Reading Challenges.. Do you do them?

A new year brings a brand new crop of Reading Challenges.  There are so many and they all sound so enticing.  Except I haven’t had the greatest success in completing challenges in the past.  It’s always really fun to pick out titles but then when it comes time to read all those books I’ve lined up, I’m distracted by other shiny objects- reviews of new books, books in my TBR stack, books on display at Borders, books people are talking about on Twitter or at book club; and I think, why did I sign up for this??

Last year I completed the RIP IV Challenge but only with 2 books read.  The year before I completed the What’s In a Name Challenge.  I won’t list the many many challenges I didn’t bother to stick with.

So I got to thinking, why do so many bloggers do challenges?  What appeals to them about reading from a list?  I knew my blogging friends would have good reasons for this, and they did not disappoint.

I posed three questions to a somewhat random sampling of popular bloggers:

1.  Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

2.  Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

3.  Do you host any challenges yourself?

Here are the answers:

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From Toni at A Circle of Books

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

I participate in the challenges.  I think it provides motivation, stimulates book discussion and it is fun.  It is kind of like a big big book club.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

E-book challenge, From my Shelves Project, Audio Challenge

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I have yet to host a challenge, but I’d really like to some day.

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From Ti at Book Chatter

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

I have participated in a few in the past but have not been successful.  I find that it turns my reading into work and I want my reading to be for pure enjoyment.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

The only challenge that I am doing is J. Kaye’s 100+ Reading Challenge because all books count AND it’s a good way to keep track of what I’ve read.

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I haven’t hosted a challenge, for same reason I noted above. I much prefer read-alongs which you can sort of consider a challenge depending on the book. I am hosting a read-along for Moby Dick right now and let me tell you, it’s a challenge!

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From Jill at Fizzy Thoughts

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

Yes, I participate in challenges. But only a few each year. Otherwise, they start to feel like chores. I chose a few each year that I think will encourage and motivate me expand my reading horizons. I’m doing Women Unbound because I believe in the topic, and it’s also a way to challenge myself to read more non-fiction this year. The South Asian Authors Challenge will encourage me to read more non-US authors, which is always something I’m striving to do. I also like the community aspect of challenges, and seeing what other people choose to read…there’s such diversity in the challenges!

I’m also doing a few read-alongs, but I think of those as entirely separate from challenges.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

This year, I’m doing Women Unbound (which rocks!) and the South Asian Authors Challenge. And maybe Trish’s OATES, since I have most of the authors already on my shelves. And I might join RIP again, if Carl offers it, but that’s later in the year.

Do you host any challenges yourself?

Nope. Although I’d love to do something similar to the Armchair Traveler reading challenge that was the first challenge I ever joined. I just haven’t thought hard enough yet to make it a reality.

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From Care at Care’s Online Book Club:

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

YES, I participate in reading challenges.   I like the shared discussion about books – when it happens and I like to be included in activities.    I like to experience books that I may not have chosen otherwise.     I also like to un-officially participate so I don’t have added stress of HAVING to read something so I do attempt to limit myself.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

That limiting concept gets harder every year!   I love making the lists but then hate the stress of actually reading what I have committed to.     I am participating in Women Unbound, What’s In a Name 3, Woolf in Winter, A Wrinkle in Time (not real name of challenge – I’ll have to go look that up…) LOTR readalong, Flashback, John Cusack, and unofficially Book to Movie, the Well Read Challenge, Global Challenge,  Twenty in 2010 (maybe – I might have signed and forgot), GLBT and…     This is one of my tasks this weekend – to clean up my challenges so I know what I’m doing this year.   I love read-alongs and have a few of these in line, too, with a few other bloggers.   Citizen Reader’s Book Menages are wonderful.   I prefer casual challenges that allow books from other challenges to count.

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I’m co-hosting the Women Unbound Challenge.  This is a 13 month long challenge focussing on Women’s Issues in fiction AND in nonfiction.  This is my first challenge hosting attempt and it’s been nice to share duties and to share the discussion of duties, actually.  🙂

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From Florinda at 3R’s Blog:

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

I didn’t get involved in challenges until I’d been blogging for almost two years, and I still don’t sign on for very many of them. The challenges that have appealed to me address goals I already have in mind or are focused on a topic or genre I would have wanted to read anyway – they just help give me direction. I try to stay away from challenges that would require me to add much to my already exploding TBR collection!

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

I’m participating in the Read Your Own Books Challenge this year for the second time – it helps keep me from getting too caught up in review books. It will also overlap with most of the other challenges I’m doing.

I joined two challenges in the fall that are continuing into this year:

Women Unbound Challenge (women’s studies, requires both fiction and nonfiction – I have a surprising amount in TBR that qualifies)
Shelf Discovery Challenge (an excuse to re-read some YA favorites from my own YA days)

I joined the Memorable Memoirs Challenge since that’s my preferred nonfiction genre

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I’m on the verge of announcing my first hosted challenge, but I’m going to call it a “reading project” since so many people have sworn they’re not joining any more challenges this year :-)! I’ll also be co-hosting a read-along in March and April with two other bloggers. However, since I haven’t officially posted about either of these activities yet, I can’t say any more about them now.

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From Stephanie at Stephanie’s Written Word:

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

Reading challenges are a lot of fun. Even though some people feel pressure to finish the challenge, I just enjoy giving myself a list and seeing if I can do it. No pressure – if I don’t finish it’s really no big deal. I don’t think there are reading challenge police out there! 🙂 In fact, last year I only finished two challenges – Carl’s RIP and my own Everything Austen.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

I’m currently participating in The Vampire Diaries challenge hosted by My Friend Amy, The Shelf Discovery Challenge by Booking Mama and All About the Brontes hosted by Laura’s Reviews. I am super excited about the Bronte challenge as I’ve never read any Bronte before!

Lastly, I ALWAYS participate in Carl’s two big reading challenges each year and will do so again in 2010. I love his Once Upon a Time challenge in the spring and RIP challenge in the fall. They are both great!!

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I hosted the Everything Austen challenge that ran from July 1st to December 31st, 2009. You can read my wrap up post here.   I had over 200 participants and almost 600 reviews were credited to Everything Austen. Overall I gave away 17 different Austen-ish books and had numerous guest posts by authors. It was a lot of work but a ton of fun! It was my first reading challenge that I hosted but probably won’t be my last!

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From Lenore at Presenting Lenore:

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

I have participated in a couple over the past few years, but for 2010 I am only participating in one official challenge (so far).  I have a hard time keeping up with all the requirements and getting the books read in time if I join too many.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

I am participating in the YA debut author challenge hosted by The Story Siren because I love to support debut authors and it looks like Kristi is going to be a active host who has the support of the debut author community.  I may also join in to some mini-challenges like the Kidlitosphere comment more challenge.

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I do not host any official challenges, but I have some personal ones such as reading more books in the German language and more classics.

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From Nicole at Linus’s Blanket:

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

I do! Though I am far from the ideal challenge participant.  I love making lists and thinking about books with the same authors or the same themes, and researching titles that will fit into my challenges, and I just love reading other lists and meeting new bloggers in the same challenges as me.  Challenges are like mixers or bars where you can meet new people!  They really appeal to both the curious and organizer aspects of my personality as well as the social part.  I love perusing the linkies and reading reviews.  I am good at joining challenges, but not so good at posting my own reviews and horrid at wrap-up posts.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

Which challenges aren’t I doing this year might be more easily answered.  So far I have signed up for:

The African Diaspora Challenge, Our Mutual Read, The TBR Challenge, South Asian Author Challenge, 451 Fridays Challenge, Audio Book Challenge, Read The Book See The Movie Challenge, Shelf Discovery Challenge, The Chunkster Challenge, The Debutante Ball Challenge, The What’s In A Name Challenge, The Winter Reading Challenge.

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I’m hosting That’s How I Blog’s Twenty Minute Book Club Challenge. I host a Blog Talk Radio Show on Tuesday nights called That’s How I Blog! where I chat with bloggers about their blogging experiences and the books that they enjoy reading.  We have a twenty minute discussion (okay so often it’s a 40 minute discussion) on a book we have chosen to read together.  This challenge is a little different from other challenges because the books are already chosen for you. I really love that you get to chat about the same books with other readers and to participate in the book club at the end of the show, but that you also have the flexibility to read the books out of sync and at your own pace.

I have another challenge in the works for finishing half-read books, but I won’t be starting that til next month.

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From Sandy at You’ve GOTTA Read This!

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

I absolutely do participate in challenges.  I love them for several reasons.  First, they keep me focused on books that I have made a priority to read.  If not, I meander all over the place, and don’t end up reading half of what I wanted.  Second, they push me to read genres that are new to me.  Last year, my big stretch was classics, of which I am shamefully ignorant. This year, its graphic novels.  Third, I just thrive on achieving goals – they make me accountable.  (Challenges also seem to work for me in the areas of fitness as well!) Plus, I hate to fail at things.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

I still have three challenges continuing from 2009:  Harry Potter Challenge,
Japanese Reading Challenge and Random Reading Challenge.

For 2010, I’ve signed up for ten challenges:

Audio Books
E-Books
100+
Read and Review
Vietnam War Through the Generations
Read from your Shelves
Read the Book/See the Movie
TBR
Support Your Library
Graphic Novels

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I have never hosted any challenges before.  I know it sounds sophomoric, but I’m a little shy about it since I consider myself to be somewhat new.  Maybe next year!   I did consider hosting one where you read all of Entertainment
Weekly’s top books.

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From Teddy at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time:

Do you participate in reading challenges?

Yes, there are many reasons.  Challenges help me get organized for my year of reading.  They don’t dictate everything I’m going to read but they guide me.  There are several challenges that fit into what I plan to read anyway.  For example, I know I am going to read ARCs and a lot of historical fiction.  There are challenge the those both fit into nicely.  I am addicted to challenges.  They are fun.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

I’m doing a lot!
O.A.T.E.S.
ARC
Books Won
What an Animal II
China
Year of the Historical
Pub
TBR Lite
Books to Read Before I Die
RYOB
Woman Unbound
New Authors
Audio Book
Hisorical Fiction
Chunkster
Global

I also am doing two perpetual challenges that I have been doing for a couple years:
Books Around the World
Books Around the States

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I currently host 2:

The ARC Reading Challenge is to read ARC’s.  I use the term ARC loosely, any book that is sent to the participant that a review is expected qualifys.  There are 3 levels.

The Books Won Challenge is to read books that you have won in giveaways.  There are four levels.

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From Natalie at Book, Line, and Sinker:

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

I have yet to participate in any reading challenges.  I’ve been book blogging since March and just haven’t signed up for one.  There are a bunch of great ones out there but I’m reticent to join and don’t know why!  Fear of committment, maybe?  Lol.

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From Mari at Bookworm with a View:

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

I haven’t participated in Challenges in the past.  Would you believe me if I told you I didn’t know exactly what a Challenge was or that so many existed until last fall?  The ones I am participating in for 2010 are simple in nature (ie: Read’n Review: where you post a review for every book you read). I read about 2-3 books a month and being in two book clubs I fear I would
be over-committing.  Once Spring comes around and I’m busy running outside, I will try to listen to some audio books, which might increase my volume read a bit.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

I have signed up for four challenges, two focused on reading books from my book shelves, one to review what I read and the last one focuses on reading a novel by an upcoming/new author (from a set list).

Details:
http://bwavchallenges.blogspot.com/

I missed list another challenge that I am in:  The Canadian Book Challenge.

Do you host any challenges yourself?

No, but I like to think I’m cheerleading from the sidelines, for all of you hosting challenges and for those who read so much, I look up to you – you amaze me!

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From Trish at Hey, Lady!  Whatcha’ Readin’?

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

Not anymore. I did when I first started blogging, but I found I’m not disciplined enough to finish a challenge.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

Actually, I’m hosting two challenges, but they’re specifically geared towards the books I want to read this year. They are the O.A.T.E.S. Challenge and the Laura Lippman Challenge (which will be announced on Monday 1/11/).

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I’m hosting two challenges: the O.A.T.E.S. Challenge, which was inspired by Joyce Carol Oates. The idea is to read authors whose last name begin with A, T, E, or S. Joyce Carol Oates is obviously the author you’d read for O. My goal is to read a few JCO books this year, as well as two books by Margaret Atwood, a book by Tolstoy, a book by Steinbeck, and something by Ernest Hemingway. The goal is to challenge my reading this year. The other challenge I’m hosting is the Laura Lippman Challenge. Laura Lippman has written quite a few books, most of them crime fiction, many of which have been nominated for or won awards. While she’s not a particularly challenging author, her books fit in with my reading plan this year.

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From Dar at Peeking Between the Pages

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

Yes I participate in reading challenges.  I really enjoy them because they allow you to step out of your comfort zone and read something different; something you may not have read otherwise.  Also I think challenges bring about a great sense of community in the blogging world.  We all get excited about joining the challenges and figuring out what books we’ll read and then updating throughout the year.  It’s fun and I think it brings us all together in a way.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

Lots!  lol!  Here’s the list of my challenges this year:

Vietnam Reading Challenge
Young Adult Reading Challenge
ARC Reading Challenge
Romance Reading Challenge
Chunkster Challenge
Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
eBook Reading Challenge
Reading From my Shelves Project
100+ Reading Challenge
Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge
Outlander Challenge
Random Reading Challenge
Sookie Stackhouse Challenge

Yikes, that’s 13.  Looks like I’m going to have to find myself one more challenge. Can’t be staying at the number 13.  lol.

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I don’t host any challenges but I’m still thinking about doing one if not this year then next year for sure.

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From Lisa at Lit and Life

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

When I first started blogging last June, I didn’t really know much about the challenges and wasn’t sure it was something I would be interested in.  Then Stephanie at Stephanie’s Written Word started the Everything Austen challenge.  As a person that has read every Austen book and seen at least one movie version of each of them, I felt like this was the perfect challenge for me to jump in on.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that not only were challenges a great way to encourage me to read certain books, but that they were also a great way to meet new people and to drive traffic to my blog.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

This year I’ve become something of a challenge addict.  In addition to continuing with the Random Reading Challenge, I’ve added eleven new challenges: What’s In A Name 3, The Michener Challenge, Our Mutual Read, 2010 Read ‘n’ Review Challenge, 451 Challenge, 2010 Reading From My Shelves Project, 2010 Flashback Reading Challenge, You’ve Got Mail Reading Challenge, O.A.T.E.S., All About The Brontes 2010 Challenge, and the Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge which I’m hosting.

Do you host any challenges yourself?

The idea for the Gilmore Girls challenge came about, as so many ideas do, when I was talking with another blogger who mentioned that she had come across a list of all of the books ever shown or discussed on the t.v. show The Gilmore Girls.  I loved that show and when I saw how many books and the wide variety of books were included, I knew it was the perfect idea for the challenge I’d been thinking about putting together.  You can check out the Gilmore Girl Challenge HERE.

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From Susan at Suko’s Notebook

Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

I love to participate in challenges, but I only join the ones which don’t require a great number of books be read, because I’m busy and I like to choose what I’ll read. I also don’t like challenges with too many rules and regulations. But reading challenges are fun to join, and bring more visitors to your site.

Which reading challenges are you doing this year?

I am participating in a few reading challenges this year, The Aussie Author Challenge, The Typically British Challenge, and the All About the Brontes Challenge.

Do you host any challenges yourself?

I would love to host a reading challenge on my blog. If I can think up a good one then I will!
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From Anna at Diary of an Eccentric

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Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

Yes!  I enjoy participating in reading challenges because they motivate me to read books I’ve wanted to read for a long time or open myself to new authors, books, and genres.  It’s fun to see what other participants are reading for the same challenge.  I’m always adding titles to the long list of books I’d like to read some day.
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Which reading challenges are you doing this year?
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So far, I’ve only signed up for two:  the Vietnam War Reading Challenge at War Through the Generations and the Jane Austen Challenge at the Life (and Lies) of an Inanimate Flying Object.  If the Everything Austen Challenge at Stephanie’s Written Word happens again this year, I’ll join that one, too.
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Do you host any challenges yourself?

I co-host annual war-related reading challenges with Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit) at War Through the Generations.  Last year, we hosted the WWII Reading Challenge, and this year, we’ve switched gears to Vietnam.  We are very interested in the impact of war on people and society, and our participants are encouraged to read fiction, non-fiction, children’s books and even watch a couple of movies if they desire, with whatever war we’re covering as the primary or secondary theme.  We compile related book reviews and recommended reading lists on the challenge blog.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it to provide a useful resource to readers interested in war-related books.  And it’s why I limit myself to only a few reading challenges per year.
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Do you participate in reading challenges?  Why or why not?

Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

51bdApUjo-L._SL500_AA240_Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger is a modern gothic tale set in London near Highgate Cemetery.

The story begins in a hospital, where 45 year old Elspeth dies of cancer while her younger lover, Robert, is at the vending machines getting coffee. Robert crawls in bed with her and wraps himself around her in a touching scene I won’t soon forget.

Elspeth has an estranged twin, Edie, who lives in Chicago. Edie and her husband Jack also have twins, Julia and Valentina, mirror images of each other. Elspeth has left her London flat and everything in it to her nieces, two young ladies she has never met, with the stipulation that they live alone in the flat for one year, and that their parents never set foot in the flat. Julia and Valentina, unmotivated girls who’ve already dropped out of two colleges, find this all a bit mysterious but decide to give it a go.

Once the twins arrive in London and settle in, it’s not long before they sense an otherwordly presence in the flat. Valentina is more attuned to it than Julia and becomes fixated on discovering what it all means.

There are a number of superb peripheral characters in Her Fearful Symmetry that were well developed and interesting. Martin, a neighbor in an upper flat, struggles with raging OCD. His wife Marijke lives apart from him, but their love story is touching and beautiful. Robert, also a neighbor, a guide at Highgate, and the one tragically left behind after Elspeth’s death, is a study in grief and longing.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because it’s truly an amazing reading experience. However as much as I enjoyed it, there were parts that left me confused. There’s an intricate twist about Edie and Elspeth and Jack. I re-read that section twice and finally had to get out a piece of paper and diagram the whole thing just to make sense of it. There were scenes that I really enjoyed (the BEST was when Elspeth snagged the kitten!!), but the end felt rushed and wrong to me. I’m sure there are many people who will disagree with me about the ending, but I felt almost cheated by it.  Rather than saying, “Wow!” at the end, I was saying, “What??!!”  I was waiting for a showdown between two characters (one alive and one dead) that never came, and that disappointed me.   I had hoped for answers about one character’s motivations and there weren’t any, which forced me to speculate.

rip4150However, don’t let me scare you off.  Niffenegger is a pro at writing about love and emotions and does so in a most creative way in Her Fearful Symmetry. This author, who made time travel so believable in The Time Traveler’s Wife, now gives us a beyond-the-grave love story, full of suspense and impending doom. If you’re looking for a creepy ghostly read for October, look no further! Her Fearful Symmetry will be in stores tomorrow, Tuesday, September 29th.

I read HFS as part of the RIP IV Challenge.

FYI, the publisher is giving away ten ARCs and three first edition hardcovers on October 1st in a lottery to anyone who joins the Facebook page as a fan and sends an email to hfs@regal-literary.com. Good Luck!


RIP IV Challenge from Stainless Steel Droppings!

Generally I don’t do reading challenges- I don’t like to commit to preselected titles. I’m never sure what I’ll have time for and my tastes continuously change. What if I don’t want to read the books I’ve picked out? What if I take on too much and can’t finish? Will the Challenge Police write me a citation?

And my taste in books doesn’t typically run towards the dark, the gloomy, the supernatural. However, creepiness does hold an odd appeal to me, so maybe I could try…

The RIP IV Challenge post lists the following categories for reading selections:

rip4banner200Mystery.
Suspense.
Thriller.
Dark Fantasy.
Gothic.
Horror.
Supernatural
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And, look… look at the button. Beautiful, right? I wanted that button in my sidebar.

So I popped on over to Stainless Steel Droppings and read up on it. You don’t have to pre-select titles (check). There are different levels of participation. You can read as little or as much as you want (check, check). And I’ve already started a book that would fit nicely into the challenge (check, check, check). I’m in!

Some books I will consider, and one I’ve already started:

1. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

2. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

3. The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

4. The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Do you have any reading suggestions for me? Something amazing and dark, something sure to send shivers up my spine?  Please let me know!

Won’t you join me in the RIP IV Challenge? If so, go sign up! The challenge starts today and runs through October 31st.

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the RainIf you ever wondered what your dog is really thinking.. if you ever wanted to get inside the head of the family pet.. this may be the book for you.  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is a tragic and touching family drama told through the eyes of the family dog. 

Enzo is an elderly lab nearing the end of his days looking back on his life with his master Denny, a semi-pro racecar driver.  He has been a faithful and loving companion to his people:  Denny, his wife Eve and daughter Zoe. 

Enzo, stuffed into a doggie shell but practically human, occasionally gets annoyed by his frustrating lack of speech.  Instead he relies on big gestures to communicate- barking, peeing on the floor, etc.  Denny usually knows what point he’s trying to get across.  He almost always guesses correctly.  

And Enzo’s voice isn’t very dog-like, but I guess that’s because he watches TV all day.  This makes him a pretty well educated pooch.  From watching a documentary about evolution he is convinced he will come back to this world as a human after he dies.  A human with speech!  And thumbs!!  He is ready.  Bring it on! 

The story is really more about Enzo’s people than it is about dogs.  Denny falls in love, marries, has a daughter.  The little family suffers through a huge medical drama and loss, and Enzo, the faithful companion, is there for all of it.

DSCN8784The only issue I had with The Art of Racing in the Rain is a small one- dogs are smart, but they can’t go everywhere, so how can a dog narrator know what goes on in a courtroom?  Or a hospital?   But I forgave that small problem, suspended reality, and enjoyed the story. 

This is a sweet book; at times comic but also sad.  Wonderful and very readable.  Unputdownable (I read the bulk of it in one sitting).   I enjoyed getting a dog’s perspective on human life, love and family.   I shed a couple of tears, and laughed out loud.  It’s like that- happy/sad, funny/serious.  It’s the most human dog book I’ve ever read, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  Highly recommended.

I reviewed this book as part of Jennifer’s Dog Days of Summer.

Now I think I’ll go hug my puppy.

The Best and the Rest of 2008

What do an Afghani woman in a bhurka, the manager of a Red Lobster restaurant in Connecticut, Queen Juana la Loca of Spain, a stroke victim in Paris who can only communicate by blinking one eye, and a family with a magical apple tree have in common? They’ve all ended up on my “Best Of 2008” list!

I’m about 2 weeks late with this wrap up post, but it was surprisingly difficult to pick favorites! I changed my mind several times. Since I don’t do any sort of rating system, no stars or caterpillars, I couldn’t just list the books that got my highest ratings. Hmm.. maybe I should do that this year to make the 2009 wrap up post easier.

I wrote 44 reviews in 2008-quite a slouch compared to some other book bloggers but not half bad for ME! That number doesn’t include the books that I never finished, or books that I was ambivalent about, or books that for whatever reason I didn’t like as much as I’d hoped and was worried about offending the author. I didn’t keep stats on these but I know there were at least 10 books that I never got around to writing reviews for, and nearly that many that I started but didn’t finish.

So without further ado, here are the books I reviewed in 2008, alphabetically within their categories:

The Best:

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The Diving Bell and The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan
The Last Queen by CW Gortner
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Rest:

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
And Sometimes Why by Rebecca Johnson
Capote in Kansas by Kim Powers
Chez Moi by Agnes Desarthe
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Fires by Alan Cheuse
The Girls by Lori Lansens
The Heartbreak Diet by Thorina Rose
House and Home by Kathleen McCleary
The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler
Keeper and Kid by Edward Hardy
The Knitting Circle by Ann Hood
The Leper Compound by Paula Nangle
The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker
Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity by Kerry Cohen
Loving Frank by Nancy Horan – Book Club Wrap-Up
Matrimony by Joshua Henkin
Netochka Nezvanova by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski
One Perfect Day by Lauraine Snelling
Peony in Love by Lisa See
Shrink Rap by Robin Altman

The Sister by Poppy Adams
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O’Nan

Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring

The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Summer People by Brian Groh
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

In a category all by itself:

Getting Rid of Matthew by Jane Fallon

(I’m driving myself crazy trying to fix the spacing on this post- I’ve finally decided that it’s just going to have to remain wonky. Sorry.)

So here’s to a wonderful new year of reading! I haven’t set any reading goals for 2009 other than to review every book I read. I’ve only joined one reading challenge, and it’s a short one. What are your goals for 2009?

Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

a_thousand_splendid_sunsA Thousand Splendid Suns is another remarkable story from Khaled Hosseini.  Like the Kite Runner, this book is set against the backdrop of turbulent times in Afghanistan, but unlike Hosseini’s first novel, ATSS focuses on female relationships; about love and loss and endurance, making it a superb choice for a book club.  

I’m going to try to summarize the book without giving the whole story away, but if you plan to read this anytime soon, you might want to stop here and skip to the last couple paragraphs.

The two main female characters are Mariam and Laila.  The novel begins when Mariam, a harami (illegitimate child), is 15 years old.   After her mother’s suicide she goes to live with her wealthy father, his 3 wives and their 10 children.  Soon she is married off to Rasheed, a much older man. 

Mariam can’t catch a break.  First her mother kills herself, then she’s treated as a second class citizen by her own father, then she’s married off to an old, abusive man who doesn’t allow her to have friends, talk to people, or show her face in public, and who beats her on a regular basis because she is unable to give him a son.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.  

Laila, a smart and stunning young girl born to one of Mariam and Rasheed’s neighbors shortly after they marry, grows up and falls in love with her childhood friend, Tariq.  When the political situation in Kabul starts heating up, his parents decide it’s time to move to Pakistan.  He begs Laila to come, but she stays behind with her parents.  They have a quick “indiscretion” before he goes, shocking each other with its intensity.  After Tariq’s departure, Laila’s parents decide they, too, should leave Kabul.  As they are packing up, a bomb hits their house, destroying their home, killing her parents and badly injuring Laila. 

Rasheed and Mariam take 14 year old Laila in.  Mariam nurses her back to health.  Soon the disgusting Rasheed decides he’d like to have Laila as his 2nd wife.  Learning Tariq has been killed, Laila, harboring a secret, agrees to marry the old man.  In my head, I was screaming, NO!  He’ll hurt you!  But it was the only way for her to survive after losing everyone she had to count on.  Women had no freedoms, weren’t allowed to work, travel without a male chaperone, etc.  How would she support herself?  So they marry, and then Laila has the audacity to give birth to a female child.  Rasheed loses whatever kind feelings he had for her at that point. But then the two wives, after some initial tension, form an unbreakable, familial bond that will endure huge challenges and obstacles.  

Spanning almost three decades, from about 1975 until just a few years ago, there are a lot of historical events happening throughout the story.  The political unrest worsens as the Taliban take over and women are more oppressed than ever.  I felt huge empathy for these women and their lack of freedom and basic rights.  I related to their maternal sides, their protectiveness toward Laila’s children and toward each other.  

I loved this book.  As brutal and intense as some of it was (particularly in Rasheed’s final scene), it spoke to me on a deep emotional level.  I cared about these characters.  I desperately wanted things to work out for them.  I’m no expert on Afghanistan history or culture, but it’s possible that the portrayal of some of the characters was a bit stereotypical (actually, that would be my only criticism of the book-it’s beautifully written).    

Khaled Hosseini is a brilliant storyteller.  If you love a good story that isn’t all sunshine and roses, this might be the book for you.  It’s number one on my list of Favorite Reads of 2008!  

Reading Group discussion questions can be found HERE.

Khaled Hosseini’s website is HERE.

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Vol. 4

The 4th installment of this series is from the fabulous, big-hearted Trish at Hey, Lady! Whatcha Readin’?  Trish became one of my first online friends after starting this blog.  She is a passionate, caring person who is currently organizing love and support in the form of a care package for a fellow blogger undergoing cancer treatment.  Here she talks about her book club journey!

I don’t remember the first book I read, nor do I remember when reading became an obsession. However, I do remember the first time that I wanted to be in a book club so badly I could taste it. 

I was 22. I was working at a restaurant as a server when one of my tables got sat (that’s not bad English, it’s restaurant lingo) with four ladies. I noticed right away that they all had a copy of Reading Lolita in Tehran as well as a copy of Lolita. I’m sure that I brought up something about reading because I spent almost 10 minutes talking to them about books. They recommended books to me and I recommended books to them. We’d read many of the same books and had similar feelings about those books. My heart was beating with the excitement of a first kiss. It was as if I’d found THE ONE (name that movie). THIS was the book club for me! The ladies were nice! We liked the same books! I was sure I must have something meaningful to contribute!

I learned they met once a month and usually went out to dinner. Being somewhat of a food snob, this sealed the deal for me: combine two loves in my life, books and food, and how could this not be a happily ever after?

After being totally jealous of the four ladies and wishing with all my heart that I was in their group, I approached the group as they were leaving the restaurant and got the attention of the lady I’d talked to the most. “If you ever have an opening in your book club, I’d love to join. Here’s my email address.” I handed her a card from the restaurant that had my email written on the back.

My co-workers thought I was crazy, but this was almost like approaching that cute boy you’ve been admiring from a distance who you know you’ll never see again. What does it hurt to say, “Here’s my number, give me a call sometime.” Maybe he’ll call, maybe he won’t, but at least you’ll never have any regrets.

The lady never called and I was left book club-less. Not to be deterred, I started my own book club. We met a few times but it fizzled quickly. The people I’d asked to join were avid readers, but discussing books with other book lovers wasn’t quite as easy as I anticipated.

Fortunately, I’ve found a few women that I work with who are avid readers. We’re bumbling through the first stages of a book club like a first boyfriend; it’s clumsy, awkward and guiltily fun. We’re starting to get into a groove that works for us, especially now that we’ve realized wine makes our discussions a little livelier. 😀 I have my fingers crossed that I’ve finally hit pay dirt on the book club. If not, there are plenty of other readers in the sea. 

Blogger Bio:  Trish lives in California and is getting married in June. She can’t wait to have more free time to read, and plans on instilling a love of reading in her (future) children.  Trish has been blogging at Hey, Lady! since October 2007.

***Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain?  If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For other volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

For a chance to win a copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin, click HERE by May 15th.  Josh would be happy to do an author chat with your book club!

For a chance to win a copy of The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski, click HERE by May 15. You can contact Jill at her website about setting up an author chat. 

Where Have You Been?

Several of my faithful readers have asked the question, ‘Where have you been?’  First, thank you for caring!  And thank you for coming back, even when there’s been almost no activity here for the past week.  I’m surprised that anyone notices what goes on (or, more accurately, doesn’t go on) here at my little blog.

 My stepdad had a quadruple bypass last Friday.  It was quite sudden and unexpected.  Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, he is doing great. He came home yesterday and had his first good nights sleep in a week, without the air conditioning blasting on him, and with no one bugging him to take his blood pressure or give him medicine in the middle of the night.

Waiting around in hospitals is not fun, but it does provide ample time for reading.  I’m almost done with The Time Traveler’s Wife, my book club read this month.  I didn’t think I liked it at first, but now with just 100 pages to go, it is consuming me and I can hardly think of anything else.  I understand the movie is coming out in November, with Eric Bana as Henry DeTamble. Great casting choice, don’t ya think?  Eric Bana is currently in theaters playing Henry VIII in The Other Boleyn Girl.  My book club buddies and I will be seeing that next weekend.  How did this one actor end up in the movie version of two of my favorite books?
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Seems everything I read lately is being turned into a movie.  My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult was picked up by NewLine Cinema.  The Fanning sisters were set to play Anna and Kate, but they have since backed out because Dakota didn’t want to shave her head.  Can’t say as I blame her..   Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) has replaced the younger Fanning as Anna, and Sofia Vassilieva is in talks to play Kate. Maybe Eric Bana can play the dad! (Actually, I heard Alec Baldwin has been cast in the movie. Interesting..)
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What books would you like to see made into movies? 

Cravings for Chocolate and Books

Last night I had such a craving for chocolate. It was an out of control, GOTTA HAVE IT craving. B. worked late and wasn’t home or I would have sent him to Dairy Queen. The kids were already in bed so I couldn’t go myself. I went through my pantry, hoping for a stray leftover Christmas cookie, or one of those chocolate covered granola bars, anything! But all I could find was a can of chocolate fudge frosting. I came dangerously close to whipping it open and eating half of it. After a mental tug-of-war, and some quick calculations of how many hours I’d have to spend on the treadmill to work off oh, 900 calories or so, I went to bed (patting myself on the back), but it was a really close call!! When none of your clothes fit, the last thing you need is half a can of fudge frosting. In the harsh light of day, it occurs to me I really should throw it in the trash. (Ha, like that will happen!)

A couple of days ago I finished Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2000. I’ll probably write a review later today. I’m still thinking it over and deciding how much I liked it. Sometimes it takes me a few days to let it settle in my brain, if that makes sense. My kids are home sick today (which may explain some of the moodiness of the last few days) so in between waiting on them and doing extra laundry, I might write a review.

I started The Girls by Lori Lansens Sunday night, and it’s not what I expected. It’s about twin sisters conjoined at the head; interesting characters but so far the book is rather slow moving. Or maybe it’s just me. I’m trying to get into it.

My book club is reading The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler for our February discussion. I haven’t picked it up yet but need to start it soon. Masterpiece Theater on PBS is having a series of Jane Austen movies on Sundays. It began last weekend with “Persuasion”. See the schedule HERE.

I haven’t read any Jane Austen, ever, nor have I seen any of the movies. I’m not sure how I got through school without reading any Jane Austen, but somehow I did. For that reason, I worried that I might not be able to really appreciate our book club choice, but I’ve been assured by another book clubber (and huge Austen fan) that I don’t need to be familiar with her work to enjoy this book. I’ve been told that once I start reading Austen, I won’t want to stop. Is she really that addicting? Will I crave Austen books the way I do chocolate?

Well, I’m being summoned by the sickies. At times it feels like I work here rather than live here! Any other moms ever feel that way?

Introductions: Booking Through Thursday


May I Introduce…. January 10, 2008

Filed under: WordPress — –Deb @ 1:05 am 

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  1. How did you come across your favorite author(s)? Recommended by a friend? Stumbled across at a bookstore? A book given to you as a gift?
  2. Was it love at first sight? Or did the love affair evolve over a long acquaintance?


I don’t have one favorite author.  I have favorite books, but even then I haven’t been compelled to run out and read everything those authors have written.  Favorite books have come to me in a myriad of ways, but most often from recommendations from friends and family.  
 
My mother gave me her Louisa May Alcott collection to read when I was a child.  I was hooked.  Later, there was the former co-worker who turned me on to Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries.  There was the ex-boyfriend who was a huge Dean Koontz fan.  And there’s Oprah and her love of Maya Angelou. Well, Oprah’s not a personal friend (I wish), but she does visit my house via the television on a regular basis.  I also read reviews at amazon.com and bookmovement.com for inspiration and have discovered books that way. 
 
A beautiful, interesting cover sometimes translates into a beautiful, interesting read, but not always.  I have been dazzled by covers and displays in bookstores many times, only to be disappointed (What?  You can’t judge a book by it’s cover?  Shocking!).  
 
I’ve found some new favorites on the many book blogs I visit, too. Some of these book bloggers read so much, I don’t know when they have time to sleep or wash their hair. They must be speed readers!  
 
For me, the most reliable path to a favorite book, and consequently a favorite author, tends to be the passionate, personal recommendation. There’s nothing better than a recommendation from a person who adores the book they’ve just read and wants to spread the word.