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ARCHIVE 2015 > Astrid's 52 Books Challenge

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message 1: by penneminreads (last edited Aug 26, 2015 01:36PM) (new)

penneminreads Hi there :) I'm going to read 52 books this year. I don't have any themes; my only rules are that I will read only one book per author and I will not keep to a strict weekly schedule.

List of books read:

1. A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
2. Kassandra by Christa Wolf
3. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
5. The Martian by Andy Weir
6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
7. Das Sterben der Bilder by Britta Hasler
8. Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
9. Gruber geht by Doris Knecht
10. Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren by Wolf Haas
11. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
12. The Voice at the Back Door by Elizabeth Spencer
13. Die Odyssee eines Outlaw-Journalisten by Hunter S. Thompson
14. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
15. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
16. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
17. Jugend ohne Gott by Ödön von Horvath
18. Radetzkymarsch by Joseph Roth
19. Die Verwandlung by Franz Kafka
20. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
21. Junky by William S. Burroughs
22. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
23. The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
24. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
25. Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos
26. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
27. Brilliance by Marcus Sakey
28. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
29. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
30. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
31. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
32. The Last Day of a Condemned Man by Victor Hugo
33. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
34. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

message 2: by penneminreads (last edited Jan 23, 2015 03:19AM) (new)

penneminreads Sooo I've got too much time on my hands at the moment, and I'm a bit ahead of schedule. These are the books I read so far:

1. George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows (read: Jan 9)
The tale of the Seven Kingdoms continues in part 4 of the A Song of Ice and Fire series with the stories of Arya, Jaime, Brienne, Samwell, Cersei, and Tyrion, among others, and (as usual) all hell breaks loose.

This would have to be my favorite part of the series. It presents all of my favorite characters, and lots of exciting (and really exciting) things happen. I love the complexity of the storylines and the multi-dimensional characters that Martin has created (although I could do without the Greyjoys probably).

2. Christa Wolf, Kassandra (read: Jan 13)
This rather short novel tells the mythological tale about Cassandra from the ancient city of Troy who is granted the gift of clairvoyance by the god Apollo. After rejecting him, he curses Cassandra. Nobody believes her prophecies anymore and she has to endure seeing her people slaughtered by the Greeks.

I already read this novel in high school over a decade ago and thought it might be interesting to revisit it. Well... let's just say I was glad the novel was only 140 pages. The author's use of language is rather strenuous which made it not much fun to read. Sentence fragments mixed with long sentences and a language that wants to sound archaic versus modern phrases frequently disturb the reading flow. Although the myth of Cassandra is a very interesting one, this is not the best implementation.

3. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (read: Jan 18)
The young and flawlessly beautiful Dorian Gray inspires his friend Basil to paint a true masterpiece, putting his entire soul and passion into the work. Heavily influenced by Lord Henry, Basil's witty friend, Dorian becomes increasingly obsessed with his own beauty and seals his fate with an imprudent trade.

I've wanted to read this for a long time and I was completely blown away. The story may be simple from a modern point of view, but I was drawn to it immediately nonetheless. Beautifully written, with witty dialogues (and just about every Oscar Wilde quote I have ever read on the internet) this was definitely the first of many times I will have enjoyed this work.

4. Bram Stoker, Dracula (read: Jan 20)
Jonathan Harker, a young English lawyer, travels to Transylvania to conduct a real estate business with a nobleman, Count Dracula, and resides in Dracula's castle. After a few days Harker feels increasingly uneasy, noticing eerie things occurring, until he is forced to admit that the Count holds him prisoner.

I expected a way simpler story and was pleasantly surprised by the epistolary structure. I'm a fan of multi-perspective narratives on principle and the various letters, memoranda, newspaper articles and diary entries create a balanced and interesting story, at least for the most part. It might have been a bit shorter, in my opinion, and less detailed.

message 3: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra | 5832 comments Good luck with your challenge, Astrid! I enjoyed reading your reviews so far and look forward to seeing what you read this year. :)

message 4: by penneminreads (new)

penneminreads Thank you, Cassandra! I hope I can make it :)

message 5: by penneminreads (new)

penneminreads 5. Andy Weir, The Martian. (read: Jan 23)

One unexpectedly strong sandstorm and Astronaut Mark Watley is stranded on Mars after a failed mission; his crew - traveling back to Earth - believes him dead. With all communication systems down, Mark tries to find a way to survive with the available, and rather limited, resources.

I haven't read many Sci-Fi novels yet, and after this book I seriously have to ask myself why not. Andy Weir constructs a story that is entertaining every step of the way, touching when it needs to be, and sheds light on the events from different points of view (yay!) with an approachable protagonist. Despite its frequent use of technical terms and physics...stuff (I'm really no expert but that didn't spoil the party) the entire novel was one hell of a space adventure.
In short: read it!

message 6: by penneminreads (last edited Jul 14, 2015 03:22AM) (new)

penneminreads 6. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre. (read: Jan 31)

Starting out as an orphaned girl who is despised by the relatives she lives with, Jane Eyre develops into an independent, clever and confident heroine.

I feel like I'm the last person ever to read this book. Perhaps because I should have already read it for uni years ago ... Similarly to my experience with Dracula, I expected a simpler story and was pleasantly surprised with the plot development. Although, I should add that I did enjoy the first two thirds more than the rest. Jane's time at Thornfield is most entertaining, perhaps because it also includes these arrogant, conceited English high-born ladies I just love to hate ;) Overall, though a very enjoyable book, well worth a read.

message 7: by Megan, Challenges (new)

Megan (lahairoi) | 6459 comments Astrid wrote: "6. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre. (read: Jan 31)

Starting out as an orphaned girl who is despised by the relatives she lives with, Jane Eyre develops into an independent, clever and con..."

It's my favorite book of all time! Glad you enjoyed it:)

message 8: by penneminreads (last edited Feb 04, 2015 11:33AM) (new)

penneminreads 7. Britta Hasler, Das Sterben der Bilder. (read: Feb 4)

Vienna, 1905. It is a cold winter, and young, down-and-out Julius Pawalet walks through the freezing city looking for a hot meal. The decline of the monarchy is already noticeable, but at the moment its people live in fear of a serial killer who arranges his victims to simulate images of great baroque painters. And soon Julius is going to play a decisive part in a story that seems simple at first, but develops into a real crime novel insider’s tip.

This is definitely one of the strongest debut novels I've ever read. The author creates an intense atmosphere and unique characters that make the eerie events occurring secondary at times because it is so interesting to just follow them around the city. A well thought-out story, with a bit of historical background info (could have been more, though, as I find it really interesting). This is not a complex thriller that keeps you at the edge of your seat by withholding information, but rather a crime novel that puts its characters in the spotlight and thrives on its simplicity and straightforwardness.

message 9: by penneminreads (last edited Jul 14, 2015 03:28AM) (new)

penneminreads 8. Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation. (read: Feb 6)

Four women - a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor and a botanist - travel into Area X, a seemingly post-apocalyptic part of the country inaccessible to civilians, but frequent destination of expeditions. The botanist tells her experiences in a diary, trying to make sense of what is happening in Area X.

I'm developing an interest in novels that circle around a limited number of people in a confined space. But I am not entirely sure what to say about this novel. I finished it in 2 1/2 days, I didn't get bored with the story, although very few things happen, but still I am almost certain that I will not read it a second time. Then again, I am interested in the other two parts of the trilogy, and the protagonist spoke to me in a kind of personal way. Either way, I'd definitely recommend it.

message 10: by Courtney (last edited Feb 06, 2015 10:43AM) (new)

Courtney Ward (courtneyajw) | 248 comments Astrid wrote: "Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation. (read: Feb 6)

Four women - a psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor and a botanist - travel into Area X, a seemingly post-apocalyptic part of th..."

I picked up this book last week and decided to go with something else because I was unsure about it. Glad to see you recommend it! I'll probably pick up a copy from the library since it may not be good enough for a second read. Good luck on your challenge!

message 11: by penneminreads (new)

penneminreads Thank you, Courtney! It is worth reading, I'd say, but it may be best to borrow the book from the library :)

message 12: by penneminreads (new)

penneminreads 9. Doris Knecht, Gruber geht. (read: Feb 8)

Gruber is the kind of guy you would have a hard time liking in real life. He's in his 30s, a typical manager-type guy who has all kinds of flaws but is more than confident that it is the people around him who are doing it wrong. He hates cheap suits and conventional ways of life, the kind of middle class fake harmony as maintained by his (former punk) sister: husband, three kids, apartment in the city, cottage in the country, minivan, snotty noses, stained sofas (stained everything, actually). When Gruber is diagnosed with cancer, this is the first ‘real’ thing to happen to him in a while. Something non-superficial, something immune to his sarcasm, finally an event that forces him to contemplate his life, his very existence, and the fact that his time on earth is limited.

This novel is as funny as it is touching - without ever getting overly emotional, tasteless or sappy. The author presents a character who has to submit himself to forces that are not his to control. Gruber’s sarcastic view on everyone and everything is entertaining and of course does tell a great deal about Gruber himself. The great achievement of this novel is the fact that these serious issues can be addressed with such light-heartedness and dignity at the same time.

message 13: by penneminreads (last edited Feb 10, 2015 11:30AM) (new)

penneminreads 10. Wolf Haas, Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren. (read: Feb 8)

The fictional version of a real author writes a novel and is interviewed about it over the course of five days, dissecting the plot, the backstory and the symbolism with the interviewer. This is basically what The Weather 15 Years Ago is about - and it’s so much more fun than this brief attempt at describing the story in a non-confusing way could possibly convey.

I've fallen in love with this author when I read his entire Detective Brenner series (which has been translated into English), but for some reason it took me a couple of years to finally read his first stand-alone novel. I did have some difficulty getting used to the idea of the work - of course, the interview form is very straightforward, but you are basically thrown right into the action, and it took me a couple of pages to make sense of what is actually happening. The more you get into it, the more you will understand that the very point is that this interview transports a fictional love story, and you can get different kinds of things out of this reading experience.
A satire of literary critics, a love story, a fun and entertaining story, told in a very interesting way!

message 14: by penneminreads (new)

penneminreads Oh boy... I'm sort of behind schedule ;) You know how it is, life gets in the way, unexpected things happen and although most of them were positive, I found it difficult to make time for keeping up with my challenge over the past months.

BUT I've been catching up, currently I'm reading my 21st book in 2015, and I'm positive that I will complete the challenge :)

message 15: by penneminreads (new)

penneminreads 11. Ernest Cline, Ready Player One.

So, all over Goodreads I read that people loved this, that it is a life-changing book, a celebration of 80s popular culture, etc. ... for me it was kinda ..meh.
I was patient with myself, I thought, things might pick up and I’d end up loving it after I finish it. But it didn’t happen, and so I don’t have a lot to say about it … One person on Goodreads described it s name-dropping items from 80s pop culture, and that describes exactly my experience with the book.
Whelp, can’t love everything, how boring would that be?

12. Elizabeth Spencer, The Voice at the Back Door.

I’ve read this book, I think, three times this year because it’s one of the novels I chose for my MA thesis, and I still love it.

Spencer’s way of describing the characters, revealing their life stories piece by piece, setting a scene make her novels spring to life before my eyes when I’m reading. Her descriptions are vivid, the issues are dealt with sensibly, her characterizations seem effortless, not forced, not direct, but woven into the dialogue, shown rather than told - which I admire and enjoy.

Re-reading this novel showed me not only how well she constructs a storyline, how she lays the groundwork for the finale early on already, but also how she uses symbolism (colors, for instance).

13. Hunter S. Thompson, Die Odyssee eines Outlaw-Journalisten.

I believe this was published originally under the title Proud Highway, but I read this volume in German, I got it as a birthday present. I couldn’t wait to get started on it, and for days, I could barely put it down. The book consists of a selection of letters (out of about 20.000 letters in total) HST wrote during his defining years, 1958-1976. A lot happened for him then, personally and professionally, and it is both entertaining and educating to read about how he experienced those years.

Struggling to earn enough money for next week’s rent, landing his first promising writing job, getting married, traveling through South America, the birth of his son, the publication of Hell’s Angels, his love of American literature, and his thoughts about the American Dream - it is all mirrored in his correspondence and you can follow HST’s development in retrospect.
His turbulent youth and young adulthood might have led him down a different road. Thank God it didn’t.

14. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Part of the purpose of doing a 52-books-challenge this year, for me, is catching up on classics. At uni we never really read many classics, except for Shakespeare, and as I am focusing on literature of the American South, there are quite a few must-read-novels that I don’t know yet. Naturally, To Kill a Mockingbird has to be among them.

It is probably one of the books I got into the fastest. I love books that create their own world, a world that you are absorbed into completely every time you open them. Harper Lee did that for me with this novel, and I will definitely read it again.

15.William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying.

Specializing in Southern Literature at uni and never read a Faulkner novel? … Simply not possible. I thought long about which of his books to choose, as I had read that his literature was difficult to get into. So I asked my MA supervisor which title he would suggest to get me introduced to Faulkner, and he advised me well.

I had a great time reading this, and I want to familiarize myself with the Faulkner canon. I am generally a fan of multiple perspectives, and the way Faulkner pieces the story together shows all the advantages of this technique. About halfway through the novel I already wanted to read it a second time, to see exactly how he constructs the story lines and to better understand the characters’ motivations.

16. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

This was a bit of a disappointment for me. I'm not sure why, I guess I had the feeling that no real story developed, that it wasn't going anywhere. I know how my attitude towards certain books can change over time, so I might read it again in a few years.

17. Ödön von Horvath, Jugend ohne Gott.

This is one book I had to read in high school, and a perfect example of how I feel that we didn't discuss literature thoroughly enough back then. Or we were just to young to really appreciate it.
It is a story about guilt and responsibility, lies, prejudice, obedience, doubt, growth. These very fundamental issues are told in a straightforward way, narrated by a teacher of an all-boys class before the Second World War.

The first-person narrative gives a detailed insight into the teacher’s development. He grows conflicted about his own actions and thoughts, as he realizes that he teaches young people who have a very strong group dynamic and value blind obedience over independent thoughts and diverse opinions.

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penneminreads 18. Joseph Roth, Radetzkymarsch

I'm not sure I can do justice to this novel in a brief review, or a long review, or any review at all. First of all - the story. It depicts three generations of the Trotta family in the Austro-Hungary. The grandfather saved the Kaiser’s life in the Battle of Solferino, earning him the nickname Hero of Solferino which survives for many decades, and his descendants find it difficult to live up to him. Most of the novel is concerned with the grandson, Carl Joseph and his often troubled life in the shadow of his hero grandfather, at a time when the fame and glory of the monarchy is rapidly declining.

This novel is both depressing and fascinating, and funny at times, to witness Roth constructing this multi-generational story in epic detail. Although many of his characterizations are very direct, which I’m usually not a fan of, his language - the defining aspect for me about this book - is so incredibly pointed and picturesque, every sentence left me in awe. Roth really paints an intense picture with his words, and weeks after finishing this I am still quite overwhelmed by it.

19. Franz Kafka, Die Verwandlung.

Another German-language classic, and - for me - a bit of a disappointment. In retrospect, I wonder if reading a book like Metamorphosis directly after Radetzkymarsch could ever even result in a different outcome. They probably couldn’t be any more contrary. Language, story development, details - complete opposites in every aspect.

Sadly, Kafka simply bored me almost all the way. I did enjoy the surrealist character about the story, and I am usually a fan of novels that take place in limited space, but I felt like I kept waiting for the novel to really get going, and, for me … well, it just didn’t.

20. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

This was my second Woolf novel. I read Orlando for uni and loved it, but when I started reading Mrs. Dalloway years ago, I struggled. I gave it another try, and this is probably a great example for how you can appreciate different books (or appreciate books differently) at different points in your life.

Getting into the stream of consciousness was a challenge, especially because I’m often very contemplative, also during reading, and my thoughts wander off so that I end up re-reading paragraphs to get back into the story. This time I finished the novel, and I couldn't help but admire how Woolf shifts from one perspective to the next in what seems an effortless flow. Definitely a book worth revisiting as well.

21. William S. Burroughs, Junky

I bought this novel many months ago, when I was mainly reading what I clumsily, probably unjustly, termed ‘drug literature’. I may have expected too much out of this, but I was mainly bored with the endless listing of his junk customers, there seemed to be no development whatsoever.

I remember visiting an exhibition of Burroughs’ works years back and I was fascinated with his way of creating texts and doing creative work, so I don't quite want to give up on him yet. It'll take a while, though, until I'm going to read another book of his.

22. Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair.

I'm not a huge fantasy nerd, but I love book series because they enable you to immerse yourself in a fictional world for a long time and you get to know the characters really well. Starting the Thursday Next series was definitely the right choice.

This one had me hooked from the first sentence. It is funny, it is very creative, and it never tries too hard. I could have done without the romance probably, but it is not overbearing. This novel is highly entertaining, and I already bought book 2 and 3 of the series, so I might have to break my rule of 'one book per author' for my challenge...

23. Paul Auster, The Book of Illusions

I. Love. Paul Auster. But after I read five of his books, I needed a sort of break, I felt sort of supersaturated for a while. The time seemed right to read another of his books and it turned out I picked just the right one at exactly the right time.

His stories are immensely rich, and this was no exception. With the extensive back stories he creates for his characters, you could turn the novel probably into three separate books. One may find that exhausting, but I enjoy his language, his often thrilling stories and his vivid characters.

I dedicated two afternoons to this novel, and it turned out to be the perfect book to read at this point in my life. At times it feels as though his stories can help me look at my own issues differently, they provide a change of perspective. I love his fiction for this because it is a very rare thing to happen for me, and I will certainly keep working my way through his works and continue to be amazed.

message 17: by penneminreads (new)

penneminreads 24. Djuna Barnes, Nightwood.

I bought this book years ago, and since then it just sat on my bookshelf untouched, until I decided to finally give it a go. And it resulted in a weird reading experience.

After the first 15 pages I put the book down and didn’t pick it up again for three days. Then I started reading again from the beginning and found my way into the narrative better. I generally enjoy modernist texts, and the events in the novel as well as the characters are indeed interesting to follow.

The only thing I could have done without were the seemingly endless dialogues of the doctor. To put it simply: I often had no idea what he was even talking about. Nonetheless, I did enjoy his function as a character which is as fascinating as it is depressing.

This might be one of those books that improves with additional reading, some background information (as it is highly autobiographical), and I’ll be definitely revisiting it again sometime.

message 18: by penneminreads (new)

penneminreads 25. John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer.

Another book that sat on my shelf way too long, another book that’s difficult for me to make my mind up about. I think I’m aware what Dos Passos wants to say, I know what he wants to achieve with his (very) sober writing style, but it just didn’t quite work for me.

His language is factual above everything else, but that serves his purpose. Although his characters suffer almost constantly and we accompany them through one or two decades in their lives, hardly any of them are really memorable.

The fact that life in New York City in the early 20th century is presented in many, many vignettes (most only one or two pages long, some only one paragraph) results in the lack of a real plot. Which may just be why at some point I didn’t really care anymore how the characters’ lives developed.

I’m sad to say that after about 100 pages I really had to force myself to finish this novel, which almost never happens, thank goodness. I guess its style just isn’t for me.

26. Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South.

I read Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre a while ago, and I was in the mood for something along those lines. This wasn’t 100% what I was looking for.

It is clear how the novel would end from very early on, but that doesn’t usually put me off. You’ll get to focus on the way the plot develops, although I do think Gaskell didn’t need to wait for the very last page to have Margaret and John get together.

Overall, I appreciated the social criticism and Margaret certainly is an interesting character. Nonetheless I was often a bit bored with the story development. I probably subconsciously compared it to P&P too much and felt that N&S didn’t have as much to offer.

27. Marcus Sakey, Brilliance.

Well.. this was an interesting reading experience. I got really annoyed with the story for the exact reasons I enjoyed it at first. I was looking for something entertaining, a nice summer read after Barnes, Dos Passos and Gaskell. Something light, not too complex but interesting. I found it in Brilliance - and I did enjoy it at first.

Then it got exhausting. I grew increasingly irritated with the simple story, the one-dimensional characters and the wannabe-cool dialogue. Frankly, I had zero motivation to finish it because I just didn’t see the point. I didn’t care anymore, I wasn’t attached to the (not really memorable) characters at all. Oh, and let’s not forget to add a shallow romance at the last minute while we’re at it. Overall, too much telling, way too little showing.

So yeah.. I had hoped to find a new interesting book series, but I’m going to have to keep on looking.

28. Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey.

When I started reading this, I had a really hard time focusing, which really made this an exhausting reading experience. Some day I’ll definitely re-read it, because I probably missed a lot, it’s a shame.

I remember learning about this book at uni, and I noticed that I had completely different expectations. Nonetheless, my ability to focus was totally disturbed at that time which was very frustrating.

29. H.G. Wells, The Time Machine.

The previous books I read for my challenge were a bit exhausting, and especially during Northanger Abbey I noticed that I just couldn’t focus on the story at all. So I wanted to find a short but interesting novel - Mr. Wells to the rescue!

I had heard a bit about this story, I know that it has been adapted into a movie, but I mostly chose it because it is a (short) classic. From the start, this was a very enjoyable novella, and it was interesting to read about the future society of Eloi and Morlocks. The time traveler’s thoughts on the development of mankind and the shortcomings of technological advancement give this story some depth, although they are very rare. It is really an entertaining utopian adventure story, and a quick read, so all in all - perfect for a rainy day.

30. Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

Garcí­a Márquez is one of those authors I’ve been really curious about, and but it still took me years to finally read one of his novels. When I browsed a second hand bookstore a while ago, I happened upon this book and decided to give it a go. I was not disappointed (understatement of the year).

This brief novel is, exactly as advertised, a chronicle about two brothers setting out to kill the man they believe has brought shame to their sister. It is one of those stories that highlights the way things happen rather than building suspense on the question whether it will or will not happen. The journey is the reward, so to speak, and it is a journey that is as straightforward as it is poetically told.

I am bewitched with the density of the narrative, the abundant image the author paints of the village and its people on only 149 pages. This is one of those books that makes me enjoy each and every word, I savor it and celebrate the sentences, and for a few hours I felt like I was there. In that small town, somewhere in Columbia, sitting there in the dust waiting for the events to unfold.

31. J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace.

Some books impress me from the first sentence. There’s always the possibility that I’ll be disappointed along the way, of course. But every once in a while I’ll get a unique reading experience I’d never have expected, including the sudden outburst of emotion. This novel has all of it.

I had a very basic idea of the plot, and no expectations, which I find is usually a good starting point for any book (or film or TV series for that matter). It provides you with the possibility to embark on the journey completely uninfluenced.

In this case I was rewarded with undoubtedly one of the most intriguing main characters I’ve ever encountered. David Lurie is a conflicted figure, his attitude towards many issues, towards women I found often problematic, but just as frequently as he displays these very undesirable (yet very honest) sides of his character he comes around with very understandable actions and insights. It may seem contradictory at first, but that makes him all the more believable, real.

The wide variety of sensitive topics Coetzee deals with are not easily dismissed. He sheds light on different aspects, different points of view, and it is more food for thought than anything else. There are no simple solutions. Sometimes the situation gets increasingly difficult, it keeps getting harder and all you can do is deal with it.

And so, as I’m staring into space in front of my laptop, I find that this novel leaves me with an emptiness, and at the same time with the feeling that I’ve gained so much. It fascinates me that books can do that to you.

32. Victor Hugo, The Last Day of a Condemned Man.

Another second hand bookstore find, another novella, another quick read. But one that really showed me that some reflection is often required to get the most out of a book.

Some books are timelessly entertaining, and this one is certainly a compelling story, and a passionate appeal for the abolition of the death penalty. I felt that it was more important with this book than with other classics I’ve read recently to keep in mind the time and the circumstances under which it was written.

The language is very matter-of-factly, pointed, and it is clear what the outcome of the story will be. Something was missing, though, and I find it hard to put my finger on what exactly that was.

We do not know what crime this man committed, but that of course helps Hugo to make his point against the guillotine. His detailed description of the prisoner’s torment alternates with his pitying himself, and the loved ones he will leave behind who are also affected by his penalty. The conflict at the heart of this story is about his crime, which was his decision after all, versus the harsh verdict that cannot undo the unknown felony and will leave a widow and a half-orphan as collateral damage.

There is still something that kept me from being completely stunned after finishing this novella, but that does not mean I wouldn’t recommend it. Is it worth a read, at least once? Definitely.

33. Kate Chopin, The Awakening.

I’m branching out again into literature from the US south and decided to look into Kate Chopin’s work. While I did find it to be an interesting (as well as courageous) work, I wasn’t completely drawn into the story.

The protagonist, Edna Pontellier, is definitely unusual, especially considering that this work was published in 1899. She is married, with children, and corresponds to the role that is expected of a good wife and mother. Nevertheless, she feels an unhappiness inside her whose source she cannot quite pinpoint yet. But she knows one thing - she would not sacrifice herself for her husband or her children. Outrageous!

I was impressed with the characters’ outspokenness when it comes to sensitives issues like that, and Edna’s search for a lifestyle that fits her desires and the conclusion she draws are certainly captivating.

While reading I felt like something was missing, I wasn’t completely getting into the story. After I finished, though, I realized that it might have been the fact that there is not a lot of development as far as the story itself is concerned. Then again, this is of course corresponds to the emptiness and lack of passion that Edna feels at the beginning. Ultimately, she realizes that this is the kind of life she will have to get used to unless she wants to spend life as an outsider. I’m not generally opposed to slow plots, and with some stories it makes more sense than with others.

message 19: by penneminreads (new)

penneminreads After being behind on my reading for many weeks now, I finally caught up with my challenge and I am on track again. This is such a relief :)

message 20: by penneminreads (new)

penneminreads 34. Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Neil Gaiman is an author whose literature I want to love but so far just didn’t, although I tried. I saw Coraline, the movie, and loved it, and I think I only liked the book because of that (shame, shame, shame on me). I then started reading Good Omens but just couldn’t get really far, and I almost gave up. Stumbling across a ridiculously ebook version of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I decided to try once more and what do you know - third time’s the charm.

Once again, I refused to read any sort of synopsis beforehand, but the title alone promised an interesting journey, and I was not disappointed. At the beginning of the novel the main character, a man in his 50s, returns to his hometown to attend his father’s funeral. He visits the street where he grew up and then we join him on a truly wild ride (down memory lane, he he).

Some motives reminded me of Coraline - friendship, trust, evil adults, parallel worlds. But I feel like this novel goes even beyond that. Memory, adulthood/growing up, bravery, fear, the way children experience their world differently, death, knowledge - it may sound stereotypical, and such lists of themes always seem stereotypical, but Gaiman deals with all of these in a unique manner. A fairytale for adults, The Ocean awakened the child in me. It presents these human qualities entangled in a story that is as moving as it is imaginative.

The most wonderful thing for me was, probably, that the way the novel starts out I had absolutely no Idea what I was in for. But Neil Gaiman creates such vivid images, such a lively story that soon I felt like I just stumbled into this fantasy world, in the midst of the lives of these characters without any recollection of how I got there. Funnily enough, pretty much like the main character feels towards at some point.

This is one of the novels that make me realize why I am doing this reading challenge is for. I am adding new authors to my favorites-list all the time, I am revisiting some I have tried before and disliked, and I get to look at their work, which turns out to be wonderful more often than not, differently because I can now appreciate it. This challenge enriches my life in a very direct and real way, and I have reached a point where I’m truly thankful for every single novel that I’ve read so far because they all teach me something, help me realize truths, broaden my horizon in ways I could not have imagined before.

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