Monthly Archives: September 2013

Reading Poetry, Part 2

When I wrote the poetry post yesterday, I managed to completely forget that I have a poetry book in my active reading pile. Oops. My Orthodox Colleague gave me a copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Cry Like a Bell, a collection of poems about Bible characters. L’Engle’s collection begins with Eve and wends its way to a poem about Nicolas (Acts 6:5-7). I’m in the middle of Moses at the moment. I read one poem a day and then let it sink in a little. Check out the collection. You might like it.


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Reading Poetry

I asked my reading friends on fb whether they read poetry. It was interesting that almost a completely different set of people jumped on this question. Do prose and poetry readers talk to each other? Hmm. A question for another day.

My fb friends have eclectic taste in poetry. I think that is pretty common. Poetry seems to be an eclectic thing. See my month of poetry if you doubt that. Or don’t if you are a poetry lover. I’m pretty sure it is all bad poetry. You see I don’t read poetry regularly, which is probably why I write bad poetry. Or why I can’t tell good from bad poetry. I’ve not had sufficient exposure to the mysteries of the pome. (Intentional misspelling by the way. Meant to be funny. If I have to explain it in more than three sentences, that means it probably isn’t funny.)

Poetry I remember reading — Robert Service “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” ridiculous clerihews about King George the Third (George the third/ought never to have occurred./One can only wonder/at such an enormous blunder.), A.A. Milne Now We Are SixI think my copy of Milne disintegrated. It was a paperback. Someone (my brother? me?) coloured in some of the line illustrations.

Wait! Stop press! I found it on my shelf. Whew. Yeah, someone used a crayon in all the pictures in “King John’s Christmas.” Now that I’ve got my copy in hand I can give you the first poem, which was my favourite, and explains why I’ve still got the book on my shelf.


I have a house where I go

When there’s too many people,

I have a house where I go

Where no one can be;

I have a house where I go,

Where nobody every says “No”

Where no one says anything — so

There is no one but me.

This is the illustration that goes with it:



So yeah. Milne is my favourite at the moment. I shall try to read more other poetry. I’ve got some sitting on my shelf. I’ll report back.

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Fads in Fiction

I’ve started reading Bellweather by Connie Willis. It is very funny. The main character is a sociologist who studies Fads and How They Start. In honour of the main character’s main concern, each chapter starts with a description of a famous fad from history in a pseudo-dictionary style. The first chapter begins with the Hula Hoop (march 1958-June 1959). Here’s the entry on coffeehouse fad, which made me laugh, particularly at the end.

coffeehouse (1450-1554) – Middle Eastern fad that originated in Aden, then spread to Mecca and throughout Persia and Turkey. Men sat cross-legged on rugs and sipped thick, black, bitter coffee from tiny cups while listening to poets. The coffeehouses eventually became more popular than mosques and were banned by the religious authorities, who claimed they were frequented by people “of low costume and very little industry.” Spread to London (1652), Paris (1669), Boston (1675), and Seattle (1985).

Seattle, a little late to the party.

Right. Back to reading.


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Banned Books in America: Really?

This week is “Banned Book Week” as proclaimed by the American Library Association. The ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom sells Banned Book paraphernalia and maintains lists of “banned” books on their website. The problem I have with this whole “Banned Book Week” begins with the broad definition of a challenged/banned book — a book which has been challenged or removed from a library or course reading list. Really, there is little at stake in preventing challenges/bans in the USA. One can always find the “banned” book in another library system, or in a local or online bookseller.

While the ALA’s concern to keep material available to all is commendable, the Read A Banned Book! exhortations which filled social media early this week are overdone. There are some countries where reading a banned book is not a mildly rebellious act, but a death-defying act. I’m not sure how the ALA’s week of hype really helps us understand this. In my mind it downgrades the issue, making it into a bit of a joke. I’ve read loads of banned books, and so have you. Just look at the lists if you’ve any doubt about that. How do we start to understand the reality of banned books globally?

Another blogger (from a non-North American viewpoint) pointed out that while challenging/banning books is not an effective method of keeping books out of the public eye, ignoring them is. What books do we ignore? They are effectively banned as they are not included in library collections or in school curriculum in the first place. How do we pay more attention to ignored works?

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Favoured Genres

The other day I asked my fb friends these questions: What is your preferred genre of books? Why do you like that genre? What is your favourite example of the genre?

I was rather surprised that fantasy came back as the number one answer. I knew some of my fb friends were fantasy readers, but was interested at how many people came back with that as their number one. Some people blended sci fi with fantasy (I don’t, reasons previously posted) and some people had sci fi coming a close second to fantasy. One person said mysteries were a guilty pleasure. I’m not sure why my dog-loving friend finds mysteries a guilty pleasure unless she has murdered someone?

While Fantasy was the overwhelming winner of my completely unscientific online poll, there were other genres mentioned — survival stories (non-fiction), travel, biography/memoir, and historical fiction.

Me? I am having a hard time with the question. I am prone to purchase/borrow and read mysteries by the ton because these have a predictable shape that I enjoy, and they make good brain candy reads. I am much more inclined to try a new mystery author than a new sci-fi or fantasy author without recommendation. BUT I do like sci-fi a lot. And I do like fantasy a lot. Those kinds of books tend to stick in my mind longer than formulaic mysteries. I am more likely to be completely blown away by a sci-fi or fantasy work than by a mystery novel. So what is my favourite genre? It depends what I’m looking for.

Some favourite examples of the genres I like? All these are 21st Century books, and they are pretty sweet examples of things that I like in each genre.

Mystery, Val McDermid, Killing the Shadows

Fantasy, Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion

Sci-Fi, Walter Jon Williams, Implied Spaces


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Literary Dinner Parties

I ran out of questions I thought were interesting on the Big List I was working through, so I made up my own — and I asked my reading friends on fb which literary character(s) they’d invite for dinner, and what they’d serve. I’ve got three Literary Dinners in mind — only one would fit into my apartment at the moment. I’d have to find other space for the other two.

Dinner for me and three guests at my apartment:

Guests: Harriet Vane (Lady Peter Wimsey), Ginny Weasley Potter, and Bridget Jones.

Menu: Turkey Curry and Chocolate Mousse for afters.

The Friends of Narnia Dinner:

Guests: Digory, Polly, Peter, Susan (I’d invite her, though she might refuse), Edmund, Lucy, Eustace, and Jill

Menu: Beef Stew, red wine, with fruit sorbet and cheese for afters. No Turkish Delight allowed.

The Detective Club:

Guests: Peter Wimsey, Adam Dalgliesh, Alan Banks, Fiona Cameron, Rev. Clare Fergusson, and Amelia Peabody

Menu: Mystery Something. Possibly a Mystery Dinner with food that looks like something else. Mashed Potato sundae anyone?

Who would you invite for your dinner party? What would you serve?


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Cuckoo and other mysteries

This post is by request. Yes, I did read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling and here is the review/reflection on that book and some other mysteries I’ve been reading.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is a very nice mystery, featuring a private detective with an interesting past, his trusty and newly-arrived sidekick (Robin), and some questionable clients. Our Hero investigates a suitably twisted plot and, of course, solves it. I do hope this is not the end of the series. Rowling has something going on here. She gave us seven Potter books, why not seven Strike books? It would provide a nice set pattern. In The Cuckoo’s Calling Rowling seems to have found a good post-Potter place to land for the moment. Of course now she’s got that World of Potter movie that she’s doing the screenplay for, but I hope she doesn’t give up on Cormoran Strike and his detective agency. If you haven’t read The Cuckoo’s Calling or are uncertain about giving it the time of day, I do recommend it. It is a fun read.

I’ve also been re-reading the Lord Peter Wimsey set of books by Dorothy L. Sayers. I’ve not read the set from beginning to end for some time, as in since I collected the set lo these many years ago. (Hint on how long: I bought some new and one of these says $3.95 on the cover.) I frequently read selected parts of this set (Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon) but not the whole. I am really enjoying them. Bunter is great. So are all the other characters in the books. Miss Climpson, who recurs at intervals, is fantastic. She is a high-church spinster who investigates when Lord Peter needs her to infiltrate situations that call for her special skills. She also runs a “typing agency” which is a front for a bunch of women who rush about investigating fraud and other crimes.

Your local library may not have easy access to The Cuckoo’s Calling just yet (waiting list anyone?) but I’m sure that Dorothy L. Sayers books can be found there. Give Lord Peter Wimsey a read. He is very entertaining.

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Projects Updated

I’ve got a couple of Reading Projects happening in the background of my reading this year. I’ve fallen off the LOST reading list a little. I’ve been finding those titles a bit weird and depressing. One shouldn’t be surprised at this really, as the show is a bit weird and sometimes depressing. The LOST list is meant to expand my reading horizons, so I will keep at it.

On the other hand, my reading old books resolution has been sailing smoothly along. I’ve been re-reading the Lord Peter Wimsey set in order. That is something I haven’t done in years. I am enjoying it very much. I’ve just finished Strong Poison in which lots of couples get together from previous mysteries and Lord Peter Meets His Match. Plus there’s a mystery. I’d forgotten about the fake seance in this one, and quite enjoyed Miss Climpson’s antics in that episode. All the silly characters at the edge of the Wimsey mysteries are always rather fun.

How is your reading for the fall of 2013 going? Is it required? Or is it all for fun?

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Places to read

My at-home reading place is my chair or my couch. My main living space is also the library at my house, so those locations are surrounded by books. I’m not very good at reading in public or university libraries, I get distracted by the public nature of the space. (This is translated “other people bother me.”) I read a lot at tables in various restaurants and diners that I frequent. I read on the bus and subway, and while waiting for the bus and the subway.

If I could read in a place in a book, it would likely be the haunted library at Duke’s Denver as described by Dorothy L. Sayers in Busman’s Honeymoon. One might be distracted by the ghosts, but they seem friendly. My fb friends are consumed with the idea of reading in the Hogwarts common room, but I think it would be a rather noisy place, and were I there I might be watching someone play wizard chess, or learning the rules of exploding snap.

While I like reading outside (as suggested by fb friends), often the other things outside distract from the book. I did some reading on a muskoka chair under a large sun-umbrella this summer. That was nice.

Where do you read? What literary location would you like to have access to in order to read there?

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Best/Worst so far, 2013

I’ve read a lot of books this year, more than I’ve read most complete years since I started keeping track 20 years ago. Of the 105 read since January here are the lows and highs.

Most disappointing: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. Bond in print is harder to take than Bond on film. Let’s just leave it there.

Non-Fiction enjoyed most: Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell. Love. I work in a bookshop. Customers do truly say weird things. Many of them are quite funny.

Old book enjoyed most: Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I really liked this, and I was sort of approaching it as a book I SHOULD read but wouldn’t like as much as Dorothy Sayers. How wrong.

Fiction That Stuck In My Head: Two books tie for this, The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Now let’s see what books can challenge these in the final four months of 2013!

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