Challenge wrap-up 2020

As the year comes to a close, here’s a review of how I did on my challenges — which I kept to a minimum this year, not wanting to overdo it. And I’m quite happy with how I did, so that was a success!

I finished six books for Back to the Classics:

Classic with a Name in the Title: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Classic by a Woman Author: The World I Live In
Adapted Classic: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Classic about a Family: Brideshead Revisited
Translated Classic: Le Petit Prince
Classic with Nature in the Title: The Old Man and the Sea

And kept up with the Book Blog Discussion Challenge with a post (almost) every month:

Should I read more current books?
Do you have a reading plan?
Are there too many books?
Do you like books about fighting?
Do you dislike first-person narratives?
What is your favorite (or first favorite) classic?
Can you resist free books?
Am I addicted to reading?
Am I an e-book convert?
Should memoirs be considered fiction?
What is the best of the Emerald City Book Review?

I also kept going with my Reading All Around the World project. After reading twelve books, I slacked off in the last quarter of the year, but added Danubia to my list (I think it should count, even though it’s not about a single country, but a whole empire that has now been split up into many nations).

Other goals I had this year were to read more nonfiction — I did quite well with that, judging from my Nonfiction November round-up — and to read more books from my own shelves. This was not so successful, but I did polish off a few of those.

How have you done with your challenges this year? Did they help you to discover some great new authors? Or get to some books you’ve been meaning to read for years?

Should memoirs be considered fiction?

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I remember how it rocked my world when a New Yorker article showed that Madeleine L’Engle’s portrayal of her life and family in her Crosswicks journals was more of a fictional construct. Since then I’m cautious about assigning factual truth to memoirs, but I tend to give the authors some leeway.

Goodness knows, if I had to write the story of my own life, there would be a lot that was not strictly accurate. Our memories are not photographic records, and we do tend to “re-remember” the past as a defense mechanism against painful experiences or to make sense of disconnected incidents.

If this is done unconsciously in the writing of a memoir, it’s understandable and human. If it’s done consciously, with deliberate intent, then such a book seems to depart from the realm of nonfiction. And given that sometimes it’s hard to know what really happened, maybe all memoirs should be assumed to be “fictionalized.” But is there something wrong with that?

There can be different levels of truth, and sometimes the truth of a narrative is not in the bare facts. Some memoirists are able to tread that line gracefully, letting their real selves shine through what will necessarily always be an interpretation, a reordering of lives phenomena.

If too much is concealed or distorted, though, it seems problematic. If it’s an attempt to push some agenda, or present a false persona, the claim to any kind of truth should be discarded.

What do you think? Should memoirs be considered fiction or nonfiction? And does it matter?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Am I an e-book convert?

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Many, many years ago, in my eighth grade oral presentation class, one of the few talks I remember giving was one about e-books. They were not even really a thing back then, but for some reason the topic was in the air. I argued against them, saying that paper was more permanent, more aesthetic, and more shareable. E-books seemed so ephemeral and somehow illegitimate.

I still find e-books more ephemeral and uglier than paper books. But I’ve given them a larger and larger share of my reading life. They’re just so convenient and portable. I check out books from the library, or download free classics, because I don’t like spending money on them. I can carry my e-reader around easily everywhere, get books instantly, and not have to wrestle with heavy volumes or awkward positioning.

Since I’ve started to read books in French, the built-in dictionary is a godsend. And the real clincher is that my excellent eyesight has at long last started to fail, and I HATE wearing reading glasses. With an e-book I can enlarge the text so that I don’t have to.

What I like least about e-books is the inability to focus on more than one page at once: to physically grasp the length of a chapter in relation to the whole, to flip back and forth to look at maps, pictures, and footnotes, or to correlate passages with diagrams or with other sections of the book. For these, I definitely prefer paper. And for a total aesthetic experience, with pictures and typography, give me a beautifully printed and bound copy. These still have an important place in my life.

But otherwise, I’ve done a 180 degree turn from my eighth grade position, and embraced e-books.

What about you? Do you have any opinions about your reading habits you thought would never change, but have since converted?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Can you resist free books?

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When I go to church in a nearby city, there’s a booth by the bus station that is crammed with books — mostly French and German, but quite a few in English, and free for the taking. I usually come home with as many as I can carry, but I haven’t read most of them yet.

After shedding so many of my possessions in moving to Europe, I really don’t want to pile up more stuff. I’ve managed to buy less, but free books are so hard to resist. Perhaps I need to make a “book in, book out” policy — I can donate books I’ve read in my turn. For a while I may need to shut my eyes when I walk past the Booth of Temptation, at least till I get through some of my current hoard.

How about you? Can you resist the lure of free books? And if you can’t, how do you deal with all your new acquisitions?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

What is your favorite (or first favorite) classic?

The Classics Club has revived their monthly meme, with a “rebooted” question for summer 2020: “What is your favorite classic?” So I’ve co-opted it for this month’s discussion challenge.

It’s too hard to designate one favorite classic book, but I well remember the first time I read a “classic” and actually enjoyed it, showing me that having a “favorite classic book” was even a possibility. It was Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, and I devoured it during a Puget Sound ferry ride for some class trip or other when I was about 13 or 14 years old.

Previous encounters with classics that I thought I should read, like Pride and Prejudice, or books schoolteachers thought teenagers should read, like A Separate Peace, had left me confused, bored, and discouraged. But Steinbeck’s brief tale pulled me right in — it was simply written enough for me to understand and emotionally involving enough that I didn’t want to stop. The ending left me in tears but knowing that I had had a new and wonderful reading experience: I had loved reading a classic. There would be many more to come.

Do you remember the first time you enjoyed reading a classic? Or what is your favorite of all time?

Linked in the 2020 Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight

Do you dislike first-person narratives?

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I’ve seen some comments around the blogosphere from people who say they categorically dislike first-person narration. I find this puzzling, and a bit ironic considering how deeply this form is rooted in the history of fiction; many early novels were written in the first person as “letters” or “memoirs” so the authors could present them as if they were real documents, to make them more convincing.

It would be strange indeed if we eschewed the word “I” in all our personal correspondence and other writings. Why ban it from fiction?

I am obviously not a person who dislikes such books, because cutting them out would eliminate many of my favorites of all time:

  • Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  • Beauty by Robin McKinley
  • The Spellcoats by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
  • Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • The King Must Die by Mary Renault
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I simply could not imagine my reading life without these and many other first-person narratives. Could you?

Are you a person who doesn’t like this kind of book? Or can you understand why some people don’t? Please explain, because I am baffled.

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Are there too many books?

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In my youth, books were not always easy to find; now they seem to be assaulting me from every direction. New, old, domestic, imported, print books, e-books, conventionally published, self-published…. This abundance is amazing, but it sometimes feels a bit oppressive.

Even though I have a “no review requests” policy on my blog, I still get hopeful emails from authors asking me to read their new book. There are so many of these out there, looking for readers! And I sincerely hope they will find an audience, but I start to wonder: are there enough readers for all these books? Do we need so many new books? What would happen if, say, we put a hold on publishing for the next year, and just made do with what we have? Or cut the supply by half — or nine-tenths? If we weren’t so overwhelmed with riches, would we value the remainder more?

This is not a serious proposal. I could never say to any particular book or author, “You are the one that has to go!” Even if a book is not for me, I want to leave the possibility open that someday, somehow, it will find the person who needs to read it. To me, infinite possibilities are what reading is all about.

Everybody thinks their story has never been told before, and needs to be told. And it’s true. But how shall we find the time to listen, the space to look? How can we, within our mortal limitations, grapple with all this boundless creativity?

How do you deal with the feeling that there are too many books?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Do you have a reading plan?

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At the beginning of the year, I love reading about other people’s reading goals and making my own. I also sympathize with those who want to have no or very few goals. Nobody should feel that reading has to be a chore.

This year, I noticed that some people have more specific plans than I do. They aim to read a certain number of various types of books per month, for example — different genres, books from their shelves vs. new acquisitions, etc. I wondered if this might be helpful for me to try.

Since my main goals are reading more books from around the world, more nonfiction, and books from the Back to the Classics categories, I could for example aim to complete at least one around-the-world / nonfiction / classic book each month. Sometimes there would be overlap, making things easier! I also would like to read books from my own shelves, since I took the trouble to haul them all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, so I could put in one of those as well.

Four books per month seems doable, and would help me not to forget about my goals as the year progresses. What do you think? Do you have a reading plan for yourself, and how is it working?

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Should I read more current books?

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At this time of year there are loads of lists of favorite books from the previous year, and of titles anticipated for this one. I’ve generally not read most of the former, nor do I tend to immediately stuff the latter onto my already groaning TBR list.

I just do not keep up with the very most current releases. Over my six years of blogging I’ve been doing fewer and fewer reviews of new releases, as I felt too much stress and guilt associated with review copies. And usually I’m fine with that, but just now with the excitement associated with these “best of the year” lists, I feel a bit left out. Is there something the matter with me? Should I be trying to stay more up-to-the-minute with my book choices?

Like most people I crave novelty, but me, “new” is any book that has newly come across my radar, whether it’s one month old or 100 years old. I feel very contemporary if I read a book released within the last decade. And I confess that I actually like to give the hot new titles a year or more to settle, to prove their worth. By then, they seem to take their place more comfortably within the plethora of other books clamoring for attention.

How do you feel about reading current releases? Are they your jam, or are you indifferent? Am I missing something by not reading them?

 

Linked in the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Discussion challenge: 2019 review and 2020 signup

I’ve been doing the Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight since it began five years ago. That means I’ve posted more than 50 discussions so far, and I still haven’t run out of ideas! I always enjoy the lively conversation generated by these posts, and so I’m happy that our two fantastic hosts are keeping up the challenge.

Looking back, it seems I forgot to actually sign up for 2019 – oops. I want to make sure I don’t do that again! Here’s my official notice that I intend again to post a discussion per month (more or less) in 2020. And below is a recap of the discussions from this year.

January – How do you organize your TBR?
February – Which books should I keep?
March – Who wants to read Robertson Davies?
May – Do I have to read depressing books?
July – How do you remember what you read?
August – Should books be illustrated?
September – Does reading get better as you age?
October – What counts as reading?
November – Do you find some book titles confusing?
December – How do you know a book is going to be good?

Do you enjoy doing discussion posts on your blog, or participating in others’ discussions? Would you like to join the challenge?