21

Books and Places: The Tag

Chelsea @ Chels and a Book tagged me to participate in the Books and Places tag. The idea is that you pick ten books and then tell the story behind where you read the book. This tag couldn’t have come at a better time actually, since I knew I needed to post something but had no idea what to post since I’m still reading Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. So thanks Chelsea!

When I was reading Chelsea’s post I was struck by just how well she knew the stories behind when and where she read her books. I wasn’t sure that I could do the same thing for the books sitting on my shelves. But then I went over to pick the books for this post and was surprised by how many books do have a story attached to them for me. Here are the stories of my books.

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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. If you’ve been around here for any length of time you know this is my absolute favourite. I’ve read it I don’t know how many times at this point. But I do remember one time, when I was in the Netherlands for the summer visiting my father. He lives on a farm in a village and he and my stepmother worked all summer. I didn’t really have anything to do and I’d only brought 3 or 4 books. I’d already read whatever chicken soup for the teenaged soul I was reading at the time and I think I also brought Candace Bushnell’s 4 Blondes and something else. Pride and Prejudice was the only book I could read over. I read that book many times that summer. I would sit outside in the (weak Dutch) sun on the picnic table, finish the book, sit and think about it for a minute and turn it over and start again. All summer. When a book is a companion like that, you never get over it.

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster. A friend messaged me on Facebook to say she had just read this book and she thought I would love it. That the author’s voice kind of reminded her of me. I was intrigued and basically ran right out and got it. I ended up running a bath and reading it in the tub. I was giggling in the tub within minutes and didn’t stop the whole time I was reading this book. It was the first time I’d ever read any non-fiction that was funny and I didn’t know that that was allowed to be a thing! Lancaster’s footnotes in this book are legendary, running the gamut from “fucking loser” and “Yes. She finally ended it last month. Whore.” to See? I’m not a total shrew.” This whole book is a profanity-laced delight and I loved it. Lancaster and I are very different people but I appreciate her so so much.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi (and Curt Gentry). I credit this book with introducing me to my husband. I was reading this book when I met him and talked to him about the failed police investigation. He’s a police officer and he said later that it was refreshing to talk to a girl who didn’t ask him if he’d ever shot his gun. I went home and spent the whole next day in bed reading this book waiting for a text from a certain red-head. We almost had a table called Helter Skelter at our wedding but didn’t know who to seat at it…

Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger. This is my favourite book of hers, even over The Devil Wears Prada. Possibly because of the reading experience that went along with it. I had just started working at a bank, my first grown up job. And on my lunch breaks, I would walk over to the bakery down the street which was owned by my friend’s parents. I would get lunch and a brownie – they made the most amazing brownies that had walnuts in them (before these brownies, I never ate brownies that had nuts in them) and were iced with the greatest frosting. I would sit in the back of the cafe with my brownie and read about Bette making her way in PR in Manhattan. To date one of my favourite ways to read.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. About two months after I met my now-husband, I was leaving to study abroad in Amsterdam. He came to the airport to see me off and brought me books because he already knew how much I loved to read. The Poisonwood Bible was one of the books (Marley & Me was another – he was intent on making me cry). No one had warned me about this book! I brought it to Spain with me and read poolside in the blazing hot sun. And then cried my damn eyes out because the book was so sad and I missed this lovely, thoughtful guy so much already.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling. When the Harry Potter books first came out, I thought Harry Potter was the author. I vividly remember Christmas shopping when the first three were out and they were in all the bookstore windows everywhere. The summer that the 4th book came out, I had just got a job working in a fairy store. Yeah – they sold fairy merchandise but it was mostly a base at which to hold fairy birthday parties for kids. The owner wanted me to get familiar with everything they sold and told me to read the Harry Potter books if I hadn’t already. The store was always dead (not a huge market for fairy stuff) so one day I decided to actually read them. I picked The Chamber of Secrets because the first book was only in paperback and I didn’t want to warp the spine if they still wanted to sell it. I spent maybe a half hour leaning over the counter reading it before I realized that I couldn’t start with the second book. I needed to buy these books for myself and read them. And that’s how I came to fall in love with JK Rowling.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Bachman is a more recent read than most of the others on this list. I read it late last year. I hadn’t intended to read it at all but it kept popping up in my life. I probably read most of it on the bus (it is where I do most of my reading) but I finished it late at night in bed with my little night light on so as not to disturb my sleeping husband. As I was nearing the end I was crying so hard but trying to cry silently so as not to wake my husband. I finished it and just lay there with tears streaming down my face, completely devastated by this little book.

The Birth House by Ami McKay. I had a day off from work and school and picked this book up, meaning to just casually read a little of it before getting on with whatever I had planned for my day off. I ended up just sitting in the corner of the couch for hours, devouring it. I only moved to get food or go to the bathroom and by the time my then-boyfriend came home, I had finished it and done nothing about maybe getting dinner started.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin. I brought this book with me to Portland last fall. We had a little bit of down time in the hotel room and I cracked it. But I never seemed to get very far with it while we were in Portland. But then we had a 6+ hour drive back home and it was pouring rain. Pouring. I sat happily tucked in the passenger seat and let Toibin tell me the story of Nora Webster trying to find her way after the death of her husband. There’s nothing better than reading on a road trip, especially with such an absorbing book.

Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. This book is something like 900 pages. Of non-fiction. So there’s no one story of reading it. I toted this beast around with me everywhere while I was reading it and frequently cried on public transportation while I did so. This book can be incredibly difficult to read. It can also be uplifting and hopeful and beautiful. I just remember sitting on the bus, crying all the time when I was reading this. Sometimes they were tears of joy, reading about families who had embraced their children’s differences and other times they were tears of sadness or frustration reading about families that just couldn’t handle them. One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read.

Alright, there you have it. Ten bookish stories. I’m not going to call out anyone specifically, but if you want to do it and you are in need of a post idea, feel free to jump in!

12

Rowling’s Stride: The Silkworm

I recently got to get away from my real life and hide out at my in-laws’ place with a stack of books. The weather was iffy – sometimes it was sunny and I basked in it in all my SPF60 glory, other times it was raining and I hid on the covered porch. But we all know that weather doesn’t really matter when you’re reading.

Last week, Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling released his second book: The Silkworm. This follow up to The Cuckoo’s Calling, last year’s publishing surprise, reunites us with private detective Cormoran Strike and his insanely efficient and capable assistant Robin, as they try and figure out what happened to eccentric writer Owen Quine who has been gone for 10 days. His wife, Leonora, doesn’t want to involve the police because last time she did that and he was just with his girlfriend and he was really upset.

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Here’s what we know in the beginning: Owen Quine’s been missing for 10 days after having a public row with his agent, Elizabeth, in a crowded fancy restaurant about his new manuscript. Elizabeth was sick when she skimmed it and had sent it out to various publishers to get Owen to leave her alone while she was recovering. It’s only when her assistant calls and asks her if she’s read the whole thing that she goes back and sees that it’s basically a thinly veiled, insanely slanderous attack on several prominent members of their community.

And so the witch hunt begins.

Strike isn’t having the same pecuniary difficulties that plagued him in The Cuckoo’s Calling, mainly because of all the publicity he got from solving that case. But we get to know him better as a person, see the relationship between him and Robin take shape, find out more about his past in Afghanistan and watch him struggle with his physical limitations more than we did in the other book.

This book is also way more gruesome than the first one. The whole book is ice and sleet and slush and misery. Leonora isn’t acting the way the wife of a missing author should; Quine’s contemporaries are far more interested in speaking with Strike than people involved in an investigation normally are; and Robin’s relationship with her fiance is hanging on by a thread.

I adore JK Rowling in all forms but I think as Robert Galbraith she might have finally found her new voice. It seems like she finally feels free to just write what she wants, without expectations or comparisons. Cormoran Strike is an excellent character and I love love love reading his stories.

20

The Great Harry Potter Re-Read

I’ve always been a reader. My mom used to read to me every night (thanks Mom!) and once I was able to read for myself, I just started doing that all the time. I loved Anne of Green Gables, the Little House on the Prairie books, got started on the classics young, devoured the Anastasia Krupnik books (the other Lois Lowry books), and was devoted to Kit Pearson.

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As my reading pace increased and I got older, I started dreading the day I would have run out of “children’s” books and have to read boring adult books; at the time there weren’t that many books for readers older than 12 but younger than 30.

Enter Harry Potter. I remember seeing the books everywhere at Christmas after the third book was published – I assumed Harry Potter was the author actually. I didn’t read them until I worked in a fairy store (true story – the shop sold fairy and magic merchandise and held children’s birthday parties; I dressed up as a fairy…we’ll just leave it there ok?) and the owner encouraged me to read them and familiarize myself with them in case people asked questions. The shop was insanely quiet all the time (not a massive market for fairy themed merchandise) so I started reading them at work.

And thus my love for JK Rowling was born.

As the books were published, I would re-read the ones that had come before, to refresh my memory on the story thus far and also, there still weren’t that many non-adult reading options. But once the books stopped coming out, there didn’t seem to be the same impetus to embark on a re-read.

But I missed Harry, Ron, Hermione, the Weasleys and Hogwarts. I’ve been thinking about embarking on The Great Harry Potter Re-Read for a while but there always seems to be a reason not to – these books are not quick reads so they will impact my ability to motor through my ever expanding TBR list. I watched the movies recently though and that solidified it for me: I needed to visit my old friends.

I’m currently making my way through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire which I refer to as the TSN Turning Point – this is the book where everything changes.

Let me just say – these books really hold up over time. They are still hilarious, delightful, full of suspense and captivating plotlines. Having watched the movies I had forgotten how funny the books are – the Weasley twins do not get nearly enough screen time. Even Ron is so hilarious in the books (intentional or not) and it just never quite translated to the screen. I had forgotten how much Snape really does seem to hate Harry – it seems all consuming and kind of unhealthy for a teacher to hate a student that much.

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I’m excited to get through this one and reach the Order of the Phoenix, which is probably my favourite of the bunch. Professor Umbridge is scary as played by Imelda Staunton but I remember her inspiring terror in the book.

I’ve definitely noticed my reading pace suffer as I attempt to juggle two books at once (Harry Potter before bed and at home, other books on my commute) but I kind of think it’s worth it.

It feels good to be back at Hogwarts.

9

Paperback Princess Loves New Paperbacks!

I really do. I’m not sure when I started holding out in favour of paperbacks (probably around the time when I realized that being an adult is expensive!) but that’s my general MO these days.

So it delights me to be able to bring you all a list of fabulous books that have recently been turned into ready-to-love paperbacks. You know, so that you can start filling up your beach bags and lake totes with great books. So that when you are planning a picnic, you will have a list of books that you can stash in your basket.

I’ve been tricked before by news that the paperback version of Gone Girl was going to be released shortly. But now I’ve seen it with my own two eyes so it’s official. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is finally in paperback. Just in time for those of you that still haven’t read it to get to it before the movie’s release this fall. Seriously though, read this book.

The follow up to the JK Rowling-as-Robert-Galbraith penned The Cuckoo’s Calling is coming out this June. For those of you that can’t read The Silkworm until you’ve been introduced to Cormoran Strike properly, get thee to a bookstore for a copy of the freshly printed paperback!

The other day I waxed poetic about the perfection of the Paris: The Novel paperback and mentioned that Edward Rutherfurd’s previous city novels didn’t share this flawlessness. But then I went to the bookstore and lo and behold! Perfect paperbacks of London, New York and Russka. So if you’re in the market for that most perfect paperback but didn’t think Paris was your style? Now you have no excuse.

Remember how I loved The Circle by Dave Eggers? I thought it was a most excellent imagining of what could happen to the world if we’re not careful with the direction that social media is taking. It was a big ol’ beast of a book though so I can’t blame you if you wanted to wait for a more portable edition. Your time has come.

Finally, Harper Collins has done us the massive favour of publishing Jonas Jonasson’s brand new book, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden in paperback right off the bat. I loved his debut novel The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (so did millions of others around the world) and I’m so very excited to crack this baby. Even though technically I’m on a book buying ban, my other half wasn’t there to see me so it totally doesn’t count.

There you go! A list of paperbacks to inspire some book cravings; you know you want to.

5

Waiting It Out: Paperbacks

I have been waiting all year for the 5th book in the Buckshaw Chronicles to come out in paperback. I started buying the books in paperback and they are so good looking sitting side by side in the same format, that I’m doomed to have to wait it out each time a new volume is released. The fifth book, Speaking from Among the Bones did the paperback thing on Tuesday.

I went on Tuesday to collect a copy for myself. But I couldn’t find it anywhere and since I was on a time crunch, I figured I’d just come back the next day (one of the perks/curses of working near a bookstore – I can always come back the next day). Wednesday found me back in the bookstore searching and searching and searching, circling around the store with zero luck until I happened upon a store employee who took pity on me and helped me out. They did have paperbacks of the book but they were still in the box in the back! 

She went back and minutes later came out with her arms full of brand new, never-been-touched, fresh-out-the-box copies of Speaking from Among the Bones paperbacks. And then I got to choose one.

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Book nerd glory.

Since the season of giving is upon us and some of us really do wait for paperback versions of our favourite books to come out, I thought I would run down a couple of my personal paperback favourites that have just been released.

The Dinner by Herman Koch. I actually already own this in the hardcover format but I see that it has just come out in paperback and that’s excellent news for my book club as this is our next selection. Two brothers and their wives go out for dinner one summer night in Amsterdam to discuss their teenaged sons’ recent activities. Tension runs just below the surface of the meal at a fancy restaurant until the whole thing blows up. I can’t wait to read this again and then get to talk about it. It is twisted and uncomfortable and oh so current.

One of the best books I read this year (and possibly that I’ve ever read), Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. This book is massive and if paperback had been available earlier this year, I might have gone for it. Would have saved myself some neck pain. This book is incredible. Whether you have children or not, this book forces you to take a closer look at what it means to be human. Often it is a tough book to read, I personally had a really hard time with the chapter about children conceived in rape, but I think it’s an incredibly important one.

J.K. Rowling’s fans were heavily divided on The Casual Vacancy but if you were waiting for the paperback version before you got in on the debate, wait no more. I really liked this book – it was different from Harry Potter but that was the whole point. Rowling proved that she is a gifted storyteller no matter the genre and the end? The end was one of the most spectacular endings I’ve ever experienced.

Finally, if you’re on the Buckshaw Chronicles wagon and adore Flavia de Luce (and if you’ve read any of the books, you do), the 6th book (The Dead in their Vaulted Arches) is released (in hardcover, boo) in January. So next fall I will be all over that paperback!

12

JK Rowling and Robert Galbraith

By now we all know that JK Rowling wrote a secret book under the name Robert Galbraith. My fiancé (can I use that word without sounding like a total tool?) read out the news to me from his twitter and I immediately dragged him to the bookstore to find it. We were greeted by a 2-book sized hole on the shelf where the 2 copies of The Cuckoo’s Calling had sat until that morning when store employees were greeted with a line of people who had read the news earlier than me.

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After looking into things a little bit, I realized that I was in for at least a 10-day wait while the publisher set up another print run. But here’s where I got sneaky. I could have ordered it in store from Chapters, or even online via Chapters. I chose bookdepository.com, the UK-based online book retailer. Not only did I get it sooner than the rest of the Lower Mainland, it was also discounted.

Suckers!

In all seriousness, I could not have acted a bigger dork when I picked that book up from the post office.

I believe that I disclosed this when I posted about The Casual Vacancy, but I love JK Rowling. She’s my literary idol. I’m not totally sure how objective I am able to be when it comes to her writing. I really enjoyed The Casual Vacancy! The ending! So many feelings. Obviously, it was not Harry Potter, but I think that was kind of the point.

Anyway. As Robert Galbraith, Rowling had the chance to be judged purely on her (superior) writing talents. And from what I’ve read, reviews were generally positive. However, without the name, the book didn’t sell. Conundrum. (How smug would you be if you were one of the few that had read it when you thought it was just some unknown author?) Then the lawyers talked and we were treated to a surprise Rowling book. The author herself is, understandably, rather piqued about the whole thing. I’m sure she enjoyed the freedom to write without Harry Potter dogging her. I’m not sure we’d have a chance at a second Cormoran Strike (there she goes with those fabulous names again) novel if Rowling hadn’t been unveiled though.

And that. Would be a shame.

So Cormoran Strike is an Afghan war vet who is missing one leg and has started his own private detective business. It’s not going well. His girlfriend has just run out on him, he has no place to live and he can barely afford to pay the temp, Robin, that has shown up for a week’s work.

Then the brother of a dead supermodel shows up asking Strike to look into the mystery surrounding her apparent suicide and things start to look up. The brother agrees to pay double the normal rates and it turns out Robin the temp is not only an admin superstar but she has always secretly dreamed of being a private detective. Given the chance, they’d probably make a formidable team.

We all know that I love crime fiction and this one is excellent example of its genre. Not as twisted or sick as some of the Scandinavians (they are messed up) but it definitely kept me guessing. Rowling really has a knack for creating brilliant characters and she does the same in The Cuckoo’s Calling – even peripheral characters like Robin’s fiancé and Strike’s sister Lucy have backstories and personalities that jump out at you.

I think we’re all just going to have to face the fact that JK Rowling is just a very talented writer, no matter the genre.

4

The Casual Vacancy

The day I got this book felt like one of the days that a new Harry Potter book came out; my sole purpose on Thursday was to get my hands on The Casual Vacancy and then spend my day reading it.

It doesn’t take long to realize that this isn’t Harry Potter. Before any one had the chance to read the book, all the talk about it was that it was full of drugs and sex and swearing! As if, as the holiest of holies, the author of Harry Potter isn’t ever allowed to swear. Well J.K. Rowling definitely thumbed her nose at that idea didn’t she?

The Casual Vacancy is the story of the tiny town of Pagford after the death of council member, Barry Fairbrother, leaves a vacancy on the council. Before he died, Barry was fighting for the rights of the Fields, the low-income part of Pagford that the town has been thinking about cutting loose. That way they don’t have to pay for the needs of the estate, including running the addiction clinic.

That’s the story in a nutshell. But there’s obviously a lot more to it. Rowling is as adept as ever at creating a world that you immerse yourself in, characters that you relate to and despise. And while there were some familiar elements to The Casual Vacancy (the book opens with the news of Barry Fairbrother’s death kind of like Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone opens with the news of the Boy Who Lived for example), overall I would say that it completely stands on its own.

On the outside, Pagford looks like this idyllic place to live. Kind of like the town in Hot Fuzz, before all the people start dying. But once you scratch the surface of Pagford, you become familiar with all of the feuds and the gossip, the drugs and alcohol, the class warfare that ultimately has the power to destroy everything.

Many parts of it were shocking. Probably because for all these years, Rowling has been associated with magic. How is she so familiar with cutting and heroin use and porn? It doesn’t seem like anyone is happy in the village – not in their marriages, friendships or their jobs. Everyone is just trying to get through their days the best way they know how. It felt like a brutally honest microcosm of modern life in a pretty English village.

I was swept up in the story. Once I got to a certain point (and could keep all the characters straight! There are so many!) I couldn’t stop – I had become invested in the outcome. My boyfriend asked me if I was just determined to like it because I worship Rowling, but that’s not it. It’s one of those stories where everyone is connected to each other, a literary Love Actually. But without a warm and fuzzy and perfect ending.

The ending was probably my favourite part. It was so perfect. So neat but completely devastating. Not to give too much away.

All in all I would say that the anticipation was worth it. I wasn’t disappointed. Its such a clear departure from Hogwarts and Muggles that there’s no reason to compare them, allowing The Casual Vacancy to stand on its own merit.