Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge

Despite the mounting blog backlog, I couldn’t resist signing up to a challenge I came across recently at Bookaroundthecorner. A big selling point is the lack of a timeframe, but even more so, this was the first unique challenge I have come across in ages. Rather than a ‘who’s who’ of the big ‘important’ reads, these lists are bound to be personal and interesting – head over to creator and host Sarah’s page for more details! The clue is in the name really – this is about pushing you out of your comfort zone. Ten unique books, one in each category – these are my initial thoughts but they may change as the challenge unfolds…

1. A book that has been previously abandoned.

As a general rule, I am not an abandoner – I have struggled to the end of books I have loathed in a bizarre battle of wills with inanimate objects, in the hope that somehow the ending will make good on the majority being insufferable (so rarely the case!). I am only recently starting to give in to the temptation to abandon, and have never done so with the level of relish that I physically flung Eat, Pray, Love across my bedroom after having reached self-absorption breaking point (me, me, me, lovely me, poor me, poor lovely me, pizza, me, Italian lessons, me, poor me, yoga, me…). Truly there has never been such a First World ode to odious self as that pile of tosh. I couldn’t begin to gather the strength to return to Elizabeth’s navel to find out what happens next, so I’m left to decide between selecting On Beauty by Zadie Smith (just didn’t warm to it) and Confessions of an Eco-Sinner by Fred Pearce (which I started, loaned to someone who really wanted it and then shelved when it was returned). Leaning strongly towards the latter.

2. A re-read. Didn’t quite get it/thought there was more/made promise to self to re-read? Time to make good.

The first thing I thought of was a book I didn’t know if I could even find! Treasured as only the forbidden can be, I was obsessed with my elder siblings Beaver Book of Horror, the cover of which alone struck terror into my four year old self. I remember it as ceaselessly thrilling, with condensed versions of classic horror stories and a grisly ‘true horrors’ section describing Vlad the Impaler and Sawney Bean etc in lurid detail. I hope grown-up me is still impressed and ghoulishly fascinated!

3. A book that has sat on the shelf, like, forever. (Decades.)

I don’t really have many books that I haven’t read, and certainly none that have been languishing on a shelf for decades (but oh for a library space so big that could happen!). The closest I can get to fulfilling this is to go to the relatively recent (but sadly growing) ‘to read’ shelf and pick the one there longest, which is An Intimate History of Humanity by Theodore Zeldin. I have had this for over a year, but the reason I haven’t read it yet is the same reason I am hesitant to commit to reading it now – there’s boobies on the cover, and I read a lot on the train. Given the shocking lack of frequent trains on my line, I meet the same people in the same carriages day-in, day-out, and I have only just completely gotten rid of the guy who used to sit beside me, fall asleep and try to spoon me…Not sure this sends out the right message! So I will either try to read this at home, or skip to the next veteran of the to-read shelf The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory (but she is always such a rollicking easy read it feels a bit of a cheat to include her in a challenge).

4. A book that paralyses one with dread.

Easy Peasey – The World According to Clarkson by Jeremy Clarkson (or ‘odious turdman’, or ‘tragic waste of good oxygen’, or ‘ that chest-wigged cock-jockey’ as he will always be to me). I was going to put this under #9, with the genre as ‘dick-lit’, but here is more apt as I can’t imagine anything more appalling than committing valuable time of my life on his pseudo-alpha-male, arrogant word vomit. I will feel the fear and do it anyway – only by supporting my local library and not by lining his overstuffed coffers, as sadly his ill-fitting-denim fund doesn’t seem to have run out yet. The dinosaur.

5. Investigate a canonical writer hitherto most shamefully overlooked.

I have never read anything by Flann O’Brien and there really is no excuse for it as an Irish fan of Beckett – I just never got around to it. A bit like not visiting somewhere close to you thinking “oh I could go anytime I want” and so somehow never going, I suppose.

6. Seek out a book by an author who has earned ostracism by being so good that any further novel could surely never measure up…?

I am a bit of a fanboy really, and tend to read everything I can find by someone if I love the first thing I read by them – Rupert Thomson and Glen Duncan for instance. After years of avoiding Terry Pratchett because so many people I loathed/were creeped out by read him, my loverly friend Margaret convinced me to read Reaper Man when we first met living together in Cork– and I loved it so much I read every Discworld novel then written in the next year… So the only one I can think of for this is Lionel Shriver, as I absolutely adored We Need to Talk about Kevin but I haven’t yet got round to reading anything else by her.

7. And the opposite… That author who was supposed to be really good, but didn’t go down too well? Give him/her another go!

I don’t know if anyone has ever claimed he was really good, but certainly the huge popularity of Frank McCourt baffles me beyond my powers of description. Angela’s Ashes is one of the worse things I have ever read. I am no fan of Salman Rushdie, and Jonathan Franzen seems staggeringly overrated to me. Since I could have included it under #1 here, I will give The Corrections another go.

8. Take a chance. Read a book which you would rather not. For instance when the OH says ‘you’ll really like this’ and you’re thinking ‘no, I really won’t…’

I really, really, really, really don’t want to read any of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books, for many reasons – chief among them the fact Bella sounds to me like a wimpy whingey waste of space that teenage girls really shouldn’t aspire towards being, and the fact that every time I see awards ceremonies featuring the smug gormless head of R-Patz or the mumbling ill-postured grump-festing of Kristen Stewart I have an overwhelming desire to punch them both in the face. Yet my friend Kathryn insists I would love them if I tried them, so I will. Although I may be wishing to read the words “And then Buffy staked Edward. The End” the entire time.

9. A book from an unfamiliar genre

I studiously avoid ‘misery lit’ – I just don’t understand the appeal at all. Biographies can include truly harrowing stories of abuse but not fall into this category (such as Bridge Across my Sorrows by the extraordinary Christina Noble). However, once you have titles such as Ma, He Sold me For a Few Cigarettes on bestseller lists, I can’t help feeling that all of this wallowing in misery lit is both devaluing real abuse and coming dangerously close to misery porn. Christina Crawford’s Mommie Dearest and David Pelzer’s A Child Called ‘It’ have both been ‘credited’ with starting this publishing phenomenon, so I will probably attempt whichever one is free in the library the day I am brave enough to try this one.

10. Ask a friend (preferably a person of impeccable taste, and definitely not someone who might have an axe to grind) to choose a book that you will, in their opinion, like. (This does not mean ask a dozen people until you get the right answer!)

I hadn’t gotten an answer from the friend I had asked about this yet when my colleague Alice met me on the stairs in work the other day and spontaneously recommended The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, which she had just finished reading and loaned to me that day. Alice is both a person of impeccable taste and almost supernaturally lovely, so I am looking forward to this – although if the original friend gets back with a recommendation I may change this selection…

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2 thoughts on “Not a Rat’s Chance in Hell’s Challenge

  1. Hello, I can’t say anything about your list, since I don’t know the writers, except for Stephenie Meyer. That’s good, I’ll discover new books when I read your review.
    I got my dick-lit experience recently (reading Gerard de Villiers) and it was a dreadful moment.
    I avoid misery lit too, so I understand.

    I have read the Twilight saga, very unlikly of me, since I don’t read SF or fantasy. At first I wanted to know why it was such a success. I understood after reading it. She has a nice way to deal with teenager issues and she spared us the US clichés of the genre, you know, cheerleaders, football or basket ball teams, ugly geeks…The characters seem far from 21st teenagers (no cell phones, no endless online chat, no interest in clothes or anything material). It’s interesting to see they indentify with them.

  2. Gosh! That’s some list, and much more entertaining than my few nominations. I am sitting on the fence with some choices and have failed to enter into the thing with the same gusto as the other participants. It’s all quite shaming really…

    I haven’t read Stephanie Meyer but I did watch the Twilight film with my eldest: we didn’t become huge fans. (Buffy has style, and vampires really are vampires. Mostly 🙂 )

    At least it looks like On Beauty is out of the running. I am a fellow abandoner of that particular volume, and relieved that I won’t have it on my conscience in addition to your misery lit!

    Hoping you will enjoy the Flann O’Brien, and that Beaver Book of Horror looks delightfully nostalgic… Good luck!

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