What I Read – March 2018

Read:

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday Canada, 2011)

More style than substance though I enjoyed it while I was reading it. A month (or less) later, I can’t remember much but it entertained me at the time.

And No Birds Sang – Farley Mowat (McClelland & Stewart, 1979)

Mowat is a Canadian classic and I’ve read a few of his books now, all ranging broadly in subject. This is his memoir of his time serving during World War Two. It was recommended to me by a friend who has served in the Canadian armed forces. It’s an honest and brutal book.

(I reviewed a young adult novel by Mowat, The Curse of the Viking Grave, here.)

Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger (Bantam Books, 1986)

A re-read. Sometimes you just need some quick, interesting short stories, you know?

A Mariner’s Guide to Self-Sabotage – Bill Gaston (Douglas & McIntyre, 2017)

I wrote a review for this one! Read it here.

The Icarus Girl – Helen Oyeyemi (Nan A. Tales/Doubleday, 2005)

And another review! Read it here. Maybe I’ll actually start writing real reviews again.

Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller (Anansi, 2015)

Still hoping to write a real review for this book. Stay tuned…

Didn’t Finish:

The Gift of Rain – Tan Twang Eng

(After hearing multiple recommendations of this book I was really disappointed. I just could not get into it and found the beginning dragged on and on until I gave up. What clinched its abandonment for me was also the repeated negative portrayals of all things Chinese. As far as I could see, it wasn’t necessary and added nothing to the story other than making me dislike the narrator.)

Currently Reading:

The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien

When I was a Child I Read Books – Marilynne Robinson

Funny Once: Stories – Antonya Nelson

Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains – Yasuko Thanh

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What I Read – February 2018

2018 has obviously not been a great year for book reviews thus far but I am sneaking in lots of reading time. Here’s what I read in February and the quickest reviews I can manage at this moment:

The Hut Builder – Laurence Fearnley (Penguin Books, 2010

New Zealand novel. I likely would have abandoned this one partway through if it hadn’t been a gift. Quite frankly, I found this one boring and the characters uninteresting.

Night Film – Marisha Pesl (Random House, 2014)

Definitely creative. Fairly creepy. Character development and voice, etc are fairly limited but the mystery at the heart of the novel will keep you reading.

Rest, Play, Grow – Deborah MacNamara (Aona Books, 2016)

I hope to find the time to write a more detailed review of this parenting book because it’s been hugely helpful to me. I highly recommend this to parents of toddlers.

What every young child would tell us if they could is to please hold on to them, to not take their actions personally, and to love them despite their immaturity.

  • Deborah MacNamara, Rest Play Grow

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress – Day Sijie (Anchor Books, 2002) (translated from the French by Ina Rilke)

Easy read. Nothing terrible but nothing amazing here.

The Professor and the Madman – Simon Winchester (Harper Perennial, 1999)

Fascinating read if you’re interested in history and/or language and/or dictionaries.

The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis (Harper Collins, 2001)

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

  • C.S. Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?”

Collection of sermons by Lewis. I always enjoy Lewis’ work, whether fiction or non. His perspective and wisdom are endlessly valuable.

It is written that we shall “stand before” Him, shall appear, shall be inspected. The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God.

  • C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”

Moonglow – Michael Chabon (Harper Collins, 2016)

Pseudo-memoir of the author’s grandparents. Or is it? What’s fact and what’s fiction here? And does it matter when it’s well written and fun to read? 20th century history, World War II, space race, and a giant snake.

Indian Horse – Richard Wagamese (Douglas & McIntyre, 2012)

Why did it take me so long to read this book? Beautiful and heartbreaking. Every Canadian should read this book. And if you’re not Canadian you should read it too.

CURRENTLY READING:

The Silmarillion – j.R.R. Tolkien

…there were green things even among the pits and broken rocks before the doors of hell.

  • J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

When I Was a Child I Read Books – Marilynne Robinson

 

My current reading habits mean I generally have three books on the go. The first is a classic that needs a decent amount of focus to be read. (Example: The Silmarillion) I read this in the evening after the girls are in bed. The second is something of a thoughtful nature, usually non-fiction, maybe something religious in nature. (Example: essays by Marilynne Robinson) The third is a more compulsive read. Almost always fiction, hopefully paperback. Something that I can read in the middle of the night while struggling to stay awake and feed a baby. (Just finished Indian Horse and will probably start The Night Circus tonight since I got it from the library today.)

What are your reading habits like? How many books do you typically have on the go? How do you decide what to read and when?

What I Read – May 2016

Paper TownsJohn Green (Penguin Books, 2008)

Before I Fall – Noah Hawley (Grand Central Publishing, 2016)

Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson (Harper Perennial, 2005)

A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (Anchor Books, 2010)

Did Not Finish:

The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien (Little, Brown and Company, 2016)

Currently Reading:

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

The urban lume makes the urban night only semidark, as in licoricey, a luminescence just under the skin of the dark, and swelling.

Six Walks in a Fictional Wood – Umberto Eco

Last Child in the Woods – Richard Louv

[Nature] serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture’s fantasies. Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses.

If you’d like, you can follow me on instagram @karissareadsbooks to see what I’m reading in real time! Doesn’t that sound exciting!

Book Review: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson (Harper Perennial, 2005)

Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson (Harper Perennial, 2005)

My name is Ruth. I grew up with my younger sister, Lucille, under the care of my grandmother, Mrs. Sylvia Foster, and when she died, of her sisters-in-law, Misses Lily and Nona Foster, and when they fled, of her daughter, Mrs. Sylvia Fisher.

These first sentences of Marilynne Robinson’s novel Housekeeping (aside from being some of the best opening sentences I’ve ever read) contain the whole plot of the story. From here, Robinson slowly unfolds the action and the characters – the lives of Ruth and Lucille as they are passed from caretaker to caretaker, all within the same house that their grandfather built in the town of Fingerbone.

Robinson has a distinct style and it’s in full effect here. The emphasis is on character development, description, natural setting, story unfurling over time. It doesn’t move quickly and there isn’t necessarily much plot. But the writing is beautiful and the reader is immersed in a world both familiar and strange.

We follow Ruth and Lucille through their childhood, to the moments where their lives dramatically diverge. This is a much darker tale than Gilead (read my review of the book here) – filled with ghosts, abandonment, death, and a bit of scandal. The sisters live in the shadow of a nearby lake – the final resting place of more than one family member. There is a continuing idea of visitors – ghostly and otherwise – gazing through windows. This is a story about outsiders. How one becomes an outsider, how one remains as such, and whether change is possible. Once you are outside, can you ever come in again?

As someone who greatly enjoys Robinson’s style, I liked this book a lot. I can imagine that some might find it frustrating and there certainly were sections I had to re-read in order to really visualize. It’s a slow and steady read, but if you take the time to move through it, it is well worthwhile.

 

What I Read – February 2016

Music for Wartime – Rebecca Makkai (Viking, 2015)

The Givenness of Things – Marilynne Robinson (HarperCollins, 2015)

(Truth be told, I only read half of this before I had to return it to the library. But I really enjoyed what I read and I hope to borrow it again.)

When panic on one side is creating alarm on the other, it is easy to forget that there are always as good grounds for optimism as for pessimism – exactly the same grounds, in fact – that is, because we are human. We still have every potential for good we have ever had, and the same presumptive claim to respect, our own respect and one another’s. We are still creatures of singular interest and value, agile of soul as we have always been and as we will continue to be even despite our errors and depredations, for as long as we abide on this earth. To value one another is our greatest safety, and to indulge in fear and contempt is our gravest error.

  • Marilynne Robinson

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer – C.S. Lewis (Mariner Books, 2012)

If we were perfected, prayer would not be a duty, it would be a delight. Some day, please God, it will be.

– C.S. Lewis

The High Mountains of Portugal – Knopf Canada, 2016)

Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson (Flatiron Books, 2015)

We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Anchor Books, 2014)

A Tale of Three Kings – Gene Edwards (Tyndale House Publishers, 1992)

These were David’s darkest hours. We know them as his pre-king days, but he didn’t.

  • Gene Edwards

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy (Viking Canada, 1997)

Currently Reading:

Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes

(I swear, I’m so close to being finished. Really, you guys. I think March will be the month! I’m already planning how to celebrate.)

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

(I quickly discovered that Infinite Jest is too large a book for me to hold one-handed while up in the night for Pearl, so it’s semi on hold while I read smaller novels.)

And this time last year…

What I Read – February 2015

(Is it overly defensive to explain that February and March are combined from last year because I had a baby at the end of February? Well, I’m going to say it anyway.)

What I Read – January 2016

Daydreams of Angels – Heather O’Neill (Harper Collins, 2015)

Transatlantic – Colum McCann (Harper Perennial, 2013)

The Humans – Matt Haig (Harper Collins, 2013)

Fifteen Dogs – André Alexis (Coach House Books, 2015)

A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson (Doubleday Canada, 2015)

Thirteen Ways of LookingColum McCann (Harper Collins, 2015)

The Company She Keeps – Mary McCarthy (Penguin Books, 1966)

Currently Reading:

Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes

(2016’s going to be the year I finish Don Quixote! I’m 99% sure!)

Honour is something that a poor man can have, but not a dissolute one; poverty can cast a cloud over nobility, but cannot hide it altogether; but if virtue gives out a glimmer of light, even if only through the chinks and straits of penury, it will be valued and therefor favoured by lofty and noble spirits.

Miguel de Cervantes

Letters to Malcolm – C.S. Lewis

The great work of art was made for the sake of all it does and is, down to the curve of every wave and the flight of every insect.

C.S. Lewis

The Givenness of Things – Marilynne Robinson

Music for Wartime – Rebecca Makkai

What I Read – February and March 2015

Daddy Lenin and Other Stories – Guy Vanderhaeghe (McClelland & Stewart, 2015)

I’ve read one book by Guy Vanderhaeghe (The Englishman’s Boy) and, honestly, remember almost nothing about it. This short story collection focuses mostly on men, usually working class. They are well-crafted stories but I did find them repetitive.

The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Vintage Canada, 2010)

My first by Adichie and I truly enjoyed it. The stories had great variation and interesting settings and characters. I was impressed by Adichie’s skill at moving between male and female narrators and between settings, all well- drawn. This collection had me looking up Nigerian history and politics, which I think is a good thing. I appreciated that she assumed her readers would know  this or would figure it put, rather than talking down to the reader or over-explaining. I’ll definitely read more of Adichie.

What I Want to Tell Goes Like This – Matt Rader (Nightwood Editions, 2014)

This short story collection centres around Vancouver Island (particularly the Comox Valley), both past and present – and sometimes blending the two. The historical stories are interesting and well-researched and it’s especially interesting to see how the stories connect, but I enjoyed the stories set in modern day better. While this may simply be a personal preference, I did feel that the characters in those stories were more fully developed.

The Woefield Poultry Collective – Susan Juby (Harper Collins, 2011)

Like me, you may be familiar with Susan Juby from her young adult books. The Woefield Poultry Collective is for adults but it isn’t necessarily that far off being a young adult book. It’s a fun, easy read and not much more. The story is told by the four main characters as they begin to work together (some more reluctantly than others) to work a long-neglected farm. My main problem was with the character of Prudence, the one who brings all the others together. Frankly, I found her overly perfect. Her “flaws” were of the type to be endearing rather than annoying. If the book has a main character it’s Prudence and so I kept waiting to learn something more about her, something that would make her a real person, but never got it.

The Flying Troutmans – Miriam Toews (Vintage Canada, 2008)

Toews is an excellent writer and The Flying Troutmans demonstrates that. She moves skillfully between comedy and drama, mixing the ridiculous with the tragic. The book shares some themes with Toews’ mostrecent novel, All My Puny Sorrows, but is a little lighter. I did find the character of Thebes, who is a child, was so quirky as to be unbelievable. Her older brother seemed much more realistic to me. With him, Toews really captured the fluctuations of a teenage boy – sweet and playful one moment, angry and distant the next, and he himself doesn’t quite know why.

We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Anchor Books, 2014)

Told you I liked her! This tiny book is an extended essay adapted from a lecture. Adichie explores the concepts and misconceptions of feminism and why we should all call ourselves feminists – without disclaimers or apologies. I especially liked the section where she discusses being feminist while also enjoying being feminine and wearing pretty clothes.

I had this book with me at the hospital. Thinking ahead to my daughter’s future can be scary when I wonder what that future world might be like. I just hope to raise a girl who knows how smart and valuable she is.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver (Harper Perennial, 2007)

I love Kingsolver’s novels and I probably would have found this interesting as a magazine article. Basically, it went on too long and it got pretty repetitive. Kingsolver has one major thesis and stretches it out over an entire book. By the time I was halfway through I kept thinking, “I get it. Eat local. Do you have anything further to add?” Some of her stories are funny and engaging and fascinating. Some are a little preachy. She has some solid advice and some that just doesn’t apply to the part of the world I live in. And I just don’t know that I’m ready to give up bananas.

Collected Stories – Peter Carey (Vintage Canada, 1999)

To be honest, I didn’t finish this book. I love Peter Carey’s novels but this story collection was grotesque. I felt gross reading it and so stopped about halfway through. Many of the stories have interesting and creative plots and scenarios and settings but each one had something that just made me feel terrible and I wasn’t sure what the point of much of it was. This was a disappointment.

A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki (Penguin, 2013)

Loved this one. I’d been wanting to read it for a long time and had heard many rave reviews so when a friend brought it over (along with dinner!), I was excited. I even stayed up reading it one afternoon when I should have been napping. (Sleep when the baby sleeps quickly became read when the baby sleeps.)

Home – Marilynne Robinson (Harper Perennial, 2008)

Part two of Robinson’s Gilead trilogy. Robinson is a truly gifted writer. More than once I found myself marvelling at the fact that a book with very little action could be so enthralling. But she creates characters so vividly that I really felt like I was peeking into a real family’s life. You don’t need to have read Gilead first but it does offer a more thorough background on who these people are. I also found it interesting to read Home knowing Jack’s secret – something his family doesn’t.

Book Review – Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

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Gilead (HarperCollins, 2004) is a novel that shouldn’t work but does. And masterfully so. There’s not much action and there’s even less dialogue and yet Robinson keeps the tension tight and the reader engaged.

John Ames is in his late seventies and he knows he will die soon. He doesn’t have much in the way of worldly possessions to leave behind and so he begins a journal for his seven-year-old son. Something to impart the wisdom he has and the stories he knows. In the midst of this, his best friend’s prodigal son returns to their small town after many years away. This is John Ames Boughton, commonly called Jack, named for John Ames himself. His return is unsettling to Ames and he slowly reveals why.

The first half of the book focuses more heavily on Ames’ childhood and the relationship between his father and grandfather. Ames is the third in a line of preachers but that doesn’t necessarily translate into these men having much in common. His grandfather was an eccentric and passionate reverend who joined up in the cause of the abolitionists during the Civil War. His father, a more staid character, took a pacifist side and tension existed between the two men until the disappearance and then death of Ames’ grandfather. Ames’s childhood, his ideology, and his theology exist between these two men.

Ames’ adulthood has been marked by the tragic early death of his wife – his childhood sweetheart – and his child. Then, the miracle of love for a second time with his second wife and his son. This is where Robinson really shines. Ames isn’t excitable or effusive but the delight and shock he demonstrates continually that such happiness could be his again is truly beautiful.

Writing to his son as an adult, Ames slowly unfolds the story of his own life, not shying away from the pain and loneliness of the years before he met his wife. He lays down on paper his struggles, his delights, and his questions regarding faith and his vocation as a preacher.

And then, finally, we come to the question of Jack Boughton. The infant baptised long ago by Ames and named in his honour. A child loved beyond reason by his father but one that Ames never cared for. At first glance, Jack’s story is any other semi-sordid tale of a young man’s mistakes. But Robinson teases the story open and uses it to reveal another side to Jack, as well as a deeper understanding for Ames. Redemption may not arrive in the ways we hope or expect but it can find us nevertheless.