The Library Reopens

For the first time in months, I set foot into a public library yesterday. To be exact, three different branches, to make up for a regular activity I’d enjoyed before the Covid lockdown. Our library system is very modern, creative, and full of resources, a pleasure to visit. The New Central Library opened two years ago had become a tourist point-of-interest even.

Yesterday I didn’t head all the way downtown to the main attraction (picture above). A visit to a branch closer to my home welcomed me with numerous brand new paperbacks. As they’ve been closed for a few months, new books kept coming in and now they have the chance to display them. Piles and piles of them, all brand new. I couldn’t resist but drove to two other branches just to check out their new offerings.

The following is a list of books I got from my library escapade yesterday. Just in time for the summer staycation. All pristine, never-opened (that’s important in this Covid time) brand new paperbacks. Which ones have you read? What books are you reading this summer, this very extraordinary summer. I welcome your two pebbles thrown into the Pond and share some ripples with us.

Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks –– I was thinking of reading this for ‘Paris in July’ all because of the title, but not sure now since it’s quite late in the month. I’ve always wanted to read a S. Faulks novel knowing his work had been turned into movies and TV series, e.g. Charlotte Gray and Birdsong.

Summer of ’69 by Elin Hilderbrand –– I haven’t read any books by Elin Hilderbrand, hailed as the ‘Queen of Beach Reads’. Two of her books are in development now for a movie. I’m far from the beach, any beach, but hope this one can offer some sunny breaks at least during my staycation.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow –– The book cover is the main attraction plus this blurb on the front cover: “Unbrearably beautiful.” And some more on the back, like this one: “A gorgeous, aching love letter to stories, storytellers, and the doors they lead us through. Absolutely enchanting.” How can I resist?

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie –– I knew about this book, actually have been debating if I should read it without having read Cervantes’ Don Quixote. I’d appreciated Rushdie’s writing, imaginative and original, but also not easily accessible. Will see.


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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell –– I’ve seen this title everywhere, and know the general story idea, and all the controversies and ripples it has generated. I’d just like to sit down quietly without having to be influenced by the cacophony from all sides, and just read it.

Reader, Come Home by Maryanne Wolf –– Subtitle: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. I’ve started reading it and find it quite interesting. I missed Wolf’s earlier book Proust and the Squid so here’s a catch-up and a welcome update. A scholar, educator and developmental researcher on reading and the brain, Wolf is an advocate for ‘deep reading.’ This is going to be a slow read.

Summer Reading

The remaining summer month isn’t going to be long enough for a slow reader like me to finish all the books I’ve started. There are 7 titles on Goodreads that I’m ‘currently reading’, one of them has been there since the Jurassic Period. Ok, maybe not that long, but I haven’t given up The Guermantes Way just yet, so I won’t delete it. I’m sure Proust understands, for there are more pressing matters.

First off, the horrific terror attack and mass murder in Nice sparked off an urge in me to, somehow, in whatever way, connect with France. It’s a bit late to participate in the blog event ‘Paris in July’. But since Nice, I’d started two France related books. And then there’s Germany, and now a priest inside a church while conducting mass…

Here are two titles I’m reading with European connection:

The Angel of the Left Bank: The Secrets of Delacroix’s Parisian Masterpiece by Jean-Paul Kauffmann

Angel of the Left BankThis enticingly thin paperback has been sitting on the shelf quietly for years. I’ve long wanted to read it although I’d no idea what it was about, one of the hand-me-downs from my son’s college reads. Now that I’ve started it, I know this one’s going to be a slow cook. Even though just 217 pages, I know I can’t rush it. Exactly as the title denotes, the book is about one painting, Eugène Delacroix’s (1798-1863) ‘Jacob Wrestling with the Angel’, a wall mural in the Chapel of the Holy Angels inside The Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris. Why did Kauffmann write about this particular painting? Why did Delacroix choose to paint this enigmatic episode of the Bible? Who is the ‘Angel’? I want to find out the hidden story behind the creation of this masterpiece. Apparently there are secrets to be told.  I’m most curious to see the epiphany that both the painter and the writer must have experienced relating to it. Simply put, for us who feel there are days wrestling means nothing close to a TV pseudo sports program, maybe this book could be an enlightenment.

 

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Paris bookshopFirst published in Germany, now an international bestseller, The Little Paris Bookshop is a barge floating on the Seine River in Paris. Monsieur Perdu, the ‘Literary Apothecary’, is the owner. Now this is an interesting concept. M. Perdu prescribes books for any ailment his customers happen to be afflicted with. Bibliotherapy if you will. Not a bad idea. He has a book suggestion for everyone he encounters, so a clever way for German author Nina George to weave in her views on various literary works, her salutation to literature and reading. But of course, George isn’t just leading a book club discussion but telling a story. So she deftly brings us to learn more about M. Perdu’s past. While well-versed in bibliotherapy, M. Perdu has a wound that’s deep and sore, for he’s a victim of a lost love. Can the Apothecary heal himself? All signs point to a heartening, summer read.

 

Here’s one that I think I’ll finish first:

Words Without Music by Philip Glass

words-without-music-a-memoirThis one beats all my current reads in capturing my attention and interest. The contemporary composer Philip Glass (born 1937) is renowned as a ‘minimalist’ in his musical style, a label he frowns upon. Now about a quarter into Glass’s memoir, so mainly about his early life and the start of a career, I find what’s minimal is only the physical materials of life, the lack of money to pursue his dream. As for passion and talents, Glass is endowed with abundance, and the artistic milieu in which he immersed himself is astoundingly rich and fertile. Above all, the Bohemian living during his early days is idyllic. That’s why I’m mesmerized by his story, the pursuit of a dream driven by pure passion and inner drive.

Born in Baltimore to a middle-class, secular Jewish family, Glass left home at just 15 to enter the University of Chicago, majoring in philosophy and mathematics. After that, he knew he wanted a career, no, a life, in music, against the wishes of his mother and uncles, who ran a family building supplies business in his hometown and wanted him to take over some day. But Glass was determined to march to a different drummer. After Chicago, he went to NYC mainly to get into Juilliard, not knowing he wasn’t even qualified. So he started with an extension course to work his way in. Later as a full-fledged Juilliard student, he devoured every learning opportunity. He had earned his living doing all sorts of jobs, laborer, steel mill worker, taxi driver. Later to Paris, India, Glass shows us a life journey full of gratifying struggles and interesting encounters. What more, the memoir is a social history of the Beat Generation. Deeply immersed in the zeitgeist of the time, Glass’s personal connections with other musicians, artists, poets, writers, theatre actors and producers, and filmmakers make a fascinating insider’s story. His contact list a who’s who of the Beat Generation. Lots of ripples stirred up in me and definitely a future post coming.

 

This one patiently waits:

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

The MoviegoerI had listened to the audio book a few years back, and wanted to reread it right away, but didn’t. After that, I forgot about it. By chance I saw it in the Bookstore at Regent College on UBC campus a couple months ago, I quickly took that single copy out from the shelf. There are few books I buy at regular price, this is one of them. I want to revisit it; with my own copy, I can write on the margin, and I know I will with this one. Despite the title, it has nothing to do with the glamour of Hollywood movies, or the pop entertainment culture of the day. Rather, this National Book Award winner (1961) is internal, reminiscent of European writers like Camus or today’s Tom McCarthy.

 

These two will take a while to get to:

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

The Truth According to UsBarrows’ previous book is the wildly popular The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society published eight years ago. I’d enjoyed the lively characters in Guernsey amidst the troublesome setting of WWII, with the island occupied by German soldiers. Just curious to read children’s author Barrows’ first solo publication for adults. The Truth brings Barrows back to the home state of her aunt and primary writer of Guernsey, Mary Ann Shaffer, who died before completing the book. Family saga in small town West Virginia in 1938. If you’ve read this one, how is it compared with Guernsey? Should I even start it?

 

 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The+Nest+-+book+coverIf I want a breezy summer beach read, maybe I should start with this one. But this too can wait. I got it mainly because of the future film adaptation. Sweeney’s debut work reportedly fetched a 7-figure advance from Ecco; not surprisingly, film rights were snatched up soon after. What should be noted is: by whom? Well, as evidence of the booming book/movie enterprise, Amazon Film it is, and Jill Soloway (Transparent) will direct. Note also, just saying, here’s a book with Amy Poehler’s endorsement on the cover. Have you read it? Are you looking forward to its movie adaptation?

 

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Related Review Posts on Ripple Effects:

Inside Llewyn Davis: A Serious Man in Greenwich Village

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

August: Osage County

 

Book Haul 2013

Here I go again, the annual Book Sale at Crossroad Market, organized by the Servants Anonymous Society. It’s a worthy cause, therefore, guilt-free looting of good condition used books, over a million of them donated by citizens like me. But I must say, I haul back more than I donate over the years, for many of them I plan to keep.

Compared to the last few years, I’m a bit more restrained this time. Here are some of my loot, all trade paperbacks for just $2 each:

saplings-book-coverSaplings by Noel Streatfeild — I picked it up right away as soon as I saw the grey, minimalist book cover. Delighted to find inside is beautifully designed. Look at the photo I shot on the left. You can see both the dust cover and the inside of the book cover. This is my first Persephone Book, publisher of neglected women writers. I’ve not heard of the title or the author, but trust the London publisher’s choice, and glad to find it in such a mint condition at a used book sale, I quickly grabbed it.

Parade's End BBC Book Cover copyParade’s End by Ford Madox Ford — Truth be told, I’d never heard of FMF until I read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast a couple of years ago. What a name. The only one I can think of along that line is… William Carlos Williams. Anyway, BBC’s adaptation of Parade’s End as a TV mini-series has added another name to my list of favorite actors: Benedict Cumberbatch (Again, ‘what a name.’) In these dry months in between seasons of Downton Abbey, Parade’s End makes one satisfying treat.

Villette by Charlotte BronteVillette by Charlotte Bronte — Here’s another reason for buying a book because of the publisher. I’m a collector of The Modern Library Classics. So finding this in the Classics section in the book sale was a pleasant surprise. A. S. Byatt offers her views in the intro. Other than Jane Eyre, I’ve not read anything else from Charlotte Bronte. Have you read this?

matisse-stories-a-s-byatt-paperback-cover-artThe Matisse Stories by A. S. Byatt — Three stories about three art works by Matisse. A beautiful little book. This from Goodread’s description: “These three stories celebrate the eye even as they reveal its unexpected proximity to the heart… the intimate connection between seeing and feeling…” My kind of stories.

City of GodCity of God by E. L. Doctorow — Some years ago, The New York Times called the film adaptations of Doctorow’s works ‘expensive failures’. Reason: his novels are ‘too cerebral’, ‘too lyrical’, ‘too writerly’ to be transposed into cinematic images. Got it. Whenever I’ve the time and in the mood for some cerebral challenges, I know what book to pick up. After all, I’ve long wanted to read Doctorow. The subject matter of City of God just may arouse interest to help me through the thickets of Biblical proportion.

Becoming George Sand copyBecoming George Sand by Rosalind Brackenbury — George Sand I’ve heard of, Frédéric Chopin’s lover, one of those female writers who had to adopt a male pseudonym in 19th C. society. The interesting part is the modern parallel of the story of a female French professor in Edinburgh. Author Brackenbury (due to my ignorance I’ve not heard of) graduated from Cambridge University (which I’ve heard of) and now Fellow of Creative Writing at the College of William and Mary (that good name I’ve also heard of) in Williamsburg, VA. Enticing enough.

Tell It to the TreesThe Hero’s Walk and Tell It To The Trees by Anita Rau Badami — A look at the book cover of Tell It to the Trees helps me get the idea… The Indian diaspora in cold, wintry Canada, and for that I find a linkage. Not that I’m from India, but close enough. I’m sure Anita Rau Badami has a lot more to tell than adjusting to the climate. Born in India, now living in Montreal, Rau Badami has in recent years emerged as a clear voice in Canada’s literary landscape.

Movie Love Book CoverMovie Love: Complete Reviews 1988-1991 by Pauline Kael — Roger Ebert in his memoir Life Itself acknowledged Pauline Kael (1919-2001) as his mentor and major influence. While Ebert got a Pulitzer for his movie criticism, Kael got a National Book Award. She had been praised for re-inventing the form and aesthetics of the genre of film critiques. Along with a dearth of female literary voices in film criticism like Susan Sontag (1933-2004), seems like such a species had become extinct nowadays. All the more to appreciate ‘a classic’.

Wonderful TownWonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker, edited by David Remnick — A Modern Library edition compiling over forty short stories published in The New Yorker before 2000, since that’s the pub. date. Reading the Table of Content is like reading the Who’s Who of 20th C. literary scene… John Cheever, Irwin Shaw, Philip Roth, Jonathan Franzen, James Thurber, John Updike, Vladimir Nabokov, Jamaica Kincaid, J. D. Salinger, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Susan Sontag, Woody Allen, Jeffrey Eugenides, Bernard Malamud, E. B. White… just to name a few. Woody Allen? You gasped. But, why are you surprised?

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I’m a keeper of lists. If you’re interested, here are my loots from previous years:

2012

2011

2010

2009

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Saturday Snapshot: Book Sale 2012

For Paris in Julyclick here to my home page. I’ll be starting to post the first week of July. 

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by At Home With Books.

Every year the gigantic book sale organized by the Servants Anonymous Society in our City kicks off my summer reading stock-up. This weekend begins their tenth annual book sale at the Crossroads Market. Here’s a photo of the books I hauled back yesterday, all in like-new condition, all for $1.50 each since I’ve got 20 of them.

Many of the titles I’ve been watching out for some time. Some of them I came to know when I read their reviews on your blogs. Glad I can find them in the book sale and in such good condition. A few of the books look like they haven’t been opened.

Here’s the list in no particular order:

Travels In The Scriptorium by Paul Auster

England, England by Julian Barnes

Pulse, stories by Julian Barnes

Home by Marilynne Robinson

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

Lit by Mary Karr

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

The Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Lottery by Patricia Wood

Blindness by José Saramago

The Reinvention of Love by Helen Humphreys

The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger

Cool Water by Dianne Warren

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

One Summer by David Baldacci

The King’s Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi (biography of Lionel Logue)

Changing My Mind by Margaret Trudeau (autobiography)

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Any of your favorites here? The Sale lasts for three weekends beginning June 8. If you were me, would you go back in the next two? Know my struggling sentiment?

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Book Sale 2011

If you ask me, I really can’t tell the difference between my summer reading and that of the other seasons. But, in terms of timing, I’d say the annual Book Sale at the Crossroads Market marks the kickoff… and not the summer solstice. It’s a charity book sale in support of the Servants Anonymous Society. I’ve posted my boxes of loot in the past couple of years. Here’s Arti’s annual book haul, 2011.

Again, as a picky screener, I spent hours looking through tons of books under that giant tent and picked out only those that were in mint condition… some I suspect have not even been opened. They were all $1.50 each. That’s the price if you buy in multiples of 10. Short of 10, $2 each. Best of all, it’s for a good cause… great excuse for hoarding. Well, at least I wasn’t tugging a rolling tote or luggage like some did.

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Here’s a list of my haul, in no particular order:

  1. Unruly Times: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Their Time by A. S. Byatt
  2. As We Are Now by May Sarton (love her Journal of a Solitude)
  3. Chocolat by Joanne Harris (film is interesting, curious about the book)
  4. Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (after Atonement, like to try more of McEwan’s works)
  5. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (for JLC 5)
  6. The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (another one for JLC 5)
  7. Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer (great find, book is brand new)
  8. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (the movie is delightful)
  9. The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels (13 years after her Fugitive Pieces, I’m curious)
  10. Up In The Air by Walter Kirn (always like to read the source material of a good movie)
  11. The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre (winner of 2009 Giller Prize)
  12. The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon (finalist, 2009 Giller Prize)
  13. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston (numerous Canadian literary prize winner, just can’t resist a title like that)
  14. The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud (NYT Book Review Best Book of the Year 2006. I’ve wanted to read it since it first came out)
  15. Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann (my own copy finally)
  16. Everything in This Country Must: A Novella and Two Stories by Colum McCann
  17. The Peppered Moth by Margaret Drabble
  18. Larry’s Party by Carol Shields
  19. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Following The Kite Runner, a movie version is coming out)
  20. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (still haven’t read this classic)
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Went back another day and more multiples of 10:
  1. Heat And Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975 Booker Prize Winner, RPJ is the screenwriter of many Merchant Ivory productions, including “Heat And Dust” starring Julie Christie)
  2. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Pulitzer Prize winner, 2003)
  3. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (First the book, then the movie, and then the opera, yes, opera)
  4. The Hours by Michael Cunningham (Pulitzer Prize winner, 1999. After the film, I’ve wanted to read this for years. Glad I found a trade paperback edition without Streep/Moore/Kidman on the cover)
  5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (Pulitzer Prize winner, 2008)
  6. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (I’m partial to The Modern Library Classics, so this is a good find)
  7. The City of Yes by Peter Oliva (Found out from the cover that the author is owner of one of the still surviving indie bookstore in our city… a novel on Japan… interesting connections!)
  8. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (Other shoppers at the Book Sale urged me to get it, or else I wouldn’t have picked it up… about 2 lbs and 973 pages. But for $1.50… alright.)
  9. The Illuminator by Brenda Rickman Vantrease
  10. The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
  11. The Lost Art of Gratitude by Alexander McCall Smith
  12. Little Earthquakes by Jennifer Weiner (Author of In Her Shoes, looks like a breezy summer read)
  13. The Shack by Wm. Paul Young (Have been avoiding this, but my $1.50 curiosity took over)
  14. Limitations by Scott Turow (I used to be a fan of legal thrillers, so let me indulge again… it’s summer)
  15. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Finally, after the dust has settled. The Swedish movie is good, but not sure about the Hollywood version coming out)
  16. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson (That’s all, couldn’t find the third one)
  17. False Impression by Jeffrey Archer (Have enjoyed some of his previous books)
  18. The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré
  19. A Most Wanted Man by John Le Carré
  20. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carré (The film version is coming out this year with Colin Firth. But this little old paperback is the black sheep of the lot. I found the first 18 pages missing after I came home. But hey, I’m not complaining)

How do I alleviate the burden of so many books? Well, this is how I figure. I don’t see them as a TBR list, but new inventory of my personal library. They’re at a fraction of the cost if I were to buy them new.  Besides, how many people read all the books in a library?

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What’s your summer reading plan?

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(If you’re interested, here are my finds from the Book Sale of 2010 and 2009.

You may also like to explore the list of “Upcoming books into films”)

A Late Summer Hiatus

As the holidays draw to an end ever so quickly, and before I take off for a couple of weeks to recharge, it’s time to take stock and wrap up for the summer of 2010.

After watching 56 films in two months as a previewer for an upcoming international film festival, I don’t miss the cineplex for this summer’s offering. Yes, I’ve seen Inception.  And no, I didn’t dream that I saw it… although I remember waking up a couple of times. Anyway, its effect on me is quite similar to Avatar‘s, something I wouldn’t rave about except just say: ‘Been there, done that’.  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo may well be the best summer movies in my opinion.

As for books, I’ve read a few, not a long list, but enough to keep me busy, relaxed, informed, and inspired. I’m glad I’ve discovered Tim Keller, pastor of the vibrant Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Manhattan.  His Reason For God has restored hope in me that it’s possible to embrace both faith and reason.  Seldom have I come across such an intellectual and sensible approach to the seeming dichotomy.

I must also mention Somewhere Inside: One Sister’s Captivity In North Korea and the Other’s Fight to Bring Her Home by Laura and Lisa Ling.  The book is a riveting account of journalist Laura Ling’s harrowing ordeal as a captive of the North Korean regime, and her remarkable release back to freedom together with her translator Euna Lee.  A testament of hope, resilience, the power of love, and the humanity we all share. An absorbing read, well told inside out.

Also, Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge 4 has really done its job.  For it was a challenge indeed reading Kenzaburo Oe’s Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! Another more leisurely but no less intense work is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I’ve purposely delayed posting about it until I’ve seen its movie adaptation coming out in September.  I’m looking forward to the film version, with Carey Mulligan as Kathy, Keira Knightly as Ruth, and Andrew Garfield (our new Spider-Man) as Tommy.  That would be for my commitment to C. B. James’s Read the Book/See the Movie Challenge over at Ready When You Are, C.B.

So now, my two weeks of late summer hiatus.  Just for fun, here’s Arti’s Cryptic Challenge… some hints as to where I’ll be in the next little while …  and most likely what you’ll see posted on Ripple Effects comes September.

1.  Don’t mind the gap:  risky when boarding, but good pointer for parenting.

2.  “I am not yet so much changed…”  Upon this re-visit, I don’t expect much change either, for it has kept quite the same for hundreds of years.

3.  From “Lost Generation” to “Beat Generation”, Beach to Whitman, it has much to offer other than curb appeal.

4.  And finally, this little clip on YouTube is my best prep:

Enjoy what’s left of your summer.  I’ll be happy to hear from you about your summer reads, movies, and wrap-up.  Feel free to leave your comments here and I’ll try to read and reply them whenever I find a free WiFi hot spot.

Book Sale 2010

Went to the annual Book Sale at the Crossroads Market and hauled back my loot, officially kicking off Arti’s summer reading.  Although I must admit, I’ve many books on my TBR list.  They’re everywhere in my house, my bedside, on the couches, tables and chairs, and even on the floor.  Yet I would not miss the booksale at Crossroads.  The finds are just too good to pass.  My hours of scrutinizing always bring in great rewards.  Here’s a list of this year’s haul.  20 of them, almost all trade paperbacks, spine unbent, all new to like-new condition, at $1.50 each.  Here they are:

I’ve an eclectic selection here.  Here are the categories:

Biography

  • Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke  —  Book into film
  • Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser  — Book into film

Canadiana

  • The Time In Between by David Bergen —  2005 Giller Prize
  • Late Nights On Air by Elizabeth Hay  —   2007 Giller Prize
  • Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje  —  2007 Governor General’s Literary Award
  • A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews  —  2004 Governor General’s Literary Award

Contemporary Literature

  • The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco — International literary awards author
  • Love by Toni Morrison — Nobel Prize author
  • Run by Ann Patchett  —  PEN/Faulkner and Orange Prize author
  • Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton — contemporary classic
  • Goldengrove by Francine Prose — National Book Award finalist
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith —  2000 Whitbread First Novel Award
  • In The Beauty Of The Lilies by John Updike — Pulitzer winning author
  • The Evidence Against Her by Robb Forman Dew — National Book Award author
  • The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga — 2008 Man Booker Prize
  • Amsterdam by Ian McEwan — 1998 Man Booker Prize
  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai — 2006 Man Booker Prize
  • The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa — Japanese literary awards author
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro — Man Booker Prize author
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd  —  Book into film

Mystery and Thriller

  • The 39 Steps by John Buchan
  • The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly
  • The Private Patient by P. D. James
  • The Messenger by Daniel Silva

Short Stories

  • Telling Tales edited by Nadine Gordimer
  • Simple Recipes by Madeleine Thien
  • The Complete Short Stories of W. Somerset Maugham

Tools of the Trade

  • The Declaration of Independent Filmmaking by Mark Polish et al.
  • 10 Sure Signs A Movie Character Is Doomed & Other Surprising Movie Lists by Richard Roeper
  • Art History’s History by Vernon Hyde Minor
  • Notting Hill Screenplay by Richard Curtis
  • The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries by Emma Thompson

Fads

  • Pride And Prejudice And Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
  • Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup  — Book into film

Guilty pleasure?  Compulsive hoarding?  Not really.  First off, I’m supporting a well-meaning charity, Servants Anonymous.  Secondly, I’m doing something that’s uber important in this digitally-driven society.  I’m contributing to the preservation of the art of the printed book.  And who knows, someday, these copies might well become valuable antique items when the e-industry totally takes over.

A look at their covers would make you long to touch them, real paper, book art and design, authentic hard copies of the printed word.  A future rarity, and I’m sure, collector’s items.

Top 100 Books & Summer Reading Lists

Summers come and summers go,  reading lists for students tend to remain a constant, or… no?

According to The Boston Globe, the following are a few titles from high school summer reading lists over the years:

1915-1916 (long list of choices for regular year and summer)

  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
  • Works by Stevenson, Twain, and Dickens

1984 (requirements by grade and academic level)

  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

2009 (recommendations, not requirements)

  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  • Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith

ah…  the times they are a-changin.

Instead of (or, hopefully, on top of) reading the original Pride and Prejudice, students today are offered the zombies version… optional, of course.  The current view is, students should be enticed to read, not forced to.  Reading is supposed to be fun, after all, it’s summer.  

Summer

Around the same time, Newsweek published The Meta-List of Top 100 Books of all time.  The List is a compilation of 10 top book lists, including Modern Library, the New York Public Library, St. John’s College reading list, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Oprah’s, and others.  The Meta-List… the mother of all lists.

Here are the top 30,  just for a taste of the selections.  For the complete list, click on the above link.

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
  2. 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
  3. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
  4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
  5. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929)
  6. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)
  7. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927)
  8. The Illiad and The Odyssey by Homer (8th Century B.C.)
  9. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
  10. Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1321)
  11. Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (15th Century)
  12. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)
  13. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1874)
  14. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958)
  15. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951)
  16. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
  17. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967)
  18.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  19. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
  20. Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
  21. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  22. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
  23. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
  24. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf  (1925)
  25. Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)
  26. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (1835)
  27. On The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)
  28. The Histories by Herodotus (440 B.C.)
  29. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762)
  30. Das Kapital by Karl Marx (1867)

… and so on and so forth.  You get the idea.  Nothing on the top 100 list is later than 1987 (Beloved by Morrison) except Pullman (no. 84), and quite a few dating back to Centuries B.C. 

Now, is this literary elitism that has not caught up with the times?  Or, has our younger generation been short changed by not being taught to appreciate some valuable cultural legacy?  How do we reconcile the discrepancy between what’s recommended to our students and what experts think are the best books ever written?  Or, reading tastes vary, people are free to read whatever they like… Any list produced is therefore prescriptive and hegemonic?

Of course, one  could argue summer reading lists are not academic syllabi, give our students a break.  They’ll have the chance to read these great books at school… or, will they ever?

Still another debate would be the all too familiar struggle  even among book lovers: Literary or Popular Fiction, old or contemporary classics?   How do we choose?   Reading widely or reading deeply?  

 And, the very practical question:  How can I extend my 24 hours? 

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

guernsey-literary-and-potato-peel-pie-society

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books.”

A novel in the form of letters?  I admit it wasn’t much of an appeal to me at first. After it has maintained its position on the New York Times Bestseller List for months, and now the trade paperback holding the first spot there, I just can’t resist anymore.

The book begins with a series of letters between a London writer Juliet Ashton and her friend and publisher Sydney Stark shortly after WWII.  Later, upon receiving a letter from Dawsey Adams, a resident of Guernsey of the Channel Islands, Juliet starts to correspond with the charming folks living there.

So how does the book title come about? Guernsey Island was occupied by the Germans during the war.   It happens that one night after a secret ‘pig out’, a few Guernsey residents are found breaking the curfew.  To find an excuse quickly when confronted by German soldiers, Elizabeth, our heroine, makes up the story that she and her fellow members have to leave a literary society meeting late as they’ve been so immersed in a German book.

This impromptu excuse soon takes shape in reality.  Thus begins the odyssey of reading, book discussions, and the members’ correspondences with Juliet Ashton.  Juliet is so immersed in their lives and moved by their situation that she later decides to go visit them, making the Guernsey Literary Society the subject of her next book.

Many of the letters are poignant descriptions of lives during the difficult war years.  The Guernsey residents have to suffer the searing pain of evacuating their own children to England for safety, seeing the young and healthy sent to war, finding others just disappear to concentration camps, and hearing eye witness accounts of heroic sacrifices for utter strangers. While all these years on the Island, they have to endure deprivation of food, basic necessities, and freedom. But the literary society meetings and the few reading materials in their possession remain their lifeline to humanity and dignified living.

“Everyone was sickly from so little nourishment and bleak from wondering if it would ever end.  We clung to books and to our friends; they reminded us that we had another part to us.”

Author Mary Ann Shaffer passed away in February 2008 and was succeeded by her niece Annie Barrows in finishing the novel.  In the Acknowledgment, Shaffer had written these words in December 2007:

“I hope, too, that my book will illuminate my belief that love of art — be it poetry, storytelling, painting, sculpture, or music — enables people to transcend any barrier man has yet devised.”

Despite the subject matter, readers will find the book witty and delightful.  Authors Shaffer and Barrows have depicted a myriad of lively characters, charmingly joined in their humanity by their strengths and weaknesses.  Yes, we can also visualize the madness of war. But we’re relieved to see too that people can weather hardship much better when they have a common bond, here, in the reading and sharing of fine literary works.  Mind you, these are not your academics and scholars.  The Guernsey residents are mainly pig farmers and vegetable growers.  As we read their letters, we soon see them as friends, Amelia, Dawsey, Isola, Eben, Eli, Elizabeth and little Kit…

And, am I such a Jane Austen fan that I’m seeing this:  Juliet Ashton (J.A.), Dawsey (Darcy), and Elizabeth, beloved heroine of all time.

What impresses me most is that the Guernsey Islanders are so willing to open their hearts and lives to writer Juliet, an absolute stranger, mainly because of their common love of the written words.  They find it an honor to be able to correspond with a real life writer, pouring their hearts out in respect and admiration, and quickly confiding in her.  A writer as a celebrity and friend?  It’s just fiction, you may say. But, why can’t it be real?

As for the art of letter writing, has it been lost as some have claimed, or has it merely been transformed into … yes, blogging, for example?  Because as I was reading the book, it flashed by me at times that I was reading some blog posts.  Are the writings that we post in the blogosphere a kind of open letter?  Our exchanges in the comment box our correspondences?  And, to push it a bit further, the telegram of old the early form of twitter?

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, Dial Press Trade Paperback Edition, 2009, 288 pages.

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Click here to go to the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society website.  As for the potato peel pie recipe, yes, at the Jane Austen Society of North America website.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

NocturnesNocturnes is a recently published short stories collection by Kazuo Ishiguro, the Booker Prize winning author.  Like a song cycle, the five stories are arranged with a common motif, alas, the loss of romance.  They take place mainly in Europe, in some romantic settings, like Venice.  The cycle begins and ends there.  Music is the essential backdrop.  It is the common thread linking the various ways the characters attempt to salvage lost love and revive relation stalemates.

Nocturnes is a light read.  The theme could be dealt with seriously, but Ishiguro apparently tries a very different rendition.  I had expected him to depict dreamscapes as he had done with his previous works, such as The Unconsoled, or While We Were Orphans, but I had not expected laugh-out-loud, hilarious scenes.  Unlike the serious tone of The Remains of the Day, we see Ishiguro in a comedic styling.  And, despite the meditative title, it’s not the classical music of Chopin that he has invoked, but Broadway, jazz, Irving Berlin, Ray Charles, Sarah Vaughan, and yes, ABBA, just to name a few.

The quintet is composed of ‘Crooner’, ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, ‘Malvern Hills’, ‘Nocturne’, and ‘Cellists’.   They touch on a basic question:  Is a marriage finished with the loss of romance?  Is revival even possible after lovers have fallen out of love?

Kazuo Ishiguro

‘Crooner’ is poignant in depicting a once hot, now aging American singer trying to offer a last bit of love to his wife before the inevitable end.

‘Malvern Hills’ has a similar story line, but carries additional sadness in that the dispassion extends to the couple’s only son.

‘Nocturne’ offers an interesting perspective on Beverly Hills’ image-driven quest of the rich and famous, and the up-and-coming. It offers some real fun and sardonic humor.

And ‘Cellists’, well, I really don’t know what to make of it, a story about a cellist who is not a cellist…

The most hilarious scene is in ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’.  In the story, the main character has to cover up a mistake he’s made with the excuse that ‘the dog did it’. So, it’s canine method acting that he has to  take up instantly.  It is in such incredulous scenarios that the dreamscapes of Ishiguro emerge.  But this time it is more like merging reality with comedy romp.

Considering the motif of this literary quintet, Ishiguro’s humorous and sometimes farcical way of dealing could well have offered his readers a fresh perspective on the subject matter.  While Nocturnes may be a good pick for a beach read, I admit that I miss the poignant and pensive mood of The Remains of the Day.  I wish too that Ishiguro would re-visit his previous style in his future work, for his writing can be most subtle and incisive, heart-wrenching without commotion.  I missed such tonal expressions here, and the resonance they could have evoked.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall by Kazuo Ishiguro, published by Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2009, 221 pages.

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Photo credit: Jane Brown, www.list.co.uk/article/ 17435-kazuo-ishiguro/

More Great Finds!

Call me greedy.  I’ m happy to take the blame.  Since this is the last weekend of the gigantic used book sale at the Crossroad Market, I just had to go again for more treasure hunting.  If you take a look at my second loot list below, you’d have done the same.  As the lady said when I was squeezing my way in,

“It was a zoo yesterday.”

“You came here yesterday too?”  I asked.

“Yeah, sure!”   (Subtext:  What a dumb question… and, why didn’t you?)

So, again, these are all trade paperbacks in mint condition.  They are all a dollar each (Canadian).

The Selected Stories of Mavis GallantThe Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant:   887 pages.  Having seen the video of Mavis Gallant reading in a Paris book shop and her conversation with Jhumpa Lahiri, thanks to fellow blogger oh introducing the Granta link, I was elated to find this volume.  It looked like it had not been opened, fresh, clean for the picking.

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The Complete Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe

Short stories, the more the merrier.  I was delighted to find this volume:  The Complete Short Stories of Thomas Wolfe, 621 pages.  I’ve long wanted to read Wolfe, now’s a good time.

 

 

 

..

A Fine BalanceA lady held up a heavy box for me to take this one out underneath:  A Fine Balance by Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry.   “That’s a good pick,” she said.

“I’ve seen it many times, but think it’s too thick,”  I said.

“You wouldn’t want it to end,”  she said.    What higher recommendation can you get for a book?

 

                                        .

One Man's BibleOne Man’s Bible by Gao Xingjian, winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Chinese recipient of the Prize.  Born in China, Gao has been living in France since 1987.  The book is translated into English by Mabel Lee, associate professor of Chinese at the University of Sydney.  Interesting… although this one I can read the original,  the chance of me finding it in a farmers market here in Cowtown, Canada is not great.  I’ll settle for the translation.

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John AdamsI missed the Golden Globe winning TV miniseries.  So, grabbing the original material is just great.  David McCullough’s 721 pages John Adams won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for biography.  This is a handsome movie-tie-in- cover edition with many color pictures.  What a find!

 

 

       .

The Radiant WayTalking about wonderful covers.  How about this one:  Margaret Drabble’s The Radiant Way.  I’ve never seen this edition of Drabble’s book.  A pleasure just to look at.

 

 

 

The Devil Wears PradaAnd what’s summer reading without beach reads.  Here’s my copy of The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger.  Again, seldom do I see a trade paperback of this title.

 

 

 

 

..

Here are the rest of  my 20 titles:

  • Digging to America by Anne Tyler
  • A Patchwork Planet byAnne Tyler
  • The Navigator of New York by Wayne Johnston (Giller and GG Finalist)
  • Larry’s Party by Carol Shields (Winner of 1998 Orange Prize and National Book Critics Circle Awards)
  • Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (Saw the movie starring Colin Firth, quite liked it.)
  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
  • The Reapers by John Connolly
  • The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Just want to read it before the movie comes out.)
  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (Winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize)
  • Durable Goods by Elizabeth Berg
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright (Winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize)
  • Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
  • The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier (Author of Girl With A Pearl Earring)
  • Bird by Bird:  Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

It’s a tall order to read all the 40 books I hauled back these two weekends.  It’ll take me years.  But as any book lover can attest, it’s good to know they’re on my shelves.

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Summer Reading 2009

When does ‘regular reading’ end and ‘summer reading” begin?  Well this year it’s easy.  The gigantic used book sale I went to over the weekend and the loot I brought back make it official:  Let summer reading 2009 begin.

The treasures I found were trade paperbacks in like-new condition.  And because I had twenty, they cost me just one dollar each.  Right, that’s Canadian dollar, even a better bargain.  How I found them was an ordeal.  They were painstakingly selected under smoldering heat at a farmers’ market.  For two hours, I elbowed my way in to grab hold of my targets which I had to eye from a distance over heads and shoulders.  But it’s all worth it.

Here’s a picture and a list of the titles I brought back:

Used Book Sale Loot 1

  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • Simple Recipes by Madeleine Thien
  • Desperate Characters by Paula Fox
  • Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam (Giller Prize Winner)
  • The Sea by John Banville (Man Booker Prize Winner)
  • Saturday by Ian McEwan
  • Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth
  • Daisy Miller by Henry James
  • The Stories of Edith Wharton selected by Anita Brookner
  • The Mapmaker’s Opera by Béa Gonzalez
  • Always Now The Collected Poetry of Margaret Avison
  • Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (Pulitzer Author)
  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (Booker Prize Winner)
  • Marginalia: A Cultural Reader by Mark Kingwell
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  • A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman
  • Lost Souls by Lisa Jackson
  • Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood
  • Exit Music by Ian Rankin

Some of these titles I’ve long wanted to read, like Goodbye, Columbus and Rebecca.   Some are just well known titles or authors that I think I should read, like Tolstoy, Franzen and Tyler.   Some are winners of book prizes that I usually enjoy, the Booker, Giller, Pulitzer.   Some are fine Canadian authors and one of my favorite poets.   And some I’m just curious about like A Natural History of the Senses.  But one stands out.  This time, I’m literally judging a book by its cover:

Front Cover Mapmaker's Opera

Back Cover Mapmaker's Opera

The above are the front and back cover of the book.  There’s no title, only on the spine.  It’s enjoyable just looking at it.  But the title is appealing too:  The Mapmaker’s Opera.

Together with the books I’m already reading, plus my long TBR list, I think I’m topped up till next summer.

For More Great Finds, Click Here.

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