Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Good books/ Bad books- part 6

Now I'm getting a head of steam and I'm going to take on some books that are modern favourites, but they are "bad books- in my opinion".
I have said that "one person's pleasure is another person's annoyance".  Here are my annoyances:
"The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins
   Horror of horrors!  Children killing children!  And the killing is made into a reality show!  Horror of horrors!
   And most of my grandchildren read this book!  Horror of horrors!
   And here is the real shocker!  My oldest granddaughter wanted me to read it so that we could go to the movie!  Her grandfather bet her $100.00 that she couldn't convince me.  And here's the real shocker!  I read it!  And she got $100.00!

   I read it because I had to see for myself what was attracting so much attention.  I still don't know.  My grandchildren have tried to explain it to me, but they obviously read a different book!   Is it the 'generation gap'? Are they immune to the violence?
   The Hunger Games takes place in Panem, after the destruction of North America.  Panem consists of a wealthy capital surrounded by 12 poor districts.  The 13th District had been destroyed because of a rebellion.  As punishment, every year, one boy and one girl, ages 12-18 are chosen by lottery to participate in the Hunger Games, where they kill each other until one remains.
Katniss, age 16, offers to replace her sister and ends up victorious.
   I found the book extremely distressing!  The premise is so distressing!  Horror of horrors!

"50 Shades of Grey" by E.L.James
  Yes, I read that too!  How stupid am I?  An aquaintance convinced me this time, so that we could discuss it.  She was no young chicken herself!  And she loved every book of the series!  Well, we did discuss it and had absolutely no common ground.  I found it abusive and pornographic, but she was smitten by Christian.  This gal reads only vampire books and the positive characteristics of Christian appealed to her.  Christian is gorgeous, super-wealthy, a concert pianist, and a pilot.  But, but, but...when Anastasia tries to get away from him, he follows her.  Can you spell 'stalker'?

The author of this book is 49 and describes this book as her midlife crisis, full of her fantasies.  She was a studio manager's assistant in England when she became fascinated with the twilight series.  She wrote on a website using Twilight characters.  Then she changed the names and made it into a book - in fact, 3 books.  And I read all three!

Anastasia, university student, meets Christian Grey when she interviews him for the school newspaper.  She becomes completely befuddled, trips, studders.  She is a virgin and he introduces her to BDSM.
Christian has no idea of 'love', only control.  Because Anastasia is smitten, she signs a paper saying she will tell no one.  This is a problem because girls need to talk over relationships.
There is another paper that Christian would like her to sign - agreeing to different 'tortures'.
This is the first of three novels and it ends up with Anastasia leaving him.  I would have been happy for the series to end there, although I have to admit that the third book was the best.  More plot, less porn.
One reason that I agreed to read this book is because it is hugely popular!  I have had many conversations trying to figure out what has attracted mostly women to this book.
I am distressed by the message that love is worth putting yourself in danger.  Christian is very controlling and worse than a stalker.  He finds out her banking information as well as every other detail about her and knows where she is at all times.  Is it popular just because it's quirky?  Or because porn has become mainstream?  And the movie is coming!

"Paradise" by Toni Morrison

"They shoot the white girl first.  With the rest they can take their time".  This is the first sentence of the book.  The novel begins and ends with a massacre.  Ruby, Oklahoma is the location of tension between the women in town and the women living at the convent outside of town.
  The story travels back and forth in time and includes supernatural aspects.  I read the book twice and still couldn't understand it.
  Oprah bought the movie rights and I saw the movie with two other women but none of us could figure it out.
  Oprah loves Toni Morrison but her writing is beyond my understanding.

"419" by Will Ferguson

I have enjoyed books by Will Ferguson, but this book was a great disappointment for me!
It has four storylines that do not weave well together.
Laura Curtis' elderly father is caught in a 419 scam and kills himself.
Amina (didn't learn her name until chapter 47) wanders through a sand storm, while she is pregnant.  Why?
Winston, in Nigeria, is the 419 scammer.
Nnamdi comes from the Niger Delta and explains the horrendous workings of the oil industry there. He meets and tries to help Amina.
Laura goes to Lagos and does, in fact, retrieve some of the money taken from her father.
And the storylines do come together somewhat.
But there was too much description, too much confusion of plot, and no characters that I cared about.
I couldn't bear to keep reading in places, and so, I skimmed the deadly parts.

Other readers loved these books.  I did not- too much violence, confusion of plot, darkness.

So now I'll go back to reading "Little House on the Prairie" which is perhaps where I should have stayed!
Stay tuned for more horror stories!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Good books/ Bad books- part 5

The idea of 'bad books' came from this quote:
"The kind of pleasure you can get from reading is like no other in the world.  People even get pleasure out of reading bad books, and I deplore this, but that is only because those books are not to my taste." ("Why I Read" by Wendy Lesser)

 ***** These books are not to my taste. ***** 

"Cockroach" by Rawi Hage

  This novel takes place during one month of a bitterly cold winter in Montreal's restless immigrant community, where a self-described thief has just tried but failed to commit suicide. Rescued against his will, the narrator is obliged to attend sessions with a  therapist.
  You hear about his past life in a war-torn country and his current life on the streets of Montreal, where he lives on the edge, imagining himself to be a cockroach sneaking into homes.
  The main character has no name- perhaps he is "Cockroach".  p. 257: "He was a cocktail of emotion, a kind of purgatory that no medical paper had ever described."
  I forced myself to read this book because it was a choice for Canada Reads 2014.  The argument for the book was that it represented the immigrant experience.  It seemed more like the experience of mental illness to me.
  This book was too dark with no positive characters or lightness in the story.

"The Beautiful Wife" by Leon Rooke

  Plot: Marchusa was an employee of President Marcos of the Philippines.  When Marcos escaped the country, Marchusa was sent on a bicycle, entrusted with the Vatican Pumps (shoes that concealed some of Marcos' stolen wealth).  There are several unusual characters in this novel.  The best part is their names- Yimmi, Exmoor Dees, Ve Va Straight and brother Finn, Perchance Quickly and son Childe, Monsieur Epee, James Taterfield.
   A very complex, post-modern, experimental book.  The author is part of the story and dead people mingle with the living.
   The author Leon Rooke is the founder of the Eden Mills Book Festival and he is a very interesting, creative person.  I was prepared for something unusual and didn't completely hate the book, but my book club did!

"The Slap" by Christos Tsiolkas

Melbourne, Australia
   At a barbeque given by Harry and Aisha, Harry's cousin slapped Hugo, 3, who was out of control.  Hugo's parents sued, but lost the case.  The story is told by eight of the characters.  I enjoyed the format and basic idea but the novel was filled with sex to the point that I felt it was pornographic.
   The author is gay and there is a lot of descriptions of male anatomy. I did enjoy the assortment of characters but the language was too foul to enjoy.
  We discussed this book at the Kootenay  Book Discussion in Nelson, British Columbia. The discussion of this book was heated!  Some people hated it and others thought it was an important book.  They felt that the title was saying to the world- wake up and understand what is happening in the world.  That made me very depressed.  If the world is anything like this, we are in trouble.
   There was not one reasonable character in the novel- all were rude, crude and aggressive.
Everyone is taking drugs, drinking and using foul language.  I was most upset after the discussion.  In fact, I had a nightmare that night about some of my grandchildren.  I was trying to save them.  Horrors!

Stay tuned for more 'bad books'.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Good books/ Bad books- part 4

So what do I like in a novel?

Linear narrative, plots centering around individuals, characters in whom readers can invest large emotional capital,and clear resolutions that give emotional pleasure.  
   In fact, that is the definition for the Victorian novel. ("How to Read Novels Like a Professor") And that's what I enjoy!
  However,times change, and,in 1921, Freud and Jung brought a big change in consciousness, resulting in a change in literature. Stream of consciousness!  It only lasted 30 years but changed the simple flow of narrative that I enjoy so much. Some authors still use this style of writing.
   Also, Henry Ford changed the speed of movement and it was felt that readers were impatient with the conventional novel.  So it was replaced by the experimental modernist novel. 
"When men fly and pictures move and sound travels through air, what can you do but try something new!" ("How to Read Novels Like a Professor")
  And now, it seems that "anything goes".  We have a cornucopia of approaches to the novel. An inexhaustible supply of originality.

  But I still favour the old-fashioned storytelling techniques. I love a solid introduction of characters and setting, followed by development of the plot, building to a climax and ending with a clear resolution.  Isn't this what we learned in English classes?  And please- could modern novels still use proper punctuation?  Books often leave out quotation marks.  Irritating!
  A simple sentence can become so interesting with a few literary devices thrown in and great description of both exterior and interior landscape.  I love a good sentence and often stop to reread it or copy it for future enjoyment.  A good sentence! Is that too much to ask?

But I am very aware that my opinions are often not the popular opinion.  I posted this observation at the opening of my blog.  And this will be apparent when I start talking about "Bad Books" -in my opinion. I am hesitant to do this, but I will take a deep breath and proudly announce the books that I think are "bad books"- in my next blog!
   Lisa Moore, a Canadian author, was a panelist for Canada Reads.  She said, "I think a real engagement with a book means that the reader has to chase after the story.... If they know what's happening, then there's no pleasure".
   I strongly disagree. I like the old-fashioned storytelling method-  "Once upon a time..."  It sets a great foundation for the story.  You can learn about the time and place and characters.  That's what I expect from the introduction.  That's the author's responsibility.  Then I can jump on board and be swept along.  No chasing for me, Lisa Moore.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Good books/ Bad books- part 3

My interest in books that have a strong survival theme, leads to many biographies.  The latest one that caught my attention is:
Temple Grandin:
 How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World

After reading "The Rosie Project", I was interested in learning more about Asberger's.
This book is the true story of Temple Grandin, 66, who has Asberger's (a form of autism). When she was little her father wanted to put her in an institution.  She is now a university professor and has revolutionized the livestock industry. "I have worked to improve the treatment of farm animals because we owe it to domestic animals to give them a decent life."
    I was surprised that half of the cattle in North America are handled in systems that she designed.  Even McDonald's has asked for her advice to set up and monitor the treatment of cattle.  She has designed a checklist for evaluation of farms- some farms even have a video monitoring system.  Temple asked the farmers to count the moos.  When the farm is being evaluated, if more than 3 in 100 cows  moo, their meat is not accepted by Mcdonald's, because the animals are distressed.
   "Each farm animal deserves a good life, and if it is to be killed it deserves as good a death as possible."
  Temple also is a passionate advocate for autism.  She would not want to change her brain, even though she has struggled to use it to advantage.  She thinks in pictures and understands the needs of the cattle- calm, comfort and companionship.  Temple's 6th sense about animals is one of the gifts of her autistic brain.
Inspirational and informational!
Other biographies that are inspiring:
"The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How my Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less" by Terry Ryan
   In 1953, Evelyn Ryan had 10 children to support, but her husband spent a third of his wages on beer.  So Evelyn wrote poetry and jingles to support the family.
   When they were being evicted, she won $5,000. and bought a house.  She also won a 5 minute grocery shopping spree. ($411.44 worth of food).
   "Her delight in living rose out of bed with her every day.  It was the one thing Dad couldn't drink away."
   Evelyn had a wonderful way of dealing with her husband- just ignore and get on with life.  She encouraged her children to turn their anger into positive pursuits.
   Her husband had taken out a second mortgage on the house, unknown to her.  She had to pay $4000.00 in 30 days to keep the house.  The day before the deadline she won a trip to Switzerland, Ford Mustang, watches and cash ($3,440.64).
   When there were fewer contests available, Evelyn got a job at JC Penny's.
What a resilient woman!  Great book!

"I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity"
by Izzeldin Abuelaish

   This is a powerful book with a powerful message: peace, through mutual respect and forgiveness.
   This author grew up in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip (25 miles by 7 miles with 1.5 million people), filled with misunderstanding and hate.  He always knew there was a better way and set out to find it. In his family there were 11 people in a 9 feet by 9 feet room, no electricity, no water, no toilet.
  As the conflict worsened between the Israelis and Palestinians, he continued to see the similarities of these people.  He refused to see any situation as hopeless.  There are extremists on both sides.
   When he graduated as a doctor, mostly he worked away from home.  The complications of border crossing boggles the mind.
   His wife died of cancer and he was unable to get home easily.  His three daughters were murdered by missiles in their bedroom.
   But the Quran teaches to endure suffering patiently and forgive.  The author lives in Toronto now and still believes everything happens for a reason.
He believes revenge and hatred do not work. People must build bridges.

"Tuesdays with Morrie" 
by Mitch Album
   This true story covers less than 2 years, when Morrie Swartz made death his final project- teaching Mitch, an unemployed sports writer, "The Meaning of Life".  Mitch used the advances on the book to pay Morrie's medical expenses.
   "Morrie would walk that final bridge between life and death, and narrate the trip".
   "The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in".
   "Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live."
   "Devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning."
   "Death ends a life, not a relationship".
Other inspirational biographies that I have enjoyed:
"One Native Life" by Richard Wagamese
"The Glass Castle" by Jeanette Walls
"Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt
"Wired for Sound": A Journey into Hearing" by Beverly Biderman
"Life is So Good" by George Dawson who learned to read at 98.  George says:
A good life is when you assume nothing,
Do more, need less, smile often,
Dream big. laugh a lot,
And realize how blessed you are.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Good books/ Bad books- part 2

What is my 'version of the world'?
   "Life can be challenging".
   I appreciate books where people are able to survive and thrive in difficult situations.  Sometimes  the difficult situation is of their own making, as in the memoir "Wild".  Cheryl Strayed had made a mess of her life and needed to figure out who she was and how she wanted to live.
   Sometimes the difficult situation is random.  "Molokai" is about a child with leprosy who is taken from her home to the leprosy colony on the island of Molokai.  Now theres' a challenge!  But she is able to survive and thrive in spite of her isolation and disfigurement.

  In "The Wife Tree", Morgan Hazzard begins a journey of self-discovery at 74, when she is widowed. She had been controlled by her husband for so many years, that when he died, she was adrift in a strange world, trying to fend for herself with limited vision. Morgan finds little help in her friends, the church, or the medical profession, and her children try to control her, as her husband had always done.  But Morgan is able to not only survive, but also thrive.  "The Freedom to follow a path of my choosing, to set my own pace brings me deep satisfaction.  I'm being brought back to life.  Each day is now mine to create in all its fullness".  Love that book!

  Sometimes women find themselves in difficult situations because of their husbands' ambitions.  My all-time favourite book, "The Poisonwood Bible" shows Orleanna Price in the Congo with a husband who believes he is called to be a missionary, but he is arrogant, abusive and self-absorbed.  At the beginning of each chapter there is a retrospective discourse by Orleanna and it is heart-breaking.  She tried so hard to support her husband, while still protecting her four children.  But she was unsuccessful in the latter.  "I had washed up there on the riptide of my husband's confidence and the undertow of my children's needs".  I love to reread this book and always feel the remorse and regret that followed Orleanna for the remainder of her life.  It is a reminder of the complexity of a woman's life.

In "Mosquito Coast" by Paul Theroux, the wife does not have a name, but her husband, Allie Fox, an American inventor, decides that the 'civilized' world is morally bankrupt and takes his family to the jungles of Honduras.  There is a parallel to "The Poisonwood Bible".  There are four children and the husband is brilliant, charismatic, arrogant and controlling.  The children are in danger. Great story!  Fabulous climax!

  In "The Sea Captain's Wife" by Beth Powning, the husband wants his wife, Azuba, to join him at sea in order to keep the family together. But this puts the children in a dangerous situation. Fabulous descriptions of life at sea- terrifying passage around Cape Horn, near starvation, witnessing a mass suicide at the Chincha Islands.

This is another of my all-time favourite books- "The Secret River" by Kate Grenville.  In the early 1800's, Sal Thornhill followed her husband from England to Australia, where he was transported as a criminal. He had stolen because his family was starving.  I loved Sal's courage.  She was loving, supportive, but also strong-willed.  Even though she had followed Will to Australia, she was ready to leave him when it appeared that he may join some of the other white men in violence against the aborigines.     This was the story of the author's great-great-great grandfather.  Fabulous writing!

 Obviously, I favour women as the protagonist.  And these examples show women who really rise to the great challenges in their lives.  I think of a couple of books where the women were unable to rise to the challenge:
  "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom.  In 1791, Lavinia McCarter, an orphan, was taken to a plantation at age 7 to live with the slaves. She had mixed blood, and eventually married a man who became the owner of the plantation.  She married him in order to get back to the plantation, but she knew that he was cruel and violent.  She was unable to help those slaves that had raised her, as she sank into addiction to laudanum.   I was cheering for her all through the book, and was disappointed that she was unable to survive and thrive.  Sad ending!
  I loved "The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman, but I was disappointed that Isabel was unable to rise to the great challenge in her life.  After many miscarriages, she found a baby washed up on shore at their island lighthouse.  But when the  identity of the baby's mother came to light, she fought to keep the child and, although Isabel survives, she does not thrive after the child is placed with her biological mother.  In this book, it was the man who rose to the challenge.  He was always loving, kind and considerate of everyone.  Another great book!

The greatest book about rising to life's challenges,
 is "Man's Search For Meaning" by Viktor Frankl.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Good books/ Bad books- part 1

I have been asked to explain my definition of 'bad books'.  But let's first look at 'good books'.

I found this quote by Salman Rushdie:
"A book is a version of the world.  If you do not like it, ignore it; or, offer your own version in return".
Do we enjoy books that reflect "our version of the world"?

There are some members of my family that enjoy a book with 'justice'.
Definition: justice - the administerings of deserved punishment or reward
- moral rightness, righteousness

If you like a book with this theme, there are two fabulous examples of that.
"The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck

     I read this book to John as we travelled through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.  The weather was dull and rainy but this book made the time fly!
  "It was Wang Lung's marriage day".
Wang Lung married O-lan, a kitchen slave who was not beautiful.  But she was a worker!  She worked in the fields with Wang Lung, only taking off enough time to deliver babies.  She had two boys and then a girl when there was a drought and absolutely nothing to eat.  She delivered another girl but it died.
  They went to another city where O-lan and the children begged and Wang Lung worked.
  Eventually Wang Lung became prosperous and owned land.  Now O-lan was not treated so well and he bought a concubine, named Lotus, who got all his attention.  O-lan had two pearls around her neck that she valued greatly.  It was her symbol of prosperity. She had worked so hard for those pearls.  But Wang Lung took them from her to make them into earrings for Lotus.
  The justice came after O-lan died.  Wang Lung was surveying his land which was very significant to him.  He made his sons promise not to sell the land but the reader knows that the sons do not value the land and will sell it immediately for their own benefit.  So appropriate! 
Justice- the administerings of deserved punishment.
 Fabulous book!  Published in 1931!  Pulitzer Prize Winner!
"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
And here is a book to illustrate the other meaning of justice- moral rightness.
  Everyone knows the narrative of this novel.  Atticus Finch is my all-time favourite literary character.
Harper Lee
  The book was immediately popular and has remained so for 64 years. In 1999, it was voted the best novel of the twentieth century.
  Harper Lee was not prepared for the popularity of this book and shied away from the publicity.  Now, at 88, she lives in assisted living, where she is wheelchair bound, partially deaf and blind and has memory loss.  But the justice, or moral rightness, of her book will live on forever.
  Interesting to note that her father was a lawyer who had defended 2 black men accused of murdering a white storekeeper.  Both men, father and son, were hanged.
 Also interesting to note that the author's first name is Nelle (her grandmother's name spelled backwards).  But she thought that name would cause some confusion so she eliminated it.  In spite of further writing, this author has not published another book.  Why?  To quote Harper Lee, "I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again".
Fabulous book!  Published in 1960! Pulitzer Prize winner!

So, people who believe that you get what you deserve, or, better yet, wish that were true, enjoy books devoted to 'justice'.
That doesn't reflect my view of the world.  I observe that 'rain falls on the just and the unjust'.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Slavery Theme

Since reading "The Invention of wings", I have been thinking of other stories about slaves.  I have already mentioned "The Kitchen House", which I enjoyed.
But this may be my favourite:  "Cane River" by Lalita Tademy
This book allowed me to get inside the skin of a slave.  I was able to understand the thoughts and feelings as families are separated with slaves being sold separately.
Location: Louisiana (Rosedew Plantation)
Time: 1834-1936

There were three distinct classes in Cane river- Creole French planters, free people of colour, and slaves.  Surprisingly, even the free people of colour had slaves.
There was great skin colour bias in this family because they were attempting to 'bleach the line' - a conscious and not-so-conscious effort to improve life for their descendants.
The slave acution was very disturbing.  Each woman in each generation had emotional depressions but the family brought them through.
Main Characters:
Elizabeth - had 2 babies by the son of the plantation owner- she was sold away from them - loving relationship with Gerasimo (fiddler)- 2 daughters.
Suzette- raped by Eugene Daurat- 2 children - sold to Oreline (with daughter and sister)- later married Nicolas Mulon whom she had had a crush on earlier.
Philomene- psychic- married Clement - twins- Clement sold, babies die- gives in to Narcisse- 8 children- got land from Narcisse (and house)
Emily - fell in love with Joseph Billes, worked in his store- 5 children- Joseph got pressure from Night Riders- Emily got land and money.
Angelite- baby by Jacques- terrorized by Night Riders- Jacques returned to France.  Angelite married a black farmer, died in childbirth.

The situations that women have had to face are unbelievable!  And this book really brings them to life.

author- Lalita Tademy

   Lalita has a fascinating story!  She was Vice President and General Manager of several high technology companies in Silicon Valley, spending ten years running business units within large corporations. She was featured in Fortune’s “People on the Rise” list, as well as Black Enterprise and Ebony.  In 1998 she was named an African-American Innovator in the New Millennium at the Silicon Valley Tech Museum of Innovation.
   But her own interest in her family’s roots, and the ongoing issues of racism and women’s empowerment, plus her love of writing, led her to focus all of her energies on her second career – writing. 
  When she researched her family's roots, she said, "I discovered that the horrifying institution of slavery played out in individual dramas as varied as there were different farms and plantations, masters and slaves."

I loved "Cane River" and now I'm reading "Red River".  This book was selected as San Francisco’s One City, One Book in 2007. Her third novel, Citizens Creek, will be published in November 2014.