Monday 1 January 2018

First post for 2018...

What a great way to start the new year, by reflecting on books and reading!  I had my steeped chai tea Sunday morning, so plain old Tetley today, along with what's left of my yummy Date Bar (I had to have a treat with my chai tea - Sunday wouldn’t be the same without it!)

It’s going to be a long post today, with two books to tell you about and a list of the Best (and Worst) of 2017.  I’ll start with the Young Adult novel I mentioned at the end of last week’s post, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.  I can’t remember where I heard about this book, but I bought it for both of my schools, and it has an amazing cover, so I thought it might be worth trying over the holidays.  This novel is told from the point of view of Madeline Whittier, a 17-year-old girl who has never been outside.  She suffers from a rare immune disorder, SCID, that makes her allergic to everything.  Thankfully her mother is a doctor who can care for her inside their hermetically-sealed home, along with her nurse and only friend, Carla.  Madeline’s life consists of Skyping with tutors, doing homework, reading, and family time with her mom, and she’s OK with this, she’s learned not to want what she can’t have.  Then a family moves in next door and Madeline’s structured life tumbles into freefall as she quietly and desperately begins to fall in love with Olly, a boy who lives in his own kind of prison.  Will Olly love her for who she is, with all her limitations, or are they doomed as so many young couples in literature have been for centuries?  I know, this book sounds much like other YA romantic dramas that have made their way to library shelves recently - I’m thinking specifically of John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, and Jesse Andrews' book Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, both of which were adapted into films.  Everything, Everything was also made into a film, which was released in the spring of 2017 - maybe that’s how I heard about this book.  Anyway, the book started out as a promising, if light, read - Madeline is an engaging heroine, smart, funny, and surprisingly upbeat, considering her situation.  The pages are made up of not just Madeline’s story, but also drawings, daily schedules, schedules of observations, text messages, email exchanges, etc, which bring the story to life and draw the reader in to share the experiences of a girl on the cusp of adulthood, her hopes and dreams, her struggles, and her resolutions.  Up to just past the middle, it was an “ok” book, not great, but engaging enough, a book I could easily recommend to most grade 7 or 8 students.  But then there was a major plot twist, and the story took off!  I can’t say anymore about it, but I read through the last half filled with anticipation, wondering what would happen next.  WOW, that really cranked my rating up a notch or two and it became "unputdownable"!  

And I got a book for Christmas from my avid-reader friend, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby.  I was familiar with this slim volume from past discussions with this friend, and the title rang a bell as well because it was adapted into a film a few years ago.  When my friend gave it to me, he said, “I know you don’t really enjoy reading memoirs, but…”  and I responded with, “At least it’s short!” (I soon learned the reason why it's so short). After finishing Everything, Everything, I had a few days left before I wrote my post and thought I could easily finish Diving Bell in that time, which I did. If you read the front and back flaps of the book, you would know that 44-year old Bauby was a successful man living in Paris, working as Editor-in-Chief of French Elle magazine, a journalist whose life up to this point had been full.  One day he suffered a massive stroke that left him in a condition known as “locked-down syndrome”, a condition wherein he was completely paralyzed… well, not completely, he was able to blink his left eye.  It was by using a special alphabet and blinking his eye that he dictated these pages, and I must say that I’m not quite sure what to make of them.  This is definitely not a traditional memoir. Each chapter describes something Bauby observed or experienced during his time in the hospital, such as the sessions with his speech therapist, or memories of his life before the stroke, such as the last time he saw his father.  He offers historical information about the origins of the Maritime Hospital in Berck and describes the other patients.  Basically he did what he could to stay “active” while being unable to move, describing his inner life and conveying his thoughts while being trapped in a body that refused to cooperate.  Are these the last words of a dying man (we know that he died shortly after the book was published in France), a plea to live, or an homage to life?  Although there were some sections of the book that revealed his despair, it was mostly filled with honest reflection and more than a few humourous passages (and his efforts to keep his mind active by dictating his memoir simply by blinking his left eye makes my feeble attempts to keep my own brain active by working halfheartedly at Sudoku seem pretty paltry by comparison!).  I would recommend this book to anyone who is feeling complacent about life, anyone who takes things for granted, as it is a reminder that everything could change in an instant.

And as always, it's time to review my reading experiences over the past year and share my Best Books list. While reviewing last year's books, though, I realized that I’m going to have to offer a list of Worst Books, too (it was not a great year of reading for me). I read 61 books and listened to 19 audiobooks and here are the best and worst of them:

Best Books (I really had to struggle to find titles for this list!):
*The Widow and The Child by Fiona Barton
*Gentlemen and Players and Different Class by Joanne Harris
Dead Wake by Erik Larson (nf)
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah
(* better of the two)

Best Juvenile and YA (this list was easy!);
Ban this Book by Alan Gratz
The Burning Girl by Claire Messud
The Winnowing by Vikki VanSickle
OC Daniel by Wesley King
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

Best Audiobooks (also an easy list):
The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Just What Kind of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly
Before Nightfall Michael Cunningham
The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D by Nicole Bernier (on a previous “best of” list)

And my first ever list of Worst Books (these are books that totally failed to live up to expectation, but I finished them anyway):
The Woman in Cabin 10 and *The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena
First Snow, Last Light by Wayne Johnston
The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
(* worst of the two)
Worst Audiobooks:
The American Girl by Kate Horsley
The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe

That’s all for today.  I hope 2018 is filled with many books that will inspire and entertain you, make you think deeply about life, make you laugh out loud, and give you comfort and wisdom in times of need.  Happy New Year!

Bye for now…

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