Thursday, December 10, 2009

Question 11-14 (Books Edition)

To celebrate the fact that I finished my 51st book of the year last night, George Orwell's 1984, and also because I started reading my 52nd book in my FIFTY TWO BOOKS challenge - Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary - I'm going to address some of the book questions I've gotten!

(Sidenote: yes, I'm did a happy dance last night in my living room by myself.)

If you could only read 5 books for the rest of your life, what would they be and why? Are they the same books that you'd recommend someone rush out and buy right now?

These questions where I only get to pick five are really hard! The good thing about books is that I love re-reading.

01 Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice

Though Austen wrote the book a couple hundred years ago, her themes are still relevant, she's funny, and she wrote the first fictional man I ever fell in love with. I've read this book several times, and will read it several times more in my lifetime.

02 Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

This was the first book I read by Garcia Marquez, and my first foray into magical realism. It's also the ultimate example of that type of writing, and I could read this book forever because of all the ways it makes me smile in its characters and narrative. I also would love to someday attempt to read it in Spanish.

03 Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I love, love, love this book! I didn't know I was going to love it so much when I picked up the damn heavy thing, but the story, the characters, and the impressive translation (most recent, award-winning) kept me turning the pages in a fever to reach the end. And I already knew the end because it is so prevalant and cited in culture, but that didn't make me enjoy this any less.

04 Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Umph, to write like Joan Didion. This book of essays from her earlier days as a journalist was so eye-opening, I couldn't believe I hadn't read her yet. Her prose is impeccable and I've read about people carrying around copies of "On Keeping a Notebook" or "Goodbye to All That" in their back pockets to read whenever they'd like. I may very well turn into one of those people.

05 Roberto Bolano, 2666

This book is massive. When I finished the novel, I felt almost out of breath and I wanted to start it all over again. There are many intricacies in the novel only realized in retrospect; I already can't wait to re-read it to connect them all.I do think all these books are worth reading, though some are quite hefty endeavors (that went into my reasoning for some of these books - there's enough pages to be discovering even more about the story...). I wouldn't rush out to get 2666 unless you are totally commited to it; the book takes a lot of willpower, ha.

Jessica, I decided I'm going to try doing the 52 books in a year. Any tips? Suggestions? Amazing books you read?

Awesome - glad you're trying it out!

Tips: set aside some time every day to read. I did this pretty well except for the weekends sometimes. The great thing about using the subway for me is that every day I have about 30-45 minutes to read back and forth from work. I actually began noticing how many pages I could get done in a day, and it usually was around 50 pages just from my commute. Also, this is not a challenge to get lazy with - it really does require a lot of effort; a lot more than I had anticipated. That's not to say that it wasn't enjoyable. I tackled some books I've always wanted to read and most of these novels are incredibly inspiring to a writer-type like myself.

Suggestions: read simultaneously. I found when I was reading a super-long book (Anna Karenina, 2666, etc.) I would read a short book or comic book when I needed a breather for a reading session. Also, there are some great short books out there (Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Sound of my Voice) that are just as fulfilling as the long ones. It's all about balance. The challenge, of course, is about reading one book per week - but some books take three days to read, and others take three months. I tried setting a goal for when I would finish a book; I think most books are around 300 pages, so I designated those books for one-week of reading time. Shorter books got less time, longer books got more. And I always kept track of my reading - is really great for that and I love looking back at my list of books I read this year! (Be my friend!)

Amazing books: well, I plan to do a whole year-end recap with various estimations of my fifty books later on, but for now I can tell you the best books I read this year:

The Road, Cormac McCarthy
Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
2666, Roberto Bolano
The Sound of My Voice, Ron Butlin
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion
The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote
Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Come Together, Fall Apart, Cristina Henriquez

It was my first time reading most of these authors, and I can't wait to find more of their works because these books were so great.

Your book challenge has inspired me to take on the same feat!! (Just wanted to share that with you) My question: If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, which would you choose.

Wow, I'm so flattered I've inspired a few to read more often and try the 52 book challenge! Yay!

And now I have to narrow my list down?! Hahaha, MAN! Okay, I would choose One Hundred Years of Solitude. I am completely in love with the writing...I could study a sentence of it every day...or, something.

You've totally inspired me to start reading more. How do you make your book selections (when PeeWee isn't there to help)? Do you arrange your bookshelf in any special way (I recently started sorting mine by the color of the binding)?

I make my book selections a number of ways - I read The Time Traveler's Wife because I read over someone's shoulder on the subway. I read the first sentence and had to read it - and now I love that book. I peruse in the bookstore. Any books that I've heard of before in terms of classics always catch my eye (I hate Nathaniel Hawthorne with a passion, though).

This year, for the most part I've used lists! There are tons of lists on the internet that I found useful for material - I'm making my way through Jezebel's 75 Books Every Woman Should Read and the Guardian has a list of 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read, split my genre. All these year-end lists help, as well, because when I see a description of a book that sounds interesting I just pop over to Goodreads and add it as a "to-read" so I can just bring up the list on my iPhone the next time I'm perusing in a bookstore.

I used to arrange my books alphabetically, by author's last name. Since I have so many more books now, and a giant bookshelf as our bed's headboard, I made the asthetically-pleasing decision to also arrange the books by the color of their binding! I posted this pic a couple months ago -

Good luck to everyone with the book challenge! Friend me on Goodreads; it's another way I find new books as I see people update on what they're reading!

More answers to come - you can keep asking, too!


  1. i loved 'one hundred years of solitude' too! you should read 'love in the time of cholera' by him as well. my book wish list is getting reaaally long. about to go through jezebel's list and add more! thanks!

  2. jessica! I've been meaning to tell you that I'm reading one hundred years of solitude right now. I'm in love. For real, so amazing. Gabriel Garcia marquez (who I associate with you, btw) kills off his characters in the most beautiful ways....and I mean that seriously. Having it rain flower petals from the sky for a week after someone dies?! I'm so jealous that someone has that ability to conjure up those images. Honestly its kind of shifted my entire outlook on writing. /end rant.