Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 - The Year in Reading

What a year it was for NOT reading! Yikes. I read 49 books this year, which I guess isn't a terrible number or anything, but at the same time I was hoping for at least 100. Plus, I had at least 1 month with 0 books read - not a good thing. Here are some lessons learned from 2013: 

1. I need to read from the TBR Pile. I know that's really obvious, but I had a few too many instances this year of looking at the pile and deciding that none of the books appealed to me at that moment, therefore I wouldn't read anything, etc. I need to be more disciplined. 

How will I implement this? I physically made piles of the pre-chosen challenge books, and I am going to start with the biggest books first, and go in size order (largest first). Period. No "I'm not in the mood for this book" nonsense - the next book on the pile gets read, pronto. 

2. I need to make time to read. Another obvious thing, but for some reason I let the lure of the TV and the Internet get to me this year, and it cut into my reading time. I also wasted a lot of opportunities to read during lunch breaks from work, etc. 

How will I implement this? I am going to restructure my day a bit so that I will have ample opportunity to use my lunch breaks for reading, and/or make sure that I read a little every day - even 1 15-minute reading coffee break per day is better than no reading for months and then cramming a bunch into the last weeks of the year. 

3. I need to be strategic with challenges. I did OK with this in 2013, since I pared down to 3 challenges total: the TBR Pile Challenge, The Color-Coded Reading Challenge, and my own ongoing Around the World Challenge, but I love challenges so I need to be careful about not overcommitting myself without  checking the TBR Pile first. I really need to reduce this pile and fast. 

How will I implement this? I rejoined the TBR Pile Challenge for 2014 (that will be another 12 books read and removed from the pile), and joined the Back to the Classics Challenge when I realized that I had books for each category on the TBR Pile as well (so another 10 off the pile). I also committed to 1 - 3 books in the Books on France Challenge (I have at least 2 that I can use from the previously mentioned challenge lists, so I will definitely complete this one). I did "cheat" and join up for 2 challenges that will require me to hit the library, but I have a Blackadder-style "cunning plan" for that: I am going to work on the other challenges first, through May 2014, and then use library access as something fun to look forward to this summer, since I hate summer and dread its arrival. So I think I can make this work. 

So there you have it - a plan for 2014. To be honest, in a perfect world I'd like to finish both of the list-based challenges by June 1, then spend the 2nd half of the year reading for the other challenges as well as doing necessary pre-reading for other TBR Pile books (some of the books on my pile are parts of a series, but I am a nut that has to read a series in order, so I can't read those pile books until I read the preceding books, which I'll have to get from the library or a bookstore, etc.). But at this point I'll settle for not letting my reading get so far behind. 

As always, I wish all my blog readers a very happy, healthy, prosperous new year full of books! 

December - This Month in Reading

Well, December was a banner month for my reading in 2013, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Mainly, I woke up out of my stupor, realized just how far behind I was on my challenge reading, and decided to rally and finish the challenges at all costs. So for the last couple weeks of December, I woke up earlier than normal to read, blew off the evening TV and Internet surfing to read (not a bad thing at all, really) and just generally devoted more time to reading. I managed 13 books in all, although a couple of those were kids-type books and consequently easy, fast reads, etc.

For January, I am going to aim high. I would like to finish at least 1 book for the challenges I have chosen books for (the TBR Pile Challenge and the Back to the Classics Challenge) and 1 for each of the other challenges I have signed up for, which would be a total of 5 books, most (if not all) of which are on my TBR Pile right now anyway. Obviously that is more than possible, if I order my day properly, so I am going to work on these new habits for 2014.

Anyone else do a crazy amount of last-minute challenge reading?

Books on France 2014 Reading Challenge

What can I say, I am a reading challenge junkie! I justify joining this challenge because I know that at least one of the books I am already planning to read will count, so I am going to sign up for the lowest level, un peu, which is 1 - 3 books, so I know I'll succeed.

I'll update this post with the books I have read and links to the reviews, etc., as I read in 2014.

Merci à Emma du blog Words and Peace pour accueillir ce défi!

If you haven't joined already, please do, and leave me a comment with any book ideas!

1. The Man in the Iron Mask - Alexandre Dumas (French author; set in France; originally published in French)
2. Bel Ami - Guy de Maupassant (French author; set in France; originally published in French)
3. The Mice of Bistrot des Sept Freres - Marie Letourneau (French author; set in France; includes French language)
4. La Canne de Jonc - Alfred de Vigny (French author; book in French; set in France)
5. 35 kilos d'espoir - Anna Gavalda (French author; book in French; set in France)
6. The North China Lover - Marguerite Duras (French author; book set in French colony of Indochine)


To wrap up, I have to say, this was a good challenge for me. I was nervous to read actual books in French but that worked out fine - I read pretty fast in English, so reading in French is much slower going, but I now have more confidence to read more. And reading about France is always rewarding, even if it's in English :) So Merci mille fois à Emma! I look forward to doing Emma's 2015 challenge - go check it out!

Color-Coded Reading Challenge 2014

I literally just finished this challenge for 2013 about an hour ago, and I must say, I do NOT recommend that! It was due to my overall lack of reading this year - I read a few books for the challenge, but then I needed to hit the library for the majority of the books, and I just didn't manage, etc. etc. But the good news is I was able to skate by this year, so all's well that ends well and all that, I guess. In fact, the lack of books on hand for this challenge and my overall lack of reading this year made me really think about whether I should join up for 2014 or not; but ultimately, I decided that I really like this challenge, and it has led me to discovering some really amazing books I might not otherwise have found out about, so what the heck. I have a couple books I can use, and I had already decided to hit the library for the Harlem Renaissance Challenge, so what the hey. I'll figure it all out.

So here are the categories, and I'll be updating the list with the titles and links for the books I have read as I read them, and etc.

*Read nine books in the following categories.

1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title. - Blue Asylum - Kathy Hepinstall

2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc) in the title. - Cities of the Red Night - William S. Burroughs

3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.) in the title. - We Are the Goldens - Dana Reinhardt

4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title. - Lights Over Emerald Creek - Shelley Davidow

5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title. - The Chocolate War - Robert Cormier

6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title. - The Blackhouse - Peter May

7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc) in the title. - The Reflections of Queen Snow White - David Meredith

8. A book with any other color in the title (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.). - Blood Orange Soda - James Michael Larranaga

9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.). - The Rainbow, D.H. Lawrence

I'd like to thank Bev at My Reader's Block for hosting this challenge again - go sign up and then leave me a comment with any book recommendations! :)  

Brown Girl, Brownstones - Paule Marshall

Wow, what a fantastic end to my 2013 reading! I wasn't previously familiar with this author, but I stumbled on this book in the library since I needed a book with "brown" in the title to finish up the Color-Coded Reading Challenge and I am so glad I did. When the book ended, I wanted to keep reading about the characters in this book, particularly the main character, but also her sister. There is a scene in the middle of the book involving 4 characters and some purchases in which the author so skillfully shows us each character's reactions and inner motivations and conflicts about what is happening that this scene will live in my mind for a long time. I would definitely read more by this author. Highly recommended.

TBR Pile Challenge 2014

This will mark the 4th year I have done The TBR Pile Challenge, and I am really looking forward to doing it again. This challenge has helped me move 36 books off the TBR Pile, and it's also helped me avoid the "I'm not in the mood for this book so I'll let it sit on my pile for another couple years or so" attitude I can be prone to.

Here is my list for 2014:

1. 1Q84 - Haruki Murakami (2011) - read Apr. 2014
2. The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver (2009) - read May 2014
3. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen (1813) - read Feb. 2014
4. Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene (1958) - read Mar. 2014
5. World and Town - Gish Jen (2010) - read Apr. 2014
6. Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut (1963) - read Apr. 2014
7. The Meaning of Night - Michael Cox (2006) - read Oct. 2014
8. Ilustrado - Miguel Syjuco (2008) - read Apr. 2014
9. Late for Tea at the Deer Palace - Tamara Chalabi (2011) - read Mar. 2014
10. Hubert's Freaks - Gregory Gibson (2008) - read May 2014
11. Palace of Desire - Naguib Mahfouz (1957/1991) - read Oct. 2014
12. Sacred Games - Vikram Chandra (2006) - read Dec. 2014

1. The Kingdom of Ohio - Matthew Flaming - read May 2014
2. Cold Sassy Tree - Olive Ann Burns - read Oct. 2014

Thanks again to Roof Beam Reader for hosting this challenge again! What's on your TBR Pile Challenge list for 2014?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Black and Ugly - T. Styles

Another book I found specifically for the Color-Coded Reading Challenge. It's sort of a chick lit book aimed at the African-American reading market. I know I've mentioned ad nauseum on this blog that I am not the target market for chick lit type books, but I enjoyed this book for what it was. I will say the Epilogue was sort of jarring, but it made sense within the context of the book.

Rainbow Soup - Brian P. Cleary/Neil Layton

Dear reader, this post should be subtitled "How NOT To Finish Up A Reading Challenge." In a previous post I mentioned that I was in a mad dash to finish the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, so I had to hit the library for 3 books to finish the last 3 categories. The library branch closest to my house is smallish, so after a thorough perusal of the online catalog and the shelves and even the books for sale, it came down to a choice between this book, which is a small book of and about poetry that is aimed at kids, or Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow. As much as I would have loved to tackle that novel, the sheer size of it meant that there was no way I could read that, plus 2 other books, in less than 48 hours (I have plans for New Year's Eve, so I can't spend that evening reading, etc. etc.). Thus it was that I came home with this book in hand.

This wasn't a bad book, just much shorter and scantier that I would have liked in terms of a book challenge-worthy book, if you know what I mean. On the plus side, it had a lot of interesting poetry terminology that I wasn't even aware of, and many examples of different kinds of poems. I liked how the author encouraged the reader to try writing their own poetry; I'm sure if I had read this book as a kid I would have loved doing so. On the down side, one of the poems uses the word "midget," and a couple others have a religious aspect, and I found both of these things jarring in a book published in 2004 and not, say, 1964 or even 1984. So that struck me as odd.

The moral of this story, dear reader, is: plan your time better throughout the year, so that you aren't scrambling on December 30 and you can use a big, heavy classic for your reading challenge if that's what you'd rather do! :)

The Bobbsey Twins on the Deep Blue Sea - Laura Lee Hope

I managed to escape childhood without reading a single Bobbsey Twins (BT) book, even though there was a series reissue when I was a kid and eagerly devouring Nancy Drew mysteries. In the previous post, I explain how a smallish eBay binge led me to having a few BT books in the house, but I still didn't bother to read any of them until I needed a book to help me finish up the Color-Coded Reading Challenge.

Dear me, what can I say about this book. My copy has two copyright dates, 1918 and 1946, listed, so I assume my copy is from approximately 1946. And if you guessed that I pointed this out so I could talk about the rather dated things in the book, you would be correct - in particular, I was completely thrown by the horrible racial stereotyping of the "colored" help (who luckily for us both get a vacation in this book, so it's mostly confined to the beginning of the book, thank goodness). I realize that this type of thing seemed completely normal in 1918, and not too abnormal in the mid-40s, but it's still really jarring to a modern reader. I guess I usually say that it's important to keep these things in mind so that as a society we can learn from them, etc., but it still wears on me to read this type of thing, especially in a children's book. Maybe I'll let these books go to the used book store in 2014... it will make room on my shelves for more fulfilling books.

The Secret of the Silver Dolphin - Carolyn Keene

I have 2 days left in 2013, so I am going to try my best to finish the Color-Coded Reading Challenge, even though I am going to have to hit the library later this morning when it opens to pull this off. This is a book I have had on hand but hadn't read - the result of an eBay spree several years ago, when I randomly decided to lay in a supply of vintage Nancy Drew, Dana Girls, Hardy Boys, and Bobbsey Twins books (a glass of wine may have been involved - ahem). Luckily I didn't go too crazy, but I did amass a small collection of books that I then neglected to read, which is a good thing because I was therefore able to use 2 of them for this challenge.

Not much I can say about this Dana Girls Mystery Story - it's a product of a different time, when gender roles were more fixed, most white families seem to have some kind of non-white "help" that also provides "comic relief," animals were there only to serve people or be captured from the wild and trapped to be pets, etc. etc. In fact, reading this book (and the next book I will blog shortly) has honestly made me question the presence of these books in my house. The story is simple enough, in the "Carolyn Keene" model, and this book does what it was supposed to do, which is to provide a simplistic mystery story that's not too scary for the small-town and suburban white children of the time in which it was originally written (for this particular book, 1972). Not a terrible book, but "Shakespeare it ain't."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

Eh la la, as one of the characters in this book might say, what an amazing book. It boggles my mind that this book wasn't published in the author's (tragically short) lifetime - but in reality it was probably too ahead of its time. This book made me laugh audibly quite a bit, which is highly unusual for me. The main character sort of predicts the (semi-) current anti-heroes that make you cringe, like the David Brent character from The Office, but neither can you tear your eyes away from them, because you just have to see what they could possibly get up to next. Another book I can't believe I put off reading for as long as I did. Highly recommended.

I need to note that the title comes from this fantastic quote from Jonathan Swift: "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him." This is a deliciously ironic beginning to this book, and it's sadly true as well.

Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge

2014 Harlem Renaissance Reading Challenge

I can't resist this challenge, hosted by Dusky Literati! I scoured the TBR Pile and unfortunately didn't see any books that would qualify, so I'm sort of breaking my own ban against reading books I don't already have around, but this is such a great opportunity to explore writers that I already like (e.g., Langston Hughes) and discover new-to-me authors as well. I am going to sign up for the lowest possible level for this year, and commit to a single book, only because of the other 2 challenges I have already signed up for, etc. I might have to put this one off for a couple months too, to ensure I chip away a bit at Mount TBR before  I go nuts at the library (or, bank account forbid, the book store!). The challenge is flexible if you read more, which I do hope to do, so that will work for me. You can sign up any time between now and next November, so go sign up and leave me a comment when you do. Should be a fun challenge, I'm looking forward to it!

1. Mule Bone - Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes
2. My Soul's High Song - Countee Cullen
3. Not Without Laughter - Langston Hughes

Friday, December 27, 2013

My Endless War ... And My Shattered Dreams - Sonia Kaplan

This is a personal narrative of a Holocaust survivor. The author devotes the first chapters to daily life and customs in her Polish city before the war, which I found very effective, not only to learn what daily life was like, but because it reinforced what was lost in the Holocaust. I came across this book on a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. (a truly wonderful museum everyone should visit in their lifetime) because the author was there signing copies. Sadly it got lost in the shuffle and I hadn't read it until now. Of course now I wish I could have somehow read this book before I had the opportunity to meet the author, who is the only survivor from her family. This book is of course sad but as I have said before in other posts, it's so important that we remember the past so that the horrible things that happen are not repeated.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The History of Danish Dreams - Peter Høeg

This is another mystery book; I have no idea how it wound up on the TBR pile. I assume I got it at a library book sale, and I do know that I would have picked it up based on really liking Smilla's Sense of Snow way back when that was a bestseller (yes, kids, I am older than even I think I am - ugh!). Maybe it's the effects of trying to cram a lot of reading in these last 10 days or so or something, but this book just didn't send me. I found it hard to get into for some reason. I liked the narrative tone and some of the characters, and the magical realism that popped up here and there, but overall I am just glad to have finally finished this book.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky

A friend of mine who loves Tolstoy told me she couldn't stand Dostoevsky. Now as I've mentioned in past reviews, I am not a huge fan of Tolstoy - I don't dislike him, per se, but having read two of his books, I'm fine to leave it at that and not read him again, if that makes sense. This friend also loves Jane Austen, another author I enjoy to a point but don't love (sorry Austen fans, I'm just keeping it real! :) ) I started to suspect that I might actually prefer Dostoevsky for some reason...

...and I was right! I enjoyed this book MUCH more than Anna Karenina and War and Peace. It seemed more focused than those Tolstoy books to me. It did feature some amazingly long (multi-page) paragraphs, and frankly Raskolnikov was rather moody and prickly and had quick changes of temper that seemed familiar from Tolstoy, but for some reason it didn't annoy me as much; maybe it was because it made more sense in the context of the book. Yes, both authors pontificate, and I can understand that that was simply a feature of literature of this era, but again, it seemed a bit less heavy-handed and more germane to the story in this book.

If I can ever get a handle on Mount TBR, I'll have to tackle some other classic Dostoevsky and see how that goes - maybe for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015? :)

You many remember that in my original TBR Pile Challenge post, I said I was going to read this as a chapter-a-day read in 2013, starting on Jan. 1. I did in fact start doing that, but was unable to keep up with it. Of course, now I wish I had kept up with it, for many reasons; it would have been easier to finish that way, of course, and I would have had more time to digest it than during my 2.5 day binge while I desperately attempt to finish off the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge in the last days of December 2013.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Snow Falling on Cedars - David Guterson

This book packed a lot into its 460 pages - a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, a love story (or two), racism, the interment of Japanese citizens during World War II - but it all worked together well. For its length, this was a surprisingly fast read. Some of the subject matter was sad but it's an unfortunate part of U.S. history, so it's important to learn from it so we can try not to make the same mistakes again. All in all this was a very enjoyable read.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Crack in the Edge of the World - Simon Winchester

The subtitle of this book explains the subject matter: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906. I found this book for $1.00 at the local dollar store, and since (as I've mentioned quite a bit on this blog) I love reading about and learning about the turn of the 20th Century, I eagerly snatched it up - and then left it on the shelf until I prioritized it for this year's TBR Pile Challenge. This book is really a comprehensive history of the quake which pretty much destroyed San Francisco in 1906, and the author skillfully covers the geology and plate tectonics and etc. that is the background of the quake. While reading this book I thought it would make a great movie - in fact I'm surprised it hasn't been made into one (or maybe it has and I'm just unaware of it - I should look into that!). One cool feature of this book is the dust jacket - when you remove it from the book it unfolds so you can see some photos of the aftermath of the quake and the fires that raged for days. That was a really innovative thing that I wish more books incorporated, as it's really cool.

I lived in San Francisco briefly so it was gratifying to read about places I remember, and to hear about how the quake shaped the city (or didn't), etc. I didn't experience an earthquake while I lived there; my first quake occurred in 2011 on the east coast and it was crazy! Luckily it didn't cause a lot of damage or injury (particularly compared to the 1906 quake); I can't even imagine how horrible that California quake must have been. This author has written many other books, so I'll look for them if I ever get a handle on the TBR pile.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Inferno - Dante

I know Dante has a last name, but most people seem to call him by his first name only, so I will too. Another classic book I can't believe I haven't read until now. I have to mention the translator, John Ciardi, since I think he did a wonderful job. Dante very vividly describes his vision of Hell, and of the punishments therein for those who apparently deserve them. I sometimes like to think that this type of afterlife punishment does happen, as of course it makes one feel better to think that horrible people who seem to get away with, and even prosper by, their horrible words and deeds, will get some kind of punishment at some time. The more rational part of me knows it isn't so, but it's still strangely satisfying to think of Dante scribbling his poetry and picturing his enemies bitterly regretting their earthly misdeeds at length.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Exit Into History - Eva Hoffman

As I mentioned in the original TBR Pile Challenge post, I have no idea how I came to own this book. I suspect it was a used book that I bought because the subject matter, described in the subtitle: A Journey Through the New Eastern Europe, was intriguing. I wasn't wrong - this book painted an up-close portrait of the changes in Poland, (then) Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria in the early 90s, when these countries were emerging from communist rule. This book was originally published 20 years ago, so as I was reading it I couldn't help but wish for an updated sequel. I'd love to find out about the people described in the book, and how the cities and towns the author visited look today, compared to this time of upheaval and change.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2014

So remember the last post, where I bemoaned my lack of reading generally and in November specifically? After writing something like that, a logical, sensible person would probably think about how little they had read in 2013 and decide not to do reading challenges in 2014. Well, thank goodness I'm not particularly logical or sensible, because I stumbled on a book blog post today and immediately decided to sign up for the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen K. at the Books and Chocolate blog.

Now I should make it clear that I decided to sign up for this challenge based on my enormous to be read pile - I was able to easily find books for each category in this pile, so I will not have to visit the library or otherwise obtain new books in order to complete this challenge. In addition, reading classic books is always a good thing, as I've mentioned on this blog repeatedly. So I figure this is a win-win scenario all around.

Here are the categories and the books I've chosen:

Required Categories:
A 20th Century Classic - The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
A 19th Century Classic - Bel Ami, Guy de Maupassant
A Classic by a Woman Author - Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
A Classic in Translation - The Tin Drum, Günter Grass
A Wartime Classic - Catch-22, Joseph Heller
A Classic by an Author Who Is New to You - Lady Chatterly's Lover, D.H. Lawrence

Optional Categories:
An American Classic - The Prince and the Pauper, Mark Twain
A Classic Mystery, Suspense, or Thriller - The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton
A Historical Fiction Classic - The Man in the Iron Mask, Alexandre Dumas
A Classic That's Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series - Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
Extra Fun Category: Write a Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from Optional Category #4 - Rebecca, the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine (the film review has spoilers)

Head over to the challenge sign up post (linked above) for more info, including the rules, etc., and sign up!