Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Read-a-thon update

I'm borrowing this update form from True Book AddictTuesday was a slower reading day for me--I got bogged down in preparing "Beast in the Jungle"by Henry James for class.  I hoping for a big push tonight.

Total Books Read:  0
Total Pages Read: 110
Books Read Since Last Update: 0
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What I'm currently reading: Third Reich at War; Fear

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Total Pages Read: 160
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Pages Read since last update: 50

What I'm currently reading:  Third Reich at War; Fear

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Monday, January 27, 2014

Winter's Respite Read-a-thon

This morning, I started the Winter's Respite Read-a-thon hosted by True Book Addict.  I've been looking forward to this because, unlike the read-a-thon I did in early January, this one is a full seven days.  I like the idea of a week-long challenge: I get myself into a rhythm of reading for longer periods each day, and can feel like I've made real progress as a result of the challenge.  It's an opportunity to push through some big books that I've started from my Mount TBR challenge list

I'm starting with two books:  Richard J. Evans' The Third Reich at War, the last book in his three-volume history of the Third Reich; and Anatoli Rybakov's Fear, the second book in his "Children of the Arbat" trilogy.  I've read the first two books in the Evans series, and the first in the "Arbat"trilogy--all three books were outstanding, and I'm eager to read these two this week.

I started both earlier in January, but last week I was slowed in my progress and lost steam.  Evans' book is 760 pages, Rybakov's is 686 pages.  So far, I've read 220 in Evans, and 97 in Rybakov, so I've got my work cut out for me if I hope to finish them this week--about 1,100 pages in all.

I've also been reading through a collection of short stories, Autobiography of a Corpse, for a review.  The author, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, was an early 20th-century Ukrainian writer who was born in Kyiv and educated at Kyiv University.  (Kyiv University is now Taras Shevchenko University, and we lived two blocks away from it during our 10 months in Kyiv.)  I'd like to finish that this week as well (200 pages), so that I can finish the review and send it off.

My family can't sort out why I read so much about grim topics, particularly Soviet history and fiction.  I think it keeps unpleasant things in my life in perspective.  Nevertheless, I'm thinking that I need to fit in something lighter (relatively speaking)--a Le Carre or Philip Kerr novel, perhaps.  

I'll be posting periodically about my progress throughout the week.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Saying the unbelievable with a straight face

I've been following the situation in Ukraine, and among the crazy things the government has said is this, from the Interior Minister.  According to a BBC report, quoting Interfax-Ukraine, the Interior Minister stated that people from western Ukraine (anti-Yanukovich, pro-democracy) are being parachuted into other parts of Ukraine to stir up trouble against the government.  He said the parachuting western Ukrainians were "provocateurs."  As nuts as that sounds, he says it with a straight face and in the knowledge that there are some in the country who will believe it.  It's also one of many examples of how the government demonstrates its lack of respect for Ukrainians by thinking they would all believe it.

The story reminded me, however, of a crazier news report we heard when we first lived in Ukraine.  A Russian TV news program reported that, according to Putin, the British were spying on Russians, and Muscovites in particular, through microphones placed around Moscow.  Here's the crazy part:  Putin explained that the British had hidden the microphones inside of rocks, and placed the rocks on street corners around Moscow.  And again, he did it with a straight face.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Temple Grandin's Thinking in Pictures

I had the privilege of spending almost two days with Temple Grandin, and introduced her for her lectures.  In my introduction, I wrote the following:

"While many people only dream of becoming a leading voice in one field during their lives, Dr. Grandin has become a leading voice in two.  She has spent her career recasting the way that we understand and interact with both animals and people with autism, and she has created a remarkable body of writing that speaks to experts and to lay people.  She has helped us see the animal world through an animal’s eyes, and has shown us that we can design machines based on principles of human caring and empathy."

When I wrote that, I was two-thirds of the way through her book Thinking in Pictures, in which Dr. Grandin describes how she thinks, how autism works (to the extent we know at this time), and how those things link with animal science.  I've now finished the book, and can say that I never thought I would be so completely captivated by a book that deals extensively with, among other things, handling cattle and cattle behavior. 

This is a compelling read, in large part because Dr. Grandin writes in a clear, precise, and simple way.  She has many, many gifts, but among them is the rare ability to explain difficult, field-specific concepts to lay people in language they understand. It's an art of translation that is similar to the kind of translation she has to make every day from the pictures that form her thoughts as a visual thinker to words that make those clear to those around her. 

As I read her description of the picture "database" in her mind, I thought of the new BBC Sherlock series.  The creators of the show give Sherlock the power to transport himself mentally into something called the "mind palace."  What we see when he's in his mind palace is a series of rapidly moving images that he is scanning and sifting, until he lands on the right image that holds the information he needs.  Over dinner, I mentioned this to Dr. Grandin, and she said that's how her mind works.  Certainly makes sense--Sherlock exhibits some characteristics that would likely put him somewhere on the autism spectrum as a very high-function person.

This is a book that links two things that don't intuitively go together, and Dr. Grandin makes a persuasive argument.  It's a book that is deceptively complex--despite the clarity of her prose, the ideas are profound and complicated.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The struggle for Ukraine

Computers and the Internet have given us the ability to watch, from our recliners, the conflicts taking place around the world.  We've reached a point in history when it is very difficult for governments to hide what they are doing in public places.  What's not clear to me is whether being able to bear witness through technology translates into any meaningfully different forms of response.

I have paid close attention to the protests and police actions in Kyiv, Ukraine.  My family lived in Kyiv for ten months just after the Orange Revolution.  We walked through Maidan most days, and spent a lot of time in an office on Hrushevskoho Street, right across from the entrance to the Dynamo football stadium and the site of the most recent battles between protesters and police.  The images are surreal and disorienting.  It's hard to recognize the place, littered with burnt shells of Berkyut buses and tire fires and dislodged, broken cobblestones.  Every so often, a cameraman will scan the scene, and in the background will be the storefront of a high-end, Western store.  It's a strange juxtaposition.

Over the 63 or so days since the protests began, many people have posted videos documenting police violence against protestors.  To say they are disturbing is an understatement.  In December, for instance, a video circulated of a man lying on the ground being hit repeatedly with batons and kicked by numerous riot policemen as they ran past.  I have watched live feeds from Espresso TV and other sources linked on the Kyiv Post, and seen the police surge against the protesters and then retreat.  News sources from around the world have shown images of badly injured protesters.

But how has that changed the way the world reacts?  More than 8 years after Ukrainians fought for fair elections by occupying Maidan and eventually electing a President committed to democracy, Viktor Yanukovich seems free to impose a police state and play the role of dictator.  Don't like the fact that most of the protesters have put on helmets and masks to protect themselves and their identities from police and prosecution?  Pass a law that makes it illegal for protesters to wear helmets and masks during protests!  That law was passed last Friday, around 57 days after the protests began, and after 57 days of non-response by Europe and the US.

If Yanukovich felt the need to be cautious in December, he doesn't any more.  The rest of the world has revealed its preference to let him do as he pleases.  All that's left is for the people of Ukraine to fight alone against a police state that cares nothing about them. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Ian Rankin's Saints of the Shadow Bible

I have to confess that when I downloaded the ARC for Ian Rankin's Saints of the Shadow Bible, I was skeptical that it could possibly live up to earlier Rebus novels.  It's the nineteenth book featuring Inspector John Rebus, and it's hard to maintain the same sharpness after that many stories with the same lead character.  Patrick O'Brian may have succeeded--at least that's what several friends who've read all of those novels report--but I'm convinced it's an almost impossible task.

I was wrong to be skeptical:  Saints of the Shadow Bible is the best of the five Rebus novels I've read.

As I've said in previous posts, I'm a slow reader, and I rarely find myself truly unable to put a book down.  In the case of this novel, I felt compelled to keep going today--I wanted to know not only what was going to happen next, but how Rankin was going to set the next scene.  I blew through the last 250 pages of the novel, stopping only when absolutely necessary.

I just mentioned Rankin's scenes.  I think one of the strengths of his writing, and of this novel in particular, is the way he creates a series of crisp, tight, economical, and neatly-interlocking scenes.  Rather than place Rebus and others in long scenes that focus on one location or one problem exhaustively, Rankin gives us a sense of the characters and location through the accumulation of many short scenes that, in a sense, provide us with one small piece in the puzzle.  By now, for example, we know Rebus's apartment, the set-up, the key features (records, kettle, whiskey), and its general condition.  We know this not because Rankin places Rebus there for extended periods, but because in a given scene, we'll learn that he's listening to a particular vinyl album, reflecting on a particular aspect of the case, and focusing on some small piece of furniture or space in the apartment.  So when Siobhan Clarke visits his apartment in one scene in this novel, we get a brief glimpse into his refrigerator (and it doesn't look good); when Stefan Gilmour visits, a brief comment from him reveals that the apartment is in need of a paint job.  These brief observations accumulate, over the course of the novel, and indeed over the course of the series, and we see his apartment without ever having spent a lot of time there.

Rebus is a complicated guy, but saying that is stating the obvious.  Rankin expresses the underlying idea of the novel in this way:  good guys are not all good, and bad guys are not all bad, and the place where those things intersect is the place where things get interesting.  With few exceptions, none of the major characters ends up comfortably on the ethical high ground, and indeed at least one bad guy has done something that has positive effects.  The police may have evolved from the 1980s version that Rebus knew as a new officer in Summerhall, but Saints also suggests that good detective work always requires working in the gray area of ethics.  This is one of the epiphanies Malcolm Fox seems to have by the end of the novel.

Rankin also shows how Clarke refuses to make the same kinds of mistakes that the Summerhall "saints" made, and this adds another layer of complication to her relationship with Rebus.  He was her mentor, and she is his friend, but those things don't add up to a free pass for Rebus.  To do so would repeat the sins of of the "saints."
The writing in this novel razor-sharp and creates a forward motion to the novel that keeps us wanting to push forward in the story.  It's Rankin at his best:  far from being a stale, predictable novel, it's a compelling new chapter in the John Rebus saga.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rhythm of daily reading

Let me begin by saying that, when I was 20,  I would have laughed at the idea that I would ever write something like what follows below . . .

I've learned, over the last eight years, that my reading days have very different rhythms, determined, in large measure, by what I do in the first two hours I'm awake.  I've tried to figure out a phrase to describe my reading behavior, and all I've come up with is this:  I'm a "momentum" reader. In order for me to read a lot in the course of the day, I need to begin reading early in the day and get a chunk of reading finished.

When I wake up at 5am and read until 7 (refilling my coffee cup and noshing throughout), I tend to finish up the day pushing through 100-200 pages.  For some of you, that's not a lot of pages, but I'm a slow reader.  Those two hours in the morning seem to set my mind in a particular mode for the rest of the day, and typically I pick up my reading after dinner and read through the night.  I feel like I gain momentum in those first two hours of the morning that I carry through the rest of the day.

By contrast, if I don't have those early hours--if I am distracted, for some reason, by work or other issues  and don't read--I find it difficult to start reading later in the day.  Certainly the issue(s) I'm working through can distract me throughout the day (and sometimes beyond).  Many times, however, I have been able to resolve those issues during the course of the day, and still cannot settle myself into reading in the evening.  I might wind up reading only 20-30 pages, and struggle to get through those pages.

I learned some of this in a general way after my first son was born near the end of grad school.  Before that moment, I often spent full days--literally from when I woke up until 7 or 8pm--reading and/or writing.  I could keep that up for days, and did so happily.  After he was born, it was no longer possible for me to work non-stop throughout the day.  As anyone with children knows, the schedule of a baby or toddler is broken up into short chunks of time:  short naps, short periods happily entertaining himself in the crib/other plastic baby holder product, short periods of changing diapers, feeding, and getting him to bed.  As I completed my dissertation, in short chunks of time, I realized how difficult it is to work that way.  Long periods of work time, when I could gain momentum and get into the rhythm of my work, were productive; short periods of work time were jarring and disconnected. 

The boys are much older now, and occupy themselves independently (mostly), but when it comes to reading, I need now, like I did then, to gain momentum that I then maintain for the day. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Pushing through Magic Mountain

For the read-a-thon a couple of weeks ago, I started reading Mann's Magic Mountain.  It's on a couple of my reading challenge lists, and I started it once before, only to let it fade from my reading radar after about 100 pages. After I finished the read-a-thon, I knew it might happen again.

It's a weirdly seductive novel, but it is also a novel that requires you to build your way slowly into the rhythm and pacing of the writing.  Not a lot happens in conventional plot terms.  The protagonist goes to a sanatorium in the mountains to visit his cousin and falls into the routine of the actual patients.  That schedule includes a) lots of meals, and b) lots of time lying on a deck chair for the rest cure.  I've had moments, while reading it, where I was reminded of the pacing of Moby Dick:  long periods of inactivity waiting on the boat followed by short, intense periods of action during the whale hunt.  The difference is that, one-third of the way through Magic Mountain, there haven't been too many mountainside whale hunts.  Or elk or moose hunts, for that matter.

And yet, and yet . . .  There are also moments when it seems as though Mann has distilled much of human existence down to the routine of the sanatorium:  eating, flirting, falling in love, being sick and dependent on the care of others, and resting/sleeping.  The dramas that develop in the dining room are inconsequential but significant.  The scenes at mealtime offer the action; the periods of rest are taken up with meditations on any number of things.  One wonders whether the pattern of life down the mountain is simply a more dressed-up version of the sanatorium life with many more objects and material possessions crammed.

The closed circle of acquaintances in the small community (with the exception of the occasional new patient) makes for an intensity of interactions that draws you in.  I continue to be drawn in.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Running in the winter

I've pretty much decided that running in the winter is a miserable thing.  It's necessary in order to prepare for spring races--I'm preparing for a marathon in mid-May--but I don't enjoy myself very much.

Part of the problem is the color scheme out there--lots greys, lots of browns right now.  Snow helps, especially on a sunny day, but even snow doesn't counteract the effect of a deeply grey dark day.

And then there's the wind--where I live, the wind seems to blow all the time during the winter.  Usually half of my run is easier, as I'm helped along by wind at my back.  It's the other half into the wind that often gets very frustrating.  I remember several long runs last winter when I was running into a strong wind and wanted to scream.

The hardest thing, though, is that I find it hard to think and process events and conversations during winter runs.  I haven't figured that out yet, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I'm distracted by simply dealing with the elements.  What I love most about running long distances is that I have lots of time to digest and work through problems.  I never listen to music (partly, I should confess, out of my concern about safety on country roads) or audiobooks.  I just think.  And think.  Two-three hours is a long time.  I just wish it were easier to think on long winter runs.

Now that I've spent some time griping, back to reading Magic Mountain.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Tolkien's Two Towers

I finished Two Towers last night in a dead sprint to the end.  Not very many books drive me on to the end like this one did.  I loved the book, though I hadn't been sure beforehand that I would.  When I read Fellowship last year, it didn't have the same effect.  Two Towers seemed surer, somehow, in large part because of the way Tolkien develops Frodo, Sam, and Gollum.  They are distinct in subtle ways, but they are also very complex characters.  Gollum is not all bad; he's bad and good in ways that are at first difficult to recognize as such.  Sam has his own "Gollum" moments of behavior, and refuses to see any possible good in Gollum. You might have just read that and said to yourself, "by the end Sam seems to have been right about Gollum."  True in one way, but the beauty of the novel comes, in part, from the way Tolkien makes Gollum a character for whom we can feel moments of hope.  What he winds up doing matters in some ways less than the way that Frodo draws the Smeagol side of good out of Gollum, even if only temporarily.  I didn't expect to be moved at the end of the novel, but that's what I experienced.

Many, many people have said that Lord of the Rings is the highwater mark for fantasy writing.  I saw that clearly for the first time in Two Towers.  I've felt several times in reading fantasy novels as if I was standing on the edge of someone's imagined world, but never really able to enter it.  In TT, I fell into the world Tolkien describes many times.

I have not seen any of the Lord of the Rings movies, so the world I've imagined comes out of my head, not images someone else created.  I certainly don't plan to see any of them until at least after I finish Return.  I like this book enough, however, that I'm not sure I want to have the movie version compete with what I've experienced in my reading of the novel.  I don't think that often, so it's an indication of how much I enjoyed the novel, and likely will in later readings of it.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Classics Club challenge

I decided, at the New Year, that I wanted to attempt the Classics Club 5-year challenge, and picked the 75-book level for the challenge.  Fifteen books each year should be a manageable amount, and won't make it feel as though the entire reading year has to focus on the challenge only.  My goal is to finish several 19th-century novels, as well as a couple of massive 18th-century novels like Clarissa and Tom Jones.  I've wanted to get to both of these, but it's easy to put down a 1,500 epistolary novel when there is nothing to hold you accountable.  I'm long past grad school, where there might be some accountability in, say, preparing the book for oral exams, so this challenge seems like the next best thing.

I've put Joseph Conrad on the list because I haven't ever read any of his novels.  I was supposed to have read Nostromo during the summer before my junior year in high school, but that never really did seem to have happened, did it? It seemed awfully boring to my hormone-addled 15-year old brain.  Now, of course, Conrad is fascinating to me because he was born near Kyiv in Ukraine and lived in Lviv.  I lived in Kyiv for a year, and visited Lviv twice, and so I'm curious about his writing and the ways in which Eastern Europe influences, or is woven into, his novels.

So here's my list of 75 books for the challenge:

Balzac, Honore Lost Illusions
Balzac, Honore Louis Lambert
Balzac, Honore Rise and Fall of Cesar Birotteau
Boswell, James The Life of Samuel Johnson
Bronte, Anne Agnes Grey
Bronte, Charlotte Jane Eyre
Bunyan, John Pilgrim's Progress
Cather, Willa O Pioneers!
Cervantes, Miguel Don Quixote
Conrad, Joseph The Secret Agent
Conrad, Joseph Under Western Eyes (finished 3.2.14)
Darwin, Charles The Origin of Species
Defoe, Daniel Moll Flanders
Dickens, Charles Great Expectations
Dos Passos, John Manhattan Transfer
Dostoevsky, Fyodor Demons
Dumas, Alexandre The Count of Monte Cristo
Eliot, George Adam Bede
Eliot, George Romola
Eliot, George Felix Holt
Eliot, George Mill on the Floss
Faulkner, William Absalom! Absalom!
Faulkner, William Go Down, Moses
Fielding, Henry Tom Jones
Flaubert, Gustave Madame Bovary
Forster, E. M.  A Passage to India
Gaddis, William The Recognitions
Gissing, George New Grub Street
Goethe, Johann Sorrows of Young Werther
Gogol, Nikolai Dead Souls
Greene, Graham The Quiet American (finished 3.30.14)
Hardy, Thomas Tess of the D'urbervilles
Hardy, Thomas Jude the Obscure
Hardy, Thomas Return of the Native
Hawthorne, Nathaniel The Marble Faun
Heller, Joseph Catch-22
James, Henry Sacred Fount
Jerome, Jerome K. Three Men in a Boat
Lessing, Doris The Golden Notebook
Mahfouz, Naguib Palace Walk
Mahfouz, Naguib Sugar Street
Mahfouz, Naguib Palace of Desire
Mann, Thomas Magic Mountain
Melville, Herman The Confidence Man
Musil, Robert The Man without Qualities
Nabokov, Vladimir Pale Fire
Richardson, Samuel Clarissa
Roth, Joseph The Radetzky March
Scott, Walter Ivanhoe
Scott, Walter Bride of Lammermoor
Scott, Walter Heart of Midlothian
Steinbeck, John The Grapes of Wrath
Stendhal Charterhouse of Parma
Stevenson, Robert Louis The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide
Stevenson, Robert Louis Kidnapped (finished 5.13.14)
Stoker, Bram Dracula
Thackeray, William Pendennis
Thackeray, William The Luck of Barry Lyndon
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Two Towers (finished 1.9.14)
Tolkien, J. R. R. Return of the King
Trollope, Anthony Barchester Towers
Trollope, Anthony Doctor Thorne
Trollope, Anthony Framley Parsonage
Trollope, Anthony The Small House at Allington
Trollope, Anthony The Last Chronicle of Barset
Turgenev, Ivan Virgin Soil
Twain, Mark Innocents Abroad
Verne, Jules Around the World in Eighty Days
Waugh, Evelyn Brideshead Revisited
Woolf, Virginia Mrs. Dalloway
Zamiatin, Yevgeny We
Zola, Emile Therese Raquin
Zola, Emile Fortunes of the Rougons
Zola, Emile La Curee
Zola, Emile The Belly of Paris

Monday, January 6, 2014

A diversion--the National Championship game

More on books in my next post, for now a slightly different topic . . .

I'm a big Auburn football fan, as are my wife (alum), my father-in-law (alum who lives with us), and my sons. We're all disappointed tonight after watching Auburn lose to FSU in the BCS national championship game, 34-31.  The bottom line is that Auburn had control of the game and let it slip away.  In part, I think Nick Marshall tried to be the hero late in the third and through the fourth, and made some bad reads as a result.  His interception turned the game, I think--after that, even though Auburn didn't trail until late in the fourth, it seemed like they were on their way to a loss.  Auburn relied too much on the passing game in the third, and I think that hurt as well. 

There was much to be proud of tonight as an Auburn fan:  Tre Mason is simply incredible, the Auburn defense showed FSU that they had played an entire season against inferior ACC defenses, and Nick Saban was at the desk for the pregame/halftime discussions instead of on the sidelines coaching (War Eagle!).

Malzahn brought Auburn back to excellence, and he is the foundation for a lot of years of successful Auburn football.  Ultimately, it's still hard to wrap my head around the fact that Auburn was 3-9 in 2012 and came within a field goal of winning the national championship in 2013.  That's an incredible turnaround, and it shows what a really effective, compelling leader can accomplish in a short time. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Classics Club 5-year challenge

I've also decided to sign up for the Classics Club 5-year challenge, at the 75-book level.  The goal is to read them by January 3, 2019.  I'm still working on the full list, but here's the list I plan to read in 2014:

Balzac, Honore Lost Illusions
Bronte, Charlotte Jane Eyre
Bunyan, John Pilgrim's Progress
Defoe, Daniel Moll Flanders
Dostoevsky, Fyodor Demons
Flaubert, Gustave Madame Bovary
Hardy, Thomas Tess of the D'urbervilles
James, Henry Sacred Fount
Mahfouz, Naguib Palace Walk
Mahfouz, Naguib Sugar Street
Mahfouz, Naguib Palace of Desire
Mann, Thomas Magic Mountain
Nabokov, Vladimir Pale Fire
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Two Towers
Tolkien, J. R. R. Return of the King

My list of books for the 2014 Mount TBR challenge

Here's the preliminary list of books I plan to read this year for the Mount TBR challenge:

Balzac, Honore Lost Illusions
Bourdieu, Pierre Distinctions
Brodhead, Richard The School of Hawthorne
Bronte, Charlotte Jane Eyre
Bunyan, John Pilgrim's Progress
Byatt, A. S. The Children's Book
Carey, Peter Parrot & Olivier in America
Clarke, Susanna Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Defoe, Daniel Moll Flanders
Deutscher, Isaac The Prophet Outcast: 1929-1940
Deutscher, Isaac The Prophet Unarmed:1921-1929
Dostoevsky, Fyodor Demons
Evans, Richard Third Reich at War
Fisher, Paul House of Wits
Flaubert, Gustave Madame Bovary
Giardina, Denise The Unquiet Earth
Giardina, Denise Storming Heaven
Ginzburg, Evgenia Journey into the Whirlwind
Glazener, Nancy Reading for Realism
Gorra, Michael Portrait of a Novel
Hardy, Thomas Tess of the D'urbervilles
Hazan, Eric The Invention of Paris
Hobsbawm, Eric Age of Revolution
Hobsbawm, Eric Age of Capital
Hobsbawm, Eric Age of Empire
James, Henry Sacred Fount
Mahfouz, Naguib Palace Walk
Mahfouz, Naguib Sugar Street
Mahfouz, Naguib Palace of Desire
Mann, Thomas The Magic Mountain
McDougall, Christopher Born to Run (finished 4/20/2014)
Moretti, Franco Graphs, Maps, and Trees
Nabokov, Vladimir Pale Fire
Novick, Sheldon Henry James:  The Mature Master (finished 4/27/2014)
Pink, Daniel Drive
Rybakov, Anatoli Fear (finished 2/4/2014)
Shalamov, Varlan Kolyma Tales
Tambling, Jeremy Lost in the American City
Tolkien, J. R. R. The Two Towers (finished 1/9/2014)
Tolkien, J. R. R. Return of the King
Williams, John Appalachia:  A History

Final Readathon totals

Here are my final totals for the readathon:

The Magic Mountain:  150 pages
The Two Towers:  58 pages
Palace Walk:  didn't read it
Total:  208 pages for the day

It's a decent total for me, but not the highest I've ever recorded.  As I said,  The Magic Mountain is a dense novel that requires careful attention.  I'm enjoying it, but it's not something to race through.  One benefit of the event, of course, is that it focused my attention on that novel for a full day.  Without it, and this will be a challenge as I continue reading it, it would have been easy to set it aside after 20-30 pages.  It's definitely not a novel to read in 20-30 page chunks every couple of days.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Readathon update 2

16 hours in, and aside from some time on line procrastinating, I've continued reading Magic Mountain tonight.  It's a dense novel, not one to blow through.  I've seen comments from others in the readathon saying they've read two or three or four books--wow.  I don't have anything like the reading speed to pull that off. The greatest benefit of starting a difficult novel during this event is that I have a strong sense of the rhythm and voice of the novel.  I think that would be harder to get by reading it in 20 page chunks.

I have also done things throughout the day with the family--I haven't completely secluded myself.  I read more of The Hobbit out loud to my youngest son, took time to lose in ping pong to my other two sons, and talked with everyone in the house.  I do wonder what it would be like to try to sequester myself for 24 hours to focus exclusively on reading, but I'm happy with how the day went.

Final wrap up tomorrow after 7am.

Readathon update 1

I decided to start the readathon with Magic Mountain, and later in the afternoon took a break from it and grabbed The Two Towers.  I've gotten through 100 pages of MM and 50 pages of TT.  It's a good start, but I'm not going to set any records for pages read.  It feels good to focus almost exclusively on reading for the day after a great holiday stretch with lots of different things happening in the house.

Starting the Readathon

I'm off and running in the readathon!  I'm beginning with Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain this morning, and then I'll see if/when I switch over to Naguib Mahfouz's Palace Walk.  Tolkien's Two Towers for a change of pace later as well.

My starting point for the three books I plan to read in:
  • Magic Mountain:  I'm starting at the beginning (Vintage).
  • Palace Walk:  I'm starting on page 18 (Modern Library Cairo Trilogy edition)
  • The Two Towers:  I'm starting on page 166 (Ballantine).

It's going to snow later in the day, so it will be a perfect day to hunker down and read read read!

I'll check in later in the day with updates.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Readathon tomorrow

I've decided to participate tomorrow in the 2nd Annual Classics Club Readathon--my first time doing one.  I'll begin tomorrow at 8am and finish reading Sunday at 8am.  In between, it's up to me to read as much as possible.  I confess I didn't know about this kind of reading event until a couple of days ago, but I'm excited to see what this is like.  It fits perfectly with my competitive nature, my enjoyment of accumulating "stats," and my interest in tests of different forms of endurance. 

It begins in less than 12 hours, and I've been wrestling with what I want to do.  Should I start a big book (Magic Mountain, for example) and get deep into it in one day?  Should I take a huge work that I've been poking along in for a long time (Proust) and try to get some real reading momentum?  Should I plan to read a couple of 250-300 page books (maybe Madame Bovary and a Balzac novel)?  Or is there another approach that makes more sense? I'll most likely decide sometime tomorrow around 7:50 am, and the at around 11am I'll wonder if I made the right choice.

I am eager to find out what the readathon will feel like at 9pm tomorrow night, or at 6am Sunday morning.  Is there some kind of reading equivalent to the marathoner's wall?  Is there a different kind of rhythm to the experience of reading so intensely for a 24-hour period? 

Much to discover between now and Sunday at 8am.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Re-reading The Hobbit out loud

I'm really struck by how different the experience of reading a book can seem depending on your life circumstances when you read and re-read it.  I'm reading The Hobbit right now to my youngest son, who is 10; this is my third time through it.  I read it when I was a teen, and then I read it to my oldest son when he was 7 or 8.  I loved the book when I first read it, but really struggled through it with my oldest son.  We finished it, but I remember thinking that the book was not nearly as interesting as I had remembered it from my first reading.  I was really disappointed and surprised by the experience.

This time around, I love the book again.  We have read half of it, and it feels exciting and interesting throughout.  Several times we have gotten to a logical stopping place, looked at each other, and decided kept reading.  That was not my experience when I read it to my oldest.  I couldn't wait to get to a stopping place.

So what's different?  One thing is the age of my children.  When I read it to my oldest, my other children were 4 and 1.  Not lots of sleep or time to read on my own.  I was, I think, a dulled reader at the time.  Another difference is that we have seen the first Hobbit movie, and this has helped me visualize some of the scenes that I couldn't before.  I'm not one to watch a movie before reading a book--and often I don't want to see the movie after I've read a book because I don't want to spoil my experience of it--but seeing the movie this time has increased our enjoyment of the book.

It's no great insight to say that we are different readers every time we read a book we've read before, and as a result the book seems (or is?) different.  But when I've thought of that idea before, I always understood it as variations on enjoying a book, or seeing things that weren't apparent in earlier readings.  With The Hobbit, I've gone from loving the novel as a teen, to disliking it in my thirties, to loving it again in my forties.  Perhaps the most fulfilling reading challenge for 2014 would be a re-reading challenge.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New challenges for the New Year

Like many of you, I track carefully all the books I read, and have been doing so since 2005.  In 2012, I read 53 books, which was the most I've read in any year since grad school.  Last year, I hoped for 60, but I lost focus because of my work and got derailed.  Instead of finishing books, I started many and finished few.  This year, things will be different in my life beginning in June, and I'll have much more time to read.  I think 60 is a realistic, attainable goal.

But I also want some different kinds of challenges, so I've decided to do the 2014 Mount TBR challenge.  I keep ordering used books that I want to read, but invariably I put them aside after they arrive so that I can find and purchase new used books.  The TBR challenge will help me finally catch up on those books.  I settled on the "Mt. Vancouver" level of 36 books.  That leaves room for me to read other things (likely new purchases or spontaneous library borrowings) but still make real progress on the books in my house.  I also wanted to get away from the Kindle and Nook by creating a list of physical books.  The Kindle and Nook are great in some ways, but they create a powerful temptation to download things immediately that might not make sense after the heat of the purchasing moment passes.  I suspect next year I'll decide to do a TBR for the books I've downloaded on both devices but haven't read/finished.