Friday, September 28, 2012

Seen reading on OC Transpo

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Other Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin
  • Dream Catcher: A Memoir by Margaret A. Salinger
  • Forget You by Jennifer Echols
  • something by Deb Caletti
  • Me:  The latest issue of Quill & QuireA Matter of Life and Death or Something by Ben Stephenson

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

News round-up

Ah, fall. I am especially happy to see it this year, as a relief from hot summer jogging that was more forced march than fun!

In an attempt to keep things interesting and keep myself challenged, I'm in the midst of launching several new programs at Carlingwood Branch, including a "Reflections on aging" reading circle with the amazing Wendy, a Golden Oak™ Book Club, a Film Club and the branch's first English conversation group. These, in addition to teaching, plus overseeing the RFID tagging of our entire collection, has kept me running around a fair bit recently, as well as a trip to Quebec City for the last rez girl wedding (a beautiful weekend during which I also squeezed in two walks with my favourite strolling rez girl, a chocolatine and giant onion rings, and a library visit, of course!). On my recent travels, I also encountered two readers of this blog! I will try not to get too much of a swelled head, as The Husband would say.

Oh, and I've been:
In closing, I would say a September filled with a new-to-me Barbara Pym, and the latest Zadie Smith, Ian MacEwen. Martin Amis and (next up) Salman Rushdie books is a good September indeed.

Up next: a literary Sophie's choice: I am in Toronto for RA in a Day (you should go), so can I fit in any IFOA, or the Ottawa premiere of Midnight's Children, or a reading by my friend Chris Cleave at Westmount? Argh! Sensory overload. I have to go lie down on the living room floor now.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Best reads of summer 2012

One of my favourite summer reading spots

  • Gold by Chris Cleave - What more can I say? You can open this book scoffing at the importance of sport, and Chris will nevertheless grab your heart in a vice grip and proceed to toy with it like a cat with a bird for 336 pages. Here, just watch a video already. And go see him - he will be at Westmount Public Library on October 27th as part of their Fall Author Series.
  • Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel - Of course Mantel knocks it out of the park with this second volume in her planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell. This is an intense look at the inner workings of Henry VIII's court. It spends little time on the overwrought soap operas we are all familiar with, and more time ruminating on the timeless crimes of corrupting power, political backstabbing. In Mantel's handling, Cromwell might well be the most shrewd (note I did not say likeable or even sympathetic) character in Tudor England. Your heart will break for many minor characters, and it will break all over again for the ultimately flawed, and deeply troubled Anne Boleyn.
  • Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer - Affectations that could be incredibly annoying in a lesser author's novel (linear equations used to explain appropriate emotional responses to an autistic husband, stereotypical walk-on parts for suburban neighbours, random baldness) fit perfectly in this gem of a first novel. Props to Book Riot, which is where I think I first read a review. No props to the NYT, which described it as "chick lit with a metaphysical spin." Ew. This is a love story with a science (or you could say magic realist) spin, in which Sunny (bald: see above) snaps under the pressure of a white picket fence life with an autistic husband, Maxon, and toddler, only hours before Maxon (an engineer who makes robots) leaves on a space mission. When Maxon's spaceship is hit by a meteorite (jeopardising not only the mission but the lives of those on board) and Sunny decides to stop wearing her wig, life for the unique couple seems about to veer sharply off-course. Reflecting on their shared history (Maxon more or less grew up at Sunny's house, taking refuge from an abusive home) and their possible future (as Sunny's single mom, a force of nature herself, lies dying in hospital guarding one last secret of her own), both Sunny and Maxon realise a few things about themselves, and each other. This is a very unique story, very uniquely told.
  • The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh - This was one of Sharron's "Best Bets" last year, and I have been meaning to get to it for awhile. Ejected from her group home when she turns 18, Victoria Jones isn't exactly prone to opening up or trusting others after a checkered past in foster families. Instead, she uses the Victorian language of flowers as a way to communicate with others, spending long hours growing flowers and herbs with meanings known (mostly these days) only to her. Victoria's past, and the person who taught her about the language of flowers, is gradually revealed in flashbacks while the adult Victoria lives on the streets and starts a job at a florist. Her past and present collide when she gives a bouquet with a particular meaning, and receives one back with a significant, and relevant, response. Check out the dictionary of flowers from the novel here. Yarrow, by the way, is a cure for the broken heart.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Read recently

  • The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla - Follows a Jewish family who manages to escape WW2 Vienna to Shanghai. Fascinating subject matter; sadly, stilted writing, unless Kalla (himself a physician) is describing surgery.
  • Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates - Chilling, weird, engrossing tale of a female academic's gradual unraveling into mental illness, prompted by flashbacks to her troubled childhood.
  • Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel - Absolutely brilliant. Mantel has a rare gift for langauge, as in this line from the end of the book (see how it promises more fun for volume 3?) "The word 'however' is like an imp coiled beneath your chair."
  • The Library Book by Alan Bennett et al. - Delicious short essays and humourous stories about libraries. Includes contributions by Seth Godin, Caitlin Moran, Kate Mosse, Lionel Shriver, Stephen Fry, and Zadie Smith (Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad - Thought-provoking examination of middle age, marriage, and accidental foster parenthood. I'm pleased she has been longlisted for the Giller - well-deserved.
  • The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore - Chilling short ghost story from a masterful writer.
  • The Flight Of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey - Supposed to be inspired by Jane Eyre, this watered-down version of the story is engrossing but ultimately forgettable.
  • Stray Love by Kyo Maclear - Watch the trailer here. Saigon pops up again (see: above), as does Guyana (see: the Husband) in this novel about a mixed-race boy, Marcel, trying to uncover his story.
  • Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin - Every year, I try a few mysteries just to check. I think I mysteried out in the early 90s (when I read every Nancy Drew, and then every Agatha Christie, and then every Ellis Peters) and now I have just lost my appetite. Sorry, mysteries! I recognise that this is a good story but I just wasn't into it.
  • The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason - sorry, but did this really win the regional Commonwealth Book Prize for Canada and Europe? It seems like a decent teen novel to me, but nothing more. This is a solidly interesting story about a factual event in NB history: the submersion of a small town underwater, as seen through the eyes of a young girl and her autistic brother. This book is ITCHING to be paired with Pascal Blanchet’s White Rapids.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - I laughed and cried at the same time on p. 280. Which is to say, it was good. Very good. Surprisingly original and fresh for the subject matter (young girl with terminal cancer falls in love).
  • In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes - Interesting setting; haunting narrator. An historical novel set in the 60s following a young (read: pregnant in high school) couple who try to get rich on Mideast oil by moving to Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. Barnes deftly weaves together the implications of the status of women in both small-town, fire-and-brimstone Oaklahoma and the Bedouin tribes of Saudi Arabia.
  • The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright - A woman speculates on her history of adultery while preparing to pick up her boyfriend's daughter during a snowstorm. Introspective, thoughtful, compelling.
  • The Red House by Mark Haddon - An extended family gets to know each other all over again while on holiday in the English countryside. One sprained ankle, a few stolen kisses, and several knock-up fights later, everyone emerges more or less unscathed, and perhaps in some cases even closer. Haddon focuses on his unique blend of dry humour and serious insight.
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls - I could not put this down. As usual, this is my "I'm behind the curve!" pick of the litter. I did hear tons of great press about this when it came out, but I somehow never picked it up until now. Having watched Chichester's Choice only the night before, it was almost impossible not to draw parallels between these two stories of victims of childhood abuse, parents utterly unprepared to be parents, individuals of great intelligence and promise whose lives somehow veered off the course we would consider to be normal, or appropriate. Walls tells the story of her childhood and youth spent in numerous small towns across America (as her father dodges taxes, unions and various other government agencies he has antagonised) before her parents finally settle in Appalachia, where Walls and her siblings are still taunted for being the poorest of the poor, the family with a garbage dump in their yard. While all four siblings make lives for themselves, in New York City and California, their parents continue to live on the streets.
  • The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace - A story about Victorian-era "hysteria" and the advent of photography. Could be easily paired with Helen Humphrey's Afterimage for fruitful discussion!

Stay tuned for my top picks of Summer 2012!