Archive for September, 2010

29th September
2010
written by Steph

Back in 2001, when I was in my final year of highschool, I had a relatively open schedule, where I had large periods of free time during the day. On such occasions, I would generally take over a portion of the library near the leisure reading section under the guise of doing my Latin or Algebra homework, but really looking for fiction to read and while away the hours instead. One of the books that always caught my eye but which I never managed to read more than the first 10 pages or so of was The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. So when TLC Tours offered me the chance to finally read and review this puppy, I was more than happy to oblige. Going into this book, I certainly knew of it, but really knew nothing substantial about it except that it took place in Africa. I’m not sure that I even entirely knew that it involved missionaries, but involve missionaries it does. The book kicks off in 1959 when the Price family, headed by Nathan Price, leave their comfortable if not overly happy life in Georgia to spend a year saving the souls in the name of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the deepest wilds of the Congo. The novel is divided into seven books, each one prefaced by the musings of Orleanna Price (Nathan’s wife) on their time in Africa, ruminations which softly foreshadow the action that will form the focus of each book. The books themselves are formed from what read like diary entries, each the voice of one of the Price daughters. Through these girls, we see the Prices struggle with culture shock and culture clash as they attempt to assimilate into their new home, struggling with physical, emotional, and social hardships in an environment in which few seem to thrive. We watch as time gradually shapes their attitudes as well as their notions of faith, family and injustice. Each of them is affected differently by their experiences in Kilanga, but nevertheless, each is irrevocably changed by Africa. (more…)
27th September
2010
written by Steph

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m not the biggest fan of the short story. I really prefer sustained narratives rather than tiny little bursts of story, and I often find it hard to shift gears from one story to the next. Also, I tend to find that there’s this trend with short stories where the stories just seem to end, often times abruptly, and I’m left wondering what the point of the whole exercise was. When I recently discussed Scarlett Thomas’s Our Tragic Universe, I mused about the notion of the “storyless story” and allowed that it’s something I don’t necessarily mind in my novels. However, I think that I’m anti storyless short stories! With this in mind, the Sherlock Holmes short stories are exactly the kind of story I would like. They’re mini mysteries, each with an obvious beginning, middle, and end, and they’re all sufficiently straightforward that I can just sit back, relax and enjoy. As much as I like giving my mind a workout when I’m reading, sometimes it’s nice to just romp about with a cocaine-addicted, sneering detective and have an adventure or two. (more…)
23rd September
2010
written by Steph

It hooked me all right...

Oh, Red Hook Road. I just can’t quit you. Ever since I heard about your publication, I have been wanting to read you… so it wouldn’t be entirely fair to say you’re a book that crept up on me, except that’s kind of exactly what you did. Your premise – a newlywed couple are killed in a car wreck on the way from their wedding to the reception and the way the fallout affects their respective families – was one that was so blindingly tragic that I was drawn to you like a moth to a flame. Surely this would be a book that would burn me, make me feel the deepest pangs of grief, and yet I could not pull away. I ran into your embrace wholeheartedly, prepared to have my heart bruised and beaten. (more…)
21st September
2010
written by Steph

Scarlett Thomas is an author who has intrigued me for a while. I’ve heard good things about her last novel, The End of Mr. Y, and my friend Trisha really enjoys her writing, so when I saw that NetGalley had copies of her newest novel, Our Tragic Universe up for review, I hastily requested a copy. I didn’t really know what to expect, but suspected I’d be in for a relatively cerebral but quirky read. I was right. Our Tragic Universe is a novel that’s incredibly difficult to summarize, because it is largely a novel that is filled with ideas, and one that frequently verges into metafictional territory. Loosely speaking, the novel centers around struggling writer, Meg Carpenter. After experiencing some nominal literary success during her early 20s, Meg has since been wrestling with writing a proper, serious novel. Unfortunately, Meg has been much more productive writing pulp fiction, formulaic novels under the name of Zeb Ross, a job that does little to address her creative ambitions but manages to pay the bills. Meg’s boyfriend has no income of his own (volunteering on heritage restoration sites), so in a bid to make ends meet, Meg also writes the occasional book review for newspapers. To this end, Meg picks up a copy of a self-help book called The Science of Living Forever, which claims we are all immortal and that the universe is just a creation meant to allow us to live every possible permutation of the hero’s journey before we finally ascend to a higher plane. Initially Meg dismisses the book as nonsense, but when she begins investigating other self-help books for a larger editorial piece, she finds some unexpected answers to questions she didn’t even realize she had… (more…)
19th September
2010
written by Steph

It's a scarf! And I made it!

If updates here at S&TI! have been less than fast and furious over the past week or so, I apologize but I've had a new obsession take center stage. After finishing Scarlett Thomas's Our Tragic Universe (review to come very soon), I was struck by the undeniable urge to knit (the link isn't as tenuous as it might seem, but I'll get into that more when I talk about the book proper)... something I haven't done in, oh, 15 years or so. What this meant is that I had to go out and ransack the local Michael's store to buy some supplies and also spend many hours on Youtube watching knitting tutorials, because I was damned if I could remember how to do anything other than pluck my wool from the middle of the ball rather than the outside. After many hours getting tangled up and making knots worthy of boy scouts but not necessarily helpful in terms of the art of knitting, I finally began to make steady progress on a basic K2P2 ribbed scarf design. I dedicated my first project to Tony, and because he has such a freakishly long torso, it meant it took me a while to reach the 68" desired for comfortable scarf length. At times this task became tedious as the pattern is anything but challenging (it looks impressive though, right?), but I'm so happy with the outcome! It doesn't look like those lumpy, shapeless messes I so often associate with home knitting. It's not perfect by any means, but for a first effort, I'm pretty ecstatic with it. Reading is my first love when it comes to hobbies, but I must say that it's awfully rewarding to create something with my own hands. Something other than meals, that is (since Tony is always reminding me that I'm plenty creative and productive in the kitchen)!

Tony wearing my first scarf!

Emmy Lou happens to think the scarf belongs to her...

Rory didn't much care to wear the scarf, but we forced him to take part in family scarf time...

I've already set to work on my next scarf - this time with a cable knit pattern, because I'm all about upping the ante and challenging myself. My goal is to eventually get to the stage where I can make some of the drool-worthy sweaters I've been seeing in Vogue Knitting, but until then I figure I might as well try to teach myself something new on every project, hence tackling cables on my next scarf. I completed 16 rows last night, and it's actually looking like, well, a cable-knit scarf!  Huzzah! If you're interested, you can follow my progress on this next endeavor (and get a sneak peak at it) on my Ravelry project page.
18th September
2010
written by Steph

A new obsession...

When it comes to marking my place in books, I'm all over the map. I've no problem with using a scrap piece of paper, leaving my book face down (spine damage be damned!), or even just making a mental note of the page number before heading on my merry way. I routinely pick up fistfuls of complimentary, paper bookmarks whenever I'm out at bookstores, but while I'm pretty good at keeping track of these while a book is in progress, once it's done, it's as though whatever bookmark I used must also disappear to mark the finish of the book. For this reason, I haven't made it a priority to collect beautiful bookmarks, as I've always assumed the pleasure of them would be fleeting.

It's a pun! Get it?

[Tony on the other hand is very fastidious with his bookmarks, which is why when we found this hilarious one in a used book, he got to keep it and use it as his own, because I would never forgive myself for losing such a gem.] My ambivalence towards bookmarks changed when at Christmas my friend Taryn gave me a whimsical set of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" bookmarks. Not only did I love their sturdy construction and quirky bent, I really enjoyed how they "clipped" onto pages (meaning I can attach them to a back cover when I'm reading so that they don't go wandering) and are rather conspicuous, so at the conclusion of  a book, they're easy to spot

En garde!

when set aside (rather than nestling down in the pages of the book only to be forgotten until some future read). These fun bookmarks are ones I really enjoy using, and the materials used are flexible and forgiving so that using them with hardcovers is a breeze and there's no fear of ripping or snagging the pages in a book. When I saw these bird bookmarks online at Our Workshop (a U.K. based store), I knew I had to have them. They were so pretty

Hello!

and delicate, and in case you haven't noticed from our header image, Tony and I have a bit of a fondness for avian depictions. So enamored was I that I happily ignored the intimidating £ signs next to the prices and placed an order for one gold and one silver bird bookmark. Despite their overseas excursion, I'm happy to report that these new additions to our collection made their way to us very speedily (just over a week!) and were actually not all that expensive ($20 for the two, including shipping).  They are even more beautiful in person than I imagined; pictures really can't do justice to how dainty and intricate they are, and we are truly delighted by them. I think these bookmarks shall have clipped wings as I'd hate to lose them, and will likely only use them for books I read at home as I can't bear the thought of slinging them haphazardly into a bag. Added bonus! The bird bookmarks came with the following hilarious warning placard:

Do most bookmarks come with warnings?

I fear this may be the start of a new book-related obsession for me. Any other bookmark aficionados out there? Which of the three showcased here is your favorite? Are there any bookmarks out there that you have been coveting?
15th September
2010
written by Steph

One of my favourite books that I read last year was Generation A by Douglas Coupland. From the very first pages I was hooked by the fluid, mellifluous prose, and I really loved the way Coupland explored the ways stories can unite people, while also looking at the way the barrage of technology can actually make us feel more isolated than ever before. I thought Generation A was clever but also emotionally sound, never sacrificing the heart of its narrative in order to show off. I was so excited by the book that I couldn’t help gushing about it to a friend who I knew to be a big Coupland fan. She said that my next read should definitely be Microserfs, as that was one of her very favourite books that he’s written. Microserfs takes the form of a diary written by a young debugger named Daniel who works at Microsoft. Initially his writing is meant to help him combat his insomnia and the odd dreams he’s been having, but it mostly winds up chronicling his daily life along with those of his friends/coworkers/housemates as they struggle through the quotidian slog of working at Microsoft much at the expense of any of them having successful/functional personal lives. That is until they are offered the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new startup company a former coworker has been working on out in California, and suddenly life gets a little more interesting… (more…)
13th September
2010
written by Steph

Moon Tiger won the 1987 Man Booker prize, and yet I feel like it’s a book that few people know about or think to read. That’s a real shame, because there’s a lot to like about this powerful and thoughtful novel. Provided you aren’t one who is put off by narratives that are largely reflective in nature and spend a good deal of time musing about society, history, the general nature of life (and one’s position in it), love, family, and evolution within one’s lifetime. It’s a novel of ideas and one I found very provocative and also rather mesmerizing… but those looking for lots of action and linear plot structures should certainly look elsewhere. Moon Tiger is a novel based around a dying woman’s recollections of her life. As Claudia Hampton lays dying in a hospital bed in London, she drifts in and out of consciousness and memory, dwelling on her past and how it has informed her present, determined to write a history of the world in which she is the central character. Having spent much of her life as a “popular historian” of sorts, this final endeavor is second-nature to Claudia, and as she attempts to frame the events of her own life, we are given a vivid peek into the life of a brash and determined woman as she struggles with the ever-shifting sands of the world. (more…)
9th September
2010
written by Steph

I think 2010 may be the year of eating my words. If you’ll recall, this is the year where I finally conquered Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and rather than despising it like I had in the past, I really got into the story and enjoyed it an awful lot this time round. Enter The Great Gatsby, a book most people read while in their teens, but not I! Despite it often being touted as the quintessential American novel, I’d never been able to get into it (and never been forced to while in highschool). Even with its slim size, I’d only made it about 40 pages in or so before giving up in exasperation. The last time I tried it, I put it down saying that either it was the wrong time for me to be reading it, or Fitzgerald just wasn’t the author for me (I found him too “adverby”, that is, I was disconcerted by his liberal use of adverbs). Well, I think we can now chalk this one up to timing, because this time when I picked up The Great Gatsby, I was mesmerized. And not at all bothered by the writing! Quite the opposite, in fact! In vain I searched for instances of overuse of adverbs or other modifiers, bogging down the prose like the heavy fringe on a flapper’s dress. Despite my anticipation of overly fussy writing, this time, no excess weight was in sight. It honestly felt like I was reading a completely different, totally enchanting novel. Except for the commas! Oh, the commas! Clearly Fitzgerald and I have somewhat incompatible views on how these little freckles of punctuation should be used, which sometimes meant I had to re-read certain sentences several times over and had to have my thinking cap on at all times, but who am I to argue with Fitzgerald’s stylistic proclivities? I’ve probably been using commas wrong all this time. (more…)
8th September
2010
written by Steph

Many moons ago, Jenny over at Shelf Love wrote a review of Jincy Willett’s The Writing Class that really intrigued me. I had heard of Willett before – heck we actually have another one of her novels AND a short story collection by her – but it was Jenny’s review that really got me excited to give Willett a shot. I mean, a novel that is both a satire AND a mystery novel all rolled up in one and focuses on the art (or lack thereof) of writing? What could be better than that? So in case you haven’t clicked over and read Jenny’s review already (which you absolutely should because it is brilliant), the idea behind The Writing Class is this: Amy Gallup is burned out author who peaked when she was young and precocious and who now makes her living by teaching continuing education writing classes at the local community college (as well stringing together mad-lib style author biographies that just barely count as writing). Through Amy, we meet new set of students at the start of her Fall course, and the narrative largely starts off focusing on the class and the various writing exercises (along with their results) that the students are asked to complete as they hone their craft. We also dip into Amy’s life outside of the class, gradually gaining insight into her rather limited and hollow existence, and we see how the class slowly starts to merge into a family unit, enriching not only each other’s writing but also each other’s lives. Unfortunately, a disgruntled and mysterious misfit in the group soon makes his/her presence known, attempting to disrupt and damage the group dynamic and growing bonds. What starts off as poison pen letters eventually spiral into increasingly sinister pranks that place lives at stake… (more…)
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