14 March 2013

Booking through Thursday

I checked in at the Booking Through Thursday blog, which is the centre for a weekly book meme or blogging prompt. Today's subject proved so tempting that I decided to hop in and join the party.

Today's prompt is this: 

Does your current mood affect your reading? Affect your choices? I know there are plenty of books I enjoy, but only if I'm in a particular kind of mood–or books that can lift me out of a bad mood without fail. Surely I’m not alone?

My moods do affect my reading choices, and, to a lesser extent, my reading speed and the number of books I read, even how well I retain what I have been reading.

I have struggled with depression for many years and even before I realised it was depression that made me tired and dispirited, one of my methods of dealing with it was to delve into books. I would choose old, familiar books that I knew would lift my spirits and make me feel better and allow me to escape into another world for a while. In-between I might go through periods of not reading anything at all for weeks on end.

These books became what I like to call 'my perennials'. For example, I probably read Anne of Green Gables, My Family and Other Animals and The Hobbit once to twice a year for over 20 years, and I estimate that half of those times I was trying to drag myself out from under one of my dark clouds. Other perennial mood-boosters that came later included Good Omens and a number of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.

About 10 years ago I finally discovered that the tiredness and low spirits were caused by depression and not by, e.g., lack of sleep, lack of exercise or chronic fatigue syndrome (suspect no. 1). Around that time I began to feel that the perennials just weren't pepping me up as much as before and as I had refused an offer of 'happy pills' to level me off I was advised to try new activities instead. The result was the first incarnation of this blog, then called 52 Books. It worked, and through the reading challenge I set myself - to read a new-to-me author or genre every week - I discovered a number of new authors and genres, including some new favourites.

That challenge led me into another challenge involving crime fiction which I quit when I realised it was not making the depression any better. Little by little, I found a genre that was guaranteed to lift my spirits: romance novels. They follow a formula that guarantees a happy ending and often involve a wide range of emotions which, if the author knows her craft, you will experience through the protagonists. So now, when depression hits, I am just as likely to reach for a romance novel as I am a perennial. Whenever you see three or more romances listed in my monthly reading report, you can bet I was having a struggle with the blues that month (that, or else I got hooked on a series). I also pick up humorous books as an antidote to the blues, but only ones I expect to be genuinely funny, because there is hardly any kind of book I find as depressing as one that is touted as funny when the humour falls flat or doesn't appeal to me. I will read almost manically (both speed- and quantity-wise) when I'm depressed, and as a result I tend to retain less of what I read than at other times. I love series when this is the case because it enables me to stay in the same universe for longer and to explore it from new angles.

Other moods also affect my choices. If I'm bored and want a change, I read travelogues, folk tales or fantasy (occasionally also literary fiction), preferably big, juicy tomes that I can get immersed in for weeks on end.

Biographies, popular science and history books (also historical fiction) help me feel like I'm learning something new when I feel stuck in a rut or burned out.

When I'm feeling happy I tend to read less than at other times and I often go for short stories or short novels, comic books, graphic novels and picture books that can be slotted in between other activities.

06 March 2013

Reading report for February 2013

I finished 13 books in February, in a variety of genres: historical novels, romance, crime, trivia, humour, history and biography. I am right on track with the TBR challenge and expect to continue at the same pace in March.

No one author dominated the month like Nora Roberts did in January, although I did read two books by Agatha Christie, neither of which I have read before. At least I don’t remember having read them, but its hard to be sure because I read quite a number of her books when I was a teenager.

There were no fewer than three stand-outs in February, not counting Dodger (on account of being a reread), which is the best Pratchett I have read in several years.

The best of these was Third Class Ticket by Heather Wood, which I brought back with me from India in 2009 after coming across it in the wonderful Blossom book-store in Bangalore. I had heard of it long before, found on a list of ‘must read’ books about India, but had been unable to acquire a copy. This is a lovely tale about a group of Bengali villagers sent on a 7-month journey by train around the sub-continent, made possible by a bequest from their landlady.

The second stand-out was Mauve by Simon Garfield. It is a fascinating blend of history and biography, of the first aniline dye and the man who discovered it, and the wide-ranging consequences of that discovery, both good and bad.

The third stand-out was Federico Andahazi’s The Anatomist. This satirical novel is based on events in the life of 16th century anatomist Matteo Realdo Colombo and his discovery of the clitoris and the consequences of this discovery.

Although these three stood out, most of the month’s books were satisfying reads, except for Agatha Christie’s Easy to Kill, which I found to be full of stereotypes and obvious clues.

Statistically, four books were ‘sweepings’, i.e. books I started reading at some point in the past and then either stopped reading for a time (3) or read very slowly (1); three were rereads, books I sought out for comfort reading; and three of the others were non-fiction. One was in Icelandic.

The Books:
  • Federico Andahazi : The Anatomist . Historical novel, satire.
  • Bathroom Readers' Institute : Uncle John's Unsinkable Bathroom Reader . Trivia, humour.
  • Guy Browning : Never Hit a Jellyfish With a Spade . Humour, collected newspaper columns.
  • Agatha Christie : The Murder at Hazelmoor and Easy to Kill . Murder mysteries.
  • Jennifer Crusie : Tell Me Lies . Romantic thriller. Reread.
  • George MacDonald Fraser : The General Danced at Dawn . Short stories, humorous, semi-autobiographical.
  • Simon Garfield : Mauve: How one man invented a colour that changed the world . History/biography.
  • Dashiell Hammett : The Dain Curse . Thriller, murder mystery.
  • Georgette Heyer : The Unknown Ajax . Historical novel, romantic. Reread.
  • Terry Pratchett : Dodger . YA historical novel/alternative reality. Reread.
  • Sverrir Kristjánsson & Tómas Guðmundsson : Íslenskir örlagaþættir: Konur og kraftaskáld . Biography of three Icelandic poets.
  • Heather Wood : Third Class Ticket . Travelogue. 
I have now started reading a collection of Icelandic folk-tales in 4 volumes which I expect to finish at the end of the coming summer, and am rediscovering my love of that genre. But that's not the only book I am reading: I have gone back to an old arrangement of having several books on the go at once. At the moment I have one each in the bathroom, kitchen, living room and office, three in the bedroom (with very short, short and long chapters, depending on how much I intend to read before I go to sleep) and two to go - one on the phone and another on the Kindle. These days I only read on the phone while waiting in queues, but the Kindle I take with me to work to read during lunch and coffee breaks.

Incidentally, should you want to know what I am reading at any given time, how many books I have finished during the month or year and how the TBR challenge is going, all you have to do is take a look at the 'Monthly statistics' in the left sidebar.

04 March 2013

2013 Online Reading Challenge Round-up, Part VI: Mixed bag of genres

This is the final genre post, a collection of all the genre challenges remaining on my list.

The Cruisin' thru the Cozies challenge is in its third year, and is being hosted by Socrates' Book Reviews. There are three levels, ranging from 6 to 13+ books. It runs all year long and I did not see a sign-up deadline. Reviewing is not required but is encouraged, and if you don't have a blog you can post about the books you read in the comments to the appropriate post on the hosting blog. 63 participants so far - why not become the 64th?

Another re-run is the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, hosted by My Reader's Block. Any book read for this challenge must have been written pre-1960 and must of course be a mystery of some kind.

The sign-up deadline is November 30. You must choose 8 categories from a list of 37 and read one book in each category to be eligible for a prize drawing at the end of the year. 40 people have signed up so far. More rules can be found in the sign-up post.

The Fairy Tales Retold challenge/read-a-thon is hosted by Deb's Bookshelf. It runs all year long and there does not seem to be a sign-up deadline.

The aim is to read retellings of fairy tales or "original" fairy tales at the young adult and middle grade reading level. There are six imaginatively named levels and you can read anything from 1 to 16 plus books.

54 participants so far.

The Telling Tales challenge is hosted by An Armchair by the Sea and the aim is to read books of any genre that relate to fairy tales and/or mythology. It runs all year long and you can sign up at any time. Rereads are allowed, reviewing seems to be expected and there are 7 levels. The first six are about the number of books you read (from 2 to 30) and the seventh level is about reading any number of books and watching the film adaptations of the stories. More rules can be found on site. 26 participants so far.

The Historical Fiction challenge is exactly what it says on the label: a challenge to read historical fiction of all kinds. It is hosted by Historical Tapestry and runs all year long.

I could not find a sign-up deadline.

Reviewing is not necessary, but you need to keep some kind of track (online) of the books you read, even if only in comments on the hosting blog.

There are five levels, ranging from 2 to 25+ books.

This is a popular challenge, with 219 participants so far.

The Nerdy Non-Fiction challenge is hosted by Bookmark to Blog. This is a year-long challenge to read a wide range of non-fiction and has both levels and categories.

To meet the challenge, you must read at least 4-6 books in 2-3 of  categories. The number of both increases through three more levels. No sign-up deadline is given, cross-overs are allowed and reviewing is encouraged. Information on the levels and categories at the sign-up post. 68 participants so far.

The year-long  Genre Variety challenge is hosted by A Daydreamer's Thoughts. Sign up is open until December 1st. You have five levels to choose from, ranging from 6 books in 6 different genres to 30 books in 30 different genres. Genres/categories are suggested, but you are free to add any the host has forgotten to include. Sub-genres are allowed, as are novellas. Blog ownership is not required (you can post about the books you read in comments in monthly posts), and there will be a giveaway at the end of the year. 49 participants so far.

The Narrative Poem challenge is hosted by Half-Filled Attic. This is, as the title suggests, a challenge to get the participants to read poetry, but not just any poetry: it must be narrative, i.e. tell a story. You can make this challenge as easy or hard as you please, since a narrative poem can be as short as Poe's The Raven, or as long as Spencer's Faerie Queene or Homer's Ilyad. There are four levels, the challenge runs all year long and reviewing is expected. More rules in the sign-up post. 13 participants so far. As a matter of fact, I think I might just join this one. 

I think that's enough challenges for now - the cross-genre theme challenges (classics, food and more) will have to go in the next post.