Catching Up

I just looked at my list of books read this year and realized how many there are for which I haven't written posts. It isn't that I didn't like them enough to write about them, in fact I usually have a lot more to say about books I didn't like than those I did. It's just been a busy year. My mother's health and hospitalizations were the focus of my time and energy earlier in the year, then my son got married this summer and you mothers know what "wedding year" is like. My own health has limited what I can do and how much energy I have to do it, leaving me at times without two words to put together.

I was going to leave the books listed without posts, but some of the them were so good I want to say something about them so others can discover them too. Others aren't really worth mentioning so I'll just say I didn't like them.

Papua, New Guinea/Melody Carlson
I'm not a fan of this author. I've tried but
find her books trite and shallow. I didn't
like this one any more than the others,
and after reading it have decided not
to bother with any more.

Gilead/Marilynne Robinson 
This was a re-read for book 
club that I wrote about here.  
It's a Pulitzer Prize winner
and a wonderful book.

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar
Suzanne Joinson
This was one step above the Carlson
book, but that's all. I didn't like it.

Einstein - His Life and Universe/Walter Isaacson 
I enjoyed this one. Einstein was an interesting man. I didn't know anything about his personal or professional lives so it was an eye-opener for me. I am fascinated by science, but this is complicated stuff and I had to read and re-read a number of pages to follow the theories the author was explaining. He was able to make Einstein's work come alive for me though; it was just my poor brain that had some trouble keeping up.

Bellman and Black/Diane Setterfield
Disappointing. I loved "The Thirteenth Tale"
but for me this one fell flat. It was a bit on
the weird side, which can go either way for
me. Sometimes weird is "oh, this is really
interesting..." but this one was "oh,
this is not interesting at all...".

Gifts from Eykis
Dr. Wayne Dyer 
I didn't finish it. 
Boring. Silly, even.

The Pearl/John Steinbeck
There are so many great classics that I have never read and really don't know why. This is another one that I loved when I finally got around to reading it. Loved the characters, the story, the moral and the writing. It's a little book and won't take much of your time, so if you haven't read it you really should give it a try. 

People of theBook/GeraldineBrooks
A re-read that I first read several years ago. I remember loving it the first time, maybe a little less this time. It's the story of a Hebrew manuscript called the "Sarajevo Haggadah" and how it survived through five centuries of wars, book burnings and various other destructive forces. A modern day rare-book expert is given the task of analyzing and conserving the book and in doing that discovers it's history. I loved the historical aspects of it and the fact that it's a book about a book.

How To Read Novels Like A Professor/Thomas C. Foster Brilliant. This book was so much fun to read. If the title sounds dry to you, don't pay any attention to it; Foster is easy to read, funny and fascinating. If you love novels, but like me have had no literary education, this is the book you want to read. It's loaded with helpful information that will show you how to get more out of the novels you're reading. It's one I'll read again and again.

Elizabeth, the Queen
 Sally Bedell Smith 
This was a re-read
for book club.
I wrote about it here.
Loved it.

Eight Cousins/Louisa May Alcott - When I get tired of news about wars and crime and people doing horrible things to other people, I read Louisa May Alcott. This book, like all of her books, is about good people in a gentle time doing ordinary things. They may not be very much like real life, but that's exactly what makes them so appealing. Like balm on a wound. 

That's it. Hopefully I'll get posts done on the rest of the books I read this year.

"My Best Stories"

My Best Stories by Alice Munro

When Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature last year, my book club, realizing most of us had never read any of her books, decided, in a fit of Canadian guilt, to put her on our 2014 reading list. Frankly I dreaded reading it as my previous forays into the world of Canadian short stories had been unsatisfactory. Disturbing, even.

I didn't like the first one. It told the story of a young girl whose father believed physical beatings were an acceptable method of discipline. Strike one. The second story didn't appeal to me much either but I did begin to enjoy the writing itself. Had I been reading it strictly for myself I might have stopped there but I have this thing about finishing book club books. I don't feel I have much right to comment, and obviously nothing really to say, when I don't finish the book. So I pushed myself to keep reading, and around the sixth or seventh story I realized I was beginning to enjoy myself.

Then I arrived at Meneseteung, story number eight. It was written in sections, each begun with a verse of poetry written by the small town poetess who is the story's main character. I can't explain what happened while I was reading it but in this one story I went from someone who was reading a book because I had to, to someone who couldn't get enough. I was living and breathing inside the story along with the character and loved the experience. I read the rest of the book in much the same state; the end of each story left me wishing I didn't have to leave it.   

After finishing the book I can say I am now an Alice Munro fan. Her stories are more than reading material; they are experiences that she pulls you into, where you live another person's life for a time. They paint bright, detailed pictures in your mind. They let you feel things you may never have felt before and they bring back feelings you may have forgotten you ever had. They are glimpses into real lives where nothing is perfect and no one has all the answers. They are easy to read and yet they challenge you to read them on a deeper level. They are clean, clear and pitch perfect. They are works of art. 

I'm not happy with the way I read them, one right after the other. I found myself mixing up which characters were in which story and once or twice I forgot the entire plot of a story once I had read a few more. There was too much input in too short a time. I prefer to read one or two in between other books, savouring them and processing them at the slower pace my aging brain requires. But however you read them, do read them. They are worth every minute you will spend on them. I had no idea what I was missing.

"Summer At Tiffany"

Summer At Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

I thought this was fiction when I downloaded it onto my Kobo, but it turns out it's the true story of the author's summer working at Tiffany in New York City. It was fun as fiction, but much better as a memoir. Knowing that the stories she tells actually happened make them funnier, more poignant and altogether more interesting.

In the summer of 1945 the author and her friend, Marty, took the train to Manhattan to find summer jobs, hoping it would be as easy as other friends had told them it was to get hired at the very best shops. They found a small apartment and hit the pavement, but days went by with no success until, just about out of options, Marty said they may as well try Tiffany. They hadn't even considered it because they knew it was out of their league, but with nothing left to lose, why not?

To their surprise and delight, they were hired to be the first female pages in Tiffany's history. Wearing provided designer dresses for uniforms, the girls ferried outrageously expensive jewellery - gold, diamonds, pearls, etc. - in special leather bags from the sales floor to the repair department and back again. Some of the tricky situations they found themselves in had me holding my breath, others were just hilarious. It was fascinating to get an inside look at the running of this iconic store that most of us common people will never have the opportunity to enter.

One of the perks of working at Tiffany was watching the famous people who came into the store. Marjorie and Marty were young girls and being that close to the rich, the royal and the glamorous people who frequent a store like Tiffany was a thrill. They loved the fashion, the clubs and restaurants, the men in uniform, and the constant excitement of life in the big city. They were lucky enough to be in Times Square when the announcement came that the war was over. An amazing and unforgettable day. I enjoyed reading about their experiences almost as much as they enjoyed having them.

It's delightful reading, light, fun and perfect for summer!


"Madame Bovary"

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Emma Bovary is the second wife of a country doctor, a man she believes will give her the life of romantic bliss that is the stuff of her daydreams, formed from novels, art and music rather than from any observation of real life. Her story is a tragedy, as it must be. Daydreams are perfection, and none of us get that.

Emma finds her husband dull and their life monotonous. She isn't living the romantic fantasy she wants, so she looks around for something more interesting. She believes she could be happy if only she loved someone passionately, if she was admired and danced attendance upon and showered with  gifts, if she was entertained and given new and exciting experiences on a regular basis. She is delusional enough to think such a life is actually an option.

She has two affairs, managing to hide both from her husband, who for some reason adores her. She financially ruins him and neglects their daughter, leaving her to be raised by a servant.

Emma's biggest problem is Emma. It must have been the condition of her times that made her feel happiness should be handed to her. She had no concept of it being something you build from the materials you have available. She was doomed from the beginning, and in the end she had to face reality. "She now knew the smallness of the passions that art exaggerated." She commits suicide, and even that turns out to be a disappointment. It's supposed to be a dramatically romantic end to the life of a young beautiful woman; instead, it takes a long time to die, and it is painful and ugly. Not the impression she wanted to leave at all.

If I was supposed to feel sympathy for Emma, I'm afraid I failed. I felt for her husband and child, both of whom loved her to the end no matter how she treated them. Life with them may have been dull, but she did choose it. She never outgrew her childish need for immediate gratification and her selfishness ruined all their lives. It's a tragedy, not just for Emma, but for the entire Bovary family.

In spite of my dislike for Emma, I did enjoy the reading - most of the time. There were a few passages that ran on but on the whole it was good. It was meant to be a statement about the reality of boredom and monotony in the average marriage and the average life, and Flaubert succeeded at that. I found this quote particularly poignant: "Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it; everything was a lie. Every smile hid a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, all pleasure satiety, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips only the unattainable desire for a greater delight." Still, I didn't at any point feel any connection with Emma. She was intolerably shallow; I lost patience with her early on and never got it back.

One of my pet peeves with nineteenth century novels is the exaggerated drama and there was plenty of it here. At one point Emma is sitting near a window in her home when she sees a carriage go by. In it is the man with whom she has just broken off an affair. Now, it's natural that seeing him would have some effect on her emotions, but Emma's reaction...? "Emma uttered a cry and fell back rigid to the ground." Then, "brain-fever set in". She was bed-ridden for weeks, weak, unable to eat and almost dying. Either this is ridiculously over dramatic, or women of that time were so frail that it's a wonder they ever survived serious say, childbirth. 

I am glad I read it. For one thing I found a quote that puts into words a thought I've tried in vain to express since my father died 15 years ago: "There is always after the death of anyone a kind of stupefaction; so difficult is it to grasp this advent of nothingness and to resign ourselves to believe in it." For another, I'll understand references to it in other writings, and best of all, it's one more title I can cross off my Guilt List! Yay!

Shooter Caught and In Custody

In the very early hours of this morning, the gunman was located and taken into custody. The arrest was made without weapons being fired and we are all grateful there was no further injury or loss of life.

For most of us life will gradually return to normal now. It will take time for us to regain a feeling of safety and security in our little city, and maybe we'll never quite get back to where we were. We may be a little more careful about locking our doors and walking in dark places at night. It will be a longer process for families and especially children who were in the lockdown zone and had to stay in basement bathrooms and closets and couldn't leave their houses for 28 hours. Those children will need help feeling safe in their own backyards again. It will take a while to forget the sight of armoured vehicles and guns outside their homes. But in time they too will return to normal, going to school and playing in those same yards and streets with their friends.

But for the Officers of the RCMP in our community, there will be no returning to normal. Two are recovering from serious injuries. Three of them are gone, and are never coming back. Their spouses, their children, their parents, siblings and co-workers will have to live with the loss for the rest of their lives. It still amazes me to think that each one of them knew the risks when they signed up and still, they signed up willingly. They wanted to serve and protect the rest of us. How can any of us possibly say "thank-you" for such a sacrifice? Our words won't change the tragedy that has come to their families. We can only hope that in time some bit of comfort or encouragement will come from knowing that so many are so grateful.

Thank you to all the RCMP officers from our own community and those who came in to help from other places. Thank you to their families for giving them the freedom to serve and protect, even knowing the risk. God bless you all with peace and comfort in this terrible time and may He lead you though the dark days ahead into a new normal that will allow you, in time, to live again.  

Tragedy Tonight in My City

Tonight my city is on lock down and in mourning as police search for a 24 yr old man who has shot five police officers, killing three. The man is, or was, on foot and carrying two high powered rifles, a knife and crossbow. A large area of town has been told to lock their doors, take their families into one room in their basement and stay there till they get the all clear. Many families tonight are huddled into small bathrooms, closets, etc trying to keep their children calm through the night. 

I have two nieces and their families living in the lock down zone. Another friend with three small children lives there as well. Traffic is closed off in some areas, and the hospital is locked down and on alert in case of possible mass casualties. Police from other areas are coming in to assist in the manhunt. There will be little sleep had in this city till the gunman is caught.

We are praying for the families of the lost officers, for the injured officers, for the safety of the residents of the locked-down neighborhoods and for the protection of all who are out on the streets trying to stop this madman. God bless you for your selfless service to  our community. We pray this will end quickly and without further injury or loss of life. 

Anxiously waiting.