How do you choose what to read next?

I was sort of looking forward to a weekend of being snowed in. I love knowing that the weather prohibits me from getting out and I don’t feel even remotely guilty about curling up on the couch in my pyjamas with whatever book I am currently reading. But the storm they were predicting overnight Friday night never materialized, at least in this part of the province. So, I ended up doing my typical weekend stuff – most of which consists of driving kids to various events and activities.

If I had been able to stay snuggled indoors all weekend, I probably would have finished the book I am currently reading: Laura Munson’s This Is Not the Story You Think It Is.  Then I would have enjoyed starting the next book chosen for our book club, The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.

Which brings me to today’s Sunday Salon topic: how do you choose what to read next? Do you have a small bedside stack? Do you have way too many books on your tbr pile (so then how do you choose?) Do you head out to the bookstore? I’d love to hear how you go from finished book to new book?

Book trailers

The world of book marketing has certainly changed over the past few years.  When I was a kid, all you had to go on when choosing a book was the blurb on the back or prior knowledge of the author, which would explain all the Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins books in the collections of people of a certain age – we bought what we knew.  I also used to love pouring over the Scholastic flyers when they came to school, those little snippets enticing me to part with my hard-earned cash. (Come to think of it, I still love the Scholastic flyers!)

We didn’t have access to books the way we do now – no book superstores like Chapters/Indigo, no online stores like The Book Depository or Bookcloseouts. For me, I went to the library a lot and received books as gifts.

Now, in addition to the scads of information on the Internet, savvy book publishers are making awesome little book trailers to promote books. They aren’t all created equal, of course, but some of them can make the book seem really appealing (just like a movie trailer).  I also love doing book trailers with kids in the classroom. I’ve done them a couple times with different groups and the kids really enjoy doing them and the results are almost always thoughtful and creative.

Here are some great book trailers.

 

 

and this one, Amazon’s Best Book Video of 2009!

 

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand – Helen Simonson

Helen Simonson’s debut novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is the next best thing to spending a holiday in the English countryside. When we meet the title character, Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), he’s just received the news that his younger brother, Bertie, has died. He’s trying, rather unsuccessfully, to cope with the news when Mrs. Ali, proprietress of the local village shop, appears at his door to collect the paper money. She takes note of his unsteady appearance and  offers to make him a cup of tea. Thus begins their relationship.

Mrs. Ali was, he half suspected, an educated woman, a person of culture. Nancy had been such a rare person, too, fond of her books and of little chamber concerts in village churches. But she had left him alone to endure the blunt tweedy concerns of the other women of their acquaintance. Women who talked horses and raffles at the hunt hall and who delighted in clucking over which unreliable young mother from the council cottages had messed up  arrangements for this week’s play group at the Village Hall. Mrs. Ali was more like Nancy. She was a butterfly to their scuffle of pigeons. He acknowledged a notion that he might wish to see Mrs. Ali again outside of the shop, and wondered whether this might be proof that he was not as ossified as his sixty-eight years, and the limited opportunities of village life, might suggest.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is one of those little gems of a novel – beautifully written, with characters so remarkably authentic they seem to jump off the page. Pettigrew is a widower and Mrs. Ali, too, has lost a spouse. They are drawn together because of a shared love of Kipling, but they live in a small town – everysmalltown, really, where everyone knows your name and your business – and not everyone would have them together. Although Mrs. Ali was born in England, she’s Pakistani and therefore viewed by some as ‘unsuitable.’ I think Pettigrew’s feelings for her take him quite by surprise.  I suspect he thought that at 68, that part of his life was over.

In some ways, Pettigrew is a stuffed shirt. He likes things ‘just so.’ He desires attention and often  believes he’s entitled. The beautiful thing about him, though, is his willingness to change, and he does, too. His relationship with his son, a pompous banker who lives in London, undergoes a transformation. He starts to care less about tangible things, like a pair of shotguns that had once belonged to his father, and more about feelings and people.

To say that nothing much happens in Simonson’s novel is to miss the quiet patina of daily  life – much of which, at least as it’s written here, is laugh out loud funny. As people plan parties that can only go awry, as children squabble over their rightful inheritance, as the battle-lines are drawn between cultures, Major Pettigrew tries to find a way to navigate the messy business of living. He is proof that life does offer second chances, if we are brave enough to open our hearts to receive them.