Kate's Queen City Notes

Blundering through Cincinnati, laughing all the way


100 Books by 40: In Retrospect

In August of 2012, I started a journey to write and read more. I committed to read the BBC’s Big Read list and blog my thoughts. I aimed to complete the list prior to my 40th birthday. With my 40th six months away, I met the time limit.

I love reading, but I don’t make time for it. Plus, the unlimited selection of books paralyzes me picking the next read. Finally, I struggle choosing between books that I “should” be reading-anything Jane Austen-vs books that I want to read-Harry Potter Series. The list solved for all of these problems.

Writing, I enjoy the process. I have things to say. I’m not yet sure how interested other people might be in these things. Book reports are the bane of every young student’s existence. I begrudgingly admit that they serve a purpose. My response to a book is guttural, formless emotion. Shepherding those impressions into words challenges me. As a person who struggles to name my feelings, this process has been invaluable.

This meadow has a animal carcass that needs to be addressed. Choose the list wisely. I didn’t. There are very good books in this list. Books seventy-five though one hundred are crap; I am convinced a summer intern came up with them. There are exceptions, On the Road and Ulysses among them. However, considering the sheer amount of time those mediocre to shitty books took up, I would have gladly given that over to more pleasurable reading in retrospect. As an American, this BBC list is very British, and unless you have a thing with Brit Lit the American reader would be better served by this list from Amazon.

This was such a good experience that I am doing it again. I have yet to decide if I will blog about it. I’m sure if I do it will turn up here.

Finished list:
1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen – only 99 cents for Kindle edition
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens – have on Kindle
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy – have on Kindle
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens *I read this when I was too young to appreciate it; I would like to read it again as an adult. I will do so if I have time.
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time.
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac *I’ve read this twice. I will read it again if I have time. I have the unabriged unedited version and will probably take on that if time allows.
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

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100 Books by 40: GIRLS IN LOVE

Book: Girls In Love (Book 1)
Author: Jacqueline Wilson
Published: 1997

I can only feel thankful that I found this book available for download from The Hamilton County Library after striking out at Amazon and living on the hold list for months to borrow the physical book. Had I been left with no choice but to skip this book or put my dollars against having it among the great books in my library, I would have skipped it, leaving my project technically unfinished.

This is the second book from this author in my list. Lackluster is a word that comes to mind. While the focus of the first book is around losing a close friend, it has enough romantic side stories that I left that read with a chapped ass. Based on my previous experience with this author and the the title, I knew the displeasure ahead.

My expectations were validated completely. Spoiler alert: thirteen-year-old girls have dramatic experiments in love while chafing under the totalitarian rule of their unreasonable parents. And shock of all shocks, insecure main character manages to mend her relationship with her parents and achieve the perfect middle school romance. WHY IS THIS IN A BEST 100 BOOKS LIST? BBC! GO HOME! YOU’RE DRUNK!!

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100 Books by 40 – MAGICIAN

Book: Magician
Author: Raymond E. Feist
Published: 1983

Lord of the Rings. If you haven’t read that, please do so before reading this book. “Everything you can do, I can do better”, says Tolkien.

The future of a land peacefully inhabited by elves, dwarfs, humans, magicians, and trolls is threatened when aliens discover how to open a rift into their world. There are epic journeys and blood soaked battles. Political shenanigans abound.

If you’ve read LOTR, and you would have liked a dash of sci-fi thrown into the story, this book is for you. This isn’t a bad book. It’s just that the relationships between humans, elves, and dwarfs are considerably more enthralling as Tolkien tells it.

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100 Books by 40: KANE AND ABEL

Book: Kane and Abel
Author: Jeffrey Archer
Published: 1979

Passing 10 hours of time can be done in many more pleasant ways than reading this book, like reading most of the other books further up in this list. Putting Jack Kerouac close to this title makes me seriously doubt The BBC’s understanding of American Literature. Let’s hope the end of this list was put together by a summer intern. And really, this conjecture seems reasonable considering The Princess Diaries is next on my reading list.

The book follows the lives of two successful men, Kane and Abel, naturally. One man is born into luxury, the other poverty. Due to an unfortunate turn of events, the characters feud for most of their lives.

The feud would have been considerably more interesting if Kane had dimensions rather than a dimension. William Kane always makes the right decisions. He is a successful banker. When Kane is shot in the face in WWII, all the scars heal, and he escapes permanent disfigurement. Of course he does. His wife is as beautiful at fifty-four as she was at twenty. Of course she is. Their children and beautiful and geniuses. Of course they are. See how tiresome this is? Now consider one thousand pages of it.

Partially due to the one dimension of William Kane, the foreshadowing could have only been more ham-fisted if the author provided a book summary at the end of every chapter. The plot was as predictable as the plot of an American rom-com. To round out this list of shame, the Biblical reference to Cain and Able fails to apply in significant ways.

Abel is developed further, but only slightly. The standard hard-working, successful immigrant story is trotted out. He occasionally makes poor choices, which make him slightly more interesting. Good stories never start off with, “I drank a nice herbal tea and went to bed early.”

Here’s the thing. Mark Twain didn’t try to write novels about Brits… set in England… a place he did not live. Jeffrey Archer is British. He’s lived in England his entire life. Here’s a theory. Perhaps the characters fall flat because these American archetypes are so tired to me. The archetypes succeed with foreigners because they reinforce their misconceptions of opportunity in America.

Are you an American? DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. If you want a easy summer read about immigrants, for god’s sake, pick-up The Godfather instead.

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100 Books by 40: VICKY ANGEL

Book: Vicky Angel
Author: Jacqueline Wilson
Published: 2000

Writing a children’s book about the grieving process must have been tough. Reading a children’s book about the grieving process was tough. It would be inaccurate to say that I enjoyed this book.

The main character has a troubled relationship with her parents. She also has a troubled relationship with her best friend who passes away early in the book. She stumbles through the grieving process with little support.

I recognize that this context is considerably more realistic that what’s often portrayed in our books, movies and TV shows. So, I see the need to paint a more relatable picture to young adults. But filling a need doesn’t necessarily equal enjoyable end product.

I don’t like children’s books. I often feel that the reader is being condescended to. This book was no exception. The only children’s author that I’ve read in this list that’s avoided condescending is Roald Dahl. Somehow he manages to deal with emotional challenges and ethical problems while fully inhabiting child-like imagination. Feel free to skip this book. But for God’s sake read Roald Dahl if you haven’t.

Check out my blogs on Roald Dahl’s books here:

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100 Books by 40: CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR

Book: CLAN of the Cave Bear
Author: Jean M. Auel
Published: 1980

I get the point of this book. I understand the research that preceeded it. I respect research.

The book is set in prehistoric history when early versions of man were competing to survive and evolve. What we recognize as humans had just emerged, and our ancestors were starting to die off. The book provides enormous detail describing what life was like for early man, including lists of available plants and animals and tools that were in use at the time.

I appreciate the effort that this required. This only elevates my disappointment at the other aspects of the book. The dialog is shit, partially this is due to the neanderthal characters speaking mostly in a primative form of sign language. But the plot is terrible too. The main story arc describes a struggle between the heroine and her nemesis. Unfortunately neither of them are well develope, and they are devoid of any complex emotions. When this arc was resolved at the end of the book, I felt nothing.

This book is solidly mediocre. All that great research really can’t make up for everything else that is lacking. Read at your own risk.


100 Books By 40: THE GODFATHER

Book: The Godfather
Author: Mario Puzo
Published: 1969

I have seen many movie adaptations of books. Mostly, they are poor adaptations. The Godfather is an exception. The movie was as great as the book.

The book challenges our current system as being just as arbitrary and unjust as any power structure The Mafia might have. When The Don is dispensing retribution against someone who has violated his trust, is this anymore meaningful than juries convicting their fellow citizen? I am hard pressed to come up with an answer for that.

In some ways our legal system seems even more unjust. So much of a trial hinges on irrelevant factors apart from the crime in question. Eye witness testimony has been proven to be unreliable. The incarceration rates suggest that minorities are given harsher sentences than white people. And the money. People with money and connections often seem able to out run justice.

The 2008 financial crisis left thousands of Americans without homes and jobs. It wiped out retirement funds. That crisis had a measurable impact on millions of Americans. No one went to jail. Haven’t we arbitrarily decided that those misdeeds don’t deserve jail time?

I was just talking with a friend a few nights ago. We agreed that everything is a hustle. We dress accountants up in nice suits, but this time of year they are all breaking the spirit of tax law if not the letter. How is that more admirable than the panhandler up the street selling cigarettes? It’s not. We’ve just labeled it as such.

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100 Books by 40: HOLES

Book: Holes
Author: Louis Sachar
Published: 1997

I borrowed this from the library. I could see that I requested sound media. I expected an audiobook on CDs. Instead, I got this doodad.

Picture of a mp3 player with one audiobook on it

It’s like a baby MP3 player only with one book on it. I guess this gets people mobile with a book without supplying their own MP3 player.

The doodad worked fine, except that it randomly shut down a few times losing my place in the book. It was a mild inconvenience. I had no idea such a thing exists, but I am happy that folks without access to an MP3 player have some options.

I often don’t research books before I read them. Because this little doodad had virtually no writing on it, I didn’t benefit from any of the information the book cover typically imparts. After some minutes of listening, it was discomforting that I was unsure if the book was a young adult novel. I noticed that the prose was pretty simple. But the subject matter was a bit heavy. Yet subject matter is a poor barometer of a book’s category.

This mystery drove me to distraction for the entire experience. I learned that the book is a young adult title after finishing it. So, note to self, when I don’t have a book jacket to peruse, I should look up the book to at least assess the category it’s in. Wondering about it diminishes from the experience of the book.

The book itself is unremarkable. The story is of a boy coming of age in a labor camp. Unwittingly, he solves some family mysteries and resolves an outstanding family debt. The plot is a little too precious for me, but I would happily recommend this book to any young adult.

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100 Books by 40: THE MAGUS

That book was like a slap in the face, but only if by some perversion it’s enjoyable. I don’t think I know what happened. I certainly didn’t know what was happening while I was reading it. I thought things would become clear once I reached the end of the book. That’s just not the case.

Usually, I don’t Google books before I write my reviews, but this one left me so confused that I needed to be reassured prior to putting my thoughts out there. The book is about a young British man who teaches abroad on a little island in Greece. Everything gets confusing from that point on.

The young man meets an inhabitant of the island and then witnesses and ultimately participates in something that I will describe as live theater for economy of words. That’s not exactly accurate, but it gets close enough to the concept for you to understand what I am about to say. Reality gets difficult to identify. I think some of the confusion and disorientation that the main character experiences, is meant to rub off on the reader. The main character can’t make sense of what is happing to him in spite of his relentless search for coherence. As a reader, I was also on a relentless search for coherence. In that sense, I was in the book with the character.

I enjoyed this aspect of the book immensely. I liked the experience enough that I would like to read it again in a decade. I suspect that the experience of the book is colored by what the reader brings to it. I suspect I would feel differently about this book at other phases in my life. I’m excited to revisit this book in the future and test out my hunch.


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100 Books by 40: Corelli’s Mandolin

This book was cute. It was cute about familial relationships. It was cute about love. It was cute about conflict. It was cute about war. If a book can be cute about World War II, what can’t it be cute about? Nothing. The answer is nothing. For the first quarter of the book, I found this pithy dialog endearing. The feeling shifted to irritation quickly.

The book was set in World War II on a small Greek island. Imagine if you applied the comedic tone from My Big Fat Greek wedding in a book about war? That’s what this book is. I can’t tell if this light-hearted treatment is peculiar to Greek culture or just this author. I just know that beside Gone With The Wind this seems like a children’s book.

The book did have some stellar quotes though.

“I am not a cynic, but I do know that history is the propaganda of the victors.”
“We should care for each other more than we care for ideas, or else we will end up killing each other.”

I don’t suggest reading Corelli’s Mandolin. If you want to read books in war settings Birdsong and Catch-22 were far better reads. Hell Catch-22 should just be required reading for all Americans.

I was traveling around the west coast while I was reading this book. I will leave you with a gorgeous picture of Crater Lake.

Crater Lake Panorama

This is at Crater Lake park in Oregon. The water is really that color. There was no picture editing software or filters in use for this shot.

Still gorgeous, but with some app filters applied.

Still gorgeous, but with some app filters applied.