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100 Book Reading Challenge 2012


Yesterday I mentioned averaging about 4-9 books a month will bring me a total of roughly 72 books read a year. At 71 this year, with The Forgotten Garden being #72, I project the 2011 total to be 76. The most I ever read in a year was 84, still a far cry from the ultimate triple-digit threshold. Comes 100 Book Reading Challenge 2012 when I ponder half-heartedly how I might hit this goal.

Challenge Details

Timeline: 01 Jan 2012 – 31 Dec 2012
Rules: Read 100+ books in 2012 (any fiction genre)
Fine points: You don’t have to select your books ahead of time, you can just add them as you go. Also if you do list them upfront you can change them, nothing is set in stone! The books you choose can crossover into other challenges you have on the go. You can join at anytime. All books read in 2012 count towards the challenge regardless of when you sign up. Audiobooks do not count, but all other formats are accepted, this is a reading challenge after all.
Crossover: This challenge can crossover to other challenges.

The Books

I don’t have a set list since I’m acting on my whims. But I have a working list of books that I won’t finish this year and will roll over.
The Sense of An Ending Julian Barnes
The Paris Wife Paula McLain
Watership Down Richard Adams
Freedom Jonathan Franzen
The Distant Hours Kate Morton
The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner
Stranger’s Child Alan Hollinghurst
Angle of Repose Wallace Stegner
Forty Words for Sorrow Giles Blunt
Atlas Shrugged Ayn Rand

20/30 Day Book Meme: Romance Novels

Day 20: Favorite romance book

I have never been a romance reader and will never be one. Strictly speaking, if romance novel in this prompt refers one pulled out of the romance aisle at the bookstore, I don’t have anything to offer. I have attempted to read out of my comfort zone, literary fiction and literature, and venture into sci-fi, mystery and true crime fiction, which all to a different extent afford satisfaction. But not romance. It doesn’t possess any allure. In the capacity of a romance novel that is not strictly “romance,” A Room with a View is the perfect romantic story disguised in literary fiction that explores the changes that were occurring in ways of thinking. E.M. Forster is the master critique and observer of England during the Edwardian period. In this short novel with quick turn of events, he lays down most of his key themes. A Room with a View is a comedy of manner that mocks those who follow neither the heart nor the brain. They yield to the only enemy that matters—the enemy within. Over time they are being censured as their pleasantry and piety show cracks, the wit becomes cynicism, and their unselfishness hypocrisy. Full of puns and metaphors, the book is a stunning study of contrasts in values. Previously, I have picked Lucy Honeychurch as my favorite female character for her self-enlightenment and transformation from a girl who lives according to social conventions and expectations to a woman who acts on her own desire and heart. Until she finds her real self, she cannot see her intentions and her emotions don’t match; her conscious and subconscious are in dispute.

Another romance novel that comes to mind, although on the grim side, is The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham. A newly-wed couple moves to Hong Kong for the husband’s post in the British colony. The wife begins an affair with a businessman whom she met at a dinner party. When the husband finds out, little did she expect that instead of divorcing her, Walter forced her to go with him to Meitanfu, a Chinese city laying in the deadly grip of pestilence, where cholera had claimed the lives of 100 a day. Vengeance? Pay back? Does he ever condone her offense? The tragedy is not the fact that she cheated on him, but the fact that she alone had been blind to his merit and that he loved her more than he ought to. She wished to extricate from her unhappy situation with no intention of causing him pain. It’s the most bittersweet romance novels, but written in literary grace.

Japanese Literature Challenge

I’m a first-timer to the tremendously popular Japanese Literature Challenge, now in it’s fifth incarnation. Hosted by Dolce Bellezza, the challenge requires just one book from June 1, 2011 until January 30, 2012, although I will probably end up reading more.

Although he’s popping up on everyone’s list, I’m giving Murakami a break this time because he’s too “out there” for me.

Confessions of a Mask Yukio Mishima 假面の告白 三島 由紀夫 (1948)
Forbidden Colors Yukio Mishima 禁色 三島 由紀夫 (1953)
Burial in the Clouds Hiroyuki Agawa 雲の墓標 阿川 弘之 (1956)
The Silent Cry Kenzaburo Oe 万延元年のフットボール 大江 健三郎(1967)
Darkness in Summer Takeshi Kaiko 夏の闇 開高 健(1972)

The focus is 20th century literature, with an emphasis on literary fiction.

Chinese Literature Challenge

The Chinese Literature Challenge may very well end my year-long hiatus on participating in reading challenge. A minimum of one book and its review is required to complete this challenge. Books either written by a Chinese author or books about China (including Hong Kong and Macau) or Taiwan. Without effort I come up with this list:

Till Morning Comes Suyin Han
Rickshaw Boy Lao She 《駱駝祥子》 老舍
Collected Short Stories Lu Xun 《故事新編》 魯迅
Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio Pu Songling 《聊齋誌異》 蒲松齡
The Song of Everlasting Sorrow Wang Anyi 《長恨歌》 王安憶
The Rouge of the North Eileen Chang 《怨女》 張愛玲
The Rice Sprout Song Eileen Chang 《秧歌》 張愛玲

I’m leaning toward classics and contemporary literature.

Reading Deliberately 2010

Completion of The Aeneid and Hobbit also put a (beautiful) end note to Reading Deliberately, hosted by Jessica from The Bluestocking Society.

















Jane Austen: Emma Jane Austen
Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens
Ian McEwan: The Comfort of Strangers Ian McEwan
John Steinbeck: East of Eden John Steinbeck
British Mystery: Strong Poison Dorothy L. Sayers
Russian Author: Doctor Zhivago Boris Pasternek
An Old Classic: The Aeneid Virgil
Nonfiction: The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham Selina Hastings
Poetry: 100 Essential American Poems edited by Leslie M. Pockell
Pulitzer Prize Winner: Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides
Published in 2010: The Imperfectionists Tom Rachman
J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien

Thoughts: I’m so grateful for Jessica and for this reading challenge. New authors to whom I’m exposed through this diverse plan include Selina Hastings (who I have found out has also written the biography of Evelyn Waugh), Dorothy L. Sayers, Jeffrey Eugenides, Tom Rachman and J. R. R. Tolkien, whose works have always intimidated me, partly because I never read science fiction. I’m delightfully surprised at how quickly I read through The Hobbit with such fervor during transit. It’s been years since I read McEwan but I realize the works can be very bizarrely overwhelming that he probably won’t go down on my list of favorite authors. Both books I read of his weirded me out. John Steinbeck is the one author whom I read the most in 2010: 4 books. East of Eden makes the Books of the Year list but The Grapes of Wrath is a slight disappointment. Usually I’m not a huge fan of books hot out of the press, but I have read several because of this reading plan. In addition to The Imperfectionists, which I knew would be one of the top reads the instant I opened it, I also read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. Amazing Grace is a disappointment. The story just doesn’t hold together. Overall, it’s been a great, rewarding, and enlightening reading year, made possible by the fact that I have cut down the time on blogging. Although I still read many of the book blogs, I limit commenting on selected days of the week, usually I’m not as busy. 84 books this year, not bad.

Update on Reading Deliberately

I’m keeping my fingers cross while waiting for my new gadget, the Amazon Kindle 3G + Wifi. I was thinking how the new electronic reader will change my reading habit. For sure I won’t read any less than I do now. I’m thinking I can add more non-fiction to my reading list as I usually don’t buy them. I will have to make a list of ebooks so I do not acquire duplicates in print. That boils down to owning hard copies of my favorite novels. Meanwhile I’m still participating in Reading Deliberately, hosted by The Bluestocking Society. Here’s an update:

1. Jane AustenCompleted. Finished Emma and Persuasion.
2. Charles Dickens
Completed. Finished A Tale of Two Cities.
3. Ian McEwanCompleted (and also left me very appalled). Finished The Comfort of Strangers and The Cement Garden.
4. John SteinbeckCompleted. Read East of Eden, which is my #1 favorite book so far this year, Cannery Row, and Of Mice and Men. Bought Grapes of Wrath.
5. J.R.R. Tolkien—this remains the most interminable goal.
6. British Mystery or ComedyCompleted. Adopted Jenny’s advice and read Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers.
7. Russian author-–this one is a regular ritual of mine. I’ll either re-read The Master and Margarita or tackle In the First Circle. The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them looks like fun.
8. Old Classics—Dickens, Faulkner, Joyce, Lawrence, etc.
9. NonfictionCompleted. Finished The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham by Selina Hastings. Follow Tom and CB James’ advice, will read An Alchemy of Mind by Diane Ackerman and City of Quartz by Mike Davis, a history and geography of Los Angeles.
10. PoetryCompleted. Finished reading 100 Essential American Poems edited by Leslie M. Pockell.
11. Pulitzer Winners—One book stands out and catches my attention: March by Geraldine Brooks.
12. Published in 2010Completed. Read One Amazing Thing and recently finished The Little Stranger by my new girlfriend favorite author Sarah waters.

Here is an updated acquisition list based on your reviews and/or contacts:
The Palisades Tom Schabarum
Unaccustomed Earth Jhumpa Lahiri
Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel
Cloud Atlas David Mitchell
Love Toni Morrison
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand Helen Simonson
In the Woods Tana French
The Betrayal Helen Dunmore
Room Emma Donoghue

I also did a quick scour at the library. I noticed that a lot of the new books aren’t available yet. The catalog would say “one/two copy in consideration for XXX branch.” Budget problem?

In Spirit with the Challenges

I’m not joining any reading challenge but I wish to to feel the pulse of all the exciting literary events that kick off all over the book blogging community. What do I do? I select books that are in sync to the themes of reading challenges to keep in spirit with the participants. Becca hosts a new series called Striking Sentences.” I’ll tell you why this is just in time for one of the awesome challenges that Rob alerted me:

And you know why you’re still in love with him? Because you didn’t love him enough when he was alive. [136]
You’re not ready to love me. You’re not ready to love anyone. Or let yourself be loved. Because you’re too in love with success— . . . And you know why you need success? Because you don’t like yourself enough. [161]

These double-wow of quotes are both from Lives of Circus Animals, by Christopher Bram, of whom I have read five books last year. The novel has multiple story lines that revolve around actors in New York, gay and straight, male and female, who are confused and stuck-up between success, love, and sex. A winner of Lambda Literary Award, the book would be a great suggestion for the GLBT Reading Challenge, which requires one book a month for a total of 12. Being a GLBT literature fanatic and a blogger who specializes in this genre, Bram’s book would be my second GLBT novel for this month, after the much acclaimed A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood. The challenge also comprises of weekly mini-challenge question. The kick-off prompt concerns with the importance of GLBT literature. I am very touched by many of your responses, giving me and the GLBT community new hope that we will triumph over the battle of civil union for same-sex couples. Love between any two people, regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation, should never be repressed, denied, or outlawed. After all, what makes human beings human is the capacity to love and to connect with another human being.

JoAnn and several book bloggers will be hosting a Winter Virginia Woolf Challenge for the next two months. The hostesses will take turn to post conversation questions as participants read through four books. Having read Mrs. Dalloway last year, I’m game for perusing either To the Lighthouse or Orlando with the group. Lesley posted a list of books in her book group that will also be represented on my reading list. First and foremost is Beach Music by Pat Conroy, a brand new author to me, and Gilead by Maryanne Robinson, whom I have wanted to read for a long time. Sandy has alerted me that C.B. James is continuing to host the Read the Book/Watch the Movie Challenge that is just in perfect accord to my plan to watch movie adaptation of classic novels. Along with the NYRB Classics series and whatever my whims take me, I hope this year would be another fruitful one in reading.

March Madness: Gone with the Wind

gonewindFor those of you who expressed in interest in reading long epic novels together, I have decided to begin Gone with the Wind on Monday, March 2. For your information, I’m reading the 1st Scribner trade paperback from 2007. Having known practically nothing about the plot of the book, except for a vague sense that it’s a love story written against the anti-war backdrop, and that I have never seen the movie, Gone with the Wind, at 960 pages, will be a first-hand and purely literary experience for me, untainted by motion picture.

In about a week, I will finalize the “syllabus,” or the reading schedule,  for the novel, which will most likely be divided into four weeks worth of reading, about 240 pages a week. On every Friday, I’ll post my thoughts, reflections, and favorite passages in a reading update post. I encourage all of you to comment and share your thoughts on the book. Does that sound like a reasonable plan? Let me know what your thoughts are, suggestions are welcome. Meanwhile I have to get back to the epilogue of Crime and Punishment, which I will teach next in my Russian literature course.

Does anyone know how to create a button? I would like to have one made for this, whadyacallit, “Chunskter Read Along”?

Reading Salon: Booker Shortlist and Little Giant

The Sunday Salon.com

I have finished the review of The White Tiger but I have set my heart to read all five other books short-listed for this year’s Booker Prize to see how it measures up to the contenders.

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger (Atlantic) Winner
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture (Faber and Faber)
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies (John Murray)
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs (Virago)
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency (Fourth Estate)
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton)

I have enjoyed The Glass Palace and In an Antique Land so I will begin with Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppins. At the bookstore I purchased a copy of The Secret Scripture, which will be my last book for the Man Booker Reading Challenge. Meanwhile a stream of ARCs will be feeding my bookish appetite. Right off the bat is a novel that features local San Francisco author publicity. The debut novel will be published on Januray 8, 2009.

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker is your typical Ugly Betty type of story, but with more consequence. When Truly Plaice’s mother was pregnant, the town of Aberdeen joined together in betting how recordbreakingly huge the baby boy would ultimately be. The girl who proved to be Truly paid the price of her enormity. Truly Plaise is born a giant. She is all about bumps and bulges, Her father blames her for her mother’s death in childbirth. The preacher’s wife believes she has got the making of Satan in her. The school teacher calls her a little giant. Her education is stalled before it even starts. While her remarkable size makes her the target of constant humiliation and curiosity, her sister Serena Jane is an epitome of feminine perfection. The book does not read like chick lit although the major characters are girls. Forty pages into this novel set in 1950s New England, I’m already in the thrall of this unique book endowed with a mesmerizing folkloric feel. Tiffany Baker’s writing is very lyrical.

By the way, I finally become a member of Goodreads! I have to search for my friends who are on it. Are you on Goodreads? Let’s take a head count.

[164] The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2008

“I watched him walk behind the bamboo bars. Black stripes and sunlit white fur flashed through the slits in the dark bamboo; it was like watching the slowed-down reels of an old black-and-white film. He was walking in the same line, again and again—from one end of the bamboo bars to the other, then turning around and repeating it over, at exactly the same pace, like a thing under a spell.” [237]

The White Tiger is Balram Halwai’s confession of his murdering the master. It’s a letter (isn’t epistle the trendy literary form) addressed to Wen Jiabao, the Chinese Premier, before his imminent state visit to India. Balram speaks in recollection under this chandelier over seven nights. The incendiary remarks with which he carps on China’s lack of democracy can never be more timely apropos of the Beijing Olympic Games:

“I gather you yellow-skinned men, despite your triumphs in sewage, drinking water, and Olympic gold medals, still don’t have democracy.” [80]

But this viciously sardonic voice does not just gnaw on China, it’s meant to be satirical of India. Balram spells out his pieces of mind, which seem rather random at the beginning and sound like ranting, about his country—poverty, corruption, and marginalization of wealth. Trimmed to the bone The White Tiger is the rueful tale of how he is corrupted from a sweet, innocent, family-loving village fool into an urbanized fellow full of debauchery, depravity and wickedness. All these changes happen in him partly because they have first taken place in his master, Mr. Ashok, who has returned from America “full of stupid ideas.” A servant is like a son to his master—and servitude is perpetual, just like being born into the lower caste is for life. Critics accuse Adiga’s writing about poverty at home being opportunistic, but aren’t books on China’s human rights just as opportunistic?

Revealed from the layers of social nuances and scenes of New Delhi lives are the deeply disturbing truths of a man-eat-man world: You eat or get eaten up. As befit to the beastly allusion of the title, humans are metaphorized as animals that struggle to survive:

“Go to a teashop anywhere along the Ganga, sir, and look at the men working in that teashop—men, I say, but better call them human spiders that go crawling in between and under the tables with rags in their hands, crushed humans in crushed uniforms…” [43]

To deal a heavier blow on the imbecile post-colonial government, Balram equates the most corrupted and depraved politicians, those who would do whatever it takes, even to kill some along the way to reach the top, as wild animals that attack and rip each other apart.

“—the day the British left—the cages had been let open; and the animals ripped each other apart and the zoo became a jungle.” [54]

Small people—the forgotten, the stricken, the unprivileged, the impecunious, and the homeless are caught between power struggles of political struggles. They are trapped in the vicious cycle that usually renders their lives even more miserable. They are like wounded stray dogs:

“A pink patch of skin—an open wound—glistened on its left shank; and the dog had twisted on itself in an attempt to gnaw at the wound. The wound was going crazy from pain—trying to attack the wound with its slavering mouth, it kept moving in mad, precise, pointless circles.” [213]

Through Balram’s eyes, we see India as we have never seen it before: the cockroaches, the prostitutes, and the worshippers of multiple gods, which don’t create morality. Trapped in so many kinds of cages that escape is almost impossible is the white tiger—nickname given to Balram for his merit in school. Soon he realizes money cann’t solve all the problems, but at least he could make the leap from darkness into light, which, paradoxically, is darker than darkness. The White Tiger is a well-written book of our time. Its amoral and irreverent themes are authentically contemporary in a world shaped by massive globalization.

Other Reviews:
Book Crazy
The Mookse and the Gripes
Tuesday in Silhouette