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Just one of them days (that a blogger goes through)

Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity is hosting A Day in the Life, a blogger event where you can see how bloggers really spend our days, and how we fit it all in. The idea started when Trish posted her own “day in the life,” first as a stay-at-home parent, and then as a working parent. I admire Trish because she has a nice mix of book stuff and personal stuff – something many bloggers struggle with. There are nearly 50 bloggers linked up already and it’s just after lunch here in the Mountain Timezone, so clearly this is an idea the blogosphere was ready for!

So get ready to dig deep and peel back the layers on what really goes on in the life of a book blogger. Read more

#Yeggies 2015 Picks

The Yeggies are Edmonton’s social media awards. Since they began two years ago, I’ve been respectfully asking the board to add a literature section (I subtweeted them a few times.) I didn’t think it was fair; we’ve got such a great book blogging scene in Edmonton and we’re lost in the “Arts and Culture” catch-all.

Did they listen to me? No. Still no Literature category. But I got nominated this year, so, suddenly, I’m okay with it!

The big ceremony is May 9th. I have no idea what to wear, no one to bring (my husband is confused by everything I do online) and I hate making small talk, but other than that, it should be fun! *hyperventilates*

In the meantime:

  • Check out all the nominees here.
  • Check out all my posts about Edmonton books and authors and events, for which I was presumably nominated, on my Reading in Yeg page.
  • If you’re not in Edmonton, let me know: do you have a social media awards in your area? Or are we weirdos?
  • Open question, Edmonton or not: Who’s your favourite local blogger?

Reading in Bed’s 2015 Yeggies Picks:

Best in Political or Current Affairs: Daveberta. What little politics I follow, I like to do on Twitter. I have clicked through the odd Daveberta post though. This recent post on Edmonton MP Peter Goldring is a gooder: “It is unclear if the MP considers any other historical figures to be his arch-enemies.”

Best in Sports: Oilers Nation. I have’t watched a hockey game since the Vancouver riots (2011, not 1994) but I always read Wanye Gretz’s rants on the Oilers. Smart, funny, and good use of memes.

Best in Food: Edible Woman. She had me at the Atwood reference. Plus, she has a “perfect” chocolate chip cookie recipe and I’m a sucker for those. One day, I may find something better than the one on the back of the Crisco package.

Best in Film or Television: Dookie Squad. If you’ve ever thought, “there isn’t enough piss, shit, or vomit in my YouTube feed,” this’ll do the trick.

Best in Music: With the Band. Love the concept – the life of a photographer/manager/webmaster who’s “with” local band The Unfortunates.

Best in Arts and Culture: Abstaining, but I’ll give a shout out to sometime-book-blogger and founder of #yegbookclub Finster Finds!

Best in Family or Parenting: A tie, because these blogs are very different and it doesn’t seem right to pit them against each other. Frugal Edmonton Mama is the best for practical tips – recipes, activities, deals, shopping.  The Stay at Home Feminist is the best for long reads and feminist perspective on parenting (but not just parenting.) Both these bloggers clearly do the work – research, design, and understanding of their audience is evident. Their posts make me want to discuss and think and write something myself… that’s what blogging is all about!

Best in Fitness and Health: YEGFitness. Incredible bi-monthly digital magazine on all things fitness in Edmonton. YEGFitness is aimed at elite athletes (and those who aspire that way,) so I’m not exactly the target market, but as someone who works in the recreation field, I appreciate what they’re doing. Innovative business model too, if you care for that kinda thing.

Best in Humour: Ryan Byrne. Just spent twenty minutes reading old posts. Not in a stalkerish way… they’re just funny!

Best in Fashion & Style: I don’t really care for fashion blogs, but All Kinds of Lovely challenged my perception of what a “fashion” blog is –  check her out. I’m also weirdly fascinated by Adventures in Fashion and if I meet her, I’m going to ask why she doesn’t put her arms through her coats. Is that a fashion blog thing?

…Skipping all the “business” categories because I don’t care…

Best Twitter Persona: Michael Oshry. Walking that fine line between Elected Public Official and Funny Guy on Twitter. No bozo eruptions yet!

Best In Edmonton: I Heart Edmonton. Nice new website, and I like the diversity of what they cover. Plus, book reviews!

Remember Me

When you think about memory, do you think of the distant past? In CanLit, many classics are written from the perspective of a character at the end of life, remembering. The Stone Angel comes to mind. It’s a popular frame for contemporary authors too. Carrie Snyder’s Girl Runner, for example, or Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table.

These days, I’m more interested in the beginnings of memory.  My boys are three and five. What can you remember of these ages? At three, maybe nothing. Maybe a still image or someone’s voice. At five, you start to make sense of things. You remember chains of events. It’s pretty heavy, this sudden ability to remember and integrate and communicate your own life story. And as parents we wonder, how will my kids remember me?

With babies and toddlers, we’re afraid that we’ll do something to put our children in danger. We’re sleep deprived and don’t know what we’re doing. A couple years in and you realize: they survived. It’s okay. You think it’s about to get easier, now that they’re in school and potty trained (almost.) But it’s not easier. I was recently in a parenting class. Triple P, if you’re interested, and yes, I’d recommend it. The participants ranged from people like my husband and me, who’re basically okay, but run ragged and looking for some help, to people who are really floundering and some who were probably compelled by the court to be there. The thing that struck me is that we all had similar issues, and we all, with perhaps one exception, had at least one child in the three to five range. I think (part of) the reason these ages are so hard and so fraught is that we are starting to feel a whole new kind of fear: the fear of being remembered as something less than a perfect parent.

Maybe it’s coincidence that I’ve read a couple books lately that teeter on this edge of memory, but each of these helped me understand my kids and my fears.

The Bear

the bear

I thought I was afraid to read Claire Cameron’s The Bear because it’s a kids-in-danger story. I was tempted to flip ahead several times, to make sure Anna and Stick were alright (couldn’t indulge as it was an ebook,) but what really got me was five-year-old Anna’s memories of their parents.

Parenting media (ugh) tells us how to be afraid that something will happen to our children. They’ll be stolen from you if you turn your back for an instant. They won’t make it in life if you don’t interfere in their education. The Bear makes you confront the fear of something happening to you. We assume our kids need us – not just any adult, but specifically us – to survive, even though it’s clearly not true. We want our kids to remember us and carry on our legacies.

The Bear reminded me that, even at three and five, my kids are not just extensions of me. They can survive without me. And, that even if they don’t remember me the way I wish to be remembered, if their perception of me doesn’t match my own, it’s okay. It’s more than okay, it’s a necessary part of growing up. Kids can’t just be a mirror of their parents.

The Bear wouldn’t have worked if Anna hadn’t been old enough – just old enough – to remember her mom’s instructions, and her dad’s stories about the tail of the moon, and her brother’s tendency to run away and hide. Without any of that, she and Stick wouldn’t have made it off the island. But they also wouldn’t have got very far without Anna’s misinterpretations or her flights of fancy which reminded me so much of my five year old’s. Anna relies on memories of her parents’ but she relies on herself an awful lot too.

If you’re scared of this book too, well, you should be. There’s some hope for us parents, though. Without her parent’s quick thinking when the attack happened, and without the foundation of trust Anna obviously had, she wouldn’t have survived. Her parents mattered. They are remembered.

Detachment (my review)

detachment

Sometimes being too young to remember is a blessing. In Maurice Mierau’s Detachment, Mierau and his wife adopt two boys from the Ukraine – ages three and five. In The Bear, I wept for Stick because I knew he wouldn’t remember his parents. For Peter, the five year old in this story, his memories of an unstable home life and then an orphanage are a burden, and might have triggered his detachment disorder. Three year old Bohdan doesn’t remember anything before the orphanage. The difference between the boys and their ability to settle into life in Canada highlights the power of memory, and vulnerability kids have at these particular ages.

Unlike The Bear, we hear from the adoptive parent in this case, which doesn’t mean it’s 100% reliable narration. I was often wondering, “what would your wife say about this” of “what do Peter and Bohdan think about this now, ten years later?” This being non-fiction, people have asked – Miereau wrote about the strong connection readers have with this book in The National Post and I admit I felt like writing him an email too!

There’s a subplot about Miereau finding his own family history in the Ukraine which means we get memories flowing from all directions – none of those memories being his, exactly, but I recognize the urge to gather it all together and make it make sense. This book taught me about patience and listening and that we never have the full story, at age three or five or thirty five.

Yell Less, Love More

Yell Less Love More Orange Rhino

This blogger-turned-author, known online as The Orange Rhino, shares an “a-ha” moment that forced her to admit that she was a yeller, and it was not okay. Thinking she was alone in the house, she unleashed on her four kids one day. Nothing I wouldn’t have done in the same circumstances (and half as many children.) The momentary relief turned to shame when she realized her handyman was in the house and heard the whole thing. Her epiphany was based on wondering why it was acceptable to yell at children when you’re at home alone but not in front of an audience. What struck me is that her kids were all under the age of five – that is, approaching the onset of enduring memories. Do you want your children to remember you yelling and screaming? Suddenly everything is higher stakes when your audience can remember and communicate.

I do hope to write a full review of this book, but in the meantime, yes, Yell Less Love More worked. Since January 6 I’ve had two slip ups. Not yelling hasn’t magically fixed all my other problems, and actually illuminated some new ones, but it feels good. And I hope it goes a little ways toward being remembered by my boys, if not exactly as a perfect mother (whatever that means,) then as someone who was quiet enough to listen and calm enough to go to for comfort.

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

 

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