bk04011 's 999 Challenge
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Some SF Greats
1. The Time Machine by H.G.Wells
2. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
3. Day of the Triffids by John Wyndom
4. Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
5. The Drowned World by JG Ballard
6. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K DIck
7. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree
8. Neuromancer by William Gibson
9. Last and First Men by Olaf Stapleton
Books My Sister Wants Me to Read
1. Healer by Peter Dickinson
2. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
3. The Hero and the Sword by Robin McKinley
4. Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp
5. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
6. Gilead by Marilyne Robinson
7. Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley
8. The Annotated Brothers Grimm by Maria Tatar
9. The Rose and the Briar by Sean Wilentz
Note: I am cheating and have replaced some of the longer, more improving tomes originally on this list with some fun reads.
1. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
2. Possession by AS Byatt
3. Katherine by Anya Seton
4. King Hereafter by Dorothy Dunnett
5. A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys
6. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
7. When Christ and the Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman
8. A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss
9. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
The Chesapeake Bay
1. Chesapeake by James Michener
2. Beautiful Swimmers by William W. Warner
3. Jacob I Have Loved by Katherine Paterson
4. Killraven by Arline Chase
5. People of the Mist by Kathleen Gear and Michael W, Gear
6. Kent Island, The Land that Once Was Eden by Janet Freedman
7. Island Out of Time by Tom Horton
8. Chesapeake, Exploring the Water Trail of Captain John Smith
9. The Oyster Wars of Chesapeake Bay by John Wennerstein
1. Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, 1872
2. Dracula by Bram Stoker, 1897
3. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, 1976
4. The Vampire Tapestry by Suzy McKee Charnas, 1980
5. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, 1995
6. Sunshine by Robin McKinley, 2003
7. The Fledgling by Octavia Butler, 2005
8. The Dracula Book of Great Vampire Stories edited by Leslie Shepard
9. The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories edited by Alan Ryan
On Reading and Writing
1. Great Books by David Denby
2. Six Walks in the Fictional Woods by Umberto Eco
3. Writing a Woman's Life by Carolyn Heilbrun
4. Passions of the Mind by AS Byatt
5. Bound to Please by Michael Dirda
6. A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel
7. The Wave in the Mind by Ursula LeGuin
8. Writing Into the World by Terrence Des Pres
9. On Moral Fiction by John Gardener
1. Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
2. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
3. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
4. I am a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson
5. The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake
6. The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land by Diana Wynne Jones
7. Aberystwyth Man by Malcom Price
8. Nothin' But Good Times Ahead by Molly Ivins
9. Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
Penguin Nature Classics
1. The Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin
2. Under the Sea Wind by Rachel Carson
3. North American Indian by George Caitlin
4. Blue Meridian by Peter Matthiesen
5. Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxell
6. My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir
7. The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau
8. Songs of the North by Sigurd Olson
9. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrel
I think it's interesting that you have a category for books that your sister has picked out for you. Does she know you that well, or do you trust her judgement that much? Or, is she just really bossy?! :-)
In answer to sjmccreary #14 -
The answer is yes. My sister is a fiercely bossy, opinionated, judgemental fire cracker who teaches English lit at the CCNY SI campus. It distresses her that I read as much fluff as I do, and she is always trying to improve the people around her. So that is where the list comes from. She is also honestly trying to recommend books that will speak to me and that I will take pleasure in reading. I just haven't. I am doing this a little tongue-in-cheek. I really don't feel all that invaded and oppressed. More like slightly acidly amused. In case you can't tell from the general tone, this would be my baby sister and dearly loved.
In answer to cmbohn # 13 -
I have a biography on order from Amazon whose author I forget. I do remember that the name was credible. I am looking forward to reading that. I will build the rest of my list as I read the biography. I have been reading her Regency romances during the rough patches in my life ever since high school, and usually every time I move. My mom reread them while she was dying of cancer, I just packed up the whole lot of them and drove them over at her request. I have read some of the mysteries and found them OK but not special. The historical novels I have not yet read. Have you read any of those? Can you recommend?
I liked An Infamous Army, but I didn't care as much for My Lord John. And I loved Beauvallet. I put that one off, not sure if I would like it or not, and was just engrossed once I started reading it. But I haven't read them all either.
I envy you your sister. All I have are brothers who are nearly as annoying as middle-aged men as they were when small boys!
Others have already commented, but I just had to say that your "sister made me read" category made me snicker out loud. I like it. I'm a big sister, and try to do the same to my younger brother and sisters, but they don't usually take it with your sense of humor. :) I guess I don't have the baby sister pass.
My sister's baby sister pass is larger than most because she is 11 years younger than I am. She was my baby before she was my sister and I had major breathing room. Otherwise, the story could be very, very different. Funny story on her: I was just out of college and she was in her tweens when she told me that she understood that she would ALWAYS be my baby sister but that I was now on notice that she was no longer my LITTLE sister. ;-) Still makes me smile. She was SERIOUS.
I know what you mean - my youngest sibling is 10 years younger than me. I have a special bond with her, and ironically, sometimes feel closer to her than I do to my other sisters and brother.
I think there is something about an age gap in siblings. I have two older sisters, my oldest sister is 8 years older than me and my other sister is 5 years older.
My oldest sister can say almost anything to me and I listen. My other sister will say stuff (advice etc) to me and a lot of times irritates me. I wish it weren't so but I feel like I can't help it. I feel like my oldest sister accepts me for who I am and just gets on with me while my other sister is disappointed and wants to me to change and be more like her. hmmm.
The topic of sibling ages really hits home with me, too. I'm the oldest of 4 sisters. The others are 6 years younger, 12 years younger, and 18 years younger than me. Needless to say, the youngest has always felt more like my own child than my sister, but I've tried not to mother her too much (although I will admit to being bossy, a conclusion I'm sure they'd agree with). Now that we're all adults, I feel that they are my friends, and I really enjoy having such a variety of age differences.
My experience with my two much younger (nine and eleven years) (half) sibs was very interesting in terms of the change in roles over time. When I was in my teens and they were just starting out, they were definitely my babies. After I went to college and through my twenties, when they were in public school, they were almost like a niece and nephew who came to visit a couple times a year and who I saw at holidays. When I was in my thirties and they left college, they came to the same city I was in and suddenly I finally had sibs and wasn't an only any more. The older we get the smaller the age gap. Except that my sister will still call me if she is having a panic attack about something. But that could but just a sister thing. I have always been deeply grateful that my Mom had this second litter!!
On another subject: I am going to break my not-until-New Years resolution in the Georgette Heyer category. I have a biography and a collection of critical essays on the way. I think I will read them now and then just add two novels to the Challenge list.
I came over to check out your list and I'm "starring" it because you have a lot of things I'm interested in. I hope you do "mini" reviews--or even "maxi" is fine with me!
I had Hitch Hiker's Guide on my Scifi list but bumped it for Heinlein at my son's suggestion. I may put it on my "want to" category if I get Neil Gaiman's biography of Adams for Christmas. I used to own I, Robot but never read it. When we broke up our home in Savannah for my husband and me to move to California leaving our son's behind (one a teacher by then and the other in college there) somehow that ended up in my son's library. If you like it I will get another copy.
The Name of the Rose is one of my favorite books. The second time I read it I found a companion volume that translated all the Latin passages and also gave quite a bit of other information. If you are interested, leave a message on my profile page and when I get home (we are in Chicago now with the son who has the Azimov) I will send you the name and author. Possession I own and have been meaning to read for years--I will be watching to see if you give me a nudge!
I am not a vampire person--or reader--but last year I read Dracula because I had so many people urging me to read The Historian and I wanted to read the "original" first. I loved Stoker; unfortunate Kostova seemed a little "flat" after that, but I did finish it. My son said I should have read them in reverse order and I would have enjoyed Historian more.
I loved The History of Reading; I have The Library at Night by Manguel in my 999. I also own the Dirda Bound to Please--just got it last month. I might decide to add that one, too. I own Wave in the Mind and have room for that also--in fact I might have already put it in!
Georgette Heyer! What can I say? I discovered her many years ago when I was on chemo therapy with a not very good prognosis. She is very dear to my heart. The only one I have in the 999 is William, the Conqueror, which I have never read, although I know I will read more of hers next year--I read or reread something by her every year. I was interested in what you said about Beauvallet--I own it but I've never read it because I wasn't sure I would like it. I will definitely dig it out and read it soon. I have the Fahnstock-Thomas book but will have to get the Joan Aiken Hodge biography--I could put that in my biography category!
Thanks for an entertaining time--exploring your challenge!
MusicMom41, #27, I LOVED Possession. I read it when it first came out and I literally brought it everywhere with me, reading at every opportunity - on buses and elevators, while on hold on the telephone... Beautifully imagined and written. Some people found the long poetic interludes difficult or boring, but I read them and wasn't bothered. The Library at Night is also a delight - Manguel is wonderful - erudite and entertaining at the same time.
Book 1 of 81
Category: Some SF Greats
Item: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells completed Saturday, January 3rd
I do want to read or reread the core SF classics and this is a start. I did not have the nerve to tackle Jules Verne, as his works have seemed too long and too hard-core techno-adventure for me. So Wells was next in line. Before I actually read the book, I assumed that I had read it as a child, but now I am less sure. Perhaps I only saw the movie and knew the story line because the story line is that well known. Not certain. There were certainly ways in which it felt like a new read. At any rate, given how long ago it was written and given that I did know the story line, I assumed I would not enjoy the read all that much. I was wrong.
To begin with, my copy is a Penguin, which means it had a readable and helpful Introduction and useful footnotes. The Introduction grounded me in Wells' context: His visions of our technical future, many details of which have proven true, although not those in this story, as yet, predate both radio and the airplane. So his imagination was impressive. On the other hand, he lived well into the 20th Century, so he was not so "pre-historic" as I thought of him being. Acutely, he saw future history as being "a race between education and catastrophe". Finally, there were many ways he was truly a man of his time, as well, grappling, as so many of his time did, with the moral and ethical implications of Darwin's recently published Origin of Species.
I am in some ways an unforgiving or narrow-minded reader of fiction: I look for character development, plot and emotional grab. These attributes are not what make this book important. In my reading of the text itself, I found that the narrative contains more intellectual speculation than dramatic action, no character development and little or no depiction of meaningful relationships. For a whole novel, that would have been a bit much; for a novella, it did not bother me, especially as I was reading for historical interest and not, primarily, for fun. The language is mildly Victorian-verbose, but not too badly so. I also found that knowing the story line ahead of time freed me to appreciate the process of reading it. I found the ideas complex enough that I would consider re-reading it sometime.
I am glad I read this and I value LT and the 999 Challenge for giving me the structure and motivation to do so.
Thanks for the kind comment. The first Penguin Nature Classic I will tackle is Land of Little Water by Mary Austin. But probably not soon since one of my next is Name of the Rose. Ooof. I have checked out the photo of her that shows up in my gallery and she looks like an amazing woman.
I read Wells The Time Machine many years ago and really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds--I kind of went on an historical kick and wanted to see why Wells was so popular in his day. I found they stood up pretty well and were entertaining. As I remember, War of the Worlds was my favorite. I should add, I'm a fan of Victorian literature so the language didn't bother me at all. I wish I had had the advantage of introductions as you did to help understand his context.
Hi there, MusicMom41. As you see from my note @ 31, I have started The Name of the Rose. I took advantage of your earlier suggestion and did get the The Key to the Name of the Rose, also, as my copy does not have Eco's "Postscript to the Name of the Rose" included, I got a second hand copy of that as well. I am glad I did. I haven't even finished the first day, but I am enjoying the book a lot more because of "The Key". It isn't so much the translations of the Latin but the background information about Eco himself and the overview of the Middle Ages that gives me more of an understanding of what Eco is up to. So thanks for that.
I hope you enjoy The Name of the Rose--I've read it three times and really love it. It's been several years now and I'll probably want to do a reread next year--when 999 is over and I have the time. I'll be interested in your comments when you finish.
If you are interested in the Middle Ages you might try Doomsday Book which, although its science fiction genre, has a story line that takes place in medieval times which is very wall researched and seems accurate. I just finished and reviewed it so if you are interested you con go to my 75 thread to read about it and the comments others also made about it. Although very different from Name of the Rose it was another book that just blew me away when I read it.
I have no doubt that I will reread TNOTR again. That way I can just surge through the story line and the language without the hiccups of all those look ups. And Doomsday Book is one of my TBR collection. And I will definitely check your review. Thanks.
Hi Kathryn, good to meet another Georgette Heyer fan. Some interesting choices there - will follow your progress with interest.
Book 2 of 81
Category: Books My Sister Wants Me to Read
Item: Healer by Peter Dickinson completed Wednesday, January 7th
As I have said in other places, Peter Dickinson is a favorite author for my whole family. His stories, whether YA fantasy or adult mystery, frequently exhibit a complex, forgiving and wry understanding of what people, including women and children, are like. When I read his better books, including this one, I am persuaded that Dickinson must be deeply observant of other people in his real life and I wonder what about his life made that happen.
The story here is about a young man and a younger pre-adolescent girl he took under his wing before the action starts. She is being held captive so that her gift as a "laying on of hands" healer can be exploited. The meaning of the tale, for me, is about layers of motives, about appearance versus reality, and about how people become who they are. Do they choose or are they chosen for?
I started this book last year, prior to signing up for the 999 Challenge, and stopped because the situation of the young girl made me tense. The Challenge motivated me to complete it and I found it very interesting because of its characters, their complexity, and their outcomes.
Book 3 of 81
Category: Historical Fiction
Item: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco completed January 22nd
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco is, at the most simple level, the story of a medieval Franciscan Sherlock and his Dominican Watson setting out to solve a series of murders at an Italian monastery. These murders center on a mysterious library and a missing book. Eco makes use of an incredible vocabulary; I kept thinking that finding the necessary English words must have been an extended treasure hunt for his translator. Eco also uses language to create strong, complex, overwhelming visual effects, conveying powerfully the art and architecture of the place and the intense impact they had on his assistant.
I put considerable effort into reading TNOTR intelligently and yet I ended up substantially bypassing the trail Eco laid out. I did not become the reader that Eco intended to create, as he described in his Postscript, and I find that both interesting and amusing: All that effort in order to head in an unintended direction. TNOTR integrated the imagery of Revelations into nearly every scene and interchange in the story. I recognized much of it, missed much also, I am certain, and ended up not going where I was supposed to go because I was reading a somewhat different book. My religious background, or lack of it, meant that even as I caught the references to Revelations, I also shrugged them off. Instead, I focused on the political and economic history, and was thus protected both from the game Eco was playing and from figuring out what he was actually up to. Instead of the history of ideas, I was reading about Church politics, and about power relations between and among the Church, its factions, the Empire and other polities, and the rise of new classes. I found it all fascinating but missed Eco's most important points.
I saw the movie with Sean Connery when it first came out but did not want to see it again until after I finished reading the book. I no longer remembered the details of the storyline or its ending. Imagine my shock when I arrived at the end to discover I had both escaped Eco’s trap and missed the real storyline. The actual, so to speak “factual” ending of the story made me angry. Anyone who knows the ending can imagine why I would be upset. I was also angry because I felt I had been “had”. Eco and I together had completely tricked me.
Now that I have recovered my aplomb, I am amused and still shaking my head at Eco’s cleverness and at the extent to which the book I read had been my own creation. The material was there but the focus was my own. I look forward to seeing the movie again in the light of the book; it will also be interesting to go back and read TNOTR again sometime, knowing what I now know about it. I intend to go back to Eco’s Postscript soon and reread that as well, now that I am less peeved.
I think it would be hard to read this book just for the mystery story, as there is just too much else going on. Having read it, I am strongly tempted to tackle his others, but cautiously. I rated it 4.5 out of 5.
Book 5 of 81
Category: On Books and Reading
Item: Great Books by David Denby
David Denby's highly unusual response to the onset of his mid-life crisis was to go back to Columbia Unversity, where he had been an undergraduate, and take again the two "Great Works" survey courses, Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization, that he had taken all those years ago. This book is his reading journal from that year.
Reading this right after finishing The Name of the Rose was a very interesting experience for me because I got to "watch" Denby teeter back and forth between highly self-referential understandings of the material he was dealing with in class and sudden understanding of the more universal, less personal implications of the same work and the intent of the writer. While there were several moments when I thought "too much information" or "oh, please", overall I strongly enjoyed the experience.
Part of my enjoyment was self-referential in its turn, as my sister is a professor of English literature and has represented to me, to my silent annoyance, many of the attitudes about "the canon" and "hegemony" that Denby would rant about. Another part of my enjoyment came from access, however limited, to the teaching that he was exposed to. Finally, I enjoyed his personal engagement with the teachers, the students, the works and his own learning process. This was a reading journal, not a lit crit text, and that is how I read it. I also appreciated the irony of my watching someone else do that back-and-forth between personal and intellectual response to complicated works.
I look forward to chewing my way through a number of the 1001 Books, arbitrary as it is. I took a similar survey course during my college years but did not read the included works as well as I would hope to now. Many I did not manage to complete, even. I may well refer back to this book briefly as I take on some of the ones on his list.
Book 6 of 81
Item: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
This YA environmentalist tale takes place in Florida and the "at risk" population in question is a small community of small ground-dwelling owls about to be displaced by a pancake restaurant. While not howlingly funny, it did have its amusing moments. I enjoyed reading it; I am not keeping it. I did rent the movie and enjoyed it as well, perhaps more.
I'm enjoying your reviews. Great review for Name of the Rose, one of my favorite books--I've read it 3 times, but not recently. I will have to dig out my copy--it's time for a reread. You have given some new stuff to think about--and I don't remember a postscript. I may need to get a newer version--I have the first paperback edition.
Great Books by Denby (BTW--when you edited you reverted to the default touchstone so it goes to Dickens now) sounds like something I need to add to my library and read--maybe right away. I love to read about other peoples reactions to books and I sometimes don't pay enough attention to the authors' intentions if I find a book "speaking to me"--I need to be more detached sometimes! Besides, of the 10 recommendations for further reading listed in the "social information" I already own 9 of them! Definitely my kind of book. Thanks for the great review.
Haven't read Black Moth for a while either. I made a mistake not making a GH category as I started a "reread everything of GH" last year and it is really slowing down now! Isn't Black Moth her first? I think that's the one she wrote to entertain her brother? I guess I better go read that review, too! :-)
Thanks for your great review of David Denby's Great Books. I could've sworn I've already read it but I hadn't so I've added it to my books/reading/library category.
You've got some interesting categories. The Penguin Nature Classics, for instance, looks particularly interesting, as does the Chesapeake Bay category. That nature area is one area I'd like to read more about, though probably not enough to merit its own 999 category.
Thanks, MusicMom, for the kind words. They are appreciated, especially as I am just beginning to read seriously and write again after years of letting my job eat me alive. PS: I am expecting to try Foucault's Pendulum next year.
Book 7 of 81
Item: Chesapeake by James Michener
I am slightly more than half way through this 865 page monster re-read. I read it the first time years ago, possibly when it first came out in 1978. I included it now in my 999 Challenge as a good introduction to my Chesapeake category, providing a relatively painless overview of the area's history. I am getting what I paid for.
I found the initial chapters about the Choptank Indians awkward; a certain element of well-intentioned condescension made me squirm slightly. There is an extent to which you have to forgive the man: He was born in 1907, so he was in his 70's when writing the book. I nevertheless keep seeing a tension between the inclusive and respectful spirit of the Quakerism he was exposed to as a boy, and some of the social attitudes that were integral to his times.
The believability of his characters and their stories picks up once he moves into the European colonization of the area but he remains somewhat condescending in tone in his discussion of the watermen. As he moves forward in time, the book becomes progressively more engaging. Right now, I am in the middle of the beginning of the resistance to slavery, heading towards Civil War. It is an interesting feeling to realize that the Eastern Shore of Maryland was, at one point in time, effectively part of the Old South.
Another example of how the book is a product of the times is Michener's discussion of the development of Black English. I remember that as a hot academic topic in the '70s.
When I finish the book, I will layout the timeline I have been developing based on the chapters in the book. I will also complete this review. The plotting and the writing are both decent but not truly good. No surprize there. It is serving the purpose, and I would read another of his tomes for the same reason, then to move on to other, better, and more specialized sources.
Only being halfway through my 7th book as we head towards the end of February, I am beginning to thing that I am not likely to complete my Challenge. Which is OK. The Challenge has triggered a revolution in my reading habits that I am very glad of. For years now, I have been reading like some people drink, that is, to kill the day I just got through at work. Fantasy, science fiction and mysteries and nothing requiring effort. I am still reading like that in the evenings when I get home from work, but in the mornings, while I chew my way through my coffee, I am reading my Challenge books. I like to think that by the time the year is over, however far I do or do not get, I will have firmly established that habit. I so like the structure of having categories to cycle through that I already have a tentative category list for 2010!
I like your attitude toward the 999 challenge. It is a challenge where the reading is important but the actual numbers should not make it stressful. The idea is to broaden our reading and expose ourselves to new ideas, authors, etc.--to expand our minds. I also think it is important to "discuss" what we are reading because this also helps to "broaden our reading and expose ourselves to new ideas, authors, etc.--to expand our minds." :-) To decide not to do the challenge because you might not succeed in reading 81 books defeats the purpose for which the challenge was started. imho
I enjoyed your discussion of Chesapeake -- it is one of the Michener books I haven't read. (I read several of his in the 70s and 80s.) I'll be interested to read the rest of the review when you finish the book. I''m especially interested in the Civil War aspect if he includes information about the area during that time because CW is one of my 999 categories.
46: I've had Chesapeake around for a few years. I bought it because I've sporadically been doing genealogical research, I have a cluster of ancestors from that area, and like you I figured it'd be a pleasant introduction to the history. I keep passing over the book when I'm looking for something to read because of its length. I look forward to seeing your time line and final review, which may be enough to inspire me.
I finally finished Chesapeake this morning, and completed my time line. I only have a few remaining comments. I wish that Michener had included a Selected Bibliography at the minimum. I do understand that he was aiming at an audience that might be put off by actual footnotes - me, for instance, on my bad days - but a carefully selected bibliography would not have been too scary. I would also have liked a list of which of his characters were based on real people. Finally, the closer he came to the current period, the more comfortable he was with his characters and the less clunky his storytelling as a result, iI think.
For qebo@46, regarding the Civil War: The Eastern Shore was strongly Confederate in its allegiance, being plantation based, and Michener did cover that. He also described the fierce struggle to continue the area's shipping trade during the lead up to the war, along with the local social conflicts regarding slavery and the war. The war itself did not truly come to the area.
Now for the timeline: The reported years are those he assigned to his chapters and are not precise; the descriptions are my summary of the chapters
1583 ... Choptank Indian community
1608 ... Jamestown established by Protestants in Virginia
1636 ... Catholics arrive in Maryland; Devon Island and Eastern Shore settlements started
1661 ... Quakers arrive
1701 ... Pirates based in the Caribbean ravage the Chesapeake
1773 ... Taxation without representation
1811 ... The Chesapeake and the Susquehanna River system
1822 ... Plantation life
1832 ... The slave trade and the rise of the Abolition movement
1837 ... The Underground Railroad and moving towards war
1886 ... The Bay itself, the water harvest and the skipjack
1938 ... Quakers and WW II; Jim Crow
1976 ... Nixon and Watergate
1978 ... Devon Island gone in the hurricane
I am beginning to understand the problem with touchstones. Great stuff when they work right, otherwise a right royal pain. There are books in my touchstone list above where I cannot imagine which actual book listed was the trigger, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek being one of them. I will clean them up and out as I identify the triggers. Nevermind. I still like them.
Thanks to the folk who do drop in. It does make a difference. I read a lot of threads but don't comment much, thinking that I would not be adding anything new. I think I will change that and "speak up" more.
Hi, bk! Thanks for your comments about Chesapeake. I've read several Michener books, but not this one, & didn't even realize it was about the Eastern Shore -- what a beautiful & interesting place it is! I'm also interested in how it fits into the Quaker saga, which I've recently been reading about.
I read Beautiful Swimmers a few years back, & was surprised at how much I liked it. It was sort of pushed on me, & not being much of a non-fiction reader & thinking I had no interest whatsoever in blue crabs, I started it reluctantly & then became fascinated.
I've read several of the books you have listed & will be interested in seeing how you like them, as well as the other books about the Chesapeake (none of which I've read).
50: Thanks for the helpful summary. I'm not quite prepared to read such a long book (especially as I have other long books waiting in line), but you've brought it to my attention after it's spent several years languishing on a shelf, which is a step in the right direction.
bk04011 - I'm enjoying your thread as well. I don't think I have it in me to dig into Chesapeake right now, but maybe sometime.
I also don't feel like I will be 100% successful with the numbers of the challenge. I like the way you and Carolyn/MusicMom put it, and I feel I am successful when I'm reading something different, something that broadens my mind. Here's to the 999 Challenge!
Indeed, LisaMorr! I am having more different kinds of fun reading this year than I can remember.
While I have been keeping up, more or less, with my reading, I have fallen way behind in my write ups. I finished reading the following book March 14th.
Book 9 of 81
Category: Penguin Nature Classics
Item: Land of Little Rain by Mary Austin
This is the first of the Penguin Nature Classics series that I have read, and it sets a high standard for the others to meet.
Mary Austin was an early 20th century naturalist and, if you check out the photo on her author page, you will see that she looks pretty much as described by Terry Tempest Williams in the Introduction to this edition: “… a woman, candid and direct, who was utterly focused on her vision, and her vision was focused on the arid lands of the American West”. The word I used when I first saw that picture was “terrifying” – in the best way, as in amazing and fierce. Tempest describes her as cantankerous, but then goes on to say that Austin’s writing conveys “… an abiding and enduring compassion and humility that came through the rigors of her disciplined eye toward nature.”
I found Austin’s narrative anecdotal; more travelogue than natural science essay. She conveyed wonderfully the contrast between sparseness and abundance in the turn of the desert seasons. Tempest ascribed to Austin “… a Victorian diction written through the perceptions of a radical spirit.” For me, Austin’s prose, while not simple, does not suffer from the weight of Victorian complexity. For me, her prose sings: It tiptoes the edge of poetry from time to time; it is gorgeous. It has the rhythm, song and repetitions of traditional storytelling. I fell in love with it, starting with the third paragraph in the first essay, the one that begins: “This is the nature of that country. There are hills, rounded, blunt, burned, squeezed up out of chaos, chrome and vermillion painted, aspiring to the snow line.”
Passionate about the desert, Austin was also clear-eyed about the realities of the life and lives she loved. While she referred to animals as if they were another kind of person and members of her larger family, she did so with the respect you might expect of a St. Francis and not with the cutesy fantasy of a Disney. She was also reassuringly clear that sheep are breathtakingly dim. Sadly, she was also prescient about the impact of western migration on the health and wellbeing of her desert and its denizens.
I rated this book as 5 Stars.
Book 9 of 81
Category: Historical Fiction
Item: Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt
This is an epistolary novel about two Victorian poets embedded in a standard narrative about two late 20th century academics, with imitation period poetry and traditional fairy tales embedded in the embedded tale. You might think this would be difficult to follow or annoying to read, but I did not find it so. I found reading it a rich, rewarding and happy-making experience. Almost like a desert one should not have eaten all of, but did. I have since been locating copies of her other works for next year’s efforts.
I was more comfortable with the themes and allusions Possession was riddled with than with those in Name of the Rose because I was more comfortable with the assumed subject matter, the mythological aspects especially. I do not claim that I caught everything, but it was easier for me to engage with, being more contemporary and familiar. Possession contains a rich complexity of allusions, layers of them, with shifting implications, that are fun to watch play out through both stories. I was genuinely impressed with Byatt’s technique without being alienated by it.
Among the themes and ideas I believe I recognized were that of the dangerous capacity of women to transform from something a man thought was submissive and safe to something that is neither; the concept of intellectual sexual seduction; the essential parity of all tales in the final analysis; the role of the artist as creator and the nature of the life of the created. Not to mention the somewhat satirical representation of academic life.
I will absolutely read this book again. I rated it as 5 Stars
I've been avoiding Possession for years; your review has me determined to read it, and soon!
Book 11 of 81
Category: On Books and Reading
Item: Six Walks in the Fictional Woods by Umberto Eco
The six related essays collected in this book are the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Eliot_Norton_Lectures) that Eco delivered in 1993. I mostly enjoyed them, but I enjoyed the later ones more than I did the first. The earlier ones reminded me too much of the struggle I had with my philo esurvey course back in college. I expected that philosophers would use the rules of logic as tools so they could work effectively with some content they found worthy of attention. I was taught to look only at the form of the argument and assess the effectiveness of the logic, never mind the content. Since I had signed up for content, I was not terribly happy with the course.
Beginning with the first of these lecture essays, Eco talks about the goals of “model narrators” and “model readers”. Model readers are somewhat like model philosophy students, more engaged with the abstract intention of the author and the structure of the document than with the actual narrative content being read. They interrogate it (I think I have heard my literary sister talk about interrogating texts) rather than “go with the flow” of the narrative. Sounds painful.
My own idea of relationship with a piece of writing is one of conversation without abstracting the details of either myself or the writer out of the discussion. I am not “… a voice without a body or sex or any history …” nor am I terribly interested in trying to fake it. I am not a “model reader”, I am much more a Denby (Great Books), teetering back and forth between whole hearted engagement with the work as it is, on its own terms, and intruding myself, my life and my meanings into the conversation.
Nevertheless, as I continued through the essays, I began to engage more and more and found myself fascinated. Once Eco began talking about the permeable boundary between the real world and fiction and how fiction can invade and alter actual events, he had my attention. He included a fascinating discussion of the historic evolution of what are now known as The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.
As much as I push back when I read Eco, and as much as I suspect I might find the man himself intolerably self-satisfied and autocratic, I will re-read this book and I am planning to continue to read both his fiction and his non-fiction.
I rate it at 4 points.
Books 12 and 13 of 81
Category: Books My Sister Wants Me to Read
- The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
- The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
The Blue Sword was written earlier than The Hero and the Crown, which is a prequel. I think perhaps it shows, as I found the prequel noticeably stronger than the earlier book. Two of the characters in the prequel functioned, marginally, as mentors to the lead character in the The Blue Sword. The stories told were essentially parallel: An isolated young woman lacking a useful role in her current life finds herself swept into the defense of a nation in peril. She becomes a hero with previously undiscovered magical capabilities and saves the day. The usual, but better plotted and told than most.
I rated the prequel at 4 points and the original at 3. They were both decent R&R comfort reads.
Book 14 of 81
Category: Vampire Classics
- The New Annotated Dracula by Bram Stoker, edited with Foreward and Notes by Leslie S. Klinger
- Dracula by Bram Stoker, Penguin Classics
I found The Annotated Dracula handsome and well worth browsing for the annotations and illustrations. That's the good news. The bad news is, I found it so densely annotated and illustrated as to be unreadable. I purchased a Penguin copy in order to actually read the story itself.
The introduction to the Penguin edition was interesting and emphasized, no surprise, Stoker's relationship with his employer, the actor Henry Irving, and Stoker's apparent fear of women and sex. I have always thought that by over-emphasizing this latter aspect of the work, people overlook another theme - that of the egocentric, parasitic consumer of other lives. We all know people, I suppose, who eat other people's lives, energy and hope for a future of their own. In real life, they are horrific. Drug addicts, alcoholics and depressives can all turn into black holes for other lives to get lost in.
When I first read Dracula, I was fresh out of college and could only read it while riding in public transportation during daylight hours. I did not know the outcome because I had never managed to see the entire Bela Lugosi film. Renfield eating spiders always drove me out of the room. This time around, I was far less spooked and could actively enjoy myself, despite the occasional moment of severe overwriting.
I found Stoker's treatment of Mina interesting. Stoker is alleged to have feared strong women and yet he writes approvingly of Mina's "manlike" character traits. Ironically, when she is excluded from the team of men in order to protect her, that exclusion is what puts her in danger. Up until then, she had been actively contributing intellectually to the fact-finding and deliberations. I think we can fairly say that Stoker was conflicted.
I enjoyed reading the story this time. I would consider reading it again sometime. I rate it at 4 stars.
I liked your review of Possession, it sat on my bookshelves for several years before I read it last December and I really enjoyed it too. I haven't read anything else by Byatt yet but will. I also just read Dracula for my Bloodlust category, I thought I should read a classic to counter all the other vampire fare I've been reading lately and I agree with you about Mina, in fact I got a bit annoyed with the men when they deliberately started ignoring her. I ended up enjoying this a lot. I also just finished The Vampire Lestat as I had read Interview with a Vampire last year and wanted to know more about Lestat, and while overly long it was also very interesting. I'll probably tackle the third in this series but not straight away.
I will be reading Interview with a Vampire later this year as a part of the challenge. It's been decades and I have read a lot of the later vampire fiction since. I wonder what I will think of it, especially knowing how the series deteriorated over time. But there it sits on the 1001 list.
Thanks for the feedback on the Possession review.
Book 16 of 81
Category: Penguin Nature Library
Item: Under the Sea Wind by Rachel Carson
This is the second Penguin Nature Library book that I have read. Up until now, I have read more popular science and popular natural history than "nature literature" and they are slightly different. There is more explicit natural history in this work than in Mary Austin's but it is still set in an evocative, almost story telling context.
The book is divided into three sections: The Edge of the Sea, The Gull's Way, and River and Sea. Each section focused primarily on one animal and followed it through a generation life cycle, including migrations; each section also focused primarily on one of the three great breeding grounds of the northeastern seaboard of the US: Cape Cod, Long Island Sound and the Chesapeake. In all of the sections, Carson told the story of the lives of the food chain in those areas. She personalized her "lead characters" a little but not too much.
One of the things I was aware of as I read the book is that Carson wrote before we had begun to seriously lose our sea-based populations. She described some exploitive and wasteful fishing techniques but the world she described was still full of lives and unpolluted.
I learned a lot, I valued the read, I would be willing to read the book again. I was not, however, blown away by the writing. I rated the book 3.5 stars.
Book 15 of 81
Item: Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Back to the book itself: The humor is more sly and ironic than slapstick. I enjoyed it and rated it 3.5 stars. I have read the subsequent two books in the series, The Ghost Brigades and The Last Colony, and enjoyed them even more. Intelligent space opera.
Book 17 of 81
Category: Georgette Heyer
Item: The Conquerer
This novel is Georgette Heyer's take on William the Conquerer. While I have previously found it difficult to read her non-Romance novels, being too accustomed to the fun and frolic, I did get caught up in this one by the time I was several chapters into it. The details of the political history overwhelmed the personal, although this became somewhat less true as the novel progressed. To some extent, the focus on politics and war was a function of William himself, an ambitious, driven, loner of a warrior. I came away with a strong appreciation that this was an unpleasant time to be alive in Europe. I was interested to read about the first use of bows and "rabble" soldiery as local guerillas in western European warfare. I think Heyer did a good job but I am unlikely to reread it as I was not fond of the subject matter. I wish she had included an author's note to give me a sense of her sources.
Book 18 of 81
Category: Books My Sister Wants Me to Read
Item: The Matisse Stories by A.S. Byatt
This book was actually a pass-on from a friend of my sister rather than from my sister herself. Nevertheless. It consists of three short stories, dedicated "For Peter, who taught me to look at things slowly ....
The first, Medusa's Ankles, delivers the impact of the aesthetic deterioration of a middle-aged woman on her husband and herself, and her response to it, symbolized by her hair. It was a short story dense with meanings and I am at exactly and precisely the right age to exquisitely appreciate it. The next story, Art Work, starts off with an extremely sensory description of the setting, including a stunning description of a washing machine. As with the previous story, one of the key issues was how one sees things and people. The role and meaning of color was integrated into all the relationships and the storyline, which end with a good "gotcha". The last story, The Chinese Lobster, hinges on a student's dissertation on the female body and Matisse. This focus is used to enable another examination of women in relationships and professions.
Highly recommended. My synopses do not convey the emotional and aesthetic power of these stories. 4.5 stars.
Book 18 of 81
Category: Science Fiction Greats
Item: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
There has been an extended multi-group, multi-thread argument on LT regarding whether the old, golden-age science fiction classics ARE, in fact, classics and ought still to be read. I, Robot did not help me come to a clear conclusion on that. It is not classic literature; it IS classic SCI-FI. I am glad I read it again; I was not hugely impressed.
I, Robot is not actually a novel, it is a collection of short stories involving substantially the same characters over time. I read them first when I was a child in the '60s; they were written by a near child in the late '40s and the tone is quite simple and YA. While ostensibly about robots, the stories are most often actually about love, commitment and need. The characters are not well developed, they are roles not persons and the "morals" of the tales are simple and blatant. The writing is merely adequate but there is a degree of cleverness in the nature of the problems posed. I think the collection remains of historical interest within the genre and as popular literature.
I found rereading I, Robot a pleasant experience but not a profound one. It is possible I might reread them yet again at some point in my life - out of sentiment. I did love them the first time around. 3.5 stars.
Book 21 of 81
Category: Vampire Classics
Item: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
It has been decades since I first read Interview with the Vampire and my responses to reading it were quite different the second time. For one thing, I was simply reading more carefully, looking for things beyond the storyline. Certainly I missed the overwhelming presence of Catholic symbolism during my first read. How, I cannot fathom, since it is omnipresent and heavy handed. Probably a function of my own cultural context at the time: Religiousity was less public sphere then than it is now and I was therefore less sensitive to it. Another aspect I missed the first time through is the extent to which the book is a peon to New Orleans. Katrina has happened and I have actually been to the city since.
Interview is another vampire "classic" (relatively speaking) where I found that the vampirism as depicted both permitted and represented the destructive selfishness of the character. There were some interesting concepts included: the degree to which the sexuality of blood drinking was more explicit in comparison with earlier "classics", the differing nature of the various needinesses of the characters, the maturing into womanhood of a girl vampire trapped in a child's body, the implied homosexual seductions (brave for the time first published), and the depiction of love as a variety of consumption of the other. That said, this book would not make my list of 1001 books to be read before I die, except in its function as a precursor of the river of mostly lesser vamp lit that has followed it.
I gave it 3.5 stars and donated it to charity.
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