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This was my first Orhan Pamuk and I’m sure it’s very clever, but not the kind of clever I can appreciate. I had the same feeling with If on A Winter’s Night a Traveler: I knew something quite intellectual was happening, but my brain wasn’t interested enough to make the effort.

The White Castle starts off with an entrancing premise – a 17th-century Venetian student doctor is captured by Ottoman pirates and taken to Constantinople as a slave. He is sold to Hoja, a scholar, with whom our main character (we never know his name) bears a close physical resemblance. Almost from the start the master demands that his slave tells him everything about his life and teaches him all he knows.

After a while the Sultan starts noticing Hoja’s astrological predictions, and makes him the Imperial Astrologer. He also asks him to build a giant weapon, which they plan to use to take the White Castle. But that’s not the most important part of the story. Over the years, and as they work closely together, master and slave begin having conversations about what makes a person who they are. They look so alike that, if they were to exchange knowledge of each others’ history and secrets, could they actually exchange identities? So the slave starts to fear that his master will kill him and take over his former life in Venice.

The whole book is told in the first person, but almost always using indirect speech (grammar people, is that the right way to describe it?). A direct transcription of something being said is very rare and short, although their conversations are at the core of the story. The narrator is always describing what’s happening without letting people talk for themselves:

Towards morning, in order to calm his nerves, he recited to me once more this piece of rhetoric about the logic of the turning of the planets but this time he recited it backwards, like an incantation. Loading our instruments on a wagon he borrowed, he left for the pasha’s mansion.

This made it grindingly monotonous and dry. Like I was listening to a dubbed movie where all the characters are played by one person with the same tone of voice. I found myself alienated from the story.

It’s pretty unusual that a historical novel set in Constantinople/Istanbul doesn’t make a strong impression of time and place. Unfortunately, The White Castle left me with no lasting images, no recollection of the narrator’s day-to-day life, no memory of the city’s sights, sounds or smells, clever descriptions, one-liners or clever figure of speech. Thinking back, I only recall an endless chain of sentences with little emotional value.

Ultimately, the book felt like an excuse to discuss existentialism, identity and the master-slave dialectic. I don’t mind philosophy in my novels, but if the story and setting are so secondary, I’d rather be reading non-fiction.

I’m not ready to give Pamuk a pass yet, I love Istanbul too much and heard too many good things about My Name is Red.


Other thoughts: another cookie crumbles, Culture Vulture, A Life in Fiction (yours?)

Book read for One, Two, Theme Challenge
Theme 4: Byzantium/Constantinople/Ottoman Empire/Istanbul


If you want to know about Mehmet the conqueror, the warrior, the military genius, this is the book for you, however, if like me you’d like some insight into Mehmet the man, father, son, husband and scholar, then it’s likely you’ll also be a bit disappointed.

At 21 years old, Mehmet II put a definite end to the Byzantine Empire by conquering Constantinople. He also took over part of Asia and in Europe went as far as Belgrade. He started the Ottoman “tradition” of fratricide, built the Topkapi Palace and had three Popes organizing Crusades against him. He must have been an interesting and charismatic man (after all, he had a reputation for ruthlessness, but chose to pose for one of his few portraits holding a flower to his nose) but Freely never gives us any insight into his thoughts.

There are endless descriptions of battles, conquests and treaties. A whole chapter describes the Topkapi Palace almost room by room, another lists the buildings built during Mehmet’s reign which are still standing in Istanbul today. The last third of the book is actually the story of Mehmet’s descendants up to modern Turkey (which might have been more interesting, had my main interest not been Mehmet himself).

What drove him? What were his motivations and influences? We get little in that respect, except for isolated pieces of information, like the books in his library, his personal take on religion and his bland poetry.

Mehmet the father is only lightly touched and Mehmet the husband is all but absent. He had several wives but was buried next to only one – an interesting detail which I’d have loved Freely to touch. His death was described in a matter-of-fact way, which also took me a bit aback:

Mehmet had called a halt here because he had been stricken by sever abdominal pains. His Persian physician had administrated medicine that only made matters worst and so Mehmet’s old Jewish doctor, master Ya’qub, was called in. Ya’qub concluded that the pain was caused by blockage of the intestines, but despite his frantic efforts he was unable to do anything more than aliviate the Sultan’s agony with powerful doses of opium.

Mehmet lingered on until late in the evening of 3 May 1481, when he passed away at the 22nd hour, according to Giovanni Maria Angiolello. The Sultan was 49 when he died having reign for more than 30 years, most of which he had spent in war. [he then goes on about how the Viziers tried to keep the death a secret and what his sons did next.]

You can feel Freely’s love for Istanbul (which actually made me buy his other book “Strolling Through Istanbul: A Guide to the City”), and it’s clear this is a well-researched, solid book about Ottoman history, but it’s too much a list of events to become an engaging biography of Sultan Mehmet. Maybe Freely was weary of making assumptions or going into speculation? That must be the eternal struggle of the biographer, especially when dealing with a subject which died so long ago.

Also, this must hold the record for most paragraphs starting with “Meanwhile”…

Book read for One, Two, Theme Challenge
Theme 6: Byzantium/Constantinople/Ottoman Empire/Istanbul

Arrived Sunday night from a mini-vacation in Istanbul, which was confirmed as one of my favorite European (and Asian) cities (if not really the favorite).

Of course there was some book shopping involved, this time at the Robinson Crusoe bookshop in Beyoglu’s main street. It’s reputedly “Istanbul’s best foreign book shop” and it has a great vibe, with its tall shelves in dark wood. I especially appreciated their section on Turkey and came out with three souvenirs, all ideal for my Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium theme of the One, Two, Theme Challenge:

(View from our hotel)

  • The Flea Palace by Elif Shafak
  • The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk
  • Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City by Hillary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely

Some books that have good timing. “Extra Virgin” is a memoir of two English women who decide to buy a derelict house (olive grove included) in the mountains of Liguria, Italy. It was a decision that raised not a few eyebrows and put into perspective one I’ve made recently.

In the middle of an economic recession I’ve decided to quit my senior job in one of the city’s larger consultancies to accept an opportunity in a tinny NGO dealing with renewable energy in developing countries. It involved some serious self-questioning (and some discussions with Andre about the impact on our household budget) but it’s decided and I feel damn good about it! From where I’m standing, even if I am romanticizing the NGO world, it’s still a risk I need to take. I’ve been toying with the idea for years and it’s now or never. I’m done with Big Business and can already feel my karma improving. Wish me luck!

Now back to the book. I’m not a big fan of these memoirs about moving to a Mediterranean Eden and probably wouldn’t have read “Extra Virgin” if it wasn’t for my Olive theme in the One, Two, Theme Challenge. I was bored out of my wits with “Under the Tuscan Sun” and found Richard Hewitt’s “A Cottage in Portugal” vaguely offensive. I felt he didn’t try to understand the reasons behind the surreal things that happen to him. Maybe it was just a patriotic tantrum, but either way, it didn’t work for me. In “Extra Virgin”, and just like Richard Hewitt, Lucy and Annie also met a “singular logic”, but they face it with a different philosophy: understand, accept and integrate (just like I did when first faced with the Belgian waste collection system…).

For instance, at a certain point they noticed their neighbor Nico wasn’t exactly the friendliest guy in the world and assumed it was a dislike for the foreigners (and single women at that!) who were invading honest-to-God Ligurian land. But no, many moons later they’ve come to realize that his antipathy was because they didn’t “clean” their land, making it a fire-hazard to the olive trees and houses around them. Nico assumed they knew this (how could they not? It’s common sense!), and were just being negligent.

These and other misunderstandings are described in a funny, easy-going way, with not a small dose of humility and self-mirth. You can clearly feel their love for Italy, Liguria, their small village and own piece of land.

Her descriptions of meals were especially true to the love affair between Italians and their gastronomy:

We go on eating all afternoon, the digestive system expanding, as usual, to fill the entire universe and more.

It was interesting to notice the similarities with Portuguese culture, not only in our own relationship with food, but also in other idiosyncrasies (dogmas really) that foreigners don’t really understand. For example, you cannot swim after a meal, not for the next 3 hours after you finish eating (at least!). Why is that? I never really understood myself, but someone always knows someone who knew someone who broke the rule and suffered a horrible death.

Annie and her sister go through a slow learning process, but in “Extra Virgin” she never patronizes us with an unrealistic romanticization of Italy or the proverbial “quaint” peasants. There’s HIV and dark WWII stories, but there’s also plenty of laughing-out-loud episodes. In between I gained a new respect for olives:

And thanks to all those insistently ripening eat-me-now-or-I’ll-rot vegetable we have at last understood what it is about the olive that has made it such a symbol of peace and plenty for the last couple of thousand years. The olive is magic: if you have olive oil, which we do – even though ours is for the moment bought at Ugo’s and may very well be full of only the Lord knows what – you can transform visually calorie-free greenery into nutritious-packed substance.

The only reason why I don’t give it a 5/5 is because I missed the personal factor. Annie is funny and a keen observer, but we know almost nothing about her, her background, her family or her life in England. It’s only on rare occasions that she lets us glimpse her thoughts, including the doubts she must have occasionally felt about her endeavor. In many way the book feels too… anthropological.

Book read for One, Two, Theme Challenge
Theme 3: Olives/Olive oil

If you’re looking for a book with all the answers, “A World without Bees” will not be it, especially because, well, no one actually has them. Nor will you find apocalyptic, “The end in nigh!” type of scaremongering. What you will find is an overview of the history, importance and possible causes of what became known as Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD.

Bees affected with CCD just suddenly disappear: one day a beekeeper has a healthy beehive, the next all he’s left with is the queen and a few helpers. The phenomenon seems completely random, as it can affect only one hive in a group or all, there are reports of the same symptoms across the globe and in all sorts of environment, from farms where chemicals are used, to cities and places off the beaten track. It’s a veritable, old-fashioned, scientific mystery.

It’s not an easy topic to transform into a book that’s accessible to everyone (lots of chemistry and genetics) but Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum managed to pull it off. They picked up a myriad of theories, studies and contradictory opinions and put them together in simple and (in my non-expect opinion) trustworthy chapters. They start with how bees work, move on to why they’re important, how CCD was first “discovered”, its dimension, possible theories and end with what would happen in a world without bees. (By the way, no, the human race would not become extinct – give us a little credit! – but it would make everything more expensive and much less fun. For instance, no strawberries or chocolate!)

It’s obvious the authors put a lot of work into the book and crossed the world to talk to the right people. They did such a great job that their book comes together as a very strong argument for a holistic view of the world. Call it an ecosystem, call it the butterfly effect, call it cause-consequence, but the bottom-line is: everything is connected. Globalization, with its widespread exchange of animals, insects and viruses has not been kind to honeybees.

It was also interesting to read how the research community, especially the one funded by the industry, seems to focus on creating a stronger honeybee through genetics instead of dealing with the problems which seem to be at the heart of CCD: the industrialization of beekeeping, widespread monocultures, declining bee-friendly areas, pollution, chemicals, GMOs, and the lack of biodiversity in bees and in general. As the authors very well put it:

The danger of creating a superbee, is that a superbug would more than likely follow in its wake, and the western honeybee already has enough ordinary foes to contend with.

Now I must confess something. Although I really enjoyed the book, my favorite part was not the focus on CCD but the first chapters, where Benjamin and McCallum describe life inside a beehive and how honeybees actually work. I was ab-so-lu-te-ly fascinated and really glad I chose this theme for the One, Two, Theme Challenge. What remarkable creatures they are! I’m looking forward to reading the other books in the theme, which will focus more on the bees and less on what threatens them.

Did you know that once a bee discovers a good source of food it passes on the information to the rest of the hive through a “waggle dance”? They can transmit things like time to target and direction according to the sun. They even make adjustments to the dance considering the sun’s changing trajectory since they started the ritual.


This book made me want plant more flowers in my terrace – bee-friendly flowers. If you have a urban garden, take a look at this Guide to a Bee-Friendly Garden.

Book read for One, Two, Theme Challenge
Theme 4: Bees/Honey

This seems to be the time for the book blogging community to make its plans for 2011. It will be the first year ever that I’ll make any sort of reading plans, so to be ready I’ve made a calendar in my Moleskine Passions Book Journal (my precioussss). Like this I’ll be able to keep monthly track of read-alongs and bookclub books. On the page before the calendar I’ve listed the books I know I must read but without a fixed date: anything Challenge-related, the ones Joanna chose for me and joint reads I’ll do with some Bookcrossing friends.

By my accounts, these planned readings will be around 1/3 of all 2011 books. It’ll be sort of a personal experiment, because until now I’m been pretty random in my choices.

I’m also planning to limit my Challenges to three and make them overlap as much as possible. Apart from “One, Two, Theme”, I’ve signed up to the Steampunk Challenge (for which I have no plan, as no specific number of books are needed)  and recently I’ve also signed up for the 2011 Graphic Novels Challenge.

Belgium has a great tradition of graphic novels. Tintin, the Smurfs and Lucky Luke were all born in this small country, and I doubt there’s any city in the world has as many dedicated comics shops as Brussels. Ever since I’ve moved here I’ve been meaning to read more graphic novels, but it’s only now, because of the enthusiasm of so many bloggers out there, that I’ve decided to make it an objective for the upcoming year.

I’ll focus on the Franco-Belgian school and when possible I’ll read them in the original language, which  hopefully will improve my French. This is my initial reading list:

(Question: where are all the Franco-Belgian women graphic novel artists?)

Continue reading Les Cités Obscures (written by Benoît Peeters and illustrated by François Schuiten). In the imaginary world of the Cities of the Fantastic, humans live in independent city-states and each developed a distinct civilization, though all are in some way focused on architectural styles. Visually, Schuiten seems to illustrate just for me 🙂 I’m especially looking forward to reading Brüsel, which is about the way some modern towns have developed (and are developing). He wrote it having in mind the concept of Brusselization, which according to Wikipedia “is a term used by urban planners to describe anarchic commercial property development in a historic city” and originates from what happened here during the 50s and 60s.

Djinn (written by Jean Dufaux and illustrated by Ana Mirallès) is an adult adventure-thriller. The first four volumes make up the “Ottoman Cycle” (perfect for my Istanbul theme!) while the following five are the “Africa Cycle”. An “Indies Cycle” is in the works.

Continue reading  A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O’Neill), as I’ve only read the first and have the two following books in the TBR (Volume II and the Black Dossier). I’II include them in the Steampunk Challenge. According to Moore, the concept behind the series was initially a “Justice League of Victorian England” but quickly grew into an opportunity to merge all works of fiction into one world.

Le Chat du Rabbin or The Rabbi’s Cat (written and illustrated by Joann Sfar), is a story set in Algeria in the 30s. An old rabbi’s gaunt and bony cat eats a parrot and discovers he can talk. The cat follows the rabbi’s daughter everywhere, so fearing bad influences, the rabbi decides to teach the Torah to the cat. How great does that sound?

Continue reading Fables (written by Bill Willingham, illustrator depends on volume). I’m half-way through the second volume – Animal Farm.

Harzach (written and illustrated by Moebius) caught my eye at the bookshop. The stories follow Harzach, a silent warrior who rides a flying-dinosaur-like creature through a strange, desolate landscape. I though it was a recent release, but it turns out that “these stories had an enormous impact on the French comics industry”. When I was studying art back in the day, Moebius was a favorite among graphic-art lovers.

Les Aventures Extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec or The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Dry-White (written and illustrated by Jacques Tardi) are about a Parisian novelist-come-reporter who in the years before and after World War I investigates the mystical world of crime. There’s a movie too!

Fable of Venice (written and illustrated by Hugo Pratt) was bought on location earlier this year. It will be my first Pratt – looking forward to it!

Asterix chez les Belges or Asterix in Belgium (written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo). Now that I’ve lived here for a while I’ll really appreciate the inside jokes. I can already picture the jokes about beer and chocolates 🙂

So this is the plan. Any interesting suggestions? Have you read any of the above?

Happy 235th, Jane Austen! Have you seen today?

Isn’t it cute?

These are the lists for my last three themes of the One, Two, Theme! Challenge. Not everything is set in stone, so let me know if you have any suggestions, I especially need ideas for fiction involving the Medici family.

Theme 4: Bees/Honey
Bees and honey are popular metaphors for politics, sex, the benefits of hard work, the pits of consumerism and ultimately, life itself. Recently they’ve also been on the media because of their alarming mass deaths and what that might mean for us. How could I not be curious about something that might lead to Human extinction?


  • A World Without Bees by Alison Benjamin, Brian McCallum
  • Robbing the Bees: A Biography of Honey – The Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World by Holley Bishop


  • Generation A by Douglas Coupland
  • The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Mary Russell #1) by Laurie R. King

Theme 3: Olive oil
I luuurve me some good olive oil, and a bottle of my favorite has become one of my “small” luxuries (hey, it could be shoes, or bags, instead all by lavishness goes into food stuff :)). Whenever we have friends over for dinner the appetizer is always good bread to dip in olive oil. My favorite producer is the “Marques de Grinon” (jeezzz I sound so bourgeois!), which according to a reviewer, is “a gleaming golden hue backed by exceptionally vivid and intense aromas with reminiscences of green tomatoes, freshly mowed grass, artichoke and green almonds.  In the palate, concentrated green vegetables and nutty aromas.  The finish is pleasantly spicy.” O yeahhh!


  • Astonishing Facts About Olive Oil: A Cultural History from Around the World by Ed S. Milton
  • Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit by Mort Rosenblum


  • The Olive Readers by Christine Aziz


Theme 2: The Medici Family
They must have been extraordinary people, these absolute rulers in everything but title.


The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall by Christopher Hibbert


To be decided – any ideas?


Theme 1: Eleanor of Aquitaine
I know close to nothing about Eleanor of Aquitaine, but I’m always interested in women that shaped the Middle Ages. I’ll compliment the book by watching Kathryn Hepburn playing Eleanor in “The Lion in Winter”.


When Christ And His Saints Slept (Eleanor of Aquitaine Series #1) by Sharon Kay Penman


At the end of high-school I had two clear career paths in front of me and a choice I knew would have a major impact on the rest of my life. One path was safe: the bright world of advertising and marketing. An exciting prospect, since I knew it would allow me to study a myriad of subjects, from photography and design to linguistics and economics.

The other was the uncertain world of art restoration. I say uncertain because I knew a certain level of investment and “connections” (both of which I didn’t have) was needed to make a living out of it in Portugal, and even then it was risky. The option of leaving the country never crossed my mind, and even if it did, it was beyond my means. All the same, I have the feeling it’s the closest I’ve had to a Calling.

In the end, I followed the bright lights and the road more travelled. I don’t regret it, but truth be told, I wonder sometimes. I think I’ve said it here before, but my perfect job now would be to do communications for the likes of UNESCO (if anyone there is reading this, my email address is right there on the top-left!).

All this to say that “Art restoration, conservation and business” will be my second biggest theme of the “One, Two, Theme” Challenge. Once again, if you have any recommendations not included below, it would be great to hear them!

And without further ado:

(first stab at)
A Reading List for “One, Two, Theme” Challenge
Theme 5:
Art restoration, conservation and business


  • The Art Detective: Fakes, Frauds, and Finds and the Search for Lost Treasures by Philip Mould
    “Philip Mould, one of the world’s foremost authorities on British portraiture and an irreverent and delightful expert for the Roadshow, serves up his secrets and his best stories, blending the technical details of art detection and restoration with juicy tales peopled by a range of eccentric collectors, scholars, forgers, and opportunities.” GR
  • A Closer Look: Conservation of Paintings by David Bomford
    A Closer Look: Conservation of Paintings discusses the material nature of paintings and the ways that they have changed, both naturally and at the hands of previous restorers.” GR
  • Art Restoration: The Culture, the Business and the Scandal by James Beck
    “Professor Beck inquires into the social, cultural and, increasingly, commercial factors that underlie the recent state of restorations that has produced what amounts to a restoration establishment with its own networks, priorities and interests.” GR
  • I Bought Andy Warhol by Richard Polsky
    “In 1987, Richard Polsky put aside $100,000 to buy a Warhol painting, a dream that took twelve years to realize. In a book that spans the years from the wild speculation of the late 1980s to the recession of the 1990s, Polsky, himself a private dealer, takes his readers on a funny, fast-paced tour through an industry characterized by humor, hypocrisy, greed, and gossip.” GR
  • The Caravaggio Conspiracy by Peter Watson
    Investigative reporter poses as dealer to recover stolen paintings. Sub-title: “how five art dealers, four policemen, three picture restorers, two auction houses, and a journalist plotted to recover some of the world’s most beautiful stolen paintings”
  • The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby’s-Christie’s Auction House Scandal by Christopher Manson
    “It offers an unprecedented look inside this secretive, glamorous, gold-plated industry, describing just how Sotheby’s and Christie’s grew from clubby, aristocratic businesses into slick international corporations. And it shows how the groundwork for the most recent illegal activities was laid decades before the perpetrators were caught by federal prosecutors.” GR


  • The Raphael Affair (Jonathan Argyll & Flavia di Stefano #1) by Iain Pears
    “When a long-lost Raphael resurfaces, it triggers a chain of events from vandalism…to murder! As English art scholar Jonathan Argyll investigates, he ends up on a run for the truth…and his very own life.” GR
  • An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
    “Lacey Yeager is young, captivating, and ambitious enough to take the NYC art world by storm. Groomed at Sotheby’s and hungry to keep climbing the social and career ladders put before her. Her ascension to the highest tiers of the city parallel the soaring heights – and, at times, the dark lows – of the art world and the country from the late 1990s through today.” GR
  • The Kill Artist (Gabriel Allon, #1) by Daniel Silva
    One of a series of books about Gabriel Allon, a paintings restorer who is also a Mossad agent (how cool does that sound!?).
  • People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
    It is 1996 and Hanna Heath, an Australian book conservator has been asked to analyze and treat the Sarajevo Haggadah which has been salvaged from a Bosnian museum.

If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.
Alphonse de Lamartine

We fell in love with the Istanbul from the moment we entered its outskirts on a bus from Bulgaria. The layers of civilizations, the meeting-point of cultures, the insane round-the-clock movement, the salty ayrans, the mystery of the inner rooms of the Topkapi Palace, but most of all, we fell in love with the light. It’s the kind of light I only remember seeing in my Lisbon. Very difficult to describe, but someone told me it has a scientific explanation, something to do with the latitude, longitude and proximity of large bodies of water. On and off we play with the possibility of moving there for a while (unlikely with our jobs), but all the same we’re planning to return in 2011 to explore it further.

From that first visit I started to read fiction set in Istanbul and its previous incarnations as Byzantium and Constantinople, so when Joanna and I decided to create the “One, Two, Theme Challenge” I instantly knew what my top-theme would be.

After some research and going through my TBR I finally decided on a reading list, which turned out to be a liiiitle beyond the needed 6 books. Other books might be added along the way, so please feel free to give me more suggestions, especially on modern history (I know I have a knowledge-gap there) and graphic novels.

(first stab at)
A Reading List for “One, Two, Theme” Challenge
Theme 6: Byzantium/Constantinople/Ottoman Empire/Istanbul


  • Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World by Colin Wells (TBR)
  • Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire by Judith Herrin (TBR)
  • Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire by Jason Goodwin (TBR)
  • Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk


  • The Sultan’s Seal (Kamil Pasha, #1) by Jenny White
  • The Abyssinian Proof (Kamil Pasha, #2) by Jenny White (TBR)
  • Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières (TBR)
  • My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk (TBR)
  • Baudolino by Umberto Eco (TBR audiobook)
  • The Flea Palace by Elif Şafak
  • Bliss: A Novel by Zülfü Livaneli

Any further suggestions welcome!

When I first met Joanna, the conversation turned into the topics we liked (or would like) to read about. She mentioned Atlantis and I told her I even had a small list of “Things to know more about” in my agenda that included, among other things, bees and life in a harem. So the next time we met, we agreed it would be fun to co-organizing a Reading Challenge that would get us to read by themes. This was the start of One, Two, Theme! which will run from January to December 2011. Since it’s ran by the two of us, we’ve created a dedicated blog for it:

The rules are simple: you chose how many topics you want to explore, and then rank them by levels of interest, with a minimum of 3 themes/levels. For theme/level 1 you only need to read 1 book, for theme/level 2, you read 2 books, etc. The only thing we ask is that after level 1 you include at least one fiction and one non-fiction. The themes can be anything under the sky, anything that has ever sparked your curiosity.

For my list I chose 6 themes, 6 levels (21 books). I still don’t know exactly what to read for each, but it was already half the fun to make this selection. I think I started out with 12 levels and decided to drop things like the Silk Road and black holes (maybe next year?). Here are the final 6:

4.    Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul
3.    Art business & restoration
2.    Bees/honey
1.    Olive oil

Any recommendations?

To allow people to explore what interests others, we’ve created a page where we list all themes. You’ll be able to see what other people go for and maybe find common interests.

So if you’re into Reading Challenges and this one already got you thinking about what themes to explore, come on over and join us!

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