Episode 128 – Thank goodness for books!

As the province of Ontario remains under a stay-at-home order through to June 2nd, I’ve been SOOOOOO grateful that our local library has been allowed to stay open for contactless pickup of books.

Guided by the Collingwood Public Library’s wonderful monthly newsletter and their seasonal “new arrivals” list I’ve worked my way through quite a few new books, as well as a couple of older ones that the librarian recommended based on my borrowing history.

There is only one “miss” in this list – it’s been a good 6 weeks for reading. Spoiler alert: my favourite was Fredrik “Anxious People”.

The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue (2020)

A riveting story of a maternity ward nurse in Dublin during the Spanish Flu pandemic. Really interesting was the inclusion of real-life Dr. Kathleen Lynn in the narrative, and fascinating (new to me) facts like the origin of the word “influenza”: under the “influence” of the stars! A quick read, but nonetheless satisfying due to the strong, interesting female characters. I finished the book really grateful that (some) things about birthing have improved in the last century!

Surviving Savannah, by Patti Callaghan (2021)

If you’re a fan of historical fiction, and of the fascinating period just before the American Civil War, this book is for you. A wonderfully engaging story that moves back and forth between the days surrounding the 1838 sinking of the passenger steamer Pulaski, bound from Savannah Georgia to Baltimore Maryland, and the present day history professor studying one of the families who were on the ship that day.

Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo (2019)

Although at first I was put off by the writing style, with its lack of capitalization and meandering punctuation, I came to appreciate it as the “stream of consciousness “ of each of the facinating girls, women, and “others” whose intertwined lives tell such a riveting story. “Open your mind” and let Bernardine Evaristo fill it with sometimes uncomfortable new ideas and interesting sensations.

Astray, by Emma Donaghue (2012)

An older book, but I’ve become quite enamoured of this author. Her books are anything but formulaic – in fact, each new subject is treated in such a way as to make you forget you’re reading the same author!

In this case, the book is comprised of separate short stories, bound by a single theme: a journey, whether physical, mental, or metaphorical. All the stories are wonderfully rich character sketches. Each short story “echoes” a related newspaper clipping, ranging in time from the 1840’s through 1960’s, and in place from England to the United States to Canada. Some are about endings, others about beginnings, but each involves someone’s decision to make a change – going “astray” from their current path. I was fascinated by every single story, and found myself imagining where it might go next.

Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman (2020), translated by Neil Smith

From the author of A Man Called Ove, so my expectations were high…. and met! I found this book almost too wonderful for words (what a strange thing to say about a book), but here are a few anyway: quirky, funny, strange, touching, lovely. It made me laugh out loud over and over…. and also at times made my chest hurt with emotion. It honestly gave me hope for human kind. This is one I will remember for a long time.

A Funny Kind of Paradise, by Jo Owens (2021)

A wonderful novel by an author who has been a care aide for over 20 years. With all the horrific news out of LTC homes during this COVID year, this book might be just what you need to read right now. (But be prepared for tears at the end).

Reflective, heart-warming, and – we can only hope – real. Narrated first person by the resident in a nursing home who has just lost her best friend, it is thought-provoking and often hilarious, and may make you stop and think about what you want your last days to look like.

Slammerkin, by Emma Donoghue (2002)

A quick almost Dickensian novel about a young seamstress/prostitute in 18th century London. Interesting characters, with a bit of a dark penny dreadful vibe.

The Reversal, by Michael Connelly (2010)

This is the the first of two non-library books in my list. None of my books on hold had cone in, and someone had left this paperback in our current condo, so…… I simply can’t be without a book! True to form, this instalment in the crossover series between Connelly’s Micky Haller (The Lincoln Lawyer) legal thrillers and his Harry Bosch police mysteries is fast-paced, clever, and with at least a few twists and turns. Not a bad way to spend a couple of days stuck inside.

A Bright Ray of Darkness, by Ethan Hawke (2021)

Yes, THAT Ethan Hawke, the actor/director/producer. Wonderful writing, and I loved the scenes that took place within the Broadway Shakespeare production, but the main character was just too self-centred and self-destructive for me to really care about. The angst and self-absorption of the rich and famous somehow just doesn’t fit these times, which made this book – for me – a “miss”.

Leonora in the Morning Light, by Michaela Carter (2021)

I was completely unfamiliar with Leonora Carrington’s work before reading this. The vivid descriptions of Carrington’s paintings had me mesmerized, but I wanted to finish reading the book before researching them. To be honest, I found the images evoked by Michaela Carter’s lovely prose to be much more enchanting than the actual paintings (whereas I have never read words that could sufficiently describe the visceral wonder of Van Gogh’s Starry Night). Art is such a subjective thing. But equally subjectively, this book was a really good read – a riveting story of a woman almost maddeningly possessed by love and art.

No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a Sixtieth Year, by Virginia Ironside (2007)

This is the second non-library book; I picked it up from the pile of free foreign language books at the absolutely wonderful Euro-Lex Deli in Wasaga Beach, while shopping for csabai, Polish barrel sauerkraut, and Krolewski cheese. To start with, I should say that I read this book in its German translation, where it is called “No! I don’t want the seniors plate!”, so I had no expectations that it had anything to do with a book club.

I found it hilarious – a diary written by a woman whose previous attempts at a diary (as a 10 year old, and then again as a lovestruck teenager) were short-lived failures. The droll, opinionated stream-of-consciousness style in her latest venture into diarizing her life had me amused from start to finish. Marie Sharp is completely unfiltered, intentionally so as her “right” now that she’s newly retired from teaching and turning 60. Perhaps one caution: I’m pretty sure it helps to be “a woman of a certain age” who brooks no nonsense in order to bond with the fictional Marie.

Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke (2020)

It’s difficult to describe this one except as a feeling. Eerily mesmerizing and otherworldly might be my best attempt. Clarke is the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, so she’s no neophyte when it comes to writing books that blend psychology and magic. If you enjoyed the movie Pan’s Labyrinth, and/or enjoy Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, you’ll like this short novel. I reached the end feeling that I had just visited the echoes of a subterranean civilization along with the narrator. Quite disorienting really!

The Music of Bees, by Eileen Garvin (2021)

It says “heartwarming and inspiring” on the cover, and that describes it perfectly. Predictable? Maybe, but only in the best possible way. I loved the characters, and really enjoyed all the information about honey bees and beekeeping that form the background of the novel.

The Lost Manuscript by Cathy Bonidan (2021), translated by Emma Ramadan

A fun, fast read incorporating romance, mystery, France, and friendships old and new, revealed entirely through hand-written letters (well, a couple of emails) exchanged by the characters. If I had one criticism, it would be that the characters’ voices, as expressed in their letters, are too similar, bit that could be a function of the translation from the original French into English.

Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey (2014)

This was actually my second time reading this book – something I rarely do, but an acquaintance mentioned it and I had such fond memories of it that I decided to revisit it. The novel is a mystery hidden inside the mind and story of a woman (Maud) who is in the early stages of dementia. I found the sections containing interactions between Maud and her daughter particularly poignant and the emotions accurately portrayed – at times heartbreakingly so, if you’ve gone through this with a parent yourself.

One comment

  1. So many great suggestions! Halfway through THE LOST MANUSCRIPT and I agree, similar voices comes out through the letters.

    ANXIOUS PEOPLE – I found it hard to get into, but based on the fact it was one of my daughter’s favourite reads of 2020, I plugged on. WS so glad I did!

    I have four books waiting on my pile to be read, but just can’t get into reading these days. Change of seasons?


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