Monday, October 31, 2011

Must read book of the year!

This book wasn't on either of the list's I'm readin but it is hands down best book I've read all year!

I love homeless people, always have. I have felt called to work among them since I was 16 and this book shows why. There are stories in their lives, beautiful heart rending stories and this book is full of them. To those who have never sat with a homeless person the stories of each of the four lives profiled by this book sound hugely over exaggerated but they aren't. The trauma and the pain detailed in these 500+ pages are the gospel truth even though the book is a work of fiction. It reminded me of my many friends I have met in my jobs as Homeless Outreach Worker and Youth Outreach Worker.

This book is filled with the beautiful power of story. 4 homeless people and one broken man discover each other during a cold snap where they all end up at the movies. The book shows the "magic and the mystery" (note the title of my blog) of truth and beauty displayed in the flickering lights of the big screen. The truth in story is why I read and this book has it all. Life lessons, heart rending stories that break down the harden parts of you, beauty so painful it feels like a knife stabbing you in the heart, and magical events that remind you there is a God. I don't often read stories that make me cry (I tend to avoid them like the plague because I am a lot like the character Digger in the story I don't like to get mushy or be vulnerable)

One day I would like to sit down and watch each of the movies that the book talks about, but right now I am not ready, because I think I would sob like a little baby. There are only a few books that I would give 5 stars to but this is one of them. I want to pass this book around to the world because the story is so powerful. Funny that so many of my favorite books were found on the bargin table at Chapters. Happy accidents from titles that spoke to me or covers that drew my attention. I don't really believe in accidents...

I love beautiful quotes and this book is just full of them. The words are sometimes cliche but in the context of the story they are heart rendingly beautiful.Here are just a few:

"Being a rounder's just what it sounds like. You go around the same fucking vicious circle until you've seen and done and survived everything. At first its just life that screws you. Nobody comes here by choice"

"There's a risk that comes from being known, and its most marked form is the loss of subterfuge"

This is why I love the homeless. They are the most genuine people I have ever met. They cease being ashamed of the person they have become and just live as who they are scars and all.

"About seeing what you crave the most thrown up on the screen in front of you and recognize it for the hole within you that it is"

Ahhh....that is so true. That is the power of good story. To recogize things in our lives because it is outside of ourselves and can be objectively viewed for the first time.

"It was a magic way. A mystery way."

I named my blog magic and mystery because those two word describe the essence of the things that make me happy and I love finding those two paired together in literature. Makes me glad to know others recognize their importance.

I highly recommend this book as a must read. Hands down best read of the year!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Book 20-The Great Gatsby

This list has been good for me. I read The Great Gatsby as a teen and didn't like. I remembered nothing else about the book except that I had liked one quote in it which I remembered writing in my quote book. By reading book's on this list and refreshing my memory of ones I read a long time ago I am hopeful that I will have a much firmer grasp on the books 20 or even 30 years from now. If nothing else, like my quote book of my teen years, this blog will remind me a little about the feelings and thoughts I had about the books I have read. My memory is a sieve, but intentionally setting out to look at what I read and put it in some rational form will hopefully help me to retain more than just a vague sense of emotion about books.

For the purpose of this list I chose to listen to this book as an audio book which I downloaded from the BC library system "Library without walls". Although I had read this book in 2001, I wanted to be able to write a review of it....and I just didn't have enough to go on. It was a good thing I did decide to listen to it again because I was better able to appreciate it now that I am older and have more experience in the world.

The book as I see it is basically about the fact that all behaviour makes sense when it is viewed in context. Gatsby is a bright, glittery wealthy jerk, but his facade had a purpose. He was trying to woo the love of teen life to him with money, wealth and power. Although it had been years since he seen her he knew if his notoriety increased enough she would eventually hear of him and make the trek to see him. (This part reminded me quite a bit of Absalom, absalom) What luck, then, that the narrator Nick Carraway a friend of his beloved Daisy moved next door. It was the glitteryness of the book, and the depressing nature of the story that turned me away from the book as a young teen setting out into the world. I read it while i was home from university one summer, during the years when I snapped up literature and read it with voracity because it was teaching me about life and truth and beauty. I didn't want to see that life could be so cruel or that people could be so fake. Basically I didn't want to read a book that was so horribly depressing. All the reviews say that the book is about how the American Ideal at the time the book was set was flawed and cracked. I would agree that it IS about that too, but the book gives a rationale for why people might be pursuing vain goals.

It is telling that the opening line of the book, was the quote that I loved, "Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone remember that all the people in the world haven't had the advantages you've had" . I loved that because I knew it was true. People make some poor choices in life, but they are perfectly rational choices in their mind, given the circumstance they are in and the skill set that they have. Although the narrator was wealthy and did have priviledges that others didn't have, I loved the quote because the same is true of people in poverty or people who grew up facing emotional hardship. If you want to criticize someone for their behaviour because it doesn't make sense to you just remember that you don't make sense to them either!!!

One of the alarming consequences of the books I have been reading, both on this list, and in other areas as well has been that I have become increasingly aware that one small turn of events can dramatically change a life forever. After reading books about the turning points in so many fictional characters lives I have come to realize that I am just one bad turn away from a complete change in my philosophy of life. Although I see myself as an optimist, I am guessing that for the most part that is because my world generally makes sense. Yes, crappy things have happened but I have been able to adjust and move on. After reading books like Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and the Great Gatsby it is easy to see how something devasting can scar you for life.

The second time I "read" this book I picked up a few more quotes that I likes as well:

"A sense of the fundamental decencies are parcelled out unequally at birth"

A quote I think affirms that this book is about the fact that people have differeing perspecitves and that we can't always understand why someone does what they do.

"Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something".

Nick Carraway, the narrator of the book, who recieved the opening line wisdom of his father, never liked to judge someone because he was never sure of having all the information he needed to pass judgement. He referred to the fact that he tried to present Gatsby in all of his glory, and flaws.

One of the quotes that made me smile was this:

"the limited of all specialists: the well rounded man".

I like it because I think it is good to be well rounded in the things that you know. Sociology, English, carpentry, etc, etc.....all of it changes the way you look at the world. The book makes the point that you can only view the world through one lens at a time. And that, I think, for the most part is true. The next book on the list is To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Secret Agent-Joseph Conrad (33rd book)

Wow for a book published in 1907 it has some suprisingly modern insights! I read this book because it is on the "1001 Books to Read Before You Die" List and I am slowly working my way through the list. I chose this book as the second one to read off the list because although it had a lot to say it sounded like an easy read. I wasn't wrong there. Although it took a bit to get into at the beginning, by the end it was a fast paced read that left you wondering how it was all going to end. The characters were very realistic and you understood their inner workings through their thoughts, actions and descriptions of their motivations.

Some of the eeirily accurate predictions included one about Doctors. "In two hundred years doctors will rule the world". Although I don't feel this is true in Canada...I can definitely see that this is applied to the US. With their private health care system and for profit health care prices have soared out of control and people live in utter fear of getting sick. Minor illnesses can bankrupt people and even something like having a baby is now a medical procedure that can cost upwards of $10,000. I thank God every day for the public health care system I am proud to pay into. For someone to make this observation in 1907 London is utterly amazing to me.

The books central plot revolves around a bombing attempt gone wrong. The rational behind the bombing, the terrorist elements in the attack and the secret government involvement all are a little too similar to modern day terrorist attacks. In chosing the target of the Greenwich Conservatory the planner behind the attack said that churches, and government buildings would have little effect but an attack on something that was an institute of science would have more sway. ON 9/11 terrorist chose to attack the twin towers which could be a modern day equivalen to the Greenwich Conservatory.

Lastly, I loved reading this book after my trip to London and the UK. I was so excited when Verloc, the main character in the book sat in Chesire Cheese (a city of London pub, rebuilt very shortly after the London fire). I was there when I was doing a Dicken's tour of London and I loved it with its low ceilings, labyrinthine corridors, cozy cubby holes and claustrophic feeling. It would definitely not pass modern day fire codes!

There was also a funny quote that amused me because of my Dr. Who obsession. One of the communists that Verloc hangs out with says, "Exterminate! Exterminate!" Which is something that the Daleks say in Dr. Who.

Although I didn't give this book a very high rating I did like the story and would recommend it to everyone. I read it on my ereader so it was a free read thanks to its early publish date.

The Castle of Otranto

The first official book I've read as parat of the 1001 Books to Read Before you die!

I am still working on the list of the Novel 100 (which are almost entirely on the larger list) but taking it slower. This book I read very fast as it is short and silly! The book is a gothic novel about a Prince who wrongfully steals land from another man. It is a parable in the vein of the Bible verse, "sins of the fathers are visited on their children" or however that verse goes. His son is killed by a giant hugely plumed helmet that falls on him, the castle is haunted by giant bodiless hands in armor and a stranger appears in his castle who turns out to be the rightful heir. Although not life changing this book is amusing and an interesting read. A good diversion from some of the harder novels on the lists I have been reading. Thanks to Project Gutenberg and my kobo ereader I got to read this novel for free

A Second list? Are you crazy??

So when I bought the book The Novel 100 I knew what I really wanted was the book 1001 Books to Read Before You Die, but the price difference (The Novel 100 was 6.99 on sale at Chapters and the 1001 book was 39.99) made the choice for me. I started the The Novel 100 list with zeal and have loved every step of the way, but everytime I set foot in Chapters I would wander over to the larger list and gaze longingly at it. Finally when my irewards card was just about to run out I caved and purchased the book. I LOVE it....I have spent hours flipping and reflipping through the list and looking up random pages to read the comments about the various books.

Not being one to give up what I started though I am still plugging away at the smaller list. I am currently on book 21 To The Lighthouse. It is interesting to note that almost all of the 100 books on my original list are also on the 1001 list so everytime I tick a book of one list I get to also tick the book off the second list. Really, what should have happened here is that I should be in school right now, writing essays and doing assignments in a degree program where I would be getting credits for what I am doing, but instead I am intellectually challenging myself with the gargantuan task of reading and reviewing book after book FOR FUN!!!! And what great fun it is!

So how is this going to work you ask?? Well, i am going to concurrently read books off of both list. I have a Goodreads group for the Novel 100 and I am trying to read 1 book a month of the original list so that if anyone in my novel group wants to read along they can try and keep up. Sadly however, I am a fast reader and can breeze through books much quicker than 1 a month. So while I slowly read books of the original list I will also read books of the second list.

Here is the list of books I have read so far on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die:

The Tale of Genji
Don Quixote
Tom Jones
Moby Dick
Bleak House
Madame Bovary
Great Expectations
Crime and Punishment
War and Peace
Anna Karenina
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Ambassadors
Of Human Bondage
The Magic Mountain
The Great Gatsby
Rememberance of Things Past
Absalom, Absalom
The Hobbit
The Catcher in the Rye
The Lord of the Rings
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Alias Grace
Life of Pi
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Notes from the Underground
Wuthering Height

Thats for a total of 31! Not even 10% of the list yet! Anyways, so when I enter these books in my blog I will try to make it very clear which list they are from but it may get confusing from here on out. Please feel free to comment on either set of reviews that I do and I will do my best to keep up with my blogs for both sets of books. If you are a reader yourself feel free to follow my progress as I read on