Joining in on TBR 2022

In his book–really more an extended essay–The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Alan Jacobs writes something to the effect that adding books to a list makes him less inclined to read them. It’s a feeling I’ve come up against myself, though I love a list. No matter how carefully the list or the plan, no matter whether it’s a list of my own making or someone else’s, there’s something about the sense of obligation–or maybe just the relative lack of freedom as compared to all the other book possibilities that can take the sparkle out of a previously enticing title. Ah, human nature.

Or in other words, no matter how much thought I’ve put into this list, instead of presenting my 2022 TBR plans for Adam’s challenge, I’m likely presenting my 2022 won’t actually read. In fact, as I sit here typing, I can spy a slim title peaking out at me saying, “Don’t you want ME on your TBR instead…?” But the photo is already taken, and I have finally resolved within myself to sign up, in hopes of practicing some measure of self-discipline this year, however slight it might be. After all, though all of these books have been on MY book shelves plenty long enough to qualify for the challenge, not all of them are, umm, actually mine.

2022, let’s see what we can do, shall we?

Stack of books for TBC challenge

In no particular order:

  1. The Female Quixote (Charlotte Lennox) – I’m pretty sure this one has been on my book shelves, unread, longer than any other book I won. (I’ve had other books longer, they’ve just been already read.)
  2. The Three Theban Plays (Sophocles) – A higher probability of reading this than most of the others, simply because I’d like to participate in the Greek plays readalong over at Wuthering Expectations (which I’m behind on thanks to a different book commitment, but I’m hoping–planning–to catch up within the week. The best laid plans, though…)
  3. The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway) – I’ve never read any Hemingway, and after watching the Ken Burns documentary last year, it’s about time.
  4. Atonement (Ian McEwan) – I started this about when the film adaptation was in the theaters (haven’t seen that either), but never got very far.
  5. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov) – The title most likely to get read, simply because it’s the April selection for the local classic literature book club I joined in November. Otherwise, to be honest, it probably wouldn’t have made the list this year.
  6. Loving Frank (Nancy Horan),
  7. Britt-Marie Was Here (Fredrick Backman), and
  8. My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry (Fredrick Backman) – a trio of books that my aunt thought I might like to read. I think she may have actually been culling her own shelves and doesn’t care about getting them back, but it’s been a few years, so. Oops.
  9. The Farm (Louis Bromfield). Yes, I know, you’re tired of me putting this on my lists every year. But maybe this year.
  10. The Chimes (Charles Dickens) – Technically, I’m only planning on reading one of the selections in this volume during the December holiday season (I reread the first included novella, A Christmas Carol, last December). I reason that’s acceptable as it was originally written as a standalone.
  11. Enter Jeeves (P.D. Wodehouse) – Take everything above back; I’m really tempted to drop all other reading plans right now and just read this. (It’s been too long since I’ve read any Wodehouse.)
  12. The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner) – It’s also been too long since I’ve read any Faulkner. It doesn’t seem to be a common book blogging opinion to actually like his novels these days, but I have high hopes after my experience with As I Lay Dying.

Alternates

  1. The Secret Agent (Joseph Conrad) – This is my brother’s & I’m pretty sure he doesn’t remember I have it. I’ve never read Conrad, but it sounds intriguing.
  2. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) – I started this in high school, browsing the family shelves one afternoon. I shouldn’t have started it because I had other things to do (silly things like homework and books I was supposed to be reading for class), so I didn’t ever finish it, and remember very little.

So, the 2022 list of books I won’t likely read – any I should make an exception for and actually pick up? 🙂

(Official list link.)

Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Cover: Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Penguin cloth bound edition)Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Thomas Hardy
England, 1891

I can’t believe tomorrow’s the first of April already. I really don’t know where the first three months of this year have gone (although I can tell you that they were cold, gloomy, but fortunately with not too much snow). But I’ve barely read anything–judging by the number of books finished so far. Hopefully the arrival of spring (err…off-and-on–it snowed last night, just a dusting) will prompt more reading?

Some of it could be what I’m reading, too. I’ve been attempting to read the first Harry Potter novel in Spanish, which is, of course, much slower going for me than it’s English counterpart. (But I’ve been learning, too: I didn’t know there were two words in Spanish for where we would say ‘owl’ – and they apparently mean different owls!) And I’ve been oh-so-slowly making my way through The Iliad–it’s simply proving a slow read for me, much the way Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and Tess of the D’Urbervilles were for me last year.

I’ve seen a number of articles/listened to a number of stories about how the Internet has changed the way we read—that people don’t sit and read for long periods of time, that our eyes and minds wander, that we don’t think as deeply. I’m beginning to wonder if that mightn’t be true for me—it certainly took long enough for me to read Tess of the D’Urbervilles: nearly five months, and it’s only 398 pages in my copy. Nor do I remember such difficulties finishing classics when I was in high school (including reading Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge), before I had ready access to the Internet and its distracting influences. Of course there’s also option b, which came to me the other night as I was shifting in my reading chair yet again: in high school I could sit for hours on end in one position before I noticed a crick in the neck or a stiffness of the back. No such luck today!

But to Tess itself.

I believe it to be one of Hardy’s better known novels; it is the story of an initially naïve young woman (barely more than a girl at the start) and the trials of her life, starting from the time an amateur historian misguidedly informs her father that he believes the family of descended from the ancient D’Urberville line. It spans a number of years, and both highs and lows, but all following along a trajectory that is seemingly determined for Tess–though the narration makes clear several “if-only” moments–from the moment her father learns of his grand ancestry.

There is so much to unpack in the novel, and the more I think on it, the more I am convinced that it needs, if not more than one reading, at least a closer reading than I gave it. There is the analysis of character: of how Tess differs from her family and companions and so suffers in ways they might not, of how Angel Clare succumbs to a morality that seems at odds with his stated religious views and which Hardy apparently condemns, and so causes further suffering to Tess and pain to himself. It is a pastoral novel, and setting and scene undoubtedly play an important part in the atmosphere and the experience of reading the novel, but reading superficially as I did, I miss any significance, any connection to plot or revelation of character.

And most interestingly to me on this first read (I feel as if I will someday be pulled back), there is Hardy’s social criticism. I recently read Wilkie Collins’ suspense-thriller The Woman in White, and am fascinated that these two well-remembered Victorian male writers seemed to have the same criticisms for the institution of marriage and the suffering of women at the hands of men. They were not of a time that the 21st reader might think of as progressive, and yet it is clear that they were observers and critiquers of the social ills that British Victorian ease and prosperity did not alleviate or prevent. (And now my brain seeks to go down a rabbit hole – thinking of Dickens and Gaskell as well – and these are only the authors I’ve read; I imagine there are others.) This illustrates the attraction of literature for the acute observer of society, but what I find most fascinating is the idea that these books, critical of their times as they were, are the ones that survive. Is it the condition of great literature that it illumines our greatest flaws, individually and socially?

I found it hard to enjoy Tess–even for a reader who is better equipped to enjoy the prose and the pacing of the story than I am, it is perhaps difficult to say “enjoy” of an ultimately tragic novel–but as I think over it more, I find myself drawn back, in a way. There will certainly be more Thomas Hardy in my reading future. I only hope I can do him more justice going forward.

Christmas Carol

Christmas 2016 - the Old Gatehouse in the Snow

Ring out, ye bells!
All Nature swells
With gladness at the wondrous story,—
The world was lorn,
But Christ is born
To change our sadness into glory.

Sing, earthlings, sing!
To-night a King
Hath come from heaven’s high throne to bless us.
The outstretched hand
O’er all the land
Is raised in pity to caress us.

Come at his call;
Be joyful all;
Away with mourning and with sadness!
The heavenly choir
With holy fire
Their voices raise in songs of gladness.

The darkness breaks
And Dawn awakes,
Her cheeks suffused with youthful blushes.
The rocks and stones
In holy tones
Are singing sweeter than the thrushes.

Then why should we
In silence be,
When Nature lends her voice to praises;
When heaven and earth
Proclaim the truth
Of Him for whom that lone star blazes?

No, be not still,
But with a will
Strike all your harps and set them ringing;
On hill and heath
Let every breath
Throw all its power into singing!

“Christmas Carol” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1913)

Completed: Anne of Avonlea

April has been called the “cruelest month,” and certainly I often find it hard to get through–the weather just can’t seem to quite settle into spring. Or even quite make its mind up what it’s doing – I woke this morning to snow coating the ground, flowers and all, but by mid-afternoon it was mostly melted, the the flowers that seemed a bit crushed just this morning were jubilantly celebrating the arrival of warmer weather once again.

Of course, this year I have a month full of children’s classics to cheer me whenever the leftover winter sneaks back in. My first post is really a cheat – I read this back in the fall of 2015, but haven’t managed to post before now. I’m in the middle of several other books at once, but with any luck should have my first “proper” read for the month done and posted on this week.

 Cover - Anne of AvonleaAnne of Avonlea
L.M. Montgomery
Canada, 1909

I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people know more…though I know that is the noblest ambition…but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me…to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.” (ch 7)

One of the things I find Montgomery does so well with her Anne books is the ways in which she shows Anne growing up. It is a gradual thing, fits and bursts, but over the course of the eight novels in the series, we see Anne changing, naturally, as a real girl/young woman would do.

Anne of Avonlea is the second Anne book, and so she is still young—especially by today’s standards; she is only 16 and yet a school teacher. Mind boggling! There is still very much the child about her, with her fancies and whims, and with the “scrapes” she still manages to get into. The images of Anne and Diana chasing down the cow in the neighbor’s field or of Anne sticking through the Copps’s shed roof are indelible. Yet Anne also holds much more responsibility than she did in Green Gables; not only is she a school teacher, but she is assisting Marilla in the care of twins, Davy and Dora, and Davy’s inquisitive nature and knack for trouble keep both Anne and Marilla quite occupied.

Past the spruces the lane dipped down into a sunny little open where a log bridge spanned a brook; and then came the glory of a sunlit beechwood where the air was like transparent golden wine, and the leaves fresh and green, and the wood floor a mosaic of tremulous sunshine. Then more wild cherries, and a little valley of lissome firs, and then a hill so steep that the girls lost their breath climbing it; but when they reached the top and came out into the open the prettiest surprise of all awaited them.

Beyond were the “back fields’ of the farms that ran out to the upper Carmody road. Just before them, hemmed in by beeches and firs but open to the south, was a little corner and in it a garden…or what had once been a garden. A tumbledown stone dyke, overgrown with mosses and grass, surrounded it. Along the eastern side ran a row of garden cherry trees, white as a snowdrift. There were traces of old paths still and a double line of rosebushes through the middle; but all the rest of the space was a sheet of yellow and white narcissi, in their airiest, most lavish, wind-swayed bloom above the lush green grasses. (ch 13)

Now that Anne is older, the scope of the story stretches wider. No longer are we confined to Green Gables, the Barry Farm, and the school yard. New locations, new stories, new friends come to Anne. The little garden of Hester Gray, whose tragic story and garden are catnip for the romantic Anne. Echo Lodge, with its charming inhabitants Miss Lavendar and Charlotta the Fourth, and Miss Lavendar’s own broken romance. But here too are introduced notes of melancholy, not just the fate of Hester, but the loneliness and sense of loss suffered by Miss Lavendar.

I’m just tired of everything…even of the echoes. There is nothing in my life but echoes…echoes of lost hopes and dreams and joys. They’re beautiful and mocking. Oh Anne, it’s horrid of me to talk like this when I have company. It’s just that I’m getting old and it doesn’t agree with me. I know I’ll be fearfully cranky by the time I’m sixty.” (ch 27, Miss Lavendar)

It is striking to read this note sadness in what has otherwise to this point been a mostly happy and optimistic series, not without tragedy altogether, of course, but this scene reminds us: growing up means dealing with gray days as well as sunny ones.

Indeed, I am perhaps most impressed with the way Montgomery imparts life lessons gently, without bopping us over the head. They are the natural resultant of a girl growing up and learning them for herself. We learn them with her, or are reminded of those we have already learned, perhaps all too well. But in the end, just as Anne herself, Anne of Avonlea remains an upbeat story. No matter the crises, we may always remember that “this too shall pass.”

That’s the worst…or the best…of real life, Anne. It won’t let you be miserable. It keeps on trying to make you comfortable…and succeeding…even when you’re determined to be unhappy and romantic.” (ch 23, Miss Lavendar)

Look, do you see that poem?” she said suddenly, pointing.
“Where?” Jane and Diana stared, as if expecting to see Runic rhymes on the birch trees.
“There…down in the brook…that old green, mossy log with the water flowing over it in those smooth ripples that look as if they’d been combed, and that single shaft of sunshine falling right athwart it, far down into the pool. Oh, it’s the most beautiful poem I ever saw.”
“I should rather call it a picture,” said Jane. “A poem is lines and verses.”
“Oh dear me, no.” Anne shook her head with its fluffy wild cherry coronal positively. “The lines and verses are only the outward garments of the poem and are no more really it than your Ruffles and flounces are you Jane. The real poem is the soul within them…and that beautiful bit is the soul of an unwritten poem. It is not every day one sees a soul…even of a poem.” (ch 13)

That’s a lovely idea, Diana,” said Anne enthusiastically. “Living so that you beautify your name, even if it wasn’t beautiful to begin with…making it stand in people’s thoughts for something so lovely and pleasant that they never think of it by itself. Thank you, Diana.” (ch 21)

(Ellipses in all quotes from the original.)

Looking Back, Looking Forward (Yet Again)

JANUS  (from Vatican Collection)Photo Credit

I’ve used this photo before, but it seems so appropriate to this time of year. January is well named, indeed!

It’s been an interesting year, and in many ways an unexpected year. I had no expectation at the start of the year that I would finally have a new job, especially quite so quickly or easily. And it’s proven to be a wonderful place to work. The only downside remains the drive, but I’m sort of used to it. At least it’s a pretty one.

There have been some not-so-great parts of the year in terms of friends and family health issues, but we are all thankful for what we have, and for those who are still with us. And hopefully 2014 will be better–my mom has this crackpot theory that even-numbered years are better than odd-numbered! (Not to mention, any year not ending in ’13’ has to be an improvement… 😉 )

As far as reading, I can assess my year a bit quantitatively. I made a list of goals last year–more as guidelines than anything I actually expected to meet. However, I feel like I did pretty well, especially considering I hadn’t expected a job that would take up so much time!

  • I aimed for 26 books read–I only made 21, (err…20, one of those was a short story), but I’m in the middle of three.
  • I didn’t manage to read a book in Spanish. Alas. But I read a few pages, was surprised at how relatively easy it was (vs. my expectations), and I’ve been working on bringing back my Spanish vocab outside of reading. I’d make the same goal for 2014, except I don’t think I’ll have time. But I’m going to keep poking away at the general vocab.
  • I successfully completed not one but two challenges in their appropriate time-frame! The first was Venice in February, the second Austen in August.
  • I didn’t manage a book for all of my project lists, but I did make it through two from both Sensation! and Mysteries & Detective Fiction and a play from Shakespeare & Co. I’m also partway through Mansfield Park, which is on Realists and Romantics.
  • My non-bookish project finishing goal–major fail. I only finished two projects in my basket. I’m not worried about that, though. I’ve decided I’d rather just take my time and finish as I get to things. More relaxing that way.
  • And an even worse failure: my Cinematic Treasures project. I didn’t watch a thing. I didn’t watch too many films at all in 2013, actually.
  • I only read 6 books from my Classics Club list. No, wait–I read SIX books from my Classics Club list! Four of those would be in my top reads for the year…
  • And I only managed two books from Adam’s 2013 TBR Challenge. I guess I didn’t do a very good job of selecting books I would actually read this year. I’d say that this means there’s a reason these books are still unread, but actually it doesn’t. I have a very loooooong list of books to read.

Now, as to what I did read. Two themes seem to have unexpectedly crept into my 2013 reading: YA fiction and fiction touching on social (specifically economic) issues. Neither was planned, but interestingly they overlap rather well. Perhaps what this actually means is that economics (and poverty) have such a great impact that much of fiction touches on it in some manner, and I just happened to notice it this year. The poverty and desperation of District 12 that shaped Katniss’s actions in The Hunger Games and the popular uprising across the series. The proud poverty of the Bundren clan in As I Lay Dying. The uncomfortable truths of how poverty and wealth shape our interactions in The Casual Vacancy. Even in Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves, books ostensibly more about fantasy-adventure-romance than economics, venture into this territory with one character trying desperately to escape poverty on his own terms and another uneasy with his one wealth, conscious of the separation it can create between him and others.

Of course, there were other books as well–mysteries, children’s classics a couple non-fiction titles. Glancing down the list I seem to have read about evenly books by female and male authors (helps when one reads a series by a woman). Not a single book was in translation, however, as every book completed was either from the U.S. or Britain (and one I’m in the middle of from Canada). Assuming I actually read the Tolstoy I’m planning on, that will be improved next year!

As for my top reads for the year–a nebulous concept made up more of enjoyment and whim than anything–other than the first, in no particular order:

  • As I Lay Dying – while not my most enjoyable read, definitely the best book I read all year.
  • Little Women, Part 1 – A promising start to the year, a delightful return to childhood .
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles – I enjoyed it so much that I’m already contemplating a reread
  • The Casual Vacancy – For what it made me think about, and how it directed my thoughts on many of the other books I read this year
  • The Raven Boys & The Dream Thieves – The two books I most purely enjoyed this year. As book bloggers I think we can sometimes get caught up in reading to find something to blog about that we may forget that sometimes a book is just something to be enjoyed. Also, now I want to read mythologies from the British Isles and reread Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series…maybe 2015?

And what of next year? I know enough to know that I really can’t say. My goals aren’t so rigorous as last year; I have joined only one challenge. But such as they are:

  • To participate in The Classics Club’s Jan. 4th readathon–a fun way to start of the reading year.
  • To have fun reading as many children’s classics as possible in January. The must-read is The Wizard of Oz, but I should also a least have a post on Anne of Green Gables and a book with an Ohio link.  (It’s a tease–I’m not going to tell you what yet!)
  • An Ohio link because once February rolls around, it will be all mostly Ohio-based reads (authors from Ohio, either living in or grew up in) for a good stretch of time. I won’t post a list, but I have several “definites” I would like to get to. Some of these may even tie into The Classics Club’s Twelve Months of Classic Literature, but I’m not going to force it.
  • Actually manage a book in translation (downside of the Ohio project: it’s ALL from English) by reading something for o’s Russian Literature 2014. That book of Tolstoy  stories I showed off in the last post? Purchased just for this challenge.
  • If I have time, and I’m not still immersed in Ohio-lit, join Richard in reading Don Quixote at the end of the year.
  • I’d still like to make some sort of return to the Cinematic Treasures project. I actually did create a little bit of a plan last year that I could go with, or I might just continue with the Ohio theme and go that direction–to give you a hint what that might mean, I’m currently sitting about 20 minutes away from Lillian Gish Drive. I’m not going to aim for a particular number, however.

And that’s almost it. 2014 is to be the year of low-key, no pressure reading. I’m over self-created non-necessary deadlines. It’s not worth the artificial stress. Hopefully, this won’t mean I go so low-pressure I don’t get anything read–I’d still like to average about two books a month, so I guess that’s a background goal!

But one last project before wA Year of Masterworkse go. A fun one, I hope. Not one I may blog much about–for I’m not sure I’ll have much, if anything to say. But I have a Photoshop habit, so I created a button. I’ve been wanting lately to become better acquainted with Western Art Music–or classical music of the Western culture–my “Understanding Music” textbook in school used the former term as being more accurate. I have a decent familiarity with most of these already, actually, thanks not only to the above-mentioned course, but also years of piano lessons  and growing up in a house that listened to a lot of classical music. I’ve been to quite a few symphony concerts and have a decent classical CD collection. But I don’t feel I know it as well as I should like. So I’ve decided that 2014 shall be the year of deeper exploration. Get to know the pieces that are familiar in sound by name. Listen to some of the best recordings. Learn more about their histories and their composers. Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to listen to just about anything. And thanks to my long commute, I have plenty of time to listen to anything I can download. To save myself time, I’ll be using The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection as my primary resource in selecting works to “meet,” going through each section in chronological order. This will be a background project, but I hope a fun one.

And with the goals finished, the old year fast fleeing, I wish you a Happy New Year! Welcome 2014!