Tag Archives: cottage reading

The Racketeer: What a Tub of Icecream is to Literature

I packed for the cottage: Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, a collection of the best of Alice Munro, and the only Margaret Laurence novel I’ve never read, The Fire Dwellers. I was set with the triumvirate of excellent Canadian authors (who also happen to be white ladies). I imagined sitting on the dock taking in the changing leaves and lapping lake while absorbing some of the best of Canadian literature. Instead I got to the cottage, put out all the books on the coffee table and immediately… picked up the copy of John Grishman’s The Racketeer from the cottage bookshelf. Turns out what I really wanted was to eat a tub of mental icecream. And I did. And I felt appropriately sick after, so there you go. I seem to recall C. using a similar description in her guest post, so thanks C. for making me think of novels as tasty treats! Continue reading

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Excessively planned reading for vacation: Guest post and solid advice

Thanks to R.T. for this fantastic guest post on reading suggestions for holiday and vacation. Turns out R.T. is not only smart, funny and great to work with, but a super star of a reader, too. 

I’ve developed a habit over the past few years that is activated whenever I am planning to go on vacation, “vacation” meaning anything that gets me out of my normal routine for more than a night: a conference involving a hotel stay, camping or cottaging for a 2 day weekend or longer, holidays at home, or proper vacation. The habit is this: once I know a “vacation” is on the horizon, I plan what to read, and plan to diabolical excess.
When I determined in March that I was getting the opportunity to go to Halifax in June for a conference followed by a road trip of Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island with my husband – finally making a long term dream of traveling the east coast possible – the very first thing I did was gleefully plan out what to read. The actual accommodations planning happened in the 11th hour, but boy, did I ever know what I’d be reading while potentially sitting on my suitcase in the street! I documented books set around the east coast, books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time, romantical vacationy books, emotionally challenging books – all things I would be inspired to dive into with this bucket-list-checking break from routine.
In the two weeks leading up to my trip – about the time I got the travel bookings completed – I consulted back to my now months-old, trusty, grandiose reading list and began regularly checking out and holding ebooks and audiobooks. Here’s what I (managed to, holds permitting) checked out, whether I read them, or whether they collected digital dust:
Audio
  • Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou – Started this in the Public Gardens of Halifax and finished it in Point Pleasant Park the next day during conference week (yes, I actually attended the conference as well)! This was a great book for taking in nature and feeling feels. In this book, Maya talks about her life through the lens of her relationship with her mother. It was unique, human, and touching.
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen – Oh boy. Moments after finishing Mom & Me & Mom, I thought to myself “you enjoyed that so much in this natural setting, you won’t top it right now, please don’t start something new, please don’t start something new, please don’t start something new”…I lasted 15 minutes, then started Hatchet, all while still wandering Point Pleasant Park. I remember seeing kids my age with this book countless times when I was young, and retrospectively wanted to know what the fuss was about. But much like a beloved-by-others childrens’ movie seen years too late – which for me is The Neverending Story seen in my 20s – I did not partake in the fuss whatsoever. I think I’m just too old for it, that and/or my parents aren’t divorcing currently so I don’t need the emotional support and life-or-death metaphors to help me understand what I’m going through – though I appreciate that this book could be a great help to kids. Good to know it exists, I suppose.
  • The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore – Husband and I have enjoyed reading Christopher Moore books in print, so I thought a couple of his audiobooks might be a good fit for a road trip. Sadly, this audiobook was abandoned 1 hour in. Husband is eager to read this on paper where he thinks the style and characters and plot will work better; I am not so eager. I would much rather go back and re-read Lamb.
  • Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris – Excellent road trip book. I’ve listened to this before and enjoyed sharing it with my husband. David Sedaris just knows how to write, and tell, a story.
  • Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson – I took this on myself after getting through Hatchet. It certainly satisfied my east coast setting quota, but was too saccharine, even for this avid Anne fan.
  • Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – Husband and I tried this YA after listening to David Sedaris. It was fine, but pretty boring. I wonder whether I somehow would have found this more exciting in print? One of my favourite things about listening to this book was the Irish accent of the narrator when reading as Artemis, so probably not. I doubt I’ll continue with the series. You want a good vampire / magical / fantasy YA novel? Try Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On AND Fangirl.
  • Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore – Didn’t get to it, but somewhat by choice. Serpent made me fearful to try another Christopher Moore book in audio form.
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle – Didn’t get to it.
  • How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran – Didn’t get to it.
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris – Didn’t get to it – sadly.
eBooks
  • Where the Words End and my Body Begins by Amber Dawn – This was so short and sweet I started and finished it before even leaving on the trip. Whoops! I really enjoy Amber Dawn’s writing which is honest and strong.
  • The Shipping News by Annie Proulx – I really liked this book, and thank goodness because it took me the entire trip to read. I always love a good family drama and/or moving-on-from-catastrophe type story – and this was a somewhat light one at that, one might say as beach-read a family drama story could get!? Strangely, I don’t have much to say, so there you have it. It was good.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Didn’t get to it.
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields – Didn’t get to it.
  • The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling – Didn’t get to it.
  • A Whale for the Killing by Farley Mowat – Didn’t get to it.
  • Island by Alistair MacLeod by Didn’t get to it.
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green – Didn’t get to it.
My east coast trip lasted 14 days. I checked out 18 books and 8 of them “happened” – 7 read, 1 abandoned. While I’m sad I didn’t get to more ebooks during the trip, I’m excited that I got through so many total books in a short span of time – indeed, part of the enjoyment of my vacation reading sprees is admittedly quantitative. What’s interesting is that of the 4 books I’d say I really enjoyed – Mom & Me & Mom, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, Where the Words End and my Body Begins, and The Shipping News – I was already familiar with those authors and/or the very book itself for 3/4 of them. Perhaps my next excessively planned vacation reading should gear towards voices of familiarity if what I’m looking for is a safe bet, but I can’t say I’m disappointed. While some of those audiobooks were a bit of a pain to get through, I still enjoyed the journey, and if nothing else, perhaps it will come handy in a trivia question sometime soon. I am now looking ahead to a short 4 day Toronto visit + Bon Echo camping weekend. I wonder if any books are set in Bon Echo…time for another research and planning session!

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Station Eleven: Why are you having a baby when the world is ending?

I’ve wanted a baby since my lady bits started twitching in my late twenties. I’ve been asked – and had trouble replying – why I want a baby. It’s a good question, and one we (collective humanity we and my partner-and-me-we) should probably be able to answer before we go ahead and have one. Enter me reading Emily St John Mandel’s (excellent) Station Eleven and feeling ever more sure that the world as we know it is ending, and that having a baby is… [enter your adjective]: risky, selfish, hopeful, terrifying, absurd, brave. Sure, when I was born in the 80s my parents must have felt a similar sense of foreboding: the Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation probably made it feel pretty scary to have a kid. And without the same frame of reference, I can’t be sure, except the arrival of disasters brought on by global warming makes the ‘threat’ not a possibility, but a reality.

So what does my baby-end-of-the-world-angst have to do with Station Eleven? The book narrates the post-apocolyptic world of a mix-matched cast of characters for whom the mantra “Survival is Insufficient” prompts them to not just survive, but to make and appreciate art, to maintain friendships and romances, and to form complicated relationships with ideas of past and future. It also gave this reader the scope and space to consider the [enter your adjective] of being a parent in any world, the massive responsibility and the abnegation of self called for by culture and circumstance (am I more or less likely to have a baby now? Time will tell).

With characters scattered in time and geography, the novel moves back and forward as readers are invited to piece together the events surrounding the collapse and the journies and connections of different characters (much, I might add, as one of these characters might be positioned to try to make sense of their world). We witness a magnificiently drawn setting of winter Toronto (really, not since the mostly wretched The Night Circus have I enjoyed a setting quite so much) and scenes along the north-east seaboard of North America (less brilliant than that of Toronto). Our characters are a little uneven in how successfully they’re drawn, but for the most part their motivations are well grounded in past events and rich personalities. (I would add that the narration of the lives of these characters ‘before’ the collapse is excellent – our knowledge of the imminanent end to their existence through the juxtaposition of their present adds urgency and poignancy to already great narration).

The past is captured in the creation and curation of the “Museum of Civilization” – an effort on the part of a few characters to preserve the history of the world that was lost, and to teach future generations about the cultures destroyed through their objects. The Museum is contrasted with characters who have ‘lost’ memories of the first years after the collapse. A sense that while remembering and presevation is a critical part of rebuilding culture, so too, an active forgetting (of the violence and isolation, we presume) is required for the same.

The future gestured to at the end of the novel is one of an expansion of connectivity (the lights go on again), the spread of ideas (the creation of a newspaper) and expanded travel (the networks of roads grow). It is a future, though, predicated on the tenacity and hope of its populace. The willingness of each character individually, and the groups collectively, to learn from one another and to trust one another (as in newspaper interviews and expansions of communities).

More than the (truly excellent) video game The Last of Us, the TV series The Walking Dead and the host of other post-apocolyptic futures we’ve encountered in recent years, Station Eleven calls on us to consider not only the everyday marvels and luxuries that surround our priviledged lives, but the threads of civilization that make a human life worth living: art, community, a connection to the past, a sense of hope for the future.

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Summer Reading List

summer-reading

What makes for a great summer read? I remember listening to a great episode of Slate’s Culture Gabfest (if you don’t listen, this podcast is the only reason I know the terribly little I know about movies, music and celebrity – looking at you P.) on the qualities of a summer book that included arguments for books of ‘escape’ (that is, books that aren’t emotionally or intellectually challenging), giant books that you’d otherwise not have time to dedicate to reading and books with heady plots that might capture interest for long stretches.

I’m not sure I have a ready answer to ‘the qualities of a great summer read’ question. Perhaps I’ll use this summer’s list to develop some kind of framework or taxonomy. What I do know is that each year I put out a call to friends and family for their suggestions. I populate a list that sits outside my usual, ongoing and interminable pile of recommendations and to-reads, because this list is the one that I promise to read, and do read while on vacation.

And so this week coming I head out on my first of two vacations this summer. I’m grateful to have the time, and looking forward to the chance to read. Thanks to those who suggested titles for me. I’ve put in my order at the library, and have picked up the following

Annihilation – Jeff Vandermeer (already fifty pages in to this one) Double suggestion made me put this one right to the top of the list. That and it was the only suggestion that clocked in under 400 pages (really? you all want me to read giant books?) and I wanted an early success.

Bleeding Edge – Thomas Pynchon (those who have been reading the blog for any duration will know that I have long resisted the urging (taunting?) of N. to read Thomas Pynchon. Perhaps he’s worn me down. Perhaps it’s my guilt for not being a better long-distance friend. Perhaps it’s my sympathy for his soon-to-be-no-sleep-ever-father-of-twins status, but I’ve committed to read it. The real shit of it is I secretly worried he’s been right the whole time and I’m going to love it.

Boy, Snow, Bird – Helen Oyeyemi I know nothing about this one other than P. recommended it and she’s been right with all her other suggestions. Even in suggesting a short story collection. Gasp.

The Pope and Mussolini : the secret history of Pius XI and the rise of Fascism in Europe – David Kertzer 99% of the time my mum is right about the book she suggests I’ll love. It helps that she reads 99% more than I do (she reads a lot) and that she knows enough about me to know what I’ll like. I have to say, she’s been going on and on about this one lately to the point that I’ve suspended my outright ban on non-fiction and am prepared to read it. Also because I love her. 

My Struggle – Karl Ove Knausgård One part deferrance to my supervisor-hero’s wisdom, one part realization that this book is on the top of a bazillion best-of lists, and one part guilt that the last book L. suggested (a collection of Lorna Crozier’s poetry) I actually read but failed to blog (don’t worry, it’s the only time that’s ever happened. *wink*). Let’s be clear: I’m not committing to all four volumes.

Station Eleven – Emily  St John Mandel Because Amazon said I should. (And a half a dozen others).

It’s exciting to imagine that with *two* vacations this summer I’ll get to put out *another* call and collect another set of magic. Until then I thought I’d leave you with one or two of my own suggestions for you to read this summer. Books that I’ve read in summers past (I’ve chosen books from the pre-blog era to give you something I’ve not otherwise reviewed) and really loved. Read em’ if you like. Let me know what you think.

City of Thieves – David Benioff: Siege of Leningrad. Boy must find a dozen eggs or be sentenced to death. Incredible mix of humour, intensity and imagination. Oh, and historical fiction.

The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The book that introduced the image and mystery of  ‘the cemetery of forgotten books’. Mystery, literary love affair and suspense coiled around magic realist elements.

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