Tuesday, December 31, 2013

TBR Pile Challenge 2013: Completed!

I did it!  For the second year, I achieved my goal and finished twelve of the books that I really, really wanted to knock off my TBR Pile -- I've owned some of them for a really long time.  Here's a link to my original post, and these are the books I completed, in order, with links to the reviews:

1.  Fidelity by Susan Glaspell. Another great Peresephone, though this one's set in America.  It's the story of a scandalous woman who returns back to her small town, years after running away with a married man.

2.  Captain Corelli's Mandolin  by Louis de Berniers.  Great wartime romance set on a Greek Island.  I liked it though the ending disappointed me.

3. The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki.  Another wartime story, though from the Japanese perspective, though it mostly dealt with domestic life in 1930s and 1940s.  A great story, one of my favorites of the year.

4.  Nella Last's War by Nella Last.  A wartime diary of an ordinary housewife in England -- wow, that's the third WWII book in a row!

5.  Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence.  A pleasant surprise -- I was really dreading this one but I found I really enjoyed it and sympathized with the main character.

6.  My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok.  A great coming-of-age book about a painter torn between his need to express himself through his art and his Orthodox Jewish family.  Another treasure.

7.  Giants in the Earth by A. E. Rolvaag.  A pioneer story about Norwegian immigrants in South Dakota -- like Little House on the Prairie, but from the parents' point of view.

8.  The New York Stories of Edith Wharton.  A wonderful collection, all set in New York City or about New Yorkers.  Mostly great stories, with a couple of clunkers.

9.   The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hacek.  The book I'm most proud of completing.  It's more than 700 pages about an idiot soldier in WWI and all of his exploits.

10.  Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang.  A great book, one of my favorite reads of the year.  I learned so much about China and it was so insightful about the rise of Communism -- and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution.

11.  The Duchess [Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire] by Amanda Foreman.  More great nonfiction!  A little too much detail about 18th century English politics for my taste, but a fascinating story about a tragic woman.  

12.  Kipps by H. G. Wells.  Another treasure I'm sorry to have kept on the shelf for so long.  It's a charming social satire about the rise and fall of a bourgeois young man in Edwardian England.  A great read.

I was lucky this year -- of the twelve that I completed, I really enjoyed most of them. Some of them really surprised me, like Kipps and Lady Chatterley -- I liked them much more than I expected.  Overall, I'd say my favorites were Wild Swans, My Name is Asher Lev, and The Makioka Sisters.  I'd highly recommend all of them -- I'm just sorry I waited so long to read them!

And now the books I still haven't finished. . . .

Collected Novellas by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I started reading them out of order, since I'd selected one of them, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, as the October read for my book group.  That one was a reread for me and I still loved it, but I just couldn't get through the second novella, Leaf Storm.  It was so depressing and dreary and I have no desire to ever finish it.  It's turned me off Garcia Marquez at the moment, I don't know if I'll ever finish the third novella, No One Writes to the Colonel.

And finally. . . . Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson.  It's long, and it looks like it's going to be a really, really slow read.  Maybe I'll just save it for next year and count it towards some other challenge!

How about you, bloggers?  Did anyone else sign up for the TBR Pile Challenge last year?  Did you finish?  And have you signed up for next year?  I love this challenge and I've already signed up.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Back to the Classics Challenge Completed!

I've completed Sarah's Back to the Classics 2013 challenge!!  It took me almost the entire year, but I've done it, and it was great fun.  Here's what I read:

1.  19th century classic  -- The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow by Margaret Oliphant  2/27/13
2.  20th century classic -- The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki  4/25/13
3.  Classic from the 18th century, or earlier -- Moll Flanders by Daniel DeFoe  10/31/13
4.  Classic related to the African-American experience -- Go Tell it On the Mountain by James Baldwin  2/6/13
5.  Adventure classic -- The 39 Steps by John Buchan  6/13/13
6.  Classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title -- My Dog Tulip by J. R. Ackerley  6/7/13

The five optional categories:

1.  Reread of a classic work -- Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton 1/4/13
2.  Russian classic -- Epic fail!!  I knew this was going to be the hardest one, and I just didn't get to it.  I actually did attempt to read Crime & Punishment a couple of weeks ago -- not an ideal holiday read, by a long shot (especially after just finishing The Earth by Emile Zola.)  Oh well.  
3.  Non-fiction classic -- All The Dogs of My Life by Elizabeth von Arnim  11/8/13
4.  Children's or young adult classic -- The Children Who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham  5/28/13
5.  Classic short stories -- three or more stories by the same author, or by connected by the same genre or time period -- The New York Stories of Edith Wharton  8/2/13

This was a really fun challenge.  Of the eleven books, seven were from my own shelves.  It pushed me to try books I wouldn't have read, or not for a long time.  My favorite read would have to be a tie between the children's classic, The Children Who Lived in a Barn, and The Makioka Sisters.  Of course I love Wharton and Ethan Frome is one of my all-time favorites.  I think I've read it three or four times now and I still love it.

Least favorite -- My Dog Tulip.  Blech.  I was expecting a loving memoir about a man and his dog; instead, I got Too Much Information about the sex lives of German Shepherds -- a huge disappointment.  (At least it was short, and it was one more book from my own shelves I could cross off my to-read list). The other pet memoir, All the Dogs of My Life, was far superior.

Thank you again, Sarah, for creating this challenge!  And next year, I'm adopting this challenge (at least temporarily) and hosting it myself!  Details can be found here, so if you're interested, please sign up!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Back to the Classics Challenge 2014: My List

So, this year, I'm taking over for Sarah, and I'm hosting the Back to the Classics 2014 Challenge!!  (Click here for details, and to sign up.)  Of course I had to sign up for my own challenge!!  Of course I won't enter myself into the drawing -- my reward will be finishing ten classics, hopefully all from my own TBR shelves, and watching a movie! I'm trying not to repeat books from other challenges, so I can make more progress.  This list isn't strictly fixed, but here's what I want to read this year:

19th Century Classic:  Something by Anthony Trollope (I have twenty of his books unread on my shelves!).  There's an online Trollope reading group and they have some upcoming group reads, so I'll try to participate in one of them.  Maybe He Knew He Was Right.

20th Century Classic:  Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.  Or maybe some P. G. Wodehouse, I have several unread on my shelves.

Classic in Translation:  Zola!  I still have three of his books unread:  Nana, The Dream, and The Debacle.  It will probably be one of those.  Or maybe Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata -- a Japanese classic that I've owned for several years.

Classic By Woman Author:   Lots of these on the TBR shelves!  I'll probably choose something by Edith Wharton -- either Twilight Sleep or The Glimpses of the Moon.  Or maybe Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell.

Classic by an Author Who's New To Me:   The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West.  I've never read anything by her, and I bought this when I was in Downton Abbey withdrawal.

Wartime Novel: The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West.  Or maybe The Debacle by Emile Zola.

Optional Categories:

Classic American Novel:   I haven't read any Steinbeck in a long time, so maybe The Short Reign of Pippin IV (from the TBR shelves) or The Moon is Down, unless I use that one for my wartime novel.

Historical Novel: Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather.  Or maybe I'll be brave and read The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo.

Classic Mystery/Suspense Novel:  No Name or Armadale by Wilkie Collins.  Or maybe The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens -- it's one of the last books on my Dickens list.

Classic Book That's Been Adapted as a Movie or TV Series:  The Four Feathers by A. E. W. Mason, or if I want more Trollope, He Knew He Was Right;  And there's always I, Claudius, which is supposed to be one of the best series from PBS of all time.

So that's my list!  How do you like my choices?  I'm really excited about this challenge!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Announcing the Back to the Classics Challenge 2014 Sign Up

Okay, you've convinced me -- I had a lot of encouraging responses when I suggested that I might take over Sarah's Back to the Classics Challenge next year -- how could I refuse?  It's official!!!  Here's the post where you sign up.

The challenge will be very similar to the way Sarah created it.  Like last year, there will be six required categories that all participants must complete.  Everyone who reads and reviews six eligible books and writes a wrap-up post will automatically be entered into the drawing for an Amazon gift card for $30 (U.S) or a choice of book(s) from The Book Depository.

There will also be five optional categories for additional entries.  Participants who complete three of those (with corresponding posts) will also get an additional entry into the prize drawing;  those completing posts in all five categories will get another entry, for a total of three.  To receive the maximum of three entries, you would need to post eleven times.  

I am making one slight change, other than varying the book categories.  I'm a little stricter than Sarah regarding the definition of a classic.  In my opinion, a classic is a book that has endured for some reason ; therefore, I am defining a classic as a book that was written at least 50 years ago.  Therefore, any book written after 1964 is ineligible. [I've amended this from published to written so that posthumously published books are now acceptable. ]

Here are the rest of the guidelines:

  • All books must be read in 2014.  Books started prior to January 1, 2014 are not eligible.  Reviews must be linked by December 31, 2014.
  • E-books and audiobooks are eligible!  Books can count for other challenges you may be working on.  However, books may NOT crossover categories within this challenge.  You may NOT count the same book twice for different categories in this challenge.  
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link your review from Goodreads or other publicly accessible online format.  
  • Please sign up for the challenge using the linky below BEFORE MARCH 1, 2014.  Please link to your sign-up announcement post (if possible/applicable).
  • You do not have to list your books prior to starting the challenge, but it is more fun that way :).  You can always change your list at any time.  You can read the books in any order (including mixing in the optional categories at any time).
  • You can decide to attempt the optional categories at any point (you can also bow out of the optional categories at any point as well).
  • Please identify the categories you've read in your wrap-up post so that I can easily add up your entries for the prize drawing! Adding links within the post would also be greatly appreciated. 
And finally. . . . The 2014 categories: 


  1. A 20th Century Classic
  2. A 19th Century Classic
  3. A Classic by a Woman Author
  4. A Classic in Translation  If English is not your primary language, then books originally published in English are acceptable.  You could also read the book in its original language if you are willing and able to do so.
  5. A Classic About War  2014 will be the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I.  Any book relating to a war is fine -- WWI, WWII, the French Revolution, the War of the Worlds -- your choice.
  6. A Classic by an Author Who Is New To You This can be any author whose works you have not read before.  It doesn't necessarily have to be an author you've never heard of.  
Optional Categories:
  1. An American Classic
  2. A Classic Mystery, Suspense or Thriller 
  3. A Historical Fiction Classic.  This is any classic set at least 50 years before the time when it was written.  For example, Margaret Mitchell published Gone with the Wind 70 years after the end of the Civil War; therefore, it is considered a historical novel.  A Tale of Two Cities and The Scarlet Letter are also historical novels.  However, older classics set during the period in which they were written are not considered historical; for example, the novels of Jane Austen.
  4. A Classic That's Been Adapted Into a Movie or TV Series.  Any period, any genre!  This is practically a free choice category.  However, it's a separate category than the required categories.
  5. Extra Fun Category:  Write a Review of the Movie or TV Series adapted from Optional Category #4.  This should be some kind of posting reviewing the book read for the previous optional category above.  It can be any adaptation -- does not have to be adapted before 1964.  For example, if you chose Pride and Prejudice as your the optional classic above, you could review any adaptation -- 1940, 1980, 1995, 2005, etc. These two optional categories go together, but this must be a separate blog posting -- no fair just mentioning it in the book review!
And to clarify, you have to read different books for each category -- you can repeat authors or genres, but no fair using the same book multiple times within this challenge! The only book that you can repeat is in the movie/TV adaptation review.  

So that's the challenge!  I'll be posting my list of possible choices later this week. If you're interested in participating, please sign up in the linky below!

UPDATED: Sign-ups for this challenge are now officially closed.  But please check back -- maybe I'll be hosting it again in 2015!!  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Back to the Classics Challenge 2014???

This past year, one of my favorite challenges has been the Back to the Classic Challenge hosted by Sarah at Sarah Reads Too Much.  This was a great challenge -- basically, participants read and blogged about six required categories and five optional categories.  After completion, they wrote a wrap-up post.  Participants who completed the required categories and wrap-up post got one entry into a drawing for a $30 gift card; people who complete additional categories get additional drawing entries.  Simple, right? (For more details, click here). 

Well, 2013 was Sarah's third year in a row of hosting the challenge, and sadly, she announced recently that she just had too much going on to host it for the fourth year.  However, she did offer to let anyone take over the hosting duties, at least temporarily.  So it got me thinking. . . what if I took over hosting for 2014?  Am I completely crazy?  I've been emailing back and forth with Sarah, and I think the hardest part will be setting up the sign-ups -- I've had several giveaways, but I've never hosted a challenge before.  I think the hardest thing would be incorporating the Mr. Linky widget.  (I've already had fun creating my own button, above).  

Bloggers, what do you think?  Am I a mad fool to consider this?  How hard can it be?  And most of all, is anyone interested in signing up if I take the plunge and do this?  Please let me know in the comments!!  And if you have any ideas for categories, list those as well.  I have some ideas and if I do this, I'll post by the end of the week. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Kipps by H. G. Wells

Last year, when I was making up my TBR Pile Challenge selections, I picked several books that I had been dreading for one reason or another -- Lady Chatterley's Lover; The Good Soldier Svejk; Giants in the Earth; and, finally, Kipps by H. G. Wells.  As it turned out, the first three were much better than I expected, but Kipps kept getting pushed back to the bottom of the stack. 

Back in 2005, I began my quest to read more classics -- I realized how few I'd read.  Anyway, around that time I went to the St. Petersburg Festival of reading and got a bunch of books signed.  I mentioned to one author that I was trying to read more classics and she recommended Kipps, which I'd never heard of.  Oddly enough, though, I'd actually read another book by Wells back in college, Tono-Bungay, which hardly anyone else has read.  I did remember that I disliked Tono-Bungay; in fact, I really disliked the entire class, which was a modern British history class that everyone was dying to get into for some reason.  [Did I go to entire college of Anglophiles?  The professor was awful].  

Anyhow, I somehow ended up buying Kipps and then ignored it for about eight years.  Well, this was the year -- I was down to my last three unread books from the TBR Pile Challenge, and I packed Kipps into my carryon luggage for Thanksgiving vacation.  I thought if I finished all my other books, I would be forced to read this.  And it worked!!  Kipps turned out to be a hidden treasure, my favorite book by H. G. Wells so far.

Published in 1905, Kipps is a social satire, the story of the rise and fall of a young man, Arthur Kipps.  The story begins in the 1870s, when Arthur is a young boy and he is sent off to live with his aunt and uncle, who run a small draper's shop in a town called New Romney.  He doesn't know anything about his father, and has only vague memories of his mother.  When he's fourteen, he leaves school and is sent off to Folkestone to apprentice at a larger draper's shop.  After four years, a chance encounter one night leads to a series of events; the upshot is that Kipps finds out that someone is looking for him, because he's about to inherit a nice sum of money.  Kipps is an heir; the father he never knew died years ago in Australia, and his paternal grandfather was a gentleman and has left him twelve hundred a year. 

Overnight, Arthur's life changes.  He goes from being a common shop assistant to a well-to-do man, and he has a hard time adjusting to his new situation -- is he a commoner now, or a gentleman?  What about his old friends?  His aunt and uncle?  Arthur quickly finds a social-climbing fiancee and a new circle of friends, but doesn't quite know how to mix in Society.  I kept wondering if these new friends were real or whether they were just trying to bilk him out of his newfound fortune -- it reminded me of all these horror stories I hear about when people win the lottery and how it actually ruins their lives.  

There was one part in particular that really embodied Arthur's experience: he's in London, famished and trying to find a restaurant to have lunch.  He's too shy and embarrassed to go to an upscale restaurant -- to afraid to make a faux pas.  He decides to turn down a side street and go into the first working-class restaurant he sees.  He finds a fish and chip restaurant and is about to go in but realizes that now he's too well dressed, and won't fit in there either!  It's really sad.  

Naturally, Arthur's life isn't a fairy story, and as you'd expect, things take a bad turn.  But Kipps isn't so much about Arthur's financial situation as it is a social commentary, about class-consciousness, which is apparently far more rigid in England that it is in the U.S. -- I always read in books and see bits on British TV about people knowing their place.  (Don't get me wrong, we still have class-consciousness in America, but I think people just pretend it doesn't exist.  It does.  Plus racism is alive and well, but we don't need to go into that).  

Towards the end, I was eager to find out how Kipps' story would resolve.  I'm happy to report that it came as quite a surprise, but in a very satisfying way.  Arthur Kipps is a delightful character and I loved his story.  Another success from the TBR Pile Challenge!