Monday, December 08, 2008

Books for a trip

Again I haven't posted for a long while. I have been so sporadic it is embarrassing. I can't use the excuse of my daughter's wedding any more as I did last year, but I have been busy.

I signed up for Nanowrimo again this November. I didn't win this time round but I did have a lot of fun attending two write-ins at the coffee shop downtown and I did get 15,000 words down which might be the kernel of a book some day. And I discovered Write or Die which is an invaluable aid to a tongue-tied author in training.

Now we are going to visit my daughter and son in law out west and I am planning what books to take with me. Trip books have to be of a certain type don't you think? Something which will keep me absorbed but that don't require too much deep thought. Something well written but not too mentally challenging. Mysteries are often good. Or perhaps a really interesting biography. Any suggestions? I will need, at a conservative estimate, at least 4 books for the first part of the trip since we will be 3 days on the train going through the Rockies and I can often finish a book in an afternoon. I am so looking forward to that part of the expedition. It should be relaxing and I hope to not only get some reading in but some writing as well.

I don't know if I will be able to post from the train but I may be able to post at different times along the way. That would be fun and perhaps revive the habit of getting my thoughts down here. Getting away from the busy routine of home and group responsibilities should help.

Monday, September 22, 2008

From Deborah

I look in on Deborah Gayapong's blog occasionally and this time when I did I found her promoting her new book The Defilers. It sounds like an interesting book and different than a lot of crime or mystery thrillers on the market. It also has not only a Canadian setting which you might expect from a Canadian author (these days anyway) but also a Nova Scotia setting.

One reviewer summarises the book this way:

Best New Canadian Christian Author Deborah Gyapong delivers a layered spiritual thriller told through the eyes of protagonist Linda Donner, a Mountie who finds herself entangled in a demonic murder, drug, kiddie porn drama spanning the globe. While Linda and her partner, Will, and pastor, David, fight the dark forces that have ensnared the town of South Dare, Linda must also fight her own personal demons and find a faith that was shattered years before by sexual abuse she suffered by a priest.

Fast-paced, authentic, intelligent and engaging with a satisfying ending, I would highly recommend this novel.

The plot deals difficult and unsavory subject matter but the readers who reviewed this felt she dealt with it well. Had to notice though that the fictional place in Nova Scotia is called "South Dare". The protagonist is:

posted to (fictional) Sterling County in rural Nova Scotia. There she encounters the community of South Dare, whose residents wear greasy red and green checked shirts, live in tarpaper shacks with satellite TV dishes, and are afraid of outsiders--especially the police.

Doesn't exactly paint rural NS in a good light and considering the child abuse angle ... could she have been modeling this "community" on south mountian in the Valley? Just a thought. In any case, it is a book I will be looking out for. Should be a worthwhile read.


Gosh, has it been so long since I posted here? Hard to believe. So much has happened. My daughter's marriage to a very nice fellow was the highlight of the past many months and perhaps explains my absence from this House of All Sorts. So much got put on hold while I planned this very special and important event.
And now a new season has started- September is new year for me- so again I will try to resurrect this space for thoughts on my reading and perhaps in the future some writing efforts which have also been put not just on the back burner but off the stove entirely!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Kindle lights a flame.

After quite a hiatus I am back briefly. I won't be blogging much for another month either since my daughter's marriage is the end of June and I am tied up with that. BUT, I saw this and thought it deserved a post.

This morning, I decided to drop down to my local coffee establishment for a breakfast of coffee, eggs, and some morning reading. ...I had a lot of new things, and pre-coffee I’m not up to making decisions, so I just brought several things to read: Peter Kramer’s Against Depression; Marianne Williamson’s The Age of Miracles; Wayne Dyer’s Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao; and for a little more rigorous reading of Buddhism I brought The Dhammapada, D.T. Suzuki’s Manual on Zen Buddhism, Steve Hagen’s Meditation Now or Never, and Buddhism Is Not What You Think — great title, that — the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain; Sun Tzu’s Art of War and Musashi’s Book of Five Rings; a couple of novels; some books on Ruby and Python programming; the most recent issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine; Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Second Treatise of Government; John Stuart Mills’ On Liberty; Paradise Lost, Shakespeare’s Sonnets; and some Larry Niven.

“What, in a wheelbarrow?” you’re thinking? No, in my Kindle. Of course, it’s only about 30 percent full.

It's an e- book and it sounds interesting. It is about the size of a pocket book and less than a pound in weight which feels about right for carrying with you in your bag. It may be a bit hard to get used to but I wouldn't mind trying. Imagine taking a whole library with you to the dentist's or doctor's office.
It will come down to content ( how much will be available) and cost. Those small amounts can add up. Still I think this might fly and I can only guess that the next generations of the device will be improved. Can you remember your first computer and how things have changed? So I agree with Charlie:

The future of these things is bright, though. First of all, the price is sure to drop; electronics always does. Soon, a lot of schools will be ordering texts that can be delivered as e-books — Metro State in Denver already does. And, as publishing is more and more divorced from the costs of physically producing the physical books, it’s sure to change the publishing industry — no more advances, but no more big barriers to publication, either.

Remember you read it here first.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Power of Now

A friend of mine suggested I read The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I picked it up a while ago and had it there on my bedside stack and finally picked it up recently to read. I am glad I did. It has come at time when I am feeling a number of pressures and this book helps.

The one idea of the book, a very compelling idea, is that the past is not real - it is past and the future isn't real - it hasn't happened yet. The only reality is the present moment and yet we spend almost all our time thinking about either the past or the future and in so doing we never really ARE, never really live. The NOW, the author tells us, does not require thinking and in order to truly live we should control our thinking, our mind, instead of letting it control us. We should become a watcher, separating ourselves from our thoughts, recognising them as part of an unreal creation different from the real being we are. Our being in the now detaches us from suffering, pain, anger and brings peace and joy in life.

I have a little trouble with that subordination of the mind to feeling. I am not a feely sort of person and have a great deal of respect for a keen mind. And yet, and yet, I see the value in this idea. Easier to think about than to practice, though. That's the irony. I think about it but I am not supposed to, I am supposed to feel the present and not think so much.

Eckhart Tolle has other books which I will want to read as well but I want to reread this one first. I have to pay more attention to his practical advice, how to learn that stillness between the past and the future - the presence that removes time and "without time no suffering, no negativity can survive."
I still want to read "Winters Tale" which I read about and posted about a week or so ago. I may get to the bookstore tomorrow.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

I must read this

My next book should be this one, based on this review.

A deeply consequential, wonder-filled, grand quest for truth, the book revels in beauty, honor and the silent grace of winter. It has a flying white horse; overpoweringly tender love; breathtaking vistas; swoon-inducing language worthy of Blake, Whitman and, yes, Shakespeare; hard-souled villains; bridges that span time as well as rivers; the most profound and passionate city-as-character construct ever put to paper; hilarity and courage and illumination and memory conjoined; great tragedy and messianic fire and impassible storms and a white cloud wall prophesied to turn pure gold.

Sounds wonderful and I am ready for such a book. I feel I need such a book.

So Winter’s Tale is Harry Potter for grown-ups, C.S. Lewis for agnostics, Tolkien for the fully matriculated, García Márquez for everyone. Equally a man’s book and a woman’s book, a towering achievement most writers would cut off an arm to write, easily the age’s most optimistic serious work, it has the gravitas and the heft of a hydroelectric turbine, rumbling deep in your fundament and shooting magnetized electrons into your ether.

If our civilization survives, we will venerate this beautiful, ringing masterpiece of a novel hundreds of years from now. I dare you, whoever and whatever you are, to read it and not be moved.

I can hardly wait.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A great book, a great movie - Atonement

On Friday we saw the movie Atonement.

As this was one of the best books I have read in the past few years (and the other -Saturday was by the same author, Ian McEwan) I was anxious to see it. As always when attending a movie based on a book, I wondered whether it would do credit to the writing or whether it would disappoint. It did not disappoint.

It amazes me, thinking about it, how the author managed to create the mood, delineate the characters - and not only in snapshots but as evolving beings that grow and mature through time- and how he managed to get a complex message across without preaching but with that tender treatment that is so necessary to open the reader's mind to it.

The movie captures almost all of this. The visuals show the WWI era in England needed for the story through well chosen settings, costumes and vignettes. The casting is wonderful although the actors were mostly unknown to me, except for Vanessa Redgrave who has a cameo at the end. They all do a tremendous job. Especially the young Briony. The tensions are well displayed not only in the dialogue but in their body language, and in their little mannerisms. The twists of the plot are nicely eked out in the subtle replaying of events through different characters' eyes (a technique used in the book). The reality hidden under the surface dawns slowly as it would in real life for the characters involved (although having read the book, and knowing more than I should, this suspense was spoiled somewhat for me)

And the sound track! Wonderful. At one point we hear a group of men at Dunkirk singing the hymn "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind" (to the tune Repton) one familiar to me. It was so moving; it seemed to so accurately express the yearning of the men for home and all that was good and dear to them and which must have seemed so far away at that moment as they were in retreat, near defeat on the Beach.

I love the almost frantic typing that the movie begins with and which recurs at points throughout the movie. The book the movie is based on is about writing. It is about childhood and the loss of innocence. It is about how we create worlds in our mind that only over time we see as fantasies, our own constructions, not God's truth. As Briony says about her manuscript " it's about something I saw... and I thought I understood but I didn't". Ah, how true that is of all of us. Blind to our own ignorance. It is well named as it is about atonement. It reminds us how flawed we are and how we have such hubris and how we cause such pain. The story of Atonement was Briony's guilt and awareness of her faults put on paper. It was her attempt to fix the injustices of the world on paper, trying to put it right. Isn't this what many writers are trying to do? Recreate the world.

With an excellent book there is a good chance for an excellent movie in the right hands. And the movie Atonement deserves to be called a triumph.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

What's Next

I'm reading Michael Crichton's book NEXT. Crichton always takes some scientific "news" and then asks the question that Stephen King advises writers to start with, that is "what if...". What comes after the what if of course is up to the author and makes or breaks the book. In this one Crichton asks - what if genetic "advances" got out of control, or are they already out of control. What if a genetic "advance" was accidentally found which allowed humans to modify violent or unreliable behaviour such as addiction and was exploited by various interests and what if other genetic experiments allowed transgenic modification of primates such as chimps or parrots which allowed them to learn human language and other "human" skills. And along the way we learn about theft of body parts, strange genetic diseases, patenting of human genomes, stem cell research and other concerns of the biotech business.

I always enjoy Crichton's books and this one is no exception. I always learn so much. The reader reviews for this one weren't all that good; fans were disappointed and said it didn't live up to previous efforts, others said it was too segmented, jumping around from character to character, following different storylines which then intersect, so they found it hard to follow. Some called it "middling" Crichton.

I am just over half way through and I might agree that this isn't his best book but the quality is not so low that I would not recommend it if you like this kind of book. The author does jump around a lot and I usually don't like that but perhaps I am getting used to it as a technique, or maybe it just suits the kind of story he is trying to tell. The book is punctuated with seemingly true excerpts from various media - print, internet etc.- about various biotech research results. One for example- supposedly from the BBC- reports on experts in Germany who suggest that blondes will become extinct by 2022. " Scientists say too few people now carry the gene for blondes to last much longer." Another of these pseudo reports is about transgenic species - a cactus which grows hair, or a butterfly with two different wings - displayed by artists as art or genetically modifed fluorescing fish marketed under the brand name " glofish" as a pet . All too believeable given the proximity these items are to what we read in our morning newspapers or in Discover magazine. It is hard in fact to distinguish which parts are true and which are fiction. As one reviewer said:

It’s tempting to stop and look up each of the genetic, legal and ethical aberrations described here in order to see how wild a strain of science fiction is afoot. Save a step. Just believe this: Oddity after oddity in “Next” checks out, and many are replays of real events. “This novel is fiction, except for the parts that aren’t,” Mr. Crichton writes, greatly understating the book’s scary legitimacy.

And he's right because I did want to bring the book down to my computer and look up some of these things, to check which of these startling scientific practices are really of the present rather than the future.

Yes, the characters are a bit one dimensional and not very lovable (except for Gerard the telltale parrot) but I do want to find out how they end up.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

A movie I won't miss

That is Atonement. The book is still in my top ten list of best books and I MUST see how it is interpreted on film. I like very much the website promoting the movie which I have linked above. It seems to set the mood very well which bodes well, I think, for the movie. Some good clips, too, without giving anything away.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2008 blog resolution

I haven't done very well keeping up with this blog have I ? So should I bother making a resolution? I guess it can't hurt. But perhaps I should be more specific than just saying I will post more often here than I did last year. I should say I will post at least once a week. That perhaps is something to aim for although I would hope to do better than that.

I got a couple of books as gifts for Christmas one of which I almost finished. The book I started to read was "A Small Place" by Jamaica Kincaid. It is about Antigua which I thought would be interesting as we spent some time in Caribbean and the first chapter was, I thought, charming in an acidic way.

However, as I went on I became more and more disappointed; it turned into a rant against the perpetual sins of colonial times (The blame is never ending. The ills placed at the colonial doorstep seem to persist even though the British have long gone). The author has too much of an agenda, in my view. She could have said the same things more convincingly and with better effect had she kept it more balanced. I didn't finish it and will not keep it.

The other one I got in my stocking was Next by Michael Crichton which I look forward very much to reading it although some readers' reviews are full of disappointment. Tonight would be a good night to start it.

I hadn't started that one because I also dipped into books I bought for my so (significant other, ie. my husband!). The first one I finished quickly as it was a very easy read, though worthwhile. The Man who Forgot how to read by Howard Engel (the author of the Benny Cooperman mysteries) is about the author's experiences in having a stroke and being left unable to read (though he was still able to write!) As a writer and a reader (and since my husband did have a mini-stroke a couple of years ago which affected his short term memory somewhat, I thought this book would be of interest to both of us and it was. I had enjoyed reading a couple of Engel's Cooperman mysteries so was happy to learn he could still write and it was fascinating to learn of how he learned to cope with this rather rare brain disfunction.

The other book, which I have only read a bit of, is Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks
This too is about brain function, delving into musical skills and love of music and it's relation to brain function.

Oliver Sacks's compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people--from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome who are hypermusical from birth; from people with "amusia," to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds--for everything but music.

Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong: Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frequently, music goes right: Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson's disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer's or amnesia.

Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and in Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us why.

My husband loves to play guitar and he sings in a barbershop chorus where one of the members had a stroke which affected his speech badly but which did not at all affect his singing! So this book is of interest also and I look forward to getting back at it (as soon as my husband is through with it!!!)

So there is my work cut out for me for a while.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)