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Friday, June 30, 2017

Required Reading Around the World

School is out for the year, but some teachers like to assign books to be read over the summer.  As a former English teacher, I’m always interested in what books are considered required reading in different countries.  So I was really intrigued by an article which names books which are required reading in 28 countries.  Even more importantly, an explanation is given as to why each book is mandatory.  See the list at http://blog.ed.ted.com/2016/12/08/the-worlds-required-reading-list-the-books-that-students-read-in-28-countries/.  Many of the books are available for free downloading with the Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/).

The choice for Canada is The Wars by Timothy Findley.  It’s a great book but not one that was ever considered mandatory during my 30-year teaching career. 

The Guardian newspaper had a feature this past fall on the same topic.  Leading British authors were asked to pick international classics that should be on students’ bookshelves, but are often neglected by universities:  https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/nov/26/the-non-western-books-that-every-student-should-read.  The only suggestion I’ve read is the Cairo trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz. 

And on the topic of international reading, there are classics that have become associated with different countries as being one of the most important pieces of literature from the region.  Check out this map of the world where each country is represented by a book that is seen as either the most well-known or important work to come from that country:  https://www.bookstr.com/article/famous-books-make-up-this-map-of-the-world/3339?utm_campaign=705566_newsletter_172203&utm_medium=email&utm_source=The%20Reading%20Room%20&dm_i=2P56,F4F2,4M9UM2,1JXAI,1.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mysteries and True Crime Books

Summer is a great time for reading mysteries.  If you are looking for some of the best, check out the winners of the Edgar Awards honouring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction, and television published or produced in 2016.


I have read the winner in the Best Novel category, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley.  See my review at http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/07/review-of-before-fall-by-noah-hawley.html.

If you are interested in crime fiction written by women, you might find this list interesting: 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nordic Literature

The Nordic Noir genre is very popular.  I have read a number of Nordic mysteries written by Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian, and Swedish writers. Here are links to some of my reviews.

Denmark
The Keeper of Lost Causes and The Hanging Girl by Jussi Adler-Olsen: http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/08/happy-birthday-jussi-adler-olsen.html.  I love his Department Q series.  The next book in the series, The Scarred Woman, comes out September 19; I've received an eARC so look for my review on the book's release date.

Iceland
Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indriðason : http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2015/12/book-advent-calendar-day-nine-arnaldur.html.  I recommend the entire Detective Erlendur series.  (I've just bought The Shadow District, the first in a major new series of novels by Indriðason; look for my review in the next few weeks.)
Another notable Icelandic mystery writer is Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.  I’ve read her Last Rituals, the first in the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series.

Finland
Though I’ve not posted reviews, I have read a couple of James Thompson’s Inspector Vaara series.

Norway
The Bat and The Police by Jo Nesbø:  http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/03/reviews-of-bat-and-police-by-jo-nesb.html.  All of the Harry Hole novels are excellent.  (I'm currently reading the next book in the series, The Thirst, so expect a review in the next week.)
Anne Holt is another Norwegian mystery writer of note.  I’ve read 1222 of the Hanne Wilhelmsen series.

Sweden
I’ve not posted any reviews of books by Swedish writers but I’ve read Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Camilla Läckberg, Karin Alvtegen, Åke Edwardson, and Lars Kepler.  I must post reviews of at least one of these. 

Of course detective fiction is not the only writing that comes from these countries.  Here’s an interesting article on contemporary fiction from some of these countries:  http://fivebooks.com/interview/contemporary-scandinavian-fiction-man-booker/.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review of THE CHILD by Fiona Barton (New Release)

3 Stars 
The novel focuses on the reactions of four women to the discovery of a long-buried infant’s skeleton on a building site.  Kate Waters, a reporter, decides to investigate this case in the belief that there is a human interest story to be written.  Emma Simmonds, who once lived in the area where the body was found, becomes panicked when she reads about the finding of human remains.  Jude Massingham, Emma’s narcissistic mother who forced her daughter to leave home at 16, also becomes anxious at the news.  Angela Irving, whose newborn daughter Alice was kidnapped from the hospital, is convinced the bones belong to Alice.  As Kate delves, more and more secrets are uncovered and the lives of the four women become entwined.

The book is an easy, quick read.  The division into short chapters (alternating with the viewpoints of the various women) quickens the pace.  The reader does not have to do a great deal of thinking to guess what is supposed to be the big plot twist at the end.  To the author’s credit, there are a great number of clues to steer the reader in the right direction.  I found, therefore, that there really wasn’t a great deal of suspense; I read just to find out if I had correctly guessed the ending.  Readers will probably find the conclusion emotionally satisfying, but I found it rather melodramatic. 

The book examines how tragedies in the past affect the emotional lives of people in the present.  Obviously, the loss of Alice has devastated Angela and affected her relationships with her husband and other children.  When tragedies are kept secret, there are also consequences.  Emma, for example, has a secret she has shared with no one, not even her husband, and her relationships with him and her mother are affected.   

I did not always find Kate a believable character.  For instance, people’s willingness to speak to Kate, I found problematic.  People are usually reticent to speak to journalists but she manages to get everyone to talk to her.  Even the police co-operate with her.  Sometimes she just seems too much like a know-it-all.  At one point, a detective asks Kate, “’Any news on forensics?’” and she replies, “’Nothing yet.  What we need is to get the Met to look at Angela’s DNA.  I was going to call the detective in the building-site-baby case to suggest it . . . ‘”  She has to tell the police how to do their job?  When Angela awaits DNA test results, she asks Kate, “’You will ring as soon as you hear, won’t you?  Promise me.’”  A reporter would know such test results before the person whose sample was taken?

Like Burton’s first novel, The Widow, this one makes for a good summer read.  It is undemanding and sufficiently interesting to while away a few leisurely hours. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Adaptation of ALIAS GRACE

If you have been watching and enjoying the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, there is good news about an adaptation of one of her other books.

Netflix has announced a 6-hour miniseries based on Alias Grace.  Published in 1996, the work of historical fiction centers on the real deaths of Thomas Kinnear and his pregnant mistress/housekeeper Nancy Montgomery in 1843.  They were allegedly murdered by two of Kinnear’s servants, Grace Marks and James McDermott. Both were convicted, although the guilt of Marks has been questioned; she was exonerated after 30 years in prison.  The novel focuses on a fictional doctor named Simon Jordan who investigates the case at the behest of a group seeking pardon for Grace, and finds himself becoming obsessed with the young woman.

The miniseries, written and produced by Canadian Sarah Polley, will premiere on CBC on Sept. 25, 2017.  Anna Paquin will take on the role of Montgomery, while Sarah Gadon will play Marks, the poor Irish immigrant working as a servant.  Ker Logan will play McDermott and Paul Gross will play Kinnear.  Edward Holcroft will play Jordan.  The director is Mary Harron.  


Sunday, June 25, 2017

2017 O. Henry Prize Stories

Would you like to read an award-winning short story?  Well, the winners of the 2017 O. Henry Short Story Prizes have been announced.  These are given to the twenty best stories written in English and published in U.S. and Canadian magazines.

For the list, go to http://lithub.com/announcing-the-2017-o-henry-prize-stories/.  This link allows you to even read four of the winning stories which will be anthologized this fall.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Movies About Writers

It’s the weekend and you might be in the mood for a movie night.  Why not choose a film based on the life of an author?  The Savvy Reader recently compiled a list of ten movies about well-known authors:  https://thesavvyreader.com/2017/04/11/top-10-movies-about-writers/.

I have three other suggestions:
Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Truman Capote
Iris with Judi Dench as Iris Murdoch
Nora with Ewan McGregor as James Joyce

Friday, June 23, 2017

Sebastian Barry Wins Walter Scott Prize

Earlier this week, the winner of the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction was announced.  Sebastian Barry won for his novel Days Without End.  


Thomas McNulty, aged barely seventeen and having fled the Great Famine in Ireland, signs up for the U.S. Army in the 1850s. With his brother in arms, John Cole, Thomas goes on to fight in the Indian Wars—against the Sioux and the Yurok—and, ultimately, the Civil War.  Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, the men find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in.  Moving from Wyoming to Tennessee, this is the story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona.


The book previously won the Costa Book of the Year award.  I really enjoyed the novel.  For my review, see http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/02/review-of-days-without-end-by-sebastian.html.   

The Walter Scott prize, awarded annually since 2010 is given to the best UK, Irish and Commonwealth novel set at least 60 years ago.  The prize, which comes with £25,000, was founded in memory of Walter Scott, who has been credited with the invention of the historical novel.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

2017 International Dublin Literary Award

José Eduardo Agualusa is the winner of the International Dublin Literary Award 2017 for his book A General Theory of Oblivion. 


A woman bricks herself into her flat on the eve of Angolan independence, only to emerge 28 years later. Ludovica Fernandes Mano, a Portuguese expatriate, fears for her fate in the newly independent African state, so instead chooses to live in isolation for three decades, only experiencing the outside world through snippets of neighbours’ conversations, a window and a radio that gradually dies, as she distils all she sees into diaries, and later on the walls of her apartment.



The author plans to build a library in his adopted home on the Island of Mozambique.  “What we really need is a public library, because people don’t have access to books, so if I can do something to help that, it will be great,” Agualusa says. “We have already found a place and I can put my own personal library in there and open it to the people of the island. It’s been a dream for a long time” (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/21/angolan-jose-eduardo-agualusa-wins-100000-impac-dublin-prize-general-history-of-oblivion?CMP=twt_books_b-gdnbooks).

The International DUBLIN Literary Award is worth €100,000 ($143,300 CAN) and is the world’s most valuable annual literary award for a single work of fiction.  The Award is presented annually for a novel written in English or translated into English.  Nominations are made by library systems in major cities throughout the world.  Established in 1994, the Award is now wholly funded by Dublin City Council.

The longlist had 147 titles:  http://www.dublinliteraryaward.ie/.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Readings for National Indigenous Peoples' Day

Today is National Indigenous Peoples' Day in Canada so I thought I’d focus on the Aboriginal Literature Award.

The winner is Carol Rose Daniels for her debut novel Bearskin Diary.  
Taken from the arms of her mother as soon as she was born, Sandy was one of over twenty thousand Aboriginal children scooped up by the federal government between the 1960s and 1980s. Sandy was adopted by a Ukrainian family and grew up as the only First Nations child in a town of white people. Ostracized by everyone around her and tired of being different, at the age of five she tried to scrub the brown off her skin. But she was never sent back into the foster system, and for that she considers herself lucky. From this tragic period in her personal life and in Canadian history, Sandy does not emerge unscathed, but she emerges strong--finding her way by embracing the First Nations culture that the Sixties Scoop had tried to deny. Those very roots allow Sandy to overcome the discriminations that she suffers every day from her co-workers, from strangers and sometimes even from herself.

The $5,000 prize, presented jointly by the First Nations Communities READ program and Periodical Marketers of Canada , recognizes works of outstanding Indigenous literature.

The 2015 novel has also been selected for the First Nation Communities READ program for 2017-2018.

CBC Books has great suggestions for other books by Indigenous writers.  See http://www.cbc.ca/books/2016/06/aboriginal-day-authors-to-watch.html for recommendations of up-and-coming indigenous writers by established Canadian writers and http://www.cbc.ca/books/2017/05/60-books-by-indigenous-writers-to-read-as-recommended-by-you.html for recommendations of indigenous books by readers.  Thanks CBC Books!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Margaret Atwood Wins More Awards

Margaret Atwood just keeps adding to the literary prizes she has won.  October will be a busy month for her as she will collect three more awards. 

It has been announced that she is this year’s recipient of the Franz Kafka Prize which is given in recognition of the entirety of an author’s work.  The prize is intended to “reward artistically exceptional literary production of a contemporary author whose work addresses readers regardless of their origin, nationality, or culture, like the work of Franz Kafka.”  Atwood is to receive the award in Prague this October at the traditional award ceremony in Old Town Hall, where she’ll be given the main symbol of the prize, a bronze statuette of the city’s Franz Kafka monument. She’ll also receive $10,000 (US). (http://www.franzkafka-soc.cz/cena-franze-kafky/)

Atwood has also won Germany's 2017 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade for her "political intuition and a deeply perceptive ability to detect dangerous and underlying developments."  The €25,000 (approx. $37,000 CAN) prize honours those who "reflect the German book trade's commitment to the promotion of international understanding." The prize is funded entirely by donations from booksellers and publishers.  "Humanity, justice and tolerance are the unvarying characteristics of Atwood's work," a statement from the Board of Trustees of the prize said. "Through her, we experience who we are, where we stand and what responsibilities we carry with regard to ourselves and our peaceful coexistence with others."  Atwood will receive the award on Oct. 15, 2017 at the Frankfurt Book Fair.  (http://www.cbc.ca/books/2017/06/margaret-atwood-takes-home-37k-german-peace-prize.html)

In addition, Atwood is being awarded a lifetime achievement award from the PEN Center USA for her "visionary" storytelling and remarkable body of work.  "Throughout her career, Ms. Atwood has vividly explored elements of the human experience - power, oppression, complacency, language - expertly and with such conviction," said Michelle Franke, executive director of PEN Center USA.  "Her body of work is to the bone, sometimes visionary in its presentation of the past, present and futures foretold. How has she done this? By writing with a kind of knowing, an unflinching trust in historical cycles."  Atwood will accept this latest honour at a literary awards festival in October.  (http://www.cbc.ca/books/2017/06/margaret-atwood-to-receive-pen-center-lifetime-achievement-award.html)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review of HOUSE OF NAMES by Colm Tóibín

3.5 Stars 
For this novel, Tóibín borrowed from Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides and then used his imagination to retell a story from Greek mythology. 

The novel opens with Clytemnestra’s killing of her husband Agamemnon who sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia so the gods would make the winds blow favourably, thereby allowing the Greek fleet to leave for Troy.  Clytemnestra joined forces with her lover Aegisthus but theirs is not a happy life after Agamemnon’s death.  Her remaining daughter Electra and son Orestes also suffer as a consequence of their mother’s actions.  Violence breeds resentment and more violence. 

Clytemnestra’s story is narrated in first person and she, by far, emerges as the most interesting character.  I am certain I am not the first person to compare her to Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, an ambitious, manipulative woman who has people murdered while pretending to be weak.  She speaks in a “chirping voice” having “learned to sound stupid” and to pretend that she is “foolish or distracted,” but Orestes realizes that she “allowed nothing to escape her. . . Beneath all her simpering and insinuation, there was fury, there was steel.”  She is ruthless, but Tóibín succeeds in humanizing her, at least to some extent.  She is a betrayed wife horrendously deceived by her husband and a heartbroken, traumatized mother grieving for her daughter.  Love of family is certainly part of her motivation.  In her post-death monologue delivered from a world of “blankness, strangeness, silence,” Clytemnestra speculates, “Maybe the only reason I wander in these spaces has to do with some . . . feeling, or what is left of it.  Maybe that feeling is love.”  One cannot help but feel some sympathy for her because she is searching for the son she loves, unaware that he is guilty of matricide. 

Orestes is the least compelling character.  Interestingly, his sections are narrated in a rather impersonal third person.  The reader learns little about Orestes’ feelings about the deaths of his sister and father.  He seems a very tentative person, unsure of himself.  He is indecisive and is very much dominated by others.  He relies on his lover Leander:  “He felt the warmth of Lander’s shoulder when he rested his hand on him and the strength of his will, and this gave him comfort.”   Electra makes all of the plans for Clytemnestra’s killing, having “worked and prepared” for the act, and she persuades her brother by appealing to his bravery; in the end, Orestes “knew that he would do as his sister had asked.”  A portion of the novel is dedicated to his five years away from the palace; I cannot understand why so much focus is given to this insipid young man who is anything but a Greek hero.  Orestes doesn’t even know about having sex with a woman; he believes a woman has become pregnant because of him but he has to be told, “’I don’t think that what we do in the dark can make me pregnant.  For that to happen, it must be different.’”  As in many of Tóibín’s other novels, it is the women who are the stronger, more interesting characters.

Tóibín veers from the original stories by making it clear that characters are responsible for their actions.  What happens is not the result of gods intervening in events.  In fact, none of the gods are mentioned by name.  Clytemnestra emphasizes the disinterest of gods:  “They barely know we are alive.  For them, if they were to hear of us, we would be like the mild sound of wind in the trees, a distant, unpersistent, rustling sound.”  The reader is to see that characters’ actions are the result of very human desires and emotions. 

The style is that of understatement.  Much is left unsaid. People don’t ask obvious questions and avoid talking about certain topics.  When Leander returns to his family, after a five-year absence, “no one wanted to know in any detail precisely where he had been, or what had happened to him.  He had been away from them; that was enough.”  When Orestes returns home after five years, “He found that both his mother and his sister became nervous if they thought that he was even going to speak.”  Instead, people look for “easy topics to discuss” and “think of something soft and pacifying to say.”   The word “silence” is used at least 50 times.  This is in keeping with a palace “full of lingering echoes and whisperings” where machinations and intrigue abound.   Orestes is warned that “’a trusted friend is the one you can least trust.’”

Retellings of classic literature do not always work.  This one does.  The novel is not one of Tóibín’s most memorable perhaps, but it is definitely worth reading; it gives insight into characters with whom we may be acquainted but whom we do not really know.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

On Father's Day: Books About Fathers

Since today is Father’s Day, I thought I’d share two relevant articles about fathers in literature. 

Early this year, The Guardian newspaper featured a writer’s list of best books about fathers.  “From Shakespeare to Seamus Heaney, Sam Miller selects his favourites from a tradition where the most interesting characters are very often absent”:  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/29/top-10-books-about-fathers?CMP=twt_books_b-gdnbooks.

And then there’s ShortList’s 30 most memorable literary fathers:  http://www.shortlist.com/entertainment/books/30-most-memorable-literary-fathers#.

If you are looking for some reading on this day that celebrates fathers, perhaps one of these articles will help. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Books That Inspired Writers to Become Writers

Yesterday, I blogged about muses, people who inspired writers.  Since writers are readers, sometimes it’s other books and other writers that influenced them to write.  Recently, LitHub compiled excerpts of interviews with writers; the excerpts focus on the books/writers that most influenced them:  http://lithub.com/the-books-that-made-your-favorite-writers-want-to-write/.

There are some interesting reading recommendations in those 30 snippets.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Literary Muses and Review of MUSE by Mary Novik

According to the Ancient Greeks, artistic inspiration came from one of the Muses, three female deities who gave men the power to create.   The poet Hesiod expanded the number of muses to nine: Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Melpomene, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Thalia and Urania. 

Of course, there have been real-life people who have served as muses for writers.  I found some interesting articles about such literary muses. 
and
and

There is some overlap in these three articles, but I was surprised that none of them mentioned Laura de Noves who had such a great influence on the poetry of Francesco Petrarch.  Laura de Noves (1310–1348) was the wife of Count Hugues de Sade (an ancestor of Marquis de Sade).  She is probably the Laura that Petrarch wrote about extensively though she has never been positively identified as such.  Petrarch saw her for the first time in Avignon on Good Friday in 1327 at mass in the church of Sainte-Claire d'Avignon.  After this first encounter with Laura, Petrarch spent the next three years in Avignon singing his purely platonic love and haunting Laura in church and on her walks.  Petrarch then left Avignon but returned in 1337 and bought a small estate at Vaucluse to be near his dear Laura. Here, for the next three years, he wrote numerous sonnets in her praise.  Laura died in 1348; years later, Petrarch wrote a religious allegory in which Laura is idealized.

There is a novel, Muse by Mary Novik, which claims to be “the story of the charismatic woman who was the inspiration behind Petrarch's sublime love poetry.”  Here’s my review of that book:
2 Stars
The protagonist of this novel is Solange LeBlanc who, according to the publisher’s description, is “the charismatic woman who was the inspiration for Petrarch’s sublime love poetry.” Set in 14th century Avignon, this book, contrary to this description, is not the story of Laura de Sade who was Petrarch’s muse, the one without whom Petrarch claims his poems “’have no substance.’” Instead, the book is the story of Solange who is his lover but, in terms of Petrarch’s poetry, could best be described as his editor. The novel details several rises and falls in the fortunes of a woman who is viewed at various times as a prophet, harlot, witch, and saint.

My major problem with the book is the character of Solange. I wanted to feel sympathy for her because she is certainly used and then discarded by men, but she does nothing to help her situation. She does stupid things (cheating on Pope Clement VI) and then seems amazed when there are negative repercussions for her behaviour. Her relationship with Petrarch also makes no sense. Over and over and over again, he mistreats her horribly, in private and in public, yet she still goes back to him? He even tells her, “’I can never give you everything you want from me’” and says that he loves her but only “’With my flesh, but not my soul. That belongs to Madonna Laura.’” Nonetheless Solange keeps going back to him and she justifies her actions by saying, “He will change the face of literature forever. Much can be forgiven a man of such greatness.” She also states, “I have learnt that it is possible to love and hate the same man,” yet none of this hate is evident. Instead, she reserves her hatred for Laura who really does nothing and who, because of her marital status and social position, has virtually no contact with Petrarch.

The pacing of the novel is uneven. Sometimes, years are dismissed in a few pages; at other times, tedious details are given. For example, several times, parades of people are mentioned: “Advancing were Clement’s nephews, Nicolas de Besse and Guillaume de La Jugie, followed by the men who had married into the family, then the uncles, cousins, officers, and Limousin nobles.” And “I was pulling on my azure robe when in came Hugues Roger with the surgeon de Chauliac . . . After them arrived Captain Aigrefeuille of the pointed stars, with the jailer Renaud de Pons. Five or six other men, all vital to palace operations, entered the room.” And “the rank and file of papal functionaries marched past, followed by squires and knights in battle armour, then the city marshall, the camerlengo, and the grand penitentiary . . .” And “We were met by sixteen cardinals, plus counts, bishops, damoiseaux, captains, chevaliers, down the line to ecuyers . . . ” These lists serve little purpose except to indicate that the author did considerable research for the book. That research is commendable, but sometimes information is needlessly repeated. Twice we are told that prostitutes had to wear “crimson ribbons” and four times it is mentioned that people believed that the soul entered the body on the eightieth day.

There are events that are unbelievable. Women become pregnant almost on demand. Solange twice arranges to conceive, each time after having intercourse only once. Laura manages to do the same as well. One minute Solange learns that the pope is finished with her and the next minute, when she returns to her room, she finds her maids “already pawing my garments”? One day Solange has difficulty having any physical contact with Angiere but shortly afterwards Solange wants someone else to assist Angiere as she gives birth, “someone else to attend her, someone who did not love her as I did.” The juxtaposition of Solange’s arrival at Clairefontaine and Mother Agnes’s illness seems coincidental.

Despite my hopes, this book was disappointing.

Note: I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Gender Disparity in Literature

In March, a bookstore in Cleveland, Loganberry Books (http://www.loganberrybooks.com/), did an interesting display.  The bookshop turned around all books authored by men to illustrate how much more prominent men are in the written world than women.  The result was “a veritable white-out on the shelves” (https://www.buzzfeed.com/terripous/a-bookstore-is-displaying-all-books-by-men-backwards-for-wom?utm_term=.joDGZvplEE#.vvQnMkYxyy).

And then I came across a Signature article entitled “The Man Who Doesn’t Read Women” by Lorraine Berry in which she writes about a male neurologist who didn’t think he had ever read a book written by a woman.  Berry points out that women consumers spend more on books than men, yet, it is still men who are more likely to be published.  It is clear that the literary world has not been able to escape the role that bias plays in who gets published, who gets reviewed and where, and whose work is most likely to be lauded as “genius” (http://www.signature-reads.com/2017/03/the-man-who-doesnt-read-women/?ref=B312EEBB6F69).  When asked, Berry recommended he read Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.

If you were in Berry’s position, what book by a woman would you suggest?  Last fall, The Times Literary Supplement suggested a list of the sixty best books by women every man should read:  http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/let-down-by-the-lists/?CMP=Spklr-_-Editorial-_-FBPAGE-_-TimesLiterarySupplement-_-20161130-_-689989264.

Children’s books also show gender disparity.  A 2011 study “looked at more than 5,600 books published in the US throughout the 20th century, and found a huge gender imbalance.  Male characters were central in 57% of children’s books, while only 31% had female central characters.  And males featured in the titles of 36.5% of books each year, but only 17.5% of titles referred to a female character. . . . Animal characters showed particular inequality in genders, with male animals central in more than 23% of books, compared to 7.5% containing female animals” (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/17/childrens-books-for-girls-publishers-writers-gender-imbalance?CMP=twt_books_b-gdnbooks).

When was the last time you read a book that was not written by an author whose gender and/or identity was the same as yours?  For suggestions to widen your reading horizons, why not check out the Man Booker International Prize longlist (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/03/man-booker-international-prize-longlist.html) or this list of translated fiction:  http://www.signature-reads.com/2017/02/exceptional-translated-fiction-to-add-to-your-reading-list-now/?cdi=321A47B09DAD4547E0534FD66B0AE227&ref=PRH24BB520913.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

2017 Man Booker International Prize Winner

The winner of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize has been announced:  A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman (Israel) – translated by Jessica Cohen.

This short novel is about the life of a stand-up comic, as revealed in the course of one evening’s performance.  In a little dive in a small Israeli city, Dov Greenstein, a comedian a bit past his prime, is doing a night of stand-up.  In the audience is a district court justice, Avishai Lazar, whom Dov knew as a boy, along with a few others who remember Dov as an awkward, scrawny kid who walked on his hands to confound the neighborhood bullies.  Gradually, as it teeters between hilarity and hysteria, Dov’s patter becomes a kind of memoir, taking us back into the terrors of his childhood: we meet his beautiful flower of a mother, a Holocaust survivor in need of constant monitoring, and his punishing father, a striver who had little understanding of his creative son.  Finally, recalling his week at a military camp for youth—where Lazar witnessed what would become the central event of Dov’s childhood—Dov describes the indescribable while Lazar wrestles with his own part in the comedian’s story of loss and survival.

The Man Booker International Prize is given to a book in English translation, with a £50,000 prize for the winning title, to be shared equally between author and translator.  Its aim is to encourage more publishing and reading of quality works in translation.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Arthur Ellis Awards for Crime Writing

Yesterday, I blogged about a Canadian award for humour writing; today’s posting is about a Canadian award for crime writing.  The Arthur Ellis Awards, established in 1984 and named after the nom de travail of Canada's official hangman, are awarded annually by the Crime Writers of Canada. 

The Arthur Ellis Awards are for CRIME WRITING, and are not restricted to mystery writing. Crime-writing encompasses far more than the traditional whodunit. The crime genre includes crime, detective, espionage, mystery, suspense, and thriller writing, as well as fictional or factual accounts of criminal doings and crime-themed literary works.

The winner for best crime novel in 2017 is The Fortunate Brother by Donna Morrissey.  I loved this book; see my review at http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/search?q=the+fortunate+brother.

For all the winners in the various subcategories, go to http://www.crimewriterscanada.com/awards/arthur-ellis-awards/current-contest/winners.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

2017 Stephen Leacock Medal Winner

Yesterday evening, the 2017 winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Canadian Humour was announced.

Gary Barwin won this year’s award and its $15,000 prize money for his book, Yiddish for Pirates, a tale of pirates, buried treasure, and a search for the Fountain of Youth, told in the voice of a 500-year-old Jewish parrot.

Set in the years around 1492, Yiddish for Pirates recounts the compelling story of Moishe, a Bar Mitzvah boy who leaves home to join a ship's crew, where he meets Aaron, the polyglot parrot who becomes his near-constant companion.  From a present-day Florida nursing home, this wisecracking yet poetic bird guides us through a world of pirate ships, Yiddish jokes and treasure maps.  But Inquisition Spain is a dangerous time to be Jewish, and Moishe joins a band of hidden Jews trying to preserve some forbidden books.  He falls in love with a young woman, Sarah; though they are separated by circumstance, Moishe's wanderings are motivated as much by their connection as by his quest for loot and freedom. When all Jews are expelled from Spain, Moishe travels to the Caribbean with the ambitious Christopher Columbus, a self-made man who loves his creator.  Moishe eventually becomes a pirate and seeks revenge on the Spanish while seeking the ultimate booty: the Fountain of Youth.

This novel was also shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and nominated for the Governor-General's Award for Literature. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Winner of Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction

This year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was awarded earlier this week, June 7.  The winner is British author Naomi Alderman with her fourth novel The Power.


Plot Summary: 
The world is a recognizable place: there's a rich Nigerian boy who lounges around the family pool; a foster kid whose religious parents hide their true nature; an ambitious American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family.  Then a vital new force takes root and flourishes, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect.  Teenage girls now have immense physical power--they can cause agonizing pain and even death.  And, with this small twist of nature, the world drastically resets.



I tend to like the winners of this award, so I will definitely be picking up a copy.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Travel Memoirs

I’ve blogged about several travel destinations and travel accommodations for book lovers:

vacationing in Scotland and running a bookstore for a week:  http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/02/a-bookshop-holiday.html








browsing in the world’s biggest bookstores:  http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/05/worlds-biggest-bookstores.html

touring filming locations for Game of Thrones:  http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/06/a-game-of-thrones-vacation.html




browsing through quirky bookstores around the world:  http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/05/quirky-bookstores.html




having a glass of wine in a hotel bar with a library:  http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/05/a-library-in-hotel-bar.html




visiting the world’s largest chained library:  http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/05/hereford-chained-library.html



touring the sites of one or more of Dan Brown’s bestsellers:  http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/06/dan-brown-tours.html



Since I’ve devoted so many entries to travel, I thought it only appropriate to suggest some travel memoirs.  Non-fiction is not something I read often, but when I do, travel memoirs are my usual choice. 

Here are two sites which give some suggestions for travel memoirs which sound interesting to me:

And here’s an interesting article about female travel writers and some of their works:  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/28/where-female-travel-writers-gone-sara-wheeler.