Project 4

Reflecting on My First 20 Books

As a former engineer, data and numbers speak to me. Being 20% of the way through my reading project, it seemed as good a time of ever to reflect on the journey thus far.

I had gotten this idea from Jenni at SprainedBrain who chronicles her book statistics often. She does a great job at it – you can see the statistics she looks at here! I didn’t base my statistics off of hers, so check out which data points she takes too! Thanks, Jenni!

Word Counts

Of my 12,327,956 word journey, I have read 2,041,953 words. A mere 16.5%. It’s mind blowing to think that I’ve read the two longest books on the list – Atlas Shrugged and Les Miserables – and I’ve still got so far to go!

Of those books, I wanted to look at a distribution of the word counts of each. Looking at this data surprised me, I definitely have a preference.

In my defense, the two books over 150,000 words were both over 500,000 words… but I digress. I have a problem. Maybe it’s because I know that shorter books are less of an investment and I can get them done faster. Either way, I’m hoping to read some longer books in these next 20.

Readjusting Ratings

Over the past 6 months, I’ve noticed that my opinions on certain books has changed. Having a little more perspective on my reading preferences, I feel like my ratings, particularly for the earlier books, were not so great. I thought I’d take a moment to adjust my ratings.

Book Old RatingNew RatingChange
Lolita6.55-1.5
Treasure Island98-1
The Prince54-1
The Call of the Wild8.58-0.5
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde87.5-0.5
Atlas Shrugged99.50.5
The Arabian Nights5.55.50
Murder on the Orient Express990
A Clockwork Orange3.53.50
The Time Machine5.55.50
The Art of War76.5-0.5
Animal Farm990
All’s Well That Ends Well54-1
Alice in Wonderland660
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory76.5-0.5
Fahrenheit 451660
Les Miserables990
Journey to the Center of the Earth550
Beowulf660
Of Mice and Men550

The reason I find this so particularly helpful is because I really want to be able to put a larger spread to differentiate between books. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy a book with a rating under 5, it just means that I believe it’s not a groundbreaking book.

Taking this data and cute little Excel chart, I was able to split hairs to really figure out which books I feel are necessary to recommend to others.

My Favorites

Looking back, I have clear favorites. Allow me to share.

Atlas Shrugged: Okay, I’ll be outright here. You probably won’t agree with all of the thoughts and ideas Ayn Rand shares in this book. But it is going to challenge you to ask yourself why you disagree. On top of that, the story itself is really wonderful. I think this is a book everyone must read.

Les Misérables: Please, whatever you do. Read this book someday. It’s such a profound story with characters that will leave you so attached. If you’ve seen the musical or any other adaptation, you’re missing the essence of the story – the motivations, the desires, and the thoughts of these characters that are so real they follow you for days. (Besides, my favorite scene in the book is not included in the adaptations because it involves so much backstory).

My Least Favorites

My least favorites are far less clear. I wouldn’t say I really disliked any of these books. I mean, I finished them, right? But if I had to pick, these are the two that just didn’t do it for me:

A Clockwork Orange: I still feel the same way I did about this book when I finished it: I personally didn’t like it, but I can understand why someone would. The teenage angst on a forgettable character is a little off-putting to me. Plus, the book uses it’s own slang which makes it difficult to follow.

All’s Well That Ends Well: I think I was a little too nice with my original review. This story is forgettable to me. In fact, I had to read the plot that I wrote just to remember it. I completely understand why this is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-performed plays.

With that, the first chapter of my journey comes to a close. But there’s so, so much more ahead. Looking forward to my next reads – and sharing them all!

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Project 4

Word Counts of Classics

I’ve got exciting news: I’m about to pass the 1 million words mark! Since starting Project 4 at the end of January, once I finish my next book (A Clockwork Orange), I will have read 1,000,000 words!

Abbey and I have compiled the word counts of our entire list to see just how many words we were reading. And, well. It’s a bit shocking. We are reading:

12,327,956 total words

That’s pretty massive, huh? We compiled this list by simple google searches. When a word count didn’t appear, we took the estimated time to read the book and multiplied it by the words per minute (usually 250). So while this word count estimate isn’t perfect, it’s pretty damn close.

Just to make this project a little crazier, since we have a deadline of the first day of my last year of law school (August 23, 2021), that averages out to 21,255 words per day. While I can’t say I’ve been reading that much, I hope that during the summer I can pull some days that are well over that number. But I am proud that I’m almost at my million mark! Abbey is trudging along, but she reads in chunks so once she starts up again, she’ll blow me out of the water.

I thought I share the list with you all too. For a little bit of context, an average fiction book is about 75,000-100,000 words. Here’s the list of word counts, from lowest to highest for the books in our project.

TitleWord Count
The Art of War11450
The Importance of Being Earnest22000
All’s Well that Ends Well24086
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland26432
Beowulf26548
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde26601
Canterbury Tales27130
The Old Man and the Sea29160
Of Mice and Men29160
Animal Farm29966
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory30644
The Prince31026
Night31931
The Divine Comedy32000
The Time Machine32059
The Call of the Wild37058
Heart of Darkness38000
The Alchemist38342
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe38421
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz39295
The Giver43617
Fahrenheit 45146118
Grimms’ Fairy Tales46500
The Outsiders48523
Slaughterhouse Five49459
A Brief History of Time50250
As I Lay Dying56695
Murder on the Orient Express58154
A Clockwork Orange58695
Dracula59000
The Hound of the Baskervilles59392
Lord of the Flies59900
Tales from the Arabian Nights62000
Mrs. Dalloway63422
The Scarlet Letter63604
Swiss Family Robinson63979
Tropic of Cancer64000
Brave New World64531
Around the World in 80 Days66281
The Color Purple66556
Treasure Island66950
To the Lighthouse69264
Little Women70000
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer70570
Catcher in the Rye73404
A Farewell to Arms74250
Frankenstein75380
The Picture of Dorian Gray78462
The Secret Garden80398
Pale Fire81000
Journey to the Center of the Earth85059
Faust88567
Nineteen Eighty-Four88942
The Handmaid’s Tale90240
Paradise Lost93000
The Sound and the Fury96863
Beloved98148
To Kill a Mockingbird99121
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes105071
Gulliver’s Travels107349
Wuthering Heights107945
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest108000
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn109571
Lolita112473
All the President’s Men112500
Madame Bovary115456
On the Road116277
In Cold Blood121890
Robinson Crusoe121961
Pride and Prejudice122189
Atonement123378
The Odyssey134500
A Tale of Two Cities135420
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea138138
The Iliad140000
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn145092
Dr. Zhivago160250
The Godfather163500
Uncle Tom’s Cabin166622
Oliver Twist167543
Grapes of Wrath169481
Catch-22174269
Invisible Man177000
Great Expectations183349
Jane Eyre183858
The Lord of the Rings187790
Moby Dick209117
Crime and Punishment211591
The Tales of Edgar Allan Poe216000
Three Musketeers228402
The Collected Works of H.P. Lovecraft278000
Middlemarch316453
Don Quixote345390
Anna Karenina349736
The Brothers Karamazov364153
Gone with the Wind418053
The Count of Monte Cristo464234
War and Peace561304
Atlas Shrugged591996
Les Miserables655478
Book Reviews, Project 4

Murder on the Orient Express – Book No. 8

55. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie (1934)


Dates: 4/18/20 – 4/19/20 (2 days)

Basic Plot: There’s a murder on the orient express. Obviously.

Experience Before Reading: In high school I worked at a bookstore. For some reason, I equated Agatha Christie with Toni Morrison, since books by those two came in so often. I apparently took that observation and conflated it quite a bit into adulthood. But I assure you that those two women wrote very different books.

Takeaway: Allow me to first clarify that this review is entirely spoiler-free. I do think this is something everyone should read and I’d hate to be the one to ruin the fun.

I’ve been in a bit of a train phase lately. This began, no doubt, with Atlas Shrugged. But I also watched a few travel videos on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, played Ticket to Ride for the first time, and recently played a Nancy Drew game with Abbey about a disappearance on a train. (The Last Train to Blue Moon Canyon – I cannot recommend these games enough if you want to solve some really difficult mysteries and puzzles. Abbey and I are suckers for the Nancy Drew games!)

Anyway, my toddler-like obsession with trains is mostly irrelevant – besides the fact that it got me to pick up this book.

I really picked it up alright. I have spent the last 15 hours doing nothing but reading this book and sleeping. I’m serious – the only thing I did during this entire experience was write my post for Arabian Nights. I knew I had to stop to write it or my thoughts on it would be washed away by this mystery.

It was written in an almost formulaic way: the exposition, the crime, the character’s testimonies and alibis, pondering the evidence, following up on their theory, and the reveal. I actually really liked this structure because it allowed you to play along.

To be entire honest, I did figure out who the murderer was. However, I do not think predictability should be a deterrent to read it. First, I didn’t solve it until the back half of the evidence analysis. Second, I don’t think it’s an obvious solution. Third, it’s more fun to hear the howdunnit than the whodunnit which comes right at the end.

Rave-review aside, I do have a little bit of criticism. There were absurd moments and connections of evidence the reader cannot do with what was given to them. Regardless of the nonsense, it comes together to click in a solution that could be reality.* (Or at least, reality-adjacent.)

I realize not everyone is a fan of mystery books like myself. But there is something different about this one. It was a pioneer in the genre and it is a fantastic adventure, both of which lead to my high rating.

And I’ve gotten lucky just like I did with Call of the Wild and a movie remake has just been made. Hello, quarantine movie night!

Would I Recommend It?: Absolutely. Because of its brevity and general amusement, I think there’s something for everyone to enjoy.


Abbey’s Review

Dates: 5/15/20 – 5/31/20 (16 days)

Plot: A man is murdered in the first class carriage of the Orient Express. Poirot, a famous investigator, must solve the case while living among the only suspects – the other first class passengers.

Experience Before Reading: I saw the movie when it came out, but couldn’t remember the ending. I was constantly remembering plot points while I was reading, which was quite an odd experience.

Takeaway: This is a quintessential murder mystery, a genre I hold very dear to my heart. I often find myself reaching for mystery novel whenever I am in the mood for a book, as I usually find them a quick and enjoyable read. This did not disappoint. 

Would I Recommend It?: If you are even a small fan of mystery books, I would definitely recommend reading this. Agatha Christie is a God among mystery writers, and for a good reason. The final reveal, in the last few pages, is a wonderful culmination to this novel.


Who got it right? Have you read Murder on the Orient Express? Share your thoughts with us down in the comments below.

Read our next review: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Click here to see our full list of 100 classic books

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Book Reviews, Project 4

The Call of the Wild – Book No. 4

91. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)


Dates: 2/9/20 – 2/11/20 (2 days)

Basic Plot: Buck is a St. Bernard/Scotch Collie mix sold for work in Alaska where he finds himself turning away from his domesticated nature.

Experience Before Reading: Honestly, not much. If you asked me to differentiate Balto, The Call of the Wild, and White Fang, I couldn’t do it. Now, at least I know one of them.

Takeaway: This book took me over this evening. Since it’s so short, it took only a few hours, but was I hypnotized for them. This was also the first book where I was left speechless and quiet when finishing. You know, the whole stare-off-into-the-abyss-contemplating-existence when you finish a really, really good book.

My boyfriend recommended this one and I was a bit hesitant. I’m not exactly a dog person and seeing as he spent last summer Deadliest Catch-style on boats off the coast of Alaska, I knew he was a little biased. But he got me good.

And while I won’t rave on and on about Jack London’s writing because really, writing it for every book review is exhausting, I will give a little passage that spoke to me (don’t worry, still almost entirely spoiler-free):

“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.”

Jack London, The Call of the Wild

As if that all wasn’t enough – there’s a new movie remake of it coming out in just over a week (starring Harrison Ford – a personal favorite). I had no idea and now I have a good date night coming up.

Would I Recommend It?: Absolutely.

Click here to see my full list of classic books

Book Reviews

The Prince – Book No. 3

96. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (1532)


Dates: 2/1/20 – 2/9/20 (8 days)

Basic Plot: Italian diplomat, Machiavelli, wrote a treatise about how princes ought to rule.

Experience Before Reading: “The end justifies the means.” I took AP European History way back in high school, so I was pretty familiar with the premise of the book. That and when my boyfriend saw the list of books, he got excited about this one. He’s read it many times and let me borrow his personal copy (thank you!)

Takeaway: I think I read this book at the wrong time in my life. At a time when I’m doing a lot of academic reading, this book felt like a chore. I found myself skimming for the main points which is how I read court cases – not painting a picture in my head like these other books.

That being said, the content is interesting. It’s often considered the first political philosophy writing and I enjoyed having something as complex as a prince’s ruling experience codified into right and wrong. I felt like it was a college thesis of someone’s experience exploring European history.

It was also very entertaining to think that this is all true. The stories told and the nobles and the common folk and the importance of religion are so far detached from modern society and sound more Game of Thrones-esque than reality.

But these concepts are not far off. Machiavelli spends a chapter talking about how a prince should focus winning the approval of the people over the nobility because they can protect you if the nobility turn on you. Without getting too political, that’s pretty much how Trump won the presidency in 2016 – he had support of a lot of “common folk”.

These ideas haven’t faded away over time and that’s something to appreciate. Whether he was well beyond his years or not doesn’t take away from the power of the conclusions. I’d love to try these stories again when I’m not in school.

Would I Recommend It?: Maybe. If you have an interest in history and philosophy, I might toss it your way.

Click here to see my full list of 100 classic books

Project 4

A Brave New World – Introducing Project 4

Ever since I was a child, my cousin Abbey was a direct reflection of what I’d encounter next in my life. She was a year and a half older, so I would look at her with envy as she encountered milestones just a year before me – an eternity to a child. I remember when she learned to drive, when she graduated college, and when she started middle school (and obviously couldn’t be friends with her elementary-aged cousin anymore).

Though her and I now live about 2 hours apart, we still are just as close as we were as children. We constantly do projects together from genealogy research to writing a cocktail book (Jacqueline and Abbey’s Christmas Cocktails). So it made perfect sense that she had to jump in with a project as I started this blog. So here we are.

The cover of our Christmas cocktail book circa 2017

As we brainstormed, we realized that one thing we had both done as children but had stopped as we got older, was reading. Neither of us read anymore. Maybe it’s because we were both engineers – our textbooks turn us so far off to reading for pleasure. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop us from arguing which Harry Potter book was the best (she thinks The Prisoner of Azkaban, but obviously it’s The Goblet of Fire)

So with that in mind, we decided that Project 4 should be dedicated to reading. More specifically, we decided we were going to read 100 Classics.

So what did we choose? I present to you, the list.

Our list of classics that we will be reading in the next year and a half

Disclaimer: No one has any idea what the word “classic” means. We just chose 100 prominent books that we wanted to read. Some we have already read, some we haven’t. We know it’s not all inclusive, but honestly, we couldn’t be bothered to read more than one Shakespeare play.

Seeing as we are women of science, we did have to make some rules. So here are our constraints:

  1. Read the entire book: No cheating or Sparknotes!
  2. Write a quick book review after finishing: This will include a rating, how long it took us to read, what we knew about the book before reading, our takeaway, and whether we’d recommend it.
  3. Film a response after finishing: Unlike the book reviews, these may or may not be posted. We just wanted to film the seconds after finishing a book to send to each other with our initial thoughts.
  4. Finish the list before the deadline: August 23, 2021

Why August 23, 2021? It’s my last first day of school. We figured a year and a half was a good amount of time to read 100 books.

…that is until we realized how fast that is.

With only 580 days until the project ends, we average to a little over a book a week. Yikes.

As we float somewhere between reality and the fictional universes of these books, we obviously realize that this will be tough, but that’s what the point of these projects is – get out of your comfort zone.