Monthly Archives: August 2012

‘I Feel Great About My Hands: And Other Unexpected Joys of Aging’ edited by Shari Graydon

With wisdom and humour, forty-one remarkable, mature Canadian women over 50 revel in the joys of aging.

This was an impulse buy on my Kindle – the title intrigued me! Even though most of the time I prefer to pretend that my knees are not creaking and my hormones haven’t packed up and left town, I am not ashamed to admit that I do find myself in the over 50 age group. Most people (especially women) like to let other people believe they are younger than they are. Perhaps it would be smarter to mislead in the opposite direction. If you suggest older, you might get “you look GREAT for 65!”

This collection of feisty honest reflections is thoughtful, amusing, and encouraging, stressing the positives of aging. It’s all that stuff about feeling more comfortable in your own skin and embracing the inevitable changes instead of fighting them.  There is a lot of truth in it. I would never want to be back in earlier decades.  There are seasons in our lives, and each one is enjoyable in a different sort of way. In the present season, I must say that I am quite happy to display my wrinkles. Each one tells a story. And since I’ve never coloured my hair, I am not about to “cover my wisdom” (a quote from the book) now. Although I must admit to Google Imaging a few of the contributors to this anthology, to see if I look younger than them! 🙂 Sigh…will we never learn to just be happy as we are?…let the real women Dove ads rule!

Here are some of the catchy essay titles to entice you: “How Drooping Breasts Led Me to a Truck-driving Life of Adventure”, “Levity in the Face of Gravity”, “My Grandmother’s Skin”, “The Pleasures of an Older Man”, “Dinner Tastes Better than Ever”, and “My Colonoscopy”.

‘Heart and Soul’ by Maeve Binchy

Maeve Binchy (gaelic name pronounced Mave), has always been one of my favourite authors. I’ve read all but two of her books now. She was a natural story-teller and will be missed. Sadly, Binchy died last month and this post is a tribute to her writing.

Maeve Binchy in Memoriam

If you’ve read one of her books, you’ve probably read more. She has that effect on people. When my daughter learned I would be posting on Maeve Binchy, she said that as a little girl she picked up and tried to read a Binchy just because I was reading so many of her books, but she was a little bored with it at the time. Perhaps she should try again!

Binchy’s books are mostly set in Ireland and although her plots can be interesting enough, her books are mostly character driven and focus on small town issues and relationships. They are books about real people. And whenever reading Binchy books I felt like I could recognize her characters if I met them on the street. However, what has always intrigued me about her writing, is that she gives you that familiarity without a lot of description.  In my opinion, that is her genius and is most evident in her short stories. Even though I am not a big short story fan, I loved her short story collections because it took less than a page to draw me in.

‘Heart and Soul’ was an enjoyable read. The fun thing for Binchy fans is that in this book she brings in a whole host of characters from several of her other books. It feels like meeting up with old friends or finding them on Facebook and discovering what they are up to these days. And there are some excellent heart healthy recipes for fish! The story revolves around a heart clinic annexed to the hospital to support heart attack victims and help them adjust to their “new normal” with guidance about lifestyle, food, exercise, and how to cope emotionally.

Even though Maeve Binchy will be sadly missed, there is still one more book being published soon! She was in the final stages of a book when she died. ‘A Week in Winter’ will be coming out in November.

‘In One Person’ by John Irving

“My dear boy, please don’t put a label on me – don’t make me a category before you get to know me!” 

John Irving is a big name in literature, and his latest novel ‘In One Person’ is a testament to his skill as an author. The main character in this story is bisexual and the book is a fictional account of his coming of age and an exploration into the fragility of his self-discovery journey and the mysteries of identity. Irving has always been considered a provocative writer and this book is no exception. The book is very sexually explicit and frank, so if you are uncomfortable with that you might want to take a pass on this one. It is not a book for everyone. However, the book is an amazing literary achievement and not to be missed by Irving fans or anyone open to a compassionate exploration of a subject many people shy away from. Irving’s intent is not to disturb or unsettle, but to provide a window into a part of human experience and as usual, for this author, to produce a beautifully well written work of art.

Though the book is fiction, it reads like a memoir so it makes sense that it would be candid. As a fictional memoir it has the power of a personal story free from  judgement and politics. The latter part of the book is an empathic account of the unfolding of the AIDS epidemic in North America during the 80’s. All of the characters, the tragedy, the humour, and the insights in this book will stay with me for a very long time.

‘Lone Wolf’ by Jodi Picoult

Picoult has always been one of my favourite authors, I’ve almost read all she’s ever written. Her popularity has grown steadily and her books are translated into many languages. I just heard her speak in London at the BBC and she packed a large auditorium with fans. She spoke very well and obviously loves what she does.

As always, Picoult did her research well on the three issues of this book:  wolf behaviour, organ donation, and end of life issues. However, as a novel I found this one fell a bit flat and seemed formulaic. All of her books include multiple narrators, tricky family relationships, a tragedy, a few twists and turns, some medicine and a court case. There is usually the hope of a miracle involved and some questions which are left unanswered until the very end. All of this usually makes for an enjoyable read, especially because she weaves a provocative topic into this formula and that makes each book a little different. ‘Lone Wolf’ for me was a bit cliché and not nearly as creative as some of her earlier novels, despite the interesting insight into wolf behaviour.

I am really looking forward to her latest novel which has just come out called ‘Between the Lines’ which is a young adult novel and was co-authored with her daughter Samantha Van Leer.

Author Feature: John Burningham

When I was visiting Henley-on-Thames for the first time, I stumbled onto one of those charming independent book stores which are sadly becoming increasingly rare. It’s marvellous to browse and take advantage of artful displays. This bookstore had a very extensive picture book display where I got lost for quite awhile. People who know me, know how much I love good picture books! I firmly believe they are extremely important for children of all ages. When I finally emerged from that display of picture books, I had rediscovered a favourite children’s book author and illustrator John Burningham.

Burningham’s award winning books are quirky and original. They offer simple story lines, delicious repetition, humour, and a delightful anticipation of how the plot will unfold. Beautifully sketched illustrations adorn these extraordinary stories. Burningham has written and illustrated many children’s books, these are three of my favourites.

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing

Because Mr. Gumpy makes some clearly unrealistic demands of his boat passengers, the reader knows there will be something catastrophic coming up very soon! It goes against the very nature of a rabbit to not hop, a Jack Russell terrier dog to not tease the cat, and chickens to not flap! We all know that this will be an eventful trip down the river for Mr. Gumpy and all of his passengers! Note, it’s not Mr. Grumpy, it’s Mr. Gumpy, whose grace is evident despite the bumpy ride and is amazingly not grumpy at all!

Borka

The plot is hinted at immediately in the sub-title: The Adventures of a Goose with no Feathers. Bald Borka has  a problem and is suffering from being different from her siblings and other geese. With the absence of feathers, in addition to being ridiculed and being cold, Borka cannot fly!  What will happen to the poor goose wearing a knitted jersey for warmth, when her whole family leaves her?

Avocado Baby

An amusing story featuring a common problem – baby won’t eat. To the rescue comes an unusual food for a baby to fancy, but the results are astounding!

The Guardian has a great interview with John Burningham, talking about his work and his books.  Here is the link, there is a little  5 min video which is worth watching, and not just because it features his own Jack Russell terrier at the end!
“I became an illustrator by accident”

And, if you love a good dog story, sit back and enjoy this 12 minute version of ‘Cannonball Simp’ with beautiful music and narration accompanying Burningham’s illustrations.

‘Little Bee’ by Chris Cleave

To avoid any confusion, right at the outset I must say that this book was given another title by UK publishers: “The Other Hand”. There are no other differences and the book is exactly the same. Often books in UK have different covers, in this case it is also the title, which is not a problem as long as you know about it. The main character is called  Little Bee.

I actually just read Chris Cleave’s “Gold”, and now I have read another book of his. He is that good. Cleave is master at the unfolding of a story. Just when you think everything is rolling along nicely and something is going to be resolved, he throws in a twist and the tension builds again. He has a third book ‘Incendiary’ which has also been made into a movie, which I hope to read soon.

The issues Cleave deals with in ‘Little Bee’ are important. He doesn’t shy away from hard topics and deals with them beautifully, building empathy for people in difficult circumstances and celebrating the human spirit. And all of this is wrapped up in a novel which is well written, compelling, easy to read, and not without moments of laughter and joy. In telling the story Cleave transforms what could be a sad and depressing topic, into something hopeful and compassionate.

When you are reading ‘Little Bee’ you have a book in your hands. It is likely that at the same time you have a small book somewhere in your house which is called a passport. When you are finished with ‘Little Bee’, I reckon you will never think about that small book in the same way, ever again.

With Little Bee it is best that you know almost nothing about the book before you read it. All I will give you is a small clue on the back of the book. “This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there…”