As I mentioned in my look ahead post, my goal in 2018 is to read as many unread books that I already own as possible—and not buy more until I’ve made a good dent. In the spirit of a new year of reading, I’m calling this my “Read My Shelf Challenge”–though you know how I actually feel about reading challenges!
I went through my shelf and made a list of all of the books I haven’t yet read. It’s…not short. There are 70 books on this list, and conveniently, I read 70ish books last year (I didn’t start tracking in Goodreads until mid-way through the year, so it’s an estimate). I don’t anticipate that I’ll read many more than that in the coming year—especially if most are hardcopy, because reading on my iPad and phone helps me get through more books.
Nonetheless, these are all books that I want to read. I’m looking forward to mostly focusing on this list instead of the new and shiny (remind me of that when I’m reviewing all kinds of new and shiny books, please).
Update 2/15/18: This post is still proving to be popular, so I thought I’d add a list with the books I’ve read from my shelf this year, so readers can see my reviews. The remaining books on my shelf that I need to read are below this list.
Kindred is famous for being the first science fiction novel written by a black woman. That's significant, but the science fiction part of this story--the time travel--isn't what makes it so compelling. In the 1970s, a 26-year-old black woman is suddenly pulled back through time to save the life of a young boy who grows to be a slave owner in 1800s Maryland. Yanked without warning between present and past and back again, she returns multiple times throughout his life (as only minutes or hours pass in her own), and she realizes that she must keep him alive so he can father her great-grandmother. But through this, she also must live the life of a slave and face all the indignities, hardships, and heartbreaks that come with it.
This is an illuminating look at the lives of slaves, cognizant of our modern ideas that the people who were slaves must have been tougher than people now, somehow superhuman in their ability to endure. But the wounds from the whips and chains and inhuman disregard for their lives and families were real, and Butler sensitively examines the ways in which the people were beaten and worn into submission. Light on the sci-fi aspects (sudden unexplained time travel is the only element) and a fast, worthwhile but difficult read (due to the subject matter). Highly recommended. More info →
This is a creepy coming-of-age novel that might appeal to fans of Stephen King. Eddie and his friends are pretty typical 80s kids in England, spending time at the park, riding bikes, and avoiding bullies. They start communicating with one another through chalk drawings--until one day drawings appear that none of them made, leading them to a dismembered body. Now, 30 years later, Eddie and his friends are reunited, finding that they all received a chalk drawing in the mail. Secrets start unraveling, and the friends find that they may not have known each other as well as they thought. I found the characters a little hard to pin down, which I think was part of the point, but it made it a tough to connect with any of them. Overall, this was gripping but a little too creepy and gruesome for my taste--true fans of this type of book will have no trouble at all, and it's received many positive reviews. More info →
Based on a true case from 1843, the story focuses on Grace Marks, a young woman who at the age of 16, was convicted of the murders of her employer, Mr. Kinnear, and a fellow housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. Her alleged accomplice, James McDermott, was also employed in Kinnear’s home. The two were arrested in a hotel not long after the murders, wearing the victim’s clothes and carrying valuable items stolen from the home. Grace insists she has no memory of the key events.
Now, eight years later, McDermott has been executed and Grace remains in prison. She often assists in the prison governor’s home, providing visitors with opportunities to gawk at the famed murderess. Some community members believe in her innocence and bring in psychiatrist Dr. Simon Jordan to draw out lost moments of Grace’s memory in the hopes of exonerating her. Read my full review of both the book and Netflix series. More info →
Cyril Avery was born to an unwed mother in Ireland in the 1940s--an unthinkable and shameful thing, at that time. Cyril is adopted by Charles and Maude Avery, who are indifferent and self-centered, but not neglectful. From an early age, Cyril knows he's different: not a "real Avery," as Charles is quick to remind him, and realizing that he is not attracted to girls like his friends are--something that's even more shameful at that time in Ireland. In fact, Cyril harbors a deep love for his womanizing friend and eventual school roommate, Julian Woodbead. The book follows Cyril through his life, from his youth and twenties spent in hiding and public denial in a repressive Dublin to a more open life in middle age in Amsterdam and New York. Cyril's search for identity, belonging, acceptance, and family is by turns funny, frustrating, and sad. Some of the characters feel a bit like caricatures, but they serve to highlight some of the extreme attitudes Cyril, his mother, and so many others faced in those decades in Ireland. I loved this book, and though Cyril could be frustrating, I wanted to see him find happiness and contentment with himself. More info →
After years of working multiple jobs while her mother raised her two children, Letty Espinosa now finds herself raising 15-year-old Alex and six-year old Luna on her own. Her parents have left San Francisco to return to Mexico and she must learn to be a mother for the first time. The cards seem stacked against the family, but Letty is determined to get the kids out of their abandoned apartment building and into better schools--whatever it takes. Complicating her efforts are the return of Alex's father, new love interests for both Letty and Alex, and a lack of credit that would allow them to move. While I didn't find Diffenbaugh's sophomore effort as arresting as her debut The Language of Flowers
, this is a touching story that includes a personal look at illegal immigration and a prescient view of the familial impact of reversing DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). More info →
When her family learns of their ties to the wealthy d'Urbervilles, Tess's family pressures her to claim her place and elevate the family from poverty. The plan goes horribly wrong and Tess finds herself a grief-stricken, ruined woman. When she finds love and a potential new life with Angel Clare, she must decide whether to keep her past a secret or risk his rejection. Tess is truly a woman of her time, as are the characters around her, but Thomas Hardy was ahead of his. Hardy deftly illustrates the hypocrisy that dictated the expectations of women in this time and the pressures they faced to be pure, chaste, and angelic (the name "Angel" is a bit ironic here.). I loved this book, though it filled me rage on Tess's behalf. It was a little slow moving in the middle, but it's worth it to stick it out to the end. More info →
When Alice wakes up on the floor of the gym, she finds herself in an alternate universe: one where she is 10 years older, has three children she doesn't remember, a husband she no longer loves, and a sister who speaks to her in strained tones. Alice's memory is gone, and she's trying to figure out how to live a life she no longer recognizes--and get back the man she loved ten years ago.
I was intrigued by the premise of this novel, and it was entertaining, but the domestic drama failed to capture my attention. Maybe elements of her novels are too close to my own suburban mom life, but most of Moriarty's novels fall a bit flat for me. This was a decent lighter read with an interesting spin, but not one that will stick with me. More info →
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family live in a castle in the English countryside, but they are far from wealthy. This family of dreamers and creatives can hardly put food on the table. When two young Americans, Simon and Neil Cotton, arrive to take over the estate of their deceased landlord, they bring new hope to the family: of creative patronage, of potential marriage, and of (continued) free rent. Aspiring writer Cassandra details the adventures of the family in her journal as they move from abject poverty into high society. Full of charming observations and self-awareness, Cassandra teeters between childhood and adulthood and, through her her writing, she comes to realizations about herself, her family, and love. The family is by turns frustrating and amusing--I was confused by the inability of all of them (save Stephen, their ward) to find work in any capacity. That aside, Cassandra is a delightful companion through the story--on par with Anne Shirley--and the castle itself is pure fantasy for any romantic Anglophile. More info →
The two links below show the books that I haven’t yet read from my shelf. I had to remove the full list of books from this post because it was breaking it–hopefully it will be fixed soon. For now, check out the two links:
Part 1: Unread books on my shelf
Part 2: Unread books on my shelf
So there you have it. I’m not fooling myself and thinking I’m going to get through all of them. I think I’ll aim to get through half of them, but this is a loose challenge.
I still plan to approach reading in much the same way: I’ll pick up the book that “feels” like the right next read for me–usually something completely different from my previous read. I’ll try to keep two books going at a time. And, moving forward I want to get more comfortable not finishing a book–I anticipate that several of these may be DNFs.
Above all, I want to keep reading fun, relaxing, and never stressful. And with my new plans for digging deeper into some of these books for the blog (more on that soon), some of these may take longer than usual. That’s okay with me.
I’ve started off strong and picked up Alias Grace. I’m hooked only a few chapters in, so I have high hopes for a riveting first read of the year.
I’m not creating a formal challenge here, but if you’re working on reading the books on your shelf, I’d love to hear from you!
Have you read any of the books on my list? Which do you love (or not)? Also, which books on your shelf are you hoping to get to in 2018?