Embarrassment of Riches TBR: May check-in

Better late than never.

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have been intending to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I am aiming to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

So what did I read in May?

  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre:  I’m a sucker for a good spy novel, and le Carre’s George Smiley just might be my favorite fictional spy of all time.  Tinker is set in the early seventies and weaves the reader through a spine-tingling maze of betrayal and treason as Smiley seeks to discover the mole within the “Circus” – a mole channeling operational intelligence to the KGB.  The plot twists and turn as Smiley works to corner his prey, and in the process, exposes each of a wide cast of characters’ deepest, darkest secrets.  I loved this book, though perhaps not quite as much as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which was a work of pure genius, but Tinker is definitely true to the brilliance of le Carre’s mastery of the genre.

Albright

  • Prague Winter:  A Personal Story of Remembrance and War:  1937-1948 by Madeleine Albright:  It took me a while to get through this work of non-fiction – three months, perhaps.  That’s not to say it wasn’t a good read.  It was.  I just found it tedious.  Albright is a thorough writer with a quick wit and offers up an unexpected barb or two to lighten up the heaviness of the period, but she tends to bury the reader in too much prologue and back history.  The personal stories about her family experiences, memories of the war, and unrealized Jewish heritage were fascinating, though.  I’m glad I took the time to finally finish it.
  • I also finished Gospel of Freedom by Jonathan Rieder.  Gospel is an interesting work that puts King’s iconic Birmingham jail letter into historical context.  This was a new approach to this letter to me.  I have read it before, but always from a literary perspective – audience, prose, etc.   It’s not my favorite book on King, but I think any criticism I have stems from the writer’s tendency to ramble.  Of course, this a new publication and not from my TBR list, but…

Currently reading:

  • The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva:  I believe this is Silva’s first novel, and not at all what I was expecting.  It’s set during World War II – didn’t see that coming; probably should have read the cover blurb.  It’s also told from so many points of view, I have trouble keeping track of who’s who.  Unlike his Allon novels, the hero is lukewarm and somewhat uninteresting.  I find myself drawn to the female antagonist even though I know she is the enemy.  She’s so much more engaging.  Perhaps this is Silva’s intent.  He has done this before – painted the bad guy in a sympathetic light, though not to this extent.  We shall see how it ends.  I will report back.
  • Mark of the Assassin by Daniel Silva:  Six chapters in and I haven’t met the hero yet.  I don’t hold out much hope.  It is obvious that Silva hasn’t hit his stride yet.

Progress toward goal:  9 of 24 read.

I need to step up my game.

So, what are you reading?

Embarrassment of Richest TBR Challenge – April Check-In

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have been intending to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I am aiming to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

endersThis month I read:

Nothing!

That’s not entirely true.  I did read.   I just didn’t finish anything on my TBR list.

As I have said before, a multitasking overachiever, I am not.  Reading and writing – at the same time – during NaNo – well, that’s just beyond my capabilities.  I make no apologizes or excuses.  It is what it is.

So what’s on the agenda for May?

  1. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card – I’m about half done with this book.  It’s not my usual genre, but I do find it entertaining.
  2. Prague Winter, Madeleine Albright – This is not a quick read and I am still working my way through Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland.
  3. Gospel of Freedom, Jonathan Rieder – this is a new release and not on my TBR list, but it delves into the MLK’s mindset and the hostility leading up to his iconic Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  I am intrigued by this book, mostly because I have only studied the letter from a literary view – never historical.  I have high hopes for this one.

Progress toward goal:  7/24

What’s lying around on your nightstand waiting to be read?

Things I learned this week (month)

I learned this week (and last…and maybe even the week before that):

…that there is an old saying in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia):

“When a Czech owns a goat…his neighbor does not yearn for a goat of his own; he wants the neighbor’s goat to die.”

I’m currently reading former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s Prague Winter: A Story of Remembrance 1937-1948In the first few chapters, she chronicles a good bit of Czech history, delves into Czech culture, and explores their predilection for a humanitarian driven lifestyle.  It seems to me, though, their giving nature has its limitations – especially when it comes to coveted livestock.

…that I am grateful that 1) I no longer have small children; 2) that my daughter is a gentle, well-behaved soul; and 3) that I am blessed with a husband who usually understands stating the obvious is not always the correct course of action in a tense situation.

Strange sounding, I know.  Let me explain.

We recently returned from a short spring break trip to San Antonio.  It’s a fun city in the heart of Texas, with a good variety of attractions that can appeal to a whole range of interests – be it the arts, family fun, or just boozing it up down on the River Walk.  Of course, no visit is complete without the obligatory trip to Sea World.  Personally, I’m not the amusement park type.  I would much rather spend my vacation time sipping on a frozen fruity cocktail on a warm sunny beach, or capturing the beauty of a botanical garden with my camera, or exploring a historical landmark  and trying to figure out how to work it into my current WIP.  Sadly, when it comes to family time, one must learn to embrace the art of compromise.  So, off to Sea World we go.  We were joined by thousands of our not so closest friends – some with big obnoxious kids, some with small obnoxious kids, some with no kids – just plain obnoxious personalities.   As an eternal observer, and because amusement parks are all about standing in endless lines where I must endure the invasion of my personal space, I took the opportunity to learn from those around me.  The most valuable lesson of the day:

  • Giving a three-year old a king-size bag of M&Ms at ten in the morning will result in a series of successive events;
    • increased hyperactivity (child);
    • stern reprimands (mom);
    • whining (child);
    • decrease in patience and energy level (mom);
    • rapid crash, additional whining with pitch elevation (child);
    • bribes of more candy capped by threats of harsh discipline (mom);
    • meltdown of cataclysmic proportions complete with screaming, thrashing, and tears – tone now ear-splitting (child);
    • demands for support from father figure who had wandered off to avoid the impending explosion (mom);
    • Poorly timed parental criticism, “You shouldn’t have given him that candy.” (dad);
    • hate filled glares followed by expletives then stony silence (mom);

Of course, silence isn’t always golden.  As I stood in line, I could see the wheel in her mind turning as her eyes bored a hole through his skull.  Scheming; plotting; planning.  How could she do it?  When should she do it?  Could she get away with it?  Did she have a plausible defense?  How hard could life in prison really be?

that the Catholic Church has a new leader.  I don’t really like to talk about religion on the blog.  It can be a polarizing subject that sometimes brings out the worst in people.  I believe religion is a personal endeavor and should be spared societal judgment.  Unfortunately, not everyone sees things my way.  I was raised in the Church, though I haven’t practiced in many years.  I don’t feel Church doctrine correlates with my worldview, and by and large, I lack the traditional spirituality that comes with unconditional faith.  I’m more of a good Karma/bad Karma kind of person with a healthy dose of superstition thrown in for good measure. You know that whole “spit in the wind…” thing.  However, I find the entire process of electing a new pope utterly fascinating.  I love the ritual of it; the politics of it; the clandestine nature of it.  It’s the stuff of novels – add a little murder and mayhem and you’ve got yourself a bestseller.  Oh, wait.  Daniel Silva and Dan Brown already did that.

Damn them.

…that historical geology is a science of many faces.  This week it is masquerading as biology.  My head is filled with biological classifications – kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, specie.  I’ve done this sort of thing before – in high school biology.  I did alright, and I liked it well enough.  But somehow classifying animals I knew and understood seemed so much easier.  These fossils are a pain in my ass.  They all look the same; their names all end in –ite or -pod.  Half of them look like clams but are not related to the clam in any way.  I find that suspect.  Also, if it looks like sponge, acts like a sponge, then it is not a sponge.  Seriously?

Dr. M:  It is very easy to see the difference between this trilobite from the Cambrian and this one from the Ordovician.  See the eyes; the shape of the back-end?

Me:  No.  No, I do not.  I see a brown lumpy bit of rock.

Dr. M:  Oh, you found the coprolite.

Ew.

…that my daughter does not appreciate unsolicited conversation with strangers anymore than I do.  This weekend we went to see (hear) the Plano Symphony.  While we were waiting for the performance to begin, the woman sitting next to my daughter began to engage her in a bit of small talk.   Megan listened politely to the woman, answered her questions guardedly, and cast a few glares in my direction.  At the end of the night, while waiting for our car, my daughter commented on her experience:

Megan:  Mom, that lady made me feel socially awkward.

Me:  Get used to it.  Happens to me all the damn time.

Megan:  Great.

***side note:  If you live in the Dallas area, and have the opportunity to check out the Plano Symphony – do it.  They are fabulous.

…that after reading five Daniel Silva (Gabriel Allon series) novels since the beginning of the year, I have come to the conclusion that I do not like Gabriel’s wife, Chiara.  There are many things I admire about Silva’s writing – his penchant for strong memorable characters; his knack for brevity; his enviable grasp of show vs. tell.  However, I am baffled by Chiara’s evolution from Gabriel’s leather clad, motorcycle riding guardian angel to nagging fishwife who has forgotten the complexity of her husband’s chosen profession – a profession she shares.  I know it’s pretty drastic of me, but I keep hoping Silva will do the humane thing and kill her off.  At least it would shut her up and Gabriel could go about the business of saving the world in peace.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this spotted leopard we stumbled upon at the San Antonio Zoo.  I have posted a different shot of him, but I think this one is my favorite.  He appears to be looking right at me.  Such a beautiful animal.

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