Monday, 28 September 2015

Reading on the Road

   When we are driving in the country, I often read to John.  Is this against the law?  Distracting the driver?   Hope not, because we both enjoy it and it makes the time go quickly when you are on a long trip.
   Lately, I have been reading "Hearts Come Home", a collection of short stories by Pearl S. Buck.  Wow!  Is she a good storyteller!  She writes the type of story that I love- a simple, linear story that touches your heart.  Beautiful writing!
I must admit that this is a rather salacious cover.  It really doesn't  reflect the stories that are in the book.  They are more about relationship and dilemma.

  Pearl's best-known book is "The Good Earth".  It won the Pulitzer Prize and is one of my all-time favourites. 
  I read this book while we were on the road in 2004- driving through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. It was rainy and dull and it really made the drive more enjoyable. 
  Pearl S.Buck lived from 1892 -1973.  She was the daughter of missionaries and, although she was born in the US., her parents took her to China when she was 5 months old.  She returned to the U.S. in 1910 to study philosophy, but returned to China when her mother became sick.
  She was universally respected for her stand on human rights.  I have read some information about her life on the internet, but it has made me interested in reading her biography.
What a great author!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Books with a view

Book chats with friends!  How wonderful is that?
And Gayle is as obsessed with reading as I am. We have read many of the same books and, actually, we met at a book club. Since Gayle can't get to book clubs any more, we take book talk to her.  We did that when she lived nearby, and so why not continue when she moves 140.7 kilometres away?  

Click here for a previous blog about my friend Gayle.
It mentions the house that her husband was building on the lake.
Well, here it is.  Utterly spectacular! 
And what a view!

Much of our book talk was about "One Book One Community".  Gayle has read 13 of the 14 books that have been chosen for our region.  So we had lots to discuss there.

Can't think of a better place to talk about books.
Many thanks to Gayle for her hospitality and wonderful conversation!

Monday, 14 September 2015

More Steinbeck

Cannery Row
   In 2003, I was in Monterey, California.
   I walked around this area where the canning businesses were located in the past.  Steinbeck wrote his novel "Cannery Row" about the characters that lived here during the depression.
   The book was so well accepted, that the area was given the name  Cannery Row and still keeps that name.
   These are the pictures that I took of the John Steinbeck           memorial and the canning company.  I bought a copy of "Cannery Row" here.
 Last year, a new bronze memorial was built in Monterey to honour some of the interesting characters who lived there through the years.  Many of these characters are in the novel "Cannery Row".  Also included on the statue is a group of the local entrepreneurs that worked to revive Cannery Row as a tourist attraction.
 I found these pictures of the bronze memorial on the internet, along with the old statue of John Steinbeck.
Steinbeck is the figure at the top of the new statue.
new Cannery Row memorial
I was wondering about the woman on the new statue to the right of John.  It is not the madam at the bordello because she is a 'heavy' woman and actually is the figure where the foot is pointing.
 I would love to see this statue in person because I am reading "Cannery Row" and am interested to see how the sculptor imagined these characters.
"Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck
  Since I was so disappointed in Steinbeck's novel "Of Mice and Men", I decided to read this novel that has been on my shelf since I visited Cannery Row in 2003. 
I loved this novel!
The characters are fascinating and the writing is excellent!
Mostly it contains vignettes including these great characters:
'Doc' owns the Western Biological Laboratory, which supplies specimens of sea life and critters of all kinds.  His lab is attached to his house and he has every animal you can think of both alive and in bottles: jellyfish, rattlesnakes, frogs, octopus, gila monsters, rats, etc.  The lab smells of formaldehyde as Doc is usually in the process of embalming some sea creature.
He is a fascinating man of culture who introduces opera, classical music, literature and kindness to the area.  He is well-loved, but always seems a little melancholy and everyone wants to do something for him.  The problems begin when they throw a party in his honour.
Dora Flood runs the brothel.  She is a large woman with bright orange hair and flamboyant clothes.
Lee Chong is the Chinese grocer.
Then there is a group of down-and-out men who live together in the run-down fishmeal shack.  Mac is the ringleader.
It's a great cast of characters and I think it will be one of my all-time favourites.  For now, anyway, I love it!
I have also read and loved these other Steinbeck novels:

"The Grapes of Wrath"
"East of Eden"

Friday, 11 September 2015

Scotiabank Giller Prize 2015

The Giller Prize, established in 1994, is a literary award given to a Canadian author of a novel or short story collection published the previous year.  There were 168 books considered.
   I am delighted to see that Alexander MacLeod is on the 5-member panel to choose the winner.  Alexander is the son of Alistair MacLeod and I really enjoyed Alexander's book "Light Lifting" that was nominated for this prize in 2010.
   In 1994, the prize was $25,000.00, but that has just been increased to $100,00.00 for the winner and $10,000.00 for each finalist.  The five finalists will be announced on October 5 and the final gala announcing the winner will be televised on November 10.

Here is the longlist:

"Fifteen Dogs"     by Andre Alexis
"Arvida"     by Samuel Archibald
"If I Fall, If I Die"     by Michael Christie
"Outline"     by Rachel Cusk
"Undermajordomo Minor"     by Patrick deWitt
"Close to Hugh"     by Marina Endicott
"A Beauty"     by Connie Gault
"All True Not a Lie In It"     by Alix Hawley
"The Winter Family"     by Clifford Jackman
"Daydreams of Angels"     by Heather O'Neill
"Martin John"     by Anakana Schofield
"Confidence"     by Russell Smith

There are 3 short story collections in this list.
None of these books has a strong appeal for me, but I will really enjoy watching the award ceremony.

Monday, 7 September 2015

"Of Mice and Men"

   Here is another controversial classic.  This cover shows the beauty of the pastoral scene that opens the book.
   Steinbeck was trying a new genre of writing.  He called it the play/novelette. He thought that the novel was dead but theatre was coming alive.
   This story is very short and was easily adapted to a play.  It also became a movie.  All three forms have often been censored or banned from schools.
  Steinbeck had lived with migrant workers during the depression and wanted the novel to be real.  He believed that the language of books should be the language of men.  So..lots of profanity.
   Steinbeck said that the book is about "commitment, loneliness, hope and loss in the context of friendship".  I think this will make a good discussion for our next book club, because at surface level, there is no hope.  But is there?
  George (small and quick) and Lennie (large with a child's mind) have been migrant workers moving from place to place in the depression to find work.  Lennie loves to pet animals and George makes up a dream story for Lennie about a farm where they will live and raise crops and animals - rabbits for sure.  They even pull in other workers who want to join them in following that dream.  But the owner's wife (the only woman in the story) flirts with the men and causes havoc with Lennie.
  The language in this novel (aside from the profanities) was perfection!  Steinbeck's descriptions make the setting so real!  His words are a delight to read aloud and re-read again.  Not only does he provide a great sense of place, he also allows the reader to understand the men and the times in a very short novel.
  This novel has received great ratings.  I am somewhat conflicted.  I wish there was less profanity and a greater sense of hope.  But the time was called "the depression" for a reason.  Oh, yes!

Thursday, 3 September 2015

"Jude the Obscure" by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy 1840-1928
  I enjoy reading Thomas Hardy novels.  I find his description of the countryside soothing to my soul.  And his characters are interesting. Two years ago, I re-read the novels that I had previously read, and added a couple more.  I have always stayed away from "Jude the Obscure" because it is described as being 'dark'.  In fact, it disturbed the readers of the time so much that it was called "the most indecent book ever written".  The bishop of Wakefield burned it.  And Thomas Hardy was devastated- so much so that he quit writing novels.
  But this novel is now listed number 29 in the list of the 100 best novels by "The Guardian", a British newspaper.
  Hardy had written the story in serial form in 1894 and it was published in book form in 1895.  After the public outcry, he made some changes and published the new version in 1912.  In fact, he continued to re-work this novel for the rest of his life.  

  I was really enjoying the first third of the novel.  Jude was an interesting character and I was looking forward to how he would meet the challenges of his life.  Quote: "His face wearing the fixity of a thoughtful child's who has felt the pricks of life somewhat before his time".
  In spite of having a very difficult childhood, he was determined to go to university and worked hard learning Latin and Greek on his own, in preparation for the time when his plans would come together.  However, they never did, because he got involved with women.
  He was seduced by Arabella, who tricked him into marrying her.  She is described this way: "Arabella was not worth a great deal as a specimen of womankind."
 But, Jude had fallen in love with his cousin Sue Bridehead, a married teacher, who was a free spirit.  Jude and Sue left their partners and united, alternately defying the pressures of society and then giving in.  Jude was smitten by Sue and always trying to please her, but what did she really want?  I never figured that out.  Their reasoning was agonizing to read and led to disaster.  
  There is no resolution of any aspect of the novel in the ending and I found that very dissatisfying!
  I understand the sociological issues that Hardy was trying to address- the struggle of the poor, the state of marriage in a patriarchal society, and the strong influence of the church.  Jude was not able to find his way through those hurdles and his life ended in failure.  When he and Sue tried to fight against the social norms, the children paid the price.  This is the reason that it is a 'dark tale'.
   I still enjoy Hardy's writing, but these characters frustrated me greatly.  A good study of the challenges of Victorian life, but not an enjoyable read.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Man Booker Prize 2015

Fall is the season of literary contests.  Bring it on!!!
      Man Booker        Giller       Canada Reads

The longlist for the Man Booker prize has been announced.
The shortlist will be announced on September 15.
The winner will be announced on October 13 in Guildhall, London and broadcast by the BBC.

Here is the "Man Booker Dozen":

Bill Clegg (US) - Did You Ever Have a Family            
Anne Enright (Ireland) - The Green Road 
Marilynne Robinson (US) - Lila            
Anna Smaill (New Zealand) - The Chimes 

There are no Canadians on the list this year.  But in the past we have had winners:
  Alice Munro in 2009,  Margaret Atwood in 2000,  and Michael Ondaatje in 1992.
Authors on the shortlist win 2,500 pounds.
The winner receives 50,000 pounds.