Wednesday 28 December 2011

Post-holiday post on a Wednesday morning...

Against my better judgment, I will write a post today.  I'm feeling less-than-inspired, and I may be coming down with the flu, as I'm a bit achy all over, but I figured a hot cup of chai tea and some book talk may make me feel better!  Be prepared, this may be a shorter post than usual.

So I finished The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright last week.  It didn't take long to read, as it is a short book, but it is an example of what I described in an earlier post, a short book that seems much longer because it says so much more that you think is possible to say in just 229 pages.  I remember when I first started it and, at the end of that reading session, looked down at the bottom of the page - only on page 49!  I felt like I had read so much more than just 49 pages.  It is the story of Gina, an Irish woman in her 30s who is describing the process of having an affair with Sean.  After reading this book, I absolutely do not want to have an affair, she paints such a stark picture of the shifting emotions, the people involved, and the realities of such a situation.  She is a brilliant writer.  I will just take a few quotations from random pages of this book.  When describing a scene of the group at the beach, before the affair begins, she writes:  "Sean gave me the full flat of his face, as if to ask if I had some problem with the body of his wife.  But I had no problem with it, why should I?  I had problems enough of my own." (26)  Or when Gina is helping out at a gathering:  "I could feel it, still there under my hands:  thick blown glass with swirls, in the base, of cobalt blue.  Such a beautiful jug.  And then I let it go." (44)  Or when she describes her feelings after her first intimate encounter with Sean:  "My adultery - I don't know what else to call it - lingered in my bones; a slight ache as I walked, the occasional, disturbing trace of must... I also felt, as I went to pack and face the dreaded Sean, that the whole business was a little disappointing, let's face it - as seismic moral shifts go."  (36-37)  Her way of describing situations, in just the way we would not normally describe them, seems at once jarring and also perfect.  And although the novel is set in Ireland and the writer is Irish, there is nothing distinctly "Irish" about the writing, no Irish slang or turns of phrases;  it could be taking place anywhere.  I don't know what else to say about this novel, except that I highly recommend it.  In tone, it reminded me, as least at the beginning, of Anne-Marie MacDonald's Fall On Your Knees, in that she speaks directly to the reader as she describes a scene, then says she's getting ahead of herself, rewrites her description, and takes the reader back to a time before the scene to put it in context.  It also reminded me a bit of The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, probably because it begins at a BBQ where there is a first encounter, an event that will change the lives of the individuals involved. 

I'm now trying to get through Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, which is my next book group selection.  It is interesting and very well-written, but it is so slow and intense that I find I can only read a few pages at a time.  It tells the story of a group of people in an unnamed Latin American country who are gathered for the birthday party of a prominent Japanese businessman at which a famous soprano is performing.  These people are taken hostage by a group of terrorists, and the rest of the novel describes the events that follow this hostage-taking.  Upon further research, I discovered that this novel is based on a real hostage-taking situation that occurred in I think Peru in 1997, although I can't quite recall the details at this time.  The author takes us into the thoughts of each individual as they play out their part in this situation, which, as I said before, I am finding intense and exhausting to read.  I'm about one-third of the way through, and I have about 10 days before we meet, so I will plan to read about 25 pages each day to get through it in time for the meeting.  That should still leave me with enough time to also prepare some background information on the real situation upon which this novel is based, as well as some information on the author.

OK, I'll close for today.  While I don't really feel better, I certainly don't feel worse, so I guess the tea and book talk have helped!

Bye for now!

Thursday 22 December 2011

For something a little different...

Today's post is different for a couple of reasons.  First, it's on a Thursday evening, which doesn't happen very often.  The second is that I don't have a cup of chai tea in front of me, but rather a steaming cup of homemade zucchini soup - YUM!  I'll make a cup of tea later.

I recently received notification that an item I had placed on hold had come in and was ready for me at the library.  When I looked at the title, I had no recollection of requesting this item, and concluded that I had probably read a review of the book in a library journal.  The book was The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis,  translated from the Danish by Kaaberbol.  The novel opens with Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse, opening a suitcase her friend Karin has asked her to pick up from a locker at the train station and finding inside a living, breathing, but drugged, three-year -old boy.  As I was reading, I asked myself "What would you do in a situation like that?" and came up with no useful answer.  Nina, though, is quick to react, and her story, what she does, how she discovers what has happened and where the boy came from, makes up a fair bit of the novel.  There are other, equally important, characters in the novel whose stories and connections to Nina and/or the boy are revealed gradually as the story progresses.  I found it to be a real page-turner, but I had some difficulty keeping the characters, especially the female characters, straight at first.  Once I had some sort of handle on their identities, this became much easier, but I did initially need patience in order to stick with it.  I would say, though, that my patience was rewarded with a well-written, interesting novel about the lengths people will go to save the ones they love.  It appears to be the first novel in the "Nina Borg" series, and the first to be translated into English.  This novel put me in mind of Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow, which I had recently taken from my bookshelf with the intention to reread it, but which I reshelved when the reserved item became available at the library.  Hoeg's novel, also set in Denmark, tells the story of a woman who investigates the suspicious death of a child who lived in her building and whom she had befriended.  Both Smilla and Nina seem to have untapped intuitive knowledge and skills at understanding and escaping difficult situations and avoiding traps set by individuals who are less than kind.  It also made me think of other Scandinavian crime novels, such as "Dragon Tattoo" trilogy by Steig Larsson, and the "Kurt Wallander" series by Henning Mankell.  I haven't read the Larsson books, but I have read a number of Mankell's novels.  Although these novels are completely different than The Boy in the Suitcase, crime novels by Scandinavian authors, at least in this reader's experience, have a certain tone and feel that set them apart from other crime novels.  The same can be said of British crime novels, and even American crime novels.  I suppose everyone is somehow influenced by his or her culture and history, even authors, and this must inevitably be reflected in what they write and also the way they write.  I will save the comparison of crime novel characteristics for another time, but I feel safe in recommending The Boy in the Suitcase to anyone who loves to read Scandinavian crime novels. 

On a completely different note, I'm now reading The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, and it's amazing!  I've read one other novel by her, the Booker-Prize winning The Gathering, which we discussed in my book group.  I found that novel a bit hard-going, as it was not really clear what was real and what was dream and/or memory, and, if memory, how reliable that memory was, but it was still a powerful novel.  This novel is much more staightforward but equally as powerful.  I'm only about a quarter of the way into it, but I can't wait to devour the rest.  I'll write a fuller account of this novel in my next post.

I'll close now, make that cup of tea, and settle down to a couple of hours' worth of reading, the best way to spend a quiet Thursday evening before the holidays. 

Bye for now!

Monday 12 December 2011

Monday morning book talk...

As I sit here enjoying the sunshine and, of course, my hot cup of chai tea, I'm reflecting on my reasons for creating this blog, which are twofold.  The first is to share the highlights of my book group discussions and the second is to share with others the books that I'm reading in order to make recommendations.

We had our book discussion of A Christmas Carol on Friday, and it was, as usual, lively and interesting.  Most everyone agreed that it was somewhat difficult to read and understand, as the language was challenging.  One member, who is a retired high school English teacher, commented that when this was originally written, it was written for children, but now students in Grade 12 can barely get through it!  I guess it shows that language really does evolve.  Who knows what will happen to the English language now, as we really enter the computer age!  Another member commented that it was easier to understand if you listened to it as an audiobook, as you wouldn't get bogged down in the individual words, but you get more a sense of the tone of the story.  After this comment, many members read their favourite lyrical passages aloud, and with feeling, which was wonderful, something we don't often do in our meetings.  Of the seven of us who were there on Friday, all avid readers, only two members have read this story before, which I found interesting.  We're all familiar with the figure of Scrooge, probably through the film adaptations of this novella, although of the five people who had never read the story, three of us had never watched a whole film version, either.  And yet we all know the story... interesting!  This begs the question, "Is it really worth reading?"  Well, one of my members commented that she wished she had read it 20 years ago to more fully understand the story and the characters, since she's never liked the movie, which her family members insist on watching every year.  This year she will watch it with greater understanding and appreciation.  I think this falls into Italo Calvino's category of "Books that you have heard so much about that you feel you've already read them, so now it's time to really sit down and read them" (or maybe that's MY category!!)  We all agreed that Dickens is a master at description.  As someone pointed out, when a director wants to make a film adaptation of one of Dickens' books, he/she knows exactly what each character will look like and how they will act.   I would say, based on the discussion, and the enthusiasm demonstrated throughout the discussion, that this book selection was a success.

I was at a get-together with some of my husband's former colleagues on the weekend, and someone asked me for some book recommendations, which reminded me of the other reason I created this blog.  Before everyone found new jobs, including my husband, I would often get requests like this from people with whom he worked.  I think the highlight of my Readers' Advisory career with this group came when I recommended The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, which everyone loved.  I have to say, it's been difficult to sustain that level of unanimous popularity with a single book since then, but I thought if I began a blog and wrote about the books I've been reading and offered a list of our book club selections, I may fulfill the RA needs of my husband's workmates.  I don't know how successful my blog has been in terms of meeting those needs, but I'm trying to help in the most widely accessible way I can think of.

And I've discovered, while trying to meet these other needs, that I genuinely enjoy writing about books.  It's a great way to reflect on what I've read, not just my book club selections, and think about why I liked or didn't like something.  This has really helped me define my own reading tastes and put into perspective my responses to books and authors.  I'm so glad to have this opportunity to write about and share my book thoughts with you on a weekly basis.  Thanks for listening!!

And as I finish my tea, I'll also wrap up my post for today ...

Bye for now!

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Another "book and tea" morning...

Winter is definitely here, but it's warm and cozy inside as I sip my chai tea and think about what I've read and am reading since my last post.

I finished reading A Christmas Carol on the weekend, but I won't comment on it until after my book club discussion on Friday, our last discussion of 2011.

After my rant about Robotham's book in my last post, and being unable to choose another book to read, I started rereading The Suspect, and it is proving to be just as gripping and interesting as I remembered it to be.  To use the tag-line of a fast-food chain which shall remain nameless, "I'm lovin' it!"  I really can't put it down, and although as I read parts of the book, I remember them, I don't remember what will happen next.  His writing in this book is, as I suggested in my last post, more low-key, but I wonder if it is also more gripping than his later books because the reader is just getting to know the characters.  Having said that, I already know the characters and I'm enjoying it much more than Bleed For Me.  I was surprised to find out that the author was not a psychologist in his former life, but an investigative journalist.  He offers such interesting insights into human behaviour.  In The Suspect, the main character, Joe, is treating a client, Bobby Moran, who seems to suffer from delusions and paranoia, and may be schizophrenic.  The author offers lengthy episodes when Bobby is in session with Joe, and the dialogue in these exchanges are, to this reader, very interesting, strange and insightful.  I wonder how he could possibly know what to write unless he had been a psychologist before becoming a writer.  There are only a few scenes when Joe is being a vigilante, going off on his own to seek justice when the justice system seems to be failing.  Perhaps that is another major difference between these books.  In Bleed For Me, Joe spent most of the book on these types of "adventures", and there were few, if any, episodes where he explores the psyche of a client.  I guess I can conclude from this that I enjoy thrillers, but I prefer thrillers of the psychological type.  In fact, when I am looking for something new to read and am using the library catalogue, I will often put in "psychological fiction" as a keyword search.  That is how I found Valerie Martin's Property, which, if you recall, was an unexpected but wonderful surprise.  Minette Walters writes psychological fiction/mysteries as well, and when reading her works, I'm as much interested in reading about why the characters behave the way they do as reading what they've done.  I wonder if that is why I had no problem reading The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, but absolutely could not read Digital Fortress.  While I didn't love the book, I thought The Da Vinci Code offered a fast-paced, gripping story while also offering some historical and religious context which helped to explain the why of what was going on, why people were behaving the way they were, while Digital Fortress seemed to be all plot and no context.  Does that make sense?  I can't comment any further on The Da Vinci Code, as it's been years since I've read it and so don't remember it very well.  I think it's safe to say, though, that I need more character and less plot, or at least a combination of both, to keep me interested.

After that post about thrillers, I better close and get on with my "thrilling" day.

Bye for now!