Year’s end: 2012 in review

The year is not over (and I do hope to put in one last book, so I can neatly round off the year at 80) so it’s not time for stats yet, but I spent some time thinking back at how the year has been going, reading-wise and blogging-wise, and I decided to put down some thoughts.

Reading choices

Of 79 books so far, I can honestly say I liked some 20, not more. And I was WOW’ed by only 4 or 5. This is not good. Sometime this year I read an article that made me think about how limited the number of books I can still read in my lifetime is — I really need not to waste those books with poor choices! How do you choose your books to avoid disappointment?

A few of my favorite things: readalongs!

This was my “new thing” for 2012 and it turned out to be a wonderful experience. I read Bleak House and Wuthering Heights with the Unputdownable readalongs hosted by Wallace, Neverwhere as a group read @ Stainless Steel Droppings, O Testamento do Sr. Napumoceno da Silva Araújo with Alex of The Sleepless Reader and Fall of Giants for the Chunky Book Club — and the latter was the only one that didn’t work out (I see the hosts at the Chunky Book Club are considering whether or not to continue the experience, and I am crossing my fingers that they keep it going!) As one who has never taken part in a book club IRL, I loved the chance to discuss while reading! And I do want to continue  “readalonging” in 2013. Do you know of any good group read I should consider?

Reading in a group is always more fun than reading alone. Image credits: Gerg1967 on Flickr

Language diversity

One of my goals for 2012 was to read more in my “minor” languages (German, French, Portuguese). As it was, I realized in November that I had read almost only in English, almost nothing in Italian either! Which resulted in a flurry of  hurriedly Italian reads  😦 For 2013, I want to be more careful on that side: ideally, I want to aim at 6 books each for my minor languages, plus 10 Italian (OV) and 10 translated into Italian. That makes up almost half of my usual fare, so it should leave me plenty of choice for the remaining books. (I am considering quarterly goals for these languages, too. I hope that would help.) The one language that it’s harder for me to get books in is German, so here’s the question: any good German-language books you want to recommend?

A few of my favorite things: classics!

Another thing I appreciated this year was some classic reading: Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas… It always takes me longer to actually get to books of this kind, but mostly I find out that they’re worth it. Because I want to read more in this sense, I am working on a list to join the Classics Project — it’s taking me forever to complete it, and I keep reading books from the list before it’s ready so I never actually have 50, but I’m working on it. What classic book should absolutely be on my list?

When you re-read a classic you do not see in the book more than you did before. You see more in you than there was before. Image credits: » Zitona « on Flickr

Challenges… done and not done

I’ve taken reading challenges very loosely this year. I like it better like that, with no pressure, but right now I think I must check myself before I decide which ones to join. I really want to work on what I end up reading, and for 2013 I intend to join mostly challenges that push the limits of my reading: pushing me to read more nonfiction, and more classics, and more books from different cultures….

  • Completed challenges this year:
    1. What’s in a Name
    2. Antonym
    3. Middle East (I intended to write a Jerusalem-related post but never got around to it. Maybe in January)
    4. Back to the Classics
    5. Venice in February
    6. Chunkster
    7. Classic Double: yay!
    8. RIP VII
  • Failed challenges this year:
    1. Medieval challenge: I read one, but was stuck on the second (of four books) so long that it ended up being the only DNF of the year
    2. Reading Round Rome: 3/7, but the host has disappeared halfway through
    3. Greek Classics: 1/2. What was that about liking classics, again?
    4. Aussie Author: 1/3. Ahem
    5. Dewey Decimal: 5/6. Almost.
    6. Africa: I read 4 out of 5, but I guess I understood not one of them. Not sure how to approach this kind of literature.
    7. South Asian: for the second year in a row 😦

What challenges are you taking in 2013? And how was your year in 2012?

Oh, September…

September is here and summer is over. Or not really over, there’s still plenty of sun ’round here and maybe a couple of trips to the sea ahead, but around the blogosphere it feels like summer is over. (I guess it has to do with school schedules, but that’s something that I’m not concerned with at all at this point in life.)

I finished yesterday the Semi-Charmed Summer 2012 Book Challenge organized by Megan. It was a fun experience, different from most because it worked with points and felt more like a competition than a reading challenge, but it fit the summer feeling perfectly and allowed me to get some reading done. (I did have to tweak the last couple of categories in order to finish in time, but still.) So I guess yes, in blogging terms summer is really over for me too. And I am ready for more “serious” reading (not that I stopped reading serious things, but I did get more fluff than usual this summer).

So. September. The good thing with the end of summer is that there’s plenty of interesting things starting to happen. I wonder how much I can do — let’s see.

September 1st to October 31st: here comes the seventh edition of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, hosted by Carl V. @ Stainless Steel Droppings. I’ve never participated before because Gothic/Horror is not really my thing, but the experiences organized by Carl are always great fun, so I thought I would try. I’ll start easy, with “Peril the Third or, the One Book Only option”, and I think I have one book that fits the bill. Or more than one, possibly.

September-October is also the timeframe of the current Read-a-Long @ Unputdownables. I so loved the first experience that I was looking forward to Wallace’s next read-a-long that would catch my interest. The current read is Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, which I remember loving more than I expected to when I read it for the first time. So it will be a re-read, and at the same time not a re-read, because I read it in Italian and will try the original this time. I am looking forward to an interesting discussion on this one!

September is also Chunky Book Club month. This is probably the only month I can participate in the discussion this year and I am looking forward to it, but I still have to start reading. September’s pick is Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants, and discussion starts on the 15th.

In non-readalong news, September is the month of the Book Blogger Appreciation Week, which will be hosted on September 10th to 14th. This is a first for me and I am sad that I won’t be able to participate in full, but I’m still curious to see how it goes and looking forward to participating as much as I can!

I recently and totally by chance became aware of the Antonio Tabucchi Week which will be hosted by Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat on September 17th to 23rd. I don’t know that I can read more by him right now, but I hope it will be a chance to discuss two works I read recently, Sostiene Pereira and Requiem.

Towards the end of the month, it’s time for a new Bloggiesta on September 28th to 30th. Fun and a chance to blog better? Count me in. There’s so much more I’d like to put into my blogging!

To close the circle, let me finish with something for October: as part of the R.I.P VII, Carl is hosting a read-a-long for Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Guess who’s not going to miss that?

_____

Post summary: a list of books I want to read in September (did I mention I want to finish a couple of challenges too?)

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
  • Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
  • Kraken by China Mieville or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
  • Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
  • The Rock by John Masters
  • The Most Beautiful Thing by Fiona Robyn
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory

Neverwhere Group Read – week three/the end

Carl @ Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a group read for Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. This week there are no questions and Carl left it up to us what to share and what to underline. Which I appreciate… except that this week I lack the time and concentration for analysis, so you’ll get my scattered thoughts instead. Let me also say here that I am sorry for participating so little, and I hope to go back to participating blogs in the upcoming weeks, as soon as I get the time! (As usual, beware: spoilers ahead)

About the book as a whole: I’m still in love with it as much as the first time. I really hope Carl will share with us what makes him write “So is it really that spectacular of a novel?  The objective answer is “no”.” Because to me, it is spectacular, very much so each time I read it.

About Richard: many of you mentioned last week that the Ordeal was a kind of turning point for Richard. He obviously thought the same:

Richard felt oddly proud. He had proved himself in the ordeal. He was One of Them. He would Go, and he would Bring Back Food. He puffed out his chest.

But the others don’t seem to think so. And I didn’t see any turning point. More like, a gradual growth of the character. Until this:

Metaphors failed him, then. He had gone beyond the world of metaphor and simile, into the place of things that are, and it was changing him.

Now, isn’t this interesting? London Below as “the place of things that are“?

About the ending: I am very sorry to say that, after our discussion about mental illness, this time I had to read the ending differently. You know how the homeless woman has no idea about London Below? This time, for me, Gary is right, and Richard has had a nervous breakdown and has been hallucinating. And I have to say it’s a sad way of reading this book. I liked the magic better.

About references: this one is a reference to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, right? Or is this a common joke?

“Talking of the Marquis, I wonder where he is. He’s a bit late, isn’t he, Mister Vandemar?”
“Very late indeed, Mister Croup. As late as he possibly could be.”

Questions for fellow group readers:

  1. In his dream, Richard confronted the Beast alone; in the Labyrinth, he only participates in the “dance”, following Hunter’s indications. And he’s still completely out of his depth. Do you think he had some traits that made him into the Warrior? (Maybe that collection of trolls was a hint?)
  2. Why is the key given back to the Black Friars? And why was it Door that had to use it? If it was the “key to all reality”, why did it need an opener?
  3. What do you think of the processional of all the London Below characters saying goodbye to Richard?

Sorry, that’s all that I could come up with, today.

Edition note: I am reading the author’s preferred text, as published by Headline Review, paperback, 372 pages plus exclusive material.

Neverwhere Group Read – week two (with Wondrous Words!)

Carl @ Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a group read for Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Below are my answers to this week’s questions. Please beware, there may be spoilers. (I’m getting better… Maybe next week, the last, I will be able to post on schedule!)

1.  Chapter 6 begins with Richard chanting the mantra, “I want to go home”. How do you feel about Richard and his reactions at this point to the unexpected adventure he finds himself on?

“Well,” said Richard, “I still don’t believe that there are flocks of angels wandering about down here.”
“There aren’t,” said the Marquis. “Just one.”
“Maybe,” Richard said, persisting, “we’re thinking of different things. The angels I have in mind are all wings, haloes, trumpets, peace-on-earth-goodwill-unto-men.”
“That’s right,” said Door. “You got it. Angels.”

I’m a bit disappointed in Richard, because he tries so hard to make sense of what he is going through, he tries so hard to categorize everything so that it fits his normal, London Above experience. In this week’s post, Carl points out that this reaction is way more realistic than the usual one where the characters embrace their new, out-of-this-world experience, whatever that is. I have to agree that Carl is right, but as a reader, it still bugs me.

2. The Marquis de Carabas was even more mysterious and cagey during the first part of this week’s reading. What were your reactions to him/thoughts about him as you followed his activities?

“Now me,” said Mr Vandemar. “What number am I thinking of?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What number am I thinking of?” repeated Mr Vandemar. “It’s between one and a lot,” he added, helpfully.
“Seven,” said the Marquis. Mr Vandemar nodded, impressed.

Actually, I don’t know. He seems to know so much about so many things, he seems to have some kind of power/status of his own, and most of all he seems to be after his own plans. I’d like to know more about him, he has so many facets, and I would definitely like to read a novel with him as central character. Oh, wait — that’s what I’d have to look for at the Floating Market…

3. How did you feel about the Ordeal of the Key?

“I think I will have that cup of tea now, if you don’t mind.”

This was probably the most disappointing part of the book for me. First, we have a three-part ordeal in perfect fairy-tale style, but they go through part 1 & 2 without even realizing it and without the least difficulty (I mean, I guessed the riddle before Door did, and without stopping in my reading, and I’m no good with riddles usually!). And then, Richard’s part of the ordeal, it seemed not creative at all to me, something seen again and again. Sorry.

4. This section of the book is filled with moments. Small, sometimes quite significant, moments that pass within a few pages but stick with you. What are one or two of these that you haven’t discussed yet that stood out to you, or that you particularly enjoyed.

“And you worked for her, Hunter?”
“I worked for all the Seven Sisters.”
“I thought they hadn’t spoken to each other for, oh, at least thirty years.”

There is a tagline in The Neverending Story that goes like this: “But that is another story and shall be told another time.” More than the moments, in this reading I am noticing these very small details that hint at a completely different story branching out from this one. The quote above is just an example of what I mean, but the book is full of them. And to me, a book that hides in itself a million other stories like that, is a perfect book, no matter what.

5. Any other things/ideas that you want to talk about from this section of the book?

Its eyes were clear and wide. Its robes were not white, as Richard had initially thought: they seemed to have been woven from light.

I can’t believe I had missed this reference before. Talk about foreshadowing!

“For I am Saruman, the Wise, Saruman Ring-maker, Saruman of Many Colours!”
I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.
[…]
“I liked white better,’ I said.
“White!” he sneered. “It serves as a beginning. White cloth may be dyed. The white page can be overwritten; and the white light can be broken.”
“In which case it is no longer white.”

Edition note: I am reading the author’s preferred text, as published by Headline Review, paperback, 372 pages plus exclusive material.

*****

I also found a new word for this week in Neverwhere, despite the fact that it’s definitely not my first read.

… at Jessica’s mews flat in fashionable Kensington…

When I saw the word “mews” I actually thought of this:

I know that would be “meow”, but I first thought of an alternate spelling or something. Except that it didn’t fit the context. Photo credits: MowT on Flickr.

Instead, it’s this:

Photo credits: synaethesia on Flickr (Oh, I love that it sounds like one of my favorite characters from this book!)

And here’s the definition:

mews: n. Brit. 1 a row of houses or flats converted from stables, or built to appear so 2 a group of stables round a yard or along an alley.

(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com unless otherwise stated.)

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) and interesting (to us, again) words we encountered in our readings. See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog!

Readalong: Bleak House

As I have mentioned several times, I have been reading Bleak House by Charles Dickens as part of the readalong organized by Wallace @ Unputdonables.net Well, I am happy to announce that I have finished the book and this week is the last discussion — “happy” not because I didn’t like the experience, but because the novel seemed never-ending and I am glad I made it through! For several reasons, I limited my discussion to Wallace’s blog, and never made posts about the readalong here (except once, to understand different readings of a specific scene) — so now you’ll get a mix-and-match post with my non-organized thoughts about the both the book and the readalong.

The book: Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

The edition: I read the Project Gutenberg version (downloadable here) — the cover on the left is for illustrative purposes only. In this case, the Project Gutenberg version means the bare text, with no notes or explanatory aids, which I missed sorely. (Page number? I have to check.)

A question for readalongers: have you ever heard about this book: Inside Bleak House by John Sutherland? Do you think it would help?

About the book: for the story, have a look at this synopsis, which makes a good job of telling you about the book without getting stranded in the (too many) plot details nor giving away anything. Also, I’d like to direct you to this infographic on The Guardian, which Hannah found and Wallace shared with us, and according to which this is The Most Dickensian Novel Ever! Wow.

About the readalong: I am sure reading groups and book clubs and readalongs are the best thing ever. This was my first try, and I just loved it. I don’t often have the chance to discuss books with someone, much less in so much detail, and it was very good to exchange ideas on even the tiniest bit of information (and to play the guessing game together). I also loved the group, because they brought different views and information, and different help to interpreting. But most of all because they are great people, wonderful readers and bloggers! Thank you all, fellow readalongers, and a special thank you to Wallace for all the work she does for hosting! This is for you:

I know, animated gifs are kind of cheesy, but you deserve an applause!

My experience with the book & my thoughts: let me begin by saying that I’m not a passionate Dickensite (is that a word?), but I have read some of his works before and enjoyed them. I liked a well-built plot and loved the words. Now, here? Here Dickens gets so verbose that I tended to get distracted for paragraphs on end… and when I focused back, I realized I had missed nothing! He talks so much and says the same thing over and over in so many different ways that, by the time all the characters are introduced and the story really starts, we’re over halfway into the novel! (And that, for a novel of over 1000 pages, is something.)
I’m sorry I didn’t like the novel better. There were good things, characters that were nicely done (Boythorn, and the Bagnets, most of all), and there were the mysteries, and even a detective story… Some of these parts I even enjoyed. But the rest, I’m sure I’d have abandoned this one if it were not for the readalong. And throughout I was so distracted that I continuously came up with improbable totally crazy theories. This, and trying to guess where the story would lead, were the best parts for me 🙂

The part with spoilers and my crazy theories: to my fellow readalongers I already mentioned my idea that Esther could be gay without knowing it. (She would still marry and be happy about it, but deep inside, sh would be in love with Ada.) Now, after finishing the book, I have another one (brace yourselves!): the scene where Mr Jarndyce tells Ada she can go and live with him, and kisses one of her locks? It totally creeps me out. I think there is room for a retelling of this story, a retelling where Jarndyce actually has the hidden goals Richard accuses him of having, and where he (Jarndyce) has some kind of perversion and interest in much younger women (which would explain why Esther still calls him Guardian right through to the end…)
Just let me add: I don’t think these interpretations are correct, they are just crazy ideas that popped into my mind. This alternative version would work, but it’s not present in the original work.

Language and writing: even with what I wrote above about being too verbose, I liked learning new words, words, words (and more words).

In the author’s own words: a few preferred extracts. The first, about analphabetism:

It must be a strange state to be like Jo! To shuffle through the streets, unfamiliar with the shapes, and in utter darkness as to the meaning, of those mysterious symbols, so abundant over the shops, and at the corners of streets, and on the doors, and in the windows! To see people read, and to see people write, and to see the postmen deliver letters, and not to have the least idea of all that language–to be, to every scrap of it, stone blind and dumb!

The Bagnets are the redeeming grace of this book, I just love them and they may be the best married couple I ever saw depicted in a novel:

“George,” says Mr. Bagnet. “You know me. It’s my old girl that advises. She has the head. But I never own to it before her. Discipline must be maintained. Wait till the greens is off her mind. Then we’ll consult. Whatever the old girl says, do–do it!”

[…]

“She’s worth her weight in gold,” says the trooper.
“In gold?” says Mr. Bagnet. “I’ll tell you what. The old girl’s weight–is twelve stone six. Would I take that weight–in any metal–for the old girl? No. Why not? Because the old girl’s metal is far more precious—than the preciousest metal. And she’s ALL metal!”
“You are right, Mat!”
“When she took me–and accepted of the ring–she ‘listed under me and the children–heart and head, for life. She’s that earnest,” says Mr. Bagnet, “and true to her colours–that, touch us with a finger–and she turns out–and stands to her arms. If the old girl fires wide–once in a way–at the call of duty–look over it, George. For she’s loyal!”
“Why, bless her, Mat,” returns the trooper, “I think the higher of her for it!”
“You are right!” says Mr. Bagnet with the warmest enthusiasm, though without relaxing the rigidity of a single muscle. “Think as high of the old girl–as the rock of Gibraltar–and still you’ll be thinking low–of such merits.”

[…]

Mr. George produces his present, which is greeted with admiring leapings and clappings by the young family, and with a species of reverential admiration by Mr. Bagnet. “Old girl,” says Mr. Bagnet. “Tell him my opinion of it.”
“Why, it’s a wonder, George!” Mrs. Bagnet exclaims. “It’s the beautifullest thing that ever was seen!”
“Good!” says Mr. Bagnet. “My opinion.”
“It’s so pretty, George,” cries Mrs. Bagnet, turning it on all sides and holding it out at arm’s length, “that it seems too choice for me.”
“Bad!” says Mr. Bagnet. “Not my opinion.”

The following one is just so much fun:

“But I trusted to things coming round.”
That very popular trust in flat things coming round! Not in their being beaten round, or worked round, but in their “coming” round! As though a lunatic should trust in the world’s “coming” triangular!
“I had confident expectations that things would come round and be all square.”

And so is this (there actually is a reasoning behind it, but I had to laugh out loud):

“How old ARE you, Phil?” asks the trooper, pausing as he conveys his smoking saucer to his lips.
“I’m something with a eight in it,” says Phil. “It can’t be eighty. Nor yet eighteen. It’s betwixt ’em, somewheres.”

Counts as: What’s in a name challenge – house; Back to the classics challenge – XIX century