A prayer for a good book

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Hurrah!

The first week of my 50 Book Challenge and I finished the book! Is that too many exclamation points to kick off a post? I don’t care because I’m off to a good start with this challenge and I’m feeling pretty excited!

Seriously, every time I have a dry spell in finding a good book, I need to remember that I can always turn to Sarah Dunant. With reading Sacred Hearts I’ve finished all of her historical fiction, so I’ll have to try her earlier work, which is in the thriller genre, unless the follow up to Blood & Beauty comes out (fingers-crossed).

For now, I just enjoyed devouring Sacred Hearts. Published in 2009, Sacred Hearts was shortlisted for the Walter Scott prize for historical fiction. The story takes place in the convent of Santa Caterina in 1570 in the city of Ferrara. Serafina, a novice, is entered into the convent against her will and is placed in the care of Suora Zuana, the dispensary mistress. While Caterina and Zuana bond as they work side by side in the dispensary, the head of the convent, Madonna Chiara, manoeuvres to fix the novice’s place in the convent while maintaining peace within its walls. Through all this, Serafina is used as a conduit through which convent struggles to find a balance between the warring forces of the counter-reformation and a more well-rounded experience within the strictures of convent life.

Screenshot 2016-01-02 22.43.06At two moments in the book, I really wasn’t sure how the story would unfold and could see the plot spinning off in totally different directions. This is one of Dunant’s great skills – presenting the possible outcomes before pushing the chips in one decisive direction. The first break takes place as Serafina carries out a plan of escape from the convent and is confronted by Zuana. The second is as Suora Umiliana, the sister in charge of the novices, makes moves to unseat Madonna Chiara and change the lives of all who dwell in the convent. The way Dunant is able to unfold both these plot lines feels unforced and true to the world she has created. All at once, you believe the contradictory thoughts that everything is both an inevitable progression as well as the consequence of random decisions and moments.

Dunant’s other great strength is her ability to weave historical detail into the story in a way that doesn’t just provide context but also enhances the characters’ personalities and moves the plot forward. The opening chapter sets the stage and players so clearly, you feel completely immersed in their world very quickly, mostly due to her eye for detail for the lives of the women whose story she is telling. On another day, I’ll do a close read of the opening scene and try to highlight the layers of history and character that Dunant uses to set the scene and lead in the reader.

Having finished this book makes me regret that I only put in one book from each author (excluding David Adams Richards) for my 50 Book Challenge. I count Dunant in my top five favourite authors and I’m really glad that I started this challenge off with such a strong book. I hope it bodes well for the rest of my choices.

One down, 49 to go!

BJL

A Journey of 50 Books

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Happy New Year!

I hope everyone got in some good reading time over the Christmas holidays. Sneaking in some time for a few pages of a good book is how I de-stress in the midst of multiple big holiday gatherings.

Finding more time to read is one of my goals for 2016 and to that end I am I taking part in a 50 Book Challenge. I spent some of my December putting together a list.

I have already organized which books I will read in each month (though not in any particular order) so that could build in reading breaks between heavy subjects or longer reads and will be able to prepare for what is coming up. Also, I primarily use the library to get books and, as good as the Toronto Public Library is at having a lot of copies of in-demand books, I didn’t want to have to worry about my holds coming in on time, so I don’t have any new fiction coming out in 2016 on my list.

With so many great books from so many lists and recommendations I had to narrow my choices. Here are some of the deciding considerations I used to make my list of 50 books.

A lot of my choices came in groups of six to help get me going without overwhelming me if I didn’t take to any particular group.

  • David Adams Richards: I love his writing and want to get through more of his work but the stories are not easy reads in content or style so I wanted to space them out every other month.
  • Non-fiction: I am challenging myself to read more non-fiction since I so rarely pick any up
  • Young adult: To balance out the non-fiction, I found six interesting young adult books to read. I don’t really read YA, but so much great work is coming out of this group that I didn’t want keep missing out.
  • Canadian: Even with Richards on my list, I added six additional Canadian writers to bring my country home
  • TBR: I have books on my shelf that I have never read, so six of them got added for this challenge

The rest are all a mix of books I found just in looking for this list, rereads of old favourites, and recommendations from one friend or online list or another. I’m really looking forward to tackling this project and sharing all my reads with you.

Let me know what you think of my list, if there are any books you loved (or hated) on there, and if you’re taking part in any reading challenges this year.

Happy reading!

50 Book Challenge Sword in the Stone

Sword in the Stone

50 Book Challenge 2016

January

Road to the Stilt House by David Adams Richards

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

The Sibyl by Par Lagervist

Getting Things Done by David Allen

 

February

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

 

March

Nights Below Station St. by David Adams Richards

Looking for Alaska by John Greene

An Orange From Portugal Editor Anne Simpson

The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu

The Dark Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel

 

April

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

The Feast of Roses by Indu Sundarsan

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi

 

May

Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace by David Adams Richards

The Last Great Dance on Earth by Sandra Gulland

Cosmopolis by Don Delillo

The Hours Count by Jillian Canter

 

June

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

Scary Close by Donald Miller

 

July

For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down by David Adams Richards

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Did You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg

 

August

60 by Ian Brown

The Imperialist by Sarah Jeanette Duncan

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Artic Summer by Damon Galgut

 

September

Hope in the Desperate Hour by David Adams Richards

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

This Can’t be Happening at MacDonald High by Gordon Korman

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

 

October

An Inconvenient Indian by Tom King

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Adichie

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

November

The Bay of Love & Sorrows by David Adams Richards

Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

What We All Long For by Dionne Brand

 

December

Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards

Outline by Rachel Cusk

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

All I Need is Love by Klaus Kinski

2015 in review

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I’m looking back as I’m preparing for 2016, so here is the 2015 annual report for re: read pages as prepared by WordPress.com. Thanks for visiting, and I look forward to reading and writing with you more in the coming year!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 800 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 13 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

A wish, a dream, a concrete plan

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I love structure and organization. I get excited when I see pretty boxes and I have different coloured pens and papers for making notes. So why I never wrote out a plan for my blog is a mystery to me. I had ideas. General expectations of when and about what I would blog. This hasn’t worked out for me too well as the consistency of my blogging is not strong, to say the least.

For 2016, one of my goals is to change that and to that end I am putting together a real plan with weekly scheduled posts, complete with topics, for the next few months. I am on an organizing kick and I must say it feels pretty good.

The first step in my plan is to make a commitment to the 50 Book Challenge. I will read 50 books over the next year, roughly a book per week, and blog about them for re: read pages. Knowing myself, I can’t just leave that to chance, so I am compiling a list in advance. I’m aiming to have a diverse list, with a balance between heavy and light reads (to give myself a break). I am keeping my focus on debut novels, historical fiction and David Adams Richards, but I’ll also try some books outside my usual interest, such as non-fiction and YA.

I am somewhat limited by my desire/need to source my books from either the library or my bookshelf as buying 50 books is not something I am prepared to commit to, thanks. This means that I probably won’t be reading the hot new title of 2016, unless I get a gift card this Christmas or score the top spot on the library’s hold list. But, in my mind, a good book is a good book no matter the year, so that shouldn’t hold me back.

I’ll share the complete list in a post to kick off the new year.

I think having a concrete goal with stages and objectives will really go a long way to helping me stay on track and be a more consistent and productive reader and writer. I’m hoping that the results I see will spur me to better work overall.

  1. I’m already excited.

Choose Life: Book vs. Movie

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I’ve always been fascinated by reinterpretations of books, whether through literary reimaginings, such as Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs, or movie adaptations, such as Danny Boyle’s take on Trainspotting. Last month I had the pleasure of attending a screening of Trainspotting as part of TIFF’s Books on Film series. Irvine Welsh, author of said book (Trainspotting is his debut novel, which always blows my mind), was in attendance and did a Q&A afterward (as well as a book signing).

While the Q&A touched on the social and cultural influences that informed his writing, Welsh also talked about the differences in approach in writing for a film versus writing a novel. While Welsh didn’t write the screenplay for Trainspotting, that was John Hodge, who earned an Oscar nomination for his efforts, he has written for the screen and said the experience of working with Boyle was highly collaborative.

One point that stuck out to me addressed the narrative structure of a novel compared to a movie. Welsh put it in the context of pitching the story. For the novel you can get into the multiple perspectives and the personalities of the characters that make Trainspotting such a great read. As a movie, Trainspotting is one guy’s struggle with heroin addiction.

I read the novel and saw the movie for the first time when I was sixteen. I reread the novel before I went the screening, and, I must say, I missed a lot as a teenager. I mostly remember being completely taken by the use of Scots’ dialects (which I, of course, tried to read out loud – yet another reason I’m glad I grew up in a pre-selfie/Instagram/upload era) and by the lives so different from my own. I didn’t remember how the experience and fear of the HIV epidemic cut through the story or the context of economic and social structures in relation increased drug use in Edinburgh. I didn’t remember the horrifying rape and murder of six-year-old Kevin, which is revealed to be faked, but perhaps I just blocked that part out. The novel is harder and richer than I remembered; not so for the movie, though it does hold up 19 years later.

In rewatching the film, I was reminded of the amazing talent at work, names still around today – Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle – and I was reminded of how ’90s that film is too. Renton’s hallucinations while detoxing, with characters sliding in and out of frame and the baby crawling on the ceiling, is a great example of ’90s film style.

Detox  gifsoup.com

Detox
gifsoup.com

Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great movie. The soundtrack is killer, the story is full of energy, and the characters are engaging as much as they are repulsive. But the points I’m praising are also the reasons why, at the time of its release, the movie received backlash for potentially glamourizing an addict’s life. (A Washington Post article published just before Trainspotting’s North American release has an excellent discussion of this critique.)

I don’t know if it is my aging or the film’s but looking at it now, that cool factor, that edge, has dulled, and the bargain every junkie makes, the high for the lows, is revealed more clearly. The viewer cringes and laughs at Renton diving into the worst toilet in Scotland, but the treatment of the scene, as he slips down the toilet, is no longer (technologically) cool. Why Renton takes drugs is clearer, but so is the unbalance between the debt and payoff of being an addict. The humour is no longer just a joke but is used as a coping mechanism. In this way, time has brought the movie closer to the novel, which has the space to suss out the interior struggles and external pressures that contribute to an addict’s behaviour.

I am glad that TIFF gave me an excuse to revisit these two great narratives and for the chance to hear Welsh discuss the behind the scenes experiences of writing the novel and creating the movie. Trainspotting is a different story to me in my 30s than in my teens, which is one of the great pleasures of rereading, and the characters Welsh created are worth revisiting in either form.

Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do

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Here we are heading in to late July and I haven’t posted in a long, long while. I’ve written things. I’ve been reading. But I couldn’t make myself click publish.

I couldn’t get excited about what I was writing. All I saw were the ways in which it wasn’t matching up to the expectations I have for myself and what I want to be.

Mostly I was feeling like a failure because recently I’ve had a string of professional rejections. A lot of no thank yous were filling up my email and filling up my mind.

I had a crisis of faith: faith in myself, faith in my writing, faith in my life. I had already been feeling the need for change. Things haven’t been fitting together as comfortably as usual. My kids are getting older. My interests are changing. My needs and ambitions are shifting.

And as I tried to discover new experiences and opportunities, I was getting shutdown. I began to feel stuck. Like who I am and what I am capable of isn’t good enough for where I want to go and what I would like to be doing.

I felt stupid. Incompetent. Useless.

And so I haven’t published anything. I’ve avoided looking at my blog and pretended that it didn’t matter to me. I binge watched tv and read too many Buzzfeed quizzes (I would be sorted into Ravenclaw and I should go to Paris on my next vacation; these are things I needed to know).

But then I got really busy with my day job. Like seven-days-a-week busy, with nights and evenings, too. And I thought being bad at something I enjoy is better than being good at something that just pays the bills. And am I really that bad or do I just need to make room for improvement?

So what does that mean for re: read pages?

That means that re: read pages is going to be a place where I work on my voice. I’m going to write more broadly or at least with fewer restrictions on what I may post and when. If I read something that makes me pause, I’m going to blog about it. If I have an idea for something other than my novel, I’m going to blog about it. And if that means I post things less than perfect, or scholarly, or deep, so be it.

I love reading and I love writing. And if the requirement for me getting more professional opportunities is spending more time reading and writing – that is nothing to complain about.

Last weeks of a cold spring

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I can’t believe it is already midway through the first week of June. Bring on summer (because this spring has been too cold for my liking). As always, May was a packed month in my home. Both of my sons’ birthdays are in May (on the 7th and 18th), and I spend much of the month shopping, preparing, celebrating, and cleaning. Now I have a four year old who can’t wait for September so he can start school and a two year old who is preparing for life as a free-climber if the number of times I’ve pulled him off the third shelf of the bookcase is any indication.

We, of course, got them book-related presents. For the eldest, we made a trip to our local library and signed him up for his own library card. Thrilled doesn’t begin to describe his reaction. He proudly chose a book to take out: Seasons by Anne Crausaz, an old favourite.

For the youngest, we bought Jane Eyre: A Counting Primer from the wonderful BabyLit series by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver. We already own several of these books and he is happy to keep practicing his numbers with a new story.

On top of celebrating the boys’ birthdays, I had some exciting book-related moments on Twitter. I was retweeted by Irvine Welsh after I mentioned that I was rereading Trainspotting in preparation for a screening of the movie and discussion with Welsh with TIFF’s Books on Film series. I was giddy with amazement as I was momentarily flung into a wider audience; I picked up three new followers as a result of contact cool.

The very next day, I am astounded to share, I was mentioned in a tweet by none other than Sarah Dunant. I had been struggling with my novel (that’s another post) and tweeted that I was going to reread Blood & Beauty to inspire and improve my writing. And she gave me a shout out as she worked on finishing the sequel to that novel. I still get a smile on my face when I think about it.

I finished May with a meeting of my book club to discuss The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner. While not many of us could attend this month, we had a good conversation about the use of art in the story. I certainly enjoyed this book more than last month’s selection (see here for a refresher).

So while my May was very busy personally, it also set me up for a good month of reading and writing for June. I hope to share my thoughts the books that I read in May, the screening of Trainspotting, and a new idea for a story that I recently started developing. And, like last year, I’ll also be putting a summer reading list together.

BJL

Book club report

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The consensus from the book club on Come, Thou Tortoise was that it didn’t live up to the hype on the book jacket. The novel got a solid Okay from the rest of the book club. Some enjoyed all the wordplay. Some, like myself, found it a little too much. But we all said it wasn’t as funny as advertised.

Come, Thou Tortoise

Come, Thou Tortoise

The overall story was well received, even if its telling didn’t impress as much. We all seemed to think that the pay off for the book didn’t come until very late in the story’s telling and that, ultimately, the conclusion was underwhelming. As I said during the meeting, you may enjoy it but if you have a better book as an option you may want to give Come, Thou Tortoise a pass.

My favourite comment from another member posited that all the animals in the book had a human equivalent, not just the bond between Winnifred and Oddly – for example, Uncle Thoby is Wedge the hamster. I had noticed the frequent animal interaction, but didn’t directly overlay them with a person. Thoughts like this are the reason I wanted to join a book club, to get another perspective that I may have overlooked, and I really enjoyed my first real book club experience.

Next month is another Canadian novel: The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner.

 

I’m with the tortoise

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I decided to take my reading out of my home by joining a book club at my local library. I went to my first meeting last month to discuss Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I read it when it first came out in 2012, but went to the meeting anyway as I had enjoyed it and wanted to hear other peoples’ thoughts.

This month, we read Come, Thou Tortoise, the debut novel of Jessica Grant. I thought I would put my reaction to it here first before talking it out in book club.

Uneven. That is the first word that comes to mind when thinking back on this book.

There were moments when I couldn’t stop reading and moments when I thought I could put it down and never pick it up again. I reached page 150 before I had a genuinely pleasurable moment. If not for the book club, I may have set it aside.

But I am glad I pushed through. The traits that bothered me grew fewer in number as the plot deepened and the main character came out of herself.

Come, Thou Tortoise tells the story of Audrey “Oddly” Flowers, a young woman with a below-average IQ, dealing with the death of her father and the loss of her Uncle Thoby, who lived with them for most of her life and who abandons her after the funeral.

Her father, Walter, was a scientist trying to find the key to immortality by teaching cells to remember how to be young. Complex ideas like Walter’s work, or Uncle Thoby’s history, or how not to be afraid of airplanes are all presented through the explanation that makes most sense to Oddly. As her capacity to fully understand all that is occurring is diminished, so is the readers.

tortoise, Jessica Grant, CanLit

photo by Peter Pearson (bit.ly/1JLD0tH) License: bit.ly/1jxQJMa

Mixed into this story is the experience of Winnifred the tortoise as told from her perspective as guest of Audrey’s friends (she is left behind when Audrey returns home) and as companion to Audrey and others over her long life. I really enjoyed Winnifred’s sections; her concerns for her own well being and for Audrey or other former housemates blend well with the larger narrative. Winnifred also provides a relief from the oddness of Oddly. Think about that. The narrative of a tortoise is more normal than the thoughts and actions of the human protagonist.

Mostly this is a result of Grant’s use of wordplay. Oddly loves puns and uses them as a way to deal with or deflect from difficult situations – calling her father’s coma a comma, which I misread every time, or using French words in place of English, which worked well. The device is over used at the beginning of the novel, perhaps to help establish Audrey’s personality, but it got old pretty fast and I was glad when the plot made it more difficult to work the puns in organically. At times it is difficult to trust the narrative. Is it true or just wordplay?

I like humour in my books, but often find books that are meant to be funny to be the least funny things I read. Maybe it is the expectation that I should be laughing at every page, but most often they are disappointing. While I laughed at times while reading Grant’s novel, I think it is a disservice to the story to present it as funny book. The heart of the book is the relationship between Audrey and the two men who made up her family.

Walter’s death opens up many questions for Audrey, most of which have nothing to do with what you or I would consider important. A missing hamster. An arch-nemesis. Audrey takes for granted the stability of her family life, until Uncle Thoby’s disappearance forces her to look more closely at the people nearest to her and those she would keep at arms length.

Even with (and perhaps because of) the unanswered questions, the centre of Grant’s story and Oddly’s life holds – a family is made by love:

But my dad had explained this to me. That sometimes there is only one parent. Sometimes there are two. Sometimes there are three. But what it comes down to is who wants to be. And if someone doesn’t want to be, they shouldn’t have to be. And if someone does want to be, like my dad, who really really wanted to be…or like Uncle Thoby, then that person should be allowed to be.

And that kind of love is something you should not say no to.

Book club is tomorrow. I’ll be sure to update you on how other people took Come, Thou Tortoise. For more of my thoughts on this novel, check out my Twitter feed @rereadpages for my live tweets from reading this book under #comethoutortoise. If you’ve read this book, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

BJL

#tbt book nerd style

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Some books are like warm hugs. You always feel good when you read them no matter how many times you’ve read the same words. When I was younger, that book was Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke.

Oke is a prolific and beloved author of Christian children’s books. Published in 1979, Love Comes Softly is Oke’s first novel and the first book in a series of eight following the same family. From that one book, Oke launched her career, which now includes over 70 books and several awards.

Set in the 1800s, Love Comes Softly tells the story of Marty and Clark Davis. The two meet under tragic circumstances after Marty’s husband dies in a horse-riding accident. Alone on the frontier, Marty, newly pregnant, has nowhere to turn until Clark, father of a one-year-old daughter, who also recently lost his wife, proposes a marriage of convenience. He even promises that, come spring, if Marty is unhappy, he will pay for her return east if only she brings his daughter with her so she can have a mama.

Christian Children's Books, Janette Oke

Feels like a warm hug

And so begins a year of challenges, frustrations, growth, and, of course, unexpected love.

Love for a little girl, for a new baby, for an unplanned couple and for God.

I grew up in a Christian household, and the rhythms of prayer, reading the Bible, and Sunday rest found in Clark’s home, which are completely foreign to Marty, echoed the atmosphere of my own home.

Over the course of the book, Marty realizes a love for Clark and a love for God. These great loves are the heart of the whole Love Comes Softly series.

Reading Love Comes Softly is like climbing back into the chair in my parents’ living room, when I was small enough to be enveloped in its cushions, feeling secure and sure of the world and my place in it. Perhaps it is time for a reread.

Do you have a book that feels like a warm hug?