02 January 2009

December Book Report and a Challenge for 2009

Before I become all literary on you, I have something that may amuse you. A couple of posts back, I said that part of our New Year's Eve tradition was to have holiday cheeseball. In the comments to that post, KSD said:

"For a split-second there, I imagined you were going to drop the cheeseball --- in some sort of odd Pennsylvanian ritual."

Well, that in and of itself I thought was funny, because a) a dropped cheeseball would be a tragedy of epic proportions, and b) "Odd Pennsylvanian ritual" just struck my funnybone, and not being a native Pennsylvanian, what do I know about their rituals, odd or otherwise?

Then I saw this on the news, and my amusement was complete. I remember hearing about Hershey, Pennsylvania dropping a big Hershey's kiss on New Year's Eve, but dropping a huge Peep - well, that's a winner in my book!

And speaking of books (nice segue, huh?), it's time for my December Book Report. You may or may not have noticed, but there never was a November Book Report. The reason is that - sadly - I did not finish a single book or story for the whole month of November! A large part of the reason is because I was finishing up the knitted Christmas gifts, and devoting most of my free time to working on them, so I'd be finished by December 1st.

A book I started reading in November, and then finished at the beginning of December, was A Most Wanted Man, by John LeCarre. The Tim had an Advance Reader's Copy that he read while we were in Puerto Rico in August, and he said that I would probably enjoy it. (I do like spy/espionage stuff, though I am usually so confused about who is who, and all of the double-crosses, that the ending is always a surprise to me ...)

I enjoyed this book very much. The story takes place in Hamburg, where a young Russian man, claiming to be a devout Muslim, and carrying a large amount of cash, is smuggled into the country. Once he is discovered, he is set to be deported, but he claims that in Russia he would be further persecuted, and begs to stay in Germany. At this point, he meets a young civil rights lawyer from a prominent German family, who takes his case, even though it eventually threatens her career. Through a series of events, they become involved with an older man who is from a prominent English banking family, who is based in Hamburg.

As the story unfolds, the web widens, and spies from three nations become involved, certain that by capturing the young Russian, they will have spared innocent victims from further harm in the War on Terror.

The thing that I liked most about the book was that the characters were pretty believable, and the story moved along quickly. By the time you are finished reading, it's hard to decide who was right, who was wrong, and if any of them were justified in their actions. There are some humorous parts, but mostly it is a work that, to me at least, showed a lot of compassion and humanity.

After I finished reading A Most Wanted Man, I was in the mood for something related to the holiday season. I came across a book I bought last year after Christmas, the Everyman's Pocket Classics Christmas Stories. It is a collection of 20 stories, by authors as diverse as Charles Dickens, Alice Munro, Nikolai Gogol, and John Updike.

I chose the following stories: The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton (from The Pickwick Papers), by Charles Dickens; The Blue Carbuncle, by Arthur Conan Doyle (a long-time favorite story!); Christmas at Thompson Hall, by Anthony Trollope; Where Love Is, God Is, by Leo Tolstoy; Vanka, by Anton Chekhov; The Burglar's Christmas, by Willa Cather; A Chapparal Christmas Gift, by O. Henry; Reginald's Christmas Revel, by Saki (H.H. Munro); and, Christmas, by Vladimir Nabokov.

These were really varied stories, but all of them dealt with the way that Christmastime can affect different people. From drunken revels, to the bittersweet tale of a father missing his dead son on his first Christmas without him, the stories were not only interesting and approachable, but many of them have stayed with me in the past few weeks. If you enjoy collections with authors that run the gamut from humorous to "serious literature," you may want to make a note to look for this book, and add it to your December reading lists.

Last year, I signed up for several reading challenges, which I enjoyed quite a bit. I was introduced to new authors, made some book-blogging friends, and enjoyed reading reviews that other readers submitted to the main blogs of the challenges. I wasn't really planning to sign up for any challenges this year, but I came across this one the other day, and decided to sign up:

The Well-Seasoned Reader Challenge has the following rules:

Rule #1: The challenge runs from January 1 to March 31. (No cheating and starting before!)

Rule #2: You must read three books. After that, it's up to you how much you want to read.

Rule #3: The books must:

have a food name in the title


be about cooking/eating


have a place name in the title


be about one(or more) person's travel experience


be about a specific culture


be by an author whose ethnicity is other than your own.

Rule #4: They must be middle-grade on up, but can be either fiction or non-fiction.The purpose, this winter, is to take yourself someplace out of the ordinary, to go on a literary trip, whether that be challenging your expectations, discovering a new place, or enjoying the experience of reading about good food, places, and people.

Here are the three titles I've chosen for this challenge:

Five Quarters of the Orange, by Joanne Harris (food name in the title, author of a different ethnicity)

Italian Backgrounds, by Edith Wharton (travel experience)

Julie and Julia : My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell (about cooking/eating)

I'm looking forward to this one! If you think you are interested, I think you can still sign up through the link above, so maybe I'll see you there.


Knitterary said...

I loved Five Quarters of the Orange, though there was one thing that bugged me about it. I won't say what, but will wait to hear your review. Seriously, though, it's an excellent choice. One of the best opening pages I've ever read.

Chris said...

Ok, I'm still giggling about the Peep drop! Although Key West's drop is pretty crazy, too...

Lorraine said...

Bridget- A peep, like the easter marshmallows?

That's seriously messed up.

KSD said...

Thanks for reminding me about The Blue Carbuncle! Time to dig out the Conan Doyle anthology. . .

MrPuffy said...

The assortment of Christmas Classics sounds really like a good read.

Oh come on and share your cheese ball recipe - you know you want to.

Carrie K said...

If only that challenge wasn't so narrow in scope.....good choices! Looking forward to your reviews.

I still haven't read a John Le Carre novel. Ever. He does sound like he writes a compelling story.

Lisa said...

Inspired by you, I'm going to burrow through the slew of books I got for Xmas that fit this challenge perfectly. En garde!

Brigitte said...

I would seriously cry if you dropped the cheeseball too.

I LOVE John Le Carre. If you enjoy his stuff, then you'll love Jeffrey Archer as well (maybe you already do?). I'm a big fan of the spy/espionage genre as well.

Happy 2009 to you all, and kitties!