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Last June, I put together a list of 50 books on my reading bucket list. These are books that I definitely want to read at some point in my life. A couple were new, but most aren’t. Some I’ve been putting off for years.
I didn’t put this list together with a particular approach or timeline in mind; I don’t want it to be stressful or feel like an assignment but these are books that I want to read.
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Reading Bucket List Progress
Since making my reading bucket list, I’ve found that I read about one book per month from the list, starting in June. Here’s what I’ve read so far:
Somehow I got through high school without reading this book. I can't recall why, because it was definitely taught at my school. I'm guessing I either had a rogue teacher or an odd combination of classes that that enabled me to miss this one. Whatever it was, this was starting to feel like the most glaring gap in my reading, and I have to admit I knew very little of the story. I ended up listening to the audio book on a long drive. Listening to the refined narrator read the lyrical language was a pleasure, and it's good to finally know the story of the rise and fall of Jay Gatsby.More info →
I have mixed feelings on Jane Eyre. The positive: Jane is amazing. Charlotte Bronte's writing is amazing. The story is compelling and surprisingly readable, and it's one from my bucket list. The negative: those men! Rochester and St. John Rivers, both manipulating mansplainers. Maybe reading Jane Eyre in the 21st century predisposes me to feel more bitterness toward them than Bronte intends. Jane herself is also frustrating in her deference to both men, but also admirable in her independence. In short, I haven't quite sorted out how I feel about Jane, and that's one reason I think she remains so fascinating to so many readers.More info →
When a young woman otherwise destined for a life of service is swept off her feet by rich widower Maxim de Winter, she dreams of a wonderful life together at Manderly, the country estate he owns. But soon after their marriage and arrival at Manderly, she realizes that the shadow of Maxim's late wife looms large and threatens her life, sanity, and their future together. While not a scary read, the tension underlying this entire book is masterful and the surprises continue until the very last page.More info →
Roxane Gay's life was changed forever at 12. The victim of a gang rape, Gay began building a fortress around herself, attempting to both keep herself safe and regain control. Instead, she found herself in what she calls an "unruly body," one that, in its obesity, provides some measure of safety while also shrinking her world in various ways. At the same time, she asserts herself as fully human in a world that is determined to dehumanize her: highly intelligent, fully able to love and be loved, and in no way ignorant of the health and nutrition facts people throw at her. Gay is brutally honest and raw in this memoir about her struggles to understand and care for herself--weight, past, and all.More info →
I debated whether to start the illustrated version of this book yet with my six-year-old, thinking it might be too scary, but ultimately she was too excited to wait. There were definitely scary parts, and the time travel was very confusing (we talked through it several times), but we both loved this book. It really felt like Harry's story moved forward even as he gained a deeper understanding of his past. My daughter has even suggested that we go ahead with the next book, even though the illustrated version isn't out yet--she'd previously been adamant about waiting for them, so it's clear she's gotten very invested in the story and characters.More info →
An hour after England enters World War II, socialite Mary North signed up for service. Instead of direct involvement in the war, she finds herself teaching students who were rejected from the countryside after most other children were evacuated from London. This turn brings into her life Zachary, a young black student; Tom, an education administrator; and Alistair, Tom's flatmate who has enlisted in the military. Mary, Tom, and Zachary face a new normal in London as the bombings of the Blitz commence, while the ills of society--race, poverty, addiction--persistently remain the same. Alistair, meanwhile, faces the brutality, starvation, and violence of life as a soldier in Malta.
Cleave's prose can feel heavy-handed, especially at first, but I soon fell under the spell of his writing. His dialogue shines and is smart and surprisingly funny. In its wittiness, it recalls the type of conversations that seem to happen in youth, especially during late nights or intense situations--the intelligent volleying that immediately connects people. Cleave uses these conversations masterfully to create instant connections between characters facing extreme circumstances. Inspired by his own grandparents' experiences and letters written during World War II, Cleave tells a beautiful tale of love, loss, and bravery. Also check out my in-depth look at the history and writing of this book, the first in my Story of the Story series.More info →
What is there to say about Harry Potter that hasn't been said? I read the first two books on my own years ago, but when my daughter was born six years ago, I decided to wait and read them with her. We got the illustrated version of the book (the first two, actually), and I’m hoping all of the books will eventually have illustrated versions so we can have a full collection. The books are beautiful, and she enjoyed the illustrations and asked a lot of questions about them. We’re waiting to read the second book—I think age five was just a little young for Harry Potter—but when I remembered to read slowly and take the time to discuss the story, she was eager to read it and seemed to follow most of the story.More info →
The second in the Harry Potter series has turned my six-year-old into a full-on Harry Potter superfan. We had a blast reading and discussing Harry's second year in the world of Hogwarts and who could have opened the Chamber of Secrets. The illustrated versions of these books are beautiful; she examines each one carefully so she understands which character or scene is being shown. We of course followed this up by viewing the movie, which is also wonderful.More info →
Homegoing is an epic generational novel following the family lines of two half-sisters born in Ghana 300 years ago: one is married off to an English slave trader while the other is sold into slavery. Each chapter follows a new descendant of the women, illustrating how events and injustices of the past reverberate through the lives and struggles of future generations. An astonishing, emotional novel that deftly answers the question of how the descendants of slaves continue to be oppressed by the institution of slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic racism, even 150 years after abolition. One of my best reads of 2017.More info →
In this letter to his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates discusses how the United States was built on and by the bodies of black people, and how those bodies continue to be endangered, used, and abused to maintain a system that thrives on their subjugation. Coates recalls recent incidents of police brutality as well as the long history of race and its importance to those in power--"the people who believe themselves to be white." Powerful, emotional, and filled with brutal, uncomfortable truths that demand to be known and acknowledged.More info →
I’m reading the Harry Potter series aloud with my daughter, so those usually take us a couple of months. I count the whole series as one item on my list, but I’m not sure if we’ll finish them this year or not.
Did Not Finish
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern – Stephen Greenblatt
Maybe someday I’ll try again with this one, but it just wasn’t holding my interest. Now I need to add another book to keep my list at 50! Any suggestions?
2018 Reading Bucket List Plans
Reading one book from my bucket list each month seemed to work well, so I’d like to take that same approach this year. If I read one bucket-list book per month, I’ll finish this list in a little under four years. That’s doable, right?
Here’s what I plan to work into my reading in 2018. All of these are on my shelf now (which helps me stick with my Read My Shelf Challenge). I just finished up Kindred, so I’m including it in this list for the year. Here are all of the bucket list books I plan to read this year:
Kindred is famous for being the first science fiction novel written by a black woman. That's significant, but the science fiction part of this story--the time travel--isn't what makes it so compelling.
In the 1970s, a 26-year-old black woman is suddenly pulled back through time to save the life of a young boy who grows to be a slave owner in 1800s Maryland. Yanked without warning between present and past and back again, she returns multiple times throughout his life (as only minutes or hours pass in her own), and she realizes that she must keep him alive so he can father her great-grandmother. But through this, she also must live the life of a slave and face all the indignities, hardships, and heartbreaks that come with it.
This is an illuminating look at the lives of slaves, cognizant of our modern ideas that the people who were slaves must have been tougher than people now, somehow superhuman in their ability to endure. But the wounds from the whips and chains and inhuman disregard for their lives and families were real, and Butler sensitively examines the ways in which the people were beaten and worn into submission.
Light on the sci-fi aspects (sudden unexplained time travel is the only element) and a fast, worthwhile but difficult read (due to the subject matter). Highly recommended.More info →
Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local "powhitetrash." At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.More info →
In this "artful, informative, and delightful" (William H. McNeill, New York Review of Books) book, Jared Diamond convincingly argues that geographical and environmental factors shaped the modern world. Societies that had a head start in food production advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage, and then developed writing, technology, government, and organized religion—as well as nasty germs and potent weapons of war—and adventured on sea and land to conquer and decimate preliterate cultures. A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles racially based theories of human history.More info →
When her family learns of their ties to the wealthy d'Urbervilles, Tess's family pressures her to claim her place and elevate the family from poverty. The plan goes horribly wrong and Tess finds herself a grief-stricken, ruined woman. When she finds love and a potential new life with Angel Clare, she must decide whether to keep her past a secret or risk his rejection. Tess is truly a woman of her time, as are the characters around her, but Thomas Hardy was ahead of his. Hardy deftly illustrates the hypocrisy that dictated the expectations of women in this time and the pressures they faced to be pure, chaste, and angelic (the name "Angel" is a bit ironic here.). I loved this book, though it filled me rage on Tess's behalf. It was a little slow moving in the middle, but it's worth it to stick it out to the end.More info →
Starting with a young boy and his beloved little sister in Afghanistan, separated abruptly and set on different paths. One is forever heartbroken, while the other has little memory of the past. Following, then, through the decades and stories of people around the world whose own pasts and choices set them on a course to influence the lives of the two children and others.
Khaled Hosseini weaves a complicated web composed of both strong and loose connections. Sometimes books such as these don't work--the reader has trouble following the connections, or individual stories are abandoned too soon. But Hosseini, as always, is masterful. While there were moments where I had to jog my memory about past characters, particularly when they appear only as glimpses in later stories, I never felt rushed through any one story. The characters are richly developed and the stories are given their space to unfold and reveal their place within the whole. I loved this book and will continue to read anything Hosseini writes.More info →
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family live in a castle in the English countryside, but they are far from wealthy. This family of dreamers and creatives can hardly put food on the table. When two young Americans, Simon and Neil Cotton, arrive to take over the estate of their deceased landlord, they bring new hope to the family: of creative patronage, of potential marriage, and of (continued) free rent. Aspiring writer Cassandra details the adventures of the family in her journal as they move from abject poverty into high society. Full of charming observations and self-awareness, Cassandra teeters between childhood and adulthood and, through her her writing, she comes to realizations about herself, her family, and love. The family is by turns frustrating and amusing--I was confused by the inability of all of them (save Stephen, their ward) to find work in any capacity. That aside, Cassandra is a delightful companion through the story--on par with Anne Shirley--and the castle itself is pure fantasy for any romantic Anglophile.More info →
Swing Time reminded me a bit of My Brilliant Friend, with two young girls growing up together in a poor neighborhood. Each dreams of greatness and is differently talented, but one forever seems to be straining to catch up. Their relationship falls square into "frenemy" territory, especially as they grow up and lives grow more complicated.
While this premise is intriguing, the book itself confused me. It strayed far from this original setup, so one of the girls, Tracey, didn't loom as large as it seemed she was supposed to. She felt like more of a shadow figure to me, occasionally popping up but never coming into focus. Lending to this inability to settle into the story was a device that I'm learning bothers me as a reader: the unnamed narrator.
While it seems the device was meant to demonstrate the narrator's inability to forge her own identity, first in Tracey's shadow, and then in Amy's--a famous singer who employs her in adulthood--the narrator didn't feel any more unfocused than most 20-somethings, and she felt worthy of a name.
I'd love to hear from someone who loved this book, because it felt scattered to me and I think I just didn't get it.More info →
What books are on your reading bucket list? How do you approach getting through a reading list like this?