As you might remember from my 23 Before 23 Review, I mentioned that I had committed myself to a reading challenge with some of my colleagues from work. My colleague Marie spotted the Popsugar 2015 Reading Challenge on Pinterest before the new year and decided that she was taking part, and from then on the number has grown across our office of people getting involved. I wanted to sign up to the challenge initially because I had got out of the habit of reading. I have a pretty reasonable commute to work (averaging around 45 minutes each way but can be well over an hour depending on traffic) and shortly after I started work I put this time to good use by reading. I got so into reading on the bus that I managed to fly through 7 books in 2 weeks but then as the mornings and nights grew ever darker I just felt sleepy on the journey and couldn’t really pick myself up enough to read. Since taking on the challenge though, I am getting back into the routine of reading on the bus once again and I am (slowly) making a dent in the massive backlog of books that I have to read!
Here is the list of criteria for the challenge, and I have highlighted those that I have been successful in fulfilling so far:
I have made the decision to only count one book for each of the criteria (meaning that I have 50 books to read to complete the challenge!) whereas some people have opted to tick off all of the criteria that their book meets. To me this feels a little like cheating myself to do it this way, so I’m playing hard and fast by my rule! I have allowed myself to relax a little bit about the seriousness of the challenge though. Usually, if I set myself a goal I will work at it no end until I achieve it, but I fear that this may take the fun out of the challenge so I am approaching it with a relaxed plan, and my challenge is not to cross all of the books of in 2015, but to see how many I can cross off in 2015. I don’t want to force myself to read books for the sake of them, so I am using this as a checklist to manage my attack on the book collection that I already own as an excuse to get some reading done! And any that I don’t cross off in 2015? They’ll simply roll over into 2016 instead!
As you can see from the image above, so far I have managed to tick two of the criteria off the list and I am working my way through my third. The first book that I read was The Winter Book by Tove Jansson, meeting the criteria of ‘A book that was originally written in a different language’ as it was first published in Swedish. It is a collection of short stories for adults spanning the whole of her adult fiction writing career, from her first collection The Sculptor’s Daughter, published in 1968 to seven of her later short stories, the latest dated 1996.
Best known for her creation of the Moomins, the first sections of this book show just how beautifully Jansson was able to capture the innocence and preciousness of childhood, while being honest, rather than sentimental about it. Her childhood heroines are adventurous children, recounting their first experiences of the beauty and the horror of the world. Their voices are compelling and completely believable as that of a young child. My favourite story was from the second section, ‘Flotsam and Jetsam’, and I fell in love with the story, ‘The Iceberg.’ The child narrator is placed into the precarious position of longing to explore, but the iceberg that she wants to jump to is only just out of reach. She faces a dilemma;
‘It was lying there bumping against the rocks at the end of the point where it was deep, and there was deep black water and just the wrong distance between us. If it had been shorter I should have jumper over; if it had been a little longer I could have thought: ‘What a pity, no one can manage to get over that.’ Now I had to make up my mind. And that’s an awful thing to have to do.’ (Jansson, 2006:75)
This beautiful, poignant moment of contemplation is what has stuck with me after reading the book. That and a brief encounter from the second half of the collection. The second half explores adulthood, rather than childhood and I didn’t enjoy the second half anywhere near as much as I did the first, but despite that I do still find that one of the stories left a strong impression on my mind long after I finished the book. In ‘The Squirrel,’ the peace and routine of the narrator’s isolated world as the only inhabitant of an island is interrupted by the arrival of a squirrel. The two are locked in a battle for dominance of the island and as the woman steadily grown more paranoid and desperate, the squirrel grows more confident. Ultimately, the squirrel seems to bring the answer to all of her problems that she had been struggling with when he flees the island in her boat:
‘She didn’t immediately understand that it was her own boat; she just watched it, noticing for the first time how helpless and dramatic the movements of an empty, drifting boat are. But the boat wasn’t empty. The squirrel was sitting in the stern, staring blindly straight into the light like a cardboard shape, a dead toy…’You damn squirrel,’ she said softly, in admiration. She stayed on standing in the darkness, still amazed, a little weak in the legs and not quite sure whether or not everything had now utterly changed.’ (Jansson, 2006:151-2)
This beautiful and haunting image was another one that really stuck a chord with me and even now, weeks after I read the book, refuses to leave me. While this book isn’t exactly gripping or action-packed, there is something in the lyrical nature of the writing which leaves a lasting impression much longer than most stories. I’m pleased I read this book as part of the challenge and I also want to pick up The Summer Book as it also has some wonderful reviews. This is a great read if you want something of a gentle pace but powerfully written. It definitely highlights a side of the Moomins creator that many do not know anything of.
You can buy a copy of The Winter Book here: A Winter Book: Selected Stories by Tove Jansson
The second book that I completed was ‘A non-fiction book,’ for which I read A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley. This book is a wonderful history of the British fascination with murder, and how murder and art are inexplicably intertwined. This book explores murder from the turn of the 19th Century, and arguable its beginnings as a spectator sport. Worsley explores how mass publication of newspapers and pamphlets, the theatre and public hangings all become intertwined to create a culture that thrives on blood, gore and gossip. She demonstrates the transition of murder in the criminal sense, to the ‘cosy crime’ of the ‘Golden Age’ when Dorothy L Sayers and Agatha Christie featured on every bookshelf and onwards to film and TV. She highlights how murder has become a common occurrence in the arts that we relish in, even discussing the history of Madame Tussauds ‘Chamber of Horrors’. It is a fascinating read that is really engrossing but quick and easy to read. It only took me a week of bus journeys to work my way through this one! It has been a long time since I have found a non-fiction book that is so absorbing and easy to read as though it were fiction. Overall it is a wonderful history that is just as enjoyable as the murders we have relished for the last 200 years.
You can buy a copy of A Very British Murder here: A Very British Murder
The third book that I have started is David Suchet’s autobiography, Poirot and Me, for the ‘memoir’. I love watching Poirot on TV and for Christmas James bought me the complete boxset Agatha Christie’s Poirot – The Definitive Collection (Series 1-13) [DVD] which we are currently working out way though! I generally don’t read many biographies (I can’t actually remember the last one I read…) but I really wanted to read this one when it came out at the end of the final series. I am enjoying it so far but I don’t think I’ll manage to read it all in one go as you can’t get completely absorbed in it like a fictional story. I may dip in and out of it around reading some other books, I haven’t quite decided yet. I did make a start on my ‘Book from your childhood’ but I couldn’t really get into it so I may alternate the two a bit to see if that helps!
You can buy a copy of Poirot and Me here: Poirot and Me
Are you taking on the 2015 reading challenge? What are you reading at the moment? Also, can you help me? For the ‘book by an author with your initials’ I’m struggling to find a H. A. any ideas?