Thursday, 28 December 2017

Another Christmas pleasure

   Matthew is a grandson that I don't see often because he lives in Michigan.  He is also our youngest grandchild- just finishing high school.
  It is always wonderful when Matthew comes prepared to tell us about the book that he is reading.  This year he was bubbling over about "Reality is Not What It Seems" by Carlo Rovelli.  Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist who is the founder of the loop quantum gravity theory.
  This book was recommended to Matthew by a friend of a friend, who lives in Belgium, but attends University of British Columbia, where Matthew is hoping to study engineering in 2 years.
  Matthew was excited to tell us about time being different on earth than in space.  He  is very interested in space and would one day like to work for NASA. 
  I do love covers and this cover tells me that the content of this book is in the cosmos- over our heads.  It talks about these three questions:
1. What are time and space made of?
2. Where does matter come from?
3. What is reality?
Rovelli pushes beyond what is known from Aristotle, Einstein, etc. and takes you on a journey towards new discoveries.
  Matthew can't wait to get in on that journey.  And we will avidly follow his journey.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Christmas gifts

socks for Christmas 2016

  The same granddaughter that decorated these socks for me last year, made some bookmarks this year.
  Who doesn't love new bookmarks?  And the pictures bring back so many memories.
book marks for Christmas 2017

And here is a picture of her. She was cooking for us when John had surgery.
Thank you Kaitlyn!

Friday, 22 December 2017

"How To Live' by Henry Alford

   What a strange book!  Strange and entertaining!
Let's agree that the cover is pathetic, but the author is a humorist and I think I missed the point. 
   The sub-title is "A Search for Wisdom from Old People".  
   A strange topic for a humorist and he certainly attacks it in a strange way. Actually, it is like a 'dog's lunch'. He goes from deep talk about 'wisdom' to uninteresting 'blathering'. His interviews with fascinating elderly people are interspersed with the continuing story of his mother and stepfather divorcing.  In fact, the divorce happened right after he interviewed them for this book on 'wisdom'.

   The first person he interviews is Granny D (Doris Haddock) who wrote a book called "Granny D: Walking Across America in my Ninetieth Year".  That is what she did - walked from Pasedena to Washington, D.C. (3200 miles). It took 14 months.  I cannot find a copy of her book but it was interesting to read about her in this book "How To Live".
    Harold Bloom is an expert on literature.  Having taught literature at Yale for 53 years, his expertise is used to write introductions to many of the classics.  He is now 87 and living in New York.  I enjoyed reading his interview.  He taught himself to read English, Yiddish, and Hebrew by age 5.  In his youth, he was able to read 1000 pages in an hour.  Extraordinary!

Henry Alford
   And here is the author, at 45, taking on the topic of 'wisdom'.  I think he proved in this book that 'older is not necessarily wiser'.
  His research showed that there have been 8 million definitions of 'wisdom' over the course of history.
   He quoted Confucius, Buddha, Socrates.
Yes, it was a 'dog's lunch' from the sublime to the ridiculous.
"Where shall wisdom be found?"

Monday, 18 December 2017

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas

   This book is classified as 'youth fiction' and I like to devote one month to youth fiction in the library book club each year.  There is often a lot to discuss in these books.  So I read it as a possible book selection for next year.

   Bruno is 8 years old and very unhappy about leaving his home in Berlin to move to a new residence beside "Out-with".  This is the word that Bruno hears when the adults talk about Auschwitz.  His father has just become the commandant there.
   Since there are no houses near him, Bruno watches the people on the other side of the barbed-wire fence. He is lonely and sad, and completely oblivious of his surroundings. So he wanders along the fence until he meets Shmuel, a Jewish boy his age, on the other side of the fence. Bruno is very curious and, as he develops a friendship with Shmuel, things turn disastrous.
  A very powerful story that was written in 2 1/2 days.

I have decided that the power of this book is in reading,
 too much discussion might take away from the message.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Winnie the Pooh

book club choice
  I enjoyed re-reading "Winnie-the Pooh" and was simply appreciating it as a children's story, noticing lots of things to interest children.
  The theme of friendship seemed central.  "They began to talk in a friendly way about this and that, and Piglet said, "If you see what I mean, Pooh", and Pooh said,  "It's just what I think myself, Piglet, and Piglet said, "But, on the other hand, Pooh, we must remember" and Pooh said "Quite true, piglet, although I had forgotten it for the moment".
   Friendship and silliness.  Children love to be silly.
And I was reminded of Dr. Seuss when I read this silly exchange:
"Help! Help! a Heffalump, a horrible heffalump
Help, Help! a horrible hoffalump
help! Help! hellible horralump
Help! help! a hoffable hellerump."

And there were other silly occasions- Pooh knocking on his own door and waiting for an answer; Pooh eating the honey he intended to give to Eeyore for his birthday.
Lots of silliness.

According to the Canadian Medical Association, each character symbolizes a certain mental disorder.
Winnie-the-Pooh: eating disorder, ADHD
Piglet: anxiety disorder
Owl: dyslexia, short-term memory loss
Tigger: ADHD
kana: social anxiety disorder
Roo: autism
Rabbit: OCD
Eeyore: depression
Christopher Robin: schizophrenia

Then there is the "Tao of Pooh" 
where the fictional characters
 of Winnie-the-Pooh are used 
to explain the basic principle of Taoism.

But...then there is the real character of Christopher Robin. And that is a much sadder story.  He resented his father's exploitation of his childhood, and hated the books that made his life public.  They did not have a good relationship and when his father died, he never visited his mother for the remaining 15 years of her life.  So much for this beautiful picture!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Choosing books for 2018

   It's that time of year again.  This book club that I have been attending for twenty years just went through the process of planning for next year.
Dante  1265-1321
Shakespeare 1564-1616
   This is the most eclectic book club that I have attended.  We alternate classics with contemporary novels.  The classics have sometimes been children's books, e.g. "Winnie- the-Pooh", but it can also be Shakespeare.  In fact, next year we are tackling "The Divine Comedy" by Dante, as well as a Shakespearean play.  Actually we are only doing the first section of "The Divine Comedy".  The book that was the most challenging for me was "The Illiad" by Homer.

 Here's our list:
"A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen
 "Do Not Say We Have Nothing" by Madeleine Thien
 "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett
 "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro
 "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" by R.L.Stevenson
 "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot
 "Cymbeline" by William Shakespeare
 "Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" by Alan Bradley
 "The Divine Comedy" (Inferno) by Dante
 "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak
 "Three men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome
 "The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper" by Phaedra Patrick

Yes, we have twelve choices- no breaks at Christmas or in the summer.  A motivated group of readers!


Friday, 8 December 2017

Books versus Films

  This blog is motivated by an e-mail that I received from a friend who went to see "Murder on the Orient Express" directed by Kenneth Branagh. My friend and her husband were disappointed.  The character of Poirot was changed and additional episodes were added.  The format of the murder was kept but it was very hard to follow.
  It was especially disappointing because the original movie closely followed the novel and was much more convincing and much more enjoyable.

  She believed that this also happened to "Anne of Green Gables" when it aired on CBC.
Her question is this:
Is there no restraint on writers and directors?  Can they take someone else’s story and turn it in to their own version ? 
   I would expect that when the movie rights are sold, there are different contracts. For the right amount of money, probably the producer has complete control.

I found this quote:
"Another important grant from the producer's perspective is the right to make alterations to adapt the work for a film or television production.  Authors are often concerned that a producer will make changes that ruin the work or embarrass the author.....  Often a compromise is reached whereby the producer agrees to consult with the author on major plot and character changes."

   Margaret Atwood must understand this process well.  Two of her books have recently been made into television series: "Alias Grace" and "The Handmaid's Tale".

  I have heard many discussions about 'book versus movie'.  Some people believe that the book is always better because you are more involved in the story as you visualize the setting and plot.

    I have talked about my disappointment with "Light Between Oceans".  You can read about it here.  And I would agree that well-written books touch you more deeply than a movie.

   However, one exception was "Angela's Ashes".  The visual was very powerful!  The child actors were extraordinary.  I loved that movie.  It had voice-overs of the actual words from the book on occasion.
  The newer movies often have background noise that ruins it for me.

   Sometimes the movie rights are sold before the book is finished.  I believe that happened with "The Horse Whisperer".  
Robert Redford bought the rights and put a different ending on it than the book.
   And then there is "The Bridges of Madison County".  Book versus movie?  Well....
  There seems to be no rule.  Good books are good books...and good movies are good movies.

Monday, 4 December 2017

The Book that Matters Most

    A friend told me that I must read this book because it is about a book club.  She knows that I love book clubs!    I have read non-fiction books about book clubs, but this novel is purely fiction. The book club here is in a library and only allows 12 people to join.  After that, you must wait until a spot becomes available.
   They choose a theme every year.  The theme explored here is 'the book that matters most'. 
    I had to think long and hard about this theme.  I guess it means the book that has great importance or significance for you.  Each member chose one title.  Wouldn't that be difficult?

These were their choices ( 9 real books, 1 is part of the fictional story)
1. Pride and Prejudice
2. The Great Gatsby
3. Anna Karenina
4. One Hundred Years of Solitude
5. To Kill a Mockingbird
6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
7. Catcher in the Rye
8. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
9. Slaughterhouse five
10. From Clare to Here ( part of the fiction of the book)

   I love books about books.  I have not read the last two real titles.  So, I immediately searched out my copy of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being".  It is one of those books that I always intend to read but never get it done.  I bought it many years ago.

   The main focus of "The Book That Matters Most" was Ava, whose 20-year marriage had ended and she joined the book club for companionship. Fortunately a spot had opened up.  For this theme, she chose a book from her youth (From Clare to Here) and a rather interesting mystery developed around that fictional book and author.
   I did not enjoy the characters of Ava and her troubled daughter Maggie.  There was a lot of detail about Maggie's reckless behaviour in Paris.  Also, the writing was not great.
   But it is always interesting to read about book clubs, even in fiction.

Friday, 1 December 2017

"The Last Neanderthal" by Claire Cameron

   How I love linear narratives in novels!  And, perhaps, I have complained a bit about 'disruptive' narratives.  I like that word (disruptive) because you just get into one storyline when it switches to the other story.  I find it really disruptive!  If you can tolerate my rants, you can read about it here.
  However, I enjoyed reading "The Last Neanderthal", even though it had two plotlines.  AND, I learned that it is called 'bifurcated narrative'- divided into 2 narratives.  Also called 'twinned narrative'.

These are the 2 narratives in this novel:
1.) a Neanderthal family with young daughter "Girl" as the focus.
2.) a modern-day archaeologist, Rose Gales, who discovers the remains of "Girl" in France.

What is spectacular is that Girl's remains are facing the remains of a Homo Sapien male, with the inference of interbreeding between the species.
  So, Claire Cameron, the author, imagines the circumstances around this situation.

   With 40,000 years between the narratives, there is a wonderful connection between Rose and Girl- both young mothers with very different challenges.
   Quite a fascinating book!

Claire Cameron

 The author, Claire Cameron is 44 and lives in Toronto.  She has previously written fiction and non-fiction, but her best known novel is "Bear".  It is a suspenseful story about a young girl and her brother who have to fend for themselves after a bear attack.

Monday, 27 November 2017

"The Tears of Dark Water" by Corban Addison

book club choice:
    First, I want to say how fabulous this cover is!   The intricate design on the top half reminds me of carvings you might see in a mosque.  Behind the deeper colour on the bottom half, there is a map of Africa.
   The sun is sparkling onto the sail on the sailboat.  I interpreted this brightness as the purity of 'good'. But as you move your eye down the picture, you see the dark side of evil.
   This contrast between the light and dark is so apparent in this novel.  Good and evil live side by side.  Evil acts come from pure intentions.  A very complex novel.
   This is a story of a father and son sailing around the world to cement their relationship and steer the son towards a better life.   
   They are captured by Somali pirates, led by a man who is desperate to gain money to free his sister from the bondage of her life in Somalia.
   Corban Addison did much research and explained, in detail, the complex negotiations that occur when an American is taken hostage.
    The extraordinary thing, for me, in this novel, is the way that Addison describes the motivation of every character, and there are many characters.  
  The role of the professional negotiator interested me, as well as the lawyer for the pirate.  This lawyer stopped at nothing to learn the motivation behind this crime.

  What did my book club think????
  Well, the book is long.  A hundred pages shorter would have been more effective. It wasn't necessary to name the brand of every piece of clothing, every car, and every piece of furniture.  And some people felt that the characters were stereotypes- the Somalis as well as the Americans.
  But there was intrigue and mystery. Some liked it a lot.
Corban Addison
  Our discussion leader today is a fan of this author and has read all four of his books:
A Walk Across the Sun
The Garden of Burning Sand
The Tears of Dark Water
A Harvest of Thorns
   Addison lives in Virginia and has degrees in law and engineering.  He has a deep interest in international human rights.  

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Scotiabank Giller Prize Ceremonies, 2017

The Scotiabank Giller Prize promises "the best in Canadian literature".  The awards ceremony was televised this week.

The jury read 112 books, leading to a longlist of 12 and a short list of 5:
"Transit" by Rachel Cusk
"I Am A Truck" by Michelle Winters
"Son of A Trickster" by Eden Robinson
"Minds of Winter" by Ed O'Loughlin
"Bellevue Square" by Michael Redhill

   The winner was "Bellevue Square" and Lawrence Hill introduced it by saying, "It is a funny, twisted book. It will mess with your mind".

The novel is about a book store owner who has a doppelganger.
"My doppelganger problems began one afternoon in early April".

When interviewed, Michael Redhill said:
 "It doesn't satisfy me as an artist to go someplace and tie everything up.  I want to leave the reader a little wrong-footed because it creates the opportunity to think about what you've been through as a reader.  I'd like to linger a little more".

I have been contemplating that word "wrong-footed".  That may 'satisfy' the author, but  I wonder if it would 'satisfy' me as a reader. I love a 'satisfying' ending and I'm not sure that I want it to be left 'wrong-footed'.

I love a celebration of books, but didn't find anything this year that interested me.  I have read 19 of the 25 previous winners.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Jane Austen spin offs

I have mixed feelings about spin offs.
I could not wade through the history of copyright laws to understand why this is legal, but it must be so.
Is it not theft?  Jane Austen put her heart into creating wonderful characters and then other authors take them to reconstruct a story!

   Who can resist P.D. James writing about the characters in "Pride and Prejudice"?
   And, of course, she added her special touch- murder.  I am not a fan of mystery books-especially involving murder.  But, P.D. James is such a good writer and this book really drew me in.
   There is a murder in the woods on the estate of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth (Bennet).  And...George Wickham is involved.  I was impressed with the language, setting and plot development of the first half of the book.   Towards the end, there seemed to be long descriptions of circumstances leading up to the murder.  Perhaps this is necessary in all murder mystery novels.  The author was 91 when this book was published!  I enjoyed it.

   I had enjoyed reading Jane Austen's "Emma", so I was curious about "Perfect Happiness" by Rachel Billington. 
  It is a sequel to "Emma", beginning a year after Emma's marriage to Mr. George Knightley.  Emma's friends have married and some of them have babies. 
  I really loved this book!  So much fun to once again read about Emma's social circle.  And this author was able to keep the same sense of time and place.  It was awesome!

And the question of spin offs.
There certainly is an appetite for them.
I found a website with 87 novels that have been inspired by Jane Austen.  Some of them are a stretch.."Bridget Jones' Diary". Also the movie "You've got Mail".
The most recent ones sound like a BIG stretch..........
This is the first book in the series "Jane Austen Takes the South" by a very prolific southern author using a pen name.
  Following "Pride and Prejudice and Cheese Grits" is "Emma Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs", and "Persuasion, Captain Wentworth and Cracklin' Cornbread".  Interested?

 Some people believe that you shouldn't mess with the classics.
And so, the question:  "What would Jane Austen say?"

Possibly she would be delighted that her characters have survived 200 years and are still strong, and are still inspiring writers.

Friday, 17 November 2017

"Longbourn" by Jo Baker

    "Pride and Prejudice:  The Servants' Story"

"There could be no wearing of clothes without their laundering, just as surely as there could be no going without clothes, not in Hertfordshire anyway, and not in September.  Washday could not be avoided, but the weekly purification of the household's linen was nonetheless a dismal prospect for Sarah".

   This opening paragraph drew me in to a story about the servants at the home of the Bennets.  Mr. and Mrs. Hill care for the Bennet family, along with the housemaids Sarah and young Polly.  A new man servant was hired, James, and he is very important to the story for obvious and not obvious reasons.  The obvious reason is the love story between Sarah and James.  But there are twists to this story.
   With the background of the Bennet family, I was enthralled to read about the minor details of laundry, candle-making, butchering, cooking and baking, etc. etc.  The life of the servants followed the rhythms of the seasons and the needs of the growing Bennet family.
   This author was able to bring to life, what it was like to live in the early 1800's.  Her writing was spectacular with such detailed description.
  I was loving this book so much, until page 224.  James, a man of mystery, joined the army.  Then I was not so interested in the descriptive writing. The horrors of war did not seem to fit in this novel. In fact, I skimmed 36 pages.
  It never got back to any rhythm, as the story appeared disjointed with members of the Bennet family getting married, moving here and there. But what about the servants?  Isn't that the theme of this book? 
   Some years passed, "Mr. Hill was mouldering in his grave", when James reappeared- ON THE LAST PAGE!  He is with Sarah- is that a baby with them?  Sorry, the book is ended!

Monday, 13 November 2017

"Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance

   This is a memoir of a man who identifies with the poor, working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degree, living in the Appalachian Mountains.
   J.D. Vance was able to graduate from Yale Law School, and he wrote this book because he feels that he has accomplished something not really extraordinary but quite ordinary.  It just doesn't happen to kids that grew up like him. This is how he grew up: "Seeing people insult, scream, and sometimes physically fight, was just a part of our life.  After a while, you didn't even notice it".
   So he wrote this book to explain the challenges he experienced. He loves his neighbours, family, and friends, but he needs to avoid some to keep his sanity.  Some are murderers, abusers, addicts, but he sees them as "a ragtag band of hillbillies struggling to find their way.
        Subtitle:  a memoir of a family and culture in crisis.
From Goodreads:
  "At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country".
I was surprised to see that this book is number 6 on the New York Times bestsellers list.
But perhaps other readers chose it for the same reason that I did.  It really helped me understand the change in the political scene in the U.S.A.

The title is so appropriate.  "Elegy" is a poem of serious reflection, a lament. This book is serious and sad.  It shows the condition of the white working class in U.S.A. It is a memoir, but also a history of this culture as well as a social analysis. A lot to accomplish in one book.
Fascinating and sad.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Time for a change!

I was ready for a change!  Something completely different.  And here it is!  My friend had just finished reading this book and I latched onto it.

   It was just what I needed.  I was able to forget about all the seriousness of life and delve into the fantastic- fanciful, non-sensical, unbelievable, absurd!
  Under the title, is a summary of the book: "A road trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama".
  Just look at this cover.  The 'vestments' of each are hung on the sides of the window and they have escaped into the outside world. And the title is perfect! Being famous may have lost of perks, but being ordinary has lots more!  Just the opportunity to enjoy nature (through that open window) without an entourage.
  The Pope's cousin, Paolo, and Paolo's ex-wife, Rosa, organized this 'escape' at the Pope's request.  What fun!  The two spiritual leaders, who have been stifled by tradition and responsibilities, are like two little boys having an adventure!
  However, there is a lot of 'spiritual talk' in the book.  Paolo and Rosa had lots of questions for these men, and kept calling them by their title most of the time.  So they couldn't completely leave behind their roles in life, but what an interesting concept.
Roland Merullo
  I got caught up in some of the interesting comments, such as, "Worrying is a form of control- a desperate attempt to bend reality to fit an imagined picture in our minds".
  There are bits of Catholic theology and Buddhist philosophy in the midst of this imaginative story. How wonderful if the religions of the world could learn and share from each other.

  Roland Merullo has written a variety of unusual books.  I have read "Golfing with God", and "A Little Love Story", but "The Delight of Being Ordinary" is my favourite.

Monday, 6 November 2017

"My Secret Sister" by Helen Edwards and Jenny Lee Smith

   I bought this book a couple of years ago, because it was "Heather's Pick" at Chapters book store.  I thought that I would enjoy this biography because I lean towards books about women surmounting difficult situations.  And there are great challenges in this book.
   However, I kept avoiding it because of the cover.  Actually, the cover does reflect the heart of the story.  So, why did I keep avoiding it?  I cannot answer that.   
  The information under the title tells the story- "Twins separated at birth.  One sister abused, one loved. A powerful true story".
   Helen and Jenny Lee were born in England in 1948.
I believe that the mother, who gave away one twin and kept the other was not mentally stable.  She married a man with uncontrollable anger.  He was abusive to both the mother and her daughter, Helen.  Helen grew up with an adored older brother who tried to protect her.  But she did not know about other siblings.
   Jenny Lee was adopted and believed that her adoptive parents were her birth parents.  She knew nothing about siblings.  Her father died when she was 12 and she discovered her adoption a few years later.  At that point, she became determined to search out her birth family. Twice her biological mother, Mercia, refused to see her.  But one day she arrived at Mercia's door with her husband and three children so Mercia let her in. That was the only time she saw her biological mother.
Jenny and Helen in 2012
  Then, in 2001, Jenny Lee began a successful search for her twin sister, Helen, and the two have been inseparable ever since.
 Together they searched out all the convoluted details of their family, found another sister who did not want contact, discovered who the father was for each child, and pieced together Mercia's distorted life.

Update on the twins:
Helen became a nurse, then trained as a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist.  She is now retired, has a husband and two children.
Jenny Lee was a professional golfer in Europe.  She has a husband and three children and breeds dogs.

   This book is very well written, alternating between Helen and Jenny Lee.  I wondered at the consistency of the writing, but then I discovered the secret on the title page- a ghost writer (Jacqui Buttriss).  A most interesting biography.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

book covers

   I am fascinated with the covers of books.  I think that  a really good book cover 'invites' you into the book.  It should give you the 'flavour' of the book.  I am often convinced to read a book because of the cover.
  I read "Blindness" many years ago completely because of the cover. I saw it at a book store, bought it and read it immediately. The cover told me that the novel was about serious visual confusion.  But it was also about social and moral blindness with religious symbolism.  A fascinating novel! I am grateful that the cover pulled me in!

   This month, I read "Orphan Train" for the third time.  Just look at this cover!  The hinges and the door knob show that this little girl is behind the door and that is significant. She is powerless! Her facial expression is so poignant, as well as the hair, the dress.
   I love everything about this cover.  The colours and shading, as well as the reflections on the window all help to set the mood.
  I also read this book because of the cover.  I was choosing books for the retirement home when I found this book in the large-print section of the library.  I knew that I had to read it.  And what a delight it was!

   I would never have chosen to read "Orphan Train" if it had this cover.  This cover focuses on the train and not the child.  The train was filled with children and the personal story of one of the orphans on the train is at the heart of this book.  
   This cover does not 'invite me in' and does not go to the heart of the story.

Monday, 23 October 2017

"Mary Coin" by Marisa Silver

    Marisa Silver was a Hollywood producer, when she decided to change careers and began writing short stories.  She has written 2 books of short stories and 4 novels.
   This novel had the feel of three connected short stories.

Mary Coin was a migrant worker in 1936 in California after her young husband died, leaving her with 6 very young children.  She took her children from farm to farm as she searched for work, living in the car or a tent in extreme poverty.
Vera Dare was a photographer on a quest to document migrant labourers.  She left her 2 children with another family while she travelled to search out subjects.  Her photograph of Mary with some of her children became famous.
Walker Dodge was a present-day professor whose ancestors owned the orchards where the migrant workers had struggled to survive.  He searched out the story of Vera's photograph and discovered a genetic link to Mary's family.

  The writing was exquisite!  In fact, at times, I felt that it overwhelmed the story.  I kept stopping to appreciate the author's descriptive metaphors and similes.

"She knew her death was near because time had begun to fold like a fan so that the past and the present rubbed together in ways that made her feel supple and porous, as if time were moving through her body and not the other way around."

"Trevor was a good son and a loyal man, a quality that had kept him with women who loaded all their unhappiness onto his broad back like he was a mule and then left without collecting their baggage."

   The idea for this novel came from the story of a famous photograph "Migrant Mother".  
   Dorothea Lange took that photo in Nipomo, California in 1936.
  And that photo, "The Migrant Mother" is used on the cover of Marisa Silver's novel, "Mary Coin".

Monday, 9 October 2017

Zadie Smith

   A book club choice for this month is "Swing Time" by Zadie Smith.  As I was reading it, I was reminded of reading another book by this author.  "White Teeth" was a satire on a multicultural community.  There were interesting characters. The writing was good- not great in my mind.  However, in 2001, I was attending a lecture series at the University of Toronto, where Robert Adams expounded on novels, and "White Teeth" was one of those novels.

Robert Adams
   My friend, Terri and I loved these lectures.  We took the bus to Toronto, had a lovely walk down University Avenue, enjoying the sights and sounds of the 'big city'.
   We were mesmerized by Robert Adams.  He had been a literature professor, but he also had some stage experience.  So his presentation was dramatic, exploring the novel in detail.
  His love of this book was obvious. He believed that Zadie Smith was a very good author.  In fact, he said, "If she produces a second book of this quality, I will label her a genius." Wow!
   So, I had to look really carefully at this book.
   The main theme of "Swing Time" was the friendship of two girls while growing up in a disadvantaged section of London, England. They were obsessed with dance- especially Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and watched many, many dance videos.  The novel followed them into later life as they went in different directions.  It was interesting to see how their childhood friendship affected their lives.
  There was a subplot of a famous entertainer building a girls' school in Africa.  There were some thoughts about being a benefactor in another culture. Are you really making their lives better or making their lives what you think they should be?  I could have really loved this book.....However, the storyline 'danced' all over and it was hard to follow.  Another reader called the storyline  "rickashay".  Is this a new word, or an alternate spelling of "ricochet"?  Whatever!  You get the message.  The storyline is all over the place.
  Also, the narrator was nameless.  Shouldn't bother me, but it was harder to relate to her.
  The themes of class, race, culture and friendship were fascinating and the writing would have been good if I could have kept track of where we were as it bounced from London to New York to Africa, with different characters coming and going.

   And I need to look carefully at this author also.  Zadie Smith was
Zadie Smith
elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, and in 2004 she was named among the top twenty most influential people in British culture. She has won many awards, and "White Teeth" was listed in the 100 best English-language novels from 1923-2005.

She is obviously a well-respected author, having written 6 novels as well as essays and anthologies.  But reviews tell me that none of her books have been received as well as her first novel, "White Teeth", written in 2000.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Breakfast at the Exit Cafe

  After reading Wayne Grady's book "Emancipation Day", I looked up other books that he has written and I found a gem that he co-wrote with his wife, Merilyn Simonds, who is also an author.
  This couple live near Kingston, Ontario. Merilyn had been the writer-in-residence at the University of British Columbia for three months in 2006.  Rather than driving across Canada to return home at the end of December, they decided to take a road trip down along the Pacific Coast, across the Southern states and up the Atlantic seaboard. And, of course, a book grew out of that experience. 
   Since  John and I have made many road trips into the United States, I was deeply involved in this book.  Such a delight to read about another couple driving the roads we have driven, visiting the towns that we have visited, and interacting with maps and tour books, as well as books that you want to read along the way.
  Each chapter alternates reflections by each of these interesting people.
  They research areas of interest as they are driving, but often their interests are different from our interests.  I was searching for ruts from the Oregon Trail and insisted on climbing the Astoria Column.  They were searching out the wineries in the Willamette Valley.  Different interests but we all enjoyed the Redwood Forests in California. 
   Wayne and Merilyn had planned to have Christmas dinner at the Grand Canyon, and had made a reservation in the El Tovar Hotel dining room, but had no room reservation.  When they arrived at the canyon, they discovered that Christmas at the canyon was more popular than expected.  Busses and busses- lots of people from out of the country.  They tried all the cheap, chain hotels around the canyon and finally found one room, but it was so small, musty and unsatisfactory that Merilyn ended up sobbing at the thought of spending Christmas night there.
  They went for their Christmas dinner at the luxurious El Tovar and thought they would just take a chance that there was a cancellation in the hotel.  The clerk laughed at first because there was a crowd in the lobby waiting for that very thing.  But just as they stood there, a cancellation came in and they grabbed it. But..there is no description of the room or the dinner in the El Tovar, just a description of going back to the discarded room and discovering that they wouldn't have to pay for that room. They also mention the breakfast in El Tovar before heading out.
  I would have written pages on the joys of spending Christmas on the edge of the canyon in a fabulous hotel!  At dinner, they had a table for two by the window with the snow falling gently...oh, my! I love the Grand Canyon and didn't feel that they gave it enough respect.
   When I was there with my friend Joan, staying in a motel near the canyon, I convinced her to get up very early and walk to the canyon in the dark, in order to watch the sunrise over the canyon.  It is a very special place!
   Merilyn and Wayne arrived in Selma, Alabama in time for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, involving a church service and a march.  This was meaningful because Wayne's family had refused to acknowledge the family's black roots.

  As I read of their drive up the Eastern Seaboard, I was reminded of spending time in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my friend Terri, joining a group of Bookwomen, exploring the coast and discussing literature of the area.

  This book brought back many memories of travelling in the United States of America.
  I loved it!

Friday, 29 September 2017

"Emancipation Day" by Wayne Grady

   On the left is the cover of the book that I read and I thought the picture  was interesting.
   But, there is another cover that is more interesting. 
   Unfortunately, the top of the picture is cut off a bit.
   The photo on the right recognizes the importance of jazz music to the story, which takes place mostly in Windsor and Detroit in the 1940's.
   I am fascinated by the fact that it took 20 years for Wayne to finish writing this book, which is based on his family.  His father was born of black parents but was very light -skinned and passed for white- didn't even tell his wife.  She discovered what her husband was hiding shortly before Wayne was born.
  I had no idea of the racial tensions in Windsor and had never heard of the race riot in Detroit in1943. I found this information very interesting.
  Wayne's mother was from Newfoundland and was very naive.  Jack's father was a sailor (also a musician) and was very suave.  Quite a love story.