Catching Up

I've been looking at the list of books I've read this year and feeling a bit guilty about the rather large number I've neglected to say anything about. I'll try to catch up in the next few posts with just a word or two about each. Here's a beginning...

Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (re-read) - I love this. It's beautifully written, easy to read and an amazing story about the expulsion of the Acadian people in 1755. Every time I hear the first line, "This is the forest primeval...", I am transported to another time and place.

The Day The Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan - It was interesting while I was reading it, but I don't remember much about it now.

How To Read Slowly by James Sire (re-read) - helps you get more out of the books you read. He tells you what to look for and how to evaluate what you're reading. Very good, very helpful.

All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky - I read this early in the year and I remember only that I found it disappointing,

Emily of New Moon by Lucy Maud Montgomery - not my favourite LMM but still charming as all her books are.

La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales - This is an ode to the Italian language. The author thinks it is the most beautiful language in the world and gushes accordingly. Lots of interesting stories from history, and about cuisine, famous people, literature, and other things I can't remember now. An enjoyable read. 

Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider - I didn't enjoy this one. I felt I was being preached at about how to live properly.

The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain - The French President leaves his hat at a restaurant, where a man who can't believe his luck picks it up and takes it home. Then he loses it, someone else finds it, etc. The hat has a unique effect in the life of each person who possesses it, usually positive as I recall. A fun read. 

The Wings of the Dove by Henry James - this is considered the most difficult of his books, and it certainly is a challenge to read. It is so worth it though. You can analyze the characters and the plot forever, never really feeling you've come to the end of what you can get out of it. I found it mentally exhilarating.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See - I enjoyed this one. Well written, an unusual plot,  and it took me inside a culture about which I knew nothing. I found some of the things the characters did strange, but that's half the fun of reading stories set in different times and places. A good story.

The Dance of Time by Michael Judge - this is about how we came to measure the passing of time the way we currently do. Some fascinating facts and stories. Interesting.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens - Loved it. Every Dickens book I've picked up has been a wonderful reading experience. I love the era, the setting, his characters, his writing style, his humour, his compassion, and the social and political impact he's trying to have on the world he was writing for. He had a lot to say, and I'm glad I get to read it.

The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau - I can't remember much about this book. It won a Pulitzer in 1965 and I see I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads so I must have found something profound in it. It's a family saga set in the deep south and I think the plot was a good one. I probably didn't make an emotional connection with the characters and that's why it didn't have a lasting impact on me.

Emily Davis by Miss Read - I love all Miss Read's books. If you've never tried them, you are missing out. Find the first one in the Fairacre series and see if you don't quickly become addicted.

Tyler's Row by Miss Read - Another quiet, homey read with warm, wonderful characters.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky - What can I say? His books give you a lot to think about and leave you analyzing his, and your own, thoughts and behavior long after you've read them. I feel like I'm obligated to read them because they are held in such high regard. I'm always glad I did, even if I am somewhat relieved to finish them. The Russian characters with their roller-coaster emotions are a bit over the top for me, but I accept that this is probably a cultural thing that I may never completely understand. This book, like all the great books by the great authors, needs to be studied, or at least read slowly and pondered to really hear what he's saying about good and evil, faith and family, and love. I didn't give it the time it deserves.

Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Khun - This was a fun look at what might happen if the Queen decided to go AWOL and a handful of her employees frantically tried to locate her before the press got wind of it. It was enjoyable to read, but as always with fiction about real people, you can't take any of it seriously. Who knows what really goes on in Her Majesty's head? I have a fascination for the monarchy so I liked this novel.

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy - It's Thomas Hardy. How could I not like it? His writing is exquisite, his characters are wonderful, and the setting always makes me want to move to England  (19th century England) immediately. As is usual with Hardy, nobody really gets what they want in the end, but that's part of the Hardy experience. Loved it.

Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin - Wow. This was a brutal reading experience. It's well written, a really good story with characters so vivid it feels like a memoir more than a novel. The brutality is in how people treat other people, and worse than reading it is knowing that life was, and still is for some people, very much like this. It hurt to read, but I needed to know. 

The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - I read this only because I was tired of not having read it when it's on every list of must-read books I've ever seen. It was easy to read, funny in places and weird. And I'm pretty sure I missed the point entirely.

Great Village by Mary Rose Donnelly (re-read) - a wonderful story, set in small town Nova Scotia, about two women adjusting to age and making the best of whatever life brings their way. The location is really another main character and I love it when the author does that. Very, very good.

"Life After Life"

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle

What an interesting novel. So interesting that when I came to the end I felt there were things I had missed, and I read it again from the beginning. These aren't just characters, they are people, people with real stories. But let me back up a bit.

It begins with Joanna, a young woman who sits with dying patients and does what she can to ease the transition for the patient and their family members. Sometimes this takes place in the patient's home, but mostly it's in the retirement/nursing home that is the main setting for this book.

The residents in the retirement section are all able to look after themselves fairly well, and when they can no longer do that they move into the nursing section. The stories of residents and workers, and one little neighbourhood girl, and how they came to be there wind together with more and more connections revealing themselves as you go. Past and present are equally relevant to the narrative, which is far more intense than you expect for a book in this setting. And I was right, I had missed some things that I didn't see until the second reading.

I'll warn you that there's a lot of less-than-polite language. The f-word is prevalent, and one of the chapters is quite raunchy. Sometimes I can't get past all that, but in this book it didn't seem to be used for shock value or as a mask for an inadequate vocabulary. The words are used in intense situations of anger or hopelessness and the raunchy bits are a cynical young woman remembering a past she's ashamed of. Parts of it are bleak, but there is also grace and goodness and beauty. 

The characters are vibrantly real, all completely unique and as complicated as living through decades of  joy and tragedy can make them. I think they are people you might like to meet.

"Sixpence House"

Sixpence House by Paul Collins

Paul Collins followed his dream and moved his family to the village of Hay-on-Wye in Wales. Hay-on-Wye is known as the “town of books” because it is a tiny village of less than 2000 people with more than 40 book shops. 

I was interested to learn that most of the shops deal with antiquarian books, which is also the author’s area of expertise. Most of the books he talks about and quotes from were unknown to me, but that didn’t lessen the enjoyment of reading his story. 

He has a quirky sense of humor, dry and sharp, that brings the characters in this unique place to life. He makes delightful new friends, he talks about old books like they are old friends, and treats all with respect and affection (well...almost all).    

When I finished it, I felt as if I’d spent a week in an old shop myself, walking the dusty aisles of aged book-friends, breathing in the musty scent and soaking up all the wisdom they have to offer. 

What a fine thing it would be to actually be there, but if you can’t, this might just be the next best thing.

'Slipping Into Paradise"

Slipping Into Paradise by Jeffery Moussaieff Masson

I knew very little about New Zealand before this book, and having read it I don’t feel like I want or need to learn anymore. Masson has me convinced it really is paradise. The author is so in love with the place that as a reader, I couldn’t help falling too. Not that he tells us only the good stuff; he’s honest about the social and other problems, but the good seems to far outweigh the bad. 

The book starts with a map - always a great first impression for me - and there’s an interesting chapter on flora and fauna, both native and those introduced later. Another intriguing chapter is about the native Maori people, how they live now and all that they lost when New Zealand was colonized by people who thought they had the right to move in and take over.

The last chapter is Masson’s personal itinerary of a road trip around both the North and South Islands showing us all the country has to offer and taking us to a few special places off the beaten track. 

All in all a good book, and if travel is in your future, I don’t see how you could read this and not want to go. It truly does sound like Paradise.  

"Tolstoy and the Purple Chair'

Tolstoy and the Purple chair by Nina Sankovitch

Three years after Nina Sankovitch's sister died, she decided to spend a year reading one book every day. It would be her priority, her work, for a full year and she would be looking for answers about why she deserved to live when her sister was dead, and how to go on living now without her. Her husband and four sons agreed to give her the time and space she needed to read and to write a review on her blog of every book she read.

As others have said, I was surprised that a woman would ask so much of her family, and that they would agree to it. I, too, was put off by her expecting her husband to be so understanding of her needs, but when his sister died shortly after the author's sister, she couldn't make herself go to the funeral with him. I admit I don't know all the details of their lives, but from what she has told us, it just seems a bit odd. 

I enjoyed reading this, but in the end I found it to be over-heavy with profound metaphors. I was hoping for more about the books, but I don’t feel like she was so much sharing books with me as she was hitting me over the head with the lessons she learned. It’s in her delivery, not in what she’s saying. The things she learned were good, but it felt like too much of a stretch trying to relate everything she read to her own situation. 

I did enjoy hearing about all the books, and I’m impressed that anyone could read a whole book every day. The background she gave us on her father’s life was for me the most interesting part, and I hope someday she’ll write a book telling us more about him. 

The list of 365 books read at the end was nice.  

"Relative Happiness" and "The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper"

Relative Happiness by Lesley Crewe

There's almost nothing I can say about this book that is positive, so I won't say much at all. The story stretched credibility too far and the writing was disappointing. In my opinion it needed a lot more editing; I don't understand how it got published as it is. It is a first novel, and maybe her subsequent novels are better, but nothing in this one made me want to try them. Wish I had better things to say, but I did not enjoy it.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

This one is about a man who loses his wife, then finds among her things a charm bracelet he'd never seen before. He undertakes various adventures to find the story behind each charm, and in the process discovers his wife had a life before they met that he knew nothing about. It's a sweet story, if a bit far-fetched - or maybe a lot far-fetched. Arthur is a lovable character though, and it was a nice light read before tackling The Brothers Karamazov.