I am not doing a reading challenge this year. Instead I’m reading for pleasure, in an attempt to reduce the number of books that I have bought over the last few years, but never got around to reading. I’m also going back and rereading books by some of my favorite authors. As you can see by the chart above, it is going well so far.
As you can see, I’ve read three of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales books, three of Len Deighton’s spy novels featuring Bernard Sampson, the final two books in Michael J. Sullivan’s fantasy trilogy, and a variety of other fiction and non-fiction books. I have plenty more on my TBR bookcase to choose from.
So far this year we have had cold weather that is conducive to relaxing with a good book. However, spring is finally coming to my corner of the world. That means that I’ll be spending more time outside in the sun. Grass will need to be cut on a regular basis; the pool will need to be opened and maintained; and short road trips will need to be made. I won’t be reading books at the same pace as I have in the past three and a half months, but I will be reading.
I hope you can find the time to read a few good books this year. If you have any suggestions for books to add to my TBR case, feel free to let me know.
This year’s reading challenge turned out to be a bigger challenge than I had expected. I always experience a reading drought during the summer months; but then I usually come back with a burst of reading energy late in the year. In 2018 however, I only completed one book since my most recent update.
I read The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler as my book first published in the 1940’s. It is a Philip Marlowe mystery, and since it is by Chandler, it is well written with many passages that you want to quote to your friends. I have all of the Marlowe mysteries in paperback. I bought them many years ago. They haven’t fallen apart yet, though the acid in the paper is slowly yellowing the pages. I was lucky they survived our flooded basement which destroyed all of my Michael Moorcock and Philip Jose Farmer paperbacks. That was like losing old friends, but at least I still have Chandler and some others that I can revisit.
I shan’t try to fit in any more books this year even though I started three other. They are good books, and I have enjoyed what I have read, but I don’t have a burning desire to finish any of them this year.
And that brings me to 2019. I have decided to not attempt my reading challenge next year. Instead I plan to spend a year getting caught up on books that I have bought over the past few years but which have not fit within the boundaries of the challenge. I have three Saxon Tales novels by Bernard Cornwell on my TBR bookcase along with various fantasy/sword and sorcery novels, spy thrillers, mysteries, biographies and other genres that I have been putting off. Next year is for fun. Heck, I may even start today.
If some of those books happen to fall within challenge categories I’ll keep track of them. That might be worth a post or two along the way.
This is probably my last post of 2018, so have a happy and safe New Year!
As usual, my reading slowed down during the summer. In fact, it almost stopped completely. And as the year progressed, so many devilish things happened in our nation that many of the books that I planned to read seemed to foretell what we were experiencing. I started a few of them, and I was enjoying them, but the echoes I saw on our TV screen and read in our paper, ruined the experience for me. So instead of a certain biography, a certain novel written in the 1940s, and a certain book on a historical subject among others, I went to more lighthearted fare.
I read The Pupil by Caro Fraser as a book by an author I had never read before. Because the protagonist of the novel is a barrister I assumed the book was a mystery or a courtroom thriller. It was neither, but rather a novel whose main characters happen to work in law firms. It is a good read, and the start of a series of novels. I’ll probably read more of them.
Next I read The Warrior Heir by Cindy Williams Chima. This a YA fantasy novel by an author I had never read before, but I slotted it as a book first published in the 2000s. The clerk who checked me out at the bookstore where I purchased it praised the series. She volunteered how much she enjoyed reading the books. As is the case of a few YA books of this sort, the protagonist discovers that he has spectacular powers when he reaches a certain age. He battles and overcomes evil forces by the end of the book. Don’t you love happy endings? I liked it, and plan to read more in the series.
From the 1970s I chose Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark, a pseudonym of Donald E. Westlake. Westlake used the name of Richard Stark primarily when writing novels about the thief Parker. A number of movies based on the Parker novels have been made, beginning with the 1967 film Point Blank starring Lee Marvin. I don’t know why they changed Parker’s name to Walker in the movie. But that has nothing to do with Lemons Never Lie except that the main character, Alan Grofield, appears in some of the Parker novels. Like Parker, Grofield is a thief; and like Parker, the heist goes wrong. I haven’t read one of these novels in many years. It was good to read another Richard Stark book.
From my original choice of biographies I moved on to Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir by Linda Ronstadt. I have been planning to read this since it was published in 2013, but never seemed to get around to it. When I found it on a sales table I snatched it up to read for the challenge. Linda Ronstadt has been one of my favorite artists since I first saw her on The Woody Woodbury Show on television performing with The Stone Ponies. In the memoir she covers her life from childhood to her retirement. Unlike some other autobiographies I’ve read by performing artists, she exhibits humility and kindness. I don’t believe she said an unkind thing about any of the many people she wrote about. The closest she came was describing an artistic difference she had with a record producer. I miss hearing new music by her, but I have hundreds of recorded songs that I can go back to.
I chose to read Villages by John Updike as a book by a favorite (favored?) author. One of he reasons I love to read Updike is the ability he had to write convincing dialogue. He was also able to take ordinary people and events and make them so interesting that we want to know more. Many people, including me, swear that we hate having drama in our lives, and don’t understand people who seem to thrive on it. But we all seem to enjoy reading about it or seeing it on TV or in the movies. Also, it is the stuff that keeps gossip alive. Perhaps Updike was the fictional version of a gossip monger whom everyone decries but loves to hear. I love his books.
Finally, for this update, I went back to the 1980s and reread Berlin Gameby Len Deighton. It was the first of a series with Bernard Sampson as the protagonist. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I love Deighton’s spy thrillers. They stand up there along with LeCarré’s, plus they have humor that others who write in that genre lack. This was my first rereading of the novel since the 1990s. I don’t know why I waited so long to return to it. I’ll soon be going back to the next in the series, Mexico Set.
If you aren’t aware of what my person reading challenge encompasses, you can read about it here.
I posted recently that I am currently in a writing slump. I also went through a reading slump, but have climbed out of it somewhat. Here is what I have been reading recently.
The American by Martin Booth was my choice for the “From page to screen” book. The book was originally titled A Very Private Gentleman, but appears to have been changed to match the movie title. I can only assume that the American in the title refers to George Clooney’s character in the movie. The book centers around a person who is nearing the end of his chosen, illegal career. He is proud of the work that he has done, but realizes that he as reached a point where he wants to settle in somewhere. There is a lot of interior dialogue which offers insights to his personal history. I enjoyed the book. If you come to this book after having seen the movie, as I did, or vice versa, be prepared to accept that there are major plot changes, new characters, removed characters, and other differences. For instance, the very private gentleman is not an American.
Next I chose to read, and view, the graphic novel, Tarzan: The Beckoning by Thomas Yeates. This book finds Tarzan and Jane in a more modern-day environment, fighting illegal ivory trade. If you’re wondering how a man born before WWI can still be alive and kicking, Tarzan fans know that he has become immortal, but they may not know that Jane is also immortal. At any rate, some familiar Tarzan tropes are present, such as a plane crash and amnesia. It is an interesting graphic novel, and the art is very good. My only complaint is that the final chapter seems to come to a rushed conclusion.
I have a category called “A book of any kind,” that I think of a as my miscellaneous category. This year I chose The Elements ofEloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase, by Mark Forsythe. I bought a copy of th book as a gift to a friend, and thought it looked interesting enough to purchase a copy for myself. The book explains, with examples, thirty-some figures of rhetoric. Don’t let that turn you off, because Mr. Forsythe’s writing is engaging. Once you read the book you’ll find yourself noticing examples in the things you read and hear. I notice them especially in television commercials. I have been noticing them a lot on the morning political talk shows, most noticeably Morning Joe. The namesake of the show, Joe Scarborough, has the annoying habit, while on a diatribe, of stringing together a group of complaints and starting each sentence with the same words. This is called anaphora. I’m happy to know the term for what he does. It doesn’t make it any less annoying, but now I have the name of what he does.
The western I chose this year is The Last Gunfighter: Slaughter by William W. Johnstone & J.A. Johnstone. This is a collaboration between a dead man and his living nephew. It is hard for me to say how much William contributed to the book since I’ve never read anything that he wrote while living. I understand that William was dead for three years before his reading public was informed of his demise. But that is just tittle-tattle, let me say a few things about the book. To me, it read like a the pitch for a western movie made in the 1930s or 40s. The drifting cowboy comes to town and stops a war between the ranchers and the oil drillers. With him he brought his faithful horse who comes to him when he whistles, and his dog who is very intelligent. The dog understands everything he is told, saves his owner from being shot, and could probably throw down the rope and pull Timmy from the well without going for help. He is that good! One thing different from the movies is that the hero got neither of the attractive female characters.
Next I read Walking With Grandfather: The Wisdom of Lakota Elders by Joseph M. Marshall III. This was the book recommended by a friend. My friend was Cindy, who bought it while on vacation a couple of years ago, and passed it on for me to read. It offers a perspective on life based upon the lessons the author learned from his grandfather, while growing up on a Sioux reservation. It is an interesting, informative book that doesn’t preach. I enjoyed it.
In case you missed it and are curious, the details of this year’s reading challenge can be found here. As in past years, each category calls for a separate book, so you cant’s use the same book to fulfill two or more categories. So saying, here is my first update on the books I’ve read so far.
Forests of the Night by David Stuart Davies is the mystery I chose to start the year. It is set in London during World War II. Due to an accident during the protagonist’s military training, he never saw action, and was unable to return to his previous employment. He has set himself up as a private detective. He is hired by a couple to find their daughter. His case soon turns into a murder investigation. As in most mysteries, his personal and professional life merge. I enjoyed this book, which was the first in a series of books. There is a lot of detail about the hardships of living in London during the war. I would recommend this book.
Profiles In Courageby John F. Kennedy was my second book of the year, and was first published in the 1950’s. I first read this book in 1965. It was required reading for all incoming freshmen at Indiana University that year, as I recall. The then Senator Kennedy won a Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1957. President Kennedy’s assassination was still fresh in our memories, so I doubt if many students shirked that requirement. It was only years later that I heard that most of the writing was done by Theodore Sorensen. The book is about the courage shown by seven different Senators who voted contrary to the opinion of their party and constituents, for what the Senator believed was in the best interests of the country. Their actions often caused them to lose subsequent elections. It isn’t something you see in these days. I wish more politicians today were as courageous.
The Girl In The Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz is an authorized continuation of the Millennium series conceived and started by Stieg Larsson. I chose it as my Part of a Series choice. Larsson died after finishing the third book in the series. There are many people who believe that nobody else could or should write about Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomqvist, but the publishers obviously disagree. I have to admit that most attempts to carry on a series after the death of the original author seem to lack something for me. The most obvious examples for me are the James Bond and Sherlock Holmes stories. Nobody who followed Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle caught the heroes as well as far as I’m concerned. Saying that, I enjoyed this book. Some of the character reactions seemed off, but for the most part I have no trouble accepting this book into the Millennium series.
Swords and Scoundrels by Julia Knight was the book I read as my Science Fiction or Fantasy selection. The book falls into genre of Sword & Sorcery; and it has plenty of both. The two main protagonists, Vocho and Kacha, are former members of the Duelist Guild. Both are excellent swordsmen; each looks out for the other; each has secrets; and each has weaknesses. I enjoyed reading this book. Since it is the first volume in a trilogy, I will be reading the other two books as time provides. It is difficult to read everything that I want to read because I try to read a variety of types of books for the challenge. I’ve done this to myself.
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco is my choice for a book written in the 2010’s. It was Eco;’s last published novel before his death in 2016. He revisited a familiar topic, conspiracy theories. As is often the case, I find myself wondering how much of the theory is right and how much is wrong…or is there coincidence involved. This novel is shorter than any other book I’ve read by Eco, but it still full of densely written lists and transitions from one event to the next. I’ll admit that I occasionally scanned or even skipped over entire paragraphs. But in spite of that quibble, I found the book quite enjoyable. Reading Umberto Eco is well worth your time.
It is snowing again. A new layer of white is covering the snow we already have. This is perfect weather for reading. And since the new year is almost here, I think it is time to announce the 2018 Reading Challenge that I have set for myself.
As in past years, I’ve added a new category of book to the challenge. So without further ado, the categories are:
A book by an author I have never read
A biography oranautobiography
A book recommended by a friend
A romance novel or a western
A book on a historic subject
A science fiction or fantasy book
A book previously started but given up on
A graphic novel
One book originally published in each decade I’ve been alive, so
the 2000’s, and
A book of short stories or essays
A book that is part of series
A book that is the basis of movie or television series (from page to screen)
A book of any kind
A book by a favorite author…or is it a favored author? Is it possible to have more than one favorite? I should know, but I keep confusing myself when I try to think it through. Help would be appreciated.
As always, I can’t use one book to fill more than one category. Each category gets a separate book. In my case that means 22 books this year. If you decide to take the challenge, it will depend on your age. If you are doing a different reading challenge in the coming year, please let me know about it.
It seems that I always hit a reading dry spell during the summer months. I read no books during July and August this year. Well, I read one book before that dry spell, Fear Nothing by Dean Koontz. This book was my choice for science fiction/fantasy selection. I’m sure that I have mentioned in other posts that when Cindy plays an audio book in the car, I fall asleep. Fear Nothing was the exception to that rule when Cindy played it many years ago. This year I bought a physical copy of the book to hold in my hands and read to see if it was a fluke. It wasn’t. I’ve read other books by Mr. Koontz, and none of them are as satisfying to me as his two Christopher Snow novels. I only hope that he eventually gets around to writing the third.
I broke loose from my reading dry spell in September when I took my next selection, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, with me while we were on vacation. It was published in the 1950’s. Steinbeck is another one of those handful of authors who have always made me feel like a hack writer when I read their prose. Perhaps that is the reason that I don’t read them as often as i should. This is a sprawling family story that stretches over generations with echoes from biblical stories, both old and new testament. Once again I find myself swearing to go back and read more Steinbeck. He is worth it.
Next I went to a book published in the 1980’s, The Night of Morningstar by Peter O’Donnell. It is a Modesty Blaise novel. I believe it is the only Modesty Blaise novel that I hadn’t read. Over the years I’ve read all of the novels, many of the comic strips in reprint books, and I’ve seen the atrocious movie which starred Monica Vitti, Terrance Stamp, and Dick Bogarde. I haven’t seen the made-for-tv movie(s?), and don’t plan to see them. The books, however, are worth reading and re-reading.
The plot lines are familiar. Wealthy men want more wealth and power. Their plot is stumbled upon by Modesty and Willie. Innocent people are in danger. Modesty and Willie insert themselves into action. Modesty and Willie prevail. All is well. No matter how many times I read one of these thrillers, I love it.
From the 2000’s I chose to read Body of Lies by David Ignatius. He has been writing espionage books for decades, but this was the first of his that I’ve read. I see Mr. Ignatius on television often as a political commentator. He also writes a syndicated column for The Washington Post. Body of Lies was made into a movie in 2008, but I have to admit that I never saw it. I enjoyed the book, It was well written and had an interesting premise. Plus it drew upon the book The Man Who Never Was, which I read when I was in high school. That book was was fact. I shall be reading more novels by Mr. Ignatius.
As the book on a historical subject, I chose Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to The Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur. As you might have guessed, the book is about her coverage of the 2016 Donald Trump campaign for President of the United States. She is a reporter for NBC News, and was assigned to the campaign for what was supposed to be a short time. However, she stayed with the campaign through the election. The book gives can account of life on the road as she followed the campaign. She also writes about her youth, her parents, and how she got into TV journalism. It is an interesting and quick read. I’m sure that if I re-read the book in a few years,it will bring back memories.
Finally, as the book I read from the 1940’s, I went back to an author, Donald Hamilton, whom I had read for the 1970’s. This is the first time I have read the same author in two categories. I had not planned on doing so. I had started reading 1984, but found that I wasn’t able to really enjoy it. It was too serious at a time when I didn’t want serious. I wanted an easy read. So I dug out my copy of The Steel Mirror. I read the book so long ago, and it had made so little impression on me, it was like reading it for the first time. It is something of a pot-boiler that is hard to take truly seriously. Or perhaps it is that I’ve become more cynical as I age. Still, you can see the germ of Hamilton’s more famous creation, Matt Helm, in the actions of the male protagonist of this story. I may dig out some other older Hamilton books and give them another read.
I successfully finished my challenge for the year! And I still have enough time to read a couple of books that I don’t have to try to fit into a specific category. I am pleased.