My Failed Reading Challenge

So, for 2013 I set myself a challenge of reading 45 books. I failed: I’ve managed to stagger towards New Year with 41 because things like Breaking Bad, Mad Men and sleep kept getting in the way. 

What I thought I’d do though, is reflect back on everything I did manage to read and do a one sentence summary of my thoughts on it- it can’t really be called a review because it’s both too short, too vague and doesn’t really review anything! I did this because I found it weirdly satisfying and because I thought some of you book lovers might genuinely be interested in the ones I recommend; so please don’t think this is a pretentious ‘Oooh look how many books I’ve read post’! I’ve tagged you based on if I remember us talking about books and if I thought you might be vaguely interested, so I don’t inflict this needlessly on people- sorry if I got it hideously wrong!

 I’m going to try the 45 challenge again this coming year, so please recommend me anything you think is great! I always feel like I might stumble upon my favourite new book Neverending Story fashion, but it doesn’t always happen that way…

Note 1: I’ve put asterisks next to the ones I’d recommend most 

Note 2: I may well be hideously wrong in my verdicts here! 

‘The Angel’s Game’ by Carlos Ruiz Zaphon 

A suitably fun and gothic predecessor to ‘The Shadow of the Wind’; what it lacks in depth, it makes up for in thrills. 

 ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’ by Ursula Le Guin 

Charming fantasy made intriguing by by Le Guin’s incredibly clean prose- a light read.

 ‘The Woman in the Dunes’ by Kobo Abe * 

Haunting, surreal and stifling; I won’t even attempt to describe the plot, just be prepared for it to get under your skin and, if you’re anything like me, penetrate your dreams in a truly horrible way. 

‘Les Miserables’ by Victor Hugo *

 Both heart breaking and heart warming; I somehow feel that all the world is trapped within those pages, though I obviously sound like a dick when I say that.

 ‘The Tombs of Atuan’ by Ursula Le Guin 

The second of the Earthsea trilogy and the superior of what I’ve read of them so far; the gloomy setting feels incredibly alive and makes me wish I’d read this as a child so that I could have absorbed this into my fantastical games!

 ‘A Scanner Darkly’ by Philip K Dick

 I usually love Philip K Dick but this fell rather flat for me- though I’m probably being unfair, as I was still suffering from my post-Les Miserables withdrawal! 

 ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

 As fun to read as people being bastards to each other can be – and I guess that can be quite fun. 

 ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ by Thomas Hardy * 

I never thought I’d say this of Hardy, but I wish it were longer: Henchard is such a heartbreaking and interesting character, that I wish I’d gotten inside his head a little more. 

 ‘The Last Day of a Condemned Man’ by Victor Hugo 

 An interesting and moving Les Miserables prototype- infinitely shorter and definitely worth a read.

 ‘The Red and the Black’ by Stendhal

 I wanted to like this a lot more than I did, but I found it rambling and dull- probably worth a read for the dramatic ending though. 

 ‘The Sandcastle’ by Iris Murdoch * 

A perfect example of Murdoch’s shrewd judgement of people: she writes woefully complex characters with such empathy and precision and without it ever being mawkish. 

‘The Call of the Wild’ by Jack London * 

I thought I’d find this awkward to read, seeing as it’s from the point of view of a dog, but it’s so sparingly poetic that you just get sucked in; it’s bafflingly good.

 ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt * 

This is the most perfect book I have ever read; I will not sully it by trying to describe it, just do yourself a favour and read it now! 

 ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro * 

Strangely moving science fiction, despite having to imagine Kiera Knightly’s oddly flat face for an entire novel. 

 ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes 

I can barely remember this book, which either says something bad about me or the novel; though I do remember the edges of the pages were black, which was nice. 

 ‘The Man Who Laughs’ by Victor Hugo

 I cannot hope to review this book justly, as I really wasn’t in a Hugo place when I read it; suffice to say that I get the feeling that I read something brilliant which somehow bypassed me… 

 ‘The Historian’ by Elizabeth Kostova * 

This book was far more in tune with my frame of mind at the time: full, thrilling and gothic to the extreme, it is a really interesting retelling of the Dracula story (despite its slightly rubbish ending.) 

 ‘Eugenie Grandet’ by Balzac 

Though I suspect this is a classic for a reason, I found it incredibly boring; I was probably trying to be clever by reading it, but was in the wrong frame of mind and just ended up punishing myself. 

 ‘The Quincunx’ by Charles Palliser * 

There are two main reasons I enjoyed this book: it has a suspiciously obscene sounding title and it recreates grimy Victorian London in twisty turny splendour! 

 ‘Cat’s Eye’ by Margaret Atwood * 

Bleak but quite beautiful, it explores the profound effects of bullying; a depressing read, but since when has that stopped a story being good?

 ‘The Wasp Factory’ by Ian BanksThis was probably the weirdest book I’ve ever read, and I’ve read some convoluted things – best leave it as that! 

 ‘Interview With The Vampire’ by Anne Rice 

Oh it’s such trash, and I know I shouldn’t love it, but I do; I want to praise its genuine merits, but I’m not sure I’ll be convincing anyone, so I’ll just say that it’s a luxuriously enjoyable read. 

 ‘Pet Sematary’ by Stephen King 

This was genuinely horrifying in a strangely moving way; it suffers from the typical King flaw of terrible endings, but it is brilliantly horrifying until that point. 

 ‘The Book of Human Skin’ by Michelle Lovric 

Very readable trash. 

 ‘Mygale’ by Thierry Jonquet

 I loved the film of ‘The Skin I Live In’ and thought I’d love the book it was based on- I was very, very wrong. 

 ‘The Gunslinger’ by Stephen King 

And so started my Dark Tower run (though I’m still one book from the end); this was a strange and slow start, but it was intriguing.

 ‘The Drawing of the Three’ by Stephen King * 

The Dark Tower Book 2: this was where it all started to kick off and possibly where the inspiration for Jesse from Breaking Bad came from. 

 ‘The Waste Lands’ by Stephen King * 

The Dark Tower Book 3: this was bloody brilliant as King has a really unique take on the whole fantasy genre- no hobbits or elves here, not that there’s anything wrong with those things. 

 ‘The Wizard and Glass’ by Stephen King 

The Dark Tower Book 4: this was a retrospective look at the main character Roland’s youth and if you’re anything like me and fell in love with the character a little bit, then this will be a lovely interlude- otherwise it might bore the pants off you.

 ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter

 I had to read this collection of stories as I am teaching it, but I’m glad circumstance forced me to as she has a lovely way of writing.

 ‘The Wolves of Calla’ by Stephen King 

The Dark Tower Book 5: I felt this one dragged on a bit, but with a series this epic I think it’s probably inevitable that there are moments like this.

 ‘Song of Susannah’ by Stephen King 

The Dark Tower Book 6: I can barely remember this one, probably because I was (and maybe still am) severely OD-ing on Stephen King by this point- probably more a reflection on me than the book!

 ‘Gormenghast’ by Mervyn Peake *

 Peake writes in the most indescribably delicious way, I just want to devour anything he produces; his wonderful words mean there is something to drag in anyone in this not-quite-fantasy, the second instalment in the series.

 ‘The Invisible Man’ by H.G. Wells


 ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ by F Scott Fitzgerald 

This was just really odd – I suspect it was carrying some sort of message which I just failed to absorb!

 ‘The Outsiders’ by S E Hinton * 

Though this does very much feel like it was written by a teenager (which it actually was) it possesses charm, heart and insight. 

 ‘The Woman in White’ by Wilkie Collins * 

This was thrilling gothic fun at its best; the mystery kept me riveted despite its daunting length. 

 ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt * 

While this is no The Secret History, it is Dickensian in scope, riveting in its plot, precise in its writing and a little overwhelming when you look back at what you’ve ploughed through. 

 ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill 

This was a short and fun read, but that was about it – I think I actually prefer the play!

 ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens

 I don’t know why I’d never read this before, but it was festive fun with a lot of heart.

 ‘Stoner’ by John Williams

 Well, Waterstones said it was ‘the best book I’d never read’, and though their ridiculous prices keep me generally disagreeing with anything they say, they were spot on with this one: this is a tale of one man’s life and his missed opportunities and each page had something to move me. 

 Congratulations if you’ve made it this far! Any recommendations in return would be greatly appreciated.

Sara M