Since November, I’ve been trying to read down the number of books I own but have never picked up. There were 17 on my original list, and the ones I’ve read to date are:
The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (fiction)
Turtle Diary – Russell Hoban (fiction)
In the Pleasure Groove – John Taylor (biography)
Going Out – Scarlett Thomas (fiction)
…leaving me with 13 to read by the end of 2014.
I started the year off bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, choosing a “difficult” book from my pile: A Cloud of Bone, by Bernice Morgan. I bought this book, in paperback, at the local airport for an outbound journey. As always, when I’m travelling, I tend to buy books that are very literary, and I end up reading magazines or lighter fare instead when I’m en route.
I was attracted to this book because it is, in part, the story of the last surviving Beothuk, the aboriginal people of Newfoundland. When I was young I was always saddened to think of her, taken captive and living in a city, while the rest of her people had died or been killed off.
In the book, Shawnadithit’s story is bookended by the stories of two other characters from different eras. I thought the stories would alternate throughout the book. Instead, it is divided in thirds. I felt irritated each time a new character was introduced and we readers had not been told about the fate of the previous character, leaving us hanging until the end of the book. I have to admit the tales came together in a deeper way than I expected, and it was satisfying. But I did have to work through my impatience to get there.
It really made me think: how do you write about an historic group of people and give them thoughts and conversations? How much research did the author do and to what degree did she admire their pure, pre-contact lifestyle?
This was an intensely sad story. The last time I read something like it was Louise Erdrich’s The Birchbark House (devastating!) I didn’t read the book in 10 or 20 minute bites; instead I settled in with it for 2 hour blocks of time.
I would recommend the book if you want to work through sorrow and give some thought to “man’s inhumanity to man.”
As shallow as it may sound, I was then overjoyed when the new Bridget Jones book arrived at the library for me! Bridget Jones’s Diary appeared in 1997 when I was newly single and it helped me laugh through my troubles. I felt the author, Helen Fielding, had a great comic voice and really captured the times. I thought the sequel was just plain silly, but all in good fun. The new book, Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy, picks up when Bridget has reached the ripe old age of 51 and is single again! If you haven’t kept up on book news, the book has some surprising and touching plot lines. I liked it because, as someone who was dating as a single parent in her 40s, I could relate to some of the content, and some of it was a little too close for comfort! Helen Fielding was in fine comic form with Bridget’s texts and tweets (throughout the book). Despite it being “light” fiction, I flip-flopped between peals of laughter and crying jags. If you haven’t read the previous books, DO NOT start with this one because it will spoil the effect. I was more than happy to overlook some predictable bits because of the sheer enjoyment of it all.
The third book I read this month was Beijing Confidential by Jan Wong, my book club’s selection for the month. None of us loved the book, but it made for a good discussion. It was the true story of the author, a Canadian reporter who visited China with her family just prior to the Beijing Olympics. I thought it was going to be a travelogue, but it turns out the author wanted to repent for turning a friend over to the Communist Party when they both lived in China during the Cultural Revolution. For over 30 years, the author worried about whether her friend’s life had been ruined or even if she had been executed. As a reporter, she had the resources to track down the real story. At the same time, the author did spend a lot of time on the geography of the city and how China’s culture changed when capitalism kicked in. I think some of the drama of the “friend betrayal story” was lost because of the detailed side story of taking her teenagers to a big international city. I didn’t know much about Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) so I did find it interesting.
Next I read a graphic novel, Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel. Last year I read Fun Home, about the author’s father, and I thought this would be a companion book in a similar style. It wasn’t! The cartoonist inserted her struggles over writing the book on almost every page, and how she dealt with her mother’s reactions while trying to write about her. That made it kinda like one of those documentaries which are partly about how the film came to be made. The premise of the book is that the author has a complex and difficult relationship with her mother, which has resulted in many years of psychotherapy. She draws extensively on the works of Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, Sigmund Freud and D W Winnicott, with many quoted passages, and she also delves deeply into the meaning of dreams and coincidences in her life. At first I was skeptical as to whether such a regimented approach would lead to a good outcome with her mother, let alone a good book, but I was won over. Predictably, I ended up poring over my relationship with my mom, and even more so, what unintended impacts I’ve had on Link! I have to say that both the psychology and the feminist theory in this comic book can be quite hard going, but if this is a topic that trips you up, it is definitely food for thought.
As you can see, apart from Bridget Jones, I had to really focus on my book choices this month, and read with close attention. As an antidote, I also kept The Book of Times by Lesley Alderman on my iPad to dip into two minutes at a go. It is a whole book of stats about averages: how much time we spend on housework or watching sports or “wasting time” browsing the Internet at work. Needless to say I love random facts like these and found it very entertaining.
I am ending off the month reading The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, which has just arrived from my library holds list, and is supposed to be a feel-good novel. I hope so! Then it is back to my Reading Down the House list again in February. Next up is A Forest for Calum, by Frank MacDonald.
What have you been reading? Feel free to join the challenge of “reading down your house,” or link your book-related post here.