Thursday, May 9, 2013

Attacking the Stack Whilst Creating another Stack

Back in January I set a goal for myself to read the 49 books that had collected in teetery tottery piles around my house. I vowed that I'd read 4 books per month, which left room for me to read new books that might come onto my radar, and I gave myself an escape clause: I'd put down a book if it didn't grab me right away.

Five months into my Attack the Stack Reading Challenge, I figure it's time to share my progress.

The good news: I am on track.

I've read an average of 4 books per month and I only quit on one (which, truth be told, I feel guilty about it) Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. This is one of those classics that I somehow skipped along the way and always wondered about. I may still be wondering about it for the rest of my life. It's a fascinating depiction of a certain time and place in America, and I am sure that it was a ground-breaking piece of literature when it was first published. But I am struggling with the language--it's over-written, to the point of absurdity. Also--and I know it's unfair to judge an old book by today's standards--but it is racist in a way that makes me anxious and sick. I want to believe that writers are observant and sensitive to their surroundings and to issues of obvious inequality.

Um. I guess not! But the main reason I ended up putting this book down was that I simply could not read more than ten pages at a time without falling asleep. I'm so stubborn when it comes to reading books I start, that I have a feeling I will pick this one up again. If nothing else, I will use it when I am having trouble falling asleep.

But back to my progress on tackling the stack...
The bad news:
I have created another stack!
(New stack)

Here's a pic of the original stack in case you were wondering:
(Old stack)

I am glad that I committed to my challenge. I've loved many of the books and wondered WHY WHY WHY they had been sitting so long in my stack in the first place.

Some faves so far:

What I Was by Meg Rosoff.  No idea why I waited so long to read this one because I've LOVED everything Meg Rosoff has written. This book was a slow-building, absorbing story with a freak twist at the end that I did NOT see coming. Like all of Rosoff's books, it doesn't fit neatly into any category. Coming of age? Historical fiction? Magical realism? Analysis of gender roles in society?  Whatever. Everything the woman writes is brilliant and transcends all genres.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo. I went to her book-signing back in the fall and thought she was cool. I have no excuse at all for waiting so long to read her book. It's a fantasy, but instead of being set in the stereotypical Lord of the Rings/Middle Ages type world, it's set in what feels like turn of the last century Tsarist Russia. Great story.

Lest anyone thinks that I don't read books outside the YA genre--

My favorite adult book so far (when I say adult book it always sounds like I am talking about porn. But I am not. Ha ha) is The Fiction Class by Susan Breen. The main character is a writer who teaches a workshop once a week and after the class goes to visit her crochety dying mother in a nursing home. There's so much in here about relationships and aging and choices we make, but also some very interesting stuff about writing and writers too.

High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver has been sitting on my bedside table for years. Kingsolver is one of my favorite writers but I had the impression that this collection of essays was going to be dense, something I'd have to work my way through. I was wrong. I read it like it was a novel, in two days. It's thought-provoking but has some laugh out loud moments too. This book reminded me that a truly good writer is NEVER hard to read.

Last but not least, a book I finished a few weeks ago and am still thinking about. Many Stones by Carolyn Coman, is an oldie by YA standards, published in 2000, and I am stunned that I never read it until now (It was a finalist for the National Book Award) I can't think of a more perfectly put together book. Short and powerful--simple and complex at the same time. The main character Berry is still reeling from her older sister Laura's death in South Africa. Laura was volunteering at a school and was murdered, right around the time that the Apartheid system was falling apart.

Berry's father, a take charge/no nonsense kind of guy, decides that the proper way to deal with their grief over Laura is to go to South Africa and donate money to the school where she worked. Berry has no desire to go on this trip. She doesn't get along with her father and still holds a lot of anger toward him for divorcing her mom. The book is the two taking their trip and painfully and awkwardly trying to relate to each other. The politics and history of Apartheid hover behind the story, a back drop to Berry and her father's broken relationship.

The book asks: How do we go on living after tragedy? How do we forgive the people who have hurt us? There's no real answer, of course, but like every great novel, the reader finds a bit of hope at the end.


  1. Having a new stack is good news. ;-)
    And I also liked HIGH TIDE IN TUCSON.

  2. Wow, you're a prodigious reader! I read all the time, too, but slower. I read Look Homeward Angel when i was 17 (on a Thomas Wolfe binge). At the time, I thought he was an amazing author. I realize his books are overwritten but there was also an underlying passion and something lyrical about them that pulled me in. Look Homeward Angel had been longer until Wolfe's editor, Maxwell Perkins, helped him slim it down by at least 80,000 words. I can't imagine reading a book 80,000 words longer. It's also suppose stream of consciousness style -- often wordy.

    Anyhow, enjoy your stacks.

    1. Thanks Stella. Yeah, it's lyrical... I think that's what makes me sleepy! I know I'm going to go back to it one day. I hate quitting on books.