Summer Reading Challenges Completed


Well, I’ve done it. On Goodreads, in the CanadianContent group (also here on WordPress at A Year of Books), we were challenged to read a book from each province and territory in Canada over the summer. It could be a book based in that province or a book written by an author from that province. My initial list changed over the course of the challenge, as I found other books that I enjoyed or did not finish another and had to find something else to replace it. I discovered some books that I really, really enjoyed and a few authors new to me and I hope to read more by them.

These 13 books are also part of the #20BooksOfSummer challenge at 746Books. You can see my original list of  Cross Canada books here with others that I thought I would read to  make up the 20. The final list is a bit different.  I’ve actually read more than 20 since June. I have added a  list of seven more at the end of this post and call that challenge complete!

Here, then, is the final list with links to the reviews:

British Columbia:
Title: The Jade Peony (Review)
Author: Wayson Choy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Finished: June 19
Have I Visited B.C.?: Yes

Alberta
Title: Prairie Ostrich (Review)
Author: Tamal Kobayshi
Rating: 5 stars
Finished: July 5
Have I Visited?: No

Saskatchewan
Title: Alone in the Classroom (Review)
Author: Elizabeth Hay
Rating: 2.5 stars
Finished: July 9
Have I Visited?: No

Manitoba:
Title: The Summer of My Amazing Luck (Review)
Author: Miriam Toews
Rating: 3 stars
Finished: July 25
Have I Visited?: No

Ontario
Title: The Only Cafe (Review)
Author: Linden McIntyre
Rating: 4 stars
Finished: July 17
Have I Visited?: Yes

Quebec
Title: Barney’s Version (Review)
Author: Mordecai Richler
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: June 14
Have I Visited?: Yes

New Brunswick
Title: The Town that Drowned (Review)
Author: Riel Nason
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: August 16
Have I Visited?: Yes

Nova Scotia
Title: Ava Comes Home (Review)
Author: Lesley Crewe
Rating: 3.5 stars
Finished: June 11
Have I Visited?: Live here

Prince Edward Island
Title: Chronicles of Avonlea (Review)
Author: L. M. Montgomery
Rating: 4 stars
Finished: August 18
Have I Visited?: Yes

Newfoundland & Labrador
Title: First Snow, Last Light (Review)
Author: Wayne Johnston
Rating: 5 stars
Finished: August 22
Have I Visited?: Yes

Nunavut
Title: Rankin Inlet (Review)
Author: Mara Feeney
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: June 26
Have I Visited?: No

Northwest Territories
Title: Late Nights on Air (Review)
Author: Elizabeth Hay
Rating: 4.5 stars
Finished: August 30
Have I Visited?: No

Yukon
Title: Gold Fever (Review)
Author: Vicki Delany
Rating: 3 stars
Finished: June 9
Have I Visited?: No

To finish, seven more books to make up the 20 Books of Summer Challenge:

Court of Lions – Jane Johnson. 4 stars, Finished June 25
Electric Shadows of Shanghai – Clare Kane. 4.5 stars, Finished
All is Beauty Now – Sarah Faber. 5 stars, Finished July 20
Persuasion – Jane Austen. 4 stars, Finished August 2
Lost in September – Kathleen Winter. 4 stars, Finished August 6
Holding Still for as Long as Possible – Zoe Whittall. 3 stars, Finished August 11
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy. 3.5 stars, Finished June 12

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Bob’s Your Uncle

“Books enable you to try on a different life, one very different from your own, that you have no other way of living.”
Pamela Paul (New York Times Book Review Editor)

I was perusing some links this morning and came across one to an interview in The Atlantic with the woman that is the editor of the NYT Book Review. Her name is Pamela Paula and she’s a voracious reader. She’s made a journal of a list of every single book she’s read since she was 17, nearly 30 years. Just a list. No reviews, no ratings. Hand written.  Colour me impressed. I would find it difficult to do without adding a rating or a quick review.

She is still using the same journal, too, which has grown quite ragged around the edges and has written a book about her life in relation to reading and the journal, which she calls “Bob” for “Book of books”.  Many entries in her Book of Books bring back memories of her life at the time she was reading those particular books. This is the basis for her memoir, My Life with Bob. (amazon.ca, Amazon.com here)

This passage from the article will feel familiar to all of us who can’t imagine life without reading:

Paul describes her reading habit like a hunger than can’t be satiated, that grows, instead, with each new morsel she devours. The book seems haunted by this realization, the plain fact that no one can read it all—no matter how many built-in shelves she hammers up, no matter how their shelves sag with weight. As Paul puts it: “The more you read, the more you realize you haven’t read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing.”

In the interview, she describes the memory of a journey to China when she was reading entry number 351. It’s quite a detailed memory and reading through her journal brings back similar stories which she decided to write about, connecting books she’s read to periods and events in her life.  She also talks a bit about her job as editor of the NYT Book Review and how she always found it difficult to cover all the books that deserved publicity and reviews, only to come to the realization that it just isn’t possible. There are too many good books out there but she can try to bring a good cross section to the readers of the Book Review as a starting point.

I found it interesting to read her ideas on what you should and should not put in a good book review. I write reviews of all or most of the books I read though it’s primarily for my own records. I do try to get across what the book’s about and what I liked or disliked about it but when I read professional reviews, I realize I’m not really that good at it. The New York Times wouldn’t look at my reviews  twice! That’s ok. My reviews aren’t awful, and they’re fine for the average person I hope and for me. Some come out better than others.

My mother, of course, and many friends and family think my reviews and travelogues are good enough to get published. I know better. I read a lot of travel magazines and my travelogues of my journeys are nowhere in that same stratosphere but I write the travelogues, and now the reviews, so that I can revisit both the journey and the book.

Do read the whole of the interview with Pamela Paul. It’s very interesting and as a fellow book addict, I can identify with a lot of what she had to say. I think the book will definitely be added to my ever-growing To Be Read list!

My travel journal on WordPress.

My own website with all my travelogues

Oprah’s Contribution to Literacy (@Oprah)

Obviously, I love to read. This blog wouldn’t be in existence if I didn’t. I can’t imagine not having books in my life and I find it strange when someone says they don’t read unless they have a very good reason. There would be a book written on just about any topic in the world so it can’t be that there isn’t something that interests you. Books are too long? Read a magazine. It still counts as long as there are words, preferably more words than pictures.

I may think it strange but I don’t judge. Your thing isn’t my thing and if you don’t read, you’re probably into something that I’m not. But let’s just proceed on the premise that reading is a Good Thing.

I’ve mentioned before that the Harry Potter books got a lot of kids and even adults reading. Surely some people kept on reading other books after they finished HP and saw the movies. I should think that a whole new crop of readers was born with that series which makes me happy.

There’s another crop of readers with its seeds planted in pop culture. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you Oprah Winfrey. (I hear you groaning there in the back!) Oprah is a very powerful influence these days. I think she is to be much admired. She grew up poor and pulled herself up into the world, making a career in broadcasting and then broke out into fame with her talk show. I was never a habitual watcher but I did enjoy her show. She’s reached heady heights with a magazine, tv network, charities, acting, producing and much more. She is generous with her fans and her philanthropy has changed the lives of many.

Many years ago, while she was still doing her talk show, she started a book club. She recommended a book, urged her fans to read it and then had the author on the show a few weeks later to talk about the book. As social media grew, there could be discussions online about the book. She stopped the book club for awhile then brought it back by espousing American classics and is still promoting books and authors now. Many of her books support African American authors and stories because that’s what touches her, what she can relate to the best but the list of her books spans a diverse variety of authors and genres. There are even some Canadian authored books. (A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, and Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, one of my favourites) There are some really talented authors that would have been overlooked had she not shone the light on them.

I’ll admit that I didn’t really jump on the Oprah Book Club bandwagon, probably due to not being a regular follower of her tv show at the time or over the years. I have read a few of the books that are on her list-to-date though not because they were picked for her book club. Most of her picks were not stories that drew me in but there are some on her list of 76 to date that also happened to be a few of my favourites. In addition to the Ann-Marie MacDonald book already mentioned, two more that I loved are Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett and Tara Road by Maeve Binchy. The thing is, I was already a reader before the book club came to her as a Really Good Idea.

The point that I’m trying to make is that Oprah’s Book Club sparked a huge interest in reading among her fans. Her sticker on a book could make it a best seller, whether it was newly published or whether it was a classic from the 19th or early 20th Century (Dickens, Pearl S. Buck, Leo Tolstoy, John Steinbeck). Her recommendations would open up a new type of book for many that might not have thought about reading a classic, or a book that tackles a heavier subject.

Oprah loves to read and she picks the books that she enjoys. People can’t submit a book for consideration. She finds her books the way the rest of us do, word of mouth, friends and family, advertising, best seller lists, social media recommendations, and many other ways. She’s brought the written word to literally millions over the years. Even if her choices might not be mine all the time, I applaud her contribution to literacy and the enrichment of lives through the written word.

Oprah, if you’re reading this, (one can wish, right?) can I just suggest some wonderful Canadian authors? Miriam Toews, Frances Itani, Kathleen Winter, Richard Wagamese, Michael Ondaadje, Mordecai Richler, Timothy Findlay, Margaret Atwood. That’ll do for a start!

Check out Oprah’s book list to date if you want to read something new. On Twitter, #oprahsbookclub has book chat and her official Twitter is here.

Slow and Steady Doesn’t Always Win the Race

books_glassesI don’t mind a book that takes its time, builds a world, characters, situation. A book that meanders through the plot or doesn’t even have  a plot as such, a book that’s about the characters or a slice of life sometimes works very well. But when a book is suppose to be a thriller or have a dramatic plotline, it’s really irritating when it takes, sometimes up to over half the book to get to that bit.

I remember when I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson. It was highly recommended by several friends whose taste I respected. I read. And read. And nearly 200 pages in, still nothing really had happened. I was advised to stick with it because it would turn on the proverbial dime any time. It did but it was quite a slog getting there! The rest of the book was “edge of your seat” and the other two in the trilogy each started off with a bang.

Currently, I’m ready Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer. It’s science fiction in the near future and the blurb on Goodreads and Amazon reads:

“Experimental psychologist Jim Marchuk has developed a flawless technique for identifying the previously undetected psychopaths lurking everywhere in society. But while being cross-examined about his breakthrough in court, Jim is shocked to discover that he has lost his memories of six months of his life from twenty years previously–a dark time during which he himself committed heinous acts.

Jim is reunited with Kayla Huron, his forgotten girlfriend from his lost period and now a quantum physicist who has made a stunning discovery about the nature of human consciousness. As a rising tide of violence and hate sweeps across the globe, the psychologist and the physicist combine forces in a race against time to see if they can do the impossible–change human nature–before the entire world descends into darkness.”

Ok, sounds good. He finds out pretty early on that he’s lost six months of memory. At 55% into the book, I only just got to the “stunning discovery” and possibly a hint of that “rising tide of violence and hate”. At 65%, I would say the “rising tide” has began. Without spoiling things, I’ve read some of the other reviews on Goodreads and there is at least one other quite dramatic plot twist going to happen but Good Grief, at this point in the book, you’d think the plot would have advanced and be well into all that to give the protagonists time to work out a solution and implement it. When they do, I have a feeling it’s going to feel rushed, simplified and tidy. Aside from that irritatingly slow build up, and an overload of science that my brain doesn’t take in, the story is pretty good. Stay tuned for the review of the book once I find out how this is going to end!

I’ve read other books like that and not just in science fiction. Maybe SciFi takes longer because the science or world has to be set up though that hasn’t always been my experience. You could do both things at the same time if you juggle it right.

Seinfeld was a tv show about “nothing”, it was the characters and the situation they found themselves in, every day life, somewhat exaggerated for the comedy. I don’t mind a book like that as long as the characters are interesting and the writing is good. But if I am expecting dramatic, I don’t want to be reading the book and thinking “get on with it!” Slow and Steady isn’t always rewarding if the author is promising high drama or action. Maybe, in this case, I’m just not patient enough to appreciate how the author is leading the reader into the story.

Reading Evolution, from then to now

I’ve been a reader as long as I can remember being able to read. I can clearly recall being in the hospital when I was 10 or so and reading a book avidly and reading it out loud to the girl in the other bed because she was blind. I believe it was also a book I re-read several times though I can’t remember now what it was.

My all time favourite book, read in my early teens the first time, was Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I read it many times well into adulthood though I confess I haven’t read it since I was in my 30s at least. That’s a long time though I won’t go into how long! I may just reread that some time soon.

The first “grown up” type books I remember reading were my aunt’s Harlequin Romances. They were thin, easy to read, and, back in the early 70s, pretty tame on the romantic “details” so my mother allowed it. I read Harlequins through my teens but lost interest after that. They were too tame for me by then, not very challenging, and were becoming pretty formulaic and “samey”. What I did like about them in particular was that many of them took place in an foreign locale, Paris, Australia, Brazil etc. I was an armchair traveler even then.

I had advanced to popular fiction when I was in my 20s, what we might call “chick lit” these days though I guess that’s not very politically correct. I notice some book companies are calling it “women’s fiction” which basically means the same thing. They are sexier, filled with (usually) strong women who overcome adversity, have wildly romantic lives with interesting careers but who often get their heart broken and sometimes even take delicious revenge on someone that did them wrong/stole their company/killed their father etc. I did have to spend a couple of years sanitizing my reading material. Due to an ex who had very little in the way of self esteem, I had to keep the peace by reading non threatening books like Agatha Christie mysteries. Suffice it to say that didn’t last more than a couple of years and when he did *me* wrong, he lost any right to dictate to me what I could read and well he knew it.

But somewhere along the way I started becoming drawn to books about crime, detectives and serial killers. I’m not sure when that started. I’d like to blame Steig Larsson and the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but I think I was reading them a few years before that series came out. I surprised myself. It never was my sort of book. Nor my sort of tv show or movie. I still find that I’m ambivalent about most cop/detective/crime tv series and movies though if it’s something really well put together, I might like it.

The HBO series, Dexter, was a favourite of mine though I wasn’t as keen on the books on which the series was based. The British detective series Life on Mars (not the awful American version) was superb but it had an element of time travel in it. Come to think of it, over the years I’ve quite enjoyed some of the British crime dramas. The stories always seem grittier and are so well cast. Recently, I’ve started reading books by Val McDermid. There was a good series called Wire in the Blood that was based on her detectives and a criminal psychologist.

Steig Larsson’s Millenium trilogy was excellent. The Swedish movies made from the books were equally superb, though the one American version made from the first book was a bit less so. It wasn’t bad, however, but didn’t have quite that dark edge the Swedish ones did. Another series of great crime books, also written by a Scandinavian author, Norwegian Jo Nesbo, has Detective Harry Hole (pronounced Hol-ay) chasing down serial killers in Oslo. In fact, I’ve picked up similar books by other Scandinavian authors and they’re quite good. They are all translated into English and I have to admire the translators for doing such a stellar job. It must be very difficult to do that, to convey the same thing in the same way that the author intended. You would have to be a good writer in your own right to be able to rephrase something in a different language that makes the same point in the same way.

I still enjoy “women’s fiction”, general fiction,  and sometimes “literary” fiction. I would have to say my all time top genre is historical fiction though I never did get into what is loosely termed as “bodice rippers”. I do like historical fiction with a bit of romance in it but the historical fiction “bodice rippers” are not that different from the Harlequin Romances I read when I was a teenager. The plots and dialogue are predictable and repetitive with a cookie cutter romantic formula and every euphemism for all things sex-related thrown in. I’ve read *good* historical fiction with romance involved and there’s a wide gap between the two. (points to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series)

I’ve been reading more fiction by Canadian authors, still with my favourite genres, and enjoying them as well. I don’t think I’ll ever stick to just one type of book and there are some sorts that really don’t interest me at all such as westerns. When it comes to horror and suspense, I would choose sparingly. I like Stephen King but on the whole, tend not to read that genre, nor do I usually enjoy hard core Science Fiction though I don’t mind it on the light side and some fantasy will do me well now and then also. I’ve been enjoying some of the futuristic dystopian type novels as well which are a bit scifi and fantasy. I also like to dip into the classics (published before 1950, even in the 19th and 18th centuries). I’ve been wanting to read Don Quixote for ages. Maybe this will be its year.

What about non-fiction?  I do like non-fiction history, and autobiographies/biographies of historical figures. I don’t care for politics, self-help, spiritual, or business/financial non-fiction. I like a travelogue type book and the occasional humourous book, preferably about travel (Bill Bryson, anyone?) but I always drift back to history. I think that’s why I enjoy historical fiction so much. I know that the facts are sometimes bent and molded a bit for the fiction but unless it’s really, *really* wrong (like giving Henry VIII four wives instead of six and the book isn’t speculative fiction) then I can forgive a bit of “fast and loose” that the author plays to fit their plot.

So there you have it, the evolution of my (mostly) fiction reading life. I have a few hard-core favourite genres and then another group of “now and then” types of books. A good story is a good story and I’d certainly take any recommendations on board for consideration.

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