Saturday, November 24, 2012

TBR Pile Challenge 2013

It's time to sign up for the TBR Pile Challenge 2013!!  I really loved this challenge because it really forced me to read some of the books I've been ignoring for so long.  And it's very reasonable -- I pretty much read one off the list every month, and I finally finished it a few weeks ago.  I read 11 books from my original list, plus two alternates, and most of them were pleasant surprises -- with only a couple of exceptions, I was sorry I'd left them unread for so long.

Basically, you just look at your unread books and select 12 that you've owned for at least a year and still haven't read.  Complete details of the challenge can be found here.  It's a great way to read those neglected books, plus there's a drawing at the end -- if you complete the challenge, your name goes in a drawing for a $50 gift card from Amazon or The Book Depository!

Here's my list:

1.  Wild Swans:  Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang.  A book from my list of 50 Nonfiction Books in 5 Years.  Completed 10/28/13.

2. Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Berniers.  Purchased more than 10 years ago for a book group.  I read the beginning and liked it, but for some reason got distracted and never finished it.  I've since moved it to four different houses.  Completed 3/15/13.

3.  The Duchess by Amanda Foreman.  I was supposed to read this for my Jane Austen book group last year, but I just never got to it.  Everyone in the group loved it though, and I'm always trying to read more nonfiction.  Also on my list of 50 Nonfiction Books.  Completed 11/14/13.

4.  Fidelity by Susan Glaspell.  One of the first Persephones I ever purchased, for an online readalong about 2 years ago.  Never opened it, except to admire the beautiful endpapers. Completed 2/10/13.

5.  The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hacek.  Another book purchased for a (different) online reading group.  Completed 8/24/13.

6.  Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence.  This was one of the books I received in the Big Box of Penguin Classics a couple of years ago -- I still have a few more I have to read (Moby Dick is another unread book from the box, but I think I have enough doorstoppers on this list!)  Completed 6/15/13.

7.  Collected Novellas by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Definitely, the book that has been owned-and-unread the longest.  My husband gave me this before we were married, after I read Love in the Time of Cholera.  This year I read the other book I'd owned the longest for the TBR Challenge, and I absolutely loved it, so I'm hoping this one will be as good.

8.  My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok.  A Christmas gift from my friend Amanda couple of years ago.  She's the one who encouraged me to blog, so it's appropriate that I add it to the challenge.  Completed 6/19/13.

9.  Giants in the Earth by A. E. Rolvaag.  Another one I've been carting from house to house unread.  A good friend gave me this when I moved to Nebraska -- it's actually set in the Dakotas, but he also gave me O Pioneers and I think he was looking for something else besides Willa Cather.  Completed 7/9/13.

10.  The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki.  Supposed to be sort of a Japanese version of Pride and Prejudice.  I'm always looking to read more Japanese writers so this is a good choice. Completed 4/25/13

11.  Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson.   Bought the book shortly after I started reading about the TV adaptation on the blogosphere.  The TV series never aired here, but I haven't watched any of the DVDs, and the book is still untouched on the shelves.

12.  Kipps by H. G. Wells.  Bought after an author raved about it at the St. Petersburg Times Festival of Reading, back when I lived in Florida and began my quest to read more classics.  Since then I've read two other books by Wells and was underwhelmed by both; hopefully I'll enjoy his realistic fiction more than the sci-fi, which really isn't my thing.  Completed 12/4/13


Nella Last's War by Nella Last -- a Christmas gift from a couple of years ago.  It's also on my list of 50 Nonfiction Books in 5 Years. Completed 5/27/13.

The New York Stories of Edith Wharton -- I have about thirty unread books of short stories on my TBR shelves.  I have no idea how they pile up like that!  Maybe I need to do an entire short story challenge next year.  Completed 8/02/13.

The list includes one Persephone; six books from my 75 Classics in 5 Years Challenge; one NYRB Classic; one book from my Big Box of Penguins; three books from my 50 Nonfiction Books in 5 Years Challenge; and four books in translation.  Plus, it includes four of the books I've had on the TBR shelves the longest:  I've owned Collected Novellas since (ahem) 1990; Giants of the Earth since 2000, Captain Corelli's Mandolin since 2001; and Kipps since 2005, so it'll be nice to finally get those off the TBR shelf.

Well -- good list or bad?  Which ones should I read first?  And who else is signing up for this challenge?  

    Monday, November 12, 2012

    Two Alternate Reads from the TBR Challenge List

    During the mini-break I took from blogging, I did not stop reading -- frankly, I can't NOT read.  As Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing."

    Anyhow, whilst on my break, I was in need of some light entertainment to break up some of my heavier reads, including two books from my TBR shelf that happened to be alternates from my 2012 TBR Challenge.  It's been a few weeks since I read them, but I'm really anxious to post something so I can officially complete the challenge!!

    First, I read The Provincial Lady in America by E. M. Delafield back in early October, mostly while waiting in an emergency room for treatment for an ear infection.  (It's a very quick read -- lots of white space on every page, HUGE margins. And charming illustrations!)

    If you are not familiar with the Provincial Lady, this is sort of a 1930s version of Bridget Jones' Diary, but if Bridget were older and married, with two children, a husband, and a couple of servants in a small country house.  This is the third book in the series.  The first book is a thinly veiled account of her daily life; in the second, the Provincial Lady has had great success publishing the first book, and is spending more time in London, working on her writing and meeting the literati and all kinds of interesting people.

    In this third volume, the Provincial Lady goes on a whirlwind literary tour of America, crossing the Atlantic in rough weather, meeting all kinds of people -- some pushy, some fawning, but mostly very nice.  It's fun to read her impressions of America, especially when she visits the Midwest, from which I hail.  However, this having been published in 1934, it's somewhat racist, and I found myself cringing when she refers to Negro porters and makes some very un-PC comments.  It wasn't quite as fresh and funny as the first book, but I definitely enjoyed it overall.  There are two more volumes about the PL, in which she visits the Soviets, and then the final volume, during WWII, which do sound interesting.  My library doesn't have a copy of the fourth book, but they do have the last one, which is good because it's out of print and used copies are horribly expensive.

    The final book on my TBR Challenge Pile (well, excepting a book of short stories, on which I've given up) is another alternate read, Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford.  I had three unread Mitfords on the TBR shelf, purchased and received after I read Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love with great delight.  However, it had been several years since I read the first pair of Mitfords, and that made it harder -- I remembered Fanny, the narrator, who's now older, but I'd almost completely forgotten all the rest of the characters.  Also, quite a bit of time has passed -- Fanny's now middle aged, (though naturally she hasn't changed a bit and can still fit into the same dress size); and two of her three sons are all grown up now.  The third is at prep school with her adopted son, child of her late cousin, the scandalous Linda Radlett.

    Set in the late 1950s, Fanny's been leading a quiet life as the wife of an Oxford don when her life is turned upside down by the news that her husband Alfred has been appointed the Ambassador to France!!   Suddenly, she finds her self embroiled in diplomatic tangles, a clash of cultures with the French, government upheavals, a twittering social secretary, and relatives that are driving her up a wall. Hilarity ensues -- it's sort of like a low-key late 1950s screwball comedy, set in an Embassy.  Fanny is the voice of reason throughout, it's all the surrounding people that are constantly causing trouble.

    I did like it, though I had a hard time relating to what was going on -- I suppose it would help if I knew more about late 1950s French politics;  apparently, there were constant changes in government and votes of no-confidence and that sort of thing.  Also, since it had been a few years since I'd read the first two books, I had a hard time remembering who all the other characters were.  One side character, Grace Allingham, is actually the subject of a different Mitford book, The Blessing, and when I chose Don't Tell Alfred I didn't realize there was another book in between -- I wondered if I'd skipped a book.  Also, it ended really abruptly, and felt almost unfinished, like Mitford had run out of things to say.

    Anyway, this was a funny, light read, though I didn't enjoy it as much as the first two.  I will have to go back and read The Blessing, and another Mitford novel, Wigs on the Green, which is on the TBR shelf.  I also have a biography of the Mitfords, The Sisters by Mary S. Lovell; plus I picked up Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford on a bookstore sale table last year.  The Mitfords were such an interesting family and I want to learn more about them.

    So that's it!!  I've finished my TBR Challenge for 2012.  Time to make my list for 2013!  Is anyone else still participating in this challenge?  How is your progress?

    Friday, November 9, 2012

    Saplings by Noel Streatfeild

    Well -- I'm winding my way down through the TBR Challenge.  Finally, I have completed Saplings by Noel Streatfeild, a Persephone Classic, and one that's been on my shelves for a couple of years.  Normally, I love Persephones, and I don't know why I took so long to pick this one up.  I did try it a couple of months ago and it didn't grab me right away.  I finally gave it another shot and I'm so glad I did, because it was really good.

    Here's the setup:  on the eve of WWII, the Wiltshires are an upper-middle or upperclass family, and from the outside, they seem perfect.  Alex Wiltshire is working for the family business, engineering something for the war effort; his beautiful wife Lena is gorgeous and devoted to him; and they have four beautiful children, two boys and two girls, ages ranging from about 12 to five years old.  The war hasn't started, but there are rumblings afoot, and the family is taking a seaside holiday with the children's governess and nanny.

    At first, all seems idyllic, but Streatfeild quickly cuts to the heart of what makes this family tick:  Alex is a devoted husband and father, but his wife is more interested in her husband than her children.  The author makes insightful and fascinating psychological observations about the family dynamic and the personalities of each of the children, more so than I've ever read in any book about a family before.  Streatfeild has the amazing ability to get into the essence of these people, especially the children, and examine their personalities and foibles.

    Of course, with the onset of the war, this "perfect" family begins to fall apart.  The children are separated from their parents, sent off to the country to stay with their grandparents; the eldest go off to boarding school.  Later, a tragedy strikes that upsets the whole balance of the family, and things start to unravel.  The characters aren't necessarily likable, but they're so realistic, I couldn't wait to find out what happened to them.

    Apparently, Streatfeild was one of the first authors to really examine the psychological impact of the trauma of the war on children.  Of course I knew that millions of children were evacuated and separated from their families because of the war, and I'd heard that psychologically, it was probably more damaging for the children to be separated from their families than for them to be together.  I can't imagine having to make a choice like that!

    Another of my favorite Persephone books, Doreen, also deals with the story of an evacuated child, but in that situation, both the child's mother and the country family who host her love her and want to keep her.  It's interesting to compare the two.  I reviewed that book as well, and if you're interested, you can read my thoughts here.

    This is my 42nd Persephone -- I haven't read that many lately and I've been hoping to read more, especially since they recently published their 100th book!  So congratulations to Persephone, I look forward to completing the other 58 on my list.

    Has anyone else read Saplings?  Any other books by Noel Streatfeild?  Or any other Persephones that you love?