Mount TBR 2020 Reading Challenge

I don’t normally join reading challenges—I don’t need any motivation to read—but when I saw this challenge, I knew it was perfect for me. You see, although I read a lot, almost all the books that I read come from the library, which means that I have a bunch of books that I own that go largely ignored.

The books I own come from several different places. Some are gifts, some have come from a local little library (exchanging other books for them), some are purchases from the used book sale at the library. A few I bought myself but then put them on a shelf to be read later. Still others I won. I even have ones that belonged to my parents!

Some of my book choices

I had a lot of fun logging the titles. Better yet, now I know what I own! They are scattered among several book cases on two floors, which is probably one reason that I forget about them.

In the end, not including the books I know I am getting for Christmas (2), I have 118 books on my TBR pile! I own more nonfiction books than fiction books. A lot of them are writing craft books, and there are also a lot of memoirs.

As this is my first reading challenge, I have decided that I am going to climb Mount Blanc, which is reading 24 books from my TBR pile, roughly 2 per month. I am hoping to read even more, but reading this minimum amount will mean that I will climbed 1/5 of my TBR pile.

The challenge runs from January 1-December 31, 2020. You may sign up at any time in 2020. If you are interested in joining, then you can click here for more information.

I am really looking forward to this challenge. Feel free to check this page periodically, as I will post which books I did read.

Happy reading!

January 2020 Reads

I am proud that I managed to read three books from my TBR pile! So I am on track.

I recommend all three:

“My Father, Fortune-tellers, and Me” by Eufemia Fantetti (Memoir)

Fantetti is the daughter of southern Italian immigrants, and her mother has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and her father clinical depression. Because of this, Fantetti has had to live with the effects of her adverse childhood experiences.

My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun (Graphic Novel) 

These are four light hearted tales set in Beijing. Having lived in Beijing for a few years, I can confirm that it is recreated very well.

“The Move” by Lori Wolf-Heffner (Young Adult) 

This is the first in the “Between Worlds” series.  Based on the author’s family’s history, the book has a dual storyline of one main character who is moving to present day Kitchener, a city I am very familiar with, and another who is living after WWI in a small town in Hungary that is about to be handed over to Romania. I am particularly intrigued by the fact that one of the storylines deals with Hungarian Germans, a group I have little knowledge of.

I also read this article about what the difference between book hoarders and smart learners is. What do you think?

February Reads

“Season of Fury and Wonder” by Sharon Butala

In this series of short stories the season of fury and wonder refers to the old age of women. The stories contain some hard truths and there are many shocking twists. Every story is inspired by a classic work that has influenced Butala’s writing.

My favourite stories are “Grace’s Garden”, with its deliciously dark twist at the end, and “Guilt: a Discussion” with its revelation of a shocking secret.

‘“I’m Not Dead Yet”: Living Every Moment’ by Mary Gatschene

This book is written by a Registered Nurse who specializes in palliative care. She writes about several end of life stories and intersperses the stories with her own wisdom about what can be done at the end of life for your loved ones. Far from being depressing, I found it very touching and cried several times after being genuinely moved. My favourite chapters are “High Tea for You and Me”, “An Angel in the Making”, and “The Last Birthday”. “Why Am I Still Alive” is a good read for those who are faced with answering that question, as I have been, and I wish I had had the wisdom of that chapter earlier.

March Reads

“Succulent Wild Women” by Sark

This fantastic book touches on many subjects including healing, love and romance, and creativity. I read it in small doses, over a couple of months. I also blogged about it here.

“Knitlandia: A Knitter Sees The World” by Clara Parkes

I am not a knitter, but I do love reading travel books. Parkes spent enough time writing about her travelling to keep me interested, and I learned a thing or two about knitting along the way. My favourite chapter is the one about Iceland, which begins like this: “I’d been warned about the nudity”.

April Reads

None completed.

May Reads

“Be With: Letters to a Caregiver” by Mike Barnes

Barnes writes in bite sized pieces, because being a caregiver himself, he realizes that often caregivers don’t have the time (or energy) to devour large chunks of text. 

Barnes writes about seven years of caring for his mother with Alzheimer’s. Some of what he writes about reminds me about the years I cared for my father, although he never did lose the ability to eat or to speak clearly.

Some quotes that resonated with me:

“My role was diminishing in exactly the proportion that it was becoming a fact, a fact of life. I continued to help her in all the ways I had before, but my main role now—the fact I had become—was increasingly to bear witness to what she was going through…”


“Mary’s hell was going to happen wherever she was. As far as I can tell, that’s true. Some places would make it worse, some would make it better; none would make it disappear.”

June Reads

“Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on my Dementia” by Gerda Saunders 

Saunders writes about her childhood in South Africa, her adult life in America including becoming a professor, and her diagnosis of microvascular disease at an early age. The concentration is on the microvascular disease and how it affects her life.

Saunders intersperses her personal stories with scientific studies, including a fascinating look at how memories are made. She includes a thoughtful and thorough discussion of end of life directives. I recommend that those with dementia and their caregivers use this as a resource.

Favourite quote:

“According to the the Alzheimer’s Association, an older adult caring for another with dementia has a 60 percent chance of dying before the person they’re taking care of because of the stress.”

To get a taste of the book, Saunders has a series of video diaries on YouTube. Click here to access part 1.

For the latest on how she’s doing, click here.

“Open Heart, Open Mind” by Clara Hughes

This book is the current book club pick for my critique partner and me.

The memoir is about Hughes’ life as an athlete—she is one of the few to win Olympic medals in both the summer and winter Olympics—but also about her depression.

There is so much to love in this book. I especially appreciate how Hughes turns a lot of her negatives into positives.

Two of my favourite quotes:

“At one point, Tewanee’s thirteen-year old daughter stood in the middle of the room, crying. Though my friends and I didn’t know what was happening, we listened respectfully as the elders told her, ‘Thank you for sharing your beautiful tears with us. Let them flow.’

Since I knew I carried a pool of raw feelings and unshed tears inside of me, I was grateful to see such despair welcomed as powerful and good.”


“Of course, I’m not a doctor, but in my view, mental problems have so many layers of complexity that drugs are more likely to mask, rather than resolve, them. I would prefer to draw on the wisdom of others, combined with my own inner strength, to work through each issue.”

For an interview with Hughes about the book, click here.

July Reads

“Fifteen Dogs” by André Alexis

Hermes and Apollo make a bet and give human intelligence to 15 dogs at a veterinary clinic in order to see if it will make dogs as unhappy as humans are. The result is fascinating, as we watch some dogs evolve and some dogs refuse to evolve, and the conflicts that arise from those decisions. 

This book is definitely a heavy read, but it will make you think about many things such as violence and love, religion, and language.

One of the most fascinating parts to me about the book is that the fifteen poems within the book contain the names of the dogs—hidden—that you can only discern when you read them out loud. I have had a fun time trying to figure which poems belong to which dogs. 

This book won the Giller Prize, Canada Reads 2017 and Writer’s Trust Fiction Prize.

For a preview, click here and/or here.

August Reads

“The Home for Unwanted Girls” by Joanna Goodman

This well written historical fiction is based in part on Goodman’s mother’s story of growing up half French and half English in 1950s Quebec. The book is also about a dark chapter in Canada’s history: when Quebec orphanages were changed overnight into mental asylums because asylums were more lucrative than orphanages. I found this to be a painful and eyeopening read. 

Main character Maggie is forced to give up her daughter Elodie when she gives birth at age 15, but Maggie never gives up looking for Elodie. Meanwhile Elodie grows up in the orphanage and then the asylum and when she is released also searches for her family.

This book was chosen to be the One Book One Community Read for Waterloo Region in 2019.

Click here to watch an interview with the author and here to read more about the book.

I am only half way through the challenge, so it looks like I am going to have to step up my reading!

September Reads

“Reason for Hope” by Jane Goodall

I am a huge fan of Jane Goodall, and this is one of my favourite books that she is written, although admittedly it took me 10 years after receiving it as a gift to give it a read. Still very relevant, Goodall writes about her spiritual journey and her reason for hope.

Favourite quote:

“It is all but impossible to describe the new awareness that comes when words are abandoned. 

One is transported back, perhaps, to the world of early childhood when everything is fresh and so much of it is wonderful. Words can enhance experience, but they can also take so much away. We see an insect and at once we abstract certain characteristics and classify it—a fly. And in that very cognitive exercise, part of the wonder is gone. Once we have labeled the things around us we do not bother to look at them carefully. Words are part of our rational selves, and to abandon them for a while is to give freer reign to our intuitive selves.”

“Stormbreaker” by Anthony Horowitz

This is not normally a book I’d read, but I got it as part of a silent auction basket, so I decided to give it a go. Once I suspended my disbelief over the possibility of a 14 year old becoming a spy to replace his deceased uncle, I got swept up in the events of the book. This book has been made into a movie, which I have yet to see.

“Zen in the Art of Writing” by Ray Bradbury

I found this book of essays about writing to be very uplifting. If you read only one essay, then read the title essay.

Favourite quote:

“WORK. It is, above all, the word about which your career will revolve for a lifetime. Beginning now, you should become not its slave, which is too mean a term, but its partner. Once you are really a co-sharer of existence with your work, that word will lose its repellent aspects.”

“Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

I am on fire this month like the girl on fire in this book, Katniss Everdeen. OK, not really like her, but my reading has been on fire. I certainly would not like to be on fire like her anyway. 

I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time, but I’ve also avoided it, fearing nightmares, but I’ve not had any nightmares despite reading about the fight to the death that 24 children of 12 districts must engage in every year in order to pay for their uprising against the Capitol. I saw the movie first, and it stays true for the most part to the book, with a few more in depth scenes in the book. Well written with a thought provoking interview at the end of this anniversary issue about what the book really is exploring.

October Reads

“Marley & Me” by John Grogan

I’m usually not too fond of stories about misbehaving animals, but Grogan writes compassionately and humorously about his dog—whom he calls “The World’s Worst Dog”—that has many challenges including anxiety over storms. I learned a lot about Labrador retrievers and dogs with mental health challenges in this autobiography. The book has been turned into a movie, but I haven’t seen the movie.

Click here and here to see brief interviews with the author.

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho

I found this to be a challenging read. Perhaps because it has been translated from Portuguese, I found the story meandered a lot. However, I did get the core message, which is the most important thing in your life is to realize your personal legend, and the universe will conspire to help you achieve that. Something I have long believed anyway.

Click here for a summary of the book.

Two more months with 6 more books to go. Can I do it?

November Reads

“Emily Dickinson: Envelope Poems”

A collection of Dickinson’s manuscripts written on envelopes, which is just a fragment of those in the complete collection called “The Gorgeous Nothings”.

“Point Blank” by Anthony Horowitz

Number 2 in the Alex Rider series is certainly not a duplication of the first (you’ll get this subtle humour, if you’ve read the book). This book is actually better, which makes me look forward to reading the next one.

So this means that I have to read 4 books in December, if I want to complete the challenge. I didn’t think it would be this difficult to read 24 of my own books, but library and little library books have proved to be a distraction. There are several of my own I am part way done reading, so I think I’ll start with those ones.

December Reads

“Wired for Story” by Lisa Cron

This is one of the best writing books on craft I have ever read.

From the back cover:

“…Wired for Story offers a revolutionary look at story as the brain experiences it. Each chapter zeroes in on an aspect of the brain, its corresponding revelation about story, and the way to apply it to your storytelling right now.”

This is one writing book that I plan to read again and again.

“The Flood” by Ian Rankin

This is Rankin’s first published novel. It’s not really the type of novel I normally read, but it is well written and at times I found it hard to put down. My only complaints are there was one character I wish Rankin had followed up more on, and I didn’t find the ending very satisfying, but still I can only hope to write a novel of this calibre. 

“Skeleton Key” by Anthony Horowitz

I enjoyed this one, the third in the series about 14 year old spy Alex Rider, but not as much as the second novel. The ending leaves a lot of big questions unanswered, but I’m not sure I will continue the series. Again, it’s only because it’s the type of novel I’m not drawn too, but it is well written.

“Transformation Soup” by Sark

It seems fitting that I started and ended the year reading a book by Sark.

Though 20 years old, this book is still relevant in these times.

And so I leave you with one of Sark’s quotes:

“We forget constantly that we are not alone. I share these notes as reminders that we are all spectacularly flawed, splendidly perfect, and often misguided.” May we carry this thought with us into the new year.

I’ve done it! I’ve completed the challenge! Yay, me!

See you next year for Mount TBR 2021!

14 thoughts on “Mount TBR 2020 Reading Challenge

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