2010 Challenges = Completely Completed :o)

I started 2010 participating in three challenges: Aussie Author Challenge, hosted by Booklover; Canadian Author Challenge, hosted by Mrs. Q: Book Addict; Historical Fiction Challenge hosted by Alaine – Queen of Happy Endings. In October I picked up the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Challenge, hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. In addition, I have also completed my biggest 2010 Resolution, to read 5 books published in 2010.

I am happy to announce that I have completely completed all of these challenges, with no book overlapping and counting for more than one challenge. I have a separate page for this blog dedicated to keeping track of what I’ve read for my challenges, but I’ll post it here, too. Just to make it easy…

Aussie Author Challenge
Level: Tourist – Read three books by Aussie authors
1) Jennifer Government by Max Barry
2) The Secret River by Kate Grenville
3) People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Canadian Author Challenge
Level: Les Liseurs – Read three books by Canadian authors
1) Life of Pi by Yann Martel
2) The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
3) The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Historical Fiction Challenge
Level: Fascinated – Read six historical fiction novels
1) Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
2) Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig
3) Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
4) Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
5) Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
6) Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

RIP Challenge
Level: Peril the Second – Read two “Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, or Supernatural” books/stories/poems/etc.
1) The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
2) miscellaneous works of Edgar Allan Poe, including the poems The Haunted Palace, The Raven, and The Conqueror Worm in The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and the short storiesLigeia (1838), The Black Cat (1845), and The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether (1856) via PoeStories.com

2010 Resolution
Read five books published in 2010
1) The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
2) Changeless by Gail Carriger
3) Blameless by Gail Carriger
4) Mini Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
5) Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Title: Memoirs of a Geisha
Author: Arthur Golden
Genre: historical fiction
ISBN: 9781400096893
Pages: 499
Year Published: 1997
Source: personal collection (bought sometime in 2006)
Rating: 4/5
Reason for Reading: I’ve had it for four years; I had the urge to read something set in Japan; Historical Fiction Challenge

Summary: Young Chiyo is taken with her elder sister from their home on the Japanese seaside. With her parents’ health failing them, Chiyo is taken by a man she considers a friend to Gion and sold into the life of a girl destined to become a geisha, if she’s lucky. But Chiyo is foolish and, having been separated from her sister, she tries to run away. When caught, her “mother” decides she can’t invest in someone so unpredictable. Chiyo is bound to be a maid in the okiya forever, in order to repay her debts–until a prominent young geisha decides to train her. Chiyo becomes the prosperous and popular Sayuri, admired by many and hated by few. The story follows her as she attempts to get close to the one man who had been kind to her when she was still young Chiyo. She is willing to do almost anything to have this man’s affections returned…

My Thoughts: I quite enjoyed this novel. I was SOOO interested in the life of a geisha and, while this is historical fiction, I believe that Golden did do an extensive amount of research and thought a great deal into how he presented the information in a non-enclyclopedia-type way. I particularly like historical fiction that teaches me and I really felt like I’ve come away from this book with a new knowledge, however “useless” it may be in real life. While I’m certified to teach social studies, and world history in particular (that’s what I taught for my student teaching), I think I have learned a very one-sided history of Asia. At least in my experience, I’ve had a very Westernized experience with Asia–or just a purely Western curriculum, excluding Asia completely. So this book was very appealing to me.

~*~SPOILERS~*~
Okay. But I am a little disappointed with the character of Sayuri. Ever since she met the Chairman, she had been striving to gain his affection. This didn’t particularly bother me much. I mean, a young girl can hope for things–even if I’m a little uncertain as to why she pined away for years after a man who was at least 20 years her senior, possibly closer to 30. I thought it was a crush and that, after a while, she would grow to like/love Nobu, who was so considerate of her and held her in great esteem. I never expected her to repay Nobu’s long years of support and obvious affection–especially after what he did for her during World War II. In the end, I found Sayuri to be so selfish. She was conniving and scheming in so many ways to get Nobu to leave her alone so she could have the Chairman. I might have had different feelings if the Chairman had given the slightest hint to Sayuri that he was interested in her. But she didn’t know he returned her feelings. She was hurting Nobu when she had no signs that it would be for good. I found her to end up like Hatsumomo had been at the beginning. Sayuri even hurt Pumpkin and was completely oblivious to how she had hurt her and that Pumpkin might resent her.
~*~END SPOILERS~*~

Aside from how Sayuri as a person turned out–I was glad when she was separated almost completely from her love in the end, even if she did it for noble purposes–I found the rest of the story really great! I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in Japan and/or historical fiction. I thought the part concerning World War II and the American occupation after really interesting. I wondered, “If Gion was even a little like Golden portrayed it before WWII, how would it have been after the war if the American forces (and therefore influences) had been absent? Would it have continued to keep such rich historical traditions?” It’s a great “What If?”, I think.

My Thoughts on the Cover: It’s pretty simple. Sayuri’s eyes aren’t how I pictured them in the book. I thought they would be more gray/slate-colored, not quite so blue. Sayuri even says at one point that she hadn’t seen the deep ocean away from shore where it was blue and green–she had only ever seen it as slate. So I pictured the water in her soul to be that grayish color. And the cover shows her not done-up as a geisha would be, but still with white skin–so it’s a little confusing as to which girl she was supposed to be in the photo: Chiyo or Sayuri?

Favorite Quotes:

Grief is a most peculiar thing: we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it. (p297)

“A woman who acts like a fool is a fool, wouldn’t you say?” [Nobu] (p366)

“I never seek to defeat the man I am fighting,” he explained. “I seek to defeat his confidence. A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory. Two men are equals–true equals–only when they both have equal confidence.” [Admiral Yamamoto] (p377)

“To be liked and to have true friends willing to help are two very different things,” I said. [Sayuri] (p395)

Adversity is like a strong wind. I don’t mean just that it holds us back from places we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be. (p405)

And Finally…
In order to get more out of this book, I looked at a few discussion questions as I found for the novel online. This got me thinking a little bit more about not only the writing, but the historical aspects of the book as well. In order to not clog up my blog with all the questions and answers, I’ve attached the word document containing it below. If you care to look at it, it’s there. But, like everything else on my blog, it’s really for my own personal reasons.

Memoirs of a Geisha Discussion Questions Document

miscellaneous Edgar Allan Poe

For the Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Challenge in which I am participating, I read three of Edgar Allan Poe’s creepy short stories today. I figured that, combined with Poe’s poetry–some of which is creepy, as well–the works I read would all together count as one of the two “novels, short stories, works, etc.” required for my Peril the Second goal. I have three reviews, one for each of the short stories I read today. By the way, I read them all from PoeStories.com.

Just to note, the summaries have some spoilers in them as I had to write them myself and I’m bad at it 🙂

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Title: Ligeia (http://poestories.com/read/ligeia)
Publication Date:
1838

Summary: Ligeia was the first wife of the narrator, an unnamed man. He loved her deeply and described much of her character to the reader. However, she became ill and feverish and soon perished. A few months after Ligeia’s death, her husband purchased an English abbey in which to live and subsequently—as he was very lonely and had taken up the hobby of opium—married again, to a “fair-haired and blue-eyed” maiden, Lady Rowena. A couple of months after this marriage, Rowena became ill with a fever and her “hallucinations” never really ceased after she recovered—she always spoke of the slightest sound, shadow, or movement. One night, she had a “fit” while the narrator was under the opium veil—he thought he saw things, such as those Rowena would fear (like shadows), but blamed the opium. The narrator believes he sees Rowena poisoned while drinking her wine to stay from fainting and, days later, Rowena does indeed die. As he sits in mourning with her body, he keeps believing he hears her stir and finds her color returned. At the end of the story, the narrator sees the spirit/body of one of his wives (but I won’t ruin it for you) rise and live.

My Thoughts: A very interesting story! It wasn’t that interesting in the beginning, when Poe basically describes Ligeia’s physical character and how the narrator loves her. But when she dies and the second wife is “ill” and sees/hears things, it gets interesting. I (probably pretty obviously) think the spirit of Ligeia haunts Rowena and may even have been the cause of her death. But the narrator never forgot Ligeia, so I guess her spirit wasn’t that perceptive.

In a weird way, this story reminds me of Lisa See’s Peony in Love, where the man’s true love’s spirit haunts his wife. It would make it easier to point out the parallels, but I don’t want to ruin Peony in Love if you haven’t read it yet 🙂

Favorite Passage/Quote (long ones):

And now those eyes shone less and less frequently upon the pages over which I pored. Ligeia grew ill. The wild eyes blazed with a too –too glorious effulgence; the pale fingers became of the transparent waxen hue of the grave, and the blue veins upon the lofty forehead swelled and sank impetuously with the tides of the gentle emotion. I saw that she must die –and I struggled desperately in spirit with the grim Azrael. And the struggles of the passionate wife were, to my astonishment, even more energetic than my own. There had been much in her stern nature to impress me with the belief that, to her, death would have come without its terrors; –but not so. Words are impotent to convey any just idea of the fierceness of resistance with which she wrestled with the Shadow. I groaned in anguish at the pitiable spectacle. would have soothed –I would have reasoned; but, in the intensity of her wild desire for life, –for life –but for life –solace and reason were the uttermost folly. Yet not until the last instance, amid the most convulsive writhings of her fierce spirit, was shaken the external placidity of her demeanor.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Title: The Black Cat (http://poestories.com/read/blackcat)
Publication Date: 1845

Summary: An unnamed man is the narrator. From a young age, he loved animals and had many pets. When he married, his wife had the same feelings towards domestic pets as did he and they together had many pets, which included dogs, rabbits, birds, a small monkey, and a black cat. The black cat, Pluto was his name, was the narrator’s favorite—his wife, a little superstitious, was not as fond of the all black cat (saying goes they are witches in disguise). As he grew older, the narrator began to be more annoyed by the pets, the last one he got annoyed with being Pluto—he loved him more than the others. In a drunken rage, Pluto loses and eye as penitence for biting his master when he roughly handled him. This was the first in a line of treating Pluto badly—the narrator, one day, hangs him from a tree because it kept avoiding him ever since he had taken the eye. That night, the narrator’s entire house was destroyed by a fire. A stray cat arrives in the story, also missing an eye, but with a white patch on his breast—the narrator thinks nothing of it, until the he sees white patch resemble a gallows. In a rage, the narrator attempts to kill the new cat, but his wife stops him and he thus kills her instead. He places her corpse in the wall of the cellar and the police only find her when they hear a screeching noise coming from within the walls—it was the cat that made the noise.

My Thoughts: I rather enjoyed this particular story. I think that not only could this be considered a “horror story about a cat”, as the PoeStories.com website describes it, but as a slow descent into madness. The narrator would have to be going mad to be so hot-and-cold towards the animals, in particular the cats. Not to mention the fact that he murdered his wife because she stopped him from murdering the cat—what sane person would do such a thing? So this story was fairly spooky, if just because of the way we, as readers, can see the narrators thoughts and “justifications” for killing.

Favorite Passage/Quote (long ones):

“Yet I am not more sure that my soul lives, than I am that perverseness is one of the primitive impulses of the human heart — one of the indivisible primary faculties, or sentiments, which give direction to the character of Man. Who has not, a hundred times, found himself committing a vile or a silly action, for no other reason than because he knows he should not? Have we not a perpetual inclination, in the teeth of our best judgment, to violate that which is Law, merely because we understand it to be such? This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself — to offer violence to its own nature — to do wrong for the wrong’s sake only — that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree; — hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; — hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; — hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin — a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it — if such a thing were possible — even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Title: The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether (http://poestories.com/read/systemoftarr)
Publication Date:
1856

Summary (a quote from the end of the story was the best description of the story): “Monsieur Maillard, it appeared, in giving me the account of the lunatic who had excited his fellows to rebellion, had been merely relating his own exploits. This gentleman had, indeed, some two or three years before, been the superintendent of the establishment, but grew crazy himself, and so became a patient. This fact was unknown to the travelling companion who introduced me. The keepers, ten in number, having been suddenly overpowered, were first well tarred, then — carefully feathered, and then shut up in underground cells. They had been so imprisoned for more than a month, during which period Monsieur Maillard had generously allowed them not only the tar and feathers (which constituted his “system”), but some bread and abundance of water. The latter was pumped on them daily. At length, one escaping through a sewer, gave freedom to all the rest.”

My Thoughts: This story was pretty entertaining and not really all that creepy/spooky/etc. I had suspected from the beginning of the narrator’s experience at the Maison de Sante two things might happen: 1) that Monsiuer Maillard was crazy (which was true) and 2) that the narrator might somehow be trapped at the Maison de Sante and be forced to “become” a lunatic patient whom no one believed when he said he wasn’t a real patient (which was wrong). But I especially liked the patients all describing themselves in the third person because they really sounded like they were sane people describing lunatics—and yet they found nothing wrong, in reality, with themselves.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

My RIP Challenge is now complete, but I might continue a little with the weird reading.

The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe

Title: The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe
Author
: Edgar Allan Poe 
Genre
: poetry
ISBN
: 0451526406
Pages
: 99 (not including the introduction (by Jay Parini), which I skipped)
Year
Published: 1996 (for this specific edition)
Source:
personal collection
Rating
: ??/5
Reason for Reading: I’ve had it for many years and never cracked it open; also, I thought his poetry would be somewhat spooky like I hear his short stories are, so I thought they might qualify for the RIP Challenge

There really isn’t a summary for this, as it’s a collection of poetry.

My Thoughts: Well, I dislike poetry so that pretty much sums up my thoughts for this collection. Why did I read it? Because 1) I’ve owned it for at least 5+ years and never opened it, even though it is very short and 2) I have heard Poe’s short stories are really creepy and I thought his poetry would reflect that. But alas! most of his poetry was not that spooky. However, The Raven and The Haunted Palace were enjoyable and somewhat spooky–The Haunted Palace was my favorite from this collection, aside from Annabel Lee which I read in junior high (nearly a decade ago) and LOVED. So, The Haunted Palace was my favorite new-to-me poem of Poe’s. (I’ve also read The Raven before and really liked it.)

So I’m not going to count this read towards my RIP Challenge goals. But I am going to read some of Poe’s short stories later today online, via PoeStories.com, so perhaps my Edgar Allan Poe Miscellaneous-group of stuff will count towards the challenge.

My Thoughts on the Cover: Well, there really isn’t a cover to speak of. I mean, it’s just a portrait of Poe, so it’s rather boring. I quite like a different Signet Classic cover because it has a raven silhouette on it. But even then, it’s still pretty unimaginative.

Since it’s rather short, I also figured I’d just copy the text for The Haunted Palace below, as it was my favorite new-to-me poem.

|

The Haunted Palace

In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tentated,
Once a fair and stately palace–
Radiant Palace–reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion–
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow,
(This–all this–was in the olden
Time long ago,)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tuned law,
Round about a throne, where sitting,
Porphyrogene!
In state his glory well befitting,
The rule of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
And sparkling evermore ,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate.
(Ah, let us mourn!–for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody,
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh–but smile no more.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Title: The Haunting of Hill House
Author
: Shirley Jackson 
Genre
: fiction (“creepy” fiction)
ISBN
: 9780140071085
Pages
: 246
Year
Published: 1959 (counts towards my Years of Books goal 🙂 )
Source:
public library
Rating
: 3/5
Reason for Reading: RIP Challenge (Peril the Second)

Book Description (from back cover):

Past the rusted gates and untrimmed hedges, Hill House broods and waits…

Four seekers have come to the ugly, abandoned old mansion: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of the psychic phenomenon called haunting; Theodora, his lovely and lighthearted assistant (*Note: this is untrue, she is invited, just as the other two, and has never known Dr. Montague); Eleanor, a lonely, homeless girl (*Note: she is in fact 32, not a girl, and is not exactly homeless) acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the adventurous (*Note: cowardly) future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable noises and self-closing doors (*Note: they know who closes the doors, and it is a real person), but Hill House is gathering its powers and will soon choose one of them to make its own….

While this is the official summary of the book, I think the story is very well introduced in the first two sections of the first chapter, about 8-9 pages (for that reason, I cannot copy all of it down 😀 )

My Thoughts: Well, as you may have noticed, I made a few notes to the book’s summary, which is on the back cover. It is perhaps the fact that the summary is not completely true to the story that makes me not love this book. I have read Jackson’s work before–We Have Always Lived in the Castle quite recently–and I have to say that I love her writing. Her stories just flow in a way that I love, even if I didn’t enjoy the story as much as I had hoped, in this case. I thought this book would have more creepiness to it, which is why I chose it to read for the RIP Challenge. But it just wasn’t all that creepy. I guess I had anticipated more ghostly creepiness than the creepiness associated with a person losing their mind, and being in that mind.

“No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice.” (p34)

Doesn’t that just sort of sound creepy?! But, I don’t think the story lived up to this description of Hill House. Hill House more or less made one of the main characters go insane, but not in such a direct way that would be alluded to from this quote. Hill House doesn’t really seem alive in the book, at least not to me–but it seems to be described as being alive.

I don’t know. I mean, when I read WHALitC, I hadn’t exactly realized how creepy the story was until after I had finished it and discussed it with other people on the RBC threads; especially after someone brought up a certain idea about the real existence of one of the main characters. So maybe I just need to look back into this story a little more. Has anyone else read it? What did you think?

My Thoughts on the Cover: The cover doesn’t actually look all that scary to me. The greenish glow to the sky is probably the most unsettling. But I imagined the house to be surrounded by more woods and to even be set into larger hills. The house has some weird angles, as the book described, but it doesn’t look too bad. Perhaps if it was full night- or daylight rather than dusk it would look scarier–but in dusk, it seems to be in its element.

Just another quote I liked:

“‘Fear,’ the doctor said, ‘is the relinquishment of logic, the willing relinquishing of reasonable patterns. We yield to it or we fight it, but we cannot meet it halfway.'” (p159)

This is the first book I finished during Dewey’s
24-Hour Readathon 😀

Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) Challenge

A few posts ago, I mentioned that I am technically done with all of the challenges I signed up for in the beginning of the year. I have four more books I need to read in order to complete these challenges in reality, which is easily done as I’m reading one that fits at the moment.

So…I have found another challenge. It actually runs from September 1st to October 31st, so I’m about a month late 😕 But the commitment level I’ve signed up for is only two books, so I feel it is doable.

I have to say that I first heard about the challenge through Eva’s blog, A Striped Armchair. But the host of the RIP Challenge is Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

According to Carl, this is what the RIP Challenge is all about:

It was a dark and stormy night…”

Or at least I wish it was, rather than a warm, sunshiny day. Despite the weather refusing to cooperate with my gothic mood, the calendar does not lie, ladies and gentlemen. It is indeed that time of year where two short months are dedicated to reveling in all things creepy, eerie, mysterious, gothic, horrifying, suspenseful and strange.

It is time to celebrate things that go bump in the night; that favorite detective that always gets his man, or woman, in the end; that delicious chill of a creak on the stairs, of the rogue waiting in the dark, of the full moon and the flit of bats wings.

Perhaps that was also the beginning of my passion for I what I lump under a broad personal definition of gothic literature: dark nights; decaying, haunted castles; menacing forests; pervasive gloom; ancient prophecies; damsels in distress (or at least at the wrong place in the wrong time); blood-curdling screams…stories with atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a knife.

It was a desire to celebrate and share that love of the elements of gothic fiction that inspired me to create the first R.I.P. Challengefive years ago.

In essence, the challenge is about reading gothic literature in all it’s forms, but especially in these categories: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller, Dark Fantasy, Gothic, Horror, and Supernatural. As I like to get into the spooky spirit of the time surrounding Halloween, I think this will broaden my reading and also give me the chance to read, not watch spooky stories.

I’ve signed up under the “Peril the Second” level, which requires me to read two novels of any length that I feel  fit within the categories mentioned above. I already have one book in mind for the challenge: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It is classified as gothic and mysterious by Wikipedia’s page about it. (However, I have seen the film and hope that it won’t disappoint me in the book since I know the gist of the story 😕 ) But the film is how I thought to read it as it’s a bit creepy, but I could never put my finger on why. I will hunt around for another book–maybe I’ll even find one in my own collection 🙂

Suggestions for Others (books I feel fit this challenge and have already read):

  • Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (this is longer than most of the Sherlock Holmes stories)
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker (obviously)
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (again, obviously)
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (Austen refers often to The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe in this novel and includes many gothic elements in her own style)
  • the Parasol Protectorate quintet by Gail Carriger–there are only three so far (Soulless, Changeless, Blameless), but they’re not necessarily gothic, just vampire-y/werewolf-y (not like the Twilight books)
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • Phantom of the Opera or The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux
  • The Graveyard Book or Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (even Coraline and Stardust are a little creepy)
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Perfume by Patrick Suskind (maybe?)

“technically” vs. “in reality”

Technically, I have fulfilled all requirements for the challenges/resolutions I’m doing this year 😀 Those are the Aussie Author Challenge, Canadian Author Challenge, and Historical Fiction Challenge and also reading 5 books published in 2010.

In reality, I don’t think I can say I fulfilled the challenges and be happy with it 😕 This is because I have used multiple books in more than one challenge/resolution.

Here is what is on my 2010: Books Read & Challenges page:

Historical Fiction Challenge
*Fascinated Level = read 6 Historical Fiction novels
1.
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
2.
Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig
3.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
4.
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
5.
Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
6.
The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Canadian Author Challenge
*Level 1 = read 3 novels written by Canadian authors
1.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
2.
The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro
3.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Aussie Author Challenge
*Tourist Level = read 3 novels written by Australian authors
1.
Jennifer Government by Max Barry
2.
The Secret River by Kate Grenville
3.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

2010 Resolutions
*read at least 5 books published in 2010
1.
Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig
2.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
3.
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
4.
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
5.
Changeless by Gail Carriger

So, the books in red I’m using in multiple challenges. These are the ones it is now my goal to replace so there is no red at all. The Canadian Author Challenge is the only challenge I have totally completed, in reality 🙂 (It should be fairly easy, as I really only have to read four more books and then replace one book in one category)

Canadian Author Challenge: FINITO!

This year, I participated in a Canadian Author Challenge hosted by Jennifer @ Mrs. Q: Book Addict. I chose the lowest commitment level of reading: 3- Les Liseurs. I realize this might seem a little lazy, but I have two other challenges and another New Year’s Resolution for reading this year.

I HAVE COMPLETED THIS CHALLENGE!!

These are the books I’ve read:

  1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (post about this here)
  2. The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro (two posts about this: first post, second post)
  3. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (post about this here)

I’ve had a lot of fun with this challenge. Only The View from Castle Rock really gave me a picture of Canada, though. The other two didn’t have much to do with Canada. 😕 (Since I live very near Canada in the US, I already pretty much know Canada, but still…)

Unfortunately, The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay was one of the books I wanted to read for this challenge–but its publication date got pushed back so I have to wait until 2011 😦 But I have really been wanting to read another Anne book by LM Montgomery lately–I’ve read the first two already.

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Year of the Flood
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: fiction, dystopic
ISBN: 9780385528771
Pages: 431
Year Published: 2009
Source: public library
Rating: 5/5
Reason for Reading: Canadian Author Challenge; loved Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tail

Book Description (from dust cover):

The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thing as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God’s Gardeners–a religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life–has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God’s Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.

Have others survived? Ren’s bioartist friend Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her onetime lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers, survivors of the mutual-elimination Painball prison? Not to mention the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers.

Meanwhile, gene-spliced life forms are proliferating: the lion/lamb blends, the Mo’hair sheep with human hair, the pigs with human brain tissue. As Adam One and his intrepid hemp-clad band make their way through this strange new world, Ren and Toby will have to decide on their next move, but they can’t stay locked away.

My Thoughts: I love this book! Aside from the fact that I usually enjoy dystopic novels, this one was one of the finest. And, as I usually like, there were chapters of this story in the present and then flashbacks. I like this technique because it leaves a sort of mystery to the story. How did the characters get to the point in the present from what we know of the past? In this way, we learn of how Toby and Ren come to the Gardeners in their own ways and then, again, how they leave the group. (I guess I should mention that Toby and Ren aren’t related and Toby is closer to the age of Ren’s mother than Ren.)

Interestingly enough, there is a sort of definition of what makes a dystopic novel in the praise for Oryx and Crake on the back of my copy of Year of the Flood from Lorrie Moore (New Yorker) that I really just want to quote here:

“A dystopian novel is intended as a literal forecast, or even necessarily as a logical extension of our current world. It is simply, and not so simply, a bad dream of our present time, an exquisitely designed horror show in which things are changed from what we do know to a dream version of what we don’t…”

This is one of the reasons that I like this novel so much. Atwood has, again, presented something so possible it is scary. Now, I didn’t read Oryx and Crake (it is now high on my TBR list though 🙂 ), but I have read The Handmaid’s Tale. And, while these two Atwoods I’ve read are very different, I can TOTALLY see them happening. In Year of the Flood, the United State and/or Canada–it’s never really defined, but it’s a big city, wherever it is–has fallen to the hands of major corporations. The world is “doomed” and many fanatical religious groups, such as the Gardeners, have sprouted to live a life they believe will save them from the Waterless Flood that is imminent.

I love this idea of a Waterless Flood. Essentially, it is another plague that harms only humans and is spread through contact, mostly. The Gardeners have nose-cones to sort of ward-off the germs, even before the Waterless Flood broke out. These “nose-cones” immediately make me think of the beak-y things worn by people, especially doctors, during the Bubonic Plague

There are some things I don’t understand about this novel though. Such as, in the present chapters of Ren’s, the story is first-person. But, when in Toby’s present chapters, the story is in third-person. I can’t figure out if there is a reason for this. And, what exactly are pleebs? They aren’t the same as a city, so are they like townships or burroughs?

Random Quotes I Like:

“How easy it is, treachery. You just slide into it.” p217

“It occurs to Toby that she may never see this vista again. Amazing how the heart clutches at anything familiar, whimpering, Mine! Mine!” p365

My Thoughts on the Cover: I have to say that I honestly don’t really get the cover. The things I see on it are all in the novel, but I don’t feel there is any real importance of those things. The red flower is a poppy, used in Pilar’s and Toby’s medicines; the girl walking along the beach could be Ren or Toby towards the end of the novel, or even Amanda; the buildings do look decrepit, which is what we’re supposed to imagine  when we read of the city. The strip of honeycomb on the back obviously is to represent the honey and bees so important to Toby and Pilar before her. But these are random things to include on the cover, I feel. So. the cover makes sense, but it still could have been many other things.

The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro

Title: The View from Castle Rock
Author: Alice Munro
Genre: fiction, short-story collection
ISBN: 9781400042821
Pages: 349
Year Published: 2006
Source: public library
Rating: 3/5
Reason for Reading: for RBC Discussion; Canadian Author Challenge

Book Description (from dust cover):

…In stories that are more personal than any that she’s written before, Alice Munro pieces her family’s history into gloriously imagined fiction. A young boy is taken to Edinburgh’s Castle Rock, where his father assures him that on a clear day he can see America, and he catches a glimpse of his father’s dream. In stories that follow, as the dream becomes a reality, two sisters-in-law experience very different kinds of passion on the long voyage to the New World; a baby is lost and magically reappears on a journey from an Illinois homestead to the Canadian border.

Other stories take place in more familiar Munro territory, the towns and countryside around Lake Huron, where the past shows through the present like the traces of the glacier on the landscape and strong emotions stir just beneath the surface of ordinary comings and goings. First love flowers under the apple tree, while a stronger emotion presents itself in the barn…

Evocative, gripping, sexy, unexpected–these stories reflect a depth and richness of experience. The View from Castle Rock is a brilliant achievement from one of the finest writers of our time.

My Thoughts: I rather enjoyed this collection of short stories, however much I usually dislike such collections. These stories did flow well together, even if each story barely referenced any previous one–they’re the sorts of stories one could read out of order, because no one story depended on any other story.

One of the things I particularly enjoyed about these stories were the long time-span of which they covered. Munro starts with a story about her great-great-great-great-grandfather back in Scotland and progresses up until her present life. I like how the stories are collected further into two different collections–the fictional stories about her long lost ancestors who lived in Scotland and their journey to the New World and the further exploration of central-northern US/central-southern Canada. The second part concerns truer stories, stories of Munro’s own life and journeys. this split between fictional and more autobiographical was a good feature I felt Munro used.

Cover: This cover is pretty simple–an old photograph, which I am assuming comes from Munro’s family history. Since the novel is called “The View from Castle Rock”, I think the photo is meant to show the father and son pair, mentioned in the story of the same name, who look across the ocean and see the New World (America/Canada). The boys could either be turned around, and that piece of land in the background is the New World. OR, the photograph could have been “taken” from across the ocean, in a land that is already the New World. Does that make sense? 🙂

The following concerns only the second part of this short story collection, called “Fathers”, due to being a copy of my book discussion post on Rory’s Book Club.

In this second part, I especially liked the “Hired Girl” story. I could relate to Munro (narrator) because I, too, have had summer jobs. Munro worked as a maid in an affluent home for the summer. While I’ve never had this particular job, I have babysat/chauffeured for some rich kids (that’s the closest I’ve been to Munro’s job). Munro was happy with her job because it did show her something of the world outside her small town. I always thought it would have been cool to work on a cruise ship as a summer job. It would have allowed me to travel more and see a little more outside of my very small world. But, unfortunately, I did my summer job on top of my normal year-round job so I couldn’t just quit.

I also liked the “What Do You Want to Know For?” story. I liked how Munro would insert news about her possible breast cancer intermittently throughout the story. It was kind of like saying, “I’m old. I’ve lived my life. I’ll just go on with my everyday routines.” She even said this, in so many words:

“I am over sixty. My death would not be a disaster. Not in comparison with the death of a younger mother, a family wage-earner, a child. It would not be apparent as a disaster.” (p323)

And what sorts of things did Munro do when she was not thinking about her situation?

“I filled my time by answering letters and cleaning up my house and going through my files and having people to dinner. It was a surprise to me that I was busying myself in this way instead of thinking about any deeper matters.” (p317)

On second reading of this quote, I see how these sorts of things could sort of be seen as Munro is wrapping her life up, getting things together, and taking care of anything unfinished. But, I can also see these things as those of everyday daily life. They can be used as a distraction from really thinking. So, I wonder what Munro meant of these things. Was it my first or second impression?