Wednesday 30 June 2010

Finished!! Canada Challenge 3 - I am a good Canadian!!

I did it! I did it! I completed the Canadian Challenge 3 Eh?!!! Third time must be lucky, this is the third year I attempted this challenge, and I am so thrilled and proud of myself for completing it. MOstly because I want to prove to myself that we have good, interesting, fun, intriguing books to share with the world. This year, I proved it to myself. AND I still have books on my TBR mountain for this challenge, so I'm ready for next year's challenge!

The last two books I read for this challenge, I read this month:

The Rez Sisters, by Tomson Highway. I read this play in university many years ago, and I was anxious to see how I found it now. It is just as moving and funny as it was 19 years ago, I am very happy to say. The Rez Sisters won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best New Play when it came out in 1986, and was nominated for the Governor General's Award. This is a very big deal, not just because it is a play, but because it is written by an Aboriginal Canadian. Tomson was born in Northern Manitoba, far from the city. He was educated at a Roman Catholic boarding school - a product of the residential schools, which were charged with erasing native culture from the minds of the young people sent there, so they could take their place as Canadians in the cities, speaking English and no trace of otherness left. I'm not going to get into a rant here about what that says about Canadian colonialism and views of many white people towards natives. I mention it because, despite being sent to the residential school, Tomson survived, and went on to become - is - one of our leading figures in Aboriginal writing in Canadian literature. There is nothing strident, there is no bitterness, in The Rez Sisters, or in Dry Lips Outta Move to Kapuskasing, his other famous play, which I had the privilege of seeing performed at the National Arts Center when it came on tour in the 1990's. The Rez Sisters is funny and bittersweet, a tragicomedy in two parts: before a group of women from a reserve go to the World's Largest Bingo in Toronto, and after. In a form of gentleness rarely seen in fiction, Highway illustrates through his characters - 7 women on the reserve, and Nanabush, the figure of a seagull who is also the Trickster figure - what life is like on the reserve, and how these women relate to one another. Each of the women is clearly drawn, from Pelajia the eldest at 53, to Zhaboonigan the youngest at 24, her niece. All of the women are related to one another, sort of, which is exactly what living on the reserve is like, and is also a pun on the native belief that we are all related. The funniest part of the book is how they raise the money to get from the reserve to Toronto. The heartbreaking moments are two - the death of one of the characters, and what has happened to Zhaboonigan, who is also mentally handicapped. Read this play if you want an idea of what Aboriginal humour is like, about their honesty and how their dignity is all we have left them, but it's all we all have in the end anyway. This is a glimpse into another world that turns out to be about all of us. Still beautiful, after all these years.

The other book I read was Chester, by Melanie Watt:

Chester is an irrepressible cat who is determined to make the book about him, despite Melanie the author attempting to write about a mouse who lives in the country. Chester is obviously a strong character, charming, funny, and this book will appeal to everyone. This is how cats are. Really. For cat lovers, kids, and everyone else (except dog lovers, though dogs do make an appearance here). Delightful Canadian children's book that I highly recommend.

So, there you have it, my final two books for the Canadian Challenge 3. I'm thrilled to look back on all the good books I read this year (see my sidebar for the list). Canadian books - poetry, plays, journals, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery, some of what I read this year - are worth discovering. I look forward to the next challenge, due to begin tomorrow. Won't you join me?

Sunday 20 June 2010

Some birthday books and how to get your footie man to read

My birthday was a month ago, but for various reasons, I haven't been able to post about the books I received. The first book I received on my birthday, from my wonderful husband who is also the lucky recipient of my recipes so he likes picking out what he is going to be eating for the next few years.

Nigel Slater is one of my favourite cooks. He was the one who taught me how to roast a chicken perfectly every time, how to make bangers and mash the way the English like them, and who gave a recipe for lentil soup that is a winter mainstay in our household now. He is an English cook, so I am not able to see his tv shows, though I do copy out his Observers Food Monthly columns often. I didn't know before discovering him that that there were cooks that could speak to us, whose recipes made sense and who I would feel comfortable spending time in the kitchen with, until I met Nigel in Appetite while I lived in England in 1999-2000.

Appetite is his award-winning cookbook, and had just come out that winter. Giving me The Kitchen Diaries, the latest from this wonderful cook, was a real delight for me. In this cookbook, Nigel takes us through the year of a cook and his garden and the vegetable market. He decided to cook with what ever foods he could find at the market that day, and whatever his garden was producing at that time. Seasonal eating, which seems trendy now, although if you buy food at the fresh market stalls, as we are lucky enough to have here in Ottawa, then eating seasonally is possible 5 months of the year. I have done this for several years now, from May until Oct when the last of the harvest is gone. So I am thrilled to have a book by Nigel on how to use the bumper foods as they come into season, how to live rhythmically with the seasons.

I have only dipped into this cookbook so far, and already I've seen several recipes I want to try. Grilled zucchini with basil and lemon, cannelini beans with coppa, spinach and mustard (the picture of this dish always makes me hungry when I look at it!), lamb chops with oregano and tsatziki, Nigel's delightful trifle (alcohol-free!), Chicken stew and mash (for winter days)........mmmmmm, it must be lunch time soon. I will be reading this cookbook throughout the year, so I can try out Nigel's recipes as the food becomes available here too, so I can experiment further with eating seasonally. I'll let you know how it goes.

My other presents didn't arrive from until this past Friday, thanks to a gift certificate from my mother:

Yes, I treated myself to a hardcover! Connie Willis's Blackout, which I had been intending to wait until it came out in softcover so I could carry it, has had so many good reviews that I can't wait. A very rare treat, and I've already read the first chapter while finishing up reading books for the other book challenges about to wind up. I bought for my birthday:
Blackout - Connie Willis
Diamond Solitaire - Peter Lovesey - 2nd book in the Peter Diamond series
Dido Live - dvd of Dido's live performance in 2004 in England
Lone Star - dvd, John Sayle's dark mystery, which I absolutely love and haven't seen in ages.

By the way, Blackout is book one of two books. It was so huge the publisher broke the novel into two parts, and the second book, All Clear, is due out in October. That's not so long to wait! Connie is one of my favourite authors, and this book is a return to Mr Dunworthy and his time-travelling historians. This time they are going back to World War 2. Here is a review that does not give anything away, at Locus Magazine online.

**I'll be posting on Carl's challenge tonight, after I finish reading A Midsummer's Night's Dream this afternoon. Lovely, lovely midsummer's eve! And Shakespeare.

Happy Fathers' Day and how to bring more books into the house:
It's Father's Day here in Canada, as it is in many places in the world. To my readers who are also fathers, Happy Father's Day. I hope you get some quiet time to read (most likely tonight after those who have made you fathers go to bed). My spouse, who is parked in front of the tv for World Cup football (aka soccer over here in North America) for this month, received two books from me - many of you know he is long-suffering because I buy more books than he has seen in his life. Slowly but surely I have been building a large library of English football books for my love. Today was no exception: he received the England pre-match warm-up kit to wear, as a proud England supporter, and two books:

Soccernomics, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
The Story of the World Cup by Brian Glanville

Since England, and now Italy, are on the bubble - they must win their next game or go home early from the tournament - Soccernomics, which I bought some time ago, seems timely with its subtitle: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, And Why the US, Japan, Australia, Turkey - And Even Iraq - Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport.

I hope wherever you are, you are enjoying a book and some footie on this Sunday.

PS May I add my congratulations to my readers from New Zealand? We were cheering for you today, and it was a thrilling point you won today against the Azzuri.
PPS To my Italian readers, I'm sorry, I really am. As someone who cheers for England, you can take comfort that you played better than we did in our last match.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Emily's meme, or Confessions of a Book Reader

So Emily over at Telecommuter Talk and I are on the same frame of mind, since we both were looking at the new Oprah magazine on the newsstands for the same 'Summer books' article. I came away thinking I'd got off rather lightly since for once, as none of the books seemed to catch my interest. Then Emily went and got inspired from the same article , and here is her meme that I'm borrowing because I think it's fun and interesting: what books have you planned to read for years, and never have gotten around to? what have you never read? In Emily's words, it's true confession time, and in the spirit of sharing the shame, here are my ten books that I've meant to read, but never got around to:

1. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy. I have bought at least two copies, no, three, over the years, and I still haven't got past the first page. I used to take it with me on holidays as my "I have lots of time to read on my vacation" book, but lately I've given up on even that. I don't know why I haven't read it, I want to!!

2. Any book by Charles Dickens. *hangs head in deep, deep shame* I am buying them now. Ever since I saw the latest version of Bleak House on tv (the version with Gillian Anderson) I have realized that maybe Charles isn't quite so wordy as I thought once. Plus, Dr Who made him cool in their first season episode where the world-weary Charles finds there is something unexplained in the universe after all. I own David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Which one should I start with? And why can't I find Bleak House anywhere?

3. Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger. I was such an angry teenager, already in danger of great disaffection to hide the disappointments in my life, that when I read the first page of this book, I got so mad at the insufferable main character - what did he know about suffering? About pain so deep there wasn't words? I put the book down and have never picked it up again. Lately I've been wondering if I've finally put my teen angst away enough that I can try this. Maybe.

4. Anything by Robertson Davies. *hangs Canadian head in shame*. My friend and book-twin Bybee at Naked Without Books has a book-crush on him, making me feel like I might be missing something after all. But not enough to actually pick up a book yet. It must be his beard.

5. Books I've been meaning to read, and have started, but never finished: Little, Big by John Crowley, Possession by AS Byatt, and Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. There must be something wrong with me. Almost everyone loves these books passionately, and they left me bored, yawning, falling asleep even, and I can't remember any of the characters names, even though I've tried to read all three within the last two years. Maybe I'm not a 'everyone loves this' kind of book reader. Maybe they just aren't for me. I'm still disappointed though, because I went in with such high expectations of really enjoying each of them. See? true confessions of a book reader.......I'm sure you all feel much better about yourselves as book readers after seeing my failures!

6 and 7. Homer - The Iliad and The Odyssey. I own these now. They are referenced in so much. I do, I really want to read these. I am embarrassed that I haven't read them yet! How can I be a reader and a writer and not read two of the best and oldest written adventures in the world?

8. Ulysses - James Joyce. I have long, long wanted to read this book. I own the unabridged version, recently acquired. I think I'm afraid to pick it up and find I don't like it, after waiting so long. This one requires a big dose of courage.

9. Le Mort D'Arthur - Thomas Mallory. *shuffles feet. Stares fixedly at the ground.*

10. Earthsea Trilogy - Ursula K. LeGuin. One of the finest fantasy trilogies ever, even my 21 year old son has read it, but I have not. I think my mother has too. What am I waiting for?

So there you have it. A small fraction of the books I have not read yet, that I want to read. An embarrassing collection of mostly great books that have slipped through my reading hands. The emphasis is on want - these aren't books I feel I should read, anymore. I want to read them. Well, maybe Robertson Davies falls into the 'should' read category still.

How about you, dear reader? What books do you feel you should have ready by now, and haven't? what books have you really, really wanted to read, and have never gotten around to reading yet? Please feel free to take this meme and run with it. After all, what's a little shame between book friends?

Monday 14 June 2010

The book I reached for when my cat died

A week ago Saturday our beloved cat Bandit was put to sleep. Her cancer had finally spread, quite suddenly, and we knew it was time. After we held her, and said our goodbyes, and buried her, I found my thoughts straying to a book for comfort. No, not the Bible. No, not a childhood book like Black Beauty or Little House on the Prairies or even Anne of Green Gables.

No, surprisingly, my thought flew towards Stephen King. Out of the blue, I wanted to read Pet Semetary. The urge was so strong, that after checking my shelves - once upon a time I owned all of his books, and am now rebuilding my collection of his titles - discovering I hadn't replaced it, I rushed out and bought it at Chapters. I read The Cipher Garden as fast as I could (very very good mystery by the way, will review it shortly; I was in the middle of this when all this with Bandit happened, and after waiting 6 weeks for the book, I was not putting it down again until it was done!!) and then opened up Pet Semetary with a happy sigh.

I can feel you all looking at me. But Susan, it's a horror novel! you are all saying. In fact a friend of mine at work asked me on Friday about this. Your cat just died, and you're reading Pet Semetary, she asked. Can I ask why?

Yes, I answered. I want to remember why it's good to not want my cat to come back.

It's funny what our minds turn to for comfort, and what books we suddenly need to hand, isn't it?

I haven't read Pet Semetary in over 15 years, and I am enjoying/deliciously scared by it all over again. And I'm really hoping I never see the earth disturbed over top of where she is lying.

Goodbye Bandit, you were such a beloved kitty.