Archive | January, 2012

Canada Reads 2012

20 Jan

I recall last year’s Canada Reads, and how addictive those live debates were. How exciting it was to see well known Canadian figures championing for their chosen book. This year the selected titles are all of the non-fiction genre, and there are certainly some compelling titles up for battle this year.

I will be the first to admit, that I know nothing of hockey and really have no interest in the sport. Nevertheless, hockey is our national sport in this country and so it only makes sense that Ken Dryden’s The Game, an insider’s look into the sport, would make its way onto the list this year.

Being Canadian, and of a certain age, I am all too familiar with the band The Rheostatics and their former guitarist Dave Bidini. On a Cold Road is essentially a tour diary that Mr. Bidini wrote while on an across Canada tour with his band. I can certainly see the appeal in this book, as it will offer the reader a bird’s eye view of the behind the scenes in a musician’s life.

Prisoner of Tehran is Ms. Nemat’s emotionally charged personal account of her time spent in one of the country’s most notorious political prisons, where she was subjected to torture. She narrowly escaped execution, due to the intervention of one of the prison guards who had fallen in love with her and by converting to Islam and marrying him she was eventually freed. Prisoner of Tehran was longlisted for the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, and won the prestigious Italian literary prize the Grinzane Award.

Being somewhat familiar with the historical details regarding the Pinochet regime in Chile, Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre is on my list of books to read this year. When the author was six, her family fled their home and moved to Canada. Five years later, Carmen’s Mother decided to join the Chilean resistance movement in South America, and moving back to Bolivia brought Carmen and and her youngest daughter with her. This harrowing memoir depicts the double life Carmen lived, as she struggled to live like a normal teenage girl, all the while devoting herself to the cause. Something fierce has been named to the longlist of the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction.

Lastly, we have The Tiger by John Vaillant, is an account of a Siberian tiger terrorizing the residents of a remote Russian village. Vaillant recounts the hunt of the powerful tiger, as a team of tiger trackers make it their mission to stop the killing tiger before it strikes again. The Tiger has won a slew of awards, with the feature films rights being purchased this year by Brad Pitt.

With such an eclectic range of compelling titles, and interesting mix of defenders, I imagine the live debates are going to be rather impassioned this time around. I look forward to being in the audience this year, and witnessing all the action up close…and of course, championing for my favorite title from the sidelines!

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Portable magic

19 Jan

As you are already aware, there is nothing in life that pleases me more than a good book. Well, that and a good cup of tea. I grew up in a house where books, tea, and slippers reigned supreme. There are multiple reasons why I adore books, but one of the loveliest things about books is the fact that they are portable. You can lose yourself to the narrative in any location you so desire. I am a tactile person, and I have always taken pleasure from the feel of the paper between my fingers as I turn the page. And being a collector of books, I have also always been drawn to books for the design of their covers. Let’s not even broach the subject of the interior of the book, and it’s heady scent. I could honestly spend the rest of my life in some musty old bookstore, lovingly tidying the books on their shelves.

So, to my surprise (no one was shocked more than I) I found myself rather curious about e-readers and what they were all about. While undertaking my studies at Ryerson, the topic of e-readers and e-books was all the rage. In every discussion forum, there was the ongoing heated debate of books vs. e-readers. Initially, I was of the stance that books were the superior format (for the reasons listed above) and could never fathom reading a book on a handheld device. Nevertheless, my curiosity won out in the end and I purchased an e-reader in my last term. It arrived hastily to my front door, and unsurprisingly (to me) it sat unopened in its box for nearly a month before I finally brought it out to inspect it. I recall nervously laughing as I plugged the device into the wall for the first time. The reason I had finally taken it out of its box, was that I was embarking on a bus trip to Montreal that weekend and I figured I would test it out on the bus. I must admit, I was rather impressed with how many ‘free’ titles the device held. I quickly found a title I had been meaning to read, and within seconds it was on my e-reader.

As I mentioned earlier, I have always loved books covers, and their uniquely designed covers. I was sorely disappointed at how ugly my e-reader was, and to be honest, this nearly put me off of it entirely. Nevertheless, I embarked on my journey with my e-reader in tow. My initial reaction to reading on the device was not pleasant. It sat awkwardly in my hands, and the feel of it against my skin was cold. With books, I have always been rather rough with them. Not to say that I purposely mishandle them…I just have the tendency of wrapping the front cover around the spine to the back. Never lend me your books. Let’s just say, you can always spot the books on my shelves that are still waiting to be read, as the spines are still intact. So, it only makes sense that my hands would not know what to do with an e-reader. Thankfully, I got over this hurtle, and started to recognize all of the positive features of the e-reader.

I will not bore you by listing all of the pros, but I will touch upon my most favourite features. Firstly, I simply adore that the font size can be changed. I find reading books on trains, airplanes etc. for any length of time results in a nasty headache. Problem solved by upping the font size! I read on the bus for hours, and at the end of the ride, my eyes were not sore and my head was pain free. Another fantastic feature is the fact that you can easily take notes while reading, and the notes do not interfere with the text in any way. I have started to edit manuscripts on my e-reader, and since it’s lighter than my laptop, it’s so easy to bring it along with me to a cafe, or a park or wherever. I also love how easy it is to order an e-book to your e-reader. Sometimes it is impossible to get to a bookstore, and in a scenario like that it is always nice to have the option to just purchase one on your e-reader. Not to mention the fact that it’s environmentally friendly, as there are no trees being cut down to make e-books. Before you label me as a convert, I will say that even though I have grown fond of my e-reader and the fact that it is so portable and light, I am still devoted to the traditional book format. Being a collector of books, I have not cut down on the amount of books that I am purchasing. In my opinion, there are always going to be books that should be read in paper form, and with those particular books, it would never feel right reading them on a screen. But, for those other books and for travel purposes and/or work purposes, having an e-reader certainly comes in handy. When I was abroad over the holidays, it was so nice not to have to pay for the extra weight of my luggage (sadly, I have spent big bucks on this) because I had only packed a few books plus my e-reader.

With that being said, I love books in all formats and although I will always hold a special place in my heart for traditional books, I would never part with my e-reader. Yet, as much as I am grateful for e-books, I would never want to imagine a world without books, as there is something so regal and beautiful to the traditional book…one is not simply drawn to a book because of its contents, but rather the binding of the books is what initially draws in your eye and fingertips. As efficient and portable as the e-reader is, it could never replace the enjoyment and sensation of holding a real book in your hands. But, (and this is a big one) as much as I have romanticized the traditional format of the book, the most important thing is that books are read. Whichever format they take, it is essential that there are readers. Even if these next generations opt to read only e-books, at least they are reading. Being the age that I am, I would think it a shame if a person did not have a collection of books to display. To me, these physical books tell a story beyond the stories that exist within their covers. You can tell a lot about a person by the books that line their shelves, or floors, or desktops. Not to mention the act of gift giving, and lending of books. To me, that will always be a very intimate act and a true sign of friendship…and a homage to the power of words. But I regress. I feel this way because of the time that I grew up in, and due to the influence of the people in my life. These younger generations will find a way to make their own story, and if the spike in YA sales are any sign of what is to come, I have no doubt that they’ll succeed.

A long enough book to suit me.

17 Jan

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” -Oscar Wilde

Over the holidays I indulged. Like most people, I shelved my better judgement and drank and ate copious amounts of delightful things; which ultimately left me in a perpetual state of amused bewilderment, and self-appointed languor. Being the glutton that I am, I also managed to spend the better part of my holidays devouring words. I had been longing to devote most of my holidays to compelling narratives. Feeling hopeful, I had crammed several novels into my luggage, and had updated my e-reader with a long list of titles. I had not exactly worked out the logistics of this long-awaited reading marathon, but I was optimistic that I would somehow secure enough solitary time to read at least half of the books on my ‘to read’ list. Ultimately, I did not succeed in my task and yet I did not out right fail either. Considering all of the family engagements, author meetings and sight seeing, I did a pretty decent amount of reading for leisure. Finding merit in all of the books I read, I want to share with you my holiday reading list.

The very first book I tackled was Andrew Kaufman’s delightful and quirky 88 page novella  The Tiny Wife. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to wake up one morning to discover that your Mother had shrunk to one ninety-eighth of her size and multiplied 98 times over, well, look no further.

Second up was When I was five I killed myself by Howard Buten. The protagonist is an eight year old boy, and it is his voice that guides the narrative. Burton is a rather unusual child, and his unusual perspective on things results in a rather naughty misdeed that lands him in a Children’s Trust Residence Centre. Although we are led to believe in the opening chapter that Jessica is dead, this is simply not the case. And where the title suggests suicide, there is none of that either. There is suspense though, and plenty of it.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. A domestic drama, where the narrator revisits his school days in hopes of making sense of his current situation in life. An old school master warns his pupils: Never trust history that is born from the delusional or self-defeated. Sadly, this applies to our personal history as well, and our protagonist learns this as he diligently unearths the untruths of his past…emerging fully scathed and better for it.

Nicholls’ One Day was an impromptu purchase. I had heard the buzz surrounding this book, and decided to check it out for myself. Overall, it was a very easy and pleasant read. The author produces two engaging and sympathetic characters; as a reader you are instantly caught up in their awkward, and painfully obvious affection for one another. You become an avidly frustrated cheerleader, as these two characters insist on denying themselves the happy future that is staring them in the face. I was on board for three-quarters of the book, and so as not to ruin it for any potential readers, I will stop there.

Next on the agenda, was Invisible by Paul Auster. I plucked this one from my cousin’s bookshelf, and greedily consumed it in two days. Structurally it is a treat; stories within stories and multiple narrators abound. We are presented with an unreliable narrator, Adam Walker, an aspiring poet who makes poor decisions when it comes to the company he keeps. A more thorough review will follow.

Last but not least, there was Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Certainly not an ‘airport’ purchase, it was my reading material for the flight home. Similar to the vein of Jane Eyre, this classic novel deals with subjects of class, marriage and the woman’s role in society. With a haunting, and suspenseful narrative, Rebecca is a psychologically tense melodrama that produces an acute sense of empathy and curiosity within its readership.