jfetting's 12 in 12 challenge

DiskuteraThe 12 in 12 Category Challenge

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jfetting's 12 in 12 challenge

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Redigerat: dec 29, 2011, 10:57am

So after thinking about it, this year's categories are:

1) Longest on the TBR list
2) Real-life book group books
3) Short story collections
4) Random nonfiction on my shelves
5) LT group reads
6) Historical fiction
7) Nonfiction: ago (history/memoir/biography)
8) Religion/spirituality
9) Booker prize winners
10) Author Theme Reads - Japanese authors
11) 1001 books
12) Anything goes

Right now, the plan is to read 10 books in each category for a grand total of 120, which is high for me. This will be adjusted up or down depending on how life goes during 2012.

Redigerat: dec 16, 2012, 5:25pm

Category 1: Longest on the TBR list

Background: Once upon a time, a non-reader friend talked into joining a more different internet book catalog website. I know, I know. Anyway, I did not take this one as seriously, and mainly used it to keep track of things I wanted to read in the future (this was before LT came up with collections). The 10 books that have sat on the list unread the longest are:

1) Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl - 1/7/2012
2) On Beauty by Zadie Smith - 4/4/12
3) The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood - 7/24/12
4) Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood - 8/27/12
5) The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski - 8/24/12
6) The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher - 9/10/12
7) Ines of my Soul by Isabel Allende
8) The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - 4/14/12
9) March by Geraldine Brooks
10) The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander - 12/16/12

Redigerat: okt 3, 2012, 4:21pm

Category 2: Real-life book group books - COMPLETE

1) Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk - 1/20/12
2) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - 1/10/12
3) A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - 7/30/12
4) The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier - 9/23/12
5) A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole - 8/9/12
6) Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay -2/22/12
7) Broken Harbor by Tana French - 10/1/12
8) Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese - 3/18/12
9) The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - abandoned 3/4 way through on 5/10/12 but I'm counting it because of the suffering
10) 11/22/63 by Stephen King - 4/20/12

Redigerat: nov 14, 2012, 11:02am

Category 4: Random nonfiction on my shelves
There are a bunch of random nonfiction titles on my bookshelves that I want to get around to reading, already. These are them.

1) Marley and Me by John Grogan - 2/21/12
2) Blink: the power of thinking without thinking by Malcolm Gladwell - 7/8/12
3) Breakthrough: politics and race in the age of Obama by Gwen Ifill - 4/29/12
4) Godel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter
5) Consilience: the Unity of Knowledge by E.O. Wilson
6) The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois - 8/24/12
7) Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel - 10/28/12
8) Longitude by Dava Sobel - 8/12/12
9) We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch - 11/13/12
10) The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

Redigerat: nov 19, 2012, 10:14am

Category 5: LT group reads

1) The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery with the 12 in 12 read - 4/7/12
2) IQ84 by Haruki Murakami with the Author Theme Reads group - 1/28/12
3) The Ghost in the Little House by William Holtz with the Missouri Readers - 2/8/12
4) Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde - 2/15/12
5) Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell - Missouri Readers - 4/22/12
6) White Teeth by Zadie Smith - 1001 group read - 9/14/12
7) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - Missouri Readers (sorta) - 10/11/12
8) Stoner by John Williams - 11/17/12

Redigerat: dec 27, 2012, 11:48am

Category 8: Religion/spirituality
Religious books, spiritual books, books about religions or spirituality

1) Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl - 3/25/12
2) Miracles by C.S. Lewis - 4/5/12
3) Varieties of Religious Experience by William James - 12/26/12
4) The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong
5) God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It by Jim Wallace
6) Confessions of St. Augustine - 11/9/12
7) The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton - 7/21/12
8) Jesus and Buddha: the parallel sayings by Marcus Borg - 2/9/12
9) When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson - 4/15/12
10) Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin - 9/12/12

Undoubtedly, there will be a Borg/Crossan collaboration in here, possibly something by John Shelby Spong, and I'd like to get in the scriptures of a religious tradition that is not mine. So like either the Koran, or the Bhagavad Gita, or something.

Redigerat: dec 5, 2012, 9:09am

Category 9: Booker Prize winners
That I haven't read yet, I mean.

1) Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes - 5/24/12
2) The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson - 11/8/12
3) Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre - 8/25/12
4) The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst - 10/15/12
5) Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee - 11/4/12
6) Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey - 11/5/12
7) Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally - 2/19/12
8) The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
9) The Ghost Road by Pat Barker - 8/20/12
10) The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood - 7/1/12

Redigerat: nov 28, 2012, 10:53am

Category 10: Author Theme Reads - Japanese authors - COMPLETE

1) Silence by Shusaku Endo - 1/18/12
2) The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo - 2/9/12
3) Kokoro by Natsume Soseki - 3/16/12
4) The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe - 4/13/12
5) Deep River by Shusaku Endo - 4/24/12
6) The Samurai by Shusaku Endo - 8/7/12
7) Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami - 8/11/12
8) Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima - 11/27/12
9) The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima - 11/19/12
10) The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima - 10/14/12

Redigerat: nov 11, 2012, 7:29pm

Category 11: 1001 books
Mostly classics, this year, I think. With a couple exceptions

1) Regeneration by Pat Barker - 4/4/12
2) Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks - 5/7/12
3) The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks - 8/14/12
4) Hard Times by Charles Dickens - 9/5/12
5) Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
7) The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu
8) The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal
9) Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell - 8/10/12
10) Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong'o - 1/1/12

nov 28, 2011, 7:31pm

heya Jennifer I'm marking your list, even though we don't have much overlap. I'm sure I'll pick up some good references.... that longest on the TBR list scares me, I avoided it this year ;-)

dec 11, 2011, 11:22pm

Hi, Jennifer - I hope I'll do a better job of keeping up with you in 2012 than I did in 2011. You've got a great list here to work from.

dec 16, 2011, 3:08pm

I have read (or tried to read) three of the books on your TBA list. Edgar Sawtelle and Alias Grace were winners. I gave up on The Blind Assassin after reading 3/4s of it. I kept the marker in the book so I might get back to it someday. I'm afraid of getting the oldest of my TBRs out. The piles might collapse on me! I do intend to tackle some of them.

dec 21, 2011, 3:45am

I'm attempting a 1001 category this year, i thought it was the only way I'd put a dent in the list!

I'm also planning on reading the The Elegance of the Hedgehog, so no doubt we'll cross paths :)

jan 1, 2012, 3:18pm

My first book of the year is a 1001 book, Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong'o. I'm cheating, probably, since I've been reading this for the past week, but the first finished book of the year is this African novel set in post-colonial Kenya. It is a very political book, about how the native Kenyan leaders who replace the British ones are essentially the same. It is an engrossing book, but not a fun one to read. Thiong'o was imprisoned after it came out.

jan 2, 2012, 1:41pm

I don't think anyone will call you on when you started your book. It sounds like you started the year with quite a memorable book.

jan 2, 2012, 1:46pm

I always count books on the day, month or year that I finish. Besides, I don't think there's any way to "cheat" on this challenge, since we all set our own rules!

jan 7, 2012, 12:22pm

Anything Goes: In a Dog's Heart by Jennifer Arnold (the woman who runs that Canine Assistants training center, as seen on PBS, by me, repeatedly)

So I'm a dog person - I'm currently owned by a 8.5-9yo (ish) flat-coated retriever/border collie mix. I'd seen this book around LT (I think it may have been an early reviewer book) so I picked it up. It seems like a good book for new dog owners; I really wish it had been around when I first got Sadie because it has a lot of good (and realistic) advice on what to feed them, how to train them, etc. The book may have been written in response to Cesar Milan and his advice. Apparently there is a bit of a backlash starting against his methods, since people who don't actually know what they are doing around dogs take them, carry them too far, and end up with terrified, aggressive, biting dogs. I've read both books, and while I think Milan has some good points (dogs need exercise, lots, and tired dogs are good dogs), other points seem to be specific for problematic dogs, and can really cause huge problems in more sensitive dogs. Arnold points this out; dogs have different personalities, like people, and so each dog probably needs to be treated a little differently, like people.

Longest on the TBR pile: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

I've been meaning to read this for years, and finally did. It takes awhile to get going (too much exposition, not enough editing) but the story itself is a lot more fun than it should have been. The first part of the book reads a lot like the traveling-around-the-country scenes in Lolita, without any child molestation, and then it jumps into new-girl-at-fancy-prep-school territory. This part is complete with the Beautiful People Posse (like the Cullens, but not vampires), who for some reason bring Blue (like Bella, only mildly less irritating) into their fold. There is a lot of strange behavior by a teacher, an accidental death, a murder, and then in the last 100 pages or so we find ourselves in a mysterious-underground-assassin-group thriller.

It sounds like a mess, and some readers have found it so, but I really liked it. Especially once things started happening. There is a lot of cutesy references (annotated), and line drawings, and that sort of thing, but I didn't find it annoying. Many reviewers ranted about how it is basically just a crappy knockoff of The Secret History, with a murder mystery, so obviously I now need to go read that book too.

jan 7, 2012, 1:08pm

I'm glad to hear you liked Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I've been mildly thinking of reading that for a while but never went so far as to add it to the TBR list. Perhaps I will.

jan 7, 2012, 2:12pm

I've read and liked a lot of the books on your lists--you should have lots of fun this year.

jan 11, 2012, 9:49am

banjo - that is good to hear!

I read a book for my real-life book group, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, although I don't think my book group is actually going to discuss it until like June. But the library had it for me now, and I've been waiting and waiting, so I read it. And it is fantastic. I think it really does deserve all the hype it is getting right now. I loved the descriptions of the tents at the circus, and while yes the contest isn't an actual "battle" so much as it is "tent making" that was fine too. I loved it.

jan 19, 2012, 10:11am

For my author theme reads category, I read Silence by Shusaku Endo

A really beautiful and really profound and really thought-provoking book. Its about a missionary priest in Japan back in 1600-something, who goes looking for his teacher who allegedly apostatized. The Christian community is being hunted down and destroyed, but the missionary (Rodrigues) is obsessed with what on earth made his teacher apostatize. He finds out. What does God want? Blind adherence to dogma which permits suffering? Or relief of that suffering, even if it means what looks like apostasy? Why would Rodrigues expect anything but silence from God when he is priding himself on a faith that comes entirely from an academic and selfish worldview?

jan 19, 2012, 1:03pm

Interesting review. There are so many people's threads that I watch that are participating in the Japanese author theme read that I'm starting to get curious. I'll be interested to know at the end of the year what your favorites are as I don't think I've read any Japanese authors. It's funny how well-read I used to consider myself before LT!

jan 21, 2012, 11:05am

This month's read for my real life book group is Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk. I really, really hated this book and everything about it. It is ugly, it is gross, it is pointlessly vulgar, it is peopled with characters who are not only unlikable, they aren't even interesting enough to hate. Obviously it is meant to be shocking, but it isn't shocking so much as it is total, unreadable shit. I only finished it b/c I didn't want anyone at book group to be all "oh, no, if you had read it through to the end and made it through the 30th Major Plot Twist you would have loved it". Nope. This book sucks a lot.

jan 29, 2012, 10:40am

A LT group read with the Author Theme Read group:

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

I've never read any Murakami before, and I didn't know what to expect, but I ended up loving this book. It's a combination of weird supernatural fantasy, and a love story, and a dystopia (sort of). I actually stopped in the middle of the book and flipped to the end to see who lived and who died.

Some of the prose annoyed me (lots of descriptions of a 17 yo girl's large perfect breasts - yuck) but I was totally drawn in to the story, and concerned about the characters. 5 stars.

feb 2, 2012, 9:12pm

Thank you for your reviews! So tell us, did you like Invisible Monsters or not? heheh

Thank you also for your reviews of Special Topics in Calamity Physics and The Night Circus. Both were on my 'To be put on mount TBR someday' pile, and I think I might just have to put Night Circus on the actual pile :P

feb 3, 2012, 12:35pm

For my historical fiction category, I read The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory. Usually one of her books is a guilty pleasure, but not this time. There is no way Queen Elizabeth could have been that whiny, or that indecisive, or stupid (and if she was, I'd rather not know).

feb 9, 2012, 2:01pm

I finished a group read book with the Missouri Readers: The Ghost in the Little House by William Holtz. It is a biography of Rose Wilder Lane, the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The book was pretty terrible, and I can't tell if it is because of the writing or the fact that Rose Wilder Lane was a boring, whiny, irresponsible, annoying, untalented, manipulative, second-rate, right-wing-ideologue hack. I'm thinking probably the latter. OMG was she obnoxious. She and her mother had a fraught relationship, that is true, but she was every bit as horrible as her mother allegedly was when she was an adult.

I was hoping for more of how she helped her mom write the Little House books (which I admit I adored as a kid: my girl cousins and I used to play Little House on my grandparents' farm and would fight over who got to be Laura). The author of the biography seems to think that RWL should get all the credit for the Little House books. I don't know about that; yes, she polished them up quite a bit, and made the story more readable, but the stories themselves came out of LIW's head. Writing pretty sentences isn't enough to make someone a good author. Story is way more important.

feb 9, 2012, 2:13pm

Delving into some 12 in 12 threads and like your categories--we have lots of overlap.

Nice review of Silence, which I also read for the Japanese author theme read. I am currently reading both The Night Circus and 1Q84 but am not very far into either one.

And I enjoyed your review of The Ghost in the Little House, which I probably will not read.

feb 9, 2012, 2:45pm

I definitely support not-reading The Ghost in the Little House.

feb 9, 2012, 6:59pm

Ugh, I can't stand Misery Memoirs :P (A term I stole from the Thursday Next series and will now use at every available opportunity :P).

feb 9, 2012, 8:59pm

Thanks for the review of The Ghost in the Little House. Now I know to avoid it! I tried some years ago to read the series about Rose Wilder Lane by Roger Lea McBride but I just couldn't get very far into it. That surprised me, as I absolutely loved The Little House books as a child and have reread them many times over as an adult. Maybe it was, as you surmised, that Rose Wilder Lane was never the lovable and interesting person that her mother had been.

feb 10, 2012, 11:50am

For the Author Theme Reads category: The Sea and Poison by Shusaku Endo

A quick, horrifying, absorbing read about vivisection experiments performed by Japanese doctors on U.S. POWs during WWII. Each of the minor participants has his or her story revealed, explaining (using a few scenes each) why they chose to participate, and what made one of these changes his/her mind at the last minute. Very good and very thought-provoking, but not easy to read.

For my religion/spirituality category: Jesus and Buddha: the parallel sayings by Marcus Borg

As an antidote to the inhumanity in the previous book, I finished this quick little compilation of verses from Christian scripture and Buddhist scripture that demonstrates how very very similar were the teachings of Christ and the Buddha. They're presented one verse/page, with the Christian text and the Buddhist text on opposite pages. Very little commentary. I liked it.

feb 12, 2012, 6:28pm

I've got Ghost in the Little House sitting here to be read for the MO Readers group, but so far haven't managed to pick it up and read it. I think the others have liked it better than you - should make for an interesting discussion. Jesus and Buddha sounds interesting, though...

Redigerat: feb 16, 2012, 1:23pm

Shades of Grey: the Road to High Saffron by Jasper Fforde

This seems less like a standalone novel and more like the setup for a new series. Which I suppose it is, but even in a series I think each book should be a story in and of itself. I gave the book 5 stars, though, despite that little quibble because the world-building was so great and because I am so very much looking forward to the rest of the series. He left way too much unexplained.

Not sure yet which category this is going in. Maybe Group Reads, maybe Anything Goes.

ETA: Group Reads, I think.

feb 20, 2012, 10:34am

For my Booker Prize Winner category:

Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally

Wow. Keneally uses the "nonfiction novel" technique to tell the story of Oskar Schindler and how he saved 1200 Jewish men and women during WWII by keeping them employed in his factory. That sentence makes it sound simple, but he spent three solid years bribing, pulling strings, and dashing around Poland to keep his people safe. He built whole camps to keep them out of the hellish local concentration camp, he made up crazy excuses as to why he needed workers who were small children, who were sick, etc. I don't know why I'm summarizing; everyone has seen the movie.

The book is better. You learn so much more about the people. The girl in the red coat? She has a name, and a story. AND, best of all, in real life she survived. The movie is difficult to watch; the book is easy to read. Keneally is very matter-of-fact about the horrors, so the reader can focus on the individuals in the camps. It is a 5-star book.

feb 20, 2012, 12:02pm

#39 I attempted the movie but never made it past half-way. Sounds like the book is the way to go. Wonderful reivew!

feb 20, 2012, 12:37pm

I never even tried the movie... knew that I wouldn't be able to watch it. Am glad to hear that the book is more bearable, as I feel that it's a story that needs to be told and heard.

feb 21, 2012, 10:01am

For my Random Nonfiction on My Shelves category, I finally read Marley and Me by John Grogan. It was a cute book, and of course as a dog person I loved it. I can't relate to his stories, really, since my current dog is one of those once-in-a-lifetime perfect dogs, but the end made me cry like a baby.

I also read The Dogs of Riga by Henning Mankell, the second of the Wallender books, and am sticking it in my Anything Goes category. I haven't read any Scandinavian crime in awhile, and this book was just what I needed. It was great; even better than the first one, with lots of international intrigue and whatnot. Plus, I think that Wallender is one of the most unintentionally-hilarious characters in all of literature. I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be laughing at him the way I do, but I can't help it.

feb 21, 2012, 10:44am

Ugh, can't read dog books - too emotional.

And thanks for the reminder to get back to the Mankell books. I have only read Faceless Killers.

feb 24, 2012, 9:27am

Wallender is one of the most unintentionally-hilarious characters in all of literature. I'm pretty sure I shouldn't be laughing at him the way I do, but I can't help it. - I love it when that happens! This is a series I haven't started yet but have been wanting to read for such a long time.

feb 29, 2012, 7:59am

I've been too sick to read much or think about books lately, but I've managed to get one finished pre-sick and one finished last night.

For my Real Life Book Group, I read Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. I loved the first half of the book, when the POV switched between that of Sarah, a 10yo French Jewish girl rounded up into the Vel' d'Hiv' in July of 1942, and Julia, a modern-day journalist who is reporting on the Vel' d'Hiv on the 50th anniversary of the roundup. It was really interesting, contrasting the facts Julia gathered with the atmosphere of horror and what-is-going-on that Sarah felt. There's a buildup to an event in Sarah's world (sorry, no spoilers), and then it is resolved. In the middle of the book. So Sarah's voice goes away, and we're left with Julia. This part of the book kind of sucked, actually. Julia (an American) is overwhelmed with guilt about the Shoah, and the events of July 1942 in France in particular, and determined to find Sarah. What for? you might ask. Why conceivable good could the arrival of a total stranger (Julia) in Sarah's life, reminding her of this epic tragedy in her life, do? I don't have an answer to that question, and the book didn't really either, but it went on for another couple hundred pages. It seems to me that Julia is making a big assumption, that somehow Sarah will be pleased to know... what? "That somebody remembers her"? It isn't Sarah's responsibility to make Julia feel better about the situation. It isn't Sarah's job to assuage Julia's Western guilt. If I were Sarah, and somebody showed up on my doorstep 50 years after I lost my entire family, and said "Hi. I'm a member of the family who still owns the apartment that you were dragged out of in the middle of the night, the one you used to own that you were never reimbursed for. I just want you to know that I like totally remember you, that we feel real bad about that whole thing. We're not going to, you know, do anything about it or give you the apartment back, not that you'd want it, really, but basically I'm going to stand here until you tell me how special I am for doing this, for showing up here." I'd slap her. de Rosnay should have stopped halfway through. There is nothing wrong with a short novel.

For my short story collections, I read Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories. It is a lovely LoA collection of all Jackson's work. The Lottery is a wonderful collection of super creepy short stories, The Haunting of Hill House is even scarier than I remember, We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a new one for me and WOW is that one messed up novella, and the uncollected work at the end is fun too. I didn't realize Jackson could be so funny. Highly recommended for fans.

mar 1, 2012, 11:33pm

Sorry to learn you are sick.... it seems to be making the rounds! Hope you are feeling better soon!

mar 5, 2012, 10:57am

More trashy historical fiction: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory. The titular Red Queen (Margaret Beaufort/Tudor/Stafford/Stanley) is a total nut who is convinced that God's Will is for her to have supreme power. I could not stand her, and I can usually sympathize with Gregory's first person narrators. Not this one. She sucks. The book is pretty good, but since I spent most of it loathing Margaret and wanting her to suffer and fail, I can't say I liked it that much.

Redigerat: mar 16, 2012, 9:28am

For my nonfiction:ago category I read Constantine's Sword by James Carroll

***Warning: ridiculously long review. If you just want the short, short version: this book is really important and good and readable and possibly should be required reading***

This gigantic doorstop of a book has been on my TBR (and physically on my bookshelves) since there was a lecture about the history of the Christian church and the Jewish people at the church I attended in St. Louis. The speaker was fantastic, the lecture was riveting, the topic was horrifying. He said that if we wanted to know more, we should read this book. 5 years later, I did. He's right.

Carroll is a practicing Catholic, and an ex-priest, and makes clear that this history is presented through the eyes of an increasingly guilt-ridden Catholic. He intersperses the history parts with stories from his own past that help illustrate particular topics. The book begins with a trip to Auschwitz, and the installation of a cross by Pope John Paul II, and the fallout from that which leads Carroll to ask "How did this happen? How did Western civilization get to this point?" It is incredibly readable (Carroll is a novelist, I think, in his real job), but also fairly respectable in terms of sources (over 100 pages of endnotes & references! Another 20 or so of bibliography) but not at all light reading. He presents evidence of how, over 2000 years, the execution by the Romans of the leader of a Jewish sect (a different denomination, in a sense) was manipulated first by Jewish followers who wanted more followers, then by Gentile adherents who didn't like Jews in the first place and now felt they had a reason to dislike those Jews even more (we're still in the first century of the Common Era, btw), next by a shrewd politician who realized that he'd get lots of support in his bid to be emperor if he claimed to be Christian now, and I'm going to stop here because this is an appalling run-on sentence already and I'm only at Constantine.

Basically, the argument is that 20th century anti-Semitism and its peak during the Holocaust isn't just because of one man, or even one political party, as much as we'd like to think so. One can trace a direct line from decisions made by Christian philosophers, priests, and popes to embed hatred of Jewish people into the very dogma of the Church, and (via the pulpit) from the church to the culture of Western civilization. And it is hard to rid a culture of something like that. Hell, I saw an article on msn.com yesterday where some batshit right-winger politician is blaming something on "Jewish socialism". Now. Today. Here in the good old US of A, where we'd never behave like that. Well, except for the exclusion of Jewish people from country clubs, etc. in the 60s. Besides that. Now, I'm not saying that everyone reading this is a secret anti-Semite; I think that most of us are not, actually. I'm just saying (parroting Carroll, actually) that it isn't like the Holocaust happened in a Christian-dominant culture where everyone was all "yay Jewish people just like us woo!". The Jewish people had been scapegoats for millenia. This shit doesn't happen in a void.

I wish I could say something more coherent and profound, because this book really had a profound effect on me the past couple of weeks. I've decided I'm not capable of the review this book deserves, but someone probably has done it already.

Flippant aside: OMG, has anyone here actually read the letters of Abelard and Heloise? Carroll excerpts some in the book (Abelard is one of the few lights in the church on this issue, and if he had won the battle with Anselm & his spiritual heirs there would not have been a holocaust) and wow. That is some hot stuff right there. I had no idea.

ETA: Now what I'd really like to do is to read the exact same history, but from a Jewish writer's perspective.

mar 16, 2012, 10:24am

Jennifer - I'm not sure I've ever seen you write such a rambling enthusiastic review before! Very effective, though, because I immediately wanted to check out this book that has you so excited. It turns out I've already got it on my wishlist, so thanks for the nudge to move it up.

Another, completely unrelated topic: You're a scientist, right? I've got something happening here this week I've never seen before. Ever. I have this crazy robin in the yard that keeps flying up and pecking at the windows. First it was the window of a shed we built last fall and I thought it was the new structure that was bothering him. But we did not take down any trees or anything to make room for it. Now he is pecking at the screens at the windows on the house. I'm getting concerned because the bedroom window upstairs is open, but does not have a screen on it yet. What is he doing and how do I get him to stop it?

mar 16, 2012, 10:52am

It sounds like it might be territoriality - if it is a male robin, he could be seeing his reflection in the window and attacking it to defend his territory. That doesn't explain the screens, though. Are the windows open or shut? Any mirrors inside that he could be seeing an imaginary rival in?

mar 16, 2012, 11:43am

The shed window does not have a screen, and it is dark inside which would create vivid reflections on the outside. That makes sense that he thinks there is another bird there. And that is the window that is getting most of his attention. Earlier, I noticed that there was a second robin in the yard - also male. They seem to be ignoring each other, but the one is still going at the windows. I already have a love-hate relationship with these birds. I love seeing and hearing them around the house. But they build their nests in my gutters which causes problems when we get a heavy rain. And if they begin tearing up my screens (newly replaced this year) I will start losing patience with them.

mar 17, 2012, 10:41am

For my Author Theme Reads category: Kokoro by Natsume Soseki
I'm loving these Japanese authors. I don't know if they're just that readable, or if they have really good translators, or they only bother to translate the really good books, but this is another winner that I read thanks to the Author Theme Reads group. It is another civilization-in-transition story, from the point of view of a member of the younger generation, depicting his interactions with the older generation. Some of it still hits quite close to home for a book that is published in 1914, like the struggle between being a good son or daughter and living near parents, and being ambitious and wanting to pursue a career that will probably guarantee never living near parents (sigh), and dealing with the recurring guilt trips (sigh, again, louder).

But that's just one subplot - there is also a lot of drama about the secret in the past life of the character called Sensei, who can't quite overcome his guilt for an action that this modern reader thinks isn't really that bad, but Sensei obviously did. It's really good.

mar 19, 2012, 8:52am

For my real life book group this month, I read Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. This is a really big book and I thought I was going to be reading it for weeks, but I finished it in a weekend. It was really good; I loved all the bits about surgery he stuck in. I'm not ever going to read it again, but I'm glad I read it once.

mar 19, 2012, 8:55am

@48 - sounds like an interesting book!

mar 19, 2012, 12:10pm

I have it sitting on my shelf. Some day...

mar 25, 2012, 9:49am

More historical fiction, because that is really all I want to read this year:

When Christ and his Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman

Oh, she's good. Really really good. I love this book almost as much as I love The Sunne in Splendour. It's the first of the Henry II/Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, and most of the book consists of Stephen and Maude (real name in real history is Matilda, but there are already like 3 Matildas in the book already and so Penman changed her name) battling it out for control of England after Stephen stole the throne from her after the death of Henry I. It does drag in spaces, but gets super good as soon as Henry II grows up.

One thing that does crack me up about Penman is her overuse of the following plot device: Two main characters are sitting in a castle/tavern/whorehouse/battlefield tent/stable/battlement, speculating about the events of recent history (deaths, betrayals, etc). Suddenly, a messenger appears out of nowhere! Said messenger is inevitably soaking wet/bleeding/missing a limb/has an arrow sticking out of them/frozen. Messenger blurts out that DANGER! is approaching/Someone Important is dead/army is leaving! Everyone scurries about and yells for horses. Repeat as needed.

Seriously good book though. Can't wait for the second one.

mar 25, 2012, 10:41am

thanks for the coffee through my nose!

mar 25, 2012, 1:52pm

@ 56 -- Haha, great review! I love Sharon Kay Penman, and I really do need to get to The Sunne in Splendour one of these days!

mar 25, 2012, 7:34pm

#57 You're welcome!

#58 Yes, you really do need to read TSIS. It is fantastic!

For my Anything Goes category, I'm sneaking in an unplanned historical fiction novel - Company of Liars by Karen Maitland. It is a quick read, and a highly entertaining if a bit creepy story of a group of travelers in fourteenth century Britain who are headed north trying to get away from the Black Plague. They tell stories about themselves in Canterbury Tales sort of way (modern English, don't worry).

mar 26, 2012, 7:00pm

I'm sticking Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl into my religion/spirituality category, although it could equally go into a psychology category (if I had one). The first half is a lot like Night, or If This is a Man, describing the horrors of the concentration camp. Frankl was a survivor, and he uses his experience in the camps to set up his argument in the second half: that you can't control what happens to you, or prevent suffering, but you can control how you respond to it. It is a very profound little book.

apr 4, 2012, 6:50pm

I read Regeneration by Pat Barker as one of my 1001 books. It's fascinating, and disturbing, and really really good.

apr 5, 2012, 12:37am

You make Man's Search for Meaning sound good. I was always a little afraid of it before.

apr 7, 2012, 3:02pm

For my Longest on the TBR Shelf category: On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Well-written story about an interracial academic family in New England. The plotline is loosely based on Howard's End, one of my favorite books, and about halfway through I picked up on the connections. Overall, while I can see why it is so applauded, for me the book kinda fell flat. For most of it I felt like I was reading a crappy John Irving novel; only the ending makes it obvious that this isn't just yet another novel about middle-aged men and their seeming universal (in novels) obligation to attempt to reclaim their lost youth by banging a teenager.

For my Religion/Spirituality category: Miracles by C.S. Lewis. A little Lenten reading. In general, Lewis is a bit more conservative and literalist a Christian than I am, so we frequently disagree. Never more so than in this book, where Lewis tries to take a rational, scientific approach to argue that miracles happen and that the specific miracles mentioned in the gospels specifically happened. It infuriates me because he'll say things like "Well, obviously A, because A is the ONLY way to interpret X statement" when B, C, and D are all equally valid (to me) ways of interpreting X statement.

I'm not saying miracles can't or didn't happen. I'm saying that you have to take these things on faith, because they don't necessarily stand up to scientific rigor. Nor are they supposed to, because science and religion are two different things that ask two very different types of questions.

For my Group Reads category, I read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery with this very 12 in 12 group. I suppose I should have read all the little blurbs on the back, which talked about how "bittersweet" and "heartbreaking" this book is, because then I would have been prepared for the ending. I wasn't. How could she end it like that? Loved it, despite the ending. A beautifully written reminder of the importance of Art and Culture in life (and I feel like it is ok to capitalize these words, because she does all the time).

apr 12, 2012, 1:49pm

Another short story collection: The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell. I love his writing; it is really dark and depressing and bleak but also really draws me in. I read this short story collection because I wasn't paying attention to what I was doing, and got this from the library instead of the book I was SUPPOSED to read for this month's Missouri Readers read, Woe to Live On. There is a short story in the book called Woe to Live On, as well. The stories are as horrifying as you'd expect from Woodrell, and I loved the book as much as I love all his books.

apr 14, 2012, 11:03am

For my author theme reads category:

The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

No. I'm pretty sure that this book went right straight over my head, and is very good in a deep and profound way that I don't understand, and that is why all the intelligent literary people over at Author Theme Reads liked it so much. I don't. 2 stars. Boo.

apr 14, 2012, 7:57pm

For my Longest on the TBR category (although I really read it for Real Life Book Group #2 this month), The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

It is a really easily read, entertaining (though dark & gothic & melodramatic), plot-driven book. I liked it a lot, and I'll probably recommend it to those of my friends who like to read, but not books with "descriptions" or "ideas".

apr 14, 2012, 11:44pm

Haha, your review of The Shadow of the Wind made me laugh. I'm not against books with "ideas," but I'm glad to know it's a quick read, as it's been sitting on my TBR shelf for a while!

apr 15, 2012, 6:37am

The Shadow of the Wind was one of my favourite reads of last year. Glad you enjoyed it also.

apr 16, 2012, 8:39am

whereas I liked the woman in the dunes and didn't really like the shadow of the wind both of which I read a couple of years ago

apr 16, 2012, 1:42pm

For my religion/spirituality category: When I Was A Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson

I've never read any of her nonfiction but I absolutely love her novels (all three of them) and so I decided to pick up this collection of essays based entirely on the title. Me too, Marilynne! So did I! Lots of them! But it should come as no surprise to anyone that I think she is an absolutely brilliant essayist as well. Really, the woman can do no wrong in my world. Robinson approaches the world from the point of view of a left-leaning academic who is also a progressive person of faith (does this sound familiar? Not that I am anywhere within several orders of magnitude of her awesomeness). Her essays are about politics, religion, society, etc, and she skewers the targets of her contempt beautifully. I'm sticking this in my religion/spirituality category b/c she does write a lot about it. I have another of her books on hold at the library and I can't wait to get it.

apr 25, 2012, 9:12am

For my LT group reads category, the book I was actually supposed to read: Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell. It is a historical fiction novel, set at the Missouri/Kansas border during the Civil War. It's plenty violent, although not as dark as Woodrell's typical Ozark Noir (I didn't make that up. That is a thing that perfectly describes his writing) novels. He's such a good writer. He can make characters come to life and manages to write using language that makes sense for the time period. It is fantastic.

For my author theme reads category: Deep River by Shusaku Endo

Another gushing review about what a fantastic writer Endo is. Yep. Deep River is, I think, the best of his novels that I have read so far (n=3). It is about a group of unconnected Japanese tourists who go to the town on the Ganges that used to be called Benares but is now called something that starts with a V. Very holy place, and this is really a very spiritual book without shoving any particular flavor of spirituality down the reader's throat.

apr 25, 2012, 9:17am

Oh, and an anything goes novel, 11/22/63 by Stephen King. It was great; one of his top five novels in my opinion. He really can be like the little girl with a little curl right in the middle of her forehead - when he is good, he is very, very good but when he is bad, he is horrid. This book falls into the "very, very good" category.

apr 25, 2012, 10:11pm

11/22/63 is already on my For Later list.... glad to see your positive comments about it!

maj 8, 2012, 4:45pm

Random nonfiction on my shelves: Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama by Gwen Ifill

I love Gwen Ifill. She's one of my favorite TV news people. And this book was a really interesting look at (as the subtitle says) politics and race, both in the presidential election of 2008 and also in a number of state and local government elections in this time period. She points out the shift in the African-American political community from the old-school Civil Rights era to younger politicians who, while acknowledging their debt to those older politicians, go in different directions and have different goals. It is NOT, as John McCain's campaign claimed, a piece of political propaganda for Barack Obama.

Anything goes: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Holy crap! This book is amazing! I can see why everyone loves it, and I need to read the second one right now. I hate the Lannisters, except for Tyrion, and totally sympathize with the Starks. I want to see horrible things happening to all the rest of the Lannisters immediately. The parallels with the Yorks and the Lancasters in the war of the roses are very interesting.

1001 books: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

I saw the PBS version first, and thought "Oh. This is a really pretty film of a really crappy story. Why does everyone like this book again?". It turns out that the PBS version really kind of screwed the story up, and emphasized the "love" story (scare quotes necessary) over what I consider to be the actual story of the book, the incredible changes in Stephen's personality due to the war. The book is wonderful, and really gets the horror of trench warfare across. I even liked the intersections with the 1978 storyline.

maj 11, 2012, 9:55am

For my real-life book group: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

God, this book was awful. I should have known better; I can't stand Hemingway, at all, and I don't think he was an amazingly gifted otherworldly person for whom the rules do not apply. Obviously I am wrong. The majority of the literary world disagrees with me. I know. I also cannot stand the narrator of this book, Hemingway's first wife, Hadley. SHE'S THE WORST. She is one of those people who have no life or interests or identity or existence, really, outside of their relationship and their partner. These people bore the pants off me in real life, but they're inexcusable in a fictional character who narrates the book. She's such a mousy hideous pushover. I stopped reading when she didn't do anything when Hemingway's mistress crawled naked into bed with Hemingway while she was there. Whatever. I didn't get the pathos or feel any sympathy for her at all. The book can be divided in three parts: 1) she meets Hemingway and falls in love and is miserable because she doesn't know if he loves her too, 2) they are married in Paris and she is miserable because he pays more attention to his writing than to her and 3) Hemingway is banging this other woman and she is miserable blah blah blah. Possibly there is a fourth part but I didn't get that far. Go away, Hadley.

I thought I would like the setting better (Paris in the 20s w/ all the superfabulous expats like Stein and Fitzgerald). I loved the movie Midnight in Paris. Same characters, same time frame. But it is hard to do that when 1920s Paris is filtered through the eyes of this total suckfest. Even if Hadley was just a plot device to showcase the era, she doesn't have to be this awful. Anthony Powell did a great job in his A Dance to the Music of Time series doing the same thing with Nick Jenkins, whose story only barely intruded onto the narrative as a whole but he wasn't boring.

I used to have a rule that I would never read a book that had a title that followed the "The _____ Relative" formula because they are all terrible (see: The Pilot's Wife, The Bonesetter's Daughter, etc etc etc). I should have followed it.

maj 11, 2012, 11:39am


I've visited the Pfeiffer-Hemingway house/museum in Piggott Ark. and tried to unravel the whole sordid story while touring... gave up after while and just admired the gardens.

I like most of Hemingway's stuff, but I can't really claim to admire or understand him or his writing.

maj 11, 2012, 12:25pm

Thank you for that review! I also can't stand Hemingway. I just don't get the appeal. Even after reading rave after rave I still felt no desire to read the book. I'm sorry that you wasted your time on it. Hope your next book is a rave.

Redigerat: maj 11, 2012, 12:58pm

Very interesting reviews! I'm currently immersed in A Game of Thrones and finding it wonderful. I hope to get to Birdsong soon, and have seen some mixed reviews, so I'm glad you liked it.

I've been looking forward to reading The Paris Wife. I love Hemingway's books, but I've always thought his personal life was rather disgusting (and, no, I can't understand how that can be reconciled). After recently reading A Moveable Feast, I felt a bit more kindly toward him, and thought the story from the other side (that is, Hadley's side) would be interesting. Maybe not.

I love your prohibition against "The _____ Relative" books!

maj 24, 2012, 9:41am

I know I'm in the minority on The Paris Wife, too. It took forever to get it from the library, and then it was awful. Unlike...

After the Victorians by A.N. Wilson (for my nonfiction - ago category)

The Victorians is Wilson's most famous work, but I don't have that so I'm going in reverse chronological order. I loved After the Victorians. I love Wilson's style. One caveat: he is by no means an unbiased scholarly reporter of history. His opinions come through loud and clear; as it happens, he and I agree on many, many things (I like to blame British Imperialism for all of the world's problems today, Wilson did too. We're both anti-war, etc) so that really didn't bother me. It is a very interesting look at the world (mostly Britain, obviously) from the death of Victoria to the accession of the current Queen.

Redigerat: maj 25, 2012, 9:01am

For my Booker prize winner category, last year's winner The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

It is beautifully written, I will grant Barnes that. And I liked what he did, setting up his narrator as totally reliable in the first half, and then knocking that down in the second. However. This book left me really cold, and I honestly can't tell why it won the Booker, and why everyone praises it to the skies. The first half was interesting, I suppose, but then the second half really should have been about 2 pages long if the main characters weren't idiots, and if they had behaved in a remotely plausible manner. The narrator keeps setting up meetings with his ex-girlfriend from decades ago, asking "what is going on with a certain situation?" and every.single.time. she gives him a totally obscure clue and then stomps off shouting/writing/whatever "you just don't get it, and you never did". Listen, honey, how about doing us all a favor and just saying, out loud, in words, what is going on, so that the book will end. The second half did give Barnes a whole 'nother section to inject pretty little philosophical musings about aging, death, memory, life, etc, but doesn't he already have a whole book about that?

A disappointment.

maj 26, 2012, 10:40pm

While I enjoyed Barnes' novel, it is not one that will appeal to the masses, that is for sure! A Sense of an Ending is the only Barnes I have read so far so I have no comparison to work from so you have intrigued me with your comment that he already has a whole book about similar philosophical musings. The bright side is there are always other books...... ;-)

maj 27, 2012, 8:10am

And thank goodness for that!

I'm just guessing about the similar book; he has one called Nothing to Be Frightened Of that is about dying. I've not read it yet.

maj 29, 2012, 12:41pm

Another nonfiction - ago book: George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter

Really interesting book describing how, by the turn of the last century, essentially all the crowned heads of Europe were related to each other by birth or marriage through Queen Victoria. The book is really a history of the personalities of the royal heads of the Big Three, plus the political classes in each country, and how the combination of personality, diplomacy, mistakes, and total batshit craziness contributed to the build-up to WWI.

An important point that I think the book makes very clear: hereditary rulers should not, actually, be allowed to make decisions and rule.

jun 3, 2012, 1:33pm

Another history, ago, same time period:

The First World War by John Keegan
A mostly interesting military history of WWI. Nicely detailed, and after the first month not too detailed. The more I read about this conflict, the more I think that it was a totally avoidable and meaningless war that shouldn't have happened and didn't need to happen if most of the people in charge of countries weren't completely batshit insane, and that led to most if not all of the horrors of the 20th century. Romantic and glorious and noble my ass.

jun 7, 2012, 11:47am

I liked Sense of Ending too but I admit I only just managed to get passed the unrealistic character actions.. I am not sure I could on a second reading.

jul 3, 2012, 8:48am

I only managed to read one book in the whole month of June (I was away at a course for work): Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, for my Historical fiction category. I loved it, it was fantastic, everyone should read it, I think everyone IS reading it, so no need to review it.

For my Booker Prize Winner category, I read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. I loved it, too. 5 stars. I could not put it down.

jul 17, 2012, 8:50pm

Ok, so, playing catchup:

Three more "Anything Goes" books (I'm having a terrible time sticking to my challenge books this year. All I want to read is A Song of Ice and Fire and zombie books. It happens.

1) Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. I read this because I thought it was a 1001 book (nope) and because after moving it was the only book I could find. It was ok. Not good, not bad, just ok. The movie is better, because Judy Dench is in it.
2) A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin. Theon, you rat bastard.
3) World War Z by Max Brooks so good it gave me nightmares.

and one Random Nonfiction on My Shelves book:
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. The nonfiction equivalent of a Diana Gabaldon book. Without Jamie. Meh.

jul 17, 2012, 9:48pm

Good to know about Notes on a Scandal. I have yet to read the book/see the movie and I think I will move right on to 'see the movie' mode.

jul 17, 2012, 11:02pm

Ah, Judy Dench could make a horrible script into a good movie. I picked up World War Z at a library book sale. If it gave you nightmares, I'm looking forward to it.

& in 2013, I'm going to have to copy your "longest on TBR shelves" category. Some day, I will drown under a pile of unread books and my friends will shake their heads and say "karma."

jul 18, 2012, 5:50am

I would say World War Z is more funny than scary. And the audio is superb. They have a different reader for each of the vignettes. The performance adds to the hilarity.

jul 18, 2012, 8:17am

there are scary bits ... but yes, a lot of the story is darkly humourous

jul 18, 2012, 8:37am

I think the reason it scared me is that the structure Brooks used to tell the story made it very easy for me to put myself into that world - what would I do? Would I be trapped on the highway? - and then it just stuck with me and boom! nightmares. The Passage gave me nightmares, too (still does! two years after I read it!), if that helps anyone understand the way my brain works a little bit better.

jul 22, 2012, 3:28pm

For my Religion/Spirituality category, I read The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. He was a convert to Catholicism, and a monk, and one of those people who thinks that really, Catholics are the only good people, except for people he liked who were not Catholic but who he rationalizes by saying that they were Catholics "at heart" blah blah blah. Big ol' Catholic bigot, really, but then a sinful Protestant like myself would say that, now wouldn't I?

Two stars.

jul 24, 2012, 8:39am

For my Longest on the TBR category: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. It's fantastic. For a change, I absolutely loathe the villain (rare. I usually like them best), and while the characters and their motivations seem a little bit dated (it was written back in the early 90s, I think), it is still totally worth reading.

aug 10, 2012, 2:18pm

Author theme reads: The Samurai by Shusaku Endo; deals with the conflict between western Christianity/culture and traditional Japanese culture. It's very good, but one of the characters was really frustrating.

Real-life book group: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

It seems like people either love this book and think it is the funniest thing ever, or they hate it. I fall somewhere in between, but lean toward "hate it". I can see how certain kinds of people would find this book hilarious ("for those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like" quick name the movie!), and Ignatius hilarious, but since I loathe Ignatius the only redeeming qualities for me were Miss Trixie and Jones the janitor at the bar. They're hilarious.

aug 10, 2012, 2:19pm

Anything Goes: End This Depression Now! by Paul Krugman

I really like Paul Krugman's columns. I am the choir to whom he is preaching, really, so it should come as no surprise that I loved this book. If you like Paul Krugman, you will like it too and should definitely read it. If you hate Paul Krugman, you will hate it but you should read it too because you might enjoy the resulting ranting. Everyone needs an excuse to start ranting sometimes.

Real-life Book Group: A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Ok, sure. So on the one hand, it is grown-up Twilight. But on the other hand - vampire scientists! Molecular biologists, at that! Witches who have PhDs and are science historians! mtDNA! Yoga! Tea! Time travel! Mysterious documents from ago! Haunted houses that share their opinions of the residents within! Must get ahold of the second book in the trilogy ASAP!

Short Stories: Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

Much more literary and highbrow than the last book. It is a collection of weird little short stories that remind me a lot of Italo Calvino's work. They are clever and funny and I didn't spend too much energy trying to "get" them. I just enjoyed them. Sue me.

aug 10, 2012, 8:46pm

A Discovery of Witches sounds kind of fun, and unless theirs a twit agonizing between a vampire and a werewolf, it isn't quite like Twilight.

"Sue Me." LOL!

aug 11, 2012, 8:44pm

I thought it was fun. The twit isn't agonizing between a vampire and a werewolf - it is vampire all the way. The interesting twist is that she has superpowers magic too!

aug 11, 2012, 8:48pm

I cannot think of any two books LESS like each other than the two I finished this weekend:

1001 books: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. A very sweet, Victorian, cozy, heartwarming book about old women in a small village in England. I loved it. So cute.

Author Theme Reads: Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami. Incidentally, another 1001 book. Holy hell. Uh, I feel like I should have had to show ID to check this book out from the library. It reminded me of a Japanese, 1960s era version of Tropic of Cancer, with all the filth and sex and drugs that would imply. Gross.

aug 13, 2012, 10:33am

On a tear this weekend:

Short Story Collections: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. This is her debut collection, and it is absolutely fantastic and I can see why it won the Pulitzer. The stories blew me away. I had read The Namesake and thought it was ok, but these stories are on a whole different level.

Random Nonfiction on my Shelves: Longitude by Dava Sobel. Pop science/history about making clocks.

aug 21, 2012, 9:07am

History, ago: Gunn's Golden Rules: Life's Little Lessons for Making it Work by Tim Gunn

Part memoir, part etiquette book, part fashion world gossip, entirely entertaining. Memoir enough that I'm sticking it in this category, although this may be pushing it a bit.

Anything Goes: The Eye in the Door by Pat Barker

The second book in the Regeneration trilogy, continuing the story of the emotional damage WWI inflicted on it's soldiers. This one also explores the extent to which homophobia came into play in civilian society during this time. More adventures of Billy Prior!

Booker Prize Winners: The Ghost Road by Pat Barker

The final book of the trilogy, and the one that won the Booker Prize. This whole series is emotionally draining; war is horrific. The writing is excellent, though.

aug 25, 2012, 9:35am

Longest on the TBR: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

This book was huge a couple years ago, and I picked up a copy super cheap then, and only just now got around to reading it. I gave it 3 stars; don't really understand either the hype or the haters. It's an ok book. Plotwise, it is Hamlet with dogs. The author isn't subtle about this, either. That's fine, though. I love Hamlet.

Gar and Trudy (see that?) live in northern WI and raise special dogs. What makes these dogs special is a huge, huge part of the book that actually never is clearly revealed. (This is one of Wroblewski's big problems, really. He keeps introducing guns, so to speak, and never firing them.) They have a son named Edgar who can't talk. King Hamlet Gar's brother Claude (sigh. really? Trudy and Claude?) shows up. He and Gar have issues (never explained) and then Gar dies and well, it really is Hamlet so you know where it goes. One thing that sort of bothered me is that not all the Hamlet characters are portrayed by humans. One particularly tragic character from Hamlet is portrayed by a particularly awesome dog, and as soon as I figured that out I cried.

Random nonfiction on my shelves: The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois

A very important and highly quotable book that starts out with "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line". Du Bois wrote that in something like the 1900s, and he was not wrong. I think that many of his points are true, still, today, and can apply to many oppressed peoples.

aug 25, 2012, 1:42pm

Oprah put Edgar Sawtelle on her list of books that would be big before it was even released in the bookstores. That may be part of the popularity, but it's also part of my resistance to it. Spoiler question - Ophelia was a dog???

After it had been out about a year, I had a lot of people telling me I had to read it but enough people reacted like you that I decided I didn't have to. Main critique seemed to be it started with promise but didn't deliver.

aug 25, 2012, 4:53pm

Yes, exactly, started with promise but then fizzled. Also yes, exactly, Ophelia was a dog named Almondine. Obviously not a romantic connection, more the whole soul mates thing. I had forgotten it was an Oprah book, but the sticker says so right on the cover.

aug 25, 2012, 4:54pm

Booker Prize Winner: Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre. How did this ridiculous, silly, nonsense POS win the Booker Prize? Did money change hands?

aug 25, 2012, 10:57pm

Oh, so predictable that Ophelia would be a dog - her soulful eyes - her lack of understanding, but boundless compassion. Okay, it stays off my WL.

ROFLMAO re Vernon God Little - I had never heard of it until a discussion started about books that were totally worthless but had won major awards. The other one that came up more than once was Confederacy of Dunces. My comments on that book would be exactly as yours on VGL except change "Booker" to "Pulitzer."

aug 26, 2012, 8:28am

I almost totally agree with you re: Confederacy of Dunces except that I thought Miss Trixie was hilarious. I have no idea why it got the Pulitzer, but then my book group this month all loved it. Apparently they all knew people like Ignatius and were all "Oh, you just have to accept that this is how they are and aren't they funny, just like Ignatius?". Does not compute.

aug 31, 2012, 12:28am

Does not compute here either. & yes, I found some of it laugh out loud funny, but over all, I found it really disturbing. I did read Ignatius as an author stand-in, and knowing that the author committed suicide certainly didn't help me like the book. Apparently, the Pulitzer for fiction is supposed to go to a book that depicts a location in the US, and apparently St. Louis is just like that. Really?

aug 31, 2012, 9:10am

I didn't know that about the Pulitzer - I've only been to New Orleans once, for a day, and so I can't say anything about that.

sep 4, 2012, 1:34pm

Longest on the TBR: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. Maybe my favorite Atwood yet, and that is saying something.

Short story collections: The Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I'm not a fan of Fitzgerald as a novelist. I mean, he's fine, I don't hate him, but I don't really love Gatsby either, you know? But these short stories are very good, and many are excellent. I particularly like "A Diamond as Big as the Ritz", "The Ice Palace", "Babylon Revisited", and the one with the ghost.

sep 6, 2012, 11:28am

1001 books: Hard Times by Charles Dickens. Lots of snark and harsh language towards the business owners and the top 1% of Victorian society, and their treatment of the poor. Dickens also slams a certain kind of education, but this isn't quite as resonant today.

sep 11, 2012, 3:45pm

Longest on TBR: The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher

Part of my undeclared sorta-goal to someday eventually read all of the Booker Prize shortlist books. There was a little bit too much going on here; all the subplots were good, but there were too many and it got a bit distracting.

sep 11, 2012, 10:52pm

There are a couple of awards I like to follow - the Booker being one of them - so it is good to read your comments on The Northern Clemency, one of many of the Booker shortlisted books that I have yet to read, and will probably pass over.

sep 14, 2012, 9:13am

Religion/spirituality: Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin

One of those books about how buying less stuff will make you a more happy & complete & self-actualized person, although this only works for rich people, because if you don't buy lots of stuff because you can't afford lots of stuff you also miss out on the self-actualization. Sucks for us poor people! Very pseudo-spiritual and a little bit too crunchy for me (think of all the time I would save if I stop shaving my legs! No). The end comes with a great OMG-civilization-is-ending-we're-all-going-to-die chapter that is pretty fun.

I think I was probably not in the right mood for this book at this time.

sep 14, 2012, 9:31am

#114 I think I was probably not in the right mood for this book at this time. -- That sounds like it might have been the case, but I think I'll skip it all the same. Although I have to admit being somewhat curious to read the "OMG" chapter you mentioned! A couple of years ago I read one of these books that claimed that owning stuff only clutters up your life - and your mind. My take-away response was that I LIKE having stuff and, while I continually strive to reduce the clutter of unnecessary stuff, I take pleasure from my possessions.

sep 14, 2012, 10:02am

Me too. I'm never going to up and sell all my books, for instance. Clutter may be messy, but it is also homey and personal. I agree that UNNECESSARY stuff is probably a waste of space and money, and I suppose I can cut down on that.

sep 15, 2012, 10:02am

Group reads: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

It started out promisingly, with the introductions of the Jones and the Iqbal families. I think that Zadie Smith does characters really well - the major ones are well-fleshed-out and interesting (with an exception I'll get to) and the minor ones are fantastic. The old guys playing dominos at the poolroom, for instance. She's great at dialogue, and setting scenes, and making real characters. She's just awful, though, at plot. I liked the first half of the book, and the interactions between the Joneses and the Iqbals, but then she introduces the Chal-somethings (forgot the name - sorry) for no apparent reason and the book goes rapidly downhill. The ending is just a mess. I was disappointed.

sep 16, 2012, 12:08am

Oooo - so sad. I've heard a lot about Zadie Smith, but I think I can safely work on my teetering TBR pile instead of picking up White Teeth.

sep 16, 2012, 6:43am

I never even got to the end of White Teeth, but I thought the beginning was clever enough.

sep 20, 2012, 1:10pm

Historical fiction: Time and Chance by Sharon Kay Penman. The second book in the Henry II/Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy. I liked it a lot; far fewer battles than the first book which is fine with me. Lots more politics and plotting. I don't understand the point of the totally fictional Welsh subplot, and really it just takes up a lot of space and makes the books EVEN LONGER.

okt 3, 2012, 4:24pm

Real Life Book Group: Broken Harbor by Tana French. I absolutely love her books, but I thought that Faithful Place was kind of disappointing. Broken Harbor is awesome, however. Really really disturbing, but awesome. I can't wait for the next Dublin Murder Squad book.

Anything Goes: The White Lioness by Henning Mankell. Too much South African politics. Not enough whiny Wallander. But I'm obviously going to complete the series.

okt 3, 2012, 4:27pm

Another Real Life Book Group book: The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. Fascinating book about the city where the dead go after they die, and where they remain until there are no longer any humans who remember them. Then most of them disappear. What is going on? Where are all the humans?

Really clever idea and execution. I enjoyed it.

okt 3, 2012, 10:03pm

I've seen other reviews of The Brief History of the Dead. It sounds intriguing.

okt 4, 2012, 5:41am

really interesting premise, making a note of that one...

okt 13, 2012, 6:57pm

Group reads (Missouri Readers, sorta): Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

She just keeps getting better and better. Gone Girl was fantastic - funny, creepy, not-too-dark, and full of bizarre plot twists that I never saw coming but enjoyed thoroughly. I saw a lot of negative reviews of the book around here for awhile. Those people are just wrong.

okt 15, 2012, 12:02pm

Still waiting for copy from library. Patience is a virtue, they say.

okt 15, 2012, 2:30pm

Ooh, I just got the library copy of Gone Girl. It's next on my list! :)

okt 16, 2012, 11:40am

Author Theme Reads: The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima (he's the mini-author for the last quarter of the year). It was ok. I didn't love it, didn't hate it. He did a good job evoking the time and place, and the Golden Pavilion itself stands out clearly. The protagonist is annoying and his descent from good-kid into arsonist is told as matter-of-factly as it would seem inside the head of a sociopath. Three stars.

Booker Prize Winners: The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst. Sex, drugs, and Thatcher-era UK politics. It was beautifully written, and the story itself (a middle-class gay man in his early 20s living with the super-rich MP dad and family of his buddy/crush from Oxford) was interested and sad. I didn't expect all the explicit sex in a Booker Prize winner, but there you go.

okt 26, 2012, 7:34pm

Historical fiction: The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George

Highly entertaining, slightly trashy historical fiction from the point of view of the murderous monarch himself. Now that Hilary Mantel has converted me, I was angry with his Cromwell comments, but overall this was really a 5-star read. Perfect for long flights.

okt 26, 2012, 8:36pm

Slightly trashy Henry? LOL.

okt 30, 2012, 12:00pm

Random nonfiction on my shelves: Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel. Inoffensive pop science/history about Galileo, his daughter, and his battle with the church over Copernican revolution.

okt 30, 2012, 6:40pm

"Inoffensive pop science/history" doesn't really make me want to run out and read it. Next adjective I expect to see is "toothless."

okt 30, 2012, 7:07pm

It is a pretty tepid, toothless book. I finished it and thought "that's nice. Next?"

My recommendation would be to forget it even exists. It wasn't bad, just boring.

okt 30, 2012, 7:09pm

I'm erasing it from my mind - and running over to my WL to make sure it isn't on it!

okt 31, 2012, 12:32am

> 131 that one is on my TBR bookcase so I will keep you comments in mind. The good news is it was a book sale purchase for me which means I paid whole $2.00 for it. I don't mind when I purchase potential duds at that price - I just use my arm like a vacuum cleaner and sweep the books into my arms!

okt 31, 2012, 11:40am

Mine came from bookmooch, I think, so I'm not too upset about it. I'm putting it into my to-sell pile.

okt 31, 2012, 1:44pm

>131 jfetting: I pretty much agree with your assessment, but maybe found it more interesting than you did. I knew almost nothing about Galileo, so I enjoyed learning a bit about him, especially the fight with the Church.

nov 9, 2012, 9:16am

Booker Prize Winners: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson.
Sometimes funny, often confusing book about anti-Semitism and Jewishness in Britain.

nov 11, 2012, 7:17pm

Religion/Spirituality: The Confessions of St. Augustine The first part of this is pretty funny (unintentionally), which is basically Augustine being all "I was a bad, bad boy". Then it gets all philosophical. It is interesting how he swings from being very open and loving and talking about multiple interpretations of the Bible in different times to being all hating and closeminded. It happens.

Nonfiction - Ago: The Autobiography of Charles Darwin. Not really a formal autobiography, more a collection of notes and name-dropping for his family and friends.

nov 11, 2012, 10:44pm

Okay, mental note to self. Don't read Autobiography of Darwin.

nov 12, 2012, 10:42am

Well, on the upside, it is only like 60 pages long. The problem with Darwin is that for such a historically important figure, he's really boring and spends his whole life hiding in his house complaining about his tummy aches.

nov 12, 2012, 2:25pm

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith was a recent YA biography. Including his wife in the book made it pretty enjoyable.

nov 13, 2012, 7:25pm

Poor Darwin - he couldn't always have hidden in his house. He had to trade it for a cabin on the Beagle at some point. :) & I think it's great that someone wrote a bio of them as a couple. After all, some couples worked so much as a team that it isn't really possible to discuss one without discussing the other. Pierre and Marie Curie for an example.

nov 14, 2012, 10:57am

True - the Beagle was the high interest point of his life.

Random nonfiction on my shelves: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch

Horrifying, frustrating, and infuriating, just like everything else I've read or seen about this absolute travesty. I'm usually a big Clinton fan, but he really dropped the ball on this one. As did the rest of the world, especially France. I gave it 4.5 stars, though, because it is absolutely gripping.

nov 14, 2012, 6:20pm

Oooo - Our 8th graders watch Hotel Rwanda - & I believe the Milles Coline hotel (or whatever it's name was) is where the title of your book comes from. The people made phone calls to tell people that they were about to die if no one got them out. Paul Rusesabagina has a book out and I'm afraid to read it because as horrific as the movie is, I've heard the true events were far worse.

WL - but I may put it off for a long time. Difficult subject matter.

nov 15, 2012, 9:05am

Short story collections: The Plums of Wodehouse. A necessary antidote to the above book. Wodehouse makes everything better.

nov 16, 2012, 12:25am

Yes - A Wodehouse chaser is a very good idea.

nov 19, 2012, 6:43am

There was a GN biography of Darwin published in Bristol that was interesting - Darwin: A Graphic Biography

nov 30, 2012, 1:35pm

Author Theme Reads: The Sound of Waves and Spring Snow both by Yukio Mishima

Both are beautifully written love stories. One ends happily, the other does not.

Group Reads: Stoner by John Williams. A melancholy look at a sad life in academia.

dec 5, 2012, 9:02am

Two Booker Prize winners, one awesome and one that sucked. See if you can guess which is which!

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

Really really liked it and possibly even loved it. I had seen the movie ages ago (mmm Ralph Fiennes mmmm) but had forgotten all about the twist. Great characters & the Victorian-era Australia setting was perfect. I must read more by Peter Carey.

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee

It's like Coetzee sat down and said "Hmm. Is it possible to pack everything that jfetting hates reading about into one book? Let's see. Middle-aged professors taking advantage of much younger students... check. Rape... check. Middle-aged professors who aren't the rape victim assuming that their opinion about the rape & its aftermath is the only one that matters... check. Killing dogs... check. Success! Bet she'll hate this."

dec 5, 2012, 11:40am

LOL!!! You really nailed it! I disliked Disgrace also and you have laid out the reasons in a perfect way.

dec 5, 2012, 8:46pm

> 150 - Great reviews for both books and your review for Disgrace brought a smile to my face. Love it! I haven't managed to read any of Coetzee's works but the majority of the reviews I have read for Disgrace would agree with you - all the more reason for me to avoid that one.

dec 6, 2012, 4:00pm

I loved Disgrace, and am sorry you didn't. But your review was great--I just laughed out loud!

I also liked Oscar and Lucinda, but for me, Carey is uneven. I prefer his novels set in Australia, True History of the Kelly Gang is probably my other favorite.

dec 9, 2012, 1:16am

I really disliked reading Disgrace as well, and the end - SPOILER - with the dog, when he could've done something to help that individual dog - Final straw!!! But I know more about Coetzee now than I did when I read Disgrace, and I certainly tons more about South Africa. From this vantage point, I have to say the novel is brilliant. That said, I don't want to ever ever ever read it again.

dec 16, 2012, 8:45am

Historical fiction: The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George

Wow, this is a monster of a book. This Margaret George, she certainly is thorough in her books, isn't she? This one clocks in at 957 pages, with another 10 or so of notes at the back. That said, I loved it. Two for two, she is, since I also really loved the Henry VIII book. I'd say that the first two-thirds of the book are fantastic (birth to Actium) especially the parts with Caesar although I fully admit to having a crush on Julius Caesar. It doesn't JUST stem from the HBO series Rome, but that certainly helped (the same guy who played Captain Wentworth in one of the versions of Persuasion played Julius Caesar).

No, the Caesar bits are good, and then the ruling bits, and then the parts where she first meets Antony again and they misbehave all over Alexandria. It is Actium and everything post Actium that is the trouble. About a year and a half, and it gets 300 pages. I think that George was trying to build literary tension, to make the end as tragic as possible, but it went on too long and I think lost a bit of impact.

I'm still giving the book 4.5 stars. Even with its flaws it is really good.

dec 16, 2012, 5:26pm

Longest on the TBR pile: The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander

A quick, easy read about the last days of the Romanovs as told by the kitchen boy (a historical figure).

dec 27, 2012, 11:47am

Religion/spirituality: The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James

This could have been written today, instead of over a century ago, except that there is no one today who is writing about religion as calmly, reasonably, and rationally as James did.

dec 31, 2012, 1:53pm

So it is clear that I will be getting no more books read in 2012, and with that I declare this challenge finished. I didn't get everything read, but I at least read more than half in each category, so I will count that as a success.

Next year I will not be doing one of these category challenges; no motivation to make lists or focus my reading this year. For any who might wish to follow my reading and my ramblings, I can be found here at the 100 Book challenge group.

Happy New Year and happy reading in 2013!

jan 2, 2013, 7:05am

Belated happy new year!