2018 TBR Pile Challenge

October Checkpoint! #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers!

Here we are, in the middle of October. Suddenly, the days seem to be barreling down on us, with time quickly running out for this little challenge of ours. If you’re like me, you have a lot of reading left to do before the year’s end. Question of the Month: Since this is October, do you have any spooky/scary/creepy books on your TBR Pile Challenge list?

My Progress: 7 of 12 Completed / 5 of 12 Reviewed

I’ve now managed to read 7 of my books and am currently reading number 8. I’ve reviewed 5 so far (just need to get my thoughts down on Pudd’nhead Wilson and Good Without God! Progress from last month, then, isn’t great, but it is still progress!

My completed reads:

How are you doing?

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Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated! At the end of the challenge, all entries will go into one big raffle for the $50 book prize!

MINI-CHALLENGE #4 WINNER

Congratulations to Barbara H., who was the randomly selected winner of Mini-Challenge #4! Barbara will receive one book of her choice ($20 USD or less) to be selected from The Book Depository.

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS

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2018 TBR Pile Challenge

September Checkpoint! #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Somehow, while the summer days flew by and the new school year began, and while the cool iced drinks began to give way to the return of all things Pumpkin Spice, another month passed for our challenge, too, which means we now only have 3 months left! How did this happen?

Last month, I challenged all of us to get 200 reviews written and linked-up with the Mister Linky widget below. Guess what? We did it! Currently, we have 212 reviews posted and linked. Congratulations, everyone! CAN WE GO FOR 250 BY OCTOBER 15TH!?

Question of the Month: What is your ideal reading environment/atmosphere? Where & when do you typically read, and how do you get yourself “settled” into it? 

My Progress: 6 of 12 Completed / 5 of 12 Reviewed

I’ve read 6 of my books and am currently reading number 7. I’ve reviewed 5 so far (just need to get my thoughts down on Pudd’nhead Wilson!) Now, you might be thinking, “that sounds awfully familiar to what he posted last month.” Well, yeah, it certainly does!

Things really slowed down with the start of the semester. When I teach literature courses, I tend to re-read the books I’m teaching along with my students, which takes up some of my own personal reading time. (Most of it, to be honest.) It was great to re-read Pride and Prejudice last week, for example, but it meant I only read about 20 pages of my current challenge book! 

My completed reads:

How are you doing?

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Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated! At the end of the challenge, all entries will go into one big raffle for the $50 book prize! 

MINI-CHALLENGE #4

It is time for our last mini-challenge of the year! The winner for this one will be announced on October 15th and he/she will receive a book of choice ($20USD or less) from The Book Depository. Then, we wrap-up in December and all entries through December 15th go into the raffle for the BIG final prize. 

This month, I would like to challenge you all to visit one another’s blogs and recommend a book based on something the other participant has read! In other words, check out the Mister Linky list of reviews to see what people have read/reviewed, see what comes to mind when you read some of the titles, and then visit a couple/few of those posts to comment with your other reading suggestions. Please come back here to leave the links to your comments. Make sense? Have fun! (and good luck!)

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS 

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2018 TBR Pile Challenge

August Checkpoint! #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

We’ve reached month eight in our TBR Pile Challenge, which means we are now in the final quarter of the event! (It also means, for me, fall semester begins in less than two weeks — where did the summer go!?) I hope you’re all enjoying the challenge, the monthly check-ins and questions, and any reading that you’re doing from your own lists; I have to admit, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my own choices.

Last month, I challenged all of us to get 200 reviews written and linked-up with the Mister Linky widget below. It looks like we almost made it, so great job! We’re sitting at 193 at the moment. 

Question of the Month: Have you challenged yourself with a genre outside of your “comfort zone” this year? Did you read non-fiction when you’re usually a fiction person? Try a collection of poetry when you normally prefer prose? A classic, when you prefer contemporary YA? 

My Progress: 6 of 12 Completed / 5 of 12 Reviewed

Didion-WhiteI’ve read 6 of my books and am currently reading number 7. I’ve reviewed 5 so far (just need to get my thoughts down on Pudd’nhead Wilson!) As of last month, I was sitting at 4 books read and reviewed, so I am feeling pretty good about the progress I made in the last 30 days, and I hope I can continue to read these regularly so that I complete all 14 on my list by year’s end. Here’s hoping! 

Of course, with the new semester starting, most of my time goes back to prepping classes, grading papers, and doing the reading (re-reading) I need to do for my classes, especially the literature courses. I’ve got six novels to re-read this semester while teaching them, and they are all personal favorites (hooray!), but that said, it will take away from my own new/pleasure reading. 

My completed reads:

How are you doing?

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Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated! At the end of the challenge, all entries will go into one big raffle for the $50 book prize! 

MINI-CHALLENGE #3 WINNER

Congratulations to Jean at Howling Frog Books, whose comment last month was randomly drawn as the winner of Mini-Challenge #3. She will receive a book of her choice, up to $20USD, from The Book Depository

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS 

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2018 TBR Pile Challenge, American Lit, Classics, Contemporary, Creative Non-Fiction, Essay, Joan Didion, Non-Fiction

“Joansing” for Didion

While Halloween has always held a coveted spot in my heart and imagination, the truth is, I used to get almost as excited for the 4thof July. It was like the summertime version of my favorite autumn day, where the rules were bent and the pure joy of living was the day’s entire purpose. I distinctly remember people from my childhood commenting about my love for this holiday, and about how patriotic I must have been. But that was never the reality.

What I loved were the barbecues and the being outside with friends all day, playing kickball and having water balloon fights, and getting so bloated on hot dogs and ice cream that I thought I’d burst before the big city fireworks show. I loved the morning parade, being in it as a Boy Scout and, when Boy Scout days were over, arising early to save the family seats along the sidewalk, close enough to grab candy and other goodies from the parade participants.

And I can still hear the sound of the ice cream truck, softly in the distance. I can see my friends’ faces as they heard it too; we’d look at each other at just the right moment, realizing it was time to pause the game, rush home to beg for a dollar, and then get back out into the street in time to stop the truck as he came tinkling down the road. But more than anything, it was the fireworks.

Reading Joan Didion is like reading the 4th of July. It is fireworks in my brain and sitting down with an old friend to chat about and think about everything and nothing, and leaving exhausted by the pure and exhilarating experience of being together again. There’s no special magic to fireworks, once you learn they’re little more than powder, a match, and some cleverly timed fuses. In the same way, one can “figure out” the technical and creative style of Didion in order to explain just how she does what she does, and why it is so compelling. But even now, that knowledge, about fireworks and Didion, remains subliminal, and I continue to be, above all, caught up in the spectacle, in the color and rhythm and choreography of it all.

The White Album is a collection of essays written in the “aftermaths of the 1960s.” Her subject matter ranges from personalities like Doris Lessing to events like the Manson murders. What holds it all together is the skeptical and, in hindsight, sobering but accurate perspective of an often-mistaken view about the United States’ “greatest decade.” Didion takes an unflinching look at the optimism of the 1960s, the supposed freedoms, and the many breakdowns and reckonings of that idealism, the unmasking, as it were, of one decade by its disillusioned successor, the 1970s.

In the first essay, from which the collection takes its title, Didion writes, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live . . . we look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” In other words, the writer’s work at this time was to try to make sense of the senseless, and the 1970s more than any other time revealed that, sometimes, the narrative is simply wrong.

In later essays, she writes about architecture, like governors’ mansions and museums, as signifiers of our culture’s shaken and superficial, even misleading, view of our own past. In “The Getty,” for example, she writes, “the Getty tells us that the past was perhaps different from the way we like to perceive it.” If the collection has one unifying theme, it is this critique on what we Americans think we know about our own past, and how quickly truth and reality seem to slip through our fingers. To read this collection now, in 2018, is a particularly painful and humbling experience.

One of the most under-rated essays in the collection is its last, “Quiet Days in Malibu.” In a way, this piece, written between 1976-1978, is the logical concluding piece not just because it comes near the end chronologically, but because Didion writes about the personal experience of living in Malibu in order to reveal that it, too—the reality of her hometown—is different from how it is perceived by those who live outside of it. Malibu, California has an aura about it that relates to nothing real, according to Didion, just as the 1970s exposed the truth of the 1960s, puncturing its aura forever. Aptly, and somewhat ironically, at the center of her experience in this essay is an immigrant who runs a local flower shop for decades. His are some of the most expensive, sought-after plants in the world and, like everything else, their position is precarious. Danger and uncertainty, instability and tragedy, are always lurking. And yet, so is hope—inexplicable, untraceable, blind hope.

I adore Didion’s writing, so beware my bias. That said, this is perhaps her most tightly themed collection. Despite an essay or two with which I had some intellectual or emotional disagreement (there is one titled “The Women’s Movement” that left me feeling more than conflicted), I felt a fierce and powerful sense of grounded awe while reading these essays and after finishing the collection. This is what I’ve come to expect, personally, from my time with Joan Didion.

The rocket’s red glare. The bombs bursting in air.


This was the fifth book read for my TBR Pile Challenge.


All work found on roofbeamreader.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.


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2018 TBR Pile Challenge

July Checkpoint! #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

We are now 7-months into the best reading challenge of all-time! (Yes, I might be biased.) I am thrilled to see that we’ve got 160+ reviews already posted! I know a lot of you have made some amazing progress on your lists and others are, like me, struggling a bit. Wherever you are at this point, good on you! The first goal is to have fun and to read some good books, right? The bonus is being able to finally knock some of those long-lingering books from your shelves. Even one or two is a win! 

We didn’t quite hit last month’s goal, so how about a re-do? It is summer after all. Do I dare challenge you all to get us to TWO HUNDRED linked-up reviews by the next checkpoint? Let’s try! 

Question of the Month: If you could recommend one book that you have read from your TBR Pile list this year, which one would it be and why? 


My Progress: 4 of 12 Completed / 4 of 12 Reviewed

Didion-WhiteI’ve read and reviewed 4 of my 12 required books. Yeah, you read that right. I’m way behind. I’ve made zero progress since last month. I’m going to commit right now to reading and reviewing AT LEAST TWO more from my list by next checkpoint, though, because that will put me to the half-way mark, which is something. The semester also starts up again in late-August, at which point all bets are off and I’ll be lucky to read one book a month. 

Over the next month, I should have time for reading and writing. I especially hope to get to these books on my “Summer Reading List,” some of which are on my TBR challenge list and some of which are on my Classics Club list. As for my TBR Pile challenge, the next two books I have coming up are: Joan Didion’s The White Album and Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. Wish me luck!

My completed reads:

How are you doing?

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Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated! At the end of the challenge, all entires will go into one big raffle for the $50 book prize! 

MINI-CHALLENGE #3

As promised last month, this month’s checkpoint comes with another mini-challenge! There is just one requirement: read a book from your list, write a review for it, and link-it up! When you’ve done this, go ahead and leave a comment right here on this post to let everyone know you’ve made some progress and are eligible for the mini-challenge prize! Speaking of which, one randomly selected “winner” will receive a book of their choice, up to $20USD, from The Book Depository. Good luck and happy reading! 

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS 

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2018 TBR Pile Challenge

June Checkpoint! #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

WE ARE HALF-WAY INTO THE CHALLENGE! Can you believe it? I am suddenly feeling all, “oh crap!” about this. HA! Anyway, we have 100+ participants this year, with 145+ reviews already posted! That’s some pretty good reading and writing, y’all.

I hope you’re having a good time making progress through your own TBR piles. Do I dare challenge you all to get us to TWO HUNDRED linked-up reviews by the next checkpoint? Can we do this!?

Question of the Month

Have you discovered any new-to-you authors that you absolutely love, now? If so, who is the author and what’s the next book of theirs that you hope to read? 

My Progress: 4 of 12 Completed / 4 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read and reviewed 4 of my 12 required books. I’ve made very little reading progress from my list since May, although I did at least get one more review written. I was caught up in reading a bunch of interesting things, like Stephen King’s latest, The Outsider and some history and philosophy, which I’ve been barreling into quite a bit lately. 

Over the next 7 weeks or so, I should have plenty of extra time for reading and writing. I especially hope to get to these books on my “Summer Reading List,” some of which are on my TBR challenge list and some of which are on my Classics Club list. As for my TBR Pile challenge, the next two books I have coming up are: Joan Didion’s The White Album and Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. I should get to both of these this summer, which will get me to 6 of 12. Nowhere near as far as I’d hoped, but oh well! 

How are you doing?

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Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

MINI-CHALLENGE #2 WINNER

The winner of last month’s mini-challenge was Joel from I Would Rather Be Reading, who chose a copy of Italo Calvino’s THE BARON IN THE TREES as his prize. Congratulations, Joel! To everyone else, keep up the great reading & look for our next mini-challenge in July!

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS 

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2018 TBR Pile Challenge, Amy Tan, astrophysics, Book Review, Education, Fiction, Non-Fiction, Parker J. Palmer, physics, Potpour-reads, Stephen Hawking, Teaching

Teaching, Physics, and The Joy Luck Club

Potpour-reads: Palmer, Hawking, and Tan

For a variety of reasons, from end of semester madness to poor time management and general laziness, I find I’ve fallen behind on SIX book reviews. Despite the loftiest of plans, I’ve decided that, no, I’m not going to sit here and write full-length reviews for each of these. Instead, I’m separating the books into two “potpour-reads” posts, each with brief thoughts on three books. That should get me caught up in time to finish The Outsiders and, perhaps, write a good old-fashioned review for that one. (Or perhaps not? Who knows, anymore!?) Anyway, I’m calling these “potpour-reads” because these six books span a variety of topics and genres, without rhyme or reason, and I have no intention of trying to make them “fit” any particular perspective. So, let’s grab-bag it, shall we? Thanks, Jeopardy, for the idea!

The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer

This one was selected as a group read among some fellow faculty members at the college where I teach. I was apparently somewhat over-eager in reading the entire book right away, not realizing that we were going to take it in very small bits and pieces (we chose the book last October and have, so far, only discussed the introduction – but I read the entire book in February, I think. Maybe it was March? I could look it up, but I’m not going to). This one was also on my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge list because I knew we would be reading it as a group, so it should have been a pretty easy “win” for me. And it was, except that I waited months to sit down and write out any thoughts on it, and at this point I’ve pretty much forgotten most of it. On the bright side, given the way my colleagues are tackling the book, I’ll definitely be able to go back and read it chapter-by-chapter, as they are, for discussion. This will allow me to more thoughtfully digest and discuss it. My first impressions of the book were moderate, to be honest. I found a lot of what Palmer says to be quite relevant to what I do in my profession, especially in considering the ups-and-downs of any classroom. That said, much of the book’s points seemed repetitive to me, and there is a kind of forced optimism about it. I am one of those bizarre educators who think that teaching is a calling, not a career, and that is the kind of audience this book hopes to reach. Still, given the kind of semester I was having while reading the book, I couldn’t help but pick apart every pie-in-the-sky suggestion or anecdote. The chapters were also very long and not diverse enough in theme. I did appreciate how each chapter begins with a kind of philosophical thought about education, from profound thinkers of the past. It certainly added to my reading list, if nothing else. I wish I could remember more about the book so as to give it a richer review (and it probably deserves one), but it has all simply fallen out of my head. Verdict: 3.0 out of 5.0.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

I first read this book in high school and understood about 10% of it at the time. I re-read the book after Hawking’s passing because I knew I hadn’t understood much of it that first time and because I felt the need to sit with Stephen Hawking now that he has passed on from our world. Ironic how that always seems to happen, with those we know personally and those we don’t. I would like to say I understood a good part of the book this time around, but if I’m being honest, I think I can allow myself a generous, oh, 44%. I certainly understood more of the words this time around, and some of the concepts, but much like Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, this book tends to go over one’s head, especially if one’s background in science ended with college general education requirements more than a decade ago. Still, I have always enjoyed Stephen Hawking’s narrative voice and his sense of humor. He does make one want to learn, and that is more than I can say of a lot of science writers. A Brief History of Time does an extraordinary job of awakening the awe in its reader, of making even a jaded adult reader feel that childlike wonder again, which I think is part of why Hawking wrote the book in the first place. Because it is a feeling he never lost, despite how much he knew about quarks and black holes and all that. Interestingly, what I did not remember about this book is how wide-open Hawking leaves the door. He explains a lot of what we know for sure, yes, but he also delights in everything we do not know, which far outweighs the thing we do know. This is a book I will probably return to time and again, although I think my next step will be to read the supposedly even more accessible, A Briefer History of Time, which Hawking wrote after realizing that almost nobody understood this first one. Verdict: 4.0 out of 5.0. 

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I read this one for my Classics Club challenge. It is book 13 of 50 completed for that list, and I’m glad to have read it, finally. Here’s what I can remember about the book (and this is the kind of review I’m destined to write when I try reading during difficult and busy semesters, and without taking any notes. What was I thinking?). Anyhow, again, what I remember: I enjoyed the book. Yahoo! My first impression was that it felt a bit cold, but ultimately, I think that is part of the point. The story covers the relationship between mothers and daughters, all of whom are connected in the narrative’s present-day San Francisco Chinatown. The mothers are all immigrants and they try to navigate lives of split-identities, part of them still in their hometowns in China, part of them here in the United States. Their daughters often struggle to understand, and the daughters and mothers each fail to communicate those differences effectively. There’s a kind of gulf that seems both impossible to bridge and yet deeply, psychologically understood. An ancient “knowing” still exists in the daughters, one that helps them to understand and appreciate their mothers, all the while existing in a society that doesn’t quite belong to them, and even less so to their parents. As more and more of the mothers’ histories becomes clear, the daughters find themselves even more intricately and confusingly interconnected. I found The Joy Luck Club to be interesting in its exploration of the immigrant experience, and I especially appreciated that the four mothers’ experiences in China were so wholly different; these different backgrounds opened up new worlds to me, one who is admittedly rather ignorant of Chinese culture and history. There is a sensitive treatment of mythology (superstition?) as well, though I know some readers have taken issue with how the mothers’ beliefs seem stereotypical and perhaps offensive. To be honest, I cannot speak to this debate because I simply don’t know enough about it. If the debate has merit, though, then perhaps one concession might be that it made this reader, at least, want to know more about these people, and their cultures and histories and stories. Verdict: 4.5 out of 5.0. 

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