The OF Blog: The 50 Book Challenge Met

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The 50 Book Challenge Met

Last year, I learned from another OF Admin, Craig, about the Fifty Book Challenge. While I did not participate last year, I decided that I would do so this year with a twist: I would aim to read 50 books published in English and 50 books published in Spanish. So with just over 7 months to go, I thought I would make a bit of a progress report, now that I've reached a combined total of 50 books read so far this year. I wrote these books down on notebook paper as I read them, so they are in chronological order. Many of these books I've commented upon, either here or at wotmania, so there won't be blurbed entries for the majority of these, but instead links to those that I posted about at wotmania, with those that I've commented upon already at the Blog will have only the author and title. For those that I've never reviewed yet, I will write a couple of sentences at least detailing what I found to be important/interesting. Anyways, on with the listing:

1. Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry, The Tale of the Rose: The Passion that Inspired The Little Prince

2. Alberto Fuguet, Cortos

3. Tómas Eloy Martínez, El vuelo de la reina

4. Mario Vargas Llosa, Diario de Irak

5. Eliseo Alberto, Caracol Beach

6. Gabriel García Márquez, El otoño del Patriarca

7. John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights

8. Brandon Sanderson, Elantris

9. David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day

10. Flannery O'Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

11. Rubén Darío, Azul.../Cantos de la vida y esperanza

12. Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Capitán Alatriste

13. David Sedaris, naked

14. Isabel Allende, Paula

15. Manuel Puig, El beso de la mujer araña

16. Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before

17. Roberto Arlt, El jorobadito

18. Rafael Ramírez, La Mara

19. Mario Vargas Llosa, El paraíso en la otra esquina

20. Edmundo Paz Soldán, La materia del deseo

21. Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children

22. Ben Okri, The Famished Road

23. Gabriela Mistral, Selección poetica de Gabriela Mistral

24. Clara Sánchez, Últimas noticias del paraíso

25. Shashi Tharoor, The Great Indian Novel

26. Elena Poniatowski, La piel del cielo

27. Anonymous, The Poem of El Cid (bilingual edition)

28. Sarah Monette, Mélusine

29. Iain Pears, The Dream of Scipio

30. José Saramago, Las intermitencias de la muerte

31. Dan Simmons, Olympos

32. J.J. Benítez, Jerusalén: Caballo de Troya 1

This Spanish-language international bestseller has most of the trademarks of a thriller: A plot centering around a secret US project in the 1970s, time-travel to the Palestine of the Christ, and a detailed and often moving description of the final days of Christ's ministry. Although the writing was at times a bit clunky and the premise at times veering a bit too close to Dan Brown territory for my comfort, the ending third of the novel made up for these shortcomings, leading to a satisfactory close.

33. Jeff VanderMeer, Veniss Underground

I first read this novel back in 2004 and a re-read deepened my already positive impressions. In just over 200 pages, VanderMeer tells a strangely familiar far-future in which the characters undergo their own Hell as one struggles to lead the other out, in a take on the Orpheus-Eurydice myth that works on a great many levels.

34. Manuel Vicent, Son de Mar

If the previous book was a retelling of the Orpheus myth, this is a reinterpretation of the travels of Odysseus/Ulises. This book won the 1999 Alfaguara Prize for Spanish-Language Fiction and with its deft characterizations, fast-moving plot, and superb writing, this was one of my favorite reads so far this year in Spanish.

35. Jeff VanderMeer, City of Saints and Madmen

Another 2004 re-read and one that I enjoyed even more than Veniss Underground, as much for the use of different styles and modes of storytelling than for anything else. As I'm eagerly awaiting the US release of Shriek: An Afterword later this summer, it was time for a re-read of this enjoyable book.

36. Isabel Allende, La casa de los espiritus

It is hit-or-miss with Allende for me. As much as I enjoyed Zorro and Paula, I found La ciudad de las bestias to be a bit too trite and dull. La casa was up and down for me - the first half of the novel I found to be tedious at times, as it seemed like the characterizations, while done well, were dragging the plot. But there was a payoff toward the end, one that ultimately redeemed the novel for me. Maybe a re-read will help improve my opinions of it further.

37. Various authors, Breaking Windows: A Fantastic Metropolis Sampler

A third re-read from 2004, this volume of collected fiction, editorials, interviews, and opinions on other works was spotty. The fiction for the most part was a bit too avant-garde for my tastes, as the stories often just didn't seem to gel for me. But the non-fiction pieces on the whole were excellent, containing thoughts from Michael Moorcock, Jeff VanderMeer, China Miéville, to name a few. I would recommend this book only for its non-fiction though, although all of these elements can be found for free on the Fantastic Metropolis website.

38. R. Scott Bakker, En el principio fue la oscuridad

39. Jorge Luis Borges, Historia universal de la infamia

40. Ignacio Padilla, Amphitryon

I first read this in Spanish in 2004 and now that my reading comprehension has improved, I found this story to be easier to follow (although still quite complex). Using the metaphor of chess throughout the novel, Padilla traces a mysterious trail trying to reveal who this identity-swapping German official might be and how he might have been connected to a secret Nazi project to develop doubles for the top leadership. Although the end might be a bit implausible, the buildup to it was done very well. One of the better efforts to come out of Mexico in recent years.

41. Jorge Luis Borges, El Aleph

42. Jorge Luis Borges, El Hacedor

43. Adolfo Bioy Casares, La invención de Morel

I first read this book in March of 2004 and it was the first Spanish-language novel that I read without using an English-language translation to guide me through rough patches. Short (around 90 pages in the edition I had), this is the tale of an obsession and how real our fantasies can become. Bioy Casares did an excellent job with the language and the narrator's voice is rendered perfectly here. Highly recommended story for people to read, especially since there is an English-language translation available.

44. Gabriel García Márquez, La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y su abuela desalmada

This is a collection of short stories that García Márquez wrote between 1961 and 1972, which I first read late in 2004. Some of the stories (such as "El mar del tiempo perdido" and the title story) worked very well, while others were a bit spotty and uneven. Some of this might be due to difficulties I have from time to time understanding the ornate style that Gabo employs, so take that into consideration. Overall, I do recommend this collection to those who cannot get enough of Gabo's writings.

45. Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions

This is the English-language translation (done by Andrew Hurley) of all of Borges' fictional prose. Since I've reviewed elsewhere most of the individual works, I'll just limit myself to saying that Hurley does an excellent job with the translations and that for those wanting to read Borges in translation for a cheap price should consider this tradeback edition of his most famous works and other, more obscure gems.

46. Horacio Quiroga, Cuentos de amor de locura y de muerte

I read this collection of short stories first in the summer of 2004 and liked it then. A re-read confirmed my earlier opinion that Quiroga was writing some of the spookiest short fiction on the antipodes from H.P. Lovecraft. Yet there is more to Quiroga than stories of decapitated chickens. The opening story, translated into English as "The Seasons of Love", is a moving and yet ultimately sad tale of young love. The other stories touch upon these elements of love, madness, and death in a way that has made Quiroga more famous after his death than before.

47. Jorge Luis Borges, Siete Noches

48. Gabriel García Márquez, El general en su laberinto

Although not as well-received as Cien años de soledad or El amor en los tiempos de cólera, this novel on the last days of The Liberator Simón Bolivar has its merits. The story reads as much as a tragic foreshadowing of the 20th century Colombian struggles as it does of the impending rift of Gran Colombia into Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. Bolivar is shown to be a very human and interesting character and his famous last words about the labyrinth end up being reflected throughout the novel as Gabo shows the complexities of the time. Well worth the read.

49. Thomas Wolfe, The Web and the Rock

Thomas Wolfe is one of my favorite writers. He's even had somewhat of an influence on my writing style, as I realized when I was reading this novel, whose companion is the more famous You Can't Go Home Again. Starring George Webber, this is yet another retelling of Wolfe's own childhood growing up around Asheville, NC before moving to New York in the 1920s. There are a great many scenes of poetic power, such as the third chapter's opening, which is one of the most damning and yet true descriptions of Southern psyche that I've ever read. This novel, while it had its moments of bloatedness, contains enough of those wonderful moments as to make this one of the finer novels ever to be written by an American of any century.

50. Angélica Gorodischer, Kalpa Imperial

I first read Ursula Le Guin's translation of this in 2004 before buying and reading the Spanish-language original later that year. This is a type of fable that should be read on multiple occasions, as there is much to say to the reader with each re-read. The tales within read like a history of the empire that never was, told with a sympathetic voice that yet points out quite concisely just how misguided and cruel we can be toward each other. Some have seen this book, originally written during the waning years of Argentina's Dirty War of 1976-1983, as being an oblique critique upon the junta in power then, but there are more universal themes that make Kalpa Imperial well worth your time, regardless of the language in which it is read.

Later in the year, I'll update this list with books read after May 25th. Hopefully some of these books will have grabbed your attention and that you'll want to read them for yourself to see if they are worth your time and that of others.

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