Reading Challenges

2014: War and Peace

Rationale: Hoping to get back some focus, I’m keeping it simple for 2014. After trying and failing twice to finish this classic (see the 2010 and 2012 lists below), I figure the third time’s the charm.

Results: It wasn’t.

2013: The TBR Challenge
The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafón)
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (Stephen Greenblatt)
Passionate Minds: The Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment (David Bodanis)
The Good Thief (Hannah Tinti)
The Grand Sophy (Georgette Heyer)
A Civil Contract (Georgette Heyer)
Black Sheep (Georgette Heyer)
The Unknown Ajax (Georgette Heyer)
An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England (Venetia Murray)
The Color Purple (Alice Walker)
Stupeur et tremblements (Amélie Nothomb)
The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game (Michael Lewis)
Notes from Underground (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (Nathaniel Philbrick)
The Black Dahlia (James Ellroy)
Les Heures souterraines (Delphine de Vigan)
The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld (Herbert Asbury)
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See)
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (Bill Bryson)

Rationale and Results: After my abysmal record during the previous year’s challenge (although, as you can see in the quote below, I did end up reading more than six of them), I decided not to choose an official set of challenge books for 2013; instead, my general goal was to drastically reduce the size of my tbr pile, aka that messy heap of books by the bed. I chose thirty of those books (see the original list here) and vowed that whatever didn’t get read, or didn’t find a place on my “real” shelves, would be given away at the end of the year. I completed those listed above, although the three at the end dragged into 2014. I didn’t choose to keep any of the books I read permanently on my shelves.

There are too many books in the world to read in a single lifetime; you have to draw the line somewhere.

—Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

2012: Readers’ Choice
To The Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf)
Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)
The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes)
A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood)
Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)
Middlemarch (George Eliot)
Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)
The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield)
War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy)

Rationale: After my relative lack of success with last year’s challenge, I had hoped to get focus back by having my readers pick this year’s selections. I made an initial list of twenty-five books that I had started and put down, felt I should read, or just wanted to read full stop. Readers then voted and commented on their favorites. From this, I had planned on reading six to eight books, but due to extreme ties and heartfelt recommendations, the list ended up being twelve again.

Results: I should have stuck with the lower number as I ended up completing only six books total. Middlemarch, Midnight’s Children, and War and Peace were all taken up, only to be put down once again. However, I did like War and Peace, so I will probably be attempting it one more time this year. Hopefully, the third time’s the charm.

2011: Owned But Unread Books
The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
Possession (A. S. Byatt)
Paris France (Gertrude Stein)
Suite Française (Irène Némirovsky)
Shakespeare: The Tragedies (Analysing Texts) (Nicholas Marsh)
Brighton Rock (Graham Greene)
Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Jules Verne)
Richard III (William Shakespeare)
Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue (Paul Bowles)
The Book of Illusions (Paul Auster)
Giant (Edna Ferber)
The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)

Rationale and Results: I established this list as I went along, taking down books from my own shelves depending on what else I was reading. You can see the description of this challenge here: The Great Unread. I tried to read one a month, but job circumstances in the second half of the year meant my reading and blogging became scattershot. I tried to catch up in December, but didn’t finish reading Giant and The Grapes of Wrath until February.

2010: Should-Read Books
The Awakening
Catch-22
Le Comte de Monte-Cristo
Don Quixote
The Handmaid’s Tale
Lord of the Flies
Macbeth
My Ántonia
La Princesse de Clèves
Two Years Before the Mast
War and Peace
Wide Sargasso Sea

Rationale and Results: I tried to have a mix of short, medium, and long books that, for whatever reason, I felt I should have read by now. It turned out that having three incredibly long books on the list was just a bit too much and I never finished War and Peace or Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, although I read hundreds of pages of each. I didn’t start Catch-22 until Christmas vacation and ended up putting it down in favor of other challenge and salon books (even though I was enjoying it).

If you are looking to establish your own list of should-reads, check out the many “Top” lists mentioned at I’ve Got a Little List….

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