52 weeks 52 eBooks: the finish line

So there we have it: twelve months, hundreds of hours, and millions of words later, I’ve completed my challenge of reading 52 eBooks in as many weeks. As I bask in the satisfaction of a year’s worth of endeavour, here’s a book-by-book 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.”

The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope

When: 2-6 July | Time took: 7 hours, 35 minutes

My closing remark:

“After spawning more than its fair share of screen adaptations, homages, and parodies, it would be easy to believe we’re familiar enough with Hope’s original adventure to dismiss it. Don’t make the mistake I nearly made. This superb tale of chivalry, romance, and self-sacrifice still warrants your attention. If anything, it gives hope to wealthy, work-shy fops everywhere.”

New Grub Street, by George Gissing

When: 9-15 July | Time took: 17 hours, 45 minutes

My closing remark:

“Essentially this is a tale of two young writers trying to survive the increasingly ruthless literacy industry in late 19th-century London. Whereas one displays all the dogged persistence needed to play the game of self-promotion, the other, of a more delicate disposition, refuses to betray their artistic values. This was a deeply moving and brutal study of an industry corroded by commercialism.”

Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse

When: 16-21 July | Time took: 4 hours, 35 minutes

My closing remark:

“Reached spiritual depths that even the bathyscaphe of Auguste Piccard wouldn’t dare descend to.”

The Titan, by Theodore Dreiser

When: 23-29 July | Time took: 21 hours, 50 minutes

My closing remark:

“Disappointingly dull compared to The Financier. Any lingering affection I had for this roguish character had all but evaporated only a quarter in.”

Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy

When: 30 Jul – 5 Aug | Time took: 18 hours, 20 minutes

My closing remark:

“One in the eye for the institutions of marriage and the church. No wonder this provoked such a storm of protest in Victorian Britain.”

O Pioneers!, by Willa Cather

When: 6-11 August | Time took: 7 hours, 50 minutes

My closing remark:

“Many works of place focus solely on how humans affect the landscape, but O Pioneers! offers a deep examination of how the landscape affects the human. And in Alexandra, there’s this feeling that as the air and the earth appear to develop a mutual understanding these qualities come to be reflected in her own benevolent, reciprocal character. What a joyous introduction to Cather’s work this was.”

To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf

When: 13-19 August | Time took: 9 hours, 20 minutes

My closing remark:

“At 16, I’d never experienced the loss of someone close. I never understood its environmental impact, nor about our efforts to capture and preserve those feelings. 13 years on and so many more pieces of this fell into place. I’ve always greatly admired its audacity and artistry, but this implies detachment. I wasn’t ready. Maybe years from now I still won’t be. This one goes on the carousel.”

Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard, by Joseph Conrad

When: 20-26 Aug | Time took: 22 hours, 35 minutes

My closing remark:

“Phew, what a scorcher. So thorough and merciless was this journey that you wind up feeling as though you too are toiling away in the energy-sapping heat. At times it was akin to peeling an onion: multi-layered and eye-watering.”

Candide, by Voltaire

When: 27 August – 2 September | Time took: 3 hours, 45 minutes

My closing remark:

“With Candide, Voltaire delivered the smackdown on Enlightenment optimism. As a satire on the state of the world this remains as fresh and relevant today as when it was first published over 250 years ago.”

McTeague, by Frank Norris

When: 3-9 September | Time took: 14 hours

My closing remark:

“You set them up just to knock them down. As rise and falls go, this was steep.”

Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis

When: 10-16 September | Time took: 14 hours

My closing remark:

“Lewis’s superb use of dialogue added much depth and colour to this tale of one man’s reluctant attempts to break free from the rigid conformities of his middle American life.”

The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford

When: 17-23 June | Time took: 8 hours, 55 minutes

My closing remark:

“Though our narrator appears to have written this jumbled, non-linear story with the benefit of hindsight, it’s interesting to note how much his opinions of others deviate as a result of each new twist – as if getting it all down in words helped to arrange things in his own mind. Therapy, perhaps.”

The Trial, by Franz Kafka

When: 24-30 September | Time took: 8 hours, 20 minutes

My closing remark:

“Every bit as chilling and nightmarish as I imagined it would be.”

An Outpost of Progress, by Joseph Conrad

When: 1 October | Time took: 50 minutes

My closing remark:

“Short and savage. Nobody describes slow, simmering mental degradation quite like Conrad.”

The Seagull, by Anton Chekhov

When: 8-11 October | Time took: 2 hours, 15 minutes

My closing remark:

“The blackest of stage comedies with a cast of characters so unmistakably human in their failings that you cannot help but warm to them.”

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce

When: 15-21 October | Time took: 9 hours, 50 minutes

My closing remark:

“Along with Dubliners, I found this to be a fine introduction to Joyce, so much so that I almost wish I’d been exposed to it before Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. By showing the rebellious young the way out, Portrait beautifully expresses Joyce’s personal and artistic ideology.”

The Machine Stops, by E. M. Forster

When: 22-28 October | Time took: 2 hours, 20 minutes

My closing remark:

“Hard to believe this was penned in 1909. Forster describes a world in which humans have abandoned the earth for the clouds, live in small cubicles, rarely get outside, and communicate mostly through instant messaging and video conferencing, while there’s a huge computer network around the planet, monitoring all human activity. It’s an almost perfect long short story.”

One of Ours, by Willa Cather

When: 29 October – 4 November | Time took: 9 hours, 20 minutes

My closing remark:

“Perhaps not as endearing as O Pioneers! but it’s every bit as affecting.”

The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy

When: 5-11 November | Time took: 14 hours, 55 minutes

My closing remark:

“Only served to provide further proof, as if any were needed, of Hardy’s lyrical genius. Never has the rural landscape been described to me so vividly.”

The Cleanest Race, by B.R. Myers

When: 12-18 November | Time took: 4 hours, 10 minutes

My closing remark:

“A revealing insight into this secretive and often misunderstood country. You could compare the regime’s relationship with its people to that of a manipulative and mollycoddling parent – like Stockholm syndrome on a nationwide scale. Their pursuit of a pure race is often brutal; I was particularly appalled by the castigation of citizens who entered into relationships with stationed Russian troops.”

A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster

When: 19-25 November | Time took: 9 hours, 10 minutes

My closing remark:

“An unfair reflection, but this was a case of reading the right book at the wrong time. Whilst in the midst of a battle against my own feelings for someone, the last thing I wanted to be exposed to was a story about an against-the-odds love match. Must try again in calmer waters.”

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Omar Khayyám

When: 26 November – 2 December | Time took: 2 hours, 30 minutes

My closing remark:

“Many will have been exposed to certain stanzas of this epic poem, but to read it in its entirety allows you to fully savour its modest yet distinctive rhetoric, its vibrant images, sparkling witticisms and razor-sharp reasoned assertions.”

My Ántonia, by Willa Cather

When: 3-9 December | Time took: 12 hours, 35 minutes

My closing remark:

“Another Cather novel that reads like a love letter to the Great Plains of the American West and its people. And it’s precisely their innate hardiness and resilience at the mercy of nature’s seasonal extremes that makes me glad I chose the winter to read this. It teaches us that life, at certain points, is tough and unforgiving but, like the seasons, the green shoots of Spring are never far away.”

The Little Nugget, by P. G. Wodehouse

When: 10-16 December | Time took: 13 hours, 35 minutes

My closing remark:

“Enjoyable, but coming from a master comic like Wodehouse I was left a little disappointed not have been tickled more by it.”

The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington

When: 17-23 December | Time took: 17 hours, 55 minutes

My closing remark:

“In his tetchy, sneering prose, you can see how much pleasure the author must have taken in dismantling this once-rich and powerful family dynasty whose mistake was to fall behind the times. An enjoyable read.”

Crome Yellow, by Aldous Huxley

When: 24-29 December | Time took: 10 hours, 45 minutes

My closing remark:

“A subtly devastating satire of the early 20th century academic society at their pretentious and snobbish worst. Great fun.”

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