Blog-o! Notes from latte.ca

Sat, 31 Dec 2011

This poor blog has been sorely neglected, and especially the book blog. I feel like I haven't been reading much—I certainly don't get big blocks of time reading time very often—but I've managed to plough through a few books while brushing my teeth or waiting in line or taking the bus. I think these are most of them, although I always manage to forget a few.

Key:
(**) Loved
(?) Forgot
(x) Did not care for
(hm) Made me think

Books I Read With Delphine

  • All Creatures Great and Small and All Things Wise and Wonderful by James Herriot (**)
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Kids' and Young Adult Fiction

  • Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze by Alan Silberberg (**)
  • Scars by Cheryl Rainfield (hm)
  • Better Than Weird by Anna Kerz (**) (hm)
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (**)
  • Masked by Norah McClintock
  • Knifepoint by Alex Van Tol
  • Comeback by Vicki Grant (?)
  • Rock Star by Adrian Chamberlain
  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Book Club Books

  • The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (?)
  • The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (x)
  • Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  • The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon (hm)
  • Annabel by Kathleen Winter (**) (hm)

Pulp and Other Fiction

  • Gideon's Sword by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (x)
  • Guilty as Sin by Joseph Teller
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  • Open Doors by Gloria Goldreich
  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Blackout by Connie Willis

Self-Improvement

  • Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country's Foremost Relationship Expert by John Gottman and Nan Silver
  • Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon (I know, right? Mmm, bacon...) (hm)

Non-Fiction

  • Too Safe For Ther Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive by Michael Ungar (?)
  • Lapsing into a Comma: A Curmudgeon's Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print—and How to Avoid Them by Bill Walsh
  • The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (hm)
  • Losing Our Cool: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned World (and Finding New Ways to Get Through the Summer) by Stan Cox
  • Wrong About Japan: A Father's Journey with His Son by Peter Carey
  • Ah-choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold by Jennifer Ackerman
  • Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves by Adam Hochschild (**) (hm)
[Posted at 23:01 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 06 Mar 2011

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood is a series of stories about a woman named Nell. The stories start in her childhood, move on to a weird (but just normal-weird, not freaky-weird) relationship with an older guy, and then ends with a pair of stories about her childhood and her relationship with her mother. Good, entertaining, interesting.

There's a kind of crankiness, a negativity, to Margaret Atwood's writing which stops me from reading two of her books in a row. Everything's described in the most sordid way. I mean, I could describe every annoying and stupid and gross thing about my life, and leave out all the good bits, and it would sound overwrought and terrible like Atwood's characters' lives, but really my life is not all miserable and icky, and I don't buy that Atwood's characters' lives are all miserable and icky. Sometimes it annoys me that her books are so relentlessly negative. Lighten up, lady! Give it a rest! (Lest you mistake this for intelligent literary commentary, I feel the same way about Stephen King books.)

On the other hand, the thing I love about Margaret Atwood, and this isn't something that seems to come up much, is her little jokes. (She likes that too: a friend of mine saw her do a reading, and apparently she laughs at her own jokes.)

(Careful readers will note that this is the first of my Alphabetical To-Be-Read List Plan, and that I have read several off-list books. If I'm going to get through any amount of my TBR pile I'm going to have to increase the on-list:off-list ratio.)


Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin is our second book club book. (The girl who's planning this month's meeting decided we needed something a little lighter after The Things They Carried. On the one hand, Rwanda; on the other hand, cakes!) Baking Cakes in Kigali is about a community of ex-pats of various countries who have come to Kigali to participate in (or take advantage of) the post-war rebuilding and spending. Centreing the book on non-Rwandans is a great way to write a book about Rwanda without asking us to get into the heart of someone who lived through the genocide. Not that that's not a worthwhile thing to do, but it's not this book.

Our main character is Angel, a Tanzanian grandmother who has recently launched a custom cake business. Her husband works for the university, and is the reason they are in Kigali. They live in an apartment complex populated by people from other parts of Africa and the world, and one of the delights of the novel is reading Angel's thoughts on cultural differences within Africa. The main charm of the book is Angel, actually: her thoughts on her neighbours, on feminism, on running a small business, and on coping with hardship are reminiscent of the levelheaded philosophies of Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe.

(Leading, obviously, to the question of whether these white writers are creating a new sterotype, the "practical African woman". Both Precious and Angel are admirable characters who you would want to have by your side in a crisis, but I feel like I need to hear another voice from Africa, perhaps one that isn't so tailored to my taste as a North American reader.)

Baking Cakes in Kigali isn't a work of great literature, but it was a pleasant and easy read and raises enough discussion points that I think it will make for a good book club meeting.


Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman was perhaps an unnecessary diversion from my TBR list, but Delphine had it out from the library and I hadn't read it, so I did. Besides, it was short. It's the story of Odd, who is odd and not entirely wanted at home, so he goes away. While he's away, he meets some more odd characters: a bear, a fox and an eagle who aren't behaving as you might expect a bear, a fox and an eagle to behave. Events transpire, Odd quests and succeeds, learns about himself and his family, saves the day and returns home stronger.

It's a wonderful little book, as you'd expect from Gaiman. He has a gloriously gentle, deadpan way of ushering you into his imagined world that I loved in the Sandman comics.

[Posted at 11:38 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 24 Feb 2011

A few days ago I had this exchange on Twitter:

@amyrhoda: Yay, I finished a book off my TBR shelf! And added four more in the meantime... *headdesk*

@ryan_price: ha! I just added 3 books yesterday... But i didnt finish another :(

What I didn't tell Ryan was that three of the four books I added were children's novels or YA novels. Since then I read two of them, and then realized that the last one wasn't in keeping with my Alphabetical Reading List Plan , so I set it aside. (I'm adding new books to the end of the TBR pile; I can't read them until I've won the alphabet.)

These are the books I read:

Book Cover

Fairy Haven and the Quest for the Wand by Gail Carson Levine. Once upon a time I told myself I would read all the books my kids read. I don't know what crack I was smoking, because a) I don't even have time to read the books I want to read, b) Delphine reads about a million books a day, and c) she reads some serious crap. Good stuff too, but lots of crap.

This one intrigued me, though. On the one hand, Disney. (That's bad.) On the other, Gail Carson Levine. (That's good.) On the one hand, fairies. (That's bad.) On the other... Gail Carson Levine? Well, and I also love the illustrations, by David Christiana. And Delphine really enjoyed it.

So I gave it a read, and hey, it turns out to be pretty good. The fairy characters are interesting and well-rounded, in non-obvious ways. (Turns out Tinkerbell fixes things - she's a tinkerer, get it?) The conflict was exciting, the climax was thrilling, the writing was lovely. Gail Carson Levine trumps Disney!

Book Cover

Hoping For Home: Stories of Arrival is from the Dear Canada series of historical novels written as diaries. This one is a collection of short stories about immigration. (Well, and one about an aboriginal girl, which I guess was put in for political correctness but since it's not actually about crossing the Bering Strait/Pacific Ocean thousands of years ago I think it's a bit of a stretch to include it in a collection about immigration; and another story which I'm not sure what it was about.) The authors include Rukhsana Khan, Paul Yee, and Jean Little. For some reason I love immigration stories, maybe because I immigrated/emigrated so often as a kid, maybe because I find the fact that people choose Canada as their home perversely flattering, definitely because I am in awe of the courage of people who come here with so little resources and so much hope.

Whatever it is, this book satisfied me with lots of good stories, although I'm not a great fan of the diary conceit. I often felt that the writing was too good to be a diary, especially a child's diary, and that pulled me out of the story. The author who really captured a child's voice was Brian Doyle. I also particularly enjoyed Paul Yee's story of a boy joining his father in small-town Saskatchewan; he brings the reader on the same voyage of discovery that the protagonist is taking.

Incidentally, this book was a cheat on my Alphabetical Reading List Plan; it is a book we own, so I should have put it at the end of the list. (The Levine was a library book so I had to read it before we returned it.) I just forgot...

[Posted at 22:05 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 19 Feb 2011
To Be Read Shelf - 1

Last year I made some kind of resolution about reading half the books on my To Be Read shelf. Our bookshelf (it's a 5 by 5 Expedit, which they apparently don't make anymore) has little squares, and right now my TBR pile is taking up two cubbies. I wanted to reduce it to one, but somehow the size of my TBR pile remains constant.

Like everyone, I imagine, I tend to avoid particular books. Various reasons: maybe a book seems hard, maybe it's one I feel I "should" read but don't actually want to, maybe I'm just never in the mood. Anyway, I find that some books lurk in the TBR shelf for months and years while some just disappear within weeks. This year I decided to steel myself and tackle the shelf alphabetically.


So here it is:

  • Atwood, Margaret: Moral Disorder (my mother sent me this)
  • Conrad, Joseph: Lord Jim (this is a "should" read)
  • Didion, Joan: The Year of Magical Thinking
  • Faber, Adele and Elaine Mazlich: Siblings Without Rivalry (a necessary re-read)
  • Frey, Stephen: The Power Broker
  • Gardiner, John Reynolds: Stone Fox (Delphine recommended this)
  • Goldreich, Gloria: Open Doors (my mother sent this too)
  • Grenville, Kate: The Idea of Perfection
  • Harris, Marvin: Cannibals and Kings (I picked this up at someone's curb; it seems thinky and interesting but maybe totally dated.)
  • Hawking, Stephen: George's Secret Key to the Universe (I borrowed this from a friend; I'm interested in it in theory but the cover is so tacky it's putting me off.)
  • Hegi, Ursula: Stones from the River
  • Hochschild, Adam: Bury the Chains (I got this as a gift from Greg Wilson. It's about the dismantlement (that is so a word) of slavery.)
  • Khan, Rukhsana: Wanting Mor
  • McCarthy, Cormac: All The Pretty Horses (Because I read The Road and I'm a huge masochist.)
  • McLaren, Leah: The Continuity Girl (see above re: masochist)
To Be Read Shelf - 2
  • McLaughlin, Emma and Nicola Krause: The Nanny Diaries (A friend swears this is better than it looks.)
  • McDonough, William and Michael Braungart: Cradle to Cradle (This is a book about sustainable design which I'm halfway through and can't finish. It's just so dry. I'm going to give it one more effort.)
  • Monbiot, George: Heat
  • Munro, Alice: The View from Castle Rock (My mother sent me this, too. She loves Alice Munro and thinks we should read this in book club.)
  • Nemirovsky, Irene: Suite Francaise
  • Ondaatje, Michael: The English Patient (My friend who liked The Nanny Diaries hates this book but I have another friend who loves it, so I just don't know what to think. I guess I'll have to read it and judge for myself.)
  • Petroski, Henry: The Evolution of Useful Things (This is another one I've started but got bogged down with. I want to like it, though; the subject matter is interesting.)
  • Ritter, Erika: The Dog By the Cradle, the Serpent Beneath (This is a book that I was interested in, so I grabbed it at a book sale or off the curb or something.)
  • Sebold, Alice: The Lovely Bones
  • Stross, Charles: Iron Sunrise (A while ago I said I wanted to start reading sf again, but I made a horrible misstep (in my earnest search for CanCon) and read a Robert Sawyer book. I still haven't recovered, but I hope this book will bring me back into the fold.)
  • Weatherford, Jack: Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World (This is the Indian version of that book about how the Scots are responsible for everything cool ever. Maybe I will read them both and declare a winner.)
  • Zinnser, William: On Writing Well
  • Blume, Judy: Summer Sisters

(The last thing on that shelf is the choral score to Mendelssohn's Elijah, which we are performing this spring. I just put it there to have it handy when we start rehearsing at the end of this month.)

There are a couple of rules. You'll see that the Judy Blume book is out of order: that's my wild card. If I just can't face the next book on the list, I get to read Summer Sisters. It's my only wild card, so I have to use it wisely.

Also I can interrupt the sequence at any time for library books, book club books, or books which need to be read right away for another reason, like how-to books.

Let's see how far through the alphabet I get this year.

[Posted at 20:55 by Amy Brown] link
Thu, 10 Feb 2011

I picked up I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou for free, or very cheap, somewhere because I knew I should read something of hers. I didn't know anything about her apart from that she's an American poet and highly respected. I didn't know anything about the book, either, apart from recognizing the title — I didn't know if it was poetry or a novel, if it was going to be hard to read or light (didn't really expect it to be light).

Turns out I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a memoir of Angelou's peripatetic and eventful childhood in Arkansas, California and St Louis, and while it wasn't light, it was an easy read. For the most part the language is straightforward (but beautiful) and the story is told forthrightly, without undue metaphor or digression. Occasionally Angelou steps out of her narrative to provide a larger context for a situation, or to reflect on an event with the wisdom of hindsight, but these asides are insightful and welcome.

I didn't expect to enjoy the book as much as I did, and I now find I want to know what happens next (the book ends when Angelou is sixteen). Where does she get her last name? What happens to her brother? I suppose I could find out from Wikipedia, but I'd rather have the story unfold in the author's words. Lucky for me her memoirs continue in Gather Together In My Name.

[Posted at 13:26 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 02 Feb 2011

I read Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It by Gary Taubes after reading this very enthusiastic review in Skeptic Magazine's e-issue. As you can see, sceptical dude there thinks this book is pretty great.

In the book, Taubes talks about what's currently circulating as common knowledge about fatness: that it all hinges on the disparity between the number of calories we take in and the number we burn, and that eating fat makes you fat. He dismantles those theories pretty completely with counterexamples, logic and science, and at the same time explains why fat people eat more and exercise less. (Hint: our fat makes us do it!)

Then he lays out some more science, this time about how fat works, or more specifically how insulin works. Turns out insulin is evil: it inhibits the use of fat as an energy source, it forces fat cells to take lipids from the blood and store them as fat, it causes the body to create new fat cells. And what makes your body release insulin? Carbs! Ergo carbs are also evil.

This is where he gets into the Atkins/paleo-diet stuff which I have always associated with fat-obsessed loonies who will do anything to be thin, so my hackles are up. And then he says you don't need carbs at all. And fruit is bad for you! And then in the last chapter he lays out a diet which is basically plateful after plateful of meat. Mmmm. (Ick.)

So. This was an interesting book, and certainly compellingly argued. Not that it has any scientific value, but my personal experience certainly dovetails with Taubes's arguments. (The only time I lost any significant amount of weight and kept it off was when I cut carbs (although I didn't think of it that way): I stopped drinking juice and buying a dozen bagels every week.) There are counter-arguments to Taubes's conclusions on the Internet which I have yet to read, but for the most part the book rang very true and has definitely changed the way I think about fatness and nutrition. Although I won't be switching to that all-meat diet any time soon.

[Posted at 21:44 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 25 Jan 2011

The second book I read this year was the book for our first book club meeting. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is a collection of stories about the Vietnam war, and coming home from the Vietnam war. (And trying to avoid going to the Vietnam war.) It's also about storytelling, cameraderie, belonging, and the slippery morality of war.

The book club had an interesting variety of reactions to this book. One of us said she couldn't relate to any of the characters in the book on account of them being men, but that she really enjoyed the writing. I thought the writing was compelling but I didn't really notice it. Which would normally be a good thing, but I feel like I should notice writing, pay attention to it, so I can improve my own writing. I guess that's what the second reading is for, but I'm too impatient to read anything twice. Something to work on.

Another book club member thought she didn't like it, but in retrospect realized that she liked that one part... and the other chapter... and that bit about... actually it was really sticking with her and that must be good. It's that kind of book — you may not enjoy reading it but it gives you lots of things to think about. I liked it — the characters were compelling, and I liked the ideas and questions it raised, especially the question of the difference between a true story, and something that really happened.

[Posted at 22:09 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 16 Jan 2011

My first book of 2011 was Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppel Shell. I read her The Hungry Gene, about the physiology of fatness (whoo!) a while ago and enjoyed it, so I was excited to hear that she had tackled a topic which weighs (Oh! No pun intended!) on my mind quite often: cheapness. My concern is mainly that most things are now too cheap to mend: clothes, electronics, furniture, if something breaks, rips, or wears out there's no chance you can get a North American to repair it for less than you can get someone in Asia to make a new one, even though it's not a particularly good one and you know it's going to break in 2 to 5 years anyway. As a result, our homes and landfills are full of flimsy, disappointing crap.

This book is about exactly that. Shell covers all the whys and wherefores of what make things so cheap these days: discount retailers, the history of sales, globalisation and sweatshops, and the erosion of quality in mainstream goods. The book is informative yet readable, and covers enough ground that I had a pretty thorough understanding of the big picture of cheapness when I'd finished reading it.

Shell did try pretty hard to get me to hate Ikea, and never managed it. Yes, some of the stuff they sell is shoddy (caveat emptor — some of it is just fine) and they have giant stores out in the suburbs which force people to drive out there (I manage to shop at Ikea without driving, and anyway I only go once a year so even if I did drive it wouldn't be a disaster). Also they make everything cheap by passing on the assembly work to you the customer (again, caveat emptor: you know what you're getting into. Plus you can hire dudes to assemble your Ikea furniture, at least in Toronto.) She turns her nose up at their attempts to make sure their wood is environmentally and ethically sourced, and I agree that they could probably stand to, oh, quadruple their forestry oversight department, but hey, at least they have one. Anyway, I'm sure it's just that I've been brainwashed by the overall adorableness of Ikea, but I just can't hate them as much as Shell clearly wants me to. But I do shop there are mindfully as I shop everywhere else.

Apart from our minor disagreement about the evilness of Ikea, Shell convinced and entertained me with this book. I look forward to her next one.

[Posted at 22:18 by Amy Brown] link
Fri, 31 Dec 2010

A conversation with North TO Mom reminded me that I read Manhood For Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son by Michael Chabon in 2010. Well, I didn't actually read it, I listened to it while I was out walking this summer. It's read by the author, and it was a nice listen — I like Chabon's voice and his accent and pronounciation was just different enough to add interest. The content was good too: a collection of essays about fatherhood (and a great one about motherhood), his brother and his kids, and his life before marriage and children. I especially liked the essay about Hanukkah and Christmas — it's basically something I meant to write, but of course now it's been done a thousand times better so I don't have to bother.

My last completed book of 2010 was a good one, too: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. If you haven't read it, it's the story of an odd New England boy who believes he is God's instrument. The blurb on the back of the book says "He is." but I'm pretty sure the reader is free to make her mind up on that matter herself. It's a lovely story (with lots of unexpected Toronto content - Forest Hill, no less) with great, interesting but plausible (or at least, compelling) characters.

Here's to 2011 — let's hope I book blog more often!

[Posted at 21:29 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 19 Dec 2010

I haven't properly book blogged since, I think, July. And even then I don't think I actually caught up, I only posted about a handful of books. It's time for one of those clearout book blogs where I just post all the stuff I've read without much comment. Those suck for everyone, but they satisfy my slightly obsessive need to record every book I read here.

Incidentally, I tried Goodreads, and I think it's a really neat idea but it's not working for me. I like to keep my book list close to home (which is to say, here on Blog-o!). I expect I will still use it to research books and get ideas.

Without further ado, here are the books I've read this year:

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon is the last book I finished. It was lent to me by a friend (Janet!). It's the story of a middle-class English man who has just retired, and who discovers a patch of diseased skin on his hip. This leads him to confront his mortality in a dramatic manner, while still attempting to maintain his dignity and not make a fuss. I started off not liking the lead character, but after a few chapters I understood and liked him, and I liked all the other characters, too; they were well-written and engaging.

Time is running out and I apparently don't have time to write about any more books I've read, so here's the list, sorted into moderately helpful sub-lists:

Fiction I Loved

  • Solar by Ian McEwen
  • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Pleasure of my Company by Steve Martin
  • Clementine by Sara Pennypacker (kids'/young adult)

Fiction I Really Enjoyed

  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  • The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
  • Love Songs and Lies by Libby Purves (My notes: "Wonderful writing, great characters—felt like the ending was kind of limp. But good plot twists.")
  • The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff
  • The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski (for book club)
  • Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (for book club)

Fiction I Enjoyed

  • World War Z by Max Brooks
  • Raincloud by Richard Todd
  • Tracks by Louise Erdrich 1
  • The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillipa Gregory (for book club)
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova (for book club)
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett (for book club)
  • Holes by Louis Sachar (kids'/young adult)
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (kids'/young adult)
  • The Last Girls of Pompeii by Kathryn Laskey (kids'/young adult)
  • Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (kids'/young adult)
  • Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (kids'/young adult)
  • Minnow on the Say by Phillipa Pearce (kids'/young adult)
  • Moses in Egypt by Lynne Reid Banks (kids'/young adult)

Fiction I Didn't Enjoy

  • Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Roznay (for book club)

Fiction I Don't Remember Reading

  • Strange Bedpersons by Jennifer Cruisie

Non-Fiction That Made Me Think

  • Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky
  • Sleeping Naked is Green: How an Eco-Cynic Unplugged Her Fridge, Sold Her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days by Vanessa Farquarson
  • Soccernomics: Why England Loses, Why Germany and Brazil Win, and Why the U.S., Japan, Australia, Turkey—and Even Iraq—Are Destined to Become the Kings of the World's Most Popular Sport by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski
  • The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon
  • Camp Nurse: My Adventures at Summer Camp by Tilda Shalof 2
  • The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins 3
  • Born to Love: Why Empathy Is Essential—and Endangered by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz
  • Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
  • Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner

Non-Fiction That Made Me Laugh And/Or Cry

  • The Lord God Made Them All by James Herriot (read aloud to Delphine)
  • My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (read aloud to Delphine)
  • C'mon Papa: Dispatches from a Dad in the Dark by Ryan Knighton

Non-Fiction That Helped

  • Your Seven-Year-Old: Life In A Minor Key by Louise Bates Ames and Carol Chase Haber
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

Non-Fiction That Didn't Help

  • Eccentric Glamour: Creating an Insanely More Fabulous You by Simon Doonan

Non-Fiction I Don't Remember Reading

  • How to Talk So Kids Can Learn by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

  1. Here's a quick review I wrote for Tracks: A couple of years ago I had a book swap party—a bunch of friends came over with few books they were done with, and we talked about books and life and everyone left with a new (to them) book. This was one of the books I picked up. It's about Fleur Pillager, an Anishnabe woman with mysterious powers, and the people around her. It's told alternately by Nanapush, an old man speaking to his grand-daughter, and Pauline. I wouldn't have picked this book out at the library, but I enjoyed it, especially Nanapush's quiet humour.  

  2. Here are my notes about Camp Nurse: - about her experiences as camp nurse at three different camps - one chaotic and disorganized (socialist), one fancy and over-structured and one just right - Jewish camp which includes differently abled and sick kids as well as kids sponsored by the United Way. Discussed what makes a kid a "good camper" (in the conformist fancy camp). Lots of discussion of various ailments from splinters to strokes, seizures, infections, and a camp-wide norovirus. Made me want to send my kids to (a carefully selected) camp, which is expensive but counts as childcare for tax purposes! Author has two other books which I would like to check out.  

  3. Here are my notes about The God Delusion: Useful vocabulary and buttresses arguments about god - some parts of book seem beside the point (memes) - not sure about his vehemence about referring to "a Jewish child", etc; seems to be the old culture versus religion problem. Reminded me of Douglas Adams: boo hoo.  

[Posted at 23:23 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 10 Oct 2010
8:25 a.m.

After my last post, I headed upstairs and curled up in bed with a booklight and Holes by Louis Sachar. I think I read until about 2:30 am, then slept until 5:30 when I woke up with a stomach-ache. Whether from the junk I ate yesterday or the coffee or just lack of sleep, I don't know, but since I was up anyway I read some more. I finished the book at around 7:30. So altogether I think I read for nineteen or twenty hours out of twenty-four, which is frankly more than I expected to.

So I read:

  • the end of Moses in Egypt by Lynne Reid Banks
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Raincloud by Richard S. Todd
  • Holes by Louis Sachar

I raised $210 for Books For Africa. (I really recommend FirstGiving – the page was super-easy to set up and they have been really helpful and supportive, even posting about my fundraising on Twitter.

And now I am all distracted because there are girlies climbing on me demanding a hot breakfast. I will come back to bed after breakfast.

[Posted at 08:40 by Amy Brown] link
1:21 a.m.

It's late. Not quite late enough to be early, but later than I usually stay up when there isn't karaoke involved.

I finished Raincloud by Richard S. Todd (and a pot of coffee) and the book was good (the coffee was good too). There were a few things I would have changed – characters knowing stuff they shouldn't have known, weird word choices, and so on, but generally it was good. The problems would have been caught by a good editor, and after some investigation I see why they weren't: I took a closer look at the "publisher" after I finished the book and it's iUniverse, which is a self-publisher. For a self-published book this is actually really good, and I'm not sure why the author didn't shop it around to a proper publisher.

Now I'm in that half-tired twilight you get when you're up late under the influence of coffee. I'm going to head to bed with another book and my itty bitty book light, and read until I fall asleep. The alarm goes off at 7, so I'll try and wake up then and read a little bit more before it all ends at 8 am.

[Posted at 01:29 by Amy Brown] link
Sat, 09 Oct 2010
Mid-Event Survey

Hey, check it out, I'm being a team player and doing one of the activities on the Read-a-thon website. (Mostly I'm having too much fun reading to want to do anything else!)

It's a survey:

1. What are you reading right now? I'm in the middle of Raincloud by Richard S. Todd.

2. How many books have you read so far? One whole book, and two half-books. Well, two whole books if you count Oh, The Places You'll Go which I read out loud to my five-year-old.

3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I'm looking forward to Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan, mainly because it's a YA so I hope it will go down nice and smooth. I hope it's not too harrowing. I was going to read Heat by George Monbiot but I fear I have squandered my most wide-awake hours on easier books. I don't think I have the brain power to get through it.

4. Did you have to make any special arrangements to free up your whole day? All I had to do was plan ahead for lunch (which we usually improvise on Saturdays) and get my husband to order in dinner. He's been great at keeping everything running smoothly in my (functional) absence.

5. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Not particularly, apart from that I live with a seven-year-old and a five-year-old. Seven was away at a friend's most of the day, and Five has been very agreeable. I did take a break this afternoon to set up a science-y activity for her to do, but then she was quietly engaged for about an hour.

I did have short conversations with a couple of people this morning.

6. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? How not at all tired I am of reading. I'm tired, but not of reading, just of, you know, being awake.

7. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year? For me, or in general? For me, I might put together a pile of less-challenging or more exciting books. I didn't plan ahead enough to collect a set of books I was really excited to read. As it is I'm cleaning up a few books from my TBR pile which have been hanging around for a while, so that's valuable, but it would be easier (especially tonight as I get tireder) to have books I was really thrilled about reading.

In general, I'm pretty happy with how it's being run. It's a nice low-key event.

8. What would you do differently, as a Reader or a Cheerleader, if you were to do this again next year? Oh hey, I already answered that because I didn't look at all the questions on the test before starting. :)

9. Are you getting tired yet? A little bit. I'm actually less tired than I usually am at this time of day, probably because I usually do more strenuous things than sit around reading all day. I expect I will run into trouble in an hour or so. I might even have coffee. (I never have coffee!)

10. Do you have any tips for other Readers or Cheerleaders, something you think is working well for you that others may not have discovered? Nope, unless having an awesome supportive family counts as a tip!

Actually I've really liked the fact that I'm raising money for charity at the same time (here's my page – it was very easy to set up). I love reading but I would feel so guilty slacking off on all my usual responsibilities if I hadn't found a way to help benefit others with the read-a-thon.

[Posted at 21:04 by Amy Brown] link
8:18 p.m.

I just finished reading the girls their bedtime books: Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr Suess for Cordelia and almost a chapter (the one where he gets the Bootle-Bumtrinket) of My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell to Delphine.

Pen drawing of me reading

Tanya brought her kids over to play with my kids, and while she was here she documented the read-a-thon in pen and ink. Blake is in the background cuddled up under a blanket because we were sitting in the backyard and the sun was going down.

I'm almost halfway through Raincloud by Richard S. Todd, which is better than I expected it to be. It's a mystery set in a small town near a First Nations reserve: a series of Native people have been found beaten and left for dead. It shouldn't be too hard to finish.

But we're approaching the challenging part of the read-a-thon for me: staying awake. I love sleep. Specifically I love eight hours of sleep, and I haven't pulled an all-nighter since university. I don't expect to pull an all-nighter tonight, but I'm worried that if I time it wrong I will go to sleep and not wake up until after 8 tomorrow, thus missing the end of the 'thon. My plan is to stay up late – maybe midnight or one (shut up, that is so late) and then sleep on the couch for a couple of hours. Then I'll grab a coffee or a Coke and read until 8 am, then try (probably in vain) to sleep for a little while before resuming my regularly scheduled Sunday.

We'll see how it turns out.

[Posted at 20:41 by Amy Brown] link
3:41 p.m.

(Don't forget to support the read-a-thon by donating to Books for Africa!)

I just finished On Writing by Stephen King. I read part of it on my friend Tanya's couch (oh, Esther), and a lot of it sitting on the back deck in the company of three blue jays, two black-capped chickadees, one chipmunk and a whole host of sparrows and squirrels.

I took a few breaks: to chat with a friend and with Delphine's piano teacher, to talk to Tanya (I was using her couch, after all), to make myself a sandwich, and to set up a science experiment for Cordelia.

I haven't been drinking water (although that's a good idea) but I'm going to make another cup of tea. Tea is like water, except tasty.

Delphine has been playing at her best friend's house for most of the day. Cordelia started the day watching TV, then did some science on the back deck, but is now growing restless because Blake is cleaning the kitchen and won't read to her. Blake's being a real trooper about being a book widower for a day.

[Posted at 15:57 by Amy Brown] link
10:42 a.m.

I've been reading for two hours and forty-two minutes. I finished Moses in Egypt by Lynne Reid Banks, and am on page 68 of Stephen King's On Writing – he's just started working on Carrie.

So far I've read at the breakfast table, in the living room, in the bathroom while Cordelia was taking a bath, while walking Delphine to piano lessons and back, and on the piano teacher's porch.

Don't forget you can sponsor my readathon by donating to Books for Africa on my fund-raising page.

[Posted at 10:46 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 05 Oct 2010
Read-A-Thon Reading List

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I signed up for Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-Thon. I signed up, and then promptly forgot about it until earlier this week when I kinda vaguely thought, "Hey, isn't that soon?"

It's this weekend. Fortunately there's not much preparation required. I set up a fundraising page on the amazing FirstGiving site to raise money for Books for Africa. (I already raised $145!)

And I picked a stack of books to read:

Books

I'm sure I won't get through all those, but I wanted to give myself some variety so I can switch it up. (Blake suggested I just pick one Neal Stephenson epic for the whole 'thon. No.)

So Stephen King's On Writing because the last time I read it I came away feeling like I could be a writer, in some crazy dreamland when I can do wacky things like work with words and not hate my job – now that I'm living in that world I want to revisit Mr King's writing on writing.

Wanting Mor by Rukhsana Khan is a YA novel I bought with a gift card I got from Delphine's teacher last year for being class mom. It's about a girl in post-Taliban Afghanistan (does that even exist yet?) – that's all I know but (like most novel readers, I suppose) I love to learn about other lives and times and places through books.

Moses in Egypt by Lynne Reid Banks is based on the movie Prince of Egypt, one of my favourite animated movies, and the Book of Exodus. I've already started it and am enjoying it so far, although the prose doesn't have the fluid luminosity of the movie.

Heat by George Monbiot is a fairly old climate change book, but I feel I should read it to have a more complete understanding of the issue.

Raincloud by Richard S. Todd is a wildcard – it's by a work associate of my father-in-law. It's a mystery set in Ontario. Maybe it's awesome? I will report back.

I have a few other books on my TBR shelf if I get through/sick of all those. I'll be blogging or Facebooking or otherwise updating my status online as I go.

[Posted at 21:50 by Amy Brown] link
Wed, 15 Sep 2010
Dewey's Read-a-Thon
24-hour Read-a-thon

I almost forgot to do a post today!

I just signed up for Dewey's 24-hour Read-a-Thon. It starts on October 9 at 8:00 am EST, and is just as it sounds: you read for 24 hours. Well, as much of 24 hours as you can stand, with breaks for eating and personal hygiene, as well as lots of online stuff like quizzes and things. I'm really looking for an excuse to just full-on binge on books. I have so many books on my TBR list – I'd love a chance to take a good bite out of it.

I'm going to try and hook this effort up to some charity so you (all two of you) and maybe my tweeps can sponsor me – to make it less self-indulgent, and inspire me through those sleepy hours. And I've already invited some friends over to join me in reading, with possible optional coffee and baked goods.

[Posted at 22:20 by Amy Brown] link
Sun, 12 Sep 2010

So I'm trying out Goodreads to track the books I've read (as well as the ones I'd like to read, apparently a much longer list). I still have a huge backlog of 2010 books I want to log/blog/review, but I just reviewed The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour over on Goodreads. Until I can figure out how and whether the great unwashed (that's you guys) can read my Goodreads reviews I'm just going to copy and paste the review here:

I first heard of Belle de Jour when she was interviewed for New Scientist magazine after "coming out". She blogged and published anonymously about her life as a call girl in London for several years before revealing her full identity - in addition to her sex work she was also working as a post-doc in genetic epidemiology. (Hence the New Scientist interview - Google "new scientist belle de jour" for the interview.)

Truth be told, I'm probably more interested in reading about genetic epidemiology than sex (geek!), but I have been watching the TV adaptation of Belle's diaries, largely because it stars Billie Piper, late of Doctor Who (geek!). I'm really enjoying the show, so I thought I might as well read the book to complete the picture.

I didn't find the Belle in the book as likeable as Billie Piper's Belle, but I expect the TV producers did that on purpose - an unrepentant call-girl is a bit of a tough sell as a protagonist, so they needed someone as charming and loveable as Piper to pull it off. I enjoyed seeing London through the perspective of a prostitute, and I enjoyed (I'll be honest) her descriptions of all the sex she had, both professional and social. I read more than my fair share of sex newsgroups as a teenager, so most of the details weren't news to me (except that apparently you can get a dildo shaped like a dolphin's penis - who knew!) but it's been a while since I acquainted myself with the world of the vigorously sexually-active.

Sometimes the book read like a blog - occasionally a chapter (titled with the date in French - why?) would simply relate a casual (non-sexual) encounter with a homeless person or charity campaigner. I didn't see the point of most of those. And there was a lot of pointless boyfriend drama which could have made a whole other book - or enriched this one - if it had dramatized with an arc and character development, but when reported as a succession of events was frustrating and ultimately pointless. (Not unlike actual boyfriend drama in actual real life.)

Those quibbles aside, this was an enjoyable and enlightening read.


Incidentally, I am right now listening to "You Know I'm No Good" by Amy Winehouse, which features an awesome little brass riff in the middle which is used in the Call Girl TV Show. It's all connected.

[Posted at 12:26 by Amy Brown] link
Tue, 27 Jul 2010
So many books

It doesn't seem to matter how much other stuff I have going on, I always have time to read. Don't have time to blog, don't have time to work, definitely don't have time to houseclean—still have time to read.

Science, Sense and Nonsense by Joe Schwarcz is a collection of commentaries on chemistry in everyday life, with a side of fraud-spotting advice. The book covers antioxidants, trans fats, historical alternatives to rubber, and a wealth of other topics serious and amusing.

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen is a young adult book about a modern girl who, bored with her family Seder, is transported back in time to 1941 Poland. I guess maybe the only thing worse than being a Jew in Poland in 1941 is being a Jew in Poland in 1941 who knows the future. She and her entire village are sent to a concentration camp where they fight to survive and to retain their humanity. This book has won a heap of awards (and I just found out it was made into a movie with Kirsten Dunst and Brittany Murphy) and it is a wonderful story about the importance of remembering.

I read The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn out loud to Delphine. It's another time travel book, about a girl who is left alone when her grandmother dies. She is packed off to live with relatives in rural Ontario and is lonely and miserable until she discovers that the root cellar takes her back in time to the 1860s, where she makes friends and feels more at home than in the present. Her twin challenges are to track down a friend who doesn't return from the American civil war (in the past) and to find a place for herself in her new family (in the present). I loved this book when I was a child, and Delphine liked it this time around, as did I.

Shakespeare: The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson is a short biography of Shakespeare—short because we don't really know much about the playwright. In addition to what little we do know, Bryson covers disproved (or unlikely) theories and myths. As always, readable and informative.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss was a book club book. It's about old man who feels like he is disappearing; his long-lost son, a famous novelist; a teenage girl named Alma whose mother is translating a book which turns out was written by... well, you'll have to read it yourself. It's one of those books where the stories go along in parallel and you have to try and figure out how they're connected before the end when the author ties everything together with a big bow. It was a lovely book; I enjoyed reading it, although in book club we decided you have to read it in big chunks or you'll get too confused.

The Unfinished Angel by Sharon Creech is a... young adult? Middle grade? I never know—although I'll have to figure it out pretty soon because I'm helping a friend with her middle-grade novel this fall— Anyway, it's a book about an angel whose quiet life in a tower is interrupted by the arrival of a girl who changes everything in the village. The book is written in the childlike voice of the angel, which sounds a little cringe-y, but Sharon Creech is a phenomenal writer and she makes it work. This is only a short book and it goes quickly, but it's well worth reading.

[Posted at 22:22 by Amy Brown] link