Where are You Reading? Challenge Wrap Up

The Where are You Reading? Challenge was hosted by Sheila at her blog, Book Journey. The idea was to read a book set in each of the fifty states. I didn’t make it; but I gave it an ernest effort and I had a lot of fun playing with the google map! I read/listened to 69 titles across 30 states and the District of Columbia and, posted 27 reviews:

  • AL: The Most They Ever Had (written and narrated by Rick Bragg)
  • AK: Caribou Island (by David Vann; narrated by Bronson Pinchot)
  • AR: Shakespeare’s Landlord (by Charlaine Harris; narrated by Julia Gibson)
  • AZ: 3:10 to Yuma (by Elmore Leonard; narrated by Henry Rollins)
  • CA: When the Killing’s Done (by T.C. Boyle; narrated by Anthony Heald)
  • CA: The Haunting of Hill House (by Shirley Jackson; narrated by Bernadete Dunne)
  • CA : Psycho (by Robert Bloch; narrated by Paul Michael Garcia)
  • CA: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Volume #1: The Long Way Home (by Joss Whedon and Georges Jeanty)
  • CO: Columbine (by Dave Cullen; narrated by Don Leslie)
  • CT: Deep Down True (by Juliette Fay; narrated by Robynn Rodriguez)
  • CT: Dead Man’s Switch (by Tammy Kaehler; narrated by Nicole Vilencia)
  • CT: Unexpectedly, Milo (by Matthew Dicks)
  • CT: Happy Ever After (by Nora Roberts)
  • CT: Hellboy: Volume #2: Wake the Devil (by Mike Mignola)
  • CT: Hellboy: Volume #3: The Chained Coffing and Other Stories (by Mike Mignola)
  • DC: A Simple Act of Violence (by R.J. Ellory; narrated by Kevin Kenerly)
  • DE: West of Rehobeth (by Alex D. Pate; narrated by Dion Graham)
  • FL: Nature Girl (by Carl Hiaasen; narrated by Lee Adams)
  • FL: The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady (by Elizabeth Stuckey French)
  • FL: The Shawl (by Cynthia Ozick)
  • GA: A Quiet Belief in Angels (by R.J. Ellory; narrated by Mark Bramhall)
  • GA: The Walking Dead: Volume #2: Miles Behind Us (by Robert Kirkman et al)
  • GA: The Walking Dead: Volume #3: Safety Behind Bars (by Robert Kirkman et al)
  • HI: Unfamiliar Fishes (writtten and narrated by Sarah Vowell)
  • IL: The Last Striptease (by Michael Wiley; narrated by Johnny Heller)
  • IL: Death Masks (by Jim Butcher; narrated by James Marsters)
  • IL: Blood Rites (by Jim Butcher; narrated by James Marsters)
  • KY: The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye (by Robert Kirkman et al)
  • MA: A Drink Before the War (by Dennis Lehane; narrated by Jonathan Davis)
  • MA: Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? (by Steven Tyler with David Dalton; narrated by Jeremy Davidson)
  • MA: The Vices (by Lawrence Douglas)
  • MA: House Arrest (by Ellen Meeropol)
  • MA: The Handmaid’s Tale (by Margaret Atwood)
  • MD: Countdown (by Jonathan Maberry; narrated by Ray Porter)
  • MD: Patient Zero (by Jonathan Maberry; narrated by Ray Porter)
  • MD: Zero Tolerance (by Jonathan Maberry; narrated by Ray Porter)
  • MI: Big Girl, Small (by Rachel DeWoskin; narrated by Christine Williams)
  • ME: Carrie (by Stephen King; narrated by Sissy Spacek)
  • ME: Maine (by J. Courtney Sullivan)
  • ME: Hell House (by Richard Matheson; adapted by Ian Edgington; illustrated by Thomas Fraser)
  • ME: The Taker (by Alma Taksu)
  • MN: The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (by Joanne Fluke; narrated by Suzanne Toren)
  • MN: Shiver (by Maggie Stiefvater; narrated by Jenna Lamia and David LeDoux)
  • MO: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (by Mark Twain)
  • MO: The Adventures of HUckleberry Finn (by Mark Twain)
  • MO: Finn (by Jon Clinch)
  • MS: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (by Tom Franklin; narrated by Kevin Kenerly)
  • NJ: Hotel for Dogs (by Lois Duncan; narrated by Katy Kellgren)
  • NJ: The Plot Against America (by Philip Roth)
  • NY: Rip Van Winkle (by Washington Irving; narrated by Christian Rummel)
  • NY: The Ghost of Greenwich Village (by Lorna Graham; narrated by Nicole Vilencia)
  • NY: Live and Let Die (by Ian Flaming; narrated by Simon Vance)
  • NY: Diamonds are Forever (by Ian Flaming; narrated by Simon Vance)
  • NY: A Visit from the Goon Squad (by Jennifer Egan)
  • NY: Fables: Volume #3: Storybook Love (by Bill Willingham et al)
  • NY: Fables: Volume #4: March of the Wooden Soldiers (by Bill Willingham et al)
  • NY: Fables: Volume #5: The Mean Seasons (by Bill Willingham et al)
  • NY: Fables: Volume #6: Homelands (by Bill Willingham et al)
  • NY: We the Animals (by Justin Torres)
  • NY: By Nightfall (by Michael Cunningham)
  • OK: True Grit (by Charles Portis; narrated by Donna Tartt)
  • OK: Ready Player One (by Ernest Cline; narrated by Wil Wheaton)
  • PA: Lily’s Wedding Quilt (by Kelly Long; narrated by Christine Williams)
  • TN: The Improper Life of Bezilla Grove (by Susan Gregg Gilmore)
  • UT: Jitters: A Quirky Little Audio Book (by Adele Park; performed by Adele Park, Susan Paige Lane, Paige Allred, Kristen Henley, Desiree Whitehead, Garry Morris, John Gobson, Steve Coppola, Christine Hyatt, Dave Cochran, Chase Nichter, Tim Porter, Doug Caputo, RickPickett and, Guy Smith)
  • VA: The Reservoir (by John Miliken Thompson)
  • VT: Double Black (by Wendy Clinch)
  • VT: Secrets of Eden (by Chris Bohjalian)
  • WA: A Spark of Death (by Bernadette Pajer; narrated by Malcolm Hillgartner)

And this is the map!

View dogearedcopy map 2011 in a larger map

I ended up included pins for every book I read/listened-to so there are plenty of pins set in foreign countries too!

Epiphanies 2011

Instead of writing a “Best of” post, I’ve decided to write about a couple of the ideas that came about from my reading & listening this year and, mention some of the books that helped shape these ideas.

β˜† Social Injustice: I went back to reading Atiq Rahimi (Earth and Ashes; The Patience Stone and A Thousand Rooms of Dreams and Fear) this year with the idea of exploring “Aggregating Grief” and, instead, came away with a more clear picture of social injustice. At it’s most basic, social injustice is the thing that happens under human impetus that causes you to cry out “That’s not fair!” There are two possible responses: 1) “That’s life” or 2) “Then I need to make it fair.”
Can one person solve all the social inequities? I think one person tried and literally got crucified for it; but more to the point, while one person may not be able to solve the world’s problems, one person can make a difference. The idea is not to judge who may be worthy of your time, attention or money; but to act in a compassionate way to make things better. To make things fair. Maybe even just to help someone else through a couple hours that they might not otherwise be able to.
See Also:
  • Earth and Ashes and; The Patience Stone (by Atiq Rahimi)
  • Four Epiphanies (Aggregating Grief)
  • Social Injustice (Atiq Rahimi; The Medford Food Project)
  • A Christmas Carol (by Charles Dickens; narrated by Tim Curry)
  • The Quality of Mercy at 29k (Sports Night, TV sitcom episode, written by Bill Wrubel and Aaron Sorkin; Season 1: 1998-1999) – OK, I know it’s not a book and not even something I’ve seen in at least 13 years; but it is a well-written, funny and relevant episode about Dan Rydell’s (played by Josh Charles) choosing a charity. There’s one scene in particular, wherein Isaac Jaffe (Robert Guillaume) gives money to a beggar and Dan points out that the beggar probably will spend the money on booze…)
The theme of Social Injustice will likely creep into into some of my reviews next year, though I am not choosing books with that in mind. I can see how any of Dickens’ work would lend itself to the theme since Dickens deliberately chose to expose the seamier sides of Victorian London. Next year is Dickens’ 200 birth anniversary, and I expect to be revisiting A Christmas Carol in both print and audio. Also, the political victimization of women would be hard to ignore for books like The Handmaid’s Tale (by Margaret Atwood), and When She Woke (by Hilary Jordan; narrated by Heather Corrigan.) I don’t want to be one of “those people” who always has an axe to grind, though now that I see social injustice, it’s really hard to ignore.
β˜† Emotional Manipulation: There have been books that have normally been taboo to me: Books that deal with the forced separation of a mother and child; the death of a child, the victimization of a child, etc. And yet, I wanted to read Ellen Meeropol’s House Arrest, which is about a nurse who needs to check in on a woman who is accused of killing her daughter during a Winter Solstice rite. The potential for angst was great; but I decided that if I always “read safe” I might as well just relegate my reading to the romance titles available in my grocery store. So I read House Arrest and I was fine and I thought, I can do this, I can venture on unafraid. And then I listened to R.J. Ellory’s A Quiet Belief in Angels (narrated by Mark Bramhall.) It’s a story featuring a serial killer who targets little girls. None of the narrative takes place from the killer’s point of view. Rather, the protagonist’s describes what he sees and what he imagines. And I almost fainted in a grocery store parking lot.
One of the literary devices that writers employ with varying degrees of success to manipulate the reader into a specific emotional response is The Child-Killer. The Child Killer is a single-note character who cannot inhabit any morally grey or human area. The Child-Killer can do nothing but provoke rage and disgust from the reader. The Child Killer is a cheap shot, a unidimensional character who cannot evoke sympathy. I would like to say that sometimes The Child-Killer is an opportunity to explore the mindscapes of the other characters and maybe even the reader, and bring home the horror (i.e. A Quiet Belief in Angels); unfortunately the The Child-Killer now proliferates so much of our culture that it has become cliche. I prefer that my reading did not make me feel like I had been keel-hauled and left out hanging to dry, and recognizing The Child Killer for what it is, makes some of The Child-Killers less effective in intimidating me when it comes to my reading. Though I do kinda wonder about certain authors :-/
See also:
I’m hoping to include more human monsters (not necessarily Child Killers) in my reading fare next year and the idea of Nazis seems to fit the bill quite nicely. I’ve already worked on the epic The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (by William L. Shirer; narrated by Grover Gardner) and recently read In the Garden of Beasts (by Erik Larson); and I have The Kindly Ones (by Jonathan Littell; narrated by Grover Gardner) on hand; but I’m definitely keeping my eyes peeled for the literary equivalent of Inglourious Basterds. Maybe a comic book series? Recommendations welcome πŸ™‚
β˜† My Future Self: This final epiphany is not the result of my reading; but from a conversation I had with a fellow blogger. I am not happy living in a rural area; but more to the point, I’m not happy with the person I’ve become since moving out here (and somehow the move is connected with the person I have become…) Physically and emotionally, I’m not the person I have been in the past nor the person I want to be. But if I work towards the goals of who I want to be, I think I might be less unhappy and maybe even outright happier with who I am. One of the many goals I have towards My Future Self is to become more organized. I used to obsessively neat and organized: cleaning things that were already clean, chronologically filing all my bills, balancing my checkbook, arranging my clothes in my closets chromatically and by sleeve length… But I have become a rather indifferent housekeeper and my home office has become a safety hazard. It seems that, regardless of my efforts, entropy wins. So, in 2012, The Organization begins. I have a couple of books on hand to help: Throw Fifty Things Out (written and narrated by Gail Blanke) and The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life (by Dr. Robin Zasio; narrated by Cassandra Campbell) to start out. There will be Before and After pictures, status updates and other stuff. And you can either laugh at me, be inspired by me, or offer tips πŸ™‚

South Asian Challenge 2011

I did it! I managed to complete my one book pledge for the South Asian Challenge! If you’re wondering why this is such a big deal (after all, one book doesn’t seem like too much to ask) it’s because, well… it’s Gregory David Roberts’ fault! A few years ago, he wrote a book called, Shantaram. It’s an amazing epic adventure about Lin, an Australian convict who escapes to India. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Humphey Bower and, quite simply, it is one of the most amazing books, ever. That’s right. Amazing. Ever. In Shantaram, the listener basically falls in love with Lin as he makes his way through the different echelons of India’s cultures, forms relationships and, experiences what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land. Encouraged by Shantaram, I eagerly signed up for the South Asian Author Challenge in 2010 and promptly dived into the critically acclaimed White Tiger (by Aravind Adiga.) This was the first of three books I had pledged to read that year; and the only one I finished. I was incredibly disappointed in White Tiger. Maybe it’s because, as a native writer, there was much that Aravind Adiga took for granted or didn’t think the reader would be interested in; but after having all the exotic senses appealed to in Shantaram, White Tiger felt flat. After that early disappointment, I lost interest in the South Asian Author’s Challenge. But when the 2011 edition was announced, I felt a need to redeem myself somehow. @SKrishna made it easy by slightly modifying the rules: There was a one (1) book pledge level; and the author didn’t have to be South Asian (hence the challenge’s subtle re-naming.) I seriously considered re-listening to Shantaram – that’s right, all 42.6 hours of it (it’s that good); but on the other hand, I had cached a few books for the 2010 challenge that I hadn’t gotten around to.
The one that I ended up picking was actually the one that, for years, I had been intimidated by! The Satanic Verses (by Salman Rushdie) had such a reputation preceding it, that I wondered if I was intellectually capable of “getting it!” I had this idea that Salman Rushdie’s writing was as obtuse as Umberto Eco’s; that I needed to be more erudite on Muslim theology; that I was overreaching. What caused me to screw my courage to the sticking place and pick this title over the other South Asian titles in my stacks was simply a sense that it was time to do so. Not very epiphanic; but there you have it. I dnloaded The Satanic Verses in audio (narrated by Sam Dastor.) Very quickly, I was engaged and fascinated by the story and laughing at myself for ever having been afraid of this novel!
I finished The Satanic Verses last week and I’ve been thinking about various aspects of it since: The imagery of William the Conquerer as he landed in Britain; the dreams/time-traveling/hallucinations of Gibreel as he encounters The Prophet and, the Butterfly-clad Ayesha in particular. There were many things I could have written about in regard to The Satanic Verses: magic realism, identity, redemption, good and evil…; and I chose last week to touch on magical realism; but in the future, as I suspect I will be returning to this novel again, I may come back to one of these themes or uncover (a) whole new level of meaning(s).
I recently had occasion to check the print version online (I was looking for a reference while briefly discussing this book with someone else who had read it, albeit a few years ago) and I was struck by how great a job Sam Dastor did in narrating The Satanic Verses. He kept the story moving. Looking at the text, I think I might have been overwhelmed if I had tried to tackle reading it in print. There is an omnipresent invitation to worry over every passage, to wring out of it all meaning before moving on. I think I would have been mired in it very early on and not finished it. But I did finish it and I’m very glad I did!
Thank you Swapna for hosting The South Asian Challenge 2011 πŸ™‚
See Also:
Other Stuff: I receive no goods or services in exchange for mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post (including but not limited to publishers, vendors, authors, narrators, the host of the challenge and/or the challenge itself.)

What’s in a Name? Challenge #4/What’s in a Name? Challenge #5

I’ve been shuffling and sorting through my stacks, seeing what books that I already own that also might qualify for the challenge. The good news is that I
Yay! @BethFishReads has announced the categories for the What’s in a Name? Challenge #5! I’ve spent some time sorting through my stacks, determining what books would work for the various qualifiers and, I’m pleased that I have something from my TBR stacks that will work for every category! This is good news because I would love to make a dent in my hoardings πŸ™‚
Without further ado, this is my tentative list for the challenge:

  • [Topographical Feature]: Treasure Island (by Robert Louis Stevenson);
  • [Something You See in the Sky]: A Thousand Splendid Suns (by Khaled Housseni)
  • [Creepy Crawly]: The Reptile Room (by Lemony Snicket)
  • [Type of House]: Cleaning Nabokov’s House (by Leslie Daniels)
  • [Something You Carry in Your Purse, Pocket or Backpack]: The Scarlet Letter (by Nathanial Hawthorne)
  • [Something You’d Find on a Calender]: Year of Wonders (by Geraldine Brooks)

Of course, my selections may change. One thing I learned from this past year’s challenge was that I should be flexible and; NOT drink while blogging. I had this idea last year that I was going to be ΓΌber-creative and do cross media entries (e.g. a book and it’s sequel in audiobook.) It didn’t quite work out that way and many of the titles I had set aside for the challenge went unread while other titles I tackled qualified quite nicely. That is not saying I won’t get creative; only that I shouldn’t strait-jacket myself into a reading list or marry a concept, thus make reading a chore! I think this year I might use the books to create a theme for the month in which I’m reading it. It’s just an idea I’m considering right now and we’ll see how it plays out. The most important thing is that this should be fun πŸ™‚

For the curious, this is what I read for the What’s in a Name? Challenge #4:

Thanks to @BethFishReads for hosting

Other Stuff: I receive no goods or services in exchange for mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post (including but not limited to publishers, vendors, authors, narrators, the host of the challenge and/or the challenge itself.)

Wrap Up: Murder, Monsters, Mayhem

It’s November 1, The Day of the Dead and; the end of Murder, Monsters, Mayhem for 2011. The feature, hosted by Jennifer L. at http://www.jennsbookshelves.com, ran for the month of October and featured a number of bloggers posting reviews about any and all things horror related. It’s been a great experience, having discovered a number of print, audio and graphic novel titles that I’ve added to my wish list and, the opportunity to try something new: reviewing graphic novels! It turns out, that I really groove on it and plan on doing more πŸ™‚
There were a couple things that didn’t work out for me this year: I had wanted to develop a couple of informal essays about Shirley Jackson; about the movies adapted from Richard Matheson’s I am Legend; about the origin of the werewolf tradition… I had wanted to write movie reviews about Dawn of the Dead, Psycho and, Carrie and there are a couple of audiobook reviews still outstanding: Psycho and Frankenstein; but quite simply, life got in the way. That said, I’ll be working on ways to improve my productivity for next year’s Mx3! Yes! I’m already planning for next year!
My contributions for Murder, Monsters, Mayhem for 2011:

  • Countdown by Jonathan Mayberry; narrated by Ray Porter [Audiobook Review]
  • Patient Zero by Jonathan Mayberry; narrated by Ray Porter [Audiobook Review]
  • Zero Tolerance by Jonathan Mayberry; narrated by Ray Porter [Audiobook Review]
Murder Mysteries:
More Zombies:
Werewolves and Disturbed Humans:
  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater; narrated by Jenna Lamia and David LeDoux [Audiobook Review]
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson; narrated by Bernadette Dunne [Audiobook Review]
  • Carrie by Stephen King; narrated by Sissy Spacek [Audiobook Review]
Thanks again to Jennifer L. at jennsbookshelves.com for hosting this feature πŸ™‚

Four Epiphanies

Instead of listing my favorite books of 2010, I’ve decided to summarize a few of the ideas that emerged from my reading & listening this year and, the titles that informed them:

β˜† Aggregating Grief

Grief is a very special kind of pain in that it is often born of love and has the power to break you or transform you. Note that I did not say that it can “make you or break you” because 1) I eschew cliches and 2) it’s not true. There is no doubt that grief can break you; but I balk at the idea that “what you survive makes you stronger.” Tragedy may reveal a hitherto undiscovered strength; but with equal dexterity it can prey upon weakness as well. Grief will extort all of one’s resources of character to survive and it’s never pretty. It’s tragic. Earlier this year, I reviewed Atiq Rahimi’s Earth to Ashes and The Patience Stone both of which illustrated this very powerful concept. Looking back, I can also see how the theme was masterfully executed in Thomas Trofimuk’s Waiting for Columbus.

β˜† Sensible vs Sensual Reading

In a guest post and giveaway on Jenn’s Bookshelf, C.J. Lyons, author of the Angels of Mercy series, wrote about Sensing vs Intuitive Types. In responding in the comments, I made a similar distinction with my own reading: that I am a “primarily a “sensible” reader, able to discern patterns and structures within a book ergo issues w/construction of the story. Every once in while though, a story will be so powerful I feel like I’m experiencing the story rather than reading it. I guess that for those books (very rare for me) I become a β€œsensual” reader!” The book that did it for me this year was Matterhorn (by Karl Marlantes; narrated by Bronson Pinchot.)

β˜† The Space Between the Lights

In reading and reviewing Scott Phillips’ The Ice Harvest (narrated by Grover Gardner) I came to understand true noir vs gritty realism. Gritty realism is what you find in Richard Price’s Lush Life, a police procedural about the shooting death of a bartender. The narrator, Bobby Canavale, has an ear for the cadence and vocabulary and the you can see the story play out in your mind’s eye, much like a season of The Wired :-/ However profane the situations are though, the characters are imbued with just enough pathos to render them recognizable or sympathetic to the readers. With noir, however, characters are often severely damaged, the tone is unrelentingly harsh and the sordidness can be grueling. The Ice Harvest actually has some comic moments to relieve the tension in that Scott Phillips does not shy away from the absurd; but if you really want some hardcore noir, I don’t know if you can beat James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia. Narrated by Stephen Hoye, The Black Dahlia pulls the listener into the gutter and it’s almost easy to lose sight of the fact that the story is very well crafted.

β˜† The True Horror

In a genre-busting move, this year I started reading a little horror. It didn’t start out that way. It actually all began with the beautifully written novel, The Angels are the Reapers (by Alden Bell; narrated by Tai Sammons) which led to I am Legend (by Richard Matheson; narrated by Robertson Dean) which has now led to me listening to Hell House (by Richard Matheson; narrated by Ray Porter.) And I discovered, it’s not about the monsters, it’s about the humans and, the true horror is not in the ghoulishness of the zombie/vampire/mutants/monsters; but in what we as humans have allowed or will allow ourselves to become. There will be more on this later as I think about stuff like civilization, music, mirrors, evolutions and circles…

Actually, there will be more on each of these themes in 2011. Atiq Rahimi’s third novel, A Thousand Rooms of Dreams and Fear comes out on January 11 and I’m eager to see if it is yet another exposition on the idea of “Aggregating Grief.” In terms of looking for another book that will blow me away the same way that Matterhorn did, well, I don’t actually go looking for it. Only twelve titles in fifteen years have made my personal Audiobook Pantheon of All-Time Greats and, each time it was a complete surprise to me. I never know what chemistry of words and narrator will affect me! As for the noir genre, you’ll probably start seeing words like “existentialism” and “nihilism” thrown in for good measure in future noir novel reviews. I’m thinking about hitting up the Parker series (by Richard Stark a.k.a Donald Westlake; narrated by Michael Kramer) or possibly more James Ellroy, though that’s tougher to find in unabridged audio CDs or in digital dnload. I’m also hoping to return to the horror genre’s prototypes, Dracula (by Bram Stoker) and Frankenstein (by Mary Shelley; narrated by Simon Vance.) I did read the latter in print earlier this year, but I think another read with a different mindset might be in order.