A Monthly Feature

The other day I had a flash of inspiration for something unique I could do on my blog (this is what I alluded to at the end of my Brain on Fire review). I’ve been trying to think of something I could do for a monthly feature for ages. A few factors led to this idea:

  • Being away from my family
  • Mom reading books of mine while I’m away
  • Chatting with Mom about a book I read that she thought sounded interesting
  • Books being such a large part of my life and wanting to share that with my family
 
(Thanks to Anna Moore Designs for the great button!)

Introducing! Family Reads. Once a month, myself and an immediate family member (my mother, father or younger sister) will read and discuss a book together. My family will select the books. While everyone in my family reads, we rarely read the same books or discuss with each other what we’re reading. My family isn’t involved in book blogging, but they’re already excited to be a part of something they know is important to me. My sister recently got her first job at a bookstore (employee discount *-*) and has become more interested in my ramblings on what’s new in the book world. My mom is aware that she usually reads lighter novels and she’s looking forward to trying new things. My dad, who doesn’t have a lot of time to read, has been making a list of books that interest him that we could read together. Everyone is excited to give this a go! Through these monthly readings, I hope the four of us will read books we might not have read otherwise and strengthen our relationships by transforming an isolating activity into one we can share together.

The posts will go up around the last Sunday of the month. Look for the first one on 26 April. I hadn’t conceived of this idea as a meme, but hey – if you think this sounds like fun, I’ll include a link up in my posts so please join in! I’d just ask you to include the button and a link back here. I encourage you to share a story with a loved one, especially with someone you don’t usually connect with over books.

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Format/Source: ebook/Library
Published: April 2014
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Length: 260 pages
Genre: General fiction
Why I Read: Popular in the blogosphere, easily accessible
Read If You’re: A book lover
Quote: “Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time”.
Rating:  ★★★★½ [ratings guide]
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon
I’m starting to run out of general fiction ebooks on my TBR list that are available through the library… These are the sorts of book I like to read during a busy week, but don’t like enough to purchase. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry would usually be one of those books – however, I enjoyed this book so much I’ll be purchasing a hard copy!

 I thought Zevin wrote a strong introduction. I like how the reader is introduced to Fikry initially from a stranger’s perspective. I made some disapproving noises at his don’t like list, then I made some sad sounds at his state of mind. This introduction hits home about how easy it is for people to misunderstand one another. Fikry grew on me as he himself grew. His development felt real. My favourite character is Lambiase, especially with his devotion to Costco appetizers (I feel you, man). He’s a good man, a nice, reasonable human being (how he reacts around page 177 solidified my opinion). What I especially loved about this story was reading about different people for whom books, played a significant role in their lives, in varying capacities. Finally, I was really pleased by the diversity in this book. This story shows how easy it can be to include diverse characters without skin colour being a defining characteristic of the book.

Despite the cover (I was so used to seeing the red and cream one, that doesn’t have any people on it), I had no idea a child was going to be key character.  When I read about a ‘mysterious package’, I become concerned I was going to get another plot like Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But I pressed on! I loved A.J. Fikry and company far more than I loved Penumbra and company. This book is really just about stories and how we love them and what they mean to us and how they shape our loves. It doesn’t try too hard, it’s not too pushy or mushy or contrived (okay, maybe it’s a little contrived. Maaaaaaybe a little mushy. But not too much for me!). What lover of books doesn’t wish they could have grown up in a bookstore? I was tickled by the description of little Maya’s mornings in the bookstore (67-8). I did ask myself, “Is it twee?” but I answered “NAW I ADORE IT”. I loved the conversation A.J. and Amelia have on their first date. It sounds like a conversation I might have (oh, someday, maybe, haha). I shouted in agreement when A.J. confessed his disappointment over Turkish Delight (79). I had the exact same experience – as I’m sure more than one reader has. I liked the book recommendations at the start of each chapter, as well. A more thoughtful reader than I would probably realize their (the recommendations) context before it becomes obvious. 

Above I said something about the story being not too push, mushy or contrived. Well, even I can’t deny that there is some melodrama and some less-than-realistic moments…but I loved it all the same. If you are even a little bit sentimental about books and reading, I think you will enjoy this book. It is amusing, it is delightful, it has heart. If you love to read, you will likely find plenty of moments in this book to connect with, even if the overarching plot is a bit much for your tastes.

This is a small, quick book but it has everything I want a book about books to have. I don’t need to say much more. By now it should be obvious whether you might like this book or not. For me, it came at just the right moment to connect with my reading soul. I’ve always loved reading but over the past years it’s become more and more important to me. This book reminded me that I’m not the only one experiencing the joys and woes of loving stories. I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much four or five years ago. The quote above is a popular one on Goodreads, but it just so happens to describe how I feel about this book.

The Bottom Line: Have you ever felt a positive emotion in reaction to a book? Then you too may love this little story.

Further Reading: 

Review: Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King

Author: Thomas King
Title: Green Grass, Running Water
Format/Source: ebook/Library
Published: March 1993
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Length: 469 pages
Genre: Humour + magical realism
Why I Read: CBC Books’ pick for March; want to read more Indigenous literature
Read If You’re: Appreciative of a different sort of humour; interested in Indigenous stories
Quote: “I am very sleepy, says Thought Woman, and then she goes back to sleep. Hee-hee, says that River. Hee-hee.” (198).
Rating:  ★★★★ [ratings guide]
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon

Green Grass, Running Water is the CBC Books’ Goodreads group pick for this month, and another book for my Indigenous Canadian authors list. Green Grass, Running Water first came on my radar a few years ago, during my time tutoring. Some students came to me with papers on the story. I don’t remember what the papers were about (I think they were comparative?) but somehow, I didn’t get the impression that this is a funny book. I expected a deep, serious story, full of vast symbolism. Well, it’s definitely full of symbolism, but certainly not as solemn as I expected. Humorous satire plays a huge role in this book.

“Why are you talking to animals? says the little man. This is a Christian ship. Animals don’t talk. We got rules.” (125).

I might even recommend it for someone who wants a laugh (if they’re ready to work for it). However, I wonder how much of the humour depends on understanding some of the symbolism, or the cultural/historical context. My advantage came from the Aboriginal spirituality courses I took in university. I think without that, the Coyote and four Elders threads would have been beyond my understanding (and that’s just one major example – plenty of less significant bits would have gone by me as well.)
I made many small notes whenever something in the story clicked for me. There are many things I understood only a little bit, things I recognized I didn’t understandd (the significance of the puddles…), and probably plenty more things I didn’t even know I didn’t understand (a good example of this is the names of the bit characters – Jennifer’s posts in the Goodreads discussion brought this light). So, I was very pleased with myself when something, even if it was obvious, did click! This is a book that could benefit from multiple readings. But, I think some outside research would be necessary to understand a lot of it, for those of us who aren’t history buffs. I may hit up a reader’s guide. King has said understanding every reference isn’t critical to understanding the story, but now that I know they’re there, I want to understand them!
Because there is so much going on, much of it without context, I wonder – what’s the author’s purpose in writing this sort of story? How much will his readers get out of it? What does he want them to get out of it? But then I think “Screw it! Why am I always asking this question?” Even though I don’t think authorial intent is important to consider when understanding a story, I guess I think that if I know the author’s intent, I could garner something from a book I didn’t really understand. When I don’t understand something seems to be the only time I ask the question…if I get something out of a book, it doesn’t matter what the author intended – that book succeeded for me in some way. I wrote a bit more about this early in the Goodreads discussion (I wondered how much work should an author leave to the reader in understanding the cultural and historical backgrounds of a novel). Anyway. That’s this review’s tangent for you.
This is an Aboriginal story that touches on a lot of ‘issues’ without those ‘issues’ being the main purpose of the story. It goes beyond specific tragic circumstances (for example, residential schools abuse, alcoholism, etc.) to explore a broader picture of Indigenous people trying to find their place in today’s world, a balance between tradition and modernity. I think this quote sums up what the policies and attitudes Indigenous people are left to face today:

“Who’d have guessed there would still be Indians kicking around in the twentieth century?” (121)

I’d be remiss to not mention that this book is chock-full of great characters. My favourites were Alberta, a no-nonsense character I admired, Lionel, who’s really trying, and Babo, who understands more of what’s going on than the rest of us, probably.

The Bottom Line: Even though a lot of this story probably went over my head, I enjoyed the story lines and characters.

 Further Reading: 

Reread Review: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Title: White is for Witching
Format/Source: Hardcover/my copy
Published: June 2009
Publisher: Picador
Length: 230 pages
Genre: Contemporary + magical realism
Why I Read: Ready for my annual reread
Rating:  ★★★★★ [ratings guide]
Second book for the Reread Challenge
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon

I love this book so much that I refuse to discuss it. Even if you loved it as much as I did, I don’t want to hear about it. Perhaps you loved it in a different way. I don’t want to know. I don’t want my love of this book to be spoiled in any way! I’m very fierce about it. There isn’t any other book about which I feel this way.* Then why I am writing this post? Oh, I don’t know, I’m just asking for trouble, aren’t I? ;P This year thus far I’ve been very diligent about documenting everything I’ve read and this book counts towards the 2015 Re-read Challenge I’m participating in…so maybe making a few notes about my reading experience (without somehow talking about the book itself) won’t kill me.

WHEN I First Read – I can’t quite remember, but I think it must have been shortly after the book’s publication in summer 2009 (certainly my first reading was in 2009). I remember reading it in the cafeteria at high school. Since then, I’ve read the book nearly every year (2014 flashed by too quickly for me to choose a good time to read it ;_;).

WHAT I Remember – I remember how I felt while reading it – totally enveloped in the story, as though nothing else exists, feeling differently even after I set the book down, spending more time quietly and observantly, thinking about different things than usual. I remember how the book feels in my hands, the soft touch of the pages and the perfect style of the font. I remember how I’m not sure I can ever understand the whole story, but I discover something new on each reading.

WHY I Wanted to Re-Read – To experience the sensations described above! I know I did an awful job at trying to describe ‘that feeling’ I get from this book. Perhaps it’s best to say no other book has made me feel that way. This is why I so often return to it. Also, I felt especially eager to read it because I hadn’t read it in 2014 (I should have read it in the spring, before I got caught in moving overseas!).

HOW I Felt After Re-Reading – Just as satisfied as every other time! Every now and then, I do a search for Helen Oyeyemi on Twitter to see if I’ve missed any interviews, etc. I was delighted to find another reader tweeting about how she felt the same way. She was reading the book for the first time and we talked about how we love it so much we don’t want to talk about it with anyone! I was very happy to find someone who felt the same way. She didn’t want the story to end, so I assured her it holds up on rereads.

WOULD I Re-Read Again -Yes, of course. I will continue to read this book every year, until – heaven forbid – it starts to lose its magic for me.

There. I’ve done it. I’ve spoken publicly about my most beloved book. I’m still standing. It’ll still be the same wonderful book next I read it. Phew. 😉 Is there a book you fiercely guard and love? 

*I only have a greater love for the Tolkien’s Middle-Earth writings, but it’s a different kind. That world is so vast, it allows a for a broad variety of fans. I can easily find those who feel the same way, and even if I’m chatting with those who have a different love than mine, I can set aside my personal adoration to explore all all its intricacies and build on them with other fans.

Blogging Discussion: How I Write a Review

Last month, I wrote about the difference between writing positive and negatives review. This month I’d like to talk about how I write a review. I think this might be an informal feature going forward – these discussion posts about blogging. As I delve deeper into book blogging, I’d like to get a bit meta and chat about subjects particular to book blogging. Onto this month’s topic!

***

As I started my review of The Third Plate, I realized I had settled into a regular pattern for how I write reviews. I decided to document how I wrote that review.

  1. Copy notes into a Word document – While I’m reading, I make notes on my iPad or directly in ebooks.
  2. Jot down initial thoughts – When I sit down to write the review, I make a note of any immediate thoughts I have.
  3. Organize notes and thoughts into groups – I look for common themes in my notes and group together related ideas. These groupings usually develop into paragraphs.
  4. Review remaining notes and organize/delete/make more paragraphs as needed – This is a final tidy step before I start writing.
  5. Quickly mold notes into sentences – This results in some very poorly formed paragraphs. The idea is to make the first draft, just get something ‘on paper’ to work with.
  6. Build up the paragraphs – Here is the longest step, the bulk of writing. I develop each of my fledgling paragraphs into something intelligible.
  7.  Edit the paragraphs – Once I’m done writing, I give everything an overview to see if it makes sense in context. I may rearrange paragraphs and do another edit.
  8. Write The Bottom Line – The Bottom Line is basically a summary of my review, so I save it for last.
  9. Read the post in preview – The final edit stage! The main purpose is to read aloud, catch any awkward bits, and fix any wayward formatting.
  10. Publish the post – This isn’t really a step but I saw I was at 9 and wanted to round out at 10 😉
This is the process I follow for my usual reviews. How do you write a review? Do you follow the same process every time?