Wednesday 30 November 2016

Read This!

Finished November 23
Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America's Indie Bookstores, introduction by Ann Patchett.

This small book has staff from 25 independent bookstores recommend books. The bookstores are arranged alphabetically and each one has a short description of the bookstore, a short interview with the staff member from the bookstore, a list of their 50 books, and a shorter list of 4 or 5 with more detail on why they picked each of them.
These are followed but a short section of random statistics about the books and bookstores, then a very short description of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE) to whom all royalties from this book go, a blank section for the reader to write in 50 favorite books, and a checklist for which bookstores the reader has visited. I've been to a few independent bookstores in the U.S., but only one of the ones here, and that one I visited earlier this year.
There are lots of great books listed here, and my to-read list has grown as a result. It's fun to see which staff have picked books I've read and liked and then to think about how that may mean their list will provide others I'll like. It's also interesting to see how many books I've never ever heard of before.
This will definitely be a book I refer back to often.

The Best Worst Thing

Finished November 23
The Best Worst Thing by Kathleen Lane

This children's novel follows Maggie, who is just starting middle school. She is also the middle sister in her family, with Polly two years younger and Tana older than her. A lot is changing in her life and she's noticing things she hadn't noticed before, like the rabbits her neighbour keeps in his backyard, and the behaviour of the boy who lives behind her.
Her friendships change as new alliances are made, and she has trouble realizing an old friend isn't really there for her any more, and trouble recognizing a new friend is actually a good thing.
Lots of dealing with the changes that growing up brings, and realizing that some of them are good.
There is a light plot here around what is going on in Maggie's life and how she deals with it, but it isn't a book with a lot of action. More thoughtful.

Monday 21 November 2016

The View from the Cheap Seats

Finished November 18
The View from the Cheap Seats: selected nonfiction by Neil Gaiman, read by the author

This collection ranges over nearly Gaiman's entire career, and is organized into sections. The first section on reading, libraries, and librarians was, naturally, my favourite, but it is interesting overall. There is some repetition when he uses the same experiences in more than one article, introduction, or speech, some of which he recognizes and apologizes for. When it is appropriate, he adds an update on events around the subject that happened since the initial writing was done.
He is a good writer, and he acknowledges those who have influenced him, from other writers to musicians, illustrators, and others.
He talks about or with these people in interviews, introductions to their works, or articles, as well as particular books that he loved or that influenced his life and his writing. Some I'd read, some I'd heard of, and some were entirely new to me. Having him read the book was an extra inducement to listen to the audiobook. He's a good writer, and a good observer, and both those things become obvious in this collection. His love for books also shows here as does the wide range of books he has read.

The Undertaker's Wife

Finished November 17
The Undertaker's Wife: a Memoir: a True Story of Love, Loss, and Laughter in the Unlikeliest of Places by Dee Oliver

This memoir begins with the sudden and unexpected death of Dee's husband Johnnie and moves forward from there, but also takes a look back at how she met and married Johnnie, and how they had their three daughters. It was obviously a strong relationship and the loss was devastating for her.
Dee's children are still young as she loses her husband, and while she had worked at Johnnie's side for years in his family's business, a funeral home in Virginia, she had never taken the courses or done the paperwork to become a funeral director. Determined to carry on what she knew she was good at, she worked, looked after the kids, and took classes. When it came time to do her internship, she naturally went to Johnnie's brother who was now running the funeral home, but he told her he didn't want her working there anymore. While shocked and hurt, Dee was not deterred, and she found another funeral home who would take her on. It was one that was operated by African Americans and largely catered to that demographic. Dee tells us of her experiences in a way that shows her openness and humour.
This memoir is personal, but also portrays an industry that we don't often see.

Monday 14 November 2016

Unfamiliar Fishes

Finished November 15
Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

This history of Hawaii concentrates on the period from the arrival of New England missionaries in 1820 to the questionable annexation in 1898 by the United States. She not only gives the history, bringing the various characters to life for the reader, but also interjects commentary, giving us a sense of her own personality.
There is much here that I didn't know, and knowing the way the descendents of the missionaries, who were welcomed by the islanders, betrayed them only a couple of generations later, is disturbing. There were definitely some issues with the adjustment of the native Hawaiians to the westernized way of life, but considering the length of time over which this happened, they'd done quite a lot to give their own people more say and independence. Initiating a constitutional monarchy and gaining foreign recognition was a huge step in such a short time. Forcing annexation as was done here ignored the will of the people in favor of the power of capitalism and military power.
A sad, but enlightening read.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not giving a F*ck

Finished November 13
The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck: How to Stop Spending Time You Don't Have with People You Don't Like Doing Things You Don't Want to Do by Sarah Knight

This is a book for all of us who feel overwhelmed by life and its demands on us, or as the author says "all of us who work too much, play too little, and never have enough time to devote to the people and things that truly make us happy." A parody of the decluttering book by Marie Kondo, this book deals with mental decluttering and the tidying up of our fuck drawers. The author explains her ah-ha moment in the introduction, and how she went about gradually focusing her time, energy, and money on the things she really cared about and that made her happy. The rest of the book is split into four sections. Each one has tasks or exercises to assist with your changes.
Section 1 deals with the theory, the whys, and defines what the book's aim is. Not Giving a Fuck means taking care of yourself first; allowing yourself to say no; releasing yourself from the worry, anxiety, fear, and guilt associated with saying no; and reducing mental clutter. One of the essentials associated with this is making the change to only give the fucks you really want to give is to do it in such a way that you don't turn into an asshole. One of the biggest hurdles to overcome is to stop giving a fuck about what other people think, and she gives some tips for dealing with that. She explains the method at the heart of the change, which she calls NotSorry. NotSorry combines honesty with politeness to avoid being an asshole. and she advocates the use of a chart to assist with this. She also discusses feelings and opinions and the differentiation. We don't necessarily care about someone's opinions (especially their opinions about us), but we do care (usually) about their feelings and don't want to hurt those. She does talk about those people who won't like this change. She has a nice flow chart to help with deciding on whether to give a fuck or not.

This section ends with a visualization exercise.

Section 2 helps you to decide what to stop giving a fuck about. The first category is the easiest: things. They are easiest because they don't involve other people. They may be inanimate objects or concepts. Some may be things you have no control over (perfect for this list). Ask yourself, does it bring joy or does it annoy. She gives a lot of examples to get you started. The second category is work, and here it is important to remember to not give a fuck about the things you can't control. That should eliminate quite a bit. She has special sections dealing with meetings, conference calls, dress codes, and useless paperwork. She also deals with those calls from co-workers to support their outside interests. The third category is friends, acquaintances, and strangers. This category is all about setting boundaries. She has a section specifically dealing with donations, solicitations and loans. She talks about the usefulness of personal policies in helping to set boundaries. She also includes a section around children and parents. Because this category involves people, she also talks about when it is okay to hurt someone's feelings, which is not often, and most of those involve strangers. The fourth, and most difficult category is family. She discusses the dangers of guilt and outlines the understanding of choice over obligation. In her research, she asked a lot of people and outlines here the six most mentioned things that people don't give a fuck about in terms of families. She discusses shame, holidays, and in-laws. At this point, you consolidate your lists from the 3 categories and physically cross off all those things you will no longer give a fuck about. She warns against some of the dangerous thinking that will still arise.
Section 3 is all about putting the change into action. You've got your list, but now you actually have to change your behaviour. This is when focusing on the time, energy, and money you are gaining for the things you actually care about comes in. She recommends you start with the easy ones and organizes them into levels from easy (yellow) to hardest (red). She talks about honesty and politeness and deals with each category in turn, with a special section around weddings. Here, with the use of charts for honesty and politeness, she shows how to choose the response that meets your need. She also talks about rewarding yourself for making changes. She has a section near the end for frequently asked questions.
The last section talks about how making these changes transforms your life, giving you back time, energy, and money for the things you actually give a fuck about. She shows how making lists showing these gains is helpful for motivation.  She talks about the effect on your body, your mind, and even your soul. She also talks about some things you might actually want to give a fuck about.
I really enjoyed this book, and it has me thinking about some of the things I do in a new light.

Sunday 13 November 2016

Green River Falling

Finished November 8
Green River Falling by R.J. McMillen

I picked up this book after a friend recommended it. It is the third book in a series featuring Dan Connor. I haven't read the first two yet.
Here Dan is planning a much-deserved vacation with his partner Claire. He's taken his boat Dreamspeaker from its usual berth at Campbell River and is now in a small bay off Quadra Island. Claire is supposed to be joining him later that day and then they plan to go up the coast. When a boat comes into the bay toward him, he is surprised as only Claire knew where he was. The RCMP commander Markelson wants him to call him. It turns out there is a situation going on in the north part of the province where workers are being killed. Not only does Markelson want his insight as an undercover member of the team investigating, but his old friend Walker has also asked for his help in something that Markelson believes is related to the case.
Once Claire arrives, the two travel through the Inside Passage up to Prince Rupert, picking up Walker on the way. As they learn more about the circumstances of the victims, the nature of the crimes, and the way the investigators are thinking, Dan knows that he must meet the different players involved and not only get a feel for the personalities, but also bring a different perspectives to the case. While he worries about Claire's safety, and about bringing civilians like Walker into the investigation, he knows he needs them to get to the answers.
I liked the main character, and his partner Claire, and the inclusion of native legends and perspectives in a respectful way. The writing is very good and the plot is a good one. A series well worth reading.
Dan's investigation takes him not only up the Inside Passage and to Prince Rupert, but also to the Haida Gwaii and up Alice Arm. A great setting for a story.

Friday 4 November 2016

The Boy on the Porch

Finished November 3
The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

This children's novel begins with a young couple, John and Marta, living on a farm waking up to find a young boy of about six or seven sleeping in a chair on their porch. He takes a long time to wake up, and when he does, he doesn't seem either able or willing to talk. He does however produce a note from his pocket that says "Please taik kair of Jacob. He is a god good boy. Wil be bak wen we can."
They aren't sure what to do, but offer the boy food, comfort, and other things they can. John asks some questions in town, without disclosing the situation and doesn't hear about any missing children, so they continue to live quietly.
As the days go by, and they learn what interests the boy and what he has aptitude for, they try to do the right things: find him a friend his own age, provide a loving environment, clothe and feed him. But as the new school year approaches, they feel they must make more of an effort to find out who left him and why. They approach the sheriff, a man they find gruff, authoritative, and unsympathetic, and he berates them, but also lets them keep the child for the time being.
Then the unthinkable happens, and they find their lives changed forever.
An interesting premise, and the fallout from the crisis is a story of its own, that is only filled out lightly here. John and Marta seem a good-willed couple that don't have children of their own to nurture and love, and this incident brings them a way to fulfill those needs.

The Rejected Writers' Book Club

Finished November 1
The Rejected Writers' Book Club by Suzanne Kelman, performed by Tanya Eby

This light novel is part of a series of books set in Southlea Bay, a small island in Puget Sound. The main character here is Janet Johnson, local librarian. Janet used to live in California, but she and her husband Martin moved to the island fairly recently. Martin is trying to figure out how to deal with the pesky raccoons that keep getting into their garbage when Janet is asked to come to a meeting of a local club. The Rejected Writers' Book Club is a group of women who have all written books, but have never been accepted for publication. They read from their work and celebrate the receipt of rejection letters, planning a large celebration for 500 letters, which is less than 100 letters away as the book opens.
Janet is also worried about her daughter who lives in San Francisco and is encountering some issues with her first pregnancy.
But then tragedy strikes. One of the women gets an acceptance letter, and is crushed. Not only does this mean she will have to leave the club, but the novel she submitted contains a plot that she borrowed from someone else, and now believes may be a true piece of someone's history. Janet is asked for her assistance, and the group plans a road trip to the publisher's office in San Francisco since Janet is already planning to go there to see her daughter.
As with many road trip novels, many interesting meetings take place, introducing other characters, quirky and helpful, and the group has issues that delay them, from car trouble to weather.
Living in close proximity to each other during this trip, they get to know each better, and bond in ways Janet wouldn't have imagined. She returns home with friends, love, and maybe even a solution to the raccoon problem.