Saturday, April 30, 2016

My Birthday Present

Last year DH made a bookshelf for me for my birthday.  It could not have been a more perfect gift... homemade and exactly tailored to my specifications.  There was a corner of the living room that was empty, small and perfect to tuck a bookshelf in to (if I could find one that would).  My extensive searches where quite disappointing, and there was only one find that was not only inadequate, but also incredibly expensive for such a tall, narrow shelf.  That is when DH became inspired.  He designed for me the perfect unit to fit in that tiny corner.
I then decided which collection I was going to put on the shelves, choosing my wee collection of early English literature up to the nineteenth century.  We then measured the widest book I had and chose a width for the shelf (no wasted space here!).
What is thrilling about this shelf is that DH only used materials that we already had on hand.  Old pieces of wood that I had bought many years ago to make temporary shelves for my sewing room, etc., which DH sanded down to their original appearance.  It was a very satisfying experience for DH, making something from scratch, that I absolutely love, clearing away some very old clutter, and using up resources we already had.  So as you can see, I have a lovely chocolate brown shelf, which I look at every morning from my reading chair.  As you can see, it is a daily sight which always makes me smile.

This is just a picture I took at the beginning when I first put my books on the shelf.  I have since then been working on the best configuration and building up my collection of certain works (now that I can see them in front of me).  At the top are my plays by Marlowe and Shakespeare and this particular shelf has become one of my projects for the time being as I build up my collection (I am already looking to change the arrangement of the books on the shelves to accommodate more of my plays and DVD's as I get them).  
It's fun to indulge.  I am presently looking at the play Macbeth (with a new version out on DVD last year featuring Michael Fassbender).  I plan on watching all of the versions I can get my hands on to decide which I would like to join my fledgling collection on my lovely new shelf.  I'll let you know how that works out!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Gormenghast




This beautiful hardcover was quite the workout.  Weighing in at nearly three pounds, I had to quickly come up with some strategies to rescue my arms and wrists from possible damage!  The book includes all three books, Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone, and has many of Peake's previously unpublished illustrations.  
Because it was such a physical workout, I had to work up the muscular strength to handle this book on a daily basis so reading one chapter at a sitting had me inching forward quite slowly, which wasn't such a bad thing.  The story gave me a lot to contemplate (I have often thought that I don't really need to meditate when I have such books because I transcend to another place and achieve peace of mind and rest for my spirit).  By the time I was at the last book Titus Alone I was just whipping through five chapters or so at a sitting.
I could see, while I was slowly working through this great work, a lot of influences (from the past and for the future).  I saw Charles Dickens in the extraordinary names of the characters, and in Peake's language, the descriptions of the people and staff of Gormenghast was alike passages in my favorite Dickens novels.  If you can think of the sweetest, softest and saddest adagio like this one Symphony #10 Adagio then you would have a pretty good idea of what this kind of writing evokes emotionally in me.

So, my first thoughts were that Peake loved his Dickens.  What occurred to me next while partaking of this symphony of words and illustrations was that Susannah Clarke must have loved this book as well, and it shows in her own equally beautiful (and huge!) novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel 
 (you can see my blog post here Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel).  These two books actually sit next to each other on my bookshelf.  

The trilogy truly was a symphony from beginning to end, though somewhat disjointed by the last book (because Peake was not able to finish it before he died).  It was a lot of work, sometimes hard work, but very worth it in the end because this is a story that is worth knowing.  I think his world of Gormenghast was so accurately described that I could really see how it was.  The BBC concurs with me, I think, because when they did their four hour miniseries of the first two books,  it was spot on.  Read the book, watch the miniseries.  I loved them both.




Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Odds of Getting Even

 This is the third book in this series (yep, you heard me right...I'm reading a series before it's finished!).  I first encountered Sheila Turnage last year when I began reading Newbery Award/Honor books.  Turnage had won the honor for Three Times Lucky in 2013.  This is one of those times when an award book has led me on to better things and I have, with the greatest pleasure, consumed these books one after the other with great relish!
It was a page turner.  I liken it to the same feel and style of Fannie Flagg and Charlaine Harris (or maybe a Flagg wrapped Harris burrito).  The story just soothingly flows through (like the river that eleven-year-old protagonist Mo was found nearby when she was a baby) and is full of intrigue and mystery.  I can say that this first book has passed the most important test... DH read it aloud to his class this year and they loved it!  I can say from personal observation, that a kid will never voluntarily pick up a mystery book.  I have tried over the years to get even my strongest readers to have a look at a mystery, but have failed every time.  With the success of the first book, the whole set has been bought for the library (squee!).  
Number two, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, does not disappoint.  It is just as full and flowing of charm and intrigue because there are still enough questions left to be answered from the first book.  This is where I am strongly reminded of Charlaine Harris.  This time we have a little of the supernatural along with our mystery, a pleasant combination of genres which Harris has successfully done (many times!).  She (Harris) also has this wonderful ability to write a series that flows and captures interest right until the very end.  I have often felt bored and a little annoyed at writers of series because they either drag the story along or just plan a beginning and an end and fill the middle with enough sticky fluff to carry the story on for another book (kind of like an Oreo cookie).  That is not the case with these books!

The Odds of Getting Even is just lovely.  An excellent stepping stone to where Turnage is going to go next.  This is where I feel Fannie Flagg the most.  Flagg has always had this wonderful ability to write good and lovable characters that you can't help but care deeply for.  Her books have always been able to soothe me in a way I find hard to describe, despite the fact that there are some horrible characters (and there are some really ugly ones in her books).  There is an acceptance of people for who they are, and a kindness which is just a balm for whatever ails you.  Turnage's Tupelo Landing cast of characters is just another bunch of folks that you can instantly like.
I'm really happy with how the story is progressing so far and my interest has not faded in the least.  Bring on number four!


Monday, March 28, 2016

Opening My Mind

Two years ago, before going to Australia, I bought myself a Samsung tablet.  I had put a great deal of thought into what I wanted to buy, what size it ought to be and also what uses I would need it for.  The initial plan was to use it for communication as the cell phone DH bought last time we were in Aus. would have become obsolete, plus I wasn't willing to pay for another.  So a tablet was my choice.  I found it to be an extremely useful gadget (and it became my primary computer when my laptop blew its motherboard shortly after).  Not only could I email and text my family, but I could also do my banking, read books on my Kindle app and listen to music.
Every time I hopped on a bus in Canberra, I could plug in and listen to music.  I spent a lot of time riding and listening... it was pure bliss!

As a travelling device, my tablet was perfect (especially on my way to and from Australia on a non-stop fifteen hour flight, which was mostly in the dark).

I  am trying to stop being a consumer, so the tablet seemed like a very handy "Swiss Pocketknife" with all its different apps that enabled me to do more than I expected.  It also meant I wouldn't have to buy a Kindle.  While I think electronic books are a "neat" thing, it is anathema to me to have just one device for one purpose.   Kudos to Amazon for thinking that one through and providing an app.  I have bought many ebooks from them because of it.  Including many of these:-


 Naturally it took me a while to get to that point (reading an ebook), but when I finally got there, I haven't looked back.  I like having access to books in any form, and I truly love the fact that I carry around with me several hundred books in my purse.
It was only this year that I found yet another neat use for my tablet.  As usual it takes a while for me to come around to a new idea, and this time it was audio books.
I read up to three hundred books a year, which doesn't leave a lot of time for other things that I also like to do.  At one time I used to churn out a dozen quilts a year, knit and crochet etc., but now that my hands are often holding books there just isn't the time.  I don't often watch television (which is when I used to get a lot of stitching done), but books have by far drowned out most other interests.  On average I make one, maybe two, quilts a year now.  I prefer to piece my quilts by hand... there was lots of applique and English paper piecing once upon a time.
One of my goals for this past school year is to read past and present winners and honors of the Newbery Award.  I have been hard on the scent, tracking these books down from various sources. From the BCLibraries Cooperative Library2go there was only an audio file available of the particular book I was tracking down.  So I had no choice.  I had to check it out. I hadn't really thought it through, but finally there I was sitting and listening to a book and it struck me that I really shouldn't have idle hands so I grabbed what I was working on (a set for a new baby) and a new era in my life was born!  I can both create with my hands and listen to a book at the same time!  These are my first results:-
Thank goodness for opening my mind to new possibilities!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Witness

Another brilliant verse novel from author Karen Hesse (Out of the Dust was my introduction to Hesse, and it is one of my favourite historical fiction novels which also won the Newbery Medal as well as the Scott O'Dell Award).  As I have been reading a lot of Newbery award books this past school year, I have come to appreciate even more the historical novel (which is what happens, I suppose, when you only read award/honor winners... they are the cream of the crop!).  
This is not one of them.  I chose it because April and National Poetry Month are looming, so I grabbed a pile of poetry books from the local library's children's section, and Witness was just picked up on a whim (I'm always on the lookout for more books to add to the perpetually growing wish list for the school library).  
The layout of Witness is like a play.  You have your dramatis personae:-


The sepia photographs loan this book a verisimilitude that makes an unforgettable impression (of course the subject material does that too).  The novel is about the introduction of the Ku Klux Klan into a small town set in 1924 Vermont.  There are five acts.  Each character has a unique point of view to relate, the verse giving each perspective an emotional flavor which just adds oomph to an otherwise well covered tale (there are so many of these kinds of stories, real and imagined!)  I love how D.W. Griffiths' black and white movie The Birth of a Nation is thought of by the sheriff Percelle Johnston as a bad influence  (having slogged through the 133 minutes of this incredibly long and somewhat painful movie I can see how it would affect people... the Ku Klux Klan was remarkably romanticized to look like the good guys).  

The verse novel has become increasingly interesting to me over the years, it is a type of story telling that is very new, and old all at the same time.  I have seen students become interested in this format, when chapter books have put them off.  I really loved this book, it brought to mind the Shakespearean drama of which I am a huge fan, and a deeper appreciation of what verse can really do for a story.  Makes me hungry for more!  I'm ready for National Poetry Month...are you?


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Exciting news!

This week (Monday in fact, after a crazy 36 hour trip and back to Prince George),
after nearly two long, long years... I have a new lap top!  Exciting isn't it?  I have really missed being able to write about what I have been reading... and there has been a lot!  I still haven't made up my mind yet about what I will do, should I attempt to re-write entries that I lost when my last lap top ceased to work?  Should I try to cover the last two years worth of notable reading, or should I just start from here, right now?
What I do know is that I will be going through what I have written on this blog to tighten up and tweak what is already there, as well as taking time to re-adjust to using a keyboard again.  I will also try to curb my enthusiasm a bit as sitting at the keyboard for hours on end would be quite a strain on my arms until they are used to doing such work (last fall I got tendinitis in my right arm which didn't cease to bother me until February).  It will be tough not to just fly right back in... I have read so many wonderful books.  See you again soon!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Fifteen Dogs

A gift from DH this past Christmas.
Not exactly what I thought it might be and even better than my wildest dreams could expect.
A story based on a bet between two Greek gods, involving fifteen dogs who have been given human attributes.  Things become humanly messy for these dogs, there are factions, fears and alliances that change the dynamics of being a dog and the simple pack mind. There is beauty and joy too (even one doggy soul who composes poetry). After that things for the pack become chaotic and violent ( I did liken this particular section of the book to Golding's  Lord of the Flies).  This apolog was fascinating, emotionally evocative, and perhaps the closest I have ever seen a book of fiction get to the true nature of the canine.  I don't believe that anyone who has ever loved and lost a companion dog will be able to put this down in a hurry, or will be able to get through the last two chapters without tears.
Once again I have encountered a Giller Prize winning book that has altered my perspective on something in my life, and look forward to reading more from this author.