Friday, 29 January 2016

"Our Souls at Night" by Kent Haruf

Kent Haruf

Kent Haruf is the author of "Benediction", "Eventide", "Plainsong", "The Tie That Binds". and "Where You Once Belonged".
I had never read his books, but this book was recommended to me.
It is a delightful little book. Only 179 pages and such a fascinating premise.
Addie Moore had been a widow for many years.  One day, she walked down the street and knocked on Louis' door.  Louis was a widower and Addie had known his wife. Louis invited her in, and Addie said that she wanted to suggest something.
  Hold on... Here it is.... Get ready...
Addie: "I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me".  (Only for comfort, nothing else!)
She needs companionship.  So does he!  The arrangement works out very well.  
It really is delightful the way they lay in bed, chatting about everything.  Mostly they talk about their lives, trying to put things into perspective- their successes and failures, their dreams and disappointments.
Then Addie's young grandson moves in.   When he has nightmares, he climbs in bed with Addie and Louis.  Whoops!
The next day Louis buys a dog for the grandson.
And then, this short, light novel ends with a dilemma.
Lovely short novel that deals with many issues that seniors face- loneliness, family disfunction.

Unfortunately, Kent died before this book was published.  He lived in Colorado and his books take place there.
I will certainly be checking out more of Kent Haruf's books.
No quotation marks, but I am going to have to get over fussing about that.
Lovely little book.

Monday, 25 January 2016

"Annabel" by Kathleen Winter

What an interesting choice for the Amnesty International Book Club!
I had already read this book twice but decided to re-read it for this book discussion.  Every discussion is different, and the amnesty group gets more into social action and I wondered where that might lead.  This book is fiction.
Here's the plot:
Wayne Blake is a hermaphrodite-with male and female organs.  His Labrador, trapper father decides to raise him as a boy, with many pills containing male hormones.  But when he moves out on his own, he decides to throw away the pills and let nature take its course.  Some local boys find out about his situation and rape him. It is a horrendous scene and very disturbing.  But, I could understand that there could be young boys who would look at Wayne as a freak show and think it was great sport to torture him. The book ends with Wayne's father planning to drown the rapist. Actually, that was very touching because it showed how much the father cared for his child even though he had had great trouble understanding him.  But the father was willing to sacrifice his own life for retribution for the boy.

There were so many beautiful aspects of this book.  The writing was great.  There was a theme of bridges, when Thomasina, a woman who was present at his birth, sends postcards to Wayne and he takes an interest in structures.  Both Wayne and his friend Wally Michelin have a dream.  Wayne wants to build bridges.  Wally wants to be a singer and loves the music "Cantique de Jean Racine", but she has an accident and damages her vocal chords.
So it is a book of struggles, and the one that was addressed at this meeting was the treatment of hermaphrodites, and other sexual issues outside 'the norm'.
And so, it dealt with Bill C-279, that deals with gender identity. Amnesty wants to protect all LGBTI rights.  How can we do this? It brings up many issues, particularly in schools.  Certainly this topic needs much public education.
I had thought that sexual identity at birth could be solved by checking chromosomes.  I knew that XX was a female and XY was a male.  But, I have learned that it is not that simple. There are many variations.
In fact, one in 2,000 children is born with genitals that are 'confusing'.  There is a trend to wait and let the child decide on gender. That sounds better than all the surgeries that were performed in the past, but it will take some changes in thinking and organizing, such as a new category on official forms.

Friday, 22 January 2016

"Hamlet" by Shakespeare

many versions of Hamlet
It is not certain when "Hamlet" was written, but it was around 1600 - a long time ago!  And still, these plays are enjoyed and discussed.
Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, desired to avenge his father's death at the hands of his uncle, Claudius. This uncle, after killing the king, then married the king's wife. Hamlet wanted revenge.
This book group tackled Hamlet and most of us needed a version of the book with explanatory notes.
It's always interesting to see phrases or words that are still used e.g. "The lady doth protest too much methinks", "What a piece of work is a man! " "To be or not to be, that is the question".  Bob is new to our group and led an interesting discussion.  There was a beautiful fire in the lovely home where we meet and it turned out to be a great way to spend a winter evening.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Eclectic reading

This week I find that I have three books on the go.  And what diverse choices!
Shakespeare; a novel about a hermaphrodite; and another novel about two old people deciding to sleep together.
I like to get Shakespeare out of the way, so I read a few pages of "Hamlet" early in the morning. I am not a great fan of Shakepeare but certainly realize his importance in the field of literature.  So I push myself on that one.

When I have time in the afternoon, I fit in a few chapters about the hermaphrodite.  "Annabel" is a book that I have already read, but when I saw that it was being discussed at the Amnesty Book Club, I decided to read it again and join the discussion.  I found the book really interesting on the first reading, and I can't miss a good discussion.  On second reading, I often find the book is way better than I realized or, perhaps not so good.  This book seems to be about the same as when I read it previously.  Quite good!

 Then I read about those old folks in bed, at night when I am also in bed.
The first two books are for books clubs, but "Our Souls at Night" was recommended to me by a friend. 

I will be writing in detail about each of them as I finish.
Actually, I am enjoying the variety.  Usually I do not have as many on the go, but I do like a variety in my reading- some biography, some inspiration, a classic, what's new on the shelves.

I have to be careful in book stores.  My latest trip was challenging.  New books look so appealing!  And I do love covers!  And I am persuaded easily!  But I know that I will likely only read the book once and it is not worth the price- especially if it is a disappointment. Or, worse yet, if I can't find time to read it and it joins my bin of unread books.  Oh, no!  Happy Reading!

Friday, 15 January 2016

"The Poisonwood Bible" by Barbara Kingsolver

This is my all-time favourite book because it has all the ingredients that I require for a great novel-
1.) fascinating characters- some to love, some to hate
2.) captivating plot
3.) great language
4.) interesting setting
But it has so much more!  I think this is my fourth reading.  
This time, I decided to listen to the audio version.  I am not a fan of audio books, but I think this experience made me look at the book in a new way.  I saw a broader picture and feel that I saw through to the core of the story.
Religion and politics are two topics that you try to avoid in conversation, but these are the topics that Barbara Kingsolver feels strongly about. 
Although she moved to the Congo with her parents when she was seven, it was actually a book that she read that gave her the inspiration for this story. "Endless Enemies" is about the American government backing tyrants in the Third World.
Kingsolver waited thirty years to have the wisdom and maturity to write this book.  She talks about her parents- "They brought me to a place of wonders, taught me to pay attention, and set me early on a path of exploring the great, shifting terrain between righteousness and what's right". Kingsolver's family has nothing in common with the Price family except that they lived in the Congo.
There have been people who feel that the novel puts Christian missionaries  in a bad light.  But this is a cautionary tale- Christian missionaries should not be treating people the way Nathan Price did.  He was there to save souls and didn't care about anything else, including the destruction of his own family. The discussion between Nathan Price and his predecessor Brother Fowles shows the great difference between a liberal and a tyrant.  What a vast area between these two opposites.  Perhaps that is where most missionaries operate.  In fact, I have heard that there is a mission board that suggests anyone going into missions should read this book.
I do not find this novel demeaning to Christian mission or Christianity. It is fiction, but it shows the result of self-interest whether in religion or politics.  

Nathan didn't pay attention to the different meanings of words.  That was, in large part, his downfall.  His arrogance did not allow him to listen to anyone.
He often said, "Tata Jesus is bangala".  The word bangala can mean most precious, but it also means most insufferable and also poisonwood, depending on inflection.
Adah: "I am born of a man who believed he could tell nothing but the truth, while he set down for all time the Poisonwood Bible".

Two new thoughts came to me on my fourth reading:
1.) Since I have been reading about the brain, I realize that trauma to the head can cause brain injuries and, thus, change behaviour.  Nathan had a head injury from the war and possibly that damage  contributed to his unruly behaviour.  I know it is fiction, and the author wanted to show the arrogance of 'some missionaries', but I am giving Nathan Price the benefit of the doubt.
2.) I think Kingsolver did go on too long about the history of Africa and the way that other countries have taken advantage and treated African countries poorly.  She did a great deal of research and I'm sure that her facts are right and she does certainly make a point.  But the last hundred pages are more lecture than novel.

A brilliant book and it will remain my favourite of all-time!

Monday, 11 January 2016

Happy New Year

Nancy Pearl in her book "Book Lust" writes this:
"Reading has always brought me pure joy.  I read to encounter new worlds and new ways of looking at our own world.  I read to enlarge my horizons, to gain wisdom, to experience beauty, to understand myself better, and for the pure wonderment of it all.  I read and marvel over how writers use language in ways I never thought of.  I read for company, and for escape.  Because I am incurably interested in the lives of other people, both friends and strangers, I read to meet myriad folks and enter their lives- for me, a way of vanquishing the "otherness" we all experience". 

Great comment as we enter 2016.

After a busy holiday season, I have had time to look over the titles of books that I read in 2015.  I track my books on a website called 'librarything'.  Since 2002, I have recorded  each book with a description and a rating. There were only three books this past year that I considered five star books:
"Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck
"Falling Upward: a Spirituality for the two halves of life" by Richard Rohr
"Indian Horse" by Richard Wagamese
This pretty well sums up my eclectic reading habits- one classic, one spiritual, and one contemporary novel.

In 2002, when I began keeping records, I read 80 books.  Every year since then, I have fluctuated from 45 to 80.  This year I read 62 books.  I have recorded 926 books in total, so my goal this year is to reach 1000 books.

While reading another blog that I follow, "Giraffe Dreams", I realized that her favourite books for 2015 included my all-time favourites.  And I remembered how much I had enjoyed those books.  So I determined to re-read them this year.
That is how I am beginning the new year.
Happy New Year!

Friday, 8 January 2016

When Books Went to War

"When Books Went to War: the stories that helped us win World War II" by Molly Guptill Manning

   I am very opposed to war and disappointed that, at this stage in the evolution of life on earth, we have not found a way to get along.  However, war continues and this non-fiction book touched my heart.
   Librarians started the ball rolling when they discovered that the existing army libraries had deteriorated after World War One.  They asked the public for donations.
But these books were not portable and, eventually, in 1943, a new form of book was published, called the Armed Services Edition paperbacks. (A.S.E.)  From 10 to 30 titles were printed each month from September of 1943 until June of 1947.
They had a very special design.  They came in two sizes- one to fit in a uniform's shirt pocket, the other to fit in the pants.  They were stapled, not glued, because of the lack of rubber and the fact that tropical insects found glue edible.  They were printed horizontally, not vertically, so that each page was shaped like a postcard and contained two narrow columns of print.  This seemed easier to read with less wasted paper.
One hundred and twenty million copies with 1200 different titles were printed.
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith was one of the favourites and many servicemen wrote letters of appreciation to this author.  Most of the young men were completely unprepared for what they experienced in the war and became cynical and hardened.  And so, a simple story like this one, of a young girl growing up in New York, reminded them of home and softened their hearts so that they were better able to fit back into civilian life.
Betty Smith received fifteen hundred letters a year from servicemen and answered most of them.
"Tens of thousands of men found in books the strength they needed to endure the physical wounds inflicted on the battlefield, and the power to heal their emotional and psychological scars as well."

Monday, 4 January 2016

The Girl on the Train

This book has haunted me for months.  It is prominently placed in every bookstore, drugstore and, even, the grocery store.  Seldom does a book get such promotion.  Why?
I decided to find out.
I must begin by saying that I am not a fan of mysteries, so cannot evaluate it on that level.
Also, it has been called a psychological thriller.  I have read a few of those.

Let's look at the book. A good introduction is important to me.  I love to get a sense of the time, place and characters before the 'plot thickens'.  This book had none.  You are dropped into the story, and you have to try to figure things out on the fly.
There are three storylines that alternate and each chapter is a different time frame.  So, it is important to check the date at the beginning of each chapter. It certainly is a puzzle to begin and it took about a third of the book before I was 'hooked'.  It is a mystery and I did get to the point where I was trying to figure out the 'mystery'.  And so, I read for two days, eventually wading through dysfunction and abuse until I got to the appalling ending.  "What a waste of time!"
I should have known that a book with mass appeal would not interest me, but I had to know.  It now joins the other books that wasted my time- "The Hunger Games" (children killing children), "Fifty Shades of Grey (sadomasochism) and now "The Girl on the Train " (abuse and alcoholism).
 I really need to stay away from these books because I spend days despairing on the state of the world.  Why do we want to spend our time on these issues?
Author, Paula Hawkins, was born in Rhodesia, but lives in London, England.  She wrote freelance for a few years, then in 2009, she wrote four novels under the name "Amy Silver".  They were romantic comedies and they did not sell.  She was in financial trouble, so she decided to write a darker, more serious story.  This is it!  Domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse.  It took 6 months to write and VOILA!
The public loves it!
On amazon, 45% of readers gave the book a rating of five stars, the highest rating.  Who knew that this is what the public wants??? 

Friday, 1 January 2016

Canada Reads

I love Canada Reads and always look forward to the list of books to be discussed.  It is the best book club ever! The theme this year is: Starting Over.
I am excited about several books on this list and can't wait until the final announcement on January 20, of the 5 books and 5 celebrities prepared to discuss these books.  The discussion will take place from March 21-24, 2016.

Canada Reads 2016 longlist:

"All the Broken Things" by K. Kuitenbrouwer

"Birdie" by Tracey Lindberg 

"Bone and Bread" by Saleema Nawaz 

"Buying on Time" by Antanas Sileika

"Landing Gear" by Kate Pullinger

"Minister Without Portfolio" by Michael Winter 

"Niko" by Dimitri Nasrallah

"Sitting Practice" by Caroline Adderson 

"Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel 

"Swamp Angel" by Ethel Wilson

"Sweetland" by Michael Crummey 

"The Amazing Absorbing Boy" by R. Maharaj 

"The Hero’s Walk" by Anita Rau Badami 

"The Illegal" by Lawrence Hill

"The Outside Circle" by P. LaBoucane-Benson 
My wishes: "Sweetland", "The Amazing Absorbing Boy", "The Illegal", "Landing Gear", "Swamp Angel".
Please no to "The Outside Circle" (graphic novel about abuse and addition), "Station Eleven" (dystopian novel)