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text 2015-01-25 02:14
My Year in Reading Suggestions - Complete
The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien
Watership Down - Richard Adams

So I finally completed my Year in Reading Suggestions last week when I finished reading Watership Down, and now I can focus on my myriad reading goals for 2015. Hopefully I'll update how I did on my first month in a week or so.


So, the theme for December was:


In December, read someone else’s favorite book.
Your best friend, your neighbor, your child, your chiropractor. Ask somebody you know to identify their favorite book and then pick it up to find out why they love it.


To get suggestions for this theme, I posted on Facebook and Twitter asking my friends to name their favorite books. I was hoping to get something that was already in my collection, which I did! Here's what I ended up reading:


The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien - This one was recommended by Pocket Mermaid, with whom I have shared many reads in the 17 years we have known one another. I didn't have my own copy so I got one from the library -- but this was required reading for a lot of students at the college I went to. I worked in the campus writing center, so I read tons of papers about this book. It was high time I went straight to the source.


Watership Down by Richard Adams - Score! This one was suggested by my friend Paula, and it was a suggestion I already had in my collection. So I read it, and enjoyed it -- it took me a long time to get through it, though, which was why this entry was so late in coming.


So, now I get to focus wholly on my 2015 reading challenges. I'm already doing less well than I had hoped, and I've added a fourth, which is to read as many of the books that inspired Disney animated movies as possible for my Year in Disney Movies project. Yeah, so I've bit off a little more than I can chew, but that's my reading life. :)

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review 2015-01-20 04:39
Book 4/100: Watership Down by Richard Adams
Watership Down - Richard Adams
This would actually be a 3.5 star book for me, but I erred on the upper rating because it's a classic and it's very well written.

Generally, I don't really go for "anthropormorphic animal" stories. My favorite Disney movies tend to be those about PEOPLE, even eschewing blockbusters like "The Lion King." I never got into the Warriors series even though I like cats, fantasy AND middle-grade novels. Redwall never called to me. Probably the only exception to my indifference to animal-based stories is Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

Still, I have always been curious about this book. Several of my friends have it on their "favorites" list, many of whom read it before they ever met me, and having it be part of the childhood fabric of so many people in my generation made me feel a little like I must be missing out. Plus, for some reason I always remembered that the main character in Wait Till Helen Comes loved Watership Down. So, it's my turn to see what all the fuss is about.

So, with that lengthy personal preamble, after reading this I can kind of see what all the fuss is about. The writing is of that rare quality where it totally disappears in service to the story -- never overdone or pretentious or ringing false or amateur. I respected Richard Adams' choice to only have the rabbits physically do what real rabbits are capable of; although these rabbits are far more intelligent with a much more elaborate society than real rabbits have (I suspect), they still managed to feel like "real" rabbits. And that leads me to what was probably the best part of the book, and why I think it has such appeal for so many people. The characterization is excellent, with major characters and minor characters, heroes and villains, all feeling very real -- so the rabbits feel real on two levels, as rabbits, and also as, well, people.

The most interesting part of the book were the two "dystopic" rabbit warrens the main characters encountered, with each of them chilling in their own way. (Since the main characters didn't come across any "normal" rabbit warrens, it made me wonder if all the rabbits except this small tribe were seriously messed up!)

Also, this starts out as one of those epic fantasy journey stories where EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER IS MALE. But unlike other journey stories (:: cough cough :: The Hobbit :: cough cough ::), about halfway through the story the rabbits all realize, "OMG, this is a problem!!!" And then the second half of their story is devoted to their quest for gender diversity. Yeah! These rabbits have clearly attained much higher consciousness than hobbits have.

My main complaints about this book revolve around length. It gets started pretty slow, and I didn't become really engaged until they encountered their first warren, which wasou probably about 20 - 30% in. I also got bored by the various rabbit "legends" -- the worldbuilding impressed me, but I think just a hint that distinct and complex lapine mythology existed would have been sufficient. Also, the ending seemed to drag on a bit as well, although the very last scene was well executed.

Now, on to the movie!
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text 2014-12-21 01:50
A Reading Challenge All My Own ...

So this month I will finish up my 2014 reading challenge, A Year in Reading Suggestions. I've loved doing it so much that I am doing not one, but three, reading challenges this year. (More like two and a half). One is of my own making and will make its appearance shortly.


But first: why I loved a reading challenge. My TBR list is literally thousands of books long. So when it's time to choose a new book, I'm often overwhelmed by too many choices. Before last year, I handled this dilemma by reading one book from each bookshelf in my house, in order, so whenever it was time to pick a new book, I didn't have to consider the whole collection.


A reading challenge narrows my focus in a similar way, but it actually has more flexibility than the "one bookshelf only" method, since my bookshelves are organized by genre. So sometimes I'd be at the fantasy bookshelf but not really be in the mood for fantasy, which just leads to me choosing something short.


As I was doing this year's challenge, it would bum me out whenever I would see a certain book on my shelf and realize it didn't fit ANY of the upcoming themes. So I decided that next year I would make my OWN reading challenge, tailored to my TBR pile, so that any book could, at some point, find its way into the year.


I'm posting it here in case it's in line with others' reading piles or interests as well.

Goulds Book Arcade BookStack

January - Gifted Books

I LOVE getting books as gifts -- the problem is, I have so many books that those books I wanted so badly end up sitting on my shelves unread for years. This is my month to finally get to some of those wonderful gifted books that have been languishing for far too long -- or perhaps get a head start on any gifts I may have received for Christmas!


February - Love & Marriage

I collected SO many books about marriage when I was engaged and am really dying to get through some of them. Not only that, but love is a pervasive theme in books of all genres, so I'm sure to find something even if I get bored of the marriage memoirs. Because of Valentine's Day, I'm limiting this to books that deal with "romantic" love, but others could interpret the theme more broadly.


March - Finding My Religion

I have a whole bookshelf dedicated to religious tomes, mostly to do with Catholicism but some general Christianity and non-Christian texts as well. I also have a lot of fiction with religious themes. I used to make it my habit to read religious-themed books during Lent every year. Time to get back in that habit!


April - New Books

Due to my membership on two book-swapping sites, I have a couple new books arriving in my mailbox every month. Like the gifted books, these often languish for years waiting for their turn to be read. In April, I'm reading books in the reverse order of when I received them -- that is, reading the books I've acquired most recently first, and working backwards from there.


May - My Current Obsession

I often acquire mounds of books on a particular topic that is my current obsession (see Feb.). But then I space out reading those books because I don't want to look like I'm "stuck in a rut." Well, this is my month to enjoy that rut. I'm going to indulge in as much reading material related to my obsession-of-the-moment as I like.


June - Take Me Away (Fantasy, Sci-fi, Travel)

Books have long been lauded for their ability to take us through time and space. In June, while others might be taking the types of vacations that require money and tickets, I'm going to visit far-off lands without leaving my couch.


July - Blast from the Past (Old Obsessions)

See May. This habit of acquiring mounds of books related to a particular obsession means that I have a bunch of mini collections representing different phases of my life. This is the month to dust some of those books off and remember what caught my interest about the topic in the first place.


August - Local Flavor

This is my month to read books that take place in, are about, or are written by authors who are from places I've lived in the past, or that I currently live now.


September - Series Catch-up

I'm never the type to read straight through a series; in fact, I like to give myself "breaks" between books in the same series. This has led to me starting tons of series that are hanging their unfinished, everything from memoir collections to YA to epic fantasy. This month, I'm going to forge ahead in many of those series I started but never finished.


October - Fear Not the Fat Book

I love to read, but I admit it: fat books intimidate me. I was thrilled to find The Tale of the Genji at a used booksale years ago, but I still haven't read it. I've had Jennifer Roberson's Lady of the Forest since I was in high school, the spine uncracked. I've passed over Gone with the Wind many a time as I select my next read. This month, I will conquer that fear and read me a fat book!


November - Swapping Sites!

So many of the books that tempt me from my shelves each day came from Paperbackswap or Bookmooch, and this is my month to read exclusively from these collections, which is sure to bring with it plenty of variety.


December - Get Thee To a Library!

I've been a good girl all year and read down my massive collection of books. This month, all my reading choices will come from someone else's shelves!


But that's not all. I also plan to do the 2015 challenge from Into the Forest, the fairy tales Goodreads group that I belong to:


1.One YA Fairy Tale Retelling from the Endicott list
2.One Adult Fairy Tale Retelling from the Endicott list
3. One Mythic Fiction from the Endicott list
4. A book or collection,Fiction or non-fiction, featuring legendary/mythological monsters or creatures.
5. A novel or collection by one of your favorite authors that you have not read yet.
6. A novel or collection based on a theme you aren't familiar with or haven't read in the last 5 years. Themes could be anything, really. Enchanted forests, snow maidens, the Evil Queen, coming of age, and so on.
7.A poem, short story, novella or novel that inspired one of your favorite movies, TV shows, mini-series, or play.
8. A retelling of one of your favourite originals.
9. A collection of or novel based on or containing the legends and folklore of North America's native tribes.
10. A critical study or history of fairy tales
11. A fairy tale collection from a country you've never read a collection from before.
12. A book from the "villains'" POV


And just for the heck of it, I'm going to see how many books I can "happen" to check off this challenge list.


I expect 2015 to be a good year for reading!

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review 2014-12-10 19:40
Book 104/100: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
The One and Only Ivan - Patricia Castelao,Katherine Applegate

People have been thrusting this book my way ever since it was first published, since I was at the time engaged to my own "one and only Ivan" (a man named Ivan, not a gorilla). I finally got around to reading it as part of my Year in Reading Suggestions November theme to read an award winner (it won the Newbury).

It took a little while to get going for me. Although I liked Ivan's straightforward, warm, and simple "gorilla" voice, I wanted more than simple observations of what life was like for a lone gorilla caged in a shopping mall. Still, Ivan's huge heart begins to come through when he makes a promise to his dying friend that he will look after the baby elephant who has just arrived in a last-ditch effort to save the flailing mall from bankruptcy. His efforts require all his smarts, his heart, and his art as he tries to communicate with humans about the baby elephant Ruby's need to live her life in a better place.

Although the book is short, the characterizations are surprisingly complex. Mac, the owner of the Big Top Mall, becomes abusive in his desperation, but not until after we've seen the way he lovingly raised Ivan at home until he was too big to keep living "like a human." Ivan and Ruby long for a more complete life, yet find themselves terrified to leave what has become familiar when the opportunity arrives.

A book told from the point of view of an animal requires some suspension of disbelief, but apes are so intelligent that it was not difficult to really believe in Ivan's interpretation of events, nor in his ability to truly understand them. I knew this book was creeping into four-star territory when I found myself tearing up several times near the end. I liked the illustrations, but wish there had been more of Ivan's paintings. Still, this is a book that his truly earned its place among celebrated Newbury award winners.

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text 2014-12-08 00:48
A Year in Reading Suggestions: November Recap & December Plans
Why We Broke Up - Daniel Handler,Maira Kalman
If You Could Be Mine - Sara Farizan
The One and Only Ivan - Patricia Castelao,Katherine Applegate
We Were Liars - E. Lockhart

November's theme was one that didn't particularly excite me, mostly because I couldn't immediately think of any books I own that easily fit the theme -- but I did some research and was able to use several books from my long library "to-read" list to fill it out. Although they were all award winners, I found them to be a pretty mixed bag.


Here's the official reading prompt for November:


In November, read an award winner.
Books win awards for a reason—usually because they are great. Check out a book that won the top prize in any of a number of national or international book awards.


Here's what I read:


Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler - I've been wanting to read this book since it was published, and I decided it fit this theme well enough for its winning of a Printz Honor in 2012 (although it didn't take the top prize that year.) Overall, it was a bit of a disappointment, but it does contain an especially skillful portrayal of first love.


If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan - This won the top prize in the Lambda Literary Awards Children's/YA category in 2014, but it ended up being even more disappointing than Why We Broke Up. A pity, because more books featuring diverse characters are so needed.


The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate - This won the Newbery in 2013, and everyone has wanted me to read it since it was published because my husband's name is Ivan. This book is one that deserves its honors -- sweet, with lots of heart, and brought tears to my eyes.


And ... bonus round! I also read


We Were Liars by E. Lockhart - I read this one in November for my book club, but it ended up winning the Goodreads Readers Choice Award in the YA category. And it is, in fact, a good read.


And with this month's books, my Year in Reading Suggestions will be coming to an end.


In December, read someone else’s favorite book.
Your best friend, your neighbor, your child, your chiropractor. Ask somebody you know to identify their favorite book and then pick it up to find out why they love it.


I will be reading Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, which is a favorite of the friend who turned me on to this reading list, and Watership Down by Richard Adams, which ranks high on a couple friends' lists, and which I've been meaning to read for years.


Stay tuned! I've found that I've loved doing a reading challenge so much that in 2015 I will be attempting not one, but THREE, one of which I designed myself. I will post it here soon in case others want to try it -- it is particularly catered to my TBR pile and will be most useful for other book hoarders like myself.


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