Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Narrative Modes

   As much as I enjoy books, I also appreciate organization- organization of books and organization of story.
    I have been complaining about 'disruptive' plotlines. Why do authors write this way? Whine, whine, whine.
   So I did a little research on that topic.
  Quote: "Fiction prose can be anywhere from obscure and difficult to clear and direct".
  According to Wikipedia, modernist literature began in the late 19th century.  It is a break with traditional ways of writing.  It experimented with the non-linear order in writing.  Authors such as: Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Ford Madox Ford, Marcel Proust, and William Faulkner.  I have read these authors, and now I realize why they are not my favourites.
  Stream of consciousness has never appealed to me, but I can enjoy flashbacks in a novel, when they enlighten the plot.
  Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain" has been one of my favourites even though it has parallel plotlines.  I have read this books 3 times. It moves between characters but not time lines.
  Lucinda Riley's "Storm Sister' had a story within a story and I adored that book!  The 'inside story' was delightful!
  However, it is the constant back and forth in a disjointed narrative that has me completely frustrated.  I just get into one storyline and it switches- back and forth, back and forth.
  There are so many books with this structure, that I would like to give up reading new books for awhile and just read my old favourites that I can trust to take me on a delightful journey.
   But I guess I will still read books for my book clubs.
"There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.  Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, enter your blood, numb your thoughts.  Inside you they work their magic." ("The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield).
"In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.  I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself". (How Reading Changed My life" by Anna Quindlen).

Monday, 22 May 2017

"Wild Rose" by Sharon Butala

Betty, Sharon, Terri
   Isn't this a great picture!  Terri and I were attending a book weekend in Banff in 2008, when we met this author Sharon Butala. She had written a non-fiction book and we had an opportunity to visit with her there.
  Sharon has recently written a memoir and, while I am waiting to get that book, I thought I should read some of the fiction that she has written over the years.
  "Wild Rose" is a novel about homesteading on the prairies in the 1800's. But more than that, it is a story about Sophie.
  The novel begins with newly-weds Sophie and Pierre claiming free land and starting a farm in Saskatchewan.
  I was drawn into the story immediately.  I love "Little House on the Prairie" stories.
   However, after four years, and a son, Sophie was left on the prairies, with no home or money.  Her husband, Pierre had left and sold the farm.
  Some of my favourite stories are about women facing huge challenges in their lives.  I was cheering her on as she struggled to survive with her young son.  My interest in Sophie never waned throughout the book.
   However, it wasn't a fabulous read for these reasons:
- some really clunky syntax e.g. "His papers were spread out over the table and irritation appeared on his face, as she pushed open the door, that evaporated when he saw Mr. Campion enter behind her." 
On other occasions, she had so many phrases in one sentence that I lost the thread of the sentence.
  Could more editing have made the reading more comfortable?
- obviously Sophie did a lot of ruminating about her situation, and sometimes it was too much.  I wanted to get on with the story.  We heard the same thoughts over and over.
- Sophie's childhood was related in chapters of flashback, perhaps necessary and mostly done well.  But it still irritates me to switch back and forth.

  This is a long novel, but it did keep my interest.  Sophie was young and attractive, so she had lots of men interested in her.  What would she do?
   The ending is not conclusive, but quite satisfying.

Friday, 19 May 2017

"The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli

From my book club that loves the classics:

Machiavelli was born in Italy in 1469.
He was an historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer.
He also wrote comedies, carnival songs, and poetry.
He was secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence for four years.

This book was written in 1513 and is about politics, describing great men and their exploits in power.
Machiavelli rejected traditional morals in political action.
  He wrote about human nature as he saw it- corrupt!
Some quotes from the book will give you the message:
1.) "Since all men are a sad lot and won't be keeping their promises to you, you hardly need to keep yours to them."
2.) "Holding political power was possible only if a leader was ready to act outside the moral code."
3.) "It wasn't necessary to have a religious faith but absolutely essential to appear to have one".
4.) "I love my country more than my soul".
5.) "The desire to conquer more territory really is a very natural, ordinary thing".
6.) "It's better to get a reputation for meanness than generosity".
7.) "Outwitting opponents is better than behaving honestly"
8.) "It's better to be impulsive than cautious; fortune is female and if you want to stay on top of her you have to slap and thrust".

Generally this book is about using any immoral means to achieve glory and survival.  It includes examples of every political leader preceding 1513. You can just imagine how much I enjoyed reading about that.  However, everyone has heard of Machiavelli and this book provoked a huge discussion in our book club.  I was an observer.  No interest there for me.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Great Books

This newspaper article had been saved from August 20, 2011.  Last week, after several rainy days, we found a free day with good weather and prepared for a drive through beautiful country. 
"Great Books" is a renovated mill that now houses a book store and cafe.  It is located in Williamsford, a very small town, just south of Owen Sound, on highway 6.
 From here, it is a leisurely drive of a couple of hours.  We arrived at noon and were surprised at the popularity of the cafe.  It certainly has an unusual ambience since the barn is
 chuck-full of books.  And I do mean, chuck-full!

Tables are arranged amongst many book displays such as this and provide an ideal setting for a leisurely lunch.  The menu  is extensive and the food well-prepared.
The bookstore aspect blows the mind!  I have never seen so many book in one place!
  Perhaps not even in a library!  

There are several sets of stairs with books on every level and in room after room after room!

Of course, I needed to find a book as a souvenir of our visit.  But, belive it or not, the extensive nature of the collection makes it hard to choose.  But, I chose "Tono-Bungay" by H.G. Wells.  I will be leading a discussion of another H.G. Wells book "The Time Machine", so thought this would be a good read.

This cafe/bookstore also caters to weddings and other special events.  Wouldn't it be a great place for book clubs?
Actually, they had one in the past, but it was discontinued.
Maybe they could make another section into bedrooms and have weekend retreats for book lovers.
If I lived closer I would offer to volunteer with the books because the owners are kept busy with the cafe.
I could chat all day about books and help visitors find what they are looking for.
We had a very interesting and fun day!

Friday, 12 May 2017

"The Language of Flowers" by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

   This novel begins with Victoria Jones waking up on her eighteenth birthday in a group home.  Well, perhaps it was her birthday.  Since her birth date, location, and even her parents were unknown, the courts just picked a possible date for her birth.
  Victoria was an angry girl with a great knowledge of flowers- scientific descriptions and meanings.  It was her only connection with the world.

The language of flowers - every flower sends a message: dahlias for dignity; marigold for grief; dried basil- hate; periwinkle- tender recollections; mistletoe- I surmount all obstacles.

      The use of flowers for communication is creative and interesting.    This theme wove beautifully through the entire book. Victoria excelled at creating a floral bouquet for every situation, using just the right flowers to convey a sentiment.
"It wasn't as if the flowers themselves held within them the ability to bring an abstract definition into physical reality.  Instead, it seemed that Earl, then Bethany, walked home with a bouquet of flowers expecting change, and the very belief in the possibility instigated a transformation."
  I have very mixed feelings about this book because it it written in very short chapters that alternated between Victoria at age 18 and Victoria at age 9.  Once again, I barely got involved in one storyline and it switched.  
  There was something about the characters that drew me back to the book, but I wasn't really satisfied with the novel as a whole.

  This structure seems to be very popular.  The last book in my blog used the same structure.  It was a first novel for both of the authors. It seems like a very difficult challenge when an author is just starting out.  But many readers seem to enjoy this 'disruptive' style.  To me, it is just too 'disruptive'.


Monday, 8 May 2017

Letters to the Lost

   A bag of books found its way to our house and my husband picked this book out to read.
  He loves Kate Morton and this book reminded him of her writing.

   Jess took refuge in an abandoned house while escaping from an abusive boyfriend.  She found a box of letters and became interested in the love story behind those letters.
    The story moved between 2011 and 1942.  I would just get involved in one storyline and it would change.  I wanted to skip chapters to keep following one set of characters.  Eventually I got used to it, but didn't find the story riveting.
   There were bits and pieces of information dropped along the way, and they all fit together at the end.  I have read glowing reports of this books such as: "It is a beautifully woven tale of love and loss that breaks your heart and rebuilds it".  Perhaps I am too much of a realist, but I found it a little sappy and too difficult to put the pieces together.
  Also, the basis of the plot is an intruder reading personal love letters.  Add to that, the woman in the 1942 love story (that the letters were addressed to) was having an affair- her husband was a minister- not a good man, but the woman had to stay with him if she wanted to keep her baby.
  There were too many people intruding in other people's lives for me to enjoy this novel as much as others did.

Friday, 5 May 2017

"Into The Magic shop" by James Doty

   The sub-title of this memoir is "A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart".  Although it is a memoir, it is also a self-help book, just published within the last year.
   Jim Doty grew up in California with an alcoholic father and a depressed and paralyzed mother.  When Jim wandered into a magic shop, he met a woman who taught him a different kind of magic- the power of the mind to ease his suffering and draw to himself his greatest desires.
  It is a self-help book because there are exercises for learning how to relax the body, tame the mind, open the heart and envision your dreams for the future.
  Jim learned these lessons really well and eventually became a wealthy surgeon, realizing all his dreams, but he was not happy.  He had not really opened his heart.  He realized that "without wisdom and insight, these techniques can result in self-absorption, narcissism, and isolation". Then he learned that "the only way to change and transform your life for the better is by changing and transforming the life of others".
  He now is the director of the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University.
  He developed 'compassion beads' (using the alphabet from c-l) to use as a daily reminder of his purpose in life: compassion, dignity, equanimity, forgiveness, gratitude, humility, integrity, justice, kindness, love.
  You can see TED talks and other lectures given by Jim Doty on YouTube.