Reading Challenges 2013

I know we are already more than a week into 2013, but it is not too late to make a New Year’s resolution. As you have probably guessed, my resolution has to do with reading and how much of it I can get done. And lucky for me there are a number of web-based supports that I can draw on. Here is a quick list of the reading challenges and pledges I am taking part in this year. You should challenge yourself too!

50bookpledge

50bookpledge brought to you by The Savvy Reader is better than ever this year. In the past it has been a mostly Twitter based thing, but this year it has its own website. Although it is called the 50 book pledge, it is really just about getting people to read more. You set your challenge for yourself, anywhere from 12 – 200 books in 2013. The graphics of the site are really good and easy to use. You get your own bookshelf (you choose the colour) to record the books you’ve read and those you want to read. And to keep you motivated, it is all designed so that you can see what your friends are reading, earn badges and win prizes. So far, I love it!!

reading-bingoNot to be out done, Retreat by RandomHouse has developed their own version of ReadingBingo. This is reading with a bit of a twist. Each square of the Bingo card, which you can print out yourself, has a challenge that you can stamp once you have completed it. Examples include Reading a Book By a Celebrity, a Book of Poetry and a Book with an Animal on the Cover. It’s up to you whether you decide to fill your card, go for a line or make an X. If this isn’t a good excuse to go buy a Bingo blotter, I don’t know what is.

goodreads 2013 reading challengeAnd then there is the tried and true favorite over at GoodReads, plain old 2013 Reading Challenge. Not quite as visually pleasing as 50bookpledge, but since many people are already signed up on GoodReads it is handy. As you enter the books you’ve read it lets you know by way of percentage how far you have to go. And like 50bookpledge, you can set your own goal. Mine is 75 books in 2013. Now the only question is, will I be able to do it?

iqrc-2013Finally, there are also a plethora of challenges for the niche read, a group to which I can sometimes claim to belong. I have a particular penchant for books and writers from India and other areas of South Asia. Well, it should come as no surprise that out there on the world wide web I could find a challenge to fit this hankering. So in addition to the others, I have signed up for the Indian Quills Reading Challenge. Like with other challenges you can set the goal for yourself. I am challenging myself to read 20 books by South Asian writers. The books I blog about will also be linked up to their website at The Tales Pensieve.

Addendum

readlong2013Of course after I got this all looking pretty and posted I realized that there is another book challenge that should be mentioned: Simon&Schuster Canada has announced their Read-Along 2013. Each month they will present a reading challenge of sorts. This month’s is to read a book you never got around to reading last year even though it was on your To Read list. For me that book is Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.

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Sussex Drive by Linda Svendsen

sussexdriveSussex Drive by Linda Svendsen is one fun novel. As the name indicates, it is a political satire set in the hallowed halls of Ottawa’s elite.The story is set in 2008 and melds together aspects of recent history that we recognize (ie. the election of Obama, the proroguing of Parliment and the rise of the right in Canada) with a perhaps less plausible alternative history (GG reports to King Charles). In its telling the story focuses primarily on two female power brokers – Becky, the brash and pushy wife of the PM, and Lise, the somewhat controversial immigrant GG. Perhaps because of this point of view the reader also gets a peak at how the personal lives of these VIPs and their children are manipulated by the political machine.

Two things that i really appreciated about the novel were the use of language and the prominence of women. As is befitting the bilingual environment of Ottawa and the parliamentary millieu, the characters switch back and forth between English and French as they speak. This is done effortlessly by some and with a little bit more struggling by others. As a reader, however, I think it is clear what is being said without knowledge of French. Secondly, the women in Sussex Drive are very complex characters juggling the concerns of public and private life. The men, on the other hand, are somewhat one dimensional. The GG, who is modeled on Michaelle Jean, is a sensitive arbiter of power put in a number of very awkward situations by the conservative First Family. Becky, the PM’s wife, is a manipulative behind the scenes force, who ultimately steers the direction of the government. By drawing on these two characters Svendsen gives the reader a different view of Ottawa from the one we are used to.

Overall Svendsen has written a very interesting and intriguing look at politics in Canada. It is not the most staggeringly beautiful piece of Canadian literature, but it is a fun, humorous page turner.

Who would like this book? Anyone interested in (Canadian) political satire. Sussex Drive exists in the same vein as Terry Fallis‘ Ottawa based satires. Politically speaking, I think it would appeal to left leaning readers, but it is hard for me to judge for sure. The political right might like it too if they are willing to laugh at themselves. There seems to be a trend towards buying political books for one’s dad, but this one would definitely appeal to a mother as well.

CanadaReads: The Age of Hope by David Bergen

bergen

The Age of Hope

I always think that I am a fan of David Bergen until I actually read him. I feel the same way about Ian McEwan. They are both highly praised, award winning literary writers, and yet I tend to walk away from their books feeling a little meh. It was with that in mind that I launched into The Age of Hope by David Bergen for Canada Reads.

The novel is not a real page turner. It is about a woman’s life as a wife and mother starting in the 1950’s. To say that not much really happens in the novel might be a little of an understatement. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the story is Hope’s on going battle with mental illness. At various points in her marriage she is institutionalized and receives electroshock therapy. I found these episodes fascinating due to my interest in mental illness, but they were not enough to sustain the novel.

Although I am not a real fan of The Age of Hope, I am impressed by Bergen’s writing. The whole thing is written from the point of view of a bored stay at home wife and mother, and I think Bergen captures that voice precisely. One would almost think that Bergen himself is a bored house wife. The tone and mood he creates are dead on, the problem is it’s just not something i want to read about.

One big question remains: How will The Age of Hope do in Canada Reads? Difficult to say. It is being championed by Ron MacLean, and lets face it Ron MacLean can hold his own against Don Cherry, so I think he will be able to argue persuasively in the arena of Canada Reads. But will that be enough? I don’t think the novel can stand on its own against the other contenders, but we shall see.

Who would like this book? Good question. Obviously readers of Canadian literary fiction will read The Age of Hope regardless of what I say. And they should – I am all for supporting Canadian arts. Beyond that, I would recommend this novel to those who like moody prose more than plot driven tales. And of course, it is required reading for fans of Canada Reads.

CanadaReads: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

indian horseFor a novel that could be described as a tale about residential schools and hockey, I was pleasantly surprised. Those are two things that would not send me racing to read a novel. I never would have read Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese if it had not been a Canada Reads pick. That is one of the things i love about programs such as Canada Reads – they take me out of my reading comfort zone and it is usually worth it.

So I did not necessarily love Indian Horse, but I certainly enjoyed it. It is a deeply powerful novel. Oddly enough if you know me, it was the writing about hockey that moved me. Admittedly, I played hockey for three brief seasons during university but that did not spawn a passion for hockey in me. In fact, whatever is going on with the NHL this year is barely a blip on my radar other than to say that The National is never running late because of hockey.

Wagamese’s writing about hockey is breath taking. I was glued to the page, waiting to see elegance would arrive next on the page. Here is a small sample of a hockey scout describing the game.

“Hockey’s grace and poetry make men beautiful. The thrill of it lifts people out of their seats. Dreams unfold right before your eyes, conjured by a stick and a puck on a hundred and eighty feet of ice. The players? …. They’re conjurers.”

Wagamese takes the game of hockey and turns it into something mystical. It really is stunning.

What are Wagamese’s prospects when it comes to Canada Reads? Without having read the other contenders, I would have to say pretty good. This is a story that will appeal to all Canadians. Though chosen to represent British Columbia and Yukon, most of the narrative takes place in other regions of Canada and tells a story that occurred in virtually all regions of Canada.

Who would like this book? Obviously this book is going to appeal to CBC listeners and followers of Canad Reads. That almost goes without saying. Hockey lovers should also count themselves in as ones who would love this book. But I would hesitate to limit Indian Horse‘s appeal to those crowds. For me it was the writing that makes Indian Horse stand out. It was absolutely luscious. I will be keeping my eyes open for anything else Wagamese writes.

Welcome to the Official launch of my new book review blog, 52 Books and thank you to all the followers who have found me over the past month or so. This is where you will find me musing about the books I read. Most of them will be semi-new releases, ones that have come out in the last year or so. Most will be fiction, though I am trying to expand my horizons a little. And as always I will be happy to review any ARCs that come my way.

You can follow my progress here as I compete and complete Savvy Reader‘s 50 Book Pledge and Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge (I’ve set 70 as my goal). CBC has also been kind enough to send my the contenders for this year’s Canada Reads. I will be reviewing them as I finish them (going west to east), presenting their prospects and commenting on the Canada Reads broadcasts.

Now it is time to get down to business and get reading!