Author Topic: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)  (Read 3090 times)

Mister Six

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2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« on: February 01, 2021, 04:18:46 PM »
Who's up for a bit of a reading challenge? Annoyed at my failure to read much even in a pandemic, I've decided to do one of those Goodreads challenges and get through 40 books this year. And I thought it might be fun for anyone else doing the same to discuss their progress on here.

You up for it? Choose any number of books you'd like to read this year and share your thoughts once you've read them (or as you read them) on here. t the very least you might discover some books that you might otherwise have not learned about.

I've gone a bit bonkers this year and read a bunch of books already, though that includes comic book collections and audiobooks. Here we go:

The Doors of Perception/Heaven and Hell (Aldous Huxley, 5/5)
AKA Aldous Huxley gets off his tits on mescaline. Some people have written this off as listening to your tripper mate wax lyrical about getting high. Well, yeah, if your tripper mate had a beautiful writing style, an encyclopaedic knowledge of renaissance and modernist painters and could make some really fascinating connections (however questionable) between art, spirituality and religion.

Dune (Frank Herbert, 4/5)
Dryly written, weirdly structured and weighed down by drab protagonists, this sci-fi epic about warring fiefdoms on a seemingly barren, monster-cursed planet really ought not to have worked for me. But Herbert's worldbuilding is incredible, his ideas - a curious mix of pseudoscience, spirituality and environmentalism - compelling and his villains grotesque enough to pull me through. Really good stuff. Shame about the homophobia though.

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life (Steve Martin, audiobook, 5/5)
Weirdly, Martin's delivery on this audiobook is really flat and dry. Maybe it's because of the writing, which is frequently elegant and carefully structured. Maybe it's because he got sick of performing to crowds he couldn't see. Never mind: this is an essential book for anyone with even the slightest interest in the art of comedy and what it takes to build success. Three quarters of it are about his pre-breakthrough days, and how he honed his craft. The last quarter is a staccato spiral of unhappiness as Martin's success strangles the pleasure of performing itself. Dry but very funny. Great stuff.

All the Names (Jose Saramago, 1/5)
Cunt won a Pulitzer, somehow. Maybe his other works are better, but this meandering road to nowhere seems to rely wholly on Saramago's contrived writing style (stripping out punctuation and paragraph breaks, but not going the full stream of consciousness, leading to a book with essentially conventional prose but an overwrought presentation) for effect. it's peppered with little aphorisms, some of which amused me but most of which seemed to think they were smarter than they were, and there's the odd nice turn of phrase, but there's not really much here. Fool's literature.

Rogan Gosh: Star of the East (Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy, 5/5)
A brilliant, bizarre, psychedelic mini-masterpiece from Milligan in the height of his postmodern pomp, with swirling, hallucinatory art by Brendan McCarthy. Indian restaurant waiter Raju Dhawan and lovesick loser Dean Cripps find themselves lost in a land of eternal reincarnation, hunted by a karma vampire, searching for enlightenment without knowing it. I've been haunted by McCarthy's art ever since SFX did an interview with him about 25 years ago, but for some reason never thought to look him up. More fool me.

Interior Chinatown (Charles Yu, 5/5)
A brilliant, genre-mashing look at what it means to be Asian in an America that thinks race ends with black and white skin. On one level it's about protagonist Willis Wu, a jobbing actor usually stuck in background roles as Generic Asian Man and occasionally Chinese Waiter, hoping he can one day reach the height of Asian-American TV acting: Kung Fu Guy. But his story bleeds into meta-narratives (presented as TV scripts) in which the characters of the cop show he occasionally performs in (sexy, intense black male detective and sexy, by-the-book white female detective, of course) spring to life and begin to debate their own value as representations of America. It sounds wanky, but it's really, really funny and touching, and a very swift read.

Astrophysics For People in a Hurry (Neil deGrasse Tyson, audiobook, 4/5)
I know Tyson's kind of an annoying twat on Twitter, but as a popular science writer and audiobook performer, he's great. Audiobook maybe isn't the best way to read this, though - it's such a dense collection of facts, dealing with so many abstract concepts, that it's probably best pored over at length on the page.

Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2021, 09:48:48 PM »
I've gone a bit bonkers this year and read a bunch of books already, though that includes comic book collections and audiobooks.

Listening isn't reading.

DO you just choose any books or do you have to do that thing where 1 is by a Scandinavian author, another is by a dead author who you haven't read before etc?

Mister Six

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2021, 10:10:52 PM »
Semantics aren't interesting.[1]

I just plump for whatever takes my fancy. Mostly I'm trying to get through the big pile of second-hand books I splurged on a while back, but I'm also picking up stuff my friends are reading on Goodreads.

There's a good app called Libby that lets you get ebooks and audiobooks from your library straight to your phone or Kindle. Dunno if it works for UK libraries, but you could investigate.
 1. Except when I want to talk about them, obviously.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2021, 09:50:39 PM »
I have Goodreads and I tick off every book I read on there but I've found that trying to actively keep count and reach a certain number results in me tailoring my reading choices, ie passing over longer books or those that I suspect might be more heavy-going, etc, boosting my stats with photobooks or poetry or novellas (I guess I'd read all of those those anyway, but it feels like a cheat).

I see that in 2019 I read 45 books (average length 421 pages) and in 2020 I got 48 (average length 414 pages); six weeks into this year I've finished four and am 400 pages into the 900+ of the Warhol biography that came out last year so it'll be a good fortnight before I'm done with that.

To be fair if you can count books I read for the kids at bedtime I'm easily on 200+ a year.

What frustrates me about Goodreads, though, is that the recommendations are still a bit pants. You read James Ellroy, Jonathan Lethem and Colson Whitehead? Check out the latest in "American fiction" from Danielle Steel!

Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2021, 11:43:57 PM »
I have Goodreads and I tick off every book I read on there but I've found that trying to actively keep count and reach a certain number results in me tailoring my reading choices, ie passing over longer books or those that I suspect might be more heavy-going, etc, boosting my stats with photobooks or poetry or novellas (I guess I'd read all of those those anyway, but it feels like a cheat).

I've found something similar; it ought to be based on how many pages you read, rather than how many books, as that would encourage me towards books that I want to read more of before putting them down. 50 pages/day of a 400 page book ought to count for more than 30 pages/day of a less engaging 200 page book, but the latter will score you about 10 more books over the course of a year.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #5 on: February 07, 2021, 03:08:34 AM »
Hum, that's an excellent point. I'm putting off reading Alan Moore's 1,200-page behemoth Jerusalem to make it a treat for finishing my target of 40 books, but if the challenge were to read X pages, I'd probably have started off with that (although at the end of the year you do get a tally of the number of pages you've read - or "read", as audiobooks are judged by the length of their written equivalent).

I suppose gameifying intellectual engagement is daft however you do it, really, although it has got me back into prose books after a (highly regrettable) dry period that's lasted me about 15 years.

So what have you lot been reading, then? Give us your reccs/warnings!
« Last Edit: February 07, 2021, 04:05:31 AM by Mister Six »

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #6 on: February 07, 2021, 07:00:08 PM »
I've gotten back into doing this as well, having read basically nothing last year. I used to do Goodreads challenges of daft amounts, which I achieved by including single issues of comics, or those shit Penguin Ladybird parodies. This year I've set it for thirty and, like some of you in here, that means trying to clear some of the doorstoppers in my collection. First up is Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light, and then I also have been putting off Moore's Jerusalem for years now. Time to face it.

I've also set myself the side challenge of trying to read more works my non-white authors and female authors, and non-white female authors.

So far this year, with a mix of audiobook, Kindle and hard copy books on the go, I've gotten through a lot of books from the kind of lists put together for white people after Black Lives Matter. I've had Renni Eddo-Lodge's Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race, David Olusoga's and Afua Hirsch's Brit(ish) sitting around for ages, so I've finally got around to them. But I've also bought and read some others, including Akala's Natives, essay collection The Good Immigrant and In Black and White by Alexandra Wilson.

Wanting to branch out with fiction, my first book of the year was Candice Carty-Williams' Queenie, which was great - like Fleabag, just unashamedly about somebody struggling against their own self-destructive tendencies. Lots of people on Goodreads missing the point and complaining that the protagonist dares to make decisions that are bad for her own wellbeing. "Why is she mooning after abusive racist guys?" Because life isn't simple and nor are people. We've all done absurd and demeaning things in the pursuit of romance. In this and some of the non-fiction I've read, it's been interesting to read about the added racial dimension to those experiences, faced by black women. Having to put up with fetishisation, or repeatedly going to bat for a partner who never has your back when it comes to your identity.

I'm now reading Nikesh Shukla's Coconut Unlimited,  about a group of Asian lads in a private school in Harrow forming a hip-hop group to try and deal with their inbetween status - treated by their fellow students with the casual racism you'd expect, but also being viewed by other Asian people as posh, and 'white on the inside' due to their school. So far it's good fun, and reads very accurately to the teenage boy mindset I remember.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2021, 01:27:49 AM »
Ooh, Coconut Unlimited, Brit(ish) and Natives sound interesting - I've jotted them down on the list. Candice Carty-Williams' appearance on the Adam Buxton podcast was interesting, and I think she mentioned getting some questions about her protagonist's terrible choices on there, so it's something she's aware of. I quite like books with fucked-up protagonists sometimes, so hopefully it won't put me off too much.

Currently reading Watching the English, an anthropologist's look at British behaviour that I picked up years ago but never got around to getting through; Sorry I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come, a very funny Yes Man-type book in which an introverted woman tries to force herself into becoming an extrovert by doing a series of increasingly challenging things; and the audiobook of Room to Dream, David Lynch's life story in which each chapter is divided into a more traditional researched biography by Kristine McKenna and then Lynch's own rambling recollections of the time. Audiobook version highly recommended - McKenna's an awkward orator, but Lynch is mesmerising, especially when talking about a childhood spent watching his father kill various forms of wildlife, trying to burst decomposing cows, and encounter with a nude woman in the street near his home.

Here's the other stuff I've read so far this year...

That's Your Lot (Limmy, 3/5)
Big old collection of short stories, each one intentionally ending abruptly. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Not as funny as I remember Daft Wee Stories being, but he's got a knack for making even the most daft characters and absurd actions seem psychologically plausible.

Surprisingly Down to Earth and Very Funny (Limmy, audiobook, 5/5)
Limmy's autobiography, presented as a jumble of barely ordered recollections, anecdotes and observations. Funny and disquieting in equal measure, and brutally honest. Quite heartwarming along the way too. His delivery on the audiobook is brilliant, of course. I think it might be a 4/5 for the plain old text version.

Dune: Messiah (Frank Herbert, 3/5)
The sequel to Dune is less haphazardly structured, and still full of brilliant worldbuilding and fantastic concepts, but feels like a bit of a drag. The shift from vast intergalactic subterfuge to court intrigue with a smaller cast comes as a bit of a relief in a way, but means we have to spend even more time with the glum, fretful protagonists staring into the middle distance and thinking really, really hard, and they're all stuffed to the gills with such superhuman abilities - precognition, hyper-intelligence, five-dimensional philosophical insight - that they're bloody hard to empathise with. Also, the book spends hundreds of pages on Paul's angst over the ghastly empire he's created and the fearful future he must walk towards, without explaining quite what would be so terrible if he just told fate to do one and pissed off into the desert with his missus.[1]

Animal Man Volumes 1-3 (Grant Morrison and various artists, 5/5)
I forgot how bloody good this is, but it's best read as one whole in fairly swift order than as discrete volumes some time apart, as it really does tie together brilliantly into one satisfying whole. Every plotline that seems random or dropped is addressed by the end. It's superb. Also a really good introduction to Morrison's work, if you're interested but unfamiliar.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 5/5)
Picked up the original paperback edition which advertises itself as THE NEW NOVEL FROM THE NOBEL PRIZE WINNING AUTHOR, which is taking the piss because it's barely more than 100 pages long. Not that it should be any longer - it's a flawless little gem, recounting a single grisly murder from the points of view of those in the village in which it happened, using that one event as a way to tell the stories of the various villagers. It's absolutely brilliant, and I'll be getting onto the rest of his books later this year.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (Philip K Dick, 3/5)
I do like PKD, but novels aren't really his forte. This is a good case in point: a novel with enough material for several short stories, bursting with so many ideas that it kind of pulls itself apart towards the end. Is it about reality vs simulacrum? The need for religion in our materialist society? The nature of God? The tyranny of the corporate-government complex? Knowing who we really are? Appreciating what we have? Predestination, and how to escape it? Nature vs nurture? The dangers of self-medication as an escape? Well, it's about all of those things, which ultimately means it's about none of those things. Good fun while it lasts, and plenty to chew on, but ultimately unsatisfying. Great title though.
 1. ALSO what the fuck is it with the Fremen, a group so obesessed with water that they render bodies down for their fluids and refuse to cry even a single tear, sending the blind off into the desert to die? That bit makes no sense and feels absurdly contrived.

Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #8 on: February 08, 2021, 09:28:26 AM »
I just write down what I read in an exercise book, but I was also finding myself choosing shorter books. Hmm, I'd think, If I read this PG Wodehouse then I will have filled up a page before the end of the month. Madness. Like God would be impressed or something.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #9 on: February 08, 2021, 11:15:29 AM »
I used to use Goodreads but it annoyed me, so I moved on to a computer file where I would write my thought on everything I read. When I couldn't be arsed with that, I got an app called summarise where you can keep track of what you're reading.

Mister Six

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #10 on: February 08, 2021, 03:30:27 PM »
I just write down what I read in an exercise book, but I was also finding myself choosing shorter books. Hmm, I'd think, If I read this PG Wodehouse then I will have filled up a page before the end of the month. Madness. Like God would be impressed or something.

Proper belly laugh.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #11 on: February 08, 2021, 03:40:45 PM »
Mostly I'm trying to get through the big pile of second-hand books I splurged on a while back

Good luck getting the pages apart. 

Wanting to branch out with fiction, my first book of the year was Candice Carty-Williams' Queenie,

I hayyyted that book. 

Lots of people on Goodreads missing the point and complaining that the protagonist dares to make decisions that are bad for her own wellbeing. "Why is she mooning after abusive racist guys?" Because life isn't simple and nor are people.

It’s not really that, it’s more that the protagonist is so downright horrible.  She goes flitting and shitting around being completely self-centred and pathetic but then it doesn’t matter because she’s mental.  Err, ok.  Her supporting characters were a bit problematic too, the Jewish character is a cartoon princess (she’s even a money lender ffs) and her ‘hilarious’ best friend is a stereotypical gold-digger.

All of the above would be forgivable if the book was well written but it’s not.  It’s written in a really flat, ploddy style which is very easy to read but has no beauty or vision. 

While I was reading it I kept having idle thoughts about the panel at Hay or Cheltenham looking at the author and going “yes that would liven things up a bit.”  I pray it’s not the case. 

I’m still quite happy getting recommendations from book clubs and I’m still enjoying the short / weird books so I’m using this reading list for inspiration:

Book Riot odd book list

And this anthology which is too massive to work through start to finish but good for dipping in and out:

The Weird

This short story for example is really impressive:

Replacements by Lisa Tuttle

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #12 on: February 08, 2021, 05:37:00 PM »
Book Riot odd book list

Ooh, nice I saw The Teleportation Accident in a bookshop years ago but didn't look into it, so thanks for the reminder!

And that sticky pages gag was great, thanks for the laugh.

Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #13 on: February 11, 2021, 11:08:08 AM »
Having a baby and no commute into work has really thrown off my reading over the past year. I'm very slowly muddling through Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd, but I have a couple of slim volumes coming up that I hope will get me back into the swing of things (Piranesi by Susannah Clarke and Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, which is virtually a pamphlet).

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #14 on: February 12, 2021, 02:54:18 AM »
Ooh, I've got Piranesi on my to-read list. Strange & Norell just looked like too damn much (although less so after finishing Charlie Kaufman's Antkind) so Piranesi seems like a good way to check out her style in a bite-size lump.

And the blurb is great:

Quote
Piranesi's house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands upon thousands of statues, each one different from all the others. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house.

There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #15 on: February 12, 2021, 11:01:12 AM »
I have Goodreads and I tick off every book I read on there but I've found that trying to actively keep count and reach a certain number results in me tailoring my reading choices, ie passing over longer books or those that I suspect might be more heavy-going, etc, boosting my stats with photobooks or poetry or novellas

I agree. I did it for a few years (aiming for roughly a book a week) and I did "cheat" a little in the way you described: reading a play or poetry book instead of a novel in order to keep up with the book-treadmill.

That said, this ended up being a good idea because I know too little about drama and poetry.

Looking at the numbers, the moment I stopped doing the yearly challenges, I stopped reading as much per year. Setting the target was a good incentive to read more in total.

So in the end, I still recommend it to others... 

In fact, since we're only in February right now, I'm going to spontaneously start the "2021 Challenge" on Goodreads - my first one for 3 years.

If anyone else wants to, then sign up for Goodreads and use this link to accept the challenge yourself: https://www.goodreads.com/challenges/11650-2021-reading-challenge



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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #16 on: February 12, 2021, 11:00:29 PM »
Ooh! Keep us[1] up to date with how you get on. I'd love to read some reviews and recommendations (or scratching criticism, as appropriate).
 1. Me.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #17 on: February 13, 2021, 01:22:30 PM »
Thanks - feel free to add me here: https://bit.ly/3dbxHvY  (same to anyone else)

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #18 on: February 14, 2021, 12:02:53 AM »
good idea! i've made myself a little list (not counting comics) used to read a lot more, but i really struggle these days, especially with non-fiction. i hope this will motivate me, i want to get back to philosophy

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #19 on: February 14, 2021, 12:44:49 AM »
Kudos on reading Buddenbrooks in the original German

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #20 on: February 14, 2021, 10:04:20 AM »
Kudos on reading Buddenbrooks in the original German

?? I don't speak German

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #21 on: February 14, 2021, 12:21:26 PM »
My mistake. I meant the first book in the list, which shows a title in German.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #22 on: February 14, 2021, 04:13:05 PM »
good idea! i've made myself a little list (not counting comics) used to read a lot more, but i really struggle these days, especially with non-fiction. i hope this will motivate me, i want to get back to philosophy

Nice! I've nicked a few of your books for my own list.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #23 on: February 14, 2021, 04:19:38 PM »
Thanks - feel free to add me here: https://bit.ly/3dbxHvY  (same to anyone else)

Cheers - have done so!

If anyone wants my Goodreads page, drop me a PM.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #24 on: February 15, 2021, 12:41:55 AM »
Last year was the first time in a few years that I didn't do a Goodreads challenge. Largely because I imagined I'd be getting back into work, moving to a new city and hopefully having a social life again, so my reading would take a bit of a knock on the head. How I lolled in hindsight. I didn't bother this year, for the same reason. Also because I kind of prefer to read without any deadlines hanging over me. I actually managed 100 a few years ago, which was when I had a stack of books of various genres and lengths. Last year I only managed 39, despite lockdown, but almost half of those were over 700 pages, so had I gone for a bunch of shorter ones it could have been far higher. Which I suppose highlights the ridiculousness of the idea.

At the moment I'm back on my Doctor Who novels, which can of course be followed in the Old Doctor Who thread over in Picture Box. At one point I was working through them at a rate of one every two or three days, but since I joined TVChaos I've had such a huge load of things I want to watch that reading has taken a bit of a backseat. Plus, I prefer paperbacks to ebooks, so I'm only able to grab one, on average, every couple of weeks. In the meantime I have a few other books in waiting which aren't part of any particular series, but most of them are Dickens which aren't going to increase my reading rate much given their length.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #25 on: February 15, 2021, 12:57:11 AM »
What's TV Chaos? Their website is oblique at best.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #26 on: February 16, 2021, 10:40:39 AM »
A torrent site for UK TV stuff.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #27 on: February 16, 2021, 04:15:31 PM »
Ooh. I'll keep an eye on that.

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Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #28 on: February 20, 2021, 07:26:29 PM »


feels good man

I think it actually works (Limmy: "it aKtuly weRKZ") because I feel this constant nagging voice of this dialogue box when I'm not "on track"

Re: 2021 reading challenge (Goodreads or whatever)
« Reply #29 on: February 26, 2021, 02:45:05 PM »
I always set myself the (never attained) goal of 100 books, only managed 66 last year and I've only read 5 so far this year so I'm somewhat behind schedule. I've got about a dozen half-finished books of so-and-so's 'Complete Essays' that are perpetually in the Currently Reading pile as well. I can never breeze through them, I vastly prefer fiction

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