Sunday, 3 January 2021

First post for 2021...

It’s been snowy and winter-like this past week, and it’s snowing again today, but I don’t mind.  I love seeing the contrast of the dark branches against the white snow, especially the ones with ruby-coloured branches, or the very thin branches with bright red berries still hanging on them.  But enough about the delights of the season… I have a steaming cup of chai, a delicious Date Bar (mmm… it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve had one of those), and a slice of freshly baked Banana Bread to fuel me as I write this long post.  

I read three books last week.  The first was Booker Prize winning Disgrace by J M Coetzee.  I have always resisted reading this novel based solely on the popular cover, which shows a feral dog, as I generally avoid books that I suspect feature poorly-treated animals.  But I got a copy from the library that had a plain white cover, so I decided to give it a try.  A professor at a university in Cape Town loses everything due to his inappropriate sexual relations with one of his students, so he reaches out to his estranged daughter in the hopes of rebuilding his relationship with her, while also trying writing an opera about Lord Byron’s affair with a married woman.  I have to say, when I got to the end of the book, I thought, “What was the point?”  I could not relate to any of the characters, not David or his daughter Lucy, not Petrus, a black African who helps Lucy on the farm, not young, vulnerable Melanie, and not older but also vulnerable animal shelter volunteer Bev.  I’m sure it’s just me, because obviously many readers, and of course the Booker Prize judges, thought this was an amazing novel, but it just wasn’t a good choice for me.  Oh well, at least it was short!

Then I read Bloom, a Young Adult novel by Canadian novelist Kenneth Oppel, which has been nominated for the Forest of Reading Red Maple Award.  Set on Salt Spring Island, this novel centres around three very different teens who come together to try to save the world from aggressive, toxic, carnivorous alien plants that are taking over the world.  Yikes!  I had high hopes for this novel, as I read an earlier novel by this author, The Nest, that I loved.  But unlike the subtle creepiness of The Nest, Bloom seemed to be all special effects and not much story.  I can see how it might appeal to my twelve-year-old students, but I felt that it lacked sufficient story to keep me interested enough to read Hatch, the second in this trilogy.  That’s really all I want to say about it.

And I read another short book this week, The Benjamenta College of Art by Montreal author Alan Reed.  The author is a friend of my avid reader cousin, so she passed on her autographed copy to me and I loved it!  This novel tells the story of a year + in the life of Luca, a student at the Benjamenta College of Art.  At the beginning of the novel, he finds it challenging to navigate the maze of rooms and corridors of the college and to feel “at home” away from the small house where he grew up, a small house under a sky that is not the sky over this room, this college, this city.  He is awkward and struggles to form relationships with other students.  Then he meets Amalia and together they blend work and love with the intensity that only students have.  We watch as Luca learns and grows from the awkward new student to a more confident, more inspired one.  This is a love story, a coming-of-age story, and an awakening to all that lies ahead.  I don’t know if this is an accurate depiction of the life of a student at an art college, but I thought it perfectly captured the essence of student life in general, from the uncertainty of change and newness to the confidence of experience, with all the intense and dramatic emotional roller-coaster rides in between.  It was lyrical and engaging, and drew me along the network of corridors into Luca’s inner life, his thoughts, experiences and emotional responses.  It was a short novel that seemed much longer, and I found I had to take my time reading it to really appreciate the richness of the language.  I am truly thankful that my fabulous cousin made me aware of this lovely novel, which would have otherwise certainly escaped my notice.  I would recommend this to anyone who wishes to relive, for just 144 pages, the hopefulness and enthusiasm of student life.

And since it’s the beginning of a new year, it’s time for a recap of last year’s reading.  I read 61 books and listened to 36 audiobooks in 2020.  

My favourite adult books were:

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan
The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
In the Woods by Tana French
The Paladin by David Ingnatius
How a Woman Becomes a Lake by Marjorie Celona
A Burning by Megha Majumdar
How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach
The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa
The Wall by John Lanchester
Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong
An Inconvenient Woman by Stéphanie Buellens
Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little

My favourite Children’s and Young Adult books were:

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland (YA)
Tell Me Everything by Sarah Enni (YA)
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Waiting Under Water by Riel Nason

My favourite audiobooks were:

The Dry by Jane Harper (also Force of Nature and The Lost Man) The Spy and the Traitor by Ben MacIntyre (NF)
Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close
The Witch Elm by Tana French
Alone in the Wild by Kelley Armstrong
Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (YA)
Big Sky by Kate Atkinson
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (YA)
I Found You by Lisa Jewell (also Watching You and And Then She Was Gone)

And I have a new category:

The Most Disappointing (great reviews ≠ great reading experience) books were:

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Aosawa Murders by Riku ONda
Bunny by Mona Awad (audiobook)
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (audiobook)

That’s all for today.  I hope your new year is filled with lots of hot beverages, plenty of delicious treats, and an abundance of great books!  Happy 2021!

Bye for now…
Julie

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