Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Country Road, A Tree

Now here we go with coincidences again.   I couldn't have lined it up more perfectly if I had done it on purpose.  As I have written previously, I have just this year read Ulysses by James Joyce, what I haven't talked about yet is that just this March I found a good copy of Waiting For Godot by Samuel Beckett at the used book store I visited during Spring Break.  This I have also read quite recently.  Now my next coincidence is the book A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker, the next book on my list of James Tait Black nominees to read.
This book was wonderful!  I have been developing a fondness for historical fiction, since I have been reading some very good ones, All That I Am, To Say Nothing of the Dog and The German Girl  just to name a few.  I did read Baker's Longbourn last year, and enjoyed that.    But this one I really enjoyed.
It is a fictional account of Beckett's life just before and during the occupation of France by Nazi Germany.  History can be dry and somewhat uninformative of those things that I am interested in the most (the human side of it, thoughts, feelings and motives), which is why I was enthralled with the television drama To Walk Invisible, and A Country Road, A Tree is just as interesting and exciting.  There is some name dropping throughout the book, including James Joyce who did live in Paris at the time.  Having only read the one play by Beckett, I found myself wanting to read the rest of his works, especially when I reached the part in the novel that was a direct reference to Godot (just imagine what it would have been like if I could have read more of his works before starting this head might have exploded!).

  So, in my usual book-geeky way I will come back to this book again sometime after I have read all of Beckett's works, and a biography or two.  I love it when a book just inspires you to carry on and read some more (of the author's work and of the subject's).

Next on my list: The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride (and I already have a pretty good idea about the title of that blog entry... something along the lines of What is it with these Irish writers?).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What Belongs To You

I will be doing a short course later next month called How To Read A Novel, and some of the books that will be referenced are the nominees for the James Tait Black Prize for fiction.   I have not actually heard of this prize, but I understand that it is based out of the University of Edinburgh which is where my course is hosted and that it is being taught in conjunction with the prizes being awarded this summer (which I think is really nifty!).
Fortunately BC Libraries has all four books so I will be able to read them all before the course starts in July.  Starting with this book What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell.  The audio book was the only option available, which I didn't mind.  Sometimes it helps to be given a voice rather than imagining your own.  Since finishing it though, I think I would like to see the words too.  It was an especially stunning work of writing.
It's realistic fiction, which I have often had some struggles with and this one in particular had some explicit mentions of sex (which always makes me uncomfortable).  I was anxious for another reason... my son is gay, so I think I transferred my own motherly concern on to the protagonist and I was unnecessarily worried, perhaps.  I say perhaps because I'm pretty sure I would have been anxious anyway because of the incredibly stupid and dangerous things this character did with sexual partners.  But then, this novel was all about him finding himself and understanding his needs in a relationship with another person, so I guess he had to find out the hard way (which is where the graphic quality of his sexual encounters aids in showing us, the readers, how he got there).  I was cheering by the end of the book (and very relieved!).

I will also use the 'V' word ( I love it when an opportunity comes along for me to use it!) because in this debut novel by Garth Greenwell, both protagonist and author share some similarities, being both American, educators and having worked in Bulgaria. It does add that extra something... verisimilitude!

Coming up next:  A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The German Girl

It's funny how co-incidences evolve in my reading order sometimes.  My connection to this was completely random (a friend recommended I read this last March and it took this long to become available at BC Libraries Cooperative).   As a historical novel about escaping Jewish families from Germany, I liked the format of this one.  There was a lot of to-and-fro-ing from one character to another (Anna in the future, Hannah in the past, Anna being a relative of Hannah's), which I felt helped to ground this story and allowed me to see that this was not going to be another book about Jewish peoples suffering but also about surviving.  Of course, the story about the escape from Germany is vitally important, and the fact that the Cuban Government turned them away was also very significant (as well as the American and Canadian governments also rejecting them).  As well as the premise of this book being about survival, it's a commentary on the inability of the Cuban government to produce aid to those in dire need  Coming as I was, from Poet Slave of Cuba to this story, it struck me how conflicted and hypocritical people can be about the suffering of others.

Before I put politics aside I just want to say that this book could not have come at a better time.  I know that opinion  drastically differs about refugees today, and living in Canada I am extremely proud of the Trudeau Government for their stance.  I think this book would be a great way to show people how to see the importance of helping when those that are suffering need shelter.  I can't help but feel that compassion should always come before commerce, and fear.

Historical events and political machinations aside, this story about Hannah, and her survival of not only one regime, but two is powerful.  Her ability to love and to show love (to Anna) even after all she has lived through, and ultimately at the conclusion to have peace and joy was a potent message.  By the the time I reached the end of Hannah's story I was in tears because this novel, even with all of it's ugliness, fear and cruelty, was evocatively and beautifully sad.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Poet Slave of Cuba

Margarita Engle was named The Poetry Foundation's Young Peoples' Poet Laureate this year and as I am already familiar with her poetry (The Surrender Tree:Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom 2008) and I really liked it, I decided to have a look at her other work.

There is something about a verse novel that is poignant and unforgettable.  I have noted in the past how easy it is to read such novels which are usually about subjects that are really intense, and stressful.  The one's I have read are not about good things.  Which is, I guess, the reason why this verse format is perfect for such material.  They are; easy to read, brief and powerful in a way that prose would be exhausting, and pack a one-two punch that hits the mark, effectively and indelibly.
I love this format and have an immense sense of satisfaction when I can get kids to read some at my work.  I am convinced that I can thwart the causes of mid-school-grade disinterest in chapter books with a couple of good verse novels...

I was very fortunate to find the audio book of The Poet Slave of Cuba at the BC Libraries Cooperative.  This version has a cast of characters (the voice talents of Yesenia Cabrero, Chris Nunez, Ozzie Rodriguez and Robert Santana) and I found the narration to be heartbreaking, emotional and chilling.  I have, since listening to it, ordered the book because I want to see the illustrations and to read the excerpts of Juan Francisco Manzano's poetry at the end.   Both Engel and Manzano are poets to take a closer look at.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Playbook

Today's latest treat by Kwame Alexander.  I listened to The Playbook  (narrated by Ruffin Prentiss) this morning.  What a treat!  I have previously enjoyed reading his verse novels Crossover  

and Booked. 

The Playbook is this brilliantly conceived guide to life with quotes from famous athletes and other celebrities who have worked hard for what they have.  It is a great guide to 12-year-old kids on how you can get what you want if you work hard enough, and there is some pointers on what you could do if at first you don't succeed.  There are very inspirational quotes on how to keep on trying, but also how it's okay to change your path along the way to finding that right 'fit' for yourself.  
It's very interesting because not only do you get some short bios on truly successful athletes but you also get some information about Alexander himself and his own struggles, failures and achievements.  
It's all really constructive and definitely a must for every grade seven classroom.  If I could I would travel around to every school within reach and hand out complete sets of these three books (as well as their audio versions). 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Jon Klassen and his Hats

It began with hats.  Klassen won the Caldecott Medal for his book called This Is Not My Hat
When I read it to kids in the library they absolutely loved it.  We discussed the art work and the dark inference at the end of the book ( I especially like the dark inference!).  It was my first encounter with Jon Klassen.  Ever since I have been drawn to his art (and have made sure the library I work in has all of his hat books).  It's a big job, but I have been steadily working at getting the rest of Klassen's work, either his own books or the ones he has illustrated for other authors.
One example is this:

 Sam and Dave Dig a Hole was literally a rip-roaring success as a read-aloud to my grade three kids.  
I have never seen kids so successfully engaged in a story time book which had them roaring with laughter.  
The Dark was deliciously creepy and there was a wonderful discussion afterwards about how Klassen's art work really evoked those dark, scary feelings (but was really cute all at the same time).
While I'm at it, The Nest was the creepiest book I read last year.  Another future purchase for the school library, because, after all kids just can't resist the scary stuff.
My most favourite discovery to date is this wonderful book The Mysterious Howling plus the others in this series named the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.  It had the usual M.O.,   I was drawn to the book by the art.  To my immense pleasure it was a Klassen illustrated book, written by Maryrose Wood.   The art attracted me, the story kept me hooked (more on these later).  


Okay, I will be up front about why I chose this book to read.  It's all about Jon Klassen.  I've had a little crush on him since he won the Caldecott for This Is Not My Hat

I mean, just look at his art!  It's got that groovy, retro Leo Lionni vibe with a modern twist.  I have become so enamored of his art that I recognize it instantly in the book store or the library, and I am automatically drawn to it.  He has not steered me wrong in his choices of books to illustrate (the stories are extraordinary).  I have read many gems because of him.

That being said, I had a bit of a problem with Pax. Really it's more about the subject material that Pennypacker chose to write about as a cause and effect for her tale about a fox and a boy.  I didn't like that part.  I don't think kids need that part.  
Granted, her story is clever.  And the way both boy and fox have parallel life experiences that change them is brilliant.  I get it, her allegory, her social commentary etc.  But really though... that's all just going to go right over most kid's ten-year-old heads, unless an adult points it out to them, which makes this more a teachable issue book rather than a book about love and friendship.  
Also, the vagueness of names, places, some war somewhere... I don't think it's fair to be so opaque about something that should be very clear cut and definable to a child.  Once a kid gets confused about something they lose interest, and expecting them to try and accept an alternate world is usually a challenge without some specifics to ground them with.  
I liked the book, the illustrations were wonderful (naturally!).  The story was devastating... which is usually the norm with this genre.  You know the genre I'm talking about.  That old spiel of kid loves animal, and loses animal with a maximum of misery and angst.  It's a very retro idea, which is perhaps why Jon Klassen was the illustrator with his retro art.  It's a good fit.  
More on Jon later...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Book Odyssey

I checked this out from the library last year and found that there was a reading list in the back which is when I decided that this would be a great candidate for what I call the book odyssey.  I slated it on my Librarything Reading Challenge for this year and have had some fun borrowing and buying the books that I need to read alongside Reading Lolita in Tehran.  I bought my own used copy, restored it as best as I could (cleaning, covering etc.,) and got myself  a nice green highlighter for the list in the back.  I am NOT one of those people who highlight text or write fatuous comments in the margins throughout the book, but this is a working copy ( I also have working copies of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die and Harold Bloom's The Western Canon which I also highlight, but I have no qualms about doing so because I am working out of each of them and I think of them as tools for my literary enrichment).  Plus I don't mar the text, just the lists in the back.
I call it a book odyssey because of the many places I go to and the experiences I have with reading each book that is referred to (which makes me think of Odysseus).  I really enjoy doing this (I allude to other times when I have read such books that are rich with literary references such as The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume One and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume Two ) and seek to read the books referred to. It really enhances my enjoyment of the book I am reading.  I am always on the lookout for such books as they are an extraordinary source of reading indulgence and I often feel richer for the experience (even when some of the books are not what I would naturally choose to read).
What I mean by that is that Nafisi has a strong admiration of Vladimir Nabokov, and at the beginning of this odyssey I had only ever read Lolita which if you have read my blog entry about it you would understand that it was a repellent experience for me.  I saw that Nabokov had a gift for writing, and hoped that when I read something else of his I would get to appreciate that gift.  I have since then read Invitation to a Beheading which was sublime and has made me comfortable with the idea of re-reading Lolita sometime this year.
So it has been a very gratifying experience so far.    I have been in an all girls school with Muriel Sparks' The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, lived under siege in Nuha al-Radi's The Baghdad Diaries , hung out in Europe with  Henry James' Daisy Miller, floated around in the mind of Cincinnatus C. in Invitation to a Beheading, and been anxiously repressed in Bucharest with Saul Bellow's The Dean's December.  
The plan for this book odyssey is doing a little peeking ahead to see what books are mentioned, read those books, then proceed with the chapters in Reading Lolita until I encounter new books I haven't read yet. I have not progressed too deeply yet, but I love what I have read so far.  This project will probably exceed the year that I have allotted to complete it in because apart from the list in the back of the book I want to read everything else too by those authors mentioned.
To be continued...

Friday, May 12, 2017

Remembrance Of Earth's Past

Another Hugo Award winner, this first book The Three-Body Problem was exciting, so exciting that I had to read the following two books.  I listened to the audio versions of the first two, and read the last one as an e-book earlier this year.  Either medium was excellent, I enjoyed each book thoroughly.  This is a trilogy that is truly epic in its telling throughout all three books (something I did not expect since the middle book is what I have typically considered to be just filler... a place saver until you get to the end of the series when it gets all exciting again.  But The Dark Forest kicked butt all on it's own and was more exciting than the first book in its own unique way.  I actually wondered what more Cixin could say after I finished The Dark Forest, it had all seemed pretty well sewn up by the end.  Oh boy was I surprised, jubilant even, while reading the third book  Death's End.  I was cheering at one point, oohing and ahhing at another point, while still being pretty clueless as to how it would all play out in the end.   Reading these books was like bouncing on a trampoline... I never stayed still.  There was a various array of feelings running through me from one segment to the next (though it was never exhausting as emotional upheavals can be, it was always gentle).

I have raved enough about The Three-Body Problem that my husband went out and bought a copy of the first two books. I plan on reading them when we have the complete set as I figure that there is much that I would have missed listening to the audio book.  I think it says a lot about a book, especially hard/military science fiction genre books like these, that I would want to return to the story again.

This is science fiction with what I consider to be the traditional story telling style of the Chinese saga.  There are so many components to the books it reminded me of Romance of the Three kingdoms and had such a classic way of relating events that had me also thinking of Journey To the West.  These fractions of stories all wove together to make an incredible and inevitable result (which Cixin has very carefully helped you to understand that there could not be any other way to conclude his story).  It's clever and original and not what I have come to expect from a regular "Earth is being invaded by hostile aliens and this is how we fought them" type of story.  Death's End is nominated for the Hugo this year, I wish Cixin Liu the best of luck.


Ishiguro's first collection of short stories all with the theme of "music at nightfall".  I loved this.  Familiar as I am now with how Ishiguro writes, this was a special gift.  I was actually giggling (nervously) at one point when one of the characters in his stylized anxiety inducing stories went over the edge and fell in to what could only be "Basil Fawltyland".
What is usually gently built upon during the length of a full sized novel is delivered in a brief one-two punch in his short stories.  I really hope that he will write more in the future because these were perfect.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

She Kicks Butt

N.K. Jemisin that is... 
I first heard of her last year when I was listening to The Fifth Season (last year's Hugo Award winner) and I loved the book so much I went out and bought everything else she has written.  I had noticed her name on the lists before for the Nebula award (she really gets around!) but hadn't paid any attention to her yet.  I'm kind of glad that I didn't, and that The Fifth Season was my first N.K. Jemisin book. 
 Her books are different, excitingly fresh whilst building a story about her worlds that are believable and rich with history.  It's sometimes hard to go there whenever I start a new book, sometimes you have to wrestle a little bit, really pay attention, and struggle somewhat until you understand the new universe of the book, but I didn't have to do that with any of Jemisin's books.  It was as easy as sitting in my favourite reading chair with a huge cup of coffee and just savoring that first delicious sip of whatever she wants to tell me (and really perking me up!).  
I have read in total five of her books now and I am hoarding what is left like a miser.  There is another two books to be read after The Fifth Season and I am patiently waiting for the third one to come out before I read the whole trilogy.  Nothing to despair about...I had a huge copy of four of her books called The Inheritance Trilogy (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods plus the novella The Awakened Kingdom).  It kept me busy for a while.    
I like her characters too.  So far most of them have been women, doing significant things in a world that wants to make them insignificant.  I wouldn't call them feminists... rather they are survivors which gives them a strength more powerful than something that could have been achieved in any other way than adversity.  I can connect with them.
I still have  The Dreamblood Duology ( The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun) to enjoy until the conclusion of her recent trilogy known as The Broken Earth (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky) is released in August.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Book Twins

Okay... my title is a little tongue in cheek (I'm thinking of Ishiguro's Japanese  novels).  Both of these books are about kids in extraordinary circumstances.  I have been looking forward to Never Let Me Go as it has been on so many lists of books to read.  By this time I feel I have a handle on his writing style and I revere him for his genius and subtlety.  Any writer who evokes emotion and stimulates thought is a god in my humble opinion and Kazuo's books will be re-read on a yearly basis.  These two books in particular will have to be re-read before I can truly write properly about them.  For now I have labeled them The Ishiguro Bildungsromans.  

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Reading Vacation

This past week I needed to read, but not too hard so I had a look at some of Joanne Fluke's cozy mysteries.

 I had seen some movies on television, the Murder She Baked Mysteries, and liked them (sometimes you just want to watch something on television that is itself another sort of vacation from the norm... Hallmark is good at those, though I didn't like their whitewashing of Charlaine Harris' Aurora Teagarden Mysteries).

 I thought the books might be interesting too.  "Not really though..."  if you have read some of them you would get my little pun there.  Hannah Swensen, our protagonist, was working on getting a masters degree in English Literature but gave it up to to take care of her family after her father had passed away.  She loves to bake so she opened up a cookie bakery and coffee shop, and solves murders on the side.  She has sisters that she helped to raise, a mother that nags her to get married (because Hannah is close to her thirties) and a cat she rescued who has specific needs.  There is also a love triangle between her, a cop and a dentist.  At the end of most chapters is a recipe for a cookie or dessert that was mentioned in the previous chapter.
So there you have your formula.  Presently I think there are twenty-one books, but I decided to stop at the Peach Cobbler Murder (#7) after Fluke made what I consider a colossal blunder.  Not that I wasn't already bored with the love triangle, the nagging mother, Hannah's endless mental grammatical corrections of the people around her (which just smacks of her personal sense of superiority) and these endless recipes ( it's just really boring for a vegan who has no intentions of making them, and I also think it's a hinky way to fill out an otherwise too-short chapter).  
Back to the colossal blunder (with comments from me in parentheses) :

    "Methinks the lady doth protest too much."   (says Hannah)
    "That's Shakespeare, " Andrea ( little-not-as-smart-as-Hannah-sister) announced, stopping at the curb to wait for a car that was driving by.
    "I know.  It's from MacBeth. "  (says all-knowing almost-a-masters-degree-in-English-literature Hannah!)
    "Do you really think Vanessa Reads Shakespeare?"  Andrea asked, missing the point entirely     (yeah... because big sis is just so much smarter!).
    "Not without moving her lips," Hannah said.

Aargh!  I stopped, did a triple take (yep I went back and re-read it three times to make sure I had read what I thought I had read), and decided to stop reading this particular author.  I want to point out right away that this quote is a blunder because it is from the play Hamlet not Macbeth (and since I have read the play Macbeth twice in the past year and seen two of the movies and got an A+ in grade twelve English for my essay on Hamlet) I think I have a firm grasp of who says what, and where.  I would also like to point out that I don't feel superior to anyone else for knowing that.  This is not the first thing that bugged me of course.  But after reading that, I thought back a little over the other books I had read and there are quite a lot of character flaws in this character.  Of course, I also wondered how many other examples like this I may have missed because I was just skimming these books without really paying too much attention to the content?  Which introduces some other questions of which some are really paranoid so I won't mention them here!  There is a reason why I don't spend a lot of time reading this formulaic type of book.  They get boring fast, and in these days of easy publishing I don't think they are edited as rigorously as they ought to be.

It was a vacation from reading anything too challenging, but it was like one of those holidays you take in Mexico where you eat or drink the wrong piece of food and end up with Montezuma's Revenge!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Something to "Squee" About

I'm not kidding... when I found out that there would be five of these screenplays I really did squee!
I haven't seen the movie yet, but I am really looking forward to seeing it soon.
After Rowling's play the year before last of the Cursed Child, I really didn't know what to expect (because while I was happy to have another Potter tale, I felt that Rowling was right the first time and that she should have stopped at seven books).
 Fantastic Beasts was marvelous!  I am delighted with the whole idea of a magizoologist whose main concern is for his creatures (since I am a hardcore vegan). Newt Scamander's focus and dedication to the protection and care of his fantastic beasts has elevated his status in my eyes to "rockstar".  Plus the fact that this is an entirely different story in Rowling's universe that doesn't have Harry Potter or Voldemort in it is really exciting and a refreshing idea.  I know that there will be lots to look forward to in the next four screenplays as Rowling has really loaded up this first one with lots of hints of what is to come... and I love it that there is a little romance in there too.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Unconsoled

The Unconsoled was a very puzzling read for starters, but when I gave up trying to make any sense of it, I found it easier to follow.  There has always been a pattern I have found throughout an Ishiguro book where you are always left feeling anxious for the protagonist.  What this anxiety is about is not always clear like in this book, but it is there nevertheless.  Is this a signature trait?  I think it must be.  
As with any book I read I assume that the protagonist is the only sane one in the room... but I believe that in this book he, Mr. Ryder,  was the one that had some problems.  A quote from the back of the book:

"From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go is an audacious novel that is at once a gripping psychological mystery, a wicked satire of the cult of art, and a poignant character study of a man whose public life has accelerated beyond control."

Frankly, I felt really daft while reading the book because while I saw these traits the quote spoke of, it didn't really explain to me why this book was so disjointed.  Why this town that Mr. Ryder was visiting was so freakingly full of odd, self-involved characters and inconsistencies.  Was this a town of nutballs?  It really seemed that way.  There is no help from beginning to end to give you a clue either except there is a part in the book close to the end when Mr. Ryder, is faced with an impenetrable wall and his feelings, his frustrations are expressed in a way that make you realize that it is he that is walled in and he cannot get out, and that the confusion of everything previous stems from him not from everyone else (they are still odd, self-involved characters which want something from Mr. Ryder and I got the mental picture of him being pulled in many different directions but not really being aware of it).
I think that when you understand that, it all clicks into place.    But that is all I think I can say about the book, except that when I read it again (and I will!) I will have a new perspective to help me see what was so baffling before.
So, even when it's not making sense, Kazuo Ishiguro's writing is a force to revel in, to embrace, because he reaches a level of consciousness inside me that nothing else does, not even myself.  After reading just four of his books I am amazed at how he draws me in and doesn't let me go until the end.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Worlds of Exile and Illusion

I have, for the past year or so, been focusing on reading as many books by Ursula K. Le Guin as I can get my hands on.  I have not, until this book, been able to understand what it is that I have loved about reading her work and even then it was not until I was reading the third story in this collection, City of Illusions,  that it finally all came together for me.  She reminds me strongly of Isaac Asimov. I can't believe that I never made the connection before!   I would not do her the injustice of saying that she is the female Asimov, because her stories, especially the Hainish series are unique.  She reminds me of Isaac because she writes in the same way as he did for his Foundation series; stories about humans and how they differ from planet to planet with a long ago Earth origin.  I have always been extremely fond of science fiction that hints of an Earthly past.

Of all the Hainish books I have read so far, I really enjoyed Worlds of Exile and Illusion the most.  While Le Guin is the first to say that these books are not a series, they have small connections to each other which is, I think, a very human thing to relish... making a connection in an otherwise completely unrelated story.  All of her novels are very relatable because no matter what planet they may be based on, or whatever variation of human or culture may be inhabiting that world,  they are socially themed, rather than scientifically (another correlation to Asimov's own social science fiction). Which is why we, as humans, can make our own associations with it.

I haven't read everything yet, I expect it will take this year as well to catch up an all of her work, but it is well worth the effort to get to know this writer and her writing.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Macbeth 1971 (Hugh Hefner Style)

I was quite surprised to see that Hugh Hefner produced this version of Macbeth (and I admit when I saw how many naked folks were in the movie I had some less than generous thoughts about his influence).  But I have since discovered that all of the nudes in this movie were the directors' idea, Roman Polanski's rather than Hefner's.

For instance getting an eyeful of a cave packed with naked hags was far from sexy and added that extra oopmh to how truly repugnant the weird sisters were.

Lord and Lady Macbeth were beautiful, and everything I would expect in a young, ambitious, and happening couple.  In the photo above you can see Lady M. getting her man to screw his courage to the sticking place. 
...and then afterwards as they both begin to unravel...
 I just love how these actors played their roles!  The murder scene was obscene (as murder should be), there was no escaping the violence and the reprehensible act of betrayal that Macbeth performed (it will be many months before I can screw my own courage to watch another version of this play!).

There just the one crown which was not dorky at all!

If the murder of Duncan wasn't gory enough have a gander at poor Banquo who is haunting his king at dinner...

After watching so much violence and experiencing such revulsion at so many graphic scenes in this movie, the beheading of Macbeth was comic relief at the end (yeah...I laughed out loud and hard for a minute or two).  
This is, so far, my favourite version of the movie.  The costumes were gorgeous (and appropriate!), I really liked the cast.  The scenery was beyond beautiful.  

Monday, April 3, 2017


I place Ulysses by James Joyce in the category of really hard books to read so I have some tips on how you can read it.
I stopped and started this book a lot until I understood that there were no quotation marks and just a hyphen to mark when a speech begins.  But even that breakthrough didn't help a lot with the reading of my book.  So I decided to try listening to it instead.  My first attempt did not go very well, and I found that I needed to read along with the recording because some things weren't very clear.  That is when I put it aside for a while.  It was not until I found what I think is the perfect recording of Ulysses that I gave it another go and I will tell you why this version was of so much use to me... it was a full cast of Irish actors who did the job!  With different voices helping to differentiate lines and a copy of the book as well, I was able to successfully read and understand James Joyce's Ulysses! 

Once my technical issues were dealt away with I was able to focus on what the book was about.
In a nutshell, it is basically an account of Leopold Bloom as he lives through a twenty four hour period in Dublin.  Stephen Dedalus who I am already familiar with from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, is a secondary character (but more prominent than the rest).

What is also to be understood about Ulysses is that it is meant to be an odyssey of the mind (many passages being the stream-of-consciousness of not only Dedalus and Bloom but other lesser characters).  Listening and reading at the same time really helped to keep track of these switches from dialogue to what I can only describe as musings.  The episodes are named after characters from Homer's Odyssey (though the content of each section is only vaguely parallel to each other).   It was fun to spot the connections!  What I wasn't too keen on is the idea that Stephen was meant to be Telemachus and Bloom was Odysseus (ugh!).  While fascinated with these connections and what Joyce did with these characters I am still the purist when it comes to the Odyssey and I didn't like either Dedalus or Bloom at all to be connected with some of my favourites.
However, it was an odyssey-like experience reading this book, and I can safely say that I will attempt it again at a later date to see what else I can see (or what I had missed) in a second reading.  Listening and reading felt a lot like binge-watching a show, I was exhausted after each episode. It wasn't an easy, comfortable read, but I am glad I made the attempt.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017


Last weekend the television show To Walk Invisible: The Lives of the Bronte Sisters was shown on Masterpiece.  I was enraptured!  I loved the show so much I watched it again the the very same day and then again on Monday.  Each viewing gave me more to love and appreciate of the work and skill that was put into this production.  After seeing it the first time I wanted to get out my Bronte collection and read them again!    Last night I just contented myself with flipping through Jane Eyre and stopping to read at random places.  It is the beauty of this particular book that you can do that and be entertained wherever you open up your book!
The scenery was astounding.  Emily quoting her poetry on the moor just sent shivers down my spine.
Of the sisters in the show I loved Emily the best,  she was so fierce and passionate.  Anne and Charlotte were wonderful too, but Emily inspired me the most and I would like to believe that these amazing, wonderful women were really like what was portrayed in this production.  I wondered how I could possibly find out, but then I realized that I already knew!  You just have to read their books to know who they really were and then you can see that To Walk Invisible was faithful to them.    A love letter on a grand scale!

Newbery 2017

This year's Newbery wins were very interesting.  I really enjoyed reading all of them.
I started with Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk.  It is an issue book... but I liked the story anyway.  I'm curious to know what a child would take from it, because I was bummed out (being just a little tired of the novel that has something to teach), but there was enough of a story there to keep my interest. 

I've already written about this book here, but I will say again that it was an unusual treat and I really enjoyed it.

This book is really beautiful.  I have often admired Bryan's art in other books, but this one is extraordinary due to it's content.  It's definitely something I would like to add to the library's collection of African American literature.

Last but not least, I was enthralled from the beginning to the end of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.  It was a clever and magical story with many twists and turns that reunite into a very satisfactory whole.  It had all of my favourite and essential parts to a magical/mythical tale and it definitely deserved this year's Newbery Medal.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


There are books that are very difficult to read.  Being as obsessed as I am with "reading it all", and wanting to tackle all of the books listed on my Great First Lines of Literature coffee mug, I had to read this book, no matter how hard it is to read.  Not because it was just on my mug but because Thomas Pynchon is listed in a few of my reference books and Gravity's Rainbow happens to be the most often mentioned books of his to be read...

I tell you now... it was a doozy.  That is where the title of my blog entry comes in today.  I have tips for die-hard readers who want to tackle this particular book (which was a really hard slog).  
First, I found it hard to begin (even with it's Great First Line!), and I had to backtrack a few times before I could get into the rhythm of it.  I had the ebook to start, but felt that it was too hard to move around in (going backwards and forwards as I did), I considered buying a hard copy (but after some progress through both the ebook and the audio, I found my disgust for the subjects in the book made me very reluctant to hold such a book in my hand!  I knew for certain that I would never wish to revisit this novel ever!).  So the audio book was my primary route through this book with the ebook on hand for some clarifications on certain names etc.,

Essentially, I think that Gravity's Rainbow is all about what men may like to do with their penises (and I'm not saying that all men would want to do this!).  I could look beyond the various sexual encounters in this book, and the sex-free portions to try and find the underlying meaning of what it is all about, but to me it read like something I remember learning in college at one of my psychology courses and it bored me to tears then (what else could the rockets be about but the many ways of "lifting off"?).  I truly do not care about complexes, ids, egos or the bodily fluids of humans and what they might want to do with them.  It is not essential to my understanding of the world to know or care about such things.  I should state that while I was disgusted about a lot of what I read, I am not standing in judgement of what two consenting adults may like to do to each other, honestly it is none of my business! 

So, on to the tips.  I strongly recommend that you not drink or eat while reading this book or even have much food in your stomach (this really helped me a great deal).   I was nauseous a time or two before I decided to cut out the food and drink.  I also recommend that you give yourself some time after reading each installment to soothe or cleanse your mind of what you read (it can be very disturbing).  Music is great, a fluffy, comfort read is good ( I would visit some of my favourite fan fiction sites), poetry can be helpful... I mixed it up because I didn't want to associate any of my favourite things too much with what I was reading.  
You should know... I don't think that there really was any point to this book.  No real purpose other than my statement on what I think it was about (penises). Or maybe all of the gross stuff just distracted me from what Pynchon was trying to say... I'm not interested in re-reading this book to find out!  
Good luck!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Inquisitor's Tale

I love it when there are coincidences in my life.  Every year I outline a plan for what I want to read and what I want to focus on.  I have lots of categories to choose from (wouldn't want to get bored...) and last year English literature was one of my categories (though really, it is a category every year!).  I generally flit about, from one century to the next,  popping from one author to another.  Often the things that I read refer to other books (in reading terminology that is referred to as the book bullet), so I will cheerfully head in that direction (if I haven't already read the book mentioned). Since I discovered the pleasure of audio books I have been having fun listening to books I read more than twenty years ago (because after two or more decades and thousands of book later I can't quite remember the plots any more).
One of my favourites was a reading of Gulliver's Travels  by David Case.  His voice was perfect for reading such a cheeky story and I had many fits of the giggles over his dry and acerbic delivery.  What was also listened to last summer was Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales by a cast of narrators.  I loved it and was laughing hard and often (though I really hated The Parson's Tale which was basically a two hour sermon at the end!).
Which brings me back to what I said at the beginning about coincidences.
The Inquisitor's Tale is exactly the style of story telling that was used in The Canterbury Tales. I was thrilled when I picked it up at the library, all shiny, new and embossed with gold, and excited to realize what it was about!
  The story is situated in 1200's France with remarkable characters, an exciting beginning which keeps you hooked until the finish (and no creepy sermon at the end!).  There is only a hint of bawdiness (it is a book meant for kids after all).  The violence was a bit much at first (but really, so many tales from that time are stuffed with violence I don't think Gidwitz could or should have left it out).  The story was also stuffed with religion (which wasn't as annoying or preachy as it could have been) and had smatterings of real people and true events.  It also had plenty of mysticism and flatulence (all these things that are, believe it or not, in The Canterbury Tales!)
There is something good to say about that kind of storytelling, and even though Chaucer's tales in some part were unfinished, I think he left us something very valuable beyond the prose and the poetry: the narrative frame.  I am profoundly grateful that Adam Gidwitz decided to write this book.
Also, the illustrations throughout the novel are perfect and in keeping with the style of the era.  They really made the story a bigger and better thing.
I think Neil Gaiman would approve.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Change of Plans

I began this blog with the intent of polishing up my out-of-shape writing skills.  I had thought that it would come in handy when I began university courses.  In the past six months I have changed my mind about getting that university degree.
This was a hard choice.  I have always dreamed of having a great education, with degrees and masters galore in the fields that interested me.  Practically, however, I am a 47-year-old woman who lives (and will probably keep on living) in northern British Columbia with very little in the way of career choices.
So this is my compromise (it really isn't too far from what I am already doing):  I will teach myself!  I will study the fields that interest me, indulge in what is appealing to me and use the money that would have gone into a very expensive degree or two, to pursue my own goals in the literary world and to travel!  In some ways, it is a relief to not worry anymore about how I will be able to pay for or even get a university education.
I am not a writer, I am a reader,  a very enthusiastic one, and my interests are vast and very exciting to me.
I will continue to write in this blog because it is interesting to see my opinions and writing from years ago and to see how my thoughts have changed since writing about them, plus I love writing about reading.  I want to share my love of books!