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Are Gwyneth Paltrow and Jonathan Franzen Wrong About Everything?

I’m pretty much recovered from last year’s celebrity encounters with Joseph Boyden and Joyce Carol Oates, so it’s time to get star struck again! Recently I met a few celebrities and made plans to meet another. Let’s review.

1. Gwyneth Paltrow
Calm down, I didn’t actually meet GP. But I did attend the launch party for Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything by Tim Caulfield and she was there in spirit, and also in cardboard cut-out form. At one point, the line up to take a “selfie” with 2D Gwyn was longer than the line to talk to the author. At this point pretend I say something profound about celebrity culture.

This kept happening

This kept happening

Goopy and Me

Goopy and Me

2. Tim Caulfield
The real reason I was there, Tim Caulfield is an author, the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, a father of four, and a local celebrity himself.

Tim Caufield Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?

I can hardly call this a book launch. It was a fete. There was catering, live music, and free drinks. And it was weird being at a book thing without any book people – they were all University and health care types. Good thing I brought my sister as my date. She used to plan health care conferences and recognized many of the attendees as former speakers and delegates, including Caulfield. They didn’t recognize her though, and she wanted to keep it that way, so we retreated to a corner and she gave me the dirt on who’s a nightmare to work for and who only has their job because of family connections and so on. Just like celebrity gossip! With fewer nude leaks.

On Caulfield himself? “Everyone loves him. Especially women.” From what I saw that night? Absolutely true!

isgpwrong

I’ve read the first chapter of the book, and I love that Caulfield is an unabashed consumer of celeb culture himself. It isn’t about scolding people, or looking down on the masses who read Star magazine. It’s about examining the reasons we trust celebrities in ways that we don’t trust scientists or ourselves. I do hope there’s some level of feminist perspective in the chapters to come, as a large portion of the type of health & beauty advice Caulfield’s writing about comes from female celebrities and is aimed at female consumers. We shall see.

This book’s going to be huge. The timing couldn’t be better, what with vaccine debates back in fashion (seriously, it’s like a parenting forum exploded all over the internet) and GP-endorsed uterus steam cleanings.

3. Jonathan Frazen
I know, I know. No one wants to hear a book blogger rant about Jonathan Frazen right now. But in writing about Goopy, I realized that she and JFranz are hated for the same reasons:

  • They have big egos. Um. An actress and a writer have large egos? The hell you say! There is a segment of the population who kind of admire’s Franzen’s confidence, which I don’t hear too much about Goopy.
  • They don’t deserve what they have. When Goopy uses a new catchphrase, or steam cleans her internal organs, the world takes notice. She made up “conscious uncoupling!” (she didn’t.) She hates working moms! (she doesn’t.) She steams her vagina! (I got nothin’.) And people resent that. Same thing for Franzen. Is it possible to write an article about him and not mention “best living American author?” Apparently not! Being a good actress or a good writer is a very subjective thing, so many people will disagree. In this case, sorry guys, Goopy gets a free pass for life for Seven and Sliding Doors and Franzen gets a free pass for The Corrections. They’re both legit, no matter how insufferable.
  • They are oblivious. How can Goopy be so smug? So condescending? So full of unchecked privilege? Doesn’t she know how awful she is? I… think she does, actually. She probably knew exactly what was going to happen when she posted about “conscious uncoupling.” She’s crafting an image, it’s just not necessarily a likeable or relatable or even aspirational image. I feel the same way about Franzen. Every time he gives an interview, the same people make the same snide comments (myself included!) and as much as he lambasts Jennifer Weiner for “self-promoting,” he’s doing just the same. Like Goopy, he’s not oblivious. He knows what’s going to happen when he said YA isn’t morally ambiguous or that he hasn’t read any of Weiner’s books.

Speaking of self promoting, Franzen is headlining Book Expo America this year which is the main reason that I’m attending. Yes, I booked my flight on the very day that Franzen’s latest outrageous interview came out! It’s like he knew. Now, to try and get a selfie with him. Perhap there’ll be a cardboard cut-out for me to practise on.

Who’s the biggest celebrity author you’ve met? And bloggers: are you going to BEA this year?

The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart

 

Feminism isn’t about making things for women. It’s about women making things.

That is badly paraphrased, possibly from something by Sarah Nicole Prickett, but it’s an idea I come back to a lot. It can apply many places, and I think the original context was in response to some ridiculous “women’s” product or another, you know, a pen with pink ink “For Her” or some such. But it works for books, too. When I think about what it means for a book to be feminist, it’s not about writing stories “for women” with “strong female characters” or casting females in roles that defy gender expectations, exactly. It’s about writing from a female perspective and not focusing on a woman’s relation to everyone else (all those “The _____’s Wife” books!) or not only her relationships. Writing her interior life. Letting her be redeemed by something other than motherhood and marriage, or maybe let her not be redeemed at all.

My favourite book of the year and my favourite cover of the year.

My favourite book of the year and my favourite cover of the year.

The Bridge of Beyond isn’t very well known as a feminist book (or very well known at all, though the New York Review of Books reissue a few years back will help, I hope) but I would put it right up there with The Handmaid’s Tale or The Awakening or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Like those books, The Bridge of Beyond is set in a patriarchal, post-colonial, racist world but immerses us in the lives of women who are simultaneously defined by and able to transcend their oppression. Like Angelou’s memoir, this book made me think about how people survive horrific violence and oppression. This book made me think about the institutional and generational side, too: how does the Lougandor family survive through slavery and the after effects?

The story is about the end of slavery and in a way, the end of the Lougandor line, but neither are really over. The effects of slavery are still there, in the air and on the land and in the people. And though Télumée may be the end of the line in her family, it’s impossible to believe she won’t leave a mark on the land she walked or the air she breathed.

Let’s back up, though: on my first reading, I wasn’t even thinking about this book’s place in the feminist canon or anything like that. I was thinking that this book is a perfect reading experience. The word that comes to mind is “light.” You can probably guess that this book is full of horrific violence, abuse, and death, so how can I say it was “light?” I mean that the words flow effortlessly and reading it is like slipping into a dream state, almost. You will lose track of time. Your heart will hurt. But it’s not a grind. Not at all. Every word is perfect.

In the perfection of my rise, its speed and resonance, there was something disturbing, and I was puzzled at having obtained, all at the same time, the three crowns that can usually be hoped for only at the end of a long life. Love, the trust of others, and that kind of glory that accompanies every woman who is happy – these were gifts too great not to become dangerous in God’s sight. So sometimes, in the shade of my Chinese plum, I would tremble with fright, trying to make out the exact moment when the Almighty would take umbrage at my crowns. But then a little breeze would come and play with my skirts, my sleeves, my braids, and I’d feel I could go on like that until the end of time, and it was as if I was already embalmed, powdered, and laid out happy on my deathbed.

Did I mention this is a translation? Reminding myself that these perfect words aren’t even the original words was a constant source of wonder. Barbara Bray is a master.  She also translated a lot of Margaurite Duras, who I haven’t written about here, but will. The Lover has a similar dream-like quality. This book is full of regional sayings that I’m sure aren’t a straightforward translation:

If anyone offered to replace Toussine at the bedside for a while, she would say, smiling gently, “Don’t worry about me. However heavy a woman’s breasts, her chest is always strong enough to carry them.” She spent seventeen days and seventeen nights cajoling death, and then, ill luck having gone elsewhere, Meranee expired. Life went on as before, but without one vestige of heart left, like a flea feasting on your last drop of blood, delighting in leaving you senseless and sore, cursing heaven and earth and the womb that conceived you.

Now that I’ve set your expectations, let me tell you how glad I was to go into this book with none. I received a copy from the fine folks at Shelf Awareness, and it was pitched to me as “Cool if you’re looking for something outside of the written-by-White-European-Males world,” and that was the extent of my knowledge going in. I didn’t have time to get nervous about the translation thing, or the colonialism thing. I was just pleasantly, no, wonderously surprised to be reading what would go on to be my favourite book of the year. Maybe reading it on my first away-from-the-kids trip had something to do with it too.

Simone Schwarz-Bart. You can see Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle, the French title of The Bridge of Beyond. via lehman.cuny.edu

Simone Schwarz-Bart. You can see Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle, the French title of The Bridge of Beyond. via lehman.cuny.edu

One of the reasons I waited almost a year to review this book (other than laziness) is that I wasn’t sure how to comment on how race plays into it. In finally writing this review, I realized that I don’t have to. Like any other review, I pick and choose what to comment on, and I can just focus on the writing. I bring it up here because I’m seeing a lot of #reviewwomen and #readdiverse and what not, and I realize this book (or more precisely, this author) is a perfect example of that diversity – of gender, race, and language – but the way the book was pitched to me sums up why I’m loathe to categorize it in that way. This book is so brilliant and beautiful; it doesn’t need to be defined by what it is not, i.e. not white, not male. I don’t want someone to pick this up and think “this’ll be great for my diversity stats!” This post by FrenchieDee got me thinking along these lines (read the comments!) I will continue to read and review “diverse” book but I think we all need to step back and not make this about ourselves and turn “read diverse” into a humblebrag, “look at me, reading women of colour!” Let’s keep the focus on the books and the authors. End rant.

The Bridge of Beyond is a classic of literature, period. And if you’re in the mood for something translated, Caribbean, post-colonial, or feminist, you will not do better than this.

Find The Bridge of Beyond on Goodreads

The Bridge of Beyond with some "if you like these, you'll like this" books from my shelves

The Bridge of Beyond with some “if you like these, you’ll like this” books from my shelves

2014 Year in Review #2: Best Books

Self explanatory. Let’s go.

Best Books

Villette Charlotte BronteorendabridgeofbeyondmalarkyThe English Patient by Michael Odaantjewolfhallthesistersbrotherstransatlantic

Only eight books were good enough, and got a strong enough emotional reaction, to get the elusive five-star rating this year. For fun, I’ve tried to sum up my emotional state after finishing each.

  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte (Spaced out for the rest of the day.)
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden (Threw up. For real.)
  • The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart (Like waking from an extremely lucid dream.)
  • Malarky by Anakana Schofield (Despair, happiness, urge to read again.)
  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (Heart hurt.)
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (I said “wow” out loud, like three times. That’s my review.)
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Cried like a baby.)
  • TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Overwhelmed by how much I’d just read. Not number of pages.)

In making this list, I realized I only did a full, proper review of one book (Malarky) and didn’t mention three of them much at all (The Orenda, The Bridge of Beyond, Wolf Hall.) That’s messed up. If I’m not using my blog to ramble on about the books I loved, what the hell am I doing?

It’s not the end of the world that I didn’t review Wolf Hall, because really, you don’t need me to tell you it’s good (BBC is gonna do that for you. Also Damien Lewis. *swoon*) but I’m not impressed that I didn’t review The Orenda and The Bridge of Beyond, specifically, as it was mostly because I was afraid. I’m uncomfortable reviewing postcolonial literature, or, frankly, literature with racial themes – afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, that I’m not in a position to really “get it,” and so on. I procrastinated on The Orenda and The Bridge of the Beyond till I felt like it was too late. It’d all been said about the former, and I couldn’t remember the story of the latter.

There’s a whole movement about reading diverse, which is based on the “vote with your wallet” idea, but book bloggers aren’t always paying for their books. In this case, The Orenda and The Bridge of the Beyond were both freebies and so the fact that I’ve read them, and kept it to myself, really doesn’t do much for the cause.

Talking about books I love is why I’m here. It’s probably why you’re here. So I’m going to get over myself, and at least review the books that blow my mind this year. (Don’t worry, I’m still gonna snark on books, that is the other reason I am here.)

Overrated Books
mebeforeyouboysnowbirdgirlrunnercanmanThe Girls

I’m not going to do “Worst Books” because I didn’t read anything that was truly awful this year. Mostly because no one tricked me into reading dragon porn. However, I did go into several books with expectations that were not realized. Some of these are gonna be UNPOPULAR OPINIONS. Before you hit “comment,” realize that I liked all these books, just not as much as I thought I would:

  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyse: All the book bloggers liked it, even the ones who don’t like romance. I was prepared to be won over. I was diverted, but not much more.
  • Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi: I liked it A LOT but I was prepared to have my life changed.
  • Girl Runner by Carrie Synder: I feel bad about this one. I liked it a lot, and stayed up late to finish it and everything. I think if I hadn’t been drawing parallels to The Stone Angel, it would have been okay. But no one can compare to Hagar. (Review to come)
  • Mãn by Kim Thuy: Another one raved about in book blog land. Okay, the very small and specific #CanLit book blog land, but still. And I liked it, but it left no impression on me. I don’t think about it at all. (Probably not gonna review but I am going to read Ru as I have been assured it’s even better.)
  • The Girls by Lori Lansens: I feel bad about this one because it was an ethusiastic recommendation from a friend but I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief.

And, finally, the 2014 Reading in Bed Book of the Year:

Read more

2014 Year in Review #1: The Stats

Are we sick of year in review posts yet? No? I really enjoyed doing multiple, detailed posts last year, but Bookstravaganza took up most of my December so I’m gonna keep things simple this time round. Stats today, best and worst books tomorrow. And maybe top literary crushes (okay, definitely top literary crushes!)

Books Readwpid-20140530_135813.jpg

  • Books read in 2014: 64 (up from 52 last year)

I thought I might hit 75 this year, but it was not to be. Without the Novellas in November and Bookstravaganza boosts, I would have ended up around 52, just like last year. I can live with that!

About the Author

  • 58% female (down from 67% last year)
  • 19% person of colour (up from 12% last year)
  • 55% Canadian (up from 42% last year) 22% American  16% British and 1 each: Argentinian, French, Irish, Russian, Guadeloupean. 
  • Only two Edmonton-area authors this year.

I put a bit of effort into reading more authors of colour this year, and I guess nearly 20% is alright – it’s tough to know, honestly. With gender I’m going for parity, but what’s parity with race? 20% is pretty representative of our population here in Edmonton, but if you expand to Canada, or North America, or world wide, your target would be very different. So my goal with regards to authors of colour next year is to review more of them. That’s where my power as a blogger lies. Some of the best books I read this year were by authors of colour, and I didn’t review them. More on THAT tomorrow.

Genres and Lists

  • 19% classics (down from 35%), 53% contemporary lit fic (up from 48%), 9% non fiction (up from 6%), and a handful of YA, poetry, erotica, romance, and historical fiction.
  • 8 1001 Books for a total of 123 read
  • I’m kind of defunct on The Classics Club. I erased my list because it wasn’t speaking to me anymore. The idea, though, was to read 50 classics in five years, and I read 12 classics this year, so I’m on track.

Ratings

  • 13% were rated five stars (down from 19%), 45% were four stars, 30% were three stars, 13% were two stars, and thankfully, I did not read a single one-star book this year because I decided not to continue with the Fifty Shades trilogy. I will totally see the movie though. For research! And stuff.

Compared to the average Goodreads rating…

  • I rated 27 books higher. The most underrated book was Villette, which I rated a 5, compared to average 3.72 rating. How dare you, people who rated this book less than a 5! It’s perfection!
  • I rated 37 books lower. The most overrated book was Me Before You, which I rated a 2, compared to average 4.31 rating. Apologies to Kristilyn and Brie, who are probably not my friends anymore.

Blog Stats

 

Stay tuned for more 2014 year in review, hopefully before it becomes ridiculously late in the current year!

Booyah, Bookstravaganza!

Bookstravaganza logo

I did it! I read and reviewed ten books in the month of December. I really didn’t think I’d make it. The most books I read in any other month last year was six, and reviews are far fewer. The donation page for Bookstravaganza is closed tomorrow. If anyone is as proud of me as I am, go ahead and donate a couple bucks to the Welcome Baby program at Edmonton Public Library.

Here are my reviews:

  1. Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi
  2. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  3. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
  4. Shopgirl by Steve Martin
  5. The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
  6. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
  7. Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland
  8. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  9. Detachment by Maurice Mierau
  10. Longbourn by Jo Baker

TransAtlantic remains my favourite. Other standouts were The Wallcreeper, Wild, and Detachment.

Thanks to everyone who supported Bookstravaganza this year. Next year I may try to read…. 11. To celebrate my success, I’m starting the year with the longest, densest books I can find. First up: The Luminaries.

I went to a bunch of literary festivals and all you get is this lousy blog post

For a little more in the way of background info, check out my literary festival preview post.

Ted Bishop at LitFest

I wasn’t going to go to LitFest but I happened to see a free preview of Ted Bishop’s talk about his book in Churchill Square. The free talk was not well attended but the actual event was full of well-wishers. I already wrote about it here but I didn’t tell you about the cool fountain pens we got to try out afterward (cool is a relative term, of course, I assume if you’re reading this you might think it’s cool.) This is my second year attending LitFest and it won’t be my last. I hope LitFest continues the free talks on the Square. If you need to make a business case about return on investment, well, it sold me. That’s something!

wpid-2014-12-27-22.38.38.jpg.jpeg

Joseph Boyden at STARFest

The straight review: STARFest well organized, well attended, and well worth the price of admission. I was there to see Joseph Boyden, who did the standard reading from his latest novel, and chose one of my favourite sections from The Orenda (the first few pages) and he talked about the standard author-appearance stuff – inspiration, research, how the book fits into his larger body of work. He also talked about the tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada (I was surprised he didn’t mention his new anthology on the subject, Kwe) and his own struggles with depression as a teenager. He gave a detailed description of his next book, which sounds like a bit of a legend or fairy tale about residential schools.

The gossipy review: Host and author Diana Davidson stunned in a royal blue dress from The Bay. Classic in a black button up, celeb author Joseph Boyden was powerful, vulnerable, and fascinating. Spotted in line at the book signing: Jason Purcell, noted Book Tuber, surrounded by admirers and on-trend in florals; star-struck Glass Buffalo editor Matthew Stepanic, and festival organizer Peter Bailey. I thought I got a “scoop” when Peter mentioned that David Eggers was coming to Edmonton, but he misspoke and meant David Sedaris, which is still pretty exciting!

The honest review: Joseph Boyden talked to me and touched me and said I was pretty. The end.

#squee

#squee

Florals are so hot right now. Jason Purcell and unknown fan await an audience with Mr. Boyden.

Florals are so hot right now. Jason Purcell and unknown fan await an audience with Mr. Boyden.

Joyce Carol Oates at Festival of Ideas

The closing night of Festival of Ideas was kind of the opposite of STARfest: It was under-attended (the Winspear was strangely empty; I hung back but there were plenty of floor seats available) and while I did see people I knew, I didn’t play the gossip columnist this time, preferring the company of Bartelby the Scrivener while I waited for the main eventOates was less vulnerable than Boyden too. I doubt she went too far off script, though she joked with host Eleanor Wachtel that she felt like she was in a therapy session. Her life story was fascinating. I was rapt as JCO described her relatives and ancestors, because they sounded like characters out of a novel. Murders, suicides, Jewish grandmothers who concealed their ethnicity in America, growing up blue collar and going on to be a student and then professor Princeton… sounds like an American family saga to me.

Oates is arguably one of the best known authors in the world, but the signing line was calm, orderly, and short. I’m not sure why she wasn’t a bigger draw – maybe we are just that loyal to our #CanLit stars. I was still pretty nervous about meeting her. I didn’t want to freeze up like I did with Margaret Atwood. I remembered she had talked about personas, so I asked if her Twitter account was the real her or a persona. She said it’s very close to the real thing, except, of course, when her cat Cherie takes over:

@JoyceCarolOates IRL

@JoyceCarolOates IRL

An aside: I was so wrapped up in thinking of my question, that I couldn’t figure out why the man ahead of me in line looked so familiar, until he was getting his booked signed and I heard him say his name. It was Mr. Jeffries, my high school English teacher, who taught me One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Heart of Darkness, and John Donne, and The Odyssey, and was always going on about Joseph Campbell. I didn’t think that much of him while I was in school because I didn’t think much of anything at that age, but I recognize now that those classes had an enormous influence on me as a reader and now as a writer. I missed my chance to say thank you, so thank you, Mr. Jefferies. 

Other bookish happenings this fall

I got a #yegwords coffee at Burrow with @Angry_Vegan

I got a #yegwords coffee at Burrow with @Angry_Vegan

A concrete poem outside my kid's school by @onelastpoem

A concrete poem outside my kid’s school by @onelastpoem

 

Decent book haul from The Great Edmonton Bookswap

Decent book haul from The Great Edmonton Bookswap

The Great Edmonton Bookswap at The Atery - pink light special

The Great Edmonton Bookswap at The Atery

Some of the books at the Bookswap

Some of the books at the Bookswap – OTHERLAND is awesome!

A restrained book haul from the fall library sale

A restrained book haul from the fall library sale

The local author shelf at Tix on the Square

The local author shelf at Tix on the Square

I didn't see these guys, but they look alright

I didn’t see these guys, but they look alright

What do you call half an extravaganza?

Click here for more information on how to donate to this year’s cause, Edmonton Public Library’s Welcome Baby Program. 

My Bookstravaganza goal is ten books read and reviewed in December. I’ve done five. Check ‘em out:

  1. Prairie Ostrich by Tamai Kobayashi
  2. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  3. TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
  4. Shopgirl by Steve Martin
  5. The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink

My favourite so far is TransAtlantic. Next up: Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland and Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.

Also check out my attempts at creative photography…

Choochoo

 

If you write a book review, and no one reads it, is the prose still stunning?

I’ve wanted to talk about book reviews for a while. There are a couple of specific things on my mind, like the idea that book reviews are too positive, or that reviews must be critical, or diversity in book reviews. But, as my son would say, “put first things first*.” Do people even read book reviews?

 

Book reviews are dead. No one reads them and they don’t sell books.

This statement was (falsely) attributed to Edmonton author Todd Babiak by his former English professor, Ted Bishop. Todd was helping Ted launch his new book Ink at LitFest back in October. A vetern book-launcher, Todd’s advice was to forget trying to get the book reviewed, that he better create something shareable if he wants to get anywhere. And he did; Ted and Todd filmed a cooking-show-style demonstration of how to make your own ink and we served as the studio audience. We even got to use a mortar and pestle! Talk about reader engagement!

I laughed at the thought that no one reads book reviews, but I laughed because it’s true. The only people who comment on book blogs, reviews especially, are other book bloggers. And as for traditional reviews in the newspaper or literary journals? I don’t even read them. I’ve become a reverse-snob when it comes to book reviews; I find a lot of “straight” reviews boring. They’re all plot summary or this:

Lately, I just don’t care about the luminous prose etc. I want to know what a book did to the reviewer. If you cried, or laughed inappropriately, I want to know. I want to hear how a book reflects personal experience.

Despite my own misgivings about book reviews, I still thought Todd made a pretty bold statement, so I went to the source. Luckily Todd Babiak is super nice and accessible, and he immediately told me that he never said those words. Ted exaggerated. He has noticed that a prominent review in The Globe and Mail, though, doesn’t exactly give a book the lift it once did. Things are changing. Todd remembers when there were 19 professional reviewers employed by newspapers in Canada. Now there are just a handful.

There are plenty of people trying to make book reviews fresh and exciting. The National Post runs a weekly feature in The Afterword, where readers get a book to read and then fill out a survey. I did one earlier this year. It’s a nice feature, but it’s not really a review (plus their book choices are weird.) And there are all the almost-review formats we bloggers use: hauls and monthly wrap-ups and so on. But reviews they ain’t.

This isn’t news to book bloggers. James Reads Books blogged about this a couple months ago. I like his challenge to read more reviews, but, should we even need a challenge? Isn’t that why we’re all here?

So, dear readers (who I assume are all book bloggers,) I want to know: Do you read book reviews? Where do you read them: on other blogs, the newspaper, or somewhere else? How are your stats when you post a review?

As for Ink, I haven’t seen that video kicking around YouTube, but I did see a nice review in The Walrus. Maybe there’s hope for the book review after all.

*My son is in Kindergarten and they are learning the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, of which this is one. I have a five year old who tells me to “syngergize” and “be proactive.” This is weird, right?

A Reading Soundtrack: Part IV

Once again, I am inspired by Rory at Fourth Street Review.  She mixes it up this time by taking one album and picking a whole bunch of books that fit the theme. I’m doing my usual thing: one book, one song.

The Book: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
The Song: We Are Shadows by Leaves

Burial_Ritesleaves

Now comes the darkening sky and a cold wind that passes right through you, as though you are not there, it passes through you as though it does not care whether you are alive or dead, for you will be gone and the wind will still be there.

This book snuck up on me. I was skeptical from the get go; there was too much hype. I still think it’s overrated, but by the end, the overwrought quality of the writing fell away and it became as spare and beautiful as I heard it was.

I resisted the urge to pair Burial Rites with Bjork. I’ve already used a Bjork song for one of these posts, for one thing, and it’s just too obvious. So I sought out the music of the one other Icelandic band I know – Leaves. Like most North Americans, I discovered Leaves when their song Breathe was featured on The O.C. Leaves have put out a few albums since then, and We Are Shadows from their 2009 album of the same name is absolutely perfect. Agnes has been a shadow her entire life.

Hold my hand
as we let go
and northern lights
will fill the skies

Until the morning glows
Weʼre shadows, me and you.

The Book: Infidelity by Stacey May Fowles
The Song: Habits by Tove Lo

infidelitytovelo

This song isn’t a great fit for the plot. The book is about a woman in a stable but boring relationship who knows she isn’t cut out for the straight and narrow, so she has an affair with a married writer who is all kinds of wrong for her. The song is about a heartbroken woman who’s trying to fuck the pain away. The common thread is recklessness. And sordidness: there’s a great passage in Infidelity about how you begin an affair in fancy hotel rooms and work your way down, till you’re alone in a seedy motel. And Tove Lo is super sordid:

Pick up daddies at the playground
How I spend my day time
Loosen up the frown,
Make them feel alive
Oh, make it fast and greasy
I’m numb and way too easy

I admit, this is another one of those songs I love to sing in the car. Usually alone, sometimes accompanied by my two year old who loves to sing the “ooh ooh ooh ooh” part.

In writing this, I remembered that I don’t own Infidelity. I will probably change that. My last “affair” was much lower stakes than this, seeing as there were no marriages or kids involved, but Fowles gets that sickly sweet feeling just right.

B is for Bookstravaganza

Ordinarily things like #GivingTuesday annoy me. Like, we already have a perfectly good day with “giving” already in it, can’t we use that? But today it works in my favour. I’m doing Bookstravaganza this year and I hope to convince a few people to give to Edmonton Public Library’s Welcome Baby Program.

I wrote about the Welcome Baby program and what it means to me here.

I wrote about Bookstravaganza last year. It’s basically a readathon with a charity component.

Find out how to donate here. You can donate a set amount, or pledge an amount per book I read & review this month. My goal is ten books and that’s pretty optimistic, so this doesn’t have to cost you much.

Here are the books I’m going to read:

What, me worry?

What, me worry?

If nothing else, follow the Bookstravaganza blog for daily mini-reviews of interesting books. Some of these people are crazy, or possibly on drugs, because they’ve already finished multiple books and it’s day two! Cheer me on, guys!

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