2019 TBR Challenge

Have I ever mentioned how many times I have tried and failed to complete a TBR challenge? I actually got off to a really good start last year and then let my attention wander… But having an official TBR list, as Adam requires really is very beneficial in getting me to read books I’ve been “meaning to get to.” Of course, this year, I realized that I not only had too many books on the TBR stack, but too many of those I want to read NOW. Or otherwise fit in with my intentions for 2019 reading. Meaning, it turned into a very lengthy process, relatively speaking, to narrow my list down to 12 books + 2 alternates. I had some very heated arguments with myself, let me tell you! 🙂

Listed from shortest book to tallest (seems a reasonable order, right?), with two alternates at the end.

2019 TBR Challenge PileThe list

1) Three Exemplary Novels (Miguel de Cervantes)

Some short fiction (the three together are less than 200 pages) from Spain’s golden age that’s been on my shelf since high school. Shouldn’t be too hard, except…my copy’s in Spanish! At least it’s a version meant for students, so there are end notes for the more tricky translations.

2) The Man Who Was Thursday (G.K. Chesterton)

I don’t know much about this one, but I was struck by the whim to pull it off the shelf and include. I believe it’s a bit of a thriller?

3) An Acceptable Time (Madeleine L’Engle)

A holdover from last year’s list, the is the only title left for me in the Time Quintet. (Well, except Many Waters, but see “Rejects” below.)

4) Njal’s Saga (Anonymous) and 5) The Nibelungenlied (Anonymous)

I have been struck by the desire to read some of the books that may have influenced J.R.R. Tolkien. These happen to be the two already on my shelf (and have been there for a while). Looking forward to these, rather.

6) The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories (Leo Tolstoy)

Will this be the year I finally read Russian lit? I’m especially looking forward to Hadji Murat, which I’ve read some really good things about.

7) Ficciones (Jorge Luis Borges)

I started this story collection quite a few years back, but only finished a couple. I was inspired to include it on this year’s list when I saw a copy on a coworker’s desk recently.

8) Cranford (Elizabeth Gaskell)

An alternate from last year; this year, really, I’m going to read it! (Please ignore how many years I’ve been saying that.)

9) The Farm (Louis Bromfield)

On last year’s list, and I sadly never read more than two or three pages. A classic by an Ohio-native author, I’ve been wanting to read this since I started my Ohio reading project a few years back, but somehow other Ohioans kept jumping ahead.

10) 2666 (Roberto Bolaño)

I almost started this in the spring of 2018, but other books popped in ahead. This year.

11) The Aeneid (Virgil)

Somehow, it seems as if this needs to be read the same year I try out Nordic lit. Not sure why.

12) The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner)

Why haven’t I read this yet?! I’d previously started it. Loved what I read. And it got re-lost on my bookshelf when something else sneaked in ahead of it. It was on my 2018 list, but unfortunately  nothing about that changed in 2018, so here’s hoping 2019’s the year.

Alternates:

Considering how difficult it was to choose my fourteen books, picking which two were only alternates was rather easy. Of course, I’m hoping to read these on top of all the above 12. What’s life without a little over-ambition?!

13) The House of Mirth (Edith Wharton)

I’ve heard so many good things about this one! However, someone had to be an alternate.

14) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Jane Austen + Seth Grahme-Smith)

Truthfully, while I do want to get this read, it’s mostly here to provide a light-weight alternate just in case (ha! guaranteed, pretty much…) my ambitious plans above go awry.

Rejects

(AKA, I’m intend to read these in 2019 anyways, but someone couldn’t make first string.)

2019 TBR Pile "Rejects" - Beowulf, Many Waters, Iliad

A) Beowulf (Anonymous, J.R.R. Tolkien translation)

Technically, a reread (of Beowulf, not this particular translation), so I’m thinking it wouldn’t have qualified under the no rereads rule.

B) Many Waters (Madeleine L’Engle)

Another reread, one I’d hoped to finish in 2018. Ah well, best laid plans. January?

C) The Iliad (Homer)

This one was sooooo close to making the official list – since I’m “supposed” to read it for the current Classics Club spin by the end of the January. But when  I was picking my books, there was still the off chance that I would get started in December…that and someone had to miss the cut.

I’ve seen plenty of other lists around, so I know I’m in good company. Good luck and happy reading!

My official participation page.

Completed: The Warden

Cover: The Warden by Anthony TrollopeThe Warden
Anthony Trollope
1855, England

So, The Warden is my first Anthony Trollope. It won’t be my last Trollope, I hasten to add (if nothing else, Barchester Towers is sitting on my shelves, waiting patiently), though there were times when The Warden itself, slim as it is, felt a bit of a slog to get through. (Though other chapters just flew by.) It has certainly been one of several books recently instructing me in how to read – that necessity of letting the novel lead the dance, not the reader.

The party went off as such parties do: there were fat old ladies in fine silk dresses, and slim young ladies in gauzy muslin frocks; old gentlemen stood up with their backs to the empty fireplace, looking by no means so comfortable as they would have done in their own armchairs at home; and young gentlemen, rather stiff about the neck, clustered near the door, not as yet sufficiently in courage to attach the muslin frocks, who awaited the battle, drawn up in a semicircular array. The warden endeavoured to induce a charge, but failed signally, not having the tact of a general: his daughter did what she could to comfort the forces under her command, who took in refreshing rations of cake a tea, and patiently looked for the coming engagement: but she herself, Eleanor, had no spirit for the work; the only enemy whose lance she cared to encounter was not there, and she and others were somewhat dull. (Chapter 6, “The Warden’s Tea Party”)

The plot of The Warden is simple enough: Dr. John Bold, suitor to the daughter of Warden Rev. Septimus Harding, questions publicly the legality of the current division of the revenues of the estate of John Hiram, whose will, many years since, set up an almshouse for up to twelve poor elderly men of Barchester and also funding for the position of Warden to oversee the almshouse. The question at hand–does the warden have the right to a full 800 pounds a year currently received while the men only have one shilling and fourpence a day, plus lodging? This is the question that instigates the action, and how the various involved parties react is the substance of the novel.

And there are a number of parties involved. In addition to John Bold and Septimus Harding, there are his daughter Eleanor; his friend, the elderly Bishop Grantly; his elder daughter Susan and her husband, the imperious Archdeacon Grantly. The current bedesmen, recipients of the charity, are of course deeply concerned in the matter, with some, visions of riches dancing in their heads, dreaming of the success of Bold’s inquiry, while others, acknowledging the friendship and generosity of Harding, support him to the end. While the stakes most directly concern the bedesmen and Rev. Harding, Archdeacon Grantly can see only how such inquiries might damage the Church, in direct contrast to Rev. Harding’s concern with being in the right, a concern the Archdeacon cannot seem to grasp.

The Warden thus becomes an interesting character study and an investigation of human nature. The motivations and perspectives of those involved are examined and explained; there is no guesswork as to why anyone acts or doesn’t act in a certain manner. And given the feelings of these parties, the conclusion comes as no surprise–it seems that the resolution to the problem at hand could be none other than what is presented, for any person involved could not behave in any other manner.

Although this novel proved a bit of work on my part, it was a rewarding sort of work, and I look forward to further Trollope. Though, perhaps after a dose of something less concerned with 19th century church politics!

I read The Warden for both Back to the Classics 2018 and the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge.

Completed: The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes

Cover: The Case Book of Sherlock HolmesThe Case Book of Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Scotland, 1927

Earlier this year, several years after beginning my journey through the complete Sherlock Holmes, I finally finished reading the last collection of stories, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. (Thank you, 2018 TBR Challenge!) Although an earlier story, “His Last Bow,” is chronologically the last Holmes story (by Doyle at least), the twelve stories in The Case Book are the last of the Holmes stories actually written by Doyle, and were all originally published in The Strand Magazine between October 1921 and April 1927.

It was my impression while reading–and a quick Internet search seems to bear this up–that these stories are not among Doyle’s best work. (Indeed, there are those who think some of the stories weren’t written by Doyle at all!*) To me it almost felt like Doyle was “phoning it in,” that his heart was no longer into the writing of Holmes stories, that he was wanting to let Holmes retire to his beekeeping in peace. [Aside…if BBC/WGBH ever resume the Sherlock series, I wonder if they might choose to eventually retire Sherlock to beekeeping–or what they might decide the 21st century equivalent is?] And as I write these notes up a few weeks after finishing the stories, I realize that I don’t really remember them. (Fortunately I have a copy on hand to flip through.) They just didn’t really strike a deep impression, not even a story with such a sensational title as “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire,” which of course, being a true Holmes story ended sensibly enough with a perfectly logical explanation. “The Adventure of the Creeping Man,” on the other hand, which begins to come back to me now, bordered on science-fiction–perhaps we see here the influence of Doyle’s own Professor Challenger stories?

Although some seemed typical Holmes stories–after a while, you begin to develop a feel for the rhythm of the tales–there was also some divergence from the pattern. One story, “The Adventure of the Mazarin Man,” is written in the third person. Holmes himself narrates “The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier” and “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane,” which gives the reader an entirely different feel that Watson’s narration. This variation is not necessarily bad, but it certainly strikes a different feel from the “typical” story.

All in all, the collection proved a brief entertainment, but unremarkable. I am sure I will revisit Holmes at some point, though I feel it more likely to be among the earlier stories and novels.

This collection was read as part of my 2018 TBR Challenge list, part of my Mysteries and Detective Fiction project list and for the 20th Century Title for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge. I call that multi-tasking!

* For example, the Wikipedia Article quotes Kyle Freeman from his Introduction to The Complete Sherlock Holmes as doubting the authorship of “The Mazarin Stone” and “The Three Gables.”

Completed: Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Cover: Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon by Jane AustenLady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon
Jane Austen
(England, c. 1794-1818)

It is a pity that Austen didn’t live to complete her final novel.

Although I picked Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon off my shelves intending just to read Lady Susan, which was completed, though unpublished in Austen’s lifetime, in the end I decided to reread the two unfinished novels as well.

The first time I read this collection, I was disappointed primarily that The Watsons was left hanging–Emma’s story held so much interest to me. But coming at it years later, I realized that there are so many elements of The Watsons in her other novels that the plot seems anticipatable by inference, while on the other hand Sanditon appears to have just enough variation from Austen’s “norm” that it tantalizes with a world of possibilities of what might have been. While I would assume the marriage plot elements of her complete novels would be present, there’s little enough of the novel (though ever so much more than The Watsons) that I can’t say for sure who would end with who, though I may make some guesses. Nor, perhaps more importantly, can I be sure of which characters will see growth–for there are plenty of silly, or perhaps in the case of Sir Edward, dangerous, characters. Will Arthur Parker remain indolent or will a pretty girl prompt him to action? Will Sir Edward remain on his path of intrigue, or will rejection strike sense into him? (Doesn’t seem likely.) And perhaps the biggest question of all: Will Sanditon see success as a holiday town, or was part of Austen’s satire to be its failure, or even just indifference? All such questions must remain only in speculation, alas (though there seems to be no shortage of continuations by other authors).

Lady Susan, on the other hand, is very much finished. According to the introduction in my copy, Austen had even written it out in a fair copy, but did not submit it for publication, perhaps because she was unsatisfied with the epistolary style. While the style leads to a quick read, it does place limitations on how much of the story we can see –for only that which can be told in a letter can be portrayed.

There is exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person pre-determined to dislike, acknowledge one’s superiority. (Letter 7, Lady Susan to Mrs. Johnson)

Lady Susan herself is a frequent contributor to these letters. A widow with a teenage daughter, it seems plain that her ambitions are to get her daughter out of the way–by way of a wealthy husband, if at all possible–and to perhaps make a new match for herself, or at least to divert herself a while until she can, perhaps, resume her affair with a married man. She is clearly a clever woman, and one with much spirit, who seeks her own amusement and entertainment, feeling little true sympathy for others. Although at times one may wonder if she is not unfairly treated by her times and society, limiting as it is with its expectations of “proper” female behavior and the limited opportunities for female advancement or even survival, Lady Susan’s own letters give her away as unfeeling towards her own daughter and cavalierly toying with the emotions of men in pursuit of her own motives. She cares not if she breaks hearts or tempts a man away from his relationship with another woman (though perhaps, in at least one case, this will be better in the long term for the young woman in question). Despite the limitations of the form, there is still enough here to form quite an entire picture of the Lady.

Lady Susan is by no means Austen at her finest, but it is an early example of her keen observation of society around her and remains entertaining for all its brevity. It formed the basis for the 2016 film Love & Friendship, a film I have yet to see but which I eagerly look forward to watching.

I read Lady Susan as part of the 2018 TBR Challenge, for “A Classic by a Woman Author” for the 2018 Back to the Classics Challenge, and for my Classics Club list.

2018 TBR Challenge

This year I’ll read these. No really, I mean it this time.

Ha! I always have such great reading plans, and usually derail somewhere along the way. But I also have so many books on my shelves I really do want to read (or finally get around to rereading). And it’s always tempting to sign up for TBR challenges, although I’ve yet to successfully complete one.

Adam’s (Roof Beam Reader) is both the most tempting to me (only twelve books!) and most difficult (but I have to pick them in advance!). Especially keeping in mind that twelve books is often about half of my reading for a year. (Too many interests, too little time…) It really took me a long time to decide to attempt the 2018 TBR challenge for this very reason–I’ve learned from experience that I need to have flexibility in my reading plans so that I can either follow a thread of interest (2017’s Beauty and the Beast rabbit hole for example) or impromptu join in a reading event. But the longer I thought about it, the longer my “I intend to read this next year anyways” list grew…so here we go!

Time Quintet by Madelene L'Engle
1. A Wrinkle in Time
2. A Wind in the Door
3. A Swiftly Tilting Planet
4. Many Waters
5. An Acceptable Time

I’ve already said that I intend to read a lot of Madeleine L’Engle next year, and I’m definitely starting with A Wrinkle in Time. The whole Time Quintet box set has been sitting on my shelves too long unread, so this year–regardless of what else may happen with this list–I WILL read these!

Cover: Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon by Jane Austen (Penguin Classics)6. Lady Susan

I picked this up to read in October, and it didn’t happen, but it still sits patiently on my TBR pile. (I might even read the starts of Sanditon and The Watsons too, but it’s a bit of a letdown to read an unfinished story, so perhaps not.)

Cover: The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle7. The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes

This is the last Holmes book I have to read and I had intended to in 2017, so…it’s time.

Cover: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke8. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

This has been on my shelf forever. I’m sure I’ll like it. I don’t know why I haven’t picked it up; mostly I think I forget I have it. Let’s make 2018 the year!

Cover: The Farm by Louis Bromfield9. The Farm

A classic by an Ohio-native author, I’ve been wanting to read this since I started my Ohio reading project a few years back, but somehow other Ohioans kept jumping ahead. If I get this read, I’ll have to make a field-trip to Bromfield’s Malibar Farm, too.

Cover: The Warden by Anthony Trollope10. The Warden

I’ve never read any Trollope, though I’ve watched any number of TV mini-series adaptations of his novels. I’ve been itching to get back to Victorian writers, and this seems a good place to start.

Cover: The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay11. The Secret of Lost Things

One of a small number of books in the “get it read so you can (likely) get rid of it” pile – I’ve been trying to read and relocate at least one a year (in 2017 it was ‘Salem’s Lot which has been passed on to my brother), and 2018 is The Secret of Lost Things‘ year.

Cover: The Sound and Fury by William Faulkner12. The Sound and the Fury

I started this. Loved what I read. And it got re-lost on my bookshelf when something else snuck in ahead of it. Not this year!

Alternates:

It was hard to decide which two books to list as alternates instead of on the main list, but here’s another two Victorians that I’ve had around for years and put on so many to-read-this-year lists it’s not even funny. Actually I’m hoping to read these on top of all the above 12. What’s life without a little over-ambition?!

Cover: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins13. The Woman in White

Cover: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell14. Cranford

 

I’ve seen plenty of other lists around, so I know I’m in good company. Good luck and happy reading!

My official participation page.