Tag Archives: reading

Friday Seven – October 23

— 1 —

Our reno is done and we’re really happy with it. New hardwood floors throughout the second floor and in the living-dining room meant that every item in those areas had to be removed to either boxes in the basement or to a temporary storage pod (mainly the furniture.) Now we’ve got to sort all the boxes in the basement and reorganize (or get rid of) a lot of stuff. It’s actually been a great exercise, to see how the house looks with quite minimalist decor. I am taking things slowly and making careful decisions about what to keep and where. One of the good decisions we made was to have cabinetry built in around our (new) gas fireplace so all our decorative items can be placed together, behind glass, and reduce the clutter on surfaces, one of our big issues.

— 2 —

The timer switch for our exterior lights on the front door quit, leaving the lights on all the time. I picked up a new timer and attempted to install it myself. I’ve done minor electrical work before with no problem but this was part of a three switch plate and the installation quickly proved beyond me, even after a lot of googling and referring to my trusty Reader’s Digest Complete Do-it-yourself Manual. So I left the circuit breaker in the off position and we have no lights in the powder room or at my favorite reading position in the kitchen. I tried to hire an electrician the normal way (Homestars) but the earliest i could get an appointment was in two weeks. I called my contractor for a name and he said he’ll get it done for me tomorrow or Monday at the latest. He’s the best!

— 3 —

I’ve been on the hunt for a daybed or sofa bed for my study. I had it painted in a lovely pale yellow, a good colour for creativity, and when I checked out a couple of shops in the nearby Castlefield Design DIstrict (Elte Mkt, Shelter) everything suitable was only available in a cool grey. By chance, Ethel 20th Century Living posted this gorgeousness on their Facebook Page yesterday afternoon and I’m heading there to check it out in person this afternoon. It’s in a warm grey (Pebble), five years old an in apparently fabulous condition. And at a great price.

BluDot One Night Stand sleeper.
BluDot One Night Stand sleeper.

— 4 —

I am almost finished an absolutely terrific novel by Ruth Ozeki called A Tale For The Time Being. It is hard to describe how much this book resonates with me. I’ve been listening to the audio version, read by the author. Watch the trailer.

— 5 —

Kotodama: the Japanese belief that mystical powers dwell in words and names; that ritual words can influence our environment, body, mind, and soul. It’s everywhere in Ozeki’s novel and i want to think about it some more.

— 6 —

If you have a chance to see Remember, the new film by Atom Egoyan starring Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau, I highly recommend it. I saw a screening at TIFF this year and it was a highlight. While I don’t agree with this review (don’t leave early), I do agree that the rest of it is also very compelling.

— 7 —

Some Friday music humour.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!


Readathon: last update!

For my followers, it was probably a bit strange to hear nothing for months and then get a bunch of posts in one day. But I successfully completed the readathon and here’s the last challenge (a little late, but whatevs.)

Which hour was most daunting for you?

Hour 22 (5 am). Around 5:30, I lay down “just for a minute” to read and woke up an hour later. I guess all the Diet Coke didn’t really do anything for me.

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

Reading is such a subjective pleasure, that it’s difficult to recommend. But in general, a readathon is not the best place for anything too thought-provoking or requiring a slow read. I started out with the marvellous Cain by Jose Saramago which is only about 160 pages long, but it took me a few hours to get through it.

Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

This was my first readathon so these two questions are really difficult to answer. I appreciated the support and the challenges, but I’d be happy to do it in a little bubble of my own as well.

How many books did you read?

I read four paper books and finished three. I also listened to part of an audiobook.

What were the names of the books you read?

Cain by Jose Saramago
How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits by Anne Berest et al
Iris and Her Friends: A Memoir of Memory and Desire by John Bayley
Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins (not finished)
A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (audiobook; listened to about a third of it)

Which book did you enjoy most?

In terms of pure joyfulness, the book about being Parisian was great. An excellent break after Cain. I also loved the Ozeki and will be listening to the rest over the next few days.

Which did you enjoy least?

The book about Iris Murdoch, written by her husband, was really about him. I was disappointed in many ways. Goodreads review to follow.

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

I will definitely participate again, taking a little more care in choosing appropriate books. My spouse wasn’t able to participate this time, but says that he wants to do it with me next year.

Mid-way through the readathon…

…and i’m watching TV.

We’re eating dinner and I agreed to start watching The Fifth Estate with my husband, but I’m going to escape to the bedroom to read momentarily.

It’s hour 12 and we have a little survey for the current challenge:

Mid-Event Survey:

1. What are you reading right now?

How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits by Anne Berest et al. This was in our Airbnb apartment in Paris last month and I had to have it. My new lifestyle guide.

2. How many books have you read so far?

I’m on my third book, but I’ve only finished one (Cain by Jose Saramago.) I’m also listening to the audiobook of A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, but this is a fill-in book for when I”m cooking, walking the dog, or folding laundry and can’t read a regular book. It’s also a great read.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?

Iris and Her Friends: A Memoir of Memory and Desire by John Bayley.

4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?

Mainly as above, and i’ve used an audiobook. Plus I felt for my dear husband and agreed to watch a movie with him for a few minutes.

5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?

How difficult it is to stay off social media. Monitor me at FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and tell me to get reading!

Back to my book!

Readathon: Book Scavenger Hunt

The Hour 9 Mini-challenge is interesting.

To enter the Book Scavenger Hunt, look at the item list below and find a word, phrase or thought IN THE BOOK YOU ARE CURRENTLY READING that fulfills that item.  For example, if the item were “something soft”, your answer could be a word – “kitten”; a phrase – “a satin ribbon the color of Jersey cream”; or a feeling “he leaned to her and kissed her cheek”.  Be creative!

I switched to an audio book a couple of hours ago so that i could shower, prep my lunch, and relax my eyes a little. I am very much enjoying A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. This is the book I’m using for my scavenger hunt. It’s set in Tokyo and on Cortes Island in British Columbia.

  1. Something hard – barnacle
  2. Something fast – gyre
  3. Something sweet – cataracts in great-grandmother referred to as flowers of emptiness in Japanese.
  4. Something high – crow in the bough of a maple
  5. Something funny – the word kotodama in Japanese that refers to the spirits that live inside a word that give it special power

My readathon top ten

Here’s another mini-challenge: create a top 10 list that has something to do with the readathon.

Top 10 Tips for Managing a 24-hour read:

  1. Get a good sleep the night before.
  2. Warn housemates that you will not be doing anything but reading.
  3. Find an audiobook for those times when you can’t read (walking the dog, loading the dishwasher, folding laundry that you didn’t get done the day before, prepping snacks.)
  4. Cozy pants.
  5. No bra.
  6. Diet coke to drink in place of the martinis you might otherwise consume.
  7. Leftovers.
  8. Make exceptions to dietary norms: frozen meatballs, cooked shrimp, premade guacamole, trail mix, diet coke (see above)
  9. Stay off social media. Except when you don’t.
  10. Hydrate, mainly with water.

Anything I’ve missed?

Friday Seven

  1. Heading to a Syrian wedding today: the sacrament is this afternoon in Woodbridge and the party tonight in Etobicoke at the Edessa Banquet Hall. I won’t know many people there, but my partner-in-crime is getting less patient with loud music so it likely won’t be a late night.
  2. For a complete change of pace, we’re heading up to Wyebridge (near Midland) tomorrow morning for a Goddard family reunion. I think it’a actually referred to as the “3G” annual event, for Goddard, Gear, and Graham families. I’m looking forward to meeting some new-to-me cousins and fleshing out my family tree. Our hosts are Stephen and Frieda Goddard. Stephen is my mother’s first cousin, the son of her uncle Percy Goddard.
    Doug Townsend, Stephen and Frieda Goddard
    Doug Townsend, Stephen and Frieda Goddard

    I blogged about another branch of my Goddards here. Two brothers emigrated to the Barrie, Ontario area (John in 1970 and William in 1871). I descend from William and the branch at the link descend from John.

  3. For my book challenge this quarter (my booklist here – I won’t read them all, but it’s a goal), I’m reading a memoir by Vladimir Nabokov called Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited. It’s achingly beautifully written, and I’m doing a slow, close read to enjoy it. Here’s a snippet, a memory of a young Nabokov sitting on the veranda while his nanny reads french novels to him.

    From "Speak, Memory" by Vladimir Nabokov.
    From “Speak, Memory” by Vladimir Nabokov.
  4. For my Toronto readers: I just discovered an interesting website called Tabs Toronto. It sends automated alerts any time key words that you select are identified in city government records. You can do a search and then decide whether you’d like an email alert based on it. I’ve registered for my street name, neighbourhood name, and local BIAs. It’s a great initiative intended to improve civic participation.
  5. Every since we moved in to our house seven years ago, we’ve known that we had issues with poor air circulation (basement too cold, second floor too hot). We finally got around to having an HVAC professional in to look at our system and he gave us some good advice about improving our duct work, and noted that our AC had been incorrectly installed, effectively blocking the path of air in to the ducts. (Or something.) Our furnace maintenance people had told us that our furnace was on its last legs, and so we took the plunge and replaced both furnace and AC. What a difference. We can actually feel cool air coming out of the ducts in our upper floor. He also recommended that we put a shade or covering of some kind on the large skylight in our stairwell so that’s the next job.
  6. My last post on my Berkman ancestors got a lot of hits, and I’m hoping to get in contact with some cousins. In the meantime, I finally scanned this business card of my grandfather David’s fur company. He moved back to Ontario in the early 30s and had some retail businesses. More about that soon.

    D Berkman Fur Company
    D Berkman Fur Company
  7. My book club had an excellent discussion of Donna Tartt‘s The Goldfinch last Sunday. It got pretty high ratings for the group (average 8/10), a surprising amount of sympathy for Boris, and totally expected love for Hobie. We also sniffed at the critics who looked down their noses at the accessible writing.  We met on the patio at the lovely Grenadier Restaurant in High Park (well, the food is fine but the venue is lovely) and will meet there again next month when we move to non-fiction with The Massey Murder: The Maid, Her Master, and the Trial That Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray.

We’ve got a long weekend here in Ontario so Sunday and Monday are going to be read-and-relax days. On Tuesday, I’m heading to Ottawa to see my mother and some friends, and then back on Friday.

Leave me some love in the comments!

The reading (and travelling) life

Image courtesy The Graphics Fairy
Image courtesy The Graphics Fairy

I’ve got a five hour car trip ahead of me today and last night I fell asleep reading. Which means the light was on and I wasn’t wearing my CPAP. So I may be puling off for micro-naps today.

I’m heading in to the final stretch of my reading challenge in a Goodreads group, so I’ve got a very defined book list.

In printed text, I’ve got just a few pages left in The Woman Upstairs by Clarie Messud. I’ve owned this book for a while and thought it was a kind of thriller or something. But it’s not. And it’s terrific, resonating on a number of levels. More to come when I review it.

Next up in will be Projection: Encounters with My Runaway Mother by Priscilla Uppal, a non-fiction memoir that I’ve been hearing great things about. I’ve also got The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway (Keep Toronto Reading and my next book club selection) on my pile, as well as Washington Square by Henry James (for TIFF Books on Film).

Audio books are a terrific accompaniment to long drives and boring housework. I’m halfway through Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer, a fascinating look at memory and how memory champions train for competition. Next up will be The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which will (hopefully) be good prep for my trip to 221b Con in Atlanta next month. I purchased that through Downpour which has great deals on the ACD canon at the moment.  I’ve also got The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb on the OneClick Digital Recorded Books program through my public library, but the app seems to be glitchy so I’m not sure that I’ll be able to listen to it unless there’s an update.


This week, I hope to get my mom’s condo ready to put on the market. There’s still a lot of stuff to clear out, and I need to find a cleaning crew to give it a once-over. I’ve got some friends and family to see in town, and I’d love to catch the new Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Blogging may be light as I won’t have wifi chez moi, but who knows? I’ll try to at least keep busy on Instagram.

And finally, my indoor herb garden in rocking my world! Everything’s up except for the garlic chives. The cilantro suddenly appeared yesterday and I’m very pumped about that one as it’s the hardest to find in garden stores.

Reading as imaginative co-creation

As the lights darkened in the TIFF cinema Monday night, I leaned over to my friend and said “We’re so lucky to live in this city.”

We were there for the season opener of the Books in Film series. Eleanor Wachtel had just introduced Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and special guest flown in from Lahore for the screening of Mira Nair’s film based on the novel. From his brief comments before the film, it was clear this was going to be a highlight of the series.

No spoilers here. This Man Booker nominated novel is a must-read. But it was an interesting exercise in teasing out the differences between the experience of reading and that of watching a film. The novel has two basic acts: Changez (the protagonist, pronounced Chong’-iz) at Princeton and working as a financial analyst in New York City; and Changez after he returns to Lahore. The novel is written in the second person: Changez is telling his story to an American while sitting in a cafe in Lahore. We don’t know much about the American and the ending is not tidy.

In the film, there is a third act that ties the story together. There are other significant changes, and much more of a back story. Hamid stated that movie-goers don’t want to leave the cinema not knowing what “the ending” meant. But more than that, he had interesting things to say about the experience of reading versus watching a film.

In his view, a book leaves greater space for “imaginative co-creation” on the part of the reader. And particularly so in this novel where one half of the conversation is missing. Readers are required to imagine a lot, to create their own reality, to “engage in make-believe, or imaginative play for adults.”  He said that film is more “pre-chewed”, with less space for the viewer to enter into their own minds. Hamid stated that “books and film are completely different art forms.”

There was more. A discussion of the meaning of a beard. Nair’s changes to the screenplay to highlight powerful women. The importance (or not) of 9/11 in the novel. How one’s identification as part of a group can be (always is?) uncomfortable.

This was an evening to remember, and one of the reasons that I love my adopted city, and TIFF in particular. If you’re a reader and love film (and live in Toronto), single tickets are now available for this terrific series.

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It’s Monday … what are you reading?

it's monday

I just finished up a second read of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking for my book club that met yesterday. I originally read it a year or so ago and, and as introvert married to an extrovert, it made a huge impact on my personal life. Our book club is made up of mostly introverts, with one who wasn’t sure. If you’re an introvert, married to one, or parenting one, it’s a highly recommended read.

I’m close to the end of Andrew Pyper‘s The Killing Circle. The book club read Pyper’s The Demonologist last month with a kind of “meh” reaction. I’m finding this one better, although I”m not really a fan of the supernatural thriller. I’ll post a review when I’m finished.  Next up in paper is Timothy Findley’s Spadework.

I’m also listening to the audiobook of Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens by Andrea Wulf. I originally picked it up to fulfill a part of a reading challenge I’m participating in over at Goodreads, as I’m not a huge fan of non-fiction history books, but it’s quite exciting. It details the attempt to measure the size of the solar system based on the collection of data regarding the transit of Venus past the sun on June 6, 1761. This exercise required astronomers, professional and amateur to travel to and take measurements from locations around the world, specifically relating to the timing of this phenomenon. If you’re interested in navigation, history of science, or astronomy, this fast-paced book may be for you. Next up in audiobook format is a collection of short stories by Haruki Murakami from 1995 called The Elephant Vanishes.

What’s on your night table, or in your bag, or next to your sofa?

Book club: The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

This novel had been getting a lot of buzz when we decided to include it in our reading list. As today’s moderator suggested, it would appear that Andrew Pyper was trying for that sweet spot where genre fiction overlaps literary fiction, but as a group, we were not convinced that he was successful.

Pyper’s protagonist in The Demonologist is David Ullman, a Milton scholar who is offered an all-expenses paid trip to Venice if he will visit a particular address and use his expertise in the area of demons to assess a situation. He brings his daughter Tess with him and she is captured and drawn into the underworld.  The rest of the novel follows Ullman in his attempt to find and rescue her.

What worked:

We agreed that the story was interesting.

We thought he had moments of good writing.

There were some good action sequences.

We liked the relationship between Ullman and fellow professor Elaine O’Brien: a non-sexual, cross-gender friendship.

The cover (both dust cover and hardcover) were well done.

What didn’t work:

The novel reads too much like a screenplay. It seemed made for film, and not the literary fiction audience that we suspect he was going after.

We didn’t understand what was really going on. Does Ullman really believe there are demons that can intervene in our lives? Did important bits in flashbacks in the novel really happen, or were they subject to perceivers’ error?

Many of us were simply not very engaged in the novel. In a comparison between Pyper and Dan Brown (for example), those of us who admitted to being familiar with the latter rated Brown as better at engaging the reader in the story, and better at owning up to the agenda of the protagonist (in Brown’s case, and anti-Vatican stance, for example.)

The novel needed a(nother) good edit.

Overall rating: 6/10 (with a range of 5-7)

I hosted this month and decided to go for a Venetian theme, even though a relatively small part of the novel takes place in Venice. (As someone pointed out, this was probably a better theme than roadside diners/motels in terms of meal options.) Because of my Sunday morning committments, I chose a mainly cold buffet meal.

We lunched on a caprese salad, scampi alla Veneziana, crostini al radicchio Trevisano, proscuitto e melone, cheeses (a Romano sheep’s milk cheese and some asiago), and drinks made of prosecco, campari, and peach juice.  My spouse picked us up a Cappuccino Dacquoise for dessert.

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