Great American Read challenge update: Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Reason five billion and eleven (approximately) to love my book group: Because this year, we’re doing a reading challenge based on PBS’s Great American Read — and I’m loving the books I’ve read for it.

For our challenge, we each put together a list of five books (from the list of 100) that we hadn’t read yet, and committed to reading them (or possibly alternates) during 2019. It’s a choose-your-own approach to a reading challenge, and while I don’t usually jump on the challenge bandwagon, this one is low-key enough (and with enough options and room for mind-changing) that I decided to go for it.

My newest read — finished in one sitting on a long flight — is…


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Published 1986


Brian is on his way to Canada to visit his estranged father when the pilot of his small prop plane suffers a heart attack. Brian is forced to crash-land the plane in a lake–and finds himself stranded in the remote Canadian wilderness with only his clothing and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present before his departure.

Brian had been distraught over his parents’ impending divorce and the secret he carries about his mother, but now he is truly desolate and alone. Exhausted, terrified, and hungry, Brian struggles to find food and make a shelter for himself. He has no special knowledge of the woods, and he must find a new kind of awareness and patience as he meets each day’s challenges. Is the water safe to drink? Are the berries he finds poisonous?

Slowly, Brian learns to turn adversity to his advantage–an invading porcupine unexpectedly shows him how to make fire, a devastating tornado shows him how to retrieve supplies from the submerged airplane. Most of all, Brian leaves behind the self-pity he has felt about his predicament as he summons the courage to stay alive.

A story of survival and of transformation, this riveting book has sparked many a reader’s interest in venturing into the wild.

I do love a good survival story, and this one is terrific. Brian is a 13-year-old dealing with his anger and sadness over his parents’ divorce. He may think he’s dealt with traumatic events, but those are nothing compared to what he faces when his plane crashes and he’s forced to face the reality of being alone in the wilderness. He has no idea where he is, although he suspects that the plane veered off-course when the pilot’s heart attack struck. Brian realizes that rescue teams wouldn’t know where to search, and that he may be on his own for quite some time. He can give up, or he can find a way to survive.

Based on his own inner strength, as well as lessons learned from his parents, his reading, and his teachers, Brian finds a way to dig deep, face the immediate dangers of his situation, and find a way to live. With only the clothes on his back and his hatchet, Brian teaches himself to observe, learn, and use the resources around him to get food, make a shelter, and live through each day.

I really enjoyed reading Hatchet. I’d bought a copy several years ago, hoping the subject matter would inspire my son to pick up a book. It didn’t — but it was great to find the copy and finally read it myself.

After finishing the book, I went on Goodreads to learn more, and saw that there are four more books about Brian. Hatchet feels like a standalone (and was probably written that way originally), but I’m curious about the sequels. Have you read any of the other books about Brian? If so, do you recommend them?


As for my Great American Read challenge, so far I’ve read:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  2. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  3. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

(My reaction to the first two books: here)

From my original target list of five, I’ve yet to read:

  1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  2. Foundation by Isaac Asimov

This is fun! I’m having a blast discovering books I probably should have read years ago… and it’s nice to have these books to weave into my reading life, in between all the new books and ARCs staring me in the face constantly.

Have you read many of the Great American Read books? Which do you consider must-reads?

Please share your thoughts!

A children’s classics two-fer: Celebrating Anne (with an E) and the glory of great dogs

We all have gaps in our reading. Classics we never were exposed to, great works that didn’t appeal, kids’ books that just didn’t come our way as children. And while I know reading EVERYTHING is an impossible dream, there are definitely children’s classics that it seems like everyone has read but me.

Of the two I finally read, one had been on my radar for years, and one was a more recent addition to my TBR. This year, my book group decided to do a reading challenge inspired by PBS’s Great American Read, where we each put together a list of five books (from the list of 100) that we hadn’t read yet, and committed to reading them (or possibly alternates) during 2019. A pretty low-pressure challenge — which is my kind of challenge!

My list of five that I committed to in January:

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  2. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
  3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  4. Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  5. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

As of this week, I’ve read two of my five! So I thought I’d share some thoughts and reactions.

First off, I read Anne of Green Gables (originally published 1908) earlier this month… and adored it.

As soon as Anne Shirley arrives at the snug white farmhouse called Green Gables, she is sure she wants to stay forever . . . but will the Cuthberts send her back to to the orphanage? Anne knows she’s not what they expected—a skinny girl with fiery red hair and a temper to match. If only she can convince them to let her stay, she’ll try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes and blurting out the first thing that comes to her mind. Anne is not like anyone else, the Cuthberts agree; she is special—a girl with an enormous imagination. This orphan girl dreams of the day when she can call herself Anne of Green Gables.

Finally, I understand why so many people are passionately devoted to Anne! What a lovely, entertaining, charming story. Anne herself is a delightful character, full of curiosity, imagination, and a gift for inspiring those around her. I loved this journey from 11-year-old girl to a more mature young woman at the start of her teaching career. The writing is absolutely winning, especially Anne’s long monologues and flights of fancy.

A few choice (brief) bits:

“Will you ever have any sense, Anne?” groaned Marilla. “Oh, yes, I think I will, Marilla,” returned Anne optimistically. A good cry, indulged in the grateful solitude of the east gable, had soothed her nerves and restored her to her wonted cheerfulness. “I think my prospects of becoming sensible are brighter now than ever.”


“Don’t be very frightened, Marilla. I was walking the ridgepole and I fell off. I expect I have sprained my ankle. But, Marilla, I might have broken my neck. Let us look on the bright side of things.”


“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?”

Consider me a new-found fan! I will definitely be continuing with the Anne series. I’m hooked!

Next, I read Where the Red Fern Grows (originally published 1961).

For fans of Old Yeller and Shiloh, Where the Red Fern Grows is a beloved classic that captures the powerful bond between man and man’s best friend.

Billy has long dreamt of owning not one, but two dogs. So when he’s finally able to save up enough money for two pups to call his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he’s ecstatic. It’s true that times are tough, but together they’ll roam the hills of the Ozarks.

Soon Billy and his hounds become the finest hunting team in the valley. Stories of their great achievements spread throughout the region, and the combination of Old Dan’s brawn, Little Ann’s brains, and Billy’s sheer will seems unbeatable. But tragedy awaits these determined hunters—now friends—and Billy learns that hope can grow out of despair.

This is a sweet story about a boy and his dogs — which, granted, probably would not be published without controversy today, but given its time and place, is a powerful and often uplifting read.

There’s an emphasis on loyalty and devotion to family, and Billy and his family epitomize a commitment to living a good life despite harsh times and limited means. Billy works for everything he gets, including his beloved dogs, and his family supports him every step of the way. Little Ann and Old Dan are the quintessential good dogs, perfectly devoted to one another and to Billy.

Yes, I could have done without the hunting for sure. And yes, that’s a big part of the story. But I can’t get too hung up on it either. I appreciate this book for what it is, focusing on the love between Billy and the dogs. It’s quite lovely in parts, and there’s something very quaint and moving about seeing the world through Billy’s innocent eyes.

(There’s also more religion and prayer than I’d normally appreciate — but again, this is part of Billy’s character and belief system, so ultimately I’m okay with it.)

I wonder whether today’s generation of kids would find anything here to relate to. Much as the Little House books are still loved despite their more problematic aspects, I’d imagine that there’s still a place in children’s literature for books like Where the Red Fern Grows. I’m glad I read it! Despite the pieces of the subject matter that don’t appeal to me as a person, I really did love the beauty of seeing the world from Billy’s perspective and the beauty of the relationships between the family members and between the people and animals.

I’m so glad I read both of these books! And while I’m overloaded with new and upcoming releases at the moment, I’m really excited about reading more from my challenge list as well.

The 2013 TBR (To-Be-Read) Pile Challenge

Well, this sounds like a fun one! The Roof Beam Reader blog is hosting the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, and I think I’ll jump right in!

Roof Beam Reader

The goal is to make a list of 12 books that having been sitting on your bookshelves for longer than a year — and commit to actually reading them — FINALLY — in 2013. This sounds perfect for a book hoarder like me… just can’t help myself when it comes to used book sales, and consequently, my shelves are full to bursting with books that I still haven’t read. To qualify, only books published prior to 2012 are eligible. Books can be read in any order, and two alternates are allowed (in case one of the 12 turns out to be soooooo not my thing…).

Drumroll, please! My list for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge:

1) Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell (complete 4/3/2013)

2) The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde (completed 7/3/2013)

3) Affinity by Sarah Waters

4) Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (completed 7/3/2013)

5) Incendiary by Chris Cleave

6) Mariana by Susanna Kearsley (completed 1/14/2013)

7) Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir

8) Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson

9) Horns by Joe Hill

10) The Camel Bookmobile by Masha Hamilton

11) An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

12) Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn (completed 2/5/2013)


1) Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

2) Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Of course, it’s awfully hard to commit in advance. I have two Susanna Kearsley books and two Sarah Waters books that I want to read — is it cheating if I swap later on?

Good luck to everyone participating in the challenge! Happy reading in 2013!

Is there such a thing as too much reading?

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 140 books thus far in 2012 — although to look at the stacks, piles, and bags of unread books sitting around my house, you might reasonably assume that I’ve done nothing all year but twiddle my thumbs. Occasionally, I feel like this:


Side note: If you Google “drowning in books”, you get a few images like the one above, and then lots and lots of references to books in which there is a drowning. Sometimes, I feel like Google just doesn’t get me.

So returning to my 140 books… let’s bear in mind that you might not consider all of these “real” books. I upped my goal for the year pretty drastically once I realized how many graphic novels I’ve been consuming. So far in 2012, I’ve read all of Buffy season 8, all of the Fables volumes to date plus some of the one-offs, the Jack of Fables series, some of the Locke & Key series, and a bunch of stand-alones. Roughly put, I’d say about 40 – 50 total. Now subtract from my total the kids’ books that I’ve read aloud to my son, and I’d put my “real” total somewhere around 70 or 80.

Why ask if it’s possible to read too much? Several reasons. First and foremost, I wonder if it’s possible to retain that much material, when there’s so much new data entering my reading brain on a daily basis. The answer, I think, is probably not. Sure, I could give you a description a sentence or two in length about just about anything I’ve read in the last few years. But ask me about plot details, chronology, character names, or other nuances, and I’ll probably draw a blank. This actually comes up quite a bit in my house. My husband will end up reading a book that I read six months or a year earlier and will expect me to be able to discuss details with him. When I give him a vacant stare or shrug my shoulders, he’ll usually respond with a snide (but deep down, kind of loving, I’m sure) comment about me losing my memory faster than he is. (Only funny if you’re aware of the fact that he’s 20 years older than I am. Sorry, off-topic and a bit TMI). What I keep reminding dear husband is that in the six months or year since I read the book, I’VE READ 50 MORE BOOKS! That’s hundreds of characters, plot points, funny quotes, and unusual locations to keep track of!

This probably has a lot to do with my reluctance to get involved in series or trilogies, especially if they’re currently unfinished. I loved reading the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher, which I picked up after the sixth and final book was published and read straight through, beginning to end. Likewise, with A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, I read books 1 – 5 pretty much without stopping. That’s the way to do it! No lapses, no time in between books for facts and figures to be overwritten by extraneous information from bunches of other books! When I read a book, no matter how great, and then have to wait a year or more for the sequel, chances are I won’t remember it as well as I’d like, in which case I can either a) re-read the first book (as I did with A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night this past summer), b) wing it and figure enough will come back to me as I read the new book (which tends to be my approach with certain ongoing series like the Sookie Stackhouse books or the Dresden Files, or c) realize that the details aren’t sharp enough for me to truly care what happens next, shrug my shoulders, and decide to skip it (as was the case for me with the sequels to The Strain — that book scared the bejesus out of me, but by the time book two rolled around, I was over it and didn’t bother reading any further).

My second reason for asking if it’s possible to read too much? Well, I suppose it’s just a “stop and smell the roses” sort of thing. Am I reading so much, so fast, trying to get through so many books, old and new, that I rush instead of savoring? Am I really tasting each bite before I swallow? (Is that kind of a gross metaphor?) Perhaps I should take more time, read more carefully, wallow in the sensations, admire the deft turns of phrase. I think I enjoy the books I read. I think I get quite a lot out of my process of reading. I can’t really imagine slowing down. But I do wonder if I’m denying myself the pleasure of a slow read in favor of reading everything in sight. We shouldn’t gobble our food; is it a good idea to gobble up our books?

The final reason for my question gets back to Goodreads and all the various reading challenges that seem to have proliferated in recent years. In this age of reading as social media event, has reading become a competitive sport? Read a title for each letter of the alphabet, read an author for every letter, read every book on a Great Books list… the number and variety of challenges out there in the blogosphere are seemingly infinite. When did we start worrying so much about meeting goals? Is this a form of peer pressure? Keeping up with the Joneses? In one of my online book groups, there was a debate about whether certain types of reading “counted” toward an annual total. Counted as what? Real books? If I can hold it in my hands and turn the pages, it feels pretty real to me (and okay, yes, I acknowledge that e-books are real too; not completely dissing technology over here). But isn’t it a bit weird to stop and think about goals and totals before deciding to read a book? If I want to re-read a 1,000 page book, shouldn’t I just go ahead and do it, without worrying about scores or keeping up? Granted, this is partially just my own dormant competitive streak coming to the surface — I’ve never been the slightest bit athletic, never felt compelled to run races or set swimming records, but reading is something I’m actually good at! Can I get a gold medal in fiction reading? Please?

So here I am again, back where I started, wondering if I do, in fact, read too much for my own good. I don’t have any answers. I know that reading brings me joy and satisfies my intellect, emotions, and curiosity in ways that nothing else does. But would I enjoy more if I read less? I’m not sure that I actually want to find out.