Showing posts with label Book list. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book list. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bests of the Reading Year 2013

Time again for the yearly roundup of favourites... I like to wait until the very last minute in case something spectacular pops up at Christmas... and I also like to create a statistical summary of my year for interest's sake. Mostly my own interest, and I do hope that no-one thinks that reading should be competitive -- Nymeth wrote a great summary of "why stats" in her yearly roundup post, and I think it describes my take on stats pretty closely as well. 

Total Reading: 163


Female: 108
Male: 53
Nongendered (multiple authors): 2

Genre etc.

Fiction: 119
Non Fiction: 41
Poetry: 3

In translation: 

French (Quebecois): 2
French: 1
Portuguese: 1
Hungarian: 1
German: 1

My Own Books: 78
Library Books: 85

Review Copies:  16
(Last year I was  feeling that I'd taken on too many review copies, as I feel obliged to read all of the books I ask for ... this is nearly half of last year's total & much more manageable!)

Rereads: 8
E-reads: 11

As usual, I seem to have twice as many female authors than male; a balance between library books and my own; a handful of rereads; and I heavily lean toward fiction. Not many surprises there! I have fallen in the number of translations I read this year, and have read fewer e-books as well. Not sure why for either of those things -- just the way things fell out this year. 


And now for my Best Reads of the Year! This year I found a widely varying range of reads. I read some that I've owned for years, some new releases fresh from my library, and a few 'required reads' for various projects that were a mixture of good and meh.

Here are my favourite reads of the year, based on my personal enjoyment of them. Whether it was the writing, the characters or some special element of the story, each of these books was memorable in its way. They are not ranked in any order, except for order of reading.


Okay, these were my 2 absolute faves!

Speaking From Among the Bones / Alan Bradley

I love Flavia de Luce and this volume of her adventures was particularly thrilling -- I am so eagerly anticipating the next one in this series, out shortly, to follow up on the cliffhanger ending of Speaking From Among the Bones!

Sir Charles Grandison / Samuel Richardson

I finally read this door-stopper of a novel, inspired by my Postal Reading Challenge to take it down off the shelf. Despite its excessive size, it turned out to be one of my very favourite reads of the year. It had humour, adventure, great characters, astonishing relevance (despite its 1753 publication date), and was such a great read! Since it was so very long, I wrote about it in segments: First Thoughts, and then Second Thoughts, and lastly, Final Thoughts!

Astray / Emma Donoghue

I don't often love short story collection; admire, yes, find interesting, yes, but this collection I really did love.  Donoghue writes tales sparked by historical incidents and with the exception of one story, I was drawn in and dazzled by this collection.

When I Was Young and In My Prime / Alayna Munce

This was my most unexpected discovery of 2013, and a wonderful one. A poetic and highly individual narrative about a girl, her family, and memory, this packed an emotional wallop and beautiful writing as well.

A Tale For the Time Being / Ruth Ozeki

This was probably tied with Sir Charles Grandison as my favourite read of the year. It's great, everybody says so ;) After a bit of a slow start, I couldn't stop reading this and was surprised and astonished by how it all turned out. Excellent, excellent book.

Life After Life / Kate Atkinson

I'm in the camp of those who loved this book. One to read all in one go, I think, to get the full immersive experience of Ursula's birth, death, rebirth, death, etc. etc. Even with its flaws, I thought this was a masterful tale and extremely memorable too.

An Unsuitable Attachment / Barbara Pym

My favourite Pym from a year of multiple Pym readings. This one was just my thing, as much of it takes place in a library, and the action, characters, and sly wit all amused me greatly.

The Golem and the Jinni / Helene Wecker

A book recommended by bloggers, I enjoyed this long, imaginative novel about a golem and a jinni in turn-of-the-century New York. It brought up issues of identity and belonging along with its fantastical premise, blending it all into a thoughtful story.

The Antagonist / Lynn Coady

A modern epistolary novel told in emails, this screed by Gordon "Rank" Rankin to an old friend, now novelist, who has co-opted his life story (as Rank sees it) crackles with energy, angst, pathos and a touch of aggression as well.

My Ghosts / Mary Swan

I'm actually quite surprised that I haven't heard more about this Canadian novel yet -- published in September it seems to have just quietly appeared. It's an excellent, thoughtful look at families down the years. Who are we and what part do our memories play in our identity? And what happens when you don't know your forebears but you are so much like them? It is beautifully written, a slow moving study of the tangled branches of a family tree.

Brown Girl in the Ring / Nalo Hopkinson

For sheer imaginative power I think this tops nearly anything else I've read this year. Apocalyptic Toronto, magic, spirits, street kids, gang members, drugs, unhealthy love... while it might sound like the headlines this year, this book was a fascinating imaginative journey.


Threading Light / Lorri Neilsen Glenn

Such a gorgeous, tiny read. Grief, poetry, carrying on; all are themes in this powerful book.

Comfort Food for Breakups / Marusya Bociurkiw

This set of essays really caught me this year; all about food, family and identity, they reveal a reflective mind at work, capturing big ideas in small, daily moments.

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth / Chris Hadfield

I worried needlessly that this would be a fluff book -- instead it turned out to be a solid read with great life advice: work hard and enjoy the journey. While not perfect, it was still a great read by a fascinating character who we all wanted to know more about this year.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Postal Reading Challenge 2014: My List

As I'm hosting the Postal Reading Challenge, I thought that I should really create a list of possible reads that I'm interested in picking up next year. Hopefully some of these will inspire other readers as well.

So that this list won't interfere with the original sign up post, I'm sharing it here on its own. These are just a few of the titles that I'd like to search out next year.

1. Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life / Nina Stibbe

This new book is made up of letters from Nina to her sister at a time when she was nannying for a family who had lots of literary pals -- sounds really fun, especially after reading this review at Pickle Me This.

2. Letters of a Portuguese Nun / Mariana Alcoforado

A classic and one I am really in the mood to reread. I first read this in university, and the only commentary I could find on it was in French, so my French got a bit better ;)

3. Letters of a Portuguese Nun: uncovering the mystery behind a 17th Century forbidden love / Myriam Cyr

But that leads to this book, fairly new, a study of the controversy behind the original letters (who really wrote them?)

4. Sabine's Notebook & The Golden Mean & The Gryphon / Nick Bantock

I reread the first volume of this artbook series this year, and need to read the next ones shortly.

5. Dear Enemy / Jean Webster

This is a follow up to Daddy Long Legs which I read many years ago and enjoyed then. Haven't read this one.

6. A Woman of Independent Means / Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey

It's a Virago. No more needs to be said...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

6 in 6

This is a fun meme I noted first at Fleur in Her World, originating at The Book Jotter (a new-to-me blog). It's made up of six books in six categories which you've read in the first six months of the year. While I've come to it a bit late, it's not too, too late to join in!

So, using some of Jo's six categories, and a few that differ, here are my choices:

Six authors new to me

Elizabeth Savage (Last Night at the Ritz)
Rachel Wyatt (Suspicion)
Saleema Nawaz (Bone & Bread)
Janet Hepburn (Flee, Fly, Flown)
Helene Wecker (The Golem & The Jinni)

Six authors I have read before

Alexander McCall Smith
Alan Bradley
Susanna Kearsley
Barbara Pym
Helen Humphreys
Marusya Bociurkiw

Six From the Non-Fiction Shelf

Wm & H'ry by J.C. Hallman
Yours Ever by Thomas Mallon
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
Threading Light by Lorri Neilsen Glenn
Comfort Food for Breakups by Marusya Bociurkiw

Six books I have greatly enjoyed

Sir Charles Grandison by Samuel Richardson
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
Astray by Emma Donoghue

Six books that took me to other times and places

John Saturnall's Feast by Lawrence Norfolk
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
Henrietta Sees It Through by Joyce Dennys
Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley
The Tale-Teller by Susan Glickman

Six books not reviewed yet -- in progress or recently finished

Perdita by Hilary Scharper
The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
The History of Emily Montague by Frances Brooke
The Translation of Dr. Apelles by David Treuer
Heidegger's Glasses by Thaisa Frank
The House by Teresa Waugh

Try your own set of sixes if you wish, and be sure to share them with Jo at the Book Jotter, too.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Chinese New Year!

image from etsy

Happy Year of the Snake!  

Chinese New Year this year falls on February 10th... what will it bring you? You can peek at a few predictions for the year at Elephant Journal, if you are at all intrigued by such things.

To continue a yearly tradition, here is a list of books featuring snakes:

Jungle Book capital K

1. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

Kaa is a character in Kipling's Mowgli stories. Unlike in the Disney films, in the book Kaa is "an exceptionally long, yellowish Python molurus." Also unlike the film, in the original book Kaa is one of Mowgli's mentors and friends. He is a powerful snake, more than a hundred years old and still in his prime.

2. The Greedy Python by Eric Carle

This story follows a familiar folktale pattern; in The Greedy Python a  snake eats every creature he comes across in the jungle, until he is enormous. All the animals inside befriend one another and kick at the python from the inside until he disgorges them all. Still hungry, he espies his own tail, gobbles it down -- and disappears.

The Little Prince Deluxe Pop-Up Book

3. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Who can forget the boa constrictor who has swallowed an elephant! Or is it a hat?....

Snakes also play a role in the end of this story but that part is a little sadder so I'll stick with the hat mistake for the snaky bit of this story.

Sherlock Holmes In The Adventure Of The Speckled Band (High Impact)4. The Speckled Band by Arthur Conan Doyle

And now for something a little more adult! 

One of the great Sherlock Holmes short stories, this one features a mysterious death, a trained snake who comes to a whistle (odd since snakes are deaf, but oh well, suspension of disbelief!) and Holmes' trademark sleuthing. A thrilling read!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Postal Reading Challenge January-March Link Up

This is the place to link-up any reviews and/or images of your mail art that you've been creating, depending on your level of participation in the Postal Reading Challenge.

Please link up whenever you have any posts to share. This page will serve as the linkup from January to March, at which point the next quarter's linkup page will be posted.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Best of the Year, 2012

Unlike many media outlets, I prefer to wait until the very last second to decide what my favourite reads of the year were! Who knows, I might always find something fabulous under the tree that will jump to the top of the list -- so I like to hold off to the last possible day to discuss this topic!

And, I also enjoy creating a statistical summary of my year's reading. I always find it interesting to see what I've ended up reading, and whether there are any patterns to what I pick up throughout the year. There didn't seem to be any patterns this year ~ really quite random!

Total Reading: 125


Female: 83
Male: 42

Genre etc.

Fiction: 82
Non Fiction: 38
Poetry: 5

In translation: 

French (Quebecois): 2
Dutch: 1
Portuguese: 1
Finnish: 1
Spanish: 1
Swedish: 1

My Own Books: 68
Library Books: 57

Review Copies: 28 
(I count these are part of  "my own" books, but I'm feeling that this is too many as I feel obliged to read all of the books I ask for ... will have to reduce the numbers next year)

Rereads: 7
E-reads: 17


And now for the Best of the Year 2012!

I found for some reason this year that I wasn't engaging with my reading in the same way...perhaps too busy? Perhaps preoccupied with other things?  I did find some great books but not in the same abundance as usual. 

Nonetheless, here are the top ten reads that I discovered in 2012, the criteria being solely my personal taste. These books either amused me, delighted me with their great writing, were full of fascinating facts, or had some unique element to them that I found appealing. 

One of the most powerful nonfiction reads of the year, I've been recommending this to everyone ever since. Great book about an important topic, written well and very shareable. 

This was a book I stumbled across, and seeing it was about labyrinths and reading, two of my own preoccupations, I immediately read it. It was gentle, wise and a lovely read. 

This was a fascinating memoir that incorporates Canadian history, women's lives and a narrator with a bookish bent. Can't wait to read part 2 in 2013!

4. Fooling Houdini / Alex Stone
This was a very entertaining read about magic, math and mental trickery ~ lots to learn, while having fun reading.

Hilarious fun, with a diverse cast of characters in Winnipeg (including one ghost) trying to make a go of things. Art, craft, love, and a soupçon of sadness. And the author wrote a simply gorgeous guest post about everyday creativity, as well. 

A tale of Ukrainian Canadian history, told in straightforward language. This illuminates an ignored part of our history, the internment of Ukrainian Canadians during World War I. 

Quirky tale of a group of young people melding technology with the love of books as they try to crack the mystery of a secret society based on Aldus Manutius' teachings... the perfect blend, in my opinion. Compulsive reading.

What a gorgeous collection of short stories by the master fantasy writer herself. Beautiful, dreamy, inspiring.

I make no secret of my love for Penelope Lively. I am endlessly interested in the themes of her novels, and this latest one was no exception. I really enjoyed it. 

This was an unexpectedly wonderful book, set in the summer months at a lake in the Laurentians. The writing was great, the setting was amazing, the story was complex and deep. This book by a Quebec writer is definitely one of the best of the year. 

Hope you all had a wonderful reading year as well, and here's to marvellous new bookish discoveries in the New Year. Happy, and lucky, 2013 to all!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Happy Chinese New Year! This year we are entering the Year of the Dragon -- 2012 will be the year of the Water Dragon. What does this mean to you? Read more about how this affects each sign in the Chinese Zodiac.

As for me, I enjoy sharing books featuring each animal yearly...some years are easier than others! There are many more enjoyable dragon books than ox books, for example :)

Please share your own suggestions and recommendations in the comments as well -- we each have our favourite discoveries. Each year I mainly stick to children's books, and this year is no different. Here are five of my favourite dragon books:

1. My Father's Dragon / Ruth Stiles Gannett

The 1948 classic about Elmer Elevator and his quest to free a baby dragon from Wild Island. He uses his cleverness to outwit the wild animals trying to stop him, by appealing to their vanity. The ending is particularly amusing in its choice of language.

2. A Book Dragon / Donn Kushner

A quiet tale of Nonesuch the dragon, whose family is wiped out during the War of the Roses. He shrinks to the size of a large insect to save himself, and finds a treasure to guard: a medieval Book of Hours. He accompanies this beautiful book throughout the centuries, ending up in the back room of an American bookstore in the 20th century. His life story is full of historical fact and intriguing side characters. Sadly, out of print, as far as I know.

3. The Secret in the Matchbox / Val Willis -- illustrated by John Shelley

Another book which is unaccountably out of print, this is a delightful picture book perfect for reading aloud. Bobby Bell takes a matchbox to school, one which has a dragon inside. Nobody believes him until he lets it out and it grows and it grows and it grows.... causing chaos galore! The illustrations, by John Shelley are also fabulous. See for example, the full grown dragon:

4. George and the Dragon / Chris Wormell

I love this book to distraction! Little George, a shy mouse, moves into a new cave right beside a dragon's lair. Upon unpacking, he finds that he has no sugar for his tea. Asking his new neighbour (a vicious princess-stealing dragon who happens to be terrified of mice) for a loan has repercussions George could never have imagined. A true delight, especially for tea lovers ;) And the illustrations are exquisite.

5. The Best Pet of All / David LaRochelle -- illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama

This is a cute story about a little boy who realllllly wants a dog, but his mother doesn't. She does say okay to a dragon, though... if he can find one. He finally does, at the drugstore. But is it a good pet? You'll have to read this to find out. The illustrations really make this book; they are vintage style and have great visual jokes in them -- the second to last page always makes me laugh.
Read it if you can... or you can listen to Reese Witherspoon reading it! (though the pictures are kind of hard to see)

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best of the Year

I like to tally up my year's reading statistically...well, somewhat so, anyhow. It's entertaining to see what you've done over the year and to refresh your memory of some of the gems that were found over a year's reading. Once again, I've read more fiction than non-fiction, and more female authors than male. Pretty much normal. But I did read a lot more poetry than I do generally, not sure why, but it was enjoyable! Here is my record of 2011:

Total Reading: 159


Female: 97
Male: 58
Nongendered (collections, multiple authors, etc.): 4

Genre etc.

Fiction: 95
Non Fiction: 54
Poetry: 10

In translation:

Russian: 4
French (Quebecois): 3
Dutch: 2
Portuguese: 2
German: 2
Norwegian: 1
Korean: 1
Ukrainian: 1

My Own Books: 66
Library Books: 93

Rereads: 7


The last week of the year is also my favourite time to think about the "Best of the Year" -- the best that I've read, as judged according to my personal taste and reading experience. These are titles that spoke to me in some way, either with fantastic writing, memorable characters, or an overall "something" that has stuck with me. Sometimes it just reflects how much fun I had reading! So this is not a Best Literature Ever list, it's a Best Books for Me This Year list. Hope you will enjoy.

10. The Right-Brain Business Plan / Jennifer Lee
I'm including this one because it was so meaningful in my business planning this year. I enjoyed it so much that I bought myself a copy that I continually refer to. It's a creative, inspiring way to look at business planning.

9. The Artificial Silk Girl / Irmgard Keun
Pre-Nazi Germany is the setting for this epistolary style novel. I said upon reading it: "Keun is a great discovery and provided a bracing reading experience."

8. Blackout & All Clear / Connie Willis
Excellent, excellent 2 volume novel that I loved -- as I have all of the Oxford Time Travel series. This was a fabulously enjoyable reading experience, even if I didn't talk about it in my blog!

7. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows / Alan Bradley
Love Flavia De Luce, and this was a wonderful addition to the series...Christmas in a big old house, fun stuff.

6. To This Cedar Fountain / Kate Braid
This collection was full of poetry based on my favourite Canadian artist, Emily Carr. I love Carr, and I was intrigued by Braid's eloquent take on her life via poetry.

5. Anya's Ghost / Vera Brosgol
I never did review this one, but it was a graphic novel that actually drew me in -- I loved it.

4. The Rose Garden / Susanna Kearsley
No-one can write romantic suspense/time travel like Kearsley. Great addition to her oeuvre!

3. Kaleidoscope / P.K. Page
I can't repeat often enough how much I love P.K. Page. This book is a huge collection of her work, vital to any fan of Canadian poetry, in my opinion. Gorgeous stuff.

2. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt / Caroline Preston
This unusual book caught my fancy this year, and the illustrations were out of this world. I adore the Twenties and this fed my fascination with the era.

1. The Forest Horses / Byrna Barclay
I know we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover -- but I totally judged this one on its evocative cover, so much so that it made me decide to read it! And I'm glad I of my definite favourites this year.

Hope you all had a wonderful reading year as well, and here's to marvellous new bookish discoveries in the New Year. Happy 2012 to all!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Happy Year of the Rabbit!

Happy Year of the Rabbit!

Chinese New Year this year falls on February 3rd, and to continue a tradition, here is a book list featuring rabbits, in celebration of the Year of the Rabbit.

A classic tale of a group of rabbits who leave their threatened warren to start another one on the Downs of England. Memorable characters, adventure, and only a little dated now in its portrayal of gender.

2. Masquerade / Kit Williams

This gorgeous picture book began as a riddle -- the author painted illustrations that were an armchair treasure hunt, giving clues to the location of a real golden hare that Williams had had made and then hidden somewhere in England. It was accompanied by a book by Bamber Gascoigne, The Quest for the Golden Hare, following the quest by readers and fans to uncover the hiding place of the hare.

3. Peter Rabbit / Beatrix Potter

A very familiar tale of Peter, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and of course, Farmer McGregor's garden. It was in this book that I was introduced to the word "soporific", still one of my favourites ;) There is also a delightful "Peter Rabbit" website with lots of information about Beatrix Potter and her world, and also downloadable crafts and activities (like a puppet show!)

4. Prince Babillon, or the Little White Rabbit / Nella

A forgotten gem, this is available in full text online thanks to the Internet Archive. It is a beautiful fairy tale, full of ironic humour, True Love, and wonderful illustrations by Charles Robinson. The heroine is also named Princess Melanie, which of course makes me inordinately fond of the story ;)

5. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane / Kate DiCamillo

Edward Tulane, a self-centred and proud toy rabbit, loves only himself. However, his life changes when he is separated from his comfortable life and the little girl who adores him. He embarks on a journey, acquiring new owners and listening to their hopes, dreams, and histories.

The classic tale of love and becoming real. Heartwarming pathos and the idea of love overcoming all makes this a must-read.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Meatless Monday Book List

Although I'm meatless everyday, not just Mondays, I think this is a great initiative. If everyone ate meatless just one day a week it could have great environmental impact. And it might let people know that in fact, meatless eating is easy, healthy and very satisfying. So, in honour of Meatless Monday, I'm pulling an old post from the archives and re-sharing it here. Check out their site for lots of great recipe ideas and inspiration!

Aspects of Vegetarianism from May 23, 2008:

Dewey's latest challenge, though I'm coming to it late, nearly at the end of the week, was to pick a social issue that you are interested in and post some relevant books on topic. They don't have to be books you've read; they can be ones you are simply interested in reading. I have chosen vegetarianism as my topic, as it is a big part of my life and has been for the past 15 years. Though it may not seem like a big deal, compared to things like human trafficking , I see many issues tied to being a vegetarian, all of which concern me. (and there are food-based reasons for child slavery) There are moral elements, the question of animal rights, of health, of environmental impact, of equitable distribution of the world's resources... so I'll point out a few books on a few of these subjects. These are some I like; there are countless others!

First up is one I have had on my TBR for a very long time, but have not sat down to systematically go through, yet. It's a look at the philosophy & ethics of vegetarianism:

It covers different related issues in each chapter, and gives a solid philosophical ground for abstaining from meat.

And then one from a more personal viewpoint, former cattle rancher Howard Lyman's Mad Cowboy. This is a fascinating look at how the conditions in commercial cattle farming led a fourth-generation rancher to become an evangelist for the vegetarian lifestyle. This is the writer whose book shocked Oprah and caused the infamous lawsuit brought by Texas cattle ranchers.

The Bloodless Revolution: a cultural history of Vegetarianism from 1600 to modern times / Tristram Stuart -- this is a book that I recently purchased and am loving. It should properly be called a history of vegetarianism IN ENGLAND however, as it's very British. But it's great fun, full of historical anecdotes that would make good dinner table conversation, plus it ties religion and empire, fashion, and aesthetic motivations into the many reasons for eating the meatless way.

Two books which can be depended on if you're interested in going vegetarian or even vegan for your health are Brenda Davis & Vesanto Melina's Becoming Vegetarian and Becoming Vegan. Both have tons of information to allay any family concerns that you're going to waste away to nothing, and to ensure that you are eating healthily and knowledgeably.

John Robbins' The Food Revolution is a good look at all of the issues you can have an effect upon simply by becoming vegetarian.
As the Publishers Weekly review of this one says,

What can we do to help stop global warming, feed the hungry, prevent cruelty to animals, avoid genetically modified foods, be healthier and live longer? Eat vegetarian, Robbins argues. Noting the massive changes in the environment, food-production methods, and technology over the last two decades, he lambastes contemporary factory-farming methods and demonstrates that individual dietary choices can be both empowering and have a broader impact. Robbins, heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice-cream empire (he rejected it to live according to his values), takes on fad diets, the meat industry, food irradiation, hormone and antibiotic use in animals, cruel animal husbandry practices, the economics of meat consumption, biotechnology and the prevalence of salmonella and E. Coli.

And just for fun, a vegetarian friendly novel which takes on the meat industry:My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki.

I really enjoyed this book when I first read it, as it features an American woman of Japanese descent who is hired to make a tv program featuring American meats, to air in the Japanese market. She is supposed to highlight All-American families cooking with beef, but ends up learning more and more and as a result moving farther and farther away from her instructions -- until the last family she highlights is a lesbian, vegetarian couple.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Spicy Reading: Let's Eat Peanut Butter

I'm sure that everyone has by now seen the infamous Old Spice Guy talking about the wonder of words, those non-pictures that communicate anything to other minds, found in books, in libraries ;)

But just because I've been loving watching it over and over, here it is again:

And there is also the nearly immediate excellent spoof that was made for the Harold B. Lee Library -- it has already had over a million hits itself:

All this wonderful, goofy concatenation of Old Spice and libraries inspired me to create a thematic book list -- here are

Some Old Books that have something to do with Spice

1. Campbell's Tea, Coffee and Spice Reader

This is a delightful book from 1920 which covers all the latest teas and coffees, where they are from and the best blends to use, then provides an alphabetic listing of popular spices in the same line; where they are from and how to use them. I love the author's note at the beginning:

"The writer does not challenge Criticism but honestly courts it. If, in the perusal of this work, you find an error, or an article, which, in your judgement, is incorrect, or incomplete, and you have more authentic "data" at hand, please forward same to the author."

2. Spices, their Nature and Growth; the Vanilla Bean; a Talk on Tea

In 1915, McCormick & Co. put out this pamphlet -- and they are still in the spice trade! This is a pretty little book, with colour plates of all the basic spices they discuss, including tea, plus a few period recipes... including the slightly questionable Banana, Pimento and French Dressing salad. Hmm.

3. Deadly Adulteration & slow poisoning unmasked (1839?)

Something that these old books seem very concerned about was the frequent occurence of adulteration of spices - this was common with tea and coffee and many other household goods as well - and it could be deadly. Here is an early "consumer beware" guide to the many ways such items could be adulterated, and there is a whole section on spices.

4. The compotus or yearly-account roll of Thomas Syngleton, monk, keeper of the common stock of spices (custos communiae specierum), and chamberlain of the monastery of St. Mary, York, from the Sunday after the feast of St. Michael the archangel, 1528, to the same Sunday in the year 1529 (1851?])

This book with the super-long title tells us a bit about the expansive use of foreign spices in English monasteries - as it says in the introduction, the expenditure on spice in 1528, according to this document, was over 38 Pounds, when at the time a sheep was going for 2 s.

5. Spices and How to Know Them / Walter Gibbs (1909)

Another introduction to the history of spices, this has wonderful photos of spice plantations from all over the world. Chapter II is all about adulteration again - a going concern, with the strong admonishment "Spice millers should not be counterfeiters!"

6. Cinnamon and Angelica / John Middleton Murry (1920)

An odd little play dedicated to his wife, Katherine Mansfield, it features Cinnamon, Prince of the Peppercorns, and Angelica, Princess of the Cloves (also Miss Vanilla Bean, housekeeper to Cinnamon). Quite melodramatic considering it all begins lightly and the naming is so tongue-in-cheek.

7. Pepper & Salt, or, Seasoning for Young Folk / Howard Pyle (1913)

A collection of folk and fairy tales gathered up by Howard Pyle, for as he says in the preface, "One must have a little pinch of seasoning in this dull, heavy life of ours".

8. The Story of Ginger Cubes / Christopher Morley (1922)

This hilarious epistolary tale begins with an ad man being taken to hospital for "a badly dislocated sense of proportion and exhaustion of the adjective secretions". It continues with letters between a varied cast of characters all focused on their agency's attempt to come up with a new campaign for Ginger Cubes, a form of medicated confectionery (including an idea to dot them with sugar and sell them as 'digestive dice') Great fun, though brief!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

20 Under 40 or 10 over 80?

The New York Times has recently released its "20 under 40" list of hot young writers. I looked at the list, and I like many of the authors they've chosen. However, the whole idea of a list like this bothers me; it feels like once again celebrating youth, new things, and the idea of celebrity rather than years of hard work and the evidence of an oeuvre of excellent novels created by career authors.

In response, Ward Six has created a list of "10 over 80". On that list there are many excellent authors who I can certainly see as writers to celebrate. (hurrah for Beverly Cleary & Ralph S. Mouse!) It made me think, you could really create any kind of list of this type, couldn't you? 20 over 50, 10 under 100, really endless possibilities here, not even getting into gender or ethnicity -- that could cause an exponential growth in your pool of choices!

Anyhow, I enjoyed the "10 over 80" list but it missed out some of my own faves, so I'm going to share my own list (with a variation to suit me) -- so here is my own list of favourites...

15 Over 75

1. Penelope Lively (b. March 17, 1933)
English author of 16 novels for adults, numerous nonfiction, short stories and children's books. I love her work!

2. José Saramago (b. Nov. 16, 1922)
Portuguese genius who has written 28 books (at least half translated into English) plus he's kept a blog recently.
3. Alice Munro (b. July 10, 1931)
Canadian master of the short story. Necessary reading for all.

4. Ray Bradbury (b. Aug 22, 1920)
American short story, science fiction, Fahrenheit 451 -- how can you not love him? He is my superhero of writing.

5. Barbara Mertz/Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels (b. Sept. 29, 1927)
American writer who has tons of fabulous non-fiction, mysteries, and romantic suspense.

6. Virgil Burnett (b. 1928)
A personal friend who is best known as an artist, sculptor and illustrator. He has written short story collections and novels (including my favourite, Towers at the Edge of a World.) He's also penned a memoir. (American born but Canadian by residence.)

7. Maya Angelou (b. April 4, 1928)
American poet, author of inspirational work and children's books -- amazing woman.

8. Mavis Gallant (b. Aug. 11, 1922)
Canadian novelist and short story writer who has lived in France for many, many years. She is such a strong writer and a strong woman.

9. Edna O'Brien (b. Dec. 15, 1930)
Irish writer of novels, plays, and biographies. Still going strong with her latest, a biography of Lord Byron.

10. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (b. March 6, 1927)
Colombian author and master of magic realism. I loved One Hundred Years of Solitude.
11. Joan Clark (b. Oct. 12, 1934)
Canadian writer from Atlantic Canada. Has written children's books and a few adult novels as well. I loved her adult novel Latitudes of Melt.

12. Don Coles (b. Apr. 12, 1928)
Fabulous Canadian poet who has at least 10 collections, he wrote one novel called Dr. Bloom's Story which I loved!

13. Antonine Maillet (b. May 10, 1929)
Acadian (French Canadian from Atlantic Canada) writer of plays, novels and academic writing. Very unique reading!

14. Josef Skvorecky (b. Sept. 27, 1924)
Czech writer who has lived most of his life in Canada, he's written novels and mysteries, most of which are available in English.

15. Thomas Keneally (b. Oct. 7, 1935)
Australian author of many, many novels; best known for Schindler's Ark but I read and really enjoyed Victim of the Aurora.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Comfort, Cherries & Castles for Victoria Day

Happy Victoria Day! Well, at least we celebrate good old Queen Victoria here in Canada. I didn't have any big plans for the weekend -- my idea of fun, like Jane Austen's, is to stay home for true comfort.

But to celebrate Victoria Day I usually like to make some kind of cherry dessert or drink (cherries were Queen Victoria's favourite fruit) and laze around treating myself like royalty.

To share my royally entertaining holiday with all my faithful readers, I thought I would put together a little reading list of some books featuring castles. Yes, those royal residences, which feature in these book titles:

1. I Capture the Castle / Dodie Smith

Surely one of my favourite castle-y reads, I have just featured this one in a recent list of fictional journals, as well as a number of other book lists I've done over the past years. My most listed, I believe!

2. We Have Always Lived in the Castle / Shirley Jackson

How could I overlook this creepy classic by the master of psychological horror? Read it with the lights on. Good thing the sun stays around later this time of year...

3. Lesley Castle / Jane Austen

A piece of Austen juvenilia put out by Hesperus Press, this is an entertaining, if not fully polished, epistolary novel -- brief but well worth it. Austen's sharp humour comes through clearly.

4. The Blue Castle / L.M. Montgomery

I am sure that many Lucy Maud fans will agree with me that this book, set outside PEI and aimed at adults, is one of her best. Funny, romantic and dreamy, I've read it about 100 times since I was a teenager. Valancy Stirling, put-upon daughter and spinster in a large clan, discovers she has a heart condition so throws over her societal constraints and family expectations to live the way she wants to, and of course, finds True Love.

5. The Castle / Kafka

If you want to feel like you are in one of those awful nightmares where you are stuck doing the same thing over and over and you are so tired and you don't know what is going on, just read this. Have fun!

6. The Castle of Otranto / Hugh Walpole

One of - if not the very first - Gothic novels in the English language, this is still a fabulously creepy read. Read it at Walpole's posthumous blog ;)

7. Castle Rackrent / Maria Edgeworth

Another 'first' novel: Wikipedia claims this book is "often regarded as the first historical novel, the first regional novel in English, the first Anglo-Irish novel, the first Big House novel and the first saga novel." All I know is that is an entertaining read with great character names, including the narrator, steward Thady Quirk.

8. The View from Castle Rock / Alice Munro

A book of short stories by the recognized master of the short story (and a Canadian to boot). This book is based in her family history, but is fiction. The blending of both, and how it is done, is almost as interesting as the stories themselves.

9. Maiden Castle / John Cowper Powys

A story of awkward and odd individuals in Dorchester, England, making a life together under the looming influence of Maiden Castle. As with all Powys' work, heavy on the myth and mystical aspects.

10. The Man in the High Castle / Philip K. Dick

A masterpiece of alternative history, the book is set in 1962: the United States has lost a war and is occupied by Nazi Germany and Japan. Slavery is legal again, Jews are in hiding. Acknowledged as one of Dick's best.

11. Axel's Castle / Edmund Wilson

And now for some wonderful non-fiction, try this classic study of Symbolism as it appeared in literature. Wilson discuss many of the huge literary stars of the era. Subtitle says it all: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930

12. One Room in a Castle / Karen Connelly

This beautiful travelogue takes us across Greece, Spain and France, all the while seeing things through the eyes of poet Karen Connelly. She is an extraordinary writer, and this book will give you new perspectives on the places she visits, and eventually settles down in.