Sunday 26 August 2012

Last post for August...

This is the last post for August, and the summer will feel like it's truly over then, although in truth, the season extends a few weeks past Labour Day.  That's how it feels for me, and September seems like the time to get serious, to take stock of the year and make plans to complete things that you wanted to do that year but never got around to doing.  Also the book awards season is approaching, as well as the time for all the "good" movies to be released, just in time to be considered for Oscar nomination.  So it's not just me that considers the fall as a time for seriousness.

I started reading Black Dogs by Ian McEwan last week.  If you recall, I mentioned that it is the book by that author that I remember least, and as I started reading it again, I realized why this is so:  it is not very interesting, and it begins with much rambling.  I didn't feel I had the patience for that at the time - maybe I'll try it again in the winter, when I'm less impatient and more inclined to read "slow" books.  I read instead a very strange book by Canadian author Christopher Meade entitled The Last Hiccup.  It tells the story of Vladimir, a young boy in pre-WWII Russia from a small town who wakes up one morning with a case of the hiccups.  These hiccups last for 12 years, despite medical efforts to treat this problem.  Young Vlad undergoes various treatments, all to no avail, and is ultimately whisked away to Mongolia where he is left in the company of a mystic for 10 years.  As he returns to civilization in the midst of the war, he experiences readjustment problems and encounters unusual individuals and situations on his journey to return home to his mother.  It was a very strange, surrealistic novel that is not my usual fare, and while the author clearly has talent as a writer, I felt that there were huge gaps left where the story could have been fleshed out and filled in with details that were essential, at least to this reader.  I'm not sure who would enjoy this type of book... perhaps I would recommend it to males who enjoyed dark comedies.  One reviewer who is quoted on the back of the book refers to the novel as "surreal CanHumLit" (CanadianHumourLiterature), and I would agree with this classification.  It was strange, but worth reading for me, as Meade is a Canadian author with whom I was unfamiliar, and I'm always interested in trying out new Canadian authors.  I will not, however, read anything else this author has written.

I'm nearly finished listening to an Agatha Christie audiobook, Hickory Dickory Dock.  I stopped listening to Ruth Rendell's The Vault, as I felt it was too complex and I was missing too many details, since I listen to audiobooks while I walk or while I'm on the bus going to or from work.  In these situations, sound level is impossible to control, and the narrator of that particular audiobook, while excellent in terms of voice differentiation for different characters, seemed to speak at very different volumes regularly.  In this way, I was unable to adjust the volume quickly enough to catch what he was saying, and so missed too much of the novel.  With my current audiobook, this is not a problem.  Although the narrator does vary the volume of his narration somewhat, I find with Agatha Christie novels there are so many opportunities for the characters to recap what has happened that I don't feel I miss much.  If I don't catch the information the first time around, I'm fairly certain that it will be discussed and analyzed again later.  It's interesting for me that the very first audiobook I listened to was Agatha Christie's The Body in the Library.  I was going to Toronto by bus once a week at that time, and wanted some other activity to do on the busride home besides reading, so I bought an MP3 player, thinking I could listen to music.  I didn't think I would enjoy listening to audiobooks, assuming that it would be too difficult to keep track of the story, especially if I had another book on the go that I was reading in the traditional way.  I thought that one of Christie's mysteries would be a good novel to try, because  they are usually short and not too complex, and I was right -I've been hooked on audiobooks every since!  Some books are better to listen to than others.  These characteristics will differ for each person, but for this listener, the narrator is very important.  I have to like the narrator's voice and style, almost more than the content of the book.  But the book is also important, and even if it's a favourite narrator, if I don't like the book, I can't listen to it.  I also find that the book generally needs to be one that is fast-paced, or at least plot-driven.  I tried to listen to one of my favourite narrators read Lady Chatterley's Lover, which is all about language, and I had to stop listening.  I find classics are hard to listen to, better to read.  Mysteries are great to listen to, as they generally depend on plot and detail, not so much on character or language.  Unfortunately, with an audiobook, you can't just pick it up and read the first few pages to try it out.  You have to select it and download it, then start listening to it before you can make a judgment call.  I'm sure I delete as many books as I listen to, but that's OK, since I download them free from the library and I'm sometimes pleasantly surprised to discover a book or author I would never have picked up as a book, but that I really enjoyed as an audiobook.  So books are good in various formats, at different times, for various reasons.  I say now that I don't think I would like e-books, but who knows?  Maybe if I tried that format, I'd be hooked, too.

That's all for today.  Enjoy the last week of August...

Bye for now!

Sunday 19 August 2012

Short post on a perfect Sunday morning...

My post today will be short for a couple of reasons.  It is a perfect day and I would like to get outside and enjoy the pleasant weather, but also I have not read anything new since my last post, so I don't really have much to write about.

I finished reading The town that drowned by Riel Nason, and it did not disappoint.  If you recall, this book tells the story of an east coast town that is slated for flooding in the 1960s, told from the point of view of a young teen.  I believe that in a previous post I compared it to To kill a mockingbird, in that it has similarities in a number of different areas.  I'm not sure that these similarities continue to the end of the novel, as I didn't feel that comparison as I finished it, but I must have felt strongly about it during the reading of the first half, because the thought occurred to me regularly.  Anyways, it was a great read in my opinion, and I would definitely recommend it for anyone who likes quirky characters and small town settings  (strangely enough, those are not characteristics I would normally say I liked in a book, so it must have been the writing that I enjoyed in this novel).  I must find out if this author has written any more books.

I also finished listening to Mennonite in a little black dress by Rhoda Janzen.  I continued to enjoy listening to this audiobook, but can absolutely understand why some would be put off by some of the author's comments about the Mennonite culture.  I was not offended, but I certainly questioned her choice of imagery and wording in some parts of the book.  I won't go into any detail about this book here since I feel I discussed it at length in the last post, after my book club meeting.   I can just sum up by saying that I enjoyed it, but that I would recommend it with caution.  I also think it is a book better enjoyed by listening to it than by reading it.

Now I'm in a dilemma since I have to choose another book to read.  It's too early to start reading The help as our meeting is not until September 8th, and I don't like to finish reading a book club selection so far in advance.  It's also way too early to start reading The thirteenth tale as we meet for that one on September 27th.  I've been thinking about Ian McEwan lately, and looking at his books on my bookshelf.  I think the one I remember least is Black dogs, about which I remember nothing, so I think I'll read that again.  As for audiobooks, I've resumed Ruth Rendell's The Vault, but I think she is an author better read than listened to.  I feel I'm missing many of the details and I can't flip back in the book to check as I could if I were reading it.  If I had already read it, then listening to it would be OK, but as a first-time experience, I think I'll move on to something else and get the actual physical book for this one.  Not sure what I have downloaded on my MP3 player, but I'm sure I'll find something that will hold my interest.

That's all for now!  (I'm so glad that this blog is not like a school assignment, where there is a required word count!!)  Enjoy your day!

Bye for now!

Sunday 12 August 2012

Book talk on a cool Sunday mornng...

I'm listening to the birds sing in the tree in front of our house on this cool Sunday morning as the weak sunlight tries to break through the clouds in the overcast sky, just the kind of weather I have come to expect and appreciate at this time of year.  As the end of summer fast approaches, life gets busy as we anticipate the end of the season.  I am looking forward, as usual, to the crisp bright days of autumn, with the falling leaves and the cool mornings.  Ahhh, my favourite season will soon arrive.

Anyways, let's talk about books.  My book group met yesterday to discuss Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, a memoir about a woman in her early 40s whose husband leaves her for a man named Bob whom he met on and who shortly therafter gets injured in a car accident.  In order to deal with these crises and recover, both physically and emotionally, she returns home to her Mennonite family community in California, a community she has visited infrequently for the past 25 years.  I will admit to not knowing anything about this book when I put it on the reading list, except that it was very popular when it came out in 2009 and it had a great cover design, so I was not entirely surprised to hear from nearly everyone at the meeting that they did not like it at all.  For reasons I will not detail here, I was only able to skim the book, so I couldn't make a fair judgment, but from what I read, I was hoping to have a chance to read it in full at some point, as I was enjoying it.  I did download it as an audiobook late last week, so have listened to less than half the book, and I'm enjoying it more as an audiobook than as written pages.  Some of the comments my book club members made, and these were almost entirely held unanimously, were that the book was not well-written, it had no structure and rambled along from one topic to another seemingly with no direction.  The author used excessive scatalogical humour throughout the book, which was unnecessary and somewhat offensive.  She didn't seem able to move on from her  disappointment at being left for a man named Bob.  She was excessively hard on the Mennonite culture in general and her upbringing by her parents in that community in particular, and she misrepresented Mennonites in the stories she included in the book.  I agreed with the comments about the writing style and structure, and as I listen to the book in its entirety, I am coming across more crude images that seem to serve no real purpose and believe that points could be better illustrated using different imagery.  Having said that, it is a memoir, so the author's stories are meant to represent her own experiences, and I was able to identify with her in a number of different areas.  I am findng the book funny, straightforward, and bittersweet.  I don't feel that she is slamming the Mennonite culture so much as simplifying their values and talking of ways that they can be incorporated into today's world, and also why these values are still important and should not be forgotten in our everyday lives.  Once again, I'm not even half-way through the book, and I'm listening to it  being read aloud by the author, so my experience is different that that of the other members.  There is one member who admitted to me after the meeting that she enjoyed listening to it as well, but that her stories and attitude grew tiresome by the end.  Perhaps it is a book that, like poetry is meant to do, works better when read aloud than when read silently.  I still think that this was a successful book selection, as we had a lively and lenghty discussion about the book itself, other books about the Mennonite culture, both fiction and non-fiction, and Mennonites in general.  I'm looking forward to listening to the rest of the book, and I'm sure that our next book selection, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, will be a more enjoyable read for most members.  This was a suggestion from one of the members, and others have either already read it or are looking forward to reading it.

I hope to have a chance to get back to the book I mentioned in my last post, The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason, and finish reading it this week.  I also began listening to Ruth Rendell's latest Inspector Wexford novel, The Vault, which I had to pause while I tried to get to Mennonite... it seems that the list grows longer as my time grows shorter...

With that thought, I think I will close and take advantage of the possibly rainy afternoon to read, read, read (or listen, listen, listen...) 

Bye for now!

Sunday 5 August 2012

Another "long weekend" posting...

This long weekend always seems to mark the midpoint in the summer for me, and I know that, once this civic holiday weekend passes, September is just around the corner.  It is muggy and overcast, with chance of thunderstorms today, perfect weather for writing about books and then spending the afternoon reading.  Tomorrow should be clear and less muggy, so I'll likely want to be outside, not inside reading - better take advantage of the weather conditions today!

I wanted to talk about one book I'm reading and one book I just finished listening to.  The Town that Drowned by Riel Nason is a novel set in the 1960s in a small fictional east coast town that is slated for flooding due to the construction of a dam.  The story is told from the point of view of a 14 year old girl who has had a "vision" of the underwater town when she fell through the ice at a skating party, long before it was announced, cementing her already somewhat outcast status.  She has an "eccentric" younger brother Percy, who likely has some degree of autism, a father who works for the government, and a beautiful mother who is a painter.  The town is filled with quirky characters who respond differently to the situation that is thrust upon them by the government in unique and often unusual ways.  It reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird in many different ways.  Both are told from the point of view of a young girl who seems wise beyond her years, and who has a younger brother for whom she is responsible.  Both feature fathers who have some status in the small town; in Mockingbird, the father was a lawyer, in Town, he is a government employee.  Both also have a family which the town pities because the fathers drink away the family's food and shelter money, and the town helps to support them while not acknowledging this help.  I'm only half-way through the book, but I'm really enjoying it and look forward to finishing it.  Alas, for all the interest I have in this book, it seems to take me a long time to get through just a few pages, so I must set it aside and read my next book club selection, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen, as our meeting is next Saturday.

I finished listening to Absolute Certainty by Rose Connors yesterday.  It is the first in the "Marty Nickerson" series and it was pretty interesting.  Nickerson is an assistant district attorney who secures a murder conviction at a trial in the small town of Chatham, Massachusetts, only to discover another body using the same MO as the convicted man awaits sentencing.  While she tries to pursue justice and "do the right thing", all those around her are trying to deny that the crimes are related and that they may have convicted the wrong man.  While the story was very interesting, I found that the writing was bogged down with so much detail about the legal system in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that I often lost track of the storyline.  Having said that, I just realized that this is the first in the series, and I have listened to another in this series some time ago and do not recall having a similar response, so perhaps she was just using this novel to set the stage for the rest of the series.  I will definitely listen to the others in this series, but not right away.

That's all I have to talk about today, so I will drink my tea and get reading.  Happy Civic Holiday!!

Bye for now!