2018 TBR Pile Challenge

May Checkpoint! #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Yahoo! Welcome to the 5th checkpoint for our 2018 TBR Pile Challenge. We have 100+ participants this year, with 115+ reviews already posted! That’s some pretty good reading and writing (about one book each? Maybe that’s not so great…. but here comes summer!)

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

If you had the chance to swap ONE book from your list right now, what would you take off your list and what would you add to it? I’ll leave my own answer in the comments. 

My Progress: 4 of 12 Completed / 3 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read 4 of my 12 required books and have reviewed 3 of them. I’ve been stuck here since the last checkpoint, which is making me pretty anxious. I really wanted to be further into my list, and I DEFINITELY wanted to have that 4th book at least reviewed by now.

Unfortunately, the last 4 weeks have been the last month of the spring semester, which is always a busy time. I just finished grading 100+ research papers and 100+ final projects. I’m down now, though, and even though I will be teaching this summer, 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

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 will receive one book of his choice ($15 USD) from The Book Depository. 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

April Checkpoint! #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Yahoo! We’re 25% of the way into the TBR Pile Challenge and it is now time for our second mini-challenge with giveaway! We have 100+ participants this year, with nearly 90 reviews posted already. This is fantastic! I hope you’re having a good time making progress through your own TBR piles. 

Question of the Month

Have you discovered any new favorite authors as a result of the TBR Pile Challenge? Read an author you’ve never read before but definitely want to again? Share! 

My Progress: 4 of 12 Completed / 3 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read 4 of my 12 required books and have reviewed 3 of them. This is good progress, I think, but I’m feeling a bit disappointed that I haven’t made any progress since last month. Oh well! 4 of 12 = 33%, which means I am still technically ahead of schedule since we’re just now hitting the 25% marker. That said, I do want to read both of my alternate books, which means I’m really aiming for a “14 out of 12” completion. Summer is coming and the odds are I will completely most, if not all, of my challenge between mid-May and mid-August. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I have a feeling I’ll get to at least 6 of my challenge books during that time. Come on, summer! 

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

As I mentioned in the Announcement post, there are four mini-challenges planned for this year. Our fourth checkpoint also brings with it the second mini-challenge!

Here’s the plan: Visit this link to see the list of linked-up participants. Travel around and leave a comment (or two, or five) with some encouragement for this challenge. Then, when you’re done, come on back to this post and comment with a link to the blog where you left your encouragement.

Everyone who spreads a little cheer and positivity on another challenger’s post(s) will be entered to win a book of choice, up to $15 USD, from The Book Depository! Comments need to be posted and linked-up here before our next checkpoint on May 15th, and the winner, drawn randomly from the collection of comments, will be announced in the May checkpoint post. Only those who registered for the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge by January 15th are eligible to participate in these challenges and/or to win any of the TBR Pile prizes. 

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS 

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2018 TBR Pile Challenge

March Checkpoint! #TBR2018RBR

Greetings, Challengers!

So, here we are in our third month of the TBR Pile Challenge – 25% of the way done! I am pleased to announce that we have 60+ book reviews linked up in our Mr. Linky widget (below). Nice work! Can we get another 30 this month?

As a reminder, the winner of the first Mini-Challenge was Fanda from Fanda Classiclit! Fanda won a book of her choice ($20USD) from The Book Depository. She chose a copy of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, in honor of Dickens’s birthday. Enjoy, Fanda! Our second mini-challenge with prize will happen in April! 

Question of the Month

This month’s question is simple: what’s the best book you’ve read so far this year? (It could be from this challenge, but it doesn’t need to be). If you feel so inclined, you might also share which has been your worst read of the year (any DNFs?) 

My Progress: 4 of 12 Completed / 3 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read 4 of my 12 required books. At the moment, I’m confident that I will be able to read and review all 14 books on my TBR Pile Challenge list this year! I’m excited about that because I’m usually playing catch-up at the end of the year. What has been more challenging, though, is getting my reviews written in a reasonable timeframe. I have four books sitting in a pile to be reviewed, a couple of recent ones but a couple from weeks ago. This becomes a real challenge because the more time goes by, the less I can remember about what I meant to say about the book in the first place! Uh oh. I guess I have a new goal for myself… write my reviews within a few days of finishing the book(s)? 

Books Read So Far:

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!

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS

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2018 TBR Pile Challenge, Book Review, Dystopia, Ernest Cline, Fiction, Science-Fiction

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One was first published by Broadway Books in 2011. I’ve had it on my “to be read” pile for about six years and finally decided to read it as part of my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge because the movie adaptation is releasing this March. The story is set in the United States, in the year 2044. The world is a bleak and dismal place. War, disease, and famine has become a world-wide problem. Economic, social, and government institutions have all but collapsed, and income inequality is at its greatest levels of all-time. Despite these problems, technological advancements have continued and the new ideal world is one called the “OASIS,” a virtual space unlike any we could currently imagine, where people can be whomever they choose. People can meet and get married in the OASIS, children go to school and earn their diplomas through the OASIS. It is a beautiful and powerful opportunity and, as it turns out, also deadly dangerous. When the creator of the OASIS dies, leaving behind an immeasurable fortune plus control of his company, an international, play-to-the-death quest begins. The first person who can solve each riddle and beat each boss, wins it all. Billions of dollars. Total control of the OASIS. But despite years and years of effort by individuals, groups, and corporations, the scoreboard remains empty. Empty, that is, until one lonely, poor, awkward geek named Wade Watts, AKA Parzival, figures out the first test and beats it. Then all hell breaks loose.

Ernest Cline’s style is effective in creating this science-fictionalized, virtual reality cross-over world, where people exist in two places simultaneously, sometimes as themselves but often not. He creates great tension in the idea of this universal split-personality, where everyone is someone else and where people are often only truly honest in the virtual world. The tone, too, is appropriate given the content and topic. Cline writes with a kind of frenetic irreverence that suits the abundance of geeky reference, nerd history, and 1980s pop culture that permeates the narrative. It is crystal clear who this story is about and what kind of audience will be attracted to it, though I don’t think the book will be appreciated only by self-professed geeks like me. This is because the prose itself is engaging, the pace is fast but not overwhelming, and the two worlds being created are delicately balanced and well-treated so that both seem believable, each with its own graces and terrors.

THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS SECTION. One of the most common and powerful critiques I’ve read from other reviewers about this book is its lack of characterization or problematic issue with stereotyping, and I get it; there might be some problems here. First, though, I want to start with what I think was a great strength for this novel’s characterization: the antagonists. The bad guys. They are so realistically normal, and so realistically evil, in that deeply human way, that I found them horrifying and compelling at the same time. What is the nature of their evil? Greed and a consuming desire for power. That said, some reviewers have pointed out weaknesses in character development, as when Wade Watts, having fallen in love with a girl, realizes that he is overweight and thus commences to get in shape (the process of which is described in just a few sentences so, sure, that’s a bit unrealistic). The rather fanciful and laughably easy weight-loss/fitness process aside, I’m not sure what the primary resistance is to that character’s impulse. How many of us, especially when we were young, tried to modify our appearance to impress a person we were interested in romantically? I appreciate that the “message” isn’t great, but is it unrealistic?

In addition, some have argued that Ready Player One is just another cis-white-het-male fantasy because the protagonist is a white heterosexual male. Do we need more diversity in fictional protagonists? Yes, particularly in the still male-dominated genres of science-fiction and fantasy. That said, I can’t fault a good novel and its interesting-if-flawed hero because of the fact that he is a straight white male. I also appreciated the diversity of his friendships (though, as I will discuss in a moment, reviewers have found plenty to fault there, too).

SPOILER AHEAD. I’ve also read critiques about the way Cline draws some of the diverse characters: Art3mis, Aech, Daito, and Shoto (OASIS character names for real people). Wade’s best friend in the OASIS is Aech, whose character is a heterosexual male but who, it turns out, is a black lesbian woman in real life. When the two finally meet, Wade is taken aback for a moment, and then they have a good laugh and carry on like the best friends they are. Some have taken issue with the fact that Wade was shocked by Aech’s real gender/race/sexuality, and others have said the character was drawn that way to tic all the “diversity” boxes. I simply didn’t read it that way. To me, seeing a straight white teenage male discover his best friend is a black lesbian woman, and then shrug it off as entirely unimportant, was a welcome and powerful statement, especially in the science-fiction genre which remains heavily heteronormative.

SPOILER AHEAD: There have been complaints, too, about Daito and Shoto being stereotyped by their race. There are a few pages where the two, plus Wade, repeatedly mention the word “honor” as in, was someone’s actions honorable or not. At first glance, I could see how this might come across as racist: you’re drawing Japanese characters and scripting them with cheesy samurai film clichés? But, wait. Daito and Shoto identify as samurai. They talk about honor because they care about honor. I’m not convinced that this is the author being lazy or making a racist mistake in narration or dialogue; to me, it is an expression of what is important to the two characters themselves, and it aligns with their backgrounds and their other actions throughout the novel. (But do Parzival and Art3mis both need to repeat it in the span of a few pages? No, probably not – I hear you, there.)

SPOILER AHEAD: Lastly, I’ve read criticisms about the love-interest, Art3mis, and the development of Wade’s and Art3mis’s relationship. Some have said she “succumbs” too quickly in the end, after rejecting his advances for so long. I’m again on the opposite side of this debate, I guess. The two were the top competitors in a prize that would change not just their own lives, but the entire world. Art3mis took the smart route, which was to focus on the tasks at hand. Wade couldn’t get past his feelings for her. What’s wrong with either of these responses? And who is to say that, once the competition ends, particularly given all that the two go through and all that Wade does for Art3mis, Aech, and the others in the real world, where all of their lives are at risk, the two wouldn’t come together after all?

Ultimately, I do agree that characterization is the weaker element for this novel. I think there’s enough to make us care about Wade’s success and about the fate of his friends, but there are also things that happen too quickly or perhaps go without enough explanation. Wade, too, makes some decisions which leave us wondering whether or not we should be thinking of him as a hero, but as Aristotle suggests, an effective hero is mostly admirable and to be rooted for, but he is not necessarily perfect.

The Huffington Post calls Ready Player One, “The Grown-Up’s Harry Potter.” This isn’t quite right. Although there are some comparisons between the Muggle/Wizarding world and the Real/OASIS worlds, and between the orphaned lives of Harry Potter and Wade Watts, Ready Player One is much more of a realistic science-fiction novel than it is a fantasy. As a child of the 1980s, and a self-confirmed geek, I saw much more of Stranger Things in this novel. It’s a dystopian thriller for contemporary society. And I loved it. Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

Ready Player One is Book 3 completed for my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge

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2018 TBR Pile Challenge

February Checkpoint #TBR2018RBR

Greetings, Challengers!

Congratulations! We have reached the second checkpoint and I am pleased to announce that we have 30+ book reviews linked up in our Mr. Linky widget (below). Nice work! Can we get another 30 this month?

I’m also thrilled to announce the winner of the first Mini-Challenge: Fanda from Fanda Classiclit! Fanda won a book of her choice ($20USD) from The Book Depository. She chose a copy of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, in honor of Dickens’s birthday. Enjoy, Fanda! 

Question of the Month

What are your strategies for staying on top of your reading goals? Do you keep a bullet journal or other kind of planner? Do you aim for a certain number of books per week, per month? Do you just “wing it” and let whatever happens, happen? Tell us your secrets!

My Progress: 3 of 12 Completed / 2 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read 3 of my 12 required books. At the moment, I’m feeling pretty confident that I will be able to read and review all 14 books on my TBR Pile Challenge list this year! I’m pretty excited about that, although, to be honest, my two year-long projects have been suffering a bit since the semester started in mid-January. I need to stick to my commitment of pacing myself this year so that I can keep up with both of those projects (reading and writing) while also keeping up with my challenge list and other pleasure reading. It’s always a balancing act, isn’t it!?

Books Read So Far:

How are you doing?

index

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!

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS

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2018 TBR Pile Challenge, Aristotle, Classics, Criticism, Essay, Philosophy

Aristotle’s Poetics

What can I say about Aristotle’s Poetics that has not already been said, and by those much more capable? Certainly, despite being just a collection of drafts and journal entries, this is one of the most significant, relevant, and pervasive pieces of literary criticism in the western tradition. It continues to influence readers and scholars alike. While some have said the work is difficult to read and understand, I thought the Malcolm Heath translation (Penguin Classics 1996) was excellent, and the Introduction even better.

Heath takes Aristotle’s Poetics chapter-by-chapter, explaining what each of the core concepts is in any given part of the text, then elaborating with details, explanations, and contemporary context, which makes the original text much more readable. It was particularly helpful to read the introduction because the translation itself dropped some of the original language, without reference. For example, mimesis, hamartia, and katharsis, three incredibly important terms in literary criticism (including the study of rhetoric, drama, and narrative), are addressed by descriptions of their functions, only, and the translated terms (imitation, error, and purification) are what is given in the text itself. This is one of the few flaws I found in the translation because, presumably, anyone reading this text is doing so for edification on the topics of literary study and should hopefully be aware of the Greek terms that we continue to use in conversation of these topics, even 2,000-plus years later.  

That slight blip aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Aristotle’s Poetics. The majority of his musings are about dramatic tragedy, particularly in comparison to dramatic comedy, which he finds a lesser art form. That said, much of what he describes also applies to the study of narrative fiction and storytelling more generally. His methods of analysis, too, are fascinating in that they illustrate how one might go about “doing” the work of literary criticism, not to mention that his insights provide excellent food for thought regarding the dramas he analyzes himself (such as works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Homer). Of the utmost interest is the idea that readers (more appropriately: audiences) derive pleasure from what are often painful emotions related to tragedies: fear, anger, loss, disappointment, etc. This, of course, leads to Aristotle’s explanation of catharsis and supports his argument that the cathartic experience of reading emotional works or witnessing an emotional play (of a specific type, at a specific sophistication, and for a certain privileged kind of audience) is the reason why storytelling is so powerful and effective.

One of the most unique and compelling aspects of Aristotle’s analysis, for me, has to do with the study of character, and what makes a “good” character. Aristotle claims that the character needs to be moral, but not perfect. He should be believable in his purposes and his struggles, but should also be “better” than we are, so that we can look to him as one to admire and so that we react rightly when said character falls. I think of the kinds of books I most often respond to, and they do indeed tend to have characters that are flawed but noble, that often fail but do great good (either actually or didactically/philosophically). In treating my thoughts on characterization in book reviews, I will try to consider Aristotle’s perspectives a bit more closely.

Aristotle also explains the function of plot and describes which are better or worse, depending on their constructions and outcomes. He describes “ordered structure” for example, and the idea that even in chaos, there must be some kind of realistic expectation for the events that are occurring. In other words, a character/reader/audience might be surprised by something that happens, but whatever it is that happens must be probable to the situation at hand. This is somehow both an obvious observation but also a profound one: how many plots have run afoul because the author seemed to throw in some plot device or tangent that made no sense and that could have been removed without influencing the story whatsoever? Everything must have a purpose. Whereas I found the exploration on character interesting from my perspective as a reader, I find this analysis of effective plots invaluable when thinking about my work as a writer.

The last element I found most fascinating, though I am skipping plenty that is interesting for the sake of brevity and because I simply did not conduct an academic reading on this text, is the idea of language. Aristotle criticizes some of his contemporaries who balked at the fact that some poets were using colloquial language. He writes that “the most important quality in diction is clarity, provided there is no loss of dignity” and adds that “the clearest diction is that based on current words” (36). He argues that the best language is that which is “some kind of mixture” of diction that is both clear and out of the ordinary, traditional and inventive. In many ways, I think this argument presages what Shakespeare would do in retelling familiar stories but couching it in the language of the people, even going so far as to invent much of the language he needed because it simply didn’t exist yet (or didn’t fit into his rhyme scheme). It is heartening to think that Aristotle, one of the foremost minds in all of western philosophy and an authority on language, was not an old fuddy-duddy.  

Aristotle’s Poetics is book 2 completed for my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge

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2018 TBR Pile Challenge

January Checkpoint #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Yahoo! It’s time for our very first Checkpoint (with mini-challenge #1 — see below). We have 100+ participants this year, which is pretty awesome considering the challenge was on hiatus for two years. I’m inspired by all of your interest and commitment – reading is awesome, isn’t it?

Question of the Month

Which book on your 2018 list has been on your shelf the longest? (Best guess is fine!) The one I’ve owned the longest is The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, and I’m excited to say that it was the first book I read and reviewed for this year’s challenge! 

My Progress: 2 of 12 Completed / 1 of 12 Reviewed

So far, I’ve read 2 of my 12 required books. I’m feeling pretty great about that because the new semester starts tomorrow and I never have a whole lot of time for pleasure reading while school is in session. I plan (really, I do!) to read all 14 of the books on my list this year, the main 12 plus my 2 alternates, so getting a jump-start on this list before spring semester began was important. Books read:

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 #1

As I mentioned in the Announcement post, there are four mini-challenges planned for this year. Our first checkpoint also brings with it the first mini-challenge!

Here’s the plan: Visit this link to see the list of linked-up participants. Travel around and leave a comment (or two, or five) with some encouragement for this new year and new challenge. Then, when you’re done, come on back to this post and comment with a link to the blog where you left your encouragement.

Everyone who spreads a little cheer and positivity on another challenger’s post(s) will be entered to win a book of choice, up to $15 USD, from The Book Depository! Comments need to be posted and linked-up here by the end of January and the winner, drawn randomly from the collection of comments, will be announced in the February checkpoint post. Only those who registered for the 2018 TBR Pile Challenge by January 15th are eligible to participate in these challenges and/or to win any of the TBR Pile prizes. 

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS 

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