Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Four Book Reviews from the Bestseller Puzzle Reading Challenge

Has anyone gotten under way yet with the Bestseller Puzzle Reading Challenge? It's the best kind of reading challenge because you're probably 1/3 of the way done right from the get-go. So far the highest opening score I've heard is 40 out of the possible 53. That's 75% complete, folks.

Well, I got cracking and even made a spreadsheet to track my progress because I love to cross things out. Here's a link to it, if you'd like to make edits and use it yourself.

There's even a count function at the bottom, so you can see that solid integer, and a percentage-complete calculation. Yes!

My spreadsheet will not nag you, however, like the Goodreads Challenge, to tell you you're falling behind. That's a feature, to my mind, but you can add that if you operate better under pressure and guilt.

Since the BPRC began, I've completed four books from the list and thought I'd share my Goodreads reviews with you, in case we're not Goodreads friends. If you've read any of these ones, I'd love to hear your opinion on them in the comments!

Originally published in 1952

Great to kick off the New Year with such an excellent book. It's leisurely to start, recounting pampered Princeton boy Willie Keith's entrance into the Navy during WWII, after dinking in piano bars and getting casually involved with a girl out of his class and milieu. But once Willie is on board the Caine, things get rolling, and the development of Capt Queeg's behavior, the "mutiny" and the court-martial are riveting. 
I appreciated how the book didn't take the easy way out and make things black and white. There are things no one can know until they're alone in the hot seat--before that happens, IF that even happens, everyone's a critic. Wouk recognizes this and writes a richer book for it.

Published in 1970

Well, it's a quick read with some snappy dialogue and some father-son rapprochement by the end, which I appreciated. In fact, I found the father-son business moving and the tragic love story not very compelling. Since this book came out in 1970 and was made into a movie, I hope I'm not spoiling anything to say that Erich Segal goes Nicholas-Sparksy and writes what is basically a romance and then kills someone at the end so it isn't dismissed as a "girl" romance. 
I'm glad I read it as part of the Bestseller Puzzle Reading Challenge in 2017, but I have to say, if you want to read about young lovers getting married over parental opposition and figuring things out while the fella goes to law school, Betty Smith's JOY IN THE MORNING is head-and-shoulders a better book. It's even got the wisecracking young gal and earnest young guy. No hockey, though.

Published in 2002
This beautiful collection of classic fairy tales would be enjoyed by any (adult) reader for its all-in-one-placeness and its full-color illustrations by various artists. I'd never read Puss in Boots before, nor Tom Thumb nor several lesser-known tales which have generally been left out for a reason. When you read fairy tales back to back to back, you quickly pick up on some themes, like the youngest daughter is always the most beautiful and charming, stepmothers and stepsisters suck, and ogres seem to marry normal women.
The annotations ranged from helpful: "Legend has it that storks were once men and that they returned to their human state in Egypt during the winter" to dumb and academic: "Susan M. Gilbert and Sandra Gubar try to move against the grain of conventional interpretations, which focus on the queen [in Snow White] as the source of evil. They view the queen as the consummate 'plotter, a plot-maker, a schemer, a witch, an artist" and as a woman who is "witty, wily, and self-absorbed as all artists traditionally are.'" Sigh.
I wish the illustrations within the text were bigger because the full-size pictures before and after the tales are lovely.

Published in 1944

Having never been assigned this book in middle or high school, all I can say is Wow! Orwell's allegory of communism remains pertinent, clever, occasionally funny, and even prophetic. Pick a communist government--any communist government--and you'll find parallels, though the book was written in 1944. When Napoleon the pig gives himself fancy titles and the other animals are trained to bless his name and say how much he loves them and they him, we could be in North Korea or China under Mao. Sure, everyone (but the pigs) works like a slave and has to look over his shoulder lest he be denounced, but it's still better than when it was under that human farmer, isn't it?
The other "farms" don't get off scot-free, of course, and I appreciate Orwell's point that, in any form of government, someone is in power and someone has the money. Which group that is may change, but somebody's got the goods. To believe otherwise is to have an overly idealistic concept of human nature. Folks are folks.
Note: This is the first book I had Amazon's Alexa read aloud to me, and I think I was a greater fan of it than she was. Not only did she read mechanically, with odd emphases, but every 15-30 minutes she'd just stop altogether and switch to THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA.
 That's the update! Next on the BPRC list is Uncle Tom's Cabin. Alexa may be struggling through that for the next six months...

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