An “Absoloodlely” Epic Book

The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay has been around since 1989 but strangely none of our members had heard of it!  All these different versions of the book are proof of its longevity:

powerofonecovers

Despite its ‘self-help’ style title, it is not that. While there is plenty of self-discovery along the way, it is young adult fiction. The novel is divided into three parts that tell the story of a young boy named Peekay on his journey through boyhood in South Africa and the ways in which racism plays an integral part within his life and the lives of those around him. Oh, and there’s boxing. And shamanism. And Nazis. And murder. And a rooster named Granpa Chook.

When this book came out my husband, then a pre-teen, felt it changed his life and has forever proclaimed this to be his favourite book. His older sister and mom read the book as well and fell in love with the story and still speak highly of it to this day. After hearing about this book for nearly 8 years, I decided book club might be a great place to try it as it came with glowing reviews. In fact, my husband proclaimed, “This will probably become someone’s favourite book of all time.”; a bold statement for sure and, unfortunately, nobody has proclaimed it to be their favourite book.

However, all members at the meeting were in agreement that it was a really good book. As previously mentioned, it is lengthy! A long book made of seemingly smaller stories and events, some were exciting, some scary, some funny, some boring and some very, very interesting. On a whole, we enjoyed learning about the racial divide in South Africa, particularly that between the English and Afrikaaners that was a result of the Boer War (1899-1902). We enjoyed the colourful characters that helped to shape Peekay’s life, in particular Hoppie and Doc.

Some criticisms of the book included whether or not the characters and events that took place were believable or overly exaggerated, or whether or not the message of the book should instead be changed from “the power of one” to “the power of the community”. Personally, I did not connect with the portions of the book where Peekay befriended Morrie (or Hymie, depending on the version of the book you had!) and found myself glossing through this portion.

I won’t spoil the end for you but the concluding scene of the book had some members moved and others questioning if they ever really knew Peekay at all. Did he act ‘first with the head and then with the heart’? That’s up to the reader to decide…

-Kathryn

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Christmastime is the most wonderful time of the year

As a group we spend the calendar year meeting to discuss the books that we’ve read and when we get together we use our meetings to be social and to catch up on one another’s goings on, but seldom do we celebrate!

crackers_insides_questions

Christmastime is in fact the most wonderful time of the year. It is a time where we can indulge and eat and drink be merry, all to our heart’s content (or, well, more than usual). One where we can share the traditions that we grew up with and cultivate ones of our own.

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Traditions of gift giving… and taking and giving and taking…. and who knows what you’ll receive! Cheese plates, steamware and (highly coveted) tea pots, oh my! Where hot chocolate flows and egg cups are multipurpose, where we sing Christmas carols and we regale one another with the choice riddles and jokes that one typically finds in Christmas crackers.

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And while the holiday season has come and gone, and we fall back into our daily routines, we take care to the remember the people that mean so much to us within Bookclub and those members that exist abroad.

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Now, regarding the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night: as our meeting was coming to a conclusion and members started to leave, Laina on her way out sent me a message saying, “Go immediately to our elevator. Sweetest dog ever in there. Why???” to which I replied, “That’s how we do. You’re welcome.” because I am a nincompoop. After much trying Laina was finally able to get me to understand the urgency of the situation and I left the few members that were still in attendance and, yes, as it turned out, there was a very lovely, very obedient, well trained and well taken care of dog in my elevator. Just waitin’.

It had a collar with a number that I called but it was the number for the City of Vancouver and their automated voice messaging system. I called it approximately 8,001 times hoping that I keyed in the correct extension I’d get a human person. No. I called the SPCA: automated voice messaging system; I called the 9-1-1 non-emergency line who referred me back to the SPCA (see previous result). I spent the next 30 minutes with the dog trying to figure out what to do next. At this point my absence went noticed and at 1 am we went knocking on doors to try to find this poor dog’s owners.

Eventually we decided to bring the darling in and leave it on my balcony. We made signs and posted them throughout the building. At around 2 am there was a knock on my door and joy abound this dog’s owner was found! We discovered that our canine companion was named Sam and that Sam was a boy. We escorted Sam and his owner back to their apartment and all was well. The next day the SPCA gave me a call back and as it turns if you find an animal in the nighttime, and you choose to take responsibility of it, it’s yours until the morning hours.

Should future you find yourself in such a situation, I would recommend having some awesome, cool, calm and collected ladies at your side to talk you down from your crazy ledge. To you all my gratitude has knows no limits.

Sam the dog

Sam the dog

-Diana

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Reading challenge

Have you ever tried a reading challenge?  I tried it for the first time last year and loved it. There are a few approaches you can take:

Pick a number
My main goal last year was to get back into a regular reading habit. To that end, I used the goodreads reading challenge widget to pick a number that would challenge me but I felt was achievable. In the end I read 37 books of my 40 book challenge, which I was pretty happy with. Full disclosure, I definitely focused on good short reads at various parts of the year, so you can find yourself making compromises to achieve this goal. Overall though I found that I read more, it encouraged me to keep a closer track of the books I read, and I enjoyed it enough to sign up again this year.

Picking a number isn’t the only way to approach reading challenges. You could also…

Work through the alphabet
This one is quite popular on goodreads this year, and if you like the support of joining a group it may be the one for you. The premise is that you work your way through book titles which start with each letter of the alphabet, either in order or as you feel like it. A friend of mine is blogging about this very challenge and I have every confidence it will be worth reading. Check out her blog here!

Genre hopping
Maybe you’ve been sucked into a genre vortex lately and need that extra push to escape. Why not try a genre hopping reading challenge this year? All you have to do is choose a range of genres or sub-genres you don’t normally read (I recommend choosing at least 5) and aim to read a certain number of books from each by year’s end. Choosing a mix of fiction and non-fiction genres can be especially rewarding. Top 100 genre lists are a good place to start if you’re looking for inspiration, and a few years ago SF signal put together a great flowchart of NPR’s top 100 scifi and fantasy picks which you can find here.

A walk through time or space
A good way to diversify your reading habits is to look outside of your usual time period. One approach is to read 2 or 3 books published in each decade over the past 100 years. Alternatively, you could read a book published in each year during a certain timeframe. Reading books set in different locations around the world is also popular. The ‘Around the World in 80 Books’ group on goodreads has straightforward guidelines, 5 challenge levels, and a lot of book suggestions.

If all this sounds like a bit too much trouble you could print out PopSugar’s 2015 Reading Challenge list which has a nice mix of random conditions and comes in a delightful tickbox format.

Happy reading in 2015!

-Johanna

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A Tale for the Time Being

CoverATalefortheTimeBeingAt book club a couple of months ago I asked for recommendations of exceptional books. Not just good, exceptional. It had been too long since I read a book into the early hours, begrudging work and social commitments because it was time I could have been spending in another world. Immediately there were calls of ‘A Tale for the Time Being’ from around the room.

This was my introduction to Ruth Ozeki’s book about Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island in British Columbia, who finds a ziplock bag containing a diary and some letters washed up on the beach. The diary belongs to Naoko (aka Nao), a sixteen year old schoolgirl who has lived most of her life in California before relocating to Japan with her parents when her father loses his job, the family savings, and his US work visa. As Ruth seeks escape from her writers block she is drawn into Nao’s world of bullying and suicide and becomes progressively more obsessed with finding Nao and helping her if she can. The story alternates between a third person narrative of Ruth’s story and a first person narrative as Nao writes in her diary, with some additional sources along the way, and the line between the two worlds becomes increasingly indistinct.

For the first half of the book I found it quite difficult to be interested in Ruth. I’m sure in part this was because Nao’s tale is so engaging, so urgent. Ozeki skillfully evokes the reader’s human desire to help those suffering and as she reads Nao’s diary Ruth’s story in a way becomes your own, although this jarred with my initial feelings towards the character. To be honest, I had concerns that she would fall into the category of “navel-gazing lady of a certain age treading water in the tepid sea of their life”, which when poorly done is either the equivalent of literary nyquil or leaves you shouting at the page ‘Why should I care what happens? You make terrible decisions’. Instead, Ruth and Nao’s stories develop into two halves of a whole.

A Tale for the Time Being‘ negotiates questions of how we face challenges, familial responsibilities, powerlessness, and the complexity of defining self-identity and at times finding self-worth. In other words the triumphs and failures, big and small, which make up life. So, is it exceptional? It is very, very good. Maybe to you it will be exceptional – go and find out!

Side note: As you may or may not have noticed, the ladies at the Tastefully Done Bookclub have been very busy and we are in something of a blog post drought. This is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, so keep us in your feed for intermittent, hopefully entertaining, book-related posts.

— Johanna

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Fun with Myth Adventures

Recently I found myself on the lookout for a short read. I was done with reading books over months; I wanted something that would be done by the time I began. So, I set off to the local bookstore on a mission and hit the jackpot with the Myth Adventures comedy series by Robert Asprin. The first book, Another Fine Myth, was published in 1978 and tells the story of Skeeve, a magician’s apprentice in the backwater dimension of Klah, who becomes the apprentice of a demon called Aahz when his current master is assassinated. The pair find themselves on a quest (of course) to defeat an evil magician before he takes over all the dimensions. This is complicated by the fact that Aahz has lost his powers, leaving them to rely on Aahz’s brains and Skeeve’s paltry magic abilities.

Who could say no to that loincloth?

Who could say no to that loincloth?

The books are a joy to read, mostly due to the dynamic between the irascible, quick-witted Aahz and the clueless Skeeve, and Asprin’s imaginative world-building. The pair are soon joined by friends and as the cohort grows the characters evolve and relationships change. In the introduction to the seventh book, M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link, Asprin comments that ongoing character growth was an intentional goal from the beginning to stop the books from becoming repetitive, and it is effective; more than once I found myself closing one book in the series to then immediately open up the next. I suggest trying Myth Adventures if you are looking for a light-hearted, immersive fantasy series, either as a mainstay or to visit between heavier reads.

–Johanna

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My mixtape, of sorts

Do you have any books you can read again and again?  When I mention that I often re-read my favourite novels, or even just certain passages, I often get this look.  This bug-eyed, quizzical look similar to one I’d receive if I said I was vegan, or I weigh 110 pounds.  (Note – both are highly false).  I understand – for some people, the mystery is solved!  Why read it again when you already know the outcome, when you’ve already met the characters and know the choices they make throughout?  Some novels, for me, are the soundtrack of my life.  They’ve punctuated an era with every mark possible:  sometimes a period, often an exclamation, too many times a question mark, and, occasionally, an ellipses.

Re-visiting a book can be like looking through a photo album.  There are so many that capture perfectly a stage in my life.  Take, for example, my life before marriage.  I highly enjoyed Melissa Bank; her collections of short stories A Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing and The Wonder Spot have both been read, dog-eared, and filled with Post-Its as their ever-changing protagonists bob and weave their way through dating, relationships, and coupledom.  Did I learn anything about the ever-confusing world of partnerships?  Nope.  But it sure felt nice to not be alone.

David Sedaris’ essays have often helped me CTFD (see Urban Dictionary) as life has handed me, hyper rule-follower and general Type-Aist that I am, twists and turns that I was least expecting.  One story in particular, Put a Lid on It from Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, chronicles one of Sedaris’ convoluted but ultimately loving relationships and describes so astutely his need to control and “save lives” that it’s hard to not draw parallels in my life and reflect on my own behaviours.

And, I could not write this without mentioning Old Faithful, a hardcover so tattered and stained you’d think it had seen war and back, but it hasn’t.  It has, however, accompanied me across continents, in front of a campfire, and in the bathtub.  It’s cosied up to me in bed, and lain with me in cool spring grass.  Jonathan Franzen’s The Discomfort Zone is, ironically, my comfort zone.  No one writer has captured the ties that bind – and unravel – family relationships, the utter despair felt during adolescence, and the delicate art of forgiveness quite like he has in this very simple collection.

Behold!  The keeper of all emotion!

Behold! The keeper of all emotion!

Other novels on rotation include A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb, The KGB Bar Reader, and The Piano Man’s Daughter by Timothy Findley.  These, and so many more, have been read and re-read multiple times, and likely will be again.  Perhaps I like the reassurance of knowing the outcome of the conflicts faced.  Maybe the characters have connected with me in some way I don’t quite recognize.

Or, it could simply be, there are times I like to find a quiet space and catch up with an old friend …

-Laina

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Karl Ove Knausgaard remembers a lot for someone with a bad memory

deathinthefamily_smallIt is difficult to read anything described as a ‘masterpiece’ with objectivity.  Whether you find yourself re-reading pages for something you missed, or sceptically thinking ‘this is a masterpiece?’, it’s hard to escape the feeling that the narrative flow intended by the author has been lost.

I found this to be the case when reading ‘A Death in the Family’ by Karl Ove Knausgaard for this month’s book club.  The book is the first in a series of six autobiographical novels and follows Knausgaard through his teenage years in rural Norway into young adulthood before jumping to the time of his father’s death some years later.  It was this latter section of the book which most resonated with me, as Karl Ove and his brother, Yngve, clear up the devastation left behind by their alcoholic father and Karl Ove processes his feelings as they deal with the father’s death.

A widely discussed characteristic of the novel is the level of detail employed by Knausgaard to describe even seemingly banal events.  At times it reminded me of a story told by a friend about being trapped by flight delays at Heathrow airport.  Told over a comically long period of time, it was as if I too was trapped at the airport.  While this tangible sense of time passing was perhaps Knausgaard’s intention, many of the members found it to be more of a challenge than a pleasure.

Cup of tea

Material for 3 pages

Photo by Xavier Snelgrove / CC BY-SA 2.5

The book offers some interesting topics for discussion such as filial responsibility, awareness of others and self, addiction, and the ethics of consent when writing about events people may reasonably expect to be kept private.  While the novel is interspersed with moments of self-reflection, one member found herself frustrated that lessons Knausgaard seems to learn in his youth appear to have little impact on his adult life, drinking excluded.  That the novel is autobiographical makes this additionally frustrating as it speaks to the varying success with which we all apply lessons learned.

Overall members were more exasperated than entranced by A Death in the Family, and I wonder if this is partially because we were reading it with the intention of discussion.  Perhaps it is better to read as a singular endeavour: you and Karl Ove connecting…or not.

–Johanna

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