Friday, July 6, 2012

The Year's Half Up--So How am I Doing?

Well, I'm still sailing along, and on course...but just a bit behind

The year is half over, and my 52 Country Challenge should be half finished. According to this blog, I am only just starting the Caribbean part of the tour, and I've done twenty countries, and a total of thirty books in total, which means I am behind by six books. Now, I'm actually several weeks ahead of my blog, since I like to think about the books before I write about them, and then I get caught up with what I've been reading, or life gets in the way, or the computer flips over by itself on the table (this really did happen) and gets destroyed. Or whatever. In reality, I'm actually about where I should be, and I'm ready to join my one group read that I've set up with my fellow GR'ers. I'm still not sure, however, that I'm going to finish up the year in India, since I keep adding books whenever I reach a region. It's as if I'm afraid those books won't be there after I finish the challenge, or I'll be sucked back into my ladies-with-long-skirts-climbing-in-and-out-of carriages mode of reading, which, of course, is far more likely. I've got my reasons--either I'm dissatisfied with my country pick, and want to try again, or I feel my choice isn't really representational, or I loved my book so much that I want to do further reading...I keep getting stuck in every area of the globe. I suppose this is all to the good. The group I am reading with is all ready talking about continuing on, or morphing into a book for every state, which would be fun, too. It's too soon to make a decision for next year. In the meantime,  here are a few observations:

Beware of the author with an open agenda. Julia Alvarez and Sir Ranulph Fiennes, I'm referring to you. An in-your-face blatant agenda doesn't make for good literature, or good non-fiction It's just deadening and dull and makes you want to throw the book against the wall. Unless you are a genius, like Junot Diaz. Which neither of these writers are.

Be careful of the earnest writer who wants to share all he or she has learned of his or her distantly imagined homeland. I'm thinking of Tessa's Uriza Holthe's "When the Elephants Dance", of course, but other books have fallen into this trap. They're well-meaning, and oh, so terribly worthy, but ultimately, they're kind of dull. Unless you're Junot Diaz, or maybe Luis Urrea.

I'm a sucker for a great audio book, especially one that isn't read in my plain-Jane, flat-as-a-pancake Californian accent. So many of the books I've done this year--"The Worst Journey in the World", "Cloudstreet", "The Hummingbird's Daughter" have been greatly enhanced by wonderful narrators. Only "Wolf Totem" was a bust for me. I have definitely kept "Audible" in business this year.

Great women writers, where have you been so far this year? Only Jane Smiley's "The Greenlanders" has been audacious in both scope and style. And let's not forget Murasaki Shikibu, who many say came up with the idea of the novel to begin with. Still, many of my books by women novelists have fallen into the old cliche of being rather rather inward-looking, and rather miniature in style, more Jane Austen and her "two inches wide of ivory". That's more my fault for the sort of books I've picked; I'm hoping things will take a turn for the better in Europe and Africa. To be honest, I'm kind of pessimistic about my chances for improvement in Latin America. I seem to have hit a guy-wall when I made up my original list for South America--though I have made some new additions!

So, that's the summary for the half year. Let's see what the second part of the 52 Country challenge holds...

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