Reading Challenge Accepted: Travel Through the Classics

Another month, another set of challenges to be marked off: travel memoirs, books written between 1900-1950, and books about books!

In April, Karen read a Travel Memoir and a Book Written between 1900 and 1950.

Karen: I can honestly say I'm not a huge fan of biographies. However, I am a fan of memoirs that are on a particular theme. Last year food memoirs were one of my favorite challenges. This month the challenge was Travel Memoir. I can learn about a person's life (they may or may not be famous) but dig into the topic (food, travel, medical, etc.) more. I started with What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding mostly for the title if nothing else. Kristin Newman did a lot of traveling while her friends were off getting married, settling down and starting families. Which is definitely a fun alternative. She also slept with a fair number of guys on these travels and felt the need to share. I don't care one way or the other about the amount of sex she had, I just didn't care to read about it - I wanted to read more about the traveling part. Pretty much every blurb on the back of the book mentions sex and you really couldn't get away from it. Frankly, it got kind of boring after a while.

My next Travel book was My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - if a book could be a complete opposite this would be it.  Essentially Durrell's rather eccentric British family spent five years on the Greek island of Corfu in the 1930s and these are his tales of that time. The author was quite a fan of observing wildlife, so there are a certain amount of zoological tales in this story (frankly, not being an animal fan I skimmed some of them). The New York Times blurbed this as a frolic with charming ribaldry, and it's as droll as you get. It has been turned into a PBS Masterpiece series, The Durrells in Corfu, which I'm sure is jolly fun.

The second challenge this month was for a Book Written between 1900 and 1950 - I refer to this as the books you should have read in high school English class. I'm not sure how I missed quite so many of these classics but I did. Unfortunately, I'm not really in the mood to try them at this point in my life - writing styles have definitely changed and many of these titles would probably do best with a teacher helping you tease out the finer points. That said, I tried Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and enjoyed it immensely. Blackmail, kidnapping, seduction all wrapped up in a debut novel. Reading the book at this point, you can picture the screenplay screaming to be made. And with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall I can't wait to see what they got away with in the film. So high school English students, if you need to read a classic and don't want to get bogged down, I highly recommend Raymond Chandler.

Betsy: I also read a Book Published between 1900 and 1950. April 4 is when Winston starts rebelling and writing in his journal in 1984 by George Orwell (originally published in 1949), so it seemed like a good month to dive back into this creepy novel I read twenty years ago. This classic has recently risen to the best-seller’s list again, alongside Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale  – two dystopian settings where people are forced to live their lives without a whole lot of autonomy. In 1984, Winston attempts to escape the stronghold of Big Brother and a totalitarian regime that changes the past by rewriting history books and feeding the masses newspapers filled with nothing but sports, crime, and astrology. There are lots of similarities with today’s focus on screens, technology, economic struggle, and alternative facts. However, as I reread 1984, I couldn't help but notice a missing feminine presence and I started wondering - what happened to Winston's wife? Where did his mother go? And how did his sister's life unfold differently from his?

The other subject I tackled was a Book about Books. I read Books for Living by Will Schwalbe. He examines various books alongside current issues that he’s facing and leans on the books to help him live life more fully. One of the works he discusses happened to be 1984, which he considered against the backdrop of our need for constant connections with screens. Other favorites of mine included Rebecca and Reading Lolita in Tehran. I have to admit this wasn’t my favorite book on reading, but you might enjoy it if you’ve read lots of the books he discusses. Another one I read recently and loved was Changing the Subject by Sven Birkerts – a discussion of art and attention, and The Lost Art of Reading by David L. Ulin – essays on the importance of reflection.

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Here are some handy links to help you follow this challenge all year long.

Find out about the Read Harder Challenge and print out your own form to keep track of your reading:

Get reading ideas for each of the challenges from library staff and the Tucson reading community: