Sunday 24 September 2023

Happy Fall!

It’s the first weekend of fall, and the weather could not have been better... bright and comfortable, not too hot or too cold, enough breeze to make things interesting… and the leaves are starting to change colour, proving once again that this is the best time of the year (at least in my opinion).

I’m not going to write a whole lot about the book I read last week, as we will be discussing it at our book club meeting tomorrow night, but I wanted to at least let you know my initial thoughts.  We will be discussing Clock Dance by Anne Tyler, a recent work by this award-winning American novelist.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever read anything by her… maybe A Spool of Blue Thread for book club many years ago?  Anyway, this novel tells the story of Willa Drake, a 61-year old woman whose life is summed up in three short sections:  1967, when she and her friend Sonya try to sell as many chocolate bars as possible to raise money for their camp, but they have a falling out, clearly marking a rite of passage for 11-year-old Willa;  1977, when she returns home from college with her boyfriend, Derek, who has just proposed and wants to marry that summer, before he moves to California for his new job, a move that would leave Willa’s degree in languages incomplete; 1997, when a tragic accident occurs; and 2017, when Willa and her second husband, Peter, receive a call from a neighbour of her oldest son’s ex-girlfriend, Denise, asking if Willa could come and take care of Denise’s 9-year-old daughter, Cheryl, while Denise is in the hospital.  This is the point at which the story actually begins, which is quite revealing about Willa’s life so far.  Raised by a mother whose dramatic disappearances and reappearances dotted her life, Willa’s goal for most of her childhood and adulthood centred around trying to live as unobtrusively as possible and trying not to get noticed.  But when she receives a call from Callie, a neighbour who is looking after Cheryl, asking if she could come and take over this responsibility, Willa immediately accepts, hauling Peter along on the plane-ride from Tuscon to Baltimore.  But her reluctance to leave and return to her own life, even as Denise is discharged from the hospital and is recovering, indicates that perhaps Willa’s life-goals are changing.  I don’t want to say any more about the plot of this quietly inspiring novel, but I really enjoyed it.  I loved the way that, like Willa, it crept along, seemingly without making a mark, until suddenly you realize that it’s had a huge impact and changed the way you view your life.  I want to keep using the word “quietly”, but surely there are other words to mean the same thing:  calmly, patiently, discreetly, plainly… none of them are quite as perfect a word as “quietly”, meaning something that is calm and also discreet, that is patient and plain but also impactful, just unobtrusively so.  I think I need to read earlier works by this author, because all the reviews seem to think that this book, while well-written, is not as good as her others, in particular The Accidental Tourist.  Anyway, if you are looking for a domestic fiction that features a quietly inspiring heroine, I would recommend this novel, but I would caution you to read it slowly and savour it, as, like a delicious stew, it may seem simple but when eaten slowly, its complex flavours come shining through.

That’s all for today.  Enjoy the glorious weather!

Bye for now…

Sunday 17 September 2023

Last post for summer...

It's a bit overcast and cool this morning, the last official weekend of summer, and I’ve got a bowl of fresh local fruit and a steaming cup of chai to celebrate.  I’m in the middle of my next Friends’ book club selection right now, but I finally finished a book that I want to tell you about.

It took me nearly two weeks to read Fredrik Backman’s Us Against You, the second book in his “Beartown” trilogy, but thankfully I finished mid-week.  In February 2021, my book club read Beartown as our “banned book” selection, and looking over my blog post for this book, I see that my thoughts on Beartown are similar to those on the second book, that it was too long and overly repetitive, but that the storylines and themes were interesting.  This novel takes over from the point when the last one left off, and follows the characters of Beartown through the year following the consequences of the rape of one of the town’s teens, exploring the fate of the Beartown Hockey Club and the future of Beartown itself.  I’m not even going to summarize the storylines, as there were too many and they were overly complicated, in my opinion.  And I felt that the biggest problem with this book for me was that at least the first third was a retelling of the first book, which I thought most people would have read before reading this one, making this book unnecessarily long and tedious.  So I didn’t love it, even though most people do, according to reviews.  I’ve heard that the last book in the trilogy, The Winners, is really good, but it’s over 600 pages (Us Against You had less than 500), so I doubt that I will be reading it any time soon.  I have plenty of books for my upcoming book club meetings to read, as well as the stacks of library books that have been left neglected on my shelf.  *sigh*  There will always be more books to read than there is time to read them, a sad fact of life that is difficult for me to accept.

Oh, the sun just came out, so I think it’s time to get dressed and get outside for a wonderfully long walk.

Bye for now…

Sunday 10 September 2023

Post on a fall-like morning...

It’s been lovely and cool these past few days, after several sticky humid “end-of-summer” days last week, and I think that most people are feeling refreshed by the change in weather.  I know I certainly am, and am looking forward to a long walk later today.  But first I have a steaming cup of Earl  Grey tea (I didn’t even know I had this type of tea in my cupboard, as I don’t really like Earl Grey!) and a huge bowl of local fruit as a morning treat while I write this post.

My book club met yesterday to discuss Ruth Ozeki’s book, The Book of Form and Emptiness.  I mentioned this book a couple of weeks ago, and commented that I was finding it too long, and that was the consensus of all my book club members.  This book, which is narrated by the book, tells the story of thirteen-year-old Benny Oh and his mother Annabelle, who are struggling to cope with the loss of husband and father Benji, an Asian jazz musician who, on the way home from a gig one night, was run over and killed by a truck full of live chickens in the alley outside of their house.  They are mired in grief, and can’t seem to get out of it.  They cope in different ways:  Annabelle hoards while Benny begins to hear voices, something that began when he watched his father’s casket go into the furnace of the crematorium.  They have no connections outside of their own small family unit, which is breaking down as Annabelle tries to smother Benny and Benny runs at every attempt.  What follows is an exploration into the daily lives of these characters as they spiral gradually out of control to a point of near-collapse.  Who will intervene, in what ways, and how will it help?  These questions and more are answered in this thought-provoking, heart-wrenchingly sad, yet ultimately uplifting book about social connections, creativity, grief, loss, and letting go.  The first member of my book club hadn’t had a chance to finish it before the meeting, but her comment was that there were “so many words”!  I agreed wholeheartedly.  For a book where a major theme is decluttering and letting go of things, this book was certainly full to bursting with words.  I think it could have used a bit of decluttering, but that’s just my opinion (and the opinion of my whole group).  Here are some of the other comments my group members made:  The book was about having too much information and not knowing what to do with it.  We discussed Benny’s voices, where they came from, whether they were signs of mental illness or just a coping mechanism, were they from inside Benny or from outside, or if the source of Benny’s voices were his dad. Another member was struck by the deep sadness in this book, which was steeped in loss and loneliness.  Someone said that there was so much chaos, which may have been a manifestation of Annabelle’s feelings.  There was frustration because there seemed to be no discernable plot, that it just “lurched from thing to thing to thing", or that it just followed Annabelle and Benny from day to day to day.  We found it rather challenging to figure out the timing of the story, and over what period of time it took place.  We felt that the wrap-up was too quick and that the resolution was too neat, but I think our main criticism was that the book just took too long to get going and that there was just too much “stuff” in between all the important bits.  Still, overall, I think everyone was happy to have read it, and for those who didn’t have a chance to finish, I think they plan to do so (since they heard that there is actually a story and resolution at the end!).  

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

Bye for now…

Monday 4 September 2023

Short post for a long weekend...

If last weekend was melancholy, this weekend is positively heartbreaking.  At least last weekend, while I had to go back to work, it was still August and there was this long Labour Day weekend to look forward to.  But now it’s Monday, and we’ll be right back in the swing of things tomorrow morning, and it will see like this summer never happened… hmmm… that reminds me of a book by Peter Robinson’s, The Summer That Never Was, which may have been the first book I’d ever read of his and the one that hooked me so completely.  Maybe I should reread that, as it seems so appropriate.

Anyway, I have a cup of coffee and a big bowl of local fruit to fuel me for a fun-filled day that starts with a short post about the book I read last week.  I finished Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, but I will write about it after the book club meeting next weekend.  After reaching the end of that book, I picked up one that I borrowed from the library by French author Hervé Le Tellier, Enough About Love.  If you recall, I recently read another fabulous book by this same author, Anomaly, and wanted to see what else I could get from my library.  Unfortunately, there was only one other book listed, but I might try to source his books from somewhere else, as he seems to be an author worth really delving into.  Despite the title, this recent novel is actually all about love, its many moods and facets, what it is, what makes it happen and what makes it last.  It is a novel about Louise and Thomas and Romain and Anna and Yves and Stanislas.  Louise and Romain are married with children, but then Louise falls in love with psychoanalyst Thomas.   Anna is married to Stanislas, and they also have children, but then is struck by a “thunderbolt” of passion for writer Yves.  These two women are in their forties and have fairly happy marriages, but the arrival of the opportunity for a passionate affair catches them off-guard and turns their worlds upside down.  But can the excitement and passion of these new relationships be sustained, and if so, at what cost?  This book was completely different from Anomaly and yet it was so obviously written by the same author.  Le Tellier has a way of taking even the most mundane of events or interactions and turning it inside out to explore its most philosophical aspects.  I particularly appreciated the seriousness of a speech made by Louise, a lawyer who was participating in a mock debate at one point in what could have been a light, breezy romantic novel, elevating it to become so much more.  This was just one example, but the one that really stuck. Since the story focuses on all of the characters, and is told in chapters featuring various points of view, I think it could be read and appreciated by just about anyone, so if you’re in the mood for a book that’s all about love, I would definitely recommend Enough About Love.

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the sunshine, but stay cool on this hot, hot, hot day!

Bye for now…