Some Books I Own But Haven’t Read

I don’t own a lot amount of books. A rough estimate puts the total shy of 300 (a lot being totally subjective, of course…). I give careful consideration to each book I purchase. I don’t usually buy a book without having read it first, exceptions being for authors I already admire. Most of these purchases come when long-held notions of “Hey, I thought I might read that someday!” or “Haven’t I heard good things about this?” meet bargain prices. Because I own relatively few books that I haven’t read yet, I don’t feel any need yet to start getting through them. However, because I bought these books on a whim with no planned intention to read them, they often slip from my notice. They get lost on the physical shelf, or I forget to add them to my virtual shelf, and a book not on my Goodreads TBR may as well not exist. I started storing unread purchases in a crate under my bed, so I can easily pull it out and see what’s waiting for me. (This crate also contains library books.) A few of these unreads I’ve already added to my 2016-maybes shelf. No pressure, but I don’t want to let them languish forever πŸ˜‰ 

  1. The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang – Bargain book. A pretty little thing recommended by Andi.
  2. Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden – Used book from a store where I had a credit. Was on my Indigenous authors TBR last year.
  3. The Lexicographer’s Dilemma by Jack Lynch – Bargain book. Author familiar to me from my History of English course.
  4. The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America by Langdon Cook – Bargain book. I like these kind of food books.
  5. The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson – One of the few physical books I purchased while in Japan. Never got in the mood for it.
  6. The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald – See above.
  7. Japanese Portraits by Donald Richie – Bargain book.
  8. Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo – Ahh, this one’s a bit different. Bought from Shakespeare and Co. in 2010. More of a souvenir than a book I really want to read.
  9. Little, Big by John Crowley – A rare book shopping therapy purchase! Meaning, I wanted to go to a bookstore and buy something without preplanning. I believe Neil Gaiman likes this one.
  10. Beowulf by Seamus Heney – Bargain book. I’ve never read the whole thing through.

This post evolved out of a little debate with myself over whether I should take up Andi’s Read My Own Damn Books challenge. I see a lot of bloggers write about how they own far too many unread books. Thankfully this is not yet the case for me, so in the end I decided there wasn’t really any reason for me to take on that challenge πŸ˜› Are you more like me, or do you have a daunting TBR at home?

Brief Thoughts: The Karluk’s Last Voyage by Robert A. Bartlett

GoodReads | IndieBound | Chapters | Amazon

β˜…β˜…β˜…Β½

Call it love of adventure if you will; it seems to me the life that ought to appeal to any man with red blood in his veins, for as long as there is a square mile of the old earth’s surface that is unexplored, man will want to seek out that spot and find out all about ti and bring back word of what he finds. Some people call the search for the North Pole a sporting event; to me it represents the unconquerable aspiration of mankind to attain an ideal. Our Karluk drift and its possibilities interested me keenly, for we were on the way to a vast region where man had never been; we were learning things about ocean currents and the influence of the winds and almost daily were bringing up strange specimens from the bottom of the sea. And I felt sure that come what might we would get back in safety to civilization. (50)

  • One of the earliest chapter books I remember reading, perhaps in grade three, is Traped in Ice by Eric Walters. The main character is Helen, a 13 year-old who boards the Karluk with her seamstress mother and younger brother. I remember being disappointed, at that age, when I  eventually found out she wasn’t real (There was a Helen aboard the Karluk – an 8 year old Inuit girl, on board with her mother, father, and baby sister).
  • One scene that stood out for me from Trapped In Ice was Captain Bartlett playing Chopin’s “Funeral March” as the ship goes down, and jumping from the ship to the ice at the last moment. Of all the bits of the tale I expected to be fictionalized…this one wasn’t! I didn’t know what happened to the Captain after he left the island to get help (other than that they were eventually rescued), so there was still a good chunk of the story left (about 50%) for me to learn about.
  • I enjoyed reading the tale in the Captain’s own words. I have a budding interest in seafaring exploration. This is the first book I’ve read that was written by someone who lived it. The tone is naturally a bit more formal and old-fashioned so while it wasn’t a dull read for me it felt much slower going as the two books I’d read immediately prior I had completed in a day each. I did get the sense that quite a lot of sugar-coating happens in this narration, if only by omission…This is not a tell-all where Bartlett disparages those who might rightly deserve to be. I have a couple other books on my TBR about the Karluk, so I’ll have to compare. Bartlett remains very factual at times, but his personality does come through. I especially felt for him as he wrote of his angst while he waited weeks for a ship to be finally sent to pick up the remainder of the Karluk crew, knowing that they had no idea if he had succeeded. 
  • How well off they were, for so long after the Karluk was trapped and sunk, surprised me. They had good stores of food and no health troubles. Of course, how they fared after Bartlett departed isn’t really dealt with (and see my comment on sugar-coating above…). Still, I’m always amazed at how much can be packed into a ship!
  • Bartlett has a largely decent attitude towards the Inuit. Though he at times uses the term savages, he seems to respect them and their abilities. He writes, “Then he [an Inuit he’s trying to trade with] voice the age-old cry of the savage against the civilized; the pity of it is that the savage is right. ‘White man steal from other man,’ he said. ‘White man promise bring things for fox skins and bear skins. White man no bring ’em. White man go ‘way, forget come back.'” (251)
  • I liked the bits where Bartlett explains about the practicalities of travelling in the Arctic. I even liked his lists of supplies! I was reminded of Chris Hadfield’s book, which really put into perspective the astonishing amount of knowledge of an astronaut must have in order to be able to survive many scenarios. Bartlett demonstrates his knowledge of Arctic ice travel, of rationing and keeping moral and navigating dangerous ice, which saved those who followed his lead.

Pemmican has been the staple article of food for polar expeditions for many years and contains, in small compass, the essentials adequate to support life. It is put up by various packing-houses, expressly for such needs as ours. I have lived for a hundred and twenty days on pemmican, biscuit and tea and found it amply sufficient. We had two kinds of pemmican; one, for ourselves, consisting of beef, raisins, sugar and suet, all cooked together and pressed, was packed in blue tins; the other, for the dogs, without the raisins and sugar, in red tins. I remember once, after a talk which I was giving on the North Pole trip, a lady came up to me and inquired what pemmican was, which I had mentioned several times. I explained what it was made of and what it was used for. She thought for a moment and then said, “Well, what I don’t understand is how you shoot them.” (117-8)

Review: The Evolution of Alice by David A. Robertson

Author: David A. Robertson
Title: The Evolution of Alice
Format/Source: Paperback/library 
Published: 2014
Publisher: Highwater Press
Length: 203 pages
Genre: Indigenous fiction
Why I Read: Library browsing
Read If You: Like sombre, character-driven stories 
Quote: “Sometimes pain needed a quiet place to be, to spread out and get less sharp, I guess.” (25)
Rating:β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…
Links: GoodReads | Chapters | Amazon

 This haunting, emotionally resonant story delivers us into the world of Alice, a single mother raising her three young daughters on the rez where she grew up. Alice has never had an easy life, but has managed to get by with the support of her best friend, Gideon, and her family. When an unthinkable loss occurs, Alice is forced onto a different path, one that will challenge her belief in herself and the world she thought she knew.

The province-wide On the Same Page programme encourages everyone in the province to read and discuss a book at the same time. Readers voted this year for The Evolution of Alice.The programme includes “author appearances and special events”, though unfortunately I won’t be able to attend any. I decided to read this book because 1)the summary + reviews on the back enticed me, 2) it’s the novel debut of a local Indigenous author whose graphic novels I previously studied and 3)I’ve never participated in On the Same Page.

Though the story pivots around an awful death and follows a family’s sorrows, I found the tale ultimately satisfying and uplifting because of its deeply realistic characters. They endure tragedy, yet  remain decent human beings. No nasty or vicious people populate this story when you might expect them. That’s not to say everyone is on their best behaviour at all times…only to say that here is a story about not about vile monsters or permanently shattered souls, but about real people realizing their flaws and their troubles and trying to do better.

The local setting injected a layer of reality to the story for me. I have an awkward prejudice against books explicitly set in my home area. I assume they’ll be boring and I feel weird when locations are specified. However, I appreciated the local setting in this story. I liked Robertson’s references to places I could recognize from context alone. For example, I know the city is where I live, I walk past the coffee shop across the street from the big department store on my way to university, and I can picture the bridge a woman prepared to leap from. Instead of thinking “Ugh, this is weird, I know that place” like I do when places are explicitly stated, I thought “Hey, I know where that is!” as I put together the cues to create a location in my mind. Having to recreate these familiar places made me feel more connected to the story and the characters’ experiences.  

I also appreciate that Robertson has written an Indigenous story that isn’t solely about Indigenous issues. This book can be read as a universal tale that could teach us something about empathy.  Indigenous people are not always ‘other’; we are all the same people. This makes the story highly relevant for my fellow citizens. (Last year an ‘infamous’ article was published about how my city is the most racist in the country for its attitude toward Indigenous peoples.) I don’t want to disvalue the differences between Indigenous and White experiences. However, I think in my province’s case, at this time, we may be better served in recognizing our similarities rather than allowing ourselves to become disenchanted when we perceive stereotypical differences.

Gideon’s first person narration about Alice comprises the bulk of the tale, shifting to third person about halfway through. Robertson intersperses vignettes and some longer chapters from other perspectives. Often these alternative chapters added another perspective to Gideon’s. My favourites were the chapters about Edward, who sees Kathy on the highway when she tries to run away, and Harvey, who briefly connects with Alice in the city. A few of the vignettes felt too disjointed from the main story, such as the boy who discovers his Cree heritage.

Finally, I found Gideon’s voice, and Robertson’s prose in general, soothing. It was very easy for me to read this book in a day. On the back of the book, Alison Gilmour describes Robertson’s voice as “immediate, unflinching, and emotionally generous.” I would “unpretentious” and “articulate”, though those words seem to fall short of what I’m trying to invoke! Perhaps this passage captures it, a little bit.

[Gideon speaks to Alice as she swings.] It was a long conversation to have that way, but as I heard more and more I wasn’t about to ask her to come down from the tire swing. Up there, she was safe, and the girls were safe and that was that. After she told me everything, she stopped pumping her legs, and after a few minutes her swinging settled into a light rocking. made our visit a lot easier. I saw her struggling with it a bit, her brain that is. So I decided to say something all Elder-like to her. I pointed to an old dirt road just about 20 yards to our right. It was pretty much grown over with grass, you could hardly see it, but it was still a road. It went right through the field, right up to the distant tree line, and got tinier and tinier on its way. “You know, my grandpa used to tell me that all the roads around here just lead us right back home,” I said. I wasn’t even sure what the connection was, and after I’d said it I kind of felt dumb about it. I tried to figure what I was getting at, for Alice and for me, so I added, “But, I don’t know, maybe he was wrong, maybe roads take us where we’re s’posed to be.” (21)

    The Bottom Line: A worthy selection for the province-wide book club. In The Evolution of Alice, Robertson has penned a vivid and moving story about Indigenous experiences that has relevancy for all readers.

    Further Reading: 

    Bout of Books 15 Master Post

    Bout of BooksThe Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01AM Monday, January 4th and runs through Sunday, January 10th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 15 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. – From the Bout of Books team  

    After seeing posts from JMill Wanders and Bookish Illuminations, I’ve decided to jump in at the last minute to participate in my first ever Bout of Books. This is the first event where the timing has worked out for me. I have simple goals. I want to take at least 45 minutes out of my day for dedicated reading. The past few days, I’ve read whenever I have a moment as opposed to cozying up with a book. I’ve read more than I thought I could in those small moments, but I still want to enjoy my dedicated reading time! I want to read 5 books from my recent library haul. (Perhaps Uprooted, The Magician’s Elephant, Stories for Nighttime and Some for Day, Imaginary Girls and Of Bees and Mist. I also want to finish The Karluk’s Last Voyage.) No page goals. I want to focus more on ‘just reading’, rather than ‘quantity reading’.

    Wrap-Up

    •  I read five books during the week. I finished one book I had started a few days before the read-a-thon – The Karluk’s Last Voyage. I started and finished three books – Uprooted, Rob Carrick’s Guide to […] Canadian Investments, and Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day. I started one book on the final day – The Magician’s Elephant. So, I made progress on four out of the six books I listed from library haul.
    • I read for at least 45 minutes each day, for a total of 10 hours! I hope I can keep up that rate in the next few weeks before I take off. 
    • I participated in four challenges and one Twitter chat. I love those chats! I always have fun, and they’re the best way for me to find new-to-me bloggers.

     Saturday (Day 7) Results

    • Books read: The Magician’s Elephant
    • Reading time: 45 min.

    Saturday (Day 6) Results

    • Books read: Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (completed)
    • Reading time: 1 hr
    • Busy day! Didn’t do the Comfy Reading Spot Challenge

    Friday (Day 5) Results

    •  Books read: Uprooted (completed), Rob Carrick’s Guide to What’s Good, Bad and Downright Awful in Canadian Investments Today (completed; hah, not a book I planned to read but I have a meeting at the bank to talk about doing ‘investing’ tomorrow so I picked a few books out of the library to try to get a Canadian perspective on the basics), Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (started)
    • Reading time: 2.5 hrs
    • Scavenger Hunt Challenge

    Thursday (Day 4) Results

    • Books read: Uprooted (continued)
    • Reading time: 2 hrs (again up past my bed time)
    • Villain Mash Up Challenge:
      • Browsing my bookshelves, I realize most books don’t really have villains! The only notable ones come from my favourite middle grades read, in books I first read more than 10 years ago. When I was in middle school, my favourite villains were Capricorn from Inkheart, Count Olaf from A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Saint Dane from the Pendragon series. Capricorn interests me less than he once did; I haven’t read Pendragon since the publication of the final book (I suspect those stories won’t work well for an older reader), but when I re-read The Bad Beginning a couple years ago, Olaf creeped me out even more than when I was a child. Problem is, I don’t know who to pair him off against! I’d like to see a match-up of villains trying to out-scheme and outwit each other…The few other villains I can think of come from fantasy worlds and wouldn’t really be a fair match to Olaf. Perhaps Opal from Artemis Fowl? If we gave a level playing field (basically, put Opal into Olaf’s world), I can imagine the two racing to steal riches in some intricate, absurd plot.

     Wednesday (Day 3) Results

    • Books read: Uprooted (started)
    • Reading time: 2 hrs (I stayed up late reading this one!)
    • Rainbow Cover Challenge
      • Coincidentally featuring many of my favourite books/middle grade authors! I didn’t like the gap in the middle so I added a cloud πŸ™‚

    Tuesday (Day 2) Results

    • Books read: The Karluk’s Last Voyage (finished)
    • Reading time:  1 hr, 45 min.
    • Would You Rather Challenge
      • Lend books to someone who dog-ears pages or to someone who reads with cheesy Cheetos fingers – There is a chance I could rescue those dog-eared pages! Greasy marks are forever, though.
      •  Be able to meet one character of your choice or meet one author of your choice – Thought I can think of a number of characters who would be entertaining to meet, this one’s a no brainer for me. I would love to meet Tolkien (question doesn’t specify living author!).
      • Never be allowed in a book store again or never be allowed in a library again – Oh gosh, what a terrible choice, but again for me, the answer is easy. I thrive off libraries and I want to be a librarian. 
      • Have to choose one of your favorite characters to die in their book or have to pick one of your favorite couples to break up in their book – Couple break up. I don’t really have favourite couples, so maybe my answer would differ otherwise, but you can survive a break up.
      • Be required to read Twilight once a year for the rest of your life or The Scarlet Letter once a year for the rest of your life – The Scarlet Letter I think I could tolerate, Twilight not so much. 

    Jumping Into January (Library Book Haul)

    I visited the library on December 28. I snuggled into an armchair and pulled out my iPad I opened the Goodreads and library apps. I was cross-referencing my 2016-maybes shelf with the library’s available books and ebooks (if I can borrow a book as an ebook, I save it for when I’m travelling). I drew up a list, then headed out into the stacks. I enjoy browsing books on GoodReads, but holding a book in my hands and reading a few pages remains the only way I can truly evaluate a book’s potential. I had great success with this final visit of 2015. I picked up 15 books, including middle grade, young adult, fiction and non-fiction. One book I began to read while waiting for my ride and I finished it in one sitting! Here are my remaining books:

    I hope to fit a lot of good reading into this month, as I’ll be travelling from February to May with no guaranteed access to books I want to read. This library stack should give me a solid start! What do you think of my picks? Do you have any reading plans for the first weeks of 2016