WRITER’S SHELF: The Popsugar Reading Challenge 2015 & 2016!

Okay people, I’ll lay it out for you – I didn’t complete the Popsugar 2015 Reading Challenge in it’s entirety. I just wasn’t strategic enough and chose 500 plus page books I ended up hated for slots that should have held fun page turners. I won’t make that mistake again with our brand new Popsugar Reading Challenge for 2016. (Click here for a printable list).
Our categories, dear comrades:

A book based on a fairy tale
A National Book Award Winner
A YA Bestseller
A book you haven’t read since high school
A book set in your home state
A book translated into English
A romance set in the future
A book set in Europe
A book that’s under 150 pages
A New York Times bestseller
A book that’s becoming a movie this year
A book recommended by someone you just met
A self-improvement book
A book you can finish in a day
A book written by a celebrity
A political memoir
A book at least 100 years older than you
A book that’s more than 600 pages
A book from Oprah’s Book Club
A science-fiction novel
A book recommended by a family member
A graphic Novel
A book that is published in 2016
A book with a protagonist who has your occupation
A book that takes place during Summer
A book and it’s prequel
A murder mystery
A book written by a comedian
A dystopian novel
A book with a blue cover
A book of poetry
The first book you see in a bookstore
A classic from the 20th century
A book from the library
A book about a road trip
A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with
A satirical book
A book that takes place on an island
A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy

The 2016 categories are pretty daunting to me, but I’ve learned from this years literary missteps and am determined to complete every.single.one. (God help me).

Now I still have a few books I did manage to finish in 2015 so let’s take a looksee.

Book #20
Heart Shaped Box

Popsugar Slot: “A book that scares you”
Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel
by Joe Hill
I’d heard a lot of positive buzz about this horror novel and I was intrigued to see if Stephen King’s son could step up to the challenge of writing horror with the ghost of his father looming large. Speaking of ghosts, I found the one in this story to be quite scary and Joe Hill did an amazing job of making me identify with the main characters and rooting for them to survive. Overall the book was well written and had some really lovely descriptions about music. My only small qualm was that the pacing felt a bit off in some places, but it was so minor that it really didn’t impact an otherwise great book.
“All the world is made of music. We are all strings on a lyre. We resonate. We sing together.”
It doesn’t matter how scary your villain or “big bad” is – the reader needs to care about what happens to the main character. They need to feel their pain, their injustices, their insecurities, and most of all what they want the most. If you do that successfully, any danger will seem terrifying.
This will be an unexpected choice, but “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman was the most terrifying story I’ve ever read. You watch a woman go slowly insane and over time she starts to see people moving inside the yellow wallpaper in her room.   She’s been locked because of her “condition” which was basically just being a woman in a time when women had as many rights as a piece of furniture. It’s painful and visceral and something everyone should read.

Book #21
The Invisible MAn
Popsugar Slot: “A book more than 100 years old”
The Invisible Man
by H.G. Wells
I’d always wanted to read this book but never actually got around to doing it. I feel like I learned so much. Putting aside the danger an invisible man could pose, there’s actually a ton of comedic potential. I don’t know why it never occurred to me, but if the guy’s not trying to kill you, his making stuff float around and people trip over themselves is pretty funny. Now onto the big question, was the Invisible Man a psychotic douche before he turned invisible, or did the invisibility drive him to it? It’s a question for the ages, but my vote is once a douche, always a douche.
“Great and strange ideas transcending experience often have less effect upon men and women than smaller, more tangible considerations.”
Things can be both funny and terrifying, and that combination can be quite entertaining to write about.
“Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens is one of my favorite books. It’s the original soap opera and the image of Miss Havisham with her ragged wedding dress and dust covered banquet table is one of my most vivid literary recollections. It’s worth the page count, trust me.

Book #22
Why Not ME
Popsugar Slot: “A nonfiction book”
Why Not Me?
by Mindy Kaling
I got this book in a Popsugar sub box and while I’d never seen “The Mindy Project”, I’d found Mindy’s persona to be fun and intriguing so I thought this would be a funny read. Turns out Mindy and I have a lot in common: our age, hatred of weddings and writing aspirations. Generally I enjoyed her style and point of view, although like many super successful people I’ve known there are moments were you know they’ve lost the ability to truly understand the “everyman/woman” plight. It brought to mind a grad school event where a really successful writer a few years ahead of me was asked what her biggest challenges were. She said something along the lines of dealing with all the hassle of travel for the book tours. She was clearly in a different place and league than most of the people there. I got that same vibe from certain parts of this book – Mindy kept saying “I’m just like you” and I kept feeling “Oh honey, you so are not, but I appreciate the attempt”. On the bright side, it inspired me to watch Mindy’s show which turned into my latest Hulu addiction.
“I will leave you with one last piece of advice, which is: If you’ve got it, flaunt it. And if you don’t got it? Flaunt it. ‘Cause what are we even doing here if we’re not flaunting it?””
Remember your audience. They want to identify with you, not feel a huge distance between their place in the world and yours.
I really don’t read much Nonfiction since it goes against my deepest impulse to escape to imaginary places and hang out with imaginary people, but if I have to choose one, “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote is a compelling nonfiction read.  (As a bonus it will make you sound well read if you discuss it at parties.)
Book #23
Lost & Found
Popsugar Slot: “A book with Antonyms in the Title”
Lost and Found (Lost & Found Book 1)
by Nicole Williams
I’m going to be honest here, I chose this book because it fit the slot and was free on Amazon. This is a YA romance and for most of the book it’s just painful to read. The instant attraction between our protagonist, Rowen Sterling (yes that’s her name, and no this isn’t a fantasy book) and her “cowboy” is unearned, particularly since she is one of the most unlikeable narrators I’ve come across in a long time. The voice here also feels exactly like an adult writing as a teenager. Rowen always knows her motivations and why she behaves the way she does. It’s like half her brain is a therapist and the other half is an angsty teenager – you know those two voices you most want to read in a romance novel. The book does pick up toward the end and there are some lovely descriptive passages but the characters are poorly drawn and the plot nearly nonexistent.
“I didn’t let myself hope either. That was the real poison that put the vacant expression in so many people’s eyes.”
Unlikeable narrators don’t work well in the romance genre. You don’t like them and you have no idea why anyone else would either.
I got nothing. It was hard enough for me to find one book with Antonyms so you’ll have to come up with this one on your own.

Book #24
Popsugar Slot: “A book written by someone under 30”
Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek (A Memoir)
by Maya Van Wagenen
When I saw the premise for this story I was super intrigued. A teenager picked up a vintage book on how to be popular and decided to follow the antiquated rules to see if it would work for her today (pearls, anyone?). I imagined lots of ridiculous adventures, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a very touching memoir. Maya’s inability to fit in at her mostly Hispanic school because she wasn’t Hispanic enough felt so similar to my own high school problems that I was instantly drawn in. Maya’s personal struggles are set against the harsh realities of going to school in a border town that faces so much crime and poverty. It’s an engaging and beautifully written book.
“”I wanted popularity; I wanted other people to like me. But it turns out most people are waiting to be discovered too.”
The stories hidden inside and around the one you are telling can often be the most compelling.
“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath. Yes it’s dark, but also deeply moving and written before Sylvia turned 30.

Book #25

Popsugar Slot: “A book set during Christmas”
There’s Something About Christmas
by Debbie Macomber
Since it was Christmas, I figured why not go all in and find something frilly and sugary and full of empty calories – cue the schmaltzy Christmas romance. And this one, was all about fruitcake. Yes, you read that right. Fruitcake as a metaphor for life. How could I say no? What elevates a trashy or syrupy sweet romance to something worth reading is the chemistry between your lead characters and sadly these two had none. Oliver’s dialogue to Emma felt really creepy, as she kept turning him down for dates and he kept telling her she wanted him. I kept envisioning that scenario in real life and me advising Emma to get a restraining order. There was no interaction or explanation for why playboy-esque Oliver suddenly wanted Emma but he just did, because..? Even if you love romances, heck because you love romances, skip this one.
“Have you noticed that people either love fruitcake or hate it?” she said companionably. “There doesn’t’ seem to be any middle ground.””
You can have a character fall inexplicably in love with another, but it has to be earned in some way. It can’t just be there without anything to make it work.
“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. This is my absolute favorite story of all. It has the best opening line in all of literature and it’s overarching story of redemption has been mirrored in so many subsequent tales.

My Full 2015 Popsugar Reading List

Book #1 A book based on or turned into a TV show Outlander Gabaldon, Diana
Book #2 A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet Every Day Levithan, David
Book #3 A book with a number in the title Room 702 Benjamin, Ann
Book #4 A book of short stories Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Three Stories Capote, Truman
Book #5 A book with magic A Darker Shade of Magic Schwab, V.E.
Book #6 A memoir As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride Elwes, Cary; Layden, Joe
Book #7 A book at the bottom of your to-read list Bel Canto Patchett, Ann
Book #8 A book that came out the year you were born The Neverending Story Ende, Michael
Book #9 A Pulitzer Prize-winning book Middlesex Eugenides, Jeffrey
Book #10 A book with nonhuman characters End of Days (Penryn & the End of Days Series) Ee, Susan
Book #11 A trilogy The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (The Mara Dyer Trilogy Book 1) Hodkin, Michelle
Book #12 A trilogy The Evolution of Mara Dyer (The Mara Dyer Trilogy Book 2) Hodkin, Michelle
Book #13 A trilogy The Retribution of Mara Dyer (The Mara Dyer Trilogy Book 3) Hodkin, Michelle
Book #14 A book you can finish in a day The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: A Novel Haddon, Mark
Book #15 A graphical Novel Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened Brosh, Allie
Book #16 A book with a one-word title Ticker Mantchev, Lisa
Book #17 A book by an author you’ve never read before Doll Bones Black, Holly
Book #18 A book that became a movie Paper Towns Green, John
Book #19 A Classic Romance Persuasion Eyre, Jane
Book #20 A book that scares you Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel Hill, Joe
Book #21 A book more than 100 years old The Invisible Man Wells, H.G.
Book #22 A nonfiction book Why Not Me? Kaling, Mindy
Book#23 A book with antonyms in the title Lost and Found (Lost & Found Book 1) Williams, Nicole
Book#24 A book written by someone under 30 Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek (A Memoir) Wagenen, Maya Van
Book #25 A book set during Christmas There’s Something About Christmas Macomber, Debbie

Overall, I read 25 books and 8,763 pages. Not the best showing I must admit, but this was my first attempt trying to adjust my reading habits to match the categories so I think I’ll have a much better time in 2016.

How about you? Did you complete the Popsugar 2015 challenge or did you flounder like I did?

%d bloggers like this: