Book Club Suggestions for 2015-2016 (The List of All Lists)

Yay!  Another year of book cub.  Last month my book buddies and I met to vote on books to read for the next 12 months and I’m so excited about the diversity of our list this year! We’ve got Sci Fi, Mystery, Fantasy, Literary, Historical…a plethra of genres. The competition was fierce but here is the list!  I will also include the “runners up” if you want to expand your reading list (And who doesn’t?). Enjoy!  Let me know what your book clubs are reading this year.

2015/16 Book Club Selections The Winners

November – The Night Sister  by Jennifer McMahon

December – In the Unlikely Event by Judy Bloom and The Searcher by Simon Toyne

January – The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

February – The Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

March – The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penney

April – Sweetland by Michael Crummey

May – The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

June – The Nightingale by Kristina Hannah and The Girl with All the Gifts by Mike Carey

Runners – Up:

The Perfume Garden by Kate Lord Brown

Village of Secrets by Carolyn Morehead

The Martian by Andy Weir

What We Talk About When We Talk About God by Rob Bell

The Legacy of Grazia Dei Rossi by Jacqueline Park

The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeyer Authority by Jeff Vandermeyer Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeyer

Moonshot – edited by Hope Nicholson Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken

The Library at Mount Char – Scott Hawkins

A Novel Bookstore by Lawrence Cosse

Cross Your Heart and Hope to Die by James Patterson

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

“Kino” Short Story Review by student guest bloggers Khrystina and Megan

Kino

by HarukiMurakami

Kino, having been hurt by the closest person he had, opened a bar that became his sanctuary. (Disconnect from reality) He is a character that was not in touch with his feelings, and doesn’t know how to emotionally react to situations. An unusual man breached his defences by repeatedly visiting his bar and forced Kino to ponder his life. The events that have recently occurred, life his wife’s affair (her betrayal) and his lack of emotional entanglements. As a result, this mindset caused him to disregard events that happened.

In writing Kino, Murakami shows the need of people to be true to themselves and their emotions. It is to be human to have emotions. They need to be felt otherwise solitude, silence, and loneliness begins to dictate life. It is emotion that connects humans, allows us to understand others, and by extension, ourselves, as well as keeps us grounded in reality.

This was a beautiful story, elegantly written, and heartbreakingly inspirational. The characters are lovely, have their own hangups, their own stories and individual motivations to somewhat ambiguous ends. They’re interesting and clearly reflect the realism of habit and subconscious action. The minute details, such as the rain and the vividness of the willow tree outside the bar, add to the atmosphere and unify the story.

The cat is a plus. The way lack of emotion was portrayed rang so true that one couldn’t help but continue reading. Absolutely stunning in portrayal, the short story, Kino, is easily identifiable with, and the character struggles are justifiable.

More Book Club Selections for 2015!

Our book club FINALLY met last week (thank you Pam for hostessing)!  We are a month late because life was über complicated for several of us,

as life is wont to be,

but meet we did indeed!

And it was a wonderful celebration of friendship and reading!

So many book suggestions!! ALL of them calling to be read.

Here are the chosen eight, (after a long and hard deliberation from all members).  We also include “honourable mentions”…so those titles don’t feel shunned.  : )

Enjoy!

 

The Chosen Ones

The History of the Rain by Niall Williams – November

In Falling Snow by Rosemary MacColl – December

‘S’ by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorset – January

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – February

The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose – March

The Luminaries by Elinor Catton – April

The Rosie Project by Graham Simsion – May

The World Before Us – Aislinn Hunter  -June

Honourable Mentions

The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

Belzhar – Meg Worlitzer

The Girl Who Couldn’t Read – John Harding

The Bird Box – John Malloran

The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

A Train in Winter – Carolyn Morehead

Adultery – Paulo Coelho

Winter of the World –Ken Follett

What We Really Talk About When We Talk About God – Rob Bell

The Other Side of the Bridge – Mary Lawson

 

 

We are loving Gatsby!

My English students are studying Gatsby.  For a writing assignment I get them to choose (and this is THE most difficult part of the assignment) their favourite quote from the novel….

then write.

They can responded any number of ways, I just want them to write.

Write unencumbered,

Write with abandon.

Here are some questions I may pose to get the creative juices flowing:

What is it that you like about this quote?  The language choice?  The imagery?

What confuses you?

How can you personally identify with what is being stated?

….guiding questions aside, they usually choose to approach this assignment their own way.  And their own way is usually more profound.

I then share with them MY own response to the assignment.  Sharing your writing with others is a difficult thing to do.  It makes you feel vulnerable.  It makes you feel über vulnerable when you’re 17. I figure I can’t ask them to do what I am incapable of doing myself.

What you’ll read here is my attempt at the assignment.  You will find my student’s responses as text or as links to their own personal blogs, in the comment section:

“It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced – or seemed to face – the whole external world for a moment then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you, at your best, you wanted to convey.” Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby

I long for such a smile. I would find it difficult not to fall in love with someone who smiled at me this way,

someone who has taken everyone and everything in the world into account and

focuses on me with “an irresistible prejudice”.

Because, if truth be told, I often want it to be all about me.

With one look you know, deep within the recesses of your existence, thatyou’ve been understood and accepted even with all your flaws, and shortcomings and ugliness that once in a while rears its ugly head.

That someone thoroughly believes in you more than you can ever believe in yourself – all without condescension or impatience or obligation.

Imagine being looked at with the assurance that you are presenting yourself at your best and that best is pretty spectacular.

I am going to practice this smile. The most difficult thing will be its authenticity. Not to merely procure and manifest such a smile but to do so with sincerity. To smile at someone with absolute pure delight where a switch has flipped and joy released.

I bet you can remember a time you’ve been given such a look, the gift of such a smile. The first time you met your spouse? Your baby’s first smile? And I bet you’ve stored the wonderful feeling it created in your memory. But do you remember giving such a look?

To whom did you bestow such a gift and why?

 

Please enjoy the “comments” that follow!!

Review “Sleep in Peace Tonight”

I recieved this Advanced Reading Copy from goodreads. “Sleep in Peace Tonight” is a novel I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. Sure,I enjoy learning history through the use of story but WWII has never been a favourite historical event of mine, and being a Canadian I never took interest in Roosevelt’s involvement…Churchill being the more vibrant character. But I must say James MacManus kept me both intellectually and emotionally engaged throughout the entire narrative. Simple to read but not condescendingly so, I especially wanted to know more about our heroine Lenora. And I’m so grateful to MacManus for not making her the token arm candy some male writers of historical fiction do. Surprisingly the author does not bog us down with pages of political maneuvering but includes just enough to support the narrative, develop character, and maintain a sense of historical authenticity. I must say I did enjoy combing home after a hard day’s work and escaping to the London Blitz. Would love a sequel to know the fate of one of our characters!
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Hurray for Summer Reading!

Summer!  Sand, surf, BBQs, fruity drinks with umbrellas, and books!  Lots and lots of books.  I see summer as a time of literary exploration where I can muck about with titles and tombs I wouldn’t normally reading during the year because spare time is at a premium. Classics, gothic, mystery, crime, horror, historical. I keep a running list of titles of novels I want to read in Note on my  iPhone (I’ve learned the hard way NOT to keep this list on a piece of paper at home….) and accumulate books throughout the year.  A purchase here, a download there.  Here are the books I’ve tackled so far this summer:

 

  1. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
  2. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  3. Marya by Joyce Carol Oates
  4. The Killing Floor by Lee Child
  5. The Fire Witness Lars Keplar
  6. The Quick by Lauren Owen
  7. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
  8. Middlemarch by George Eliot  (ongoing…by no means anywhere near to being finished)
  9. The People in Trees by Hanya Yagagihara

 

Readers (me) are always looking for book suggestions so PEASE share your summer reading list!

 

Convenient Company

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book”.

~Henry David Thoreau, Walden


I’ve always relied on books for company. In fact I can remember the titles of specific books that have kept me company during some of the loneliest times in my life. Even when it was difficult to concentrate for any length of time because of some sort of emotional tumult, I’ve always reached for a story to soothe or distract me.

They were convenient company.

As a child my closest friend lived over a mile away and the sisters and I weren’t always the most bosom of buddies so I would lose myself in Nancy Drew. I still have a lovely collection of yellow bound Nancy Drew Mysteries sitting in my cupboard. And discovering Judy Blume’s “Blubber” was a moment I’ll always remember because the voice was familiar and the story could have been taken directly from the halls of my elementary school (and I as a chubby girl so I could relate). But I think the MOST important book of my childhood was “Gone with the Wind”. I would read, and reread the story, reading all of Scarlett O’Hara’s lines aloud pretending to be a “Southern Bell” instead of a Northern Alberta farm kid.

Junior High, that purgatorial time of melodrama and moodiness, I found distraction from bullies and boys with the likes of Agatha Christie (“The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” and “Curtain” being my favourites). I was also entranced by Mary Stewart’s Merlin series (“The Crystal Cave”, “The Hollow Hills”, “The Last Enchantment”). Puberty was all about murder and intrigue or magicians and knights.

High School, when most of my friends would sit and snuggle in the school hallways with their boyfriends or walk to McDonald’s for a lunch date of fries, I’d sit with my newfound love Charles Dickens. I remember reading “Great Expectations”, paper lunch bag at my side, eating my cheese and lettuce (no mayo) sandwich and questioning Miss Havisham’s reason for warping Estella’s view of men. Years later, after my first break up with a boy, I understood Havisham’s motivation for wanting to rip out someone’s heart and stomp it into a grimy pulp. I also loved Daphne du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn” and thought Jem was one of the most dashing figures in literature. It’s hard not to fall in love with a horse thief.

At university, when I’d feel insecure in my relationship with the boyfriend at the time, I’d read and re-read “Wuthering Heights”. It just seemed appropriate. As an adult, I remember the titles of books that have kept me company during chosen times of solitude. “Mrs. Dalloway” when took to London by myself. Then sitting on a deck chair by a lake in Jasper trying to get through” Wings of the Dove” by Henry James but being too distracted by the fact I had my heart-broken. “Anil’s Ghost” by Michael Ondaatje whilst on my way to Paris. Sitting silently with my mom on the deck of a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean reading “The Secret Book of Grazia dei Rossi” by Jacqueline Park and thinking how wonderful it was to have my mother to myself.

The latest “new era” defined by a book started two years ago when I was in an automobile accident. For about four months I was unable to concentrate for any length of time on story and could only consume magazine fodder. Many a night I would lie awake unable to read the pile of books calling to me from the corner of my room. The whole experience was frustrating and distressful. To me, the inability to read for any length of time was like losing the ability to take a deep breath. I could inhale little shallow catches of prose in magazines and newspapers, but I could not breath deeply the essence and delicacies of a well-told story. That was until four months later when I went on a weekend excursion to the “big city” with my sister and attempted to read “Angelology” by Danielle Trussoni.

And I read and read and read and took a deep breath.

Since then I have surrounded myself with books waiting patiently to be read. I think I may be somewhat fearful of feeling alone and desolate without my “friends” though and am over compensating. I now have collected a multitude of hardcovers, several eBooks (as well as 4 digital titles signed out of the library). I wonder if this is a sign I’m afraid to be lonely and feel the need to surround myself with “friends”?

Probably.

But patiently they’ll sit waiting for me to invite them into my life and keep me company even during the most trying times.

A True Hero Wears No Mask

“Then, when he was all shipshape, his father put his big arms around him, and held him close to him for a few moments. Like an actor on a stage. It was not a thing you would see in real life anyway, and there was a faraway look on his father’s face, like it was all years ago and otherwise and maybe they were still in Dalkey and he was a little lad. But he was a soldier now of some nineteen years and for all that he was glad of his father’s arms around him strange as it was, strange and comforting as it was.” (A Long, Long Way by Sabastian Barry)

The image of a man embracing his child, even if that child is 19,

is one that should be captured in marble.

It is more heroic than any giant slayer, or Roman gladiator and would melt any heart.

Women very easily fall in love with men who show the vulnerability of loving without limits – those who don’t place the parameters of machismo, or entitlement around a type of love.

To me, the father in this excerpt epitomizes manhood. He is characterized as six-foot six Goliath, and is a policeman who regularly knocks together people’s heads. But, this man’s son has gone to war and a flesh and blood piece of himself has placed himself in harm’s way, intentionally.

His son has come out as nothing short of heroic himself and has become mighty ,not in stature perhaps, but in courage.

This father, a man who has the law and his size in his favour can do

absolutely nothing to “save” his son,

except fold him warmly in his arms, feel his heart beat close to his own,

and hold him tight.

When fathers embrace their adult sons- that image should be plastered on every street corner and projected from every sky rise,

so that everyone will know that the true heroes in life wear no mask.

To Write About the Moon

I want to write about the moon.

It’s been demanding attention the last two days fully exposing itself on my drive home and then sneaking through the tiny slit in my bedroom blinds to blind me in it’s brilliance.

I have to admit I was a bit worried. Wednesday my ninth graders were in fine full moon form so I was expecting a pack of wackadoodle werewolves yesterday.

But, they were freakishly good. Maybe it was me who was lupine like.

A full moon is really quite spectacular. Sometimes it looks so close it seems you could easily reach out, delicately pluck it out of the sky and place it in your pocket.

There is some wonderful “moon” imagery in literature. One of my favourites is from Earl Birney’s poem “David” where a“peek was upthrust. /Like a fist in a frozen ocean of rock that swirled/ Into valleys the moon could be rolled in”. The big old boulder of a moon rolling in a valley like a ball in a pinball machine.

Maycomb in “To Kill a Mockingbird” has “lady in the moon…She sat at a dresser combing her hair.” I tried looking for her yesterday as I sat at a red light. She must have wandered off because I couldn’t find her.

Emily Dickenson “watched the Moon around the House/Until upon a Pane – /She stopped- a Traveller’s privilege- for Rest”. The moon last night didn’t just stop upon a pane, she pressed her nose against it and stared at me as I tried to sleep. He obtuseness was a tad creepy.

If the moon is full where you are tonight, go out and gaze up at her in wonder.

Appreciate her brash brilliance

and write a verse or two.

I dare you.

Prufrock in the Pudding

Today I had my rock star English students respond to lines in the poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  Here is MY response.  Student responses follow as comments.  Enjoy!

 

 

For I have known them all already, known them all;

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

So how should I presume?

 

T.S Eliot

Poor J Alfred Prufrock.

When I teach this poem to my high school English classes, students find it difficult to identify with the balding, socially inept Prufrock and consider him  to be pathetic at most. What they can identify with, however, is the idea of  symbolically measuring the “worth” of one’s life with a repetitive action or routine. Actions or routines that help define who we are.

A validation, or proof of sorts, that we exist.

J. Alfred’s measurement is the endless afternoons he spends alone contemplating his inadequacies over endless cups of tepid sludgy tea.

Sad, but there it is.

I’ve had students state they’re measuring their life  with dance recitals performed, or hockey games played. Proof that some thing had been accomplished.  My graduates have been measuring their lives by papers or midterms written (Facebook statuses read “only 2 more to go until summer break!  Only 1 more to go!).  Proof that learning has occurred (… or in some cases, maybe not!)

I believe our “units” of measurement vary depending on what time in life we happen to be treading. I took the year off  work some years ago and I kept track of all the wonderful books I read during that time. THAT’s how I measured my life during my hiatus.

And it felt good

and full

and worth my while.

Proof that I finished a story, a different story every time a new book opened.  Stories that contributed to my own.

Is life measured in paychecks earned?  Children birthed?  Hearts broken? Or do you find a more symbolic value in the little actions that fill your days like smiles performed and good deeds accomplished.

Proof that you’ve worked.

Proof that you’ve loved.

Proof that you exist within someone else’s reality other than your own.

Every year when I teach this poem, I too try to come up with a measurement of my life.  Papers to be marked?  Hugs to be given? Stories to be written?

Here’s a question to ponder if you’ve got a moment:  How do you measure your life?  What action or routine is your symbol?  And once you’ve figured out what this is, are happy with with this revelation?  I think what you discover will say a lot about how you percieve yourself at this moment in time.

And if you don’t like it? Go out and pick out a better measuring stick.

P.S  And go and find yourself a copy of T.S Eliot’s “Love Song for J. Alfred Prufrock”!

What is Yours?

He is the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.”

Tennessee Williams “The Glass Menagerie”

 

What is YOUR “long delayed but always expected”?

THE list.

I’ve gotten smarter.  Whenever I come across a title of a book that looks like an absolutely delightful read I type it into Notes on my iPhone.

I know, I know, a logical solution to keeping track of a literary wish list.  But it did take me awhile to clue into the fact that this would be the most officious way.

A lot better than writing titles on little scraps of paper and backs of envelopes I then lose in the bottomless black hole that exists in my handbag….

…the place where grocery lists go to die.

Anyway, here’s the list:

Mastermind  by Marina Konnikova

Leaving the Sea by Ben Marcus

Last Train to Paris by Michelle Zackheim

The Human Comedy – Balzac

Ulrich Obtrists  do it: the Compendium

Praying Drunk – Kyle Minor

Inside Madeleine- Paula Bomer

The Last Illusion -Porochista Khakpour

The rules of civility

Watch how we walk – Jennifer Love Grove

The Son of a Certain Woman – Wayne Johnston

Born Weird – Andrew Kaufman

The Blind Man’s Garden – Nadeem Aslam

Golden Land Past Dark – Chandler Kelang Smith

Look at Me – Jennifer Egan

Conversation in the Cathedral – Mario Vargas Llosa

Middlemarch – George Eliot (lost my copy from uni)

A Book of Memories -Peter Nadas

Life and Fate Vasily Grossman

All the Broken Things -Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk kidd

The Cartographer of No Mans Land – PS Duffy

Hild – Nicola Griffith

Weirdo – Cathi Unsworth

Bristol House-  Beverly Swerling

AND

the novel I CANNOT WAIT to read – The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris

What’s on YOUR “Books to Buy”  list?

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