Friday, 30 January 2015

Olive Kitteridge

"Books are humanity in print".
(Barbara Tuchman- American author and historian)

This morning, I lead a discussion of "Olive Kitteridge" by Elizabeth Strout.

It was not written as most of the book club would like.  Rather than a direct narrative, it is composed of related short stories- or episodes.  But I found the book to be quite profound. Each story, centred around local characters in the town of Crosby, Maine, illuminates issues and situations that people face in life.
At the core, the book is about a hunger that each person has - for love, for connection, for relationship.  But that hunger can lead to disaster.  And so..
The book was too sad for some of the book club members and I was unable to convince them of the significance of the book.
With sixteen book club participants, the book only received a rating of 6.9 out of 10.
The book was granted a Pulitzer prize and has been made into an HBO mini series.
I love Elizabeth Strout's writing and enjoyed two other books that she has written: 

"Abide With Me" is about a minister in a small town in Maine.  Tyler Caskey is deeply grieving the death of his wife and is ineffective with his congregation and his young children.  Once again, there are serious issues of trying to hang on when your world falls apart.
It is a beautifully-written story with a great introduction, well-developed characters, and an interesting plot.  The ending was satisfying and I loved the book!

"Amy and Isabelle" is about a mother and daughter. Once again, the difficult issues of life are explored. 
"There was all sorts of unhappiness in Shirley Falls that night.  If Isabelle Goodrow had been able to lift the roof off various houses and peer into their domestic depths she would have found an assortment of human miseries."
This was Elizabeth Strout's first novel and I loved the writing.
"We want to know, I think, what it is like to be another person, because somehow this helps us position our own self in the world.  What are we without this curiosity?" (Elizabeth Strout)

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Story of The Other Wise Man

This would have been a great story to read at Christmas, but my friend just loaned it to me.  And it is a powerful story for any time of year.
A very old story!  Written in 1895.
Short and thought-provoking.

The author, Henry Van Dyke, was born in 1852, graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary and taught English literature at Princeton for 25 years.
This book was published in 1895 and has been the subject of three operas, a play, a T.V. movie, a painting, a children's story and you can find it on YouTube.

The story is about Artaban, the fourth wise man who was following the signs in the sky, searching for the King that was born among the Jews.
He had sold everything he had, in order to prepare for the journey. But along the way, he stopped to help people in trouble and ended up using the treasure and missing the the caravan with the other wise men.  He continued searching for many years and ended up in Jerusalem just in time for the crucifixion of Jesus.
He had just saved a woman from being sold into slavery when he was struck on the head by a falling roof tile.  He had been feeling that he had wasted his life, since he did not accomplish the great dream of his life- to find the Christ.
But then he heard a voice say," Verily, I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou has done it unto me".

There's a great moral to this little parable.
The author never felt like it was his story, didn't know where the idea came from.  He felt that it was a gift to him and now it is a gift to us.

3 more interesting things about VanDyke:
1.) He was a friend of Helen Keller, who wrote of his great kindness.  
2.) He said. "I'm not an optimist.  There's too much evil in the world and in me.  Nor am I a pessimist; there is too much good in the world and in God.  So I am just a meliorist, believing that He wills to make the world better, and trying to do my bit to help and wishing that it were more".
3.) VanDyke was a poet and I like this particular poem:

"Time is
Too slow for those who Wait,
Too swift for those who Fear,
Too long for those who Grieve,
Too short for those who Rejoice,
But for those who Love,
Time is not."

Monday, 19 January 2015

Paulo Coelho

Paulo Coehlo- what an interesting man!
I had read his very famous book "The Alchemist", and copied many good quotes from the book.  It is a fable with the theme of following your heart.  Good little book!  In fact, it won the Guinness World Record for most translations by a living author.  Pretty good, eh?
My favourite quote: "The search for your dream is an encounter with God and eternity."

I also had read "Veronika Decides to Die".  Strange title, but I also enjoyed that book about a woman who spends time in a mental institute because she is 'different'.  I knew that Coehlo had written that book from his experience of a mental institute in his teens.  His parents sent him there because he would not follow the traditional path that they had set for him.  He escaped three times before he was finally released after three years.  He became a songwriter.  But the  government thought his lyrics were dangerous and he was arrested.
When he was 39, he walked the Road of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where he had a spiritual awakening and began writing.  That had been his dream, and now he focussed on writing about 'following your dream'.
He is a United Nations Messenger of Peace.
And so..
I decided to read his latest book "Adultery".

Plot: Linda lives in Geneva, has everything she always wanted- devoted husband, healthy children, beautiful house, and a good job.  But she is empty.  When she runs into a former boyfriend from high school, she makes sexual advances immediately and attempts to destroy his wife so that she can be with him.  She is without a conscience as she makes herself constantly available for this man, even though she knows that he has no serious interest in her.

Smack dab in the middle of the book, there is a chapter that sounds like a sermon.  The topic is God's love and there is a reference from the Bible and an explanation of Paul's viewpoint on Faith, Love and Charity.  In the next chapter she is buying drugs to incriminate this man's wife. What is this author trying to say?

Linda is on a path of self-destruction and I was expecting a reason for this- some childhood trauma, perhaps.  But she said, "When I was a teenager, everything in my life went exactly as I planned. I was happy."
But now, she says, "There is a hole in my soul".  So she gives her time and energy to this man who is a politician.  She has no concerns about getting caught.  No guilt.

But this author is Paulo Coehlo.  I kept expecting something of great value, something insightful!
Then... on page 163, it turns into "Fifty Shades of Grey"- explicit, violent.
Let me say that Paulo cannot write for a woman in her thirties with two small children. I realize that many couples begin to feel that life is not fun anymore.  But women in that situation don't have time or opportunity for the constant sexual romps that Linda experienced. She made it her number one priority and charged right into her lover's office regardless of the fact that he didn't want her there- and she was supposed to be at her job.

Big disappointment!  No insights!  Just a story about adultery.  Perhaps the title should have warned me?

Friday, 16 January 2015

One More List

At this time of year, I am anxious to find out what will be happening on Canada Reads.
Here is the long list for this year:

1. Arrival City: The Final Migration and Our Next World (Doug Saunders)
2. Ru (Kim Thuy)
3. What We All Long For (Dionne Brand)
4. The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Thomas King)
5. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Naomi Klein)
6. The Door is Open: A Memoir of a Soup Kitchen Volunteer (Bart Campbell)
7. Celia's Song (Lee Maracle)
8. Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes (Kamal Al-Solaylee)
9. Bone and Bread (Saleema Nawaz)
10. When Everything Feels Like the Movies (Raziel Reid)
11. You Set Me on Fire (Mariko Tamaki)
12. For Today I Am A Boy (Kim Fu)
13. All My Puny Sorrows (Miriam Toews)
14. And the Birds Rained Down (Jocelyne Saucier)
15. Monkey Beach (Eden Robinson)

Wow!  I have only read one of these books, and I have heard of only three others.  Several are translations.
The theme this year: What is the one book to break barriers? 
"Books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues"
Host: Wab Kinew
The panel and final five books will be revealed on January 20.
Fortunately, I have a group of friends that gather in a coffee shop to discuss each Canada Reads choice in depth.  So, I am very invested in the final decision.  It looks like there will be great discussions!  I am ready to start reading!

Friday, 9 January 2015

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

I just finished reading "1984" by George Orwell and it was a challenge- at times rather fascinating but at times deadly boring.
One of the book clubs that I attend, chooses 6 classics a year, as well as 6 contemporary novels.  I have belonged for 16 years, so I have read 96 classics with this group.
I have to admit that many of the classics are challenging and there are other books that I would prefer to read.  However, it is a great discipline and I appreciate this wide sweep of literature.

Imagine my surprise when I checked on another blog that I enjoy, called "Giraffe Dreams".
The focus of that blog entry is Hans Litten- the man who stood up to Hitler.
Carol posted a poem called "Thoughts Are Free".
Check it out here.
Now I am ashamed to complain about reading a difficult book that should have reminded me of the importance of our freedom- to act, to think, to be! 
Carol says, "Hitler can burn books and imprison intellectuals, but thoughts are free.  Never stop reading".

                                                           Unfortunately, in Orwell's book, thoughts were not free.  It is a dystopian novel where Big Brother was watching and the 'thought police' were everywhere.

Thanks, Carol, for your blog entry that reminds us to be grateful for our freedom.  

Thursday, 8 January 2015

New Year Challenges

Happy New Year!
Here's an interesting challenge!
It comes from a blog called "Bringing Up Burns".  
Erin Burns is a mother of three very young children and her blog is eclectic!  It includes recipes, music, her own version of slang, Bible quotes, T.V. shows, and books.  This quote shows just how eclectic she is: "I love Jesus Christ, Barack Obama, and Miley Cyrus."
Erin read 104 books in 2014 and she throws out this challenge to get people reading and talking about their choices.  She is on many forms of social media and has a very large following!

26 books in 2015
1. A book you own but haven't read
2. A book that was made into a movie
3. A book you pick solely because of the cover
4. A book your friend loves
5. A book published this year
6. A book by an author you've never read before
7. A book by an author you love
8. A book at the bottom of your 'to be read' pile
9. A book with a colour in the title
10. A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit
11. A book you started but never finished
12. A book with a lion, a witch or a wardrobe
13. A book with a female heroine
14. A book set in the summer
15. A book of poems
16. A book you learned about because of this challenge
17. A book that will make you smarter
18. A book with a blue cover
19. A book you were supposed to read in school but didn't
20. A book 'everyone' but you has read
21. A book with a great first line
22. A book with pictures
23. A book from the library
24. A book you it again!
25. A book that is more than 10 years old
26. A book based on a true story

I have seen many challenges similar to this, with suggestions such as:
Read 26 books with titles starting with each letter of the alphabet.
Read 10 books with a colour in the title.

Goodreads has a challenge every year.  Readers choose how many books they plan to read for the year.  So far this year, there are 478,599 participants.
It is great fun to look ahead to a new year of reading!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Another list

How to decide what to read?
I make my choices either from my book clubs or other recommendations.  Those recommendations can come from individuals- like my friend Penny.  She recommends: "The Goldfinch", "Belle Cora", "The Signature of All Things" and "The Notorious Woman".
I also get lots of ideas from a periodical called "Bookwomen".
My friend Terri and I share a subscription and we find many great recommendations in Glenda Martin's column.  We have travelled with Bookwomen and Glenda is a fabulous discussion leader.  She knows her books!
I found this list of books in the most recent edition.
Top 20 most influential books by women selected by readers in England.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
2. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
3. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
4. Harry Potter (J.K.Rowling)
5. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
6. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
7. Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
8. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
9. The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
10. I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)
11. The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)
12. Beloved (Toni Morrison)
13. Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
14. We Need to Talk about Kevin (Lionel Shriver)
15. The Time Traveler's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger)
16. Middlemarch (George Eliot)
17. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)
18. The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing)
19. The Color Purple (Alice Walker)
20. The Women's Room (Marilyn French)

Lots of wonderful reading in this list!  I have read half of them. 

Saturday, 3 January 2015

"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak

My granddaughter Erika is reading "The Book Thief" and thinks it is the best book that she has read because the writing is so excellent.  Set in Germany during the Second World War, this story is about a girl whose family decides to hide a Jewish man in their basement.
One problem that Erika saw with the book is how the author tells what is going to happen. That spoils the story for her.  But she still loves the book.
Death is the narrator and here is a quote:
"Of course, I'm being rude.  I'm spoiling the ending, not only of the entire book, but of this particular piece of it.  I have given you two events in advance, because I don't have much interest in building mystery.  Mystery bores me.  It chores me.  I know what happens and so do you."
Erika loves the characters and the relationships in the book.  She has been reading this book during her family's skiing holiday.  Now she is heading back to school at Oakland University in Michigan.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

The Best of 2014

Have you noticed that some books are really enjoyable while you are reading them, but you forget them very quickly?  Other books really stay with you even though you may not have appreciated them as much while reading them.
I have read 70 books in 2014.  My favourite was:

Other great books that I read in 2014:
Most interesting non-fiction: "The Woman Who Can't Forget" by Jill Price
Most fascinating and challenging fiction: "The Signature of All Things" by Elizabeth Gilbert

Also great reads:
"A Young Wife" by Pam Lewis
"The Orchard" by Theresa Weir
"Wild" by Cheryl Strayed
"The Purchase" by Linda Spalding
"Caleb's Crossing" by Geraldine Brooks
"The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd

Happy New Year!
Happy Reading!