Monday, August 30, 2010

It's Monday - What are You Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  This last week was crazy -- I came down with a summer cold that made me feel rotten, but not rotten enough to stay home from the piles of work that seem to have amassed in my office.  Thankfully I feel much better, but the piles of work aren't going away .... however there is a LONG WEEKEND coming up so that is something to look forward to.

  I did manage to finish the following books this week:
                        Honeymoon in Tehran by Azadeh Moaveni
                        The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
                        The Carrion Vine by Erane Elizabeth Scully

  Books in Progress:
                       Ulysses by James Joyce
                       True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
                       The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart

  After that -- ?  My to-read piles are growing and growing so I can't complain about having nothing to read.  The complaints come when I have to make the decision about what to read next.

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Book Beginnings on Friday

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Becky at Page Turners. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading. If you like, share with everyone why you do, or do not, like the sentence.

This week's beginning is from Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang (won on Becky's blog -- thanks again!):

By dawn at least half the members of the Kelly gang were badly wounded and it was then the creature appeared from behind police lines.

It seems like this is the end rather than the beginning of the story, but there is an element of suspense (what is the creature?).  I know very little about Ned Kelly, other than he was an infamous Australian outlaw, so I'm looking forward to reading further.

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

I don't know how any of us in the twenty-first century can begin to comprehend what it was like to have been forced into slavery.  Sure, we complain about being overworked and underpaid, but for the most part we are able to move wherever and whenever we choose.  We are free. 

Aminata Diallo's story, as told in Lawrence Hill's fantastic novel The Book of Negroes (known in the United States as Someone Knows My Name) is one that is sad, shocking, and yet inspiring at the same time.  Kidnapped from her village in Africa as a young girl, Aminata endures the long walk to the ship that will take her across the ocean, that terrible voyage to America, and the hard, unimaginable life as a slave; all the while remembering where she came from and longing to return. 

Aminata's story travels a full circle - physically, from Africa, to South Carolina, to New York, to Nova Scotia, to London and back to Africa; and emotionally in a similar way.  She encounters many people in her life -- good and bad, black and white -- that help her keep her on the path to what becomes her ultimate goal:  becoming and remaining a free woman.

Lawrence Hill has written a wonderful novel and I am impressed with his ability to create such a wonderful female character.  It is at times not easy to read, but I am glad that I did. 

This is my second book completed for the Canadian Book Challenge 4.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ulysses Wednesday #11

 Welcome to Ulysses Wednesday, where I track my progress reading James Joyce's tale of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom.

 Status: page 534 of 783

 Another short post today -- I'm still in the chapter representing a play, and as I read it I am convinced that Mr. Joyce must have been smoking some wacky tabacky while he was writing this.  Bloom has been declared a virgin, he has declared that "I so want to be a mother" and then he becomes a woman - or perhaps a girl - before turning back to a man in time to be beaten by a madam and some of her "girls".  I think. 

  It's interesting to discover how different Leopold Bloom's character is than what I perceived before I started reading the novel.  Since I thought Ulysses was about him, I just assumed that he would be in all the action and that he would be a much stronger character.  Not so.  The novel follows Bloom's wanderings through Dublin, but it doesn't entirely focus on him; and in fact when he is involved in the plot I sometimes don't notice that he's even there.  Perhaps that was Joyce's point? 


Monday, August 23, 2010

It's Monday -- What are you Reading?

  It's Monday - What are you Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at bookjourney to allow us to share with others in the book-loving cyberworld what is on our reading plates.

  It's been a while since I've participated in memes but I'm back! 

  I won't go into all the books I've read since my last Monday post -- I can't remember any of them being overly wonderful anyways -- but in the last week I've read:
  Books in progress:
  Up next:
  • The Tower, The Zoo and The Tortoise by Julia Stuart
  • The Carrion Vine by Erane Elizabeth Scully.  I just attended a reading given by the author and I cannot wait to read this book.  It is an account of her and her mother's time in a Siberian prison camp during World War II; her mother kept a secret journal during this time and made her daughter promise to make their story public.  Mrs Scully is well into her eighties and this is her first published work so I can't but admire her tenacity.

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ulysses Wednesday #10

Welcome to Ulysses Wednesday, where I track my progress reading James Joyce's tale of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom.

Status: page 474 of 783

  So I'm in a chapter now that is reading like a play, and it feels like a dream sequence.  Bloom is chasing after Stephen Dedalus as they walk down the street (in what seems to be a dodgy area) and then all of a sudden the scene turns into a courtroom and poor ol' Leopold is on trial for sexually harassing a maid and some society ladies.  I'm not finished with this chapter yet, but Paddy Dignam has returned from the dead to vouch for Bloom's character, so I wonder what else will pop up in this little fantasy.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

  So I just returned from a quick visit up to my hometown of Winnipeg to visit with family and friends and to celebrate my xxth birthday with my niece Ryane who turned four on the same day.  I also had the chance to sneak out on my own and visit the bookstore, to pick up some birthday presents for myself:

  I found that I needed to stock up on some Canadian books for the Canadian Book Challenge, and since I'm ashamed to admit I have not read any Margaret Laurence novels, I picked up two of her best known, along with a novel by another great Canadian author, Gabrielle Roy (I think I may have been assigned part of the French version of The Road Past Altamont in university).  The Bishop's Man won last year's Giller Prize, and was conveniently just released in paperback, and Good to a Fault was one of this year's Canada Reads selections.  King John of Canada seemed to have a funny premise and was on the clearance table, so I thought I'd give it a go.
  And yes, I know that The Slap is not a Canadian book, but it has been on my to-read list for some time and honestly I haven't seen it anywhere in the stores here so I picked it up.  It is on the long-list for this year's Man Booker Prize, and I am attempting to read at least some of them before the winner is announced.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ulysses Wednesday #9

Welcome to Ulysses Wednesday, where I track my progress reading James Joyce's tale of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom.

Status: page 429 of 783.

  Again real life has hampered my reading progress.  I did finish the "maternity ward" chapter, which my friend Ed informs me is the "Oxen of the Sun" episode (my edition has absolutely no mention of chapter numbers, much less the names of episodes as they are called in the smart circles) but it continued to make absolutely no sense to me.

  I wonder if I need to read the whole book first without "thinking" about it, then go back to closely read and thus better appreciate what it's trying to say?

  I am heading out on a short vacation today and since I know I won't be in the right place to read properly I am not bringing ol' Ulysses with me.  I hope to read the next chapter/episode before next week's post, though.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

  I have heard very mixed reviews about The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.  I had it on my nook wishlist, but when I saw it available at the library I thought I'd save the few bucks and read the old-fashioned (!) hardcover copy.

  The initial premise seemed interesting enough:  young Rose Edelstein discovers that she can taste the feelings of the person who prepares what she eats after tasting sadness in a lemon cake her mother baked for her.  Her family can only be described as dysfunctional at best, and the sensations become so strong that she cannot eat anything but highly processed junk food to prevent her from becoming overwhelmed. 

  And then it just gets weird. 

  Rose's story seems to take a backseat to that of her older brother Joseph, a very intelligent kid but very much a loner and with his own quirks (some reviews I have read have diagnosed him with a form of autism).  It seems that for him the greatest thing about going to college is moving into his own place, and well before he's finished high school he starts packing his things.  Even though Rose is the narrator of the entire novel, the last half of the book is more about Joseph; and to me this part made absolutely no sense.

  Maybe someone more intelligent than me can appreciate what (if anything) this book is trying to say.  I just plain did not get it.  I'm glad I did not shell out good money for this one.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Grounded by Seth Stevenson

  Even though I can't do it as often as I would like, I love travelling.  I love experiencing new cultures and seeing places that I feel I know just by reading about them.   My husband, on the other hand, is a homebody who I think has a closeted fear of flying; every time I mention the possibility of going on a trip with me - say, to visit my relatives in Scotland - his response always is "Can we drive there?".  I am not a huge fan of flying myself, but I see it as a necessary evil.

  So when I heard about this book Grounded:  A Down to Earth Journey Around the World by Seth Stevenson, I had to check it out.  Stevenson and his girlfriend were in a rut in their day-to-day lives in Washington D.C. and decided rather impulsively to travel around the world.  With a catch - they would do it without travelling by airplane. 
  After some time working out initial logistics and packing up their lives in Washington, they set off on their journey.  Each chapter of the book represents a particular leg of their trip (e.g. Chapter 1 is from Washington to Philadelphia, where they boarded the freighter that would take them across the Atlantic to Europe) and begins with an illustration of that chapter's route with the modes of transportation used.  In addition to the freighter, their travels went by train, ferry, automobile, and bus. 

  It is definitely an adventure they undertook, one which I don't know if I could replicate.  The crossings of the oceans are long and at times incredibly boring without significant infusions of alcohol.  Their ability to fly (pardon the expression) by the seat of their pants to get from place to place was quite amazing, though eventually I felt that getting from a to b was more important to them than seeing what a and/or b had to offer. 

  It is not entirely clear how long it took the couple to complete this journey.  but suffice to say that it's not something that the average person can do with only a few short weeks of vacation time.  Yet it makes me think about how I will get to my destination when I take my next trip.  A great line from the book that speaks to this: 

".... when it comes to travel, the slower you go, the more you appreciate where you've gone."

  Whether I'll ever convince my husband to travel is still unclear, but I enjoyed reading this book and I recommend it to anyone with wanderlust in their heart.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ulysses Wednesday #8

  Welcome to Ulysses Wednesday, where I track my progress reading James Joyce's tale of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom.

  Status:  page 400 of 783.

  I've made progress!  I'm halfway done!  I still don't understand most of what I'm reading!

  There has been one - ONE - chapter (12 or 13 depending on which reference I consult, the edition I am reading does not mark them) which almost reads like a normal novel; in which Leopold is relaxing along the sea and encounters Gerty MacDowell.  At first it seems rather boring (though comprehensible) - a group of girls along with the young brothers of one of them are enjoying the pleasant evening within earshot of the Mass being held at the church nearby.  Gerty is bored with this scene, and notices Leopold watching her; they acknowledge each other and, well, let's just say their encounter is consummated from afar.  The description of course is very symbolic but leaves no doubt as to what is happening (Fireworks!).  It seems tame compared to how these scenes can be described nowadays, but I can see how this chapter would have caused an outcry back in the day.
  The next chapter (13 or 14) takes me back to confusion.  Joyce is apparently experimenting with styles of different authors in English literature in chronological order, and though I get that he has gone to the maternity hospital to visit someone I have no idea what else is happening.  *Sigh*  One step forward, two steps back.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Unlikely Soldiers by Jonathan F. Vance -- Canadian Book Challenge

  Unlikely Soldiers:  How Two Canadians Fought The Secret War Against Nazi Occupation sounded like a heroic story of two Canadians doing their part to save Europe and the Western world from the evils of Adolf Hitler.  While the heroism is certainly not in doubt, the entire story of the organization in which they became involved was nothing but a comedy of errors that resulted in tragic consequences.

  Frank Pickersgill and Ken Macalister were two intelligent young men from different parts of Canada (Pickersgill from Winnipeg and Macalister from Guelph) who, after studying at the University of Toronto, headed to further their educations in Europe in the late 1930s.  Though Macalister initially went to England as a Rhodes scholar, he was permitted to complete his studies in France where he fell in love both with the country and with a young woman; Pickersgill was also in France, improving his language skills.  Both men became comfortable in France and loved the country and its people.

  When World War II began and France was occupied by the Nazis,  both men were both encouraged to return to Canada and to safety, however they felt such a loyalty to their adopted country that they chose to stay and fight for France's liberation.  They went to England and enlisted in the Canadian army, but because of their language skills and familiarity with France, they were transferred to a special division of the British military that was devoted to creating resistance networks in France. 
  After extensive training, Pickersgill and Macalister were flown into France, but because of the blunders of the intelligence network in place they were compromised almost from the beginning.  At this point - if this book were a novel - I would have given up, but as these were two real people who were only attempting to do their part to save France, I felt I needed to see their story to its conclusion.

  After describing the men's early years in Canada and then in France, the book becomes more about the complicated (and incompetent) network of resistance cells that is rather fascinating for those of us who are interested in World War II.    Alas, it wasn't the personal and human story I was hoping it to be. 

  This is my first book completed for The Canadian Book Challenge 4.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

August's Reading List

  It's hard to believe that it's already August.  July seemed to fly past in a whirlwind (my work was crazy busy) and though I did complete everything on July's reading list (well I'm still slogging through Ulysses) and a few other books, I felt like I didn't get as much reading done as I would have liked. 

  But it's a new month, and here is what is on this month's reading list:
         For reading groups:        The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
                                               The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
                                               In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

         For the little reader's readalong:  The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (I'm also counting this one towards the Canadian Book Challenge 4)

   Mid-month I'm heading up to visit my family in Winnipeg and celebrate my birthday with Michael Buble (well, I'll be at his concert anyway) and since it's a 14-hour drive each way I suspect I will pick up a couple of audiobooks to keep me and the hubster entertained on the journey.   He is not a reader, but he says he will be interested in listening to books, so I have to search out some that we can both enjoy.