Reading Challenge Update #6

I recently finished reading The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. This was a book that it seemed like everyone had read except me. Even my mom read it and she reads about 3 books a year. I picked this book based on her recommendation. I don’t read much modern literature, so I honestly wasn’t expecting much coming into this novel. I was pleasantly surprised, though.

the art of racing in the rain

At first the narration style got on my nerves a bit. The wording was often simple, but repetitive. I had to keep telling myself that the style was like that because the narrator is a dog. This dog is no ordinary dog though, and he soon won me over completely. Enzo has a child-like spirit and marvels at small things that we often take for granted, like opposable thumbs. At times he is brutally honest, but his wisdom shines through.

The novel focuses a lot on racing and cars, so I thought I wouldn’t enjoy that emphasis much, since I don’t really have a strong interest in cars, but the metaphors were well written throughout the novel, helping, rather than hindering the narrative. Enzo’s master is Denny Swift, a racing enthusiast, so it makes sense that Enzo loves racing just as much as he loves Denny. I loved seeing their relationship develop, because like human relationships, there are ups and downs.

Maybe I enjoyed this novel so much because I have a puppy of my own. In some ways, Enzo is every dog, loyal, loving, and pure-hearted. But because I have a puppy, the emotional parts of the novel were likely even more emotional than they would be if I had never had a pet of my own. Overall, I think this is a must-read novel for any dog-lover, or animal-lover, for that matter.

I will say that the story progression is a bit predictable. If the narrator were anyone but a dog, I would have put the book down after the first chapter or so. The story is more remarkable because of the canine narrator. Even with the mostly predictable story line, it’s still a cute novel. I can’t really give much of a summary without spoilers, but it’s a quick read.

Reading Challenge Update #5

About two week ago I finished reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. I counted this under the category ‘a book set in Europe’, although it could have counted as a few different things.
owc-tenant-of-wildfell-hall1
Although Anne Bronte is one of the least well-known Bronte sisters, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The style seemed like a mix between Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen. It has a similar style to Charlotte Bronte with the feminist themes, coupled with beautiful and accurate observations of characters/setting, but it also resembles Austen’s style that is lighter and more relationship-focused than that of Charlotte Bronte.

I loved that the novel used some of the Gothic elements, like many Victorian novels, including Jane Eyre (one of my top 5 favorites). The Tenant of Wildfell Hall presents an interesting adaptation of the Byronic hero that is present in so many Gothic novels, in that the hero is actually a heroine. It’s definitely arguable that Helen Graham, the main character of the novel exhibits the traits of the Byronic hero, or in this case, heroine.

For those who may or may not know, the Byronic hero was named after Lord Byron, as a variation of the romantic hero.
Character traits of the Byronic hero include: high level of intelligence/ keen observation skills; cunning and adaptability; sophisticated/ educated; self-critical/ introspective; mysterious/brooding, but also charismatic/ magnetic; struggles with integrity; power of seduction and sexual attraction; social/ sexual dominance. Helen doesn’t necessarily fit every category, but many Byronic heroes won’t check every box.

A brief summary without spoilers: A mysterious widow arrives at Wildfell Hall, a manor near Gilbert Markham, the narrator of the first and third parts of the novel. He observes her with great interest and begins to learn about her life, despite her wishes to remain as isolated as possible from the world around her. However, Mr. Markham and Arthur, Helen’s son, soon form a strong bond, and Helen is eventually drawn into a friendship with Mr. Markham. Helen harbors secrets though, that if the truth was found out, her and little Arthur’s lives could be drastically changed forever.

That’s all I’ll say of that. There are elements of mystery and intrigue, as well as romance and heartbreak. If you’re looking for drama and Victorian gossip, there’s some of that as well. Honestly, it has all the elements of a great novel, and the characterization is vivid. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone remotely interested in Victorian literature.

Reading Challenge Update #3

Last night I finished up reading Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. So far, this has been my favorite novel for my reading challenge. Dead Souls is a bit unique in that it’s not a complete novel. Many sentences and chapters are incomplete near the end of the second part of the novel. Gogol intended to write a third part, but sadly died before his masterpiece was complete. Gogol himself was unsatisfied with the novel, and even burned a majority of the manuscript’s second part. Despite that, Gogol’s Dead Souls exhibits the genius of the author.

DeadSoulsArt

I’ve had a fascination with Russian literature since I first read Anna Karenina for the first time in high school. My boyfriend bought me Dead Souls for Christmas because of this. Although the title sounds morbid, Dead Souls started out quite tame and very slow. Honestly, I had a hard time getting into the book to start, but Gogol is an excellent observer of environment and of characters. Four or five chapters in, I was hooked.

The plot focuses on Chichikov, who travels around to various landowners across Russia in order to buy dead souls (dead peasants). Again, the idea seems a bit morbid, but Chichikov is foremost a business man, and in buying dead souls buys the name of the peasant, as that is what is counted for the population census of landowners. At first, it seems Chichikov buys the peasants in order to relieve the land owners from paying taxes on the dead peasants, but eventually ulterior motives are revealed.

Although the plot of Dead Souls is unique, the greatest part of the novel is Gogol’s ability to capture the Russian spirit within the novel. Russian authors, more so than any other group, seem to be preoccupied with an idea of one man embodying all of Russia, and Russia embodying all that man is and all that man can be. In some ways, Russia is a character within Gogol’s novel, and that concept is intriguing to me. Through the narrative of Chichikov, Gogol also explores the soul of not just a Russian man, but every man/person. Every glimpse of Chicikov’s soul shows the pain, the joy, and the resilience of all souls.

On that same note, the title Dead Souls is almost ironic when looking at the larger picture of the novel, which is to capture the essence of the very much alive soul that dwells within Chichikov. The depth and breadth of human nature that Gogol captures is extraordinary, really.

Although I read this book more casually, it could easily be read and analyzed in an academic environment.

Also, Dead Souls is available in PDF format from Harvard University: http://projects.iq.harvard.edu/gov2126/files/gogol_dead_souls_1996.pdf

2016 Reading Challenge

I’ve seen a lot of different posts about yearly reading challenges, the most popular by far is the MMD (Modern Mrs. Darcy) Reading Challenge . The goal is 12 books in 12 months. It’s a great challenge that exposes new readers to great books and even longtime readers to new genres.

I always go a little over the top with these sorts of things, so I created my own version of a 2016 reading challenge that is considerably more substantial. I used the 2016 MMD Reading Challenge as a starting point as well as the 2016 PopSugar Reading Challenge.

  • A book based on a fairy tale
  • A National Book award winner
  • A YA best seller
  • A book you haven’t read since high school/ A book you were supposed to read in high school (but didn’t)
  • A book set in your home state
  • A book translated into English
  • A romance set in the future
  • A book set in Europe
  • A book that is less than 150 pages
  • A NY Times best-seller
  • A book that is becoming a movie this year
  • A book with a protagonist who has the same occupation as you/ a protagonist that has your dream occupation
  • A book that takes place in the summer
  • A book and its prequel / A book and its sequel
  • A murder mystery
  •  A book written by a comedian
  • A dystopian novel
  • A book with a blue cover
  • A book of poetry
  • The first book you see in a bookstore / the first book you see in your home library
  • A classic from the 20th century
  • A book from the library
  • An autobiography (can be a fictionalized autobiography)
  • A book recommended by a friend
  • A self-improvement book
  • A book you can finish in a day
  • A book written by a celebrity (or someone you consider to be a celebrity)
  • A political memoir
  • A book more than 100 years older than you
  • A book that is more than 600 pages
  • A book from Oprah’s Book Club
  • A science fiction novel
  • A book recommended by a family member
  • A graphic novel
  • A book published in 2016
  • A non-fiction book
  • A book about a road trip / voyage
  • A book about an unfamiliar culture
  • A satirical book
  • A book that takes place on an island
  • A book that is guaranteed to bring you joy
  • A book you chose because of the cover
  • A book with magic
  • A banned book
  • A book that was published the year you were born
  • A book you started and never finished (or a book you have always wanted to read, if the first does not apply)
  • A book by an author you have never read
  • A book of short stories

48 books, 12 months. Although not a small task by any means, this is my 2016 reading challenge. Happy reading!

2016 reading challenge