Tag Archives: Thoughts

Dickens in December (actually it’s January)

great_Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I read the Amazon kindle edition.

There is Pip, the orphan, “brought up by hand” by his sister and Joe the blacksmith, visiting his parent’s graves  on Christmas eve.  There is the young man in the graveyard. There is a young boy making a choice, the anguish and guilt that go with that choice, and the consequences that occur from it.

Since that time, which is far enough away now, I have often thought that few people know what secrecy there is in the young, under terror. No matter how unreasonable the terror, so that it be terror. I was in mortal terror of the young man who wanted my heart and liver; I was in mortal terror of my interlocutor with the ironed leg; I was in mortal terror of myself, from whom an awful promise had been extracted; I had no hope of deliverance through my all-powerful sister, who repulsed me at every turn; I am afraid to think of what I might have done, on requirement, in the secrecy of my terror.

Pip makes his choice, and it changes his history.  Later there is Estella and, of course, Miss Havirsham, and the fight with the “pale faced boy” in the over-grown garden.  (I cannot wait to see Helena Bonham Carter in that wedding dress).

Great Expectations is a coming of age story that covers the themes of family, class, greed and ambition, touching on human needs and human failing.  It is a story of friendship and of love.  Interestingly, the original ending was different then the one most of us are familiar with.  Charles Dickens changed it because he was told it was “too sad”.

Reading Great Expectations at the time it was first published must have been thrilling and exciting.  The serialization left cliff-hangers,  characterization and description brought the people, class differences and places to life.   Dickens, like Shakespeare, helped to fuel the idea of popular culture, entertainment made available to the masses along with the elite.  Then there is the question of the literacy of the time, how many people of that era could read?

A great book to reread, Great Expectations also has me thinking about the history of popular literature and class.  The next Dickens on my classics TBR list is Bleak House, a book I have not read.

 

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Filed under Books, Classic, LiteraryFiction, Thoughts

New Year’s Wishes and Favorite Books from 2012

new-years1

Wishing you a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year.

The last few weeks have kept me from the computer, but not from reading.  I’m finishing several books in preparation for the New Year, the Long Awaited Reads Month and the TBR Double Dog Dare.   I’ll be joining one new challenge in 2013, plan to continue with the 6th Canadian Book Challenge, and hope to read along with several on-going events including the Literature and War Readalong.

As for what I have read in 2012, here are some of my favorites:

Behind The Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Baker

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Osama by Lavie Tidhar

Possession by A.S. Byatt

Pure by Andrew Miller.

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I seem to be developing quite a taste for historical fiction, something that is new to me.  Have you discovered a new to you genre this past year?  A genre that you find yourself drawn back to?

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From Ink Lake: Canadian Stories edited by Michael Ondaatje

inklakeFrom Ink Lake: Canadian Stories

edited by Michael Ondaatji

Vintage Canada, Toronto, 1995

From my book shelves.  I suppose this is a bit of a cheat for the Canadian Book Challenge, as I haven’t read every story yet, but I keep this on my night stand and often pick it up between novels.  It is one I will keep forever.

This collection, which I have had for some time, is how I first became interested in reading Canadian authors.  I had read Ondaatji and Atwood, of course, but I don’t think I realized they came from the North.   This book introduced me to Alice Munro through Miles City, Montana, Alister Macleod through As Birds Bring Forth The Sun  and Carol Shields  through Scenes. There are so many other authors I can’t list them all.  As an introduction to Canadian literature it is worth searching for this one.

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John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

saturnallJohn Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk

Grove Press, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my local library.  I first read about this one on Cornflower Books.

John Saturnall’s Feast is beautiful to look at and a wonder to read.  Each chapter is headed by an illustration followed by a recipe or a description of a garden, perhaps a garden called Eden.  The language is lush and deep, filled with smells and tastes and surrounded by the clatter  of a busy castle kitchen.  It reads like a fantasy, but fantasy based in the history, people and culture of 17th century Britain.

From Lawrence Norfolk’s webpage:

1625. In the remote village of Buckland, a mob chants of witchcraft. John Sandall and his mother Susan are driven out to take refuge among the trees of Buccla’s Wood. There, John’s mother opens her book and begins to tell her son of an ancient Feast kept in secret down the generations.

Driven from the village after his mother’s death, John ends up being put to work in the kitchens of Buckland Manor.  His skills bring him to the attention of the master chief and he eventually creates dishes for Sir William Fremantle.  Sir William’s daughter, Lucretia, forced to accept a marriage because she can not inherit her father’s title, Manor and all its properties, is refusing to eat.  John is charged with preparing her meals and enticing her to give up her fast.

Norfolk writes that:

The starting-point for John Saturnall’s Feast was a chapter in Kate Colqhoun’s “Taste: the Story of Britain through its Cooking”.

This history of Britain is one thread of this novel, the relationship between John and Lucy is the tapestry.  Made up of legend, myth and recipes culled from many records of the time, John Saturnall’s Feast is, well, a feast.  It is one of my top ten books from 2012.

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Filed under Booker, Books, England, Historical Fiction

Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart

Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart

McClelland & Stewart Ltd., Toronto, On, 2010

From my to-be-read pile.  Long-listed for the 2010 Giller Prize.

I first discovered Jane Urquhart by accident when I picked up “Away” off my library shelves.  I have followed her work ever since.

Sanctuary Line is the story of an Ontario farming family with roots in Ireland.  Liz Crane has returned to the family farm, works measuring the wings of Monarch Butterflies and regularly visits her mother at a place called The Golden Field and finds memories rising every time she picks up an object or looks out a window.

Haunted by the death of her cousin Mandy, Liz finds herself tangled in the stories of her large and varied family.  Drawn to the past, sifting through memories, she slowly discovers a truth that has been hidden for years.

Urquhart is an author whose characters are firmly rooted in the past.   Her novels delve into family histories, family secrets and what brings the past into the present.

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The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Weinstein Books, New York, 2012

Borrowed from my public library.  Short-listed for the 2012 Booker Prize.

In Kuala Lampor, Supreme Court judge Yun Ling Teoh has been slowly loosing her mind.  Wary of her malady becoming evident to others, she takes early retirement and returns to a tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands, owned by family friends.  36 years before, having been released from a Japanese prison camp, she had spent time there.  Traumatised by her sister’s death in the camp and wishing to design a Japanese style garden as a memorial, she is introduced to Aritomo Nakamura, who was once the gardener to the Japanese Emperor.  She asks him to build a garden for her sister.  He refuses, but says he will take her on as an apprentice.   Yun Ling hates the Japanese, but her desire to design a garden in memory of her sister forces her through that hatred.  She stays, and learns to garden.

It is the tangle of history between the Chinese, Japanese, British and Malaysian people, as well as the relationship that grows between Yun Ling and Aritomo, that forms the base of this complex and beautifully written story.  Woven throughout is the history of the land and its people.  Tamn Twan Eng has written a puzzle box of a novel that, in the end,  forces us to question our ideas about memory.

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Filed under Booker, Books, China, Historical Fiction, Japan, Malaya, Thoughts, War

High Chicago by Howard Schrier

High Chicago by Howard Shrier

Vintage Canada, Toronto, ON 2009

From my mystery book shelf.

Last year I read the first book in this series and enjoyed it, High Chicago is even better.

Investigator Jonah Gelle, along with his friend Jen Raudseppr, has opened an agency called World Repairs.  They are working hard to find cases and make ends meet, so when Jonah’s Mom asks him to help out a friend who has lost her daughter to suicide he accepts the case.  What at first seems like a sadly simple story soon draws them into the fast-paced and highly monied world of development and construction that eventually reaches across the border to the Windy City.

Shrier writes noir with several modern twists.  This series has great characters, odd friendships, humor and focuses on current issues.  Great fun.  I can’t wait for the next one, Boston Cream.  Don’t tell Mr G, but it will be in his pile of birthday gifts next week.

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Filed under Books, Canadian, Mystery, Thoughts, Travel

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Little Brown and Company, New York 2012

Borrowed from my library.  Nominated for the National Book Award.

Kevin Powers is an Iraq veteran and a poet.  His novel about two young friends fighting together in the second Iraq war is beautifully written.   It is also devastating.

At basic training John Bartle takes Daniel Murphy under his wing and makes a promise to Murph’s mother.  When they reach the city of Al Tafar, John  realizes that the promise may be impossible to keep.

We hardly noticed  a change when September came.  But I know now that everything that will ever matter in my life began then.  Perhaps light came a little more slowly to the city of Al Tafar, falling the way it did beyond thin shapes of rooflines and angled promenaded in the dark. It fell over buildings in the city , white and tan, made of clay bricks, roofed with corrugated metal or concrete.  The sky was vast and catacombed with clouds.  A cool breeze blew down from the distant hillsides we’d been patrolling all year.  It passed over the minarets that rose above the citadel, flowed down through alleys that ringed the city, and finally broke up against the scattered dwellings from which our rifles bristled.  Our platoon moved around our rooftop position, gray streaks against the predawn light.  It was still late summer then, a Sunday, I think.  We waited. From pages 4/5.

Poetic, lyrical and deeply moving, this one will stay with me for a long time.

The Yellow Birds has been compared to All Quiet on the Western Front and The Things They Carried.  It meets and matches them and also reminds me of the importance of reading other books on war.  I would suggest Dispatches On Killing and War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning as a place to start.

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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Penguin Classic, New York, 2006

From my book shelves.

As an adolescent I watched The Haunting on television several times.  It gave me nightmares.

Welcome to Hill House, a place with a reputation for being “unwelcoming”, if not haunted.  Dr Montague, an academic doing research on the paranormal, has invited Eleanor, a young woman who had some experience with poltergeists as a child, his assistant Theodora and Luke, a young man set to inherit the mansion, to spend some time is this unusual house hoping to find scientific evidence of a haunting.  Unfortunately the house doesn’t seem all that welcoming.  The haunting is not so much generated by spirits as it is generated by the house itself.

No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a manic juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. From page 34.

The four of them stood, for the first time, in the wide, dark entrance of Hill House.  Around them the house steadied and located them, above them the hills slept watchfully, small eddies of air and sound and movement stirred and waited and whispered, and the center of consciousness was somehow the small space where they stood, four separate people, and looked trustingly at one another.  From page 58.

These four stay in the house and wonder at its strangeness.  Doors close by themselves, rooms seem to move about and there are places that are very, very cold.  It doesn’t take long for them to discover what they are searching for  It is the atmosphere in, and around the house and the often strained dynamic between the characters, that heightens the creepiness as we read.  We learn early on just how psychologically and emotionally  fragile Eleanor is.   It is no surprise that Hill House chooses to seeks her out.

     Eleanor felt, as she had the day before, that the conversation was being skillfully guided away from the thought of fear, so very present in her own mind.  Perhaps she was to be allowed to speak occasionally  for all of them so that , quieting her, they quieted themselves and could leave the subject behind them; perhaps, vehicle for every kind of fear, she contained enough for all.  They are like children, she thought crossly,daring each other to go first, ready to turn and call names at whoever comes last; she pushed her plate away from her and sighed. From pages 98/99.

I had never read this book before, am in awe of Jackson’s writing and find it one of the most chilling, psychologically unnerving novels I’ve read in a long time.  It is Jackson’s subtle sense of menace that makes this a scary read, along with her ability to worm the reader in to her characters’  heads.  Absolutely lovely, in it’s way, and perfect for my final R.I.P. VII read.

     Sipping, not warmed, Eleanor thought, We are in the eye of the storm, there is not much more time.  She watched Luke carefully carry a glass of brandy over to the doctor and hold it out, and then, without comprehending, watched the glass slip through Luke’s fingers to the floor as the door was shaken, violently and silently.  Luke pulled the doctor back, and the door was attacked without a sound, seeming almost to be pulled away from its hinges, almost ready to buckle and go down,leaving them exposed.  Backing away, Luke and the doctor waited, tense and helpless.  From page 201.

Thanks to Carl V. and all the participants of RIP VII. The links to other reviews are here.  R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril is one of my very favorite reading experiences of the year.

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Filed under Books, Horror, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts

The Graveyard Book – Week Three

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Dave McKean

HarperCollins, New York, 2008

From my book shelves.  Organized by Carl V, Week 3 of our read-along covers chapters 7 and 8 of Neil Gaiman’s Newbury, Carnegie, Hugo and Locus award-winning novel.   It has been a joy reading along with others and seeing their thoughts.  Please visit Carl’s blog for links to other posts about this deeply felt, wonderfully written book.

In Chapter 8 Silas is drawn away from The Graveyard but refuses to tell Bod where he is going or what he is doing.  Bod’s friend, Scarlett, returns from Glasgow and finds herself in a place that seems awfully familiar.  She is befriended by a nice man, Mr Frost, who takes rubbings of gravestones.   With his encouragement she  eventually discovers Bod’s family history, but this discovery has unintended results.

Bod finally learns about his past, about The Man Jack and his organization, and is faced with a difficult decision.  The choice he makes puts Scarlett in extreme danger and she cannot understand it and cannot forgive him for it.  He looses his friend, and is at a loss understanding why.

In Chapter 9 Bod enters young adulthood and begins to change, finding it harder and harder to see his friends and loved ones.  Eventually he must leave The Graveyard and journey into the wider world.

The Graveyard Book is all about growing up, be it in a normal family or a ghostly one.  We make choices, face the consequences and hopefully grow wiser with each of these steps.  If we are lucky we live in a circle of love, amid friends and family who support us, even when we make bad decisions.

Neil Gaiman states in his acknowledgements that he read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book over and over as a child and as an adult.  This is a book I love and read-aloud to elementary-aged children.  I can see the resemblance, but Gaiman has created a world of his own, filled with wonderful, caring, sometimes strict beings who surround and support Bod as he grows and finally leaves his home.  Maybe someday we will learn about his adventures in the world of the living.

There is a balance between gentleness and horror in this book.  A balance Neil Gaiman holds brilliantly.

Thanks to Carl V and all the folks who took part in this read-along.

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Filed under Books, Carnegie Award, DarkFantasy, Horror, Hugo Award, Locus Award, Newbury Award, R.I.P. VII, Read-Along, Thoughts, Young Adult