This is an important book. This is a disturbing book. This is a book where the voices of women can no longer be silenced by tradition and fear. Horrifyingly based on a true story, Miriam Toews tells a story of a group of Mennonite women, members of a traditional colony in Bolivia who are forced to meet in the hayloft of a barn and determine whether or not they will break from the colony, the only home they’ve ever known. Their reason? Women and children in their community have been woken up battered, bruised and sexually violated. I’m not spoiling anything when I tell you that the abuse is at the hands of men in their own community, men they know and trust. It is a story that appears to be set in some uncivilised medieval time so what makes it even more horrifying is the fact the truth behind this story happened a mere decade ago. The idea of feeling unsafe with the threat of torture in your own home among your own people is a nightmare that exists for many.
Although this novel is heavy and at times emotionally taxing, it is not gratuitous; there is no need to be. The reality posed speaks for itself with no need for vivid imagery. Toews characterizes her women characters as being strong, heroic and humourous. These women are facing their truth, now what are they going to do about it?
Read this book. Read this book with your girlfriends, your mother, and your daughters. Talk about what you read and how you feel when you read it. What would you do? Flee or Fight? Would your screams of anguish turn into battle cries? The answer lies in the book’s title.
CBC interview with Miriam Toews
My book club list of titles for 2017-2018
I thought I’d post the list of books my book club read this year. Our book club has been in existence for over 15 years. Even though over time some members have sadly moved away We’ve always been able to collect a few wonderful additions to our group. Because most of us work in some way or form with Education, we meet at the end of the summer to choose our books for the year. We all meet at someone’s house (where there is ALWAYS wine…sometimes whiskey, and snacks) with title suggestions. Sometimes a member shares a novel she’s already read and KNOWS it will lend itself to discussion, but most often the titles proffered are of literature that none of us has read. We usually end up with near 20 title suggestions.
How do we choose? We usually have 8-9 book club meetings a year. This means that each of us gets 8 votes! Protocol is that each member can vote a number of ways: one vote for each choice OR if you really, really, REALLY want to read a book you know the other members might not be too keen on reading you can put all 8 votes on that one book (as per my Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell takedown of 2010). The top eight novels are picked! Then we decide the order with which to read them.
I can’t wait to meet at the end of the summer to determine what books we will be reading for the following year.
I love book club. It simply makes me happy.
I thought I’d share last year’s list with all of you. I will be sure to post this year’s list as soon as I can!
Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck – September
In the Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware – October
The Book of Joan by Lydia Yuknavitch – November
Inferior by Angela Saini – January
Borne by Jeff Vandermeer – April
The Break by Katherena Vermette… – December
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Secret Path by Gord Downie and Birdie by Tracey Lindberg – March
Scythe by Neal Shusterman – May
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – June
Bonus: The Power by Naomi Alderman
I never used to read Science Fiction. To recommend books to my students who are Sci-Fi readers, I decided to expand my repertoire of genres. Not knowing where to start, I went to the source, and I asked my students for suggestions. The first title proffered? Unwind by Neal Schusterman. Much to my surprise, I loved this sci/fi dystopic story. It was a novel that opened numerous themes, the types of topics that engage young adults: parent abandonment, friendship, medical ethics. And “Unwind is wonderfully a part of a series: “Unwind” “Unsouled” “Unwholly”, “Undivided”. Us book nerds LOVE an excellent long series right?
As much as I loved the Unwind series, it is Schusterman’s newest series that has captured and tightly bound my interest to the point where I CANNOT WAIT UNTIL 2019, for the third book to be released. I recommended Scythe to my book club, filled with mothers, teachers, and retired librarians. Undoubtedly a collection of ladies with distinct literary taste. They all loved it and promptly got their hands on book two ThunderHead.
What is the Scythe arc about? Imagine no politicians, every decision is left to the Thunderhead, an entity similar to “the Cloud”. Imagine a world where technology has advanced to the point where no one dies, and if they do, they can easily be “reassembled”. Imagine this world becoming overrun by humans to the point where we, as a species, must be culled. Now imagine if your calling was to cull humans. A respected, feared and almost sacred calling….to be a Scythe. Like Unwind, this series has the potential to incite in-depth, introspective classroom discussion.
It should be noted that he Unwind series is consistently signed out of our school library. The novel has also been used in our Religious Studies class for the opportunities created for discussion on ethics and morality. Scythe is becoming popular at our school as well mainly because we have a solid group of die-hard Schusterman fans.
I had the opportunity to hear Neal Schusterman speak at the National Council of Teachers of English conference a couple of years ago. He remembers what it was like to be a student, a student with imagination in need of an opportunity to create. He KNOWS what it takes to turn reluctant readers into avid readers.
Go to the readers in your class for title suggestions! You know who they are!
Link to Neal Schusterman’s site where you can learn all about his amazing series can be found here.
See What I have Done
Why are we so intrigued by parricide? Maybe it is because we cannot imagine a more profound love that exists between a parent and a child. There seems to be a resurgence of interest in one such relationship, that between Lizzie Borden and her father. With the release of the film Lizzie directed by Craig William MacNeill and last year’s PBS documentary Lizzie Borden Full Biography as well as a plethora of novels built around the murder (see Bookriot).
This summer I picked up See What I have Done by Sarah Schmidt honestly first of all because I really liked the cover. You’ll understand the significance of the severed pigeon head after you read the novel. The second reason why I picked it up is that Schmidt uses multiple narrators to tell the story. I LOVE this format; getting the viewpoints from all the participants of a story makes who questions who is most reliable?
The chapters written in Lizzie’s voice are convoluted and claustrophobic. Instead of feeling empathy for Lizzie in her confusion we feel frustrated, echoing her sister Emma’s frustration. In fact, Emma is the one I felt closest to. I wanted her to leave that house and STAY AWAY forever.
Schmidt uses VERY effective imagery creating a visceral reaction in this reader. The image of nausea and throwing up (purposeful poisoning? Salmonella? Mutton broth sits on the stove for how long?) are rampant, inferring both psychological and moral rot. And don’t get me started on the descriptions of blood. Also, the repetitive taste and sight imagery regarding pears is interesting. I would love to get into a discussion about its purpose in the novel (Atmospheric? Symbolic?).
The secondary story of Benjamin weaves nicely with the story of the Borden’s murder. An individual struggling with hostile feelings of betrayal and anger towards his own father successfully in supports the relationship between Lizzie and her own father. Is there such a fine line between love and hate?
This book drew me into its web from page one. The story of Lizzie Borden is interesting in and of itself, and worth reading, however, Schmidt’s account is written in such an entertaining and mesmerising style reading it in one sitting makes for a full day’s entertainment. As a bonus, the story runs very close to the facts around the crime as per the PBS documentary 2017. Small details such as the Andrew Borden insisting on having all his doors locked each night, and the small maniacal laugh heard coming from Lizzie as she stood on the stair landing as stated in the documentary are included in the novel making it informative as well as entertaining (what better way to learn history than through story!).
I can genuinely say that “See What I have Done” has been my favourite read of the summer thus far. I will be recommending this one to my book club not only because it is uncomplicated and entertaining, but also because it offers a multitude of topics for discussion! Father/daughter relationships, familial betrayal as well as familial loyalty, feminism etc.
I putzed around for nearly a week at the beginning of summer looking for the perfect read to start my holidays. Not too fluffy. Not too deep. Last summer my genre of choice was murder mystery, the summer before that is was gothic. This summer’s genre was yet to be determined. Having close to 20 tbr books lying about I wasn’t about to enter a bookstore….any bookstore. But we all know how false those promises are that we tell ourselves. It only took the front flap of “Social Creature” made me break this promise..
Don’t let the description “A Talented Mr Ripley for the digital age” stop you from reading. Knowing Ripley’s plot will not give anything away, in fact, the description tricks you into the false assumption that you know how it will end.
I consider it a tale about friendship. Seriously, I wish you could have read it already so we could have a conversation about this. I think we can all identify with little bits and pieces of Louise and Lavina’s friendship. You may be horrified by this statement when you do read the book, but I think we can all identify with jealousy, the need for attention, a desire for popularity, loneliness, insecurity etc. We just don’t act upon these needs quite like these characters do.
What hooked me from page one is the writer’s voice. The ease and fluency with which Burton conveys her story are incredibly convincing. She has captured the dispassionate, and shallowness by which our society communicates. Often times It reads like a laundry list of the day’s events, a list, however, filled with acts of manipulation and selfishness interspersed with mundane tasks such as taking the subway or fixing your roots. I loved this juxtaposition.
I also enjoyed how Burton presents the superficiality of social media. What exactly do you like in the photo you “like”? How many of the images we like are staged rather than spontaneous? Does this mean most photos are inauthentic and if so what is it about them that we love? So many questions!!! Isn’t it wonderful when novels leave you questioning society? Social Creatures would make a great book club pick for this reason.
Read it! Leave a comment once you do, and we will have a conversation!!
My mind rejects numbers.
I only do math if I have to: figuring out the tip at a restaurant, calculating the time of arrival for a drive to the big city.
But now there are Apps for both.
It’s sad but true, but there was a time when I would withdraw five dollars from the bank machine just to see what my balance was…but now I can just go online.
The “numbers” part of my brain has been seriously stagnating as of late
it hasn’t always been this way.
When I was young (before I hit double digits) I enjoyed math with the multiplication table taped to the refrigerator, practicing the “six times” table with my father (and getting all of them right) and the nine times table with my mother (and getting most of them wrong).
I enjoyed the language of word problems introduced in junior high, viewing them as mini-mysteries (how old WAS Joe if his sister was born four years after his cousin Henry who was born two months shy of a decade younger than Joe?).
math all got fuzzy.
The steps the teacher wrote on the board didn’t seem to make sense; there didn’t seem any rhyme or reason to the logic. Maybe that was it…there was no rhyme, I saw no art and had no emotional connection
other than confusion.
And my average dropped. I did end up graduating with the math course I needed but I waiting for my exam results was an exercise in torture.
Now, my mind turns to mush when I sit in front of my banker and he talks of compound interest and amortization. If I have to count money from fundraisers I start over and over again because my thoughts drift to colour and metaphor and numbers slip smoothly from my focus and I eventually have to find someone to do the counting for me.
And just to add insult to imagery, the news this evening ran a story of a shown a dog in China who can solve simple division.
Not to be outdone by a canine, I’ve downloaded Sudoku to my iPad just to keep the “numbers” part of my brain in shape. I’ve researched “the mathematics of poetry” so I can FEEL something for numbers.
AND, I’ve discovered something. There is a whole genre of fiction called “math fiction”. Sounds almost heretical doesn’t’ it? Like two lovers from different sides of the “tracks” running off together and having a book baby.
I’ve read the novel “The Solitude of Prime Numbers” and liked it. I am now looking at reading “A Certain Ambiguity” by Gaurav Suri and “Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture: A Novel of Mathematical Obsession” by Apostolos Doxiadis. Booth look intriguing. I’m particularly interested in “Flatland: A Romance in Many Directions” by Edwin A. Abbott…a mathematical romance! Who knew!
So there is hope. I just have to appreciate the patterns and connections in math that I gravitate towards in literature.
The magic of a private library is something every child should experience. I had such a library when I was growing up. It was two book-lined shelves above the freezer deep in our basement. I was a farm kid born and raised near a small Northern Alberta town that for the longest time had no bookstore. We did, however, have a public library but the library would not “allow” farm kids to sign out books…because they might not return them on time due to the long drive and all a fact I still hold bitter in my heart.
So I pillaged my mother’s library, a spritely array of volumes from Reader’s Digest Book of the Month, garage sale treasures and old school texts.I remember them all clearly. And my mother never, ever censored what books I could and could not read (although sometimes she made a few “unavailable” for her adolescent daughter). Here are a few books that will always remind me of growing up on the farm:
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. It was all about Jo. I was a tomboy; Jo was a tomboy. She was more a sister to me at times than my own two. At the time of “The Great Bang Massacre of ‘72, when my mom would take us to the neighbor lady to get our haircut (it wasn’t years later that I found out she wasn’t a certified hairdresser) my distress was minimized when I read of Jo cutting her beautiful long hair.
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I used to go up to the stone pile atop the hill behind our house and read aloud Scarlett O’Hara’s dialogue…especially between her and Rhett. The “Old South” was the furthest thing away from my reality of Northern Alberta but that didn’t matter because there was Rhett. Rhett Butler was my first literary crush.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Who was the woman in the attic? What was HER story? Is she a ghost?I couldn’t care less about Jane, I wanted to know about the crazy lady. It wasn’t years later until I read The Wide Sargasso Sea and found some possible answers.
I wanted to be just like Desiree in Annemarie Selinko’s novel Desiree. I wanted to grow up to be like with Desiree than I Jane. Desiree was precocious, she was a rule breaker, and she had caught the eye of young Napoleon. I was in these pages I got an understanding of what the grown-ups called “little man syndrome.” And Desiree could make quite the impression at a party smashing her glass splattering wine in a great arc across Josephine’s white dress – a scene forever in my imagination even though I haven’t read the book in decades. (There is a new-ish 2010 edition out with a beautiful cover!)
The Happy Hooker by Xaviera Hollander…ok, I didn’t read a lot of this one. I think this book was making its way around the neighbourhood because the neighbor lady’s name was written on the front cover (come to think of it may have been the name of lady that “cut” my hair!!). I would sneak down into the basement and sit on the freezer and read until I heard footsteps on the stairs which meant I could only read snatches at a time. I knew it was salacious reading because I never took it out of the storage room. One day the book disappeared off the shelf. I have a feeling mom knew I was sneaking snippets of this text rather than sneaking cookies. (Side note: while discussing this post with friends I have since learned that they too covertly read Hollander’s memoir. Was it the taboo book of the 70’s that all adolescent girls wondered about? What was the book of the 80’s?)
Being able to escape into this little “two-shelf” library was especially important to me during junior high. It was a place where I could magically escape the melodrama and bullying that sometimes accompanies adolescence. I visited this library almost every week, replacing one book with the next. I so loved my mother for letting me have free access to everything and anything I wanted to read.
I wish every child to have such a place.
I could cry,
and be scandalized
all atop that freezer,
book in one hand,
frozen cookie in the other.
“There arose a perfume of tenderness, that ghost of passion which, in the most unexpected relationship, can make a whole lifetime devoted to irksome duty pass like a gracious dream” (pg. 74)
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.
I have fallen in love with Thorton Wilder because of this quote.
How wonderful would a relationship like this be? Having to get close enough not only in physical proximity but emotional proximity as well, to one person and stay there long enough to inhale that “perfume of tenderness”
where your first instinct would be to wrap your arms around this person and hold them close.
Tenderness without forethought, without premeditation, without any agenda.
To be pleasantly surprised at a love that grows where you didn’t expect it to grow. And you look upon it in wonder, finding it near impossible to believe that it truly exists in you,
the most unlikely of places,
or so you believed.
Where obligation and duty never really existed in its denotative form. All business like and astringent.
No boundaries set by written laws or verbal promises but rather
a fidelity that is unexpected and natural.
Some of us have found in our relationships some such a manifestation of Wilder’s love
and some of us are still waiting.
Whatever the case I hope we recognize it as such
and hold on to it as a dream come true,
Let’s face it, those of us who are certified book nerds carry our obsession beyond the written word. Thankfully when circumstances are such that I can’t sit and read I can indulge my craving for “all things bookish” by plugging in and listening to some pretty amazing podcasts. Here are some of my favouites (all easily accessible by subscribing through iTunes).
What are you listening to?
*minutes after tweeting this post I got a lovely request to add the podcast HS BookClubPod a podcast recorded by teachers and students. I’ve listened to a couple sessions and it is really quite wonderful! You can find it on iTunes!
Fantasy isn’t usually my “go to” genre but I’ve been trying to expand my repertoire so that I can reccomend a variety of titles to students. Various book podcasts expounded upon the wonder of this novel. Needless to say I was expecting great things the moment my eyes settled on the first sentence…but I was a bit disappointed. I didn’t find it immediately riveting. But, I stuck to it (I have a “give a book 100 pages before giving up” rule), trooping through backstory and antecedent action.
I met Prunella
(no worries, Prunella showed up well within the first 100 pages).
Prunella has become my new favourite character making the story’s protagonist Zacharias more complex and interesting. After meeting Prunella I soon fell in love with this story and found myself completely immersed in the world of “old England” and the land of Fairy.
I cannot WAIT for the next in the series. I will definitely be adding this title to my little classroom library and have already reccomended it to our school librarian.
Zen Cho has become my front runner in fantasy favourites.
Last night I couldn’t sleep. So I did what most people do I in the darkest, loneliest hours of the night… downloaded free books on my iPad. Now, I always knew the selection of free books available to the public was extensive but I never realized how wonderfully accessible it all is. So, like a kid in a candy store, I downloaded works by Kate Chopin, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Wolf and Joseph Conrad. Kipling and Kafka and Carroll. It was my childhood junk food response all over again
– consume until satiated.
I knew no moderation.
I’ve mentioned before that growing up in small town Alberta we had no REAL bookstores to speak of and then the one that did finally pop up had a collection of “young adult” fiction that extended the length of one shelf of one bookcase. Thank goodness this miniscule collection included Nancy Drew Mysteries and works by the goddess of young adult literature, Judy Blume.
What filled the huge, cavernous gaps between the acquisition of reading material was the fact my mother had a little collection of literature that she accumulated before she was married and kept it neatly shelved in the storage room beside the “big freezer”. Mom was smart, when she was a young woman it too was impossible for her to purchase books in the middle of the Saskatchewan prairie during the early 1960’s, so she became part of the “Reader’s Digest Book Club” . She was shipped classics like “Wuthering Heights”, and “Gone with the Wind” every month or so.
Mom was very free in letting me peruse her volumes, reading whatever caught my eye. Once in awhile I’d find a trashy paperback loaned to her by one of her friends (or so the name inside the front cover showed) and I’d secretly read it sitting atop of the freezer consuming all sorts of mild debauchery I couldn’t understand…as well as frozen cookies. I’d quickly replace it (and the baking) if I heard her footstep on the staircase.
And I still haven’t gotten over the fact the public library wouldn’t allow “farm kids” to get library cards. I’d LIVE for library time at school so that I could sign out books to my heart’s content (that would be two, two books. One fiction, one nonfiction). Needless to say I now abuse my public library privilege and download with a frenzy seen only at blue light specials at Kmart.
As a kid, if I would have known my future would include immediate accessibility to all sorts of stories I would have found the wait torturous and willed myself to fast forward in time. But alas, I would have had to appease my impatience with the world of H. G Wells… if finding a volume wasn’t as impossible as time travel.
I’ve always loved reading. The acquisition of a good story sitting at my fingertips is one simple thing that truly makes me happy. Maybe it’s because it was a struggle to simply find a book and doing so was like finding a treasure, a glittering gem in a pile of ash. Needless to say the fact that today a plethora of tales lies at my immediate disposal is like a dream come true and I find myself behaving like a little kid at Christmas surrounded by wrapped gifts…. so giddy and excited she starts unwrapped one gift, then notices another with glittering paper and starts unwrapping it just to drop it for another – often have three or four books on the go because I need to consume as many stories as I can for fear they will be taken away.
I used Classicly to feed my free book obsession.
I am someone who believes in the magic of books I am a passionate advocate for giving sharing, and buying books for every occasion. As a teacher I have a little classroom library and I’ve seen how a collection of books can create a safe place for my students. The shiest student can be standing in front of my bookshelves and be spontaneous met by another student where an impromptu conversation starts around “what to read”. Other times if a student has no place to “be” during lunch or break I often find him/her wandering into my classroom to look at my books and then finding a quiet corner to read. EVERY human should have their own little library at home even if it’s just a collection of a few books. What better occasion to help contribute to this library than Christmas! Because I always have people ask “what should I read?” I’ve decided to gather some of my favouites this year and post them for you! Please include any of your own suggestions in the comment section. It’s always a good thing to share title suggestions.
I have to admit most of my titles are for young adult and adult readers, however I HAVE to mention “The Good Little Book” by Kyo Mclear for young readers, especially young reluctant readers. It’s a charming story about how a book can be a young boy’s friend.
Young Adult titles
I have just brushed the surface but I hope this little list helps you in your book gift buying adventures! Please write your own favourites of the year in the comments of this post!
Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!
It's All About Life Long Learning!
This blog is about stuff from my brain. Ranging from play-doh to Plato. Hopefully you find something you like within that spectrum.
Currently Streaming My Conciousness
The Art and Craft of Blogging
WordPress.com is the best place for your personal blog or business site.