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!
Julie

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