Sunday, January 29, 2012

Gail Collins provides a lively and entertaining biography of the shortest serving American president

Book 13: William Henry Harrison by Gail Collins

William Henry Harrison is the most recent entry in Times Books’ The American Presidents series.

It’s also one of final books in this uniformly superb series of brief biographies of American presidents.  Upcoming books on William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy complete the series up to (but not including) Bill Clinton.

William Henry Harrison is a highly readable book. Collins is a journalist, not a historian, so she knows how to tell a story, and Harrison’s story is an intriguing one.

He was president for only 31 days.  In his late sixties when elected, it is widely believed Harrison attempted to display his stamina by delivering a two-hour inaugural address on a cold and rainy day in Washington in early March.  A month later he was dead from the effects of pneumonia.

Vice President John Tyler became president and that’s a story in itself. A half dozen political leaders, including Daniel Webster, had declined the vice presidential nomination. “It was one of those moments when you can imagine an alternative path into the future closing itself off,” Collins writes.

Harrison became the first presidential candidate to actively campaign for the office. He took to the campaign trail, in part, to defuse rumors that he was too old and feeble for the job. 

Harrison was helped in to office by his overly inflated reputation as an heroic Indian fighter; principally at the Battle of Tippecanoe. (Hence the phrase, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too,” which most of us remember, but don’t necessarily connect to Harrison.) 

I am a long-standing fan of this series. Each biography runs less than 200 pages. This particular book is only 125 pages, but, frankly, how much needs to be written about Harrison? 125 pages seems about right.

Collins' William Henry Harrison is a lively and entertaining look at the shortest serving American president.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On Rereading and Forgotten Bookmarks

Reading about books or about reading is a genuine pleasure for the bibliophile. January brought two books on those topics.

Book 4: Forgotten Bookmarks by Michael Popek

Forgotten Bookmarks is unadulterated book porn.

The author, Michael Popek, works in his family’s used bookstore.

As books were purchased for sale in the store, Popek observed that occasionally there were objects tucked into the pages of the books . . . letters, photographs, pressed flowers, baseball cards and recipes.

He began to catalog his finds on Now, he’s doing the same thing in the pages of this book of the same name.  Each page features a high-resolution photograph of a book and the object that was found within it.

Popek tells about the book . . . the title, author, publisher and year of publication. He also furnishes details about the treasure hidden inside.  A photograph, for example, is reproduced along with any writing on the flip side.  Letters are transcribed.

Among the more unusual items are beer coasters, four-leaf covers and seven razor blades inside Stenciling With Style.

It’s a lovely book that will resonate with habitu├ęs of used book stores, who have certainly uncovered their own treasures through the years. 

Book 11: On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks

Spacks is a professor of English at the University of Virginia, about 50 miles down the road from me through Civil War battlefields, Virginia horse country and the Piedmont.

In On Rereading she explores rereading. Some people scorn it, but others – such as Spacks – understand that rereading has values uniquely its own.

She explores those values, which include the pleasure of revisiting a favorite book from childhood, uncovering new depths of meaning within a novel or stumbling upon the realization that the book may not have changed, but the reader has; a realization that can be equally disturbing or gratifying.

“I want to use rereading as a way to think about reading . . . but questions about the worth of rereading as an act in itself lie at the heart of my present investigation, which aspires to discover the significance and consequence of this activity. Rereading can appear like avoidance, yet I believe that it constitutes a form of engagement,” Spacks writes.

There’s an academic undertone to On Rereading, but it’s not a trudge. Spacks clearly loves reading just as much as anyone who is attracted to this book. Her love of reading guarantees that there will be moments, perhaps many of them, when the reader sees himself reflected in Spacks’s work.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ellis delivers while Mosley, Burke and Block stumble

Book 10: Breach of Trust by David Ellis

This is the second novel by Ellis featuring Chicago attorney Jason Kolarich.

Determined to solve the murder of a potential witness in a trial, Jason uncovers evidence of corruption in the Illinois Governor’s Office. (Now that’s a stretch.)

Jason agrees to aid the Feds in their investigation, believing that his efforts as an undercover informant will also lead him to the men who ordered the witness murdered.

It’s a compelling thriller. Ellis is a solid writer and the book is given a boost by Ellis's inside knowledge of Illinois government – he was the impeachment prosecutor who convicted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich before the state Senate. How's that for credentials?

Book 9: When The Thrill Is Gone by Walter Mosley

Book 12: The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke

Mosley and Burke have been at this a while.  I think it’s time they retired. Both books feel tired and as if the author is mailing in it.

Mosley is trying to gin up energy with Leonid McGill, a character he introduced a few books earlier.  It isn’t working as Mosley is more interested in sorting through his attitude toward this country’s race relations than he is in any plot points.

Burke is simply retelling the same story book after book after book. If you’ve read any of his earlier novels featuring Dave Robicheaux you’ve read this one. 

I could enumerate a host of faults, but I don’t care to do it. There are some indications this could be Burke’s final Robicheaux novel. The ending is unresolved, and the outcome could go either way. Wish I cared what that outcome was.

I started reading both authors long ago and I’m only reading them now to satisfy some obsessive-compulsive need to keep a series going. Gotta stop that.

Book 14: Getting Off by Lawrence Block

A female serial killer finds true love.  Lots of gratuitous sex and violence. Not my cup of tea.

Monday, January 16, 2012

James and Austen is a perfect pairing

Book 8: Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

A lot of people who would enjoy this book may well pass it by.

Some because they are unfamiliar with P.D. James, a grandmaster of the British mystery.

Others because they have had their fill of all the Jane Austen knock-offs.  The tipping points may have been when Pride and Prejudice and Zombies made its appearance on bookstore shelves. 

Granted, that’s a bit much, but Death Comes to Pemberley is a perfect pairing.

James is a superb writer. She’s a literary descendant of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. A better, more muscular writer than either, in her books James has complete command over the plot, characters and setting.  

And more than a few mystery writers today have studied her work.  She specializes in littering her stories with little clues that lead to the guilty party, but she’s so skillful it doesn’t all come together until the denouement. 
As for Miss Austen – she occupies a rarefied pantheon of literary giants.  People have been reading and enjoying her books for two centuries now.  She’s definitely stood the test of time.

I’m not an Austenphile. I haven’t read all her books, but I admire the ones I have read. (And I do enjoy those lush period-piece movies based on her work.) And this isn’t the book Austen would have written if she had penned a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, but . . . 

Death Comes to Pemberley works – at every level.  It’s a satisfying whodunit that also works as the next chapter (literally) in the lives of the characters who inhabit Pride and Prejudice.

James is true to the spirit of Jane Austen.  Death Comes to Pemberley is James’ homage to Austen; it’s one great British writer paying her respect to another, greater author.

Like chocolate and wine, James and Austen is a pairing for the ages.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Before I Go To Sleep a rewarding, complex thriller

Book 6: Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

Each morning, Christine awakes to a mystery. 

She is much older than she knows herself to be. She does not know the man sleeping next to her. She is unfamiliar with the room she wakes to.

Christine has not only forgotten what she ate for dinner the previous evening. She has forgotten everything that happened to her the previous day. And the day before that. And before that. She has forgotten years. Decades.

The man in bed next to her – her husband Ben – patiently explains that years earlier she suffered a devastating brain trauma when she was struck by a car while walking to work. Now, each night, as she sleeps, her memories are erased.

Christine remembers her childhood. She remembers fragments of her life as a young woman, but almost everything else has been swept clean.

But there is another mystery that inhabits Christine’s life.   Soon after S.J. Watson opens her provocative first novel, we learn that Christine is keeping a journal.  A few weeks earlier a doctor had shown up on her doorstep. “I think I can help you,” he tells her. The journal is part of her therapy, and the key to unlocking the mystery that envelopes her.

The journal seems to help Christine reclaim lost memories. It also leads to the discovery that Ben is lying to her. She wasn’t hit by a car, but severely beaten.  She didn’t work as a secretary, but had reached her long-desired goal of writing a novel. Ben claims the couple was childless, but Christine remembers a son. 

Why is Ben lying? And why has she written, in bold letters, “Don’t Tell Ben” on the first page of her journal?

What does Christine really remember and what is only her imagination? What’s more trustworthy, the written words she has committed to her journal? Or Ben’s quiet assurances?

Through the slow, yet steady accretion of information in her journal, a reconnection with her long-lost best friend and her doctor’s patient counsel, Christine slowly begins to realize that something is horrifically wrong with her life; something more than the nightly erasure of memory. 

It is a credit to S.J. Watson’s skills as a writer than the reader’s revelations keeps pace with Christine’s.  Her dawning awareness, her growing horror – are also our own.  Like Christine, we must patiently let the mystery come to us, allow the accumulation of facts to unveil what the mind has hidden.

The reader quickly dismisses any doubts about the implausibility of the of premise of Before I Go To Sleep – the nightly erasure of Christine’s memory – as they are enveloped in superbly plotted thriller of stunning complexity. 

A thriller that will have you rooting for a woman determined to reclaim her life and to guarantee that the evil that has stolen her past and present will have no claim on her future.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

2012 Reading -- Part Two

Book 5: Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin 

I have never feared for a character’s safety as much as I did for15-year-old Charley Thompson, the protagonist of Willy Vlautin’s Lean on Pete.

Vlautin, a singer and songwriter as well as a novelist, came to my attention after reading something somewhere in which George Pelecanos talked about how much he liked Vlautin’s writing, especially this novel. 

Pelecanos is right. Vlautin's something special.

In its structure, Lean On Pete borrows from classic stories in which the main character must embark on a perilous journey. The character will face many tests en route – tests of courage and strength and moral fidelity – but will find safety and happiness if he successfully reaches his destination.

Charley is orphaned, and left homeless, midway through the novel. His mother apparently deserted the family when Charley was an infant.  His dad does his best, but he’s clearly a man overwhelmed by familial responsibilities, including the need to keep a job, food in the fridge and to be home each night. 

Charley and his father have just moved to Portland when the novel opens. Although we never know why, the move is clearly driven more by his father's need to flee his past life than to any attractions Portland might hold.

A poor choice of a new girlfriend leads to the death of Charley’s dad.   

Charley gets by – he is a resourceful lad – picking up a few dollars working for a horse breeder at a nearby track. The track becomes a temporary home, but when Lean On Pete, a race horse in Charley’s care, is destined to be shipped to Mexico to be turned into dog food, Charley kidnaps Pete and sets off from Portland to Wyoming to find his aunt.

Everyone Charley meets is a potential threat. Some of those threats are very real. On his journey, Charley is beaten and robbed. There is an unspoken, but genuine fear, that he may become sexual prey or idly murdered.  That Charley finds the occasional individual willing to give him a ride, a meal, a few bucks or the promise of a job comes almost as a surprise.

Lean On Pete works because of Charley Thompson.  Simply put, he’s a good kid.  Willing to shovel the manure from a horse stall for the promise of a few bucks or wash the dishes after a rare sit-down dinner.  Charley’s needs are few. He wants to go to school and play football, he wants to know there’s going to be food on the table (like every 15-year-old boy he’s always hungry) and a warm bed at night. 

Finally, he wants someone to love and who will love him in turn.

Charley’s travels, from Portland to Wyoming, isn’t Homeric in scale, but his journey into the cusp of manhood is just that.  Vlautin’s novel is an epic tale of a perilous journey toward wisdom and integrity and love.

Friday, January 13, 2012

2012 Reading -- Part One

I have a plan for my reading in 2012.

The first part of the plan involves rereading. I’ll get to that topic in a future post.

The second part of the plan revolves around the need to reduce the pile of books to be read that are taking over my library like the tribbles took over the Enterprise.

Implementation of the second part of my 2012 reading plan is underway. I’ve decided that in January, and possibly February, I will focus almost exclusively on reading mysteries and thrillers. I enjoy the genre and books in that category generally prove to be a quick read.

The experiment is working. I’ve read eight books in 11 days, and, although the book pile is shrinking imperceptibly, I’m feeling better about all those books to be read.

Here’s one-half of a summary of my reading in 2012:

Book 1: North of Nowhere by Steve Hamilton

After reading The Lock Artist I resolved to become better acquainted with the work of Steve Hamilton. 

That resolve was strengthened after discovering that his Alex McKnight series was set in the U.P. I have vacationed in The Yoop two of the last three years. I’ve been to The Soo, Paradise and Whitefish Bay – all locations that regularly appear in Hamilton’s series.

Hamilton’s an entertaining writer. His plots move with the speed of a north wind out of Canada, McKnight is an appealing character and the location is unique.  North of Nowhere is the fourth book in the series. From my perspective, the books just get better and better.

Book 2: The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell
Book 7: Crimes in Southern Indiana by Frank Bill

Two short story collections – from Daniel Woodrell and Frank Bill – that might be characterized as Hillbilly Noir.  

The Outlaw Album is the first short story collection from Woodrell, an accomplished novelist who is often compared to Cormac McCarthy. Crimes in Southern Indiana is not only Bill’s first story collection, it’s his first book.

Both are great; a disturbing serving of violence and depravity. Woodrell's collection is the strongest, but he’s been at it the longest. Crimes in Southern Indiana is an impressive debut. 

There are similarities in the subject matter. Both Woodrell and Bill explore a poor, marginalized segment of the American population that includes tweakers and drug dealers, the greedy and the victimized, hapless law enforcement officers and folks who simply see settling a disagreement with a gun as a logical and reasonable response.

I especially enjoyed The Echo of Neighborly Bones and Uncle by Woodrell; two stories as haunting and as disturbing as anything written by Stephen King.

Book 3: The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin

Initially, I didn’t warm up to Ian Rankin’s new series, featuring Malcom Fox and the Complaints, Britain’s version of America’s Internal Affairs.   

The Impossible Dead, Rankin's second book featuring the Complaints, was slow taking off. Other cops don’t like the Complaints, practice a lot of passive-aggressive behavior and call it cooperation, etc., etc., etc.

But a third of the way into the novel, Fox starts digging into a long-forgotten cold case that appears to be connected to the current case of cop corruption he’s investigating and The Impossible Dead starts reading like an Ian Rankin thriller – flat-out riveting.

Fox isn’t Rebus, but by the time The Impossible Dead steams to its conclusion, it’s evident that Rankin’s new series, and his new cast of characters, has the potential to be just as compelling as the Rebus novels.

Tomorrow: A summary of books four, five, six and eight.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Best Reads of 2011

A baseball diamond and the circus, two magic places, were at the heart of my best reads in 2011.

Those books, both by first-time novelists, were The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. 

The Art of Fielding is about the inability to find perfection on the baseball diamond or in human relationships. The Night Circus is the story of a mysterious magical challenge played out a circus that appears only between dusk and dawn. Both are love stories. Both were superbly written.

Other top reads in fiction:

The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson. Vikings. Hidden gold. Sailing ships. Swords and pillage. Do I need to say more? 

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine -- don't be put off by the fact that this book is for young readers. It deals with very adult emotions. Erskine is a Virginia writer who drew her inspiration for this novel from the Virginia Tech shootings.

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon. Tremendous short story collection.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. A modern take on Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. A surprise ending from a modern master. Winner of the 2011 Booker Prize.

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson.  The sweep of one man's life is captured in 116 pages.

The Cut by George Pelecanos.  A return to form by this D.C. writer.  Riveting.

In non-fiction, here's what I liked:

Faulks on Fiction by Sebastian FaulksReading about books is one of my guilty pleasures. Faulks is an entertaining enabler.

The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers.  I'll never tire of reading about the Little Big Horn. 

Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. I like reading about food almost as much as I like reading about books.  Just an awesome memoir. 

Yogi Berra Eternal Yankee by Allen Barra. The only baseball book worth passing on in 2011. Gotta love Yogi and Barra (no relationship) does right by him; clearly making the case that Mr. Berra is one of the greatest -- on and off the field. 

Just Kids by Patti Smith. Another awesome memoir.  Absolutely fascinating. Great insight in the development of an artist. 

The Greater Journey by David McCullough.  Read this. Watch Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris and fall in love with the City of Lights.

Biblio Baggins's 2011 Reading List

“You always read too many books . . . That can’t lead to any good.”
 --Arturo Perez-Reverte

“I care about the reader . . . That one person, alone in a room, whose time I’m asking for. I want my books to be worth the reader’s time . . . The novels I love are novels I live for. They make me feel smarter, more alive, more tender toward the world.”
--Jeffrey Eugenides
in an interview in The Paris Review

I read 135 books in 2011, midway between the 114 in 2010 and the 161 in 2009.

A few highlights:

  • I read Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind for the first time.
  • I read my very first Stephen King novel, Under the Dome.
  • I read, finally, Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.  Absolutely the longest book I've ever read.
  • And after reading lots of non-fiction by Larry McMurtry, I finally read one of his novels, Lonesome Dove.
Because some of you will want to know, of those books, I liked Lonesome Dove the best. It is a great yarn and destined to be an American classic. 

Here's all the books for 2011. 

1.         A Rule Against Murder, Louise Penny
2.         The Brutal Telling, Louise Penny
3.         The Long Ships, Frans G. Bengtsson
4.         The Spot, David Means
5.         Guitar, An American Life, Tim Brookes
6.         The Anniversary Man, R.J. Ellory
7.         Four Fish, Paul Greenberg
8.         Zero History, William Gibson
9.         The Sherlockian, Graham Moore
10.       Andrew Johnson, Annette Gordon-Reed
11.       Star Island, Carl Hiaasen
12.       The Sentry, Robert Crais
13.       Al Jaffee’s Mad Life, Mary-Lou Weisman
14.       I’d Know You Anywhere, Laura Lippman
15.       Mockingbird, Kathryn Erskine

16.       Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
17.       Swamplandia!, Karen Russell
18.       Running the Books, Avi Steinberg
19.       Known to Evil, Walter Mosley
20.       The Darkness That Comes Before, R. Scott Bakker
21.       The Warrior Prophet, R. Scott Bakker
22.       The Thousandfold Thought, R. Scott Bakker
23.       Faulks on Fiction, Sebastian Faulks

24.       A Red Herring Without Mustard, Alan Bradley
25.       Bury Your Dead, Louise Penny
26.       Human Croquet, Kate Atkinson
27.       The Death of King Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory, retelling by Peter Ackroyd
28.       The Killing of Crazy Horse, Thomas Powers
29.       Sunset Park, Paul Auster
30.       Blood, Bones & Butter, Gabrielle Hamilton
31.       The Small Boat of Great Sorrows, Dan Fesperman
32.       Jerry Robinson, Ambassador of Comics, N.C. Christopher Couch
33.       Kraken, China Mieville
34.       The Bricklayer, Noah Boyd
35.       The Girl in the Green Raincoat, Laura Lippman

36.       Winter in the Blood, James Welch
37.       The Georges and the Jewels, Jane Smiley
38.       The Hangman, Louise Penny
39.       Tomato Red, Daniel Woodrell
40.       The Lost Gate, Orson Scott Card
41.       Yogi Berra Eternal Yankee, Allen Barra
42.       The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell   
43.       Townie, Andre Dubus III
44.       The Welsh Girl, Peter Ho Davies
45.       Run!, Dean Karnazes
46.       The Fifth Witness, Michael Connelly
47.       Bird Cloud, Annie Proulx
48.       The Death of Sweet Mister, Daniel Woodrell
49.       Wonder, Robert J. Sawyer
50.       When the Killing’s Done, T.C. Boyle
51.       Flyover People, Cheryl Unruh

52.       Twice A Spy, Keith Thomson
53.       Just Kids, Patti Smith
54.       The Waters Rising, Sheri S. Tepper
55.       The Uncoupling, Meg Wolitzer
56.       Agent X, Noah Boyd
57.       Moon Over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool
58.       Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff
59.       Lost Souls, Michael Collins
60.       Selected Stories, William Trevor
61.       Millard Fillmore, Paul Finkelman
62.       The City and The City, China Mieville

63.       The Widower’s Tale, Julia Glass
64.       You Know When the Men Are Gone, Siobhan Fallon
65.       Embassytown, China Mieville     
66.       A Well-Paid Slave, Brad Snyder
67.       The Tragedy of Arthur, Arthur Phillips
68.       Rizzo’s Fire, Lou Manfredo
69.       The Alchemist, Paolo Bacigalupi
70.       Bradbury An Illustrated Life, Jerry Weist
71.       The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie
72.       The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman
73.       The Greater Journey, David McCullough
74.       State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
75.       It’s All About The Bike, Robert Penn

76.       The Snowman, Jo Nesbo
77.       Rodin’s Debutante, Ward Just
78.       A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
79.       Lockdown, Walter Dean Myers
80.       Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger, Lee Smith
81.       Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

82.       The Dewey Decimal System, Nathan Larson
83.       A Good Fall, Ha Jin
84.       A Cold Day in Paradise, Steve Hamilton
85.       Rule 34, Charles Stross
86.       Robopocalypse, Daniel H. Wilson
87.       The London Train, Tessa Hadley
88.       All the Time In The World, E.L. Doctorow
89.       Winter of the Wolf Moon, Steve Hamilton
90.       Disturbance, Jan Burke
91.       The Fort, Bernard Cornwell
92.       Washington, Ron Chernow
93.       Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling
94.       Not the End of the World, Kate Atkinson

95.       Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling
96.       The Cut, George Pelecanos
97.       Reservation Road, John Burnham Schwartz
98.       The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
99.       A Trick of the Light, Louise Penny
100.     Homicide Survivors Picnic, Lorraine M. Lopez
101.     Supergods, Grant Morrison
102.     Before the Poison, Peter Robinson
103      Just My Type, Simon Garfield
104.     Northwest Corner, John Burnham Schwartz
105.     The Hunting Wind, Steve Hamilton

106.     The Affair, Lee Child
107.     Stan Musial An American Life, George Vecsey
108.     The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach
109.     Luka and the Fire of Life, Salman Rushdie
110.     Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward
111.     Destiny of the Republic, Candice Millard
112.     White Noise, Don DeLillo
113.     The Baseball Codes, Jason Turbow w/Michael Duca
114.     Dangerous Laughter, Steven Millhauser
115.     Under the Dome, Stephen King
116.     Train Dreams, Denis Johnson

117.     Death of Kings, Bernard Cornwell
118.     The Sisters Brothers, Patrick DeWitt
119.     The Apothecary, Maile Meloy
120.     Death in the City of Light, David King
121.     The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides
122.     Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan
123.     The Buddha in the Attic, Julie Otsuka
124.     King of the Badgers, Philip Hensher
125.     The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
126.     Emotionally Weird, Kate Atkinson
127.     I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Alan Bradley

128.     The Sojourn, Andrew Krivak
129.     Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks
130.     The Stranger’s Child, Alan Hollinghurst
131.     Pigeon English, Stephen Kelman
132.     War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
133.     Tales of Burning Love, Louise Erdrich
134.     Alpha Better Juice, Roy Blount Jr.
135.     The Drop, Michael Connelly            

Second 2011 Challenge: The To-Be-Read Pile

The second Internet reading challenge of 2011 was put forth by Adam at the Roof Beam Reader. The idea behind the 2011 To Be Read Pile Challenge was to take 12 books and two alternates that have been on your bookshelf or "to be read" list for more than a year and actually read those books in 2011.

So that's what I did.  I read all 12 books and the two alternates. Here's the list:

1. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
2. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
3. War and Peace by Mr. Tolstoy
4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
5. The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker
6. Under the Dome by Stephen King
7. White Noise by Don Delillo
8. Yogi Berra Eternal Yankee by Allen Barra
9. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
10. Winter in the Blood by James Welch
11. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson
12. Emotionally Weird by Kate Atkinson

Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz
Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich

I enjoyed this contest and the motivation it provided. I would have read some of the books in any event, but the challenge provided me with the extra incentive to read them all.

Thanks Adam.

2011 Chunkster Challenge

I accepted two Internet reading challenges in 2011. The first was the Chunkster Reading Challenge.

In this challenge, size matters. A "chunkster" is defined as a book, fiction or non-fiction, that's 450 pages long or longer.

The challenge has different levels. I accepted the Mor-book-ly Obese challenge, which calls for reading eight chunksters, three of 750+ pages. Here's how I did:

Books 750+
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, 945 pages
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, 1148 pages
Washington by Ron Chernow, 817 pages
Under the Dome by Stephen King, 1074 pages
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, 1386 pages

Books 450+
The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson, 503 pages
The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker, 577 pages
The Warrior Prophet by R. Scott Bakker, 600 pages
The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers, 467 pages
Kraken by China Mieville, 509 pages
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, 469 pages
The Waters Rising by Sheri S. Tepper, 498 pages
The Greater Journey by David McCullough, 456 pages
The Fort by Bernard Cornwell, 464 pages
The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst, 564 pages
Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich, 452 pages

Five books in excess of 750 pages. I needed three.  Eleven books in excess of 450 pages. I needed five.

Challenge met!