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Zoë's 12 in 12 (maybe)

The 12 in 12 Category Challenge

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Edited: Oct 28, 2012, 4:35pm Top

I've been bad at keeping up with these challenges since the numbers became so big, but then I came across a perfect way of grouping books that I wanted to read, so I figured I might as well make a thread and see how it goes. I was browsing GoodReads' Popular By Date lists, which show the 200 most popular books published every year, and I was thinking about all the books that I meant to catch up on. I was thinking that I should write them down somewhere. And then I realized that those could be my categories. I'm sure I won't actually get to 12 in each, but we'll see. I'll list my "planned" reads here for now, and later on I'll move my planned list into the second message and use this one to show what I've actually read.

Original plan and list moved to message 12 (oops, could have been message 7, but changing the touchstones was too much of a hassle to move it now). This is where I'll list the books I actually read. My newer plan will be in message 2.

Timeless (#79)
Out of Sight, Out of Time (#53)
Bitterblue (#11)
The Snow Child (#25)
Seraphina (#66)

A Dance with Dragons (#6)
Uncommon Criminals (#155)
The Future of Us (#91)

Fire (2009, #35)
Marcelo in the Real World (2009, #173)
The Lost City of Z (2009, #86; also Off the Shelf)
Warbreaker (2009, #173)

In Defense of Food (2007, #21)
*Graceling (2008, #12)

A Feast for Crows (2005, #18)
The Book Thief (2006, #5)
*His Majesty's Dragon (2006, #67)
*Throne of Jade (2006, #172)

A Storm of Swords (2000, #10)

Ancient History
The Ahhiyawa Texts
Ancient Babylonian Medicine
King Hammurabi of Babylon
Writing, Law, and Kingship in Old Babylonian Mesopotamia
The Trojans and Their Neighbours
Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization

Assorted Non-Fiction
The Shallows
Talent is Overrated
Some Girls: My Life in a Harem
The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty
Our Kind of People
*Into Thin Air

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics
You Are an Ironman
Running with the Kenyans
Eat and Run
First Marathons

Shared Reads and ER
Emerging Arab Voices

Off the Shelf
NurtureShock (also 2009 #182)

New Series Continuations and Their Series
The Drowned Cities
The Unseen Guest
*Black Powder War
*Empire of Ivory
*Victory of Eagles
*Tongues of Serpents

Books that don't fit into categories
Kat, Incorrigible
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Julie of the Wolves
Crucible of Gold (Series Continuation overflow)
Brain Rules for Baby (Non-Fiction overflow)
Arabia and the Arabs (Ancient History/Non-Fiction overflow)
Follow Me! Creating a Personal Brand with Twitter (Non-Fiction overflow)
The Shadow Scholar (Non-Fiction overflow)
The Masqueraders
The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

Edited: Sep 4, 2012, 1:12pm Top

City of Lost Souls (also series continuation)
Clockwork Princess (pushed to 2013)
Etiquette and Espionage (pushed to 2013)
Spell Bound

A Dance With Dragons
Wise Man's Fear
The Faerie Ring
Uncommon Criminals
Ready, Player One

The Way of Kings
The Emperor of All Maladies
Anna and the French Kiss
The Iron King

Shades of Grey
Stones Into Schools
Cutting For Stone
The Lost City of Z

The Name of the Wind
Thirteen Reasons Why
In Defense of Food
The Hero of Ages
The Diamond of Darkhold
A Thousand Splendid Suns

The Book Thief
The Ghost Map
A Feast for Crows
The Stolen Child

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
Mountains Beyond Mountains
The Kite Runner
The Da Vinci Code
The Blank Slate
On the Jellicoe Road

Ancient History
The Heavenly Writing
Late Achaemenid and Hellenistic Babylon
Ancient Babylonian Medicine
Visible Language
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language

Assorted Non-Fiction
Talent Is Overrated
The Brain That Changes Itself
Religion Explained
Three Cups of Deceit
The Gatekeepers
Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande

Shared Reads and ER
The Happiness Equation
The Human Genome
Yes You Can!

Off the Shelf
Miracle in the Andes
Nothing to Envy
To Say Nothing of the Dog
The Book of Negroes (actually on a most popular list under another title?)
Pump Six and Other Stories
In Arabian Nights

New Series Continuations and Their Series
The Mysterious Howling
The Hidden Gallery
The Unseen Guest (March 27, 2012)
Crucible of Gold (March 6, 2012)
Timeless (February 28, 2012)
Out of Sight, Out of Time (March 20, 2012)


1. I'll count a book for the popularity categories as long as it's on the GR list when I finish it. It doesn't matter if it gets pushed off the list later in the year.

2. "New Series Continuations" means books published in 2012 in series that I'm already reading. "Their Series" means that I can go back and read earlier books in those series as well.

Nov 2, 2011, 9:49pm Top

What a great idea for the challenge! Interesting lists of books - some of which I have read and lots that I haven't. Looking forward to following your reading.

Nov 2, 2011, 10:50pm Top

I plan on reading The Book Thief too. Let me know if you want company...

Nov 2, 2011, 11:06pm Top

Ohhhh, love the category theme you have set up and I see a lot of books I have been thinking of reading..... Great to see you here and look forward to following along!

Nov 3, 2011, 1:54am Top

What I great way to set up your challenge. Heaps of books on your list I'm curious about, and a few I've read. I'll look forward to seeing what you eventually choose.

Nov 3, 2011, 9:13am Top

Thank you all for the welcome! Even though I ended up skipping 2011's challenge, I feel like I'm back "home".

I'd definitely be happy for company with The Book Thief. I've been meaning to read it for ages, so maybe this will finally give me the nudge I need.

Nov 3, 2011, 10:05am Top

I love your categories! Why didn't I think of that? :)

Didn't know about the Good Reads lists, but now I'll have to go take a look.

Nov 3, 2011, 12:10pm Top

Excellent idea to get caught up! I didn't know about the list either, and I too will go take a look.

Nov 4, 2011, 10:53am Top

I also think this is a great idea - looking forward to seeing what you read

Nov 6, 2011, 3:08am Top

Hi Zoe, I like your category idea and you have already listed some interesting books. I hope this challenge works for you.

Nov 6, 2011, 4:09am Top

I hope you don't end up wanting to read anything prior to 2001 ;) Enjoy your challenge!

Edited: Sep 8, 2012, 3:00pm Top

Hehe, I think the bigger concern is wanting to read some non-popular books ;). I know I won't get to 12 in each category anyway, since I only read around 75 books a year; six each would be perfect, but more realistically even three would be progress and four would be good!

ETA: Transferring my original plan here because I'm putting a new plan in the second post.

Popular Books of 2012
(this list doesn't exist yet, but I can guess--I'll adjust if the books don't make it)
City of Lost Souls
Clockwork Princess
Out of Sight, Out of Time

Popular Books of 2011
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Clockwork Prince
The Night Circus
The Wise Man's Fear
A Dance With Dragons
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Ready Player One
Uncommon Criminals
The Faerie Ring
A Red Herring Without Mustard

Popular Books of 2010
The Passage
The Iron King
Anna and the French Kiss
The Way of Kings
Packing for Mars
Forgive My Fins
The Emperor of All Maladies
A Visit from the Goon Squad
The Red Pyramid

Popular Books of 2009
The Help
Cutting for Stone
Shades of Grey
If I Stay
Stones Into Schools
The Big Short
The Lost City of Z

Popular Books of 2008
The Host
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Last Lecture
The Tales of Beedle the Bard
The Hero of Ages
A Curse Dark As Gold
People of the Book
The Diamond of Darkhold
Stolen Innocence

Popular Books of 2007
A Thousand Splendid Suns
The Name of the Wind
Thirteen Reasons Why
In Defense of Food
The Arrival
The Well of Ascension
The Sweet Far Thing
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Luxe
The Book of a Thousand Days
The Year of Living Biblically
The Mysterious Benedict Society

Popular Books of 2006
The Book Thief
The Sea of Monsters
The Omnivore's Dilemma
World War Z
Dairy Queen
My Stroke of Insight
The Stolen Child
Stumbling on Happiness
The Ghost Map

Popular Books of 2005
The Glass Castle
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
A Feast for Crows
Princess Academy
Poison Study
13 Little Blue Envelopes
The End of Poverty
The River of Doubt

Popular Books of 2004
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
Enna Burning
Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life
So B. It
The Polysyllabic Spree
The Great Influenza
Among the Brave

Popular Books of 2003
The Da Vinci Code
The Kite Runner
The Time Traveller's Wife
The Devil in the White City
Oryx and Crake
The Tale of Despereaux
Mountains Beyond Mountains
We Need to Talk About Kevin
On the Jellicoe Road

Popular Books of 2002
The House of the Scorpion
Salt: A World History
The Blank Slate
Mary, Called Magdalene
The Storyteller's Daughter
The Lovely Bones
Crown Duel

Popular Books of 2001
Fast Food Nation
John Adams
The Princess Diaries
Kushiel's Dart
The Two Princesses of Bamarre
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
Fool's Errand
Mortal Engines
Dead Until Dark
The Eyre Affair

Weirdly, I sort of struggled to find books for 2010 but had plenty for 2009. Maybe I've just been more caught-up lately? (ETA: No, 2008 is much harder again. And 2007 easy. Apparently books I want to read are written only every other year?)

Nov 29, 2011, 9:01am Top

Really like this idea.

Nov 29, 2011, 9:55am Top


Dec 2, 2011, 10:20am Top

Great idea for a challenge! You will have some great books to read.
Got you starred :)

Dec 2, 2011, 10:23am Top

Lots of books there that interest me. I'll be watching!

Dec 2, 2011, 2:13pm Top

Great idea and looks like fun! I will be interested to see what you pick.

Dec 2, 2011, 5:08pm Top

What a good idea, although I'm surprised by some of the books on this list. (Surprised that you haven't read them, not that you'd be interested.)

Dec 2, 2011, 7:10pm Top

Hi everyone! I'm getting so excited for this challenge to start.

Sandy, which ones are you most surprised by? I may try to prioritize the important ones. But there are always so many books that I want to read and I can never catch up.... I'll be very impressed if I manage to read even 6 books in each category; three is more realistic, and at that rate it would take me years just to take a decent bite out of the last decade's works!

Dec 3, 2011, 12:29pm Top

I think 2003 is the most surprising year - probably you were so busy with school that you didn't have time for popular fiction. Of course, I haven't read most of the books on your list, either, so who am I to talk? :-) Do you have a plan for these, or a short list of must-reads?

Dec 3, 2011, 3:20pm Top

It's true, 2003 was the year I started university, and I think I only read something like 21 books that whole year. I spent a lot of August studying for a placement test, and I definitely didn't have much time from September on. But I don't know what my excuse is for the first half of the year--I think I just wasted a lot of time playing The Sims.

Joining LibraryThing has also had a huge impact on my reading, though. I think in 2003 I hadn't quite figured out what I wanted to read; I was still concerned with reading "important" books, and I read a fair bit of modern literary fiction that I didn't particularly enjoy and that also didn't turn out to be as important as I'd thought. In earlier grades I had selected real classics as my free-choice books for English class (I remember doing Tess of the D'Urbervilles and Lord Jim in Grade 9), but in Grade 12 I read Lives of the Saints and Fugitive Pieces, which I didn't enjoy very much and which I've since have concluded weren't really worth the time. LT helps me choose my books much more deliberately: I know which works are highly-rated, and I know which books are popular, and I've learned that "literary fiction" doesn't equal "important". I no longer go to the bookstore and come away with five new novels that I'd never heard of before.

So yeah, things are much better now. All that remains is to make up for lost time!

I started Inkheart years ago, though, and wasn't impressed enough to finish it, so that's one 2003 book that may not end up making the cut. But I thought I should at least make another attempt since I do own the thing.

I like the idea of prioritizing books; I think I'll make a list of the three most important ones from each year, though that always runs the risk of making me not want to read them anymore....

Dec 3, 2011, 3:44pm Top

Priority books (taking into account how important/good they're supposed to be, how much I want to read them, and whether they're continuations of a series that I'm already reading--oh, and whether I already own them!):

A Dance With Dragons
Wise Man's Fear
The Faerie Ring

The Way of Kings
The Emperor of All Maladies

Shades of Grey
Stones Into Schools
Cutting For Stone

The Hero of Ages
The Diamond of Darkhold

The Name of the Wind
Thirteen Reasons Why
In Defense of Food

The Book Thief
The Ghost Map

A Feast for Crows

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life

Mountains Beyond Mountains
The Kite Runner
The Da Vinci Code

The Blank Slate

That makes a short list of 25, which at least in theory would actually be doable. It's interesting to see how my interest fell off as the books got older. It was hard to keep it to 3 per year initially (and, as you can see, I actually ended up listing 4 for 2009), while the older books had lost some of their lustre. I suspect my actual reading will also be heavily weighted toward books from 2009 and on.

To a certain extent I felt limited by genre, though: if I'm already going to be reading George R.R. Martin and Brandon Sanderson and Patrick Rothfuss, I don't really want to add in any more huge fantasy novels as must-reads, even though I have Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Kushiel's Dart and Fool's Errand on the longlist. I'll see how things progress.

I also realized that a lot of the fluffy YA that I want to read (and, in many cases, probably will read) didn't feel essential enough that I'd put it on a high-priority list. Hmm.

Dec 3, 2011, 5:37pm Top

You have some great reads planned. You can always use the lighter YA reads as palate cleansers between the heavier books on your priority list.

Dec 3, 2011, 6:45pm Top

I think I just wasted a lot of time playing The Sims

So glad I'm not the only one! :)

Dec 3, 2011, 8:09pm Top

I really enjoying Cutting for Stone.

Dec 3, 2011, 9:07pm Top

I also started University in 2003 and only really read novels in the summer break... one of which was The Da Vinci Code which my older sister lent to me :).

Dec 4, 2011, 2:46am Top

#22 Very interesting self-assessment. I'm sure I was much older than you are before I had any inkling of what motivated me to read, or not read, the books that I did. Truth be told, I'm not totally sure that I know even now!

Your prioritized list looks much more like I expected your list to look. I'm not familiar with many of these titles and will look forward to your comments about those that you end up reading.

Dec 4, 2011, 3:59pm Top

>24 DeltaQueen50: Yup, I know they'll sneak in somehow!

>25 casvelyn: I'm glad I'm not the only one as well :D

>26 Morphidae: I've heard so many good things about that one; it didn't sound initially like the sort of thing I like, but various LT-ers have convinced me otherwise.

>27 kiwiflowa: I think my sister owns a copy of The Da Vinci Code as well, so I can borrow it from her ;)

>28 sjmccreary: Sandy, thanks for all your comments about this. They've led me to put a lot more thought into my lists, which I really appreciate. I'm now thinking that I don't really need to read so many books from the earlier years, so I might compress them together, and then add a few extra categories so that my lists can actually encompass all my reading for the year. 12 categories of 6 books each would be pretty much the perfect number for me.

Revised plan:
Ancient History
Assorted Non-Fiction
Shared Reads and ER
Off the Shelf

I have my doubts about that last category, but we'll see....

Dec 4, 2011, 4:02pm Top

Yeah, maybe that "Classics" category will change to "New series continuations and their series". I should be able to fit plenty of classics in the Off the Shelf and Shared Reads categories, if I really end up being so inclined.

Dec 7, 2011, 8:25pm Top

Hi, Zoe, I have you starred!

I think your revised plan sounds a lot better than the original. Even that would never work for me -- different strokes for different folks -- as, rebel that I am, I tend to resist many of the the "most popular" titles and go for a lot of rather oddball reads! :)

Dec 7, 2011, 9:39pm Top

Hi Terri,

I completely understand about being a rebel! I usually tend to rebel by just ignoring my categories completely or revising them to fit what I'm already reading ;). I think my latest categories just might be doable, though, or at least almost--assuming 6 books in each rather than 12. We'll see!

I'm tempted to start on December 12 like I've seen others mention, too. That would help.

Dec 7, 2011, 11:23pm Top

I'm starting on 12/12. Join me!

Dec 8, 2011, 7:51am Top

I'm starting on it on 12/12 as well, Zoe.

Dec 9, 2011, 7:40am Top

I'm also starting 12/12, Zoe. In fact, anything that I finish after 12/12 will go in this challenge, so all my current books-in-progress will probably wind up counting -- I definitely have places for them all.

Dec 9, 2011, 4:30pm Top

Me too on starting on 12/12

Dec 9, 2011, 8:53pm Top

Okay, I think you've just about convinced me!

Now it just remains to be seen whether I'll actually read any qualifying books at the end of December....

Dec 9, 2011, 9:52pm Top

I've pretty much filled out my list of potential reads now, in my new categories, so that I'll be ready to start in a few days ;). There are just a few gaps, and the list of popular books of 2012 is pretty unsatisfactory. I wanted to put something there, though, since it's fun to compare my plans with my actually reading. I can't wait to start!

Dec 10, 2011, 1:27am Top

It was a good idea to add other categories than the 'popular by year'... sometimes what everyone else loves doesn't mean you will!!

I've decided to start the challenge with December. In the southern hemisphere Christmas holiday and summer holiday is rolled into one. I'm off work from 22nd Dec - 9th Jan and wanted to get started!

Dec 13, 2011, 11:29am Top

Well, after finally deciding that I could start in December, the book I finished yesterday (Kat, Incorrigible) doesn't actually fit into any of my categories. I'm not too concerned yet since I already had various books lined up to read this month without taking my categories into account, but if necessary I can scrap "Group Reads and ER" and make an easier "Children's/YA" category. We'll see.

Dec 16, 2011, 2:48pm Top

That's a great way to categorize your books! That way most any genre can fit. BTW, I highly recommend Mountains Beyond Mountains. Dr. Paul Farmer is one of the most highly motivated people I have ever heard of!

Dec 21, 2011, 7:38pm Top

Thanks for the recommendation; I think that's one of the books that I'm most likely to get to!

Dec 21, 2011, 7:43pm Top

Also, I finished my first book that actually counts for this challenge: In Defense of Food, from 2007's popular list (it's #21). I'm posting the same comments here and in my 75 Book Challenge thread.

Everyone is probably familiar with this book already, or at least with Pollan's basic rules: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." I really enjoyed his writing style, but I don't see myself actually making many changes to my diet as a result of this book. Maybe it's a sign of how effectively he's gotten his message across via the catchy slogan, but I didn't feel like I learned anything revolutionary here: it's better to eat "real" food than processed "food products", and not from factory farms either. What I found most enlightening was his discussion of how much the food industry lobby has been able to influence legislation, so that even government food guidelines aren't necessarily reliable.

There were occasional points that sort of rubbed me the wrong way, though, like the regular emphasis that good traditional food knowledge should come from "mom". I think we can see the benefits of traditional eating without bringing back the idea that the woman should be the one in the kitchen. Likewise, while gardening may be very satisfying, I don't see it as a substitute for other exercise, despite Pollan's comment that "much of what we call recreation or exercise consists of pointless physical labor, so it is especially satisfying when we can give that labor a point." I was surprised to see such a dismissive comment toward exercise in a book focused on promoting good health.

Dec 22, 2011, 7:59pm Top

Glad to see you're off to a good start on the challenge.

Dec 24, 2011, 10:03am Top

*starring you*

Your priority books include a few that I've read, but even more than I'm interested in reading and haven't -- looking forward to seeing what you think of them!

I read a few food books a few years ago, and after a few I found they were all becoming rather repetitious in their vilification of the food industry and desire to "return to basics". Sounds like Pollan's book would be similar. Perhaps a good book to read with no background at all, but beyond that, perhaps I should save my time investments for something else.

Dec 29, 2011, 9:26am Top

>44 sjmccreary: Thanks!

>45 pammab: Yeah, there are probably better ways to spend your time if you've already read some similar books. In Defense of Food is quite short, though, so it's not a huge investment if you do decide to pick it up.

Meanwhile, I finished A Storm of Swords last night. This is the third book in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, and I'm finding the world completely engrossing.

There's only one problem.... My categories only started at 2001, while this is number 10 on the list of popular books from 2000. Fortunately there's an easy solution, even if it does feel a bit like cheating. I'll just expand my last category to go from 2000 to 2004, rather than 2001 to 2004. Hehe ;)

Dec 29, 2011, 8:58pm Top

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr (Assorted Non-Fiction category)

This is an interesting and important topic, but I don't think Carr really does it justice. The book does start out strong, with a fascinating discussion of neuroplasticity: our brains are capable of changing dramatically, regardless of age. I definitely want to read The Brain That Changes Itself after this.

When it comes to the main focus of this book, though, Carr's arguments are much weaker. Rather than discussing them in detail, though, I'll just refer you to a good review in the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/sep/11/shallows-internet-changing-way-think

Ultimately, I would have liked Carr to go beyond the idea that the internet in general degrades our thinking, which he pushes farther than the evidence supports, and explore the positives and negatives with greater nuance. He refers to Socrates' concern at the introduction of writing to the Greeks: once we start relying on external tools for memory, our own capacity for memorization is weakened. I think most of us would agree that while this was a reasonable concern, the benefits were worth the cost. And yet Carr applies this exact same argument to the internet, without clearly explaining why this situation is so different. Why is he right while Socrates was wrong?

His failure to engage with such a critical question left me with the sense that he had decided on his conclusion before doing his research, and was more interested in pressing his point than in really exploring the issue.

Dec 29, 2011, 10:48pm Top

#47 Great review - especially with the unanswered questions.

Dec 29, 2011, 11:02pm Top

I felt that The Shallows would be a great discussion starter, but I did not necessarily agree with the author's conclusions and felt that some things were inadequately addressed. Still, I did give it 4 stars.

Dec 30, 2011, 7:42am Top

>48 sjmccreary: Thanks, Sandy!

>49 thornton37814: Yup, I agree that it's a good discussion starter. It's definitely worth thinking about how, well, "the internet is changing the way we think". I'm just hoping to find a better treatment of it eventually. I actually picked up this one after being horribly disappointed with Rewired, and it was definitely an improvement over that, so maybe I'll finally hit a real winner next time. Third time's the charm?

Reading some of the Amazon reviews, I found out that The Shallows is an expansion of an article that's available for free online. I haven't read the article, but I wonder whether it alone could be enough to start the discussion.

Dec 31, 2011, 2:09pm Top

Have you read Steven Johnson's Everything Bad is Good for You? While it's not about the internet specifically, he does go through reading, movies, and video games from a somewhat neuropsychological perspective and makes the argument that today's media is actually making us smarter. Very interesting topic!

Jan 4, 2012, 2:49pm Top

>51 _debbie_: Sounds interesting! It would be nice to see the opposite side of the argument. (Now, if only someone would take a balanced perspective and present the good and bad together....)

Meanwhile, I've still been reading George R.R. Martin. This one is the #18 book from 2005.

This is the fourth in A Song of Ice and Fire, and while it was still good, I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the others. Too much time was devoted to new characters or ones that I just didn't care about as much, while old favourites were neglected. I think it was about 100 pages in before we got to a character whose perspective we had encountered in a previous book, so in many ways this felt like the first of the series again, where I wasn't initially absorbed in the story. I often found myself reading on because I wanted to get to the parts that I cared about, not because I was engrossed in what was actually taking place on the current page. Still, I enjoyed the glimpses that I had of some key characters, and I'll certainly be continuing with the series. It will be a week or so before I get my hands on A Dance with Dragons, though; I ordered it from Amazon this morning, but I no longer have Prime. In some ways, I'm relieved about the enforced break; I've been devoting a lot of time to this series and need to get on with my real life.

Jan 4, 2012, 2:54pm Top

Hi, Zoe! I really must get started on this series!

Jan 4, 2012, 2:58pm Top

It's definitely worth reading! I had been putting it off for years because I hate to get into long unfinished series by slow writers, but I finally decided that I just had to get started, and I'm glad I did.

Jan 4, 2012, 3:06pm Top

I figure that starting this late (5 books now?) that there may be another one by the time I get there. Maybe in February...

Jan 4, 2012, 3:17pm Top

Hi Zoe! You have reminded me that I have been neglecting the first book in that series, I have it sitting here on my kobo waiting to be read ... I should get around to that

Jan 5, 2012, 9:55pm Top

>>in many ways this felt like the first of the series again, where I wasn't initially absorbed in the story

I felt that way too -- read about a book and a half of the series, and then decided I was just duty reading and should put it aside. This is the first I've heard of someone having that impression but persevering and coming to love it. Do you think A Song of Ice and Fire is worth another try at some point? You make me reconsider it....

Jan 6, 2012, 9:58am Top

>55 ivyd: There's been about a 5 year wait for the last two books, so I wouldn't count on another coming out anytime soon.... Still very much worth starting the series, though! You too, Chelle :)

>57 pammab: If you haven't come to love it after a book and a half, I probably wouldn't bother going on. I think I was less than halfway through the first book before I really got caught up in the story. I hate to discourage someone from reading a series that I really enjoy, but at the same time, I'd say you've given it a more than fair effort already.

Jan 10, 2012, 11:32am Top

I'm mildly intrigued by ASoIaF, but I have so many other things that I want to read that I think I will just wait on it -- perhaps, when the series concludes, I will pick it up.

Jan 10, 2012, 1:22pm Top

I'm up to A Feast of Crows, I read the first 3 books last year but thought I'd take a break for a few months and get these last two done sometime this year. I've heard that it isn't as good as the previous ones, but I suppose he had to give us some new characters.

Jan 11, 2012, 12:48am Top

I loved ASoIaF when I read them a few years ago, but because there's so much intrigue I need to do a reread of them all before I pick up A Dance with Dragons. I read them all about the time A Feast for Crows came out, and it's been a long time between books!
I do remember being slightly frustrated by the structure of one POV at a time, though. While it's great for building complexity it does get frustrating when your on a run a characters you don't care for as much.

Edited: Feb 12, 2012, 11:14am Top

Somewhat belatedly, a book I finished on January 11. It goes in the "assorted non-fiction category":

Talent Is Overrated by Geoff Colvin (Assorted Non-Fiction)

I picked up this book because I was really fascinated by the discussion of expertise in Joshua Foer's Moonwalking with Einstein, and I wanted to read more about it. The idea that deliberate practice is more important than innate ability is intriguing and often encouraging (or not, depending on how hard I've been working in the last while...). I think the book I really wanted to read was the Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, but I was worried that it would be too dense and I felt like something lighter. So, I pretty much got what I bargained for; there were plenty of interesting anecdotes here, but since I had already been introduced to the basic principles before, it didn't feel very revolutionary. Also, there was an incredibly boring middle part where the author talked about how these concepts could be applied in the business world, and I really didn't care about that at all. So it was an okay book on the whole, but not great. I'd recommend Moonwalking with Einstein instead, at least as a starting point. That one isn't focused exclusively on expertise, but at least it's interesting throughout.

I'm still working my way through A Dance with Dragons, pretty slowly, but I'm enjoying it. I don't know what I'll do when the next one comes out--it would be a big time commitment to reread them all. But still, I'm glad I've started the series.

Edited: Feb 12, 2012, 11:11am Top

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (#6 from 2011*)

Not as good as some of the earlier ones in the series, but still better than most other fiction. I'm sad to be done with this series for now.

*The GR lists are irritatingly a bit messed up; this one is actually listed as #8, but there are two pre-2011 books above it.

Edited: Feb 12, 2012, 11:14am Top

The Ahhiyawa Texts by Gary Beckman et al. (Ancient History)

In the middle of the second millennium BCE, the kings of the major Near Eastern powers corresponded among themselves. The most influential were referred to as Great Kings, and addressed as "brother" those whom they considered their equals. Most of these Great Kings ruled lands that we're familiar with today: there were the Egyptians, the Hittites, the Assyrians.... but some Hittite documents also refer to a place known as "Ahhiyawa", a place that was previously unknown. Early scholars made the connection between Ahhiyawa and Achaea, suggesting that the Ahhiyawans referred to in the Hittite documents might actually be the Mycenaean Greeks. In that case, there would be textual evidence for the activities of the Mycenaeans and their interactions with Anatolia at the time of the Trojan war. This is the sort of connection that's very exciting for people who care about such things, but the evidence was also very nebulous. The idea was largely dismissed, and it was assumed that Ahhiyawa was just some part of Anatolia.

As time progressed, though, and scholars came to know more about the geography of ancient Anatolia, the map was filled in. There wasn't really room for a place called Ahhiyawa on the Anatolian mainland. And so the idea that it was actually a part of Greece returned, and now seems to be largely accepted by the specialists.

This book is an edition of all the Hittite texts that refer to Ahhiyawa, whether letters, royal propaganda, or oracle reports. The texts are given in both transliterated Hittite and English translation, and each has a brief introduction and following commentary. It's a very small corpus, but an intriguing one. Many of the texts are very fragmentary, and I was grateful for the commentaries; it was interesting to see just how much could be gleaned from the bits of evidence we have. I can't say that I found the whole picture absolutely convincing, but the authors themselves acknowledge the problem; however likely it may be that Ahhiyawa refers to Greece, it just isn't a certainty. Still, this book is very much worth reading for anyone interested in Greece at the time of the Trojan war.

Feb 12, 2012, 11:14am Top

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter (#155 from 2011)

I really like Ally Carter's Gallagher Girls series, but Heist Society didn't wow me quite as much. So I put off reading the sequel until I felt like I really needed a light book for when I was too exhausted to think at night. And when I eventually read this one, I was pretty underwhelmed; I just didn't connect strongly with any of the characters. Maybe it was inevitable that any fluffy YA fiction would be a disappointment coming so soon after A Song of Ice and Fire. For whatever reason, my reaction to this book was basically "meh".

It's a bit worrying that I've already read two books from 2011's popular list. I have a feeling I'll finish that category too early, and will still have books that I want to read from there. Hopefully it will all work out somehow.

Feb 13, 2012, 12:41am Top

The Ahhiyawa Texts sounds interesting. I majored in Classics for my BA, and one of the things that always amazed me was just how much information can come from something that seems very minor or innocuous.

Feb 18, 2012, 1:40pm Top

>66 SouthernKiwi: I'd definitely recommend reading it. It's very short, so not a big time commitment, but also very informative.

Edited: Feb 20, 2012, 1:30pm Top

Two more from the Ancient History category:

Ancient Babylonian Medicine by Marcus Geller (Ancient History)

This is a very readable scholarly treatment of ancient Mesopotamian medicine. I don't agree with everything Geller says, particularly when he's caught up in a very modern dichotomy between scientific "medicine" and un-scientific "divination", but the book is certainly thought-provoking, and that's often more important to me than being strictly correct. He presents his arguments clearly, so that the reader can make up her own mind, and he brings to bear lots of interesting evidence.

I'm not sure how accessible this book would be to someone with no familiarity with Mesopotamian scholarship, though; Geller doesn't shy from technical terminology here, but I think he does explain it first. I would probably start with the short introduction to Simo Parpola's Letters from Assyrian Scholars before diving in to this one.

King Hammurabi of Babylon by Marc Van De Mieroop (Ancient History)

This is a short biography of the famous king, starting with a chronological treatment of his military conquests and then moving on to a few thematic sections dealing with Hammurabi's role as lawgiver, his character, and his legacy. I found the first part extremely useful for getting a handle on this period of history, and I appreciated Van De Mieroop's regular inclusion of primary sources, usually in the form of letters. The second half was a bit less interesting to me, possibly because I'd already read a fair bit about Hammurabi's code, and the non-chronological approach led to some more repetition. That part would probably be more enjoyable to someone who was less familiar with the issues. On the whole, though, I'm glad I read this book, and I now feel a lot more comfortable with this period of Mesopotamian history.

Feb 20, 2012, 1:29pm Top

So, I seem to be progressing disproportionately quickly through my Ancient History category. I can't say I mind this at all, though; these are books that I'm supposed to be reading for school anyway, and I do have a bit of leeway to list them under Assorted Non-Fiction or Off the Shelf eventually. I'm more concerned with reading good and worthwhile books than with completing the challenge, anyway.

Feb 20, 2012, 7:51pm Top

"reading good and worthwhile books than with completing the challenge"

That makes a huge amount of sense. The important part of my challenge this year is to read and give away as many of my Mt. TBR books as possible and if I manage even half of what I've planned, I'll feel like it was a successful result.

Feb 21, 2012, 9:46am Top

I seem to be progressing disproportionately quickly through my Ancient History category.

I know I have a category or two that I have been focusing on more than the others.... but it is only February and progress is still progress! ;-)

Mar 12, 2012, 12:29pm Top

Quick catch-up on my latest reads:

8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (#5 from 2006)

I'm very glad that a shared read finally pushed me to read this book. I don't really know what to say about it except that it's a very powerful and memorable read. In the past, I never particularly liked reading about WWII or the Holocaust (too depressing), but this book has rekindled my interest in the whole period. Zusak manages to take a weighty topic and somehow make it tolerable without sugarcoating it. It did take me quite a while to get through this one, partially because I sometimes found the writing style a bit distracting, but in retrospect I'm actually glad that I didn't rush through it. Definitely recommended.

9. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsberg (currently not in any category, but I'm listing in anyway in case I later revise my categories so that it fits--which seems pretty likely)

This was the highest-ranked Newbery winner that I hadn't yet read, and it's set in the Metropolitan Museum, which I've already visited a few times this year, so it was really time to get reading. This is a cute story and I'm glad that I've read it, but I probably would have enjoyed it more as a child. I think most children's books are just too short for me to get fully immersed in; I didn't read much YA either until the post-Potter days when they were allowed to be much longer. Oh well. I'm going to continue reading Newbery winners anyway.

10. Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics by Jeremy Schaap (Assorted Non-Fiction)

I was drawn to this book after reading The Book Thief; Jesse Owens has a major influence on one of the characters there. In fact, as I was reading about the US debate over whether to boycott the Berlin Olympics, I kept being struck by a strange thought: "They have to go ahead and participate, because Rudy Steiner needs to hear about Owens and be inspired by him." Of course, Rudy Steiner didn't really exist, but that's not the point. It's interesting to see how characters can live on in our heads. As for Triumph itself, it's short and interesting and I'm glad I read it. I think I'll continue to read more books about Nazi Germany in the future.

Mar 12, 2012, 12:32pm Top

Well, I'm clearly progressing too quickly through my "Assorted Non-Fiction" as well, and neglecting my other categories. I may have to find a way to fit in another non-fiction category somehow (of course, I could read non-fiction off my shelf, and there are plenty of non-fiction books in the Best of Lists as well, but still...). I may actually end up adding a category like "Sports and Fitness", though I'm not sure about that. I'm also tempted to add a category of "Children's Classics and Newbery Winners", which would be pretty easy to fill. I could compress 2009 and 2010 into one category, or even do 2005-2007 and 2008-2010 to get rid of two categories, but I'll wait a while longer to see how things are progressing first.

Edited: Mar 13, 2012, 12:04pm Top

I had the same reaction to From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler as you - I too wished I had read it as a child, but I thought it was enjoyable enough. Anyways, they're quick reads, so if you read a Newbery you don't like, it wasn't a huge time waste. :)

Mar 12, 2012, 8:40pm Top

(How neat -- a lists feature! Thanks for mentioning that one, Zoe. :))

I seem to recall the Mixed Up Files name, but not the Frankweiler name -- I wonder if I saw that one on the shelves as a kid and never bothered to try hard enough to read the whole name. ;) Working one's way through the best of the Newberys seems fun.

Mar 12, 2012, 10:48pm Top

I love From the Mixed-Up Files..., but I read it as a kid, so I don't have objectivity on that one. I've run across several books in the past few years that I wish I could recommend to my childhood self, because I think I would have loved them then, but I find them only pleasant momentary diversions now.

Mar 15, 2012, 7:48pm Top

Triumph sounds intersting. But I am so trying not to add to my wishlist . . .

Mar 15, 2012, 9:00pm Top

#77 Bwahahahaha.... you are definitely in the wrong place!

Mar 16, 2012, 10:37am Top

Good point, Eva, about the Newbery winners not taking a lot of time to read. I have to admit that was one of my motivations to read it, even.... I was falling behind on my overall book count for the year!

Pammab, I'm always happy to advertise new LT features :D. Lists is one that I had been waiting for for a very long time.

As for Triumph, it's a short book and not too much of a burden for any wish list... ;)

Mar 16, 2012, 11:09am Top

I've heard a lot about The Book Thief, but yours are the first comments that actually prompted me to add the title to my wishlist. I've also been reluctant to read about WWII and the Holocaust. That resistance is fading since I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC a couple of years ago. I haven't gone out and read everything I can get my hands on, but I'm more willing to consider a book dealing with that topic than before.

I read The Mixed-Up Files as a child but didn't remember anything it (the title is impossible to forget, however). The movie they made from the book wasn't very good, but it did remind me what the story was about. Someone else (Whisper1, maybe?) was reading through the Newbery books and I thought it was a wonderful idea. I started to adopt it for myself but didn't get very far. I was reading them chronologically and some of the early books just don't have much attraction anymore. Reading from the "best of" list is a better idea.

I love the new list feature. My ONLY complaint is that I don't know how to find the lists unless someone provides a link (as you did). How can I get to them on my own from the home page, or my profile page?

Mar 17, 2012, 8:06pm Top

->79 _Zoe_:
LOL - my "boosters" tend to be graphic novels, but Newberys are great for that too! :)

Mar 23, 2012, 7:00pm Top

I just realized that I hadn't responded to these messages yet! Sorry :(

Sandy, it made me really happy to hear that my comments caused you to add The Book Thief to your wishlist. This is definitely a book worth reading.

I appreciated the Holocaust museum in DC when I went there, but I think there was a time in my life when I just encountered more Holocaust-related things than I wanted to deal with, and I probably just didn't have the emotional maturity for it either. I can't remember whether it was in Grade 5 or Grade 7 that we went on a class trip to see a theatrical production of The Diary of a Young Girl; I started to read the book version at that time, but I don't think I ever finished it. In Grade 7 or 8 was also when I went to the museum in DC. At some point around there I read Night, too, and a year or so later I went to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. It may just have been too much about the Holocaust in a short period of time, because I don't think I've read anything about it since (meaning never in my adult life). I'm sure I have a lot to catch up on now, but I'll try not to overdo it again.

As for the Newberys, I finally went and made a list for myself in the Newbery group so that I can track my progress there. I would have done it sooner, but it's a bit discouraging because I just can't be sure that I've read many of the books that I think I read in childhood. Still, I think this may be one of the only canonical booklists that I'll ever actually complete, because it consists of a relatively low number of very short books :). I definitely wouldn't want to read them in chronological order, though.

I don't think there is any way to get to the Lists page via the LT navigation, but it does have an easy-to-remember address: www.librarything.com/lists . You could also bookmark it for more convenience.

Apr 12, 2012, 4:25pm Top

Fire by Kristin Cashore (#35 from 2009)

This is a prequel to Cashore's Graceling, which I tore through years ago but didn't find very memorable after the fact. So I figured I'd enjoy the book, but wasn't in a huge hurry to read it, and eventually just borrowed it from the library. Now that I've read it, I'm thinking I may have to buy my own copy after all, and I'll probably purchase Bitterblue new in hardcover to support the author.

So, this means I liked Fire a lot. It was very different from Graceling, being set in almost an entirely different world. In the Dells there are "monsters", brightly-coloured but potentially more deadly versions of regular creatures. Fire is the only surviving human monster, with a beauty that makes weak-minded people helpless before her and an ability to read and influence other people's thoughts and feelings. She's obviously very powerful, but reluctant to use her power and in many ways ashamed of it because of the horrible example set by her father.

Much of this book is about Fire's struggle to come to terms with herself, and I enjoyed seeing how she adapted to a new environment and eventually opened herself up to other people. I also really appreciated the fact that many of the major conflicts in the book were mental. It's a YA novel, so there's almost inevitably a romance angle, but with none of the "OMG he's so hot!" aspects that you might expect. The romance is based on an intellectual and emotional connection, and I found that incredibly refreshing.

In other ways, too, this is unlike your typical YA novel. The YA classification actually surprised me sometimes, because Fire, despite being seventeen in theory, acts a lot older and has concerns that might seem more fitting to someone in their mid-twenties. I could easily relate, for example, to her reaction to seeing people around her getting pregnant: she desperately wanted children herself, but couldn't have any, because she didn't want to bring another potentially destructive creature like herself into the world. I don't share the latter concern for myself, but I do look jealously at my friends' cute children on Facebook while my own life is delayed by at least six years thanks to graduate school. But at seventeen, this wasn't something that I really thought about at all.

So, I can see this as a book that would appeal to older readers of YA: the world is interesting and fresh, the romance has depth, and the more mature protagonist is easy to relate to. I do wonder a bit about how much it would appeal to actual YAs, but that's not really my concern.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (not currently in any category, but there's a pretty good chance that I'll add a Newbery category before the year is up. This would be my second in that category, putting it ahead of most)

I'm making a bit more of an effort to read Newbery winners this year, and this was the 1972 winner. Julie/Miyax is an Eskimo* girl who runs away from a bad home life and finds herself lost and alone in the middle of the tundra. She manages to survive by befriending a wolf pack and using various traditional skills, and is ultimately faced with a conflict between traditional ways and the modern world.

This is a short book, and I'm glad I read it, but there were points when I found myself wishing that it were non-fiction instead. I'd like to know more about traditional Arctic culture and survival skills and so on. I keep reading children's books, but I keep coming away from them a bit disappointed. Oh well.

*I was taught my whole life that this word was pejorative and that "Inuit" should be used instead, but apparently Inuit only refers to a certain subgroup and there's no general word other than Eskimo. Sigh.

Apr 12, 2012, 4:37pm Top

Quarterly Update

This is actually well over a quarter, since I started in mid-December and it's now mid-April, but close enough.

Here are my numbers read per category so far:

0 in 2012
2 in 2011
0 in 2010
1 in 2009
1 in 2007-2008
2 in 2005-2006
1 in 2000-2004
4 in Ancient History
3 in Assorted Non-Fiction
0 in Shared Reads and ER
0 in Off the Shelf
1 in New Series Continuations and Their Series

I'm aiming to read six in each category, for a total of 72, and with only 15 read so far I'm far behind my goal pace. I'm not going to worry about that for now, though. I think that I'll eventually combine the 2009 and 2010 categories into one, and add a Newbery category, which would include two other books that I haven't managed to fit anywhere yet.

What I am worried about is two important categories that I've so far managed to neglect completely: "Shared Reads and ER" and "Off the Shelf". I have a big backlog of ER books and really need to get some of them done this year, and I have an even bigger backlog of general owned-but-unread books.

I'm very happy with my Ancient History progress, though; I'm starting to wonder whether I can actually get 12 books read in that category instead of just 6. There would be a trade-off in terms of failing to complete other categories, but I think I'd still feel satisfied.

I'll also easily complete the Assorted Non-Fiction category, and New Series Continuations shouldn't be a problem either.

I'm less sure about completing all the popularity categories, but they've already encouraged me to read some good books that I should have read long ago, so I'm satisfied with them as well. Realistically, I think I can get through 2012 and 2011 without too much problem, and then consolidate some of the rest into fewer categories, adding things like Newbery Winners or another Ancient History category instead.

Apr 13, 2012, 3:39am Top

Nice reveiw of Fire. In fixing my LT catalogue last weekend I rediscovered that I have a copy sitting on my shelves. I need to get to it soon, it's been sitting there far too long.

Apr 13, 2012, 7:38am Top

Thanks! I hope you enjoy it when you do get to it.

Edited: May 27, 2012, 5:54pm Top

So behind here. I've been updating the first post, but not posting in my reviews. Here's a bit of catch-up; these are all just copied from my 75 Book Challenge thread, with categories added in. Also, terms like "yesterday" may no longer apply.

You Are an Ironman by Jacques Steinberg (Assorted Non-Fiction)

This is a non-fiction account of six "regular people" who decided to participate in an Ironman: that's 2.4 miles of swimming, followed by 112 miles of biking, and then a marathon, all to be completed within 17 hours. I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw it, because I find it encouraging to read accounts of fairly normal people who manage to do impressive things. For a while, though, I was putting it off because I own another book by this author that I still haven't gotten around to reading: The Gatekeepers, about the college admissions process. It seemed sort of silly to pick up another book when I still had the first one waiting, even though the topics are completely different.

Since I had a major endurance event coming up this past weekend, though--my first half marathon, which I finished in 2:30:24, yay!--I thought I could use some inspiration. What I was about to do was pretty insignificant compared to the craziness of the Ironman, and I found that reassuring.

The book itself was interesting and fast-paced, and pretty much what you'd expect from this sort of thing. I enjoyed reading the stories of these people, who they were, what had led them to the Ironman, how they faced the ups and downs of training, etc. There were some moments at first when I found it a bit difficult to keep track of who was who, but that didn't actually hinder the reading experience, and I eventually managed to connect the names with the stories: "oh, he's the teacher; he's the heart-attack guy; he's the double-lung-transplant recipient".

It was also interesting to find out about the more detailed workings of an Ironman race. For example, I was a bit surprised to hear that in addition to the overall 17-hour cut-off, there are multiple fairly aggressive cut-offs throughout that result in disqualification if they aren't met. Several of the competitors in the book had issues with the swim (goggle problems, or just being very very cold at the end of it) and almost missed the cut-off there, but ended up finishing the overall race with more than an hour to spare, and it made me wonder why the intermediate targets weren't a bit more relaxed. The biking has to be done with 6.5 hours to spare for the marathon, which seems like a very generous time, so that a lot of walking in the marathon isn't a problem--but just getting to the run start in time can be a big challenge. Anyway, it just made me wonder about how they decided these things.

In the end, I came away from this book feeling calmer about my own half-marathon, and also a bit inspired: I'd definitely like to try a triathlon at some point (though at a much shorter distance!), but the logistics of it mean that it won't be happening any time soon. Just getting a decent bike would be an issue when I move between three or four different locations in the course of every year, and finding opportunities to swim in open water is non-trivial... not to mention that I'm a terrible swimmer! Still, the seed has been sown....

I'd recommend this book to people who like reading about this sort of thing; you know who you are. If you don't generally read about or participate in endurance sports, I'd suggest starting with Born to Run instead, for a very inspirational and potentially life-changing read.

Out of Sight, Out of Time by Ally Carter (New Series Continuations and Their Series)

So, I've been doing really well at buying fewer books and instead borrowing them from the library, but that sometimes leads to problems--like when a hold comes in and there's a long list of people after me, so the book is not renewable, but it's also not exactly the book that I'm in the mood for at the moment. That's what happened here. I'd enjoyed the rest of Carter's Gallagher Girls series (much better than her Heist Society books, imho), but not quite enough that I wanted to buy the latest for myself as soon as it came out in hardcover. I requested it from the library instead, and was pretty early on the holds list.

But once it actually came, it wasn't exactly what I felt like reading. I put it off for a while, but it was due tomorrow, so I figured I should pick it up. And it was entertaining enough, just not anything really special. These books are set in a spy school for girls, so there was lots of action and intrigue and some surprising twists, but I just wasn't wowed; it felt entirely average. I think part of it is just that I wasn't in the right mindset to do justice to the story, though; fans of the series will certainly want to continue with it.

Another problem with my focus on library books is that I end up reading more YA than I want to, because I know I can finish it on a tight deadline; with most books, I would have just given up instead of getting started on Friday night with a fixed Tuesday deadline looming. Oh well.

The Trojans and Their Neighbours by Trevor Bryce (Ancient History)

This is a very readable and up-to-date account of what we know about ancient Troy and its place in the ancient Anatolian and Aegean world. Worth reading for anyone interested in the subject.

*Graceling by Kristin Cashore (New Series Continuations and Their Series)

This was a reread in preparation for Bitterblue, and I'm very glad that I did reread it. I actually think I appreciated it even more the second time around. And of course, it was helpful to have all the characters fresh in my mind. I own this book, but ended up needing to borrow it from the library because my copy is stored at my parents' house in a different country. Oops.

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (New Series Continuations and Their Series)

I was very much looking forward to this book after reading Cashore's Fire and Graceling in preparation. I have to say, though, that I came away from it pretty disappointed, for a variety of reasons. (Warning: there will be spoilers here for the preceding books.) Cashore's concept is pretty ambitious: Bitterblue has grown up and is trying to rule a kingdom that had suffered under her evil, mind-controlling father for 35 years. Her advisors and many of the people around her still aren't in their right minds. Understandably, trying to function in this situation could be pretty frustrating, but I felt that Cashore brought that frustration a bit too close to the reader. It was hard to appreciate the story when many of the characters were so erratic and the protagonist was just caught in a bubble of confusion. Adding to that, I hardly recognized Bitterblue herself; she seemed like a quietly competent child when we met her last, but as an 18-year-old she seemed sort of clueless. I'm not sure what she was supposed to have been doing for the past 8 years, besides sitting under a mountain of paper, but I found it strained credibility that she had absolutely no idea about the layout of her own castle, barely remembering that her father had had an art gallery and possibly never having known the location of various more functional sub-buildings. Similarly, she had no idea who any of the people were, and had apparently been content just to sit around signing papers until the story began.

There were some promising parts, like when Bitterblue started sneaking out of the palace to interact with regular people in a way reminiscent of Disney's Princess Jasmine, because the regular people actually had reasonable personalities, unlike the palace staff. But eventually that ended, and we were back with all the crazy people in the palace. I just found the whole thing sort of frustrating, and read on because I wanted to find out how it all got resolved rather than because I was enjoying the story. Even the resolution, though, wasn't particularly satisfying; it seemed anticlimactic after all the confusion and intrigues, and I didn't feel like I had really learned that much more about the mysteries of Leck's reign by the end of it.

I'll reflect on the story a bit more in the next few days, but I think my feeling of disappointment will remain.

Updated to add further thoughts from the next day, with spoilers:

I think one of the problems may be that Cashore is more concerned with making comments about our world than about dealing with difficult issues in the context of her world. It's not that she doesn't face these difficult issues; characters often think about them, but I didn't really get a sense of satisfactory resolution. Here are a couple of examples:

There's a lot of focus on overthrowing monarchs who abuse their power, and on providing better systems of government for these kingdoms. Bitterblue herself reads from a book called "Monarchy is Tyranny" that her father had tried to destroy. But there's an obvious conflict here: Bitterblue herself is queen, and intends to remain queen. She realizes that this is a conflict, but doesn't really do anything about it. There's not even any suggestion of instituting a different system of government upon her death. This is in clear contrast to Fire, who sees that the power of monsters is too unpredictable and so takes difficult and decisive action to ensure that there won't be any more human monsters in the world.

In a similar vein, Cashore makes a point of emphasizing that homosexuality is okay. Bitterblue even suggests that Raffin may eventually be able to change the laws in the Middluns to allow gay marriage. But there's no real resolution to the much trickier question of what will happen when it's the king who's gay, and yet is expected to produce an heir. Of course there are various possible solutions, but these weren't really explored--and I couldn't help feeling that this was because the focus was really on our world, and not on the Seven Kingdoms. For us, it's enough to say that gay marriage should be allowed. But I'm more interested in exploring the political consequences of various decisions in their world than in listening to general moralizing, even when it's a point of view that I happen to support.

I don't know if I'm way off-base here, but there's a comment in the acknowledgements about Po's disability that really made me realize how focused Cashore is on political correctness. And when I started looking back at Bitterblue with the idea that Cashore was very concerned with political messaging, a lot of the less satisfying parts of the book seemed to make more sense to me. I think that Bitterblue isn't so much about taking a new world and seeing how it will develop on its own as it is about imposing certain attitudes from our own world into a fantasy setting, and I'm not sure that the result is entirely satisfactory.

I'd like to know what things will look like 50 years from now in the Middluns and in Monsea. There are some difficult political issues that will have to be resolved, and I don't think that the ending of Bitterblue really comes close to that resolution. The really hard decisions are left for the future.

I've seen some people say that the problem with Bitterblue is that there's too much politics and not enough action. I both agree and disagree. I think there's too much politics only because the politics isn't done very well; Cashore is stronger when she writes a more traditional quest narrative, like that in Graceling. Politics and intrigue require more nuance and shades of grey, and I didn't really see a lot of that here. There was plenty of confusion, yes, but in the end, every character was either purely good or purely bad at heart, regardless of what evils Leck may have forced them to perform. And I'd like to have seen at least the good characters making more difficult decisions: Will Raffin choose duty or love? What will happen if Bitterblue's heir turns out to be evil? (Because we saw in the prologue of Fire that Leck's evilness didn't come from childhood abuse or anything; he was literally just born that way.)

Sorry for making my additional comments longer than my original review. One thing I can say is that Bitterblue didn't leave my thoughts when I finished it: I'm still turning it over and over in my mind a day later, trying to figure out how a work that I was so excited about could have left me feeling so disappointed. I think it's a testament to Cashore's storytelling ability that I feel so strongly about this. I'd certainly encourage everyone to read Graceling and Fire.

May 27, 2012, 5:53pm Top

Some Girls: My Life in a Harem by Jillian Lauren (Assorted Non-Fiction)

I had been thinking about reading this book for a while, but the low ratings deterred me. Eventually, though, I ended up in an out-of-town library, where I read the first chapter and was interested enough that I requested it from my own library when I got home.

So it sat in my huge TBR pile for a week or two, and I picked it up again last night when I was tired and looking for some light non-fiction. And I found myself completely engrossed. I stayed up a bit too late reading last night, and finished the book this morning. The story, while ridiculous, is fascinating. It was initially a bit difficult to relate to the author: she signs up to be a party ornament for a prince in Brunei, figuring that that means she'll be a "quasi-prostitute", and she's fine with that.

But as her own story came out, I actually found myself rooting for her. She started university at 16 in an attempt to get away from her abusive father, but dropped out after six months, at which point her parents immediately cut off any financial assistance. So the aspiring actress worked as a waitress, then a stripper, and ultimately an escort, before the Brunei opportunity came up. She'd also had many other issues earlier in life: molested at summer camp when she was 12 or 13, anorexic, an occasional drug user.... Her life just sounded unbelievably messed up, though I think that's probably far more common than I'd expect.

Anyway, while I can't remotely imagine making the choices that she did, I also found that I couldn't entirely blame her for them, and I wanted things to work out. It was interesting to read her story at least partially because it was so alien to me. But it was also just fun sometimes to read about the exorbitant wealth of the Sultan's brother, and the experiences of a New Jersey girl on a shopping trip with no spending limit, and things like that. So it's a combination of an informative read and a guilty pleasure, and that combination worked for me. If the basic premise appeals, then I'd recommend giving it a try.

Running with the Kenyans by Adharanand Finn. (Assorted Non-Fiction)

If you’re interested in running and travel, you’ll want to read this book. It’s the story of a guy from England who, wondering what it would take to become a better runner, packs up his family and moves to a small town in Kenya to figure out the secrets of the best runners out there.

The secrets, as it turns out, are not very surprising, and are a combination of factors rather than one single thing. Lifestyle plays a huge role in producing top runners; Kenyan children in rural areas live hard, physically-demanding lives, and often run miles every day just as a way of getting to and from school. When they choose to become athletes, they have an extremely high level of dedication because achieving success can change their lives so dramatically; even a relatively small amount of prize money can allow them to vastly improve their families’ standards of living. And once some runners have achieved such success, it sets off a spiral of positive reinforcement: more people are driven to become runners, and their families are willing to make sacrifices so that they can dedicate their lives to training. Other factors are mentioned as well: barefoot running, and diet, and so on.

These “secrets” are mainly presented in an anecdotal way; there are occasional mentions of scientific studies, but that’s not the driving force of this book. Mostly, Finn just talks to people and considers what he sees. This makes for a very easy read, but it did occasionally lead me to have doubts about his conclusions. He largely rejects the idea that the specific subgroup of Kenyans that excels most in races, the Kalenjin, has some sort of genetic advantage, at least partially on the grounds that this would diminish their achievements and discourage other competitors. He also confidently asserts the benefits of a low-fat diet, when I’d thought that recent science had rejected this idea. There’s no doubt that the standard western diet leads to a lot of health problems, but I’d thought that it was now seen as more a matter of refined carbohydrates and specific types of fat. I’m certainly not an expert on the matter, and I may be completely wrong—but Finn isn’t an expert either, and he presented no convincing evidence to support his position and make me change my views.

So, this has to be viewed as more a travelogue and memoir than as a serious work of scholarship on Kenyan athletes. And I don’t think that’s a problem, as long as you go in with the right expectations. As a travelogue, I'd say it’s only average in terms of writing and depth of observation, but the interesting premise of going to train with the Kenyan runners is enough to make it a worthwhile read in my eyes. I don’t really know of another book like this, though I do have Toby Tanser’s More Fire on my TBR pile.

Ultimately, I found this a quick and interesting read, but was left feeling that I wanted to get a little bit deeper into this world. Finn focuses pretty exclusively on the runners he meets and the runs he participates in, but one of my favourite parts was actually his description of his daughters’ first day at the local school. I would have liked to read a bit more about life in Africa, both his own life and that of the locals. Maybe because he was a foreigner and only lived in Kenya temporarily, I didn’t feel like I really came away with a great understanding of what life was like for a Kenyan runner. We heard about life in the training camps, but I wanted to know more about the runners’ childhoods and their families as well. I didn’t feel as connected to the people described here as I did to the ones in, say, Stephanie Nolen’s 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa. I’m left hoping that someone like Jacques Steinberg (You Are an Ironman) or Liz Robbins (A Race Like No Other) will eventually write a book profiling a small group of Kenyan runners in the leadup to a major race. In the meantime, though, Finn’s book has the advantage of actually existing; it’s a quick and easy read, and worth the time if you’re interested in the topic.

May 27, 2012, 6:04pm Top

And some challenge-related updates:

I finished my first category today! "Assorted Non-Fiction". In some ways, this shouldn't really be something to celebrate because I know I'll be reading a lot more assorted non-fiction throughout the year, and we're not even halfway done. BUT, I have a plan! Two plans, actually. What I *should* do is just read some more non-fiction from my TBR pile, since that Off the Shelf category is waiting there all sad and empty--which is pretty horrifying in some ways. Surely I can manage in the course of a year to read six books that I owned before December? I think I will make some progress there eventually, even if it hasn't happened yet.

When I read one more book for the Assorted Non-Fiction category that doesn't fit elsewhere, though, what I'm planning to do is combine my 2009 and 2010 categories into one and create a new category called "Running". Somehow three of my six assorted non-fiction books are running-related, so that will free up some space there, and I think the new category will be pretty easy to complete. I already have one in-progress running book that's nearing the end, and I have another one that I received for review just last week. I'm still sort of shocked that I turned into someone who reads running books, but there it is.

I'm also at 5/6 for Ancient History, and hoping that some of the eventual overflow there will end up fitting into Off the Shelf or the new Assorted Non-Fiction spaces. But I would also be very happy if I ended up extending Ancient History to a full category of 12.

And I'm at 4/6 for New Series Continuations and Their Series, with at least three qualifying books already in my physical TBR pile. I'm not worried about this, though, because three of the four completed books can be moved to the 2012 category, which is currently sitting empty.

Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with my progress, even if I am a bit behind. 10 of 21 books I've read this year have been non-fiction, for one thing.

May 30, 2012, 5:41pm Top

I don't know if there is a current crush of running books or that I've just become aware of them, but I can recommend Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I think it speaks highly that I read and enjoyed this book and have never been a runner or aspired to be one.

Jun 3, 2012, 7:46pm Top

Yup, I've read Born to Run, and I'd definitely recommend it too! I sort of wonder whether it might have started off this apparent crush of running books. I seem to be seeing them a lot more too, but it could be entirely coincidental.

In other news.... guys, I know it's barely June, but I've already started thinking about what categories I might use next time. Some of my current categories are working well, and I'll keep them: ancient history, assorted non-fiction, series continuations and their series, and some sort of popular-by-date categories: certainly 2013, and maybe 2012, or a combined 2011-2012.... anyway, something like that. But there should be room for some new categories too, and I've decided that I want to do one of Very Highly Rated Non-Fiction and one of Very Highly Rated Fiction, based on this list.

Jun 3, 2012, 7:57pm Top

I've been thinking a lot about next year's reading as well.

Good to see Ender's Game made your list, I highly recommend it, LOL.

Jun 3, 2012, 8:12pm Top

I'm glad I'm not the only one!

I highly recommend it, LOL.

Hehe, it seems that most people do ;)

Jun 5, 2012, 11:21am Top

I love your very highly rated lists. I have a similar category, but my criteria is only a 4.0 rating - not as stringent as yours! I would love it if I could sort my books by average rating.

Jun 5, 2012, 3:12pm Top

Thanks! I think I probably got the idea from you initially--I remember liking the idea of your Odds Are categories before :)

I keep hoping that one day we'll be able to sort by average rating.

Jun 7, 2012, 3:23pm Top

@ 92 -- Some great books on that list! The Grand Sophy and The Everlasting Man jumped out to me right away, as I love them both! I also have Good Omens on my shelves...

Edited: Sep 5, 2012, 10:16am Top

>97 christina_reads: I'm glad to hear it! Maybe I'll find a way to squeeze them into this year's categories somehow....

I think I get way too much enjoyment out of making lists. I think right now, about halfway through the challenge (since I started in December), it may be fun to take stock and see if I can guess which books I'll read to complete all my categories....

2012 (4 done)
Bringing Up Bébé
The Power of Habit

2011 (2 done)
Wise Man's Fear
Clockwork Prince
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Ready, Player One

2009-2010 (4 done)
Cutting for Stone

2007-2008 (2 done)
The Name of the Wind
The Hero of Ages
The Well of Ascension
The Book of Negroes (=Someone Knows My Name)

2005-2006 (4 done)
The Ghost Map

2000-2004 (1 done)

Ancient History (6 done)

Running (5 done)
Ultramarathon Man

Off the Shelf (1 done)
Nothing to Envy
The Heavenly Writing
Visible Language
Reading and Writing in Babylon

Shared Reads and ER (0 done)
Religion Explained
God's Philosophers
House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge
The Happiness Equation
The Human Genome
Emerging Arab Voices

Assorted Non-Fiction (6 done)

New Series Continuations and Their Series (6 done)

Jun 10, 2012, 1:26pm Top

Another Temeraire fan! And for my two cents worth - The Arrival, Hugo Cabret and Unwind are outstanding! Cinder I thought, not so much. Cutting for Stone is on my standby pile. Ah! The lists never end!

Jun 10, 2012, 6:14pm Top

I remember reading Julie of the Wolves -- what a blast from the past! It is sometimes hard to revisit the things loved as a kid though.

Jun 10, 2012, 6:18pm Top

And Running withe Kenyans was a very engaging review. Thank you for sharing!

Edited: Jun 17, 2012, 7:15pm Top

Congrats on finishing your first half marathon!

Interesting lists!

You've written some great reviews, but none of the books are calling to me, thank heavens.

I'm thinking about my topics for next year, too. With the magic number being thirteen next year, I was thinking of doing a "geographic" topic -- the thirteen original colonies that became the first US states. Each book would have to have some connection with one of those states -- setting, where the author is from, maybe something in the title related to a state (state bird, state flower, etc.). I'm just concerned that it will lead to my reading being too US-focused, as I've been trying to get to more literature from other countries.

Jun 25, 2012, 10:35am Top

you could use the settlers countries in the 13 too? - I guess most settlers were European?

Jun 26, 2012, 10:16am Top

That might not open things up much, the 13 colonies were all English.

Jun 26, 2012, 11:10am Top

ah shows how much I know about early US history :-o

Jun 26, 2012, 6:41pm Top

#105 More than I know about English history, probably!

Group: The 12 in 12 Category Challenge

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