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.

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.

Monday, 4 December 2017

The Book that Matters Most

    A friend told me that I must read this book because it is about a book club.  She knows that I love book clubs!    I have read non-fiction books about book clubs, but this novel is purely fiction. The book club here is in a library and only allows 12 people to join.  After that, you must wait until a spot becomes available.
   They choose a theme every year.  The theme explored here is 'the book that matters most'. 
    I had to think long and hard about this theme.  I guess it means the book that has great importance or significance for you.  Each member chose one title.  Wouldn't that be difficult?

These were their choices ( 9 real books, 1 is part of the fictional story)
1. Pride and Prejudice
2. The Great Gatsby
3. Anna Karenina
4. One Hundred Years of Solitude
5. To Kill a Mockingbird
6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
7. Catcher in the Rye
8. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
9. Slaughterhouse five
10. From Clare to Here ( part of the fiction of the book)

   I love books about books.  I have not read the last two real titles.  So, I immediately searched out my copy of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being".  It is one of those books that I always intend to read but never get it done.  I bought it many years ago.

   The main focus of "The Book That Matters Most" was Ava, whose 20-year marriage had ended and she joined the book club for companionship. Fortunately a spot had opened up.  For this theme, she chose a book from her youth (From Clare to Here) and a rather interesting mystery developed around that fictional book and author.
   I did not enjoy the characters of Ava and her troubled daughter Maggie.  There was a lot of detail about Maggie's reckless behaviour in Paris.  Also, the writing was not great.
   But it is always interesting to read about book clubs, even in fiction.

Friday, 1 December 2017

"The Last Neanderthal" by Claire Cameron

   How I love linear narratives in novels!  And, perhaps, I have complained a bit about 'disruptive' narratives.  I like that word (disruptive) because you just get into one storyline when it switches to the other story.  I find it really disruptive!  If you can tolerate my rants, you can read about it here.
  However, I enjoyed reading "The Last Neanderthal", even though it had two plotlines.  AND, I learned that it is called 'bifurcated narrative'- divided into 2 narratives.  Also called 'twinned narrative'.

These are the 2 narratives in this novel:
1.) a Neanderthal family with young daughter "Girl" as the focus.
2.) a modern-day archaeologist, Rose Gales, who discovers the remains of "Girl" in France.

What is spectacular is that Girl's remains are facing the remains of a Homo Sapien male, with the inference of interbreeding between the species.
  So, Claire Cameron, the author, imagines the circumstances around this situation.

   With 40,000 years between the narratives, there is a wonderful connection between Rose and Girl- both young mothers with very different challenges.
   Quite a fascinating book!

Claire Cameron

 The author, Claire Cameron is 44 and lives in Toronto.  She has previously written fiction and non-fiction, but her best known novel is "Bear".  It is a suspenseful story about a young girl and her brother who have to fend for themselves after a bear attack.

Monday, 27 November 2017

"The Tears of Dark Water" by Corban Addison

book club choice:
    First, I want to say how fabulous this cover is!   The intricate design on the top half reminds me of carvings you might see in a mosque.  Behind the deeper colour on the bottom half, there is a map of Africa.
   The sun is sparkling onto the sail on the sailboat.  I interpreted this brightness as the purity of 'good'. But as you move your eye down the picture, you see the dark side of evil.
   This contrast between the light and dark is so apparent in this novel.  Good and evil live side by side.  Evil acts come from pure intentions.  A very complex novel.
   This is a story of a father and son sailing around the world to cement their relationship and steer the son towards a better life.   
   They are captured by Somali pirates, led by a man who is desperate to gain money to free his sister from the bondage of her life in Somalia.
   Corban Addison did much research and explained, in detail, the complex negotiations that occur when an American is taken hostage.
    The extraordinary thing, for me, in this novel, is the way that Addison describes the motivation of every character, and there are many characters.  
  The role of the professional negotiator interested me, as well as the lawyer for the pirate.  This lawyer stopped at nothing to learn the motivation behind this crime.

  What did my book club think????
  Well, the book is long.  A hundred pages shorter would have been more effective. It wasn't necessary to name the brand of every piece of clothing, every car, and every piece of furniture.  And some people felt that the characters were stereotypes- the Somalis as well as the Americans.
  But there was intrigue and mystery. Some liked it a lot.
Corban Addison
  Our discussion leader today is a fan of this author and has read all four of his books:
A Walk Across the Sun
The Garden of Burning Sand
The Tears of Dark Water
A Harvest of Thorns
   Addison lives in Virginia and has degrees in law and engineering.  He has a deep interest in international human rights.  

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Scotiabank Giller Prize Ceremonies, 2017

The Scotiabank Giller Prize promises "the best in Canadian literature".  The awards ceremony was televised this week.

The jury read 112 books, leading to a longlist of 12 and a short list of 5:
"Transit" by Rachel Cusk
"I Am A Truck" by Michelle Winters
"Son of A Trickster" by Eden Robinson
"Minds of Winter" by Ed O'Loughlin
"Bellevue Square" by Michael Redhill

   The winner was "Bellevue Square" and Lawrence Hill introduced it by saying, "It is a funny, twisted book. It will mess with your mind".

The novel is about a book store owner who has a doppelganger.
"My doppelganger problems began one afternoon in early April".

When interviewed, Michael Redhill said:
 "It doesn't satisfy me as an artist to go someplace and tie everything up.  I want to leave the reader a little wrong-footed because it creates the opportunity to think about what you've been through as a reader.  I'd like to linger a little more".

I have been contemplating that word "wrong-footed".  That may 'satisfy' the author, but  I wonder if it would 'satisfy' me as a reader. I love a 'satisfying' ending and I'm not sure that I want it to be left 'wrong-footed'.

I love a celebration of books, but didn't find anything this year that interested me.  I have read 19 of the 25 previous winners.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Jane Austen spin offs

I have mixed feelings about spin offs.
I could not wade through the history of copyright laws to understand why this is legal, but it must be so.
Is it not theft?  Jane Austen put her heart into creating wonderful characters and then other authors take them to reconstruct a story!

   Who can resist P.D. James writing about the characters in "Pride and Prejudice"?
   And, of course, she added her special touch- murder.  I am not a fan of mystery books-especially involving murder.  But, P.D. James is such a good writer and this book really drew me in.
   There is a murder in the woods on the estate of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth (Bennet).  And...George Wickham is involved.  I was impressed with the language, setting and plot development of the first half of the book.   Towards the end, there seemed to be long descriptions of circumstances leading up to the murder.  Perhaps this is necessary in all murder mystery novels.  The author was 91 when this book was published!  I enjoyed it.

   I had enjoyed reading Jane Austen's "Emma", so I was curious about "Perfect Happiness" by Rachel Billington. 
  It is a sequel to "Emma", beginning a year after Emma's marriage to Mr. George Knightley.  Emma's friends have married and some of them have babies. 
  I really loved this book!  So much fun to once again read about Emma's social circle.  And this author was able to keep the same sense of time and place.  It was awesome!

And the question of spin offs.
There certainly is an appetite for them.
I found a website with 87 novels that have been inspired by Jane Austen.  Some of them are a stretch.."Bridget Jones' Diary". Also the movie "You've got Mail".
The most recent ones sound like a BIG stretch..........
This is the first book in the series "Jane Austen Takes the South" by a very prolific southern author using a pen name.
  Following "Pride and Prejudice and Cheese Grits" is "Emma Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs", and "Persuasion, Captain Wentworth and Cracklin' Cornbread".  Interested?

 Some people believe that you shouldn't mess with the classics.
And so, the question:  "What would Jane Austen say?"

Possibly she would be delighted that her characters have survived 200 years and are still strong, and are still inspiring writers.

Friday, 17 November 2017

"Longbourn" by Jo Baker

    "Pride and Prejudice:  The Servants' Story"

"There could be no wearing of clothes without their laundering, just as surely as there could be no going without clothes, not in Hertfordshire anyway, and not in September.  Washday could not be avoided, but the weekly purification of the household's linen was nonetheless a dismal prospect for Sarah".

   This opening paragraph drew me in to a story about the servants at the home of the Bennets.  Mr. and Mrs. Hill care for the Bennet family, along with the housemaids Sarah and young Polly.  A new man servant was hired, James, and he is very important to the story for obvious and not obvious reasons.  The obvious reason is the love story between Sarah and James.  But there are twists to this story.
   With the background of the Bennet family, I was enthralled to read about the minor details of laundry, candle-making, butchering, cooking and baking, etc. etc.  The life of the servants followed the rhythms of the seasons and the needs of the growing Bennet family.
   This author was able to bring to life, what it was like to live in the early 1800's.  Her writing was spectacular with such detailed description.
  I was loving this book so much, until page 224.  James, a man of mystery, joined the army.  Then I was not so interested in the descriptive writing. The horrors of war did not seem to fit in this novel. In fact, I skimmed 36 pages.
  It never got back to any rhythm, as the story appeared disjointed with members of the Bennet family getting married, moving here and there. But what about the servants?  Isn't that the theme of this book? 
   Some years passed, "Mr. Hill was mouldering in his grave", when James reappeared- ON THE LAST PAGE!  He is with Sarah- is that a baby with them?  Sorry, the book is ended!

Monday, 13 November 2017

"Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance

   This is a memoir of a man who identifies with the poor, working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degree, living in the Appalachian Mountains.
   J.D. Vance was able to graduate from Yale Law School, and he wrote this book because he feels that he has accomplished something not really extraordinary but quite ordinary.  It just doesn't happen to kids that grew up like him. This is how he grew up: "Seeing people insult, scream, and sometimes physically fight, was just a part of our life.  After a while, you didn't even notice it".
   So he wrote this book to explain the challenges he experienced. He loves his neighbours, family, and friends, but he needs to avoid some to keep his sanity.  Some are murderers, abusers, addicts, but he sees them as "a ragtag band of hillbillies struggling to find their way.
        Subtitle:  a memoir of a family and culture in crisis.
From Goodreads:
  "At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country".
I was surprised to see that this book is number 6 on the New York Times bestsellers list.
But perhaps other readers chose it for the same reason that I did.  It really helped me understand the change in the political scene in the U.S.A.

The title is so appropriate.  "Elegy" is a poem of serious reflection, a lament. This book is serious and sad.  It shows the condition of the white working class in U.S.A. It is a memoir, but also a history of this culture as well as a social analysis. A lot to accomplish in one book.
Fascinating and sad.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Time for a change!

I was ready for a change!  Something completely different.  And here it is!  My friend had just finished reading this book and I latched onto it.

   It was just what I needed.  I was able to forget about all the seriousness of life and delve into the fantastic- fanciful, non-sensical, unbelievable, absurd!
  Under the title, is a summary of the book: "A road trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama".
  Just look at this cover.  The 'vestments' of each are hung on the sides of the window and they have escaped into the outside world. And the title is perfect! Being famous may have lost of perks, but being ordinary has lots more!  Just the opportunity to enjoy nature (through that open window) without an entourage.
  The Pope's cousin, Paolo, and Paolo's ex-wife, Rosa, organized this 'escape' at the Pope's request.  What fun!  The two spiritual leaders, who have been stifled by tradition and responsibilities, are like two little boys having an adventure!
  However, there is a lot of 'spiritual talk' in the book.  Paolo and Rosa had lots of questions for these men, and kept calling them by their title most of the time.  So they couldn't completely leave behind their roles in life, but what an interesting concept.
Roland Merullo
  I got caught up in some of the interesting comments, such as, "Worrying is a form of control- a desperate attempt to bend reality to fit an imagined picture in our minds".
  There are bits of Catholic theology and Buddhist philosophy in the midst of this imaginative story. How wonderful if the religions of the world could learn and share from each other.

  Roland Merullo has written a variety of unusual books.  I have read "Golfing with God", and "A Little Love Story", but "The Delight of Being Ordinary" is my favourite.

Monday, 6 November 2017

"My Secret Sister" by Helen Edwards and Jenny Lee Smith

   I bought this book a couple of years ago, because it was "Heather's Pick" at Chapters book store.  I thought that I would enjoy this biography because I lean towards books about women surmounting difficult situations.  And there are great challenges in this book.
   However, I kept avoiding it because of the cover.  Actually, the cover does reflect the heart of the story.  So, why did I keep avoiding it?  I cannot answer that.   
  The information under the title tells the story- "Twins separated at birth.  One sister abused, one loved. A powerful true story".
   Helen and Jenny Lee were born in England in 1948.
I believe that the mother, who gave away one twin and kept the other was not mentally stable.  She married a man with uncontrollable anger.  He was abusive to both the mother and her daughter, Helen.  Helen grew up with an adored older brother who tried to protect her.  But she did not know about other siblings.
   Jenny Lee was adopted and believed that her adoptive parents were her birth parents.  She knew nothing about siblings.  Her father died when she was 12 and she discovered her adoption a few years later.  At that point, she became determined to search out her birth family. Twice her biological mother, Mercia, refused to see her.  But one day she arrived at Mercia's door with her husband and three children so Mercia let her in. That was the only time she saw her biological mother.
Jenny and Helen in 2012
  Then, in 2001, Jenny Lee began a successful search for her twin sister, Helen, and the two have been inseparable ever since.
 Together they searched out all the convoluted details of their family, found another sister who did not want contact, discovered who the father was for each child, and pieced together Mercia's distorted life.

Update on the twins:
Helen became a nurse, then trained as a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist.  She is now retired, has a husband and two children.
Jenny Lee was a professional golfer in Europe.  She has a husband and three children and breeds dogs.

   This book is very well written, alternating between Helen and Jenny Lee.  I wondered at the consistency of the writing, but then I discovered the secret on the title page- a ghost writer (Jacqui Buttriss).  A most interesting biography.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

book covers

   I am fascinated with the covers of books.  I think that  a really good book cover 'invites' you into the book.  It should give you the 'flavour' of the book.  I am often convinced to read a book because of the cover.
  I read "Blindness" many years ago completely because of the cover. I saw it at a book store, bought it and read it immediately. The cover told me that the novel was about serious visual confusion.  But it was also about social and moral blindness with religious symbolism.  A fascinating novel! I am grateful that the cover pulled me in!

   This month, I read "Orphan Train" for the third time.  Just look at this cover!  The hinges and the door knob show that this little girl is behind the door and that is significant. She is powerless! Her facial expression is so poignant, as well as the hair, the dress.
   I love everything about this cover.  The colours and shading, as well as the reflections on the window all help to set the mood.
  I also read this book because of the cover.  I was choosing books for the retirement home when I found this book in the large-print section of the library.  I knew that I had to read it.  And what a delight it was!

   I would never have chosen to read "Orphan Train" if it had this cover.  This cover focuses on the train and not the child.  The train was filled with children and the personal story of one of the orphans on the train is at the heart of this book.  
   This cover does not 'invite me in' and does not go to the heart of the story.