Ahead of schedule for once, I have finished the reading challenge I set myself a few years ago. The idea was to get back in the habit of reading novels. Decent novels, not chick lit and holiday reads. The kind of books I wanted to read. The kind of books I used to read. The kind of books that would challenge me a little, make me think, maybe even teach me something.
40 books by the age of 40, that was my goal. I gave myself 36 months. Now, 31 months in, I have just finished my 40th book, Annie Proulx’s Postcards. Along the way I have found some new favourite authors (Anne Tyler and Sebastian Faulks), I have ventured into genres I used not read (thrillers and westerns) and even discovered that the strange sensation of wishing I had never read a particular book.
Conversations about novels feature in my life now a lot more than they used to. Not since my student days have I made the time to chat with friends, and sometimes with strangers, about books. All this reading even gave me the impetus to put a long-held dream into reality – building a library in our home. As for the idea of writing a novel of my own, like a dragonfly it hovers in front of me encouragingly at times yet, whenever I try to capture it, it flits away and vanishes.
When I wrote my last reading challenge post, I was up to 35 books. The final five I read since were:
On Canann’s Side by Sebastian Barry
The story of a girl who fled from Ireland to the US and the life she made for herself there. The events of her long life are recounted by her as an elderly lady living alone, her grandson’s death giving her cause to reflect. At times moving, at times slow and irritatingly invented the storyline kept my interest enough to finish the short novel.
The Dead Heart by Douglas Kennedy
Before now I had only read one Douglas Kennedy novel. The Dead Heart was completely different but also a great read. Another short novel, this tells the tale of an American tourist who ends up far, far off the beaten track in the Australian Outback. Dark and funny, the story is extreme but also believable.
A Fool’s Alphabet by Sebastian Faulks
I have yet to read a Sebastian Faulks book I did not enjoy. A Fool’s Alphabet is an account of a man’s life. Each of the twenty-six chapters is a placename from A to Z. The idea sounds contrived but the story is moving and thought-provoking though the back-and-forth over time and across places can be confusing.
Tin Man by Sarah Winman
Since beginning my reading challenge, I have been more open to trying books recommended by others. Tin Man was one such read. I expected more of it. I am not sure what I expected really but it was less than I had hoped for. The writing is good and there were parts of the story I liked very much. The earlier part of the book kept my attention better than the later chapters. Perhaps I wasn’t in the frame of mind for it. I might give it another try in a few months. Read it and let me know what you think.
Postcards by Annie Proulx
Another recommendation, this time resulting from a chat with my pal and published author Sadhbh Devlin. We weretaling about Lonsome Dove and how westerns wouldn’t be a genre we would read. Then turned out one of Sadhbh’s favourite authors is Annie Proulx, author of Brokeback Mountain among other novels. Sadhbh recommended I begin with Postcards and take it from there with Proulx’s novels. So I did.
The novel tells of the life of the Blood family through a series of postcards sent over a period of around 40 years by the eldest son. Giving no return address, his family have no means to contact him. His idea of their life and their actual experience soon drift very far apart. Reading this in a world where you can observe the lives of others online from anywhere, it is a good reminder of how different life used to be and how easy it was to disappear.
Just because I have reached my 40 books it doesn’t mean I am going to stop reading. There are a lot of book still on my list and I am still very much open to recommendations, so let me hear you suggestions. I need some material to keep me going through my 40s.