2016 NBCC Award Winner

Louise Erdrich has won the 2016 NBCC award for her novel La Rose.  Erdrich has won the award once before in 1984 for her highly acclaimed novel Love Medicine.

La Rose by Louise Erdrich

“Louise Erdrich starts her latest novel LaRose with an incident larose-by-louise-erdrichother, less assured novelists might work up to with some throat clearing. On the second page, Landreaux Iron, a father of five, “all of whom he tried to feed and keep decent,” accidentally shoots his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty, on the Native American reservation in rural North Dakota where they live. According to Native American custom as Landreaux sees it, he must give his own young son, LaRose, to the family whose son he has killed, “an old form of justice,” as Erdrich calls it. 

Erdrich has said in an interview that she doesn’t remember exactly when she heard about the actual event that inspired LaRose. “And of course the story was only two lines long: ‘A man killed a boy. The man gave up his son to be raised by the other family,’ ” Erdrich told Kirkus Reviews. “I never thought I’d write about it, but the story stayed with me, and when I did begin to write about it I knew exactly what was going to happen—for the first 20 pages, anyway. After that, I had quite a time figuring out what to do next.”

The novel is so sure-footed and preternaturally confident; Erdrich definitely figured it out along the way. Both families must shuffle through the emotional morass produced by the act of child-sharing (LaRose shuttles between the two homes and the wives of the two families are also half-sisters). Shy, inquisitive LaRose is “a little healer.” He is the fifth generation of LaRoses, who consults his ancestors and marshals profound bravery to right an injustice done to one of his new siblings. Erdrich chooses a few characters to focus on in addition to the members of the two families: drug-dependent Romeo who was abandoned by Landreaux years ago and a war vet named Father Travis, devout but also in love with someone he shouldn’t be in love with.”  (NBCC)

You can take a look at the 2016 NBCC Finalists for more reading inspiration.

Review: Writing Well by Mark Tredinnick

I first read Writing Well by Mark Tredinnick a few years back.  It has held pride of place on my writing book shelf because it is one of the most helpful and beautifully written books on writing I’ve read so far.

Writing Well is a guide to expressive creative writing and effective professional prose. The author, a poet, writer, editor and teacher, explains the techniques required for stylish and readable writing. Everyone who wants to improve their writing can benefit from this book, which describes how to: identify topics that inspire you to write, get into the habit of writing regularly, develop ideas, construct effective arguments, choose words for maximum effect, use grammar correctly, structure sentences and paragraphs appropriately, write with integrity. The book is enriched by examples from great modern writers, and includes a variety of exercises and suggestions for writing activities. Mark Tredinnick practises what he preaches, making his book highly enjoyable as well as technically instructive.”  (GoodReads)

In the prologue of The Sense of Style, Steven Pinker writes:

“It’s not just that I welcome advice on the lifelong challenge of perfecting the craft of writing. It’s also that credible guidance on writing must itself be well written, and the best of the manuals are paragons of their own advice.”

Writing Well fits this description and is, indeed, a paragon of its own advice.  I really enjoyed reading it.  Tredinnick provides useful advice and fantastic exercises to get you flexing your writing muscles.  He includes example passages from well known works to illustrate his points and this, too, was wonderful to read in addition to being illustrative.

My favourite chapters were Sentencing, which gave an in depth look at the structure of different types of sentences and when to make use of them; and Poetics, which was about the art of creative writing.

It was a useful and inspiring read.  This book isn’t just for fiction writers, but anyone looking to improve their writing whether you’re focusing on fiction, poetry, or report writing for work.  It’s a book you may well read more than once – I’ve just finished it for a second time.  If, like me, you enjoy reading books about writing improvement this one has got to be on your list.

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent

Reading List: A Journey Through World Literature

Have you ever contemplated embarking on a reading journey through literature’s most celebrated novels?  If you’re interested in getting lost in some of the greatest books of all time, then this reading list is for you.

The first half of this list comes from the undergrad Lit Department of the San Jose State University and offers you one noteworthy fiction novel per author.  The second half of the list comes from the Princeton undergrad Lit Department and offers a few novels per author. Take your pick.  The Princeton list does have some books in common with the San Jose list but also offers a lot more novels from notable authors from around the world as opposed to mainly from the US and UK.  Included in this list are just the novels but for more genres; Epics, Dramas, Non Fiction, please follow the links at the end of each list for further reading.

John Barth > Lost in the Funhouse < 1979

Charlotte Bronte > Jane Eyre < 1847

Raymond Carver > What We Talk About When We Talk About Love < 1981

Anton Chekov > Anton Chekov’s Short Stories < 1979

Don DeLillo > White Noise < 1985

Junot Diaz > Drown < 1996

William Faulkner > Go Down, Moses < 1942

Gustave Flaubert > Madame Bovary < 1857

Gabriel Garcia Marquez > One Hundred Years of Solitude < 1967      [my review]

Ernest Hemingway > In Our Time < 1925

Zora Neale Hurston > Their Eyes Were Watching God < 1937

Henry James > Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man < 1917

Franz Kafka > In the Penal Colony < 1914

Jhumpa Lahiri > Interpreter of Maladies < 1999

Cormac McCarthy > Blood Meridian < 1985

Toni Morrison > Beloved < 1987

Lorrie Moore > Birds of America < 1998

Alice Munro > Selected Stories < 1997

Vladimir Nabokov > Lolita < 1955

Flannery O’Connor > Complete Stories < 1996

Virginia Woolf > Mrs Dalloway < 1925

Sherwood Anderson > Winesburg < 1919

Margaret Atwood > Cat’s Eye < 1988

Donald Barthelme > Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts < 1968

Jorge Luis Borges > Labyrinths < 1964

Italo Calvino > Cosmicomics < 1968

Miguel Cervantes > Don Quixote < 1605-1615

John Cheever > Stories of John Cheever < 1978

J M Coetzee > Waiting for the Barbarians < 1980

Robert Coover > Pricksongs and Descants < 1969

E L Doctorow > Ragtime < 1975

Louise Erdrich > Love Medicine < 1984     [my review]

William Faulkner > Absalom, Absalom < 1936

Nadine Gordimer > July’s People < 1982    [my review]

Edward P Jones > Lost in the City < 1992

James Joyce > Ulysses < 1922

Tim O’Brien > The Things They Carried < 1990

Grace Paley > Collected Stories < 1994

Jayne Anne Phillips > Black Tickets < 1979

Edgar Allan Poe > Selected Short Stories < 1966

Salman Rushdie > Midnight’s Children < 1981

Leslie Marmon Silko > Ceremony < 1977

Laurence Sterne > Tristram Shandy < 1759-1767

Bram Stoker > Dracula < 1897

Eudora Welty > Collected Stories < 1982

Edith Wharton > Age of Innocence < 1920

 

For more books of from other genres on the San Jose State University Lit Reading List

 

Abdulrazak Gurnah > Paradise. Desertion. By the Sea.

Alex La Guma > In the Fog of the Season’s End.

Ama Ata Aidoo > Our Sister Killjoy. The Rape of Shavi.

Amitav Ghosh > Shadow Lines.

Amos Tutuola > The Palm Wine Drinkard.

Anita Desai > Baumgartner’s Bombay.

Aphra Behn > Oroonoko.

Bem Okri > The Famished Road.

Bessie Head > A Question of Power.

Bram Stoker > Dracula.

Buchi Emecheta > The Joys of Motherhood.

Charles Dickens > Great Expectations.

Charlotte Lennox > The Female Quixote.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie > Half of a Yellow Sun.

Chinua Achebe > Arrow of God. Things Fall Apart.

Daniel Defoe > Robinson Crusoe. Roxana. Moll Flanders.

Doris Lessing > The Golden Notebook.

Djuna Barnes > Nightwood.

E M Forster > A Passage to India.

Edwidge Danticat > Breath. Eyes. Memory.

Eliza Haywood > Love in Excess. Fantomina.

Emily Bronte > Wuthering Heights.

Ernest Hemingway > The Old Man and the Sea.

F Scott Fitzgerald > The Great Gatsby.

Frances Burney > Evelina.

G V Desani > All about H Hatterr.

George Eliot > Middlemarch.

George Lamming > The Emigrants.

Henry Fielding > Tom Jones.

Henry James > Portrait of a Lady.

Herman Melville > Moby Dick.

J M Coetzee > Waiting for the Barbarians.

James Baldwin > Go Tell It on the Mountain.

James Fenimore Cooper > The Last of the Mohicans. The Deersayer. The Pathfinder.

James Joyce > Ulysses.

Jean Rhys > Wide Sargasso Sea.

Jean Toomer > Cane.

John Bunyan > Pilgrim’s Progress.

John Steinbeck > Grapes of Wrath.

Jonathan Swift > Gulliver’s Travels.

Joseph Conrad > Heart of Darkness.

Kazuo Ishiguro > Remains of the Day.    [my review]

Leo Tolstoy > Anna Karenina. War and Peace.

Margaret Atwood > The Handmaid’s Tale.    [my review]

Mary Shelley > Frankenstein.

Maxine Hong Kingston > The Woman Warrior.

Michael Odaantje > Coming through Slaughter.

Miles Franklin > My Brilliant Career.

Mulk Raj Anand > Untouchable. 1937

Nadine Gordimer > July’s People.

Nathaniel Hawthorne > The Scarlet Letter. House of Seven Gables.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o > Petals of Blood.

Nurridin Farah > Gifts. Maps.

Ralph Ellison > Invisible Man.

Salman Rushdie > Midnight’s Children. The Satanic Verses. Shame.

Samuel Richardson > Pamela. Clarissa.

Thomas Pynchon > Mason and Dixon. Gravity’s Rainbow.

Tsitsi Dangarembga > Nervous Conditions.

V S Naipaul > House for Mr Biswas. A Bend in the River. Mimic Men.

 

For more literature of other genres and also in other languages see the Princeton Lit Department List

 

Save

Review: Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer by William Gibson is a 1984 cyberpunk novel.  It was the first winner of the science fiction ‘triple crown’ when it was awarded the Nebula Award, Philip K. Dick Award, and Hugo Award in the same year.  I came to know about this novel through the All TIME 100 Novels list.neuromancer-by-william-gibson

“There is no way to overstate how radical Gibson’s first and best novel was when it first appeared. He combined a shattered, neon-chased, postmodern cityscape — its inhabitants rendered demi-human by designer drugs, tattoos and rampant surgical body modifications — with his vision of a three-dimensional virtual landscape created by networked computers, through which bad-ass bandit hackers roam like high plains drifters. When one such hacker, Case, gets banned from this “cyberspace” — Gibson was among the first to use the word — he’ll do anything to get back in, including embarking on a near-suicidal cyber-assault on an all but unhackable artificial intelligence. Violent, visceral and visionary (there’s no other word for it), Neuromancer proved, not for the first or last time, that science fiction is more than a mass-market paperback genre, it’s a crucial tool by which an age shaped by and obsessed with technology can understand itself.” (by Lev Grossman)

Neuromancer was Gibson’s debut novel and is the first book in the Sprawl Trilogy.  Reading this novel I was tossed into a whole new world of vocabulary and it comes as no surprise to me that at the time of publication this novel had what Wikipedia describes as “significant linguistic influence”.  The term ‘cyberspace’ first appeared on the pages of Neuromancer and quickly entered popular culture.  Gibson is also credited with the popularisation of the term ‘ICE’ which Wikipedia defines as “a term used in cyberpunk literature to refer to security programs which protect computerized data from being accessed by hackers”.  While I can say that I knew what ‘cyberspace’ meant I had no clue what ‘ICE’ was, along with many other terms Gibson uses throughout this story.

The world of Neuromancer is as strange and new as the words and Gibson does not stop and fill up the narrative with explanations of either.  You get on, hold tight, and enjoy the ride.  I have to say that I felt throughout that the popular writing advice ‘show, don’t tell’ was perfectly employed here.  You eventually figure it all out as more and more is revealed to you.

This is the first novel of this type that I’ve read before and I really enjoyed it.  It was different, wild, and cool.  It never occurred to me at any point that it was published in 1984 because the story itself is set in some other time where humans and tech are physically and culturally intertwined.  You imagine it to be the future, how far into the future I don’t know.  Gibson doesn’t specify and I liked that he left it to me to imagine for myself.

This novel is still as relevant today as it was to readers in the 80s.  It gives us a glimpse into a possible future that is not only still a viable option but probably a much more easily imagined option to us now.  This is a dark and gritty adventure into AI, cyberspace, and the tech culture of the future.  I really enjoyed it so I recommend it to readers who are into a bit of sci-fi and adventure.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

How To Read More Books Every Year Easily

If, like me, you use GoodReads’ annual Reading Challenge feature to track and record your reading goals, you may have noticed that many people are reading over 100 books a year.

That is very impressive and I’m more than a little envious of those numbers.  The reason is that I have a substantial number of books, fiction and non fiction, that I’m hoping to get through in my lifetime.

I say lifetime because at my current rate of 25 books a year there’s no way I could get through my entire TBR list.  I mentioned in a previous post – The Health Benefits of Reading – that I read every night before I go to bed.  The thing is, while I read every day, it’s not long enough to achieve the kind of volume of books I’d like.

Then I found Charles Chu’s article about how to read 200 books a year.  He describes how we can all read 200 books a year if we reallocated the time we spend on social media and watching TV to reading.  He bases his calculations on a reading rate of 400 words per minute and the average non fiction book word count of 50 000 words.

I decided I would look into this calculation for myself to determine the veracity of his claim and get some numbers that are also relevant to fiction readers.

First, I took an online speed reading test.  Chu’s article says the average American reads between 200-400 words per minute.  On ReadingSoft, they describe the average reader as reading 200 wpm on screen and 240 wpm on paper with a 60% comprehension rate.  They describe a good reader as reading 300 wpm on screen and 400 wpm on paper with 80% comprehension.

My result was 209 wpm on screen (25o wpm on paper) with 91% comprehension.  I realised that everybody’s result will be determined by their personal reading style and the type of book they’re reading.  My reading style may not be very fast compared to some but I read for full comprehension and I enjoy taking my time.  Don’t worry about what the average reader is doing.  This is personal so do an online test to get an idea of your own speed for your calculations.

Then I set out to find out about the word count of the average fiction and non fiction book.  Chu’s article talks about 50 000 words for a non fiction book.  A large number of us, though, are reading novels with around 100 000 words or more (depending on the format of the book, this would translate into a 300 page paperback book with 300 words per page).

So, what number of books is it possible to read per year?  I recalculated using an average reading rate of 250 words per minute and an average book of 100 000 words.

If you dedicate a minimum of 60 minutes a day to reading for 365 days you’ll be able to read 55 books in a year.

If that doesn’t sound like much to you remember that you probably read books you’re enjoying faster than 250 wpm and there are going to be books that are both shorter and longer than 100 000 words.  You might also be able to allocate more than one hour to reading per day, which means your books-per-year number could be 100 books or more.

What are your thoughts on this?  With this in mind I’ve decided to allocate a time for reading in the morning in addition to before bed so that I guarantee I get at least 60 minutes of reading in a day whether I fall asleep with my book on my face or not.

At the very least, I hope this inspires you to be conscious of the amount of time you spend reading so you, too, can get to many more books than normal like all those GoodReads super heroes.

Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was published in 2005 and was a Man Booker, Arthur C. Clarke, and James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee.  Though the novel didn’t win any of those awards it is one of Ishiguro’s most popular novels.

Last year I read Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day which I really enjoyed.  I ‘discovered’ Ishiguro’s writing in that book and I liked it so much that I feel I would follow him into any story he wrote.  This is why I decided to read Never Let Me Go.  It felt a natural progression into the works of an author I intend to continue reading.  The thing is, I wasn’t sure what to expect because the blurb, which you can read below, and its mention of boarding school ongoings didn’t really strike me as my cup of tea.never-let-me-go-by-kazuo-ishiguro

“From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.  Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.” (GoodReads)

However, and this is a big however, I had no idea what I was in for.  That blurb gives you absolutely no clue as to the world you are about to step into.  And thank goodness for that.  Not knowing beforehand is key to the surprise, especially together with the way Ishiguro tells this story.

As always, his writing is lovely and his characterisation is spot on.  The pace and the sprinkling of breadcrumbs is well planned.  I can not tell you what this is actually about, of course, because I won’t take the shock of the discovery away from you.  It’s what makes this book.  It’s what contrasts the normalcy of the rest of the story which is an important detail.

Never Let Me Go was a good book.  My advice is read it, without reading any blurbs, articles, or conversations about it.  Don’t let anyone spoil it for you.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

Tips To Keep You Learning That New Language

You’ve decided to learn a new language. You’ve bought a book. After the initial excitement of exploring this new world begins to fade, page by page, you may begin to wonder what you’ve got yourself into.

Fear not, it always starts that way. It’s new, it’s foreign, and it’s confusing.

I’m from a country that has 11 national languages. Being bilingual is not an option but a requirement. After learning three additional languages, I can tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can get to the point of actually understanding and speaking a new language. You just have to set yourself up for success.

Take Your Time

Language learning takes time and, in all honesty, never really ends. Without scaring you off, you’ve embarked on a long haul journey that may well last a lifetime. You don’t one day suddenly become proficient; you gradually improve as you put in the time. So don’t rush it, savour it. It’s like travelling — it’s a cultural experience learning a language.

Start with Personal Pronouns

Have a look at what people call themselves in this new world. Learn what to call yourself. Knowing the I’s, You’s, and We’s of a language is the perfect place to start because our sentences start with them. Another great reason to start here is to learn the intricacies of addressing people appropriately right off the bat. Knowing what to call people based on your level of intimacy with them and their age is important because it shows respect and you avoid awkwardness.

Look at the Verb System

Also known as conjugation, have a look at how verbs in the new language change according to the subject. As English speakers we’re used to just two verb forms in conjugation, like: I walk, she walks. Other languages, like the popular romance languages, have a different verb conjugation system. Getting a handle on verb conjugation in languages like Spanish and French is essential. I highly recommend listing the personal pronouns one below the other and writing the associated verb form next to each one. This way you can quickly see the verb change patterns and apply them to new words.

On to Articles and Prepositions

The articles (the, a, an) are another point of difference between languages. They also help us build simple sentences, which is what we’ll need to start doing. You’ll also need to know a few simple prepositions (to, in, on, at) to build those sentences.

Build a Basic Vocabulary

Now, you need a notebook. You’ve got to build a repertoire of words and it’s helpful not only to record them in one place for later perusal but also because the act of writing the word will help you remember it. Start with a few common nouns so you can build some sentences. At this point, you’ll be able to say, “I sing in the shower”. Fabulous!

Now You Read

The awesome thing about learning a new language in the age of the internet is that you have access to reading material in foreign languages that isn’t as tough to read as One Hundred Years of Solitude in its original Spanish.

Go online and read magazine articles — they’re a great place to start because the language is much easier and you’ll be catching a glimpse into the way people really speak the language in everyday life.

You won’t understand much at first. Try to spot words you’ve learnt, look up new words, and try to understand what you’re reading by doing simple translations. Write your new vocabulary in your notebook and jot down any phrases you notice, as this will help you build more complex sentences of your own.

From here on out you’ll spend time reading and building your vocabulary. This is where you’ll have to put in the time to improve but I assure you it’s all worth it when you can read a few paragraphs and understand them.

Listen to the Radio

Another fabulous aspect of the age of the internet: you don’t have to live in a foreign country to listen to foreign language radio. Listen to the radio to get used to hearing the language, the flow, and the accentuation. I guarantee you won’t understand anything at first but that’s ok because understanding word for word isn’t the goal. You’ve just got to get used to hearing it and, hey, there’ll be music too. Keep at it and eventually you’ll pick out a word here and there, then a sentence here and there, until eventually, you’ll be following along without problems.

Learning a new language can be tough but it’s incredibly rewarding as well as a very desirable addition to your skill set. Keep at it and enjoy it.

2016 Etisalat Prize Shortlist

The 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature Shortlist is out and brings us 3 novels from the African continent.  This year two Nigerians and one South African are vying for the prize.

The Seed Thief by Jacqui L’Ange

the-seed-thief-by-jacqui-lange“Sometimes the thing you find is not the one you were looking for. When botanist Maddy Bellani is asked to travel to Brazil to collect rare seeds from a plant that could cure cancer, she reluctantly agrees. Securing the seeds would be a coup for the seed bank in Cape Town where she works, but Brazil is the country of her birth and home to her estranged father.  Her mission is challenging, despite the help of alluring local plantexpert Zé. The plant specimen is elusive, its seeds guarded by a sect wary of outsiders. Maddy must also find her way in a world influenced by unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies and the selfish motives of others.  Entrancing and richly imagined, The Seed Thief is a modern love story with an ancient history, a tale that moves from flora of Table Mountain to the heart of Afro-Brazilian spiritualism.” (GoodReads)

And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

and-after-many-days-by-jowhor-ile“During the rainy season of 1995, in the bustling town of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family’s life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of seventeen-year-old Paul Utu, beloved brother and son. As they grapple with the sudden loss of their darling boy, they embark on a painful and moving journey of immense power which changes their lives forever and shatters the fragile ecosystem of their once ordered family. Ajie, the youngest sibling, is burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But his search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens old, long forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and frenzied student protests serve as a backdrop to his pursuit.  In a tale that moves seamlessly back and forth through time, Ajie relives a trip to the family’s ancestral village where, together, he and his family listen to the myths of how their people settled there, while the villagers argue over the mysterious Company, who found oil on their land and will do anything to guarantee support. As the story builds towards its stunning conclusion, it becomes clear that only once past and present come to a crossroads will Ajie and his family finally find the answers they have been searching for.  And After Many Days introduces Ile’s spellbinding ability to tightly weave together personal and political loss until, inevitably, the two threads become nearly indistinguishable. It is a masterful story of childhood, of the delicate, complex balance between the powerful and the powerless, and a searing portrait of a community as the old order gives way to the new.”  (GoodReads)

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya

Mr and Mrs Doctor by Julie Iromuanya“Ifi and Job, a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage, begin their lives together in Nebraska with a single, outrageous lie: that Job is a doctor, not a college dropout. Unwittingly, Ifi becomes his co-conspirator—that is until his first wife, Cheryl, whom he married for a green card years ago, reenters the picture and upsets Job’s tenuous balancing act.” (GoodReads)

2016 NBCC Award Finalists

The National Book Critics Circle has announced the finalists for the 2016 awards.  They have awarded the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award to Margaret Atwood.  The NBCC awards will be presented on the 16th March in New York.  I’m going to share the finalists for the Fiction category here but follow the above link to see the finalists in the other categories.

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

moonglow-by-michael-chabon

“In 1989, fresh from the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon travelled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon’s grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis for the novel Moonglow, the latest feat of legerdemain in the ongoing magic act that is the art of Michael Chabon.  Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession, made to his grandson, of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and desire and ordinary love, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at mid-century and, above all, of the destructive impact—and the creative power—of the keeping of secrets and the telling of lies. A gripping, poignant, tragicomic, scrupulously researched and wholly imaginary transcript of a life that spanned the dark heart of the twentieth century, Moonglow is also a tour de force of speculative history in which Chabon attempts to reconstruct the mysterious origins and fate of Chabon Scientific, Co., an authentic mail-order novelty company whose ads for scale models of human skeletons, combustion engines and space rockets were once a fixture in the back pages of Esquire, Popular Mechanics, and Boy’s Life. Along the way Chabon devises and reveals, in bits and pieces whose hallucinatory intensity is matched only by their comic vigour and the radiant moonglow of his prose, a secret history of his own imagination.  From the Jewish slums of pre-war South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York’s Wallkill Prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of “the American Century,” Moonglow collapses an era into a single life and a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional non-fiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most daring, his most moving, his most Chabonesque.” (GoodReads)

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

larose-by-louise-erdrich

“North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbour’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich.  The youngest child of his friend and neighbour, Peter Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have always been close, sharing food, clothing, and rides into town; their children played together despite going to different schools; and Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, is half sister to Dusty’s mother, Nola. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to an Ojibwe tribe tradition—the sweat lodge—for guidance, and finds a way forward. Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them.  LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Plagued by thoughts of suicide, Nola dotes on him, keeping her darkness at bay. His fierce, rebellious new “sister,” Maggie, welcomes him as a co conspirator who can ease her volatile mother’s terrifying moods. Gradually he’s allowed shared visits with his birth family, whose sorrow mirrors the Raviches’ own. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal.  But when a vengeful man with a long-standing grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole.”  (GoodReads)

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

imagine-me-gone-by-adam-haslett

“When Margaret’s fiancé, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone is the unforgettable story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic who makes sense of the world through parody. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings–the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec–struggle along with their mother to care for Michael’s increasingly troubled and precarious existence.” (GoodReads)

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

commonwealth-by-ann-patchett

“One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.  Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.  When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.” (GoodReads)

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

swing-time-by-zadie-smith

“Two brown girls dream of being dancers–but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.  Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from northwest London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.” (GoodReads)

 

Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a dystopia novel published in 2012.  It was a 2013 nominee for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Novel.  This is another novel that has been on my TBR list since it came out.  dog-stars-peter-heller

Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.  But when a random transmission beams through the radio of his 1956 Cessna, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists outside their tightly controlled perimeter. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return and follows its static-broken trail, only to find something that is both better and worse than anything he could ever hope for.  (GoodReads)

Without intending to I’ve read a few dystopia novels from my TBR list fairly close together.  They all offer something different.  Some offer a view into an alternate world resulting from an idea or technology taken too far.  Others, like this one, aren’t really about an alternate world but instead about the people left behind.

In The Dog Stars the world is still the world we know just without all the people.  There are only tiny pockets of people left alive trying to survive a world without a modern economy.  They’re trying to live in the face of the loss of their loved ones and the comforts of their prior lives.

It’s a lovely book that mostly takes the form of Hig’s internal dialogue or thoughts.  Some people didn’t enjoy the way it was written because of the punctuation and sentence structure.  Honestly, I barely noticed it.  Reading it was like following Hig in his mind and everything made sense.  I enjoyed reading it and it was a different take on the dystopia story.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

 

Photography: The Practice of Making the Familiar New

Earlier I shared a quote by William Thackery about the two most engaging powers of a photograph.

“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new”

As a photography enthusiast I think that capturing something new is part of the passion.  We all want to get that shot of something people rarely see or, if we’re lucky enough, something no one has ever seen before.  We go to new corners of our cities or travel to distant shores to capture the new.

But what about breathing new life into the familiar of our lives?  Thackery’s quote got me thinking about how I can use the familiar to become a better photographer.

It isn’t easy to make the familiar new.  You’ve got to position yourself both physically and mentally in a new place to see the familiar differently, to envision how we can portray it differently, and thus make it new.

As we begin 2017 some are thinking about new photography projects and others may be thinking about resolutions.  Endeavouring to make the familiar new could be a great project to improve your photography but it can be so much more.

Looking at our every day lives with fresh eyes and capturing it from a different perspective may well give us a renewed perspective on our lives.  It could be a creative practice of mindfulness.  You may find you are surrounded by more beauty than you were aware of and you may see all the things you can change to make things better for yourself.

Wishing you all a prosperous 2017!

Review: The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger is a short novel published in 1942 by famous French author Albert Camus.  Camus was born in Algeria in 1913 and became a philosopher, author, and journalist.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

The Stranger was Camus’ first novel and Claire the-stranger-by-albert-camusMessud writes in A New ‘L’Étranger’ that it is “one of the most widely read French novels of the twentieth century…”

This is my first Camus novel which I chose because many speak so highly of it.  I enjoyed the story and I found the character Meursault to be interestingly different.

This book was originally written in French and I happened to read Stuart Gilbert’s translation.  There were parts of the story where the English didn’t feel right to me and I became conscious that it was a translation which I don’t think should happen.  This version left me feeling that I might have been better off reading Matthew Ward or Sandra Smith’s translation.  It doesn’t always happen this way but with this particular novel the translation version you read will definitely affect how you perceive this story and ultimately that is the key to The Stranger.

When you read what others have written about this book you will undoubtedly come across descriptions like wikipedia’s: “Its theme and outlook are often cited as examples of Camus’s philosophy of the absurd and existentialism, though Camus personally rejected the latter label”.  I am not going to pretend to know anything about any of that.

What I can tell you is that the main character, Meursault, comes across as a bit strange.  Throughout the story you get the distinct impression that he does not conform.  He does not follow the norms set out by society about how we should be.  He didn’t seem to me as a bad guy but he didn’t seem to have a moral compass and passed absolutely no judgement on what the rest of society might well deem worthy of judgement.  What I found incredibly interesting about this is the way Camus wrote him.  While he does not subscribe to society’s moral code he did not come across as a bad person but rather a different person.  How society, and you the reader, would deal with a person like this seems to me to be the crux of this story.  And indeed, according to David Carroll in his book Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice, Camus himself wrote in January 1955:

“I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

The title of the book points to this also.  Unfortunately, in English the title doesn’t carry across all the meanings as it does in the French L’Étranger.  I don’t speak French but as a foreigner in a Portuguese speaking country I learned early on that ‘estrangeiro’ (and the French ‘Étranger’) means a foreigner, a stranger, and an outsider.  The context determines which meaning is implied.  The story reminded me of this throughout because Meursault is all three; a foreigner in Algeria, an outsider to society, and a bit of a stranger to those around him.

My sentiments are echoed in Sandra Smith’s introduction to her new translation of The Stranger the title of which she has altered to The Outsider:

“In French, étranger can be translated as “outsider,” “stranger” or “foreigner.” Our protagonist, Meursault, is all three, and the concept of an outsider encapsulates all these possible meanings: Meursault is a stranger to himself, an outsider to society and a foreigner because he is a Frenchman in Algeria.”

This quote was taken from Claire Messud’s article A New ‘L’Étranger’ which is well worth reading after you read the book.  Another article that I enjoyed is Lost in Translation by Ryan Bloom which shows how important a good translation is to fully appreciating these seemingly ‘simple’ novels of the past.

I enjoyed reading this short book but choose your translation wisely.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

Save