Home > Challenges > Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge

Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’m usually not drawn to challenges and readalongs but Sarah’s challenge has caught my attention because there is no schedule and because I can choose whichever book I want into the categories she designed. When I was reading her funny categories, book titles came to my mind. So I thought, why not?

Voilà. Here are my choices, so far. I may change my mind later because I’m not good at sticking to reading plans.  

1. A book that has been previously abandoned. 

I’m not kamikaze enough to try again the Wind Up Bird Chronicles or Quo Vadis?  Let’s bravely say Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton, already started twice and because she’s an author I expect to like.

2. A re-read. Didn’t quite get it/thought there was more/made promise to self to re-read? Time to make good.

I’m already re-reading In Search of Lost Time. I think that will do and will probably take the whole year, considering I’m reading it as fast as turtles walk.

3. A book that has sat on the shelf, like, forever. (Decades.)

Diadorim by João Guimarães Rosa. I’ve had difficulties with all the Southern American books I’ve read.

4. A book that paralyses one with dread.

 René by Chateaubriand. A writer I’ve been avoiding like the plague. It could fit for category 3 too. We’ve been watching each other for a while.

5. Investigate a canonical writer hitherto most shamefully overlooked.

 Life’s Little Ironies by Thomas Hardy. I love this title. It’s going to be a difficult read for me because I have the English paperback edition.

6. Seek out a book by an author who has earned ostracism by being so good that any further novel could surely never measure up…?

 Les particules élémentaires by Michel Houellebecq. He won the Prix Goncourt in 2010 for another of his novels. The whole universe praises him. The book has been on my shelf for a while.

7. And the opposite… That author who was supposed to be really good, but didn’t go down too well? Give him/her another go!

I’m not masochistic enough to inflict on me the reading of Paul Claudel, so Les dieux ont soif  by Anatole France. (Translated as The Gods Are Thirsty). It seems every town in this country has a street named after him. He was Zola’s friend. National funeral were arranged when he died in 1924. Nobody reads him anymore. Unjustly forgotten or too rooted in his time to reach eternity?

8. Take a chance. Read a book which you would rather not. For instance when the OH says ‘you’ll really like this’ and you’re thinking ‘no, I really won’t…’

Un roman français, by Frédéric Beigbeder. He wants to be the French Jay McInerney. I’m suspicious when a writer wants to be someone else. I received this book last Christmas and it’s not something I would have chosen by myself.

9. A book from an unfamiliar genre

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. Another Christmas gift that has been on the shelf for decades because of its science-fiction tag. It could have been my number 3 but I would have had to read two SF books. Let’s take it slow on that genre.

10. Ask a friend (preferably a person of impeccable taste, and definitely not someone who might have an axe to grind) to choose a book that you will, in their opinion, like. (This does not mean ask a dozen people until you get the right answer!)

I was about to ask for ideas to all the persons who will read this — it would have been fun — but I see it would be cheating. I could have chosen one book automatically recommended by Amazon or Decitre.fr but I’m not ready to take a computer as a friend. The best solution is undoubtly to ask a recommendation to a fellow blogger, and if possible to someone who has similar literary tastes. I’m going to play safe on this one, so Guy, if you read this, will you choose the 10th book for me?

And of course, the challenge within the challenge will be to follow the challenge!

Categories: Challenges
  1. January 23, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    It sounds like a fun challenge and you got a few great titles to read. Like the Murakami challenge, you read what you want, whenever you want, no pressure. Everything else is a nightmare, I agree. The only other challenge I will do because I enjoyed it so much last year is R.I.P. from September to Halloween. That is my type of challenge (crime, thriller, ghost stories and dark fantasy). I still think a read along is slightly different. I hated Les particules élémentaires even turned it down for the German editor I worked for (wasn’t in the line with their publications) but I absolutely loved Extension du domaine de la lutte. I haven’t read much Chateaubriand but I think I did read Atala et René… I got Mémoires d’outre tombe… imagine reading that… I liked some of Claudel’s plays but can hardly remember them. I have never heard of Diadorim.


  2. January 23, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    What’s RIP? Rest In Peace?

    I usually call Chateaubriand “Chateaubrichiant”. If his memoirs weren’t so long, I’d be tempted. Like for Lamartine, I’m intrigued by his double personality: the politician on one side and the Romantic writer on the other side. I wonder how these two opposite trends can cohabit in the same person.

    Houellebecq, I’m suspicious. Is that praise some fashion or really deserved? I’ll see if I like his novel. I don’t consider myself good enough to say if he’s a genius or not.

    Claudel’s catholicism and attitude towards his sister is a put-off for me.


    • January 24, 2011 at 5:50 am

      Readers Imbibing Peril (of course an allusion to Rest in Peace). I liked it. Rousseau is a double personality as well… Writings on education and giving away his own children… Different type of double personality though.


      • January 24, 2011 at 9:07 am

        Rousseau. Yes. I have difficulties with philosophers who don’t practise what they preach. Faites ce que je dis, pas ce que je fais.


  3. January 23, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    A challenging list! Hope you enjoy getting through it…

    Not on your list, but I had Wind-up Bird Chronicles for Christmas… was surprised a) how thick it is and b) how many people haven’t finished it. Oh dear.

    I wonder if Proust should figure somewhere on my list. Love the way you speak casually of re-read, when you must be amongst a quite select minority to have read it even once! HG Wells should be interesting, easily read but tends to leave me with mixed feelings; and I wish you luck with Thomas Hardy. Reading him in English does sound challenging. Do you read many English classics in their original form? I can (or rather could!) read very basic French, but any archaic variations would have left me stranded.

    Am looking forward to your reviews, and thank you again for participating.


    • January 24, 2011 at 9:06 am

      The Wind Up Bird Chronicles… Thick book indeed, even if the English translation is abridged. That’s why I abandoned it: I wasn’t enjoying it and there were so many pages left.

      I love Proust. He’s funny. He has an incredible way to describe our most inner thoughts and feelings. There are a couple of reviews on my blog if you’re interested. It might help you decide if you want to read him.

      Wells has been on the shelf since 1989, if I refer to the dedication that the person who gave it to me left in it. It says a lot about my attraction to SF.

      You can speak French too! Good to know. Second warning on Thomas Hardy, after some comment left on Caroline’s blog. I’ll see. It’s usually easier for me to read classics in English than contemporary writers. Classic writers have a … classic style, with formal words. And many English formal words are almost identical in French. So, even if I’ve never seen the word before, I can guess. I suppose it’s the same the other way round : easier to read Maupassant in French than Amélie Nothomb.

      All these books are already on the shelves, you just made them move on the top of the pile. I’m going to create a page for the challenge and make links with the reviews when I read on of the books. Or create a new line if I change my mind on a category.


      • January 24, 2011 at 10:47 am

        Did you already decide on which Thomas Hardy. I finished Susan Hill’s book on books (going to review it tomorrow) and she gives wonderful advice on some classics. She writes, one should approach Hardy reading The Mayor of Casterbridge and not Tess of the D’Urbervilles or Jude the Obscure. I might read my first Hardy this year as well… Thinking about reading The Mayor…


        • January 24, 2011 at 10:54 am

          Yes, it will be Life’s Little Ironies. Short stories. I can’t remember if I’ve read Tess of the D’Urbervilles or only seen the film. I don’t know why I associate it to Yann Queffelec’s Les Noces Barbares. I must have watched/read the two at the same time.


  4. January 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Yes, I saw the title, I meant if you are going to stay with this title in any case and it seems you will. Don’t know if they are linked Tess/Noces?


    • January 24, 2011 at 2:32 pm

      I want to read first the books I already have. I chose this one because of the title, it’s a stupid way to choose a book but that’s what I did anyway.
      I don’t know if there is link between Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Les Noces Barbare ? The same theme of a woman badly treated ? Both bleak?


  5. January 24, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Book Around the Corner: I’d be delighted to pick a book for you, so I will begin thinking about it and will get back to you shortly.

    Some of the categories seem very attractive (a re-read, for example) while others seem more painful (the book you would rather not).

    BTW, Hardy is a great favourite of mine. The only caution I would have is the dialect.


    • January 24, 2011 at 9:46 pm

      Thanks, take as much time as you want, there’s no rush.

      The book “I’d rather not” has had good critics in France and won the Prix Renaudot. It’s rather short, maybe it’ll be a good surprise. What I don’t understand is why people still give me books outside the huge lists I usually provide. (upon their request, to top it off)

      If Hardy is too difficult in English, I’ll get it in translation. Have you read these short stories?


      • January 24, 2011 at 10:41 pm

        Yes I’ve read it and I have a copy, so any help I can offer, of course, feel free to ask. It’s been a few years since I read Life’s Little Ironies but I don’t think it’s one of the more egregious examples of Hardy’s dialect.

        On the selection, I am chewing over several possibilities. Will think some more.


        • January 24, 2011 at 10:57 pm

          Thanks, I may ask questions if I encounter something so British that I don’t understand it.


  6. leroyhunter
    January 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    Sounds like good fun! The categories are certainly challenging. Makes me think (with dread, in some cases) of what I might choose myself…

    Good luck with it, look forward to seeing how it goes and what impact the challenge has on you as a reader, ie reading something you know you didn’t really want to.


    • January 25, 2011 at 3:42 pm

      Thanks Leroy.
      Don’t forget I already have all these books. Apart from Wells and Beigbeder, I chose to buy them someday. Somehow, René and Les particules élémentaires are a “must-read”, so I’m curious.

      I’m looking forward to trying Hardy and I was waiting to finish Le côté de Guermantes to read it. I can’t read something difficult in French and at the same time something difficult in English.

      As for Anatole France, I wanted to read about the French Revolution and I’m also curious to read him. I wonder if it’s outdated.

      PS : May I ask you a question ? (feel free not to answer if you don’t want to) Why don’t you start a blog? I would be interested in your thoughts on what you read.


      • leroyhunter
        January 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

        Thanks for the thought, bookaround. No reason why not, I guess…it’s something I’d like to do. This last while there just hasn’t been time due to work and young kids (twins plus one slightly older). That’s getting easier so maybe this year I’ll give it a try.

        I enjoy the blogs I read so much I kind of don’t want to spoil it with the effort of doing one myself! Selfish.


        • January 25, 2011 at 8:50 pm

          Well, I guess my question was selfish too.

          I know what it is to work and take care of young children, I understand perfectly you don’t have time for this. But they grow up fast, one day they can’t climb stairs and the next day they discuss the differences between the book and film versions of Harry Potter.


  7. January 25, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Ok: I’ve really thought about this and of course there are many possibilities. Zola popped up, of course, but I hesitate since you are French. I’m thinking something different, but I don’t want to stick you with something that you have to read through the lens of three languages.

    Les Dames de Saint-Pétersbourg by Nina Berberova.

    I found it on Amazon FR in French. The author is Russian. My version contained three stories, so I’m hoping that it’s the same in the FR version.

    I think you’d really like this.


    • January 25, 2011 at 5:10 pm

      Thanks for the time you spent doing this.

      I knew I could trust you : I have already read a book by Nina Berberova (L’accompagnatrice) and I remember I liked it. It’s probably a good choice.

      PS : No Simenon ?


  8. January 25, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    I picked one that I am fairly certain you’ll like. I considered Simenon, and if you’d rather I can easily pick one.


    • January 25, 2011 at 9:30 pm

      Not that I don’t want to read Simenon (I will) but I’d rather keep Nina Berberova, I’m not supposed to influence your choice.


  9. January 26, 2011 at 7:04 am

    I see you were lucky with Guy’s pick. Nina Berberova is a great choice. I’m planning of reading more of her as well. I liked L’accompagnatrice and Le livre du bonheur and many of the shorter ones…


  10. January 26, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    I’ve read René, and Attala come to think of it.

    They’re very short and interesting from a historical perspective. René was I believe very influential on romantic literature.


    • January 26, 2011 at 7:04 pm

      Actually my edition includes René and Atala.
      I agree with the historical perspective, that’s why I bought the book in the first place.


  11. January 26, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Oh dear, I must add another book to categories 4&10

    In the hall of our local library stands a basket where people can drop the books they don’t want anymore and take another one — for free.
    The nanny brought my children to the library this afternoon and knowing how much I love reading, my daughter came back with two SAS books by Gérard de Villiers for me. I suppose she picked them because of the covers. I think I’m going to ask my husband to read one of them (share the gift) but I can’t avoid reading the other one. I can’t disappoint her. That’s definitely a writer I would NEVER have read by myself.


  12. January 28, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Guy, Les Dames de St Petersbourg came in the post today. It’s a very short book and I’ll read it soon.


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