I finished the 52-book challenge! (and what it means to me)

Last year when I did my book roundup, I was disturbed to see I had only read 16 books. This isn’t a low number for some, but for me it was a telltale sign of how I had lost my grip on the things I loved. Reading and writing have always been my two biggest passions, and if I couldn’t prioritize my time to make room for the things that meant the most, clearly I was doing something wrong.

I also suspected my lack of reading had something to do with my inability to write fiction. You cannot be a writer unless you are a reader. If you have no great love for words, you simply cannot write good literature. And if your life isn’t filled with words, then you can’t use them. A handful of people could probably prove me wrong, but I stand by my claims.

It sounds corny, but the challenge changed me. Over the course of the year, I became aware of how badly I wanted to create similar works of art, and not cater to viral content like those awful Upworthy-esque headlines meant to spark shock and controversy. I’m guilty of those things, I know. Girl’s gotta eat. But as I constantly jotted down story ideas and words and phrases that meant something to me, I felt I had veered onto a sharp detour away from the community of creative writers I had grown with in university. I miss them, a lot. Just an hour ago I finished up my first piece of complete fiction since 2008. For a few solid hours I had been lost in imagination, which, even above foreign destinations, has always been my favourite place to be. I’ve now started working on applications to apply for a MFA in Creative Writing.

Today is full of good omens.

Here is my complete 2013 list (starred out of five), with some notes about my favourites below.

1. The Imposter Bride – Nancy Richler ***
2. Among Other Things, I’ve Taken up Smoking – Aoibheann Sweeney ****
3. Anya – Susan Fromberg Schaeffer **
4. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? – Mindy Kaling ***
5. Reading Lolita in Tehran – Azar Nafisi ***
6. Hints to Lady Travellers Abroad – Lillias Campbell Davidson ***
7. Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer *****
8. The Round House – Louise Erdrich *****
9. The Cat’s Table – Michael Ondaatje **
10. Tuesday’s With Morrie – Mitch Albom **
11. The World According to Garp – John Irving ****
12. A Brief History of Ireland – Richard Killeen *
13. Bossypants – Tina Fey ****/*****
14. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky ****
15. Oscar Wilde Selected Poems – Oscar Wilde ***
16. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer ****
17. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde ****
18. Clara Callan – Richard B. Wright *****
19. The Color of Tea – Hannah Hunnicliffe **
20. Wild – Cheryl Strayed ****
21. Far From the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy ***
22. Cider House Rules – John Irving *****
23. Watership Down – Richard Adams ****
24. Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs – Chuck Klosterman *
25. 419 – Will Ferguson *****
26. The Secret Keeper – Kate Morton *****
27. Teams on the Edge – Shawn Stratton ****
28. The Glamorous Life of Isabel Bookbinder – Holly McQueen **
29. How we are Human – Luke Armstrong *****
30. East of Eden – John Steinbeck *****
31. Stories from the Vinyl Café – Stuart McLean ***
32. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald ****
33. Little Princes – Conor Grennan ****
34. Je T’aime Me Neither – April Lily Heise ***
35. The Pearl – John Steinbeck ****
36. Where’d You Go Bernadette – Maria Semple *****
37. When you are Engulfed in Flames – David Sedaris ***
38. Away from Everywhere – Chad Pelley ***
39. Hard Travel to Sacred Places – Rudolph Wurlitzer ***
40. Bushwick Poetry – Luke Armstrong ****
41. Independent People – Halldor Laxness *****
42. The Pilot’s Wife – Anita Shreave ***
43. Solaces: Rituals of Loss and Desire – Mary Sojourner *****
44. Not Yet – Wayson Choy ***
45. The Elements of Style – William Strunk Jr. *****
46. Amsterdam – Ian McEwan ***
47. The Traveller – Daniel Baylis *****
48. Hyperbole and a Half – Allie Brosh ***
49. The Paris Wife – Paula McLain *****
50. The Fault in Our Stars – John Greene *****
51. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway ***
52. I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai ****

Best book read in 2013?

My favourite was Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright (with The Paris Wife as a close second). I don’t think I’ve fallen harder for a character. I’m also always so impressed by authors who can write from the other gender’s POV so effortlessly.

Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. It got way too pretentious.

Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?

The Traveller, by Daniel Baylis. Despite being a travel writer, I avoid most travel memoirs as I feel they lack the kind of plot I need to be propelled forward. I got through this one in a breeze, though, and was captivated the whole time. Even my mother loves it.

Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. There was nothing spectacularly literary about the read, but the ending actually blew my mind. I cried, I raved, I roared.

Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

The Fault in Our Stars.

Most memorable character in 2013?

Again, Clara Callan.

Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

Independent People by Halldor Laxness. His writing amazed me so much, I felt I couldn’t keep the book to myself and sent it to a friend as a gift. That’s the first time I’ve ever parted with one of my babies.

Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?

Mary Sojourner’s Solace. I felt like the book was speaking directly to me…every word resonated so sharp. I closed the book and felt the lightest I had in weeks. Since then I’ve taken to talking to Mary via Skype about writing. She’s been a lovely source of encouragement.

Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read

The Great Gatsby!

Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

“I want so badly to help you realize, Elizabeth Anne, how difficult and puzzling and full of wonder it all is: some day I will tell you how I learned to watch the shifting light of autumn days or smelled the earth through snow in March; how one winter morning God vanished from my life and how one summer evening I sat in a Ferris wheel, looking down on a man that hurt me badly; I will tell you how I once travelled to Rome and saw all the soldiers in that city of dead poets; I will tell you how I met your father outside a movie house in Toronto, and how you came to be. Perhaps that is where I will begin. On a winter afternoon when we turn the lights on early, or perhaps a summer day of leaves and sky, I will begin by conjugating the elemental verb. I am. You are. It is.” —Richard B. Wright

Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

The Iceland created by Halldor Laxness in Independent People.

Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

I cried over a lot of books, including: I Am Malala, The Fault in Our Stars, East of Eden, Clara Callan…

(Thanks to The Perpetual Page-Turner for the questions.)

Will I do the challenge again in 2014? Yes, but I’m reducing it to a minimum of 30 books as I’ve got a handful of massive John Irving books to read and I don’t want to be rushed. I also want to read more magazines, and time just didn’t allow for it with this challenge. I’m happy to say I read everything I wanted to read, though, and never sacrificed a good book because it was too dense (i.e. East of Eden).

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

  • December 31 2013

    This just made me ridiculously happy that YOU, one of my fave travel blogs, just linked to my survey. :)

    • December 31 2013

      Have we been stalking each other unknowingly??!! OMG

      • December 31 2013

        I THINK SO. Too funny! Definitely checking out some of these books you mentioned. I used to read only adult fiction and non-fiction but then over the past couple years I’ve gotten REALLY into YA and I’ve neglected the other stuff I liked to read. Balance is the name of the game for 2014 for me. Have you read Tell The Wolves I’m Home yet? I highly recommend! One of the only adult fic books I read this year and it was amazing!

        • January 03 2014

          TOO funny! Haha. I haven’t read YA in ages, but after reading John Greene I have to pick up his other stuff. Will definitely check out Tell the Wolves I’m Home.

  • December 31 2013

    My goal for this year was 30 books and I fell short. I’m setting 30 books as my goal for 2014 again. Thanks for the recommendations as I launch into the new year.

    • January 03 2014

      Anytime, JoAnna! I think I’m going to aim for 30 too, as tempted as I am to do 52.

  • January 01 2014
    Caroline Eubanks

    WAY TO GO! I didn’t even get close to my goal of 40 books, despite getting a Kindle this year. I think I ended up with 17.

    • January 03 2014

      Thanks Caroline!! Are you sharing your list? I’ve been considering a Kindle for travel. Shoot me.

  • January 01 2014

    Awesome job! I recommend A Fault in Our Stars the most, too! SUCH an amazing book! This is a great idea, I want to try a challenge like this this year, too. And I read Great Gatsby this year as well, just before the movie came out. It’s more of a fun read now that it’s not required for a paper in high school!

    • January 03 2014

      GAH, wasn’t it so good? And I felt compelled to read Gatsby before the movie came out, too (which I also loved)

  • January 01 2014

    congrats on finishing! i will have to check out some of these books

  • January 02 2014

    That’s awesome, Candice! An inspiration yet again :)
    So, how did you pick the books??

    • January 03 2014

      Thanks Gina! I just picked what I wanted to read, no pre-determined lists or anything. I read a few monster books like East of Eden and The World According to Garp, though, so I did aim for a few shorter books to make up for lost time.

  • January 02 2014

    I love this and I love reading challenges and I love that you read and travel, too. I read your other post, so I know you won’t be concentrating on the travel this upcoming year, but I’m still excited to see what you post. And if it’s about books, I’ll be all over it. :)

    • January 03 2014

      Hahaha, thanks! Anything you read this year that stood out? I said I’d aim for 30, but I still kinda want to do 52…

      • January 04 2014

        Haha I understand. I try not to do reading challenges, because it wouldn’t really challenge me as much as give me an excuse to scrap my entire social life and become a hermit. Which may still happen someday, haha.

        I’m a big nonfiction junkie, so I loved Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon and Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier this year. So much so, that I bought three copies of Woman for relatives this year and am giving a fourth one away on my blog now. Definitely check those out if you have the time and like nonfiction.

  • January 05 2014
    Britany Robinson

    Just read up on “A Fault in Our Stars” and it sounds right up my alley. Great recommendations and congrats on completing your challenge!

    ps. LOVE the new site design!
    pps. When do you sleep??

    • January 13 2014

      Yay! Thanks! So happy with the design too. I never sleep. At least I’m a semi-productive insomniac.

  • January 09 2014

    Was the Cat’s Table worth reading? I’ve been slogging through it as well and though I am half way there is no conflict and I am struggling to even care. Does it get better? Is there any tension?

    • January 09 2014

      Ugh, definitely one of my least enjoyed books this year, honestly. I want to enjoy Ondaatje, but I DON’T. I kept reading anyway. It’s not awful, from what I remember, but I didn’t love it.

  • January 10 2014

    Reading the list of books you read really made me feel shameful for the lack of reading I’ve been doing. I’ve read one of those books (Mindy Kaling’s book, I have to admit I really liked it. Come on she’s funny! She should be my BFF), and I’ve seen the movies of two of those books (The Perks of being a Wallflower and The Great Gatsby), does that count? I used to really enjoy reading books, but that was all before I got an IPad and started spending too much time on raising my Sims family. You’ve definitely inspired me to put the iPad away and start reading those novels that are currently decorating my nightstand and collecting dust.

    P.S I think you’ve sold me on picking up a copy of “Clara Callan”. Gotta love books that make you cry.

    • January 13 2014

      YAY! Mission accomplished…turning people back onto books! Hahaha. I loved Mindy Kaling’s book too, but it definitely wasn’t my favourite. I also suggest picking up The Fault in Our Stars!

  • January 17 2014

    I love the idea of the 52 week challenge, so much so that I’m doing it myself this year. I’ve read 2 books so far and already starting to panic that I’m falling behind – it feels a bit like being in school again but in a good way.

    • January 20 2014

      Yeah! I liked the drive to keep reading more. It never felt like a chore. I’m already disappointed that I’ve only read two books so far this year, haha.

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