45

2015 TBR Pile Challenge – I’m Game.

When I’m not complaining about how many books I haven’t read this year, I lament the fact that there are still so many books on my TBR list.

So while I don’t normally participate in blogger challenges, maybe it’s time that I do to try and clear some of the TBR backlog – you know, those books that have been on the list or the shelves for YEARS.

Oh you don’t have this problem? You sir/madam, are a liar.

Amanda and Holly at Gun in Act One inspired me to participate in the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge as hosted by Roof Beam Reader:

In a nutshell, I’m going to put together this list of 12 books I’ve been meaning to read for at least a year (with two alternates if I so choose) and then I’m going to do my best to actually read (and review) them in 2015.

Apparently just setting a reading goal wasn’t enough to make me nuts. Although instead of just competing with myself, I’m competing with other book nerds (and I say nerds with love) for a $50 gift card to Amazon.com or The Book Depository.

  1. Night Film by Marisha Pessl (2013)
  2. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
  3. A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead (2011)
  4. White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000)
  5. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (2013)
  6. East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)
  7. The Silent Wife by A.S.A Harrison (2013)
  8. Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin (2011)
  9. Happier At Home by Gretchen Rubin (2012)
  10. Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing up With a Gay Dad by Alison Wearing (2013)
  11. The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (2012)
  12. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (1859)

Alternates:

  1. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (2013)
  2. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922)

Well there we have it. A sense of calm has come over me. This seems doable AND will go a ways to clearing some of the bookish backlog that currently clogs my head. I have ready access to at least 6 of those. And I have no issue bringing 6 more books home.

I’m looking forward to 2015 already!

if you need me, I'll be over here, reading.

if you need me, I’ll be over here, reading.

10

First Person Narrative Fatigue

I’m finally tackling Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth after having it in my possession for a couple of years at least. Maybe tackling is the wrong word – that makes it sound like it’s a beast of a book and it’s not. I think it’s more that it’s a classic, written a certain way about a certain time and sometimes that makes these kinds of books seem intimidating.

So far I love it. But this isn’t meant to be a post about The House of Mirth. This is meant to be about the first person narrative and my struggles with it recently.

Before starting on The House of Mirth I read The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler and before that I read Here I Go Again by Jen Lancaster. Both books were first person narratives and The Goldfinch was as well. I’m not sure if I’m suffering from first person narrative fatigue because I’ve been reading it a lot recently, or if I’ve just decided I don’t like first person narrative anymore?

I used to love it. It used to bring me right into the story, like I was the one living it. I liked knowing everything that was going on in the narrator’s head, enjoyed trying to puzzle out what was happening with other people.

But my recent narrators have not made it easy on me. The Goldfinch’s Theo Decker makes some seriously poor choices and while that’s obviously good for the story, it can be frustrating to find yourself silently screaming at a narrator to not make bad choices, knowing the whole time that that’s the only way this is going to go.

jen lancasterHere I Go Again’s Lissy Ryder is a cow. She’s judgemental, mean spirited and a bully. This is totally the point of the story and I knew that I was going along for a ride of self discovery, that eventually she would see the error of her ways and become a less awful person. I just wasn’t prepared for it to take so long and for it to be so shallow. I felt like the first person narrative, while a trademark of Jen Lancaster books, meant that the journey was really heavy handed, like everything had to be explained instead of shown.

bookstoreThe Bookstore’s Esme Garland, however (bonus points for a great character name), doesn’t have a mean bone in her body and despite the fact that she’s academically brilliant (she’s an art history PhD candidate), when it comes to relationships she’s really stupid. Esme gets involved with a New York City playboy, an eligible bachelor with the American pedigree that means he’s always been able to do what he wants. When she gets pregnant after a few weeks of what he thought of as a casual fling, she ends up letting him walk away from her before taking him back, letting him make a fool of her, wanting to take him back, ending up alone in New York City with a baby. I found it almost painful to be a witness to her play by play waffling, never quite owning any decision she makes. Even the fact that most of the book takes place in a charming little independent bookstore held little charm for me. I found the bookstore characters to be straight from a bookish central casting and Esme’s inability to look beyond herself meant we never got to know any of them properly.

By the time I jumped into The House of Mirth and was introduced to Miss Lily Bart who, despite the fact that she’s an unmarried woman with no means of independence, wants more out of life on her own terms, well I was more than ready for a heroine who doesn’t think she has all the answers but who is willing to forge ahead anyway. I’m also appreciating getting into the heads of all the characters, not just the main one.

What do you think? First person narrative fatigue or have I matured beyond a first person narrative completely? Do you like a first person narrative?

8

The (Temporary) End of My Library Run

For the first time in months, I have no library books in my possession.

This isn’t because I’ve fallen out of love with the library or anything like that. No, no. It’s because I’ve been so caught up in the library and all of the reading treasures housed within that I’ve been neglecting all of the beautiful books awaiting my attention in my own library!

As some of you may know, I’m currently under a self-imposed (and flexible) book ban. It’s not a permanent thing. I haven’t lost my mind and decided not to buy books ever again. I haven’t decided to categorize books as clutter. Nothing like that; I have a wedding to pay for and books ain’t cheap. So I started going to the library to save money. And instead of exercising anything remotely resembling bookish self restraint, I started taking home 7 or 8 books every few weeks.

But they have to be back at the library in a few weeks. So even though I could renew them (and occasionally I have), more often than not I just neglect all other books and read the library books.

Result: my own books are screaming for my attention.

I’m taking a hiatus from the library until I make a dent in some of my own book piles.

So what is awaiting my attention? Read on!

For Christmas I got four beautiful books and I’ve only read one of them so far (Burial Rites). Night Film by Marisha Pessl, The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial That Shocked A Country by Charlotte Gray and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt are all still waiting to be read (and hopefully loved). And yes, I realize that all the books I asked for for Christmas had to do with death. I’m probably less disturbed by that than I should be.

I buy classics because I love them and usually they are on some kind of sale. Mostly love but if I can get more books for the same amount of money, so much the better. But reading classics can be a commitment and I get distracted by shiny new reads a lot. War and Peace is still sitting on my shelf, waiting for round two. I’ve made an attempt at Nicholas Nickleby once as well (but as travel reading when it was so not appropriate travel reading) so that needs another go. And The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I loved The Age of Innocence and I know I will likely enjoy this one too but again – new and shiny.

Last year I read quite a lot of non-fiction. And yet? I didn’t get to all the non- fiction books that I bought. After I saw Lincoln last year, I meant to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals but I have yet to do so. I also have a book about Amsterdam that I impulsively bought because I always buy books about Amsterdam or the Netherlands when I see them as they are so rare. I’m in the middle of The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel so that’s progress (so far it’s also insanely interesting and horrifying) but I have yet to crack From Splendor to Revolution, Julia P. Gelardi’s account of the Romanov women from 1847-1928. By all accounts, I will love this book. One of my very favourite biographies was Gelardi’s Born to Rule: Five Reigning Consorts, Granddaughters of Queen Victoria.

So for now, although the library calls out to me with the promise of all kinds of undiscovered riches, I’m going to try and resist so that I can make my way through my own books.

But like I say, I’m pretty flexible with these things.

4

Fangirling Over Eleanor Catton

I think I’m in love with a new author and I haven’t even read any of her work.

By now you must have heard that this year’s Man Booker Prize went to New Zealand author Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries.

At first I was struck by the fact that she’s the same age as me. Then there was that moment of “She’s my age and she’s written an award winning book and I’m just happy to get through my work day.” A kind of pity party really.

Then I started reading snippets about her and she sounded pretty interesting. Then I read this interview (if you have a few minutes, you should read it too, it is excellent) and I fell in love.

She’s effing brilliant. She’s intelligent and eloquent (probably not surprising for a writer) and human – I so identified with the sleeping in last night’s make up! That’s such a 20-something thing to do really. So she’s this brilliant, normal, well-spoken individual and she’s written this book that sounds really good.

I’ve seen the book around. It has a beautiful cover and that will always make me stop and take notice. People are talking about the length of the book as a detractor – 832 pages. But book length has never deterred me (except when I think about trying to read War and Peace for the second time but all the way through this time). The narrative structure of this one intrigues me – 12 sections split according to the signs of the zodiac and each chapter is half the length of the previous one – but I’m often wary of things that don’t follow the norm.

Because despite being 28 chronologically, I’m really 80.

I think I will jump into this one and make a go of it, if only because I’m so impressed with Catton as a human being. I love that she called out old men for being judgmental of her work and her age, and the media for asking female writers what they feel instead of what they think.

I’m not sure that I have ever actively sought out a Man Booker prize winning book before. But then, there’s a first time for everything.

Here’s hoping my fangirling pays off.

5

Gold

Reading books about bad things happening to people makes me uncomfortable.

When I say bad things, I generally mean illness. I’ve mentioned more than once that I read a lot of crime fiction and by their very definition, they are full of bad things happening to people. But they are of the dead bodies/sexual assault variety and for some reason, that doesn’t bother me. That’s probably subject matter for a whole different kind of post…

But when you make me read books about illness, and cancer in particular, I almost can’t handle it.

The first book we ever read in our book club was So Much For That by Lionel Shriver, which is about a man and what happens to his dreams (and his savings) when his wife gets a really nasty form of cancer, mesothelioma. The book was mainly a commentary on the American healthcare system (or lack thereof) but it was also very graphic. If you’ve ever read any Lionel Shriver books you will know that she’s no shrinking violet – she tells it like it is. She has a talent for making you uncomfortable but she always has a reason for doing it.

I think the reason I hate reading about illness is that it scares the sh*t out of me in real life and that by reading about it, I’m tempting fate. It’s the same with tv – if Breaking Bad was mostly about cancer and less about cooking meth, I wouldn’t be able to watch.

I’m totally superstitious in some ways!

Basically what I’m trying to tell you is that I do my best to stay away from books about illness.

Except that Gold by Chris Cleave has been on my TBR list for so long, I kind of forgot what it was about and just grabbed it when I saw it at the library.

20131008-203207.jpg

Gold is the story of Kate and Zoe, British cyclists and best friends (in the most uneasy sense of that term), aiming for gold (duh) at the London 2012 Olympics. They have been rivals for more than a decade, racing and trying to get the best of each other while falling into an uneasy and insanely complicated friendship.

So where’s the illness? Well in between the training and the protein powers and the low resting heart rates there is Kate’s daughter Sophie. Eight, obsessed with Star Wars and battling leukaemia. Kate and Zoe are battling their bodies to reach that pinnacle of endurance, the Olympics, while Sophie battles her body for her life.

And it’s heartbreaking because this isn’t a terribly unique story is it? But there’s something so heightened about this fight. Each character tells his or her own story (in addition to Zoe, Kate and Sophie we meet the girls’ coach Tom and Kate’s husband, Jack) and through their stories we start to understand why each is the way they are. Why Zoe has to win at any cost. Why 2012 is Kate’s last chance for gold. Why Sophie’s survival matters to all of them.

At this point, I haven’t finished reading the book. I’m kind of afraid to. So Much For That didn’t have a happy ending – well not in the traditional sense anyway. I will finish reading it, probably tonight. But right now I’m happy to leave them in limbo, when Kate is still racing for gold and Sophie is still hanging on.

Here’s hoping for a happy ending this time.

18

I’m Like Eeyore with Books

I’ve been looking at the lists of books that might be coming out this Fall (you know, in preparation for my Christmas list) and I’m not getting excited. And not being excited about books that are coming out this fall is bumming me out.

I always get excited for Fall book releases – there always seem to be oodles of them that I want to read and love and force on other people and so far, looking ahead this season, I’m not feeling it. I can usually count on at least one of my favourite authors to have something new coming out. Yes, I liked Eat, Pray, Love and I thought that Committed was an interesting read but is Elizabeth Gilbert one of my favourite authors? Probably not? If she’s your thing though, she does have a new book that just came out, The Signature of All Things. And it’s a novel this time.

There are few genres that I don’t read. One of them is horror. I can’t. I will not sleep for weeks and be haunted forever after by that sh*t. I just can’t. So while my other half is pretty damn excited about the new Stephen King book, I am not. At all. I didn’t see The Shining, I never read it and I’m not likely to jump on that bandwagon now, even if it is a long-awaited sequel to The Shining, since I like to sleep nightmare-less sleep and also because it will soon be dark when I’m walking home from the bus and I don’t want to be imagining all kinds of creepy shadows out to get me. If Stephen King is your thing though, you should probably look into getting Doctor Sleep.

I might have to surrender my Canadian passport for admitting this next one but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway: I’ve never read any Margaret Atwood and don’t plan to. I know. I don’t even know why this is the case. Obviously we’ve discussed that I don’t have a particular love of Canadian fiction in general and since Margaret Atwood is probably the Queen of Canadian Fiction, I’ve thrown her in with the lot. She has that new book out, Maddaddam, that’s the finale in her post-apocalyptic series and people are excited. I am not one of those people. I don’t like post-apocalyptic stuff either.

Have I bummed you out? I’m sorry. I’m bummed too. I guess I’ve been thoroughly spoiled in the past few years with a glut of great new titles by favourite authors.

Are there books that you are eagerly anticipating this fall?

 

5

Escape from Camp 14

I just finished a really horrible book.

Let me be clear – it had nothing to do with the writing. The writing was great. It was horrible because it was true and the truth was horrible. And ongoing.

The book in question is Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West.

So you know when you read books about concentration camps you are sad and revolted and then you finish and think to yourself at least that atrocious stuff is over? In this case, the atrocious stuff still happens.

I’m getting ahead of myself. In the book we meet Shin, who as far as we know is one of only three people that have escaped from these camps that they have in North Korea. What makes Shin unique is that he was born and raised in this camp. His parents were married to each other as a reward for hard work and he was the result of that union. He never found out why his mother was in the camp but his father was paying the price for having defector brothers.

Life inside the camp was brutal. Executions were common, starvation was par for the course, and prisoners learned to rat on each other for self-preservation. Shin’s body is covered in the scars from his brutal treatment: he was held over a fire so that his skin started to burn, and part of one of his fingers was cut off.

If he didn’t reach his work quota, he was beaten. He was able to go to school but learned only rudimentary counting and very basic language. He once watched his teacher beat a classmate to death. He was always starving – before he was allowed to go to school he would stay alone in his house all day and eat his lunch and his mother’s lunch. Then she would come home and beat him. His mother and brother were executed in front of him for planning to escape.

He lived this way his whole life until he was assigned to teach a new prisoner how to do his job in the garment factory where he worked. Then he began to hear about this outside world, about all the food that was available to anyone who could buy it. The idea of all this food out there ended up being the reason he planned with this man to escape. Before, he would have told the guards if someone was planning to escape to get extra food or not to get beaten. But now, he wanted to get out.

Despite all the odds, Shin does make it out of the camp. He made it all the way to the West which is how we are able to read his story today. The second half of the book takes you through Shin attempting to adjust to life outside of the camp and for the most part, failing at it. I think we all take for granted the fact that we can relate to other people, that we understand that telling the truth is right, what it means to love another person. Shin didn’t have any of that growing up.

It’s a heartbreaking book, made so much worse by the knowledge that this is still happening. Shin escaped in 2005, the book was published in 2012. It is current and up to date and still happening.

For more information on the horrors in North Korea, click here.