WRITER’S SHELF: The Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 & 2016 Wrap Up

We all know the memes going around – Like this one:
Or this one:
And especially this one:
I was so sure 2016 was the year I was just going to rock the Popsugar Reading Challenge, but there were so many other challenges that just overwhelmed me.  But 2017 offers me hope that all the hard work I poured in 2016 might finally pay off.  So today, I’m going to finish up my 2016 reviews, take stock of my epic failure and start fresh with the 2017 Challenge.

So if you don’t know, Popsugar has an annual reading challenge that works like a scavenger hunt.  There’s even a handy dandy downloadable list.

This year’s picks:

A book recommended by a Librarian
A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long
A book of letters
An audiobook
A book by a person of color
A book with one of the four season in the title
A book that is a story within a story
A book with multiple authors
An espionage thriller
A book with a cat on the cover
A book by an author who uses a pseudonym
A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read
A book by or about a person who has a disability
A book involving travel
A book with a subtitle
A book that’s published in 2017
A book involving a mythical creature
A book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile
A book about food
A book with career advice
A book from a nonhuman perspective
A steampunk novel
A book with a red spine
A book set in the wilderness
A book you loved as a child
A book by an author from a country you’ve never visited
A book with a title that’s a character’s name
A novel set during war time
A book with an unreliable narrator
A book with pictures
A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
A book about an interesting woman
A book set in two different time periods
A book with a month or day of the week in the title
A book set in a hotel
A book written by someone you admire
A book that’s becoming a movie in 2017
A book set around a holiday other than Christmas
The first book in a series you haven’t read before

And because that’s not quite challenging enough, Popsugar came up with additional titles under an “Advanced Section”:

A book you bought on a trip
A book recommended by an author you love
A bestseller from 2016
A book with a family-member term in the title
A book that takes place over a character’s life span
A book about an immigrant or refugee
A book from a genre/subgenre that you’ve never heard of
A book with an eccentric character
A book that’s more than 800 pages
A book you got from a used book store
A book that’s mentioned in another book
A book about a difficult topic
A book based on mythology

I’m ready this time, people.  I’m going all in.  Bring on the advanced books, bring on the random categories!  I will make this list my bitch.  If you want to follow along, I’ll be keeping my progress going on Goodreads & Pinterest along with my blog posts.  I’d love to hear your suggestions, reviews and ideas!

So today I’ve got the last of my pitiful 2016 list.

Book #17

Popsugar Slot: “A self-improvement book”
Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up
by Marie Kondo
Self-Improvement books aren’t my jam, but I got this in a Popsugar box so I figured I’d use it in this slot.  I’m actually a bit ridiculous when it comes to organizing so I was interested to see what Marie Kondo could teach me.  Here’s the thing, she has some good ideas mixed in with the crazy.  Most of your stuff should be things you love and you shouldn’t hold onto stuff you don’t like out of obligation or laziness. However, Marie doesn’t just go overboard–she dives in headfirst dragging a mariachi band with her.  For example, she had a hammer she didn’t like, so she got rid of it and I guess couldn’t find a hammer that would “spark joy”.  But inevitably she needed to hammer a nail, so she used a ruler that she loved. And predictably, the ruler broke. Another time, she gave away her stereo because she didn’t like the way it looked and instead takes her headphones, puts them down on a table, turns the volume up and listens to her music that way.  Seriously, people.  The whatfuckery was overwhelming – even for someone like me, who organizes her socks by rolling them together, securing them with rubber bands and lining them neatly inside a box, inside my dresser drawer. (As god is my witness, I will never lose a sock again!)  But in all fairness, if you can get past the extreme stuff, there are some good ideas.  I appreciated her suggestion to not leave too much on your counters or by your cooktop in order to make cleaning easier.  That can save a lot of time and effort.  On the other hand,  I did not appreciate her suggestion to put your kitchen sponge in the cabinet beneath your sink.  You’d have to stalk your sponge and wait until it’s dry to finally put it away and by then you’d just need to use it again.  Ain’t no one got time for that.  In any case, this is one of those books where you just take the little bits that make sense to you and leave the rest (except your hammer, you’ll probably need that eventually).
 “I want to live my life in such a way that it colors my things with memories.”
Crazy can help make even boring subjects entertaining.
Nada.  Self Help is really not my thing.

Book #18

Popsugar Slot: “A book that takes place on an island”
The Light Between Oceans: A Novel
by M.L. Stedman
This book had so many great reviews from tons of people I knew so I had to add it to my list.  Beautifully written and epically heartbreaking, it’s a near perfect illustration of how people can so easily (and almost justifiably) make the wrong choices.  Chockful of imagery and symbolism, this book stays with you long after you’ve read the last page.
“Perhaps when it comes to it, no one is just the worst thing they ever did.”
It’s a real art form to make you both love and hate a character.
For an unexpected story that takes place on an island and takes you on a different journey, I’m recommending “The 10th Kingdom” by Kathryn Wesley which is based on a mini-series that starts in Central Park and takes you on a grown-up fairy tale adventure.

Book #19

Popsugar Slot: “A book you haven’t read since high school”
Flowers for Algernon
by Daniel Keyes
Because I studied Creative Writing both in undergrad and grad school, there aren’t too many books I studied in high school, that I haven’t read since (at least not ones that I am willing to pick up again).  Flowers for Algernon stuck out in my mind because I remembered it being really sad and very unique.  Told from the perspective of a young man with Down’s Syndrome, it chronicles his life before and after he agrees to take part in an experiment that will make him brilliant.  It wrestles with the questions of what intelligence is and how it impacts the way we love.
“I’m like a man who’s been half-asleep all his life, trying to find out what he was like before he woke up.”
A first person narrator should feel like we are looking through someone else’s eyes and living an entirely new experience.
I don’t know what you read in high school, so I’ve got nothing for you on this one, except that you can appreciate Dickens far more when you’re older, so when in doubt go with him.

Book #20

Popsugar Slot: “A book from the library”
Twelve Days of Christmas: A Christmas Novel
by Debbie Macomber
I’d been reading so many heavy books (including 1000 damn pages of Pablo Neruda poetry) that I wanted something lighthearted.  It turned out that this was the most important book of the year, because it forced me to do something I should have done years ago – get a library card.  Now, I have a library card for my hometown, but I don’t get home from work until 7 PM and I’m busy on the weekends so it’s just not practical to use.  I did however learn that the New York Public Library allows people who work here to get a card (you use your work address).  There is a branch literally next door to my office building.  Not only can I take out regular books, but they have an awesome app for ebooks.  It was like Christmas!  All these books I could read on my Ipad, for free!  It’s going to save me so much money and stress during the 2017 challenge.  So this book was as I expected – fluffy Christmas stuff and not nearly enough smut.  But still it was sweet and a nice break from all the soul-breaking stories that came before it.
“When they broke apart, they both swayed as if their entire world had made a shift.”
Romance novels should have a bit of sexy in them – it doesn’t have to be graphic, but there needs to be some smolder.
This is like a wildcard slot, so I’ll go with Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” because what’s better than magic?

Book #21

Popsugar Slot: “A classic from the 20th century”
The Handmaid’s Tale
by Margaret Atwood
This is one of those stories that I knew about and always intended to read, but never got around to it.  A horrifying dystopia where women are treated as property and their entire worth revolves around whether they can have children or be useful to men.  The story is chilling and even moreso during these turbulent days where the rights of women come under fire daily.  If you haven’t read this, you absolutely must.
“Better never means better for everyone, he says.  It always means worse, for some.”
True horror isn’t the monster under the bed, it’s how the unspeakable can become the ordinary.
Another classic with lessons that we need to hold close to us during these dark times is “Diary of Anne Frank” – because those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

Book #22

Popsugar Slot: “A murder mystery”
Once Upon a Grind (A Coffeehouse Mystery)
by Cleo Coyle
I saw this book as I was perusing the library shelves during my lunch hour.  It was a mystery that involved fairy tale characters and New York City so I figured “how bad could it be?”  I know, I know them’s famous last words.  I know this was one of those cozy mysteries where you need to suspend disbelief, but dear Lord, there’s only so much I can take.  There were CIA agents just telling tons of information to civilians, hallucinogenic coffee beans and a main character so dull I couldn’t find a single quote worth mentioning.  This is the eleventy billionth book in the series, so I’m guessing they just expect you to know everyone, but there were tons of characters that just weren’t given enough background or explanation.  They popped in and out and I really couldn’t keep track of who was who for a bit.  You don’t need a ton of info, but a telling detail for each character would be helpful.  Not everyone is going to read the previous 13 books and retain every bit of information.  This book was painful to get through.
You should be able to read a book from the middle or end of series and still know what’s going on.  You might not get everything and all the connections, but you still should know who’s who and what’s happening.
“And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie is the ultimate mystery and I would argue, the predecessor to a lot of our modern horror stories.  It gave us that beloved trope of a group of strangers getting trapped somewhere and being killed off one by one, as you try to figure out who the murderer is.  This is a must-read for everyone.

So here’s what I managed for 2016:

1 A New York Times Bestseller Life after Life Atkinson, Kate
2 A book from Oprah’s Book Club Here on Earth Hoffman, Alice
3 A book set in your home state In the Unlikely Event Blume, Judy
4 A book with a blue cover A Night In With Audrey Hepburn Holliday, Lucy
5 A graphic Novel Fables Vol. 1: Legends in Exile Willingham, Bill  (Author),  & Medina, Lan (Illustrator)
6 A book set in Europe The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel Gaiman, Neil
7 A YA Bestseller Dorothy Must Die Paige, Danielle
8 A book that’s under 150 pages The Sleeper and the Spindle Gaiman, Neil
9 A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy The Wicked Will Rise (Dorothy Must Die) Paige, Danielle
10 A book at least 100 years older than you Pride and Prejudice Austen, Jane
11 A book about a road trip
Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour
Matson, Morgan
12 A book that takes place during Summer Moonlight on Butternut Lake: A Novel (The Butternut Lake Trilogy Book 3) McNear, Mary
13 A book recommended by someone you just met Glow (Sky Chasers) Ryan, Amy Kathleen
14 A book that is published in 2016 Even if the Sky Falls Garcia, Mia
15 A book of poetry The Poetry of Pablo Neruda Neruda, Pablo
16 A National Book Award Winner Goblin Secrets Alexander, William
17 A self-improvement book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up Kondo, Marie
18 A book that takes place on an island The Light Between Oceans: A Novel Stedman, M.L.
19 A book you haven’t read since high school Flowers for Algernon Keyes, Daniel
20 A book from the library Twelve Days of Christmas Macomber, Debbie
21 A classic from the 20th century The Handmaid’s Tale Atwood, Margaret
22 A murder mystery Once Upon a Grind Coyle, Cleo

22 Books, 7732 pages – putting me just a little over halfway through the challenge.
I promise to do better in 2017, and now that I’ve got my handy Library card, I should be all set.

How was your 2016?
Did it turn out the way you expected?

Are you going to give the Popsugar 2017 Reading Challenge a shot?

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