2016 Goals

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I can’t remember what first inspired it. It was either constantly being asked “ya, but how many books do you actually read?” or it was seeing the #readingchallenge all over Instagram. Either way, I’m a sucker for a good ol’ fashion competition even if I’m the only one participating (there is currently a Scrabble board in media res on my dining room table where I am playing myself (Self 2.0 is winning…) and so I set out in 2014 to read a book a week. It seemed like an attainable goal that would still require a decent amount of determination. I ended up reading 60 books that year (I often forget how many I can put away while on vacation) and in 2015 I simply challenged myself to surpass the number read in 2014. I barely squeaked by with a total of 61 books last year.

I had a baby girl in 2015 and if you look at my monthly tallies I can easily ascribe the number of books read to the stage of my pregnancy or whether the little one had arrived earth side yet. I read two books in all of January which was the month where I ate sushi, peed on a stick and then wished I hadn’t eaten the sushi. I read 12 books in April during the second trimester when it is said that most women experience a surge of energy used for nesting and general preparation for the baby (or, in my case, devouring any book I could get my hands on) and the month after she was born I only managed to read two books and really only because one was very good (The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah) and the other very short (Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf). When my daughter started sleeping longer stretches around 3 months I dusted off the ereader and easily read 9 books in one month (the ereader is, in my opinion, God’s gift to a breastfeeding woman).

It’s a new year now which calls for a new goal and I have tired of simply trying to read as many books as possible. Moreover, this baby girl of mine apparently needs to be entertained when she’s awake and children’s books don’t really count so a big chunk of my available reading time has disappeared thus forcing me to be a bit more choosy with my selections. There’s something a bit unsatisfying about the quantity over quality challenge anyway since it sometimes prompted me to abandon a book sooner than I normally would have in the interest of time and skip other books altogether because I couldn’t assume that every 700+ page book was going to be as good as Tartt’s The Goldfinch. It also doesn’t seem right that a Nora Roberts is weighted the same as a Joan Didion or a Joy Fielding as a Wilkie Collins.

So,  for 2016 I’m going to finally read some of those classics that have haunted me for years; the ones I’ve picked up at garage sales and used book stores, carted around with me from my childhood home to uni and which now sit proudly on the bookshelves in my own home. I always told myself I would read them “someday” and I think that day has finally come.

Dust Off the Ol’ Blog

It has been a very long time, years, since I last wrote. I wasn’t sure this day would ever come again, to be honest. Life got busy: work was good, family and friends were good, I had a baby! (!) and I started crocheting so I didn’t even feel a creative void! But… there’s always something that kind of pulls me back, something resting in the back of mind telling me that I should write. And if I’m too afraid to write the real stuff writing about books seems like the next best thing. So, I’m back. For now anyway. If anyone’s still listening..

A Clockwork Orange

I’ve long discussed the merits of reading over, say, movie-watching. Typically, my thesis is that the written word can be pulled and prodded in different directions and thus the imagination is not limited by such realities as the director’s vision, the actor’s abilities or the advancements in CGI. This could actually prove detrimental for certain reads but, luckily, I have also argued that in books the “scary parts” can more easily be muted or skipped over entirely – think Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.

What then, did I think of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange? I have never attempted to sit down and watch Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange – the various scenes that I have been privy to over the years were enough to ensure I wouldn’t. Gene Kelly’s iconic dance in the rain is forever ruined, the tony restaurant in Calgary named Model Milk conjures an image that is, I assume, completely unintended and a jock strap will never ever be just a jock strap. Thanks to Kubrick.

So, knowing all of this, why did I subject myself to the written version where I’ve already argued our imaginations are free to run wild, unchastened? Like Burgess’ protagonist Alex I guess I thought “evil has to exist along with good, in order that moral choice may operate.” I cannot know what I am objecting to if I don’t first subject myself to it.

And, in essence, this is what Burgess so masterfully writes about. The first hint of the power of his writing comes about 20 pages in when, after being so frustrated to start, the reader all of a sudden finds himself interpreting a slightly foreign language. Set sometime in the future, Burgess alters the dialect of English that Alex and his droogs speak: much like teens today, certain words are replaced by monikers known only to them. Initially, this is a challenge for the reader. While some substitutions are easy to comprehend – “this must be a real horrorshow film if you’re so keen on my viddying it” – others don’t follow so easily: “I lay all nagoy to the ceiling, my gulliver on my rookers on the pillow, glazzies closed, rot open in bliss, slooshying the sluice of lovely sounds.” But somewhere amidst the Rousseau-like message of Burgess, the ultra-violence, and the never-ending rape scenes the dialect becomes idiomatic.

The book is often touted (or banned) for being “a nightmare vision of a not-too-distant future” and while I would not encourage a 12 year old to read it, that very summary is the reason that rational, able-to-think-for-themselves adults need to read it: “Does God want goodness or the choice of goodness? Is a man who chooses to be bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?” Like the truly great reads that have persisted and will continue to persist for generations, A Clockwork Orange must not be read at face value. The shock should shake your grey matter, forcing underused neurons to fire, neurons questioning our actions our freedom of choice and our moral integrity.

As Alex would say, “What’s it going to be then, eh?”

~ kate

Post-Colombia Time Warp

I’ve been in some sort of time warp for the past six weeks. Ever since returning from Colombia it seems that life has thrown one unexpected curveball at me after the other. My coping mechanism, of course, has been to read voraciously. There was one week where I was too sick to even hold a book (thank you stress, recycled airplane air and sudden temperature changes) but otherwise I have been using my oldest friend for some serious escapism of late.

The eight or so books that I ended up taking with me to the country that is home to: a cosmopolitan city set high in the Andes, remote jungles of the Sierra Nevada,  mountain villages, deserted beaches and coca plantations turned out to be just the right amount. When it poured non-stop for our first two nights in Bogota, we acclimatized by pub-hopping in the student-filled Candelaria district, reading, and enjoying a good dose of Colombian Netflix (so much better than in Canada!). I tore through the first two books with me – Sarah Winman’s When God was a Rabbit and Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility – but loved them both too much to leave them behind. Instead I guiltily wrapped them back up in Safeway bags and re-deposited them  at the bottom of my back pack (okay, Andrew’s back pack). The night before we set out on a 5 day hike through a remote jungle, destined to visit the 1,200 year-old Ciudad Perdida, I weighed (quite literally) my choices: One book? Two books? No books? I settled on one and although the humidity, strenuous climbs and suspect drinking water kept me from making much headway I still found the worn pages of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being to be a great comfort nestled next to me while I dozed in the hammock every afternoon. And then, three weeks were gone and as though planned to the tee, I found myself finishing the last couple of pages of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms as our plane landed back in YYC; thereby concluding my vacation with exaggerated solemnity.

I won’t go into the rest of my reads from that time now as a number of them deserve their own post (A Clockwork Orange, chief among them!). For now I’ll leave you with some pictures from the once shunned South American gem that is Colombia.

Fishing boats Taganga

Fishing boats Taganga

Clouds over the Andes

Clouds over the Andes

Young Kogi girl

Young Kogi girl

Traditional Kogi village

Traditional Kogi village

Ciudad Perdida

Ciudad Perdida

Kogi family at camp

Kogi family at camp

The guards of the Ciudad

The guards of the Ciudad

Colombian Starbucks

Colombian Starbucks

Fishing boats Cartagena

Fishing boats Cartagena

Soccer on the beach. Downtown Cartagena in the background.

Soccer on the beach. Downtown Cartagena in the background.

On the nightstand: The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre

Oh the dilemma

If ever there was a time to adopt an e-reader, it’s now. My sister-in-law gave me hers last year, saying that with two kids under the age of 4, reading was so far down her list of priorities that she’d never use it.

The reason I could (should!) use one now is that my husband and I are packing for our trip to Colombia. We leave in mere hours and will be gone for nearly three weeks. So, the dilemma is – how many books to bring! Or, take only one electronic device (well, in addition to my iphone and ipad) that can store over a thousand books!

I laid out the potential contenders on the floor the other day and hovered over them in consternation. Organized in four rows of four I figured I should probably cut the number in half… I asked my husband which ones he thought I should bring. He quickly looked over my shoulder and said “Easy. These.” while sweeping his hand, arrogantly, across the middle two rows. ZERO. THOUGHT.

I mean, doesn’t he realize that my selection has to be chosen carefully? A lot of thought goes into the mix. There needs to be a certain percentage of: classics, of counter-culture, of current, of non-fiction and even varying lengths.

So, while not yet finalized (and not immune to airport-additions, my favorite kind!), my list of travel books includes title such as:

  • White Album by Joan Didion (non-fiction)
  • When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (current fiction)
  • A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway (classic)
  • Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (short!)
  • Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (dense counterculture)

In other news, I snapped off two books last week taking my 2013 tally to five: the Cook by Wayne Macauley and Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones.

On a jet plane..

~ kate

Can a Book Change Your Life

A couple of posts ago a dear follower recommended the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I haven’t read it yet but as soon as I read the synopsis I ran out and bought it for a friend who, in my humble opinion, was in need of some inspiration. Some proof that crazy things are possible, that the world is bigger than our imagination and that all we have to do is have an idea and be fearless enough to try.

There have been many such books in my life – books that made me think big, books that scared me, inspired me and shook the way I thought. I can’t possibly list them all but here are a couple that left a impact on me, one way or another:

  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali by Gil Courtemache
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Just Kids by Patti Smith
  • On the Road by Kerouac
  • the Wisdom of Whores by Elizabeth Pisani
  • Lit by Mary Karr
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

As luck would have it, a that blog I follow, coffee, light and sweet posted a link a little while ago to a list of Life Changing Books.

Anyone have any titles they should be added to that list?

Faithful followers of Ayn Rand need not apply… 😉

~ kate

The Great Gatsby

I am fairly fickle when it comes to books-that-are-made-into-movies. Generally speaking, I dislike them. I prefer the pictures and characters I create in my head to the ones orchestrated on the silver screen. However, as with any rule there are exceptions. I blogged about this very thing ad nauseam here.

The other night I went to see Ryan Gosling’s new movie (his presence being the sole reason I went) Gangster Squad and among the previews was Baz Luhrmann’s new movie the Great Gastby. This movie, starring the affable Leonard DiCaprio, was originally supposed to be an Xmas 2012 release in time for the Oscars but was delayed due to unexplained reasons and is now expected out in May of this year.

It’s a long time to wait but I must admit I am already excited! F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel set during the roaring twenties directed by the same man who directed two of my favorite movies starring an on-again-off-again heart throb  like Leo (when I see pictures of Leo in magazines in between films looking scruffy and rather portly I tend to fall out of love with him but this is all erased the minute he’s back on the big screen…) set to music by Jay-z and Kanye… could it get any better?? I ask you!

The release is still months away but the teaser below should help with the wait. Enjoy!