Reading Goals for 2018

Meet Ned, a new resident of the Bookcase.

Wow, it’s already New Year’s Eve Eve!  Christmas festivities are sadly winding down…  Tomorrow, people will wait outside in the freezing cold to ring in 2018, and I’ll be in my snug, warm house, probably curled up with Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, thus attempting to relive a New Year’s memory from three years back.  Though surprising at times, 2017 has been a good year for me, and as someone who gets post-holiday blues, a book can help ease the transition into the next one.

I’ve talked already about 2017 in review, and how I’ve decided not to take on any more reading challenges, as tempting as they are.  That said, a few goals for 2018 have been floating around in my mind (I love the word “goal” because, for some reason, it sounds more flexible to me than “plan”).   Here’s a few of my open-ended reading goals for next year:

  • Bring back Book Journals.  I have quite a few chunksters on my TBR list… War and Peace, Moby-Dick, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Ben-Hur, to name a few.  I ought to be ready for another book journal by now!
  • Read more non-fiction.  With a new T. E. Lawrence biography on my shelf (thanks Mom & Dad!), I’m sure I’ll be reading more history in 2018.  However, I hope to extend my reading beyond Lawrence to include other historical figures/times, as well as current events and other non-fiction categories.
  • Escape the comfort zone.  In the past decade, I’ve been quite content to focus my reading on classics from specific countries, time periods, and genres (I’m sure you’ve noticed!).  Contrary to appearances, I really value the vast range of classics that exist, most of it free on the internet, and my favorite book blogs tend to cover that range in great depth.  I’d love to get outside my comfort zone next year and explore more areas of classic literature.  I kind of did that with dystopian fiction this year, and it was one of the highlights of 2017!
  • Revive the blog.  Since I started this blog back in 2010, I have stuck to pretty much the same style of posts, over 7 1/2 years.  With the start of my podcast, Classics Considered, I’ve considered quitting blogging, since public speaking is a challenge I both enjoy and want to get better at.  However, I still believe there’s great value in written reviews, and this blog has been one of my few writing pursuits that’s amounted to anything whatsoever.  I love Noonlight Reads, and to keep it alive, I think I need to do a couple of things in 2018:
    • Have a posting schedule, with weekly features
    • Share more candid, personal posts about reading
    • Continue to find other inspiring blogs and interact with other readers.  

If you have any feedback or suggestions for the blog, please let me know!  

The Art of War, and other conflicts

The Art of War-Tangut script

The Art of War would be better marketed today as “The Art of Problem Solving.”  As far as warfare goes, you won’t find anything here that has not been amply represented in documentaries, novels, movies, and current events.  I guess we are (morbidly) privileged in the 21st century to have seen Sun Tzu‘s advice played out, as well as ignored, in countless brutal conflicts, so reading this as a guide to war brings nothing new to the modern, armchair reader. 

Read as a metaphor for IT project management, however, this book still offers good guidance on how to be an effective leader and make optimal use of resources to solve problems.  Though discipline is emphasized, he also highlights the necessity of being flexible and using brains over sheer strength.  The time he spends on the psychology of the players, including the enemy and one’s own forces, reminded me of T. E. Lawrence’s tactics in the Middle East.  Information is critical to identifying victory, so Sun Tzu includes an entire section on the importance and deployment of espionage. 

This manual is succinct, to the point, and not terribly lost in translation, which is probably why it is still referenced today.  I recommend reading it from a broader perspective, as there are nuggets of advice that can be used in a professional context.

My (Reading) Year in Review

It’s mid-December already – can you believe it?!

According to Goodreads, I read 36 books this year.  (A couple of those were “did not finish”s, but apparently those count, too.)  It was twice as much as I committed to, and I don’t say that to brag; it was more of an accident than anything.

You see, I started out the the year intending to read very specifically: learn to read French, read through the whole Bible, read longer books, read challenges, etc.  I’ve mentioned earlier this year some lessons learned in this area, which pretty much explain my “reading schedule” (or lack thereof, as it turned out).

2017 was a year of learning for me, nonetheless:

  • Though I didn’t stick with French, I did read several UX books for work, which made a life-changing impact on my day job.
  • I read four plays (three by Arthur Miller) and discovered the literary greatness of that genre.
  • My coworker lent me a 699 page biography of T. E. Lawrence.  Not only do I now know T. E. better than most real-life acquaintances, I actually finished the book in a reasonable amount of time (double win!).
  • C. S. Lewis melted my heart with Till We Have Faces, then broke my new podcast with That Hideous Strength, a book too tough to talk about.  (Actually, I’m releasing my podcast review of “that hideous book” early next year.  So it’s not 100% broken…just delayed.)
  • I’ve been working seriously on one of my own novels this year, the longest yet.  It’s my take on the Victorian Gothic, and I’m excited to finish it in the next month or two.  ^_^

So, the mistake with starting out the year with Till We Have Faces is that all the subsequent fiction I read pales by comparison. I’ve also been shy of my physical TBR shelf, which contains some randomness like The Prisoner of Zenda and the Lucia & Mapp stories, as well as the ever-agonizing Nostromo by Joseph Conrad, a book I have started some three or four times… 

Basically, I’m ending the year in a reading rut, and I probably won’t do much reading over Christmas break because I’ll be writing and podcasting.  But that is ok.  As someone with far too many hobbies, I am trying to accept the fact I cannot do everything at once, and these pursuits are still fulfilling even when taken in small sprints.

Ten Classics I’m Thankful For

Alice…one of the toughest and bravest “strong heroines” nobody talks about.  She’s only seven-and-a-half exactly.

A day late, but better late than never, right?  This week’s Top Ten Tuesday focuses on books that have “touched your heart and left you feeling SO thankful that it was written.”  Narrowing this down to ten classic fictional books has been even more difficult than it should probably be…but here goes!

1.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by John Tenniel
For as long as I can remember, Alice is a character I’ve identified with, in her search for home and logic in a place of strangeness and illusion.  Carroll’s witty silliness has forever influenced my own sense of humor and indirectly helped me become the “literary techie” I am.  Let’s not forget Tenniel, either, whose illustrations bring it all to (sur)reality!

2. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
When I was a little kid, my mom bought a bunch of Wordsworth Classics that were on sale at the mall.  She read some of them to me, including The Secret Garden which was one of her personal favorites.  I’m so happy my mom helped me understand those stories and bridge the difficulty level with her enthusiasm; it definitely changed my life.

Jules Verne is the reason I have a mad passion for wood engravings.

3.  Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
One of my most distinct reading experiences happened when I was a child, waiting at the ballet studio during my sister’s class.  A friend saw me reading it and couldn’t believe I was reading it for fun.  “At school, you’d get an award for reading that!”  Classics were already my favorite reading material, and I couldn’t understand not wanting to read them for fun.  It made me appreciate being homeschooled, so that going around the world (or the center of the earth) with Jules Verne was cool at my school.  To this day, Jules Verne is my”safe place” of old-timey, scientific discovery and pure escapism.

Qualities of a good detective, #1: able to break down locked doors.

4.  The Sherlock Holmes series, by Arthur Conan Doyle
As I grew older and more enamored of logic, Sherlock Holmes became a natural hero.  A little ironically, my first memory of being deeply moved by fiction was reading “The Final Problem” and believing (at the sweet age of nine or ten) that it was truly final.  It cemented Holmes as my favorite fictional character, someone whose actions were even bolder than his talk.  The Sherlock Holmes series introduced me to so many grown-up concepts – deductive reasoning, phil/misanthropy, blackmail, social hierarchies, and diplomacy, to name a few.  Holmes’s calm self-confidence and unconventionality also helped me come out of my shy shell, and I’ll always be thankful for that.

5.  The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells
Along with Doyle and Verne, Wells is chiefly responsible for my teenage writing, which was pseudo-Victorian, melodramatic, and delightfully embarrassing. The wide-eyed simplicity of old science fiction has helped me find a kind of poetry in technology, even today with all its complexity.  (And of course, time travel is always appealing.)

6.  The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
There’s little for me to add to what I’ve talked about recently, or what has been said so well by many others.  The Lord of the Rings came in my mid-teens when I was in a fictional rut and needed something to wake me up.  Tolkien also showed me the value of poetry, which encouraged me to read more of it and actually write my own.

Lts. Kennedy and Hornblower demonstrating the importance of friendship to a reluctant Lt. Bush.

7.  Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, by C. S. Forester
This book is the odd one on the list, because I actually found it to be very boring.  What makes me grateful for it is that it inspired one of my favorite TV dramas, Hornblower, starring Ioan Gruffudd as the title character.  Like Sherlock Holmes, Hornblower illustrated a lot of real-world concepts, such as ethics vs. realpolitik, loyalty vs. duty, and (in contrast/complement to Holmes) the importance of teamwork.  Not only that, but the plot encompasses almost every sea-story scenario, while following the hero’s coming-of-age journey.  Hornblower was my go-to show while everyone else was watching Pirates of the Caribbean.  😉 

Heart of Darkness is in many ways more fact than fiction.

8.  Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad was a pivotal author for me.  It was about the time of reading Heart of Darkness that I saw fiction could be so much more than plot + characters and that a surrealist, subtle narrative could be quite powerful for relaying a strong, moral message.  Conrad reintroduced me to the blurry area between fiction and reality, which became so important during my college years. 

9.  Dracula, by Bram Stoker
I have fond memories of reading this over a cup of green tea, and later bemoaning Quincey Morris with my sister – who also enjoyed the book! – and finally, the two of us giggling together over dramatic scenes from the Bela Lugosi production.  It’s an epic, inspiring classic that brings friends together, and those are some of the best.  I’ve only read it once but I intend to make that twice, soon.

10. Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome
If Dracula is a tale to bring friends together over drama, Three Men in a Boat is the comedy version of that.  My brother and I had so much fun reading it together, and by natural consequence, it’s led us, plus my sister and mom, to enjoy the Jeeves and Wooster TV series, British humor in a similar style.  People often associate “classics” with grave, heavy topics, which is often true, but classic comedy is of the very best.  Fun and innocent humor is something I always appreciate.

Whew!  If you made it through this detour down memory lane, I’m thankful for that, too.  ^_^

Top Ten Unique Book Titles

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about titles of books that are more unique than trendy.  I may not have mentioned before that I love, love, love a good book title, so this topic particularly appeals to me.  😉

Without further ado, here are some unique ones from classic literature:

1. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville
It doesn’t get more signature than this. Melville chose interesting names for all the characters, not least of all the whale.

2. Perelandra, by C. S. Lewis
The surest way to have a unique title is to use a word from your own fictional language!

3. Magellania, by Jules Verne
Alternatively, taking a nonfictional place and making it more “literary” also works.

4. The Lighthouse at the End of the World, by Jules Verne
Probably my favorite book title of all time.  He used “lighthouse” in a title before it was trendy.

Rather than overrun this list with Jules Verne, I will just add that most of his titles were unique in his day.  (He was that cool.)

5. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, by Mark Twain
Who but Twain would come up with a great one like that?

6. Till We Have Faces, by C. S. Lewis
A perfectly eerie title for a perfectly eerie novel.

7. Minorities; Good Poems by Small Poets and Small Poems by Good Poets, ed. T. E. Lawrence
Sometimes it takes a unique sense of humor to come up with a unique title.

8. Three Men on the Bummel, by Jerome K. Jerome
But what is a “bummel”?

9. The Blithedale Romance, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I mean, he could’ve called it “The Happy Valley Story”…

10.  Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
A great title – unique, easy to say, and instantly recognizable.