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kac522's 13 x 4 Challenge

2013 Category Challenge

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Edited: Jan 1, 2014, 3:29pm Top

I'm new to this challenge. Last year I read 53 books, so I thought why not do 13 challenges, 4 books each 4 x 13 = 52 books. Kinda like 4 suits x 13 cards, or something like that....think of the first book as a diamond, the second as a spade, the third as a club and the fourth as a heart. Hopefully I'll "heart" at least one book per category...

My rules:
--a book can only be placed in one "slot."
--categories are pretty broad
--must be completed by 12/31/2013

My 13 categories (4 books each) are:

I. New authors to me--good for me to explore

1. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, Elizabeth Taylor--finished 18 Mar
2. The Elephanta Suite, Paul Theroux--finished 20 May
3. My Russian Grandmother and her American Vacuum Cleaner, Meir Shalev--finished 3 June
4. Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks, finished 25 Nov

II Works from the New Lifetime Reading Plan--I'll never finish the list at this rate, but every little bit helps

1. Excellent Women, Pym--finished 10 Mar
2. Antigone, Sophocles--finished Apr
3. Our Mutual Friend, Dickens--finished 15 Sep
4. The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov--finished Aug

III Books I've loved in the past and re-read in 2013

1. Some Tame Gazelle, Pym--finished 12 Feb
2. Crampton Hodnet, Pym--finished 4 July
3. The Age of Innocence, Wharton--finished 24 Sep
4. The Secret Garden, Burnett--finished 12 Nov
5. Quartet in Autumn, Pym--finished 5 Dec

IV Books on my TBR pile PRIOR to 2012--lots on my shelves to choose from

1. Jane and Prudence, Pym--finished 15 Mar
2. Less Than Angels, Pym--finished 24 Apr
3. The Warmth of Other Suns, Wilkerson--finished 23 Oct
4. The Sweet Dove Died, Pym--finished 31 Oct
5. A Few Green Leaves, Pym--finished 22 Dec

V Books I bought in 2012--way more than 4, but whatever....

1. Pride and Prejudice: An annotated edition, edited by P. M. Spacks
2. Lark Rise to Candleford, Thompson--finished 4 Aug
3. Shalom Uvrachah: The New Hebrew Primer, Tarnor. An introduction to Hebrew--finished February.
4. Our Town, Wilder--finished 6 Nov

VI Collections (Poetry, short stories, essays, plays)

1. A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen, Susannah Carson. Essays on Austen--finished 28 Jan.
2. The Book That Changed My Life, Coady (essays)--finished 11 June
3. Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales, Stevenson--finished 29 Oct
4. A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, Butler (stories)--finished 31 Dec

VII Any Non-fiction--just to keep me in reality...

1. The Lupus Book, Wallace--finished 1 Mar
2. The Rough Guide to Classic Novels, Mason--finished 21 June
3. A Body out of Balance, Fremes and Carteron--finished 7 July
4. Positive Options for Sjogren's Syndrome, Dyson--finished 8 July
5. What Matters in Jane Austen, Mullan--finished 11 Aug
6. After Visiting Friends, Hainey--finished 14 Aug
7. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Jacobs--finished 15 Nov
8. The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life, Leveen--finished 13 Nov
9. Call The Midwife, Worth--finished 29 Dec

VIII Fiction written prior to the 19th century--my hardest category

1. Monkey, Wu Ch'eng-en, 16th c.--finished 1 Aug
2. The Vicar of Wakefield, Goldsmith, 18th c.--finished 2 Dec
3. The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus, Marlowe, 16th c--finished 25 Dec
4. The Three Theban Plays, Sophocles, 5 c. BCE--finished 31 Dec

IX Fiction written in the 19th century--Got tons of these to read

1. Mary Barton, Gaskell--finished 10 June
2. A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens--finished 13 Apr
3. Anna Karenina, Tolstoy--finished 19 Jan
4. Persuasion: an annotated edition, Austen--finished 13 Dec

X Fiction written in the 20th century--I'm lacking here as well

1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce--finished 31 March
2. No Fond Return of Love, Pym--finished 18 July
3. An Unsuitable Attachment, Pym--finished 2 Oct
4. A Wreath of Roses, Taylor--finished 6 Oct
5. An Academic Question, Pym--finished 18 Nov

XI Fiction written in the 21st century--gotta keep up with the new stuff!

1. The Secrets of Mary Bowser, Lois Leveen, 2012--finished 8 Feb.
2. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson, 2010--finished 20 Apr
3. A Short History of Women, Kate Walbert--finished 30 June.
4. Trains and Lovers, A. McCall Smith, 2012--finished 28 Nov
5. The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes, 2011--finished 14 Dec

XII eBooks (any--I just bought my Nook, so I'm open)

1. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, LeCarre--finished 6 Mar.
2. To Heal a Fractured World, Jonathan Sacks--finished 24 Apr.
3. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard--finished 30 June.
4. Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight, Fuller--finished 27 Aug

XIII Books by women authors--should be easy...

1. The Memory Palace, Mira Bartok--finished 22 Mar
2. Old Friends and New Fancies, Sybil Brinton--finished 30 Apr
3. A Glass of Blessings, Barbara Pym--finished 10 May
4. A Lot to Ask: a Life of Barbara Pym, Holt--finished 30 May

Wish me luck!

Jan 3, 2013, 5:59am Top

Good luck! Looking forward to seeing what books you end up choosing.

Jan 3, 2013, 7:54am Top

welcome, and good luck!

Jan 3, 2013, 11:12am Top

Welcome to the challenge! Great categories!

Jan 3, 2013, 4:04pm Top

Thanks, everyone. I've also decided that I can make "professional judgments" about categories. If I decide that I want to switch a book to a different category (where it fits, of course) to make room for another book, then I'll do so. So, for example, Anna Karenina fits in as a re-read, but could also fit as 19th century fiction, as a book I bought in 2012, or as a book on the 1001 list. Right now I'm leaving it where it is, but may switch later.

Jan 3, 2013, 6:44pm Top

Great setup and good idea to switch books around as you see fit! Enjoy the challenge :)

Jan 3, 2013, 10:11pm Top

Welcome!! Great setup. I think we all "massage" our categories as the year goes on due to all the shiny bookbullets we get from other challengers and because sometimes you just don't feel like following your own rules. :) Have a great reading year!

Jan 4, 2013, 3:48pm Top

Happy reading!

Jan 4, 2013, 3:56pm Top

Great idea using the suits of cards. I also hope you 'heart' at least one book per category.

I like your idea of an ebook category. I've thought about doing the same before, but I've always decided against it because I rarely use my NOOK. It's an old 1st gen and it's slow. Also, though I may make myself sound like a technology snob (which I am), it just isn't flashy enough for me. I'd prefer a Color or Tablet. I'd even consider a Kindle Fire.

Jan 5, 2013, 10:32am Top

Welcome and happy reading!

Jan 5, 2013, 4:39pm Top

> 9 I have the Nook Simple Touch. It's fine for reading books straight through, like fiction. But I find it difficult to navigate when I want to go back and reference something I've read (especially in non-fiction). Anyway I bought some books on my Nook, so I want to take advantage of them. I still like regulation hard copy books the best.

Jan 6, 2013, 6:30pm Top

I've tried reading non-fiction on my Nook, but I end up frustrated because of the navigation issues that you mention too. For fiction, though, it's absolutely brilliant. Sure, I prefer paper-copies as well, but the ease of ebook storage is quite an advantage. :)

Jan 6, 2013, 8:04pm Top

Yep, agreed. No more room on the shelves, here--only on the Nook!

Jan 8, 2013, 2:02pm Top

Welcome to the challenge! The nice thing about the pre 19th century reads is that there are a lot in public domain through Project Gutenberg or on your Nook. And there are a few good ones that I found because of the 1001 list, like Candide and The Vicar of Wakefield. Even though you are only counting one book per challenge category, you could still be chipping away at the daunting 1001 titles.

Edited: Jan 9, 2013, 12:13am Top

Right, that's true--good idea to use the Nook for these! I've read Candide; but I've got hard copies of The Vicar of Wakefield and Tom Jones on my shelf right now. So I just need a couple of more, and I'll put 'em on the Nook! I'm open to suggestions for pre-19thcentury fiction.

Jan 19, 2013, 2:19pm Top

Finished Anna Karenina, which I read 30 years ago, and loved even more this second time around. Although Tolstoy does get a bit preachy in the last chapter, I guess he's allowed. But I love the way he goes around and around a question, offering different points of view, that all seem reasonable. You can feel his struggle with life and existence, but the book is life-affirming in the end.

Edited: Jan 30, 2013, 11:26pm Top

A Truth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen. These essays range from the scholarly to the adoring to discussions of the film adaptations. Some were very good; most have some kernel of insight. A pleasure.

Jan 30, 2013, 9:23pm Top

@ 17 -- Ooh, that one's on my shelves. Glad to hear you enjoyed it!

Jan 30, 2013, 11:26pm Top

You can skip the Kingsley Amis essay--he's not an Austen fan.

Jan 31, 2013, 12:00am Top

Welcome to the challenge! I have a nook and love it for the convenience. If you haven't already discovered it, B&N offers a free book every Friday on their blog. I had a category last year called Nook Free Fridays where I read some of the books that I got this way. A couple of the ones that I read were quite enjoyable.

Jan 31, 2013, 2:08pm Top

Thanks for the tip! I'll check it out.

Edited: Feb 5, 2013, 7:57pm Top

Although it's really more of a textbook, I decided to add Shalom Uvrachah: The New Hebrew Primer to my challenge books. Actually, I'm proud of myself that I finished the book (for a class) and am continuing on in the class. The book itself is geared toward middle-school students, but it gives a solid intro to the Hebrew alphabet and script. The script was the challenging part. I never thought I'd make it this far (which isn't very far!) in Hebrew.

Feb 5, 2013, 8:59pm Top

Nice work! Learning a new language is always a great accomplishment :)

Feb 5, 2013, 11:56pm Top

Thank you. And reading a completely new alphabet (and backwards!) sometimes hurts the brain. But it's coming along.

Feb 6, 2013, 1:44pm Top

Nice work on the עברית!! :) Don't worry, with a little practice the script will be as easy as seeing the difference between capital and lowercase letters.

Feb 6, 2013, 9:17pm Top

Thank you!

Edited: Feb 8, 2013, 7:30pm Top

The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Leveen. I heard the author speak about her novel. She is an American historian. Only a few facts are known about Mary Bowser--she was a freed slave before the Civil War, educated in Philadelphia by her former master, and later posed as a slave to work in the "Gray House"--the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Unbeknownst to her employer, she could read and write, and had a photographic memory. She passed secrets to the Union while posing as an illiterate house maid.

The book was well-researched, and it does move quickly. Leveen created an entire novel around the few known facts about Mary, and Leveen freely admits that this is a fictional work. To me the writing was uneven and I found some trains of thought to be 21st century, not 19th century. But I'm glad I read it--it gave me additional insight and perspective on the Civil War.

Feb 12, 2013, 9:51pm Top

Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym. Many have compared Pym to Austen; this story reminded me more of Trollope. Pym wrote this in her 20s, using herself & friends as models for what life would be like in middle-age. I'm amazed at how perceptive she is at a young age, but she does miss a bit. I don't think 50 year old women would get all that many proposals, and there is a bitterness or hopelessness that she is missing, in loving someone over many years. Still it is funny, has some of the wit of Austen, and down-to-earthness of Trollope, I think.

Edited: Feb 26, 2013, 6:02pm Top

Pride and Prejudice: An annotated edition is well worth the reading. Notes and commentary by Patricia Meyer Spacks point out, among the hundreds of useful notes, all the uses of the words "pride" and "prejudice" in the novel and the particular context. Wonderful explanations of 18th century morals and customs, and well-chosen quotes from Austen scholars from all points of view. It took a little longer to read than my usual reading of the novel, but it was well, well worth it.

Mar 1, 2013, 1:56am Top

The Lupus Book: A Guide for Patients and Their Families by Daniel J. Wallace, MD. Recently my doctor scared the heck out of me when a blood test showed that I was positive for ANA antibodies, and suggested lupus. At almost age 60, I was surprised and worried, and immediately checked out symptoms online. I didn't seem to have most listed, and after a consultation with a rheumatologist it was determined that I probably have had polymyalgia rheumatica for a year, and I may have Sjogren's disease (although I don't feel like I have dry eyes or mouth).

All this to say that this book was very helpful. Wallace provides an overview of lupus that is thorough and technical, and extends beyond the disease, to all of possibilities (like PMR and Sjogren's). I've learned a lot, am confident I DON'T have lupus, but will continue to monitor my various antibody levels. A must book for anyone diagnosed with lupus, or those who want to know more.

Mar 6, 2013, 11:18pm Top

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre. Thank goodness for Wikipedia, or I would never have understood this spy book. It was well-written, but I was confused most of the time. Just not my genre, I guess. I actually liked the parts at the boys' school the best. Sorry, LeCarre fans.

Mar 7, 2013, 6:11am Top

31. Really? I loved it and while it certainly wasn't an easy read I didn't have much of a problem keeping up. Sure, I didn't understand everything that was going on the way Smiley did but I caught up. I thought it was brilliant and I've put all the other Smiley books on my TBR list.

Edited: Mar 7, 2013, 11:12pm Top

I've heard quite a few people have difficulty with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - my plan is to see the movie or TV-series first and then tackle the book. :)

Mar 8, 2013, 7:12am Top

I think part of the trick is to not try and keep up so much and just go along - it'll make sense eventually.

Mar 8, 2013, 1:28pm Top

I read 80 pages of the book and initially gave up. I had no idea what "Circus" was, what "Control" was, etc., etc., let alone all the lingo. Then I read all these glowing reviews, printed out Wikipedia which described all the characters and defined some of the spy lingo, started all over, and I was able to muddle through. I only kept going to find out who the "mole" was, but I probably understood about 50% of the book, and cared about even less of it--it was just too complicated. I kept checking the page number to see how many more tedious pages I had left to read. Some of the characters were interesting, but the women were flat. I tried, I really did, but at the end of the book, I was relieved it was over.

Mar 8, 2013, 1:55pm Top

35. I agree the women are flat, but it was a very male-centered world and I think le Carré was pretty accurate in his portrails of the people who worked at the Circus - and I wouldn't be surprised if those types of men attracted (and were attracted to) fairly flat types of women.

Mar 10, 2013, 6:40pm Top

I think it's just a weakness off the author The Spy who Came In From the Cold was pretty poor gender wise. Although it's pretty dry all round.

Mar 11, 2013, 2:07am Top

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. Now here's my kind of book--barely anything happens, except lots of cups of tea, and yet it's witty, literate and Pym has so many fascinating observations on a single woman's life in the early 1950's. Our excellent woman, Mildred, centers her life around her church work, the liturgical year, and curiously enough, some anthropologists she has met. She observes the culture and habits of her own "kind" in a wry but sympathetic way. Great book, which I'll need to read again.

Mar 15, 2013, 2:59pm Top

Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym. I think I liked this book better than Excellent Women, although I can't tell why. I think I liked Jane so much, and all the literary references. And how she almost fancied herself Emma Woodhouse, and Prudence dreaded being called "Miss Bates". Pym is so observant, in an understated way, of women and men.

Edited: Mar 18, 2013, 9:57pm Top

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor. No, not THAT Elizabeth Taylor. I read about this Elizabeth Taylor in the Virago group on LT (last year was her centenary, and they read her novels). This novel is very poignant, yet very British. No word is wasted in this book--it is short and almost has the feel of a short story, with its build-up of characters. Some have compared her to Barbara Pym and Jane Austen. I'm glad I've been introduced to Taylor; this is her most popular work (at least on LT). I plan to read a few more.

Mar 22, 2013, 4:43pm Top

The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok. This was very difficult to read--this is the author's memories of her schizophrenic mother (once a musical child prodigy), and coming to terms with the author's guilt. Because her mother was so unstable and threatened the Bartok's life, both the author & her sister changed their names and did not see their mother for over 17 years. They found her at the end of her life, living in a homeless shelter and dying. Could only read 30-40 pages at a time, and only continued because it's the selection of my book club.

Also disturbing is that Bartok (obviously a gifted artist & writer) provides a sort of disclaimer--that our memories are imperfect, and she doesn't claim that everything is "true", only how she "remembers" it. In fact for some incidents she provides several endings, saying maybe this happened, maybe that. Not exactly a memoir that one can "fact-check."

I understand why she wrote this book for herself, but it's not a book I would recommend, except for those who feel the need to relate.

Apr 13, 2013, 2:38pm Top

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Amazingly, I have never read this Dickens. It is very different from my other favorites (Bleak House, Little Dorrit). It is indeed like a fable or allegory, especially the characters, who seem to be like fairy-tale characters, both good and bad. But I did enjoy the book, and the twists, and "doubling" aspects of the story.

Apr 20, 2013, 3:04pm Top

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. Read this book for my library book club. Many of the members enjoyed the book, but it took me a while to get into this book. I enjoyed the relationship between Major Pettigrew & Mrs. Ali, but the side characters and actions didn't work for me. The son seemed completely out of context. The writing was good, but sometimes I was aware of her writing--it didn't seem to flow easily. She explores many issues--immigrants, class, family, home, etc., but finally nothing seems to be settled.

Apr 24, 2013, 3:14am Top

Less Than Angels by Barbara Pym. I enjoyed this book, perhaps more than any Pym I've read so far. I was immediately drawn in by the younger people that she portrayed, and how she juxtaposed them against the older ones.

But as I finished the book, what was most interesting to me were the thoughts on writers vs. anthropologists--on the different ways of observing human behavior, and what (& how) writers see differently than scientists. And how each feels somewhat superior to the other. And at the end, I think Pym is saying that a writer (Catherine/Pym) can be just as dispassionate, or clinical, if you will, as an anthropologist, and yet still get to the heart of human relationships, something that "good" anthropologists aren't supposed to do. Tom fails in this in the end, when he disappoints his colleagues by "getting involved." And I loved when Lydgate burns his notes and considers writing a novel. Great stuff.

Apr 25, 2013, 1:20am Top

To Heal A Fractured World: the Ethics of Responsibility by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I've been reading this book off and on since August 2012. Each chapter, each paragraph is so meaningful. Sacks calls us to be ethical and to take responsibility for our world and fellow human beings. As the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, his is a Jewish perspective, but is a book anyone with an interest in ethics can read and learn and be inspired by.

Apr 25, 2013, 12:58pm Top

Do we have a Chief Rabbi of the U.S.? I had never heard of such a designation. (I know - Christian-centric)

Edited: Apr 25, 2013, 2:43pm Top

I don't think so. I believe in the US there are "boards" in each of the branches of Judaism--Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist--and these boards make decisions on policy, etc. Sacks is an Orthodox Rabbi, but I am not familiar with the organization of institutional Judaism in the UK. He has his own website, though: http://www.chiefrabbi.org/

What's wonderful about this book is that his approach is so open and universal (but with a Jewish emphasis), that anyone can read this book and find meaning in their own lives, regardless of faith (or lack thereof). He draws on Jewish sources, as well as philosophers and ethicists from the wider literature.

On a side note, Jonathan Sacks is also the nephew of Oliver Sacks (The Man who Mistook His Wife For a Hat).

May 1, 2013, 1:23am Top

Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton. This Jane Austen sequel was written in 1913 (the 100th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. I'm not a big fan of JA sequels, but this is probably the most "Austen-like" sequel in writing style. However, plot-wise it wandered all over the place. Brinton brings in characters from all of the novels, some successfully, some not so much. Enjoyable, but not outstanding.

May 20, 2013, 3:43pm Top

The Elephanta Suite by Paul Theroux. Three novellas about India. Everything and everyone in India seems sinister in these stories, except perhaps the man and woman who own the elephant in the last story. Even the elephant is vicious at the end. The Americans are even worse. If I had any desire to visit India, I have none now after this book. Everybody's on the take in these stories. The Indian people in this book are nothing like those I know personally--I really disliked the negative portrayal. Plus they are repetitive. I sometimes wanted to yell out "I get it already!".

May 20, 2013, 3:43pm Top

A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym. Even though I didn't identify or particularly like the main character, Wilmet, I enjoyed the book. I thought some of the observations on life were well-thought out, and someone else called it "atmospheric". It was also a book that covertly acknowledged a gay relationship, without judgment.

May 31, 2013, 8:16pm Top

A Lot to Ask: a Life of Barbara Pym by Hazel Holt. This was a very readable book. Barbara Pym's life is told by Hazel Holt, who worked with her for many years, and edited some of her work after her death. She intersperses letters to & from BP, adds tidbits from Barbara's sister Hilary, and generally writes an engaging, affectionate portrait, without going into excrutiating detail. Lots of insight on Pym's inspirations, thoughts, feelings. Really a delight to read, and since I'm reading all the works of Pym with the Virago group, it's been a great source of insights.

Jun 4, 2013, 11:09am Top

My Russian Grandmother and Her American Vacuum Cleaner by Meir Shalev. A lovely book, and an interesting way to tell the story of early settlers to Israel. Using his grandparents as the starting point, and himself as the "ending point", the story of the vacuum cleaner becomes the vehicle to carry us from then (post WWI) to now. The book goes back and forth, and one feels like you are listening to a real story-teller.

Jun 5, 2013, 12:40am Top

Shalev is one of my favorites - I tried to fit Russian Grandmother to this year's list, but it's not looking good. :( Next year!

Jun 5, 2013, 12:59am Top

It's short--only about 200 pages. I finished it in a few days. I've never read Shalev before, but now I'm going to seek out more of his books--do you have a favorite?

Jun 7, 2013, 10:45pm Top

A Pigeon and a Boy is excellent. I also saw that SqueakyChu just finished The Blue Mountain and had only great things to say about it.

Jun 7, 2013, 10:57pm Top


Jun 11, 2013, 12:18pm Top

Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell. I was hoping to enjoy this book more than I did. It seemed over-melodramatic to me, and the characters were flat. However, Gaskell has a gift for bringing in the social, political and economic concerns of the period without being preachy or over-bearing. She makes them understandable and shows various sides, without over-simplifying. The plight of the factory workers in Manchester are her main concern, but she does not ignore the humanity of the masters. The writing, however, just was not up to some of her contemporaries. Thinking about contemporary works, the writing lacked the richness of Bronte (Jane Eyre), the clearness of Trollope (The Warden), the detail of Dickens. This was Gaskell's first novel; I read North and South several years ago, but need to go back to it now, to see how it compares.

Jun 12, 2013, 10:48pm Top

The Book that Changed My Life by Roxanne Coady. An intersting idea--to get writers to give a short essay (usually 1-2 pages) on an important book in their lives. Some were very meaningful and let me look at books I've read in a new way. Most were read as a young person. An odd assortment of writers, but still interesting.

Jun 22, 2013, 12:56am Top

The Rough Guide to Classic Novels by Simon Mason. Covers a wide range of books, sorted by category ("Families", "Rites of Passage", "Crime and Punishment", etc.) and leans heavily on writers in English. But it attempts to bring in writers from around the world. Useful summaries of each book, with recommendations of translations, what to read next and best film adaptations (where applicable). Introduced me to many new authors and books....like I need any more books on my TBR pile :(

Jul 1, 2013, 1:35am Top

A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert. Just so-so. Could have been fascinating. The novel follows several generations of women from the same family throughout the 20th century, into the 21st. The contemporary parts were more believable than the earlier years. It just bounced around too much for me, and I didn't get what she was after. Also the names of the characters were so similar, I spent a lot of time referring to the lineage chart...just couldn't keep them all straight.

Jul 1, 2013, 1:46am Top

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I just couldn't get into this book. Even though the insect/snake stuff gave me the creeps, I am not averse to books about the natural world. I love Barbara Kingsolver's essays, I remember being amazed by Lewis Thomas, and even Thoreau's Walden had a clear point to make. But I just didn't understand her overall purpose or point. This was vague and uneven and frankly confusing. It rambled all over and was supposed to be spiritual, but I didn't get it.

Jul 1, 2013, 7:52am Top

#61, know what you mean about Pilgrim at Tinker Creek which I did enjoy about half the time and found annoying and pretentious about half the time. I don't remember it very well now, but I have vivid impressions of it being full of creepy-crawly stuff.

Jul 1, 2013, 6:47pm Top

I have to say that I appreciated her thoughts on "seeing" and being aware of our natural surroundings. But other than that, it was just tedious.

Jul 4, 2013, 8:18pm Top

Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym. I've been following along the Pym readngs for 2013 in the Virago Group. The order in the group is based on when Pym's works were published, but I've decided (mid-stream) from now on to read the books in order of writing. Crampton Hodnet was actually the second book Pym wrote, but was published after her death. I read it back in 2009, and found it rather odd, perhaps because I just wasn't used to her style. Reading it now (after reading several other later books) it makes more sense. I still felt it ended somewhat at loose ends.

Edited: Jul 27, 2013, 10:32pm Top

A Body Out of Balance: Understanding and Treating Sjogren's Syndrome by Ruth Fremes and Nancy Carteron. A helpful and supportive overview of this autoimmune disease. Recent blood tests indicate I may have this syndrome, although right now I only seem to manifest dry eyes, overall joint pain and fatigue, which could be many things. I also read Positive Options for Sjogren's Syndrome which had a lot of very helpful practical advice. Very down to earth. I picked these up at the library (published 2003 and 2005), but will probably invest in a more recent book to keep for reference.

Jul 19, 2013, 12:22am Top

No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym. This was clever. a little unbelievable, but not over the top. It's a book sort of in the middle of Pym's works--so it had its serious moments, but also light-hearted ones. So many wonderful observations on women and men. And great snooping scenes--being overwhelmed by the cemetery--for sure! Reading the city directories--yes! Channeling Mansfield Park at the end--maybe Dulcie *could* get the wonderful Aylwin--just like Fanny finally gets Edmund. And loved the fact that "Some Tame Gazelle" is on the bookshelf in Dulcie's bathroom--great stuff!

Jul 27, 2013, 10:35pm Top

The year's a little past half-way and I have too many non-fiction! Oh well. Need to crack those pre-19th century books. I am actually amazed at how much recent stuff I've read--I usually feel like I'm reading only old classics. Not this year.

Jul 29, 2013, 11:58am Top

And here I am amazed that I'm reading the second nonfiction in a row! I don't know if I am maturing in my reading or if authors are making their subjects more accessible.

Jul 29, 2013, 7:45pm Top

I've just looked back at my last 2 years' reading, and I read 10-12 nonfiction books each year. So I shouldn't be surprised, but it's way more than I thought I read! I'll have to adjust my 2014 challenge accordingly.

Edited: Aug 2, 2013, 7:11pm Top

33. Monkey by Wu Ch'eng-en. Finally a book in my pre-19th c. category. I would never have read this on my own, but I'm not sorry that I read it. (Read for my Great Books book group). I did need a study guide to help me understand the book. A Chinese "epic" tale, where the 4 travelers represent various aspects of the human personality, and where they grow and mature along the way, while encountering various adventures and trials. Some parts were pretty funny, but some were very obscure. Lots of magic power and Immortals. If you like fantasy, you would enjoy this ancient tale.

Aug 2, 2013, 5:38pm Top

I have Monkey on my tbr shelves so it's good to see positive comments for it. Should move it closer to the top of the pile.

Aug 4, 2013, 10:35pm Top

Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson. I was inspired by the TV series (which I love) to read this trilogy, but it is different in a very good way. Written in the 1930's about growing up in the 1880s and 1890s, Thompson has an amazing memory for her childhood games, hamlet life, everyday joys and challenges, and all the feelings surrounding them. And she brings to life the countryside, with descriptions of the flowers, the sky, the earth. It is good-natured and the life is remember fondly, but not overly sentimentalized. Well worth the time invested to read the entire trilogy, to be immersed in the English country life of the late 19th century.

Aug 5, 2013, 12:38pm Top

@ 72 -- Yay, glad you enjoyed Lark Rise to Candleford! I bought it at my most recent library book sale, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.

Aug 5, 2013, 6:25pm Top

Slight mental lapse on my part... I read the title as "Larkin Rise to Candleford", and immediately starting thinking that there was new "Darling Buds of May" material to be had.... obviously, my bad, but you did peek my interest to go and check out the TV series inspired by Thompson's books. ;-)

Aug 5, 2013, 8:38pm Top

If you watch the series & are a Jane Austen movie fan, you'll recognize Miss Lane (Julia Sawalha) from the 1995 Pride & Prejudice, where she played Lydia Bennet.

Aug 12, 2013, 1:12am Top

What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan. Mullan answers 20 different questions about Austen, and does so in detail. What's most interesting is how Mullan shows how Austen in subtle ways influences our point of view and how we perceive the characters. He shows us Austen's "art", and how seamlessly she does it. For Austen fans, this book is a must. And he debunks the long-held myth that there are no "male-only" scenes. He cites scenes in both P&P and Mansfield Park with only men.

Aug 12, 2013, 11:50am Top

@ 76 -- You know, I completely believed the "fact" that there are no scenes in Austen without a woman present. But just now, reading your comments, I remember a scene in Mansfield Park where Sir Thomas is lecturing Tom, and there's nary a woman in sight! So I learned something new from your review. :)

Aug 13, 2013, 10:46pm Top

That's the very one that Mullan mentions, as well as one with Mr. Bennet and Mr. Bingley!

Aug 14, 2013, 11:43pm Top

After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey. A son seeks the truth about his father's death, in true newspaperman-fashion. I have mixed feelings about it--a page-turner to be sure, but he takes some weird turns and seems to pad the book a lot. I knew many of the places he mentioned in Chicago, and my brother went to high school with Hainey's older brother, Chris. I wish he had stuck to the story more.

Edited: Aug 20, 2013, 1:34am Top

Address Unknown by Kressmann Taylor. I can't count this as a "book" completed--it was originally published as a short story. It is told as a series of letters betweeen two friends/business partners: a California Jew, and an American German who has returned to Munich, between 1932 and 1934. Without spoiling the story, I can only say it was powerful in what it said and it what it *didn't* say. Took less than an hour to read, but well worth it. It was made into a play, and I can see how that would be a perfect format. I found a study guide for the play here: http://www.addressunknown.info/files/Address_Unknown_Study_Guide.pdf
If only more people had heeded the amazing foresight and warning of Kressmann Taylor published in 1938....

Edited: Aug 28, 2013, 1:09am Top

Don't Let's Go To the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. This is a memoir of an African (Rhodesia/Zimbabwe/Malawi/Zambia) childhood--more specifically, a white African childhood.Because it's from a child's perspective, the issues of race and apartheid and master/servant are only hinted at. The description of the place and time are brilliant. But frankly, I didn't quite believe all of it. And after reading this book, I have no desire to visit Africa--too many bugs, snakes, lizards, diseases, unbearable heat, bad water and way too much alcohol. Apparently a lot of the latter is needed to endure this place. I think I'll pass.

Aug 29, 2013, 2:05pm Top

...way too much alcohol. Apparently a lot of the latter is needed to endure this place.

haha! I've been interested in reading Peter Godwin's memoirs about his experiences growing up in the same area as a white boy/man and since they are pretty well rated here in LT I'll probably track these ones down instead of the Fuller book.

Edited: Sep 8, 2013, 11:02pm Top

So this late in the game, I've made a change to one of my categories. I used to have books from the 1,001 books to read before you die list. But I've been looking at that list, and frankly, there are some books I've read on there that are hardly great or, IMHO, I don't really need to read before I die. Plus it seemed woefully lacking in great works before the 19th century--no Homer, no Shakespeare, etc., etc. and a LOT of 20th century stuff that seemed like junk to me, or completely unknown.
So I found a little book--The New Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman, which has a really classical approach to great reading. He has 133 authors and recommends a total of about 280 works from these authors. The newest edition also has a supplemental list of 100 20th century authors. For this second group he is just recommending the author, and usually only lists 1 representative work, so there's some flexibility.
So my new list has 280 from the main list and 100 from the 20th century list, and I feel comfortable with all of them. I had to do some juggling, and actually I've read at least 6 works, and a couple more authors from this list, but due to the categories, I've got them somewhere else.
Of course, I'll never finish this list or even WANT to read them all, but I like the focus.

Sep 9, 2013, 12:52pm Top

@ 83 -- Thanks for the tip! I have looked at the "1001 books" list, but I agree that many of them don't really seem to be must-reads. I'll have to check out this alternative list!

Sep 10, 2013, 12:08am Top

I think the best part of the book is that the short description of the author and his/her works encourages me to read them. And there was a concerted effort in the latest edition to include more works from around the world.

Sep 17, 2013, 3:05pm Top

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. This is a book that I will need to read again. It was long, and I was impatient for the story. And I felt bogged down with all the characters and side stories. But I think Dickens did have a master plan here, and an "agenda", if you will, and I will better appreciate his comments on Society in a second or third reading. I loved the way Bella & Wrayburn develop throughout the novel. I can't say this is my favorite Dickens, but it certainly has made me think the most.

I was reading some other posts about OMF, and here is what AuntieCatherine had to say about OMF: "I suspect the Veneerings are there to represent the rising middle-class version of the novel's predilection for people who are not what their surfaces project. Headstone is not the prim and proper teacher, Rokesmith is not Rokesmith, the Lammles are not a happily-married couple, Riah is not a usurer, Noddy Boffin is hiding what he is, Wegg is lying to the Boffins, Lady Tippins is all surface and no underneath and the Veneerings have nothing underneath their Veneer. They are merely a stage on which other people display themselves."

This seems a very spot-on observation of the book.

Sep 25, 2013, 8:31pm Top

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. Read this many years ago (seems like another lifetime), but had forgotten much of the plot. Several things impressed me this time: first, the look back in time for Wharton. She's writing a book about the1870's in 1920. The details of dress, food, society, books, life in general is extraordinary. I was also impressed by the use of language, and how it changes in the book. The first chapters the language is stiff, haughty, very Old New York. In the middle chapters you can feel the passion, the rushed lives, the impetuousness--shorter phrases, impassioned exchanges. And in the last few chapters (Archer's later years) the language is slower, more reflective. The last few pages made me cry--been a while since a book has done that to me.

Sep 26, 2013, 9:59am Top

I loved The Age of Innocence too! What an interesting observation about the rhythm of the language...I definitely didn't notice that when I read the book, but I'll be looking out for it when I reread!

Edited: Oct 3, 2013, 6:20pm Top

An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym...on my way to reading all of Barbara Pym's novels in her centenary year. I had to take a break for a couple of months...too many lonely single women solaced by a cup of tea. But I got back into the swing of things with this book, which had quite a few chuckles, and even a somewhat happy ending, where the lonely single woman actually finds her (seemingly unsuitable) mate. You have to be in a certain mood, I think, to read these.

Oct 6, 2013, 5:57pm Top

41. A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor. This was nothing like the other Elizabeth Taylor I read earlier this year. There was a suspense which built up over the course of the book that kept the action moving. Overall I think I enjoyed the book, but some of the dialogue and musings went over my head. It was almost more like a play than a novel in that sense. Still, I will read more Elizabeth Taylor.

Oct 6, 2013, 6:05pm Top

Taking stock of where I am, with 3 months left:

I--New author to me--need 1
II--Lifetime Reading Plan--need 1
IV--TBR prior to 2012--need 2
V--TBR from 2012--need 2
VI--Collections--need 2
VIII--prior to 19th c--need 3
IX--19th c fiction--need 2
XI--21st c fiction--need 1
XIII--woman author--need 1

15 books needed--whoa!--hope I make it...I do have titles in mind for all of the slots, it's just having the time to read them all...

Oct 7, 2013, 11:19am Top

15 books sounds do-able, but I know what you mean about finding the time to actually read them can be a challenge in itself. Good Luck!

Oct 9, 2013, 10:37am Top

I have 15 left too! (Well, plus the one I'm currently reading, so techncially 15 1/2.) We can do it!

Oct 24, 2013, 2:10am Top

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. An extremely readable history of the black migration from the South to the North. Wilkerson follows 3 migrants, telling their stories while interweaving the social, economic and political history of the times. She intereviewed over 1200 people for this epic book, and settled on 3 people who represent 3 different routes, ages and decades. Despite the 500+ pages, it reads quickly and easily, although somewhat repetitious. This should be part of every high school curriculum (or perhaps a condensed version). This was part of the One Book, One Chicago reading series.

Oct 30, 2013, 2:25am Top

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales by Robert Louis Stevenson. The title story is suspenseful, even though I knew the basic plot. The psychological aspect, however, was a bit over-wrought. Otherwise, I wasn't impressed with the other stories and essays.

Nov 1, 2013, 12:34am Top

The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym. I'm not sure I liked this book, but I did admire Pym's ability to make me sympathetic toward an unlikeable character. It was a "tighter" work than An Unsuitable Attachment, but I think I enjoyed that book more than this one. This book is also edgier, I guess, touching on subjects that are more difficult and closer to the heart. Always an interesting read.

Nov 8, 2013, 12:49am Top

Our Town by Thornton Wilder. Amazingly, I had never read or seen this play performed. This was good, but I can't say it lived up to all the hype I read about it. Of course, this was reading the play, not actually watching it performed, which I plan to do in a few days on DVD.

Edited: Nov 8, 2013, 1:46am Top

I've juggled a few books around (especially non-fiction) and now I only need 8 more. This is very do-able between now & Dec 31. I'm feeling pretty good about this challenge; even if I don't complete it, I will get pretty darn close.

Nov 13, 2013, 1:50am Top

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This lovely edition (Canterbury Classics, 2013) caught my eye at the library. I hadn't remembered much of this book, except that I had liked it when I read it (I think as a teenager). But what struck me this time was the references to India; the concept of "Magic" (God? divinity? some force?) and the last chapter, where the author tells us this:
"In each century since the beginning of the world wonderful things have been discovered.....One of the new things people began to find out in the last century was that thoughts--just mere thoughts--are as powerful as electric batteries--as good for one as sunlight is, or as bad for one as poison. To let a sad thought or a bad one get into your mind is as dangerous as letting a scarlet fever germ get into your body. If you let it stay there after it has got in you may never get over it as long as you live...."

Nov 15, 2013, 5:45pm Top

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs and The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life by Steve Leveen. The first book I saw on LT (thank you, laytonwoman) and the second I found near it on the library's shelf. But you couldn't find two more wildly variant slim volumes about reading! Leveen, owner of levenger.com, believes in Lists, Lists, and more Lists. And you get the feeling that he doesn't read too many physical books, he mostly listens to audiobooks ("not that there's anything wrong with that", said in my best Seinfeld voice). So he extols the pleasures of audio (yes, I agree--listening to audiobooks has completely changed my hour commute, too).

But Jacobs' book has so much more to offer, that I don't know where to begin, except to tell you to read the reviews. He disdains all "Lists" and believes in Whim--reading what you want, when you want to. Here's a quote from his own struggle with "lists":
I used to try to determine in advance what books I would read over the summer, but eventually realized that to put any book on such a list nearly guaranteed that I would not read it. No matter how anxiously I had been anticipating it, as soon as it took its place among the other assigned tests it becamse as broccoli unto me--and any book not on the list, no matter how unattractive it might appear in other contexts, immediately became as desirable as a hot fudge sundae. And over the years I have decided that this instinctive resistance to the predetermined is a gift, not a disability.

I'm trying to find some place in-between--where I can set some goals, but not be held to them too tightly. At any rate, this was a great little book, and I haven't even talked about his feelings on technology (which are surprisingly positive). Where Leveen found audiobooks to re-charge his reading, Jacobs found Kindle. A wonderful book for any reader.

Nov 19, 2013, 8:26pm Top

An Academic Question by Barbara Pym. Nearing the home stretch of reading all of Pym's works in 2013. I was disappointed with this book, which apparently was finished (or edited) after Pym's death by her friend, Hazel Holt. I could not relate to, nor did I like, any of the main characters. Part of the story involves the stealing of some original research notes, and the moral questions surrounding this act seems to be avoided or swept aside--none of the characters think twice about it. And it seems almost cowardly the way Pym solves the whole issue before discovery, by having the manuscript ruined in a fire at the end.

Nov 26, 2013, 2:04am Top

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. Although it's supposed to be loosely based on the life of Caleb, one of the first Native Americans to graduate from Harvard, it was more about the fictional female character Bethia. In fact Caleb seems to disappear from much of the novel, and re-appears at the end, in scenes that were difficult for me to believe. I had a hard time getting into the book, and sometimes the language style was disconcerting (in the style of "Olde English" or Native American tongues). It appears very well-researched, and I have no doubt that the conditions and daily life were accurately portrayed. The story line just didn't speak to me.

Edited: Nov 26, 2013, 2:10am Top

Looks like I'm easily going to make 52 books, but just not in the categories I set up for myself a year ago--oh well! :( Hopefully in the next month I will be able to fill in some of the blank spaces in the chart above.

Nov 29, 2013, 12:25pm Top

Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith. Finished it on Thanksgiving, after being with family, so parts did make me cry. Just a little book, but with some insights on love and relationships, and of course, a couple of philosophical questions are posed. I will have to think more about "moral luck" and find out about The Examined Life. Another library book that doesn't fit into any of my "open" slots; oh well.

Dec 2, 2013, 11:20pm Top

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith. An important book to read because of its influence on subsequent writers. But I couldn't tell if it was on the level or tongue-in-cheek.

Edited: Dec 2, 2013, 11:22pm Top

I've made some category switches and now I have only 4 books to go--woo-hoo!

Dec 6, 2013, 1:40am Top

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym. I read this half a life-time ago--I enjoyed it then, but even more so now. Pym's wry observations of older people alone are so spot-on. The four people are all odd in their way, but they have sympathetic and universal appeal, too. Not much happens, but I think you could read this again and again.

Dec 6, 2013, 8:49am Top

Can you believe there is not one book by Barbara Pym at my local library? I feel so cheated!

Although Christmas is just around the corner... I should put her on my Christmas wish list.

Edited: Dec 6, 2013, 12:50pm Top

paruline--Yes, definitely put her on the wish list (or inter-library loan?). I would say my favorites were Excellent Women and Quartet in Autumn. I've been reading along this year with the Virago group here:
where you can read the threads to see how others felt about her novels.

The only difference is that I (mostly) read the novels in order that they were written; the group read them in order that they were published.

Dec 14, 2013, 6:18pm Top

Persuasion: an annotated edition by Jane Austen. Lovely book and wonderful illustrations. I think I enjoyed the P&P annotated edition a little more, but this was still very good.

Dec 14, 2013, 6:19pm Top

Only 3 books left! I'm sure I can do at least 2.

Dec 15, 2013, 1:55pm Top

A Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. I didn't want to stop reading this book, but I feel I read it too fast and it deserves another reading. Barnes has many important things to say about life and memory. I didn't like the ending, but it didn't spoil the book for me. Read this for a book club and unfortunately doesn't get me closer to my challenge goals. But worth the read.

Edited: Dec 19, 2013, 8:42am Top

Only three books left!

Dec 23, 2013, 1:34am Top

A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym. I liked the way this novel ended...with possibilities. And I liked Emma and Tom. Only 1 more Pym to read to complete her works, but that will be after the new year.

Dec 26, 2013, 12:38am Top

The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. One of those classics you feel you SHOULD read. Although I can't say I appreciated it fully, I'm not sorry I read it--hopefully references to it will mean more in the future. "Misery loves company"--not sure if it was original to this play, but certainly had to be a very early use of the phrase.

Dec 27, 2013, 5:07am Top

So close :) 1 book left. Good luck & happy new year!

Dec 30, 2013, 1:17am Top

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth. Read this after viewing the series, but it was still enjoyable. Most of the stories have been fairly faithfully brought to the screen, with many additional characters and side plots. But the book was well worth the read to understand the medical complexity of being a midwife and the challenges in the poor sections of London. Worth gives us a very detailed picture of the poor living conditions and doesn't shy away from unpleasant stuff. I'm glad I read it--it paints a more realistic picture than the sanitized TV series (which I still love).

Dec 30, 2013, 10:07am Top

Are you done with your challenge then? Just in time! Congratulations!

Edited: Dec 30, 2013, 2:39pm Top

Not quite--I have 2 books to go--one of "collections" and one pre-19th c. I'm currently about half-way through a book of short stories and then will finish a book of plays by Sophocles. Not much planned except reading for the next 2 days, so I should get there.

Dec 31, 2013, 3:33pm Top

I watched the Midwife Christmas special last night and loved it.

Dec 31, 2013, 4:45pm Top

I watched it too; wasn't it good? After reading the book, I realize Miranda Hart gets Chummy just right!

Jan 1, 2014, 3:25pm Top

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler. These were good stories. Butler effortlessly weaves in folk tales with the narrator's thought, and I was never confused about whether it was the past or present. Some of the narrators were more effective than others--more true to the Vietnamese pattern of thought and mindset. I was only bothered by the fact that they were all first-person narration. A third person point of view may have been more believable. But overall these were effective stories.

Jan 2, 2014, 1:46am Top

Finished at the wire with Sophocles' plays! Now on to 2014...

Group: 2013 Category Challenge

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