Sunday 29 October 2023

Short post on a busy weekend...

It’s been a hectic weekend and now it’s Sunday night, it’s dark, I’m feeling sleepy, and I have a kitty crashed out on my shoulder, purring in my ear, so this will be a short post.

I wish I had more time and energy to write this week, as I read a  eally wonderful novel last week, Tom Lake by Ann Patchett.  I have read other books by this author, Bel Canto  and State of Wonder, which were also wonderful, and this one definitely lived up to my expectations.  During her brief stint as an actress, Lara Kenison had an even briefer relationship with up-and-coming TV and film star Peter Duke, but she’s been happily married and living on a farm with a cherry orchard for the past three decades.  During the first summer of COVID, her three daughters, one a veterinarian-in-training, one an aspiring actress, and one who will someday take over the farm, return to the farm to help pick cherries and to hear about the romance between their mother and Duke, whom they all loved watching on TV growing up.  The main settings for this novel are present-day and the summer spent at Tom Lake, where a small but well-known summer stock theatre troupe are rehearsing “Our Town” and other plays, and where Lara meets Duke.  What follows is an exploration into youth and love, aspiration and chance, luck and the power to control the direction your life will take, all told in the context of a time of unprecedented restrictions due to the pandemic and lockdowns.  Patchett lays out for us the pros and cons of the pandemic:  on the one hand, farms suffered due to limited migrant workers, actors suffered due to the inability to work on films and shows, students suffered due to college closures as well as limited jobs for recent grads;  on the other hand, some families grew closer and regained or strengthened ties since there was so much forced togetherness.  This reader felt like she was taking a break from cherry picking or working out in the fields with these women as the story of Lara’s summer at Tom Lake unfolded, and I regretted getting to the last page, as these are some characters I won’t easily forget. I especially liked one of he passages near the end of the book, when Lara, after considering how you can have hope at a time like this (ie COVID), says something about how loneliness and despair and joy and sunshine are all equally real and important and can exist alongside one another - she put it much better than this, but it’s a sentiment that will stay with me and help me get through tough or desperate times. It felt a bit like I was watching a play, not just reading a book. It’s a fabulous novel that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys domestic fiction. That's all for tonight. Stay warm and keep reading! Bye for now... Julie

Sunday 22 October 2023

No post on a gorgeous fall day...

It’s gorgeous this morning, bright and chilly and promising to be a perfect fall day, a welcome change after yesterday’s cold, windy, drizzly weather.  I'm enjoying a steaming cup of chai right now, but I’m looking forward to getting out soon and taking a long walk to enjoy what may be the last good weekend of colour before all the leaves turn brown and blow off the trees.

I tried reading a couple different books this past week, but nothing grabbed me until I started reading Ann Patchett’s new novel, Tom Lake, which, so far, is totally riveting.  It reminds me of Anne Tyler’s Clock Dance, except that, where Tyler’s book sums up the main character’s life by focusing on just three specific periods before the actual story begins, Patchett’s book provides extensive details about the main character’s life before the period during which the actual story is set.  I mean that Tyler’s book gives almost no backstory, while Patchett’s book is all backstory, yet they are remarkably similar.  But I’m only halfway through, so I’ll have to tell you more about it next week.  

That’s all for today.  Get outside and enjoy the amazing fall colours!

Bye for now…

Sunday 15 October 2023

Post on a chilly, windy, sometimes-rainy, sometimes-sunny day...

It’s bright but windy outside right now, but it’s been raining off and on all afternoon.  Still, we can’t complain, as we’ve had pretty sweet weather up to now, and it really, it’s mid-October already so I think these are fairly normal conditions.

I met with my Volunteer book club yesterday to discuss Ali Smith’s Autumn, and I wasn’t entirely surprised to hear that most people did not enjoy it (one member said she hated it, but since I recommended it, she decided that it must be good so she read it a second time and enjoyed it much more!).  Only one member, who is new to our group, said she quite liked it, that she thought Smith wrote very fluidly, that it was not always easy to read and understand, but that at times it was very funny.  One member said it was “tricky”, referring to the way the narrative jumped around in time.  She was listening to it, so that would have made it even more difficult to follow than the print edition, since you can’t just flip back a few pages to help figure out what’s going on.  Still, we all found the relationships fascinating, particularly between Elisabeth and Daniel and Elisabeth and her mother.  We discussed real-life historical figures, artist Pauline Boty and model/activist Christine Keeler.  After the discussion, people were expressing interest in the other three books in this “Seasons” quartet, and everyone agreed that they thought differently about the book after discussing it than they did after their own initial reading.  This is the true power of a book club. 

I also finished reading the debut novel by BC writer Michelle Min Sterling, Camp Zero, a post-apocalyptic eco-thriller novel that speaks directly to our times.  In 2049, wildfires rage, the land is scorched, sea levels are rising, and the earth is nearly uninhabitable, but for the wealthy and elite, delicacies can be found and accommodations built in the Floating City, just off the New England coast in the Atlantic Ocean. Rose, one of the “hostesses” at the Floating City, dreams of securing a better life for her mother, who lost everything in the Hurricane that devastated the coastal region and who now lives in accommodations for displaced persons.  When an opportunity arises, she agrees immediately, and is sent up north to Canada, where the weather, unlike the scorched conditions in the US, is cold and fresh and the population is sparse.  She is brought to Camp Zero, where she lives with five other "Blooms" whose sole job is to work as hostesses, serving the needs of the men at the excavation site where a new community is supposed to be built, a utopian society and a new beginning.  But all is not what it seems at this camp, and when you throw into the mix White Alice, the climate research station “manned” by an all-female crew several hours north of the camp, you end up with a mystery, an environmental cry for help and a survival story with a feminist twist, all rolled into one.  This was a really great read, one I recommended to a number of people before finishing it.  I found the ending to be a bit flat, rather rushed, and not entirely satisfactory, but that doesn’t detract from the richness and power of the rest of the novel, one that warns of the environmental devastation waiting just around the corner unless we drastically change our ways.  It also reminded this reader why we should never send “most men” out to colonize Mars - you’ll have to read it to find out what that means!  Anyway, I recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading post-apocalyptic novels or eco-thrillers.

That’s all for today.  Have a great week, and make sure to find time to read!

Bye for now…

Monday 9 October 2023

Thanksgiving Day post...

It was calling for rain today, but we lucked out and had only to endure high winds and cold-ish temperatures, which was fine by me.  It was perfect weather for a long walk and then an extensive housecleaning and switching over from t-shirts and sandals to long-sleeved shirts and runners.  I love switching over my clothes in preparation for fall and winter - it’s a bit like going shopping without spending any money!  (and usually everything you find is something you like and something that is the right size!!)  I didn’t reward myself with a hot beverage after the walking and cleaning, but I did make a delicious pot of pumpkin soup, and will enjoy a big cup tonight for supper… yum!!

I haven’t finished the book I started reading a few days ago, although I did finish a children’s novel, Honey and Me by Meira Drazin, but I’m not going to write about that today.  What I wanted to do instead is tell you about the audiobook I just finished listening to, The Winners by Fredrik Backman, the final installment in the "Beartown" trilogy.  This whopping 600+ page book (21+ listening hours) takes up where Us against You left off, two years after the end of Beartown, and opens with a violent snowstorm that leaves many people stranded and many trees destroyed.  We also discover that, sadly, Ramona, the owner of the Bearskin, has died. Due to this storm, we are introduced to new characters, particularly from Hed, Beartown’s rival town, and because of Ramona’s death, many former residents of Beartown are brought back into the story as they return for the funeral.  There are so many characters and plots and backstories and interconnected themes that I’m not going to give you any sort of summary.  What I will say is that this novel was so much more positive, so much more rewarding, and so much more deeply satisfying in a heart-wrenching, emotional way than Us Against You.  I found the second book left me feeling quite disturbed and anxious due to the focus on corruption and the negative outcomes of various actions, and I wasn’t planning on reading this one for a while, but I needed an audiobook and it was available, so I checked it out and managed to listen to the whole thing in less than the 21-day loan period, all 21+ hours.  If you, like me, felt disconcerted by Book Two, I would urge you to read Book Three before you forget what’s happened, although, as usual, there’s plenty of recap at the beginning - once this recap finishes and the “real” stories begin, it’s incredibly absorbing and completely riveting.  Hmmm… that’s all I’m going to say, except to warn you that it’s a long emotional roller coaster, so be prepared to shed plenty of tears along the way.

That’s all for now.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Bye for now…

Sunday 1 October 2023

Post on a mild autumn evening...

It’s the end of the first week of fall, and while the past couple of weeks have been chilly-ish, this weekend has been decidedly summer-like, and the forecast for the coming week is calling for more of the same.  Still, the mornings are beautiful and golden, and the Harvest Moon on Friday night was huge and bright, and we usually get one last kick at summer weather before it settles into fall weather, so I guess this is it.

My book club is meeting in a couple of weeks to discuss Ali Smith’s novel Autumn, and since the book club has grown since making up this list, I noticed that the libraries probably won’t’ have enough copies for everyone, so I read my copy this past week and have offered it to others if they need to borrow it.  I read this about five years ago, and here’s what I said in my post of September 30, 2018:

Autumn, by Ali Smith, is the first in a quartet, Seasonal. It was a book I’d picked up at the Owen Sound Public Library book sale about which I knew nothing, but I loved the book cover design. According to Wikipedia, it is a novel about "the state of the nation" Of course I wanted to read it as the summer turned to autumn, and I’m so glad I did, as not only is it about the state of the nation, but the season itself, and what it represents, how it relates to time and memory, and what the “autumn of life” might look like.  The novel opens with an unnamed man being washed up on the shore of a lake, with wild ramblings about being both young and old, making a suit out of leaves, watching young women dancing around, and being dead. It turns out that this unnamed man is Daniel Gluck, a former songwriter who, at the age of 101, now resides in a long-term care facility.  He is visited by the acerbic Elisabeth, a young woman who grew up next door to Gluck and formed the type of special friendship that can only exist between individuals of vastly differing ages who, nonetheless, share a particular view of something, in this case, the world of art. Gluck becomes Elisabeth’s unofficial tutor and mentor, as her feelings towards her mother growing up, like most teenagers, are condescending at best.  We are treated to snippets from Elisabeth’s life growing up, to her present day experiences, as well as to Gluck’s early years. They often discuss art, mainly the collages and art of Pauline Boty, the only female British pop artist of the 1960s, according to Elisabeth. She is fascinated by Boty's art, and goes on to become an art history professor, never giving up her dedication to promoting the love of art to young people.  These snippets are interposed with memories told in poetry, with song lyrics, with bits of news (this novel is set during the EU Referendum, with its political uneasiness, people both rejoicing and feeling miserable), and fragments of Boty’s life before her premature death shortly after her first child was born. I know nothing about this Bailey Prize-winning author, but I was intrigued by the cover design and picked it up for about $2.00 at the book sale.  It was definitely an interesting read, lyrical and melancholy, sad and bittersweet, at times tender and also jarring. The friendships between unlikely individuals, the connections between those who consider themselves to be isolated, was moving and true, a real reflection of the human condition. It reminded me of the Man Booker nominee I read a while ago, From a Low and Quiet Sea by Irish writer Donal Ryan.  Both dealt with isolation and connection, about the need to reach out and break down invisible walls that are the barriers to forming relationships with others.  I loved it, and have just put on hold the next book in the series, Winter, as well as Ali’s Bailey Prize-winning 2015 novel, How to be Both.  An aside: I went to see Linwood Barclay at the Waterloo Public Library One Book One Community event this past week, and something he said rang true while I was reading this novel. Being a writer of crime fiction, he, like most other crime writers, is able to put out approximately one book each year. He was speaking of Wayne Johnston, and how writers of literary fiction sometimes take four or five years to write a book, and he wondered aloud whether maybe their computers were broken or their keyboards weren't working. He also said that literary writers just didn't know how to create a plot. Of course he was kidding. He then clarified that even if he had ten years, he could not write a book as fine as one of Johnston's novels. I thought of this as I was reading Autumn, and how it was not about a plot so much as character, and how it would have taken time and focus to create such a lyrically-resonant work that so succinctly captures the human experience.”

Yes to all of the above!  I’m afraid, though, that it may not be a hit with my members, as I’ve already had one person contact me to let me know that she won’t be able to make it due to a previous commitment, but that she didn’t really enjoy this book at all.  I thought that it might be too many literary books in a row, and since I happened to go to Lee Valley this weekend to purchase something and also happened to pick up a flyer, I was reminded of the Lee Valley/Canadian Tire book dilemma.  Please see this explanation below from June 8, 2014:

"When I’m making up the book club reading list, I try to choose books that lend themselves well to discussion.  I don’t include too many “literary” texts, as they are sometimes just too difficult to read, and I want this group to be fun, not like reading for school.  But I also try not to include anything that is too “light”, as these do not offer enough discussion potential.  I started yesterday’s meeting off by presenting two flyers, one from Lee Valley and the other from Canadian Tire.  The Lee Valley flyer features fewer products with extensive descriptions of each item.  For example, here is the text accompanying the photo of Grill Tiles:  “As a barbecues’ lava rocks become old and saturated with drippings, flare-ups can blacken even the most carefully attended food.  The solution is to replace the old lava rocks with these cordierite ceramic tiles that distribute heat uniformly.  Their shape allows them to catch drippings, reducing flare-ups.  They are even self-cleaning, as they can be simply flipped over to burn off any residue”.  I’ve never heard of these things, but after reading this elaborate description, I want a package of them!  Compare to Canadian Tire:  “Sale $16.99  Reg $25.99  Yardworks Decorative Cast-Iron Hose Hanger.  Hose sold separately”, accompanied by a photo that is at least as large as the description.  These, I argued, were like comparing great literature to bestsellers:  one is comprised of text that stays with you long after the reading is done, with each word carefully chosen to convey the message the author intends and to appeal to the audience on a personal level, while the other is all about flash and instant satisfaction, something you can flip through quickly and easily and then move on to the next flyer.  The first you have to spend time reading and considering, the other you look at and forget the instant it hits the recycle bin.  One of my ladies, the newest member of my group, said that she struggled with Fifth Business, then moved on to a Jeffery Archer novel, but while reading Archer’s book, she was left wondering, “But what are the characters thinking?  Why are they acting this way?  What are they feeling?”  It was the Lee Valley/Canadian Tire dilemma, and we all agreed that we can’t only read great literature, as it takes too much time and effort, and that sometimes we need something light, with maybe more story and less psychological exploration, depending on our personal reading mood at the time.  Watch what is going on next time you are out shopping or at work, and I bet you will notice that these comparisons as presented above are all around you in life, and consider what your responses to things are based on the content and intention of the material.”

Since this post seems to have written itself (or rather, that I’ve already written it in previous posts), I have nothing much to add to this except to say that I’m sure this book will generate interesting and lively discussion, even if no one liked it.  And it was also worthwhile to look these posts up because I put Fifth Business on our list for next year and just realized that we’ve already read it!  Still, most of the members now were not with me in 2014, so maybe it’s ok to stay on the list… I’ll ask at our next meeting.

That’s all for today.  Take care!

Bye for now…