My birthday is 30 March. For several years, I’ve set myself age-related birthday challenges. When I turned 55 in 2017, I swam 55 laps. I did the same at 56 swimming 56 laps. And then, at 57, I found I’d torn both shoulders and couldn’t swim one lap! 58 in 2020 was a stay-at-home write-off. But what could I do to mark turning 59?
My shoulders are still torn, and I still can’t swim one lap, let alone 59. And I haven’t been working on endurance for any other physical activities, like a 59 km bike ride. I could walk my dog for 59 minutes, but I do that every day. So I decided on a cerebral challenge instead. I would celebrate 59 by reading 59 chapters on my birthday.
This is more of a challenge than it may sound because I am a very slow reader. I usually only manage a chapter or two in bed at night before falling asleep with the book propped on my nose. But I allowed myself the whole day to complete the challenge. And, for added variety, I’d spread the chapters across several books.
Chapter Challenge Books
The first of the books would be Germline by Julia Miller. I have an ebook version on my tablet. And I’d been dipping in and out of it for a while and was two-thirds through the book. The chapter challenge offered the perfect opportunity to finish it.
Then on my birthday, I received four of my favourite gifts: more books. My teenage son had called a few days beforehand from a bookshop, and we’d had a funny conversation:
“Without giving anything away, dad, would you like a book about a couple of dogs that are famous on YouTube?”
“Well, without giving anything away, son, I have been hoping you’d give me a book about a couple of dogs that are famous on YouTube!”
So I was delighted to unwrap his gift and find Olive, Mabel & Me by Andrew Cotter, which joined my chapter challenge. I also added The Elephant to Hollywood by Michael Caine and Remembering Bob, edited by Sue Pieters-Hawke.
And a surprise gift from a friend in England, the 1939 pacifist classic Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. A fifth and final book to spruce up my challenge. I set the books on my sofa and sat down with a cup of tea, and began reading.
25 Chapters Read
As mentioned, I’d already read two-thirds of Germline. It’s a fast-paced dystopian novel set in a post-pandemic future. What’s so incredible about the book is how it was written well before Wuhan, COVID-19, and lockdowns had entered our consciousness. And yet its description of Quarantine Hotels for international travellers is prescient.
I’m a member of the ABC Book Club on Facebook and had shared my intent to undertake the chapter challenge for my birthday, with a promise of status updates:
I’ve finished Germline on my tablet. That’s 25 chapters ticked off from my 59 chapter challenge with 34 to go. Loving the opening pages of Olive, Mabel & Me!
However, I did have to reassure my dog, who was looking on a little worried: “No Jet, I’m not thinking of getting a new dog, I’m just reading my new book. And yes, you can have another treat.”
More Chapters to Read
Like Germline, I found the pace of Olive, Mabel & Me easy going. I’m sure it helped that I’m a labrador owner and lover. And that I was a keen fan of the Olive and Mabel videos on YouTube. Before long, I was posting another status update:
14 chapters read of Olive, Mabel & Me (loving it, with a few distractions!). So with 25 from Germline, that leaves me with another 20 chapters to read tonight!
Eek, why couldn’t I be 49 this year!
Despite setting aside time to read in peace, there were phone calls for my birthday. And well wishes from family and friends to respond to on social media. And then there were chores and interactions at home and walking my dog. Not to mention a birthday dinner. No pun intended, but all the “distractions” ate into my reading time:
Eek again, it’s bedtime, and I’ve still got 10 chapters to read to achieve my 59 chapter challenge!
Unfortunately, I turned 59 this birthday, NOT 49!
I pushed on reading in bed past midnight. I had switched books, trying to read a few chapters from Michael Caine’s biography and Bob Hawke’s reflections. And I had made a start on Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. But as so often happens when I read in bed, sleep defeated me. I posted a status update to the ABC Book Club at 9 AM:
I fell asleep after midnight with chapter 55 on my nose. Determined to finish the last chapters over breakfast this morning to reach my goal of 59. After all, it’s still 30 March and my birthday in my birth country, England!
I sat at my desk with my books and breakfast, ignored my son’s accusation that I was cheating, and launched back into Olive, Mabel & Me. Once again, I found it an enjoyable and easy read and at 11:30 AM (which admittedly, was no longer 30 March in England), I posted a final status update:
Tada, I achieved my birthday challenge of reading 59 chapters to mark turning 59. I am more than a little boggle-eyed, but I enjoyed reading:
- Germline by Julia Priestly (25 chapters)
- Olive, Mabel & Me by Andrew Cotter (25 chapters)
- The Elephant to Hollywood by Michael Caine (3 chapters)
- Remembering Bob edited by Sue Pieters-Hawke (3 chapters)
- Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (3 chapters)
Okay, my son’s right: I cheated with the 59 chapter challenge. I was supposed to read 59 on my birthday, and it took me a little over 24 hours to achieve the goal.
However, I had enjoyed reading the 59 chapters and the support of my fellow ABC Book Clubbers for my original challenge post and status updates. And although I’ve finished Germline, I still have Olive, Mabel & Me and my three other birthday books.
With luck, having negotiated life to 59, I’ll have many more years to read these and many more books.
© 2021 Robert Fairhead
N.B. You might be interested in this blog post from March 2020 when I turned 58, A Birthday to Remember (or Forget?).
Note: This post originally appeared on the Tall And True writers’ website blog.
Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of a middle-aged dad and dog owner. Robert Fairhead is writer and editor at Tall And True, an online showcase and forum for writers, readers and publishers. His book reviews and other writing have appeared in various print and online media. And he has published two collections of short stories, Both Sides of the Story (2020) and Twelve Furious Months (2021).