The Five Worst Books I’ve Loved

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Blood-Vessel-Grescoe-Paul-9780771035548

I was having a chat with my mom the other day about the fact that I have never read Jane Eyre. I don’t know how I’ve managed to live this long as a book lover without having read Jane Eyre. I have a copy of it hanging around, but other books keep getting in the way. For instance, a new book about a sportswriter and his 13-year effort to out Lance Armstrong as a lying, cheating, remorseless bully has just been returned to the library and is waiting patiently for me to pick it up. Jane Eyre will have to wait (again).

My mom pointed out that even though she loves Jane Eyre and thinks I should read it right way, I have read a lot of classics that she hasn’t tackled yet. That led us to discussing the classics we like. And later, that led me to think about all the really awful books I’ve loved over the years. Books that I’ve (in some cases) read more than once. Books that I’ve hidden under the bed so no one would know I was reading them.

But no more. It’s liberating to stop living a lie. Here goes:

1) Blood Vessel – Paul Grescoe
I found this book in a dollar store in Huntsville, Ontario. It looked so ridiculous (and the price was right!) that I couldn’t resist it. The plot involved a murder on a cruise ship. Blood Vessel? Get it? Even though I normally hate punny titles and not-very-mysterious mysteries, something about this book was charming. Maybe it was the fact that the author is from Winnipeg, in friendly Manitoba. It’s a friendly book. Despite its many faults, it was just so likeable. Just like Winnipeg.

2) Phantoms – Dean Koontz
I read this book in high school while I was babysitting the children of my biology teacher. It’s a very silly book about (spoiler alert!) an ancient shapeshifter that devours an entire town (and possibly also the dinosaurs and the Mayans – I can’t quite remember). It’s silly in retrospect, but while I sat in that house alone (apart from some sleeping toddlers) it scared the heck out of me. Maybe everyone in my town is dead, too.

3) The Other Boleyn Girl – Philippa Gregory
I’m so embarrassed about this one. As a bit of a history buff (and an anglophile, as I’ve discussed elsewhere) I’m so ashamed of myself. This book is a complete travesty, as far as historical accuracy is concerned. It just find it so difficult not to devour books about the Tudors, even if it’s pulpy and fluffy and ridiculous.

4) Where the Heart Is – Billie Letts
Yes, this is the Oprah-approved book about the girl who gives birth in a Wal-Mart, and then makes a life for herself among the local quirky townsfolk with whimsical names. I should hate this book. I should hate everything about this book. But for some reason I don’t. I don’t want to delve too deeply into this.

5) The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
I don’t actually love the Da Vinci Code. In fact, I raged at it, all the way through. But I couldn’t put it down. I believe this is called “hate-reading.” The flat characters, the non-sensical theories, the pandering to ladies’ book clubs, all of it annoyed me. And yet I kept reading, and thinking, “Hey! I know that painting!” and “Hey! I’ve been to that famous landmark!” That Dan Brown is a diabolical fellow.

Don’t leave me here with my embarrassing book-shame all by myself. What are some books you’re loath to admit you loved?

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A Year in Books

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A few months ago, I posted about struggling to finish a book.  I used to be a voracious reader but I found, especially when C was an infant, that I had trouble fitting books into my schedule.

I read a decent amount of books in 2011, mostly before I had C in August of that year.  Here’s 2011’s list:

Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene

The End of the Affair – Graham Greene

Paris 1919 – Margaret MacMillan

The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene (I really, really love Graham Greene)

Prisoner of Tehran – Marina Nemat

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

Room – Emma Donoghue

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

The Birth House – Ami McKay

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Steig Larsson

Hunger Games Trilogy – Suzanne Collins

Photo via Wikipedia

Aaaaand, here is what I read in 2012:

Drop Dead Healthy – A.J. Jacobs

Why Have Kids? – Jessica Valenti

How to Be a Woman – Caitlin Moran

The Love You Make: An Insider’s Story of the Beatles – Peter Brown & Steven Gaines

A Nation Worth Ranting About – Rick Mercer

Our Man in Havana – Graham Greene

1982 – Jian Ghomeshi

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

So that’s it.  It’s not much, but it’s better than nothing, I suppose.  If I included What to Expect the First Year /Toddler Years, Barnyard Dance and Animal Boogie, the list would probably be a better representation of what I actually spent my time reading.

I’ve decided that 2013 is going to be a better year, literature-wise.

And I’m hoping that you, readers, can give me some suggestions.  From my lists, you can see what I tend to gravitate towards.  I’m currently tackling a book about the Cuban Missile Crisis (the fantastic Armageddon Letters).  But I’m open to other things, and I think it’s important to branch out and broaden one’s horizons.  So, please, send me your suggestions!

Happy reading!

My Horror Dilemma

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I love Halloween, because dressing up is fun, of course.  But more importantly, I really, really love horror movies.  The problem I have is that my husband is *not* a fan of such things.  Too scary.  Plummeting down a mountain on a bicycle?  Not scary.  The trailer for Paranormal Activity II?  TOO SCARY.

The real issue here is that I can’t watch them when he’s around.  But when he’s away and I have the house (and DVD player) to myself, well, that is bad news.  My imagination runs away with me.  I don’t sleep.  I imagine ominous figures looming outside my sliding glass doors.  I hear bumps in the basement.  Did I leave that closet door slightly ajar?  Eeek.

And all this horror-movie-induced paranoia of mine is actually making the situation worse.  I have so many cinematically-based fears that I’ve reinforced his belief that scary movies are not a good idea.

Here is a partial list:

-basements (obviously)

-attics (of course)

-old-timey wheelchairs

-music boxes

-stick figures

-microfiche

-pale, serious children

That is only a small sample.  It would be longer if I included books (I could barely function after reading Zodiac).

It’s probably a good thing that Pete is preventing me from exposing myself to these things.  If only he could have stopped me from reading these:

http://thehairpin.com/2012/10/wikipedia-entries-to-read-in-the-dark

Happy Halloween!

An Evening with Linden MacIntyre

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I was lucky enough to attend An Evening with Linden MacIntyre in Meaford, Ontario earlier this month.  This was a fundraiser for the local library and was held at the beautifully restored Meaford Hall.  I was obviously excited about this because I had an evening to myself that involved wine and cheesecake on a stick (!) and stimulating adult conversation.  I’m also a fan of Linden MacIntyre’s work.  In case you aren’t familiar with him, Linden MacIntyre is a CBC journalist and Giller-prize winning author.  I absolutely loved his book The Bishop’s Man and recommended it to my sister, who also raved about it.  It’s thought-provoking and understated.  And in a book tackling the difficult subject of the Catholic Church and sexual abuse, it doesn’t take the easy way out.  It’s fantastic.

MacIntyre began by reading from his new novel, Why Men Lie.  He then sat down with the evening’s host for a discussion of his novels and his career as a journalist.  He talked about his own childhood in Cape Breton and how that informed his writing.  He discussed some of his assignments as a journalist and how those experiences affected him.  He has written about some of the more haunting experiences in his novels in order to exorcise them from his life.  There is a character in his new novel who is based on a real death-row inmate MacIntyre interviewed before his execution.  He was a Canadian convicted of murder in Texas, and agreed to speak with MacIntyre after rejecting all other offers.  According to MacIntyre, the inmate asked why he should speak with him, and MacIntyre replied “Because they don’t want you to.  They want to control what is said about you.  They want to show a twenty-year-old mugshot of you on the news and have that be the end of it.”  And so the inmate agreed to tell his story.  MacIntyre claims that his conversations with that inmate so affected him that he couldn’t quite capture that in his journalism.  And in writing about him, MacIntyre claims that he was able to let go of a man who had haunted him for many years.

After MacIntyre’s interview was over, I high-tailed it to the reception area so that I could have the chance to meet him and still get home at a reasonable time.  I was third in line to have my copy of The Bishop’s Man signed.  Linden MacIntyre signed my book and then I told him that it was an honour to meet him, that I had loved The Bishop’s Man and that I showed Fifth Estate documentaries in my criminology courses to my policing students (before I had C, I used to teach college- and university-level courses for a policing program).  I used to show them his documentary about Steven Truscott, a 14-year-old boy who was wrongly convicted of murder in Ontario in the 1950s.  Linden MacIntyre told me that he thought it was so important to expose people, and particularly policing students, to stories of the wrongly convicted.  He then offered to send me one of his non-fiction books, Who Killed Ty Conn?  He was gracious and charming and I was thrilled to meet him.

Pete wasn’t able to come with me that night, because we weren’t able to find a babysitter, but next Tuesday we’re going to a lecture by Brian Stewart of CBC news on media sensationalism and we’re both pretty excited for that.  Learning!

Being a Mother is Hard. Let’s Not Make it Harder: A Birthday Rant

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My sister wrote a comment a few weeks ago in response to one of my recipe posts.  I just had to re-post it, because it’s spot-on.  A bit rambly, a bit ranty, but spot-on.  And she was entitled to rant that day, because it was her birthday.

I love The Office and I will use any excuse to post Dwight’s birthday sign.

To provide some context, I had been telling her about how much I had been struggling to find some balance in my life.  I’m raising a toddler, trying to keep a house clean, to cook homemade meals every night, to have quality time with my husband, to keep in touch with friends and family, to read books and exercise and practice my banjo and pay attention to politics (isn’t Rob Anders a dickhead?).  I can never manage to keep up with everything at once, and that often frustrates me.   She wrote me this great, insightful comment and it came at the perfect time.  She’s smart, that sister of mine.

Here it is:

I’m very impressed with all your home cooking and baking.  It makes me think, though, about the pressures that we put on ourselves as women.  Just a few generations ago women worked unbelievably hard to do physically demanding, never ending cleaning and cooking…and child care and clothes making and farm work and volunteer work and care for elders and church duties and some piece work or other work to bring in extra income.  As soon as modern equipment made that work a little easier, the cult of domesticity took hold and expectations soared, so the work load, and the guilt just shifted.  Then women took on work outside the home, which is fantastic in many ways, but then the “double shift” started.  Convenience foods became more common, not surprisingly.  But of course, whenever things get a little easier, the expectations increase again.  I am finding that many of my women friends are feeling the pressure to add even more time and effort to their daily work schedule to make home cooked everything.  It doesn’t matter if this is added to a work day outside the home or a work day at home with kids (and quite frankly I find it easier in many ways now that I’m at paid employment during the day rather than home every day).  I feel some guilt and embarrassment when I rely on convenience foods (not fast food but pre-made lasagnas and the like).  I’m very much in favour of better, home cooked food.  It’s appalling how many chemicals and salt and sugar are used in commercially prepared foods.  Still, it’s frustrating that each time things get a little easier for women, somehow the expectations on us increase and our work is just as time consuming and our “failures” just as guilt inducing.  Who places these expectations on us?  How can we get out from under these expectations and feelings of responsibility?  Both my husband and I work full time.  I know he doesn’t feel any sort of guilt or shame when our house is messy and has not even considered that home cooked is better let alone felt the pressure to work even harder to ensure we eat home cooked.  So, be it resolved that we should eat home cooked and let something else slide, like perfectly decorated and perfectly tidy houses.  We should definitely give up the appearance that all of this is effortless.

I know this isn’t my blog, but it’s my birthday and this is my rant.

She’s right.  I’ve been putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to be perfect at all of this, and it’s not necessary.  In fact, it’s counterproductive.  I was mulling this over today when a friend posted a link to an article about how difficult it can be to be a mother in our culture.  It’s a great read.

So instead of rushing around sweeping and mopping and scrubbing for the rest of C’s nap, I’m going to loaf and have some tea.  And when she wakes up, I’ll be a much happier mom for it.

Excuses, Excuses

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I’ve been having difficulty keeping up my blogging lately, for a variety of reasons.  Here’s a quick list:

1) Toddlers are BUSY.  It’s getting harder to find free moments when C is up and about.

2) I never have time for everything, and right now the two things that are suffering are blogging and banjo-playing.  I’m not happy about it, but I have to prioritize.

3) I’m following through on my goal of volunteering my time with a community organization that I think does really good work.  That’s definitely time well spent.

I’m hoping to keep things up and running here, despite the time-crunch.  Tomorrow night I’m going to a lecture and book signing by Linden MacIntyre of the Fifth Estate.  I read his Giller Prize-winning book, The Bishop’s Man, while I was pregnant with C and I loved it.  I’ll be sure to report back…someday.

 

Setting My Literary Sights a Little Lower

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For the past six weeks, I’ve had this book sitting on my coffee table, taunting me with its starkly beautiful cover photo:

I’ve wanted to read this book since I first read a review of it, shortly after C was born.  The Guardian writes that it is “a magnificent account of the British assaults on Everest in the 1920s [that] puts Mallory’s adventures in the context of war and imperialism.”  I love reading magnificent accounts of assaults on Everest.  I stayed up until all hours reading Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.  And as a history buff and political science grad, I’m even more pumped about putting these adventures in the context of war and imperialism.  World War I is endlessly fascinating to me, and this book manages to bring these themes together in a vivid and poignant narrative, or so I’ve been told by various book reviewers.  I haven’t managed to read even the first chapter.

We’ve had so much going on, including lots of company, various doctors’ appointments, and a teething baby.  And since the library is becoming impatient with my renewing shenanigans, I’ve decided to return Into the Silence and to try to read something a little lighter instead.  So yesterday, on a whim, I picked up the newest book by A.J. Jacobs:

A.J. Jacobs writes lighthearted books that are similar to a blog put to paper.  He usually lives some sort of wacky experiment and hilarity ensues.  I’ve read three of his books and loved them all: My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself; The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible; and The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World.  I’m chuckling to myself as I write these titles.  I really enjoyed these books, particularly the latter two.  Jacobs really commits to his experiments in his books, including stoning a suspected adulterer in The Year of Living Biblically (as far as I recall, he throws a pebble and then scurries away).  In The Know-It-All, Jacobs reads the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica and becomes so frustrated with the monumental task by the letter F that he becomes enraged about Daniel Fahrenheit’s temperature scale.  It’s hilariously nerdy.

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to reading Jacobs’ latest book.  His interview with Jian Ghomeshi on CBC Radio’s Q was great and reminded me how much I enjoy his writing.  Now the only challenge is to wrestle this book away from Pete, who has managed to start reading it first.  He has been home for two days, ill with a fever, so I think I can overpower him.

And now for a quick question: what are you reading right now?

Words, words, words

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I love reading.  I love it a ton.  I crammed in a bunch of thousand-page Russian novels before C was born because I figured I wouldn’t have much time for that sort of thing once she arrived.  I saved up some popular page-turners for after her birth because I knew that I would still want to read, but that I wouldn’t have much time or brain power.  So, since I had her, I’ve managed to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Hunger Games trilogy.  That’s it.  In nine months.  Sigh.

More than anything else, I’m really struggling to find the time to read.  I can find a few minutes to pick the banjo, I can take C out to exercise with me, and I can do some evening baking, but lately, I just can’t seem to finish a book.

I think there are a few things going on here:

1)      I like to read in long sessions.  I should try to just get over this and get used to reading a page or two at a time, I guess.  Changing is hard.

2)      I need sleep.  I know people who stay up late reading in bed and I just can’t do it.  When I’m in bed I’m sleeping.  End of story.

3)      I don’t like to speed-read or skim.  Case in point: I read the farming chapters in Anna Karenina.  Thoroughly.  I did not skim those suckers.  Ask me about 19th century Russian farming practices.

This pretty much sums it up.

4)      When I’m reading and Pete is puttering or working, I feel lazy.  And he is always puttering or working, so I end up puttering or working along with him.

I may have to just change my reading habits for a bit while C (and hypothetical second child) is little.  I’m thinking that I should just set some small daily goals for reading.

Busy readers, do you have any tips on how to squeeze some literature into my day?