Tag Archive | Book Chat

Off the Shelf

Listen here.

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I’ve discovered Litsy. It started as an app for Apple but is now available for android and if any of you are book nerds (and, really, if you aren’t what are you doing here?)  it’s awesome…except for the whole it’s on your phone thing. Basically, it’s a community of passionate readers who talk about books – they share short reviews, or just general comments about what they are reading. Lots of pictures of cats and books because we readers love our cats – but basically a nice place to hang out. It’s very user friendly and the site tracks your reading – pages and books read, offers virtual shelves to store books and has a simple thumbs up/down review system. You also gain Litfluence points when people interact to your comments.

This is where I heard about a cool thing they do in Halifax and I would LOVE it if some local establishment would consider a similar thing. Good Robot, a local brewery in Halifax offers a silent reading night once a month. Patrons come with their books and at the appointed time the bar is silent and they just read – no conversation, no cell phones, just your beer and your book. Reading is such a solitary activity – but how cool would it be to share your reading with fellow bibliophiles before and after the reading period.

So I am back at Harbour View which means that I am reading a lot more YA again – I generally take a little break in the summer. So this morning I am going to share one terrific YA title and one general title, but both of these books were un-put-down-able.

let you goFirst up is Claire McIntosh’s novel I Let You Go. A mother is walking home in the pouring rain with her young son. Just at the road across the street from their home, he lets go of her hand and runs across the street. Out of nowhere, a car comes barreling down the street and hits the boy. From this point on, I Let You Go is a grab-you-by-the-throat suspense thriller that follows Jenna Gray as she goes to the Welsh coast to escape the tragic death and the police detectives, Ray and Kate, who are trying to find the driver behind the wheel.

Lots of these types of books out there these days, many of them being compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which I guess is just a way to sell more books, really. I guess it’s a helpful comparison if you are a fan of suspense thrillers, but, really, not everything is going to be Gone Girl – nor should it. Anyway. I Let You Go works really well as both a police procedural and as a meditation on grief and then, the whole narrative turns on its ear and you’re left there going, hold on, what just happened. But in a good way. Nail-biting fun.

My YA title is All the Rage by Courtney Summers. I am a fan of Summers, who is a courtney-summers-all-the-rageCanadian writer and a while back I spoke about her zombie apocalypse title This is Not a Test. All the Rage is an important book because it tackles the issue of consent and victim-shaming. It’s about a girl called Romy who is raped by the sheriff’s son, but she doesn’t report it because she lives in a small town where most everyone is beholden to the sheriff and his wife, who owns a business that employs a lot of people. Romy is trying to sort through this horrible event, when she wakes up on the side of the road with absolutely no memory of what has happened to her and, of course, this causes tremendous anxiety, but it also further distances her from her family ( a very sympathetic mother and her equally lovely boyfriend) and a potential new boyfriend. I won’t be able to adequately express how important this book is because it tackles a lot of issues that young women cope with every day: the right to say no. The right to dress the way they want and still say no. Bullying. It’s just hot-button topic galore. It’s won just about every prize known to the world of YA, if you care about that sort of thing. It’s timely and gut-wrenching, but I think it has a place on library shelves.

 

 

Meet The Ludic Reader Jr.

If you are regular reader of this blog, then you may remember when my son, Connor, did a guest review of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. This week we spent not one, but two days at Indigo because Con was intent on spending $150 worth of gift cards and he couldn’t wait. That got me thinking about Connor’s love of books, and I thought he might make for an interesting interview subject. I sent him the questions and here are his answers, in his own words – with only minor editing for clarity. (He’s a writer, too, my son.)

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Tell me about where your love of reading began.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to read (or being read to). I think I owe it to my parents for making me into the reader that I am today. When I was young – too young to pick up a book of my own free will – I was read to almost constantly; I’m willing to bet there wasn’t a night that went by where I didn’t read with some family member. And if my mom was not reading to me, my grandmother was, and this bled into my early childhood and then into my teen years, which makes it very difficult to pinpoint a precise time (think of trying to find a particular grain of sand on a beach). I really do think that a love of reading has a lot to do with genetics and so for the sake of clarity and of this belief, I’ll just say that my love of reading started in the womb. My conception is synonymous with my corruption, really.

Tell me about the first book you remember reading.

CoralineThe first book that I remember choosing and reading on my own is absolutely Coraline by Neil Gaiman. Every singular detail surrounding this book – details that, with any other book, would be vague – I remember in an almost frighteningly visceral way: the store from which I bought the book (Loyalist City Coin, a local second hand shop), the weather on the day in question (bright and hot; the pavement was steaming and the sky was aching blue), and all manner of other smells and sounds and little facets. Even the exact location of the book in relation to the store remains in my memory, with clarity: it was in a dusty plastic bin with other paperbacks right at the front door, practically on the front step, in a golden slant of sunlight. It was a bleak little thing, with a black cover and yellowed pages, a cracked spine, dog-eared pages and the title on the front in looping, blood-red script. I was taken by the cover artwork (by Dave Mckean) and the description on the back terrified me half to death, which I somehow knew meant that the book was good. When one looked at the front cover from a certain angle, blind spot glossed hands, rats, needles and threads jumped to life. I couldn’t refrain from purchasing it.

In my opinion, it’s one of the front runners of children’s fiction. The prose is, even by a middle grade novel’s standards, really quite beautiful. And it is for children –   the back of my copy, which reads Ages 8 up, strikes me as funny because if I were to have read this book as an eight year old, it would have had a much more profound and, perhaps negative effect on my psyche. The book is short (around 40 000 words) and weirdly sophisticated for its audience, with a strong and grim undercurrent of very disturbing themes that sometimes contradict each other (what I got out of reading it was mainly this: sometimes parents aren’t as present as you want them to be, but the real thing is always better than a replica). The plot follows a young girl called Coraline Jones (the running joke being that practically every character mistakenly calls her Caroline) as she enters the microcosm of flat-life. She lives in the flat below a crazy old man who claims to be preparing a mouse circus and above the flat of two (absolutely hysterical) old ladies – ex-actresses – and their bevy of Highland Terriers. To make a long story short, there is a door in Coraline’s flat that, one day, opens on to a brick wall, and then another day, does not. Coraline decides to venture through the door, and what follows is the most insane (albeit unfortunate) acid trip of a novel ever.

I love this book.

Tell me about the book that changed your reading life. let-the-right-one-in

Until about grade six, I was stuck in the endlessly rotating gyres of middle grade literature. I made my leap of faith to adult literature when I was about twelve, with John Ajvide Lindqvist’s vampire epic Let the Right One In. (The name alone still gives me chills, even though it is a reference to a Morrissey song.) It was an odd book for me to choose – I remember having little faith in it. (I’ve always thought vampire stories were a little bit campy. I’m not sure why I chose it if I didn’t think I would like it). I did end up liking it, however. A lot.

The story takes place in the early 1980s, in bleak and boring Blackeberg, a suburb of Stockholm. It centers on Oskar. Lonely, morbid, Oskar. He is tormented at school; his father is an alcoholic living a hermit’s life in the countryside; his mother is distant, and he spends a distressingly great deal of his time researching murder. One day, a girl named Eli moves in next door to him. She’s odd. She doesn’t smell very pleasant, she walks around in the snow in her bare feet, and she’s over 200 years old.

Vampirism, really, is only the underpinning to to this novel. Lindqvist uses it as a vehicle to explore any number of hopelessly depressing topics (familial dysfunction, alcoholism, bullying, pedophilia, murder, gender identity, drug use, loneliness). These themes, however,  are used very strategically to underscore some really important lessons throughout the book, the value of friendship (kitschy, I know) and the importance of parenting (do you notice a theme in my literature choices? I’m fascinated by parent/ child relationships and how they are portrayed in novels, what can I say?). The book plays host to a selection of other pleasantries as well: disfigurement by acid, a toothless 12-year-old boy prostitute – I’m sure you get the picture.

This book completely changed my reading trajectory. I’d never before been exposed to something that addressed sexuality and violence in such a stark way. Don’t let my descriptions put you off – Let the Right One In is a really beautiful read, with incredibly complex characters and a heartbreaking plot – I’m just not quite sure if I would ever reread it. It was sooo depressing.

How do you choose your books?

More often than not, I choose my books by their cover. And I know (or at least I think I know) it’s one of the unspoken rules of book-buying, but what purpose does a cover serve if not to influence you to buy it? Judging a book by its cover has served me well, and some of the best books I’ve ever read I’ve ventured with to the checkout without even reading the description.

You recently went on a book buying binge. Tell me about those books.

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I’ll just list my purchases and say a little about why I bought them!

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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

I love the cover of this one (see!). It’s designed by my all time favourite graphic designer Peter Mendelsund, whose covers are pure genius. I also fail to understand what stream-of-consciousness writing is, no matter how many times my mom explains it to me, so I feel like the best way to learn will be to read something by the man himself!

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Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

I love the cover of this one. Also, almost every book that I bought was a classic because I never read classics which has suddenly become horrifying and unacceptable to me for some reason; I’m not sure what changed. I also love me a good, depressing novel as you probably now know, and this seems like it will be a good fit!

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A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

This  is the only non-classic on this list. Also, did you know that I love the cover of this one? The writing in this one is weird as hell (really beautiful though) – it’s this confused, fragmented back-of-the-mind-speak. The plot seems hard to describe as well – it seems to just be about a woman, blindly navigating her life. I’m excited about this one.

lolita

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Nice cover (it’s the 50th anniversary edition). It’s also one of Donna Tart’s favourite novels which means I’m actually required by law to read it. I’ve actually started reading this book around three times, and I always get about 100 pages in, around which time I forget that I’m reading it. (Not a bad sign for Nabokov, I’m just senile).

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The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

My copy is a Modern Library Classic (they really hit covers out of the park). I’m not sure why I was so intent on getting this book, it just seems like a very calm and quick read, with just the right amount of miserable undertones. I wanted to buy my own copy of House of Mirth,  but this was the only Wharton the book store had.

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David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

I’m pretty sure Charles Dickens is about to become my main man. I’m more than half way through Oliver Twist and it seriously so good. That man can write a beautiful passage about death. David Copperfield seemed like a logical next choice.

You’re on a desert island and are only allowed three books. Which three and why?

Just three? Am I not allowed to bring three bookstores instead? Can I bring The Strand?

If you’re really forcing me to do this (I’ll have you know I’m calling CPS on you for making me do this horrible thing) I think I’d choose Shoplifting From American Apparel by Tao Lin (a really odd little semi-autobiographical novella about this really listless and passive guy doing a bunch of drugs), The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (the more I think about it, the closer this one comes to being my favourite. If I had it my way, I’d choose all three of her books but I didn’t think that would be fair), and, to throw a childhood favourite in there, The Ersatz Elevator by the king of opening lines, Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler.

Ok, it must be genetics. Like me, you buy more books than you’ll ever be able to read. What’s up with that?

Hey – I have like10 books to read. You have like 1000.

I know you are a book cover aficionado. Tell me about some of your favourite book covers.

I already mentioned that Peter Mendelsund is my favourite cover designer, next to Chip Kidd. I like Peter more, because he’s so minimal. I love his covers for James Joyce. I love his redesigns for Simone de Beauvoir, Koji Suzuki, Julio Cortázar, Plato. (Except I hate his designs for Dostoyevsky, sorry!) My mom bought me his beautiful coffee table book, Cover.

Recommend one book everyone should read.

secret_historyEveryone should read The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Other than that, everyone should read whatever they want. This is not to say that recommendations cannot/will not be enjoyed by whomever they are recommended to, I just think that venturing into the world of literature without a map is more exciting – and more important – than any recommendation I could give you. Ignore age and gender demographics. Read picture books, read middle grade, read literary fiction, read Harlequins shamelessly, read the most tedious collection of philosophy essays. It doesn’t matter.

As long as you’re reading.

Did I luck out when they were handing out kids, or what?

Off the Shelf – The Great Summer Re-Read

Listen here.

So, summer offers a great long stretch of free time for a lot of people. I do teach summer school, generally, but that still leaves me with lots of sunny afternoons at the beach and rainy days on my couch. Last time I was on Information Morning,  I offered some suggestions of great books to while away your summer afternoons, but here’s another option: re-reading. I never have time for this and I always wish I did because there have been some books in my reading life that deserve another look.

Some people say that life is too short to re-read books, but I disagree. It’s like watching your favourite movie a million times. That never gets old, right? It’s your favourite movie for a reason. It would be embarrassing to tell you how many times I saw Grease in the theatre the summer it came out. (A lot. In the double digits.)

There are lots of benefits to reading a book for the second or even fifth time.

Researchers have suggested that re-reading can benefit your mental health, reigniting emotions and benefitting knowledge. If you’ve ever had the experience of falling in love with a character, then re-reading is one way to re-connect with that character. Books themselves often have the ability to transport us back to a special time. I have very specific memories of some of the books I have purchased

Another benefit of re-reading is that the pressure is essentially off; you already know how it’s going to turn out. The flip side of that is that because you know how the plot will unfold you can concentrate on other aspects of the book, characterization on even just the beauty of the writing.

I purchase a lot of books from bookoutlet.ca and I always stumble upon books I never expected to see again. One of those books was The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier.  I LOVED that book when I was twelve; I read it when I was a student at Forest Glen school in Moncton. So – 40 years later I re-read it and I have to say that it did not in any way live up to my memories. Still, I’m so glad to have it on my bookshelf.

For me, re-reading is a real luxury because I have so many tbr books, but as I am reading The Goldfinch this summer, I think re-reading might be a nice companion to that experience.

So here are some books I think I might revisit this summer:

brooklynA Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith

I probably read this book when I was eleven or twelve and it’s a book that I often recommend to my students. It’s one of those classics that I have really fond memories of because it’s evocative of a time a place that was, when I was a kid, so beyond my experience. It’s the story of Francie who grows up in Brooklyn with her younger brother Neely and her parents. They are really poor and I can remember as a kid being fascinated with how they made do with so little. I loved Francie and I would love another chance to spend time with her.

jane eyreJane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

This was, looking back, my first “adult” read. I might have been twelve or thirteen when I read it. I absolutely adored Jane who, despite not being beautiful, was smart and self-reliant. Even at my young age I admired her feisty nature and her determination to be self-sufficient. Plus, she lands the handsome but tortured Mr. Rochester. Jane Eyre was ahead of its time, although I probably didn’t appreciate it for those reasons when I read it as a kid. It would be interesting to re-read it now.

velocityVelocity – Kristin McCloy

Okay this book is really special to me for a variety of reasons. I bought it at The Strand in NYC in 1988 or 89. I don’t remember why I even knew about it except that it was kind of a superstar novel when it came out. I have reread this novel numerous times, but not recently. I actually posted a one line review of the book on Goodreads – more as a place holder than anything else, and recently Ms. McCloy herself thanked me for my “review” – which of course it wasn’t. She also provided her email address and we exchanged a few emails back and forth. I am sure I was totally inarticulate about the book. Being able to chat with the author of a book you love is sort of the literary equivalent of meeting Ryan Gosling who is my celebrity boyfriend.

Velocity is the story of 25 year old Ellie who returns to her home in the southern States after the death of her mother. Her dad is a local cop and he’s mostly silent in his grief, but Ellie’s grief manifests itself very differently. She pursues Jesse, the biker dude who lives down the road. He’s totally wrong for her and she totally can’t stay away from him. I was, at the time I read this book, of a similar age in a similar relationship and there wasn’t anything about Ellie I couldn’t relate to – except the dead mom. On top of that, the writing is just so beautiful. Never mind spending good money on E.L. James’ Grey (I mean, seriously, do we actually need to hear that story from another p.o.v.?) track down a copy of Velocity. It’s steamy, yes, but it’s also poignant and just so, so damn good. Since this segment aired, I have finished Velocity and I’ll post a proper review asap.

My ideal bookshelf – the 2015 edition

So last year, I invited my grade ten students to contemplate their reading lives in essays and bookshelves inspired by My Ideal Bookshelf. The project was such a huge success that I decided to do it again this year, and once more the results were terrific.

My colleague, Jenn, and I made a display in the main hall at school.

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I’d like to share some of the art and excerpts from some of the essays my students wrote. Thanks again to Thessaly and Jane for inspiring this project.

Paige A

Paige: My top three novels (Anne of Green Gables, A Monster Calls, Charlotte’s Web) may never have been considered anybody’s favourite, even though two are classics. To me, these books have meaning and memories attached to them. Some memories are happy and some sad. No matter what, though, I would never want to forget these books and certainly don’t regret reading them.

Destiny

Destiny: As my reading expanded, so did my desire for more of a challenge. I would ask around for new books, but the ones my mother suggested didn’t spark any interest and my sister Dominique, three years older than me, scared me away with her grumpiness and nobody else I knew liked reading. I suppose Dominique must have been in a pretty good mood one day to give me her favourite book, Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris and I have always been grateful. This one book that she loved so much was like a glimpse inside the head of a stranger I called my sister. It was then, as I was reading, that I realized maybe we weren’t so different after all.

Adara

Adara: I can remember when I was little, perhaps seven, I used to rush to get ready for bed just because if I did it quickly enough my mom would read to me and my brother. I would get some pjs on, grab my blue, fuzzy penguin blanket and pillow and settle in to hear her read a few chapters of Pawn of Prophecy. I used to get so disappointed when I didn’t get ready in time, but when I did it was some of the best times of my life. My mom has the perfect reading voice and I would get lost in the book and the sound of her voice. Every once and a while I ask my mom to read, just so I can hear that voice again.

Tatum

Tatum: Grade seven was my first taste of reading for enjoyment. Teachers practically shoved sappy novels down my throat: unrequited love, boy meets girl, the whole lot. But I hated the thought of romance; I liked gore and cussing. I thought I could only get that thrill from games played in the dark, but a fellow student taught me better. My first whiff was The Maze Runner by James Dashner. Sure, I’ve read many other books, but only because I was forced. But this time it was legit. I could not put this book down. This was my first taste of what was soon to be have an addiction because, as you know, one book is not enough.

Ben

Ben: The Green Mile was one of the saddest books I have ever read. I never knew Stephen King could write something other than a scary story. I really grew attached to some of the characters and finding out they died not long after the book ends was really heartbreaking. I often get really attached to characters in stories and if they die, it hurts a little.

Pierrette

Pierrette: My bookshelf is a collection of stories that represent who I am. From childhood stories to books I read on repeat like The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, each book means something different to me and represents a unique part of my reading adventure. As someone who dreams of being an author I hope that, even if my writing never reaches these great heights, my work will make someone pick up another book, fall in love with reading, and truly think about things in their lives.

Parker

Parker: A very important book to me is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins because it is the first book I bought with my own money. Everyone told me that it was an amazing series and I knew I had to buy it. That was the first time I wanted a book so badly that I bought it myself and it was worth every penny. After finishing it, I loved it so much that I bought the other two books in the series.

Valerie

Valerie: My mother was my gateway to the world of books. I remember the nights she would arrive home exhausted after working all day and finishing classes in the evenings. Somehow she always managed to read to me and my brother before bedtime. I never questioned this time because I adored it far too much; however I did wonder why those moments were so important to my mother. I no longer ask myself that question as I am fully aware of the gift reading is in and of itself.

Chloie

Chloie: Every year I reread The Art of Racing in the Rain just to remind myself of how impactful reading can be, and to refresh my memory on this more beautiful way of seeing the world. I don’t think I will ever be able to pinpoint exactly why this book is so lovely, but it is the only book on my shelf I love enough to destroy. All my other novels are perfectly kept, no bends or scratches; that’s how I like it. But The Art of Racing in the Rain has pages folded down from my favourite parts, notes written in it and all my favourite quotes highlighted.

Ceilidh

Ceilidh: Teddy Bear Picnic was the first book that came to mind when I thought of an ideal bookshelf. I selected this book because when I was younger it was the one book I picked every time. My mother would use one of my stuffed bears to read it with and I loved listening to her use a fake voice.

Selda

Selda: I actually didn’t like reading books, but my brother loves reading. He gave me a few books when I was nine years old. He said if I read them, he would give me chocolate for each book I finished. That was a good idea. After a while, I loved reading books and he didn’t give me chocolate anymore. All kinds of books should be on my bookshelf: horror, drama, history, liberal education, love, comedy, tragedy. Books are amazing for me because I can live in my own world when I read. They are valuable like gold or silver.

Makenzie

Makenzie: Being a teenager isn’t easy and books have become a great way for me to relieve stress and broaden my perspective and understanding on a lot of things. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time  changed a lot of my views on mental illness and other disabilities. I’ve learned more from this book about happiness and self-worth than I ever would from a therapist. I suppose that is what books are – my therapists. I know no matter what I’m feeling or questioning, there is a book to help me find the answer. Whether it be through some magic time portal, someone’s true-life story or a cheesy young adult novel, I know there is something out there for me.

Off the Shelf – March 2, 2015

Listen to The Book Blahs: Off the Shelf

Okay, who’s with me that this has been the worst winter EVER? I know I was super cranky the last time I was on Info AM and I got started on Fifty Shades of Grey. What did that book ever do to me, except not entertain me.

Anyway, the weather keeps me inside except when I need the #stormchips and I am forced out of my nest of blankets to go shovel my walk and power through my driveway to get said chips. Winter is a really great time for reading, but I also suffer from a little bit of reader’s fatigue at this time of year. Lack of vitamin D. So I thought I would talk about the reading blahs OR how to shake yourself out of a reading slump. We all have them – all it takes is a couple of bad books and you end up thinking you’re never going to find that book magic again.

Books On The Nightstand has offered up twelve suggestions for breaking a reading slump:

Reread a favorite book: I think this is a terrific idea. I have one book that I read pretty much yearly and it never fails to make me both happy and sad. That book is called Velocity by Kristin McCloy. I bought it at The Strand in NYC in the 80s and it’s very special to me for a lot of reasons.

Switch genres: So if you generally only read one sort of book, perhaps switching genres might shake you out of your book doldrums.  

 Find a book that is hugely popular: I mean there’s a reason everyone and their dog was talking about The DaVinci Code and Gone Girl, right. (Except I can’t recommend The DaVinci Code and I think Gillian Flynn’s book Dark Places is vastly superior to Gone Girl.)

Shop your own shelves: This is an easy task if you’ve got a TBR shelf like mine. Take a look.

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 Don’t read — listen: This wouldn’t be my preferred method of beating the book blahs, but a great site like Audible might just shake things up for you.

 Let someone else tell you what to read: I don’t tend to subscribe to method one myself, except seven times a year when someone in my book club chooses our next read. (Andrew Davidson’s Gargoyle in case you’re interested.)

 Read with a friend: Book clubs!!!

 Go for the quick fix — read some short stories or essays: I read a lot of this sort of thing online as I am always looking for things to share with my students. You want short stories? Try Alice Munro, Stephen King, Raymond Carver.

Try YA: It’s really not just for teens. Honest.

Peruse the Reviews: Check out my reviews, visit Goodreads  or find a blogger you like. Kirkus is pretty handy, too.

Seek out fan fiction: But be warned – fanfiction comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of it is amazing. Much of it is godawful. A lot of it is pornographic. Find a writer you like in a fandom you like and you’ll be a happy reader.

Step away from the books: You know what they say, a rest is as good as a cure. Sometimes a break to catch up on all your shows won’t hurt.

So, I went through a little bit of a reading slump when I read a couple mediocre YA novels in a row…and then BAM…I read an awesome YA book and I think it renewed my faith in the written word again.

The book that wowed me was called

charmCharm & Strange by Stephanie Kuehn

I actually suggested Jeremy Chaisson read this book on a recent visit to Indigo – I absolutely loved it. (Last check, he wasn’t grooving to it, but no matter.) This book is a William C Morris Debut award winner, if you care at all about pedigree. It’s the story of Win, a sixteen-year-old who attends a New England boarding school and who is so bottled up you just know he’s going to explode at any moment. He knows it too; he thinks something even more sinister is happening to him. Win’s story unfolds in the present and also in the past in sections called matter and antimatter. It’s almost relentlessly bleak, but for mature YA readers it is absolutely riveting reading.

testThis is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Courtney Summers is a Canadian YA writer and this is the second book I’ve read by her and I am now a fan. The first book was Some Girls Are and it was about bullying times 1000, but the book I just finished by her is called This Is Not A Test and man, that was a ride I was not expecting. So Sloane is fifteen and she lives with her father in a little town somewhere in North America. Her older sister, Lily, has recently run away. The reader will figure out pretty quickly that her father is physically abusive and that would be enough for one book, but all it really does is create this impossibly complicated character who then has to survive….the zombie apocalypse. No joke. This Is Not A Test was my first ever zombie novel – I had NO desire to ever read them…I am more of a vampire girl…but this book was SO amazing: suspenseful and heartbreaking and filled with teen angst. So good.

keptinthedarkKept in the Dark by Penny Hancock

Finally, I read a book one stormy Sunday that I couldn’t put down. Not YA, but I thought I’d share it.  There might be some squick involved for some people, but I could not stop turning the pages. The main character is a 40-something woman called Sonia. She’s a voice coach, her husband is a lecturing neurosurgeon and her daughter is away at university. They live in a house by the Thames which her husband wants to sell, but it’s Sonia’s childhood home and she refuses to leave. The teenaged nephew of one of her friends stops by to borrow an album – yes, actual vinyl – and Sonia does something most peculiar: she gets him drunk, drugs him and locks him in her soundproof music room. To the outside world, Sonia is a functioning adult, but clearly not right in the head and the reasons for that are slowly revealed in flashback. Could not put it down, although I understand why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Looking for more recs? Click on the ‘Highly recommended’ tag in the sidebar to look at books I’ve really enjoyed.

Happy reading!

A bookish alphabet…a to zed

A. Author You’ve Read The Most Books From:

I am cheating a bit here and naming two authors. I read Stephen King voraciously as a teen and young adult…and then didn’t read anything by him for a couple decades until I picked up Joyland, which reminded me of why I read him in the first place: he’s awesome. I am looking forward to reading Revival, which sounds terrific. Carolyn Slaughter is probably the other author whose work I’ve tracked down relentlessly over the years based on her novel The Banquet, which remains one of my all-time favourite reads.

Stephen King: Joyland; Misery; Bag of Bones, On Writing; Cujo; It; ‘Salem’s Lot; Christine; The Shining; Firestarter; The Talisman; Carrie; Nightshift; Pet Sematary; Needful Things; The Dead Zone; Rose Madder; The Dark Half; Dolores Claiborne; Skeleton Crew; Danse Macabre; Gerald’s Game; Nightmares and Dreamscapes

Carolyn Slaughter: Story of the Weasel; Magdalene; Dreams of the Kalahari; The Banquet; A Perfect Woman; Before the Knife: Memories of an African Childhood

B. Best Sequel Ever:

ask and answer

I am brutal for starting series and not finishing them, except when it came to Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series, which begins with the book The Knife of Never Letting Go. and continues with The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men, both of which I devoured in short order.

C. Currently Reading:

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough

D. Drink of Choice While Reading: Tea

tean and a book

 

E. E-Reader or Physical Books:

Oh please. Physical books. My brother gave me a Kobo a couple Christmases ago and I still haven’t figured out how to work it.

F. Fictional Character You Would Have Dated In High School:

Some bad boy who is really good beneath the tough exterior.  (I have a type; don’t judge me.) Lucas from Easy comes to mind.

G. Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

The Book Thief  I know, it seems ridiculous considering how much I love this book but in the beginning…not so much.

H. Hidden Gem Book:

ourdailybreadIt’s amazing how many books get published each year to little or no fanfare. I don’t know enough about the publishing world to understand why mediocre books get all the bells and whistles and books like Lauren B. Davis’s riveting novel Our Daily Bread, despite being shortlisted for the Giller,  barely made a blip on the literary landscape. I only discovered it by accident and I am so glad I did. Read this book!

I. Important Moments of Your Reading Life:

I find the moments that I bond with my students over books the most meaningful. I love it when they discover books because of my recommendations. I also love it when they offer suggestions to me – although it doesn’t always work out. (John Dies at the End!)

J. Just Finished:
Love Remains by Glen Duncan

K. Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:
Straight up Science Fiction.

L. Longest Book You’ve Read:
Probably Stephen King’s It, which clocks in at over 1000 pages and I loved every single moment I spent with those characters.

M. Major Book Hangover Because Of:

I don’t know what this means. Does it mean books that I can’t stop thinking about? Or books that drove me crazy? I dunno.

N. Number of Bookcases You Own: 

lr shelves

 

I have beautiful built ins thanks to my brother, Tom. He also built me a nice set of shelves for behind my couch. Plus, let’s not forget the TBR shelf, which you can see in this post. I have a really nice IKEA bookshelf, too, but it is currently being used for a non-book purpose.

O. One Book That You Have Read Multiple Times:

velocity

I have read Kristin McCloy’s novel Velocity multiple times. I bought the book at the Strand in NYC probably the summer of 1984 and I’ve read it every couple of years since. Maybe it’s time to revisit and write a review, since I talk about it so much.

P. Preferred Place to Read:

Reading is the last thing I do before I turn off my light – so in bed. But I’ll read just about anywhere, though maybe not as comfortably.

Q. Quote From A Book That Inspires You:

“Imagine the sense of peace that comes from knowing you’re in control of your life.” Gail Vaz-Oxlade, Debt-Free Forever

R. Reading Regret:

I don’t really have too many reading regrets – maybe that I don’t have all my childhood books. Or maybe that sometimes I do other pointless stuff when I should be reading.

S. Series You Started and Need to Finish:
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins…seriously. Also Ilsa Bick’s Ashes and Kelley Creagh’s Nevermore

T. Three Of Your All-Time Favourite Books:

This is like asking a mother to choose her favourite child, you know that, right?

Velocity –  Kristin McCloy

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

A Little Princess – France Hodgson Burnett

U. Unapologetic Fangirl For:

6fa389c166845d58b0b214b55af9eccd
Ryan Gosling. Enuf said. (Oh, okay, an actual writer – John Green. Love him and everything he stands for.)

V. Very Excited For This Release More Than Any Other:

This is not something I follow because I don’t run out and buy books as soon as they come out.

W. Worst Bookish Habit: 
Buying way more books than I can possibly read in the time left in my hourglass.

X. Marks The Spot (Start On Your Bookshelf And Count to the 27th Book):
(I used my tbr shelf for this instead of my books read shelf) – Best Friends by Thomas Berger

Y. Your Latest Book Purchase:
The Shining Girls – Lauren Beukes…let’s not talk about the box of YA books I received via Bookoutlet this week.

bookhaul

Z. ZZZ-Snatcher (last book that kept you up WAY late):

Probably The Fault in Our Stars I was bawling into my pillow at 3 a.m. On a school night!

Off the Shelf – CBC November 10, 2014

This morning on Information Morning I talked about books…about other books.

Here’s what I prepared in advance.

I am a tsundoku. That’s the Japanese word for a person who buys books and leaves them unread. Some women buy shoes, I wear my Birks and buy books. Apparently it’s hereditary because when I tell my 15-year-old son, Connor, that there’s no point in him buying any more books when he has at least a half dozen that he hasn’t read yet, he just shoots me this incredulous look, You’re kidding, right? I have over 500 books on my ‘to- be- read’ shelf at home, to say nothing of the books on my shelves at school.

Think I’m kidding? This is my TBR shelf at home:

IMG_0211

I’m a life-long bibliophile and I do a lot of thinking about what it is about books that I love so much. So today I thought I’d talk about some books that are also about the love of books. These are books in which people talk about their own reading lives.

bookchanged The Book That Changed My Life – Roxanne J. Cody and Joy Johannessen, editors

This books consists of 71 essays by writers who share with readers the story of the book that cracked open the world of reading for them. For example, Wally Lamb’s (author of She’s Come Undone and I Know this Much is True) wrote about To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been a staple in high school English classes for ever. (I am, in fact, currently sharing it with my grade ten class). Mr. Lamb says that “Until Mockingbird, I’d had no idea literature could exert so stong a power.”

 

shelfsiscoverylittler_thumb[2]Shelf Discovery – Lizzie Skurnick

This is a reading memoir, where Skurnick, who’s been a columnist for the New York Times and NPR and several other publications, revisits the books that shaped her growing up. Skurnick describes herself as “ravenous toward each book, like a vampire”. Voracious readers will know that exact feeling – like you can’t put the book down and carry it everywhere in case you find yourself with five idle minutes. For some people, Skurnick’s book will be a trip down memory lane; for teens, especially girls, this would be a great primer for all that fiction produced from 1960 on. It also answers that question: why do we re-read a book? Who has time for that? This a great memoir for people who have been profoundly influenced by their adolescent reading lists.

 

the-ultimate-teen-book-guideThe Ultimate Teen Book Guide – Daniel Hahn & Leonie Flynn, editors

This is a fantastic primer listing over 700 books – there’s something for everyone in this one. Authors and young readers offer up their picks for most amazing books. It offers, among other things, Top Ten lists in a variety of categories, a list of what to read next, so for example if you loved To Kill a Mockingbird it suggests you try John Knowles’ A Separate Peace or In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (Capote was reportedly the inspiration for the character if Dill in Lee’s book.) Terrific resource and really user-friendly.

 

readingpromiseThe Reading Promise – Alice Ozma

I love books where people talk about their own relationship with reading and Ozma’s memoir is very YA friendly. It’s the story of an agreement that she made with her dad that he would read to her every single night for 1000 nights. So that’s a lot of reading. When they hit that goal they decided to extend it – and in the end Alice’s dad read to her every single night for nine years – until she finally went off to college. Clearly books mattered to both of them, her dad was a teacher/librarian, and this book has a lot to say about the power that stories have to create conversation, develop empathy…all that good stuff.
myidealbookshelf1_grandeFinally, I want to talk about a book that Connor gave me for my birthday last year: My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly LaForce and Jane Mount

This is a beauty of a book and totally appealed to that part of me who makes a beeline for bookshelves no matter where I am – the houses of friends and strangers, no bookshelf is safe from me. These guys asked 100 people (writers, actors, poets, designers, artists) to think back over their reading lives and come up with their ideal bookshelf. What would be on it? Mount then did an artistic interpretation of the books. The paintings are accompanied by conversations in which the bookshelf owner talks about their personal relationship with the books – they might focus in on one or just talk about their reading life in general. It’s fascinating reading – even if you don’t know the people doing the telling.

I actually did this with some grade ten students and it was a terrific activity. It forced the students to think back to books that have made a real difference in their lives. There’s a template at the back of the book (and online) for students to recreate their own ideal bookshelf – although if you’re not at all artistic (which I am not) you could take a picture, too.

Here’s a sample from one of my strudents – her bookshelf and an excerpt of what she had to say about books:

LouiseT

 

“In the fourth grade I was stuck in a Geronimo Stilton phase and I had a cousin who was bound and determined to see me break out of the 100-page cycle. She began sending me “adult” books. The first was The Giver by Lois Lowry. My mother read it first and then advised me to put it away for a few years until I could better handle it. I read it anyway, mainly out of sheer curiosity. And although it kept me up at night thinking about it, maybe that’s what I liked about it. I’ve read it every year since, and it always feels like I’m reading it for the first time.”

Come on – that’s like hitting the literature lottery for an English teacher.

To see some of my students’ bookshelves and read what they had to say about their reading lives,  check out this post