Monday 28 May 2012

New post on a hot day...

I guess you could say I'm preoccupied with the weather on a regular basis, and don't mind sharing my preoccupation with you - this may be sad, but I think it really makes me feel better to tell you how I feel about the current weather conditions.  Right now I am most definitely not drinking hot tea, as it is very warm and muggy outside.  There is promise of cooler weather later in the week, which helps to keep my spirits up.

But now let's talk about books.  I have three books to talk about today.  The first is Half-Blood Blues, my new bookclub selection.  I will say that I was compelled to read this book once I got further into it, and the slang-style of writing became less of a barrier.  I still was not entirely comfortable with the language, and right to the end I had to reread some passages, or read them slowly, to ensure that I understood them.  Having said that, I did want to know what happened next, and took the opportunity to read whenever I could.  I did not love this book, but it touched on many aspects of Nazi occupation in various European countries that I knew little or nothing about.  I also learned about the jazz scene at that time in history, and the plight of Negroes, in particular Negro musicians, at that time. Perhaps I didn't love this book because I couldn't identify with any of the characters, and not just the characters themselves, but the language they used to express themselves, which was very different from the language I would use to.  Or maybe it was the setting - books set during war-time do not always interest me.  But as a female author writing mainly from male characters' perspectives, I think Edugyan was successful.  All in all, it was a worthwhile read, and I'm curious to see how our first meeting will go.  I'll update you on the highlights.

The next book I want to talk about  is Play Dead by David Rosenfelt.  I listened to this as an audiobook, and I loved it!  This author is one that I'm sure I would not enjoy reading, but I love listening to his books being read aloud, and I especially enjoy the Andy Carpenter series read by narrator Grover Gardner.  He has the characters' voices and attitudes down pat - he IS Andy Carpenter!  The writing is light and funny, but the stories deal with serious crimes, and the author provides the reader with alot of information about the legal workings of an investigation and a trial.  I would definitely recommend this as a light summer read (or listen).  I have listened to other books by this author that were stand-alone titles and were not narrated by Gardner, and found them less entertaining, but still worthwhile.  I'm actually listening to another book narrated by the same person - it appears that he narrates most of the books in the "Inspector Montalbano" series by Andrea Camilleri.  These books are set in Italy (the author is Italian), so the styles of narration, as well as the writing styles, differ greatly between these two series.  One is funny and set in New Jersey, the other is more of a cozy mystery set on the coast of Italy.  I nearly did not recognize that it was the same narrator, but now that I've listened to more of the audiobook, I can hear the familiarity in the voice.  I think he's doing justice to this author's works as well, but I won't make a final decision until I finish listening to this entire novel.

My other bookclub is meeting on Saturday, and we will be discussing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon.  This short novel is written from the point of view of a teen who is autistic, and may be considered a young adult novel.  I read it a number of years ago, and thought it was a fabulous book, which prompted me to add it to our selection list.  It is proving to be just as good as I remembered it to be and I feel like I'm learning much about the way an individual with some degree of autism would think, feel, and relate to others and the world around him.  This novel also illustrates situations whereby those with various challenges may be misunderstood or otherwise hindered in their lives, and not necessarily encouraged to perform to their utmost abilities.  It is a moving story for this reader, written in a style that is both detached (as the narrator is himself) but also intimate, as though the narrator is sharing his innermost thought and feelings with the reader, on a very personal level.  I would definitely recommend this award-winning novel to just about anyone.

That's all for tonight.

Bye for now!

Monday 21 May 2012

Tea and book talk on a long weekend...

As I enjoy my cup of chai tea on this still-cool last morning of the Victoria Day weekend, I'm relishing an extra day off, one to which I hope to devote a large portion of reading.  You know how it can be, long weekends seem to demand that you do something "special" or out-of-the-ordinary, which usually takes up more time, the main reason it's not something you would do on an ordinary weekend.  I have found in the past that if I don't make a real effort to space my chores and activities out over the whole weekend, and make an extra effort to keep the last day as stress- and obligation-free as possible, I'm more tired and worse off than if I didn't have that extra day off.  Well, today is the day for my scheduled R&R, which definitely includes reading.

I finished The Lightning Field by Heather Jessup on Friday afternoon.  I was worried that my initial enthusiasm for the novel was premature, and that the amazing use of language and the stunning imagery would either wear thin or diminish, but it did not disappoint.  The author was able to sustain this reader's enthusiasm for story, which, by the way, did pick up - I remember my initial concern that it may be too slow in the plot development department to keep me interested.  The novel was not flawless - I found the timeline difficult to follow, there seemed to be great stretches of time that occurred for the characters but about which no information was offered to the reader, so I was left guessing what had taken place during the intervening years.  The characters, though, were interesting and quite believable, and the settings were so "real", at least for this reader.  Since it is set in Toronto, I could envision so many of the streets and places to which the author refers.  She also uses what I believe in the movie world would be called "product placement", in that she makes reference to specific products by their brand names, not just their generic product names; for example, she says "Coke or 7-Up" instead of "pop", and "Rice Krispies" instead of "cereal".  Perhaps she did this intentionally to give authenticity to the setting.  After all, it is set mainly in the 1950s, when people suddenly had access to so many more pre-made products that in the previous decade.  The traditional roles in households were shifting, both for men and women, and consumerism and materialism increased at that time as well.  In this reader's opinion, the author created a realistic, believable setting which was the backdrop for the story, and the setting was necessary to understand the development of the characters and the plot.  Although this novel was not perfect, it was brilliantly written and I am definitely interested in seeing where this author goes as she develops her skills as a writer.

Once I finished that novel, I started reading Half-Blood Blues, the Giller-prize winning novel by Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan.  This is the selection for the new bookgroup I've recently joined - well, not joined, but become part of, since it didn't exist before now.  This group will be made up of two women I used to work with and one woman I work with now at my new job, and we will meet every second month.  This selection was made by one of the women I worked with at the library.  I read a bit on Friday, was not getting into it, and set it aside for the past two days, as I had no time to read at all.  I picked it up again this morning and read a bit more, and I think I will be able to get through it.  It is told from the point of view of Sid, a black jazz musician, as he searches for his friend, a young black German man who was arrested by the Nazis in Paris in 1940 and was never heard from again.  I find the style of writing challenging, as the author uses German-American slang to tell the story, but I think that the opening chapter, set in 1940 when the characters were younger, was the most difficult to read, as the slang was most heavily used there.  I've now started the next chapter and it seems to be a bit easier for me to read, which is good - I would hate to go to the first meeting of our new bookgroup having not read the selection.

From this reading experience and past reading efforts, I have determined that I prefer traditional storytelling styles and language for the books I read and enjoy.  This is not to say I am unable to read or enjoy other styles.  After all, I really enjoyed Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, a stream-of-consciousness novel where there is little in the way of traditional style, such as paragraphs, or even full sentences; it is instead made up of the main character's unstructured thoughts.  I also enjoyed John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman, which is an example of metafiction, which is literally "fiction about fiction"; in this case, the author addresses the reader directly to talk about the novel, which is part of the novel itself.  I guess my preferred style, then, is traditional, but I can branch out and read other styles of novel if the author and or story is outstanding for me.

On that note, I'm going out to enjoy the day before it gets too hot, at which time I will then sit comfortably still and read Half-Blood Blues.  Happy Victoria Day!

Bye for now!

Monday 14 May 2012

Another Monday evening post...

This will be a short post, as I've had a long day, ending with the latest updates in my ongoing dental issue saga - yuck!  (while I've made a cup of tea, I have to wait until it's lukewarm before drinking it, which is a big drag for this tea lover!!)

Speaking of tea, I was off work early on Friday afternoon, so I came home, made a cup of chai tea and finished reading Chai Tea Sunday by Heather Clark.  In case I didn't already offer a summary, it tells the story of Nicky, a woman who seems to have a perfect life until she is faced with a complicated tragedy that threatens to destroy her very core and seems almost impossible to overcome.  As she struggles to find a way to deal with her situation, she makes personal choices and comes to find her own way to accept her life through new friends and new realities.  I found it to be both a heart-wrenching and a heartwarming read, a novel that reads almost like the memoir of someone who has undergone these experiences and learns to deal with them in her own unique way.  I believe that the author did not actually go through these experiences, but that her cousin, Rachel, inspired Clark to write the story and provided many of the details regarding life in Africa.  This novel does not use flowery language or clever imagery, but it tells the story of the main character's experiences in a clear, concise, straightforward style that is similar to that of Lisa Genova, as I mentioned in my previous post.  It was an easy book to read regarding style, but difficult to read emotionally.  It was certainly inspirational for this reader as I endure my own (albeit lesser) hardships regarding my dental issues.  I think that this is her first book, and I would definitely be interested in following her if she chooses to pursue a career as a writer and reading anything else she has published.

Over the weekend, I began reading The Lightning Field by Heather Jessup.  This is also her first novel, and it is very different from Clark's book.  It, too, is about a woman who must overcome unexpected hardships in her life, and it is set locally (Toronto), but it is all about language.  It reminds me of Timothy Findley's The Pianoman's Daughter in style and tone, and the imagery is stunning.  The story is definitely not fast-paced, and I find that I need to reread some passages to make sure I've understood the imagery.  This novel is at times broad and sweeping, while at other times it is detailed and intricate. I'm only about a third of the way into the book, but the main "event" has just occurred, so perhaps the story will pick up pace a bit more (I enjoy a book where the main appeal factor is language and imagery, but I also need a plot that moves along at a reasonable pace).  More on this novel next time, when I will hopefully be finished.

That's all for tonight.

Bye for now!

Monday 7 May 2012

Book talk on Monday evening...

Well, I thought I'd try posting at a different time this week for a number of reasons.  First, I probably have a bit more energy on Monday evenings than I do on Thursdays, for obvious reasons.  I also had my book discussion on Saturday, so I feel I can comment better and present the highlights of our discussion more accurately now rather than nearly a week later.  And I was thrilled to receive a comment today from the author of Chai Tea Sunday (see comments for the last entry), so wanted to let her know about my progress with her novel.

I'll start tonight's post with the highlights of the book group discussion.  Remember we read To Kill a Mockingbird, and I admitted that reading this novel did not change my life?  Well, it clearly changed the lives of all of the book club members, both as a film and as a book, and it is a book that everyone has read more than once.  They LOVED it!!  Why did they love it?  Because it was so "real"; because it pointed out so many prejudices in society; because it was semi-autobiographical; because it was so powerful; because it illustrated how innocent children are, and how they see the world so differently from most adults.  We discussed possible reasons for Scout and Jem calling their father Atticus instead of dad:  because he wanted to make them feel like equals and to think for themselves; because he doubted his abilities in the role of "father" (remember, he repeatedly comments, usually to his sister Alexandra, that he's "doing the best he can with them"); because his is an unconventional household where even Calpurnia is considered part of the family, among other speculations.  We discussed the prejudices in society:  the book dealt directly with attitudes toward Negroes, there is a brief mention of Nazis at the end of the book, and there is of course class and gender prejudices.  While the children seemed to be able to look beyond most of these prejudices, they also held some prejudices, such as their belief that Boo Radley was a monstrous creature living in their neighbourhood.  Perhaps this was included in the novel intentionally, as they were able to let go of this prejudice and embrace the truth in the end much more freely and willingly than the adults in the town.  We discussed Atticus as a role model for the children and for the society as a whole.  The children learned from him, and he behaved in a way that would lead by example.  In the novel, someone commented that Atticus behaved the same indoors as he did in public, and I'm sure these are characteristics he would have tried to instill in his children, but again, also in society.  He acted responsibly and respectfully towards everyone he met.  We also discussed how the law must be flexible and adaptable to the individual situation, that it is cannot be applied in the same way to everyone; for example, poaching laws must be applied differently to Bob Ewell or his children would starve; and the law must ultimately be applied differently to Boo Radley out of respect for him.  Much of our discussion was about the film, and since I'd never seen it, I checked it out of the library that afternoon and watched it Saturday night.   It was difficult to watch the film so soon after reading the book and not comment to my husband about what was in the book that was missing in the film, or what was different in the film, or what was added to the film, but I think the story stayed basically true to the book.  I can understand why people would be drawn into the story, both the film and the novel.  It has all the elements of a great story - precocious children, opinionated townspeople, unconventional families, serious social situations, loss of innocence, someone who wants to influence the town towards change, among other elements.  But I must admit it still did not become significant to me.  I hope that doesn't indicate some sort of deficiency in this reader!!  I'll just accept that I didn't "get" it.  (The same is true of Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger - no matter how many times I read it, I just don't "get" it, although I understand its significance theoretically.)

I'll admit that, after I finished my post last Thursday, I opted for the "microwave dinner" book choice and picked up a Ruth Rendell mystery.  The first one I tried was Portobello Road, which is a stand-alone and didn't do anything for me so I put away after a few pages.  Next I tried Babes in the Woods, part of the Inspector Wexford series, but that also did not grab me so I put it away, too.  I tried a few different novels over Friday evening and Saturday.  One novel was Tell It To the Trees by Anita Rau Badami, a Canadian author from India.  I really enjoyed her novel Tamarind Mem, but others I've read or tried to read by Badami haven't quite measured up for me.  This one was no exception.  I think it may be timing, as it has many of the elements that I love in a novel - family secrets, inter-generational turmoil, misunderstandings, and it's by a Canadian author.  I'll try it again another time.

On Sunday morning, as I settled down for an hour of reading with a steaming cup of chai tea, I again picked up Chai Tea Sunday (how could I not pick that novel up?!), and read quite a bit more than I had the previous Thursday.  In style, the writing reminds this reader of Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice and Left Neglected.  Although the story presents an experience for the main character with which I cannot personally identify, I was moved nonetheless.  I will write more once I have read more (or all!) of the novel, but it's moved from "not really grabbing me" to "I want to read more" (I'm not just saying this because I think the author may be reading this - I really mean it!!)  If, however, the author would like to contact me directly, she is welcome to send another comment letting me know and maybe passing along an email address - the comments come to me first before being published on the blog, so it is safe and I can certainly keep her contact information private.  For now, I will close, as I want to have some time to read tonight before it gets too late.

Bye for now!

PS WOW, I've done alot of "admitting" in this post!  I must really trust my readers and feel the need to confide in someone or unburden myself with some of my recent reading decisions.  Perhaps blogging is becoming some sort of bibliotherapy for me!!

Thursday 3 May 2012

Another Thursday evening post...

Well, it's definitely not a cool April evening - it is a muggy, warm evening that threatens thunderstorms (I love a thunderstorm at night - it's perfect weather to read a gothic novel!)  As I sit with my cup of tea, I am once again reviewing my reading experiences over the past week.

On Tuesday morning as we were getting ready for work, my husband commented that it was May 1st already, and I said "Oh, it's May Day - do you know what that is?"  He didn't, and so I tried to recall  what it was... I thought some sort of holiday or celebration of workers, sort of like our Labour Day.  Upon looking it up just now, though, I see that it's actually a spring festival in some cultures.  I recalled looking into the significance of May Day when my book group was discussing Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, as the term May Day figures prominently in this novel as a signal that a handmaid is part of the "underground network".  What a great book that is!  It's one of my "favourites", if you can call a book about total repression and subjection of women to be a "favourite".  I recently listened to her early novel, The Edible Woman, which I read many, many years ago, and I must say, she's definitely come a loooong way as a writer, although she's remained faithful to many of her themes, male dominance in society, repression of women, etc.  I'll admit that I haven't read everything by Atwood, and some of the novels I've read haven't been great, in my opinion, but she's a gifted writer and a Canadian icon of which we can be proud.

I finished To Kill a Mockingbird last night, and I have to say, it did not change my life.  It was certainly well-written and had some poignant scenes, but it did not have the kind of impact on this reader that I have been lead to expect, and I'm not sure why.  As I was making this comment to my husband tonight, I compared it to Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent.  Both novels were published within a year of each other, 1960 and 1961, and both were set in a small American town.  They both deal with loss of innocence for children, and maybe a move from innocence to experience for adults, for lack of a better way to describe this "fall from grace" that occurs even into adulthood, although in a different way than in childhood and with different consequences.  Steinbeck's novel changed my life, and I reread it almost annually, whereas I will probably never read Lee's novel again.  It must be the narrator's perspective and age - I can't imagine what else it could be.  The writing styles are similar, the settings, the characters, even the plots, are similar.  Hmmm... I'll have to think about this more, and of course I'll write about our book club discussion next week.

I'm now searching for another book to read - I hope I don't have to waste too much valuable reading time between books.  I could read another Ruth Rendell, as I borrowed two paperbacks from the library last week, but I feel like I should read a book with some "substance", a book that deals with serious issues, whatever those might be.  I tried the first few pages of four different library books last night, but none of them grabbed me at all.  I read the first few pages of another library book, Chai Tea Sunday by Heather Clark - I thought the title suited me perfectly, and the author is from Guelph, Ontario, so very nearby.  I'm not sure if it's going to keep me interested - it wasn't really grabbing me, but it also didn't make me want to add it to the stack of books for library return, either, at least not yet.  It's a dilemma... I'm really being pulled towards Ruth Rendell, but that seems like taking the easy way out, like eating a microwave dinner when you really want a homemade casserole, except that you can't find the recipe and don't know what ingredients to use.  I think I'm going to take the easy road and read the mystery, because I hate wasting even another day of quality reading time.  Since I've started my new job, I find I do less reading, perhaps because I no longer have weekday mornings to myself, and my husband is home in the evenings when I'm home, and it's just not the same, reading when someone else is in the room with you.  I also no longer work alternate weekends, so I don't have every other Friday off, and Saturdays are usually busy with errands or outings - reading tends to fall lower in the priority list of things to do.  Maybe I'll try a few more pages of Chai Tea Sunday and if it doesn't pull me in, I'll read a Rendell novel.

With that decision made, I better go and start reading.

Bye for now!