Exceeding Reading Expectations

As November draws to an end, the holiday noose begins to tighten. Entertaining, decorating, gift giving, family get-togethers, obligatory travel . . . all signal the calendar year is rapidly coming to a close. We’re tearing off the page on Week No. 47 out of a total 52!

My, how time flies. Which means all of us undertaking #52booksin52weeks are nearing the home stretch.

Now, #52booksin52weeks has truly never been my challenge. Frankly, how many more is a bigger unknown than will I read 52 books in a year? My biggest, truest hurdles been focusing and recording. I’m notoriously bad about undertaking multiple books at once only to lose interest, wander away, and pick up something else. Keeping a reading log typically fizzles out a few months down the road.

Here, with pride, then, is my latest list, which surpasses the required 52 books and shows that, for once, I’ve stuck to updating a reading log. Any takers on how many more I’ll manage before December 30?

Books 48 through 58

No. 48 and No. 49: China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Kevin Kwan novels China Rich Girlfriend, Rich People Problems, and Crazy Rich Asians

After I went to see “Crazy Rich Asians,” I immediately ran to Book People and bought the other two books in Kwan’s trilogy. I’d read the first one (No. 39) and, like the movie, it was pure rom-com escapism, full of beautiful people and places; the second and third books are just as frothy, fun, and full of saucy asides as the first.

These three gave me as much pleasure as The Devil Wears Prada, on of my all-time favorite escapist reads. Naturally, I’ll be revisiting these before the next movie comes out (and anytime the real world feels just a little too harsh).

No. 50: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

images from West Texas with audio book Trevor Noah Born a Crime

Believe it or not, this was my first audio book. Friends had provided recommendations for an upcoming road trip, and Noah turned out to be an excellent traveling companion. His words, in his own voice, made such an impression I devoted a full review to the experience (“Trevor Noah’s Autobiography Transforms a West Texas Drive”).

No. 51: Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

Cover of novel Mystic River by Dennis LehaneReading this novel combined two of my favorite things First, I get a big kick out of seeing movies with places I know. After visiting Boston for the first time, I rewatched “Mystic River,” a powerful punch-in-the-gut movie with amazing actors and a compelling storyline. Second, one of my secret pleasures is “feeding” the ‘hood’s Little Free Libraries.

I was spreading love with some books when I noticed Mystic River in a neighbor’s Little Free Library. Take a book, leave a book–clearly, it was meant for me.

Lehane’s wrenching mystery about a young woman’s murder and the trio of childhood friends bound by violence made me realize what a masterful job Clint Eastwood did directing the film. However, as with any movie adaptation, the book is so much better. Whether you’ve been to Boston or not, I highly recommend Mystic River.

No. 52: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Cover of novel Pachinko by Min Jin LeeTa da! Number 52, folks–the big enchilada of #52booksin52weeks! The runner in me must point out I hit my number in Week 32, so I achieved a faster-than-goal pace.

Pachinko went with me through our West Texas and New Mexico vacation. Some segments of this Korean family’s story were riveting; those pages kept me glued to the book. And then I’d hit another story line. . . and meh, I could care less. These mixed feelings meant finishing the book became work. Though very involved in the female characters’ lives–their struggles to earn money during the war, the prejudices they experienced, how they cared for their children–I cared little for the men. Their patriarchal and often misogynistic plots and views couldn’t hold my interest. 

No. 53: Evolution of a Young Man in Love by William West

Advance reader copy of Evolution of a Young Man in Love by William WestThis was fun on many levels. A friend had a friend who had written his first book; he needed a review. He provided an advance reader copy and I, the feedback. Critical reading is such a joy and you can see how closely I went through this interesting fantasy by all those Post-Its.

That full review: “Evolution of a Young Man in Love” Is Not Your Average Novel

No. 54: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

cat next to copy of Stephen King's novel 11/22/63 Leah Fisher Nyfeler #52booksin52weeks
I read all night to finish, which Baby Luv appreciated.

This may be one of the best books I’ve ever read.

I’ll be honest; I’d given up on King a long time ago. I was a loyal fan until Gerald’s Game, a bunch of bondage misogyny masquerading as suspense. After that, I swore off King’s books and more of the same old horror schtick.

A couple of years ago, I read On Writing (King’s nonfiction classic on the craft) and started to come back around to, if not fandom, a willingness to read.

11/22/63 was highly recommended, so–despite its hefty 849 pages–I dove in. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. The time-traveling premise has all of the wonderful things about King’s writing (memorable, real characters; exquisite attention to detail; true suspense; believable dialogue) and none of the bad (primarily weird, creepy, often repetitious and gratuitous implausible grossness).

Different and thought-provoking, 11/22/63‘s ending didn’t go quite as I’d predicted, though it did reduce me to tears by accomplishing what good sci-fi should–making the known world freshly weird and wonderful and our shared humanness a bit more obvious.

No. 55: The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

covers of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect by Graeme SimsionPerhaps I should reread The Rosie Project to see whether it’s as enjoyable as I remembered. A few years back, I’d thought it was light, fun, and sweetly romantic. Its sequel, then, should be those things, too, right?

Not gonna mince words: The Rosie Effect was terrible. Don Tillman, the main character who lives within the autism spectrum, never rang true and his “predicaments” were not funny or relatable. The novel’s women  (including the titular Rosie) were mere plot devices–completely undeveloped and stereotypically rendered. 

My perspective–on autism, feminism, any number of things–may have evolved with time. So, yeah; perhaps I should reread The Rosie Project in the name of scientific comparison but this latest experience erased any desire to revisit this author.

No. 56: What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing by Peter Ginna

Book for Austin Editors Guild meeting What Editors Do

Austin Editors Guild recently launched a book discussion group, and What Editors Do was the October selection. Perhaps only an editor could exclaim “what a fun read!” but I truly enjoyed this collection of essays. Some, like the more business-based chapters, I skimmed; other pieces, like Betsy Lerner’s “What Love’s Got To Do With It” on the author-editor relationship, made me linger. Reading Lerner was like talking with a co-worker friend about what we love to do.

Many essays provided validation: I DO know what I’m doing and, damn it, I’m good at it! I read with highlighter in hand, marking favorite segments, like this quote from Susan Habiner:

“Books remain the last bastion of the truly reflective mind. . . there is only one reason to write books or publish them: to go on that journey of discovery, and to share it with other people who will care about it the way you do–if you have told your story well.”

No. 57: Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen by Sarah Bird

Cover of Sarah Bird historical novel Daughter of a Daughter of aShe’s one of my favorite authors; I believe I have all of Sarah Bird’s books. When I need something sweet and lovely and funny, I reread The Boyfriend School, which is set in Austin and about a writer. Her books can be thought-provoking (The Mommy Club) and political (The Yakota Officers Club). Her characters’ voices always ring true.

So I really, really want to write something positive about her latest, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen. I’ll go with this: I liked her choice of subject. The main character, Cathay Williams, was an African American woman who enlisted and fought in the Civil War, and her historical footprint is fascinating.

Unfortunately, Bird never made Cathay’s voice believable. The eye-roll worthy romantic element(s) felt as though Bird believed Williams’ badassery couldn’t carry the novel. Too much emphasis is given to various men’s approval or love or antagonism and not enough to the inner life of this incredible woman. I wish Bird could rework Daughter of a Daughter and fully enliven Williams’ incredible service as a US Army private and Buffalo Soldier.

No. 58: Farsighted by Steven Johnson

Nonfiction book by Steven Johnson FarsightedHave you ever really thought about the guiding procedures and outlooks in making important, life-changing choices?

Johnson was on KUT Austin talking about Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most  and I was immediately fascinated. His book examines case studies–like the Bin Laden raid–to break down decisions involved, pointing out procedures, pitfalls, and complexities. Regardless the scale, choosing is an activity each of us performs often. Farsighted is an interesting read, one that will change how you approach future forks in the road.

covers of books 48 through 58 Leah Fisher Nyfeler #52booksin52weeks

Previously on #52booksin52weeks

Episodes 1 through 25

Episode No. 15

Episodes 26 through 36

Episodes 37 through 47



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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at www.leahruns100.com, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

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