In which I report the progress on all my reading challenges…

DSC_0188It is the last day of the year and although the full reading report will have to wait until the new year (in case I finish any more books today), I believe it is time to report my progress on the various reading challenges I undertook this year.

Classics club

This year I managed only five of the books on my Classics club reading list. I even failed on the latest spin I participated in, despite getting an easy one, so I am definitely falling behind here…

Back to the classics reading challenge

In The Back to the classics reading challenge the goal is to read and blog about twelve books that fit particular categories and which are at least 50 years old. This year I managed to read and review books from eight of the twelve categories (re-using some of the books from the classics club reading challenge).

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899. The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969.
My Ántonia by Willa Cather
3. Classic by a Woman Author. Silas Marner by George Eliot
4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.
5. Classic Comic Novel.
6. Classic Tragic Novel.
7. Very Long Classic. Any classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or end notes.
8. Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages.
Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson
9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean).
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia).
The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon
11. Classic From a Place You’ve Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you’ve lived, or by a local author. Kallocain by Karin Boye
12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible for this category only.

Keep reading books by African, Asian and South American authors

I  will post some more statistics later but I did manage to read books by authors from Argentina, Colombia, Nigeria, Israel, India, China, Japan and South Korea.

Decrease my book budget from last year’s

Success! Not to hard considering that last year’s budget was very generous, but I am still proud.

I wish you all a Happy New Year!

On books and apes


Most of the year I prefer paper books to ebooks, but for my summer travels I fill my trusted ereader with everything that catches my eye on Project Gutenberg, to ensure that I will always have access to something to read. A title that naturally caught my interest in this process was The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley.

The story itself turned out to be a wildly improbable tale centred around a second-hand bookstore in Brooklyn shortly after the end of the first world war. However, it wasn’t the plot that made it worth reading but the way it was brimming with the love of books and filled by quotations from books and musings on books and bookstores. Unfortunately I didn’t have access to any of the books recommended in it.

However, in addition to all the recommended reading it also repeatedly ranted against bad literature. Shallow but entertaining books that people read instead of the much better books the author believed they ought to read. In the novel the book that more than anyone else symbolized this tendency was Tarzan of the Apes, which I imagine must have been a Da Vinci code of the early 20th century. As I did have access to Tarzan I decided to take the risk, ignore the warnings, and see what it was all about.

Having read it I can certainly see both why it was so popular and why it made more critical readers despair. The plot is of course improbable but fast-paced and reasonably captivating (and not much worse than the plot of The Haunted Bookshop). The writing is nothing special but unobtrusive. The greatest flaw is instead the characters who, all but Tarzan himself, are paper thin tropes. This is most disturbing for the African characters who tend to be based on racist tropes, but the European and American characters are only slightly less cliched, take e.g. the distracted professor who gets lost trying to find a post office in the middle of the jungle… I did like Tarzan though. His transitions from life as an ape and as a man is perhaps not great literature but it is fun and gives him enough internal conflict to make him stand out from the average pulp fiction character of the time.

I count Tarzan of the Apes as my classic from the Americas for my Back to the Classics reading challenge.



Kallocain is a dystopian novel by Karin Boye, a Swedish author otherwise best known for her poetry. First published in 1941 it drew inspiration from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and the political situations in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union at the time. However, it carefully avoids too close resemblance to either country, partly to avoid the censure which was active in Sweden during WW2.

As in Zamyatin’s We and Orwell’s 1984, which it pre-dates with eight years, it takes place in an dystopian future where an authoritarian state sees and controls everything. The protagonist, Leo Kall, is a chemist who invents a truth serum, Kallocain, which will make anyone reveal their deepest thoughts. Such a serum is of course a valuable weapon to a state which wants to control every aspect of the lives of its subjects, but the truth also has some unexpected side-effect, including in Leo Kall’s own life.

I read Kallocain for the first time in high-school but included it on my Classics Club reading list as I wanted to revisit it as an adult. However, I’m not really sure why I keep reading these classical dystopias as I don’t really enjoy them. Of course they explore interesting topics, but I prefer to connect with the characters in a novel and the extreme brainwashing generally suffered by the characters in these novels makes that very hard. I did like this one a bit better than 1984 though, so I would recommend it to anyone who do enjoy dystopias.

As it is a Swedish classic I count it as my Classic From a Place You’ve Lived for my Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.


My family and other animals


I must say that the reading year starts well, I am only four books in and have already discovered a new favourite. My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell’s memoir of his childhood on Corfu, is full of fun anecdotes, beautiful descriptions, and lots and lots of animals.

According to the memoir Gerald “Gerry” Durrell, youngest of four siblings, grew up in Corfu as the youngest son in a loving but chaotic family. Gerald himself appears to have greatly contributed to the general chaos by his interest in everything living and a somewhat inconvenient habit of bringing various animals home. I have great sympathy for young naturalists, and Durrell writes about his observations with an infectious enthusiasm, but there were a few times when I sided with his family. The chaos he created provides many great anecdotes though, so I am grateful.

I am normally not a fan of too humorous books but this one won me over completely. There were plenty of comic scenes but the comedy never felt forced. Highly recommended to anyone who loves amusing anecdotes and/or animals!

I’m counting this novel as my 20th century classic for the Back to the classics reading challenge.

Reading goals for 2019


New year, new reading ambitions. In 2019 I want to read books that challenge me, and books that don’t but which are exciting or fun or just pleasant reads. I hope to find new favourites and revisit old, and I want to keep having great discussions about books with all my blogging friends.

Reading classics

The Classics Club is my favourite reading challenge and I still have many unread books on my classics list. I hope that I will be able to read at least twelve of them during 2019.

The Back to the classics reading challenge is also fun. There the goal is to read and blog about twelve books that fit particular categories and which are at least 50 years old. I am not too focused on actually finishing this challenge but I like the way it encourage me to actually review the books I read and therefore want to join again.

Keep reading books by African, Asian and South American authors

During the last two years my reading comfort zone has greatly expanded and I now get inspired rather than scared when a book is written by an author from a country I normally don’t read from. As I don’t want too many reading challenges this year I am hoping that this will remain true even without making a challenge out of it. However, I will keep tracking the author’s country of origin of all the books I am reading, and if I find that I have stopped reading books by authors from outside of Europe and North America, I may make a challenge out of it later in the year.

Book buying

For the last two years I have attempted to not buy more books than the number of unread books I read from my bookshelf. Although I failed both years it did help me restrict my book buying. Unfortunately it also had some negative side-effects. I found that this book-buying challenge actually discouraged me from using the library or rereading my own books, as books I read from these sources did not count against my book-buying. As I love the library and rereading I will not attempt this challenge this year. However, I still do need to keep some constraints on my book-buying and therefore have decided that I can buy as many books as I want, but that the total cost of them may not be more than what I paid for books in 2018. Second-hand book-stores here I come!