The 2020 AW Reading Challenge! Perfectly visionary.

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Chris P

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I can't find it now, but was someone in this thread mentioning Amos Oz not too long ago? He's an Israeli writer who has several novels and short story collections focused on Israel post-1948. In any case, a bunch of his stuff is currently on sale via several online retailers. If this was you, or if you know much about Oz, let me know. It looks interesting and I'd like first-hand reviews.

CobaltJade: I've seen Poisonwood Bible around since it came out. Sad to hear it didn't stand up well. As much reading as I've done on Africa it seems like this is one I can take off my list.
 

Brightdreamer

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Getting back to this... and am already not sure I'll be able to finish Eoin Colfer's Highfire. Vern used to be Wyvern, one of the mightiest dragons to rule the skies, but these days all he rules is a bayou and the local gators, drowning his depression in vodka and Netflix binges. Fifteen-year-old Squib keeps trying to be the good boy his mama needs him to be (especially after an abusive ex ruined their lives, and now the over-aggressive sheriff's coming on to the vulnerable and often too-kind woman), but that just isn't who he'll ever be, so he figures he might as well take a shot as a moonshine runner so he can at least help pay the bills. Their paths will soon cross, and Vern will find out if he's still got any spark in the old furnace when he's truly needed or if dragons really are extinct.

As mentioned, I'm only a few pages in and already I'm getting some yellow-flag warnings. The style is very telly and trying to capture the Cajun down-home bayou feel, but it feels a bit overbearing, plus so far all the people feel too much like stock stereotypes... even Vern, moping around his swamp shack and so lonely he's debated hooking up with gator ladies. Will give it a bit longer, but I may have to swap it out. (I recently read another book that was recommended - The Demon Awakens, by R. A. Salvatore - so that may take its place.)

Updated List (10/12):
1 - I spy: The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind, by Jackson Ford. DONE 3/8/20
2 - Eyes to the skies: Ill Wind, by Rachel Caine. DONE 5/16/20
3 - Take note: Crystal Singer, by Anne McCaffrey. DONE 3/8/20
4 - By its cover: Camp Tiger, by Susan Choi. DONE - 1/4/20
5 - Setting sail: A book taking place mostly or all on water. - TBA (Swapping Original Choice)
6 - Getting started: The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter. DONE - 1/19/20
7 - Three-color mythology: They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott. DONE - 4/7/20
8 - Out of this world: Cards of Grief, by Jane Yolen. DONE 3/13/20
9 - Tag team: Bob, by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead. DONE - 1/28/20
10 - Succinct: Updraft, by Fran Wilde. DONE - 4/17/20
11 - You might also like. . .: A book recommended by someone real, or by a bot. Highfire, by Eoin Colfer. (Started 8/28 - MAY SWAP)
12 - No hablo: Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Walter Starkie. DONE - 2/26/20
 

Chris P

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Brightdreamer, it sounds like the author was going for "cute," which when done well is amazing. Too much local flavor will kill my interest in a book. It comes across as being aimed at people who know the place well, are nostalgic for it, and see their corner of the world as special. If I'm not familiar with the place, it's hard for me to be drawn in to the story. This is a challenge for me when I write about a place I know well.

I'm not well read in your preferred genre, but if you swap out your Setting Sail selection, I would be interested in your take on Voyage of the Fox Rider by Dennis L McKiernan. I devoured McKiernan 30 years ago when I was in high school and college, and he is one of the few authors I kept all my books of when I massively downsized my life 10 years ago. McKiernan never got hugely popular, and Voyage of the Fox Rider was not his bestest seller, but he had a big influence on my writing. I've toyed with re-reading all of his Mithgar books again, but that's not a small feat and I wonder how much the styles and my tastes have changed. Are you familiar with McKiernan at all?
 

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Brightdreamer, it sounds like the author was going for "cute," which when done well is amazing. Too much local flavor will kill my interest in a book. It comes across as being aimed at people who know the place well, are nostalgic for it, and see their corner of the world as special. If I'm not familiar with the place, it's hard for me to be drawn in to the story. This is a challenge for me when I write about a place I know well.

I'm not well read in your preferred genre, but if you swap out your Setting Sail selection, I would be interested in your take on Voyage of the Fox Rider by Dennis L McKiernan. I devoured McKiernan 30 years ago when I was in high school and college, and he is one of the few authors I kept all my books of when I massively downsized my life 10 years ago. McKiernan never got hugely popular, and Voyage of the Fox Rider was not his bestest seller, but he had a big influence on my writing. I've toyed with re-reading all of his Mithgar books again, but that's not a small feat and I wonder how much the styles and my tastes have changed. Are you familiar with McKiernan at all?

I read and enjoyed his VR/fantasy hybrid Caverns of Socrates, but never got around to his Mithgar books. May have to look into that... thanks for the recommendation!

And I'm going to take another run at Highfire later today... hopefully it comes around soon, but if not, I just have too many books in the TBR pile to spend too long slogging through one that just isn't clicking for me. (It's a different concept, and I want to like it, but...)
 

Chris P

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I read and enjoyed his VR/fantasy hybrid Caverns of Socrates, but never got around to his Mithgar books. May have to look into that... thanks for the recommendation!

What cracks me up about Caverns of Socrates is the Allegory of the Cave was written by Plato. The story is Socrates narrating it to Glaucon, so in that way it is Socrates's caverns. I can forgive McKiernan's title :)

I read Allegory of the Cave a few months ago for the first time. Although most modern-day references show the cave dwellers as willfully insular and foolish, it also describes how cruel the light dwellers (or whatever he called them) are the cave dwellers who leave, so no wonder they react the way they do. It's certainly more than the "stupid ignorant masses wishing to remain stupid and ignorant" story people remember it for.
 

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And I officially gave up on Highfire. I hit the third repulsive character - plus it became increasingly likely that the only woman mentioned was a mere token for some male to win by the end - and that was that. There may be a good story in there, but I didn't find it in time to save it from the giveaway bag.

Swapped it for The Demon Awakens, first in the DemonWars saga by R. A. Salvatore, an epic fantasy recommended by someone online. When goblins raid their frontier village, only one boy and one girl survive. She loses her memory and wanders away to a distant city, but the boy is rescued by elves and raised to be a ranger: one of the elite few who secretly guard humanity from goblins and giants and other evils of the world. But when a dactyl, a literal demon from the depths of Hell, awakens, more than just the scattered frontier villages may be in danger. For the land has fallen into indolence and corruption, even its great churches, and the demon intends to harness that evil to bring about the fall of humanity and initiate an era of blood and terror.

At first, it seemed like a decent, if somewhat trope-heavy, epic adventure, a good old-fashioned throwdown between good and evil. The girl Jilseponie, better known as Pony, even has some guts to her and isn't just a fainting maiden to be rescued... but, of course, she can never be quite as good (or smart, or blessed, or generally instrumental in anything) as Elbryan the ranger. And here's where the story really lost me, as it becomes less an epic fantasy and more a morality play, where the three main heroes (there's also a warrior monk who turns on his order when he discovers the rot at its heart, here a bit of a third wheel/comic relief) are constructs of Virtue with a frankly condescending and paternalistic view of the sinful and foolish layfolk they're charged with saving from their own stupid corruption. That's a little more Good and Evil than I was prepared to swallow, especially when it becomes so blatantly obvious that the author is lecturing me through his characters. Things do happen, at least, but I don't care to be lectured, nor do I read epic fantasy for such stark, shallow portrayals of humanity and Good and Evil or for morality lessons. I had thought it was at least trying on the equality front (genderwise, if not racially: all the humans are white, and every other species except the pale elves are solidly and irredeeemably forces of purest evil) with Jill, a significant step up from Tolkien... then I saw it was published in 1996. Tad Williams's The Dragonbone Chair was published in 1988, and was already several steps ahead of this without resorting to lectures and caricature characters. A Game of Thrones was also published in 1996 and had stronger women/less browbeating about sin and prayer. I suppose I'm just not Salvatore's target audience...

Updated List (11/12):
1 - I spy: The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind, by Jackson Ford. DONE 3/8/20
2 - Eyes to the skies: Ill Wind, by Rachel Caine. DONE 5/16/20
3 - Take note: Crystal Singer, by Anne McCaffrey. DONE 3/8/20
4 - By its cover: Camp Tiger, by Susan Choi. DONE - 1/4/20
5 - Setting sail: A book taking place mostly or all on water. - TBA (Swapping Original Choice)
6 - Getting started: The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter. DONE - 1/19/20
7 - Three-color mythology: They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott. DONE - 4/7/20
8 - Out of this world: Cards of Grief, by Jane Yolen. DONE 3/13/20
9 - Tag team: Bob, by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead. DONE - 1/28/20
10 - Succinct: Updraft, by Fran Wilde. DONE - 4/17/20
11 - You might also like. . .: The Demon Awakens, by R. A. Salvatore DONE
12 - No hablo: Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Walter Starkie. DONE - 2/26/20
 

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Well, I only recently joined AW, and just found this thread, so I’m going to be ambitious and jump in headlong, right now:

2. Armchair voyages — “Little Demon in the City of Light” Steven Levingston
3. Dearly Departed — “Postcards From the Edge” Carrie Fisher
13. Do you deliver? — “Food: A Love Story” Jim Gaffigan
15. Anyward, ho! — “Blackout” Connie Willis (Time and place travel ;) )
22. Setting sail — “The Devil and the Dark Water” Stuart Turton
24. Getting started — “Off to be the Wizard” Scott Meyer
31. Revenge of the nerds — “The Calculating Stars” Mary Robinette Kowal
32. The heart and mind of a writer — “On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft” Stephen King
33. Bits and pieces — “About Time” Jack Finney
34. Out of this world — “Leviathan Wakes” James S. A. Corey
38. Loose ends — “Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays and Other Writing” Shirley Jackson
41. Succinct — “Armada” Ernest Cline

If I finish, yippee for me! If not, I will at least have made progress, and that’s something.
 

Brightdreamer

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Hooray for jumping in headlong!

Incidentally, I've read and greatly enjoyed "Off to Be the Wizard", "The Calculating Stars", and "Leviathan Wakes"... you're in for a good ride!

(And I still need to pick a final book for mine... got one on my shelf that might work, but I'm not sure how much of it is actually on the water.)
 

Chris P

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Welcome Gatteau! The only one I've read is On Writing, which I recall enjoying a lot. It took me a while to warm up to King, and even now I'm more a fan of him than I am of his books! Nothing wrong with his books, just not my main thing.

I look forward to hearing your reviews of your choices.
 

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Currently about midway through Connie Willis’ “Blackout”. Starting from a point in the future (2060) when time travel has been invented at Oxford, for the purpose of sending their historians back to actually observe significant events in the past, most of the action takes place from 1940-1945, London and surrounding areas. The historians come prepared with certain information they need to blend in to society implanted in their minds, so that they can as seamlessly as possible become a London shopgirl, an reporter from Kansas, a nanny for refugee children. They also have implanted or need to memorize specific dates and times of things (like German bombs dropping) so they can either stay far away and not get killed, or get just close enough to observe and confirm. The narrative bounces around a chapter at a time to the different historians in separate times — which confused me for a while, but now that I’m more familiar with where/when each of the most prominent main characters is, I can keep track of things pretty well. Since the historians are there strictly to observe and blend in, they occasionally have to deal with that existential crisis of “do I save this person’s life if I can, or will that somehow butterfly effect itself out to something catastrophic, i.e. Hitler winning the war?” While also keeping a low profile and learning how to perfectly wrap customer’s packages at the shop so that the mean boss lady won’t fire them. So that’s fun.
Throughout the whole book so far, there have been some inconsistencies in the historical record that the historians have been mildly panicking about, like air raid sirens going off earlier or bombs being dropped later than they should, and it’s been leading me to think that one of them must have changed something just slightly, and I’m wondering if that’s going to turn into something more catastrophic... There’s also a mysterious Mr. Dunworthy, the head of this whole project at Oxford, who no one could seem to find in the beginning, and everyone is rather frightened of his reaction, should their missions not go exactly as planned. So I’m getting sort of suspicious of him. Very difficult to judge someone only mentioned, never seen.
The plot and pacing to this point has all felt like one long build to me, and being halfway through, I wonder how long the build will keep going up, what are we building to? And I’ve just been informed that there is a sequel, and this one may end with a cliffhanger, so are we even going to get up to what we’re building?
Overall, I’m intrigued, I like the characters (though since they have to disappear into their war-era personae, there isn’t much delving into backstory, so it feels a little tough to get really close to them), the plot moves right along, and I think I may have found the actual inciting event, the thing that one of them might have changed in the earliest timeline, and I’m very curious to see if my suspicions play out.
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Haven't been here for awhile because I'm off rethinking my writing career. But I have been reading. I've made changes in my list and will probably make more.

Here are the reviews of books I've read while off site; I'll post the list sometime later, maybe at the end of the year:

Tales From the Teapot by Dolly Yates: While this book is a short and easy read, it won't be my favorite book for the year...except for the way I came by it. Not only is sometimes inaccurate, but it uses a least one of those inaccuracies for the sort of offensive Christian preachment that made me look elsewhere when I was looking for spiritual nourishment. But there are a few funny anecdotes, like the time the author's 2 year old "helped" his parents by emptying the contents of a tea packet on the frosting for a wedding cake...during wartime England when sugar was hard to come by.

But I'm jazzed by the way this book came to me. It's a long story. I became a Sikh in 1986, and by 1987, Mr. Siri was looking around for spiritual fulfillment of his own that wouldn't require him to grow a beard. His favorite coworker then attended a Methodist Church an easy walk from our house, so he decided to try it out. One of the ladies there was this tiny and vibrant elderly woman who had been through the Japanese Relocation/Interment. The most profound moment I've ever had in a Christian church occurred when she read the scriptural passage one Palm Sunday. Instead of the usual texts for that day, she was unexpectedly given to read the passage of Jesus being taken away by Roman soldiers...and Georgette broke down and sobbed. And as she did so, I could sense the Presence saying, "This was me."

We maintained contact with Georgette after we moved and that particular church folded. A few years ago, her daughter contacted us to say that Georgette was now in an assisted living situation and gave us her new address. We put the daughter on our end of year mailing list also.
Then this year of all years, I had the idea that while everyone (nearly everyone) was home, it might be a good time to write a letter wishing everyone well and cheering them up with a beautiful card. And it occurred to me that if anyone had passed, I'd hear about it sooner than if I waited for the usual time to send people greetings. I suspected one of these might be Georgette. Sure enough, a week or two after we sent off the first batch of cards/newsletters, we got a call from Georgette's daughter. Georgette had indeed passed, peacefully and not from Covid, just old age. That phone call lasted about 45 minutes, and the daughter wanted to have a really long phone call with us. So a week or so later, we did that.

During that conversation, the daughter mentioned a friend of hers who'd written a book about tea. The daughter, who is a devout Methodist to this day, also mentioned that she didn't know anything about Sikhism and would be interested in learning more. I suggested a book trade, which we did.

This book replaces Jim Butcher's Storm Front, which I do plan to read. But the story of how I got the Butcher book is less interesting than how I got Tales From the Teapot, which takes the cake...or maybe I should say "the scones."

In addition to sending me Tales From the Teapot, Georgette's daughter also sent the full price plus the cost of shipping (I thought it would be an even steven trade) for Sikh Spiritual Practice in bills wrapped in gorgeous Japanese paper. That was more precious than money and is now on my altar.

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, attributed. Translated and abridged by Martin Palmer assisted by He Yun (who checked for accuracy), Jay Ramsay (who helped turned the raw poetry translations into poetry), and Victoria Finlay (who located the illustrations): I'm glad I read this, and I'm glad it's over. I'm also glad I didn't know this was an abridgement until I got it, because I don't think I could have stuck it out through a book three times the size of the doorstopper I did read.

I decided last year that I needed to read more Asian literature, Chinese classics especially. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is a Chinese classic if there ever was one. I've heard that if you turn the TV on in China, you're likely to find a show based on this book. The first opera I ever saw was not by Puccini or Verdi or any other European, but The Beauty Bait, a classic and popular Chinese opera. Its story can be found in this book. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is considered a novel, but is more of an epic in prose. It predates Cervantes by 200 to 300 years.

The translation uses colloquial English, which would be easy to read if it weren't for the issue of names. Chinese traditionally place the family name first and the given name last. When you have a cast of thousands and people whose names all begin the same way, some of whom are on opposite sides of battlefields and some of whom don't appear all that often, it gets more than a little confusing.

Parts of the book were very interesting, notably the shenanigans some of the generals used to trick their enemies. And parts of the book were revolting, notably the revenge culture and the things some of the "good guys" did to exact that revenge. It almost made me lose my taste for Chinese culture. Almost.

*Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie: A fast and fun read. (Something I needed after enduring the long epic.) The usual Christie improbabilities are at least plausible in this case. Not too marred, and maybe even helped, by the psychologizing that was so popular in the '50s when this book was written. For a lot of reasons, this book wouldn't work if it were written nowadays, but given its era, I could overlook the shortcomings and enjoy it for what it was.

Some people would be bothered by some of the things a half-Indian (Asian) young woman was called, but I noted that only a guy who proved himself to be a bit of a wart called her the worst of those things, and the woman herself was made out to be the best (in some ways) of all the suspects. And no, she didn't do it.

(*)The Soul of a Tree: A Woodworker's Reflections by George Nakashima: I had originally planned to pair the Balboa Park book with this one since both came to us as gifts from my youngest brother. But then I decided to pair Balboa Park with a book called Chetco, a book I thought I could use for research. Bad decision! The Chetco book was so bad I only made it through a chapter or so. So, I returned to this one.

That proved to be a good decision, since I was dealing with a rather revolting emotional situation (not Covid related) and needed something positive as a counterbalance. This book fit the bill. Part memoir, part veering on how-to (but not quite going there), part meditative essay. The writing was good and the photos often gorgeous. The one jarring note was the constant use of the word "man" to mean humanity, mankind, human beings and even men; only in a few cases, did he use the word people, and then only to refer to specific groups of people; I constantly had to remind myself that the book was published in 1981, before universal language was more universally accepted, and that Nakashima was born in 1905, when universal language was almost non-existent.

*!The Nine Cloud Dream by Kim Man-Jung, trans. by Heinz Insu Fenkl: This may be the best book I read this year. Very few novels are both cheerful and profound, but this book is one of them. Although it's little known outside of Asia, it's considered by many to be the crown jewel of Korean novels and even strongly influenced The Dream of the Red Chamber, considered by some to be the greatest Chinese novel. It predates all English novels.

It's a frame story of a Buddhist monk who meets eight fairies on a bridge. And then the monk is punished for his desire for those fairies by being reincarnated as a man born lowly but rising through merit to being a general, a prime minister, and an imperial son-in-law, plus another wife and six concubines, and yes, these are those fairies.

The translator, thankfully, was the sort who likes to let his readers in on the joke, and so, the book is annotated so that you get as many jokes as possible. The introduction, too, was fascinating and made it much easier to grasp a fuller understanding of the book's multi layers.

Happy reading, all!

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

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And getting back to the final title: Voyage of the Basilisk, the third in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan, as the titular Lady Trent sets out on a two-year sea voyage around her world, in the spirit of Darwin, to explore the origins and roots and relationships of exotic dragon species. So far, like the first two, it picks up fast and keeps me reading.

ETA: And I just finished. Like the previous two installments in this series, VotB features a strong (but not infallable) lady scientist in a world undergoing a Victorianesque scientific revolution. With distinct parallels to Darwin's famed voyage, Isabella sets out to discover the origins and secrets of the world's many dragons, a journey with numerous mishaps and adventures and political and personal missteps. It moves quickly and reads fast, and I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Updated List (12/12 - FINISHED):
1 - I spy: The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t With Her Mind, by Jackson Ford. DONE 3/8/20
2 - Eyes to the skies: Ill Wind, by Rachel Caine. DONE 5/16/20
3 - Take note: Crystal Singer, by Anne McCaffrey. DONE 3/8/20
4 - By its cover: Camp Tiger, by Susan Choi. DONE - 1/4/20
5 - Setting sail: Voyage of the Basilisk, by Marie Brennan DONE - 10/19/20
7 - Three-color mythology: They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott. DONE - 4/7/20
8 - Out of this world: Cards of Grief, by Jane Yolen. DONE 3/13/20
9 - Tag team: Bob, by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead. DONE - 1/28/20
10 - Succinct: Updraft, by Fran Wilde. DONE - 4/17/20
11 - You might also like. . .: The Demon Awakens, by R. A. Salvatore DONE
12 - No hablo: Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Walter Starkie. DONE - 2/26/20
 
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My two week road trip was pretty productive; I managed to finish two books and start two more!

Finished

Blackout - I was ultimately left feeling rather unsatisfied at the end of this one. It was a cliffhanger (which I wish I had known going in) and a pretty big one, mainly in that nothing got solved and I just have a lot of questions left. I still love the overall concept of traveling through time specifically to observe historical events, and all the space-time continuum messes that potentially involves, but I felt like I was still reaching for connections that didn’t seem to actually be there and waiting for the big aha! moment that never quite came. So of course I am going to eventually have to read the second book and find out if anything gets resolved, ever (simply because I must KNOW!) but I’ll be taking a break from the series for a bit.

Food: A Love Story - I used this as my pre-bedtime reading, because I like being able to go to sleep with a smile on my face, and this served that purpose perfectly. Jim Gaffigan’s stand-up has always made me laugh, and his tone actually translates to the written word pretty well. I’ve lost the highlighted lines in my e-reader, but I particularly loved some of his observations on salad and how stupid and pointless it is. I feel the same way...

Begun

Armada: I really enjoyed Ready Player One and the opening chapters of this feel quite similar, so that’s kind of nice to step back in to. Talk of aliens began immediately, I’m hooked.

The Princess Diarist: I switched out Postcards From the Edge for this one from Carrie Fisher, partly because it just happened to be available from my library but mostly for the Star Wars nostalgia angle, which I felt pretty acutely when I glanced at the cover. I haven’t actually read anything from her before, but I can definitely hear her voice coming through the anecdotes she’s telling me, and I like it. Full of sass and very self-aware of the gigantic place she holds in our culture, but also so grounded and honest about the sort of pressure it created.

Updated list:
2. Armchair voyages — “Little Demon in the City of Light” Steven Levingston
3. Dearly Departed — “The Princess Diarist” Carrie Fisher In Progress
13. Do you deliver? — “Food: A Love Story” Jim Gaffigan Finished
15. Anyward, ho! — “Blackout” Connie Willis Finished
22. Setting sail — “The Devil and the Dark Water” Stuart Turton
24. Getting started — “Off to be the Wizard” Scott Meyer
31. Revenge of the nerds — “The Calculating Stars” Mary Robinette Kowal
32. The heart and mind of a writer — “On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft” Stephen King
33. Bits and pieces — “About Time” Jack Finney
34. Out of this world — “Leviathan Wakes” James S. A. Corey
38. Loose ends — “Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays and Other Writing” Shirley Jackson
41. Succinct — “Armada” Ernest Cline In Progress

I better get reading if I want to get through these by the end of the year...
 

Gatteau

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And getting back to the final title: Voyage of the Basilisk, the third in the Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan, as the titular Lady Trent sets out on a two-year sea voyage around her world, in the spirit of Darwin, to explore the origins and roots and relationships of exotic dragon species. So far, like the first two, it picks up fast and keeps me reading.

This sounds fantastic. Going on my list for future reads!
 

Chris P

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Glad to see progress, everyone!

Well, I'm not likely to challenge myself to any extra credit this year. I got too sidetracked, but then again I got a lot of the backlogged reading done.

Next year I'm going to have to pace myself better. I'm looking forward to it, though, and it's not too early if people want to start proposing next year's catagories :)
 

mrsmig

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Last night I finished Nicholas Orme's Medieval Children, the last book of my 2020 Challenge. I'm not surprised it took so long to complete. It's a dense book, jam-packed with information, which made for slow going. I was disappointed (albeit unsurprised) that it's weighted heavily toward male children; for research's sake, I was hoping for more info about the life of medieval girls. Still, it was a solid read.

It's a bit late in the year to start a second Challenge, so I'll just say thank you once again to Chris P for organizing and hosting. I'm looking forward to the 2021 Challenge!

2. Armchair voyages Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez DONE
6. Eyes to the skies Rain: Four Walks in English Weather by Melissa Harrison DONE
9. Youthful exuberance We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson DONE
17. Better known for Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives by Terry Jones and Ed Ereira DONE
22. Setting sail Waterlog by Roger Deakin DONE
25. Support the home team - Chasing Danger by Richard C. White DONE
27. Old world charm The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry DONE
37. Literary literal alliteration Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem DONE
38. Loose Ends Medieval Children by Nicholas Orme DONE
40. Ripped from the headlines Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe DONE
42. You might also like White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin J. DiAngelo DONE
44. Epic OdysseyThe Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow DONE
 
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Chris P

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IIIIIIIIIIiiiiiiiiit's December!!!

That means I'm dusting off the list of topics and putting my mind to 2021! What topics would you like to see? Help me come up with new ideas.

I currently have a list of about 120 topics, from which 50 will be selected and posted on January 1.
 
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Verboten

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I wasn't able to start another challenge this year due to the insanity of 2020, but I can't wait for a new challenge in 2021!
 

Gatteau

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Oh, hello books, didn’t see you sitting there...

Not much has been read in the last month, mainly due to the frenzy of NaNoWriMo, and I know there’s no way I’ll make it through the rest of these now, but I’m excited to start fresh in the new year!

I did finish Off To Be The Wizard: a fun romp through the intersection of technology and magic. It took me a little while to warm up to the MC, Martin, because he just sort of seemed like a jerk in the beginning; but I decided that was intentional because he traveled a nice character arc, redeeming himself in my eyes by the end. I like the author’s style, fun little bits all over the place like this early description of Martin: “he liked pants that constantly reminded you that you were wearing pants”. I’m not sure how to describe what that means, but I feel like I do know exactly what that means. :D A few times, I took issue with the mechanics of the world he was building, in that if I thought about it for longer than just in passing, it didn’t quite add up - but that did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the book. I will be reading more of this series!

Updated list:
2. Armchair voyages — “Little Demon in the City of Light” Steven Levingston
3. Dearly Departed — “The Princess Diarist” Carrie Fisher In Progress
13. Do you deliver? — “Food: A Love Story” Jim Gaffigan Finished
15. Anyward, ho! — “Blackout” Connie Willis Finished
22. Setting sail — “The Devil and the Dark Water” Stuart Turton
24. Getting started — “Off to be the Wizard” Scott Meyer Finished
31. Revenge of the nerds — “The Calculating Stars” Mary Robinette Kowal
32. The heart and mind of a writer — “On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft” Stephen King
33. Bits and pieces — “About Time” Jack Finney In Progress
34. Out of this world — “Leviathan Wakes” James S. A. Corey
38. Loose ends — “Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays and Other Writing” Shirley Jackson In Progress
41. Succinct — “Armada” Ernest Cline In Progress
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Well, I said I'd come back and give the final list for the year. Here it is:

BOOK CHALLENGE 2020: A Trilogy, a Bunch of Pairs and a Solo Solo

Trilogy:
The Obsidian Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory Done
The Outstretched Shadow Done
To Light a Candle Done
When Darkness Falls Done
Pairs:
Two Memoirs by Novelists Done
Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan Done
Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Monk Taylor Done
Two Nonfiction Books Received as Presents from My Youngest Brother Done
Balboa Park: A Millennium History by Roger M. Showley Done
The Soul of a Tree: A Woodworker's Reflections by George Nakashima Done
By & About Kahlil Gibran
Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World by Jean Gibran and Kahlil Gibran (his nephew) Done
Spirits Rebellious, trans. by Anthony Rizcallah Ferris
Two Classic Asian Novels Done
The Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong Done
The Nine Cloud Dream by Kim Man-Jung, trans. by Heinz Insu Fenkl Done
Two Nonfiction Narratives Featuring the Dalai Lama Done
Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama Done
The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz Done
Two Mysteries Done
The House Without the Door by Elizabeth Daly Done
Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie Done
Two Books Featuring Animals Done
Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart Done
The Elephant's Garden by Jane Ray Done
Two Books about Music
Maestros and Their Music: The Art and Alchemy of Conducting by John Mauceri Done
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
Two Urban Fantasy Mysteries
Disappearing Nightly by Laura Resnick Done
Storm Front by Jim Butcher Attempted (too much horror for me to continue)
Two Books I Came By in Unusual Ways
California Vaquero by A. R. Rojas
Tales From the Teapot by Dolly Yates Done
Two Books of Short Fiction for Christmas Done
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories by P.D. James Done
Twelve Tales of Christmas by Cathleen Townsend (AW's CathleenT) Done
Solo: A Book of Poetry to Read Throughout the Year
Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry Completed 1/4 - 1/3 of this behemoth; will not continue next year nor for the remaining days of 2020

So...looks like 21 books completed this year, which isn't bad. Only a few of them were on the original list and stayed on the list throughout the challenge. I've also removed several pairs I couldn't get too.

I'll post the reviews for the books I read since my last visit in the next post.

Already have started on next year's books. I like the idea of having a list to start with, even if I play around with it during the year. May or may not be in next year.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (Literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

Here are the reviews of the remaining completed (and in one case, only partially finished) books:

*The Jew in the Lotus by Rodger Kamenetz: I considered including a pair focusing on the Dalai Lama's Freedom in Exile when I first made my list for this Challenge. Before the year began, I decided against it, but as the year cut its swath of horror, I started to need books that are profound but not filled with graphic violence. This book, about a delegation of Jews who visited Dharamasala at the Dalai Lama's request, fit the bill.
It's not perfect. Not all of the Yiddish and Tibetan/Buddhist words are in the glossary (and some of those needed to be, even for someone who's been around Eastern Religions for decades); the book is maybe two chapters too long; and he got a couple of things about Sikhs wrong. Members of the delegation visited Sikh temples twice. The main thing Kamenetz got wrong was that he called the "priests" -- the correct word is "granthi" and they're caretakers more than they are priests -- "the Sikh guru." Uh, no. The Sikh Guru takes the form of a book, but is also the songs in that book. You don't ever call a living Sikh person a "guru." Please.
But that's minor. The insights that a former cynic managed to pull out of that trip are well worth the read. His own transformation is a pretty powerful statement.
(*) Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan: This is the second memoir by Amy Tan I've read. I loved The Opposite of Fate. This book, like that one, is a mix of autobiographical essays, emails, and journal entries; it also includes a few longer excerpts from permanently stalled novels. I didn't like this one quite as much as the first. Fewer memorable stories. More introspection that she's already done better in her novels.
But there were some sections of interest to me. The main one was the story of how she was in a study of children who taught themselves how to read. I didn't teach myself to read, but I was in studies as a kid, so this brought back a lot of memories.
I'd hoped this book would help me work my way through a writing dilemma I'm in. And while it got me back into some writing, the dilemma is still an ongoing situation.
*Disappearing Nightly by Laura Resnick: One of the benefits of the Urban Fantasy genre is that it allows for an interplay of different versions of reality. This one did that and kept the plot fast paced and funny.
It wasn't perfect. There are a few things that are dated. Notably, it had the computer nerd drag queen find data on an electronic bulletin board, which were rapidly becoming extinct around the time the book was published. Also, the bad guy had a speech impediment, which sat poorly with me given that there weren't any other people with disabilities in the book.
That said, I read this book in a snap and don't regret it.
(*)Twelve Tales of Christmas by Cathleen Townsend (AW's CathleenT): A box of bonbons book: the sort you read without thinking about too much, sweet but not nutritious, pleasant but not memorable. Uh, mostly not memorable, mostly not nutritious and mostly sweet. The Angel in the Tree was bittersweet with emphasis on bitter; you could see the pain coming, which made it worse; but as stories go, it was pretty good. Holiday for Death was my favorite, a tearjerker for sure, but also getting what real goodness and real intuition are about; the ending was a killer...and very good.
*The Elephant's Garden by Jane Ray: Well, I planned to partner Airs Above the Ground with Water for Elephants because both are set partially in circuses. But Water for Elephants wasn't going to cut it for reading material for me this year, although I may read it sometime. Then I tried pairing Airs Above the Ground with The Gabriel Hounds as two books by Mary Stewart, but I only got through a couple of chapters; the opening lines were wonderfully intriguing and evocative, but then the early chapters turned into an "As you know, Bob," talk fest. No thanks; I can take a little judicious such talk, but it has to be done well, and this wasn't.
So, here we are with The Elephant's Garden, a pairing based on both featuring animals. It's a child's picture book and took me maybe 20 minutes to read, counting some time admiring the artwork. It's the artwork that gets the star. The text leaves some stuff out that should be there for clarity. And the research could be better: lotuses do not bloom on trees for instance, and cherries and mangos typically do not grow in the same gardens. But given the fairytale aspects of the book, the research gaffes are acceptable. And also, it's charming, especially the artwork!
Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama: I feel very virtuous for having completed this book and would give it a star, except that it was even more painful to read than The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. There's much more depiction of torture than I can tolerate reading even in a good year. That's not to say that I don't see the need for that depiction; I understand all too well why he had to include it. But the story of the Chinese takeover of Tibet was not what I wanted to be reading in this year of all years.
Having read the two Chinese language classics did give me some understanding of why China did what it did. But it has to do with Tibetans besting them in battle centuries ago, nothing to do with modern times.
This year I've read seven complete books and a hefty section of an eighth set in Asia, but with this book, I can no longer read anything set in Asia for the remainder of the year, and probably not next year either. I still have a taste for foods from both ends of Asia; Chinese and my ethnically native Lebanese in particular. I'm not going to take down the Asian art that abounds in our house. But...
Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry: A behemoth of a book. Read a quarter to a third of it. Was grateful to read the translation of the original Ballad of Mulan. Was grateful to be reading this while reading The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, as it included poems by some of the historical personages included in that epic. Couldn't continue reading it once I started reading the books about Tibet. It is well done, and I don't regret reading what I did. I simply have no heart to read the rest of it any time soon.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Cobalt Jade

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Hmm, my challenge for 2020 didn't get very far. Blame COVID. Four finished and two incomplete. My lunch hour, where I get a lot of my reading done, was spent sewing face masks, not reading, and later on, I started going home for lunch because it was just too stressful to hang around work, and I needed a break. I watched 20 movies and 6 series though! Most years, I barely watch any TV.



2. Armchair voyages:
A book taking place somewhere you have always wanted to go, but have never been.
Henry Lawson’s Best Stories, Henry Lawson (Australia)
The National Poet of Australia.


12. Take note: A book where music features prominently, or about musicians.
Buried Alive, Myra Friedman
Bio of 1960s rock star Janice Joplin, acclaimed in its time. DONE


14. No Cliff Notes this time: A book that’s required reading in most high schools or universities.
Pride and Prejudice,
Jane Austen
OK, it’s time to tackle this.


18. Out of Africa: A book taking place in Africa (including North Africa).
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
A missionary family encounters misfortune in Africa. INCOMPLETE
Wasn't into it enough to go past the halfway mark.



22. Setting sail: A book taking place mostly or all on water.
Narwhals: Arctic Whales in a Melting World, by Todd McLeish DONE


25. Support the home team: A book by a fellow AWer.
TBA


26. Face your fears: A book that intimidates you, for any reason
The Tale of Puddin’head Wilson, Mark Twain
Been wanting to read this for a while but haven’t read Twain since Huckleberry Finn.



29. Three-color mythology: A graphic novel or comic book.
Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
Life in Iran from the perspective of a child who lived it. DONE


34. Out of this world: A book taking place in space or on another planet.
Brightness Falls from the Air, Joan D. Vinge
The adventures of Cat the telepath continue. INCOMPLETE
I think this will be part of next year's challenge... I started it and grew tired of Cat constantly kvetching about the horribleness and inhumanity of the non-telepathic humans who are part of the powers-that-be... I mean it was constant. But I do still want to see how the story plays out.



37. Literary literal alliteration: A book whose title or author’s name is an alliteration.
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
On my bucket list.


41. Succinct: A book with a one-word title.
Lolita, Vladimer Nabokov
My cousin read this and I feel I should too.


47. Just the facts, Ma’am: Non-fiction on any subject.
To Sleep with the Angels: The Story of a Fire, David Cowan and John Kuenster
Account of the terrible fire in a Chicago Catholic school. DONE
 

Chris P

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Thanks for participating, everyone! No matter how far you got. Yeah, what a strange year, to put it mildly.

Just two more days until the next challenge!
 

mrsmig

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Looking forward to it, Chris! I got some new books for Christmas - just have to figure out which categories they'll fit into!
 

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