52 weeks 52 eBooks: the halfway mark

Speaking as someone who includes among the many joys of reading the opportunity to give the proverbial two fingers to the ticking clock, the prospect of surrendering myself to its wily charms as I prepared to read 52 in as many weeks was always likely to cause recurring bouts of unease.

The big question, as I saw it, was whether I’d be able to fully grasp and appreciate the subtleties of character and circumstance in each novel, particularly when all but the briefest opportunities for leisurely contemplation and reflection are cut short by the looming spectre of next week’s title. At this stage, I couldn’t see past thoughts of daily ‘targets’, guilt-lead sessions, and late-night/early-hours skimming (no doubt with the dawn chorus cheeping an audible indication of some ungodly hour).

Fast forward a full six months and I needn’t have worried myself so much. While I have had to adopt a more strict, regimented approach to my reading, I can say with much relief that it’s never once impeded on my enjoyment of the 26 books I’ve read up until now. I’ll go as far as to add that getting into a regular pattern has been good for me, and that, without it, I simply wouldn’t have been able to sustain the rate of books I’m reading right now without feeling thoroughly burnt-out.

52 weeks 52 eBooks: The story so far

Looking at my reading history on Readmill, the first 26 books on my list were completed in a total of 361 hours and 5 minutes, which roughly equates to 15 days and 1 hour. Here’s a recap:

Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber

When: 2-8 January | Time took: 31 hours, 35 minutes

My closing remark:

“Not afraid to take a wrecking ball to established economic schools of thought, this was an exhaustive, eye-opening study of humanity’s relationship with debt.”

A Modern Utopia, by H. G. Wells

When: 9-15 January | Time took: 15 hours, 55 minutes

My closing remark:

“Though Wells by no means describes a world I’d like to inhabit (at times it’s ghastly), his vision is startling. Despite being quinessentially Wells, this perhaps represents too much of a departure to recommend to newcomers of his work.”

The Financier, by Theodore Dreiser

When: 16-22 January | Time took: 23 hours, 30 minutes

My closing remark:

“A beautifully paced tale of the meteoric rise and fall and rise of a young financier interwoven with political intrigue and forbidden love. For a man with questionable morals, you cannot help but root for him.”

The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

When: 23-26 January | Time took: 1 hour, 55 minutes

My closing remark:

“A spirit level. Could just as easily pick you up if you were down as knock you down if you were too high. A small pocket-sized version would become fatigued in no time all.”

The Vicomte De Bragelonne, by Alexandre Dumas

When: 30 January – 5 February | Time took: 24 hours, 45 minutes

My closing remark:

“Though this is but the first of three volumes that conclude the d’Artagnan Romances, it’s clear from this juncture that this was never going to be as swashbuckling as the first two novels due to the age of the main protagonists. But don’t let that deter you. If anything, these friends are more colourful and intriguing than ever. I now must find the time to read the remaining volumes.”

The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia, by Samuel Johnson

When: 6-12 February | Time took: 6 hours, 40 minutes

My closing remark:

“Discontented with the trappings of royalty, a prince and princess escape from their idyllic surroundings into the larger world to discover if true happiness exists. Though ultimately pessimistic, I found their unpolluted outlooks and boundless curiosity caused an inward examination of my own circumstances. Now, isn’t that always the sign of a great book?”

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

When: 13-15 February | Time took: 5 hours, 40 minutes

My closing remark:

“A moving tale of survival in a harsh wilderness by means of physiological and psychological adaption. This slow transformation of Buck as he shakes off generations of domestication and his changing relationship with humans as he passes into the hands of several ‘owners’ is wonderfully described.”

Tender is the Night, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When: 20-26 February | Time took: 21 hours, 5 minutes

My closing remark:

“Took a while to make an impression but ended up leaving a very deep one. Beautifully descriptive, perfectly balanced and highly intelligent.”

Anthem, by Ayn Rand

When: 27 February – 1 March | Time took: 3 hours, 40 minutes

My closing remark:

“Thought-provoking. Rand describes the harmful effects of nullifying and misplacing a person’s skills and interests in the preservation of ultimate equality. This display of obstinate extremism is just as debilitating as its opposing ideology: a single all-powerful ruler. Society benefits most when we’re able to marry our interests with our work and are encouraged to share what we’ve learnt.”

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow

When: 5-10 March | Time took: 9 hours, 15 minutes

My closing remark:

“Took too long to flicker into life. Characters seemed cold and undercooked. Felt as if I’d joined a lively conversation half way through, only to find it wasn’t all that interesting.”

Bouvard and Pécuchet, by Gustave Flaubert

When: 12-18 March | Time took: 17 hours, 5 minutes

My closing remark:

“A dense, stop-start journey. Best read in accompaniment with a dictionary, an encyclopedia and a map of France, there are rewards on offer for those prepared to do a little detective work. Despite the farcical misadventures of the copy-clerks I couldn’t help but admire their boundless optimism and curiosity. One for fans of thinly-veiled humour.”

The Shape of Things to Come, by H. G. Wells

When: 19-25 March | Time took: 24 hours, 40 minutes

My closing remark:

“Though a work of fiction, it feels odd to be so comprehensively informed about a post-Great War history that never took place and an improbable future. While it’s impossible to resist reviewing some of Wells’s early predictions from our present day vantage point, it would be wrong to use them as a measure of the book’s worth. I gained an even deeper respect for Wells as a thinker and a dreamer.”

Captain Blood, by Rafael Sabatini

When: 26-31 March | Time took: 17 hours, 25 minutes

My closing remark:

“A heart-soaring, air-punching triumph. Dumas has a new rival for my affections.”

Oblomov, by Ivan Goncharov

When: 2-8 April | Time took: 9 hours, 40 minutes

My closing remark:

“A brilliant portrait of a man doomed to his fate by the nature of his upbringing. Though clearly from a tender, loving home, the young Oblomov was fiercely overprotected, brought up in an enclosed environment, and surrounded by adults who perpetually put things off until tomorrow. I got the impression it rendered him wholly unprepared for the rigours and harsh realities of adulthood.”

The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, by Rudolf Erich Raspe

When: 9-15 April | Time took: 9 hours, 40 minutes

My closing remark:

“Every good local watering hole has one: that self-aggrandising raconteur with their name stitched into their own velvet-upholstered stool. My guess is they’ve picked up a thing or two about the art of exaggerated storytelling from this plain daft collection of one man’s exploits. I like to think the Baron managed to summon life’s development console and enabled ‘god mode’.”

Bel-ami, by Guy de Maupassant

When: 16-20 April | Time took: 7 hours

My closing remark:

“Charting one man’s rapid ascent to the summit of late 19th-century Parisian society. Maupassant really works his magic: you immediately empathise with Duroy’s bid to escape the squalor of his initial existance, but that affection is thereafter tested as his elbows-out approach leaves a trail of checkmated friends and colleagues and more than a few discarded mistresses.”

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell

When: 23-29 April | Time took: 27 hours, 45 minutes

My closing remark:

“It’s easy to see why this intensely political novel became something of a sacred text among activists. You quickly share the author’s despair as he describes a broken system where society’s poorest willingly donate their labour for a barely living wage in order to contribute to the wealth of their ‘betters’, and when all attempts to mend it are thwarted by the very people who suffer the most.”

Tales of the Jazz Age, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When: 30 April – 6 May | Time took: 12 hours, 50 minutes

My closing remark:

“An eleven-strong collection of short stories that play very different tunes. The tender and moving ‘The Lees of Happiness’ won’t be forgotten in a hurry.”

Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy

When: 7-14 May | Time took: 20 hours, 20 minutes

My closing remark:

“A poignant chronicle of life’s ironies and the pain of the human condition.”

A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

When: 14-20 May | Time took: 13 hours, 25 minutes

My closing remark:

“Though an undoubted treat for the mind’s eye, I found sweeping away all those preconceptions and expectations that come with reading such a celebrated title initially hindered my enjoyment. Only another whirl will do it justice.”

The Invisible Man, by H. G. Wells

When: 21-24 May | Time took: 6 hours, 15 minutes

My closing remark:

“An ideal launchpad for any newcomer to Wells’ work. It’s hard to know to what degree a cloak of invisibility would alter both our moral outlook and mental state. To be effectively cast onto society’s fringes could drive anyone to consider committing misdeeds. I like to think Wells’ underlying message was of our collective ignorance and awareness of society’s ‘invisibles’.”

The Waves, by Virginia Woolf

When: 28 May – 3 June | Time took: 11 hours

My closing remark:

“Heavy and yet so light. An incredibly intense and overwhelming experience.”

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

When: 4-10 June | Time took: 8 hours, 35 minutes

My closing remark:

“Decorated with some of Wilde’s most celebrated and repeated epigrams, this is an exquisite parable of late 19th century middle class decadence and indulgence.”

Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol

When: 11-15 June | Time took: 15 hours, 55 minutes

My closing remark:

“A master storyteller, Gogol manages to deliver both a charming and reckless comedy and a withering assessment of Russian society. There is a precise vividness to his writing that immediately thrusts you into his world and the fascinating gallery of characters that inhabit it.”

Lamberto, Lamberto, Lamberto, by Gianni Rodari

When: 18-19 June | Time took: 3 hours, 40 minutes

My closing remark:

“If you can imagine a bizarre mix of Dorian Gray and Benjamin Button with a dash of Dog Day Afternoon and Pythonesque black humour thrown in for good measure, then you’ll go some way to understanding why this was such a rip-roaring treat.”

Erewhon, or Over The Range, by Samuel Butler

When: 25-30 June | Time took: 11 hours, 30 minutes

My closing remark:

“The back to front world of Erewhon, with its bizarre treatment of criminals and the infirm to the banishment of machinery, becomes the stick which Butler uses to beat Victorianism. So vivid are his descriptions of the psychological effects of being alone in the wilderness, I wonder whether Butler was able to draw on his own experiences of solo adventuring in New Zealand.”

52 weeks 52 eBooks: The shape of things to come

With every passing week this feels increasingly less like the challenge I originally devised for myself. Instead, I’m finding it a source of great excitement and comfort to be able to confidently predict that over the next six months I’ll make time for some of the greatest books ever written. Onward, ever onward.

From To Title Author
2 Jul 8 Jul The Prisoner of Zenda Anthony Hope
9 Jul 15 Jul New Grub Street George Gissing
16 Jul 22 Jul Siddhartha Hermann Hesse
23 Jul 29 Jul The Titan Theodore Dreiser
30 Jul 5 Aug Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
6 Aug 12 Aug O Pioneers! Willa Cather
13 Aug 19 Aug To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
20 Aug 26 Aug Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard Joseph Conrad
27 Aug 2 Sep Candide Voltaire
3 Sep 9 Sep McTeague Frank Norris
10 Sep 16 Sep Babbitt Sinclair Lewis
17 Sep 23 Sep The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford
24 Sep 30 Sep The Trial Franz Kafka
1 Oct 7 Oct An Outpost of Progress Joseph Conrad
8 Oct 14 Oct A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce
15 Oct 21 Oct The Seagull Anton Chekhov
22 Oct 28 Oct The Machine Stops E. M. Forster
29 Oct 4 Nov One of Ours Willa Cather
5 Nov 11 Nov The Return of the Native Thomas Hardy
12 Nov 18 Nov The Cleanest Race B.R. Myers
19 Nov 25 Nov A Room with a View E. M. Forster
26 Nov 2 Dec The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Omar Khayyám
3 Dec 9 Dec My Ántonia Willa Cather
10 Dec 16 Dec The Little Nugget P. G. Wodehouse
17 Dec 23 Dec The Magnificent Ambersons Booth Tarkington
24 Dec 30 Dec Crome Yellow Aldous Huxley
Tagged on: ,