Book review – A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

25414049.jpgA Whole Life is a quiet story of a man’s life, from his early childhood to his last days. He, Egger, is one of those people whose life looks unremarkable, but feels extraordinary. Egger’s life is never easy and he recognizes that he isn’t special. Instead of striving to keep up with the Jones’ or bemoaning his misfortunes, he accepts what he is given and he contents himself in doing what he needs to survive while enjoying his life in the mountains. In other words, he chooses to just live.

There are times when the book is a bit melancholic and even tragic, but the tone of the writing is persistently peaceful and simple, matching Egger’s quiet personality and sombre life. And, yet, the author is still able convey the crispness of the mountain life, the lushness of fluffy snow, and the heartache of losing a loved one.

The author conveys so much in so few words. It’s short and simple, but atmospheric. The book was clearly written (and translated) with a great deal of careful consideration for each word and each sentence, because there’s nothing extraneous: not a single word or a single thought seems out of place or extravagant.

I was really touched by this book and I think that it’s a story that will stick with me for a long time. In that regard, it reminds me of And the Birds Rained Down, which always seems to be lingering in the back of my mind. And, in fact, both focus on a character (or more) that is somewhat withdrawn from the rest of society and both are beautiful explorations of people living in the fringes of society.

If you’re looking for a quiet (and relatively quick) read, A Whole Life is an excellent book.

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Book review – The Shape of Ideas by Grant Snider

I don’t usually review graphic novels or collections of comics, but this one is a favourite that’ll be added to my small, permanent collection.

The Shape of Ideas is the graphic version of all the best creativity books out there. Snider explores creativity and inspiration by illustrating the good, the bad, and the ugly of trying to be creative. While his focus is on the arts, a lot of his thoughts could easily relate to many other areas (research, business, etc.). He explores ambition, frustration, exploration, and those elusive eureka moments.

His illustrations are lovely, fun and colourful, and his ideas are conveyed in a clever and clear manner. Best of all, he’s using visual creativity to convey the ups and downs of creativity.

If you haven’t already seen his work, check out Incidental Comics. These are some of my favourites from the past year:

 

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Book review – Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

28449207.jpgThere are a lot of things that I could talk about in a review of Strange the Dreamer: the beautiful writing, the interesting characters, the fascinating premise, the consequences of the different powers the gods had, or the library (seriously! – thought only briefly part of the story, it sounded pretty amazing). But, the thing that really struck me was how boldly Taylor dove into the grey areas between good and bad, or hero and monster.

A city is under threat by the gods in the citadel above them – young men and women are taken, used, and returned when no longer needed. A young man, mentally and emotionally broken by his capture, decides to rescue his people by slaying the gods all. All of them, even the children (god-spawn). But, a few children survive. The trauma of the slaying and of trying to survive combined with their own ignorance of the reasons for the slaughter leave them traumatized and just as full of hate as the humans below.

We are left with two groups, humans and god-spawn, each equally traumatized and full of hate. Taylor doesn’t take the easy way out by presenting us with simple good and evil. Instead, she shows us good that is also bad and evil that is also innocent. Through her story, she shows that that every story has two sides, but also that knowing the other’s side may not be enough to feel empathy because fear can blind us. She also explores how fear grows to hatred and how hatred is a disease that’s hard (impossible, even) to cure.

Overall, I found the story to be an easy and gripping read. But, for me, the thorough exploration of all the different sides to the story (and how one truth can blind you to other truths) was the best part of the story. The climax leaves many pretty much everything unresolved, but it also opens new doors with new revelations (this is going to be a series). While I wasn’t a fan of the can’t-be-together-OMG romance (I’m such a Scrooge in that regard), I’ll still be looking out for the next book in the series. I’m curious to see where Taylor goes with this and who, if anyone, “wins” in the end.

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Get a hold of your shelf update

Oh, hey. I had a fully successful month, with regards to the #getaholdofyourshelf challenge, which was kind of nice.

May’s challenge was to read the shortest book, so I read several. I pulled three short books and added a short book that I’d already partially read. And, I finished all of them!

For June, my challenge is twofold because I finally picked one of my audiobook challenges, which means that I have to listen to one of my Audible audiobooks that I’ve been ignoring. The overall challenge is book with the best title.

I started Lullabies for Little Criminals on my way to work on the 1st and I’m loving it. I probably won’t start the others until a little later in the month as I just got a mass dump of very popular books from the library (I won’t be able to renew them and returning them un-read will mean having to wait weeks before I can get them again). While I want to read them both, I’m mostly excited for The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

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Reading update, May 2017

I started May with almost 70 hours of audiobooks from the library. That’s a daunting number, even for an audiobook enthusiast who listens at about 1.5 speed. Thankfully, I returned one of the longer ones almost immediately because the production quality was poor (and the library had a print copy).

All those audiobooks meant that I didn’t finish my Novel Editions book in time for the book club discussion. I was surprised by how disappointed I was about missing it. Despite this disappointment, it was a good reading month. I completed my #getaholdofyourshelf challenge (for once!), finished last month’s #getaholdofmyshelf pick, and participated in the Savvy Reader readathon.

The readathon was part of the 50 book pledge challenge. I signed up for it for reasons … I honestly can’t remember why. It seems a little pointless as I already have a personal challenge on Goodreads, but I’ve been really enjoying it. We get little badges at milestones and for reading specific books or authors, the online community (especially on Twitter) is quite active and supportive, and the people running it are oozing with enthusiasm. Best of all, it’s based in Canada, which is a nice treat for us Canadians.

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What I read:

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Book review – The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert

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The Children’s Home, which was part of my May #getaholdofyourshelf challenge, is an odd little book that left me a bit confused, but it’s also a fascinating and engrossing story.

It starts off with a disfigured man living in an estate, cut off from the rest of the world. Through his memories, you get the feeling that this story takes place in the past and that he’s lack of connection with the outside world is as much because of his upbringing as it is because he does not want people to see his scars. Engel, a housekeeper, is sent by his long estranged sister to take care of him.

Then, one day, a baby is found on the doorstep. Then a boy arrives. And, slowly, but surely, dozens of children mysteriously appear on the estate. Each is welcomed in the home, but as more and more arrive, the story slowly becomes stranger. It seems to morph into a fairy tale: some of the children seem to have appeared out of thin air, and the children seem to be hidden most of the time, showing up just as their company is wanted. Strange artifacts are found in the house. The children exhibit strange behaviours (never scary, just odd).

There is a lot of foreshadowing about the outside world suggesting that maybe this story is taking place in the near a future, one that might be post-apocalyptic or at least dangerous. When we’re finally taken out of the estate grounds, the story goes from odd to outright weird. It’s creepy, a bit confusing, and never really fully explained.

But, despite being left a bit confused and wanting more answers, I loved the book. It was unique, well written, intriguing and utterly enthralling.

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Book review – Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West is a book that’s hard to review because it’s so many things layered and intertwined.

It starts with Saeed and Nadia’s love story and uses this as a means to help navigate us through the changes they face in their own city and the immigration crisis that affects the whole world.

I could write a whole post just on their love story and how Hamid allowed the two to remain individuals. Stories often ask the reader to root for the couple as an entity, but Hamid allowed us to connect with them as individuals while still appreciating the couple. This is crucial throughout the story, as their love and relationship ebbs and flows while being pulled in a multitude of directions.

But, it’s the immigration crisis that I want to focus on. One of the best things about fiction is that it introduces readers to other perspectives, which generates empathy and gives the reader a better understanding of the world. Saeed and Nadia find themselves in an unsafe situation and eventually decide to leave. We learn about the struggles around the decision to leave, the fear around finding a way out, the sorrow of leaving people behind, and the trials faced by refugees once they’re on foreign soil. In other words, we learn a bit about refugees.

“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”

But, Hamid adds a little magical realism to make this even more interesting: doors that act as portals to other places begin to open. Suddenly, the world needs to learn how to deal with random people from other countries showing up in unexpected places: restaurants, mansions, bedrooms, anywhere. Some doors are fiercely protected, both to keep people out and to keep people in. Others are all but ignored at both ends, where travellers are barely acknowledged as they appear.

This, of course, creates a global immigration crisis. Desirable countries are being inundated with refugees. This puts a strain on resources (space, food, etc.) and opens the doors for anti-immigrant actions (protests and violence). The reader experiences it through the lives of Saeed and Nadia. We see the ease with which some groups are willing to turn to violence (violence begets violence) and how potentially dangerous ideals can creep into our lives. We see the dangers refugees face even amongst themselves. We see the determination some have to make lives for themselves in safe countries, even if it means hard work and being disconnected from family.

Hamid also intersects the main story with little snippets of other people’s experiences, which helped to set the tone of the book and illustrate the consequences of the doors, good and bad.

It’s a beautiful and touching look at immigration, refugees, and the countries they flee to. Hamid is very careful to quietly, but honestly, shows the good and the bad on all sides.

It’s also a beautifully written book.

I highly recommend Exit West.

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Book review – Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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By Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900–1944) – Page, Public Domain, Link

Today is the SavvyReader readathon. I was hesitant to participate, because 12 hours of reading seems like a hell of a lot. But, then I remembered that I have a million books to read and several of them were short. So, I set out in hopes of finishing at least two or three while curled up, ignoring the rest of the world.

One of the books I read was Le Petit Prince, the French version. I was in French Immersion right up to my high school graduation, but that was a long time ago. I’ve also been working on re-learning some fundamental French (off and on) via tools like Duolingo, but my French vocabulary is still basic, at best. I was tempted to just read the English version, but I’ve read this book before (in school, eons ago) and I figured this would be a good way to work on my French while still getting a book read for the readathon. It did require looking up a lot of words, but I still managed to get through it.

The book is delightful, melancholy, and thought provoking. It tells the story of a pilot, stranded in the desert with a mechanical failure, who meets a prince from another world (an asteroid, actually). Through learning about the Little Prince’s adventures (why he left home, the places he visited on the way to Earth, and his time on Earth), we learn about the silliness of the adult world. Like the uselessness of owning all the stars just for the sake of owning all the stars.

Some of the prince’s encounters are blatant commentary on specific things.They are metaphors for adult things that are damaging and/or revered. Power, addiction, money.

But, others are a little more subtle and a little more likely to be interpreted differently by each reader. It’s because of this that I’m hesitant to say too much about the story and about my personal experience and relationship with the story.

Suffice to say, it’s worth the read (though, certainly, easier to read in your primary language). It’s beautiful and a good reminder of some of the things we lose when we let ourselves get too drawn into being a “proper” adult.

As for the readathon, the hours went by more quickly than expected. While I think that a bit of a break would be good (maybe a short walk and a proper dinner), I suspect that I’ll try to get a few more hours of reading done this evening.

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Get a Hold of My Shelf update

I bought about a million times more new books in April than I read (slight exaggeration). Emma, who started #getaholdofmyshelf, is trying to keep her books balanced (only acquiring as many as she reads). If I was doing the same thing, I’d be screwed.

I’m not sure if all the buying was because of all the fabulous new publications, or just because I was getting tired of winter and using books to make myself feel better. Probably both!

Regardless of the reason, my TBR (to be read) pile is expanding instead of shrinking. Also, in April, almost all the books I read were audiobooks or books that weren’t on my TBR shelf (i.e., mostly from the library).

I don’t mind having a decent TBR pile, but I find it overwhelming when it’s too big. Personally, I like have a dozen or so books sitting around waiting for me to read them so that I always have a few options when I’m in a slump or randomly find that I’ve finished all my library books. Unfortunately, my pile is at least twice what I’m comfortable with and I want to read every single last book, so I won’t be getting rid of any.

Anyway, the challenge … In April, the challenge was to read the book I had been most excited to get when I bought it:

As much as I wanted to read these two books, I just got stalled and I’ve been having trouble finding the time to read. April was busy, I guess.

My May challenge is the one that I’ve been desperately hoping for these past three months:

May challenge: The shortest books.

Thank you bookish gods! I have a number of books I can choose from, several of which I bought recently and desperately want to dive into. I allowed myself to first pick from the non-poetry books because I would otherwise be reading nothing but poetry all month. I love poetry, but I have some short, non-poetry books that I really want to sink my teeth in.

I ended up pulling three books, because I couldn’t pick just two. And, I’ll use this as an excuse to finish a short-ish book that I started in March.

My #getaholdofyourshelf books for the month. For May, I picked shortest book, so I pulled 3 and then decided to add The Children's Home, which I've already started.  I sort of cheated because all my shortest books are poetry books, but I really want to re

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Reading update, April 2017

April was a slow start for me, in terms of reading. Most books were finished in a mad rush in the last half of the month. And, most books were also audiobooks. It was just one of those months: I was busy for the first week or so, overwhelmed by all the reserved library books that were suddenly available (mostly audiobooks), and just completely off my usual schedule. On the bright side, most of the books I read were fascinating, thought provoking, and/or excellent.

My one disappointment was that I didn’t read nearly as much poetry as I had hoped. April is National Poetry Month in Canada (and the US) and I wanted to make my way through most, if not all, of the poetry books I had on my shelf. In the end, I only managed to get through two. Both were fairly dense and took me longer to get through than usual, but, mostly, I just had too many other books on my plate. I think that I’ll try to read a couple more poetry books in May, but probably I’ll go back to reading one poetry book per month.

It feels a bit like cheating to have “read” so many books that were actually read to me. But, 5 of the audiobooks I finished were ones that I’d put on hold weeks ago. I just had the bad luck to have them all come in a steady stream over the month (and, in fact, I’m currently trying to plow through 3 long ones that all arrived within the last couple days of the April – “reading” things quickly is hard when you’re interested in the story). Each of these books were read while walking to and from work, eating my lunch, mindlessly doing dishes, and even (on the rare occasion) just sitting in my reading chair enjoying the rare bit of sun we’ve had over the last few weeks.

I’ll be interested to see how many audiobooks I get through in the coming months. Spring is (finally) in town and that means that I’ll start taking the longer routes home more and more often. In addition to this, my office is moving further away from home. My walk will be about double what it is right now. While I sometimes choose to listen to music or nothing at all (especially when I’m in the quieter, bird-filled parts of my walk), I typically listen to audiobooks on my commute. Also, with the longer commute, I’ll be losing a bit more of my free time after work, which means that I’ll have less time to read physical books each day. It’s a good thing my library has a great collection of audiobooks!

That’s all, for now. I hope you all had a lovely April.

I’ll post a #getaholdofyourshelf challenge update in the next day or so.

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This is what I read:

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