Challenge: 50 Books discussion

199 views
Finish Line 2009! > Bishop's 2009 list-->Done!

Comments Showing 1-50 of 64 (64 new)    post a comment »
« previous 1

message 1: by Bishop (last edited Aug 18, 2009 05:16PM) (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments Happy 2009!

1. Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood
2. Utopia - Sir Thomas More
3. The Idiot - Fyodor Dostoevsky*
4. Bless Me, Ultima - Rudolfo Anaya
5. Collected Stories - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
6. Howard's End - E.M. Forster
7. Child of God - Cormac McCarthy
8. Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino*
9. The Quiet American - Graham Greene*
10. Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen
11. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley*
12. War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells*
13. Eleven Stories - Anton Chekhov
14. Labyrinths - Jorge Luis Borges
15. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
16. Night - Elie Wiesel
17. Romeo & Juliet - William Shakespeare
18. Pygmalion - George Bernard Shaw
19. Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett
20. Metamorphoses - Ovid
21. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
22. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin - Charles Darwin
23. The Rise of Silas Lapham - William Dean Howells
24. On Liberty - John Stuart Mill
25. Culture and Anarchy - Matthew Arnold
26. Habit - William James
27. The House of the Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne
28. The Awakening - Kate Chopin
29. An Imperative Duty - William Dean Howells
30. The Mill on the Floss - George Eliot
31. Pudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain
32. Hard Times - Charles Dickens
33. The Virginian - Owen Wister
34. The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde
35. The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
36. We - Yevgeny Zamyatin
37. Second Class Citizen - Buchi Emecheta
38. Foundation - Isaac Asimov
39. Sour Sweet - Timothy Mo
40. Dune - Frank Herbert
41. Selected Poems - Linton Kwesi Johnson
42. Middlemarch - George Eliot
43. Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula Le Guin
44. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick
45. Why Don't You Stop Talking? - Jackie Kay
46. Borderline - Hanif Kureishi
47. East, West - Salman Rushdie
48. Dawn - Octavia E. Butler
49. Player of Games - Iain Banks
50. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey


message 2: by Bishop (last edited Jan 01, 2009 10:54AM) (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 1. Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood

I stayed up late and got up early to finish this one on New Year's morning (glutton for punishment). I wanted to love this book, but I didn't, I just liked it a lot. In my mind, this is obviously Atwood's tip o' the hat to Huxley's, Brave New World, with a bit more perspective. Overall, I think the book is largely successful, but there are some area that just fell flat for me. First, the cutesy corporate name thing got old fast. I get the point, but that doesn't make it any less annoying. The significance of Oryx and her relationship with and meaning for Snowman just wasn't developed enough. Who was she? Crake was a bit flat. While it would probably have seemed contrived, I would have liked to hear more from Crake as to what HE thought he was trying to accomplish. Aside from being a mad genius with some serious interpersonal relations issues, we don't really know much about what makes Crake tick. Perhaps the unknown and the meaninglessness of it all is the point after all. In the end, it doesn't matter why. The only thing that matters is that he did what he did. If you are a fan of dystopian novels, put this one on your short list.


message 3: by Bishop (last edited Jan 01, 2009 04:51PM) (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 2. Utopia - Sir Thomas Moore

Since I have the house to myself and all my chores are done, I spent the better part of a relaxing day finishing one book and reading another in its entirety. There aren't too many days of the year where I can boast that kind of leisure.

I was swindled into teaching a survey of British literature for the first time this year. For the most part, I was able to prepare significantly for each time period and come into my lectures armed to the teeth. Unfortunately, once we hit the Renaissance, I had to start faking it. I’ve read more than one synopsis of Utopia, some critical essays, and not a few reviews, but I have never actually sat down to read it until today. I once had a History professor in a theories and methods course who warned me repeatedly to be careful of presentism (the use of modern experiences, understanding, values, & perspectives to interpret the past). I distinctly remember being firmly reminded of this after my first draft of an essay in which I offered a fairly caustic analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s personal letters as racist. Many of the reviewers on this site fall into this same trap with More. Writing during the Renaissance, More obviously does not have access to future sociological and political context into which he could place his Utopia. Should we expect him to? Writing what More wrote when he wrote it—especially considering who he was—makes this an important book. Obviously, his ideas are antiquated. We should expect nothing less. At no time did I get disgusted with the book and put it down because it wouldn’t work (what utopia ever has?). Getting all bent out of shape because More doesn’t understand or even consider modern capitalism is absolutely ridiculous. What is fascinating to me is how many other "utopian" ideals find there origination with More, regardless of their viability.

It is not “light” reading, but it is worthwhile for those who have an interest in such things. First, it is an interesting look into the mind and society of one of the foremost humanist thinkers of the time. Second, it forced me to constantly question my own understanding of human nature and my own value system, if only to refute the ideas I was reading. Finally, the book takes on a whole new depth/meaning if you entertain the notion that the entire thing is meant to be satirical. It could certainly make for an interesting conversation. If that is not enough for you to spend a few hours with this one, skip it.


message 4: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 3. The Idiot - Fyodor Dostoevsky

What a wonderful book. This is my first foray into Dostoevsky and I can safely say it will not be my last. The insertion of the Christ-like Prince Myshkin into Russian society is like mixing oil and water. Myshkin's inability to lie, deceive, beguile, etc. is so extraordinary that the other characters, simultaneously drawn to him and repulsed by him, can only explain his behavior with exasperation and vexation as "idiocy." The tragedy is that the goodness of Myshkin can never adjust to a society that is so profoundly sick. This is a philosophical work and should be read as such. I would not recommend taking this to the beach with you, but it is absolutely fantastic for a dreary winter afternoon. I will read this book again some day.


message 5: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 4. Bless Me, Ultima - Rudolfo Anaya

I am not a huge fan of magical realism. It's ok, but it just doesn't do much for me. Ultima is a nice little coming-of-age story about a boy who is being forced to choose between paths, eventually realizing that sometimes you can have both. The book is not particularly complex or sophisticated, but it has a certain charm, I suppose. There are some soft spots in terms of narrative structure and characterization, but nothing that detracts terribly from the story. If I was a bit younger, a bit more spiritual, and a bit less of a snob, I would probably like this a lot...magical golden carps and all.


message 6: by Becca (new)

Becca (lupingirl) Wow - great start! I've been wanting to read Oryx and Crake for a while, so I really appreciate the review. I may have to check out The Idiot, too, as it's a goal to read more of the classics and I haven't read many Russian authors.


message 7: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments Thanks! Like you, I realized a while back just how many of the "classics" I had never actually read. For the past couple of years, I have been focusing on them as much as possible. I was able to read quite a few last year and it was totally worth it for me. Good luck with your goal!


message 8: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 5. Collected Stories - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This book compiles three shorter published collections that range from the early 1950's on. While all the stories seem to me to reflect a pretty consistent tone and style, the earlier stories don't seem to be as effective. I suppose one should expect this. As a whole the collection reflects a terrible sadness and longing. Some of the stories are brilliant while others seem to dance around the edges of an idea without fully developing it. I enjoyed this one a bit, but not as much as I would have liked.


message 9: by Sam (new)

Sam | 47 comments I just finished The Handmaid's Tale by Atwood, and I was thinking I was going to move onto Oryx and Crake next.
I read Bless Me, Ultima last year and found the magical parts a little hard to swallow too.
Also, I love your Crane Wife icon. :)


message 10: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments Thanks!

You should enjoy Oryx and Crake (although you probably shouldn't expect it to be as good as The Handmaid's Tale).



message 11: by Bishop (last edited Jan 25, 2009 01:29PM) (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 6. Howard's End - E.M. Forster

I had never read a single word of Forster's before A Room With A View a few months ago. I was not impressed. Undaunted, I forged on to Howard's End. Now, I am officially daunted.

I am not sure what it is about Forster that I dislike. All I know is that both of these books pained me to muddle through. I don't particularly like the characters or the plots. I found all of it to be dreadfully boring. I just didn't care. Forster's only value in my eyes is as a period piece. And even that value is limited.

I am going to put Forster back to the bottom of my "authors to explore" list. Maybe someday I will work my way back to these novels and discover what all the hubbub is about. Or not.


message 12: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 7. Child of God - Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy has the uncanny ability to say enough to get his point across without having to beat you over the head with the specifics. Because his novels are so dark and horrific, this is often a good thing. As with every other time I've read McCarthy, it's about the language. At the end of the day, I don't much care what what the man writes about, the language is beautiful. Just be prepared to have a dictionary handy. Oh yeah, and don't be upset with the fact that the words may not be in there. I submit to you the introduction of Lester Ballard:

"To watch these things issuing forth from the otherwise mute pastoral morning is a man at the barn door. He is small, unclean, unshaven. He moves in the dry chaff among the dust and slats of sunlight with a constrained truculence. Saxon and Celtic bloods. A Child of God much like yourself perhaps. Wasps pass through the laddered light from the barnslats in a succession of strobic moments, gold and trembling between black and black, like fireflies is the serried upper gloom. The man stands straddlelegged, has made in the dark humus a darker pool wherein swirls pools of foam with bits of straw. Buttoning his jeans he moves along the barn wall, himself fiddlebacked with light, a petty annoyance flickering across the wallward eye."

Yes, it's a psychopath peeing in a barn, but it sure doesn't feel like it. Another reviewer on this site compared Child of God to American Psycho. Here's the difference: McCarthy is a WAY better writer than Ellis could ever hope to be. Yes, Lester Ballard has penchant for necrophilia, but it is handled with far more humanity than Ellis' treatment. Beyond that, it's apples and oranges. Ellis forces us to watch, McCarthy just lets us know what's happening in broad strokes and suggests the rest is up to our own heated imaginings. There are few writers who will take a long close look at the absolute worst in humanity and have the audacity to present that degradation in a sympathetic light. When ballard weeps later in the novel, marginalized, living on the outskirts of human society (literally and figuratively), drawing his only warmth from a sun baked rock, we feel for him. We feel for him despite the fact that we are nauseated by his existence. Perhaps Ballard is what McCarthy presents him to be: the worst possible incarnation of each of us.



message 13: by Ed (new)

Ed (ejhahn) | 235 comments Bishop wrote: "7. Child of God - Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy has the uncanny ability to say enough to get his point across without having to beat you over the head with the specifics. Because his novels are so dar..."


Great review, Bish.


message 14: by Bishop (last edited Feb 08, 2009 10:02PM) (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 8. Invisible Cities - Italo Calvino*

A few years back, I was researching postmodern novels/stories for a unit I wanted to develop. In my searches, Calvino kept popping up. At the time, I needed American authors, so I filed his name away in the mess that is my mind and figured I'd come back to him sooner or later. It is apparently either sooner or later.

I enjoy a good puzzle now and again. I enjoy experimental fiction. I like finding patterns where they exist and sometimes where they don't. Just looking at the table of contents for this book, I knew something was up. Let's see, 11 types of cities, 5 cities of each type, each numbered. I made a grid on my legal pad. I plotted each axis. The numbers in chapter 1 build and descend: 1, 2, 1, 3, 2, 1, etc. Each subsequent chapter numbers down: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, each a city of a different type. The last chapter completes the circle: 5, 4, 3, 2, 5, 4, 3, 5, 4, ... I began making notes as I read. Calvino could not escape this mathematical web.

As I read, various theories popped into my pea brain. Maybe the book is supposed to be nonlinear. Should I read all five cities of a specific type? Should I read the first of each type, then the second? Neither approach seemed to bear fruit, so I went back to the beginning and started to read cover-to-cover. New theories emerged. Maybe the cities, with their feminine names, are all metaphors for the women of Marco Polo’s travels. Many of the descriptions were provocative enough. Many weren’t. As I finished a city, I plotted it on my graph…always looking for a new angle.

After about 15-20 cities, I quit graphing. It no longer seemed relevant. I stopped looking for patterns and answers and just explored each city on its own terms. Each city provided something new to chew on and the intercalary dialogue between Khan and Polo both clarified and muddied the waters as I went. There are a few cities that will stick with me for a while. There are many I will soon forget. Maybe I will revisit this little book in the future. It certainly merits another look. Next time, I'll skip the legal pad altogether.



message 15: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 9. The Quiet American - Graham Greene

I totally blew it on this one. I found myself a bit bored by the first half of the novel so I forced myself to push forward without paying much attention to what was happening. It was only toward the end that I realized how little investment I’d made and recognized that I should have been paying better attention. Greene deserves that much on reputation alone.

It was pretty apparent from the beginning that both Fowler and Pyle were representative of a type, an attitude, a belief, a behavior, a people. I got that, I just didn’t find it engaging until later in the book when Greene began to plumb the depths of those characters. In the end, he pulled it all together nicely and I can appreciate that, but I can’t say I would be interested in putting this one on my “must re-read someday” shelf.



message 16: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 10. Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

Every year, my book club allows each member to pick a couple of titles for the year. Last year, I picked Philip Roth's, American Pastoral and Cormac McCarthy's, Blood Meridian. I suspect that the other members pick books like Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Water for Elephants as acts of revenge. This is one of those books that I typically shy away from after they receive a ridiculous amount of press and even my non-reader friends tell me I "just have" to read it. Whatever. I cringed when this title was nominated for the year.

In the end, I found it to be pretty entertaining as long as you didn't get caught up in the details. Jacob's journey from depression-era college student to Circus veterinarian was shaky at best...far too many happy coincidences and contrivances. Very early on, you could reasonably guess how it was all going to play out. There were very few surprises. The end, like the beginning was a bit lame, but everyone likes a feel good story, right? Right? The saving grace was Gruen's storytelling. It was simply fun and easy to read. On top of that, she happened to pick a topic that almost everyone is somehow fascinated by. I did not feel that she effectively used the historical context to her benefit as much as she could have. I did not feel she developed some of her characters as well as she could have. Even the animals seemed to play somewhat stock roles.

Overall? Not bad, but I'll never admit that to my book group.


message 17: by Mary Todd (new)

Mary Todd (marytodd) | 924 comments an elephant's trumpet to you for 10! (I LOVE reading your comments!)


message 18: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Bishop wrote:
Writing during the Renaissance, More obviously does not have access to future sociological and political context into which he could place his Utopia. Should we expect him to? Writing what More wrote when he wrote it—especially considering who he was—makes this an important book.

I feel the same way about Mark Twain. As a reader, you have to be able to put yourself into the time and place of the author.


message 19: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Come on Bishop--you have to admit to your book club that you thought "Water for Elephants" was "not bad" or you will never get them to give you a fair assessment of your choices.


message 20: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments They never do that anyway! :)


message 21: by Lisa (new)

Lisa So, Bishop, why do you belong to a book club which forces you to read books you're not going to like and has you foisting books on people that you know won't like them?


message 22: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments It's all in good fun. We've been torturing each other for years. :)


message 23: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 11. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

I read this last year to start prepping for a seminar course I had to teach. I reread it again with my students this winter annotating all sorts of new stuff as I went. Good stuff.


message 24: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 12. War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells

I went on a Wells kick last year and determined to read all of his "important" works. I enjoyed Dr. Moreau and Time Machine a bit, but decided to put of War of the Worlds for another day. Overall, like Wells' other books, I can appreciate what it is in literary history perhaps more than I can appreciate it in and of itself. Ultimately, I think Wells did his most effective writing at the beginning and at the end of the novel. The middle section was a bit tedious for me. Part of that may have to do with my lack of knowledge of the geography of England, but I could make that same complaint for the whole book. I bet if I lived in that area growing up, I would have loved that stuff. As for the ending of the book, I think Wells kept writing two chapters too long. That is just one man’s opinion, but I think the imagery of that final supplication would have made for a powerful ending (much more so than his epilogue).

Part of my disappointment with this book stems from reading the edition I have. I usually like the Barnes and Noble hardcover editions of the classics. They are cheap, relatively sturdy, and usually have fairly competent annotations. Usually. The annotations in this edition are abominable:

On page 63, Wells describes a Martian as “a second glittering Titan* [that:] built itself out of the pit.” Seeing the asterisk, I pause in my reading and scan to the bottom of the page expecting to see some insightful reference to the Titans of Greek Mythology or some such thing. Instead, the note simply read, “*Giant.” Seriously? That’s the best you can give me? OK, I’ll forgive you this once…

On page 113, Wells writes, “The lane* opened slantingly into the main road.” I read this one expecting yet another reference to some geographical oddity. Instead, I read, “*side road.” Holy crap! Does this guy seriously anticipate that the concept of a lane needs further clarification? We are now enemies…

There is a note telling the reader that a “fortnight” is “fourteen days” and numerous notes telling me that scientists who are writing treatises on the anatomy of the Martians (and such) are indeed “fictitious.” I appreciate the notes explaining the historical figures. That’s cool. But In a work of fiction, do you need to remind me that the characters--involved in incredibly fictional activities--were also fiction? You are dead to me…

If you are going to annotate a novel, you should have much better things to write about before you take the job. Even then, if you have nothing insightful to say, don’t bother. It's just annoying at that point.

My last complaint? The end notes contained tons of spoilers! Thanks for ruining the ending, you jerk.

Ugh…



message 25: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 13. Eleven Stories - Anton Chekhov

I went into this expecting to be blown away. Chekhov is supposed to be the man. Sadly, I wasn't blown away. It was breezy, but not uncomfortably so. These stories were good. They weren't great. I think I got the wrong collection. Better luck next time.


message 26: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments Having a new baby has cut back significantly on the time I have to read and to write about what I've read. Maybe I'll go back and write more reviews later...for now:

14. Labyrinths - Jorge Luis Borges
15. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
16. Night - Elie Wiesel
17. Romeo & Juliet - William Shakespeare
18. Pygmalion - George Bernard Shaw
19. Waiting for Godot - Samuel Beckett
20. Metamorphoses - Ovid




message 27: by Aprile (new)

Aprile (aprileb) Fantastic list of books!


message 28: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments Thanks. I only wish there were more of them...


message 29: by Bishop (last edited May 23, 2009 07:09PM) (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 21. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

I had to reread and annotate this one for a class. I liked it the first time I read it, but like it even more with each reading. BTW, the Norton Critical edition is pretty cool.


message 30: by Aprile (new)

Aprile (aprileb) You are doing really well though. You are pretty much on target :)


message 31: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments I ended up without about 80 last year...I don;t think I'll hit that this year with the new baby. However, the 28 books I have to read for grad school in the next two months should help. Ha....


message 32: by Aprile (new)

Aprile (aprileb) New baby AND grad school!? How can you read anything?? LOL


message 33: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 22. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin - Charles Darwin

The second of my grad school reads. Now its on to a couple by William Dean Howells.


message 34: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 23. The Rise of Silas Lapham - William Dean Howells

Better than expected. A pleasant surprise.


message 35: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 24. On Liberty - John Stuart Mill

Pretty brilliant and still as timely as ever.


message 36: by Judith (new)

Judith (jloucks) Great choices and wonderful comments, Bishop. And congratulations on the new offspring!


message 37: by Mary Todd (new)

Mary Todd (marytodd) | 924 comments so sorry you slipped under my radar! Pin a rose on you for 10+14...you will get a half-way ticker after your 25th!

Have fun with the new baby and what are you studying in grad school?


message 38: by Lisa (new)

Lisa Congrats on the new baby. You're where my husband was when we had our first one--new baby and grad school. Plus working and that leaves not much time for anything else.


message 39: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments I am studying literature, of course. :)

25. Culture and Anarchy - Matthew Arnold

If I had a nickel for every poorly constructed sentence in this thing, I would have a buttload of nickels. It's worth the time for insight into the Victorian mind, but I will never read it again unless I forced.


message 40: by Lisa (new)

Lisa But who really wants a buttload of nickels? Can you imagine the shopkeeper's face if you tried to spend them?


message 41: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 26. Habit - William James
27. The House of the Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne
28. The Awakening - Kate Chopin


message 42: by Bishop (last edited Jun 29, 2009 11:05PM) (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 29. An Imperative Duty - William Dean Howells

Yet another grad school read. Not nearly as good as Silas Lapham. I would not recommend it.


message 43: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 30. The Mill on the Floss - George Eliot


message 44: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 31. Pudd'nhead Wilson - Mark Twain
32. Hard Times - Charles Dickens

Yes...more grad school reads. Both are pretty good, but not the best by either author. Maybe I'll have a little more to say about all these when I can come up for air...in September.


message 45: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 33. The Virginian - Owen Wister



message 46: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 34. The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde

Laugh out loud funny. I think I was assigned this once in college, but skipped it. I'm glad I finally read it. Scathing and hilarious.


message 47: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 35. The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
36. We - Yevgeny Zamyatin

Any fan of dystopias in general or 1984/Brave New World in particular, should go grab a copy of We.


message 48: by Leshawn (new)

Leshawn | 460 comments Congratulations on 36 books!


message 49: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 37. Second Class Citizen - Buchi Emecheta


message 50: by Bishop (new)

Bishop (a_bishop) | 152 comments 38. Foundation - Isaac Asimov


« previous 1
back to top