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.