Saturday, 31 October 2015


  October has been a fabulous month for weather!  I have loved the beautiful colours.
  I have also read 8 books.  And what a variety they have been!
  Some were for book clubs, one was inspirational, and one was a conundrum.  That would be "Stoner", a book that I have already blogged about.  When I was finished reading that book, I had to call my friend Penny because I knew that she had read it.  I begged for a chat over lunch.  I love the experience of chewing over a book and trying to get to the 'meat of it'.  I knew there was a lot more than appeared on the surface.
   I have mentioned that fall is the season for giving out book prizes.  I did a blog on The Man Booker Prize, which gives 50,000 pounds to the best book in the English language.  I was reminded yesterday that the winner has been announced and here it is:

  "A Brief History of Seven Killings" by Marlon James
Neither the title nor the cover invokes a smidgeon of interest in me.
  But apparently it is brilliantly written.  And I expect that is the reason for the choice.  The subject matter is another thing.  It is a fictionalized account of the life of the Jamaican reggae singer/song writer  Bob Marley.  
    To quote an Amazon reviewer: "It is a flaming hot stew of language, Jamaican history, politics, gangs, drug wars, fear and loathing in Kingston ghettos."  Interested?  The chair of the judges said that it was a unanimous decision.  Apparently it is very funny, very human, very exciting, very violent, and full of swearing.  Now does it sound interesting?
  So that is the winner of one of the book awards, now I am waiting for the Giller and, my favourite of all, Canada Reads.
The coloured leaves in the fall remind me of the abundance of reading choices. The variety is spectacular!  The human condition is so complex that there will always be  more variety than we can imagine.
I hope you find some comforting books as we head into November, a more somber month.

Friday, 23 October 2015

"Stoner" by John Williams

This book was recommended by the same English professor that recommended "The Good Soldier".
However, being a linear story, it was much easier to read.

William Stoner is an ordinary man, born into a poor farming family, intending to take some college courses in agricultural studies and return to the farm.  However, he falls in love with literature and begins a life of academia. This life gives him great intellectual highs, but also many personal lows.
It is painful to read about his marriage to a most strange lady.  He stays in the marriage because of his love for his daughter.
His career has some bright points, but also it is filled with challenges and boredom, not to mention the run-ins with the college administration.
He has one romantic fling that has to be cut short because of his fear of losing his job and his daughter.
The novel is short and bleak- life sucks and then you die.  wow!
However, there is such beauty in the telling!
John Williams
I was mesmerized by the emotion of the novel and couldn't put it down.

The novel was written in 1965 and was modestly received by the public.  However, it was reprinted in 2003 and gained more readers.  In 2007, it was called "a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving that it takes your breath away".  In 2013, it began to take off in sales and was called "the great American novel that you've never heard of".

Monday, 19 October 2015

The Mistress of Nothing

I love this book!
I love the cover, I love the title, I love the concept.
I also love the setting, the characters, the language and the plot.
This is not my top favourite novel, but it is surely in the top ten.
It has everything that I enjoy in a novel.

  It is so rare to find a cover that reflects the themes in the book, but this cover does it well.  The woman on the cover, Sally, is a lady's maid in the 1800's.  She is taken for granted by her mistress who believes she can control Sally's life. 
 Sally does appear to be 'the mistress of nothing' and is the central character in this novel.  The country of Egypt is the setting and a market is also pictured on the cover.

"Letters from Egypt" by Lady Duff Gordon
  This fictional character of Sally is based on the real maid of Lady Lucie Duff Gordon, Sally Naldrett.  Sally did, in fact, travel down the Nile with her mistress, Lady Duff Gordon, in the 1800's. Lady Gordon had developed T.B. and decided to live on the Nile, so she needed a maid with her.
    The author got the idea of writing this book from reading Lady Duff Gordon's book of letters that she wrote home to England while living on the Nile.

Kate Pullinger
The author: 
Kate Pullinger was born in British Columbia but now lives in England. She teaches creative writing and has written several books.  I have read that she writes for film (she was involved in the novel "The Piano"), but she also writes for digital media.  I have no idea what that is- digital media- computer programs?  video games?
But this author is fascinating.  She was the lead writer on a project to write, edit and produce a novel in 24 hours.  Now, that sounds interesting and I understand that!

"The Mistress of Nothing" won the Governor General's award in 2009.
I will be leading a discussion of this book tonight and hope that the other readers enjoyed the book as much as I did.

Friday, 16 October 2015

The Handmaid's Tale

   Dystopian novels are not particularly interesting to me.  One exception is "The Giver".  I loved that book and felt that it had a great message:  a world with no choice means that people never make a bad choice.  Would that be a better world?  Great question to discuss with teenagers.
Margaret Atwood
   Now I can add another favourite dystopian novel.  "The Handmaid's Tale".
I had previously read five novels written by Margaret Atwood.  I really enjoyed "Alias Grace" and "The Blind Assassin".  They were not dystopian.  Actually, Margaret Atwood prefers the term "speculative fiction".
  Atwood sees this difference between science fiction and speculative fiction: "Science fiction has monsters and spaceships: speculative fiction could really happen".
  Dystopian novels are presently categorized as 'science fiction', but really should have a separate category.
The protagonist is Offred.  All names for the 'handmaids' were patronymic, composed of the possessive pronoun (of) and the first name of the 'man of the house'.  If this Offred was not successful in providing a healthy child, there would be another Offred, until there was a child to be raised by the Commander and his wife.

In the novel, the U.S. is being run by an  totalitarian fundamentalist Christian military dictatorship.  Many things are banned, including magazines.

This quote is explaining women's magazines:
"What was in them was promise.  They dealt in transformations; they suggested an endless series of possibilities, extending like the reflections in two mirrors set facing one another. stretching on, replica after replica, to the vanishing point.  They suggested one adventure after another, one wardrobe after another, one improvement after another, one man after another.  They suggested rejuvenation, pain overcome and transcended, endless love.  The real promise in them was immortality".

This writing is amazing!  I am surprised that I enjoyed this book as much as I did, because it is far from linear.  It moves back and forth in time and place, but the language is so fantastic that I had to stop and read some sentences more than once.  

Monday, 12 October 2015

"The Good Soldier" by Ford Madox Ford

  During the summer, I attended a lecture on Canadian literature.  I have heard this speaker many times and he really does know literature.  So I decided to read a book that he recommended.  It is not by a Canadian and I am struggling to understand how it can be called 'literature'.  It seems like ramblings.
   But it is often included among the great literature of the 20th century, including the Modern Library 100 Best Novels.  It can be found on many list such as: 100 greatest novels of all time and 1000 novels everyone must read.
Ford Madox Ford
Ford Madox Ford is a British author, who wrote "The Good Soldier" in 1914.
Actually, he titled the novel "The Saddest Story". His editor changed it.
The first line is: "This is the saddest story I have ever heard".

It was perceived to be about society's changing morals and loss of strict social rules.
The author is challenging the norms- in morality, in social structure, and in literary forms.

Two couples meet at a German spa where they visit yearly for a 'cure'.  One couple is British- Captain Edward Ashburnham and his wife Leonora.  The other couple is American- John and Florence Dowell.  John is the narrator of the story and he tells about Captain Ashburnham's affairs.  Simple plot.

Quote from the book:
"I have, I am aware, told this story in a very rambling way so that it may be difficult for anyone to find their path through what may be a sort of maze....When one discusses an affair- a long sad affair- one goes back, one goes forward.  One remembers points that one has forgotten and one explains them all the more minutely since one recognizes that one has forgotten to mention them in their proper places and that one may have given, by omitting them, a false impression."

Wikipedia says this about the form:
 "The novel is told using a series of flashbacks in non-chronological order, a literary technique that formed part of Ford's pioneering view of literary impressionism.  Ford employs the device of the unreliable narrator to great effect as the main character gradually reveals a version of events that is quite different from what the introduction leads the reader to believe.  The novel was loosely based on two incidents of adultery and on Ford's messy personal life."

My problems:
1.) The subtitle is "A Tale of Passion".  I saw no passion - just moral confusion and sexual tension and frustration.
2.) Not one of the characters is likeable enough to care about the novel.
3.) The same thoughts are analyzed and reanalyzed with complete confusion.

Friday, 9 October 2015

The Virtues of Aging

   I have become obsessed with all things "Jimmy Carter".
   When Carter was 70, he was interviewed by Barbara Walters.  She asked him what were his best years.  He answered ,"Now is the best time of all". She asked, "Why?"   He wasn't happy with the quick answer that he gave her, so he wrote this book to answer this question. Why are his senior years the best years?
   When Carter talks about the 'virtues' of aging, he is talking about two things: having opportunities for more gratifying personal experiences, and being able to do things for other people.  So he is using the word 'virtues' to mean 'benefits'.   I am fascinated with this man.  He is known for promoting peace, but his family background was rather volatile.  Both his grandfather and great grandfather were killed in violent arguments.

   When talking about his bond with his wife, he says, "There is no doubt that we now cherish each day more than when we were younger.  Our primary purpose in our golden years is not just to stay alive as long as we can, but to savour every opportunity for pleasure, excitement, adventure and fulfillment."
"Go out on a limb.  That's where the fruit is".
Carter points out that, in retirement, we can choose to live a passive and inactive life.  But there is a riskier alternative- we can take advantage of our freedom and embark on new and exciting adventures.

Very American content but thoughts that are good for everyone:
"We worry too much about something to live on-
and too little about something to live for."
"Finding a way to live the simple life
 is today's most complicated problem."

Monday, 5 October 2015

"The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend"

   I discovered this book while wandering the shelves at the local book store.           Covers really speak to me and this one shouted, "Buy me!"
               A book about books!
Does it get any better than this?
The protagonist is a young woman named Sara who LOVES books!
She lives in Sweden and just lost her job in a book store.
Quote: "Sara couldn't help but think that she had somehow missed the moments when life was meant to begin.  For a long time she had simply been drifting through it, reading, and while everyone around her had been teenaged, unhappy and foolish, this hadn't been a problem.  But then suddenly she realized that everyone had grown up around her and she had done nothing but read".
   And so... she has a chance to visit her elderly penpal in the United States.  However, her penpal died before she arrived, and Sara is taken in by the small Iowa town of Broken Wheel.  And that town had very interesting characters!
  The chapters of this book are interspersed with the letters that had been exchanged between Sara (in Sweden) and Amy (in Iowa).
  There is mention of many, many books- from "Little Women" to "Harry Potter".  Lots of authors are discussed.  I loved that aspect!  And, I put some titles on my 'to read' list.
  The first half of the book was delicious and compelling.  I was fascinated.  But I lost interest in some of the storylines towards the end of the novel.
    Overall, I had a great romp through this book!
"The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend" by Katarina Bivald.

Goodreads says this about the author:
Katarina Bivald grew up working part-time in a bookshop. Today she lives outside of Stockholm, Sweden, with her sister and as many bookshelves she can get by her. She's currently trying to persuade her sister that having a shelf for winter jackets and shoes is completely unneccessary. There should be enough space for a book shelf or two instead. Limited success so far. Apparently, her sister is also stubbornly refusing to even discuss using the bathroom to store books. 
  Katarina Bivald sometimes claims that she still hasn't decided whether she prefer books or people but, as we all know, people are a non-starter. Even if you do like them, they're better in books. Only possible problem: reading a great book and having no one to recommend it to.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Jimmy Carter

   Jimmy Carter was a guest on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday.  I was enthralled!  I have always appreciated this man and his contribution to the world.
   We visited the Presidential Library and Museum in 2002 and found the buildings and gardens beautiful and peaceful with lovely sculptures, connected to the work of the Carter Centre.
  Because Atlanta is so large, we didn't want to tackle driving in the city and the only solution was a limo.  It seemed extravagant at the time, but we have always been grateful for that fascinating tour of Atlanta with a knowledgable and interesting driver.  And the Carter centre was the highlight for us.  We spent some time there, soaking up the atmosphere.  Jimmy Carter was sitting at a table of well-dressed people, both men and women (and security nearby).  We were told that we could speak to him (obviously it wasn't a formal meeting), but I wasn't comfortable interrupting him- just delighted to see him.
  I believe he has done amazing humanitarian work in the world.  He received the Nobel Peace Prize in the fall of the year that we had visited there.  But I don't feel that his accomplishments have been truly appreciated by the United States.  He wasn't the kind of president that they wanted.  I hope some day his efforts for peace will be recognized by American citizens.
  He has written many books, and many other books have been written about him.  I am putting some of them on my Christmas list (it's never too early).
  I only own one book by Jimmy Carter- "Living Faith".  I admire his Christian faith because it is lived and not preached.  However, he certainly can and does preach in a Sunday School class in Plains, Georgia.  This is a small town - only 376 residents. But I have read that a thousand may show up on Sunday morning. People line up all night to get a place in the small church in order to hear his lesson for that
week.  It must be a nightmare with traffic, secret service, bomb-sniffing dogs.
  Rather than visit his home church, I enjoy reading his books.  I went to buy his latest book, "A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety", but it is not in paperback yet. I'll wait.
  Yesterday was Carter's 91st birthday and he is battling cancer.  With his strong spirit, he has said that he is looking forward to the next stage of his life.  A great man!