A Change in Reading Challenges

I started out this blog with the idea of reading the Top 100 Novels of all time. The reason I started was that I was bored with the books I had been reading and was struggling to find a book worth reading. I thought that if I followed a guideline for the Top 100 Novels I would read all the books I had been missing. That I would be reading the cream of the crop. That I would be floating in the ecstasy of reading perfection, finally fulfilled in my lifelong passion for books.

On the contrary.

Instead I got bogged down in books I wasn't enjoying and honestly I still don't understand how they made the list. Then I realized the issue for me was that someone else was choosing the books. I wanted a challenge that helped me expand my scope without completely limiting my choices.

Enter Tim Challies and the 2017 Reading Challenge.  Tim Challies is a pastor/blogger that I follow at challies.com and he started this reading challenge. It is adaptable. It is flexible. You can make it suit your schedule and you get to choose the book you read. For me, this was perfect. It is intended to be a Christian reading challenge, however, I may at times read a book outside that area, if there is one in particular I am wanting to read. Again, flexibility and choice are both key issues for me.

I am starting this challenge with committing to the Light Reading challenge, the smallest section on the poster, which involves reading one book every 4 weeks. I may do more than this but this is my starting point. I like following lists, so I intend to start at the top and work my way down, although, I may mix it up at points.

As far as my blog goes, I plan on briefly discussing the books I've chosen as or after I've read them. I hope to do better in my future reviews than I did in the past ones. Hopefully there will be a bit more content than "I didn't really like this book".

I've read a couple of books so far and I will be sharing my thoughts on them in upcoming days and weeks and hope to hear from you. Please leave comments below. Perhaps you have a book recommendation for me. Perhaps you have also read one of the books and have a comment you'd like to add. Perhaps you've got a criticism (gasp) about something I've written. Let's hear it. 

Cold Comfort Farm #92

Have you ever looked at a group of dis-functional people and thought you could really help straighten their lives out? Well that's what Flora does in Cold Comfort Farm.

Flora is a well brought up young lady of 19 who has sadly been recently orphaned. Unfortunately she was not left much money so she decides to go live with a distant relative because as she puts it, 

    "I am only nineteen, but I have already observed that whereas there still lingers some absurd prejudice against living on one's friends, no limits are set, either by society or by one's own conscience, to the amount one may impose upon one's relatives."

Stella Gibbons, the author, makes me laugh. Especially at the beginning half of the book. Her humor is very tongue in cheek, sometimes very dry but such a welcome change.

She even prefaces the story with a letter to a friend where she states that despite her history in journalism she is now going to learn to "achieve literature" and when her quality of literature is especially good she will put little asterisks before it, so the reader (and reviewers) will know they are reading the finer passages. She does it too, which gave me a little smile every time I came to one of those sections.

So, back to the story. Flora decides to live with her Aunt Judith and all the cousins on Cold Comfort Farm even though she knows it will be dirty and not at all refined. She is prepared to meet the challenge and is determined to turn the place around. 

The place is just as bad as Flora imagined, possibly even worse, but she tackles the job in her straight forward, matter of fact way. She systematically goes through the family, gets to know them, finds out their wants and needs and decides what she thinks is best for them, which, of course, usually turns out to be right, and helps them to get whatever it is that they wanted. 

There are lots of colourful characters, romance, farm animals, humour, and surprisingly, a fair number of non-explicit sexual references.

I didn't want to put this book down. I couldn't wait to see how she would work everything out. I do have to say that I kept waiting for the twist in the story. The part where Flora fails, or she falls for an uncouth farmer, or she gets dirty or something equally disturbing to her, but that never really happens. But then I didn't realize at the time that the author was writing a satire.

I kind of wonder where this book has been all my life. How have I never even heard of it before this Top 100 Novels challenge? Wherever it's been, it reinforces why I wanted to do this in the first place.  I wanted to read good books and this is a good book. 

First Anniversary of Figuring Out Fifty!

It's been one full year since I launched my Figuring Out Fifty blog! Woot! Yahoo! Yeah! Go me! 

I can't believe how fast it's gone by! The year started out great and hit some speed bumps along the way but I'm super happy to be entering my second year as a blogger. 

One of the things I challenged myself to be working on was reading through the Top 100 Novels and blog about what I had read. So, in the first year I got through numbers 92-100! That's 9 books, or actually it's 11 books since I count the Lord of the Rings trilogy as 3 books. That doesn't seem like that much to me, but some of the books really wore me out.

Of the 11 books I read, the only ones I had read before were the LOTR series (#100) and To Kill a Mockingbird (#99) and they were definitely my favourites. The next 6 books I read (#93-98) were not books that I would read again. Maybe the writing was amazing or the setup of the story line was fantastic, but they didn't capture my attention and my interest.

Cold Comfort Farm is book #92 and I really liked that one.  I'll do a write up about that one in a couple of days. So that makes 5 of the 11 that get a thumbs up from me.

I'm looking forward to continuing on my journey. I didn't really know what to expect when I started this. I thought I would be faster at the reading portion, and that I would have finished a lot more books than I have, but I think sometimes I overestimate my own intelligence! Haha!

During the year I also took breaks to read other books that are more contemporary and frankly easier to read and that was essential for me to continue on.  Sometimes you have to take a little side track in order to keep you on your track. Weird, but true in this case. 

Thanks so much for joining me on this journey, it really does mean a lot to me when I see your comments or likes.  You are awesome!  

 

 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

This is the brief summary from the John le Carre website - Smiley and his people are facing a remarkable challenge: a mole – a Soviet double agent – who has burrowed his way in and up to the highest level of British Intelligence. His treachery has already blown some of their vital operations and their best networks. The mole is one of their own kind. But which one?…

Intriguing, right? I was excited about reading this book because I've always been partial to mystery novels and I had heard really positive things about this one.  

The story takes place in England in the early 1970's, during the cold war. After a failed operation the previous year, George Smiley is finding his forced retirement from British Intelligence tedious. When he is approached by a former colleague to assist with a serious covert internal issue, the offer of being useful again is too good to deny, and Smiley agrees to investigate. 

I dove right into this book and read the first several chapters, enjoying the story of the new teacher at the boy's school in the English countryside. After that, when the author shifts to discussing the spy aspects of the story, I admit it, I got lost.

There were so many names, with aliases and British Intelligence groups and subgroups and I couldn't keep them all straight. I didn't realize until later that some of these characters were in earlier novels by the same author. Maybe reading them first would have helped clarify and establish them in my mind, but I'm not sure.

I kept on going, gleaning what I could as I moved along and even though I was confused at times and struggling to remember a particular character or group's name or purpose or allegiance, I was able to follow, with Smiley, the complex twists and turns of the story.

Over the years, I have seen quite a few movies about espionage with strong characters like Bond, Hunt, and Bourne. All of them contain witty banter, explosions, car chases, seduction, murder and all around intrigue. John Le Carre has gone a different route with this work. The tension in this novel, though present, is much more understated, as are the main players. The moves of the characters are calculated and intelligent and only occasionally result in an action sequence.

I found out that John Le Carre was himself part of British Intelligence in the 50s and 60s which explains his proficiency with the topic. It does read very true, though at times I almost felt the author was making it harder to understand than it had to be, for no apparent reason.

So this is my advice to those who are considering reading this book. Do it! But set aside enough time to for it because it needs to be read consistently for better retention and understanding. Read it thoughtfully. Pay attention to names, maybe even write them down with their alias and job position. Think, think, think. It is absolutely worth the read, but you'll appreciate the nuances more if you aren't flipping back in the pages thinking, "Who's Gerald again?"

Now I get to have my bonus round! This book has been made into a movie so I'm going to go watch it now. Time to make some popcorn! If you read this book or you have read it, I would love to hear your comments.

 

 

Midnight's Children Summary

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It's been quite a long time since I've written, but although I have slowed down, I have not stopped reading.  Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie was a challenging read, at least it was for me. It's also a hard book to describe.  It is fiction that at times reads like non-fiction. It names historical people but I have no idea if the stories mentioned are true or not. It covers a period of about 60 years from the time the grandfather of our main character, Saleem Sinai was fresh our of university in 1915 until the mid 1970's, where this story ends. This book is filled with sorrows, disappointment, tragedy and cruelty and people who are ultimately cured of the disease of optimism.

The story tells how Saleem was born on the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the day that India gained its independence from Britain. He realizes early on that his life is tied to India itself and events happening in his homeland are mirrored in his own life and vice versa. In actuality this book is the story of India from 1915 on, and what better way to tell the story of a country than by following the lives of one family through the years.

Along the way we get to be a part of Saleem's quirky family and are introduced to his friends and those stories are the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most. Saleem's history is introduced first as we meet his grandfather and grandmother, and then his mother and her siblings and then finally Saleem himself enters his story (and India's). The author is an expert at developing interesting characters and funny situations and yet, into every lighthearted story is woven an often disturbing political excerpt.  

It is also discovered that all the children of Midnight, those born within the first hour on that fateful day, have been given supernatural gifts, some great and some small. The closer to midnight the child was born, the more powerful the gift. The use of these gifts also changes the story of our hero and his country.

Happy stories are mixed amidst the sad, deceit and trickery mixed with love and sacrifice, beauty and ugliness, political and personal, it is all in this book. There are mass murders at peaceful rallies, political marches, secret meetings, wars, poverty, and forced sterilization.

I do believe that if I was more familiar with the recent history of India (the last 100 years or so), that this book would have had more of an impact on me.  I found myself skimming over the political sections to get to the "story", which does not work with this book, since the true story it is telling is that of India itself.

I cannot say I recommend this book, although I can't deny the author's talent with storytelling. I found it too heavy and disheartening and there was too much of the political in it for my taste. If you are knowledgeable about India's recent history or are interested in knowing more about it and how it affected the lives of people, and you like a bit of the supernatural mixed in, give this book a try. 

I will end with a quote from the book:

Who what am I? My answer: I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done of everything done-to-me.  I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I've gone which would not have happened if I had not come. Nor am I particularly exceptional in this matter; each "I," every one of the now-six-hundred-million-plus-of-us, contains a similar multitude. I repeat for the last time: to understand me, you'l have to swallow a world.

 

Midnight's Children - #1

When I saw the title of book # 94 on the list, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, I had mixed feelings.  I had never heard of this book which made me wary, but I had certainly heard of its author, which gave me some encouragement.  I can honestly say that this is another book that in all probability I would not have read were it not for this list and yet I am so glad I am reading.

This novel tells many stories but is about India in the time when it was gaining it's independence from Britain.  The children born at the hour when the country became it's own again were called Midnight's Children.

Salman Rushdie writes, at least in this novel, in a way which I have never read before or at least to this extent.  He writes as a masterful artist weaving a tapestry from seemingly unrelated threads. He is constantly introducing new characters that have these little idiosyncrasies and it seems like they have no place in the story, that they are just a side distraction from the plot until you realize that they are another colour to be woven in to the fabric of the story.

The author's style definitely slows down my reading on this book as it requires more thought and contemplation than books written in a more traditional way. However, though I'm only one quarter of the way through this book, I can tell you that I have no intention of stopping.  I am curious to see what the finished image looks like.

Something else about this author is his ability to turn a phrase.  I actually took a post it note and cut it into little strips to mark places in this book that I thought were particularly well written or thought provoking. (I can't bring myself to write in my books).

Like this philosophical quote:

"And my grandfather, lurching upright, made a resolve.  Stood.  Rolled cheroot.  Stared across the lake. And was knocked forever into that middle place, unable to worship a God in whose existence he could not wholly disbelieve.  Permanent alteration: a hole."

And this ominous one:

"Dodson mops his face; urchins scatter; the car knocks over the spittoon.  A dark red fluid with clots in it like blood congeals like a red hand in the dust of the street and points accusingly at the retreating power of the Raj.

I love these quotes.  They tell me this book is more than a surface read.  It's not just a nice fluffy story that follows a formula from beginning to end. On the contrary, this story goes back and forth in time and slowly reveals parts of a plot as if they were visible only through a hole in a sheet, and we must put the images together in our minds.  

I can't wait to see the finished picture.

 

The Sorrows of Young Werther

I'm back!  I know it's been a while since I last did a blog about one of the Top 100 Novels (over 2 months, but whose counting!).  During Christmas and then during January, I hit kind of writing slump, but I am back now and ready to tell you about my most recent read, The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Book 95 on the list.  

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/100-novels-everyone-should-read/

Valentine's Day has just passed and that makes this the perfect time for talking about this story of innocent love, consuming love, obsessive love, and finally tragic love.

Werther is a gentleman who takes a trip to the countryside for a change of scenery. While he is there he falls in love with Charlotte, a beautiful young woman, who is unfortunately engaged to another man.  Charlotte is irresistible to Werther, and no wonder. She is beautiful, kind, is the caregiver for her younger siblings, visits the sick, is fun and animated and shares many of the same interests and opinions as Werther.  She cares for him as a special friend, but marries her intended Albert, much to our hero's dismay.

Unfortunately, Werther is unable to continue on with his life in a normal way, try as he may. He cannot help but see his love everywhere he looks.  She consumes his thoughts and even when he moves away to a different city and takes an occupation to distract his mind, he find no relief.

“Sometimes I don't understand how another can love her, is allowed to love her, since I love her so completely myself, so intensely, so fully, grasp nothing, know nothing, have nothing but her!” 

This book is not like any other I have ever read. In some ways, it made me think of a Jane Austen novel because of the class distinctions and what is proper and not proper behaviour for people of different positions in life, but it is written in such a different format that I couldn't continue the comparison.

Von Goethe writes his story in the form of letters from Young Mr. Werther to his friend Wilhelm back home, which is an interesting concept because it allows us completely into the mind of our main character. His mind, which is sharp and creative at the beginning, is warped by the obsession and we follow with him to his destruction.

The author, Von Goethe is a poet and his, or should I say Werther's, flowery, descriptive writing takes a bit of getting used to.  For me it was a bit like cake with too much icing. It's good, but it's hard to fully appreciate it because of the overwhelming richness. I found myself reading and re-reading sections to really understand what the writer was saying.

It's almost as if Werther sees the world through tinted glasses and everything is more intensely colourful and vibrant than how we see it. And not only does he see everything that way, he feels it all the more intensely too. That is not always a good thing.

Now for the bottom line.  Did I like it?  Yes.  I didn't love it. I didn't find it as engrossing as The Lord of the Rings trilogy or To Kill a Mockingbird, but there's no denying that Von Goethe's writing makes him worthy of the top 100. This title would be my third favourite out of the ones I've read so far and I would recommend it to someone who is looking for some truly beautiful writing.  It's not a long book, but it shouldn't be rushed either. If you decide to read it, take your time and and try to see the world as it is through Werther's eyes.

 

One Thousand and One Nights

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One Thousand and One Nights is an ancient story retold through generations.  This particular edition was retold by Hanan Al-Shayk.  

This story takes place in an ancient Middle Eastern location.  A powerful king, King Shahrayar finds out that his wife has cheated on him so he has her and her lover killed.  But he isn't satisfied with this as justice.  Instead he decides to punish womankind in general.  He vows to every day marry a virgin, spend one night with her and then the following morning kill her.

His advisers try to reason with him but he will not reconsider.  One young woman, Shahrazad, the daughter of the king's trusted Vizier, volunteers to wed the king. The vizier tries to talk his daughter out of marrying the king who will surely put her to death, but she tells him of a plan she has to save her own life and the life of other women that he would marry. 

She marries the King and then just before he falls asleep at night she asks if she can tell him a story.  Thankfully, he consents and she then goes on to tell him an exciting story and leaves off at a cliffhanger so the King can't help but let her live another day so he can hear more of the story.  She continues this pattern day after day, telling story after story to buy herself another day of life.

That is the most interesting part of the story.  The fact that this young woman would show such wisdom and courage to risk her own life and marry a vengeful king in order to save countless other women was very inspiring.  And I was intrigued by the fact that she chose to do it by spinning a tale, or numerous tales.

The stories she tells the king are many and varied, but they do have some common themes about attraction, love, lust, betrayal and brutal revenge.

Most chapters contained violent, sexually graphic and often strange and disturbing things.  As I read story after story I came to the conclusion that the characters in these tales had no idea of what love really is, or forgiveness, or kindness.  A story would start out with a young man meeting a young woman and the two admiring each other's good looks.  Then, almost instantly, one of both of them would swear to love the other forever.  But that forever never lasted very long at all.

Something would always happen to come between them. Often jealousy would tear them apart, or control, or cruelty. Sometimes it was misunderstanding, sometimes it would be deliberate betrayal. Trust me, living happily ever after is not a concept you will find in this book.

While I was reading I kept on thinking about how it takes time to know a person, to know if you love them and for them to know if they love you.  Though there is almost always an immediate physical attraction, that is not enough to constitute love, as proven by these stories.

Hanan Al'Shayk did a great job telling the stories.  She has an excellent way of setting a scene that is very descriptive and really brings the settings to life.  The women represented in the stories are often very self aware and play a powerful role in what comes to pass. However, these factors were not enough to make me like this book, although I did find it more enjoyable to read than a couple of the previous titles.

I'm starting to feel like a Grinch or Scrooge when it comes to rating these books because it seems that I don't really like the books selected for this list. I am not sorry I read this novel, but I am glad it's done.  I found the graphic sex, extreme violence and cruelty off putting at best and disturbing at worst and definitely not what I was looking for in a book.

A Hitchhiker's Summary

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I started this blog and this reading the Top 100 Novels challenge as a way to step outside of the choices I normally make.  Such as reading the same books.  Doing the same things. Watching the same shows.  Going to the same places.  I am trying to break free from the sameness of it all.

On that level, the reading challenge has definitely been a success.  I am reading books I would most likely not have read otherwise and exposing myself to different types of literary style. However, it also means I am sometimes reading a book that doesn't do it for me.   Like the last one The Home and The World by Rabindranath Tagore.  I'm sure a literary analyst could find so many reasons why it is a wonderful novel, but for me, not so much.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy would also fall into the "not so much" category.  It was an easy enough read.  The writing style was fine, but the content for me was the problem.  The characters had no depth.  I didn't really care about what happened to them.  The setting was constantly changing and I didn't really care where they were.  I guess that's the bottom line. The story just didn't make me care.

As I mentioned last time, this book was originally a radio series on the BBC in the 1970s.  I think in that format it would have been much more engaging.  It has a Monty Python feel to it. The humour is dry, often ridiculous and very British in style.  Sometimes I would find myself smiling and I read through a section like this one:

"You know," said Arthur thoughtfully, "all this explains a lot of things.  All through my life I've had this strange unaccountable feeling that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was."

"No," said the old man, "that's just perfectly normal paranoia.  Everyone in the Universe has that."

"Everyone?" said Arthur.  "Well if everyone has that perhaps it means something!  Perhaps somewhere outside the Universe we know..."

"Maybe. Who cares?" said Slartibartfast before Arthur got too excited.

I am going to watch the movie that came out a few years ago and see if I like it better that way.  I think that by radio or movie the characters would come to life a lot more and hopefully make the whole thing more interesting and funny. For me, this type of humour just doesn't translate well onto the page.

Another obvious theme running through this book is the fact that there is no God.  At least, not as far as the author is concerned.  God, theology, ultimate purpose are all mocked as a waste of time.  Of course, my viewpoint is the opposite of this and perhaps it was this undercurrent that put me off as well.  

So, in summary I would say, if you like dry British humour, and you are looking for some light reading, you could check out this book.  It doesn't take that long to read, it has some chuckles in it, and maybe it will make you question your ultimate purpose.  Wouldn't that be ironic.

 

 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

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I am always excited to start a new book.  This is another new title for me.  Several of my boys have read these and I know there was a movie a few years ago, but somehow I missed out on it all.  I think that's what I'm really enjoying about doing this blog is that I am being introduced to so many good books that I have never read.  Ah, the anticipation!

I am feeling really happy to be reading a book in actual book form again too.  My last two titles I read on my tablet and it's just not the same.  I'm kind of old school when it comes to books and I really like to hold them in my hand and bring them with me wherever I go.  

I found out that this book is actually a series of books.  I haven't decided yet if I'll read the whole series and blog about it or just the first one.  I'm waiting until I get a little further into this first title and see how it goes.  Basically, if I like it and think it's well written, I'll probably move on the next one.

Douglas Adams is the author of this series and he says in his introduction that he wanted to write something science fiction and comedy combined.  I tried thinking of any book that mixed those two genres before, and I couldn't think of any.  Granted, I'm not a big sci-fi reader but who knows.  Maybe this will be the book (or series) that changes that.  Maybe after this I will want to read all the science fiction literature that exists!  Probably not, but it could happen.

I wouldn't mind a little bit of romance in the story line either.  I'm not talking about smut, that's not my style, but a good old fashioned love story would be nice.  I don't think I'm going to find it here, but you never know.  

Evidently this whole Hitchhikers Guide started with a BBC radio show back in the early 70s. Since then there has been records, TV shows and movies as well as the book series that all followed the same main concept, although evidently with some differences.  I'll have to start with the books and if I find them interesting enough I'll have to check out the story in the other mediums as well, and decide which is the best.

If you are familiar with this series, which of the books is your favourite?  What about the movie or TV show, did you see them and like them, or not like them?  I'd love to get your comments or assessments below.

Also, if you are reading this, remember to follow me on Facebook (figuringoutfifty), Twitter(@figuringout50) and Instagram(@figuringout50), or just click on the links at the top of the page.  Have a great day!

 

 

Summary of The Home and The World

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I find myself in a different situation after finishing book number 98 in my list, The Home and The World by Rabindranath Tagore.  I find myself having to say I did not like this book.  It sounds harsh when stated so bluntly, but there it is.  

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem was that I had with this book.  Maybe it was the poetic writing style.  Maybe it was the lack of action in the story.  Maybe it was my ignorance of the culture, religion and history of India.  

There were sections that I would cruise right through and feel like I was "getting it". I would be connecting with what the author was trying to communicate, and then the bulb would go back out again and I would be back to struggling through page after page, filled with political and philosophical discussions about right and wrong.

Looking at it now I think that there were a lot of things in this book I just didn't understand. The main themes were clear but it seemed to take so long for the plot to develop. I kept waiting for something to happen, and it did, but too late into the book.  The main characters were well developed, although I didn't always understand why they were doing what they were doing.

The author seemed to be trying to communicate his political, religious and philosophical views within the framework of a story but it came off too heavy handed for me.  In my opinion, the story got lost in Tagore's worldview.

However, I am quite willing to accept that I might be the reason why this book wasn't good. When I read a novel, I want to be entertained.  I realize sometimes there may be a lesson the author is trying to convey, and I'm okay with that, but this book was more lesson and less story.  

What about you?  Have you ever had to make your way through a challenging book?  Ever read this one?  I'd love to hear any comments you might have below.

 

The Home and the World

Book number 98 on the list is The Home and The World by Rabindranath Tagore.  I confess that I struggled with the start of this book.  The writing is quite beautiful, but the style and content is so different than anything else I have read that it was difficult to immerse myself in.  If it had not been for this reading challenge, I would closed this book and chosen another.

However, I am committed to this reading challenge and did continue reading and there has a been a shift, and I am now finding my way through this story.

This book begins by introducing us to Bimala, a young Indian woman who has married Nikhil, a Rajah, and now dwells with him in his family home in Bengal. She is meek and devoted to her husband to the point of worshipping him, though he tries to stop her from doing that.  Nikhil, a good man, loves Bimala and as a modern thinker, he wants her to be educated and even hires her a teacher.

Years pass and the Swadeshi movement is now in full swing.  This was a political movement intended to promote India's independence from Britain and a nationalism arose among many of the people.

Bimana decides to go hear a charismatic promoter of the movement, a friend of Nikhil's named Sandip, speak about Swadeshi.  She is swept away by what he has to say and is attracted to his boldness and pride.  She had never liked him before but now is completely drawn in by him and he too is drawn to her.

Sandip comes to live at Nikhil's family home for a time, and the attraction between Bimana and Sandip continues to grow stronger, and Nikhil is left on the sidelines watching his life crumble.

I am only a third of the way through the book, so there is much left to discover. I think my difficulty with this book stems not from the book itself or the writing but from my own ignorance of Indian culture and history.  It's funny how they say reading makes you smarter, but sometimes it makes me feel like I know so little. I think if I had entered into this book knowing more about the Hindu religion or the history of Britain in India or Indian culture, I would have grasped more of the meaning in the early bits of this book.

However, now I'm in the part of the book where age old themes are taking place and power, lust, and pride have taken centre stage.  It doesn't matter where someone lives or what the history is when it comes back these age old vices.  There is no mystery here and the author spins an intricate web going back and forth between the stories of Bimala, Nikhil, and Sandip, telling the story from their viewpoints and expressing their thoughts and feelings.  It is very engaging and the tensions between the characters and even within the characters themselves is palpable.

I will leave this entry with a quote from the book so you can get a taste of the writing style of this author.  This section is from Nikhil's perspective and he struggles with the obvious attraction between his wife and his "friend".

I was never self-conscious. But nowadays I often try to take an outside view—to see myself as Bimal sees me. What a dismally solemn picture it makes, my habit of taking things too seriously! Better, surely, to laugh away the world than flood it with tears. That is, in fact, how the world gets on. We relish our food and rest, only because we can dismiss, as so many empty shadows, the sorrows scattered everywhere, both in the home and in the outer world. If we took them as true, even for a moment, where would be our appetite, our sleep? But I cannot dismiss myself as one of these shadows, and so the load of my sorrow lies eternally heavy on the heart of my world.

Tagore, Rabindranath (2012-05-17). The Home and the World (Kindle Locations 638-643).  . Kindle Edition. 

 

 

My 5 Favourite Quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird

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I finished the number 99 book on my list, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I really enjoyed this book and loved the writing style.  It's a thought provoking book and it challenged me to examine my life and see if there are prejudices within me that I have been blind to.  

This book also had a lot of great quotes.  I thought it would be fun to write out the quotes and make a couple comments on them.  

1)  Atticus was feeble; he was nearly fifty.   I loved this!  Once again, being fifty, or nearly fifty, makes an appearance in my reading.  In the eyes of his children, Atticus was old and frail.  We may feel like life begins at 50, but our kids probably don't see it that way!  I hope that like Atticus I can show my children what true strength really is.

2)  There's a lot of ugly things in this world, son.  I wish I could keep them all away from you.  That's never possible.  Atticus was wise.  He loved his children and wanted to do the best he could for them, as we do, but we can't always protect our children from everything.  They are going to see the ugly sides of this world eventually.

3) I think there's just one kind of folks, folks.  People are people; whether they be white or black, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, male or female.  One group of people isn't better than another because they are smarter or richer or because they are white instead of black, or black instead of white.  We are all created by God, in his image.  We are all just folks.  

4) I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through, no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.  It can be difficult as a parent to impress upon our children the morals and values that we want them to have. We want to make the way for our children as easy and smooth as possible, but sometimes that isn't best for them.  Sometimes they need to see the bad things in life, like hatred, racism, and ignorance to be able to see the good things, like courage, integrity and honour.

5) You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.  The meaning of this quote is very obvious, yet it is worth considering.  When we are judging someone, as we all do, all the time, we should stop ourselves, and "climb into their skin and walk around in it" for a minute.  Try to see the world through their eyes.  We need to remember that not everyone has the same background we do. Not everyone has received the same benefits we have or had the same experiences.  I think that's why we talk about justice being blind and why lady justice wears a blindfold. True justice does not discriminate based on wealth or race.  It is blind to all but the truth.

Racism is a major theme in this book.  The dictionary describes racism as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior. Although racism and discrimination definitely still exist, I am thankful for the strides that have been made towards the realization that we are all just folks.  Each generation seems to be getting smarter in this regard and I hope that my future great grandchildren may never see racism in their lives at all.

This novel, To Kill a Mockingbird has been on the junior high school reading lists for years and I can see why.  At a time in life when people are coming into their own, they need to contemplate their ideals and think about what is right and wrong. This book will help them do that. 

I would highly recommend that everyone add this book to their reading list.  It won't take you that long to read but it will probably stay with you for a while.

 

 

Introducing To Kill a Mockingbird

I've started reading Book #99 in my list, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The first thing I've noticed is how much easier the reading style is compared to the Lord of the Rings series. Where Tolkien uses pages and pages of detailed description, Lee just keeps us in the mind of the main character, a young girl named Scout Finch.  We see her world through her eyes.

So far the story is centered around Scout and her brother Jem.  They are being raised by their father, Atticus Finch with the help of their housekeeper, Calpurnia.  In the early chapters we get to share in the antics of the brother and sister playing in their yard and neighbourhood and it makes me nostalgic for my childhood. Not that I did all the things these characters do, but the imagination involved in their play triggers a lot of memories.

I also actually laughed out loud when reading about Scout's first day at school and how she was reprimanded for knowing how to read.  "Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me anymore, it would interfere with my reading".  Scout's experiences at school while slightly traumatic for her, were very funny for me.  

When you are a child, your world is smaller.  You know your street and your school and that's about it.  So it's not surprising that much of Scout and Jem's mischief centres around their neighbours, especially one Arthur "Boo" Radley. Boo is a mystery to the children and they are fascinated with his history and they treat him almost as a ghost.

Atticus, the Dad in this story, is really impressive.  He is so even keeled, so level of temper, it's really quite amazing.  He clearly loves his children and wants them to be honorable people, yet he gives them the freedom to make their own mistakes.  When they inevitably do, he stands by them and though discipline may be required, he never wavers in his love and care.  He lets his children be themselves but at the same time expects them to behave courteously to their neighbours, even when that courtesy is not returned.

Harper Lee drew me in to this story in the first paragraph and I'm looking forward to reading the second half of the book.

 

 

7 Things That Challenged Me When Reading the Lord of the Rings

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I have done it!  I've completed my reading of the Return of the King and therefore the trilogy of the Lord of the Rings.  

What a great story.  I marvel at Tolkien's creativity.  He masterfully created nations of men, elves, dwarfs, hobbits, wizards, orcs and more.  He knew the landscape and drew maps to reveal to his readers what he seems to have seen so clearly in his own mind.  He gave the different "peoples" languages and history.  It was pretty amazing.

I was really concerned entering into this 3rd book, as to how the characters would fare. Tolkien keeps leaving Frodo in such dire situations that I'm never sure what will happen.  He works everything out in the end though, and lets us know what happens to all the characters. I'm not left wondering but what about Arwen?  Or whatever happened to Galadriel?  

I will say that I found it odd that the last 100 pages of so of the Return of the King is just appendixes.  I read some of them, like the one about Aragorn and Arwen, but I skipped some too like the calendar of the Shire compared to other calendars. I guess Tolkien wanted to share more of his thoughts that he hadn't been able to  put in elsewhere.

In summary, while I was definitely entertained by reading the Lord of the Rings, I was also challenged by it in so many ways some small and some on a much larger scale.  I thought I'd share a few of them here.

1 - Community - People in the Shire were involved in each other's lives. They knew each other, even if they didn't like each other.  I tend to keep to myself but maybe it's time to change that.

2 - Hospitality - Everywhere people went they were invited in.  They were given food and drink and a place to sleep.  They were kept safe from harm to the best of the host's abilities.  I don't think I've ever had the gift of hospitality, but I would like to work on it!

3 - Self sacrificing for the greater good - I think we do this for those we love, our spouses, our children, our parents or siblings, but what about others?  It's time for me to look outside the walls of my own home and see what I can do to help make the world a better place, even if it isn't comfortable for me.

4 - Purity of Purpose - So much of my life is spent going through the motions; doing the same things, day in and day out and that's okay.  God blesses the ordinary things in life as well as the extraordinary, but I think I should have another look at what my purpose is.  Am I being the person God wants me to be? If I don't know where I'm headed, how will I know when I get there?

5 - Even the small can do great things - I'm just one person.  A suburban housewife and mother.  I couldn't possibly make a difference in the world. Well, reading this book makes me think otherwise.  What am I doing to try to make this world a better place when I leave it?

6 - Evil is insidious - Evil tends to start small and grow until it's taking over. I need to make sure that in my life I'm doing all I can to stop the evil things of this world from thriving.  For me, that has to mean prayer. I can't do much about this issue on my own, but I can lift it up to the Lord who can do all things.  

7 - Troubles in one nation can spread to another - I tend to ignore the news and politics because I find them depressing.  It seems there is so much trouble and sadness in the world that I find it hard to watch.  It is much easier to just shut it out.  Perhaps it's time to rethink that strategy and start to take an interest in world affairs.  What is happening across the globe may eventually affect my country, and my home.

In summary, I have to say that this is not a series I would have read outside of this challenge, and yet I am so glad I read it.  I would challenge you to do the same.  If you have a list of what books you're going to read, add the Lord of the Rings to it, push through the heavy parts and you won't be sorry.  Maybe, like me, you'll learn something!  Maybe you'll be the one to change the world!

“It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” 
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Return of the King

 

 

 

Saying Goodbye to Good Friends

It's hard to say goodbye when friends have come into your life and you've shared laughter and tears, defeat and victory.   Maybe you've even shared a purpose.  That's how it is in the Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King.  The characters are now at the stage where they have new purposes and so they are parting ways.  

They had a quest that they set out on and it is now over.  Each person has his or her own place to be.  It's time to go back to "normal" life and I'm sure they would all be looking forward to getting home or settling down.  But how do you say goodbye to someone who has walked beside you, led you, someone who has guarded you, fought beside you and for you, respected you and been like a brother to you?  

I for one hope these characters will all keep in touch.  I would hate to think that they might never see each other again after everything they have been through.  I want Legolas and Gimli to be lifelong buddies.  I want the hobbits to remain in the Shire and spend time with each other, breaking bread and telling stories, although I do want them to travel to see the other members of the Fellowship as well.  

I know I'm going to have trouble saying goodbye.  I started this challenge of reading the Top 100 Novels with the first book being 3 books in one.  I've been immersed in the lives of the characters contained in the pages of this trilogy.  I've traveled along with them on their quest and now it's coming to an end.  

The reading journey I'm taking has just begun, but I feel like before I can start the next novel, I'm going to have to accept the fact that I am moving on without the members of the Fellowship.  It makes me kind of sad but they have inspired me in so many ways and I hope I can bring a bit of each of them with me in life.

I would like to possess the purity of heart and focus of Frodo, the unwavering loyalty of Sam, the humility of Aragorn, the boldness of Boromir, the vision of Legolas, the resolve of Gimli, the simple trust of Merry, the joy of Pippin and the wisdom of Gandalf.  Now that's a challenge! Maybe I'll have to add it to my list.

Duty in Times of War

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I don't know if I'm going to get much sleep tonight.

In the Return of the King, dark forces are gathering.  Oppression is heavy in the hearts and minds of the people and though they want to flee, steadily they are preparing instead for war. Leaders gather together as many different "people" groups as they can muster to come and fight their common and very powerful enemy.  They know there is little hope.  They view it as a war that will most likely be lost and yet they prepare and yet they go.  

There are times in this world when it seems that evil is given free reign.  Times when wicked men or women rise up and try to exalt themselves above all else, even above God Himself if it were possible.  And so it is for our characters now, as they find themselves in a situation where the balance is shifting and evil is gaining strength and good is striving to hold on.  

Once again our friends are forced to split up their group as urgency demands their attention in different ways and in different regions.  We are let into their struggles with fear, loneliness, duty, and honour.  And we hope they will be okay.  We hope they will win the war. That they will conquer evil and return to their homes and that they will remain happy to the end of their days, to quote Bilbo Baggins. But I'll have to wait to find out what happens as I continue on with this book.

Like I said, I don't know if I'm going to get much sleep tonight.

 

 

 

 

 

The Two Towers

Well, I have finished the second book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Two Towers. I am so invested in this story and not just because I have been with these characters for over 800 pages but because these characters are so good.  I mean it, they are truly good!  They are honorable, brave, loyal, selfless, kind, generous, faithful, and patient.  How can you not root for them?

Credit has to be given for the way Tolkien writes the "every man" character.  Or in this case, the "every hobbit".  He introduces us to Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin in their homes in the Shire, with their friends and family.  They are eating and drinking together, celebrating, telling stories, singing songs and then eating some more.  We are immersed in the setting of community, stability and camaraderie, and we find we like these people.  We want their world to remain just like it is, a place of peace.

And then the unthinkable happens.  The stable becomes unstable and the very existence of their land and their people is in jeopardy.  The outside world begins to encroach on them. They are forced, by their very goodness, to take a stand; to begin a quest that they may not return from. The ordinary "every man" is forced to be extraordinary.

The Two Towers picks up the story of the extraordinary quest just after the split of the Fellowship and chronicles the happenings of both sides of the split.  The first half of the book follows Merry and Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli.  The second half of the book follows Frodo and Sam. But of course we meet many new characters and some previous characters come back into play, but I won't give any spoilers here.

Tolkien does not scrimp on description and sometimes I found I was skimming through descriptive sections, rushing to get to some more information on my friends.  I did find though, if I forced myself to slow down and think about the details being laid out by the author in regards to the physical geography or the history of the area being traveled through it helped to flesh out the story and give me insight into why the characters would make some of the choices they did.  

I can't wait!  I'm going to go now and start the third book, The Return of the King. I'll keep you posted!

Courage in Hard Times

In book two of the Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, we find our friends from the first book, continuing on where we left them.  Merry and Pippin are surrounded by Orcs, Sam and Frodo are off on their own, heading to Mordor, and Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli are retracing everyone's steps to try to figure out what had happened. 

These books by J.R.R. Tolkien are full of stories of courage.  Whether the character be a man or an elf, a hobbit or a dwarf, an ent or a wizard, the level of integrity and the level of courage in seemingly impossible situations is inspiring.  

The above quote by Van Gogh makes me wonder what would have happened in Middle Earth if Frodo had just said no.  If he had refused because he was too scared to accept the challenge. What would have happened to his world? What of the others?  What if they had refused because they had other responsibilities?  

What about in our lives?  How many times have challenges or opportunities come upon us, big or small, and we turn away from them and say no.  No, we are too busy.  No, we are too scared. No, we really don't care enough. No, let someone else do it.  What does this do to our world?  

Now I realize, we can't always drop everything and accept every opportunity.  We have responsibilities and it isn't wise to overburden ourselves to where we can't take care of our own families,  but sometimes in life we have to say yes.  Yes, I accept that challenge.  I may not feel like I have the time and I'm scared, but I'm going to work it out and face that fear and press on in my life. What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?  I don't intend to find out.

Summary - The Fellowship of the Ring

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Well, I've finished the first volume of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy and I thought I'd better jot down my thoughts quickly because I'm planning on starting the 2nd book, The Two Towers, today.  I am so glad this book series was on the Top 100 Novels list.  It is beautifully written and I wonder at the incredible brain of the author.  Tolkien was a master story teller and had an amazing ability to describe everything that a character in the story would see.  He beautifully describes trees, flowers, hobbit holes, rivers, countrysides, forests, hobbits, men, elves, dwarves, orcs, good, and evil. 

In book one, the Hobbit Frodo sets out on a dangerous quest to take the one ring, that rules them all, to Mordor, where it can be destroyed.  However, there is great evil in the world and it wants the ring in order to take it back to its owner, Sauron, the Lord of the Ring.  Thankfully Frodo is not alone on his journey and together with his friends he runs into many difficult and even deadly situations.  Together they work their way through Middle Earth, facing challenges and meeting many interesting characters and I look forward to continuing their journey in the second book.

This novel is a study in contrasts; good versus evil, ordinary versus heroic, small versus large, hope versus despair, courage versus fear, and love versus hatred.  There is a famous quote by Edmund Burke that states, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing", and this book is all about good "men" who refuse to do nothing and instead take a stand for what is right.  

If you have never read this book, or if it has been over a year since you last read it, I would strongly recommend it.  Read it to your kids, listen to it on an audio book when you're driving places or sit down for your own quiet time and enter the world of Middle Earth.  You won't be sorry you did.