Big Little Lies | Review & Discussion

19486412I am not going to lie, I watched the show before reading the book. There were some questions left unanswered for me, and the book supplied the answers I was looking for. I recommend both. The show was really well done. There are two changes between the text and film and they are regarding Madeline. Unfortunately I can’t really discuss them without giving things away so I will do my best to explain what this book is about. The plot revolves around three women who are very involved in their children’s lives. The three women are ‘suburban moms’ only they are in an extremely wealthy neighborhood in California (in movie) and Australia (book). Madeline is the social glue and a feisty character who likes to get involved in people’s lives. She has an ex husband with whom she shares her older daughter, and two children with her new husband Ed (the show has only one kid). Celeste is her best friend–who used to be a lawyer but is now a stay-at-home mom taking care of her twin boys–she is absolutely gorgeous. Celeste’s life looks absolutely perfect from the outside, and she strives to maintain the perfect public perception. Her gorgeous husband, her perfect house, everything just right. We find out early on that Celeste and her husband have a problematic relationship. They abuse each other physically and sometimes it escalates–always ending in sexual intercourse. “Our dirty little secret” as Celeste puts it. The third main heroine is Jane. She is a single mom and only 24 years old. She got her son Ziggy (named after Ziggy Stardust) after a one night stand. All the women are united in that, their children go to the same school. There are other characters around like Renata the CEO business woman power mom who does it all, and other parents mentioned/interviewed who are woven in and out of the main plot, as well as Bonnie–the perfect holistic, yoga instructing, health-oriented woman who is currently married to Nathan, (Madeline’s ex-husband). All the peripheral characters play a role but the main focus is on Madeline, Celeste, and Jane.

We find out early on that there has been a murder, but we don’t know who died. The parents are interviewed by the police as we go along.

What I wrote so far covers the “plot” and “characters.” What I really want to discuss is why I love this narrative. I found it to be highly empowering. Moriarty takes 5 kinds of moms: divorced sharing (used to be single) mom, career mom (Renata), Mom who used to have a career (Celeste), single mom (Jane), and Free Will non-controlling mom (Bonnie). Madeline and Renata are more ‘helicopter’ parents than the others  but Jane spends most of her time with her son too.

The different kinds of mom and womanhood portrayed by Moriarty in this novel is innovative because we often see moms portrayed as either horrible and/or absent….or this sort of “Mrs. Darling” perfect mom who sings lullabies and reads to her children. The kind of mom achievable only if you have a very supportive partner, a housekeeper, household staff, and a lot of free time. In the 21st century these are hardly achievable for an average woman with an average income. I liked that the three main women were strong together by giving each other advice, helping each other out, and were loyal to their group while simultaneously being protective over their children when it came to it.

I also like that no one in this book is “happy.” There is no perfect scenario. No one is 100% fulfilled, and the suburban, ‘rich-life’ boredom, turns into cattiness and cliques. Everyone is trying to find an outlet to fulfill their lives aside from their family and children–the helicopter parents use the children as that outlet.

I particularly admired the ways in which Moriarty depicts variations of rape and abuse. She shows what it feels like, and the subsequent ‘PTSD-like’ symptoms post-rape; how these symptoms differ, how they are handled, and how an abuser never does it just once. It’s a powerful message. Sometimes I get lost in Moriarty’s little details (school drama and children talk) I almost forget the gravity of some of the big themes embedded in the plot. Lastly, she shows the ways in which children become miniatures of their parents in the way they imitate behaviour patterns, rather than being a certain way because of genetic predispositions. Madeline’s child Chloe is a social glue just like Madeline. Ziggy is quiet but a good kid, just like Jane. Skye, Bonnie’s child, is peaceful and calm.

I think this book is certainly a perfect one for a book club because there is so much to discuss and so many details. I definitely recommend this to everyone.

Author Spotlight | Geza Tatrallyay

“piano of ebony, symbol of my life:

My poor soul, like yours is ravished of happiness:

You lack an artist, and I the true ideal”

Cover final HRToday I am doing an author spotlight on poet and thriller/mystery writer Geza Tatrallyay. He is an excellent read for the month of November as he has written three memoirs—all perfect for the Nonfiction November. I often find that focusing on living authors I sometimes lack the ‘awe’ of having a biography filled with adventure to introduce the work, but in this case I have an exception. Tatrallyay was born in Hungary. Under the Communist regime his family escaped and immigrated to Canada. He captured this journey in the memoir: For the Children. He graduated with a BA from Harvard in 1972, and as a Rhodes Scholar from Oxford in 1974—two achievements I can only dream of—topping it off with an MSc from London School of Economics. In addition, Tatrallyay represented Canada in epee fencing at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal—the same event where Nadia Comaneci got the perfect 10. Events I only read about, Tatrallyay experienced firsthand not as a viewer but as an active participant. He also worked as a host at the Ontario Pavilion at Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan where he helped three Czechoslovak women defect to Canada which he captures in the memoir The Expo Affair. He now lives in Vermont, and writes mystery/thriller novels, currently focusing on the Twisted Trilogy, the first two books of which are already out: Twisted Reasons, and Twisted Traffic. If you enjoy Stieg Larsson, or Graham Greene, you should certainly give Tatrallyay’s fiction works a try. You can also be caught up by the time the third book comes out. I can go on and on but what I would like to review today is his poetry collection Cello’s Tears.

Cello’s Tears is a perfect combination of all of Tatrallyay’s life experiences. Death, love, and growth are all explored at different points in his life. Abriana Jetté mentions in the foreword to this collection that “his brain exists in two spaces; our speaker thinks in multiple languages.” The collection is divided in four parts–similar to the four movements in a symphonic form. Part One is titled “Teardrops” and focuses on growth and life experiences. The section begins with ‘echoes,’ mere sounds we make as we grow before we become our own individuals. It ends with a poem titled “The Death of My Mother.” The death of the mother as the end of a section is symbolic of the day we are all truly cut off from the care of our parents and must search the world alone. Their protection is always there, like a shadow. The figure of the mother named Lily—a fragile flower—is depicted as an idyllic almost fairytale-like mother whereupon her death:

“we curse a perverse god / who dared crush the perfect / lily that was your life.”

Section two and three are “Concerto,” and “Pictures at an Exhibition” where Tatrallyay explores the artistic and musical. References are made to artists, locations, and cultural symbols. Tatrallyay combines elements from both the East and West, merging them together in verse with the themes uniting us all: music and nature.

“moments musicaux / Float into the night ether/ … Toward the black hole / Of thermodynamic/ Annihaltion/ Of everlasting death.”

Lastly, the fourth section “Unanswered Questions” opens up opportunities for unifying questions, and the basis of philosophy ending with the poem “Dollops of Drivel.” In the introduction, Tatrallyay says that he tries to capture the Wittgensteinian frustration with the inherent impossibility of communicating the fullness of one’s feelings. He writes in this last poem:

“why are there no words to convey the raw / And burning beauty of this energy / Bursting inside my heart, my mind, my soul?”

What I loved about this collection was that 1. We get glimpses of the poet in different stages of his life and 2. the ways in which he plays with format. There are several haikus scattered, and each poem is never too long-winded. They are succinct and capture the intensity of the moment within a few lines, while simultaneously not suppressing the rawness of each experience.

I loved this collection and I would recommend it to everyone who enjoys poetry. I hope I captured some of the parts that made this work beautiful without giving too much away, and that it makes you want to read it for yourself. The good news: Tatrallyay will have a second collection of poems coming out in the Spring of 2018 titled: Sighs and Murmurs. I very much look forward to it!

You can watch Tatrallyay read from his works here and here. You can also find him at his website, Twitter, and on Goodreads. Some of his works can also be found at your local library (link to Toronto’s).

Geza Tatrallyay’s other works:

 

Peter Pan in Toronto

Today I went for a walk in the rain and on a quest! I wanted to find the “Peter Pan Statue hiding in plain sight” at Avenue and St. Clair. I read an article about it in the Torontoist and decided to made a day of it. The truth is, I’ve passed by that intersection SO MANY TIMES but not once did I think that in the little cove that is Glen Park–which is also part of a residential building’s ‘backyard’ is a lovely statue of Pan.  What I loved most about it were the details like the little mice carved in, the rabbits, the fairies talking to the squirrel, and Peter himself of course. At times I get so used to Pan as portrayed in Hollywood films, or even Disney, or Once Upon a Time versions. While I love all the interpretations, I seem to forget that Peter as depicted by Barrie is a child who is possibly 4 or 5, especially in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (and he doesn’t grow up so…). Seeing his statue reminded me what that would really look like. I took some photos for you to look at if you cannot make it there yourself.

The plaque beneath it reads: “To the spirit of Children at Play erected by the College Heights Association, September 1929.” (Making this statue 88 years old).

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Nonfiction November

In the bookish community online, November is known as “Nonfiction Month.” Or, at least the month in which readers attempt to read at least ONE Nonfiction text. In order for you to participate you just have to read one nonfiction work. I think that’s doable!

Olive set the ‘challenges’ for this year’s NonFic November. Here’s a link to her channel.

The challenges are as follows (and left open ended for everyone’s interpretation): Home, Substance, Love, and Scholarship

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These are my choices:

  1. Home: I will be reading House of Fiction: From Pemberley to Brideshead, Great British Houses in Literature and Life by Phyllis Richardson. I interpreted this in the literal sense as in: about houses. Others have interpreted this as a book about a small home (family), or a home for seniors, or children. Others read books with the setting in the country where they come from, or the city they were raised in…their personal memories of ‘home.’ It’s up to you.
  2. Substance: for this I will be reading the history of my favourite substance. I’ve always wanted to know more about the history of coffee. So I will be reading Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How it Transformed the World by Mark Pendergrast
  3. Love: as you can guess some people read the story of a romance in history or a topic that they specifically love. I love the latter because it opens the topic widely. I love animals, and I found this book called Being a Beast by Charles Foster by accident. I read that the author explores the behaviours of animals by pretending to be them for a while. I love this topic and this method.
  4. Scholarship: this is my favourite topic! For this I’ve selected the book I look forward to most: The Vampyre Family: The Curse of Byron by Andrew McConnell Stott. This book explores the biographies and relationships (as well as writing) of Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, and Percy Shelley.

October Wrap-Up

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October has been quite the month for me! I started a new job, which allows for the listening of Podcasts whilst working–which is perhaps the greatest job perk ever! I wanted to fully immerse myself in the spirit of October, Halloween, and the eerie supernatural forces of Victober.

lore-logo-lightI spent most of my month listening to Lore by Aaron Mehnke. I realize, that like with Night Vale, I am a little late to the party. I get happy when I’m late to a good party though, because I have the opportunity to binge-hear, binge-watch, and binge-read–fully immersing myself in the experience. The podcast features in each episode a mysterious occurrence in history and traces what we know of it from reliable sources. Unsolved mysteries, murders, or the history of mythical and folkloric creatures and stories. The podcast has just been turned into a mini-series on Amazon Prime Video (on Friday the 13th in October), and into a book deal. The first one: The World of Lore: Monstrous Creatures by Aaron Mehnke has already been released on October 10th, and the second one The World of Lore: Wicked Humans has been announced for release for May of next year. The podcast was given the award for the “Best History Podcast” in 2016.

Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity 

Like with Lore, I recently discovered Caitlin Doughty in a different format: on YouTube. Her channel, Ask a Mortician is absolutely wonderful and I binge-watched five years of uploads in under 10 days. She is a mortician, founder of The Order of the Good Death, writer of two books, and leader in the natural burial community. I had my first author spotlight featuring Caitlin Doughty and I went into more details on all the places one can find her, all the formats, and brief summaries of her two books on death. Link HERE. 

The strangest part, with both Lore and Doughty’s works, is that one common theme runs through both: the scariest stories are true and most often  done by people…which makes for a very thematic October.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

15994498This was a re-read for me but I picked it up for Victober as my “Scottish Writer” entry. The first time I was shocked at how small it was. It’s currently in the public domain and accessible via Project Gutenberg if you want to read it in a sitting. This tale begins with a Mr. Utterson who is trying to figure out a ‘mystery’ –word in town is that a Mr.Hyde is behind it all. He calls upon one close friend Dr. Jekyll to help with the case. I think I enjoyed this the first time a little more than now. It’s atmospheric, and certainly a treat for October, but the execution of it could have been better. I think Stevenson tapped into something incredible with the dual personality, and the term in itself is so prevalent now that ‘the spoiler’ is already known before one can sit down with the novella properly. I did come across a very well-written article from Tor.com on “What Everybody Gets Wrong about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” where Steven Padnick states that not only should Hollywood understand that Hyde is not a separate entity, but:

Jekyll did not create a potion to remove the evil parts of his nature. He made a potion that allowed him express his urges without feeling guilty and without any consequences besmirching his good name. That’s also why he names his alter ego “Hyde,” because Hyde is a disguise, to be worn and discarded like a thick cloak. He might as well have called Edward “Mr. Second Skin,” or “Mr. Mask.”

Another explanation is that Stevenson was tapping into what we now know to be Dissociative Identity Disorder (Borderline Personality Disorder) a little ahead of his time–seeing it as a different manifestation than other kinds of illness.

Poetry (Everyman’s Pocket Library) by Emily Brontë

90703Emily is my favourite of the Brontes and I always wished there were more novels written by her in addition to Wuthering Heights. Emily Bronte’s poetry was published in her lifetime under the pseudonym of ‘Ellis Bell.’ She often wrote poems located in fictional Gondal (similar to Tolkien’s Middle Earth verses). Gondal was a shared fiction between Anne and Emily, but Emily dedicated more of her time and poems to it. This collection incorporates some of  the Gondal poems, but also her works more philosophical in nature.”The Old Stoic,” or “Death” touch on important themes like wisdom, and grief with such elegant usage of the English language. Her verses are like a maze the reader must navigate, and ready to be fragmented and dissected, branching off like Plath’s fig tree vision. I found her poem “Hope” very reminiscent of the more famously known (yet later written) Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers” Here’s an excerpt from Bronte’s:

Hope was but a timid friend;
She sat without the grated den,
Watching how my fate would tend,
Even as selfish-hearted men.

I created a “Hope Poems”  PDF with both poems on it, if you would like to see them side by side. I also linked them all above if you click on the titles. Two contemporary, single, strong Emilys separated by an ocean, writing poems about hope. Beautiful. This was also a Victober choice. This was chosen for a work with few reviews on Goodreads. It had 170 when I selected it.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

18007535I didn’t plan to read this book, but someone told me it would be scary or spooky so I took a chance on it. I read parts of it in the text, and most of it via audiobook at work. It was good company. For the synopsis I had to copy/paste the one from Goodreads because it’s told really well:

“West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara’s fate, she discovers that she’s not the only person who’s desperately looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.”

It was okay, but it really wasn’t for me. I thought it would be a lot spookier (because you know…Halloween) but it wasn’t all that scary or spooky. The dialogue was a bit off too. I’m not sure what else to elaborate on because I would spoil it.

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire

38700This is one of my favourite plays of all time, and I wanted to revisit it this October and find out what it is that I love about it so much. I took my time, and ended up writing a very spoiler-filled review in more detail. HERE is a link to it if you’d like to read more about it.

Long story shortened: a glimpse into the life of a young couple currently mourning the loss of their four year old son. Becca and Howie are both grieving in different ways and have a hard time understanding the other. Family members and friends are waling on eggshells around them. Lastly, the teenage driver who accidentally killed their son tries to reach out and communicate with them. He is an equally complex character.

Books I’m currently in the middle of but will not finish by the 31st 

  1. I’ve been reading The Light Between Oceans as a buddy-read so we are only doing about 5 chapters per week.
  2. I watched the HBO show and I have a few unanswered questions, so I am reading Big Little Lies. Really enjoying the book and finding many differences between the two formats. I will try to read more of Moriarty.
  3. My non-fiction October-themed book is The Witches (Salem, 1692). It’s taking a bit longer than i anticipated it would. I may actually finish this by Halloween. We will see.
  4. I recently discovered Geza Tatrallyay, an author who is incredibly gifted. I’m reading his collection of poems Cello’s Tears. A full review of this work will follow.

 

Deserted (“Desert”) Island Books

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Short answer: if you want to know people’s favourite books DON’T ask “what would you take on an island” because you’ll get survival answers, raft answers, long books one would like to read but hasn’t, and nostalgia for physical editions which have a sentimental value attached to them.

Long answer and personal choices:

I’ve always had issues with the question of “desert island” books (which should be deserted but let’s let that slide). Sometimes people rephrase it as “if there was a fire, which books would you save?” which is an entirely different question. What people want to know when they ask it is: what are your favourite books? Sometimes one is forced to narrow it down to five. I think, this question should be rephrased to “list your five favourite books up to this point in your life based on content and nostalgia.” There will be some books that you genuinely thought were brilliant as an adult and enjoyed the experience of reading them, and some have amazing memories attached to them like: “when mom read ‘x’ to me on our vacation in ‘y.’” The ‘up to this point’ part leaves room for you to know that the list could change and grow as you change and grow. So let’s break it down.

Now, the ISLAND question. First of all, ‘characters isolated on an island’ is my favourite theme, so if I would answer honestly, people would think I just got ‘inspired’ by the question. If you check out my favourites page you’ll many isolated characters on an island. The island implies a few things and depending on how you see it, it influences your answer. The three things implied are:

  1. You have all the time in the world to yourself
  2. You are completely alone and socially isolated
  3. You might need to survive and/or escape

These are three separate questions which are added to the ‘deserted island question.’ Some people give the smartass answer: “I’d bring How to Build a Raft.” Really? You have no idea how far away you are from any land, you hardly have access to drinkable water (no way you can carry enough with you) and if you don’t know how to build a raft, how do you expect to navigate? Seriously, everyone should know how to build a raft by now, it’s 2017. So the ‘Fire’ and ‘Island’ questions are actually four separate questions. Here’s how I would answer them:

Which books would you save from the fire?

This question is actually more about the physical book because you’re not saving the story. In a case of actual fire, if you had to save five books, most people would save:

  • Rare editions
  • Books with sentimental value (book you have from childhood, book grandma gave you with her inscription on it, book signed by your favourite author)

What you actually save from the fire, isn’t the STORY or plot line, you are saving the physical object and the additional attachments, which sometimes, may have nothing to do with the story. So please don’t ask the fire question unless you want to know what rare editions and special physical books someone has in their home.

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My Answer for This Question:

  • My 1777, 3rd English translation of Plutarch’s Lives, translated by Thomas North. I found it at a flea market in Oxford when studying there. I have fond memories of the time I found it, it was only £10 and it’s a beautiful copy of a wonderful text. Just think that the first edition (1579) of this book was the source and foundation for Shakespeare when writing his classical-based plays.
  • My Annotated Brothers Grimm with an inscription on the cover from Maria Tatar (the annotator). She is one of my favourite academics and I had the chance to meet her once and have lunch with her. She sent me this book as a gift a month later. The inscription says “here’s to magic.”
  • My 1910 copy of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. This book was hard to find, and I love it so much, and it’s a rare edition.
  • My Romanian edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. When I was seven years old, St. Nicholas (on Dec 6 he leaves presents in your shoes) gave me that book and I cherished it for many years. It’s the only book I brought with me when I moved to Canada.
  • Lord of the Rings (Deluxe Editions). One of my favourite teachers from high school gave me this book. It’s so beautiful, irreplaceable, and from someone I really respected.
  • Infinite Jest (First Edition). By far the most expensive book I’ve purchased. I just acquired this gem from The Strand Bookstore in New York City, while walking the town with two of my dearest friends. It will forever be ingrained in my memory as one of the most special weekends.

The THREE Island Sub-Questions

FOR SURVIVAL

579309Here I would ideally have books like: which plants are poisonous, herb books, natural remedies, how to navigate in nature, which fruits/vegetables are edible, how to preserve foods for long periods of time. I would also be more concerned with building a tree house, rather than trying to get away.8152608

Also…Island-Specific Mental Survival! I would take with me The Ultimate Lost and Philosophy. It would give me a guideline, and a higher purpose/hope whilst being there, and it would remind me of one of my favourite shows. It would strengthen my relationship with the island.

ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD

This aspect of the Island question which some people answer with, implies that you FINALLY have time to read books that you didn’t get a chance to yet, but definitely want to read. Given all the time and freedom, you’ll finally do it. Here’s the problem: HOW do you know you will like them? What if you bring with you Infinite Jest, Middlemarch, and War and Peace….and then find out that you don’t like any of them all that much, and realize: they’re now going to be with you on the island forever and you don’t even like them! Also, even if you were to ‘study’ it for a purpose like writing a great academic paper, or showing off to your friends—well, there’s no chance you can get OFF the island ever. So you have to choose the ones that you love alone, so you must be honest with yourself. Here are some books that are really long and it’s something I wanted to get to but I’m scared of starting because they are way too long of a commitment:

  • In Search of Lost Time – Marcel Proust
  • The Wheel of Time Omnibus – Robert Jordan (and Brandon Sanderson). I am not sure if an omnibus exists yet, I’m just trying to incorporate a series into one.
  • The Gormenghast Trilogy – Mervyn Peake
  • The Complete Arabian Nights (I’ve read individual stories but never the complete)
  • A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Again, there is no guarantee I would absolutely love any of these, but they are long works I would get to if I was focused, alone, and had a lot of time.

FAVOURITE NOVELS (Good Company)

The bottom line, the question based on content, and story, with a mix of nostalgia. What would I bring? Most fairy tales and children’s lit, as well as Lord of the Rings, are so deeply ingrained in my mind that I don’t think it would need to be ‘read’ or ‘reread’ on the island alone. I could probably write them from memory. But here is my squad:

  • The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse
  • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • Necronomicon by H.P. Lovecraft
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This is the company I’d like to keep, I mean, obviously it doesn’t cover poetry, and all the others, but if I really had to narrow it down to five people’s works that I absolutely love, and would enjoy reading and rereading on an island alone…I think these would be the ones. Again, it’s subject to change as I go on.

Ultimately my point is, that asking someone “What books would you take on a ‘desert’ island” or “which books you’d save from the fire” have different implications, and different answers.  So if you want to know people’s favourite questions DON’T ask that because you’ll get survival answers, raft answers, long books I’d like to read answers, and nostalgia for physical editions which have a sentimental value attached to them.

Rabbit Hole | Reading Reflection

“Rabbit Hole is not a tidy play. Resist smoothing out its edges” – David Lindsay-Abaire

38700I’m not really sure where to begin with Rabbit Hole. I loved it so much. This play was written by David Lindsay-Abaire, published in 2007, and yes, that makes it 10 years old right now. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2007 and in 2010 was turned into a film featuring Nicole Kidman in the leading role. I really want to discuss the details of this play, and figure out what it is that I love about it—in doing so, I will most likely spoil the play for you, so if you want to read it without spoilers, I suggest you don’t read ahead on this blog post. Consider yourself warned.

Rabbit Hole is told simply, but contains a complex narrative with complicated relationship dynamics. Beeca and Howie are two young parents who have just lost their 4 year old son Danny. Danny chased the dog into the road and got hit by a teenage driver. This play is a glimpse into their daily life several months after the tragedy and the ways in which they cope with it. Howie likes to constantly celebrate Danny’s life and look at home-made videos of him, and he needs to talk about it so he goes to support groups. Becca on the other hand can’t stand the constant reminders of Danny in the house. She wants his fingerprints gone from the windows, his drawings off the fridge, the dog away from the house, and eventually to move out. Howie on the other hand loves all those things in the house. Above all, Becca refuses to talk about it with anyone. The subtle ways these things come up are shown in the little interactions Becca and Howie have with extended family, neighbours, and friends. While others tiptoe around them and either avoid them completely or try to be extra sensitive and offer advice, Howie and Becca feel awkward around them. Advice is transparent, and ‘relatability’ goes right through them because no one grieves the same way. The worst is when people try to draw comparisons between what happened to them personally when they encountered death, and what is happening to Becca and Howie now. On the other hand, Becca gets irritated by little things, like seeing a mother ignore her child at the grocery store when he asked for candy (a fruit roll-up). The lady’s parenting style got to Becca. She wanted to grab her and tell her to appreciate her child while he is there, not take him for granted, and explain why he can’t have the candy, rather than ignoring him. Becca sees Danny everywhere in the details of her home and wishes she could just ignore the details and the memories, but this woman is purposely ignoring her living, breathing child.

The play takes a turn when the character of Jason is introduced. Jason is seventeen years old and was the driver who ran over Danny. He wants to talk to Becca and Howie. He tries to reach out several times. The first time is by means of a letter and in it he encloses a science fiction story he wrote about parallel universes, which he dedicates to Danny. The story is called Rabbit Hole. The first time we see Becca truly discuss her grief and have a good cry about it is in the presence of Jason. Jason is intriguing to her, because he seems equally broken. There are a few parallels between Jason and Danny, and (in my opinion) Becca looks at Jason as what Danny might have become if he was given the chance to grow up. For one, Jason draws a few parallels between him and Danny in the letter by referencing robots and how he too liked them as a child. Danny’s favourite book was The Runaway Rabbit, whereas Jason writes Rabbit Hole. It was so strange to me the first time I read this, and even when watching the movie, that Becca loses her temper with everyone else except the person who actually killed her son. We get only glimpses into Jason’s life but we know that he is broken by what happened, that he’s trying to be normal and can’t and has a desperate desire to have a different life. He contemplates parallel universes, because he likes to think that there is a world where he didn’t kill Danny. One can also look at Rabbit Hole as a direct reference to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as it being a portal into madness for everyone involved.

There are two other characters constantly present. The first is Izzy, Becca’s irresponsible sister who gets to be pregnant and one can sense that Becca feels like Izzy doesn’t deserve to be a mother—Izzy feels that judgement herself. The second character is Nat, Becca’s mother. She too had lost a son, Becca’s brother, who killed himself at the age of 39. He was a cocaine addict. Whenever she tries to compare the loss of her son, with the loss of Danny, Becca shuts her up right way. She can’t stand comparison. Most importantly, she can’t stand the thought that a 39 year old man who self-harmed and lived a “sinful life” can be compared to, or be the same as an innocent four-year-old.

Lastly, I was taken aback by the author’s note at the end of the play. He is very direct about his instructions to future actors, but in it he reveals just a little more about Jason’s character. He writes:

“It’s a sad play. Don’t make it any sadder than it needs to be…if the stage directions don’t mention tears, please resist adding them…I KNOW Jason shouldn’t cry, ever. (Yes, he’s haunted by the death of Danny, but his emotions aren’t especially accessible to him…please, no choked-up kids openly racked with guilt. That’s not who he is. Restraint, please.)”

I am completely astounded at how David Lindsay-Abaire managed to pack so much depth, detail, and complexity while using such simple dialogue. No one talks too much—the longest being maybe two sentences at a time. The interactions are brief and subtle, but carry with them a back story. It’s rivaling Hemingway’s style (particularly in his short stories), and dare-I-say, I think I enjoy Rabbit Hole more. There is so much to discuss. I wish I could go into the details of parallel universes and their significance, the backstory we can piece together for Jason, the potential affair Howie had, the differences in the ways all these characters grieve, attempts at healing, and the ending of the play slipping into normality. There is so much to discuss, and I think this play is so important. If they ever stop teaching A Streetcar Named Desire in schools, they should replace it with this one. This was a perfect 5-star play for me.

 

Author Spotlight: Caitlin Doughty

 “The Order is about making death a part of your life. That means committing to staring down your death fears- whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above. Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety and terror of modern culture are not.” – The Order of the Good Death

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“The Funeral of Shelley” by Louis Édouard Fournier

Caitlin Doughty is one of the most wonderful women I stumbled upon on YouTube, and I am so glad I did. Since I was five years old, I’ve had many encounters with death. Born and raised in Romania, open casket funerals and three-day wakes in the home are followed by so many practices that I can say I was very much involved with the handling of many human corpses from death to burial. Washing the corpse, preparing food and serving it to more than half the town, kissing the corpse’s forehead, guarding it night and day for three days, and covering all the mirrors in the house in a black shroud for the whole time the corpse is in the house were all perfectly normal requests in rural Romania. Most importantly, death was (and is) very much a part of daily conversation. In the West however, bodies are hidden and even worse: death is hardly discussed. I constantly feel like a morbid weirdo (in Canada) talking about something that had been a huge part of my childhood and the many ways in which it confronted me to question my life, and prepare for my inevitable death. When I encountered Caitlin Doughty on YouTube it was like meeting a long-lost friend.

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Caitlin Doughty

Doughty was born and raised in Hawaii and after witnessing a death at the age of eight she became fascinated with the topic. She studied the medieval period at University, and after attending mortuary school, apprenticed at a crematory in Los Angeles. Becoming more and more familiar with the practices of embalming, cremation, and funeral practices in America, Doughty began to notice some red flags regarding the funeral industry. Funeral home directors taking advantage of mourning family members by pushing upon them caskets worth thousands of dollars (all to make money of course, and so the people cutting the grass don’t have to go over uneven ground), pushing embalming practices, as well as presenting these topics in a light that make the remaining family members believe it is legally enforced. Imbuing bodies with toxic chemicals, and incorporating them in non-biodegradable caskets have damaging consequences for the environment. In addition, taking bodies away and hiding them from the moment of death hardly allows the family to process the death of a loved one. Lastly, people disengaged from discussion about and around death live in a constant dread. Thinking of human remains boxed in a rigid casket six feet under as a possibility (at least for me) is really quite frightening.

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Doughty’s first book

When I heard that one could be buried in a pod in fetal position organically decomposing beneath a tree–it was the first time I got excited about my death (weird to say out loud). Just the thought that with my body I could nourish the Earth, and live in a different form in a ‘Sacred Forest’ makes me happy. But not just me, ‘many’ according to Caitlin want to become trees and have an organic death in different forms. She gave two TED Talks focusing on The Corpses that Changed My Life (which in text format–with far more details–became Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory) and most recently: A Burial Practice that Nourishes the Planet which is a summary of what she now encourages: a natural burial. Caitlin herself repeats that what she is suggesting is not ‘her idea,’ ‘new,’ or ‘an invention’ because it’s a practice that has been done in different forms all over the world, and in history. She now works on advocating for an environmentally friendly burial, a burial practice that respects the wishes of the dead person, and most importantly on educating the public about their options, their rights, and the opportunities available. Doughty became the founder of The Order of the Good Death.  If you click on the title you can find more about it from the website itself, run by a large team advocating for educating the public on ‘the good death.’ There are links there that can lead you to other books written on topics like ‘death,’ or ‘ghosts’ which are academic in nature. Caitlin’s YouTube channel “Ask a Mortician” is absolute gold! In videos ranging from 4-10 minutes Doughty tackles topics like “What happened to the dead bodies on Everest?” “How is Vladimir Lenin’s Body Preserved?” or “What’s the deal with La Pascualita?” — seriously I binge-watched 5 years of YouTube in a week.

One of my favourite lines in her book is this:

“In many ways, women are death’s natural companions. Every time a woman gives birth, she is creating not only a life, but a death. Samuel Beckett wrote that women “give birth astride of a grave.” Mother Nature is indeed a real mother, creating and destroying in a constant loop.”

511i6HQoG+L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_The support from viewers of her work for The Order of the Good Death on Patreon, and encouragement from a large number of people reading her first book, motivated Doughty to travel to several countries, and some American States to learn about their burial practices–Indonesia, Bolivia, and California among them. On October 3rd of 2017 her book From Here to Eternity was published by W. W. Norton & Company. In this book, Doughty dedicates a chapter to a different location and examines how the role of death fits into the larger conversation, how burial practices are carried through, and how/what we can learn from them.

The book is accompanied by wonderful illustrations executed to perfection by Landis Blair. His artwork is dark and highly atmospheric. Blair himself is a member of The Order of the Good Death. 

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Illustration by Landis Blair

If you are fortunate enough to live in the United States, Doughty will be going on a book tour very soon, and the dates have been listed HERE. If you are near one of them I highly encourage you to go. I must emphasize that no one asked me to review this book or promote Doughty, this is what I would genuinely recommend, and what I genuinely enjoy/believe in. I am grateful that people like Doughty exist. I highly recommend her books, her YouTube channel, and her message.

I will close off as Doughty always does on her channel:

“and remember: you WILL die.” 

 

 

September Wrap-up

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Books I read for Early Review

Literary Titans Revisited ed. Anne Urbancic

32841205This work is a transcript of sixteen interviews conducted in the late 1960s by Earle Toppings with great Canadian literary figures. I received a copy for review from the editor and I think this is a great new primary source upon which to rely when conducting research in Canadian literature. Full review HERE.

 

The Biophilia Effect by Clemens G. Arvay 

51RnoLAew9L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_This book is a beautifully written work about humans’ connection to nature and the effect nature has on our body and our chemistry. Arvay follows medical studies showing how significant it is to live among trees and to be as close to nature as possible. This book will be coming out in January 2018. Full Review HERE.

 

Books I read for myself

 

15811570Odd Type Writers by Celia Blue Johnson

This book covers the quirks of famous authors. It covers anything from the time of day they wrote, their word counts, or the colour of ink they preferred to use. I enjoyed it a lot and I thought it deserved a longer explanation immediately after I read it, so I wrote a review, even if it was a book I read for myself. Full review HERE.

 

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron 

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This book was really not for me. I was surprised to see Martin Scorsese give a blurb on the back, so I picked it up. A trend on YouTube for lifestyle vloggers is to promote “morning pages” where you should brain-dump words on three pages each morning to clear your head and make space for creativity. This book is where the idea came from and then just spread online. Other than that, I didn’t find many other useful tips. A lot of the things here are journal starter sentences like “when I was a kid I missed out on…” and you’re supposed to treat it like a self-help/therapy workshop to journal your ideas. A lot of the pages here were either the author talking about her extravagant and adventurous life, or lists and lists of affirmations for yourself along the lines of “creativity is God’s gift to us.” It’s a lovely sentiment, and I think many of the ideas could have been easily summarized and made into a pamphlet (and that includes the affirmations). This book is 231 pages of the repetition (in different ways) of the three essential points I mentioned above. To be fair though, she does title the book “The Artist’s Way…a SPIRITUAL PATH to higher creativity” so I guess that one’s on me.

The Warden by Anthony Trollope 

359586I never had the chance to study Trollope in undergrad so I thought I’d give the Barchester Series a try. The series is six books long and begins with The Warden. I read the first twenty pages and realized how lost I was because I didn’t understand Anglican terminology. I put together this Anglican Terminology PDF and printed it out (attached it to the book) and resumed reading. For the most part it’s a bunch of English men who are part of the parish discussing wages and minutiae around their roles, as a young doctor moves into town and decides to open a hospital. The text is mostly heated debate in town over where finances should go. Reading it I didn’t feel ‘entertained’ or even that into it, but as I put it down over the course of the month I kept thinking of that transition stage where those same Anglican terms I had to look up were dominant, and those were the main jobs that would be paid in society. There was a shift that occurred when medicine as we know it today started to be incorporated into actual health-care facilities, and a lot of these jobs were threatened and over time disappeared or became a lot less paid. I think I’ll give book two of the Barchester Chronicles a try because I’ve been told it’s much better but if it doesn’t hold up I think I will stop with Trollope there.

To a God Unknown by John Steinbeck

763798This book is about a man named Joseph whose father passes away and who begins to have a connection with land. So much so, that he strongly believes a tree up on a hill overlooking his newly-acquired land IS his father. There are fleshly desires, discord among brothers, and a character named Juanito who is from Mexico and not only is a worker-friend of Joseph’s but he does certain things in this novel that push the plot forward. Yes, “California,” “Bible Themes,” and “Saucy relationships” are the plot of A Steinbeck novel, but this one felt different than his other works. I read online that he spent longer writing this novel than any of his other larger works, and I think that struggle shows because it didn’t flow. I had most issues with the character of Juanito and I think they were accentuated by the current political situation between the things being said by the ‘leader’ of the United States towards and about Mexican citizens. His portrayal, way of talking, and overall presence felt like a caricature. I wanted to see more of the connection to nature, I wanted more from the presence of the tree. The tree was alluded to and discussed the same way we see the green flashing light in The Great Gatsby, but here it was such an important part of the plot that I wanted more from it. It’s evident how Steinbeck wanted to illustrate roots and the inability to leave a piece of land as if it was a person. That theme and the tree, as well as allusions to Biblical Joseph were all executed nicely, but the conversation and character development were truly lacking. The exchanges made between Juanito and Joseph almost put me to sleep, the conversation in general was so lacking and not believable…I don’t think people would ever talk that way. I thought about it, and I’m willing to forgive Steinbeck simply because it’s his third work. His first two works flopped when they came out and I think he was still working on his craft at this point. This is my second Steinbeck this year, and I will certainly keep going.

This Victorian Life by Sarah A. Chrisman 

25159463This is a work of non-fiction and a sort of experiment. Sarah A. Chrisman and her husband decided to adopt a Victorian lifestyle all the way down to the details. They both had advanced degrees and a life in this world, but decided to take things slowly, step away from technology and start living like Victorians with all the details. I said ‘details’ a lot but that is what is mostly discussed. The minutiae of corsets and other clothing articles, the stationary for letter writing and creating the draft of this book, the cooking methods…absolutely every little thing was slowly changed in their household to mimic a Victorian household. Chrisman kept writing how liberating it was so have things slow down and not be so caught up in this modern world of constant distraction and instant gratification.

I  read this book in preparation for Victober and I think it’s nice in a Walden-type experiment kind of way. The whole time though I kept thinking about ‘choice’ and ‘consent’ because I think that was vastly overlooked when Chrisman wrote this. The whole time she would say “I didn’t realize how great this was,” or “how hard it would be to thaw the frozen toilet water” etc. but it makes a HUGE difference that she knows she has a choice. Not just over herself as a woman, but having the knowledge she has autonomy over her own body, that she can say ‘no’ to certain marital pressures, that she has rights as a citizen…but also knowing that should she get sick she would go to a good sanitary hospital where she won’t die of consumption, she won’t die in childbirth, that there are methods to prevent that….I think all the difficulties, the REAL difficulties of the Victorian period weren’t captured. What made those novels dark or that time period different was largely highlighted by the frustrations women like Jane Eyre would have for lacking status, money, autonomy, (or in Bertha Mason’s case good healthcare). I couldn’t bring myself to care of Chrisman’s experiments with stationary, Thanksgiving recipes, and bicycles when she kept repeating “I was trying to live exactly like a Victorian” and “it’s all down to the details” when the reality is far from it. I am not trying to be harsh here because I did enjoy reading this very much, but that thought was at the back of my mind the whole time. Being aware that at times she reminds readers that she has a B.A, and her husband has a Masters degree in Library Science, that she typed the manuscript of this book for publishers, and other details as such, I remembered what she said in the introduction and that was: this is an experiment. The reason I mentioned Walden before is because Thoreau is often criticized for not being too far away from the town when at Walden Pond, and being pampered by the Emersons, so people read his ‘experiment’ with a grain of salt. I think in that same way I’ve been reading This Victorian Life. It certainly is a fun read so I recommend it. I can see how for two people who love something like the Victorian period together this could be fun a fun project, but again: knowing that they can at any point CHOOSE something different and the idea of having a choice in the first place…skips over all the real life anxieties of a true Victorian.

Other Reading

I also re-read Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. Perhaps one day I’ll write a proper analysis of it, but since it is not a first impression I don’t think I’ll critique it much right now. I am currently reading Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland’s The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. I have been neglecting Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings since July and it’s not because I don’t love it, I actually can’t stop thinking about it, but for some reason I got caught up in other books. I think I need to give it the attention it deserves very soon. I also read some of the essays by Ursula K. Le Guin from The Wave in the Mind but I don’t have a strong opinion on any individual essay just yet. All I can say is that Le Guin is one of the most advanced and progressively-thinking writers out there.

Victober Announcement and TBR

October is less than two weeks away and in the bookish community “Victober” planning is upon us. Victober is hosted this year by Kate Howe, Katie from Books and Things, Ange from Beyond the Pages, and Lucy the Reader. Each one of their links will lead you to their video introductions for Victober. In short, Victober is a series of challenges or guidelines to follow as we read Victorian literature for the month of October.

General Guidelines

  • Victorian literature as a label is generally attached to any book published from 1837-1901 in Great Britain under the reign of Queen Victoria. Some choose to be slightly looser with the term. For instance Frankenstein by Mary Shelley was published in 1818 and wouldn’t technically fit under the ‘Victorian’ label but some people still choose it for Victober, and that’s fine. Depends on how specific you want to get with this challenge.
  • There are a total of five ‘challenges,’ however you can mix and match challenges if one book fits in more categories, so long as you read at least 3.

2017 Challenges

  1. Read a book that was recommended to you
  2. Read a book by a Scottish, Welsh, or Irish author
  3. Read a book containing supernatural elements
  4. Read a lesser known Victorian book with less than 2000 Goodreads reviews
  5. Read a book written by a Victorian woman author

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My TBR for Victober

  1. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy – book recommended to me by a close friend who took a Victorian Lit course and enjoyed the book immensely.
  2. Dr.Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson—Scottish writer
  3. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins contains supernatural elements. There is a group on Goodreads moderated by Kate Howe, who kindly invited me to the group after finding out I am also reading it for Victober. If you want to choose this book for your selection you are welcome to join the group. Link to it HERE. (you can count it as my recommendation to you if you want to count it for #1 instead of #3)

I combined challenges 4 and 5 into:

  1. Bronte: Poems (the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets) edition. Most of the poems are written by Emily Bronte (a woman writer—challenge 5) and the collection has only 169 Reviews on Goodreads which is way below the 2000 limit.

 

So if you are interested in participating, please do! Perhaps you want to try Victorian Lit for the fist time, or return to some books you read in the past. Either way, it’s a great little community of book lovers, and this activity is a lot of fun. You have some time to plan your reading list, and well…happy reading!

 

 

The Biophilia Effect | Book Review

“Everyone feels the need deep inside to be close to nature. We have roots, and they definitely did not grow in cement.” – Andres Danzer

“The biophilia effect stands for wilderness and the conception of nature, for natural beauty and aesthetics and breaking free and healing. That is what this book is about.”

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51RnoLAew9L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Austrian writer Clemens G. Arvay wrote in this book every argument for why humans must co-exist with the natural realm.  The term ‘biophilia’ originates from Greek, meaning: ‘love of life or living systems’ and was coined by psychotherapist and philosopher Erich Fromm. Edward O. Wilson introduced the “biophilia hypothesis” claiming that it is “the human urge to affiliate with other forms of life” and that is our deeply rooted connection with nature in the web of life.

Arvay explores in this book the history of ‘biophilia’ in literature and philosophy starting with the Abbess Hildegard Von Bingen (1098-1179) who wrote “there is a power in eternity, and it is green.”

Arvay continues by incorporating medical and scientific studies which show that people who live close to a forest have stress reduced by as much as 30% living the same lifestyle as those in the cities. He writes:

“Plants heal without having to be processed….they heal us through biological communication that our immune system and unconscious understand”

He dives deeper by explaining how plants, like insects, communicate using chemical substances and we are just another cohabitant in the ecosystem benefiting from this communication.

What I enjoyed about this book was how Arvay describes nature and how he backs up each statement with a study. I never thought about the symbiotic relationship between a mushroom and tree roots for instance, and how the mushroom in turn provides the tree with water and nutrients from the soil. Arvay also presents readers with several relaxation and visualization exercises. He teaches readers how to be hyperaware when walking through a forest and take in all of the forest’s energy while telling yourself “I am a part of the woods.”

He urges readers to:

“take this visual language of your soul seriously.”

Arvay doesn’t try to sell products, services, or anything other than to encourage a love for the forest and for people to go outside and benefit from what nature has to offer. He makes an argument for the forest by presenting the history we as humans have with it, how deeply rooted our ‘biophilia’ truly is, and how we need it now more than ever.

Arvay is an advocate for clean eating and has written other works in the past on forgotten vegetable varieties, regional small-scale agriculture, and connecting philosophy with nature. I personally enjoyed this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading nature books like Thoreau’s Walden, or Muir’s Essays on Wilderness.

This book will be released in February 2018 by Sounds True Publishing.

Literary Titans Revisited | Review

“Their writing explores themes in our society…the plight of the marginalized, the environment, the difficulties of finding one’s self and place, the anxiety of getting it all wrong, the longing for love, the search for justice.” —Anne Urbancic

32841205Professor Anne Urbancic (at Victoria College, University of Toronto) assigns her first-year students to explore in depth a library’s archive, write a detailed essay, and present it to the class. One of her students, Griffin Kelly, discovered in her search a series of compact discs in the Victoria University Archive at the E.J. Pratt Library. What she found were 16 interviews conducted by Earle Toppings with some of Canada’s top novelists and poets who were leading figures in the emergence of Canadian identity in literature. Kelly brought Mr. Earle Topping—an editor turned radio host who still resided in Toronto at the time—to speak to the class. Thus began the project that has now been turned into the book Literary Titans Revisited. Urbancic called upon four students, including Griffin Kelly herself, Geoff Baillie, Amy Kalbun, Vpasha Shaik, and the E.J. Pratt Library’s leading Reader Services librarians Agatha Barc, and Colin Deinhardt to collaborate on transcribing the interviews.

Urbancic notes in the introduction that:

“While Canada prides itself on its many excellent and exceptional authors and poets… they had not often appeared on the world’s literary stages until the second half of the twentieth century.”

The topic of Canadian identity in literature is still relatively new compared to its English and American fellows, and resources on Canlit authors are still being pieced together. What Urbancic created with Literary Titans Revisited is an excellent primary source for future Canlit students. Each writer’s interview with Earle Topping is preceded by a brief introduction including biographical material, a portrait, relevant and major contributions, as well as a brief analysis of their overall influence on Canadian literature and culture. The first section ‘Prose’ includes interviews with six novelists including Margaret Laurence, Morley Callaghan, Hugh Garner, Hugh MacLennan, Mordecai Richler, and Sinclair Ross. The second section ‘Poetry’ contains the remaining ten interviews—among which are Al Purdy, Dorothy Livesay, and Irving Layton—to name a few. Lastly, the seventeenth chapter contains an interview with Earle Toppings who discloses his interviewing process, the composition of his questions, and the experience of interviewing the sixteen authors. Finding how he came up with the project and the recording devices he used at the time is an inspiring reminder of how much one can do with minimal resources.

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Statue of Al Purdy in Queen’s Park (unveiled in 2008).

The authors shared personal anecdotes, life struggles, and their creative process. Some poets read aloud to Toppings some of their newly composed poems which are not necessarily the ones that later on appeared in print. When it comes to transcribing the poems, this collection stays true to the recordings rather than what was finalized in print. What I found particularly interesting was how at the moment Canadian writers were asked how some of their life experiences connect to their artwork, they began by discussing either a British or American author as an example of how that can happen. Morley Callaghann speaks of Conrad and Joyce, Hugh Garner of Fitzgerald, Hugh Maclennan of Hemingway, and Mordecai Richler of several authors like George Orwell, and Norman Mailer. While trying to find the Canadian voice, these Canadian authors were still using American and British identities as a crutch even in the late sixties.  These interviews are a clear depiction of the search for a unique voice. Simultaneously, some keep in perspective the problematic consequences of Canadian history. Urbancic emphasizes that Al Purdy for instance:

“points out in his poignantly metaphorical verses about broken indigenous art pieces that represent the plight of Canada’s First Nations.”

This book has been published by Dundurn Press and is currently available for purchase (click here) and at your public library (click here). I would recommend this work to anyone who is interested in Canadian Literature, wants to be in the presence of Canadian literary titans, and interested in aspects of the creative process. Lastly, I would hope that all libraries will have this book in their collection. This collaborative project supplemented with the editorial work of Anne Urbancic is a new excellent primary source in Canadian scholarship.

Odd Type Writers | Book Review

15811570This will be a relatively short review as most of its contents would be a ‘spoiler.’ Odd Type Writers focuses on the strange habits of famous authors. Each chapter has a different theme. For instance the topics vary from: authors who write early in the morning versus late at night, what each author’s daily word count for writing is, what preference of ink colour they have, whether they write sitting down or standing up, or how many cups of coffee they had in a day. Balzac for instance would have about fifty cups of coffee per day. This is the kind of book that makes you say a lot of “did you know…” after reading it. I wish the author went in further detail on each author and habit, but the listing at the back marks this as a “reference work” which explains its presentation and quick introductory remarks. The authors covered and the quirks they had are so vast that the amount of research Celia Blue Johnson did for this book is astounding. There are eleven pages of references/works cited at the back and most of them are from authors’ papers, personal letters, and additional secondary material. The work Johnson had to do to pick out the little quirks required hours upon hours of searching. Like I said, almost anything I say could and might be a spoiler, so I will cite a few excerpts from the back of the book that got my attention when I picked it up:

“To meet his deadlines for The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo placed himself under strict house arrest, locking up all of his clothes and wearing nothing but a large gray shawl until he finished the book.”

“Friedrich Schiller kept a drawer full of rotten apples in his study. According to his wife, he couldn’t work with out that pungent odor wafting into his nose.”

“Virginia Woolf used purple ink for love letters and diary entries…in her twenties, she preferred to write while standing up.”

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in fun facts and wants to know some of the quirks and odd habits of some of their favourite authors. It made me realize that there is no blueprint for being an author. While some have a disciplined routine and a precise daily word count, or worked only when inspired and late at night like Kafka did, neither dictated who was more successful, or the better writer. For that reason I would recommend this to aspiring writers, because I think in searching for answers young writers turn to writing clubs, seminars, and notes or vlogs from other authors. This book is a reminder that if your habits don’t match those of other writers it is perfectly fine. And if you have a strange little path let it be and own it! It’s YOUR strange little path.

Johnson wrote a second book called Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway : stories of the inspiration behind great works of literature which may be of interest to you if you enjoy this one or like the sound of it.

August Wrap-Up

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August has so far been my worst reading month, and it wasn’t due to a “reading slump,” I  was just caught up in too many things, the main one being: moving. When you hoard so many books… moving is difficult. Heavy box, after box, after box filled with books…followed by re-organizing. I am still not done organizing them. This is what I had the opportunity to read this month:

Books I Read For Early Review

Acadie_coverAcadie written by Dave Hutchinson is a Tor.com novella which is part of the Summer of Space Opera. It was very short, but I enjoyed it. My full review HEREAcadie is set in the future following protagonist Duke who has been summoned by a group of leading researchers who have created “Kids” a long time ago for the purpose of colonizing other planets. After several generations Kids evolved to be more and more human-like, but their creator Isabel Potter is bent on finding all of them and killing them.

 

34889267Writings from the Golden Age of Russian Poetry by Konstantin Batyushkov, translated by Peter France. Batyushkov was a contemporary of Alexandr Pushkin’s and was highly admired by him. Batyushkov is studied in Russia as a great pillar of the Russian canon, but is not known so well in the West as his works have hardly been translated. My full review can be found HERE.

 

Books I Read For Myself 

Cheek by Jowl by Ursula K. Le Guin

6380284I had many thoughts on this book and highlighted a lot so I made an individual post/review about it. Full review HERE. In this collection, Le Guin questions why we consider “literary” literature as important, and who decides what that looks like. One quotation from the series that strikes to the core is this:

“I have been asking for thirty years why most critics are afraid of dragons while most children, and many adults, are not”

Earlier this year I reviewed New Voices of Fantasy, and in the introduction, Peter S. Beagle recalls speaking to Le Guin and her saying to him:

“all of us [fantasy writers] feel, to one degree or another, that mainstream fiction has been stealing our ideas—and even our classic clichés—for generations, and selling them back to us as ‘Magical Realism.’”

I think that sentiment comes across strongly in Cheek by Jowl. The dominant essay is on the role and presence of animals in fantasy and children’s literature. If you want to know more about it click on the full review link above.

Time Travel: A History by James Gleick 

9780307908797This book was highly anticipated reading for me. Time is one of the most interesting concepts to me and when I heard that there is a book focusing on time travel I ordered it right away. It is a lot shorter than I anticipated, but what surprised me was the content and structure of it. Gleick focuses on our relationship to time travel in fiction. He begins by explaining that before H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine people didn’t discuss time as a linear concept, something one could go back or forward to. He briefly shows how Einstein’s creation of the fourth dimension in the scientific realm opened up way to a lot of science fiction stories. He then tells readers about the plots of several science fiction works. I wish more time had been spend discussing time with philosophical lines of thought or tapped into something interesting on the topic. I found that it was a bit frustrating just recapitulating the plot of several works that I’ve already read. I still enjoyed it a lot. Again, it was quite short, but all in all enjoyable.

Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald 

25573977This book was recommended to me by a friend. With the news being so terrifying on a daily basis I needed a good, easy read that would put me in a pleasant mood. This was that book. When Sara arrives from Sweden to the United States to live for two months with her pen pal Amy she finds out that only a day before, Amy passed away. The town of Broken Wheel is very small, and Sara can’t drive away. Being too proud to admit to her parents that she should have traveled somewhere more crowded, and still in shock with Amy’s passing, Sara decides to stay in Broken Wheel. The book features letters Amy sent to Sara over time about her town, and about books. The more we learn about Sara the more we, the readers fall in love with her. She is Elizabeth Bennet, Matilda, Hermoine Granger, Jane Eyre and all the ‘reading woman character’ merged into one. Again, this is just an easy, pleasant read and it’s one of those ‘books about books’ similar to The Thirteenth Tale, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Among Others, Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, and The Shadow of the Wind (to name a few). What I enjoyed most were the letters from Amy. After every chapter, a letter from the past that Amy sent to Sara is presented to us where we learn what Sara knows about the town, or what Amy told Sara about certain books before. I enjoyed this aspect because it was a reminder of the influence dead people can have on the living even when gone. Their voices continue to exist and we carry them with us in our experiences. Even Sara ponders about death in relationship to books–vessels of ideas. Or letters: written down mementos.

“That night Sara sat in Amy’s library for hours, thinking about how tragic it was that the written word was immortal while people were not, and grieving for her, the woman she had never met.”

Bivald’s description of books, reading spaces, and book-based friendships are really well constructed. I certainly enjoyed it.

Upstream by Mary Oliver

29358559This is a collection of essays written by the poetess Mary Oliver. This book was just a reaffirmation for me of how much it matters who writes the book when it comes to non-fiction or memoir/personal writings. Earlier in the year I discussed reading Spinster at same time as Travels with Charley and while the first had more depth, research, and stronger opinions with vastly more interesting subject matter, I couldn’t bring myself to care as much as I did for the latter because it was written by Steinbeck. I had the same experience here. I never read any poetry by Mary Oliver, so I picked this up as my first experience of her. After a few chapters I didn’t think much of it. I was ready to stop reading it. I then looked up Mary Oliver and read her poetry (or as much of it as I could find). Knowing a little about her, her creative corpus, and that she is a poet turned this essay collection around for me. The wording, the language, and her opinions on transcendental poets, Walt Whitman, and her relationship with nature became so interesting.

“You can fool a lot of yourself but you can’t fool the soul.”

Although I enjoyed it more after knowing Oliver’s poetry, I still wanted more from this collection. For instance, I found it unnecessary to get a biographical introduction of Emerson and Thoreau. I felt a bit spoon-fed at points. I wanted to get more of her impressions, and feelings about these poets’ work, or their relationship to nature, or how she herself relates to nature. I think this collection tried to sound academic and reflective while at the same time being personal and poetic and in the end didn’t manage to accomplish either. There are shorter anecdotes like a dog breaking free from his rope, or the adoption of a little bird with attempts to extract proverb-like endings like: “or maybe it’s about the wonderful things that may happen if you break the ropes that are holding you.” For the most part, when discussing other poets or writers, I felt like Oliver was just listing books and poems in a way that was “I read this and liked it” rather than diving deep and discussing it at length. The truth is I feel like I’ve read better nature books lately with essays and opinions that left me in awe. For me, anything by Tristan Gooley, or Andrea Wulf (recent) or things written by medieval monks and botanists like the abbess Hildegard Von Bingen, managed to inspire that love of nature and felt like reading a love letter to nature in a controlled academic way whilst still using personal anecdotes and poetic language than this collection has. Upstream has a few well-written lines that makes you want to highlight and keep from time to time, and those keep you going, but overall it wasn’t what I wanted to obtain from this collection.

Too Many Books at Once

Lastly, I’ve been dividing my reading between several books lately which I am trying to finish. The books are: The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume, still trying to finish the first book of the Dandelion Dynasty by Ken Liu, and then I went ahead and took out far too many books from the library… I am also currently working on an early review for another nature book called The Biophile Effect. It has been a busy month and I am a little disoriented by how many projects I’ve started and aware that I have finished far fewer.

Writings from the Golden Age of Russian Poetry

34889267I received this work from Columbia University Press. It’s an academic book scheduled for publication on November 28. The work itself is a translation and presentation by Peter France of Konstantin Batyushkov’s writings. France interweaves Batyushkov’s own writings with his biography presenting to readers the life of a poet and his career as a soldier with his subsequent decline into mental illness at the age of thirty-four. A mixture of depression and PTSD from his life as a soldier made Batyushkov unable to write poetry any longer in the last few years of his life. Konstantin Batyushkov (1787-1855) was one of Russia’s greatest poets. France makes it known on page one of the introduction that even though:

“To most non-Russian readers his name is hardly known… for Russians he is a classic.”

He emerged in the 1820s in a literary grouping of what was later known as the Golden Age or the Pushkin Pléiade. The introduction to this work tells us that Pushkin himself regarded Batyushkov as a master.

In terms of where in the canon one might place or discuss Batyushkov, France tells us that:

“One might see in this divided soul an expression of Batyushkov’s intermediary historical position—between the urbane sociability of Enlightenment Russia, and the rebellious Romantic sensibility that is embodied in Pushkin’s Eugin Onegin.”

Konstantin_Batyushkov_portrait

Portrait of Batyushkov

This work is relatively short but quite dense. Peter France focuses on each section of Batyushkov’s life by adding an introduction with biographical information. He then selects the corresponding poems that fit in with that time in Batyushkov’s life and illuminate his feelings, reflections, and own self-documentation. France also adds passages of close reading and analysis to Batyshkov’s poems supporting the connection to his biographical passages by adding letters Batyushkov sent to his family and friends.

Reading this work was refreshing because it felt like I was reading something completely new, but somehow reading a classic as well. I found it absolutely crucial that someone should introduce Batyushkov to the West after reading his poems. France did an excellent job not only presenting/introducing Batyushkov but also in translating his poems. I would strongly recommend this book to readers fond of Russian literature, poetry, and semi-academic works. I didn’t find it exclusive by any means, it was accessible and interesting.

Cheek by Jowl by Ursula K. Le Guin

“I have been asking for thirty years why most critics are afraid of dragons while most children, and many adults, are not”

“fantasy is not primitive, but primary”

6380284This book contains a series of essays on fantasy by Le Guin written in a highly assertive and critical tone. I think I will re-read this every year because it’s a little manifesto worth memorizing. The dominant essay in this collection is the central one (also the longest) focusing on animals in children’s literature and fantasy.

Le Guin begins the series of essays in debunking three stereotypes attached to fantasy like: (1) the characters are white (2) it’s a fantasy land in the middle ages (3) fantasy by definition concerns a battle between Good and Evil. She explores the reasons why some children’s literature is often in a pre-industrial setting, and how fairy tale retellings don’t necessarily mean changing the story, rather, poaching at it and getting into it.

“it interests me that most of these ‘lifelong’ children’s books are fantasies: books in which magic works, or animals speak, or the laws of physics yield to the laws of the human psyche.”

Le Guin questions what the making of fantasy really entails. For instance, a woman may turn into a troll in fantasy, but what does it really mean for a woman to turn into a troll? She compares it to “realist” literature like Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Could one say that she has morphed into something monstrous?

Le Guin then turns her attention to the fantastic elements in other novels we consider great ‘realist’ and ‘serious’ literature like Moby Dick.

“The fantasy element of Moby Dick is Moby Dick. To include an animal as a protagonist equal with the human is—in modern terms—to write a fantasy. To include anything on equal footing with the human, as equal in importance, is to abandon realism…Melville’s white whale isn’t a real whale, he’s a beast of the imagination, like dragons or unicorns; hence Moby Dick is not an animal story, but it is a fantasy.”

In the main essay focusing on animals Le Guin examines how we used to be around animals in our earlier stages and what fantasy tries to capture:

“Animals were once more to us than meat, pests, or pets: they were fellow-creatures, colleagues, dangerous equals. We might eat them; but then, they might eat us. That is at least part of the truth of my dragons. They remind us that the human is not the universal.”

“As hunter-gatherers, our relationship to the animals was not one of using, caretaking, ownership. We were among, not above. We are a like in the food chain…each is at the service of the other. Interdependent. A community. Cheek by jowl.”

In literature we find interdependence between animals and nature, coexisting with humans in the same spaces. Lucretius’s poem On the Nature of Things shows us, Le Guin emphasizes, that “Lucretius saw no barrier between man and the rest of creation.” As we distanced ourselves from nature an animals with cities, and passed the industrial period, we separated ourselves from other species “to assert difference and dominance.”

Le Guin spends the rest of the book showing us the many ways in which fantasy as genre, found often in Children’s Literature brings us back to this imagined past where animals are integrated in society as equals. She examines Bambi, The Jungle Book, The Wind in the Willows, among many others and discusses how these points reinforce her thesis, and why they have been so successful. Le Guin uses some of her own stories and shows how she has tried to capture certain things and for what purpose.

Lastly, a part of this book that stayed with me, is Le Guin’s reaction to the Harry Potter phenomenon. Granted, this collection came out the same year as The Deathly Hallows, and didn’t examine in detail the overall effect and its subsequent ‘merchendise, Potter-world, Fantastic Beasts, and  Jack Thorne’s Cursed Child‘ but Le Guin has a bone to pick with the critics who had for years shunned fantasy and all of a sudden went along with the main crowd. Le Guin writes that she finds it normal for the public to fall in love with Rowling’s fantasy because they found something they missed out on since childhood, but she says:

“How could so many reviewers and literary critics know so little about a major field of fiction, have so little background, so few standards of comparison, that they believed a book that was typical of a tradition, indeed quite conventional, even derivative, to be a unique achievement?”

Le Guin blames the modernists, realists, and curriculum builders as well as the Edmund Wilson and his generation who labelled ‘realism’ and its various forms as the only kind of ‘serious’ literature. I love her criticism, brutal honesty, and analysis. All Cheek by Jowl has made me want to do is to read her all her essay collections and all her Science Fiction and Fantasy which is all now on my immediate TBR.

This book is one really well-written argument. The whole time I was highlighting and thinking of all the professors to whom I would like to send a copy. I think this book is perfect in how it’s written and how it delivers its argument. I was trying to think of a retort and couldn’t because her argument was that well done. Even in parts that I felt differently towards going in, I found myself converted by the end. Everyone should read this book.

Acadie by Dave Hutchinson | Review

Acadie_coverAcadie is part of the Summer of Space Opera hosted by Tor.com, the last of the five to be published, scheduled for the 5th of September. Dave Hutchinson, the author, was born in Sheffield in 1960, studied at the University of Nottingham and became a journalist. He’s the author of five collections of short stories, and four novels.

Acadie is set in the future following protagonist Duke who has been summoned by a group of leading researchers who have created “Kids” a long time ago for the purpose of colonizing other planets. After several generations Kids evolved to be more and more human-like, but their creator Isabel Potter is bent on finding all of them and killing them. We find that:

“the Kids were superbrights, tall fragile children with towering IQs, and a penchant for terrible jokes.”

Conversations between the Kids resemble equations as they are hardwired to see all problems in doing a specific activity.

This novella is short but filled with humour and great character interactions. While it resembles “hard sci-fi” it has many moments of reflection and character development. As readers we get an insight into Duke’s history, opinions, and frustrations. I found it particularly interesting when Duke tells readers that after travelling in space for long enough “it’s all just stars and emptiness…all space looks the same.” The writers and engineers who work for Isabel Potter, the original creator of the Kids, are like a giant fandom group from Comic-Con dressed as LOTR and Star Trek fans or as Duke calls it: early 20th century media references. The ‘Writers’ in this novella have higher powers. Their ‘creations’ shape more than expected and they have abilities like conducting complete memory-wipe on another, should they choose to.

The last few pages contained a surprising ending (which I will obviously not spoil) but it added a different dimension to the novella. It can be easily read in one sitting and it’s very exciting. I think this is one of the reads I would add to “get out of a reading slump” kind of book lists because it’s short, well-written, and highly atmospheric.

Also, the cover design by Stephen Youll is absolutely beautiful. I’ve linked his website so you can take a look at all his extraordinary artwork.

July Wrap-Up

boarding pass

July was a good reading month for me. I enjoyed what I read immensely. It will become apparent from the list that what I read consisted mostly of science fiction. This year I seem to have been drawn more and more in this direction and I am enjoying it. Because I enjoyed most of these I had more thoughts on each work and wrote individual posts/reviews for most of the books listed below. This is just a monthly overview.

I also had a very auditory experience this month. I discovered a lot of podcasts so I spent a lot of time listening. Here are some of the ones I enjoyed and discovered this month: Serial, Uncanny, Clarkesworld, Escape Pod, Lore, The Sword and Laser, Welcome to Night Vale, and lastly, the one that JUST started so you can get on board now too if you want because it’s at the beginning is this sci-fi one called Steal the Stars launched by Tor.com

Books I read for Early Review

35097384Artemis by Andy Weir. This is Weir’s second book after The Martian and it is just as great. This book is about the first village on the moon following a great female lead who is of Middle Eastern origin and her side profession is smuggling contraband on the moon. This book is scheduled for publication by Crown Publishing on November 14, 2017. It’s available for pre-order. My full review is HERE.

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The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen. This is an anthology of short stories that are retellings. It includes retellings of fairy tales, children’s literature, Arthurian legends, Robin Hood, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson. This book is scheduled for publication by Tachyon Publications on November 24, 2017. It’s available for pre-order. My full review is HERE.

 

Books I read for Myself

Short Stories

  • Points of Origin” by Marissa K. Lingen from Tor.com – an elderly couple (80 years old) living alone on Mars, childless, find themselves with three grandchildren dropped at their doorstep since they had donated some genes to Earth many years ago. Soft sci-fi, but it gets at the heart.
  • In Libres” by Elizabeth Bear from Uncanny Magazine – our female protagonist needs one more source for her thesis on “the use of psychoactive plants in thaumaturgy” and enters the library with a Centaur friend who helps her. I loved this story so I had to re-read it. The librarian, the special collections…everything in this story is just great. This short story will be inserted in an anthology about Libraries in Sci-fi. See review for that HERE. There’s also a podcast with an audio of this story HERE.

Books

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar 

25986774I read Central Station at the very beginning of the month in one sitting following the text and listening to the audiobook at the same time. This is a fix-up novel where Tidhar gathered stories published over the years and combined them in one cohesive novel. Central Station is set in the future, and is a port or in-between place where people come and go and stay only temporarily. It follows several characters. Each “chapter” or story is dedicated to a character and then they feature as secondary characters in other stories. Similar to the “tavern scene” in Star Wars you have various ‘races’ of people like data vampires (strigoi) to give one example. I wrote a more detailed review here. I absolutely loved this book and I kind of want to re-read it soon. I’m glad this was the first of the month because it set my month on a good path.

Also I should mention that a lot of credit goes to the cover art for being so spectacular that it compelled me to pick it up all day long until it was finished.

Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

774928I started working on a project where I set out to read all the Arthur C. Clarke Winners since its first prize (in 1987). More on that project: HERE. As I was making the list I realized that I haven’t actually read anything by Arthur C. Clarke himself so I read Rendezvous with Rama, the novel for which he received the Hugo and Nebula Award. The summary in short is that the year is 2130 and as time has passed humans have created protocols to prevent asteroids from hitting the Earth. A giant asteroid comes in proximity and it’s intimidating and new. As scientist look for Greek or Roman god names they have decided to label it “Rama” after the Hindu God instead. A space team lead by Commander Norton explore the asteroid Rama with their ship Endeavour featured on the cover. I had to write a more detailed review because the book put me in a really great place, and I wanted to explore the reasons why.

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor 

23129410What started out as a podcast has been turned into a novel. I now have the book, the audiobook, and have subscribed to the podcast. I highly recommend reading this while listening to the audiobook like I have because the voices, narration style, and musical accompaniment make this an experience. Night Vale is a town in the ‘American’ desert. Everything in Night Vale is very weird. If I had to describe it to someone from scratch I would say it’s a cross between Twin Peaks, The Twilight Zone, and maybe even Lost or Once Upon a Time. In this town there is a radio station that we get to tune in, and a series of strange characters. Every chapter focuses on one character but then they feature in future narratives. I wrote more on Welcome to Night Vale in detail HERE, because there was a lot to say. Long story short: I loved it.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

25667918Binti is about a young female protagonist from the ‘Himba’ tribe. The Himba are a people very much connected to the Earth and no one leaves their community or Earth in general. In their traditions they wear anklets and a red-hued clay called Otjize. Binti is the first to be so advanced and secretly apply to Oozma University that she must leave her tribe and people knowing that it would ruin her prospects in the community afterwards. She is immediately perceived as different even in the commute towards Oozma but the way she describes her tribe is really beautiful:

“My tribe is obsessed with innovation and technology, but it is small, private, and, as I said, we don’t like to leave Earth. We prefer to explore the universe by traveling inward, as opposed to outward.”

“The ship was packed with outward-looking people who loved mathematics, experimenting, learning, reading, inventing, studying, obsessing, revealing.”

The novella is very short, it’s just slightly longer than what I would call a “short story.” In a short time Okorafor interacts with spirituality, intelligence, honour, cultural differences, and does so in a delicate and elegant way. I really enjoyed this novella and I will most likely pick up the next two.  I really liked the combination of mathematics, harmonizing in an inward spiritual way, and the involvement of symbols like the Otjize and Earthing, the astroglobe, and the edan to which Binti refers to again and again reminding her of home. This novella is both a Hugo and Nebula Award Winner.

Unmentionable by Therese Oneill

29467289Unmentionable by Therese Oneill is so funny and well-written but reading it I just felt incredibly sad. It had nothing to do with the author, but realizing how gruesome fashion and cultural expectations, as well as beauty standards have been for women even in the “progressive” West. As a reader I’ve looked at the Victorian period as a very classy, elegant, clean, polished time. I read novels from that period like candy and think how classy those people were, and what I would give to have those habits, and manners. Unmentionable woke me up. There are so many things we haven’t considered and rarely see in literature and film from this time period. Getting dressed in a corset that crushes your innards is just the beginning. Oneill explores the ways women back then handled pregnancy, periods, baths, clothing, flirting etiquette, marriage, and all cultural standards with such high expectations. She often makes a point of differentiating between high class and lower class women and looks at the injustices towards both (thought different, still pressing). The truth is we never picture Jane Eyre going to the washroom where there was no running water in the house with professional flushable toilets, or lying in bed with menstrual cramps. The content of this book is excellent, and I wish it was an introductory required reading before Victorian Literature courses because it really puts everything in perspective. The way it’s written however makes it very light and pleasant, because it’s put in such a way that is funny like “wasn’t this so silly, glad we don’t still do it.” The humour is ever-present. Some captioned photos make references to contemporary songs like “omg Becky look at her strut” (you know the song). The book also deals with mental illness and the way it was (or wasn’t) treated: ideas of hysteria, treatment for it, and mental breakdown from pure exhaustion. I really enjoyed this work, and I’m glad it has been written. I enjoyed the pictures, the adds, and humour though sometimes I found things a bit too sad to laugh. It is a pretty serious topic and I wish the language was slightly more academic at times, because it deserves that kind of attention. It did make me consider how fortunate I am to be born in this century.

The Cherry Blossom Rarely Smiles by Ioana Nitobe Lee

34181899I came across Ioana Nitobe Lee watching a Romanian talk show and she intrigued me right away. When she was a student of foreign languages in Romania, particularly fascinated with Japan, she met Ken who was Japanese royalty (an imperial prince). Ken was simultaneously fascinated by Romania and the music, language, and culture. Upon his visit Ken fell in love with Ioana and asked her to marry him. Together they left for Japan. What Ioana did not anticipate was how formal and ceremonial everything was. There was a long ceremony just for using the washroom, including changing one’s shoes several times. She had to wash herself at least twice a day, and have staff help and watch her every move. Isolated from her family and missing Romanian traditions, Ioana felt trapped. There were many cultural differences, but also class differences and Ioana went from simple Romanian citizen to Japanese royalty without warning. When she did return to Romania many people asked her to recount the tales of such differences which is why she wrote this book. This is a memoir. I read the English copy and I was a bit disappointed because this book deserves serious editorial work (it is self published). However, keeping in mind that this woman knows so many languages and she published this work alone, it remains impressive. Scattered throughout are many Romanian sayings, proverbs, or direct quotations (translations) from Romanian poets and writers. This put me in a very good place. No matter how choppy the English gets, she reminds you that she studied a lot, knows a lot, and is well-read. I found it problematic at times that she sort of sees her whole identity defined by her marriage to a Japanese prince. A simple Google search of her pretty much has “married to a Japanese prince” as a banner in all her excerpts. I was more fascinated by HER, as a person. I liked her knowledge tidbits, her memories from home, the literary quotations that stayed with her for life. I’m glad that she captured some of her essence in this book.

How to Be a Person in the World by Heather Havrilesky

27065373This sort of thing isn’t my cup of tea, I’m not sure why I picked it up. The title intrigued me. I also saw people comparing it to Cheryl Strayed’s book Tiny Beautiful Things so I gave it a try. Heather Havrilesky is a columnist and answers people’s personal questions at “Ask Polly”…basically Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. I had one running thought reading this book which is: people in the West seem very preoccupied with the thought of being alone, the fear of being alone, or relationship drama (triangles, cheating, falling out of love, etc). This relationship preoccupation was pointed out during the French Revolution in Choderlos de Laclos’s Dangerous Liaisons and some theorize it started the revolution for pointing out to the working classes that the rich and wealthy had so much time and money they focused on trivial things like having side-affairs and seduction contests. Similarly, this book is very much a ‘Western,’ ‘well-off,’ daresay ‘white people problems.’ I do see its merit for existing out in the world and that is to remind the people who do despair over small problems in their life and obsess with such problems to remind them that they are not alone. It’s the same merit I see in shows like Dr. Phil. It may not be literary, poetically written, or applicable to all people…but it picks out an average middle-class problem/preoccupation and reminds readers that if they had a similar thought or problem chipping away at their happiness and self-worth, that they are not alone, and that they should learn to love themselves and be good people. It’s an easy read, I did it one sitting and it’s somewhat entertaining…in a schadenfreude kind of way. It was a 2 star read for me.

                       ***

I have also been reading Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings which is Book One of the Dandelion Dynasty. I read only 122 pages out of 618 and I am enjoying it very much so far. I am also reading a non-fiction book on the history of Time Travel (in literature) by James Gleick. Both these books will be wrapped up and finished in August. Some of the books above, including the newly mentioned Ken Liu I got to enjoy alternating between the book and the audiobook. According to my Audible app, this month I listened to 11 Hours. I will be away for this weekend and I don’t see myself finishing anything new.

Artemis by Andy Weir | Book Review

35097384Earlier this year I read The Martian by Andy Weir. Artemis is Weir’s second novel and it will be released by Crown/Archetype on November 14 this year. Weir is both blessed and cursed with The Martian being his debut novel. On one hand we all know his name and look forward to every project, and on the other, every work will be compared to The Martian which is a high standard, considering the blockbuster success that followed.

Jasmine Bashara (Jazz) is the protagonist of Artemis. She is a young, ambitious, daring woman of Saudi Arabian descent. She lives on the moon. Set in the near future, Artemis focuses on the first village that humans will have on the moon and how humans will most likely interact with it. The geography of this village is laid out on the first pages as having five domes each named after a famous astronomer. Only the wealthy can really afford to own property on the moon with a luxurious apartment, and the rest are mere employees and household staff. The five domes are mostly underground and the entire village functions as a ‘Vegas-like’ amusement location. Jazz is one of the lower class citizens and aspires to one day afford a roomier place on the moon. Her side project is smuggling contraband on the moon for rich people like Trond, who has a big request of Jazz driving the plot.

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The set-up of the village on the moon

I enjoyed immensely the ways in which this moon village comes to life. There are Earth tourists getting a field guide coming and going, the whole place runs like a resort, there is smuggling and crime, and like all places the moon has its own currency known as Slugs (ğ). In this projected future the moon is reserved for the privileged and is an honor not bestowed on many. The financial situation driving Jazz to do certain things, the description of her headquarters, the occasional ‘space-related’ incidents bring Artemis to life. There are also projected inventions which amused me like the self-cleaning, reusable, self-sterilizing condom.

The book has so far received a criticism of which I am wary and I must address. The early reviews criticize Weir for not being capable of writing a female character. According to some she sounds like a 15 year old boy, or sounds exactly like Watney in The Martian with no added dimensions or changes. I felt similarly near the beginning of the novel and there are moments where she sits a certain way and a male character will say “do women know they look sexy when they sit like that” and she’d say “yeah of course that’s why we do it” and this is just one of many examples, but then I realized that I can’t pinpoint one female character in literature with this much male-like confidence. If Jazz is just what a woman with the confidence of a man looks like then you know what… I like it! She’s the female equivalent of Rothfuss’s Kvothe. She’s confident, attractive, good at what she does, and she’s not shy about it. Also, if you think about it, the moment a character is raised a lifetime on the moon surrounded by a particular kind of person, I think it’s understandable why her personality evolves this way. Why should a woman or a different background origin differentiate her talking ways, her ambitions, or her personality? I think it makes perfect sense for Jazz to be written this way given the context and her upbringing.

As for the writing, there is a secondary reason why Artemis won’t come close to The Martian, and Weir addressed it himself in an interview. He says:

“… for The Martian, I was doing it as a serial, and I posted a chapter at a time to my website, and I could get feedback from the readers right on the spot. But for Artemis, it’s more traditional. I had a publishing deal from day one. The feedback, I got from my editor, my agent, and some close friends and family members. I couldn’t post it online for a few thousand readers.”

He admits that he misses the fact-checking and feedback provided by a wider audience of readers pre-novel publication. I’ll link the entire interview here because Weir has a good sense of self-awareness when it comes to his work and he is quite humble.

Overall I enjoyed Artemis, and I look forward to sharing it with my friends come November.

 

The Emerald Circus | Book Review

34218720The Emerald Circus is an excellent collection of fairy tale ‘retellings’ written by Nebula Award-winning author Jane Yolen. Although I use the term “fairy tale retellings” since it is a labelled sub-genre, Yolen’s collection incorporates the retelling of more than just fairy tales. Children’s books like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Peter Pan are also retold in this short story format from different perspectives, as well as Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and Emily Dickinson’s lifestyle and inspiration. The third category of retellings in this collection is of medieval legends of Camelot and Robin Hood. “The Quiet Monk” is the story of the hidden grave which supposedly had Arthur and Guinevere’s bodies in it which falls under Arthurian Retellings along with “The Confession of Brother Blaise,” and “Evian Steel.” Some of the short stories in this collection have been previously published in anthologies, or individually. For instance, “Lost Girls” the feminist retelling of Peter Pan where women riot and protest for their rights in Neverland won the Nebula Award in 1999 and has been published in Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

The Emerald Circus is a great introduction to Jane Yolen as it incorporates works from various points in her writing career. This anthology includes all the stories that haunt us past childhood and stay with us in a collective imaginary space. Arthurian Legends, Children’s Literature, and 19th Century American gothic poets share a fantastical quality that remains a point of comparison when reading contemporary literature. At the end of the collection of retellings, Yolen takes a few pages to explain how the idea for each of these stories came about. I will focus on one of her stories to give you an idea of how Yolen’s stories come through. As a big fan of Peter Pan and Neverland retellings, “Lost Girls” was the story that stayed with me most.

Yolen explains:

“I wrote ‘Lost Girls’ because I couldn’t forget the uneasy scene in which Peter Pan is weeping because he can’t re-attach his shadow. When Wendy sews it on for him, he crows and cries out ‘Oh the cleverness of me!’ As if Wendy had done nothing and he had done it all.”

Yolen’s research led her to Alison Lurie’s study of Peter Pan in a 2012 essay where she compares Peter’s existence with what we currently know of child psychology. He is easily distracted, has little understanding of the future, and lives in a world where real life and make-believe are almost the same thing. Peter might be “gay and innocent and heartless” as the last words of Peter and Wendy suggests, but according to Yolen:

“he [Peter] is also deeply self-centered and without remorse…Peter might be eternally young in his looks, but his eyes betray his real age. He has seen so much, he would have an old and narcissistic soul.”

Yolen takes this analysis and applies it to her story “Lost Girls.” In it, the main character is a young girl named Darla who has been raised by today’s Western standards of feminism and equality. As Darla reads Peter and Wendy she finds it unfair that “Wendy only did the housework in Neverland and that Peter and the boys got to fight Captain Hook.” Darla arrives in Neverland that night and Peter immediately sees her as “a regular Wendy” —as all women are interchangeable to him, in fact he refers to all the women he comes in contact with as “The Wendys.” As celebrations continue with Peter and the Lost Boys, the girls would obediently stand behind the boys “like banquet waitresses.” When Darla cannot stand being called a ‘regular Wendy’ she asks the girls why Peter refuses to call them by their actual individual names, to which the girls respond:

“Because he can’t be bothered to remember…and we can’t be bothered reminding him…it’s all right…really. He has so much else to worry about.”

The injustices present in Neverland and children’s literature are highlighted by Yolen in this story as she pinpoints examples in narratives that follow us and we enjoy without questioning. Yes, Peter Pan is about adventure and fun but who gets to have most of it, and who ends up hurt in the end as she must put up with his moods, flaws, and inability to adapt to circumstances? Innocence and living in the moment as ‘fun’ children do results in selfish behavior and unbearable cruelty to others.

This story is just an example of the kind of excellent work that Yolen accomplishes by creating alternative possibilities in this collection of retellings. Such attention to detail is present in all the stories in The Emerald Circus and it is a collection I would recommend to everyone.

Welcome to Night Vale | Review

23129410This book has been an experience for me in the last week: I read the text while listening to the audiobook, and listened to the Podcast when colouring, walking, or doing other activities.

The book is written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor and is published by Harper Perennial.

Night Vale is a town in the middle of the ‘American’ desert that is overall peculiar. All its inhabitants are very strange. The main story follows a single mom (of a shape-shifting boy) Diane, and a pawnshop owner named Jackie. A mysterious man in a tan jacket arrives leaving behind a note with only two words on it “King City.” The memories of this man fade and all Jackie is left with is “King City.” It’s a mystery/thriller that feels very much like Twin Peaks, but with the storytelling style of The Twilight Zone. The strangeness of each character is fantastical similar to Stranger Things where it’s sci-fi but told in a realistic way, highlighting human mundane problems using the supernatural. Between the narratives there are passages that look like transcripts from the town radio show. The radio passages unite the narratives because the news applies to all citizens of Night Vale and as a reader one can get a better sense of what goes on in town and what all the characters talk about communally.

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Podcast Cover

I understand that the Podcast is wildly popular and has achieved great success between 2015 and 2016. I did not get a chance to finish the Podcast so I will write my impressions of the book/audiobook.

First: if you can get the audiobook I recommend it strongly. In fact, if you must choose between the printed text and the audio, choose the audio. There are several reasons why it works better in audio format. The first reason is that in Night Vale there is a radio broadcast and the narrator who reads the radio host voice Cecil is also the one who does it in the podcast. The second reason is that this is not a ‘literary’ book, but a highly atmospheric one. The musical accompaniment and sound effects from the audiobook help enhance the setting and atmosphere. It reminded me of so many things (like the shows mentioned above) and reading it I just got an overall feeling of eeriness and mystery. The plot itself is not that exciting and the characters are not that deep, but somehow it works and it works well.

If I had to choose between its three existing formats as a narrative I would say the Podcast is the best. Although I haven’t heard it through to the end, I can tell from the few episodes that it is this narrative’s best format. The novelization incorporates some characters from the Podcast but not necessarily the best ones. There are several parts with lulls where the novel lost my interest but it does pick up again.

That said, overall I loved this book and the experience of it. I look forward to finishing all the Podcast episodes.

The book is filled with lines that left me in awe and some that just made me laugh out loud. Here are some examples of lines I found funny and some I found beautiful.

Humour extracted from Cecil’s Broadcast:

“coming up after this break, some exclusive clips from my recent three-hour interview with myself, in which I interrogated myself on my motivations, where I am in life, why I’m not in a different place in life, whose fault that is, and why I said that one embarrassing thing once.”

“If you see one of these False Police, act right away by shrugging and thinking What am I gonna do? And then seeing if anything funny is on Twitter”

“if the School Board could not promise to prevent children from learning about dangerous activities like drug use and library science at recess…”

“if you see hooded figures in the Dog Park, no you didn’t.”

Beautiful Lines

“Later she understood databases, having become the person she’d lied about being…”

“How does a person discover whether they are shy if they never have the time to meet new people?”

“There is nothing more lonely than an action taken quietly on your own, and nothing more comforting than doing that same quiet action in parallel with fellow humans doing the same action, everyone alone next to each other.”

“She left the shower as most people leave showers, clean and a little lonely”

“A person’s life is only what they do.”

Hopefully I captured some of Night Vale’s charm. I definitely recommend the Podcast, and the book/audiobook. This work will have a sequel coming out on October 17 this year with the title: It Devours! from the same authors.

The Audiobook is available through the public library with Overdrive. The ebook is also on Overdrive, and  the public library should have the printed copy in its system.

There are also two volumes of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast SCRIPTS:

  1. Mostly Void, Partially Stars
  2. The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe

 

 

 

Rendezvous with Rama | Review

774928 I realized that I haven’t read anything by Arthur C. Clarke so I decided to read Rendezvous with Rama–winner of the Hugo and Nebula Award.

By the year 2130 humans have already been travelling in space to various planets, and after a disastrous event of asteroids hitting the Earth they created many protocols and safety systems to prevent future celestial objects from hitting our planet. When a large celestial object is “at the gates” Commander Norton and a committee of space military advisers go explore this celestial object which is spherical in shape. We are told:

 

“by our standards, Rama is enormous–yet it is still a very tiny planet…its ecology could survive for only about a thousand year.”

They try to map it by giving several points names of cities on Earth, and the ‘asteroid’ is given the name of Hindu God Rama because:

“long ago, the astronomers had exhausted Green and Roman mythology; now they were working through the Hindu pantheon.”

The greatest chunk of this book involves the various encounters with Rama and its cylindrical sea. The silence, the darkness, and the attempts to understand it. We see most things through the eyes of Commander Norton. Some of the writing is actually quite funny. For instance, Norton thinks:

“when Rama shot through some other star system, it might have visitors again. He would like to give them a good impression of Earth.”

or

“you know Jerry Kirchoff, my exec, who’s got such a library of real books that he can’t afford to emigrate from Earth? Well, Jerry…” (:D)

I loved this work so much. I was trying to analyse what sets it apart from less heavy sci-fi and I think what made this book wholesome for me were the many historical references and deep roots. It rounded the characters and gave the story line a sturdy foundation. For instance, when the Commander is hypothesizing what Rama could be he considers that he has once heard of the excavation of a tomb from an Egyptian pharaoh, King Tut and how Rama too, could be a tomb. He contemplates the possibility of that by discussing King Tut for a little while. Moments like these made Rama real for me as a reader. Another time, we find that Norton is a big fan of Captain James Cook who had sailed the world between 1768 and 1771. He read all the Journals and knew everything about him:

“it still seemed incredible that one man could have done so much with such primitive equipment…it was Norton’s private dream, which he knew he would never achieve, to retrace at least one of Cook’s voyages around the world.”

Norton became so interesting to me the moment he had a dream and was a well-read person with historical heroes. The historical details sprinkled in this futuristic novel make it dynamic, and it works.

There were some things that upset me in the projected future. I decided to let it slide because it’s a great book and it was written in the early ’70s. The main one is that Norton, like other people who are making all these important space decisions and meetings, has two wives and two separate families. One is on Mars, one on Earth (they travel fast). The way women are discussed ever so briefly are like these interchangeable things who have enough on their hands because Norton or whichever man impregnated them. There is one team leader doctor/biologist Surgeon-Commander Laura Ernst and she has some influence, and I think it was here where I kind of let the whole “2-wives” thing slide and trying to keep 1970s as a context.

There are several interviews conducted by Strange Horizons on impressions of Rendezvous with Rama, looking back on it, and Karen Burnham says:

“So wow, this was really refreshing! A mixed-gender, mixed-race, comfortable-with-polygamy team and society with some solid world building involving asteroid threats. I liked it much more than I thought I would.”

I gathered from this comment that this was as “mixed-gender” as sci-fi got at the time.

Full Strange Horizons interview: CLICK HERE.

All in all, this is a great book, great science fiction classic, and I strongly recommend it. I especially recommend it to those interested in science fiction and fantasy and want to read the foundational texts or “classics” in the genre. Heinlein, Clarke, Herbert, and Asimov are the four main pillars.

 

Central Station | Book Review

25986774Lavie Tidhar’s Sci-fi Novel Central Station is one of the six on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, was a finalist for the Locus Awards, and only two weeks ago has been awarded the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science fiction of the year.

The composition of Central Station is known as a ‘fix-up’ novel, meaning that several stories that have been published in the past (in this case ranging between 2011-2015) have been brought together along several new added chapters to form one cohesive narrative.

In its essence Central Station is an in-between place, similar to an airport and/or port located between Jewish Tel Aviv and Arab Jaffa. We learn that trades and cargo play a huge role in this distant future, even on a spiritual level:

“Cargo came from everywhere. In space, cargo was a religion all by itself. It came from Earth, shipped up to orbit, to the massive habitat called Gateway. It came from Lunar Port, and it came from the Belt, from Ceres and Vesta where the wealth of the Belt poured.”

The location is the core of the novel because it’s the only thing all the characters have in common. In the prologue an author sits down and writes of a civilization in the future imagining and reminiscing of the past (which is still quite distant from us and what we know). The term often used is the “imagined past.” It reminded me of one of those notebooks that certain hotels or locations make you sign every time you visit. It’s as if all these species of ‘people’ from the future (from all over the Solar System) get to sign their names at Central Station and tell their story.

Every chapter focuses on one character and is told from a different perspective, and the same character will re-appear in future stories as a secondary character. What is astounding is that even though all these species of the future are so different they seem to be a lot more tolerant of each other and understanding than humans are now. They look to us and our history the way we look at Cavemen. There are a few characters that dominate the naraative, mainly Miriam (Mama Jones), Boris, Caramel, and Kranky.

What amazes me is that Tidhar managed to create entities so different from us and somehow breathe air into their lungs and humanize them giving them relatable cravings and vices. The story I found most fascinating was that of a creature called “Strigoi” which we follow in chapter five, by name of ‘Caramel.’ Strigois are data vampires and absorb everything one knows. We follow how Caramel herself became a Strigoi and what her feelings were being at Central Station:

“she had never imagined the Conversation as she experienced it just then –the nearness and yet the distance of it, the compressedness of it all. Billions of humans, uncounted billions of digitals and machines, all talking, chattering, sharing at once. Images, text, voice, recordings, all-immersive memcordist media, gamesworlds spill-over—it came on her at once, and she reeled against it.”

When she meets Boris and Miriam at Central Station her parasite-like nature is viewed by Miriam as a disease, something Caramel can’t help similar to the ways we look at depression or Schizophrenia. There is a sort of dangerous aspect about being a Strigoi but also involuntary on their part. For Boris, Caramel is a sexualized entity. He is

“aroused by her difference…all the while knowing his own weakness, admitting to his sexual infatuation with her, this human kink that made them lust for Strigoi, for the thing that could harm them.”

To me this story is representative of the whole. Tidhar takes something so distant from us and makes it relatable. As readers we empathize with the non-human and that is the result of great craftsmanship and storytelling. I absolutely love this book and I will read it again soon.

Also, the cover art for this novel is so beautiful. This is the work of Sarah Anne Langton. 

I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys science fiction. To learn more about Lavie Tidhar and his other works click HERE.

I received a digital copy of this novel from Tachyon Publications in exchange for an honest review (thank you Tachyon!) however I bought my own copy and an audible version. I hope it’s come through that I genuinely enjoyed this work. It brought me to a good place and I will take a look at Tidhar’s backlist and forward to his future publications.

 

June Wrap-Up

june wrapup

In June I haven’t read as MANY books as before mainly because I am participating in a read-along of Infinite Jest with Ennet House (a reading group from Vancouver). More details can be found HERE. I did get a chance to read some other things too as the month progressed.

Books I Read For Early Review

Attributed the the Harrow Painter — Poetry collection. This book is scheduled for publication in November from University of Iowa Press.

Gork, the Teenage Dragon — children’s fantasy book. This book is scheduled for publication on July 11, from Knopf Publishing Group.

Plank’s Law – young adult book. The book will be published in September by Orca Book Publishers.

Pillow Thoughts & The Road Between – two poetry collections by Australian Poetess Courtney Peppernell. Both works will be released on August 29 by Andrew McMeel.

Glances of Life by J.B. Anderson – poetry collection by Detroit poet. Collection was already published on May 30 by Dog Ear Publishing.

Books I Read for Myself 

Short Stories

“When She is Old and I am Famous” by Julie Orringer from her larger collection of short stories How to Breathe Underwater. I will be finishing this collection in July, but I read this particular short story in June and it’s wonderful. It’s about a young woman name Mira who is not very good looking or in shape and lives in the shadow of her Model-like, gorgeous cousin Aida.

26 monkeys, also the abyss” by Kij Johnson from her larger Sci-fi/Fantasy short story collection At the Mouth of the River of Bees.

I will be working my way through the two collections above for the summer.

The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

28389305A few weeks ago I started watching National Geographic’s biopic of Einstein which is one season long called “Genius.” The show is based on the biography written by Walter Isaacson Einstein: His Life and Universe. For the first time I was introduced to Mileva Maric who was Einstein’s first wife and quite possibly one of my favourite historical women. She was brilliant, one of the first women at the physics academy in Zurich, and just an overall fierce feminist symbol. I fell in love with Mileva and I wanted to know more. I then discovered Marie Benedict’s book The Other Einstein. Because I have seen the show first, this book read like the first five episodes only from Mileva’s perspective. I went on Goodreads to see what other people thought of this book that came out in October of 2016. Every low rating seemed to be regarding Mileva’s preoccupation with her leg deformity and limp, with the fact that Einstein called her “dollie,” and that it was somehow women’s attempt to shame a brilliant man by making this unknown woman play a larger role than she did. Having been introduced to National Geographic and Walter Isaacson’s biography first, all these things were not shocking, nor a surprise, and certainly not Benedict’s invention with a feminist brush. All those things seem to have been true and Benedict did her research. I loved Mileva, and I love this book because it’s really good, and well-researched. It’s also heavily based on a true story, and it has pulled from the margins a woman that wasn’t that well known. So if you read this, keep in mind that the things that irk you, frustrate you, and annoy you about society in that time, about the academy, the gossip, or Einstein himself, was actually very close to reality and the “novelization” part comes simply from the invention and addition of dialogue.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovich

9476292Nina Sankovich’s sister Anne-Marie dies at the age of 45. The author deals with her sister’s death by throwing herself into a reading project: read one book per day for a year. I found that the author focused more on her life, her struggle, her personal biography and the relationships in her life more than on the books. I think some of the books she read deserved a little more reflection and thought than she accorded. It felt like she was sprinting through this reading list and didn’t even discuss or acknowledge half the books she read. After the conclusion we finally get a full list of all the books (and short stories) she read that year. I wanted to hear more about the books. I appreciated her personal heartfelt attachment and the way she tied in the novels to her life, but I think it would have worked better if that was an “introduction” or “chapter one” and then the rest of the book focused on her reading process, the thoughts she had on each book objectively and subjectively, a little context for the books, quotations she enjoyed. I wanted it to be more about the books is what I’m trying to say. Some reviewers on Goodreads called this “the memoir no one asked for” and while that is a bit harsh—as a reader I’m open to hearing everyone’s story—I think this promised to be a reading journal/experience rather than a ‘coping with grief’ kind of book and so it did become in the end the memoir no one asked for. I encountered a similar problem earlier in the year reading Spinster which instead of talking about spinsterhood ended up as a personal life story/memoir. Maybe we’re more interested in the memoirs and biographies of people we consider “important.” I did appreciate that she read diversely.

Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn

24471629This collection plays with the idea of “numbered days” in more ways than one. It explores the theme of death in the form of thinking about death, considering suicide, and manic-depressive illness episodes where this can happen. It also looks at relationships in one’s life whether in love, parents, or friends and how those days are in a way limited or numbered. From time to time Minnesota and snow will make an appearance. The content of this collection is very well put together. There are various kinds of relationships, followed by kinds of mental illnesses, and concluding with a literal death of a grandmother. Every few poems one will begin with several quotations from other poets and well-known figures on each respective topic (time, death, heaven, hope). The poetry is very accessible and it tells things rather than alluding to them through clever use of language. In that respect I wanted more from this collection. However, the things it does tell are pretty memorable and some sentences strike deep. Also, I read this out loud and I found that in the way things were written (sentence-structure-wise) I was almost shouting. It comes across as a forceful rant or complaint bulldozing and demanding to be heard.

Hilborn explores the ways OCD affects romantic relationships, how depression ruins your days, how suicidal thoughts can be preventable by people in a position of privilege. In his poem “Joey” the poet compares himself to a friends who was going through something similar but who could not afford therapy:

“I can pinpoint the session / that brought me back to the world. That session cost seventy-five dollars. / Seventy-five dollars is two weeks of groceries…I wonder how many kids / like Joey wanted to die and were unlucky enough to actually pull it off.”

Here are some lines I enjoyed:

“Depression wasn’t an endless grey sky. It was no sky at all.”

“To Break Something but Being Too Weak; /The Sadness that Comes from Always knowing / exactly where you are.”

“I will lie here forever and sing to you all the things / I stopped myself from saying when we were alive.”

“Though he couldn’t name it, her favorite / color is Bakelite seafoam green”

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

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Walden is one of my favourite classics and it’s one I return to often. I re-read it this month as my monthly classic mostly because it’s summer and nice out, but also because I haven’t been reading as much this month as the one before and with full enjoyment so I picked it up to get me out of the little slump. I also wanted to brush up on it so I could write an entry on why Walden is my “comfort classic.” Click HERE to read it.

 

 

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides 

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This book came up in conversation when I was discussing my read-along project of Infinite Jest. My friend said that one of the characters in the Marriage Plot was based on David Foster Wallace and it’s a “campus book,” so I had to read it. I love campus books as much as island books. The story follows a female protagonist who is an English major and has just graduated from University. I have only read about 50 pages of this book and all I’ve read about was graduation day, parents coming to visit, and some boy dilemmas. I am intrigued by this book and it’s reading quite smoothly but I will do a proper wrap-up at the end of July after I finish all of it.

Book I hated and could not finish

9086994I have never been this frustrated with an author as I am with Paulo Coelho. This is the most selfish book I’ve ever read in my life. It’s selfish in so many ways. First the plot: Coelho, bored with his life, is taking on an adventure with his publicist and decides to go on a train trip across Russia and be all mystical and spiritual. That’s it. Why is it selfish? First he is preying on his readers and taking advantage of them. He knows he did well with The Alchemist, he knows people look to him for advice the way they do to a life coach so he uses this “oriental mysticism” to absorb the reader and try to convince us that he is in fact enlightened. The first 10 pages were actually kind of amazing. It was like candy.

“I began my apprenticeship in magic…grownups have no time to dream…what am I doing here…there exists a parallel universe that impinges on the world in which we live”

and in conversation with his guru or spiritual guide who tells him

“you feel that nothing you have learned has put down roots, that while you’re capable of entering the magical universe, you cannot remain submerged in it”

How lovely right? The first ten pages made me want to highlight and take notes. But nothing he says is original, or interesting. It’s basic self-help book rewording. He uses this as an excuse to go “conquer his kingdom” because he’s special and needs travelling and experience. He then spews lines like “travel is never a matter of money but of courage.” Come on! Then he waves good bye to his wife in Brazil who is understanding about this whole thing for some reason, and lo’ and behold on his train trip he meets a 21 year old (did I mention he is 59) and he basically sleeps with her….but it’s okay apparently because he met her in a previous life. One reviewer on Goodreads wrote: “I don’t know how Coelho’s wife in Brazil can accept her womanizing husband and letting the whole world know about it.”  I found this book to be selfish in that it’s a personal journal and he does things that are not so admirable but he paints them in a light of him being so enlightened for doing these things….and he keeps dropping every five lines how well his books are doing. It’s selfish to his readers because they buy his books and admire “his” ideas. It’s selfish to his wife. I would say it’s even selfish to the people he dragged along on this trip, and to that poor 21 year old. I also found that it painted people who are genuinely spiritual in a bad light. I pictured monks face-palming. It’s very self-absorbed… I wish he titled it “a journal entry from my trip and midlife crisis.” This is hardly a novel. I don’t generally review negatively because I research my books before reading them but this book really upset me because I expected something better.

 

Glances of Life | Poetry Review

35251432This poetry collection is divided in three sections:

  1. Intrigue: the way we perceive the world around us, how we take beauty in, how we get to know everything around us
  2. Whimsy: sketches of life, things that make up our life and become particularly significant to our role such as playing baseball, or putting ointment on foot fungi.
  3. Reflection: a step back analyzing ideas and concepts

As is indicated by the cover of this collection the symbol of the butterfly is a running thread through all three sections. The author considers the butterfly when discussing beauty, flight, and transformation.

Aside from the aforementioned three-part division, most poems in this collection are so diverse one cannot categorize them as they are stand-alones.  For instance, in the first section there is a poem called “Shattered” which is a rhyming poem juxtaposing the fairy tale of Snow White with the contemporary ways in which we attempt to alter the perception of our beauty either through cosmetic surgery or digitally manipulated Facebook pictures. While it still looks at another kind of transformation similar to that of a butterfly, the writing style, rhythm, and composition of this poem makes it somewhat unique and apart from others in its section.

dusk

Accompanying illustration of fireflies by Maria Rodriguez for poem: “Dusk”

In the poems where Anderson captures moments from life I was reminded of Sylvia Plath’s ‘moment’ poems like “Cut” or “Balloons” and yet his play on words is so fun that I couldn’t help but imagine that I was being serenaded by the Caterpillar from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  For example he plays with the word IT in the poem “IT” as ‘it’ being an ominous presence, a something, or literally the digital IT department. There are other moments where he writes ‘fizzycists’ instead of physicists, or when he writes in the poem “i.”:

“they say it’s as easy as a π in the sky”

Anderson combines the mundane daily life snippets with the larger activity all around all-present in nature and the larger cosmos.

My favourite poems are “i,” “Shattered,” and the very first one “First Glance.” Here is “First Glance” in its entirety (spelling of words appear as such in the collection, they are not typos):

“Inananosecond / The Photons reflect / From your face and zip / Through the lens of my eye – / Your image summersaults on my retina / Where all comes into brilliant sharp focus / Then the rhodopsin in the colorful cones / And sensitive rods transforms to create / The impulse which crosses / Via the optic chiasm / To the visual cortex / Where all is parsed –/ And though I have / Never seen you / In the past / Somehow / I know / You are / Beautiful ”

(“First Glance,” Anderson)

I enjoyed the collection and would recommend it to anyone who loves poetry. It is appropriate for younger children as well if you would like to use this collection as a bonding moment, or a poetry study in a classroom.

The poetry collection is also accompanied by several illustrations created by Maria Rodriguez.

J.B. Anderson is a Detroit poet with a B.A. in English Literature who has been practicing orthopedic medicine for 30 years. He published a children’s book called Hockey Cat in 2010 under a pseudonym.

The collection was published on May 30 by Dog Ear Publishing.

Walden | Comfort Classic | Journal

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”

 

Walden

Thoreau lived at Walden Pond from July 4, 1845 to September 6, 1847. Walden was published in 1854.

pond

Pond near my house

For the last few years I’ve returned to Thoreau’s Walden many times. Sometimes I read it from beginning to end, sometimes I listen to the audiobook. Other times, I read only a chapter, or the things I’ve highlighted. Themes, excerpts, and the work as a whole especially come to mind when I visit my parents’ home and take a walk around the forest and the local pond. I am trying to figure out what is it about Walden that makes it what I call a “comfort classic”—a classic I re-read to make the world feel right again. This entry is really meant to read like a personal reading journey entry where I log notes and discuss them.

In the first section ‘economy’ Thoreau points out all that is wrong with society, which frankly has not changed, if anything it has only worsened (particularly discussing student debt from the Universities). He points out all that is wrong, and all that we should aspire to be. He writes:

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

The mass is quiet, that is what makes it awful. They have the natural consequence but they do not know how to express this quiet desperation.

ainting“What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true to-day may turn out to be a falsehood to-morrow.”

“One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute value by living.”

“Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me”

“Are we compelled to live, reverencing our life, and denying the possibility of change.”

“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically, but practically.”

Thoreau also mentions how impractical the anxiety to be fashionable is (in terms of clothes, household furnishings and objects).

Earlier I mentioned that certain things have worsened since (like fees, rent, etc). I wonder how Thoreau would react or write about (in the middle class West) people spending the majority of their time on the Internet indoors.

“It would be well, perhaps, if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies…birds do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their innocence in dovecots…many a man is harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box.”

There is something in Walden, particularly in the beginning that strongly reminds me of things I’ve seen or heard recently but figured Thoreau said it first. Most of the discussion of your things owning you was strongly ringing of Fight Club (not the book but the movie).IMG_20170620_120942

I think what I like about his writing is that he goes from contemplative and philosophical writing to the mundane and every day speech all in the same sentence. Thoreau wrestles with social constructions that have ones seemed natural and a part of our existence.

I like imagining Thoreau walking, and thinking, and just tapping into some of his thoughts on literature and what he sees, to me, is a very idealized pastoral scene so Walden has become my comfort classic.

If you were to compare what some of today’s styles and trends are: eating organic, growing your own food, travelling and reconnecting with nature, hiking, etc. This sort of ‘hippy’ or ‘bohemian’ lifestyle is often divorced from the intellectual now. I realize that Thoreau did all these things back in the 1840s and combined it with the intellect. His chapters on “reading,” and “where I lived and what I lived for” are imbued with literary references and discussions. It is akin to books like Ex Libris or the genre we all love so much recently ‘books about books.’

“A written word is the choicest of relics. It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself.”

His every thought is an allusion or a reference to a literary work from antiquity to his contemporaries. Through the voices of other literary giants and describing the sounds around the pond, Thoreau shows how you can be surrounded while completely alone in a contemplative state.

Every section of Walden has its own charm. There are so many YouTube channels for instance focusing on cooking, growing your own things, and budgeting. Thoreau writes about all those things explaining in detail how he did it. I sometimes imagine 19th century readers reading this the same way millions of us subscribe to channels online now. I enjoyed reading about his budget, savings, and spending when it came to building the house and investing in clothing, food, and farm supplies. It’s both personal and distant, it’s doable and also impossible. Most importantly it brings me to a good place mentally because I think about nature, and what the natural realm means.

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Wanderlust Reading List

Wonderlust

Summer is here! Not only is the weather just right for traveling and having adventures of your own, but it’s also a great time to read books that inspire wanderlust. The list contains several books I read and thoroughly enjoyed along with some that fellow librarians, family, and friends have recommended. Hopefully there will be at least one title in the list that is right for you.

For full list downloadable and printable PDF click HERE <–

For other recommendations based on reader preferences check out this Goodreads LIST

I also highly recommend Tristan Gooley’s books The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs, and How to Read Nature as a tool when taking nature walks or longer nature trips. His works are very helpful.

The titles below are clickable and it will link you to The Book Depository if you would like to purchase a copy. The public library should also have at least one copy of each one of these books.  You can also access the Online eBook for free using your library card using OverDrive.

2No Baggage by Clara Bensen  1

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburn Country by Bill Bryson

The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman

A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

The Longest Way Home by Andrew McCarthy

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wisner

 

 

 

I would also like to share with you another great resource if you like adventure and that is “World Travelers United” blog. You can also find them on Facebook and Instagram. Just looking at the photos inspires wanderlust! Hope you enjoy the reading list and if you would like to recommend others please comment below!

Gork, the Teenage Dragon | Book Review

“For inside my scale green chest, there beats a grotesquely large and sensitive heart.”

32766443I hope this book gets turned into a children’s cartoon series because I would watch it with a lot of passion. Gork: the Teenage Dragon, is Gabe Hudson’s debut middle-grade fantasy novel. The narrative follows a dragon named Gork who, you guessed it, is a teenager. What’s particularly charming about this novel is its snappy humour. Gork narrates his story and in the first chapter he establishes himself as:

“My first name is Gork, my middle name is The, and my last name is Terrible, and like I said, I’m a dragon, plus I’m a poet”

But not before criticizing Beowulf and Tolkien to no end for their bad portrayal of dragons. He says:

“Mr. Tolkien was a real low-hearted sonuvabitch.”

Gork is in high school at WarWings Military Academy where he is a little different than the other dragons. He is afraid of heights, and really does have a large heart. His nickname is: Weak Sauce. His main purpose in this novel is to find himself a queen, for if he fails to do so he will become a slave forever.

Maybe I read Spinster, and All the Single Ladies too closely together this year and only in the last month, but this ‘despair’ that young Gork has throughout this novel really resembled for me the pressures society put on women in the past. You must find a husband or be ridiculed as a ‘spinster’ or enslaved in various other forms. I hope I’m not reading incorrectly into this children’s book, but this is the first time I’ve read a book where the male character is forced, nay, obliged and in ardent despair to find himself a partner. While other books have shown this dynamic from a male perspective, never with such urgency, and I’ve personally never encountered it in children’s literature. Well done Gabe Hudson!

Politics aside, I must return to the humour. This book is so funny. I found it funny as an adult who is quite in love with dragons and I wonder how the children would take this same humour. There’s something in his voice that echoes Lemony Snicket for me, though his publishers insist that it’s ‘Harry Potter meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.’ Either way, I suggest we, the readers, allow Hudson to have his own voice through Gork. I also enjoyed the ways he doesn’t shy away from swearing a little bit (never vulgar though). Highly recommend! I would also suggest that parents read this book aloud to their children, or librarians to their students at circle reading time. It’s a great bonding book! I look forward to Hudson’s future novels.

This book is scheduled for publication on July 11, from Knopf Publishing Group.

May Wrap-Up | 2017

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Books I read for Reviews (with links)

  • Drinks with Dead Poets by Glyn Maxwell. A poet/professor wakes in a town where he must teach a syllabus on dead poets, and the dead poets come to life (To be published in August of 2017)
  • Matter & Desire by Andreas Weber. Academic text exploring the relationship between our existence and nature through erotic experience (To be published August 3, 2017)
  • The Man Who Loved Libraries by Andrew Larsen. This is a very short children’s book about Andrew Carnegie (to be published August 15)
  • Thin Places by Lesley Choyce. Free verse poem telling the story of Declan Lynch who can hear voices and follows them. (To be published July 29, 2017)
  • The Excursionist by J.D. Sumner. This is a travel satire with a very grumpy main character (published May 17)
  • The New Voices of Fantasy edited by Peter S. Beagle. A collection of new fantasy short stories (to be published August 18, 2017)
  • Scion of the Fox by S.M Beiko. Young adult book with magic, battles, family traditions and history, and is very much entwined with the natural realm (out for publication October 17, 2017)
  • Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith by Shaun Hume. Pleasant children’s adventure about Ewan Pendle who receives a special education. (published)
  • How to Read Nature by Tristan Gooley – book on navigating through nature and reviving the connection between ourselves and the natural realm (out for publication August 22, 2017)
  • Of Men and Women by Pearl S. Buck – short essays comparing the American household to that of China, published/written in 1941, currently being republished in a newer, updated eBook edition (out for publication June 27, 2017)
  • Ex Libris – Anthology of Sci-fi and Fantasy short stories with Librarians, Libraries, and Lore (out for publication July 11, 2017)
  • The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory by Chris Banks – poetry collection (out for publication Sept 5, 2017)
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay – a memoir; a history of Roxane Gay’s body and experience with weight gain (out for publication June 13, 2017)
  • Up Against Beyond by Jason Holt –Poetry collection (out for publication July 20, 2017)
  • Iain M. Banks by Paul Kincaid –academic book, short biography, close analysis/reading of Iain M. Banks and his works published both as ‘Iain M. Banks’ and ‘Iain Banks’ (out for publication May 30, 2017)

Books I read for Myself

I had a great reading month mostly because I had all the time in the world: no work, no school, no exams.

According to my Audible App I also spent about 8 Hours listening. The listening included a variety of dramatizations of classics, or some audiobooks for the things listed below where I would follow along in the text while listening to an audiobook.

I read two short stories:

“The Machine Stops” – by E.M. Forster which already made it onto my ‘favourites’ list. The story is written in 1909 but it’s highly prophetic and describes a time where people are glued to conversation machines and lose touch with the organic. It’s like a “pre-WALLE” critique of our attachment to screens.

“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe. This story took me a while to get into, mainly because I wasn’t sure what was happening for the first few pages. A man wakes up tied, in a pit, where a pendulum swings above him (one of those with a blade) and he doesn’t know why. He spends the story figuring it out. It didn’t really strike me in any way and it’s not as memorable as “The Black Cat.”

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

9200000000656014I then read my monthly classic. This month I chose The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Again, this didn’t sit with me quite as well as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. What I’m saying is: I can see why it’s important, I can engage in conversation about many aspects of it BUT reading it wasn’t a very exciting experience. Anne looked at domestic abuse and the ways women would put up physical barriers like Wildfell Hall itself. I liked the many perspectives in this work but I had one major issue with this novel and that was the characterization of Gilbert Markham, the first narrator. Gilbert as a first narrator to me was so feminine that I had a hard time imagining this man as a (straight) man. Everything he said was something I could never picturing a man caring about like the way a woman’s eyebrows look like, or the fabric of their clothing. It sucks that in my head I kept comparing Markham to manly Rochester and Heathcliff but one cannot help but lump the Brontes together. I would have no problems with bending gender norms and stereotypes but I think in this case Anne Bronte just didn’t know how to capture a masculine voice. I did enjoy that Helen was a painter and the descriptions of her paintings got to me in a very heartwarming way. Helen’s character is very interesting.

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

sleepinggiantsI am not sure how to describe the synopsis without spoilers. I’m going to briefly borrow parts from the synopsis at the back. Rose Franklin falls through the earth when she is a child and ends up in the palm of a giant metal hand. She spends her life studying physics and gets involved with a military/science team in search for other remaining parts of these giant metal giants which are scattered worldwide. The book is written in interview format. Interviews are conducted with Rose connecting her personal experience to the expeditions, with Kara Resnik (a military leader on this mission), and with other members involved in this investigation. I sort of imagined it as someone from the Pentagon interviewing all the people involved or around anything relating to these robot parts showing up all over. There are romances hidden, mysterious components to the robots or “giants” and it’s definitely not boring. I read this book with the text in hand and with the audiobook. It is an experience I recommend mainly because audible has different voices for the different characters and you really experience their presence. Lastly, I couldn’t help but be reminded of A Monster Calls, The Iron Giant, and most of all the giant guardians that are dormant in Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I don’t know if anyone remembers those but as a kid I watched Atlantis so many times and the moment when the giants pop out from the ground to protect the city is a scene forever ingrained in my memory. I don’t know if I’m alone in making this association.

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River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

river-of-teethThis is a small novella that just got published by Tor.com. In the early 20th century America had a plan to import hippos to supplement the meat shortage. The plan was scrapped but Sarah Gailey re-imagines an alternate 1890s where hippos are present in the U.S. It’s a weird hybrid of fantasy and a westerner. This is the story of Winslow Houndstooth who rides his hippo. Every rider in this book has a hippo. Tor.com published an article introducing every hippo by name here. The novella is only 170 pages and a very easy read. The cover art is done by Richard Anderson and designed by Christine Foltzer. I’ll put together a better review for this on Goodreads later tonight.

Concluding Thoughts and Announcement

My favourite reads this month were Drinks with Dead Poets by Glyn Maxwell and Ex Libris: Libraries, Librarians, and Lore. I’ve also been reading Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan which I have not yet finished so it will be featured in next month’s wrap-up.

announcement-clipart-cliparti1_announcement-clipart_09BIG ANNOUNCEMENT! Along with Ennet House I will be reading Infinite Jest from June 1 to September 18 (along other books of course). If you would like to participate there is still time to get the book and join our community. More details on this HERE. Everyone is welcome!

The Man Who Loved Libraries | Children’s Book | Review

34507448I couldn’t resist—I had to request this book for review because: LIBRARIES. As a librarian and bibliophile I think it’s vital to encourage young children to know more and more about the library world and the important figures in its history, so I am very happy this book exists. The targeted audience for this book is children grades 1-3, and I’m fairly certain it is intended for school libraries or public libraries to purchase and have in their collection—mainly because near the end of the book the author writes:

“Andrew Carnegie built public libraries so that someday someone like you could feel the joy of borrowing a book like this.”

The text is written by Andrew Larsen and it’s accompanied by Katty Maurey’s beautiful illustrations.

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Andrew Carnegie in Colonel Anderson’s private library

The main story is non-fiction and simplified for the targeted age group. The language makes this book very accessible and I found myself rooting for Andrew the whole way through.

The book covers Carnegie’s life: born in Scotland facing extreme poverty, his family’s immigration process to Pittsburgh, U.S.A, and the help he himself received from Colonel Anderson who opened his doors to his own private library so that Andrew may read. Larsen writes:

“Andrew knew that learning was the key to the future.”

After several smart investments Andrew Carnegie became quite wealthy but instead of hoarding his savings he decided to invest in things to help his community and everyone around the world:

“he believed that riches are for sharing.”

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Andrew Carnegie helping worldwide

I loved this story, and I hope they stock many school libraries with it. It’s vital for children to admire philanthropists for their kind work rather than their lavish lifestyle. I also think it’s important to introduce children to a time when libraries and access to information didn’t exist. It’s so hard to imagine now a time when this was true. Also, I’m a big fan of library history being taught early on. The first time I heard of Andrew Carnegie was in the first year of my Masters.

Overall this book is awesome and I think it achieves what it sets out to do for the intended age group. It’s difficult to criticize a book for children that encourages sharing, kindness, and respect for libraries and learning. If anything my only criticism is that it could be longer. Strongly recommend to elementary school libraries.

This book is scheduled to be published by Owlkids Books on August 15.

 

Matter & Desire | Book Review

“love is the principle of a fulfilling equilibrium between the individual and the whole”

34956703Matter and Desire is not a book about navigating in nature, an analysis of the natural realm, nor a biology book in any way shape or form. I read this text as a love letter to nature. Andreas Weber is a German academic, and scholar who holds degrees in Marine Biology and Cultural Studies. In this text he explores the ways in which humanity, unity with the larger ecosystem, and love as experience connect with nature and all things around us. In the foreword John Elder writes:

“He [Weber] focuses throughout on the ways in which sensory contact with our fellow creatures, as well as with air and water, light and gravity, can deepen our capacity to identify with all of life.”

Weber connects our psychology and experience of nature with ecology, as well as acknowledging writers before him who have managed to do so successfully—like John Muir for instance. In fact, Weber brings together philosophers and writers from Antiquity to present merging their writings with contemporary anthropocenic discussions, exploring how our human identity ties in to nature.

Weber begins his book by defining ‘eros’ as he will use it in the entire text as well as a brief history of the word itself. He writes:

“The Eros of matter counterbalances the physicists’ basic assumption that ‘entropy’ in the universe is constantly increasing, meaning that everything in the cosmos is trending toward a uniform condition of the lowest thinkable level of energy. Fires burn out. Life-forms die. Our bodies break down. Even the sun will collapse someday.”

He brings together all the components of this experience: touch, desire, and death as well as separating the contextual experience of nature in terms of relativity between ‘I,’ ‘you,’ and ‘we.’  Weber also explores the poetic imagination, poetic materialism, philosophy, psychology, and freedom and the ways they fit into the discussion of desire and nature, as well as the many conversations sparked by each separate field.

This entire text is so well written and almost every line is quotable. Here’s an example:

“the feeling of the soul in ascent is the feeling that the desire for aliveness that fills the cosmos to the point of overflowing is being realized.”

Weber also includes in each section of his work an anecdote from his personal experience and relates it to the topic discussed in a theoretical way examining how it applies.

This work is a love letter to nature, and it is first and foremost an academic text. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy Carl Jung, Thoreau, Octavio Paz, Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, John Muir, Sigmund Freud, and Classical Mythology, as well as new emerging discussions about the Anthropocene. This work is demanding of its readers but it is worth the effort because it’s extremely rewarding. Every line is so well written and beautiful. This will no doubt become a crucial text on nature in future literary discussions.

This book will be released on August 3rd from Chelsea Green Publishing.

David Foster Wallace | Resources

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow. of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy

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RESOURCES:

David Foster Wallace Bibliography

By David Foster Wallace

Novels:

  1. The Boom of the System (1987) Written as Masters Thesis
  2. Infinite Jest (1996) Excerpts from Infinite Jest first appeared in Grand Street, 1992.
  3. The Pale King (2011) Published posthumously—his unfinished novel.

Short Story Collections:

  1. Girl With Curious Hair (1989) published in Europe as: Westward the Course of Empire Tales Its Way
  2. Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (19(99)
  3. Oblivion: Stories (2004)

Non-Fiction / Essays

  1. Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present (1990), coauthored with Mark Costello
  2. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (1997)
  3. Up, Simba (2000)
  4. Everything and More (2003)
  5. Consider the Lobster (2005)
  6. McCain’s Promise (2008 paperback reprint of Up, Simba)
  7. This is Water (2009) Transcript of Convocation Speech
  8. Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will (2011)
  9. Both Flesh and Not (2012)
  10. String Theory: David Foster Wallace Essays on Tennis (2016) published posthumously

About David Foster Wallace—Biography/ Interviews

  1. Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself by David Lipsky (2010) Mostly a transcript of an interview between David Lispky and David Foster Wallace back in 1996 near the end of the tour for Infinite Jest. Recent film The End of the Tour featuring Jason Segal as DFW is based on this transcript.
  2. Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D.T. Max – Biography of DFW
  3. Conversations with David Foster Wallace edited by Stephen J. Burn (2012) A compilation of several interviews with David Foster Wallace/ The transcripts
  4. The Last Interview Series: David Foster Wallace (2012)
  5. Farther Away” Essay by Jonathan Franzen

Academic Works about Wallace’s Work

  1. Elegant Complexity: A Study of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (2007) Greg Carlisle
  2. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest: A Reader’s Guide by Stephen J. Burn (2012)
  3. The David Foster Wallace Reader (2014) This 976 page book contains almost every other aspect of David Foster Wallace’s work, for instance it has the syllabus he designed as a professor for writing/reading courses at Pomona College, and additional excerpts not present in the texts above.

Online Resources/Forums/Archives

  • Audible and Downpour have great Audiobooks for Infinite Jest, and all his other works are there as well. I found that the audiobook really kept me going the first time.
  • Most of David Foster Wallace’s Archives are at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin Texas
  • The Howling Fantods – largest DFW fan group promoting News, Resources, and updates about DFW since 1997.
  • Several Facebook Groups: The Broom of the System being a dominant one
  • Goodreads Groups
  • Several interviews with DFW have been placed on YouTube
  • Two Films have come out based on 1. His life: The End of the Tour (based on Lipsky’s perspective of Wallace in 1996) and 2. His Work: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
  • Don’t forget your public library! Both academic libraries in universities and public libraries will have most of Wallace’s works. If you prefer the online forum, OverDrive is connected through your library card and you can access most of the works mentioned.
  • In 2015 another group kept detailed records of their reading in a blog called Infinite Summer
  • A great Video Book Review of Infinite Jest by “FortheloveofRyan

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Drinks with Dead Poets | Book Review

“Every word, phrase or sentence spoken by the literary figures in this book is drawn verbatim from their letters, diaries, journals, or essays.” – Preface

33011553The main character is a professor by the name of “Glyn Maxwell” (name of Author) who finds himself in a dream-like, quaint, rustic, village school. There’s a pub, a church, all like in the old days. He must teach a semester-long course on poetry.  He is charismatic, funny, and passionate–a bit like Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society.

He is given this syllabus to teach: “Reading List for Elective Poetry Module” featuring a week on each one of these poets: Keats, Dickinson, Hopkins, Brontes, Coleridge. Poe (on Halloween), Clare, Yeats, Whitman, Browning, Byron.

Each lesson feels like you, the reader, are present in a small seminar at University where the students can freely joke with the professor and also become fully engaged with the material—and the professor is passionate, and charismatic as he decomposes poems, discusses the poet(s), and asks thought-provoking questions. The lecture is followed by a vivid ‘hallucination’ or imagining that the narrator is meeting the poet in discussion. This whole book is a dream-like state. The dead poets talk to the narrator, get invited to class where they are publicly interviewed and they share anecdotes. They also explore parts of this town like the library, or pub. I enjoy the ways in which the whole text is full of literary references. For example if a student jokes a bit too much the teacher announces that ‘Yorrick’ is in the class. Simultaneously it merges the past with the present. Students for instance pick up that Bob Dylan songs have Poe references, as do Hitchcock films. I was more intrigued by the poets I genuinely like (Dickinson, Poe, and Whitman) because I was curious what Maxwell would do with them, and what new things I might learn about them. I found there were many funny parts, like when the narrator/author tries to write a letter to Walt Whitman but he just can’t get it right, because it sounds too much like something a teenage fan-girl would write, so he crumples up every draft thanking his lucky stars he didn’t ‘send it.’

Here are some of my favourite lines

Keats Lecture:

“poems that stay stay because the body feels them”

Dickinson Lecture:

“You can’t teach Emily Dickinson, you can’t write like her either. You no more have to write in her stanzas than you have to write limericks or clerihews. But you do have to absorb that she wrote about everything else she could think of—herself, others, life, death, God, Time, being here, being gone—in little quatrains shaped like hymns, rhymed or half rhymed, mostly four beats then three beats, four, three, stanza-break, and she barely left her bedroom…what you owe to such a poet is a true pause for thought.”

The visit to the library (with Emily):

“There are old books on every stall, twelve stalls, volumes and volumes, and great swathes of canvas thrown back behind the hardwood frames as if to protect them when needed.”

(A draft) Letter to Whitman:

“There’s more Life than there is Art, your poems seem to say, and the glory is in the reach, the stretch, the straining ever upwards like plant-life in the sunshine.”

I really enjoyed this book, and it really comes across as a work of passion. I wish I would have spread it out and read the poet alongside each chapter so that it feels like a real course. One can see that the author is well-versed and well-acquainted with the poets he teaches. The whole work felt like a love letter to these poets. I hope that if this work gets worked into an audiobook there will be more voices for each student and they find suitable voice actors for the dead poets because the whole work is mostly in dialogue and it would be fascinating to experience it that way—something like the way they recorded Lincoln in the Bardo. I thought it was well written, and captures the poets spot on because as the preface mentions the words, the attempt to reconstruct them, and capture their spirit comes from the poets’ archives and is probably as close as we will ever get to them.

I strongly recommend this book to readers who enjoy poetry, have liked studying poetry, want to learn any more about the poets listed, and who like 19th century literature from the Western Canon. Again, the feeling I had reading this was akin to sitting in a University lecture taught by a great professor…and that is a very pleasant feeling.

The book is scheduled to be published in August by Pegasus Books. Click here for link.

The Excursionist | Book Review

33973204The Excursionist was released today.

Book advertisements need to stop comparing new coming books to old ‘successful’ ones because it’s damaging to the emerging author. Readers automatically come to the book with an exact expectation, and I found that so far on Goodreads the book has received somewhere between 2-3 stars simply because readers’ expectations were not met. The first line in every one of its ads is as follows: “The anti-Eat Pray Love – A darkly comic novel about travel.” My mind automatically went to cynical of: ‘travelogue,’ ‘self-discovery’ or in a way convince us that traveling isn’t all that it’s hyped up to be. I wanted wanderlust travelers to be exposed for being as empty as the rest of us (just for a different take on it). I’m angry as a reader for two reasons: one that the ads for this book let J.D. Sumner down, and two: that readers (who should know better) changed their answers on Goodreads. I tracked some of the linked reviews and they gave this book 4 or 5 stars and as soon as they got on Goodreads and saw some cranky first reviewers changed their answers to 2-3 stars. Stand by your first instinct and trust your own opinion!

So here’s what this book is actually about:

The main character, Jack Kaganagh, wants to visit 100 countries so that he may enter the Travelers’ Century Club all before he turns 45. His fiancé had been an enthusiast for traveling and they had gone on some adventures together, yet recently his fiancé has disappeared, in fact everything about her has an aura of strangeness around it. For his final choices of destinations he has chosen to go to the ‘Coronation Islands’ which are between Madagascar and Sri Lanka: Placentia, Kilrush, and Fulgary. Although there is a Coronation Island near Australia, the locations Kaganagh travels to are fictional.

Sumner begins the novel with this lovely quotation from When The Going Was Good by Evelyn Waugh:

“at the age of thirty-five one needs to go to the moon or some such place, to recapture the excitement with which one first landed at Calais.”

However, the quotation starting part two, is much more suited to our main character:

“I am free of all prejudices. I hate everyone equally.” – W.C. Fields

3fb1b6fd6fcdc12d5085b3aac5cc715cThe novel isn’t dark and comic but the main character is. I found it easier to imagine someone like Dr. House to be on this trip (seriously, House even said: “It’s nothing personal, I don’t like anybody” in Season 1).

A cranky, cynical person, who has had so many life experiences that he’s resistant to many things and won’t take too much attitude from people. He’s obviously privileged (100 countries by 45) and an Englishman. I do think this book is a critique of the people who travel for traveling’s sake rather than feeling drawn to true adventure. Traveling to tick of check marks, or put notches down – or share it on social media for others to know and see that you have done it is not the same as fully enjoying the place and having a real adventure. Jack spends his mornings sleeping in, and taking interim naps, he reads the preface to another author’s book In Placentia (also fictional) and falls asleep. He just wants to get to that 100 Countries club. Jack is not enjoying anything, he’s clearly depressed from losing his fiancé and adventure buddy. He kind of reminded me of the Cohen Brothers’ film Inside Llewyn Davies. I also think there are opportunities to read closer into the names he gives places, books, and authors.

J.D. Sumner graduated from The Oscar Wilde Centre, Trinity College Dublin and has a Ph.D. in Satirical Travel Writing from Royal Holloway College, University of London. His thesis explores the history of British travel writing and examines how the literature of exploration, which initially presented itself as factual, evolved into the fictional use of travel writing.

I for one enjoyed his constructions. This story has so many layers and there are so many “books” that Jack is reading that don’t exist. I liked it.

I recommend this book to people who are fans of studying travel literature and can see past an “easy” read. This is NOT a real travelogue, or a ‘finding yourself’ kind of story.

The New Voices of Fantasy | Review

33838972The New Voices of Fantasy is an anthology compiled by Peter. S. Beagle (famously known for his work The Last Unicorn) and Jacob Wiseman. All the stories in this collection have been previously published between 2010 and 2017 in short story magazines like Clarkesworld, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. In 2010 Beagle edited another anthology The Secret History of Fantasy exploring the merging of genre fantasy and mainstream markets into a new form of literary fantasy. Wiseman asserts that “this anthology constitutes something of a sequel.”

Beagle begins his introduction to this anthology with a block quote paraphrasing an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination:

“Jules Verne, who always considered himself a scientist, was distinctly put out by the work of the younger writer H.G. Wells. ‘Il a invente!’ the author of From the Earth to the Moon sniffed at the author of The War of the Worlds. ‘He makes things up!’”

The older generation constantly unwilling to accept the young/new. What Verne could not accept was that Wells invented machines beyond what was mechanically possible—unlike what Verne did in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with the submarine—Wells expanded by creating a time machine. Beagle relates an anecdote from his experience as a young writer where one of his older teachers, Frank O’Connor, could not accept Beagle’s storytelling in the writing class back in the ‘60s because he was a fan of realism and classics. Beagle writes: “I was outraged at O’Connor’s rigidity.” The resistance from the older generation is not the only thing keeping young fantasy writers back–there is also the hierarchy, favouring ‘literary works’ and ‘realism’ above the innovations brought forward by fantasy. Ursula K. Le Guin tells Beagle:

“all of us [fantasy writers] feel, to one degree or another, that mainstream fiction has been stealing our ideas—and even our classic clichés—for generations, and selling them back to us as ‘Magical Realism.’”

Realism is not everything, and fantasy under a different name does not become more ‘literary’ or significant. Beagle and Le Guin ask us to open our eyes and see that it was Fantasy all along.

What Beagle does with this anthology is an elegant passing of the writing pen to a younger generation of fantasy writers, and he presents them to us, the readers, without rigidity as his teachers before him have. He accepts them as they are and is in awe of their risk-taking, creativity, and courage. I cannot imagine how many works Beagle must have read through to select these top 19 stories, but I had a hard time selecting my favourites, as each one of them brings something completely unique to the Fantasy cornucopia. His selection includes a great balance of men and women writers, as well as various backgrounds.

The stories featured in this anthology are as follows:

  • “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong
  • “Selkie Stories are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar
  • Tornado’s Siren” by Brooke Bolander (opening line: “Rhea is nine years old when she first meets the tornado that will fall in love with her”)
  • “Left the Century to Sit Unmoved” by Sarah Pinsker
  • A Kiss with Teeth” by Max Gladstone (featuring Dracula as a suburban dad so worth reading)
  • “Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon
  • “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” by E. Lily Yu
  • The Practical Witch’s Guide to Acquiring Real Estate” by A.C. Wise
  • “The Tallest Doll in New York City” by Maria Dahvana Headley
  • “The Haunting of Apollo A7LB” by Hannu Rajeniemi
  • Here Be Dragons” by Chris Tarry
  • “The One they Took Before” by Kelly Sandoval
  • “Tiger Baby” by JY Yang
  • “The Duck” by Ben Loory
  • “Wing” by Amal El-Mohtar
  • The Philosophers” by Adam Ehrlich Sachs
  • “My Time Among the Bridge Blowers” by Eugene Fischer
  • “The Husband Stitch” by Carmen Maria Machado
  • “The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman T. Malik

I linked some of my favourite ones, but in support of Beagle and his work I would recommend this anthology as an individual codex because it is cohesive and works well as a collection with the choices Beagle has made.

I recommend this anthology to anyone who loves fantasy and wants to try some of the new emerging voices. I have no doubt that each one of these writers will continue to write and publish larger works in the future, and this anthology is a great introduction to them. I would especially recommend this to readers who are new to fantasy and want to sample shorter works without committing to an entire series and/or trilogy.

Many thanks to Tachyon Publications for sending me an ARC for review. This anthology is currently scheduled to be published on  August 18, 2017 (though books are always subject to having dates pushed back). Regardless of publication date, it is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

My Top 5 Librarians in History

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I thought it would be fun to write a post of my top favourite and most inspiring librarians in history (and a bonus one). There are many others I have left out, but these are the ones whose works I have had the pleasure of reading. It will become apparent shortly as to why they are so inspirational:

  1. Jacob Grimm

grimm-jacob-imageJacob Grimm is by far my favourite librarian. This man, like most librarians on this list, was multi-talented. First, he’s one of the two ‘Brothers Grimm’ which is what he’s most famously known for. The two brothers (Jacob and Wilhelm) collected fairy tales and wrote them down (and refined them). Jacob though, was also a prominent linguist and he contributed greatly by creating “Grimm’s Law” which was very useful when studying Old English. Jacob Grimm also worked as a librarian in Kasel, after graduating with a law degree. His work on language, and fairy tales has had a huge impact on my life and career trajectory, which is why he gets the #1 spot.

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  1. Lillian H. Smith

IMG_20170425_164640Lillian H. Smith was the first head of the children’s services at the Toronto Public Library in the earlier days of the public library (starting with the 1920s). She created many programs for children like story time and founded the Girls’ and Boys’ House. The reading clubs that she hosted expanded in all aspects of storytelling like puppet shows, literary discussion/debate, and historical subjects. She was a firm believer that a librarian’s job was to deliver “the right book, to the right child, at the right time.” Her published work The Unreluctant Years: A Critical Approach to Children’s Literature (1953) includes the choices of literature she deemed appropriate as well as her new classification system specific to children’s literature. Her services for children and philosophy spread worldwide and she was a highly influential woman. Her name is currently used as the name for one branch of the Toronto Public Library.

  1. Jorge Luis Borges

jorge-luis-borgesJorge Luis Borges was an Argentinian writer who made significant contributions to literature in the 20th century and nominated many times for the Nobel Prize in literature but alas did not win. He lost his sight completely in his later years. He was a municipal librarian from 1939-1946 in Argentina, before getting fired by the Peron regime. One of his most famous short stories, “The Library of Babel,” depicts the universe as a huge library and is one of my favourite stories of all time. His poetry, essays, and reflections on literature, as well as his own major contributions have made him a prominent author—and often his librarian role is discussed as an extra.

  1. Eratosthenes

Eratosthene.01Eratosthenes the chief librarian at the Great Library of Alexandria. In addition to pretty much running the world’s greatest wonder, Eratosthenes discovered the system of latitude and longitude and made significant contributions to astronomy. He calculated the circumference of the earth without ever leaving Egypt, and has been nicknamed “the father of geography.” His work Constellation Myths: with Aratus’s Phaenomena was recently reprinted by Oxford Classics.

  1. Lewis Carroll

300hCarroll is known for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but his main career was in mathematics. After graduating from Oxford with a B.A. in mathematics, he became a sub-librarian at Christ Church there. He left that position in 1857 to become a Mathematical Lecturer. In addition to this, my favourite fun fact about him was that he was a stickler for near writing. He would often get great ideas for writing after he had already gone to bed but didn’t want to wake up and light the lamp, and he also didn’t want to have messy writing under any circumstance.

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A recreation of the Nyctograph and the alphabet Carroll created for it

So he created this rectangular device called the nyctograph, where he would have his own “alphabet” and write in code at night, so it looks neat in the morning. Recently someone printed a copy of Alice completely in nyctograph from, and that’s just awesome. Carroll’s bibliography is vast and I don’t have to convince you that he was amazing. The key thing here is that he was also a librarian which makes him extra amazing.

Bonus Librarian: Benjamin Franklin

BenFranklinDuplessisBenjamin Franklin founded America’s first lending library the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731. He served as librarian there for three months (Dec.1733-Mar.1734). He was a huge fan of John Baskerville’s printing work back in England and is responsible for bringing back to America the font of John Baskerville. Franklin also started the first medical library in Pennsylvania. I can’t list in a paragraph all the incredible things Franklin did in his lifetime. He was an inventor, a printer, an intellectual in every sense of the word, a newspaperman, a library founder, politician, mathematician, oceanographer, and scientist. I think sometimes his other works are so incredible that they overshadow the fact that he was a librarian and founded many of America’s firsts special and lending libraries—which is pretty amazing.

Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith | Book Review

42734479Shaun Hume is a young emerging author with a unique voice. He is Australian-born and has self-published three works, Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith, The Girl in the Blue Shoes, and Tightrope Walker. All three works involve elements of speculative fiction, however, Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith is the only work that is written for a younger audience—perhaps 10 to 12 years old. Hume shares his writing experience and process in his literary blog which can be found here. One particular line that got my attention in his blog made me want to read Ewan Pendle and the White Wraith (2013):

“Writing can be an emotive and immersive experience sometimes. And when the scene is set right, there’s no greater thing to do than be lost in the world of one’s creations”

Ewan Pendle is a strange boy. He is an orphan who has been through numerous foster families—so much so the parents might as well be named John and Jane Doe—which funny enough they are. What sets Pendle apart is that he has vivid visions and can see monsters. Because he sees such creatures, he is labelled many things under the umbrella of ‘weird’ and must suffer the consequences by being bullied, and thrown around various families. The confusion of not knowing who he is, and his strangeness, is soon explained as he finds that he is part of an ancient peoples, the Lenitnes, who can see the truth. The monsters that regular people cannot see are actually there and the rest of the world is ignorant to their existence. He is then taken in a school called the Firedrake Lyceum where he learns the ways of the monstrous creatures he sees with other children just like him. Ewan is told in ‘orientation’:

“Firedrake Lyceum is a place where other Lenitnes children such as yourself go to learn to develop that gift, as well as how to put it to best use. The monsters you have been seeing are called Creatures. We as Lenitnes have been charged, for thousands of years, with the task of protecting other humans from these Creatures. And as the situation may arise, to protect the Creatures from some humans as well.”

Ewan befriends Mathilde and Enid and together they solve the ‘case’ of the White Wraith—threatening the royal family.

As mentioned above, this book is self-published, thus there will be instances of evident lack of editorial work. However, I found that it was very easy to read and the plot and characterization make up for that several times over. On Goodreads and Amazon, this work is labeled as “an antidote for Post-Potter Depression.” I myself missed out on the Potter fandom growing up, though I did thoroughly enjoy the series as an adult. I can see this label being both useful and problematic for an emerging author like Hume. In a way it’s a flattering comparison, and simultaneously it raises expectations where the reader approaches the work with a skeptical eye. I would urge readers who try Hume’s work to refrain from such expectations. As a person who has read both later in life I found the two works to be different in pleasant ways, and I think there is room for both works to exist. That said, the work contains magical creatures, and fantastical elements one may find in any other works post and pre-Potter like The Magicians, The Inheritance Cycle, or Wizard’s Hall. I was personally reminded of the children’s film ParaNorman. I would recommend this book to children around ages 10-12. Hume’s closing remarks give readers something to look forward to. He writes:

“If any of you fine and well-dressed people out there are keen to hear more of Ewan, Enid, Mathilde, and all the rest, then you may be pleased to know that the second volume of this monstrous tale (of which you have been witness to just the first part of ) is planned, and so are others”

Scion of the Fox | Book Review

34014624Scion of the Fox is a YA Fantasy Novel following Roan, who is an orphan with few memories of her parents. Roan is a lone-soul in an empowering way—to be honest it’s someone I would have loved to have as a friend in high school. She enjoys her time alone, she is a big fan of Wuthering Heights, and she sometimes talks to a stone menagerie made up of animals. Her grandmother, Cecilia, is a mysterious Fae-like, world-traveler (who kind of reminded me of Moana’s grandmother). Roan’s grandmother falls into a deep coma, whilst traveling, and her final wishes among being brought to Winnipeg no matter what state she is in, also included being preserved ‘alive’ until she expires on her own, and that her next of kin must reside in her home. I don’t want to spoil too much but I will say that this book is very much in tune with nature, mysticism, and spirituality. Roan cheats death as she is aided by a fox spirit and this leads to a series of fantastical events. The fox, and the moths are reoccurring symbols throughout this book. I thought this book was well-written and it got my attention immediately. The main character is well-rounded and likable, and I must add that it’s refreshing to read a YA novel that does not have a romantic relationship (or lack of) at its core. It deals with ancestry, battles, family traditions and history, and is very much entwined with the natural realm. This book is heavy with symbolism and I love the ‘Canadianness’ of it. I don’t generally read YA fantasy but this book got my attention and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I look forward to the next two books as this is the first in a trilogy.

I would recommend it to anyone who likes young adult fiction and the elements listed above. On Goodreads the synopsis portion compares this book to American Gods and Princess Mononoke which I think is an apt comparison. Other words that come to mind is ‘fae-like,’ ‘gothic,’ and ‘sublime’ sprinkled with ‘Canadian.’

The author, S.M. Beiko (Samantha Mary) is from Winnipeg Manitoba. Her first novel, a young adult fantasy set in rural Manitoba called The Lake and the Library, was nominated for the Manitoba Book Award for Best First Book, as well as the 2014 Aurora Award. Scion of the Fox is the first book in what will be a trilogy. ECW press will release one book per year. This first book will be out on October 17, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order.

 

How to Read Nature | Book Review

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cover of bookThis year I started my reading journey with an attempt to learn more about nature. I ended up picking Tristan Gooley’s book The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs, for which I wrote a very passionate review at the beginning of April. I also got a hold of Gooley’s book How to Read Water which has been on my TBR for a while but I got the chance to browse through it. Naturally I requested How to Read Nature as soon as I was notified that it will be published this year on August 22. I came to this book with knowledge of Gooley’s previous works and having watched a few lectures of his on YouTube. Gooley is a natural navigator and teaches classes on navigating through nature. This book read like being in one of his classes and receiving an introduction to the course. His previous works are much more detailed and go in-depth for each topic like navigating the sky, understanding fungi, trees, reading water (which has its own 400 page book) etc. I think this book will become the best place to start with Gooley’s works and an important starting place for readers of nature books.

This book very much resembles a course syllabus and gives readers a glimpse into each topic with exercises attached. Gooley focuses in this book on building a relationship with nature and the ways in which every person can begin to do so in a world that is very much detached from the natural realm. It’s almost as if Gooley is a relationship therapist here to fix the miscommunication between us and nature. He writes:

“a connection with nature allows us to see the roots that sustain and explain everything around us.”

He focuses on Maslow’s pyramid of needs and points to how lacking our society is in its foundation: physical needs. We take better care of everything else on the pyramid and neglect the most important one of all.

I learned a lot from this book about colour and time. Tristan Gooley spends a long time in this book focusing on the senses, colours, and timekeeping. One small example is the way he talks about plants:

“plants react to colours…if we are dressed in blue we can change the way a plant grows, while if we wear red we will influence its timekeeping”

What I particularly enjoyed is that the book is accompanied by images and exercises (which go hand in hand) helping the reader act on each section and practice. At the end of the book Gooley also provides readers with a bibliography of other nature books they can read on the topics he covers in this book. My reading list just grew ten-fold.

Many thanks to The Experiment for sending me an ARC. You can now purchase this book here.

 

 

Of Men and Women | Book Review

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Pearl S. Buck

Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) was a bestselling author of fiction and nonfiction, celebrated particularly for the ground-breaking depictions of rural life in China. He best work The Good Earth which is a trilogy, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1931, and in 1938 she received the Nobel Prize in Literature for her body of work, making her the first American woman to do so. She spent most of her life in China (Zhenjiang) because her parents were Presbyterian missionaries. She was educated in the U.S. at Randolph-Macon Women’s College, then returned to China, married John Lossing Buck and moved to Nanking.

Her novels dealt with the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the changes in the East post-WWII, and rural China. In 1934 Buck left China to be near her daughter who was mentally ill and hospitalized in New Jersey. In her later years Buck started engaging in philanthropic projects. Because there were practices rendering mixed-raced children unadoptable—in particular, orphans from the war—she founded Welcome House in 1949, the first international, interracial adoption agency in the United States. She died in 1973 from lung cancer in Vermont. The Chinese government objected to Buck’s portrayal of the country’s rural poverty, and in 1972, banned Buck from returning to China.

front cover buckOf Men and Women is a series of essays that Pearl S. Buck wrote and published in 1941 where she examined the differences in relationships between men and women in China versus the United States. She writes:

“Very early, therefore, I perceived that women together led a life of their own”

“In China the home was not what it is in our country, a thing apart from men’s lives except when they return to it for food and sleep. The real life of the nation went on in the home.”

She explores the set-up of the Chinese household that would often include “three-four generations under connecting roofs” versus the American lifestyle where only the nuclear family would be found living under the same roof. Children would then grow up not knowing just one household leader/alpha, but have a multi-generational experience.

She then turns her attention to the different ways women were educated in the East versus the West. In China “women handed down to women a vast lore of history, custom, ritual, and practical knowledge which educated them and made them a part of the great national whole.”

Buck asks in this series of essays one essential question:

“Why do so many American women seem not happy in being women when they have the freedom to make what they will of themselves? And why do women and men not enjoy each other more in my country?”

Although Buck emphasises that despite everything she prefers the American way over any other, and thinks the progress done in the West is one to strive for, she noted that American women, while educated, free, and supported, were still viewed as a separate entity from men, and there was still a miscommunication between the two. Buck examines how relationships between men and women are different in every country, and it’s that difference that makes it a nation of its own. She writes that a traveler should examine how in every country men and women feel towards each other or “the reality of that country has escaped him.”

“For no human being was created to be solitary, and when it is cut off by doubt and distrust and lack of understanding from the other to whom instinctively it turns, whom nature has created for it, then strange stops and blocks and ills are inescapable.”

In the epilogue Buck writes that it has been thirty years since she wrote this book (in preparation for a newer edition back in 1971). She writes that the China she spoke of “is no more…how changed! Communism rules, and Communism has totally altered the relationship between Chinese men and women.”

Thus, I would urge the reader to remember, when reading this collection, that these essays were written in 1941, reprinted with an added epilogue in 1971, and then reprinted now in 2017 for this brand new edition. In the interim, China, and America have changed drastically.

The collection includes a brief biographical note and several images taken from Pearl S. Buck’s archive.

Many thanks to Open Road Integrated Media for sending me this work for review. This electronic edition will be published on June 27, and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Open Road Integrated Media focuses on publishing ebook editions of older works of literature and nonfiction.

*The biographical note at the top is a paraphrasing of the biographical note in the text.

Ex Libris: Stories of Librarians, Libraries & Lore | Book Review

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front coverI requested this book for review when I saw the word ‘librarians’ in its title. I did not expect to love it as much as I did. This book is 5 Star rating for me, and I pre-ordered the hardcopy from Amazon after reading the introduction. This is by far my favourite anthology. Sci-Fi & Fantasy on the topic of Librarians and Libraries. Need I say more? Okay I will:

Paula Guran, the editor of this anthology, has compiled 24 short stories that have been previously published in Sci-fi and Fantasy magazines like Uncanny, and Clarkesworld which have at its core the topic of libraries and librarians. Some of the authors include Elizabeth Bear, Scott Lynch, Ray Bradbury, Ken Liu, and Xia Jia (the last two were in a short story anthology I reviewed last month Invisible Planets). These writers are contemporary giants in the Science Fiction and Fantasy community, and I was pleasantly surprised by the stories they wrote.

In library school the subject of “the image of the librarian in the public sphere” was a topic that was frequently discussed. We often looked at film adaptations and the usual depiction of a librarian was either the frumpy/spinster librarian like Marian the librarian in The Music Man, stern-shushing librarian figures like the librarian in Monsters University (Pixar Film), and real-life elderly librarian figures like Nancy Pearl (who is now an action figure), or the sexy librarian like Evy from The Mummy, Tammy Swanson from Parks and Recreation, or seductive library-figures in ads like Margot Robbie’s skit on SNL.

What Paula Guran outlines in the introduction is that librarians in fiction tend to be unhappy or stereotyped, but since this is science fiction and fantasy, the librarians expand beyond that. She writes:

“Science fiction and fantasy, is thank goodness, not ‘serious fiction’ (whatever that is). The troubled, gloomy librarian does, of course, occur in speculative fiction, but librarians are also characterized in many other ways.”

She explores libraries and librarians in sci-fi and fantasy works that have been published with the exception of the stories in this collection. She explores Borges’s Library of Babel, The Library of Dream in Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series The Sandman, to Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library Novels, Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Series, and even projections of future libraries like in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, to give just a few examples. I was so intrigued that for the first time, a discussion of librarians explored literature that entertained possibilities rather than capturing stereotypes. Guran provided me with a bibliography of the many books I must read with a library at its core (added to my TBR).

I must admit that I read the Ray Bradbury story “Exchange” with a lot of passion—particularly since Bradbury is famously known for having been made a writer by the public library. He said in an interview with Sam Weller:

“I graduated from the library when I was twenty-eight years old. So that’s why I’m here tonight—because I believe in libraries. They’re more important than universities. They’re more important than colleges. Libraries are the center of our lives.”

My favourite story in this anthology however is “In the House of the Seven Librarians” by Ellen Kloges. It’s about a small child who is left at the doorstep of a library where seven librarians ‘live.’ Library space and time are explored in a way I have not yet encountered in literature. These are just a few lines that stayed with me:

“Librarians are guardians of books. They help others along their paths, offering keys to help unlock the doors of knowledge.”

“knowledge is not static; information must flow in order to live.”

“Books were small comfort once the lights were out, and their hard, sharp corners made them awkward companions under the covers.”

“time had become quite flexible inside the Library. (This is true of most places with interesting books. Sit down to read for twenty minutes, and suddenly it’s dark, with no clue as to where the hours have gone.)

I recommend this book to everyone, particularly librarians, people who love libraries and book descriptions, and lovers of science fiction and fantasy. This book will be published on August 15, 2017  and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Many thanks to Diamond Book Distributors and Prime Books for sending me and ARC.

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory | Poetry Review

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Okay, let me paint you a picture:

You know that friend you have—you know the one—the individual who peaced out a few times to go find themselves in the East by being spiritual in Buddhist monasteries for a few weeks, the one who smokes pot and talks about the peace at parties, the one who thinks about attending protests, is probably vegan, and every time you’re with them they listen to Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix, and somehow is also insanely pretentious because they drop references to Charles Bukowski, any of the confessional poets, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, Wordsworth, the pot-lord David Foster Wallace (who they suggest is far too pretentious and unreadable, but they themselves sounds like), the Great Gatsby, and who deep down thinks they’re Jack Kerouac?

If you miss that friend (who you love very much and wish you could have their courage and go with them) because they probably left you again to have another adventure without you (because you suck for reducing them to a stereotype in book reviews), then just read this poetry collection. It’s a textual embodiment of that person.

The weird thing is, that while that hipster friend who has become a trope right now is already a cliché, I think Chris Banks is actually an original because he was born in 1970. He actually did those things BEFORE they were cool. So let’s get into the collection:

This book really is for everyone, as the dedication suggests. It’s filled with references, which most avid readers or English majors will pick up on.

My personal favourite is the simplest one, devoid of any of the things listed above, which has the most honesty. It’s called “Fossil”

“To match in words

The impression

Some extinct creature

Left in mud long ago

To be that permanent

And still not there.”

The collection is divided in four parts:

  1. All Night Arcade
  2. The Cloud versus Grand Unification Theory
  3. Selfie with Ten Thousand Things
  4. Finders Keepers

The poem which starts this collection is called “Progress” and is representative of the kind of ‘protest-poetry’ that Banks offers:

“Gene-targeting and molecular cloning. The shrine /Of the genome has broken into—Glo Fish /…Insulin-producing bacteria / are grown in large fermentation tanks to provide / medicine for diabetics  / …demand / Big Pharma give us an alturistm patch, one to create / more empathy in politicians, say, or nasal spray, / to make children more resistant to fear-mongering, / and body shaming.”

The collection is filled with contemporary references like ‘selfies,’ society-accepted norms that mean nothing in the large scheme of things, and criticisms of capitalist-driven-corporations, and their lack of empathy, eco-love, or humanity.

There are some knock-out lines scattered throughout this collection like:

“most poems I read feel like I’m walking / through someone’s private zoo.”

– “Roadside Attractions”

Overall the collection is good, and it’s worth a try. It doesn’t take too long to read. I do wish that the collection had a well-written introduction to the poems and a better outline of Chris Banks as a poet. I wish there was more context.

Many thanks to ECW Press for sending me an ARC for early review. This collection will be published on September 5, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

Hunger by Roxane Gay | Book Review

22813605“This is a memoir of my body”

Hunger is my first Roxane Gay book and my introduction to the author. She emphasises in the first chapters that this book is not a diet book, or a self-help book.  This book does not justify morbid obesity as healthy, nor does it provide excuses as to why the author is not thin. Gay definitely emphasises the great shame that comes with being overweight from the pressures of society and beauty standards, to the health distresses, and the many side-effects of being obese. The author specifies that this book is a memoir or a history of her body. Alongside, she writes reflections and thoughts she has had about weight in general. As I was taking notes for this review, I kept wondering: how could I possibly criticise a book that is the history of a person’s body? It feels awfully personal,  especially when the author is so pleasant and such great company. The best I can do is tell you what it’s about.

Roxane Gay discusses in the early portions of the book the most traumatic event of her life (and body) where she was physically violated by a group of young boys at the tender age of twelve. The humiliation and trauma alone resulted in her silence for years to follow. The shattering experience and undoing of her world would have been subject to discussion. It would be her word against theirs—she would have to experience the judgement passed on women who come forward as rape victims as they are immediately questioned, doubted, and accused of lying. Women who step forward to report a crime, and instead of being aided, supported, and promised justice, they are discussed as if their testimony is debatable. Gay writes that even “the medical community is not particularly interested in taking the pain of women seriously.”

What follows is a series of chapters focusing on the struggles Gay had with weight as she used her body as its own fortress. She writes:

 “I could become more solid, stronger, safer…if I was undesirable, I could keep more hurt away.”

She describes the experience akin to being trapped in a cage where you are safe, but cannot move freely.

“The frustrating thing about cages is that you’re trapped but you can see exactly what you want”

For years the author struggled with trying to become conventionally attractive, and simultaneously trying to protect herself. What I found particularly uplifting was her description of the refuge she found in books. Certain books she said “offered a vocabulary” for her to understand what happened to her and gave her the knowledge/relief that being raped was not her fault.

She also focuses several chapters critiquing television shows like The Biggest Loser, and Revenge Bodies, the conversations in the medical community, and the way society as a whole perceives overweight bodies in discussion, books, and mainstream media.

Most importantly, she writes about her family and the people around her who claimed that they only bring the topic of weight up on a constant basis because they ‘care about her.’ No one focused on her Ph.D., on her books, or on her successes.

“I became resentful that the only thing anyone ever wanted to focus on was my body…People project assumed narratives onto your body and are not at all interested in the truth of your body…your body is the subject of public discourse.”

What I find particularly interesting is that Roxane Gay took the history of her body and critiqued the people who put her body in public discourse, under observation and discussion, as if it was a text, and in the process, she wrote this book which is in itself a text.

I hope that people who read this book don’t go in with a closed mind, and prepared to judge. I hope readers come to this text willing to understand the story of one person’s body.

I would also recommend two non-fiction companion books to this:

9780195049961The first is a philosophy-heavy text by Elaine Scarry called The Body in Pain – in this book Scarry writes an analysis of physical suffering and its relation to the numerous vocabularies and cultural forces that confront it: literary, political, medical, religious. It particularly focuses on how physical pain destroys language, and how every individual experiences pain differently on a personal level, where pain can never be shared, described, or conveyed in its entirety.

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The second is Dr. Gabor Mate’s book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts. He is the first doctor who worked with heroin addicts, alcoholics, and overweight people and asked the question: why don’t doctors take a moment to understand WHY some people are more susceptible to addiction than others.

I found that Roxane Gay’s personal narrative in Hunger provided the most perfect story to support the philosophy-heavy Scarry book, and the medical book by Gabor Mate.

Many thanks to Harper for sending an ARC for early review. Hunger will be published on June 13, and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

Roxane Gay’s other Works:

Links to Some of Roxane Gay’s Lectures:

Up Against Beyond | Poetry | Review

“Holt has little interest in plain speech that is not, simultaneously, slippery. One thinks one has the meaning, the image, of the verse, and then it is gone — as fleeting as the moment of reading.” – George Elliott Clarke

34713994Jason Holt is a Canadian poet who lives in Nova Scotia and teaches at Acadia University. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Western University in 1998. His books include Blindsight and the Nature of Consciousness, which was shortlisted for the 2005 CPA Book Prize and various academic works like Leonard Cohen and Philosophy, as well as Philosophy of Sport—a topic he teaches at Acadia in the Kinesiology department. His full academic bibliography can be found here. Up Against Beyond includes poetry selected from his six previous poetry book. This collection includes poems ranging from 1994 to 2017.  His use of language in his work Inversed (2014) received praise from Toronto’s poet Laureate George Elliott Clarke—one of my favourite professors at the University of Toronto—in an article titled “Linguistic Masquerades to Savour.”

Up Against Beyond, as a collection, contains a total of 121 poems and is divided in eight sections.

  1. (1994) Poems selected from Fine in Kafka’s Burrow
  2. (1999) from Memos to No One
  3. (2003) from A Hair’s Breadth of Abandon
  4. (2005) from Relics from an Open Vault
  5. (2009) from Longstern Poems
  6. (2012) from “A Brace of Sonnets”
  7. (2014) from Inversed
  8. New Poems

Holt’s poetry is hyper-self-aware and  playful with an intense sense of humour. For instance, the first new poem listed in section eight starts with:

“this is a poem/ I don’t/ title my poems/ not because/ I’m pretentious/ although/ I am pretentious…”

It’s the kind of poem that knows exactly what the reader expects to find from a Ph.D. University professor, and yet, it turns it on its head making fun of itself before the reader gets a chance to. Other poems sound like a proverb: “too many/ books/ Spoil/The prof” where the reader is left alone wondering what to make of it.

However, many of his other poems are so memorable and quotable told in a more sombre and philosophical tone, with the elegance one expects from a poet. Holt rewards readers and gives them the poetry they deserve. One of my favourite poems is this one (from which the title of the collection is derived):

“the only place to go

is up against beyond

what other challenge worthy

what other meaning

less than war

more than game

between covers of book or bed”

Most of Holt’s poetry is brief. The one proverb-like being indicative of that as it is in itself a single poem, alone on the page and each individual line is often one or two words with few exceptions. Clarke referred to Holt’s poems as “whimsical parades of terms and phrases” where one must puzzle his/her way through as a reader, akin to figuring out a Rubik’s cube, which is perhaps the best attitude to have, entering this collection.

What I particularly enjoyed about this collection is that excerpts are taken from the poet’s life spanning 23 years. We get to see a poet in various moods, and various spaces, using language as a tool for each occasion. I would recommend this work for anyone interested in reading new poetic voices and particularly those who are open to experimental poems. This collection also has a brief trailer on YouTube.

Many thanks to Anaphora Literary Press and Anna Faktorovich for sending me an ARC for early review. This poetry collection will be published on July 20, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

Iain M. Banks by Paul Kincaid | Book Review

32828220This book is a part of the Modern Masters of Science Fiction series published by the University of Illinois Press. Earlier works included Gerry Canavan’s book on Octavia E. Bulter (2016), Jad Smith’s close reading of Alfred Bester (2016), and many others. This work on Banks is scheduled for publication on May 30 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

This book is an academic work, and I can say with confidence that Paul Kincaid is Iain M. Banks’s biggest fan. This book has been written with so much passion. Kincaid writes an in-depth analysis as a product of very detailed close reading. Kincaid is a life-long critic of science fiction. He has reviewed hundreds of science fiction works, been featured in sci-fi magazines, and has contributed to critical anthologies. In addition, he has been the administrator for the Arthur C. Clarke Award from 1995 to 2006 following up this prestigious position with an anthology he edited on each of the first 18 award winners, The Arthur C. Clarke Award: A Critical Anthology (anth 2006).

This non-fiction book is divided in five sections (or long chapters). It begins with an introduction to Banks and a biographical piece on him—which is quite necessary considering thus far no biography of Banks exists. What particularly pulled at my heart strings and got my immediate attention was that Kincaid started with Banks’s public post after finding out he has a late stage of gall bladder cancer giving him a limited time.

The biographical chapter is followed by three comprehensive chapters on the history, theory, and philosophy of Banks’s works. Kincaid situates Banks in both the science fiction community as well as in a larger cultural spectrum. He takes apart the Culture Series and examines the ways Banks was influenced by historical and political events, and how he in turn influenced others. Kincaid brings in works by other theorists, other writers (H.G. Wells, T.S. Eliot, and J.R.R. Tolkien among them) who have influenced Banks, and subsequently the ways his own works predicted 9/11 and the dominant fear/anxieties after.  Lastly, Kincaid examines the aftermath of Banks’s death in 2013 and his last work written: The Quarry, which was published posthumously, and the new and emerging sci-fi writers, that he himself influenced, like China Miéville.

The last section of this book is an extended interview via email correspondence between Iain M. Banks and Jude Roberts who was working on a Ph.D. thesis. The interview occurred between April-June of 2010 and even though a copy of it appeared in Strange Horizons in 2014, this copy is an extended version. In this interview Banks gives his opinion of writers he enjoyed growing up, theorists, women sci-fi writers who influenced him, and the general reception and process of writing his own works.

What I particularly enjoyed about this work was that Kincaid left no stone unturned. Every article, epitaph, critical essay, previous academic work, and/or interview that exists with or about Iain M. Banks, has been acknowledged in this work in one form or another.

I would highly recommend this book on Iain M. Banks (and Iain Banks as Kincaid discusses the difference between the two publication names of the author) to academic universities with courses in Science Fiction as a thorough and comprehensive study of Banks’s work. I would also recommend this book to fans of Banks, particularly those who have read a majority of his works. If you want to know more about Banks and how others have interpreted his works I would also recommend this book, with the suggestion that you read at least The Wasp Factory and Consider Phlebas, as those two works are the most discussed two in this academic book.

Many thanks to the University of Illinois Press for sending me an ARC of this book for review.

How to Get Out of a Reading Slump

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A few words of kindness before the list:

First of all: if not reading is something you call “a slump” and it’s something that makes you feel sad, not yourself, and guilty—then clearly my friend, you are a reader. That in itself is an encouraging thought because only a reader can feel those emotions when not reading. So don’t despair, and don’t feel hopeless because there are many ways to get back into doing what you love most. Sometimes it’s really not your fault. Maybe you had several bad reading experiences in a row. Maybe life events took over. Either way, guilt is not something you should associate with this tragedy that has befallen you (the reading slump). The following methods are taken out of my personal experiences. If there are ways I left out I encourage you to comment and contribute suggestions that have helped you with your reading experience.

Step One: Get Inspired by Others

  1. In my experience nothing has been more inspiring than Booktube. Book lovers sharing their reading experience, their book hauls, and TBRs on YouTube. Over time I felt like each one of them was my friend. When you find someone whose reading tastes are so similar to yours it’s like a book is recommending a person; then in turn, when that person recommends a new book you have not read, you know you can trust them.bt

These are some people who have completely inspired me to get back into reading in the past:

Following these people often leads to Buddy-reads on Goodreads, Reading along with a booktuber a specific book (like Books and Things is currently reading Our Mutual Friend six chapters at a time) and other online book groups that keep alive the reading momentum through encouragement and support.

  1. The only thing better than hearing/seeing reading communities talk about books with enthusiasm is to watch some of your favourite authors talk about their books or with other authors. For me personally watching Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson, Markus Zusak, David Mitchell, and Robin Hobb discuss some of their books at Google Talks, classes, or reader events have brought back the “feels” for what I enjoyed in books in the first place.
  1. Join Bookstagram. Instagram for Books. When pictures of new books, classics, and pretty covers show up on your daily social media you feel a surge of energy that draws you to pick up a book. You can follow other people’s, or start one of your own. I found that even when all you have to work with is a pretty book cover, readers still communicate with each other in encouraging ways. The greatest part is that you get to know readers from all over the world that way. You get to see what’s popular in Australia, the UK, North America, etc.

Step Two: Proactive Steps You can Take Alone

  1. library-clipartGo to the Library. I know this sounds strange, but as a book lover (like all you reading this) I have been drawn to buying books. Buying, collecting….hoarding. The pile of “to be read” has grown and grown. I get used to the covers and over time I end up with far more unread books than read ones. Going to the library gives me an activity that ties into my reading experience. I get to meet people, interact with other human beings, and take a walk. The time limitations force me to actually finish the book (and I would recommend taking out just one book at a time). Walking through a library also results in stumbling across books you might have never heard of and taking a chance on them. There’s also no pressure because they are free so if you don’t like them, you can return them (no strings attached).
  1. Audiobooks. For me this has been a huge one. I used audiobooks as a crutch through undergrad (studying English Lit) because I had so many books to get through a week and I needed my mind to stay focused. I would listen to an audiobook AND follow along in the text for highlighting/note-taking. I divided my reading based on audio TIME rather than pages. After my degree was done, I fell into a reading slump as I forgot what it was like to read for fun and not for homework. I got back into audiobooks as a means of having company. I would listen while commuting, while shelving books, and while doing other things in my room. There are some books (believe it or not) that only exist in audiobook format and not in print yet, like Kel Kade’s Free the Darkness for instance. I read George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo on a single train ride to Montreal, and Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn on the ride back with the help of well-done audiobooks and then picked up so much reading momentum for the weeks to follow. I wrote an entire post on Audiobook Resources (some are free and connect through your library card).
  1. IMG_20170501_144759

    Example of a page from Wagamese’s book Embers

    Start Small. The very first book I read this year was Richard Wagamese’s Embers. It’s one of my favourite books now. The truth is, it’s not really a novel, or a non-fiction book. It’s Wagamese’s (Ojibway writer) morning reflections. Every page has pictures with a paragraph on something to meditate on like: silence, nature, etc. Because I was interested in the topic, and because it was short, I felt the need to finish it and having finished it, I felt good about myself. I felt great having closed that back cover. It felt like an achievement. Perhaps for you that is the same book, or a different small books, or even a collection of short stories, or poetry. Finishing something will automatically make you feel good and you will pick up momentum.

  1. Return to topics that make you excited. For some this may be re-reading a Harry Potter book, or a classic that got you on this path, or adventure travelogues, or nature guides. I have three topics that get me so pumped I can’t even explain why: islands, dragons, and pirates. This year I worked on an early review of The Whydah (a sunken pirate ship). At first it felt like an assignment/homework but because it was a topic of interest to me I got so excited I wanted to read more books on ships and pirates. Everyone has those topics that get them so excited (I kid you not one of my friends has read every book about Tuberculosis because that’s her favourite topic). Return to one of yours.
  1. Although_Of_CourseRead the Bio of your Champion (or interviews with them). If a person interests you/inspires you, then read their biography. Weirdly enough reading biographies sometimes doesn’t even feel like reading because it’s you finding out more about a person you already love. Some of these people for me are: David Foster Wallace, Walt Disney, Jane Austen, George Sand, George Eliot, Vincent Van Gogh, The Brontes, J.R.R. Tolkien (and the Inklings), Octavia E. Butler, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and H.G. Wells. I always return to their biographies when I feel down. It just feels like you’re in good company rather than going through an assignment.

Final note of encouragement: whenever my friends have talked to me about a reading slump they almost always have been giving themselves “assignments” like “read the top Nobel winners,” or “read only classics,” “read only the Nebula/Hugo awards…” etc. and when that happens you start looking at your reading list like it’s a homework assignment so you do what’s familiar to student problems: procrastinate. Take it one book at a time, and think of it as YOUR personal sacred time, your healing time, your YOU time. You don’t owe anyone a thesis, a report, or an explanation for what you are reading. If it makes you happy and gets you onto reading again, then read what makes YOU feel right.

April Wrap-Up

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This month has been very hectic. The first two weeks I was writing final essays, wrapping up my Masters degree. I did get some good reading in this month. I was pleasantly surprised by the poetry collections I got a hold of this month because they really nourished the soul. Overall it was a good reading month. Here’s what I read starting from the most recent:

The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy – Edited by John Brehm

32926209This collection is an amalgamation of poems from various authors who are a source of wisdom in both the East and the West. The collection brings together a spiritual community that remains connected in that they wrote of essential human truths universally experienced. The collection includes poets like Frost, Whitman, Shakespeare, Kerouac from the West as well as poets from the East like Han Shan, Wei Ying-Wu, and Li Po. I wrote a full review here.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things – Patrick Rothfuss    

21535271Earlier in the month I finished the first book and while I am saving the second volume for later on in the year, I thought I would give the novella a chance: The Slow Regard of Silent Things. I read a few reviews and people seem to be very angry at this novella for its lack of plot and character depth. I too expected a history of Auri. I hoped we would find out what happened to her, how she ended up in the Underthing, maybe some secrets she knows from overhearing conversations. I had to connect some dots from the first book. First I remembered that Elodin told Kvothe that he had known Auri for many years around the University and that she herself had been a student studying Alchemy. Also Elodin with Auri are both mentally unstable characters so it’s subtly hinted that Auri may have also been affected by the Naming of things. Reading this novella is almost like a play or a very concentrated experience of what it’s like to be Auri. We don’t get a history, we don’t get much plot, or even much character development, but you get ‘a day in the life’ of Auri in case you wondered as a reader what she does all day.

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Illustration by Nate Taylor

In the novella she moves around the Underthing and has a lighted object or bio-luminescent creature that she has named Foxen. She observes objects and rooms. I think this concentrated experience is in a way appropriate for Auri because it still keeps her a mysterious figure but it captures the isolation and loneliness of the most hermetic character in the series. Her experience of life is certainly going to be different and perhaps less exciting than Kvothe’s—who experiences more things than anyone else in the entire first book.
This is my theory: she messed up something in Alchemy and out of that she got Foxen and became unstable, but Foxen keeps her alive somehow—which is why Elodin could have known her for years and she still looks young. Foxen is tied to her existence and daily habits/routine. That’s what I got out of this novella. I look forward to moving on to the second book The Wise Man’s Fear.
The novella is also accompanied by the beautiful illustrations of Nate Taylor.                     

The Hour Wasp by Jay Sheetsfront cover hour

I received an ARC for early review from April Gloaming Publishing. The Hour Wasp is a poetry collection written by Jay Sheets and illustrated by Robyn Leigh Lear. This is a debut collection for Sheets and I read this on a lovely Sunday afternoon in the Month of April. If you’d like to know more about this collection you can read my full review. The book will be published on May 28.

This is What a Librarian Looks Like by Kyle Cassidy

I received a copy of this book as an ARC from Hachette, Black Dog & Leventhal for early review. The book will be officially published on May 16. This book is a combination of library history, author interviews on what the library means to them, and over 200 photographs of individual librarians across America with a little excerpt on them. Interviews include Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer, Nancy Pearl, Cory Doctorow, and George R. R. Martin, among others. The purpose of this book is to promote and celebrate libraries and the role of librarians in our society, particularly now when the funds of libraries are threatened by Trump’s proposed “skinny budget.”

Invisible Planets Translated by Ken Liu

ipThis is a short story anthology of contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in translation. I wrote an individual Review for this collection. Invisible Planets is a 2016 TOR publication. The thirteen short stories had been previously featured in short story publications like Clarkesworld, Uncanny, and Tor.com. The short stories are written by Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Ma Boyong, Hao Jingfang, Tang Fei, Cheng Jingbo, and Liu Cixin. All the stories are translated by Ken Liu. Each author’s stories are preceded by a brief biographical note on the author.

Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold

25110931I then half-read, half-listened to (on Audible) Lois McMaster Bujold’s second book in the Vorkosigan Saga Shards of Honor because she suggested starting with Shards of Honor and follow it with Barrayar. I will say in advance that this is definitely what is called a hard sci-fi book. There is a lot of military speech and military tactics. The main character whose point of view we follow is Cordelia Naismith’s, she is the captain of a Betan Astronomical ship. I love the way Bujold characterised Cordelia because she is strong and has a backbone. The work begins with the Betan base camp being attacked and Cordelia remaining behind with only one other person from her camp and Captain Aral Vorkosigan of Barrayar. A romance ensues between Cordelia and Vorkosigan but it’s very subtle in terms of ‘cheesiness,’ because as I mentioned this is a strong character and a hard sci-fi book. This may sound weird but Cordelia and

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Rourke and Sinclair, Atlantis

Vorkosigan reminded me of Commander Rourke and Helga Sinclair from Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The relationship is complicated, there is a mutiny, and a lot going on that I can’t explain without spoiling it. I am willing to give the rest of series a try but not in a row. It’s an easy and pleasant listen/read and very exciting so it doesn’t require too much effort but it’s not a series I can binge.

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

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This book is a retelling of Peter and Wendy only it reads more like a sequel or continuation. In this retelling Peter is trans and was born as Wendy. He returns to Neverland ten years after leaving and choosing to grow up as Wendy. I have written a full review on this book. There is a romance aspect between Peter and Hook, however most of this novel deals with issues of identity, losing and finding oneself, and fighting to reclaim one’s spaces.

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found by Martin W. Sandler

whydahThis is a book about the Pirate ship: Whydah. I received this book from Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review: Full Review. In short, the first half of the book Sandler begins by following our main Captain pirate: Samuel Bellamy and the ship he hijacks: The Whydah. He explains the Articles of Agreement (among pirates), fun facts about the origins of The Jolly Roger, details of torture methods on board, punishments, as well as the good parts of pirate atmosphere on the ship, and facing the wrath of the sea as well as critical weather conditions. The second half of the book focuses on the wreck of The Whydah and the importance of each artifact which was retrieved in 1984. The details of each artifact, its history, and importance are absolutely fascinating and throughout Sandler debunks many pirate myths.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfusscover_277

This book is written by Patrick Rothfuss and was published in March 2007 by DAW Books, Inc. That year he won the Quill Award.

The Name of the Wind is about Kvothe—a young, red-haired man who tells his life story to Chronicler (a scribe whose life he saves and who is ultimately writing the ‘true history’ of Kvothe) and Bast—a young man who is absolutely enchanted by his master Kvothe and is eagerly listening to his life story. There are few interruptions but overall, The Name of the Wind is a bildungsroman. We follow Kvothe from his childhood where he is raised by a guild of actors, follow him through several years on the Tarbean streets where he lives in absolute poverty, and eventually through his University education where he studies Sympathy (among other subjects). Finance and poverty drive Kvothe’s plot as he must always make another strategic move to earn a day’s living, or another semester’s tuition. By the end of this book you’ll feel like you understand their economic system and all about ‘jots’ and ‘talents.’ The characters he meets at University and in town are diverse and very interesting, though no character is as flushed out and dimensional as Kvothe himself. His main talent on top of his studies is being a skilled lute musician. What is particularly strange to me, is the “magic” system. It’s very difficult to explain because it exists, it’s ‘different,’ and somehow it’s not very present. At the university, students study Arcanist’s arts which include Sympathy, Sygaldry, Alchemy, and Naming and then there’s a sort of Fae-world kind of magic. Some professors study things that make them fall into madness like “learning the name of the wind.” The description of classes sound a lot like courses in our world (including tuition), and a little bit like alchemy. The use and presence of ‘magic’ is really subtle and sometimes I wonder if it’s even there. There are mysterious figures like Auri, the Chandrion, and the professor who is held up in what resembles the University’s ‘asylum.’ Things like ‘forbidden stories’ and the effects of ‘sympathy’ used outside of the University give off a ‘magic’ element, but when as the story is told I sometimes forget that this is a different realm at all. There is also a romance woven in, but it is not overpowering. This book is 722 pages, so being brief in describing what it’s about is complicated without giving too much away.

What I love most about this work is how it is told. The storytelling and world building makes me feel like I’m listening to one of Scheherazade’s stories. What really accomplishes that for me is the many ‘stories within stories.’ There is a man at a tavern telling stories, there are songs being sung resembling medieval songs and filled with mythology and …well…stories. There are tutors, actors, guilds, dealers, clans, a hierarchy of class systems, and languages. All these components added while discussing the growth of Kvothe as a character give the reader a full experience of this world. It’s all in the details, like on page 300 where Kvothe and Wilem discus Siaru idioms:

“it means ‘don’t let it make you crazy’ but it translated literally as: ‘don’t put a spoon in your eye over it.’”

My favourite of all though has to be THE ARCHIVES. Descriptions of books in this novel are phenomenal. The presence of codices, and archives are everywhere. The descriptions of books, the presence of them, the contents, the things they help characters achieve just make this book so perfect. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys fantasy, books, schools, and bildungsromans. Here are a few of my favourite lines:

“You’d be surprised at the sorts of things hidden away in children’s songs” (39)

“I hope they spent those last few hours well. I hope they didn’t waste them on mindless tasks: kindling the evening fire and cutting vegetables for dinner. I hope they sang together, as they so often did. I hope they retired to our wagon and spent time in each other’s arms. I hope they lay near each other afterward and spoke softly of small things. I hope they were together, busy with loving each other, until the end came.” (124)

“The door of forgetting. Some wounds are too deep to heal, or too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply painful, and there is no healing to be done. The saying ‘time heals all wounds’ is false. Time heals most wounds. The rest are hidden behind this door…there are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind.” (135)

“[Skarpi] – I only know one story. But oftentimes small pieces seem to be stories themselves…it’s growing all around us…sometimes the story is growing in squalid backstreet bars” (202).

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Map

The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy | Review

This work will be published on June 6, and is available for pre-order on Amazon.

This collection is an amalgamation of poems from various authors who are a source of wisdom in both the East and the West. The collection brings together a spiritual community that remains connected in that they wrote of essential human truths universally experienced no matter of background, sex, or religion. John Brehm writes in the introduction:

“no poem can last for long unless it speaks, even if obliquely, to some essential human concern.”

Wisdom Publications is a non-profit charitable organization and the leading publisher of classic and contemporary Buddhist books and practical works on mindfulness. Their main goal is to cultivate Buddhist voices the world over, and preserving and sharing Buddhist literary culture.

John Brehm, the editor, won the Brittingham Prize in 2004 for his own poetry collection Sea of Faith. His goal for this collection is to present readers with:

“poets who strip themselves of all self-centered stories and desires, speaking out of pure consciousness and placing themselves on equal footing with all beings…like insects [Issa]…or fallen trees [Neruda]”

The collection is divided in three sections:

  1. Impermanence
  2. Mindfulness
  3. Joy

The inclusion of Western poets like Philip Larkin, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, or even Jack Kerouac may come as a surprise, but the purpose of this collection is to show:

“how beautifully the Dharma manifests even in poems by poets who were not practicing Buddhists or knew little or nothing about Buddhism.”

Brehm uses the term Dharma broadly speaking, selecting poems which demonstrated:

“the way things are, universal law, or the truth of things, who force the reader to pay attention in a world filled with distractions”

I enjoyed the ways in which Brehm shows that at the end of the day, no matter what part of the world one is from, at the core of the fundamental truths that unite us all we are experiencing the same things. Love, joy, and impermanence in a transitory life are all universally true and not particular to any single corner of the world. I was very grateful to read this collection and be reminded of that, particularly with the news circulating the past few weeks (this whole year really). It’s a reminder that we are not alone and that regarding the things that make us fundamentally human the world is really not that divided.

I recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys poetry, spirituality, and is looking for a source of hope.

Many thanks to Wisdom Publications for sending me a copy for review.

The Hour Wasp | Poetry Review

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The Hour Wasp will be published on May 28, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

front cover hourThis poetry collection is written by Jay Sheets and illustrated by Robyn Leigh Lear. This is Sheets’s debut collection, and it’s published by April Gloaming Publishing.

Lance Umenhofer, Author of And the Soft Wind Blows, writes in the introduction to this collection that Jay Sheets is setting out to create a

 “guidebook for those times in the dark, for those times the great world might decide to leave us behind, to drop us off in the void and carry on ahead without us, those times in which we are dead weight”

This collection reads like the description of  a dream in free verse. It’s almost as if someone tried to make poetry out of a surrealist painting. The natural realm is ever-present and there are references to scenes from nature though some appear as a vision like “a caterpillar in the centre of a heart-shaped bone.” There are references to oracles, fishbones, poetic enlightenment like in Cædmon’s hymn, jinn maps, henna-wrapped hands, and natural phenomenons. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ovid’s Metamorphosis, or the Finnish Kalevala, but with the writing style of someone like e.e. cummings. Reading this collection was akin to what I’ve always imagined a shaman’s vision looks like or the birth of a myth. There is also a constant reference to ‘her’ as if he’s talking about a specific woman or enigma.

The book is divided in three sections

  1. [o the dark places we will go] – where Sheets sets the atmosphere to his collection by his use of imagery. Here are a few of my favourite lines from this section:

“my fingers damp in a ruined dream hold tiny mirrors to her ashen face”

“…her fingers exhume vellum word-coffins”

“to the places you bottled your herbs &

preserved your rosewater tinctures tubed

chemical potions… magnetic precipitations

now spiderwebbed in the cabinet & like

worldly things [lace & pewter] idle elements

calcify : coral floats…”

  1. The Second part of this poem is the most dominant, it’s called [blue haunts black]

My reading of this section was that in the same atmosphere of part one, we as readers enter the night realm, and it is here where the dream-like description I mentioned above is most prominent.

  1. The Third section is called [the sky is white] which resembles morning, an aubade, and awakening. A rebirth.

“i hugged myself as a child & told

Myself that everything was perfect in the petrichor

The smell of pure innocence & earth & earthly

Innocence that stays in the clothes i only wear

on good days…”

In addition to such beautiful poetry the reader is also accompanied by the illustrations of Robyn Leigh Lear which set the mood even more-so.

I enjoyed this collection and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys poetry and is interested in discovering new voices.

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Illustration by Robyn Leigh Lear

This is What a Librarian Looks Like | Book Review

“‘What do we need libraries for? We’ve got the Internet now!’ FACEPALM” – Cory Doctorow

“Wherever you are in America, there is a librarian fighting to get YOU something”

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This book will be published on May 16, 2017 and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.

Last week I recommended five non-fiction books on libraries which were mostly academic and history-focused.

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Front Cover

This book is not a history book but a celebration of libraries, and librarians, accomplished by a collaboration between photographers, librarians, publishers, and authors. By comparison to last week’s recommendations, this book is much more accessible. Kyle Cassidy published a photo essay on Slate in 2014 called “This is What A Librarian Looks Like,” a montage of portraits and a tribute to librarians. The essay had success and spread widely through social media. Cassidy expanded this project into what is now the new-coming book This Is What a Librarian Looks Like: A Celebration of Libraries, Communities, and Access to Information.

The book has three components:

  1. Brief essays on the history of the American Library
  2. Photographs of contemporary American Librarians
  3. Essays by writers, journalists, and commentators including Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Nancy Pearl, Cory Doctorow, Jeff VanderMeer, and others who discuss what the library means to them now, and what memories they have of the library from their childhood and/or youth.

The three sections are woven beautifully combining the history, interviews, and photographs according to historical periods and American geographical regions. Cassidy opens with an introduction to this book on the ideal of the library by discussing the Library of Alexandria. He writes:

“What made the Library of Alexandria great wasn’t just the collection of books, but rather, its intellectual raison d’être: the insatiable pursuit, creation, and dissemination of knowledge as a force to drive civilization.”

While discussing the leap across the digital divide and community service provided by librarians, this book urges readers not to look away while the Government is taking funds away from libraries. One such initiative is called Send Librarians to Congress, where the goal is to put a copy of this book in the hands of each member of Congress before Federal funding for libraries is eliminated as proposed in the “Skinny Budget” from President Trump. Cassidy writes:

“libraries in America today are at a crossroads, facing dangers not unlike those of the Great Library [of Alexandria] as well as an evolving technology that has the power either to make libraries exponentially more valuable or to erode their foundation if we are not careful.”

lcThe book then focuses a chapter on America’s First Lending Library: The Lending Company of Philadelphia which was opened in 1731 by Benjamin Franklin. The second history-based chapter is on artifacts and tablets interviewing Sumerologist Steve Tinney at the Tablet Room at the University of Pennsylvania, who focuses on the tablets similar to those which got us the Epic of Gilgamesh (British Museum) and Cuneiform writing.

Cassidy then turns his attention to individual library histories like the chapter “The Little Library That Tried” on M.N. Spear Memorial Library in Shutesbury, Massachusetts and “History you can Hold” focusing on the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library. There are also insights to libraries collecting non-texts like the Franklin Public Library which collects ‘The American Girl’ dolls instead. The book closes with “Archiving the Past” at University libraries in Texas and Iowa with a conversation between Cassidy and George R.R. Martin.

I really enjoyed this book with all its components, however, as a reader and librarian I was much more interested in the essays written by authors and the history parts. I wish they were longer. Some author interviews were only a paragraph long. For 220 images of librarians to fit in this large book, expect a coffee-table-style  book.  I understand the political undertones, specifically the one I mentioned above, where this book aims to put a face to the community of librarians in America for Congress, but as a physical codex, the book will become immediately dated because of the abundance of contemporary photographs. On the other hand, the same component makes it somewhat unique to preserving the ‘here and now.’ I would urge the reader to look at this book first and foremost as an art/photography book, where the histories and author essays are the supplements for the images, not the other way around as is usually the case. Nonetheless, the book advertises itself as a celebration of libraries and librarians, and in that respect, it has succeeded.

In terms of librarians photographed, this book is America-centric. Though the librarians are multicultural and diverse, the workplaces of the librarians photographed are mostly in the United States covering an array of public libraries, special collections, school libraries, and academic libraries. The authors interviewed are American, Canadian, and British. Overall this book focuses on the Western experience of the library.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in libraries, photography, and who has enjoyed blogs/books like Humans of New York which focus on individuals with an excerpt on what they do, and what they enjoy. I especially recommend this book to Congress.

Many thanks to Hachette Books, Black Dog & Leventhal for sending me a copy of this book for an early review.

I will leave you now with this excellent quotation on the importance of librarians taken from the introduction to the book :

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Travels with Charley | Review and Notes

“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch…I fear the disease is incurable.”

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Front Cover of Edition I read

Have you ever thought “I love Steinbeck! I wish I could hang out with him!” If you have, then: READ. THIS. BOOK. This journal/travelogue work is John Steinbeck’s account of his travels across the United States in the 1960s, with his dog Charley, in a trailer that he names the Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse). He describes what he sees, records interactions with different people he meets on the way, and this book is filled with reflective notes on what he thought of certain situation and how they relate to other instances in life or giving his opinion on his immediate reaction. There are a few literary references, and there instances of simple humour (i.e. getting stopped at the Canadian border for “dog reasons”).

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Steinbeck and Charley

I kept thinking that if anyone other than Steinbeck wrote the same travelogue it wouldn’t be that interesting. Although it’s not as high of a thrill as later written travelogues which are now quite popular, this book is interesting BECAUSE it’s Steinbeck. It seems a lot more relaxed than reading Krakauer’s Into The Wild for instance, or Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys travel literature, travelogues, journals/diaries, and those who love Steinbeck and his work because in the end it just feels like you’re hanging out with him and his dog. Interestingly enough, in 2014 Bill Steigerwald dedicated a lot of time to “exposing” Steinbeck as a fraud for this book and labelled this travelogue as a “fictionalized non-fiction” in his book Dogging Steinbeck. He elaborates on his issues with Steinbeck’s work in his blog.

 

Regardless, I enjoyed Steinbeck’s work and I thought I would share with you some of my favourite lines:

We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us (page 4)

I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation—a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something (page 10)

It was like starting to write a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing fie hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing (page 23)

Humans had perhaps a million years to get used to fire as a thing and as an idea. Between the time a man got his fingers burned on a lighting-struck tree until another man carried some inside a cave and found it kept him warm, maybe a hundred thousand years, and from there to the blast furnaces of Detroit – how long?…for man has to have feelings and then words before he can come close to thought and, in the past at least, that has taken a long time (page 32)

I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found (page 70)

Edition of book I read is the Bantam Pathfinder Edition and Viking Press, 1961.

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Invisible Planets | Book Review

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Jacket design by Jamie Stafford-Hill. Photograph of spiral galaxy M81 (detail) by NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage team.

Invisible Planets is a 2016 TOR publication. The thirteen short stories had been previously featured in short story publications like Clarkesworld, Uncanny, and Tor.com. The short stories are written by Chen Qiufan, Xia Jia, Ma Boyong, Hao Jingfang, Tang Fei, Cheng Jingbo, and Liu Cixin. All the stories are translated by Ken Liu whose short story “The Paper Menagerie” is the first work of fiction, of any length, to win the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards, and who also translated The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy written by Liu Cixin.

Each author’s stories are preceded by a brief biographical note on the author. At the very end of the collection there is a series of non-fiction essays on Chinese Science Fiction. I have never read any contemporary Chinese literature. Like most people in the West, I was introduced to a few translated fairy tales, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and translated philosophies like I Ching, Lao Tzu, and Confucius. We are missing out on much of China’s contemporary artistic output due to lacking translated works. As a reader, I feel embarrassed for how little I know of China’s contemporary literature in general, let alone specific genres. I had only heard of Liu Cixin because of the Three-Body-Problem which I still have not read. Ken Liu urges the reader in the introduction to read the stories as they are without trying to morph them into what we think Chinese literature should be. He writes:

“Given the realities of China’s politics and its uneasy relationship with the West, it is natural for Western readers encountering Chinese science fiction to see it through the lens of Western dreams and hopes and fairy tales about Chinese politics…I would urge the reader to resist such temptation. Imagining that the political concerns of Chinese writers are the same as what the Western reader would like them to be is at best arrogant and at worst dangerous.”

He continues:

“Chinese writers are saying something about the globe, about all of humanity, not just China, and trying to understand their works through this perspective is, I think, the far more rewarding approach.”

For instance, Liu urges us not to read Chen Qiufan’s “The Year of the Rat,” as a critique of the Chinese education system and the labour market. As I was reading the story I couldn’t help but smile through several parts like this one:

“I sat next to Pea by coincidence. I was an undergraduate majoring in Chinese literature; he was a graduate student in the biology department. We had nothing in common except neither of us could find jobs after graduation.”

I think that problem is quite universal right now. This thought is prevalent here in the West as well. That is just a small example of the warnings Liu gives us when reading contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in translation. Read it like it is, and don’t think of any of it as a critique of China alone.

I found the stories to be varied in content. Qiufan’s science fiction is more about dialogue and character with very subtle airs of science fiction, while some of the later stories are hard science fiction, or futuristic. This book is an introduction to Chinese Sci-fi and it’s well-put together. Bits of non-fictions, introductions, and summaries contextualise the sci-fi stories and give the reader a good overview of Chinese Science Fiction.

I would strongly recommend this to anyone interested in exploring literature from a different country, expanding one’s horizons (quite literally for some stories), and for those interested in Science Fiction. I have personally become mesmerised by both Ken Liu and Cixin Liu that I am very much looking forward to reading their other works.

Plath and Hughes | Opinion

“The scholars want the anatomy of the birth of the poetry; and the vast potential audience want her blood, hair, touch, smell, and a front seat in the kitchen where she died…neither audience makes me feel she owes them anything.”

–Ted Hughes, The Observer, November 21, 1971

“It’s hard to read the original manuscript without trying to understand what Hughes was thinking when he left out certain poems and included others. She loved him. He hurt her. All of us who love her work are caught like children in that crossfire forever.” 

-Los Angeles Times

Last Tuesday, April 11 The Guardian posted one article around 4:00 p.m. written from an objective standpoint by Danuta Kean titled “Unseen Sylvia Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Huges” showing how some letters to Plath’s therapist (Barnhouse) from Plath herself suggest that Hughes was physically abusive just before her miscarriage. Shortly after, The Guardian followed up with an opinion piece, only four hours later, by Sarah Churchwell titled: “Sylvia Plath, a voice that can’t be silenced” where Churchwell dives a little deeper in the dynamics of the marriage and draws on her own research. On Wednesday, The Guardian published a third paper that was more from a gender studies point of view by Rafia Zakaria titled: “Sylvia Plath’s letters probably won’t harm Ted Hughes’s reputation” where the article criticizes some of Plath’s biographers for placing much blame on Plath in the deteriorating of the marriage, and society in general. All three articles are linked if you are interested in following.

I read all the comments under the three articles with a lot of interest. I wanted to know what do readers who are part of the ‘Hughes’ or ‘Plath’ fandoms think about the three articles, and the dynamics of this relationship as it fits with the poets’ artwork. I extracted from it three dominant comments which I find crucial to discuss. To sum up, these were the dominant three reactions:

  1. Seriously, who cares?
  2. Plath killed herself because of Hughes, as did his mistress, and son.
  3. Hughes is a monster, not even surprised.

Before I try to address the three questions I would fist like to tell you where I stand. First, I love the poetry of Plath. You may have noticed in my “favourites” list that she is the first person that came to my mind. Of Hughes’s work I have read Crow, The Birthday Letters, and The Iron Man, whereas I have read Plath’s entire corpus (including letters/diary entries) so I cannot pretend to be an expert on Hughes. I have glanced at some of his other works but did not finish them. Her use of language stuck with me since six years ago when I discovered her and through most of my undergrad and grad school I have written most of my essays on her poetry, her print culture (comparing various editions of her work), and even on her tombstone which is often chipped away at by fans. Hughes to me, doesn’t quite cut it. I tried reading his works and they did not have an impact. I found that fans are often divided in the two teams, whether it’s Plath vs. Hughes, British vs. American, Women vs. Men, with the occasional: I like neither, or I like both but don’t care about their life.

Secondly I would like to present the disclaimer that I cannot discuss mental illness or pretend that I’m an expert on it, or apply what happened to Plath to all depressed/suicide cases. I do not romanticize suicide. I will only discuss the relationship and biography of the two poets AS POETS and why it matters (or doesn’t) when discussing their poetry as literature, in an academic setting.

That said, I would like to address the three points above:

  1. Who cares?

At first it seems like we all just thrive on drama and that’s what’s interesting. I certainly thought so for a while, until I realized that the ‘who cares’ question is part of the division I mentioned earlier. The truth is, Plath and Hughes were working on different kinds of poetry. Hughes was working on classical/mythological re-workings like those of Ovid; he was writing rhythmically, and building on a larger British Tradition of what was expected of a poet laureate. So if you like Hughes and his work then frankly, you shouldn’t care because Tales from Ovid, The Iron Man, Lupercal, Cave Birds…among others, exist within a contained context of what is on the page and in response to a larger Western Tradition—he was highly influenced by the Romans and his poetry resembles that of Keats, Shelley, or the more recent Seamus Heaney (to me). Unless you’re reading The Birthday Letters, it really doesn’t matter—as our teachers/professors tell us time and time again: biography of the author/poet shouldn’t affect our reading of their art. True. Yes. EXCEPT in one case. This case includes poets: Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell (Plath’s prof), Allen Ginsberg, John Berryman, W.D. Snodgrass, and Sylvia Plath. They were working on a different kind of poetry known as “Confessional Poetry.” This movement was mostly composed of American Poets in the 1950s and ‘60s who wrote ‘poetry of the personal.’ This personal poetry often didn’t rhyme and dealt with topics like: depression, sexuality, abuse, suicide attempts/thoughts, trauma, and things that were highly private and linked uniquely to one’s biography. Unlike poets like Hughes, these poets were drawing solely from personal experience without necessarily responding to a larger tradition. Confessional Poetry is the only time where the poet invites you to learn about their life and invites you to tie it into their artwork. So to answer the question ‘who cares?’ the answer is: people studying confessional poetry. They care about biography, because it’s important, because it’s connected, and because it sheds light and meaning on the artwork. I need to know that Plath was hospitalized in a white room where someone brought her these red tulips that stuck out like an eyesore, for me to understand “the tulips are excitable” in her poem “The Tulips” or that her father was German and a beekeeper which fuels her Holocaust references in “Daddy,” or the ways he was referenced in The Bee Poems. And perhaps understanding that the two poets (Plath and Hughes) were working on something different makes sense of why Plath fans are very interested in biography, while Hughes fans might not be.

  1. She killed herself because (or for) Hughes.

Plath at Smith

Claims like these, though kind of directed at ‘shaming’ Hughes, to me come across as demeaning to Plath. First of all, she wasn’t a love-struck Juliet figure who killed herself because a man left her. She was a very intelligent woman, and had a history of mental illness and suicide attempts. Claiming she ‘killed herself for Hughes’ or to prove a point comes from a reductive understanding of Plath, and a reductive understanding of mental illness.

Plath went to Smith College on scholarship for academic excellence (she wrote her paper on Ulysses). She got electric shock therapy (without anesthesia) which right now is illegal. She attempted suicide once when she was much younger. Her second suicide attempt was by overdosing on pills and she hid beneath the house porch. She was gone for three days, and was in the newspapers as ‘missing.’ They gave her electrical shock therapy again. She then went to Cambridge in England on a Fulbright Scholarship (very prestigious) where she met Hughes. Her thesis was on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s figure of The Double demonstrated through Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin’s character in The Double and Ivan Fyodorovitch Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov.  This is an excerpt from her introduction in her thesis “The Magic Mirror:”

“It is this dangerous embodiment of the Double in two of Dostoyevsky’s novels which is the subject of our paper. The device of the Double, although an omen of doom, is instructive since it often reveals hitherto concealed character traits in a radical manner and thus frequently throws unreconciled inner conflicts into sharper relief. However, the recurrence of the double personality in Dostoevsky’s novels is more than a mere technique for clarifying the psychic oppositions; it is the core of Dostoyevsky’s own polemical philosophy.”

I think sometimes Plath is reduced to this ‘revenge-kick’ stereotype of a dismissed woman looking for attention. Just look at how Norton’s character talks to Darla in Fight Club like yeah, yeah, we’re all dying, Sylvia Plath. As if she was just looking for attention. She’s just as often stereotyped as “teen” literature because of The Bell Jar (which is a memoir reflecting on her teen years). This is a horrible reduction. That’s like judging Jean-Paul Sartre on Le Mots (The Words) only and clumping all of his later work and philosophy in that category.  It’s just not fair. Plath was an adult, Smith/Cambridge-educated woman with a career, she wrote a thesis on Dostoevsky, and was extremely well-versed in American, British, and Russian Literature. To look at her like she’s the teenage girl from Thirteen Reasons Why (which got criticism on its own as well), is just not comparable.

To return to my original point, while Hughes was an important part of her life, he cannot be blamed for her death because she had a history of attempting it, a history of depression, and they had already been separated for five full months.

“I have done it again.

One year in every ten

I manage it—

…I am only thirty.

And like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.” – Lady Lazarus

Secondly, to say that she killed herself for a man is something that demeans a woman of Plath’s stature (or any woman) immensely. She was so intelligent and capable, and was part of an emerging new group of poets—which she pretty much dominates now—that to say ‘she killed herself for Hughes/because of Hughes’ would be offensive to Plath herself and her ambitions for herself (based on the biographies I’ve read of her). Suicide is a result of mental illness and Plath wanted us to pay attention to that. Her poetry calls for mental health awareness, and paying attention to one’s life..

Point #3: Ted Hughes is a monster.

Zakaria’s article suggests that his reputation doesn’t get affected by the appearance of the new letters, while some in the comment sections painted Hughes as ‘monster.’ Maybe he was driven to do things like the biographers say, maybe his reputation is ruined or not like Zakaria says. I don’t know so I am not going to pretend I do. I wasn’t there. He gets blamed for burning Plath’s diaries from her last two years, and for many other things including the death of Plath, his mistress Assia Wevill (and her child), and subsequently Nick Hughes (son with Plath).

I myself am thankful for Ted Hughes for one reason and one only: he published Sylvia Plath’s Ariel and Collected Poems, and that is enough for me. He could have easily kept the manuscript to himself, burnt it, or never have worked on it. However, he did no such thing. He decided to publish them and in the end those last two published works made Plath the iconic figure she is today. The Collected Poems got her the Pulitzer Prize (which she got posthumously in 1982). The publication or Ariel coincided with the rise of second wave feminism and that is how the two stories clashed and combined. Fans of Plath rarely let Hughes forget, and if The Birthday Letters isn’t enough proof that he didn’t exactly have a fun time after 1963 then let’s just be thankful that he published Ariel which made Plath an icon and famous, as well as The Collected Poems. In discussing this with a friend I received the retort “so a bad person did a good thing, does that make his behaviour excusable?” Obviously not, if he was abusive then I would not (and currently do not) celebrate him. I don’t hail him as a ‘great man’  and like I mentioned, his poetry isn’t one that sticks with me anyway—but if it’s his poetry you like then his biography shouldn’t affect the Hughes side because his poetry doesn’t demand it like Plath’s does.  This excerpt from Churchwell’s article highlights an important aspect of this dilemma for us readers:

“the facts may alter with new evidence, but mostly it’s our interpretations that have altered. Our ideas — about feminism, marriage, mental illness, suicide and domestic violence — change and with them or attitudes towards Plath and Hughes.”

To remember that this was the ’60s when women weren’t even allowed to run marathons, have a bank account, or attend universities without signatures from spouses, perhaps Hughes can be seen as progressive by supporting his wife’s literary career. I hope I explained in this post the ways in which I think it’s important to examine this relationship, biography in confessional poetry, and for what purpose.

I would love to know what other people think about this. And if you see another comment in those articles that irked you, why did it? Or in this one. Perhaps I have said things that you found to be untrue in your experience of reading the two poets. If yes, how so? These were the three comments that got to me, but I would love to know what you think.

Other Resources on Plath and Hughes:

Interview with Plath and Hughes

Lecture given at the University of Toronto by Professor Nick Mount.

Sylvia Plath Archives

John Green’s analysis of Plath’s poetry

Discussion of Jonathan Bate’s recent (2015) biography of Hughes: Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life

Plath reading my favourite four: “Lady Lazarus,” “The Applicant,” “Daddy” and “A Birthday Present

Audible: Ted Hughes reading his own Crow, Plath’s Biography pre-Hughes Mad Girl’s Love Song, The Bell Jar (read by Maggie Gyllenhaal), Her Husband, Hughes and Plath, A Marriage

Audiobook Resources

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NOTE: the prices listed online fluctuate over time

PAID SUBSCRIPTION

  1. Downpour.com_AudiobooksDownpour: Downpour, like Audible below, is subscription-based. For $12.99 per month you get one credit. If used wisely the credit can go a long way. For instance, if you were to get with the one credit Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, you’ve just invested in over 55 hours of narrative time. That’s like paying someone 23 cents per hour. Twelve credits a year amount to a $156 commitment, but you can cancel at any time, and get only one credit at a time. This is the same sum as an audible gold membership, so it really is quite even. What I love about Downpour is that they have more indie and hidden gems that are not quite so mainstream, and they constantly have sales going on. I also appreciate that they have a connection to Soundcloud (through Blackstone Audio) where you can access some of their audiobooks, and have many academic affiliations. It’s a great platform if you enjoy newer audiobooks, and well-done classics.
  2. audibleAudible as is probably most commonly known, Audible is owned by Amazon. Audible, like Downpour, has a similar price range for their credits and audiobooks: $14.95 per credit, and $150 for a yearly gold membership (which makes the long-term membership a better deal). As an avid audiobook listener I found this membership price to be worth it. I made the mistake of cashing in most of my credits near the beginning of the year, and did not pace myself, but then I found out you can exchange audiobooks all year round! You get access to podcasts on almost every topic under the sun including TED talks, and my personal favourite: Orson Welles broadcasts. The variety of lifestyle, literature, science, as well as vintage podcasts given free entry is worth every penny. There are also dramatizations of classics like Jane Eyre. The podcasts here are called Channels and you can tap into almost every topic. There’s one on dialogues between MacArthur Genius Grant winners, or stand up comedians…and everything in between. The audiobooks themselves are of new books and old/classics. Sometimes a famous actor will read an audiobook which is always nice to hear. My personal favourites are Nick Offerman and Richard Armitage. I am an audible believer so I would strongly recommend a membership, but again, it’s only worth it if you do use it. According to my stats I listen to about 15 hours per month. This is a sum of me listening while shelving books, while painting, while commuting etc.
  3. GraphicAudio: The quality of the audiobooks on this is top notch. Their tagline is “a movie inLbvJ3SJ- your mind” which is quite possibly the best descriptor for how their audiobooks are produced. GraphicAudio includes a few free short stories, and has discount codes for sets, or other deals from time to time. The content is by far the most different from all the rest. They have obscure comic books, graphic novels, fantasy series. It’s like entering an entirely different new world. It is a bit pricey and sometimes one can find discounts as I mentioned, but if this is your niche, it’s worth it.
  4. Libro.FM: 51pWEQcAL6L this service while it works with credits similar to Audible will give 100% of the proceeds to an independent bookstore of YOUR choice. You can select your favourite local bookstore near you or one from somewhere around the world. I find this is a wonderful way to show support to your local businesses particularly when times are hard. The selection is not as wide as audible, though it has some books audible doesn’t. Again, this is more of a way to give back and show support.

FREE (Through Library and Public Domain) 

  1. one clickOneClickDigital: This audiobook program is a hybrid of the two above. It is a system connected to the public library. You can download the app on your phone or tablet, or get an online account and connect to it using your library card. It has books that are a mix of new and old but it won’t have brand new releases right away in form of audio. OneClickDigital also has eBooks in addition to eAudiobooks. Because it works through the library system you must “check out” an audiobook meaning, once downloaded, it will remain on your phone for a limited amount of time, as if it was a library book. Nothing stops you from checking it out again. It’s a good balance of book selections and it’s free, so long as you have a library card.od-touch-icon
  2. OverDrive: OverDrive works like OneClickDigital through the public library. I found that OverDrive is connected to more public libraries than OneClickDigital and has wider selections.
  3. Librivox.org: This was my introduction to the audiobook world back in high school. This organization runs on volunteers from all over the world reading and recording books on demand. Because it’s free and volunteer-run, it can only cover books that are in the public domain (not under copyright). It’s basically the ‘project Gutenberg’ of audiobooks. The pros are: free audiobooks. However, the cons are: most books won’t include new releases or even relatively librivoxnew ones (like 10-20 years old), and because it’s a volunteer-run audiobook program, sometimes you will get haptics, coughing, different volumes of recording, static, etc. For instance, some books that are longer like Ulysses will get various volunteers from all over the world and one chapter will sound awful, one will sound great, one will have a lot of background noise, some accents won’t be understandable, etc. I personally liked this ‘con’ because it felt like I was being read to by a friend and I enjoyed those human errors. However, sometimes it’s a bit frustrating like when reading a play because every character is played by a person who is not in the same room and every line is very choppy and has a delay.

Other Resources for Audiobooks:

Pay/Digital:

  • iTunes
  • HooplaDigital

Pay/Physical

  • Bookstores like: Chapters/Indigo (Canada), Barnes and Noble (US), Blackwells (UK) have physical CDs.
  • Used bookstores like BMV often have discounted prices for the same CDs only they are of older books.

Free Digital:

  • Typing “audiobook” on YouTube often leads to free chapters
  • Tor.com often has free audiobooks for individual short stories featured on their website. These are most likely to be Science Fiction and Fantasy.
  • OpenCulture has over 900 free audiobooks in various formats, but like librivox they are in the public domain and can only have books out of copyright
  • Escape Pod – Science Fiction podcast with frequent readings

5 Non-Fiction Books About Libraries

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  1. Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles

IMG_20170413_104645In this book Battles covers the history of the library, giving an overview, starting with Alexandria and working his way to present times. This is a great starting point to get a general history of the library and readership. Battles takes into account Chinese and Middle-Eastern approaches to librarianship in history though it is mostly Euro-centric, particularly in the sections discussing the Medieval period and the Renaissance. I would highly recommend this book  as an introduction to the long history of libraries. To go from Antiquity to Present time in only 222 pages is a lot to cover so he doesn’t go into too much detail. Very pleasant.

  1. Apostles of Culture by Dee Garrison

imagesThis book covers the history of the American Public Library System since its conception post-American Civil War until present times– which for this publication is 1979, missing a rather large portion of the technological advances in the digital revolution. Its main focus is expository from an objective standpoint though it dives into the ideals and theoretical beginnings of the library and contrasts them with what the library eventually has done/become over time. It focuses on the transcendentalist ideals and key figures such as Melvil Dewey, and Andrew Carnegie and their role in the transformation of the library from a private institution to a public one. In addition the book explores the role of the librarian both from a gender studies perspectives exploring the collision between men and women in the field, the feminization of the field as well as the librarian’s role moving from imposing censorship to advocating for freedom of information. This book focuses on the public library as we know it today as it was begun by the United States in the mid-1800s.

  1. Part of Our Lives by Wayne A. Wiegand

51buX+n-NnL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_This book covers the history of the American Public Library as well, like Garrison’s book, but it’s published in 2015 so it incorporates newer concepts and does a much more detailed job. What makes Part of Our Lives different from Apostles of Culture is that it uses many anecdotes. Wiegand interviewed many people who had experienced the library and uses the anecdotes to draw conclusions on American Public Library history. It’s not as history-heavy as Garrison’s book, but the anecdotes bring history to life. Wiegand wrote a lot on librarianship history. He also wrote a book focusing on Lewis Sinclair’s library mentioned in Main Street and looks at four small town libraries and argues that although people claim the library to be the pillar of democratic culture of an entire country, libraries actually cater to each individual town locally, and each individual community. Wiegand contextualizes the library within specific communities and shows how they specifically adhere to local rules that are negotiable and adaptable rather than broad and nation-wide. He published that book in 2011 and it’s titled Main Street Public Library.

  1. The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

IMG_20170413_104654IMG_20170413_105347More famously known for A History of Reading, Manguel focuses on readership histories and reading patterns in a lot of his published works. In this one he focuses on library history, but more on the library as an idea. For instance he examines how the library exists in our society as order, as space, as power, as shadow, as mind, as imagination, or identity (among others). It’s an easy and pleasant read. Unlike Dee Garrison’s book this is not as academic heavy. Manguel takes into account non-Western libraries and explores readership practices in other parts of the world as well. It’s more inclusive than books 1-3 mentioned above.

  1. The Library Book (2012)IMG_20170413_104638

This is a tiny book and contains 23 essays written by different authors. Each author discusses in a brief non-fiction essay what books as print culture or the library as space means to them on a personal level. They contextualize the library into their history as they were growing into the authors they became today. Authors include Lionel Shriver, Stephen Fry, Zadie Smith, Kate Mosse, China Miéville, Caitlin Moran, and Tom Holland, among others. Its main goal as the foreword suggests is to celebrate libraries. This is an easy read, it’s pleasant, and it’s the least academic form the five listed.

BONUS: Essay by Neil Gaiman (the first in The View from the Cheap Seats) Called “Why our future depends on libraries, reading, and daydreaming.”

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Peter Darling | A Book Review

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When it comes to analyzing Peter and Wendy, Peter is often interpreted as Wendy; the two characters being one and the same. Peter is seen as a symbolic or metaphorical way of dealing with issues regarding adulthood and growing up.  Wendy herself is forced to by her father, and she approaches this dilemma by escaping mentally to a separate space where she can work out her issues. In the original play the actor playing Wendy’s father would also play Hook as a continuation of the ongoing confrontation. Although there can be much read through a Freudian lens, a practical explanation is that the two characters never meet and so it would be an efficient use of the actor, rather than hiring another one. However, I much prefer the former. Jen Campbell discusses this in more detail on her YouTube channel (certainly worth watching).

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Front cover designed by Natasha Snow

I am a huge Peter Pan fan, and as a result have watched almost every possible adaptation, and am working my way through reading retellings. Austin Chant’s Peter Darling is by far one of my favourite retellings. In his novel Chant shows how Peter and Wendy are one and the same. Peter Pan returns to Neverland as a grown man after he had chosen to grow up ten years prior, back in London, as Wendy. Chant captures the voices of the Lost Boys particularly well, (the dialogue is absolutely perfect) and most importantly he captures the spirit of Neverland. I have read some retellings that lost the essence of those characters while trying to achieve a different goal through plot, but Chant kept them all in tact as if Barrie is just continuing on. I loved how well-preserved they are through dialogue and interactions.

Chant writes the character as Peter as a trans individual who had been born Wendy. This new added dimension told through the metaphor that exists in Peter Pan is one of the best ways to create a means by which anyone can begin to listen, and understand the trans narrative. Chant adds a layer of depth to these characters that deals with identity, losing and finding oneself, and struggle for power and asserting oneself in places that were theirs to begin with (in Peter’s case: Neverland). Here are some examples of dialogue that stuck with me:

[Ernest:] I knew…I was different somehow…I had to get away from my family. They kept saying there was something wrong with me. In Neverland, nobody cares about that. You can be free.”

“I know what you mean,” Peter said without thinking (page 30)

“It hit him again that his skin didn’t belong to him, that he was a puppeteer moving a stranger’s body. That was playing a character, while the real, lonely, frightened Peter was buried inside him…. I’m here to fight. I’m a boy.” (page 47)

This Peter Pan however, is very pro-fighting and pro-war. He arrives in Neverland driven to take his place back as leader almost immediately, and wants to fight the pirates even though there has been a ten year peace treaty on the island. He sees pirates as one dimensional and is constantly in the mood for a fight. My interpretation is that this is a result of years spent among regular people and growing up back in London. Before Pan was a playful fighter whereas now he just wants to fight with an anger-driven passion.

There is a romantic/sexual dynamic between Hook and Pan which others find distracting, based on some reviews I browsed, however, I thought it worked really well with this retelling. I didn’t know I’d love that but I did. I always thought there was a strange sort of tension or sexual energy between Hook and Wendy (even more apparent in film adaptations like Hogan’s), and if Wendy is Peter, then it makes perfect sense.

The author, Austin Chant, identifies himself as “a bitter millennial, decent chef, and a queer, trans writer of romance and speculative fiction.” He co-hosts the Hopeless Romantic, a podcast dedicated to LGBTQIA love stories, and the art of writing romance. I look forward to his next books, and I recommend this one to anyone who enjoys retellings, Peter Pan, or just wants to look at Pan from a different angle.

The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found | Book Review

“When a ship sinks, it becomes a time capsule”

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Front Cover to the Hardcover Copy, top right image/illustration taken from Daniel Defoe’s history of Pirates

I received The Whydah, A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked & Found by Martin W. Sandler from Early Reviewers on LibraryThing. This book is printed by Candlewick Press and is part of the Junior Library Guild Selection. Although it’s intended for children (ages 8-14 or “middle grade”) I found this book fascinating and very informative. It revived the love I used to have for this topic and I read it in one sitting. Pirates have fascinated me for so long and I know that 14 year-old me would have loved to have this book. Mentions of “pieces of eight,” and The Pearl, brought back good memories, and just in time for the fifth film which came out this summer (though a different Pearl, it’s the ambiance that matters). I would recommend that every school library for 6th to 8th graders get a copy of this book. For that matter, I would recommend it for high school libraries as well.

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Map of Caribbean

Sandler has woven a beautiful timeline of the Whydah in this book. By focusing on one ship he dives into the details of every aspect of piracy. He begins by following our main Captain pirate: Samuel Bellamy, to whom he refers to as Robin Hood of the seas, and the history of the ship he hijacks: The Whydah. He reminds the reader that this was a time of unrestrained murder, robbery, and kidnapping and that the true stories of pirate cruelty shocked the population throughout the 1700s. He explains the Articles of Agreement (among pirates) from the notorious pirate Captain Bartholomew Roberts, and my personal favourite fun fact that the “Jolly Roger” is the name of the flag for pirates not a ship’s name (though we may know it as such because of Treasure Island and Peter and Wendy). The history of the “Jolly Roger” is fascinating and he explains why and how the flag got its name. Sandler also goes into the details of torture methods on board, punishments, as well as the good parts of pirate atmosphere on the ship such as theatrical sketches put together by the crew, and facing the wrath of the sea as well as critical weather conditions (i.e. storms, wind etc.)

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Blackbeard

The second half of the book focuses on the wreck of the Whydah and the importance of each artifact which was retrieved in 1984. The Whydah was the first sunken pirate ship ever to be found and excavated, and these findings validated what were before just stories. I guess dead men tell some tales!

The details of each artifact, its history, and importance are absolutely fascinating and throughout Sandler debunks many pirate myths.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves the history of ‘Pirates’ and ‘Piracy.’ The book is so beautiful, it has many illustrations, and (perhaps this is just my copy) the newly printed copy smells amazing. Again, this is aimed at a younger audience, but as an adult I got a lot from it, and it delivered what its title promised it would. Lastly, on a personal note, it revived my love and passion for Pirate History.

The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs | Book Review

“I do not go walking with the purpose of staying within a world of perfect safety and comfort. Personally, I would rather die walking than die of boredom reading about how to walk safely.” –Tristan Gooley, xi

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I don’t remember how I came across Tristan Gooley. It must have been through YouTube or an online reference, but somehow I was led to buy this book and his second work on Kindle. I’ve always wanted to be able to navigate through the natural realm and know exactly where I’m going. This idea kept coming back every time I remembered My Side of the Mountain, Hatchet, Robinson Crusoe, John Locke’s character on LOST, or Ron Swanson of Parks and Rec. I re-read Walden a few times and enjoyed that Nature-savvy protagonist so much and realized that as much as I like hearing about nature and surviving in it, I myself know nothing about it. I knew how to use several teas and herbs, some essential oils, but that’s pretty much it. The trigger was reading Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer where for the first time I realized that my idealized and romanticized notion of nature has a dark side. So I turned to Gooley.

lost artThis book is a ‘how-to’ manual but told with the storytelling skills of Thoreau. He takes breaks through the instructions to share anecdotes or personal stories of how that specific skill has helped him in navigating or explains how it would have come in handy to know before. Some of his stories really keep you on the edge of your seat.

“Sense and thought, observation and deduction, this simple two-step process is the key to transforming a walk from mind-numbing to synapse-tingling.”

The first four chapters focus on getting grounded and sorted (the latter used in this book as an acronym: Shape Overall character Routes Tracks Edges Detail). He discusses the ground, soil, trees, and plants as ways to find your bearings during the day. Chapters 5 and 6 focus on Mosses, Algae, Fungi, and Lichens (my personal favourite) as well as rocks and wildflowers (to a botanist or geologist this may be elementary but here we are learning how to navigate using clues from them). Lastly, chapters 7 through 11 focus on navigating the sky and weather. He writes about constellations to look out for, alignments, the sun, moon, and general sky details that can help you navigate if you are lost at night.

After reading this I found myself sounding like a know-it-all scout:

“did you know that grey soil is usually wetter than the red to yellow shades and is often a symptom of leaching?”

“did you know that where there is limestone we also sometimes find holes, caves, and stone pillars?”

This book made me feel like Sherlock Holmes outside. And here is where things get interesting. What makes Gooley different for me, is that he takes into consideration the things we have like GPS, and the metropolis, and synthesizes the two with nature. This way you don’t feel like you’re reading an 1800s manual, rather it feels very present and in tune with our days, our hobbies, and the tools we have at our disposal. For instance, chapter one begins with the explanation of smelling smoke on a cold morning (in the city!). I always thought something was on fire, but Gooley then explains that it’s the effect of temperature inversion and that “the smoke from factories and home fires gets trapped near the ground and spreads along under the warmer layer, giving the air a musty whiff of smoke.”

This book for me is a solid 5 stars in the non-fiction realm because it delivers what it promises in the title and it’s told with such great skill. There are sprinkles of science (i.e. Latin Linnaean terminology and classification) but it’s carefully placed among many practical, ‘how-to’ passages, and personal anecdotes. Gooley has five other books out: The Natural Navigator, The Natural Explorer, How to Connect with Nature, The Walker’s Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs and How to Read Water.

The book is printed by The Experiment in New York, and the illustrations within the book as well as the front cover are done by Neil Gower. Gooley can be found at naturalnavigator.com

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Book Covers for Gooley’s works with the exception of The Walker’s Guide.