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It’s tiiiiiime! *happy dance*

Update #1: 5am PDT

Good morning, fellow readers! It’s 5am where I am, and though I know many of you are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and already delving into books and snacks, I’m most likely still asleep, saving up energy for a full day of reading.

I just wanted to let you know that I haven’t forgotten, and that I’ll be joining you soon!

(P.S. Reading by email? Click through to the site to see updates to this post as the day progresses!)

Update #2: 7:06am PDT

I’m up! I have a feeling today is going to be heavy on audiobooks, as I have a whole bunch of things to do around the house…starting with making breakfast! As soon as I finish this update, I’m off to whip up some oatmeal while listening to Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

  • Currently reading: N/A
  • Currently listening to: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Running total of pages read: 0
  • Running total of time spent reading: 0
  • Running total of time spent listening: 0

Mini-challenges:

  • Kickoff Meme
    1. What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Outside of San Francisco, California
    2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? Probably Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, which I’ll be listening to
    3. Which snack are you most looking forward to? Popsicles!
    4. Tell us a little something about yourself! Let’s see. Fiction of most stripes is my favorite, and I love audiobooks. I’m a knitter and a quilter. I’m an Ohio transplant to the West Coast. I have one cat, who I’m sure will make an appearance at some point today!
    5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I wasn’t up for the start time…that’s different! I’m trying to go easy on myself this time around, which is hard, because I want to participate as much as possible.
  • Classic Words of Wisdom

    “…until the end comes, enjoy your life,
    spend it in happiness, not despair.
    Savor your food, make each of your days
    a delight, bathe and anoint yourself,
    wear bright clothes that are sparkling clean,
    let music and dancing fill your house,
    love the child who holds you by the hand,
    and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.
    That is the best way for a man to live.”
    — From Gilgamesh, translated by Stephen Mitchell

    I love this quote because it reminds me of how I want to live my life. I’m someone who easily gets bogged down in little things and can stew over a problem far longer than necessary. I also love how these words from an ancient epic gives us permission to live our lives with joy, pleasure, and love. To me, that’s something worth remembering!

Update #3: 12:56m PDT

It’s definitely been a listening day so far! I’m really enjoying Where’d You Go, Bernadette? on audio and have gotten laundry folded, a knitting project finished, and food made. At this rate, I’m going to need another audiobook before the event is over! I did read a bit of Diary of a Provincial Lady, which is really fun and makes for quick reading. I’ve also done a few mini-challenges, which are fun.

  • Currently reading: Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
  • Currently listening to: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Running total of pages read: 71
  • Running total of time spent reading: 57 minutes
  • Running total of time spent listening: 3 hours, 38 minutes

Mini-challenges:

  • Treasure Hunt: Here are my three books containing a snow, a tree, and a weapon:

Readathon Treasure Hunt Mini Challenge

  • Book Spine Poetry: Mine reads “Crossing to safety, their eyes were watching God. Small wonder everything is illuminated; little altars everywhere.”

Readathon Book Spine Poetry Mini Challenge

Update #4: 4:24pm PDT

All listening for the past block of time. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? on audio is utterly absorbing! I cooked lunch, cleaned the kitchen, and then settled down to knit some more. I’m feeling a little sleepy, too, and listening while doing something with my hands keeps me awake better than reading does.

  • Currently reading: Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
  • Currently listening to: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Running total of pages read: 71
  • Running total of time spent reading: 57 minutes
  • Running total of time spent listening: 6 hours, 46 minutes

Mini-challenges:

  • In 100 Years…
    • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: This book has a solid plot, memorable characters, emotional depth, and relevant themes — all things that contribute to a book becoming a classic, in my opinion!
    • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: This one is such a literary masterpiece, such a work of creativity and delight, that I sincerely hope it will be enchanting readers for centuries to come.
    • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: Not only does this novel grapple with a modern tragedy, it does so through a character whose voice is unique and powerful.
  • Mid-Event Meme:
    1. What are you reading right now? See above!
    2. How many books have you read so far? I haven’t finished anything (slow reader here!)
    3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? Finishing Where’d You Go, Bernadette? I couldn’t stop myself from listening to the rest of it if I tried.
    4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Not really. Just a few brief conversations with my husband, who decided not to participate in the readathon after all and was trying to get stuff done around the house.
    5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? How much I don’t actually want to read! I may end up listening to books for the rest of the event. That’d be a first.

Update #5: 9:06pm PDT

The listening continues! I finished Where’d You Go, Bernadette? (fantastic, and fantastically read as well) and started in on The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert — different, but also really good so far. I had dinner, but mostly I’ve been knitting while I listen. I doubt I’ll make it for more than a couple more hours.

  • Currently reading: Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
  • Currently listening to: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Running total of pages read: 71
  • Running total of time spent reading: 57 minutes
  • Running total of time spent listening: 10 hours, 22 minutes (whoa!)

Mini-challenges:

  • Music Is Muse: I listened to Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple earlier today, and in it the characters listen to Abbey Road by the Beatles. I’ve had “Here Comes the Sun” stuck in my head ever since! It was a mother-daughter moment, where two generations connected in a way neither probably expected. But since that’s such an easy answer, I’d also say Carole King’s “Where You Lead” for the same relationship. Partly the Gilmore girls come to mind, yes…but also, if you’ve read the book (no spoilers!) and think about the lyrics, well…it’s a pretty good fit (minus the specific relationship stuff, of course).
  • Reading Story: Today I’d rather listen than read!

Update #6: 10:01pm PDT

Aaaaaand I’m done. Too tired to read, and my hands are actually getting sore from all the knitting. So it’s bedtime for me! I got in just about 12 solid hours of book time today, and I’m happy with that.

  • Currently reading: Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
  • Currently listening to: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Running total of pages read: 71
  • Running total of time spent reading: 57 minutes
  • Running total of time spent listening: 11 hours

If you’re still reading…have fun!!

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The Baron in the Trees is the first book I read from my Classics Club list, as chosen for me by the recent spin. The version I read was translated by Archibald Colquhoun. I’d previously read (and been rather bemused and charmed by) If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Calvino (which I never got around to reviewing, sadly).

About the Book:

The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino (reviewed on Erin Reads)It is a disagreement over eating snails that sends eight-year-old Biagio’s older brother, Cosimo, up into the trees in the backyard of the family’s estate. In no time, this impulsive whim has calcified into a resolution, and from that day forward, Cosimo never again sets foot on the earth.

What does a life lived in the trees look like for an eighteenth-century nobleman — a proper baron, once his father has died and passed the title on? That is what Biagio sets out to chronicle. Relying on his own observations, the stories of others, and the tales he hears from Cosimo himself, Biagio assembles the story of his brother’s arboreal existence as his own life draws toward its close.

My Thoughts:

It seems to me that Italo Calvino had one of those delightfully creative literary minds whose premises alone make their novels worth reading. (In that respect — though not really in any others — he reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Jose Saramago.) What I like in particular is the way in which Calvino approaches his off-the-wall topics as though they were completely commonplace and not at all surprising. He makes you complicit, inviting you, too, to suspend your disbelief.

The Baron in the Trees was fun. Not because it’s a rollicking tale or full of tricks and antics or anything like that, but because it stretches the limits of what we’re used to in just one way. Calvino’s is not a fantasy world, nor is it some future Earth. In fact, it’s set in the past, in the very normal Italian community of Ombrosa, and peopled with the sorts of characters you’d expect to find in such a story — except that one of them lives exclusively in the trees.

Cosimo is both an enigma and a likable guy. He’s principled, earnest, kind, a touch eccentric, and just a little naive sometimes. He engenders respect as well as curiosity, both in the reader and in his fellow characters. From his perch, he helps his neighbors, furthers his education, corresponds with the great minds of Europe, solves problems for himself and others, and even conducts romances.

I was pleasantly surprised by how readable the novel is. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is rather convoluted and trippy, like you keep walking through door after door until you’re not really sure which way is up or which plot line you’re in. It’s good, but it takes some concentration to read. The Baron in the Trees, on the other hand, was quite readable, and I whizzed through it.

My one complaint isn’t even a complaint, really; it’s more of a curiosity or a wish. It has to do with who tells the story. Calvino’s use of Biagio as narrator allows a more objective view of Cosimo, certainly. Biagio is able to share insights and fill in details from the wider world that Cosimo’s perspective would have rendered impossible (or at least rather difficult). But Biagio’s view into Cosimo’s life is necessarily limited. Much of what he shares he admits comes from hearsay or from his brother’s constantly shifting stories. What I missed most, I think, were the particulars of Cosimo’s life: how he managed his daily affairs, what he thought about, how he saw his situation and the world around him. In short, a record of his life in his own words. But it would have been a different novel, and not necessarily a better one.

Fun fact: Apparently The Baron in the Trees is the second in Calvino’s Our Ancestors trilogy, the first and third installments of which are titled The Cloven Viscount and The Nonexistent Knight. With titles like those, I must admit I’m a little curious…

The Verdict: Enjoyable

I know If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is probably Calvino’s most famous novel, and it’s worth tackling. But I think The Baron in the Trees would be a nice introduction, too — or a good follow-up read should you want to explore more of what Calvino has to offer.

Your Turn!

Can you recommend a book that stretches the limits of our accustomed reality in just one small, mostly believable way? Or perhaps one that delighted you with its quirky premise?

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Top Ten Tuesday badge (erinreads.com)This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic, as set forth by the crew at The Broke and the Bookish, is “all-time favorite authors.”

Since I have, until very recently, been a book fan more than an author fan — meaning I tended not to develop loyalties to particular authors, but to specific books instead — this prompt isn’t so tough for me. Ask me to list my top ten all-time favorite books and, well…it would be a lot harder!

In no particular order, I give you my top ten favorite authors (as of April 2015, at least) as well as the books of theirs I’ve read so far:

1. Margaret Atwood

Of all the authors on this list (and on my shelves, for that matter), I’ve read the most by Margaret Atwood, and I have yet to come across something by her I didn’t like. Of course, some books I’ve liked more than others, but generally she and I get along very well. I especially like her stuff on audio. So far, I’ve read (or listened to):

2. Robertson Davies

This cult-favorite Canadian author and I met through the recommendation of a coworker at my old independent bookstore job. When she gave it, she told me she didn’t recommend Davies to everyone, but that the people who liked him really liked him. Turns out I’m one of those people! I’ve read a trilogy and a stand-alone novel thus far and have more of both waiting on my shelves.

  • The Cunning Man
  • The Deptford Trilogy (Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders)

3. Kristin Cashore

If I had one bookish wish, it would probably be that Kristin Cashore would write more books. I know, I know…it takes time, respect the art, and all that. But it’s just because I love her writing so much that I want more! Her first novel, Graceling, is definitely my favorite YA book and high on my list of all-around favorites.

4. Jose Saramago

Saramago intrigues me. There’s no other way to put it. He’s delightfully creative in the premises he chooses (the world struck by a plague of blindness? the cessation of natural death?) and incredibly thorough in how he explores each one. I’ve only actually read two of his books, but I’ve been collecting them for years and will someday read them all.

5. David Mitchell

As soon as I dug into Cloud Atlas, I knew I was a David Mitchell fan, whatever else he wrote and however much I liked (or disliked) it. Ask me what my all-time favorite book is and most of the time I’ll tell you it’s Cloud Atlas. I’m in no hurry to tear through Mitchell’s remaining novels; I’ll get to them all in time, savoring each as I go.

6. Barbara Kingsolver

There’s something about the way Barbara Kingsolver writes that I just adore. I got into a bit of what I think it might be in my recent review of Prodigal Summer, linked below. Suffice it to say, I’m slowly making my way through all of her titles.

7. W. Somerset Maugham

Maugham is one of the few classic authors I’ve read enough of to award a favorites status. He has a straightforward way of writing I really like, and at least one character in each novel is always spectacularly developed. Plus, even though I’m not usually much of a short story fan, I enjoy his.

8. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

What first drew me to Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s work was her exquisite novel One Amazing Thing. I declared it my favorite fiction read of 2010, and it’s still among my favorites for its hauntingly beautiful simplicity. I went on to read The Palace of Illusions, which is a retelling of the Mahabharat from the point of view of the five brothers’ wife Panchaali. Whatever Divakaruni decides to write about, she does so cleanly and in a way that draws her reader along for the ride.

9. Patrick Ness

I think I would read pretty much anything Patrick Ness set his hand to. His style can be raw and bold, but he is also able to unearth delicate truths and examine them without crushing them to pieces. I expect to be taken on an intense, emotional journey when I pick up one of his books, and I know it’ll be worth the ride.

10. …I honestly don’t know!

Yes, apparently I only have nine favorite authors!

There are plenty of authors for whom I’ve only read one title — but no matter how much I loved that single title, I don’t feel like I can label the author as a favorite until I’ve read more of his or her work.

There are a few I can think of (Nick Hornby, for instance) where I really like their work in one genre but not another (loved The Polysyllabic Spree but didn’t care much for Juliet, Naked in Hornby’s case). Or I like one specific series they did but haven’t branched out beyond that (as is the case with J.K. Rowling).

There are still others whose work I really, really like, but who just don’t quite seem to fit amongst the other nine listed here (Rainbow Rowell comes to mind, much as I’ve enjoyed the three of hers I’ve listened to).

And there is at least one case where I don’t think I’d love the books quite so much if it weren’t for a phenomenal audiobook reader (Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, read by Simon Vance *swoon*).

So I suppose at least for now, my #10 slot is open. I’m sure it’ll get filled soon enough!

A Few Thoughts

With the exception of Kristin Cashore, whose new releases I will block out time to read ASAP and who spaces out my readings by only releasing a book every few years, I seem to like to draw out the reading of my favorite authors’ backlists. Nor do I tend to rush out and buy their latest (again, with the exception of Cashore). It’s almost like I know all their books are going to be good, so whatever comes my way next will be perfect.

I was trying to figure out, from looking at all of these authors and books together, what the most important thing about a book is for me. I think I figured it out: balance. These books don’t have characters that outshine the plot, or writing that overshadows the themes. They’re gloriously harmonious blends of creativity, unique writing, vivid characters, absorbing stories, and intriguing ideas. They evoke places I feel I’ve visited and characters alive enough that I can imagine them living somewhere out in the world. And maybe that’s why I can’t fill that last slot — that’s a pretty high bar to set!

Also of note: Six of the nine authors on my list also have characters I’d like to check in with. Coincidence? Probably not.

Your Turn!

Who are some of your all-time favorite authors? What is it you love most about their work?

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readathon-button-from-book-addict

One week from today, I’ll be waking up groggy and tired and a little sad that the readathon is, once again, over. But six days from today? I’ll be reading my eyes out! (Don’t know about Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon? Get the details here.)

The Plan

This prep post will be very much like the one I wrote up for last October’s readathon, since I’ve found a few ways of doing things that really work for me. Those things are:

  • Have no plans. I really like the whole day to be about reading, if I can swing it. And this time around, I can!
  • Don’t worry about starting on time. Yeah, it’s fun to be up in time to kick off the event. But now that I live on the west coast, where the start time is 5am instead of 8am, starting so early means I lose steam sooner. If I’m up, I’m up; if not, that’s ok.
  • Go to bed (or nap) when needed. I’ve done readathons where I force myself to stay up as late as possible. But honestly, I just get grumpy and frustrated, and I hardly remember what I read anyway! So now, I read for as long as I’m feeling fresh enough to do so. Naps are allowed, and when I’m too tired to read, I go to bed (hard as it is to tear myself away!).
  • Keep updates in one giant post. It means fewer encouraging comments because no new posts pop up, but I like having everything consolidated into a single updates post. I tend to update it every three or four hours with any new reading news, mini-challenges, or memes I’ve done.
  • Don’t go stats-crazy. It’s tempting to track eeeeeeverything! But then I end up spending half my time wrangling stats when I could be reading. Instead, I’ll be reporting the following with each update: currently reading, currently listening to, total pages read, total time spent reading, and total time spend listening.
  • Prioritize books. For my first few readathons, I’d make a big pile of books to choose from. I’m a slow reader, though, and usually only made it through a book or two — discouraging! Now I pick a few books (usually 2-3 in print and one on audio) I really want to get to.

The sharing of snacks seems to be a favorite readathon pastime. However, I can’t eat wheat or dairy, which effectively knocks out a whole bunch of the best snack foods! So, food planning has never been a big part of the readathon for me. I don’t mind having to prep food during the event, either, as I just switch to my audiobook while I do so. That means readathon eating looks a lot like regular eating for me!

My reading spot for most of the day will be our fantastic L-shaped couch. Before we got this couch, I didn’t have a favorite reading spot — but now I most certainly do! It’s comfy enough that I can stay there all day. And the two big windows behind it (plus our sunny California weather) mean plenty of natural light to read by during the daylight hours.

As for reading companions, I will, as usual, have my cat around. This time my husband is planning to do at least part of the event with me, too, which will be fun! It’s always nice to have allies, hehe…

The Books

Here’s my readathon short list for Saturday:

Readathon picks for April 2015 (erinreads.com)

  • Diaries of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield (print) — I wanted to include something from my Classics Club list, and this one seemed like a good candidate. I’m hoping it’ll be a quicker read.
  • Everything You Ever Wanted by Jillian Lauren (print) — I received this memoir through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. It looks interesting enough to keep me going through hours of reading.
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (print) — As I looked back at October’s readathon list, I noticed this book was there, as well. I never got to it! Now I’m partway through the book, so if I need backup, this’ll probably be what I choose.
  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple (audio) — Trish’s glowing review of this audiobook prompted me to check for it at my library. My turn just came around on the wait list, so this’ll be my readathon listen!

What about you?

Will you be reading with us come Saturday? If so, which book on your list are you most looking forward to?

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I became a Sandra Gulland fan years ago, when I read her Josephine B. trilogy. It remains one of my favorite works of historical fiction. I’ve had Mistress of the Sun on my shelf for a while now and finally decided to pick it up.

About the Book:

Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland (reviewed on Erin Reads)

We first meet Louise de la Vallière — known as Petite — as a child of just six years old. She has wandered off from her father to watch a Roma woman perform on horseback, and Petite is transfixed. She finds her way to the Romas’ horses, where she falls in love with an unbroken White aptly named Diablo. Though the horse is wild and so dangerous that the Romas are willing to sell him cheap, Petite insists her father purchase the animal, and once home, she does everything in her power to tame him.

This peculiar, precocious, strong-willed, horse-loving little girl is destined to become the mistress of the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. The winding path that leads her there — and what happens when she arrives — are the subjects of Mistress of the Sun.

My Thoughts:

One of the problems with historical fiction is that you usually know (or at least suspect) how it will turn out. No matter how great the love between Louise and Louis, they remain mistress and king; they’re never going to run off into the sunset together to start a life of happiness and obscurity, no matter now badly you want them to. And so for me, really good historical fiction has to get so deeply into its characters that I don’t mind the ending being fixed.

Though both of Gulland’s narratives are absorbing, one accomplishes that character depth better than the other, in my opinion. (Perhaps it’s unfair to compare the two, but I can’t help myself!) The Josephine B. trilogy is written in the first person; Mistress of the Sun is written in a limited third that occasionally jumps to a character other than Petite. The former is styled as diary entries, whereas the latter is a straightforward narrative. And where Josephine gets three whole books in which to tell her story, Petite gets only one. The ending of neither is what I, as a reader, wanted for the characters, and yet I feel an attachment to and fondness for the Josephine books that isn’t there with Mistress of the Sun. I think that’s due in a large part to the way in which the two main characters are presented and developed.

Despite the differences I’ve just highlighted, I recognized plenty of Gulland’s hallmarks that the two works share. Both stories are dripping with historical flavor in a subtle, not-at-all-overpowering way. Gulland has a talent for working period details into the fabric of her novels, from furnishings and clothing to superstitions and vocabulary to social customs. Characters besides the main ones have depth and intrigue, standing out as individuals in what could, in other hands, be a crowded and confusing landscape of personalities. The research is careful, but the author skillfully employs her imagination as needed to smooth out gaps and fill in holes. And the writing is quite enjoyable to read.

If this review sounds negative toward Mistress of the Sun, that’s not my intention. Petite is a fascinating character, someone you root for throughout, and her life is an interesting one, to be sure. It’s less that Mistress of the Sun has any particular flaws and more that I can’t help comparing it — perhaps unfairly — to a set of novels by the same author that I fell in love with and continue to list among my favorites.

The Verdict: Enjoyable

Regardless of my obviously biased review (sorry!), I think readers who enjoy good historical fiction will find lots to like about Mistress of the Sun. It has interesting characters, a strong story, and a rich setting — even if the bonds of history do keep the ending from being what many readers may want!

Your Turn!

Have you ever found your love (or hatred) for one work by a particular author flavors how you feel about all his or her others?

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