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I need to confess something right from the start. I cheat and manipulate to finish a challenge. I choose short books, I stretch category definitions, I change categories and I read books that I really don't want to just because they finish off a category. Well, no more. This year, I'm only choosing books that I want to read, that I will read, some that I have been planning to read for many years. In 2011 my categories may only contain one book albeit a thick one that may take me a month or more to finish.
My categories are as follows:
1. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. This book received rave reviews by many LTers. Read Jan 2011
2. Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I will join the group read in February for encouragement to finish this one. Read February 2011
3. Finish the Barchester Chronicles - Framley Parsonage Read March 2011 , The Small House in Allington Read July 2011and The Last Chronicle of Barset Read August 2011
4. Portrait of a Lady by Henry JamesRead June 2011
5. Muriel Spark - as many of her novels as I can
Aiding And Abetting Jan 2011, Reality Dreams Feb 2011, Curriculum Vitae April 2011, The Driver's Seat August 2011 , The Complete Short Stories
6. The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro Started and abandoned May 2011 Replaced with An Artist of the Floating World Read July 2011
7. Willa Cather - Song of the Lark Read July 2011 and Death comes to the Archbishop Read June 2011
8. Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy Read September 2011
9. Per Wahloo & Maj Sjowall - The Martin Beck Series 3-10
The Man on the Balcony Jan 2011
The Laughing Policeman Jan 2011 ,
The Fire Engine that Disappeared May 2011,
Murder at the Savoy May 2011 ,
The Abominable Man May 2011
The Locked Room October 2011, narrated by Tim Weiner
Cop Killer November 2011
The Terrorists December 2011
10. Cold Comfort Farmby Stella Gibbons July Group Read for 1001 books, so I'll wait until then to read it.Read June 2011 with 1001 group
11. Non Fiction books about knitting - Knitting Rules & Toe Up 2-at-a-time Socks Read July 2011 ; Pocket Posh Tips for Knitters and 2-at-a-time Socks Read December 2011
I have left one category blank so that I have some wriggle room for later in the year. I'm thinking maybe an "off the shelf" category that could clear my tbr pile which is now more than a pile, it's an entire bookcase.
Here's my first review for 2011. I have just finished The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. It's the third book in the Martin Beck Series and was written in 1967 as part of a planned 10 book series. Man on the Balcony is a police procedural before the advent of forensic technology, before mobile phones and the internet. There's a serial killer targetting young girls and the Swedish police have two unreliable witnesses - a three year old boy and a mugger. The fact that the paedophile is caught is due to luck more than great feats of detection. However, this book is much more than a crime novel as it analyses the darker side of contemporary 1960s Swedish society - drug addicts, alcoholics, the homeless, prostitution.
The prose is spare and paints a bleak picture of Stockholm and its citizens. Martin Beck is a hard working policeman becoming more estranged from his family as the series progresses. He has closer ties to his work colleagues than his wife.
I will give this book 3 stars though I do look forward to reading the remaining seven books as Sweden is such a different country to Australia. If you enjoy Henning Mankell's books, you may like to try this series, though beware the crimes depicted are used to reflect the society that created them and not necessarily the primary focus of the novel.
I've starred your thread - all of your categories are fantastic. So many of my favorite books are on your list! Buddenbrooks, the Barchester books, Hardy, James, honestly all but category #9 which I've never heard of (although I do like Mankell a lot) and The Unconsoled which I didn't understand.
Happy reading! I can't see this-year-in-reading going badly for you at all. I wish I was doing your challenge.
Thanks for the encouragement! I feel confident that this year I'll complete my challenge without resorting to cheating. I heard an interview with Ishiguro where he said that the book most people asked him about was The Unconsoled. It appears that this book baffles most people (including Ishiguro)! I am prepared just to go along for the journey as Ishiguro is one of my favourite authors.
Now to the part that feels a bit like homework.... the review. Buddenbrooks is a lengthy novel (730+pages) but the pages seemed to fly past. The basic plot is about the decline of a wealthy, merchant family but the family's fortunes didn't disappear overnight - it was a slow decline over about 40 years. I've called this book a reverse rags to riches story but that isn't quite true. The family were never poor in the true sense of the word. They still lived in mansions, had servants and never went hungry. I believe that their business declined because the family did not adapt to changing times and other businessmen did and the old firm of "Buddenbrooks" was eclipsed.
I did feel sorry for Thomas as the task of heading the business was left up to him. The other brother, Christian, preferred an easier life and did not assist Thomas in running the business. Their sister, Antonie, never seemed to grow up. She valued the family name for the prestige and respectability that came with it.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel but somethings frustrated me. Some characters were never properly developed and were caricatures. Mann's attempt at humour was not funny. Everytime Sesame called someone "a good child" or a comment was made about Klothilde and her appetite I wanted to scream. Dickens used repetition to great effect in his novels as they were published in serial form but I didn't think it worked in Buddenbrooks.
Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark. 1 star.
Nothing like the three previous Spark books I've read (The Prime of Miss Jane Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means and A Far Cry From Kensington). I was really looking forward to reading this book and luxuriating in Spark's sassy phrases. Boy was I disappointed. The blurb on the cover said Aiding and Abetting was funny. It wasn't.
Two men visit a psychiatrist in Paris. Both claim to be Lord Lucan who is wanted for the murder of his children's nanny and the bashing of his wife many years ago. The psychiatrist is also on the run for fraud having impersonated a stigmatic and accepting money for fake cures and blessings.
The only blessing I found in this book was its brevity - less than 200 pages.
The Laughing Policeman no 4 in the Martin Beck series.
I felt Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo have hit their stride in this one. I can now differentiate between the Swedish detectives as their individual characteristics are easily recognisable. There is more humour in the book.
Eight people are gunned down on a double decker bus in Stockholm. One of them is their colleague, Sensstrom. Police are called to break up demonstrations against the Vietnam war and still the same old crime, poverty, prostitution, drugs and alcohol exist.
Martin Beck's home life is worse than ever. He is hardly at home, barely speaks to his wife and prefers to sleep alone in another room. He spends more time with his colleague, Kollberg, with whom he doesn't need words as they understand each other implicitly.
This book is the only one of the series to have been filmed. It was made in the US, set in San Francisco and stars Walter Matthau. I am interested in these books because they are set in Sweden and reflect contemporary Swedish social problems. I'm not sure that the US film could successfully interpret this but I'd love to see it. I can see Matthau as the grumpy Beck.
I'm going to give this 3 stars.
Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. 4 stars which I may even increase to 4.5 stars. This was an audio book and narrated by Grace Conlon who did a superb job.
Move over Becky Sharpe, make way for Undine Spragg, Wharton's heroine of The Custom of the Country. Undine Spragg is an unabashed social climber who is never satisfied with what she has. I can't think of one redeeming character trait. Undine is beautiful yet shallow with the ability to take on the manners and speech of any society. To Undine marriage is like a business transaction and she likes to trade up in regards to husbands.
I've started Bleak House which I'm loving. Dickens takes a bit of getting used to as there's so many characters and you never know which ones are going to be pivotal to the plot and which ones are just interesting page fillers. I'm almost half way but I'm finding it hard to get quality reading time what with work and the unbearable heat of the Australian summer. We're going for a local record here in the town where I live of seven days of temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius. Today they are forecasting 42 degrees and my air conditioning isn't working! It's only 8am and already I'm a lather of sweat. Yuk!
Well, I finished Bleak House and will admit that I skimmed some paragraphs. Dickens is great but soooooo long winded. I'm really glad I read it but I think I'll take a nice long break before I tackle another Dickens - I still have The Old Curiousity Shop and Our Mutual Friend to read.
February 2012 will be Dickens' 200th birthday so we can probably look forward to some celebratory events. A new film of Great Expectations is being produced.
Trivia: Charles Dickens decreed no memorials so there are only 2 statues in the world of him. One stood in Sydney from 1891 to 1972 when it was lost, only to be found, headless, in the Blue Mountains (about 75km from Sydney). The statue has now been restored and is now in Centenniel Park on Dickens Drive.
#15 The Old Curiosity Shop was my first Dickens novel but I have to say (I don't want to put you off of course) I was a bit dissapointed. I had sympathy for little Nell and her grandfather and was moved by the courage of that little girl but to me, it was very long winded and a slow read. I finished it but was put off by Dickens for a while. I'm now reading Hard Times which looks a bit more interesting. I think it's because Hard Times reflects more on how people lived in those days. I'm not saying TOCS didn't reflect society...you still have the differences in classes etc. but I'm finding that TOCS focused more on the journey of little Nell and her grandfather while HT seems to give me a better view about the hard lives the higher classes and the working classes have etc. which, to me, makes HT a bit more interesting.
Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion...I've read a lot of positive views about TOCS as well and negative ones about books I really like so you just have to try it out for yourself.
I'll read The Portrait of a Lady as well this semester
I'd like to read Bleak House one day :)
Apart from the long winded paragraphs, would you recommend it?
I love Trollope's novels. They are as lengthy as Dickens' novels but so much easier to read. Framley Parsonage is the story of Mark Robarts, a young clergyman whose ambition leads him into money trouble but the more interesting storyline involves Mark's sister, Lucy Robarts. Lord Lufton wants to marry Lucy but there is class distinction and prejudice to overcome. Of course, it all ends happily ever after. My edition had some interesting introductory notes explaining that this novel was originally serialised in a magazine and very popular with English city dwellers as Framley Parsonage depicted an idyllic, country life.
Only two books in this series to go!!
I've been remiss lately in reading the books I nominated for this challenge so I grabbed one I knew was a quick read to bolster my April reading stats. Curriculum Vitae is Muriel Spark's autobiography of her early years growing up in Edinburgh, her school days, marriage and the start of her literary career. She was originally a poet and biographer (is that a word?). She won a short story competition which encouraged her to think of herself as a poet and a short story writer. She eventually succumbed to pressure from her publisher to write a prose novel. Easy to read and also interesting snippets about the people and places in Spark's life that inspired characters such as "Jean Brodie" and her novels such as Girls of Slender Means and A Far Cry from Kensington.
I have a collection of her short stories next in line for this category.
#16 Sorry to not respond earlier but I've been thinking about Dickens. It's a love hate relationship for me as reading one of his books is a big investment of time but one that I find worthwhile once I've finished. I just need a nudge perhaps a large push is more accurate to start. It doesn't help when there's a lot of shorter books on my tbr pile that often catch my eye. So go for it! And tell me how you get on.
The Unconsoled. I follow Nancy Pearl's rule of 50 pages and if the book doesn't grab you by then, move on. The Unconsoled started off very strangely with a musician arriving at a hotel where he is due to give a concert, but he's really not sure about anything. He wanders around town in a dream-like state and people seem to know him but he can't quite remember who they are and how they relate to him. I cheated and checked out the reviews - the whole book is surreal. Not want I want to read at the moment. So Mr Ishiguro, whose writing I love has been put aside to be returned unread and unconsoled to the library. I will consider another book by this author to fill in my Ishiguro category - perhaps An Artist of the Floating World which is on the 1001 list.
The Fire Engine that Disappeared and Murder at the Savoy respectively no 5 and no 6 in the Martin Beck series. I thoroughly enjoyed reading these books one after the other. Characters other than Martin Beck are being featured bringing some of the peripheral police officers into the foreground. These two books are funnier than the earlier ones. I'll have a break and then come back to the series in July.
Taken the bull by the horns and started The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I remember falling asleep during the movie many years ago so I never saw the ending. James is never easy reading but he's quite addictive.
I've read the review of An Artist of the Floating World in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and the book appeals to me as it is set in Japan after the war and as you say Pamelad it's reminiscent of Remains of the Day which I enjoyed. I hate having to buy books full price but my library doesn't have a copy of An Artist of the Floating World and I haven't managed to source a copy from my local thrift and second hand stores. Ditto for Cold Comfort Farm. Book Depository are offering 10% off this weekend so I'll be placing an order today for both books.
I've finished quite a few from my list these past few weeks and not a dud read amongst them. The Portrait of a Lady had been on my bookshelf for a long while but a fear of Henry James' dense and difficult prose put me off. However, I'm very pleased to say this book was easier to read than I expected and much more enjoyable. It's not a book you can read quickly though and it took me a few weeks to finish.
It's the story of Isabel Archer, an American girl of intelligence and beauty, who after declining to marry an English Lord, marries an American expat who lives in Europe and who makes her miserable. Instead of a life of intellectual freedom and curiousity she finds her husband cold, unloving and disdainful. Isabel ultimately discovers she has been betrayed by her husband and a woman whom she considered a friend and mentor.
Great stuff. Worth the effort 4.5 stars. I'm eager to revisit the movie now.
Death Comes For the Archbishop This book was a departure from the Willa Cather novels I have previously read - O Pioneers, My Antonia, The Professor's House - in that it's about male friendship - two missionary catholic priests in New Mexico in the 19th century. Each chapter of the book is a vignette of an incident in the lives of two very different priests. One is a man of books and learning and the other a man of action. They are unlikely friends but form a unique bond united in their love of god.
Another category finished! My Willa Cather category is done and dusted: I just finished The Song of the Lark. Before I review the novel, I want to say a few things about my edition. It says it's a "preservation photocopy", a scanned copy of the original rare book and it comes with a warning to expect typos and missing text. I'm all for saving books from going out of print but this one had so many mistakes that I couldn't enjoy the book. I prefer books on nice stock in a font that's easy to read and a pleasure to own.
Thea Konberg is the daughter of a minister with a large family and they live in a small country town near Denver in the USA. Thea's mother recognises that her daughter has an extraordinary musical talent and encourages her to think beyond the small town they live in. Thea devotes her life to her singing and has enormous success as an opera singer.
The Song of the Lark examines the nature of gifted artists as well as their passion and dedication to the exclusion of everything else.
This is my least favourite Cather novel. I liked Thea as a young girl and as a struggling musician but not so much as a diva opera singer.
An Artist of the Floating World - Beautiful account of an ageing artist , Masuji Ono, dealing with the huge post war social changes in Japan. When he was young, it was important to show nationalistic pride in Japan but now that the war is over, those days are an embarrassing memory as the Japanese people try to move forward and embrace new ways. Masuji reminds me of the butler in Remains of the Day. Both of them are looking back to happier days and seem out of place in the modern world.
The contrast between pre & post war Japan is shown as Masuji dwells on his earlier life as an apprentice and then a successful artist . Masuji is an unreliable narrator of the best type and I enjoyed his musings on his daughters and their marriage negotiations.
It's hard to believe that Ishiguro left Japan at age 5. This book felt "japanese".
The Driver's Seat What to say about this weird little book? I listened to an audio version read by Dame Judi Dench so every word was a delight. At a little over 2.5 hours this is more of a novella than a full novel. It's also a lot darker than anything I've previously come across by Spark.
Lise is in her early 30s and heads off to southern Europe for a holiday, but there is something not quite right about Lise. Pretty soon, Spark lets the reader know that Lise will be found murdered the next morning. Spark uses the 'flash forward' technique a lot in this book to great effect, creating tension and moving the story forward at a great pace.
We follow Lise around as she looks for a suitable man but she only meets men who "aren't my type". Lise's "type" it turns out is the murdering type. Lise has planned her own murder and she just needs a murderer.
This is a book that's hard to categorise. Lise is an unlikeable heroine. She is unpredictable, she lies, she cries, she screams, she steals and yet she is compelling viewing (bit like a car hurtling down a steep road out of control). The whole time before her murder she is larger than life so that witnesses will remember her - and will all recall a different version of Lise.
Not sure about my rating for this - either 3.5 or 4 stars. I'll have to think it over.
Oh... The Driver's Seat sounds interesting. Unfortunately, that is one of the books by Spark that my local library does not carry.
I loved Cold Comfort Farm. It's like nothing I've ever read before. It's a parody of the popular country romance novels (1932) plus Gibbons has a little nudge at D H Lawrence. It's full of memorable lines and characters. For instance the cows are called: Aimless, Feckless, Graceless and Pointless. Flora Poste can become a little annoying as she dishes out advice from The Complete Works of Abbe Fausse-Maigre and works her magic on the Starkadder family but for something completely different, try Cold Comfort Farm.
lkernagh, I was initially disappointed with the Driver's Seat but it's a book that's growing on me. It's a little gem that continues to shine after you've finished reading. Spark gives the reader clues all the way through that tease and spark your curiosity but she doesn't divulge "why" Lise acted the way she did. I found that frustrating as it allows many interpretations and I imagine that there are as many versions of "why" as there are readers.
Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
Confession: Hardy is one of my favourite authors. I think it's his depressing plots that I like best. When you pick up a Hardy novel, you are unlikely to find anyone living happily ever after. Return of the Native doesn't disappoint with three deaths, one life in ruins although there is a marriage right at the end which I believe will be a happy one.
What I particularly liked about this book is that Hardy has turned Egdon Heath into a character. The way he writes about the landscape and the characters' reation to and relationship with Egdon Heath is brilliant. Eustacia hates the heath and finds it dark, gloomy and scary. Thomasin on the other hand loves the heath. The heath claims three lives yet provides livelihoods for many.
The introduction in my edition informs the reader that Hardy altered his original ending at his publisher's request. There was no marriage at the end of the first version - Thomasin remains a widow and Diggory Venn departs the area never to be heard of again. Not sure which ending I prefer. Will think some more and come back to this review.
Great review of Return of the Native. I agree completely with everything you said.
The last few months have flown by and I have managed to complete my 11 in 11 challenge though I haven't done reviews of the last three books in the Martin Beck series. Sjowall and Wahloo have given up any pretence at this stage of disinterest and their political views are openly stated in these last three novels. I always thought Sweden was a land of beautiful blonde people, relaxed sexual mores and ikea furniture so this series was a bit of an eye opener. Sweden in the 60s and 70s was a country struggling with social problems, immigration and refugee issues, rising incidents of violent crime and corruption .... sounds a bit like contemporary Australia.
Looking over the books I read for this challenge, there isn't a clunker among them and I'm very happy that this challenge gave me the impetus to read them. I like to finish what I start.
As for next year, I don't think I'll participate in 12 books in 12 categories. What I really need to do is read the books on my shelves! So my 2012 challenge will be to conquer mount tbr. Wish me luck!
Congratulations on completing your challenge! Good luck on conquering Mt. TBR!
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