Vincent Van Gogh

Reading Challenges and Goals for 2014

Vincent Van GoghAh, yet another year in which I failed to complete most of the reading challenges and goals I set for myself. That’s fine. There is next year! Hope springs eternal and all that. I’ll do a recap of this year shortly, but I’m blaming my failures on three things: 1) the Doctor, 2) soapmaking, and 3) work. Not precisely in that order, but you get the idea.

But I do have some goals in mind for next year, and I have some reading challenges in mind, too.

I have tried and failed to read 52 books the last couple of years. I think perhaps that one year I read 50 was a fluke, especially given my current schedule. I have zero commute, so I can’t read books on the way to work anymore. I didn’t realize how much extra reading time that gave me, I guess. My goal for 2014 is a more modest 30 books. I actually did come close to reading 30 books this year, so perhaps reading 30 books is a goal that is within my grasp. I am all for challenging myself, but I hate the feeling of frustration that comes with falling so short of my goals that I actually give up and don’t read. That really happened to me this year. Stupid, yes. I didn’t say it made sense.

2014 Historical Fiction ChallengeI love participating in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge each year. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. I plan to shoot for the Victorian Reader level of five books. I hope I will read more, and if I do, that’s great, but seeing as one of my other goals is to try to get through some books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time and try to stay on top of new releases better, I don’t want to box myself in too much by taking on a large number in any one genre.

As I have the last couple of years, I also plan to create my reading map and participate in the Where Are You Reading Challenge. Google Maps is more difficult to use with their new interface. I am hoping I don’t have to fight it too much.

When they come along, I hope to participate in Carl‘s challenges the Once Upon a Time Challenge and the R.I.P. Challenge. Actually, the R.I.P. Challenge is a must for me every year, but it’s been a while since I did Once Upon a Time.

Foodies ChallengeI always like to do something a little different, so this year, I’ll be trying out the Foodies Challenge. I’m not sure what I’ll read yet, but I’ll participate at Short Order Cook level (1-3 books). It might be just what I need to finally read [amazon text=For All the Tea in China&asin=0143118749], [amazon_link id=”0500286965″ target=”_blank” ]The True History of Chocolate[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”0393343618″ target=”_blank” ]Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”0061288519″ target=”_blank” ]97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement[/amazon_link], or [amazon_link id=”0385340869″ target=”_blank” ]The Cookbook Collector[/amazon_link]. Or maybe I could finish [amazon_link id=”0142001619″ target=”_blank” ]Salt: A World History[/amazon_link]! Anyone participating in this challenge looking for a good novel might try [amazon_link id=”B0043RSJQS” target=”_blank” ]The Kitchen Daughter[/amazon_link], which is an excellent foodie read.

2014 Witches and Witchcraft ChallengeOne final challenge: the 2014 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge. I love reading about witches, and I have few books I’ve been meaning to read forever that would be perfect. Perhaps it will even prompt me to pick up [amazon_link id=”0143123629″ target=”_blank” ]Shadow of Night[/amazon_link] (All Souls Trilogy, Bk 2). I’ll go for Initiate level (1-5 Witchy books). We have a goal of visiting Salem again now that we’re so close. For the record, Salem is one the most awesome places to visit. You should try to get there if you can.

Update, 12/29: Thanks to Iliana, I have discovered the Postal Reading Challenge. I love the idea of focusing on epistolary novels. As I told Iliana, I used to collect stamps as a child, and I already have one book in mind for the challenge A History of Britain in Thirty-six Postage Stamps. I’ll go for the Postcard Level of four books. I hope I can figure out three other books to read.

Also thanks to Iliana, by a circuitous route, I found out about the 2014 Book Bingo Reading Challenge. I couldn’t resist that one. Using your reads to play Bingo? I mean, how much fun is that? Sold!

So that’s it. I think these are much more reasonable goals. Of course, it must be said one should shoot for the stars and all that, but I’m hoping by setting obtainable goals, I’ll feel less discouraged about my reading this year.

Image Vincent Van Gogh

Year in Review 2013


As I have for the past few years, I have spent the last few days reflecting on my reading year. This year wasn’t great. I didn’t meet any of my reading goals.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge
Dana has read 27 books toward her goal of 52 books.


  • Total number of books read: 27.
  • Fiction books: 19.
  • Nonfiction books: 6.
  • Memoirs: 2.
  • YA books: 7.
  • Audio books: 2.
  • Digital books: 10.
  • DailyLit books: 0.
  • Books reread: 5.

Favorite Reads of the Year (in no particular order):

  1. Moloka’i, Alan Brennert
  2. Divergent, Veronica Roth
  3. The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey
  4. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi
  5. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway
  6. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, William Joyce
  7. The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  8. Smart Soapmaking and Milk Soapmaking, Anne L. Watson

Least Favorite Books (although this is relative because I didn’t have any less than 3-star books):

  1. Making Soaps & Scents, Catherine Bardey
  2. Delirium, Lauren Oliver

Favorite Book Meme of the Year: Top Ten Tuesdays.

Favorite Reading Challenge: The Mixing it Up Challenge (for at least making me thinking about going outside my usual reading comfort zones).

Favorite Blog Posts (again, in no particular order):

Here is my Where Are Your Reading 2012 Challenge map:

View 2012 Where Are You Reading Challenge in a larger map

I finished a re-read of Wuthering Heights recently, bringing my total to 27 books for the year. I don’t think I’ll finish anything else before the end of the year, so I’m calling it at 27. I have some hopes that if I buckle down, I can finish A Great and Terrible Beauty, but not high hopes.

In addition to not meeting my goal of reading 52 books, I also did not complete any of the challenges I set for myself. I think I over-committed myself on the challenges for sure, but I really did think I could meet the challenges. They didn’t seem onerous. I have decided to limit myself a bit more this year and just try to read things that look interesting.

I am also not going to host any challenges this year, as I find I am a terrible challenge host. I don’t think I peeked in after January, mainly because folks didn’t seem too interested in the challenge. I think I’d rather just participate in other challenges than host them.

There are good reasons for my failure to meet my reading goals. This year I moved and started a new job. I am not being too hard on myself because it was a huge adjustment. I moved 1000 miles from Roswell, GA (suburb of Atlanta) to Worcester, MA in central Massachusetts. We are all very happy in our new digs, and I love my new job.

In my previous job, I rode the bus to work, and my commute was typically 30 minutes each morning on the bus. I was able to get in a lot of reading that way, and I think my lack of commute now is a considerable factor in the number of books I was able to read. We moved here in June, and from that time onward, my commute was typically five minutes. The only way I could stretch it would be to walk, which I have done when the weather is nice, but it’s not conducive to reading. I actually can read and walk at the same time, but it’s better to have your wits about you. Even riding the bus, I only took about five minutes to get to work, but now that I’m carpooling with a coworker, it’s downright rude to think about. Essentially, one hour of reading time I used to have has been taken away. What I need to do is dedicate that reading time each day at home, even if I have to set a timer. I have often said that if something is important to you, you will make time for it. Well, reading is obviously important to me, but I have not been making as much time for it as I previously have done.

I’m looking forward to trying again to read a book a week this coming year.

2011: A Reading Year in Review

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Looking for Alaska
Sense and Sensibility
On Writing
Bridget Jones's Diary
The Night Circus
The Man with Two Left Feet: And Other Stories
Those Across the River
The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Novel
The Secret History
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
The Ballad of Frankie Silver
The Songcatcher
Adam & Eve: A Novel
A Room With a View
The Winter Sea

This was my best reading year yet in terms of meeting my reading goals. Actually, it might have been the first year I actively set reading goals.

  • Total number of books read: 50.
  • Fiction books: 46.
  • Nonfiction books: 4.
  • YA books: 8.
  • Audio books: 3.
  • Kindle books: 14.
  • DailyLit books: 2.
  • Books reread: 2.

2011 Reading Challenge

2011 Reading Challenge

Dana has completed her goal of reading 50 books in 2011!


I recently posted my list of favorite books, but here is a quick list:

  1. Revolution, Jennifer Donnelly
  2. Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
  3. On Writing, Stephen King
  4. The Songcatcher, Sharyn McCrumb
  5. The Paris Wife, Paula McLain
  6. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs
  7. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
  8. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  9. Passion, Jude Morgan
  10. The Kitchen Daughter, Jael McHenry

Least favorite books of 2011 (no one-star books this year!):

Favorite book meme of the year: Top Ten Tuesdays.

Favorite reading challenge: The R.I.P. Challenge. Again.

Just a couple of days ago, I posted a list of my favorite blog posts for this year.

My Where Are You Reading 2011 reading challenge map (you can open it up and look all over):

View 2011 Where Are You Reading Challenge in a larger map

Sunday Salon: The Shelf Awareness Interview

Still Life with Plato

No, Shelf Awareness isn’t interviewing me, but I love to read their author interviews, and they always ask the same questions (at least in my limited observation). They’re fun questions, too. So should Shelf Awareness ever want to interview me, they can simply copy and paste.

On your nightstand now:

I actually have a stack of books against the wall more than a pile on the nightstand. In my stack are [amazon_link id=”0451169522″ target=”_blank” ]Misery[/amazon_link] by Stephen King, a few Sharyn McCrumbs I want to get to, [amazon_link id=”0711231893″ target=”_blank” ]Tea with Jane Austen[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id=”B001P3OLEM” target=”_blank” ]Burning Bright[/amazon_link] by Tracy Chevalier, [amazon_link id=”0060791586″ target=”_blank” ]The Widow’s War[/amazon_link] by Sally Gunning, [amazon_link id=”0312304358″ target=”_blank” ]Moloka’i[/amazon_link] by Alan Brennert, [amazon_link id=”0679781587″ target=”_blank” ]Memoirs of a Geisha[/amazon_link] by Arthur Golden, and [amazon_link id=”0152053107″ target=”_blank” ]A Northern Light[/amazon_link] by Jennifer Donnelly, among other books I dip into occasionally.

Favorite book when you were a child:

When I was in the third grade, it was [amazon_link id=”0142408808″ target=”_blank” ]Superfudge[/amazon_link] by Judy Blume because Mrs. Elliott read it to us, and it was impossible to check out of the library for months afterward. I also loved [amazon_link id=”0807508527″ target=”_blank” ]The Boxcar Children[/amazon_link] by Gertrude Chandler Warner. When I was a little older, [amazon_link id=”0385739893″ target=”_blank” ]Tiger Eyes[/amazon_link] by Judy Blume.

Your top five authors:

  1. J. K. Rowling: Her books are pure, imaginative escapism, and I am grateful for all the time I’ve spent at Hogwarts.
  2. Jane Austen: She is my literary comfort food. I can always turn to her for a good read.
  3. William Shakespeare: Unqualified genius and master of the English language.
  4. F. Scott Fitzgerald: Beautiful turns of phrase and poetic writing. I admit his place here rests on one book—[amazon_link id=”0743273567″ target=”_blank” ]The Great Gatsby[/amazon_link].
  5. Barbara Kingsolver: I so enjoyed [amazon_link id=”0061577073″ target=”_blank” ]The Poisonwood Bible[/amazon_link], and [amazon_link id=”0061765228″ target=”_blank” ]The Bean Trees[/amazon_link] is one of the few books I’ve read in one sitting.

I should note that list fluctuates, but it’s true for today.

Book you’ve faked reading:

[amazon_link id=”1461120292″ target=”_blank” ]The Red Badge of Courage[/amazon_link] by Stephen Crane. I’ve still never finished it. I read the Cliff’s Notes for a test in American Realism and Naturalism in college, and I earned a B on it. If I’d read it, I could probably have earned an A, but that’s the way it is.

Book you’re an evangelist for:

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I think everyone should read it, even if they don’t think they’re interested in Africa. What Kingsolver did with that book amazes me, and it’s the kind of writing I aspire to.

Book you’ve bought for the cover:

I’ve talked about this before, but I bought Alice Hoffman’s [amazon_link id=”0345455932″ target=”_blank” ]Blackbird House[/amazon_link] because I liked the cover, and it didn’t pay off. However, [amazon_link id=”0743298039″ target=”_blank” ]The Thirteenth Tale[/amazon_link] by Diane Setterfield and [amazon_link id=”B003WUYROK” target=”_blank” ]The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane[/amazon_link] by Katherine Howe, both of which I bought for their covers, paid off beautifully.

Book that changed your life:

This is a hard one, but I’m going with Harper Lee’s [amazon_link id=”0061743526″ target=”_blank” ]To Kill a Mockingbird[/amazon_link]. I never get tired of that book. It helped me look at my own beliefs and made me question what I would do if I were Atticus. Would I have the guts to do the right thing in the face of so much prejudice and opposition in the town, especially knowing I was licked before I began? The reason that Atticus is such a hero is that he did all this and so few people would.

Favorite line from a book:

The last page of The Great Gatsby is beautiful:

And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there, brooding on the unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in the vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run raster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I never tired of The Great Gatsby, and that page contains so much gorgeous writing.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Oh, surely the [amazon_link id=”0545162076″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter[/amazon_link] series. The wonder and waiting for the plot to unfold was one of the best reading experiences of my life.

The Sunday Salon

photo credit: chefranden


Sunfire Romances

When I was in eighth grade, I discovered the Sunfire Romances. If you were a girl in the 1980’s, you probably know what I’m talking about. These are all out of print now, but they can be found online at places like eBay and in used bookstores. All of these novels had the following characteristics in common:

  • The teenaged protagonist’s name was the title of the book.
  • They were historical romances, each one set during a different period in American history.
  • Each protagonist had to choose between two guys flanked on either side of her on the cover (usually with 1980’s haircuts instead of historically accurate ones). Both of them loved her—one was rebellious and dangerous, while the other was safe, dependable, and boring. Guess which one the protagonist almost always chose.

Aside from teaching me exactly how romance was supposed to work—two guys would inevitably fight over me, the question was would I be brave enough to choose the hot bad boy when my parents wanted me to choose the nice, safe one—these novels also taught me a thing or two about the time periods in which they were set and quite possibly are the reason I became interested in historical fiction—a genre which remains my favorite.

The first one I read was Cassie.


The eponymous heroine of Cassie was kidnapped by Indians when she was four, but she was raised as one of their own, and in her heart, she feels like one of the Iriquois tribe who adopted her, despite her flowing blond locks and sparkling blue eyes. She has much more grrl power than you because she can ride and hunt like any warrior, and she totally looks like she’s 15. Check out the cover. One day, she meets Joshua, a fur trapper who figures out somehow that she’s not one of the tribe and takes her back to the town where she was born. As she transitions almost seamlessly into colonial life after being brought up by Indians, which makes complete sense, she has choose between Joshua and family friend Benjamin. Yeah, you see it coming a mile off because she never displays the slightest interest in Benjamin. Sorry if I ruined the book for you. Wikipedia reminds me that this one is set in 1755.

I know I read the rest of these books, but after Cassie, I’m not sure of the order.


Susannah takes place during the Civil War and is mostly a rip-off of [amazon_link id=”1451635621″ target=”_blank” ]Gone With the Wind[/amazon_link]. I didn’t like it at the time because I had read GWTW in 7th grade, but if I hadn’t read GWTW first, I might have liked Susannah better. Susannah lives in Virginia and is engaged to a Confederate soldier. Her family owns a plantation and many “servants”—yes, they are really called that in the book, which is a worse white-wash of slavery than GWTW. Susannah’s unfortunate fiancé winds up being killed in the war, along with her brother, so she never really has to throw him over for the Yankee soldier Caine Harding, but she totally would have.


Victoria was one of my favorites. Set during the Texas Revolution, Victoria taught me that if you wanted ice in 1835, you had to wait for a hailstorm. I had never given much thought to what people did for ice in history, but that is one of the most important lessons I learned from this book. Victoria must choose between wealthy Mexican landowner Luis Arista or Texas Ranger Cade Riley. Like Cassie, Victoria never shows the slightest interest in the safe guy her parents like, so the ending will not surprise as much as the lengths one had to go to procure ice in 1835 Texas.

DanielleDanielle was my favorite. Danielle lived during the War of 1812 (actual date, 1814) New Orleans on a sugar plantation that actually paid its workers. I know, right? Danielle’s daddy liked to buck the system like that. Anyway, Danielle’s boring fiancé Paul is in the navy, and Danielle finds herself yearning for something more exciting, which shows up in the form of Geoffrey, a pirate who happens to be Jean Lafitte’s nephew. It totally looks like Danielle is going to throw Paul over and join up with the pirates when she discovers, to her utter shock and amazement, that pirates are kind of mean. Still, this book did have me scouring my Encyclopaedia Britannica for articles about New Orleans and Jean Lafitte as well as scanning maps looking for Lafitte’s hidey-holes. If I read it it now, I’d probably hate it, but I liked it at the time because Danielle totally didn’t pick the guy I thought she’d pick.

These are the only ones I remember reading, but the series is much longer. Goodreads has a list compiled. I feel totally gypped because I missed out on Nicole. I love Titanic stories and games. And how did I miss Darcy? That was the name of my best friend in 8th grade, for crying out loud. Plus how did I miss Elizabeth? I have been mildly obsessed with the Salem Witch Trials since elementary school when I saw that episode of Scooby Doo called “To Switch a Witch,” which is not about the witch trials, really, but is about Salem witches. You can watch that on YouTube. I totally didn’t get distracted from finishing this blog post to watch it. And in not watching it, I was reminded of William Faulkner’s assertion that the “past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” Also, the gravedigger has an amazing memory. And that episode is not as great as I remember it being, much like the Sunfire romances, but it’s not nearly as historically accurate as those YA novels. See? I tied it back together in the end.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

My Crush on Shelley

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1819, by Amelia Curran

I wrote yesterday about Byron, and despite completely understanding Byron’s appeal, it is Shelley I have the crush on.

I probably first encountered Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poetry in twelfth grade. I can’t think of any reason I would have encountered him before that time. I did a group project on his poem “Ozymandias” with two classmates. We videotaped ourselves as the Shelleys and his “inspiration,” a basketball player who was past his prime and whose talent would quickly vanish, which I have to say was probably not a bad modernization of the text’s theme. Shopping in the bookstore with my parents, I found a Norton anthology of Shelley’s poetry and prose and had to have it. My dad bought it for me, and he must have been scratching his head over the purchase something fierce because what normal twelfth grader wants a Norton anthology of a British Romantic poet’s work? Even I would wonder what was up with such a kid if I met one today, but I have a sneaking suspicion I was on the extremely rare side in that particular area.

So I read some of the other poems in the Norton, and I was particularly entranced by Epipsychidion, a word Shelley made up which means “on the subject of the little soul.” This poem is about S-E-X. It is transcendent, a connection of souls. It’s written for a woman named Teresa Viviani with whom Shelley was quite enamored, but who was inaccessibly confined in a convent by her father. Just imagine! It reminds me of Romeo’s declaration that Rosaline’s decision to “remain chaste” in fact “makes huge waste.” In the poem, Shelley calls Viviani “Emilia,” the name of Hippolyta’s sister as described in The Teseida by Boccaccio. Later, Geoffrey Chaucer would rework the story in “The Knight’s Tale,” and Shakespeare and John Fletcher as Two Noble Kinsmen. Emilia, or Emily, desires to remain chaste also, but she has the misfortune to be spied by Palamone and Arcita, who fall in love with her on sight (because that’s what you do). I am much more familiar with Chaucer’s version of the story, so I’ll discuss it for a moment (still with me? bored out of your skull yet?).

In Chaucer’s story, Palamon and Arcite (same dudes, different spelling) are cousins who are like brothers. They are among the Thebans who fought against Theseus’s forces. They are captured and imprisoned in Athens, and it is from their prison window that first Palamon, then Arcite, spy Emily. They fall in love with her at first sight, but they can’t have her because they’re in prison. Eventually Arcite is released from prison, but is exiled from Athens, while Palamon remains behind bars. This scenario prompts the Knight to ask the company who has it worse: Palamon, who is imprisoned, but who can still look on Emily’s beauty from his prison window, or Arcite, who is free, but cannot see Emily. I usually ask students how they would answer the Knight’s question. How would you?

I won’t go too far into the rest of the story, but suffice it to say the men have really only fallen in love with Emily from afar. They don’t really know her, and in fact, no one really cares what she wants in all of this, which is to be a nun. Women didn’t get to choose so much in Emily’s day, however, so she eventually weds one of the cousins, and I won’t tell you which because I hope you’ll read the story. What Emily represents is the Knight’s ideal—an example of the lady on the pedestal. Of course, the Miller tells his story next, concerning men and women who are a little nearer to the earth.

At any rate, Shelley choosing that particular nickname for his beloved is fraught with all sorts of meaning. She is the unattainable Emilia, only she is imprisoned rather than her lover (presumably Shelley). Idealized, not real. Not really Teresa Viviani, but his hope for perfection.  He compares his wife, Mary Shelley, to the moon—cold, chaste. Teresa is the sun (can’t help but think of Romeo and Juliet once again).

I don’t know why, but I developed a sort of crush on Shelley that has lasted since twelfth grade, over 20 years now. I don’t think Shelley was particularly nice, at least not to his wives, and I’m not sure what it is about him. He is on the page, and his opinions and beliefs shine forth in clear language, but even after all this time, I don’t feel I really know him. He is still a mystery. I am looking forward to seeing how Jude Morgan gives him flesh and life. I have no trouble imagining Byron or Keats as real people, but Shelley has remained elusive. He is, in that way, like Emilia himself. All the descriptions I’ve read of him tend toward the idealized. I hope Morgan is able to make him walk on the ground.

See Shelley’s Ghost: Reshaping the Image of a Literary Family.

Rascal, Sterling North

Booking Through Thursday: Firsts

This week’s Booking Through Thursday prompt asks “Do you remember the first book you bought for yourself? Or the first book you checked out of the library? What was it and why did you choose it?”

I’m not sure I could remember the very first because my mother took us to the library often, and when I was old enough to ride my bike there by myself, I went whenever I could. I was also a frequent patron of the school library.

When I was in elementary school, fifth graders had three jobs and rotated these jobs by class on a cycle. The jobs were Safety Patrol, lunch helpers, and office helpers. When it was our class’s turn to be Safety Patrol, we were responsible for ensuring the other students at our school could cross safely at the four intersections surrounding our school. The other two fifth grade classes were lunch helpers and office helpers at that time. We would rotate, and our class would next be responsible for either lunch or office. Lunch helpers left for lunch early and helped the cafeteria workers prepare lunches for the students. We had a free lunch on the day we helped. Office helper was my favorite job. I would be allowed to sit in the office and complete my school work for the day, and since I could work at my pace, I usually finished by 11:00 or so. Then I could read for the rest of the day (when I wasn’t delivering messages or forgotten lunches). The office staff would allow me to go to the school library to check out books.

All of this sharing is a roundabout way of leading up to a book I remember checking out of the library more than any other, and it’s a book I checked out and read in the school’s office. The cover was a nondescript brown, and to be honest, I’m not even sure why I picked it up in the first place. All that business about not judging a book by its cover and all that is nice, but we all do it, kids especially. The cover had nothing inviting about it. Inside was a wonderful story of a boy who made a pet of a wild raccoon and, sadly, had to let it go when he realized it would never be a tame animal. It was called Rascal, and it was written by Sterling North.

Rascal, Sterling North
A new edition of Rascal

Sterling North’s story of the raccoon he loved and had to give up moved me so much that I wanted to write him. He was to be the first author I had ever written. I didn’t try to write him until I was in sixth grade, and I remember asking the media specialist at my middle school for help so I could figure out how to do it. She was so enthusiastic. She excitedly pawed through some book that displayed writing addresses, probably literary agents or similar, for authors, and I remember how crestfallen she was—more than I was, truth be told—when she discovered Sterling North was already dead by the time I thought to write him. In fact, he had died several years before.

As an adult, I am quite aware that raccoons make terrible pets, and I wouldn’t want one. I wanted a raccoon desperately as a kid, and it’s Sterling North’s fault.

2010: A Reading Year in Review

More old books...

This year has been a good reading year for me. Some reading stats for completed books:

  • Total number of books read: 40.
  • Fiction books: 33.
  • Nonfiction: 7.
  • Audio books: 4.
  • Kindle books: 16.
  • DailyLit books: 2.
  • Books re-read: 5.

My favorite books of the year in no particular order were

The books I liked least:

I completed several reading challenges. For the Everything Austen Challenge, I read/viewed the following:

Of these books, I enjoyed Persuasion the most, but truthfully, this challenge was one of the most enjoyable for me because I liked all of the books I read and the movie I watched.

I completed Carl’s R.I.P. Challenge for the first time. I read the following books:

I always enjoy this challenge, and I enjoyed all the books I completed for this challenge, especially Dracula, My Love.

I also participated in Carl’s earlier Once Upon a Time Challenge with a read of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

I read a lot of fiction about the Brontës this year and completed the All About the Brontës Challenge:

The Bibliophilic Books Challenge was a fun way to read books about authors or reading. I read the following:

The Typically British Challenge was a snap for me; as an anglophile, most of the books I read were British, but I counted the following for the challenge:

Last year I read 29 books and didn’t finish any challenges. Look for my reading goals for 2011 in a post tomorrow.

photo credit: guldfisken

Booking Through Thursday: Life-Changing

36.52: The Blue Room

This week’s Booking Through Thursday prompt is “Which book changed your life?” I’m not sure I can pick just one book, but I’ll talk about a few books I’ve read that I considered monumental or life-changing in some way.

Gone With the Wind was the first “adult” book I’d read. I remember my mom had it out in the living room, and I was turning it over and looking at it. She asked me if I wanted to read it. It was really thick. The mass market paperback copy my mom had was about 1,000 pages long. It never occurred to me I might be ready to read an adult book, or that my mom thought I could. I am not sure why because my mother never tried to prevent me from reading anything. She always encouraged me to read. Because it opened the door of adult fiction to me, Gone With the Wind will remain important to me.

To Kill a Mockingbird opened some doors for me, too. It was the first book I read for school that I can remember enjoying—and I didn’t read it until 11th grade, so that’s a sad statement in itself. I loved the characters. I love the voice. I loved everything about it.

The Lord of the Rings opened the doors of fantasy fiction to me. Prior to reading this epic, I hadn’t really read much fantasy, but I truly enjoyed this book. Another benefit to my reading this book has been a connection with my father. It’s a favorite of his as well, and it gave us many great discussions.

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has been influential to my own writing. I learned a lot about the craft of writing from Diana Gabaldon, both through examining her choices as a writer and in reading about them in The Outlandish Companion.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has brought me a great deal of joy. I began reading it at a time when I wasn’t very happy, and it was something I shared with my oldest daughter. I will always treasure our first read of it together. But beyond that, it’s given me a hobby and interest that I’ve enjoyed. I owe J.K. Rowling many, many countless hours of happiness. It has been nice to escape into her world from time to time. I’ve been mocked both directly and indirectly for being an adult fan of this series, and the only thing I have to say to those people is that I’m sad they have nothing better to do than to scrutinize anyone’s reading choices, especially when they’re relatively harmless—I mean, it’s not like I read instruction manuals for how to build bombs or get away with nefarious crimes.

photo credit: by Janine

Ten Fictional Best Friends

Holding hands

Iliana posted her list of ten fictional best friends, and I just love memes like this, so I had to participate, too.

  1. Harry Potter from the Harry Potter series: The boy wizard from the eponymous series captured my heart about nine years ago, and hasn’t let go. I’m widely known among family, friends, and co-workers to be the biggest Harry Potter fan they know. What I like about Harry is that he has had a great deal of responsibility thrust upon him, and even though he’s not perfect, he does the right thing. He learns kindness and the value of true friendship (witness how he changes regarding wanting to be seen with Neville and Luna from book 5 to book 6).
  2. Una Spenser from Ahab’s Wife: I think she’s one of the coolest women I’ve ever met in a book, and I’d like to be like her when I grow up. She makes difficult choices, and she lives with the consequences. She’s warm and passionate. She loves life.
  3. Elinor Dashwood of Sense and Sensibility: Elinor is so wise and sensible. She is kind to everyone and puts others’ feelings before her own. She would be the most loyal friend one could ever have.
  4. Anne Elliot of Persuasion: Anne is a little shy, and she doesn’t want to inconvenience anyone. She is true to her friend Mrs. Smith, even when her family thinks the woman is beneath her. She’s smart and frugal. No one in her family listens to her, but others see her value.
  5. Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice: Who couldn’t be in love with Lizzie Bennet? And if it seems to be cheating to pick three Austen heroines for best friends, I say in my defense that these books are my literary comfort food and make me feel good about the world, and therefore why shouldn’t they contain more of my literary friends than other books? She’s spirited. She loves her sister so much that she stands up to those she feels have slighted Jane. She cares for her family. She wants to marry for love.
  6. Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser of the Outlander series: If you’ve read this series, then you know Claire is the gal who made it acceptable and even desirable to have a FWA. And you know what I’m talking about if you’ve read the books. She is intelligent, passionate, and extremely cool. I would definitely want to have her help in a bar fight (not that I’d ever get near one, but I digress).
  7. Scout Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird: Who couldn’t fall in love with Scout’s voice? She calls things like they are. She loves and admires her incredible father. She befriends Dill, who is the kind of kid one can easily imagined being slighted on the playground, and she looks up to her wise elder brother Jem. She is also the one to connect to Boo and bring him out of his exile in his house. She’s a great kid.
  8. Morgaine (Morgan Le Fay) of The Mists of Avalon:  She’s not evil, as we learn in this book—just misunderstood. She wants what is best for her brother and his country, and she winds up a pawn in the game so many others seem to be playing. But she’s intelligent and powerful and ultimately much more sympathetic than the Arthurian characters we traditionally view as “good.”
  9. Meggie Cleary of The Thorn Birds: She has a difficult life and chooses a difficult path for herself. She is, by the end of the novel, a pretty tough broad. Maybe too tough. But she loves completely and unreservedly.
  10. Davey Wexler of Tiger Eyes: I can’t remember how many times I read this book. I know I wore out my copy. Davey lived through a traumatic experience. She is brave and intelligent. She is a good friend.

Honorable mentions go to Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby, Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing, Dr. Watson from the Sherlock Holmes stories, Christabel La Motte from Possession, and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, although she’d probably hate me if she knew me in real life.

So like Iliana, I invite you tell us who your best fictional friends are.

photo credit: Valerie Everett