Challenges update –

Taking my cue from Dagny who posted an update on her 2015 Reading Challenges on her Madame Vauquer site I’m hereby posting mine.   I did better than I thought.  The method to my madness is that I don’t usually go out of my way to pick up books specifically for the Challenges – one or two books maybe – mostly I just try to keep track of what I read for reading groups and on my own.

The Challenges and the progress to date – (and what do I have to do before 12/31?) :


booker**** BECKY’S BOOKER PRIZE CHALLENGE!  – from ME!   To read all the books on the 2015 Long List prior to the Short List  being announced – my own personal little challenge – took about a month for 8 books (I’d read two prior and 3 were not available)   and my blog page on this is HERE!  


** Challenge:   to read and blog about at least six books in 2015, with the following stipulations:

Progress Page is HERE!



classics**** CLASSICS CHALLENGE   From – The Pretty Books Blog:    Challenge:   to read one classic book per month in 2015 and, if you want to, blog about your experience (including):  –
Progress Page is HERE –  missed March but got all the other months with 2 read in April,  3  in May and 2 in June. So far 12 books read but I want to finish October, November and December.


images**** FAVORITE SERIES & NEW AUTHORS  Sponsored by Mystery Addicts

Challenge:   to read one book each month by an author you haven’t read before (one book each month for 12 months).

** Progress Page is HERE:  –  yup – one a month (at least)


taleoftwo**** HISTORICAL FICTION CHALLENGE  sponsored by Passages to the Past

** Challenge:  To read at the “Ancient History” level – 25 books of historical fiction

** Progress Page is HERE –  I’ve read 15 out of the 25 –  (I upped the difficulty level by making my rule that the author had to be born after the events or setting portrayed. –  Took off about 7 due to that – authors born in the 1950s writing about the 1960s, etc.  That’s mostly memoir and current events, imo.


africa-political-map**** AFRICA READING CHALLENGE
by Kinna Reads:

Challenge:   To read 5 books from or about Africa – fiction or nonfiction – I’ve added from 1 from each of 5 geographic areas.

** Progress Page is HERE   – missing North Africa and Central Africa –  I have Karnak’s Cafe for North Africa – by Naguib Mahfouz but nothing for Central Africa –   If I can’t find something I’ll try to get one from somewhere else.

That’s it folks – now to fill in some blanks –   3 months left –

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13 Responses to Challenges update –

  1. Dagny says:

    The Challenges you took on are looking good, Bek! I should check into the Classics one for next year. I like that you don’t have to choose your books ahead of time because I never know what will come up. I’d never make it with an author I’ve never read before each month. I can’t even keep up with the authors I’ve read before, lol.


  2. Good gosh! You responded to my post before I finished it! lol! I’m decorating now. lol

    Thank you, Dagny – it’s been fun seeing what I can catch – now I have to fill in some blanks and I’ll maybe get most of them.


  3. winstonsdad says:

    Doing well on your challenges


  4. Thanks Winstonsdad – Next year I might oughta have a 1 book per month of translated works – I think i could do it. Maybe I ought to check it out now – I keep track anyway. Okay – I peeked – I missed three months so far this year – 1 or 2 translated novels (crime novels – lol) in all the other months.


  5. The historical fiction challenge. I was intrigued by your comment that you made a rule “that the author had to be born after the events or setting portrayed”. To my mind that is pretty much THE defining feature of historical fiction. I don’t see fiction written by an author during their own time as historical fiction. So, for example, the only Dickens (at least from those I know well) that I would define as historical fiction is A tale of two cities because it was set in the previous century to his. None of Jane Austen’s books are historical fiction because she was writing about her time, but Georgette Heyer’s are because she’s writing about the Regency Period from a much later time. Are you telling me that some people see historical fiction as simply works set in the past? Somehow that seems to water down the genre and make it a rather shifting field.


    • We totally agree and I don’t think I’ve ever really thought different although for awhile i used 50 years prior to the birth of the author. And I’ve seen some publishers call young adult or children’s books historical fiction because it’s about times prior to their own.

      With this challenge I’d been including books by Val McDermid and Colm Toibin and a couple others whose books were set mostly in the 1950s or ’60s- well – humph! They were born in the mid-1950s and early ’60s and the books I was including were about those times. I took the books off the challenge.

      Had the same book been written by a younger person – born in the 1970s or later – then I suppose I’d leave them on. But these are more like memoirs than history – no real research involved.

      Reading a book in which the appropriate historical research has been done has a whole different feel to it – I haven’t read any historical fictions set in the times of Jane Eyre but if one were written today it would likely read a lot different from the way Jane Eyre itself reads. The details we discuss endlessly would be explained, the language would be geared toward 21st century readers, the underlying moral assumptions would be different – etc. Jane Eyre is a classic – it’s an historical novel – but it’s not “historical fiction” as a recognized literary genre. (I love both.)

      Sometimes I think I ought to tighten up my definition and include something about the amount of history to be included for inclusion as “historical fiction,” but I’m not sure I’d know how to go about that but the “history” would have to be more than a setting – the history (not just the artifacts of the times) would have to be interwoven into the lives of the characters – etc. All yes, imo. But would the point of view have to be that of the times in these story rather than of the readers’ times? I’d say no – that’s part of what separates historical fiction from “old books” (classics).

      A Tale of Two Cities is a wonderful example of classic historical fiction. It’s about the French Revolution (1790 or so) written/published in 1859 by a man born in 1812. That makes it historical. But it’s written for the sensibilities of the reader of 1859 – that makes it an “old book” (classic). 🙂

      Well – that ought to have been a whole blog post and I could have simply said something like “we agree!” – lol – (too much coffee already)


      • Haha Bekah … I’m glad we agree though you’ve gone into far more detail than I have given thought to! I think around 50 years before the birth of the author makes sense but is not hard and fast. I’m not sure I’d get into the attitudes … That’s too subjective and anyhow, I’m happy to focus on the setting. The attitudes can’t help but be contemporary to some degree, no matter how much research you do. Attitude is probably therefore for me part of the discussion not the definition?!

        The thing that intrigues me is those books written in the past, and roughly contemporaneous to their author’s time, but which aren’t really famous. Are they classics? For the Australian Women Writers Challenge I’m saying yes, because there’s nowhere else to put them for a start, but if I were being technical about the definition I think we’d all say classic has to also include an aura of longstanding recognition. But what do you call them. Old books as you suggest, I suppose!


  6. I see your point about 50 years prior to events – It’s only recently that any kind of historical fiction can be written about Vietnam without a lot of bias or memoir-based info. But that means that The Road to the Deep North would not be historical fiction. I think it counts. I think there are going to be grey areas no matter how the pigeon-hole lovers want otherwise – (moi – lol).

    About attitudes: Writing for your readership is important and that’s probably why authors of historical fiction tend to use the attitudes they believe their readers share. Homosexuality, indigenous peoples, women’s issues, etc. all have a different feel in the books written today than those written a hundred years ago – mainstream readers ideas have changed. For a black man to fall in love with and marry a white woman is fine in today’s novels and we root for the lovers. But in 1900 that would not have been the case.

    The Miniaturist (Jesse Burton 2014) is specific case in point – one theme is homosexuality in Amsterdam circa 1680 – the legal consequence of that kind of activity was death in those days and that’s the way Burton presented it. However, in the fiction the protagonists worked very hard to protect the man and the narrator was most certainly on their side. There was no historical fiction as we know it at that time but had their been I’ll bet the individuals invovled would have come to a bad end.

    Long again – sorry – I guess I’m thinking it out in a way – re-clarifying the issue for myself – necessary considering I only recently took the memoir-fiction off my historical fiction list!


    • I’m enjoying this discussion! I don’t quite understand your point regarding Narrow road to the deep north, as it is now set 70+ years ago. Or, are you suggesting that because it uses memories of his father that disqualifies it? I’m not sure I agree with the idea of memories/memoir suggesting it’s not historical fiction. They are not Flanagan’s memories but his Dad’s, and others he spoke to.

      As for attitudes … I’m not sure I quite understand your point? Are you saying The miniaturist is not valid historical fiction because its attitudes aren’t those of the time? tend to see it mostly that what we think are modern attitudes did exist at the time but they weren’t the prevailing ones. I tend to always see these things as a continuum … ideas bubble along gradually gaining momentum. I’m happy for historical fiction to shine a light on minority viewpoints and behaviours. What do you think?


      • Well I guess Narrow Road has to be included in Historical Fiction, huh? Flanagan is only 54 years old and the events in the book were 70 years ago. (Unless we go with 50 years prior to the birth of the author .)

        About attitudes – I’m saying that writers write for their contemporary readers and so historical fiction won’t read like classic fiction of the same times. The Miniaturist is fine historical fiction (although I wasn’t fond of it), but it’s reflects 21st century attitudes toward homosexuality rather than attitudes held at the time.

        I’ve heard the complaint about some historical fiction that it was too full of 21st century attitudes – I get irritated – pardon me but I’m going to bring up The Secret River by Kate Grenville – the idea that the protagonist, straight from the slums and jails, was against corporal punishment struck me as being just a tad too 21st century. I had some issues with his attitudes toward natives, too, but I’ve kind of got over that one.

        Gone with the Wind portrayed the relatively happy slave. That book is historical fiction but it was written by a woman from the South in 1936 – the attitudes reflected in the book are of her times, her society, her way of life – not the attitudes of the actual slave of the 1860s. (And today’s version would treat the issue much differently.)

        I think probably all historical fiction reflects the attitudes of the times in which the book was written, to a certain extent anyway, although it’s more pronounced in some books than others – depending on the issues.

        I suppose it depends on the book whether a sympathetic protagonist or issue or whatever is presented as being typical of the times or unusual. If its presented as unusual then I suppose that’s okay – ? – Perhaps I tend to think of all the characters in historical fiction as being “typical” too often – perhaps I should cut the characters more slack.

        Did you read The Miniaturist? I think I just want more history in my books or maybe it was my mood – (?) –


      • Oh yes, I forgot your suggestion of 50 years before the author’s birth!! It’s a great area. I reckon we just call Narrow road War fiction!!

        Yes, I agree that historical fiction – either consciously or unconsciously – reflects the time of the writer. As you say it’s more pronounced in some books probably depending largely on the author’s goals. Literary non-fiction – says me going out on a limb – is perhaps more likely to reflect current concerns than genre historical fiction where the focus is probably more on plot and setting than on themes and issues?? But I haven’t read enough to support that argument.

        No I didn’t read The miniaturist. But I think I’m opposite to you in that the historical fiction I like best is probably that which deals with atypical characters because that’s the fiction that’s more likely to explore issues and ideas. I like reading about the advanced thinkers and the struggles they had to be heard, what made them think that way, how did those around them react. (I’m talking real people or fictional of course). That’s the sort of drama that is most likely to interest me. The other drama of interest to me would be the sort that tries to fill in gaps in the historical record. What might have happened? Hence my enjoyment of The secret river 😉


  7. My “definition” of historical fiction is constantly evolving. LOL! I do want the book to be about a time prior to the birth of the author and to show some real research involving sources outside family memories. Those stories are probably okay to start with or to center on if it’s fleshed out with context or details or something.

    I don’t really care if the historical fiction is accurate or not in a book that “works” – if it’s accurate then congratulations to the author for research (The Moor’s Account by Lalami) – if it’s not accurate then congratulations on imagination (100 Years of Solitude) – sometimes I can’t even tell but it works (Galore by Michael Crummey).

    Sometimes the imagination is to convey themes or ideas (Garcia Marquez and Pynchon and Doctorow) sometimes it’s to do something else like fill in the blanks of history or provide examples of myths.

    I’m not fond of historical fiction where the history is relegated to background like the old “bodice rippers” of the 1960s with lurid covers suggesting illicit love between a Regency Duchess and her gardener or something. That’s romance in historical clothing – or Zane Grey westerns. (Grey actually did quite a lot of research.)

    Historical fiction got a really bad name because of those books – and historians fought the idea of historical fiction all the way into the 1990s – lol. But it was the same as what science fiction of the 1950s did to good scie-fi when a lot of the popular stuff was geared toward gimmicks rather than ideas. And crime fiction had the same problem from it’s heyday with Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew to the change to the “realism” in the form of more sex, gore and “hard-boiled” dialogue took over. – lol – Some are fine – they broadened the genre.

    I think the problem really was that literary fiction became incredibly snobby during the mid 20th century and only “high brow” late modernist authors were “approved.” Then post-modernist techniques and idea broke the barriers and we have all sorts of literary genres – I even read a literary horror book the other day – A Headful of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. (It’s like “House of Leaves” by Danielewski). Lots of literary crime out there and even literary westerns (The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt). I suppose Salman Rushdie’s works are literary fantasy? – lol – I have no problem with literary non-fiction – I just ask it stick to verifiable evidence. Memoirs are a whole ‘nother ball game and open to a lot more but you still can’t lie like James Frey in A Million Little Pieces or Greg Mortenson in Three Cups of Tea. (I should say you can’t lie and get terribly popular because someone will rat you out.)

    Anyway, with all that change it’s hard to “define” historical fiction anymore. The biggest chunk of the story has to be set prior to the author’s birth and use verifiable aspects. With literary historical fiction I’d have to add that there are more literary aspects involved – like an appropriate structure, specific idea-based themes, more attention to style – etc. Wolf Hall – Mantel.

    Literary nonfiction is very popular these days and yes I enjoy it – it can add suspense (even if I know how the Lusitania went down I probably don’t know what happened to this or that passenger) – maybe a nonlinear structure, a more creative vocabulary and writing style. I think authors can do that without messing with the facts as verifiable. Eric Larson is a very careful author even about using and noting sources (“In the Garden of the Beasts,” “The Devil in White CIty,” and “Dead Wake.”)

    yikes – did I write all that? lol
    Becky in the morning –


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