14 February 2015


Life As a Reading Challenge, Chapter 16

Find out why we're all too late to sign up =P

My friend Bob says that the most ridiculous question he is asked when someone sees his personal library is, "Did you really read all those books?" And he likes to point out that no one ever looks at someone else's huge collection of records or DVDs and asks something similar. But it has been a while since I have been able to roll my eyes at gobsmacked non-readers, because a significant number of the books I own are in what book bloggers like to call the "To-Be-Read pile." (This may be an example of life imitating Goodreads.) So, no, I haven't read all of those.

Well, all that's going to end this year and I'm going to earn my bookworm badge back, because I've finally thought of my word for 2015 . . . CLEAR.

As opposed to CLUTTER

Yes, those are all the books I've accumulated but have not read since I started this blog--which is still officially, shockingly a book blog. They were arranged in random order (except for those that are part of the same series) for their big photo, but we can group them into proper categories. (Click on the images if you want to read the titles better.)

Many of them are there because they're part of series that I started, liked, and committed myself to finishing. They were also likely available at a discount, which justified getting, say, #10 now, despite only being on #3 and not knowing when I'd get to #4. The BSC books are the most frustrating, because I have #s 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19 . . . but not #14. On the other hand, I have no excuse for Alex Rider #5; I just want to tackle it after rereading #s 1 to 4, and I've been putting that off. =P

A few of them are there because of some old reading challenges that I gave up on one or two books in (So typical) . . . so it's only right that they should get another chance in a new challenge. I actually tried starting Bram Stoker's Dracula in 2011, but couldn't stay focussed. Last year, I suggested for the "Two or Three" Book Club, but it lost to Frankenstein. Maybe 2015 will be its year at last . . . but not until October, because I like to give the "Two or Three" Book Club winners a whole year of triumph before I get to the titles that they defeated. (I have all sorts of fun reading rules for myself.) 

Then there are the giveaway prizes. Sometimes you enter for the fun of it (and because you've experienced being a host who is a little sad about low numbers) but aren't really panting to read the prize . . . and then you win anyway.

A few are gifts from relatives and friends--and I count the titles that they hadn't planned to give to me. (When you no longer want your books and are giving them away, bags I get first pick, all right?) This pile may get even bigger next week, when a close friend's boyfriend, who is downsizing, throws his packing party: he has already hinted that he has some old books that would be perfect for me. =P

And finally, there are the random personal indulgences. =) Quite a number of those I bought with the intention of reading them with my brothers, but the boys outgrew our readalongs faster than I did and I've been feeling too sad about that to read them on my own. (Sentimentality is also a kind of clutter, aye?)

(5 March 2015)

I surprised my friend's boyfriend by not taking home all the books that he had set aside from me, then surprised my friend by choosing two books that she never would have guessed I'd be interested in. Aside from the six pictured above, I accepted three German textbooks, which, for obvious reasons, aren't part of this challenge.

And how could I have forgotten the books that I keep in the office??? I moved these four there thinking that I'd get to them faster if I had to look at them all the time, but they've had as little luck as the rest of their friends in the TBR pile. I even started two of them, at separate times, but couldn't stay hooked. Two are from giveaways, one was a gift, and the last was originally part of another challenge.

* * * * *

Now here's the story behind the word and the challenge . . . My family and I have sold our roomy condominium and are going to move into a much smaller place. This means that my hundreds and hundreds of books will have to be put into storage for an indefinite time. It was a sad thought for a while, but after a friend of mine generously offered to let them stay in her spare bedroom--which is in a dry house, in a very safe part of town--I relaxed a little. Then the matter of deciding which books to pack up and which books to take along started to seem kind of fun.

Readers are usually asked what books they would take to a deserted island, but that's too extreme a metaphor for my family's new apartment. After we move, I won't be cut off from civilisation; I'll just be cut off from my other books. But I'll still be able to buy new books (which I will have to do in order to complete some series)--and if absolutely necessary, I can take a bus to my friend's house and grab an old one. So I'm not thinking of islands, but of cabins on a cruise ship. (What? The parallels hold.) And I'm envisioning one of those cruises that go around the world and take half the year to complete, though in my case, the "trip" will take much longer.

Now, if I ever went on a real cruise, I definitely wouldn't take so many books with me. (In my experience, vacations abroad are the worst time for reading because there are so many other things to see and to do!) Perhaps I need another metaphor, to underline my sense of purpose: instead of a cruise liner, how about a sailing ship taking me to a new home across an ocean? The more I read, the greater the distance I cover. And well, I do long for another sort of home than the one I am going to, so it will help to think of it as temporary.

* * * * *

CLEAR was also inspired by "clear the books"--a phrase I found among a bunch of finance-related expressions. I was originally looking for something that referred to paying off a credit bill, because what these books have given me is a lot of credit. For now I need to pay for every time I ever said, "Why, yes, I have read them all." =P

The original meaning of "clear the books" is to get rid of all bad assets--that is, anything that is supposed to be bringing in money but is actually losing it. Obviously, this is not the case for these literal books that I have challenged myself to read at last. Indeed, if we try to make this metaphor fit, the bad asset is I. LOL! But now I have not merely the rest of the year, but my entire time in my family's new apartment, to prove that I can deliver on my reading.

This is one reading challenge post you can bet I'll be referring back to again!

In the meantime . . . does anyone have any suggestions about which book to read first? LOL! Seriously, if you're the first person who reads this, pick a title and tell me why you think I should read it now, and if it's not out of order in a series, I'll start it this weekend! =D


Brandon said...

You've really never read Where the Red Fern Grows? I think that would probably be my pick for the 'read it now' category -- it's very good, but it's a fairly easy and short stand-alone (so reading it now wouldn't be a massive commitment). Forewarning, though: it's an animal story, and lives up to the animal story stereotype of being very sad (indeed, I think it's one of the saddest of the classic animal stories).

Of the rest, just glancing over them, I've liked The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Three Musketeers, The Secret Agent, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Lemony Snicket books, but I don't know that I would pick them out as read-right-now rather than just definitely-to-be-read-at-some-point.

Enbrethiliel said...


The classic "animal story" I have read is Old Yeller.

And I'm getting Where the Red Fern Grows out of the box now . . .

Brandon said...

It's definitely that sort of story; I've always thought that Where the Red Fern Grows is much sadder than Old Yeller.

I have it on my shelves somewhere, so I might dig it up and read it again, too.

Belfry Bat said...

I think the metaphor wanted is flying to the Moon (or Mars... (apparently it's going to happen? Can't tell if it'll happen well)). Long way, not much to see in between and that's a *good* trip.

Enbrethiliel said...


Brandon -- Great! We should be able to compare notes by the end of the week. =)

Bat -- Not really . . . I can't say that I want to go to the Moon. =P In fact, the best metaphor might just be a dungeon, albeit a comfortable one! Like the locked room in Anton Chekov's short story The Bet.

Sheila said...

Ack, take a day away from the computer, miss a chance to be "first"!

My vote is for Father Elijah. Even though it'll take awhile to get through. It's good book. Also happy to see The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Three Musketeers in there. And the Redwall books! My sister-in-law loves those. I've read a few and my general impression was that they were good, but you start to feel you're reading the same exact story over and over. But ... fun for a rainy day.

I love reading on vacation. Every vacation needs a book for the quiet moments! (Of course my idea of a great vacation is a week in a cabin in the mountains.) On my honeymoon I read Anna Karenina. (Loved it too. Especially the parts everyone skims, e.g. the part where Constantin Levin makes hay. Just about a hundred pages of cutting hay. Bliss!)

But to me, reading a book IS a vacation. There is no frigate like a book!

Enbrethiliel said...


One reason I haven't started Father Elijah is that it's the fifth book in a series that I haven't begun. It can probably be read as a standalone, or else my friend wouldn't have gifted it without the first four, but I'm worried about missing things if I start the series out of order. What do you say?

I really liked the first two Redwall books, but got bogged down in Mattimeo when I tried to read it a couple of years ago. I hope to be luckier with it this year!

I also have fond memories of reading during "down time" on vacations, but I'd rather "meet" the books in those places rather than bring them along. One of those books was Gordon Korman's Toilet Paper Tigers, which I'll never forget reading in my cousins' house in Los Angeles!

Did you notice that "There is no frigate like a book . . ." totally fits my cruise ship imagery? =D But it seems that my big pile of literary vacations will also be work for me this year!

mrsdarwin said...

Where the Red Fern Grows is definitely a tear jerker. We listened to it in the car and had a paroxysm of young weepers at the end. Good book.

Looking over your list, my votes for quick and good instant reads are: Sense and Sensibility (have you really not read that?); Carry on, Jeeves;The Trumpet of the Swan; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Rascal; and the Ramona books, which are as good a portrait of actual American life in the 70s and 80s as you're going to find.

I loved Gordon Korman's earlier books, but I don't know if his newer stuff is the same. We used to laugh ourselves silly over them, and you couldn't explain why they were so funny because you'd have to go back through the entire plot to explain how the big payoff happened.

Enbrethiliel said...


I definitely cried at the end, too! The death of the dogs becomes more poignant when we see that they also signify the death of Billy's boyhood.

Now, I have read Sense and Sensibility: indeed, it was my first Jane Austen novel, back in high school. But the story and the other merits of the text didn't really stick, and when I bought the copy I now have, I knew that I could hope for a very fresh reading.

The last Gordon Korman book I read was part of the 39 Clues series, but his style didn't really stick out to me. I believe he's also a beloved BSC ghostwriter! =) His Island trilogy is also in this pile, so I'll be revisiting him again this year or the next.

Sheila said...

I had thought Father Elijah was written first! At least, I read it first. They aren't, strictly speaking, a series .... more a bunch of stories in the same universe. There will be faint connecting threads among them, but certainly nothing to make each incomprehensible alone. I don't think they even spoil one another's surprises.

That said, it's pretty weighty. You'll make faster progress with P.G. Wodehouse. BUT, it's fast-paced and I don't remember struggling to finish it, so much as struggling to remember to eat meals and do chores instead of just reading all the time.

DMS said...

Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief is pretty short. I bet you could get it done in two hours- so you could easily declutter with it. :) Sammy is spunky!

Jitterbug Perfume was a book I read and loved years ago (and read it many times). I haven't read it in a while, but it was a unique story.

DMS said...

Also- Where the Red Fern Grows is also one you should read- but it is so sad. Be prepared!

SO happy you found a friend who can keep your books safe and dry. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- I've just checked again. It seems that Father Elijah *is* the first in the series. LOL! But I clearly remember being so disappointed to find out that it was fifth, because I had wanted to read it immediately.

Jess -- Jitterbug Perfume isn't the sort of book I'd pick out for myself, but the sort a good friend recommends to get a reader out of his comfort zone. I'm glad that I can look forward to it. =)

Sheila said...

I think it may be fifth chronologically. That is, the author wrote them in an order other than the one in which they would have taken place. Certainly I know some of the other books happen before Father Elijah, but were published later, and my understanding is that you can read them in whichever order you like.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

"There is no frigate like a book . . ."

I like the cruise ship imagery.

I read Father Elijah first, years before I got to the others in the series. I've always thought of it as a sort of stand alone, but more or less loosely tied to other books.

Other books that caught my eye:

Dracula (I labored over that novel for the better part of a month in grad school and so it's dear to me if only because of the time invested;

Carry on, Jeeves, because Wodehouse is always worth dropping everything for;

Adam of the Road, because it's in my TBR pile;

The Everlasting Man, because I really liked it when I read it;

and The Trivium, because it's been in my TBR pile for several years and I need a nudge to read it.

Enbrethiliel said...


At the end of this post, I asked someone to pick my next book--and it was such a great idea that I'll periodically be making the same request here (or on Twitter or Facebook) for the rest of the year. If your timing is right, you'll be able to make me read any of the titles you've just mentioned! =)

Melanie Bettinelli said...

Oh synchronicity! I just read your post and came back here to look at my comment to remind myself what was on my short list. And I got to be first! And all because I came back this morning so I could share your Hunger Games post with a friend.