Monday, 30 March 2015

The Cellist of Sarajevo

This book hit a chord with the library book club.  Some liked it, some didn't.  In fact, some really, really liked it!
This led to a very interesting discussion of the book.  When we rated it out of ten, we had every rating from 2 to 10.  Why?  Mostly because the content evoked emotion with readers.  For some, there was a connection to family history or  a special understanding of Sarajevo and the events behind the story.  For others, there was a revulsion to the horrendous events described.
Was the book accurate?
Was it well-written?
Was it hopeful or tragic?
These questions were also discussed.

Why do we react to books the way we do?

This quote is from "Why I Read" by Wendy Lesser:
"Because reading is such an individual act, the pleasures we derive from literature- even which books we are willing to call 'literature'- will not be identical.  
Reading can result in boredom or transcendence, rage or enthusiasm, depression or hilarity, empathy or contempt, depending on who you are and what the book is and how your life is shaping up at the moment you encounter it.  This effect will be particular to each person, and it will change over time, just as the person changes over time- and the richer and more complicated that book is, the more this will be true."

This is one reason that I love to read and enjoy connecting with the community of readers.
You can read about that on a past blog here.
You will also see a picture of the library book club a year ago.  It has doubled in number since then.  And I do so much enjoy hearing different reactions to one book.
Sometimes it is not important if you like a book of not.  Did it touch you?

Friday, 27 March 2015

"Cranford" by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell- born 1810, captures my interest.  She was a Victorian woman, who wrote about small-town customs and values.  She was the daughter of a minister as well as the wife of a minister.  Her husband was said to be scholarly, austere, dry and rule-bound. Does this picture look like one that her husband would have condoned?

Perhaps Elizabeth interests me because she must have been a bit radical for her day. She belonged to a sisterhood of free-thinkers such as Florence Nightingale and Charlotte Bronte.  Her friend, Charles Dickens, published "Cranford" in installments in the magazine "Household Words".  It is the perfect book for reading in this serial form, because it is not one narrative, but individual stories of the women of Cranford.

  These stories come from the author's memories of her childhood.  They are about propriety and class.  People had nothing to do with the class immediately below theirs. They were concerned about 'aristocratic society".
  One of the characters in the novel, Miss. Deborah Jenkyns, was the leader in understanding the strict code of gentility and the other women followed her example.  Even after Miss. Deborah died, the women tried to figure out what she would do in any situation.  The women were afraid that if they relaxed the rules, they would have no "society" at all.
  The first chapter is titled "Our society".  Quote: "All the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women.....A man is so in the way in a house".  
  The ladies of Cranford were quite sufficient and eccentric in a way.  They were people of moderate means but they never spoke of poverty.  I loved how they were often changing their caps for different situations.  Once, Matty forgot to take off one cap before putting on the other one.

  "Cranford" is a classic and when it was being made into a movie, Judy Dench fit perfectly into the role.  The movie was filmed in Lacock, England.
  On one of my trips with Bookwomen, we were staying in Bath and travelled to Lacock, an interesting town that has been preserved in the 19th century style. The town is known for the filming that is done there- including some of the Harry Potter movies.
   The town was settled around the Lacock Abbey in the 13th century.

Monday, 23 March 2015

"Leaving Time" by Jodi Picoult


  I have a grandson who was obsessed with elephants for years.  We spent hours and hours every summer, spring and fall watching elephants at the African Lion Safari.  Hunter, from age 2 - 12, would often phone just to talk about the elephants.  He knew each elephant by name and used those names for his imaginary friends.
  And so, I was happy to read this book that is filled with information about elephants.
  The focus of the book is Jenna's search for her mother who disappeared when Jenna was three years old.  
  I read this book because three of my friends had read it and I knew it was popular. There are a lot of holds on this book in the library.
  Perhaps it is popular because Jodi Picoult has made a name for herself in writing about moral dilemmas and working an interesting story around that.
  I didn't see a moral dilemma in this story and some of Picoult's fans are not pleased with her recent writing, feeling that she has strayed from her original writing style.  I know that she has a new publisher- Random House.
  There was a psychic, Serenity, involved in this story and the ending is confusing because Serenity can't tell who is alive and who isn't.  So you can imagine how the readers feel.  Thus the title: "Leaving Time".

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Canada Reads: And the winner is....

And the winner is..."Ru" by Kim Thuy.
I am delighted that this book won the contest.  It is really a piece of art and great literature.  It is also moving and enlightening.  I prefer to be 'enlightened' than be challenged in a confrontational, disrespectful way.
And here is the panel.......
Cameron Bailey, Kristin Kreuk, Wab Kinew, Martha Wainwright, Lainey Lui, Craig Kielburger

Cameron was an amazing advocate for the winning book.  His comments were always calm and positive, as he spoke eloquently for this book.
"Ru" is filled with suffering, but also compassion, sympathy and sensitivity to all.
Cameron was smart and gentle in his statements- just delightful!
He talked about beauty and art.

Lainey was also very eloquent, but with great passion.  She was on a mission and was not to be distracted.  Her comments were so persuasive that Craig felt it was necessary to ask her to read a passage from the book so that the public would not be surprised by the vulgar, sexual content when they were persuaded by Lainie to read it.

Martha was the weakest link in the panel.  She was supporting an interesting book, but was trying so hard to make it fit the theme that she tried to put more spice in it than was there.   She fed into the sensationalism, talking about octogenarian sex and pendulous penises.
Actually that was not the focus and I liked the book more on a second reading.  It really is an interesting book, but not for the reasons that she promoted it.

Unfortunately, Kristin's book was the first one eliminated.  She hardly had time to talk about the merits of the book.  It was my favourite and I wish it had been explored in more depth.  However, Kristin did her best and was always thoughtful and gracious.  She seemed easily swayed by other arguments as she tried to look at issues from every angle.

And then there is Craig- the only one brave enough to let the public know the type of content that is in "When Everything Feels Like the Movies".  There was some confrontation in the second show, but then he decided to follow the manner of Cameron, and spoke only of positive attributes of each book.

"Warning:  This episode contains strong language that some audience members may find offensive."
Did you ever think that it would be necessary to add this warning to an episode of Canada Reads?  It was not in the livestream edition on the computer (apparently they weren't anticipating this happening).  But it was added to the T.V. show and also the 'offensive' part was cut out.
When I went back to check on the computer video, the most offensive word had been censored.  I found that really interesting.  Canada Reads chose a book that could not be read on the show because of F.C.C. regulations.
Did Canada Reads choose a book that was controversial in order to improve ratings?  If so, it worked.
This show may be seen to be breaking barriers of 'good taste'.
It certainly wasn't a boring literary discussion.
The Globe and Mail called it "a survivor-for-bookworms reality show where notable Canuck bibliophiles defend beloved home- grown titles."

And here are the real winners.....
A group that read and discussed each book individually.  What a great experience!
Thanks, Judy!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Canada Reads- part 5

"Books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues"

Three old guys in the woods!  Growing marijuana and living the 'free life'.
Perhaps old age is the stereotype that is being challenged here. 
And bringing an 82-year-old woman into the mix adds spice- well, it adds a spark of love.
  I feel that I should love this idea, but I don't. I find nothing appealing about elderly people living in isolation in the woods- no medical attention if you fall or have a heart attack.  Only strychnine when things go bad.
  I think I would have enjoyed this novel if I wasn't looking for something spectacular for Canada Reads.  It could have been just an interesting short novel.  The woman who arrived had lived in an institution for 66 years, so it did interest me to see how a little love and attention was healing for her spirit.  Is that where we are challenged?  Illuminating the issue of mental health?
  There was another story line that I found appealing.  A photographer was searching for survivors of the Great Mathison Fire of 1916.  This involved her in the lives of those living in the hideaway in the woods, and led to an interesting art collaboration.
  The writing style didn't thrill me, because of the changes in the narrators.

My opinion:
An okay read, but it didn't change any perspectives, challenge any stereotypes, or illuminate any issues.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Canada Reads- part 4

 "Books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues"

   Well, Canada Reads really did it this year!  I have been a fan since this event began in 2002.  I have been faithfully reading every book.  Many years, it was a stretch, to put it mildly.  This year, it is more than a stretch, it is a revolt.
  I struggled through "Cocksure" (2006) with its gross sexuality, but it was a satire and I thought there was some point to it.
 "Lullabies For Little Criminals"(2007) was a shopping list of miseries- abuse, poverty, drugs, prostitution.  Didn't see much point in that book. And it won!
  "Generation X"(2010) was a stretch- the lost generation.
  In 2009, the final two books were "Fruit" and "The Book of Negroes".  "Fruit" is a teen fiction book that has some gross, bawdy humour, but there was some point of body image and self-esteem.  I survived that book, but nearly lost interest in the whole contest when some of the panelists thought that it should win because it was unknown and "The Book of Negroes" had already received a lot of acclaim.  That was upsetting!
  There have been other books over the years that I have questioned, but I try to accommodate all interests.
  This book goes beyond my sensibilities.  I cannot stretch this far.
After 20 pages of gross, graphic sexually-explicit descriptions, I give up!  I may have an old brain, but what is the point of filling it with this garbage?
  But more than being disappointed in Canada Reads, I also cannot understand why it was chosen for the Governor General's Award for Children's literature in 2014.
  Although I represent the older generation, I think I stay connected to the modern day by reading books that my grandchildren are reading.  Also I keep up with modern favourites and have read "The Hunger Games" and all the "50 Shades of Grey" books.  Even when I personally see no value in a book, I try to understand why it would appeal to other people. But I find this book offensive and disturbing as a sample of the best Canadian literature.

Lainey Lui is supporting this book and here is her review:
"Stories about young characters aren't just relatable to young readers. Just because a book is classified as young adult doesn't mean that the talent of the writer or the narrative isn't impactful. The problem is that readers can be snobby and readers can discriminate. Readers have a responsibility to be better than that. This book is about how we often isolate what we don't understand, how victims are born, and how we can fight. And that is a story that we can't box in an age group."

Here is the Quill and Quire review:
While the storyline has promise, the novel has a number of problems, the biggest being gratuitous graphic language and imagery. Some of this is to be expected in the first-person narration of a hormone-riddled teen, but the near-constant, highly explicit vulgarity is unnecessary, adding nothing to plot or character development. In fact, there is very little development at all. The characters are static; no one learns anything or evolves. Though the story is set in junior high, the school environment and the issues (including an abortion and plenty of sex and drugs) feel more appropriate to a high-school setting. 
Reid’s debut novel may find an appreciative audience among older teens and adults, but is not the best choice for younger readers. Though the story addresses some important issues, its problems are too distracting for the book to be considered a success.

My opinion:
This book will offend and disturb!  Do not read!

Friday, 13 March 2015

Canada Reads- part 3

"Books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues"
"I came into the world during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, when the long chains of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of machine guns.
I first saw the light of day in Saigon, where firecrackers, fragmented into a thousand shreds, coloured the ground red like the petals of cherry blossoms or like the blood of the two million soldiers deployed and scattered throughout the villages and cities of a Vietnam that had been ripped in two.
I was born in the shadow of skies adorned with fireworks, decorated with garlands of light, shot through with rockets and missiles. The purpose of my birth was to replace lives that had been lost. My life's duty was to prolong that of my mother."

  This is the opening page of "Ru" by Kim Thuy.  The author doesn't call it a novel- just playing with words.  It is autobiographical, but she has combined some stories and taken others apart, so the book is called 'fiction'.
  The title means 'lullaby' in Vietnamese and the author would like readers to experience it with their hearts.  Like a lullaby, the content is lyrical, and doesn't always make sense.  It contains fragments or 'vignettes' of the life of a refugee- experiences and perspectives.  Leaving Vietnam on a boat, living in a refugee camp, then flying to Quebec with the 'boat people'.
  But Kim believes that she was 'lucky'.  Quote: "We were very lucky.  We were in a camp for only four months.  Our boat trip was only four days.  We were fine."
  Since Kim had the chance to return to Vietnam many years later as a lawyer, she does not see the situation in black and white.  In fact, those in Vietnam who have read the book, are not happy because Kim does not strike out against the Communists.  But she believes that difficult experiences can be turned into positives and nothing is black and white.

My opinion:
This could be a very good choice for Canada Reads when the topic is "breaking barriers".  This book puts you in the skin of a migrant, and shows the possibility of looking at situations from different perspectives with empathy for all concerned.
How lovely if this sweet, gentle book would win the contest for the best Canadian book to 'break barriers'.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Canada Reads- part 2

 Canada Reads theme:
"Books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues".
  I was anxious to start reading this book by Thomas King.  I had  heard him speak several years ago and thought I would really appreciate this book.
  It began with a light-hearted look at history from an Indian perspective and I was loving the first chapter.  But soon, the humour turned to sarcasm, then cynicism.  Eventually, it just seemed like a rant.
  His rage at the mistreatment and abuses of Indians, led to lists of atrocities and grievances.  He never felt that the many apologies that the Indians have received were sincere.
  I had hoped to understand the heart of the Indian- the need for the land, the desires of their hearts, but as he skipped back and forth across the border, I realized that there are so many different tribes- all having different ideas.
  And they definitely do not want to assimilate into Canadian society as Trudeau suggested.
  Page 61: In 1969, a Lakota scholar wrote, "Our foremost plight is our transparency.  People can tell just by looking at us what we want, what should be done to help us, how we feel, and what a 'real' Indian is really like".  Really?
  I know that they want to be a distinct society and live life on their own terms.  But just what does that involve?
  I had to force myself to finish the book.  And I longed for native writers such as Richard Wagamese who let us into their hearts, thereby touching ours.
  This was a book filled with rancour.  "Native people stopped asking for justice and demanded it".

My opinion:
I would like to see this book eliminated from the contest immediately.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Canada Reads- part 1

The theme for Canada Reads 2015:
"Books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues"

  I started with this book.  It is a family memoir, written by Kamal Al-Solaylee, who has lived in Toronto since 1996, where he works at Ryerson University.
  It has a great opening sentence:  “I am the son of an illiterate shepherdess who was married off at fourteen and had eleven children by the time she was thirty-three.” 
  Born in Yemen, Kamal was the youngest of those children, born in 1964 when the family was prospering.  However, they were forced to leave by the socialist government in 1967, and lived in Beirut.  They also lived in Cairo, but the father never regained his status and was unable to support the family. They finally returned to Yemen, but everything had changed.  Islamic extremism had taken over.  Some of his brothers were discovering the Muslim Brotherhood and his sisters were wearing head scarves and abayas.  Some had arranged marriages.  His sisters had once felt free to wear bikinis on the beach, but now felt the pressure to stay home, stay covered and not speak in public.
P. 129 "In a world that cut choices short for women, sacrifice gave you something to do - it was an achievement of a sort, a choice, so to speak".  
  Kamal was struggling with his own life, having realized that he was gay and knowing that it would be "Intolerable" to remain in Yemen.  So he was able to get a scholarship in England and, later found his way to Canada.
  He managed to get many small jobs and was content, returning occassionally to check on his family.  
  But 9-11 changed everything for him: "To be an Arab in North America at the time meant that the horror of those events was coupled with fear of repercussions, retaliations, discrimination or a combination, just because we shared the same heritage as the hijackers."
  Kamal's trip back to his family in 2006 caused a four-year long depression.  He constantly followed the events in Yemen, as his family was in the middle of the war zone.He was filled with helplessness and guilt.

My opinion:  This book does illuminate issues and might change perspectives.  It could be a winner.

Friday, 6 March 2015

"The Day the Falls Stood Still" by Cathy Marie Buchanan

I just spent a weekend at Niagara Falls with my daughters.  There is so much history to this area and I was constantly reminded of Cathy Marie Buchanan's book "The Day The Falls Stood Still".  It was interesting to observe the changes in 100 years.

This novel begins in 1915 with two serious themes- daredevils and hydroelectric power.
I was very interested in reading about Bess Heath, who was based on a real person.  She grew up in wealth and the book really describes that lifestyle beautifully.  I loved the dressmaking scenes.
However, her father lost his job, began drinking and the family was disgraced.  Her sister had been engaged, but that was broken off and she jumped into the river.
Bess ended up marrying Tom, whose grandfather had been very famous helping with rescues around the falls.  Tom also took on that role and disaster followed.

I was reminded of stories about "Red Hill" who was born in 1888, also a 'river man' whose two sons attempted going over the falls- only one was successful.

Niagara Falls has many interesting stories!

On a visit to the Imax theatre, we were intrigued by the story of Annie Edson Taylor- the first person to go over the falls in a barrel.  Born in Auburn, New York, she trained to be a teacher.  After her husband died in the Civil War, and her son also died, she travelled around the U.S. trying to survive.  In 1901, at age 63, she heard about Niagara Falls and decided that she could become rich and famous by going over the falls in a barrel.  She survived this feat and became mildly famous but definitely not rich, and died ten years later in poverty.  She is buried in the "Stunter's" Section of the cemetery in Niagara Falls.

We are not to be outdone!  We also went over the falls in a barrel!

Monday, 2 March 2015

"After River" by Donna Milner

I really enjoyed this family story that covers three generations on a farm in British Columbia.  The novel begins with Natalie, the main character, on the porch doing laundry with her mother.  There are three other children in the family- all boys.  Natalie has a fascinating relationship with her oldest brother, Bowyer.
They live a few miles north of the American border in the 1960's on a busy dairy farm surrounded by the mountains.  Each family member has specific chores, but they still need a farm hand, so they hire a draft dodger who is demonstrating against the Vietnam War.  His name is Richard Jordan- nicknamed "River".
This quote gives you  a good introduction to the book.
"The shattering of our family did not occur gradually.  There was no drawn-out series of events that could be pointed at and blamed,  no slow motion accident to be replayed and pondered over.  It came suddenly.  The irreversible tragedy of error was accomplished in the course of a few long-ago summer days.  It left everyone in our family with their own secret version of what happened.  And the rest of their lives to come to terms with it.  Whatever conclusion each of us came to, we kept it to ourselves."
The  slow build to the re-telling of the traumatic events could perhaps be smoother, but it is clear that devastation happened to this once- close family and I couldn't put the book down. When the events finally unfold, it is riveting and emotional.

I especially enjoyed reading about an area of British Columbia that I have explored. The last page mentions Nelson and I have great memories of Nelson!

This book was loaned to me by Joyce, a woman that I met while volunteering for the public library at a local  retirement home.

I have discovered that Donna Milner has written two other books and I have just put them on hold at the library.  Can't wait to read more of her writing!