World Book Day

April 23 is World Book Day. It’s been organized by UNESCO to promote literacy and publishing. The date traces back to Spain in 1923, where they wanted to honour author Miguel Cervantes who died on this date. Also, it’s the birth and death date of William Shakespeare. Wikipedia has an odd trivia fact about these two authors who died on the same date in 1616. Cervantes actually died 10 days earlier because Spain did not use the same calendar that England did (Gregorian Vs Julian). Not every country celebrates it on the same date but many countries do mark a date for it.

So today, read a book to or with your kids. Visit a library. Or why not read a classic book? I’ve got Rockbound by Canadian author Frank Parker Day on the go (stay tuned for review when I’m done). That was written in 1928 and takes place in a small fishing village on a tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia, a kind of David vs Goliath story, Goliath being either the antagonist of the story or the force of the sea. Or both. I like to try to read a few classics ever year, either Canadian classics or others.

There is this list from CBC on the 100 Novels that make you proud to be a Canadian. There are a lot of great books on there, both by authors that are Canadian literature royalty and new, exciting authors. My favourites from the list are: Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald which I’m planning to reread this year, Annabel by Kathleen Winter, Galore by Michael Crummey (or anything by him), The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, The Outlander by Gill Adamson, and oh gosh, there really are a lot of good books on that list, and I’ve only read about a third of them.

There really are some great authors producing books of all types and genres. That’s the best thing about reading, there is bound to be something that interests you, be it fiction, non-fiction, graphic novel, audio book, magazines that will cover pretty much every topic under the sun. Reading improves your vocabulary, your imagination, your intelligence. You can learn from any kind of reading and you’ll never be bored if you have something to read.

 

IWD: Favourite Women Authors

Meeting Diana Gabaldon

Today is International Women’s Day, so I’m told. It may be as good a time as any to write a few notes on some of my favourite female authors. Number one on the list is Diana Gabaldon. She’s been on the top of my list since I discovered her very first book in 1990, Outlander. I love her style of writing and her characters and their stories are well researched, well written and thoroughly enjoyable. Her ongoing saga tells the story of Jamie and Claire Fraser and their family.

Minor spoilers if you’ve never read the books are included in this paragraph: Nurse Claire Randall “fell” through the standing stones in a stone circle in Scotland to find herself in the mid 18th century during the Jacobite Uprising where she met Jamie Fraser. They fell in love and married. Claire’s healing abilities served her well but also, on occasion, got her into trouble where women that could heal were sometimes suspected of being witches in that time period. During the series of books (8 so far), Claire returned to the future just before the battle of Cullodden but when she discovered Jamie didn’t die in the battle, found a way to return to him. Her daughter, Briana, also has the ability to travel through the stones as does Briana’s two children. (I’m covering a lot of ground here!)  Over the years, the Frasers end up in pre-Revolution America in West Virginian mountain country but get tangled up in the War of Independence.

There’s so much more detail, of course, with adventures galore, villains, heroes and everything in between. Diana has also written a few spin off books and stories about a secondary character, Lord John Grey. The books are in the process of being made into a television series on the American network Starz. The first two books have been aired so far with season three following book three coming later this year. Some people find Diana’s books have far too much detail in them but fans of the books wallow in every word! The television series pulls out the best of the books and keeps to the storyline very well with some differences that are inevitable due to the logistics of film/visual storytelling. Her website has excerpts from her books including the one she is currently writing and there is news and appearance schedules when applicable.

As you can see from the photo, I’ve met her (two or three times, actually) when her book signing tours have landed in Halifax. She’s very interesting and a real joy to listen to. She’s intelligent and funny and warm. She really seems to appreciate her fans and all the support they’ve given her over the years.

I could go on and on about Ms. Gabaldon but I was meant to write about other favourite authors as well.

I couldn’t talk about female authors without mentioning Canada’s Margaret Atwood. She really has become the First Lady of CanLit over the past forty years. She writes fiction, poetry, short stories and recently, she’s authored a graphic novel, working with the artist to create Angel Catbird. I own the first volume and I think the second one is due out soon. Her books span a variety of types of fiction though many have a sci-fi Dystopian theme. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of her best known books and has been filmed once already. A new series is due out later this year, debuting at the end of April in a 10 episode series on the American network Hulu. The most outrageous thing is that there is no apparently Canadian debut for this series based on a classic Canadian book. Not that I’ve heard , yet. And they wonder why people continue to download illegally or buy proxy VPN services to circumvent the restrictions between countries.

On the positive side, her novel Alias Grace is going to be a mini-series and will air on CBC in Canada in addition to Netflix in the US. Another recent book, The Heart Goes Last, is going to be filmed as well. It seems like the world at large is finally realizing the gem that we always knew we had here in Canada.

Some years ago, I discovered a series of books about witches in the modern world. The author’s name is Debora Geary. She wrote well over a dozen of these charming little books, filled with a community of strong women who were the hearts of their families and friends. Their abilities varied from fire, water, earth and air, with different witches having different strengths. Not just women, but some of the men and boys were also witches with abilities as well. One small boy will prove to be the most powerful of them all and it’s a challenge to raise a little one like that! It really does take a village! The books are only available on Amazon Kindle and this page on her website gives you more details on the series.

Anyway, I was gutted when she gave up writing about witches a few years ago but she’s still writing under the name of Audrey Faye. I haven’t read any of her newer series but a couple of them seem to be more science fiction and fantasy  and I think I would probably like them just as much. Her books are “clean”, that is, no swearing, no sex (though it’s alluded to among the happy couples). If you were concerned, you would have none were you to give them to your teenagers, though I think they’d appeal more to girls than boys but everyone’s different.

That’s pretty much my top three but I enjoy books but quite a few women. In random order: Anita Burgh, Penny Vincenzi, Miriam Toews, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Fiona Walker, Sharon Kay Penman, Alice Hoffman, Hilary Mantel, Emma Donoghue, Susanna Kearsley, Gillian Flynn, Tana French, Frances Itani, Maeve Binchy, Barbara Erskine, and Val McDermid.

Books to read for Black History Month

February has evolved into Black History Month. We can trace its origins back to 1926 when a man called Dr. Carter G. Woodson originated a Negro History Week to celebrate the anniversaries of the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln and celebrate the accomplishments of black Americans who never made it to the inside of a history book, or if so, not in any positive way. It is observed in the U. S., Canada and the U.K. The U.S. Government recognized Black History Month in 1976,the Canadian government in 1995  and the British government in 1987.

I live in Nova Scotia and there are two “firsts” that we can claim. The first all-black town was established in Nova Scotia in 1783 near Shelburne, called Birchtown,  and was populated by Loyalist Blacks feeling the American War of Independence. The settlers were recorded in The Book of Negroes which was featured in a very good (fiction) book by Lawrence Hill a few years ago. It’s well worth reading. Also related is Chasing Freedom by Gloria Ann Wesley which is a historical fiction novel about Birchtown.

Rosa Parks was a black woman who refused to sit in the back of a public transport bus in 1955 and it was a catalyst for the civil rights movement but before Rosa Parks, there was Viola Desmond who lived in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. She was a respected businesswoman but in 1946, she challenged the rule at a local cinema and refused to leave the section reserved for whites. She was arrested and charged with a minor tax violation and the publicity kicked off a similar civil rights movement in Canada. In 2015, Nova Scotia inaugurated an annual holiday in February. Each year Nova Scotia Heritage Day will be named in honour of a well known Nova Scotian. The first year, the day was dedicated to Viola Desmond and the new harbour ferry in Halifax is also named for her.

I’ve seen a number of websites and news articles in the past few days that are publishing lists of books by black authors so I thought I’d post a few links and suggestions here.

In addition to The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, I’d recommend any of his other novels. I’ve also read Any Known Blood by LH.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan is another really good book by a Canadian author. It won the Scotiabank Giller prize and a number of other awards as well.

Fifteen Dogs and The Hidden Keys by Andre Alexis are definitely worth a look in . Fifteen Dog also won the Giller Prize. The Hidden Keys is his new book.

Another French Canadian novel also translated to English is the now-classic How to Make Love to a Negro by Dany Laferrière.

The Underground Railroad was a network of people that helped black slaves escape to Canada in the 19th century before slavery was abolished. I’ve Got a Home in Glory Land by Karolyn Smardz Frost is about the Underground Railroad and won a Governor’s General award for non-fiction in 2007. Of course there’s the current best seller, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is quite good. It might be “hyped” but apparently is worth the publicity. It’s on my TBR list.

We may think of Canada as the place that the American slaves ran to for freedom but Canada was a nation that only abolished slavery in 1834 with the rest of the British Empire. Canada’s Forgotten Slaves: Two Hundred Years of Bondage  by Marcel Trudel traces the history of slavery in Canada from the mid 17th century French colonies up to the abolishment.

Helen Oyeyemi is a black British author. Her books are listed here. I read Boy, Snow, Bird last year and it was pretty good. Another black British author I really like is Zadie Smith. I’m reading her newest book Swing Time at the moment. I’ve really liked almost all of her books though her first book, White Teeth and her third, On Beauty are my favourites. I think Swing Time is very good, too though I’m only halfway through at the moment.

Here’s a list for this year by the Guardian newspaper in the UK, and one from last year.
A Tumblr List from Penguin Randomhouse for a book a day, and another list from Penguin Randomhouse here.
A list of kids’ books collated by PBS

 

Promoting Canadian Writers

When I was in high school in my last year, there were two specialized English classes that we could opt to take instead of the regular one. The regular English class would have a variety of topics and usually included a Shakespeare play, some novels and possibly some poetry and short stories. One of the specialized courses was European Literature and one was Canadian Literature. At the time, I decided to take the European Lit class instead of the Canadian Lit because, I’ll admit, I thought Canadian authors were boring. I know. I’m ashamed of that now but that’s the way I thought  back in the 70s.

I believe the Canadian Lit course included such authors as Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Timothy Findlay and probably Robertson Davies among others. The European Lit included Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsen, Tolstoy,  Flaubert and Josef Conrod.  Some of the novels I liked, some I hated. I’ve reread a few of them in the past year or two and changed my mind on several. You will never get me to crack open a Conrod ever again. He scarred me for life!

In the more recent years, however, I’ve rediscovered that Canadian authors are very diverse and even the classic authors are pretty damn amazing. Even before I found the Canadian book groups at Goodreads, I’d been dipping into books written by home grown authors and authors that have immigrated to Canada and are considered “ours”.  Through the Goodreads groups, I’ve discovered lots of newer authors and I’ve been encouraged to pick up more of the classic books by authors that have been writing for decades. The experience has been mostly quite positive and I will definitely be delving into more of their back catalogues.

Here’s a good blog post about a 2012 survey about how Canadians felt about Canadian books and authors. The results are quite interesting.

A couple of good places to start if you don’t really know what you might like is the website for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a literary prize handed out every year to Canadian writers. There is a long list which is pared down to a short list of new novels published that year. The winner is announced in November.  They have the lists and winners on their site going back to 1994. It’s a great place to find superb books.

Along a similar vein, there’s CBC’s Canada Reads competition. They choose five books and a well known Canadian defends each book, promoting it’s good points in a televised competition over a few days where one book is eliminated by a vote of the defenders each day. The books are not always new releases, either, they can be much older. Each year the competition sets a theme for the books and picks a long list and each defender must read all five of the shortlisted books. There are some wonderful books to be explored. The website has the shortlist and winners back to 2002. The shortlist for 2017 will be announced at the end of January with the competition near the end of March.

CBC, the national television and radio broadcaster, is a big supporter of the arts and their Books section has lots of great information, interviews, lists and you can click and click and find all kinds of interesting things like “My Life in Books” where prominent Canadians share their favourite books.  There are two radio shows that feature books and interviews, too.  You can listen on line to past episodes or to podcasts and one also has a blog. The Next Chapter is one and Writers and Company is the other.  Follow CBC Books on Twitter.

100 novels that make you proud to be a Canadian
100 YA novels
100 True Stories that make you proud to be a Canadian 

I have long decided that Margaret Atwood is my favourite Canadian writer and I plan to try to read all her novels and short stories, maybe even her poetry. I admit that’s not really my favourite thing to read but for her, I’m willing to experiment! I’ve seen her interviewed and she’s sharp and witty and so interesting!

Other Canadian authors I’ve discovered and really enjoyed include Miriam Toews (Manitoba), Ann-Marie MacDonald (Nova Scotia), Ami MacKay (Nova Scotia), Lesley Crewe (Nova Scotia), Michael Crummey (Newfoundland), Wayne Johnston (Newfoundland), Frances Itani (Ontario), Kathleen Winter (Quebec), Linden McIntyre (Newfoundland), Heather O’Neill (Quebec), Jocelyn Saucier (Quebec), Sussana Kearsley (Ontario),  Louise Penney (Quebec), Richard Wagamese (Ontario) and Elizabeth Hay (Ontario). There are more but those are the ones that  particularly impressed me. In fact, Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese is probably my favourite book from my reading in 2016. It certainly stayed with me for some time after I finished it.

I am most definitely going to be reading Canadian authors regularly.  I look forward to finding new ones and discovering more books written by our classic authors in addition to Ms. Atwood, such as Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies and Timothy Findley just to name a few. I think it’s important to promote home grown talent  though I’ll continue to read from other countries, too,(I’ve developed a fondness for Scandinavian crime novels!)  and I plan to continue my quest to read literary classics.

The Book Was Better

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The Outlander series of books by Diana Gabaldon, now a tv series called Outlander on Starz

Lots of movies and some television series are based on books. “Based on”, that’s the key word. Many times the movie takes an idea from a book and builds a whole new thing. Books generally contain so much detail that a movie can never fit everything in so naturally, it feels like a book is far superior to a movie.

When the author sells the rights to their work, what happens to make the end result  is pretty much out of their hands but sometimes an author is lucky to be allowed to write the screenplay. I’ve even been aware of a book that was written *knowing* it would be then made as a tv mini series and the series written by the book’s author.  It baffles me, then, when events in a book are completely changed for the movie. If the author knew they’d be writing the screen version, why didn’t they write the story to match in the first place? The specific book I’m thinking about is a sequel to Gone With The Wind, called Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley. The mini series had major changes which didn’t enhance the story at all. Boggles the mind.

I’m sure most writers try to be as faithful to a screen adaptation as they can. Changes always have to be made and things have to be left out because they don’t always work in the visual version or the budget might require it. Most of the time, you never know what goes into adapting a book for the screen and why.

Two years ago, my absolute all time favourite series of books was turned into a tv series. Or, at least, the first two books have been turned into series, so far, with the third book/series in production now, I think. The author is Diana Gabaldon and the series is the “Outlander” series. It’s difficult to nail down the genre really. It is superb historical fiction with a time travel element and romance and adventure. The first book, Outlander, was published in 1991 and there are currently 8 books in the series, two companion books and a few “spin off” books about a secondary character. The historical period is the late 18th century, starting in 1743, just before the Jacobite Rising in 1746 and following through to the events before, during and after the American War of Independence.

Ms. Gabaldon has had much interest over the years but wanted to make sure it was in good hands and the producers at the Starz tv channel in the US have taken it on board and ran with it. She has been closely consulted along the way though she has no actual final say in things. She did get the opportunity to write an episode and she had a cameo appearance in another one. She’s been great at keeping the fans informed and often explains *why* things are different book-to-movie which is really great. You get a bit of insight into the production of it. I still hear people complaining that the books are better and yes, yes they are, but I also really love the series and since I understand why things have been changed, I can take the series for its own merits. The changes haven’t been too jarring so far and the interpretations have worked very well, I think.

It still doesn’t mean that I always accept a movie or filmed adaptation’s changes. Sometimes they just don’t make sense to me and sometimes a really interesting or seemingly important part of a book is dropped or changed and it is upsetting when you do love the book. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that was better than the book aside from possibly added special effects that were jaw dropping.

I could go on and on about various movies and books specifically but I think I’ll leave those for future posts. There will likely be another blog post about Outlander at some point, as well!

How do you feel about book-to-screen adaptations? Do you dread them? Are you often pleasantly surprised? Can you accept changes to the story? Which ones have been done well or not?

The Reading Gene

bookplate

I have many memories of my father that are book related. One of them was that he would always be trading books with his twin brother and they’d always ask each other when they’d visit if the other had any books to borrow. Another was the sight of him sitting in his easy chair, listening to a police band radio with one ear, and the other eye on his book, sometimes even looking up and keeping an eye and ear on the TV if there was golf or bowling on the screen. If there was a hockey game on, he wouldn’t pick up his book until the intermissions and couldn’t understand how I could read and watch hockey at the same time!

A few years ago, my home city of Halifax, Nova Scotia was building a brand new central library. They were raising money with a campaign called Share the Wow. You could donate to the library fund and receive a personalized book plate and then could put it in any book in the library that you wanted to. I decided to do that, and had it personalized in memory of my dad who died in 2006.

I knew what sort of book I would pick. We generally didn’t read the same kinds of books but he would read one I might recommend if it had a good story and wasn’t too “girly”. Primarily, he liked westerns and stories that took place during wars, fiction or non fiction. Dad especially loved to read about people that had fought in or lived through World War II. He was a boy during that period in Halifax, which was and is a major naval base. He remembers it vividly. He also worked with a man who was a prisoner of war and he found those stories interesting, too. He had some older brothers who were in the navy and the Merchant Marines during the war and he always told us about selling newspapers during the war when there was often an “Extra” edition of the newspaper with war news.

I received my bookplate and off to the library on its grand opening day I went. I found where the non-fiction books on military history were located and browsed until I found a likely candidate. It’s called Grandpa’s War in Bomber Command by the late Jack W. Singer. He was a Canadian from Ottawa that joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1944. He was assigned to No. 9 Squadron just after the D-Day invasion, after his training in England. He wrote it as a memoir for his grandchildren and it was later published. There’s an excerpt from it here. It seemed exactly the sort of book my father would have enjoyed so I put the plate inside the flyleaf.

I like to think that book is still there, a little piece of my dad on the page.

My love of reading comes honestly.  Books were always in our house, in our hands, on our bedside tables,  stacked beside the chairs and sofa where we’d have our favourite spots to sit. We feel out of sorts if we run out of reading material.  English class was never a chore when I was in school (though occasionally, the books I had to read for class were, but more on that another time.) The gene has only successfully been inherited by my niece who loves to read. One of my nephews reads sometimes, but the other’s interests lean towards gaming and he’d rather watch a movie or a tv series than read the book on which it was based. My husband reads but not as voraciously as I do and we do share some common literary interests.

I can’t imagine my life without the printed (or digital) word. Starting a new book is always a thrill of anticipation. Now, you must excuse me. My lunch break is nearly over and I want to read a few chapters before I get back to work.