Sunday, 18 September 2022

A "no-book" post on a muggy day...

This may be the last of the muggy days for this year, which would make me so happy.  We had a brief taste of fall weather with one cool, refreshing day last week, and I’m ready for it to make a comeback.  For now, I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai and a bowl of what must surely be nearly the last of the summer strawberries, blueberries and peaches.

I didn’t read anything last week because I was waiting for my book club book to become available, so while I was waiting, I tried out a few books I already had borrowed from the library, but with no success.  When my hold became available, I rushed to pick it up, but I really struggled to get into it.  Then I had a number of things unexpectedly come up that I had to take care of after work several days last week, and I never did finish the book, which we are meeting to discuss tomorrow.  The reason I’m writing about this is to talk about reading choices.  I’ve decided to stop participating in this Friends Book Club, as I just feel like I’m reading too many books that I didn’t choose, while the library holds that I personally selected pile up and end up being returned unread.  I already have one book club that I facilitate, and I think that’s enough.  Reading is my favourite thing to do, and there will always be more great books out there than there is time to read them, so why would I spend my time reading something I’m not really into?  It wasn’t an easy decision to come to, as I really enjoy getting together with this group of friends and catching up, but I realize that when reading becomes work, something has to go.  So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t bother reading a book that’s not grabbing you.  Rest assured that there will be something else at hand that will pull you in and keep you engaged, delighted or inspired.

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine before the rain arrives!

Bye for now...

Monday, 12 September 2022

Monday evening post...

It’s Monday night, the first Monday back to school with students in full attendance, and it’s going to be a long week (a full five days - yikes!!), so I think this will be a short-ish post.

I wanted to tell you about the discussion from Saturday morning’s Volunteer Book Club meeting.  The book selection was Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, and everyone loved it.  I think everyone admitted that they would never have picked it up if it wasn’t on our list, but that they were so glad they did.  I listened to the audiobook last year and here’s what I said about it:

“The… book I want to mention is A Tale for the Time Being by Canadian author Ruth Ozeki, who also narrated.  I have to say that this was a phenomenal novel.  It was so good that I ended up buying a print copy and adding it to my book club list for next year.  Told from the point of view of two narrators, this novel spans the globe and takes us to Tokyo, where troubled teen Nao (pronounced “Now”) is contemplating suicide as the only escape from the bullying and loneliness that she is experiencing.  At her parents’ insistence, she spends the summer with her grandmother in a Buddhist temple high in the mountains and begins to find a connection to her past that may help her deal with her present struggles.  She also finds solace in her diary, where she refers to herself as a “time being”.  Travel across the Pacific and we find ourselves on a remote island off of the coast of British Columbia (I think the island was called Desolate), where Ruth, a middle-aged writer, finds a Hello Kitty lunch box containing these diaries washed up on the shore.  Ruth also struggles with loneliness and a lack of connection, and these diaries give her a project to work on, purpose to her days, and an opportunity to connect with others on the island and across the ocean.  This book is about so much more than what I’ve just written, I know I will never be able to do it justice.  But I would highly recommend this novel to just about anyone, as it has a little bit of everything in it, history, romance, Buddhism, even quantum physics!”

We talked a bit about everything, from Japan in WWII and the cruelty and bullying that went into training Kamikaze pilots to themes of honour and consequences and the unbelievable levels of bullying Nao faced in school.  One member who listened to this as an audiobook said she thought at first that it was a teen novel, as that is what it seems like at the beginning, but by the end she thought (and these are her exact words), “I am not smart enough to talk about this book” (you certainly are!!).  It was unfortunate that, of all our meetings, I had to cut that one short, as I had a funeral to go to, but I’m sure if we had more time we could have discussed much, much more.  In fact, we all agreed that this is the kind of book that should be discussed in small chunks as you read along, as it has so many interesting storylines and is so complex, with so many topics touched upon.  And the level of research that went into this book astounded everyone.  In short, we were awed by this book, so much so that there was a resounding “yes” when I asked if I should put her award-winning The Book of Form and Emptiness on the list for next year. 

And I read a short novel by another Canadian writer, The Most Cunning Heart by Catherine Graham.  A friend of mine told me about this book, which was written by her cousin, and was curious to know what I thought of it.  I recommended it as a purchase for my local library and was able to borrow it from there.  I’ll admit that I was feeling a little apprehensive about reading this book and sharing my thoughts with my friend, as it is a book about poetry and poets (specifically Irish poets), written by a poet, and I worried that it might be too literary and esoteric for me.  Well, it was literary, but also very accessible.  I’m sure if I knew more (or really anything!) about Irish poetry and poetry writing, I would have been able to understand this on a much deeper level, but I think I was able to get much of the story.  Set in the early 1990s, this short, beautifully written, lyrical novel tells the story of Caitlin Maharg, a poetry student and teacher who, when facing the loss of her parents, leaves her home in Canada to study in an exclusive poetry workshop in Northern Ireland.  Living in a cottage by the Irish Sea, she is reminded of her early years as a child, and she grapples with her memories as she tries to understand her parents’ secrets amidst the backdrop of the Troubles.  When she becomes involved with well-known poet Andy Evans, she loses herself in his charms and searches for a place to belong, even as she struggles to understand their relationship in the context of that of her parents.  This is yet another book about loss and grief, and each book that I’ve read has been told so differently, with such different stories and coping mechanisms.  But they all tell of the difficulty of grief, and illustrate in various ways that grieving is a process, one that is unique to each person and takes different forms, sometimes taking a year, sometimes a decade, sometimes a whole lifetime to resolve.  In this novel, Caitlin, or Cat, must come to her own conclusions about her relationship with Andy (despite my wanting to tell her again and again to stop and think about what she’s doing!!).  I don’t want to give too much away, but this was a quiet, captivating novel that explores the inner workings of the grieving heart as it learns to understand and heal itself.  I would like to thank my friend for bringing this lovely book to my attention - I hope I’ve done it some kind of justice here.

That’s all for tonight.  Take care and have a wonderful week!

Bye for now... Julie

Monday, 5 September 2022

Labour Day post...

It’s a cool, overcast day and I’m thrilled to have this extra day off to finish up a few things I didn’t get done over the summer.  But I thought it would be good to start the day with a steaming cup of chai and a slice of freshly baked date bread, as well as a short post about the book I finished last week.

I read Canadian author Kelley Armstrong’s latest book, A Rip through Time, and it was… interesting.  It is the first in a new series featuring Vancouver homicide detective Mallory Atkinson.  It’s 2019, and Mallory is in Edinburgh to stay with her dying grandmother when, while out for a nighttime jog, she is attacked and left unconscious.  When she wakes, she finds herself transported to 1869 and is inhabiting the body of young Catriona, a housemaid to Dr Gray.  Catriona has also been recently attacked and left for dead in the exact same spot as Mallory. She determines that she was somehow transported back to Victorian Scotland through a rip in time, and believes that the only way back to her family and her real life in the modern world is by figuring out who attacked Catriona.  When more bodies turn up, the case becomes more complex and mind-bending, and Mallory, in the guise of the housemaid, must work fast to stop the killer before more people die, while also being conscious of not changing history.  I’m not a fan of time-travel: I’ve never watched Dr Who and haven’t read Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series.  And I don’t enjoy historical mysteries.  This book was both a book about time-travel and a historical mystery, and Armstrong managed to pull it off (I wonder if there's anything she can't do!!).  I was drawn in immediately and found myself searching for more opportunities to read.  It was much like the first “Rockton” book, where it’s setting the stage for future novels, and while this was not quite as good as City of the Lost (“Rockton” series, book 1), I will definitely watch for the next book in the (“Edinburgh”??) series.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy what’s left of the long weekend, and have a wonderful day!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 28 August 2022

End-of-summer post…

I know it’s not really the end of summer, that there are, in fact, another three+ weeks until the official beginning of fall, but I’m going back to work tomorrow after summer break, so it feels like the end to me.  I also have a heaping bowl of fresh local fruit for breakfast, and am reminded that it's nearly the end of the season for peaches and strawberries... but apple and butternut squash season is just beginning! I have been furiously reading children’s books for my committee all summer, but we’ve made our final selections last week and I’m thrilled to be able to read adult books again!  I’ve finished two novels and am working on a third right now, but I have lots to do on my last day off, so this will be a quick post. 

Both novels deal with the grieving process, but they couldn’t be more different.  The first book I read was Ghost Forest by Canadian author Pik-Shuen Fung.  In this brief, haunting debut, the main character is the oldest daughter in a family that was moved from Hong Kong to Vancouver in 1997, just before the transfer of sovereignty.  Her father was one of many “astronaut” fathers, men who remain working in Hong Kong but fly back and forth to visit their families.  The main character lives with her mother, grandparents and younger sister, and when she reaches adulthood, she faces the loss of the father who was both there and not there during her life, a stoic man with whom she has a complex and difficult relationship.  Poetically written in brief chapters, we follow her life from her move to Vancouver to the death of her father and beyond.  It was a wonderful, moving story that was both easy and difficult to read, imbued with sadness as well as hope.

The next book I read was Notes on your Sudden Disappearance by Alisone Espach, which conformed more closely to what my ideas of a “traditional” book dealing with grief would be like.  Growing up in a typical American suburban family, thirteen-year-old Sally and sixteen-year-old Kathy are as close as sisters can be.  They are both obsessed with Billy Barnes, a boy one year older than Kathy who eventually becomes her boyfriend, leaving Sally to nurture her obsession in secret.  When Kathy dies in a car crash, Sally and Billy form a bond that evolves over time, and we see the affects of her death on all of the family members, as well as Billy, as they try to process their loss.  This book was interesting and well-written, and the author has some wonderful descriptions, insights and turns of phrases, but I found it somewhat overlong and ultimately disappointing.  While I was glad to reach the last page, it was still worth reading.

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunny day!

Bye for now... Julie

Thursday, 28 July 2022

Very short post for the end of July...

It’s going to be a humid day, but so far it’s bearable, so I’ve got a steaming cup of tea as I write this incredibly short post. And sorry, I messed up the text background and have too much reading to do to waste any more time trying to fix it.

I’ve been trying to get through as many Silver Birch books as possible since it’s “crunch time” - my list of nominee choices is due to the committee in less than 3 weeks!  But I also have book club meetings and have to read those books, too.  So last weekend I read Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan for my Friends’ Book Club meeting on Monday night, and I enjoyed it as much as the first time I read it a number of years ago.  This novel, set in 1820s rural China, tells the story of two girls from different backgrounds who are paired up as laotongs, or “old sames”, but who, due to class and circumstances, cannot continue visiting in person.  They manage to remain in contact using Nu shu, a special language used exclusively by women in the Hunan Province of Southern China, but a misunderstanding causes their friendship to end, with disastrous results.  This book was fairly short, and I guess since I’ve read it before, I knew what to expect, but for my other book club members, I think it was quite shocking, as it detailed the process mothers used for binding their daughters’ feet (at age six or seven!!), as well as the roles (and limitations) of women during this period in Chinese history.  It sparked a great discussion about the roles of women globally over the last couple of centuries, and we wondered where things might be headed in the future.  We also discussed restrictive clothing and fashion items in history (corsets, high heels, etc).  It was a good discussion, with most people saying that this book was a real eye-opener, as they knew foot binding happened, but they didn’t know much about it or really understand the full implications of this ritual.

That’s all for today.  Stay cool and keep reading!

Bye for now... Julie

Sunday, 17 July 2022

No-post Sunday...

As I’m drinking a delicious cup of steeped tea on this still-cool Sunday morning, I wanted to let you know that there may be a stretch of a few weeks when there are no posts.  It’s not that I’m not reading.  Rather, I’m reading a lot, just not books I can tell you about, as it’s crunch time for Silver Birch reading.  We are selecting the ten nominees next month, which is a big responsibility, and there are still books on our list that no one has read yet, so I’m trying to get to as many of them as I can in order to give them all a chance.  Who knows?  Maybe one of those unread books could have been the big winner if only we’d read it in time!!

So stay cool and keep reading and I’ll touch base again when I’ve read something I can actually talk about!

Bye for now... Julie

Tuesday, 5 July 2022

Twofer Tuesday...

It’s raining this morning, something we’ve needed for a while, and I’m officially into the first full week of my summer vacation - HURRAY!!  I was at the Mennonite thrift store yesterday to look at books and I ended up buying a really interesting triangular shaped teacup and saucer set, white porcelain with a bold pink flower on both the cup and the saucer, which I’m using right now to drink my flowery steeped Pu-erh Exotic tea.  So far, it’s a great morning!

I’ve got two books to tell you about this morning.  The first is a book that was on the shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, Sorrow and Bliss by British Australian author Meg Mason.  Now, I know that Canadian author Ruth Ozeki won this year’s prize for The Book of Form and Emptiness, which I’m sure is fabulous, but Sorrow and Bliss was probably one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I can understand how it made the shortlist.  This novel tells the story of Martha Friel, a 40-year-old British columnist who has just split up with Patrick, her husband of seven years.  She has moved back into her dysfunctional family home where she hopes to come to terms with the mental illness she has been trying to deal with since she was seventeen and a “little bomb” went off in her brain.  She recounts for us her experiences growing up with her alcoholic sculptor mother Celia and her kindly not-published poet father Fergus, as well as her younger sister Ingrid, with whom she has a close relationship.  She experiences suicidal thoughts throughout the 20+ years leading up to her 40th birthday party, thrown for her by her husband even though she specifically said that she didn’t want a party.  Shortly after this, Patrick leaves, and Martha must try to cope on her own, which she does poorly, prompting her to return to her London home.  I don’t want to say any more about the story or her experiences because the discovery is part of the joy of reading this book.  I will say that it was a hugely moving story of one woman’s struggle to cope with mental illness, and the devastating effects on people’s lives when mental health issues are ignored, denied or go undiagnosed or unacknowledged.  It was also incredibly funny, in a dark, insightful way, and the witty, sarcastic banter between Martha and Ingrid were some of the best parts of the book (well, to be honest, the whole book was a string of “best parts”).  It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me feel deeply for those who suffer in silence.  This book brought to mind Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar:  imagine Esther Greenwood in a contemporary setting but 20 years older and having had various adult experiences, including getting married.  Actually, both Esther and Martha are writers, so maybe Mason was inspired by Plath’s novel.  Anyway, I think if you enjoyed The Bell Jar, you would definitely enjoy Sorrow and Bliss. It will certainly make my "shortlist" at the end of the year!

And my Volunteer Book Club will be meeting on Friday morning to discuss Canadian author Richard Wagamese’s amazing novel Indian Horse, which I finished yesterday.  This novel tells the story of Saul Indian Horse, an Ojibway boy whose family was forcibly separated in the late 1950’s and he ended up at a residential school at the age of eight.  There he suffered the terrible living conditions and mistreatment by the priests and nuns and witnessed more sorrow and cruelty than any child should ever see, but he had the love of hockey to keep his spirits up and give him purpose and hope during those desolate years.  He begs Father Leboutilier to allow him to play, and he exhibits a gift for seeing the game and using the ice to its fullest for strategic passing.  He’s singled out by Fred Kelly, a former residential school student, and moves into Fred’s family home to play with the Moose, a team of older boys who play a circuit of other Native hockey teams.  Saul’s gifts bring the team plenty of wins and they are invited to play an exhibition game against an older, more polished team of white players.  This portion of the book details the discrimination these Native players face in towns in Northern Ontario in the 1960s, when hockey was seen as a white man’s game.  Saul reluctantly moves up through the levels of hockey until he loses himself in the face of hatred and discrimination.  Although it takes many years, Saul eventually learns to deal with his past and finds a way to restore the peace and joy he felt when he first discovered hockey.  This was a fabulous read, a novel that was both incredibly heartwrenching but also filled with hope.  Wagamese did an amazing job of making Saul real and relatable, and I was thankful that there were so many moments of joy in what could have been an utterly depressing yet necessary book.  Barely over 200 pages, it is a short book that seems so much longer.  Like Saul’s hockey moves, each of Wagamese’s words was deliberately chosen and packed with meaning.  I think it will spark a great discussion with my group.  If you haven’t already read this award-winning novel, I would recommend picking it up as soon as possible. 

That’s all for today.  Stay cool and dry!

Bye for now... Julie