Thursday, November 9, 2017

Out of Wonder

I LOVE this book!  Picked up from my local library this week, it caught my eye because it is a Kwame Alexander book, plus the cover is so colourful and inviting.  The art is done by Ekua Holmes (who has become an person of interest). 
Not only is the art colourful, it has texture (I found myself running my hands across the pages expecting to feel something different, lumps and bumps and fabric, tissue paper, moss), the different applications throughout the book complementing each poem and poet featured.  I have always loved an artist that applies different mediums to achieve that rich look that is fascinating to look at and fun to figure out how it was done. 
The poems themselves (homages to different poets) were like love notes to them, honoring their styles and showing a respect and admiration of each poet's work.  At the back of the book is a short biography of each poet featured.   I feel really lucky to have been able to read this wonderful book.     

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Scottish Play?

Not really!  Nope, not at all (well, okay... there was this one guy who had a very short part...)
In my new job working in a secondary school library, I now have access to a variety of plays by Shakespeare (some that I have not seen yet), so I chose a version of Macbeth featuring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench.  Why?  I like to study something thoroughly and I have been studying Macbeth all year (trying to pace myself between viewings and essays about the play).  There are only a few movies left to see and I have been surprised by a bonus showing of the play on CBC from the Stratford Festival, Ontario (which to my mind is the best one I have seen yet... Macbeth and his lady had serious chemistry, and the witches gave me  the shivers!).  But I'm digressing here...

This play, whilst performed by excellent actors, was not Scottish.  As a matter of fact their perfect, well-spoken British accents just threw me off completely and it was only when Judi Dench entered the scene that things began to come together into something that interested me.  Judi Dench was perfect... despite the accent, I could look past that into her performance which was chilling to the bone and nothing I have ever seen her do before.  When she lost her mind it was disturbingly convincing... she is a master of her craft.

 I love Ian McKellen, but I don't feel that Macbeth was his best role.

Despite this, it is a good story, and at the end of every play I have ever seen attributed to William Shakespeare I have been entertained, even if I did't like the format very much.

The form of this play was very simple; a room with lighting and a few props to indicate different scenes, it was very effective in presenting this version of the play as a psychological thriller, making it suspenseful, honing it's focus to the language of the play and it's participants.  With that purpose in mind, of making this something to mess with the mind  some things became truly worse, like the drooling and frothing at the mouth of the prophetic witch and the gore that was on Mabeth's hands (it's not a play to watch while snacking!).
It's not my favourite version, but just watching Judi Dench's Lady Macbeth is worth putting up with the rest.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Reading Macondo

It was with great pleasure that I studied five of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's works last summer.  Reading his books for pleasure was one thing, analyzing them was another.  Interpreting what the author meant was profoundly illuminating and deeply satisfying, it has changed the way that I read now, especially Garcia Marquez's works.
 Doing some research of the the periods indicated helped to develop a better understanding of what was meant (or at least what I think he meant) by the author.  The course Reading Macondo, hosted by Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Columbia provided lots of information, videos, and a timeline of Garcia Marquez's life.  This information was extremely useful in being able to understand the author's references. The books studied were as follows:
 Leaf Storm (where the term means more than just leaves blowing in the wind!

 No One Writes to the Colonel (where a fighting cock is significantly important but in more ways than one)

 Big Mama's Funeral, a collection of short stories that pack a powerful wallop (this is where Garcia Marquez reminds me strongly of Ray Bradbury).

You can only see the Spanish title above, but an English copy of the collection can be found in this book Collected Stories where you can find four collections of his works.

 In Evil Hour was another story told in the same town as the one that No One Writes to the Colonel is based, and is what I think to be a way for the author to express his feelings about The Violence (a dark time in Colombian history).

 and last but not least, One Hundred Years of Solitude 

Since listening to the book last year, I have read this two and a half times, making copious notes and finding things that were missed my first time through (which is in a way why I think I would like to listen to stories after I have read the book, or in some cases like  Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow do it simultaneously).  I really enjoyed the experience, laughed a great deal, and had a wonderful time finding connections to his previous works.  These references are scattered throughout (also one or two I have found from books that weren't in the Reading Macondo course which were stories he thought of after publishing this one).
All of these books were worth a second (or third) look.  Garcia Marquez really was a genius.
I had meant to continue on with another course directly after, also on Garcia Marquez, but after such an intensive study of the Macondo books I felt I needed a break.  Also, I have made some changes in my professional life... I have moved from an elementary school library to a high school library!  It means whole new genres I haven't given much attention to and a whole new realm of literary possibilities.  It's very exciting!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Lolita Revisited (spoilers)

Whilst reading the first portion of this book, I felt that it was important (because it was important to the author) to read Lolita again.  If any of you have read my initial response to this book  there is no doubt what my initial feelings where.  But after reading Nafisi's thoughts on the book, and also learning about unreliable narratives from my course How To Read A Novel, I saw that maybe my initial response was biased by my own personal experiences and feelings and that maybe I had missed something.  So I did it... again.
This time, to make it easier, I decided to listen to the audio book narrated by Jeremy Irons (who was also Humbert Humbert in the movie) and he was a perfect choice (for the narration...I'll never see the movie so I can't say how he was in that).  

It was just as disagreeable for me to listen to as to read, maybe more so because having the story read to you by someone you can picture in your mind, and someone who can act who adds emotion, depth and dimension to the role making the novel almost graphic.  Despite all that I tried to listen to it objectively, I wanted to try and see what Nafisi saw, and perhaps something more.   

So what I am going to do now is something I usually avoid... I am going to get into specific details, dig a little deeper than before to see beyond my original perceptions of this book.  
I have to admit, I didn't see too far beyond what I already saw the first time, but before I talk about that I want to say that this time around I was more aware of Humbert Humbert and his perfect understanding of how much of a monster he really was.     
In a nutshell Lolita is about desire, the unhealthy desire if an older man for a tween aged girl, and the lengths he went to, to get this girl.  He moved into her house as a border, married her mother so that he could stay there (and gain access to his Lolita).  The mother discovers, his predilection, but dies before she can do anything about it, so now Lolita is Humbert's for his own pleasure.

Here are some specifics.  I stated in my first blog that I thought that all of these characters (husband, mother and daughter) were awful, selfish and spiteful and I still believe that.  If the mother had not felt threatened by her own daughter's growing sexuality, if she hadn't tried to get rid of her so she could enjoy Humbert for herself, if she hadn't been so selfish, if she had thought more about her daughter's welfare rather than her own needs, things would have been very different.    
 Lolita was a very spiteful and selfish young girl and I still believe that to be the case especially after she initiated sex with her step-father.
While I do agree with Nafisi that Humbert raped her, and continued to use her for his own selfish needs, there was something very wrong with Lolita as well.  She seduced her mother's new husband!  How did she think life would be like after that?  Did she think she could go home from camp and play Happy Family with Mom and her new Daddy-O?  It's pretty clear in the book, she didn't know her mother was dead when she had sex with Humbert, so what was she thinking?  Obviously (hopefully), she wasn't, and Humbert, as the predator he is, just couldn't resist his obsession.
Sadly, for Lolita, it was what I would call some very severe consequences for that particular action and she paid for it for the next two years of her life (basically being kept as Humbert's little sex slave), though I think she remained complicit because of his manipulations and her own fears of having no where to go.  

So I have concluded, after doing this re-read, that my own personal perception of this novel hasn't changed a jot, but I do have a deeper understanding of the characters involved.  I think that when I also re-read the section in the book Reading Lolita in Tehran concerning Lolita, I will have a better understanding of Nafisi as well.  One last thought... this book was written from Humbert's honest, twisted, manipulative, and highly nauseating point of view, could you imagine what it would have been like from Lolitas?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Leaf Storm

I have this past week begun an online course called Reading Macondo.  Since I listened to One Hundred Years of Solitude last year I have been meaning to read the book (I went out the very week I finished the audio book and found myself a lovely used copy).  I have been hoarding it since then as I often do with literary treats.  The time has come to indulge and this course that I am taking (hosted by the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Columbia), is so much more than I could have expected.
There are five stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that we are studying starting with  Leaf Storm.  

I have pre-read all of the stories listed for the course (except for One Hundred Years of Solitude  which it has been suggested to read alongside the study of the other books), so I have a brief familiarity with the course material.  I did as suggested first time around and read for pleasure rather than study.  Pausing as I have this past week to analyse Leaf Storm has been an incredible pleasure for me as I have delved into the story in more depth.

As I am also half way through my other course How To Read a Novel, I have more tools at my disposal for the study of this first novella of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as we have covered plot and character so far, which has already been very useful to me.  Reading the stories casually I could sense the ability of the author, and be affected by the way he wove words to describe his universe.  Studying in depth just proved that he was a genius, the way he played with words to create a mood which even an interpretation into English didn't dilute.

...and just think!  There are five more weeks to go of this amazing course.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Broken Earth Trilogy

Okay...I caved.  I decided that I could read the second book in this trilogy this month and then read the third next month ( I thought that it would be a good idea to pace it out...) but it wasn't a good idea!  I want to read the next book NOW (imagine a grown woman throwing a major wobbly fit because she can't gratify her need to know immediately).
As I mentioned in my other post about N. K. Jemisin, I had read (listened to) The Fifth Season and then promptly bought the rest of her work.
This book is just amazing, different, engrossing.  There's that hint of a bygone terrestrial era (and I have always loved a book about an Earth that is no longer recognizable).  Though it is much more than that.  I really want to know how this world evolved to be what it is now and that is what holds my fascination (and always has!).  Added to that a strong female protagonist (who is a survivor), and a hard, painful backstory and you have The Fifth Season.   It gets exciting at the end however and then we get to The Obelisk Gate:
I loved this book!  It really is epic fantasy (and nominated for both The Nebula and Hugo Awards).  Sometimes the middling book of a trilogy is just filler, but not this one.  It's action packed from start to finish, keeping the story going along at a fast clip with some more backstory thrown in.  I hate to give spoilers, so I can't really say more about this book, except that I wish N.K. Jemisin good luck with the Hugos.  Now, to calculate how soon I can get the next book!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Going Going Gone my interest in reading this book.  Not that it isn't a perfectly good book... I just can't help but loathe the content right now, and I am not able to carry on reading it until I have grown a thicker skin.  It has all the important components for a literary masterpiece, and some day I will come back to it (maybe).
This has happened before, it's not a big deal, I can still refer to it during my course later this month (perhaps the course itself will inspire me to give it another go).  For now, I don't have the tolerance to read any more about sexism, racism, and cruelty to animals...

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Lesser Bohemians

Surprisingly, after the first few pages I didn't feel the need to try and parse this book.  The language is a medley of cliche and very short metaphor.  It was bewildering, but after a while the words just flowed (just needed to change my mind set, and when I did it was magic, like I had learned a new, lyrical language).   Of course, it doesn't hurt to have some Joyce and Beckett under your belt before you begin, and handy  to help with some of the vernacular.

“Daub my soul with a good few pints til my mouth swings wide with unutterable shite. Laughing lots too, like it’s true. Worldening maybe, I think. I hope.” 

The Lesser Bohemians is the first of it's kind that I have ever read, and I was enraptured with the brilliance of this novel, it's bare and vulnerable style of storytelling (that wielded a powerful wallop that just stays with you).    It wasn't for the faint at heart.

There was lots to wince at, loads of sex, minute details I could really have done without, but like with What Belongs To You, there is a purpose to it.  I really didn't want to like or care about these characters (who I will call the lovers), but I just couldn't help be pulled in to their story, raw and brutal as it was.  Two stories pulled together into a very rocky intimacy as the lovers find their way (kicking and screaming most of the time) towards something that unites them.  As Michael Chabon put it;

"Beautiful, harrowing, and ultimately rewarding the way only a brilliant work of literature can be."

This is a book that I would really like to listen to.  Actually I would be really keen to see it as a performance piece, get a young Irish woman (just like in the book) reading it aloud... now that would be absolutely enthralling!

Up Next:  The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan  (about horse racing UGH, not my favourite topic AT ALL).

Sunday, June 25, 2017

This Instead of That

If you are looking for an easy-going read, something perfect for a reading vacation, or just a really good book, Charlaine Harris is your writer.  Just recently I tried out a new cosy mystery series which I wrote about here  and sadly, it was not a fun experience (the television movies were way better).

 This is actually a very good example of the book being vastly superior to the movie (or television show).  I preferred Harris' Sookie Stackhouse Series to the television show True Blood (which was so popular, but I couldn't stand what they had done to my favourite characters).  Also, Hallmark's version of Harris' Aurora Teagarden is  a little too sweet for  my liking (and takes away from the sizzling and intense relationship between Aurora and Martin Bartell).  I do have big hopes for what might be done with her Midnight trilogy that will be screening this summer.
I digress (sorry).
It is because of  re-runs of the Aurora Teagarden shows that I re-visited the books ( I like to re-set my perceptions after watching because I want the right story to stick in my head).  Though I shouldn't be too judgmental about the television shows because it has got Harris writing new stories about Aurora which is really awesome (yeah you caught me... I still watch the shows even though I didn't like them too much because I just love Aurora Teagarden).

So, getting back on topic.  For me, Harris' books are always a good, relaxing read.  They don't ask too much from you and entertain in a way that is unique and exciting (every time!).  I have lost count of how many times I have re-read her books (and I have all of her series).  Harris has this special quality that makes her books extremely interesting, fully engaging and unique in their combination of genres.  Also, her series have never been boring, each book is as attractive as the one before and I have always been very satisfied with the conclusion of every series.    These are great books to come back to, because I just can't help caring so much for her leading characters, as they are so lovable (which is why I just couldn't connect with Fluke's Hannah Swenson... I just didn't like her).

So in between all the books I will be reading this summer for my two literature courses, I will be inserting some Charlaine Harris who it is always a pleasure to see again.

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 book 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 stories about 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 are 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 I could 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.