Book Review: The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway

The Garden of Eden – Ernest Hemingway (Scribners, 1986)

I’m a big fan of Ernest Hemingway (the writing more than the man himself but that’s a topic for another time) and I’ve read most of his writing. While in Washington recently, I spotted a Hemingway book I’d never read in a secondhand bookshop and so brought it home. It turns out that The Garden of Eden was published posthumously in 1986. I’m always wary of books published years after an author’s death. Would the author really have wanted this book made public? Is the story complete? Will it be as good as the rest of the author’s work? (The answer is often no.)

While The Garden of Eden is not Hemingway’s finest novel, it is a fascinating read and the style and setting will be very familiar to his readers. Set between France and Spain it follows David and Catherine Bourne on their honeymoon. Which is, in typical Hemingway style, a months-long holiday through Europe, spent fishing, swimming, and drinking a lot.

David and Catherine are utterly content when we first meet. They seem to have met and married in Paris after a short courtship. They’ve settled into a routine in a small town in the south of France where Catherine causes a small scandal by wearing shorts but they are otherwise accepted. David is a writer whose second novel has recently been published and he is beginning to receive very good reviews. Catherine encourages him to write but hates the sight of his news clippings and seems reluctant to discuss his book.

As the book – and the marriage – progress, Catherine begins to reveal to David her hidden desires. While Hemingway never goes into detail about these desires and the intimate moments between David and Catherine, it isn’t difficult to figure out what he’s alluding to. And, indeed, the book is more explicit than many others in its time and by Hemingway.

Then Catherine begins to involve another woman into their relationship and David and Catherine form attachments to her, both as a couple and individually. Predictably, this creates a lot of complications. David is writing more than ever but instead of writing the story Catherine wants him to, he’s begun to write a series of stories about his father in Africa. Hemingway’s descriptions of writing, his portrayal of David’s struggles and desires over his stories, feels terrifically accurate. Sometimes painfully so. The subtle comparison of David’s focus on his work and his growing focus on another woman, and Catherine’s reaction to both, is well done and fascinating to watch.

The book is sad, as most of Hemingway is, especially when it comes to marriage and romance. Catherine is much more fully developed than many of the women Hemingway wrote, though there are still many blank spots in her character. Some aspects of her past are alluded to but we’re told very little. In the end, I was left to feel that David was supposed to be a victim of her instability when, to my view, he was just as guilty for the destruction of their marriage. Yet, like Hemingway himself, it feels clear that David will never be satisfied in one relationship for long.


What I Read – March 2017

I’ve fallen behind in reviewing books but am working to catch up and get some reviews posted next week. In the meantime, here’s what I read this month:

EileenOttessa Moshfegh (Penguin Press, 2015)

The Dark and Other Love Stories Deborah Willis (Hamish Hamilton, 2017)

She was glad that was done. What a relief. But then again, if she could, she’d do it all over. Everything. Her whole life. She’d live it again, just for the small but real pleasures of a donut and coffee, of holding her daughter in her arms, of making money, of sleeping late, of waking up.

  • Deborah Willis, “The Nap”

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen – Joanna Faber & Julie King (Scribner, 2017)

The Break – Katherena Vermette (Anansi, 2016)

The Garden of Eden – Ernest Hemingway (Scribners, 1986)

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday, 2015)

…and he realizes that this is the way it is, the way it must be: you don’t visit the lost, you visit the people who search for the lost.

  • Hanya Yanagihara

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf Canada, 2017)

The Dinner Party and Other Stories – Joshua Ferris (Little, Brown, 2017)

Didn’t Finish:

The Travelers – Chris Pavone

Book Review: How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber & Julie King

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen – Joanna Faber & Julia King (Scribner, 2017)

In the world of parenting books, one I had heard frequently recommended was How to Talk so Kids will Listen and How to Listen so Kids Will Talk Adele Faber. I figured I would wait until Pearl was older/ more verbal to read it but when I saw a new edition titled How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen out this year, I thought it might be the perfect time.

The book is written by Adele Faber’s daughter and her childhood friend, both experts in early development. (And obviously fans of how they were raised.) It is geared for children ages 2 to 7. With Pearl having just turned two, she is at the young end of this book’s range and there were definitely suggestions that just won’t work with her yet. (Though may be good to keep in mind for the future.)

That said, there is a lot of good information and great ideas in this book and things I have been working to implement in the weeks since I read it. The core of Faber and King’s advice is acknowledging your child’s emotions. Saying, “You are frustrated!” and naming what has frustrated them, or what has made them sad or mad, etc. The idea is that this teaches them how to name and understand their emotions, as well as validating what they’re feeling. For many parents (myself included) our first instinct is to try and apply logic. “You have to sit in your stroller because this will be a long walk.” Turns out, logic doesn’t work that well with two year olds! Faber and King suggest that sometimes the simple act of naming and acknowledging your child’s emotions can be enough to foster more co-operation.

While I haven’t had quite the quick and stunning results that some of the stories in the book portray, I have found it helpful to take a moment and accept that Pearl is feeling whatever she’s feeling, no matter how inappropriate the emotion may seem to me. Part of our job as parents is to help our children learn how to deal with their feelings in an appropriate manner. And I’m certainly getting better results by talking to Pearl and being patient than simply forcing her into a stroller!

The book is full of stories and anecdotes, many from Faber and King’s own parenting experiences and others gleaned from years of workshops run for parents. The stories are easy to read and make the book a quick one to digest.

The parenting style here is one you probably agree with or don’t and there isn’t much that is going to sway you in either direction. Many parents won’t like the lack of punishment (or even consequence) that Faber and King employ. Others, like myself, will realize this was a style of parenting they were already leaning toward. One of my big goals as a parent is to avoid yelling at my kid. This has been pretty easy so far but I sense that the older Pearl gets, the more challenging it may become. It’s helpful to identify and put into practice some techniques to avoid this now. Plus, my hope is that Pearl becomes an adult who feels frustration and anger and sadness and knows how to react and deal with those feelings. I want her to know her feelings are valid but that there are good and bad ways of expressing them.

I can’t speak to how similar or different this book is to Adele Faber’s original but if you have a toddler or pre-schooler, I would recommend spending an afternoon (or naptime) skimming through this book.


What I Read – October 2016

The Autumn season is prime book-reading time. The rainy and cold weather means I want to stay inside and read and there seem to be so many books to read. The autumn is when many new books are released (leading up to Christmas) and many of the major literary prize winners (and shortlists) are announced. My To Be Read list is so long that I’ve been sorting books into piles and my bedside table is stacked high. A friend also loaned me the three memoirs in this month’s What I Read list.

Fortunately (maybe?) Pearl is going through a stage where she wants one of us to sit in her room while she falls asleep. When I stopped nursing, my reading time seemed to decrease drastically but it’s bounced back up this month. Most evenings I spend between 30 minutes to an hour in Pearl’s room, curled up in a chair, leaning as close to the nightlight as I can get. There are worse things.

Wenjack – Joseph Boyden (Hamish Hamilton, 2016)

The Trees – Ali Shaw (Bloomsbury, 2016)

An Invisible ThreadLaura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski (Howard Books, 2011)

The Dirty Life – Kristin Kimball (Scribner, 2010)

Half Broke HorsesJeannette Walls (Scribner, 2009)

Waiting for the Cyclone – Leesa Dean (Brindle & Glass, 2016)

Re-read: Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut (Vintage, 2000)

“You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamourous, war-loving dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.”

Currently Reading:

Prayer – Timothy Keller

By Gaslight – Steven Price

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

And a reminder that you can follow me on Instagram @karissareadsbooks and see up-to-the-minute photographic evidence of what I’m reading! Whether or not that sounds remotely appealing probably says a lot about you.


Book Review: Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Half Broke Horses - Jeannette Walls (Scribner, 2009)

Half Broke Horses – Jeannette Walls (Scribner, 2009)

The Glass Castle exploded onto the scene of the book world – Jeannette Walls’ hugely popular memoir of her unconventional childhood. Many cite Walls as the first in a growing trend of memoirs from “average” people (ie: not celebrities). A huge part of Walls’ memoir (and its appeal) were her parents, especially her mother, Rosemary.

So its no wonder that it’s also appealing to read about Rosemary’s life from the other side. The woman who raised her.

Half Broke Horses is a fictional memoir of Walls’ maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. While based on the true life events of Smith’s life, Walls writes in the Afterword that calling the book a novel was the most honest thing to do because she did have to embellish certain details and fill in gaps.

The story is told in first person, from Lily’s perspective, beginning with her childhood living, literally, in a sort of hole in the ground. Lily is tough and resourceful and used to hard-living. With a delicate mother and a father with a limp and a speech impediment, as the oldest child she is responsible for much around their home and farm and is breaking horses from a young age and getting things done. Early on, she heads out on her own and becomes a teacher, despite never having finished eighth grade. She learns to drive a car and, eventually, pilot an airplane.

Lily is an intriguing character and Walls does a decent job at capturing her voice, though some of it feels overly folksy – every time Lily refers to her first husband, for example, she calls him her “crumb bum first husband”. A few repetitions like that seemed to be Walls trying a little too hard to portray that voice.

I liked Lily a lot more before she became a mother. Once her oldest child, Rosemary (Walls’ mother) is born, the book shifts to portray Lily’s focus on Rosemary. And while this makes sense since Rosemary is who Walls’ previous readers are interested in, it doesn’t ring true if this is indeed supposed to be from Lily’s perspective. Her second child, Jim, seems to be mostly forgotten. Lily as a mother becomes increasingly unlikeable as Rosemary gets older and Lily tries harder and harder to dictate and control her life. It’s painful to think ahead to Rosemary’s life and to see Lily continue to simply not understand why things haven’t worked out the way she planned.

Walls is an engaging writer and the book is an easy read. I can’t help wonder if she has any other relatives who she could write books about.


Book Review: The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

The Dirty Life - Kristin Kimball (Scribner, 2010)

The Dirty Life – Kristin Kimball (Scribner, 2010)

When a friend loaned me a copy of The Dirty Life I wasn’t that excited. I don’t read a lot of memoirs and it’s rare that they appeal to me. My friend also happens to be a little more of a hippy than I am and I wasn’t sure I was interested in reading a farming story. I was pleasantly surprised by Kristin Kimball’s tale of farm life however.

Kimball is a journalist in New York City when she interview Mark, an independent and charismatic farmer. She’s out of place on his farm and surprised to find herself drawn to both Mark and his way of life.

The Dirty Life follows roughly the first year of Kristin and Mark’s relationship, leading up to their wedding, and covering their first year of starting their own farm. Not just an organic farm but one using as traditional methods as possible, including horses rather than tractors and other machinery.

Kimball doesn’t glamourize farm life – it’s here in its grimy detail of early mornings and hard  physical labour – but her clear love for the farm (as unexpected as it may be) gives the story a more appealing edge. Kimball throws herself into both the farm and all it entails and into her relationship with Mark. She doesn’t glamourize that either and I appreciate her honesty about her fears and difficulties when it came to giving up her familiar lifestyle for something so different for a man she hardly knew. While the dynamic of their relationship didn’t appeal to me (and if Kimball were my best friend I probably would have joined in the chorus of people urging her to be cautious) but it seems to work as the couple is still together, ten years and two children later.

The farm has also become successful, reaching its goal of providing a whole diet for approximately a hundred people. The Kimballs provide everything from corn to milk to beef to maple syrup for their subscribers. And while I don’t have an urge to become a farmer, I do wish there was something similar offered in my area.


What I Read – November 2015

November has seen a vast improvement on Pearl’s night-time sleep. Which is awesome but has really cut into my reading time. So this month’s list is a little shorter but there have been some good reads.

1. The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James (Modern Library

2. Burial Rites – Hannah Kent (Little, Brown, & Company, 2013)

3. The Enchanted – Rene Denfeld (HarperCollins, 2014)

4. AbroadKatie Crouch (Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2014)

5. The People’s Act of Love – James Meek (Harper Perennial, 2005)

6. Immortality – Milan Kundera (Grove Weidenfeld, 1991)

(translated from the Czech by Peter Kussi)

7. Darkness at Noon – Arthur Koestler (Scribner, 1968)

(translated from the German by Daphne Hardy)

8. Fortune SmilesAdam Johnson (Random House, 2015)

9. The Pearl – John Steinbeck (Penguin Books, 2000)

You could also look at November’s reading list like this:

  1. Young lady taken advantage of in Europe
  2. Death row prisoner in Iceland
  3. Death row prisoner in possibly magic prison
  4. Young lady murdered in Europe
  5. Escaped prisoner and extremist religious sect in Russia
  6. ???
  7. Political prisoner in Russia

Currently Reading:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan

(Yes, still. I am really enjoying it, as evidenced by how I keep telling Peter facts from what I’ve read. I’m just working away at it slowly. Very slowly.)

No Great Mischief Alistair MacLeod



What I Read – October 2015

The Tenderness of Wolves – Stef Penney (Penguin Canada, 2006)

Read my review here.

The Bone Sharps – Tim Bowling (Gaspereau Press, 2007)

Read my review here.

Remembrance – Alistair MacLeod (McClelland & Stewart, 2012)

The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes (Vintage Canada, 2012)

Beatrice & VirgilYann Martel (Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2010)

The Talent Thief – Alex Williams (MacMillan Children’s Books, 2007)

Jack MaggsPeter Carey (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998)

If I Fall, If I Die – Michael Christie (McClelland & Stewart, 2015)

Love Wins – Rob Bell (HarperOne, 2011)

Every Good EndeavorTimothy Keller (Riverhead Books, 2012)

AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)

Grace RiverRebecca Hendry (Brindle & Glass, 2009)

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr (Scribner, 2014)

Pragmatism – William James (Dover Publications, Inc., 1995)

(An interesting read but I’m so far from qualified to review this so don’t hold your breath!)

The Bishop’s Man – Linden MacIntyre (Vintage Canada, 2009)

Read my review here.

Currently Reading:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma – Michael Pollan

The Portrait of a Lady – Henry James


Book Review – The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

How much would you do for someone you love? What would you sacrifice? Where is the line between right and wrong? What does it mean to be a parent?

These are all questions that The Light Between Oceans (Scribner, 2012) forces the reader to ponder. We all want to believe that we know right from wrong. That, when the moment comes, we will do right. But what about when that line isn’t so clear?

Tom Sherbourne is attempting to escape the horrors of his four years spent in the army during the Great War. He takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Island, located at the tip of Australia. He loves the island and he loves his light. Despite his own expectations, he falls in love with Isabel too and he brings her back to the remote island. They’re deeply in love, creating a whole world for just the two of them on their rock. But after two miscarriages and a stillborn baby, their life is not what they thought it would become. And then a boat washes onshore. A boat carrying a crying baby girl and a dead man.

Tom and Isabel make a decision that will change their own lives and the lives of everyone around them.

Stedman does a masterful job of creating a place both wild and beautiful in Janus Island. We never forget how disconnected Tom and Isabel are from the rest of the world – every three months a supply boat visits but their trips to the mainland are years apart. This was a wise decision because it allows the reader to buy more fully into their states of mind and their subsequent decisions. Just as compellingly, Stedman makes Janus Island a place you might actually want to live. Tom and Isabel create an idyllic life there. One that, as we learn, cannot be sustained anywhere else.

I’m not embarrassed to admit that The Light Between Oceans made me cry. And I’m not someone who cries over a lot of books. The characters felt real, the location felt real, but beyond that, Stedman created a real situation. Maybe not a realistic one, but she created a family who truly loved each other, who were faced with an impossible choice. And what do you do when no happy ending is possible?