I participate in the Goodreads reading challenge mostly to keep track of the books I read in a calendar year. Why that’s important, I don’t know. At this point in life, I guess, I like to take note of the few challenges I can actually accomplish. Now that I’ve ruled out paddling around the world in a dugout canoe.
My goal this year was 52 books: one a week. I achieved that today when I finished “The Furious Hours” by Casey Cep. Last year, my goal was 40 books — and because then I was showing off as a brash contender, a kid out of nowhere, I almost doubled it by finishing 79.
This is how I roll: set the bar embarrassingly low, and then boast about clearing it with two feet of air.
Lest anyone think I’m an intellectual, the kind of man who reads Nietzsche and Proust for fun, I should point out that my reading leans toward crime fiction, a genre in which the pages turn easier because the stories tend to be plot-driven.
Also, they tend to be shorter. Although length can be deceptive. For example, it took me a month to get through “Moby Dick” even though it’s a hundred pages shorter than “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” which I finished in about three days. The longest book in the known universe may be “War and Peace” (1200 pages), but I read it just so I could brag that I had. Not sure how long it took. I seemed to measure it in seasons, rather than days. But I did finish it. And I did read every word. Believe me: After that epic tome, everything else is a stroll in the park.
About “The Furious Hours:” It’s a strange book, equal parts true crime, Southern history and biography. Back in the early ’70s, there was an Alabama preacher who stood accused of serial-killing five of his relatives so he could cash in on their insurance policies. Despite the almost laughable similarities in means and motive for each death, he was never convicted of anything. He himself was shot dead at the funeral of his latest victim, a young niece.
That story is what drew me to the book, but it accounts for only the first third. The rest is a meandering account of how Harper Lee, legendary author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” decided this was the story by which she could finally produce a second book and break the one-hit curse that had seemed to settle over her for the preceding 17 years.
Spoiler alert: She didn’t. Despite three years of interviews and research, there’s no evidence she ever produced more than a chapter.
Why she didn’t is supposed to be the mystery that propels the rest of the book. But I’ve never found the question that compelling. The literary world is full of writers who had only one good book in them. What I take away from “The Furious Hours” is that Harper Lee just never really felt like writing another; it was only the unrelenting pressure from her friends, agents and publishers that kept her thinking she should. In short, she was committing that mistake famous authors often warn of: writing for others instead of for yourself.
But I digress. It’s still a pretty good book. I gave it four stars on Goodreads. Which, now that I look at all my ratings, seems to be the one I use most often. I guess that’s because I tend not finish books I might rate one or two stars. And needless to say, I don’t rate books I don’t finish.
Anyway, goal complete a couple months before New Year’s Eve. Promises made, promises kept, baby. If I accomplish nothing else this year, I will have completed this one task. Good for me.
Right now I’m continuing a short break from crime fiction to read “The Leavers,” by Lisa Ko. My wife has been raving about it. So far, so good.