Monday, 16 July 2018

Alan Lightman, continued

   What a surprise to find this new book called "In Praise of Wasting Time" by Alan Lightman.  What does he know about 'wasting time' and how did he find time to write this?
   Here is his message:
"An enormous transformation has occurred in the world from the 1950's and '60's of my youth to today.  A transformation so vast that it has altered all that we do and say and think, yet often in ways so subtle and ubiquitous that we are hardly aware of them.  Among other things, the world today is faster, more scheduled, more fragmented, less patient, louder, more wired, more public.  For want of a better phrase, I will call this world 'the wired world'."

   For sure, there are many advantages of technology.  It has improved medicine and communication vastly. 
   But Lightman adds:"It has come at a cost.  And it is time that we recognize what we have lost".
  I was very interested in Lightman's perspective on the mixed blessing of this 'wired world'.  I have always recognized a change in the world with each new invention and knew that we were losing something important in very little parcels.  I often yearn for the calmer, quieter past.

   This book was written in 2018 and talks about the rate of anxiety and depression in teenagers.  Quote:"Some experts say that the main driver is the massive and pervasive presence of the digital grid, with little opportunity or desire to disconnect". 
   Teenagers report feeling 'lonely', when what they are really missing is 'themselves'.  They have never been able to sit quietly and discover who they really are.
  Lightman also talks about the damage to creative thinking and the loss of 'replenishment' of the mind.

  I really relate to this book because I fight the access to technology all around me.  I know there are many advantages but I am not willing to give over my 'privacy'.  It sounds bizarre, but I don't want to be available 24/7.  I want to be alone with myself and my thoughts.

I strongly believe Lightman when he says, 
"Technology is a blessing and a curse".

  And so, I was surprised that Alan Lightman himself, who knows the value of the separate human spirit, says: "Against my will, knowing all the dangers, I have been sucked into the maelstrom.  I have heard the song of the Sirens and succumbed.  I should have tied myself to the mast".

  "Little by little, our world has been transformed.  Little by little, we have lost the silences, the needed time for contemplation, the open spaces in our minds, the privacies we once had.  We have lost the knowledge of who we are and what is important to us.  All of it happening so gradually and compellingly that we haven't noticed".

Friday, 13 July 2018

Alan Lightman

   Alan Lightman is a fascinating man.  He is a physicist and an author.  I watched his TED talk about the similarities and differences in science and the arts.  He lives in both worlds.  He has a PHD in theoretical physics and has received five honorary degrees.  But he has also written many books - from novels to books on astronomy.
  I first read his novel "Diagnosis" in 2002 and I was captivated by it.  It seemed to reflect the changes that were happening in the new millenium. It is even more relevant today.

Diagnosis:  Overwhelmed by an environment of cell phones and complex technology, Bill Chalmers deteriorates emotionally and then physically.  He is found on the train in a fetal position, with few clothes, but clutching his cell phone.  He does not know his name or destination.
  The search for a 'diagnosis' is extensive, but futile.  His life is in a downward spiral.  His wife has escaped to an e-mail affair and alcohol.  His son is totally involved in the internet world.

  The whole aspect of 'diagnosis' intrigued me.  Was this novel a 'diagnosis' of our society?  Rush, rush, rush- technology galore!
   A second story line added to the intrigue.  Bill's son Alex, reads to Bill the story of the death of Socrates.  Remember Socrates?  "The unexamined life"?  Is that the clue to the 'diagnosis'?

Probably the most thought-provoking book that I have read. 
I read it in two days. It is not so much a story -as a mirror of life.  What has been lost in the search to succeed?

    I re-read the book 2 years later.  Recently I renewed my interest in Alan Lightman when I found another book that has just been published.  Check my next blog.

Monday, 9 July 2018

"Jacob of Abbington Pickets" by H.C. Hewitt

H.C. Hewitt
   My daughter was visiting a friend who lives on a farm in Alberta.  In a town nearby there was a quilt shop that attracted my daughter.  H.C.Hewitt is the owner and she is also a writer.  She was selling her book, so my daughter bought it for me.
   I do enjoy reading a book when there is a connection with the author, no matter how slight that connection is.  Whenever I come across an author selling books, I want to support that author. But, of course, I realize that this is a beginning author and the writing may not be great. 

   The protagonist in this novel is a young man, Jacob, who grew up on a farm on the prairies in the late 1800's.
  The novel begins when he is 8, with 4 older siblings.  The father is very strict and everyone is afraid of him.  Something awful happens right at the beginning of the novel that gives Jacob nightmares.
  But Jacob grows up to be a handsome, hard-working young man who falls in love with a young girl who has been promised to another man.  She returns to England to marry him.  He falls in love again and she is killed in a fire.  Whoops!  Have I given away the whole plot?

  This novel is advertised as a novel about virtue and redemption.  And that it is.  The author had always wanted to write a historical romance, and this is it.  At the end, there is redemption for everyone, including Jacob who had fallen into a pit of depression.
   I have read many raving reviews of the novel and I think it fills a need for simple writing, Canadian prairies, and wholesome values.

Friday, 6 July 2018

"The Stone Angel" by Margaret Laurence

  One of the most memorable protagonists in literature is Hagar Shipley.  She is interesting to read about but she is not someone that I would like to know and definitely I would not want to live with her.
  Hagar Shipley is 90 years old in this classic novel, living with her son and daughter-in-law, and she is the most miserable character you can imagine.  She cannot care for herself, but hates receiving help.  Her daughter-in-law is unable to continue caring for her, so she will need to move to a nursing home.  Of course, she will not consider that and leaves on an adventure into the woods.

   The epigraph at the front of this novel expresses Hagar's thinking. "Do not go gentle into that good night.  Rage, rage against the dying of the light".
(Dylan Thomas)

  Kirkus Review says:
"A fine portrait of a fierce old woman and the lives she dominated and diminished".
   In the novel, Hagar's mind wanders from present to past.  You learn about her childhood and her marriage.  It certainly is a fine portrait of a woman who was always controlling and miserable.  Very hard to like this protagonist!

There is a proliferation of covers for this novel.  I have shown a few.

Margaret laurence
   This novel was written when Margaret Laurence was 38.  I wonder why she was so interested in the topic of aging and death.  She lived to the age of 61, when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and took her own life.  Perhaps she had the same spirit as Hagar Shipley.  She needed to be in control. 
  This novel is required reading in many schools.  I can't imagine that the subject matter is interesting to students, but the writing is amazing and it is a wonderful portrait of time and place.

Monday, 2 July 2018

"Indian Horse" by Richard Wagamese

   On Friday I had the privilege of leading a discussion of "Indian Horse" at the public library.  
     This may be the best book that I have ever read.  The descriptions of nature, Aboriginal life, and hockey, are stunning.   The emotional journey is beyond description.
   The juxtaposition of residential schools and hockey was a brilliant ploy.  These two themes came together in the main character, Saul Indian Horse, so beautifully! The residential school broke his spirit but hockey lifted him out of the horrors of the school and let him fly.  He could have had a career in hockey, but he could not survive the racism of the fans and the cruelty of other players.  So he turned away from the bright lights and settled in an aboriginal town playing hockey on the rink with other like-minded young aboriginal men.

  Way back in 2002 when I started this blog, I made videos.  Here is one where I am describing my reaction to"Indian Horse".  It had been nominated for Canada Reads.
  You can watch that here:

  I wrote this blog when the author Richard Wagamese died:

And here is my emotional attachment to Richard Wagamese:

Richard Wagamese
alternate book cover
I hope these links work for you.

Friday, 29 June 2018

"The Sweetgum Knit Lit Society"

   What a title!  "Sweetgum" is the name of the small town in Tennessee, named after the sweetgum trees growing there. And the novel is about a group of ladies that knit and read.
sweetgum tree
   It certainly is no literary masterpiece, but I thought it was fun- only 5 ladies of various ages.  The town librarian is the leader who chooses the books and she also chooses a knitting project to fit the theme of the book. e.g. a hat for the goatherder in "Heidi".
   Each of the ladies is facing serious life issues  that you become aware of as the story goes along.
   The focal point is Hannah- a teenager who lives in poverty in a trailer with a mother, whose boyfriend is a problem for Hannah.  The librarian, Eugenie, meets Hannah when she discovers that Hannah has ripped a knitting pattern from a library book.  In her strict librarian way, Eugenie suggests that she work off the price of a new book, and takes note of Hannah's interest in knitting.     Hannah is introduced to the 'knit and lit' group, so she can pursue her interest in knitting and also read the classics that Eugenie thinks would be helpful to her life- classics about strong girls.
  This book was a nice change of pace for me, as I thought of women's issues and how helpful it can be to share experiences with other women.  Reading and knitting are lovely themes, along with friendship, that warm the heart.

Monday, 25 June 2018

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

   This non-fiction book is the story of a black woman in Maryland, whose cells were taken (without her permission) while she was a patient at John Hopkins Hospital, suffering from cancer.  She died shortly after, in 1951. But her cells are a multi-million dollar business and continue to multiply to this day.  
   These cells have been used for research and advances in medicine.  Here is a partial list of the uses: polio vaccine, chemotherapy, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, herpes, leukemia, hemophilia, Parkinson's disease, and the list goes on and on and on!
   But, her poor black family still live in poverty, unable to pay for health care.  They were completely unaware that their mother's cells had been used by science, and when they found out, they could not understand the complications of science.  No one took time to describe- in language that they could understand.  But many people were contacting them to get information and further 'testing' on the family.
  This author, Rebecca Skloot heard about this situation in 1999 and wondered about the person Henrietta Lacks.  She initiated contact with the extended family and was very respectful of the people who had been used and abused over the years.  She moved very carefully- in fact, it took her over ten years to finish writing this book.  In the process, she grew very close to the family and helped them understand and accept their mother's place in history.
  This book is 'chock-full' of detail!
  Not only is there description of the large Lacks family, but many, many doctors, nurses, medical researchers, lawyers, con men, and odds and ends of the general public thrown in.   
  The book is full of ethical issues: experimentation on African Americans over the years, the history of bio-ethics, battles over who owns our body parts.
   It did leave me exhausted!

  In closing, a note of appreciation to the author, Rebecca Skoot, who honoured the immortal life of Henrietta Lack.
  Oh, by the way, Oprah made a movie of this book and she starred in it as Henrietta's daughter.

Friday, 22 June 2018

"The Great Alone" by Kristin Hannah

  The title for this book came from Robert Service's poem called "The Shooting of Dan McGrew":
"Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear?"
   The "Great Alone" is Alaska.  There is great description of Alaska in this novel!

  In 1974, Leni Allbright was a young teenager trying to fit in with her classmates.  She had moved many times because her father couldn't keep a job and was suffering from P.T.S.D. after being a POW in the Vietnam war.
  When her father inherited some property in Alaska, it seemed like an answer to the family's problems.  
"They lived on a piece of land that couldn't be accessed by water at low tide, on a peninsula with only a handful of people and hundreds of wild animals, in a climate harsh enough to kill you.  There was no police station, no telephone service, no one to hear you scream".

  Yes, the wild animals are dangerous, and the weather is harsh, but the biggest danger turns out to be Leni's father.
Quote: "All this time, Dad had taught Leni how dangerous the outside world was.  The truth was that the biggest danger of all was in her own home."

  This is another time when I stand alone in evaluating literature. This novel has been given 4.35 stars from Goodreads and 4.6 stars from Amazon.  So..what do I know?
   I know that the first half pulled me in and the last half devastated me!  I read long into the night, but that was not a good thing.  The book does pull you in, but I felt that the ending was like a 'thriller', which we have already discovered I have no tolerance for.
  It was overly dramatic and seemed to romanticize abuse.  When I expected some resolution of the plot...... the plot exploded!
  Because I invest so much of myself in a novel, it is not the book for me. Abuse, abuse, and more abuse!
  Many parts did not seem realistic- especially the ending.

  Such wonderful descriptions of Alaskan life!  I love description, but not when it involves bruised and battered bodies, half-dead, and dead bodies. 
   I had such  expectations of plot development.  Greatly disappointed!

Monday, 18 June 2018

The Great American Read, part 4

The last of the 100 books:

The Outsiders, S. E. Hinton
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan
The Pillars of The Earth, Ken Follett
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
Ready Player One, Ernest Cline
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
The Shack, William P. Young
Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
The Sirens Of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut
The Stand, Stephen King
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
Swan Song, Robert R. McCammon
Tales of The City (series), Armistead Maupin
Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
This Present Darkness, Frank. E. Peretti
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
The Twilight Saga (series), Stephenie Meyer
War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
Watchers, Dean Koontz
The Wheel of Time (series), Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë

   Good old favourites- "To Kill a Mockingbird", Wuthering Heights", "Rebecca", "Pride and Prejudice", "The Picture of Dorian Grey", "Siddhartha".
  And, a contemporary favourite of mine - Ken Follett's "The Pillars of the Earth".  
  We will discover in the fall which book has been chosen as 

Friday, 15 June 2018

The Great American Read, part 3

   Here is the third set of titles.   I haven't read many of these books.  
   My favourite probably would be "Jane Eyre" or "Memoirs of a Geisha".

Hatchet (series), Gary Paulsen
Heart Of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
The Help, Kathryn Stockett
The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy, Douglas Adams
The Hunger Games (series), Suzanne Collins
The Hunt For Red October, Tom Clancy
The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton
Left Behind (series), Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
Looking for Alaska, John Green
The Lord of the Rings (series), J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
The Martian, Andy Weir
Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
Mind Invaders, Dave Hunt
Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
The Notebook, Nicholas Sparks
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
Outlander (series), Diana Gabaldon

   "The Hunger Games" was certainly popular recently and "The Help" was a good movie.  But there are also lots of obscure books in this list.

                                                .........continued in the next blog entry

Monday, 11 June 2018

The Great American Read, part 2

   Here are more titles for  "The Great American Read".  What is interesting here?  I have read 15 of this group and I think the future winner is here.  I am putting my money on "The Great Gatsby". It isn't my personal favourite, but it is on the curriculum of many courses and I am making a prediction that it will be the 'Great American Read'.

The Color Purple, Alice Walker
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
Doña, Bárbára Rómulo Gallegos
Dune, Frank Herbert
Fifty Shades Of Grey, (series) E. L. James
Flowers In The Attic, V.C. Andrews
Foundation (series), Isaac Asimov
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Game of Thrones (series), George R. R. Martin
Ghost Jason, Reynolds
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
The Giver, Lois Lowry
The Godfather, Mario Puzo
Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
Harry Potter (series), J.K. Rowling

   "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Great Expectations" are my favourites in this group of titles.
                                                .........continued in the next blog entry

Friday, 8 June 2018

"The Great American Read", part 1

The Great American Read

What a fabulous T.V. program!  Two hours of pure delight for readers! It is produced by PBS with Meridith Viera as the host.  There are clips of books, authors, celebrities and ordinary people.  All talking about the joys of reading!  Beautifully produced- pure delight!  If you missed it, you can get the whole two hours on your computer.
It is a quest to find America's best-loved book.

Meredith Viera- host
   The quest begins with a list of 100 books. People are encouraged to vote for their favourite.  The winning book will be announced in the fall.
   I am printing the titles in groups of 25, while I comment on my favourites.  Overall, I am really impressed with the combination of the old and the new, the quirky and the conventional- lots of variety.
  There is a book here for everyone!

The list begins.....
1984, George Orwell
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
A Separate Peace, John Knowles
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
Alex Cross Mysteries (series), James Patterson
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
And Then There Were None, Agatha Christie
Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery
Another Country, James Baldwin
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Bless Me, Ultima Rudolfo Anaya
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz
The Call Of The Wild, Jack London
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
Charlotte's Web, E. B. White
The Chronicles of Narnia (series), C.S. Lewis
Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M. Auel
Coldest Winter Ever, Sister Souljah

What is the best book here?
I would vote for "Charlotte's Web" for sure!  A great children's books about friendship between children and animals.  It teaches children about life, death and change. 
I also enjoyed the "Clan of the Cave Bear" series.

                                            .....continued in the next blog entry.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Books for a desert island

  The 'desert' in 'desert island' is actually an archaic form of 'deserted'.  It doesn't mean that the island is dry; it means that the island is uninhabited.

   While re-reading "The Power of One", mentioned in the last blog, I was conflicted about the time needed to read such a book.  Because I have a pile of books that I want to get into, and my book clubs all have deadlines, I wasn't sure that one book should take up so much time.  And...there is life to be enjoyed!

   So...I thought that this would be a good book for a desert island.  No phone, no T.V., no computer, no social engagements of any kind.  Wow!  This book would be a delight!  So many storylines and characters to ponder.

  In this novel, the story of a boy in South Africa, it was interesting to think about all the people who came into his life.  Every person seemed to be there for a reason, even if it was a short acquaintance.  Even the people who had a negative affect, taught him things about life and left their stamp.  

  This book could definitely keep you thinking about life, love, destiny, and other engrossing thoughts.  There are many quotes in the book that you could philosophize about- to yourself!
All on a desert island, with no interruptions.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Bryce Courtenay

Bryce Courtney was born in South Africa and now lives in Australia.  This is his first book - many followed.

   "The Power of One" (1989) has an interesting opening sentence: "This is what happened".
    Peekay, aged 5, moved into a boarding school.  Another student, nicknamed "The Judge", constantly tormented Peekay. 
  While Peekay was on the train going home for the holidays, he met Hoppie, the conductor, who introduced him to boxing.  This short relationship set Peekay on the road to the boxing welterweight world championship and taking control of his life.
    Later in Peekay's life, he met Doc, a famous German pianist, who taught him to play the piano.  Doc also was a botanist and a fascinating character.  
   This story exposes apartheid, prejustice, hate in a powerful way!
The quotes are one of the best things about this book:
"Good conversational debate was an end in itself and talking for the love of conversation is what makes us human."
"When a man knows somebody cares, he keeps some small place, a corner maybe, of his soul, clean and lit".
"I learned that in each of us there burns a flame of independence that must never be allowed to go out.  That as long as it exists within us, we cannot be destroyed."
"All children are flotsam driven by the ebb and flow of adult lives. The tide had turned and I was being swept out to sea."
 "The loneliness bird had entered to build a nest of stones in the hollow place inside of me".
"Deep inside me the loneliness bird laid a large stone egg".
"I knew I would be in control of loneliness and no longer its servant".
The power of one- one idea, one heart, one mind, one plan, one determination.  Great book!

   "Tandia", which followed in 1992, was a real disappointment after "The Power Of One", although it continued many of the characters. "Tandia" is 900 pages with a convoluted plot.  There still were some philosophical thoughts: 
"When you cut hope from the heart, the hole you leave is filled with the worms of hate."
"The tragedy of the human condition is that the very things that make us interesting and culturally important and progressively brilliant are our differences: and these are also the principle reason for our prejudices."

A very short (87 pages) sketch of Courtney's childhood in South Africa.  When he was five years old his sister was six and a half.  Their mother was delirious with malaria.  A very large doctor arrived at their door, picked up their mother, took her to the hospital and took the children to his home.  They stayed there for six months with nine other kids- all eleven in two beds.  There was a theft on the property and Monkey Man (a witch doctor) was brought in to  find the thief.
When the thieves were discovered they were badly beaten.  Bryce was very upset and the witch doctor taught him, by counting forward and backward, how to go to the 'Night country' when he was afraid or lacked courage.
The witch doctor called him a white Zulu.
A sad little story of a frightened little boy.  The basis of his first novel.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Reading and Children's Brains

Illustrated story books are better for kids' brains than video or text, study finds.

This is the headline in a CBC story.  Robert Munsch books were used to find out how children's brains respond to different media.

- audio only
- picture with audio
- animated cartoon

Researchers at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital say that the picture book is best.  They used 27 children ages three to five, that had not been to school, an even mix of boys and girls.  They used FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to see changes in blood flow through the brain.

The results were given in a Goldilocks effect-:
- the audio only was too cold (children can't visualize what they aren't familiar with)
- the animated cartoon was too hot (too much going on)
- the picture book with audio was just right ( a balance of visual and auditory)

   When you read to children, they are able to start with the story and then bring their imagination into the story, which brings the story to life in their mind.  All parts of the brain are used in equal measures.

   I have always been a fan of Dr. Seuss for very young children.  They love the rhythm and rhyme of the language.

  And then Robert Munsch further develops their love of words with more story content.
Aren't children's authors great?
Perhaps I should take a week and just read picture books.  There are so many great ones!

Friday, 25 May 2018

"The Secret River" by Kate Grenville

   William Thornhill grew up in London, England - poor, hungry, always cold, and often angry.  "The rage warmed him and filled him up.  It was a kind of friend".
  He worked on a barge on the Thames River and, one day, he stole a load of timber.  He was condemned to death but in 1806, he was included in a shipload of convicts sent to Australia.
   Will was married to Sal and she was able to also travel to Australia. England had established a claim to Australia and was interested in beginning a settlement there. The descriptions of the early days of Australia were fascinating to me.
   As you can imagine, there were conflicts with the Darug people, who had been living in Australia for thousands of years.  Some of the settlers saw them as 'savages' and treated them brutally. 
  Will and his wife Sal tried to find ways to co-exist, but Will was persuaded to join an attack on the Aborigines to settle the problems once and for all.  The confrontation was brutal and Will was tormented by his actions.
  Although Will prospered in Australia, he was never really happy .  Quote:"This bench here, where he could overlook all his wealth and take his ease, should have been the reward. He could not understand why it did not feel like triumph."
He had gained the world, but lost his soul.
   I loved the main characters- Will and Sal.  Sal was amazing- loving, supportive but also strong willed.  Their relationship was a delight to read as they faced such hardships and danger.
  Today our library book club will be discussing this book and we will be focussing on the relationship of the colonists and the Aborigines over the years.  In 2008, the prime minister of Australia made a public apology for the brutal treatment of the Aboriginal people.  You can see his speech here:

Monday, 21 May 2018

"Searching for the Secret River" by Kate Grenville

  "The Secret River" is one of my favourite all-time novels.  I will be leading a discussion on this book later in the month, so I just read "Searching for the Secret River", which is the story of Kate Grenville's inspiration, research, writing, and re-writing of this story.  It isn't often that you get a chance to learn about the author's writing process.  I found it interesting.
  The inspiration for "The Secret River' came from the Walk for Reconciliation on the Sydney bridge in Australia in 2000.  There were 250,000 people walking across the bridge, and Kate was one of them.  She was recalling the story that she had heard about her great-great-great grandfather, Solomon Wiseman, who came to Australia on a ship of convicts from England, landing close to this spot. 
   In the crowd, she locked eyes with an Aboriginal woman.  She realized that this woman's ancestors likely also lived in this place.  She wondered what happened when Solomon Wiseman encountered Aboriginal people.
Kate Grenville
   Kate immediately began to search for information about the life of Solomon WisemanShe visited countless museums and libraries. Some in Australia and some in England. She interviewed dozens of people. She wrote pages and pages-binders and binders.  
  She had expected that she would end up with a biography of Solomon Wiseman, but realized that it would be very boring for the readers.  So she put the facts into a novel. And what a wonderful novel it is!  I'll talk about it on my next blog.

Friday, 18 May 2018

"Before We Were Yours'

A beautiful cover and an interesting title.
   This novel has two alternating storylines.  
Maryland in 1939 and South Carolina, present day.
In 1939, there was a poor but loving family living on  a riverboat: parents Queenie and Briny, children Rill (12), Camellia (10), Lark (6), Fern (4), Gabion (2).  The mother was taken to the hospital when the delivery of her twins, (with an untrained midwife) went seriously wrong.  While the parents were gone, the children were picked up by an adoption agency, never to be returned to the parents.
  The other storyline is the granddaughter of one of the children (a lawyer), trying to piece together the story of her ancestors.
  This novel is extremely sad and the saddest part is that the story is based on facts.  Between 1920 and 1950, the Tennessee Children's Home Society took children from poor families and sold them to celebrities and politicians. During the process, they allowed or intentionally caused the death of an estimated 500 children.  Perhaps some of the children really were orphans and were able to be adopted by a good family but the horrendous stories, like this one, are common.  Birth records were altered so that they could never be found by their original family.

Georgia Tann was the manager of this organization and she had a lot of influence, which allowed her to steal babies from hospitals, prisons, etc.  When a new mayor was elected, he caught wind of the mistreatment of children and did an investigation.  Georgia Tann died of cancer before the findings were made public.

   Many readers loved this book, but it was too emotionally packed for me.  It is much harder to read this type of story when you know it is based on fact.
  The second storyline seemed contrived and not so interesting, but added another dimension to the novel. 

Monday, 14 May 2018

"The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America" by Bill Bryson

   With the beautiful spring weather finally here, we are spending more time in the car, on road trips.  And I like to read to John while he is driving (mostly on smaller roads- not the 401).
  We had enjoyed reading books by Bill Bryson.  In 1999, while travelling, I read aloud "A Walk in the Woods".  I remember it well.  It was about hiking the Appalachian Trail and it was quite humorous.  We enjoyed his sense of humour even though it is mostly sarcasm.  In 2015, a movie was made starring Robert Redford.
  Then, in 2000, I read "In A Sunburned Country" and I loved it!  Once again, it is a travel book, this time about Australia.  I had been to Australia, so I was especially interested.  He filled the book, not only with his travels, but so much fascinating information about Australia- geology, botany, archaeology, history, and geography.  A wealth of information about the country that I loved!
  His response to the country was not always the same as mine, but I valued learning more about places that I had visited, such as the story behind the building of the Opera House in Sydney.  Great book.  Great writing.  
  Because we had enjoyed Bill Bryson's writing, we began reading another of his books that I had picked up at a used bookstore.  It had been written in 1989.
   "The Lost Continent" is about travelling in the United States.  Bryson had been living in England and returned to his childhood hometown in Des Moines.
  This book begins "I come from Des Moines.  Somebody had to."  He does not speak well of Des Moines, but he also has very negative things to say about every place that he visits.  In fact, the book has been called "a serious indictment of the American way of life and the direction it is taking."
  The humour that I had enjoyed in other books, turned very sarcastic and nasty in this book. I did not enjoy it.  
  However, Goodreads stated: "The Lost Continent is a classic of travel literature - hilariously, stomach-achingly funny, yet tinged with heartache - and the book that first staked Bill Bryson's claim as the most beloved writer of his generation. 
  There were parts where my husband chuckled but other parts made us groan. Mostly I was disappointed, because I was anticipating a great romp through the U.S.A.

  BUT... it reminded me of another travel book that I really enjoyed.  "Breakfast at the Exit Cafe" written by Wayne Grady and Merilyn Simonds.  Husband and wife enjoying their travels through the U.S.A. as my husband and I have done for over 20 years.
Read about it here.

Friday, 11 May 2018

One Book One Community 2018

Congratulations to One Book One Community!
This is the 17th year of operation.
 It is the longest running community reading program in Canada! 
 Isn't that wonderful?


One Book One Community has announced its book choice for 2018. 
I t  i s  a  t h r i l l e r !

  Linwood Barclay has written 17 adult novels that are very popular around the world.  One novel is being made into a television series in France.  Other books have been adapted for T.V. or film.


I loved One Book One Community from the start!  I have read every book choice over the years and promoted the book on every occasion.  One year, I read the whole book aloud at a nursing home.  I always look forward to the author event in September.

I have loved some choices and disliked others.  That is to be expected.  So I read this book immediately when it was announced.  I am not familiar with 'thrillers' and so I read information about mystery novels, crime novels and thrillers, trying to understand this genre. I came to the conclusion that I am unable to appreciate any of these books.  They reflect too much of the horrors of the world and I find them neither interesting nor informative- certainly not thrilling.

The original mandate of the One Book One Community committee was to choose a book that would be relatively inoffensive to our rather conservative population in this area.  Well, I realized that I must be the most conservative reader since I am disappointed in the language and characters.  I guess both should be expected in a thriller.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

   Eleanor Oliphant is the narrator in this quirky novel.  The author was exploring the idea of 'loneliness' in a young woman.  And Eleanor was definitely lonely. 
  "I do exist, don't I? It often feels as if I'm not here, that I'm a figment of my own imagination.  There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar.  A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I'd lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock."
   This is definitely a character-driven book and I do enjoy interesting characters.  I also love to see character development.  Well, you really get inside Eleanor's skin as her backstory is revealed- bit by bit.  And it is heart-breaking. The end of the book details her therapy, ending in quite a shock.

  Eleanor, at 29, living on her own, is very regimented and alone in the world.  Her insistence on speaking clearly is really entertaining- great vocabulary!
  I learned about this book from another blog: "A Librarian's Thoughts on books".   You can read about it here.

  We both really loved "Eleanor Oliphant".
  The author, Gail Honeyman, lives in Glasgow, Scotland.  This is her first novel.  Excellent writing!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Lisa Genova

   Lisa Genova has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard University.  Yes, she is brilliant!  And she writes amazing fiction!
   Each novel has a brain disability at its core, making it extremely interesting.
  Her first book was "Still Alice", which she self-published.  In that novel, Alice Howland is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's while she is a professor at Harvard.  The story is fictional, but the Alzheimer's Society has endorsed the book.  Lisa wanted 'to give a face and a voice to this disease that affects 500,000 people under 65 in U.S.A.'
  I read that book shortly after it was published.  It was very popular. 

   Then Lisa wrote "Left Neglected", which I have just read for the second time. 
  Sarah Nickerson, a high-powered executive with three young children, has a car accident and suffers from brain damage resulting in a condition termed 'left neglect'.  Very fascinating!  Her eyes are fine but she can't see anything on her left, nor feel the left part of her body.  There are deeper issues concerning neglect in this book.  It is very thought-provoking and important for our time.  AND, beautifully written!
  When Sarah is finally able to snowboard, she says, "It feels like excitement and terror are tumbling around inside my chest like clothes in a dryer".

  Two more books have been written that I have not read yet:  "Love Anthony" (a child with autism) and "Inside the O'Briens" (about Huntington's disease).
   Her new book has just been released: "Every Note Played", about a concert pianist with ALS.  
   I am very interested in reading this book but it will be awhile, because there is a long waiting list at the library.

   Lisa lives with her family on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  You must try one, two, or more of her books.  A reader's delight!

Monday, 30 April 2018

"The Painted Girls" by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Edgar Degas (1834-1917) was a French artist who specialized in painting ballet dancers.  He is one of the characters in this historic novel "The Painted Girls".
   Paris 1878
   Main characters: 3 sisters- Antoinette (17) Marie (13), and Charlotte (7).  These girls are trying to follow their dreams of dancing in the theatre in Paris, in spite of the fact that their father has died and there is no financial support for them.
  Antoinette, who was not disciplined enough to continue in the ballet, procures a small part in a play and falls in love with a young man who is involved in a murder. 
The Little Dancer
    Marie does well in the opera and earns money by modelling for Edgar Degas.  She was painted in many poses such as the painting above, but also she was the dancer behind the statue "Little Dancer'.
  The combination of fact and fiction, makes an engrossing novel that shows not only the artistic culture of Paris but also the darker side of Paris.