Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A non-fiction detour

Ok, I know I have not been posting much and part of the reason is I have spent my reading time with books that do not really fit on this blog. But one kind of does so now it gets a post purely because I feel guilty.

So, in a desperate quest to feel more informed about my own finances, I took my dear sister’s advice and checked 76 Investing Tips for Canadian in Uncertain Economic Times out of the library. This book is a “For Dummies” book, recently published (as you can tell in the title) and covers all the basic of personal investing and finances.

This book was excellent for two reasons
1) It is Canadian. Many personal financial books are American and do not touch on important aspects of Canadian investments
2) It is really recent so has great information about current trends (TFSA anyone?)

I am going to admit, I know nothing about investing and financial stuff so this book was perfect for a solid basic introduction to everything from Life Insurance to TFSAs. A lot of stuff covered and makes me feel more confident to at least start planning for the future a little more.

So we can’t always read books that are fun and enjoyable, but if it has to be non-fiction and instructive, it might as well be as useful as this was.

Next, I am moving back to fiction and can lit. with Life of Pi. I am almost done, so the post shouldn’t be too far off.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Canada Reads Recap

Since I was horribly slow at reading Canada Reads books, I figured I would write a recap post that summarizes. I mean, Katy already filled you in on all of them- no point repeating entries. Right? Ya, I know, I am lazy.

So first book to be disqualified on Canada Reads was Doug Coupland's Generation X. No surprise there- it was not a good book. I am going to be honest; I made it about 20 pages in and then returned it to the library. There was just no connection for me to the characters. None at all. I like Hey Nostradamus! but Generation X was just not for me. After reading Katy’s blog about it, I did not regret returning it after only a few pages.

Next to get the boot was Fall on Your Knees. Alright, I didn’t make it through this one either. I mean, I just got bored. I was not in the mood. Ok, I should have tried harder with the Canada Read thing, but what can you do. I was pretty surprised it was the second book to go. I was the most popular book of the lot. It has received a lot of press and is quite popular. But alas, not even popularity can save you on Canada Reads.

To bring it to two, Good to a Fault was eliminated. That meant that my two favorite reads (i.e. the ones I made it all the way throug), The Jade Peony and Nikolski were the final two. I mean, it made sense to me, those were great books! Katy and I have both posted about The Jade Peony already and we both really enjoyed it. I have now read two Choy books on this journey and he really is a great writer. Top Two definitely deserved! As you all know (I assume if you are interested enough to read a blog on Can Lit, you may also follow Canada Reads), Nikolski won.

And Katy has posted on Nikolski already, but I haven’t, so I will just take a minute to describe my feelings on it. I really liked it for a few reasons. First, all the characters were intriguing. Often books that jump between different plot lines are not enjoyable to me. I tend to like one story more than the other so skip ahead and read those parts. With Nikolski, however, I was intrigued by all characters and as the connection between them was exposed, I enjoyed the novel even more. They weren’t forced connections or unrealistic, but simple stories that just passed by each other.

I was also a fan of the Canadian-ness of the book- it was subtle, but Dickner managed to work in a distinctly Canadian flavour to the story. Whether it was the setting of Montreal, or the details of family members roving across the country (from postal outlet to postal outlet) I felt a very strong Canadian connection, which is nice in a Quebecois book (definitely no separatism here!).

Nikolski had a wonderfully modern feel to it, without being weird (*cough* Copeland) and definitely deserved the nod from Canada Reads. I was excited it won. So now, go out and buy it!

So there is your Canada Reads conclusion from the blog. Katy and I both liked the same books and predicted the same winner. We must be twins and psychic.

Next up for me: A quick review of a “For Dummies” book and I am part way through Life of Pi

- Tory

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Redhill and Bemrose

Two quick ones-

I first came across Michael Redhill a few years ago at an archives conference of all places. He had come as a keynote speaker to discuss his new (at the time) book Consolation. The book, which includes links to some beautiful historic photographs from the city of Toronto archives, was a good read. I enjoyed it. Years passed, until last fall when I bought his first book Martin Sloane at a used book sale. Then the book sat on my shelf until a couple weeks ago when I finally picked it up. I am not sure why I waited so long, I liked his talk and I liked his book. The waiting was a bad move on my part- I loved Martin Sloane! Although not having the advantage of being archivally themed, I think I liked it even more than Consolation.

Martin Sloane is the story of a young student, Jolene, who encounters and embarks on an affair with a mysterious Irish-Canadian artist, Martin Sloane. Then one day he is gone, just walks off in the night. Jolene must cope with his departure, which she doesn't do very well. Then a glimpse of him from across the ocean and she is dragged back into his story. Good plot, good characters (although more than once I wanted to smack Jolene back into reality), good writing. For sure worth picking up.

John Bemrose I also discovered at a talk. I saw him speak with other Canadian male authors at IFOA 2009. I had heard of him before, but somehow he got lost in my pile of 'to-reads.' Although he didn't enthrall me at the reading, I noticed his book on my shelf and thought I would give it a go. Well, I should have left it on my shelf. Sorry, but Island Walkers, about a small town in Ontario that revolves around the local mill, gets a big 'MEH' from me. Just not great. Felt like a male version of Anne Marie MacDonald (see review from earlier). Oh well, they can't all be my favorite.

- Katy

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Black Robe

Brian Moore was Canadian for a while, albeit a short while. Born in Ireland, Moore moved to North America in 1948. He lasted about ten years in Canada, before heading south of the border to California. Despite this brief visit, Canada left an impression on Moore that comes out in his novel the Black Robe.

The Black Robe tells the story of a Jesuit priest who is sent to discover the fates of other missionaries. After some persuasion from Samuel de Champlain, a group of Algonquin agree to accompany Father Laforge and his young aide. Throughout their journey both the ‘whites’ and the ‘Indians’ are confronted with the numerous stereotypes that existed in the 17th Century New World (and some that still exist today). Moore paints a picture of early Canada that is at times terrifying- the landscape, the obstacles, enemies and even friends offer little comfort.

The novel, well novella really as it comes in around 200 pages, is wonderfully written. A forte of Moore’s is characterization. My sympathies switched every ten pages, leaving me feeling that everyone was right (and also that everyone was wrong).

Overall, it is a great period piece, something much different than other fiction I have read about this time period. But, there was something distinctly un-Canadian about it. I have no other Canadian books to compare it to; it was closer to other foreign fiction I have read, like a less quirky, less sprawling version of Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda and even closer to Heart of Darkness, as the story winds its way towards the unknown. It felt less personal, less about family; which has become the most recurrent theme to date in my exploration of Canadian literature. Not that this is bad, the novel was a good read, it just re-affirms that to be (truly) Canadian you can’t be easily lured away by sunny California.

I have to stray away from Canada for book club, but will return shortly.

- Katy