#Unreadshelf Project 2019 Wrap-Up

If someone had told me one day ago that I would join a reading challenge mainly held on Instagram and that I would complete it for the whole year, I would have been my cynical, snarky, grumpy old French person and rolled my eyes for a good 10 minutes straight.

Guess what? This particular challenge was exactly what I needed. A gentle, steady pressure, nothing overly complicated, and low expectations (1 book a month) that can easily be met or even exceeded. I didn’t post on Instagram (too old school for that), but I followed the prompts while taking necessary liberties, and it gave me the impetus to:

  • open books that had been gathering dust without guilt
  • finish them within a reasonable, definite time frame (or not… I cheated when I tackled thick volumes. Getting a good measure of a book I can always return to was also good enough)
  • track them and gloat about them online, instead of hiding my shame in the dark, unconnected corners of my bookshelves
  • abandon them if they were not for me

Speaking of which, that’s exactly what I’m going to do with one of my December picks. On the paper it sounded exactly right for me: Chinese flash fiction by Lao Ma, under the French title “Tout ça va changer” (Chinese title “Deng Yi Huir”, 2012, which means “Wait a minute”). But I never warmed up to the book, and I’m stuck midway.

The pieces are sarcastic, not-even-thinly-veiled critiques of small party cadres, university professors. The author (a university professor using a pseudonym) attacks ambitious brown-nosers, which is not uniquely Chinese but pretty much universal I guess. But the accumulation of very short pieces didn’t work for me, because instead of making one story a flash of brilliance, I ended up finding them a bit bland and repetitive. So I’m going to leave it unfinished and move on.

I have already said that I’m not good with humor books, and this one doesn’t differ. It made me slightly sad to see how much China has changed in the last decade. It is so very obvious to me that such critical pieces are a window into a China that was free enough to laugh at its own foibles, including within the party and the elites. It is my opinion that such pieces wouldn’t fly anymore these days.

I don’t wish to end on a sad note. Thanks to the Unreadshelf Project, I have been able to read 30 books from my own shelf in 2019. Hurray! I had never tracked before how many books I read from the library or from my own shelves, but I can easily say that this figure is way up from the previous years. And I didn’t even feel too frustrated while passing the tempting library shelves, as I still read plenty from those too. This has been a really transformative experience for me, so sign me up right away for the 2020 edition!

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