The Good People of 2021: Recommending Good Books & Other Challenges

Darn, they would never leave the bar and join a book club!

Shortly after my first marriage, I got stuck at a party in the country. It was not the least bit Chekhovian, and I wished I’d stayed home. I was very bored, as the only sober person, and I couldn’t leave, as the only non-driver. I perched in the kitchen and read The Whole Earth Catalogue cover-to-cover while the other guests wandered around the edge of a corn field boisterous and drunk. Afterwards, I told my alcoholic first husband how boring I found his friends.

“They’re good people,” he told me.

That depends on your point-of-view. They drank every night at the same bar, so in a sense he knew them better than anyone. His people were his people… and by my standards, they were not particularly wonderful.

But seriously, what is good? Is it good to host a party where everyone gets wasted? I am not saying it is bad, but is it good? There is drinking in the Symposium, but did the guests pass out from too much wine? I don’t remember that part…

What I learned from the non-Chekhovian party: never go to a party in the country and bring your own book.


Any person who can recommend a good book is a good person in my book. But sometimes there is too much goodness, if you know what i mean. I can get my head around the concept of Women in Translation in August or German literature in November, but Book Riot’s “Read Harder” challenges are so issue-oriented they seem satiric.

For example:

A Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: A Romance by a Trans and/or Nonbinary Author.
I wish I were kidding, but I’m not. So…this is actually a genre? I promise you I will never read romances by Trans and Nonbinary Authors. Likewise, I will never read romances by Heterosexual and Homosexual authors. The world ended the day Ron Charles, editor at The Washington Post Book World, wrote an article in which he pretended to like romance novels. Similarly, Michael Dirda occasionally mentions Georgette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy. The women remain silent…

Some Book Riot “Read Harder” challenges are decidedly noble. There is a challenge to read “books about disabled, chronically ill, Deaf, or neurodivergent authors.” (Why is “deaf” capitalized?_ And what kind of circumlocution is “neurodivergent”? Does it refer to Carrie Fisher, William Styron, Emily Dickinson, Hemingway, and Byron? I recommend the following:

I can get my head around the following challenge, but is it preaching to the choir?

THE “READING WOMEN” PODCAST HOSTS “THE READING WOMEN CHALLENGE.” But does anyone who participates in this challenge actually need it? I read mostly women authors, and my guess is other women do, too. But I admit, I have never read and will never read”a Muslim middle grade novel” or”short story collection by a Caribbean writer” (unless I see one at a bookstore).

The next book challenge is for the stodgy and makes sense, sort of, in a goofy way.

THE 52 BOOK CLUB READING CHALLENGE. Fifty-two books in 52 weeks. No problem! The prompts are a little silly, as these things tend to be, but I am quite sure I can handle reading a “book with a deckled edge” or “a book you’d rate 5 stars.”

If all else fails, you can choose the latest books at The Most Anticipated Books of 2021 Goodreads and then participate in the Goodreads Challenge, which involves typing the number of books you hope to read and then trying to meet the challenge.

Happy 2021, and May You Find the Challenge for You!

9 thoughts on “The Good People of 2021: Recommending Good Books & Other Challenges”

  1. They do tend to exaggerate with these challenges, don’t they? It’s as if the only objective of reading is ticking lists and self improvement 😄

  2. I read this column and by happenstace just as I am nearing the finish of Trollope’s BARCHESTER TOWERS. In that book, there is of course the magnificent party at Uulthorne complete with wines and champagnes, with drunken tilting at quintains, bows and arrows, social climbing and good ol’ Madame Negroni with her great beauty and her game leg sprawled but not akimbo on her portable couch. As the guests become more and more “tipsy” the book’s Trollopian excitement builds and builds to the awesome slap on the ear from Mrs. Bold (Eleanor Harding) onto the Uriah Heapish head of Mr. Slope’s unwelcome presence due to his untoward snaking of his arm around her waist. So, yes, the evidence herein would indicate that parties such as you describe have been happening for a long, long time. The cornfield is new though…. By the way for those interested in Trollope this is the best time ever to join The Trollope Society online. They are doing bi-weekly reads of Trollope led by some amazing moderators on Zoom. For example in the discussion of THE DUKE’S CHILDREN, Steven Amarnick was a guest moderator. Prof. Amarnick was extremely interesting as he also spoke on the years he had spent restoring the original publisher’s ill-desired cuts to Trollope’s text working with Trollope’s original MS. What resulted was a sort of literary director’s cut of TDC which finally, at last, shows all of the ways the characters interact, changing many of the reasons you might have come to associate with their drives. Amarnick’s translation is available in the new Folio Society editions (ranging from expensive to wow) or the new Oxford University Press’ new and affordable paperback version even better than their hardback one with the same text but missing some of Amarnick’s intro and glosses on his work. Sigh. Should I bother putting paragraphs in this? Nah, you can all puzzle it out. Anyway, maybe I will meet some of you in the next Zoom reading — It is DOCTOR THORNE who is in the waiting room.

    1. I do love Barchester Towers! Not to mention Mrs. Bold. Trollope’s parties are always fun, not necessarily fun for the characters, though, and I am dazzled by the nouveau riche party of Melmotte in The Way We Live Now. Yet I would have been bored by it if I were there! Well, maybe not… The absolute worst would have been Trimalchio’s in Satyricon, or perhaps some of the dinner parties in Juvenal’s satires. Rome knew how to throw a bad party!

      I don’t do Zoom, but it does make events and literary discussions much more accessible, which is certainly convenient in “plague times.” And you remind me: I never got around to reading Amarnick’s edition of “The Duke’s Children.” I have a very nice Everyman edition, which was published a few years after the Folio Society limited edition. My “challenge” this year should be to comfort myself with Trollope.

  3. “What is considered neurodivergent?
    Neurodivergent is a word that describes people that don’t have a “typical” mental state such as people with depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar, eating disorders, etc.”

    Above quote from google. So. I nominate Sylvia Plath’s the Bell Jar. Since i reread it this past year, i suppose i can tick that box and feel smug about my achievement. Also, I learned something new today so I can tick that box too! Better living and improved self-esteem through reading this blog! Thanks Thornfield Hall!

    1. I think everybody I know must be “neurodivergent.” 🙂 Yes, Plath’s The Bell Jar definitely counts. Now THAT is a tragic book. I’ve never returned to it because it is so distressing. Poor Syl!

      I know I’m giving myself “goodness” points for having read Morselli’s dystopian tragedy Dissipatio H.G. Excellent book, but am still reeling.

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