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Readery: Ten Books That Changed Me

So, there’s a challenge floating around the internets right now. (Surprise, surprise). It’s titled: “10 Books That Changed Me.”  Most people who have posted used their ten favorite books. Or, as wisely observed by Alexis Kleinman (in the article here), the ten books these folks would like you to believe are their favorites, thus implying some inherent literary superiority and simultaneous pompous douchebaggery.

But, that’s not even the challenge, is it?  Setting aside the obviously problematic readery-one-upmanship, and resulting challenge duplicity, the list simply does not ask for ten favorites.

10 Books That Changed Me (and How They Did So):

1.  The Witches by Roald Dahl. In fourth-grade, our teacher read this aloud during storytime. She was a fabulous reader and, with accompanying voices and perceptive interludes, her enthusiasm was contagious. (Thank you, Ms. Powell). When she finished reading The Witches, I went to the library and classroom bookshelf and methodically read through the entire (children’s) Dahl canon. It was marvelous. I maintain that Roald Dahl offers some of the most imaginative children’s literature in existence. It is never mundane. It challenges wit and convention. And, my introduction to Roald Dahl led me to be a reader of varied tastes. I am as comfortable in the world of myth and sci-fi as I am in thriller and horror and romance. I attribute my forgiving treatment of genre to my early introduction to originality and Roald Dahl.
2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Allow me to be clear:  this is not one of my favorite books. Not even in my top twenty. But, I will forever remember this book as my introduction to Literature with a capital “L.”  In the summer before sixth grade, I was mired in a reading bog. I had read through the important children’s literature and I was perturbed by what was available as Young Adult fiction. Think: Christopher Pike, RL Stine. Essentially the same books with different cover art. I must’ve been complaining to my mom because she handed me a copy of Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck was an entirely new experience. And, I never looked back.
3. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. This is one of my favorite books. But especially because of how it affected me. The story is incredibly, incredibly sad. It’s about third-world poverty and loss and the human condition. Reading a story that generates such powerful and raw emotion?  Yes, please. There is no better outlet for grief and pain and devastation than floating away in someone else’s imagination. An imagination that’s rife with sordid imagery and inconceivable tragedy?  Even better. As I read this book, I gained a newfound sense of humility and a wiser sense of humanity. Such beauty in well-captured sadness.
4. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. It was the first chapter book I had ever read.
5. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Another favorite. It is incredibly refreshing to learn that you can still be surprised as a reader. Shriver met with my exact literary aesthetic. Which I have been trying to define for years.  Furthermore, she wrote a beautifully composed tale. (Whoa, Kevin. Just, whoa).
6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare. (I know, I know. It’s a play. Don’t be a challenge-nazi). In my freshman year of college, I wrote my term paper on Hamlet. “Alas, Poor Ghost:  The Haunting of Elsinore.”  The paper examined whether or not Hamlet’s father’s ghost was malevolent. It was my first attempt at proper literary criticism. And, it seemed well-received. I even had the opportunity to present it at an undergraduate conference.
7.  Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Seuss. When Ducky was just a wee babins, this was the book I read to her the most. Rhyme, repetition, sounds; it has a lot to offer for a little one.  I will fondly remember this as Duck’s First Book.  (Not to mention its reminiscent effect on my own childhood).
8. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I read story after story after story. This compilation inspired my love, gratitude, and appreciation for short stories. They are such a unique challenge to an author. I love a novel, but my respect for short-story artists is immeasurable.
9. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. Having read the book and seen the movie, I had to reassess how I gauged the quality of film adaptation. Readers always seem to find flaws in adaptations based on fidelity. In other words, the movie sucks if the plot diverts from the book. But, honestly, I loved this book and I loved this movie. They were incredibly different in terms of story. Being able to ignore the nagging community that pans movies for plot divergence is a much healthier outlook on two entirely separate mediums.
10. Fahrenheit-451 by Ray Bradbury. I don’t know why, but I remember this book as being the first book that challenged my ever-present optimism for the future. I had read plenty of other stories that explored depressing future vistas. For some reason, this one stuck as the preeminent one. It’s hard (and important) to consider the fate of humanity and the extremes of which we are capable.  I would like to think that we humans are inherently good. Fahrenheit-451 challenged this thinking. It’s not in the recognition that the individual is capable of depravity. This is likely an obvious conclusion if you watch the news. It’s the imagined communal villainy that struck me. What a bleak outlook… And a jarring one. Bradbury: one. Katie’s naïveté: zero.

I’m sure I could list many more books that changed me, steered me in a different direction, etc. This sample is a fairly poignant reminder of what books are capable of. For me, at least, it has been an exercise in self-enlightenment. How about you?  What are ten books that left their imprint on your life?  What impacts have they had?  

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Recent Readery

Last post, I had read 15 of my 40-book goal. I have added another 10 to that total. I have started another few books, but put them down for one reason or another. I will return to them soon. A brief sample of my most-recent reads:

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. 3.5 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed this story. I enjoyed the style of writing. I enjoyed the premise. I enjoyed the setting. I enjoyed the characters. I enjoyed the ending. But, I didn’t “loooooove” it. All of the aspects I “enjoyed” could also be simplified more for my tastes. I liked the characters but they were awfully complex and numerous. I liked the ending: it was a well-earned tragic climax. But the resolution failed for me. And so on with the other aspects of the book.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri. 3 out of 5 stars. I love Lahiri. She is a brilliant author. Her writing is incredibly thoughtful and well-set. But, I prefer her short stories. She excels when she is succinct. Her long narratives are excessive in setting, character, emotion. While her short stories successfully and surprisingly contain volumes, her novels lead too many lives, too many places, and cannot maintain my attention.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. 4 out of 5 stars. First, this novel has an incredibly unique narration. The protagonist is flawed but likable. As apocalyptic-literature goes, this may be one of my favorites. In addition to an inventive narrative style, the plot is interesting. The setting and imagery are realistic. I often feel that the same “end times” story has been told. This one is new, brilliantly told, and, (dare I say?) optimistic.

What Comes Next by John Katzenbach. 2 out of 5 stars. I liked the protagonist. I liked the idea. I wanted to relax with a “fluff” read. But, this was ultimately a disappointment for me. The plot had some brief unexpected kinks but was predictable nonetheless. Meh.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. 3 out of 5 stars. I have been reading quite a bit of children’s and young adult literature lately. This story was well-told and offered some new fantastical qualities. Evidently, the narrative was drawn based on a selection of old photos that Riggs had found. I find this a fascinating aspect of his story-telling. I appreciate an inspired imagination and I look forward to reading further with Riggs and his peculiars.

Dear Life by Alice Munro. 4 out of 5 stars. I love a short story. In particular, Munro’s “Gravel” and “Amundsen” were favorites. Her stories are somehow stories without much plot. It’s what is left out that makes her stories fascinating. She is casting a reel, not trawling. Much more adeptly too. Furthermore, it’s Canada. Tootally agreeable, eh?

Oh, yeah…
Allegiant by Veronica Roth. 0 out of 5 stars. Dumb, dumb, dumb. That is all.

I am pretty satisfied with where I stand in my Readery Challenges:

I am over halfway through my goal in total hopeful reading at 25 of 40.

However, I have still not touched any of the books in my original stack of hopeful-reads, as seen here. Oops.

I have added another couple “daubs” to my book bingo.

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The Inquisitr list only has a couple remaining entries:
1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
4. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
7. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
8. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon
9. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
12. A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin
13. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
14. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
15. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Finally, Never Let Me Go counts as one of my five “classics.” Four more to go…

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Recent Readery

I thought I might update you on my most recent reads and how I’m doing on my challenges…

So far, I have read 15 out of 40 books for the yearly challenge. I’m pretty happy with my progress.

My thoughts on five recent reads:
The Rathbones by Janice Clark. 3 out of 5 stars. Moby Dick + The Odyssey + Edgar Allen Poe + Gabriel Garcia Marquez = this book. It had an interesting premise and was well-written; it was suffused with imagery. It was innovative while heavily laden with allusions to classic fiction. But, there was nothing “light” about it. No relief from the deep and the dark. This lead me to regard it more as an undertaking than as a genuine enjoyment.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. 2 out of 5 stars. I was excited to read this because the cover included an approving blurb from John Irving, a favorite author of mine. I found the book incredibly disappointing. I felt that I could have done a much better job with the exact same plot, characters, and settings as my tools. Aside from the derivative style, I was mostly disheartened by Greer’s inconvenient plot. The story itself is complicated and resolves with a just-plain-stupid ending.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. 3 out of 5 stars. It was good. It was fine. But, was I as impressed as I ought to have been? A tour-de-force? Hailed by critics and the masses? Inventive, classic, and inspiring? Meh. Rather dull in my opinion. The circular, conversational narrative is tiresome if inventive. And, while the themes are suggestively bleak, they were simultaneously unsurprising. It simply doesn’t rate as highly for me as (I suppose) it should.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl. 4 out of 5 stars. I really enjoyed Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Pessl’s second novel does not disappoint. It is similarly complicated, similarly mysterious. But, it offers a whole new story with a whole new level of forethought. The mystery is deeper and the tale is darker. The characters are both annoyingly human and believably superior. Definitely suspenseful. Definitely delightful.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. 5 out of 5 stars. I saved the best for last. I can’t even remember the last 5-star book I read… I LOVED THIS BOOK. Shriver’s style is exactly my aesthetic: precise, deliberate, exacting without being minimal. She has an immense vocabulary at her disposal and she hunts for the exact wording and structure to make her perfect point. In addition to the ideal of her style, the subject matter is both provocative and heart-breaking. The content may be difficult for readers, so consider yourself warned. I believe Shriver imbues her narrative with thought, consequence, and feeling. I believe she captures the essence of her narrator impeccably. I will admit that I initially thought the author was a man and was thus predisposed to awe at how well “he” captured “his” female narrator. Upon discovering Ms. Shriver was, indeed, a woman, I was not disillusioned as I could have been. It matters not the gender of the author… because the tale is that outstanding.

Both Never Let Me Go and We Need to Talk About Kevin are on my challenge lists. See the challenge entry here.

I have also updated my book bingo:

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(I did make a couple changes to the existing “daubs” but all of the selections meet the challenge standards).

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Readery Challenge

So, I would like to participate in a couple of reading challenges this year. First, I set a 40-book goal for the year. That’s probably a bit low, but I’d like to complete at least one of the tasks I’ve set for myself. (Since I’m doing so well keeping up with my blog… Not). I have already read ten books since I began. (Hence the blog blahs. Oops).

I’m also doing the Random House book bingo.

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I have thus far read:
A BOOK WITH MORE THAN 500 PAGES, An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon
A BOOK WRITTEN BY SOMEONE UNDER THIRTY, Divergent by Veronica Roth
A BOOK WITH A ONE-WORD TITLE, TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
A BOOK YOUR FRIEND LOVES, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
A BOOK YOU HEARD ABOUT ONLINE, Pride and Pleasure by Sylvia Day
A BEST-SELLING BOOK, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
A BOOK BY A FEMALE AUTHOR, The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
A BOOK WITH A MYSTERY, The Rathbones by Janice Clark
Well, no “corners” or “lines” yet, but I’m going for the full-card anyway.

Last year, Inquisitr posted an article of the “Top 15 21st Century Novels Destined to Become Classics”.
This list included:
1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
4. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
7. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
8. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon
9. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
12. A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin
13. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
14. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
15. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
I crossed out the books I have already read. I’m not sure I necessarily agree based upon what I have read. However, being just over halfway through this list demands my attention. I’m not sure I will read all seven that are left, especially with my already-extensive “to read” list. But, I’m adding it to my self-challenge anyway. Realistically, I will be pleased if I read four of the remainder.

Finally, I would really like to freshen up on some classics. Of TIME‘s All-TIME 100 Novels, I have only read a measly 15. Of Radcliffe’s 100 Best Novels, I’ve read a slightly better 18. Still embarrassingly pathetic. I would like to commit to five “classics” this year. Fingers crossed.

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Series Readery

So, I just finished An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon, the 7th (and, as-of-now, final) book in the Outlander series. And, I enjoyed it. But…

I really loved the original book, Outlander, and my expectations began high as I set out to read through the series. And, per the usual, those hopes diminished slowly as I progressed. (To be clear: I would still recommend the series as a whole. But, in its entirety, I find it somewhat frustrating).

There is no endgame in sight. Thousands of pages and we are drawing no nearer to a conclusion. The opposite is true, in fact. Gabaldon introduces more characters, more developments, more twists. To excess unfortunately. I take personal issue with this. Unfounded or not, I am deeply, suspiciously critical of said excess. In a situation such as this, the author does not appear to have a well-delineated story outline from the onset. Rather, she is churning out material for the sake of churning out material… and, likely, for profit. That’s gross. I am personally affronted that I may be just another cog in the money-making machinery.

The fact is: I am sensitive to the ability to maintain my interest over a series. I think it’s a profound gift to generate a successful story over hundreds and hundreds of pages. I may have mentioned that the short story is my favorite literary type. It requires unparalleled talent to complete a tale succinctly. But, the opposite is true also. If you’ve required the amount of script that a series might, you have a profoundly intricate story to tell. Or, you don’t. And it is those series that fall flat in my estimation.

Some other recent series and my thoughts on them:

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, 3.5 of 5 stars. As stated, I have enjoyed this series. Regardless of my dismay at being potentially exploited, the story is well-written. The dialogue is an original and inventive component. Gabaldon also masters technique in her settings. She captures memory and emotion well. And, she has an exceptional grasp of several genres including history, medicine, and language.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 2 of 5 stars. Yeah… I do not like them. (Sue me). Some people may argue that the subject matter is inappropriate for young adult reading. I disagree. “The Lottery” is actually one of my favorite shorts. But, I agree that The Hunger Games lacks in content. I also do not think it was written particularly well. Collins does not impress me with her writing style (or uninspired plot). The only real talent that she possesses (in spades, I might add) can be found in her descriptions. She quite ably illustrates grotesque scenes. It is this, however, that I find inappropriately mature for her readership. The series reads to me as though they are meant to be films. However, I cannot equate the images from the book with a PG-13 movie, the target audience. Mayhaps I’m prudish with gore but… ew.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, 1 out of 5 stars. I’m truly embarrassed that I read this. It is so contrived. If James wanted to write erotica, she shouldn’t have tried to complicate it by supplementing a plot. A poorly executed attempt at porn in print. As to the “love story” aspect? Read a classic if you truly want your heart to be inspired.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, 5 out of 5 stars. I cannot expound upon the value of this series in any coherent way. It. Is. Amazing. Read it.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, 4 out of 5 stars. While the series remains unfinished, it has thus far captured my attention. Furthermore, there is a definite sense of Martin’s endgame. Readers should enjoy the plot intricacies and look forward to their (hopeful) resolution. My only complaint relates to the complication of such a multi-veined story. It is difficult to track the numerous story lines, particularly in the manner in which they are written. However, once you devise a means to track individuals, it becomes less cumbersome. This series definitely benefits the reader who is willing to read and overlook detail; awaiting the eventual conclusion. It can be somewhat tiresome for those of us who try to identify every plot clue.

The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, 1 out of 5 stars. Since I had enjoyed the television adaptation, True Blood, I wanted to read the books. Big mistake. I can mostly overlook the books as inane-magic-vampiric-fluffery. Mostly. The real shame of the series comes in the finale; which grossly ignores the development of the rest of the books and concludes in a most disappointing fashion.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, 0 out of 5 stars. Ugh. Setting aside the fact that Bella Swan is the most aggravatingly dumb character ever. And the fact that, again, the subject matter is arguably adult in nature for a suggestible readership. (Vampire babies violently ripping through teenage wombs? Blech). The vampires sparkle. They sparkle. ‘Nuff said.

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Recent Readery

I’ve managed to be pretty productive in the past few weeks when it comes to my books. Here are five recent reads:

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. 3 out of 5 stars. I thought the premise of this book was incredibly inventive. I thought the language was thoroughly engaging. But, much like I find Neil Gaiman, I was a bit bogged down by the details and descriptions. Mayhaps my imagination just doesn’t reach the realms these authors employ? I simply could not grasp certain crucial elements. If I didn’t suffer from this misunderstanding/disbelief, I would probably have rated this book higher. As it is, I know Panda Bear and my mom would disagree completely with my assessment.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. 3 out of 5 stars. This book was easy. Predictable. Fun. I liked Howe’s narrative devices. While it was not innovative or intelligent, it did keep me entertained. I would equate it to a Dan Brown novel; not incredibly well-written but nonetheless enjoyable.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon. 4 out of 5 stars. I mentioned before that I had really enjoyed Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I just finished the sixth book and I remain, surprisingly, entertained. Actually, I found this book recovered well from the previous two, in which I had begun to lose my enthusiasm. I think the way Gabaldon captures dialogue is fantastic. She also has a serious grasp of history and medicine. I would definitely recommend the series in its entirety so far. I am definitely looking forward to reading the seventh book.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. 4 out of 5 stars. I loved this story. Loved it. Mostly, I thought the characters were wonderful and wonderfully-flawed. In particular, I thought Rogan captured the essence of her protagonist as simultaneously weak and strong; shallow and deep; simple and complicated. The situational developments are interesting and true to the nature of people. She definitely captures the scene in an unimaginable predicament. In and of itself, that’s a helluva achievement.

Transatlantic by Colum McCann. 3 out of 5 stars. This story dragged for me. The language was appealing. In fact, much was beautifully written. But, I didn’t understand why I was reading until the end. The plot simply wasn’t engaging. It took too long to tie together the point. And, even once I understood, I was mostly disappointed.

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Upcoming Readery

Today’s entry concerns ten books I am looking forward to reading this year. Per-the-usual, my “want-to-read” list is pretty extensive, so this is just another sample. Mostly, these are books that I actually have on hand. I maintain a couple library wait-lists, but haven’t included any of those titles. I am also not including any books that are expected to be released this year, even though there are a couple of publications that I am excited about. (I’m looking at you Mr. Martin!) I am also not including any books that I will be re-reading this year. There are a few requiring revisiting.

Disclaimer: Obviously, I haven’t read these yet. Don’t spoil them for me! I will high-kick you in the face. Well. I will probably pull a hammy. I will definitely high-kick you in the knee, though.

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1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I know absolutely nothing about this story. (And, I hope to keep it that way!) I bought this book at a used-book sale awhile back and it immediately went on loan. I have taken great pains to avoid any mention of it. Or of the movie; which came out whilst I awaited return of the book. The trailer popped onto the tv once and I had to run from the room. My mom was talking about it and I had to clap my hands over my ears. I would really like to delve into this story blindly because I have heard that the book is excellent. Avoiding mention of it has been a challenge. I suppose I could’ve borrowed it and read it already. I’m postponing for hopeful delayed gratification. The book has been returned. My breath is bated.
2. The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. I totally make cursory judgements of a book by its cover. Seriously. I discover new books at book sales and stores- based on cover art. I have no idea how a publisher establishes the appearance of a particular book. But, I assume some thought goes into it? And, as a writer, I would want to influence that. I think the cover art actually does say something about content. I picked up The Lifeboat at a library sale. I found the cover aesthetically pleasing. Fingers crossed that I will enjoy the content as well.
3. A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. Another library-sale find; this book also came by recommendation from my mom. She’s a helluva reader and has a pretty good idea of what I will like. She’s my most-frequent book chatter (and sometime spoiler, argh). Neither of us belong to a book club, but we will similarly disseminate a story for hours. We don’t necessarily share the love/the hate for particular books, but we do appreciate one another’s opinions. Actually, our book-sharing circle usually includes all us girls. I guess it’s a Bear Pack Book Club, really.
4. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. I was supposed to read this for a literature class. Forever ago. “Supposed to” being the operative phrase. I actually don’t remember much about the plot- which I extracted from various sources at the time. (Ok, Cliffnotes). I would like to experience the language firsthand. Finally, it appears as “recommended reading” alongside Fifty Shades of Grey. Now, I cannot possibly admit to having read that series. Obviously. But, if I had, I would want to see what possible correlation exists.
5. and 6. The Bean Trees and The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver. I loved The Poisonwood Bible. I hated Prodigal Summer. I have high hopes that I will like at least one of these selections. I have heard The Lacuna was excellent.
7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. My sister loaned this one with the specific condition that it be returned to her. She was quite clear. She wants it back. Seriously. Don’t forget. Must be a good one. (I have no idea what it will be about).
8. Brown Dog by Jim Harrison. I has never heard of Harrison but I am looking forward to this read. First, the setting is in the U.P. As a native Michigander, I’m all over that. Also, the book is made up of novellas. I think novellas and short stories are so underrated! They are, in fact, my favorite literary forms. I greatly appreciate the ability to generate an entire narrative succinctly. Such an accomplishment.
9. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. I’ve mentioned this one before. Still haven’t gotten around to it. I know it’s the second of her post-apocalyptic series. I so enjoy her style, hopefully the plot will rise to the challenge also.
10. Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving. Irving is one of my favorite authors. Hands down. I began this book a few years ago and put it down. I said I never walk away from books, I never do. In this instance, I was reading this book when something happened. This “something” kept me from reading altogether for a long time. I was grieving instead. I’m sure I will expound upon this further (at a later date). For now, suffice it to say that I chose not to finish this book. I will have to go back and reread from the beginning. To be clear: I was absolutely enjoying it, so my pause was not because I didn’t like it. It has been some time since the interrupting event and consequent put-aside. It is time to return and finish it.

Hopefully after I’ve completed this list, I can offer some genuine recommendations.

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