e a m harris

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Archive for the tag “30 day book challenge”

The end of the 30 day book challenge

A few days ago I posted my last instalment of this challenge. I have to thank the writers of Snobbery for setting me going on what has turned out to be a long journey.

These are the stops on the way:

Day 1:  My Favourite Book
Day 2:  My Least Favourite Book
Day 3:  A Book That Surprised Me
Day 4:  A Book That Reminds Me of Home
Day 5:  A Non-Fiction Book I Like
Day 6:  A Book That Makes Me Cry
Day 7:  A Book I Find Hard to Read
Day 8:  An Unpopular Book I Think Should Be A Bestseller
Day 9:  A Book I’ve Read More Than Once
Day 10:  The First Novel I Remember Reading
Day 11:  The Book That Made Me Fall In Love With Reading
Day 12:  A Book So Emotionally Draining, I Had To Set It Aside
Day 13:  Favourite Childhood Book
Day 14:  A Book That Should Be On High School Or College Required Reading Lists
Day 15:  Favourite Book Dealing With Foreign Culture
Day 16:  Favourite Book Turned Movie
Day 17:  Book Turned Movie That Was Completely Desecrated
Day 18:  Book I Love That I Can’t Find On Shelves Anymore
Day 19:  A Book That Changed My Mind About A Particular Subject
Day 20:  A Book I’d Recommend To An Ignorant/Racist/Closed-Minded Individual
Day 21:  A Guilty Pleasure Book
Day 22:  Favourite Series
Day 23:  Favourite Romance Novel
Day 24:  A Book I Later Found Out The Author Lied About
Day 25:  Favourite Biography/Autobiography
Day 26:  A Book I Wish Would Be Written
Day 27:  A Book I’d Write If I Had All The Resources
Day 28:  A Book I Wish I’d Never Read
Day 29:  An Author That I Completely Avoid/Hate/Won’t Read
Day 30:  An Author That I’ll Read Whatever They Put Out

Most of the route has been down memory lane and it’s been useful, and at times exciting, to scour my recollections of past reading in order to write the posts. Looking back I see I’ve read a lot of great stuff.

Remembering the books has also made me remember how I felt on reading them: I had forgotten that I cried over Black Beauty, felt really cross with Dennis Wheatley, and thrilled at the description of the research in Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time.

My original plan of writing one post a week has long since failed, but I think that may have been a good thing, giving me more time to mull over what to write and, importantly, what to leave out.

I’ve considered taking up the NaPoWriMo challenge but, if I can’t stick to once a week, every day has no chance.


30 Day Book Challenge – day 27: A book I’d write if I had the resources

Arvon bookMy dream book is factual not fiction.

If I had the resources I’d write a biography of some historical person who has had a great deal of effect on the modern world, but who has either been overlooked by biographers or misunderstood. I’d prefer someone from an interesting period in an exotic location.

The resources I’d need would be considerable: the main one is time.

So I’m looking for plenty of time to read up on history and identify my person. If they weren’t English speaking I’d need time to learn at least some of their language. Time figures again in locating information on them and any relevant documents like letters, diaries etc.

Some serious historical knowledge about their period would require reading again, and possibly taking a course or two (or several).

Then I’d have to have money for travel and for taking those courses as well as buying books.

Am I within the realms of possibility? Can I write my dream book?

Did my overlooked and misunderstood subject even live? And if they did, is there any trace of them that a biographer could use? Whoever invented the wheel, the pot and the plough made the modern world, but their names and life-stories have disappeared and no amount of resources will produce a book about them.

Picture from Amazon.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 25: Favourite biography

My Fathers Fortune coverFor this topic I have no hesitation. I’ve read numerous biographies in my time and could list several that I really like but, of the ones I recall reasonably clearly (oh, for the memory of an elephant!), my favourite is My Father’s Fortune by Michael Frayn.

There are several reasons why I like this book.

It is the story of an ordinary man and it celebrates the heroism of the ordinary life. Frayn senior was born with no particular advantages: his family were not rich and the welfare state didn’t exist when he was young so he missed out on a lot of education and opportunities. Early he developed deafness which made his working life harder than it was for others. But he progressed in his career as salesman, provided for his family and educated his children to have more possibilities in their lives.

Michael Frayn is a writer who can illuminate the ordinary to show its extra-ordinariness and its universality. In this case one of the universal themes is the relationship of father and son – all men have this relationship, even orphans experience it, but as an absence. Another is the value of keeping on even when the going is tough or, worse still, boring.

On a more personal level, the book describes England as it was shortly before my own memories begin and gives me an idea of where my school and neighbourhood came from.

Picture from Goodreads.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 24: A Book I Later Found Out The Author Lied About

images-1Carlos Castaneda (1925–1998) was a Peruvian-American anthropologist. He shot to fame with his first book, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968), a first person account of his experiences as a trainee shaman under the tutelage of a Yaqui Indian magician, and upon which his Ph. D. thesis for UCLA was based.

He quickly followed this up with two other books on the same subject: A Separate Reality: Further conversations with Don Juan (1971) and Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (1972).

These were books that really fitted some of the esoteric things the ’60s were into: altered states of consciousness, spiritual experience and wise old people from neglected tribes.

At first they were greeted with enthusiasm as genuinely adding to anthropological knowledge – as well as being well written and best sellers. Initially Castaneda did all the things successful academics do: gave lectures, appeared on TV, gave interviews, wrote more. But by the mid ’70s doubts arose and questions were asked, and this has continued to today. At about the same time Casaneda withdrew from public life to concentrate on his spiritual development. He gave up answering journalists’ questions, though he did write several more books and held workshops in a spiritual system he called Tensegrity.

Some experts on Yaqui culture claimed they couldn’t find evidence of the sort of shamanism described; Richard de Mille wrote that he could prove that Castaneda was in the university library reading about peyote at the time he was supposed to be actually using it; others pointed out that none of the books included Yaqui terminology for what Castaneda claimed was a well developed knowledge system. But for every critic there was a counter-critic who believed the books to be true. There was also a school of thought that it didn’t matter – the books are worthwhile for themselves and not for what they may or may not refer to in the real world.A_separate_reality

I read the first three Don Juan books at the time they were being OK and true and found them readable and fascinating. Since they were accepted by academe I assumed they must be factual, though I thought some of the things described might have been a bit exaggerated for effect.

Now I agree that it would have been relatively easy for Castaneda to invent all or most of the material, but my knowledge isn’t good enough to say I’m certain it’s all invented. On the whole I think it’s one big hoax and Castaneda spent the last decades of his life laughing up his sleeve.

How about the third school of thought? I agree that the books make a contribution to Western culture, but I do think it matters if they are fakes. The author achieved a Ph. D. on the basis of his work and he sold the books as contributing to knowledge. If this was all invention he defrauded a lot of people.

UnknownIn my opinion his books would have done well as novels – original, thought provoking, experimental, and if we knew that is what they are they would be a grand addition to world literature.

I think future generations may find that he has sacrificed long-term fame for short term gain, and his books won’t outlive his contemporaries, to whom they said something important in the world view of their time.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 21: A guilty pleasure book

jewelled kitchen coverI don’t know why any book should be a guilty one – pornography perhaps.

A friend of mine at university, who was studying literature and reading many heavy novels, used to take time off every now and then to gorge on the tritest gothic romances. She seemed to consider this a ‘guilty pleasure’ as if she should have stuck to Dickens or Trollope.

I think the reading I would put close to this category is cookery books. I love finding exciting new recipes, working out how to adapt the meat ones to be vegetarian and  making out shopping lists of exotic ingredients. I imagine preparing curries that need spices I’ve never heard of, or baking (and eating) rich chocolate cakes.

Then I go into the kitchen and make the same stew I made last week.

Although they give me ideas for new ingredients and techniques to try, I rarely attempt the more esoteric recipes. The shopping lists get pruned to easily obtainable, and affordable, items, and next time we have a meal out we try a new restaurant that can give us Persian jewelled rice or Indonesian karedok – so much simpler than doing it myself.

The Jewelled Kitchen cover from Cherrapeno.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 20: A Book I’d Recommend To An Ignorant/Racist/Closed-Minded Individual

I doubt if anyone’s mind is completely closed. Perhaps in the final stages of dementia the door will be shut or seem so, but even there something is going on inside, it’s just impossible to follow for those outside.

But there are people who like to hunker down in the opinions they’ve held since school and pretend that they don’t need reappraising. To well of lost plotsthose people I’d recommend the books of Jasper Fforde.

They are extremely odd books, set in a world that’s a sort of spin-off of ours but not quite. They aren’t for the ignorant – they assume some knowledge of literature; they aren’t for the sexist or racist – they show individuals being effective, useless, opinionated and weird, but all the time as individuals not stereotypes; they aren’t for the closed minded – they open up the possibility of radically different interpretations of the world to the ones we know.

So to anyone whose cherished opinions are beginning to crumble and who’s fighting to shore them up, I’d suggest, ‘Give up for a bit, get down to your local library, borrow one of Mr Fforde’s books and enjoy some way-out thinking’.

Cover art from Jasper Fforde’s site, Thursday Next series.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 19: A book that changed my mind about a particular subject

I find this challenge unanswerable. I can’t recall having my mind changed by reading anything. Opened, expanded, developed – yes, too many times to count – but actually changed, no. Though there are some changes that might come close.

For instance I’ve read books that persuaded me that a topic I thought uninteresting was in fact fascinating. I’ve read a history of a hat-making firm (whose name I’ve forgotten) and another one about engineering company Stothert & Pitt and been gripped by the details of their businesses. I also love specialist magazines on subjects I’m not normally concerned with – ones for hobbyists in model railways, chess, birdwatching – most subjects open up a window on other people’s interests and on the richness of life and culture. passover plot cover

Other books have made me look at something in a different way. One of these is The Passover Plot by Hugh J Schonfield. This book looks at the life, death and resurrection of Christ from the point of view that he was a man who engineered the events described in the Bible, but was too badly injured to survive. There’s a lot more to the author’s thesis than this and I have to admit I’ve forgotten a good deal of it, but it was interesting to see how a story I knew very well could be reinterpreted in a completely different way from the traditional one.

Learning completely new things from books is a given. In my reading I’ve delved into areas of history and science that I didn’t even know existed.

But I still don’t feel that any of these has changed my mind.

Cover art from Goodreads.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 14: A book that should be on school and college reading lists

For this day I’ve chosen The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. There are several reasons:

  • the prose of much of the book is worth reading just for itself
  • by being so imaginative it stretches the imagination – IMHO this is particularly important for young people
  • the writing about animals encourages a reassessment of our relationship with them
  • it raises and explores issues about things like survival, reality, the importance of religion
  • the ambiguity of the end allows the reader space to come to their own conclusions about what it all means

life of pi cover artOne of the main things I took away from my reading was the importance of what we name our fellow creatures. The tiger, Richard Parker, has a human name and I found I had a completely different view of him than if he’d been called an animal-style name like Stripey or Felix. Of course, this has been known for a long time, but it hadn’t been a point I’d ever given much thought to.

If you haven’t read this book, I recommend it. If you haven’t seen the film I recommend that too – it’s beautiful, colourful and gripping.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 8: An unpopular book I think should be a bestseller

I am a Chechen cover artI’m going to have to more or less pass on this one. Firstly, I don’t usually know whether a book is unpopular; secondly, I can’t think of any book I’ve read that fits this criterion.

However, I Am a Chechen! by German Sadulaev is probably not a bestseller, but I found it a powerful memoir with a lot of serious things to say about identity, loss and the casualties of history.

I’ve already written about this book, so won’t repeat myself.

Picture from Goodreads.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 7: a book I found hard to read

Since I tend to abandon books I find hard and then forget them, I really had to search my memory to do today’s challenge.

1The book I came up with was An Ice-Cream War by William Boyd.

I remembered it because I read it fairly recently, and I actually finished it because it was a book group choice and I always read those.

It’s a historical novel based on real events during the First World War:

As millions are slaughtered on the Western Front, a ridiculous and little-reported campaign is being waged in East Africa – a war they continued after the Armistice because no one told them to stop.

It’s a highly thought of book, short listed for the Booker; so why did I find it difficult to read? I think the reasons are personal to me and no reflection on Mr Boyd’s skills as a novelist.

War is one of my least favourite subjects: I just don’t care who was fighting who and why, and I particularly don’t care about the details of battles. And any descriptions too graphic will get skipped as I don’t like reading about someone else’s pain endured over something as silly as war.

Africa in the early 20th century is not an intersection of time and place that I’ve ever thought about, and being shown it only in crisis made it difficult to understand and relate to.

Also I found it difficult to empathise with the characters – I simply couldn’t get interested in them.

This has not stopped me reading other Boyd books, nor would it stop me recommending this one to people interested in the period or subject.

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