My 2017 Book Challenge

Updated October 2nd, 2017

Though most of my posts will be about the process of moving and living abroad, there’s also going to be some more miscellaneous posts, and this is one of them. Last year (2016) I decided to start tracking every movie, tv show, and documentary that I watched, and every graphic novel and novel that I read. It’s been kind of cool, but one thing that I noticed is that I really need to expand the types of books that I read.

That being the case, I went online and found the following checklist to try and diversify. I’ve ashamedly only finished three books so far this year (it’s tough while I’m teaching novels in class to find the time to also read for fun), but it’s a start. There will obviously be a lot of books that fit each category, so I’ll list all the books that fit each category in alphabetical order. I’ll update this post as I read more. Let me know if you have a suggestion for any of the below!

The list, in all of its glory:

  • Read a book originally published in a language you do not know



  • Read a book from the Horror genre
    • Pines isn’t entirely a horror novel, but chunks of it definitely are
    • World War Z, which treats a zombie epidemic more seriously than just about any other piece of media I’ve seen


  • Read a Romance book
    • Romeo and Juliet is, fairly inarguably, the most famous romance story ever told.





  • Read a book written by a woman


  • Read a book in the Science Fiction genre
    • Flowers for Algernon, which I wouldn’t really consider Sci-Fi, is labeled as such due to the premise revolving around an experimental surgery to raise IQ.
    • Pines, though to discuss the finer points of why would be a spoiler
    • Roadside Picnic, which deals with the aftermath of mysterious ships visiting Earth. It’s a very low-key and defacto take on the genre, unlike anything else I’ve read.


  • Read a book in the Fantasy genre
    • American Gods, which is focused around gods, mythology, and mythological creatures living in modern day.
    • World War Z. Do zombies count as fantasy? I’m going to count them as fantasy.


  • Read a book labeled as Young Adult




  • Read a book published this year


  • Read a popular book, with at least 1 million ratings on any one website


  • Read an unknown book, with no more than 100 ratings on any one website


  • Read a book that was turned into a movie
    • American Gods wasn’t turned into a movie, but it was turned into a high-budged premium cable television show (which I’ve yet to watch), wich I think counts.
    • Flowers for Algernon was adapted as Charly in  1968, which won the academy award for best actor
    • Roadside Picnic, which was adapted into the movie Stalker in 1980. It was also the inspiration for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video game series
    • Romeo and Juliet has been adapted fully and “in spirit” many times, most notably in 1968 and 1996.
    • Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet was adapted to film in 1933, though the movie only shares a name with the titular novel- the plots are completely unrelated
    • World War Z was technically turned into a 2013 movie of the same name starring Brad Pitt, but they share virtually zero plot points.


  • Finish a series


  • Read a history book


  • Read a short story, one with less than 5,000 words




  • Read an epic book, one with over 250,000 words


  • Read a self-published book


  • Read a book not published by one of the “Big 6″ publishers
    • American Gods, published by Headline Publishing Group
    • Bigger, Leaner, Stronger, published by Waterbury Publications Inc.
    • Flowers for Algernon, published by Harcourt Publishing
    • Pines, published by Amazon sub-publisher Thomas & Mercer
    • Romeo and Juliet is a play, and was not originally published by the Big 6, because they wouldn’t exist for quite some time…
    • Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet was first published by Ward Lock & Co in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1887, a literary magazine. The same company later published it as a stand-alone novel


  • Read a book published under one of the Big 6 publishing houses
    • Dad is Fat, published by Crown Publsubsidiary subsidary of Random House
    • Roadside Picnic, published by Macmillan Publishers
    • World War Z, published by Crown Publishing, a subsidary of Random House


  • Read a Biography, whether normal, Auto, or Memoir.
    • Dad is Fat, about comedian Jim Gaffigan’s experiences in parenting


  • Read a book labeled as a Best-Seller from this year
    • American Gods has been on the LA Times paperback fiction best seller list for the entirety of 2017, peaking on July 2nd at number 4.


  • Read a book about Politics and/or Religion
    • American Gods, while not a religion book in the sense I think this meant, is about a war brewing between the gods of old and a new breed of gods, so I’m going to count it.


  • Listen to an Audiobook
    • Dad is Fat, narrated by the author, Jim Gaffigan
    • World War Z, which is one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever heard. Each of the dozens of chapters is voiced by a different voice actor, including many quite famous actors



  • Read a book that was, or currently is, banned by a government


  • Read a book in the Thriller or Suspense genre
    • Pines has fantastic tension and plot turns from start to finish


  • Read a Mystery book


  • Read a book labeled as Dystopian


  • Read a debut book from this year


  • Read a book by or featuring a character that is LGBT
    • American Gods has a female character named Sam who dates other women.
    • Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet is thought to be gay, though it’s never directly confirmed or denied.


  • Read a book in the Paranormal genre
    • American Gods has a lot of weird stuff in it, including magic, gods, monsters, zombies, and more.



  • Read a book for the second time


  • Read a book that’s been on your to-read-list for more than a year


  • Read a book that features animals
    • American Gods features many gods that can take the form of animals, including a spider, a hawk, and a jackal.


  • Read a book where the main character goes on a journey
    • American Gods features Shadow and Mr. Wednesday traversing the country recruiting old gods for the coming war. There is a large population of people that attempt to trace their journey, and, since much of the book takes place around where I live in the States, I might try to do the same.
    • Pines has its protagonist, a secret service agent, traveling to a small town in Idaho to investigate the disappearance of two other agents. The book covers his struggles to get home.


  • Read a book where a stranger comes to town


  • Read a book labeled as a Satire or Allegory


  • Read a book from the Self-Help, Health, Travel, or Guide category


  • Read a collection of poetry


  • Read the first book in a series


  • Read a book that won a literary award
    • Flowers for Algernon won the Nebula Award for best new novel in 1966
    • Roadside Picnic has won awards including the author’s induction into the Mark Twain Society for their contributions to science fiction literature, the 1979 Jules Verne award for best book of the year published in Swedish, and the 1981 best foreign language novel at the sixth Festival of Science Fiction Literature


  • Read a book set in your country
    • American Gods takes place throughout the US, with much of it taking place in my home state of Wisconsin.
    • Dad is Fat, about Jim Gaffigan’s experience raising his kids, is predominantly set in New York, and also includes some stories about traveling elsewhere in the country.
    • Flowers for Algernon, set in New York City
    • Pines, set in the fictional Wayward Pines, Idaho
    • World War Z contains stories from all over the world, but about half takes place in the US


  • Read a book not set in your country, but exists today


  • Between the titles of all the books you’ve read, cover the entire alphabet.
    • A B C D E F G I J L M N O P R S T U W Y Z


Short Reviews

American Gods

I’ve heard a lot about American Gods over the years. It’s a book frequently talked about online, one of my friends swears by it, and another friend of mine has one of his arms covered in an American Gods themed tattoo sleeve. Even so, I really had no idea what it was about. Now that I do, as a mythology fanatic, I’m upset that I didn’t pick this up earlier. It’s definitely paced a bit odd in parts, but it works for the story. There are a fair amount of side plots that never really go anywhere or contribute much to the main narrative, but they worked for me. Neil does a fantastic job of creating truly interesting characters that I want to spend more time with, from the “weird uncle” vibe of Mr. Wednesday, to the “stereotypically millennial but somehow still charming” Sam, to a dozen or so others with varying actual narrative importance. I can’t wait to watch the Starz TV show and see the story come to life on the screen.

Bigger, Leaner, Stronger

I’m always nervous about health and fitness books. So many- most, even- are contradictory, full of fluff, and little more than glorified advertisements for their writers brand and other products. That being said, I was willing to give Bigger, Leaner, Stronger a try after reading numerous recommendations on Reddit’s r/fitness. I’m incredibly glad that I did. Mike Matthews book hits the nail on the head for me in a number of ways. First, almost every single perspective and idea presented is backed up by documented studies from known, credible institutions. What little anecdotal evidence isn’t is labeled clearly as such, and not presented as irrefutable fact. Second, it reads easy. Many fitness books are a dull drag to get through, which makes sense since they’re written by trainers and not proper authors. Matthews has a talent with words, and though this is as data-dense as any fitness book this side of Starting Strength, I couldn’t put it down. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the book is very clear in what it wants you to do. I’ve been looking for a a weight program to start getting back in shape on and found it difficult to find a program that’s clear in it’s goals and rationale. The programs for both weight lifting and diet regimens are crystal clear, explained well, and seem to make sense. If anyone at all is interested in fitness and wants a clear program backed by solid science and explanations, this is the first book I’d recommend.


Dad is Fat

I picked this audiobook up since I was going to be making some semi-long distance drives and can’t always get radio reception in the boonies of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Comedian autobiographical audiobooks are generally some of my favorites, as they’re normally pretty good at telling stories. I love Jim Gaffican’s comedy, but I didn’t notice that this book is entirely about his five children, which isn’t exactly what I was looking for. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have any children of my own through which to relate, but I found most of the book fairly cliche and only moderately engaging. There are better memoirs out there if you’re looking to laugh, and I’d assume there are more ooriginal books out there if you’re looking for some tales about parenting.


Flowers for Algernon

I read Flowers for Algernon mostly over the course of just three days, which isn’t something I normally do, but the story is fantastic. Sci-fi only in the lightest sense of the word, the novel follows the fictional journals of Charlie Gordon, a mentally challenged man given an experimental surgery to raise his IQ. Without spoiling anything, author Daniel Keyes does a fantastic job showing how lonliness and desire- for friends, love, acceptance, and fulfillment- plague just about every type of person in different ways. I definitely recommend this book for just about anyone.


Pines (Wayward Pines #1)

I went into Pines completely blind, having never seen the TV show it spawned or read anything about what it was. It came recommended by a few friends with similar taste, and I jumped in right away. Pines, with it’s fantastic pacing and incredibly engaging plot, is the book that I never knew I was looking for. The entire novel I kept thinking that there’s no way Couch could tie everything together in a satisfying, logical way, and was blown away when he did just that. My only gripe, and this is probably my English teacher showing, is that the book is absolutely riddled with incomplete sentences/sentence fragments. Often times paragraphs are just one sentence fragment. I found it very distracting and couldn’t find any logical reason for it.


Roadside Picnic

The first Russian novel I’ve read, this dreary sci-fi novel drips of Soviet-era supression and dredge. Roadside Picnic deserves praise for a unique take on the alien arrival trope. In this story, aliens came and left without ever making contact, leaving behind large zones filled with mysterious objects and properties of physics. Following the story of a man who treks into these zones to salvage tech and scrap, the story is fantastic lense into human nature, suffering, and the longing for something better. It doesn’t folow the traditional pacing or plot structure most are used to, but it is a book who’s subtle emotion grounded characters will stick with you long after reading.


Sherlock Holmes: A Study in Scarlet

Most everybody knows the famous characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but few have read any of their stories. Beyond that, even fewer have read any of the four full-length novels penned by the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Owning a collection of every Holmes story written, I decided that his very first outing would be as good a place as any to start. I will say that the structure of this mystery story is incredibly odd by any traditional standard. While we spend the first half of the story with Sherlock et al investigating as one may expect, from the half way point until the last fifth or so of the book the story completely shifts time and place to tell the story of the murderer and victims involved. It’s odd, but I don’t mind odd, and I loved witnessing the beginning of such huge cultural icons.

World War Z

World War Z is a fantastic example of a book that’s much better than it sounds on paper. There’s no doubt that the zombie genre has been absolutely flooded in most every medium, but World War Z stands out as perhaps the finest example due to a unique, effective narrative structure and depth of plot consideration. Instead of telling the story of a person or group trying to survive in a world overrun, World War Z instead reads as a literary “mockumentary,” with the author interviewing survivors of the titular war after it’s close. The varying perspectives discussed, including Russian soldiers, American K9 units, Chinese submarine rebels, blind Japanese exiles, and many, many more spread out over 58 chapters, intelligently dives into what might realistically happen if the world were to fall to the brink of extinction. With an audiobook recording that surpasses even the paper version, World War Z is worth a listen even if zombies aren’t your thing.

One thought on “My 2017 Book Challenge”

  1. Hmmm….interesting choices. I will have to find a good book that your grandma has read (she’s the fastest reader I know) and send you some suggestions!


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