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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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Very Long EngagementI greatly enjoyed A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot, but for me it was a bit of a bait-and-switch book. It starts off very much like a suspense novel, with tension and mounting dread. I found myself completely riveted by the first chapter in which French soldiers are marching through one of the First World War’s infamous trenches.

“Watch out for the wire.”

Indeed, Japrisot is known for his crime writing and has been nicknamed the “Graham Greene of France.”

But then, the novel takes on a more quiet and reflective tone—somewhat the inverse of say, Ian McEwan’s Atonement, which begins with more reserved prose and moves to breathless action at Dunkirk.

I had a little trouble shifting gears with Japrisot. I flew through the opening scene, and then it took me a while to get into the rhythm of the rest of the book. This is not a subway read but is best enjoyed if you can spend some time sinking into it.

Overall, I found A Very Long Engagement to be rewarding, moving, and thought-provoking—somewhat reminiscent of a Marcel Pagnol novel in the sense that it offers a glimpse into this fleeting, evolving moment in France. The characters are trying to put their lives back together while dealing with grief, hardship, and the aftershocks of the Great War. This novel feels especially resonant as we head into the 100th anniversary of the start of that conflict this July.

Now I am eager to see the film.

Now, I am eager to see the film.

A thread of mystery pulls us through the story, as the heroine Mathilde searches to find out what happened to her fiancé Manech, who has been reported “killed in the line of duty.” She goes on a scavenger hunt, sifting through a tangle of clues gleaned by word-of-mouth, letters from survivors, ads placed in newspapers, and the work of a private detective. I won’t offer any other plot details, except to say that the ending offered a satisfying resolution that was not predictable.

I went back to reread the first chapter and found that I had missed this lovely, layered transition from the trenches to Mathilde, which also somewhat encapsulates the essence of this book:

“There was still that wire, mended whenever it broke with whatever came to hand, a wire that snaked its way through all the trenches, through all the winters, now up at the top, now down at the bottom, across all the lines …

Mathilde has seized hold of it. She holds it still. It guides her into the labyrinth from which Manech has not returned.”

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge

I just loved the cover!

I picked Arabian Nights & Days by Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz to start off the Dewey’s Readathon in April, which fell on a drizzly, cheerless morning. As I love to travel to exotic and faraway places via books, I thought a trip to medieval Arabia would offer a nice antidote to such a rainy day.

Mahfouz wrote this as both a sequel and a tribute to the classic One Thousand and One Nights, and the book picks up the day after Shahrzad has told her last story. Though billed as novel, it’s really a collection of interwoven short stories that feature many of the same characters as the original fables. I do suggest reading them in order as there are a progression of subplots.

Though the stories are told as episodic vignettes, I found myself invested in the fates of the characters—particularly of the families of both Sannaan al-Gamali and Gamasa al-Bulti—as they continued to make cameos. I would’ve liked to have seen more of Shahrzad and her sister, Dunyazad, the only two female characters that are even remotely developed.

Despite the enchanting prose, the magical realism of his setting, and familiar characters like Aladdin and Sinbad, these stories feature somewhat dark and jarring plotlines. It felt a bit like the jolt one might get by turning to Grimm’s Fairy Tales after seeing the sugar-coated Disney versions of Snow White and Cinderella (and Aladdin for that matter).

Except for one charming love story, Mahfouz uses his allegorical world to spotlight modern-day problems such as police corruption, dirty politics, unjust rulers, greedy power struggles, assassinations, and the misfortunes of the downtrodden. Genies here do not seem to grant wishes but rather wreak havoc on feckless humans, forcing them to do things against their will.

“We love what you love, but between us and people is a barrier of destinies,” explains the genie Singam.

I’m sure there are many layers and allusions that I missed because I am not versed in One Thousand and One Nights—so I would especially recommend this book to readers who have an appreciation for that classic. Still, I enjoyed being transported by Mahfouz’s alluring prose to the fragrant courtyard of the Café of Emirs, to eavesdrop on conversations and people-watch vicariously.

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge

Dewey’s Read-a-thon April 2014

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

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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My article on the Super Bowl for MoreIntelligentLife.com.

peyton picThis Sunday a 37-year-old makes his comeback in the Super Bowl. Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos quarterback, rose to fame during 13 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

His USP was that he could fire the ball up to 86 yards downfield with laser-like precision. But he had other qualities too: his boy-next-door demeanour and gift for poking fun at himself in goofy adverts endeared him to the fans … read more

Read this story at MoreIntelligentLife.com

Related:
Tony Romo as Red Herring

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