Category Archives: reading

Reading internationally

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My book club has a no-stress December meeting, where rather than reading a book and discussing it, we each bring a book to share with the group, something that we’ve read that we loved and that we want to introduce others to.

One year it was completely open. Last year, it was a favorite novel. At our last meeting this year (for which I was absent), there was discussion around sharing an international book (that is, a book not set in North America or the UK).

Today, one of our members posted this video about the pleasures of reading internationally.

In one of the Goodreads groups I belong to, there is an international challenge that runs each year. Points are awarded for each country from which you read (one book per country) with bonus points for non-fiction books, books by an author born in the country, and books originally written in the non-english language of the country (if applicable.) Also, countries are awarded points based on the UNESCO count of how many books are published each year in that country.

My list so far (links are to Goodreads):

USA: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Switzerland: Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

England: Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley

Scotland: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Norway: My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgård

India: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Vietnam: The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb

Spain: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Canada: Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz

Australia: True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

South Africa: Summertime by J.M. Coetzee

France: How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits by Anne Berest

Egypt: Baking Cupcakes in Egypt by Elizabeth MacLean

When I do this next year, I’d like to work harder on reading voices from each country, rather that North American or British authors writing novels set there (although this is permitted in the challenge.) And some of my reading didn’t qualify because 3/4 of the book must take place in the country, so two books by Ruth Ozeki that are partly set in Japan and have a very Japanese sensibility (My Year of Meats and A Tale for the Time Being) didn’t fulfill that rule.

 

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?

Readathon: Nice to Meetcha!

It’s the beginning of the challenge and my hours of reading bliss await. The fireplace is on, the coffee is made, and my first book is chosen:  Cain by Jose Saramago.


One of the first mini-challenges posted by our hosts is an introduction questionnaire.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? 

Toronto, Canada (home of the Blue Jays #cometogether)

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

This is a hard one but probably John Mortimer’s autobiographical Summer Of A Dormouse will provide some comic relief.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Anything with avocado on it. I’ve got some whole ones for chopping onto pinto bean soup and some pre-made guac for dipping.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I’m a 55 year old empty-nester. The only things that stop me from reading all the time are domestic chores, genealogy, choral singing, and arts events (opera, theatre, music, galleries.) And I listen to audiobooks while I do chores.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

It’s my first. Guilt-free reading!

People get ready….

… for the 24 hour readathon! It starts tomorrow at 9 a.m in Toronto, and varies by time zone. You can get your start time here.

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This will be my first year participating and I’m very excited. Since our reno finished last month, we have boxes and boxes of stuff to sort: purge or place. This is always on my mind. An on-going item on my todo list and so the readathon will give me permission to forget about those things for a while, get cozy in front of the fireplace, and get through some of my to-read pile. It will also (I hope) help me kick the lingering cold that hampered our Thanksgiving plans last weekend and is lingering in my sinuses and ears.

In preparation, here’s my list for today.

  • pick up library books
  • tackle Mount Washmore
  • purchase food and snacks that will be easy to prepare and consume
  • tidy up certain key areas of the house that will give me a sense of calm once they’re in order (kitchen table, dining room table, bedroom)

I’ve signed up and will be posting my progress here (and in FB and twitter.) There are apparently prizes but I haven’t figured that part out yet.

Let me know in the comments if you’re planning to participate.

Bookish update plus the Outgoing Introvert

I usually tweet my #FridayReads, the meme started by Bethanne Patrick (@thebookmaven), so I thought I’d let y’all know what’s cooking on the reading front this week here as well.

I’ve done my first dive in to The Novel: A Biography. I’ve read the Prologue and most of the Introduction and it’s absolutely terrific reading. Once I get to the first chapter (Literature is Invention), I’ll also be picking up The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, noted by the author as being the first English not-quite-a-novel (but a constant narrator and more of a memoir/travel book.) (It’s free at the link as, written in the 14th century, it’s well out of copyright.)

I’m halfway through Inside by Alix Ohlin. I heard Ohlin read at IFOA a couple of years ago and purchased her book based on that. But never got to it. So far so good, and I hope to finish it this weekend.

On the audio front, I started listening to In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. This is for one of the Winter Reading Challenge at Roundtable on Goodreads, and is referenced in The Novel’s chapter title Impersonation.

I have yet to dive in to The Brothers Karamazov, although if I don’t want to get hopelessly behind in the group read, I should pull it out tomorrow. Or rather boot it up. This is one of those cases where my paper copy’s print was too small for me to read comfortably so I ended up buying a copy of the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation for my Kobo. They did a fabulous job on Anna Karenina so I’m hoping Brothers will be good too.

The Outgoing Introvert

This article from the Globe and Mail kinda sums up my project/non-resolution around meeting more people IRL. (It’s well worth a read, if you think you might not have enough community time, and I don’t mean your family or work community.) While I have benefitted incredibly from meeting people online, particularly when I was out of the country for five years, it made me do a bit of a mental inventory of the places where I am part of a community outside of my family. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much less shy and more outgoing. (“Shy” you say, incredulously, those of you who have met me in the past five to ten years? In truth, I used to have trouble ordering a pizza by phone.)

My communities:

Choir: an absolute necessity in my life. My last two choirs (Toronto and Atlanta) have been associated with my parish. Plus a summer choir that was Catholic but not parish-based. When I lived in Ottawa, I was part of a community choir. I love crave the chance to sing on a regular basis. I meet people of all ages, different religions (or none), knitters, readers, professional musicians, students, vegans, retired people, professors, writers) who all come together to seek beauty in the combination of voices.

Book club: While the club started out with mainly people I know, we’ve branched out and I’ve had a chance to meet fascinating people who have a common love of reading and talking about literature. We’re one of the few book clubs that I know about that includes both men and women and I find that this makes for a somewhat more interesting vibe. We’ve also started an annual low-stress December meeting where, rather than read a book to discuss, we each bring a book that we’ve loved to introduce to the rest of the group. This is a great way to get to know each other a little better.

Genealogical meetings: I used to volunteer quite actively but have had to give that up in the past couple of years. I don’t know many people at the events so sometimes I don’t talk with many people, but I”m travelling to Salt Lake City with a group in February and will get to know some of the local people better.

The Salon: In years BC (before children), we held a reasonably regular “salon” where we invited friends who were interested in smart discussion to talk about topics. Wine and nibblies and a moderator. Sort of like a book club but not on a book. I’d love to do this again and have been mulling over format, topics, and logistics. I even have a spreadsheet somewhere….

So, where is your community? Do you have one? Do you need one?

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.

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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.

Review: A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam

Chimp Eden Sanctuary - Mimi
Mimi at Chimp Eden Sanctuary, Zaire – (c) Afrika Force

Can a book change your life? Or at least, change some fundamental way that you view the world? I would argue that after reading this prize-winning novel A Beautiful Truth, something has shifted within me about the way that I think about consciousness and the animal kingdom.

On a very superficial level, the novel is about chimpanzees, with three main story lines: a childless couple adopts a chimp and raises him as a son; scientists study a group of chimps living in a contained but somewhat natural environment, observing their behaviour and teaching them to use signs, computers, and image boards to communicate; and researchers carry out experiments on chimps in a prison-like facility, exposing them to viruses including the common cold and HIV.

But the magic of this novel is how McAdam weaves these stories together and develops well-rounded characters out of some of the chimps, characters for whom you care deeply.  It’s also the first time I’ve read an author writing from the point of view of an animal.

My book club met yesterday afternoon to discuss the novel, and it was the widest set of ratings we’ve ever given a novel. Some found it slow and difficult to read, particularly the sections written from the point of view of the chimps. One had issues with the “adoption” concept: why would a childless couple choose to adopt a chimp rather than a child, or simply not adopt at all. Some (like myself) confessed to crying during the difficult climax. But I think that all of us learned something. We had a terrific discussion about the issues raised by the novel around animal-based research, the level of intelligence (for lack of a better word) of chimpanzees, so eloquently exposed by this book, and the moments of absolutely thrilling prose.

Kin Echlin, the author of Elephant Winter, writes

McAdam’s language reaches into that mysterious place where a word ends and a feeling begins. A Beautiful Truth is a story about love and beauty and our dreams for our children and our inescapable loneliness. The characters, human and animal, are sad and honest and true. I could not put this novel down, and only when I finished it could I breathe again.

Personally? I gave it an almost perfect rating. I feel like I’ve stepped through some door that can’t be closed. I’ve explored the website of the Fauna Foundation, a sanctuary for chimps and other animals located near Montreal, where McAdam did some of his research. I’m looking for other books, movies, and documentaries on these beautiful beings so that I can learn more.

I may have an activist burgeoning inside of me. Leave me recommended resources in the comments.

Colin McAdam tweets  @McAdamColin.
Find the Fauna Foundation on Facebook and on Twitter.