Monday, May 22, 2017

My 2017 Reading List: leftovers and new challenges

It's been pretty easy for me to get my reading done so far this year, since I've been ignoring my intellectual development in favor of drowning my sorrows in mystery stories.

I did manage to read The Secret History (what tripe) and finally finished Backlash. Also, I started re-listening to my Game of Thrones audiobooks, and rereading a book is one of the 2017 Read Harder Challenges. So I can feel pretty smug about knocking a big three books off my Mental Development Reading List.

This is what I have left over, as well as the stuff I've added to the list to get my total to 75 books. (I didn't actually reach 75, first because I've already read a boatload of mysteries this year, but also because I double-dip whenever possible with my challenging books, as in, if a book is on the Rory list and the Read Harder list, it's a twofer.)

Old stuff from the Rory list, which I've been planning to read since 2015

1] Allende, Isabelle: Daughter of Fortune
2] Cook, Blanch: Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol 1, 1884-1933
3] des Barres, Pamela: I'm with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie
4] Mailer, Norman: The Naked and the Dead
5] Kagan, Donald: The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition
6] McKean, James: Quattrocento (currently reading)
7] The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age
8] Tolstoy, Leo: War and Peace

from the BBC list

9] Tolkein, J. R. R.: The Return of the King
10] Faulks, Sebastian: Birdsong
11] Niffenegger, Audrey: The Time Traveler's Wife,
12] Steinbeck, John: The Grapes of Wrath
13] de Bernières, Louis: Captain Corelli's Mandolin
14] Martel, Yann: Life of Pi
15] Seth, Vikram: A Suitable Boy
16] Ruiz, Carlos: The Shadow of the Wind
17] Marquez, Gabriel Garcia: Love in the Time of Cholera
18] Sebold, Alice: The Lovely Bones

The 2015 Read Harder Challenge

19] Stolze, Greg: SwitchFlipped (Read a book from an independent press)
20] Goldman, William: The Princess Bride (Read a romance novel)
21] Elliott, J. H.: Imperial Spain, 1469-1716, (Read a book recommended by someone)
22] Levy, Robert Joseph: Go Ask Malice: A Slayer's Diary (Read a guilty pleasure)
23] Sedaris, Amy: I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence (Read a self-help book)

I also decided to read

24] Walker, Alice: The Color Purple

just because. Then there's the leftover

2016 Read Harder Challenge

Task 3: A collection of essays
25] McCarthy, Mary: A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays (also on RG list)

Task 4: read a book out loud to someone else

Task 6: Read a biography
Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette (Rory)
2] Eleanor Roosevelt Volume 1 1884-1933 (Rory)

Task 8: Read a book originally published in the decade you were born
9] The Return of the King (BBC)

Task 10: Read a book over 500 pages long
15] A Suitable Boy (BBC list)

Task 11: Read a book under 100 pages
26] Didion, Joan: The Year of Magical Thinking: A Play (Rory)
Tzu, Sun: The Art of War (Rory)
de St.-Exupery, Antoine: The Little Prince (BBC)

Task 13: Read a book that is set in the Middle East
27] Mahfouz, Naguib: Palace Walk: The Cairo Trilogy, Volume 1

Task 15: Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900
12] War and Peace (Rory)

Task 16: Read the first book in a series by a person of color
29] Lewis, John: March

Task 17: Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the past three years
29] Lewis, John: March

Task 20: Read a book about religion
30] Pagels, Elaine: The Gnostic Gospels (Rory)

Now for the new stuff, for which, in reaction to Gay Talese, I decided to feature female authors:

New titles from the Rory Gilmore list

31] Grealy, Lucy: The Autobiography of a Face
32] Chopin, Kate: The Awakening
33] Patchett, Ann: Bel Canto
34] Morrison, Toni: Beloved
35] Wurtzel, Elizabeth: Bitch
36] Ali, Monica: Brick Lane
37] Powell, Dawn: Complete Novels
38] Rodgers, Mary: Freaky Friday
39] Butler, Judith: Gender Trouble
40] Roy, Arundhati: The God of Small Things
41] Allende, Isabel: The House of the Spirits
42] Hathaway, Katharine: The Little Locksmith
43] de Beauvoir, Simone: Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
44] Lakiri, Jhumpa: The Namesake
45] Tan, Amy: The Opposite of Fate
46] Metalious, Grace: Peyton Place
47] Hall, Rachel Howell: A Quiet Storm

New titles from the BBC list

48] Fielding, Helen: Bridget Jones' Diary
49] Byatt, A.S. Possession: A Romance
50] Blyton, Enid: The Faraway Tree Collection
51] The Bible yeah, I doubt this will happen

52] The Complete Works of Shakespeare or this

53] Ransome, Arthur: Swallows and Amazons
54] Zola, Emile: Germinal
55] Mitchell, David: Cloud Atlas
56] Robinson, Mistry: A Fine Balance
57] Albom, Mitch: The Five People You Meet in Heaven
58] Banks, Iain: The Wasp Factory
59] Shute, Nevil: A Town Like Alice
60] Hugo, Victor: Les Miserables

And finally, Brand! New! Titles! from the 2017 Read Harder Challenge

Challenge 1: Read a book about sports

61] Wade, Becky: Running the World

Challenge 6 and 18: Read an all-ages comic; read a superhero book with a female lead

Ms. Marvel

Challenge 8: Read a travel book

62] Post, Emily: By Motor to the Golden Gate

Challenge 10: Read a book set 100 miles or less from your location

63] Doyle, Brian: Chicago

Challenge 13: Read a non-fiction book about technology

64] Heffernan, Virginia: Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art

Challenge 15 and 20: Read a YA or middle-grades book by an author who identifies as LGBTQ; read an LGBTQ romance

65] Lo, Malinda: Ash

Challenge 22: Read a book of short stories by a woman

66] Welty, Eudora: Complete Short Stories

Challenge 23: Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.

67] TBD

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Six months of Backlash

It took me six excruciating months, but I finally finished reading Susan Faludi's Backlash.

This is not to say it isn't a good book; it's amazing. The thing is, I started reading it on November 7, 2016. Then ... stuff happened. And every time I tried to pick Backlash up and continue, I'd get maaaaaybe 10 pages in and my head would start to make loud, inaudible car alarm noises, which is my subconscious's way of letting me know that my head is about to explode.

So I spent months of dithering, feeling guilty, avoiding GoodReads, and reading almost anything but Backlash: George Simenon's Maigret novels, Mrs. Polifax novels, Arnuldur Indridason's Rejkyvek murder mysteries, re-reading George R. R. Martin's The Game of Thrones (currently on book three, A Clash of Kings, and wow, it moves way more slowly than I remembered. I blame finally getting HBO. Books longa, TV brevis.)

I finally managed to finish Backlash by making it my task while my daughter went to her Broadway dance class at the local community center. Instead of running errands, working out, or sitting on the big comfortable sofa in the lobby Facebooking for 90 minutes, I read Backlash. And after a few weeks of doing this, I finished it!

Honestly, it's like eating less and moving more and discovering that it actually does make me lose weight.

Anyway, if, like me, you haven't gotten around to watching Game of Thrones reading Backlash, read it. It is so good. I underlined like a boss. I could type entire paragraphs into my many politically-charged Facebook groups and shut the trolls up BAM. I could use passages to troll

I'm currently sitting in the Admiral's Club awaiting a flight to New York, and I brought two much shorter, and it is to be hoped, quicker reads with me: The Princess Bride (from last year's Read Harder Challenge: Read a romance novel) and Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, which I believe is also from the Read Harder Challenge--Read a book set in Asia.) Wish me smooth skies and quick reads.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

68 of 75; or, Dark times

OK, wow. Been a while.

So ... I kind of got swept up in politics, and, in common with other registered voters, my reading started to revolve around articles posted on Facebook. After a while, I smartened up and started ignoring articles from sites like and the like, and stuck to stories from The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, etc. Mainstream media for the win! Even if my candidate lost, at least I wasn't wasting too many brain cells on junk news sites.

(Here's a tip for how to avoid seeing them—turn down the volume on those one or two people you know who share EVERYTHING to Facebook. Or find candidates from the opposing party and like their pages. This will give Facebook's algorhythm a much-deserved kick in the pants.)

But hey, good thing I read a book about Donald Trump last May! Because it's always best to be prepared.

I was going to paste in the most recently-updated version of my list, but it would be more efficient to say that I read Henry IV, Part I, and Girl, Interrupted, and am about 100 pages into Backlash. Because a long feminist tome doesn't make me feel at all ranty at the moment, no ma'am.

I also read—and see whether you can tell what I read before and after the election:

The Casino: A Century of Elegance, by Cecilia ... (a history of a private club in Chicago which for mysterious reasons has accepted me as a member.)

The Old Curiosity Shop, by Charles Dickens

The Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

Farewell my Lovely, by Raymond Chandler

The Third Man, by Graham Greene

Jar City and The Silence of the Grave, by Arnaldur Indriðason 

Mr. Kiss and Tell: Veronica Mars, Book II, by Rob Lowe and 

Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, by Steve Martin

If you guessed that I threw myself down a deep well of noir murder mysteries after Hillary lost---ding ding ding! You're absolutely correct.

All told, I've read 68 of my 75 books. Which would be sort of impressive ... except the last eight were audiobooks. Come on, people—it's too much to expect me to turn actual pages.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Books, books, everywhere ... but what the hell should I read next?

I just finished Nicholas Nickleby, which is episodic and melodramatic, with a shiny perfect hero, doll-like heroines, daffy comic characters, warmhearted philanthropists, and dastardly villains of deepest dye.

So naturally, I loved it. I really don't understand why all the Thinking Individuals I know look down on Dickens. I mean, sure, he's sentimental, but he was agitating for social change, so his fiction resembles Social Justice propoganda. And it worked. And it inspired other writers to do the same thing, which is how we got Uncle Tom's Cabin and eventually, FINALLY, emancipation of the slaves. And yes, Dickens' stories are unrealistic, but hey! So are Gabriel Garcia Marquez's and Kurt Vonnegut's, and they seem get away with it.

So, Nicholas Nickleby, yay. But what to read next? Let's look at an updated list, with all the stuff I've read removed.

From the Rory list:

1] Daughter of Fortune, Isabelle Allende
2] Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol 1, 1884-1933
3] I'm with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie
4] The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer
5] The Peace of Nicias and the Sicilian Expedition, Donald Kagan
6] Quattrocento
7] The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age
8] War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

from the BBC list:

9] Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
10] The Time Traveler's Wife
11] The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
12 ] Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernières
13] The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
14] Life of Pi
15] A Suitable Boy
16] The Shadow of the Wind
17] Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
18] The Secret History, Donna Tartt
19] The Lovely Bones

The 2015 Read Harder Challenge:

20] SwitchFlipped (Read a book from an independent press)
21] Half-Breed (Read an author who is a member of an indigenous people)
22]The Princess Bride (Read a romance novel)
23] Lays of Ancient Rome (Read collection of poems)
24] Imperial Spain, 1469-1716, J. H. Elliott (Read a book recommended by someone)
25] Go Ask Malice: A Slayer's Diary (Read a guilty pleasure)
26] I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence (Read a self-help book)

and 37 other titles to be determined, one of which will be

27] The Color Purple, Alice Walker

And now, to fill out my 75 titles, additions from the 2016 Read Harder Challenge. This is a draft of my early picks, selected because they're either already on my list, or are on the Rory Gilmore reading list:

Task 3: A collection of essays
28] A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays, Mary McCarthy (Rory)

Task 4: read a book out loud to someone else

Task 7: Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel
13] The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (BBC booklist)

Task 8: Read a book originally published in the decade you were born
29] Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg (Rory)

Task 11: Read a book under 100 pages
30] The Year of Magical Thinking: A Play by Joan Didion (Rory)
The Art of War, Sun Tzu (Rory)
The Little Prince (BBC)

Task 13: Read a book that is set in the Middle East
31] Palace Walk: The Cairo Trilogy, Volume 1, Naguib Mahfouz

Task 14: Read a book by an author from Southeast Asia
32] Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie (Rory)

Task 15: Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900
8] War and Peace (Rory)

Task 17: Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the past three years
33] TBD

Task 19: Read a non-fiction book about feminism, or deals with feminist themes
34] Backlash, Susan Faludi (Rory)


The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir (Rory)

Task 20: Read a book about religion
35] The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels (Rory)

Task 23: Read a play
36] Henry IV Part I (Rory)

Task 24: Read a book about a character who has a mental illness
37] Girl, Interrupted (Rory)

I've decided to go with Girl, Interrupted, because I can get the Kindle edition right away ... and I'll probably finish it by dinner tomorrow. But I've been digging through the books in my house in New Hampshire. There are lots of titles left by the previous owners, and I found a collection of plays by Noel Coward. I'm thinking of reading one of those instead of finishing Henry IV Part One. I've only managed to slog through a couple of acts of it .... I don't know; there's just something about Shakespeare's history plays that gives me the pip.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Things have slowed to a crawl

Wow, I have really not been updating. I'd castigate myself for being a horrible blogger if I hadn't been blogging elsewhere for OVER TWELVE YEARS jesus I can't even believe it myself.

Anyway, progress is being made! Albeit painfully. Fourteen books since June. Many of them audiobooks, due to the incredible amount of time I spent driving (around Lake Michigan for a family vacation, then to Oklahoma City and back to take Miss Buxom to college.)

Onward! Since I last blogged about what I'd read in May, I've finished (Rory books in bold)

Seven books in June

Trump Nation by Timothy L. O'Brien (a Book Bub e-reading bargain I couldn't resist)
Walden by Henry David Thoreau (went through two audiobooks before I found a narrator that didn't annoy me)
Aunts Aren't Gentlemen by P. G. Wodehouse (audiobook)
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (audiobook)
Bricking It by Nick Spalding (audiobook)
Ironweed by William Kennedy
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (audiobook)

Four books in July

Vintage Secrets: Hollywood Diet and Fitness, by Laura Slater
Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens (audiobook)
Europe through the Back Door, 2016 by Rick Steves
Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

Three books in August

The Memoirs of William T. Sherman (audiobook)
A Cool Breeze on the Underground by Don Winslow (audiobook)
Carrie by Stephen King

Currently reading

I picked up a few (OK, a lot) of books at the Full Circle bookstore in Oklahoma City. I started P. G. Wodehouse's The Small Bachelor. I've been bogged down in Henry IV Part One so I started The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck. Could this be interpreted as a kind of commentary? Perhaps.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May update—the Plath part

I finished The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath. And it took for-fucking-EVER. On GoodReads I had a starting date of January 26th. I hope that marks the day I brought the book home and maybe read the back cover or some such, because four months? For one book? Really? Even if it's 720 pages long, that is a long-ass time to spend reading a single book.

I'd be ashamed, except that the book has very small print. And is non-fiction. And has lots of end notes. And is studded with appendices and I swear, I was dutifully reading my way through all of them ... until I got to Sylvia's working notes about St. Teresa of Avila. I decided that I'm not a Plath scholar and don't need to read every. single. word. I read The Bell Jar and her (then) two published collections of poetry in the 1970s, when I was a young woman with literary aspirations, because that's what you did. But I haven't read them since, because books about mental illness and confessional poetry are not really my thing.

I also finished Bitter Fame: A Life of Sylvia Plath, by Anne Stevenson, which I picked up in April in a used book store in Washington, D.C. I needed some secondary source material to fill in the gaps in the journals, because the gaps are sizable. What Sylvia included: minute descriptions of why a boy she's dating is suitable or not suitable for a husband; self-castigation about procrastinating; discussions of writer's block. What she left out: her breakdown, suicide attempt, marriage to Ted Hughes, and Ted Hughes' affair. 

Unfortunately, Bitter Fame is a not-uncontroversial biography that apparently pissed off Plath's fans big time. This is actually OK with me. I'm not Team Sylvia, so I didn't mind that Sylvia came across as kind of difficult because I have been given to understand that that's one of the hallmarks of being mentally ill, which—newsflash—she was. However, in addition to being the opposite of a hagiography, I found the writing pretty ham-handed, and the discussions of Plath's writing were cursory at best.

I'm not Team Ted, though. No, not at all. In fact, I saw this poem when I did an image search for Sylvia Plath that cracked me up:

So hey—I finally finished one of the Big Leftover Rory books from 2015! Also a biography that I can count towards my Read Harder Challenge. Hooray!

In other news, I also read Little Dorrit, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Angela's Ashes, Let the Dead Lie, and The Winthrop Woman, for a total of seven books this month.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a nerd

And sometimes I strap on my pocket protector and do things thoroughly.

So about this Rory Gilmore book challenge. When you go over and over something and keep seeing errors, they start to bug you. And there are some dumb errors in the Rory Gilmore list that have gotten on my last nerve. In the list as I found it, Bambi is listed as Walt Disney's Bambi and appears in the W part of the list. Way to alphabetize, dimwits.

And then there are situations where a short story is mentioned. Is it OK to read just "The Lottery," or do I need to read the entire collection of Shirley Jackson's short stories? And what if a book is mentioned because Rory's mocking it? As I've said, I'm a nerd who does things thoroughly, so I'd still read the book in question. But it would be nice to know that Rory Gilmore hated The Da Vinci Code, so I wouldn't feel pressured to like it. I don't want to waste time searching for literary qualities that don't exist. (I hated The Da Vinci Code. I expect you've already figured that out.)

Anyway, I decided to do a Gilmore Girls rewatch, noting what books were mentioned. Because it struck me that perhaps whoever put together the list needed an editor.

It turns out that while many authors are alluded to, and many works of literature are mentioned, but Rory does not spend seven seasons sitting around reading. In fact, I was wondering how she got the reputation for being such a bookworm.

Well, here I am at Season 1, Episode 9, "Rory's Dance," and I'm finally seeing Rory read. First, The Group, while Tristan is annoying her.

And then The Portable Dorothy Parker, which she carries in her evening bag the night of the school dance.