I think I've mentioned just a few times before that in 2014 I challenged myself to read one book for every letter of the alphabet. It was a surprisingly simple, and at the same time surprisingly difficult challenge. Some letters were incredibly easy to find, while others, predictably, are the reason I'm unlikely to do this again. But regardless of how difficult or simple, I learned a lot from it. For example:
Reading blindly is fun, but not always easy.
There were a handful of books last year that I read knowing very little about them. Either they popped up on sale on Amazon or Audible, or someone suggested them to me for whatever reason, or they fit a letter I needed. A couple of these worked out really well. 'Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore' was charming, if not amazing. Well worth the Audible credit, either way. I picked up 'Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald' from a suggestion on Twitter when I begged for a Z book that wasn't about Zombies, and it has me interested in reading Hemmingway and Fitzgerald.
Of course, there was a flip side. I don't remember why I picked up 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy, but it had something to do with knowing the title and little else. I literally listened to the bulk of that audiobook while walking around a forest taking pictures, and the entire experience felt like I was right there with them, trudging through a desolate wasteland (and not in the good 'enthralled by the book' way). Despite the fact that I didn't enjoy the experience though, I may still read 'Blood Meridian', since the thing gets suggested to me like once a month, and I can't resist my curiosity.
The most unique book I read last year was 'Quiddity of Will Self', and I'm still confused. The book was described as the literary equivalent of 'Being John Malkovich' and I think it succeed in its task, though I still can't decide whether I disliked it because I honestly didn't get it, or because it felt like I was reading a book that enjoys being confusing and verbose for the sake of it.
Timing is everything.
Sometimes the way you enjoy a book comes down to when you read it. I think I hit Phillip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' books precisely when I need them. Same with Tamora Pierce's 'Song of the Lioness' quartet. This year, my "exactly on time" book was Mira Grant's 'Feed'. Yeah, it's weird to feel really connected to a character who blogs from the zombie apocalypse, but hey, we don't choose our heroes. If I'd read this book back when it was published in 2010, when I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life, instead of as I was (I think), finally figuring it out, I don't think it would have helped to cement the idea of journalism as a career as much as it did.
Similarly, I think if I'd decided to read 'The Outsiders' when I was a teenager, rather than when I was 25, I think it might have resonated a bit more than it did.
I love non-fiction.
Until recently, I hadn't really read much non-fiction. I started reading memoirs a couple years back when I got Tina Fey's 'Bossypants', but I think this year I fell over the non-fiction cliff. Some of the most interesting books I read this year were non-fiction, including Dan Rather's memoir, Amy Poehler's 'Yes Please', and Brian Steltzer's 'Top of the Morning'. I've got a whole bunch more lined up for this year.
Regardless of the ups and downs of the past year's challenge, I think what I learned most was that I need to try new things as much as possible. It's part of the reason why I set up this year's challenge the way I did. The goal, as I pointed out last week, is to force myself to read more diversely. I'm hoping it will open new avenues of thought, help me find new things to love, and maybe figure out that I don't hate the things I thought I did (at least, I'm going to try).
What are some of your favorite - or least favorite - books from last year?
If you'd like to see a complete list of books I read last year, go HERE.