Friday, July 22, 2016

24 in 48!

I feel like this event has snuck up on me. When I first signed up, I thought I would be at my lake with a lot of time for light reading. I hadn't given a further thought to the readathon until now. No longer will be I at my lake, so since I'm stuck in the city, I can't resist sneaking in a few extra Fringe Festival shows. The last month has been a little chaotic for me. I plan to take advantage of this event and spend lots of quiet time snuggling up with some great books. I've been visiting the library a lot - my library TBR pile is growing faster than I can keep up with it. I'll have lots of choices for reading this weekend! I intend to be active on Twitter, with my updates happening there. My goal is 12 hours of reading, with the majority being on Sunday. On Saturday I might see a show around lunch and a show around dinner - then I could read at my favourite library in between. Here are some books I might tackle:

  • Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia A. McKillip - I might finish this one tonight.
  • The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang - The only book I actually own on this list.
  • A Knock on the Door: The Essential History of Residential Schools from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada - Not exactly light reading but something I definitely want to work through. I imagine this should/will be required reading in many Canadian high schools and universities.
  • This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab - I've only read her A Darker Shade of Magic books. Looking forward to this new one!
  • Roses and Rot by Kat Howard - Another new book I've heard a lot of great things about. I love the premise.
  • A Secret Vice by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Dmitri Fimi and Andrew Higgins) - Would have loved to have this book when I wrote a paper for my undergrad about Tolkien's passion for language inventing!
  • Good Medicine: The Art of Ethical Care in Canada by Philip Hebert - I recently read a couple of books about aging and dying. I also spent a lot of time discussing the ethics of assisted suicide when I was doing my ESL teaching practicum. When I came across this title, I thought it would be a good option to round out my reading with a Canadian perspective.
  • The Portable MLIS edited by Ken Haycock and Brooke E. Sheldon - A book I signed out ages ago, to teach and remind of my future career goals :P

Are you participating in 24 in 48? 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Family Reads: Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Born out of a desire to get a family of book lovers to connect more over what they're reading, Family Reads is an occasional feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book. 


Why Dad chose this book: It was in my to read on December 25 (WPF review?) and then it was picked for CBC Books group read for June with a high rating so I wanted to try it, also because it has high aboriginal content which I have a special interest in. I reserved the ebook but I wanted to follow along with the group and didn't want to wait, so I had my bookstore daughter buy it for me.

Dad gives this book 4.5 stars and I give it 4 stars. Here's our thoughts on how this story wasn't boring, 
He wondered how time worked on a person. He wondered how he would look years on and what effect this history would have on him. He'd expected that it might have filled him but all he felt was emptiness and a fear that there would be nothing that could fill that void. (232)
When Dad and I tried to summarize this book to each other, we agreed we would have a hard time convincing someone Medicine Walk isn't as dull as we made it sound. We both enjoyed the steady pacing and the considered prose. I also liked the dialogue, which has a natural cadence and dialect that conveys a stronger sense of character. Wagamese writes in a calm tone while still building anticipation in a tale that doesn't have a lot of hills and valleys. The story fills you with wonder about the questions it proposes without being melodramatic.

At times the plot surprised us. Dad never expected the connection between the old man and Eldon. I didn't expect Eldon's heartbreaking war story or that he didn't try to find his mother. We both struggled to sympathize with certain characters (Dad with Eldon, me with Franklin's mother). Even though a large part of this is Eldon telling his story, it's still hard to understand without having gone through the same experiences. We agreed it can be too easy to judge people. I also thought this was quite a man's story, as Franklin's mother is a key but undeveloped character who has no story of her own. The only named characters are Franklin and Eldon; this is really their story.

As we talked about the book, Dad searched for reviews on his iPad. He thought these descriptions hit the nail on the head:
To be alive is to be vulnerable to the myriad shocks and disappointments of the human condition, but Medicine Walk is also testament to the redemptive power of love and compassion. (Globe and Mail)
For Frank, a “hunt was a process.” And so is the way Wagamese pursues his story: biding his time, never rushing, calibrating each word so carefully that he too never seems to waste a shot. But he isn’t after the kill. Rather, it’s something more complicated — finding a way to honor or at least acknowledge a life ill-lived as it enters its final bitter days. (NYT)

If you handed us this book five years and asked if we thought we would enjoy it, we both would have said no. Now, though, we find we have a deeper appreciation for realistic stories about human relationships Medicine Walk is a particularly fine example of the genre.  

Have you read any works by Richard Wagamese? Are there any similar stories by Indigenous authors you would recommend?
 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Brief Thoughts: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home by Catherynne M. Valente

Blogger's autosave ate my full review (which I was quite pleased with) of this book :( I am reminded of why I draft locally in Word... There's nothing I hate more than rewriting, but I'm going to try to recall as many of my thoughts as possible and share them here. At least I made a few notes while reading...

Quite by accident, September has been crowned as Queen of Fairyland - but she inherits a Kingdom in chaos. The magic of a Dodo's egg has brought every King, Queen, or Marquess of Fairyland back to life, each with a fair and good claim on the throne, each with their own schemes and plots and horrible, hilarious, hungry histories. In order to make sense of it all, and to save their friend from a job she doesn't want, A-Through-L and Saturday devise a Royal Race, a Monarckical Marathon, in which every outlandish would-be ruler of Fairyland will chase the Stoat of Arms across the whole of the nation - and the first to seize the poor beast will seize the crown. Caught up in the madness are the changelings Hawthorn and Tamburlaine, the combat wombat Blunderbuss, the gramophone Scratch, the Green Wind, and September's parents, who have crossed the universe to find their daughter...
  • I didn't remember a lot of stuff from the previous books, but the characters felt familiar (I certainly didn't remember that her Dad was in Fairyland Below!).  
  • This book wraps up September's story, but I would have liked to see more of Tam and Hawthorn, after we spent an entire book getting to know them. I'm crossing my fingers for a novella of their adventures during the race.
  • September has grown believably over the course of the series. She's not a little girl anymore and her words and actions reflect that. Sometimes I feel a character's growth over time can be forced or jagged (as opposed to the natural flow of maturing). September's growth felt very real to me.
  • The prose I adored in the first book and occasionally felt tired of in the other books seems to have found a balance here. Rather, Valente's busy creativity occupies itself with a vast array of characters. The simple camaraderie of September, Ell and Saturday can at times feel crowded by all other character encounters. When you arrive at the end of series like Fairyland, where your MCs have travelled far and encountered many, you have a lot of characters to catch up with at the end! But then, I suppose you also can't have a race without other racers to go up against.
  • I liked the conclusion, which wraps everything up nicely without being predictable. I also liked the inclusion of September's parents - I actually would have liked to hear more about them.
  • A brief narrator interlude towards the end nearly made me cry. The passage as I understood is about returning to the stories we love (told through the metaphor of returning home). I've never heard the experience described so accurately or eloquently. Here's a piece of it:
I will always be here, in my old chair by the door, waiting for you, whenever you are lonesome. Our little house will always look just the same as when we first blew the dust off the bookshelves, and the kettle will always be just about to boil. Sometimes I will be young, and sometimes I will be old, sometimes you will be young, and sometimes you will be old. But for as long as forever, I will keep a room for you. I swear by the sparkle in my eye and the spring in your step. (299-300).
  • The Bottom Line: A fitting conclusion to a delightful series. I hope these books will be enjoyed as classics by many in years to come.
Further Reading:

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Brief Thoughts: In The House on The Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by ...

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods tells the story of a newly married couple who take up a lonely existence in the title's mythical location.In this blank and barren plot, far from the world they've known, they mean to start a family. But every pregnancy fails, and as their grief swells, the husband - a hot-tempered and impatient fisherman and trapper - attempts to prove his dominion in other ways, emptying both the lake and the woods of their many beasts. As the years pass, the wife changes, too; her powerful voice sings new objects into being, including a threatening moon hung above their house, its doomed weight already slowly falling, bending the now star-less sky. (jacket description)
  • The cover, description, and strong of praise of this book drew me to it. The back of the book includes quotes such as "The story's ferocity is matched by Matt Bell's glorious sentences: sinuous and darkly magical, they are taproots of the strange." and "This book, which will grip you in an otherworldly trance, reads like something divined from tea leaves or translated from a charcoal cipher on a cave wall". Unfortunately, I didn't get those feelings. The book fell short for me, though I can see where it would appeal to some. Not quite my type of mystical prose, though.
  • The third page lets you know what you're actually getting into. I read the paragraph quoted below, thought "Whoa wait did that actually just happen?" and had to go back to reread it. At that point I had to take a 24 hour break to reset my expectations for this book (despite all the clues, I thought it was going to be more like Gaiman or Valente).
    • Then no kiss at all, but something else, some compulsion that even then I knew was wrong but could not help, so strong was my sadness, so sudden my desire: Into my body I partook what my wife's had rejected, and while she buried her face in the red ruin of our blankets I swallowed it whole - its ghost and its flesh small enough to have in my fist like an extra finger, to fit into my mouth like an extra tongue, to fit slide farther in without the use of teeth - and I imagined perhaps that I would succeed where she had failed, that my want for family could again give our child some home, some better body within which to grow. (6)
  • When I tried to describe this scene to my Mom, I realized it sounds a lot crazier than it reads - "This guy eats his miscarried child and then he calls it the fingerling and it gives him bad ideas." (Her response: "I don't want to hear anymore about that book."). The prose is, in some sense, very poetic. There's a lot of dancing around actual actions.
  • I felt a bit squirmy awkward at the beginning that the man is already so opposed to his wife. I hoped to their relationship when it was fresh and loving. The man is an unlikable character (which is usually neither here nor there but he was the dominant character out of just a few and I didn't enjoy spending so much time in his head). I couldn't get over his attitude towards his wife. 
  • "I dug more holes, and because I could not dig a hole without wanting for something to put in it, for the first time I began to kill what I did not intend to use: In one hole I buried a muskrat and in another a rabbit and in another a wrench-necked goose, caught by my own hands after it squawked me away from its clutch of goslings, themselves doomed beneath my frustrated heels" (43).
  • I seriously considered giving up around the halfway point. The man and the fingerling and their actions were beginning to bore me. Somehow, I persevered.
  • I wondered how the story could fill a whole novel. I certainly got a short story/novella vibe from it. I still wondered that by the end.
  • The atmosphere (and the endless cottage) brought to mind House of Leaves at times.
  • The Bottom Line: Two stars for the prose that kept me reading (also driven by my curiosity of whether something more was going to happen), but I really should have DNF'd at that halfway point.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mid-Year Check In


Here we are now in July, rolling down the hill of 2016. Time for the mid-year review! I find it difficult to think this is the first full year where I won't engage in any formal education. The school year has nothing to do with my own plans. I began private tutoring a couple weeks ago and I started working another part job this week. I'm finding myself with more work hours than I anticipated. I know saving cash for grad school is my priority now, and more work is a good thing, but I wonder how it's going to affect my blogging. I might need a few more weeks to settle into a new schedule (especially since I plan on spending many weekends at the lake!). Anyway! How am I doing on my 2016 goals?
  • 64 posts (8/month when not travelling, twice a week, ideally one review and one other) - My two non-travelling months (January and June) were pretty well on track with this goal. July's not off to a solid start, though I should be back on track by the end of the month.
    • Improve writing style (be more precise, use less words) - I've done a lot of posts this year, including reviews and responses, that I'm pretty proud of. I think I'm making progress here (though you wouldn't know it from this post, haha).
    • Be more engaging (in posts and comments) - Bit by bit I'm working on this. I couldn't do it so much in the first half of the year, but I'm trying to be more active on Twitter, find new blogs to follow, and leave more thoughtful comments.
  • 55 books read (updated to 84 books) - I read 29 books while travelling, which was 29 more than I planned on, so I updated my goal when I returned. I've read 46 books so far, putting me 3 books ahead of the new goal. Hooray! I couldn't be picky with what I read while travelling, so I haven't made a lot of progress on the goals below. I think I can catch up on them by the end of the year, though. On the goals below, I'm not counting The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, which I read annually.
    • 2/10 books reread - I've reread two books: Charlotte's Web and A Darker Shade of Magic. I haven't yet reread any of the books I actually put on the list.
    • 0/5 Japanese spirituality books - I'm 0 on this one. Most of the books I'll borrow from a local university. I received one of the books on the list as a gift while travelling. I plan to tackle that one soon.
    • 1/6 Tolkien-related books - I read The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (which I just realized is also a reread).  Most of the books on this list I have at home, so I should be making progress on this goal soon.
    • 3/5 Canadian Indigenous books - On track. Hopefully I can easily surpass 5!
This time last year, I talked about quality vs. quantity and recapped the ratings of the books I've read so far. I didn't delineate 'read better books' as a goal this year, because I have no idea how to do that other than by reading more books, but let's take a look anyhow...
  • I've read 9 ★★★★★ books, including 4 rereads. 5/8 five-star reads last year were rereads, so this is a small improvement.
  • I've read 19 ★★★★ books. That's also an improvement over last year, by 4 books.
  • I've read 9 ★★★ books. That's two less than last year. I really wanted to read less three-star books and more four- or five-star books, so it looks like I'm doing well!
  • I've read 5 ★★ books. One more than last year. Three were books I read while travelling because that's what was around. Two were books I was really interested in but they didn't live up to my expectations.
  • I've read 1 ★ book. Oops. The pretty cover and description lead me to request an ARC that turned out to be one of the worst books I've read in the past few years.
Looking at my 2016 Goodreads shelf reminded me of all the great books I've already this year. I feel like I'm doing better than in 2015. How is your reading going this year? Are you keeping up with any challenges, goals or resolutions? 
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