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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

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.

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.

[140] Out Stealing Horses – Per Petterson

“…and I wished I were like them, that I had a friend like Franz I could swing my axe with and make plans and use my strength with and laugh and cut logs with by a river like this one, which was always the same and yet was new, as now, but the only possible friend had disappeared and no-one talked about him anymore. Of course I had my father, but it was not the same. He was a grown man with a secret life behind the one that I knew about, and maybe even behind that, and I no longer knew if I could trust him.” (192)

Reading this novel is like looking at a piece of famous, significant art work but not making head to tail of what it means. Out Stealing Horses, with its lolling and dreamy prose, takes a little more patience in order to get into the story and appreciate the depth of its moral message. The narrative constantly shifts between 1948, when fifteen-year-old Trond Sander spent a summer in the country with his father, and 50 years later, right before the millennium, as the old Trond withdraws into hermitage.

In summer 1948, Trond and his father came to a Norwegian town near the Swedish border and settled in a cabin. Trond was to help out with felling trees and gathering lumber to be shipped away via the river. An early morning adventure out stealing horses left him confused when his friend Jon, who suffered a sudden breakdown, left his loaded gun unattended in the house with his twin brothers, Lars and Odd. Behind this scene lies a tragedy, an inevitable one that dissolved both families. Jon fled and led a life on the sea before he came home and took the farm from his brother Lars under primogeniture. Lars had not seen his parents for 20 years.

In the course of one month three years ago, both Trond’s wife and sister died, and the 67-year-old man lost interest in talking to people. While living in an isolated part of Norway, where the dirt path leading to his house became a vast expanse of snow in winter, he chances to meet a character from the fateful summer that ties him to a past he thinks was well behind him and pulled aside the fifty years with a lightness. As this encounter stirs up painful memories and forces him to look back at his past, Trond recalls his final farewell to his father and uncovers a secret life behind one that he knew about his father.

In a stream of consciousness that sops the hints and little detail scattered in early chapters, Trond tells a story so candid and concretely that reader has to live it out. His hope to cure his loneliness by a plunge into solitude is no more than an inner longing to be alone, to be like his father. There’s a kind of secular jauntiness to his inquiring into his present state of affairs. But most of all he would like to know why his father, whom he adored and who seemed to have adored him, disappeared from his life. The disruption of war, which almost made him an orphan, certainly had to do with the secret life for which he had to break the tie with his family. Even in the deep woods of Norway, decades after that memorable summer, Trond finds he can never shake his past completely away. The betrayal he faces at the hands of his father casts a quiet but looming presence over Trond’s life.

Green Apple & Reading Challenge Update

The decongestant has knocked me out the past couple days. Fits of coughing hurts my rib cage. I’ve been coughing hacking out my lungs. The good news is, coughing has mitigated this morning–I can slowly and gingerly swing my feet, one at a time, to the side of the bed, and get up without hurting my rib. I met my friends at Cafe Flore for some light breakfast and headed out to Green Apples to look for some books. I found Rough Music by UK author Patrick Gale, whom I found has no distributor in the United States. That’s a stroke of luck. Green Apple also has an used copy of Music Room in excellent condition by Dennis McFarland, whose latest Letter From Point Clear I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m also compiling a list of books for the upcoming 24 Hour Read-a-Thon, hosted by Dewey at The Hidden Side of A Leaf. That I’ll be away from home that weekend means I’ll have to bring a stack of books that are for sure page-turning. I’m asking for ideas from all of you. I’m digging more Dennis McFarland, Joanne Harris, Shirley Abbott, along with at least one book by Jane Austen, a biography, a Man Booker Challenge book, and a Russian Challenge book.

Challenge Progress
Russian Reading Challenge: 4/4
This challenge continues until the end of the year. I have completed the challenge but will continue reading more Russian novels, including another reading of The Master and Margarita, which I’ll discuss with my class next month. Sharon is very lenient in the number of books required because many Russian novels are lengthy and requires much withdrawal to digest.

Man Booker Reading Challenge: 3/6
This challenge also runs all of 2008. I read all three books: A Month in the Country, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, and The Gathering in March and April when I was in Hong Kong. Three more to go.

I have to work on the Chunkster Challenge and am contemplating the Southern Reading Challenge.

Friday (the 13th) Mishmash and Reading List(?)

Many of you have posted your summer reading list, which I have yet thought of. From university down to kindergarten a summer reading list is handed down to pupils like Moses was given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Other than what reading challenges abide me, namely, the Russian Reading Challenge, the Man Booker Challenge, and the Chunkster Challenge, I do not have a list. I’m very spontaneous in my reading, adopting a que sera sera attitude. The entire month of May has seen reading of books that are not of my own choosing. They are books recommended by friends, bloggers and cafe regulars. The two current books are both recommendations: Out Stealing Horses by Norwegian author Per Petterson. It starts off verly slow and in fact a bit dull–as befit in the aloofness of the isolated Norwegian geography. The 67-years-old Trond chances upon a character from the fateful events in the summer of 1948 who stirs up painful memories and ties him to the past that he thinks is well behind him. It’s a gripping story about youthful innocence and difficult acceptance of betrayal. Equally as grim is Traitor to the Race by Darieck Scott. A mix of realism and magical reality, it explores homophobia and self-hatred in the black community through the story of a biracial gay couple’s reaction to a brutal murder. Stunning and intriguing. After Letter From Point Clear, I have fallen in love with Dennis McFarland’s writing and I have bought two more books by him, School For The Blind and Music Room. I’m still frantically searching for Rebecca West’s Birds Fall Down and luck hasn’t been on my side!

[133] The Gathering – Anne Enright

Man Booker Reading Challenge #3

“I am saying that, the year you sent us away, your dead son was interfered with, when you were not there to comfort or protect him, and that interference was enough to send him on a path that ends in the box downstairs. That is what I am saying, if you want to know.” (213)

The Hegartys is a big family, too big, and is not without its misfortune. There has been twelve children and seven miscarriages. They gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam, who drowned in the sea. The death has been a suicide, one that the victim has carefully planned so his body could be easily located by the bright color of his jacket. While most of the siblings and the somewhat forgetful mother would mourn in deference to a grief that is biological and oligatory, Veronica, to whom Liam is very close, tries to seek the truth of what might have sent her brother on the road to no return. A secret that she shares with Liam, something that happened in their grandmother’s house in the winter of 1968, something that was beyond a child’s innocence, could plant the seed of Liam’s destruction, because their parents were not there to comfort and protect him.

Veronica, who was 8, eleven months younger than Liam, could only recall the vague scenes from that summer and the ambiguous relationship between their grandmother and two men. Veronica does not know why Ada married Charlie (their grandfather), when it was Nugent who had her measure. Nor does she perceive much of their undertakings. Her memories and comprehension might fail and she has to create a story for what she might have seen. The impossibility of her understanding of their affairs contributes to a kind of unreality that doesn’t truly account for the actual events and most importantly, what exactly happened to Liam. Maybe it was fear, or anger, or both, that for years she has downtuned and avoided altogether the shocking event that she saw in that living room. She is not sure if it really happened or it was just a dream–for sure she didn’t want it to have happened, even though she felt it roaring menacingly inside her. That she had no words to describe it does not mean it didn’t take place. Was it crime of the flesh?

The secret only binds her even closer to Liam but alienates her from the family.

The writing is unsparing. It doesn’t aim to supply consolation but to deliver an unflinching look at a grieving family in which secrets and betrayal reign over generations. Memory warp and the slow revelation of events, along with jump-cut chronology, render the reading a bit difficult and disjointed at some parts of the book. The element of death is powerfully employed to emphasize the meaning of life, for most people would contrmplate the meaning oof life in the face of death. For whatever secret and wound that might have wreaked havoc in the family, in the face of adversity one must have felt compelled to live and to appreciate life. After all, in all the darkness that Enright has portrayed, the book still glitters and reminds us of hope.


Reading Anne Enright’s The Gathering

Seems like I’ve been on the roll for the Man Booker Challenge. Picked up and started reading Anne Enright’s The Gathering, a novel about nine siblings gathering in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother who drowned in the sea. The highly poetic writing is a bit of an effort to read but it’s very evocative. It’s almost like watching  a craftsman who carves out, bit by bit, a large slab of wood but not knowing what his agenda is. Enright is a literary craftsman. As she traces the line of betrayal and redemption through generations, the writing shows how memories warp and secrets fester. Enright writes with such a huge heart:

“There are so few people given us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given us to love and they all stick.” (15)

So true and hit-home. A bit cruel in fact. I haven’t even run out of fingers on one hand!

[132] A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian – Marina Lewycka

Booker Reading Challenge #2 / Russian Reading Challenge #4

” ‘No car! No jewel! No clothes! (She pronounces it in two syllables–cloth-es) No cosmetic! No undercloth-es!’ She yanks up her t-shirt top to display those ferocious breasts bursting like twin warheads out of an underwired, ribbon-strapped, lycra-panelled, lace-trimmed green satin rocket-launcher of a bra.” (99)

Two years after his wife passed away, Nikolai Mayevskyj, who has always harbored fantasies of rescuing destitute Ukraianians, fell in love with a glamorous blonde. Nikolai was 84 and Valentina was 36. It surely doesn’t take long for anyone to realize that their rush marriage was out of convenience. The old man was also aspired to foster her son who claimed to have an IQ of a genius. On top of the 1800 pounds that she inveigled him for plastic surgery, of which he was very evasive, Valentina pulled her wits’ end to eke out as much money as she could from the gulliable old man who, despite his unquenchable lust, did truly take sympathy of her.

In light of the Ukrainian women’s exploding into the house like a fluffy pink grenade, the feuding sisters, Vera and Nadia, put aside their quarrels to disentangle their emigre father from this gold-digging divorcee (she recently divorced her husband and came to England with her son on a travel visa). Together the sisters collected evidence and petitioned to court for an injunction that would kick her out of the house, and reported to Home Office the absence of a genuine marriage. Foreseeing that she would lose the appeal on a rejected visa renewal, and perhaps hearing the distant tinkle bell of money in a divorce settlement, the cunning Valentina changed tack. She eavesdropped his conversation and photocopied legal correspondence between Nickolai and his solicitor. Her goal was to avoid at all costs giving him grounds for divorce in order to buy time to prove somehow he is ill or of an unsound mind. Then she would be able to collect settlement benefits.

In this enthralling novel, or even better, social commentary, family life has never been more dysfunctional and funnier than a modern comedy of manners. Behind the laughter and ridicule of the racy pursuit of marriage benefits–the Rolls Royce, the Lada, halving the house–lays a deeper issue about the nature of human spirit. Is human spirit always selfish and mean? Is the only impulse to preserve itself? Does human spirit have no room for pure sentimentality? Even if human spirit is noble and generous, like that of Nikolai, would it be strong enough to withstand all the meanness and selfishness in the world? The battle with immigration bureaus also rings the truth about how globalization might have delivered the deception that everyone in the West is rich and wealthy. Valentina is greedy, outrageous and predatory–whom no one would have a tinge of sympathy, but consider if we are in her shoe, wouldn’t we also jump into the first opportunity for prosperity?

Interleaved in the novel is a history of tractors in Ukranian written by the old man, who was a former engineer. It’s about the battle of wills of all the participants shaped by their own pasts through Eastern European history. Digging out the pasts and the different historical and political period in which the two sisters were raised, the novel contrasts the different outlook in the sisters’ appraoch to thwarting the gold-digger’s ambitions.

Stone Hitting Two Birds


This is going to be a short post, as it’s just hours away from my flight to Hong Kong. I have sneaked out to the bookstore for some last-minute shopping and reading ideas, in case the bookshop at the airport doesn’t stock what I want. (Usually it’s the case.) I’ve been trying to look for books to take with me that will cross the Man Booker Challenge and the Novella Challenge. I have found A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr, a slim novel about a divorced man who arrives in a small village and uncovers a 400-years-old medieval mural in the church. It reminds me of Thomas Hardy’s Under the Greenwood Tree, which is also rooted in English village life and has plots that revolve around the village church. I will also read The Gathering, winner of the 2007 Booker Prize, by Anne Enright. It’s a literary fiction about nine surviving siblings gathering in Dublin for the wake of their brother, Liam, who drowned in the sea. The writing intrigues me as I flip through the book—it’s an act of remembrance through words and family history, as the narrator, Veronica, one of the nine, prepares to break the news of Liam’s death to her mother. Also stuffed in my bag is Lisa See’s Peony in Love, a story that set in Ming Dynasty as befit to my trip to Beijing. I’ll be blogging abroad but it might take me a bit longer to reply to the comments. Keep reading, and I’ll check in from time to time to update you my reading, and, of course, posting some pictures!