Year-end reading challenge recap

Well, I kind of sucked at reading challenges this year, and I’m
actually kind of OK with that.
The Record of
U.S. Presidents Reading ProjectNot
a single additional title read all year
. I valiantly checked out a biography of James Madison at the 11th
hour, but I very unvaliantly did not read it. Ah well.
eBook ChallengeRead
10/12, so we gotta chalk this one up as a “nice try, but no dice.” What I’ve learned: eBooks are nice, but book books are nicer.
The Record of

Reading Madly Completed! I’d said I’d read 7 books, and I read 8.This reading challenge helped me through the dark days of no-new-Mad-Men-episodes.
Whisper Stories in My EarI just barely pulled this one off, listening to
(and reviewing) 12 audiobooks.
100+ Reading ChallengeRead 114 books. (Shelfari keeps taunting me with the fact that I read more books last year, and I sneer right back at it.)
Library ChallengeRead 105 library books. 
Plus, the ones I finished earlier:
In 2012, I’m going easier on the reading challenges. I’m keeping
it a little more free-form, a little more… unruly. 

Happy New Year, people!

3rd Quarter Challenge Update

Yeah, it’s crunch time in the reading challenge world. The final 3 months of the year approach, and we darn well better be wrapping up the challenge reading.
Here’s where I am:
Challenges still underway:

Reading Madly—6/7. I’m gonna be fine here, especially since I picked a book club book for October that has some sort of Mad Men connection.
U.S. Presidents Reading Project—OK, either I suck it up and read a biography of Grover Cleveland yet this year, or I just pretend to be satisfied that I’m still at 22/44. For nearly a year now, that’s been the number. Goal for year-end: Bring that number up to 23. (Pitiful.)
100+ Reading Challenge—90/100. Feeling good.
eBook Challenge—6/12. Not gonna make it. Nook Color, I have forsaken you. I’ve neglected your eReaderliness and used you as a quasi-tablet/smartphone substitution so’s I can read the interwebs from my purse. There’s the horrible truth, and I am sore ashamed.
Whisper Stories in My Ear—11/12. Almost there! (I’ve listened to more than 12 audiobooks, but I don’t feel like writing about all of them. And this challenge requires reviews.)
Library Challenge—84/100. No problem.

Completed Challenges
Thank you. Thank you…  [curtsies]
So my own true challenge is clear: Read some doggone eBooks about Presidents. I’m off to seek out this exact thing…

Halfway point: Reading challenges update

I’ve been reading in a truly unruly fashion, blithely ignoring reading challenge requirements.
This behavior becomes quite evident upon reviewing my stats.
Here’s the tally, which is a nice little mix of shame and accomplishment:
Reading Madly—Finished reading 5/7 books. Not bad.
U.S. Presidents Reading Project (lifelong challenge)—Still at 22/44, due to my refusal to stop reading about JFK and LBJ.
100+ Reading Challenge—Finished reading 60/100. Yee-haw!
eBook Challenge—Finished reading 5/12 eBooks. Yeah, someone’s behind schedule here… (Doggone it. Turns out I still love book books better than eBooks. This isn’t exactly a bad thing, but it’s impeding my progress on this challenge.)
Whisper Stories in My Ear—Finished listening to 10/12. This one is pure pleasure.
Nonfiction Challenge—Finished reading 6 out of 7-9 books. Excellent! The tough news is that the only remaining categories are things I don’t naturally read, so I’m going to have to get bossy with myself.
Library Challenge—Finished reading 55/100. Very nice.
Historical Fiction Challenge—Finished reading 8/10. This one’s a stretch for me, but participating in a genre study makes me read the stuff, anyway, and I’m sure it’s even better for me than a low-fat, high-fiber diet.

Completed Challenges

Yes, folks, despite some underperformance on some of the challenges listed above, I’ve actually checked some others off the list.
Pub Challenge—Finished reading 12/11, of which 6 are fiction. Which means: I’ve checked this challenge off the list in a mere 6 months. Which almost makes up for the shameful performance in the eBook challenge.
I Want More Challenge—Finished reading 2 out of 2-4 books. So I could call this one “done” if I wanted to.
3Rs Challenge—Finished reading 2 out of 1-6. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Yeah, so everything’s all light and happy now… but just wait till the 3rd quarter report happens. Then I’ll do that freaking out thing. Be sure to tune in.

2012 reading, already in the works

This is a great idea for a reading challenge. Check this out:

Book Dragon’s Lair is hosting a challenge called “Getting Lost in a Comfortable Book.”
Between the name (anything with the word “comfortable” in it is apt to pull me right in) and the button (cute, cute, cute! and with an image variation for the indoorniks among us [that’s me]), I knew I’d be doing this challenge.
Then I read the description, and I knew it would be my cuppa coffee. (I’m not that into tea.)
From the Book Dragon’s Lair post, here are the parameters:
“There are three parts to this challenge.

Part One: email me your top five comfort books.
Part Two: vote (after I post a list) for our very own Top 100.
Part Three: READ five from the list, other than your own.”

Later this year, the big master list will be posted on her blog, and then we choose 5 books to read during 2012.
I’ve already sent in the titles of my top 5 comfort reads (maybe I’ll tell you them later; maybe I won’t).
Since comfort books are basically sure bets, I’m feeling pretty safe placing some of my reading choices in others’ hands. I’m actually feeling kind of excited already. About 2012, which sounds all futuristic.

The young LBJ

(photo credit: Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum)

The Path to Power by Robert A. Caro (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1)

People! I just read the 750+ page first volume of a multi-volume biography of LBJ, and I’m having bliss-out fits over it.

I know.

You’re fleeing from the blog, and I kinda understand.

But I can explain. 

This book is so ding-dang good I nearly got weepy at several points. And once my heart almost burst in joy.

That, my friends, is a sign of good writing. Robert A. Caro is a pure marvel.

We’ll begin with the sentence that darn-near caused a heart explosion. Here ’tis:

“And as Lyndon Johnson came up Capitol Hill in the morning, he would be running.” (p. 217)

So, the context. Caro spends the long first paragraph of that chapter describing the scenery—the columns and pillars of the Capitol—witnessed by the 23-year-old LBJ as he walked (ran!) to his office when he worked as an aide to a Congressman. That glorious sentence ends the paragraph, and it’s the perfect capstone.

The weepy thing happened when I read about how LBJ, as a young Congressman during the Great Depression, helped bring electricity to the Texas Hill Country from whence he came. After reading the description of the lives people led before electricity, it makes sense that it was during this time that people began naming their sons for Lyndon Johnson. Caro describes how farm women could see the workers coming toward her house with the line of electrical poles, and when the workers arrived, they’d find the finest meal the family could provide, served on their best dishes.

We get a good view of Lady Bird here, and one is given to believe that she truly was as sainted as Margaret Truman suggested in First Ladies. Despite her innate goodness, still (thankfully) she’s interesting. One of my favoritest quotes of all time is this, by Lady Bird to a friend: “Lyndon and I committed matrimony last night.” (p. 302) Doesn’t it just sound innocently naughty?

This book is detailed, in the best way. So you get a solid sense of who the supporting characters are. For years now, I’ve been saying the words “Rayburn House Office Building” in response to library patrons’ requests for the addresses of their representatives in Congress. And only in this book did I learn who Sam Rayburn was. And I confess now I adore him just a lot. He was honest. Need I say more? Yet I will. Here (we’ll let Caro say it): “Years later, when someone mentioned that Rayburn’s father had not left him much of an inheritance, Rayburn quickly corrected him—his father, he said, ‘gave me my untarnished name.’” (p. 301) He was as honest as LBJ was fluid with the truth.

This book covers Johnson’s early years—from birth to age 36. His ambition is striking. It’s exhausting even to read about.

The projected 3-volume Caro biography (with the 4th volume in the works) is known as the warts-and-all version of LBJ’s life story. I’m doing OK with it. I’ve known forever that the guy was earthy, and why sugarcoat the truth?

Also, gotta confess: major (major!) authorcrush on Mr. Caro. Not only is he a genius, but he’s also cute as a button.

Next up: Volume 2!

First quarter report

I like the idea of quarterly reports. It appeals to something corporate in me.Actually, prob’ly I just like lists, and this is one.
Reading Madly—Finished reading 4/7 books. I’m loving this challenge. (Yes, it’s my own, but still I’m wildly fond of it.)
U.S. Presidents Reading Project (lifelong challenge)—Still at 22/44, which turns out to be 0/22 this year of the remaining presidents. Yes, that’s right. This year I have not read a single thing about a president about whom I’ve not read before. Instead, am on a complete LBJ kick and may not read about any other presidential types all year long. (Yes, I said that just so it won’t be true.)
100+ Reading Challenge—Finished reading 29/100
eBook Challenge—Finished reading 4/12 eBooks. Right on track. (Also: sufficiently Type A to be worried that I’m not ahead of the game)
I Want More Challenge—Haven’t read a ding-dang thing yet. 0/2. I have a plot to pick something up during the Read-a-Thon, though.
Whisper Stories in My Ear Challenge—Finished reading (listening to) 6/12.
Nonfiction Challenge—Finished reading 2/7. I read lots of the same types of nonfiction (hello, history and biography!) and that’s stifling my progress on this challenge, which rewards readers of different types of nonfiction. Challenge, indeed. Probably should read a blah-blah food or travel book.
Pub Challenge—Finished reading 2/11. It’s early days, though, peeps. I’ve had only 3 months’ worth of 2011 publications to choose from.
The 3Rs Challenge—We’re 1/1-6 here. Not horrid.
Library Challenge—Finished reading 24/100. Guys! I’m behind! (See what reading those free eBook ARCs will do to a person’s statistics?! The peril of eBooks — don’t underestimate it!)
Historical Fiction Challenge—Finished reading 4/10. Amazing, considering my sour attitude toward this genre. (Is it a genre? Discuss!)
Feeling OK. Not really feeling too much like Wonderwoman or anything, though. But I’ll take it.

Real Short Re-Cap: The Best of Everything

The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
If the writers of Mad Men and Sex and the City didn’t read this book, I’ll eat my hat. This 1958 novel is filled with characters and situations that have cropped up on both shows.
It’s also one of those books that pulls you in slowly, and then you can’t leave its world. (I’ve been strangely focusing on one book at a time lately, and this book was definitely part of that trend.)
It follows several young working women in New York in the early 50s, and they encounter the expected sexism in the workplace (and out of it), and they have tragic love affairs and do all kinds of dumb lovestruck stuff even though the guys tend to be cads who are unworthy of their attention. (Even the one guy who I found likeable was stepping out on his wife to be with the female character we know!)
So, yes, the characters make some bad choices, and that made the whole thing feel very real.
Just like with Mad Men, I sank happily into this novel’s melodramatic depths and didn’t really want to leave.
Thanks to Bybee for recommending this book on her blog. I wouldn’t have come across it without having read her review.

Jacqueline Kennedy: Reader

Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books by William Kuhn
Thanks to Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand for this recommendation. Even though I’m a Kennedy-o-phile (dear God, what a horrid construction), seeing the reviews of this book (and other similar one recently published) didn’t really tug at me. Till Ann’s rave review, and then I caved.
So glad about that. (photo credit: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum; that’s the First Lady’s bedroom in 1962. I’ll betcha she read in there.)
There’s way more Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis biography here than I would have thought.
And this book, more than any other I’ve ever read about her, helped me understand her.
Really quite something, that.
There are links here between the literature she loved and the men she chose to marry. And for the first time, I got why she married each of them, even as she knew their failings. Strange how that never made sense to me until now, but the way Kuhn explains it, it just makes sense.
The other remarkable thing is this: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was a reader. I swear to you, I’ve never thought of her in that way. As a style and fashion icon, yes. As a famous wife and mother, yes. But as a reader… I just missed it, guys.
There are two wonderful sentences in this book that drive the point home:
“This slightly offbeat Jackie, her beautiful hair smelling not only of perfume but also of the cigarettes she sometimes liked to smoke when she was working, scribbling in the white space along the edge of a manuscript, is the Jackie we know when we understand that first and foremost she was a reader.” (p. 17 of the eBook)
During her marriage to Onassis, an insider said she “disappeared every afternoon while others napped to read by herself” (p. 25 of the eBook).
She was not like Us, but actually, in a way, she was. Gotta like that.
P.S. Just before posting this, I was over at A Work in Progress and saw a posting called “Are You as Well Read as Marilyn Monroe?” Given the whole Jackie/Marilyn thing, it was nice timing. And interesting to see that they both were readers.

Mad reader

Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy
Perhaps my purest example of “Reading Madly”—
This here book was mentioned on an episode of Mad Men (during Season 3, methinks) because it was published in 1963 and got all the ad guys all talking. So we got here a book from the actual time period, mentioned on the actual show.
David Ogilvy is a pretty darn entertaining writer. Of course, he is: He’s an ad man, so you’d expect that he’d grab your attention and hold it for at least a little while, right?
The book presents itself as a primer on how to write copy, how to build great campaigns, etc., but it’s got the word “Confessions” in its title, so you know it’s more than a dull old guidebook. Ogilvy seems like a larger-than-life character at the helm of one of the big agencies, and he’s got stories to tell. Nothing scandalous or shocking, but there are some great advertising anecdotes here.
And some of his sentences are just plain fun to read. Here are two examples that made me smile:
“But however well-documented our presentation may be, however thoroughly our planners have assessed the marketing realities, and however brilliantly our copywriters have done their work, horrible things can happen at The Presentation.” (p. 67)
(I’m a morbid thing. It’s not funny that something horrible would happen, but still I grin.)
And then there’s this:
“Don’t sing your selling message. Selling is a serious business. How would you react if you went into a Sears store to buy a frying pan and the salesman starting singing jingles at you?” (p. 133)
OK, that second one there is just plain hilarious. It makes a shy person positively recoil to think of being approached by a singing salesman. I’d be outta there so fast…
Reading this book left me with a lot of questions, such as:
How many of these precepts are still considered useful in advertising?
Do the Mad Men writers use this book as a source of ideas for the show?
Ain’t it intriguing that a TV show caused me to read a book I never would’ve picked up otherwise–and liked so much?

Book as object

We got a weird topic on the table today: some comments about a book as a physical object.
Normally in my reading life, I shun this kind of thing; the whole book-as-artifact/valuable-book-collector thing is really puzzling to me. I’m all about the text. Whether or not it’s a first edition matters to me, as a reader, Not One Bit. (As a librarian, there are other considerations. But as a reader, just give me the words!)
But, I gotta tell you, I had a book-as-relic moment recently.
I got a copy of Confessions of an Advertising Man by David Ogilvy from a nearby public library, and it’s the original 1963 edition (which would be the same edition mentioned on an episode of Mad Men; I think maybe Ken Cosgrove said something about the book while riding in the elevator).
And the edges of the pages of this copy of the book are velvety soft, reminiscent of the pages of so many books I borrowed from the library when I was a kid. It’s even got that library book smell. So it took me back to those wonderful days.
And then I opened to the Table of Contents page and saw there, along the inner margin, a penciled marking made by a library staffer when the book was received: “11-6-63.”
And it stopped me for a while.
I was thinking about the fact that this book was received during the Kennedy administration, which would last only 2 ½ more weeks.
Damn. Pencil marks in a book throwing me into a melancholy reverie.
Anyway, more about this book (as a text) on Friday.