21 June 2011


Life As a Reading Challenge, Chapter 7

Until very recently, I've been weathering a bad season for Reading Challenges (official) and reading projects (unofficial) alike.

My first and very basic personal challenge/project of writing down the title of every book I read this year took a completely unnecessary blow last March, when I couldn't figure out whether to count both new reads and rereads. So I just ended up not writing anything down. (Ridiculous, I know.) But it wasn't as bad as what happened a month later, when I found myself with enough material for another list: Books Started and Then Abandoned in 2011. For an even more basic personal reading challenge/project--one that is so obvious that it has hitherto gone unsaid--is that of finishing whatever I start.

Books Started and Then Abandoned in 2011

The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Genesee Diary by Henri J.M. Nouwen
Mattimeo by Brian Jacques
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

A couple of these are rereads, but they still count--if only because they should have been easier to get through.

The Silmarillion, for instance, was my big Holy Week read from several years ago. I had decided to read nothing but Tolkien for those seven days, started with The Hobbit right after Palm Sunday, moved right into The Lord of the Rings, and devoted Good Friday and part of Black Saturday to The Silmarillion, which was the only one new to me at the time. It was strange and arcane then . . .

. . . and remains strange and arcane now. I wanted to make Lent 2011 all about Tolkien again--this time starting with The Silmarillion--and I found I just couldn't do it. And except for The Hobbit, which I read to give myself a nice hobbity holiday from all that elvish erudition, the rest of Tolkien's ouvre languished on my shelves.

Then there was Dracula, which was supposed to be my big February classic--something I could tick off my Extraordinarily Cheddary Postmodern Steampunk Challenge list. It was really the first to wave a red flag. Reading it was like tucking into a sumptuous meal when I wasn't hungry. Wrong book, wrong time: sad story. (Oh, look! A six-word memoir!) After two tries, I gave up.

The Genesee Diary was another reread that went nowhere, although I did manage to get a Locus Focus post out of it. Even after my "compromise" of skipping all of Father Nouwen's personal meditations and reading only the more "action packed" anecdotes from his stay in a Trappist monastery (You see why that's funny, right?), I just couldn't do it.

Now, I really thought Mattimeo had a chance. For one thing, I wasn't reading it just for myself, but also for Lauren of Little Wonder's Recommended Reads, who wanted us to collaborate on a post about Jacques's novels. But as soon as I read her apologetic e-mail about her being swamped and having to put our collaboration on hold, that was it for Mattimeo.

Anne of Avonlea was supposed to turn everything around, if only because it has a completely different vibe from all the other books that came before it. But that's an unfair responsibility to put on a book which was never meant to serve such a function--and this one didn't last two chapters.

(An honourable mention goes to Erewhon by Samuel Butler, another reread from my uni paper on satires and dystopias, because it's on hold at the moment. But I have a good feeling about it and think it has a pretty good chance of being picked up again next month.)

At this point, please note that all "abandoned" books return to the "Future Reads" shelf and are promised another chance in my Life as a Reading Challenge lottery someday. They all take it philosophically and don't let it steal their joy.

As for my own joy in reading nice, long books that take forever and then make me wish they had gone on longer . . . it is back! =D

And it is back thanks to an even longer book--one whose time has finally come:

June might be "Philippine Literature" month here at Shredded Cheddar, but By Sword and Fire wasn't part of my original plan. A 420-page history text with twenty-eight additional pages of footnotes is not exactly giveaway fodder, you know.

And yet the fact is that you'd be lucky to win this book. It's so bloody damn good that I have pushed everything else aside--both Erewhon and the last two books I've shortlisted for the giveaway pool but haven't read yet--so that I have more time for it.

Will this hurt whatever pretense to a schedule I have? Yes. Am I doing it even if I have to extend the giveaway a couple of days into July? You can bet your blogs.

Expect another non-fiction Locus Focus post this Saturday.

Image Source: By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II, 3 February - 3 March 1945 by Alfonso J. Aluit


lisa :) said...

Are you on any of the book-based-networking sites (LibraryThing, GoodReads, Shelfari, etc..)? The reason I ask is because I've found them immensely helpful in tracking book progress. I especially like LibraryThing because you can enter date started and stopped multiple times so you can keep track of progress (and abandonment) as well as books finished each year.

And I thought your comment about putting too much pressure on Anne of Avonlea was really amusing. Funny how naturally it has become for book bloggers to anthropomorphize literature!

geeklady said...

Tolkien, even at his best (which is very good), just doesn't strike me as the sort of thing to read durig Holy Week. I find I need to be able to relax into the book to fully enjoy and appreciate it, and I just can't imagine being able to do so during Holy Week. It's a slower read, refreshing when compared to the relentless onslaught of in media res and bland journalist style found in modern books. You need to be both hungry, and have time to relish Tolkien.

The Silmarillion is especially difficult for two reasons. One, it's unfinished, and you can see the raw edges. Two, it's more like reading a D'Aulaires book of myths. You get the bones of the stories, but their proper form is poetry only most of the poetry for the Silmarillion was never born. And to be born, they'd need to be written in Quenya first.

Anne of Avonlea and Mattimeo aren't favorites either, but I don't have them analyzed. Okay, I lie. They're both direct sequels to what came before, but they open in a disorienting way that makes you get reacquainted with characters you thought you knew. (Also Ratdeath is a dumb name for a sword and Mattimeo's a brat.) It's only by fast reading that I can hang on long enough to start enjoying those books.

Jillian said...

Well to be honest, I think it's acceptable to abandon The Silmarillion every now and then and just hop on right back after a couple of days! Or weeks... Haha.

And now I'm ashamed again because I've never finished Dracula either. I remember picking that up in high school - "wrong book wrong time!" like you said. Maybe one of these days when I'm not lazy, I'll try it again.

Risa said...

I think The Silmarillion is a book that can be read only bit by slow bit. I've always found it difficult to read it one stretch. A story a month or even a week might help you finish it. It's all slow and steady with this one!:D

I'm wondering why you put down Dracula?.... I found it a very gripping book!!

And I was going to suggest Goodreads or Library Thing but it's already been mentioned..:)

Shaz said...

I think Article #1 on the Reader's Bill of Rights should be "I have the right to stop reading a book at any time and without any justification or guilty feelings."

I once flicked through The Silmarillion, but decided I'm just not a fan of elves.

Enbrethiliel said...


Lisa -- I have a GoodReads account, but hardly ever use it. I signed up so I could have a handy alphabetised list of all my books, but so far I've entered less than a hundred because it keeps slipping my mind. =/

And I started thinking of my books as sentient beings a long time ago. ;-)

Geeklady -- I actually have a lot of time during Holy Week because in my part of the world it comes right at the start of the summer holidays. One week of glorious nothing but spiritual stuff! It's when many Filipinos go to the beach. =P

I blame my lack of elvish aptitude for my difficulty with the timeline (or lack thereof) in The Silmarillion. Most educated people alive today could read a bunch of Greek myths or Scripture stories out of order and not have any problem with that, and I think an Elf from the ancient ages of Middle-earth would be able to do the same with The Silmarillion even in its rough form . . . but that's not me. (Sigh.)

Your comment about direct sequels reminds me of the Rocky movies. I once watched the first five of them back to back over a week and couldn't understand why everyone else thought Rocky II was so inferior to the first movie. The two just seemed to flow into each other and were a single excellent movie experience in my mind. But just the other night, Rocky II came on and I decided to watch it again without reviewing the first movie . . . and sure enough, it was as much of an anti-climax as Mattimeo is to Redwall. (I think I would have had better luck reading Redwall and Mattimeo back to back and saving prequel Mossflower for the randomly timed reading.)

Jillian -- I knew that if anyone would understand, it would be you! ;-) LOL!!!

The new deadline I've set for myself is the end of October. If I can't do Dracula for the next Readers in Peril challenge, then I'll truly be ashamed of myself.

Risa -- You're probably right that I'd get more out of The Silmarillion if I read it slowly (and there was one point when averaged about two or three pages a day), but I did manage to read it in a plunge several years ago and thought I could recreate the experience this year. File that under #readingfail, I guess. ;-)

As for Dracula, well, I did compare it to a sumptuous meal that I tried to enjoy on an already full stomach. =) I could tell how fantastic it was while I was reading it. I just wasn't hungry for it, I'm afraid. =(

Shaz -- I think I feel guilty because I am a fan of elves. ;-) These days, however, I think I'd have a better chance at happiness (as a reader and as an inhabitant) in the Shire than in Lothlorien or Rivendell.