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Posts Tagged ‘2014 TBR Pile Challenge’

checkpoint 8 picStatus: 7 of 12 read

–5 books read and reviewed

Arabian Nights & Days by Naguib Mahfouz

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

A Very Long Engagement by Sébastien Japrisot

Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

–2 books read (review pending)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

What is Art? by Leo Tolstoy

–5 books still in TBR Challenge Pile

The Brontës by Rebecca Fraser

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

The Nautical Chart by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Nightwoods by Charles Frazier

The Room and the Chair by Lorraine Adams

–2 alternates

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

–1 book tossed aside

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Well, the pile has shrunk considerably from my original, towering TBR Challenge Pile of 15 books, but still more reading to be done.

2014 TBR challenge

 2014 Pile Challenge Master List

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TheNightCircus lgSome children are afraid of clowns, I was afraid of magicians.

For me, The Night Circus called up those dark, menacing aspects of magic. I thought I was in for a bit of whimsy—since the book was hyped as “the next Harry Potter”—but I found this book to be much darker than I expected.

From nearly the first page, I had a claustrophobic feeling of being trapped, which I think speaks to Erin Morgenstern’s talents as a writer because that sense of limitation certainly plays into the plot. I don’t want to give away the storyline, because I found it clever and original.

When she wants to, Morgenstern can create wonder with her sentences: “The building is as grey as the pavement below and the sky above, appearing as impermanent as the clouds, as though it could vanish into the air without notice.” But she also has descriptions like, “the air itself is magical,” which jarred and disappointed me because I knew she could do better.

I enjoyed the allusions to Prospero of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which like “Le Cirque des Rêves,” is set in an enchanted realm run by a sort of overlord, puppet master. (Shakespeare scholars, apologies for that simplification.) But, for me, this made for a bait-and-switch because The Tempest is ultimately a comedy.

I confess that I didn’t love this book, because it was so disquieting and put me on edge. (For similar reasons, I did not enjoy Gone Girl, so perhaps that’s not a good barometer.) Again, I’m creeped out by magicians. Many of the book bloggers I follow have gushed about this novel—it is truly beloved.

That, of course, is one of the best kinds of magic.

When You Don’t Like the “It” Book

The 2014 TBR Pile Challenge

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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

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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

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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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