A Challenging Read

I took a challenge recently, and it paid off.  READING WITHOUT WALLS  is a worldwide call to all readers that’s pretty simple.  Just read a book out of your comfort zone and see where it takes you.  My chosen book took me to Mars.  The Martian is a 2014 book written by Andy Weir.  Here’s more about this amazing tale and the challenge that inspired me to try it.

READING WITHOUT WALLS has three parts:

1. Read a book about a character who doesn’t look or act like you:  Mark Whatney, the main character in The Martian fills this bill.  He’s male. I’m female. He’s in his 20’s.  I’m…well, let’s just say I have a few years on him.  He’s a botanist, an engineer, and an astronaut.  I’m an English major who works in a school library.  As different as we are, I grew to love this character.  Long story short, Mark is stranded on Mars after an aborted space mission.  His training, his intellect and his “never give up attitude” helps him survive the unforgiving planet for more than a year.  But his final rescue comes about through the herculean efforts of his fellow man.  Their actions fill him with pride and love for the human race.

“If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search.  If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood.  If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies.  This is so fundamentally human that it’s found in every culture without exception.  Yes, there are assholes who just don’t care.  But they’re massively outnumbered by the people who do.”


I took the READING WITHOUT WALLS challenge. Will you?

2. Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about:  Space travel, NASA, EVA suits, chemistry…I know little of these subjects.  But I learned about them and so much more.  Heck, I now know the basics of making water (mix two parts hydrogen with one part oxygen.)  Weir’s clear writing and humor make the science clear and even entertaining.


3. Read a book in a format you don’t normally read for fun (a chapter book, a picture book, poetry, or an audio book): I fell somewhat short in this regard.  The Martian is a novel which is my go-to format for pleasure reading.  It is, however, a genre I rarely grab–science fiction.  This challenge reminded that a good story is a good story, no matter how, where, or why it is written.

READING WITHOUT WALLS is the brainchild of Gene Luen Yang and the Children’s Book Council.  Go here to learn more.

BONUS BIT: Three other book’s I’ve read that challenged me and opened my eyes:

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, 2008:  This sweeping novel taught me about Afghanistan and its history.   I can now associate real places and people with this country that is so often in the news.  Plus Hosseini’s storytelling is superb.


Honey Bees: Letters from the Hive by Stephen Buchmann, 2010: This non-fiction book kindled a passion in me for honey bees and the food they produce.   I now keep a jar of honey in my pantry at all times.

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin, 2012: This book detailing the build up to the atomic bomb was fascinating.  It’s a real-life story that reads like a movie script.  Hollywood take note.

QUESTION:  Care to share anything you’ve read that was out of the ordinary?  I’d love to hear!

An Unsavory Topic or Is It?

Death has been a fixture in my life lately. I attended the traditional Catholic Mass and burials of a beloved aunt and uncle.  I went to a unique memorial service for a co-worker’s son who loved country music.  It was held at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.  And I attended my first open-casket funeral for a neighbor’s daughter.  The daughter was my age, so this last one really hit home.  My reading life of late is mirroring this trend.

A Man Called Ove by Frederick Bachman, 2012

Post format:  Connections

Many of my posts feature books dating back decades, at times centuries. But A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is on USA Today’s best seller list.  Some might question its popularity. The title character is a world-hating curmudgeon whose wife has died.  He attempts suicide repeatedly to reunite with her.  Then a family in need moves in across the street.  Before it’s all over, he’s helped them and everyone else in the neighborhood.  I grew to love Ove and you will too if you read this one-of-kind book.

Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen, 1934

While driving out of my older neighborhood, I spied a roadside sign that read “Estate Sale!  50 Years of Stuff!”  I found the address and went.  But I felt like a trespasser the minute I entered.  A lady from a bygone era had lived here.  A dining room cabinet held beautiful crystal glasses. Chintz draperies covered the living room windows and matched the fabric on the couch.  When I wandered to the back bedroom, her dresses still hung neatly in the closet.

Is this how it all ends, I thought.  A lifetime’s worth of possessions on display for strangers to pick through?  Then I entered a small room off the main hall.  It was filled with books. Suddenly I no longer felt intrusive. Surely this lady was a reader who would love others to enjoy these books.  I bought a stack. And wouldn’t you know a few of them feature death as a theme. Seven Gothic Tales is a short story collection by Isak Dinesen published in 1934.  The first story, The Deluge at Normandy, was so complex and beautiful that I read it twice.  In it four strangers are stuck in the upper reaches of a barn during a terrible flood.  During their night together, we get to know these characters and their back stories as they await rescue. But death is rising to meet them in the dark floodwaters.

“As if they had been four marionettes, pulled by the same wire, the four people turned their faces to one another…’How will these people do to die with?’ the castaways of the hayloft asked themselves. “

The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen, 1845

Children’s literature isn’t free of death.  Fairy tales are full of it.  I reread “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen recently. As a child, I remember being horrified and heartbroken at the ending of this tale in which a poor, unwanted girl freezes to death after her last match goes out.  But reading the tale as an adult, Anderson’s intent became clearer.  This child loses nothing by leaving this world, rather she gains entry into heaven “where there was no more cold, no hunger, and no pain.”

From Sunset to Dawn by Leslie R. Smith, 1944

Lastly, I found a book at the estate sale written for those grieving.  It is a Wartime Book published in 1944.  In From Sunset to Dawn, Leslie R. Smith weaves his own observations about dying with quotes from some of the world’s greatest thinkers: Longfellow, Tennyson, Henrik Ibsen, Elizabeth Barrett Browning to name a few.  My own mortality and that of my loved ones has been on my mind, so I marked helpful passages. But I was most comforted by the words of a Christian theologian who studied among the greatest minds of science and philosophy in the ancient world.  Death is only the beginning, he said.

“Christ changes all our sunsets into dawns.” –Clement of Alexandria (150-215 A.D.)