Category Archives: books

Monday reading review

it's monday

We’re in a little heat wave these days, so I’m very happy curled up on the sofa with a book and a beverage.

The written word

I finished Spadework by Timothy Findley on the weekend. Here’s my review up at Goodreads:

SpadeworkSpadework by Timothy Findley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very satisfying novel from a master of the genre. Set in Stratford, Ontario, it tells the story of a couple of theatre people, their 11-year old son, and their housekeeper. Findley writes with deep feeling about the stresses on a modern couple dealing with ambition, the search for stability, and loneliness. Small town life is depicted well, the common knowledge and underside of what seems to be a quaint, Southern Ontario town.

Highly recommended.

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I’ve started F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night on my Kobo but am just a few chapters in to it. In other FSF news, I completely missed catching the remake of The Great Gatsby in theatres and am kicking myself. I will have to watch for it in the rep theatres as I really want to see it on the big screen.

The spoken word

Housework is so much more doable less unappealing when I’ve got an audiobook playing. I recently finished Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens by Andrea Wulf, a non-fiction tale of the days when astronomical exploration involved ships sailing to distant places to make observations of celestial phenomena. An excellent read for those interested in navigation and astronomy, or general science.

Now I’ve started listening to a short story collection by Haruki Murakami called The Elephant Vanishes. I’m close to halfway through and, as in his novels, Murakami’s prose is quirky and even enchanting at times. Many of his stories have been published in the New Yorker, and it sort of feels like I’m gorging on them, to read a dozen in a row, but no matter. The recording I’m listening to has different actors reading each story, so that helps keep them distinct.

Next up

Coming up in paper will be the graphic novel Habibi by Craig Thompson. I bought it when it first came out but it’s been gracing my shelves since then. It’s a heavy tome, so it’s not a travelling read.  Here’s a lovely piece from The Guardian on the making of the novel, a seven-year enterprise.

On audio, I’ll be listening to Habits Of The House, a newish novel by Fay Weldon, set at the turn of the 20th century. (I just realised that you can’t say “the turn of the century” any more. )

Musings on Stratford

Swans, Ducks and Geese along the Avon River (S...
Swans, Ducks and Geese along the Avon River (Stratford, Ontario, Canada) (Photo credit: cseeman)

I am looking forward to my (now becoming annual) girls day-trip to Stratford in a couple of weeks. Three of us drive down in the morning, bring a picnic lunch to eat by the Avon River, see a play, dine in a restaurant, and then return to Toronto.

This year we’re going off-book and seeing a non-Shakespearean play: Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller. Starring Seana McKenna (Elizabeth) and Lucy Peacock (Mary), it promises to be wonderful. McKenna fulfilled a lifelong dream last year, playing Richard III, and she was a marvel. Peacock recently made waves at UNC playing Queen MacBeth in a “gender-bending adaptation” of the Scottish play.

Spadework
Spadework (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday, I started reading Timothy Findley‘s 2001 novel Spadework. I recently picked it up at Value Village and don’t even remember hearing about it before. As it turns out, it is set in Stratford, and begins with a married couple of “theatre people”, a 30-year-old actor and his 35-year-old, independently wealthy comfortable, set-maker wife. I’m 150 pages in and it’s something of a page-turner. One of the memorable scenes takes place at Down the Street, the restaurant that we’ve enjoyed the last couple of times we’ve been in Stratford, and apparently a theatre-people hangout. So I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled this time, although we’re usually there far too early to star-gaze. As for lunch, Jane, the set-maker, likes to drink wine in a paper cup down by the river when she takes a break from work, so I’m pretty sure a couple of G&Ts at lunch, similarly disguised, are worth the risk.

Unreliable narrators…

Apparently July 7 was “Truth Day”.  I’d never heard of this before until I saw a post in The Buzz about Books, the virtual book club at the Toronto Public Library. To celebrate, they blogged about unreliable narrators with some excellent reading suggestions.

Check it out here.

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?

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars!

Can I just say that this looks amazing? William Shakespeare’s Star Wars.
From the amazon.ca description:

Return once more to a galaxy far, far away with this sublime retelling of George Lucas’s epic Star Wars in the style of the immortal Bard of Avon. The saga of a wise (Jedi) knight and an evil (Sith) lord, of a beautiful princess held captive and a young hero coming of age, Star Wars abounds with all the valor and villainy of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. ’Tis a tale told by fretful droids, full of faithful Wookiees and fearstome Stormtroopers, signifying…pretty much everything.

Reimagined in glorious iambic pentameter—and complete with twenty gorgeous Elizabethan illustrations–William Shakespeare’s Star Wars will astound and edify Rebels and Imperials alike. Zounds! This is the book you’re looking for.

Click for link to amazon.ca
Click for link to amazon.ca

Review: Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld

TriburbiaTriburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A group of Tribeca fathers that have breakfast together after dropping their kids off at an elementary school makes up the cast of characters in this novel. Triburbia is built like a set of merging short stories and depicts these rather unlikeable (for the most part) men and their problems with relationships, families, and their careers, layered over with the changes happening in the neighbourhood.

Karl Taro Greenfeld has hit a high mark with this first novel. It is engaging and hits some important issues (bullying, infidelity, journalistic shenanigans, etc) without being preachy. His description of the relationships (or lack thereof) between these men seems spot on.

This book is definitely worth hanging in there for a while if the disconnectedness of the initial chapters is off-putting. It is ultimately satisfying.

View all my reviews

Seven Quick Take Friday – Leaving on a Jet Plane

Seven Quick Takes Friday

  1. I’m off to Vancouver today on the early morning flight. Zouheir has been out west since last Monday and will be there until next Thursday evening so I decided to cash in some points and join him for the weekend. I haven’t visited for years, probably in the 90s sometime, so I’m looking forward to seeing the sights. We have a reservation on Tojo’s on Friday evening (thanks for the recommendation, Kathleen!), and then I’m hoping to get to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, maybe Granville Island if the weather is good. Or just walk the city.

    Creation/Raven – Bill Reid
  2. Michael has been subbing on Eb tuba with the Weston Silver Band this summer. They’ll be playing some free concerts in this part of Ontario and I hope to get out to at least one: Ancaster on July 14, Stratford on July 21, and Orillia on July 28.
  3. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra has a couple of events as part of Luminato this weekend. Their big free concert at David Pecaut Square is tonight at 8. Billed as a “Symphonic Birthday Party”, Verdi and Wagner make up most of the program this year. Tomorrow afternoon, they’ll be hosting a “Music Mob” in the same location. Folks can dust off their instruments, download the music, and show up and play with the pros. As a member of the TSYO, Michael has been recruited to assist Mark Tetrault, the TSO Principal Tuba as well as other tubists who show up to join the fun. Michael’s had a couple of lessons with Marc and he’s a great guy. Sadly, I’m missing both these events due to my Vancouver trip. Hit the link above if you want to join them. They have simplified instrument parts if you think you need them!
  4. Alex has been in Kingston this week, starting his Master in Management Analytics program. It’s part of the Queen’s School of Business, but classes are (normally) held in Toronto. This week is kind of the kick-off where students get to meet one another, are placed into multi-disciplinary teams, go to classes, and generally socialise. (Apparently a river cruise is part of the program.) The next module starts in Toronto on July 3rd.
  5. Michael never fails to find the funniest stuff online. Yesterday he showed me this: classical sculptures dressed as hipsters. Click on the link. You will not be disappointed.
  6. Vegan Before 6 update: I’m now drinking my coffee black or with heated almond milk. I’ve discovered some new veggie prepared products, and this week made a big pot of vegan bolognese sauce so that I could have leftovers for lunch (or breakfast.) It’s a bit of overkill really… I regularly make tomato sauce for pasta and don’t bother with meat (although adding some crumbled spicy sausage is terrific), but I picked up some Yves Veggie Ground Round and threw it in, along with some fresh herbs from my new planter. So far, so good. We’ll see what eating out this weekend does to the plan. I see some soy lattés in my future. I also neglected to order a vegan meal for my flight today so that may require a cheat.
  7. Reading: This weekend, I’ve packed my current Dominick Dunne novel as well as my Kobo. I’ve got Sussex Drive by Linda Svendsen and Howard Engel’s Man Who Forgot How To Read. I’m also finishing up Skios by Michael Frayne on my ipod (Overdrive Audiobook) and have some new short stories by William Trevor (A Bit On The Side) queued up.

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The novel as gossip

Dominick Dunne
Dominick Dunne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So.

I’m on my second Dominick Dunne novel this year. He wrote a regular society/crime column in Vanity Fair up to his death in 2009 and his novels are thinly disguised tales of such goings on, in which the narrator is a society columnist and writer.

In March I read A Season in Purgatory which tells the (disguised and altered) tale of the murder of Martha Moxley by Michael Skakel, nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy. There are still attempts to overturn Skakel’s conviction for this murder that happened in 1975. (See links below.)

Currently I’m reading Dunne’s final novel, written just before his death in 2009, called Too Much Money which revolves around a coterie of aging socialites, one of which is in “reduced circumstances”, one trying to recover their caché after her husband’s  stint in prison (or “the facility” as she constantly corrects her friends and acquaintances), and the young gay men who are the “walkers” of these elderly wome.

Dunne’s books read like an extended article in a gossip magazine, but with big(ger) words. They’re kind of a kick and real page-turners. There are lots of tidbits about homes, furniture, clothing and accessories that I find fascinating. In Too Much Money, Gus Bailey [the Dominick Dunne character] talks about the notebooks he uses:

Gus wrote notes in his green leather notebook from Smythson of Bond Street in London; Stokes Bishop [his editor at the magazine] gave him one for Christmas every year.

So of course I checked out Smythson of Bond Street online, being the stationery nerd that I am. It was probably something like this:

Smythson Panama Notebook, 3.5″x 5.5″, £45

I don’t read gossip magazines unless I find myself in the hair salon or a pedicure chair without my current book, but I get my fill of the rich and famous this way. It’s not the most productive use of my reading time, but a good break from heavier, more literary reading.

Review: Cockroach by Rawi Hage

CockroachCockroach by Rawi Hage

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hage’s writing never fails to seduce. His protagonist is not particularly appealing in the usual way, but I began to care for him even as he stumbles through life, seemingly unable to have normal relationships with those around him. Much of the novel takes place in a Montreal winter and our immigrant cockroach avoids the sun, stumbles along the frigid streets, bumming cigarettes and food, and stealing. He is (I believe) unnamed in the novel.

So why did I care?

Because there is some damaged core to this character. A childhood of violence and hunger in his homeland. A suicide attempt for which he is receiving free psychiatric out-patient care. Cockroach expresses his love for those around him in sometimes (very) inappropriate ways, yet we understand him, and want the best for him.

This is not a pretty story. But it is reality for those who live on the margins. Hage has captured these lives in previous novels and hits it out of the park with this one.

View all my reviews

Review: “Up and Down” by Terry Fallis

Up and DownUp and Down by Terry Fallis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thoroughly enjoyable read, Fallis’ third novel hits the hot spots. Canadiana, Sherlock Holmes, feisty elderly female bush pilot, public relations, and the International Space Station are all part of this fast-paced work that kept me engaged right to the end. It lost a star for predictability, but even though I knew where it was going, it was a fun ride nevertheless. His rather broad humour is not for everyone, but i found it didn’t quite cross the line into slapstick (although it comes close a couple of times.)

View all my reviews

The Bootmakers of Toronto will be hosting Fallis for a gathering on September 21. I hope to be there.

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