Tag: 2017 European Reading Challenge (page 1 of 7)

European Reading Challenge 2017 Wrap Up Post

I participated in a few reading challenges in 2017 and one of my favorite was the European Reading Challenge hosted by Rose City Reader.

THE GIST: The idea is to read books by European authors or books set in European countries (no matter where the author comes from). The books can be anything – novels, short stories, memoirs, travel guides, cookbooks, biography, poetry, or any other genre. You can participate at different levels, but each book must be by a different author and set in a different country – it’s supposed to be a tour.

I was aiming for the Five Star (Deluxe Entourage) level of participation, which meant reading at least five such books.  Surprisingly I was able to read NINE such books.

The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero, by Timothy Egan – Ireland

 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson – Sweden

 My Paris Market Cookbook: A Culinary Tour of French Flavors and Seasonal Recipes, by Emily Dilling – France

 The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict – Switzerland

 Palm Trees in the Snow, by Luz Gabas – Spain

 Push Not The River, by James Conroyd Martin (The Poland Trilogy, Book 1) – Poland

 And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini   – Greece (& other locations)

 Us, by David Nicholls – Italy (& other locations)

 The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt – The Netherlands (& other locations)

This was an interesting reading challenge and I seriously considered joining again for 2018.  Ultimately, I decided to concentrate on some other reading lists, but I will definitely keep this challenge in mind for the future.

Book Review of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I read this book as part of the 2017 European Reading Challenge and also The Bestseller Code Reading Challenge.   Locations include Belgium &  The Netherlands, mostly Amsterdam, and the United States.

The Goldfinch*, by David Nicholls

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Goldfinch (2014) is Donna Tartt’s third novel, following her critically acclaimed debut novel The Secret History (1992) and The Little Friend (2003).  Observe the number of years between each publication date; Tartt takes her time, writing large novels, both in length and in scope.

Bildungsroman

When I finish a book, I like to read other descriptions and reviews.  Sometimes those reviews gel the thoughts and feelings I had while reading the novel, while other times I disagree entirely with the reviewer.  While reading through a few reviews for The Goldfinch, I came across a new term (to me): bildungsroman.  Merriam-Webster provides this definition:

literature : a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character – a bildungsroman by Charles Dickens

This is certainly an apt description for The Goldfinch, as Tartt leads the main character, Theo Decker, on a decade long journey of life-altering catastrophes, emotional and physical upheavals, grief, and survivor’s guilt, providing plenty of opportunities for moral and psychological growth.  As a reader, Theo drew me in from the very beginning, and I followed his journey avidly, hoping he would make it through the storms, while preparing myself for the possibility that he would not.

Truisms and Real Literature

Some reviewers blasted The Goldfinch for not being “real literature” because the novel explained too much to the reader and didn’t require said reader to have to analyze the book for its underlying message.  The last chapter presents several “truisms” that Theo has come to realize from his bildungsroman, and they are spelled out for the reader.  These reviews included long rants about what the term “real literature” means, what makes a book “serious” and “literary” rather than merely a contemporary novel, quickly read and easily forgotten.  The same discussion occurs with art.  What is art?  What makes it art?  Tartt addresses this:

You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum gift shop sees something else entire, and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time—four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we’re gone—it’ll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it’ll never strike in any deep way at all but—a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and very particular.

 

In the end, art is whatever makes us, as individuals, feel.  Literature is the same.  It challenges us individually.  It speaks to us individually.  It affects us individually.  For me, The Goldfinch is definitely literature, worthy of the time it took to read.  It’s a book that I will think about and mull over for weeks to come, and one that I will quite likely read again.

This is an abbreviated review.  For the full review, please visit It’s A Mystery Blog.

Book Review of Us by David Nicholls

I read this book as part of the 2017 European Reading Challenge.   Locations include Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, and England.

I was first introduced to David Nicholls when I read One Day as part of the 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge. I enjoyed One Day and I liked Us even more. Us is narrated by Douglas Petersen, a middle-aged Englishman living a typical suburban life with his wife, Connie, and their seventeen-year-old son, Albie. An upcoming summer Grand Tour of Europe’s capitals has been planned as a last family vacation together before Albie goes off to university. Douglas is hoping this trip will provide one last chance to bond with Albie, with whom he has always felts somewhat of a stranger. Shortly before the trip, Connie tells Douglas that she’s thinking of leaving him, maybe “sometime in the fall,” and now Douglas has the added pressure of making Connie love him again during the Grand Tour.

Us *, by David Nicholls
 

(*Amazon Affiliate link)
 

I really liked Douglas. He reminded of people I know, and often, even myself. He means well, he has lofty ideals and goals of how he will communicate and treat those he loves, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty, he becomes tongue-tied and reverts to banal statements. He wants his son to succeed, but can’t see success in Albie’s choices of busking and photography. The more he worries about his relationship with Albie and Albie’s future as an adult, the more he pushes Albie and the more alienated Albie becomes.

In addition to the present day story line of the Grand Tour, Nichols fills in Douglas and Connie’s backstory in alternating chapters, which allows us to see what two such different personality types initially saw in each other and what compromises they made throughout their married life. All the characters in this story are well-written and believable. The ending has a bit of a twist, not necessarily the happy ending one would have wanted when first starting to read Us, but satisfying, just the same. I will be looking for more David Nicholls books to read in the future.

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