Monday, 29 June 2015

"The Casual Vacancy" by J.K. Rowling

   This is the first choice of book for a new book club starting in a branch of our library system.  I am anxious to support the new group and I was interested in what Rowling is writing for adults.  So I jumped into this long book.

   The Casual Vacancy takes place in Pagford, England, where a parish councilman Barry Fairbrother dies of an aneurysm, leaving an opening on the council, at a  time when the council is trying to get rid of "The Fields", a neighbourhood of undesirables. The whole town is involved in great controversy about filling Barry's place on the council.
   After I finished reading this book, I read many reviews online to see what other readers thought.  It seems that there is a great variety of opinions.  Here is one:  "This book is a spot-on, scathing evisceration of smalltown politics, social goings-on, and society in general."
   There are many people who loved this book and thought it was great literature, but I was not one of them.  As the heading on my blog says, I always have an opinion and it isn't always the popular opinion.  So these were the problems that I had with the book.

1.) There were too many characters.  And not one of those characters was likeable. I enjoy a variety of characters- the good and the bad, but there was not one person whose motives were good.  And the language, oh, the language!
2.) The topics of this book are domestic violence, rape, drug use, mental illness, infidelity, teenage sex.  Not only were the teenagers out of control, but nearly all the parents were self-centered, abusive and cruel.
3.) There were long sections that were in parenthesis- sometimes a few pages. At times, this happened in the middle of a conversation and it was confusing.
4.) The main plot, to fill a vacancy on the council, seemed very boring.
5.) This novel seems to be the antithesis of the Harry Potter series. It paints a world without magic, without a hero, without hope.
  I am aware that this type of book depresses me- complete dysfunction! There are books like this that focus on teenagers, such as "Catcher in the Rye".  But this book I would compare to "The Slap", because there are many adults in this book who hate everyone and live to irritate them.  It is one l-o-n-g Jerry Springer show!

And soon I will attend the book club and try to open my mind to what others saw in the novel.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Amnesty International Book Club

   I attended the first meeting of the Amnesty International Book club.  I was not sure what to expect, but I was familiar with the first book selection. "Indian Horse" may be the best book that I have ever read.  It is not the book that I enjoyed the most, because there is great pain in the novel, but the writing is superb!
What is Amnesty International?
Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 7 million people in over 150 countries and territories who campaign to end abuses of human rights.
"We campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all".
Amnesty International choses the books and provides a discussion guide.  Then there is a suggested action that targets the type of situation that the book addresses.

Author Nino Ricci introduces the Amnesty International Book Club  here.   Check the video.

How did I feel about the book club?
I am delighted to see a variety of book clubs.
This book club is led by an employee of the library and she is an excellent leader!
I find the subjects of these books to be very emotional and I won't be able to join every meeting. For instance, the next meeting is about 'torture'.  I will skip that book and that meeting.  But I have a list of the books they are planning to read and I will join them when I feel it will not be overwhelmingly emotional.
Thank you "Ideas Unlimited" for the variety of book clubs!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Book Clubs

  Book clubs are my delight!   Since my retirement, I have been involved in three or four book clubs a month. I have felt strongly that every branch of the library should sponsor at least one book club.
  Until 2 years ago, there were none in our library system.  I had spoken to everyone who would listen from the C.E.O. of the library to regular employees.  Perhaps that finally had an affect, perhaps it was the new C.E.O., perhaps it was the new focus of "Ideas Unlimited", but there are now 6 book clubs.  And the library is showing its creativity in the variety of styles for those groups.
Preston Library book club
  Two years ago, we started this book club to run in a traditional way.  Each month we all read the same book and discuss all aspects of the book using the questions posed by the leader.  It is a great group that attracts new people.  Another branch of the library system is planning its first meeting in July, with the book "The Casual Vacancy" by J.K. Rowlings.  I expect it will follow the same method and I will be at the first meeting to cheer them on!
  Two years ago, the main branch started an un-book club.  This group rotates among local restaurants and pubs where they discuss books in general as well as films or any other topic of interest.  This group is doing well and attracting younger people.
  Two more book clubs are in the planning stage- one on a food theme and the other will be B.Y.O.B.-
that's right- bring your own baby!  I love this idea and hope that it will attract many young mothers who can share their love of reading without worrying about a babysitter.
   The 6th book club has already started and I have attended the first meeting.  I will write about it in my next blog.
   Happy reading!

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Public libraries

What is the role of public libraries in 2015?
That is the question!
   It is very apparent that our local public library system has redefined its role in the community.  The role of public libraries in the past was very clear- to encourage the love of reading and provide resources for research.
Andrew Carnegie
Melville Dewey
   When I think of the early days of libraries, I think of Andrew Carnegie and Melville Dewey.
   Carnegie (1835-1919) was an avid reader, who made his money in steel.  At 65, he sold his businesses and became a philanthropist.  He supported many interests but he is remembered for donating 5 million dollars to the New York Public Library.  His money has opened more that 2,800 libraries.
   Dewey (1851-1931) was a librarian who was immensely influential in organizing libraries, by establishing the Dewey Decimal System.  This system of organizing books has really opened up the field of research and made it so easy to narrow in on your area of interest and find the information you need. 

   Well, times have changed!  We have e-readers, and Google.  What more do we need in order to read and research?  So the libraries are changing their focus.  In fact, our library has changed its name.  It is now "Ideas Unlimited". 
   This month, there is gardening, knitting, gaming, rock band instruments, and a painting competition, to name a few activities.  There certainly are 'ideas unlimited'.  And there have been very creative ways to attract the youth.  The building seems to be taking on the role of a community centre.  Sometimes it seems to be a free internet cafe- or just a place to hang out. 
   The library has purchased another large building downtown, where I am told, the focus will be on technology.  The 'big thing' will be 3D printers.
  Will reading and learning still take place in "Ideas Unlimited"?  Well, the face of learning has changed.  It has certainly expanded. Those of us who remember the influences of Carnegie and Dewey would still like to see a focus on reading and learning.
   For this reason, for the past ten years, I have been promoting the idea of a book club in every branch of the library.  Three years ago, I was delighted to be involved in starting a book club at my local branch.  And this year, I am ecstatic to see that there are now five book clubs in our library system.  
  "Ideas Unlimited" has certainly attempted to keep up with the times.  Let's not forget the focus of the past and keep the emphasis on reading and learning!
       I am interested in other thoughts on the role of the public library in 2015.

Monday, 8 June 2015

book to movie

   "Far From the Madding Crowd" is my favourite classic novel.  I have read it several times.  I love the language, I love the plot and I love the setting!
I did not love the movie.
  When you have read the book, you have a very clear picture of the characters. And that was one of my problems.  Right at the beginning, I said, "That is not Gabriel Oak!"   Gabriel Oak is one of my favourite fictional characters and this actor did not seem right for the part.  Nor did I like the casting for Bathsheba.
  But my greatest disappointment was the photography. I was looking forward to beautiful sweeping vistas of the English countryside, and there were a few.  But much of the movie was dark, with way too many closeups- the side of a face, the hands.  Even though I knew the story, I was often wondering what was happening.  There was little dialogue- lots of emoting.
  A big disappointment.
  I discovered that "Far From the Madding Crowd" had been made into a movie in 1967 with Julie Christie, Peter Finch, Alan Bates, and Terence Stamp.  It was a longer movie- 3 hours.  I think I would like Julie Christie playing the role of Bathsheba.
  The basis of the story is that Bathsheba Everdene, a very willful woman, inherits a farm and is romantically pursued by three very different men.  Tragically, she falls for the one who is arrogant, showy and conniving.
  Gabriel Oak, the patient, virtuous man, doesn't allow her to fall into his waiting arms, when her life falls apart.  He is the man that she really had desired- a man who would stand up to her.  And that he does. Such a great love story.  But not a good movie.

Friday, 5 June 2015

"Mercy Train"

   "Mercy Train" was originally written under the title "Mothers and Daughters".  It is another book that sheds light on the orphan trains.
  There are three generations of women, three storylines.  I was most interested in the story of the grandmother because she experienced the orphan train.
   The distribution of the orphans shocked me.  At one stop, the orphans were taken to the opera house:  "When the curtains swept apart, all Violet could see were eyes shining back at her, reflecting the electric lights of the windowless opera house.  The floor had been cleared of chairs, and curious sightseers and potential applicants milled about, gawking at the children, waving, smiling.  Some of the little ones waved back.  Violet didn't know what to do with her hands or where to look, if she should seek out a friendly face or if she should wait to be noticed."
  Violet was not chosen at that stop and, at the next stop, she got into trouble.  The children stood in the centre of the room, while viewers circled around them.  Violet was approached by a man who asked her to open her mouth.  He said that he wanted to make sure that she wasn't 'sickly', because he had a farm to run.  She ignored him and, when he put his finger in her mouth, she clamped down on it with her teeth.  She didn't get picked up at that stop either.

   There was also some description of the children living on the streets of New York and a mention of the poor house, or almshouse, where parents were put, but their children could not go with them.  So not all children living on the streets were 'orphans'.
 These stories are fiction but certainly there are many heart-breaking true stories.

  The title "Mothers and Daughters" does seem suitable for the book because there are some interesting thoughts on motherhood:
"Motherhood was its own universe with its own nonlinear time line, its own indefinable pain and reward."
"She wondered if on some level all mothers were ciphers to their children.  She wondered if having children was a way to try and understand one's own mother, to bridge the unknowability."
  My favourite quote was from Samantha, the granddaughter in this story, when she gave birth to her first child: "Samantha felt in her euphoria, that she had stepped into the continuous stream of history and humanity from which she hadn't even known she'd been excluded".

  Although I enjoyed some of the language in this book and was, once again, fascinated by the orphan train story, I wasn't thrilled with the book as a whole.  The chapters alternated the three stories and the title of each chapter told who you were reading about.  However, within each chapter, the author moved around in time from one paragraph to another.  It was difficult to put together each story because it was told in bits and pieces.

I think I am finished with orphan stories for now.  On to something different...