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‘Canada Reads 2017: The Battle of the Books’

I am proud to be Canadian at all times, but in March I always feel a little bit more proud because of Canada Reads. Every year a panel of celebrities duke it out to try to answer the question, which book should all of Canada read? It is a literary debate but spills over into a discussion about the issues that are facing Canadians from coast to coast to coast. A big thumbs up to Canada for being dedicated to the important place that books and reading have in our lives.

This week five books were digested, dissected, debated, and discussed. And the winner was…Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis. See my review of this book here. Humble the Poet did a great job of defending it! It was not the book I had hoped would win. The Break would have been my choice. See my review of that book here. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read the other contenders but I still might. All of the books are worth reading and if you missed the whole event, you can still find it at cbc.ca. It’s worth a listen. And today it was such fun and a great privilege to be in the studio audience at CBC with daughter Kristin. Happy reading Canada!

‘You May Want to Marry my Husband’ by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

A very fine and beloved author died too young yesterday of ovarian cancer. She loved the pleasures of everyday life evident in her writing (Encyclopedia of Ordinary Things). She had a magnificent sense of humour evident even in her children’s books (Little Pea). Ten days before she died she wrote a dating advertisement for her husband of 26 years in The New York Times entitled:

You May Want to Marry My Husband

The piece reflects her generous spirit and her affinity for bringing people together. It is heartbreaking but you won’t want to miss it. Read it and hug someone near and dear to you after you do.

‘Truly Madly Guilty’ by Liane Moriarty

truly-madly-guiltystarstarstarAustralian author Liane Moriarty really knows how to weave a page-turning domestic thriller! The small cast of characters in this one are well described and sufficiently troubled to cast doubt on several people at once–as one reviewer aptly remarked, “she gives her characters enough baggage for a world tour.” If this is not your first Moriarty, you will recognize some of the things she writes about best: fraught friendships, troubled marriages, and checkered pasts. The ending was a bit too neatly tied up, but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride once again.

“Six responsible adults. Three cute kids. One small dog. It’s just a normal weekend. What could possibly go wrong?” In Truly Madly Guilty there is an incident at a backyard barbecue that has had devastating consequences, only you don’t know what that terrible thing is until quite far into the book. After the ‘reveal’ however, it’s not over yet. Other twists and turns continue so that like peeling an onion, more layers slowly come to light. I’ve almost read all of her books now,  The Husband’s Secret is still my favourite.

Bookshelf Detective

p1090807Happy New Year!

Thanks for another year of reading and discussions about books. It’s been grand! And I have no doubt there will be plenty of reading in 2017 once again, judging by my very long TBR pile and multiple lists. I’m sure it’s the same for you. Every New Year I look at my bookshelf and make a resolution to read all the books that I own that I haven’t even read yet…maybe this year I’ll succeed! I can always hope, although placing holds at the library is so irresistible. It did get me thinking about bookshelves…

read-your-book-caseOne of my favourite things is being a bookshelf detective, especially when I’m in a stranger’s home and have no other clues to go by, making deductions based on the collections of books that I see… Is there more commercial than literary fiction? More fiction than non-fiction? Are there bestsellers or more obscure titles? Does the space look dusty and musty or has it been recently cleaned and culled to create space for newer titles? Are there some obvious ‘his’ and ‘hers’ choices? Any children’s books? Are there clues to a vocation or an ancestry, or hobbies, or travel destinations? If someone examined my own bookshelves, what would they conclude about me?

bookshelfOur house has several libraries of books with different foci: children’s books in the guest room, professional books in the office, a sewing library in my quilting room, and of course a collection of cookbooks in the kitchen. There’s mostly fiction on a built-in staircase shelf which houses dog-eared favourites as well as new books I’m longing to get to. Since we’ve moved many times, the books we have are the survivors. Many of the fiction books we’ve read have been passed on and the non-fiction keepers are kept more for perspective than information. The absence of a set of encyclopedias is notable in this computer age.

Our living room bookshelf pictured above, has the most variety and says the most about us as a family. There are books on countries and cultures where we have lived or travelled to, hobbies like motorcycling and hiking, humour, self-help, faith, biography, and family photo albums. As far as fiction goes, there’s plenty of volumes that I haven’t read yet because the TBR pile beside my bed was getting tall enough to be lethal! And last but certainly not least, the most needed book companion item perched on the wooden nose—the now necessary pair of reading glasses!

Podcasts about Books and Reading

PodcastPodcasts are awesome. They are great companions when tackling tasks like cooking, exercising, ironing, commuting, knitting, sewing… or listening to when you have the flu and are too tired to read. Get yourself some noise cancelling headphones and you won’t even hear the doorbell or the dog barking!! TED talks, Stuff You Should Know, Meeting House Sermons, Serial… these are some of my favourites.

What I enjoy about book podcasts is finding new book suggestions, listening to author interviews, getting behind the scenes information on how or why books were written, and getting to know the people behind the story. It’s fascinating stuff. Below is an annotated list of my favourite book podcasts from three different countries. Happy listening!

CBC The Next ChapterCBC The Next Chapter (Canada) Shelagh Rogers hosts this program on Radio One. It features Canadian books and literature. What I like about it is keeping up with new Canadian content and I really appreciate Shelagh Rogers warm interviewing style. She has a way of putting people at ease and asking thoughtful probing questions.

Writers and CompanyCBC Writers and Company (Canada) Eleanor Wachtel is one of the finest interviewers I’ve ever heard. She interviews authors from around the world and is amazingly knowledgeable on history and politics worldwide. Her in-depth interviews with notable literary figures are a hallmark of this award winning podcast.

BBC World Book ClubBBC World Book Club (UK) Harriet Gilbert hosts this worldwide book club featuring famous authors and their best known novels. A live studio audience is present at each taping and questions come in from listeners around the world. Since I have often been in attendance at these tapings, you might just hear my voice asking a question!

Books on the NightstandBooks on the Nightstand (USA) Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness narrate this discussion on books and audio books. Though they both work for Random House, this is a personal project. Ann and Michael offer a unique insight into not only books and reading, but also a behind-the-scenes look at bookstores and the publishing industry.

“Don’t you forget about me!”

Don't You Forget About Me

First of all, Happy New Year! Thanks so much for tracking with me on this adventure called reading. Indulge me in my usual New Year’s rant, this time about the value of books that may be older but are not lesser in value because of it.

In our world of consumerism we are subtly but steadily conditioned by marketing and advertising to grow a dislike to something old, and long for something new and improved. I have to remind myself that what I have is not just good enough, it’s stuff that I once chose and unless it’s broken or worn out, will still do very nicely. That old pair of corduroys, pushed to the back of the drawer by skinny jeans and leggings. That old summer cole slaw recipe, left in the dust by quinoa, pomegranate, and arugula. That old classic I’ve always wished I’d read, while new titles like baubles blink at me from bookseller windows and websites.

Books on the NightstandOne of my favourite podcasts is Books on the Nightstand (stay tuned, next blog post is on podcasts). One of their regular features is “Don’t you forget about me!” It’s a segment where the presenters Ann and Michael recommend older book titles that may have been missed. Because frankly, we can’t read everything all the time. There’s way too much out there. And it’s perfectly fine to pick up a book that was written 2 or 20  years ago! It doesn’t always have to be the latest!

At the risk of sounding cynical, increasingly I wonder whether agents are pushing books to publication too soon, in a rush to vie for a spot on this year’s Bestseller list. I get that feeling when I find the ending rushed or the book doesn’t quite match the accolades on the cover. Or when an author is so famous and has pumped out so many books, that it seems the publishers have let it go without some necessary editing.

NightstandReaders let’s take a deep breath and realize this is not a sprint to read it all, despite all those emails from Amazon about what books are “coming soon”–enjoy reading of any kind, new or older. Authors let’s take the time to write something timeless instead of rushing to be the latest new paperback. Let’s not let the new book market sway us from authors and topics that we love. And don’t fret about bringing those books back to the library that you never got around to reading (I know you have them, I do too) and just place a new hold on them another day. If they’re good ones, they’ll still be around 2 or 20 years from now! And in the meantime you can grab a book from your shelf that you bought, but never read (we all have those too!). Happy Reading!

‘A Snow Garden and other stories’ by Rachel Joyce

A Snow Gardenstarstarstarstar“Compelling and rewarding, tender and funny, it portrays family relationships at a time of year that should be joyous but is so often tangled and painful, reminding us that there is always a bigger story behind the one we first see.”

Rachel Joyce has become one of my favourite authors in recent years. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, and Perfect were all a pleasure to read. So I was excited to see a new collection of modern day Christmas stories by her in the bookstore! I had to buy it and gobble it up like turkey. In the foreword she said that some of the characters and situations  were built from bits and pieces cut from her novels. Happily these are not saccharine sweet Christmas stories. They are freshly funny and human–no perfection in sight!

The collection has seven separate stories, but they are all loosely connected with characters from one story randomly popping up in others. I love it when authors do that! (Maeve Binchy did the same thing in The Lilac Bus many years ago – if you know of others, please let me know).

These stories are so easy to get into (something I appreciate in a short story!) and showcase Joyce’s skill for conveying great things in simple everyday situations…a woman finds a cure for a broken heart where she least expects it; a husband and wife build their son a bicycle and, in the process, deconstruct their happy marriage; freak weather brings the airport to a standstill on Christmas Day.