"Quiet"

"Quiet" by Susan Cain

I've read this book twice and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. The second reading was because our book club chose it for our September selection; I don't think I'd have chosen to re-read it on my own.

I found it to be a very well researched book, so well in fact that if you don't enjoy studies and statistics and such you may find it a bit tedious. I enjoyed that part of it, and I thought it both easy to read and interesting.

Most of my book club members call themselves introverts but there are at least two who would say they are extroverts. In an interesting twist it was one of the extroverts who was scheduled to lead the discussion for this book. It couldn't have been easy but she did a good job, and though this book tends to put everybody a little on the defensive, we all ended the evening friends. I actually enjoyed the discussion more than the book because I find it fascinating to hear other people's reactions to it. So much is learned about each other in the conversation.

Most of the introverts felt the book was supportive and that it encouraged them to value the qualities that are sometimes considered flaws by a basically extroverted society: need for solitude, time to think, an affinity for facts and numbers and a preference for solo work over teamwork. The extroverts felt the book was somewhat biased against them and I agree there were times when they were all lumped together as being loud, pushy and arrogant. We wondered if the author was writing from some negative experience she'd had because she did seem to stereotype extroverts more than necessary. As one of our members pointed out we all use stereotypes everyday, but there is a limit. No person is completely predictable and people shouldn't be filed into labeled slots.

It turns out that I am one of the most introverted of the introverts in our group and yet I didn't seem to completely fit the profile in the book. We are supposed to be indecisive, but I don't have a problem making decisions when they need to be made. I like to consider all the options and hear everyone's input first, but when a decision needs to be made, I make it. This just serves to reinforce our conclusion that we are all far too complex to be boxed in by one descriptive word. Generalizations may be useful at times, but every person is unique and it's a mistake, sometimes a dangerous one, to make too many assumptions.

I'm glad I read the book, but I do have one hesitation about recommending it. I've read it twice and both times ended with the feeling that I should try a little harder to be an extrovert. It did encourage introverts to make the most of their strengths but I still felt that the goal was always to be just a little more extroverted. Yes, we all need to stretch ourselves, but I question why there are so many books, classes, and seminars pushing us to be more extroverted but so few pushing extroverts to be more introverted. The idea that introverts are just somehow "wrong" is wearing a little thin for me.  I've tried over the years to become what our extroverted society wants everybody to be, but I'm not going to make it. I can fake it if I have to, for a short time, but I've come to the realization that I actually like being an introvert. I think I'll spend my remaining years just enjoying it.

"Silas Marner"

Silas Marner by George Eliot

George Eliot has been a revelation to me. I had spent years avoiding her, mostly because I'd been warned that "Middlemarch" was a long, tedious book that would test my patience. Then I bit the bullet, read it and loved it. I didn't find it tedious, my patience didn't suffer at all, and I was happy to have a new (to me) author whose backlist I could add to my tbr.

Silas Marner is the story of a man who left his hometown when he was accused and found guilty of a theft he didn't commit. With his faith in God and man destroyed, he moved to a new place to practice his trade as a weaver of cloth. There he kept to himself, saving every coin he earned until he had hoarded two bags full, making them the center and purpose of his life. But one day the unthinkable happened and his money was stolen. In his despair he became even more isolated and withdrawn, until one night a golden-haired child, drawn by the light of his fire, wandered into his cottage.

When the child's mother was found dead in the snow, Silas decided to raise the child himself.  She restored his humanity and brought him into relationship with his neighbours. She lived a contented life with him until she was about seventeen years of age, never hearing from the man who was her biological father. Then, one day, the mystery of what happened to Silas's money was solved, Eppie's real father stepped forward to claim her as his daughter and....the rest of the story awaits you in this wonderful book. 

I read somewhere a review of Silas Marner in which the writer referred to it as a fable, a good description I think. Fables offer up lessons, of which there are several here. It teaches the folly of putting all our hope in gold, the withering of the soul when we separate ourselves from human contact, and the hope and joy a child brings into our lives. The epigraph is from a Wordsworth poem:

"A child, more than all other gifts 
That earth can offer to declining man, 
Brings hope with it, forward-looking thoughts." 

This was a beautiful story, one that deepened the appreciation I found for Eliot after reading Middlemarch. I wish I hadn't avoided her for so long, but because I did all her books are still waiting to be read and that, as Martha would say, is a good thing.

Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don't Own Yet


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Broke and Bookish. It's fun trying to come up with the various lists of ten that they ask for, though I only seem to get around to doing it once in a while. You know how it is - life keeps happening and getting in the way. But, I'm doing it this week, so here's my list of  10 books I want to read but don't yet own:

1. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro - I saw and loved the movie before I knew it was based on a book. I hear great things about his writing and I've been wanting to read it for ages.

2. Bleak House by Charles Dickens - I'm working my way through Dickens.

3. Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World by Lisa Bloom - because as I age, I notice people starting to speak to me as if the words old and stupid are synonymous and it's making me crazy!

4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - I cannot believe I haven't read this yet.

5. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin - I've read such great reviews, and it's about a bookshop owner.

6. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winnifred Watson - it's been recommended on a lot of blogs, and I love the title.

7. Pictures At An Exhibition by Camilla MacPherson - someone told me that it reminded them of "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" and I loved every page of that book.

8. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams - because it's been on every list of "must read" books that I've seen and I feel guilty about not reading it. I want to get it done.

9. Diligent River Daughter by Bruce Graham - this is the sequel to one of my favourite novels "Ivor Johnson's Neighbours".

10. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington - it's a Pulitzer winner, it was written in 1919 and the word 'saga' is used in every review. It sounds just about perfect.

If you want to take part in Top Ten Tuesday, get on over to Broke and Bookish and sign up. Have a good week!

"That Summer in Paris"

That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan

In 1929 Morley Callaghan and his wife Loretto lived for a few months in Paris, a city to which many of the world's young literary notables were drawn for both the lifestyle and the daily opportunity of bumping into other writers with whom to hold long wine-fueled conversations. Also there at that time were Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Maddox Ford, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ezra Pound.

Callaghan had met Hemingway when they both worked for the Toronto Star and Hemingway had encouraged him in his writing. After reading one of his stories Hemingway said to him, "You're a real writer. You write big-time stuff. All you have to do is keep on writing." Callaghan became good friends with both Hemingway and Fitzgerald while he was staying in Paris. He boxed with Hemingway and they all did a lot of drinking together, but there was always a tension between Hemingway and Fitzgerald that eventually affected his relationships with them as well.

There is a humility in the telling of this story that I found very appealing. Let's face it, it would be easy to do some name-dropping and bragging about who he had met and what nice things they might have said about his work but Callaghan doesn't fall into that trap.  He writes a rather straightforward memoir revealing them all, including himself, to be ordinary people with idiosyncrasies, weaknesses and flaws like the rest of us. Ordinary - except that they were also brilliant writers.

I've never read Morley Callaghan before, something that, as a Canadian, I hate to admit. I can't say I thought the writing to be anything memorable but it was a memoir and I expect it will be different with his novels, which I am going to find and read eventually. To me the fascinating thing about this book is the look it gives you into the writing life, the personal lives of some well known writers, and life in Paris in 1929.  It's a rich experience, full of life, living and writing, and as you are a person who reads book blogs, I suspect you might like it too.


Catching Up

I just looked at my list of books read this year and realized how many there are for which I haven't written posts. It isn't that I didn't like them enough to write about them, in fact I usually have a lot more to say about books I didn't like than those I did. It's just been a busy year. My mother's health and hospitalizations were the focus of my time and energy earlier in the year, then my son got married this summer and you mothers know what "wedding year" is like. My own health has limited what I can do and how much energy I have to do it, leaving me at times without two words to put together.

I was going to leave the books listed without posts, but some of the them were so good I want to say something about them so others can discover them too. Others aren't really worth mentioning so I'll just say I didn't like them.


Papua, New Guinea/Melody Carlson
I'm not a fan of this author. I've tried but
find her books trite and shallow. I didn't
like this one any more than the others,
and after reading it have decided not
to bother with any more.





Gilead/Marilynne Robinson 
This was a re-read for book 
club that I wrote about here.  
It's a Pulitzer Prize winner
and a wonderful book.








A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar
Suzanne Joinson
This was one step above the Carlson
book, but that's all. I didn't like it.







Einstein - His Life and Universe/Walter Isaacson 
I enjoyed this one. Einstein was an interesting man. I didn't know anything about his personal or professional lives so it was an eye-opener for me. I am fascinated by science, but this is complicated stuff and I had to read and re-read a number of pages to follow the theories the author was explaining. He was able to make Einstein's work come alive for me though; it was just my poor brain that had some trouble keeping up.



Bellman and Black/Diane Setterfield
Disappointing. I loved "The Thirteenth Tale"
but for me this one fell flat. It was a bit on
the weird side, which can go either way for
me. Sometimes weird is "oh, this is really
interesting..." but this one was "oh,
this is not interesting at all...".



Gifts from Eykis
Dr. Wayne Dyer 
I didn't finish it. 
Boring. Silly, even.







The Pearl/John Steinbeck
There are so many great classics that I have never read and really don't know why. This is another one that I loved when I finally got around to reading it. Loved the characters, the story, the moral and the writing. It's a little book and won't take much of your time, so if you haven't read it you really should give it a try. 




People of theBook/GeraldineBrooks
A re-read that I first read several years ago. I remember loving it the first time, maybe a little less this time. It's the story of a Hebrew manuscript called the "Sarajevo Haggadah" and how it survived through five centuries of wars, book burnings and various other destructive forces. A modern day rare-book expert is given the task of analyzing and conserving the book and in doing that discovers it's history. I loved the historical aspects of it and the fact that it's a book about a book.



How To Read Novels Like A Professor/Thomas C. Foster Brilliant. This book was so much fun to read. If the title sounds dry to you, don't pay any attention to it; Foster is easy to read, funny and fascinating. If you love novels, but like me have had no literary education, this is the book you want to read. It's loaded with helpful information that will show you how to get more out of the novels you're reading. It's one I'll read again and again.



Elizabeth, the Queen
 Sally Bedell Smith 
This was a re-read
for book club.
I wrote about it here.
Loved it.





Eight Cousins/Louisa May Alcott - When I get tired of news about wars and crime and people doing horrible things to other people, I read Louisa May Alcott. This book, like all of her books, is about good people in a gentle time doing ordinary things. They may not be very much like real life, but that's exactly what makes them so appealing. Like balm on a wound. 





That's it. Hopefully I'll get posts done on the rest of the books I read this year.

"My Best Stories"

My Best Stories by Alice Munro

When Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year, my book club, realizing most of us had never read any of her books, decided, in a fit of Canadian guilt, to put her on our 2014 reading list. Frankly I dreaded reading it as my previous forays into the world of Canadian short stories had been unsatisfactory. Disturbing, even.

I didn't like the first one. It told the story of a young girl whose father believed physical beatings were an acceptable method of discipline. Strike one. The second story didn't appeal to me much either but I did begin to enjoy the writing itself. Had I been reading it strictly for myself I might have stopped there but I have this thing about finishing book club books. I don't feel I have much right to comment, and obviously nothing really to say, when I don't finish the book. So I pushed myself to keep reading, and around the sixth or seventh story I realized I was beginning to enjoy myself.

Then I arrived at Meneseteung, story number eight. It was written in sections, each begun with a verse of poetry written by the small town poetess who is the story's main character. I can't explain what happened while I was reading it but in this one story I went from someone who was reading a book because I had to, to someone who couldn't get enough. I was living and breathing inside the story along with the character and loved the experience. I read the rest of the book in much the same state; the end of each story left me wishing I didn't have to leave it.   

After finishing the book I can say I am now an Alice Munro fan. Her stories are more than reading material; they are experiences that she pulls you into, where you live another person's life for a time. They paint bright, detailed pictures in your mind. They let you feel things you may never have felt before and they bring back feelings you may have forgotten you ever had. They are glimpses into real lives where nothing is perfect and no one has all the answers. They are easy to read and yet they challenge you to read them on a deeper level. They are clean, clear and pitch perfect. They are works of art. 

I'm not happy with the way I read them, one right after the other. I found myself mixing up which characters were in which story and once or twice I forgot the entire plot of a story once I had read a few more. There was too much input in too short a time. I prefer to read one or two in between other books, savouring them and processing them at the slower pace my aging brain requires. But however you read them, do read them. They are worth every minute you will spend on them. I had no idea what I was missing.
 

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