Books

Book Awards Season is (finally) here!!!

Some of us get excited about our kids going back to school, and some of us get excited about pumpkin spice season.  I’m sure I’m not alone in absolutely adoring fall because it marks the arrival of book award season — that wonderful time of the year when my TBR pile strains beyond all hope of ever reading every book on it — and I love it.

Here are some of the nominated works I hope to read soon:

From the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist:

truckI Am a Truck by Michelle Winters

Agathe and Réjean Lapointe are about to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary when Réjean’s beloved Chevy Silverado is found abandoned at the side of the road—with no trace of Réjean. As her hope dwindles, Agathe falls in with her spirited coworker, Debbie, who teaches Agathe about rock and roll, and with Martin Bureau, the one man who might know the truth about Réjean’s fate. Set against the landscape of rural Acadia, I Am a Truck is a funny and moving tale about the possibilities and impossibilities of love and loyalty.*

Boy EatingThe Bone Mother by David Demchuk

Three neighbouring villages on the Ukrainian/Romanian border are the final refuge for the last of the mythical creatures of Eastern Europe. Now, on the eve of the war that may eradicate their kind—and with the ruthless Night Police descending upon their sanctuary—they tell their stories and confront their destinies.  Eerie and unsettling like the best fairy tales, these incisor-sharp portraits of ghosts, witches, sirens, and seers—and the mortals who live at their side and in their thrall—will chill your marrow and tear at your heart.*

mindsofwinterMinds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin

Fay Morgan and Nelson Nilsson have each arrived in Inuvik, Canada, about 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Both are in search of answers about a family member: Nelson for his estranged older brother, and Fay for her vanished grandfather. Driving Fay into town from the airport on a freezing January night, Nelson reveals a folder left behind by his brother. An image catches Fay’s eye: a clock she has seen before. Soon Fay and Nelson realize that their relatives have an extraordinary and historic connection — a secret share in one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of polar expedition.*

(I’ve read only one of the longlist, Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster and I highly recommend it for its refreshing blend of gritty and magic realism.)

From the Man Booker Prize Shortlist:

lincolnLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo  is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?*

(I’ve read two of the remaining five on the shortlist — Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West and Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves.  I’m partway through a third, Paul Auster’s (possibly pointless but nonetheless enjoyable) 4 3 2 1.  So far my money is on Hamid to take the prize; I’d go for the audiobook read by the author.)

From the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers Literature:

marrowthievesThe Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden – but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.*

(If you haven’t already read it, please stop reading this post immediately and check out fellow finalist Angie Thomas’ gut wrenching The Hate U GiveIt’s topical, powerfully written, and well worth reading for Starr’s dad’s ideas about Harry Potter alone.)

From the National Book Award Longlist:

naomi kleinNo Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need by Naomi Klein

Remember when it all seemed to be getting better? Before Trump happened? What went wrong, and what can we do about it? Naomi Klein – scourge of brand bullies, disaster capitalists and climate liars – shows us how we got to this surreal and dangerous place, how to stop it getting worse and how, if we keep our heads, we can seize the opportunity to make it better.*

manhattan beachManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.

With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world. It is a magnificent novel by the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, one of the great writers of our time.*

pachinkoPachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history.*

I’d love to hear what book award nominees excite you.

Happy stacking! Happy reading!

-Patricia

*Blurbs provided by publishers.

Wedding Season Survival Guide

cheers

Up until recently I didn’t really realize that “wedding season” is a thing. Then my late-twenties arrived. Gone are the halcyon days of impromptu weekend summer getaways in favor of  a regimented event schedule filled with uncomfortable footwear,  bubbly, and hopefully some earnest romance.

Some people claim to love wedding season, others claim to hate it–although I suspect most find themselves somewhere in the middle.  Regardless of where you stand in the nuptial spectrum, as Jen Doll, author of   Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest states in her article for Flavour Wire , “weddings make for great scenes, unforgettable moments of high expectation, emotion, and drama — in fiction as well as in nonfiction.” Whether you’re tying the knot, or deciding on how to fill that plus-one RSVP, consider this a survival guide full of practical tips, and literary inspiration.

Tips and Tricks

The Worst-case Scenario Survival Handbook worstcasewedding

by Joshua Piven

Not to be a pessimist, but really who knew that so much could go wrong on such a happy day? This  step-by-step instruction guide is designed to help the bride and groom–and everyone else–survive the nuptials, from trimming the guest list all the way through to re-purposing unwanted presents. This manual teaches how to charm nightmare in-laws,  combat floral allergies, stop a disastrous toast, and enjoy the day.

Pocket Guide to Wedding Speeches & Toasts by Darren Noel pocketguidewedding.jpg

I’m one of those people who thinks that they’re skilled at public-speaking, until of course I actually step up to the mic.  Thankfully, the library has several copies of how-to manuals and guides to help sweaty-palmed orators float from our seats to the podium and back with some semblance of poise, and hopefully at least one laugh (or tear)  from the audience.

 

weddingetiquette.jpgThe Everything Wedding Etiquette Book; From Invites to Thank-you Notes–all You Need to Handle Even the Stickiest Situations With Ease by Holly Lefevre 

I think that one of the biggest sources of wedding-related anxiety results from the complex, awkward, and often contentious interrelationships that develop when two independent people and their associated families, friends, and distant cousins are brought together under one roof, fed a pile of alcohol and told to get along.   Alas, this guide is designed to help wedding planners navigate the art of seating charts, thank-you cards, and tricky in-law dramas with ease.

 

Literature for for the hopeless romantics….

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead seatingarrangements.jpg

A romantic comedy set over three days of a WASP-y wedding on an island off the coast of New England, this novel allows the complex interrelationships to fully blossom into hilarious, preppy depravity.  A social satire which explores themes of status, family, love and its obligations, this novel is a perfect precursor to the upcoming wedding in your calendar.

prideandpredPride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 

From the classic opening line, “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”,  Austen sets the tone for this classic novel which cements advantageous marriage as a fundamental social value, and the central ambition for its main characters. Even a cynic like me was swept up in  this genteel turn-of-the-century story.

 

The Princess Bride   By William Goldman princessbride

“Mawidge, it’s a dweam wiffin a dweam” Enough said.

(P.S. The audiobook version narrated by Rob Reiner is particularly hilarious)

 

Literature for the wedding-tolerant….

janeeyreJane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Sure, they may get married in the end…however, with Mr. Briggs’ interruption “I declare the existence of an impediment,” readers everywhere were forever doomed to wince upon hearing the words “speak now or forever hold your peace”.  This broody classic is arguably the ultimate botched-wedding.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens  greatexpec

As Jen Doll states,  “is there a more tragic and memorable jilted at the altar figure than poor, dear Miss Havisham? ” Twenty minutes before her wedding is set commence, she gets a letter from her betrothed,  Compeyson, who has defrauded her and won’t be showing up. Thus begins the rest of her life, frozen in time as a hermit in her spoiling mansion, wearing her wedding dress and one shoe, and her wedding cake left uneaten on the table.  Yeesh.

 

 

If all else fails, there’s also this awesome Wedding Season Bingo game card  from Swimmingly which is worth a good giggle.

wedding season bingo

(image source: http://www.swimmingly.com/relationships/weddings/keep-track-of-all-the-hottest-wedding-trends-with-summer-wedding-bingo/)

 

Cheers!

-Mikale

Freedom to Read 2016

raifbadawiSaudi blogger Raif Badawi became known around the world when he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1000 lashes because of his writing.  Many people, myself included, thought to themselves that such a thing could never happen in Canada.  Because we live in a world where freedom of expression is not an inalienable right for everyone, it is important that we appreciate the freedom we often take for granted and renew our commitment to defending freedom of expression for all.  For these reasons, Freedom to Read week is a valuable part of our cultural lives and Canadians and Canadian residents.

freedomtoreadEach year the he Canadian Library Association’s Advisory Committee on Intellectual Freedom, in partnership with the Book and Periodical Council’s Freedom of Expression Committee, conduct a survey identifying library materials that have been challenged.  These materials are those that concerned members of the public have asked to be removed from library collections or reclassified for a variety of reasons.

In drawing attention to some of the more surprising titles on this list, it is not my intention that we scoff at the presumed ignorance of those who challenge library materials, but rather that we open up conversations about why access to materials representing a full range of view points is essential for the health and well being of our society.

Here are some titles that have recently been challenged in Canadian schools and libraries:

warsThe Wars by Timothy Findley

Published in 1977, Findley’s The Wars was most recently challenged in 2011.  The parent of a twelfth grader in Ontario asked that the book be removed from her child’s curriculum because of sexual and violent content including prostitution and gang rape.  The book, which won the Governor General’s Award, remains on the curriculum.

tango.jpgAnd Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell 

This book about homosexual penguins raising a chick together was removed from a Calgary Catholic School Library after being challenged in 2006.  Though for many children this book serves as a compassionate and heartwarming introduction to acceptance, it is clear not everyone feels the same way.  In library catalogues the book has been tagged as “brainwashing children,” and “godless penguins.”

thisonesummerAnd just this week, Canadian graphic novelists Mariko and Jillian Tamaki had their widely acclaimed work This One Summer pulled from the shelves of three American secondary schools in response to a parent’s complaint that the book was inappropriate for a third grader. (I can’t quite figure that one out either.)

If you’d like to learn more about Freedom to Read week, please visit http://www.freedomtoread.ca/.

-Patricia

Gong Hey Fat Choy

February 8th is Chinese New Year – so Happy New Year! Here are a few reading selections to help expand your understanding of this fascinating culture.

Nonfiction:

AgeOfAmbitionAge of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, by Evan Osnos

Looking at the clash between individual aspiration and authoritarian control in the new China, New Yorker staff writer, Evan Osnos, delivers a vivid portrait told through the stories of everyday people. With great narrative flair, the author explores the themes of economic change, censorship, and personal values. Winner of the 2014 National Book Award in Non-fiction.

MasteringChineseCookingMastering the Art of Chinese Cooking, by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

So what’s not to love about Chinese food? This cookbook provides skill-building lessons, brush drawn illustrations of step-by-step techniques, and great photographs of finished dishes, ingredients, and landscapes. This beautiful book is a great way into the ancient cuisine of China, and is a delight to leaf through as well.

CountryDrivingCountry Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, by Peter Hessler

Road Trip! Acquiring his Chinese driver’s license, Hessler sets out to track how the automobile and improved roads are transforming China. He follows the Great Wall, and then moves to a small farming village which dramatically alters before his eyes. Finally he ends up in a city where he witnesses the shift from agriculture to industry. Along the way, Hessler writes movingly about the average people who are reshaping the nation.

Fiction:

frogMo Yan – Frog

You might know Mo Yan as the 2012 Nobel prize winner for literature.  Mo sheds light on the far-reaching implications of China’s one-child policy in Frog.  Tadpole is a playwright writing a play about his aunt Gugu, a midwife and steadfast Communist who performs abortions to demonstrate her loyalty to the party.

 

threebodyCixin Liu – The Three-Body Problem

2015’s Hugo Award Winner was this hard science fiction Chinese novel in translation. The Three-Body Problem attempts to answer an age-old SF question: What happens when humans and aliens make first contact? The book is the first in an anticipated trilogy; volume 2 is due out later this year.

americanbornchineseGene Luen Yang – American Born Chinese

Yang made news earlier this year when he was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in the US.  If you haven’t already, I urge you to read his graphic novels starting with American Born Chinese. It tells three intertwined stories about characters longing to fit in.

You can read his inspiring inaugural speech online; his powerful closing sentiments echo our own,

Let me end by encouraging you to read without walls. Find a book with someone on the cover who doesn’t look like you or live like you. Find a book about a topic that you don’t know much about. Find a book that’s in a format you’ve never tried before: a graphic novel, a words-only novel, or a novel in verse.

Read without walls and see what happens.

I bet it’ll be something amazing.

恭禧發財!

-Michael and Patricia

5 Ways to Read More

jbccIt’s just about the time of year when we all start breaking our well-meaning New Year’s Resolutions.  The gym is emptier and emptier each morning at 6am (not that I’m there; I just have reliable sources.)  For those of you with more bookish resolutions, I offer my help.

In my entire life I’d say the question I’ve most often been readtoomuchasked is, “How do you find the time to read so much?”  (If I’m being honest, I just read what I read without trying to hard and no matter how busy I am it seems to work out to between 50-100 books a year.  But that wouldn’t make a very helpful post now, would it?  So allow me to dig deeper… and present 5 ways to read more:)

cinder5.  Discover audiobooks.  Audiobooks can literally change your whole life.  They allow me to read when I’m:

  • Doing housework
  • Out for a walk
  • Commuting
  • At the gym  (I find if you are listening to audiobooks while doing cardio, it’s better to up the reader’s speed to 1.5x.  Otherwise I tend to keep pace with the voice I hear.)

The other nice thing about audiobooks is you don’t just have favourite authors anymore, you have favourite narrators too.

petitfour4.  Read to children.   My kids are great for a lot of reasons.  One of them is that they give me an excuse to stop whatever boring adulting I’m involved in in the evenings and read them a bedtime story. We’ve done everything from old favourites like Matilda to whimsical new releases like Anne Michael’s The Adventures of Miss Petitfour.

3.  ALWAYS have a book on you.  (You see that staff member reading in the elevator on the way to the break room?  Me.)

33 1_32.  No guilt reading.  If you’re not enjoying it, don’t finish it.  If you’re 100 pages from the end and feel like you know how it’s going to end… abandon it with impunity.  I’m a big fan of reading the right book at the right time.  If that means I’m currently going through a 33 1/3 phase and ignoring award winners and the Canada Reads shortlist, so be it.  (Dear Canada Reads shortlist, I’ll get to you shortly… when the mood strikes.  Fear not.)

  1.  Develop insomnia.
    I realize this might not constitute advice, but it’s still true.  Insomnia is a generous curse that gives you lots of time to read.  Oh, you want actual advice? Fair point.  Find something that captures your imagination.  Ask for recommendations from friends or your local library staff — anybody who gets as excited about books as you want to be.

Have tips of your own to share?  Sound off in the comments below.  Happy Reading!

-Patricia

 

 

After Making a Murderer

makingamurdererWhen it comes to true crime, I am a sensitive viewer.  As a general rule, I stay away from media portrayals of real life violence as much as I can.  So it came as a complete surprise when I — like many many other people — got hooked on the Netflix documentary series Making a Murderer.  In less than a week I’ve watched seven episodes of the ten episode series (a working mom’s version of binge watching) and already know I’ll be resistant to pull back from that constant state of wondering, “Is Steven Avery guilty?

What follows is kind of an exploration for me about what I’ll read and watch in the weeks to come that will be provoking and uncomfortable (and yet compulsively watchable or readable) in the way that Making a Murder has proven to be.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

innocentkillerAbout Steven Avery’s Case

My first stop will be Michael Griesbach’s book The Innocent KillerThe documentary left me with the feeling that this case (like all cases) is more complex than can be shown in 10 hours.  And there’s no denying the prosecution didn’t give the filmmakers the same access as the the defense.  Griesbach is a prosecuting attorney Manitowoc County, so I’m keen to hear his take on the case.

Wrongful Convictionscentralpark

Whatever your opinion about Avery’s guilt with regards to the Halbach murder, it’s difficult to get over the fact that Avery lost years of his life because of a wrongful conviction — years that likely cost him a relationship with his children.  I can see myself watching The Central Park Five out of a desire to understand how those who are wrongfully convicted function after society has treated them unjustly.

Police Corruption

changelingHaving already watched (and been stunned by) The Changeling, a film in which Angelina Jolie plays a mother who knows that the kidnapped boy returned to her is not her son at all, I’ll probably watch it again.  Jolie enduring the horrific effects of public slander by corrupt police shares a certain kinship with Avery.

I can also see myself picking up Jo Nesbo’s thriller, The Son, a fast-paced read about a web of corruption. 

Conspiracy Theoriesvoodoo

Voodoo Histories is a non-fiction work that examines the psychology behind what makes conspiracy theories addictive.  It does so through the lens of twelve real life cases including JFK’s assassination, the first moon landing, and 9/11.  Also, awesome cover.

frozenRural Wisconsin

In many ways, I think it is the landscape of Making a Murderer that will stay with me.  All those lingering shots of Avery Auto Salvage through the changing seasons seem somehow haunted and foreboding.  I’ve put a hold on Frozen, the first book in Kate Watterson’s Detective Ellie MacIntosh series, which takes place partly in the rural backwoods of Wisconsin.

Something Bleakmercy

I have to say I find Making a Murderer depressing as hell.  There’s every possibility that I’ll want stay in that pocket of bleakness after the show is done.  In that case, I’ll reach for Canadian author David Richard Adam’s Mercy Among The Children a novel that dwells in rural poverty and relentless tragedy.

How to you cope with the end of Making a Murderer?  What did you watch or read next?

-Patricia

Kat’s 2016 Winter Reads

twoandaquarter

The Inheritance Trilogy… coming in at 2 1/4″ thick

It’s going to be a busy winter! Before I can get to the titles on this list, I’ve got to get through this monster-sized book:

It’s awesome so far (every bit as good as I expected it to be after reading Jemisin’s more recent novel, The Fifth Season) Also, to be fair, it’s three books and one novella in one edition… I just hadn’t anticipated how big that would be when I ordered it.

But as soon as I’ve worked my way through that, these are next up:

Thiscensus Census-Taker by China Mieville

From the master weird-fiction writer, this story is narrated by a young boy who has witnessed a deeply traumatic event; trapped, he dreams of escape, and thinks he might have found the help he’s been looking for in a stranger who knocks at the door. But apparently the man may not be what he appears. Knowing Mieville, I’m intrigued as to why this novella is called “This” census-taker rather than “The” or “A”…

lucybartonMy Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

The Pulitzer Prize winner of Olive Kitteridge turns her eye to the complex mother-daughter relationship in her latest novel.  In it, Lucy is recalling the time she spent recovering in hospital and her Mother, with whom she hasn’t spoken to in years, came to visit. Strout’s characters are always so fully realized, and I’m excited to meet a new set of them.

whywecameWhy We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma

About a group of tight-knit twentysomething New Yorkers, this is a story about friendship, loss, and how we grow together and grow apart. It’s described as “warm, funny, and heartfelt,” with an engaging ensemble cast.  And I can never turn down ensemble casts.

 

nobaggageNo Baggage: A Minimalist Tale of Love and Wandering by Clara Bensen

A travelogue with an engaging premise; Clara and Jeff barely know each other, but set out on a 21-day trip from Istanbul to London with no plan and (they think) no baggage. Of course ‘baggage’ has that double meaning here, but I’m honestly interested in the literal meaning, and how one can do without it on a trip of this scale.

portableveblenThe Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie

The story of a soon-to-be-married couple, whose engagement is threatened by their dysfunctional families, career aspirations, and other things/people that come between them.  Called “Quirky,” with appendices and squirrels, so I’m sold.

 

heartisamuscleYour Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa

Yapa’s debut novel, set during the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle, is the story of how one afternoon will change the lives of seven people forever.  It promises to be a beautiful and emotionally powerful  – albeit potentially gritty – read.