2016 Reading Challenge: March Update!

Time to give you an update on my Challies 2016 Reading Challenge progress!

This month, I was able to keep pace on the reading challenge (along with some extracurricular comic-book reading–I’m excited for the new Captain America movie, so I’ve been catching up on that title!).  I also finished the month with a handful of books “in progress” (including one that I almost got in under the wire for March), so I’m hoping April will be another good reading month.

Here’s what I was able to finish in March:

A Classic Novel: Animal Farm, by George Orwell. When I told people that I had never read Animal Farm, they were incredulous. How can I not have read a staple of high-school English class? My answer: private Christian school. We read a different set of novels, and I missed out on a lot of the standards that my public-school contemporaries read (or at least, skimmed the Cliffs Notes). So I finally got around to reading Animal Farm, Orwell’s scathing satire of Soviet Marxism. It was a fun read, and I’m glad to finally fill in this egregious gap in my education. If you haven’t checked it out, it’s certainly worth your time and attention. And remember, kids: four legs good, two legs…better?

A Novel Set in A Country Other Than Your Own: Gates of Fire, by Steven Pressfield. This novel, set in ancient Greece, tells the story of the 300 Spartans (and hundreds of various other Greeks) who defended Thermopylae (the “Hot Gates” of the title) against the invading Persians. The frame of the story is the account of a Spartan squire named Xeones, who survived the battle with grave injuries only to be questioned by Xerxes, the Persian emperor, who wishes to know more about the brave warriors who withstood his advance for days. Through the narrative detailing Xeo’s early life and journey to Sparta and his experience as an outsider living within Spartan culture, the reader gets a fascinating picture of a past culture, as the author explores the themes of the nature of courage and the bonds forged in battle. While I quite enjoyed the story, the consistent presence of “barracks-language” and crude dialogue prevent me from recommending it broadly.

A Book Based on a True Story: The Silence of Our Friends, by Mark Long. This NYT-bestselling graphic novel depicts two families, one black and one white, living in Houston, Texas, during the Civil Rights era. The story, which is semi-fictionalized but based on the author’s experiences, depicts the tensions in Houston surrounding the trial of 5 TSU students accused of shooting a police officer during a protest/riot. The author’s father was a TV news reporter who tried (despite pressures at the station) to present the story objectively. While the book doesn’t present this complicated issue with any sort of depth, it does provide a snapshot of childhood during a turbulent time. I also learned a bit of local history that I had never heard before, which is a good thing.

A Book of Poetry: Jelly Roll, by Kevin Young. Rather than go with something safe or familiar, I tried to stretch a little, so I picked up this book of poems by Kevin Young, an African-American poet and professor of English and creative writing. Jelly Roll, a National Book Award finalist, is a collection of poems inspired by love, loss, and jazz. The jazz element is particularly strong, which meant I had to work a little bit to “get” several of the pieces, but a few of them elicited an audible reaction of “whoo, that’s good” from me. If nothing else, reading this book made me want to write poetry again. Like Young, I love the sound of language, and poetry is a perfect medium for reveling in its music. This collection may not be for everyone, but it was an interesting experience for me.

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That’s all I have this month, as far as the official list is concerned. As I said, I also read a few trade-paperback collections of Captain America comics. One in particular that stood out for me was Fallen Son, a collection of five stories taking place in the wake of the death of Captain America. The writers shaped these stories to represent the 5 “stages of grief,” and the result is a collection of surprising emotional resonance. As I’ve said elsewhere, most of my limited comics-reading are “fun-and-done” but, once in a while, a well-written book grabs my imagination. This one did.

Your Turn: Did you read any good books this month? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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