December Reading – the Month Ahead (aka “Crunch Time”)

Imagine my horror this past weekend when I reviewed my “Rainman Spreadsheet” (where I keep track of everything, which of course includes which books I have read and when I have read them) and discovered that I’ve only finished 42 books so far this year. Maybe ten or fifteen years ago this would have been ok, but in my “book blogging” era of the past several years it’s “entirely unacceptable” (and please imagine these two words as being said by Clint Eastwood in the film, Absolute Power).

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I’ve been averaging (comfortably averaging) 50 books a year the past few years so why I am I about a month behind that pace? Laziness? busy-ness? Other interests? Too many short stories and not enough books? Which is it? Actually, it’s hidden answer number five – “all of the above.” BUT… I have a plan by which I can still get there. (For, you know, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail -right?)

So here’s what I will be attempting to read/finish this month:

1) Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Is should go pretty fast since its a re-read (and it’s not that long anyway). Two local book clubs are discussing it this month. The first one meets on 12/4.

2) Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
I’m already halfway through this one, which is technically my “current read.” About two hundred pages to go. I should wrap it up by this weekend.

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3) Becoming Ray Bradbury by Jonathan Eller
A great biography, which I’m already two thirds of the way through with, but inexplicably put down many weeks ago and haven’t picked back up again yet.

4) Never Let and Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
A fairly short book that a friend recently read for her book club. She assures me that it’s a fairly easy read, and that I will enjoy it. I’m counting on her to be right.

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5 & 6) Taran Wanderer and The High King by Lloyd Alexander
Earlier this year I started a re-read of this favorite five-book series from my youth but got distracted after just finishing the first three. These were YA books of my generation and will be pretty easy going too.

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7) I Am No One You Know by Joyce Carol Oates
This will be kind of cheating since I only have a few stories to go in this collection, but I’ve been reading it now for three years (because I’m as savoring them, not because I don’t like them) and I haven’t counted it in prior years so – technically – fair game, yes?

8) Haunts: Reliquaries of the Dead by Stephen Jones
More cheating, as this is a collection of ghost stories, and I’ve already read more than half of them, some this year, some last year.

That gets me to fifty. I also may read Melville’s novella, Benito Cereno in preparation for a discussion in January. It’s only about 150 pages but I will count it also – if I finish it in time. 🙂

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What about you? Are you meeting your reading goals for the year? Or do you maybe not set specific goals? How do YOU keep yourself on track in your reading endeavors? What are you hurrying to finish up by year’s end?

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Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten “Beach” Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by the literary folks over at The Broke and the Bookish. A different topic is introduced each week and participants are charged with coming up with a top ten list. This week’s topic: “Top Ten Beach Reads (however YOU define a beach read)”. I’ve decided to define it as a book I’ve read during a vacation of any kind since I’m more of a mountains and canyons guy than a beachgoer. Another “requirement” for me would be a book read more for fun and entertainment than one read to learn something from its great literary merit.

I’ll start with a couple from my childhood and move on from there.

10. The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander

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This series was The Lord of the Rings of my youth. Great adventure and quite the page turners – all five of them.

9. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes

First read for school (maybe 5th or 6th grade), I remember having this with my on summer vacation camping trips with my family, reading it multiple times. I had little choice than to read the same books. More than once – it wasn’t like we took a big library with us; space in the pop up camper and car was limited.

8. The World of Null-A by A.E. Van Vogt

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Although you’ve likely never heard of this pulpish sci-fi novel, I have memories of reading this one multiple times during summer vacations during high school. It was a slim volume, which also made it easy to take along since it didn’t take up much space. I believe there were several “Null-A’ novels in Van Vogt’s oevre.  I’d like to do a nostalgic re-read some day…

7. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Probably the most ’edifying’ book on this list, it made quite an impression on me, and I’ve taken it with me on multiple trips – just like an old friend.

6. Lightning by Dean Koontz

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I have a friend who was a big Dean Koontz fan when I first met her. I remember being impressed that she had a list of all his books in her purse with the ones she had read marked off. She recommended this one and I took it with me on a trip in the early ’90s. Easy read,intriguing time-travel-ly plot.

5. Wonderboy by Simen Agdestein

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This is the story of the youngest Chess Grandmaster the world as of the time of its writing. I read it in 2004 when I travelled to Minneapolis for a “vacation” and to participate in the HP Global Chess Challenge (the biggest chess tournament in U.S. History). It was a great vacation, and this book was perfect reading during my down time during the event. Oh, and by the way, Magnus is now the highest rated chess player in the world and will challenge world champion Viswanathan Anand of India in a match this fall.

4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I guess if you’re going to read ‘magical realism,’ a vacation is the right time to do it. I remember reading through this at the lodge at Hawks Nest State Park in West Virginia in 2010. Almost incomprehensible, the book was still somehow enjoyable to me.

(below: Hawk’s Nest Lodge and it’s cable cars descending down into the New River gorge)

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3. Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

I read this during a vacation in the nineties. The only problem I could find with it was that it ended too soon.

2. Insomnia by Stephen King

I have quite fond memories of reading this one in Utah’s Zion National Park in 2006, more than once throwing it in my backpack and, while cooling down after a hike, reading it on the lawn of the Lodge or in one of its comfy rocking chairs, soaking up the sun in that beautiful setting.

(below: Zion National Park Lodge – right where I read a lot of Insomnia)

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1. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown

While I wouldn’t argue this book has great literary merit, it IS memorable to me for sentimental reasons. Practically my whole family read it during one of our annual “getaway weekends” – this one at Clifty Falls State Park. One nephew and I have lobbied to make a ’group read’ a tradition at subsequent years’ weekends, one time reading the same author’s novel, Deception Point, but he and I seem to be the only ones willing to continue to carry the banner. We were disappointed that this year’s annual “getaway” was just before Dan Brown’s latest novel, “Inferno,” came out.

(Below: view of the Ohio River from the grounds of Clifty Falls State Park Lodge.  I like sitting out there and watching the barges go up and down the river)

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Well that’s it for me. What about you? How did you define a “beach read” and what were your selections? Did we have any in common. I’m off to The Broke and theBookish to find out…

February Reading – The Month Ahead

I haven’t done one of these posts in awhile, but I thought I’d share what’s in store for me, reading-wise, in the month ahead…

Starting with my “required reading,” I have two books and one short story I’ll be reading for book clubs or discussion groups.

First, for the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library book club, we’re reading “God Bless You Mr. Rosewater.” This will be a re-read for me, as I read it last year “immediately” upon discovering it was the only one of Vonnegut’s novels that I hadn’t read. I look forward to giving it a deeper reading this time, though, in hopes of being better prepared to “discuss it intelligently” with the largely erudite membership of that group…

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I’ve also just started today in reading Willa Cather’s “The Professor’s House,” which is the February selection of a discussion group at a local library whose last meeting I crashed when I learned they’d be discussing Muriel Barbery’s “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.” I became hungry for more Willa Cather after reading her wonderful short story, “The Old Beauty,” as part of my annual short story reading project last year.

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Speaking of short stories, I’ll be re-reading Isaac Beshevis Singer’s classic tale, “Gimpel the Fool,” for a local discussion group/chapter of the Great Books Foundation. It’s been so long ago that I read this one the first time, though, that it will be practically the same for me as reading it for the first time. (Memory problems…)

(below: Isaac Beshevis Singer)

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Other, non-required reading includes Lloyd Alexander’s “The Prydain Chronicles” of which I began a “nostalgic re-read” of last month. I first read these books when I was but ten or eleven years old. The fact that they were written for younger readers has not diminished my enjoyment of them this time, though. I’m already on the third book (of five), and they’re quick reads so I also am padding my book total for 2013 (heh, heh).

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I’ll also have four short stories for my 2013 short story reading project that I’ll Knock off this month. In fact, I finished the first one yesterday (Poe’s “The Devil in the Belfry,” which I had never even heard of before today.) but there will be three more, decided – as always – by the turn of (hopefully) a friendly card.

What else? Oh, I’m considering reading Anna Karenina for a discussion at a bookstore in March, and it’s so long I’d better get started on it in February if I’m to have a chance at finishing it in time. Dale at Mirror With Clouds has said he’ll consider reading it along with me too – any other takers?

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One other book I’m intrigued with is “Generations of Winter” by Vassily Aksyonov, a novel that I first learned about via Ana’s review at Ana the Imp. I’m a long-time pushover for “anything Russian” (perhaps a relic from all those years playing chess, that favorite of Russian pastimes…) so this would be a natural choice for me too.

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That’s about it for me, although I’m sure I’ll read some other random short stories as well. But what about YOU? What books and stories are in your reading plans for February 2013?