Sunday 25 October 2020

Short post on a chilly morning...

It’s turned chilly and cold this weekend, but I don’t mind.  So far the rain has held off, which makes this perfect weather for a long walk, then curling up with a well-earned hot cup of tea and a good book… hmmm… I think that will be my plan for today.  But first I have a book to tell you about.

The Allspice Bath by Sonia Saikaley opens in the spring of 1970.  In a hospital in Ottawa, another daughter is born to a Lebanese-Canadian family, and the father, Youssef, is not happy.  This makes four daughters, and with this difficult birth, wife and mother Samira must have a hysterectomy, making her unable to have any more children.  This means Youssef will never have a son, and this is the theme that underlies everything in young Adele’s life, the fact that she was not a boy and can never be a suitable replacement for a son.  As Adele grows up, she encounters difficulties and obstacles both with her family and in her social life.  She is torn because she was born in Canada but her parents are both immigrants from Lebanon, and they are very traditional, so is she Canadian or is she Lebanese?  She is also so much younger than her sisters that she has difficulty relating to them, and they tease her mercilessly on a regular basis.  The novel follows Adele as she grows from a child into a young woman, and follows her struggles as she learns to live her own life and follow her own path, independent of her controlling, obstinate father and quiet, submissive mother.  This book, an award-winner for multicultural fiction, was interesting, and I enjoyed reading it, but I wonder how much of my enjoyment comes from relating to the character’s situation so much.  As I was reading this novel, I felt that it could have been written by anyone in my family, as this is also my background and Adele’s age in the book corresponds closely with my own.  It was interesting to find, on the first few pages, swearing in Arabic, and mentions of delicious traditional Middle Eastern foods pop up throughout the book.  I was happy/sad to learn that my own upbringing and experiences with my father were common amongst children of Lebanese parents, and it helps put things in perspective.  I’m not sure I would behave the way Adele does near the end of the novel, but since I haven’t yet been in that position, I’ll have to wait and see what choices I will make (I can’t tell you any more without spoiling it).  I would say this is a realistic portrait of a young girl growing up in a Lebanese-Canadian family in the 1980’s, and while the writing is not stellar, the story moves along at a good pace until it reaches a satisfying conclusion.

That’s all I’ve got for you today, as I really want to get outside and enjoy this brisk fall day.   

Bye for now…

Sunday 18 October 2020

Post on a wet fall morning...

It’s been raining off and on this morning, so I’m glad we got out to rake the leaves yesterday while everything was dry.  I don’t mind wet fall weather - it just seems to intensify the gorgeous colours of the trees when it’s overcast and the trunks are black with rain.  I’ve got a delicious cup of chai and a Date Bar to motivate me this morning.  I’ve done a few things already and am running behind, but I have two great books to tell you about, so I’ll just get to it.

Last week I read Polar Vortex by Canadian novelist Shani Mootoo.  This novel has been shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and I can certainly understand why.  Priya and Alex are living what appears to be an ideal life.  They have a big old house on what is technically an island (maybe near Kingston, Ontario?), where they have room to be creative: Priya is an artist and Alex is a writer.  But all is not what it seems, and cracks begin to appear when Priya invites an old friend to come and stay, a man she hasn’t been in contact with since meeting Alex.  What ensues is an exploration into the decades-long, complicated relationship between Priya and Prakesh, and how it will affect the relatively new relationship she has with Alex.  This literary novel explores various kinds of relationships, and asks readers to consider whether a lengthy but neglected relationship is more significant than a recent but nurtured one.  It also questions whether the secrets in one’s past ever really go away.  I found this to be a truly thought-provoking novel, making me think of my own past relationships, those I’ve neglected and those I’ve nurtured, as well as consider the experiences of refugees as they settle into a new country.  I've also never really thought about the challenges gay couples face, in the past and even now, in our more accepting society. It was a short book that seemed long, packed as it was with so much to think about.  I would recommend this to anyone interested in books exploring relationships, secrets and deception.

And I finished listening to a great audiobook, Normal People by Sally Rooney.  I think this title came to my attention because it’s recently been adapted into a series, which I've heard was not as good as the book (it never is!).  The novel begins when Marianne and Connell are in their final years of secondary school in County Sligo.  Connell’s mother cleans house for Marianne’s family, and although they are attracted to one another, they must hide their feelings from others, fearing negative reactions from their classmates.  Although he and his mother don't have much money, Connell has managed to become part of the popular crowd, while Marianne is considered an outsider, on the fringes, a loner, despite her family’s wealth.  When they both attend Trinity College, Dublin, their roles are reversed, and Marianne is the popular one, while Connell, only able to attend on scholarship, is the outsider.  Once again, their relationship must be kept secret, and this goes on for a few more years as they have different, sometimes disturbing, experiences with different people, but they always remain an anchor for one another despite their involvement with others and their ever-changing locations.  I had no idea what this book was about and didn’t take to it at first, but once the story got going, I was hooked.  I found myself telling them to just get together and reveal their relationship to everyone, criticisms be damned!  I was rooting for them, and cringing at their foolish decisions.  It was a fabulous book, and the narrator, Aoife McMahon, did a wonderful job of bringing the characters and their experiences to life.  I would highly recommend this audiobook to just about anyone, but be prepared to both laugh and cry. 

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the rest of the weekend and pick up a god book!

Bye for now…

Monday 12 October 2020

Very short post on a very long weekend...

It was a PD Day on Friday, so I took advantage of the opportunity to work from home that day, and of course today is Thanksgiving Monday, so it feels like I’ve had four days off (well, I was really busy with video sessions on Friday, but I got to sit around in my “at-home” clothes, so it was definitely more restful than going in to work).  I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar on this gorgeously bright, sunny, mild morning.  The birds are singing (it’s mild enough to have the windows open), the leaves are out in full magnificent colour, and I’m feeling so peaceful and certainly thankful for so many things, today and every day.

Last week I read American Predator:  the hunt for the most meticulous serial killer of the 21st century by Maureen Callahan, and it was just so-so.  I’m not a huge non-fiction reader, but I have enjoyed some true crime and historical nf titles in the past, so I thought I would take a chance on this one, and I was thankful that it was short.  It follows the search for, arrest, and subsequent interrogation of Israel Keyes, a man initially suspected of abducting and killing a young woman in Anchorage, Alaska, but who, after some skillful (and some bumbling) interviewing, is linked to many other crimes and murders throughout the United States over the previous two decades.  It was interesting enough at first, and was neither well-written nor badly written, but just average - it met, but certainly did not exceed, my expectations.  But it jumped around quite a bit, and by the time I reached the end of the book, I wondered what the point of it was.  I guess it was vague and had lots of filler because it was hard to find information about this guy; he seems to be the most famous serial killer that no one has ever heard of.  Anyway, if you like reading true crime and are looking for something new, you could do worse than this one, but you could also do better.  

And I listened to an audiobook by K L (Kelly) Armstrong, Wherever She Goes, and have to say that I was happy to reach “the last page” of this one, too.  I have enjoyed several books in Armstrong’s “Rockton” series, and was quite looking forward to this standalone, but it did not meet my expectations at all.  Aubrey Finch is in the midst of domestic turmoil; she and her husband have separated and she fears the loss of custody of her young daughter.  When she and her daughter are at the park one weekend, she has a brief conversation with another young woman who is playing with her son.  Several days later, as she is jogging in that same park, she thinks she witnesses that boy being abducted, but no one will believe her.  Even she is not certain of what she saw, but when more sinister activities take place in her seemingly tranquil suburban community, she is unable to deny her gut instinct and decides to search for this boy on her own.  Sounds like an interesting plot, right?  Well, yes, it would have been interesting if there weren't so many of Aubrey’s lengthy internal monologues popping up far too regularly throughout the book.  And in my opinion, it turned out to be totally unbelievable, too.  Maybe as a print book the reader would have been able to skim the monotonous monologues and get to the “good stuff”, but with an audiobook, you can’t skim or skip parts.  Anyway, not as good as I was hoping, but also not the worst book I’ve ever listened to.

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy this gorgeous day!  And have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Bye for now…

Sunday 4 October 2020

Rain, rain, go away...

It’s raining right now, and it’s supposed to do so all day, so I guess it’s a good time to prepare for the cooler weather, both in my closet and around the house… it’s also perfect weather for reading and drinking hot tea!  Good thing I went to the library yesterday and filled my “library loans” shelf with a wide variety of books to choose from.  Right now I’ve got a steaming cup of chai and a Date Bar to lift my spirits and brighten my morning.

At my Volunteer Book Club meeting yesterday, we discussed Deborah Ellis’ collection of Young Adult short stories, Sit, and we all loved it!  There are eleven stories in this short volume, and some of the stories are directly interconnected, while others just seem to so obviously belong in the collection.  Sitting is something we do everyday and never think about.  Each of these stories features a child or young adult who is facing a difficult situation, and each of these children is also sitting.  But their sitting is not something they can take for granted, and they use each of these situations to contemplate or reflect on serious issues in their lives or the lives of people around them.  A boy is working in an Indonesian furniture factory, toiling away making chairs under the watchful eye of a cruel boss.  A girl is visiting a concentration camp on a school trip and fixates on the latrines the prisoners were forced to use.  Another girl shares her views about her home situation while sitting in the pink plastic “time out” chair that she has long outgrown but that she is forced to use regularly by her callous mother.  These children face difficult situations or obstacles, but they somehow manage to overcome these challenges and come out alright in the end, due in large part to their resiliency of spirit.  This collection is clearly written for children (each story is brief and fairly simplistic), but my ladies loved them.  The overriding theme of the discussion was the sense of wonder at how Ellis was able to elicit such huge emotion from such short stories.  One of the members said that there were “so many little stories but so many life-changing events”; another commented that there was “so much emotion in so few pages”; another wondered how “something so little could be so big”.  We speculated about some of the characters: we thought the girl in the pink chair would grow up to be rebellious, and we considered the reasons behind the decisions of several other characters.  We noted that many of the stories featured children looking out for each other, and sometimes for adults.  We all agreed that it was the many small details in each story that created a clear picture of each situation, and that it was these small details that make these stories difficult to sum up if trying to relate them to someone else, that somehow the emotional impact would be "lost in translation".  Overall, it was a great book club choice, and I would highly recommend it to just about any reader.  It is short enough to read in a couple of hours, and the stories are very accessible, so there’s no reason not to try it.

And speaking of simple stories with big meanings, I also read The Wall by John Lanchester.  I was reluctant to read this novel directly after The Memory Police because it is also a dystopian novel that takes place mainly on an unnamed island, and I thought it might be too many depressing dystopian novels too close together, but I started it and was sucked in immediately!  John Kavanaugh is a young man who is beginning his requisite two-year posting as a Defender on The Wall, a concrete wall that surrounds the coast of the island where he lives to keep out the Others.  He shares details about his first days, weeks and months, the conditions under which he fulfills his posting, his relationships with the other Defenders, and his experiences both on and off The Wall.  All seems to be going well and one day is much like the next ("concretewaterskywindcold")… until the Others attack.  The early chapters of this novel reminded me of the early chapters of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, with the details of the tediousness of the characters' existence, but Atwood’s book is much more complex, while Lanchester’s novel is more simplistic, but no less powerful for its simplicity.  In fact, I think the simplicity adds to the significance: without much detail, this story could be applied to any situation, making it more disturbing.  And it’s obviously based on current controversial political agendas, which makes it even more unsettling, because it’s not just speculative; it’s actually happening.  I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys reading dystopian or speculative fiction.  Once again, it’s an easy read, but it gave this reader so much to think about.  

That’s all for today.  Stay dry and pick up a good book.

Bye for now…