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Saturday, October 21, 2017

Classics: Love Them or Hate Them?

I once scandalized my book club by stating that I hated A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  I found the symbolism just so obvious.  Another classic I re-read recently is Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and I didn’t enjoy it either; it was just too melodramatic for my liking.  “The two worst people in the world fall in love, unfortunately for the people around them who have to put up with their nonsense” (

Since I’ve had my own disagreements with classics, I was interested in a recent article in Literary Hub in which famous writers skewer books often considered classics:

And here’s further proof that classics have not always been loved.  The Huffington Post had a feature entitled “12 Classic Books That Got Horrible Reviews When They First Came Out” ( 

On the other hand, some people love classics.  BuzzFeed recently featured a list of 22 classic novels which people recommended; both of my dislikes are on this list so caveat emptor:

So which classics have you loved or hated?

Friday, October 20, 2017

New Novel: HUNTING PIERO by Wendy MacIntyre

Because I was out of town, I was unable to attend this event:

Wendy MacIntyre is a close friend of a close friend of mine (so 2 degrees of separation).  I have read and enjoyed two of her previous novels, Mairi and The Applecross Spell, so I think I will pick up her new one, Hunting Piero, which was published earlier this month. 

The book sounds interesting:  “This novel interweaves Renaissance artist Piero di Cosimo’s fifteenth-century viewpoint with the twenty-first-century reality of two young Canadian students: Agnes Vane, an art history major fascinated by di Cosimo’s multi-layered imagery, and Peter (Pinto) Dervaig, a student of philosophy passionate about preventing cruelty to animals. Both Agnes and Pinto were marginalized in their adolescence because of their unusual appearance. Agnes has slightly simian features. Pinto is a huge man with a multihued skin pigmentation. When Agnes, as a lonely and alienated child, discovers di Cosimo’s empathetic paintings of animals and human-animal hybrids, she feels she is looked upon gently for the first time in her life. That moment influences her decision to become an animal rights activist, a commitment that ultimately brings her both anguish and insight. Her story is echoed by chapters from di Cosimo’s perspective as he pits his solitary vision, of a golden age when animals did indeed speak, against the dictatorial grip in which Savonarola, destroyer of secular art and culture, holds the city of Florence. Hunting Piero is the tale of a passionate moral quest, and equally, a story of redemption and of love tested by tragic missteps and their deadly consequences.” 

 In an article for 49th Shelf, MacIntyre revisits "Canadian novels that make the lives and fates of animals and birds, and human/animal relations, central to their storylines:

And check out the author's website:

Thursday, October 19, 2017

David Harper: Book Form Sculptor

I recently returned from a trip to central New York where I visited the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia (   There I saw two literary installations, both by David Harper.

This installation is called "Stacks" and  Harper created it by recycling fallen logs.  The theme for the installation, “these trees shall be my books,” comes from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but the goal of the work goes far beyond Orlando’s wish to immortalize Rosalind. Harper seeks to immortalize the love of knowledge, and the homage owed to the living things we use to create stores of knowledge for all to study. “Stacks” captures the transformation from living tree to store of knowledge ( 


This one is called "Heavy Reading."

Apparently, Harper likes the wooden book form; I found a photo of another of his pieces, this one entitled "Telephone":

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Man Booker Prize Goes to George Saunders

The winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize was announced today:  George Saunders took the prize for Lincoln in the Bardo.  I’ve read 3 of the 6 finalists; as my reviews indicate, I was certainly routing for this book.

Here are my reviews of the other two finalists I have read:

I loved a feature in The Telegraph newspaper which highlighted “the dazzling highs (and cringe-making lows) of this year's finalists”:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review of MINDS OF WINTER by Ed O'Loughlin

3 Stars
This book came to my attention because of its nomination for both the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the Giller Prize.  The plot description also hooked me in, though I now wish I had resisted.

At the end of the Acknowledgements, the author thanks his three editors for working “long and hard to turn a self-indulgent mess of cobbled-together myth and mystery into something like a novel.”  I’m afraid the editors did not succeed because the book, for me, still seems a “mess of cobbled-together myth and mystery.” 

The characters who are present throughout the novel are Nelson Nilsson and Fay Morgan who are both in Inuvik trying to solve mysteries involving family members.  Gradually, Fay finds information about her enigmatic grandfather in the research conducted by Nelson’s brother who has disappeared.   There are just too many coincidences in this plot line to be believable.  (I have not been able to figure out why the author chose for his female lead a name which alludes to Morgan le Faye, the enchantress of Arthurian legend.) 

The majority of the book is multiple stories covering a span of 175 years.  Historical figures like Sir John Franklin, Roald Amundsen, and Jack London make an appearance.  Likewise the settings cover much of the world; Tasmania, Tuktoyaktuk, Antarctica, eastern Siberia, Norway.  Timelines are not chronological so they add to the confusion already present because of the number of characters, some of whom are loosely connected and some of whom just disappear from the narrative without explanation. 

I am certain that I am not the only reader who will recall Aristotle’s statement about synergism:  "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts".  Unfortunately, in the case of this novel, the opposite is true.  The individual stories are often interesting, but the novel as a whole did not leave me feeling enthused.  Of course, the individual vignettes vary in quality; the one involving Jack London is tedious and the one focusing on one of Amundsen’s mistresses seems pointless. 

After a while, I felt that the book might have been better packaged as a collection of mysteries.  The book does touch on several unsolved mysteries:  Amundsen’s disappearance in an airborne rescue mission in the Arctic, the fate of the Franklin expedition, the identity of the Mad Trapper of Rat River, the appearance of Franklin’s chronometer disguised as a carriage clock in London.  As expected, none of these is solved.  When one of Franklin’s ships is discovered, one character mourns the loss of mystery:   “’They had to go and find her.  They had to solve a perfectly good mystery.’”  The epilogue also suggests the author’s fascination with the mysterious:  “lives don’t always end like they’re supposed to.  Some people slip through the cracks.” 

This book was just not for me.  I can appreciate the amount of research that O’Loughlin did, but I found the book just too disjointed.  At the end of his acknowledgments, the author thanks the reader for reading the book, “assuming you made it this far.”  I have to admit that for me finishing the book became a chore.   I will be checking the reviews of others in the hope that someone will be able to fully explain this novel’s worth to me. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Food and Drink and Reading

Though avid readers might like to claim they feast on books, it is not possible to survive without food and drink.  For that reason it is not surprising that descriptions of food find their way into literature, and I have blogged about the topic in the past:  “Nearly any great book has moments of food in it, not just because characters have to eat, but because our relationship with food exposes so much about our identities, cultures, time, and place. What author forsakes a tool that can explore all that?” (

A couple of years ago, The Telegraph did a feature on “10 Great Meals in Literature” (, though I was surprised to see Oliver Twist’s breakfast of watery gruel described as a “great” meal. 

There is a book about food in literature that I’ve been wanting to get for my library:  Pleasures of the Table by Christina Hardyment.  The New Yorker had a review of the book ( and I’ve wanted it ever since.  

Here’s a description of the book:  “The anthology begins with examples of hospitality, ranging from Chaucer's convivial Franklin to Walter Scott's bountiful breakfasts and dinner with Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Ramsay. Next comes eating to impress—dazzling banquets from Flaubert to F. Scott Fitzgerald—and some great fictional love feasts. Many of our most vivid memories of food in literature were laid down in childhood, and nostalgia is to the fore in such classic scenes as Pinocchio aching with hunger, Ratty and Mole picnicking, enchanted Turkish delight in Narnia, and a seaside picnic from Enid Blyton. A section on distant times and places ranges from seethed tortoise in ancient China to seal’s liver fried in penguin blubber as a treat for Captain Scott. Those who relish simplicity rather than excess will enjoy Sdney Smith’s delicate salad dressing and Hemingway’s appreciation of oysters.” 

Like many other people, I enjoy sipping on a glass of wine while reading, so I enjoyed this article about wine and book pairings:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Thievery and Books to Read in Prison

Earlier this summer, I came across an article in The Guardian about books that were most frequently stolen from bookstores in England:  It makes for an interesting read.

Wondering how Canadian bookstores fared, I did some research and found a CBC article from January of this year:  This article prompted The Guardian to write a piece entitled “Stolen good books: why Canadian thieves outclass the British” (

Of course, book thievery is not a new crime.  A few years ago, Flavorwire explored the history of book thievery and outlined twelve shocking cases:  

Book lovers become understandably upset with people who steal books.  Should a book thief find him/herself in prison, this list of 20 books to read in prison might be helpful: