Reporting from Mount TBR (March Edition)

I always start my reading year with very specific goals. By March, I tend to know whether or not it’s going well or not. In regards to my TBR reading project, I’m happy to report an ongoing commitment. Books are disappearing from my shelves—even though I’m not reading as much as I usually do.

I’ve been trying to read less for two years now. Not because I don’t have time or I don’t enjoy reading. After reading close to 250 books a year for the past five or six years in what I can only describe as a feverish attempt to read everything ever published before I die, I’m tired. Also, I have found I sometimes don’t remember what I’ve read, even though I track every book. In the past year alone, I went to add two books only to discover they were already there.

I think, in part, Goodreads was to blame for my race to the end. Setting a numeric goal every year and watching the status bar inch toward completion was satisfying. But if I fell behind, I’d have mini panic attacks and start looking for shorter reads to make up the numbers. Last year was the most ridiculous yet. I set a goal of only 100 books (only 100?) to try to alleviate this pressure. Once I passed 100, I watched the overage percent rise, meaning I was still counting and still (sort of) panicking about this arbitrary goal.

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Yet Another List

There have been a rash of lists floating around out there, each hoping to infect some unsuspecting reader. It’s the season of lists, it seems, and I keep stumbling across them. I pay particular attention to the science fiction and fantasy sort… because I have opinions.

Here’s what I think about 50 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels That Everyone Should Read compiled by Flavorwire

What I love:

The limitations they put on the list. One book per author, a light skew toward YA which represents only the books adults should pick up if they missed them and an airy acknowledgement that this is not The List. There is no definitive list. This is simply the one the editors of Flavorwire have put together.

Awesome inclusions:

Ubik by Philip K. Dick is on the list. As mentioned, any of Dick’s novels would qualify, but I love that they chose this one. It’s, if those who know the book will pardon my pun, an ubiquitous choice. Read this, and you’ll have read Philip K. Dick, pretty definitively.

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney is on the list! This is a seriously good book. Trippy as all get out and totally obscure. More people need to read this book.

Frankenstein. Just one of those books that should be on every list. Everyone has heard of this story. Even people who have never of J.R.R. Tolkien and the pervasive influence of his little collection of books has heard of Frankenstein. It’s an important book.

Octavia Butler is represented. I’d have chosen Parable of the Sower, but only because I’ve read it. And loved it.

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Top Tens: Novels

As expected, I had a difficult time choosing only ten books to stand as my favourite novels. The first problem I encountered was a purely logistic one. Out of the 1200 or so books I have listed on GoodReads, 191 have a five star rating. I had to choose ten. Logically, I needed to pick my favourite favourites. Logic flies out the window when confronted with a trip down memory lane, however.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein appeared twice. Not sure how or why. It is an important book; I own several copies and I knew going into this that it would have a place in the top ten. What I couldn’t quite articulate was why. I’ve read some terrible reviews. In fact, a lot of Heinlein’s books receive terrible reviews. But, the purpose of this article is not to defend a single author, or my choice of books. I will say I am somewhat hesitant to reread Stranger in a Strange Land, though. It would be terrible if it didn’t live up to my twenty year memory of it.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was not on the list. WHY? This book was utterly pivotal in my development as a reader. It changed my life, which is much the reason Stranger in a Strange Land is on the list, not once, but twice. A visit to my library answered the question. I don’t actually own a copy. WHY? Even though many of the books I’ve listed on GoodReads were library books or remembered reads, it’s a ghastly oversight.

Such issues aside, I still had nearly two hundred books to consider. Some could possibly be downgraded to four stars. Looking back, I remembered being captured at the time, but the memory wasn’t as fond. I’d read something better since. By the same token, some of the titles in the four star list could be upgraded. But again, that was not my purpose.

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Review: Man and Boy

Man and Boy, by Tony Parsons
(Touchstone, May 2001. Paperback, 368 pages)

Man and Boy by Tony Parsons is the story of how a man becomes a father to his son, and a son to a father. The affection Harry feels for his family, all of it, is obvious from the first page. As evident is Harry’s sense of self. He comes to realise that what he feels isn’t always enough, though.  Approaching his thirtieth birthday, Harry is lost in between. He is no longer a child, but does not feel properly mature. He is married, but is unsure what that means. He loves his family, but isn’t quite sure why.

But, Harry knows himself, even if ‘himself’ baffles him, and that thread is what makes this story so brilliant: Harry’s utter honesty. He makes mistakes and owns up to them. He feels and is ready to share that fact. He loves unconditionally, which is both uplifting and heartbreaking all at once.

A month before his birthday, full of BIG questions and doubts, Harry makes a mistake. Then, within the course of thirty days, he loses everything he considered important. Over the next six months, he gains it all back, but not necessarily in the same form. Harry learns to be a father, not just a man with a young boy. He begins to understand his own father. He figures out what is important, and who, and he learns what love is.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Harry’s voice was so real. At times, his observations were funny, at others, wrenching. I forgave him his mistake. I hated his wife. I cheered Harry’s successes and secretly plotted Gina’s failure. I loved that none of the characters were heroes (except for the possible exception of Harry’s dad). They were all ordinary people and could be wholly uncompromising. Not a one of them changed their mind for the sake of the plot or story; they were all themselves to the end. Even Harry—though he grew. At the end of the book, he was still Harry, still ‘himself’, but a much more content version.

There is a sequel, Man and Wife. I am not sure if I want to continue the story, however, as I was satisfied with who Harry was at the end of this chapter.