The 2018 Reading Challenge

This really isn’t a book blog, because there are many book blogs out there run by people who a) are better writers than I am, and b) read more books in general. But I do like books, all kinds (except for you tragic grimdark novels, buzz off), and so I do like doing an occasional “52 Book Challenge.”

A 52 book challenge is an informal agreement to read 52 books in a year, or around one a week. Sometimes it’s a free-for-all, but my utter horror at making my own decisions prompts me to find guidelines for the challenge, such as this:


The above was the challenge I attempted to do with my sister and my good friend Wendy, several years ago. Spoiler, we failed, but we attempted. Attempting was done.

The last time I did this challenge, I discovered some interesting new books- like Abhorsen– and some frankly terrible books, like Frankenstein.

Don’t try to tell me Frankenstein is good. It’s a million pages of story so dry you could sand a bench with it.

The point being, the challenge coaxes you into broadening your horizon, which is why I’m going to try again for 2018, with the list provided here. Will I give up? Oh, most definitely, probably around book 15. But it’s nice to feel like you’re trying something.


Part of one of my bookshelves. Perhaps a fifth of these books are unread or only partially read because I collect books faster than I can motivate myself to go through them.

I encourage everyone to go out and try a challenge like this for a little while. Even if it’s twelve books a year. Or six. Or a half of a short story you’ve had on your shelf for the past eight years. Just give it a go.

Now I’ll reward myself by playing eight hours of Overwatch and thinking about what a bookworm I am.

An Excessive Amount of Literature

Every year around April, the Friends of the Public Library holds a massive, week-long used book sale in the local mall. I know this because I came across it completely by accident last year, and consequently staggered home with 25 lbs of books and the lingering feeling of having been hit by a book mobile.


Last year’s books. I feel like that sideways one in the middle was something I was embarrassed about, but now I can’t remember what it was.

Accordingly, when April rolled around again this year Facebook had the common decency to remind me of what I had posted about a year prior, which was buying an excessive amount of books at said book sale. I immediately checked the mall’s website and discovered I had a tremendously long wait of three whole weeks before it was time.

On Monday, the dawning day of the book fair, I showed up five minutes before the mall opened and prowled like a cat in front of the doors, hissing at passerby that looked like a threat.

I needn’t have worried; the glorious thing about a large library book sale is that a) there’s frequently multiple copies of the same book, 2) no one really knows what they’re looking for until they see it and can’t plan ahead, and δ) everyone has different tastes in books anyway. And fortunately, showing up at 10:00am on a Monday meant I was mostly competing with nice retired people who weren’t there to aggressively snatch books the way I was.


Table one of many.

I’ve never been able to give away books, unless I picked them up by chance and they turned out to be incredibly incompatible with my brain (I’m looking at you, The Martian). As such, even now, I’m envisioning loading all these books I’ve gathered in the last year and a half into a moving van to haul to wherever it is I live next.

That’s the problem with growing up in a household that had a certain reverence for books. Now I can only think of them in that high fantasy “BOOKS ARE MAGIC” mindset, which is often untrue and highly inconvenient, but I suppose there are worse things to hoard. Like garbage, or slunk pelts.

With book prices drastically varying from $1 to $3, I had to be very picky naturally bought any book that looked worth having. I followed a very complicated strategy:

  • Buy any book that I had read before and enjoyed, but didn’t own
  • Buy any book that I’d heard good things about but never read, such as New York Times bestsellers or classics I hadn’t gotten around to
  • Buy any book that just looked vaguely interesting
  • Buy any book

And so I came back with a modest nineteen used books. It’s very handy that I have a nice reading chair in my room now.


While I was in line to buy them a man complimented me on my “Great Gatsby” reusable shopping bag. I had to admit I’d never read it and just bought the whole book-themed bag collection at Barnes and Noble. “Huh,” he said. “I thought it was required reading in all high schools.” Cough.

Now, of course, I’m facing the problem of running out of space (again) in my room. My bookshelves will probably house this batch of books with a little rearranging, but the next batch will overrun everything and soon I’ll be just like that nice couple in that Hoarders episode that had a house like Flourish and Blotts.


I don’t have any more room to expand outwards, but I suppose I could stack another bookcase on top of that first bookcase. And then maybe a miniature bookcase on that tall bookcase, and a corner bookcase for the corner, and then I can just move into a library.

But fortunately it’s all over and I can begin methodically working my way through the new books, at least until next week, when an entirely new book sale begins at the other local shopping center. I regret nothing but my rapidly emptying wallet.

Tea, Books, and Eyeballs

It’s the “season of giving”, that phrase that TV shows use when they don’t want to ascribe to any particular religion but also really want you to buy from their sponsors. I fall for it whole-heartedly every year, and it’s why I was roped into two different Secret Santa exchanges; one in person, one by mail.

Last Friday was in person, and I got together with a mess of my board game playing friends to unleash the flood of gifts.


“This is the perfect bag to carry the presents in,” I said. “Absolutely no one will know that this cheesy Barnes & Noble book-related quote is from my arsenal of reusable bags,” I said.

Before we got to the presents, my very creative friend Amelié deposited approximately two metric tons of crafting supplies on the center table and told us in no uncertain terms that we were all going to be creative with her that night, yes, even you math teachers. She went on to explain how to make various Christmas ornaments, and flawlessly produced a golden snitch using only feathers and sheer force of personality.


This thing is better than anything I will ever accomplish in my life.

The rest of us, ranging from incompetent to highly incompetent in the making of crafts, fiddled around with the adorable supplies until Amelié was satisfied that we had had enough fun. I just glued eyes to a plain Christmas ornament in the hopes of creating some kind of minor eldritch abomination to put on my miniature Christmas tree.


Another friend of mine took one look at it, exclaimed “It’s an eye-ball!” and I did not stop laughing for ten minutes. I still giggle a little when I look at it. I’m easily amused.

Then it came time to open gifts, and when it was my turn, I steeled myself to pretend that I liked it and tore open the paper to reveal…





I’m so supremely bad at giving gifts, you see, that I’d forgotten some people are actually very good at it. And, to be fair, my love of tea is rather obvious if you spend any more than eight minutes in my company.

I tried it out today. My back has been doing its best impression of an eighty year old’s back this week, and the only thing that helps it to briskly walk half a mile to stretch it out. In this case, it’s a brisk half a mile walk in 23 degree weather through bone-sanding winds. I was very, very ready for warm tea when I got back.


It’s like a lava lamp for tea lovers!

While I waited for it to steep I cracked open my by-mail Secret Santa gift, which turned out to be the book Fangirl, a book that all my writer friends have been subtly suggesting I read. (“Jean, you should read Fangirl,” is what they said, every day, for two months.) I’ve never picked it up, but apparently it’s… uh… similar to my style of writing. Or sense of humor. Or something. I can’t remember what their reasoning was, as I’m only a very basic fan of any given thing, but I do like reading.

The tea, meanwhile, was looking lovely.


And- get this- if you set it down on the rim of your cup, it starts pouring automatically! Like magic!


Note to self: It does not automatically stop pouring, don’t get carried away.


It was, I have to say, one of the better cups of loose-leaf tea I’ve ever brewed up. Not only was it strong, but I only came away with small pieces of tea leaves in my teeth, which is a tremendous victory in my book.


I then took the tea and my book and lay down flat on the floor to read, to ease my aching back. The window looks pretty neat from down here, though.

[Intense Coughing Fit]

One of the problems with nannying (of which there are many) is that you can’t call in sick unless your spleen is actively outside of your body. A mere stomach bug or a fever is not an excuse, because if you back out at the last minute your employers will panic and run around in circles until you agree to haul yourself and your separated spleen in anyway.

I’ve not been that sick, but I’ve been the sort of sick that saps you of energy and makes it even more difficult to stop three to six boys from killing each other with couch pillow zippers.

It’s been especially rough because my employers have been working later, to make up for taking Thanksgiving off. Last night my day ended at 8:30, and only after I excused myself from the rooms of half-asleep children to have a massive and untimely coughing fit. It’s been a joy.

Fortunately, I have a fail-safe way of rapidly de-stressing in the evening before I go to bed at nine so I can get eight hours of sleep, and that is: To resemble, as much as possible, a retired single sixty year old woman.

It starts with a bath.


A bubble bath, with tea, and a book, and candles, and a plant to read aloud to. 

I like to soak in this while I listen to the sounds of chaos outside my room. When I finally am done with work, there’s nothing more satisfying than listening to other people handle what I was handling not ten minutes before.

When I can snag Wi-Fi I like to play some soft classical (or Christmas) music, but my voice has been completely gone since Thanksgiving and I’m becoming bitter that I can’t belt out “YOU’RE A MEAN ONE, MISTER GRINCH” without sounding like I’m on my third pack of cigarettes.

I feel like the whole goal of the evening is to be as warm and comfortable as possible, because once I’m out of the warm and comfortable bath it’s straight to the warm and comfortable bed. The Jean of tomorrow gets to do the dishes.


Yes, those are pillows made to look like books, and everyone should have them.

I’m coming to the conclusion that this simple bathrobe is the greatest thing I have ever purchased. I haven’t read the tag, but I would wager it’s composed of something like “60% hair of the gods, 30% summer night air, 10% that feeling when you have nowhere to go and can watch the rain fall with a cup of tea in hand”. I sleep in it every night. My other pajamas are neglected and I can’t make myself care.

So the electric blanket is on, the computer is set up, more tea is on the beside table, and I have “Les Cinq Légends” which is Rise of the Guardians in French. There’s something very soothing about watching things in French for an extended period of time, even though all I know in French is essentially “oui”, “non,” and “pomme de terre.”

That’s it, really. I heartily recommend doing this after a long day to anyone.

It especially helps if you’ve just done something productive before, like making your bed to pretend it always looks this good.

An Afternoon Raid

The Barnes and Noble nearest to me is closing. This isn’t surprising, because it’s in the same neighborhood as a in-Walmart McDonald’s that someone on Google Reviews helpfully described as “The closest thing to the Mos Eisley spaceport you’ll ever find in real life”, and none of the creatures therein strike me as big readers.

Fortunately, this is not the Barnes and Noble I usually go to for my peace and quiet. Unfortunately, everything in this store is on sale, and I am as unable to resist book sales as I am able to reach things on high shelves (not).

So when my friends treacherously informed me that everything in the store was on sale, I sprinted over as early as my job would permit.

Of course, everything in the store was on sale by Barnes and Noble standards. 30% off plus my 5% member discount. In total, this means everything in the store was only about 5% cheaper than it would be new on Amazon, but never mind that. Books!


I was going to save for my future, but it turns out everything with a white sticker is 30% off, so forget that. My future is a nest of books.

Now, I had just returned from a trip to Disney World, the Land of Enchantment and High Pricing. I didn’t even pay for the tickets, food, or room and I had spent a considerable amount of money. And so even as I darted through the store, I had to constantly ask myself, “Do I need this? Do I really-“


Oh my God, all the journals are on sale!

I have a journal problem. The problem is that I love them too much. More specifically, I love to look at them, but not to actually use them for anything. “What if I mess up the pretty cover?” I always think. “Better to buy a lot of dollar store notebooks to go with the journals, so I can fill the notebooks with all my scribbles and save the journals for something cool.”

And then I never, ever use the journals.

I have several blank ones right now. In all fairness, they make my bookcases look classier.

I narrowly resisted buying an armful of journals, and when I turned the corner I faced another problem.


Oh, good. More things I can buy and never use.

Puzzles are very similar to journals in my mind, but I’m more likely to use one at least once. Because once > never, I bought a set of four.

And the worst thing is, soon even more things in this store will go on sale as their date of closing draws nearer, and I will have to go back again and buy more books and puzzles I don’t need, and I will probably own ten new leather journals by the end of the year.


But my bookshelf will look ten times as classy.

For the Love of Libraries

After seeing Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None bandied about on the internet a few times, I thought I should really get around to reading it. Unfortunately, The Library didn’t have it.

The Library is the the public library closest to me. It is of a moderate size, has a relatively good level of cleanliness, and is peaceful enough that I can pretend I don’t live in the same house as three to six velociraptors. It’s the only library I’ve been to in a whole year… and I started wondering why.

Looking up the book showed that a number of nearby libraries had it, because- this is a shocker- there were a number of nearby libraries. In Idaho, we had one library, and even though it had the charm of a grain silo it was our library because it was the only library within forty minutes of us.

But instead of requesting the book and waiting a week for it, here I could get in my car and drive ten minutes and I would be on the doorstep of another library. This was a novel idea (hee).

And the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to get out and try some other libraries. So today, I took a local library tour.

The first library, about ten minutes from me, looked like every federal office building ever.


I love the smell of squat brick buildings with funky windows in the morning.

There was nothing especially remarkable about it, but it was spacious and had a very distinctive library feel to it, so it was all right in my book (hee).


Ah, le tabouret classique de la bibliothèque. My sister and I spent many an hour playing on those squeaky library stools as children.

At the front desk was a severe-looking librarian, which felt very natural because the primary librarian in my Idahoan library always looked as though she could kill me with the practiced swipe of a library card. The aisles in this library were narrow, which I also liked, because it’s easier to hide from the world in them.

I found the Agatha Christie novel easily, and when I went to check it out they stamped it. I found this oddly charming. In “The Library” they don’t do this anymore, because everything’s electronic.


Sadly, there were no previous dates on the book to ponder. Half the fun used to be wondering about the person who checked this book out before you.

The next stop was north, near Rutgers University. The New Brunswick area is an interesting combination of beautiful quasi-colonial housing, horrible gritty slums, and beautiful quasi-colonial housing that is slowly becoming a horrible gritty slum. I didn’t know what to expect from the library there, but I was immediately enamored with the adjacent cemetery.



Gosh, if only I could live here. Just not, you know, like that.

The library itself was nothing to sneeze at either.



The librarian gave me an odd look for standing in the doorway and taking pictures, but clearly she doesn’t understand my genius. I demonstrated my genius by nearly smacking into a table and a bookcase when I was craning my neck to get a better view of the upper floor.


While it was definitely aesthetically pleasing from the front, actually diving into the shelves required a lot of strange navigation. The bookcases were oddly aligned and fairly old. The flooring on the upper level was slightly translucent, allowing me to see the ceiling lights from the floor below, and it made me wonder if you could see the shadows of my feet down there.

New favorite library. Not for the purposes of actually checking out books, mind you. The layout was far too complicated for that. No, new favorite library for wandering the aisles dressed as a 1910s ghost lady with this new Downton Abbey shawl I just bought.


After that library, the next one seemed very unimpressive.

It was largely beige. It was rectangular and dull. The doors and windows were reinforced to prevent crime in the shady neighborhood it was in. There was nothing appealing or interesting about the exterior.


Yeah… yeah, I figured the inside would look like this.

I only spent a moment in this one because there was a large group of Asian ladies who were taking an English class in the main room, and I didn’t want to disturb. I can’t imagine I’ll ever go back to this one, simply because it’s the library equivalent of middle-aged socks with sandals.

The final library was the smallest, and it reminded me a little of the Idaho library.


Only with far more charm than a grain silo.

Though smaller than the last one and plainer than the two before it, this one seemed to hold its own in the warmth department. Despite the same shelving and lighting as the previous beige monstrosity, this one at least felt like the employees liked it. A little.


Every smallish town library ever. Not small-small town, but smallish.

This one seemed like a good ending spot, and it only took me $20 worth of gas to find the book I wanted. Hopefully I will get used to the idea of multiple libraries as opposed to just “The Library,” because there are plenty of libraries to love.

Except the horrific beige one. It gets no love. None.

The Best Way to Waste Money (It’s Books)

Barnes and Noble recently sent me a small packet of coupons for their store. This is because I am a Barnes and Noble member, which is the very definition of Not Worth It.

This packet contained four coupons, of which two were 20% off any one item, one was some amount of money off a full cheesecake (which I very much do not need to buy), and one was so forgettable that I threw it away and can’t even remember why.

Now, I love Barnes and Noble and any other bookstore, independent or chain. Bookstores are where I go when I’ve had 13 hours of screaming boys in my life and I feel like taking my own internal screaming to somewhere quiet.


I’m glad to see YA novels are moving past one word titles like “Temptation” and “Bloodmoonangst.” This is probably because the industry has run out of single words.

But as I’m quickly discovering, a Barnes and Noble membership is not worth it because even after the 5% discount on books you get as a member, everything in the store is still an additional 20% cheaper new on Amazon.

Nevertheless, I had a coupon. For BOOKS. What an excellent opportunity to buy something I don’t really need! I thought to myself. After all, this coupon would probably expire someday, and I couldn’t let that happen.

So I went to B&N in search of a new children’s book.


You can tell you’re approaching the kid’s section when there’s Suddenly Potter.

The three to six boys I take care of aren’t really interested in reading. This is due to all sorts of ordinary factors, and these boys are destined to be just like most other non-readers these days, and that’s all right. But darn if I’m not trying hard on the littlest ones. I read to them whenever I can make them sit still long enough. I try out all sorts of books. As long as I can get some kind of foot in their mental doors, I’m happy.


I considered Blueberries for Sal, which is an adorable book that I remember my mother reading to me all the time. All the time. Presumably because the book featured canning, blueberries, and bears, which could be the title of my mother’s autobiography. I finally decided against it because I can’t imagine getting any of the boys to sit still long enough to listen to a lengthy book about two girls (ew) picking blueberries.


A newer Jan Brett book made me pause. I reeaaally love Jan Brett. Her illustrations are stunningly detailed and beautiful, and they feature a lot of trolls which I consider a plus in any circumstance.

Sadly, ‘detailed and beautiful’ is not really what these boys look for in books. And there were no trolls in this one. I passed on it.


I paused to stare wistfully at the ‘Pinkalicious’ section and wondered what it would be like to read Pink Fairies in Sparkle Princess Unicorn Land instead of Destruction Road Rage Monster Truck Alpha Squad.

In the end, I decided I might as well get a book that I would enjoy reading to my children someday, instead of an instant classic in this house like another Paw Patrol book. I picked The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, because I can never resist books about books. It’s like having a lot of books all at once. It’s Books2.


It’s not especially lengthy, so I’m relatively confident I can get the youngest to sit through it, and they might even enjoy it because they seem oddly delighted that I like books and libraries so much. This is a somewhat foreign concept to them, but they enjoy reminding me that I like libraries, in case I’d forgotten.

Happy with my choice, I took it to the register and purchased it for 25% off with my membership and coupon combined. The final total was $14.63, which is only $1.29 more expensive than buying it new on Amazon! Quite a bargain.

Whatever. There are worse things to spend money on.



Like drugs. Drugs are worse.