Tag Archives: Challenges

sunday salon/currently …70/99

Sunday Salon 4

With less than a month until Labor Day — not to mention two weeks (!!!) before school starts — summer definitely is winding down. The breeze on the deck is starting to feel a little different, in the same way that the light looks with the shortening of days.

Summer’s impending farewell means that my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project now enters the home stretch. This is post #70 and I will confess to you that while I’m glad I embarked on this (and I have all full intentions to continue for the next 29 days), part of me will be glad to say goodbye — to this particular project that is, not the blog itself!   Although 70 days is about 69 days longer than I anticipated lasting, I’m ready to switch my attentions elsewhere — to an exciting writing project I’ve been making plans for and certainly more time to read, which I’ve really been missing. Yesterday I spent most of the afternoon just reading while The Girl was at an all-day Teen Comic-Con event yesterday at the library — and it felt so decadent.

Reliance, IllinoisReading // Yes, I’m still reading Reliance, Illinois.  At the rate I’m going, you’d think this book was a thousand pages long rather than 368.  (It just misses qualifying for the Big Book Summer Challenge being hosted by Sue at Book by Book…which, speaking of, I need to get moving on if I have any hopes of finishing a 400+ page book by Labor Day. I have my doubts, though. Fortunately I have a few books in my pile that will easily meet that requirement — and if I supplement it with the audiobook version, this might actually be doable.

The Literary Others - An LGBT Reading Event Oct 2016Speaking of reading challenges, this week Adam from Roof Beam Reader announced The Literary Others, An LGBT Reading Event that he’s hosting from October 1-31, 2016. I will definitely be participating in this one and will likely do a longer post with some recommendations of excellent books to consider.

Watching // Rather, what I’m not watching: the Olympics.  It sounds terrible, I know, but I really have no interest. And everyone who is watching seems to be complaining that it’s more commercials than Olympics, so it doesn’t sound like I’m missing much.

Cooking // Made overnight oats (a.k.a., refrigerator oats) for the first time this weekend.  I checked out a bunch of new cookbooks yesterday from the library in my elusive hope of finding some new dinner possibilities. I created what I thought was a healthy dinner tonight — “steak” fajitas (peppers, portabella mushrooms) over brown rice — and it turned out pretty lousy.

Listening // Still on my political podcast binge.  Best of the week:

The Bob and Chez Show “The Yokel Whisperer” (8/4/2016) (I honestly cannot imagine this election season without listening to Bob and Chez. Love them.)

The Bob and Chez Show “The Evel Knievel of Racism” (8/2/2016) The opening to this episode had me laughing so hard on Tuesday’s afternoon commute home from work. Such great stuff.

Katie Couric has a brand new podcast (seriously, who doesn’t have a podcast these days?)  and  her 7/29/2016 show “Frank Luntz: Behind the Polls” includes an interview with the longtime political pollster.

And, just to prove that I still listen to other things besides political commentary:

Fresh Air: Novelist Jay McInerney (8/1/2016) Jay McInerney discusses getting fired from The New Yorker, dating Rielle Hunter, and his new book Bright Precious Days.

Linking // 
Paul Krugman’s op-ed “Worthy of Our Contempt” in the New York Times (8/1/2016)
“For rank-and-file Republicans, it’s presumably about feelings … . And indulging your feelings at a time like this amounts to your dereliction of duty as a citizen.”

From NPR yesterday: “Khizr Khan Says He Would Live This Week A ‘Hundred Million Times’ Over”

And to end on a humorous note, Nicholas Mirello’s piece for McSweeney’s on “Marie Kondo’s Election-Changing Magic to Saving the United States of America.”

Hope you had a great weekend!

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #70 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

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Taking The Classics Club for Another Spin (8/99)

The Classics Club

As someone who considers herself an avid reader, I readily admit that my familiarity with classic literature is lacking. It just is.  There are classic novels that I feel I really should have read by now and authors who I haven’t read at all.

Mind you, I am firmly in the camp that life is too short and that reading should be enjoyable. If it feels like a chore or homework, I’m not about to waste my valuable reading time.

Still, the classics beckon.

Slightly over a year ago, I decided to jump into a popular online reading challenge called The Classics Club, created in March 2012 to “unite those of us who like to blog about classic literature, as well as to inspire people to make the classics an integral part of life.” The idea is to make a list of at least 50 classics you’d like to read and — within five years — read and blog about them.  My complete list can be found here.

Every so often, the organizers do a “spin” where you list on your blog 20 classics from your list that are still unread. The organizers select a random number; whatever book corresponds to that number is the book you need to read by a certain date.

I’ve participated in two previous spins (#9 and #11), but without much success.  (Actually, I haven’t had much success in the past year with this project; I’ve abandoned two classics and finished one.)

For Spin #13, I decided to choose books from my list that I actually own because the selection would also count for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks:

  1. Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi: Half of a Yellow Sun
  2. Atwood, Margaret: The Blind Assassin
  3. Dickens, Charles: Tale of Two Cities
  4. Gilman, Charlotte Perkins: Herland
  5. Ibsen, Henrik: A Doll’s House
  6. Irving, Washington: The Complete Tales
  7. Jackson, Shirley: Just An Ordinary Day: The Uncollected Stories
  8. Kingsolver, Barbara: The Poisonwood Bible
  9. McCarthy, Cormac: The Road
  10. McCarthy, Mary: The Group
  11. McCullers, Carson: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  12. Morrison, Toni: Paradise
  13. Henry, O. : Collected Stories
  14. O’Connor, Flannery: Wise Blood
  15. Plath, Sylvia: Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams: Short Stories, Prose and Diary Excerpts
  16. Robinson, Marilynne: Housekeeping
  17. Salinger, J.D.: Nine Stories
  18. Wharton, Edith: Summer
  19. Woolf, Virginia: Orlando
  20. Woolf, Virginia: Three Guineas

And the lucky number is … 15!

Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams

Of Sylvia Plath’s work, I’ve only read The Bell Jar. I’m intrigued with this collection of 13 short stories, essays, prose and excerpts of journal entries.

99 Days of Summer Blogging

This is Post #8 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging Project. 

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The Sunday Salon: Bookin’ It Through Fall

The Sunday Salon

We’re kickin’ off the first official day of football season, which in this house is akin to a national holiday.  NFL GameDay Morning started us off promptly at 9 a.m., and we’re watching the Steelers-Browns with the sound muted while listening to the Eagles-Jaguars game on SiriusXM. I’m bedecked in my black and yellow; The Husband is in his Eagles’ jersey. Here in the ‘Burgh, it’s a gorgeous Sunday weather-wise and the start of football season also marks, for me, the unofficial beginning of fall. I love this season.

Maybe it’s just me, but fall always seems to herald the best book events – both in-person and reading challenges in in the book blogging world. I swore off challenges almost three years ago now, but every once in awhile I can’t resist joining one or two … or three. Here are just a few bookish events, challenges, and readalongs that I hope you’ll join me in participating in:

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2014  shortlist will be announced this Tuesday, September 9 and I’m eagerly anticipating which of the 13 books move forward. I’d love to see History of the Rain by Niall Williams make it to this next round and win the whole thing, because I loved it so much. ‘Course, it’s the only one of the Booker longlist mentions that I’ve read, so that makes it my personal favorite.

Orfeo by Richard Powers is in my TBR pile beside the bed and I’d hoped to have gotten to that – and several others – by this point too, but that hasn’t happened. This longlist looks really good this year.

sparrow-Readalong

The Sparrow Readalong
Throughout September, Trish of Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity is hosting a readalong of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.  I’ve had this on my Goodreads “to-read” list forever and on my actual bookshelf for several years. I’m looking forward to participating in this.

RIP 2014

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX
If it’s September, it’s time for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, one of the best reading challenges in the blogosphere. And I say that as someone who isn’t usually a devotee of the mystery, suspense, horror, thriller, gothic, dark fantasy, supernatural types of reads that R.I.P. focuses on. I love this challenge hosted by Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings (his introduction to this annual challenge, now in it’s 9th (!!!) year, is always a fun read in and of itself).

ripnineperilsecond

ripnineperilshort

There are several R.I.P. IX levels and I’m planning to participate at Peril the Second (Read two books of any length that you believe fit within the R.I.P. categories) and Peril of the Short Story (which is self-explanatory … to read short stories that fit the categories). 

A More Diverse Universe 2014

A More Diverse Universe
Between September 14-27, Aarti from BookLust is hosting A More Diverse Universe to encourage reading at least one book written by a person of color.  Aarti writes, “None of us lives in a monochromatic world, and yet the fact that terrifying hate crimes still occur makes it clear that we do not fully understand or trust each other.  And maybe part of the reason is because the media we consume does not accurately reflect the diversity of our society.  And books are such a massive part of the media we consume that we should demand and fight for those that do represent minorities and those that do present the world from a different perspective than the one we are used to.  So please – participate.  You may just discover a character or an author or a setting or a story that will completely change your life.”

This is not hard to do. Aarti makes this easy, giving links to book suggestions right on the #Diversiverse introductory sign-up post.

How about you? Are you looking forward to or participating in any of these events this September? If so, what are you reading?

 

 

 

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Flight Behavior Completes the Big Book Summer Challenge

Big Book Summer Reading Challenge

With tomorrow being the first day of school for my kids, this is the unofficial last day of summer in our house. It’s also a good time to give a wrap up report on my progress with the Big Book Summer Challenge, hosted by my friend Sue at Book by Book.

I like this challenge because it’s low-key and fairly easy, making it perfect for the summertime. Sue keeps things simple: read one book of 400 pages or more. Even if I only read one book – my average for this challenge – it gives me a nice sense of accomplishment.

(If you think you’ve got what it takes to tackle a chunkster or two this week, you still have time to join the challenge, as it doesn’t end until September 1.)

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver was my choice this year. Originally I had selected The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, but I couldn’t get into that one.

At the beginning of this story, Dellarobia Turnbow is a unhappily married wife and mother living in Appalachia – and contemplating cheating on her husband. While en route to meeting her lover, she turns back upon noticing that an entire field of her family’s mountain is aflame. It’s a sign of something bigger, she thinks, and indeed it is: rather than fire, the vision is thousands of monarch butterflies that have migrated north from their native habitat to rural Tennessee because of the effects of climate change.

The butterflies’ flight from the only home they’ve known serves as a symbol for much larger issues and themes in the novel, all of which Ms. Kingsolver handles with the skill of a writer that knows the science behind her facts and knows how to craft a gorgeous sentence to draw her reader into the drama.

I listened to Flight Behavior on audio (it’s 17 hours long) and while I enjoyed the novel, I think I would have liked it more had I read it exclusively in print.  (I also have a copy on my Kindle, and that’s 610 pages.). Barbara Kingsolver’s narration was fine, but one of my pet peeves as an audio book listener is female narrators “doing” male voices, especially those with an accent. That irks me to no end and that’s fairly prevalent throughout the audio version.

Recommended. 3.5 stars out of 5

 

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The Estella Project, and Thoughts on The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Estella Project Season 2

There are few things I love more (and can’t resist) than summer reading lists. The more books, the more lists, the better. I love reading the lists, I want to read all the books … just bring ’em all.

As reading challenges go, The #EstellaProject  Season 2 incarnation is also the Summer 2014 one, making it irresistible to me.  It’s rather simple: read one, two, or three books from this list between June 1 and September 1 and write a review in order to be eligible for a great prize. Easy, right?

Several of these happen to be books on my personal TBR shelves, so my choices include:

  • Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn, because it is my friend Amy’s favorite book and she told me long ago I need to read this;
  • The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath, because I’ve never read any Sylvia Plath, if you can believe that;
  • The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell, because my friend Florinda from The 3 R’s Blog raves about this and I’ve been saying I will read it.

Bonus/substitute book: Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison, because I’ve never read it and it just seems to be a book that one should read (from what I hear).

The Bell JarI finished The Bell Jar last night and … wow. I can’t believe I put off reading this for so long. (There’s no reason for this, by the way.)  Largely considered an autobiographical work, it’s hard not to look at The Bell Jar as practically a memoir. It’s not, of course, but there are so many similarities to Plath’s own life. Still, the novel left me with such an appreciation for Sylvia Plath as well as such profound sadness for what we as readers lost upon her death in 1963.

The Bell Jar is the story of Esther Greenwood, a college student who, like Sylvia Plath herself, wins a summer scholarship to be a guest editor of a magazine based in New York. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and it would seem that her future is limitless for someone with her abundance of talent.

Until a series of disappointments – a rejection from a writing program, a two-timing boyfriend (in Esther’s view) – lead to emotionally paralyzing and life-altering indecision about her next steps regarding marriage or career.

The writing in The Bell Jar reflects what a tremendous talent Plath was; it’s incredibly well-written throughout, with sentences that imply more than they initially seem to mean ([t]he more hopeless you were, the further away they hid you.”)  Yes, it occasionally jumps around a bit in time and as a first person unreliable narrator, Esther has a tendency to ramble, making it difficult for the reader to get one’s bearings. The Bell Jar is that rare book where this doesn’t seem sloppy but rather adds so much to the story – especially on audio. I listened to most of this on audio, in fact, and Maggie Gyllenhall’s narration is fabulous. With this narration, she has the perfect cynical and snarkily self-assured voice to draw the listener completely into the character of Esther, one of literature’s most memorable women.

We’re so jaded and cynical in 2014, completely incapable of being shocked by anything, it seems. But in The Bell Jar, there were several instances that caught me completely off-guard and by surprise. It’s the perfect mix of social commentary (how different things might have been for Esther and Sylvia in a few years’ time with the advent of modern pharmacology and mental health treatment ) spiced with horror within the realm of fiction.

This is likely going to be one of the best books I’ve read in 2014.

What should I read next on my Estella Project list – Geek Love, The Sparrow, or Bastard Out of Carolina?

 

 

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The Sunday Salon: Summer Lovin’ (of Reading, of The Fault in Our Stars, of Young Love, of Sharing Books with My Girl)

The Sunday Salon

Just stopping into the Salon for a quick post today, as I have to work this afternoon. We’re kicking off the library’s Summer Reading Program today and quite the party is planned. For now, I’m enjoying some time on the deck reading the paper and blog posts.

The Girl and I have big plans for our own summer reading.  We saw “The Fault in Our Stars” last night and we both loved it. I could have done without the screams and swoons from the other tween/teenage girls in the theater, but that’s a small price to pay for what was a great movie. I thought it was so incredibly true to John Green’s novel, which The Girl brought with her to the movie (because, why not?) and is re-reading for the second time. She’s indicated that a third reading might not be out of the question.

Some people have expressed incredulity that a) I would want to see such a movie (clearly, they don’t know me as well as they think) and b) that I would take/allow my 12 year old to read/see this because it’s so sad. It’s about kids who have cancer.  Well, yes, this is true. Hazel’s cancer also happens to be thyroid cancer, the same kind that The Husband had. (You know, “the good cancer.”) Said with all the sarcasm I can muster.

It’s sad, yes, but as I wrote in my review of The Fault in Our Stars, you’ve cried over more superficial crap, like America’s Dancing With Real Housewives Who Have No Talent, amiright? I certainly have. This book – and now I can add, this movie – earns and is worthy of your tears.

It’s also an incredible example of young love done right. Yeah, there’s a love scene, but compared to other portrayals of teens and sexuality, this one handles it appropriately and with integrity. Some with more conservative views might (and will) disagree, but that’s my .02 on sale.

I have to admit, I love sharing this love of a particular book (and author, because she is now a major fangirl of John Green) with my daughter. Her summer reading plans include reading all of John Green’s novels and finishing the Harry Potter series.

As for my own summer reading, there’s a vacation in our future, so that means my vacation reading planning is in full swing. I have specific criteria for this, as I’ve written about previously. My full list isn’t complete, but two books that will be coming along are The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (on my Kindle) and The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert, both of which fit nicely with The Big Book Summer Challenge being hosted by Sue from Book by Book.  I’ll have a separate post about that, perhaps later this week.

Till then, gotta run. Enjoy your Sunday!

 

 

 

 

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The Sunday Salon: Catching Up

The Sunday Salon

Contrary to how things may seem around here lately, I’m still here. Still reading. Still blogging.

(Assuming that writing blog posts in one’s head counts as blogging.)

I hear you laughing and snickering under your breath. I know what you’re thinking, that it takes some nerve to state this in a Sunday Salon post, of all things. My last appearance here in the Salon was nearly two months ago, back on September 1.

All this is because my new job is keeping me very busy – which is a very good thing. There’s a lot to learn and it’s an adjustment getting used to so many new things – everything from a new commute (as compared to a commute to the downstairs home office) to a new work culture.

That leaves little time and energy for blogging and – sadly – reading – but I’m hoping this will be temporary. It’s also more than a bit ironic as my job puts me within mere steps of more than five million books and other materials just waiting to be checked out and read. Talk about enabling. I go to a meeting and I come back with three books. It’s an occupational hazard. But from where I sit, it’s all good.

So I thought I’d use this week’s Sunday Salon to catch up on what I’ve been reading and listening to (audiobooks have once again become my BFFs) over the past month:

Maybe it’s the influence of the R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) Challenge (which I haven’t even officially signed up for yet, so … well, consider this my official sign up announcement!) or the very autumn/winter-like weather here in Pittsburgh this past week, or kids that have been talking about Halloween since the Fourth of July, but I seem to be gravitating to books that stray toward the spookier side of life. This is somewhat uncharacteristic of me. Books that go bump in the night are not my usual fare, but that’s what I’ve been immersed in.

Await Your Reply

On audio, I’m listening to Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply (2010). I’ve heard a lot of good things about Mr. Chaon’s writing from other bloggers, but up until now, I’ve never read him. I chose this one from the library knowing nothing about this novel – which is actually three interconnecting stories. (I actually thought I had this on my TBR shelves, and thought that listening to it would help knock off at least one book from my ever-growing pile.) The opening story contains what may be the most gruesome scene I’ve ever read – or, in this case, listened to.

This is creepy. A bit unsettling, to say the least. Each of Mr. Chaon’s characters are struggling to come to terms with who they are, making this a suspenseful novel about identity.

Andrew Carnegie

When Await Your Reply becomes a bit too intense, I turn my attentions to Andrew Carnegie (2007). Actually, Carnegie has been my primary audiobook lately and the one I’ve been spending most of my time with. Some of you know why this would be of particular interest to me right now and, as I expected, this hasn’t disappointed. David Nasaw has written a fantastic historical account of one of business and philanthropy’s most intriguing figures. I’ll admit that some of the business deals are a bit over my head and that the personal aspects are more interesting.

A bonus to reading this: when I finish with Andrew Carnegie, this will mark a milestone for The Husband and me. We will have read the same book! (To fully understand what I’m talking about, read my February 2011 guest post for my friend Florinda’s blog, “Melissa’s Marriage of Readers: To Have and To Hold …The Same Book?“)  I honestly never thought I’d see the day.

The Impossible Lives of Greta WellsLast night I started The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells (2013) by Andrew Sean Greer, who has landed among my automatic must-read authors. I loved The Story of a Marriage and The Confessions of Max Tivoli and have been looking forward to this for awhile. I didn’t realize there was an AIDS storyline to this one. I seem to be drawn to this theme (yes, I see you, my beloved unfinished novel of mine) whether I like it or not.

Today’s a low-key day, which is just what I needed. Yesterday was a bunch of errands – Halloween costume shopping, grocery shopping, taking the daughter to a gymnastics event that lasted until 10 p.m – so I skipped church today in favor of sleeping in. We’re just hanging out doing our thing and watching football. I’m hoping to write/schedule some blog posts in advance and also make some dinners for the week ahead.

Hope you’re having a good weekend!

 

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