My Challenges (timed)

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Completed 8 of 9

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Completed 2 of 3

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Completed 2 of 4

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Completed 71 of 81

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Completed 9 of 10

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Completed 34 of 50

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Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 2

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Completed 1 of 5

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Completed 3 of 5

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Completed 5 of 100

My Challenges (perpetual)

See my list of stories read here

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See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here


See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here

See my list of books read here


New York Times Book Review: 6/40
New Yorker: 0/36
New York Review of Books: 0/20
Vogue: 1/16
Email: 841/1373

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Fate of the English Country House by David Littlejohn

Title: The Fate of the English Country House

Author: David Littlejohn

Publication Date: 1997

No. of Pages: 344

Synopsis (from B&N): "Between 3,500 and 4,000 country houses--large, often elegantly furnished and surrounded by extensive estates--remain more or less intact in England today, although frequently converted to non-residential uses. Whether in public or private hands, the best known of them have become a major magnet for British and foreign tourists, attracting about 20 million paying visitors each year. Country houses, with their furnishings and landscaped settings, have been called England's one important contribution to art history. They figure prominently in the ongoing debate over how much of any 'National Heritage' is worth preserving.

In The Fate of the English Country House, David Littlejohn describes the past glories and troubled present condition of 'the stately homes of England,' both those that continue to serve as private houses, and those that have been turned into museums, tourist attractions, convention centers, hotels, country clubs, schools, apartments, hospitals, even prisons. By means of extensive conversations with their owners and managers (the book contains more than 50 photographs of the houses), the author takes us on a private tourof these remarkable places and evaluates the many proposals that have been put forward for their survival."

Fiction or Nonfiction: nonfiction

Comments and Critique: I'm an architecture buff and admire European architecture particularly. I also love English literature and have often wondered what it would be like to live in one of these places. Of course, living in one in the time setting of the books (generally 17th-19th centuries) was vastly different than what it's like today, a point that the author makes very well. The upshot is that, absent the huge domestic staffs of yesteryear, these beautiful buildings are almost impossible to keep up. And seriously, who wants to clean one of these monsters? It's all I can do to keep up with the tiny house I have now.

Another thing that the author does quite well is explaining the impossible situation that the owners are placed in once they inherit (most of the surviving houses have been passed down through numerous generations; those that have been sold to wealthy foreigners are the exception). I won't go into great detail, but essentially many owners can't afford to maintain the houses and pay the inheritance taxes; often can't find buyers; can't give them away unless they provide large endowments (which if they had, they wouldn't need to give the house away); and are prohibited by law from demolishing them, even when the house is falling down around their ears. (Caveat: this book is more than 10 years old already, so laws may have changed. I have not researched to see if the legal descriptions are still accurate).

Many houses have been opened to tourists or converted to other uses, such as hotels, hospitals, and schools, but these all bring a different set of problems (and some of the tourist attraction additions sound absolutely horrible, IMO). The blame for the various problems can't be placed on one group and the author is objective and fair-minded in examining the issues. I find the subject very interesting and I can't wait to one day see some of these buildings in person.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Yes, but it would most likely only appeal to those with an interest in architecture. Also, the author goes to great lengths to discuss the legal and tax problems faced by owners, which to a tax geek like me was very interesting, but to the average reader is a bit much.

Challenges: Wind-Up Book Challenge

Weekly Geeks questions:

Tiny Little Librarian asked, "I daydream about living in an English country house - were you interested in learning about their fate? That is, was it both an entertaining and informative book?"

I've also daydreamed of living in one of these beautiful old homes (often with Mr. Darcy, but don't tell my husband), although given the problems detailed by this book, I'm less sure now that I'd want to. The book was definitely informative and educated me about a number of issues that I'd never thought about in relation to these houses. I was glad to see that the book contained a number of pictures, although I wished it had more and that at least some of them had been in color.

How to Be Idle: A Loafer's Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson

Title: How to Be Idle: A Loafer's Manifesto

Author: Tom Hodgkinson

Publication Date: 2005

No. of Pages: 286

Synopsis (from B&N): "From the founding editor of The Idler, the celebrated magazine about the freedom and fine art of doing nothing, comes not simply a book, but an antidote to our work-obsessed culture. In How to Be Idle, Tom Hodgkinson presents his learned yet whimsical argument for a new universal standard of living: being happy doing nothing. He covers a whole spectrum of issues affecting the modern idler—sleep, work, pleasure, relationships—while reflecting on the writing of such famous apologists for it as Oscar Wilde, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Nietzsche—all of whom have admitted to doing their very best work in bed."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: Overall, I support the author's premise that people should take more time to be idle, that there's more to life than work and money and that sometimes the best thing you can do is goof off. The book wasn't what I expected -- I thought it would be funny (it's marked as "Humor" on the back cover), but it really wasn't. It was more a series of persuasive essays, which, since I agree with the author overall, ended up feeling like preaching to the choir. And there were some parts that I thought the author went completely off the deep end, most especially the chapter on work. There, what he was advocating was nothing short of the overthrow of the modern way of life and a change to some pie-in-the-sky fairy tale version of a socialist agrarian lifestyle. I'm all for balancing work and play and not letting your job/career define who you are, but I also believe work is necessary and can greatly contribute to a person's sense of worth and well-being, under the right circumstances. But apparently this author feels that work is always bad and that people should never do more work than is absolutely necessary to survive. Quite frankly, this chapter ticked me off so much that I wanted to throw the book out the window, but I kept at it and it did improve. I don't regret reading the book, but I also don't feel that I would have missed anything if I hadn't picked it up.

Would You Recommend This Book to Others: Unsure -- there were parts I liked, but it didn't make me laugh and I wouldn't read it a second time.

Challenges: Nonfiction 5 Challenge

Weekly Geeks questions: Care asked, "What prompted you to read this? Do you consider yourself someone who can enjoy being idle? Have you read or do you now want to read Bertrand Russell's In Praise of Idleness?"

I picked this book up as a lark, it sounded funny to me and I like to mix in nonfiction sometimes. I am absolutely someone who enjoys being idle, and I have no problem sitting and just enjoying the fact of being. I refuse to fall into the habit that so many have today of constantly being busy; I think it's just as important sometimes to stop and look around and let your mind wander. I have not read the Bertrand Russell book (incidentally, this book did reference that one several times), but I may add it to my TBR pile -- probably not near the top, though. Again, too much like preaching to the choir, and there are too many other books out there to learn new things from rather than reinforcing current ideas.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Weekly Geeks #12 - Catch Up on Reviews

This week Dewey wants us to focus on book reviews. Here's our mission:

1. In your blog, list any books you’ve read but haven’t reviewed yet. If you’re all caught up on reviews, maybe you could try this with whatever book(s) you finish this week.

2. Ask your readers to ask you questions about any of the books they want. In your comments, not in their blogs. Most likely, people who will ask you questions will be people who have read one of the books or know something about it because they want to read it.

3. Later, take whichever questions you like from your comments and use them in a post about each book. I’ll probably turn mine into a sort of interview-review. Link to each blogger next to that blogger’s question(s).

4. Visit other Weekly Geeks and ask them some questions!

Starting at the beginning: caught up on reviews, HAHAHA, I wish! Anyone who looks at my blog and compares the list of books completed to the book review posts will notice a major discrepancy. I'm so, so bad about getting reviews written. So this WG is actually a great thing for me. Here's my list of books read (recently) but not yet reviewed:

Black Dogs

Brideshead Revisited

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

The Fate of the English Country House


The Great Gatsby

How to Be Idle

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Please, please leave comments with your questions -- that will help me focus and get those reviews done!

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Diary of Anne Frank

From Barnes & Noble: "The journal of a Jewish girl in her early teens describes both the joys and torments of daily life, as well as typical adolescent thoughts, throughout two years spent in hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of Holland."

One would be hard-pressed to find many people that have not heard of Anne Frank and her story, including me. But somehow I had never read the book. I don't know when I first learned about the Holocaust, it must have been in school, but I don't think it was ever covered in any depth. That being the case, I suppose it isn't so strange that we didn't read Anne Frank -- without the historical background, I don't know if the book would have made as much sense.

I was surprised at my reactions to it. First, I guess I'd fallen into the trap of thinking of Anne Frank as some sort of saintly person because of what happened to her. I never considered that she was a normal teenage girl with all that implies. So it was both a shock and a pleasure to discover that she was just like everyone else at that age -- she was growing into a woman, with the accompanying physical and emotional changes; she had fights with her family; she wanted friends; she wanted a boyfriend.

Second, remembering how young she was, I was struck by the maturity in her writing. My son is the same age that she was when she began her diary, and the differences between his writing style and hers are amazing. At times I almost couldn't believe that a 13 to 15 year old girl had written what I was reading, it was so perceptive, at times even profound. She seemed to understand things that I didn't get a grip on until well into my 20's and sometimes 30's. It makes me wonder how much of that was due to her education, how much was innate, and how much was due to her circumstances. I imagine that children had to grow up much quicker in those times, yet one more thing to despise about war.

I'm sorry that I wasn't able to read this book when I was younger, but I'm glad I picked it to read now. It's so important not only to remember the horrible events that happened and the millions who were affected, but to remember that those millions were made up of individuals with ordinary lives just like ours.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What's In a Name? Challenge

January through December, 2008

Color = Black Dogs by Ian McEwen

First Name = The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

Animal = A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life by Jon Katz

Plant = Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Place = Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nifisi

Weather = Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Man Booker Challenge book list

January through December, 2008

Black Dogs by Ian McEwen (shortlist, 1992)

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (shortlist, 2002)

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (winner, 1997)

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (winner, 2002)

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (longlist, 2004)

Shroud by John Banville (longlist, 2002)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

10 Out of 100 Out of 1001 Challenge book list

April through October, 2008

[1-10] skipped, have read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

[11-20] skipped, have read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

[21-30]Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

[31-40] Shroud by John Banville

[41-50] Life of Pi by Yann Martel

[51-60] The Devil and Miss Prym: A Novel of Temptation by Paulo Coehlo

[61-70] skipped, have read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

[71-80] The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie

[81-90] skipped, have read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

[91-100] The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Orbis Terrarum Challenge book list

April 1 through December 20, 2008

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (Germany)

The Devil and Miss Prym: A Novel of Temptation by Paulo Coehlo (Brazil)

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (Wales)

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (India)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (U.S.A.)

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Canada)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia)

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria)

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azir Nafisi (Iran)

Wind-Up Book Challenge book list

May 15 through November 15 2008

The Fate of the English Country House by David Littlejohn

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fizgerald

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azir Nafisi

The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg

2008 TBR Challenge book list


January through December 2008


The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut


Geisha: A Life by Mineko Iwasaki

The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw

History Of God: The 4000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Karen Armstrong

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Mayada, Daughter of Iraq: One Woman's Survival Under Saddam Hussein by Jean Sasson

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II by Iris Chang

The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times by Susan Tifft



Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger


Boswell's Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson by Adam Sisman

A Common Life: Four Generations of American Literary Friendships & Influence by David Laskin

Eleanor and Franklin: The Story of Their Relationship, based on Eleanor Roosevelt's Private Papers by Joseph P. Lash

King George V by Kenneth Rose

Literary Feuds: A Century of Celebrated Quarrels--From Mark Twain to Tom Wolfe by Anthony Arthur

The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction by Edward L. Ayers

The Splendid Century: Life in the France of Louis XIV by W. H. Lewis

Challenges galore

Okay, so what that really means is that I can't resist joining more challenges. I'm a bit leery about taking on so many books by the end of the year, even though nobody is going to smack me around if I don't read them all -- I'm just hard on myself when I don't complete projects. But I'm going for it anyway. If I don't finish, then I'll just look on it as a learning experience in cutting myself some slack.

I'll list my book choices in subsequent posts. I also think I'm going to rearrange my sidebar challenge lists before it gets completely out of hand.