Reading Challenge Progress

Darts

I just took stock of the reading challenges I’ve taken on this year. I am participating in so many challenges, that I was finding it difficult to keep up with them. Luckily, I found a plugin called ProgPress that allows me to create and customize progress meters. Check them out in the sidebar over to the right (RSS feed readers will have to click over to my site).

I’m not doing badly.

First, I set a goal to read 50 books this year. I read 40 last year. So far, I’ve read 27, which puts me slightly ahead of my pace. That’s a good thing because school starts for me again in a few weeks, and I will need to be a little bit ahead.

I can say I’ve completed the Steampunk Challenge, the GLBT Challenge, and the Once Upon a Time Challenge, as I really only had to read one book to complete these challenges. All of them were low-commitment “just try it and see if you like it” challenges, at least at the level I committed to.

I need to finish one more book to complete the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, but I am not doing well with the YA Historical Fiction Challenge. I guess I don’t read as much YA historical fiction as I thought I did. I don’t think I’ll finish that one, and I’m not going to worry about it if I don’t make much progress there.

I haven’t made much progress on my own challenge—just one book of six. Ditto the Shakespeare Challenge. On the other hand, I’m making steady progress with the Take a Chance Challenge and the Gothic Reading Challenge. I should be able to make good progress on the Gothic Reading Challenge in September and October, when I can combine it with the R.I.P. Challenge.

I haven’t started either the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge or the Being a Jane Austen Mystery Challenge, yet. Still plan to complete those.

Did you participate in any challenges? How are you doing?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Bogdan Suditu

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The Dream of Perpetual Motion, Dexter Palmer

Dexter Palmer’s novel The Dream of Perpetual Motion is a steampunk reimagining (of sorts) of William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. The protagonist, Harold Winslow, is a greeting card writer from Xeroville. He writes his memoir while trapped aboard a zeppelin—the good ship Chrysalis—with only mechanical servants and the disembodied voice of Miranda Taligent to keep him company. His life becomes inextricably linked with that of Miranda and her father Prospero Taligent’s at the age of ten, when he spends all of his money at the Nickel Empire carnival to obtain a whistle that will secure him an invitation to Miranda’s tenth birthday party. At the birthday party, Prospero promises each of the 100 boys and girls their heart’s desire. Harold becomes Miranda’s playmate until Prospero catches them kissing and banishes Harold from Miranda’s fantastic playroom.

Almost 3/4 through the book, Harold says,

Perhaps you know the kind of man I am, dear imaginary reader. I have never felt as if I have known anyone well. I have never had that sense of instinctive empathy that I am told comes to lovers, or brothers and sisters, or parents and children. I have never been able to finish a sentence that someone else starts. I have never been able to give a gift to someone that they have liked, one that surprises them even as they secretly expected it.

Whenever I looked into faces and tried to discern the thoughts that lay behind them I had to make best guesses, and more often than not it seemed my guesses were wrong. (location 5167 on Kindle)

I think that is the crux of what I didn’t like about the book. The characters were not terribly likeable. They were entertaining, especially Prospero and his servants Gideon and Martin, but no one else brought out my empathy as a reader (excepting Harold as a boy, but he sheds that quickly in the novel). I have no quibbles with Palmer’s writing, which is funny and tragic and at times had me highlighting choice phrases, but the most important thing to me about any book, almost without exception, is the characters. If I do not like any of the characters, it’s hard for me to like the book. The plot of the novel is weird, but I could have let that go if I had been able to empathize with Harold.

Another criticism I have for the book is this sort of underlying misogyny that I see sometimes in science fiction and fantasy. Palmer’s women characters are, without exception, unpleasant and untrustworthy. Shakespeare’s Prospero is concerned with Miranda’s virginity, which is a theme that Palmer takes up in this novel. Prospero seeks to prevent his daughter from becoming sexually active, but when she does, he sees her as ruined. Harold never explicitly says so, but he gives the impression that he agrees with Prospero on that account—sex ruins women, and the proof is in his description of every female character in the novel.

The book improves slightly toward the end as the action picks up the pace, but over all, I can’t say I liked it. The narrative was complex and difficult to follow at times, and the characters did not redeem the story.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

 

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Once Upon a Time Challenge

Once Upon a Time ChallengeI love, love, love Carl’s challenges. Yes, I’m going to participate in the Once Upon a Time Challenge. I think have overextended myself a bit on challenges, but of course I have to participate in Carl’s challenges. Anyway, because I am admittedly overextended, I shall commit only to the Journey, and I will read The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer. It’s on my to-read list for the Steampunk Challenge anyway, and this way I have more of an incentive to pick it up before June. I might read some other books as part of my journey, but I’m not sure what they might be at the moment.

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Wrap Up Lists

First of all, thanks to Leslie Healey for sending this Polish interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Much Madness is Divinest Sense,” which I named this blog for. May it freak you out as well:

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Scary.

Anyway, all the online bookstores Amazon and Barnes and Noble are sharing their Best Books of 2010 lists, and Oprah, great arbiter of reading selections, has shared hers too.

I’m adding some of the books to my TBR list:

Clockwork Angel should be good for the Steampunk Challenge. I’m hoping some of the other books will work for others, but as of today, I’m only participating in three: aside from Steampunk, my own Books I Should Have Read in School Challenge and the Shakespeare Challenge. I am looking for some other good challenges if you have any to suggest.

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Reading Update: October 24, 2010

flareAll the maple trees around here are beautiful shades of red and orange. Fall is my favorite season.

I think I am pretty much done with the R.I.P. Challenge. I gave up on Wuthering Bites, and I don’t see how I’ll finish Jamaica Inn when I haven’t even started it. However, I did read four books, which is two more than I thought I could, so I still met the challenge of Peril the First—for the first time ever!

I am still reading How the Irish Saved Civilization. If I have one complaint, it’s that I like books divided up into more chapters. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I finish a chapter, and the chapters in this book (at least some of them) are looooonng, which makes me feel less like I’m getting anywhere.

I am also going to begin Anne Fortier’s novel Juliet. Romeo and Juliet is fun to teach, and this will be the first year I have taught high school that I haven’t taught the play because it’s the first year I haven’t taught ninth grade. I love the play, but I needed a break. Instead, I will be starting Macbeth pretty soon. That one is great fun to teach.

I am looking for some good steampunk book suggestions that I can read for the Steampunk Challenge. I already plan to read The Dream of Perpetual Motion, and a friend in the know recommended Leviathan. If you have read any good ones, please share.

What are you reading?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Aunt Owwee

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Steampunk Challenge

Steampunk challengeRikki Donovan at The Bookkeeper is hosting a new reading challenge: the Steampunk Challenge. I have a steampunk novel on my Kindle, but I haven’t read it yet, and participating in this challenge will be a great opportunity to read a little bit more in a genre about which I’ve been curious for some time.

The challenge runs from October 2010 to October 2011. I might not start it until after the new year so that I can finish my other open challenges that have earlier deadlines first.

By the way, I am hosting a challenge next year, and you’ll be hearing more about it in about two months. It will be the first time I’ve hosted a challenge, so any suggestions regarding organization or how to make it more fun or attract participants would be most welcome.

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