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1 Challenge Books 003

Each year for the past several years I have made a list of books from my To-Be-Read pile that I really DO want to read, but that keep sinking to the bottom.  If it turns out that a book is just terrible, I do abandon it.  That has only happened a couple of times.  I replaced one book with a longer book one year that had been on my shelf since my children were little.  I enjoyed it very much.

I have some very big books on my list this year and a few small ones.  The result over the years of doing this is that I don’t have a lot of books anymore that are just lying around making me feel guilty.  It works for me to do this.  I spent a lot of time choosing my list for this year and I am looking forward to reading them.  I tell myself that I only have to read 3-5 pages of my challenge book each night.  Of course, I often read many more pages.  Somehow, giving myself permission to do just a few pages results in more.

I also read other books along with the challenge stories.

Some of the books on my list were given to me by friends and some were recommended by readers here at Bookflurries.  One book is a re-read and one I had started and had to lay it down.

Do you have a challenge list?  What books would you choose?

My Challenge List for 2013

1.  The Enemy is Listening: History of the 'Y' Service, 1939-45 by Aileen Clayton


Note:  British Y Service radio interceptors during the Second World War were adept at fashioning real time intelligence on the combat actions of the Luftwaffe, based upon intercepted communications, ground-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-air, high frequency [HF] long-range communications.
2.   Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson


Almost three-quarters of a million British soldiers lost their lives during the First World War, and many more were incapacitated by their wounds, leaving behind a generation of women who, raised to see marriage as "the crown and joy of woman's life," suddenly discovered that they were left without an escort to life's great feast.

Drawing upon a wealth of moving memoirs, Singled Out tells the inspiring stories of these women: the student weeping for a lost world as the Armistice bells pealed, the socialite who dedicated her life to resurrecting the ancient past after her soldier love was killed, the Bradford mill girl whose campaign to better the lot of the "War spinsters" was to make her a public figure—and many others who, deprived of their traditional roles, reinvented themselves into something better.

Tracing their fates, Nicholson shows that these women did indeed harbor secret sadness, and many of them yearned for the comforts forever denied them—physical intimacy, the closeness of a loving relationship, and children. Some just endured, but others challenged the conventions, fought the system, and found fulfillment outside of marriage. From the mill-girl turned activist to the debutante turned archeologist, from the first woman stockbroker to the "business girls" and the Miss Jean Brodies, this book memorializes a generation of young women who were forced, by four of the bloodiest years in human history, to stop depending on men for their income, their identity, and their future happiness. Indeed, Singled Out pays homage to this remarkable generation of women who, changed by war, in turn would change society.

3.   Deep Time by Gregory Benford

…Human civilization has evolved to the point at which we have begun consciously sending messages into the far future. How should we communicate who we are, what we know, to as-yet-unmet intelligent beings elsewhere in both time and space? Will they be able to decipher what we say? And what information will we leave to Earth's occupants a million years hence? How can we address an unknown destiny in which human culture itself may no longer exist?

Combining the logical rigor of a scientist with the lyrical beauty of a novelist, Gregory Benford explores these and other fascinating questions in a provocative analysis of humanity's attempts to make its culture immortal, to cross the immense gulf that such deep-time messages must span in order to be understood. In clear, crisp language, he confronts our growing influence on events hundreds of thousands of years into the future, and explores the possible "messages' we may transmit to our distant descendants in the language of the planet itself-from nuclear waste to global warming to the extinction of species.

4.   The Enormous Room by e.e. cummings


In 1917 young Edward Estlin Cummings went to France as a volunteer with a Red Cross ambulance unit on the western front. But his free-spirited, insubordinate ways soon got him tagged as a possible enemy of La Patrie, and he was summarily tossed into a French concentration camp at La Ferte-Mace in Normandy. Under the vilest conditions, Cummings found fulfillment of his ever elusive quest for freedom. The Enormous Room, his account of his four-month confinement, reads like a latter-day Pilgrim's Progress, a journey into dispossession, to a place among the most debased and deprived of human creatures. Cummings's hopeful tone reflects the essential paradox of his existence: to lose everything is to become free, and so to be saved.

5.   The Swerve by Stephan Greenblatt

Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.

The copying and translation of this ancient book-the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age-fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.

Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction
Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Nonfiction

6.   The Hornet’s Nest by Jimmy Carter


The first work of fiction by a President of the United States — a sweeping novel of the American South and the War of Independence.

In his ambitious and deeply rewarding novel, Jimmy Carter brings to life the Revolutionary War as it was fought in the Deep South; it is a saga that will change the way we think about the conflict. He reminds us that much of the fight for independence took place in that region and that it was a struggle of both great and small battles and of terrible brutality, with neighbor turned against neighbor, the Indians' support sought by both sides, and no quarter asked or given. The Hornet's Nest follows a cast of characters and their loved ones on both sides of this violent conflict — including some who are based on the author's ancestors.

7.   Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright


Before Madeleine Albright turned twelve, her life was shaken by the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia—the country where she was born—the Battle of Britain, the near total destruction of European Jewry, the Allied victory in World War II, the rise of communism, and the onset of the Cold War.

Albright's experiences, and those of her family, provide a lens through which to view the most tumultuous dozen years in modern history. Drawing on her memory, her parents' written reflections, interviews with contemporaries, and newly available documents, Albright recounts a tale that is by turns harrowing and inspiring. Prague Winter is an exploration of the past with timeless dilemmas in mind and, simultaneously, a journey with universal lessons that is intensely personal…

8.   The Night Country by Loren Eisley (re-read)

I got two more of his books off my shelves to read, too.

     All the Strange Hours
     The Innocent Assassins (poems)


Toward the end of his life, Loren Eiseley reflected on the mystery of life, throwing light on those dark places traversed by himself and centuries of humankind. The Night Country is a gift of wisdom and beauty from the famed anthropologist. It describes his needy childhood in Nebraska, reveals his increasing sensitivity to the odd and ordinary in nature, and focuses on a career that turns him inward as he reaches outward for answers in old bones.

9.   The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse by Vikram Seth


This novel in verse about a group of California yuppies was one of the most highly praised books of 1986 and a bestseller on both coasts.

10.  This Hallowed Ground: A History of the Civil War by Bruce Catton

I read so many of his as a child that this one may be a re-read.


First published in 1955, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Bruce Catton’s classic account of the Civil War simultaneously captures the dramatic scope and intimate experience of that epic struggle in one brilliant volume.

Covering events from the prelude of the conflict to the death of Lincoln, Catton blends a gripping narrative with deep, yet unassuming, scholarship to bring the war alive on the page in an almost novelistic way. It is this gift for narrative that led contemporary critics to compare this book to War and Peace, and call it a “modern Iliad.”…

11.  Middletown America by Gail Sheehy

…All Americans were hit with some degree of trauma on September 11, 2001, but no place was hit harder than Middletown, New Jersey. Gail Sheehy spent the better part of two years walking the journey from grief toward renewal with fifty members of the community that lost more people in the World Trade Center than any other outside New York City. Her subjects are the women, men, and children who remained after the devastation and who are putting their lives back to-gether.

Sheehy tells the story of four widowed moms from New Jersey who started out scarcely knowing the difference between the House and the Senate, yet turned their sorrow and anger into action and became formidable witnesses to the failures of the country’s leadership to connect the dots before September 11. …

12.  Sherman’s March by Burke Davis

I have Sherman's autobiography which is a huge book on my shelf, too.  I have already read Sherman’s March to the Sea by General Jacob D. Cox.


Sherman's March is the vivid narrative of General William T. Sherman's devastating sweep through Georgia and the Carolinas in the closing days of the Civil War. Weaving together hundreds of eyewitness stories, Burke Davis graphically brings to life the dramatic experiences of the 65,000 Federal troops who plundered their way through the South and those of the anguished — and often defiant — Confederate women and men who sought to protect themselves and their family treasures, usually in vain. Dominating these events is the general himself — "Uncle Billy" to his troops, the devil incarnate to the Southerners he encountered…

13.  Letters to a Fiction Writer ed. by Frederick Busch


Contributors include Lee K. Abbott, Charles Baxter, Ray Bradbury, Raymond Carver, Shelby Foote, John Gardner, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Tobias Wolff, and Flannery O'Connor, among others.

14.  The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford


Eight-year-old Molly and her ten-year-old brother Ralph are inseparable, in league with each other against the stodgy and stupid routines of school and daily life; against their prim mother and prissy older sisters; against the world of authority and perhaps the world itself. One summer they are sent from the genteel Los Angeles suburb that is their home to backcountry Colorado, where their uncle Claude has a ranch.

There the children encounter an enchanting new world—savage, direct, beautiful, untamed—to which, over the next few years, they will return regularly, enjoying a delicious double life. And yet at the same time this other sphere, about which they are both so passionate, threatens to come between their passionate attachment to each other. Molly dreams of growing up to be a writer, yet clings ever more  fiercely to the special world of childhood. Ralph for his part feels the growing challenge, and appeal, of impending manhood. Youth and innocence are hurtling toward a devastating end.

This part worries me...Youth and innocence are hurtling toward a devastating end.

15.  Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams by Lyle Leverich


Considered by many to be the greatest artist of the American theatre, Tennessee Williams has been described by those who knew him as shy and aggressive, lucid and manic, accessible and elusive, kind and cruel, but always enigmatic. Until now, little has been known of Williams's youth and the true forces that influenced and helped create the persona of Tennessee Williams. Lyle Leverich, chosen by the playwright himself as his biographer, has been given exclusive access to letters, diaries and journals, unpublished manuscripts, and family documents and has written the definitive biography of Williams's early life.

Leverich takes us through Williams's largely unknown life from the young, introspective schoolboy through his stalled academic career, the early success of his writing, the confusion over his sexuality, the growing certainty of his talent, to the brink of fame with The Glass Menagerie. Tom tells the story of the "unknown" years of the playwright's life, before Tom, the person, was eclipsed by Tennessee, the celebrated persona.

16.  With My Face to the Enemy: Perspectives on the Civil War ed. by Robert Cowley


The lawyer-historian Alan T. Nolan called the Civil War our "folk epic told over and over again." Robert Cowley reminds us in his excellent introduction to this volume that it was the Civil War that "finally brought us together as a nation, made us truly a 'union.'" With My Face to the Enemy is one of the most provocative and wide-ranging anthologies on the subject to come along in years, and a collection everyone interested in American history will want to read. Its thirty-six illuminating essays examine the war from the perspectives critical to its outcome--the larger-than-life personalities of the important players from Lincoln to Lee and the national strategies and key battle tactics that shaped the four-year-long crisis. Contributors include the leading lights of Civil War scholarship: James M. McPherson, Stephen W. Sears, Gary W. Gallagher, David Herbert Donald, and seventeen others.

James M. McPherson's essays ponder three diverse, fascinating subjects: Abraham Lincoln's use of language and its role in his victory; Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee's failed southern strategies; and Ulysses S. Grant's race with death to complete the memoirs that are his most enduring monument. Stephen W. Sears, in four essays, describes the daring flanking maneuvers of Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville and presents the last word on Lee's legendary "lost order," among other topics. Other highlights include David Herbert Donald on how Lincoln took charge in the early days of his presidency; Gary W. Gallagher on Lee's record before his ascension as a southern icon; John Bowers on Stonewall Jackson and George H. Thomas, "The Rock of Chickamauga"; Noah Andre Trudeau on trench warfare in Virginia; and Thomas Fleming on a divided West Point.

17.  A History of London by Stephen Inwood


Since its first-century beginnings as a Roman outpost on the banks of the Thames to its status in the twenty-first as a cosmopolitan world capital, London has belonged to outsiders. From Europe's major cultural centers and every English-speaking corner of the Commonwealth, in successive waves of migration they have come to London -- the merchants and traders, the artists and artisans, the refugees and dreamers and speculators and financiers -- and each in their turn has left a distinctive mark on the city's cultural map.

For Stephen Inwood, London's history belongs primarily to these people whose tastes, talents, trades, and pocketbooks have continually reinvented the grand metropolis -- and sometimes threatened to destroy it. Drawing on a multitude of sources and an abundance of unfamiliar anecdotes, Inwood tirelessly explores the history of a city defined as much by the mob as the monarch, and on every page shows why, as Samuel Johnson said, "When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."

18.  The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I ordered a new copy because missing chapters have been added and the title is changed:

In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


The thrilling cold war masterwork by the Nobel Prize winner, published in full for the first time.

Moscow, Christmas Eve, 1949.The Soviet secret police intercept a call made to the American embassy by a Russian diplomat who promises to deliver secrets about the nascent Soviet Atomic Bomb program. On that same day, a brilliant mathematician is locked away inside a Moscow prison that houses the country's brightest minds. He and his fellow prisoners are charged with using their abilities to sleuth out the caller's identity, and they must choose whether to aid Joseph Stalin's repressive state—or refuse and accept transfer to the Siberian Gulag camps . . . and almost certain death.

First written between 1955 and 1958, In the First Circle is Solzhenitsyn's fiction masterpiece. In order to pass through Soviet censors, many essential scenes—including nine full chapters—were cut or altered before it was published in a hastily translated English edition in 1968. Now with the help of the author's most trusted translator, Harry T. Willetts, here for the first time is the complete, definitive English edition of Solzhenitsyn's powerful and magnificent classic.

19.  Destiny of the Republic: Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

… James Abram Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, a renowned congressman, and a reluctant presidential candidate who took on the nation's corrupt political establishment. But four months after Garfield's inauguration in 1881, he was shot in the back by a deranged office-seeker named Charles Guiteau.

Garfield survived the attack, but become the object of bitter, behind-the-scenes struggles for power—over his administration, over the nation's future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic brings alive a forgotten chapter of U.S. history.

Winner of the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime

20.  Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez

…Humankind's relationship with the wolf is based on a spectrum of responses running from fear to admiration and affection. Lopez's classic, careful study won praise from a wide range of reviewers and went on to improve the way books about wild animals are written. Of Wolves and Men reveals the uneasy interaction between wolves and civilization over the centuries, and the wolf's prominence in our thoughts about wild creatures. Drawing on an astonishing array of literature, history, science, and mythology as well as considerable personal experience with captive and free-ranging wolves, Lopez argues for the necessity of the wolf's preservation and envelops the reader in its sensory world, creating a compelling picture of the wolf both as real animal and as imagined by man…
I wish everyone here joy of the season.  May the New Year treat you well.  May your health stay good or improve.  May you find beauty in small things.  May you have a faithful companion of some kind perhaps furry.  

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Archeologists complete ‘most important’ excavation in 80 years: 900-seat Roman arts center

By Tom Kington, The Guardian
Wednesday, December 26, 2012 10:13 EST

"Hadrian’s auditorium is the biggest find in Rome since the Forum was uncovered in the 1920s,” said Rossella Rea, the archaeologist running the dig.

The excavations, which are now due to open to the public, are next to a taxi rank and squeezed between a baroque church and the Vittoriano, an imposing monument to Italy’s defunct monarchy, which is nicknamed the Typewriter by locals.

The complex was only unearthed thanks to excavations to build a new underground railway line which will cross the heart of Rome. “We don’t have funds for these kind of digs so this has come to light thanks to the new line,” said Rea.

NOTE: plf515 has book talk on Wednesday mornings early

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.


What are you hoping for in the New Year?

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