My November Reads

                                        

The leaves are falling, and my neighborhood raccoons are feasting. Because of the cold, late spring, we didn’t get many apples or pears this year, and the fig tree outside our bedroom window set fruit late. So late, in fact, that most of the fruit didn’t mature. It’s no good to us, but the raccoons love it. They show up to the feast at about 2 am, activating our motion sensor light and waking us up. It didn’t take them long to strip the tree, but that didn’t seem to matter. Our yard is now a preferred stop on their middle-of-the-night rambles. We’re contemplating disconnecting our motion sensor light. In the meantime, there’s always a book beside the bed if we’re woken up. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

We Are the Light by Matthew Quick

Grow Now by Emily Murphy

The Sugar Thief by Nancy Mauro

Books read to date in 2022: 74

But Is It . . .

                                               

. . . good?  

That’s the question all creatives ask themselves at one time or another. Whether we’re writing a book, painting a canvas, or creating a song, a sculpture, or even a garden, at some point, we all stop to wonder – is it good?

Readers want to know that too. Lately, I’ve been working a few days a week in the local bookstore in our little village. It’s been an interesting opportunity to learn about publishing from the book-selling side of the aisle. And something that happens regularly is customers come in and ask, ‘is this book good?’

It’s a challenging question to answer because good is difficult – I’d argue nearly impossible – to define. Must a book be an award winner to be deemed good? Must it be literary (whatever that means)? Does a likeable (or unlikeable) character make a book ‘good?’ Should a good book have lyrical prose or spare writing? Be a certain length? Have a linear plot line or one that’s more innovative? Does a good book deal with weighty subjects or sweep you away in a froth of escapism? Should it have a happy ending . . . an ambiguous ending . . . or an ending that makes you think?

Good, I’d argue, is subjective. For instance, I don’t like to eat anything custard-related, so no matter how well-prepared, I’d never find a crème Brule or a Spanish flan ‘good.’ One of my friends strongly dislikes yellow, so any garden with a lot of yellow isn’t good for her. Art – books – are different, you say? I don’t think so. Good, by definition, is open to individual taste, and even that can vary depending on timing and circumstances.

As an example, I always enjoy books by Lianne Moriarty. Yet a few years ago, when my dad was hospitalized, and I was dealing with multiple weighty issues around that, I had to put her novel Nine Perfect Strangers down. It’s a thriller with ten points of view, and it’s dark. I didn’t have the concentration to follow ten characters and a good read for me then was something more uplifting. Conversely, I’m not usually a fan of gothic or vampire novels, nor do I like New Orleans as a setting (I don’t know why), but years ago, I ripped through Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles series and loved it. I don’t know if the novels would hold up for me today, but back then, I called them a good read.  

One of the definitions of good, as stated by The Cambridge Dictionary, is ‘being of a kind that is pleasing or enjoyable.’ For me, as a writer, that means being satisfied or pleased with what I produce and knowing it’s the best I can do at that moment. For me, as a reader, it means immersing myself in a story or narrative that enriches my life in some way, regardless of the techniques it uses to do that.

Good, in the end, is a feeling that’s hard to measure or define. But feeling is the keyword there. And in the words of Paul Sweeney, “You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you’ve said goodbye to a friend.” 

I Read Canadian

 Tomorrow, Wednesday, November 2nd, is I Read Canadian Day. This national day is geared toward raising awareness and celebrating the richness, diversity and breadth of Canadian literature. Though the day is heavily geared toward celebrating Canadian books for young people, all Canadians are challenged to ‘Read Canadian’ for 15 minutes and to share their experience at their library, in their schools, at home with their families, or on social media. Leading by example is a great way to get young people to read. So here are a few titles for adult book lovers written by Canadian authors.

The Maid by Nita Prose

The Vanished Days by Susanna Kearsley

The Lost Kings by Tyrell Johnson

A Season on Vancouver Island by Bill Arnott

Fayne by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall

Mindful of Murder by Susan Juby

The Witches of Moonshyne Manor by Bianca Marais

Happy reading!

My October Reads

We’ve had an unusually warm fall here on the west coast and a dry one too. My hometown of Victoria, a few hours south of us, has experienced the driest 90-day period since records began in 1898. While most of us have loved the endless summer weather (some have taken to calling it Augtober), virtually everyone also recognizes that rain is badly needed. Water levels are so low that salmon have had trouble spawning in some areas, and western red cedars and Douglas firs are also stressed. Thankfully, rain is forecast for Friday. I’m looking forward to it, not only for the environmental relief it will provide but for the opportunity to get out of the garden and into my reading corner. So here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan

The Last Good Funeral of the Year by Ed O’Loughlin

Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan

Books read to date in 2022: 67

An Ode to October

 I am, for the most part, a spring and summer person. The gardener in me craves sunshine and warmth. That said, fall and winter are restful and rejuvenating, and with more time to read and cocoon, I appreciate them for different reasons. And I especially love October. The beauty of the changing leaves against a brilliant blue sky . . . the crisp fall air . . . the chance to pull out those cozy sweaters that have been tucked away . . . and pumpkins! Lots and lots of pumpkins (though I’ll pass on the pumpkin-flavoured lattes, thank you very much).

October is also a significant month from a literary point of view. Oscar Wilde was born this month, and so were Eugene O’Neill, Dylan Thomas, Anne Tyler, and Zadie Smith.  Frank Herbert and R.L. Stine. Nora Roberts, Michael Lewis, and Wally Lamb.  Doris Lessing and Ursula K. Le Guin.  Emma Donoghue. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Many bestselling literary characters came to life in October too. On October 2nd, 1950, Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts crew first appeared, thanks to creator Charles M. Schulz. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne made its debut in October, as did Paddington Bear by Michael Bond. Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was published in October, and so was Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway.  More recent October releases include The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult and The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles.

October definitely has a long-standing literary leaning. No wonder it’s an excellent month to pull up a chair, light the fire and open a good book.

September is Literacy Month!

The theme for this year’s Literacy Month is ‘Literacy Connects Us.’ If you think about it, literacy connects us in a myriad of ways. It connects us to health by helping us find, understand, and use health information. It connects us to employment, giving us more job opportunities and greater money-making ability. It connects us to civic engagement and that, in turn, promotes options for volunteering and encourages us to get out and vote. It helps us understand what to do in legal situations, in the digital world, and it connects us to other people. Imagine not having the ability to read a newspaper, to write or read a letter, to share details with your friends about the latest book you read.

In the big picture, literacy is fundamental to reducing poverty, building life skills, and achieving gender equality. Though world-wide literacy rates continue to improve, there are still over 700 million adults and young people who cannot read. In BC, that number is over 700,000. The Decoda Literacy Foundation is working to change that. Their work is ongoing, but this month in particular, they have a number of initiatives to boost awareness of literacy issues.  For more information on the organization and the important work they do, go here: https://decoda.ca/about-us/decoda-literacy-foundation/

If you know someone who is struggling with literacy or you need to access a literacy program in a specific area of B.C., this site might be helpful: https://decoda.ca/program-map/

What can you do on a personal level to promote literacy? Read to your children. If you don’t have children, give books as gifts to the children (and the adults!) in your life. Start a neighborhood free library or donate books to one. Set up a book basket or book exchange at work. Volunteer with your local literacy program.   https://decoda.ca/get-involved/   Support your local library as best you can. Finally, make reading a priority for yourself. Talk to others about what you’ve read. Share the love . . . and share the joy of the written word.

My September Reads

Fall is always a busy time in the publishing world. A fall book release is coveted by authors since it coincides with the busy holiday book-buying season. And publishers always consider fall when releasing noteworthy titles. Not to suggest that other release seasons are poor – they aren’t! – but fall finds those of us who live in the northern hemisphere at least cozying up with our books. Here’s a Publisher’s Weekly article on what books to look for this fall. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/new-titles/adult-announcements/article/89655-adult-books-for-fall-2022.html   And here’s what I’m reading this month:

The Maid by Nita Prose

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Alone in the Great Unknown by Caroll Simpson

Books read to date in 2022: 58

My July Reads

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I wrote about suffering through a cold, wet spring. But with summer well and truly here, it seems the weather is making up for lost time. It’s hot and expected to get hotter later this week. Our little town has announced the opening of a cooling centre at town hall where people can go during the next week to escape the rising temperatures. And I was happy to see them recommend a few other options, too, including the local libraries where people can linger, enjoy the cooler air, and read! Here’s what I’m reading this month:

The Last of the Moon Girls by Barbara Davis

The Inside Story by Susan Sands

Soul Friends by Stephen Cope

Books read to date in 2022: 43

My June Reads

Summer arrived in time for the solstice on June 21st. That made everyone, plants included, happy! Finally, there’s warmth in the sun (finally, there is sun). So last weekend, beach umbrellas were pulled out, wading pools were filled, and bike tires were pumped.

We cycled the Big Qualicum Fish Hatchery trail last Sunday, a first for us on that particular route. We went early in the morning before the heat got too extreme, and it was glorious. Not too strenuous, great peekaboo views of the river and virtually deserted for twelve kilometres. Other than a few nerve-wracking signs of wild (heavy emphasis on wild) life, but I’ll leave that for another blog. Let’s just say I was happy to get home in one piece and relax with a book. And here’s what I’m reading this month.

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott

Colour in Your Garden by Penelope Hobhouse

The Soulmate Equation by Lauren Oliver

Books read to date in 2022: 36

My May Reads

May is as busy as I suspected it would be. Everyone is grumbling about the weather. It’s been cooler and wetter than normal for this time of year; records have been broken. On the upside, the flowering dogwoods have been in bloom for much longer than usual, and the flowers on the rhodos and azaleas are slow to show and lasting longer than they usually do too. But the squash and cucumber I seeded have been lost to bad weather, and the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants are still languishing in the greenhouse, waiting for the temperatures to climb. It sounds like perfect reading weather. However, if I’m not writing, I’m outside dodging raindrops and working in the garden. My reward at the end of the day is a good book. And here’s what I’m reading this month:

Eyes Like a Hawk by Lea Tassie

Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Books read to date in 2022: 30