Tag Archives: literature

Sunday, Sunday

Time for another excursus, the weekly rabbit trail, a break from our alphabetic ways.

This week I read Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie. This is a LOST book and I can see why it was referenced on that island-centric show. The murder takes place at a hotel on an island which is connected to the mainland by a causeway, which is underwater at high tide. The people at the hotel at the time of the murder all, of course, have previous, off-island lives, which play into the investigation. It is all very LOST-like in many ways. You should check it out.

I’ve also just finished re-reading Possession, Best Book Ever. The language play is phenomenal. Haven’t read it? You should. It is a literary read, there are poems, but that is part of the fun. Look at the language and the way Byatt plays with words. So Good.

Since I just closed Possession, I’m in that between-book haze where I’m still in the world of literary scholars and poets and unpublished manuscripts. I’m not quite in a place where I can even think of what I’m going to read next.

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I keep finding links to blog about but not posting them. Here are a couple that I found interesting.

1. In the category Potty for Potter, some suggestions about muggle books the Potter characters might read. Each character featured has a fiction and a non-fiction suggestion. I found the suggestions amusing.

2. In the category Books You Should Read, an interview with Karen Swallow Prior. I’ve been eyeing Prior’s Booked. Maybe I’ll add it to my Christmas list. In the interview, Prior names 5 books she thinks all Christians in America should read.

3. Finally, for today anyway, an interesting US map of books by setting. Read your way around the USA. There was some Canadian discussion of this on the Globe and Mail site for Canada Day this year. I think the Globe did regions, not provinces. But we could do provinces. What’s the most famous book set in each of the Canadian provinces and territories? There’s a Friday Challenge for you!

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Alice Munro

This is the only subject any Canadian Book Blogger is writing about today: Alice Munro, NOBEL PRIZE for literature. Nice.

Yes, I’ve read Munro’s stories, not all of them, but enough to know I like them. You should now go read them too. Nobel Prize people, that is must read stuff. Must Read Stuff that is written by a Canadian Woman. Run out and get an original collection. Then read it.

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Sixth Day: Book Pick of the Year

I don’t have a book of the year for 2012. There is no clear winner, so I declare no winner.

How do I judge this? Books that are books of the year, should pop instantly to the top of the mind as books that have stayed with me. They roll around in the mind and come back at odd moments. I remember the characters and think about them. None of the books I read this year stand out as that memorable. When I looked through the pages of my reading journal (kept since 1993, now in its fourth volume) for 2012, I found books I remembered and nodded, yes, that was an enjoyable read. But none got in my head  like my pick for last year, Room.

Maybe Room was one of those extraordinary books that just gets in your head and stays there, and maybe that doesn’t happen every year. Maybe I should go easier on the books I read this year. I did get pretty distracted at the end of this year with the moving and doing NaNoWriMo and a bunch of other things in November. In this spirit, here is a list of books read in 2012 that I passed on to others. None of them are my pick of the year. There just isn’t one.

1. Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. I hesitated before putting this book on this list. I read it in 2012 and purged it from my library in 2012. I was disappointed by it. When I was in the process of moving, I took about 10 boxes of books with me to a Sr. High/College fall retreat at camp. I announced there were free books, and a hoard descended upon the boxes and picked through them. One young woman asked me for recommendations. I spotted Weber’s book, looked at the person, then said “I think you’ll like this book. I didn’t, but I think you will.” And she did. I passed it on to someone who liked it better than I did.

2. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I’ve not given this to anyone in particular, but I’ve certainly recommended it many times at the bookshop where I work. Stayed in my head for the first part of the year. Looking forward to the sequel. Not quite pick-of-the-year stickiness though.

3. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. I’ve used this as my pick of the month at the bookshop where I work, and also recommended it there. I will be reading this again. I think it takes a while to digest.

4. The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. Gave away for Christmas. Doesn’t make pick of the year because I’d forgotten about it until I saw it in a bookshop and then it all came flooding back. Jumped on it, bought it, gave it away. I hope 1Mom enjoys it.

5. In the Bleak Mid-Winter by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Read it, realized we should sell it at the bookshop where I work, recommended it to my manager. Both the store manager and the customer service manager are now hooked on the series. Score.

Do you have a pick of the year? Did any book stick in your head as a stand out for the year?

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A time to speak and a time to be silent

For today, a list of links that may be thought-provoking.

1. Roger Ebert on violence in media.

2. A post on irony which suggests that many of us, not just hipsters, have forgotten how to take life seriously. How do we discern when to be ironic and when not to be ironic? (Also, some people who write songs don’t know what irony actually is.) I plan to think some more about this and possibly write a whole post about it.

3. And finally, in honour of AMom and her many gingerbread architectural wonders over the years, some literary gingerbread houses.

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Authors I’ve discovered This Year

Sometimes I discover an author, then proceed to read the author’s entire backlist. This year, there are a few authors I’ve discovered. I’ll talk about three today.

1. Haruki Murakami. I heard 1Q84 was really good, so I made a note to read it. Before I read 1Q84, though, I read Sputnik Sweetheart, mostly because of the title. Sputnik. I’m an aerospace engineer, what can I say? Anyhow, I quite enjoyed SS, so kept looking for 1Q84, and finally decided to borrow it from the library on ebook. This worked well. I was only on the waiting list for a couple of days. I really enjoyed 1Q84. Now I’m on the look-out for Murakami whenever I go to used bookstores.

2. Julia Spencer-Fleming. This is a pretty recent discovery. I’d heard of Spencer-Fleming before in lists of clergy mysteries, that is mystery series that have a clergy person as a main character. When I was moving, I decided to get a couple of audio books from the library so that I had some listening material while I packed and unpacked and organized. Spencer-Fleming’s first book In the Bleak Mid-Winter was available as an audio book. I picked it up as I’d heard of the author, plus, as a bonus, it was the first book in the series. I like starting things at the beginning. I quite enjoyed listening do In the Bleak Mid-Winter, told the manager at the bookshop where I work about the series, and now we stock them! And I read book two! And I’m going to read more!!

3. Robertson Davies. Some of you may think that as a Canadian who reads voraciously I should have discovered Robertson Davies long ago. I think it was the beard that put me off. Anyhow, I got over that. I wrote about my discovery of Davies in this a blog post earlier this year. I’ve now read two sets of three books by Davies, the Deptford trilogy and the Salterton trilogy. Coming up: the Cornish trilogy.

What about you? What authors have you discovered this year?


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Recommended Reading?

A few years ago the Telegraph published a list of 100 novels everyone should read. Of these 100, I’ve read 15, own 4 with the intent of reading them, am actively interested in finding a copy of about 4 others, and have no intention at all of reading 2. My question is, why should everyone read these novels? What makes this the definitive list? Why should everyone read certain books?

I think part of the answer to why we continue to make lists of books everyone should read is the idea(l?) of a common culture. If we have stories in common, we will know how to talk with one another. Previously, the Bible provided a common fund of stories and proverbs and phrases that most people knew and could refer to. In our 21st century culture are literary novels and the always-debated canon of western literature replacing the Bible? Perhaps required reading lists only add to the Bible. Now we have even more to know.

Do you pay attention to these lists? Why or why not?

If I were to make a list of 100 novels everyone should read, I’d probably include many of the 15 books I’ve read that are on the Telegraph’s list. I’m not quite decided about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think my list might have more Canadians on it. I’d probably throw in Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Margaret Atwood is already on the list (Handmaid’s Tale), but Robertson Davies needs to make an appearance. I’m sure there are others. I think I’d add Harry Potter to the list. Potter has shifted the way people think about children’s literature, and whether you think that is good or bad, the fact is that Rowling’s books are a cultural phenomena. If we read for shared stories, everyone should read Potter.

What about you? What books would you include in your 100 novels everyone should read?


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So far this year

Since I finished a volume of “The List” last week, this might be an appropriate time to update you on my reading so far this year. I’ve finished 33 books, which means I’m on target to read 120 this year — that’s a book every three days or so, 10 per month. My progress toward the goal has been fairly steady, though March was a bit slower than some other months. I did manage to catch up at the beginning of April.

7 of the 33 books I’ve read have been non-fiction. Three of the non-fiction books are worth mentioning here — The Last Divine Office by Geoffrey Moorhouse, Why Narrative? edited by Stanley Hauerwaas and L. Gregory Jones, and A Pathway into the Holy Scripture edited by Philip E. Satterthwaite and David F. Wright. The Last Divine Office is about a bit of England I don’t know much about, and gave a different view of the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII than I’ve read before. Reading it made me want to visit Durham Cathedral. The book itself isn’t a particularly well-written history, but I was fascinated by the subject matter. Why Narrative? is a collection of key texts on narrative theology. I chose this book as my Pick-of-the-Month in the bookshop where I work. The Famous Chaplain, whose office is down the hall from the bookshop, came through one day, picked up Why Narrative?  and announced that this was the best book ever as a starting point for learning about narrative theology. I have to agree with him. I’m sad I didn’t read the book earlier in my theological career. I’m also sad that I didn’t read A Pathway into the Holy Scripture earlier in my theological career. This is a nice collection of essays on biblical studies that I’ve had sitting on my shelf for at least 12 years. I dipped into it before, but reading them through was very interesting. I particularly appreciated the metaphors in I. Howard Marshall’s essay on Biblical and Systematic Theology.

If 7/33 books I’ve read have been non-fiction, that means the other 26 books have been fiction. Elsewhere in this blog I noted that I began reading Robertson Davies. In addition to Davies, the literary books I’ve read are Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (about Henry VIII, who has been a featured character in my reading this year), The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (a reflection on life after death told as a dream-story), and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (though my friends have been loudly debating whether this book is literature or pop-fiction with no staying power). 11 of the fiction books have been mysteries, which are my favoured form of brain candy. One of the mysteries also features Henry VIII, Sovereign by C.J. Sansom. That is one of the best mysteries I’ve read so far this year. Of course I really really liked Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, but I’m afraid Sovereign wins on plot twists. The rest of my reading has been fantasy, short story collections, and science fiction. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is the stand-out of those books.

What have you read so far this year? Any recommendations?


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Seasonal Books 3: Bridget Jones’s Diary

Ah Bridget, what would New Year’s Resolutions be without you and your fine example? How could we think of ringing in another year without revisiting the Turkey Curry Buffet? Bridget Jones’s Diary, either the movie version or the book (in my opinion they are equally good) is quintessential holiday fare, especially for the single female.

BJD is a great read and re-read partially because of Helen Fielding’s adept use of language. I’m always in slight awe of the consistent tone of the diary — Fielding does not break cover. I’ve read all of Fielding’s books — there are only four — and I think BJD is the best of them. Part of this is the consistent tone and the interesting family plots, but there are also interesting literary references throughout the book. The most obvious references are to Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice. The casting of the movie with Colin Firth as Mark Darcy is beyond brilliant. (Also note that the writer for the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice is also on the writing team for the movie version of BJD.) There is another literary reference that I wonder about. I wonder where Fielding got the name Bridget Jones to begin with. Henry Fielding (1707-1758) wrote a novel called Tom Jones, which has a key character called Bridget. H. Fielding – X Jones. Hmm. No one has commented on this in print as far as I can see. Most people just ooh and ah at the layers of meta-fiction between Bridget and P&P both print and movie versions.

Apparently Helen Fielding spawned the “Chick Lit” genre single-handedly with the publication of BJD. I’d have to do a bit more research to find out whether that assessment is actually true. It is interesting that no-one has a genre category for books like About A Boy when it is (in my mind anyway) very much like BJD but with a male lead instead of a female lead. I’ve been trying to think of a gender-neutral genre label that has the same sort of snap that “Chick Lit” has, but have been thus far unsuccessful. Still thinking. Any suggestions?

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Sunday Lists: The Wonders of Wiki

This week I debated writing a list of my own for Sunday, but then found a lovely meta-list on wikipedia – a list of book lists! How could I resist exploring then sharing. The meta-list provides lots of exploring options. This is what I found interesting at first glance:

1. A list of bagpipe books. Who knew?

2. A list of fiction set in Toronto. Local Literature!!

3. Two lists to argue with. The first is a list of the 100 most influential books ever written. This list was compiled and published by a male person in 1998. It contains three (3) female authors. That’s 3%. Then there’s the interestingly titled list, Literary Taste: How to Form it. One forms literary taste by reading the authors on the list. This list was first compiled in 1909, then updated in 1935, both times by a male person. The combined list contains (by my count) 360 authors, 26 of whom are female. That’s 7.2%. 65 years earlier than buddy with the 100 most influential books and his 3%. Now I realize that the point of the two lists is different, and the criteria used in compiling them is therefore different. But women certainly did not gain ground in the 65 years. At. All. Of course there are other things to argue with about the lists. Really? Are these the most influential books? How can you tell? On the literary taste side I find little to argue about as I haven’t read most of the books. Thus, I probably have not properly formed literary taste, and so cannot make a judgment. I HAVE read Jane Austen, and she’s on the literary taste list. Maybe there’s some hope.

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