Archive for December 10, 2011

Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge: my personal wrap up

December 10, 2011 22 comments

This year I was a participant to Sarah’s challenge Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge. The rules were rather easy to follow, you just had to read a book in each category and you could choose the book you wanted and read it when you wanted. That was perfect for me. So, now that the year is almost finished, how did it go for me? I’ve read 9 out of the 10 books I had picked up; I’d say it went fine for me. Let’s go back to the categories and books:

1. A book that has been previously abandoned.

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I had started this one twice, in French but I never abandoned the idea of reading it because it wasn’t “normal” for me to abandon it. Wharton is exactly the kind of writers I enjoy reading and I thought I had only started The Custom of the Country at bad times. Now I wonder if the translation is really that good. I was right not to give up on it entirely. I LOVED it although I dislike Undine immensely.

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

It was In Search of Lost Time. I didn’t finish re-reading it. I stopped after Sodom and Gomorrah; I’ll continue with The Captive in 2012. I really love Proust. The characters, the ideas, the music of his prose stay with me. To discover my thoughts about Proust, check the Reading Proust page.

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

The book in that category was Diadorim by João Guimarães Rosa. After a little discussion with Tom (Amateur Reader) who pointed out that Diadorim was compared to Ulysses whereas the French blurbs refers to La Chanson de Roland, I decided to let it gather some more dust on the TBR shelf. It’s still a mystery to me as to how a same book can attract so different comparisons as Ulysses and La Chanson de Roland but it only reinforces the idea that I’m definitely not a literary critic. It’s the only book of the challenge I haven’t started and won’t start. I’m considering removing it from the TBR shelf without a try.

4. A book that paralyses one with dread.

I immediately thought of René by Chateaubriand. I also read Atala, it was in the same book. Hmm. It’s the kind of book I’m glad I’ve read but didn’t exactly enjoy. However, I found Chateaubriand’s prose less bombastic than expected and I’m now very interested in his memoirs. But they are so HUGE that I’d better finish In Search of Lost Time before starting them.

5. Investigate a canonical writer hitherto most shamefully overlooked.

My choice for this one was Life’s Little Ironies by Thomas Hardy. Un vrai coup de Coeur. (A blow of heart, that’s how we say in French). This was a great discovery; I read The Mayor of Casterbridge after this one and now I’m on a reading project to read all Thomas Hardy. So there’s a Reading Thomas Hardy page to this blog. The next one I’ll read is Desperate Remedies; the title in itself is full of promises.

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…?

I decided to eventually read Les particules élémentaires by Michel Houellebecq. Well, I’ve also read Extension du domaine de la lutte (Whatever, in English). I don’t see why everybody raves about him but I must be one of those obtuse and old-fashioned readers who can’t detect a contemporary genius when they meet one.

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!

Les dieux ont soif by Anatole France. (The Gods Are Athirst). The man got the Nobel Prize but I think his prose didn’t age well. This historical novel takes place during the Terror, the terrible years when French revolutionaries guillotined wholeheartedly their fellow citizens. The ideas developed in the book were interesting but the style is dated and full of references now obscure to the common reader.

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. I enjoyed reading this book although I suspect it won’t age well. Frédéric Beigbeder relates his childhood and his youth; I felt he let me enter his mind and it resulted in a strange review in the form of a letter to the author. I still can’t explain why this review came out this way; it felt right, that’s all I can say.

9. A book from an unfamiliar genre.

Of course, I had to choose SF for the unfamiliar genre, so I set my mind on The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. I couldn’t finish it, I didn’t like his style and I tried to read him in French and in English. I think I was thorough enough in my approach to justify the abandonment. And you know what? I don’t feel guilty at all…

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 asked Guy to pick a book for me. He chose The Ladies from St Petersburg by Nina Berberova. I knew her as she was fashionable in France in the 1980s. The publisher Actes Sud discovered her and everybody was reading her books. She’s worth discovering; her style is fresh and original. If you’ve never read her, try this short novella. Thanks Guy for the good choice.

In the end, the hell turned into heaven with Life’s Little Ironies and The Custom of the Country. The French books –except for Proust—weren’t bad but not engrossing and at least I learnt something. The SF experience wasn’t good, but I won’t give entirely on the genre. The page dedicated to the challenge will be deleted, I’m sorry for the kind fellow bloggers who left comments there, they will disappear with it. I’m curious to read other participant’s wrap-ups if they plan to write one.

Categories: Challenges, Personal Posts
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