Help me pick some 2021 reading challenge books.

Our local bookstore has a reading challenge for 2021, one book a month in the following categories:

January: A book by a person who is famous for something other than writing.
February: An author’s debut novel.
March: A book about an animal, any animal.
April: A book about an area of science you know nothing about.
May: A book that’s a prizewinner.
June: A book in translation.
July: A book that’s been banned.
August: A book that’s a retelling of a myth or fairy tale.
September: A classic myster
October: A graphic novel.
November: A collection of letters.
December: A book that’s set in your hometown or state.

So chime in with recommendations for any month, but at the moment, with a week left, I’d love some recommendations for January, a book by a person who is famous for something other than writing.

There are a ton of obvious options here with celebrities and comedians, and if I can’t think of anything better, I’ll probably just read Seinfeld’s newest book. But I feel like there’s got to be a more creative angle.

John Lewis’s graphic novel series March is really good.

Or try this Mycroft Holmes novel

Can this be an epistolary novel, like Cherie Priest’s Lovecraftian novel Maplecroft?

Not sure what you know nothing about, but I really liked Siddhartha Mukharjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies, which is about cancer.

Gregory Rabassa’s translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude is an all-time classic must-read.

If you’re looking for something dense, Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings is a pretty amazing novel about Jamaica, Bob Marley, and the crack epidemic in early 90’s NYC.

That one was good.

The Steve Martin book might be a good candidate also

Dog on It by Spencer Quinn

Detective book with the stories told from the viewpoint of the detective’s dog. I actually listened to the story through Audible and the narrator brought the story to life. The detective specializes in finding missing people and the dog sidekick is a police dog dropout. He excels at helping as only a dog could.

My daughter who does not like to read was glued to this story when I played it on a car trip.

Teddy Roosevelt’s letters to his Children.

I read it a long time ago and he loved his kids very much.

I think all of these fall in the last 30 years.

January: A book by a person who is famous for something other than writing.
I hear Stacy Abrams has some romance novels. It’s not my genre, but it’s a way to support her. I guess there is also a memoir.

February: An author’s debut novel.
It’s not for everybody, but the best debut novel that I’ve read in the last 10 years is Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus. It also fits prizewinner and myth/fairy tale. Comparisons to Ray Bradbury’s work and the Harry Potter world are not entirely off the mark. If you like the first 20 pages you’ll love the book. It’s not for everybody.

March: A book about an animal, any animal.
The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle.

April: A book about an area of science you know nothing about.
Our own @Dave_Perkins has a textbook that develops calculus through problem solving instead of by introducing notation. I hope it’s being used.

May: A book that’s a prizewinner.
Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko is worth the time to read. If you don’t like Night Circus or Pachinko, I can’t help you.

June: A book in translation.
Love at First Bite by Yair Ben Ziony is the story of an Israeli Veterinarian. His experiences in the mideast prior to and after the founding of the state of Isreal. It’s revealing. A contrast with the Kittle reccomendation for February.

July: A book that’s been banned.
Pick pretty much any decent YA tittle and it will have been banned by PTA nutballs someplace. I enjoyed The Fault in our Stars much more as a book than as a self-indulgent film, but then I had teenage daughters when I read it and I’ve been accused of being sentimental. Walk Two Moons is another fantastic YA tittle that misguided idiots have banned. Oh I guess Harry Potter goes here as well. …yeah idiocy is the gift that keeps on giving.

August: A book that’s a retelling of a myth or fairy tale.
My reccomendations are see February and October. My sweetie says Circe by Madelilne Miller.

September: A classic mystery
Winter’s Bone is not just an awesome movie, but an even better novel by Daniel Woodrell. I’m not much of a mystery reader, but the one that I’m married to consistently brings this up as her favorite book ever.

October: A graphic novel.
I don’t know if Eric Shanower will live long enough to finish Age of Bronze his retelling of the Trojan War, but what he has done has been very good. If you have not watched the TV show The Walking Dead, the original Graphic Novel has it’s good moments.

November: A collection of letters.
I got nothing. Sorry. Memoir and that sort of thing is just out of my realm.

December: A book that’s set in your hometown or state.
The bookstore is in North Carolina so I would go with Wiley Cash’s The Last Ballad. It’s a tale of the flight of southern rural people to work in urban centers during the first half of the 20th century.

It’s in South Carolina, but thank you, those are a lot of good suggestions.

Looking down the year so far the only one I’d made up my mind on was to start over on The Three Body Problem in June for a translation. I began that a couple years ago and was enjoying it, but set it down for some other distraction and I think I’ve forgotten enough I need to begin again.

West with the Night, by Beryl Markham. It is amazing.

Born Beryl Clutterbuck in the middle of England, she and her father moved to Kenya when she was a girl, and she grew up with a zebra for a pet; horses for friends; baboons, lions, and gazelles for neighbors. She made money by scouting elephants from a tiny plane. And she would spend most of the rest of her life in East Africa as an adventurer, a racehorse trainer, and an aviatrix―she became the first person to fly nonstop from Europe to America, the first woman to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic. Hers was indisputably a life full of adventure and beauty.

And then there is the writing. When Hemingway read Markham’s book, he wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins: “She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer . . . [She] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers . . . It is really a bloody wonderful book.”

sorry about that…Less strong than Cash’s book, but hitting South Carolina…

Islands by Ann Rivers Siddons has it’s moments.
Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwall. Not for the quesy. Gruesome stuff warning.

Aw thank you. :)

True, true. Best writing I’ve ever read.

And I do hope it’s being used. I see way too many engineers who are whizzes at notation, but can’t problem solve with math.

I hope so too! I keep getting royalties, so it would seem so.

Boxers & Saints is a pair of overlapping graphic novels about the Boxer rebellion and Christian converts in China.

Well I failed way back in January and gave up on this challenge, but my wife and several friends have stuck with it.

A debate erupted this weekend when my sister-in-law Jessica was visiting and discovered the book store hosting this challenge included epistolary novels in their recommendations for November’s prompt of “a collection of letters”.

When I read that category I assumed it meant any published work with the structure of a series of letters, real or fictional, and it didn’t even occur to me there’s a distinction—my wife and my sister interpreted it the same way. Jessica was surprised not only that we would think that, but especially surprised the book store wouldn’t make that distinction. Once she explained it, I understand why the distinction might be useful, but I would still tend to think of an epistolary novel as a specific subset of the description of books that are a collection of letters, she maintains they’re exclusive categories.

She’s probably technically correct, I’m not really interested in pushing one side or the other, but I am curious if anyone else would immediately think to make (or question) that distinction or not.

I am not following……a book comprised totally of letters. Fictional vs True should be two different categories?

It’s is funny because last night I happen to have found an Audible book where J. R. R. Tolkien answered his kid’s letters to Father Christmas. This would be real letters but as a fictional character!

That’s the argument my sister-in-law made, restated, yes. A fictional collection of letters is technically called an epistolary novel (which I don’t disagree with), and that’s by definition exclusive from something simply referred to as a collection of letters (which I’m not convinced of).

I suppose that a fictional book comprised of letters is different in the sense that it was intended to be published by the author whereas a collection of private letters was not intentionally meant for publication. I can see the difference but I do not think most people would care. The fictional version is simply copying the idea for true collections. I am assuming that true collections predated the fictional versions.