Friday 30 September 2011

Friday afternoon book thoughts...

I've been in a bit of a book rut lately.  Not just books, but audiobooks, too.  I've started at least three audiobooks, dedicated several "days" worth of listening time (that means the time it takes to walk home from work), and have stopped listening to and even deleting the audiobook from my player.  Now that's decisive - sometimes I will stop listening but keep it downloaded in case I change my mind, but not this time, I was that sure of my decision.  So thankfully I came across a Minette Walters mystery that I hadn't read or listened to yet, The Devil's Feather.  It's a recent novel (I think 2005), and a bit more graphic than I'd like, but it's long and her writing style is interesting, so I'll definitely stick with it.  It reminds me of Chameleon's Shadow (2007) in style, storyline, and even characters.  I listened to that one as well, and perhaps they were read by the same person, which may help me to detect similarities.  Anyways, complex plots and characters always make Walters' psychological mysteries engaging to the last page.

I tried reading several novels, the teen novel I mentioned in an earlier post, then read and finished Close Your Eyes by Ward (so unremarkable I can't really even remember what it was about, but engaging enough that I stuck with it), and one or two others, including Italian Fever by Valerie Martin.  You may remember that I really like Martin's novels, but this one was too, hmmm, "gothic" is the word I'm going to use, although I don't think that's quite right.  Not only did I stop reading that one, I made the decision to take out my bookmark and check the book in (but I wrote down the page I was on, just in case... *wink*).  Now I'm reading The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison.  I've never heard of this author or read anything else by him, nor have I read any reviews of the book.  What caught my eye and made me want to take this book out and give it a try is (and here I should be ashamed, but I'm not!) the cover.  We've all been told, all our lives, not to judge a book by its cover, and sometimes that is more than a metaphor for people and other things in life; sometimes it actually refers to books.  But how can you not form an opinion based on the cover of a book?  After all, it's often the way you first encounter it, by seeing it on a bookstore or library shelf, or you may see someone else reading it and it may look interesting or appealing to you.  And I believe there's nothing wrong with this, because you aren't really "judging it" by the cover; the cover is merely a way to attract readers to go further and take the time to discover what is inside the book.  I have no doubt that publishers put alot of money and thought into the cover design for books so that it best represents what the story inside is about (hopefully the cover design has relevance to the story, and is not just some marketing ploy to get readers to buy the book!).  What other ways do we encounter books or make our reading selections?  We may read a review in the newspaper or magazine.  We may attend an author visit and hear a reading.  We may hear about a book from others we know or hear about a book on TV (think "Oprah's Picks").  Books are available in places other than bookstores and libraries, too, such as Zellers and WalMart, and even the grocery store.  So we are exposed to books of all sorts in many different places and many different ways.

Anyways, the cover of The Last Weekend appealed to me, so I read the inside flap and thought it sounded interesting, as it deals with some of my favourite themes, jealousy, envy, and deception.  And it's about two couples who have known each other for years, the two men since university, and the deceptions that have been part of their relationships, both their marriages and their friendship, for years.  The terms "rivalrous friendship", "haunting", "brilliantly chilling", and "troubling revelations" are all used to describe this story.  I really enjoy novels in which all is not necessarily what it seems and things aren't easily and neatly explained away.  So while it was the cover that initially attracted me, it was the description of the story on the inside flap that sold me on the book.  I'm not far enough into it to comment on the story yet, but so far it's engaging.  I'll give a better account of it next time.

That's all for today.

Bye for now!

Friday 23 September 2011

Rainy Friday morning...

Once again, I didn't take my own advice.  Instead of "doing it now" on Wednesday morning and writing a short, uninspired post, I decided to "do it later".  Unlike going to see the movie that I suspected I wouldn't like, I think that was the right choice, since I have much more time and inclination today.  I have four topics in mind for today's post, and I'm not sure if I'm going to tackle them all briefly or if I will opt to go into one in-depth and leave the others for another time.  The topics are the book club discussion of The Bishop's Man and our discussion and comparison of ebooks and ebook readers, audiobooks, and traditional books.  The next is the visit of the One Book One Community author, Louise Penny.  The third is the book I'm currently reading and hoping to finish today, Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward, and the fourth is the book I started reading, and may finish eventually, but is now sitting unread on my desk, Valerie Martin's Italian Fever.  I'll start with The Bishop's Man.

I was thrilled to discover at the meeting last week that, of the members who were able to make it out, everyone felt that this book selection was "a good read".  People were reluctant to use the word "enjoyed" when they talked about the book, due to the difficult nature of the issues presented in the novel.  It's hard to say you enjoyed reading a book about sexual abuse of minors by clergy members, crises of faith and purpose faced by priests after more than 20 years of service, and the secrecy and cover-ups that exist not only in the church's hierarchy, but in small towns and within families.  But MacIntyre did an excellent job of presenting the main character, Father Duncan McAskill, as both guilty and innocent, likeable and disagreeable, and ultimately a character towards which the reader feels compassion.  It is truly an excellent read, one which presents the humanity of priests and men, and reminds us that those in power are just men.  As I suspected, most people in the group found the time-shifting passages difficult to follow, except, as one member pointed out, those passages in italics, because you always knew that those passages were taking place in Honduras.  But everyone also agreed that, in the end, it all came together, although there were no concrete answers offered to the reader.  Like truth, the conclusions were uncertain and different for each reader.  Brilliant!  I think I could safely recommend this book to just about anyone.

Before we even go to talking about the book, though, we had a full and interesting discussion about different types of "books", as one of the book club members received an ebook reader for her birthday and had some questions about it.  We discusses the merits of this type of "book", and concluded that there are times and reasons for which this type of reading format would be suitable, such as reading in bed, when books can get heavy to hold, and when travelling, when books are once again heavy.  But we agreed that the tactile nature of physical books was wonderful and could not be replaced by that which appears on a screen.  Then we talked about audiobooks and when they are a great alternative to physical books.  I use my MP3 player to listen to audiobooks when I'm walking or biking.  I know some people listen to books when they are cleaning, cooking, or driving.  The great thing about this type of "book" is that you can do something else while listening, whereas with a physical book, you can really only read and do nothing else (well, I have been known to read and walk at the same time, but that can be unsafe, especially when encountering stairs or traffic!!).  Here's an interesting bit of trivia: Children can listen to a book that is up to 2 grades above what they can actually read.  I don't know if that's true of adults, but I suspect that, at some point, our  ability to read and comprehend reaches its peak and plateaus, so I think this only applies to children.  Anyways, I thought that was interesting.

I've written quite a bit already, so I may just talk about the visit from Louise Penny to the Victoria Park Pavillion on Tuesday evening.  She and Waterloo Region police chief Matt Torigian were onstage together in conversation for about an hour, and it was a great discussion.  It mostly centred on her book, and the One Book One Community book selection for 2011, Bury Your Dead, but occasionally Torigian discussed the challenges he faces being in law enforcement and now being in a position of management and leadership.  He commented that the Inspector in Penny's novel, in his dealings with one of his officers, demonstrated "the humanity of leadership", which I thought was beautifully put.  He was interesting and well-spoken and made a nice conversational companion to Penny, who makes her living using language to express thoughts and feeling and to create believable characters.  I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, despite the fact that I haven't read that book or any other of her novels. 

One of my kitties is asking for some snuggle-time right now, so I better close.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Time for tea and book talk...

Well, I suspect this morning's post may be less about books than about movies.  I went to see "Snowflower and the Secret Fan" last week, and I was thoroughly disappointed by the film.  I wasn't able to take my own advice and separate the film from the book, and the film barely resembled the book.  I mean, the two main characters, Snowflower and Lily, were in it, but they were almost an afterthought to their contemporary counterparts, played by the same actors, that were definitely not in the book.  These characters, I think their names were Sophie and Nina, and their stories were the focus of the better part of the film, with fairly brief flashback-like scenes to the 19th Century story.  But I knew all of this going in, so I'm letting it go.  I just wanted to write about it and let you know that I would not recommend the film if you've read the book.  Having said that, as the film was ending, I heard another filmgoer behind me say to her friend, "That was good!", so who am I to judge?  (maybe she hadn't read the book!)

I finished The Bishop's Man last night, and it was as good this time as the last time I read it.  I find, though, that the challenge with this book is keeping the stories and timelines straight.  I wonder what sorts of discussions we will have at the book club meeting on Friday.  I suspect this will be one of the comments from the members, and I certainly think it's legitimate.  After all, I read this book just over a year ago, and now reading it again, I still had trouble following it.  But the best thing to do, as I know from my first time reading it, is to let it go and keep on reading, as it will all come clear in the end.  I look forward to our group discussion.

Now I need to find something else to read.  After I complete my post, I will have the rest of the morning to spend reading, but I have nothing new to start reading at home.  I have a couple books at work that I thought I might be interested in, one is a teen novel and the other is a children's ghost story.  I know nothing about either one, but they must have caught my interest at some point, so now I can give them a try.  I guess I can always start reading The Winter of our Discontent, as I missed my annual rereading this year.  Or I could start on the next in the Inspector Lynley series.  Hmmm... so many choices...

OK, that's the end of today's short post.  I'll write more after our discussion on Friday, maybe give you the highlights.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Another Wednesday morning...

Autumn is definitely in the air, and with it comes the urge to make something, so while I write and enjoy my hot tea, I'm also enjoying the smell of the homemade granola that is cooling on the counter - yum!

I finished Elizabeth George's Payment in Blood and it did finally "grab" me.  It was very good, and I enjoy a well-written British mystery, even if it's written by an author from California.  I'm now reading The Bishop's Man by Linden MacIntyre for my book group.  I've read it before, but it's great, so I thought it would be a good book club selection.  We have many copies available at the library, so I started out with a library copy, but as I was rereading it, I realized that this was the kind of book I would want to read again and to recommend to people, so I went out to the used bookstores downtown on Monday and found a trade paperback copy (lighter and mine!), which is what I'm reading now.  I hope my book club ladies like it, but even if they don't enjoy it as much as I do, I'm sure it will generate much discussion.

I wanted to talk about the experience of watching a movie based on a book.  I'm thinking about this now because I'm planning to go to see "Snowflower and the Secret Fan" at the Princess Cinema tomorrow night.  When I saw the listing, I was quite excited, since we read the book of the same name by Lisa See for the book club some time ago and really enjoyed it.  It is the story of two girls in 19th century China who are determined to be "old sames" for life by tradition. They endure many of life's trials and share many of life's joys together through secret communication by sending messages to one another on a fan using "nu shu", believed to be the only written language that was used exclusively by women.  Through one miscommunication and misunderstanding, their whole relationship may be ruined, and it is up to the two women to work this out.  I may have the details wrong as it's been a long time since I read the book, but this is the gist of it.  Well, I knew it was being made into a film, and was thrilled to see it playing this week at the early show.  Then I read the description of the film, and realized that there are two generations of women portrayed in the film, one in the 19th century and one contemporary.  I didn't remember that being in the book, but I went to my bookshelf to find the book and check.  The book is only set in the 19th century, so the film, as I read further in the description, is "loosely based" on the book.  When I read that, I reconsidered going to see it, but I think I will still go, even though it will be different than the book.  This is just one of the dilemma that you could face in these types of situations.  Here are a few scenarios: 1.  you've read and enjoyed the book, then the movie comes out and it's a direct adaptation of the book; 2.  you've read and enjoyed the book, then the movie that is "loosely based on" or "inspired by" the book comes out;  3.  you've read the book but didn't enjoy (or understand) it, then the movie comes out and it's starring your favourite actor(s);  or 4.  you haven't read the book, but have been meaning to do so, then the movie comes out.  In the first scenario, you have to be prepared to accept the film in and of itself, and resist the temptation to compare the book and film adaptation.  An example is "The French Lieutenant's Woman" excellent film adaptation of an excellent book.  This is not, however, always the case.  Likewise for the second scenario, but this may be a bit easier than in the first since you already expect it to be different from the book.  An example of this is "Simon Birch", which was loosely based on A Prayer for Owen Meany.  In the third scenario, you can make the choice based on the merits of the actor(s) rather than the story, or you can hope that the adaptation will appeal to you more than the written work or be easier to understand.  I've found that this has happened to me when I've watched the film adaptations of Henry James novels, in particular "The Wings of the Dove", a fabulous film but a novel which I read and did not understand at all.  I think this is also true with film adaptations of Shakespearean plays, which are often very popular because they are more accessible than reading the plays.  The fourth scenario, not having read the book but wanting to see the film, is difficult because I have to decide if I want to read the book first or see the movie and then read the book.  I faced this when the adaptation of Of Mice and Men with John Malkovich was released in theatres, but I hadn't read the book.  It's a tough call in any of these situations, because, let's face it, the film version is almost always a disappointment when compared with the book.  So I try to always remember that a film is a different medium that a book, and so each must be enjoyed and/or judged on its own merits.  Films are visual where books are intellectual/cerebral(?), films rely on the skill and art of actors and acting where books rely on the skill and art of the writer and writing.  I'm sure there are other differences, but I'm running out of time, so suffice it to say that films and books are bound to be different by their very nature and essence, and must be judged as separate entities.  I think I will still go and see "Snowflower" and try to enjoy it for what it is.

That's all for now!