Holiday Reading Challenge

There are times when I wonder if insomnia is a blessing or a curse. Recently, it’s been a bit of both. My semester at Signum is over for the present, and the lack of sleep (as well as a decent commute to work) has given me the opportunity to get quite a bit of reading done. I’ve been reading more books than I thought were possible, thanks to my access to ebooks through Libby (managed by Overdrive) and my local library. While I did not set out to complete a Reading Challenge, I was quite surprised to see that I had passed my Goodreads Yearly Reading Challenge- so why not keep the challenge going?

Usually, when I set out to find a new book to read, I check out my Goodreads “Want to Read” list to find the next chronological book I added in order to stay on top of the ever growing pile of books that I will probably never finish reading. Suffice it to say, it is not always the best strategy. This time, I started with a recommendation list from a classmate in my Modern Fantasy class. This particular list was created as a reaction to Harry Dresden’s casual sexism (Sorry, not sorry Jim Butcher) and a desire to read more gender inclusive and feminist fantasy. Let me tell you, I was HOOKED. I read book after book on the list, and it reawakened the child in me that would sit up at night under the covers with a flashlight, immersed in fantastic lands, folklore, and heroic conflict, with no thought to how I was going to function the next morning. Thankfully, I’m old enough for coffee now.

Group chats, threads, and forums can be very valuable, as this particular thread proved to me.

When that list ran out, I decided it was time to simply let it all go (cue snowflakes and inevitable cease and desist order from Disney) and fall down the rabbit hole of recommendations. My (wonderful) husband has a strategy for choosing a movie to watch on Amazon- click on a film that he might enjoy or has watched previously, then click on the “Customers Also Watched” link to find something similar. He will click on that link at least five times and scroll through all of the lists of all of the possible movies available before he is satisfied that he has found the perfect one that suits his mood, if he picks one at all (I’m usually sitting on the couch inwardly screaming, “Just pick a movie already!!!!”). However, when lying awake at three a.m., it was actually a perfect strategy when I was not sure what to pick next and I did not have the brain energy to think critically about my choice. So, I scrolled through Libby’s ten-plus Fantasy recommendations, read a few blurbs, and checked out the ones that captured my interest. I had no idea if I would like these books, if they were books that my peers at Signum or on Twitter might have read, or if these books were secret gems waiting for me to discover them. However, I dove right in, and here are my results;

In a space of about six weeks, I read 17 books (I’m a fast reader, but I’m usually not THAT fast).

Out of those 17 books, I found three that were not to my liking, and one that I returned early. You must know that this is highly unusual for me- while I tell my students all the time that they are not obligated to finish a book that they don’t enjoy, I often stick to a book until the end just to see if there is a eucatastrophic event or change in writing style that I would otherwise miss. In those three books, this was unfortunately not the case. I shan’t tell you what they were, in case you might want to read them yourself, and I don’t want my personal bias to affect your enjoyment.

I rediscovered my love for Jane Yolen in her “Sister Light, Sister Dark” series. This was especially intriguing for me because of the book’s setup- in addition to the plot itself, the books are punctuated with various fictitious myths, songs, ballads, and folklore pertaining to the matriarchal society in the story, much like a folklorist, historian, or anthropologist would see when Studying a specific culture. It even includes letters, articles, and diary entries written by historians, though they are of the school of Harold Bloom and protest the school of thought of another fictitious scholar (whose writing we do not read) who posits an alternative theory to the canonical writings (his theory, as you read the story, turns out to be factual).

Jane Yolen’s “Sister Light, Sister Dark” series.

This deep dive and random approach to choosing my reading was a valuable experiment. Too often as teachers we thrust a book into a child’s hands, telling them that we know we will enjoy it, or curriculum dictates that we must assign a reading, then grin through clenched teeth and pray that the student doesn’t chuck the book in your face. I wonder now what would happen if we, students and teachers alike, simply let go of our preconceptions of choosing books and let the book choose us. Close our eyes and pick up the first one we touch on the shelf. Pick a recommendation list and choose the fifth book. Perhaps it will be a book we will enjoy, perhaps not. But isn’t it fun to find out?