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DorsVenabili's 12 in 12 Challenge

The 12 in 12 Category Challenge

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1DorsVenabili
Edited: Apr 24, 2012, 4:57pm Top

This is my first attempt at a category challenge. I’ll also keep track of my reading in the 75 book challenge. While grad school makes it difficult to read as much as I’d like (books that I choose, that is), I am determined to reach 75 in 2012. My categories add up to 72. They're all over the place and are basically just stuff I want to get to this year.

Here’s my list. I plan to start in January, but I thought I’d put it up now, since the group exists. Detailed explanations of each challenge can be found below.

1. Booker Prize shortlisted works from 1978 and 1985 (10 books)
2. Major literary prize-winners from 1973 - the year I was born (8 books)
3. Author study: J. M. Coetzee (12 Books)
4. Virago Modern Classics (6 books)
5. Incarceration-themed fiction (4 books)
6. Newer stuff - fiction published in 2010 or later (13 books)
7. Working-class literature of the 1950s and 1960s (5 books)
8. Female-authored science fiction (6 books)
9. Short story collections (4 books)
10. Graphic novels (3 books)
11. Author biographies (2 books)
12. Sports: American football (1 general history, 1 Seattle Seahawks History) and running (3 books total)

2DorsVenabili
Edited: Aug 14, 2012, 11:01am Top



Challenge 1: Booker Prize short-listed works from 1978 and 1985 (10 books)

Since two of my favorite novels of all time are Booker winners (The Sea, The Sea and The Bone People), I thought it would be fun to read the other shortlisted books from those two years.

1. God on the Rocks - Jane Gardam (print book) (1978)
2. The Good Terrorist - Doris Lessing (print book) (1985)
3. Jake’s Thing - Kingsley Amis (print book) (1978)
4. The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald (print book) (1978)
5. Illywhacker - Peter Carey (print book) (1985)
6. Last Letters from Hav - Jan Morris (print book) (1985)
7. A Five Year Sentence - Bernice Rubens (print book) (1978)
8.
9.
10.

3DorsVenabili
Edited: Jun 30, 2012, 4:02pm Top


Challenge 2: Major literary prize winners from 1973 - the year I was born (8 books)

Just for fun. Why not? As it turns out, a lot of the current prizes weren’t around in 1973, so this will just include the Booker, the Pulitzer, the James Tait Black award, a book by the Nobel prize for literature winner, National Book Award, Whitbread (now Costa), Nebula/BSFA (same book won), and National Book Award. I’ve excluded the Hugo award winner, since I’ve already read it.

1. The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty (print book) (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)
2. The Siege of Krishnapur - J.G. Farrell (ebook) (Booker Prize)
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.

4DorsVenabili
Edited: Aug 2, 2012, 2:12pm Top



Challenge 3: Author study: J. M. Coetzee (12 Books)

I read Disgrace last year and thought it was excellent. (That might be putting it mildly.) I think it would be interesting to choose one author each year and read several of his or her books. For 2012, I choose Coetzee.

1. Diary of a Bad Year - J.M. Coetzee (print book)
2. Life and Times of Michael K. - J.M. Coetzee (print book)
3. The Lives of Animals - J.M. Coetzee (print book)
4. In the Heart of the Country - J.M. Coetzee (print book)
5. Waiting for the Barbarians - J.M. Coetzee (print book)
6. Elizabeth Costello - J.M. Coetzee (print book)
7.
8.
9.
10
11.
12.

5DorsVenabili
Edited: Aug 2, 2012, 2:10pm Top



Challenge 4: Virago Modern Classics (6 books)

1. The Old Man and Me - Elaine Dundy (ebook)
2. A View of the Harbour - Elizabeth Taylor (print book)
3. The Quest for Christa T. - Christa Wolf (print book)
4.
5.
6.

Possible Candidates:
*The Magic Toyshop - Angela Carter (own)
*Excellent Women - Barbara Pym
*Jane and Prudence - Barbara Pym
*Faces in the Water - Janet Frame
*The Diviners - Margaret Laurence
*The Life and Death of Harriett Frean - May Sinclair
*Angel - Elizabeth Taylor
*Harriet Hume - Rebecca West
*The Quest for Christa T. - Christa Wolf
*Family History - Vita Sackville-West
*Good Behaviour - Molly Keane

6DorsVenabili
Edited: Jun 29, 2012, 2:31pm Top



Challenge 5: Incarceration-themed fiction (4 books)

This will include books that feature incarceration, prison, or confinement as a main theme.

1. The Enormous Room - e.e. cummings (ebook)
2. The Keeper of Lost Causes - Jussi Adler-Olsen (audiobook)
3. The Prisoner of Heaven - Carlos Ruiz Zafon (print book) (Booklist)
4.

Possible Candidates:
*Falconer - John Cheever
*Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood
*Kiss of the Spider Woman - Manuel Puig
*Little Dorrit - Charles Dickens (own)
*Our Lady of the Flowers - Jean Genet
*War Trash - Ha Jin

7DorsVenabili
Edited: Dec 11, 2012, 1:33pm Top



Challenge 6: Newer stuff - fiction published in 2010 or later (13 books)

Sometimes I don’t read enough new stuff, although last year I improved a bit in this area.

1. A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (ebook)
2. The Orange Eats Creeps - Grace Krilanovich (print book)
3. Hand Me Down World - Lloyd Jones (print book)
4. Lost Memory of Skin - Russell Banks (print book)
5. Bad Intentions - Karin Fossum (ebook)
6. The Flatey Enigma - Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson (audiobook)
7. The Roots of the Olive Tree - Courtney Miller Santo (print book) (Booklist, July 2012)
8. The Red House - Mark Haddon (print book)
9. The Crossing Places - Elly Griffiths (audiobook)
10. Schroder - Amity Gaige (print book) (Booklist)
11. Generosity: An Enhancement - Richard Powers (audiobook)
12. Skios - Michael Frayn (print book)
13. Narcopolis - Jeet Thayil (print book)
14. Swimming Home - Deborah Levy (print book)
15. The Promise of Stardust - Priscille Sibley (print book) (Booklist)
16. The Lighthouse - Alison Moore (ebook)
17. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn (audiobook)
18. Finding Camlann - Sean Pidgeon (print book) Not Rated
19. The Story of My Purity - Francesco Pacifico (print book) (Booklist)
20. The Polish Boxer - Eduardo Halfon (print book)

Possible Candidates:
*The Line - Olga Grushin
*To Mervas - Elisabeth Rynell
*There But For The - Ali Smith
*The Stranger's Child - Alan Hollinghurst
*Nox - Anne Carson
*So Much For That - Lionel Shriver
*Hull Zero Three - Greg Bear
*You Lost Me There - Rosecrans Baldwin
*Ilustrado - Miguel Syjuco
*How To Read The Air - Dinaw Mengestu (own)
*The Age Of Orphans: A Novel - Laleh Khadivi
*Witz - Joshua Cohen
*Serious Men - Manu Joseph
*Sunset Park - Paul Auster

8DorsVenabili
Edited: Apr 23, 2012, 9:43pm Top



Challenge 7: Working-Class Literature of the 1950s and 1960s (5 books)

This is a special interest of mine. I’ve read lots of working class literature published between the years 1900-1940, but not much in the above decades. Part of the reason is that there’s not as much available.

1. The Gospel Singer - Harry Crews (print book)
2. City of Night - John Rechy (ebook)
3.
4.
5.

Possible Candidates:
*Border Country - Raymond Williams (1960) (own)
*Tell Me a Riddle - Tillie Olsen (1961)
*The Dollmaker - Harriette Arnow (1954)
*A Death in the Family - James Agee (1957)
*The Plum Plum Pickers - Raymond Barrio (1969)
*A Place on Earth - Wendell Berry (1967)

9DorsVenabili
Edited: Jun 29, 2012, 4:16pm Top

DONE!

Challenge 8: Female-authored science fiction (6 books)

Pretty self-explanatory.

1. Zoo City - Lauren Beukes (ebook)
2. Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy (print book)
3. The Pride of Chanur - C.J. Cherryh (print book) Not Rated
4. Hyperthought - M.M. Buckner (audiobook)
5. Dragonflight - Anne McCaffrey (audiobook) Not Rated
6. The Children of Men - P.D. James (audiobook)

Possible Candidates:
*Life - Gwyneth Jones
*Slow River - Nicola Griffith
*Doomsday Book - Connie Willis
*Shikasta - Doris Lessing (own)
*The Female Man - Joanna Russ
*The Gate to Women's Country - Sheri S. Tepper

10DorsVenabili
Edited: Mar 23, 2012, 1:41pm Top

Challenge 9: Short story collections (4 books)

I plan to read individual author collections, rather than multi-author anthologies.

1. American Salvage - Bonnie Jo Campbell (print book)
2.
3.
4.

Possible Candidates:
*The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake - Breece D'J Pancake (own)
*Enormous Changes at the Last Minute: Stories - Grace Paley
*Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories - Edith Pearlman
*The Stories of John Cheever - John Cheever
*Flowering Judas and Other Stories - Katherine Anne Porter (own)
*Vanishing And Other Stories - Deborah Willis
*The Collected Stories Of Deborah Eisenberg - Deborah Eisenberg
*Blow-Up: And Other Stories - Julio Cortazar
*The Beggar's Garden - Michael Christie

11DorsVenabili
Edited: Jul 1, 2012, 12:03pm Top



Challenge 10: Graphic novels (3 books)

I’ve only really read one…or maybe two. And I liked them! So I’ll try a few more.

1. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood - Marjane Satrapi (print book)
2. Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995 - Joe Sacco (print book)
3.

Possible Candidates:
*Watchmen - Alan Moore (own)
*Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995 - Joe Sacco
*Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout - Lauren Redniss
*Temperance - Cathy Malkasian
*Palestine - Joe Sacco
*Habibi - Craig Thompson

12DorsVenabili
Edited: Aug 2, 2012, 2:13pm Top


Challenge 11: Author biographies (2 books)

In general, I’m not much of a biography person, so this is a little outside my comfort zone. I would like to read a good biography of Ezra Pound (fascist poet who ends up in a mental institution = fascinating reading material.) I’m not sure about the other one. I’m open to suggestions, and if someone knows of a good Ezra Pound biography, please let me know!

1. Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man - Claire Tomalin (audiobook)
2.

Possible Candidates:
*Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano - John Tytell
*Iris Murdoch: A Life - Peter J. Conradi
*Melville: His World and Work - Andrew Delbanco
*The Autobiography of Upton Sinclair - Upton Sinclair (own)

13DorsVenabili
Edited: Apr 2, 2012, 3:09pm Top



Challenge 12: Sports: American Football (1 general history, 1 Seattle Seahawks History) and Running (3 books)

I’m a fairly recent football convert (2005). When my husband - a Seattle Seahawks fan - and I started dating it was July of 2005. As September approached, he warned me about Sundays and what they mean to him and how he really can’t make plans because he watches football all day. Anyway, his football fandom was endearing because it's much more nerdy/obsessive than macho/beer-drinking (although we do like beer)/chicken wing-consuming, etc. So I started watching and didn't understand a single thing the whole first year (the year the Seahawks went to the Superbowl), but then I was hooked and now I spend every Sunday (of football season) watching the Seahawks and the rest of the league (DirecTV NFL package. Oh yeah.) And I know my stuff, thank you very much. And yes, I'm from Illinois and live in the Chicagoland area, so you can imagine how fun it is to be a Seahawks fan.

But I do think I need to learn a bit more about the history of the game, so there it is. I welcome suggestions for the general history.

1. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami (audiobook)
2.
3.

Possible Candidates:
*Notes from a 12 Man: A Truly Biased History of the Seattle Seahawks - Mark Tye Turner (own)
*100 Yards of Glory: The Greatest Moments in NFL History - Joe Garner and Bob Costas
*America's Game - Michael MacCambridge

14DorsVenabili
Edited: Oct 20, 2011, 4:11pm Top

Oops! Saved an extra one. Maybe I'll use it later.

15lkernagh
Oct 20, 2011, 8:57pm Top

Welcome to the challenge. love your categories, especially the literary prize winners for the year you were born...... very inventive!

16DorsVenabili
Oct 21, 2011, 6:20am Top

#15 - Thank you!

17RidgewayGirl
Oct 21, 2011, 9:35am Top

Very interesting categories -- I look forward to reading about your reading!

18DorsVenabili
Oct 21, 2011, 2:07pm Top

#17 - Thank you, Ridgeway!

19ChelleBearss
Oct 22, 2011, 10:06am Top

Hi Kerri! Great categories! This should be fun :)

20casvelyn
Oct 27, 2011, 4:48pm Top

I've found that having a category or two where I can fit in some of my grad school readings help with completing the challenge. Of course, I like to read mysteries when I should be reading assignments, so maybe this is bad advice. :)

21DorsVenabili
Oct 27, 2011, 7:06pm Top

#19 - Hi Chelle!

#20 - Thanks for stopping by! Oh, my categories are designed to exclude all grad school reading! I do my enjoyable reading (which means non-grad school) on the train and on my lunch break. I can get through about 50 or 60 pages a day. I can't wait until I graduate!

22casvelyn
Oct 27, 2011, 7:10pm Top

>21 DorsVenabili: I'm graduating next May, and while I've enjoyed grad school, I'm certainly ready to be done.

23Carmenere
Oct 28, 2011, 6:52am Top

Hi Kerri! I can't wait to see what you find for you 50's and 60's working class category, an area I really haven't given much thought.
Good luck meeting your goal!

24DorsVenabili
Oct 28, 2011, 7:46am Top

#22 - Congrats on graduating next May! I have until December of 2012 :(

#23 - Hi! I've actually found some for that category that might be interesting. Here they are:

The Dollmaker - Harriette Arnow (1954)
A Death in the Family - James Agee (1957)
A Place on Earth - Wendell Berry (1967)
City of Night - John Rechy (1963)
The Gospel Singer - Harry Crews (1968)

25casvelyn
Oct 28, 2011, 8:48am Top

>24 DorsVenabili: Thanks! I will have been in grad school for three years by the time I graduate (I'm earning two master's concurrently). I've been in school for nineteen consecutive years (1st grade through grad school), so I'm kind of tired of it and ready to do something different.

26PaulCranswick
Nov 18, 2011, 11:18pm Top

Interesting choices Kerri, especially the American Football one! I was also toying with the idea of a short stories selection this year and that may play as a sub-plot somewhere. Now have you starred over here as well as in the 75ers

27avatiakh
Nov 19, 2011, 3:16am Top

I like your categories too, and am looking forward to see what goes into your postmodern selection. The LA Times booklist is instructive and I have read a few and faltered on a couple including The Mezzanine.

28DorsVenabili
Edited: Nov 20, 2011, 7:11am Top

I missed these last three comments, because I had accidentally unstarred my own thread!

#25 - I can definitely relate!

#26 - Thanks, Paul! I sure do love American football. Bob Costas just wrote a book about the greatest moments in NFL history, that I may read for this challenge. I heard him talk about it on National Public Radio the other day.

#27 - Thanks for visiting! I've never read Nicholson Baker. Perhaps I should stay away from that one? I'm actually leaning towards the following, but it could change:
1. Blood and Guts in High School - Kathy Acker
2. G. - John Berger
3. 2666: A Novel - Roberto Bolaño
4. PopCo - Scarlett Thomas
5. John Henry Days - Colson Whitehead
6. Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany

And the reason I visited this thread today is that I'm thinking of swapping Iris Murdoch for the Coetzee author read. I'm not sure yet, though.

29DorsVenabili
Edited: Nov 26, 2011, 2:08pm Top

I decided to stick with Coetzee, rather than change Challenge 3 to Iris Murdoch. I'll do a Murdoch challenge next year. Plus, I get to read at least one of her novels in another challenge this year, so there's that.

Also, I added a bunch of possible candidates to my various categories. I'm still a little stumped with author biographies and my football category.

30PaulCranswick
Nov 27, 2011, 5:52am Top

Kerri I am going to do Storyteller by Donald Sturrock of Roald Dahl next year in my own biography challenge.

31DorsVenabili
Nov 27, 2011, 9:01am Top

#30 - Thanks, Paul. I'll keep that in mind, although I'm not deeply familiar with his work. I've seen the film version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and I believe James and the Giant Peach was read to me as a child, but that's about it.

32DorsVenabili
Edited: Dec 3, 2011, 4:13pm Top

I adjusted challenge 12 slightly. It now includes books on running, for a total of 4 books. I figure I have to read two inspirational running books a year, to keep myself properly motivated.

33mamzel
Dec 17, 2011, 12:45pm Top

Some very intriguing titles you have in some intriguing categories. I know I have one of Coetzee's books around here somewhere. Maybe I'll read it this year. I will follow your reading with interest.

34DorsVenabili
Dec 23, 2011, 8:29am Top

#33 - Hi mamzel! Thanks for visiting. I'm looking forward to my year of Coetzee and may even start out my 2012 reading with Foe. I haven't quite decided yet. I'll check out your thread as well.

35DorsVenabili
Jan 8, 2012, 9:13am Top

Challenge 12 - Sports (Books about American football and running)



Title: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Author: Haruki Murakami
Publication Year: 2007
Format: Audio
Stars: Three

In addition to writing novels, Murakami participates in numerous marathons and triathlons. In this diary-like memoir, written while the author trained for the 2005 New York City Marathon, he attempts to explain the underlying motivation behind his drive to run. This may sound strange, but it was somewhat refreshing to read a running memoir that is actually somewhat somber and lacks the common rah-rah attitude often found in the genre. A large portion of the book focuses on gracefully accepting the decline in running productivity that comes with age (Murakami is in his fifties). He also touches a bit on how and why he began to write novels, as well as the connection between running and writing, including the fact that both are solitary pursuits that require a great deal of focus and endurance. I do wonder if this would have been more appropriate as an essay, as there was quite a bit of repetition, with the author applying his philosophy to numerous similar situations. I was often a bit bored. I suppose this would be most interesting to Murakami completists (this does not describe me) who want some insight into the author’s work and life philosophy.

36DorsVenabili
Jan 8, 2012, 9:42am Top

Challenge 6 - Newer stuff - fiction published in 2010 or later



Title: A Visit from the Goon Squad
Author: Jennifer Egan
Publication Year: 2010
Format: Ebook
Stars: Five

Wow. This is less structured than a novel, but more cohesive than a group of short stories with recurring characters. Skipping around in time, over a span of 40 or more years, a different character narrates each chapter. Somehow, all of their lives have been touched in some way by one or both of the two main characters - Bennie and Sasha. Bennie is a high-level record company executive who experiences a mid-life breakdown, and Sasha is a woman with a complicated past and a compulsive pickpocketing problem. The reader sees snapshots of the characters at different points in their lives and it seems like it couldn’t possibly come together to make any sense, but it somehow does. And if you can write a chapter in the form of a PowerPoint presentation that actually makes me tear up and avoids coming across as tacky, gimmicky, or contrived, then you deserve all the literary prizes they can throw at you. I’m trying to avoid over-the-top book-gushing this year (oops!), but I really think everyone should read this. Amazing.

37lkernagh
Edited: Jan 8, 2012, 12:30pm Top

I keep avoiding A Visit From the Goon Squad as not my thing and keep stumbling across reviews like your Kerri that have me wondering whether or not I should give this one a try. Still undecided but a great review as always!

38DorsVenabili
Jan 8, 2012, 12:49pm Top

Thank you, Lori! To use a tacky pun - it really struck a chord with me. I'm surprised that I liked it so much and I'm pretty stingy with the five stars.

39SassyLassy
Jan 8, 2012, 1:51pm Top

Lost your thread, but now I have it starred.
I thought Breece D'J Pancake's short stories were wonderful. I found them in a great bookstore in West Virginia, but would never have heard of him otherwise. How did you discover him?
I'll be interested to see what you come up with for Working Class Literature. I have a category for work and also one for biographies of authors, so will be following along. The suggestion by 30 is one I should add.

40mamzel
Jan 8, 2012, 3:31pm Top

I started Goon Squad but got side-tracked. I'll get back to it one of these days.

41DorsVenabili
Jan 8, 2012, 3:57pm Top

#39 - I've had it on my shelf for a few years. I know I bought it at the Strand on a trip to NYC. It may have been that I picked it up because there's a cute fox on the cover, or it may have been on a list of Appalachian fiction to which I sometimes refer. I truly can't remember. Isn't that funny?

#40 - I vote for picking it up again!

42DorsVenabili
Edited: Jan 12, 2012, 2:10pm Top

Challenge 7 - Working-Class Literature of the 1950s and 1960s



Title: The Gospel Singer
Author: Harry Crews
Publication Year: 1968
Format: Print
Stars: Four

The Gospel Singer comes from Enigma, a small, poor, backwards town in Georgia. Due to his other-worldly singing voice and good looks, he made it out and now travels the country as a successful gospel singer. He feels compelled to visit his hometown from time to time, but the visits have become increasingly painful. Because he’s thought to have healing powers and the ability to save souls, his family and other people from the town suffocate him with demands on his time and talents. The novel takes place over his most recent visit to Enigma, where some really terrible stuff happens.

The novel definitely includes disturbing language and visuals and is not for the easily-offended. I’ve read that Crews has been criticized for his tendency to create grotesque characters for shock value, but I really don’t think that’s going on here. Despite their physical and psychological abnormalities (one has a bizarre skin condition, another has an enormous foot, the Gospel Singer is a nymphomaniac, etc.), the main characters are realistic, complex, and each serves a distinct purpose within the story. The Gospel Singer’s manager, Didymus, is particularly fascinating. In addition, the author really gets at the pain and desperation felt by the townspeople, who are unable to escape their fate in dead-end Enigma. They literally live for these visits by the Gospel Singer and live through his experiences (or what they think his experiences are.) The writing is superb and the story is a page-turner. This is my first Crews novel and I think I’ll explore his work further, even though I have a feeling that it will make me slightly uncomfortable.

43psutto
Jan 12, 2012, 5:16pm Top

Sounds really interesting

44The_Hibernator
Jan 12, 2012, 5:52pm Top

Hi! Have you already read Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall and Why We Run, by Bernd Heinrich? I've been thinking about reading both of those...heard they're good.

45DorsVenabili
Jan 13, 2012, 7:06am Top

#43 - Hi! It was definitely interesting! I look forward to reading more from him in the future.

#44 - Hi! I read Born to Run last year and liked it, although it's good to be aware, when you read it, that there's another side to the barefoot running debate. I haven't read Why We Run, but I think his theory was discussed at great length in Born to Run, right? It sounds interesting.

46lkernagh
Jan 14, 2012, 3:04pm Top

Good review of The Gospel Singer. I am on the fence as to whether or not it is something I might pick up - I would need to be in the right frame of mind to read it.

47RidgewayGirl
Jan 14, 2012, 5:27pm Top

I've added The Gospel Singer to my wishlist.

48DorsVenabili
Jan 15, 2012, 8:50pm Top

#46 - Hi Lori! It's probably not for everyone, that's for sure.

#47 - Hi Alison! Thanks for visiting!

49DorsVenabili
Edited: Jan 16, 2012, 3:03pm Top

Challenge 6: Newer stuff - fiction published in 2010 or later



Title: The Orange Eats Creeps
Author: Grace Krilanovich
Publication Year: 2010
Format: Print book
Stars: Half of one star

It’s the 1990s and a band of self-described "Slutty Teenage Hobo Vampire Junkies" (I don’t believe they are actual vampires) roam the Pacific Northwest. Their nights are spent terrorizing convenience store workers, consuming large quantities of drugs, and engaging in countless other unspeakable acts. An unnamed teenage girl narrates the novel in a stream of consciousness style/drug-induced stupor. We know she is looking for Kim, her long-lost foster-sister, but other than that, no plot exists.

There’s not much I can say about this, other than it’s the most awful thing I’ve read in quite some time. If you can imagine a cross between the film Kids (1995) and really terrible Beat poetry, that should give some idea of what to expect. Here are a couple of snippets. Just imagine hundreds of these strung together for 172 pages:

Example 1: After my dream cat started freaking me out I stooped down only to see a slithering cat snake (calico fur) uncoiling under the porch. The thing is, in my waking life I wouldn’t have been afraid of the dream cat.
Example 2: Mother hatched out of a bubble in the sea. Foam that rose out of the tide. Her eyes were obscured by two pebbles. She removed them and the sky poured in and dreamtime became waking time. The sun hung suspended in orangetime, of puffy, hot frost.

So, the first example would be inexcusable in any setting. The second might be acceptable if it made sense within the narrative.

I’m actually not going to post a review or rating of this, because it’s the author’s first novel, it comes from a small press, there aren’t that many reviews posted, and I don’t want to make the average rating plummet. Plus, I suppose there’s the possibility that I just don’t get it? Ha!

50DeltaQueen50
Jan 17, 2012, 7:20pm Top

Too bad about this book, it sure has an eye-catching title!

51DorsVenabili
Jan 18, 2012, 5:38am Top

#50 - That it does. And interesting cover art, but that's about it.

52Carmenere
Jan 18, 2012, 6:02am Top

Thanks for reminding me, I need to check out Goon Squad from the library. Plus, I've never heard of Crews and the gospel Singer does sounds unusual and interesting so I'll add that to my WL.

53DorsVenabili
Jan 18, 2012, 2:11pm Top

#52 - I hope you enjoy Goon Squad - I loved it! I'm trying to figure out which other Crews novels to read, as there are many. He also has a memoir that looks interesting. He's a strange fellow. I recently watched several interviews on YouTube.

54DorsVenabili
Edited: Jan 20, 2012, 6:32pm Top

Challenge 3: Author study - J. M. Coetzee



Title: Diary of a Bad Year
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Publication Year: 2007
Format: Print book
Stars: Four

Written in an unconventional format, Diary of a Bad Year chronicles the relationship between Señor C, an aging, ailing, and lonely author and his recently-hired typist, Anya. Coetzee divides each page (except for the first few) into three sections. The top section contains opinion pieces that Señor C is writing for a collection of short essays by prominent authors. The topics range from terrorism, to tourism, to Dostoevsky. The middle section of the page contains Señor C’s narration of the novel’s events, and the bottom section contains Anya’s narration. The reader’s first task is to figure out how to read the darn thing. I started by reading everything on the each page, page by page, but soon switched to reading each chapter, section by section. It might be interesting to read the entire novel section by section.

The novel begins with Señor C meeting the beautiful Anya in the laundry room of the large apartment complex where they both live. He eventually offers her a job as his typist, even though she has very little experience. Clearly, Señor C is infatuated with Anya in a sort of defeated, pitiful, and hopeless way, and Anya knows this. However, their friendship eventually blossoms into something meaningful and touching, where each character influences the other in very significant ways. The unique format of the novel allows the reader to see the different perspectives of Señor C and Anya simultaneously. They are describing the same events and time-period, but choose wildly different details to focus on. Lovely and recommended.

55LisaMorr
Jan 20, 2012, 9:02pm Top

Great start! I've had A Visit From the Goon Squad on my wishlist for awhile, and it's moving up. The Gospel Singer and Diary of a Bad Year sound good too.

56DorsVenabili
Edited: Jan 21, 2012, 9:53am Top

Hi Lisa! Thanks for stopping by. Except for The Orange Eats Creeps, I've been happy with my January reading choices.

57LisaMorr
Edited: Jan 21, 2012, 1:05pm Top

I like your graphic novel choices - I read Palestine, Persepolis and Watchmen in 2009, when I had graphic novels in my challenge. I really enjoyed The Sandman Vol 1 Preludes and Nocturnes and also liked Fables: Legends in Exile, Exit Wounds and The Complete Maus.

Just read Woman at the Edge of Time last month - great book; another possible candidate for your female-authored science fiction is The Gate to Women's Country. I'm disappointed in myself that it took me so long to discover and read those two books!

58DorsVenabili
Jan 21, 2012, 2:51pm Top

#57 - Thank you for the wonderful suggestions! I have added The Gate to Women's Country to my list of possible books. I'll also check out the graphic novels. I've heard of The Complete Maus, but not the others.

59DorsVenabili
Jan 30, 2012, 6:53am Top

Challenge 6: Newer stuff - fiction published in 2010 or later



Title: Hand Me Down World
Author: Lloyd Jones
Publication Year: 2010
Format: Print book
Stars: Three

An African woman makes the dangerous journey across the sea and part of Europe to search for her son who was cruelly taken from her at birth. Various people she interacts with along the way narrate the first two-thirds of the novel, including a former co-worker from Tunisia, a documentary filmmaker, and a blind man she is hired to care for, once in Berlin (her destination.) Finally, the woman tells her own story, which, at times, differs quite strikingly from the accounts of these people.

While an interesting enough story and adequately written, something important is missing and it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it is – authenticity? an appropriate amount of grittiness? sufficient character development? Despite the alarming and disturbing subject matter, it somehow comes across as very safe and tied up with a bow at the end. I can almost see this being made into a Hollywood movie that does quite well and eventually wins an Oscar. That sort of thing. Meh.

60lkernagh
Jan 30, 2012, 1:50pm Top

Darn, I was sort of hoping Hand Me Down World would be anther great read by Lloyd Jones, like his Mister Pip. Will keep that in mind if I come across the book.... I may still give it a go.

61DorsVenabili
Jan 30, 2012, 3:01pm Top

Hi Lori - Others may like it. I can be a cranky-pants sometimes with my reviews. To me, it just seems kind of flat. There are a couple of things I'd like to say, but unfortunately, it's a little difficult to discuss, because there is a significant plot twist that I don't want to give away. I haven't read Mister Pip yet.

62DorsVenabili
Feb 2, 2012, 1:58pm Top

Challenge 1: Booker Prize short-listed works from 1978 and 1985



Title: God on the Rocks
Author: Jane Gardam
Publication Year: 1978
Format: Print book
Stars: Five

Margaret, a precocious 8-year-old with an adventurous spirit, lives with her odd, fundamentalist Christian parents in a sleepy, seaside English town. A series of events occur around Margaret – including the sudden appearance of her mother’s childhood friends - that bring together a web of people who share a complicated and painful past.

Part comedy, with a bit of tragedy thrown in, the novel examines the toxic effects of longing, stubbornness, and regret, and how people are kept apart and made miserable for the silliest of reasons. It also explores the stock situation of rich-boy-not-allowed-to-marry-his poor-love-due-to-evil-mother without coming across as tired or cliché.

I have absolutely no idea why it’s never occurred to me to read a Jane Gardam novel until this week. Good grief. This is warm, witty, quirky, touching, and wonderful. The writing is excellent and the characters are vivid and rich. It’s ridiculously delightful. I love it.

63Bcteagirl
Feb 2, 2012, 10:33pm Top

Great reviews! Just catching up on the threads. I am very interested in your 'working class literature' section.. what do you consider working class literature? And what would be some examples from the 30s-40s? (I love vintage reads!).

64Bcteagirl
Feb 2, 2012, 10:35pm Top

ps- you may like Oranges are not the Only Fruit if you liked God on the Rocks :)

65DorsVenabili
Edited: Feb 3, 2012, 8:58am Top

#63 and 64 - Hi Janice! Thank you for the recommendation. I'll check that out.

Regarding my definition of working-class literature for this challenge, I'm defining it very, very broadly as literature that depicts the lives of working-class people. In this case, working-class describes people who perform manual/physical labor, typically for hourly wages, and typically living paycheck to paycheck, struggling, to some extent, to provide sustenance for themselves and their families. (For my particular challenge, the novels do not have to have an overt political component.)

In the early part of the twentieth century (during the years when the labor movement was gaining strength) there were a great number of politically motivated novels that included working-class themes. They are often labeled radical novels, novels of the left, and/or proletarian novels. Upton Sinclair novels are obvious examples. A couple that I like from the 30s and 40s:

* Out of This Furnace by Thomas Bell
* The Disinherited by Jack Conroy

I also think more famous novels like Native Son and The Grapes of Wrath would fall into this category.

And one less well-known novel from the 50s:
* Youngblood by John Oliver Killins

66Bcteagirl
Feb 3, 2012, 1:19pm Top

This is very interesting to me... I think this is an area I have been interested in reading in, but for some reason I didn't realize it was an 'area' of its own... a fun discovery! Thank you~

67lkernagh
Feb 4, 2012, 11:00am Top

Hi Kerri - Great review of God on the Rocks! I had been glancing at that book - my local library has it - and plan to read it next year as a fit in my planned category for Europa Editions books (yes, I have been actively thinking about next years categories).

68RidgewayGirl
Feb 4, 2012, 12:08pm Top

I've added God on the Rocks to my wish list.

69DorsVenabili
Feb 5, 2012, 12:53pm Top

#67 - Hi Lori - Thank you and don't worry - I'm already planning next year's categories too! And, believe or not, I was also thinking of a Europa Editions category.

#68 - Hi Alison - I hope you enjoy it!

70banjo123
Feb 5, 2012, 1:20pm Top

Great reviews. I think I will add God on the Rocks to my wish list. Have you read Tillie Olsen's Tell me a Riddle? It would fit in your Working Class category. I had read it in my early 20's, and recently re-read it and still loved it.

71DorsVenabili
Feb 5, 2012, 2:19pm Top

#70 - Thank you for visiting and for that wonderful suggestion! I didn't realize it was published in the 60s. "I Stand Here Ironing" is one of my favorite short stories (I read it in an anthology), but I haven't read the others in Tell Me a Riddle. I will add it to the list.

72VictoriaPL
Feb 5, 2012, 2:40pm Top

I'm already contemplating next year too. I already have a theme. Glad to know I have company!

73Her_Royal_Orangeness
Feb 5, 2012, 5:27pm Top

God on the Rocks was one of my favorite childhood books. I read it over and over and over. So happy to hear that you loved it also!

About planning ridiculously in advance for 13-13, add me to the list. :) I'm actually in the process of going through my shelves and boxing away some that I want to save for next year's challenge.

74SassyLassy
Feb 5, 2012, 7:27pm Top

Can you add retroactively to this year? I've discovered that planning for next year is a great way to get out of following this year's plan, so I too am working away at new categories for next year, usually as I deviate from my carefully laid out plans for this year! Next year I will be sure to have a spontaneous category. Glad to hear so many are in the same boat.

75DorsVenabili
Feb 6, 2012, 9:16am Top

#72, 73, 74 - Clearly we are all completely neurotic (joking...sort of)! I've definitely had to resist the urge to change some of my categories this year, because I'm excited about the ones I'm thinking up for next year.

76DorsVenabili
Feb 8, 2012, 9:52am Top

Challenge 1: Booker Prize short-listed works from 1978 and 1985



Title: The Good Terrorist
Author: Doris Lessing
Publication Year: 1985
Format: Print book
Stars: Two and a half

The story follows Alice, a 36-year-old revolutionary in 1980s London. She and fellow members of a loosely-organized, far-left organization squat in a large, dilapidated house. Alice serves as the under-appreciated care-taker of the group by cooking, cleaning, fixing up the house, and dealing with the utility boards. With few exceptions, the rest of the characters come across as hateful, stupid, selfish, and immature. They are essentially two-dimensional negative stereotypes of young radicals. The group is apparently tired of painting slogans on bridges and wants to branch into something more exciting. Someone comes up with a plan to work with the IRA, but the IRA rejects them. Nevertheless, they decide to branch into terrorism on their own with predictably disastrous results.

I must admit, I am completely baffled by this novel. Last year, I read the Grass is Singing, thought it was wonderful, and considered doing a Doris Lessing author read this year (I went with Coetzee instead…thankfully.) This novel reads like it was written by a different human being. While the story holds my attention, the prose is artless and at times clunky and awkward. I keep wondering if that was her intention, but then I can’t figure out why it would be. I can understand using a sparse, linear narrative style when dealing with this particular subject matter, but this simply leaves me slightly embarrassed for the author. I think exploring the occasional tendency for those involved in radical or fringe ideology to lose sight of their original humanitarian goals is an interesting and worthwhile pursuit, but it doesn’t work here.

77The_Hibernator
Feb 8, 2012, 10:12am Top

Mara and Dann is the only Doris Lessing book that I've read. I really liked it and plan on reading more Lessing someday.

78psutto
Feb 8, 2012, 10:49am Top

I have the golden notebook on my shelf for this year

79DorsVenabili
Feb 9, 2012, 9:28am Top

#77 - Hi Rachel - Since I loved The Grass is Singing, I'll probably give her another chance. I'll keep Mara and Dann in mind.

#78 - Hi Psutto - I don't have The Golden Notebook, but I think I have some of her sci-fi novels. Perhaps I'll try one of those next.

80DorsVenabili
Edited: Feb 10, 2012, 1:34pm Top

Challenge 2: Major literary prize winners from 1973 - the year I was born (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)



Title: The Optimist’s Daughter
Author: Eudora Welty
Publication Year: 1972
Format: Print book
Stars: Four

Following the death of her father, Laurel must cope with the presence of Fay, his difficult and much younger second wife. The novel is beautifully written, particularly the last section where Laurel experiences a flood of memories of her mother and late husband. The author explores grieving behavior, how we construct (and reconstruct) memories of lost loved ones, and the significance of material objects with regard to memory. I’m giving it four stars because it is lovely and well-done, but, quite frankly, it wasn’t really my cup of tea. I actually think it would be great for a book club, as there's a boatload of symbolism to pick apart.

81DorsVenabili
Feb 11, 2012, 11:29am Top

I was trying to avoid this, but I think I'm going to change my postmodern category to Incarceration-Themed Fiction. Here are the reasons:

1. At this point, I'm not particularly excited about the novels in the postmodern category.
2. I've been exploring the new list feature and have gotten some wonderful ideas for the incarceration-themed category: http://www.librarything.com/list/184/all/Fiction-Set-Primarily-in-a-Prison.
3. It will allow me to read Little Dorrit, so I won't feel left out of all the Charles Dickens hoopla this year.

82banjo123
Feb 11, 2012, 3:37pm Top

That's a great change! If you like non-fiction at all, though, I would keep the category open to include prison based non-fiction--there are some great books out there.
And Little Dorrit is awesome.

83clfisha
Feb 12, 2012, 5:19am Top

Ooh I haven't heard of the list feature, looks like such a great idea.

84DorsVenabili
Feb 12, 2012, 7:15am Top

#82 - Hi! Thanks! I'm probably going to keep this category to fiction, although I could maybe see adding a memoir.

#83 - Hi Claire! I know - the lists are wonderful. I've created three so far, plus I've added to others.

85SassyLassy
Feb 12, 2012, 11:51am Top

Incarceration Themed Fiction is a terrific category and what a great list! If you get into non fiction, some would fit in your author themed biographies class.

The add a book feature on the list is too tempting. I just added Darkness at Noon and War Trash.

86DorsVenabili
Feb 12, 2012, 2:43pm Top

#85 - War Trash is a great idea! I haven't read any Ha Jin yet, but would like to. I'm putting that one on the list. Thank you!

87cammykitty
Feb 12, 2012, 3:32pm Top

Just found your thread. Great categories!!! Disgrace is brilliant, but man, I found it hard to read. Although from what I've heard from people who have been to South Africa recently, it isn't exagerated. The dog stuff killed me. I'll be interested to see reviews of his other books.

& Grace Paley! That should be a good collection. I love the idea of reading books from the year you were born too.

88DeltaQueen50
Feb 12, 2012, 9:31pm Top

I read War Trash not all that long ago, it was a very good book.

89DorsVenabili
Feb 13, 2012, 11:12am Top

#87 - Hi Katie - thanks for visiting! Disgrace was definitely disturbing. I recently reviewed Diary of a Bad Year and I'm currently reading Life and Times of Michael K and will review that also. I'm also quite excited about reading the Grace Paley. It's been on my TBR list for quite a while, but I've never read anything by her.

#88 - Hi Judy! I look forward to reading it. It's wonderful to get all of these recommendations, both through this thread and the lists feature. I was aware of War Trash, but didn't connect it to that challenge until SassyLassy mentioned it.

90DorsVenabili
Edited: Feb 18, 2012, 6:02pm Top

Challenge 3: Author study - J. M. Coetzee



Title: Life and Times of Michael K.
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Publication Year: 1983
Format: Print book
Stars: Four and a half

Born with a severe facial deformity and thought to be simple or even stupid, Michael K. is used to being ignored and avoided. In a civil war-torn version of (presumably) South Africa, he sets out with his ailing mother on a journey from the city, to her rural homeland. Following the death of his mother along the way (this happens early in the novel and appears in the back cover blurb), Michael alternates between living off the land and getting captured by government forces and taken into custody for not possessing the proper identification papers.

Once out of the city, the naïve Michael is baffled by checkpoints, labor camps, and the authorities’ obsession with forcing people into specific geographic areas. He finds moments of peace and nearly thrives when he is out on his own, growing food and hunting with a sling shot. However, when in captivity (and this includes stretches of time in hospitals), Michael withers and almost wastes away due to a stubborn refusal to eat food. The point is driven home that captivity, confinement, and extreme government control breaks the human spirit and makes it impossible for people to live up to their full potential.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel is that the race of the characters is never mentioned. In case the reader has grown numb to the horrors of apartheid, this device effectively snaps them out of that fog and forces them to see all people, regardless of race, as human beings with an equal right to freedom, who have the potential to thrive and contribute to their own well being. Quite excellent and highly recommended.

91banjo123
Feb 18, 2012, 7:50pm Top

Thanks for the review of Life and TImes of Michael K. I am going to have to try to read Coetzee.
I am glad you are reading Grace Paley. I was thinking of recommending her earlier, along with Tillie Olsen.
Regarding Doris Lessing, when I was in college I loved the Martha Quest series. It covers some of the same material as The Golden Notebook but was written earlier, I believe. There is more focus on her bad marriage and on her African experience. I would recommend it, except that it's always dangerous to recommend something that you haven't read in 30 years.

92DorsVenabili
Feb 19, 2012, 8:55am Top

#91 - Disgrace is my favorite Coetzee so far, if you'd like a recommendation.

I'll probably get to those early Doris Lessings at some point in the future.

93DorsVenabili
Feb 21, 2012, 10:28am Top

Challenge 9 - Short story collections



Title: American Salvage
Author: Bonnie Jo Campbell
Publication Year: 2009
Format: Print book
Challenges:
Stars: Three and a half

The stories in this collection are set in present-day, economically-depressed, small town Michigan. Following the mass exodus of large factories - where at one time, people could make a decent living - residents literally struggle to survive. Meth addiction (and production) is an all too common problem, large corporations take over family farms, and some desperate people even turn to the militia/survivalist movement in order to give their lives meaning. While not great, many of the stories are quite good and give the reader a glimpse into the rarely discussed problem of rural poverty in America.

94RidgewayGirl
Feb 21, 2012, 12:57pm Top

I liked American Salvage more than you did, but boy did that book break my heart. I'm still shell-shocked from The Solutions to Brian's Problem and I think that Falling was a beautiful, beautiful story.

95DorsVenabili
Feb 21, 2012, 2:59pm Top

#94 - Hi Alison - I really did like many of the stories. I agree that "The Solutions to Brian's Problem" was moving and a great use of 2nd person narration. I also really liked the last one about the boar, for some reason. However, I thought the first story about the snake being the last of its kind (and the main character being the last of his kind, etc.) was a bit of a clunker (maybe a little too obvious - I'm not sure) and maybe that set the tone for me and it was kind of an uphill battle after that. I was ultimately won over though.

96DorsVenabili
Edited: Feb 28, 2012, 2:09pm Top

Challenge 8 - Female-authored science fiction



Title: Zoo City
Author: Lauren Beukes
Publication Year: 2010
Format: ebook
Stars: Four

Zinzi - a wonderfully likeable, yet deeply flawed, ex-con - lives in a dilapidated apartment building with her sloth in what is known as Zoo City, South Africa. In the world where the novel takes place, a largely marginalized subset of the population exists, called aposymbiots (or zoo people). An aposymbiot develops a close relationship with a particular animal and, in turn, receives some kind of magic power (all of this is cleverly explained throughout the novel in much greater detail through snippets from encyclopedias, journal abstracts, and film reviews). Zinzi happens to be a zoo person and her magic is that she can find lost things. This ability leads her into a fascinating mystery involving a reclusive music industry executive and a teen pop group.

I had been putting this novel off for a while, because the premise sounds completely ridiculous, but I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I was drawn into the rich, detailed world that the author has created. The writing is great too, often very witty and clever. It almost reminds me of Jennifer Egan’s writing in A Visit from the Goon Squad. My only complaint is that the story may get a bit bogged down by too many characters and a slightly over-complicated plot (I recommend note-taking while reading). However, overall, I thought it was wonderful, and I highly recommend it.

97psutto
Feb 28, 2012, 2:58pm Top

Good to see another fan of zoo city

98clfisha
Feb 29, 2012, 2:36pm Top

I really liked the character of Zinzi in zoo city and of course her sloth :) I think the excerpts of news/research etc.. really helped ground the novel and make it oddly believable.

99DorsVenabili
Feb 29, 2012, 2:49pm Top

#97 and #98 - Hi Psutto and Claire! Yeah - I thought it was great and deserving of the awards it has won. If I could, I would give 4.25 stars.

100kpolhuis
Mar 1, 2012, 6:53pm Top

I also chose to work on one author this year and mine is Isaac Asimov. My whole list is basically a concentration on science fiction, but I wanted to focus on Isaac as much as possible as he is my most beloved sci-fi writer. I started reading the Foundation series last month (which is why I am here... your name caught my eye). I think it will be a feature I will use every year (just focusing on the one author). I recommend for your graphic novels Logicomix, I thought it was great and the illustration reminded me a bit of Herge's Tin Tin.

101DorsVenabili
Edited: Mar 1, 2012, 8:03pm Top

#100 - Hi! You are the very first person on LibraryThing to say anything about my screen name! I think you get a prize.

Anyway, I (obviously) love Isaac Asimov too, but still have more to read. I've read all of the Foundation novels and several of the others. I think I have them all rated in my library if I've read them. I think in the 75 group they're reading the Foundation novels in chronological order right now, if you're interested.

I'm enjoying the single author read. Next near I'll do Iris Murdoch, who is another of my favorite authors.

Thank you for the graphic novel recommendation. I'll check that out.

Also, do you have a thread? I don't see it.

102kpolhuis
Mar 2, 2012, 11:06am Top

Hi Kerri, my name is Karene by the way. If Isaac wasn't already dead I might have tracked him down and given him a big sloppy kiss (or a quilt) for tying all of his books together at the end of his life. I just loved Prelude and Forward for how they wrapped eveything up into one tidy package.
My thread is here http://www.librarything.com/topic/122199 I haven't been very active which is why you couldn't find me. I should work on that!

103DorsVenabili
Mar 3, 2012, 10:56am Top

Hi Karene - I read Prelude before the trilogy and thought that went well. I ended up reading Forward after the trilogy and Foundation's Edge, because I wasn't aware of it (it was a long time ago).

104cammykitty
Mar 4, 2012, 5:02pm Top

Great review of Michael K - it's going on the wish list! @91 I love Tillie Olson too.

105kpolhuis
Mar 4, 2012, 9:12pm Top

Hi Kerri, I've got you starred too! I'm particularly interested in your female authored science fiction. My favorite is Anne McCaffrey but I would have to give it some thought about anyone else... so I think I might steal that category from you for next year (always need new sci fi categories!).

106DorsVenabili
Mar 4, 2012, 11:18pm Top

#104 - Thank you! And the Tillie Olsen comment reminds me that I have to get a copy of that book. I definitely plan to include it in that challenge. I also really want to read her Yonnondio.

#105 - Karene - I actually haven't read Anne McCaffrey yet. My favorites are probably Ursula K. LeGuin and Octavia Butler (especially the Xenogenesis trilogy). There's also a great book called I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpmen that I'm always recommending to people. I do need to read more female-authored sci-fi though, which is why I created that category.

107cammykitty
Mar 5, 2012, 5:03am Top

I second the Octavia Butler recomendation.

108DorsVenabili
Mar 5, 2012, 8:10am Top

#107 - Yay!

109kpolhuis
Mar 6, 2012, 8:20am Top

A nice place to start with Anne McCaffrey is her Dragonriders trilogy (which is where I began) and I have read all of her Dragon series (there are quite a few and it is really worth it to read them all). I haven't read everything else that she has written yet and plan on featuring her as my Grandmaster in next years challenge. This link will take you to her website and show you which order to read the Pern series in. The Dragon Riders and the Harper Hall trilogy are my absolute favorite, I have read them many times. http://www.annemccaffrey.org/books/index.html

110DorsVenabili
Mar 6, 2012, 8:38am Top

#109 - Thanks! I'll check that out. I tend to be a bit more robot than dragon, but I'm willing to give her a try. I've heard so many good things about her.

111DorsVenabili
Mar 6, 2012, 3:09pm Top

Challenge 5: Incarceration-themed fiction



Title: The Enormous Room
Author: e.e. cummings
Publication Year: 1922
Format: Ebook
Stars: Two

Apparently, the young Edward Estlin Cummings spent a few months in a French prison camp during World War I. The Enormous Room is a fictionalized (or perhaps completely true) account of that life event.

The French authorities seize Cummings and his friend - fellow writer William Slater Brown (known as B. in the novel) - from their camp, where they work for an ambulance company during the War. Allegedly, B. had written a letter considered pro-German and as a result is labeled a spy. Cummings is arrested, simply because of his close friendship with B.

Once in the prison camp, Cummings casually and with a certain amount of amusement, describes the deplorable conditions of the prison and then spends nearly two-thirds of the novel simply cataloging the various characters in which he comes in contact. While some of the language is lovely and moments of sincerity do occasionally shine through, the overall tone is condescending, sneering, sometimes racist, and often ethnically bigoted (for example, Cummings had a particular dislike of Belgians, for some unknown reason). And I do realize this was published in 1922, but it’s worth pointing out.

My overall reaction to this was “ick,” but I can see an argument being made that the better portions of the novel illustrate the perseverance of the human spirit and the ability to find beauty and charm in such an unlikely place. Definitely not for me, but maybe for someone else.

112cammykitty
Mar 6, 2012, 8:39pm Top

111 Sounds ick to me too. I'd heard he could be that way, but I'd never run into any of his writing like that.

113DorsVenabili
Mar 6, 2012, 9:12pm Top

#112 - Yeah - I realize it's not uncommon in older literature to come across offensive language like that. I typically don't reject an entire work because of an offensive comment or two, but in this case, I think it really stood out, because the novel consisted almost entirely of describing a large cast of people.

114cammykitty
Mar 7, 2012, 12:48am Top

I can see that - the subject matter probably almost became stereotyping.

115RidgewayGirl
Mar 7, 2012, 9:16am Top

If you prefer robots, you might like to read Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang. I'm unable to read books featuring dragons (or elves, for that matter) and so never read her dragon books. But I really enjoyed her more science fictiony books.

116DorsVenabili
Edited: Mar 7, 2012, 9:22am Top

#114 - That was my impression, anyway. There was warmth and sincerity there too, but...

#115 - That's good to know! Despite my teenage obsession with Ronnie James Dio and Rainbow, dragons and wizards have not made it into my preferred reading genres. Go figure.

117cammykitty
Mar 7, 2012, 8:37pm Top

LOL - I was into Rainbow too. I can deal with wizards, some dragons but unicorns are too My Little Pony!

118DorsVenabili
Mar 9, 2012, 9:36am Top

Well. Here's a little wizard-related treat for everyone then:

http://youtu.be/dJeBvNuYPMM

It never gets old.

Also, another Rainbow story: The first time I met my in-laws was at a friend-of-the-family wedding (my husband Joe and I had been dating for about three months.) After the wedding reception, we all went to a Japanese restaurant/bar with a huge karaoke collection. I kept telling Joe that I would only do karaoke if they had "Man on the Silver Mountain," thinking that there was no possible way they would have it. Well they did, and I sang all six and a half minutes of it in front of my future in-laws. Good times.

119cammykitty
Mar 9, 2012, 1:19pm Top

LOL - that's some pretty intense karaoke!

120DorsVenabili
Mar 9, 2012, 2:34pm Top

#120 - Indeed.

121kpolhuis
Mar 9, 2012, 2:44pm Top

As someone who is very interested in anthropology, I mark down those kind of books with politically outdated sentiments and phrases as something of social and historical interest and try not to see them as offensive. It is really interesting to me to see how much public opinion has changed in just my own lifetime, and that how things that were pretty commonplace when I was a girl now have no place here in this political environment.
In defense of dragons... there is something really special about Anne's dragons. While it is that dragons are from the fantasy genre, it will become apparent in the Dragonrider Trilogy that this is not the case (I cannot say any more without giving spoilers). Have a nice weekend Kerri! I have just finished the Foundation trilogy and am now just resting a bit before I consider what to start reading next.

122DorsVenabili
Mar 9, 2012, 3:46pm Top

#121 - Hi Karene - I really do agree with what you say in the first paragraph. However, I think for that particular book, the cringe-worthy comments, coupled with the author's arrogant and condescending attitude, made me want to throw the book across the room. I think he probably did grow by the end of the novel and others may completely disagree with my interpretation and think it's wonderful. I'm definitely fixating on the negative aspects of the novel.

I will surely read an Anne McCaffrey novel that involves dragons! I'm not against them, but I haven't gravitated towards them in my reading. Maybe I've just never met the right dragon. Ha!

I'll check your thread for your reaction to The Foundation trilogy. Yay!

123DorsVenabili
Mar 13, 2012, 2:05pm Top

Challenge 8: Female-authored science fiction



Title: Woman on the Edge of Time
Author: Marge Piercy
Publication Year: 1976
Format: Print book
Stars: Four and a half

Committed to a mental hospital for the second time in three years, Connie develops the apparent ability to communicate with the future, specifically with a utopian community located in Mattapoisett, MA . The novel moves back and forth between Connie’s “real life” and her experiences in the future, where she gains strength, determination, and sharp insight into the human condition.

I love this novel! It takes on a lot (poverty, racism, sexism, environmental degradation, unethical science, and poor treatment of the mentally ill), but it somehow works and has a very satisfying ending to boot. In addition, Piercy has created a utopian world that is well-thought out, rich in detail, and filled with believable people, who still experience recognizable human emotions like jealousy, sadness, and grief. Is it an overtly political novel that is constantly hitting you over the head with its various messages? Most certainly. I happen to enjoy this sort of thing (if I’m at least somewhat in tune with the author’s political beliefs), but I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Anyway, I look forward to reading more from this wonderful author. Yay!

124lkernagh
Mar 13, 2012, 9:24pm Top

Interesting review of Woman on the Edge of Time....... Off to go investigate it further.

125DorsVenabili
Mar 14, 2012, 9:24am Top

Hi Lori - thank you! Beware: I was just reading some of the other LT reviews and felt that some of them gave away too much plot information for my liking.

126lkernagh
Mar 14, 2012, 9:24pm Top

> 125 - Good to know.... I haven't found the time to look into the book yet.... will do so with your warning in mind. Thanks Kerri!

127banjo123
Mar 14, 2012, 10:59pm Top

123- I read this book in my 20's, loved it then, but I thought it would be too dated now. Glad to hear that it wasn't. MayI should try re-reading some Piercy.

Have you read Joanna Russ's The Female Man? I remember like it at about the same time.

128DorsVenabili
Edited: Mar 15, 2012, 9:41am Top

#126 - You're welcome. Also, I may be a little over-sensitive about reading too much plot summary before reading a novel, so there's that.

#127 - I was just saying on my 75 thread that while it occasionally screams 1976, I do think the message still rings true. I have not read The Female Man, but will check it out. Thanks!

ETA: The Female Man is already on my wishlist! Go figure. My wishlist is so large that I have no idea what's on it.

129vancouverdeb
Mar 15, 2012, 10:21am Top

Kerri, I answered a couple of your questions on my thread. Depending on what year counts the most, I recommend Karen Fossum most highly as a Scandicrime writer. Only problem is that it takes a year or two to get them translated. What counts most as far as publication date? I can give you two excellent books by Karin Fossum - Bad Intentions and The Caller both of which were published in the US / Canada in 2010 and 2011 -but they were published a couple of years earlier in Sweden.

As for Canadian Fiction -check out my profile and you can see all of the Award Winning books that I have read that are Canadian. I'll go have a peek later at some of the major award winner names. As for short stories, I enjoy them too. I see that you have The Beggar's Garden Micheal Christie. I really enjoyed that, though in some ways it might be somewhat " Vancouver" specific - but it's hard to say. It one a small award as well.

130vancouverdeb
Edited: Mar 15, 2012, 10:24am Top

Oh! I've read Excellent Women by Barbara Pym and can very much recommend it. I might have a review written for it too.
Oh! And check out my Orange Prize Winner's - they often are really fabulous reads.

131DorsVenabili
Mar 15, 2012, 10:24am Top

#129 - Thanks, Deb! I just just responded. I think we were typing at the same time!

132vancouverdeb
Edited: Mar 15, 2012, 10:46am Top

If you are looking for major Canadian Literary Award, the Big 3 are The Scotiabank Giller Prize -sometimes abbreviated as the Giller Prize. The other two that are major are Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General's Literary award.

Off hand, I can recommend Sisters Brothers, The Stone Diary, The Book of Negroes also known as Someone Knows My Name, The Handmaids Tale , all of those are Award Winners. I'll come up with a more later :)

Clara Callan was great read too.

133DorsVenabili
Mar 15, 2012, 11:30am Top

#132 - I am familiar with the Giller Prize, but not the other two. I'll check those out. I've read The Handmaids Tale and am a fan of Ms. Atwood, but I've not read the others.

Speaking of awesome Canadian artists, one of my favorite bands is The Weakerthans. The lead singer - John K. Sampson - just put out a solo album this year and it's AMAZING. Here is a live version of one of the songs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1L3bDPWduuI

134vancouverdeb
Mar 15, 2012, 8:17pm Top

Wow, Kerri , very alternative and interesting! Of interest, my mother is of "pure Icelandic "background, and her family all lived in small town Manitoba - so I am familiar with many of the names and stories of Icelanders. My grandparents spoke Icelandic. My dad though, was of Scottish background - so I'm just a mix!:)
Interesting song. I think I had a relative - maybe even a great grandparent that ended up in a TB sanitarium in Manitoba. I'll have to ask my mom. I think that my Icelandic background is part of why I enjoy " Scandi Crime " and Scandinavian translated books. I'm at least familiar with many of the names and place names.

135DorsVenabili
Mar 16, 2012, 6:58am Top

#134 - Deb - I'm glad you found it interesting. He's one of my favorite lyric writers.

Fascinating family background! I was unaware of the Icelandic population in Canada.

136DorsVenabili
Mar 19, 2012, 9:47am Top

Challenge 6: Newer stuff - fiction published in 2010 or later



Title: Lost Memory of Skin
Author: Russell Banks
Publication Year: 2011
Format: Print book
Stars: Four

The Kid, a convicted sex offender in his early twenties, lives beneath the Calusa Causeway in Florida, because it happens to be one of three remote locations in Calusa County that is 2500 feet away from any children’s gathering place. While the Kid’s crime is comparatively mild, he makes his home with violent and despicable criminals who find themselves in the same housing predicament.

Early in the novel, the Kid comes in contact with the Professor, a brilliant man with a mysterious past of his own, who is studying homelessness among sex offenders. The Professor concocts a plan to empower the Causeway residents by creating a kind of mini-government that organizes them into committees of sanitation, security, etc. Before the plan can be fully realized, certain life events get in the way.

While the author does not ask the reader to sympathize with these criminals, he appears to be saying that certain aspects of modern society are largely responsible for their behavior, yet we have no coherent plan to deal with them, particularly after they are released from prison (and then wonder why recidivism rates are so high). It also questions the practice of equating all sex-related crimes once the perpetrator is released from prison. As it stands (according to the novel), whether someone commits a brutal rape or has consensual sex with a teenager, they remain on the federal sex-offender registry for life.

I really liked this thought-provoking novel. While perhaps not great art, it is quite the page-turner, and Banks is an excellent story-teller. I look forward to reading more from him, particularly his more acclaimed work, like Affliction.

137SassyLassy
Mar 19, 2012, 10:13am Top

Do read more of him!

Russell Banks is one of my favourite writers. I haven't read this one yet, so I only read the last paragraph of your post. Affliction is a very powerful book. Actually, of the Banks' novels I've read, the only one that didn't work for me was Hamilton Stark.

138DorsVenabili
Edited: Mar 19, 2012, 12:26pm Top

#137 - I will definitely read more! I've actually always wanted to read him, but never got around to it. Then I heard him interviewed on NPR (I can't remember which show) and realized that this one would fit into my "New Stuff" category. Also, my review doesn't give away anything important, so you can read it if you want (unless you don't like to read any plot details at all). : )

139cammykitty
Mar 20, 2012, 11:34pm Top

Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy is completely different than Woman on the Edge of Time but it is probably the best WWII novel I've read. It is epic in scope and includes characters from several forgotten facets of the war. I read Woman on the Edge of Time in college. The course was supposed to include one science fiction novel, and I remember the professor obviously held his nose at the thought of teaching any science fiction but since this was by Piercy it was... sort of... okay. I didn't like it, but it may have been more because I was annoyed at the professors attitude toward science fiction. I just remember the wombs. Perhaps I should try it again.

140DorsVenabili
Mar 21, 2012, 1:33pm Top

#139 - Thanks for the recommendation! I'll definitely read more from her. And, yes, the wombs!

141DorsVenabili
Edited: Mar 21, 2012, 1:35pm Top

Challenge 3: Author study - J. M. Coetzee



Title: The Lives of Animals
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Publication Year: 1999
Format: Print book
Stars: Three and a half

From what I understand, Coetzee is an animal rights activist. The Lives of Animals contains two lectures that he gave at Princeton University on the subject in 1997-98. The lectures are structured in a fiction format and tell the story of author Elizabeth Costello, who is invited to Appleton College to give a lecture on any topic she chooses. She chooses animal rights. Following Coetzee’s work are four responses by scholars in the fields of religion, literature, philosophy, and primatology.

In my opinion, this is probably for Coetzee completists only. There doesn’t seem to be anything new or groundbreaking said on the topic of animal rights. However, I can see where the lectures are a good springboard for discussion. I found literary theorist Marjorie Gerber’s response the most intriguing. One of her main points was the following, and I tend to agree that this may describe Coetzee’s purpose:

”Do you really believe, Mother, that poetry classes are going to close down the Slaughterhouses?” asks Coetzee’s John Bernard, and his mother answers, “No.” “Then why do it?” he persists. That is indeed the question.

Poetry makes nothing happen, W.H. Auden once wrote. But is that true? And must it be true? What has poetry to offer, what has language to offer, by way of solace, except analogy, except the art of language? In these two elegant lectures we thought John Coetzee was talking about animals. Could it be, however, that all along he was really asking, “What is the value of literature?”


142cammykitty
Mar 24, 2012, 5:01pm Top

Great review on The Lives of Animals. I had heard he was an animal rights activist too, and after reading Disgrace I needed to hear that. Otherwise, I'm not sure I could've read him again. & I think you are dead on when you say he's questioning the value of literature.

143DorsVenabili
Mar 25, 2012, 8:36am Top

#142 - Thanks! I believe I know what you're referring to regarding Disgrace, and I agree that it probably helps to know a bit about his background. I'm not sure I did though, at the time, and I was still blown away by it.

144cammykitty
Mar 28, 2012, 11:27pm Top

I was blown away by it, and hated every minute of it. It's brilliant, but not exactly an enjoyable read. Knowing his background would've helped me enjoy the brilliance a bit more while enduring the loathsomeness of Disgrace.

145DorsVenabili
Apr 1, 2012, 6:33pm Top

#144 - Hello! I missed your post as I've been a bit swamped with school. Yes, indeed, it's both brilliant and incredibly disturbing. Also, it's greatness sort of crept up on me. I think I initially gave it four stars and as I thought about it more, it went up to five.

146DorsVenabili
Apr 1, 2012, 6:34pm Top

Challenge 4: Virago Modern Classics



Title: The Old Man and Me
Author: Elaine Dundy
Publication Year: 1964
Format: Ebook
Stars: Three

A young, American woman tells the story of her extended stay in early 1960s London. While there, she meets a very rich, eccentric old man and succeeds in wooing him. Their tumultuous, love/hate relationship proceeds over several months as they visit lots of jazz clubs and pretentious restaurants, take copious amounts of pills, visit snooty country homes, and constantly point out the differences between English and American culture. I won’t give too much more of the plot away, as the story contains one or two interesting twists.

While I enjoyed the novel as a historical snapshot, I don’t find that it has anything important or enduring to say about life, love, or human nature that remains relevant today. The main characters lack sufficient depth and, overall, the novel is more style than substance. Some of the scenes of class tension are interesting, but other than that, it’s more a quaint look back in time than anything else. While reading this I found myself wondering quite a bit about the author’s purpose. Was the intent to create a slightly risqué and shocking (for the time) popular novel, or was it a failed attempt at serious fiction? I have no idea. I may try another of Dundy’s novels at some point, but this was a bit disappointing.

I should also point out that I read the New York Review of Books edition of this novel, which was edited by the author in the 1980s. Her introduction states that her edits consisted mostly of cutting down on slang and unnecessary “ughs.” While I’m thankful for that, I suppose this is technically not the Virago Modern Classics edition, but I’ll count it as one anyway.

147cammykitty
Apr 4, 2012, 1:02am Top

Too bad - The Old Man and Me sounds like it doesn't have any characters I would care about. Anything could happen to them, and I'd shrug my shoulders. Thanks for keeping one OFF my TBR pile. :)

148DorsVenabili
Apr 4, 2012, 6:59am Top

#147 - Yeah - I've heard that The Dud Avocado is better, but I wouldn't recommend this one.

149DorsVenabili
Apr 6, 2012, 9:45am Top

Challenge 8: Female-authored science fiction



Title: The Pride of Chanur
Author: C.J. Cherryh
Publication Year: 1981
Format: Print book
Stars: Not Rated

I was so excited when I picked this up at the library! Feline-like aliens with earrings and colorful pants flying around on space ships. How could this not be awesome!? But I absolutely HATED IT, and it’s my fault. I didn’t realize it was action-adventure sci-fi. I’m not a fan of action sequences and that’s really all there is here. Paragraphs made up of sentence fragments, describing jumps, escapes, and space chases. Quite frankly, it was torture to get through. Since action-adventure is just not my genre, I don’t think it’s fair for me to review it (maybe it's really good? I have no idea.), so I won’t.

150cammykitty
Apr 6, 2012, 12:33pm Top

Ah, too bad. I've never gotten into Cherryh either and I have no idea why? I know plenty people who love her. Sounds like the book needed to be an animated short. Then it would've been awesome ... and starring Johnny Depp.

151DorsVenabili
Apr 7, 2012, 9:43am Top

#150 - Yeah, maybe an animated short...Ha! I saw the human as more Owen Wilson, than Johnny Depp though.

152cammykitty
Apr 7, 2012, 10:24pm Top

I wasn't seeing Johnny Depp as a human. I thought he'd love to be a fancy-pants cat. Owen Wilson would certainly work in that cast too.

153DorsVenabili
Apr 8, 2012, 12:18pm Top

#152 - Oh! Got it. Well, all the cat-aliens on the ships are female (see! that's cool too. Why did I hate this book so much?!). The males appear to be emotionally immature and stay behind and create chaos on the planet, from what I could tell.

154DorsVenabili
Edited: Apr 8, 2012, 5:52pm Top

Challenge 6: Newer stuff - fiction published in 2010 or later



Title: Bad Intentions
Author: Karin Fossum
Publication Year: 2010 (English Translation)
Format: Ebook
Stars: Four

What a page-turner this was! As my first Scandi-crime novel, I didn’t know what to expect, but I found this book difficult to put down. Axel, Reilly, and Jon - close friends since childhood - share a disturbing secret. As this secret begins to unravel, each character’s personality flaws are revealed. Rather than a crime novel with lots of twists and turns, Bad Intentions explores the psychological effect of the event on the main characters and the very different ways they process what has happened. Fascinating. I recommend this, and I believe there may be a place in my reading life for this genre.

155cammykitty
Apr 8, 2012, 9:58pm Top

Ah, quick recast - Glenn Close and Cate Blanchett for our head nasty kitties.

156DorsVenabili
Apr 9, 2012, 1:52pm Top

#155 - Excellent!

157DorsVenabili
Edited: May 9, 2012, 2:25pm Top

Challenge 7: Working-Class Literature of the 1950s and 1960s



Title: City of Night
Author: John Rechy
Publication Year: 1963
Format: Ebook
Stars: Three

An unnamed narrator (who shares a similar life story with the author) takes the reader on a journey from his impoverished childhood in El Paso, to stints as a hustler in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans. The novel is primarily an exploration of the gay male bar scene of the 1950s, which, according to this account, was profoundly sad, lonely, and depressing.

Does this 400-page novel have a plot? Not really! Roughly half of it consists of people and bar cataloging – endless descriptions of this hustler and that drag queen and this bar and that bar. To make matters worse, many of these passages have a rambling, pretentious, Beat-era vibe that I have a very difficult time embracing. However, within the aimless ramblings there are some wonderful short stories, where the narrator delves into specific life events of the characters. Some of my favorites are the heartbreaking story of an aging (meaning mid-thirties, at most) hustler who carries around an envelope containing photos and newspaper clippings that depict him when he was young and desirable; another is the story of a dying professor who obsesses about young men from his past who he calls “angels,” while ignoring the man who loves and nurses him during his sickness; and, finally, the story of an emotionally unstable fascist (yes, literally), S & M guy with whom the narrator unfortunately comes into contact.

I also feel like the novel could have benefited from a more thorough exploration of the narrator’s thoughts and feelings, rather than his endless description of other people. We learn a bit about him at the very beginning and a bit at the very end, where some character growth can be detected, but otherwise it feels, for the most part, like he’s a stranger. I suppose this could be deliberate, demonstrating that the narrator is essentially running away from himself and chooses to focus on that which is outside, but it certainly makes for tedious reading.

So, rather than a 400-page novel, this could have been edited down into a 200-page collection of very high-quality short stories. This was Rechy’s first published novel and it’s clearly a bit of a mess and was in need of a good editor. However, there are moments of excellent writing, and I may try something else by him, further down the road.

158DorsVenabili
Edited: May 9, 2012, 2:25pm Top

Challenge 1: Booker Prize short-listed works from 1978 and 1985



Title: Jake’s Thing
Author: Kingsley Amis
Publication Year: 1978
Format: Print book
Stars: Two and a half

Jake, a middle-aged Oxford don, experiences a drastic decrease in his libido. (Yes, the “thing” in the title is referring to what you think it’s referring to.) Despite all evidence pointing toward the fact that Jake is a complete bore, he apparently has always been quite the womanizer, so this turn of events is alarming. He seeks medical and then psychiatric treatment to remedy the problem, but with little success. He also enlists the help of his wife Brenda and together they engage in elaborate homework assignments and group therapy headed by the sadistic and possibly unqualified Ed. Is it a physical problem or a psychological problem, and is it worth fixing in the first place? I won’t spoil it for you.

So, putting aside the fact that one of my least favorite things to read about is middle-aged, male angst, I really tried to give this a chance. And there are good things. For one, Amis is a talented comic writer and many bits are clever and some are laugh-out-loud funny. In that respect, it wasn’t complete torture to read this. There was even a point when I was hopeful and thought a more complex study of male/female relationships might be going on. Then I read the last two or three pages (which I will avoid writing about so as not to spoil anything), and that theory was refuted. Unfortunately, the underlying assumption that women are twittering idiots without valid thoughts and feelings is present throughout the novel. (And I haven’t even mentioned the anti-Semitism!) I’m not sure what the cut-off point is for having to tolerate sexism and bigotry in literature, but I’m going to put it well before 1978. It might seem like I’m overreacting a bit, but, really, this is that offensive. No more Kingsley Amis for me, thank you.

159lkernagh
May 10, 2012, 9:43am Top

The Booker, like all literary prizes, tends to produce a hit and miss selection of books that appeal to me. I will be avoiding Jake's Thing...... thanks for the heads up on what to expect with this one Kerri!

160DorsVenabili
May 10, 2012, 3:50pm Top

#159 - Hi Lori! I think I have a tendency to like Booker winners/shortlisted books better than other prize winners, but I've read two rather dreadful ones, so far, for my 1978/1985 experiment. Oh well.

*************************************************​
I just realized that I've been neglecting this group a bit. It's been a busy semester, but now that it's over, I hope to visit more threads.

161cammykitty
May 10, 2012, 4:36pm Top

Oh my! City of Night sounds like a modern & male version of The Well of Loneliness that I just read. It had a lot of the same problems but fortunately spent far less time in bars.

& I'm making a mental note to never read Kingsley Amis. I think I've heard a few comments about Lucky Jim that back up your question I’m not sure what the cut-off point is for having to tolerate sexism and bigotry in literature, but I’m going to put it well before 1978.

162DorsVenabili
May 11, 2012, 9:53am Top

#161 - Hi! Hmmm. I'll probably stay away from The Well of Loneliness then. I have little patience for aimless rambling.

I've had others back up my comments about the Kingsley Amis book, so that makes me feel better. I'm definitely going to stay away from him as well!

163cammykitty
May 12, 2012, 3:15pm Top

The Well is a subtle book, but yes it does seem to go on and on. I think you'll survive if you pass on it. ;) And on more Kingsley Amis too.

164DorsVenabili
May 14, 2012, 2:08pm Top

Challenge 6: Newer stuff - fiction published in 2010 or later



Title: The Flatey Enigma
Author: Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson
Publication Year: 2012
Format: Audiobook
Stars: Three and a half

When fishermen find the dead body of a Danish scholar on a desolate island off the northwest coast of Iceland, members of the small, surrounding community receive more outside scrutiny than they are used to. It is soon discovered that the scholar studied The Book of Flatey, a fourteenth century Icelandic manuscript, and sought to solve the Flatey Enigma, which is a puzzle based on the stories in the manuscript. All of this (and more) ties into the mystery of the scholar's death and his relationship with the islands and the people of the region. And as a bonus, I received a healthy dose of Scandinavian history and legend while reading it (violent and somewhat raunchy!), as the author alternates chapters of action with stories from the manuscript that relate to the Enigma.

While a bit slow to get going and with a slightly-less-than-completely-satisfying ending, I found this to be a fairly entertaining and solid read. However, it may just be that I’ve read so few mysteries at this point, that I don’t know any better. I’m not sure. It will be interesting to read other reviews of this. Sort of recommended? I think?

165LauraBrook
May 16, 2012, 9:06pm Top

Hi Kerri! I came over here to make sure I had your thread starred, and found out that it already was! Apparently, I've been a lurker all year. :) Glad the semester is over for you and that you have plenty of time for some fun reading over the summer!

166DorsVenabili
May 17, 2012, 6:52am Top

Hi Laura! I will search for your 12 in 12 thread as well. Especially during the school year, I wasn't keeping up with this group as well as I keep up with the 75 group, but now that I have more time, I've been meaning to go through the threads again and starring the ones I'd like to follow. I currently only follow a few, but I'm sure I'm missing out on a lot of interesting discussion.

167DorsVenabili
May 24, 2012, 9:32am Top

Challenge 4: Virago Modern Classics



Title: A View of the Harbour
Author: Elizabeth Taylor
Publication Year: 1947
Format: Print book
Stars: Four

This lovely novel is a snapshot of an old, decaying harbor town in post World War II England, mostly during the tourism lull of early spring. Primarily a character study of the town’s inhabitants, the author introduces us to a fascinating group of people. There’s Bertram, the amateur painter and serial flirt, who bops around helping everyone, but has a hard time with real commitment. There’s the paralyzed Mrs. Bracey, who attempts to control her two adult daughters from her sick bed. There’s Lily, the terribly sad and painfully lonely proprietor of a dilapidated wax museum (I found her story particularly heartbreaking). And, finally, there’s Tory and Beth, two old friends and current neighbors, who end up in a love triangle, although Beth is seemingly oblivious to the turmoil going on around her.

What makes the novel wonderful is the vivid descriptions and beautiful language, perfectly capturing the loneliness and desperation of the characters. There are numerous scenes of observation, with characters watching their neighbors through windows, trying to deduce their motives and intentions, often incorrectly. There’s a lot of boredom and repetition in their lives, and it almost seems a bit claustrophobic. I recommend this and look forward to another Elizabeth Taylor novel this year, probably Angel.

168RidgewayGirl
May 24, 2012, 10:23am Top

I keep running into Elizabeth Taylor and will have to read something by her soon. Excellent review, by the way.

I've also added The Flatey Enigma to my wish list. It sounds intriguing, mainly because of the setting. If you'd said the same things about an island off, say, North Carolina or Dorset, I'd be much less interested.

169DorsVenabili
May 25, 2012, 12:10pm Top

#168 - Thank you!

Yes, I think a lot of the appeal of The Flatey Enigma was the bleak, yet beautiful, setting. It made we want to read more Icelandic mysteries, so I reserved Jar City at the library. I've heard it's good.

170LittleTaiko
May 25, 2012, 2:40pm Top

Just came across your thread - very interested in what you read from 1973 since that is when I was born too. Might be a category I use for next year!

171DorsVenabili
May 26, 2012, 6:24pm Top

#170 - Hello! Thanks for stopping by. Oddly enough, I just starred your thread the other day, so I'll pop over there and say hello. It looks like I have to get going on that 1973 category! I'll probably get to The Siege of Krishnapur fairly quickly.

172DorsVenabili
Edited: Jun 1, 2012, 9:03am Top

Challenge 3: Author study - J. M. Coetzee



Title: In the Heart of the Country
Author: J.M. Coetzee
Publication Year: 1977
Format: Print book
Stars: Four and a half

On a large, isolated farm in apartheid-era South Africa, the narrator lives with her harsh and cold father. In a stream-of-consciousness narration/diary format she describes her dreary life, alternating between past and present, and very early on it becomes clear that she is mentally unstable. Different versions of realty weave in and out of the story, and the reader is never sure what is true and what is false. The only truth that can be detected is that the narrator is consumed by a desperate loneliness and a definite lack of identity. She lives without the company of a mother or siblings, her father ignores her, and custom dictates that as a white South African, her relationships with the black farm workers must be of the master/servant variety. The latter appears to be a source of great pain for her, as she remembers playing with the farm workers’ children when she was a young girl and before her family explained to her that it is inappropriate. As usual, Coetzee does a wonderful job of illustrating how the apartheid system, and colonization in general, negatively affects everyone involved (in different ways and on a different scale, of course), with the oppressors slowly becoming rotten at the core. Great, of course, and highly recommended. I would put this right after Disgrace on my Coetzee favorites list.

173DorsVenabili
Jun 5, 2012, 9:18pm Top

Challenge 1: Booker Prize short-listed works from 1978 and 1985



Title: The Bookshop
Author: Penelope Fitzgerald
Publication Year: 1978
Format: Print book
Stars: Four

Determined and unflappable Florence Green longs to bring books to the people of 1950s Hardborough. After some haggling with the town loan officer, she finally purchases an old, haunted house – called Old House - where she intends to live and set up the shop. Upon moving into the new space, she learns that Mrs. Gamart, the town socialite, has other plans for her and the building. Drama ensues.

Filled with well-developed and entertaining characters, this is a delightful read, with lots of clever bits and subtle humor. I particularly enjoyed (and was quite touched by) the character of Christine, Florence’s intensely serious and hard-working 11-year-old assistant. Lovely and recommended.

174DorsVenabili
Jun 5, 2012, 10:20pm Top

Challenge 8: Female-authored science fiction



Title: Hyperthought
Author: M.M. Buckner
Publication Year: 2003
Format: Audiobook
Stars: Two and a half

The year is 2125, and the earth’s surface is uninhabitable due to pollution. Corporations rule the world, people live underground, and worker rebellions are cropping up here and there. Jolie Sauvage, the novel’s narrator, makes a living as a surface tour guide, which requires extensive use of protective gear to guard against the deadly pollution. While conducting a tour, she meets and embarks on a relationship with handsome actor Jin. Through Jolie, Jin meets Dr. Merida, a neuroscientist who is working on an experimental surgery for hyperthought, a state that involves intense sensory perception. Jin is eager to have the surgery, but things don’t go exactly as planned.

The novel starts off with a bang, and seems promising. Then it gets bogged down in a tedious, largely uninteresting, and never-ending rescue scene that seems to occupy half the novel. Meanwhile, the reader never gets a good sense of what hyperthought is, or why it might be important, useful, dangerous, etc. Further, in many ways we are supposed to believe that Jolie is a strong, independent woman, but she frequently enters a ditzy state and repeatedly blames her behavior on her female hormones. Weird. So, overall, this was a disappointment.

175RidgewayGirl
Jun 6, 2012, 9:08am Top

I've been wanting to read something by Penelope Fitzgerald and have picked up a copy of The Bookshop. I'll have to read it soon! Your review was an enticement.

176LittleTaiko
Jun 6, 2012, 5:16pm Top

The Bookshop sounds like lots of fun. I'll have to check to see if my library has a copy - hope so!

177DorsVenabili
Jun 7, 2012, 10:32am Top

#175 and 176 - Hi Alison and Stacy! I hope you enjoy the Bookshop. I look forward to reading more of her work - probably Offshore at some point soon.

178mamzel
Jun 10, 2012, 1:01pm Top

I recently read Disgrace as a way to increase the number of award winning books read. While I appreciated the writing, the setting, and the themes, I can't say that I'll jump at a chance to visit that world again. Not much joy evident.

179DorsVenabili
Jun 11, 2012, 2:31pm Top

#178 - I can totally understand and appreciate that reaction to Coetzee. I, on the other hand, do not require joy in my fiction (although I certainly don't mind it, if it's there). Jude the Obscure and The Bone People are two of my favorites, if that gives any indication. One of my favorite James Baldwin quotes comes to mind, which I think somewhat articulates why I'm often drawn to horrifically depressing novels:

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

I hope that didn't come across as weird or overly-dramatic. I actually think it's an interesting topic - depressing book avoidance versus depressing book embracing. I think we're all good people who love reading. Just different perspectives.

180RidgewayGirl
Jun 11, 2012, 7:09pm Top

Jude the Obscure is fantastic!

I avoid certain topics, saving the books until I'm ready. I'm almost ready to read Room. On the other hand, I find dark crime novels cheering.

181LauraBrook
Jun 11, 2012, 11:12pm Top

Jude the Obscure is one of my favorites too, and I LOVED the movie with Kate Winslet and Christopher Eccleston. I've noticed that as I get older (well, early-mid-30's) I need a little more "happy" in my books than I used to. That'll probably swing back around to things with a darker tinge in a couple of years, but I'll ride the joy train while it's still around. :)

Did you guys get rain today? We missed out and I spent most of the afternoon watering my lawn. :(

182DorsVenabili
Jun 12, 2012, 7:05am Top

Alison and Laura - I'm glad to see the Jude the Obscure love around here! I have not seen the movie yet.

After writing all that above, I have to admit that sometimes it is difficult to start that next Coetzee novel, because I know what's coming, but I always do and I'm always glad that I did.

Alison - I wasn't the biggest fan of Room, but, looking back, I think it may have had more to do with the hype and the fact that it was a Booker longlisted book. So my expectations were really high and it didn't quite live up to them. Also, I'm not the biggest fan of the child narrator thing, but the mother-son relationship is well done and it's a page-turner. I hope you like it.

Laura - No rain! And we really need it. Although I was relieved that it wasn't storming on my walk to the train, as predicted, but still.

183LittleTaiko
Jun 12, 2012, 11:24am Top

I wasn't that crazy about Room either - part of that is definitely because of the child narrator. While I'm sure he represents your fairly typical kid, I need more logic from my narrator. :)

184DorsVenabili
Jun 13, 2012, 9:03am Top

#183 - Exactly!

185DorsVenabili
Edited: Jun 19, 2012, 1:54pm Top

Brief book comments. I have one proper review coming for The Red House and then I’ll be caught up…until I immediately fall behind again.


Challenge 6: Newer stuff - fiction published in 2010 or later



Title: The Crossing Places
Author: Elly Griffiths
Publication Year: 2010
Format: Audiobook
Stars: Four

I’ve read several good reviews of this lately, so I won’t plot-summarize. Although I’m somewhat new to the mystery genre, this one seems to focus on the personal life and inner thoughts of the main character a bit more than others. And Ruth Galloway, an archaeologist who becomes involved in a murder investigation, is incredibly likable and easy to relate to. The mystery is solid as well – missing children, a creepy yet beautiful setting, and mythology. I’ll probably read more from this series. Also, I suppose this is a “cozy mystery” (right?), which I didn’t think I’d like, but apparently do. Go figure.


******************************


Challenge 8: Female-authored science fiction



Title: Dragonflight
Author: Anne McCaffrey
Publication Year: 1968
Format: Audiobook
Stars: Not Rated

Oh, my. This just wasn’t for me. Taking place on a faraway planet, dragons and dragon men must fight off the Threads that rain down from a planet with an abnormal orbit. However, because of the long time period between Thread attacks, public support for the dragons and their craft wanes, making it difficult to fight properly when the threads actually appear. The story contains dragon mating, teleportation, a feudalistic social structure, and multiple power struggles. This was a torturous read for me and I probably should have abandoned it. However, I think I just have an aversion to action-adventure stories with minimal attention paid to character development. And that’s basically what this is, but I know people love this series, so clearly it’s just me and my preferences. Therefore, I won’t rate it. I recently made the same mistake with a C.J. Cherryh novel. Will I ever learn?!

186RidgewayGirl
Jun 19, 2012, 12:32pm Top

I loved Anne McCaffrey's novels as a teenager, but still never read any of her dragon books. Although dragons are not quite as annoying as elves or vampires yearning for love! The Ship Who Sang is one of her better books.

187DorsVenabili
Jun 19, 2012, 2:05pm Top

#186 - Hi Alison - I don't encounter many elves, but I do try to avoid vampires at all cost :)

The Ship Who Sang actually looks pretty good. I always associate her with strictly dragons and nothing else. I've always thought myself a big sci-fi fan (and I'm pretty sure that I am), but I think I've stuck to only a few authors. I've read umpteen Asimov novels, I love Kim Stanley Robinson, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Octavia Butler, and I like Ben Bova and Gregory Benford. Now that I'm trying to branch out a little more and read some classics that I've never read (plus newer stuff), I'm hitting some snags. I'm trying to figure out what I should avoid. I tend to think it's action-adventure, but some Asimov could sort of fall into that category. I also know I'm not thrilled with virtual reality worlds (like Neuromancer), but I'm willing to give that sub-genre another try. Anyway, I keep trying.

188cammykitty
Jun 19, 2012, 3:33pm Top

Vampires in love always strike me as being insincere. All they really want is to know where there's a quick food source.

Neuromancer is really trippy! I read it this year, and felt that it was hurt by all the cyber punk that have riffed on it since it was written.

I was always aware aof McCaffrey but avoided them for some strange reason. I think I was put off by all the dragon husbandry.

In the heart of the country looks good - Just promise me it isn't as hard on dogs as Disgrace is before I put it on my wishlist. :)

189DorsVenabili
Edited: Jun 19, 2012, 10:14pm Top

#188 - I think I was put off by all the dragon husbandry. - Ha! Indeed - There's way too much. It's out of control.

I did read Neuromancer and really didn't like it. I know it's loved by many, but I just couldn't get into it for some reason.

In the Heart of the Country - I'm pretty sure there's minimal dog content, if any. Nothing sticks out.

190LittleTaiko
Jun 19, 2012, 6:22pm Top

Hmmm, Neuromancer is in my TBR pile. I might have to dig it out just to see what I think. Being a sci-fi fan, I'm assuming you've read the Connie Willis books. If not, I'd recommend them - humor, time travel, lots of fun.

191LittleTaiko
Jun 19, 2012, 6:23pm Top

>185 DorsVenabili: - Yes, I agree that The Crossing Places would be a cozy, though maybe not as cozy as some others perhaps. Loved her sense of humor.

192The_Hibernator
Jun 19, 2012, 7:37pm Top

I read Neuromancer when I was way too young. I was rather confused by it. :)

>190 LittleTaiko: I'm a big fan of Connie Willis

193DorsVenabili
Jun 19, 2012, 9:56pm Top

#190 and 191 - Stacy - Funny you should mention Connie Willis, because I just picked up Doomsday Book (audiobook - CDs) from the library this evening! It may be a while before I listen to it, but I'll probably get to it this year. I haven't read her yet.

I just read a comment that states The Crossing Places is a cozy with an edge (or something like that), so I guess that makes sense.

#192 - Rachel - I tried Neuromancer a couple of years ago and I'm not sure what it was, but I couldn't get into it. I'm pretty sure that I finished it, because I rated it, but all I remember is the virtual reality aspect.

194lkernagh
Jun 20, 2012, 1:01am Top

Stopping by for a visit. Happy to see the audiobooks are working for you... understanding, of course, that audiobooks are hampered by the writing of the original author. The only thing that has saved me from audio duds so far as been the preview sound bit my local library offers to patrons prior to download. Here is hoping your future audiobooks are more appealing.

195DorsVenabili
Jun 20, 2012, 7:08am Top

#194 - Yes - dud avoidance is definitely an issue! My local library just recently (June 1st) entered into the downloadable ebook and audiobook program, but I haven't used it yet. I've been checking out CDs, mostly through ILL. I'm also an Audible member, which I use for audiobooks that the libraries don't carry. They have the audio previews, which is nice. So far, my favorite narrator is Bronson Pinchot. He's fantastic.

196DeltaQueen50
Jun 21, 2012, 2:50pm Top

Being fairly new to audio books, I didn't at first get the importance of the reader but now I can see that it can make all the difference in the enjoyment of the book. I've tried a couple that I just could listen to, and one was the actual author, but his voice just didn't sound like how I heard him in my head previously.

197The_Hibernator
Jun 21, 2012, 2:53pm Top

Some authors should leave reading the books to the voice professionals...But I understand their wish to read it themselves. If I were an author, I'd probably cringe at other people reading my book aloud because I imagined it sounded different when I wrote it. It's very personal, I'm guessing. :)

198ccookie
Jun 22, 2012, 12:46pm Top

> 185. It is sooo interesting how different we all are with our tastes in books. Anne McCaffrey is my very favourite author and I love, love, love the Dragonrider's of Pern series. And I guess, to me, there is a lot of character development but it probably takes place over several books. On to the next book!

199cammykitty
Jun 22, 2012, 12:53pm Top

192 Hibernator, you may have understood Neuromancer perfectly. It's supposed to be most confusing. ;) Digital heaven??? It's an idea plenty of authors have played with since, but it still is a bit mind boggling for me. Although it shouldn't be any stranger or implausible than artificial intelligence.

200DorsVenabili
Jun 26, 2012, 9:32am Top

Hi Everyone! I've been away at a conference and only had my Kindle Fire with me, so it was difficult to type and respond.

**********************

#196 - Hi Judy - I agree! Colson Whitehead is one of my favorite authors, but I tried to listen to The Colossus of New York (an essay collection) with him as the reader, and it was a dreadful performance!

#197 - Hi Rachel - Yes. One good one that I recently listened to was Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which was read by the author, Amy Chua. She did a good job.

#198 - Hi Cathy - I know people love that series! It's me. (Also, I always feel a little bad when I give a negative review to a book.)

#199 - At least it wasn't as bad as Foundation's Fear, by Gregory Benford (who I usually like), which involved Voltaire and Joan of Arc in a virtual reality world. Can you imagine? Dreadful, to say the least.

201DorsVenabili
Jul 1, 2012, 12:53pm Top

Challenge 6: Newer stuff - fiction published in 2010 or later



Title: The Red House
Author: Mark Haddon
Publication Year: 2012
Format: Print book
Stars: Four and a half

Following the death of their mother, siblings Richard and Angela bring their wildly dysfunctional families to a rented house in the Welsh countryside for a week-long getaway. Initiated by Richard, the apparent goal of the trip is to repair the strained relationship between the two siblings that has suffered from a years-long lack of communication. Once there, the various personalities of the family members clash.

While nothing fancy or groundbreaking is going on here, I loved this novel and was drawn into the lives of the often incredibly unlikable, yet fascinating and multifaceted, characters (even the sometimes hateful and always exasperating teenagers). The book is divided into days, and the point of view of the narration alternates between the various characters, sometimes for only a page or less. Their interactions are dominated by misunderstandings, secrets kept for years, and vastly different memories of the same past events. In the end, little gets neatly resolved, but some important insights are made. In short, this is an excellent character-driven story, very well-told. It sort of reminds me of a (not quite so working-class) Mike Leigh film.

202DorsVenabili
Edited: Jul 1, 2012, 5:35pm Top

Challenge 1: Booker Prize short-listed works from 1978 and 1985



Title: Illywhacker
Author: Peter Carey
Publication Year: 1985
Format: Print book
Stars: Four

According to a brief Google search, in Australian slang, “illywhacker” means either a con man or a stick for hitting children. I suppose both meanings could apply here. The story is told by Herbert Badgery, a 139-year-old man lying in a bed being poked and prodded by medical personnel. He states that he’s a liar, but a terrible one, and proceeds to tell his life story and that of his son Charles. He’s been a pilot, a car salesman, and a show business personality. He loves building impromptu houses on land he doesn’t own and he has a thing for quirky, outspoken ladies. Despite the fact that Herbert keeps telling us he’s a terrible person, he appears to be a warm, likable fellow with a good heart. But then he’s a liar, so who knows? Later chapters focus on Herbert’s son, Charles, who unlike his father, is morally upright, earnest, and hard-working.

Incredibly well-written, very strange, sometimes rather touching, and often quite funny, this is an enjoyable read and a page-turner. From what I understand, some of the novel’s major themes involve Australian history and Australian national identity, but I’m afraid some of this went over my head, due to lack of background knowledge. Nevertheless, it’s very good and well worth the time (it’s quite long). Recommended.

203lkernagh
Jul 2, 2012, 2:29pm Top

Never heard of Illywhacker before reading your review Kerri. Now off to see if I can track down a copy!

204LittleTaiko
Jul 3, 2012, 5:47pm Top

Illywhacker sound interesting - I'll have to read it someday.

205cammykitty
Jul 4, 2012, 2:20am Top

Oh! Foundations Fear does sound dreadful. Like a but conceived in a bar and written on a dare. The Red House sounds interesting - I think Haddon's specialty is character-driven chaos.

206DorsVenabili
Jul 4, 2012, 8:05am Top

#203 and 204 - Hi Lori and Stacy - I hope you enjoy Illywhacker. I thought it was great, although incredibly long. I think I've been shying away from extremely high page counts lately, but it was worth it.

#205 - Hi Katie - The Red House was great! I'm looking forward to reading his Spot of Bother as well.

208DorsVenabili
Jul 4, 2012, 12:03pm Top

Some brief book comments:

Challenge 8: Female-authored science fiction




Title: The Children of Men
Author: P.D. James
Publication Year: 1992
Format: Audiobook
Stars: Four

The human race has lost the ability to reproduce. Great Britain is ruled by an autocrat who believes he’s doing his best to make the lives of the remaining inhabitants comfortable and safe. Theo, the main character who also happens to be the cousin of the ruler, gets involved with a group of revolutionaries. While I thought the ending fizzled out a bit, this is my sort of sci-fi – smart, introspective, and character-driven. I realize P.D. James is primarily a mystery writer, so I suppose I’ll have to get to her mysteries eventually.


******************************


Challenge 10: Graphic Novels




Title: Safe Area Gorazde: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995
Author: Joe Sacco
Publication Year: 2000
Format: Print book
Stars: Four and a half

In this graphic novel, journalist Joe Sacco gives an account of his time spent in Gorazde with ordinary citizens during the Bosnian War. It also gives a fairly comprehensive history of the entire conflict, and I now have a better sense of the origins of the war and the various positions of the major players than I had ever received from any newspaper or magazine article I’ve read on the topic. This is truly amazing and manages to convey the horror of war from the perspective of ordinary citizens. The only reason I didn’t give it 5 stars is because there are some clunky transitions between the novel’s sections. Everyone, please read this, even if you think you wouldn’t enjoy a graphic novel.

209mamzel
Jul 4, 2012, 4:22pm Top

Would this graphic novel be appropriate for a high school library? The Bosnian War is so far off their radar this would be a good way to introduce the subject to them.

210DorsVenabili
Jul 4, 2012, 7:15pm Top

Hi Mamzel! I think it's very appropriate and a clear, concise introduction to the issue.

211cammykitty
Jul 4, 2012, 10:24pm Top

It would probably be good for our library too. We have a few Bosnian immigrants in our district.

I'm interested to see your review of The Children of Men. I'm sure that's what the movie is based on - there's one child that people are fighting to protect. Yes? It was a pretty good movie, and it sounds like the novel is more in depth.

212DorsVenabili
Edited: Jul 5, 2012, 6:39am Top

#211 - Hi Katie - Yes, that's the movie version. I really liked the movie as well, but there are some significant differences between the movie and book. The novel is more a character study of Theo (the Clive Owen character in the movie). Also, in the novel, Theo is in his 50s, rather than a dashing guy in his late 30s. There are several other (more significant) differences as well.

213cammykitty
Jul 5, 2012, 4:57pm Top

Ah, the movies always have to make someone dashing. It sounds like the book is worth reading.

214DorsVenabili
Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 9:16am Top

#213 - I think it's definitely worth reading, even if you've seen the movie.

215The_Hibernator
Jul 7, 2012, 2:16pm Top

I've never seen the movie, but I've read the book...I should watch the movie some day.

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