Wednesday 31 August 2011

Wednesday morning tea and book thoughts...

Once again, autumn is in the air, so it is hard for me to believe that the next few days will be so incredibly humid.  The air feels positively fresh this morning, great for reading and drinking tea!

I've been in a bit of a book rut lately.  I can't seem to find anything to read that really grabs me.  I tried reading Annabel by Kathleen Winter, but it was too lyrical for me at this point, although the story sounds very intriguing.  Then I tried The Love of My Youth by Mary Gordon, but it was too disjointed to suit my needs - I wanted a narrative that was written in full sentences and paragraphs, not half-thoughts and sentence fragments.  So I picked up a copy of Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman that has been sitting on my shelf for ages, a discarded paperback from the library.  I've been meaning to give it a try, since Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier is one of my favourite books.  I love the characters, the gothic tone and setting, the story, the dialogue, everything, and Rebecca's Tale got very good reviews as a companion to the original.   I've given up on it, since the voice of Colonel Julyen is one of a doddering old man rambling on about the past and denying his infatuation with Rebecca.  But only this morning I remembered that I read in the reviews that this book is written in four parts, narrated by Colonel Julyen, Terrance Gray (the journalist), Rebecca, and I think Ellie, Julyen's daughter.  So I may pick it up again, skip the rest of the first part, and give the other narrators a chance. 

But first I must finish Payment in Blood by Elizabeth George, the second in the Inspector Lynley series.  I found a paperback copy in a used book store on the weekend, which makes it light and easy to carry around and to read.  For some reason, it's not really grabbing me either, but I will stick with it and finish it.  Why is it not grabbing me?  Perhaps because I've seen this book as a filmed episode, so the story is familiar to me (although I don't really remember what happens).  Maybe I'm finding the characters too hard to keep straight (Lady This and Lord That, but with different real surnames - I think I need to make up a list of cast of characters and their relations to each other).  It's often very difficult to define why you like or don't like a book, but that is all part of the process of Reader's Advisory, and that is why reviews are useful.  They can give you a sense of the story but also of the pace, the language, and the characters.  I also believe that you can get a real sense of a book from reading the first few pages.  If you can define what it is you like or don't like about a book, you'll go a long way in finding other books you may like and so avoid wasting alot of time with others you don't care for.

Who knew it would be so difficult to pick a "good book"?!  I better get back to Payment in Blood.

Bye for now!

Monday 22 August 2011

Monday morning book thoughts...

It really feels like autumn is in the air this morning.   I love the cool weather and my cup of hot chai tea.  I'm especially relishing it since I know that it is supposed to be hotter and more humid for the rest of the week and into the weekend. 

So The Joy Luck Club was not a huge success at my book club.  Three of my members couldn't make it, and of those that did make it, at least one didn't like the revelations about the Chinese culture that were presented in the book and another didn't like it for reasons I can't now recall.  But we did agree that the themes of mothers and daughters, mothers' expectations of daughters and daughters' misunderstandings of their mothers' lives as girls are universal.  I think the most difficult aspect of the book was the challenges it presented when trying to remember whose story belonged to which mother, and which mother had which daughter.  This is Amy Tan's first novel, and I was pretty impressed with it the first time I read it, but this time, less so.  Next month we are reading The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre, a Canadian novel and I believe a recent Governor General's award winner.

I wanted to talk a bit about The Weekend Man by Richard B. Wright, which I finished last night.  It definitely reminds me of The Winter of Our Discontent, my favourite book of all time and the one I've read more often than any other book.  While not as good as Discontent in this reader's opinion, The Weekend Man has many similarities to the Steinbeck novel.  The main character, Wes Wakeham, is a likeable man who is more interested in contemplating life than making any decisions and being successful, which is very similar to Ethan Allen Hawley in Steinbeck's novel, who manages a grocery store and philosophises aloud in Latin to his wall of canned goods when he is alone in the store.  Both men speak of a sanctum sanctorum and both are perceived to be behaving shrewdly when they are really just being nice, accommodating, and indecisive.  Both men are tempted by women other than their wives and both have difficulty making commitments.  Wright offers this definition in his book:  "A weekend man is a person who has abandoned the present in favour of the past or the future.  He is really more interested in what happened to him twenty years ago or in what is going to happen to him next week than he is in what is happening to him today."  Wes makes decisions in his daily life by putting slips of paper with options into peanut butter jars and selecting one each day in order to decide what to have for breakfast and what route to take to work.  He talks of the "Saturday afternoonness" of his, and reflects on the "baffling ordinary sadness of my own existence".  This very much echoes Ethan's character and attitude.  In fact, the characters are so similar in attitude that I wouldn't be surprised if Wright was significantly influenced by The Winter of Our Discontent.  This would not really be a stretch, since Discontent was first published in the early 1960s, Steinbeck is a famous American author, and The Weekend Man was originally published in 1971.  I would love to write an academic paper comparing these two books, but that is for another time.  For now, let's just say they are similar.  I wonder what these types of novels are called, what genre or label can be placed on them?  When I describe The Winter of Our Discontent, I say that it is the move from innocence to experience for a grown man.  If the main character is a child, we call that a "coming-of-age" story, but it must be different for stories in which the main character is an adult with children.  Maybe loss of innocence is a lifelong process and we are constantly moving from naivety to understanding or experience.  This makes sense in a way, but the experiences in adulthood would be less dramatic than the first and probably most significant experience in childhood.  Whatever this genre is called, I like it.

I needed something to read this morning, so I looked on my bookshelf and found Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman, which I've been toying with reading for a few years now.  I really enjoyed Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, and have been curious about this companion novel for a while.  I'll give it a try and see what I think, but I have plenty of other novels sitting on my desk at work that are just waiting to be read.

That's all for today.

Bye for now!

Thursday 18 August 2011

More book thoughts...

This may be a short entry, as I'm low in inspiration and in energy, but as I've mentioned before, given the choice to "do it now or do it later", I usually opt to "do it now", so here goes...

I started reading The French Lieutenant's Woman last week, and was really interested in it.  The author writes extensively about the novel, and the characters, and is almost "talking to" the reader, to a far greater extent than I remembered.  I would have liked to stick with it, but I wanted to read something new, something I had never read before, so I picked up The Weekend Man by Richard B. Wright.  This Canadian author is probably most famous for Clara Callan, which I have tried to read a couple of times but could not get into.  I read Adultery a few years ago and enjoyed it, although I don`t recall what it was about (except, of course, adultery!).  The Weekend Man is about a guy in his early thirties, a textbook salesman who is separated from his wife and their child.  He suspects that there is more to be found in life than the routine he`s living, if only he knew what to look for.  So far, almost nothing has happened, which, for me, is usually OK in a fall or winter book, but not so good for a summer read, when I prefer more fast-paced, lighter fare.  But for some reason, I`m going to stick with this one.  Maybe it`s the detailed descriptions of the main character`s psyche and motivation for his actions, maybe it`s the format, condition and brevity of the book (tradepaperback, well-worn, 245 pages), but something is compelling me to stick with it.  I feel that if I reach the end of this novel, I may come away learning something new about the human condition. 

I think I`ll close now, but I may write again before the weekend is over, since tomorrow I have my book club meeting and I usually like to write an entry with the highlights of our discussion.  Stay tuned...

Bye for now!

Thursday 11 August 2011

Another Thursday evening...

And a lovely evening it is.  There's a cool breeze, the light through the leaves is dappled in the yard, and it almost feels like autumn is in the air, which makes me very, very happy.  I'm drinking regular orange pekoe tea, but it could easily be described as sweet and milky, just like in the British mysteries, where the relatives of the murder victims are always given a cup of "sweet, milky tea".  Which reminds me - I was going to write an entry which explores the differences between British mysteries and American mysteries (but that's for another time).

Tonight I want to talk about metafiction.  I was talking to a woman at work recently and she told me she was reading a great book, The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles.  I haven't read that novel in years, but had to agree with her-I remember it being very good, and have decided to read it again soon.  We then talked about the way the author injects himself and the present into the story, and she said this was an example of metafiction.  I have heard this term before, but never really gave it much thought until just after this conversation.  I think a simple definition of this term is this:  metafiction is fiction about fiction, or fiction that is aware of itself.  So any time the author addresses the reader directly, or there is a story within a story, or a writer is a main character who may or may not be writing about what is happening in the story could be considered metafiction.  I got to thinking of some examples (and I looked it up on Wikipedia, too!).  My first thought was the scene in Jane Eyre when Jane proclaims, "Reader, I married him."  I think that would loosely fit into the parameters, although I believe that this was an isolated occurrence in that novel.  What about Angels and Insects by A.S. Byatt?  The governess writes a children's story that mirrors the situation she and the male character she loves are in.  And Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin.  Although I haven't read the whole novel, I recall that the main character is writing a story, too.  In Ian McEwan's Atonement, the main character becomes a writer and writes about the situations in her life that are described earlier in the book.  There are surely others, perhaps Paul Auster's New York Trilogy, especially The Locked Room, although it's been years since I've read those, too, so I can't be sure.  I was reading a children's picture book in preparation for a storytime this weekend, The Wonderful Book  by Leonid Gore.  It's the story of a book that is found in the forest by a bunny who thinks it's a house, a bear who thinks it's a hat, a family of mice who use it as a table, a fox who thinks it's a bed, and a worm who wants to eat it for lunch, but it is saved from this fate by a boy who finds it and recognizes it for what it truly is, a book to be read.  The forest creatures gather around to hear the boy read a story about a bunny, a bear, a family of mice, a fox, and a worm.  The boy is reading the book that we've just read!  That's pretty cool (and pretty "meta")!

I think "meta" is a term that could also be applied to film, a film that is aware of being a film.  "The Truman Show" is a movie about a guy who is the star of a reality show, although he doesn't know that his life really a TV show.  The film "Adaptation" is a film about the struggles a screenwriter faces while adapting a novel into a film, the same novel on which the film itself is based.  "Being John Malkovich" is also self-reflective (or is it self-reflexive?) in that John Malkovich plays a fictionalized version of himself.  It's like a maze within a maze within another maze... 

All that "meta-thinking" is making my head foggy.  I better close now and finish The Joy Luck Club.

Bye for now!

Thursday 4 August 2011

Book thoughts on a Thursday evening...

Wow, I hardly ever write in the evening - it seems so different than writing in the morning.  Although I'm steeping my chai tea even as I write, somehow writing and drinking tea in the morning holds anticipation and expectation for the day ahead, while partaking of these activities in the evening carries with it the sense of winding down.  Even my kitties are sleeping!

I finished The Slap a couple of days ago, and it was as I expected, not really uplifting, but interesting, complex and intriguing.  A book like this really makes you think about your actions, and the effects your actions and decisions may have on your own life and the lives of others, intentional or not.  I mentioned in my last blog entry that I have read other books that present these types of situations but could not remember any titles offhand.  Well, I have a couple of titles that I've read within the past year that offer this type of situation.  The Memory-Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards is one of these novels.  The decision of the husband regarding his children has long-term effects on his own life, the lives of his family members, and others, often in unexpected ways.  A Perfect Night To Go To China by David Gilmour is another title where one action sets in motion a string of events that touch the lives of all those involved.  On the lighter side, Happiness by Will Ferguson offers this type of story but the effects of the action or decision are presented in a more comical way.  All very interesting reads, ones that make you think, "If only he or she had done this instead of that."  But getting back to The Slap, the novel was written in a way that presented the setting and the event in the first chapter, then devoted a chapter to individual characters to tell their stories, and these usually presented enough background information that the reader could then understand the characters' actions or responses to the actions of others.  I didn't always understand why one character was given a chapter but another, who seemed much more significant to the story, was excluded.  It was a difficult (as in intimate, emotional, and complex) book to read, and I imagine it was more difficult to write.  I don't think it was perfect, but it certainly tackled difficult subjects (child abuse and tolerance to violence in society, alcoholism and drug use, and adultery) and presented a broad range of three-dimensional characters in a successful, realistic way.  Kudos to Chris Tsiolkas for being brave enough to write this book.

I'm listening to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None as an audiobook, and as always, I'm enjoying the detail and complexity of her cozy mysteries.  I've listened to a few of her mysteries, The Body in the Library, The Mystery of the Blue Train and The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and I've read a few titles, too.  But I think I will try to read more of her novels and to find out about her personal and literary life.  I'm already thinking about putting together a list of book club selections for next year, and I'm going to suggest for our October 2012 book club meeting that we each read a different mystery and tell the group about it.  I like to choose something sort of scary or suspenseful for October, being close to Hallowe'en.  In the past we've discussed a Minette Walters mystery, Canoe Lake by Roy MacGregor (I had just been to Algonquin Park for vacation) and Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale.  I hope the suggestion to read novels by the "Queen of Crime" will be met with enthusiasm.

That's all for tonight.

Bye for now!