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. 


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: 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!

The Book Learning Podcast!

I am beyond thrilled to introduce: The Book Learning Podcast with Steph (that’s me!) and Gabrielle (my good friend from the interwebs!).

I’m so incredibly excited to finally share this project with you. It’s been simmering for months now, while we worked out the details – and there were a lot of details. My to-do list for the podcast, if I wrote it all out now, would overwhelm me beyond words. But luckily we just took it one step at a time, and are still sort of muddling through. The most important thing, though, is that it’s launched! Boom. Bam! Out into the world goes my incessant giggling and Gabrielle’s awesome work ethic, and our baby of a podcast.

Watch the video above or here + listen to/download the podcast here!

I’m anticipating some questions. Let me head them off here!

What is the podcast about? 

Gabrielle and I are both amateur writers, with 16 novels collectively under our belts (it’s a skewed of us has 15 of those, and it ain’t me). We realized that we wanted to get to know each other better, share our writing/reading tips with each other and the world, and discuss our favourite (slightly nerdy) topics to our heart’s content. If you’re like-minded, tune in!

Can you give me some specs about the podcast?

The first episode is 40 minutes, and it was a length that felt natural. You can probably expect future episodes to be about the same length. We plan to podcast roughly once at week. We record our podcasts through the Google+ service, Hangouts on Air. That means that they’re live while we record! In future, we may even alert you to when we record, so you can stream it live if you so choose. After recording in a video format, we pull the audio directly from the video and convert it to mp3. Then it becomes a magical podcast! So you can watch or listen to the format of your choice: the video and audio versions have identical content.

Why should I listen to your podcast?

Well, because it’s awesome! And this is the first episode, so it can only improve with time. We have a lot of fun ideas for upcoming podcasts, including but not limited to:

  • How we feel about books being adapted into movies
  • Self-publishing
  • Writing schedules
  • Our favourite books
  • Where we get inspiration
  • How to successfully complete National Novel Writing Month
  • Being professionally critiqued
  • Handling rejection
  • And so many more! (Listen to the podcast for a few more)

What you can expect from the podcast is a light, fun conversation between two young writers who love to write and read, but don’t take themselves too seriously. Become friends with us!

What is the first episode about? I don’t have time to listen right now, but I want to get excited for when I can listen to it later!

The first episode introduces the podcast and the podcasters (that’s us!). We talk about how we “met”, and how we hope the podcast will make us better friends. We also tell the stories of writing our first novels! Then we discuss what we’re currently reading. That’s the short version, for the long version you’ll just have to listen to the podcast!

Share + Rate + Comment + Suggest!

As we try to get this podcast off the ground and up into the air, we need all the help we can get. We would be so appreciative for your feedback: any and all of it! Leave comments here, under the youtube video, at my email, on iTunes, wherever! Rate us on iTunes! Share the podcast with your friends using that beautiful thing called social media! Suggest topics for upcoming podcasts, or make suggestions about books we should read, or ask us questions. I can’t tell you how excited we would be to hear from you. I’m serious. I’m talking to you.

And last but not least: thank you to everyone who has already been supportive of this project, before they’d even heard it. You know who you are, and I love y’all so much. Thank you for the excitement and support. Keep it up!

xo, Steph.