As part of a New Year’s type resolution, I’m taking part in a reading challenge with my super-secret online girl gang. The reading challenge is a list of different suggestions for book topics, with the end goal of supporting each other in reading more and reading different subjects.
Too often I fall into my customary book choices of celebrity autobiographies, grumpy old man mysteries (if the protagonist hero is a bitter lonely alcoholic British Deputy Inspector or Deputy Sargent , jackpot bonus!!!) or, the newest and most embarrassing addition, super specific genre mysteries. These seem to be targeted to a certain sub-sect of single ladies with a minimum of one cat and/or toy-sized dog. For instance: cupcake themed mystery? Check! Small town thread shop owner mystery? Check! Lady P.I. from Wisconsin looking into Wiccan-based crimes? Check! Oy.
Generally, the writing on those genre mysteries is terrible; the gimmick is what draws you in. (Huh, I could probably say the same thing about most celebrity autobiographies.) So it felt like a great idea to stretch myself and expand into the unknown.
But where to begin such an undertaking? How does one pick out a book in a subject or category they know nothing about (and may not be terribly interested in)? So the trick is to try and find something you can connect with.
I decided to tackle the least appealing challenge on the list: a political memoir. Shudder. Politics bores me to tears, and it’s going to be a long painful year of it. Maybe a solid read can help me through this?
I considered reading online reviews to get an idea of what might be a good choice, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to spend my time reading about books I might read. And I’m old school, I need to see a book and judge its cover (yeah, yeah I know what they say about that) to find a good read.
Before I set off, I decide on some basic guidelines for choosing a book. The three steps to choosing a book are:
- Evaluate the cover.
- Peek at the interior or back flap and any author blurbs.
- If the book has passed muster, go ahead and read a few random pages.
With a plan in mind, I set off for the library.
I head to the biography section and start scanning titles. It is mind blowing! Everyone on the planet has written a memoir! (Side note #1: What is the difference between a memoir and an autobiography?) Clearly I should have written a couple by now.
The next topic to tackle is what exactly constitutes “political?” I spy with my little eye a copy of Fairlyand (Side note #2: Probably the best book I read last year) and wonder wistfully if I could just re-read that. I mean, there’s talk of social politics; That should count, right? But I remember the spirit of the challenge is to read outside of your comfort zone, and I pass it up. For now.
I grab a pile of books that look appealing and dive in for a closer look (Side note #3: I’m the only person at the library with a stack of books on their table. It’s all laptops and iPads as far as the eye can see. My pen and notebook seem oddly quaint in this sea of clackety typing).
The first stack I peruse is former Presidential memoirs. Jimmy Carter’s Sharing Good Times seems promising. The cover is cute, and the small size is appealing (Side note #4: I’m very lazy). But a quick peek of the interior flap seems to oversell the life changing potential of 174 small pages of folksy stories. The book seems to be an indulgence, less about politics, more about life lessons.
Next up: My Life by Bill Clinton. Adorned with a smiling, but not smug photo, the book looks clean and simple. The inner flap lays out a pretty straight forward map of territory to be covered, but I’ll be honest, the 957 page count doesn’t tempt me to try a quick paragraph or two to see if it is enticing. It’s just too much book for a subject I’m ambivalent in regards to. (See side note #4).
The next stack has some potential books that might be stretching the “political” of political memoir. Life after Death by Damien Echols has a stylized photo of the author as the cover, the back flap has an assortment of blurbs from people ranging from Johnny Depp to Janet Maslin. I flip through some pages, and the writing is compelling and tight. Ultimately, I decide it’s not really “political” enough to count for the challenge, but it does go on the stack of books I’m checking out tonight.
I peruse the other two books in the “possibly political” pile, My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock and Here Comes Trouble by Michael Moore but discard them. I’d rather find a better option that feels like it fits the description of political memoir without it being such a stretch. Again, the purpose of the book challenge is read outside your regular comfort zone.
The two final contenders have attractive covers. A lot of the political memoirs seemed to have dull colors and drab head shots or stuffy portraits but both Daughter of Destiny by Benazir Bhutto and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass have captivating pictures of the authors, daring you to explore their lives.
Bhutto’s book has a great synopsis, highbrow blurbs and is laid out in easy to read journal entry sections. An added bonus of black and white photos peppering the text lures me in, but ultimately the piercing gaze of Mr. Douglass from the amazing portrait on the cover cannot be ignored.
The story itself seems timely, important and the stilted language of time long past makes me feel this could be a treasure of historical significance, a reminder of what we’ve been fortunate enough to have not experienced first-hand.
I leave the library, triumphant in knowing I’ll soon be able to cross one item off the book challenge list, and fairly confident I’ve found a good read. I’ll let you know….