Two-Thirds Book Challenge Update 1

[Minor edit: 24 November 2011 to add links to Helen's posts at her blog.]

Over two months ago, I dreamed up a reading challenge, My Two-Thirds Book Challenge, after finishing another over the previous year. The new one began on October 1st.

So far, four people have joined me: 3 friends, E, Helen, and Jen, and my wife. This post will serve as the pointer to everyone’s lists and as the first reading update.

E – 2/3 Reading Challenge

E has listed 10 titles and has given herself 5 wild cards. Thus, she hopes to read 10 books. She got off to a quick start having finished one book and posting a review within the first month.

2/3 Book Challenge: Netherland

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

This is a book that E could neither put down, nor can stop thinking about. With 9/11 serving as a background, it is, she says, both a story of the American Dream, and one of “finding connection, finding home.” She writes:

One respondent to The New Yorker’s 9/11 project wrote that Netherland “seems to capture with great poignancy that powerful sense that a certain kind of world has slipped away.” This summarizes the book better than I possibly can. It’s wonderful and wonderfully written, full of sadness and loss and exploration.

Helen’s goodreads shelf

Helen is the most ambitious of us, at least publicly ambitious, with 75 titles on her list.

She appears to have finished one book so far.

The Believer’s Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies: How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths by Michael Shermer

I think she is going to post her reviews on her blog, Highway to Helen, but for now I am linking to her review at goodreads. [My Two-Thirds Book Challenge - Intro and My Two-Thirds Book Challenge - Book 1 added: 24 November 2011]

Helen gave it 3 of 5 stars and writes that: “I loved the first half, which explained in layman’s details how the human brain seeks patterns and forms beliefs in all kinds of things.” But, sadly, the second half focused “entirely on theories relating to cosmology and origins of the universe,” which seems to have left the subtitle a little overambitious and the text itself a little narrower than advertised.

Jen – 2/3 book challenge

I am unsure exactly how many books are on Jen’s list (13, I think), but that is perfectly OK as I told her that I am keeping this low-key. Nor is this a contest in any way, but simply a challenge to personally motivate the individual reader.

Jen has read two books so far and has short reviews at her post with her list.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak:

While slow at first, I ended up adoring this book. Set in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death, the book centers around a young girl and the family that has taken her in. At times funny and, of course, quite sad, it’s a wonderful ride and an interesting perspective.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery:

I bought this book while in Seattle based on a reader review that was posted with it. The book lived up to the review and I devoured it on my flights home. Like the reviewer, I found myself getting unashamedly teary-eyed while on a flight surrounded by strangers. A secretly intelligent concierge and a young suicidal girl who lives in the building both have life-changing experiences when a new tenant from Japan arrives. A lame review, but I’m worried about giving up too much. I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and the characters still come to mind and I wonder how they’re doing.

Sara – Two-Thirds Book Challenge

Sara’s list is even squishier than Jen’s. She is pursuing themes instead of specific titles as she has learned that if she doesn’t get around to reading a book she put on a list within 6 weeks or so then it will not get read. Her themes are: Creativity, Language, Writing, Erudition, Tech, and Fiction; and, she has links to her shelves at goodreads with possibilities within each theme at her post.

Mark (me) – My Two-Thirds Book Challenge

I have 30 titles on my challenge shelf at goodreads. I will, of course, read many more than 30 books over the next year. Since the challenge began I have read and finished 9 books and have begun 5 books which I am still reading. Three of those in process books are from my challenge list: Nabokov’s Pale Fire, Stafford’s The Way It Is, and Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. None of the finished books, though, are from my list.

My books are also divided into themes but, in my case, that division is a post hoc grouping after the titles were selected.

Pale Fire – Sara suggested I read the poem first and then go back and reread the poem along with its commentary. I have read the poem all the way through, and did so within the first few days of the challenge beginning, but now need to go back and reread/read the book in its entirety.

Hero with a Thousand Faces – I am a little over halfway through with this. It is somewhat slow going as I can only stomach so much of the psychoanalytic mumbo jumbo. Also, Campbell’s writing in some sections is crystal clear and in others it is as murky as can be. The murkier sections tend to dampen my enthusiasm for reading it. I wanted to read it during the fall semester, though, as it ties in well with my Classical Lit and Mythology class that I’m taking. The class is, well, myth and our text book authors also stress the psychoanalytic interpretations.

The Way It Is – I am at least 7/8 or so done with this. It is hard to say as it is one of those poetry collections that some editor decides is best in whatever whacky arrangement they’ve dreamed up instead of simply in the order in which were poems were published. As I chose to read them in chronological order, I have to jump around the book a lot, by and within sections, and that makes it difficult to know exactly how far I am.

Future Updates

I hope to get a bit more regular and have monthly updates. With any luck they will be posted within the first 10 days of each month. I know that E has a few things read to post reviews of, and I will certainly finish Stafford very soon and post a review.

If anyone still wants to join us make a list somewhere, in some form, that contains a smattering of things which you think you can finish 2/3rds (or more) of between October 1st 2011 and September 30th 2012 and post your reviews somewhere. Of course, let me know where this happens so I can add to you to our monthly updates.

Good reading to you all!