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My 2016 Reading Challenge

by Maria
My 2016 Reading Challenge

My goal every year since 2015 was to read a book every two weeks, which basically amounts to 26 books a year. This noble goal was inspired by Mark Zuckerberg, who came out with the idea of an annual reading challenge back in 2015 as his new year’s resolution. His challenge was more focused on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies; mine is more focused on whatever is intriguing to me at a certain time.

I love to read – whether it’s books, newspapers, journals, whether I read for information, curiosity, learning, amusement, or just want to be transported into other worlds, i.e. Lord of the Rings. However, books are more intellectually fulfilling, in that they allow you to deeply immerse yourself in a certain topic in a characteristically unique way, as opposed to other mediums.

Unfortunately, since I’ve been doing this reading challenge, I have not been able to read 26 books a year. So far. And until now, I kinda’ had a good excuse. Kinda’. But now that grad school’s over, there’s theoretically nothing in my path stopping me. Except for maybe movies. And laziness.

And with that said, here are the books I’ve gone through last year, and some of the books I plan to read in the near future. I’m also laying out which ones I loved, which ones I hated and which ones I’m ambivalent about.

Disclaimer: Rest assured, not giving away any plots. The article is spoiler free.


The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1) & The Infinite Sea (The 5th Wave, #2) by Rick Yancey. 

The 5th Wave is a trilogy of young adult post-apocalyptic sci-fi novels written by American author Rick Yancey. Think Hunger Games or Divergent. I certainly did. They were very popular this time last year, and the first movie was coming out as well.

Apart from the post-apocalyptic and sci-fi genres, it has very little in common with either its predecessors. The plot lacks credibility and is at times completely senseless and that romance feels both unwarranted and gratuitous. And while Hunger Games or Divergent are also part of the young adult sphere, it’s obvious that they were meant for a tad more mature audience. Not moving on to the third book of the trilogy.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. 

It was a recommendation by one of my favorite professors at the time when the topic in one of our classes segued to the introversion/extroversion spectrum. While the course was about marketing and creativity, I used the book to understand more about the topic of introverted-ness and how it applies to me. I am, unashamed to admit, an undeniable introvert.

Susan Cain delves into the psychological aspect, as well as the real world implications of introversion, compares it to the opposite end of the spectrum – extroversion, and also dispels many myths associated with it. And she does it in a way that’s easily readable and understood, in case you are put off by the psychological part of the book. She also has a website that complements the book and where she and other introverts talk extensively about the topic.

Me Before You (Me Before You, #1) by Jojo Moyes.

Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons herself, posted the trailer for the movie adaptation on her Instagram, which made me pick up the book. If you’re compelled to dismiss it because it’s just another romance book, don’t. It tackles issues well beyond the romance itself and the catalyst for the romance itself is unique, as is the plot development.

Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry.

I’ve got mixed feelings about this one. Inspired by the author Maureen Sherry’s real-life experience as a former Wall Street Managing Director, the book is about a wealthy Wall Street insider who “reveals what it’s like for a working woman to balance love, ambition, and family in a world of glamorous excess, outrageous risk-taking, and jaw-dropping sexism.”

The details about her job on Wall Street and her experience there is fascinating, and while the sexism and other issues might seem unbelievable to some, I can totally see them happening. It’s also unique due to the character’s pretty accurate, insider description of the 2008 financial crisis. It also touches upon the lifestyle of Americans who either got rich themselves or were groomed to be rich.  However, I truly couldn’t understand or relate to some of the decisions she was making, to the point of plain annoyance. And it wasn’t just the plot, the writing felt messy and poorly connected at times, jumping from scene to scene exactly when you wanted to find out more.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes.

Memoir by successful producer Shonda Rhimes of Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and other popular shows. A die-hard introvert workaholic who wasn’t taking advantage of all the good things her life (and lifestyle) had to offer and couldn’t give a speech to save her life, had an epiphany and decided to change her lifestyle and say “yes” to all the invitations and opportunities that came her way. Shooing away her fears, she discovered herself in the process and her life became more fulfilling.

She also candidly describes her personal and professional life before, during and after “a year of yes.” The writing is very distinct, she talks about personal issues, career, industry, feminism, being a successful woman and African-American at the same time, in a very refreshing way. The writing will probably seem familiar to you if you watch her shows. Check out her TED talk before you decide to give the book a try. Highly recommend.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem.

One of the many books feminist icon Gloria Steinem has penned. The book had just launched at the time and I kept hearing about it online and especially from Emma Watson due to her efforts with the HeForShe campaign. I’m a bit ashamed to admit how little I knew about Gloria Steinem at the time and how unaware I was of her achievements in regards to the women’s movement. The book tells the story of how her childhood and her parents have shaped her life personally, as well as an activist, and how it has led to her constantly on-the-road lifestyle. She also talks about important events that have shaped the feminism movement, though not in a particular order.

Pretty Happy: Healthy Ways To Love Your Body by Kate Hudson.

A book about Kate Hudson’s lifestyle, what makes her happy and how she takes care of herself. Basically what she’s learned over the years, mainly how to listen to her body in terms of what it needs, understanding herself and being honest about her goals and desires. It’s a very light and positive read, with plenty of photos.

There’s actually a pretty funny story to how I ended up reading this book. One day last year I wandered off to the huge Barnes & Noble in Union Square as a treat after one of my exams to hunt for a new book. Okay, I admit, and some cute decorations. While passing by the first stand near the entrance where gazillion copies of this book were displayed (the book had just launched), this creepy looking dude comes up to me and says in a “I just smoked some weed” way:

Creepy Dude: You know this book just came out and it’s really good.

Me: Oh, ya? Good to know, thanks.

Five more minutes later, on the second floor:

Creepy Dude: You know you should really buy this book, it’s good.

Me: Oh… okay… Sure, I’ll take a look. (This is really awkward. Leave me alone.)

A few more minutes later, third floor:

Creepy Dude: You know, I’m not trying to be weird or anything, but the book is really good. Also, Kate Hudson is signing autographs upstairs.

Me: Oh… really? (Ya, right, of course she is. How do I get out of here?!)

Long story short: turns out she really did have a book signing upstairs, where people were waiting in line for a photo and autograph. So I grabbed a copy and went for it too. If the book wasn’t any good, it would at least make for pretty coffee table decor. She’s gorgeous up close too, by the way, if you had any doubts. Also, by the time my photo session with Kate ended, Creepy Dude was being detained by two security guards and as I passed him he was very pleased to notice her book in my hands and I thanked him for the tip. Also turns out he was her stalker, and he was well beyond his first transgression.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 & 2 by John Tiffany.

This is more or less the screenplay for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play that was in theaters in London last year. Before attempting to read it, you should keep in mind that it’s a screenplay, and written as such, it is not penned by J.K. Rowling, and it’s not meant to be a continuation of the Harry Potter universe.

I should probably say that I loved the Harry Potter books, read them all, seen all the movies and grew up with the phenomenon. So you better understand when I say that I hated this book. Yes, you’ll be reunited with the old, beloved characters from the Harry Potter books, so there will be some nostalgia there, but the plot doesn’t make sense, new characters don’t make sense and old characters behave in a way that’s not credible, given what we already know about them. Also, there are some plot twists that don’t add up if you know how some things worked from the previous books.

Flash-uri din sens opus by Marian Godina.

The author is a traffic cop and Facebook phenomenon in Romania, at a time when a lot of people are not very fond of police, especially the traffic ones. His popularity grew due to his funny, on the job, moral stories on Facebook and he penned this book last year incorporating some of these stories and some new ones, as well as giving us a glimpse into his time at the Police Academy. It’s a quick, enjoyable read – funny and insightful at the same time, and if you know how some public institutions work in this country, you’ll be happy to find out that not everyone gets away with corruption.

Cum s-a românizat România & De ce este România altfel? by Lucian Boia. 

The literal translation for these next two titles are How did Romania become Romanian and Why is Romania Different? by historian Lucian Boia. Both these books are pretty short and to the point, and I’ve read them in an effort to understand how Romania developed the way it did and what is the source for some mainstream ideas and mentalities that are unique to my country.

How did Romania become Romanian focuses on the role of minorities and how they shaped not only our culture but our infrastructure and our economy as well, and their reaction to communism and the politics of the era. The timeline involved is the 1800s and up. It gave me an insight on when, where and how our nationalistic mindset stems from and why we still hold it today.

Why is Romania Different? is an extended essay met with some controversy, with some people accusing the author of pro-EU partisanship. The author more or less compares the social and political development of Romania and its timeline, to other countries and their timeline and points out the unique characteristics in Romania’s development, the good ones and the bad, and why some of these characteristics led to the way we think and behave today. Think corruption.

Both books are well argued, full of references and statistics.

Mari enigme ale istoriei by Pierre Bellemarre.

History’s Greatest Enigmas happened to be laying around the house when I wanted to do some light reading. It takes on some of the enigmas of the century, some extremely well-known such as the Bermuda Triangle and the monster of Lochness, and some less known, and breaks them down and explains how and why they became such, and debunks each one. Some of the so-called enigmas are interesting, and well analyzed and argued, while others were the complete opposite as if the author got bored or was not enjoying the topics. In the well-analyzed cases it does offer more insight than a simple Google search, so it’s an overall all right read, but nothing extraordinary.

Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst.

A book about rejection, its roots and how it can impact us and our relationships long after it’s over. I was inspired to read it because of the author’s experience with it, and her understanding that it can come in many forms, and less by her love affair with God, of which I’m not very fond of in general. Unfortunately, I’ve underestimated the latter. Still a good book, just had to skim through all the Bible passages and feel-good quotes.

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown.

I would have loved to have read this book when I was fresh out of college going to grad school. Or fresh out of high school going to college. This is actually the book’s intended audience. Full of tips and tricks on how to manage your life, from rent, furniture, food, to family and relationship advice, to on-the-job advice. Although the book’s bits of advice didn’t fully apply to me, it was entertaining enough to keep me going, and hey, some pieces of advice never really get old.


Hope you found my reading challenge inspiring! Which books are you currently reading? Do you have any new book recommendations?


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