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TBR checkpoint 5 chromeI’ve skipped a couple of checkpoints, but I’ve managed to make some progress in the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. Still, I’ve got a bit of reading to do this summer to clear the shelf!

I started with 15 books in my original TBR Challenge Pile, which stretched across the cupboard. So I am a little over one third of the way through, having knocked off six books so far.

I’ve read and reviewed 3 books :
Arabian Nights & Days by Naguib Mahfouz
A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

I’ve read 2 more that need to be written about:
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy

And I’ve given up on one book that I just couldn’t get into after 81 pages:
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I must say, it is truly gratifying to see the TBR pile shrinking and to link up the reviews. So I must thank Adam at Roof Beam Reader for organizing this challenge. Now, back to the books!

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge

Checkpoint 2: Progress as of Feb 16

Checkpoint 1: Progress as of Jan 15

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Dewey's Readathon April 2104

2014 TBR Challenge and Dewey’s #Readathon stack.

The Dewey’s Read-a-thon, spring or fall, is always one of my favorite weekends. A whole day dedicated to reading!!

Sign up to join us for the read-in this Sat. April 26 at 8:00 am EST.

I am hoping to make a dent in my 2014 TBR Challenge Pile, which still seems rather large as I’ve been sidetracked by other books.

So, this is a double reading challenge day for me!

One Book Completed! Arabian Days and Nights by Naguib Mahfouz

Readathon Rerack

Back to bed with book, coffee, and a very lazy dog!

It was a drizzly, rainy morning so instead of our usual am adventure, the doggie was happy to jump back in bed … and stay there!

A nice (and luxurious) boost to my Read-a-thon productivity.

Indeed it was perfect reading weather. Last April, I was distracted by the fact that is was the first sunny, warmish day in months–so I kept sneaking outside.

Second book finished!

Second book finished!

I also finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, another TBR Pile Challenge pick. So two books down and a very relaxing day. I really wanted to savor my reading time and enjoy not being on a schedule. Mission accomplished.

 

So in Need of Dewey’s Read-a-thon October 2013

Here We Go, Dewey’s Read-a-thon April 2013

Read-a-thon or Read-a-5k? October 2012

Read or Cheer on the Dewey’s Read-a-thon October 2011

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IT bookWhat happens when you don’t like the “it” book? For years, people have raved about Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin—it’s one of those cult books. I just read it for the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge, and I’m stumped as to my response.

I prefer not to disparage any book, as I don’t want to deter readers who might love said tome. I myself have been burned by people warding me off great reads. Coincidentally, on Sunday, The New York Times Book Review asked: “Do We Really Need Negative Book Reviews?”

To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf, was on our high school syllabus, but my teacher resisted since she didn’t like it. She read a few passages aloud, but we never delved in. I just assumed it wasn’t a good book. (Perhaps not a good teacher?) What a surprise in college to discover the magic of Woolf’s “stream of consciousness.”

Likewise, Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain languished on my shelf nearly five years because a few friends had panned it. That book wowed me and I think is one of the best American novels written—ever. Recently, I was the only member of book group to adore Julie Otsuka’s lovely novella The Buddha in the Attic, which I had almost skipped owing to email grumblings.

Clearly I am not a good indicator of popular culture, because I didn’t love Gone Girl or Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. I am dazzled by her writing ability, but I didn’t really care about the characters or the plot. I’m not sure why, because Graham Greene has repeatedly invested me in unlikeable characters and twisted plots—as did Aravind Adiga with The White Tiger, which I could not put down. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, was very readable, but I felt that it simplified some issues. Even books by a favorite author are not a safe bet. I love the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series but have not been able to make a similar connection with other books by Alexander McCall Smith.

However, these books are beloved by many readers. Thus, I don’t want to subject anyone to my own literary fickleness. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I’d argue that you can’t judge it secondhand either.

Winters Tale Mark-HalprinBack to Winter’s Tale: it moved slowly and felt rather inaccessible. When, in a moment of melodrama, the hero and heroine first kiss … I laughed. I am actually an inveterate shipper, so this was a red flag for me. I did love the horse, though.

Still, I don’t want to discourage readers (or offend the legion of Winter’s Tale fans). Plus, I’d hate for someone who might “get it” to miss out because of me.

So what to do when you don’t like the “it” book? Pass it along for someone else to try. A friend was eager to claim my hardcover of Winter’s Tale, and she really likes “it.”

“Do We Really Need Negative Reviews? from The New York Times Book Review

Fascinated and Haunted by The Buddha in the Attic

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge

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TBR first book on shelf VWe are now two months into the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge, and I am happy to report that I’ve read two books. The first book I chose was Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin, and I have just finished What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy.

As of press time, I have not yet managed to post any reviews. Nor has our host and challenge leader Adam blogged about what he’s read, so I guess I am not disqualified. (Update: I reviewed Winter’s Tale but need to gather my thoughts on What is Art? I do recommend it though.)

One bonus of winter is more reading time, especially this year. We’ve already had more than twice the average snowfall—around 55 inches so far and it’s snowing now. All these storms have managed to cancel trips and evenings out, so I have had many more nights reading by the fire (about which I am not complaining).

Off to the bookshelf now to pluck another from the TBR Challenge pile.

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge.

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Official 2014 TBR challenge buttonAs I just posted my final list mere hours ago (eek), I confess I have not yet read one book.

Instead, here are a few fun facts about my TBR Challenge choices:

Longest TBR time: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
20  years!
(Oops! I bought this as a hardcover when it was new … back in 1994.)

Shortest TBR time: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
(I should clarify and say “shortest time allowed for this challenge” and its two-year minimum. I do have newer books piling up, sigh.)

Reread in my TBR: The Brontës by Rebecca Fraser
(Loved this and saved it. Have been meaning to reread for years.)

Most excited to read: Arabian Nights & Days by Naguib Mahfouz
(I’d forgotten I had this! It’s said to be a whimsical sequel to A Thousand and One Nights set in medieval Arabia. The cover is beautiful!)

Least excited to read: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
(I should have read this when it was a fad and could partake in the dialogue. Feels passé.)

Jane Austen inspired: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
(I have been wanting to read this ever since Austen spoofed it in Northanger Abbey.)

Melville & Homer inspired: The Nautical Chart by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
(Pérez-Reverte is the master of literary thrillers. Seriously, his novels are cerebral page-turners. This book is a sea-faring adventure which pays homage to Moby Dick and The Odyssey.)

Most curious about: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
(Each of his books is completely different from the last! Also the movie is coming out in February.)

Gift book: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
(My niece gave me her copy as a “must read.” I had just read a spate of Nazi/WWII books, so she told me to wait to read it so the story could have its own resonance.)

Movie inspired read: A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot
(I bought this because I’ve heard so many wonderful things about the movie and the book. Also, Japrisot is often referred to as the French Graham Greene, who was known for his adaptations and film work.)

Most intimidating book: Nightwoods by Charles Frazier
(Cold Mountain is one of the best books I’ve ever read, but it was an intense, grisly, visceral read. I’ve heard that Nightwoods very dark … and, for me, dark books are so much harder than dark movies.)

Most embarrassed it’s still in TBR: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
(I can’t believe I haven’t read this. I’ve put this in my “Now Reading” slot on my blog. I had it on my nightstand last winter for months. This is the “lacuna” of my reading list. OK, bad pun.)

2014 TBR challengeMost Topical read: The Room and The Chair by Lorraine Adams
(Written by a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter, this smart thriller takes place in Washington D.C. and in Afghanistan.)

Signed copy: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
(That’s one reason I have held back. It seems like such a nice keepsake.)

Souvenir: What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy
(I bought this after visiting the Hermitage, the Tretyakov, and the Pushkin museums in Russia. It was an art extravaganza! Those museums are unreal.)

I will link reviews of the books as I read them at 2014 TBR Pile Challenge.

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2014 TBR challenge

As a reading resolution for the New Year, I have decided to take on The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader.

Read more and declutter seems like a perfect New Year’s resolution.

Checkpoint 5: Progress as of May 31

Checkpoint 2: Progress as of Feb 16

Checkpoint 1: Progress as of Jan 15

My 2014 TBR Pile Challenge List
(In no particular order and I may swap in/out the alternates.)

1. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (2009)

2. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin (1983)

3. The Nautical Chart by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (2000/2001 US translation)

4. What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy (1897/1995 US translation) — finished

5. Nightwoods by Charles Frazier (2011)

6. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (2011)

7. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (2011)

8. Arabian Nights & Days by Naguib Mahfouz (1979/1995 US translation)

9. The Brontës by Rebecca Fraser (1988)

10. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005) — finished

11. The Room and the Chair by Lorraine Adams (2010)

12. A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot (1991/1993 US translation)

Alternates*:

1. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt (1994)

2. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe (1794)

3. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (2006) — gave up after 81 pages

* I gave myself an extra because my TBR is just that big.

My Progress: 2 of 12 Completed

Checkpoint 2: Progress as of Feb 16

Checkpoint 1: Progress as of Jan 15

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classics readathon 18:15 am ish Books down for now. Feeling rejuvenated by my classics read-in, though I did not make it 24 hours. Still, as the forecast is freezing rain today, I’m hoping to channel the #ccreadathon with more Wharton this afternoon.

7:17 am Picked up Jane Austen, Game Theorist by Michael Suk-Young Chwe to reread the sections about Mansfield Park. I’m not sure if this counts (pub’d in 2012), but he has some new and very interesting insights into the character of Fanny. Resisted the urge to go online, so as to maximize last hour of #ccreadathon time.

11ish pm Fell asleep reading Edith Wharton. Barely remember flicking off the light.

8:30 pm Finished MP and now completely absorbed by The New York Stories of Edith Wharton. Reading about Old New York is almost like time travel.

6:55 pm Got slightly sidetracked looking at all the fun readathon updates at #ccreadathon and @ourclassicsclub on twitter. Back on the couch and nearly finished with Mansfield Park!

4:05 pm Had a lovely afternoon of reading with the sun streaming in through the windows. It’s fading now, and I must break to brave the crepuscular chill as the doggie is eager to go out before dark. #shortwinterdays

1:45 pm Took a break to walk the dog during the sunniest part of the day. The cold, hardened snowscape has me thinking I should be reading Ethan Frome, but I’m most content with Mansfield Park.

11:00 am Posting this response to the Classics Club Readathon Starting Post. Now back to Fanny Bertram… (Egad, spoiler alert, just realizing I wrote Fanny Bertram not Fanny Price!)

9:51 am Looked up from Mansfield Park to peruse #ccreadathon and @ourclassicsclub on twitter. Lots of great ideas for my target classics list.

8:17 am  Ah, coffee and Jane Austen … I should start every weekend morning like this!

7:58 am  Gasp. Rolled over to realize I’d slept in! Grabbed Mansfield Park off nightstand and flipped on the coffee.

Classics Club Readathon Intro Questions:

1.) Name and Blog: Sarah at WordHits

coffee choc3 picasa

Coffee, chocolate, and a classic.

2.) Snacks/Beverages of Choice: My readathon fuel will be Nespresso coffee (yes, pods, but so unbelievably delish!), Lady Grey Tea, and dark chocolate.

3.) Where are you reading from today? Frozen, snowbound Connecticut. It’s 14°F outside! Perfect day to spend reading.

4.) What books are you planning on reading? Am starting with Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Also on deck: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, The New York Stories of Edith Wharton, and What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy. Here’s a bit more on my book choices.

5.) Are you excited? Yes! Well, inversely. I am excited to do nothing exciting but relax and read. I love that “this is a laid back, zero pressure readathon.” I always enjoy the @ourclassicsclub tweets about the Classics Spin and other classics memes. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to get involved!

WordHits: Cosy Up for the 2nd Annual Classics Club Readathon

Classics Club Readathon Official Starting Post #ccreadathon

The 2nd Annual Classics Club Readathon

Readathon Sign-Up

#ccreadathon hosted by @ourclassicsclub on Twitter

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ccreadathon2 The 2nd Annual Classics Club Readathon takes place Sat. Jan 4th.

What better way to start the New Year than by reading classic literature?! Indeed, a cosy day of tea and classics will be most therapeutic before we all get back to reality on Monday.

Read my Intro Post and Readathon Progress Updates.

The 24-hour readathon kicks off at 8 am EST.  Sign up and join us!!

I have four books at the ready in my readathon pile, although I most certainly won’t get through all of them. I do not like to rush when I’m reading, especially not when I am reading classics. Classic literature is to be savored.

I’ve selected two novels and two collections of shorter writings. Check out my readathon progress.

classics readathon 1

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen is top of my hit list. This year marks the 200th anniversary of MP, so I am very excited to get into the celebratory spirit. This will be the fifth or sixth time I have read “my least favorite” Jane Austen novel. Still, it’s by Jane Austen, so it is of course a standout among books.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson— I think adventure on the high seas will be a nice offset to Fanny’s quiet world, though I suppose it would pair better with Persuasion and Captain Wentworth. Both Treasure Island and Mansfield Park are bildungsroman (coming-of-age) novels, so they work well together in that sense.

The New York Stories of Edith Wharton—I love Edith Wharton’s writing, and I was happy to discover this collection of her stories about Old New York society. I always find it fascinating to read her descriptions of the city, as many of her landmarks are still there.

What is Art by Leo Tolstoy—The Russian master theorizes on “the role of the artist,” in this collection of essays on art, culture, and society. Tolstoy also details his visits to the opera and other contemporary happenings. I made sure to secure Penguin Classic edition, translated by the award-winning duo: Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

WordHits: Classics Club Readathon Intro Post and Progress Update

Classics Club Readathon Official Starting Post #ccreadathon

The 2nd Annual Classics Club Readathon

Readathon Sign-Up

#ccreadathon hosted by @ourclassicsclub on Twitter

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2 book bricksWhen 11/22/63 landed with a thud on my doorstep, I knew I was in for a hefty brick of a read. As I pulled the nearly one-pound beast out of the oversized shipping box … it loomed.

At 842 pages, however, this book is more than 200 pages shorter than the last Stephen King novel I read, Under the Dome, which is 1072 pages.

I decided to size them up together, and in this light, 11/22/63 does look much more manageable.

Still, I find it most ironic that King took a jibe at the length of Donna Tartt’s The GoldFinch, which clocks in at a mere 784 pages. “Don’t drop it on your foot,” he joked at the end of his review for The New York Times Book Review (in which he mostly gushed with enthusiasm).

I will keep that foot precaution in mind as I dig into 11/22/63 in anticipation of this Friday, Nov. 22nd, the 50th anniversary of that infamous date.

Even better, I am reading this as part of the #112263Along organized by Kristin of My Little Heart Melodies, and I love seeing all the tweets and posts from other readers.

The readalong goes for another month through Sunday 12/22 (did I mention it was a long book?) so please join us!

Click here to sign up via Mr Linky!

112263horizontal TH 1

More on the 11/22/63 by Stephen King Readalong

Sign up for the 11/22/63 Readalong via Mr. Linky

#112263Along on Twitter

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Ocean at the End of the Lane lgPhantasmagorical is how I would describe Neil Gaiman’s novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

That is not to say this is a book of pure fantasy. Gaiman grounds his story in the ordinary, as told from the viewpoint of a seven-year old, unnamed boy. His father burns the toast each morning, his sister annoys him, and his great excitement is the weekly arrival of the new SMASH! comic.

This story feels real even as it veers off into the fantastic. The monsters are both human (his father, the opal miner) and supernatural (Ursula Monkton), and the shadows that lurk are predatory. There’s also a clever and creepy-crawly twist on the space-time theory of wormholes. All of this becomes plausible via Gaiman’s dark magical realism.

However, it is the emotional pull that gives this book its heft. Gaiman really taps into the fears of childhood, whether it’s the need for a hall light at bedtime or the helplessness of being in the grip of a menacing adult. The reader feels how important a kitten, or a new friend, can be to an awkward, bookish boy.

The whole story is permeated with a sense of loss—the loss of childhood, the loss of familiar things, the loss of loved ones. We first meet the narrator as a middle-aged adult, returning to his boyhood home for a funeral. The house is gone, replaced by tract housing, and most of the area is beyond recognition.

This particularly resonated with me, as I too went back to my childhood home to find that all the places once sacred to us kids were gone. The forest, where we believed a witch lived; the apple grove, where we climbed trees; and the tiny fish pond—all scraped and replaced by new houses with manicured gardens.

Though most of the novel takes place when the narrator is seven, this is not a children’s book. There are some very mature and disturbing themes. The bathtub scene, in particular, really rattled me, and my one complaint is that Gaiman never fully resolves this. I think best for parents to read first.

Early on, the young hero tells us that he “liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories.” This seems to be exactly what Gaiman is aiming for with The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It is a mythical, frightening, and mostly satisfying read.

This would be perfect pick for a gift for Neil Gaiman’s own #AllHallowsRead or as a scary read for the Halloween meme #Mx3 at Jenn’s Bookshelves.

Halloween Reads on Word Hits:

Join Us for a Readalong of 11/22/63 by Stephen King

Death in the City of Light by David King

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton

Give a BOO-k for All Hallow’s Read

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