At the beginning of this year, for the first time ever, I decided to set myself a reading challenge. Last year I read 32 books, so I figured a target of 35 books for 2016 was realistic.
Unfortunately, I had some trouble at first (I’m still in a “finish every book you start” phase, for reasons I’ve gone into a while ago. This is a view I’m finally starting to reconsider, because I’m not getting any younger and life is too short to read books I don’t like. Anyway.)
Until last month, I was a whopping seven books behind schedule. Incredibly, I turned this around in a little over a month – I even read four books in eight days – so now I’m bang on track. Yay me.
Anyway, seeing as I’m halfway through my reading challenge and it’s also halfway through the year, I thought it fitting to share the high points of my journey so far.
1. Stephen King – 11/22/63
This is probably my favourite book I’ve read so far this year.
The premise is implausible, I’ll give you that. A diner owner finds a tunnel to the past and convinces someone he barely knows – high school teacher Jake Epping, the novel’s main protagonist – to travel back to 1963 in order to prevent JFK’s assassination. By killing Lee Harvey Oswald, no less.
But the story is so well-executed that the premise becomes a minor qualm. I found the cast of characters to be well-rounded and very relatable; and Jake Epping’s arc to be incredibly engrossing. Parts of it were so moving they almost had me in tears – whilst on the fucking tube at rush hour, no less. Imagine that, huh?
Needless to say, this isn’t the kind of book you’d expect from the writer best known as America’s bogeyman. And as far as I’m concerned, it proves once and for all that he’s far from being the hack or one-trick-pony many critics insist he is.
2. Dennis Lehane – The Given Day
Being on the writing staff for The Wire is enough to make Dennis Lehane awesome in my book. That he also happens to be an excellent novelist is a bonus.
The Given Day is the first instalment in the Joe Coughlin trilogy, but the main protagonist of this book is actually his older brother Danny – a beat cop and reluctant union leader who also happens to be the son of a prominent career policeman with strong ties to the political establishment.
Based primarily in 1919 Boston, it’s a gritty, unflinching look at a country struggling to come to terms with race, workers’ rights and differences in political opinion. In a way, it’s a testament to how far along we’ve come. At the same time, some of the issues raised seem to be so topical today it’s hard not to question whether we’ve advanced at all.
3. John Caples – Tested Advertising Methods
I’ve already written at length about how awesome this book is; and also shared some of the many lessons I’ve learned from it, so I wont repeat myself here.
Written back in the 1930s, it’s still so relevant today it’s uncanny. Whether you’re after a primer on writing copy that sells or are a more advanced copywriter looking to sharpen your skills, this is essential reading.
4. Duff McKagan – It’s So Easy: And Other Lies
I’ve read all three ex-GNR members (well, not so ex now) autobiographies; and it seems to me that bassist Duff McKagan’s book is the most cogent and objective of the lot.
It helps that McKagan is a fairly gifted writer in his own right; and that he wrote his book all by himself. Because Slash and Steven Adler’s books were ghostwritten by professional writers, they’re a lot more sensationalistic and salacious.
Unusually for a rock and roll biography, McKagan steers (mostly) clear of the sex, drugs and rock n’roll cliches and chooses instead to focus on personalities. This may be disappointing for those looking to read about gory details, but great for those like me who are more interested in learning about how what was once the most dangerous rock band in the world imploded. He also comes across as an intelligent, down-to-earth and self-aware guy, which is quite refreshing.
5. Stephen King – Mr Mercedes
2016 has been the year Stephen King made a comeback into my life after a long stretch where I lost interest, and he did it with a bang. I’ve read 5 Stephen King novels so far; and two of them made my top five.
Not bad, old chap.
The first novel in a trilogy, Mr Mercedes is King’s foray into hardboiled detective fiction, a genre I happen to love. The story is fast-paced, retired police detective Kermit William Hodges – the book’s hero – is likeable (albeit a tad two dimensional) and Brady Hartsfield is an appropriately evil genius. Good fun.
What have you been reading so far this year? Anything you’d recommend? Sound off in the comments below.