Before I Go To Sleep – SJ Watson

What are we, if not an accumulation of our memories?

Memories are a bit of a problem for the protagonist of SJ Watson’s debut novel Before I Go To Sleep. Twenty years ago, Christine was in a serious accident that left her without the ability to retain memories. That means every morning she wakes up in a room she doesn’t recognize, with a husband she doesn’t remember and in a body she’s troubled to discover is twenty years older than it should be. She muddles through the day, trying to piece her fractured life back together – with the knowledge that she’s going to have to do it all over again the next day. That’s right: she goes to sleep and her brain erases all the memories of the day.

Before I Go To Sleep was my book club’s first read for 2012 and was also my pick. We had a lively discussion about the book’s merits and I am happy to say that with a few minor caveats, the women in my group (except for one) generally enjoyed the book.

The general concensus was that Watson did an admirable job of writing a convincing female – not an easy task, I don’t think. We had a little bit of a debate about the novel’s structure. At least one person was put off by constantly having to re-read the story, rediscovering memories as Christine did. I actually think that it was deftly handled. If I am feeling frustrated by having to hear stuff over and over, imagine how trapped by her circumstances¬†Christine must be feeling. ūüôā

I alo think Watson was striving to write something more than just a thriller – although he did that quite handily. I think he was trying to say something about memory and how our memories shape us. It’s a fear of mine, really, to be old and not know my children or the other people who have been important to me. Christine’s situation means that she is forced to learn painful information over and over again – and it’s heartbreaking.

The book had me in its iron grip until the last 50 or so pages- when I have to say that it fell apart for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t buy a certain part of it (and, really, it’s¬† almost impossible to talk about without giving anything away), let me just say this: too much convenient exposition. Too neat.

That said, Before I Go To Sleep was a great way to kick off our 12th reading year.

SJ Watson talks about the book and his writing here.



18/365 – Sir Isaac Newton

Okay, I am not going to even pretend to know anything about Newton…or science for that matter; I really am a one trick pony. I mean, I understand that he made many important contributions to science – the telescope, for instance – but his discoveries, while amazing and world changing, aren’t really on my radar. (He didn’t invent that, did he?)

However,¬†this is really cool if you’re a science person. Or, potentially, even if you’re not.

Cambridge University, Newton’s alma mater, has digitized Newton’s work and it’s available for public perusal.¬† Considering Newton’s dates (1642-1727), I find this remarkable.

Check it out here.


17/365 – reading aloud

I remember my mom reading to my brothers and I when I was a kid. We had this beautiful set of junior reader books. The¬†books were divided into categories: Fairy Tales, Myths and Legends, Growing Up – things like that. I think they might still be in the basement of my brother’s house.

One particular story she read a lot was O Henry’s The Ransom of Red Chief. She couldn’t actually make it through the whole story without laughing hysterically – although as a kid I never really never understood why. As a parent, I totally get it now. Mom also used to read Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems to us. I remember “The Swing” vividly. His¬†collection was one of the first I bought for my daughter after she was born.

I read to my kids when they were little. They loved Dr. Suess. My son loved the David books.¬† They loved Winnie the Pooh and when they were small,¬†they referred to an area near our house as the 100 acre wood. Books have always been a part of their lives and so has reading aloud.¬†I read aloud to my students. Three quarters of the way through Paul Zindel’s classic, The Pigman, my grade nine students were begging me to finish. I believe that reading aloud is important -as a reader and as an audience, even if you are just an audience of one.

Michael Scotto shares his recollections of first audience in his lovely essay Two Scenes of Reading over at NerdyBookClub, an exceptional blog if you are interested in books for children and young adults.

16/365 – lists, lists and more lists

January is generally the month of reflection. We turn the calendar page and many of us also turn a little internal page: what can I change to make¬† my life, my health, my wealth…me…better? I don’t actually make New Year’s resolutions – I’ve never really had that kind of resolve. Instead, I try to adjust things as I go. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not – but at least I don’t have the added pressure of having made an official resolution to live up to.

One thing I have committed to in 2012¬†is to read more books. As many of you know, I have a hefty to-be-read¬†list, and it seems to grow almost daily. I also keep a little notebook filled with the names of books I hope will someday end up on my to-be-read shelf. It’s kinda crazy, but when I finish one book I have literally hundreds of unread books to choose from. My children think it’s a bit of a problem…and I don’t disagree!

How do books make it to my tbr list? Well, I read a lot of blogs (and I’ll be sharing some of my favourites with you over the coming weeks) and I also peruse end-of-the year lists. SCC English, the blog of the ¬†English Dept. of St Columba’s College in Dublin, did booklovers everywhere a great service when they compiled¬†a list of Books of the Year 2011¬†They’ve gathered, in one place, books lists from over 50 media outlets and other resources, giving readers a convenient one-stop-shop of lists to help them add to their own own ever-growing tbr piles.

Have fun!

15/365 – Sunday Salon

I thought I would change the format for Sunday…and instead of yapping on, I’d give you the opportunity to talk about the books. So, on Sunday I’ll ask a question and invite you to answer.

Before 2011 slips from our memory…tell me about the best book you read in 2011. Is it something I’ve read? (If so, great, we can share our thoughts). Is it something on my tbr list? (Great, maybe I should move it to the top of the pile.) Is it something that’s not even on my radar? (Great, maybe I should check it out!)

In case you missed it, my top ten list for 2011 is here

Now it’s your turn.

The best book I read in 2011 was….

Right Behind You – Gail Giles

On the afternoon on his seventh birthday, I set Bobby Clarke on fire.

I was nine.

It was all about Bobby’s birthday present.

A baseball glove.

Gail Giles YA novel Right Behind You grabbed me from the start. It’s the story of Kip McFarland who lives a hardscrabble life with his father in the Alaskan wilderness. Kip’s mom has recently died of cancer, and you get the impression that Kip and his father aren’t coping too well.

When Bobby Clarke shows up to gloat about his new baseball glove, Kip overreacts and douses him with gasoline. What happens next is shocking and tragic and¬†changes Kip’s life forever.

Kip spends the next five years of his life in a locked down psychiatric facility. The reader¬†has a front row seat¬†to Kip’s therapy, and his own attempts to sabotage his recovery. But life does go on for Kip and his father once Kip is released. Right Behind You drags the reader along with Kip as he struggles to reinvent himself.

This story is successful on a couple fronts. For one thing, the writing is interesting. I loved the line: The hollow inside me filled up with red mean. I¬†liked it so much, I¬†stopped to copy it down when I read it. I also loved Kip and that’s saying something because, let’s face it, what he does to Bobby is inexcusable even if he was only nine. He’s smart and he has the ability to scratch beneath the surface of his own psyche. He doesn’t always like what he finds, but that’s what makes¬†him human.

The story takes us from Alaska to the Texan coast and even though several years transpire, I never felt as though Giles was rushing to the conclusion. And when Kip gets there – to the next part of his story – readers will wish him peace because he’s earned it.