Saturday, November 29, 2014

Book Club Catch-Up

I haven't been blogging much about my Book Clubs lately.

Too busy? Or maybe just distilling?
Just a quick catch-up here about the titles, the meetings, and some thoughts along the way. Mainly, I can't read everything, even though I wish I could. The classics, the best sellers, the recommends.... life is short.


The Light Between Oceans, ML Stedman (BPYC Book Club)
This was Maureen's pick, and definitely a hit. The story hinges on a baby washed up on the beach of a lighthouse keeper and his wife. The newborn arrives in the boat with a corpse. Tom and Isabel, who recently suffered the loss of a stillborn, decide to take the child as their own without reporting their find back to the mainland.  Complications ensue. It turned out to be quite the debate, with people arguing back and forth about whether the decisions were right or wrong, defensible or not. Good thing we weren't a jury - or I am sure we would still be there. Raised voices, passionate pleas, and lots of laughter.

Shanghai Girls, Lisa See (Book Babes)
Virginia's pick turned out to be a bit of a dud for nine of the ten of us. This historical novel starts in China and then travels to San Francisco/Los Angelos. The story follows two sisters, privileged "beautiful girls" who model in Shanghai, as they escape a terrible war with the Japanese to arrive as immigrants in the United States. One is illegal, the 'paper wife' of a 'paper son'. The story is well researched, but not told with the same passion and empathy the author brought to her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Still, a good and frank discussion of the book.

The Massey Murder, Charlotte Grey (Heliconian
The author has been a frequent guest of the Heliconian Club in past years, and there was even a reference to the club's early days in her book. This historical novel is a  'true crime' that took place in Toronto almost a century ago, in February of 1915. Meticulously researched, it gives the reader a great sense of the times - the newspapers, the justice system, the class hiearchy, the role of women. Charlotte mentioned there was no record of the court proceedings, because the verdict was "not guilty," so for fact and context she culled from the media of the time. Smartly written, if a bit dry.

November insights:
So often we ask or respond to the question, "Did you like the book?" It is too short an answer, really, and I am going to try to avoid giving a quick response unless it is part of a longer discussion. You can have a good discussion about the book without really liking it, and you can learn something along the way if you finish books you don't like. (I didn't completely 'like' either Shanghai Girls or The Massey Murder). On the other hand, I shouldn't feel I 'have to' read something in the first place. Hmmmm.

I can't keep up with my reading!  Since I'd read Light Between Oceans during the summer of 2013, I didn't reread it for the discussion, and wished I had, because it would have been great to have all the nuances in mind for the discussion. On the other hand, I forced myself to finish Shanghai Girls, where at least a few people around the table just set it aside. Meanwhile, I hadn't completely finished The Massey Murder before hearing the author speak at the Heliconian.


Memoirs of A Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah (BPYC Book Club)
Here's another book I forced myself to read. Quickly. To prepare for the discussion I started midway, at the point where Ishmael is taken to the Rehabilitation Centre, because I wanted to skip the bits with little boys pulling the triggers on guns.  Then I ended up reading from the begiinning. This is an important story and a riveting memoir, as much about how horrible we are to each other as well as how much we can help each other. Margaret picked the book.

Birding with Yeats, Lynn Thomson (Book Babes)
A lovely story about a mother birding with her son through the years he is growing up. Lots to relate to - Alex moved out just the month before; I'm a bit of a birder myself; and the setting is Riverdale, Toronto. Shared history and geography. Nicolette chose this because of 'disruptive technology', in the sense that eBooks are changing the way we experience text. For example, the version I was reading on my Kobo had links to descriptions of the birds, but when I read it on my laptop it would display photos of the birds.  The book renewed my interest in traveling to Point Pelee to take in the sights during a bird migration, although descriptions of the scenes were quite comical. The way the book was written made me think disaster was just around the corner. Nicki had the same reaction, so I knew I wasn't alone. Someone was just about to die or get some horrible disease - was it Yeats? I struck up a conversation with someone at the yoga studio when she asked what I was reading, and it turned out she knew Yeats (and the author), having worked at Ben McNally Books. She reassured me Yeats would be fine.   

Pastoral, Andre Alexis (Heliconian)
Nominated for the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction literary prize just days before we heard him speak at the Heliconian, Alexis’s Pastoral was called “a virtually flawless novel” by the jury, composed this year of Neil Bissoondath, Helen Humphreys and George Murray. Coincidentally, the announcement took place at Ben McNally Books, co-owned by Lynn Thomson with her husband Ben. It was interesting to hear Alexis speak about how he methodically embedded sheep, water, fire and clouds into most chapters and how doing this didn't confine him but sparked some creativity. Actually, I can't remember if was clouds or candles, but I did note to myself at the time he was capturing the elements. Feng shui writing?

October insights
This same month, I watched the film Boyhood, such an amazing movie that chronicles the life of boy coming of age. Followed by reading two very different memoirs dealing with boys growing up in very different circumstances. How much of our fates are dictated by where we are born, when, and to whom. Yet it is still the choices the individual makes in those situations that defines who they are and who they will become.

I've heard of Ben McNally Books before, I'm not sure why I've never made a visit.

In Paris and London this month. I may get around to reading these eventually, but probably not. I can't read everything!

Moloka'i, by Alan Brennert (BPYC Book Club)
The Devil on Her Tongue, by Linda Holeman (Book Babes)
Minister Without Porfolio, Michael Winter (Heliconian)

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