A wish, a dream, a concrete plan

Standard

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.

Be Our Guest

Standard

Today, I am guest blogging on Girl of 1000 Wonders. Thanks, Charlie, for letting me be a part of your book discussion!

So go check out my post, Another Side to the Story, on the novel Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen. As is obvious from the title, it tells the story of the Nurse from Romeo and Juliet, starting on the day that Juliet is born. Leveen does a great job of creating a history and rounded character for Shakespeare’s bawdy nurse.

And be sure to check back here at re: read pages later this week for an update on my writing plans and my thoughts on Jo Baker’s Longbourn.

BJL

2014 in review

Standard

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

Standard

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.

1480635_10152081888986043_1203849287_n

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.

Raising a Reader

Standard

My mom was a primary school teacher for over thirty years and teaching children to read was one of her greatest joys. She said that the moment you could sit a kid on your lap was the moment you should start reading to them. So when I started having children, I wanted to instill the same love for reading that my Mom gave to me.

My first son loved books from the start. He would always sit still and listen. And now, at the age of three, he picks out from the library and reads simple board books on his own. He was born a reader, and he needs no encouragement to select reading as an activity.

My second son, who turned one in May, is a completely different person. Since moment he learned how to rollover, he has been on the move. He learned to crawl and climb at an earlier age than his big brother, and once he started walking there was no keeping him in one place. The idea of sitting with him, book in hand, and enjoying a good read was laughable.

Until recently.

In the past month, he has started to pick up books to read rather than to eat. He will clamber up the couch or on to my lap, book in hand, and turn the pages, tapping on pictures that he likes (usually birds). He still doesn’t sit still for all the words, preferring to flip the pages, but he is actively choosing books.

Little Bird's first favourite books

Little Bird’s first favourite books

I was so excited, but I was also relieved.

Which made me wonder – why was I so anxious for him to want to read? Not just to be able to read, general basic literacy, which still a long way off, but to be a reader for pleasure. To be a kid who will read outside of school hours and assigned reading.

What is the value in reading? Why is it important to read?

I want to really look at not just my reasons for wanting my children to be avid readers, but the facts and arguments for encouraging reading to all children. I’m sure I’ll turn up some interesting research, so check back for my follow up, but for now, please let me know inthe comments why you value reading.

 

Summer book lovin’

Standard

One way to watch your stats flatline is by not posting for a month.

I spent the month of May celebrating and reading: two birthdays, a wedding, four novels and one non-fiction. Nothing to complain about but I am glad to be back at the keyboard.

It is June, the weather is heating up and people are planning their holidays, all of which points to summer reading. (Summer is just over two weeks away here in Canada!)

Some readers use the summer to mentally relax and pick up so-called beach books, which are largely genre fiction like thrillers or romance, but others like to take all that free time to really dig in to a more difficult read since they have the time to focus.

I like to mix it up a bit, more of a location-based reader, so I thought I would suggest a few summer reads and share some books on my summer reading short list.

Beach Reads

The Bride by Julie Garwood (1989)

One of my all-time favourite romance novels. Set in 12th century Scotland, the story has familiar romance tropes: a feisty heroine is married against her will to a strong, gruff hero but through their banter they fall in love and, ultimately, overcome their challenges. Garwood keeps the plot moving so well and with touches of humour that you can’t help but enjoy what would otherwise be another typical romance novel.

The Red Fox by Anthony Hyde (1985)

Hyde’s debut novel (maybe I will cover it for re: read pages one day), it is the one spy thriller that I keep reading over and over. Set during the Cold War, it follows the search of protagonist Robert Thorne for his former fiancée’s missing father. In true Cold War fashion, what initially seems to be a simple story expands to a larger, more dangerous conspiracy. Spanning the globe from Canada to France to Russia, this story holds up despite some dated references and technological limitations.

Time to Think

The Sybil by Pär Lagerkvist (1956)

In this beautifully written story, a man cursed by Jesus to live until his second coming (known as the Wandering Jew according to medieval legend) meets with a disgraced priestess from Delphi and the two discuss the fallout of their experiences with the divine. This book always gives me shivers.

East of the Mountains by David Guterson (1999)

A man with terminal cancer takes a trip into the American West with the intention of killing himself at the end of his journey. The pace of this novel stayed with me a long time; it feels unrushed despite the limited time accorded to its main character, whatever way he may end up dying. A truly lovely read.

In Real Life

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

I finished reading this one recently; it is a well-written, well-researched exploration of the processed food industry. I am still talking about it weeks later and it changed the way I viewed the grocery store and nutrition labels.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan (2013)

This book aims to put the life of Jesus in historical context, to see what we can know by looking at the facts surrounding his life and the writing of the biblical books that describe his life and teachings. Though not without its faults, Aslan presents an interesting and respectful account of the life of Jesus.

As for me, I have a pile of books to get through, but I’m looking forward to spending sometime with these titles:

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

I recently discovered that I love Dunant’s writing (I enjoyed three of her novels years apart before I realized that they were all by the same author – check back later this month when I post my thoughts on The Birth of Venus) and am prepared to binge read the rest of her catalogue over the summer starting with this one.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Part of my new Why Haven’t I Read This Yet series (the inaugural post, discussing One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, is coming this Monday!), I am reading this book because it has sat on my shelf for too long and the cute board book for my one year old has sparked my interest.

Jennifer, Gwyneth, and Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time by Rachel Bertsche.

In a continued attempt to not take non-fiction so seriously that I can’t enjoy it I decided to put this book on hold at the library. Despite the lighthearted topic, I think Bertsche will have some interesting observations about the influence of celebrity lifestyle on expectations for our own lives. As someone who just hosted two children’s birthday parties, I can tell you GOOP would have been disappointed in my execution.

What are your reading plans for the summer?

BJL

Birthday books

Standard

Today we are celebrating my son’s third birthday! I can’t believe he is three already.

Books have been a big part of his life since day one. Besides reading during the day, books became the centre of our bedtime routine. We would curl up together in our bed and my husband would read while I nursed our son to sleep – a practice that has continued with our second son. That first spring, we read Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, among other things.

Now, with our son having more of a say in the books we read, the stack is full of more age-specific selections, but we also read a section of longer books, such as Mal Peet’s Mysterious Traveller, a lovely story with wonderful illustrations. Our son also reads a board book (or two) to his baby brother; Moby-Dick is a favourite.

So to mark the occasion of my son’s third birthday, I am posting a picture of his first book (Polar bears), one of his favourite books (Frog and Toad are Friends), and the book we are currently reading (Bill Peet An Autobiography).

Charles books

Happy birthday, sweet boy! Mommy loves you bunches and bunches.