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Archive for February, 2010

Inspired by the Olympics, I picked up my old copy of My Sergei: A Love Story by Ekaterina Gordeeva (with E.M. Swift) when I was home last week.  I bought this book when I was eleven and, like many little girls, fascinated by figure skating.  By then, it was already clear that this was not the sport for me (I was 5’6” at that point and still growing) and while I knew my future lay with sports like volleyball and rowing that favour tall girls, I was still captivated by the beauty and artistry of figure skating.  That passion had been launched during the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic Games, the first Olympics I remember watching, when I had watched Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov skate their long program to Moonlight Sonata.  I fell in love with them and with their sport and so, when I found this book in 1997, there was never a question in my mind that I would read and love it.

This book, written by Gordeeva several years after Grinkov’s shocking death at the age of twenty-eight, seemed like the most romantic thing I had ever read.  Being only eleven, it probably was.  It’s a simple book with a very basic writing style, in which Gordeeva chronicles her life with Grinkov, from their pairing when she was eleven through their first successes, their evolving relationship, their marriage, the birth of their daughter and, finally, Grinkov’s sudden heart attack.  As both a figure skating fan and a budding romantic, it was the prefect book for me and, rereading it now, I still myself terribly fond of it.  It’s an incredibly quick read with many pictures but, even though I know the story well, I was still captivated by it.  It never drags: there was far too much going on during the years they were together for Gordeeva to dwell on any one thing.  It’s certainly not high literature and yes, it’s very sentimental, but it’s a very interesting read that more than fulfills my desire for books about figure skating. 

Perhaps the most memorable thing about My Sergei is not the book itself, but the influence it had on my life when I first read it.  Reading it during lunch one day (yes, I was one of those children, happier to sit in the library on the sunny steps reading rather than playing), my beloved school librarian approached me and asked if she could borrow it after I was done.  I was sharing books with an adult and not just any adult by my personal hero!  When she was finished, we spent several lunch hours discussing the book together and I remember being almost giddy with excitement.  These were the kind of discussions I had always wanted to have, but which none of my little friends were capable of contributing to – they barely even read the children’s or young adult’s books that were expected of them, never mind New York Times bestsellers.  After that, the librarian and I began to share more books, things from outside the school library.  She introduced me to Hemingway (who I’ve never been able to like), Agatha Christie (who I loved), and countless others.  It seems like so many librarians today are forced to focus on computer skills but I hope they still have the time to nurture young readers, like my young self, to guide them to the right books and to support them when they feel so distant and alien from their uncomprehending peers.  Eventually, I moved to an all-girls school that focused on academics, where I was able to thrive and where a passion for reading was almost the norm, but it was my librarian and not my friends who made my early years in elementary school palatable.   

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I do love Georgette Heyer.  Yes, sneer if you must, but I get more enjoyment out of her novels than I do from any other author.  Consistency and quality are certainly traits to be admired, even if it’s not high literature.

A brief summary of The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer:

Sir Waldo Hawkridge – wealthy, handsome, eligible, illustrious, and known as The Nonesuch for his athletic prowess- believes he is past the age of falling in love.  But when he comes north to inspect his unusual inheritance at Broom Hall in the West Riding, his arrival leads to the most entertaining of ramifications.

 As with most Heyer novels, you know how this is going to end from the moment the characters are introduced, which is fine.  The enjoyment comes not so much from the plot but from the dialogue (and the fantastically detailed world Heyer creates through her incredible research).  In The Nonesuch, are hero and heroine (the ridiculously named Sir Waldo and Miss Ancilla Trent) are relatively ‘mature’ – she is twenty-six and he in his mid-thirties.  Being clearly elderly, these two conduct themselves with decorum and there is none of the spirited dialogue that you see in some of Heyer’s other novels between her leads.  That is saved for the younger supporting cast, including two of my favourites: Miss Tiffany Wield, Ancilla’s beautiful but spoiled charge, and Lord Lindeth, Sir Waldo’s young cousin.  The introduction of yet another cousin towards the end of the novel only improves the comedy.  In fact, Ancilla, our heroine, is the most forgettable character in the novel.  It feels like we see her so rarely that we never get a chance to know her, whereas Sir Waldo is much more fleshed out and endowed with numerous positive traits, making it impossible to dislike him.

As much as I love Heyer, I find it difficult to review her novels.  They are very enjoyable fluff but, with the exception of a few, one is much like on another.  There is nothing particularly unique or memorable about The Nonesuch – it doesn’t stand out for me in the way that The Grand Sophy or Frederica do – but it is a fine afternoon’s entertainment.

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Friday Potpourri

Image credit

 

Two articles on Marilyn Johnson’s This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All: both are interviews with Johnson, one from Salon.com and another, which gives more information on the book itself, from The New Yorker.  Surely I’m not the only one who is desperate to read this book, stemming from a childhood dream of becoming a librarian?  Anything with a title that makes a librarian sound like a superhero is for me.

Another book I’m terribly excited for: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

Top 10 Jobs in Fiction: I am mildly addicted to the Guardian’s Top 10 lists and I love this week’s theme.  A few of the completely random careers my reading has tempted me towards?  Spy, of course (I was overly fond of le Carré), Opera singer (Bel Canto), diplomat (anything by Charles Ritchie) and woman of leisure (Elizabeth and Her German Garden was particularly tempting).  I’m actually still holding out for woman of leisure, now that I think about it. 

Last week, The Guardian ran a “Ten Rules for Writing Fiction” series where a number of authors, including Margaret Atwood, PD James, and Zadie Smith, shared their advice for aspiring writers.  The answers are interesting and varied.  Whether you’re a reader or a writer (or both), it’s definitely worth checking out.

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Library Loot

Admit it, you’re convinced that I’ve stopped reading entirely, aren’t you?  In one week, I’ve only posted two reviews but this is my third post on the gathering of reading material.  My current problem is actually that I’m switching between too many books, unable to finish any of them.  I remain undaunted though and this week’s library haul was particularly fruitful.  As you may have realised, I like to have lots of reading options.  Those I now certainly have.

 

Lady Anna by Anthony Trollope

I’ve never read any Trollope and feel this is a mark against me.  Having no idea where to start with this prolific author, I went with the only book the library had available.  A highly sophisticated selection process, I know.

Bringing Up Girls in Bohemia by Michal Viewegh

Beata is a 20-year-old drop-out, daughter of a millionaire of dubious connections. She embraces lover after lover, as well as causes new to Eastern Europe, in this satirical look at Prague today.

No idea how this will turn out or if I’ll even make it past the first page.  However, in my never-ending quest for Czech books, I will embrace even the most obscure titles.

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim Deffde

Some good, sentimental ego-stroking with this one.  An account of how Gander, Newfoundland responded when 38 international flights were stranded there after September 11th.   

American Nerd: The Story of My People by Benjamin Nugent

A “charming and disarmingly serious study of the history of the nerd in popular culture and throughout modern history.”  How to resist?

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West

Rose Aubrey is one of a family of four children. Their father, Piers, is the disgraced son of an Irish landowning family, a violent, noble and quite unscrupulous leader of popular causes. His Scottish wife, Clare, is an artist, a tower of strength, fanatically devoted to a musical future for her daughters. This is the story of their life in south London, a life threatened by Piers’s streak of tragic folly which keeps them on the verge of financial ruin and social disgrace

Another well-known author I’ve never tried before.

No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym

Can you go wrong with Barbara Pym?

Family Romance by John Lanchester

Lizzy raved about this one last week and I can’t wait to start it.

A Proper Education for Girls (or The Peachgrower’s Almanac) by Elaine di Rollo

I saw Fleur Fisher’s review on this one a few weeks ago and immediately placed a library hold on it.  It’s had mixed reviews but I’m intrigued.

This week, Library Loot is being hosted by Marg.

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Books Bought (and Received)

It was a perfect weekend back home, made far more perfect by a visit to my favourite bookstore on my birthday.  Is there any better way to celebrate than with a few new books?

Mariana by Monica Dickens

I read and reviewed last month and enjoyed it so much that I felt it was necessary to acquire my own copy.  Definitely a future comfort read in the years to come.

Stranger in the House by Julie Summers

I haven’t actually read any reviews on this one, but I’ve had my eye on it for a few months.  I do love a good non-fiction book and WWII is one of my preferred eras, so this examination of how families and marriages were changed once the men folk returned home after the war sounds perfect.

Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India by Madhur Jaffrey

I love Madhur Jaffrey.  I don’t understand how it is possible not to; people try to tell me, but I think I’m physically incapable of understanding their arguments.  She is all things wonderful and her autobiography, like her perfect recipes, is a treat.

Also, rather excitingly, when I arrived home on Monday night there was a lovely book parcel for me from Simon of Stuck-In-A-Book.  Taking pity on my sad self, he sent me a pristine copy of The Path Through the Trees by Christopher Milne after I mentioned I was finding it difficult to locate.  Thank you so much Simon!  I’m really looking forward to this one.

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Teaser Tuesday (Feb. 23)

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page.  Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

‘Normally I would tend to look on curiousity with favor,’ she said, ‘but I think this time it’s far safer to just have you eaten.  Unless, of course, you can think of a good reason why I shouldn’t?’
~Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (p. 153)

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I feel like I’ve read Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido before.  Katherine, a young, bright, solidly middle-class girl is introduced to an enticingly bohemian, intellectual family, the Goldmans, by whom she is immediately captivated.  She, of course, falls in love with the eldest son, Roger, and, of course, it ends badly.  Rather than dealing with the fallout and emotionally maturing (far too easy), she runs away to Rome, seeking distraction with other, usually married, men.  The phase lasts far longer than it needs to, ends very badly, and we see Katherine returning to England and reuniting with the Goldman family, leading up to a very predictable and unmemorable ending.

Can you tell that I wasn’t overly fond of this book?  There was nothing in it that grossly offended me, but there was also nothing particularly special about it.  It’s a story that has been told before and told far more engagingly.  At times, particularly early on, I identified with Katherine but she proved to be a rather unsympathetic heroine as she aged.  The various men who float through her life are, with the exception perhaps of Jacob Goldman, the patriarch of the Goldman family, flat and make for poor romantic heroes (or, frankly, characters).  Since the plot revolves almost solely around Katherine’s love affairs, my disinterest in all characters involved made for an unsatisfying read.

I’d had Barbara Trapido recommended to me before, so, readers of Trapido, if I don’t like this one, am I likely to enjoy any of her other works?  Anything you might suggest?

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Olympic Reading

I haven’t watched anything other than the Olympics over the last week.  I don’t usually watch a lot of television, but the Winter Olympics are not a normal time.   You can take your Summer Olympics- I have no real interest in them or any of the sports therein.  But the Winter Olympics?  Hockey?  Long-track speed skating?  Curling?  I am so there, just don’t make me watch the skiing events.

The best part of the Olympics, as usual, is not the sports themselves, but the athletes, so young and hopeful, from so many different countries.  And, as many of the athletes have noted over the last week, Canadians are very good at cheering on athletes that aren’t our own (unless you’re American – sorry about that).  Our passion for the Dutch is all-encompassing, as always, we love the Germans, and the curling Scots are most beloved…the list goes on.

However, this puts me in the awkward position of wanting to read more about these nations.  No title immediately comes to mind though, when I think of Austria.  I can think of dozens for Germany or France, but none for the Ukraine.  I want nothing more than to read about tall, orange-wearing Dutch people but, right now, the newspaper is the only source fulfilling that desire.

Can you recommend any favourite books (fiction or non-fiction) set in the following countries?

The Netherlands

Belgium

Austria

Czech Republic

Ukraine

Norway

Scotland

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Books Bought

Still very much enjoying my Vancouver mini-Vacation.  The birthday celebrations yesterday were lovely and later this morning we’re heading down to Stanley Park to walk the seawall and take advantage of the beautiful weather.  Life could be worse.

A few weeks ago, long before I knew I was coming to Vancouver for my birthday, I rationalised the ordering of books as a birthday present for myself (any time I buy anything, there’s an intense internal battle with my freakishly frugal side).  What did I get?  The Convenient Marriage, The Nonesuch, and The Reluctant Widow. all by Georgette Heyer, all in the lovely Arrow editions.  This brings my total of Georgette Heyer novels (published by Arrow) to 24.  There are more, I know, but I now have all the ones I really want and am no longer panicked that these editions will disappear to be replaced by the Sourcebook ones, of which I’m not terribly fond.

They’re not high literature, but they’re charming, quite amusing and incredibly well-researched.  Even more than Austen, I will reach for a Heyer novel when I am in need of comfort.  Last fall, I spent a week in hospital with appendicitis and, though I started my stay reading Singled Out by Virgina Nicholson, it was The Grand Sophy and Frederica that I turned to later, as my conditioned worsened and pure escapism was called for ( I now know that I should really have turned to Mariana by Monica Dickens, where a case of appendicitis sets up an ideal romance).

Any other Heyer fans out there?

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Friday Potpourri

 

It’s been a rather odd sort of week.  I am celebrating my 24th birthday today in the city of my birth (Vancouver) having flown in last night.  It was all very last minute (my parents were meant to be coming to visit me) but I’m thrilled to be here, despite the ridiculous number of tourists.  In 24 years, I’ve only had one birthday away from home, despite having lived out of the province since I was 18.  But how could I not want to be here?  There are cherry tree blossoms and crocuses while in Calgary there is snow.  No contest.

Reflecting my state of mind, this week’s potpourri selections are rather scattered (through time, space, and subject matter).  Enjoy!

A review of Eleven Minutes Late – described as “the funny side of network failure.”  I work in the transportation industry and, if you can’t laugh at network failures, you’ll go mad, so for my own very perverse reasons, I’m quite looking forward to this one.

Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough – somehow, this book made it on to my mother’s very limited radar.  This is the woman who reminded me a week before my birthday that I was still single and eHarmony is apparently very successful (my mother doesn’t believe in subtlety.  At all).  I am half expecting to receive this as a present later today.

The film fantasy of writers’ lives  – the rise of the ridiculously inaccurate literary biopic. 

The Thirties: An Intimate History – a review of Juliet Gardiner’s new book.  I loved Gardiner’s Wartime Britain (so much that I dragged the massive hardcover around with me on the bus to and from work one summer – trust me, that is dedication) and can’t wait for this to be available in North America.  My favourite local bookstore in Vancouver imports about half its stock from England, long before the Canadian releases, so, if I’m very lucky…

The Battle for Jane Austen  – a very readable Salon article on Jane Austen’s posthumous identity crisis, focusing on the many sequels and adaptations to her works.  If you know one thing about me by now, it should be that I’m freakishly drawn to all things Jane Austen.

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