Challenges - the good, the bad and why I won't be joining any in 2011

Image from We Heart Books
Its that time of year again. Everyone will be joining up to all the various challenges that are being hosted throughout the blogosphere and getting ready for the year ahead.

This year, though, I won't be one of the crowd.

I have decided to take a different path to the masses and I wanted to share why.

What do I expect from reading?

I expect a lot of things from my reading.

I want to learn from what I read. I want explore new genres and increase my broader knowledge of the literary world. I want to explore new ideas and different realities. I want my reading to be a process of discovery.

Why didn't you get that in challenges?

Last year I started many reading challenges, all of which I completed some time ago (you can see which one's I participated in here, although the page is out of date). Some of the challenges I participated in (like the Bibliopiliac Challenge) I needed to make an effort to complete and others (like the Classics Challenge) I would have met the requirements of whether I was participating in the challenge or not.

The result of course is that I have been left dissatisfied. None of the challenges really challenged me in an special way and I definitely haven't learnt anything from them. 

The challenges I found were all about quantity. Meeting a particular number of books to complete certain levels. They were things like reading classics, ebooks, new authors etc.

All of these a great ways to challenge yourself - but not quite 'weighty' enough for what I wanted. They didn't satisfy my urge to learn and explore literature. It was too much about quantity and not enough about quality.

So what will you be doing instead?

This year, I have decided that if I really want to explore literature I need to think about what areas of literature I am interested in learning about and make an effort to read them.

There will be no time limits.

There will be no sign up dates.

There will be no levels to complete.

It will just be me reading to learn and explore.

I am calling these my:

Reading Projects!

There are several reading projects that I am going to dedicate my self to next year (in fact I have already started one of them).

Early science fiction

I really enjoyed reading The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne, so I have decided that I am going to explore more of these early works of science fiction. I am giving myself a very broad range, from the mid 19th to the mid 20th century. I am really looking forward to this.

Series

There are so many series of books that I haven't read or I have read some and not all of them, so I am going to work on them. I like a good series. I think that there is something special about being able to create a character or characters but be able to keep them fresh and new with each story. Here are some of the series I will looking at:
  • Tarquin Hall - The man who died laughing etc
  • Jasper Fforde - finish the thursday next series
  • John Marsden - finish the tomorrow when the war began series
  • Jean M Auel - finish the earth's children series
  • Kerry Greenwood - start the Corinna Chapman series and read some more phryne fisher
  • Alexander McCall Smith - more detective lady series

 I might finish the Twilight series just because I started it, but we will see.

Crime fiction

I have mostly dismissed crime fiction as a little bit trashy, which a lot of the modern crime fiction is. But there is whole world of crime fiction out there that isn't - Raymond Chandler (I just finished the long goodbye), Dashiell Hammett and Peter Temple to name a few. So am going to explore this genre - I think it deserves more credit that it receives.

In Summary

This is my plan for 2011 and I put a disclaimer here that my Reading Projects might change, disappear, grow or their may be additions. That's the whole point - I read to escape reality for a little while, but also for something much deeper and that is what I am going to focus more on this year.

Readers vs Writers? Who is the most important to literary culture?

From Kissimee Charter Academy
Readers vs Writers? Who is the most important to literary culture? Do we celebrate readers enough?

A couple of weeks ago I was browsing the Internet and I came across a fascinating article by Laura Miller at Salon.com entitled "Better yet, DON'T Write that Novel."

It is a discussion about NaNoWriMo - a month long writing extravaganza which encourages people to attempt to complete a novel by writing a set target of words per day. 

In the article, Miller outlines her arguments against NaNoWriMo - perhaps saying that she outlines her complaints about NaNoWriMo would be more accurate. I don't necessarily agree with everything she says, but having just completed two dreadful novels provided to me for review by a publisher, as well as earlier this year reading and reviewing an equally dreadful self-published memoir, I have to admit to being slightly sympathetic with her views.

What interested me most about her article though, were comments she made toward the end of the article about celebrating readers.

Here is what she says:

"Yet while there's no shortage of good novels out there, there is a shortage of readers for these books...

 So I'm not worried about all the books that won't get written if a hundred thousand people with a nagging but unfulfilled ambition to Be a Writer lack the necessary motivation to get the job done. I see no reason to cheer them on. Writers are, in fact, hellishly persistent; they will go on writing despite overwhelming evidence of public indifference and (in many cases) of their own lack of ability or anything especially interesting to say. Writers have a reputation for being tormented by their lot, probably because they're always moaning so loudly about how hard it is, but it's the readers who are fragile, a truly endangered species. They don't make a big stink about how under appreciated they are; like Tinkerbell or any other disbelieved-in fairy, they just fade away.

Rather than squandering our applause on writers -- who, let's face it, will keep on pounding the keyboards whether we support them or not -- why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers? Why not celebrate them more heartily? They are the bedrock on which any literary culture must be built. After all, there's not much glory in finally writing that novel if it turns out there's no one left to read it."

This got me thinking - do we celebrate readers? How can you celebrate a reader? Should we celebrate readers at all?

Without readers, the need for written works would become redundant. Does this mean that they are more important to literary culture than writers?

Without writers there wouldn't be any literary works to begin with and of course writers are deserving of celebration. This is done in many ways. There are many writing awards out there - some more prestigious than others, some for fiction, some for non-fiction, even awards for publishing houses. At Writers Festivals authors have their opportunities to be admired and celebrated by giving talks and doing readings from their works.

But I am not sure how exactly Miller would suggest that we celebrate readers more heartily? I know she says "why not direct more attention, more pep talks, more nonprofit booster groups, more benefit galas and more huzzahs to readers" - but how would this be done in practice?

Is there some way of having a public celebration of readers? Perhaps 'The Day of the Reader' one day per year with associated activities and fundraising attempts to raise money that assist improve literacy rates amoungst children?

I know that all I have really done is pose more questions than I have answered, but these are some of the things that I have been thinking about after reading Miller's funny article.


Are readers the most important contributor to literary culture? Do we celebrate readers enough? How can be celebrate readers more? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne; early science fiction

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne is a seminal piece of science fiction that combines scientific theory with adventure to create an exciting new world, ripe for exploration.

In Verne's first novel he tells the story of Professor Lindenbrock, a famous geologist, who finds an old manuscript by an old naturalist purporting to know the way to the centre of the earth. Lindenbrock travels to Iceland to begin this journey, with his nephew Axel and their Icelandic guide Hans and what follows is an epic journey down into the bowels of the earth.


The great thing about the Journey to the Center of the Earth is that it isn't the science fiction that deals with aliens or distant planets. Instead, Verne has taken real scientific theories and imagined how they really might affect the natural environment. The book was written in 1864, there were many competing scientific theories about how the earth was created and how it worked and sustained life. Verne really plays on these debates to create an environment that is a unique blend of realism and imagination.

In fact, in this book Verne has really given life to the environment of the interior of the earth - it dwarfs the characters and becomes almost a character in its own right. Each element of the interior of the earth has a scientific justification; from the giant sea they find themselves sailing across to the dinosaurs that inhabit it.

The best moment for me was Lindenbrock and Axel catch a glimpse of a prehistoric man herding dinosaurs beneath the shadows of the giant mushroom forest. Verne's characters go into so much depth considering the world they find themselves in. They take measurements, samples and theorise about how the interior of the earth came to be how it is. But when they glimpse something to similar to humanity, something that may even be humanity living in the bowels of the earth, they are unable to accept it. Instead of considering it with their scientific minds, they turn from the vision with a view to escape and we never hear it mentioned again. The scientists in them are not capable of overcoming their horror at the thought that perhaps they are not the only race of man of earth.

The books biggest weakness is the end of the story. I won't say too much on this except to say that it makes the title of the book somewhat of a misnomer. I was really disappointed when it ended in the way that it did. It felt as though Verne started getting bored with his characters and their journey and bought it to an end too soon.

Despite this, Journey to Center of the Earth by Jules Verne is an imaginative and exciting piece of early science fiction, and one that I recommend to everyone. 


Summary

What kind of read is this?
It is a fun and interesting read that makes you feel young again. The scientific language and discussion can at times be challenging, but it is worth meeting the challenge.

Do I recommend this book?
Yes I do. I recommend it to people who wouldn't ordinarily read science fiction just for something different. I also recommend it to people that do enjoy science fiction as an excellent sample of writing from the early period of this genre.

Do I recommend that you buy this?
Borrowing it from a friend or the library, or reading it as a free ebook (like I did) would be sufficient.


Star Rating

6.5 / 8


Really enjoyable, couldn't put it down. I would recommend it.

What do you think? I know that a lot of people are not particularly interested in or excited b science fiction - but do you think that you would be able to put this aside for the sake of an interest in literature and exploring the beginnings of a genre?

What about those of you that like a little bit of science fiction every now and again? Have you read this book and what did you think?