Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sidebars and Book Talks

I sat in class yesterday morning beside my friend Peter. During the lulls and short breaks in the day's agenda, we had a quiet conversation about books. This talk, often in the form of scribbled notes, in the most unlikely of places, buoyed my spirits as I realized that I had found someone whose interest in books paralleled mine.

Peter recommended several books to me and I scrawled notes all over our case studies and agenda pages. From my scribbles, here are some of Peter's suggestions:

1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I had seen this book on several top ten lists and searched it out. When I read a brief summary of this 2002 Man Booker Prize winner for fiction, about a young boy adrift at sea with various animals, I have to say that I decided not to pursue this read, as it sounded a bit "too far out". (Unlike many of my friends who adore Mitch Albom, I struggled through the first part of The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and it became one of few books that I have ever abandoned).

So Peter, at your suggestion, I now plan to include this book in my 26 Books challenge for 2010.

2. The Road (Pulitzer Prize, 2007) by Cormac McCarthy

I have not read any of McCarthy's novels and looked into this one. This book is considered of 'the post-apocalyptic' genre as it deals with the journey of a father and son as they travel across the landscape of a destroyed civilization, seeking salvation. This read will be a great way for me to challenge myself, as I am virtually unread in this genre.

3. My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme

Here is a memoir that I know I will love. It has all the essential elements for me, a romantic post-war setting (France), interesting form (letters home, personal notes for recipes), and a love story (the author and her husband, Paul Child) that Julia let the world in on decades later and after the death of her husband. Prud'homme is the greatnephew of Child.

4. Push by Sapphire

Another great recommendation. A first novel by the poet Sapphire, the story is told from the point of view of "Precious" Jones, an illiterate teen living the brutal existence often associated with inner-city life. The movie version that hit theatres this November is entitled "Precious" and is not to confused with the 2009 release of the movie "Push" which is unrelated to this book. I've included the trailer below. Word is that Mariah Carey is receiving rave reviews for her performance (who knew?).

5. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

Peter cautions that the pace of this book is "a bit slow". I asked him if it was sad and he confided that it really was. See, here is another book that I had researched some time ago and again, as I so often do, talked myself out of it before I gave it a chance. For a synopsis, click the title above which is linked to the website dedicated to this story.

Thanks to Peter for all of these suggestions and the dialogue on books.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Favourite Irish and British Writers

I just finished reading Lessons in Heartbreak by Cathy Kelly, one of my favourite Irish authors. My cousin Lisa lent me a bag of books recently and so I picked this one up because it was a Kelly I hadn't read. (This is the first "traditional" book I've read in 7 months. I found it hard at first to adjust back to real paper from the virtual grayscale paper of my ereader. )

Lessons in Heartbreak weaves together the stories of Izzie, Anneliese, and Lily -- three characters related by family ties, each representative of a different generation. This is a more sombre book for Kelly as it deals with the issue of infidelity from several points of view. Izzie is Lily's granddaughter who lives in New York where she works for a modeling agency. She is involved in a relationship with a wealthy businessman who is "mentally separated" from his wife. She learns that her grandmother, Lily, has suffered a stroke back at home in Tamarin, Ireland and travels home to be at her side. Izzie's aunt, the long depressed Annaliese, uncovers the shocking truth of her 30+ year marriage around the same time. But I was most intrigued by Lily's storyline. The ailing 90 year old's past is slowly unraveled as the story progresses and we are taken back to wartime London where Lily trains to be a nurse, survives the bombing raids and indignities of class distinctions of that era.

I really liked that this was not a happy endings type of novel. And I never say that... I love happy endings. However, extramarital affairs by their nature cannot have fairy tale endings. Everyone gets hurt. In this novel, the characters all come to a sense of closure and in a sense there is more peace and contentment than "happily ever after."

Kelly writes with an interesting twist. One might expect Lily to narrate her own story, but she doesn't. Also, I loved how the prologue returns in the book.. not what I was expecting. Well, I didn't want to give away too many spoilers, but I definitely would recommend this story.

Now, if you're looking for a funny story by a British writer than I'd suggest reading anything by Catherine Alliott. I stumbled across Alliott's work in a local bookstore a few years back. With few expectations I dove into The Real Thing and then read Rosie Meadows Regrets. Hysterical, I mean hysterical. I laughed out loud, snorting, belly jiggling, hiccuping type laughter ... all the way through these two. The scene in The Real Thing where Tessa arrives at the summer house... classic! For anyone with young children, you will so get this. And Rosie Meadows, well, I needed oxygen to get through this. As my friend Lynda would say, TOO FUNNY!! I haven't read all of Alliott's work yet, sometimes its nice to save a few stories to savour over a holiday or weekend away. So, this Christmas, before I start my 26 books initiative, I'd like to read The Old-Girl Network, just for the laughs.