Way back in January I set myself a target of reading 30 new books in addition to specific literary tasks/challenges. Now that we’re so close to the end of 2019, I thought I’d take the time to look back over my 2019 reading challenge to determine whether it was a success or a failure. I’ve got quite a few books on my TBR list for next year and I’m currently drafting a 2020 reading challenge. Add Christmas to the mix and it’s safe to say that although I’ll be plowing on with whatever I’m reading right now, I won’t be finishing anything or ticking off any more challenges from this list. Here’s the list again and some information on if/how I completed the various challenges.
- A Shakespeare Play You Haven’t Read Before (FAILURE)
It’s not good to start this list with a failure but I never even attempted this one. I absolutely adore reading (and watching) Shakespeare but I found I just didn’t have the time to read anything by him this year, old or new. 2019 was a year I got distracted by Philip K. Dick and Agatha Christie so poor Will just didn’t get a look in. I still have so many Shakespeare plays to read so I’m definitely going to carry this task over to next year’s challenge.
- A Book You Read a Long Time Ago (SUCCESS)
For this one I went back to a guilty pleasure of mine, the Sweet Valley High series which I discovered and devoured as a child in the 90s. There are over a hundred SVH books in addition to the spin offs Sweet Valley Kids and Sweet Valley University, but I chose the book that kick started the franchise and introduced us to identical twin protagonists, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, Double Love. Jess is the bad twin, Liz is the saintly one and it was so much fun revisiting the warring sisters as they fight over Todd Wilkins and hang out with Lila Fowler, Enid Rollins, and the rest of the SVH gang. I’ll definitely be revisiting them in 2020.
- A Book with Time or Day in the Title (SUCCESS)
For this one I found a book called Time Travelling with a Hamster. The title was so intriguing and I love time travel narratives so I thought this would be a good read. The fact that the eponymous hamster is called Alan Shearer just made me laugh so much that I knew I could tick a challenge off my list with this one. I’ve been reading a lot of time travel narratives this year but this one sadly couldn’t match the other novels I’ve read in 2019. Al is the protagonist whose father died before the narrative begins and the story is basically Al’s attempt to prevent his death by using a time machine to visit his father in the past. A promising beginning gives way to dullness and repetition. On the whole, it’s a solid read, but there are too many niggles with this one to make it really worth recommending.
- A Book by a Local Author (SUCCESS)
I toyed with several different books for this one as I had to decide exactly what I meant by local; someone from my town, my county, my area of England? Who knows? I still haven’t properly decided. I thought about author’s including Frank Cottrell Boyce but, May Sinclair, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Frances Hodgson Burnett. I did actually read a book by Burnett but that was for another challenge (more about that later). Instead I discovered I’d achieved this one without even meaning to after finishing The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. An intriguing idea but sloppily executed; a murder mystery with a twist that fell short. It’s overly long and quite tedious in places with bland characters, but the climax feels very rushed. A strange mix of ideas and genres that doesn’t quite work.
- A Book That Was Originally Published In A Language Other Than English (SUCCESS)
I read Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan earlier this year which was originally published in French. It translates as Hello Sadness in English but isn’t as miserable as it seems. Published when the author was just 18, it’s arguably a piece of juvenilia (more about that later). The novella follows a summer in the life of 17 year old Cecile, her playboy father, his mistress, an old family friend, and Cecile’s new lover on the French Riveria . It’s a seductive, sensuous, wistful, and at times, rather intense book but I really enjoyed it.
- A Novel Based on a Real Person (SUCCESS)
For this challenge I intended to read Michael Bishop’s novel, Philip K. Dick is Dead, Alas, which promises to be just as outrageous as a lot of Dick’s work. Dick is of course giant of science fiction, penning titles including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, The Man in the High Castle, and the phenomenal Ubik. For one reason or another I barely started the book (another one for next year) but I did read the fantastic The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn. Time travel and Jane Austen. How could anyone not enjoy that? Fortunately Flynn’s writing style and her tight plot match up to the amazing concept as time travellers, Liam and Rachel find themselves transported centuries back to Regency England in order to retrieve a lost manuscript of Jane’s. There’s time travel, a clash of cultures, romance, and even Jane herself. I just loved it. It’s one of my favourite reads this year. Promises of a Brontë sequel from the author has left me very excited.
- A Collection of Short Stories (PARTIAL SUCCESS)
I’ve read quite a few Poirot novels this year. You just can’t beat Agatha Christie; she’s still the Queen of Crime. I wanted to try a few of the short stories featuring Poirot too which were published around the novels. I couldn’t decide which collection to read so I bought the entire collection of Poirot short stories. As I didn’t devote much time to this until fairly recently, I failed to realise just how many stories there are and how long it would take me. Consequently I’m only half way through them but I’m chalking this one up as a success due to the fact I’ve read more Poirot short stories than you’d find in a normal collection.
- A Book That You Haven’t Read Before Because You Find It Intimidating (SUCCESS)
I intended to read John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress because I’d built up an idea of it in my head as being very heavy going with complex old English. However, after starting it, I realised just why it’s been considered as a children’s book, and why it’s been a feature of Sunday School education. I haven’t finished it yet because it’s very repetitive, probably due to its pedagogical nature. I do still want to complete this one but in order to complete this challenge, I turned to the Ancient Greeks, something which has always daunted me. After reading the Penguin Little Black Classics edition of Ovid’s The Fall of Icarus I’ve realised that some things just aren’t for me and Greek mythology falls into that category. I was, quite frankly, bored to tears and it was a chore to get through this little edition. The layout is a little problematic too; no breaks anywhere leaving it one long text where the myths come thick and fast one after the other making it virtually impossible to understand what is happening to those unfamiliar with ancient Greek literature.
- A Classic of Children’s Literature You Haven’t Already Read (SUCCESS)
For this one I chose to read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (who could technically be considered a local author). It’s criminal that I hadn’t ever picked this one up before. It’s a cherished children’s classic and with good reason. It’s such a charming read as we follow sullen orphan Mary Lennox from India to the Yorkshire moors, and with the help of local boy Dickon, she awakes along with the garden of the title. There are themes of rejuvenation and regeneration which seem like magic, but are actually incredibly natural. I really can’t describe how delightful this book is. It’s truly the product of a bygone age, but with characters learning to acknowledge and appreciate the natural world around them, it feels strangely modern.
- A Piece of Non-Brontë Juvenilia (SUCCESS)
My obsession with the Brontë juvenilia has introduced me to works and authors I would never have discovered such as Ethel Turner and Barbara Newhall Follett, as well as the childhood writings of celebrated authors such as Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf. This year I managed to read the above discussed Bonjour Tristesse and I also began The Journals and Poems of Marjory Fleming by the child author Marjory Fleming. Sadly, I didn’t finish this one but I intend to do so next year.
- A Piece of Brontë Juvenilia You Haven’t Read Before (SUCCESS)
Not surprisingly I’ve read a few more more of Charlotte Brontë’s short stories this year which are set in her fantasy world of Glass Town. I’ve not had a lot of spare time for Branwell’s contributions to this world but I intend to rectify that next year. Two Romantic Tales is a hand-sewn booklet which is signed “C. Brontë” and dated April 28th 1829. The manuscript contains two tales written by Charlotte: A Romantic Tale (or The Twelve Adventurers) which was written on 15th April 1829, and An Adventure in Ireland. I read both of these short tales for the first time this year. They’re the origins of the Brontës’ fantasy world and contain information on the famous twelve toy soldiers and their role in shaping this world. Here are the links to my posts on these for further information. Two Romantic Tales by Charlotte Brontë -Part One: The Twelve Adventurers and Two Romantic Tales by Charlotte Brontë -Part Two: An Adventure in Ireland.
- A Brontë Biography You Haven’t Read Before (SUCCESS)
I’ve actually read three Brontë biographies this year and I’ve enjoyed them all so much. First up was Nick Holland’s Aunt Branwell and the Brontë Legacy which documents the life of an overlooked figure in the story of the Brontës, their Cornish Aunt, Elizabeth Branwell, who provided Patrick with much needed support following the deaths of his wife and two oldest children. Click here for my full review. There’s some speculation in there but there always will be when trying to piece together the life of a seemingly unimportant figure in her own lifetime.
I also read what seems like a companion piece to this one, the first biography of Maria Branwell Brontë, mother of the Brontë siblings, The Mother of the Brontës by Sharon Wright. Click here for my full review. As she was sister to Elizabeth, there is some repetition in the information provided. However, Wright makes clear that Maria was in fact more than the mother of the Brontës; she was also a daughter, a sister, a niece, a wife, a friend, something of a charming society belle, and a writer. By penning Maria’s biography, Wright has revived and revised Maria’s story, not only for a new generation to marvel at this brilliant, kind, charming woman, but in order for it to continue in the shape of her legacy, a legacy that will hopefully feature more prominently in the story of the Brontës. Finally, I read Charlotte Brontë before Jane Eyre by Glynnis Fawkes, a unique take of the lives of the siblings which is part graphic novel, part biography. Click here for my full review. Ultimately though, Fawkes’ book’s greatest success is not merely in exploring the lives of the siblings, using Charlotte as a focal point, but demonstrating that they did not merely sit down one day and decide to become authors. Fawkes’ book highlights the fact that there was actually a Before Jane Eyre, and that there is more to Charlotte’s life and works than one novel (no matter how fantastic it is.
- A Piece of Brontë Inspired Fiction You Haven’t Read Before (SUCCESS)
As much as I love the works of the Brontës, I also love discovering works inspired by their writings and lives. I’ve managed to get through quite a few titles this year and I’ve enjoyed most of them. I’ll skip detailed reviews and provide the links for further information. I’ve read We Wove a Web in Childhood by Cally Phillips, a play based on the Brontë juvenilia which you can read more about by clicking here. It’s an interesting play, but it borrows too much from the actual juvenilia to feel like an original piece. It’s really co-authored by Phillips and the Brontës but they aren’t credited. Another title I read was Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit by DM Denton. It’s a fictional account of Anne’s final years, however, there is a healthy dose of the other Brontës which will please Brontëites. After a slow start, it turned out to be a lovely read. You can read my review by clicking here.
Next up was The World Within: A Novel of Emily Brontë by Jane Eagland. It’s marketed as Young Adult fiction due to the fact that it depicts a teenage Emily but I’m not sure I’d market it in that way. It’s an easy read which I enjoyed more than I thought I would. It does play fast and loose with certain Brontë facts and events, but it is a work of fiction so I guess that’s allowed. Following this is Mr. R: A Rock & Roll Romance by Tracy Neis which is a re-telling of Jane Eyre which re-casts Mr. Rochester as an ageing rockstar and Jane as the young nanny who is hired to watch the daughter of one of Mr. R’s drunken bandmates. I enjoyed this one and it kept me entertained on my morning train ride to work. Click her for my review. Last but not least, I read the short and sweet Brizecombe Hall by Catherine E. Chapman. It’s a pleasant Jane Eyre inspired read with just a hint of Agnes Grey and likeable characters that could have easily gone on for longer. You can read my review by clicking here.
Success or Failure?
There’s only one task on here that I completely failed and that was poor old Shakespeare. On the whole, I think I did rather well with my 2019 Reading Challenge. Creating this list certainly expanded my reading as I normally stick to certain time periods and authors, and I’m glad I read so much this year. Additionally, I also completed by Goodreads challenge of reading 30 new books this year, actually finishing 39. For those who are interested, here is the list of books and my ratings.
Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick – 4 stars.
Mary Ventura and the Ninth Kingdom by Sylvia Plath – 4 stars.
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan – 4 stars.
Aunt Branwell and the Brontë Legacy by Nick Holland – 4 stars.
We Wove a Web in Childhood by Cally Phillips – 2.5 stars.
The Simulacra by Philip K. Dick – 3 stars.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie – 5 stars.
Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case by Agatha Christie – 5 stars.
Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit by D.M. Denton – 3.5 stars.
The ABC Murders by Agatha Christie – 5 stars.
Transformation by Mary Shelley – 3 stars.
The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie – 5 stars.
The World Within: A Novel of Emily Brontë by Jane Eagland – 3 stars.
Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak – 4 stars.
One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence – 4 stars.
Brizecombe Hall by Catherine E. Chapman – 3.5 stars.
Mr. R: A Rock & Roll Romance by Tracy Neis – 3.5 stars.
Valencia and Valentine by Suzy Krause – 5 stars.
Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence – 4 stars
Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford – 2.5 stars
The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn – 4 stars.
We Can Build You by Philip K. Dick – 3 stars
The Big Four by Agatha Christie – 3 stars
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett – 4 stars
Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs – 4 stars
Death in Dark Glasses by George Bellairs – 4 stars
Girl with a White Dog by Anne Booth – 4 stars
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – 2 stars
The Mother of the Brontës by Sharon Wright – 4 stars
The Case of the Famished Parson by George Bellairs – 4 stars
The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch – 3 stars
Toll the Bell for Murder by George Bellairs – 3 stars
Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie – 4 stars
Art and Grace by Catherine E. Chapman – 4 stars
The Lost Ones by Anita Frank – 3 stars
Charlotte Brontë Before Jane Eyre by Glynnis Fawkes – 3.5 stars
The Underdog by Markus Zusak – 4 stars
The Fall of Icarus by Ovid – 2 stars
Dispel Illusion by Mark Lawrence – 3.5 stars
In Loving Memory by Bob the Bichon.
A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
Thanks for reading. I’d love it if you stopped by The Journal of Juvenilia Studies where you can read my essay, “Autobiography, Wish-Fulfilment, and Juvenilia. The ‘Fractured Self’ in Charlotte Brontë’s Paracosmic Counterworld”.
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