Thursday, October 30, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Conditioning

Mariel suggested this week’s question.

Are you a spine breaker? Or a dog-earer? Do you expect to keep your books in pristine condition even after you have read them? Does watching other readers bend the cover all the way round make you flinch or squeal in pain?

By nature I am one of those people that not only flinches and squeals in pain, but will actually attempt to physically defend books when they are attacked by senseless readers who don't know any better!

That being said, in The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life Steve Leveen makes a strong case for what he calls "leaving footprints" in the books you read. This applies only to the books you own, of course. After reading his advice, I have tried to control my "preservationist" instincts and leave footprints in my books. I underline passages that strike me, indicate words that I had to look up, and write notes in the margin. However, despite inscribing marginalia in my own books, I still cannot countenance dog-earing or spine-breaking. Even if you are going to treat a book as a conversation, as Leveen suggests, you should still treat it with respect!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee

The aptly named Disgrace, winner of the 1999 Booker and 2000 Commonwealth Prizes, deals with several kinds of disgrace. On the surface level, we find the protagonist, a fifty-two year old professor of English, David Lurie, compelled to resign from his position in disgrace after an awkward affair with one of his students. Foundering after his life comes crashing down, Lurie leaves Cape Town to visit his daughter, Lucy, on her rural small-holding. Haltingly at first, but then with increasing comfort, David settles into a rural life, slowly rebuilding himself after the loss of his professorship. But when three strangers violently rob the far, attack Lurie, and rape his daughter, Lurie and the reader are forced to explore the meaning and ramifications of several facets of disgrace. Luries disgrace, his daughter's, and most subtlety, the disgrace of South African apartheid and its resulting racial tensions.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Two More Challenges

I couldn't resist adding two more challenges. I am even considering a third, but I am afraid that might be too much. So, I will hold off here and see how much progress I make on the four I will now have in progress.

The Latin American Challenge

This challenge requires reading four books from Latin America between January 1, 2009 and April 30, 2009. Here is the list of books I plan to read.

  1. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru)

  2. Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya (Honduras)

  3. Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar (Argentina)

  4. El Tunel by Ernesto Sabato (Argentina)

All of these are subject to change, of course, with a list of alternates below. The last more so than the others, as it is my intention at this point to attempt to read it in its original Spanish. However, since my high school Spanish is 20 years rusty, I might not be able to pull that off. So here is a list of alternates:

  1. The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (Argentina)

  2. Obscene Bird of Night by Jose Donoso (Chile)

  3. House of Spirits by I. Allenda (Chile)

  4. Death of Artemio Cruz by C. Fuentes (Mexico)

  5. Something by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia)

Decades '09 Challenge

This challenge involves reading a minimum of 9 books in 9 consecutive decades, excluding the current decade of the 2000s. You must read the books in 2009.

This one is a really tough one, because there are so many books to choose from. I went through my 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and came up with quite a long list of possible books to read. I am not sure which decades I will read, but here is a list of one book per decade. The list is subject to change, but I will not list an alternative pool because there are just too many in the alternative pool.

It is more common for me to read more recent modern literature, so I will be making an effort to read more from the 1800s and early 1900s.

  1. 1810s: Emma by Jane Austen

  2. 1820s: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by J. Hogg

  3. 1830s: Oliver Twist by C. Dickens

  4. 1840s: Dead Souls by N. Gogol

  5. 1850s: Madame Bovary by G. Flaubert

  6. 1860s: Journey to the Center of the Earth by J. Verne

  7. 1870s: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

  8. 1880s: King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

  9. 1890s: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

  10. 1900s: Secret Agent by J. Conrad

  11. 1910s: 39 Steps by John Buchnan

  12. 1920s: We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

  13. 1930s: Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft

  14. 1940s: The Plague by A. Camus

  15. 1950s: Lolita by V. Nabakov

  16. 1960s: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

  17. 1970s: The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

  18. 1980s: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

  19. 1990s: American Psycho by B. E. Ellis

It's Tuesday Where Are You?

I am in Cape Town, South Africa, being fired from Cape Technical University. (Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay

The second in Linday's Dexter novels was a little disappointing. Perhaps because of expectations created by watching the second season of Showtime's Dexter, a series loosely based on Lindsay's novels,Dearly Devoted Dexter never really grabbed me. I found the plot a little weak. However, it is still a well written novel that is good enough to leave me with the desire to read the third book in the series.


The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa

A beautifully written novel about memory and how our past can haunt our future. Narrated by a gecko, perhaps J. L. Borges reincarnated, The Book of Chameleons tells the story of Felix Ventura, an albino genealogist who sells new pasts to those that will pay. He sells such a past to a man who becomes known as Jose Buchmann. The story then tells of how Jose lives as though his new past were his actual past, questing after his "mother", visiting the place of his "birth", etc. During this time, Felix falls in love with the beautiful but broken Lucia. As the story comes to a close, we find that no matter the new past, the actual past can haunt our future.

Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for 2007, this is a lyrically written novel. A light read, until the final events of the book, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Friday, October 24, 2008

New Challenges

After completing the Seconds Challenge, I find myself out of challenges. I went poking around the internet looking for some. I found some very interesting ones that were, unfortunately, too far underway for me to attempt. However, I did find two that have just started that I am going to attempt.

BangBang Challenge

First, the BangBang Challenge. This challenge is to basically read five books set during a war or time of conflict. This reading must be done between September 1, 2008 and February 28, 2009. I plan to read from the following:

  1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (WW II)

  2. War Trash by Ha Jin (Korean War)

  3. Bridge Over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle (WW II)

  4. The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Ballard (Sepoy Rebellion)

  5. Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (Vietnam War)

Alternates include:

  1. Charter House of Parma by Stendhal (Napoleanic Wars)

  2. Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien (Vietnam War)

  3. The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh (Vietnam War)

Book Awards II Challenge

I also want to attempt the Book Awards II Challenge. This challenge, which runs from August 1, 2008 through June 1, 2009 involves reading 10 award winning books. The catch is, you can only read two books for each award. I plan to to read the following books for this challenge:

  1. The Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agualusa (Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, 2007)

  2. Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee (Commonwealth Writer's Prize, 2000)

  3. All The Names by Jose Saramgo (Nobel Prize, 1998)

  4. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller, Jr. (Hugo, 1961)

  5. On Beauty by Zadie Smith (Orange, 2006)

  6. The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney (Costa/Whitbread, 2006)

  7. Being Dead by Jim Crace (NBCC, 2000)

  8. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (PEN/Hemingway, 2007)

  9. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (NBCC, 2007 and Pulitzer, 2008)

  10. Perfume by Patrick Suskind (World Fantasy Award, 1987)

Alternates are listed below. However, I will only count these if I run out of time. I would much prefer to read the books listed specifically for the challenge.

Alternates that are cross-overs from the BangBang Challenge:

  1. Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson (National Book Award, 2007)

  2. War Trash by Ha Jin (PEN/Faulkner, 2005)

  3. Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Ballard (Booker, 1973)

Alternates that I have already read during the challenge period, but not specifically for the challenge:

  1. The Blind Assassin by M. Atwood (Booker, 2000)

  2. Amsterdam by I. MacEwan (Booker, 1998)

  3. Snow Country by Y. Kawabata (Nobel, 1968)

  4. White Noise by D. Delillo (National Book Award, 1985)

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Predictably Irrational is another is a recent spate of popular books on economics, although this one takes on the specific branch of economics called behavioral economics. Orthodox or regular economics bases the body of its knowledge on the assumption that men and women are rational actors that will always act in their best interest. Behavioral economics is a recent revolt against this assumption of rationality. Taking their cue from what psychologists have known for decades, namely that men and women do not always act rationally, behavioral economists try to find circumstances under which this assumption of the rational actor fails. They seek, in other words, circumstances in which men and women will act predictably irrational.

I found this book quite enjoyable. I will admit, however, to a special place in my heart for this type of research. I have a B.S. in psychology and actually went back to college as an older adult to study economics. I have also enjoyed other books of a similar vein: Freakanomics by Levitt and Dubner and The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford. I also have quite a few popular economics books on my shelf to be read: The Logic of Life by Harford, Discover Your Inner Economist by Tyler Cowen, The Armchair Economist and More Sex is Safer Sex both by Steven Landsburg. So, I was probably already inclined to enjoy this book.

Each chapter consists of a description one or a group of clever and fascinating experiments. From these, Ariely draws a clearly stated conclusion about human behavior, about how we all act predictably irrational. What I liked most about the book was his admonition in the book's introduction:
To get real value from this, and from social science in general, it is important that you, the reader spend some time thinking about how the principles of human behavior identified in the experiments apply to your life. My suggestion to you is to pause at the end of each chapter and consider whether the principles revealed in the experiments might make your life better or worse, and more importantly what you could do differently, given your new understanding of human nature. This is where the real adventure lies.

Now, this advice applies to each and every book you read. But as per this particular book, there were several cases where I could see my own predictably irrational behavior in the description of how participants in the experiments acted. For example, Chapter 4 is subtitled Why We Are Happy to Do Things, but Not When We Are Paid to Do Them. I found a lesson in this chapter because, when my wife's employer transferred us, I retired at an early age. I had been a computer programmer and found myself volunteering to help my wife by creating Excel Add-Ins to make life a little easier for her and the rest of the finance department. I actually enjoyed doing it. This year, they decided to significantly raise their commitment to increasing their productivity, so they hired me as a consultant to write more Excel Add-Ins. Suddenly, instead of an interesting diversion from my normal routine housework and reading, programming these Add-Ins became a drag, a chore. They became work. After reading Predictably Irrational, I see how irrational this is. It is the same activity I was happy to do for free a year ago. So, now I make a more conscious effort to enjoy myself while programming the Add-Ins for my wife's company.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in human behavior. It is full of wonderful insights that will help you understand why people do some of the silly things they do, and why you do them too. I enjoyed it so much that after I return the library's copy I want to buy my own.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Seconds Challenge Completed

During this weekend's Read-a-thon, I finished the Seconds Challenge. In this challenge, you read four books by authors that you have only read one other.

  1. Reading Diary by Alberto Manguel (having read City of Words before)

  2. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (having read Handmaid's Tale before)

  3. Indignation by Philip Roth (having read Everyman before)

  4. Silk by Alessandro Baricco (having read An Iliad before)

Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One

I was disappointed by Eveleyn Waugh's The Loved One. Recommended by David and John Major in their book 100 One-Night Reads, The Loved One was not as funny as I had been led to expect from a book authored by Waugh. It was funny in a dry, almost arid way. Perhaps appropriately, as Waugh is British. I wonder if, perhaps, my high expectations ruined this book for me.


Philip Roth's Indignation

I read Indignation as part of the Seconds Challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, certainly more so than my previous Roth book, Everyman. The book is the story of a young man from New Jersey who seeks to escape from his father's sudden over-protectiveness by transferring a college in Ohio. We then follow the decisions that will eventually lead to his death. Decisions which stem very much from his indignation at the behavior of others, and there is plenty of indignation to go around. However, his indignation leads to disaster, not only for his own death, but but also the suffering of those that care about him.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Readathon: The Finish Line!!!

Yeah!!! I did it. We did it. The finish line of the the readathon. I remained awake for the entire 24 hours and read 40-45 minutes per hour. This means, conservatively, 960 minutes or 16 hours of actual reading. I read seven books, finishing six of them:

  1. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

  2. Indignation by Philip Roth

  3. Silk by Alessandro Baricco

  4. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

  5. The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

  6. Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

  7. Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay (1/4 completed)

Later this week, I will try to write reviews of the six books I completed.

The final mini-challenge, the End of the Event Meme:

  • Which hour was most daunting for you? Hard to say. Mentally, hour 18 because I still wasn't sure I could make it the entire 24 hours. Physically, hour 24 because I had to spend some of it reading standing up in order not to fall asleep.

  • Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I found The Elegance of the Hedgehog quite delightful. But, there are allusions to literature and philosophy in it, not to mention being literature in translation, so I would recommend reading it earlier in the 24 hours.

  • Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Nope.

  • What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon? The cheerleaders were great. I wasn't sure anyone would actually visit my blog to cheer me on, but quite a few people did and I appreciate it.

  • How many books did you read? See above.

  • What were the names of the books you read? See above.

  • Which book did you enjoy most? Probably The Elegance of the Hedgehog. But Indignation was also quite good.

  • Which did you enjoy least? Definitely The Loved One. It wasn't as funny as I was led to believe an Evelyn Waugh book would be.

  • If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders? I was a reader, but I am grateful for their efforts.

  • How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? Very likely actually. It was hard, but as I said in my hour 22 post, the reward is the feeling of accomplishment you get from the successfully struggling to overcome yourself, to push yourself past what you thought were your limits to do something that most people will tell you is insane. So, in essence: not always fun while you are doing it, but definitely something you look back on fondly enough to do it again.

  • And now, my fellow readers and cheerleaders -- To sleep, perchance to dream...

    Readathon: Hour 24

    In hour 24 I read 39 more pages of Jeff Linday's Dearly Devoted Dexter This brings my total page count to a coincidentally interesting 1010 pages in 24 hours. This is an average of 42 pages an hour. It is done. I will be back in a couple of minutes with a finish line post.

    Readathon: Hour 23

    39 more pages of Dearly Devoted Dexter brings my total page count to 971 pages in 23 hours. Oh ... I am so close to 1,000 pages. Such a nice round even number. I have to have it. But only one hour left! So, there it is, my personal drama, a readathon cliff hanger. With one hour left, I am, barring unforeseen circumstances, going to be awake and reading for the entire 24 hours. But, will I reach the 1,000 page mark. Tune in one hour from now to find out.

    And to my fellow readers, the end is nigh, and so I say to you Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more ...

    Readathon: Hour 22

    So, hour 22 completed! As promised, I read the remaining 36 pages of Twelve Angry Men and started Dearly Devoted Dexter by Jeff Lindsay for another 7 pages. This brings my total page count to 932 pages in 22 hours.

    This really has been very much like an actual marathon. You start slow at first. Then you reach a point where you feel good, you feel like you are flying, and that is the fun part. But then, the difficulties start, it starts to get hard. You begin to feel the pain, or in this case you get sleepy, you get a headache, your eyes begin to hurt, etc. That leads to doubt ... Can I make it? you wonder. At that point it is all mental, a struggle with yourself. If you hang in there long enough though, it finally starts to get fun again. You are still hurting/sleepy, but you can see the finish line. You know you can make it from here. And all that is left is to finish and feel the rush you get from the successful struggle to overcome yourself, to push yourself past what you thought were your limits to accomplish something that most people will tell you is insane. And so, my fellow readers, on to hour 23 and after that, the finish line ...

    Readathon: Hour 21

    I read the first 37 pages of Reginald Rose's play Twelve Angry Men. The movie based on the play is one of my favorites. I have seen it so many times, I feel like I am cheating a little bit because there are whole sections that I could probably recite from memory. But, that does make it a great choice for reading when I have been awake and reading for 21 hours. With a page total of 889 pages in 21 hours, I hope to add the remaining 36 pages of Twelve Angry Men in hour 22.

    Readathon: Hour 20

    Right on time, I was able to finish The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh. So, another 57 pages brings my total to 852 pages in 20 hours. It looks like I will pass 1000 pages, if I can stay awake. Well, on to Twelve Angry Men ...

    But before I go ... is it just me, or is the countdown clock at Gargantuan Books wrong? According to my clock (Fox Clocks for the Firefox browser) it is a little after 8:00 a.m. GMT. Which, since we started at Noon GMT yesterday means we have a little less than four hours left, not a little less than three.

    Readathon: Hour 19

    Another 46 pages of The Loved One bringing my total up to 795 pages in 19 hours. I have 57 pages left in The Loved One, and I am going to try to push hard to finish it in the next hour. Then, I think I will move on to the play Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose.

    Readathon: Hour 18

    And, just on cue, the dreaded Wall! I managed to read 60 pages of The Loved One. But during the hour, I did a lot of head nodding. With six more hours, I have serious doubts I will be able to stay awake the whole time. But my page total is now up to 749!

    Readathon: Hour 17

    I read the last 25 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. A great book despite the sad ending. I will try to review all the books I finish during the readathon throughout the following week. For those keeping score, and I know I am, that brings my page total to 689 pages in 17 hours, with 4 books completed. I will be moving on to Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One.

    Readathon: Hour 16

    Just like in a marathon, I must be getting my second wind. I picked up the pace again this hour, reading another 53 pages. I have just 25 more pages until I finish The Elegance of the Hedgehog. My page total for 16 hours is 664.

    I am starting to get the crazy idea that I might just be able to stay up for the entire 24 hours. After all, there are only eight ours left. Unfortunately, I am running out of tea ...

    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    Readathon: Hour 15

    I have picked up the pace a little bit, despite having taken a little break, reading another 42 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. My total page count for the 15 hours is 611 pages.

    Readathon: Hour 14

    Another 31 pages to bring my grand total to 569. I am starting to get tired again. I have another 120 pages left in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which at my current pace is another four hours. With a break or two that makes another five, maybe six hours to complete this book. I will definitely pick an easier book next.

    Readathon: Hour 13

    Just like a marathon, the important thing is to keep moving forward, and I am doing that. This hour I am still a little low on the page count because of my dinner break. I read another 25 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, bringing my total for 13 hours of reading to 538 pages. Not bad, that would put me on pace to read approximately 1000 pages in 24 hours. However, I am not really sure that I want to remain awake for 24 hours. Right now, my plan is to take a longer break tonight and get some sleep and wake up early tomorrow morning to finish. But, we'll see ...

    Readathon: Hour 12

    I took a break to eat dinner with my family, so I managed only 15 pages this hour. I am still reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I considered changing books and reading something easier. But, I changed my mind and I think I will stick with this one until I finish it.

    Now for the Mid-Event Meme:

    1. What are you reading right now? As indicated above The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

    2. How many books have you read so far? Including the one I am currently reading, 4.

    3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? Finishing the one I am reading now. I have bookshelves full of books, so I really haven't picked what I am going to read next.

    4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? I didn't make any special arrangements per se. My wife and I don't really make too many plans on the weekend. However, she has been real supportive. She took our six year old son to the gym and a little festival in the next town over during the majority of the day, which helped a great deal.

    5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Mostly my interruptions have been eating, my son, and my dog. As far as dealing with them, I eat, I help my son when he needs it, and I let the dog in and out when she needs out.

    6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? How tiring it is to sit on your rear and read all day.

    7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? Not really.

    8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? I might pick easier books to read. I would definitely try to get more sleep the night before the event.

    9. Are you getting tired yet? I was definitely tired before I took a break to eat dinner. I feel a little refreshed right now, but I am pretty sure it won't last very long.

    10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? Not really.

    Readathon: Hour 11

    Another 34 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, bringing my page total to 498 pages in 11 hours. It is pretty exciting that I will be going over 500 pages in the next hour and before the halfway point.

    Readathon: Hour 10

    28 more pages of the same book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I am starting to feel a little better. Perhaps it was just the normal mid-afternoon fatigue that was slowing me down. My page total is now 464 pages in 10 hours. I so, I read on ...

    Readathon: Hour 9

    Another 21 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. I will attribute some of the diminishment of my reading speed to the sophistication of the prose. After all, the Ms. Barbery includes allusion to philosophical phenomenology. However, I am also becoming quite fatigued. I decided to rest my eyes for five minutes, so I set a timer and laid down on the couch. I promptly fell asleep, so it is a good thing I set the timer. It might be time for another walk around the block, or something else to get my blood flowing, perhaps some push ups. Anyway, my grand total is 436 pages in 9 hours. I have completed three books and am working on my fourth. Until the next hour ...

    Readathon: Hour 8

    I am starting to get tired now. It probably doesn't help that I am reading literature in translation. However, I did manage 28 pages of The Elegance of the Hedgehog. That is actually more pitiful than I thought, now that I have actually done the math. But, it does bring my page total over 400 to 415 pages.

    Here is another quote to share. It is an eleven year old girl's description of rugby and the Maori haka that the All Blacks perform before each match:

    What I knew was that the haka is a sort of grotesque dance that the New Zealand team performs before the match. Sort of intimidation in the manner of the great apes. And I also knew that rugby is a heavy sort of game, with guys falling all over each other on the grass all the time only to stand up and fall down and get all tangled up a few feet further along.

    For what it is worth, I love watching the haka and enjoy watching rugby too. Although, I admit, I like watching soccer more.

    Readathon: Hour 7

    I read a 58 pages this hour, bringing my total to 387 pages in seven hours. I completed Alessandro Baricco's Silk, and with it the Seconds Challenge. I also found that Bart (I assume) at Barts Bookshelf also read Silk during the readathon.

    After Silk, I did take a five minute walk around the block to clear my head. I still had time to read a little of my next book, Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

    Readathon: Hour 6

    Hampered by having to eat lunch, I only read 39 pages of Silk this hour. That brings my total to 329 pages in six hours. I should complete Silk in hour seven, as it is only a 91 page book. I haven't decided what to read after that. I am getting a little muzzy headed after six hours of reading. I might take a break and go for a walk around the block after I finish Silk. Until next hour ...

    Readathon: Hour 5

    I finished Indignation by Philip Roth, reading another 76 pages for a grand total of 290 pages so far. I will now be moving on to Silk by Alessandro Baricco. This is another book for the Seconds Challenge. Once I finish Silk I will have completed the challenge!

    Now, I might be a little early with this mini-challenge, but here is a quote from Indignation. It is the end of the novel's narration:

    ... the terrible, the incomprehensible way one's most banal, incidental, even comical choices achieve the most disproportionate result.

    Readathon: Hour 4

    I completed another 74 pages of Indignation. This brings my total page count to 214 pages.

    I must say that this is in some ways harder than I thought, but in others easier. Distractions can be a problem. Phone calls, the dog, my six year old, etc. However, one thing that has, so far, been less of a distraction than I thought it would be is the television. I am an avid soccer fan and usually spend part (my wife might say most) of my weekend watching European soccer. In the run up to the readathon, I noticed that my favorite team, Arsenal, would be playing this morning. This presented a dilemma, and I almost decided not to do the readathon so I could watch the game. However, I have a DVR, so I decided to go ahead and read away the day (and night). I am glad I did. More on the lack of television later, I am sure.

    Readathon: Hour 3

    This hour I read 54 pages of Philip Roth's Indignation. This brings my page total to 140 pages with one completed book in three hours.

    Readathon: Hour 2

    Distractions, distractions, distractions! I did well during hour 1, but not so well during hour 2. My six year old son woke up before my wife. So, between him, the dog, and other things, I didn't do as much reading as I wanted in hour 2. However, I did manage to read 36 pages and finish Predictably Irrational as promised. Hopefully, I can do better in hour 3 because my wife is now awake and has promised to take our son to the gym with her.

    I visited some of the other readers and found that perhaps I should introduce myself, as per the "Introduction Meme":

    • Where am I reading from? I am reading in Sugar Land, Texas. For those that don't know, Sugar Land is just outside Houston.

    • Three facts about me:
      1. I retired when I was 35. (Which is to say that when we relocated for my wife to take a promotion at work, I stayed home to take care of our son.)
      2. To earn book money, I do freelance computer programming.
      3. I own way too many books -- probably more than I can read.

    • How many books are in my TBR list? As per item 3 above, quite a number. However, I do have a pile of 10 or so books that are closer to the top of that list.

    • Do you have any goals for the readathon? Just to have fun.

    • Are you a veteran readathoner with advice for newbies? Nope. I am one of those newbies. But, I am a veteran marathoner and will probably apply that experience to the readathon. The most important thing I learned from marathoning is to pace yourself. You want to leave it all out on the course, but you definitely don't want to run out of steam at mile 15!

    Readathon: Hour 1

    So, the first hour is complete. I started the readathon with a book I was already reading, Predictably Irrational, a book on behavioral economics by Dan Ariely. In this first hour of the readathon, I read a little over two chapters for 50 pages even. I will be finishing Predictably Irrational in the next hour and moving on the Philip Roth's Indignation, a book that I am reading for the Second's Challenge.

    Readathon: "Pre-race" thoughts

    In a little under fifteen minutes, the October 2008 readathon begins. This will be my first readathon and I am a little excited about it. But, before it begins, I wanted to share a couple of thoughts.

    1. Before being sidelined by a problem with my feet, I was a marathoner. When I ran them, I followed the Galloway method. Famous runner Jeff Galloway proposed that unless you were an elite runner, you would be better off completing the marathon by taking short walking breaks during the event. He suggested that you choose a particular ratio, for example 9 minutes running to 1 minute walking. I had a great deal of success following this method. What does this have to do with the readathon? Well, I guess what I am really trying to do is come out and say I will not be trying to read for 24 hours straight. Instead, my goal is to spend the majority of each hour reading, while taking small breaks through out the event.

    2. Speaking of goals, I would also like to hedge my bets a little right from the start. While I would be thrilled to stay up for 24 hours and read, I am pretty sure that I am just too old to be able to pull it off. So, my goal is really to see just how long I can read. I suspect that I can make it 16-18 hours before falling asleep with a book on my face. Time will tell ...

    Well, writing this has taken ten minutes, so the "horn" will go off in five minutes. I want to wish my fellow participates good luck. Let's all have fun!

    Friday, October 17, 2008

    Man Booker Challenge Completed

    By finishing Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin yesterday, I have completed the Man Booker Challenge.

    1. The Sea by John Bainville -- Winner 2005

    2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell -- Short List 2004

    3. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes -- Short List 1984

    4. Amsterdam by Ian McEwan -- Winner 1998

    5. Time's Arrow by Martin Amis -- Short List 1991

    6. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood -- Winner 2000

    The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

    Weighing in at 521 pages, I find The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood hard to sum up in a short blog post. This is a product of my weakness as a writer/book review, not of the Ms. Atwood's wonderful book. Quite deserving of a prize like the Man Booker, this book defies genre. It has elements of historical fiction, science fiction, and even (if read with the right attitude) a mystery novel. It contains a book within a book within a book. Fantastic stuff!

    The Blind Assassin tells the story of Iris and Laura Chase, heirs of a fallen depression era industrialist. The books starts with the Laura's suicide and the suspicious death of Iris' husband, Richard. We then read about the events that lead up to the two deaths, the story of Iris and Laura's childhood, the demise of their father's business during the depression, and the catastrophic marriage of Iris to Richard. At intervals, we read the story of the furtive affair between an unknown woman with an unknown man. Who are they? That is the mystery, although not really a difficult one to divine. During post-coital interludes, the unknown man tells the unknown woman an improvised science fiction story called the Blind Assassin. A book within a book within a book, because the narration of this affair is actually a novel written by Laura, called the Blind Assassin.

    There is a lot that goes on in The Blind Assassin, and I found it a long slow read, but it is definitely worth it! I highly recommend it.