Thursday, 30 May 2013

My friends' favourites- at last!

Penny was my first response.

She is unable to choose only one book and I was delighted to get this list from Penny.  Here is the list along with her comments:
"A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry
I read this on the long flight to Australia in 2002.  I remember discussing it with a flight attendant who was also reading it at the time.  This book touched me deeply and I had a huge 'book hangover' when I finished.
The Winds of War", "War and Remembrance" by Herman Wouk
It's been many years since I discovered Herman Wouk's work.  I read the "Winds" and the sequel twice.  My son also liked these books due to his interest in WW2.  I was quite pleased with Robert Mitchum's portrayal of Pug in the mini-series.
"Gone with the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell
I've read this one more than once as well.  I first read it as a teenager and I remember being ticked off at my mother for not recommending it to me sooner.  I was so glad to have read the book before seeing the movie.  I will probably read it again someday, perhaps in my dotage.
"A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving
I remember this as a really great read.  I believe Owen's speech was always in capital letters.  I was a huge fan of John Irving up until the last few books.  I have "In One Person" still on the shelf to be read.  I should read this again as I feel badly that I can't remember the story for the life of me.
"East of Eden" by John Steinbeck
This was an Oprah pick and I read it in 2003.  In my book journal I wrote: "Might just be my favourite book of all time.  Wow-I don't say that very often!"  It would be great to reread it and see if I still feel the same way ten years later.
"I Know This Much is True" by Wally Lamb
I can't believe he's a man because he writes like a woman.  That's how well he knows what women are thinking!  It's a little scary.  Here's what I wrote in my journal: "897 pages, it was great! Awesome book - in my top ten of all time probably.  I liked it so much that I can't start another book right away.  I can't wait for another from this great author with superior storytelling skills".  That's a lot of praise.
Again, I wonder if I would think of it the same way today.

Thank you, Penny!

Favourite Book

In the year 2000, I read "The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver.
I was mesmerized by the characters, the structure, the plot, the language and the themes.
I loved the four daughters and empathized with Orleanna when she said, "I had washed up there on the riptide of my husband's confidence and the undertow of my children's needs".  It reminded me of "Gifts from the Sea" by Eleanor Morrow Lindbergh, when she talked about the complexities of a woman's life.
Orleanna was trying to support her husband in his personal mission, but she also was aware that there were four girls to protect and guide.  In this case, it was not possible to do both.  And she spent the remainder of her life with regret.
Perhaps because this book affected me so strongly, I read other books with a similar theme: "The Sea Captains Wife" by Beth Powning: "The Mosquito Coast" by Paul Theroux.   Even "Above All Things" by Tanis Rideout  has a mother who is attempting to keep her children connected to their father who is away from home for long periods of time.

Recently, I have been begging my friends to tell me their favourite book.  Many cannot chose just one.  I never have that problem.  I read in "Tolsty and the Purple Chair" by Nina Sankovitch,  that your favourite book tells a lot about you.  Perhaps my friends are afraid that I will be analyzing them.  But I have been analyzing myself and I realize that "Poisonwood Bible" taught me about arrogance.  Nathan Price did not have a voice in the book, but you learned everything you need to know about him in the way his wife and children were affected by his actions and attitude. His 'mission' was not endorsed, but was a personal drive that had no concern for anyone else.  He had no respect for anyone in the Congo - he even chopped down the wild orchids to plant his own 'demonstration garden'. This lack of respect and concern for others is my definition of arrogance. It was so pronounced in this book that I began to notice arrogance in places that I would not have before.
In 2002, we were exploring the state of Texas.  I love to read all memorials and have not forgotten the  civil war monument with quotes by Jefferson Davies.
"Eternal right / Though all things fail / Can never be made wrong".
"The impartial enlightened verdict of mankind will vindicate the rectitude of our conduct".
I felt that these statements were attempting to confirm that the decisions made by the south were right then and are right now.  I see that as arrogance.

I really enjoy a novel that contains a variety of good and bad characters. I have read hundreds of books since I first read this novel, but the characters in "The Poisonwood Bible" are crystal clear in my mind.

Now when are my friends going to tell me their favourite book?

Thursday, 23 May 2013

My New Pile of Books

This is what I'm reading now.

"419" by Will Ferguson

"Secret Daughter" by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

"One Native Life" by Richard Wagamese

"The Enoch Factor" by Steve McSwain

"The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared" by Jonas Jonasson

June 15
I have finished reading this novel and was disappointed.
It was a translation from Swedish.
It promised to be about a 110 year-old-man 'starting over',
but really it was a retrospective look at Allan's life.
He had done some really bizarre things and many people found the writing amusing.
He was an expert in explosives, sent by the U.S. to combat communism.
He travelled (often by foot) all over Europe and met some very strange people.
It seemed very far-fetched, silly, and LONG!
It was like the magazines that promise one thing on the outside
 and the story inside the magazine is actually something different.
Disappointment for me, but a great laugh for others.

"The 19th Wife" by David Ebershoff

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Book Clbus

Book clubs!  Book clubs! I love book clubs!

In 1998, I discovered a book club in a mall. 
The first book we discussed after I joined was "Middlemarch".
 And this book club has discussed a classic every other month since then.
 So I have read 90 classics with this group!
There is no summer break.
We read 12 books a year.

This is "The Monday Night Book Group".
The book we are reading here is not a classic, but a Victorian-inspired crime novel.
"Fingersmith" was written by Sarah Waters and we loved it!

My favourite classics:
The Good Earth / Uncle Tom's Cabin / Of Human Bondage / The Grapes of Wrath / The Woman in White / To Kill a Mockingbird / The Return of the Native / The Mayor of Casterbridge / Far From the Madding Crowd.  

And then there were the challenges!  Tough!  Tough!
Beowulf / The Iliad

This group just finished discussing "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith.  It was one of ten books that affected Oprah's life.  It was so popular when it was written in 1943 that several studios vied for the movie rights and movie stars were anxious to be involved.  That movie appears on T.V. regularly.
I struggled through the book, finding it tedious and long.  But when I finished, I realized that it was well-worth reading and I understood why it was so popular when it was written.
It is called a "bildungsroman", a coming-of-age novel.  But it is also a capsule of time and place.  Is there a fancy word for that?

I have been challenging my reading friends to share their favourite classic in a video on my blog.  No luck so far!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Black Beauty

Anna Sewell has a fascinating life story.She was born in England into a Quaker family.  Her mother was a successful author of children's books where she expressed her faith.  Anna helped to edit those books.  When Anna was 14, she fell, severely injuring her ankles.  For the rest of her life she had difficulty walking.  So she became very familiar with the horses that pulled her carriage.
   How interesting that she used this love of horses to write this beautiful book.  She was 51 when she started writing and her health was failing.  Her mother helped her greatly, especially near the end.  Anna only lived six months after the book was published in 1877, dying of hepatitis.  But she did see the success of her book.    It became the 6th best selling book in the English language.  

Fifteen years ago, I found a book club that was just getting started.  The beauty of this book club is that we read a classic every other month.  
On occasion we read children's fiction or youth fiction.
Although Anna Sewell did not write this book for children, the book does include moral lessons on kindness, sympathy and compassionate treatment of horses.  Her goal was to improve the treatment of horses and she accomplished that goal.


Saturday, 11 May 2013

What's John Reading?

I was surprised to see John so engrossed in Kate Morton novels.   His favourite author is J.R.R. Tolkien. He spent years reading fantasy authors. Now he is discovering other authors.  He even attends the Preston Library Book Club.  Being the only man there doesn't intimidate him and he is enjoying the choices.  

Kate Morton
The House at Riverton  C2006
The Forgotten Garden  C2008
The Distant Hours     C2010
The Secret keeper   C2012

Friday, 10 May 2013

Leaving the Faith

"Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape" by Jenna Miscavige Hill.   Since there is a Church of Scientology opening a couple of blocks away, I decided to learn something about the religion. Perhaps reading a book by a person who has become disillusioned and downright angry about the religion is not a good way to get a clear picture.  First of all, the word religion does not really seem to apply.  There is no mention of God or belief in any higher power.  It seemed to me to be a mind/body philosophy with the body coming back again and again.  At seven, Jenna signed a million year contract. One of the slogans "Think for Yourself" is actually not possible with the regimen that is imposed on the students.  "Auditing" is a type of one-on-one counselling, involving lie-detector equipment.   Jenna was involved in the organization since the age of two when her parents moved to the compound in California  to work for the church.  From then on, she rarely saw her parents but was raised communally.  As well as school work, there were scientology courses and lots of physical work.  Jenna had additional problems because her uncle was the head of the organization and her parents left the organization.  Leaving was not an easy option and caused repercussions for all family members.

  I was reminded of other books that I have read about people leaving their faith.  It seems important to realize that religions are made up of individuals and abuse of power is not uncommon.  When these individuals dig in their heels and insist that they are right, they cause great damage.
    Martha Beck's father was an apologist for the Mormon Church and well respected in the Mormon community, but he was abusive at home.   Here is her dilemma:"The Mormons around me were such good people, and much of their goodness was grounded in their religion, and their religion was stronger because of my father".  Martha talks about her obsessive spiritual hunger, but as an adult she had paralyzing pain connected to the flashbacks and could not work out any faith because of the abuse that took years to resolve.  She is now a well-known therapist.
  Martha's story was heart-breaking.  Her book is called "Leaving the Saints".

  "Stolen Innocence" is about the L.D.S. strand of the Mormons.  The author, Elissa Wall, grew up in a polygamous sect and was forced to marry her cousin at 14.  

  Miriam Toews found the Mennonite religion too confining.  Her biggest complaint was that she couldn't drink, party, dance, or listen to rock music.  She writes fiction but includes much of her life in the characters.  Many people enjoyed her book "A Complicated Kindness".  Her sarcasm was too biting for me.

   Rhoda Janzen, also brought up in the Mennonite faith wrote "Mennonite in the Little Black Dress". This was a memoir, but, once again, she tried to be humorous while making fun of her upbringing.  I was doubly disappointed in this author because, as an adult, she had lived a life away from the values of the parents who raised her, but then ran back to them when she was desperate.  They warmly took her in, while she wrote nasty things about their beliefs.

  "Unorthodox: the Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots" by Deborah Feldman is fascinating.  Once again, a very strict religion with a disastrous arranged marriage.

  Mary-Ann Kirkby has written a memoir- "I am Hutterite: the Fascinating True Story of One Woman's Journey to Reclaim her Heritage".  It is refreshing to read a positive story of growing up in a restricted faith community.
I love memoirs and these are some that I remembered as I read "Beyond Belief".