Sunday 27 September 2020

Speed-posting on a wildly windy morning...

It’s very windy and sunny and warm this morning, probably one of the last warm days of the year, so I’ve got laundry hanging out on the clothesline to take advantage of “nature’s dryer”.  I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai and a yummy Date Bar while I think about all the things I still want to get done today.

Because I have three books to tell you about, I am going to use the method suggested in one of the books I listened to and describe each book in twenty-five words or less; then I can use as many words as I want to tell you how the book made me feel, what I liked or didn’t like about it, etc.  It seems a bit like speed dating, but I’ll give it a try.  Here goes:

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowly (audiobook):  Boy meets girl.  Boy meets another girl.  First girl moves away.  Boy loses second girl.  First girl moves back, but second girl wants boy back.  Will boy and girl find true love?   I think that was thirty words, but that was as brief as I could be.  This Young Adult novel set in Australia was an ode to used bookstores, love letters, and the joy of books and reading.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the fairly typical plot line.

Optimists Die First by Susin Nielsen:  Lonely crafter girl meets new boy, but both need to overcome guilt about tragic accidents in their past that have isolated them socially before they can form connections to others.  OK, once again this was thirty words, but it’s the best I could do.  Another Young Adult novel, this time from my school collection, was funny and sad and dealt with difficult topics with sensitivity.  It is sure to appeal to many of my students, especially those who have a creative flair.  I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t just read Tell Me Everything, which had similar themes but was much less humorous.

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa:  Things disappear on unnamed island and people just accept it and forget about these items. But some people remember and are tracked down by the Memory Police and taken away.  This novel, shortlisted for the Booker International Prize, was a cross between 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale and Never Let Me Go.  It focused on totalitarianism, acceptance and the difficulty of resistance.  It was moving and thought-provoking, and the story-within-the-story added a further dimension to the novel as a whole.  The words and phrases brought to mind vivid images, particularly of the rose petals in the river, and the text flowed smoothly despite being translated.  I would highly recommend this if you enjoy dystopian novels, but be warned that it is not uplifting at all. I know that I haven't done this excellent book justice here, so if you are interested in it, please read about it further online - here is the review from the Guardian:

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the great weather!

Bye for now…

Sunday 20 September 2020

Last post for summer...

It’s a bit cool this morning, but it's bright and sunny and it’s going to be a lovely end-of-summer day.  The leaves are starting to change and it won’t be long before the trees will be on fire with gorgeous fall colours.  It will be getting warmer over the course of the week, but right now it’s still cool enough to enjoy my steaming cup of chai, along with a slice of freshly baked Banana Bread and a Date Bar.  I couldn't imagine a more perfect morning.

Last week I read an unexpectedly powerful novel by German defense lawyer-turned-author Ferdinand von Schirach, The Collini Case.  I had recently read The Girl Who Wasn’t There by this author, and I remember that I did not love it, but it interested me enough that I decided to get this earlier novel from the library, and I’m so glad I did!  This legal mystery opens with Italian-born Fabrizio Collini, posing as a journalist, being admitted to the hotel room of wealthy and well-respected retired German businessman Hans Meyer.  He proceeds to shoot Meyer several times and kick him in the head repeatedly.  He then goes down to the lobby, calls the police, and sits patiently, waiting for them to arrive.  Collini is offered legal counsel and young Caspar Leinen, newly appointed lawyer with his name on the roster, ends up with the case.  Little does Leinen know that the victim is Meyer, the grandfather of his deceased best friend, a man he has long considered a kind of father figure.  Added to this complication is the fact that Collini won’t offer any defense, and Leinen must search for clues as to motive on his own, digging deep into German history and examining the German legal system from every angle to come up with a reason for this seemingly random act of unusual cruelty.  What he uncovers will be sure to shock even the most historically knowledgeable reader.  It was a short novel that started off with a *bang*, then slowed to a crawl for much of the middle section, but then it picked up to a finale that was jaw-droppingly good.  If you read this novel, be sure to also read the notes and afterward, which really make this already-powerful story even more significant.  This book was recently made into a film, and I’ve just placed a hold on the DVD, which is currently on order at my public library.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the sun and have a wonderful day!

Bye for now…

Sunday 13 September 2020

Book club highlights on a warm, sunny morning...

It’s warm and a bit muggy this morning, after the massive rain we got overnight and early this morning, but it’s supposed to get much cooler tomorrow so I’m hoping to go for a long-ish walk this afternoon.  But right now I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar - it feels like forever since I’ve had one of those!  

Yesterday my Volunteer Book Club met for the first time since March.  The community centre where we usually meet is still closed due to COVID-19, but we brought our lawn chairs and sat outside in the sun to discuss Zoe Whittall’s novel, The Best Kind of People.  Four members showed up, an impressive number, considering that it was quite cool early yesterday morning - fortunately it warmed up as we got talking, and I think we were all happy to be back together.  It seemed a bit like a garden party, without the food or drinks (but we had books, which is just as good!).  Here is what I wrote about the book when I first read it in October 2016:

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall tells the story of one family’s experiences in the face of adversity in a wealthy white community outside of Connecticut.  George Woodbury is a well-loved and respected science teacher at a prestigious prep school in Avalon Hills where, nearly a decade before the story is set, he disarmed a school shooter and saved many lives, including that of his seven-year-old daughter, Sadie.  Voted “Best Teacher” every year since, the school, along with his family, is shocked when he is arrested on multiple charges of sexual harassment and attempted rape of minors while on a school ski trip.  Whittall then explores the emotional turbulence of his wife, Joan, a head nurse at the local hospital, daughter Sadie, now seventeen and in the gifted program at the prep school where George teaches, and son Andrew, a gay lawyer living in New York with his partner Jared, as they come to terms with George’s secrets and reconcile themselves to the facts that have been presented while struggling to retain the heroic image of the man they believed him to be.  Loyalty and trust are called into question, and each character must consider everything they thought they knew about their father/husband, as they grapple with this difficult question: Can a man still be a hero if he has also committed unspeakable acts?  It started off really well, and pulled me in immediately.  Setting George up as a hero in the first few pages had me rooting for him to be innocent for about the first third of the book.  But then the evidence begins to pile up, and as accusations mount, the balance shifts and I found myself switching sides.  Of course, the story is told through the eyes of his family members, who really, really want him to be innocent and for their lives to go back to the way they were before, and their experiences of being shunned and ostracized from the very community where they were once respected and loved were difficult to read about but also all-too-realistic.  Whittall never goes into the details of the accusations, nor does she give George a distinct voice in this novel, and she presents the dilemmas of family members caught in this type of situation with understanding and skill.  I think my criticism of this book is that it was too long, and that she presented the experiences of Joan, Sadie and Andrew in too much detail - I was looking forward to reaching the last page, but when I did, I found an abrupt ending that seemed rather rushed, considering all the time and effort devoted to presenting every single detail of everyone’s lives from the time of the arrest to the time of the trial.  The quotation she has at the beginning of the book, though, was poignant and really made me think about the unfairness of society’s views in these types of cases:  “(Rape culture’s) most devilish trick is to make the average, non-criminal person identify with the accused, instead of the person reporting the crime…” (Kate Harding, Asking for it).  I didn’t love the book, and I had a hard time identifying with any of the characters, but it was certainly well-written and well-reviewed by many, many sources, so I have to give it an 8 out of 10.”

This time around I felt exactly the same, and others in the book club had similar views.  They wanted him to be innocent, but they struggled to hold onto that belief as the story progressed.  They wanted to know more details about the accusations, and were frustrated to be left not knowing anything about George except what his family members said.  We all agreed that Whittall intentionally painted a picture of George as “the perfect husband”, and “too good to be true” so that we, like the community, would want to believe in his innocence.  We were all shocked to read about the victimization, not just of the girls who came forward, but of the family members, especially Joan and Sadie.  We thought Andrew’s situation was both interesting and sad, and we found the creepy side-story of Kevin-the-writer to also be interesting and sad, and a bit pathetic.  We all loved Joan’s sister Clara, who was as independent as they come, and we thought Elaine, Sadie’s boyfriend’s mom, was a good, solid mother figure, firm yet understanding.  We noted the importance of appearances in this novel, and people or situations were often judged on first impressions or reputation, not what is true.  No one loved the book, but no one hated it, either. I think we mainly found it a rather disturbing topic to read about.  It was a good book club selection, though, as we had plenty to discuss.  I would recommend it for anyone looking for something to recommend to their own book club.

That’s all for today.  Have a wonderful week!

Bye for now…


Monday 7 September 2020

Short post on a long weekend…

I’m enjoying a steaming cup of chai with the last few bites of the delicious raspberry-peach pie I purchased this weekend, as well as a slice of freshly baked date bread.  I’m really taking advantage of the extra day to have more snacks and deliciously less-than-healthy treats, because it is, after all, still the weekend!  The weather is overcast, cool but humid, and very windy this morning, perfect weather for staying in and reading.

I read a book last week that my Friends book club will be discussing in one week, How to Walk Away by Katherine Centre.  Margaret Jacobsen is a twenty-eight year old woman who is about to begin the rest of her life:  she’s got the perfect job lined up, her boyfriend of many years is going to propose, and she is ready to take on the world… until her life comes literally crashing down and she is paralyzed as a result of a tragic accident.  Can she overcome the unexpected obstacles that are before her and find a way to be happy or will this loss ruin her life?  The person who suggested this book wondered if it might be too "soap-opera-y”, and it had elements of a soap opera, for sure, but it far exceeded my expectations.  I think it was the conversational tone of the narrative that redeemed it: it felt as if a friend were telling me the story of her struggles after an accident that nearly destroyed her life.  It was at times sappy, predictable, and totally unbelievable, but it was also honest and true and I felt that certain passages spoke to me and gave me the determination to do better in these challenging times, to be strong for others who may need a little help.  After all, as one of the characters in the novel advises, “When you don’t know what to do for yourself, do something for someone else”, and, in my opinion, truer words were never spoken.  I think this was a good book club choice, and should generate interesting discussion.  I fear that some will trash this book for being too sappy, too emotional, too unbelievable, or too soap-opera-y, and these are all true.  But that is not the sum total of the book; to appreciate it fully, readers have to look past these things and see not just the story but the message, a message of encouragement in the face of adversity that could not have come at a better time. If you are looking for an uplifting read, this might be the one for you!

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the rest of this long weekend, and have a wonderful (short!) week!

Bye for now…