Dear Fahrenheit 451

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Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian's Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her LifeDear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence
Published: 2017
Narrated by: Stephanie Spicer
Length: 05:35 (244 pages)

I loved this! It would be a great book to turn to if I find myself in a reading slump again this year. Her love of books in this is so contagious that it’s hard to come out of it without immediately picking up a new book and diving in.

The format that she came up with is perfect. Each essay is just a letter addressed to a book, some purely comedic and others more heartfelt. She often doesn’t even go into the plot at all, and I don’t remember coming across anything I felt was a spoiler. She writes about the place the book holds in her life – what it means to her, where she got it, what problems she had, and any stories related to it. My favourite was her piece on The Time Traveler’s Wife, a book I haven’t read but is on the shelf, as she used it to beautifully discuss how a book can mean different things to you when re-read at different stages of life.

Annie Spence is a librarian, so there’s a lot of library love in this book if that’s your thing, and many of the letters are being written to books that’s she’s had to remove from the library to make room for other books. So this not only covers books she loved, books she hated, but also random books that she needs to cull, which really adds variety to the essays.

I may also need to read The Virgin Suicides now, as she was just so enthusiastic about it.

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince

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The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince (Realms of the Elderlings)The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb
Published: 2013
Series: Farseer Trilogy 0.5
Length: 157 pages

I love Robin Hobb, and was very excited to see a book from her that was under 800 pages. This novella takes place long before FitzChivalry Farseer, of the Farseer Trilogy and beyond, was ever born. It tells of the story of the origins around society’s attitude towards The Wit, a telepathic magic that allows humans to communicate and bond with animals, and why some people with the magic now refer to themselves as Piebalds. It’s considered a dirty, low magic in the current books, but it wasn’t always that way.

Not quite as gripping as her main novels, which would be impossible without the depth you get in those giant trilogies, but it’s an interesting and tragic story that takes place in Buckkeep. I’ve said it before, but I just love Robin Hobb’s writing. She can make you care about her characters like no other, even when they aren’t people who necessarily demand sympathy from the reader.

I would read The Farseer Trilogy before moving on to this, as I think it’s worth having knowledge of the world already. The Tawny Man books do refer to this legend, although having detailed knowledge of the story isn’t needed (this was written ten years after the last book of that trilogy), so it could really be read before or after. It’s a quick read, though, and an interesting story, so I’d recommend picking it up if you’re a fan of the series.

Ayoade on Ayoade

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Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic OdysseyAyoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey by Richard Ayoade
Published: 2014
Length: 303 pages

I let this sit on the shelf for far too long thinking it would be a bit of a slog after a skim through the first couple pages, but I was pleasantly surprised when I finally got to it. I’m a huge fan of pretty much everything Ayoade has had any part in, so I really shouldn’t have doubted. From his early acting in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Nathan Barley, his breakout role in The IT Crowd, his film directing career, his panel show appearances, his travel and gadget shows, his interviews, particularly the one in which he steamrolled Krishnan Guru-Murthy – I’m just a fan. Although, having listed it out like that, I do now feel like a bit of a stalker.

It’s just a healthy interest.

This book was a trip, and it’s a bit difficult to explain. It’s essentially a comic spoof on pretentious novel-length director exposé interviews, with Richard Ayoade acting as both the interviewer and the megalomaniacal interviewee. It’s split into a series of interview sessions, all written like they’ve been ripped from an experimental indie film, with an appendix that reads like a Woody Allen book, a random assortment of hilariously esoteric skits – filmmaking diary entries, made up FAQs, a list of ripe puns on the title of his latest film The Double to help would-be reviewers with their inevitable quips, a parody of what director Terrence Malick’s twitter feed could look like if he tweeted and heavy into the hashtags, and many other odd essays.

An entry from his year-by-year timeline that kicks off the book:

2011
Ayoade releases Submarine in its final ninety-seven-minute version (heavily padded out with voice-over). The Top Ten Grossing Films of the Year are Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides; The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1; Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol; Kung Fu Panda 2; Fast Five; The Hangover Part II; The Smurfs; and Cars 2. It is a golden year for the moving image, with many films so good that their titles require a colon and a dash to convey their many levels. Submarine, containing no punctuation in its title whatsoever, is a financial calamity. In desperate need of a box-office winner, Ayoade turns to Dostoevsky’s smash-hit hit novella, The Double.

Paisley's a bit bored, but I'm loving this. #amreading

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Ayoade manages to take self-deprecating humour to an entirely new level, even for him, and it’s hilarious throughout. This certainly isn’t a book for everyone, but it’s a lot of fun if you you enjoy his sense of humour. He’s a sort of cruelty-free Woody Allen for the modern-day.

At the end of last year, he came out with a second book, The Grip of Film, which I’m also eager to pick up.

January in Review

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Books Acquired:
Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb
Stoner by John Williams
Shakespeare’s Sonnets: The Complete Illustrated Edition by William Shakespeare
Saga, Vol. 8 by Brian K. Vaughan
Sex Criminals, Vol. 4 by Matt Fraction

Books Read:
Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
Akira, Vol. 1 by Katsuhiro Otomo
American War by Omar El Akkad

I spent my bookstore gift certificates from Christmas at the beginning of the month, which always makes for a good start to the year. I picked up Assassin’s Fate, the last in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy. Loving it so far, sad to see their journey potentially nearing its end, but I do still have the connected Liveship Traders and The Rain Wild Chronicles books to read through, as I skipped those on the way to this series.

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Stoner, despite not really knowing anything about the plot, so I decided to pick that up as well. All I know is that it’s a 60’s campus novel about a man who loves literature and that it’s not nearly as dull as the cover suggests, so we’ll see how it goes.

I also picked up a nice copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, as I’ve been meaning to read through those, and a couple of comic books. Saga and Sex Criminals are the only ongoing series I’m following right now, and despite both having some ups and downs in terms of quality, I’m excited to get to them. At this point, I’ll be following Saga through to the end (unless it goes on until the end of time, The Walking Dead style), but if Sex Criminals doesn’t continue to pick up I might drop that.

Treat?

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Movies watched:
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) – Really enjoyed this. Some odd decisions in the plot, I thought, and I can see why some fanatical fans may not like that, but overall it was still good fun.

TV watched:
Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee: Season 1 – 2 – I’ve seen all of these before, from when they were just online, but I’m happily watching them again with Lee-Ann. I love listening to comedians discuss comedy, and I’ve always loved Jerry Seinfeld’s blunt humour. Very much recommended if you’re interested in comedians or even just enjoy listening to funny casual conversations.

Games played:
Divinity: Original Sin 2 (2017) (PC) – I only played a bit of this, but I’m still enjoying it. It’s a long one, and I tend to lose steam with longer games these days, but I plan to get back into it soon.

Monster Hunter World (2018) (PS4) – I wasn’t planning to buy this, but I was talked into it, and I’m having a blast so far. It’s a laid back game with frantic moments, so it can fit any mood really. Also I’m attacking giant monsters with bagpipes, which has always been a dream of mine.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

Nod

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NodNod by Adrian Barnes
Published: 2014
Narrated by: Tim Beckman
Length: 06:12 (206 pages)

Almost all of civilization suddenly lose the ability to sleep and begin to deteriorate mentally over the period of a few weeks. About one in every ten thousand adults can still sleep, and they all seem to share the same dream each night. A number of children can also sleep, but they’ve all stopped speaking and no one knows what happens in their dreams. No one really knows what’s happening at all, not even the author. This takes place in current day Vancouver, Canada and follows a couple, one who can sleep and the other who cannot, as they find themselves in the middle of a world quickly crumbling.

The basic premise of this feels like something out of a John Wyndham novel. but it was all questions and no answers, which made it a bit frustrating. I can handle leaving things unanswered, in fact I usually like being left in the dark a bit in novels, but so much was set up and then not even acknowledge that it felt like a first novel in a series. It felt like a wasted opportunity.

I think that’s what bugged me about this novel. It was an enjoyable read, atmospheric thought-experiments are my favourite flavour of science-fiction, but it just never hit its potential. The characters were interesting but a bit dull and lifeless and the plot was gripping but fizzled out midway. Great concept with a mediocre execution.

I listened to this on audiobook while travelling to Australia last year. I can’t sleep on planes, so I did get to experience this while being deprived of sleep, which I think added an interesting touch.

Mortality

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MortalityMortality by Christopher Hitchens
Published: 2012
Length: 104 pages

I have spent many, many hours over the years listening to Christopher Hitchens speak. I disagreed with some of his political stances, but I always enjoyed listening to his eloquent, and often savage, responses in religious debates.

In mid-2010, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which he sadly died from at the end of 2011. In that period of sickness, even while struggling with both the effects of the illness and the effects of the treatment, he kept writing and speaking publicly, which really speaks to his passion. His descriptions of what was happening to his body, and his thoughts when forced to face his own mortality, were both fascinating and heartbreaking.

He writes that the metaphor of ‘fighting’ or ‘battling’ cancer doesn’t really fit, and I could not agree more with that. It’s something that’s never sat right with me. I understand the positive sentiment behind it, and wouldn’t begrudge anyone for using it, but saying someone is ‘losing the battle with cancer’ leaves the lingering implication that they just aren’t trying hard enough. Cancer is, as we all know, a brutal disease. It’s something that some people are lucky enough to struggle through and survive. If someone gets pushed down in a dark alley and attacked by a mob of fifteen people, we don’t say they lost a fight. It wasn’t a fight; it was an unfair beating.

People don’t have cancer: they are reported to be battling cancer. No well-wisher omits the combative image: You can beat this. It’s even in obituaries for cancer losers, as if one might reasonably say of someone that they died after a long and brave struggle with mortality. You don’t hear it about long-term sufferers from heart disease or kidney failure.

Myself, I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent soldier or revolutionary is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.

A common talking point in debates was whether or not he would simply change his opinion and praise God when he was on his deathbed, and in response he would often bring up the contemptible practice of using someone’s death to spread rumours that they found religion, after they were gone and couldn’t defend themselves. Charles Darwin being the most famous case of this. One such book has already come out about Hitchens, as he suspected would be the case, so I imagine part of his drive for writing this was to preempt that.

I sympathize afresh with the mighty Voltaire, who, when badgered on his deathbed and urged to renounce the devil, murmured that this was no time to be making enemies.

He passed away while writing this, so the last portion of the book is just a series of his raw notes. Normally, seeing scribbles from a journal published posthumously would leave me feeling uneasy, but in this case I’m fairly sure this was at his request.

I haven’t read any of his other books, but I’m sure I will at some point. This was a short but very interesting read.

Small Gods

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Small Gods: A Discworld Graphic NovelSmall Gods: A Discworld Graphic Novel by Terry Pratchett
Illustrated by: Ray Friesen
Series: Discworld Graphic Novels #4
Publisher: Doubleday
Published: 2016
Length: 128 pages

It’s been about twenty years since I read Small Gods, but I have fond memories of it. I still consider it one of my favourite Pratchett novels, and although my memory is quite hazy on the plot, I can still vividly picture an enraged tortoise bouncing up and down and screaming threats of smiting by thunderbolts. I love the idea that the power of a God is determined by the strength of the faith of his believers, which in this case results in the Great God Om manifesting as a tortoise when he comes back to anoint the next prophet.

I was excited to read through this comic, if only to remind myself of the story, and it was fun for that. I had forgotten the basic structure of the novel, and this works as a sort of Coles Notes. Ray Friesen artwork was great, I thought. It’s unique a quirky and fits the tone very well.

I wouldn’t recommend this to a new reader, however, as you don’t really want the Coles Notes version of a Terry Pratchett novel. This has some of the story elements, and some of the humour, but it’s hard to encompass any novel-length story in a short graphic novel, let alone one from the Discworld series. Part of the joy of a Discworld novel is being dragged along at breakneck speed on the back of a ridiculous plot while constantly being smacked in the face with branches of irreverent wit and cutting satire, and you obviously lose quite a lot of that when you convert a 400 page novel to a 128 page graphic novel.

It was fun to revisit, but I think I need to re-read Small Gods now.

2017 in Review

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What a wreck of a year that was. While the world slowly crumbled down around us, I personally had quite a good time. We travelled a bit, spending a week in London and three weeks in Australia, and just generally enjoyed ourselves. I feel like I lost my drive for a bit there in the beginning, but the second half went much better.

The year went in the opposite direction reading-wise, with a strong start and a lackluster end. My interest in both reading books and writing about them took a hit at the end of the summer and didn’t really come back until recently. For the next time this happens, and it will happen again, I really just need to immediately drop what I’m trying to read and pick up whatever quick book interests me the most. It sounds obvious, but I get set in my habits, I guess.

I’m planning to change how I review here as well this year. Writing sizable posts on every book and comic worked for a long while, and I absolutely love having this little historical record of my reading, but I’ve fallen about ten books behind now and it’s starting to feel a bit like a chore. I’m going to start writing small reviews when I’m behind, or when I don’t have much of a response to a book, and group them in a single posts. Maybe that will free me up to have a bit more fun with what I write here, getting more into cookbooks and other topics. Once this begins to feel like work, that’s the time to stop, so I’m going to try to keep it fun.

The Stats

Overall books read: 48

Format
Graphic novels and comics: 7
Audio books: 22
E-Books: 0
Poetry compilations: 0
Short story or essay compilations: 5
Plays: 0
Non-fiction: 9

Country (of author)
America: 20
England: 10
Canada: 6
Scotland: 3
Australia: 2
France: 2
Netherlands: 1
Sweden: 1
India: 1
Ireland: 1
Russia: 1

Genre
Literary/Contemporary Fiction: 20
Science Fiction: 12
Memoir: 4
Gothic/Horror: 3
Comedy: 3
Thriller: 3
Mystery/Crime: 2
Historical fiction: 2
Non-fiction-food: 2
Non-fiction-literature: 2
Non-fiction-travel: 1

Other
Most novels by same author: 2 (Robin Hobb, Muriel Spark, Sylvain Neuvel, Shirley Jackson)
New authors (to me): 29
Female authors: 14.5 (The 0.5 is a co-author, not a mermaid)
Re-reads: 0

Reading Resolutions

  • Read more plays – It’s been years since I read a play, so this really needs to change. I’d like to read multiple this year, with at least one of those by Shakespeare.
  • Read more books by women – Books written by women made up 30% of my reading this year, up from 18%, and I found some great authors in the process. I’d like to raise this up even higher this year.
  • Read more poetry – I feel like I read some poetry this year, but unless we’re facing a clerical error, it appears I have not. I’d like to read at least a book or two in 2018.
  • Read more from authors I know – I tried to do this last year and NOPE. This went up from 17 books to a whopping 29. I’m not as worried about this, as I think it’s healthy to let your curiosity drive you, but I would like to dive deeper into the bibliographies of authors I love.
  • Read more authors who aren’t American or English – I did somewhat better this year. 39 of the books and comics I read in 2016 were by American or English authors, and this year that number was down to 30. I’d love to get that down closer to 50% of what I read. I love authors from these countries, but I think it’s worth broadening my tastes a bit.
  • Read more Canadian and Scottish authors – I’m a first-generation Canadian with Scottish parents, so I have been trying to expand my reading in these two countries. This year I read six Canadian novels, better than last year’s three, and three Scottish novels, which is one less than last year. I’m happy that these two countries are the third and fourth in my list, but I’d like to raise the numbers for this year.

The Challenges

The Classics Club: I finished the Classics Club in March! The goal was to read fifty classics in five years, and I finished half a year early. I ended with fifty-six book, as I kept reading until the time period was up. I’ve started a second list and am currently six books in.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017: Eight of the twelve books read.

Foodies Read 2017: Seven books read.

The Top Fives

These are all lists of media that were new to me this year, not necessarily released this year.

Fiction

  1. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  2. Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb
  3. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
  4. The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
  5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Non-Fiction

  1. Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
  2. Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
  3. Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
  4. Believe Me by Eddie Izzard
  5. Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Comics

  1. Saga, Vol. 7 by Brian K. Vaughan
  2. Kaijumax, Season 1 by Zander Cannon
  3. Back, Sack & Crack (& Brain) by Robert Wells
  4. Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi by Anthony Bourdain
  5. I Was the Cat by Paul Tobin

Audiobook Narrations

  1. Eddie Izzard narrating Believe Me
  2. Simon Vance narrating The Three Musketeers
  3. Clive Mantle narrating The Dinner
  4. Bernadette Dunne narrating The Haunting of Hill House
  5. Peter Hosking narrating Cloudstreet

Video Games

  1. Oxenfree (2016) (PC)
  2. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (2017) (PC)
  3. Super Mario Odyssey (2017) (Switch)
  4. Little Nightmares (2017) (PC)
  5. The Sexy Brutale (2017) (PC)

Movies

  1. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016)
  2. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
  3. Rogue One (2016)
  4. Hidden Figures (2016)
  5. The Big Sick (2017)

Television series – Fiction

  1. Master of None: Season 2 (2017)
  2. BoJack Horseman: Season 4 (2017) (technically watched the last two episodes this month)
  3. Stranger Things: Season 2 (2017)
  4. Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later: Season 1 (2017)
  5. Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Season 4 (2016)

Television series – Non-Fiction

  1. The Mind of a Chef: Season 4 (2015)
  2. Departures: Season 3 (2010)
  3. Chef’s Table: Season 3 (2017)
  4. Last Chance to See (2009)
  5. The Mind of a Chef: Season 5 (2016)

It was a bookish year. #2017bestnine

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Here’s to a great 2018! Let’s hope we aren’t looking back fondly to 2017 in a few months’ time.

December in Review

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Books Acquired:
Akira boxset (Vol. 1 – 5) by Katsuhiro Otomo
Artemis by Andy Weir
Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

Books Read:
Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
Ayoade on Ayoade by Richard Ayoade
Get Jiro: Blood and Sushi by Anthony Bourdain
Law School by Benjamin Law, Jenny Phang
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Happy New Year! If you had time off during the holidays, I hope you’re coming back well rested. I was feeling relaxed and re-energized, and then I came down with a cold on New Year’s Eve – 2017’s last kick in the ass as I stepped out the door.

We had a great month here. There was talk of spending Christmas in Hawaii, which would have been fantastic, but I was incredibly excited to spend Christmas in town for the first time in a decade. I didn’t enter a single airport this December, and I couldn’t ask for anything more. Also my entire family was in town here, and Lee-Ann was home for Christmas for the first time since we began dating, so it was really nice.

We’ve had a BBQ in our living room for the last two months, as our building is undergoing some balcony maintenance, and we live in a small condo with nowhere else to put it. The work was scheduled to finish in two weeks, so we were a little bummed that it carried on through December. We thought instead of letting it hamper our holiday spirit we’d stick a small tree on it and cover it with decorations, and it worked quite well actually. Nearly forgot we had a giant appliance next to the couch. It was our little ‘when life gives you lemons’ moment, like a bad sitcom holiday special.

I had planned to do some Christmas-related reading, but that didn’t happen. I have a collection of classic Christmas travelogues from the Folio Society, but Christmas crept up so quickly. It just doesn’t seem right to read those after the 25th. I had also planned to listen to Dickens’ The Chimes, but my Audible account is in a weird state and wouldn’t allow me to buy anything new. There’s always next year, I suppose.

Movies watched:
Chappie (2015) – I loved District 9, and was hoping to love this just as much, but it fell a little short. I still enjoyed it, but it could have been so much better. Hugh Jackman’s character was so over-the-top corny and so many of the characters’ actions seemed completely illogical. It really had potential, though.

No, I haven’t seen Star Wars yet.

TV watched:
Outlander: Season 3 (2017) – I enjoyed parts of this season, but some episodes had me scratching my head. I can believe that jewellery and pagan rocks can send you back in time, fine, but continually losing consciousness at sea only to find yourself waking up on or near land? The number of wild coincidences that occurred this season drove me crazy. The writing in general didn’t seem quite as strong, actually. Lee-Ann still loves it, though, and for whatever reason, I keep sitting down to watch it with her.

Games played:
Divinity: Original Sin 2 (2017) (PC) – I was avoiding this for the last couple of months, finding the length of the game a bit too daunting, but I decided to just give it a try. I’m still in the first act, but I played it quite a bit during my time off and am loving it so far. Great writing, deep character customization, and fun combat.

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

Back to the Classics 2018

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Another year, another Back to the Classics challenge. Last year I only read eight of the twelve categories, so I’d like to do a bit better in 2018. The rules are pretty simple – any book that fits the category and is at least fifty years old qualifies. At the end of the year, participants are entered into a draw for a Book Depository gift certificate.

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing

Here are the categories and my tentative choices:

  1. A 19th century classic: The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
  2. A 20th century classic: The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
  3. A classic by a woman author: The Girls Of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
  4. A classic in translation: Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  5. A children’s classic: The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  6. A classic crime story, fiction or non-fiction: The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler
  7. A classic travel or journey narrative, fiction or non-fiction: Jesting Pilate by Aldous Huxley
  8. A classic with a single-word title: Emma by Jane Austen
  9. A classic with a color in the title: A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
  10. A classic by an author that’s new to you: The Gastronomical Me by M.F.K. Fisher
  11. A classic that scares you: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  12. Re-read a favorite classic: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien