Category Archives: love books

2013…a reading challenge

My 2013 reads…so far…

I know it’s November, and it’s a funny time of year to be introducing a reading challenge, but this is a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time now.

Back in January, I set myself a challenge designed to get me to read more. Having become thoroughly fed up with my lack of reading over the previous few years, I decided to do something about it and set myself a challenge – to read 12 new books by the end of the year.

Now, I know a lot of you fellow book lovers will scoff at this measly total. “12 books? I read that in a month!” I hear you cry. For some bloggers I know, that’s pretty much what you get through in a week, let alone a year.

Several aspects have conspired lately to stop me from reading. Firstly, I’ve never been a quick reader. Whereas some can plough through a novel in one sitting, it can take me days to read the same book. I can only read in certain environments, too. While I love to relax on the sofa with the TV off and a good book open, my favourite place to read is on a train. But truth be told, since putting my career on hold to work on the Cypress Branches trilogy, I have found my favourite reading time has vanished. I used to have a fairly decent commute in to work, of between 30 and 60 minutes on the bus or tube, there and back – plenty of time to get stuck in. (I’m a bit odd, in the way that I take pleasure from an announcement of a delay, because it means I don’t have to stop reading yet!)

But working from home for the last two years has meant that precious reading time is no longer available. I have a lot of other interests aside from reading, so without that commute, my reading rate plummeted to the extent that I finished just two books in 2012. An appalling record for a bibliophile, and something had to change.

Without the prospect of a daily commute starting again any time soon, I knew that I would have to make changes in my lifestyle somewhere, so inspired by the many reading challenges I read about in the blogosphere, I decided to set myself a simple, but hopefully achievable challenge.

Over the years, I have amassed a large number of unread books (my ability to buy books at a faster rate than I can read them is a trait I know I share with many others!) so I decided some ground rules had to be laid out:

The Challenge Rules

1. Read 12 novels by the end of December 2013
2. All books must not have been read before
3. All 12 books must be by different authors

I didn’t want to set a theme. I have an eclectic taste in books, and wanted to dip into as many genres and styles of writing as possible. I had no real plan, either, and simply pulled a book off the shelf that took my fancy each time I finished one. I wanted to read classics alongside contemporary, sci-fi and lit-fic, light-hearted and heavy. I only bought two new novels this year, too, which means I read more than I bought for once!

So, with some ground rules in place, and a burgeoning library offering up many wonders, I got stuck in to some brilliant reads, and I’m happy to report that with two months of the year to go, I finished my 12th novel a couple of days ago. It’s amazing how a few little changes to your routine can have a dramatic impact on your reading time. A couple of chapters before bed, an hour or two at the weekend, the odd journey here and there, a lazy, rainy day on holiday, all add up and I was amazed at just how quickly I got through my 12 books (yeah, yeah, I know, not that quickly…)

I was also helped by starting a new job which saw me travelling for nearly two hours to and from work once or twice a week, and with the prospect of a new full time job starting soon, I can look forward to even more reading/travelling time in 2014. I can’t wait!

2013 has introduced me to some brilliant (and not so brilliant) reads. I have rated them all on Goodreads, and may try my hand at writing a review or two. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting back into the reading habit and hope to read a few more before the year is out. I’ll probably give the new reads a break for now and re-discover some old favourites. I do love re-reading books occasionally, and there are a few on the shelves I’ve been tempted by, but it was against the rules…

As for next year, I have an idea in mind for a new target. But more of that in January. Right now, I want to get stuck into book number 13…

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Science Fiction covers: A lesson in imagination and simplicity

Two things occured over the past few days which have lead to this post. Firstly, Zohar over at ManoflaBook.com, posted a review of H.G.Wells’ seminal work The First Men In The Moon. Then he went and got my interest piqued with his fun facts and a fascinating look at some of the covers which have been used on the book over the years.

Then, with a house move imminent, I started packing my book library up…a job which I could probably get done in a matter of minutes (what’s so difficult about piling books into boxes?), but has (so far) taken many hours. Mainly because once I get in amongst a pile of books, I can’t help but start opening the damn things.

On the shelves is a collection of mass market paperback science fiction novels which belong to my mum – who is singularly responsible for getting me interested in reading SciFi from an early age. After seeing Zohar’s collection of covers for a singular book, it dawned on me that these books had a fantastic array of weird and wonderful covers, and all of them were surprisingly different. Colourful, dramatic, unusual, menacing, scary, epic. Just some of the superlatives I could use.

The collection is large, but here is a small selection which I have enjoyed being reacquainted with:

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein

Penguin Books reissue, 1981
Probably the most classically “Space Opera” styled cover of the lot, but with a large nod to a certain popular 19th century tale. Citizen of the Galaxy is the story of a young slave who, when his master dies suddenly, leaves the planet he was enslaved on and sets out on a dangerous journey, where he meets a diverse group of creatures and cultures before learning the truth about his own identity. Sound as oddly familiar as the cover looks?…

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Panther Books, published in 1968,  reprinted in 1974
Forget about Will Smith with his shades, leathers, gun-toting and futuristic bike chases. I, Robot is a collection of short stories one of which, “Robbie”, was written in 1940, proving just how ahead of the curve Asimov was. The cover is a triumph in its simplicity. Unlike the busy and bright cover of Citizen of the Galaxy, we’re given a simple glass/perspex head with demonic glowing eyes. Not your typical image of an unruly robot, but enough to send a shiver down your spine at the thought of an automaton gaining its own consciousness. I can thoroughly recommend these short stories, as long as you leave your preconceptions from the film at the door before entering. 

Nightfall One / Nightfall Two by Isaac Asimov

Panther Science Fiction, published 1971, reprinted 1976

I couldn’t resist another Asimov – there were a lot to choose from! Nightfall One and Nightfall Two are another collection of short stories from the master of SciFi. Nightfall itself is one of the most original stories I’ve ever read and has always stayed with me. It’s one of those reads I return to every so often. The covers of the books, though, are bizarre – a kind of plasticine nightmare which I’ve never been able to fully fathom. 

Chocky by John Wyndham

Penguin Books, 1970
One of my favourite SciFi novels when I was a kid, and the one that got me in to all things Wyndham. Probably because it was about a lonely kid with an “imaginary friend” who turned out to be not so imaginary. A great example of Wyndham’s anti-Space Opera style. Still a great book. This cover proves to me that sometimes the most arresting covers can be the simplest. 

Of Time And Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

Puffin Books, 1974, reprinted 1975

And so we end back where we began – with Space Opera. This cover, illustrated by Peter Jones, is very typical of the genre. Note the similarities with the Heinlein cover – the figure in crisis in the foreground, the fantastical space vehicle behind…but this is darker somehow, more sinister. Another great selection of short stories from another master of the genre, Of Time And Stars includes The Sentinel, the story on which the film 2001: A Space Odyssey was based. Well worth a read. 

This is just a selection of covers from the books in my own collection. There are doubtless many other, better examples out there, but these are the ones that get me wanting to pick up and read.

What do you think? If you’ve got others that stand out for you, please point me in their direction.

Happy reading,
Mike