books

Book Club | January & February

Book Club J+F

One of my resolutions for 2014 is to read 75 books. I accomplished this goal last year, but I also had a lot more free time (I was traveling without responsibilities for 3 months of it!) and as I’ve written before, I didn’t feel like I was reading “bravely”. In 2014 I want to read challenging books with depth, because those are usually the ones that leave an impression on me. In the spirit of this goal, I’ll be sharing my favourite books every month or so on the blog. 

The Defining DecadeI watched her TED talk and immediately knew I wanted to read the book. First of all, I’m so glad I’m discovering this information about how to make the most of your twenties while I’m actually in my twenties. Her tips are straightforward and smart, and she is not afraid to challenge us twenty-somethings to push ourselves and examine our own limiting beliefs. I find myself bringing up ideas from this book in conversation with others, such as the idea of identity capital or of really mapping out a timeline of the coming years to get a true sense of how much time you have. 

Sisterland / Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my favourite authors, and I’ve been looking forward to this book for a few years now. Happily, I wasn’t disappointed one bit. I think her greatest strength is being able to put into words some of the subtle feelings, situations and small details we all experience in our lives. Her ability to do that brings such a realness to her writing and makes it so much more relatable. The premise of this book involves psychic ability which sort of threw me off at first, but of course she’s so talented she can pull it off believably. I also loved this interview she did about the book.

The Remains of the Day / On the surface, it’s a simple story about a longtime English butler going on a road trip across England. This was another very subtle book: it doesn’t hit you over the head with its message, but it rings through clear as day. It’s told in the first person, which is even more interesting because the narrator is a little unreliable and his telling of the story is naturally clouded by his beliefs, judgments and misunderstandings. It’s actually quite a heartbreaking story in the end, but a beautiful novel. 

David and Goliath / I absolutely adore Malcolm Gladwell’s work. He’s unafraid of controversial theories and radical ideas, and I love that his essays always challenge me to consider things differently. This book offers that the way we think about disadvantages and advantages is flawed and limited, and the way we see underdogs is often wrong as well. I zipped through this one, but it was fascinating and enjoyed talking to my family about some of its ideas. 

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? / I really loved this book. It was very, very funny, often in quiet, clever ways. I liked that it explored misunderstandings and confusion and crossed wires, and that the characters were flawed but self-reflexive and smart. It was thoroughly enjoyable and just a little bit silly. 

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As always, you can see all the books I’ve read and plan to read on GoodReads. Also, if you have any great book recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them! Let me know in the comments below. 

Read This Book: Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Reading this book was practically a religious experience (and trust – I do not have those very often!). I read it in one sitting, which despite my love of books, does not often happen. I barely moved out of my bed for hours – hours that I barely noticed passing. Strangest part is, it’s not even fiction! Usually it’s novels that pull me in this much, but I think it must be the wonderful storytelling that this book is packed with that hooked me.

This book by Cheryl Strayed was a nominee for best 2012 nonfiction book on GoodReads this year, and I put it on my to-read list without thinking too much of it. I almost feel lucky that I decided to check it out of the library, because (*cheesiness alert*) I hate to think that I might not have read this book. I’m serious! It was exactly what I needed to read, exactly when I needed to read it. As a twenty-one-year-old who is weeks away from finishing her second-last undergraduate semester, this book was a salve and an inspiration. I know I sound totally cuckoo, and maybe I am, but it left a huge impression on me.

The book is a collection of the letters and answers to an online advice column called Dear Sugar. The questions range from coping with jealousy to dealing with rejection to leaving relationships to insecurities of all types to learning how to love again to facing reality. Those stories are all very interesting. But my favourite part is reading her answers, because they aren’t just answers. Yes, there’s wisdom (buckets of it), and many simple, simple truths (that everyone needs to hear, I think). But what makes this book so special is how the author weaves in the stories of her own sadness, despair, heartbreak, resilience, happiness, love, and strength. Reading these conversations is like a glimpse into the real, accessible, relatable world. The advice she gives is like a DIY guide to being a strong, healthy, capable adult.

I filled a few pages in my notebook with quotes from this book, and I am going to buy my own copy soon. I am thinking of giving this book as a gift to my close friends this Christmas – it’s that good, people! It’s one of those books that should be required reading, you know? Okay, happy Monday you beautiful souls – let’s all go and be better people today, shall we? xo.

(ps. get it here, if you’re interested)

Read This Book: Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

The simple fact that we’ve done book club more than once means that I’m calling the endeavour a huge success. Neither time were we more than 4 people, but I’m going to go with the old adage “quality over quantity” on this one. Both our discussions were very interesting, and totally different, since the two books we’ve read so far have very little in common. And this second one, I can safely say it’s far and away my favourite of the two.

How to describe this book? It’s poignant. That’s the word that kept coming up in our discussion. Someone mentioned that the whole book is about grief – it sometimes barely feels that way when you’re reading it, but looking back at it, it’s very, very sad. But it seems also to have a strange glow about it, it’s somehow whimsical and special and happy in its own little way.

The story is about a girl, mid-twenties I’d say, named Audrey, who has a tortoise and lives alone, far from her home, in Oregon. She hears that her father has passed away, and flies home, leaving the tortoise with friends. When she gets back to St. John’s, Newfoundland, she has to cope with his death, and the sadness of both herself and her Uncle Thoby who has always lived with them. It’s incredibly difficult to explain the plot, since there are several flashbacks to her childhood and it’s mainly character-driven. But suffice to say that I didn’t find it boring in the slightest.

The writing is wonderful. As one of our book clubbers pointed out, each last sentence of a chapter is very beautiful and, well, poignant. The writing can at times seem very blunt and straightforward: there are no quotation marks for dialogue, nor exclamation/question marks. Our whole book club, I think, felt that this made you have to engage a lot more with the writing, sometimes having to re-read a sentence to see what sense it’s meant to be read in. And I love the style of writing, because it seems so honest, and while reading you feel as though you’re inside her head (or inside the head of her tortoise Winnifred, whose narrative is both entertaining and touching).

I can’t really pinpoint what makes this book so good. Would it help if I said I nearly cried a couple times, and actually cried at the very end? (I rarely cry at books). Or that Audrey’s sometimes child-like way of looking at the world is so endearing and, at times, relatable? Or that it makes you want to move to a small town and have a Great Safe Adventure with a few special people that you love very much? Or that although it’s sad, it’s also very funny?

For all those reasons, and many more, I adored this book. A review can’t do it justice, but rest assured it’s quite wonderful. If you don’t believe me, know also that it’s won awards and has great reviews. I really hope you give it a chance, it’s a lovely book.

Happy Monday everyone!

22 Before 22: Start a Book Club

On my list of 22 before 22 goals, I’ll admit that I had a few favourites. Create a podcast, become a penpal, make cinnamon buns, start a book club. I’ve been wishing that I had a book club for ages, and I’ve tried with my friends – but we’ve had a couple false starts. This time, though, it actually materialized! We made a Facebook thread, chose a book, read it, met and discussed it for over an hour (the time flew – we are very book nerdy).

Sure, only about a third of the people we invited to participate could find the time (it was a 600 page book, after all), but I think we all hope that it will grow each month, especially if we choose shorter books. But even if it stays to us four pictured + a good friend calling in on speakerphone to participate (!!), I’ll be thrilled.

My favourite part of having a book club is being able to read a book at the same time my friends are reading it. This is a very novel experience for me (no pun intended), I think the last time I read a book in tandem with other people was probably Catcher in the Rye in tenth grade! It’s so fun to talk about what part everyone is at, what they thought of a particular scene, discuss thoughts about characters, etc. It is really fun!

And then, of course, the actual meeting was so great. We have two English literature students in the group, who are quite adept at picking up on things and making connections. Our talk illuminated lots of things for me, and made me think about things I hadn’t even noticed while reading. Discussing the book made me appreciate and understand it so much more.

The first book we read was The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. It was my first time reading Murakami, and I really enjoyed the book. It’s a little quirky, weird, and fantastical, but a very good read.

Our next book is going to be Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant. Apparently it, too, is a little quirky, and I can’t wait to start it.

So there you have it: my idea of fun. I’m thrilled that I can cross this one off my list, and enjoy the rest of the books that are coming my way!

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