Wednesday, April 28, 2010

WWW Wednesday

Once again, the three W's of reading.

What did I just finish reading?
What am I currently reading?
What will I read next?

I just finished reading The Lost City of Z.
I am currently reading King Solomon's Mines. I know, it should be Educating Alice, which I have started, but I was so intrigued by Mockingbird's comment that her best beloved (and soon to be hubby) FryDaddy LOVED the Allan Quatermain novels that I started reading it instead. I'm loving it by the way.
I plan to read the rest of Educating Alice when I am done, although Boneshaker might jump ahead in line.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

2010 is a year of book challenges

As I have stated before I have a HUGE TBR list. It currently stands at 491 books*, and it increases almost everyday, despite how much I read, for a number of reasons. For one, I enjoy series, and frequently if I enjoy the first book I add all the remaining books to the list. Also, as I have mentioned before, I am in charge of acquisitions at work which means I am constantly reading book reviews and blogs looking for good things to buy. Naturally, this swells my TBR list considerably. So what does this have to do with challenges you ask? A great deal.

Where does a person start with a list that is 491 items long? Lately I have found that I have been a naughty reader, ignoring books that have been on the list for years in favor of something brand new that has just come out. I'd also become bogged down in series, reading scores of those books, gobbling them up like popcorn, while other worth while titles sat by patiently waiting to be picked up. So when I came upon an article discussing the 10-10-10 reading challenge I was intrigued. You read 10 books in 10 categories in 2010. I had long harbored the desire to read 100 books in a year, and have managed to hit 75 without resorting to counting picture books, so that part got my competitive juices following. It was the second aspect of the challenge that really piqued my interest though. You need to select ten different categories for your books with the intent to stretch yourself as a reader. A-ha! Here was a way to focus my TBR list and work towards a massive reading goal. I was in, although I didn't sign up at their blog.

There have already been a few roadblocks with this challenge. I was very ambitious and chose "Classics" as one of my categories, but that quickly was replaced after it became clear that I was not going to pick up the copy of the Pickwick Papers I had checked out. Some of the books I chose were not enjoyable once I started reading them and so they were set aside and replaced with something else. And finally, my pace has been fairly slow this spring (I've only read 14 books). But I have renewed interest in seeing this through to the end, and plan to get out of my reading rut this week.

In case you have noticed, there are a few more challenges listed in the sidebar besides the 10-10-10 challenge, each being run by a different book blogger whom I have stumbled upon. Once I figure out how to properly join/link to their pages for the challenges I will provide links. Here, though, are my brief descriptions of the challenges.

Fantasy Challenge: run by the Royal Reviews. You have the option of four different levels of participation: curious (3), fascinated (6), addicted (12), obsessed (20). You just need to read any variety of fantasy book. I'm going with fascinated on this one since Fantasy/Sci Fi is one of my categories.

First in a Series Challenge: also run by Royal Reviews with the same participation levels. This time, however, you are reading the first in a series. Not the whole series mind you, just the first in the series. For this one I am going with curious since I am trying to reign in my series reading this year.

Our Mutual Read: Victorian Reading Challenge. This one is run by Amanda at blogjar, but she created a whole separate blog for the reading challenge. This one has three levels of participation: Level 1 (read 4), Level 2 (read 8) and Level 3 (read 12). The catch with Our Mutual Read is that at least half of each amount has to be a work of fiction written during the time period of 1837-1901. The other half can be historical fiction or nonfiction about the time period. I've chosen to go with Level 1. I can easily do 8 that are set then, much harder to do four that were written then, at least for me. But who knows, I may love King Solomon's Mines so much that I read everything else by the author.

Read Your Name: I found this one on The True Book Addict's blog, but it is hosted by Phantom Inkheart. This challenge requires you pick books whose titles start with letters that corresponds to the letters in your name (first, last, full, nickname whatever). Originally I thought I would just go with my first name, making my total 5, but then I thought, why not use my soon to be married last name too? I threw in my middle initial and that brings it up to 14.

Typically British: hosted by Book Chick City. This one has four levels of participation as well. Put the Kettle On (2), Gordon Bennett (4), Bob's Your Uncle (6) and Cream Crockered (8). I'm aiming for Bob's Your Uncle since I'm an Anglophile. The trick here is that all of the author's have to actually BE British, not just set their books there.

Ah! I do love organization. Now I have a plan and won't be reading willy-nilly. Next year I hope to create and host a challenge of my own, but with SO many already existing in the book blog world I don't know what it will be.

*I don't actually own all 491 of them, mores the pity.

Monday, April 26, 2010

From the shelves- The Lost City of Z

I just finished reading The Lost City of Z by David Grann yesterday for my book club, and I have to give it a qualified glowing review. Why qualified? Because there are some rather graphic descriptions in the book of horrific things that were done to the people of the Amazon basin as well as detailed descriptions of the myriad ways insects and other wildlife in the Amazon can kill you. So for those who are squeamish I would not recommend it. Otherwise, I found it to be a fast and entertaining read.

The book is a nonfiction account of the explorer "Col." Percy Fawcett, who along with his oldest son and son's best friend, disappeared in the Amazon jungle in 1925 while searching for El Dorado, and all of the subsequent people, including the author, who went in search of any evidence of the missing explorers. And there were tons of them, most of whom didn't make it out of the jungle themselves, or if they did, died shortly afterward from the illnesses and wounds they sustained in such an unforgiving environment.

I had never really given much thought to the Amazon, other than disapproving of the deforestation that is taking place there, and not harboring any desire to venture inside of it. (The comparatively benign variety of insects we have here in the states already think I am an all you can eat buffet. I would be devoured within minutes in the Amazon. No really. If you read the book you will realize this is not hyperbole on my part.) I knew (and still know) very little about it other than a passing knowledge of some of the more notorious types of wildlife and the fact that the Amazon river runs through it. It really is a fascinating place, and although I still don't harbor a desire to visit it, I do wish to learn more about it.

For me, that is one of the hallmarks of truly great nonfiction. It opens up an aspect of our world that you had never given much thought to and makes you desire to learn more. And in truth, that is one of the best things about my book club. It makes me read books that I would never have picked up on my own (or ones that it was very unlikely I would read it on my own), and more often than not I find I really enjoy them. Such is the case with this book. It was well written and entertaining. Grann cleverly interspersed the oldest part of the narrative, that concerning Fawcett and his history of amateur exploration, with his modern day quest to discover as much as he could about Fawcett's secretive route before setting out on his own. This could have been annoying, but instead made each section more interesting and vibrant. Additionally, Grann was able to breathe life into these long dead characters, as well as many others, not only through the use of their personal letters*, but also through his deft turn of phrase. Here is one of my favorite passages:

"Now, as Fawcett slipped away from the secluded base in Ceylon with his treasure map in hand, he suddenly found himself amid verdant forests and crystalline beaches and mountains, and people dressed in colors that he had never seen before, not funeral blacks and whites like in London, but purples and yellows and rubies, all flashing and radiating and pulsating-a vista so astonishing that even the arch cynic Mark Twain, who visited the island around the same time period, remarked, 'Dear me, it is beautiful!'"

While he didn't succeed in making me want to visit the Amazon, I certainly would like to see Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka). The Lost City of Z is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. Just be careful if you're squeamish.

*I find the disappearing art of letter writing to be most distressing and disappointing. I know it is cheaper and more environmentally friendly to use email, but the romance and personalization of letter writing is lost with it.