Friday, 16 February 2018

" Do Not Say We Have Nothing" by Madeleine Thien



   Three interesting covers for this complex, extraordinary story of China during the Cultural Revolution.  Actually the novel goes back and forth in time over decades. 
   


   Each of the three covers focuses on different characters in the novel.  The first cover shows the main character La Ling.  The third cover represents her father's friend, known by the name "Sparrow", who was a composer.  The middle cover, I believe, represents La Ling's great aunt and uncle who endured the cruelty of labour camps.  Actually, the great uncle went missing (portrayed well in the cover photo). 
   
   The most extraordinary thing about this book is the theme of classical music that weaves throughout the plot.  The early characters were involved in the Shanghai Conservatory, until the drastic changes of the Cultural Revolution.  The music constantly ran through the heads of the characters, especially Bach's Goldberg Variations, played by the Canadian musician Glenn Gould.  I greatly enjoyed listening to this music on YouTube.

  The title of the book comes from the Chinese song "The Internationale": 
          "Arise, slaves, arise!
          Do not say that we have nothing
          We shall be the masters of the world!"

   Can you believe that I was entranced with this novel?  I cannot believe it myself.  How the author drew me into the lives of these characters and entwined me into the complexity of the story.  Sometimes I had no idea what was going on.  There was so much chaos, violence, separation, and death.  The storyline was also chaotic- back and forth through the generations.  Of course, it was so much more heart-breaking, because it was based on fact.   But the beauty of the writing held me captive.
Madeleine Thien- author

Monday, 12 February 2018

"A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen

classic book club choice:
Setting: Norway, 1879
Characters: Nora and Torvald Helmer, married for 8 years with 3 children
Plot:  The marriage is the focus of the play.  Torvald treats Nora like a child, calling her his little squirrel, as they frisk around.  She is never taken seriously and Torvald claims to love her and desires to protect her and 'teach' her.  She plays into this role, since she was also treated like a child or doll in her relationship with her father.  
  At the climax of the play, Torvald is expressing his love for Nora by saying that he wished that she was in danger, so that he could risk his body and soul to save her.  Strangely enough, she is in danger and she finds out how he really reacts to a real dangerous situation.  Whoops!  Be careful what you say!
Nora reacts in a way that you would not expect in 1879.
What was the reaction?  Wikipedia says: "It aroused a great sensation at the time, and caused a storm of outraged controversy that went beyond the theatre to the world newspapers and society".

 
  This is a play and, although the words are wonderful to read, it is even better when you can see the facial expressions and tone of voice.  Very powerful!
  It is available on Youtube in a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Claire Bloom.  It is spectacular!

Friday, 9 February 2018

"Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business"

  Dolly is such a conundrum- so fake and glittery on the outside and so sincere and sweet on the inside.  I enjoy her music and have visited Dollywood.
  I was just in the mood for some 'downhome stories' and I also thought it would be fun to read about the Country and Western singers of the past.
  I smiled at her story of a 'pie supper'.  The girls took pies and the guys bid on them and sat with the girl whose pie they bought. It never happened in the town where I grew up, but I have read about it in other stories.  Living in the country has its benefits in their creative attempts at entertainment.
  Of course, the real creativity was with the mother who gave birth to 12 children before she was 35.  She sewed up gashes and kept her family safe and healthy while making games of everything- like making 'stone soup' for supper.
   The peddler came in an old school bus, with pots and pans rattling, people got their false teeth from the funeral home (really?), school clothes were made from flour sacks.  wow!  The stories she can tell about living in the 'hollers' of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee!


Another reason that Dolly is a conundrum is that she exudes sex, but has been married for 51 years and, by all accounts, is a one-man woman, although she admits that they are not together much because he stays away from the limelight.  But she always goes home to him.
She just turned 72.  Can you believe it?

Monday, 5 February 2018

A simpler life: part 6
   

  You may be pleased to know that I am ready to come out of that rabbit hole.  I have rambled on about antimaterialism, radical simplicity, living off the grid, sustainable living, the solitary life, ecological footprint, organic gardening, and on and on.  Perhaps it has been of interest to you, and perhaps not.
   One thing is clear.  Every life is different and we can appreciate but not evaluate another person's life.

  I will end with another Thoreau quote: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away".

  And a quote from "The Man Who Quit Money": "It's possible to compromise.  The gamut of those who take to heart the concept of living simply is wider than Suelo and the freegans. And it's crammed with people who don't want to boycott everything; they just want to buy less junk and do less harm."  
A good slogan is:
 "work less, live more, and consume more consciously".


   Well, I am ready to climb out of the rabbit hole, but will continue to consider "What makes a good life?"  Part of my 'good life' is reading.  Where will I go next?

Friday, 2 February 2018

"Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer

A simpler life: part 5
  We cannot leave this topic without mentioning another popular book on this topic.

   "Into the Wild"(c1997) is the true story of Christopher McCandless.  He graduated from university in Atlanta in 1990, gave his money to charity and headed out 'into the wild'.
  He didn't leave many records, but there are passages that he underlined in the books that he took with him, showing his desire to test himself in nature.



    Here is a picture of Chris in his teenage years.  He discovered that his father lived a double life, with two families.  Chris pulled away from his family and never contacted them.  He hitchhiked across the country and headed for Alaska.  After 113 days in the Alaskan wilderness, he was found dead.
    
   
  This story was made into a movie in 2007 and the McCandless story became a modern myth, with many people, inspired by his story, desiring to hike to see the bus in Alaska where Chris died. They camp there and write essays in the logbooks that are kept there. "They ponder the impact that McCandless' antimaterialist ethic, free-spirited travels, and time in the Alaskan wild has had on how they perceive the world"(quote from the internet).  It is also reported that some of these pilgrims suffer the same fate as Chris. They are as unprepared as he was for the dangers of the wilds of Alaska.



   The author, Jon Krakauer, tells about his own reckless mountain climbing alone and tries to explain the appeal of 'the wild' for a young man.  The issue of 'finding oneself' seems to be prevalent in young men.  Do they feel a need to distance themselves from their families for this purpose?  Do they need to be alone?  Do they need to 'prove something'? What does make 'a good life'?  

Monday, 29 January 2018

"The Stranger In The Woods"

A simpler life: part 4
   Knowing that our book club was reading "The Man Who Quit Money", a librarian friend suggested that I read "The Stranger in the Woods"- another true story.
    I was repelled by this book when I first started it, because this man, Christopher Knight, lived his solitary life by stealing.  He lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, beginning at age 20, never speaking to one person.
  However, I am glad that I continued because it is a most interesting portrayal of a hermit, a person who does not want to interact with anyone anytime, but is closely connected to nature.
"He knows the season, intimately, its every gradation.  He knows the moon, a sliver less than half tonight, wanning."


   The author of this book, Michael Finkel, did great research on solitary living.  Not just a simpler life, but a solitary life.  He tried to help the reader understand not only Christopher Knight but this important question: "What makes a good life?"

"People have sought out solitary existences at all times across all cultures, some revered, and some despised".
  Would you believe that our desire to be alone may be partly genetic?  The author read a study about brain chemicals called 'pituitary peptide oxytocin' and 'vasopressin', describing how the presence or absence of these chemicals explains why some people need and want more or fewer interpersonal relationships.  Now that's interesting, don't you think?

  The author gives 3 reasons for withdrawal from society: pilgrims, protesters, and pursuers.
Pilgrims are religious hermits believing that seclusion leads to spiritual awakening.  There are 4 million in India.
Protesters are disillusioned with the world- wars, environmental destruction, evil people, etc. There are 1 million protester hermits in Japan at present rejecting Japan's present culture.
Pursuers are writers, painters, scientists, and philosophers (like Thoreau) "Not till we have lost the world do we begin to find ourselves".

As interesting as this is, it still doesn't describe "The Stranger In The Woods".  The missing piece for me was the fact that, when he was no longer able to live in the woods, he was believed to have either autism or schizoid personality.  Sadly, he had great difficulty living back in society.  All he wanted in life was to live and die in the woods.  What does make a good life?

Friday, 26 January 2018

Mark Sundeen

Mark Sundeen
   A simpler life: part 3
   After reading "The Man Who Quit Money" c2011, I was interested in learning more about the author, Mark Sundeen.
  His next book "The Unsettlers" c2017, revealed some of Mark's interest in a simpler life: "The comfortable life is a slippery slope toward the consumer life.  I wanted fewer bills, fewer rules, less stuff and more freedom.  Our brand of capitalism has laid waste to our land, our homes, and not the least of all, our souls".
  Although, at 41,  he married a woman who had been raised by hippies in a simple life, she realized that she wanted more of what the world had to offer - an education for a start. Mark realized that, although he was attracted to the ideals, he was repelled by the hardships.  And so, he decided to write a book about this topic and searched out couples that were leading lives of 'radical simplicity'.

  The first couple that he wrote about, fascinated me.  Ethan and Sarah arrived by train in Missouri, unpacked their bikes and rode to a farm that they had bought sight unseen.  Oh, yes, Sarah was 5 months pregnant.
  In order to raise a family with no money, no electricity, no insurance, they developed a community devoted to non-violent social change.  They became Quakers and became "The Possibility Alliance".  They realized that society had encouraged people to be 'individual', so living as a community required different skills.  But the group also created the security that usually comes from money in the bank.
  I was fascinated by their tremendous work ethic as well as their devotion to social change.  They had weekly meetings to express joys and challenges.  
   Their 3 inward goals were simplicity, self-transformation, and celebration.  Their outward goals were service and non-violent activism.  Wow!  They were organized!  But they loved to have fun also.  They began each day with an hour of meditation, prayer or yoga.  They were on a mission to change the world but began with themselves.
  
  The other stories did not interest me very much.  One couple lived in Detroit and bought up land in run-down sections of the city to build gardens.  Their focus was on eating locally grown, organic food.

   Another couple in Montana had electricity but no computers or cellphones.  They also did organic gardening.  They lived in a teepee but built a boathouse with a flush toilet and hot shower. Their business was called "Lifeline Produce".

  It appears that there is a trend back to farming, and this book mentions many other books that are written on the subject.

Monday, 22 January 2018

"The Man Who Quit Money" by Mark Sundeen

A simpler life: part 2

    "The Man Who Quit Money" is the true story of Daniel Suelo, born in 1961 into a fundamentalist Christian home in Colorado.  At college in Boulder, he struggled with the tenets of his parents' religion, and began reading the scriptures of all world faiths, while visiting a different church each week.
   He worked in a hospital for awhile as a phlebotomist (drawing blood).  He also worked for the Peace Corp in Ecuador. Actually, as he wandered, he picked up many different types of work. 
    But Daniel was very concerned about the environment.  He spent 3 months sitting in a tree to save it from being cut down. He lived 20 years in Moab, Utah, connecting with other like-minded wanderers.  He made some money by house-sitting and other odd jobs.
Daniel Suelo
    In 2000, he decided to live without money.  He was very concerned about his ecological footprint and decided to "use what is freely given or discarded and what is already present and already running".  So he lived in a cave while foraging for food on the land and in the dumpsters.
  Suelo's story parallels Thoreau in that they both were very deep thinkers, and although Suelo wrote a great deal, none of that writing has been published, although he does have a website and a blog. (He uses the computers at a library).
   Although Suelo worked on many jobs- Alaskan trawler, food kitchens, women's shelters, he never accepted money.  In fact, when publishers wanted to have his story written, he refused any pay. He was willing to give his story but wanted the books to be given away.  The publisher ended up agreeing to give away some copies, not all.
  The author went into way too much detail in some parts of the book (such as the pages on the U.S. monetary system and the difference between premillennialists and postmillennialists in his fundamentalist upbringing).
  But I tried to put together the pieces in order to understand this man, Daniel Suelo, who lived in a cave and ate other people's discarded food.  I believe that he was basically trying to solve life's mysteries.  His search was spiritual, as well as ecological.
  Daniel was one of many back-to-the landers.  And we will pursue this movement further in the next blog.

Friday, 19 January 2018

"Walden" by Henry David Thoreau

   A simpler life: part 1
"Walden" by Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau lived from 1817-1864, a Harvard-educated young man who built a shack in the woods, near Concord Massachusetts and lived there for two years.  What makes his writing interesting and important is his contemplation of life.  He was a philosopher and poet, but also a naturalist. The book has not been out of print since 1854.

  
The best thing about this book is the quotes:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
  
 This is the only picture that I can find of Thoreau.  

The themes in this book are significant in every age. There are times when the complexities of life can overwhelm us and his simpler existence seems appealing.
What can we learn from him?
1.) appreciation of solitude- Quote: "I love to be alone.  I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude". 
2.) appreciation of nature- Quote: "Our eyes contemplate with admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of this universe.  The night veils, without doubt, a part of this glorious creation; but day comes to reveal to us this great work, which extends from earth even into the plains of the ether".
3.) appreciation of literature- Quote: "Reading is a noble intellectual exercise, not that which lulls us as a luxury and suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to stand on tip-toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours to".
4.) appreciation of life- Quote: "This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore".

I love the title of this book.  It reflects the importance of water-Walden's pond.  Water is the focal point.  Thoreau thought of water as "liquid joy and happiness".

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation".  Thoreau thought the world's values were topsy-turvy.  He marched to a different drummer and others have heard echoes of that sound.  We will look for this echo in the life of Daniel Suelo in "The Man Who Quit Money".  

Monday, 15 January 2018

Falling down the rabbit hole

   In Annie Spence's book "Dear Fahrenheit 451", she talks about... 
falling down the rabbit hole: books that lead to more books.
"Sometimes, a book can take you on a journey far beyond the story itself.  Sometimes, one thing leads to another....."
   Has that ever happened to you, dear reader of my blog?

   I started preparing to lead a discussion of "The Man Who Quit Money".  After the massive consumerism of Christmas, I was attracted by 'a simpler life' and discovered that the author had written another book following that theme, so I read "The Unsettlers".  Now I was really into 'radical simplicity', learning about living 'off the grid'.  Not that I am willing to give up indoor plumbing and a warm bed, but then I found "Off the Grid Homes" where they have comfort, but use the environment to advantage rather than depleting the resources.
  Issues such as global warming, ozone depletion, and acid rain are discussed with possible solutions.  In this book, "Off The Grid Homes", there are beautiful photos of six homes using alternative technology for generating and conserving energy.  Being 'off the grid' can still be comfortable, but, wow, it is complicated.  This book talks about 'sustainable living'- more to my liking, but not my understanding.  I believe my friend Gayle and her husband have used some of this technology in building their spectacularly comfortable home.  I do like comfort, but I would like a closer relationship to nature. Because I love the sky, I have fantasized about a house with a clear dome so that I could always see the whole sky.
   However, Daniel Suelo, "The Man Who Quit Money" would obviously never live in any of these fabulous homes.  He wanted to be free to live where and how he wished to live.  Is that possible in this day?  His book is called "A Walden for the 21st century".
  So, I plan to write a series of blogs on living a simpler life.  And we will start with Thoreau.

Friday, 12 January 2018

"Dear Fahrenheit 451"

   The subtitle of this book is: "Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks".  The author, Annie Spence, has spent ten years as a public librarian in the American midwest.
  This book is filled with short letters to a wide variety of books, expressing the author's love or dislike for each individual book.  The book is advertized as "a celebration of reading".  It has short, snappy chapters- one for each of her book choices.  And so, in response, I write my letter to her book:


Dear book,
  This is really weird, writing a letter to a book, that writes letters to books.  But I was a librarian and now I'm a book club lady and I know many of the books that are the object of your letters.
   I was delighted that you wrote to "Yertle the Turtle", talking about the moms and tots at the park, where a mom had you tucked into her bag.  There was an interesting letter to "The Hobbit", suggesting that he smoke some pipe-weed and hang out more with other hobbits.  I recognized lots of popular books as well as obscure ones. You wrote to "Penguin Roget's College Thesaurus in Dictionary Form", apologizing for not appreciating it more. You refused to buy "The Twilight Series" when you saw it at a yard sale, because it takes up most of teen's prime leisure-reading years. And I loved when you said you were going to kick "Fifty Shades of Grey" to the curb.
    I wanted to love you because 'books about books' are delightful and you are so creative!  
  Your choices are disparate and I had anticipated that you would use delicious words like that.
   But...can we talk?  What is with the potty mouth?????  You are a cute little book that lives  in a beautiful, cozy library- not down the street in the pub!  Your lewd, crude, rude language ruined you for me.  I will be returning you to the library and hiding you in some obscure corner so that no more readers have to put up with your squalid and odious language.
        
                          Straighten up and fly right!
                          Book Club lady
P.S. I appreciated the list of reading suggestions at the back.  But, even there....your mouth!  Please learn some words that don't start with" f"...or "sh"...  Thank you!

Monday, 8 January 2018

"The Golden House" by Salman Rushdie

 "On the day of the new president's inauguration, when we worried that he might be murdered as he walked hand in hand with his exceptional wife among the cheering crowds, and when so many of us were close to economic ruin in the aftermath of the bursting of the mortgage bubble, and when Isis was still an Egyptian mother-goddess, an uncrowned seventy-something king from a faraway country arrived in New York City with his three motherless sons to take possession of the palace of his exile, behaving as if nothing was wrong with the country or the world or his own story."

  This is the first sentence of "The Golden House"- long and convoluted but it really introduces the novel beautifully.  And lets you know that the sentences will be long and convoluted.
  And so, this "uncrowned seventy-something king from a faraway country" is the focus of this novel- along with his three motherless sons.
  The novel is full of foreshadowing- mostly sinister comments at the end of a chapter.
Charles Dickens
   The story is told through the eyes of Renee, a neighbour who is using this family as a subject for his next movie.
  What I learned about Rushdie's writing:
He can write fabulous sentences!
He lapses into 'stream of consciousness' and loves to go on tangents about fable, myth, and movies. 
His favourite author is Charles Dickens, who captured his own time and place- England 1800's, with exquisite detail. Rushdie aspired to do the same thing for New York from 2008 to 2016.  For these reasons, I found the book fascinating and challenging.
And here is a photo of Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie FRSL (Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature)

Friday, 5 January 2018

"Something is Always on Fire" by Measha Brueggergosman


   I was ready for something light to read over Christmas and found this biography.  I had seen Measha on Canada Reads- first in 2004 and later in 2017.  She is an opera singer and she opened the Scotiabank Giller Prize Ceremony in Toronto this year.   I didn't recognize her at first and realized that she had lost a lot of weight.  I knew there must be a story there.

   Her book begins in 2009 with open-heart surgery.  Yes, there was a story there.

   She had been molested twice before the age of 10.  As a result of being bullied, she had a complicated relationship to her body and also to food. By 28, she weighed 350-370 pounds.  She paid no attention to this. "Opera singing has a tradition of big voices in big packages".  Her career was doing well and her husband loved her unconditionally.  From denial, she turned to obsession, eventually having bariatric surgery, followed by joining Bikram yoga.  She lost 150 pounds.

   Measha had decided that she wanted to take a leadership course in yoga.  It was an intensive, 9-week course in hot yoga in Las Vegas- practicing twice a day in 42 degree heat for 90 minutes, plus learning anatomy and history in three languages.
  Although Measha had realized from a very young age, that she would spend her life singing, she needed to find the right education as well as private teachers, and later it was important to get managers and agents, that could help to mold her career.  I didn't realize that there were so many genres of music and she was interested in more than one.
  She had great success with her singing career but always struggled to keep a balance of career and family.  She lost twin babies and went on a 10-day silent retreat to work through her grief, rising at 4:30 every morning and retiring at 9:30- no talking, no reading or writing or any form of technology.  Meditating for 9 hours and 45 minutes each day.
  Towards the end of the book, she talks openly about the lovers that she has had (while married),  admitting that she is selfish and uncompromising.  She describes her husband in glowing terms but had been separated a few times and expected the marriage would not survive.  She wrote, 'It never occurred to me to be faithful".  I find that hard to believe.  Both her father and brother were Baptist ministers and she grew up in the church.
   This is just what I don't understand about memoirs.  Everybody, but everybody now knows all your inner secrets. What motivates people to tell the world every stupid thing that they ever did?  It is now a public record- for children, grandchildren, etc., etc.
  And...she admits that she had never read a memoir!

I will end with her quote:
"Here's the thing: either you write an imperfect book that is done, or you write a perfect book that never materializes.  You can be messy and classy.  You cannot be wise without making a ton of stupid mistakes, it's impossible.  I just sat down and said, "This is the book that I'm writing". I worked very hard to make sure that I could stand by it".
  

Monday, 1 January 2018

"Slaughterhouse Five"


   Grandson David has studied philosophy and is a fan of Nietzsche.  I had asked him about Nietzsche's theory of eternal return when I was trying to read "The Unbearable Lightness of Being".
  Perhaps something from that discussion made him think that I would be interested in this book that he had just read.  He offered me his copy.  And these pictures tell you what I thought of the cover.
The plot:
   Billy Bishop was born in New York state in 1922, became an optometrist, spent time in the army in World War II, married, had children, was in a plane crash, was kidnapped by aliens- but certainly not in this order - or any order that I could find.
   Billy Bishop traveled in time.  
  When he was captured by aliens, he was taken to their planet named Tralfamadore, where he learned that "all moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist."
   Billy Bishop was "unstuck in time", traveling between periods of his life, unable to control where he would land. Can you see my problem with this book?
   However, I really tried to suspend all rational thinking and just go with the flow as much as possible.  When Billy first experienced time-shifting, he was able to see his entire life, from beginning to end.  I have to admit there were parts of the plot that interested me, but it is certainly out of my reading comfort.
   I found several other covers that I would have preferred.
   There actually are many themes that are explored in this novel. Anti-war is the one aspect that caught the attention of college students.  The subtitle is "The Children's Crusade" because the soldiers in W.W.II were SO young.  The bombing of Dresden was actually experienced by the author.

   
   This cover shows that the book has won many awards, as a book and as a film.
   But, it has also been banned and is still being banned.

   

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Another Christmas pleasure


   Matthew is a grandson that I don't see often because he lives in Michigan.  He is also our youngest grandchild- just finishing high school.
  It is always wonderful when Matthew comes prepared to tell us about the book that he is reading.  This year he was bubbling over about "Reality is Not What It Seems" by Carlo Rovelli.  Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist who is the founder of the loop quantum gravity theory.
  This book was recommended to Matthew by a friend of a friend, who lives in Belgium, but attends University of British Columbia, where Matthew is hoping to study engineering in 2 years.
  Matthew was excited to tell us about time being different on earth than in space.  He  is very interested in space and would one day like to work for NASA. 
  I do love covers and this cover tells me that the content of this book is in the cosmos- over our heads.  It talks about these three questions:
1. What are time and space made of?
2. Where does matter come from?
3. What is reality?
Rovelli pushes beyond what is known from Aristotle, Einstein, etc. and takes you on a journey towards new discoveries.
  Matthew can't wait to get in on that journey.  And we will avidly follow his journey.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Christmas gifts

socks for Christmas 2016

 
  The same granddaughter that decorated these socks for me last year, made some bookmarks this year.
  Who doesn't love new bookmarks?  And the pictures bring back so many memories.
   
book marks for Christmas 2017

And here is a picture of her. She was cooking for us when John had surgery.
Thank you Kaitlyn!

Friday, 22 December 2017

"How To Live' by Henry Alford

   What a strange book!  Strange and entertaining!
Let's agree that the cover is pathetic, but the author is a humorist and I think I missed the point. 
   The sub-title is "A Search for Wisdom from Old People".  
   A strange topic for a humorist and he certainly attacks it in a strange way. Actually, it is like a 'dog's lunch'. He goes from deep talk about 'wisdom' to uninteresting 'blathering'. His interviews with fascinating elderly people are interspersed with the continuing story of his mother and stepfather divorcing.  In fact, the divorce happened right after he interviewed them for this book on 'wisdom'.

 
   The first person he interviews is Granny D (Doris Haddock) who wrote a book called "Granny D: Walking Across America in my Ninetieth Year".  That is what she did - walked from Pasedena to Washington, D.C. (3200 miles). It took 14 months.  I cannot find a copy of her book but it was interesting to read about her in this book "How To Live".
    
    Harold Bloom is an expert on literature.  Having taught literature at Yale for 53 years, his expertise is used to write introductions to many of the classics.  He is now 87 and living in New York.  I enjoyed reading his interview.  He taught himself to read English, Yiddish, and Hebrew by age 5.  In his youth, he was able to read 1000 pages in an hour.  Extraordinary!


Henry Alford
  
   And here is the author, at 45, taking on the topic of 'wisdom'.  I think he proved in this book that 'older is not necessarily wiser'.
  His research showed that there have been 8 million definitions of 'wisdom' over the course of history.
   He quoted Confucius, Buddha, Socrates.
Yes, it was a 'dog's lunch' from the sublime to the ridiculous.
"Where shall wisdom be found?"

Monday, 18 December 2017

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas

   This book is classified as 'youth fiction' and I like to devote one month to youth fiction in the library book club each year.  There is often a lot to discuss in these books.  So I read it as a possible book selection for next year.

   Bruno is 8 years old and very unhappy about leaving his home in Berlin to move to a new residence beside "Out-with".  This is the word that Bruno hears when the adults talk about Auschwitz.  His father has just become the commandant there.
   Since there are no houses near him, Bruno watches the people on the other side of the barbed-wire fence. He is lonely and sad, and completely oblivious of his surroundings. So he wanders along the fence until he meets Shmuel, a Jewish boy his age, on the other side of the fence. Bruno is very curious and, as he develops a friendship with Shmuel, things turn disastrous.
  A very powerful story that was written in 2 1/2 days.

I have decided that the power of this book is in reading,
 too much discussion might take away from the message.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Winnie the Pooh

book club choice
  I enjoyed re-reading "Winnie-the Pooh" and was simply appreciating it as a children's story, noticing lots of things to interest children.
  The theme of friendship seemed central.  "They began to talk in a friendly way about this and that, and Piglet said, "If you see what I mean, Pooh", and Pooh said,  "It's just what I think myself, Piglet, and Piglet said, "But, on the other hand, Pooh, we must remember" and Pooh said "Quite true, piglet, although I had forgotten it for the moment".
   Friendship and silliness.  Children love to be silly.
And I was reminded of Dr. Seuss when I read this silly exchange:
"Help! Help! a Heffalump, a horrible heffalump
Help, Help! a horrible hoffalump
help! Help! hellible horralump
Help! help! a hoffable hellerump."

And there were other silly occasions- Pooh knocking on his own door and waiting for an answer; Pooh eating the honey he intended to give to Eeyore for his birthday.
Lots of silliness.
But...

According to the Canadian Medical Association, each character symbolizes a certain mental disorder.
Winnie-the-Pooh: eating disorder, ADHD
Piglet: anxiety disorder
Owl: dyslexia, short-term memory loss
Tigger: ADHD
kana: social anxiety disorder
Roo: autism
Rabbit: OCD
Eeyore: depression
Christopher Robin: schizophrenia



Then there is the "Tao of Pooh" 
where the fictional characters
 of Winnie-the-Pooh are used 
to explain the basic principle of Taoism.





But...then there is the real character of Christopher Robin. And that is a much sadder story.  He resented his father's exploitation of his childhood, and hated the books that made his life public.  They did not have a good relationship and when his father died, he never visited his mother for the remaining 15 years of her life.  So much for this beautiful picture!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Choosing books for 2018

   It's that time of year again.  This book club that I have been attending for twenty years just went through the process of planning for next year.
Dante  1265-1321
Shakespeare 1564-1616
   This is the most eclectic book club that I have attended.  We alternate classics with contemporary novels.  The classics have sometimes been children's books, e.g. "Winnie- the-Pooh", but it can also be Shakespeare.  In fact, next year we are tackling "The Divine Comedy" by Dante, as well as a Shakespearean play.  Actually we are only doing the first section of "The Divine Comedy".  The book that was the most challenging for me was "The Illiad" by Homer.

 Here's our list:
"A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen
 "Do Not Say We Have Nothing" by Madeleine Thien
 "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett
 "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro
 "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" by R.L.Stevenson
 "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot
 "Cymbeline" by William Shakespeare
 "Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" by Alan Bradley
 "The Divine Comedy" (Inferno) by Dante
 "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak
 "Three men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome
 "The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper" by Phaedra Patrick

Yes, we have twelve choices- no breaks at Christmas or in the summer.  A motivated group of readers!

             

Friday, 8 December 2017

Books versus Films

  This blog is motivated by an e-mail that I received from a friend who went to see "Murder on the Orient Express" directed by Kenneth Branagh. My friend and her husband were disappointed.  The character of Poirot was changed and additional episodes were added.  The format of the murder was kept but it was very hard to follow.
  It was especially disappointing because the original movie closely followed the novel and was much more convincing and much more enjoyable.


  She believed that this also happened to "Anne of Green Gables" when it aired on CBC.
Her question is this:
Is there no restraint on writers and directors?  Can they take someone else’s story and turn it in to their own version ? 
   I would expect that when the movie rights are sold, there are different contracts. For the right amount of money, probably the producer has complete control.

I found this quote:
"Another important grant from the producer's perspective is the right to make alterations to adapt the work for a film or television production.  Authors are often concerned that a producer will make changes that ruin the work or embarrass the author.....  Often a compromise is reached whereby the producer agrees to consult with the author on major plot and character changes."

   Margaret Atwood must understand this process well.  Two of her books have recently been made into television series: "Alias Grace" and "The Handmaid's Tale".

  I have heard many discussions about 'book versus movie'.  Some people believe that the book is always better because you are more involved in the story as you visualize the setting and plot.

    I have talked about my disappointment with "Light Between Oceans".  You can read about it here.  And I would agree that well-written books touch you more deeply than a movie.

   However, one exception was "Angela's Ashes".  The visual was very powerful!  The child actors were extraordinary.  I loved that movie.  It had voice-overs of the actual words from the book on occasion.
  The newer movies often have background noise that ruins it for me.

   Sometimes the movie rights are sold before the book is finished.  I believe that happened with "The Horse Whisperer".  
Robert Redford bought the rights and put a different ending on it than the book.
   And then there is "The Bridges of Madison County".  Book versus movie?  Well....
  There seems to be no rule.  Good books are good books...and good movies are good movies.