Tag Archives: challenge #29

Challenge #29 – Update

27 Mar

From the list of The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read, I have now read 33 of the books. This year I have had another good start to my reading year and being able to read some books and authors that I haven’t heard of before has helped.

The majority of these books have been so good that I have hardly been able to put them down for a break and I have noticed that I have been forgoing watching TV so that I can get through the books even faster.

With only 7 more books to go until I can cross this challenge off my list, you might think that it will only be a few more weeks before I am declaring that this challenge is complete. However, I seem to have unintentionally left the longer books until the end and there is a book on the list that I have begun but abandoned because I found it too boring. So, this might be a tricky one to complete.

Here are the books from the list that I have recently read:

Notes on a Scandal: What was she thinking? by Zoe Heller

I couldn’t put this book down and I read it in a few hours. It’s the story of a female teacher who has a relationship with a pupil. The story is told from the point of view of a fellow teacher and the confident of the teacher who has the affair. I would say that the reader learns a lot more about the person narrating the story rather than the details of the affair – her motives and interest in the story is slowly revealed as the story progresses.

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

I didn’t realise that this book had been made into a film until after I had read it. The book tells the story of a girl nicknamed Bone and her relationship with her mother and step-father. Her relationship with her step-father is abusive and her mother struggles to admit that there is a problem that needs to be solve. The ending was very emotional and I also found it confusing – the resolution was not what I expected to happen.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

This book was slightly odd. It starts off by the three main characters reminiscing about an event from the past and then the book switches to a third person narrator. The main character is suffering from a mental breakdown but it doesn’t become clear until later in the book what brought on this breakdown. There is also talk of her daughter who seems to have been taken from her because of health issues but these aren’t discussed or explained in detail. I thought the book had a dream-like quality about it – some parts of it didn’t seem real and I’m not clear about how or why some of the events described happened. It was a confusing read.

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

This is the story of two Native American families over a number of decades and how their lives are affected by one another. The chapters are each told by different characters during different years. It’s interesting to see how one character views events differently to others. You feel involved in the story because the whole book has a conversational style about it – as if you are just sat down having a coffee with someone and they are telling you a story. There is also a complicated love triangle between the two families which makes the story a bit juicier but also brings sadness to the story as well.

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

This was an historic novel that is based on the life of Friedrich von Hardenberg (I haven’t heard of him before either). In the story Friedrich falls in love with a girl, who is lower than his social class but he intends to marry her anyway. I was glad that I can speak German because there were quite a few German phases or words used in the book. I got annoyed reading another book recently that was set in France and had some French words that weren’t translated. It was possible to work out what they meant from the context but it could have been that I misinterpreted them.

The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

This is the story of a young, privileged woman called Lily Bart, who lives in New York at the turn of the century. She likes to gamble and gets into a lot of debt and these debts force her to make decisions that make her situation, relationship and life even worse. I liked the main character and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her; everything she tries to do to make her life better end up backfiring and people are not kind to her and believe malicious rumours. I did take a lot time to enjoy this book. I felt like the story was slightly boring in the beginning. It was only in the second half when things start to get worse and worse that I wanted to read quicker to find out what was going to happen to her.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Even at the very start of this book, I knew I was reading something that was going to be epic. The book starts with the narrator, Richard Papin, revealing that because the snow came down the police didn’t find the body of his college classmate for ten days. What a way to start a story! I was hooked straight away. The book is his recollection of the events that led up to that point, from how he ended up choosing that college, how he ended up being accepted into a strange group within the university. It was a long book but I couldn’t put it down. The ending was unexpected as well.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

This book has such a sad ending. It tells the story of Edna Pontellier who realises that she is in love with a man who is not her husband. She struggles with being a wife and a mother and doesn’t have any interest in raising her own children. It is clear that the man she is in love with has the same feeling about her but they are both trapped because of the norms of society. I realised a few pages from the end what was going to be the outcome but it did make it any less upsetting.

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40 Before 40: Challenge #29 – update

15 Feb

I’ve been busy reading more books from The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. Here are the latest books that I’ve read.

Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson

This was a strange book. I don’t know what sort of genre it was – it was a mixture of fantasy and historical. It also incorporates The Twelve Dancing Princesses which is a commentary about women’s role in society. I found the book very surreal. If the book had have been much longer, I am not sure that I would have stuck out reading it until the end.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The story is set after the American Civil War and tells the story of a woman who murders her daughter. When a mysterious woman returns, she is convinced this is the ghost of the child that she murdered. The book is hard to understand at first because it flips between different time periods, so you do have to concentrate to know where the part of the story relates to.

When I realised that this was essentially a ghost story, I wasn’t convinced that I would like the story. But the story is very intriguing. How the ghost affects the family and the mother in particular is interesting.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

By far the worst part of this book is seeing the dates that the diary entries were made knowing that the hope of them being free isn’t going to happen. The contrast between the musings of a teenage girl (complaining about classmates etc) and the description of the harsh conditions is mind blowing.

The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende

Four generations story. set in Chile. It’s an incredible read. It was super easy to read even though the book was almost 500 pages long but it was incredibly tragic as well as very funny at the same time. It is for books like this that I wanted to do this challenge; to discover new authors and great works of literature that I wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to read. I would easily say that this is in the Top 5 of my favourite books. There is pretty stiff competition with the amount of books that I have read so that is high praise indeed.

This was a joy to read. It’s the story of four generations of an eccentric family in Chile and charts the tragedy, hilarity and surreality of their lives in an ever-changing world. One minute I was laughing out loud, the next silent in shock at the events that were unfolding in the story. I would go as far to say that this was one of my favourite books that I have ever read. This was another long read but I doubt it will be long before I am re-reading it once again.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

This was an incredibly long book. Whenever I was thinking that there was no way that the books could continue for much longer, there was a plot twist and I was completely engrossed in the story again.

This was a long book (my edition was 884 pages long) but was a great read. Set during the American Civil War, it is essentially a story of love and loss, focused on the main character Scarlett O’Hara. Throughout the book, I was wondering how on earth the story could keep going and going, but there was always a clever plot twist to stir things up again and leave the reader wanting to read on. I haven’t seen the film but I wonder how the whole story can be possibly cut down to the length of a film without losing part of the great story. I’m so glad that I stuck with this book and read it until the end.

Willful Creatures by Amiee Bender

This was a book of story stories. They were honestly the most bizarre stories that I have ever read. They were very surreal and made me re-think how a short story can be written. To show you what I mean, these were some of the outlines of the stories: a family of potatoes, who try not to be eaten, a boy who is born with keys as fingers and he has to find out what each of the keys opens and a man who keeps a small man locked up in a cage like a bird.

After reading most of the stories, I did have to wonder if I had read the story right and that I some how hadn’t misinterpreted it completely. The stories are brilliantly imaginative and entertaining.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

All of these stories had a strong religious tone to them, which I think probably says a lot about the background of the author. The first story in the collection is called “Brownies” which brought back a lot of memories for me because I also went to Brownies, when I was a child. Even though you would think that this story couldn’t have a religious tone to it, one of the leaders of the Brownie pack was overtly religious. I thought the stories were interesting: overall, I wasn’t completely bowled over by the collection as a whole.

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

There are a lot of books of short stories on this list and this was another of them. The first part of the collection were stories exploring relationships between men and women and love. The story called “Unaccustomed Earth” is about a widower, who has found love with a new companion but decides not to tell his daughter because he wants to remain independent.

In the second part of the book, the three stories were related and told the story of two childhood friends, who, later in life, fall in love but decide not to pursue a relationship because she is already engaged to someone else. The ending is really sad. There weren’t many happy endings in any of the stories.

I have now read 25 out of the 40 and I am really enjoying this challenge.

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Reading matters

10 Dec

This year has been an excellent reading year for me. I have been trying for years to read more than 52 books (an average of one per week). It is the beginning of December and I have already read 61 books. Some of them have been shorter novels but I have also read some books that were longer. The longest one I have read was over 700 pages.

One of the reasons that I am reading like a woman possessed is because quite a few of my challenges for my #40before40 list involve reading. So by default I have been reading as many books as possible so that I can tick some more challenges off my list.

The twenty nineth challenge on my list is to read The 40 Books Every Woman Should Read. Some of the authors (all female) I haven’t even heard of before I started the challenge and I have been really surprised about how good some of these books have been.

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Here are the books that I have recently read from the list:

The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This was a short story collection that is set in Nigeria or has character which have Nigerian heritage, where the author is from. I was quite surprised that a lot of the stories are set in really unusual situations which meant that the author was able to do a lot with the characters involved.

From my point of view, I thought that it was a bit too feminist for me. The stories mainly focus on women who are at the mercy of their male counterparts. Considering the background of the author this is understandable and I found it interesting to read stories that I normally wouldn’t choose to read.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

This was the Winner of Pulitzer Prize 2011 but if I am being brutally honest, I am not sure how it managed to get this prize. The plot was interesting because it followed a group of characters who were interconnected because of their associations with music. One chapter was written as a Powerpoint presentation which I initially thought was a bit of gimmick but the chapter was surprisingly easy to read and I knew exactly what the author wanted to convey in the chapter.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I didn’t read this as a teenager, which I think virtually everyone else in my school did and raved about until the end of time. Knowing what happened to Plath and how depressed she was during her life, I wasn’t keen to read anything that she had written. However, I didn’t find the book too depressing even thought there were depressive thoughts in there. Also some of the description was beautiful in a tragic sort of way.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I have tried reading this book before and given up because I wasn’t enjoying it but I was glad that I chose it for the challenge and persevered with it. The story deals with some difficult topics such as racism, abuse and sexism but it’s written well and is engaging. I know that it was turned into a film later starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey but I haven’t got round to watching it yet.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I really enjoyed this book. It was an interesting exploration about how much of our lives and personalities are influenced by our heritage, our family and what we experience during our lives. The descriptions of the many, many Chinese superstitions and beliefs were also fascinating!

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

I read this in a few hours. This is a graphic novel. I have never read a graphic novel before but it was so interesting and easy to read. The novel is autobiographical and is about the death of the author’s father and the consequences of his death that reveal secrets that both parents have been hiding. Well worth a read.

The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley

I have been surprised by how many of the books on the list are short story collections. I was expecting most of the books to be novels. This book is a collection of short stories with a novella (up to 40,000 words). The short stories were well written and I managed to read them quickly. The novella was about the marriage and relationship of two dentist but written from the man’s prospective. I’m glad that I bought this book because I will definitely be re-reading it in the future.

Out of the total 40 books that I need to read on the list, I have already read 17 and I am looking forward to reading the rest.

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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