Friday, 29 April 2016

"My Name is Lucy Barton" by Elizabeth Strout

"There was all sorts of unhappiness in Shirley Falls that night.  If Isabelle Goodrow had been able to lift the roof off various houses and peer into their domestic depths she would have found an assortment of human miseries."

Elizabeth Strout
   This is a quote from "Amy and Isabelle" by Elizabeth Strout.
   And this seems to be what Elizabeth does best- take the roof off the house to show the human misery inside.

I enjoyed "Abide With Me" about a widowed minister, Tyler, who was ineffective with his congregation and a disaster as a parent. This book was well-written with a great introduction, interesting development of characters, and a satisfying ending.

"Amy and Isabelle" was about a mother and daughter.  Amy, a high school student is in love with her math teacher.  Her mother, Isabelle, is filled with shame both about her daughter and her own past.
I enjoyed this book because of the beautiful writing.

"Olive Kitteridge" was interesting because it was about human nature.  It was not a direct narrative, but episodic with related stories- all relating to Olive, a very flawed woman.
Quote: 'Olive is a little of each of us'.  
We discussed this book at the library book club and it was not well-liked.  But I did appreciate the point that we are all flawed and searching for love and connection. 
Once again, I loved the writing.

   And so, we come to Elizabeth Strout's new book- "My Name is Lucy Barton"
    Lucy Barton, a young mother of two, is searching desperately for validation from her mother who comes to sit by her bed in the hospital for five days, then disappears from her life again.
   The chapters alternate between scenes from Lucy's sad childhood and the hospital room with her mother sitting at the end of the bed.
   "Lonely was the first flavour I had tasted in my life and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me."
   An incredibly sad book about the pain that lasts a lifetime.

Yes, Elizabeth Strout continues to take the roof off each house to expose human misery.

Monday, 25 April 2016

One Book One Community

Announcement!  Announcement!  Announcement!
 The book selection for One Book One Community 2016 has been announced: "A House in the Sky" by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett.  It is a memoir of abduction in Somalia.
Amanda Lindhout
   Amanda was fortunate to connect with Sara who agreed to write her story.  It is beautifully written.
  I have read this book and had trouble connecting with Amanda.  Her desire to put herself into danger and her reaction to the kidnapping were hard for me to understand.  Amanda had persuaded Nigel Brennan from Australia to accompany her, so he was also taken hostage in 2008.  
   Nigel collaborated with his sister and sister-in-law to write a book called "The Price of Life".  I searched for this book in order to better understand the situation.  I found it very different and enlightening.
  I will write about both books at a later date.

One Book One Community, 2016.

Friday, 22 April 2016


The blogging world has many surprises for me and here is one:
Dewey's 24-hour Readathon 
It's time
I discovered it on a blog that I visit.
Click here: Avid Reader's Musings.
   This Saturday is the date for this readathon.  It was started in 2007 by a woman whose blog was called The Hidden Side of A Leaf.  When she died the next year, the readathon was continued by others.
   You can read about it here.    There is a synchronized starting time that joins the readers at the beginning of the 24 hours and you are encouraged to read as long as you can. Social media is a big part of the readathon and is 2/3 of the fun.  But it is suggested that that aspect be limited to the first 10 minutes of each hour. They have had 2000 participants register in the past.  They give away prizes and have cheerleaders.  

   Melissa at Avid Musings has been involved with 9 readathons in the past and added up her pages and books.  Here is the count: 43 books, 10,113 pages.  Melissa is a very fast reader and I have pointed out her statistics in my blog before.  She has taken a break since having a baby but she is back for this readathon.

   This would not work for me because I read, and analyze, and read, and think, and analyze, and read, and think some more, then fall asleep.
Happy reading, bloggers!

Monday, 18 April 2016

Quote of the day

"Beware of the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, 
they are altering your world. "
Ben Okri, poet and novelist (born 1959)

Do stories really have this much power?

Have you ever noticed that your mood changes according to the book that you are reading?  Perhaps even the quality of your sleep is affected?

When I saw this quote it really caught my attention because I had realized that I was really cranky while I read "The Illegal".  But while I have been reading "Girl Runner", I have slept beautifully. Both books are about runners. 
If I wake up in the night, I think of Aganetha Smart, the protagonist of "Girl Runner" and it soothes me back to sleep. 

Any thoughts on this?

Friday, 15 April 2016

More about prison book clubs

I was so fascinated by the idea of prison book clubs, that I wanted to add this article from the internet.
Carol Findlay
   When Carol Finlay first visited Collins Bay Institution, a prison in Kingston, Ont., she tried to be inconspicuous. Armed only with a copy of Angela’s Ashes, she was out of place and it was obvious to everyone. Carol looked like what she was: a 66-year-old former high school English teacher nervously making her way down the halls of a federal penitentiary. Flanked by guards in bulletproof vests, she passed crowds of men, muscular, bald and heavily tattooed beneath prison-issue blue jeans and white T-shirts.
   “They just walked around with their heads down and no sense of purpose,” says Carol. “There’s a lot of misery and an air of sadness. You can totally disappear from the world.” And that’s where Carol comes in. “I grew up in a family where social service was important.” (Her mother was an Anglican priest and Carol was ordained in 1992.) In 2009, she was teaching in Toronto and spending the rest of her time at her country home near Kingston. “There I was, a middle-class woman teaching, preaching and digging in my vegetable garden. I wanted to be more involved with people on the edge of society. I thought, ‘What do I love that I can use?’ ”
   What she loved was books. And that August, Carol found herself sitting in a circle of empty chairs, waiting for 15 convicted criminals to join her for a literary discussion of Angela’s Ashes. “I’d taught in some rough schools before, but my knees were shaking,” she says. The men shuffled in, sat down and said nothing. But by the third meeting all she had to do was ask who wanted to begin.“To see them turned on to books was wonderful.”
   Book Clubs for Inmates is now a registered charity, and Carol is launching a 10th chapter. But holding a book club in prison isn’t easy. When guards bring members in, it can take an hour just to get everyone in the same room. Then, there’s a rush to get back to their cells. (Lateness can land inmates in trouble and possibly segregation.) “The first time I saw a man in segregation, I was horrified.” On hands and knees, she spoke to him through the food slot at the bottom of the door. “These things stay with me — I hope I don’t become immune.”
   Occasionally, Carol has to defend her vocation. Many of us don’t feel kindly toward inmates, but she has come to see most as essentially good people who have done terrible things. “It takes courage to survive in prison.” One man was too frightened to sleep in his first year; another lost his hair from stress. “My goal is to give them hope and aspirations beyond where they came from and whatever put them there in the first place.”
   Carol has introduced inmates to The Cellist of Sarajevo and The Book of Negroes. Discussions arise about self-sacrifice and overcoming adversity. “We try not to be moralistic, but these things come up. Most inmates don’t get anything to help them on the outside. We can’t give them degrees, but we give them other tools.” Kevin Pinto is a former inmate relying on his book club experience to sustain him as he starts over. He’d joined just to get out of his cell. “I stopped reading as a kid and didn’t think I’d enjoy it,” he says. “But Carol gives everyone a chance and encourages you to voice your opinion. That kind of validation is a big thing in prison.” Now Carol often drops books off at his door — she does everything she can to see members succeed on the outside. “It’s taken over my life in the nicest way,” she says. “I’d rather do this than sit in my parish ministry. The men shake your hand and say, ‘I can’t believe you do this for us.’ I’ve never been thanked like that before — this is the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.”

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Prison Book Club

   I love book clubs, but this is one that I will not be attending!
   The author is friends with a woman named Carol Findlay, who started this charity organization.
   Book Clubs for Inmates is run by volunteers who have developed 22 book clubs in penitentiaries in seven provinces.
It is run by a board of directors.
   The author of this book was asked to help in book selection and she was involved for a couple of years with two of the book clubs.  
    This book was interesting for me because I had read most of the books they were discussing.  But I was more interested in a woman who was so committed in her concern for improving the lives of those who spent time in prison.  She follows them to half-way houses, often starting book clubs there.  She uses her influence in an upper-class society to raise money to buy new books, but she continues to use her influence to help to find jobs, or even have proper clothes for a job interview when they are released.  She finds many ways to influence these people in a positive way.
Quote: "Never leave prison with a partly-read book.  You will return to complete it."  (That's what the prisoners say)
   I definitely can see the value of this experience.  Reading fiction is about developing empathy. My guess is that most prisoners never developed any in childhood.  Thus, a life of crime.
  One prisoner said that "literature had elevated something inside".
  Carol, the organizer, planned many experiences for her book clubs.  One experience was "reading in tandem" with a well-to-do book club in Toronto.  They would exchange thoughts on the book they were reading.  It connected the prisoners to the real world and meant that their thoughts were important. Lawrence Hill was one of the authors that Carol arranged to visit some of the book clubs. He was always interested in hearing their thoughts.
  When the author of this book, Ann Wamsley, got involved, she met many of the prisoners individually in order to find their interests and get feed-back on books.  She gave each of the really keen members a notebook to record thoughts.  These 'keeners' were used as ambassadors to encourage the others to finish books and look for new members.
There can never be enough book clubs!

Friday, 8 April 2016

book bags

   Since I love book clubs, I find this library resource helpful.   Each bag holds  seven copies of one book, which is really helpful when many people are needing a copy of the same book.
  There are 98 different titles and the loan period is 6 weeks.
  I have been a strong advocate for book clubs located in local libraries.  We have four branches of our local library and I am delighted that we now have at least one book club in each branch.  There are so many different ways of running a book club and this is the variety that we have so far:
1.) everyone reads the same book to discuss ( 2 different locations)
2.) discussions about books, films, and music- rotating among the local bars and cafes.
3.) B.Y.O.B. - bring your own baby and talk about books
4.) Amnesty International book club - discussion of one book, followed by social action
5.) cook book book club- sharing recipes and cook books

  I have been concerned with the changes in our local "Ideas Unlimited".  Since the name changed, I was afraid that the focus on books would be gone in the midst of art, music, crafts.
You can read my library rant here.
  But I am happier now that the book clubs are developing.
  The library also has developed a branch of Third Age learning, that has outgrown the room available at any library branch, and has been moved to a local church.
   So there still is a focus on books and learning.

Monday, 4 April 2016

The Soul of an Octopus

   My granddaughter Kaitlyn is an aquarist at the Ripley's Aquarium in Toronto. She works with jellyfish, but she loves octopuses and spends time with them when she can.  When she last visited here, she was telling me about the book that she was reading, "The Soul of an Octopus".  I found a copy in the library and began reading.

   Whatever interests the grandchildren, interests me. It helps me understand them and stay connected. When I e-mailed her to say that I had read the book, she was excited and wanted to go for lunch to talk about it .  So the next time she came to town, we did just that!
"The Soul of An Octopus" by Sy Montgomery
Page 1:"It's hard to find an animal more unlike a human than an octopus."
Perhaps that's why they are so fascinating.
The author spent time in the New England Aquarium in Boston learning about the octopus.  Surprisingly enough, my friend Terri and I also spent some time in that aquarium, but the octopus was hidden in the back of his display and we were more interested in the huge display of penguins.
Interesting facts about octopuses (yes, that is the plural)
- although invertibrates are not known for intelligence, the octopus is very smart
- changes color and shape due to emotion and health (excitement turns their skin bumpy and red)
- tastes with its skin
- may have up to 200 suckers on each arm
- each sucker can lift 30 pounds
- one arm in the male is used for sexual purposes
- short life span ( 3 or 4 years)
- 3 hearts
- brain wraps around the throat
- blood is blue
- lays hundreds of eggs the size of a grain of rice, stringing them together and hanging them in strands

  Some people wonder about animals in captivity.  One man who catches octopuses for aquariums, feels that the animals are ambassadors from the wild and will live a long and happy life.
"An aquarium without an octopus is like a plum pudding without a plum."
Octopuses have thoughts, feelings and personalities, but a soul?

Friday, 1 April 2016

A Breathe of Fresh air

  After being so immersed in Canada Reads, I was delighted to read "Rebecca" by Daphne DuMaurier.  It seemed like a breath of fresh air, although it does have a sinister aspect.  The writing is spectacular and I love the description of the British countryside.

Daphne DuMaurier
  DuMaurier has always said that this novel is a study in jealousy, and apparently she knew about jealousy in her personal life.
  The story follows a young woman who marries a widower and moves into his estate, filled with the memories of his first wife.
  Central to the plot is Mrs. Danvers who runs the household and had adored the first Mrs. deWinter, who is the 'Rebecca' of the title.
  The story was macabre enough to gain the attention of Alfred Hitchcock, who made it into a black and white movie, with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine.
  I had already read one book by this author, "The House on the Strand", but it was not as compelling as this novel.
  I loved it!