Tag Archives: books

Book Challenge by Erin

30 Jun

I have recently stumbled upon an international book challenge that runs twice every year and is organised single-handedly by an amazing lady in Australia called Erin on Facebook. Ten categories are set and each participant has to read one book, which has to be at least 200 pages long, from each category to complete the challenge. There is then a bonus round (if you have time) where you can read one more book from each of the categories to gain extra points but a number of the books have to be books that have been read by other participants. This challenge will run from 1st July until 31st October.

I actually discovered this challenge at the end of last year and I thought I was too late to join. It turns out that a few of the books that I had read would have qualified for the categories completely by chance. Nevermind! This time I will be really taking part and I hope to be able to complete the challenge.

I thought it would be a good challenge to do because I have quite a few books that I want to read or that I have at home and never get round to reading and I thought that this would be a good way to make myself sit down and read them. Ok, it not “quite a few”, it’s more like hundreds and hundreds. Also, I have been trying to read 52 books in one year (an average of 1 per week) for the past four years and have always failed. I am currently on a total of 29 books so I am hoping that the challenge will spur me on and give me the motivation to read my total of 52.

Here are the categories that we have been given and the choices that I have made for each of the categories. I will post when the challenge is finished to let you know how I got on and what the books were like.

Book Challenge by Erin 9.0

  1. Freebie (any book of your choice that is at least 200 pages long) – I chose Murder Games by James Patterson. This is the easiest read on my list by a long way. I have read a lot of James Patterson books and they are an easy read. As this is my first challenge I thought that having an easier read to begin with would be a good idea.
  2. Read a book that starts with the letter “N” – I chose Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro. I have been a big fan of Ishiguro since we read Remains of the Day for my A-Level English Literature and I think I have read every one of his books, apart from this one. Another reason to choose this was because it is a collection of short stories and it will be a good book to take with me on the train.
  3. Read a book that has a (mostly) orange cover – I chose Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie. I was slightly annoyed with this category because when the book categories were published, I was already half way through a book with an orange cover (Happy Failure by Herman Melville). I have never read any Agatha Christie novels so I thought this might be a good place to start.
  4. Read a book that has an unlikeable character – I chose The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I think just about everyone read this during my teenage years at school – apart from me. I was somehow a bit put off reading anything by Plath because I know that she killed herself; I have always had it in my head that her writing would be really depressing. I will give it a go and see how it is.
  5. Read a book from the list of 100 books that PBS calls “The Great American Read” – I chose The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I have been meaning to read this for a while. There were a lot of books on the list that I thought would be interesting to read but I decided on this one.
  6. Read a book with something related to water in the title – I chose The Falls by Ian Rankin. I have read quite a few Rankin novels and I had this book anyway. It seemed like a good opportunity to stop this book from gathering dust on the book shelf.
  7. Read a book you’ve owned the longest but haven’t read – I chose Porno by Irvine Welsh. I am not 100% sure that this is the book I have had the longest as there are a lot of contenders for that but I have been meaning to read this for a long while. This is actually the sequel to Welsh’s Trainspotting novel that was the basis of the film of the same name. I read Trainspotting and enjoyed it immensely. Both of these books (and quite a few of Welsh’s other books) are written, at least partly, in Scottish dialect so it is a bit of challenging read, which is why it has been on the “To read” list for so long.
  8. Read a book with an emotion word in the title –  I chose The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I recently bought this book and luckily it fits nicely into this category.
  9. Read a book (must be at least 2 words in the title) where each word in the title of the book begins with the same letter –  I chose Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. I have never read this, even though I can hear the theme tune of the TV series in my head the moment that I think of the title. I don’t know very much about the plot apart from there is a black horse in it. However, it is a classic so it must be a good read.
  10. Read a book featuring a character who shares your profession or a similar one – I chose Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. This is a bit of a tenuous link to my job. I work in a non-commercial bank, where commodities and hedge fund trading happens, in the Finance department. So the link is banking/finance. This is another book that has been gathering dust and, without this challenge, I don’t think that I would be attempting to read it.

There you have it. The ten books that I will be attempting to read. Wish me luck and come back soon to see if I managed to complete the challenge!

40 Before 40: Challenge #29

21 Mar

My 29th Challenge is to read the complete list of the 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. 

Being on holiday for five weeks has given me the time to read another three books from the list. Here is what I have recently read.

Runaway by Alice Munro

Alice Munro is a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature but, like so many of the authors on the list, I had never heard of her. She specialises in writing short stories and many of the stories flip back and forth in time. I don’t read a lot of short stories but it is nice to be able sit down and read a whole story in one sitting.

One of the stories, in particular, I thought was incredible. It was about a woman, who met a man after she had lost her purse. They have a spend a night together talking and getting to know each other. He asks that she comes to see him in a year’s time. She does this but when she goes to see him, he is incredibly rude to her and she feels that he has made a fool out of her. It is only years and years later, when she is working as a nurse, that she thinks he has been admitted to the ward where she was working. The man is not the man she met, but his twin, who has learning disabilities. This was the man who was rude to her and sent her away the second time. The man she actually met had passed away a few years earlier. It was heartbreaking to hear that arriving at slightly the wrong time left her embarrassed and affected the rest of her life without her realising it. I guess this kind of things happens all the time in real life, which makes it even more sad.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I don’t know how I have managed to make it to my age and to have not read this book. It was never an option for our GCSE set and so it was just back luck that I’ve managed to miss it. Of course, I have seen some of the many screen adaptations that have been made, especially the version with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy.

Even though I know what happens in the book, I was still completely surprised when Darcy announces his love for Elizabeth Bennett. When you know the thoughts of the characters, it’s a far more shocking revelation than watching in on TV.

Although the book was first published in 1813, there are quite a lot of issues and problems that we still have today. For example, people judge others and form opinions about them far too quickly. It’s then very difficult to be persuaded otherwise. I was thinking about a person recently, who when I first met them, I was convinced that I would never be able to get along with them and didn’t want to have that much to do with them. It’s only as time has moved on that I have changed my opinion of them and actually don’t might spending time with them at all. The last time I met them, it was no effort to see them for a few hours and get along well with one another.

Also, there is a lot of talk about marriage and Lizzy is worried that her family will not approve of her engagement to Mr Darcy. This, I am sure, still happens all the time. It doesn’t really matter how old you get or what walk of life you come from, everyone still want to have approval from the actions that they take – despite what some people might claim.

I wonder how much forcing schoolchildren to read classics at the age of 13 to 16-years-old actually puts people off reading these books for the rest of their life. If this book hasn’t been on the list, there is no way I would have read it. But I am glad I did.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

I have seen the film of the book and I was a bit nervous about reading it. In case you don’t know the book is about a young girl who has been murdered by a man in her local community. The story is told from her perspective as she looks down on earth from heaven and watches her family and friends come to terms with her death and what happened to her.

As is normally the case, the book is far better than the film and is beautiful written and thought-provoking.

I’m not sure if I liked this book so much because in a lot of respects it corresponds to what I think heaven would be like: that our loved ones never leave us but watch over us from afar.

If you haven’t read this book, I really think that you should. The subject matter seems morbid but the story itself is more about hope and the connections that we have with one another.

40 Before 40: Challenge #27

6 Mar

For this challenge, I need to read 40 novels in German.

I haven’t put that much effort into this challenge yet, which is partly due to the fact that I still have to look up quite a lot of words when I am reading in German. I have, however, managed to read two more novels in German this year.

Der kleine Prinz (The Little Prince) by Antione De Saint-Exupery

This is a very well-known children’s book across Europe but I don’t think that I have even seen in the UK. The story is about pilot who, while trying to fix his plane in the desert meets a small prince who is travelling to Earth from an asteroid. The prince describes different worlds that he has explored.

Although this is a children’s book, it is very philosophical in nature and criticises the social nature of the world. I managed to learn a lot of words while reading it. I could see myself re-reading this book again in the future. It is only short and it would also be a good way to make sure that I have remembered the vocabulary that I have learnt.

Die Frau mit dem Hund (The Woman with the Dog) by Birigt Vanderbeke

This was a longer, and definitely, more adult book. When the book began, I knew that normal life was not being described. The first character in the book, Jules, has to go to the supermarket to buy goods with points and, from the descriptions, the whole place is very clean and regulated. When she gets home, there is a young girl called Pola with a dog sat outside her apartment. She panicks because dogs are not allowed in District 7 and she quickly ushers her into her apartment so that the caretaker or someone else doesn’t see her with the stranger.

After giving her food, she discovers that she is pregnant and she says that she needs to get to another district when women have babies. She is so scared about the authorities finding the pregnant woman with her dog in her flat without ID that she tells her that she has to leave. Meanwhile, the neighbour, Timon, has smelt the smell from the dog and this reminds him of the time when he was growing up before the districts were formed. He finds the woman the next day and takes her in. Timon and Pola, with the help of some people she knew before she ended up in District 7, build her a place to live in the attic. Pola ends up giving birth to the baby in the attic one night, even though Timon has tried to get her ID and a safe passage into the birthing district.

At the end of the book, I really wanted to know more about the circumstances of these districts because nothing is 100% explained to the reader. A lot is left to the imagination of the reader, which is no bad thing, but so many things are left unsaid that it is a bit frustrating to know exactly what happened for the living and working condition of the population to end up like this. The book could also lend itself to further books, where the reader sees exactly what happens to Pola and her baby girl, who she, for some reason, calls Michael.

40 Before 40: Challenge #29

3 Mar

Challenge #29 on my list was to read all the books on the 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. This is a list of 40 books by female authors, the majority of whom, to my shame, I am not familiar with or even heard of.

At the start of the challenge, I had already read 4 of the books on the list, mainly because we were forced to read them at school and not necessarily because I was particularly interested in reading them.

As I have got older, I tend to read only contemporary books. There are quite a few older books on the list, like Little Women and Jane Eyre. To be blunt, I wasn’t looking forward to reading these at all. It was always hard work reading them as a young adult.

For this update, I have read two of these “older” books and I have to say that I have really enjoyed them. Below are some of my comments about the books that I have read from the list.

Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector

This is one of the authors from the list that I haven’t heard of. She is actually Brazilian and the book was originally written in Portuguese. Before I started to read the book, I found out that her writing style has been compared to that of James Joyce, who made famous the stream of consciousness narrative style. In fact, the title of the book is actually a quote from Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I enjoyed reading Joyce for my English Literature A-Level exam so I was hopeful that I would also find this book enjoyable.

The main character is Joana and the story provides flashbacks between her childhood, her adolescence and present day. It tells the story of her relationship with her husband and their divorce (which must have been scandalous to read in the 1940s) and the woman, who her husband gets pregnant. In one part of the book, Joana meets with this woman, Lidia, who she knows is having an affair with her husband. Her reaction was a bit strange as she is not particularly bothered by this.

I really enjoyed this book. Sometimes the book was hard to follow because it flipped between different times but some of the descriptions and the writing was incredible.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

I had this book as a child but I only managed to ever read a couple of chapters of it. It is perhaps one of the most famous books on the whole list. The story is of a group of four sisters, who are growing up during the time of the American Civil War. Their father is away working as a pastor and the four girls and their mother are left at home waiting for news about his return.

The four young women have very different characters and personalities: one is a tomboy; another very quiet and interested in art; another the mother figure of the group, when their mother is absent; one is very shy and musical.

The story tells what becomes of the sisters as they grow up, which includes marriages, deaths, births, work and extensive trips to Europe.

The BBC showed an adaptation of the book between Christmas and New Year. As it was after I had read the book, I thought it might be a good idea to watch it. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into it. Perhaps the characters didn’t look as I thought they would have done. I also found the American accents a bit uncomfortable. As I was reading the book, I did have the tendency to forget that the story was set in America and not in England and so it sounded a bit funny to my ears. I only got about 20 minutes into the programme and I decided to stop. I guess, in this case, the book was better than the screenplay.

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

I always find this book confusing. Is it Jane Eyre written by Charlotte Bronte or Charlotte Bronte written by Jane Eyre? Again I think that this was a book I had when I was younger that stayed on my book shelf unread. In the end I really enjoyed this book, so it was a shame that I had left it so long to read this book.

As many books from this era begin, Jane Eyre is an orphan, who is unwanted by her uncle’s family, who she is put into the care of. Eventually, she is sent away to a boarding school, where she is educated and thrives, but not before she watches her best friend in the world die of consumption. She goes on to be a teacher at the boarding school but, after getting a job as a governess of a child in a private house.

Jane falls in love with the Master of the house and is due to marry him until the wedding is stopped because Mr Rochester is already married. His wife is actually a lunatic who lives in the attic (all very bizarre). Jane leaves in the middle of the night because she does not want to become his mistress. Exhausted and hungry, she comes across a house where the people take pity on her and nurse her back to health. The new Master of the house gives her the job of a new governess of a school for poor children. He wants to marry her but she is still thinking about what happened to her Mr Rochester, who she still loves and always will. She goes off in search of him to see what has happened to him and… I won’t spoil the whole thing. You can read it yourself.

I liked the book because, although it was a romance, it wasn’t too over the top. I think a lot of books talk about love as it is some magical spell that transforms people suddenly, when in most cases love is a lot more dignified and isn’t necessarily know to the beholder immediately.

Also I learnt the word “lugubrious” which means looking or sounding sad or dismal. This is my new favourite word. If I was still at school, I would be desperate to get this into one of my exam scripts. I might try to get it into one of my short stories.

I have now read 7 out of the 40 books that I need to complete this challenge. I am so glad that I decided to have this one my list. I’m really enjoying it.

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40 Before 40: Challenge #1

17 Jan

My first challenge for my #40Before40 is to pass the C2 Goethe German exam. On the European Framework of Languages this is the highest level and means that you are almost on the same level and understanding as a native speaker.

One of the reasons I moved to Switzerland was to learn a language. A lot of people I know, and I mean mainly British expats, don’t bother to learn the local languages. It is possible to survive working here in an international company where the preferred language is English. However, I feel it is a bit of a shame not to try to learn it because, I believe, your experience will be much better for it.

That is not to say that it is easy. I came here not knowing a word of German and now I still don’t think I know any of it some days. It requires a huge investment of time, brain power and perseverance. So, I have worked doggedly for the best part of four years and slowly but surely I am getting there.

I have now finished my C1 course. So that means I am one more level away from completing this challenge. If you have every been stuck on a level in Candy Crush, you will know that “just completing one more level” is not as easy as it sounds. I will begin the C2 level when I am back from my travels in March.

To become even a little bit closer to being considered as a native speaker, I know that I have to improve quite a bit. Mistakes are not looked upon kindly in the exam. Also I know that I need to work on managing my stress levels in the build up to the exam because it is pretty unbearable how stress I manage to get myself. I dare say it is worse for people who know me.

I am under no illusions that this could be hard to achieve but I am going to give it my best shot and see what happens. I have got this far so that has to mean something.

One thing that I found equally laughable and endearing is that a colleague of mine confessed that I have inspired her to take her German exams as well. I never thought that I would inspired anyone to do anything, let alone take German exams. From the sound of it, she is doing more work and preparation than I have for the last four years.

But as a former boss of mine once said: You only need to be one mark above the pass mark. Everything else is wasted effort.

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#40Before40: Challenge #9

6 Jan

The ninth challenge on my #40Before40 list is to write a novel. This has been something that I have always wanted to do and I have always put off because of my lack of self confidence and a little bit of lack of discipline. When I was younger, I used to like writing stories and making things up but, as I have got older, I have found excuses not to do more writing but this is still a dream of mine.

A lot of people have looked at me in horror when I have told them that this is on the list. The main thing to remember is that it does have to be any good. I only have to write it. I never said anything about being published. This might be a bit of a cop out but this is definitely my line of thinking: get the thing written and then take it from there.

As I mentioned, the key to this task is to get into a habit and develop discipline. It is possible to write a book in six months if you write a regular amount each day. November is also National Novel Writing Month, which was started in the States. In this challenge, you have to wrote about 1,500 words a day for the whole month of November, so that in the end you have a 45,000 word novel. 1,500 words a day is not a lot in theory. Of course, if you then come to a part of the story that you are having trouble with, it could take you an hour to write 200 words.

In an attempt to ease myself into this challenge and to develop my self disciple, I have joined a writing group. We meet every Wednesday at a very interesting place which describes itself as Bar, Bücher und Bühne (in English, Bar, Books and Stage). It’s a book stop but a café and bar and they also hold more creative and arty events, which is the stage part.

I was nervous at joining at first. I had never been to anything like this before but I already knew roughly the format of the session. To begin with we decide on a writing prompt and we have 15 minutes to write about it. A writing prompt is a topic or idea that you use to spark creative ideas and writing. It can be one word, a quotation or even a picture. For example, last week the prompt was “Christmas emergency”. At the end of the 15 minutes, we are free to share what we have written, if we want to. I haven’t yet shared anything that I have written. All of the other members of the group are far too good and I feel like I would sound a bit silly in comparison to what they have written. But they have been part of the group for a lot longer than me and a few of them have given up working to write. In my world that is living the dream.

It is always interesting to hear the different interpretations of the prompts. With “Christmas emergency” one girl wrote about someone going into labour, one guy wrote about the Christmas tree accidentally being set on fire and I wrote about someone opening a very expensive bottle of champagne by mistake. I guess this all depends on how you interpret the word “emergency”. I think this reveals a bit too much about my personal preferences.

After a break, we have between 30 and 40 minutes to write on something that we are working on. Some people work on novels, others on non-fiction articles and I am still yet to decide what I want to work on. I have some ideas for novels but I am a bit unsure if I should plan the whole novel out or just go for it and start writing. For the time being, I have been trying to work on some short stories, with varying degrees of success.

My main problem is that I can’t seem to finish anything. I get half way through a story and get stuck, not on what I want to write, but on how I want to write it and then I never finish it because I take this as a sign what I am writing can’t be all that good. One advantage of the group is being able to talk about these problems. One guy told me that every first draft is rubbish but you have to get something down on paper before you can begin to improve it. It is more than a good point; it’s the truth.

Having said that I have completed the first writing project I have started since I was at school. I have written a bedtime story book of short stories for my niece for Christmas. I am more than sure that no publisher would even consider looking at but my niece likes it and that is enough for me. Unfortunately, my children’s story book is not more than 50’000. So, the challenge is not yet complete. In the meantime, I will keep writing and look for inspiration for my first novel.

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40 Before 40: Challenge #27

6 Nov

Reading is one of my passions in life. I could easily sit and read for the whole day if I had the time and there were no interruptions. A great way to learn another language is to read. It is surprising how much you can learn passively.

However, as it is not always easy to read in another language, this can take the fun out of one of my favourite past times. Sometimes it feels like you are taking more time looking up words than you are actually reading the text. Despite this, I decide that my Challenge #27 would be to Read 40 novels in German.

So far, this is what I have read:

1. Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink (The Reader)

I read this book as part of my German lessons earlier this year. I wrote about this at the time on my blog. If you didn’t see it the first time, the link is here.

2. Happy Birthday Türke! by Jakob Arjourni (Happy Birthday Turk!)

This is the story of a private detective of Turkish heritage born in Germany, who is asked to investigate the death of a man, after the police have shown their disinterest to use resources to solve the murder of a “foreigner”. The story begins on the birthday of the detective, hence the title “Happy Birthday, Turk!”

The story also explores issues, such as racial stereotypes and the tensions that exist between people who are seen as foreigners and those who consider themselves to be natives. The books ends with the detective not only discovering the truth but also uncovering a corrupt system.

Thanks to this book I now know more words for prostitute in German than I do in English. I have no idea when I will use these words though.

3. Ein Tag mit Herrn Jules by Diane Broeckhoven (A Day with Mr Jules)

This was am interesting book about a woman whose husband passes away in his armchair in the morning. She doesn’t want to accept this and carries on her day as usual. What throws a spanner in the works is when the autistic child who lives in the same building comes over. He regularly comes over to plays chess with the man who has passed away.

Being autistic, he doesn’t like changes to his routine and the wife has to let him in to play chess with her husband. The boy realises quickly that his normal chess player has passed away but he spends the day with the wife anyway. By the end of the book, the wife has come to terms with her loss and admits that she needs to contact the relevant people, including her son and daughter, to deal with the death of her husband.

4. Ein paar Leute suchen das Glück und lachen sich tot by Sibyelle Berg (A few people search for happiness and laugh themselves to death)

This was an interesting book. I mainly chose the book because the author lives in Zurich. The story has short chapters which focus on individual chapters, by the end of the book several of the individual stories have intertwined.

The book explores themes such as love, loss, the complexity of relationships and, to a certain extent, the meaning of modern life.

By the end I wasn’t sure what to make of it all. I had quite a few unanswered questions. In terms of my language learning, I did learn a lot of new words, especially colloquial terms that are perhaps not easy to pick up by formal German lessons.

Four down, 36 to go…