Bookish lists – I want yours

I have a love/hate relationship with the end of the year. On one hand it means I have to reflect on all the ways I have flailed and failed, my squandered opportunities, that 10k I didn’t quite manage, the times I wasted worrying about things and people I can’t change. On the other hand, once 2013 slips into the past, I can start thinking about what I can accomplish in 2014. The places I’ll go, the people I’ll gather close, the ways I can improve my life, the books I’ll read. calendar

And that’s another reason I love this time of year – every book lover/organization on the planet shares their best books lists. I love lists. I love reading about the books that have risen to the top of the heap. I love it that there’s always disagreement and someone’s best book invariably ends up on someone else’s worst list.

It’s easy enough to find fantastic book lists online. Book Riot has a great selection of the Ten Best Top 100 Book Lists . And, of course, at this time of year everyone wants to weigh in on the best books of 2013. Here’s a small sampling.

Good Reads

Publisher’s Weekly


Huffington Post


Seabury Reads

I, too, always offer a top ten list. I’ll do that in the next few days because although I did meet my reading challenge of 60 books, I am hoping to read a couple more before year’s end and, who knows, perhaps one of those books will be worthy of a place on the list.

In the meantime, I’d love to feature your favourite books of 2013 here at The Ludic Reader. If you’ve posted a list at your blog, link me up. Otherwise, shoot me an email (ludicreader AT and I’ll let you have the floor in an upcoming post. Or leave a comment and tell me about the best or worst book you’ve read this year.

A Peculiar Grace – Jeffrey Lent

peculiargraceIt took me forever to finish Jeffrey Lent’s highly praised novel A Peculiar Grace. Forever. Just under 400 pages, it felt twice as long because Lent’s prose is just shy of purple and nothing happens. Nothing. Well, okay, that’s not exactly true. Stuff happens.

40-something Hewitt Pearce is leading a solitary life in the Vermont house he inherited from his father. Hewitt’s a blacksmith, a prickly artistic type who “had to sit there a while to see if  it was a day for iron or not. This was the essence of what his customers perceived as a great problem – the fact he refused to state a deadline however vague.”  A sign near his forge’s door states: “If you want it done your way learn how to do it & make it yourself. Your commission is not my vision.”

Well, okay then.

Into Hewitt’s insular life comes 20-something Jessica. Her VW breaks down on Hewitt’s property and he offers her something to eat and a place to clean up. So she pretty much moves in. Jessica isn’t 100% emotionally secure, and Hewitt is 100% emotionally closed off so anything that’s going to happen between them is going to be a long time coming. (No pun intended.)

There are complications. Hewitt’s still hung up on Emily, a girl he met and loved many years ago. She’d married someone else and Hewitt has worshipped and brooded from afar ever since. There are also some family skeletons including  a famous painter father, and  an older sister Hewitt’s on the outs with.  Then Emily’s husband dies and Hewitt decides it’s time to make his feelings known to her once more, but really – can these two crazy middle-aged kids overcome their past and make it? And what about Jessica?

I kept reading. I don’t know why. When Hewitt’s mother, sister and niece arrived for a visit and these family members started talking to each other it was bizarre. People don’t actually talk to each other like this, do they?

“Jesus mother. Don’t you flush?”

“I certainly do. …And haven’t you heard about conserving water? Speaking of which you need to change the gaskets in the faucets of the tub and sink upstairs. At Broad Oakes they sent around a pamphlet about the unnecessary use of water. And not just because of the drought but because there’s long-term stress on the aquifers all over the U.S. and people still want green lawns in August”

“I don’t think so, girlie. Whatever nonsense you’re up to here I want to be able to watch your face when it comes out.”

By the time Hewitt and Jessica (and Emily and Hewitt’s sister)  finally work out their messy and strangely overwrought lives,  I had reader’s fatigue. Partly it had to so with the stylistic nature of Lent’s prose – weirdly fragmented and dense – and partly it had to do with not really caring very much about any of these people.

Best in 2012

This meme comes from The Perpetual Page-Turner. I love an opportunity to reflect on my reading year, so here goes.

Best In Books 2012

1. Best Book You Read In 2012? (You can break it down by genre if you want)

I spend most of my time reading either Young Adult fiction (mostly chosen from my classroom library) or books from my own massive to-be-read pile. (And I am not exaggerating, I’m talking hundreds of books).

Best YA  – no contest…The Fault in Our Stars – John Green.

In fact this might have been my favourite book of the entire year despite the fact that, you know,  it ripped my heart out.

Best Fiction – Room – Emma Donoghue

I actually had a harder time choosing this one. I read a handful of books that I really liked this year, all of them for different reasons. This one, though, was just so unusual and compelling I had to put it on top.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Graveminder – Melissa Marr

This was the first book I read in 2012 and I’d been really looking forward to it. I loved the cover. I loved the premise. But the writing and the plot and the characters = hot mess.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2012?

I just wasn’t anticipating liking The Casual Vacancy at all. I haven’t read the Harry Potter books (except for The Philosopher’s Stone) and I just couldn’t imagine liking a really long book about a small British town. But I did like it. A lot.

4. Book you recommended to people most in 2012?

I have happily recommended The Fault in Our Stars over and over to students in my classes. That’s generally who gets the brunt of my bookish enthusiasm. Other books I’ve flogged include: Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy (which I can include here because I read the second and third books in 2012!), Nevermore by Kelly Creagh and Ashes by Ilsa Bick.

5. Best series you discovered in 2012?

Nevermore by Kelly Creagh The second book, Enshadowed, is currently available in hardcover.   This series features a feisty heroine, a creepy Edgar Allan Poe-ish nightmare world and some terrific writing.

Ashes  trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick. The second book, Shadows, is currently available in hardcover. This series features a world gone horribly awry, flesh-eating zombies and a fabulous main character.

6. Favorite new authors you discovered in 2012?

John Green. Emma Donoghue. Kelly Creagh. Ilsa J. Bick. Kate Morton. These are all authors I will definitely read more of.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

Because I am reading a lot of young adult fiction these days I find that I am reading genres (fantasy, for example) that I wouldn’t normally read. I still don’t think I would enjoy straight up sci fi, but who knows. I want to be able to have those discussions and if I’m gonna talk the talk, I’m gonna have to walk the walk. (Or, read the book!)

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2012?

Nevermore – Kelly Creagh

I’m not sure it was the most thrilling book, but I did have a hard time putting it down.

9. Book You Read In 2012 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year:

If I re-read any book from this year, it would probably be The Fault in Our Stars…or I might skim through Ashes and Nevermore before I read the second books in the series.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2012?


11. Most memorable character in 2012?

Samantha from J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. I totally got her.

Hazel and Augustus from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I just can’t say enough about these characters and my love for them.

Jack from Emma Donoghue’s Room. Incredible.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2012?

Oh dear. I am going to have to go with…Helen Dunmore’s A Spell of Winter. I am a longtime fan of Dunmore; she never fails me when it comes to the quality of her prose. But I was also really surprised by how impressed I was by Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. It was really good.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2012?

The Fault in Our Stars. I laughed out loud and I sobbed uncontrollably  into my fist in the middle of the night.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2012 to finally read?

I actually don’t get all hung up on not reading books when they first come out. I don’t often jump on the hype wagon. I just add books to my tbr list, purchase the books eventually and read them when I get around to it…or I am in the mood.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2012?

Oh dear. I will have to get back to you on this one.

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2012?

Shortest: The Uncomon Reader – Alan Bennett, 120

Longest: The Casual Vacancy – JK Rowling, 503

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

I can’t tell you of any one particular scene. I can tell you that my book club had an excellent night discussing The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I have also loved talking books with students in my class.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2012 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Hazel and Augustus from The Fault in Our Stars. Just perfection on the page.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2012 From An Author You Read Previously

Evidence of Blood – Thomas H. Cook

A Spell of Winter – Helen Dunmore

I really love both of these authors and enjoyed both of these books in 2012.

20. Best Book You Read That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

None. Other than books I read for book club, I don’t run out and buy books based on someone else’s recommendation.

Rape: A Love Story – Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates wastes no time cutting to the chase in her novella, Rape: A Love Story.

After she was gang – raped, kicked and beaten and left to die on the floor of the filthy boathouse at Rocky Point Park. After she was dragged into the boathouse by the five drunken guys – unless there were six, or seven – and her twelve-year-old daughter with her screaming Let us go! Don’t hurt us! Please don’t hurt us!

Teena  Maguire and her 12 – year – old daughter, Bethie, leave a July 4th party after midnight and cut through Rocky Point Park.  They take a short-cut through the woods and encounter the group of drunken men – many of whom are known to Teena from around her Niagara Falls neighbourhood.

Although Bethie is beaten, she manages to escape and hide under a boat. She listens as her mother is raped and savagely beaten and left for dead. The reader is not spared from the horror of this crime, but Oates – skillful writer that she is – never crosses the line into gratuitous.

Bethie manages to attract the attention of a police officer and it happens to be Officer Dromoor, a man who knows Teena because of an encounter they’d had one night at a local bar. Dromoor is a good man –  a married father-to-be with a finely attuned sense of justice.

Teena survives the attack, but her life is forever altered. Rape: A Love Story sets about examining the ways in which this horrific incident changes her and Bethie and Dromoor and even three of the perpetrators and their families. It asks questions like was Teena dressed inappropriately and thus ‘asking for it’? Oates doesn’t offer any answers, though.

I have a love/hate relationship with Oates. There’s no denying her considerable talent, but sometimes I find her hard work. It’s not style over substance – although, no question she has some stylistic tics which take some getting used to. In Rape, she employs second person narrative (always a risky choice, imho, although clearly well-handled here), choppy sentences, and a narrative that jumps around. But, let’s face it, she’s Joyce Carol Oates.

I always want to like her more than I actually do.

So Much Pretty – Cara Hoffman

I rarely pick up a book randomly anymore, but So Much Pretty was calling my name. Not only was it calling my name, it actually jumped the pile instead of languishing on my bookshelf for months and months. Still, despite the endless glowing praise I had a hard time settling into the book. Perhaps it was the time of year I started to read it – late June, when school is busy. I took the book with me on a family holiday and while the kids were swimming, I sat on a beautiful screened porch and lost myself in Cara Hoffman’s small-town drama.

Told from multiple perspectives, So Much Pretty flips over the small town of Haeden, NY and exposes its creepy underbelly. When the body of a missing teenager, Wendy White, is discovered in Tern Woods, it kick starts an examination of several lives particularly Flynn, the brittle newspaper reporter and  Claire and Gene and their daughter, Alice, transplants from NYC. The book also includes police reports and interviews. In this way, the book is difficult to navigate at first. It really deserves to be read in one sitting because once I made time for it, it really wouldn’t let me go.

Although there is a horrific crime at the center of this book, the real crime has more to do with the ways in which people are often complicit.  Parents misreading their children; neighbours turning away from each other; individuals looking for the spotlight. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, making sure the reader understands all the players and their connections, but I feel like I missed a lot of clues – no, not even clues – signs that things were not quite right in Haeden because my mind was occupied trying to figure out how Alice was connected to Wendy. I got it horribly wrong, btw.

There are questions to be answered here, but Hoffman’s  feelings are opaque. She masterfully navigates all the pieces, but I never got the preachy feeling I often get with, say, a Jodi Picoult novel. The bulk of what happens to Wendy is left to the reader’s imagination, and her fate is far worse because of it. This would be a fantastic book club pick because of the inherent opportunities  for discussion. So, while it took me a bit to get into, I ended up loving So Much Pretty. Its copious praise is well-deserved.

A Day in the Life of a Used Book Seller

It’s the dream isn’t it? Well, it’s my dream, anyway. Although I do have a job that I really love…I have always wanted to own my own book store. I did work, for a few  months, at Indigo…and I can’t say that I loved it. Too corporate.  My book store would be small, intimate, friendly – a pot of tea always on the go. There’s something appealing about spending the day surrounded by books, talking avidly to the book-lovers who visit. There’s no money in it, though. But I can dream.

Abe Books posted this story about a used book seller in Victoria, BC. So jealous.

A Day in the Life

An unexpected gift…

A colleague presented me with a gift the other day. While digging through the books at The Salvation Army, she came across the book Poetic Meter and Poetic Form. As English teachers, we’re always looking for books to add to our collections and she thought this might be a good one for me (I’ve only just returned to teaching after many years doing other things.) She bought the book and then, while flipping through it, discovered that the book had been mine!
No joke – my name and student number and dorm name and room number were printed on the inside front page.  That younger version of myself is 25 years ago…at least! And I’ve lived all over in the interim. What a strange and wonderful  thing to have the book back.

Have you ever had a book reunion?

Books and movies…

I finally bit the bullet and rented The Time Traveler’s Wife a few nights ago. I didn’t go see it in the theatre despite my deep and abiding love for the book. Mostly I was afraid that the film wouldn’t do the book justice…and I was right. I really like Rachel McAdams and although Eric Bana might not have been my first choice for Henry, I don’t mind him either…but the movie just wasn’t good. Maybe it’s impossible to create a faithful adaptation of a novel like TTTW, I don’t know. That said, Peter Jackson did a pretty impressive job with Tolkien.

In any case, it got me thinking about other book – to – film adaptations. What works and what doesn’t?

An example of one that  works which immediately springs to mind is Ordinary People. The book, by Judith Guest, was published in the 1976. The film, directed by Robert Redford, came out in 1980. I’d read the novel and I went to the movie. You’d be hard pressed to say which is better. The film stars Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore (I know!), Timothy Hutton and Judd Hirsch. I can highly recommend the film because it’s so faithful to the novel and the performances are so rich. The book’s excellent, of course. Back in the day, Mary Tyler Moore’s performance garnered all sorts of praise as the character she played was so different from the one we were used to seeing on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Really, rent the film. (It won  four Oscars: Best Director, Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay)

I also think Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County is terrific. The book is actually on my Reader’s table, but not because I think it’s great literature. Nevertheless, that novel made me cry so hard. And so did the movie. I loved that they didn’t try to pretty it up. Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood played the title characters, two people who fall in love – deeply and unexpectedly- later in life. Clint Eastwood is a terrific director anyway and this movie was simple and beautiful and hey, is there any character Streep can’t play?

Speaking of Streep, I was first introduced to her back in the 70s through a film called Sophie’s Choice. That film was based on a novel by William Styron, which I read after I saw the film. The film is a doozy. The book, although excellent, is slightly drier.

One author whose work has often been adapted successfully is Stephen King. The Shawshank Redemption based on King’s short story “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” is fantastic.

So is Brian De Palma’s adaptation of King’s novel Carrie. I saw this movie when it came out in the theatre back in the 1970s and it scared the living crap out of me.

One thing I’ve realized doing this is how much movie trailers have changed!

What about you? Do you have any favourite film adaptations? Any movies you felt really didn’t capture the essence of the book? I’d love to hear about them.

Freedom to Read…

Freedom to Read Week is an annual event that encourages Canadians to think about and reaffirm their commitment to intellectual freedom, which is guaranteed them under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. – from the Freedom to Read site

I personally don’t believe in censorship; I’m a pro-choice chick all the way. I agree – there’s a lot of abhorrent crap out there, but my problem with censorship is who gets to decide whether it is or isn’t abhorrent crap. The closest I’ve come to questioning the merit of a book was reading about Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, a married couple responsible for the death of three young girls including Homolka’s sister.

Freedom to Read has a wonderful list of writing that has been banned over the ages including:

“George Eliot’s novel Adam Bede was attacked as the “vile outpourings of a lewd woman’s mind,” and the book was withdrawn from circulation libraries in Britain.

Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (published in 1833) was threatened with banning by Boston’s district attorney unless the book was expurgated. The public uproar brought such sales of his books that Whitman was able to buy a house with the proceeds.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll was banned by the governor of Hunan province in China because, he said, animals should not use human language and it was disastrous to put animals and humans on the same level.

D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was the subject of a trial in England, in which Penguin Books was prosecuted for publishing an obscene book. During the proceedings, the prosecutor asked: “Is it a book you would wish your wife or servant to read?” Penguin won the case, and the book was allowed to be sold in England. A year earlier, the U.S. Post Office had declared the novel obscene and non-mailable. But a federal judge overturned the Post Office’s decision and questioned the right of the postmaster general to decide what was or was not obscene.”

And here’s a real shocker…”The U.S.A. PATRIOT Act, 2001,  passed by the American Congress in response to terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, gave the FBI power to collect information about the library borrowings of any U.S. citizen. The act also empowered the federal agency to gain access to library patrons’ log-ons to Internet Web sites—and protected the FBI from disclosing the identities of individuals being investigated.”

Read more about censored books here.

Here in Canada, the following books have been challenged at one point or another:

  • Margaret Laurence, The Diviners
  • J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
  • Rosamund Elwin, Asha’s Mums
  • Alice Munro, Lives of Girls and Women
  • Elizabeth Laird, A Little Piece of Ground
  • Mordecai Richler, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
  • John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
  • Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
  • J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter
  • Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
  • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

A full list of  material challenged in Canada can be found here.

Do you have personal feelings about censorship?

Over to you…great books for teens

When I only begin to read, I forget I’m on this world. It lifts me on wings with high thoughts.” – Anzia Yezierska

So, we’re in a deep freeze here in Eastern Canada. That’s what happens when you get complacent about winter, I guess. Until the last few days we’ve had a perfectly respectable winter…but minus 30 with the wind chill, come on!

In the real world I teach high school. I don’t have a long career behind me because I started teaching, got frustrated, abandoned it and did other stuff and have only recently returned. It’s shocking how many kids today don’t read. Shocking. What I would like to do is compile a list of great books for teens and I am looking for suggestions. I would also like to make a list of books/poems/plays that every teen should read before they leave high school. Yes, we have a curriculum, but I am shocked at the gaps in their reading.

Great books for teens.

A comprehensive reading list for teens.

Any thoughts?