Tuesday 27 November 2012

Some seasonal ideas for the booklover in your life

    Becca over at Lost in Books has a fun post up today on shopping for Christmas, book-themed.  It reminded me that this past weekend I spent daydreaming online at some bookish gift sites, after reading  the following post by Ana, at Things Mean Alot, in this post she gives a link to Reading Matters.  Her post took me away to two bookish sites that I just love, and here are a few things I saw that I really liked:

The Literary Gift Company,   
which has things like:

 a fabulous tea towel - it's a lovely poem, to read while making tea (which we drink a lot of here)

a new book journal               

who could resist this magnet?     

I LOVE this cup.          

 The other site is What the Dickens, which now ships out of the UK.  Do you have a Jane Austen fan in your life?    I love both of these gift items.  The one below is a real puzzle featuring Regency Jane Austen.  500 pieces.  I love the quote on the journal, too.  I can see some shopping in January (because I love me, too!) coming up.......

How about a cup of tea......       

poured from this lovely teapot:  

or, do you love the old Penguin book covers?   Old Penguin covers done as postcards.

 This looks so fun!  (Chris at Stuff as Dreams are Made of, this made me think of you!)

or for the modern Penguin lover, postcards of modern writers:       

 If nothing else, these are good to dream over, as the snow falls and Christmas draws nearer, and for after,during the long winter evenings.  Have fun shopping for the book lover in your life!    I'm sure there are other book-themed sites around, please drop me a line or post about them.  There is nothing quite like window-shopping online and admiring all the bookish gifts out there now. 

By the way, Reading Matters has the second of three posts up on Christmas ideas, and Nov 22 was on book sets - oh, some are lovely!   I particularly like the look of Dickens at Christmas:

If nothing else, I hope you enjoy looking at bookish gifts as much as I do. 

Thursday 22 November 2012

Les Miserables

      So I was feeling like I was in a slump, not having any idea for weeks now on what to blog about.  And then I went to Chris's  post on Les Miserables, here.  She's at Bookarama.  And suddenly, I knew:  I have been reading Les Miserables slowly ever since buying it last spring.  Very slowly.  Most of the summer went by before I picked it up again.  Then this week I read a few more chapters.  I understand now that one of the things stopping me from blogging is that I was wanting to talk about Les Miserables, and also wanting some more time in reading it first, thinking I should have more read before I do.  No!  I want to talk about it now!  Cause really, I'm excited about this book!

There, I said it.  This humungous novel, at over 1192 pages with pretty small print, is worthy of being called a classic.  From the very first, I have been amazed at the gracefulness of the edition I have.  It's the new Modern Library edition, translated by Julie Rose. 

I am amazed at the depth and perception of Hugo's ability to get into the skin of people, to delineate them so clearly.  The Bishop of Digne who is round and kindly and pure, and his ever so thin sister who stays with him and cares for him all her life, devoted in a kind sisterly way, not the mean way that some people can have when they give up something for someone else.   Valjean himself, made a criminal through poverty - hunger - changed by meeting the Bishop.  And what a change!  One of the grandest moments in literature, I think, the moment when Valjean sees himself as he has become, and chooses another path through the grace of meeting the Bishop.  He tries to go good, and oh does he ever!  It was a striking moment, Valjean's conversion to opening up himself to trying another way, a marvellous insight into his thoughts and perceptions.  This is a meaty novel, rich with characters and story, though Hugo goes off and explores so much at the same time, like he gets sidetracked and wants to cover everything  and  the landscape of life in early 19th century Paris is laid before our eyes in the book.   Yes, the plot does move a little slowly.  I don't mind, mostly I wish the book didn't weigh so much so that I could carry it around with me and read it more quickly.

Little Cosette.  Ah the poor little girl, I am so angry at her mother (and the cad who got her in the family way) and what happens to Cosette, and then have pity for the poverty most people live in, in the early 19th century that leads to what happens to Cosette.  This is a magnificent book.  And I have almost 1,000 pages to go.  I've finally realized that I want to take you  along with me as I read it - I want to post about Les Miserables and my journey through it. 

Have you read Les Miserables?  Can you, like Chris, say that you have read the whole thing?  What did you think?  Let me know.
And of course, the movie is coming out.  I didn't know it was a musical, which I am wondering about  -but I love this poster, and Hugh Jackman - oh yes, I think I am going to see this!  Now, can I read this over the next month?  Not likely.  A good part, though.  So stay tuned.  And I promise every post won't be about it, I do have lots of other books I am reading and want to share!  This is such a treat though, that I think something like  a weekly update, or Drop in on Les Miserables reading would be fun to do.  I'll see.  For now, I am enjoying the richness of characterization and details, though Chris does warn that there are several chapters devoted to sewers coming up. 

Saturday 17 November 2012

Angela Carter, and Alan Garner - fantasy and fairy tale reading for a Saturday night

  I was saving a post for tomorrow on another mystery I read and was enthralled by.  I still plan it, but I just had to share this link with you.  It comes by way of Terri Windling's blog, The Drawing Board, a quick post here about an article on Angela Carter.  She provides the link to The Paris Review, and an astonishing article on Angela Carter and her legacy. It's a wonderful post, by Marina Warner, who is a specialist in writing about fairy tales herself.   Most of the post is about The Bloody Chamber, which I read a few years ago, and to which I also responded to in a deep, subterranean way.  Some of the images and the feel of the stories linger in me, a sign that they (and Carter) have touched a deep place in me.  Imagine if there had been no Angela Carter - what would have happened to fairy tales, which were languishing in the abandoned corner of children's literature?  Scorned as old and after Disney got through with them, sickly sweet? She revolutionized and modernized the fairy tale by re-imagining them, writing in a voice that as Warner says, makes the tales real - using physical location and senses, light, dark, using all the dark and bloody things fairy tales are really about, so something deep in us does sit up and take notice. Fairy tales are alive today, and the article argues that it is mostly because of Angela Carter and The Bloody Chamber. 

Go read the article, and I hope it is as illuminating for you as it was for me.  Then go back to Terri Windling's blog, where she has a very short post about Alan Garner's new book Boneland, and some links to some interesting articles about it and him. 

Fantasy and fairy tale and myth reading for Saturday night.  Enjoy!!

Friday 16 November 2012

Bury Your Dead - Louise Penny

Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny is number 6 in the Armand Gamache mystery series.  It is also far and away the best one so far - I still have A Trick of the Light and The Beautiful Mystery to get to, both of which have won much acclaim and awards - A Trick of the Light won the Anthony Award in 2011.  Bury Your Dead won the Nero Award, the Anthony Award, the Agatha Award, Macavity Award, and the Canadian Arthur Ellis Award, all in 2010.  It deserved every one of them, too. It is an outstanding mystery, weaving it's way between historical Quebec City, modern day Three Pines, Samuel de Champlain, the English and French in Quebec City, and redemption.

 Much of the novel occurs in the deepest part of winter in Quebec City, in the deep freeze which descends on the city in February.  The Carnivale d'Hiver - Winter Carnival- plays a background role in the setting. The Winter Carnival is one of the biggest festivals in winter in Canada (and the US), drawing in tourists from all over the world to celebrate winter. In the midst of all this revelry, Armand Gamache gets up at 3:30 am, and wanders in the deep heart of the winter night, unable to rest.  He has come to Quebec City to heal, staying with his former mentor Emile from the Surete de Quebec, who has long been retired. Gamache cannot forgive himself for a mistake in judgement he made, a judgement that had terrible consequences for some of his team.  Much of the story is told in an unfolding chapter switching sequence, with Armand dipping back into painful memories, finding his way to the central image that has so devastated him. It's the way the mind works with something painful, and it is fascinating to watch him make his way back to and through the events.  He is trying to find some way to live with the memories. At the same time, this question of judgement has caused him to look back on the case he solved just previous to the events of this novel, in The Murder Stone, where Olivier from the Three Pines was discovered to be guilty of a terrible crime. He sets his second in command  Jean-Guy Beauvoir, who is also recovering in his way from the events that torment the Chief,  to discover if Olivier is innocent, if Gamache's team overlooked some evidence.  This is all because Olivier's partner Gabriel refuses to believe Olivier did it and sends a letter every day to Armand that says only, Why did he move the body?  This kind of faith also moves through this book - faith that people have to sustain them, faith in the face of adversity, faith that something can be found that is good and worth protecting.

This is a book about uncovering the evidence to lead to the truth, and about the dead.  How the dead are venerated, how they are kept alive in our memories, how they can shape a place and a time, and even a province - Samuel de Champlain was the discoverer and founder of Quebec City, helped by the aboriginal peoples in the area (the Huron mainly) to survive the first winters. While Gamache is recovering, a laughable mad man who is determined to find Champlain's body somewhere under the earth in Quebec City, is murdered. In the unlikeliest of places, in a hidden corner of the English community that still survives in Quebec City.  So  in order to find out who killed him and not set of hysteria and chaos in the media, Gamache is asked to lend unofficial assistance as he is there and can speak better English than the officers in the Quebec City police force investigating the crime do. Gamache is able to speak to the tiny English community where the murder took place.  The English in Quebec city are an endangered minority, and the book delves into some of the reasons why, dating back to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, when Montcalm lost to Wolfe. Gamache wonders through the book, how did Montcalm feel, when the English did the impossible, the unexpected, and climbed the cliff walls to surround the much larger French army on the Plains?  When he sent for reinforcements, but they never came? While a small part of the novel, it is this interest in the history around him that makes this mystery stand out. Gamache ponders Wolfe, Montcalm, and how the battle was won and lost, and how the English came to rule Quebec City and Canada, against the odds. He compares the battle Montcalm lost, with the errors in judgement he made himself. How can he bury the dead if he can't forget what happened?  Much of this book is about characters who can't forget what happened, and how they have to learn to let go and bury their dead, or they get stuck and can't move into what is good in life. Powerful thoughts in this mystery.

This setting, in the heart of old Quebec City, where Samuel de Champlain is thought to be buried, where the battle of the Plains of Abraham was fought that decided the course of a country, is unique in major mysteries published. I can't think of another mystery that covers this kind of politics and history and murder, set in Canada.  It makes for fascinating reading - plus a bit of homesickness for me, for I spent three years as a teenager living in Quebec City, graduating from high school (secondary school in Quebec) there.  It is a beautiful city, and reading this book took me back to Winter Carnivals I had attended long ago, and the old walled city, and the Plains of Abraham, that my school bus drove by every day to and from our high school. I went to one of the three English high schools then in Quebec City.

 Bury Your Dead is a very good title for this book.  It's like a book of Gamache thinking over what happened to him, and this grief gives a kind of purity to his thoughts. We get a glimpse of how he thinks, and sees the world, and of what a kind, gentle, thoughtful man he is - and yet finds so difficult to forgive himself his failures.  There are all kinds of acts of faith in this book, from Renaud, the man digging for Champlain's burial place, to the faith of  Reine Marie and Emile in letting Armand have his space and heal at his own pace, to the Literary and Historical Society deep in the heart of the city, the last bastion of English language books and history that still survives, and the faith of the people who keep the library going against all odds. It's also the faith of Gabri in his partner, and the faith that Jean-Guy places in the Chief, that the whole team places in him.  And how Armand finds his way to peace so he can rejoin life again.  It's a  beautiful mystery,

I read this a few weeks ago, and I have not been able to forget it.  It is an outstanding mystery.  It is one of my books of the year, too, I know that already.