The 2020 #ReadICT Challenge Is Here!

The #ReadICT Challenge is back!

Every year, the Wichita Eagle sponsors a reading contest. Twelve books, twelve categories, in twelve months. Last year, I finished early (this despite reading two extremely long biographies by one of my favorite authors).

If you’ve never done a reading challenge and are sitting there now wondering why anyone would want to – well, for one thing, it gets you out of your comfort zone. With this particular challenge, we have 12 different types of books to read. For many of us, at least one category will give us trouble – it’s way out of our comfort zone, maybe. Or maybe we just stare at the category with a hopeless, blank stare, with zero clue how to even find a book like that!

Reading challenges push you. Some don’t have categories; instead the challenge is to read X number of books in a year. Usually, that number is 50 or 100. The more you read, the more you keep reading. Call it Newtons’s First Law of Reading. The more you read outside your comfort zone, the more you learn what you like and don’t like. Never read a romance novel because you’re too embarrassed to read the sex scenes? Well, there are all kinds of romance levels. Some only feature a kiss; others are full-blown BDSM. You never know what you might like until you try it! 🙂  Or, do you barely remember anything from your history classes, or were you one of those poor souls with a lousy history teacher? Please, go get a really good one. Joseph Ellis, or Gordon Wood, or Ron Chernow, or David McCullough or Jon Meacham. And read.

Plus, if you’re a writer, reading is necessary. It’s how we hone the craft. Learn voice Learn how to pull off certain sly tricks of the trade. Learn description, pacing, characterization, dialogue. If you don’t see it in practice, how can you learn what to do – or what not to do? Even reading a bad book can teach you something.

It was a lot of fun to complete this challenge last year – I read a lot of great books, and pushed myself to get back into reading. To be honest, I hadn’t done much reading in the previous few years and I’d forgotten how much I loved not only reading, but specifically reading nonfiction. I actually read very little fiction last year, and I’m good with that. Plus, I just bought 30+ books this fall. Hopefully some of those will fulfill some of these categories.

So you should go forth this year and make it a resolution to find a reading challenge and participate in it. Because 2020 is upon us, and the #ReadICT challenge is here, with all new categories!

1. A book with a number in the title
2. A fix-it, how-to or self-help book
3. An epistolary novel (I will probably read The Guernsey Literary and Potato-Peel Pie Society, unless someone has a better one to recommend)
4. A speed read (less than 100 pages) (100 pages? That’s it? That’s not a novel, it’s a short story! Happily, Neil Gaiman has some excellent short stories, and 84 Charing Cross Road has been recommended to me, too.)
5. A book about someone you admire (I have a new biography of Abigail Adams I will probably read for this one. Do you know that while John Adams was serving in the Continental Congress, and then later as ambassador to France and Britain, she ran their farm, raised their children, and earned money to keep everything afloat? That woman was amazing.)
6. A book that has been (or is being) adapted to the screen (Yes, I see that it says screen, not stage. This one, I’ll have to think about because there are so many to choose from!)
7. A selection from a celebrity book club (Who besides Oprah has a book club? Any ideas?)
8. A book by an author who is new to you (I think I have this covered with the 30+ books I’ve acquired over the past few months.)
9. A book that features a strong female lead (I don’t read any other kind! Should be easy. But if you’re looking for one, let me recommend some of my favorites:  The Alice Network, Code Name Verity, Divergent, Outlander, The Charley Davidson series . . .)
10. A book that everyone’s talking about (What I love about this one is that it’s really up for interpretation. Who is ‘everyone?’ Talking about it – in what context?)
11. A “cli-fi” (climate fiction) novel or book about a natural disaster (This may turn out to be the one I have the most trouble with.)
12. A book by an author slated to visit Kansas in 2020  (Erik Larson is coming to Wichita in March – I already have my ticket!)

Happy reading, and Happy New Year!

The #ReadICT Challenge – Six Months!

I haven’t posted much lately – I’ve been a little busy doing other things like avoiding my manuscript at all costs. However, one thing I have been able to do is read! As the old saying goes, if you want to be a good writer, there are two things you have to do:  write a lot, and read a lot.

I had actually not read in a long time, not seriously. I’ve downloaded books onto my Nook, and perused Amazon and local bookstores, but always found myself in a quagmire of doubt. Does this premise sound intriguing enough? Is the writing good enough to sustain the book? Is this going to be another book I throw across the room, like that God-awful The Lovely Bones?! 

But, since I decided to do the #ReadICT Challenge this year – 12 books, 12 categories, 12 months – I have to read. My original post:  https://kswriterteacher.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/new-years-resolutions-and-the-2019-ict-reading-challenge/

And I’m happy to say – I’m almost there!!!!!

 

  1. A book with a face on the cover.
  2. A book from a genre you don’t normally read. This turned out to be a book I got last year, To Sing Hallucinated:  First Thoughts on Last Words by Nathan Brown. Brown is a former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma; I picked this up last year and forgot it was in a bag until last month! It’s really quite a good book of poetry about – you guessed it – famous last words.
  3. A book that makes you LOL. I said I’d read the last entry in the Charley Davidson series, and I did. I laughed. I cried. I am anxiously waiting to find out what happens to Osh and Beep in the new series. Come on, Darynda, hurry up !
  4. A book set in the place you were born. Deadly Design, by my good friend Debra Dockter.
  5. A classic, or a retelling of a classic. I read Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay – it was quite good. I reviewed it last month:  https://kswriterteacher.wordpress.com/2019/03/02/hate-romeo-and-juliet-try-juliet-immortal-instead/
  6. A book you have avoided or didn’t finish. I intended to read a totally different book for this one, but back in March, I went through a time when I couldn’t sleep, and I picked up Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey. This book looks at the infamous ‘career’ of Gilbert Bland, who stole dozens, perhaps hundreds, of antique and irreplaceable maps from libraries across North America. I’d put it down last year for some reason, and just never picked it back up.
  7. A translated book. On the recommendation of just about everyone who’s read it, I chose A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman. Oh my God. I literally bawled and laughed all the way through this book. Mostly bawled. If you are one of the few people who hasn’t yet read this book, GO GET IT NOW. You will not regret it, I promise, though you will want the tissues handy.
  8. An award-winner. 
  9. A book recommended by a child or teenager.chernow
  10. A biography, autobiography, or memoir. FINALLY. I finished it. It feels like climbing Mount Everest. I’m going to write a full review later, but for now, I can honestly say that even though I’ve taken many classes on Early American History, I never knew all the hostility and animosity that existed between the Founding Fathers. The backstabbing, the machinations, the factions, the . . . wow. And even though I’ve always hated Aaron Burr, I’m going to say this:  he was despicable. If his ghost is reading this, he knows what I mean. To him, I say:  sir, bring it. 
  11. A book that features a character different fro you in some way. Done! Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. What a sweet, surprising read – probably the most surprisingly good book I’ve picked up lately. If you haven’t read it  yet, do so right after you read Ove. Seriously. They pair together quite well. 
  12. A book by an author slated to come to Kansas in 2019. Oh, I did this one, too! Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer. It was a fun – and good – read, actually better than I thought it would be.

So I’m left with three categories! Any suggestions? I’m all ears! 🙂 

And if you’re interested in Nathan Brown’s work, here’s his website:  https://www.brownlines.com/

New Year’s Resolutions and The 2019 ICT Reading Challenge

Ah, yes. New Year’s Eve. The time when goblins and ghosties and . . . nope, wait, sorry, wrong Eve. Let’s start over.

New Year’s Eve. The night when we revel and ring out the old and ring in the new and make resolutions we may or may not keep. There. That’s better!

Like many, I’m also making resolutions for this year, some of them to do with my writing. But another is to do with reading. Every year, the Wichita Public Library sponsors the ICT Reading Challenge. It’s pretty simple, really – 12 books, 12 categories, 12 months. I tried it last year and got about halfway through before becoming stumped by some of the categories (for instance, I despise graphic novels and refused to read one).

But this year, I decided I’d really try to go for it. I’m planning out some of my books in advance, so I can go ahead and get started. I have a feeling some of them will come to me over the course of the year. But for now, the categories, and my tentative books, are:

  1. A book with a face on the cover.
  2. A book from a genre you don’t normally read. (I read YA, historical fiction, historical nonfiction, fantasy, romance, paranormal anything that doesn’t involve things that shift and engage in menages, books on writing, mysteries . . . what other genres ARE there?!)
  3. A book that makes you LOL. (Aha! My first! This will absolutely be the 13th entry in the Charley Davidson series by Darynda Jones.)
  4. A book set in the place you were born. (I will probably go back to Deadly Design on this one, though ‘In Cold Blood’ is a serious contender as well.)
  5. A classic, or a retelling of a classic. (I think I’m going with Juliet Immortal by Stacey Jay on this one – hoping it’s as good as it sounds! Juliet, murdered by Romeo and destined to defend lovers against him through the centuries -!)
  6. A book you have avoided or didn’t finish. (Hah! Funny story; this is actually the category I left out of the list originally! There are so many I could choose here . . . of course, the problem is, if I’ve avoided it up until now, it’s because I didn’t want to read it to begin with . . . so this one will be tricky. But I think I’ve settled on Dominion by C.J. Sansom – one I started last summer and just couldn’t make myself finish. Not because it was bad, but because it was so damn scary. For my partial review, see this post:  https://kswriterteacher.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/beach-reads-well-maybe-not-these/)
  7. A translated book.
  8. An award-winner. (I may go back to a childhood favorite, Sinbad and Me, by Kin Platt; I absolutely adore this book and if you like middle-grade and YA mysteries, read it – though good luck finding it, as it’s been out of print for ages!)
  9. A book recommended by a child or teenager.
  10. A biography, autobiography, or memoir. (Hands down, already knew this one before the list was published, Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. I’m so obsessed with the musical that the cats are sick of hearing me sing “You’ll Be Back.” Time will tell, you’ll remember that I served you well, you’ll be back . . .) 
  11. A book that features a character different fro you in some way.
  12. A book by an author slated to come to Kansas in 2019. (There are already two, Elizabeth Letts and B.A. Shapiro, that I’ve read before, loved, and are coming to Wichita in March, so I’ll likely choose one of their books.)

Well, not so bad:  5 of 12 so far! I think that’s a great start. Other books are going to come to light as the year progresses; the Facebook group for the Challenge is close-knit and vocal about their recommendations, so I may pick up some ideas from them as well.

If you live in Kansas and want to participate, it’s easy! You can join the ICT Reading Challenge group on Facebook, or download the list from the Wichita Public Library (link below).

For now, I’ve got some reading to do. 🙂

 

http://www.wichitalibrary.org/readict – The official ReadICT website.

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/teen/16-new-upcoming-retellings-classic-plays-novels-tales/ – A list from Barnes & Noble of upcoming retellings of classic stories.

https://www.bookbub.com/blog/2016/03/23/retellings-of-classic-books – Another good list from BookBub of re-told classics.

http://www.dublinliteraryaward.ie/news/48-novels-in-translation-on-the-2018-longlist/ – The 2018 long list of Dublin Literary Award winners for translated novels.

 

Is Fiction a Safe Place?

Last week, I wrote about Neil Gaiman’s collection of short stories, Trigger Warning. But there’s a quote in there that struck me the first time I read it, and struck me again when I was writing that blog post. It’s this one:

“I wonder, are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself, should they be safe places? There are stories I read as a child I wished, once I had read them, that I had never encountered . . .”

I had a book like that. Well, to be fair, I saw the movie first, but when I was in high school, I read the book. It was The Picture of Dorian Gray. One night, when I was three or four, it was on television. In those days, there was one television in the house, and whatever was on, was on. Needless to say, it was quite some time before I slept well. At four, I had never considered the Big Ticket Items that Oscar Wilde gets to in this book. Selling your soul. Having a soul that can be sold. The existence of evil. The horrors of getting old.

Death.

If you’re not familiar with this novel, you need to read it. But in a nutshell:  Dorian Gray is a young dilettante – gorgeous, young, vain – who has a portrait done of himself. As he stares at it, he muses, “How sad it is! I shall grow old and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young . . . If only it were the other way! If it were I who were to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that, I would give everything . . . I would give my soul for that!” (Moral of Story #1:  Be careful what you wish for. Because you never know who is listening.)

To be fair, it’s been ages since I read it – when I was older, in high school. But it’s that movie version that has stayed with me, that final scene in which Gray dies and his staff rushes in to find a hideous old fiend dead on the floor . . . while the portrait has mysteriously regained its youth. It. Freaked. Me. Out.  Because it was the first time in my life that I understood mortality. I don’t think any four-year old should have to understand that. At least, not under those circumstances.

And yet. What else have I learned from books? There weren’t many books in the house when I was growing up, so I read the encyclopedia (took me about a year; I think I was four or five?). I would go to the library and just grab books off the shelf. I ran through the usual things like Billy and Blaze and other lovely books that are now out of print, but I always read at least one grade level ahead, usually two – and as I grew older, the gap got wider. So by the time I was in sixth grade, my classmates were reading Sweet Valley Twins and I was reading Dean Koontz. 🙂 Want to talk about disturbing? I was the only sixth grader who knew what a hermaphrodite was (thanks to The Bad Place). But hey. They were interesting and fast-paced and not only did they teach me about the world, they also taught me how to write. No one tells a better story than Koontz. I’m convinced of that. I’m just boycotting him until he gives us that final installment in the Christopher Snow series.

I learned history. Empathy for humans and animals alike. More so for animals. I learned about ciphers and encryption. Race relations. Ancient Greece and Rome. Ghosts and things that go bump in the night, things that still haunt my writing.

And yes. As Neil Gaiman says in Trigger Warning, these books upset him because “I was not ready for them . . . they troubled me and haunted my nightmares and my daydreams, worried and upset me on several levels, but they also taught me that, if I was going to read fiction, sometimes I would only know what my comfort zone was by leaving it; and now, as an adult, I would not erase the experience of having read them if I could.”

The Picture of Dorian Gray disturbed me on several levels. It haunted my nightmares and my daydreams. It was so far out of my comfort zone as a four-year old, I don’t think I ever found my way back to my comfort zone. I think most of us have that one book, the one that changes us in some fundamental way. I think that’s why people are afraid of books. Because books make you think. They force you to confront new realities, new ways of thought.

They’re bloody dangerous, books.

And they are not safe places.

But would we have it any other way?

I think not.

 

 

Why I Hate Goodreads.com

I was talking with a friend yesterday about the importance of getting to know something before you hate on it. Obviously there are things you can hate without knowing them, like a serial killer. Or an animal abuser. Or a child pornographer. I think we can all agree that we don’t need to sit down to tea with people like this in order to dislike them. (Though as writers, we may find something in that teatime conversation that makes them into a well-rounded antagonist – again, something most of us probably don’t want to do.)

But I hate Goodreads.com.

There. I said it. I realize this is like saying “I don’t think Bradley Cooper is good-looking.” I realize that for a reader and an aspiring author, this is probably a Kiss of Death. So be it.

I’ve tried to get into it. I’ve tried to give it a chance. And to be fair, I did find my new favorite YA series, “Shades of London” by Maureen Johnson, there two weeks ago.

But there are so many things to hate about it. The layout. The font. (News flash:  the rest of the world uses sans-serif fonts for a reason.) The God-awful number of typos on the site (for a site about READING, the number of typos I can find on just one page of Goodreads’ own policies – not reviews, but content that they post, is ludicrous. Get. A. Proofreader. I cannot take a site seriously if it has that many typos.).

But most of it comes down to the PEOPLE on the site – the reviewers.

As far as I can tell, most of the people who leave reviews on Goodreads fall into the following categories:

  • People who spent most of middle school being shoved into lockers or trash cans. Or both.
  • People who turn to Goodreads to torment people because if they didn’t, they’d be well on their way to becoming serial killers.
  • People who SERIOUSLY need to go get lives. Who need to go volunteer in a soup kitchen or a humane society and see what life is really like outside four bedroom walls and the covers of a book.
  • People who are so pathetic that the only way they can feel good about themselves is to bring others down.

Goodreads’ own policies encourage this behavior. In their Review Guidelines, they come right out and say “Goodreads has some of the best book reviews anywhere. Our members are passionate, knowledgeable readers, and their contributions to the site are what make it such a vibrant and fun place.”

Another quote from their Review Guidelines: “Don’t be afraid to say what you think about the book! We welcome your passion, as it helps the millions of other readers on Goodreads learn what a book is really about, and decide whether or not they want to read it. We believe that Goodreads members should see the best, most relevant, thought provoking reviews (positive and negative) when they visit a book page. Our job is to show members those reviews, and not show reviews that we deem to not be appropriate or a high enough level of quality.”

In other words, we here at Goodreads are too lazy to figure out what’s trash and what isn’t, and intend to rely on the community to police themselves. Members *can* flag posts they feel are inappropriate and/or break the rules. But I’m willing to bet that none of these are ever removed.

News flash, reviewers:  A pathetic attempt to make yourself feel better by trashing someone else’s work – or worse, trashing someone else – is just that:  pathetic. It shows that you have zero maturity, zero self-control, and frankly, zero self-confidence. Your attempts to be clever are not clever in the slightest.

Those of us who truly love books and writing are out doing what we love to do, not wasting countless hours trying to convince everyone else that We Are Right and You Are Wrong by writing long, involved, and nasty reviews of books we may OR MAY NOT have read. We hold rational discussions. We recognize – because we’re writers, too – that the book you so zealously and callously demolish in your review is someone’s baby. As such, it deserves respect. That person got off their ass and wrote something, and finished it, and it was good enough to get published (unless it was self-published). That’s more than YOU have ever done, I’m sure of it.

(For clarification, here are links to Goodreads’ guidelines, as well as another page explaining in more detail what is and what might not be allowed. I still find these to be as fuzzy as a Persian cat wearing a mink stole.)

https://www.goodreads.com/review/guidelines

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1499741-important-note-regarding-reviews