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Archive for the ‘Book List’ Category

I spent several happy hours working on this reading list for the Canadian Book Challenge 5 today and, goodness knows, I could go on for many more.  This is by no means an exhaustive list – it doesn’t even include all the library books I currently have out or have holds on that I’m planning to read for the challenge – but does offer variety.  Some of the choices are rather unimaginative (what would a Canadian reading list be without something from Munro or Berton?) but I’ve also tried to include a few off-beat titles that other readers might not have heard of.  I’ve split the list into vaguely geographic categories since part of my aim this year to read a selection of books that better represents all the geographic regions of the country. 

As always after making a book list, I can’t wait to start my reading!

By Canadians, Set Outside Canada
The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009) by Alan Bradley
The Cellist of Sarajevo (2008) by Steven Galloway

British Columbia
Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and Other Stories from Desolation Sound (2010) by Grant Lawrence
Much-praised humourous memoir of growing up in Desolation Sound on BC’s sunshine coast among hippies, ‘a gun-totting cougar lady’, and other lotusland characters. 

Trauma Farm: A Rebel History of Rural Life (2009) by Brian Brett
When am I ever likely to turn down a book about modern farm life, particularly when the farm in question is on near-by Salt Spring Island?

Policing the Fringe: The Curious Life of a Small-Town Mountie (2009) by Charles Scheideman
A memoir of Scheideman’s years (from the 1960s to 1980s) spent patrolling the BC interior. 

Ontario
Essex County (2009) by Jeff Lemire
I’ve been on the library wait list for this graphic novel since January and am really, really looking forward to the day my turn arrives! 

Jalna (1927) by Mazo de la Roche
A carry-over from last year’s reading list (and from many, many personal reading lists before that).  I really am going to read this one day.  Really. 

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) (1988) by Ann-Marie MacDonald
A carry-over from last year’s reading list

The View from Castle Rock: Stories (2006) by Alice Munro
A collection of stories based on Munro’s own family history.

Quebec
Earth and High Heaven (1944) by Gwethalyn Graham
The story of Erica Drake, a young Anglo woman from Montreal’s tony Westmount neighbourhood, who falls in love with a Jewish lawyer who her family forbids her from marrying.  I’d never heard of this book before but I’m definitely excited to track down a copy.

Maria Chapdelaine: A Tale of French Canada (1914) by Louis Hémon
A novel of early Quebec, telling the story of a young woman pursued by three very different suitors, each offering Maria a very different way of life. 

The Prairies
Reading by Lightning (2008) by Joan Thomas
A prairie novel (a Bildungsroman in fact, always a favourite with me) with an interlude in England just before the start of WWII, which, to my way of thinking, is an irresistible combination. 

When Alice Lay Down with Peter (2001) by Margaret Sweatman
A family epic set on the flood plains of southern Manitoba, following four generations over one hundred years.

The North
Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich In the Klondike (2010) by Charlotte Gray
Gray is always dependable for a well-written, entertaining history and the Klondike gold rush is an endlessly fascinating topic.

Late Nights on Air (2007) by Elizabeth Hay
I am determined to read something by Hay this year, either this novel about the staff at a northern radio station or her newest book Alone in the Classroom

Prisoners of the North (2005) by Pierre Berton
Berton’s final book, chronicling the lives of five extraordinary characters – including Robert Service and Lady Jane Franklin – whose adventures inCanada’s north sound absolutely fascinating. 

Atlantic Provinces
The Iambics of Newfoundland: Notes from an Unknown Shore by Robert Finch
In these evocative sketches, stories, and essays, one of our finest observers of the natural world explores the stunning but often dangerously inhospitable island of Newfoundland. (From the publisher)

Bonus: Canadian Identity
Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism (1965) by George Grant
For all that has been written about our identity crisis, this remains a touchstone work. 

National Dreams: Myth, Memory and Canadian History (1997) by Daniel Francis
An incisive study of the most persistent icons and stories in Canadian history, and how they inform our sense of national identity. (Charlotte Gray – CanadianBookshelf.com)

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Royal Frenzy

No longer my motto…

Coming off a long weekend, there should be no excuses for not having lengthy, witty reviews pre-written for this week.  Despite some wonderful times spent with family and friends, I had more than enough time to knock off a few reviews.  But I did not.  I have been feeling a bit under the weather so instead of sitting diligently at my computer and concentrating I have been curling up on the couch in front of the television where every channel seems obsessively devoted to preparing us for Friday’s Royal Wedding.  I had held out until now.  I had laughed at the merchandising, scoffed at the trashy programs, and generally ignored the magazine covers at the grocery store checkout.  But with only a few days left, I am surrendering myself to the insane media hype.  Because it’s fun and why shouldn’t it be enjoyed, even if much if my enjoyment comes from mocking (the media, you understand me, not the happy couple)?  Most importantly, it means I have now seen William & Kate: The Movie, which brought me an intensity of joy that can only be provoked by truly awful television programming.  It also means that I can’t stop watching the T-Mobile Royal Wedding video, which, unlike the TV movie, is rather spectacularly well cast:

But, in a more literary vein, I thought I’d share a few of my favourite novels inspired by the Windsor family, all enjoyable and, unlike the current television coverage, intelligent:

Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin
Freddy is the Prince of Wales, Fredericka his troublesome wife. An overeducated, bumbling anachronism, Freddy commits one glorious gaffe after another, for which he is massacred daily in the British press. Golden-haired Fredericka is frivolous, empty-headed, and fond of wearing spectacular clothing with revealing necklines. Because of the epic public relations disasters caused by these wayward heirs to the throne, they are sent, in a little-known ancient tradition, on a quest to colonise a strange and barbarous land: America. In a tour (de force) of the United States, they are parachuted into the gleaming hell of industrial New Jersey and make their way across the country – riding freight trains, washing dishes, stealing art, gliding down the Mississippi, impersonating dentists, fighting forest fires, and becoming ineluctably enmeshed in the madness of a presidential campaign. Amid the collisions of their royal assumptions with their life on the road, they rise to their full potential, gain the dignity and humility required of great monarchs and good people, and learn to love one another

The Queen and I by Sue Townsend (also see sequel, Queen Camilla)
When a Republican party wins the General Election, their first act in power is to strip the royal family of their assets and titles and send them to live on a housing estate in the Midlands.

Exchanging Buckingham Palace for a two-bedroomed semi in Hell Close (as the locals dub it), caviar for boiled eggs, servants for a social worker named Trish, the Queen and her family learn what it means to be poor among the great unwashed. But is their breeding sufficient to allow them to rise above their changed circumstance or deep down are they really just like everyone else?

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
The Uncommon Reader is none other than HM the Queen who drifts accidentally into reading when her corgis stray into a mobile library parked at Buckingham Palace. She reads widely ( JR Ackerley, Jean Genet, Ivy Compton Burnett and the classics) and intelligently. Her reading naturally changes her world view and her relationship with people like the oleaginous prime minister and his repellent advisers. She comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with much that she has to do. In short, her reading is subversive. The consequence is, of course, surprising, mildly shocking and very funny.

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How is it that, until New Year’s Eve, I’d never heard of the Eastern European Reading Challenge?  I’m not hugely into challenges but surely if there were ever a challenge tailor-made to suit my reading interests this would be it – especially since it lumps central European countries in with the truly eastern ones; I may disapprove of this in principle but it’s certainly convenient in terms of matching my areas of interest with the parameters of the challenge!  I’ve already got a number of titles out of the library or on hold that will work perfectly.

I have signed up for the Scholar level – 12 books over 12 months.  Participates must choose titles about or by an author from any of the following regions:  Croatia, Ukraine, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Hungary, Belarus, Estonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Czech Rep., Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Romania, Moldova, and Kosovo.  I love to read memoirs by both natives and outsiders but would also love to read more translated fiction from these countries.

I had a ridiculous amount of fun making this reading list.  Goodness knows how closely I’ll stick to it (my previous experience with challenges would indicate that I’ll be easily distracted) but spending a few hours making it yesterday was certainly a wonderful way to start 2011.  If you have any recommendations (perhaps old favourites or just titles you’re interested in) please let me know!

A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova
The moving story of a young Soviet girl’s discovery of the hidden truths of adulthood and her country’s profound political deception.

Travels in Serbia by Ian Frazier
A unique chronicle of Russia since the end of the Soviet Union, a personal account of adventures among Russian friends and acquaintances, and, above all, a unique, captivating, totally Frazierian take on what he calls the “amazingness” of Russia—a country that, for all its tragic history, somehow still manages to be funny.

Red Plenty by Francis Spufford
What if the Soviet ‘miracle’ had worked, and the communists had discovered the secret to prosperity, progress and happiness…?

Let Our Fame Be Great: Journeys Among the Defiant People of the Caucasus by Oliver Bullough
Recounts the struggle and survival of peoples who have been mostly forgotten for two hundred years. Their fame is not great, but truly it deserves to be.

Black Earth City: A Year in the Heart of Russia by Charlotte Hobson
This is an account of a young woman’s heady encounter with Russia – and a society in collapse. In 1991, Charlotte Hobson went to study for a year in the provincial town of Voronezh. She captures the lives of her young contemporaries as the Soviet Union breaks up around them.

Among the Russians by Colin Thubron
A marvellous account of a solitary journey by car from St. Petersburg and the Baltic States south to Georgia and Armenia.

Bread and Ashes: A Walk Through the Mountains of Georgia by Tony Anderson
On a walk from the Caspian to the Black Sea, Tony Anderson discovers that the vibrant culture of Georgia has managed to survive centuries of devastation and remain deeply connected to its ancient ways.

The End of a Family Story by Péter Nádas
Set in Hungary in the 1950s, when Stalinist repression has reduced the populace to silence and deception, this book tells the story of an old man who flees to his memories of the past. For his grandson, he invents a fantastic tapestry of stories, a family saga, and a world of myths and legends.

A Romantic Education by Patricia Hampl
I’ve been interested in this travelogue/memoir of Hampl’s quest for her Czech identity for several years now and was thrilled when Carolyn gave me a copy just before I left Calgary.

The Final Year by Ilse Tielsch
In this gentle and simultaneously amusing, yet ominous, autobiographical novel, Ilse Tielsch describes the events of 1938 on the Austrian-Czech border, as seen through the eyes of a bright-eyed and curious ten-year-old girl.

War with the Newts by Karel Čapek
I’ve only just learned that Čapek and my great-grandfather went to school together and remained good friends afterwards.  Not surprisingly, this has given me renewed interest in his works.  War with the Newts seems to be the easiest to get hold of but I’d also love to read Nine Fairy Tales (and One More Thrown in for Good Measure).

How I Came to Know Fish by Ota Pavel
A magical memoir of Pavel’s childhood in Czechoslovakia. Fishing with his father and his Uncle Prosek – the two finest fishermen in the world – he takes a peaceful pleasure from the rivers and ponds of his country. But when the Nazis invade, his father and two older brothers are sent to concentration camps and Pavel must steal their confiscated fish back from under the noses of the SS to feed his family. With tales of his father’s battle to provide for his family both in wealthy freedom and in terrifying persecution, this is one boy’s passionate and affecting tale of life, love and fishing.

The Snows of Yesteryear by Gregor von Rezzori
Gregor von Rezzori’s haunting evocation of his childhood in Czernowitz, in present-day Ukraine. Growing up after the First World War, Rezzori portrays a twilit world suspended between the dying ways of an imperial past and the terrors of the twentieth century. He recalls his volatile, boar-hunting father, his earthy nursemaid, his fragile, aristocratic mother, his adored governess and the tragic death of his beloved sister, in a luminous story of war, unrest, eccentricity, folk tales, dark forests, night flights, and what it is like to lose your home.

The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek
Hasek’s most important work was centered around the deeply funny story of a hapless Czech soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army — dismissed for incompetence only to be pressed into service by the Russians in World War I (where he is captured by his own troops). A mischief-maker, bohemian and drunk, Hasek demonstrated his wit in this classic novel of the Czech character and preposterous nature of war.

Prague Tales by Jan Neruda
A collection of Neruda’s intimate, bitter-sweet stories of life among the inhabitants of Mala Strana, the Little Quarter of nineteenth century Prague. These vignettes established Neruda as the quintessential Czech nineteenth century realist.

A Country in the Moon by Michael Moran
Travels in search of the heart of Poland.

Along the Enchanted Way by William Blacker
When William Blacker first crossed the snow-bound passes of northern Romania, he stumbled upon an almost medieval world. There, for many years he lived side by side with the country people, a life ruled by the slow cycle of the seasons, far away from the frantic rush of the modern world.

A Street without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria by Kapka Kassabova
In this illuminating and entertaining memoir, Kapka revisits Bulgaria and her own muddled relationship to it, travelling back to the scenes of her childhood, sampling its bizarre tourist sites, uncovering its centuries’ old history of bloodshed and blurred borders, and capturing the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of her own and her country’s past.

Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia by Wojciech Tochman, translated by Antonia Lloy
A brief, lyrical evocation of the aftermath of the Bosnian disaster‹the reverberations of which continue to this day.

Bridge Over the Drina by Ivo Andric
A vivid depiction of the suffering history has imposed upon the people of Bosnia from the late 16th century to the beginning of World War I. (Novel)

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia by Rebecca West
Written on the brink of World War II, Rebecca West’s classic examination of the history, people, and politics of Yugoslavia illuminates a region that is still a focus of international concern. A magnificent blend of travel journal, cultural commentary, and historical insight, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon probes the troubled history of the Balkans and the uneasy relationships among its ethnic groups. The landscape and the people of Yugoslavia are brilliantly observed as West untangles the tensions that rule the country’s history as well as its daily life.

This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository, an online book retailer with free international shipping.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  

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credit: Joan Griswold

I’m never particularly eager to make favourites lists.  I love them but it’s such a brutal process: all those wonderful books that get cut!  I read roughly 200 books in 2010 and loved so many of them.  Usually I measure my favourite books by not just the initial reading experience but my desire to reread the book.  Since most of my books come from the library, the true test of a book is whether after reading it I want to search out a copy to own.  Except my opinion changes day to day, hour to hour, making lists rather difficult to compile with any confidence.  But lists, however stressful I may find them, are still fun and it was interesting to review my year with all its ups and downs and pick the ten titles that stood out for me.  Here they are, in order:

10. The Shuttle (1906) – Frances Hodgson Burnett
My most eagerly-anticipated Persephone title, I adored this tale of the effervescent Betty and her spirited quest.  The melodramatic ending, a trademark of FHB, did grate, which is why the book didn’t place higher on this list.

9. Can Any Mother Help Me? (2007) – Jenna Bailey
A wonderful collection of letters written between the women of the Cooperate Correspondence Club, mostly from the 1930s to 1960s, begun as a way of keeping active and engaged with intelligent society despite days surrounded by toddlers and dirty dishes.

8. A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True (2009) – Brigid Pasulka
Part multi-generational family saga, part fairy tale, this novel set in Poland during the 1930s and 1940s as well as the early 1990s was the best kind of surprise.

7. Why We Act Like Canadians (1982) – Pierre Berton
Combining two of my great loves – books about the Canadian identity and Pierre Berton – was always going to end well but Why We Act Like Canadians truly did the best job of any book out there at explaining Canadians both for foreign and domestic audiences.  With his usual romantic flair, Berton made this book not just fascinating but beautiful to read.

6. The Rehearsal (2008) – Eleanor Catton
The story of a community reacting to an illict relationship between a teacher and student at an all-girls school provided a very unique reading experience that forced me out of my comfort zone.  I was more than rewarded for my diligence with fascinatingly complex relationships and skillfully-executed themes.  This doesn’t seem to be a book for everyone but I loved it.

5. Mariana (1940) – Monica Dickens
Surprisingly hilarious, my first Persephone novel was nothing less than an absolute success.

4. Greenery Street (1925) – Denis Mackail
Immediately after finishing this charming book about a newly married couple I said that I wanted to live in it.  Now, not even two months after reading it, I already miss Ian and Felicity and their dear little home on Greenery Street.

3. Lunch in Paris (2010) – Elizabeth Bard
I adore this book, the story of Bard’s life in Paris after falling in love with a Frenchman.  The recipes are fantastic but Bard’s engaging voice and energetic but not overly romantic attitude towards her new French life made for a delightful read.  Easily the book I recommended the most over the course of the year.

2. Women of the Raj (1988) – Margaret MacMillan
This book may have left me with a phobia of cobras falling from the ceiling but it also provided an excellent education on the British Raj and the lives of European women in India.  It’s one of those books that I want to carry around with me always, just so I can press a copy onto random strangers.

1. Mrs Tim Flies Home (1952) – D.E. Stevenson
I fell in love with both Mrs Tim and D.E. Stevenson this year.  Mrs Tim of the Regiment was an excellent introduction to my new favourite heroine but a weak second half prevented it from being a favourite.  Mrs Tim Flies Home, on the other hand, suffers from no such shortcomings and so earned its top place on this list by being simply charming and heart-warming.

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Artist: Fernand Toussaint

Oh, the Victorians.  I have difficult relationships with most Victorian novelists. That the Brontë sisters, who I so dislike, are so closely linked with this period does it no favour in my eyes.  But then it did produce two of my favourite novelists, Thackeray and Gaskell, so surely it is worth giving more attention to.  As a teenager I perhaps read too much Victorian fiction, gorging myself on sensational plots and strict moral codes until I little appetite left for either.

Now, seeing the Victorian Literature Challenge 2011 advertised on other blogs, I wonder if it isn’t time to give the Victorians another chance.  I’m not sure whether I’ll officially join the challenge but I’m certainly contemplating it and, if nothing else, it has provided an excuse for me to make a list (and I do love lists).

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
My favourite 19th Century novel, bar none (yes Janeites, I love this even more than my beloved Emma).  Becky Sharp only becomes more delightful with every rereading and my affection for Dobbin knows no bounds.   

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
I still haven’t read this.  Shame on me, I know, particularly since everyone else seems to adore it.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Another of those novels that always earns a place on my favourites list.  Gaskell is at her best here with the loyal Molly, the fickle Cynthia, and the superbly comedic Hyacinth.  I am also terribly fond of Roger, who apparently not every reader views as the ideal romantic hero (fools, all of them!). 

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
I’ve yet to finish any Dickens novel but this is always the one I’ve been most interested in.  Let us hope that if I choose to start it I’m able to see it through to the end.

Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
Carolyn reviewed this last week and I’ve heard great things about Trollope in general.  Where better to start than with the first of the Palliser’s books?  I’ve been promised politics and many, many pages – usually a recipe for success with me. 

Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes
Because it’s one of those novels I feel like I should have read but still haven’t. 

King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard
For fun.  This is the kind of Victorian lit I like most: the fantastical, the adventurous, the kind to inspire the imaginations of readers young and old.

Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling
One of the few Kipling works I haven’t read.

Harvey Cheyne is the over-indulged son of a millionaire. When he falls overboard from an ocean liner he is rescued by a Portuguese fisherman and, initially against his will, joins the crew of the We’re Here for a summer.

Esther Waters by George Moore
Described as the story “of a mother’s fight for the life of her illegitimate son” I have to admit that I’m mostly interested in this novel because it is also considered “one of the finest of naturalistic novels”.  Aside from Zola, I haven’t read many other European naturalist novels.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Because I feel like I should, even though I can’t seem to work up much enthusiasm for it.

Hester by Margaret Oliphant
The story of the aging but powerful Catherine Vernon, and her conflict with the young and determined Hester, whose growing attachment to Edward, Catherine’s favorite, spells disaster for all concerned.

The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner
Lyndall, Schreiner’s articulate young feminist, marks the entry of the controversial New Woman into nineteenth-century fiction. Raised as an orphan amid a makeshift family, she witnesses an intolerable world of colonial exploitation. Desiring a formal education, she leaves the isolated farm for boarding school in her early teens, only to return four years later from an unhappy relationship. Unable to meet the demands of her mysterious lover, Lyndall retires to a house in Bloemfontein, where, delirious with exhaustion, she is unknowingly tended by an English farmer disguised as her female nurse. This is the devoted Gregory Rose, Schreiner’s daring embodiment of the sensitive New Man.

A cause célèbre when it appeared in London, The Story of an African Farm transformed the shape and course of the late-Victorian novel. From the haunting plains of South Africa’s high Karoo, Schreiner boldly addresses her society’s greatest fears – the loss of faith, the dissolution of marriage, and women’s social and political independence.

East Lynne by Ellen Wood
When the aristocratic Lady Isabel abandons her husband and children for her wicked seducer, more is at stake than moral retribution. Ellen Wood played upon the anxieties of the Victorian middle classes who feared a breakdown of the social order as divorce became more readily available and promiscuity threatened the sanctity of the family.

The Doctor’s Wife by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
The Doctor’s Wife is Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s rewriting of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary in which she explores her heroine’s sense of entrapment and alienation in middle-class provincial life married to a good natured but bovine husband who seems incapable of understanding his wife’s imaginative life and feelings. A woman with a secret, adultery, death and the spectacle of female recrimination and suffering are the elements which combine to make The Doctor’s Wife a classic women’s sensation novel. Yet, The Doctor’s Wife is also a self-consciously literary novel, in which Braddon attempts to transcend the sensation genre. 

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
Describes a comic expedition by middle-class Victorians up the Thames to Oxford. It provides brilliant snap-shots of London’s playground in the late 1880s, where the fashionable steam-launches of river swells encounter the hired skiffs of city clerks. The medley of social vignettes, farcical incidents, descriptions of river fashions, and reflections on the Thames’s history, is interspersed with humorous anecdotes told by a natural raconteur.

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At the beginning of July, when I wrote up my recommended reading Canada Day post , I wasn’t even thinking of the Canadian Book Challenge 4.  I’m not sure why: if there’s one thing I’ve felt strongly about my entire reading life, it’s promoting Canadian authors and publishers (I was a very zealous little six year old, trust me).  Finally, at the end of July I came to my senses and decided to join the challenge.  And I meant to write a post about it then, I really did.  Obviously, like most things I planned to do in July, it got away from me.

 

 

So, without any further delay, here are just a few of the titles I’m thinking of reading for the challenge (doing research for this challenge has been far too easy – most of my wish list is Can Lit):

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
From a CBC review: Set during the siege of Sarajevo in the mid-1990s, the novel recounts in spare prose the struggles of three of the city’s inhabitants: a female sniper who calls herself Arrow; Kenan, a father on a trip to get water for his family and a cantankerous neighbour; and Dragan, a baker on his way to work. Connecting them is the cellist, who plays each afternoon in a crater left by a mortar shell in front of his building. In this spot, 22 people were killed while waiting to buy bread. In commemoration, the musician promises to put bow to string for as many days as there were victims.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
From Amazon: It’s the beginning of a lazy summer in 1950 at the sleepy English village of Bishop’s Lacey. Up at the great house of Buckshaw, aspiring chemist Flavia de Luce passes the time tinkering in the laboratory she’s inherited from her deceased mother and an eccentric great uncle. When Flavia discovers a murdered stranger in the cucumber patch outside her bedroom window early one morning, she decides to leave aside her flasks and Bunsen burners to solve the crime herself, much to the chagrin of the local authorities. But who can blame her? What else does an eleven-year-old science prodigy have to do when left to her own devices?

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
From the publisher: Abducted as an 11-year-old child from her village in West Africa and forced to walk for months to the sea in a coffle—a string of slaves— Aminata Diallo is sent to live as a slave in South Carolina. But years later, she forges her way to freedom, serving the British in the Revolutionary War and registering her name in the historic “Book of Negroes.” This book, an actual document, provides a short but immensely revealing record of freed Loyalist slaves who requested permission to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia, only to find that the haven they sought was steeped in an oppression all of its own. Aminata’s eventual return to Sierra Leone—passing ships carrying thousands of slaves bound for America—is an engrossing account of an obscure but important chapter in history that saw 1,200 former slaves embark on a harrowing back-to-Africa odyssey.

The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis
From the publisher: A burnt-out political aide quits just before an election — but is forced to run a hopeless campaign on the way out. He makes a deal with a crusty old Scot, Angus McLintock — an engineering professor who will do anything, anything, to avoid teaching English to engineers — to let his name stand in the election. No need to campaign, certain to lose, and so on.  Then a great scandal blows away his opponent, and to their horror, Angus is elected.

Beyond Belfast by Will Ferguson
From the publisher: …the story of one man’s misguided attempt at walking the entire Ulster Way: a 560-mile path that circles Northern Ireland, from the city walls of Derry to the moorland heights of the Sperrins, from the green glens of Antrim to the Mountains of Mourne.  Along the way, Will Ferguson, grandson of a Belfast orphan, uncovers his own hidden family history. 

High Society by Dave Sim
A political satire told in graphic novel form.

Jalna by Mazo de la Roche
The first in the Whiteoaks series.  I remember learning about Mazo de la Roche while studying Canadian history in school – her Whiteoaks series, begun in the 1920s, was a cultural phenomenon.

The Promise of Rain by Donna Milner
From the author’s website: Ethie was born after her father returned from the war. She never knew him as he was before – an open, loving man and a devoted husband. When his wife dies in bizarre circumstances, he becomes even more silent and withdrawn.

Howard was one of two thousand Canadian soldiers sent to the Far East shortly before Pearl Harbor. Surviving the fierce battle for Hong Kong, he was captured and imprisoned by the Japanese.

Ethie’s father hides more than the physical and mental scars inflicted by his captors. Something happened in Hong Kong, a secret that has haunted him for two decades and one that could destroy his family should it ever come to light. Ethie – inquisitive and fearless- is determined to discover the truth.

Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) by Ann-Marie MacDonald
From the back cover: In this exuberant comedy-and original revision of Shakespeare’s Othello and Romeo and Juliet-Constance Ledbelly, a drab and dusty academic, deciphers a cryptic manuscript she believes to be the original source for the tragedies, and is transported into the plays themselves. She visits Juliet and Desdemona, has a hand in saving them, and finds out what these women are about. In true Shakespearean spirit, Constance plunders the plays and creates something new, all the while engaging in a personal voyage of self-discovery.

The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger
From the publisher: Lady Duff Gordon is the toast of Victorian London society. But when her debilitating tuberculosis means exile, she and her devoted lady”s maid, Sally, set sail for Egypt. It is Sally who describes, with a mixture of wonder and trepidation, the odd menage (marshalled by the resourceful Omar) that travels down the Nile to a new life in Luxor. When Lady Duff Gordon undoes her stays and takes to native dress, throwing herself into weekly salons, language lessons and excursions to the tombs, Sally too adapts to a new world, which affords her heady and heartfelt freedoms never known before. But freedom is a luxury that a maid can ill-afford, and when Sally grasps more than her status entitles her to, she is brutally reminded that she is mistress of nothing.

Tamarind Mem by Anita Rau Badimi
From the publisher: Set in India’s railway colonies, this is the story of Kamini and her mother Saroja, nicknamed Tamarind Mem due to her sour tongue. While in Canada beginning her graduate studies, Kamini receives a postcard from her mother saying she has sold their home and is travelling through India. Both are forced into the past to confront their dreams and losses and to explore the love that binds mothers and daughters everywhere.

The Book of Secrets by M.G. Vassanji
From the publisher: …a spellbinding novel of generations and the sweep of history which begins in 1988 in Dar es Salaam when the 1913 diary of a British colonial officer is found in a shopkeeper’s back room. The diary enflames the curiosity of a retired schoolteacher, Pius Fernandes, whose obsession with the stories it contains gradually connects the past with the present.

The Siren Years by Charles Ritchie
From the publisher: In wartime England, Ritchie, as Second Secretary at the Canadian High Commission, served as private secretary to Vincent Massey, whose second-in-command was Lester B. Pearson, future prime minister of Canada. In a perfect position to observe both statecraft and the London social whirl that continued even during the war, Ritchie provides a fascinating, perceptive, and (surprisingly) humorous picture of the London Blitz – the people in the parks, the shabby streets, the heightened love affairs – and the vagaries of the British at war.

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Summer Reading

 

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Growing up, it seemed that every year my library’s summer reading program theme was adventure.  “Get Lost in an Adventure!” posters were everywhere and I took the dictate very seriously.  Some years the focus was on nautical adventures, some years survival or, the favourite of my Egyptology-loving best friend, ancient civilizations.  I loved them all.  Any given afternoon you could find me under the giant pear tree in our backyard or up in my neighbour’s tree house completely oblivious to my surroundings, learning to play The Great Game with Kipling’s Kim or gaining wilderness survival skills from Brian in The Hatchet or Sam in My Side of the Mountain

My summer reading has changed somewhat over the years.  During high school, I used my summers to wade through the classics – Henry James in July, Edith Wharton in August and incredible relief when school started up again in September and the self-imposed pressure to read ‘worthy’ literature I had no real interest in was off.  Eventually, I realised how ridiculous I was being and my summer reading became a mirror of my usual read habits, though with so much more time on my hands I was able to consume vast quantities.  Looking back through my old reading diaries now (diaries I’ve kept for many, many years, in one form or another, and still keep up), I see that I still choose more adventure stories during the summer months than I do during the winter: The Prisoner of Zenda, The Once and Future King, Lord of the Flies…the list goes on.  I have never ready a novel by Kipling in cold weather, same with Jack London and Jules Verne. 

Today, there are a few constants that mark my summer reading habits: 1.) there will almost always be more non-fiction than during winter months, 2.) there will be rereading of P.G. Wodehouse novels, usually the Blandings Castle ones and, my favourite, Psmith in the City, and, finally, 3.) there will be adventure books.  Some years, they’ll post-apocalyptic survival novels, another year they’ll be old-fashioned tales of daring and chivalrous knights.  But one thing is certain: at some point, every summer, I will ‘get lost in an adventure’ as my library advised so many years ago.

But there is one more universal truth about my summer reading habits: I will read every single summer reading list I can find and will spend hours searching them out.  This was much easier when I was still in school and librarians and teachers prepared beautiful, detailed, multi-page lists divided by category.  I’ve kept most of my ones from high school and return to them even now for ideas.  As various publications have realised their lists this year or published articles relating to summer reading habits, I’ve keep track, building a moderately comprehensive reference list.  May it help you jump start your own summer reading list – I’ll be off in Shangri-La with The Lost Horizon

Resources:

The Books of Summer
The Globe and Mail offers its suggestion for “Sunny Days on the Beach”, “Rainy Days in the Cottage”, “Afternoons in the Park”, “Café Patios”, and “Journey’s Abroad”. 

Summer Books and Summer Reading 2010
NPR does a wonderful job every year of offering extensive and eclectic summer reading suggestions and then compiling all their articles on one well designed website.  For even quicker reference, check out The Complete List

Six Writers on Their Favourite Reading
New York Magazine has recommendations broken down my six genres: Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Memoirs, Humour, Thrillers, and Science.  Full of interesting, original picks.

The Best Books for Summer 2010
A list from the Telegraph, this features a number of the more well-known titles from this season but enough obscure choices to keep things interesting.  The Miscellanea section was especially intriguing.

What I’m Reading This Summer…
The Telegraph features the summer reading picks of six authors.  Some really interesting titles here, but not a skim-read-freindly format (none of the titles are bolded or italicized). 

The Best Summer Books: From Fishing to Finance
I enjoy fishing and I enjoy pretending I know something about finance, so The Observer did a great job of crafting a Claire-friendly list here, with picks from writers and critics.  Huge range of genres and interests with gratifying mentions of several Persephone titles. 

The Four Pleasure of a Summer of Books
Barbara J. King at Bookslut details her four categories of choice for summer reading.

Five Apocalypses: A Particularly Catastrophic Summer Reading List
Is there a more perfect reading theme on a hot, sunny summer day than the end of the world, or of modern society at the very least?  As a young preteen, I was sucked in by the Tomorrow, When the War Began series and several years later shivered despite the heat as I read Nevil Shute’s haunting On the Beach

The Good-Bad Books of Summer
Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail remembers the lengthy historical novels that filled the hot, muggy days of her youth: Gone With the Wind, Exodus, Atlas Shrugged

Finally, if you’re still looking for ideas, there’s always the incomparable 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read from The Guardian.  Even when I’m not looking for book ideas, I never tire of reviewing these excellent lists.

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It’s Canada Day.  Happy 143rd Birthday!  To celebrate, I’ve compiled a short list of my favourite (and some not-so favourites thrown in for diversity’s sake) Can Lit titles.  It is by no means exhaustive, it doesn’t even include many of the classics, but hopefully it will inspire some of you to try books you might not otherwise have encountered.

In each category I’ve chosen one title (and bolded it) to denote my special favourites, the ones I think everyone should read or at least consider reading, even if you ignore every other title here. 

History

John A: The Man Who Made Us by Richard J. Gwyn
Canadians by Roy MacGregor
Anything by Pierre Berton (personal favourites: Marching As to War and Vimy)
Sacré Blues: An Unsentimental Journey Through Quebec by Taras Grescoe
Canada: A Portrait in Letters edited by Charlotte Gray
Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from inside the New Canadian Army by Christie Blatchford
On to Victory: The Canadian Liberation of the Netherlands by Mark Zuehlke

 

Memoir

The Game by Ken Dryden
The Grass Beyond the Mountains by Richmond P. Hobson
The Siren Years: A Canadian Diplomat Abroad 1937-1945 by Charles Ritchie
Roughing it in the Bush by Susanna Moodie
Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire
The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon

 

Children/Young Adult

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
The Guest of War trilogy (The Sky is Falling/Looking at the Moon/The Lights Go On Again) by Kit Pearson
Bruno and Boots series (beginning with This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall!) by Gordon Korman
Anything by Robert Munsch (personal favourites: Love You Forever, David’s Father, and, of course, The Paper Bag Princess)
Shadow in Hawthorn Bay by Janet Lunn
The King’s Daughter by Suzanne Martel
Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat
Jake and the Kid by W.O. Mitchell

 

Humour

Why I Hate Canadians by Will Ferguson
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock
Home from the Vinyl Café by Stuart Mclean
The Night We Stole the Mounties’ Car by Max Braithwaite
Bachelor Brother’s Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson

 

Fiction

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart
Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
Les Filles de Caleb by Arlette Cousture
The Watch that Ends the Night by Hugh MacLennan
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler
Obasan by Joy Kogawa
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Fall on Your Knees by Anne Marie Macdonald
Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland
The Love Of A Good Woman by Alice Munro
Such Is My Beloved by Morley Callaghan
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

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via Country Home magazine

Let no one think that real gardening is a bucolic and meditative occupation.  It is an insatiable passion, like everything else to which a man gives his heart.  ~Karel Čapek, The Gardener’s Year 

I live in an apartment.  It’s a very nice sort of an apartment, as far as apartments go, but that does not make up for the fact that there is no garden.  Every summer I crowd my balcony with massive pots, creating a little mini oasis, but it’s a very poor substitute.  I miss having a real garden.  I miss trees and trailing vines and grass and fragrant rose bushes.  I ache to weed something, to train an errant vine, to pluck ripe vegetables from the earth.  

Obviously, since none of this is possible, I must then read about gardens and gardeners instead.  I think of this as a kind of mental preparation for when I once more have a garden of my own.  Whenever that may be. 

The Gardener’s Year by Karel Čapek
First published in Prague in 1929, The Gardener’s Year combines a richly comic portrait of life in the garden, narrated month by month, with a series of delightful illustrations by the author’s older brother and collaborator, Josef. Capek’s gardeners—all too human, despite their lofty aspirations—often look the fool, whether they be found sopping wet, victims of the cobralike water hose, or hunched over, hands immersed in the soil, “presenting their rumps to the splendid azure sky.” In their repeated folly, Capek gives us not only cause for laughter but also, in the end, “testimony of the imperishable and miraculous optimism of the human race.” (Modern Library)

Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols
Ostensibly an account of the creation of a garden in Huntingdonshire in the 1930s, it is really about the underlying emotions and obsessions for which gardening is just a cover story. The secret of this book’s success — and its timelessness — is that it does not seek to impress the reader with a wealth of expert knowledge or advice. Beverley Nichols proudly declares his status as a newcomer to gardening: “The best gardening books should be written by those who still have to search their brains for the honeysuckle’s languid Latin name.” (Timber Press)

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim
I love this book.  I recommend it incessantly, reread it at least once a year, and can (and do) quote from it at will.  Elizabeth’s enthusiasm for her garden, her eagerness to be always in it, far exceeds her actual knowledge of gardening but that is what makes her so charming.  I am also inordinately found of her husband, the indulgent Man of Wrath.

I am always happy (out of doors be it understood, for indoors there are servants and furniture), but in quite different ways, and my spring happiness bears no resemblance to my summer or autumn happiness, though it is not more intense, and there days last winter when I danced for sheer joy out in my frost-bound garden in spite of my years and children.  But I did it behind a bush, having a due regard for the decencies. (p. 2-3)

 A Countrywoman’s Notes by Rosemary Verey
It would be rather irresponsible to write a list of books about gardening and not include something by Verey, don’t you think?

Dear Friend and Gardener: Letters on Life and Gardening by Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd
Simon T read this a few years back , describing it as “a small window on a practice I know nothing about, but also a thriving love of gardening that is both alien and captivating to me.”

Let Us Now Praise Famous Gardens by Vita Sackville-West
In this unique gardening chronicle Vita Sackville-West weaves together simple, honest accounts of her horticultural experiences throughout the year with exquisite writing and poetic description. Whether singing the praises of sweet-briar, cyclamen, Indian pinks and the Strawberry grape, or giving practical advice on pruning roses, planting bulbs, overcoming frosts and making the most of a small space, her writings on the art of good gardening are both instructive and delightful. (English Journeys)

Other suggestions:
Virgins, Weeders and Queens: A History of Women in the Garden by Twigs Way
We Made a Garden by Margery Fish
The Morville Hours: The Story of a Garden by Katherine Swift
Back to the Garden by Ursula Buchan
The Beauties of a Cottage Garden by Gertrude Jekyll

Can you recommend any favourite garden/gardening-related books?

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