Sunday Salon: Challenges

I’m having a much harder time with this year’s challenges than last year’s. I signed up for fewer challenges this year (five as compared to fifteen), but I think the combination of an additional class and volunteering has given me less time to read books so far in the year. And most of my challenges are for books I wouldn’t normally read — Brontë, the Vietnam War, nonfiction so I’m finding it harder to find books I like about those subjects. Of course, this is all preliminary whining discussion because we’re only reaching the end of the second month and I refuse to be that hard on myself.

2010 Challenges

  • All About the Brontës: Read, watch, or listen to between three to six things pertaining to the Brontë sisters. (Also known as, in which I attempt to get over my hatred/fear of Wuthering Heights.)
    • Zip. Nada. Zilch. I have read zero books for this challenge.
  • Chunkster: Four books of adult literature (fiction or nonfiction) of 450 pages or more.
    • I’ve finished one nonfiction book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas L. Friedman, that’s pages number 512. I had been working on Centennial by James A. Michener (1,086 pages), but I accidentally left the book at home when I returned to school in the middle of January. The rest of the books I have listed are currently housed at home.
  • Vietnam War: Five books, including a read-a-long, with the Vietnam War as a primary or secondary theme.
    • I haven’t read any books for this challenge either, but I did get in the mood by reading “How to Tell a True War Story” a short story by Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried.
  • What’s in a Name?: Six books that include a certain characteristic – food, body of water, title (queen, president), plant, place name, and music term.
  • World Religion: Read something about all five of the major world religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism) plus more books about anything from Shintoism to Wicca, from Scientology to Comparative Religion.

Complete Works Of

  • Jane Austen: Completed and uncompleted novels, short stories, and Juvenilia.
  • James A. Michener: Since I consider Centennial to be one of favorite books ever, I should move on to more of Michener’s fiction, don’t you think?
    • As I stated above, I had been working on Centennial by James A. Michener (1,086 pages), but I accidentally left the book at home when I returned to school in the middle of January.
  • Jodi Picoult: Not only would I like to read the three two novels I have yet to read, I would also like to re-read every novel she’s pinned.
    • I haven’t made any more progress on this one, but Second Glance is my airplane book for London.

Perpetual & Personal

  • AP Literature: There have been 298 books referred to on the AP Literature Exam since 1971. I would like to read them all.
    • I’ve read two new books off the AP Literature Exam since January 1, 2010.

I’m headed to London on Friday for Spring Break, which I’m very, very excited about. I doubt I’ll get much reading done, but I certainly will be putting those guidebooks to good use.

The Sunday Salon:

The Sunday The Sunday Salon encourages bloggers to get together –at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones– every Sunday and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another’s blogs. Salon participants are encouraged to blog about their time spent reading, pages read, information about current reading, discuss a reaction to a book, state what they plan to read the following week, or make suggestions for a group read.


Plethora of ‘The’

I noticed something last night as I was updating my Book Log — every book I’ve read this month has had ‘The’ in the title.

I’ve never really noticed how often ‘The’ makes it into the title of books before, but it seems to be the theme for this month. The next book I know I’ll be reading is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which of course has ‘The’ in the title. I guess I’ve, subconsciously, selected a pattern for the month. Have you know any patterns in your readings this month?

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao as narrated by Yunior tells the story of the fukú — a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on from Santo Domingo to the USA and back again. The story begins with Oscar’s tale as “a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd” from the New Jersey who dreams of “becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love” before moving onto his sister’s narrative, which Lola narrates for herself, and that of Oscar’s mother and grandfather. In between, the narrator is exposed when as he tells his own story. Ultimately, though, Díaz’s novel explores what it means to  be a Dominican in relation to love and sexual identity (because it’s all about sex).

I’m still not sure I liked or didn’t like this novel. Having broken this novel into four sections for my English class, I found my opinion of the novel changed with each section, and I’m sure that’s a reflection of the novel as a whole or a reflection of the reading schedule my professor devised. The first section we read (pg. 1-75), but after returning to the second section (pg. 76 – 165) wasn’t nearly as fulfilling or as exciting as the novel. It might had been better to read it all together, or it might not.

One of the things that really bothered me was the choice of narrator because it seemed very odd that Yunior would know quiet a bit about Beli, Lola and Oscar’s mother, and her life story, but we’re repeatedly told that Oscar and Lola know very little about their mother. It just seems odd that Lola’s on-and-off-again boyfriend knows more about her mother — deep, dark secrets — than Beli would be willing to tell her own children. I like Junior and I liked reading his insights into Oscar as a person, but I still found it strange he was the narrator for (almost) the whole book.

I think the swearing was over the top; done for shock factor. The content on it’s own should have served as shock factor enough, but I Díaz thought differently. That said, I thought Díaz’s presentation of Dominican culture and history was very interesting, and I enjoyed learning more during my short research project on race and identity in Dominican culture as seen in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Díaz, Junot. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. New York: Riverhead Trade, 2008. Print.335 pgs. ISBN: 9781594483295. Source: PaperBackSwap.
Book Cover © Riverhead Trade. Retrieved: February 23, 2010.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Essentially, Jacobs, a man who claims he is “Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant”, decides he is going to follow every rule, every instruction, and every tidbit of advice the Bible has to offer. The first two-thirds of the book are dominated by the Old Testament, and Jacobs plans to follow and explore the New Testament for the last three months of his year literally living the Bible. Interesting premise, no?

I found the first 100 or so pages to find very funny. Not in a poking-fun-of-religion funny, but funny in the way Jacobs presented his journey. After all, to go from shaving everyday to growing your beard out to your chest is bound to present some humorous material. It’s until Jacobs and his wife takes the instruction to “be fruitful and multiple” seriously that the humor stops because the way he talks about his wife (and his son) isn’t comical.

Jacobs picks and chooses what rules to follow and when to follow them; a decision he says reflects modern-day Christianity and Judaism because even Hasidic Jews and fundamentalist Christians pick and choose what to follow. That maybe be true (animal sacrifice is a little difficult in New York City), but it’s also in contrast with his goal – to follow the Bible literally and document his journey. As a self-described workaholic, Jacobs is unable to keep basic rules such as keeping the Sabbath, and while I know that keeping all 700-plus rules must be an insurmountable attack, I started to feel as though this journey became more and more about his parenting skills and his interactions with his son, Jasper. This is especially true after he reached the New Testament because he begins to talk more and more about becoming/being a father to twin boys. Plus, there’s quite a bit of boasting about how he wrote a book studying the encyclopedia from A to Z, and complaining about the fact that people have written negative reviews of The Know-It-All, which lowers his rating on Amazon. (Guess he won’t like this one.)

An interesting premise that includes trips to visit the Amish and an ex-uncle that became an Orthodox Jew after experimenting with every other religion, but one that ultimately fell on its face.

Others’ Thoughts:

  • Book Club Classics
  • The Hidden Side of a Leaf (unfortunately, Dewey’s review is no longer available)

Books Mentioned:

  • Jacobs, A. J. The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Print. 400 pgs. ISBN: 9780743250603.
  • Jacobs, A. J. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. Print. 368 pgs. ISBN: 9780743291477. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Simon & Schuster. Retrieved: February 18, 2010.


“My reading list grows exponentially. Every time I read a book, it’ll mention three other books I feel I have to read. It’s like a particularly relentless series of pop-up ads.” (pg. 29)

Even though Jacobs is talking about religious study books, I definitely can relate. Just added thirty-one more books to The List this morning based on other book bloggers’ reviews and books mentioned within books.

Book Mentioned:

  • Jacobs, A. J. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007. Print. 388 pgs. ISBN: 9780743291477.