Friday, 31 January 2014

angst about fathers

   After the angst of "The Dinner", I was delighted to read about a good father.The delightful Leo Buscaglia has written about his father.
   Leo Buscaglia was a university professor known for his courses on love.  This is a lovely, short story about his father, who was the son of a poor farmer and went to work in a factory while in grade five.  The world became his school.  Since he was unable to get an education, he was determined that his children would be educated.  He insisted that every day each child learn one new thing.  When dinner was over, Papa pushed back his chair and asked what each child had learned that day.
"By looking at us, listening to us, hearing us, respecting our opinions, affirming our value, giving us a sense of dignity, he was unquestionably our most influential teacher".

   Of course, this book feeds into my angst about who gets a good father and who doesn't!


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Sins of the Father


"The Dinner" by Herman Koch is rather popular right now and it reminds me that I am really 'out of touch'.  I went along with the  pace of the book even though it was frustrating.
  I knew that the author had something to say, but was taking a very long time to say it.  Half-way through the book, it is apparent that the author is trying to set up a moral dilemma for parents : "How far would you go to protect your child?"
   I love dilemmas, but by the end of the book, I was disturbed to think that this situation was at all debatable. We really have lost our moral compass when we cover up for a son who is torturing and killing homeless people.

The Plot
 Two brothers each have a son involved in torture and killing.  The whole book is about the meal the brothers and their wives share to 'talk about the situation'.
  One brother, Serge, is about to run for prime minister  and he is portrayed as narcissistic and arrogant.  The other brother, Paul, is the narrator, and appears fairly tolerable at the beginning.  But, by the end, you realize that Paul is psychologically unstable- has beat up the school principal, threatened the store keeper, and attacked his brother with a hot pan.
  Serge, the brother that was described as an egocentric buffoon, ended up giving up his chance to be prime minister.  But the 'good' brother, Paul, just smiled about the 'antics'.  He believed that secrets don't get in the way of happiness- and happiness was certainly what he was fixated on. 
  But Paul definitely had psychological problems.  In several places it mentions how a damp film slid down over his eyes, or that he heard something snap, or 'something happened', also he seems to black out- there is a gap in time.

But the mother- what about the mother???
  What surprised me is that Paul's wife schemed to cover up the crimes.  When speaking about the 15-year-old boys she said, "We don't have the right to take away their childhood, simply because, according to our norms, as adults, it's a crime you should have to pay for, for the rest of your life." 

  This novel takes place in Amsterdam.  Does that make a difference?  Is their moral compass different?  Would this really be a dilemma?

  The author certainly manipulates the reader.  In some places he says, I won't tell you that".  He feeds the information to the reader as he wills and it certainly does change the whole story- all over the courses of a "dinner'.  Does that make a good read?

  And so, I see the theme of 'the sins of the father are visited on the children'. And I am aghast that it is debatable whether the parents should cover up this type of criminal behaviour in a child.

  But- at the end, the author makes a point of exposing hospital records from the birth of Paul's son and in the amniotic fluid test that was given to Paul's wife, it was noted "decision parents"(in other words, the decision was made by the parent).  Paul did not know anything about that, so I wonder if he just discovered (on the third last page) that he was not really the father.  The author makes a point that his son looked like him, so perhaps he really is his dreaded brother's son?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Personal Libraries


A book club friend was lending me a book from her personal library.  Noreen is a kind, suppportive and intuitive friend.  She offers advice, books or prayers when she senses they are needed.  After a book club discussion that focused on man's inhumanity to man, she recommended a book by Leo Buscaglia.  I had quite forgotten that author.  In fact, he died in 1998.  But Noreen knows that I dislike focusing on violence.  And I appreciated being reminded of this wacky, wonderful author/lecturer.  I searched out my copy of "Living, Loving and Learning" when I got home.  And I listened to his lectures on the internet.  A wonderful return for me to the more gentle aspects of life.

Leo Buscaglia

While searching through Noreen's personal library, I mentioned that you can learn a lot about a person by looking at their personal library.  She agreed. She has a large collection.  
  Once when she had overnight guests, she positioned a stack of books beside the bedside lamp of each guest with books of a particular interest to that guest.  What a personal, thoughtful idea.
  She has given many, many boxes of books, written for children and adolescents, to the Home Schooling Association.  She also was delighted when the local school accepted her offer of books.
  Over the years, Noreen has had dozens of biographies because she loves learning about individuals and how they were motivated in life. 
  She has thinned out her collection of cook books but still has more than needed.
  Since she was in the nursing field, Noreen developed a large collection of nursing books and has donated them to several long term care facilities.  Two of those institutions had no reference books at all and Noreen felt that they were important for quick reference and could make better and safer patient care.
  Books on religion, philosophy and history have gone to the church library.
  These donations make it less painful to part with important books.
  Noreen's personal library is certainly a reflection of her many interests and her generous spirit.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Canada Reads 2014

  We had our first mini-debate with five women who are Canada Reads' fans.  We discussed "Annabel" by Kathleen Winter. I have already mentioned this book on my blog.  But preparing for the discussion, I realized that the book was even better than I had originally thought.
  Of the five of us, I was probably the most enthused by this book.  After finishing all five books, I definitely think it is the best of the five.  It has a theme of developing self-esteem and finding your way in the world.  And the characters are fascinating.  It is the only book of the five that I would recommend to anyone.  It certainly reflects life's challenges, but it shows the possibility of 'rising above'- finding joy in the midst of challenges and confusion.

  Well, our second discussion was focused on "Cockroach" by Rawi Hage.
The author admits that it is 'a hard, uncompromising book'.  Samantha Bee, who will be defending the book says that it is 'painful and dark'.
The title comes from the unnamed protagonist who "felt the need to strip the world and exist underneath".
   I see no purpose in producing books that are hopeless throughout.
Perhaps the worst for me was the violence of the male characters.

I was reminded of "The Slap" by Christos Tsiolkas.  I read that book for a book discussion weekend in Nelson, B.C.  It is a novel filled with violence, drugs, alcohol, and abuse.  The men were totally misogynistic and the teenagers were so out of control.  After an evening of discussing that book, I had nightmares where I was trying to save my grandchildren.  I woke up very disturbed.  Some people believed that the book was a reflection of society and I do not want my grandchildren to grow up in that type of world.

  The next book in my 'reading agenda' is, of all things "Emma" by Jane Austen.  Wow!  What a difference!  The men in "Emma" are cultured, polite and mannerly in the extreme.  Of course it was written in1815 and Austen only chose to write about the gentility.  But I am finding this book so refreshing!  Bring on "Emma"!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Terri's Picks

Terri in Nelson, British Columbia

My friend Terri is a great reader.  We have travelled to many book events together- in England, British Columbia and the U.S.  Twice we have gone to Banff for the Banff Book Weekend.  We share book talk- a lot!  So I am delighted that she gave me a run-down of her reading for the last year.

From Terri:
I read 54 books in 2013 and I will attempt to tell you about them; some that I loved, some that I only liked and even some that I did not enjoy. 

       The first book that I thought was very thought provoking and a very good read was "The Round House" by Louise Erdrich. Geraldine who lives on an Ojibway reservation is raped. She will not divulge what happened and who the man is. She will not even speak to her son and husband and stays in her room in bed for months. Her son Joe is frustrated with the investigation and takes matters into his own hands.

  One of the books that I did not enjoy was "February" by Lisa Moore, the 2012 Canada Reads winner. I found the style of writing difficult to follow and the story disjointed. The sinking of the "Ocean Ranger" and the loss of so many lives and the loss of a husband is very sad, but I felt the story could have been told in a more interesting way. BUT I did enjoy her recent novel titled "Caught". Unfortunately the title gives the story away, but the writing was superior to "February", the characters were unbelievably simple minded and kept me entertained.

Richard Wagamese is the author of two gems that I read, "Iron Horse" and "Ragged Company". In "Iron Horse" a young Aboriginal boy is taken from his home and sent to a residential school. A priest teaches him to play hockey. He practices long hours and becomes a very good hockey player. Later when he escapes from the school, again he turns to hockey but finds racism and cultural displacement. "Ragged Company" is, in my mind, a brilliant title. Some people I know, are attracted to book covers, while I am fascinated with book titles! Four homeless people become friends, and during a cold spell find warmth in a movie theater. They find they love movies and continue to frequent them. One of the men finds a lottery ticket for $13,000,000.00 and lives are changed. The stories of the four people are full of emotion, some humour and I thought about this book long after I had read it. The mark of a good story teller.

One of the finest gems I found was "The End of Your Life Book Club" by Will Schwalbe. Having a medical background, I did not find the book morbid, as some of my friends had suggested. I loved the mini-book reviews - in fact I prefer them to long reviews because I want to find out about the book by reading it. I also was touched by the work Mary Anne did with refugees and establishing libraries in Afghanistan. I absolutely loved this book. "Tuesdays With Morrie" by Mitch Albom is also a book I re-read constantly. I keep it in the car and when I have to wait at an appointment, I take it with me. These people are inspiring!

I read 3 books by Lauren B. Davis who in my opinion is very underrated. "The Empty Room" is an account of the last day of an alcoholic woman before she hits bottom and reaches out for help. It is very moving and visceral. The next book was "Our Daily Bread" which is based on a true story.There are those people up on the mountain where unspeakable events are taking place and then there are the people in the town below, who know, but look the other way. The story unfolds and the last part of the book is filled with tension.
Lauren B. Davis
Then of course I had to read her fourth book "The Radiant City". This book takes place in the not- so- touristy parts of Paris where the cast of characters include a war correspondent suffering from the violence of war, the people he befriends and immigrants who settle in Paris and own a cafĂ©. The first book I read by Lauren a few years ago was "The Stubborn Season". It takes place during the Depression. A young girl is trying to find her way through life with a mother who suffers from depression and a pharmacist father who drinks.  Lauren B. Davis is a great writer. Her writing is serious, with great attention to detail.

Philip Roth
"Indignation" by Philip Roth was the surprise of the year. I couldn't put it down. A young Jewish boy is so over-protected by his father that he chooses to go to a college far from home. It seems that wherever he goes there are dilemmas and the choices he makes just compound his problems. It is a very tense novel with a quick end! I loved it. I have read other books by Roth and he is a brilliant writer.

I read "The Lizard Cage" by Karen Connelly because it was one of the books mentioned in "End of Your Life Book Club". It is hard to describe in a few sentences but it is an amazing book. Hard to read sometimes as it takes place in a political prison in Burma, now Myanmar. A young boy is sentenced to 20 years in solitary for singing songs against the ruling dictator. The interactions in the prison revolve around the hierarchy of jailers and prisoners. It is a remarkable story told in great accuracy and detail. I learned much about the human spirit from this book. I quote from a book review   " Connelly's fine novel shows us the kind of suffering that newspapers can't communicate and non-fiction rarely reaches". In the end two prisoners are freed, each in a different way.

One of the most delightful books I read in 2013 was "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein. Told through the eyes of a dog who thinks like a human, it is sometimes funny, sad and even heartbreaking. The moral of the story is that one can navigate the twists and turns of life, like a race car driver does when racing in the rain. I really loved this book.

I will end with "Dying for Sex" by Lynn Albrecht. Lynn is a social worker at St. Mary's hospital where I volunteer in the Medical Library. We have a book club in the library and felt we needed to read and review this book. The main plot involves a murder of a nurse in a Retirement Home but there are so many other story lines and characters that I could hardly keep track of them all. There is a lot of dialogue which made the book hard to read. There are octogenarians, sex clubs, a catering business, a boy in a rock band with a bus, a detective, a wanna-be love story, and I can't remember what else. I give Lynn credit for writing a book but I would not recommend it.

   Sorry,but I had to add this book, "Travelling to Infinity" by Jane Hawking. I found it most interesting, from the point of view that things aren't always as they appear. I was quite surprised at some of the details that Jane brings out in her book. Life was not easy with Stephen Hawking, physically, emotionally and financially in the early days. He had the symptoms of the motor neuron disease when they were married and it only got worse with time. He was proud, fiercely independent, and showed no self pity. Jane was involved in his care 24/7 along with raising their 3 children, helping with the finances and trying to further her education. The book is very detailed and a long read, but worthwhile.

Thank you, Terri, for a very fascinating look at your reading choices in 2013!  Happy New Year!