Top Gear Inspired Literary Mayhem


You’re probably looking at the title and trying to find a connection between the BBC show Top Gear and literature. I promise it’s not a ploy in any way. Follow me on this abstract roller coaster ride, and it will all become clear.

If you’re not aware, Top Gear is a show starring Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond. The show tries to focus on all things in the world of high-end cars and car racing. Many viewers watch the show to drool over gorgeous machines, but I mainly watch the show because of the irreverent camaraderie between the three hosts.

I.E.: grown men, acting like adolescents, who have full access to million-dollar cars, race tracks, and camera crews.

Besides showing off cars and tormenting one another, the three also do road trip challenges. Clarkson, May, and Hammond have gone all over the world doing different challenges,  including such places as Bolivia, the North Pole, the Middle East, Vietnam, South America, all over Western Europe, the UK and they’ve even made excursions here in the states.

To make their voyages more interesting, and to drive one another crazy, the hosts have made some additional rules whenever they are out on their trips. One of the most interesting rules is as follows:

No matter what, while on a road trip, if one of the hosts gives another host a gift, the receiver of said gift must accept it, keep it safe, and carry it with him throughout the entire trip.

670x377ImageObviously, the guys like to give each other a hard time, therefore they buy the most impractical gifts possible. For example, while riding motorbikes through Vietnam, Clarkson gave Hammond a wooden model ship, as seen in the adjacent picture. While a beautiful gift, it was completely impractical and rather sadistic of Clarkson, which, of course, makes for good television.

In the spirit of the Top Gear gift-giving rule, I have come up with a challenge that will work for you and your fellow bibliophiles.

Literary Mayhem Challenge

X times per year, each person in the challenge can give any book to one of the other people involved. The receiver must always:

  • Accept the book
  • Read the book within X time (no Cliff’s Notes or Grade Saver cheats, either!)
  • Discuss the book with the initial giver or via blog

For sanity, no one person in the challenge can receive more than a certain number of books at once, since they will only have X amount of time to read each book.

The value to assign to “X” depends on the availability of you and those people involved in the challenge.

For example, in this challenge, my best friend and I are both highly busy people with only 3-10 hours per week available to do leisure activities, if we’re lucky. Therefore, we have agreed to start off by giving each other at least one year to read the challenge books. If we both finish the books faster, we can of course adjust the value of X.

I have not determined a penalty for failing to read the challenge book. Bragging rights are fun, but there should be something more menacing as a punishment. If you have ideas, please include those in the comments below.

Approaches to the Challenge

There are at least three different approaches for this challenge, and you may decide to use a different approach for each person involved.

Approach #1 Sadistic Book Peddler

If you know your friends well enough, you will know what topics and/or authors your friends despise. Therefore, you could torture them by giving them the books you know they hate most. Plus, you get the added pleasure of continually asking them how they’re enjoying the challenge book.

Approach #2 Altruistic Book Peddler

For some of your friends in this challenge, you may decide to be a good person and give them books you know they would love. There is nothing wrong with this approach. After all, you could use this approach to build-up a false sense of security by giving them happy books in the beginning, and then following that up by far more sadistic choices ;0)

Approach #3 Selfish Book Peddler

If you tend to have more eclectic taste in books than your friends, you’ve probably read titles that your pals have never heard of and/or would never bother to read. No doubt you have been desperately trying to find someone who has read at least one of the books that you have read. Well, guess what? The search is over. Now you can give that obscure book to one of your friends in the challenge and then you will finally have someone to talk to about the book =)

My Challenge Experiences so Far

To be honest, I just started this challenge with my best friend after he jokingly gave me a copy of The Ambassadors by Henry James .

Why did my friend select this particular novel?

When I was in my grad studies, my best friend remembers me complaining about the difficulties of getting into James’s rhythm and getting through his longer fiction. I do not necessarily dislike James’s writing, but my issues with his style are as follows:

  • He can be VERY dry
  • He can make a single sentence fill up an entire page AND still be grammatically correct (an impressive skill in practice, but it’s annoying to read)
  • By time he actually gets to the point of the matter, you as the reader have already forgotten that point or you no longer care.

While I did enjoy James’s Turn of the Screw and “The Beast in the Jungle,” for the topics/themes addressed in his longer fiction (e.g., Portrait of a Lady and Wings of a Dove), I much prefer to read the works of his contemporary, Edith Wharton.

So now I have one year to read The Ambassadors.

Challenge-AcceptedIt’s not a very long book – less than 400 pages. I told myself that I would read at least 20 pages a week to make myself get through the book at a leisurely pace. I’m reading several other more enjoyable titles at the moment, which I may have to use to reward/bribe myself just to get through James’s work.

My (revenge) approach to my fellow challenger – you guessed it! Sadistic book peddler! After my best friend’s endless diatribes about his disdain for Emily Dickinson, I think I know what book to get him first.

Enjoy your literary mayhem, everyone, and keep the challenge going!



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