Tag Archives: true confessions

Extreme Reading: A New Olympic Sport?

Over on one of those list-making hip sites there is a new list of 50 incredibly tough books for extreme readers. I looked through the list, found I’d never heard of most of the books, but found the list carried some weight. There are some tough books out there. Of the fifty listed, I can comment on five. Two I’ve read, and three I own and intend to read.

The Two I’ve Read:

1. The Sound & the Fury by William Faulkner. 1Mom mentioned she liked Faulkner a lot. So I read S&F having never read Faulkner before. Who knew it was the hardest one? Oh well. I enjoyed it. It is difficult, but once you pick up the place and space cues, you are ok. I think.

2. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. Read on the bus while working a summer job at an aircraft manufacturing plant back in my aero engineering days. True story. I read the Tales on the bus to work, and on my lunch breaks. I read a couple of difficult things that summer that still stick in my head and make me think of the 58 Malton bus: Canterbury Tales and Eusebius’s History of the Church. I read both in translation.

The Three on the Shelf:

3. War and Peace by Tolstoy. See my true confessions on this one.

4. Divine Comedy by Dante, Dorothy L. Sayers translation. I searched high and low for used copies of the Sayers translation, but haven’t had the courage to read it yet. I should just start.

5. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I totally just found a mass market paperback copy at my local used bookshop. When I was purchasing it the guy who owns the bookshop (and kind of knows me) laughed and said to me, “It almost looks readable in this edition, doesn’t it.” I laughed and agreed. It sits in a to be read pile, but I have hopes of turning to it this winter.

What about you? What incredibly difficult books have you read?

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My 80th Post – By Request

This post is not about books, but about a party. I’m not actually sure what I’m going to say here, but one of my brothers requested a blog post about tonight. So just for him, I’m posting. Plus we are in the middle of the Alphabet Series, so a small diversion is nice. Also this is my 80th blog post. So to celebrate, a post about a party.

I said above that one of my brothers requested this post. I have three brothers. You’ve met two of them if you are a careful reader of this blog. RestorationArchitectBrother (RABro) and YoungestBrother (YBro) both gave me books for Christmas and got mentioned in that context. The third brother is MontrealBrother (MBro). RABro is the brother I grew up knowing in our AFamily. MBro, YBro, and I share genes, but not much history to this point. They are part of 1Family, and I met them a little under a year ago. We are working on the shared history. Shared history is part of what this post is all about.

MBro told me tonight that he enjoyed what I said about Russian Criminal Tattoos back when I gave Volume 3 to YBro for Christmas. As I left the party we all attended, he said (rather loudly) “Hey, write a blog post about tonight!” So here it is, even if MBro doesn’t remember the request — and I’m not at all sure he will.

This evening 1Mom co-hosted an engagement party for the son of one of her close friends, the kind of friend who is included in family events. The groom also went to grade school with MBro. Though I’m a late arrival to 1Fam, I was included in the invitation to the party and happily went. MBro, his gf, and I hung out a bit and we all wondered where YBro was. So did 1Mom. An hour and a half into the party, MBro called YBro. YBro had people at his house, so he brought his party with him to 1Mom’s party. Let’s just say that the dress code at YBro’s party was much more casual than at 1Mom’s party. Things Got Interesting when YBro’s party arrived. If Looks Could Kill might be a title for a representation of scenes that ensued. The gentlemen from YBro’s party hit the buffet in short order, then found places to stand close to the bucket of beer next to the bar. The volume of the party went up a few decibels. Vodka was available at the bar, and shots were done. More beer. Champagne (for toasts). Vodka. Many things became very funny. My brothers and their entourage took up convenient chairs next to the buffet table so they could graze at the food while they quenched their thirst. They were still ensconced in these chairs when I left. I wished 1Mom best of luck cleaning up around the barbarians in the dining room and took to the icy road.

Shared history is part of what makes a family. I’m building up shared history with 1Fam, and tonight certainly added a new chapter to it.



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K is for Key, as in the Key to the Cipher

Today’s Post is brought to you by the letter

Where K is for Key. As in cipher key.

I like books about codes. As in secret codes, not writing code as in computer programming. There are some similarities between coding and encoding, but for now, let’s leave it at I like books about secret codes.

I’ve mentioned Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson before in this blog. I called it twisted history at the time. Cryptonomicon is mostly about codes, as in secret codes and encryption systems. I really like this aspect of the book. Enigma by Robert Harris also includes a lot of secret code stuff in it, as the action centres around Bletchley Park, home of English and Allied code-breaking operations. Bletchley Park also features in Cryptonomicon. I’m sure there are other books that feature WW2 code breaking, but those are the two I know about and enjoyed reading.

Codes also feature in Have His Carcass, by Dorothy L. Sayers. HHC features Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane finding bodies and solving murder mysteries. It comes after Strong Poison, and before Gaudy Night. If you like the characters, HHC has them, PLUS, as an added bonus, it has secret codes. And spies. And all kinds of cool stuff. You should check it out.

I’ve got A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar on my shelf to read. It is also about cryptography. I’m interested in the subject, and think the book looks fascinating, so I’m not quite sure why I haven’t read it yet. So many lovely things to read though, that could be part of it. I get distracted by other shiny books.

Update: You may remember that I thought I might read Fifth Business by Robertson Davies but wasn’t sure because of the person who recommended it. I’m almost finished and totally hooked on Robertson Davies. Now I can say I’ve read Davies!


Filed under What to Read Next

Reading Goals for 2012

I don’t usually set specific books as part of my reading goals for a year — most of my goals have to do with numbers read and proportion non-fiction. With this in mind, here are the goals for the year:

1. Read at least 10 books/month on average (ie at least 120 books for the year).

2. Attempt to read 1/3 non-fiction.

3. Read some of the books on the True Confessions lists.

4. Read poetry more regularly.

I try to keep things general instead of specific, because I find that enjoyment of a book has a lot to do with timing. If I’m not in the right space for a particular book, if something doesn’t click, then I have to try again later. If I have an inflexible reading list, it tends to feel like school and I lose all desire to read books I acquired because they looked appealing to me. Once the Norwegian, the Playwright and I attempted a reading group. We had a terrible time because everyone reading the same book felt too restrictive. Finally we gave up on that and got together, drank tea, and talked about what we’d each been reading. That was much more fun.

What are your reading goals for 2012? Do you set any? Or do you just read as books come along?


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True Confessions about Poetry

I mentioned in a previous post that I once had a dim view of poetry — something about it all being pretentious hipster blather. I have modified my opinion, partially because James Sire and Eugene Peterson convinced me that Poetry was worth reading. I’m still not a big poetry reader, though I am learning to read it better. With that in mind I have acquired some books (big surprise) so I can have poetry to read.

I started trying to read more poetry because I realized that I couldn’t understand poems that I liked that my friends wrote. I got bits of the poem, but I’m sure I’m not plumbing its depths. I have smart, well-read, articulate friends who write interesting things, but if I can’t understand them, possibly I should become better read. Anyhow, there are still lots of poetry books on my to-be-read list. Here is a smattering of what I’ve not read.

1. John Donne – most of his oeuvre. I’ve read some of his Holy Sonnets, but not many. I’m still working on it. I’ve got a book of Donne’s poetry that I dip into now and again. One thing I’m learning is that poems cannot be read quickly, nor does it seem that books of poetry are necessarily meant to be read cover to cover.

2. Danté, The Divine Comedy. I realize this is rather a long work, in three parts, but I do intend to read it. All of it. I have Dorothy Sayers’s translation which I hunted down for years, and only found one volume at a time in used book shops scattered throughout Ontario. In this search I also found a copy of Sayers’s translation of The Song of Roland. That is also on my to-be-read list.

3. Milton, Paradise Lost. I do research on women who interpreted the Bible in the 18th and 19th centuries. They all read Milton. I figure I’d better get on that.

4. The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. I’ve got the collected poetry in the Penguin volume on my shelf. These poems have made the recently published list 25 Books Every Christian Should Read. This reinforces my inclusion of Hopkins on my list.

5. As mentioned above, I do research on 18th and 19th century women who interpret the Bible. These well-read women often read poetry. I’ve acquired 2 volumes of 18th Century Verse — one the New Oxford collection and the other a smaller collection by Penguin. I need to read those poems to understand the women I research.

I’ve got other books of poetry lurking on my shelves. I know I’ll read more. Soon.


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True Confessions 2: More (Literary) Fiction I Haven’t Read

Last week I listed some (literary) fiction that I haven’t yet read. There’s loads more that I haven’t read and I thought of additions for that list during the week. I was reminded of some of these additions today while in a bookshop with my friend the Children’s Pastor. We discussed Charles Dickens (see below). Then I was at a memorial service for my aunt this afternoon and the preacher quoted John Donne. This made me think of all the poetry I haven’t yet read, but I think I’ll save the poetry list for next week. For now, More Literary Fiction I Have Not Yet Read.

1. Anything by Charles Dickens. Oh wait. I’ve read A Christmas Carol. But that is a short story, or a novella at best, and Dickens has so very many lovely long novels. How many have I read? None. Zero. Zilch. I feel guilty about this from time to time when I hear someone talking about how great Dickens is, or when I make a joke about one of his titles (usually A Tale of Two Cities), or when I look at the placemat I’ve got with a picture of the actual Old Curiosity Shoppe on it. I think I’ve got a copy of Bleak House somewhere about the house. I should find it and read it.

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I’ve no desire to read this book. At. All. Thus I don’t feel any guilt about not reading it. I think I owned a copy once that someone gave me for Christmas thinking that because I like books I’d like that. Even then, long ago, I had no desire to read it. I’ve heard bits of a movie version but it mostly sounded like people yelling at each other and wind whipping across the heath. Uninteresting. But go ahead, try to change my mind.

3. Anything by Dostoevsky. I sort of implied this in my discussion of War and Peace last week, but feel it merits saying explicitly. Lots of people I know have read Dostoevsky (including the Street Pastor and the Norwegian) and recommend him highly, and apparently there’s loads of interesting theology in his books. I have a view of The Brothers Karamazov at work and this adds to the burden of not reading Dostoevsky. Plus the Archbishop of Canterbury has written a book about Dostoevsky. Surely if Rowan Williams thinks Dostoevsky is worthwhile, so should we all.

4. The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence. Here I feel like I’m letting down Canadian Women. I’ve got a (dusty) copy of the book on my shelf, in the to-be-read area, but on a shelf with other to-be-read books which have been neglected this year. Also in this neglected zone are The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, Son of Laughter by Frederick Buechner, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson etc. Now that I’ve reminded myself that this shelf exists, I should read some of those neglected titles.

5. Anything by Robertson Davies. Here I feel like I’m letting down the Canadian side entirely. I’ve got The Deptford Trilogy in one volume sitting on a more accessible to-be-read shelf, but it sits and looks at me sideways and I look back and don’t begin. I think I’m intimidated by the beard. And by the introverted walls of Massey College, where Davies was the Master. I walk by the Master’s Lodge at Massey and think how can I read his work? I need to get over the intimidation factor.

Watch for the Poetry I Haven’t Read list coming next Saturday. Oh the things yet to be read in the world.


Filed under fiction, lists

True Confessions – A Saturday List

This week I decided to make a Saturday List in the spirit of the True Confessions listed when writing about P.D. James. I like books, but I find that people are constantly shocked by what I haven’t yet read. There’s such a lot to read! Here are my True Confessions about Books I Should Probably Read, But Haven’t Yet. (This is the Fiction Version of the list.)

1. War and Peace. A couple of years ago, my friend the Street Pastor and I challenged each other to read War and Peace because we both had a copy sitting on our shelves looking at us. The Street Pastor finished War and Peace. I didn’t. I started. I got through part one, then I decided to give myself a little break. Then the little break got a little longer. And pouf! the year vanished and I didn’t get further than part 1. Now War and Peace doesn’t just look at me from a shelf, it glares at me from my bedside table over the reading glasses of a bookmark. The thing is I liked part 1. I want to read the book. It just intimidates me with all the weightiness and seriousness of it. I’ve not read very many books in the Large Russian Novels category because of the intimidation factor. I read Anna Karenina, but that’s it. I need to get over this whole intimidation thing.

2. Anything by Michael Ondaatje. This horrifies my friend the Playwright who once had a cat called Ondaatje. I quite liked the movie version of The English Patient and realize that the book is probably better. I had a copy of In the Skin of a Lion that I cannot currently find. I’m sure it is somewhere in the stacks of books. I’ll find it, and I’m sure I’ll read Ondaatje someday. It just hasn’t happened yet.

3. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I like Atwood’s books quite a lot and my friend the Peace Pastor thinks AG is one of her best. (I actually think the Peace Pastor likes it because there’s stuff about quilting in it.) I’ve got a copy, I started it once, but it just hasn’t stuck yet. I realize that timing has a lot to do with this. I’m worried that I’ve got a lot of expectations loaded onto the book and it just won’t live up to them. I need to stop worrying and just read the book.

4. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. Yes, I’ve read all the other Austen books, but not NA. Why? Why can’t I get over the fact that this is the last Austen book I can read and just do it? What am I saving it for? Am I being like Desmond on LOST carrying around the one Dickens book he hadn’t read so it can be the last book he reads? How will he/I know when to start reading? Too many questions. Clearly I’m a head case about this one.

5. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. “What???” yelled my friend the Constant Reader and her brother the Linguist. “You do math! You haven’t read Alice? What’s wrong with you?” (I’ve summarized what they said.) I quite enjoyed the Tim Burton take on Alice at the movie theatre. I then picked up a copy of the books to read. Haven’t yet. Too many other lovely things in the To Be Read pile. Possibly the expectations around the book are factored into my procrastination here as with Alias Grace.

This is a short fiction version of Books I Should Probably Read, But Haven’t Yet. Look for a non-fiction version coming soon!

What books do you feel you should read but haven’t  yet? True confessions please.


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