‘The High Road’ by Terry Fallis

True confessions of a non-re-reading book club member…this is the sequel to the hilarious Canadian classic political satire The Best Laid Plans. The best plan for me was to read the sequel (which I have been wanting to get to for awhile anyway), and hopefully use that to jog my memory of the first book which I read years ago. There were plenty of reminders in the second book about what happened in the first, so I think I’m good!

In this conclusion to the first book, Angus and Daniel are now properly elected to the federal government and have been given the task to discover why a bridge between Ottawa and Hull has collapsed. Angus McClintock, a Scottish friendly giant of an engineering professor, becomes an unlikely political candidate, not only because he only got into politics to avoid teaching English to engineering students, but because he refuses to engage in back-slapping, back-scratching, and backstabbing to meet his goals. He is a fresh and honest face in politics because he truly wants to achieve things that are going to be in the best interests of the public, not just to further his own agenda or career. And the best part about this book and its prequel is the sense of humour running throughout. These books are laugh out loud funny, making you feel somehow better about politics, even if you’re not Canadian.

‘Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration’ by Ed Catmull

Need a Christmas gift for the ‘business/leadership’ person in your life? I really enjoyed this memoir by the head of Pixar Animation Studios. Catmull’s personal story is engaging and well written. It is full of great advice about how creativity and excellence can be fostered in the workplace. As head of Pixar (later bought out by Disney Studios), Catmull was a good friend and partner of Steve Jobs and other great talents in computer technology. He had an intuitive sense about how to give storytellers and filmmakers the freedom to develop ideas and make mistakes, and how to get these diverse people to work together, thereby arriving at the creative culture that brought us great films like Ratatouille, Up, Toy StoryFinding Nemo, and many more.

Even though there are lots of background reveals about the makings of these much admired animated films in the book, the focus is primarily on how the business evolved. There are amazing insights and sound advice along the way for leaders in any business or industry, who are interested in being intentional about managing innovation.

‘I Found You’ by Lisa Jewell

The title of this book could be what your family members exclaim when they discover where you have hidden to read ‘just a few’ more pages or chapters–that’s how compulsively readable this suspense thriller is. I couldn’t put it down.

Here’s the story line about two decades of secrets, a missing husband, and a man with no memory…

“In a windswept British seaside town, single mom Alice Lake finds a man sitting on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, and no idea how he got there. Against her better judgment, she invites him inside.

Meanwhile, in a suburb of London, twenty-one-year-old Lily Monrose has only been married for three weeks. When her new husband fails to come home from work one night she is left stranded in a new country where she knows no one. Then the police tell her that her husband never existed.

Twenty-three years earlier, Gray and Kirsty are teenagers on a summer holiday with their parents. Their annual trip to the quaint seaside town is passing by uneventfully, until an enigmatic young man starts paying extra attention to Kirsty. Something about him makes Gray uncomfortable–and it’s not just that he’s playing the role of protective older brother.”

‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ by Amor Towles

Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat, Count Alexander Rostov is placed under house arrest in a small room in the Metropol, a grand hotel across from the Kremlin in Moscow. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. ‘Exile at home’ is the worst kind of punishment because it’s impossible to leave and begin anew. He finds ways to pass the time, make himself useful, forge meaningful relationships, and yes, be a little subversive. He befriends a spirited young girl called Nina who joins him on adventures in the  hotel and later on, also her daughter Sofia. The story unfolds beautifully and has a great deal of old world charm. Towles has an elegant way of creating a sophisticated ambience with his writing style, but it is also brimming with humour. The ending was perfect.

To be honest, I found parts of the book a tad slow, but then those sections would be followed by some exquisite prose that would take my breath away, and all would be forgiven. Though not difficult to follow, not everyone will have the patience for this book, but if you do, you will be richly rewarded. I actually did love it, but wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. It reminded me of the The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which was also received as brilliant by some, and left others wondering what the fuss was about. I loved that one too. So it’s definitely a “if you like that, you’ll love this” situation. Here is a sample of the writing which also hints at the fascinating political undercurrents ever present in the novel.

“For years now, with a bit of smile, the Count had remarked that this or that was behind him–like his days of poetry or travel or romance. But in so doing, he had never really believed it. In his heart of hearts, he had imagined that, even if unattended to, these aspects of his life were lingering somewhere on the periphery, waiting to be recalled. But looking at the bottle in his hand, the Count was struck by the realization that, in fact, it was all behind him. Because the Bolsheviks, who were so intent upon recasting the future from a mold of their own making, would not rest until every last vestige of his Russia had been uprooted, shattered, or erased.”

Whether you decide to read the book or not, this trailer for it is worth a view:

‘Undone’ by Michele Cushatt

“Maybe you’re not supposed to manage all this. Maybe, instead, you’re supposed to experience it. Walk through it. Do the best you can.”

To be honest, what drew me to this Christian memoir was the cover art…I loved the upside down-ness of the idyllic pastoral scene which seemed to speak of what the title was already hinting at…making peace with an unexpected and imperfect life. With real vulnerability and honest fear, Cushatt talks about her life which has included its fair share of messiness: divorce, remarriage, blended family, fostering children, and recurring cancer. What seemed to add insult to injury was Cushatt’s cancer–she is a public speaker and she had to part with her tongue. Doesn’t seem fair at all! Of course life isn’t fair, and this memoir is hopeful and inspirational about how to find strength and grace in even the worst moments. Sometimes life’s greatest beauty shows up in life’s greatest chaos. She doesn’t have all the answers, but her grappling with the questions is reassuring and real.

 

 

 

This trailer for her next book I Am gives a good introduction of the author.

‘The Code of the Woosters’ by P.G. Wodehouse

Once in awhile it’s fun to pick up an old classic, and this was a good choice. It reminded me a lot of Three Men in a Boat. Written in 1938, The Code of the Woosters features Bertie Wooster (an upper class lovable but gormless character) foolishly stumbling and bumbling through slapstick adventures, only to be saved each and every time, by his wise and intelligent butler Jeeves. Wodehouse wrote many instalments and series about these two, all poking fun at the British idle rich, and always with Jeeves cleverly and boldly unraveling the whole convoluted mess, in his calm, collected, and elegant manner.

Old British comedy is often absurd, capitalizing on simple situations and misunderstandings that just get worse and worse (think Fawlty Towers and Black Adder). Jeeves and Wooster episodes aired in Britain in the 90’s. I have included here a youtube with bits from this book. I loved watching British comedy icons Hugh Laurie (Bertie Wooster) and Stephen Fry (Jeeves), but also unexpectedly Highclere Castle (from Downton Abbey fame) makes an appearance as Totleigh Towers! Who knew?

‘The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future’ by Kevin Kelly

I’m giving full marks to this mind-blowing, highly readable forecast of inevitable technological trends, already in motion, that will be transforming our lives in the next 30 years. It’s a prediction of a much larger scope than what features the next generation of iPhone might have. Its a visionary exploration of the emerging connectivity of our world, enabled by the internet. Twelve trends are identified and explained by the author that could revolutionize the way we work, play, learn, buy, and communicate with one another. Kelly claims that even though we think technology may have already reached a pinnacle, actually it is just in its infancy.

This is a brilliant and provocative choice of Christmas gift for the techie/business person in your life. Actually, I am neither of those and I loved it. I liked how the author is prophetic, but doesn’t preach doom and gloom… yes, the future will be very different, but let’s be optimistic and embrace change rather than shy away from it. Let’s be aware of what the future may bring and be part of steering and shaping it. Let’s realize that robots and artificial intelligence are inevitable and figure out how to best work with them. This is not just a cinematic brave new world, this is a possible reality for our grandchildren. How can we best prepare them?

If you’d rather listen than read, this is an excellent overview on youtube: