Books I read for Early Review
Literary Titans Revisited ed. Anne Urbancic
This 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
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
Odd 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
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
I 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
This 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
This 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.
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.
“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.”
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”).
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.
In the month of March I read all the books below (the first at the bottom and the latest at the top). I also read Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services by Carol Kuhlthau but I won’t count it because it was for class and filled with statistics and graphs. The month ended with me reading 456/722 pages (63%) of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, and two short stories from Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation edited and translated by Ken Liu. Those last two will be incorporated in next month’s wrap-up because I have not finished them yet. Though Rothfuss did occupy 1/4 of my time this month so I should acknowledge that in this brief introduction. I foresee a 5 star rating and since I will definitely continue with the series I may do a spotlight on the Kingkiller Chronicles and novella in a separate post.
The Last Interview: Ray Bradbury; interviews by Sam Weller
This series of interviews captures the spirit of Bradbury. All the interviews took place between 2010-2012 and they are all conducted by Sam Weller. I didn’t really like the interviewer as much and sometimes I felt like his block quotes were larger than Bradbury’s. I was more interested in what Bradbury had to say. I wish there was a transcript in there of some of his lectures in his later years. I would also recommend watching a YouTube video of his lecture so you know his tone in his later years, otherwise he (Bradbury) comes across as very self-centered, but if you understand his tone it’s really sweet. I think if I read these before watching him I would have thought he was very full of himself, but having done it the other way around I just smiled and appreciated his words. He also speaks so highly of libraries which is easy to love:
“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” (42).
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Bradbury’s works and wants to know more about his personal life, and the ways in which he got inspired to write Fahrenheit 451, and Something Wicked this Way Comes, as those two works are the most discussed in these interviews. It’s a very quick read and pleasant.
DA: A Journal of the Printing Arts. Number 77. (Fall/Winter 2015)
I received this from one of my favourite grad-school professors who taught me about rare books, readerships, and bookbinding. To celebrate fifty years of being a Press a series of Canadian printers have written several articles within this codex encompassing the history of Coach House Press. This press is closely affiliated with the University of Toronto and has printed several library catalogues for the UofT library system throughout the years, as well as launching famous authors with beautiful editions of their books like the recent award winning Andre Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs. This book covers the Press’s history and its adoption of newer media and ways of printing as well as exploring prominent figures in its history like Alfred H. Howard and his contribution to the city of Toronto by means of his manuscript collection. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in small printing press histories, Toronto-specific history, or this history of printing arts
At the Speed of Light – NewCon Novella by Simon Morden
This novella was sent to me by EarlyReviewers from LibraryThing in exchange for an honest: review.
Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
It’s a good story about parallel universes and it’s exciting. I didn’t like the whole “I was on a path to fulfill my potential as a genius but then my wife got pregnant and everything went to hell.” How many times more will I have to encounter this story line? Also this book was very obviously written for the big screen. It reads like the DaVinci Code and the sentences are short and choppy which makes me very frustrated. It was exciting though, and I’d watch the movie, but as a book it was lacking.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Mark Watney is a botanist astronaut who has gone on an expedition to Mars with a team. Due to unforeseen events the ship had to leave as the team thought he was dead and he is ultimately left alone behind on Mars. The novel follows Watney’s struggle to survive on Mars and communicate with NASA and his team as well as all the various teams on Earth making great efforts to bring him home. I understand that since the film came out the plot is no surprise to anyone and I am perhaps a little late to the party. What I found endearing about this novel was that despite the science-heavy space exploration vocabulary it was a combination of Robinson Crusoe in Space, and the renewal of faith in humanity. Reading about so many people around the world working together to bring one person home was so satisfying and rewarding. In addition, reading about one person being so isolated for so long explores dark corners of the human condition. I wish Weir would have focused more on this. I would have appreciated a chapter from Watney’s perspective on what he was thinking on a daily basis, what the loneliness felt like, what he was experiencing. A break from all the action and science and business for a moment of reflection and spirituality would have added more depth to both Watney and the novel. It’s a little difficult to remember that Watney is away from Earth for 2.5 years, and completely alone on Mars for 565 days (or a year and a half) because the novel focuses only on the actions taken rather than the intense reflective moments that would break the human spirit in such a situation. From time to time I had a hard time believing Watney was hired by NASA for this expedition in the first place because of his attitude. Maybe it’s just me, but I think NASA would make exceptions for only Nobel-prize winning physicists with attitudes but not for botanists with attitude. Even Watney refers to himself as a ‘dorky botanist’ who is not that great compared to anyone else on the team. I believed that people would fight to get him back, I didn’t believe NASA would have sent him in space in the first place because of his attitude. Why would you send a person on a team in an enclosed space for years if he has a hard time getting along with people and following instructions? I definitely wanted to get to know Watney more. His character was not that well flushed out and I’m a little tired of the ‘genius with an attitude’ plotline. The one missing chapter adding depth to his character would have made this books so much better. For once in a long time I can say: the movie was better. Damon added more depth to Watney than Weir did. Sorry, but…it is what it is.
Spinster by Kate Bolick
Kate Bolick can write well and she is intelligent. There are many literary references, and an outline of five great women who have inspired her in her life including three of my favourite female authors: Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Edith Wharton, and two people I learned about for the first time: Neith Boyce and Maeve Brennan. What bothered me was how much of a memoir/autobiography it was. It read like a Carrie Bradshaw rant about herself. I kept thinking that maybe if I cared more about who this author was then this memoir and reading journey would have been more inspiring. I read this at the same time as John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley and the whole time I was hyper-aware that her content is by far more interesting and well-researched, but I didn’t care about her biographical parts as much as I did about Steinbeck. I also wanted this book to be what it promised: a book covering the history and cultural analysis of the spinster. I wanted to know about perception, barriers, how to break them…I wanted to feel inspired. There were several parts when she was discussing biographies of authors that I did feel somewhat inspired, but then it would slowly vanish in the background as Bolick started talking about her life again….the men she dates, the things she does on a daily basis. Lastly, and perhaps this is somewhat shallow but it REALLY bothered me, was that she writes many times about how ugly she was, and how “not like other girls” she was in terms of looks and how she was not desirable. Just google her…or flip the book over. She literally looks like a model for any beauty product. She’s white, tall, thin, beautiful hair……it honestly felt like she was mocking the reader and was fishing for compliments. So if you expect the book to be about what it means to be a spinster, or a social history of it, you will NOT find it here. This book is exclusively about Kate Bolick and 5 authors who were women and who inspired her, and then she tells you why in her life particularly these women were important.
Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
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 instances of simple humour (i.e. getting stopped at the Canadian border for “dog reasons”). I kept thinking that if anyone other than Steinbeck wrote the same travelogue it wouldn’t be that interesting. It’s interesting BECAUSE it’s Steinbeck. 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.