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My Year of Reading Dangerously and World Citizen Challenge

December 29, 2008

I swear, these are the last two challenges I’m signing up for!

dangerously_bigI’m going to do the My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge again. I dropped out of this one about halfway through last year, because I was just feeling overwhelmed. But this year, instead of pre-selected genres, we get to challenge ourselves (it’s still twelve books). And there are two genres I’d like to read more of next year, so I thought I’d go ahead and make it official with the challenge. :) The two genres are poetry and essays.

For poetry, I’m going to read three books to help me approach poetry, and worry about which actual poets to read later (if you have any suggestions, please share!):

  • How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry by Edward Hirsch: I saw this one on Rebecca’s challenge lists, and it just sounds like an awesome book. How can I pass up a title like that?
  • The Sounds of Poetry by Robert Pinsky: Pinsky is a Noble Laureate, and in this short book he sets out to introduce readers to the music of poetry.
  • The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry: I read this one already this year and loved it. I’ve decided to buy it, and use it as an almost workbook for the poems I approach. It’s so dense, it will definitely benefit from a rereading or two!

For the essay section, I’ve chosen nine collections to try out:

  • The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fischer: I saw this on Rebecca’s list as well, and I remember Bybee really like Fischer. I’d prefer to start with a shorter collection of her food essays, but this is the only food-theme book of hers my library has.
  • The London Scene by Virginia Woolf: I’m a big fan of Woolf, but I haven’t read her essays. I’m sure this collection will make me miss England!
  • I Thought My Father Was God, ed. Paul Auster: I’m not sure if this counts as essays, but it’s a collection of stories from an NPR program and sounds really neat.
  • The Art of the Personal Essay, ed. Phillip Lopate: this seems like a good anthology that isn’t limited to the West.
  • All Art is Propaganda by George Orwell: I’ve read some of Orwell’s essays in the past, but never his critical ones.
  • The Geography of the Imagination by Guy Davenport: another collection of literary criticism: it sounds really neat!
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard: a collection of nature-oriented essays.
  • The Complete Essays by Michel de Montaigne, trans. M.A. Screech: this is a huge book, so I have no idea if I’ll actually finish it, but I wanted to incorporate a classic essayist in the mix and Montaigne seemed like a good choice!
  • On Photography by Susan Sontag: a collection of art (specially photography, obviously) essays.
  • Please Don’t Eat the Daisies by Jean Kerr: I know, this makes ten, but I wanted an alternate just in case! This is a collection of essays about being a suburban mom in the 1950s and sounds really funny. :)

World Citizen Challenge ButtonFor my own challenge, of course I’m going for the postgrad (highest) level! Since I put together the suggested reading lists, I’m having a hard time paring down which books I’ll actually be reading. But here’s my pool: I have to read one from each category plus at least one more:

16 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2008 4:22 pm

    If you’re interested in modern Africa, you might consider “The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence” by Martin Meredith (published by Public Affairs, 2005). It’s an excellent survey of African history since the beginning of decolonialization in the 1950s, focusing on the larger countries and giving excellent if brief (30 – 40 pages each) histories of many African nations. It’s a valuable introduction for those who — unfortunately like myself — simply haven’t paid that much attention to what’s gone on in Africa during the last 50 years. (~700 pages of text plus notes, index, and bibliography)

  2. December 29, 2008 4:43 pm

    I have the Edward Hirsch book, too! I am going to work that in somewhere. And I’m reading The Faerie Queene starting Jan. 1. If that doesn’t cure a fear of poetry, I don’t know what will! :-)


  3. December 29, 2008 4:52 pm

    Hedgie, I already read that one and LOVED it. It’s sitting on my shelf, and I refer to it. :)

    Lezlie, you are MUCH, MUCH braver than me with The Faerie Queen, lol. I’m glad you’ll be reading the Hirsch book too!

  4. December 29, 2008 7:40 pm

    Yay! I’m so glad you decided to join us for Reading Dangerously! Your list looks positively mouthwatering!

    As for your challenge, I see tons of books I really want to try, but Putin’s Russia is right near the top of my list.

  5. December 29, 2008 9:16 pm

    Since you’ve read Meredith’s “The Fate of Africa,” have you read his “Mugabe: Power, Plunder, and the Struggle for Zimbabwe” (published 2002, updated 2007)? It gives you a much more detailed understanding of what’s going on in Zimbabwe right now.

    I like Hirsch’s book, but I think “The Discovery of Poetry: A Field Guide to Reading and Writing Poems” by Frances Mayes is better; it’s the book I recommend to those who are just getting interested in poetry as the place to start. But either is quite good.

  6. December 30, 2008 2:36 am

    I’m quite curious about that book on Japan you have on your list. And the one by Karen Armstrong sounds really good too.

    About poetry: this year I read and loved Transformations by Anne Sexton. Fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm retold as poems! What’s there not to love? They’re mostly very sad, but I just love her style. And she has a sense of humour too.

    Speaking of sad, more recently I fell in love with Sharon Olds. She has a collection called The Father that just blew me away. It also made me cry my eyes out – it’s about her father, with whom she never had a very good relationship, dying of cancer. So yeah, quite a heavy book, but I loved it. Here’s an example so you can see if you like her style.

  7. December 30, 2008 5:12 am

    Thanks for a great posting. What a great list, and thanks for your growing interest in human trafficking and modern slavery. Since you liked Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost, I’ll mention his newest book Bury the Chains, a wonderful wonderful book.

    It is so great that you are being thoughtful about learning about modern slavery. Sometimes coming to grips with the size of modern slavery can leave people feeling overwhelmed. But there’s an interesting paradox about the 27 million slaves in the world – yes, it is a huge number, the largest ever in human history, but it is also the smallest fraction of the human population to ever be in slavery. Likewise, the amount of money slaves pump into the world economy is big, around $50 billion a year, but it is also the smallest fraction of the global economy to ever be represented by slave labor.

    The truth is that slavery has been pushed to the edge of its own extinction and working together we can tip it over the brink. I hope you’ll visit and share our website –, and maybe look at my new book on how we can bring slavery to an end in 25 years, it is called: Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves.

    All best wishes,
    Kevin Bales

  8. December 30, 2008 5:15 am

    Nymeths suggestion about Transformations sounds great, I’ll have to seek that out. My favorite poet at the moment is Carol Ann Duffy, particuarly The World’s Wife collection – they are poems, often ironic or funny, told from the women of famous men, for example Shakespeare’s wife, Elvis’ twin sister etc.
    I also really enjoyed Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes poems that he wrote for his children about their mother Sylvia Plath, as she died when they were very young.

  9. December 30, 2008 11:34 am

    I’m giving poetry a try this year. We’ll see how it goes. The Art of Eating is five of Fischer’s books; I hear “how to eat a wolf is the best of them. So you could just read that one from the collection. I’ve only read a few of her essays, but I look forward to reading more! I read Lopate’s collection for a college class on the essay; it was a good variety. However, Montaigne was too dry for me. Not a favorite.

    I also don’t know how to choose seven books for your challenge: they all look so good. I was having a hard time last week and now I have so many ideas! Yeay! Now, it’s just a matter of finding time to read…

  10. December 30, 2008 11:38 am

    I was also going to say I love the idea of a “challenging yourself” reading list!

  11. December 30, 2008 2:53 pm

    Andi, it should be a good challenge year!

    Hedgie, thanks for even more suggestions. :) My library has the Mayes as well, so I’ll be checking it out. I want to read the Mugabe book; right now I’m working through his history of South Africa/Zimbabwe. It’s huge, and not quite so engrossing as The Fate of Africa.

    Nymeth, thanks for the poetry suggestions! :D

    Kevin, I did read Ending Slavery, and then I kept putting off the review because I was afraid I couldn’t put it into words well enough. But I’m definitely going to future it on my blog soon.

    Katrina, the World’s Wife collection sounds so neat!

    Rebecca, I heard How to Eat a Wolf is the best, too, but my library didn’t have it. I’m glad that the collection keeps the books intact!

  12. December 30, 2008 4:56 pm

    I don’t know how you do it!

  13. December 30, 2008 5:45 pm

    What a great post, this is my first visit to your blog but it won”t be my last. I’m new to blogging and have steered away from the challenges as I was afraid that I wouldn’t complete them, they seem intimidating a bit. I see that a challenge can definitely open up a new world of books and authors so I may need to revisit the idea of challenges.

    I have not read either War and Peace or Les Miserables so I am doubly impressed. What a great way to start and end the year! I do want to read Les Miserables and I try to read several classics a year…that may be the one that I choose.

  14. December 30, 2008 10:09 pm

    Um, that’s a lot of books. :)

    I loved The Art Of Eating. But you probably could have guessed that. :)

  15. December 31, 2008 2:42 pm

    What an impressive list of books! I read a bit of poetry throughout the year but never really one whole book, and essays, well those never end up on my reading list. I will look forward to your posts on these and hopefully be motivated to try some out myself! :)

  16. January 1, 2009 11:18 am

    Jessica, I don’t have kids or a husband! ;)

    Bonnie, why thank you. You know, my attitude towards challenges is that it doesn’t matter if I complete it, beacuse I still come across great books. :) If you go w/ Les Mis, you should know that the Signet edition is the only unabridged English translation! If you go with War and Peace, go with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonksy’s new translation.

    Daphne, lol! It doesn’t surprise me that you’re a Fisher fan. ;)

    Iliana, I’ve always been scared of poetry, so hopefully by the end of the year I’ll get over that!!

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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