Thursday, January 19, 2017

Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe (Spoilers)

So with all my challenge reading set up for 2017, you may be wondering why I am already reading books that aren't really for challenges. To be honest, I had wanted to read this book for the 2016 Mount TBR challenge, but it didn't happen - I ran out of time. Instead of relegating it to the TBR pile until who-knows-when, I decided to just read it already. So I did!

This book surprised me. I knew it was old, but didn't quite realize that it was almost 200 years old, and that it's often considered the first English novel. The bulk of it is really taken up with how the titular character sets up housekeeping after the shipwreck, and I really enjoyed this part of it. I like hearing how people survive in unlikely places. I could have done without the religious sermonizing that occasionally crops up, but I realize that that's sort of a feature of writing of this era. I couldn't believe Friday didn't appear until about page 160 - I thought he had more of a role in the book.

Another surprise was that soon after Friday shows up, so do a ton of other people. Crusoe lives almost 30 years alone on this island, and it's suddenly Grand Central Station. There is another shipwreck with no survivors, and then another cannibal incursion that includes Friday's father and a Spanish sailor, and then a bunch of mutineers comes ashore. This was not what I had pictured in my mind for how this story would go.

Something amusing to me was how colonial Crusoe is. He's a slaver who gets rich, and despite seeming to have some live-and-let-live thoughts about the "cannibal savages" who occasionally visit his island, as soon as Friday shows up Crusoe takes him for a servant and basically tries to make him over as a European. Why couldn't Crusoe learn Friday's language? What's Friday's actual name? What was his daily life like before he had a brush with cannibals who wanted to eat him? Defoe even describes how the Spanish sailor speaks the language of Friday and his father fairly well. Why can't Crusoe? I guess that's just the language nerd in me.

But these are early 21st century ideas being imposed on a book written in the early 18th century, and I'll stop now, before I get into the cheekiness of Crusoe slagging off the Spanish for deplorable colonial behavior while never holding his own English fellows to the same standard. Evidently the bible he read voraciously was missing the page with the whole "why are you worried about the speck in your neighbor's eye when you've got a freaking LOG in your eye" thing. Ha ha!

All in all though, I did enjoy the bulk of this book, believe it or not. It made me want to read more Defoe, although I will probably skip the little-known sequels to this book, and it will have to wait.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Liberace Extravaganza! - Connie Furr Soloman and Jan Jewett

This was a fun gift from Mr. K. It's a beautiful coffee table type book written by two costume design professionals who wished to document the amazing costumes commissioned and worn by "Mr. Showmanship" himself, Liberace. The book is stuffed with gorgeous photos of the costumes, with many close-ups, and written descriptions of the materials and construction. Liberace was a force of nature and continues to be a tremendous influence on pop culture; he was also a talented musician and a genius at relating to his audiences and fans and keeping himself in the spotlight. Here's a video, which features the cape on pages 74-77; I believe the suit is on page 87, but it's also discussed elsewhere in the book.




I was lucky enough to see Liberace live in concert in the early 80s. Although my lousy memory has taken the details of this concert with it, I do remember a general sense of awe and I have always had a special place in my heart for this man. I am not a Las Vegas person, but I do regret missing out on seeing his museum there, which is closed - it would have really been something to see these costumes in person. I'm so happy the authors of this book were able to make it happen, to preserve these works of art in book form.

I am partial to jewelry so I am also secretly hoping for a second book featuring his jewelry as a companion to this book. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates the art of showmanship and costuming.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin

The most likely reason it's taken me 20 years to read this book is that I stopped enjoying "fantasy" books in general. The silly, made-up names; the quasi-Medieval settings; the insistence on using British English as it's spoken in the UK regardless of the books' actual settings - it all just got on my nerves at some point, and I stopped being interested. So to be fair, this book series escaped my notice entirely until HBO made a TV series about it. At the same time, I discovered Hague Publishing, and reading their well done fantasy/sci-fi books made me think I might be able to dip my toes back into that lake once more.

Strangely enough, while I am not a huge reader of fantasy, I don't mind watching filmed versions of it too much, and I really like the show. It's brutal, to be sure, and binge-watching a lot of episodes at the end of December/beginning of January did give me nightmares a couple times; but it's also nicely complex and I enjoy all the scheming and occasionally seeing a villainous character get their comeuppance. Of course, knowing the show was based on a series of books made me think I should read the books, but I put that off until I just couldn't stand it anymore, and now here I am, trying desperately to talk myself out of reading the rest of the books ASAP.

If you watch the show or if you've read the books (or at least this one book), there isn't much I can really add. The show follows the book pretty closely from what I can remember. I liked how the point of view changes in each chapter, so we get something of a deep dive into a select group of characters' motivations and thoughts. And two of my four favorite characters (Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark) are among these featured characters, which is great (the other two haven't shown up yet). The writing has a bit of clunk here and there (for some reason I irrationally hate the word "nibble" and for some reason Daenerys Targaryen is always "nibbling" something or other; this author also shouldn't try to describe, well, adult things) but it's generally smooth and leads to page turning.

So what say you, readers - do I blow off all my challenge reading and dive into this series now? Or get my challenges under control and then take the plunge? Let me know what you think!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

LGBTQIA Challenge 2017

I was hoping this challenge would take place again in 2017, and it is - hooray!! It's hosted by Pretty Deadly Reviews, and you can get all the info and sign up here. I'm going to commit to the Red level, which is 5 books. I'm hoping I'll exceed that, of course, but this way I'll be sure to meet the challenge. I'll keep track of the books I read in this post as I read them. Please feel free to leave any recommendations in the comments!

1. Liberace Extravaganza! - Connie Furr Soloman and Jan Jewett (Liberace was gay, although he was closeted/not fully out for much of his life)


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Classic Book a Month Challenge 2017

Adam at Roofbeam Reader is hosting this fun challenge this year - get the details and sign up here. Here are the books to read:

January: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
February: The Three Theban Plays by Sophocles
March: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
April: Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
May: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
June: The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville
July: Paradise Lost by John Milton
August: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
September: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
October: Angels in America by Tony Kushner
November: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
December: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The challenge is flexible, and you don't have to read all of the books. I had planned to read a couple of these books already, and others seem interesting, while there are a few that I don't want to reread, so I'll probably end up doing about 8 of the books. Should be a lot of fun!

TBR Pile Challenge 2017

Once again, I am just going to do my own TBR Pile Challenge this year, which will work in conjunction with the Mount TBR Challenge. Here are the 12 books (and 2 bonus books) that I plan to read this year, in no particular order:

1. Main Street - Sinclair Lewis. I feel like I should have read this book a long time ago but it never happened, so now is the time.

2. The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears - Dinaw Mengestu. A cool Library Sale shelves find that needs to get read already.

3. Sula - Toni Morrison. Another Library Sale find that I have been putting off for no good reason.

4. Les Précieuses Ridicules - Moilère. This is a vintage copy (there's a name and the year 1912 written on the inside cover) of this play in French, and I need all the practice I can get, so now's the time.

5. The Given Day - Dennis Lehane. Are you sensing the theme that these are Library Sale shelf finds that found their way to my TBR pile to collect dust? Yet another one to finally get read already.

6. The Oracle of Stamboul - Michael David Lukas. Just to mix things up, this is a Borders Last Days Sale book that's been gathering dust in with the Library Sale books.

7. Out - Natsuo Kirino. No idea why this is languishing, it looks great, let's read it!

8. Devil in a Blue Dress - Walter Mosley. It's part of a series, so if I love it, I can read more!

9. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee - Dee Brown. I had this as a bonus book last year, and managed to avoid it, because I think it will be really upsetting, and that is a stupid reason not to read a book. So this year I will make it happen.

10. The Blue Sky - Galsan Tschinag. Why have I put this off? It looks great. Must read soon!

11. Black Boy - Richard Wright. Really looking forward to this one.

12. Gypsy: A Memoir - Gypsy Rose Lee. Why has this been gathering dust?

Bonus books:

1. Fatherland - Robert Harris. This book has been on my pile for ages and ages. It's an alternative history style mystery set in a world where the Nazis won World War II, and it was made into a HBO movie ages and ages ago, starring Rutger Hauer, who I think is dreamy. It's time to clear out this book!

2. Teach Us To Outgrow Our Madness - Kenzaburo Oe. Chances are I'll read this but just in case I run out of time or something.

Color Coded Challenge 2017

Another irresistible challenge that I always love to do. Sign up here. Here are the categories:

*Read nine books in the following categories.
1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title/on the cover.
2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc) in the title/on the cover.
3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title/on the cover.
4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title/on the cover.
5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title/on the cover.
6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title/on the cover.
7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title/on the cover.
8. A book with any other color in the title/on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.).
9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.).

The hardest category is always the "rainbow" one - suggestions are welcome for that one in particular and any other colors in general!

Mount TBR Challenge 2017

Can't resist this favorite challenge! You can get the info and sign up for it here.  Once again, I am committing to the Mt. Kilimanjaro level of 60 books, although I hope to keep up a MUCH steadier pace this year, roughly 5 books per month from the TBR pile. I can do it!

As always, I'll track the books I read in this post as I go along.

1. Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

Karen K. at the Books and Chocolate blog is hosting this great challenge again, and I love the categories this year! You can get all the info and sign up here. Here are the categories and my choices:

1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899. The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins (1868). I've been meaning to read this book ever since I fell in love with The Woman in White, so may as well do it in 2017!

2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1967. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later, such as posthumous publications. Tender Is the Night  - F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934). This book is on the never-ending TBR pile, so may as well see what it's all about. 

3.  A classic by a woman author. Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather (1927). I have liked the other Cather books I've read, and this one is conveniently on the TBR pile.

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories). The Charterhouse of Parma - Stendahl (1839). I have been meaning to read Stendahl for ages, and this book is yet another TBR pile dust catcher, so it's time to check it out. It's translated from the original French.

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also. The Art of War  - Sun Tzu (5th Century BCE). I feel like I have heard about this book a lot, and it's on the TBR pile so this is a no-brainer.

6.  A romance classic. I'm pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot. A Room with a View - E.M. Forster (1908). Who doesn't love the 1985 movie version with Daniel Day-Lewis, Helena Bonham Carter, and Julian Sands? I've never read the book so I think this is a good choice for this category.

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads. The House on the Borderland -William Hope Hodgson (1908). Another TBR Pile book that seems intriguing, and is evidently considered a horror classic. Sounds like it might be a good fit for October reading - ?

8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, Slaughterhouse Five, Fahrenheit 451, etc. Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome (1889). I know nothing about this book, so I should definitely check it out.

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc.   The Metamorphosis  - Franz Kafka (1915). I happen to have a copy on the TBR pile, and although I read this ages and ages ago, it seems like now is a good time for a reread.

10. A classic set in a place you'd like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc. The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo (1831). This one is kind of cheating - I love Paris, and I happen to have been to Notre Dame before, but who could resist another trip? Plus, being able to travel back in time and see it at the time period in which the book takes place would be so cool - although I think I'd want to make it a short visit, I am a big fan of the modern conveniences like electricity and indoor plumbing!

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton (won the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1921). I remember reading Ethan Frome in school and enjoying it, so I'd like to branch out a bit and read more Wharton.

12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author. The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1880). This book was my first thought when I saw this category, and I really liked Crime and Punishment, so I'll take this one on!

So there you have it! I'm looking forward to this challenge this year, I always enjoy this one, I'm pleased to participate again!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges

This is a post to consolidate my reading challenges for 2017. The links go to my challenge pages. Links to the actual challenges are located on my challenge pages. If you know of any other cool challenges I should consider signing up for, let me know!

Back to the Classics Challenge

Mount TBR Challenge

Color Coded Challenge

TBR Pile Challenge

Planet Earth Challenge

Classic Book of the Month

LGBTQIA Challenge