I’ve seen the ‘Try a Chapter Challenge‘ on several BookTube channels, and because I have several books that have been sitting on my shelves for quite some time, unread and routinely forgotten about, I thought I would give it a try. The idea of the challenge is to read the first chapter from a book and then decide if you want to read the rest of it. Because the books I’ve chosen are either very long or have short chapters, I am modifying the challenge a bit. Instead of just reading the first chapter, I decided to read to the end of the chapter that contains page 50.
Here are the books I am going to try for this challenge:
Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates
From Goodreads: A wealthy and notorious clan, the Bellefleurs live in a region not unlike the Adirondacks, in an enormous mansion on the shores of mythic Lake Noir. They own vast lands and profitable businesses, they employ their neighbors, and they influence the government. A prolific and eccentric group, they include several millionaires, a mass murderer, a spiritual seeker who climbs into the mountains looking for God, a wealthy noctambulist who dies of a chicken scratch.
Bellefleur traces the lives of several generations of this unusual family. At its center is Gideon Bellefleur and his imperious, somewhat psychic, very beautiful wife, Leah, their three children (one with frightening psychic abilities), and the servants and relatives, living and dead, who inhabit the mansion and its environs. Their story offers a profound look at the world’s changeableness, time and eternity, space and soul, pride and physicality versus love. Bellefleur is an allegory of caritas versus cupiditas, love and selflessness versus pride and selfishness. It is a novel of change, baffling complexity, mystery.
At 729 pages, this has been a rather intimidating addition to my collection. I bought it because I felt guilty for not having read more than a couple of Oates’s short stories, and the Gothic setting appealed to me. I believe I had recently finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude when I picked up Bellefleur, which might have influenced my decision given the generational story. It’s been a few years, though, so it’s time I gave it a try to see if I really want to read it or not.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
From Goodreads: In 1799, Jacob de Zoet disembarks on the tiny island of Dejima, the Dutch East India Company’s remotest trading post in a Japan otherwise closed to the outside world. A junior clerk, his task is to uncover evidence of the previous Chief Resident’s corruption.
Cold-shouldered by his compatriots, Jacob earns the trust of a local interpreter and, more dangerously, becomes intrigued by a rare woman—a midwife permitted to study on Dejima under the company physician. He cannot foresee how disastrously each will be betrayed by someone they trust, nor how intertwined and far-reaching the consequences.
I think I picked this one up at the used bookstore one a day when I was feeling particularly literary. I haven’t read anything by David Mitchell before, though I tried and failed to read The Bone Clocks (and honestly, I should know better than to try to read long, complicated books in December, when I am mad busy and working six-day weeks). I’m not sure what inspired me to pick up this one over any of the other David Mitchell books that might have been there, but it’s another that has been languishing on the shelves for a long time.
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
From Goodreads: 1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.
I think I heard about this book from one of NPR’s annual book concierges, which is their yearly round-up of the contributors’ favorite books from all genres from the year. I found a copy at the used bookstore and was fascinated by the amazing cover, which seems to promise some steampunk elements in the story. I don’t know very much about it otherwise, and I don’t think I’ve seen it on bookish social media at all. I don’t know if that’s because the book was unknown, was largely panned, or if it’s just “old” because it didn’t come out last week.
I will read the allotted pages for these three books, and then decide if they’re titles I want to continue reading, or if they are destined to go to the used bookstore in exchange for store credit. I’ll let you know my decisions in a few days!