Reading Challenge Update: January

Happy February, friends. Just checking in today to give you a quick update on my Challies 2016 Reading Challenge progress. (As I’ve written previously, I’m taking part in this reading challenge, and endeavoring to blow my previous yearly best out of the water by reading at least 50 books this year, inspired mostly by Tim Challies’ list).

I started the year with some library books already in my reading queue, so while I have read a total of 5 books already, only 3 of them fit slots on the list:

A Graphic Novel:  Avatar, the Last Airbender–The Search, by Gene Luen Yang. Over the Christmas break, I binge-watched the Airbender animated series with some teenage boys staying with us for the holidays. I was engaged and intrigued by the depth of character and story-telling, which was impressive for only 3 seasons of television. So when I found out that there have been a few graphic-novel continuations of that story, I wanted to check out one of them as part of this challenge.

Graphic novels are obviously a visual art form, so the lines, coloring, and use of space are all part of the language of the story. This graphic novel, though not perhaps as well-written as some of the episodes of the show, carries on the spirit of the source material surprisingly well. If you enjoy the television show, this book is worth your time. It’s a quick read, perfect for a lazy Saturday afternoon.

A Book Published in 2016: Written in Fire, by Marcus Sakey. I’ve already blogged about this one, so I’ll keep this short. I enjoyed the first two installments of this trilogy, and I enjoyed following the characters, but this novel failed to thrill me, and left me a little disappointed on the whole. Not recommended unless you’re really into the premise of the series and you’re not bothered by the increasing amounts of objectionable and troubling content.

A Mystery or Detective Novel: Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett. Dashiell Hammett is widely considered to be the godfather of the American crime novel. Some of his most famous characters and stories have been turned into classic films that have cemented the image of the tough-guy private eye in the American consciousness. I’ve been wanting to read something by Hammett for a while, and rather than pick up The Maltese Falcon or The Thin Man (books with which I’m very familiar through their film adaptations), I decided on Red Harvest, a book that would be the inspiration for the classic Japanese samurai film Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa, and the American westerns A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing.

In Red Harvest, Hammett’s recurring nameless main character (called “the Continental Op” outside the novels) is called to the town of Personville (or “Poisonville” as it’s soon called) by a newspaper editor who wants to expose corruption. The editor is killed as soon as the C.O. arrives in town, and our protagonist learns that the entire town is corrupt from top to bottom, and he figures he can stir the pot enough to wreck shop with the local rackets. Throughout the entire story, our “hero” (loosely-called) is lying, cheating, killing, and double-crossing, living by his own loose moral code of only doing dirty those who deserve it. In the end, the body count is high and the ending is frankly unsatisfying. The story pretty much ends when there’s no one interesting to kill anymore.

I was disappointed with Red Harvest, because given Hammett’s reputation, I was hoping for some slam-bang noir action. Some of the dialogue was snappy, but the pacing was inconsistent and the plotting was muddy. Something tells me that Hammett’s film adaptations did him a great many favors by tightening up and focusing his writing.

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As for my current reading: I’m about to finish a book on productivity (full review forthcoming), and I’m working through a book about the Christian view of being a “slave of God.” Up next on the hit parade: a couple of books about the role of pastor as public theologian (for review), a book of poetry, and a children’s classic.

Your Turn: What have you been reading lately? Are you taking part in the 2016 Reading Challenge? I’d love to hear your mini-reviews and recommendations in the comments!

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