Saturday 29 December 2007

Interesting Novel

Finished December 27
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida
This short novel(226 pages) grabs your attention early and doesn't let go. When Clarissa's father dies, she finds her birth certificate and learns that he wasn't her biological father. Clarissa's mother disappeared when she was 12, so she doesn't have her to turn to. When her fiance, Pankaj, tells her another secret the same day, she feels betrayed by everything she thought was true. She follows the name on her birth certificate to her birthplace in northern Finland to find her birth father. As she gropes towards the truth she meets a Sami priest, an elderly Sami healer, and a young reindeer herder. When she finally learns the truth, she must decide where and how to live her own life. Portions of this story feel very dream-like and I got a sense that fate was leading her towards the truth rather than her own actions. I found Clarissa a very interesting character and one forced to grow up very quickly.

Monday 24 December 2007

Books and Reading

I've always been fascinated by books about books and reading. It is interesting to see what others recommend or prescribe and why. I like the insight into the personality and interests of the author. Also, I love lists. I'm always making them myself, although I don't always stick to them. Here are two books on this topic that I just finished.

Finished December 22
Book Smart: Your Essential Reading List for Becoming a Literary Genius in 365 Days by Jane Mallison
Besides being an avid reader, the author here was the department head of English at New York's Trinity School for more than two decades. Her list is set up by month. Each month has a theme and 10 books that fit that theme. She suggests you read the information she provides about the books and pick one to read that month (not too onerous) or pick a topic that interests you and read all ten (leaving two extra from other topics). The books are thoughtfully chosen and cover both classics and more recent writing. Non-fiction and fiction are included, along with some poetry. She gives historical information where appropriate and sometimes offers additional recommendations on a topic. Some I'd already read, some I've been meaning to read, and some I hadn't even heard of. I would have liked to see more recommendations for further reading and the reasons behind the recommendations. (There are many reasons why one might like a book, and they can lead in many directions.) I have, of course, added to my list!

Finished December 23
Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life by Michael Dirda
This book by noted, and Pulitzer-Prize winning, critic Dirda is a gem. I think that I shall have to get my own personal copy since I've had to return this one to the library. Dirda talks about how books enrich our lives, at work and at home, through good and bad. He includes works for children, basic library lists for those interested in art and music, and books that should be part on one's "interior library" for use when needed. I especially liked the list of books to include in one's guest room (mine is severely lacking in several areas!) and the many quotes he includes from his own commonplace book.
I put his new Classics for Fun on one of my Christmas lists, and know that I've already received it (I was allowed to open a present ahead of time so the giver could be present.) I look forward to it even more eagerly now.

Literary Listen

Finished December 21
The Maytrees by Annie Dillard, performed by David Rasche
This short novel (5 CDs) looks at the Maytree family and their friends. Toby Maytree, a thirty-year-old writer of poetry, falls for Lou Bigelow, just out of college. Their courtship is brief and they spend as much time as possible in a shack on the beach among other artists and writers. Their son Pete is their only child and is often looked after by the Bohemian Deary, who looks after children for many of the Provincetown folk. As Pete grows up, and Lou and Toby's relationship has its highs and lows, we see how they fit into the nature that surrounds them. Lou particularly fascinated me, with her creativity, freedom and beauty that she doesn't recognize in herself.

Friday 21 December 2007

Interesting Memoir

Finished December 20
Another Day in the Frontal Lobe: a brain surgeon exposes life on the inside by Katrina Firlik
This was a very readable and entertaining memoir that kept me interested throughout. Firlik tells the story of her training to be a neurosurgeon (4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 7 years of residency) with humour and insight. Her initial years of college were spent studying anthropology and that knowledge has given her a different outlook for some of her training experiences. She is open with her own feelings and experiences throughout, even to some of the things she regrets. Her discussions include the risk, the routine, the tools, and the emotions as well as a great deal of the actual learning. I learned more about the brain and the spine than I knew and found it all interesting. Dr. Firlik gives credit to her mentors, professors and fellow students as well and shows her dedication to the teamwork necessary to good medicine.
I highly recommend it.

Mystery from a new (to me) author

Finished December 18
Clearcut: Murder in a National Forest by Lynda Douglas
For those who like Nevada Barr, the setting here is along a similar line, but the writing isn't quite as good. Claire and Kyle Evers take a break from their jobs with the Forest Service in Washington state to have a late honeymoon in North Carolina. They have more than a relaxing vacation planned. Claire was born in North Carolina, but only recently discovered the truth about her past and has no memory of her time there as a child. They are also planning to visit with fellow Forest Service Officer Hank Sawyer, whom Kyle did some training with years before, but this doesn't go as planned. Just before they arrive, the bones of a Native American girl are found and the girl's identity, as well as some evidence lead to Hank's arrest for her murder. Kyle gets drawn into the investigation, and Claire's search for family becomes part of the story.

Tuesday 18 December 2007

A classic read (or better yet, listen)

Finished December 17
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, performed by Sissy Spacek
Somehow I missed having to read this classic novel during my school years, and thus listened to it for the first time this past week during my commute. It is wonderful and I see why it has become a classic. The issues are still relevant today and this book deals with them wonderfully. The characters come to life and I truly enjoyed Spacek's performance.
I have now borrowed the DVD and am looking forward to watching it.

Thursday 13 December 2007

Canadian Novel

Finished December 11
The Horseman's Graves by Jacqueline Baker
This novel is set in the rural area of the Sand Hills on the border between Saskatchewan and Alberta. Most of the members of the community are Russian-German and the church is a part of their lives, but farming is what their lives are about. Some of the community has brought prejudices and myths from the old country and that determines how they feel about some of their neighbours.
The Krauss family is one that was known as being mean in the old country and retains that designation in their new home. Their nearest neighbours, the Schoffs, were at first patient, but had less and less to do with the Krauss's as time went on. By the time the next generation had taken over the farms, they didn't talk to each unless necessary. When tragedy visits the Schoffs, culminating in the terrible accident marking their son, the Schoffs withdraw further from the community. The Schoff's hired hand, Lathias, becomes unofficial guardian of the boy, telling him the myths of the new land, and watching out for his welfare. When a young woman, Elizabeth, joins the Krauss household both Lathias and the boy are drawn to her and the three spend time together until another tragedy occurs, this time to Elizabeth. This destructs the Schoff's even further and affects the community as a whole.
A fascinating tale, with strong and deep characters marked by their surroundings.

Thursday 6 December 2007

Historical Fiction Audiobook

Finished December 6
The March by E.L. Doctorow, read by Joe Morton
This historical novel of the U.S. Civil War follows the army of General Sherman after he burned Atlanta in 1864. Sherman himself plays a role here, as do some of his generals and other officers. The other main characters include an army doctor, originally from Germany; a young southern lady left alone after her judge father died; a young "white" slave woman; two rebel soldiers freed from their jail sentences; a young slave boy; a free black photographer, and a mildly injured Union soldier. There are many additional characters that are there for short portions of the book or more peripherally. All of the characters are out of their element, whether soldiers or civilians, southerners or northerners, rebels or union. The civilians have been uprooted from their previous lives, some have been dispossessed of their homes, and the experience they share is told in wonderful prose, and read here beautifully.


Finished December 5
City of Words by Alberto Manguel
This is the 2007 collection of CBC Massey Lectures, and I had listened to one of the lectures (the second one) on Ideas one evening and was interested to read the entire series.
Manguel brings life to famous literary works, both classic and modern, by showing how they relate to the current world and our issues. He shows the relationship between identity and the "other" as it relates to both the literature and our increasingly multicultural society. He discusses the difficulties: race riots, politically-motivated murders, suicide bombings, and hate crimes. The series had me thinking about the issues in new ways and towards new solutions. I found it fascinating.

Wednesday 5 December 2007

Swedish Mystery

Finished December 2
The Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson
This started a bit slow, but got better as it went along. It begins with the murder of a man who had been involved in small-time crime when he was younger, but not for years. He had been unemployed lately and the police take some time to be able to track his final movements. This case becomes intertwined with that of a schizophrenic man who has begun attacking those he thinks have teased him in the past or are not helping him now.
The personal lives of some of the police officers are also brought in, including that of a single officer who is off on maternity leave. The stories are intertwined well and the human emotions are dealt with well. I enjoyed my first read by this author.

Monday 3 December 2007


Finished December 1
The Staircase Letters: An Extraordinary Friendship at the End of Life by Arthur Motyer with Elma Gerwin and Carol Shields
This annotated collection of letters began with Elma. She was friends with both Arthur and Carol and started writing to them, often jointly in the last year of her life once she knew she had brain cancer. Carol had breast cancer and Arthur, although older than both of them, was not ill. He brought the letters together, giving us insight to the two women as well as himself. They also allow us into the inner thoughts of those suffering from cancer and how they deal with that.
I found this short book interesting and inspiring and encourage others to read it.