TBR Challenge 2017 Update #3

Today in the continuing saga of reading my way through my Goodreads To-Be-Read list:

She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor.  I’ve read lots of books about English history in my non-fiction group (see our list here), so I’m familiar with the women covered in this book (Matilda, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, and Margaret of Anjou).  But it was great to see their lives and stories explored in a more fleshed-out way, particularly in the specific context of female leadership in England.

The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland.  I like historical fiction that has a good sense of time and place, but doesn’t get bogged down in detail–there’s a sense of reality that comes from the period detail being in the background, the everyday.  Maitland pulls that off well here, I think.  I also liked the novel as a suspense story, one that played on the tensions between the village, the ancient Owl Men, and the Benguinage.  It’s enthralling and atmospheric with a rich cast of characters.  And now I want to learn more about Beguinages!

The Small Hand: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill.  I’m now officially doing a Susan Hill feature for Horror Month, so check back then!

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne.  I own this.  I have owned this for years.  I tried once again to get into it and once again I’ve failed.  At least I’ve now watched the movie “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story.”  Which is kind of like saying, “I haven’t read the book but I’ve seen the Wishbone episode.”

Medieval Women by Eileen Power.  I think this was on my list because of the many books I’ve read for my nonfiction book group about the Middle Ages.  Not sure where I heard about it, but glad I picked it up!  It’s a collection of lectures Power gave about different aspects of women’s lives in the Middle Ages, including women’s roles and functions, and the gulf between the ideal and the lives of actual women.  Gives a lot of cultural and intellectual context to lots of books I’ve read, both fiction and nonfiction.

Full disclosure: I am technically still in the act of reading She-Wolves and The Small Hand, but I’m going to finish both so they count.

To see previous updates on this challenge, click here and here.  Or just click the TBR Challenge 2017 tag at the bottom of the post.

Next up is another classic I have read the first three pages of at least four times (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and an 800-pager called The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy.  But it’s “a brilliant, multifaceted chronicle of economic and social change” according to The New York Times.  So maybe it will go quickly?

To-Read List Currently Stands At: 823.

–Marie

 

TBR Challenge 2017 Update #2

Man, why do I even bother with challenges when I can’t seem to keep from constantly cheating and finding loopholes to make them easier?!

This week’s cheat: if I can’t find a book readily through the interlibrary loan system, and it’s been on my to-read list for years, I’m not going to bother.  If I was that interested in a title I’d have bought, borrowed, or begged it by now.

Here’s my second TBR Challenge Update!

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore.  A poor girl makes a rich friend, and they spend the summer together at the rich family’s summer estate.  It turns out this rich family is pretty twisted and has lots of secrets, but that doesn’t stop the poor girl (with secrets of her own) for wanting to be one of them.  A good summertime read–I thought the best writing was the depiction of this lavish estate.

This House is Haunted by John Boyne.  Old-fashioned creepiness which I’ll elaborate on this Horror Month!  Loved this one!

The Keep by Jennifer Egan.  Smart, spooky, and really well-constructed (one narrative is about two cousins renovating an old castle in Europe, the other about the prisoner in a writing class telling their story).  I got to my page 100 benchmark, though, and then just skimmed.  Something about this just didn’t gel for me, but it might for you!

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland.   Another one I could not get into.  Just the wrong time for me, I think. The set-up is interesting: the main character, Lena, is a transcriptionist at a city newspaper, a lonely, kind of faceless job.  There’s a stark quality to the writing that suits the character and setting.  But just not for me at this moment in time.  After I set this down I had a hankering to read Patricia Highsmith.  Unsure why.

Dark Echo by F.G. Cottam.  It’s about a haunted boat.  A haunted boat named the Dark Echo, built by a WWI vet and imbued with some nasty history.  I was not immediately sold, but I gave it a chance because I really loved House of Lost Souls.  The book is a nice mix of atmospheric horror and a mystery,  but I just didn’t respond to this the way I did to Cottam’s other book.  Classic case of the problem being me, not the book.

So there’s where she stands.  At least I’m still knocking them off the list at a steady clip.

As I look at the to-read list I put together on Goodreads over the years, I can chart my reading interests over time–historical mysteries giving way to the domestic suspense of the 1950’s and 1960’s, my period of obsession with American culinary history, the coming of age stories set in rural America, and on into horror stories and natural history.  It’s fun to see how reading changes and evolves over time.

Perhaps I’ve just outgrown a lot of the ones from further down the list.  Which of course doesn’t indicate any problems with the books themselves.  I’ve simply moved on.

Next will be She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth and The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland.

For the numerically inclined: we’re at 832 books to-be-read.

–Marie

TBR Challenge 2017 Update #1

For those just arriving: I’ve decided to participate in the TBR Challenge this year.  The object is to read as many books as you can that you’ve had on your “to-be-read” pile by the end of the year.

Also, I’ve made a decision about this challenge.  If I’m not into something on my TBR list, I’m not going to finish it.  Too many books, too little time.  I will, however, give each book 100 pages before I give up.

Here’s how it’s going so far…

The Man in the Picture:  A Ghost Story by Susan Hill: Stay tuned for more, Horror Month 2017!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  I’m sorry, I just couldn’t get into this.  I’d certainly suggest it to readers who enjoyed The Golem and the Jinni or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, though!  It’s got incredible atmosphere, nice historical sense of place, and the style is really evocative.  Not my (book)bag, but it might be yours!

The Father of the Rain by Lily King.  I was absorbed in this one from the first chapter.  It’s an engaging, nuanced story of a complicated father/daughter relationship, spanning many years.

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt.  I was a couple pages into this novel when I realized that I’d begun it before.  Would you believe I’ve never read anything by Byatt before?  Language to savor and beautiful period detail.  Sweeping and engrossing.  But, alas, not one that grabbed me personally.  And I felt really guilty about that, because it’s a gorgeous book.

The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman.  I’ve read a couple of Goodman’s books, and I enjoy her brand of psychological suspense.  This one, set at a writer’s retreat in upstate New York, is a great Gothic tale and period piece as well as a suspense story.  It reminded me a lot of Kate Morton’s work (The Forgotten Garden in particular).  I got halfway through and then flipped to the end.  For some reason (perhaps the alternating chapters?), the tension just never took for me.

Well.  A bit disappointing.  But I guess this is why some of these books have sat on my To-Read shelf for five years.

Also, I keep adding new stuff to my TBR list, so now I’ve got 842 items on it.  I began with 831.  And have read or tried to read five.

I’m thinking I won’t see much of a net gain from this project.

–Marie

TBR Challenge 2017

I feel so inadequate when I look at other book blogs.

There are so many links.  And graphics.  And charts.  And gifs.  And little pictures celebrating how many challenges they’ve participated in.

Here at the Readers’ Corner…I’ve got lots of Simpsons stills.  Lots.

tattered-rags
I feel like my posies are droopy and my tattered rags are about to get caught on the coffee table.

As longtime readers have probably guessed, I’ve just spent some time investigating more reading challenge possibilities for the blog.  And I think I’ve got a good one: The TBR Challenge!

It’s just what it says on the tin: I read as many books as I can from my To-Be-Read list–in my case, I’ll be going down my Goodreads To-Read list, which currently numbers 831 and dates back to 2012.

I figure this will be a lot easier than other challenges (all I have to do is go down a list of books I already want to read), and there’s a rewarding achievement at the end (I’ll have knocked some titles off my TBR list).

I just finished the first book on the list: The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill.  You will have to wait for Horror Month to hear about that one.

Next up: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

–Marie

 

26 Books to Read in 2015

This is the way the challenge ends
Not with 26 randomly chosen books read
But with…not that

So I failed at the Reading Challenge, everyone.  Though I didn’t do all that badly, if I do say so myself.  I certainly did better than I ever have before at a reading challenge.  Out of 26 titles I managed 20.  With a little cheating here and there.  You can look under the “Reading Challenges” category archive, or go here, to see all the books I read for the challenge.

And the challenge was a great way to get me motivated to blog in a year where I found I had very few books that I couldn’t wait to tell you about.  I also read a few titles that I normally wouldn’t have picked up, thanks to 26 Books to Read in 2015.

Last, if nothing else, I’ve learned my lesson.  Way back in February of 2015 I admitted that I never learn.  I was sure I would “[slink] away in defeat, belly to the ground and grumbling that I’ll never attempt a reading challenge again.”   And what do you know, I was right!

Now that I’ve experienced the reality of blogging along while I try to fulfill a reading challenge, maybe I can finally admit that I can read broadly enough on my own.  The whole reading/book blog challenge thing just isn’t for me.

Ooh hey what’s this? http://www.bustle.com/articles/132630-9-reading-challenges-for-adults-to-take-in-2016

–Marie

“A Head Full of Ghosts” by Paul Tremblay

Exorcism and possession story fans, have I got one for you this year.  Let me introduce you to A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay.
head full of ghostsWhen Merry was a little girl, her older sister was possessed by a demon–and her cash-strapped family made a reality-TV show about it.  In the present, Merry is the only surviving member of her family, and she’s agreed to let an author write a book about her.   And in a third narrative, there’s a horror blogger discussing the TV show and its impact and background.  What really happened to Merry’s sister?  And why is Merry the only one who made it out alive?

I’ll go ahead and say I absolutely loved this, especially the construction.  I love how Tremblay uses the blog narrative to train you to think in horror references, and then how he uses that to set up the reveal at the end.  If you’ve read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle (and if you haven’t, do pick it up either before or after you read this one!) you’ll figure it out, but it’s great either way.  (Sorry. I guess I just sort of spoiled both books with that, but I enjoyed it anyway, and having some idea of what was going to happen didn’t lessen the emotional impact for me at all.)

A reviewer on Goodreads who didn’t like the book used the phrase “warmed over Shirley Jackson.”  I don’t think this is fair.  I’d say Tremblay took the chili that Shirley Jackson made and then made tamale pie with it.  He didn’t just microwave it and slop it down in front of you.  He added and mixed and spiced and topped until, while you can still taste the chili, there’s an entirely new dish.  I’d go so far as to say he even made his own topping from scratch, he didn’t use Jiffy mix.

Anyway, you see what I’m getting at.  Tremblay pays an homage while making the story his own.  And it’s a great story with wonderfully drawn characters, particularly Merry.  Horror, like Romance, is a genre where you have to care about the characters, at least a little.  The best Horror makes you care, so that the terrifying things that happen and the fight against darkness seems to be happening to you personally.  It’s a very visceral experience.  Tremblay succeeds in depicting a family in full break-down, and choosing to narrate through Merry’s eight-year-old eyes makes that storyline even sadder, more confusing, and scarier.  Is it mental illness, or a demon?  Is Merry remembering correctly?  How much did she create in order to make sense of her family falling apart?

It’s also jam-packed with frightening sequences, described in atmospheric, chilling detail.  Possession stories, like The Exorcist, always make a lot out of how scary a human being behaving in unnatural or unusual ways can be.

All three of the voices ring true, the imagery is genuinely creepy, and the story is an affecting mix of scary and melancholy, with enough jumps and twists and unsettling scenes to keep you on the edge of your seat.  A really wonderful blend of horror and psychological suspense, one of the best ones I read this year.

–Marie

P.S.
It’s October, the season to be a cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater!  #5 complete, a book published this year.  Boom.

26 Books to Read in 2015: #1

Finally, I’m getting around to: A Book You Own But Haven’t Read.

I chose Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.  Not only because I’ve been meaning to read it for years, particularly after finishing Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, but also because it’s delightfully slim.

winesburg, ohio

Written in 1919, Winesburg, Ohio is a cycle of short stories all about a small Midwestern town at the turn of the twentieth century.  More particularly, about the people who live there, especially the ones who somehow live on the periphery.  Anderson’s dedication reads:

To the memory of my mother, Emma Smith Anderson, whose keen observations on the life about her first awoke in me the hunger to see beneath the surface of lives, this book is dedicated.

“To see beneath the surface of lives.”  That’s precisely what this book allows the reader to do.

We see tales of wasted lives, of tragedy, of sexual awakenings, of striving for meaning and never finding it.  We watch people being unable to articulate what they need, and the unspoken knowledge that even if these people could articulate their desires, they probably wouldn’t be fulfilled.

I’ve been trying and trying to think of something to say about this book other than that it affected me deeply.  And by that I mean made me really depressed.  There’s a bleakness to these stories.  Stylistically, Winesburg has its flourishes here and there, but for the most part it’s natural, simple, and intensely focused–you can see the influence Anderson had on writers who came after him, such as Faulkner, Hemingway, and Updike.  There’s a humanity and a realism to each piece that makes you want to cringe.  At least, that was my reaction to many of the stories.

There’s a voyeuristic feel to these tales.  You’re peeping in the windows of this town, prying off tight lids and seeing what’s kept inside.  It’s bittersweet and complicated and you come away feeling as though you’ve seen and heard things you shouldn’t.  Hence the cringing.  The cringing is aided by how well small-town life is nailed, the good and the bad.  Mostly bad, since you’re with characters who live on the edges of everything.

Winesburg, Ohio.  If you want some meaty but depressing small-town stories, you should give it a look.  Uplifting it is not, but everything about it feels very real.  You could also have a look at the post I wrote about Main Street by Sinclair Lewis–though Anderson’s work doesn’t have the same satire or humor to it.  I found myself making comparisons between the two as I read.

So we’re now midway through August.  Four months remain in 2015.  Let’s do a Challenge Progress Check-In:

Book Challenge

I…have a lot left to read.

Welp.  Might be time to really buckle down.  Put the nose to the grindstone. Get down to business.

And cheat.

Stay tuned!

–Marie