Going (Book) Clubbing

Do you belong to a book club? They’ve been around a very long time, mostly under the radar but in the past 20 years or so, they’ve become really popular. They have also moved out of people’s homes and into local bookstores, I’ve noticed signs up for them in “my” Chapter’s store and in others. I think some of the libraries provide space for them, too. I’ve never belonged to one.

I know. That seems odd considering how much I read. With Goodreads, I’ve been a participant in online group reads so that’s kind of the same thing. The appeal of “real life” book clubs is the physical interaction, the coffee/tea/wine/treats aspect, the live reaction and discussion. Unless you’re meeting in an online real time chat room to talk about a book, the discussion loses it’s initiative (I think that’s the right word I was looking for) and it’s impact. Whether I could find a book club or join one at the bookstore or library  likely wouldn’t be difficult. The main drawback for me was that I don’t own a vehicle and traipsing around in the evenings by bus does not appeal in the least. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.

I attended a book club meeting once, with a friend of mine on a late spring evening. I think there were about 8 or 10 women attending, most on the older side of middle age, all very well educated and most of them quite serious readers, I think. I don’t remember the book they were discussing and I do know I hadn’t read it. The club was also choosing the books for the next year, beginning in September (taking the summer off). My suggestion of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon made the cut for the first book of the new reading  year, a good summer read, it was deemed. I wonder if they read it and  if they ended up enjoying it.

This brings me to a very famous book “club” started some years ago by Oprah Winfrey. She is a reader herself and decided to recommend books to her fans, books that she enjoyed and made a “club” out of it. Everyone would read a book for a month or two. Then she’d have the author on her tv show and they could all talk about/watch the show about the book. Her recommendation would spike sales for that book immensely and generate a lot of interest in that author. She didn’t just pick books off the top seller lists either and that made it interesting. A little later, she started to focus on Classics. I think Oprah did quite a lot to promote literacy not just in children, not just in people who struggled to read, but in ordinary folks that just never took the time to read or appreciate the joy of a well written book.

I never participated in Oprah’s book club but did look at the books she recommended. Many of her choices were written by black writers and/or were about black women and their experiences. That would resonate with her and a lot of her audience and you want a book that you can relate to. I’m not black so sometimes I found it difficult to relate to a book’s message and some of the books she promoted were quite dark. Not all, though. But an Oprah sticker on a book at your bookstore will pretty much guarantee you a good book with an intriguing character or two in it.

The reason I’ve dug into all of this is this month’s newest Oprah book club, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. I’m not sure why but the book caught my eye. It’s about an African American couple, Celestial and Roy, who’s world comes crashing down when Roy is jailed for something he didn’t do, and what happens to them both individually and as a couple after that. I thought “Oooh, that sounds good”.  Then I realized I had read one of Ms. Jones’ books before and liked that one, too. It’s called Silver Sparrow and is the story of two families linked by a bigamist husband but told from the point of view of the daughters. (My review) Always a good sign if I’ve already “met” the author and liked one of their books.

It’s now on my wishlist, with the hope that I can get an ecopy from my library. I’ve got too many others on the go at the moment to try to fit that in as well and with Canada Reads  coming soon, that’s going to bump a few more books up the priority list. (looks ruefully at the increasing stack of paper books and magazines stacking up waiting to  be read and loved!)

You can browse through Oprah’s picks here and there’s a downloadable pdf file of them there as well. She’s chosen a good variety of books over the past 20 years including two of my all time favourites, Fall On Your Knees, by Canadian author Ann-Marie MacDonald and Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It’s a good list to peruse if you’re looking for something new.

Q&A with Tayari Jones

So. Do you belong to a book club? Is it “in real life” or online? Is it more about the social aspect than the books? I think once I retire I may look around for one, perhaps one that meets on a Sunday afternoon and near-ish where I live in case taxis are going to be involved.

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What Kind of Reader Are You?

From the good folks at 50BookPledge via @SavvyReader

Me, I’m definitely a Polygamist Reader with no fewer than 3 books open at a time. Currently reading:

A Column of Fire  – Ken Follett
Fables of Brunswick Avenue – Katherine Govier (for the Bingo Challenge and the Cross Canada reading challenge as the author is from Alberta)
Precious Cargo: My year of driving the kids on school bus 3077 – Craig Davidson (One of Canada Reads shortlisted books for 2018)
The Girl in the Glass – Susan Meissner (on the bottom of the priority list because Precious Cargo is a library ebook and there are 2 more Canada Reads books I have on hold that I expect to get any day now as well. Library books trump all others due to time constraints)

Blogiversary

The Military and History Bookshop, Sidney, BC

This is the first anniversary of this blog. I read. I read a lot. I have been writing book “reviews” for a few years over on Goodreads and before that, Librarything and decided to start a blog for the reviews and other book-related topics last year. I also have a travel blog here on WordPress for my travelogues, travel planning and other travel topics. I also participate in a vew photo challenges that WordPress and a couple of other bloggers offer, using my travel photos for the contributions.

I’ve enjoyed book-blogging, finding new blogs from like-minded folks to read and talking about literary stuff. Because of my participation in first, CBC Books and now CanadianContent which are groups on Goodreads, I’ve been trying to read more Canadian authors and have discovered some really talented writers. I also participate in reading challenges including a Book Bingo and a “reading coast to coast” challenge. Luckily, Canada has only 10 provinces and three territories. It would be a lot more difficult if I had to find a book set in or an author by each of 50 states! Canada Reads sets 5 Canadian books against each other in March over a few days of televised debates. The long list for that will be announced soon and then the fun begins. Last year, I didn’t read all of the long list but I did read 4 of the 5 books from the short list plus, I think, at least one more from the long list over the year. The yearly Scotiabank Giller Prize, with a long and short list in the fall also has some inspiring books!

Anyway, 2017 was a good reading year. I read 100 books, mostly all fiction. I have an ereader so the majority of my books are electronic with a handful or two of paper books. I actually have a stack of paper books by my bedside at the moment. I managed to read about 60 % Canadian authors this year which pleases me. That’s up 50% from last year I think, when I cracked 40% Canlit. I listened to an audio book for the first time. Not sure that’s going to be a genre I’ll get used to. I find my attention wanders and I miss a lot.

2018 has begun and I will again be participating in the Bingo Challenge. I’ll be blogging about that and setting up a template to be filled in with potential choices. I’ll also try to do a Cross Canada reading challenge again, this time it will be spread across the whole year so it gives me more leeway to find books to fit and read. There will be monthly challenges and group reads on Goodreads and I have set a couple of personal goals.

I want to read all of the Jane Austen novels.  I have read a couple and plan to finish the set this year. I also would like to read all of the books in the Hogarth Shakespeare Project. I have a couple of those under my belt and am working on one at the moment.  I also like to try to read a few classic books in addition to the Austens. I’ve had Don Quixote on my To Read list for a while now, perhaps I’ll get to that this year.

It Does Not Compute


My mother arrived at our apartment yesterday and when she came in, she was looking a bit confused. She had just had a conversation wtih someone outside the building and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. When she explained, I understood.

There was a man standing there, one of the building’s tennants, out in the sunshine having a smoke. If he’s the person I think he is, he’s about her age or her generation anyway. He doesn’t smoke in his apartment. In the course of the short conversation, she suggested that it was a good day to settle down with a good book. He replied “I’m tired of reading” in a tone of voice that implied he didn’t read at all anymore, that he was fed up with the hobby. That’s how she took it, not that he had been reading for hours and needed a break. That’s what I might mean had I said it though I can’t imagine saying it. We both agreed, how can you tire of reading in that sense? My reaction reminds me of a “tag line” that one of the characters on the Canadian sitcom, Schitt’s Creek” would often say. He’d get a blank look on his face and utter “I don’t know what that means”.

It does not compute, Will Robinson.

All of my family are lifelong readers and we are unsettled if we don’t have a book to read. Magazines are ok, but not quite as satisfying. They’ll do in a desperate pinch but work much better as a “plug in”, an addition to the reading roster where books are the main event. I always have at least three books on the go at any given time, usually e-books with perhaps a physical book as well and almost always, I have an ebook loaded on my phone. I’ve got all the bases covered, I think. Sometimes I save the physical book for bedtime. The ereader is very convenient for bus commuting. My mom likes the ereader/tablet for reading in bed because it’s lighter than a book.

Tired of reading. That’s still bouncing off my brain. If I have been reading for hours, I might need a break, that’s true enough but if I’m tired of reading, I can also just switch to another book! Problem solved!

“I don’t have time to read.”

Another incomprehensible statement. I thank the reading gods and goddesses that my life is not so horrendously busy that I can’t take 20 or 30 minutes out to read. I read on my commute to and from work, about 20-30 minutes each way. I read at lunch, 40 minutes or so. I read in bed before I turn out the light, 60-90 minutes. Waiting in the doctor or dentist’s office? 10 – 60 minutes depending. (Yes, my doctor is always late!) Sometimes on weekend days or other days off, I might find a quiet hour or two in the middle of the day and read as well. 2.5 – 3 hours each weekday, 3 – 5 hours weekends. I can easily read 15 – 20 hours a week, give or take.

Reading takes me away to interesting places, with interesting people to meet. Some I like, some I don’t. Reading teaches me things, entertains me and relaxes me. If I ever say that I’m tired of reading, someone give me a good shake and sit me down with a book, ok?

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

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!

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