Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My 2014 Book Challenge List

My 2013 book challenge was so rewarding, making me pick up books I would just keep skipping over in favor of lighter reading. I'm doing it again for the third year in a row.

Some books are carried over from last year and some I dropped because ... well, I'm not married to these lists. If am inspired at all to reach higher than before, that's good enough for me.

As before, I may not get through all of them in a year, but I will be trying always read one of them despite other distractions. In no particular order.

  1. Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
    This was on my 2013 list and having begun it about a week ago, I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Unabridged. Of course.

    Result: oh the agony! I loved the first bit about the bishop. Then I was gratified to see that the general plot had been well represented in the musical. However, the constant meandering here and there drove me crazy. I'm not usually a "don't bore us, get to the chorus" reader but Hugo beat me. Quitting this book.
  2. Rabble in Arms - Kenneth Roberts
    My second favorite historical fiction author. This is a big 'un I overlooked somehow about the Revolutionary War.

    UPDATE: This book wound up overlapping with my Book Bingo Challenge as A Book Based on a True Story. It kind of saved me because I really hate books based on real stories usually. But it don't get much realer than the Revolutionary War. Especially the way Kenneth Roberts tells his stories.
  3. The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra —
    One of Rose's favorites which she's been pushing on me for a long time. Also, Scott from Good Story said he was interested in reading it this year. They were too much for my weak will.

    UPDATE: This will be one of Scott's choices for A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast for 2015 - so I don't need to keep it on a challenge list.
  4. Charles Dickens novel
    Not sure which one yet. I'm wavering between Our Mutual Friend and Nicholas Nickleby.

    Result:  Ok, this was decided when a kind friend gave me Simon Prebble's reading of Great Expectations. Not the book I'd have chosen, but it is Dickens and that's good enough for me.

    I struggled my way through Great Expectations (chronicled here). Later I picked up The Pickwick Papers with the idea of something light, Dickens-wise. I raced through it in about a week, really enjoying it (as chronicled here). I'm now very slowly enjoying the novel from the other end of Dickens' timeline, Our Mutual Friend.
  5. Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength - C. S. Lewis
    I've had this pushed at me by everyone and his brother. Never been able to get past the first few chapters of Silent Planet but recently I tried the audio. That did the trick so I have begun. I'll give myself a year. That should be long enough.

    Out of the Silent Planet: Thanks goodness for the audio version or I'd never have made it. As it was I went in and out of being interested in the story, primarily because I was much more interested in the world development and exploration than in Ransom's dealings with his fellow Earthmen. Lewis was fantastically inventive about what the planet and living beings were like. I didn't know he had it in him! The scientist's final letter to the author really caught my attention. In particular, his comments about death among the Hrossa were mind-blowing in their implications about our own life here on fallen Earth. I also really liked the use for "bent" instead of "evil," showing just how we are turned from what we were meant to be. However, this does seem very obviously aimed at those who have Christian interests or mindsets, just as The Screwtape Letters was. I wonder if non-Christians enjoy this book.

    Perelandra: Just as with Out of the Silent Planet, I found the beginning of the book fairly uninviting. However, also just as in that book, having the audio helped me past that to the point. This book is so different from Out of the Silent Planet and yet we see C.S. Lewis's vivid and inspiring imagination just as clearly. I am simply blown away by his vision of creation on Venus. For me at one point, close to the end, I kept thinking that these are almost glimpses of the sort of creativity and inspiration that we will see in Heaven. Amazing insights as to battling evil, the dance of God's creation and plan, and our part in it. I find Lewis's style rather heavy-handed. What I'd change I'm not sure. I think it is simply that these books would go on the theology shelf in my library while something like The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings would go in more general reading. It is not Lewis's fault, and in fact I now want print copies of these books for rereading, but I prefer the purer fiction style to this one.

    That Hideous Strength: As with the other two books in C.S. Lewis's "space trilogy" I found this one difficult to get into and, yet, once I got past the indefinable point where it was no longer a struggle, I couldn't read it fast enough. Consequently this was a 24-hour book for me. It is a testament to Lewis's imagination and writing skill as to how different all three of the books are in this trilogy, while simultaneously all carrying out the same basic theme. No wonder J.R.R. Tolkien loved them.

    Speaking of Tolkien, I was stunned to see Numinor mentioned twice and Middle Earth once in this book. I never dreamed there was such a deliberate, direct connection between this book and the Lord of the Rings, which was not yet published in its entirety when this book came out as Lewis says in the introduction. One can see the way these books and LOTR go hand in hand with similar themes, although expressed differently through the authors' different styles.

    This book itself was really terrific and left me striving to be a better person, to be truer to myself, as did the other two. Not many other books really leave one feeling that way.
  1. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien — this will move to the 2015 book challenge
    I chose Tolkien as my 2013 saint last year (admittedly not a recognized saint, but at the very least as an inspiring Catholic I wanted to help me on my heaven). It was an amazing year filled with lessons that have definitely helped me. I want to know Tolkien's thoughts in his own words now instead of just reading his fiction.
  2. A Song for Nagasaki: The Story of Takashi Nagai: Scientist, Convert, and Survivor of the Atomic Bomb - Paul Glynn
    Takashi Nagai isn't recognized by the Church as a saint but in my eyes he's qualified. I find him extremely inspiring and am going to spend 2014 in his company, as I did last year with Tolkien. I've begun this and it is really fascinating.

    Result: Superb and inspirational. My review is here.
  3. Art: A New History - Paul Johnson — I'm about halfway through. This will move to my 2015 book challenge
    It's been on my coffee table for about a year. I've very slowly read some and loved it. This may help me read it more dedicatedly.
  4. America: The Last Best Hope (Volume II): From a World at War to the Triumph of Freedom - William J. Bennett
    I really enjoyed the first volume last year. This is on my book stack and, as with Art, I hope this will get me to crack it open. That's all it will take, I have a feeling, to hook me.

    UPDATE: still sitting on my shelf. I'll get to it but not as a book challenge.
  5. The Scarlet and the Black: The True Story of Monsignor Hugh O Flaherty, Hero of the Vatican Underground - J.P Gallagher
    This also was on last year's list. I am really enjoying Song For Nagasaki and hope I'll also enjoy this true story of faith under crisis just as much.

    Result - The story itself is fascinating. The writing is less impressive with everything strung together so fast that it can be hard to keep track of events. The book could have done with just a touch of breathing space.

    That said, this is still very worth reading. One realizes that although the Vatican's official neutrality had to be maintained (as did that of others highlighted in the book), there was a lot of frantic activity below the surface to save lives in Rome right under the Gestapo's nose.
  6. Something that Takashi Nagai wrote. Since he wrote over 40 books I'd like to see what one of those was like. After reading A Song for Nagasaki, that is.

    Result: I read The Bells of Nagasaki which was really amazing. I'm glad that I read Glynn's book first and, yet, also very glad that I didn't let it rest there as Nagai's own words corrected a few things that Glynn had glossed over. My review is here.


  1. I've been meaning to read Don Quixote too. Has any particular translation be recommended to you?

    1. Raffel was pushed very compellingly by a reviewer at Amazon. So that's the one I'll try.

  2. Good luck, Julie! I've started on "The Stand" for my first book of the year, though Lewis' Space Trilogy is also on the docket for me. Then there's the Christopher Snow books by Dean Koontz, some classics, and others I'm certainly forgetting.

    It should be a good year!

  3. I've read all of the Lewis trilogy. I thought Perelandra was slow going, but the other two were great! Seeing the Tolkien letters on your list prompts me to say that I'm reading C.S. Lewis' letters from 1930-49, and I have been SO INSPIRED seeing where his mind was... and what his worries/concerns were... when he wrote all the classics that have been such a blessing to me. Charles Dickens would be daunting for me, but so is just about everything from that time period. Many blessings to you as you dive into these books! I've got my own stack to blog about soon...

    1. I've had several people mention Perelandra was tough. I've been interested in the C.S. Lewis letters and probably will tackle them after the Tolkien ones. Love, love, love Charles Dickens ... so that's one which is almost a guilty pleasure in the midst of some of those others. :-)

  4. I first 'read' Don Quixote about 7 years ago by listening to it as audio book read by George Guidall (who read the Edith Grossman translation). Between Mr Guidall's reading and Cervante's storytelling I was entranced for hours on end...

    I loved it so much that I then ordered the hardcopy edition (same translation) - which I also loved reading again.

    It was the first time I had listened to an audio book read by Mr. Guidall, and I just loved his rendering so I also proceeded to listen to Crime & Punishment and every other audio book read by Mr. Guidall that I could find (at the time I was limited to books-on-cd I could find at the local library, finding good audiobooks is much easier now! I had no idea he was so prolific in his narrating!).

    1. I'll have to look for Guidall's readings ... thanks for the heads up. I am so happy that it is easier to get good audiobooks now, especially at my library.