Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Weekly Geeks: Review Links

This week a theme is being revived by the Weekly Geeks:

Here's what we'll do:

1. Write a post encouraging readers to look through your archives (if you have your reviews in a particular place on your blog, point them there), and find the books that they have also written reviews. Tell them to leave a link to their review on your review post. For example, I've written a review for Gods Behaving Badly and Jane Doe leaves a link to her review of Gods Behaving Badly in the comments section of my review.

2. Edit your reviews to include those links in the body of the review post.

3. Visit other Weekly Geeks and go through their reviews. Leave links for them.

4. Leave a note somewhere on your blog to let people know this is your new policy.

5. Write a post later this week letting us know how your project is going!

I am always pleased to link to other people's reviews; in fact I try to do it regularly, although sometimes I do forget to check before posting a new review. Please do leave me a link in the comments if you see a book I've read which you have as well -- I think it is always interesting to see multiple perspectives on a book. I don't have an archive all in one place yet but am working on a blog overhaul so perhaps soon... in any case, since Dewey started this habit ages ago, I've been trying to keep it in mind, so link away!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Africa for Westerners

Poetry month is almost upon us, and as I am so preoccupied with poems in April, I am trying to catch up on a few reviews before then! Here are a couple I found similarities between while reading -- they are two books I've read over the past couple of weeks that both have to do with a Westerner's experience of Africa. Here's a little about each:

Toronto: Doubleday Canada, c2008
266 p.

This was first published as The Other Hand in the UK. I prefer that title for its shades of meaning, but despite the title change, I do like the Canadian cover (shown here) best. In this novel, shortlisted for the Costa Award, we are introduced to Little Bee. She is a Nigerian refugee in England, and the book opens with her in an immigrant detention centre. She is released with no guidance on what to do next. But Little Bee has a driver's license with the name of Andrew O'Rourke on it; he dropped it on the beach when he was in Nigeria. So right away you begin to wonder how Andrew got to be in Nigeria and what the connection will be. This book has had lots of press for its searing insight into Britain's immigration rules and conditions; for me, the fact that it was ultimately an "issue" novel detracted from my pleasure in reading it. In the endnotes he provides links to more information on the topic - a sign of the earnest desire to educate which I feel diminishes a novel's power. Nevertheless, I found Little Bee herself an interesting character; her life story is undeniably dramatic and her determination to live is strong. The English couple, however, were just too irritating for me. Sarah is a self-absorbed middle class woman who has one moment of strength, which the story is centred on. Her husband is a pompous and unlikeable newspaper columnist. Worst of all is their young son, who talks in a babyish pastiche which was SO annoying it almost made me stop reading. I am probably in the vast minority on this one, but I really didn't think it was as extraordinary as I'd been led to believe. My rating: okay, but not a must read at all.

The Violets of Usambara / Mary Soderstrom
Toronto: Cormorant, c2008.
190 p.

This novel is a short one, and is the tale of a couple whose lives are at the cusp of change. Thomas Brossard is a former government minister who is out of work due to a change in government. His wife Louise, always the driving force in his life, has suggested he go to Africa with a Catholic charity. Africa has always been her interest, but she feels he needs something to occupy him now. Besides, she is agoraphobic. The story goes back and forth between Louise (Montreal) and Thomas (Burundi), with forays into the past exploring their relationship from its beginnings to its uncomfortable present. When Thomas goes missing in Africa, Louise must struggle to come to terms with the problems they'd been having while she waits for news. This a very adult book in its quiet and understated narrative style. There are shades of grey in every situation, both in Montreal and in Burundi. It brought up issues of Western 'assistance' to African nations, and of the treatment Thomas receives first as a politician then as a private citizen. As for the title, Burundi is the original home of what is now known as the African violet -- Louise is a collector of violets, and Thomas' movement toward reconciliation uses both of these facts. It was a nuanced tale I found especially interesting for its setting in Montreal, practically around the corner from my student digs in my years in the city.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

How to Buy a Love of Reading...

I had an email recently from author Tanya Egan Gibson. She mentioned her book trailer for her new novel, How to Buy a Love of Reading, coming out in May this year.
I finally remembered to go take a look, and it was quite entertaining! Good use of archival film clips from the Library of Congress. I'm still not sure if it will be exactly my kind of read, but the cover has a pretty sketch on it! And she has a website at which she wants you to send her your own stories about a story that may have saved your life.

Take a look...over at the trailer on Youtube.
(I've been trying to embed it but Blogger is being annoying again...)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Heaving in Nova Scotia

Toronto: Anchor, c2002.
336 p.

Starting right at the first page, as Serrie Sullivan flees the church in her wedding gown and runs home to hide out in one of her father's vintage outhouses, you know this book is going to be unpredictable.

Serrie (Seraphina) leads us to London, where she falls in with a bad crowd at the youth hostel and gets to know more about the drug scene and night life than anything else about England. We follow her back to Nova Scotia and learn what led her to drop her university classes and head out for England in the first place. We see her best friends, Dearie and Elizabeth, with all their history together making for some quirky scenes. We meet the Sullivan family and extended clan; her rather ineffectual father who is best known for collecting obsolete outhouses, her mother and Aunt Galronia and Grammie, her older brother Percy. Conlin draws a strong portrait of a family always on the edge of need, both financial and emotional. Serrie is a raging alcoholic, spending much of the first part of the book heaving; she finally admits it when her friends find her blacked out at a local dive in the company of strippers and drug users. All this energetic rambling story then comes to a point where it pauses in the middle: Serrie enters a treatment centre.

This section of the book was tough for me, I had to push myself to keep reading to find out why the pace of the story suddenly stalled. The treatment centre and Serrie's daily routine are described in excruciating detail, and I couldn't help but think of the movie 28 Days. After Serrie leaves the centre and tries to make something of herself, the story gets back on track. She continues to tell her story in flashback and recollection, and for a while I was quite impressed that her problems were not the stereotypical ones I've come to expect from this sort of coming-of-age novel. But then It Happened. The one moment that really screwed her up, and all I could do was sigh. I know, It would have been awful. Terrible, really. But it was the one element of the book that was, sadly, predictable.

Nevertheless, this story gives us a feel for Nova Scotian life. The smell of the air, the quality of light, snow and a family Christmas, the salt tang on a wharf, local neighbourhoods and student living, it is all easily comprehended by the details Conlin includes, whether visual, tactile, or olfactory. There are wonderful relationships as well as understandably prickly family ones. The writing is fresh and powerful, full of energy, developing characters who are individuals, not just symbols. The structure of the book, while lagging a bit for me in the central section, is built so that we see the beginning in a different light when we've come to the end. What looks like disaster, Serrie fleeing her own wedding and running down the highway with red bra on display, comes to symbolize perhaps, instead, a final and successful attempt to claim her own power. It's an interesting read, and one that was very different from many of the more depressing Maritime stories I am familiar with. There is a youthfulness both in the energy of the writing and in the sense of hope that threads its way through Seraphina's struggles.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Orchestrated with La

Toronto : Knopf Canada, c2009.
250 p.

This is a standalone novel by the prolific McCall Smith, best known for his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency novels. I've read all of his work, and I usually greatly enjoy it. La's Orchestra is a little different. It takes place in England during WWII. La (short for Lavender) lives in a small house in Suffolk, where she has moved after first having been abandoned by her philandering husband and then widowed. The novel follows her as she gets to know her fellow villagers, volunteers for some war work caring for chickens on a neighbouring farm, starts up an amateur orchestra made up of locals and soldiers from the nearby air base, and makes the acquaintance of one of these soldiers -- Felix, a Polish flyer who has been blinded in one eye and thus can no longer fly.

McCall Smith excels in a calm, methodic pace of storytelling, which I especially like in the Isabel Dalhousie novels -- it suits Isabel's character. He is also marvellous at evoking a sense of place, one reason I think his Botswana novels are so cherished. This novel, while full of interesting characters and a situation rife with possibilities -- WWII, how can it not be exciting? -- doesn't really work in the same successful way for me. La is too reserved to engage my concern; her husband cheats on her, leaving her for a French woman, in 40's England. She maintains her equanimity throughout, not even bashing him with a frying pan when he tells her -- or even thinking about it. She remains close friends with her in-laws, in fact they give her the Suffolk house she moves to. She develops a relationship with her village neighbours, one of whom, Mrs. Agg, has a creepy adult son who breaks into La's house when she isn't there and lurks about as a peeping Tom. She doesn't seem to worry about it, instead still visiting with Mrs. Agg and being pleasant to her son. Also, when she meets Felix it is clear in the narrative that there is supposed to be a romance, but I don't feel it. La makes no attempt to secure Felix's attentions; if she was first a neglected wife and then a widow, and it is the war when regular reserved social behaviour was generally slackened, why in god's name would she not try to inveigle Felix into her very much lived-in-alone house? I would have! ;) The end is a bit pat as well, though I won't spoil it here. I found that there was not as much adoration for Suffolk coming through as there is for Edinburgh or Botswana in his other works.

Despite these frustrations, mainly to do with La's coldness of character, I did like the book. McCall Smith can always populate a novel with a wide and varied cast of characters. The addition of the air base injected another element into the book, adding to its breadth. McCall Smith, as the founder of the Really Terrible Orchestra, knows something about music. The way that the amateur orchestra kept village spirits up and brought them all together was a great uniting theme. He shows Felix and La getting to know one another by playing flute duets (they even play the same instrument; I ask, could you sit for an evening playing flute duets with a man you're interested in and then bid him goodnight calmly and disinterestedly?)

I enjoyed the setting even if I felt it could have been livened up a little. (For example, I kept thinking of the excellent evocation of the hothouse emotions of just such an English wartime village in a short story by Rosamond Lehmann, "Wonderful Holidays".) La spends time working on a nearby farm and the eccentricities and prejudices of the owner allow for McCall Smith to do one of his favourite things, reflect on wider themes suggested by the narrative. And as always with McCall Smith, I found bits which I just had to copy out into my commonplace book. Overall, I thought this was a good wartime book, which could easily be read in concert with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, to give us an idea of women's lives during war in close by but very different regions.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Miss Chopsticks

Miss Chopsticks / Xinran; translated by Esther Tyldesley.
London: Vintage, 2008, c2007.
257 p.

Another book I just happened to pick up because it came across my desk and looked intriguing. This book is unfortunately not much considered as a novel; it really reads more straightforwardly as non-fiction with some novelistic techniques tossed in. That said, it was still a fascinating read. The Li sisters, six of them, live in rural China -- which is why there are six of them. They are told by their father: "women are like chopsticks: utilitarian and easily broken. Men, on the other hand, are the strong rafters that hold up the roof of a house." The sisters are not valuable enough to even have names, they are called One, Two, Three, Four, Five and Six.

I enjoyed this book because of Xinran's obvious experience talking to peasant girls in China, those who have made their way to cities and as she says, moved from medieval peasant life to modern urban living in just those few miles. Women's shifting places in the culture are shown on many societal levels. Sister Three is the brave one; all the sisters have internalized the view of their mother's worthlessness as a woman unable to bear a son. The oldest daughter has been married off, Two killed herself to avoid a marriage, and now it is Three's turn. She takes advantage of a visit from her uncle to flee the village with him back to the city of Nanjing. There she finds work in a restaurant due to her special talent of arranging vegetables attractively. She works and accustoms herself to city life, until her visit home the following year. At that point she convinces sisters Five and Six to leave with her (poor sister Four is deaf and dumb and stays home to care for their parents). Five finds work at a Water Culture Centre (a spa of sorts) and Six lucks in to the best job of all, in my opinion. Because Six loves books and wants to continue her education, she attracts the attention of the owner of a teashop for bookworms. It's a new business, just opening, run by a cultured couple who are relatively well off, but even so, as their sole waitress Six lives in the closet sized third room of their flat. The description of the teashop is lovely; dark wood tables, shelves of books, tea sets on display and so forth. Six is allowed to read even the dangerous books not on the approved governmental list; those ones they keep in the back. The son of the family is living with a British girl, Ruth, in the suburbs of town, which shocks Six at first. But she soon finds herself befriended by the many Westerners trying to learn Chinese, allowing her to learn English.

Through many ups and downs the sisters adjust to their new lives, spending their one day off a week together. They carefully save their money so that when they all go home again to celebrate the Spring Festival, they can go bearing gifts and packets of money for their parents. In this way they finally receive what they've been longing for: recognition from their father that perhaps his girls can hold up the roof after all.

While this summary is a bit perfunctory, the book is full of tidbits about life in Nanjing (I enjoyed reading about 'stinky tofu') and about the different kinds of people found in the city. There are many details about the sisters' jobs and the differences between urban and rural expectations of morality and social strictures. The translation is great, and if you have any interest at all in China or modernization and how it affects women's lives you may enjoy this one as well.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This week's Library Loot

Library Loot is a weekly event sponsored by Eva and Alessandra

I haven't posted about my library books for a couple of weeks now; Eva's latest haul has inspired me, so here are the books I've brought home from the library this week (although they are equal to only a fraction of Eva's optimistic stack!).

A stand alone story by the author of the Benni Harper mysteries (which I love). This one has some of the Benni characters showing up in 'cameos', so to speak, but is not a mystery. It's a story of a woman and her estranged granddaughter, set in coastal California, full of small town characters and values.

What happens when a woman who has worked as a (fake) psychic all her life discovers she really has the gift? It screws up her business and her life -- until she can figure out how to deal with her new reality. (I've already read half and am enjoying it. And it has a great cover.)

Audrey Flowers (called Oddly by her family) has to fly home to Newfoundland from Portland Oregon when her father gets very ill. She has to leave her pet tortoise in the hands of friends. She has a quirky way of speaking and her tortoise shares some of the narration. This all seems way too intentionally fey to be something I'd want to read. But, I was convinced to pick up this debut Canadian novel by Kerry's review.

The Outlander / Gil Adamson

I'm sure most people know the plot by now; Mary, at 19, widowed by her own hand, is fleeing through the backwoods country of Alberta from the vengeance of her former husband's brothers. A recent Canada Reads choice, I finally got my copy I've had on hold at work for ages.

Something crafty to get me sewing again. Who doesn't need a new bag for Spring? There are 25 designs in this book, and they are not all just variations on the same pattern as I have found in some books. These are 25 great ideas -- can't wait to get started. And Megan also has a really nice crafty blog.

This is all I could handle this week what with the high number of books on my own shelves waiting for their turn!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sourcing Seeds with Vavilov

Where our food comes from : retracing Nikolay Vavilov's quest to end famine / Gary Paul Nabhan
Washington: Island Press, c2009.
223 p.

I received this book from Island Press via its Canadian distributor, UBC Press. I was interested for two reasons, both for its theme of agricultural biodiversity and for the part that Russian scientist Nikolay Vavilov plays in this story. Also, it is one of Treehugger's 9 Must Read Books on Eating Well. I was not disappointed! Nabhan is an ethnobotanist, conservationist, farmer, and a prolific author, with many other titles I now want to read as well. Here he focuses on local seeds and regional agricultural practices as a vital resource in maintaining the world's food supply. In this book he's decided he will follow in the footsteps of Vavilov and see how agricultural biodiversity has changed since Vavilov's world travels in the early 1900's.

Nikolay Vavilov was a Russian scientist with a massive case of wanderlust and a brilliant mind. He was head of the Russian Department of Applied Botany and travelled around the world in the early years of the last century, researching seeds and local farming practices, and developing a theory of genetic plant origins known as Vavilov Centres of Diversity, still used in scientific circles. He was gathering plant genetic material for his comprehensive seed bank in Leningrad, the first in the world, intended to stockpile seed to avert worldwide famine in case of any regional crop failures. The seed bank suffered under the Siege of Leningrad in WWII -- while the Hermitage had all of its art treasures removed and protected elsewhere, the seed bank was left to its own devices. Stalin felt that the science being done there was elitist and not for the good of the people, and he also held a personal grudge against Vavilov. The scientists of the Department barricaded themselves inside the seed bank to protect it against the starving citizens of Leningrad, with one of the researchers actually dying of starvation in the midst of all the seeds. Vavilov himself was finally sent to a work camp by Stalin, where he died of starvation.

Gary Paul Nabhan retraces the wide ranging travels of Vavilov in order to measure the status of local agriculture and genetic diversity remaining in the areas Vavilov studied nearly a hundred years ago. What he found was that in most places, genetic diversity has diminished as agriculture has become more top-down: governments and organizations trying to increase crop yields neglected traditional farming practices and acclimatized seeds, and bought in to a Westernized, "scientific" method of using genetically modified and/or heavily pesticide reliant new crops. He makes a strong case for the necessity of returning to old folkways in growing and marketing local food sources.

Each chapter of the book takes him to a different locale, from North and South America, to Ethiopia, to Kazhakstan, among many others. It reads like an intriguing combination of biography and travel writing, alongside the fascinating science behind biodiversity and its ties to cultural diversity. Not only does he make a strong case for the necessity of crop diversity from the perspective of a secure world food supply, he also makes an emotional appeal: the beauty and the individuality of the many regions of the world he visits need agricultural security to remain distinct civilizations. Consider this locale -- would we want to lose this forever?

The fragrance of the Kazakh forest was unlike any I have ever known, for the pervasive smell of ripening and rotting apples and pears filled my nostrils. At my feet, russet reds, blushing pinks, vibrant roses, and creamy yellows mottled the ground, where wildlife had half consumed many of the fruit that make this forest so bountiful. I had arrived in the place that was the ultimate source of the apples and pears I had eaten since childhood, a place I had tried to imagine since I first read about these "wild apple forests" while still a student many years ago.

He details the many ways humanity gets in our own way when it comes to sustaining our food supplies. One of these things is war, as he recognizes when he visits the Levant, a region his family comes from:

When I arrived [in Lebanon] eight months after the "end" of the war, most of the major bridges between Beirut and Damascus were badly damaged or altogether impassable, and drive-by assassinations were still common. The Lebanese economy was in ruins, and a new virulent rust disease that was attacking grain crops threatened to change the crop mix forever. Nevertheless, I had no trouble finding a great deal to be hopeful about in Lebanon's food and farming systems, amid all the obvious tragedy. I am not sure that Vavilov left the country with such an optimistic impression. What he did describe, however, was the tragedy that occurs whenever a country trades away its food security for export markets of cash crops, leaving it to gain most of its staples from beyond its own borders... Yet Lebanon at the start of the twenty-first century is a sober reminder that war is the worst enemy of food biodiversity and nutritional security. Few scientific reports from anywhere in the world have adequately documented how warfare devastates agro-biodiversity and security, but no firsthand observer could doubt that grave effects are evident in every battle-scarred landscape.

Another way we imperil crop diversity is through meddling with plants from an economic, corporate standpoint. GMO corn has greatly affected Mexican crops, including the original mother of all corn varities, teosinte:

Unfortunately, GMOs have not only contaminated processed corn foods coming into the Sierra Madre, but there is growing speculation that they may have also contaminated the indigenous fields of diverse maize varieties there, as well. ... Pedro Turuseachi, a Tarahumara spokesperson with Chihuahua's Consultoria Técnica Comunitaria, had this to say about why the possible presence of transgenic corn is so threatening to his people: "Our seeds -- of our own maize varieties -- form the basis of any food sovereignty we have for our communities. Maize for us is much more than a food; it is part of what is sacred for us, part of our history, our currency, and our destiny."

The dynamics of natural hybridization between maize and teosinte are perhaps peculiar to Mexico and Guatemala, but genetic contamination of ancient cereal grains, vegetables, and fruits by transgenic cultivars is a new dynamic and one that is becoming increasingly commonplace. Farmers may temporarily enjoy higher yields when they adopt certain GMO crops, but more and more case studies indicate what they are losing, not just what they gain. Whether they are canola farmers in North America, sorghum farmers in Africa, or rice farmers in Asia, more food producers around the world now see that by uncritically adopting any transgenic crop that becomes available to them, they may lose control of the way their crops and certain weeds have positively interacted over many millennia.

This book is extremely readable: fascinating locales, heartbreaking biography and political machinations, and some beautiful photos. Reading it provides so much compelling scientific evidence of the ever increasing importance of being aware of just where our food comes from. Highly recommended.

** Some of the organizations mentioned in this book, many of which Nabhan is involved with, in case you want to look a little further into this topic**


Vavilov Research Institute of Plant Industry

Global Crop Diversity Trust

Renewing America's Food Traditions

Bioversity International

Ethiopian Institute of Biodiversity Conservation

Conservation International

Native Seeds/SEARCH

Seed Savers Exchange

And a blog by Vavilov...

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Charm of Desultory Reading

One of the nice things about my job in a small library is that I get to do a bit of everything. One project I've been working on is cataloguing the holdings of the local Archives, bit by bit. Right now we are working on a special collection called the Orr Family Collection. The Orrs are a family of renown in Stratford, R. Thomas Orr having saved the parkland around the river for the citizens rather than allowing it to be taken over for industry, among other notable achievements like helping found the Public Library way back in the early 1900's. He was a very bookish man, and his collection is full of fascinating fiction and science and poetry and history and travel; a bit of everything, really. It's been entertaining doing this cataloguing, but this week I came across one owned by Sarah Orr, who I am guessing was his wife, but as I have no idea really, she could have as easily been a sister. This is the first book of hers I have seen. Thomas didn't mark his books, other than pasting in an individualized bookplate, and signing his name on the front flyleaf: R. Thomas Orr, written in a forceful manner with a wide-nibbed pen. Sometimes a date is included.

This book, a book of essays by Sir John Lubbock entitled The Pleasures of Life, belongs to Sarah. Her name is written with a fine-nibbed pen, and is a graceful signature. The date she purchased the book, May 15th, 1900, is noted at the bottom left of the page. It is evident she read the book, as sentences she liked have been noted with a pencilled x at the beginning and end of the sentence. In an essay on friendship, she has x'd the following phrase:

Still less does Friendship confer any privilege to make ourselves disagreeable.

This one has even merited a date in the margin, June 10th, 1900.

Apart from the inherent attraction of a book from 1900 , in a pretty floral cloth binding, in perfect condition (the Orrs took care of their books), this pocket sized volume was interesting because of its contents. There are two essays on books in this collection; although I am cataloguing and thus working, and so can't actually read the books, I can dip in when the temptation is irresistable. I peeked into these two essays, and was justified by a statement made by Lubbock himself:

Such snatches of literature have indeed, special and peculiar charm. This is, I believe, partly due to the very fact of their being brief. Many readers miss much of the pleasure of reading by forcing themselves to dwell too long continuously on one subject. In a long railway journey, for instance, many persons take only a single book. The consequence is that, unless it is a story, after half an hour or an hour they are quite tired of it. Whereas, if they had two, or still better three books, on different subjects, and one of them of an amusing character, they would probably find that, by changing as soon as they felt at all weary, they would come back again and again to each with renewed zest, and hour after hour would pass pleasantly away. ... I quite agree, therefore, with Lord Iddesleigh as to the charm of desultory reading.

Something I think all book bloggers can agree on is our prediliction for lists. We all gather up our own year end lists, we read along with the 1001 Lists, the Guardian, the New York Times, anyone who will make a list! Well, this is not a new phenomenon. Lubbock in this book says:

It is one thing to own a library; it is quite another to use it wisely. I have often been astonished how little care people devote to the selection of what they read. Books, we know, are almost innumerable; our hours for reading are, alas! very few. And yet many people read almost by hazard. They will take any book they chance to find in a room at a friend's house; they will buy a novel at a railway-stall if it has an attractive title; indeed, I believe in some cases even the binding affects their choice. The selection is, no doubt, far from easy. I have often wished some one would recommend a list of a hundred good books.

He, of course, then goes on to do so. George Routledge & Sons issued a finely bound series of these selections, called Sir John Lubbock's Hundred Books. The funny thing is that the only pages in this volume that show any wear (besides the pencilled marks) are the two with the list of 100 recommended books. There is a stain along the fore edge; it looks like the paper has absorbed some oil, some hand lotion, perhaps, from sitting on Sarah's dressing table, open while she was beautifying. In any case, the list contains many classics of Greek and Roman and of Christian provenance. Lubbock specifically points out that he has vetoed any author still living (and this was before 1900, recall). What I found especially fascinating were the little checks Sarah had placed beside -- I am assuming -- the ones she'd read. This was altogether a delightful book, and seeing the traces of an earlier bibliophile made it very special to carefully work on this one.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Return of Bookish Fever

I haven't been blogging much lately; but I have been reading and following other various literary pursuits. I've been reading some of the quotes that participants in this week's Weekly Geeks have been posting; I really meant to sign up, but where did the week go? And I haven't posted about any of the many library books I've been whizzing through.

I listened to all the Canada Reads debates (and read a few different responses to them as well, here , here and here). The winner of the competition this year was Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes, a book that seems so Good-For-You that I have little interest in reading it. I will read Brian Francis' Fruit, Gil Adamson's The Outlander, and the one which holds the most interest for me, Michel Tremblay's The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant (which I can't believe I haven't yet read, after spending eleven years living in Montreal, four of those years at university.)

However, because one of the main effects of Canada Reads in my day-to-day life at the library is to create waiting lists for each of the selected books, I can not get my hands on any of them presently. I am certain I have a copy of the Tremblay book somewhere in my boxes and shelves but do not know where (is this a sign I need to reorganize?) It's not as if I don't have -- literally -- eight other books at bedside currently, but when has there ever been a surfeit of desired reading? Still, to meet my desire to read some Tremblay I selected one of his works which has been on my read-someday list, his Birth of a Bookworm. (Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2003). Written in 1994, it was translated into English in 2003 by Sheila Fischman. It traces Tremblay's creative development as a reader and a writer from his childhood onward, by tracing the effect of specific books in each chapter. I began it two days ago and am nearly done already; it's very funny, and a delight for a fellow book lover to read. A few things I've discovered already include the fact that his mother is half Cree and is from Saskatchewan! How did I miss knowing that? I thought I had a handle on Saskatchewan's literary ties. He writes of his encounters with Tintin, with Jules Verne, with writers on the Catholic Index Librorum Prohibitorum (and the necessary penance for reading such authors), of his continued use of the Municipal Library, and of his love for the world of books in general. Here are a couple of excerpts:

I'm lying on my back. Reading. Like every night before I go to sleep. ... I followed my usual ritual: I sat on the edge of the convertible sofa that served as my bed, held the book against my chest after letting its odour seep into me, said a quick prayer, not to God but to the joy of reading -- so strong, so powerful -- that I was afraid of losing when I got old (I'm maybe ten at the time and naively haunted by the thought that someday I'll be blasé because I'll have read everything, so I pray for my joy to remain complete until I die and for the authors of books to go on writing!), then I stretched out on my back with the pillow folded underneath my neck. The pleasure of opening the book, of cracking the spine, of checking to see how many pages are left to read...

It's said that desire is more thrilling than possession. That's not true for books. If you've ever felt that warmth in the stomach, that burst of excitement in the region of the heart, that movement of the face -- a small tic of the mouth, perhaps, a new line on the forehead, the eyes that search, that devour -- just as you are finally holding the longed-for book, when you open it, cracking it but just a little so you can hear it, anyone who has experienced that moment of incomparable happiness will know what I mean. Opening a book is one of the most exhilarating, the most incomparable experiences that a person can have in his life.

This is a book worth reading just for the conversations between Tremblay and his mother, arguing about books they've both read. Or the dialogues between his mother and father, and his beloved grandmother who lived with them. It made me laugh out loud in parts, had moments recognizable to all bibliophiles, and was really touching in the descriptions of his familial relationships. It's a wonderful book and I am glad I finally decided to read it!

Monday, March 09, 2009

And the Winners are...

As promised, I drew the winners for my latest giveaway on Sunday -- but then forgot to post it! Using a random number generator, I selected 4 numbers and then counted down the list to match a name with that number. So, the winners are:

Group A, Canadian Women: #16 - Meg89 from Literary Menagerie

Group B, Canadian Men: #86 - Kimberly E.

Group C, YA: #101 - Katie from Katie's Bookshelf

Group D, HarperCollins: #14 - sparrow52 from Still Waters

I will be emailing the winners but those of you without contact info, please email me directly to give me your mailing address etc. Thanks to everyone for joining in and thanks to Book Room Reviews for holding this great gathering of generosity.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Great ARC Giveaway

March has arrived, Spring is getting closer, hurrah! I am marching forth this March with a few bookish announcements.

First, we at Chumley & Pepys Books are having a March Forth Sale on our Literature catalogue, all books 20% off for the entire month of March. If you like buying used, peruse our collection!

Secondly, I have just discovered the wonderful Book Giveaway Carnival being hosted at Bookroom Reviews. I've also been doing a little springcleaning. There are quite a few ARCs laying around the house, and it is time to share them out with another giveaway! Here's how it will work -- I have so many that I am putting them into groupings. If you are interested please comment and let me know which groupings you would like to join the drawing for. You can put your name in for any or all of them, but can only win one. This giveaway is open to anyone around the world. I will draw the winning names on Sunday, March 9 (when we Spring ahead into Daylight Savings Time, losing an hour but perhaps gaining a book??)

Group A - Canadian Women

Exit Lines / Joan Barfoot
At a loss for words / Diane Schoemperlen
Turtle Valley / Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Group B - Canadian Men

The Retreat / David Bergen
Cockroach / Rawi Hage
October / Richard B. Wright

Group C - YA

The Loser's Guide to life and love / A.E. Cannon
Another kind of cowboy / Susan Juby
Finding Cassidy / Laura Langston

Group D - The Harpercollins Group

Atmospheric Disturbances / Rivka Galchen
The Sister / Poppy Adams
Out Backward / Ross Raisin