The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

I’ve had a handful of posts drafted for weeks now that I just haven’t made the time to post. I seem to go in fits and bursts with blogging; though, I am happy to report that the reading is still going strong – so many good books already this year! I’ve resolved to start to play catch up, but before I start, I feel a compulsion to deviate a moment.

It’s a strange time. “Surreal” is the word I keep using, for it doesn’t seem real–for so much to be shut down, for the world to seemingly come to a virtual standstill. This is a thing of movies, not real life.

But COVID-19 IS real, and the precautions we are taking–trying to take–are necessary. Fortunately, I haven’t been too impacted yet; my work has yet to directly be influenced (though I anticipate a slow down in new projects while everyone just tries to keep up with things) and working remotely has long been an available option. I’m fortunate, I know, but when I see all the articles or lists of “things you can watch/listen to/read” during these times of “social distancing,” I confess my first thought is “how do you have time?” Of course, this is as much because I’ve never been one to be out and about as it is because I’m still working full time. But if I did want to fill some time–or if I were to make a recommendation–I think Agatha Christie is a good place to start. I find something so comforting–like “coming home” when I read an Agatha Christie, or watch one of the TV adaptations. (I’m particularly fond of the David Suchet Poirot series.) The formulaic nature, the knowledge that it all works out in the end, these are soothing in trying times.

The Secret Adversary
Agatha Christie
1922, England
Tommy and Tuppence

The second of Agatha Christie’s published novels, The Secret Adversary introduces us to the lively Tuppence Cowley and solid Tommy Beresford. Childhood friends, they meet by chance in post-war (1919 – post Spanish Flu, for that matter!) London, both down on their luck and in search of a job—and more importantly, the money that goes with one. Despairing of finding any, they impetuously decide to form The Young Adventures Ltd. and advertise to take on adventures on behalf of others. But before they get as far as submitting the ad copy, an adventure falls in their laps. However, when Tuppence cautiously tells the potential client, Mr. Whittington, that her name is “Jane Finn,” he grows agitated and sends her on her way with £50, thinking it a ploy and trying to buy silence. Curious, Tommy and Tuppence decide to investigate further and advertise for information on Jane Finn. What follows in response to their ad is a delightful romp across post-Great War London and adventure plenty, for the detectives and reader both.

Although there is mystery at the heart of the story—where is Jane Finn? And who is the illusive Mr. Brown who seems to be pulling so many strings and determined to overthrow the current government?—the story feels more like a thriller to me than a strict mystery novel. Perhaps this is because the adventures are so fast-paced, the detectives so green, and the dangers so present on-screen. But in the end, in honest detective-novel form, our heroes solve the crime, and in dramatic fashion. For a change of pace, I nearly had it solved as well! I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, the wonderful 1920s English slang, and the utterly charming Tuppence and Tommy and look forward to more of their adventures.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
Agatha Christie
1921, England
Hercule Poirot

Not only is The Mysterious Affair at Styles Christie’s first novel, it is the first Hercule Poirot mystery. Set in the countryside during the First World War, it is a wonderful coincidence–one that likely enables a terrible crime to be solved correctly–that Poirot happens to be a war refugee living in the neighborhood and that a friend from the pre-war days, Hastings, is staying at Styles House, where the crime occurs. Hastings will prove the Watson to Poirot’s Holmes – though I must say, he strikes me as quite the inferior Watson. He prides himself as an observer and yet he never quite seems to get it–not merely in the detection of crime (for which we could all be given fails, as clever as the mastermind is here), but he doesn’t even seem able to recognize the truth of ordinary interactions between people, including those involving himself. It can be a bit frustrating for the reader at times, although perhaps this is intentional, to allow us a little feeling of superiority even when we fail spectacularly at solving the crime (err…as I always do, at least!)

There are all the ingredients of a typical Poirot novel: a country house setting, a small cast of suspects, a difficult case that the police can’t get right, red herrings, even a set of locked doors posing difficulties. Poirot performs his typical work of genius in neatly uncovering the solution at the very end. And yet–it didn’t quite feel “right” to me. Somehow, I didn’t feel as at home at Styles as have with later Christie novels.  Perhaps this is the reflection of it being a “first” – Poirot didn’t feel quite fully “Poirot-like” to me, yet, though that may because I am not used to seeing him through the eyes of Hastings. But the novel also didn’t feel quite as tight in its execution, and although I am quite used to not actually solving the crime, usually there’s this feeling of “Oh, right…” that didn’t quite happen for me here. So not quite my favorite Christie, but it certainly does nothing to dissuade me from more!

[Read in early 2019….and just now finally posting! Part of my Agatha Christie reading project.]

A New Project: Reading Agatha Christie

Observing my reading over the past couple years, I really like mysteries. I suppose the same applies to my TV viewing as well. (And film – have you seen Knives Out!? My favorite movie of 2019.) True, they’re typically not  difficult (unless the subject matter is particularly unsettling or gory), but they are so much fun to read. To try to guess the end (if you don’t…oops…read it before you get there), to figure out the clues. So I’ve been reading a lot of them. Various authors. Robert Galbraith. Ann Cleeves. PD James. But mostly, Agatha Christie.

It really started, I suppose, when Kenneth Branagh remade Murder on the Orient Express (which I did enjoy, despite his unfortunate mustache). So I reread that. And then thought that some more Christie might be nice. Crooked House. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. Now, I have a mysteries & thrillers project list (have I mentioned how much I like lists? 😉), but, inspired in part by Cleo’s embarkment on an Agatha Christie reading journey, I’ve decided to amend the list with ALL of Christie. And read them in order (although I might skip some of the ones I’ve read recently). I will skip the books she wrote under the name Mary Westmacott as those aren’t mysteries, and I may or may not read her autobiography (which, actually, I read in high school).

I’ve read the first couple (1, 3, and 2, in that order – an oops due to forgetting which book came second) and will be posting on those soonish.

For the deathly curious, the list I will be reading from, in order. Due to library availability (and since I prefer to read on paper), I’ll be reading from the short story collections as published in the US. (It’s possible that some of those will be read out of order since the stories would have been individually at earlier dates anyways. This is meant to be fun, not dogmatic.)

  1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, 1921, Hercule Poirot
  2. The Secret Adversary, 1922, Tommy and Tuppence
  3. The Murder on the Links, 1923, Hercule Poirot
  4. Poirot Investigates, 1924, Hercule Poirot (Short Stories)
  5. The Man in the Brown Suit, 1924, Colonel Race
  6. The Secret of Chimneys, 1925, Superintendent Battle
  7. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, 1926, Hercule Poirot
  8. The Big Four, 1927, Hercule Poirot
  9. The Mystery of the Blue Train, 1928, Hercule Poirot
  10. The Seven Dials Mystery, 1929, Superintendent Battle
  11. Partners in Crime, 1929, Tommy and Tuppence (Short Stories)
  12. The Mysterious Mr. Quin, 1930, Harley Quin (Short Stories)
  13. The Murder at the Vicarage, 1930, Miss Marple
  14. The Sittaford Mystery, 1931, Mystery (US: The Murder at Hazelmoor)
  15. Peril at End House, 1932, Hercule Poirot
  16. The Thirteen Problems, 1932, Various (US: The Tuesday Club Murders; short stories)
  17. Lord Edgware Dies, 1933, Hercule Poirot (US: Thirteen at Dinner)
  18. Murder on the Orient Express, 1934, Hercule Poirot (US: Murder in the Calais Coach)
  19. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, 1934, Mystery (US: The Boomerang Clue)
  20. Parker Pyne Investigates, 1934, Parkery Pyne (US: Mr.Parker Pyne, Detective)
  21. Three Act Tragedy, 1935, Hercule Poirot (US: Murder in Three Acts)
  22. Death in the Clouds, 1935, Hercule Poirot (US: i)
  23. The A.B.C. Murders, 1936, Hercule Poirot
  24. Murder in Mesopotamia, 1936, Hercule Poirot
  25. Cards on the Table, 1936, Hercule Poirot
  26. Murder in the Mews, 1937, Hercule Poirot (US: Dead Man’s Mirror; short stories)
  27. Dumb Witness, 1937, Hercule Poirot (US: Poirot Loses a Client)
  28. Death on the Nile, 1937, Hercule Poirot
  29. Appointment with Death, 1938, Hercule Poirot
  30. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, 1938, Hercule Poirot (US: Murder for Christmas or A Holiday for Murder)
  31. Murder is Easy, 1939, Superintendent Battle (US: Easy to Kill)
  32. And Then There Were None, 1939
  33. The Regatta Mystery, 1939, Various (Short Stories)
  34. Sad Cypress, 1940, Hercule Poirot
  35. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, 1940, Hercule Poirot (US: The Patriotic Murders or An Overdose of Death)
  36. Evil Under the Sun, 1941, Hercule Poirot
  37. N or M?, 1941, Tommy and Tuppence
  38. The Body in the Library, 1942, Miss Marple
  39. Five Little Pigs, 1942, Hercule Poirot (US: Murder in Retrospect)
  40. The Moving Finger, 1943, Miss Marple
  41. Towards Zero, 1944, Superintendent Battle
  42. Death Comes as the End, 1945
  43. Sparkling Cyanide, 1945, Colonel Race (US: Remembered Death)
  44. The Hollow, 1946, Hercule Poirot
  45. The Labours of Hercules, 1947, Hercule Poirot (Short Stories)
  46. Taken at the Flood, 1948, Hercule Poirot (US: There is a Tide…)
  47. The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories, 1948, Various (Short Stories)
  48. Crooked House, 1949
  49. A Murder is Announced, 1950, Miss Marple
  50. Three Blind Mice and Other Stories, 1950, Mystery (Short Stories)
  51. They Came to Baghdad, 1951
  52. The Under Dog and Other Stories, 1951, Hercule Poirot (Short Stories)
  53. Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, 1952, Hercule Poirot
  54. They Do It with Mirrors, 1952, Miss Marple (US: Murder with Mirrors)
  55. After the Funeral, 1953, Hercule Poirot (US: Funerals are Fatal)
  56. A Pocket Full of Rye, 1953, Miss Marple
  57. Destination Unknown, 1954, Mystery (US: So Many Steps to Death)
  58. Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly, 2014, Hercule Poirot (written in 1954 to raise money for a church)
  59. Hickory Dickory Dock, 1955, Hercule Poirot
  60. Dead Man’s Folly, 1956, Hercule Poirot
  61. 50 from Paddington, 1957, Miss Marple (US: What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!)
  62. Ordeal by Innocence, 1958
  63. Cat Among the Pigeons, 1959, Hercule Poirot
  64. Double Sin and Other Stories, 1961, Various (Short Stories; US)
  65. The Pale Horse, 1961
  66. The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side, 1962, Miss Marple (US: The Mirror Crack’d)
  67. The Clocks, 1963, Hercule Poirot
  68. A Caribbean Mystery, 1964, Miss Marple
  69. At Bertram’s Hotel, 1965, Miss Marple
  70. Third Girl, 1966, Hercule Poirot
  71. Endless Night, 1967
  72. By the Pricking of My Thumbs, 1968, Tommy and Tuppence
  73. Hallowe’en Party, 1969, Hercule Poirot
  74. Passenger to Frankfurt, 1970
  75. Nemesis, 1971, Miss Marple
  76. The Golden Ball and Other Stories, 1971, Various (Short Stories)
  77. Elephants Can Remember, 1972, Hercule Poirot
  78. Postern of Fate, 1973, Tommy and Tuppence
  79. Curtain, 1975, Hercule Poirot (Poirot’s last case, written in the 1940s)
  80. Sleeping Murder, 1976, Miss Marple (Miss Marple’s last case, written in the 1940s)
  81. Miss Marple’s Final Cases and Two Other Stories, 1979, Miss Marple
  82. The Harlequin Tea Set, 1997, Various (Short Stories; US [stories published in other UK collections])

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Vintage copy of Far From the Madding Crowd
My copy of Far From the Madding Crowd, which I believe to be over 100 years old. It was a delight to read from–the right size and weight, and the pages always lay nicely flat.

Far From the Madding Crowd
Thomas Hardy
1874, England

Full of this dim and temperate bliss, he went on to fling the ewe over upon her other side, covering her head with his knee, gradually running the shears line after line round her dewlap, thence about her flank and back, and finishing over the tail.

[…]

The clean, sleek creature arose from its fleece—how perfectly like Aphrodite rising from the foam should have been seen to be realized—looking startled and shy at the loss of its garment, which lay on the floor in one soft cloud, united throughout, the portion visible being the inner surface only, which, never before exposed, was white as snow, and without flaw or blemish of the minutest kind. (Ch. 22)

It’s possible that I enjoyed Far From the Madding Crowd as much as I did because of the sheep scenes—the herding, the washing, the shearing, the sheep market. My inner fiber artist was drawn to and enchanted by this great sheep novel.

I joke, of course. At least in part.

After all, I did enjoy the sheep scenes, and in a sense, there would be no story without the sheep and the dramas (and traumas) of raising sheep, but it is primarily a human drama, in pastoral setting.

Far From the Madding Crowd is one of Thomas Hardy’s earliest novels, and was his first real success. It tells the tale of Bathsheba Everdene and the three very different men who woo her—Victorian love-quadrangle, oh, the scandal!—: the solid Gabriel Oak, dashing Sergeant Troy, and passionate Farmer Boldwood, all while set against the rhythms of the changing seasons and farming responsibilities. (Those names…Mr. Hardy, I see what you did there.) The novel is not merely set in the country, but rather the backdrop of farming is integral to the characters, their histories, their responsibilities (or lack thereof). How any one character responds to the demands of pastoral life illuminates the rest of their character and mind-set: thus we see that Gabriel is an honorable man worthy of great responsibility, while Farmer Boldwood’s growing obsession with Bathsheba is nowhere made clearer than in his neglect of his own harvest. And that is to speak nothing of Troy’s relationship to the pastoral setting;  I’m pretty sure he made an earlier appearance in Sense and Sensibility under the name “Mr. Willoughby.”

The citizen’s Then is the rustic’s Now. In London, twenty of thirty years ago are old times; in Paris ten years, or five; in Weatherbury three or four score years were included in the mere present, and nothing less than a century set a mark on its face or tone. (Ch. 22)

Of course, though an early Hardy, this is still Hardy, and as such, though I found it enjoyable, it is rarely lighthearted. Despite the appeal of the ideal of “pastoral,” the reality of farm life is difficult, hard work, and into this mix Hardy throws additional human drama—there is tragedy, both on field and at hearth. (Okay, has anyone else looked up “bloat” or “ruminal tympany” because of Hardy? I told you, I have a sheep thing…) But in the end I have to agree that this is an “accessible” Hardy and would recommend it as a starting place for someone wanting to try his novels out.

I read Far From the Madding Crowd for Classics Spin #22. It also qualifies as my adaption title for Back to the Classics, a classic that takes place in a country that I don’t live in for Reading the Classics, and is one of my Classics Club and Realists and Romantics project titles. Phew! That’s a lot of work for one book.

Back to the Classics 2020

So I said no challenges this year. Right. Just call me a lemming, following the crowd, but all the posts about Karen’s Back to the Classics Challenge, and I find I’m somewhat helpless to resist. Especially as there are some fun categories this year (I’m looking forward to “Family” and “Nature in the Title”). It also helps that I have one qualifying title read already and another half-done. So there’s that.

The categories this year, and some possibilities:

  1. 19th Century Classic.Whatever doesn’t fit into any other category and was published between 1800-1899.
  2. 20th Century Classic. Whatever doesn’t fit into any other category and was published between 1900-1970.
  3. Classic by a Woman Author. Too many choices to decide so early. Agatha Christie? Jane Austen? Elizabeth Gaskell? Willa Cather? Edith Wharton?
  4. Classic in Translation. Hmm….well, if I read something else for #11 (Abandoned Classic), Ficciones (Jorge Luis Borges) could slot here. Most likely something translated from Spanish (knowing me), although it’s been along time since I’ve read anything from French. And I’ve never read any Russians (really!), so maybe I should try something there. I do have some Tolstoy on my shelves.
  5. Classic by a Person of Color. I have several possibilities on my Classics Club list: Native Son, Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison), or Go Tell It on the Mountain (Or…Go Tell It on the Mountain could go for #9). I also keep seeing Nella Larson’s name, and it’s about time I finally read one of her novels.
  6. A Genre Classic. The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie. Already finished; I’ll be working on the post next!
  7. Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title. Karen says plays are okay and I’m thinking some Shakespeare this year, so maybe finally King Lear or Othello. Or Henry VI or Richard III or… Or maybe Jane Austen’s Emma, because rereads for the win?
  8. Classic with a Place in the Title. Is this the year I finally read Cranford? (Why I haven’t yet, I don’t know. I love Gaskell.) Or I might reread Mansfield Park, which I’ve been itching to get to for a while.
  9. Classic with Nature in the Title. I really don’t know what I want to read here. From my shelves, there’s The Rains Came by Louis Bromfield, which I could read as part of my Reading Ohio project as well.
  10. Classic About a Family. This will be a reread of One Hundred Years of Solitude. No debate.
  11. Abandoned Classic. I don’t actually have very many books I could choose from (and I do NOT plan to read both part of Don Quixote this year, even though Part 2 would count). Most likely Ficciones, although I could also finally read The Sound and the Fury (which only got away because of too many library books; I loved what I read).
  12. Classic Adaptation. Another fun category, I’m (currently) reading Far From the Madding Crowd for this. I also plan to watch the 2015 film once I’ve finished the novel, but that’s just for fun.

Of course, 2020 is very likely to be a year of lots of Agatha Christie (I’m on a roll…). She doesn’t count for every category, but I’m sure I could hit #s 2, 3, 7, 8, and 12 just with Dame Agatha alone. Last year, I even contemplated (but did not follow through on) the possibility of completing the challenge with only classic mysteries (I think it would be doable most years, although I’ve never abandoned a mystery, so #11 would be impossible for me this year). Which leads to other tantalizing list ideas…but more on that soon.

So many possibilities, but that’s half the fun of it! But will this be the year I actually read books for every category (and more importantly, write about them)? And do you have any votes for what I should (or shouldn’t read)? Community input always makes reading more fun!

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth
Edith Wharton
1905, US

(For the spoiler-averse, this post speaks in generalities about the trajectory/end of the novel.)

There was a moment reading The House of Mirth when I suddenly realized that I knew Lily Bart. No, I don’t mean that literally, of course, nor even that I know a wealthy-born, now poor New York Society young woman. But I know someone with some of the same personal characteristics as Lily, a realization which gave me new perspective on her character, pointing to the realism in which Lily is drawn.

I began the novel at the start of December as part of a readalong hosted by Cleo of Classical Carousel (though, true to form I a) started late and b) didn’t finish the least bit on time). It is the story of Miss Lily Bart and the turn of the 19th/20th century New York (old money) society she lives in. Lily is of this society, but lacks the money to maintain herself in it, the consequences of which form much of the drama of the novel.

As I read through each section, I would check in on Cleo’s posts and the comments, noting that many people have lots of feelings about/opinions of Lily – for better or worse. And indeed, she IS a fascinating character. Is she merely naïve? Foolish? Hopelessly optimistic? Incapable of truly facing (or perhaps understanding) reality? Returning to the novel, with these comments in mind, I realized that I knew her. And recognizing that I could see some of the same characteristics—I can’t even consider them flaws, necessarily, as the context can matter so much—in someone I know in my own life, I could see that while it’s so easy as a reader to condemn Lily for her failure to learn from her mistakes, her failure to understand, her failure to make better decisions, her failure to change (or change too late), the reality is that in Lily, Wharton is portraying a personality as realistic as the early 20th century New York set Lily inhabits. Perhaps the story depends on more chance and coincidence, for better and for worse, than real life does…but perhaps not.

I also find it fascinating that the social ills of which Lily is accused are not the ones she is guilty of. This then, suggests to me that more so than condemning Lily, Wharton is condemning her social milieu. Lily hasn’t really done anything wrong in the first half of the novel. Other than be a relatively poor, unmarried woman. Her mistakes are those of not fully playing the game, and of outspending her resources. The first is truly what she is punished for as the second might be forgivable had she obeyed the unspoken rules of the first.

It strikes me that perhaps she does not really belong in the society to which she aspires—perhaps she is more like Lawrence Seldon than she believes (and perhaps the mutual attraction?). Perhaps, as her beauty (which we are reminding of unceasingly) is more refined than any other woman in high society, is Lily also too refined for high society? Certainly, there seem opportunities for Lily to turn her fortunes around, which she declines out of moral reservation. Regardless, it seems a condemnation of the double standards of the rich (or perhaps “civilized society” in general) with one set of rules for the married vs. single, for men vs. women, for rich vs. dependent. For all her flaws and mistakes, Lily seems to me as much a victim as she is a participant in her own downfall. She has never been taught to see beyond the narrow confines of her world, and when she finally sees a glimmer of hope and life beyond herself it is too late. A devastatingly beautiful story.

Many thanks to Cleo for hosting, her insightful posts, and the encouragement to read along (even though I’m always behind)!

Welcome 2020!

Happy New Year! Sitting here in NE Ohio, I know that it’s already 2020 in parts of the world – a rapidly growing list. This turn of year makes me happy; I’ve long had a fondness for even number years (and the repetition of “20” is particularly pleasing to my brain). Every new year brings with it a chance to reflect on what’s passed, an opportunity to create new plans for the path forward (that new leaf of a new year), and the hope of an unknown, blank slate. (Though in these often troubled, turbulent times, I am not blind to the reality that the new year could also usher in less optimistic options. I prefer to hope for and act to bring better.)

While we didn’t have a white Christmas this year, as I sit here typing, it seems we will have a white New Years—the snow is softly falling and cars are already covered in a fine layer. It seems appropriate; snow often brings with it a sense of newness. I look forward to curling up with a fresh new book tomorrow, starting the new year on literary note.

But what of 2019?

I had goals for the year, and although the blogging fell by the wayside, I never stopped reading.

  • I managed 29 books for the year, short of my goal of 36. Interestingly, I read 19 of those in the second half. There are various reasons why, including which books I read when, but I suspect I simply spent more time reading in the least 6 months than in the first (more time off work in the time frame helps!).
  • Seven of the books—and some of the best—I read this year, were non-fiction. This is down by (1) from 2018; I may have to reconsider my mental image of myself as “not a non-fiction reader.”
  • I also read a novel completely in Spanish for the first time ever! Sure, it was a kid’s book that I’d previously read in the original English (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, translated as Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal), but I read the entire thing and understood it, learning some new words along the way. I hope to build on this success going forward; after all there’s a small stack of books on my shelf in the original Spanish.
  • Other than that, I only read two works in translation this year—and they were also the oldest books I read, Iliad and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (Interestingly, also both poems.) Iliad I struggled with, finding it very slow, but Sir Gawain I quite enjoyed: if I hadn’t been trying feverishly to finish three other books this past week, I probably would have reread it for the Christmas season. (Which I guess technically doesn’t end until the 6th of January, so there’s still time!)
  • Both books were read for my Classics Club list, as was House of Mirth, which also doubled as one of the two readalong titles that I read. (Both hosted by Cleo of Classical Carousel.) Alas, I only just finished House of Mirth, two weeks late, and I never wrote anything (though I finished it on time) for The Four Loves (C.S. Lewis). However, regardless of my level of participation/lateness, I always find readalongs great for pushing me to read books that I might not get to otherwise.
  • Most of the books I read this year were by women: I count 20 books written or co-written by a woman and 11 written or co-written by a man. (Two books I read had a M/F author combo.) This only represents about 14 different female authors—I read a lot of books by the same authors!
  • I also read a lot of books from the past decade, including two from 2019, which skews my reading “younger” that it might typically be. This is in part because most of the nonfiction I read was from the last few years. But also because I decided to toss all other plans aside and read both sequels to Crazy Rich Asians (so much fun!) and books 2-4 of the Comeron Strike series (when’s the next one out?!). Unsurprisingly, mysteries turned out to be the second-largest category for my reading this year (six), after non-fiction.
  • Although the bulk of my reading was by US authors—far and away, with 16 different writers—I did travel  a bit, with books set in Canada; Ancient Troy (Turkey); Scotland; London; as well as hotspot hopping with the characters of China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems, most notably Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

In the end, I finished the year with several new favorites (listed in order read):

  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – Anonymous – I really need to read more Medieval lit.
  • Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates – which as Toni Morrison is quoted as saying, should be required reading. I want to read more of Coates’ writing.
  • The Comoran Strike series – Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) – I simply enjoy these so much.
  • How to Do Nothing – Jenny Odell – A very thought-provoking extended meditation on resisting the “attention economy” of social and traditional media.
  • The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton – it took me a while to get into it, but definitely a finely drawn portrait of a specific time and social milieu.

What I did NOT do this year was complete any of my challenges/goals. Only three books for Adam’s TBR Challenge and five for Karen’s Back to the Classics Challenge. And the only book I posted about at all for either was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Oops.

So what does this all mean for 2020?

Just keep reading. Specifically, average 5 hours of reading time a week. (It doesn’t sound like a lot when you know a week is 168 hours, but based on everything else on my schedule, is realistic. And better than nothing.) And write about anything I might read for Classics Club or readalongs.

That’s it. My only hard and fast goal/challenge for 2020.

Sure, I have other ideas of what I might read. Tentative plans. More mysteries. Some Shakespeare, I think. Some books I’d like to clear off my shelves. And of course, I’d like to join in on readalongs that catch my eye:

  • Cleo has a The Odyssey readalong planned for April-May.
  • I’m also tempted by a March-April readalong of One Hundred Years of Solitude planned by Ruth and Silvia (it would be a reread, if I join in).
  • Richard is hosting “Argentine Literature of Doom,” which fortunately just means read something Argentinian (see his post for the “doom” explanation). I’m planning to join in so that I finally read Jorge Luis Borge’s Ficciones (in English).

I’ve also signed up for Erica’s Reading Classics Books Challenge, but it’s designed to be low-stress and fun, so honestly, I’m hoping it acts more as a way to choose which book I’m reading next rather than a challenge to conquer. The first book for it will be my Classics Club spin title, Far from the Madding Crowd.

But as the old year turns to new, I’ll be starting here, with a small library stack tying in to my 2019 reading – more mysteries and non-fiction. A good place to start, I think.

What are your 2020 plans?