Sunday, 30 March 2014

Why I Love to Read, part 7

Why I Love to Read- Monday special.
Reason number 7:
I love to connect with 'the community of readers'.
Book clubs have always been important for me.  Reading a book is one thing, but discussing it really makes it come alive.  I have been involved in many book clubs over the last 18 years.

Monday Night book club
Preston library book club
A few years ago, I discovered Bookwomen,
 an opportunity to travel and discuss books at the same time.

In Arizona...

Or Banff...

                                                                  Or England....

I have also been fortunate to have many friends that enjoy discussing books over coffee or lunch.
I have even been known to discuss books with complete strangers.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Woefield Poultry Collective

What can I say about this book?
A fascinating premise.  Prudence Burns, an energetic, twenty-something New Yorker, inherits a farm that has much debt.  With her Polyanna attitude, she takes on the task of getting the farm out of debt. The most interesting aspect of the story is the cast of characters that appear and become part of the story.
Earl-80-something, banjo-playing foreman
Seth- alcoholic, boy-next-door who has been traumatized by scandal
Sara- highly organized 11-year-old, looking for a home for herself and her chickens.

A very interesting group of misfits who find acceptance and success in an unusual way. 
Highly entertaining and humorous.

Unusual characters, fun plot, good setting- but the language!  O, the language!
There are short chapters.  Each chapter is narrated by one of the main characters.  I realize that some of these characters may have 'salty' language, but the extent of it spoiled the story for me- too crude and gross.  I found it vulgar!
A note from the author: "I was trying to pay cockeyed homage to some of my favourite novels, particularly Stella Gibbons' Cold Comfort Farm."


Well, I have read Cold Comfort Farm and really enjoyed it, which proves that the crude language was not necessary to the story.

This novel was written in 1932.
A T.V. movie was made in 1995.

I just returned from the book club discussion of "The Woefield Poultry Collective".  All ten of us enjoyed the book and only  half of the group felt that the language was a problem.  I have taken on the task of writing to the author to express my views on the language.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Purchase

A fascinating book written by a fascinating woman!
Linda Spalding was born in Topeka Kansas,
 the daughter of Jacob Alan Dickinson. 

 She has lived in Mexico and Hawaii
 and moved to Toronto in 1982.  
She is married to Michael Ondaatje.

Linda's father, a lawyer, was a champion of integration and worked on desegregating schools.  So it was a great surprise when Linda realized that her ancestors had owned slaves.
Also, Linda had been interested in her early years in Quakerism.  Her parents were not pleased, but she also discovered that her ancestors were Quakers.
How did this happen?  Quakers who owned slaves?  So she began her research.  The novel is based on her great, great, great grandfather, Daniel Dickinson.

I have read this book twice.  The first time I finished the book, wishing that I could discuss it with someone, but I did not know anyone who had read it.  This time I am reading it for a book club, so will have lots of opportunity to discuss it.
In 1798, Daniel Dickinson, a young Quaker father and widower, left his home in Pennsylvania to begin a new life in Virginia.  He had five children and a 15-year-old wife that he married after his wife died.  This young girl, Ruth, is an important part of the story, as she had lived in an almshouse until Daniel brought her to help with his children.
The story is really set in motion when Daniel attends an auction and accidentally raises his hand when they are selling a slave boy- Onesimus.  He does not have the money for the boy, nor does he believe in slavery.  So how did that happen? 
 I found the first half of the story mesmerizing.  The challenge of creating a home for seven people from nothing! Fascinating!  And so well-written!
However, the strong narrative began to fragment when the children grew up and each had struggles and disasters. More characters were added and the strong thread of the story began to unravel.
Daniel is a very disappointing character, who preaches the Quaker doctrine, but shows no love or compassion or forgiveness.  He struggles with his conscience and perhaps finds resolution in the end.  But I found the ending as evasive as the slave auction.  I never really understood Daniel- or maybe I did and I didn't like him.
Well, now I have been to a discussion of this book and I am less enthusiastic about the book.  There was a range of interest in the book but we seemed to agree that the author is better at describing nature than people.  There is a great sense of place but what are the characters thinking? And especially the main characters, Daniel and his child-wife Ruth. What were they thinking?  
Lots of plot, lots of characters, but what were they thinking??????

Monday, 24 March 2014

Why I Love to Read, part 6

Why I Love to Read- Monday special.
Reason number 6:
Reading can teach you about life.
And this book has many lessons about life.
"Man's Search for Meaning" was written in 1946, telling about the author's experiences in Auschwitz during W.W.II.  Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist.  Although he survived the Holocaust, his wife, mother and brother died there. 

  Frankl writes that the meaning of life is found in every moment of living; life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death.

  In a group therapy session during a fast inflicted on the camp's inmates, Frankl offered the thought that for everyone in a dire condition there is someone looking down, a friend, family member, or even God, who would expect not to be disappointed. Frankl concludes from his experience that a prisoner's psychological reactions are not solely the result of the conditions of his life, but also from the freedom of choice he always has even in severe suffering. The inner hold a prisoner has on his spiritual self relies on having a hope in the future, and that once a prisoner loses that hope, he is doomed.

Frankl concludes that there are only two races of men, decent and indecent.  No society is free of either of them, and thus there were 'decent' Nazi guards as well as 'indecent' prisoners, most notably the kapo who would torture and abuse their fellow prisoners for personal gain.

"What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our question must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual."

“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”  Viktor E. Frankl 

"Man's Search for meaning" belongs to a list of "the ten most influential books in the United States".

Frankl died in 1997 at the age of 92.  His book had been translated from German into 24 languages and had sold 10 million copies at the time of his death.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

What books have changed public opinion?

When Canada Reads focused on finding a book that could change the nation, I questioned my friends about what books they knew that have changed public opinion.  Here are a few:

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" in 1792. She argued that women are not naturally inferior, but lack education.
Equality of the sexes is a big topic and Mary was a pioneer in writing about this issue.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

The book that I would choose for this issue is "Uncle Tom's Cabin", written in 1852 by Harriet Beecher Stowe.  It was very popular as a novel as well as a play and energized anti-slavery forces in the American north, while causing anger in the south.  She wrote more than 20 books and was known for her public stand on social issues of the day.  I thought it was a very powerful book!

Rachel Carson

Perhaps the book that should have been chosen for Canada Reads about the environment is "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carson, written in 1962.
Rachel Carson was a marine biologist and she was concerned about the environment, specifically pesticides.  This book led to a ban on DDT and other pesticides. She also wrote about ocean life.

Sylvia Fraser
As Sylvia Fraser began to write her sixth novel, in 1989, about incest, she began recalling her own experience with her father, which had been concealed for 40 years by amnesia.  She recounts in her memoir, "My Father's House: a Memoir of Incest and Healing", how her personality had split in two with a second self that assumed the relationship with her father, and it surfaced in sudden rages and convulsions and sexual violence in her novels.
I have not read this book, but it was recommended as a book that had an affect on the public.

Farley Mowat

Farley Mowat, alive at 92, is a Canadian author and environmentalist.
His book "Never Cry Wolf", written in 1963 was made into a film and is credited with changing the public opinion of wolves. His books have been translated into 52 languages and sold more than 17 million books. 
We read this book in one of my book clubs.

Anna Sewell

Another book club choice was "Black Beauty" by Anna Sewell, written in 1877. Anna came from a Quaker family in England. Because of mobility problems, she used horse-drawn carriages.  She began to love horses and was motivated to attempt to change public opinion on the treatment of animals.

Jane Jacobs

Wow!  There are so many aspects of life to be passionate about and write about.  Jane Jacobs wrote about urban renewal and changed the way that cities are planned in her book "The Death and Life of Great American Cities".
She moved to Canada in 1968 and joined the opposition to the Spadina Expressway and the network of expressways in Toronto.  In the male-dominated field of urban planning, she was called a 'crazy dame'. But she did make a difference!

I could go on and on and on.  My friends had lots of ideas!  I guess books really can change public opinion and therefore change the nation.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Why I Love to Read, part 5

Why I Love to Read- Monday special.
Reason number 5:
I love to read because books are often made into movies.
It is most interesting to see how the book is presented in visual form.
When you have developed the whole world in your brain, it sometimes doesn't match what you see on the screen.
But the movie can also enhance your enjoyment.  When the story takes place in a time or place that is far from your experience, the visuals make the story much richer.

The novels of Jane Austen are easily available in movie form and transport you to 19th century England.

It is even more difficult to visualize the life of early prehistoric humans.  I was fascinated with the Earth Children series, but the movie really brought it to life in a new way- just to imagine the earth before civilization, the lushness of the environment!  Delightful!
Clan of the Cave Bear

"Angela's Ashes" was such a wonderful book, that I was hesitant to watch the movie.  The story is very emotional and heart-breaking.  I decided to go to the theatre and sit in the back- alone, so that I could cry as much as needed.  However, it turned out to not be as emotional as the book.  The children were so delightful and took the sting out of the emotion.  It was really enjoyable!

Other movies turned out to be more emotional than the book - 
"Bridges of Madison County",  "The Help", "The Horse Whisperer".
I chose not to see "The Hunger Games" movie.  I had enough difficulty with the book.
  The whole concept just freaked me out!

New experience for me!
We are going to Pennsylvania on a bus trip,
 and one of the experiences will be a stage production of the book
 "Half-stitched" by Wanda Brunstetter.
Amish territory, Amish novel.
Can't wait!

Friday, 14 March 2014

psychological thrillers

  Well....I just read another psychological thriller.  Two thrillers in a very short time.  Both by accident- didn't know that either one was a thriller when I started it.
  I have already written about "The Little House", which was recommended to me when I was talking about doing a blog on in-laws from hell.
  Well, last week I looked for relief from the long winter by wandering a book store.  Who could resist this cover?  I jumped into it right away!  Couldn't resist and couldn't put it down.
  But I can't say that I wasn't warned.  On the cover, the recommendation says, "Exceptional...It left my nerves jangling for hours after I finished the last page."  Of course, I didn't read that before I was hooked.  Then it was too late.

"Christine, who turns out to be 47, wakes as the novel opens in an unfamiliar bedroom next to a man she for a moment thinks is an aging one-night stand. Instead the man is Ben, who says he’s her husband, that he’s always loved her, that she was in a serious car accident 20 years earlier and suffers from a rare form of amnesia: Although she can retain memories throughout the day, they are wiped out entirely overnight. Since memory is the largest part of identity, Christine truly does not know who she is. Losing one’s memory, it seems, differs little from losing one’s mind."

This novel is written by an audiologist in England.  Published in 2011, it has been a bestseller in many countries and has been translated into over 30 languages.  It is called an "out-of-nowhere literary sensation".  And now there is a movie, starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong.

This cover would have been a dead giveawa

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

What is Louise reading?

Louise's porch

the view from Louise's home

Louise lived in this gorgeous city of Nelson, British Columbia.
Terri and I were fortunate to visit there in 2011 for the Kootenay Book Festival.
It was a weekend of discussions on 5 predetermined books.
The Slap
The Help
Mao's last Dance
All Over Creation
The Year of Meats

But there was also lots of exciting sightseeing.
We had never met Louise before we arrived in Nelson,
but she decided to give these Ontario girls a 'whirl'
of the area.  She showed us the countryside and we just loved Louise!

Now, Louise is living in a retirement home in
Victoria.  She is still an avid reader.
As we are buried in snow, I was thinking of
Louise on the mild west coast.
Thanks to e-mail, we can keep in touch.  She let me know that the retirement home has experienced an outbreak of the flu and even when they were well again, they were asked to stay in their rooms with meals delivered to them.  So, Louise had lots of time to read.  And I was surprised at her choice of books.
She read "The Hunger Games" - all three books!
And they kept her engrossed!
Then she re-read "The Glass Castle" and "Half Broke Horses".  She reports that the weather has not been bad.  There has been a lot of rain and the cherry trees are in bloom.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Why I Love to Read, part 4

Why I Love to Read- Monday special.
Reason number 4:
I enjoy delicious language!
And John Steinbeck can really put words together in a fascinating way!

Quotes from "East of Eden":
"Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands."

"Cathy had always been able to shovel into the mind of any man and dig up his impulses and his desires".

Quotes from "Grapes of Wrath":
"On the highway the people moved like ants and searched for work, for food.  And the anger began to ferment."

"Man- he lives in jerks.  Woman, it's all one flow, like a stream , little eddies, little waterfalls but the river, it goes right on".

                  Both books are amazing!


I keep a book of quotes and I can't resist adding these quotes (men may skip these).

"Most men are only speed bumps anyway, aggravating distractions scattered along life's otherwise pretty nice highway.  You might run into a good one every long once in a while, but even then he's usually got something wrong with him.  Good women, on the other hand, are everywhere.  You can pick and choose, find the best ones, start a club, and have friends for life." (Patricia Gaffrey in "The Saving Graces") 2004

 "Men! They are the enemies of our innocence and our peace- they drag us away from our parents' love and our sisters' friendship- they take us body and soul to themselves, and fasten our helpless lives to theirs as they chain up a dog to his kennel.  And what does the best of them give us in return?"
(Wilkie Collins in "The Woman in White")  1859

Don't authors say the darndest things???

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Canada Reads- and the winner is...

If you click on Canada Reads, you will see that my initial favourite was "Annabel"- the only book that I would recommend to anyone.

But...the panel was fascinating and the discussions were spell-binding!  
Sarah Gadon, at 26, did an amazing job of supporting "Annabel" by Kathleen Winter.  Sarah was bold and confident.  She helped to vote off "The Year of the Flood" by Margaret Atwood right at the beginning, and admitted that she was afraid that Stephen Lewis would sway the panel for his book if given a chance.  She was successful in getting that book eliminated first.  Next to go was "Half-Blood Blues" by Esi Edugyan.  Donovan Bailey, who was supporting it, was obviously out of his element.
Samantha Bee, who was supporting "Cockroach" by Rawi Hage, was a great disappointment to me, personally, because she admitted that she loved "Annabel" and it had changed her life - both of the requirements of the winning book, but she was swayed by Wab on a minor detail of the book- so minor that she had forgotten about it, but she then made the deciding vote to eliminate "Annabel".

Who would believe that "Cockroach" made it to the final round?  A dark book of mental illness more than the immigrant experience.   Samantha Bee, the defender, was even shocked that it made it through the first cut. 

Wab Kinew was the star of the show and did an great job of defending "The Orenda" by Joseph Boyden and showing his amazing intelligence.  As Stephen Lewis said, "Wab's defence of the book was better than the book itself".  And I was surprised to hear that Stephen was just as disturbed by the violence and torture as I was.  He called it "continuous torturous pornography".  But he voted for it at the end, because he hated "Cockroach".  Stephen voiced my thoughts and was very endearing and light-hearted.

And the winner was........

The Orenda

Wab Kinew and Joseph Boyden

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Why I Love to Read, part 3

Why I Love to Read- Monday special
Reason Number Three:

Some of my friends tell me that they like to learn from books.  I never thought of reading as a learning tool, but when I think about it,       I have learned lots from books.
The one author that you can't help but learn from is James Michener, because he puts tons of research into his fiction books. I really have a love/hate relationship with Michener.  He makes history come alive but there is SO much detail.
I read Hawaii to John one summer.  It took 75 days to read the whole book. I wish I could remember all the details, because it was an exquisite book.

 Here is the introduction: "Millions upon millions of years ago..." Wow! He had a lot to cover!
 I enjoyed the section on the missionaries from Boston.  Eleven couples (all under the age of 28), most of them recently married to qualify for the trip, took six months to get to Hawaii by ship.  What a challenge that was!  It was interesting to follow these missionaries- some of whom were helpful to the Hawaiians, some of whom felt superior to 'the heathens'.
  Abner Hale was one of the arrogant ones.  He determined to deliver Urania's baby, refusing the help of experienced midwives, and Urania died.  But Abner and Urania's husband, Abraham,  congratulated themselves on their righteousness because they did not give in to using 'heathen'midwives. An interesting twist is that Abraham, the widower, ended up marrying a Hawaiian and was denounced by the mission.
   Another one of the missionaries, Dr. John Whipple, supported Abraham and he left the mission as well. John Whipple respected the Hawaiians and learned from them. I admired the work that he did.
   But Abner Hale continued in his arrogance into old age.  His wife died young and Abner wandered the island ranting.  Even his children didn't know what to do with him.
   Japanese and Chinese also moved onto the island and it took many years for the Hawaiians,  Americans, Japanese and Chinese to learn to work together on an equal footing.

Lots to learn here!

Fascinating description of the Aztec

Wonderful history of slavery
Powerful description of war

Fiction is a great way to learn about history!