eclectic reader challenge 2014

In 2013 I gave the Eclectic Reader Challenge a shot, and just like the TBR Pile Challenge, I didn’t quite make it through—I read 8 of the 12 (67%). I was hesitant at first to join this one again, but I still have quite a few books on my unread shelf that I’d like to knock down, and it was a lot of fun anyway to participate. Here goes nothing!

The 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge is hosted by Shelleyrae at book’d out: in twelve months, read a book in each of the twelve varied categories. (Note: it doesn’t have to be in any particular order and you can go at your own pace.)

I haven’t picked out everything for this challenge yet, but we’re allowed to choose as we go through the year—no need to come up with everything in advance. The only one I’m kind of nervous about is the “Cozy mystery” genre… it really is completely out of my comfort zone so I’ll have to dig at the library a bit to find something that fits.

I’m considering Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris for the “Travel” genre and possibly another Richard Preston book for the “Medical thriller,” after enjoying his The Hot Zone in 2013.

Just like the last year, I’ll write review posts on every book I read in 2014, and when I finish one of these books I’ll check them off and add the links on my master list page under the Book Challenges tab in the menu here.

Award-winning* The Orphan Master’s Son (2013 Pulitzer) … Andy Johnson
True crime** Midnight in Peking … Paul French
Romantic comedy The Rosie Project … Graeme Simsion
Alternate history The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay … Michael Chabon
Graphic novel The Walking Dead Compendium 1 … Robert Kirkman, et al
Cozy mystery tbd
Gothic Wuthering Heights … Emily Brontë
War/military Sophie’s Choice … William Styron
Anthology* tbd
Medical thriller tbd
Travel** tbd
Published in 2014* The Martian … Andy Weir

all fiction except: * — either fiction or non fiction, ** — non fiction

reading challenges

In January, I decided to join two reading challenges in order to finally motivate myself to read the books I’ve had sitting around unread on my shelves for years. For the first six months, I was totally rocking both challenges with a pace of about one book (per challenge) per month. Then in July, I read ahead in one challenge and fell behind in the other. Since then I’ve been at an impasse with both of them…

Now that it’s September, I’m starting to feel like I’m not going to finish either challenge. I admit to switching up some of my selections for the Eclectic Reader, but several of the remaining books on my TBR Pile Challenge just don’t appeal to me anymore. And I have bought a bunch more books through the year that I am much more looking forward to reading (including some I got as Christmas gifts I haven’t even read yet…)

I have a bit of a competitive streak (especially with myself), that’s why the idea of quitting the challenges like this is hard to digest. I think I could possibly finish the Eclectic Reader—only four books to go on that, though I am only halfway through the TBR Pile list. And now that the school year/concert season has started back up, my leisure time for reading has dwindled significantly.

I want to keep going—I’m really enjoying being a part of the challenges and the online book community involved! But the stalling out has put me in a slump; I’ve lost steam on them. Sigh.

oryx and crake

The second audiobook I had on my road trip to Wisconsin a couple weeks ago was Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I read The Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago, so this is my second book of Atwood’s (although I have The Blind Assassin boxed up, I’ll have to read that at some point after my move, too!) From Goodreads:

In Oryx and Crake, a science fiction novel that is more Swift than Heinlein, more cautionary tale than “fictional science” (no flying cars here), Margaret Atwood depicts a near-future world that turns from the merely horrible to the horrific, from a fool’s paradise to a bio-wasteland. Snowman (a man once known as Jimmy) sleeps in a tree and just might be the only human left on our devastated planet. He is not entirely alone, however, as he considers himself the shepherd of a group of experimental, human-like creatures called the Children of Crake. As he scavenges and tends to his insect bites, Snowman recalls in flashbacks how the world fell apart.

One word: WOW. I loved this book. Oryx and Crake is a disturbing vision of a dystopian future, in which gene-spliced hybrid animals are created for various reasons to make human life “better,” sort of the way processed food stuffs and electronic devices are regarded now. Pigoons, designed to host back-up organs for human harvest? Wolvogs? It was really easy to picture these creatures.

There are so many social and cultural issues touched on or brought up in this book and lots of ethical questions, from economic class to global warming to genetic engineering and biotechnology to pharmaceuticals and health epidemics, ecological disasters, corporate conglomeration, and so on. As I listened, I wondered, “they can do all these experiments, but should they?” Great for philosophical debate.

At the heart of Oryx and Crake is the love triangle, though. Jimmy meets the dark science genius Crake in high school. Formerly a child prostitute from Southeast Asia, Oryx is sold to a man in San Francisco and from there eventually leaves the sex trade and meets Jimmy and Crake later on. Oryx works for Crake, but secretly gets it on with Jimmy. Duh-RAMA!

But despite the love triangle and some dry humor, Oryx and Crake is some seriously dark sci-fi. The version I listened to was unabridged, read by Campbell Scott. I thought Scott did an excellent job; his narration had a creepy edge and he captured the frustration of Snowman, obliviousness of Oryx, and the innocence of the Crakers very well, even changing the voice inflections for them, too. But Oryx and Crake, as much as I loved the audio, is one that I will definitely get on paper and re-read someday. I seem to only be able to listen to audiobooks on long drives, and I’m sure I missed some things!

*Note: In the past I have said more than once I’m not into series books… and would you look at that, I inadvertently got myself hooked into one. The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam are now on my TBR!

Oryx and Crake was my selection for “dystopian” on the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae at book’d out, and my eighth read of twelve books total for the challenge.

Listened to audiobook from July 16 to 17, 2013.

city of thieves

One of the audiobooks I picked for my road trip to Wisconsin (a full 27 hours in the car!) was City of Thieves by David Benioff. I didn’t have this on my wishlist or anything, but it was on my radar a little bit from seeing it pop up around on other blogs. I’m so glad I chose it! Edited description from Goodreads:

Lev Beniov considers himself built for deprivation. He’s small, smart, and insecure, a Jewish virgin too young for the army. When a dead German paratrooper lands in his street, Lev is caught looting the body and dragged to jail, fearing for his life. He shares his cell with the charismatic and grandiose Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested on desertion charges. Instead of the standard bullet in the back of the head, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt to find the impossible.

This was PERFECT for a long drive. Adventure, action, humor, sabotage, a little romance, history… I loved it. I admit I didn’t know much more about the Siege of Leningrad more than it was a devastating German military operation to capture the city during WWII, that took almost three full years. But honestly that’s it—no details. While this is a work of historical fiction, now that I’ve researched a bit more about the Siege I’m sure that the horrors Lev and Kolya faced on their odyssey weren’t far off the mark.

And seriously, this is upsetting, depressing material. We’re talking starvation, massive casualties, death in the streets, scant rations of inedible… “food”… things…, cannibals, Nazis, violence, etc. However, Benioff finds a way through dark humor and strong character development (Kolya is hilarious and simply irresistible—one of my new favorite characters!) to blend tragedy and comedy into an entertaining tale of survival, loyalty, and unlikely friendship. Lev and Kolya’s relationship is a wonderfully memorable literary bromance.

Bonus: since it’s a “coming-of-age” story of sorts, and the
protagonists are in the college undergrad age bracket, I am totally
counting City of Thieves as my “new adult” read for the Eclectic Reader Challenge!

The version I listened to was unabridged, read by Hellboy himself, actor Ron Perlman. His performance was engaging and committed, giving fully nuanced personality to each character with different timbres and accents. Perlman’s timing and delivery, especially in conversations between Lev and Kolya, are impeccable. Spellbinding reading—I was on the edge of my (driver’s) seat! I’m going to get a paper copy of the book and reread in the future, for sure.

City of Thieves was my selection for “new adult” on the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae at book’d out, and my seventh read of twelve books total for the challenge.

Listened to audiobook from July 11 to 12, 2013.

ready player one

The fourth audiobook I borrowed from the library for my Aspen road trip was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I started it at the very tail-end of the hours driving and listened to the majority of it after I got home.

In the year 2044, the world’s economy has collapsed under the weight of corporate greed, leaving untold millions in poverty. The main respite for humanity is a complex, elaborate virtual-reality video game/internet world called the OASIS, much of which is inspired by 1980s pop culture because the eccentric billionaire creator of the game was a teen in the 80s and loved that era. Wade Watts is a loser—an overweight, cynical 18-year-old obsessed with spending virtually (ha) all of his time hooked into the OASIS—but an endearing one who is willing to fight for his friends and try to make things right in his world… however virtual it may be. One day, the OASIS creator dies, and in his will bequeaths his entire fortune to the person who can complete an epic quest he designed to retrieve the silver easter egg, hidden deep inside the OASIS.

I had a lot of fun listening to Ready Player One on audio, read by Wil Wheaton. He had great inflection and even did some different voices—a sinister snarl for the villain, an upbeat tone for Wade’s friend Aech (who was my favorite character by far), etc. He made the characters very fleshed-out and memorable. I’m not sure that I would have kept on with Ready Player One as a paper book. A lot of cyber-nerd culture is lost on me (not a gamer or techy-inclined, not a huge sci-fi or fantasy reader) and there are many run-on informational, explanatory sections, but Wil Wheaton was a perfect narrator and kept the pace up nicely. Ready Player One follows a familiar plotline—guy goes on quest, guy finds girl, guy is derailed by evil forces, save-the-world sort of thing, and so on. But still, it was enjoyable and the 80s nostalgia clicked with me. I was a child of the 80s, not a teen, but I had supercool older cousins and I do remember a lot of the music and movies of that decade 🙂

There was one big element in the book that struck me as odd or ironic, though. While I can be totally down with corporate capitalism being the “bad guy,” it was interesting that Wade’s beloved OASIS was itself a multibillion-dollar corporate monopoly. Oh well! And once in a while, something was just a little too unbelievable—a character would be like, “Oh I just remembered I downloaded this secret password code earlier and it works on this door!” Okay… that’s convenient, I guess. Not being an avid sci-fi fan, I’m not sure how this stacks up in the genre, but I was able to suspend my disbelief and lose myself in Wade’s adventure through the OASIS. Lots of action, adventure, mystery, friendship, and a little bit of romance.

Ready Player One was my selection for “action/adventure” on the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae at book’d out, and my sixth read of twelve books total for the challenge. Halfway done!

Listened to audiobook from June 23 to July 3, 2013.

the art forger

I received a copy of The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro for Christmas and just now finally getting to it! I admit I cheated on the book jar with this one—couldn’t wait on it any longer.

The Art Forger is inspired by the infamous heist of Boston’s Gardner Museum. On the night of March 18, 1990, two thieves dressed as cops strolled into the museum, easily dispatched two guards, and in just over an hour stole thirteen paintings by the likes of Degas, Rembrant, Vermeer, and Manet. Nearly 25 years later, the heist still remains one of the world’s most notorious unsolved crimes, with no trace of the artworks—which are valued today around $500 million.

B. A. Shapiro’s novel, which follows three timelines, blends fact and fiction in re-imagining historical figures’ relationships and a chases a wild mystery surrounding the events of the Gardner heist. Claire Roth, a struggling Boston artist who found herself blacklisted in the art world after a scandal with her former professor/lover, makes her living painting copies of famous works for an online reproductions company. One day, the owner of chic gallery Markel G, Aiden Markel, approaches Claire with a clandestine offer she almost literally can’t refuse: make a copy of Degas’s After the Bath, stolen from the Gardner. He unveils the original for her to work from, and Claire, a self-proclaimed “Degas expert,” is eager to begin. Before long, though, Claire suspects this Degas is not what it seems.

I really enjoyed The Art Forger! It was an intriguing mystery and engaging story, and a bit of a love letter to Boston, even. I wish that Claire had been just a tiny bit smarter, especially with men… maybe a little less romance in the book would have made me love it even more (although I have admitted here before that I’m not much of one for romance in general). The techniques for art forgery were fascinating, and there were enough twists and turns in the novel to keep it moving at a good pace. I had no idea how it was going to end up—I was imagining several possible outcomes, and ultimately I was satisfied with the ending. In the afterward, Shapiro went over exactly what was fact and what was fiction in the book, which I appreciated. I would have had no idea about some of the relationships, personalities, and art history. No spoilers here; go read it!

The Art Forger was my selection for “historical mystery” on the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae at book’d out, and my fifth read of twelve books total for the challenge.

Read from May 7 to 11, 2013.