisty narrator and was troubled by the parents’ decision to stay when they had the choice to leave, amidst oppression and war.
Read a book about war
The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
The story of children in a Warsaw ghetto in the Holocaust. Aron falls in with a gang, but he is still an innocent, troubled child: his relationship with his mother is beautifully described. A sense of sadness & foreboding pervades the book. There is humour early on in the kids’ teasing & banter but this fades, as they move into survival mode & watch friends & family die. Dr Korczac is a hero to his orphans. An unflinching portrait.
Read a book published by a micropress
Mikumari by Misumi Kubo, translated by Polly Barton, foreward by Naomi Alderman
Fantastic, I recommend it. Strong writing, the protagonist schoolboy is funny but sympathetic and his lover, Anzu, a cosplayer, is interesting. Kubo has been compared to Han Kang and this reminded me of Murakami in the best sense.
Read a collection of stories by a woman
Fen by Daisy Johnson
An extraordinary collection. Spare, accomplished writing with wonderfully controlled weirdness. Characters are raw, honest and sometimes turn into animals. Despite these magical elements, the stories feel poignant, true and rooted in the earth.
Nearly there – I have five tasks to go, so will update again soon!