WRAP UP OF 2015 — AND ON TO 2016

It has been some time since my last posting but I resolve (’tis the season, right?) to get back into the swing of things! This means my list of books has been made and will automatically change with next NY Times book review.  But until my next review, please enjoy the following:

 

BOOKS I COULD NOT (EVER) GET THROUGH – 2015

 

Sometimes I have to walk away from what was initially a promising read. Such was the case this year with a few books. You may feel differently, but here are the three that failed to spark for me.

Carsick – John Waters

Stories of hitchhiking from NY to San Francisco.    I thought they would be real stories. And if these ARE real stories, then I am worried. Perhaps the second half of the book was good, but no way in hell I am staying to find out.

 

Twinkie, Deconstructed –  Stever Ettlinger

I respect you Steve, for all the work you did on this book. I learn that there is no cream in ‘crème’. And that I cannot pronounce a single ingredient in a Twinkie. Crisco was named using a P&G employee contest – an acronym derived from CRYStalized Cottonseed Oil. So thanks for that. But I would recommend this book for every kitchen shelf as a go-to book to browse while waiting for the pizza pocket to heat in the microwave.

 

The Mountain – My Time on Everest – Ed Viesturs (with David Roberts)

I would never set foot on anything higher than my local ski hill but have a fascination for all things Everest. Ed Viesturs has climbed all 14 of the world’s 8,000 metre mountains. This should be a book I can’t not put down. I put it down. I think I need more visuals when someone describes mountain passes. A snapshot, or perhaps a linear drawing sported on a cocktail napkin would suffice. Anything really. My imagination is just not good enough.

 

 


UNFLINCHING – THE MAKING OF A CANADIAN SNIPER by JODY MITIC

Reading Girl has reached the end of 2015 – and the last book review for the year is written by Canadian soldier Jody Mitic who aspired to join the military and specifically to become a sniper.  He writes frankly about his training and time serving Canada. His duties take him to Afghanistan and while on patrol he steps on a land mine suffering the loss of his legunflinching-9781476795102_lgs below the knees.  He details his painful road to recovery and the results of this life-altering event.   I classify this as an ‘easier’ read, but an important one.  While always pleased to see a turnout on Remembrance Day, I think the men and women of our military need to be put 143482137323574on a pedestal 365 days a year.   Mitic helps shine a spotlight on the issue.  This book also serves as a gateway to other personal stories such as Outside the Wire by Kevin Patterson or Fifteen Days by Christie Blatchford.  So buy two copies of Mitic’s book – one for you and one for a stocking stuffer.  And while you may think this is a downer of a last review, it really isn’t.  We are celebrating our heroes.  And that is what the season is all about – to me, at least.  Merry Christmas to all.

2015   Simon & Schuster   238 pages


MALLED by CAITLIN KELLY

Where to begin.   Christmas is coming, and if I could I would buy Ms. Kelly a damn shepherd’s hook.  I cannot quite figure out if this freelance writer took a retail job at The North Face to write this book or because (as she assures us) she really needed the money.  When, after a year, she is working just one afternoon a week, I have to think it was for the book.  And while parts were interesting, structurally it could do with one last edit9781591845430_p0_v1_s192x300.

It is repetitive – shelves are too high, management doesn’t acknowledge the workers , there are not enough shepherd’s hooks to reach stock.  She often reminds us of her many accomplishments in life (speaks three languages, has lived in Europe) and yet she is treated as if she is an idiot by the general public when she is behind a cash register.  Repeat.  Bad shelving in the stockroom. I’m no idiot, I have travelled through 37 countries and met the Queen! PLEASE acknowledge the staff, and we need a third hook!    She reminds us twice that she bought a 200.00 blouse (using her credit card, everyone!) that she could, in theory, ill-afford (p.s. – her family is loaded).

I truly believe the retail workers of the world do a thankless job and could really use someone to tell their story, but this isn’t quite it.  I had trouble sympathizing with her plight and ended up feeling she didn’t really represent the masses. Sorry Caitlin, but I am just not buying into this (re)tale of woe.

2011 Penguin  223 pages


TEACHING: IT’S HARDER THAN IT LOOKS by GERRY DEE

Because teachers threatening job action was usurping headlines recently, I thought I would take a walk on the wild side (if not the potential picket line) and try to look at this thing from the perspective of a teacher. Well, a previous teacher.  Gerry Dee is a Canadian comedian and actual former Phys. Ed. teacher who wrote aboutteaching-by-gerry-dee-cover-image life at the front of the classroom.  He taught for 10 years in and around the Toronto school system and apparently was pretty good at the gig.  And he assures us that teachers are, technically, human.  They have students they like, those they dislike, good days, bad days and they WILL get back at you som143482137323574ehow if you swear at them.  High school students take note: this should be mandatory reading – get the inside scoop on the psyche of YOUR teachers.  Arm yourselves! The book is fast, funny and insightful.

With their annual 11 weeks of vacation time, I will never, ever feel sorry for a teacher, but I enjoyed the (hilarious) lessons about their special kind of suffering.

I give Gerry Dee 3.2 sticks of chalk out of 4.7.  You do the math.

2012 Doubleday 268 pages


ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by ANTHONY DOEER

So.  Imagine your sister hands you a book and insists it as an absolutely must-read.

You agimagesCASGMURGree to add it to your list simply because she is older and therefore, supposedly, wiser.  But after the first four pages you lose a little focus and consider putting it down.  Well, if it is All the Light We Cannot See, I highly recommend you continue – by page 5 you’ll be hooked.

Marie-Laure is a blind French girl who relies on her father for both her needs, education, and eventually, her independence.   Werner lives in a German orphanage with his younger sister.    He is naturally inquisitive and becomes sought after for his knowledge of radios; a gift that works both to his detriment and as his salvation.   Their stories eventually intersect within the context of World War II in the French town of Saint-Malo.

In 2014 this was ranked one of the top ten books by the New York Times. It was a National Book Award Finalist.  And it won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

I give this book both high praise and an even higher recommendation.  Guaranteed you will be so engrossed you will miss your subway stop.  Several times.   And though we disagree on one chapter of the book,  it turns out the wise(r) sister was right.

2014  Scribner  530 pages


One More Sleep!

Just ONE more sleep before a review of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel!


FIRE AND ASHES by MICHAEL IGNATIEFF

ignatieff

Goodbye summer reading and hello to the books I found under a pile of leaves.  It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada which can only mean two things.  Turkey and politics.  Election season is upon us, and with that in mind, t143482137323574ake a moment to be thankful we live in a country where we can elect just about anyone to lead us.

Anyone.

What a privilege.

But before you vote, let’s learn from Michael Ignatieff and his cautionary tale.  Fun, right?  This book was chosen simply because I wanted to see what went wrong with that 2011 election from Ignatieff’s viewpoint.   Like you, I thought of him as a ‘more American than Canadian’ candidate simply because we were told he had spent time teaching at Harvard.  Ah, the power of the negative advertising campaign.

In reading Fire and Ashes I was surprised to learn both how deep his Canadian roots reach and how expansive  his views are regarding Canadian and international politics.  I am also constantly amazed at just how powerful advertising can be.  I recall the PC commercials emphasizing that Ignatieff had been “away from Canada for 30 years”. We were pounded with this message. You could hear people repeating the line back as if it was new-found knowledge and they were educating us on the ‘real’ Ignatieff.     Well, our esteemed astronaut Chris Hadfield was away from Canada for 26 years, yet I have little doubt he could win if he were to run for office.  Fire and Ashes provided an interesting perspective from the campaign trail. After reading this book I realized that I need to up my voting game.   Campaigns are ruthless affairs and it is up to us to cut through the rhetoric.   I think Ignatieff was kind enough to “dumb it down” for the average reader (me), but on occasion he drifts into a writing style which is better suited for his Harvard colleagues.  And while I still may not have voted for him, it made me question my political perspective.

So let this be a lesson.  Before you make that ‘x’ ask yourself if the choice is the best candidate for the job or did the ad agency make the decision.  Now off with you.  Indulge in that extra slice of pumpkin pie then go do your political homework.

2013   Random House    183 pages


DIARY OF A MAD DIVA by Joan Rivers

This is the last book published by Joan Rivers.  It is written in the form of a year-long diary.

I18693683 loved Joan Rivers.  I was one of Joan’s Rangers, and if you are familiar with that reference, you are a true fan as well.  And while I may be Reader Girl,  I highly recommend you watch her documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.  Riveting. Joan died a year ago this month so this is my way of paying homage.   The opening page was hilarious.  As was the last page.  The middle was amusing despite the repetition of the some material.   But there was one entry that made me shudder;   when we reach the April 10 ‘entry’ she writes about being in ‘need of a good, tragic celebrity death… and to make it really work for me, it has to be unexpected’.

Eerie.

 

2014    Penguin Books     290 pages


LET’S PRETEND THIS NEVER HAPPENED by Jenny lawson

“… my father, who must’ve accidentally spilled a bobcat on him “

lets “ I was belting out Bonnie Tyler and crying while swinging around a machete over a partially disturbed grave.”

“ screaming pumas are my new soundtrack”

The five-foot metal chicken.

“Half of a squirrel arrived in the mail today”

Quirky is my favourite genre.  And this book has it, in spades.

Let’s Pretend has been on my radar for some time, having long admired the cover, but I was not familiar with the author.  I should have picked it up sooner.

I need to be Jenny’s best friend.  Stuff happens to this woman.  Good.  Bad.  Either way, it begets a story and I want a front row seat to her life.  This memoir is a great start.  I laughed out loud while riding the subway the benefits of which are twofold; I am highly entertained plus I get more room when fellow passengers move away warily.   This will no doubt be my favourite funny read of the year.

But be forewarned. Jenny Lawson is a close personal friend of the F-word.  And she uses it both artfully and with abandon. This is NOT a book for your mom’s book club.   But for me?  It hit all the marks and I am actually rating it an extremely rare –

4.97 stuffed squirrels out of 5.  (lose .03 marks simply because the book ended)

2012   Penguin Books  319 sorrowfully short pages.


THE MOCKING BIRD NEXT DOOR. LIFE WITH HARPER LEE by Marja Mills

mockingbirdHarper Lee sits only peripherally in my mind. I last read her classic To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, but was always more fascinated by the reclusive author herself. With the recent release of the very controversial and supposed prequel, Go Set a Watchman, reading Mills’ book was perfectly timed. Marja Mills, a Chicago Tribune reporter, was in the right place at the right time a few years ago when the story she (and a number of reporters before her) was hoping to cover morphed slowly into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.   We get a look behind the curtain into the life of one of literature’s most unprolific writers. Lee famously shunned the spotlight, the limelight and indeed any light anyone deemed to aim her way. But her life with her sister Alice in Monroeville, Alabama was both filled and led to her liking. Mills rented the house next door (with permission!) and we get a glimpse into Lee’s guarded life in a little town where the population both exalts and protects her privacy. Mills did an excellent job painting the portrait of a woman who is enjoying her life on her own terms.  Thanks Marja, and thank you to Harper Lee for allowing this book.

2014  Penguin  273 pages