Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year!

At the end of the year, it is always fun to review the books that have been read during the year.  I have been keeping records since 2002. And I have read between 45 and 75 books each year since then.  This year I am right in the middle with 60 books read.
What was my favourite?  No question: "Indian Horse" by Richard Wagamese.
Fellow reader, Bonnie, also reports that "Indian Horse" is her favourite because of the beautiful writing. She was shocked by the ending.
Fellow reader Gayle, enjoyed Richard Wagamese's "Ragged Company", but her favourite of the year is "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society". She loved the format- correspondence letters, and the setting- the Channel Island of Guernsey.  She had heard about Guernsey from her grandfather but learned more while reading this book.  Gayle loves to learn something from her books. Her runners-up are: "Blessings", "How to Talk to a Widower" and "Downhill Chance".
I love to hear about the books that other readers enjoy.
I have "Downhill Chance" on my bedside table, waiting to be read.  I love Donna Morrissey and will try harder to get to that book soon.

Happy New Year!

More on "Natural Order"

I have been thinking about this book and realizing that the writing is more extraordinary than I had first realized.  I knew that the characters were magnetic and the language was delightful.  But, on further thought, I ponder how well the plot was developed.  Actually there were stories of three gay men from three different generations.  What a powerful way to show the development of thinking in respect to homosexuality.  But this was accomplished by switching back and forth in time in a seemingly 'natural order'.  In retrospect, I realize how amazing this was.  The narrative just flowed without appearing forced.
Also, I came to realize how much I love a satisfying ending.  For me, that means that people work through the issues that were challenging in their lives.  Oprah called this an 'aha' moment.  I love a big 'aha' moment, when everything starts to make sense.  And, often, that only happens years after the fact.
It was so interesting to see how that 'aha' moment was achieved.  It took a number of circumstances to occur for Joyce Sparks to finally understand her son.

                                               Brian's comments on this novel:

The book tells the story of a senior woman named Joyce Sparks coming to terms with the death of her adult son. It’s about the mistakes we make in the name of love and the second chances that sometimes shine a light in our darkest moments.

The novel came about because I wanted to capture a character in the final years of life. What would she think looking back on her past? What did she think of her life now? What were the things she’d do differently if she were given the opportunity? Out of that curiosity, Joyce Sparks was born.
Brian Francis

Brian Francis (born 1971) is a Canadian writer. His 2004 novel Fruit was selected for inclusion in the 2009 edition of Canada Reads, where it was championed by novelist and CBC Radio One personality Jen Sookfong Lee. It finished the competition as the runner-up, making the last vote against the eventual winner, Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes.
Brian lives inToronto and has a cooking blog "Coker Cooking".

Monday, 30 December 2013

A Mother's Challenge

How does a mother handle a child that is different?
I just read two books where the mothers discovered that their sons were more interested in girlish play- dolls, cooking.  They both were not only uncomfortable with that, but felt the need to hide it from the fathers.  In one book, the child was a hermaphrodite, in the other book the boy was gay.
Both books were fascinating. I loved the characters, writing, plot and setting.  One was in small town Ontario and the other was in Labrador.  They both were emotional.  One had a more satisfying ending for me.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

How does it taste?

In a blog called "Zen Habits", Leo Babauta promotes his Sea Change program, which is about forming good habits.  One of the habits that he is promoting is reading.  For $10.00 a month, you can register for his approach.  I have not done that, but in his list of favourite books, I saw the title:
"The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake" by Aimee Bender (c2010)
I knew this would be a take-off on "Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel (c1992), which is a great book with such a novel premise.  Love books like that!  So I had to read this unusual title.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

In this novel, Rose, at nine, discovers that she can taste her mother's emotions in the cake that she baked.  She knows everything that is not being spoken of in the house- mostly her mother's affair.  This is similar to "Like Water for Chocolate" and I enjoy that type of magical realism.  However, Rose can also tell where the food was grown, sometimes as specific as the actual farm and whether it is organic.  Interesting premise, but a book needs more than a good idea.  It needs fascinating characters and a plot.  The mother, father, sister and brother never communicate and all seem severely depressed.  The plot consists of being concerned (or not) about the brother's disappearance.  This is really magical realism- he turns into furniture!  Sometimes he is a chair or a table.  You also discover that the grandfather had been able to smell emotions, so he had to cover his face in public to avoid the onslaught of emotions.

Like Water for Chocolate

This book is one-of-a-kind.  I found it extremely entertaining and read it twice.  It is a combination tall tale/ fairy tale/ Mexican cookbook/ home-remedy handbook.
It takes place on a ranch on the border of Mexico during the Mexican Revolution.
Mama Elena passes down the family decision that the youngest daughter may not marry but must care for her mother.  So when Tita, her youngest daughter, falls in love with Pedro, Mama Elena says that Tita is not available but Rosaura is and they marry.

Written from the perspective of Tita's grand niece, whose mother (Esperanza) and father (Alex) returned from their honeymoon to find the ranch covered in ash- cookbook intact, telling in each of its recipes this story of a love interred.
Like Water for Chocolate: being on the verge of boiling over.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Canada Reads 2014

I am always excited by Canada Reads.  
I love a good, intelligent debate over books. 
And this year, I even have an opportunity to have mini-debates with some friends before the 'big debate' begins.
There is a new twist this year!  It really got me excited. Readers were challenged to nominate a book 'that could change the nation...or even the world'.  What a huge challenge!
Thousands of nominations poured in from across the country.  The top 40 books were announced along with a challenge to vote for your favourite.  This brought the list to 10, and then the panelists made their picks. So we are reading five books and trying to decide which book could change the nation.  Sounds fabulous, eh?

Well....I have read three of the picks and, to put it gently, I cannot imagine how the panel are going to argue that these books could 'change the nation'.

I found the books last year much more interesting and was really passionate about one.  It definitely could 'change the nation', but was not nominated this year because it had already been included last year.

Check my blog from last year by clicking on this:  Canada Reads 2013

Her are the books for this year:
1.) Half-blood Blues           -supported by Donovan Bailey
2.) Annabel                        - supported by Sarah Gadon
3.) The Orenda                  - supported by Wab Kinew
4.) Cockroach                    - supported by Samantha Bee
5.) The Year of the Flood  - supported by Stephen Lewis

I have a strong feeling about which book SHOULD win though I haven't read it yet.  Hint, hint, it is the second in a series of three, written by a very famous Canadian author.  But, since I was so disappointed last year, I will wait and see.....

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Caleb's Crossing

  Isn't this a beautiful cover?
  This novel begins on Martha's Vineyard in1660.
Because I loved "The Scarlet Letter", I thought this book would also be interesting.
The language was a little challenging, but attempted to take you back to those days.

     Inspiration for the story (actual fact):
In 1665, a young man from Martha's Vineyard
 became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. 

  Although the novel is the story of Caleb, the son of a native chief, it is told through the eyes of Bethia, the daughter of a minister who hopes to convert the native population to Christianity.  She forms a clandestine friendship with Caleb and eventually follows him to Harvard, soaking up as much learning as she can while working as an indentured servant to the schoolmaster.  And this learning includes Latin, Greek, and Hebrew!  And she absorbs this while working in the adjoining buttery and eavesdropping!  A little unbelievable?

  I appreciated the view of the Puritan life, although there were many words that needed to be looked up- words that are not in use any more.  I did, though, enjoy the way they spoke.  And I enjoyed Bethia's character, even though it may be a little far-fetched.  While raised strictly Puritan, she had a great hunger for knowledge and a spiritual dilemma, as well. 

   Historical figures were mentioned in the novel.  Anne Hutchison was one.  She was the mother of 15, whose religious convictions were at odds with the Puritan church.  She had a lot of followers, but in 1643, she was massacred along with 14 of her children.  She is now honored in Massachusetts as a "courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration".

   With the background of the Puritan, rigid, religious beliefs, you get glimpses of human connections that surmount the differences.  This is the kind of book that I love.  There are examples of extreme rigidity, but also complete acceptance and compassion for everyone.

  The title "Caleb's Crossing" is poignant.  Caleb crossed into the Puritan world- but was he really crossing, or just taking advantage of the other world?

  The combination of fact and fiction always interests me and I wondered about the books that would be available.  I discovered that the Puritans brought a printing press with them in 1638, where they printed religious texts.  One of them was a hymn book.  "The Bay Psalm Book" had about 300 pages and lots of errors, with words only - no music.  There were 1700 copies printed.  Only 11 copies remain today.  One of these copies was just auctioned at Sotheby's for 14.2 million dollars!

I have read two other books by Geraldine Brooks:
Geraldine was born in Australia, now living on Martha's Vineyard.  
"Nine Parts of Desire" is a disturbing book about women in the Middle East.  The title comes from a quote by Muhammad's son-in-law: "Almighty God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to man."
It actually appears that men feel they cannot control themselves around women and so the women must not show any skin, go out in public, drive a car, speak in public, etc. etc.  Disturbing!
"March" is a really interesting book using a character in Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women".  The father, Mr. March has gone to war- actually he is a chaplain in the civil war, but has spiritual torment about what he experiences there.  This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006.



Thursday, 5 December 2013

Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy

1940 – 2012

Maeve Binchy, was best known for her humorous take on small-town life in Ireland, 
her descriptive characters, her interest in human nature, 
and her often clever surprise endings.
 Her 16 novels were translated into 37 languages,
 and sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.
She also wrote short stories and plays.
Her books have outsold those of other Irish writers such as Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, W. B. Yeats, Seamus Heaney, Edna O'Brien and Roddy Doyle. She finished 3rd in a 2000 poll for World Book Day, ahead of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Stephen King.

I wanted to write a tribute to Maeve, because I have just become aware of her great contribution to literature.  She reminds us that there are many reasons to read- pleasure is just one reason.  These books have entertained many people over the years.  For some readers, there is anticipation of the next book and delight when a character reappears. Reading for pleasure is delightful!  The opportunity to tune out the noisy world and enjoy 'a story' should not be minimized.
We really have too many books available and often we are frenzied trying to read a large variety.  But how lovely to find your niche and just enjoy!  Maeve's fans will miss her greatly!

Thanks to Maeve Binchy for providing a cozy, light, entertaining dip into literature.  Great entertainment! 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Remember the book "Black Like Me"?

In 1961, John Griffin underwent treatments to darken his skin, so that he could pass as a black man, travelling through the American south on buses.  The civil rights movement was strong and Griffin wanted to 'walk a mile in their shoes'.
He did this so well, that he realized that "he had tampered with the mystery of existence and had lost the sense of his own being".
When the experiment was finished he was a hero to some, but also received threats to such an extent that he moved to Mexico for a number of years.
In his well-written book, he clearly showed the difficulty of finding Negro cafes or Negro washrooms, or anywhere that a black person could sit and rest.
The book had a profound affect. Black men had been trying to be like the white men to be successful.  But they learned that they needed to take control and celebrate their heritage.  The white men needed to step back so that the black men could show their ability to work on solutions for integration.
I had picked up this book in a second-hand book store, remembering that I had read it many years previous and wanting to read it again.
        Reading allows everyone to walk a mile in another's shoes.  Isn't that great?

Recently, I read another experience of walking in other shoes.

"The Cross in the Closet"by Timothy Kurek
Tim Kurek was raised in a Southern Baptist church in Nashville.  He was taught that God did not like gays and they could not go to heaven.  When a friend came out as being gay, Tim was shocked to see how diffiult it was for his friend.
Just like the book "Black Like Me", Tim decided to proclaim himself as a gay man for one year – despite being straight – to see what gay men and women experience in our society and try to better
understand them and himself.
I had some ethical problems with that.  Even his family did not know and it seems so wrong to put your family through that just for the experience.
His first experience with the gay community showed them to be loving and accepting, but also beer-drinking, sex-obsessed, porn-watchers.  He asked one fellow to be his 'boyfriend' to teach him the behaviour and chase off the other guys.
His alter-ego, the 'Pharisee' was always offering the type of comment that Tim would have had in the past.
It seems to me that he didn't experience a real cross-section of the gay community.  There is no mention of the family-oriented, hard-working, ordinary, gay men and women.  Thus, his problem:
"Will I ever be able to reconcile my faith in God and the homosexual orientation?"
A friend reminded me that there wouldn't be a lot of places that Tim could experience the gay community.  They were not welcome in most places.  Gay bars may be one of the only places where they could be accepted for who they are.
At times it seems that he went from hating gays to hating Christians.
But, in the end, he tries to accept everyone where they are, although he is still angry that the mainstreams churches don't support the AIDS walk.

                     But, this is the one book that was transforming for me!

Mel White was an American clergyman.  After writing for the Christian right for many years, he came out as a gay man in 1994.  His story is amazing and was life-changing for me.

Mel and his son, filmmaker Mike White, had the unusual opportunity to appear as a team on two seasons of the Amazing Race.

Monday, 2 December 2013

A Good Balance

I have read Rohinton Mistry's book called "A fine Balance", but what is a good balance in a novel?

Remember Nancy Pearl? Click on Nancy's name to see my past blog about her. Nancy Pearl
She refers to 'experiential elements' and she believes that each person enjoys a different balance of these four important elements.

   Well, I have a strong feeling about 'setting'.  It should be background and not overpower the story.
   Lately, we discussed "Anna From Away" by D.R. MacDonald, and I complained loudly that the setting overpowered the story.  I like a 'good balance' and whenever the characters entered the story, and the plot began to rev up, the author put in several pages of description, while the plot and characters waited in the wings.  I felt like the setting was a spoiled child who took over all the attention.  I was irritated.  What about the characters?  What is happening?  When will something happen?
   If he had wanted to paint a detailed picture, he should have used paints and a canvas, not words.
   But the great thing about book clubs is the variety of personal interests.  One person spoke for the beauty of his description of Cape Breton Island.
   A novel is about story for me, and really interesting characters are important.   I can manage without great language.  In fact, Maeve Binchy is enjoyable for many people for the reason that her language is simple and plain- no metaphors, similes, alliterations, oxymorons, hyperbole, irony, euphemisms, or even onomatopoeias!
   In "A Week in Winter", Maeve Binchy did a great job of setting! You could always hear the waves washing up on shore and the wind blowing across the cliffs.  Inside there was a fire glowing, a cup of tea, and a cat by the fire. I could see it, hear it, and feel it.  That's doing what setting should do.
   I want balance in a novel.

Friday, 29 November 2013

To finish or not to finish?


   Today at book club, one of the members decided not to finish Maeve Binchy's "A Week in Winter".  The book did not capture her in the first 50 pages and her belief is that there are thousands of books, so why read a book that does not interest you?
   In part, I wish that I could adopt that stance.  However, when reading for a book club, I push through.  I always feel that if the book has been chosen, there must be something interesting about that book.  In fact, I have been heard to say that there must be a pony in this pile of....

   Well, I am having trouble finding a pony or anything resembling one in my recent book club choice.
"Dogs at the Perimeter" by Madeleine Thien is really challenging me.  I have read half of the book and hated every minute of reading.  I really should stop, right?
  But the book was in the Canada Reads' list of 40 books that could change the nation.  It is advertised as "a nightmare of a story, a dream of a novel".  It was not chosen for the contest this year, but since it was mentioned it must have some value.  Right?  If I push through the 'nightmare', will I come to the 'dream'?

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Books 'on the road'

  We spent a week on a bus trip with the Drayton Entertainment Travel Group.  Wherever I go, I am aware of people reading or talking about books.
  Early in the trip, I overheard a woman talking very passionately about One Book One Community.  I also love O.B.O.C. and always read and discuss the book.  This year I was particularly impressed and excited.  So was Jackie.
  I was also delighted that Jackie had decided to read "Shepherd of the Hills" in preparation for the trip to Branson.  The book tells about the early days of Branson and I read it many years ago.
  I am always happy to see fellow travallers that are reading and willing to talk about books.

Eleanor was sitting behind us, and was often engrossed in reading.
   We began talking about Alice Munro because she just won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Eleanor had a fascinating story about Alice.
  Over twenty years ago, Eleanor's husband gave her a gift-wrapped copy of one of Alice's books.  And he had arranged for a private signing at her house- something Eleanor will never forget.  She loves to re-read "Lives of Girls and Women" as well as many of Alice Munro's earlier books.

  Merle always has a smile.  And she is willing to share her love of books.  She enjoys the books of John Grisham, and especially enjoyed "The Racketeer". When she wants something lighter, she reads Janet Ivanovich and Nora Roberts.
   Lots of happy people on the bus, and sharing our love of reading is a great way to connect.

   Emma's favourite book is the book of Life- her life.  She is an amazing woman who sees life as a book.  She grew up in an Old Order Mennonite family where she discovered reading and was transported.
   She looks back, at 76, to her life as a book.  She talks about her three children in three years.  There were two husbands who needed care at the end of their lives.  In fact she said, "We walked together to heaven's gates, rang the bell and then he went in and I went back to find myself again".
   Emma's life is an amazing book!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Battle of the Books

   This book club makes book selections in November for the following year.  What an experience!  We call it 'the battle of the books', and sometimes it gets 'heated'.  Those who are really anxious to promote one certain book, have to convince everyone.  The hardest sell that I remember was "Beowulf".  Sandi finally wore us down and we agreed to give it a try.

It's always exciting to settle on a full year of reading.  
And this book group does not take a break in the summer.  
So we meet 12 times a year for discussions and once to set the books for the next year.
Every other month we read a classic.
I have been reading with this group for fifteen years!

My personal favourites:
My two all-time favourite books were read in this group- "Far From the Madding Crowd" by Thomas Hardy and "Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver- one classic and one contemporary.

Other contemporary books that I loved:
The Secret Life of Bees- Sue Monk Kidd
The Power of One - Bryce Courtenay
No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod
My Antonia - Willa Cather
The Kite Runner - Khalel Hossieni

Other classic favourites:
The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
All Passion Spent - Vita Sackville-West
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
Of Human Bondage - Somerset Maugham
Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe

In 15 years, we have read many of the well-known classics.  However, this group has no problem finding new options, and this year, it seems, they chose such obscure books that we cannot get enough copies to read.  The library system discarded them long ago. Guess they weren't favourites for anyone else.  But we may revive them - if we can just find a copy!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Can you tell a book by its cover?

I love covers!

Sometimes I wander through a book store, examining covers.

This book really caught my eye!

The cover has texture and beautiful colours!

There are stars that almost twinkle!

The physicality of the book is delightful!

And so, I began to read....

Friday, 27 September 2013

Ragged Company

Preston Library Book Club


   The purpose of story: "To light the fire of imagination so the things you didn't see could permeate you" (Richard Wagamese).
   Our fires were lit as we imagined Amelia One sky, Timber, Digger, Double Dick and even 'Square John' Granite.
   I felt that some of the situations were a 'real stretch'.  It almost seemed that the author was thinking, "What is the worst thing that could happen to an individual?" and he came up with those scenarios.  The back story of each character was heart-breaking.
    In fact, I even suggested that the story of 'Double Dick' should be eliminated.  I found his back story to be so extreme.  The book is about 'redemption' but Dick had no chance of redemption from the day he was born.
  The group convinced me that there was a purpose to the story of Double Dick.  And throughout the novel, there were snippets of conversation between Amelia and Double Dick, in the hereafter.  Perhaps this was to put his life on earth into perspective and confirm that every life has a purpose.

  I expressed wonder at the author giving his name to the character with the most horrendous back story.
  The author tells about being homeless himself.  Writing this book was his way of saying good-bye to that part of his past.

  We all agreed that Richard is a wonderful writer.  His language is superb.
   The cover of the novel illustrates the theme of home.  The 'Ragged Company' found their first home and their connection to Granite in the theatre.
  The lottery ticket reminds us that money does not solve the deep issues of life.
   The fingerprint on the bottom left is a reminder of the uniqueness of each individual.


 Home is really the truth that you carry with you.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Richard Wagamese

Richard Wagamese is special to me!
John and I have read together some of his books and loved every word.
Richard has the warmest spirit and lifts humanity to a whole new level.

Before our son died this summer, John and I took turns recording "One Native Life"- the biography of Richard.  Our son enjoyed listening to our voices when we couldn't be with him, and he really related to the book.  Rob also loved nature and was a gentle spirit.

Imagine our delight when we had a chance to hear Richard when he spoke at our local "One Book One Community" event.  He talked not only about his book, but stories about his life. What an inspiration!
At the book signing, I was asked to pose with Richard.

Richard felt the basic theme of his book is 'the idea of home'- not bricks and mortar, but the truth that you carry with you.
The novel showed that every homeless person has a 'story', something that caused a lack of connection with self.
Richard had been homeless for many years and wrote this book to say good-bye to that part of his past.
Richard embraces all of humanity and we could see many connections to our son.
We were delighted to meet him.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

The Book Group Book

Because I love book clubs, I was most interested in this book.
There are 46 essays describing individual book groups.
What a variety!

Some book clubs are organized around food.  One group met in a restaurant and it was not unusual for people to arrive without having read the book. In fact, at one meeting, they discovered that no one in the group had read the book- but the waitress had!

A men's group, consisting of professionals, met in a bar in Toronto.  Over the years, they decided to include women.  However, the focus changed from the consumption of alcohol to discussing good writing.  Some of the men dropped out!

"All of the books on my book club's reading lists have enriched my life twice over- once in the reading and then again in the rehashing." (quote from book).

In North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, there are groups called "Changing Lives through Literature"- for criminals.  Here, people are sentenced to literature and probation rather than prison. Hopefully, novels can touch them, teach them and give them courage to find their way out of crime.
This is a type of book club where they read and discuss books, where bonds are formed by sharing ideas and perspectives.  The judge and probation officer are even part of the discussions.
The professor who began the concept said, "I am convinced that through their reading and discussion of literature, these men are all bringing hope away from that long wooden table in our seminar room."
A similar group for women has been started in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.

What a fascinating concept!

In these groups there were no quizzes, tests or written exercises.  But, still, some people chose prison over literature.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Far From the Madding Crowd

   This book has been my solace this summer.  I was hoping to read many Thomas Hardy books, but when I got to "Far From the Madding Crowd", I clung to it and didn't want to finish it.  I read aloud, repeating significant portions.
   Penguin English Library has published a new version of the classics and I am enjoying this cover.  The pattern is bees, but it really isn't a 'busy book'.  It is about nature and the cover appeals to me.
   Thomas Hardy had grown up in the country and really disliked the growth in the cities due to industrialization.  His career in architecture made it necessary to live there.  But he longed for the idyllic world of the countryside.  This is my primary connection to the novel.  The pastoral descriptions soothe my soul and the characters add snippets of entertainment along the way.

 Bathsheba - proud, impetuous, independant, and outstandingly beautiful.
Bathsheba has three suitors:
1.) Gabriel Oak- "a young man of sound judgment, easy motions, proper dress and general good character".  He is a good-humoured, hard-working countryman, expert in most aspects of farming, and especially sheep.  He is a man of deep feeling and imagination.
2.) Farmer Boldwood- a rich, handsome, middle-aged farmer, and a very eligible bachelor."He was erect in attitude, and quiet in demeanour.  One characteristic pre-eminently marked him- dignity."
3.) Sergeant Troy- "Idiosyncrasy and vicissitude had combined to stamp Sergeant Troy as an exceptional being" - a handsome young soldier, educated, charming, and self-confident, bristles with masculine energy and steals hearts with eloquent and shameless flattery.

Bathsheba is distressed about her choices:
"Loving is misery for women always.  I shall never forgive my Maker for making me a woman, and dearly am I beginning to pay for the honour of owning a pretty face".

Who does she choose?????

  This is one of the earlier covers and, although it does represent the pastoral scene that I love, it really doesn't speak to me.
   This is Hardy's fourth novel and the one that enabled him, at age 34, to become a full-time writer.
   This story was first published in "The Cornhill" magazine in serial form.
   The language is spectacular!  The fact that some sentences completely bamboozle me does not distract from my love of the words.
   Thank you, Thomas Hardy, for touching my spirit and soothing my soul!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Nancy Pearl

Speaking of librarians.......   This is Nancy Pearl, a celebrity librarian.  There is an action figure of her with a button for a shushing sound.  How cute!  But it caused controversy because libraries are not the quiet places that they used to be.

 Nancy works at the Seattle Public Library.
In 1998, she began a program called "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book"- a very wordy title, 
but our area has copied that idea and organized "One Book One Community".

Nancy gave a lecture on the TED series (available on google)
 and proposed a new way of finding a good book.
There are four experiential elements to a book:
She suggested that each book should come with a pie chart 
to show the proportion of each of these elements in each book. "Looking at books the pie chart way".

A good idea, but not one that would help me.

  The theme of the book is of most interest to me.  The characters, plot, setting and language may be wonderful, but the themes and threads that weave through the story are most important to me.
  My interest lies in the theme of relationship, particularly within a family.  The role of women in all of its complexity can make a stellar novel for me.  Relationship with husband, with children, with self. Some novels portray a woman attempting to keep her family united- making sure the children are connected to their father while trying to help the husband follow his dreams.  My favourites in this line: "Poisonwood Bible", "The Sea Captain's Wife", "The Mosquito Coast", "The Secret River", "Angela's Ashes", "The Good Earth".
   I also enjoy books about women learning about themselves, such as: "Gift From the Sea", "The Wife Tree", "All Passion Spent".
  Another theme that fascinates me is slavery because these books juxtapose the worst of humanity with the best.  The contrast between good and evil is so strong in these books that I cannot put them down: "Cane River", "The Book of Negroes", "Uncle Tom's Cabin", "The Known World".
  So I leave the pie chart to Nancy and I will continue looking for good themes.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Librarians with a mission

 Aside from Marion the Librarian in the musical "The Music Man", how many other fictional librarians can you think of?
  While choosing library books for a retirement home, I was captivated by one of the books.  It has a beautiful, inviting cover.  And it is about a librarian. I opened the cover and this is what I read:

This is not the cover, just a great picture.
If my life were a book, no one would read it.  People would say it was too boring, too predictable.  A story told a million times.  But I was perfectly content with my life- that is, until the pages of my story were ripped out before I had a chance to live happily every after".  "Wonderland Creek" by Lynn Austin"

   I knew that I had to quickly read that book before delivering the 'stack'.
  With a backdrop of Illinois during the depression, Alice Grace Ripley, an unemployed librarian takes boxes of books to a needy settlement in Kentucky.  The library there delivers books to remote areas by horseback.
  This book was completely fiction, and a fun read, but it reminded me of another fiction book that was based on fact.

                                                                       "The Camel Bookmobile" by Masha Hamilton
   Fiona Sweeney an idealistic, 36-year-old librarian from New York, decided to take books to the bush in Kenya to improve the literacy rate there.  She was 'on a mission' and delivered the books by camel.  Each native in these villages of huts was allowed two books and if any book in the area was not returned, the bookmobile would not come back.  I was apalled when I read about the books they delivered- books by Hemingway, Mark Twain, and Dr. Seuss as well as Hollywood biographies and books on landscape and houses. For obvious reasons, some of the natives of Kenya objected to this invasion of Western culture.  But many Americans thought it was an important 'mission'.
  The author of this book, a journalist, had heard about the 'mission' and decided to make the story into fiction with a short trip to Kenya, which did not help to make the book sound authentic.

  Any other librarians???  Oh, yes, in one of my favourite books: "Where the Heart Is" by Billie Letts.  The librarian is actually a drunk who lives above the library.  Her brother, Forney Hull, one of the fascinating characters that makes the book special, covers for his sister in operating the library.  He had a copper-coloured beard and a brown stocking cap pulled over his head as he skulked among the shelves.  And he turned out to be the hero of the book.

  Any other librarians????  Oh, yes, me!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Tess of the D'Urbervilles

   Continuing with my "Hardy" summer, I finished reading "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" and wish that I could say that I loved it.  But I did not.  The very things that I enjoy about Hardy's writing made this book slow and uninteresting.  He has an amazing ability to describe people and places, animals, crops, buildings, landscape, weather, etc., etc., etc.  But his descriptions went on and on and on.   There was almost no plot for the first half of the novel. 
  The novel began with a detailed description of Tess' family - a peasant father who discovered that he had aristocratic blood, but was completely uninterested in the welfare of his family.  Right at the beginning the scene is set for Tess to be used and abused.  Since she is the oldest, she must visit the relatives to get some assistance.  But, while there, she is raped by her distant cousin.  It took many, many pages of reading to get to this point, and this encounter is barely mentioned so that you are not sure that a rape occurred until she delivers a baby.
  The second half of the book does have a little more plot, when Tess falls in love with "Angel", who seems to be perfect until the wedding night when they decide to disclose their faults.  When Angel hears of the rape, he is unable to continue the marriage. However, Angel also had a past story- he had experienced forty-eight hours 'dissipation with a stranger'. But the double standard sets the tone for the rest of the book as Tess tries to make her own way in the world unsuccessfully.
  The distant cousin, Alec D'Urberville, cannot control himself because of Tess' beauty and he is a constant torment to her throughout the book. In fact, at the end, Tess takes matters into her own hands (a little too late) and the ending is fast and shocking.

   I still can get caught up in the description of the countryside and the lifestyle.  Some sentences cause me to pause and think. e.g. "It was a typical summer evening in June, the atmosphere being in such delicate equilibrium and so transmissive that inanimate objects seemed endowed with two or three senses, if not five."

   Hardy loved this book and many people have also loved it since then.  It made a lot of money for him.  He had been writing for twenty years at this point. But his first three tries to get "Tess" published in serial form were unsuccessful.  Finally, he bowdlerized it and it was accepted.
  When the novel was published in three books the next year, the missing parts were replaced.
  Once again Hardy gave the book a subtitle that was problematic to the public.  "Tess of the D'Urbervilles: a pure woman".

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Mayor of Casterbridge

I read this book in 2006, and loved it so much that I recorded it.
 So I have just finished listening to the tapes. Here is the first page:

   "The Mayor of Casterbridge" has a wonderful introduction with Michael and Susan Henchard walking down the road to Weydon-Priors, not speaking.  When they arrived at the fair, Michael bought furmity (laced) and, in this drunken state, sold his wife and child to a sailor Richard Newson.  When Newson ended up lost at sea, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane returned to Casterbridge and discovered that Michael was the mayor.  He married Susan again and eventually Elizabeth-Jane discovered that Michael was her father.  But after Susan died, it was discovered that Michael's daughter had died and Elizabeth-Jane was actually Newson's daughter.
   But the plot thickens!
   Michael had had an affair with Lucetta, and after Susan's death, Lucetta arrived in town expecting to marry Michael.  But she fell in love with his adversary, Donald Farfrae, and married him. Donald had started as Michael's manager but took over his business, his house, and finally his woman.
   The subtitle of this book is 'the story of a man of character' and that has confused many people. But the word "character" means simply 'the qualities that make a person who he is'. Michael had many flaws and no self-esteem, causing him to lose everything.
  When the town learned that Lucetta, who has married Donald, had been involved with Michael they organized a 'skimmington'.  What is a 'skimmington'?

A skimmington is a procession made through a village intended to bring ridicule on and make an example of a nagging wife or an unfaithful husband.

   I really loved this book.  Michael was a real 'rascal' and all the bad choices that he made, came back to haunt him. There were always twists and interesting surprises.  This might be my favourite Hardy!

Victorian Literature

This summer, I had a desire to return to Victorian literature.  I found a formula for Victorian literature in a book called "How to Read Novels Like a Professor". And I said, "Ah hah!  That's why I love them".
Victorian novels have:
1.) a linear narrative
2.) plots centering around individuals either growing up or coming apart
3.) characters in whom readers can invest large emotional capital
4.) clear resolutions that give emotional pleasure
   Most of these novels were first published monthly,  either in magazines or in freestanding installments.  It often took two years to read the entire book.  So authors needed great continuity, memorable characters (often with odd names, weird quirks, grotesque appearances or goofy catchphrases).  The plot must be the driving force, with cliff-hangers at the end of the episode and a recap at the beginning of the next episode.
  These forms of story were very popular.  Subscriptions could jump by tens of thousands during the run of a particularly exciting new novel.  Bookstalls could be picked clean in an hour.  Some authors became very rich from these serialized novels.  Thomas Hardy was on of them.
   I had already read three of Hardy's novels and planned to re-read them, as well as reading three others.  I love to re-read a good book!
   The formula for Victorian literature gives some of the reasons that I love these books.  But I also really enjoy the syntax.  Thomas Hardy can put a sentence together in a magical way!  Of course, his vocabulary far exceeds anything I can imagine and sometimes I read with the dictionary beside me.  Most often, though, the manageable 'Oxford' is not sufficient and I need to get the unmanageable two-volume dictionary from the shelf.  But I love the words!
  Thomas Hardy is perhaps best known for his description of place.  I love, love, love England!  Perhaps because both of my parents were born there. When I visited, I was enthralled with the countryside.  In my mind, I could see Hardy's characters walking across the moors and it thrilled me!

Here are some pictures of my visit:

    Hardy always thought of himself as a poet.  He wrote poems, on and off, for nearly seventy years, resulting in almost a thousand poems.  He was about to issue a new volume of poems when he died at 88.
   But I am interested in his novels.  He wrote fourteen novels and I have discovered that, although they are not all available in the library system, you can buy them from the internet.
                 Hardy's family were not able to send him to university, so he
              became apprenticed to an architect who specialized in church
              restoration.  However, the weather in London did not agree with him
              and he returned home to the country where he began to write.

                 Hardy was married twice but had no children.  His ashes were
               buried in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Will Ferguson

Will Ferguson is a fascinating author and deserves a page of his own.  I was anxious to read "419" because I had read two books by Will and really enjoyed them.  I knew he was a talented man.  But I didn't realize the extent of his talent.
Will was born on a trading post- Fort Vermillion, Alberta.  He has lived in different parts of Canada, working for Katimavik and Canada World Youth.  He studied film production and screenwriting.  For five years, he taught English in Japan.  He married there, and returned to Canada, where he experienced severe reverse culture shock, resulting in his first trilogy of books.
I have read the first in that series: "Why I Hate Canadians".  It is basically his observations on Canadian history and culture.  But his humour makes it such fun to read.  I loved that book!  It won the Giller Prize in 2012.
I have also read his book that was originally titled "Generica".  The title later changed to "Happiness", which really captures the essence of the book.  It is a parody of self-help books- a very clever concept!
It raises many questions-basically: Do we experience happiness or the pursuit of happiness?  What if every self-help book could lead to happiness?  What would happen if people were truly happy? Can you really experience happiness without sadness?  Is underlying sadness what makes us human?
A very clever man- right?  Such diversity in his writing!  He has written 13 books and won 14 awards, including the Leacock Medal for Humour.  He was on the panel for Canada Reads in 2003.
He currently lives in Calgary.  What will Will think of next?

"419" by Will Ferguson

I love book clubs because you experience different responses to every book.  Barbara and I have often differed in our responses.  Often our differences are extreme.  Such was the case with this book.  Since Barbara was away, our discussion happened on the internet.

I was sorry to have missed the June meeting; I was travelling.  Just now finding time to read 419 and am loving it. 
I understand you were not fond of the book and am wondering why.  I can imagine the shifting of place/person may be one reason, although I find that adds to the intrigue.  I am enjoying reading this novel more than I have any others for several months.

A connection to the novel is really central to the enjoyment.  I can see where your enjoyment would be increased by your understanding of the country.  Our life experiences and connections are so different.
My problems with the book:
1.) characters- I love getting inside the skin of a character.  I need characters that I can cheer for or even characters that I can hate. I had no feeling for any of the characters.  Amina took up many, many pages and her name was not mentioned until chapter 47.  I spent pages wondering who she is and where she is going and why.  I never felt that any of those questions were answered after persevering through the story.
2.) description- there was too much for my interest.  It overwhelmed the plot.  I wanted to get on with the plot while the pages were filled with detailed description.
3.) plot- too confusing with such uneven plot lines and when they came together it was chaotic.
Basically, and perhaps the real reason, I had difficulty with this book is because it is so depressing.  In last night's discussion it led to the whole aspect of scamming and I become discouraged about what the world has become.  Who can you trust?  Anyone?  It becomes overwhelming.

Have finished 419 now.  What a memorable read and in my opinion a fantastic novel.  A novel--not a true story, not real people, with a few flaws in the plot, elements of the unbelievable, but a wonderful story of Nigeria.  It is a chaotic country with 12 linguistic groups and  8 major ethnic groups.  A collection of people brought together by the British Empire that really do not belong together. Amina was probably the best described.  The story highlighted numerous times that she was Sahel.  African Sahel is a narrow band all across Africa from Ertrea, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal to Mauritania.  Only a tiny sliver of it goes through northern present day Nigeria.  If she was from Nigeria, although it was obvious she did not feel so, it was from the part where the strictest Sharea Law would have been.  Her pregnancy would have been out of wedlock or with a man other than her husband, most likely the former, and her family would have not only had the right but the obligation to kill her based on their strict beliefs.  She was fleeing that.  And through her we see so much of present day Nigeria and its diversity, what the west and the oil industry has done.
You are correct the novel had special meaning to me.  I  have met many Nigerians from those hectic years right after the civil war.  People with names like Sunday on a banjo, chief Ajao who sent my daughter designer clothes from Paris when she was a baby and introduced us to many famous musicians from around the world when we were in Manhattan and he would be visiting.  Fascinating people. I had my iPad next to me for most of the read checking places, expressions, words etc.
When reading I never expect the characters to be real people; they aren't.  I do expect them to capture a semblance of the characters who might be a part of the story.  I think Will Ferguson excelled in doing this.  If I had been at the book group, I would have given it an 8, a high rating for me.