Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pinter, Canada Reads, and KPL e-awesomeness

Tonight I finished The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter.  It's a play, so I'm using it for item #47 on my Year Of Reading Ambitiously list.  I was going to use it as "a book you can read in a day," but I ended up picking it up and putting it down several times because baby just wasn't that into it. ;)

So this play falls into the categories of "Comedy of Menace" and "Theater of the Absurd."  Yes.  Yes it does.  It's a twisted mess of truths, half-truths and untruths and it's supposed to leave you tangled and confused but perturbed.  It did. Perhaps we should just leave it at that.  (I did enjoy some of the snappy, back-and-forth dialogue, though.)

My Canada Reads books arrived in the mail today.  When it comes to fiction, mostly I stick to buying used books because the thrill is in the hunt and, well, books are expensive.  But once a year (at least) I splurge and order up the Canada Reads titles.  I also ordered The Orphan Master's Son for a book club.  What surprised me was how tiny the box was that everything arrived in.  Has Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook reduced our love of reading and attention spans enough that novels are shrinking? Maybe, baby.

So I cracked open When Everything Feels Like The Movies and was a bit scandalized by the first chapter, but more on that later.  I had it in my head that I would take to reading in the rocker/recliner in baby's room while he drifts closer to dreamland.  

Problem.  It has become apparent that reading with the lamp on in the nursery just won't do: Orson is much too fascinated with light and doesn't seem to get the hint that it's his bedtime.  Which means I could spend that time on Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook or playing Trivia Crack on my iPhone, but for fear that my brain might be shrinking right alongside novel sizes, I'm resolving to use my phone to get some more reading in.  

I got out my KPL card and set up my phone for ebooks.  (HOW and WHY did I not do this sooner?  How and why?  Why and how?  There is so much good stuff out there!)  My first download: Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.  Now that I have it all set up, I'm off to bed, but I'm sure I'll be up at some point in the night to feed baby and read at least a few pages.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Trail Of The Conestoga

One item on my list for my "Year Of Reading Ambitiously" is "a book that takes place in your hometown."  I had to stretch a little bit to find something that qualified, but I figured a book set in the earliest days of Waterloo County was close enough!

Were it not my self-assigned "required reading," I may never have picked this book up, but I'm glad I did.  The Trail of the Conestoga by Mabel Dunham tells the story of the migration of Mennonites from Pennsylvania to what is now Waterloo County in the early 1800s.

It was the author's bio on the back cover that caught my attention.  Mabel Dunham was a librarian of the KPL and started the children's section there.  She was the first president of The Canadian Federation of University Women, and the particular edition of the book I bought was published to mark the 50th anniversary of the KW chapter.

There was something undeniably 1940s Canadian about this novel.  Beyond its musty smell, it's packed with little history lessons thinly disguised as back-and-forth banter between characters ("Why, it's Isaac Brock!" / "Who's that?") and morality tales spun so thick you trip over them.  Dunham's choice to focus on the Mennonites' reasons for and history as conscientious objectors would have been an interesting and bold addition to a novel first published in 1942, right in the thick of the second World War.  She consistently portrays females as strong, wise, and patient and takes a passive-aggressive approach to the issue of gender roles.  (Love this gem: "...she pressed her lips together and held her peace.  To begin a conversation was a privilege she usually accorded her husband, whom the good St. Paul had set up in some uninspired moment as the head of the household.  She was quite satisified so long as she had the last word."

This book is charming.  I was thinking about recommending it as a title for my book club to consider.  Unfortunately, it's not in print anymore.  A quick search on amazon shows that used copies are selling for a pretty penny.  (This makes me all the more proud of my $2.00 purchase from none other than the MCC's Thrift on Kent!)  So I guess I'll just offer up this book on loan for anyone who wants to read it.  I think librarian/author Mabel Dunham would approve.

A Year of Reading Ambitiously

I'm several months into my maternity leave and I thought I'd have a stack of finished books piled beside the nursery rocking chair by now!  While I've found some time to read, I've spent more time watching Netflix, playing games on my iPhone and continually refreshing Facebook.  My goal for 2015 is to turn some of that screentime into "pagetime" and get back to the focused, productive beauty of reading good ol'fashioned books.

With that in mind, I'm challenging myself with a 2015 Reading Challenge I found online.  (My time on Facebook is not totally wasted; it was thanks to a friend posting it on Facebook that I found out about the challenge in the first place!)

It's 50 books.  That's almost a book a week.  And we're almost a week in to the year already.  So I'd better get to reading.  Here's the list and my plan so far...

Yellow highlights mean I've read it already!  (I've been a bit late in posting this list.)

1.  A book with more than 500 pages
2.  A classic romance
3.  A book that become a movie
4.  A book published this year
5.  A book with a number in the title
6.  A book written by someone under 30
(I am Malala?  When Everything Feels Like The Movies? - is it?)
7.  A book with nonhuman characters - Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
8.  A funny book
9.  A book by a female author
10. A mystery or thriller
11. A book with a one-word title
12. A book of short stories
13. A book set in a different country
14. A non-fiction book
(Charlotte Grey's book of letters?)
15. A popular author's first book
16. A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet
(All My Puny Sorrows)
17. A book a friend recommended
18.  A Pulitzer Prize-winning book.
19.  A book based on a true story.
20.  A book at the bottom of your to-read list.
21.  A book your mom loves
22.  A book that scares you
23.  A book more than 100 years old
24.  A book based on its cover
25.  A book you were supposed to read in school but didn't.
26.  A memoir
27.  A book you can finish in a day
28.  A book with antonyms in the title
29.  A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit
30.  A book that came out the year you were born
31.  A book with bad reviews
32.  A trilogy
33.  A book from your childhood
34.  A book with a love triangle
35.  A book set in the future
36.  A book set in high school
37.  A book with a colour in the title
38.  A book that made you cry
(I don't think I can pre-plan this one.)
39.  A book with magic
40.  A graphic novel
41.  A book by an author you've never read before - A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
42.  A book you own but have never read
(Rules of Civility)
43.  A book that takes place in your hometown - The Trail of The Conestoga by Mabel Dunham
44.  A book that was originally written in a different language
45.  A book set during Christmas
46.  A book written by an author with your same initials
47.  A play - Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party
(Goodnight Desdemona, Good morning, Juliet)
48.  A banned book
49.  A book based on or turned into a TV show
50.  A book you started but never finished
(The Dovekeepers)

A Lesson Before Dying

Until very recently, my books have been in storage.  This means, rather than reading stuff I already own, I've been browsing bookshelves online and in thrift stores for something to read.  I found Ernest J. Gaines'  A Lesson Before Dying for a bargain price of $2.00 at a local thrift store. 

The book's award winning status (National Book Critics Cirlce Aware For Fiction) and the narrator's occupation (teacher) piqued my interest. A Lesson Before Dying tells the story of a young black man sentenced to die after being in the wrong place at the wrong time and being convicted of a crime he did not commit.  His lawyer's approach to get him acquitted is to portray him as a lowly animal who didn't know any better.  When the lawyer's defense falls through, the boy's godmother begs the local schoolteacher to visit the boy in prison and convince him that he's more than the worthless animal the court deems him to be.

It's a bleak and depressing book (the title could have told you that), but ultimately a moving one that causes you to think about obligations to family and community, in addition to issues of race, gender and social status.  If I was a high school English teacher, I would consider adding this book to my required reading list. 

P.S: I just found out that this book was made into a movie in 1999, starring Don Cheadle and Mekhi Pheifer.  It won 2 Emmy awards.  Huh.  There you go.

A Trio of "Memoirs?"

I've been reading again lately.  I'm veering away from reading panic-inducing online parenting articles and back into the world of books.  Real books.  For lack of a better description, I'll call these books "memoirs."

First I read Tina Fey's Bossy Pants.  The best bits were about being a new mom and enduring the advice/judgement the rest of the world casts upon you.  Perfect timing for me to read her snappy comebacks on the topic!

Then I read Amy Poehler's Yes Please.  This book was a bit confusing and all over the place to me.  Its thick, glossy pages, bright fonts and colourful pictures seemed an attempt to distract from the lack of actual content.  But I did learn a bit about Poehler's life and the lack of brainpower required to get through it was a plus in my sleep-deprived first few months of parenthood.  (Also, she doesn't drag out the gory details of her divorce.  She just states that it happened and moves on.  I respect her for that.  Plus, Parks and Recreation is just such a great show that the behind-the-scenes snippets on that were among the most interesting parts to read.)

To qualify for free shipping on Yes Please, I added Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) to my order.  THIS ONE WINS.  Mindy Kaling has, by far, the tidiest and most clever writing of any comedienne I've read so far.  Maybe its just their improv roots showing, but where the other books tended to ramble to fill space, Kaling's book was just essay after essay of awesome.  If you're going to read one of these three books, this one is it.  (After that, go watch all the episodes of The Mindy Project on Netflix.  And then watch them again.  This woman is the best kind of funny.)