Category Archives: books

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?

New Year 2015: Projects

I’m not making resolutions per se this year, but I’ve started a few projects that will put some discipline in my life.

On the health front, I’m starting the 100 days of real food program. It’s 14 weeks of “mini-pledges” that (hopefully) turn into habits. This week I’ve pledged to eat two servings of fruit/veg with each meal which is only an issue for me at breakfast. I mean, not an issue, but it’s not a habit (yet.) I also have a few minor health issues that I should deal with in the new year.

On the reading front, I’m participating in a few online challenges and read-alongs. I’m a member of the Roundtable group at Goodreads, a newly formed group rising from the ashes of Bookish that was recently closed. Like Bookish, they do a bi-annual reading challenge and so I’ve made my plans for the next four months. (I won’t get them all read, but I’ve lined up a book for most of the challenges.). They’re also doing a year-long group read of The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt (along with various novels discussed therein); and a two-month discussion of The Brothers Karamazov. We’ve got our next four books lined up for my IRL book club: Us Conductors (Sean Michaels), Chez l’arabe: Stories (Mireille Silcoff), All My Puny Sorrows (Miriam Toews), and Bad Feminist: Essays (Roxane Gay).

On the social front, I am committing to meeting some online friends/relatives in real life! Last year, it was wonderful to finally meet Zouheir’s (and now my) friend Jean-Paul Audouy, high school friend Judson Stone who I saw in Paris for the first time since high school, as well as sheep-farming cousin Tom Goddard. This has spurred me on to get together with a cousin on my father’s side, Lillian Orloff Spencer, in Arizona in February and another on my mother’s side, Audrey Groff, close to me here in the GTA later this month. I also commit to be better about keeping in touch with those closer to me but with whom I can go for weeks or months without seeing.

With JP at Volos in Toronto
With the Temiskaming Goddards in Barrie
With Judson in Paris

And finally, on the home front, I will be continuing the decluttering with Rosalind from Fresh Start Solutions and getting some renovations done. December was a great month for that, with a huge purge of our main floor, new fridge and wall oven, as well as a good start on the basement (which is currently the home of things to be consigned/sold in the next little while.) The biggest win for me here will be the creation of my study/studio with all my creative endeavours organized and ready to go.

What do you see looking forward this year? Any projects/resolutions?

Long weekend (and other recent) reading

Up here in the Great White North, it’s the Victoria Day Weekend, a chance to chill on a sofa with a book while your spouse works in the garden. YMMV.

My recent reads of note:

For TIFF Books on Film, I read a lovely collection of short stories by Yiyung Lee. My review (from Goodreads):

A Thousand Years of Good PrayersA Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m a bit conflicted about these stories. They are pretty dark: the plight of gays in China, of families with multiple children in China, daughters who don’t get along with their parents, who find out secrets, a young man swept into the Party because he looks like the late dictator. The characters in the collection felt relentlessly sad, pained, stuck in helpless situations.

That being said, these stories are finely crafted, intricate sketches of the men, women and young people caught up in difficult times. The tales are set in both China and the US of the immigrant experience.

I didn’t make it to the film associated with the final (title) story in this book as I was feeling under the weather, but by all reports it was excellent and I hope to pick it up online or from a local video store.

sand and fogThe other book I read for the TIFF series was House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III. It was a solid 5 stars, the story of a Persian immigrant to the US whose social status has fallen. He buys a house through a sherrif’s sale to try to make some money by flipping it. The story is told throught the points of view of the immigrant, the home owner who lost her house, and a police officer who tries to help her out. I’m very much looking forward to the screening of the film based on the novel on June 2nd.

I don’t read much YA literature, but I met a writer at my spouse’s Christmas party and downloaded her novel, Girl Reinvented. I loved it!

Girl ReinventedGirl Reinvented by Ann Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This YA novel was lots of fun, even for this well-past-YA reader. An overweight, introverted teen decides to reinvent herself, both on the outside and inside. I got some great fashion encouragement and enjoyed the denouement immensely. There’s lots to like here, and as an inexpensive download, well worth the price.

I look forward to more from Ms. Moore.

My bookclub read the best-seller Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn earlier this year. It’s soon to be a feature film and was relatively well received by the club. When I saw an earlier novel of hers available for download from the public library, I picked it up and was equally positive about it.

Sharp ObjectsSharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written prior to Gone Girl, this equally intense thriller takes us into the heart of a family torn apart by tragedy. The protagonist, a reporter at a Chicago paper is sent to her hometown to cover a murder and becomes entangled in her family history. Difficult to put down, I had figured out the truth prior to the reveal, but it nonetheless kept me gasping.

I read another collection of short stories, Can’t and Won’t, by Lydia Davis. It arrived on the holds shelf at the library and I can’t remember where I read about it.

Can't and Won't: StoriesCan’t and Won’t: Stories by Lydia Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, wow.

First of all, I can’t believe that I’ve never read any of her work before.

This collection is what I imagine a writer’s diary to be like: the stories range from a line or two to 25 pages. Each start on a new page. Some are dreams. Some are (translated) excerpts from Flaubert. Letters. Snippets of conversation. Davis elevates the mundane to philosophical pondering, and brings down the self-important.

I want to read more.

And start a writer’s diary.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

signatureCurrently, I’m listening to The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love (which I pretty much hated.) This novel was recommended to me by someone whose reading taste I very much respect (and who felt the same way about EPL.)  It’s a fabulous story about the life of a women in 19th century Pennsylvania who has a gift for botany, and about her family and the people who come in to her rather sheltered life. I rarely listen to audiobooks while I’m in bed, ready to sleep, but this one has me listening whenever I get a chance.

scratchingsI’ve also started reading a family history that I picked up at the OGS conference earlier this month called Scratchings: Across Cultures: A Memoir of Denial and Discovery by Stephen Heeney. This was a book that I picked up, a slim paperback priced at $29.95. I read a bit of the introduction:

The title of this book is derived from the lengths, still visible today, to which it was thought necessary to go in order to cover up our Iroquois ancestry. One of my objectives has been to confirm and explore this ancestry, and to contrast the fascination it aroused in me and my sister and cousins, with the shame it inspired in an earlier generation.

I put it down, and moved on to the next exhibitor, but in the next hour found that I couldn’t get it out of my mind. In some ways, genealogical research so often leads to discoveries of parts of our past that were covered up for one reason or another. I went back to the table and purchased the book, and am now 40 pages in to the 117 total. It could have used a sharper editor’s pencil, but it’s a fascinating story nonetheless.

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Reading Stockholm

In my previous post, I talked about a crowd-sourcing experiment seeking activities and literature in and about Stockholm/Sweden prior to our travels there in June.

This morning, I had a parcel from amazon in my mailbox. I had no recollection of ordering anything recently but am always excited to see a book in the mail.

I was simply delighted to see a novel with gift note and from my university-aged nephew Mike who we will see when we’re in Stockhom.

IMG_4998

The book is Doctor Glas by Hjalmar Söderberg with an introduction by Margaret Atwood.

Cover of "Doctor Glas: A Novel"

Its now on to top of my to-read pile.

Thanks, Mike!

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.

Goddard Meet-Up

After connecting on Facebook a few weeks ago, I headed up to Barrie to meet a cousin in my Goddard line. Tom’s great-grandfather John and my great-great-grandfather William were brothers who emigrated to Canada from Kent, UK around 1870. They settled in Vespra Township near Craighurst (north of Barrie). Tom’s ancestors moved north to Temiskaming and mine moved south to Toronto. He and his wife Joy just spent some time in the UK, including Kent, visiting some of our ancestral towns, and since they were returning home through Toronto, it was a great time to meet up without the 6 hour drive! We arranged to get together at the residence of Lillian, widow of Ernest Goddard, another descendent of John, and Tom’s second cousin. She lives in Barrie in a retirement residence built on the site of the Royal Victoria Hospital where she was born.

I know….it’s complicated.

Family relationships
Family relationships

Tom came with his wife Joy and son Jon (who lives in Collingwood), and there were murmurs about maybe a Goddard family reunion sometime in the future.

The gathering.
The gathering. L to R: Tom, Lillian, Janet, Jon, Joy

waging-heavy-peace-coverFor my driving time today, I queued up my current audiobook, Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream by Neil Young. When I first started listening to it, I was a little annoyed by what seemed like a lot of plugs for his various projects including Pure Tone (now Pono) and LincVolt. But as I continued into the book, I began to realise how passionate he is about these initiatives. The memoir is a kind of stream-of-consciousness thing, like he’s sitting next to you and reminiscing about his life. But it’s strangely compelling, and was the perfect antidote to the huge traffic mess that greeted me on my way home.

There was a terrible accident on the 400 today just south of Barrie. All traffic in both directions was diverted off the highway and what should have taken me twenty minutes (Barrie to Cookstown) took an hour and a half. Luckily, I had Neil chatting with me in the car and that kept me alert and interested. (The audiobook is read by Keith Carradine, who sounds great although not like Neil, and pronounces Sault Ste. Marie with the “l” sound in it.) But more about the book once I’ve finished it.

I’ll probably associate Tom and Neil and the scent of the lavender hand cream I bought on my way home in the same space in my brain.  And in honour of Tom (he’s a sheep farmer), I share something that I spotted in my Facebook feed tonight:

dog in sheeps clothing

 

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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 am I reading?

it's monday

Well, poppets. My alone-time is ripe for reading and I’ve got quite the pile on the go.

In paper:

  1. I started Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorderin audiobook on my road-trip to Montreal last week. It was so compelling, and I so badly wanted to see the diagrams, that I stopped at a Scarborough Chapters in the pouring rain and ran in and picked it up, along with his previous book, The Black Swan: Second Edition: The Impact of the Highly Improbable Fragility”  (and maybe one more dated journal that will REALLY help me get organized this time.) Taleb has been accused of being a blow-hard, full of himself, and insulting to the finance and statistical communities. That may be (and, um, is), but he’s one smart cookie, and we mustn’t be guilty of argumentum ad hominem when we consider his writing. I have a lot of thoughts running round my brain on this one, but they haven’t settled down yet, so perhaps when I’m finished I’ll devote a post to it.
  2. I’ve just started Bee Season by Myla Goldberg and it promises to be a good, quick read. I have always shied away from watching spelling bees (either in real life or in movies/tv because the drama seems too much (seriously) but that’s just my lot. I think I can handle it in a book.
  3. I’ve put down Wife Dressing: The Fine Art of Being a Well-Dressed Wife because it’s a big heavy hardcover, but I think I may dip in to it again this week while I’m relaxing.
  4. Next novel up will be The Silent Wife which I found at Value Village when I returned a non-functional appliance and had to take something in exchange immediately. I’m really trying not to buy anything I’ll only read once, but I’m human.

In digital format:

  1. I finished up a re-read of The Dinner by Herman Koch last week as it’s this month’s book club selection. I think that the discussion should be excellent as there is much to mine in this slim novel about family relationships, criminality, and story-telling.
  2. I’ve been dipping in to Getting Results the Agile Way: A Personal Results System for Work and Life, billed as a simpler version of the extremely popular but massively difficult-to-implement Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. In my retirement, I find myself with a million small things to do, and some larger projects with lots of steps and I’m not very good at actually accomplishing the things that I should be able to. It’s sort of a forest-and-trees type problem.
  3. I’ve been reading some Edgar Allan Poe short stories as part of a Goodreads discussion group and have been running hot and cold on them. Some are interesting and compelling, and some seem endlessly dull. But I’m glad I’ve been reading them as it was something of a gap in this fairly well-read gal’s literary life.
  4. Next up will be The Stranger’s Child by the wonderful Alan Hollinghurst. I’ve read his novels The Swimming Pool Library and The Line of Beauty, and both were extremely engaging.

In audiobook:

  1. I may continue listening to Antifragile in audio (above), or move on to….
  2. Herzog by Saul Bellow. I’m not sure why I requested this from the library but it was ready for downloading before I left on my trip, so I’ll give it a go. I really wish the library had a spot where you could note what exactly made you ask for a book. I must put these things into Goodreads and make my notes there.

Books, books, books.

I’m just coming down off of a 3 month reading challenge at Goodreads, and am pretty happy with how it went. I read 19 books, all of at least 250 pages and a couple over 600.

As I’ve described before, the challenge proscribes a set of tasks for which you much read books to fulfill. Example:

20.5 Let Freedom Ring!
Multiple countries celebrate their independence during the months of July, August and September. Choose one book about a country’s struggle for independence or which is set during a revolution (Les Miserables, Madame Trousseau).

These challenges take place twice a year and they get me out of my reading rut, and to try new genres and topics. I read some non-fiction (e.g., arctic explorer Andree, astronomical measurement in the 18th century), old classics (The Grapes of Wrath, Tender is the Night), and I managed to fit my real-life book club books into a couple of tasks (Wolf Hall, The Dinner). These tasks also take me out of my comfort zone as they’re often not easy reads, and so once the challenge is over I’m back to going through my carefully curated to-read lists of things that I’m pretty sure I’ll enjoy.

The same Goodreads group has a variety of monthly activities, one of which is “Short Stuff”. This month, they are reading and discussing the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe and I’ve decided to read one story per day for the month. I managed to grab Great Short Works of Edgar Allan Poe from the library (in ebook format) so I can read these in bed before I go to sleep. I need to take Poe in short doses because I find the writing quite intense, requiring dictionary (regular and translation) lookups and the old “parse the sentence after reading it three times” exercise. I think it may get easier as I get used to his style.  So far, I’ve read Mezengerstein (Oct 1) and Loss of Breath (Oct 2).

While searching for an epistolary novel for one of the tasks last month, I came across e Squared by Matt Beaumont, a humorous tale that takes place in a new-age ad agency, told in a series of emails, texts, and blog posts. I didn’t have time to read it for the challenge but it arrived from the library a few days ago so I’m halfway through that. I’m currently listening to Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes, a sort of fictionalized biography-mystery about, well, Gustave Flaubert’s parrot.

Later this month, I’ll be re-reading The Dinner by Herman Koch as it’s our October book club read. I saw the film based on the novel at TIFF 2013 and wanted to read the book prior to the screening. Sadly, my aging brain tends to forget what I read, so I’ll need to go through this one again. I’m also moderating the club meeting this month so I’ll be doing a little research about the author and the book.

What’s up next? Just loaded an audiobook of Nassim Taleb‘s  Anti-Fragile: Things that Gain from Disorder onto my iPhone after Alex recommended this author. Taleb is a controversial writer and academic in the area of statistics and risk management and takes a number of contrarian stances on standard statistical practice. I’ll also be getting back to clearing my bookshelves by reading and passing on from my collection.

So, what are you reading these days? I love comments. Click and post.

[Disclaimer: Links to books go to amazon.ca. I am an amazon affiliate and get a tiny commission (pennies) if you buy a book. No pressure. At all.]

It’s Monday…what am I reading?

it's monday

It’s been a slow reading week. I was set back by losing my Kobo for a few days. (I found it stuck between my quilt and the footboard of my bed….serves me right for, ahem, not making my bed very vigorously.) The heat made me sleepy and I kept drifting off while reading. But we’re back to normal summer temps and the words are flying by.

In paper:
I read the most wonderful graphic novel, Habibi, by Craig Thompson, author of Blankets. It’s been on my shelf for months, but I just got to it this week. There is a website for the book where you can see images and explore his process of drawing. Here’s my review from Goodreads:

A masterful work of art and storytelling, it is ultimately about the power of love to overcome hardship. I will not soon forget Zam and Dodola. It is as if I have been privy to the secrets of their lives in a fictional area of Mesopotamia. Thompson mixes the ancient world with the present day, stories from the Quran and the Bible, and the earthiness and sensuality of the lives he depicts. His arabic calligraphy is beautiful, and I regret that I didn’t realise there were notes to some of the pages with translation and source information at the end of the book, until I was about halfway through.

I was sad as I reached the end. I wanted to know more about their lives after the last page.

Highly recommended. 5 out of 5 stars

I’m starting Alif the Unseen next, another fantasy set in a mythical Arabian nation. I picked it up at the Random House Warehouse Sale in the spring.

On my eReader:

Now that I’ve recovered my Kobo, I’ll be continuing with Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Next up will be The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. It’s a fantasy set in Alaska in the 1920s, where childless homesteaders build a child out of snow.

In audio:

I’ve just about finished Haruki Murakami’s short story collection The Elephant Vanishes. It’s a wonderful set of stories, some more fantastical than others. For a complete change of pace, I’ll be listening to Fay Weldon’s Habits Of The House next.

I’m off to Stratford tomorrow with some friends to see Mary Stuart. I”m in charge of the picnic lunch so I’m off to prep before bed tonight. Back on Wednesday!

Mary Stuart | On the Stage
Seana McKenna (centre) as Elizabeth surrounded by, from left: Peter Hutt as Aubespine, Dylan Trowbridge as William Davison, Brian Dennehy as the Earl of Shrewsbury and Geraint Wyn Davies as the Earl of Leicester in Mary Stuart. Photo by David Hou.