Sunday 30 September 2012

Last post for September...

It's a cool, wet Sunday morning, exactly what one would expect for the last day of September.  Of course my cup of chai tea is sitting on the table as I write, and the house is filled with the smell of freshly made zucchini soup... mmm... it really feels like fall.

I'm not sure what the weather will be like for the rest of the day, but I'm hoping that the rain will hold off for part of this afternoon, as I would like to venture downtown to visit Casablanca Bookshop, the used bookstore that has been operating in Kitchener for about 25 years.  Today is the last day it will be open, which makes me a little bit sad.  I have been a patron at that bookstore since I was a student here in KW in the '80s, and have purchased many books (and more recently DVDs) from them over the years.  Sometime during the years I lived in Toronto, it moved from its original location on Ontario Street to a much larger location around the corner on King Street, where it seemed to be fairly busy whenever I went in.  At the end of the day today, it will close its doors to the public forever.  We're fortunate in downtown Kitchener to have a few used bookstores to shop at.  Second Look Books has recently moved from their original location on Queen Street and expanded to a much larger space on King Street.  K-W Book Exchange is still in its original location, but has downsized its space.  In Waterloo, Old Goat Books is still in its original location, and is hopefully doing well, especially now that the students are back.  There's something wonderful about a used bookstore that is very different from a regular bookstore that stocks new books.  There is a sense of history about a used bookstore, a knowledge that someone else has read this book before you.  Not only has someone read it, but he or she purchased it because he or she wanted to add it to his or her collection.  Sometimes there are inscriptions written on the inside pages of used books.  Sometimes a bookmark or slip of paper, a receipt or other item, is left between the pages of a book, that gives the new book owner a glimpse into the life of the previous owner.  There's also the aspect of "user-friendliness" about a used book that I love; that is, the book is often already physically "worked in" so that the pages stay open a bit easier than a new book with a stiff spine.  And there's the serendipidous finds at used bookstores that don't usually happen at new bookstores, and if they do occur at regular bookstores, they are often cost-prohibitive.  Last weekend I was at Word on the Street for a bit, then went to Casablanca to see what they still had left in stock.  I found a book and a DVD to purchase, the book by an author I have never read before, Kate Grenville, and the DVD a copy of a film I've seen before about Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and his wrongful imprisonment and ultimate release from prison with the help of a team of Canadian lawyers.  Those were serendipidous finds, but I then went to Second Look Books and found a copy of Bill Buford's Among the Thugs which is hard to find these days - I think it may be out of print.  This non-fiction book addresses the issues surrounding mob brutality and soccer in Europe, particularly in Britain.  I had a copy of this book once-upon-a-time, but at some point, it disappeared - perhaps I lent it to someone and it was never returned.  Now it is back in my collection, the same edition as I had before, and I'm thrilled!  I am excited to reread it, but I think it will be something my husband will also be interested in reading, and I like to encourage him to read whenever possible.  So, clearly, I love used bookstores, and will certainly miss having the opportunity to pop into Casablanca whenever I'm downtown with a few minutes (or hours!) to spare.

I finished listening to Long Gone by Alafair Burke on Friday, and I'd say I enjoyed it.  It certainly held my interest and kept me guessing until the end, although I found it somewhat predictable and slightly far-fetched and convoluted.  Having said that, I think it was the perfect book for me to listen to, as I need more "plot" or "story" in an audiobook than I do in a book I read in the traditional way.  Books I love to read and reread are often "un-listenable" for me.  For example, I have read Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence at least twice (well, I read Lady Chatterley's Lover at least once and The First Lady Chatterley once), but when I tried to listen to it, even read by my then-favourite narrator, I just couldn't do it.  I think that when I read a book, I often read more for language or character than story, and I often prefer more realistic or literary fiction.  I can see the words on the page so I think I can register them more easily and they mean more to me than if I just listen to them.  I can also go back in the text and reread relevant passages if necessary to keep track of a character's development or to review a particularly poignant description, thought or setting.  So I've learned to look for plot- or story-driven books to listen to and literary or realistic books to read, and this seems to suit  me well in most cases.  Here again is an example of a reader (me!) identifying her reading needs and moods, not always as easy as it sounds.

And speaking of used bookstores, I reread (well, actually I skimmed) Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale last week in preparation for our book club meeting which, incidentally, did not happen.  It tells the story of Margaret Lea, a young woman who works with her father in a used bookstore and who receives a request from a famous author,Vida Winter, to write her biography.  Lea accepts with some hesitation and goes to Winter's house to discover the truth behind the many facades she has offered to her public until now; this time, Winter promises to "tell the truth", and Lea hopes to finally uncover the elusive "thirteenth tale" that is missing from Winter's collection of tales.  This book is at once an homage to gothic novels such as The Woman in White, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights, with all of the requisite family secrets and mysterious houses, and a study in one's search for self.  I have read this novel before, once for my own enjoyment and again for discussion with my volunteer book group, so I didn't really need to reread every word to remember what the story is about.  I would absolutely recommend this novel as a real escape for anyone who enjoys gothic novels, maybe not so much for male readers, but definitely female readers who can appreciate swooning heroines and hidden rooms.

And I just started reading Angels in the Gloom by Anne Perry, which is my next volunteer book group selection.  It is a mystery novel set in England during WWI that appears to involve spies and government conspiracies.  It is the third book in her "World War I" series, and I'm sensing that it would have been helpful to start with the first book in the series, as there seems to be some history about a character called the Peacemaker that would have been useful in understanding what is going on in this novel.  Having said that, I have really just started reading it, so everything may be explained sufficiently by the end of the book to make reading the earlier novels less important.  It is certainly written well, so if I find I like this novel, it would open up a vast selection of novels for me to read, as Perry is a prolific writer.

OK, the sun has come out and it's time to start my day.

Bye for now!

Sunday 23 September 2012

Sunday morning tea and book talk...

On this cool, bright, gorgeous Sunday morning, as I sit drinking my chai tea, I'm planning my day with the intention of attending the Word on the Street festival that is happening at Kitchener City Hall this afternoon.  It's always interesting to check out this celebration of books and reading, and it's a perfect day for it, too.

I think I mentioned in one of my recent posts that I was listening to an audiobook by Hari Kunzru called My Revolutions.  It tells the story of a man, Mike, who has lived the past 2 decades with an assumed name and identity in the capitalist world against which he protested when he was a young activist named Chris.  His identity is about to be revealed as his past keeps cropping up in the shape of former fellow activists.  It sounded really interesting, and it started out well, but I found that it shifted from period to period in Mike's/Chris' life too often for me to keep track just listening to it.  I think that I may have to check the book out of the library and read it, as there are many visual clues on the printed page to let the reader know what is going on in the story.  When a new paragraph starts, that usually means a new thought or idea, but one that is still related to the ideas in the previous paragraphs.  When there is a new section, the reader knows that the author has moved on to a completely new topic which is not related to the previous section, or at least not directly.  And, of course, a new chapter means... well, a new chapter.  These are all things readers know without thinking about them, but the fine art of topic separation can be muddled or even lost when listening to a book instead of looking at the printed page.  Narrators are usually pretty good at indicating these shifts, but they can only do so much for the listener.

All that to say that I've moved on to another audiobook, Long Gone, by Alafair Burke.  I'm not familiar with anything by this author, who is the daughter of James Lee Burke (I've never read any of his books, either).  This novel has three storylines:  Alice Humphrey, a 37-year old out-of-work arts' grad who is offered a too-good-to-be-true job managing a new gallery, finds that maybe it really was too good to be true, as one thing after another suggests that she has been set up; a young girl, Becca Stevens, gets quietly involved with a jock at her school, but has another secret that may be dangerous; and a man (can't remember his name) is keeping an eye on the man who became involved with, lied to and cheated his sister, and who may or may not have caused her death.  These stories become intertwined, with Alice's story being the key to everything.  I was finding it confusing at first, but it seemed to come together fairly quickly and seamlessly, and I'm now anxious to find opportunities to keep listening and find out what happens next.  I'm just over halfway through the audiobook.

And I've started reading a book from my "required reading" box called Walking into the Ocean by David Whellams.  It is a mystery set on the coast of England involving a Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Peter Cammon.  Cammon arrives at a coastal town to help out the local police investigate what appears to be a domestic dispute turned murder-suicide, while the locals investigate a serial murderer.  I've literally just started this book, which I believe is the first in a series (or maybe a trilogy) featuring Cammon, but I'm looking forward to reading further, as it really has the tone and style of a British mystery, even though the author lives in Ottawa.

Alas, I also have to read Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale, as our book club is meeting on Thursday.  I started rereading it yesterday, and was hoping to spend the afternoon curled up reading, but I forgot that it was Word on the Street today.  Hmmm... decisions, decisions...  Maybe I'll set aside the Cammon mystery until I finish Setterfield's book, and I've just noticed that the sun has gone and the sky is overcast.  If it rains this afternoon, I will feel justified in not going to Word on the Street.  Whatever I decide to do, I'm sure it will involve books in some way or another, which is always a good thing. 

Bye for now!

Sunday 16 September 2012

Sunday morning book thoughts...

As I sit drinking my chai tea on this gorgeous Sunday morning in September, I'm thinking less about reading and writing than about getting outside and enjoying this beautiful day, so this may be a short post.

I wanted to talk about Peter Robinson for a bit.  I finished his new "Inspector Banks" novel last week, Watching the Dark, the 20th in the series.  The murder that begins this novel is that of a police officer, DI Bill Quinn, who is staying at a treatment centre for police who are recovering from injuries.  He is discovered early one morning shot through with a crossbow on the edge of the woods, and DI Banks is called in to investigate the crime.  The investigation ends up involving an officer named Joanna from the Professional Standards Department, since the murdered officer may have been involved in illegal activities.  It takes Banks and Joanna over to Estonia to investigate Quinn's involvment in the disappearance of a girl there, Rachel, six years earlier.  As expected, this novel was a page-turner, and it was interesting to have the whole team back and working together. Something interesting I noted when I first started reading this book; I read the front flap to find out what the novel was about, then I started reading the book.  I was confused for a moment, because the character's name in the book is Bill Quinn, but on the front flap, it is Bill Reid.  Nowhere online could I find any explanation of this; on the publishers' site he is called Bill Quinn, but on at least one Amazon search result, he is referred to as Bill Reid.  Unless the reader did as I did, read the front flap immediately before beginning the novel, this discrepancy would not be an issue, as nowhere in the text is he referred to as Bill Reid, but I found it curious that such a discrepancy would go unnoticed for such a well-known and highly-regarded author .  Upon finishing the novel, I still felt as I did when I wrote my last post, that perhaps it's time for Robinson to do something a bit different, maybe a new series or more stand-alone novels. 

Speaking of stand-alones, I finished reading his first stand-alone novel, Caedmon's Song, last week as well.  It tells the story of Martha Browne, a woman who is searching for the man who attacked her and who is attacking other women even as she searches.  I've read this novel before, but not for a long while, so I remembered very little about the story.  I must not have read the Afterward by the author during my first reading, but I did so this time.  I learned that he wrote the novel in 1987, the year the story takes place, but it was not published until I think 2002.  At that time, Robinson thought about updating the novel to reflect the current times, but he reconsidered for a number of different reasons.  He wrote the novel after completing the first four "Inspector Banks" novels, and he wanted to write a novel from the point of view of a surviving victim, where police involvement and presence was minimal.  He realized that between 1987 and 2002, forensics had advanced so much, and the prevalence of cell phones and the internet was so great, that it would make the original story impossible to take place as he originally intended.  So he decided to make minimal changes and publish it in its original form, which is a very good read indeed.  I find it interesting that the author felt it necessary and/or useful to the reader to include this information, as least in the paperback edition that I have.

I also finished a book from my "required reading" box last week.  Thirst, by Shree Ghatage, tells the story of a newlywed couple in India in the early 1940s.  I thought initially that it was a lovestory, and what a wonderful story it was.  Neither Vasanti nor Baba (Vijay) wanted to be in this arranged marriage, but they are drawn together and learn to overcome the obstacles they face with family and situations to find true love.  But this short novel is far more than a simple love story, although this reader would have been happy enough with that.  No, it is a novel that also explores duty and responsibility.  This reader is not quite sure that the quirky, surprise ending adds value to the novel as a whole - I will have to think about this further.  Having said that, it was a good read, and mostly enjoyable.

Sometime today I will choose another title from the "required reading" box to read this week, then I will reread The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield for my new bookgroup - we meet on September 27th.  For now, the birds are singing, the sun is shining, a gentle breeze is blowing, and I think it's very nearly a perfect day, so I'll get outside and enjoy it.

Bye for now!

Sunday 9 September 2012

Sunday morning tea and book talk...

On this cool, sunny Sunday morning, as I drink my chai tea, I'm thinking about what I've been reading recently and what I'm planning to read soon.

My book group met yesterday to discuss Kathryn Stockett's The Help, and they all loved it!  This is a book that tells the story of a woman in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s who writes a book about what it is like to be a black maid working for a white family at that time.  The book is told from the perspective of three different characters, Abileen, Minny and Skeeter, using three distinct voices.  It is the author's first novel, and according to Wikipedia, it was rejected by 60 different literary agents before being taken on by an agent, and going on to become a bestseller and a popular film adaptation.  I don't recall off-hand if the film was nominated for any awards, but that wouldn't surprise me.  Some of the things we discussed at our meeting were the many different types of relationships Stockett explores in this novel, relationships between maids and their employers, maids and the white children they help to raise, the black community in general at that time, and the community as represented by the church in particular, the relationships of white women and their children, white women and their parents, and white people, in particular white women, and their social hierarchy.  The novel really does explore many different types of relationships and social interactions, and not just superficially; these relationships are presented with enough detail that they could each be explored individually on a much deeper level.  Having said that, we did note that the relationships between women, both white and black, and their husbands was not explored in as much detail as the other relationships, and we couldn't come up with a suitable explanation for that except that perhaps it was just too much for the author to tackle in a single novel; perhaps she realized that she just couldn't try to cover everything and do it well.  As it is, this novel is over 500 pages, but it is very accessible for readers.  We also talked about the relationship between Skeeter and Stuart, the friendship between Skeeter, Elizabeth and Hilly, and how those relationships may have changed over time and as their lives changed.  We noted that there was an air of suspense and a feeling of doom as the reader nears the end of the book, wondering what they reactions to the book might be and how these may impact each character's life.  Another thing we discussed were the similarities between The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird, in particular the ironic situations presented in each novel of the white ladies in the community raising money to help the poor children in Africa, when right in their own communities, black people were being treated unfairly or even killed.  This led us to discuss the possibility that things are happening in our communities and in our lives right now that are harmful to some, and yet we are unaware of these situations.  The novel reminded me of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar in a few different ways.  Although Plath was writing about her own experiences at the time they were happening and Stockett is writing about  a situation 50 years ago, both involve women as their main characters, and these women want to become writers.  They are on the cusp of change, and feel that the written word can help move that change forward.  For Plath, it was the changing roles of women in society in the 1950s; for Stockett, it was relationships between whites and blacks in society in the 1960s.  This novel, then, is one that is thought-provoking on many levels if the reader considers the various aspects presented by the author.

I feel a little bit guilty because I received a second box of books to read for a committee I am on, but my reserved copy of Peter Robinson's newest "Inspector Banks" book came into the library this past week so I'm reading Watching the Dark instead of one of the many books from my "required reading" box, but I hope to be finished soon and so able to move on to one of those titles.  This novel is classic Robinson; Banks is investigating the murder of a fellow police officer who was convalescing at St Peter's Police Treatment Centre, but because the officer may have been involved in questionable activities, a member of the Professional Standards Department is brought in to assist with the investigation.  I'm halfway through, and it is everything I have come to expect from Robinson.  Some new characters are introduced, but many of the original investigative team members play a role in the investigation.  I have to say, I wish Banks and Annie would get back together and make a go of their relationship.  There is so much pining and yearning for the "good old days" of their brief relationship on the part of both Banks and Annie that, to this reader, it would make sense to give it another try.  And while I understand that Robinson has to make each new Banks novel more interesting and complex than the previous ones (this is his 20th in the series), I would love to have a new novel where Banks investigates a good, old-fashioned murder mystery, one that takes place in Eastvale involving perhaps a illicit relationship between upstanding members of the community, family secrets, and a successful love connection for Banks or Annie, or maybe both!  These days, his novels tend towards counter-terrorism, MI-5, spies, and human trafficking.  He's also incorporated the Professional Standards Department into his novels a few times.  Perhaps he's considering a new series where they are the main investigative team, much as Ian Rankin has done in his new "Malcolm Fox" series, where the main character works for the Complaints and Conduct Department.  Anyway, I think Robinson is still a great mystery writer of police procedurals, but I wonder if it's time for him to move on and try something new, maybe even more stand-alones (I thought Before the Poison was an excellent mystery).

And I'm listening to My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru, a novel that tells the story of a 1960s radical who has gone into hiding and now, 30 years later, is looking back on his days as an activist as the past is intruding on his present life among the capitalists he once sought to overthrow.  I know nothing about this novel or the writer, but the summary sounded interesting.  I just started listening to it yesterday, so can make no comment yet on the novel, but so far it's proving intriguing.

I want to get a start on the day, so I'll finish my delicious cup of tea and end this post.

Bye for now!

Sunday 2 September 2012

First post for September...

Happy Labour Day weekend!  I'm enjoying the fact that I have yet another day off work tomorrow, so this morning has been a bit less busy than my usual Sunday mornings.  It's a lovely sunny breezy morning, and I think it's going to be a low-key lazy reading day - hurray for those types of days!!

My husband met with a former colleague of his recently just to catch up, and during their conversation, she asked for a link to this blog, as she was having a tough time finding good books to read.  She is one of the people who read Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow upon my recommendation, and she loved it!  He forwarded her email address to me, and I sent her the link, along with what I thought was a randomly-selected book recommendation, based on something that I recently read and enjoyed, Ann Patchett's State of Wonder.  I wasn't sure if she would like it or not, because it is a very different writing style from Russell's book, but Patchett is, in my opinion, a great writer with interesting stories to tell and a wonderful writing style, despite her books being a bit "slow" - it seems to take forever for anything to happen, but she manages that really well and seems to use it to her advantage.  Anyway, the more I thought about State of Wonder, the more I realized that there are many similarities between that book and The Sparrow.  Both deal with an individual or group going off into another land or culture with a mission to learn something new that they expect will benefit their own culture or people.  The intervention of both groups on these new cultures/peoples has unexpected results, and the information learned may or may not be as beneficial as originally expected.  While the settings and styles may differ, the main themes or messages are remarkably similar, so it appears that it is not such a random selection.  I hope she enjoys that novel, but if not, she can always refer to this blog to check out what other books I've been reading and hopefully find something of interest out of those titles (which are all conveniently underlined so they are easy to pick out of the rest of the text).

This reminded me of one of the original purposes of this blog - to make book recommendations to people who don't work in the library or book industry.  I guess I don't actually make book recommendations, but I just comment on what I've been reading.  Making recommendations involves so much more information from and about the reader - what he or she has enjoyed in the past, what types of books appeal to the reader, what "reading mood" he or she is in at a particular time, what season it is, what's going on in his or her life, and many other factors.  Even with all of this information, there is still a chance that what one would recommend will not appeal to the reader, which is why the library is such a great resource.  Readers can borrow books free of charge and try them out, rather than spending money to buy books that they may or may not like and ending up with a shelf full of unread items.

So what have I been reading this past week?  I've been reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and am really enjoying it.  I saw the film some time ago, and feel that they did a good job of adapting the novel.  I will write more about this novel once I've finished it and after my book group discusses it next Saturday. 

And I'm listening to another Agatha Christie audiobook, The ABC Murders.  I think I read this mystery many years ago, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, Christie's books are great to listen to as audiobooks because all the important details are reviewed several times, so the listener really can't miss anything important.  I'm just downloading a few more of her books even as I write, in anticipation of this mystery's end.

Enjoy the rest of this lovely long weekend!!  Welcome, September!

Bye for now!