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)

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See my list of books read here

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

Thursday, March 26, 2009

It's Good to be Queen Challenge

Dani of Dani's Bookshelf is hosting this challenge, to run from January 30 through June 2, 2009. Participants should choose 2 - 4 books on any women who reigned as Queen. Your Queen can be from any era as long as she held the title Queen or Empress at some point in her lifetime. The books can be fiction or nonfiction.

I happen to have 3 books about queens on my lists for other challenges, so I'm going to take it easy on myself and cross-post those. They are:

1. Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography by Marion Meade -- completed 4/12/09; review here
2. Josephine: A Life of the Empress by Carolly Erickson -- completed 5/21/09; review here
3. The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett -- completed 5/8/09; review here

Spring Reading Thing 2009 Challenge

Katrina at Callapidder Days is once again hosting the Spring Reading Thing challenge. The rules/guidelines are to make a list of books you want to read (or finish reading) this spring. Your list can be as long or as short as you’d like. Feel free to modify your list during the challenge if it’s not working for you. Write a blog post containing your list and submit it to the post about the challenge using Mr. Linky. The challenge runs March 20 through June 20, 2009.

I've decided to tie-in some of my picks with Dewey's Read-a-thon scheduled for April 18-19. I love, love, love the RAT! If you've never participated before, you absolutely should.

Anyway, the books I'm picking for the Reading Thing are:

1. Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt -- did not finish
2. The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis -- completed 4/27/09; review here
3. The Time Machine and The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells -- completed 4/21/09; review here
4. The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupèry -- completed 4/18/09; review here
5. The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman -- completed 4/24/09; review here
6. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie -- completed 4/18/09; review here
7. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar...: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein -- completed 5/1/09; review here
8. The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved by Gary Jansen -- completed 4/18/09; review here
9. The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett -- completed 5/8/09; review here
10. Josephine: A Life of the Empress by Carolly Erickson -- completed 5/21/09; review here

The Caliph's House by Tahir Shah

Title: The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca

Author: Tahir Shah

First Published: 2006

No. of Pages: 368

Synopsis (from B&N): "Acclaimed English travel writer Tahir Shah shares a highly entertaining account of making an exotic dream come true. By turns hilarious and harrowing, here is the story of his family’s move from the gray skies of London to the sun-drenched city of Casablanca, where Islamic tradition and African folklore converge–and nothing is as easy as it seems....

Inspired by the Moroccan vacations of his childhood, Tahir Shah dreamed of making a home in that astonishing country. At age thirty-six he got his chance. Investing what money he and his wife, Rachana, had, Tahir packed up his growing family and bought Dar Khalifa, a crumbling ruin of a mansion by the sea in Casablanca that once belonged to the city’s caliph, or spiritual leader.

With its lush grounds, cool, secluded courtyards, and relaxed pace, life at Dar Khalifa seems sure to fulfill Tahir’s fantasy–until he discovers that in many ways he is farther from home than he imagined. For in Morocco an empty house is thought to attract jinns, invisible spirits unique to the Islamic world. The ardent belief in their presence greatly hampers sleep and renovation plans, but that is just the beginning. From elaborate exorcism rituals involving sacrificial goats to dealing with gangster neighbors intent on stealing their property, the Shahs must cope with a new culture and all that comes with it.

Endlessly enthralling, The Caliph’s House charts a year in the life of one family who takes a tremendous gamble. As we follow Tahir on his travels throughout the kingdom, from Tangier to Marrakech to the Sahara, we discover a world of fierce contrasts that any true adventurer would be thrilled to call home."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: If you enjoy travel books, add this one to your list. I really enjoyed this book. It was well-written in a light, conversational tone (I seem to be saying this a lot lately, but it's so appropriate!). The author readily admits that he's often confused and frustrated by the differences in culture, but he's not arrogant or paternalistic, and he seems eager to learn from all sources. The descriptions of the people and surroundings are vivid and guaranteed to stimulate your wanderlust. The sections dealing with the house renovation are hilarious and the early scenes immediately bring to mind "The Money Pit." I wish the book had included pictures of the house, but I was able to find some on the author's website -- click on "Books," then "The Caliph's House." The author has travelled extensively and I'll be adding his other books to my TBR list.

Challenges: 999 ("Travel"); A to Z (author "S"); Orbis Terrarum 2 (Morocco); World Citizen ("Autobiography/Memoir")

Monday, March 23, 2009

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Title: Around the World in Eighty Days

Author: Jules Verne

First Published: 1873

No. of Pages: 163

Synopsis (from B&N): "On a wager, the eccentric English gentleman Phileas Fogg accepts a challenge to circle the globe in eighty days. Follow Phileas and his faithful valet Passepartout, in this classic fantastic adventure."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: Oh how I wish I had read this one as a kid! It's not up to my adult standards -- it's pure plot moving forward at top speed, and character development is minimal at best -- but it was fun. I can see how a child's imagination would be roused by tales of trekking through the Indian jungle on the back of an elephant and having a shootout with American Indians on the plains. I just wish the author had given us more insight into Phileas Fogg. Despite being the protoganist, he's one-dimensional and comes across as practically non-human, and the reader has no idea why he engaged on his round-the-world jaunt. His companions are better drawn and, partially through their devotion to Fogg, you want them all to succeed. My overall feeling is that this was a story with unrealized potential; the result was average but enjoyable.

Challenges: 999 ("Decades"); A to Z (author "V"); (Another) 1% Well-Read; Decades '09 (1870's)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Creating a World Without Poverty by Muhammad Yunus

Title: Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism

Author: Muhammad Yunus

First Published: 2007

No. of Pages: 248

Synopsis (from B&N): "The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize outlines his vision for a new business model that combines the power of free markets with the quest for a more humane world—and tells the inspiring stories of companies that are doing this work today."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: I wasn't thrilled to pick up this book -- I needed a book about economics for the World Citizen challenge and I expected it to be a real snooze. It was the complete opposite -- a great book. The author writes about important issues in an easy-to-read style and neither makes the topics overly complicated nor talks down to the reader. He presents his views in a logical way, by telling you why a particular issue is important, a brief history of the issue, and his recommendation. I was a big believer in microcredit prior to reading this book and I'm now a believer in social business as well.

Given the importance of the issue, I'm going to make this post longer than usual and not just confine it to a review of the book, but give you a brief overview of what the book proposes. The author is promoting the idea of social business, which is a company that operates the same as any other business but whose goal is to provide a defined social benefit, such as the reduction of poverty, education, health care, etc. Investors receive their investments back, but do not receive dividends; instead, any profits made are reinvested in the business. The goal of a normal business is to make a profit and it sometimes also seeks to do good, but when the two goals conflict, profit wins out. A social business avoids that problem by making its social goal its only goal.

The book also gives a brief history of microcredit as conducted through Grameen Bank, the organization founded by the author in the mid-1970's. Microcredit provides financial services to the poorest of the poor by making collateral-free loans with more flexible requirements than you'd find in traditional loans. Loan recipients are often illiterate, so they are not required to fill out loan paperwork. Support systems are provided by requiring loan recipients to meet with each other, which makes the lending a community effort. Recipients also become shareholders in the bank and receive dividends when the bank does well. (These specifics apply only to Grameen Bank; other microcredit institutions may do things differently. The key to whether an organization is a microcredit lender is whether they provide financial services to the poor without taking advantage of the poor.) A microcredit organization may start out with the money coming from donors, but recipients pay interest on their loans, which then allows the organization to become self-sufficient. The interest rate should be reasonable. The imposition of interest also keeps the transaction from being a hand-out and encourages both responsibility and pride in the borrower.

Microcredit has reached 80% of poor families in Bangladesh and they expect to reach 100% by 2012. Grameen Bank operates solely in Bangladesh and has so far loaned out the equivalent of $6 billion (U.S.) with a repayment rate of 98.6%, enabling 64% of its borrowers to cross the poverty line. The bank now also offers student loans and scholarships (over 30,000 a year), housing loans including mortgage insurance to pay off the loan in case the borrower dies, a pension program, and even makes loans to beggers to enable them to become self-employed.

I've been a supporter of Kiva, another microcredit organization, for some time now. Kiva allows individuals to loan small amounts (as little as $25) to specific borrowers around the world. Borrower details are posted on Kiva's website. Kiva collects the funds and passes them on to their microfinance partners (regional banks and the like), who then make the loan to the individual and service the loan, including providing training and other assistance. As the borrowers pays the loan back, you are credited and can then relend to someone else. It's a great opportunity to help others -- I've donated $175 overall and have so far helped dozens of people. So far, Kiva has provided more than $63.5 million in loans with a repayment rate of 97.8%. Just under 78% of Kiva loans have been made to women, enabling millions of women and children to escape or take a step closer to escaping poverty (research has shown that making a loan to a woman is more likely to help a family than making the loan to a man).

I recently found an example of a social business that I'll be supporting from now on. It's called Better World Books. It's an online book seller whose social goal is to promote literacy and education. It sells both new and used books (used can be very cheap, I've seen them as low as $3) and supports literacy causes in the U.S. and around the world. It works with partner programs to donate books to the needy, including Books for Africa, Worldfund, the National Center for Family Literacy, Invisible Children, and my pet cause, Room to Read. So far, they've donated over 1 million books to these programs.

Used books are collected from universities and libraries across the country (libraries receive a portion of the sales price back) and you can also donate your old books to them, including textbooks (they also offer a buyback program for those). Many of the textbooks are not offered for sale but are donated to schools in Africa. Books that are too damaged for any use are recycled. The company offers free shipping in the U.S., $3.97 worldwide, and buys carbon offsets through so that its shipping is environmentally-neutral. So far, the company has raised over $5.5 million for global literacy and has saved 18 million books from landfills!

I can't encourage you enough to support Better World Books and/or Kiva, and to read Creating a World Without Poverty.

Challenges: A to Z (author "Y"); Orbis Terrarum 2 (Bangladesh); World Citizen ("Economics")

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Title: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Author: Arthur Conan Doyle

First Published: 1902

No. of Pages: 256

Synopsis (from B&N): "Could the sudden death of Sir Charles Baskerville have been caused by the gigantic ghostly hound which is said to have haunted his family for generations? Arch-rationalist Sherlock Holmes characteristically dismisses the theory as nonsense. Claiming to be immersed in another case, he sends Watson to Devon to protect the Baskerville heir and to observe the suspects at close hand."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: A classic mystery, well-written and sure to hold a reader's attention. I'd read a number of Doyle's other Sherlock Holmes stories before, but this is the longest and most in-depth of the group. I suppose some would say that it's a little dated, but I prefer the older books like this and Agatha Christie's stories. The detectives don't have modern technology to work with (all the DNA testing, fingerprint analysis, and the like), so they are forced to rely almost strictly on their powers of observation and deduction. It's probably also true that the cases wouldn't hold up in a real court, but then neither would many modern stories. A very enjoyable book and well-deserved to be considered a classic and a must-read.

Challenges: (Another) 1% Well-Read; 999 ("Decades"); A to Z (author "D"); Decades '09 (1900's); TBR Lite

Latest book finds

I hit the Goodwill again yesterday and picked up another stack of great books:

Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

Flags in the Dust by William Faulkner

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck (also a great movie, starring Spencer Tracy)

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois

South Sea Tales by Jack London

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Themby Francine Prose (hardback, looks brand new!)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Giveaways of the week

It's been a while since I've entered any giveaways, but there's too many good ones going on to ignore!

Julie at Booking Mama is giving away 5 copies of Drood by Dan Simmons. Entries are due by Friday, March 13. US and Canada only.

Teddy at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time is giving away up to 5 copies of A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy by Thomas Buergenthal. Entries are due by Saturday, March 28. US and Canada only.

Teddy also has 5 copies of The Crimes of Paris: A True Story of Murder, Theft, and Detection by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. Entries are due by Friday March 13. US and Canada only.

Katrina at Stone Soup is giving away your choice of any book from Amazon, up to $25. Entries are due by Monday, March 16. Open to everyone.

J. Kaye at J. Kaye's Book Blog is giving away 1 copy of Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum. Entries are due by Friday, March 27. US and Canada only.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Orbis Terrarum 2009

One of my favorite challenges is back for 2009! Bethany has done an AWESOME job creating a challenge blog and has added several new and FUN aspects to the challenge, including a book swap and tie-in film challenge.

The basic challenge remains the same: read 10 books by 10 different authors from 10 countries (author's country of origin or where he/she lives). The challenge runs through 2009 and participants can change their book-picks at any time. To increase my exposure to world literature, I'm not allowing myself to pick any books from countries that I picked last year.

My list of possible reads:

The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah (lives in Morocco) -- completed 3/25/09; review here

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (born in New Zealand)

The Cubs and Other Stories by Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru) -- completed 5/3/09; review here

The Double by Jose Saramago (Portugal)

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul (born in Trinidad) -- completed 9/3/09; review

Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism by Muhammad Yunus (Bangladesh) -- completed 3/22/09; review here

Daughter of China: A True Story of Love and Betrayal by Meihong Xu and Larry Engelmann (China) -- completed 7/18/09; review here

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges (Argentina)

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith (born in Zimbabwe) -- completed 4/20/09; review here

If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino (Italy)

Nana by Emile Zola (France) -- completed 10/11/09; review

Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee (South Africa)

The Great Fire: A Novel by Shirley Hazzard (born in Australia)

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman (born in Sweden) -- completed 4/24/09; review here

Waiting: A Novel by Ha Jin (China)

After Dark by Haruki Murakami (Japan)

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer (Ireland) -- completed 5/10/09; review here

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (Australia)

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan)

Drown by Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic)

I Suck at Challenges update #2

As I stated yesterday, I finished up 3 challenges last month (2 were 1 book short of complete, but I'm counting them anyway). For my others, I'm doing okay overall. The breakdown:

18th and 19th Century Women Writers Challenge: 0/5
999 Challenge (the biggie): 11/81
A to Z Challenge: 10/26
Book Awards II: 8/10
Chunkster Challenge: 0/3
Decades '09: 2/9
Dewey's Books: 1/6
Dewey Decimal Challenge: 5/10
TBR Lite: 1/6
What's in a Name 2: 3/6
World Citizen Challenge: 1/7

(Another) 1% Well-Read Challenge started this month, along with Orbis Terrarum 2, and I've got several more that I'm considering, so next update may have a longer list.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

(Another) 1% Well-Read Challenge

The rules for this go-around of the challenge have evolved. Since the editors of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die have dropped some titles and added others, challenge participants can now choose 1 of the following 3 options:

1. Read 10 titles from the original list from March 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009.

2.Read 10 titles from the new list from March 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009.

3. Read 13 titles from the combined list (of almost 1300 titles) from March 1, 2009 through March 31, 2010. In other words, “What were they thinking dropping titles from Dostoevsky and Jane Austen?”

I'm sticking with option 1. My choices are:

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne -- completed 3/21/09; review here

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell -- completed 6/7/09; review here

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley -- completed 9/1/09; review here

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle -- completed 3/15/09; review here

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte -- completed 4/29/09; review here

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie -- completed 4/18/09; review here

Nana by Emile Zola -- completed 10/11/09; review

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen -- completed 7/21/09; review here

Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- completed 11/8/2009

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells -- completed 4/21/09; review here

Challenge update as of February 28, 2009

I officially completed the 1% Well-Read Challenge. The goal was to read 10 books from the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list. I only replaced 1 of the books from my original list. The books I read (with links to my reviews) are:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain -- review here

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh -- review here

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller -- review here

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck -- review here

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- review here

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison -- review here

Life of Pi by Yann Martel -- review here

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- review here

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre -- review here

A new 1% Well-Read Challenge has already started, so I've got to get on it and pick my next group of books. For others interested in participating, note that you now have 3 choices because of the changes made to the 1001 list.

The Lit Flicks Challenge is officially over and I completed 4 out of 5 books. Not bad, I guess, but still disappointing. Again, a list of the books I read with links to my reviews (if not given above):

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Howards End by E. M. Forster -- review here

The World According to Garp by John Irving -- review here

Also ended was my self-imposed Banned Books Challenge (I picked 12 books to read by this year's Freedom to Read week). I completed 11 in all. In addition to Huck Finn, Catch-22, The Grapes of Wrath, The Great Gatsby, Invisible Man, and One Hundred Years of Solitude, I completed:

The World According to Garp by John Irving

Title: The World According to Garp

Author: John Irving

First Published: 1976

No. of Pages: 609

Synopsis (from B&N): "This is the life and times of T. S. Garp, the bastard son of Jenny Fields — a feminist leader ahead of her times. This is the life and death of a famous mother and her almost-famous son; theirs is a world of sexual extremes — even of sexual assassinations. It is a novel rich with 'lunacy and sorrow'; yet the dark, violent events of the story do not undermine a comedy both ribald and robust. In more than thirty languages, in more than forty countries — with more than ten million copies in print — this novel provides almost cheerful, even hilarious evidence of its famous last line: 'In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.' "

Fiction or Nonfiction: Fiction

Comments and Critique: This is a hard book for me to review because I both really liked it and really didn't -- do you know what I mean? I found most of the characters unlikable and yet I couldn't wait to find out what happened to them (and no, I wasn't hoping what happened would be bad). I recognized that a number of parts were supposed to be funny and I didn't find them particularly so, but then I wasn't sure whether it was because it wasn't funny or because of me. I questioned a lot about this book based on my gender, wondering if my reactions would have been the same if I was a man. I got especially aggrevated with the portrayals of feminism. It wasn't until I sat down to write this that I realized that the book was first published in the 1970's, so now I'm wondering if the time period is more to blame. I guess all that I can say absolutely is that this book made me think and held my attention throughout; I didn't hate it and I didn't have to force myself to finish. I've got the movie on my Netflix to watch next, so I'm going to try and come back and add my thoughts on that, too.

Challenges: 999 ("Booker and National Awards"); A to Z (author "I"); Book Awards II; Lit Flicks; Modern Library's 100 Best Novels; National Book Awards

The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester

Title: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary

Author: Simon Winchester

First Published:

No. of Pages: 288

Synopsis (from B&N): "Part homage to the greatest reference work of all time, the Oxford English Dictionary, part mystery, part intellectual history of Victorian England, The Professor and the Madman tells the parallel stories of the dictionary's genius editor and one of his most prolific contributors, an insane American doctor committed to an asylum for murder."

Fiction or Nonfiction: Nonfiction

Comments and Critique: An interesting behind-the-scenes look at the making of arguably the best dictionary ever created. The author has a light, conversational tone. The book does not go very in-depth into the main characters, however, and I found the author's other title, The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, a better overall read. In fact, I wouldn't recommend this one unless you also read the other, as this has more of a supplemental feel to it.

Challenges: 999 ("Dewey Decimal"); A to Z (author "W"); Dewey Decimal (400 Language); What's in a Name 2 ("profession")