Reading Challenge: ‘A funny book’ — Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe

Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe

For me, Back to Blood was a bit of a slow burn. It took up until about page 350 for me to feel genuinely hooked. While this is generally inexcusable for a novel – considering most aren’t even that long to begin with – Wolfe kept me interested with his usual wit and his strength of characterization. The protagonist, Nestor Camacho, is unique and endearing in a way that most protagonists aren’t. He’s simple and unsophisticated but he’s self-aware and sweet at the same time, which makes him pretty damn lovable despite some shortcomings. Plus, he’s at the epicenter of every story line (and there are many), which never hurts.

I also liked this book for its social commentary, a classic Wolfe theme. In Back to Blood, he takes on race relations in Miami, a Herculean task for even the most accomplished authors. He handles it well, I think, (even as an old white guy) by tackling it just like he would any other issue. Mostly, the characters – from all different walks of life – do the talking (whether in English, Creole, Spanish or French).

As a journalism major, I also loved the role that John Smith, a heroic “Americano” newspaper reporter, and the Miami Herald played in the story. It was fun to see how the notion of libel and the fear of the publisher getting sued played out in the plot (I won’t say more for fear of spoiling anything).

All in all, I’d recommend this read to anyone with both an interest in Miami and a lot of time on their hands. Some knowledge of journalism and contemporary art wouldn’t hurt either, as both are a common topic of conversation throughout the story. Pretty interesting stuff.


Fulfilled “A funny book” on my 2015 Reading Challenge checklist

704 pages
Little, Brown and Company
Published: 2012

Up next? “A memoir” — The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion


My 2015-16 reading list

Hi everyone, welcome to my journey to complete the 2015 Reading Challenge.

This year, in an effort to read more now that I’m out of school, I’ve decided to make a reading list and stick to it. I realize I’ve entered the game a little late — blame it on senior year, graduation, travel and the beginning of my first job! — so I’m giving myself until Sept. 2016 to get this all done. There’s quite a haul here, including a few 500+ pagers, but I think I’m ready for it. I have loved to read since I was four years old and I’m excited to really dip into some great books this upcoming year.

Since it is quite a lot, and I know that sometimes life gets in the way, I’ve used a few books for two different categories (the ones marked with asterisks, i.e. Go Set a Watchman, Little Women and The Magician’s Nephew). I tried to avoid it when I could but nobody’s perfect right?

I’ve tried to get a mix of classics, culturally relevant books and titles I’ve been meaning to pick up but have never been able to find the time. I also picked books by professors at my alma mater, Boston University (Faith Ed and 13 Hours), and books my parents love (Stoner and Watership Down, to name a couple).

How do I pick an order? I leave it up to chance. I just assigned each book a number based on their order in the table below (Helter Skelter is 1, Wuthering Heights is 2, and so on). Then, I put the numbers into a random number generator and let that do the work.

Here’s to reading!

Side note: my friend Emilie and I are doing this together (some of our picks overlap but most are different), and we changed one or two categories (reading a book by an author with your same initials comes to mind; we couldn’t find any titles that worked for us).

Now reading:

  • A funny book — Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe

Next up:

  • A memoir — The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

My list (subject to change, as always… But I hope it stays pretty much the same):

Category Margaret’s pick
A book with more than 500 pages Helter Skelter
A classic romance Wuthering Heights
A book that became a movie The Maltese Falcon
A book published this year Go Set a Watchman*
A book with a number in the title 13 Hours
A book written by someone under 30 The Bell Jar
A book with nonhuman characters Watership Down
A funny book Back to Blood
A book by a female author Little Women*
A mystery or thriller The Big Sleep
A book with a one-word title Stoner
A book of short stories Vampires in the Lemon Grove
A book set in a different country Into Thin Air
A nonfiction book Faith Ed
A popular author’s first book The Sun Also Rises
A book from a fav. author that you haven’t read The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test
A book a friend recommended The Glass Castle
A Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Executioner’s Song
A book based on a true story Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
A book at the bottom of your to-read list The Awakening
A book your mom loves A Prayer for Owen Meany
A book that scares you The Devil in the White City
A book more than 100 years old The Three Musketeers
A book based entirely on its cover Would You Please Be Quiet, Please
A book you were supposed to read but didn’t A Gate at the Stairs
A memoir The Year of Magical Thinking
A book you can finish in a day Dark Places
A book with antonyms in the title Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
A book set somewhere you want to visit Picnic in Provence
A book that came out the year you were born Trainspotting
A book with bad reviews Go Set a Watchman*
A trilogy The Knife of Never Letting Go
A book you’ve been meaning to re-read Black Mass
A book from your childhood The Magician’s Nephew*
A book with a love triangle Pride and Prejudice
A book set in the future Farenheit 451
A book set in high school Carrie
A book with a color in the title A Clockwork Orange
A book with magic The Magician’s Nephew*
A book your dad loves The Floating Opera
A book by an author you’ve never read before One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
A book you own but never read Cat’s Cradle
A book that takes place in your hometown Little Women*
A book that was orig. in a different language The Unbearable Lightness of Being
A book set during Christmas A Christmas Carol
A book considered an American classic On the Road
A play 12 Angry Men
A banned book July’s People
A book based on or turned into a TV Show House of Cards
A book you started but never finished The Human Comedy