Tuesday, September 20, 2005

And lo, there was a beginning: The 50 Book Challenge!

I’m a bookworm from way back, but given the various responsibilities of family and work (not to mention the odd schedules required by said responsibilities), I very rarely find the time to really sit down and read anymore. It also doesn’t help that I have the attention span of a gnat and get bored very easily – if a book doesn’t hook me within the first 25 to 50 pages, I have no problem whatsoever kicking it to the curb. I miss my reading time, and I want to see if I can beat my attention span problem but good, so I’ve decided to attempt to commit myself to The 50 Book Challenge.

I guess this thing originally made the bloggyverse rounds back in early 2004. But for one thing, I wasn’t hanging around the bloggyverse in early 2004, and for another, it still manages to pop up now and again (I first found out about it recently on the blog of one of my MySpace friends, who has kept it going well past the magic number of 50), so I figure there’s no time like the present to jump on the bandwagon. Anyway, as the name implies, the general idea is to try and get through 50 books (or more) in one year’s time. Given the above-mentioned obstacles to overcome, it will be a difficult undertaking indeed, but I think I’m up to it.

Here are the rules I’m setting for myself on this quest, based loosely on those listed at the above-linked pages:

1. No genre domination. I’m trying to keep the list as diverse as possible.
2. Nothing under 100 pages. Novellas count, short stories do not (unless it’s an entire collection of short stories, ‘natch).
3. No planning. I’m not going to plan out my list in advance. I’ll take it as it comes.
4. Re-reads count, though not if it’s something I can quickly skim through in a day or so in order to articificially pump up my count.
5. Graphic novels (i.e. collections of previously published works and/or OGNs) count, so long as they don’t violate rules 1 & 2 (Comics cover a wide variety of genres, in order to expose myself to as much as possible thoughout this experiment, I’m considering them to be a single genre. Sue me).
6. Kid lit counts, too, again provided it meets the previous criteria. This may be a great chance to finally read the sequels to "A Wrinkle in Time" or the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia (I've only read "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.").

So with all that jive talkin’ out of the way, let’s kick things off with…

#1. “Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World” by Sarah Vowell – An early collection of essays from Vowell (her second book, I believe), offering her unique slant on various aspects of the American cultural landscape, covering subjects as diverse as her father’s scale model Civil War cannon, learning to drive, the Frank Sinatra death watch, her obsession with “The Godfather” and a temporary Goth transformation. Many of the essays were adapted from segments for NPR’s “This American Life,” and her easy, conversational style makes it easy to imagine “hearing” them in your head as you read. Vowell is quickly becoming one of my very favorite writers, and I would gladly trade careers with her should she ever want to experience life as an underpaid library assistant (she can keep the McSweeney’s gig, though… I just don’t understand the Dave Eggers cult of personality, and don’t enjoy his writing at all).

#2 “Shopgirl” by Steve Martin (in progress, though I’ll probably be done by bedtime tonight) – Steve Martin has two qualities as a writer that set him apart from most of the rest of the field. First, his prose is so spare, efficient, even economical; not one word is wasted, and nothing is ever overanalyzed. Second is his insight into his characters, and more importantly, his ability to communicate that insight through the page. The thoughts, dreams, fears and motivations of his cast are very well defined, and within a few pages you have a very thorough understanding of even the most secondary characters. I’ve read very few books that allow me as much access to the protagonists’ very lives as “Shopgirl” has, and I’m very impressed by that. I’m curious to see how well this translates to the big screen, though, as I don’t know how well the characters’ interiority, which is so vital to the success of the book, will survive the transition (also, though I can see Martin himself as Ray, Clare Danes just doesn’t fit my vision of Mirabelle).

And so we’re off! Let's see if I can actually complete this.
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