Read Harder #2: Olive Kitteridge

19 01 2015

There is always more going on than you can see on the surface. In Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout creates a detailed portrait of a woman, and a whole town, through related vignettes. Each exquisitely crafted short story highlights the moments, mostly small and unremarkable, that fit together to make a life. Olive Kitteridge, a middle-aged woman best described as difficult, nonetheless profoundly impacts those around her. Reading about her is like real life: you may not like her, you may not want to spend a lot of time with her, but she is always around, drifting in and out of your path. When you find yourself tiring of Olive, the next short story will allow you to visit with another neighbor.

This book fulfills the prize winner category of the Read Harder challenge for me. It won a well deserved Pulitzer for its careful, beautiful language and unique construction.


Not Your Average Princess

4 01 2015


I just finished another book. Though it doesn’t fit well into the Read Harder challenge, I liked it so much I thought I should share. I picked up Princess Academy – Amazon because I have enjoyed several of Shannon Hale’s other books. B loves The Princess in Black, and I have enjoyed her Austenland books. (Go check these out!)

I was expecting a fun take on the princess trope, somewhat like The Princess in Black, but Princess Academy is a complete departure. To start with, the girls in the titular academy are not, in fact, princesses. It has been foretold that the prince will marry a girl from a small mountain territory. To prepare the simple country folk for low country life, all eligible girls must attend year-long princess training.

For a children’s book, this story is full of nuance. Many of the girls struggle with whether they would even want to be the princess, facing competing pulls of home and power. Miri, the main character, searches for ways to use her newfound knowledge to benefit her community.

There’s a wee bit of action, a lot of heart, some convincing mystical elements, and a wide range of emotions. This book well deserves its Newberry Award.

Read Harder: The Prague Cemetery

2 01 2015

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/1c5/35856733/files/2015/01/img_0094.jpgWe are kicking the Read Harder challenge off with a bang! My first book, The Prague Cemetery – Amazon by Umberto Eco is a doozy. It is a dense, dark, historical novel exploring the rise of Anti-Semitism. So why did I choose it first?

Well, for starters, it had been sitting in my Kindle books for a while, and I am hoping this year to really work through my digital and physical book shelves. But what really grabbed me is the general framework of the novel. A man, Simonini, wakes up to realize he can’t remember the previous several days and at the same time discovers that he is sharing his house with another man, AbbĂ© Della Piccola, of whom he also has no memory. The two never meet but begin piecing together their recent and distant pasts by writing notes back and forth.

The concept is brilliant. The mystery holds. The characters are unlikeable, pretty much without exception. The conclusion is fairly satisfying. However, I felt like the book was bogged down with way to much detail of all the bizarre conspiracies (and conspiracy theories) relating to the Jews, Jesuits, Masons, and others. However, it that is your kind of thing, I think you would love this book.

The Prague Cemetery is filling the “originally published in another language” category for me. Eco released this book in his native Italian, with an English translation published the following year. Perhaps Italian readers would be more familiar with the historical and political details of the first half of the book (lots on Garibaldi), but I found it fairly accessible. I appreciated Kindle’s integration with a dictionary and Wikipedia to help me fill some of the gaps.

Bottom line: Check out The Prague Cemetery if you love digging into historical details and conspiracy theories.

Read Harder #1: Challenge Accepted

2 01 2015

Happy New Year! 2015 is under way, and with it, a new reading challenge for me. This year I am undertaking the Book Riot Read Harder challenge. The goal is fairly modest — 24 books in a year. What makes it challenging is the breadth of reading selections. Books are chosen from 24 categories (age of author, geographic location, genre, etc.), encouraging each reader to pick up something that is a bit of a stretch.

The world is overflowing with media, things to read, watch, hear. Ironically, the greater the options, the more likely it is that you will find your perfect little niche — and stay there. This year I am branching out, reading books that have been on my list for years and books I have never heard of. It is my sincere hope that I come through 2015 having learned more about the world, and about myself.

Stay tuned. I will briefly update as I complete each book. I also plan to provide a children’s book selection for each category so that kids can join along.

Care to join me?