Monday 27 June 2011

Books and tea on a Monday morning...

It feels like it's been such a long time since I've posted an entry that I've decided to post today... after all, the sun is shining, I'm drinking delicious chai tea, and I had a great book club discussion on Friday, so how could I wait until Wednesday to tell you about it?!

We discussed Still Alice by Lisa Genova for our book club meeting.  Everyone found it to be well-written, but some found it difficult to put into words the way they felt about the book.  One member said she felt "ambivalent" about it, because although she thought it was a great book, she couldn't really say she "enjoyed" it, since it dealt with such a difficult topic.  Another member admitted that she was initially angry with me for choosing such a heart-wrenching book, but I think she got over that anger once she finished the novel.  I told the group that I was reluctant to select this novel for us to read and discuss particularly because of the subject and the relation this may have to my group.  I facilitate a book group at a community centre as part of the 50+ Programming, so my group members are all over 50 years of age.  Still Alice is about a woman who, as she turns 50, is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, and her progressive decline as she loses the ability to recall and remember, basically as she "fades away".  You can see, then, why I was reluctant to add this to the list of books for us to discuss.  But while it's a difficult book to read, it's also filled with hope for understanding and redemption for her family members, as well as Alice's ability to hold on to what is essentially "Alice", even as the details fade.  We talked about the design of the cover, where the title is written STiLL ALiCE, with only the "i' in each word diminishing, and the symbol of the butterfly, both on the cover and in the story as the butterfly necklace that belonged to Alice's deceased mother which she starts to wear regularly, and how that symbol of change, of fleeting beauty, is so powerful and appropriate.  One member suggested that this novel helped her to better understand the challenges her friend, who is taking care of her father with dementia, is facing.  In the end, we agreed that it was a worthwhile read, well-written, difficult to get through, but excellent nonetheless  (and I think that one member has forgiven me for putting it on our list!).

But now I need to review the book suggestions I have listed for the rest of the year and try to squeeze in a few "feel-good" books.  Most of the titles that I've chosen are not necessarily what you would call "uplifting", although I believe that all except The Bell Jar contain an element of hope at the end.  I'm thinking of changing the August selection, Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, not because it's depressing (although it is kind of depressing), but because there are not enough library copies for everyone so it may be a struggle to get a copy in time for the meeting.  I'm thinking of replacing that title with Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding, which will definitely be humourous and uplifting, and I'm sure there are enough library copies to go around.  Perhaps if not Bridget Jones, then maybe something by Roddy Doyle, which one of my members recommended at the meeting on Friday.  His books are funny, but I think they have enough substance to sustain a group book discussion.  I'm also nearly finished The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and wonder if that would be too short and too easy to sustain a discussion for us.  Maybe if I paired The Little Prince with something else... hmmm... I'll give it some thought.  Still, it's been wonderful to reread the translation of that lovely french title after many years:  "'If you tame me', says the fox, 'you'll be the only boy in the world for me, and I'll be the only fox in the world for you'".  That's a powerful and beautiful notion of the ties that we form with others, including the people and animals that are important to us and touch our lives.

Now I need to find something new to read, and have no idea what I will read next.  I'm going to peruse my bookshelves here at home and see if I can come up with something suitable for my current reading mood (what is my current reading mood?  I'm not sure yet, but I hope to find out soon... I hate wasting precious time not reading!)

Bye for now!

Monday 20 June 2011

Monday morning post...

I have plans on Wednesday morning to have a tea party with the little girl who lives next door, so I decided to write a blog entry this morning as my weekly posting.  Unfortunately I haven't read much since I last posted, so I have little to blog about.  I think this will be a short entry!

I finished Lemony Snicket's The Bad Beginning, and I can see how it would become addictive to children.  Even as I was getting near the end of this first volume, I really wanted to know how they managed to get out of their predicament.  I have been told that the first 6 or so are fairly formulaic, but that they change after that and become less predictable and more interesting once again.  So if there are any fans of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" out there who are becoming discouraged by the "sameness" of the first few books, be patient and stick with them - you won't be disappointed if you continue.

I usually have no problem coming up with topics to write about when it comes to books and reading, but I'm completely stuck right now.  And my book club selection is sitting on the coffee table reminding me that I'm not even half-way through the book, and the meeting is on Friday.  I'm feeling some pressure right now from this inanimate, yet powerful, object.  So I better go and get reading.

Bye for now!


Wednesday 15 June 2011

Tea and book talk...

So I finished reading Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It started out offering interesting characters and complex storylines, and delivered on these promises right to the last page.  In an earlier post, I remarked that I felt like I knew each character so well at just the half-way point in the novel, and was wondering how he managed to do that.  I think it's because he used a few "techniques".  First, he introduced most of the characters early on in the book, and in rapid succession.  I found it a bit confusing to try to keep all the characters straight at first, but since they are in the novel prominently throughout the novel, that got easier to do.  The next "technique" I noticed is that, in terms of character development, he went against the first rule of Creative Writing 101, "Show, don't tell".  Rotenberg "told"!  He told us everything about a character the very first time he introduced him or her into the story.  He told the reader that, for example, Albert Fernandez was methodical and routine-driven, that he was frugal and ambitious, and that he was self-conscious of his wife's poor English.  He reads self-help books on how to survive the first years of marriage, and strives to be the first to arrive at work every day, both to make a good impression and to get the early-bird parking rate.  He tells us that Detective Ari Greene helps out his father, a Holocaust survivor, by picking up bagels and cream cheese for breakfast, but deceives him into thinking he used coupons to buy the cream cheese at the grocery store rather than admitting he'd purchased it at the bagel shop for an inflated price because he was too tired to make two shopping trips.  He even keeps grocery store shopping bags in the car to put the cream cheese in to further the deception.  Ari states in the first few paragraphs after he's introduced to the story that, having gone through so much in his life, the last thing his father needed was to discover that his only surviving son was a lousy shopper.  He works too hard and is constantly trying to make up for the losses his father suffered in the war.  These examples are true for most of the characters, that their basic characteristics are laid out for the reader right at the character's introduction.  But this is not a drawback.  Rotenberg still manages to offer growth and development for the characters, and we as readers better understand their choices and actions because of these introductions.  So, on a scale of 1 to 5, I give Old City Hall 5 stars.  It is complex and intriguing to the very end.  I dare you to read it and not feel sympathetic towards most, if not all, of the main characters.

I started reading Still Alice by Lisa Genova a few days ago.  It is the June book club selection.  I wanted to write about the experience of rereading a book, and how the reading experience is affected by knowing "what happens next", but I'll save that for next time.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Wednesday morning book thoughts...

I've begun my "summer hours" this week, and so will only be posting once a week on Wednesdays, instead of Wednesdays and Sundays, for the next three months.  Once autumn arrives, I'll re-evaluate and determine if posting once/week is sufficient or whether to go back to twice/week postings.  But for now, I think I'll be busy doing other fun things on Sundays!

I finished Wake and it certainly didn't disappoint.  The main characters were well-described and three-dimensional, and it was interesting to see how Sawyer brought the storylines together.  While this is the first in a trilogy, I need a break from this type of novel and so will not read Watch right away, but I will eventually read all three.  I saw Sawyer present at the OLA SuperConference a number of years ago, and he talked about why so many sci fi and fantasy books are in trilogies.  He suggested that the publishers did not want to publish one volume that was 1200 pages long, as no one would buy it from a book store.  I think the concern was that it was too big to display well, and that people wouldn't want to purchase such a large single volume, and so there was no good way to market them.  Sci fi writers, then, are forced to break up their long novels into three shorter books.  I may not have the reasoning exactly right, but I think the gist of it is correct.  Anyways, I recommend Wake to anyone who is interested in looking "outside the box" and willing to consider "what would happen if...?" 
PS Waterloo plays a prominent role in the book, so it's an interesting book on another level, that is, how people see Canada and Canadians in general, and Waterloo in particular.

I'm currently reading two books simultaneously, and listening to a third.  I'm finally reading Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg.  Remember I mentioned that he has recently released his second book, Guilty Plea?  Well, Old City Hall is proving to be as good as I initially thought it would be the first time I started reading it but didn't finish.  The characters are described in such a way that the reader knows the details of their lives, where they grew up, how they ended up with the jobs they have, what kinds of family circumstances surround them.  How does Rotenberg manage to present all this information about so many characters, including Toronto, without the book being 1200 pages?  After all, it's not really a story about the characters, it's a murder mystery and a courtroom drama.  The hardcover is 366 pages, or about average length, and I'm only half-way into the book, yet I feel like he's presented enough information to fill a complete novel already.   I make it sound like it may be dense and detailed and difficult to read, but that's not so.  It's not difficult, but it's not "light" either.  It's just... amazing!  More details once I finish it.

I'm also reading The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket.  This children's novel is the first in a series, "A Series of Unfortunate Events", and while I don't often read children's books (except picture books, which I love!), I'm quite enjoying it.  I can imagine why a young person would want to read it.  The story is interesting, the writing style appeals to me, it's humourous yet also gloomy, and it's quite short (for me as an adult, not so maybe for a child) but also part of a series, so if I want to read more, I can read the second, and third, etc.  It is the story of three children who have lost their parents in a fire, and must now live with their evil Uncle Olaf.  From the excerpt, I suspect that there will be other "unfortunate events" that will befall them during this novel.  There are 13 books in the series - I doubt I'll want to read them all, but you never know...

I'm also listening to Caught by Harlan Coben.  I first started reading Coben's mysteries about 9 years ago, with his Myron Bolitar series, about a sports agent-turned-detective.  While I have only vague recollections of those novels, I seem to recall that they were written with humour and wit, but were also murder mysteries involving athletes.  He has also written a number of stand-alone mystery-thrillers, including The Woods, and Tell No One,  which was made into a french film in 2006.   I enjoy his thrillers, as they always contain plot twists that never fail to entice the reader.

Time to go and read for a bit before getting ready for work

Bye for now!

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Wednesday morning book thoughts...

I just started reading Robert J Sawyer's Wake, the first in his "WakeWatchWonder" trilogy, and it's great!  I'm not really  a science fiction reader, but I find his books to be easily understood, accessible, yet thought-provoking.  I've read others by him, Hominids/Human/Hybrids (trilogy), Frameshift, and Mindscan, and they all present situations where we must consider "what would happen if...?"

Wake tells the story of Caitlin, a 15 year old math genius who has been blind since birth.  When she is approached by a Japanese scientist who offers her the chance to see by undergoing experimental surgery, she is thrilled.  But what at first seems to be a failure ends up, after some modifications, to give Caitlin the ability to see into the WorldWideWeb, or what they term "websight".  I know from reading the back cover of the book that she will encounter a predator lurking on the WWW, and that it will be "getting smarter" as the novel progresses.  What the summary doesn't tell you is that Helen Keller is Caitlin's role model, that there is an outbreak of H5N1 flu in a small Chinese village and that controversial measures are taken to contain the disease and control communication with the rest of the world about it, and that there is a chimp named Hobo who can communicate using sign language with Virgil, the orangutan, and who has learned to create representational art.  There is so much going on in this complex novel, I nearly did not take time to post about it because I want to be reading it instead!  This novel, and others of his that I have read, take me out of my reading "comfort zone";  that is, they make me think about things that I would otherwise never encounter, and therefore never have to consider, in my own personal experience. 

I have a "read anytime" favourites list, and some of the titles on this list are We Need to Talk About Kevin (soon to be released as a film), A Handmaid's Tale, and Never Let Me Go.  These novels all take me out of my reading "comfort zone" and make me think about situations that I would never encounter in my own life.  Perhaps I can read them again and again because each time I read them, I look for new clues as to what would be the best course of action in each situation.  Although I know what the ending is for each novel, what the characters "choose" to do, I can still consider what "I" would do if I were there.  Maybe this is a good thing... or maybe I just need to get out more! 

Speaking of getting out more, I'll close now and sit outside to drink my tea, as it's the first of June, the sun is shining, and the wind is rustling through the leaves, making patterns of dappled sunlight and shadows on the blinds.

Bye for now!

PS I love my new mug - it's perfect!!!