Supplementary reading

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I should be reading books from my 50 Book Challenge list. I’m far enough behind already that I shouldn’t even be looking at other book covers let alone cracking the spines. But I couldn’t help myself when I heard about the release of The Name Therapist by Duana Taha.

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Taha is a television screenwriter and a contributor to the gossip site Lainey Gossip, which is how I first came across her work. She writes a column called Duana Names in which she offers, you guessed it, naming advice to expecting parents (and the occasional pet owner). The column is equal parts informing, amusing, and reassuring as she digs into a vast personal bank of names to suggest or, more often than not, tell people they aren’t going too far by picking a name not familiar to most ears. (Although, her column talking a soon-to-be mother of twins out of naming her son Kale is what put her in my must-read pile.)

So I’m sure you can understand why I jumped at the chance to read Taha’s book. With a name like Bryony, I’m often the one holding the “Friend” mug while everyone else has a personalized cup from which to sip their morning coffee, and I’ve written about my name and the novel from which it came before. But, now, I had the chance to read the experiences of another unusually named child.

For those of you familiar with Taha’s column, this book will feel like a deep dive into the topics and issues she only gets to briefly discuss there. For the uninitiated name nerds, you are missing out, as you will learn when you read this book.

The Name Therapist is partly a name memoir, but she uses her own experiences and “name pain” from having an unusual name as a starting point to discuss the stories behind how we name our children; living in a multicultural naming playground; naming trends, influences, stereotypes, and nightmares; and if we are defined by the name we have no say in choosing.

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Just like in her column, Taha’s absolute delight in talking about names is evident. She makes no apologies for her name obsession, more frequently wondering why no one else cares about names with the same intensity. Her writing, while informative and candid, is also light and quickly paced, which may be the only draw back as I wished she could have spent a more time fleshing out some topics such as the white-washing of non-European names or, on the other side, the trendiness of some cultural names to the exclusion of others (especially in light of increasing discussions of cultural appropriation).

Still, I was hooked in Chapter 2, Where Do Duanas Come From? when she names – first and middle – two people, just based on the time they were born, and I know people with those names! I wonder if she is asked to use that skill as a party trick? Come on, Duana, 20 questions and then guess his name. Plus the conversations she has with unevenly named siblings or the bit about Mormon names (I had no idea!) – the section on the name Jennifer alone is worth the read. Taha leads you through all the things you never realized if you have a name easily found on key chains and coffee mugs or has you nodding your head and saying “yes!” if you either carry a unique moniker or have kept a name diary since childhood.

And, while my name never came up, I won’t hold that against her. I’d like to keep Bryony out of the top 100 names anyway.

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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

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

Realistic to Reality

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I didn’t finish my novel in 2014. When I started my blog I really thought it would be a possibility. I would get my first draft done. When I look back at my posts over the year, I can see where my job, you know, interfered with my writing – there are several months when I have no posts and completed no writing of any kind. And then there are posts that are full of great plans that never got fulfilled. I admit I felt embarrassed and discouraged by my inability to reach my goals and my general lack of progress. Even at the beginning of this year, when I sat down and looked at my novel, I had to work hard to not just give up entirely – on the blog and on my novel.

But then I read a really good book called Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen. I wrote about it in a guest post on Girl of 1000 Wonders, check it out here, but as you can probably guess, it is about the Nurse from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The novel is a good example of historical adaptation: it uses the source material well, smoothly integrates historical details, and presents a good original story. And it made me rethink my own novel.

What I was left with at the end of Juliet’s Nurse was not only a satisfying reading experience but also a renewed sense of value to my own story. Rosaline’s story is worth telling.

So now I need to make a plan to which I can actually stick. Part of that will be admitting that, as my busy season at my work starts up in the next week, I won’t be doing much, if any, writing. And that’s okay. It’s not because I don’t believe in my story or want to get it done, but that I am just giving way to the reality of my situation.

Would I still like to finish my first draft this year? You bet. But I will just have to deal with the pace my life allows me. I have to take the time I am given and use it well. I have to turn off the distractions (cough, cough, Netflix, cough). I have to remember the hard work does pay off. I have to put words on the page and not try write the next great Canadian novel but write my novel.

Step one: break one bad writing habit.

I will write every day. It doesn’t even have to be on my novel, but I will sit down and write. Even if I can only find five minutes, it is better than nothing. Those minutes and words will add up to pages, chapters and, eventually, a book.

Today I wrote 206 words for my novel. Huzzah!

BJL

2014 in review

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Looking back is always part of New Year’s Eve, and looking back over a year of re: read pages gives me a lot of joy. I hope you found some great new authors or books worth rereading as a result of perusing this blog. Thanks so much for checking in. I hope to bring more discussion, reviews and writing updates in the year to come.

Check out the year in review for re: read pages from WordPress.

Happy reading in 2015!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 990 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Going back to the source

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What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
(Act II, Scene II, lines 43–44)

I can’t believe it passed so quickly, but December 9 marks the one-year anniversary of
re: read pages. I’ve had a great year with this blog and the books I’ve read and shared with you. The fact that I have 55 followers fills me with a giddy delight.

I thought that after a year together, I should share my name. My name is from a novel and not from the above quoted play, though Romeo and Juliet plays a role. My name is from Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart.

But before we get to that novel, let me introduce myself.

Hello, my name is Bryony.

Pardon, you say. Yes, Bryony.

I love my name. I never get bothered by mispronunciations or repeating it to people the first (or third) time we meet or spelling it out to everyone from government employees to Starbucks baristas.

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I can thank my mother for my name. She received Touch Not the Cat from her father. It was 1976, the year it was published, and she was already the mother of two boys with classic names. When she finished reading it, she knew if she ever had a girl that she wanted to name her Bryony. Two years later, she finally got her chance.

One of my favourite stories about my name happened on the day I was born.

My mother delivered me and the doctor announced that I was girl and asked what my name would be, to which my mother responded, “Bryony.” And he said, “It’s a girl you know.” Ha ha ha. Makes me laugh every time.

But getting back to the novel that gave me my name, Touch Not the Cat was a best seller and, while Stewart’s novels are known for a blending of mystery and romance, Touch Not the Cat also has an element of the supernatural. The novel follows Bryony Ashley as she deals with the hit-and-run death of her father and the resulting legal fallout surrounding her childhood home, Ashley Court, a crumbling estate with more sentimental value than actual worth.

Her father left a death bed warning of an unnamed danger that Bryony hopes to uncover with the help of her lover, a person with whom she has had a lifelong telepathic connection but is not sure of his identity. She suspects one of her second cousins – twins, James and Emory, who has inherited the Court as a result of a trust, or their brother Francis – as the telepathy runs through the Ashley line. But as she picks apart the meaning of her father’s last message she is no longer sure of whom to trust, even her lifelong companion.

The mystery of her father’s final words requires Bryony to delve into her family’s history, especially that of Wicked Nick, a relative from the early 1800s with a poor reputation that brought about his untimely death when he was shot by the brothers of his lover. Stewart includes scenes from Nick’s life at the end of each chapter and quotes from Romeo and Juliet at the beginning. It was Nick’s father, William, who was obsessed with Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet, and who had the key to understanding the mystery Bryony is trying to solve.

Some of the novel falls a little hard on the ears of modern readers. For example, getting past her deep love for someone she calls cousin, no matter the distance, but more importantly her seeming disinterest in how her life will unfold following the upheaval the loss of her father represents. She is unconcerned for herself, beyond identifying her lover, and is focused only on deciphering her father’s message, and not even the danger he refers to but the mystery of “William’s brook.”

Perhaps, besides moving the plot along, Bryony’s focus also reflects Stewart’s stated viewpoint on the actions of her characters. Stewart said she would “take conventionally bizarre situations (the car chase, the closed-room murder, the wicked uncle tale) and send real people into them, normal, everyday people with normal, everyday reactions to violence and fear….” With this in mind, it is easier to understand Bryony’s choices and rationales.

On a whole, Bryony is no pushover. She knows when to stand her ground and when to yield. She is observant, kind, and perseverant; a quality my mother appreciated when she read the book the first time.

As preparation for this post, I asked my mom for her thoughts on the novel and character from which I gained my name. She still likes (and recommends) Touch Not the Cat – she believes she has read it around six or seven times – and enjoys how the story of Bryony’s ancestors is brought forward into the present. While the character of Bryony didn’t influence her decision to choose it for me, my mom found the name to be romantic and full of an adventurous spirit. I like to think I am both of those things.

And, despite my experience of a lifetime of correcting people, my mom says she never had a problem pronouncing it correctly. Ever the teacher, she says she just followed “the phonetic rules.” For those who want to double check, Bryony is also in the dictionary as it is a poisonous climbing vine native to western Eurasia.

The story of my name is one that I’ve shared many, many times. And I love that I have a copy of the book that bears my name on my bookshelves. This past spring, in May, Mary Stewart died at the age of 97. She wrote 20 novels as well as three children’s books and a book of poetry. To celebrate the gift of her writing, the source of my name, and one year of re: read pages, I am giving away a copy of Touch Not the Cat. Just leave your favourite character name in the comments below and I will do a random draw to select a winner.

A pain that I’m used to

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Lives of Short Duration, Richards’ third novel, is not an easy read, not in story nor in form. Once again Richards places his tale in small-town New Brunswick, this time following the lives of  several generations of the Terri family as well as their extended family and friends.

The novel is unrelenting in several ways. The Terries are a family falling apart and nothing feels solid and dependable, not family bonds or social structure. The narration reflects this undependability as the story is told largely through the blurry perspectives and reminisces of characters that are either drunk or suffering from illness and dementia. As a result, the story spills out in a boundless form, slipping from past to present in a timeless stream of consciousness. The dense, unbroken text continues on and on, only divided up by four section headings and the occasional one-line break. As a result, you feel as caught up and stuck as the characters are in their own circumstances, circumstances that are often appalling, painful and unfortunate.

Lives of Short Duration opens with a party that is starting to sour. The Terries are hosting, though the familial ties are difficult to unknot, even for the Terries. George, the father, is drunk and acting up. His daughter, Lois, a mother of three young children, also at the party, yells at him after he threatens to set a bridge, which connects their property to that of a life-long friend, Lester Murphy, on fire, “Goddamn George, you ruin everything,” Lois shouted. “But ya aren’t ruinin my fun, you hear that—you aren’t ruinin my fun.” Later, you discover that her words are an echo of her mother’s, who moved away from the area after leaving George. Finding fun, at the expense of others and often to their own detriment, is a reoccurring justification for their decisions.

Once the span is on fire, the RMCP arrive to inform George that the body of his father, who had been missing for a year, has been found in the woods, and that Lester Murphy has been struck by a car and died. From this party, the story spins out along the timeline, past and future, of the Terries’ lives and of the region. Midway through the novel, the perspective changes and story restarts from the hours of the opening pages as seen by the doomed Lester Murphy.

The characters that populate this novel are not easy to care for or even like. They are self-absorbed, destructive, violent, cruel, grasping people. While you begin to understand their actions, it is difficult to really sympathize, not that they would want you to, either. The struggle of their lives overwhelms the small breaks of happiness, and they constantly return to a place of frustration, “To wake in the night in the midst of a shuddering hangover when the dismal past threatens you, when faces form in slow motion before you, so every particle of their flesh breathes misery…”. The misery is pushed down and swallowed up by drinking, drugs, and casual sex. These activities cover the growing distance between the characters, between people and their history, and between individuals and themselves.

The only character who elicits any sense of hope is Packet Terri, the eldest child of George and his ex-wife, Elizabeth. The other members of the Terri family seem to yearn for him (though they also resent him for their longing). At the party, George, after burning the bridge and his hands in the process, expresses anger at Packet’s choice to skip the party, and, once the RCMP arrive, Packet’s absence is even more noted, “There was a terrible thing happening. Everyone was saying that they needed Packet there.” Packet is set apart from the other characters both physically and emotionally. He leaves the area to work in the North, earning a decent living, though not escaping the violence of his home, and he moves around, even across the country to Victoria , BC .

He manages to break away from the destructive cycle in which his family is stuck, but he also returns to them. He sees in his family the good that the police, outsiders, and even the reader, would overlook in the face of all their struggles and destructive behaviour. Packet’s understanding and acceptance of his family is seen with his brother Little Simon, who is named after their grandfather, “And he was gone through the dry field in an October afternoon, with his hands in his pockets, his cap over his ears—and Packet would love him entirely, and be sad.” Little Simon is a drug addict and dealer. He is violent and often cruel, though he excuses it as a little fun teasing, and despite his illegal activities manages to elude the police for a long time. Both old Simon and Little Simon die as they lived – Old Simon in the woods where he lived for 60 years, Little Simon in a game of Russian roulette, a bit of fun played too seriously. Between them is Packet, the one who survives.

Reading Lives of Short Duration is a challenge, and I wish I had known what I was getting into before I started reading it. The experiences of the Terries are almost buried in the form, and I feel like I missed a lot by wanting to impose an order and untangle the messiness of their lives. I missed the good in the Terries and, therefore, I believe, one point that Richards is trying to make.

 

On a side note, this past weekend I had the great pleasure of attending of reading of Richards’ newest novel, Crimes Against My Brother. The short passage that Richards shared held all the traits that I love about his writing: controlled pacing, anticipation, the quiet sorrows and joys that life holds. His reading style was matter of fact; there was no need to add emphasis to the meaning built by his words. Afterwards, I stood in line, full of excitement and terror, to get his signature. I even managed to express some sort of appreciation for his work, though I was comically tongue-tied in front of such a great wordsmith.

 

All quoted passages from Richards, David Adams. Lives of Short Duration. 1981. McClelland & Stewart, Toronto.