D’s Loquacious End-of-Year Reads for 2010

Hey everybody! Hope your Christmas was excellent and that you’re enjoying the remainder of your holidays.

Apologies for the severe lack of posting. It’s been due to a lack of motivation, I’m afraid. I meant to post this back in October (or was it late September?), but, well … you know.

So to rectify this injustice, here are a couple of novels – both recent AND not-so-recent – that I managed to complete in recent months.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

I did not read this in high school. Or university. This is my first time reading this book from cover to cover, without giving up after several pages and returning it to the library.

Yes, I am of sound mind (to thoseof you who can’t figure out why I’m reading this). I’m probably the last person over the age of 30 to touch this book.

So, what have I gleaned?

One: Rich people are vain, selfish, mean, possibly alcoholics, and yes, they CAN kill you.

Two: Jay Gatsby? Arrrgh. I hate him. That is all.

Three: Even after completing this book, I still don’t like it, despite the fact that it’s a “great American classic” or whatever the cliche is.

Perhaps I am too uncouth or not well-read enough to appreciate it. In which case, those of you who love this book, please use your strongest argument to convince me otherwise. ‘Cause I’m not a fan.

The Cry of the Dove, Fadia Faqir

A warning in advance: this book is so sad. But it’s good.

The Cry of the Dove tells the tale of Salma, who in her former life is a shepherdess from a family in a tiny Bedouin village. She ends up pregnant out of wedlock, which violates tribal law and causes upheaval in the village.

 To restore honour, the villagers set out to kill her, but for her own protection, Salma is thrown in prison. She gives birth to her child, who is ripped out of her arms shortly after, and spends many years in prison. She’s later smuggled out and whisked away to England to start a new life.

But even that isn’t easy, as she tries to navigate this new way of life – the culture, the customs, and the racism. Amidst all this, she’s continuously haunted by thoughts of her brother coming to kill her … and by the cries of her lost child. And even though Salma finally starts to get her life on track and truly start to enjoy the freedom she has, she never stops hearing those cries.

While the “time-shifting” narrative is often my favourite, I did find a bit difficult to follow the story in a couple of places. Nonetheless, you could sense the frustration and melancholy in Salma’s story. Despite everything that happens to her, you just want her to succeed, move forward and grow stronger. This book may not be for everyone, but I liked it and it’s one I’d recommend.

And that’s it for me for this year. Hopefully I’ll be able to tackle more – and even better books in 2011. ‘Ta for now!

D’s Loquacious Heat-of-Summer Reads

Yes, I know, it’s been a while.

But when I haven’t been busy doing what I have to do (which has unfortunately meant an enormous dearth of blogging on my part), I’ve been trying to keep my mind active – and occupied – with the following books.

I’ve been making an effort to mix it up by reading more non-fiction books, rather than just novels. And it’s been an interesting exercise so far.

Every Light in the House Burnin’, Andrea Levy

Levy’s first novel, set in 1960s England, chronicles the Jacobs family, as they tackle living in a cramped council estate home, struggling with the racism that’s rife around them, and – for the children – coming of age as British-born youth under Jamaican parentage.

Angela, the baby of the family, acts as narrator in the novel. The storyline is well-done in the sense that, while it starts out as fairly linear, it does move back and forth, depicting the collision between Angela’s childhood memories and her current life – 20 years later – as she tries navigating a harsh health care system to help her dying father.

Reading the book, I  felt the awkwardness of the little girl trying to grow up in a world where her family still isn’t fully accepted. But I found the battle that adult Angela has to fight even more heartbreaking, especially towards the end.

Having grown up in Canada in the 1980s and 1990s, I’ve largely been spared from what Angela and her siblings endured. But I do have an understanding, from the stories my mother would tell me of her time as a student nurse in the U.K., what they had to do to make it through.

Every Light might seem heavy, from what I’ve just described. But it’s a fairly read – one I’d suggest over a weekend.

Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stimgatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.

Big disclaimer: Icame across this book COMPLETELY by accident.

I read a Globe and Mail article several weeks ago about people who are just too busy with their careers and lives in general for relationships and sex. DePaulo was quoted in the article, and once I read what she had to say – as well as the title of her book – I had to read this for myself.

DePaulo, a psychologist whose area of study happens to deal with singletons, uses studies, anecdotes and even stories about celebrities to address the various myths and perceptions laid out by a society which favours the ideal of a nuclear family above all other types – and to shed a little light on the reality of things.

And it’s not just those never-married folks she refers to. She addresses those who are single due to divorce, and even single parents, who seem to bear the brunt of society’s judgement.

Her message: Believe it or not, there are single people out there who are perfectly normal, well-adjusted, and not biding time until Mr or Mrs Right come along. They’re happy and doing just fine, thank you very much.

As someone who has never been married, while my friends, for the most part, haven’t been the types of friends described in DePaulo’s book, I can relate to the occasional feeling from time to time as if I’m a kid who’s gotten the privilege of sitting at the grown-ups’ table. So while the book can be a little dry in places, I completely appreciate the reinforcement that, hey, there’s nothing wrong with being single and happy with it.

I have nothing against married people or couples with families, but as a single person, the following quote was the one that has stuck with me since: “Married people are on training wheels. Singles are riding the bikes for grown-ups.”

Whale Music, Paul Quarrington

I sadly admit, I knew nothing about the late Mr Quarrington until his death back in January from cancer. But I do remember hearing about the movie adapted from the book. So when I was tooling around the Toronto Library Web site, I decided to give his 1989 novel a go.

Desmond Howl is an obscenely rich, drug-addled, often-naked, alcoholic crazy former rock ‘n’ roll genius who has been living a secluded existence for years, tinkering away at his magnum opus – the book’s title – when he’s not in and out of consciousness.

That is, until one day, 20-year-old Claire appears – seemingly out of nowhere – into his life. And what happens after that forces Des to consider the fate of the Whale Music … and of the ramshackle state of his own life.

The novel also chronicles Des’ dysfunctional family and life on the road with his younger brother as their band breaks into the business and tries to make it big in the 1960s and 1970s. It also sheds a bit of light as to why Des is the way he is.

I found Whale Music tobe funny in places and a surprisingly fast read. However, I wasn’t completely in love with it. I might give Quarrington another try on another occasion – maybe I’ll tackle King Leary before I arrive at my own personal verdict.

Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House, Meghan Daum

This is hard to admit out loud, but over the past several months, I probably become a tad more obsessive when it comes to real estate – visiting the MLS Web page, looking through the weekend classifieds, whatever. Then I heard about Meghan Daum and her new book, just released this spring.

The writer and Los Angeles Times columnist takes readers into her inner psyche when it comes to the world of real estate. She starts with her childhood, during which her parents made multiple moves through several states until she was almost nine years old, and introduces us to her parents’ (more so her mother’s) near-obsession for finding the perfect home. These early memories seem to be the basis – and explanation – for Daum’s own decisions to move constantly … first through dorm rooms, then apartments … and then her own obsession with finding the home of her dreams, to the detriment of other aspects of her life.

But while using her life’s experiences as an example, Daum also tries to explain in Life Would Be Perfect what the difference between “house” and “home” really is, and through several turns of events in her life, comes to realize – and express to those of us reading her book – what’s truly important.

I loved Daum’s writing style – although in a different situation, I could relate to her. It also had me thinking about my own mini-mania when it comes to the adulthood ritual of house-hunting. This, combined with her sharp humour, definitely makes for a good read … whether you’re in an obsessive hunt for real estate or not.

And with that, consider another reading post done.

I can’t guarantee when the next time I’ll post will be. Plus, it’s summer. Would YOU stay indoors sitting in front of a computer with all that good weather outside?

Talk to you soon!

D’s Loquacious Late Spring Reads, 2010 Edition

Hey, kiddies. It’s been a while.

Can’t believe it’s June already! Hopefully this hot, new month will spawn some creativity that was lacking in May.

In the meantime, here are some my most recent reads:

Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

I’d heard good things about this memoir by Azar Nafisi, in which she recollects her life as a young university English professor during the Revolution in Iran.

The book certainly opened my eyes – at least, to the way she saw the events unfold around her. I liked how she paired the works by her favourite authors with anecdotes from the rapidly changing world around her – a life in which the very love for her livelihood and for English literature was threatened. I learned how it was her love of books that kept her sane.

Come to think of it, this book reinforces for me – as a lifelong reader – how astounding the power of words can be,  how books play such a huge role in regimes and periods of oppression … and how the written word seems like a threat to those who try to control.

In any case, I encourage you to give this a try, if you haven’t already.

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga

I didn’t actually plan on reading this one anytime soon, especially so soon after reading Midnight’s Children, which took me a dog’s age to finish. And after feeling disappointed, the last thing I wanted was another long, winding yarn.

But I took a chance after an impr0mptu visit to the library … and I’m so glad I did YES! THIS is what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

The White Tiger takes on the form of a very long letter to the Chinese president, from a self-made entrepreneur in Bangalore. But it’s not too long before we learn the secrets of the protagonist’s so-called success.

The book is dark, with punches of humour to match. And life portrayed in the book is rough and tough from start to finish. Is it realistic? I can only place my trust in the author that it is, to some degree.

That aside, once I started reading, I made fairly quick work of devouring The White Tiger. I highly recommend it.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

I was drawn to this book, not by anything I’d read – because I hadn’t – but simply by the cover. Who was Oscar Wao? What made his life so brief?

It literally was months before I got my grubby hands on Oscar Wao. And all I can say is, well, wow

If you like books written from a nerd’s perspective, in a sci-fi/fanboy style, complete with footnotes about Dominican history and generous helpings of Spanglish, this might be a book for you.

Oscar Wao is a thick chronicle of the de Leons,  dyfunctional Dominican-Americans with a rough family past. But a huge portion of the book is, obviously, dedicated to the title character – an obese young man with both a desire to make it as a fantasy writer … and no game whatsoever, when it comes to the opposite sex. The novel isn’t narrated by Oscar, but mostly by Yunior, a family “friend”, and some narration from other family members who give scarred flesh and bone to the family’s backstory.

Some people may not like the footnotes at the bottom of a number of the pages. But I actually found them helpful and loved the sharp style in which they were written. 

But, still. Consider giving this book a try before either putting the book down or ploughing right through it. And I hope that if you do, that you’ll end up doing the latter.

The Peep Diaries: How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors, Hal Niedzviecki

It’s perhaps coincidental – or uncannily relevant – that I’d just happened to complete my read of The Peep Diaries last week, amidst all this talk about Quit Facebook Day to protest the site’s new rules on privacy settings and whatnot. 

In his tome, Niedzviecki explores the realm of Peep culture – think of it as The New Voyeurism in the age of Facebook, Twitter and reality TV, amongst other things.

Through his conversations with YouTubers, bloggers, reality TV show participants, and even performing his own experiments, Niedzviecki tries to wrap his head around why people are obsessed with seeing, as well as being seen by, others. He ponders the different ways in which people watch others, whether it’s relevant, and and whether sometimes it simply crosses the line when it comes to issues of privacy … if lines can still be drawn.

Everyone’s got their own perspective on the matter, so that might colour what you think of the subject matter in Niedzviecki’s book. But if you’re like me – or the millions of other people spending hours online – it’s a good attempt at making you take a step back and soberly think about the times we live in.

Sorry this took so long to put out. I blame an enormous lack of motivation, paired with procrastination. But until I blog again, enjoy!

D’s Loquacious Long Winter Reads

I’ve been meaning to write this and have kept putting it off for various reasons. But better late than never, I say.

Here’s my latest list of books I’ve read over the past few months …

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, Immaculee Ilibagiza

The book chronicles the author’s harrowing experience as a young Tutsi woman trying to survive Rwanda’s bloody 1994 genocide – hiding in a tiny bathroom with seven other women for three months – as well as her miraculous escape to freedom, unscathed.

I want to describe this book as simultaneously horrifying and astounding. But I’m not even sure those words do it justice.

Obviously the underlying story is how Ilibagiza found God during her time in that tiny bathroom, and how that she was going survive that hell on earth. But it doesn’t even matter whether you hold religious beliefs or not. To read how Immaculee managed to survive – physically, mentally and spiritually – for so long while sheer horror took place outside that bathroom window – is perhaps reason enough to tackle this book. 

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Not a new book, but one I’ve never read. Rushdie’s novel chronicles the lives of “midnight’s children” – those born at the moment of India’s independence in 1947. What isn’t immediately known is that these children have been born with unusual physical characteristics and special gifts or powers.

Narrated by the main character, Saleem Sinai – among those who hold the strongest powers because they were born precisely at midnight – the book follows the twisted history of Saleem’s family, and the act which determines fate, intertwined with fledgling India’s numerous conflicts and political struggles.

Of all the authors on this list, Rushdie has been the one I’ve wanted to read for the longest time, out of sheer curiosity.

Unfortunately, of the books on this list, this one took the longest to read – about two or three months. Not because of its size. At roughly 530 pages, it’s hefty, but not insurmountable, for an adult novel.

However, for someone not used to Rushdie’s way of storytelling – such as myself – some points along the story’s path were a bit too winding for my taste, even a bit too slow. Even trying to imagine the various scenes in my mind took some doing.

I can’t say I hated the book. But I found it a tad underwhelming, and it left me a bit disappointed.

Corked: A Memoir, Kathryn Borel Jr.

After such a long slog through Rushdie, I happily turned my attention to a book patiently sitting on my bedside table for weeks.

The first book from brand-spankin’ new memoirist (and colleague) Kathryn Borel, Corked is the story of Borel’s wine trip through France with her father Philippe, a hotelier and wine connoisseur.

As the trip winds through France, the book also takes us into Borel’s deepest thoughts about love, her attempts to learn about wine, and death. The trip is also opportunity she seizes to hash things out with Dad over a life-changing event five years earlier.

Having gotten flashes of Borel’s off-beat personality in real-life, I could hear her voice loud and clear as I turned the pages. I also recognize a couple of the people she talks about. Yes, I snickered here and there (hopefully where appropriate). But even though I can’t say I know her very well, Corked helped me understand a bit more about her. I appreciate who she is because of what she’s written.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

My personal goal for Black History Month was to take on a what was considered a classic novel – although acclaim at the time it was published was heavily divided, and then it fell out of sight until it was rediscovered again in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The novel follows the life of Janie Crawford, who transforms from girl to woman (through the course of two marriages) in the Southern U.S. of the 1930s.

The book is supposed to be an ode to African-American culture and heritage (so says the explanation on the inside front flap of the jacket). It was a bit of a challenge to me, navigating the dialect, and trying to imagine what the characters were all thinking and doing. The male-female dynamic between Janie and her husbands was certainly something interesting. And ever-present were some the issues, such as class and skin tone – something that seems to be around, even in this day and age.

I wasn’t bowled over, but I’m glad I gave it a read anyway. It’s not a long book, so I’d recommend anyone to give it a go.

C’est tout, y’all. Maybe I’ll find some meatier morsels to tackle for the spring.

Happy reading!

D’s Loquacious “Change of Season” Reads

Hey, peeps!

This was supposed to be my late summer book list. But as you may have read in the entry before this one, time hasn’t been my best friend as of late.

No matter. Here’s what I had managed to read before I had to put the books aside:

blubbercoverBlubber, Judy Blume

This is one from my personal collection, which I got in elementary school. Storyline is pretty basic: it’s a few months in the life of a fifth-grade class – chronicled through the eyes of 10-year-old Jill – who decide to pick on overweight classmate Linda following a school report.

The title, of course, is the cruel nickname they bestow on her. It’s a story about bullying. Of course, it doesn’t stop there – when the tables are turned, it’s really when the narrator’s eyes are opened to how people’s allegiances to their friends can change in the blink of an eye. 

Having re-read it as an adult, it just confirms for me that (1) I wasn’t really paying attention when I read it as a kid and (2) I appreciate it more as an adult. Kids can be cruel and can turn on you in the blink of an eye. Sadly in some circles, the cycle of meanness doesn’t really stop in adulthood – it’s just applied differently.


lambcoverLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Christopher Moore

I saw a friend of mine reading this at the cottage a few summers ago; this summer, it finally was my turn to read it. 

As the title suggests, the novel is supposed to be the “lost” gospel of Levi, known also as Biff, childhood friend of Jesus Christ – and the “missing piece” of the puzzle as to what on earth happened to Jesus in the time between his birth and the beginning of his ministry, leading to his cruxificion.

As the author explains in his afterword, it’s merely a story – and a fun one at that. And if you don’t have a sense a humour when it comes to Christianity, you shouldn’t read this book. It’s got everything – spirituality, sex, violence … and a little kung fu.


optimistbookcoverThe Optimist: One Man’s Search for the Brighter Side of Life, Laurence Shorter.

I decided to change it up a bit and immerse myself in a little non-fiction.

I first heard about Laurence Shorter and his book after seeing him interviewed one late night months ago on The Hour with host George Stroumboulopoulos.

The basic premise of the book is what the title suggests. But beneath this quest for optimism amid all the bad news in the world, is Shorter’s own personal two-year quest to find happiness. And for all the dozens of people he talks to, the distances he travels, and the equations he tries to formulate to quantify the secret to true optimism, the answer he arrives at doesn’t seem to be the one he expects.

I love just the way the book is written, using Shorter’s quirky personality to move the narration along. It works. It’s one I’d recommend reading.

I’d hoped to have a longer list, but you know .. life happens. Enjoy and happy reading until next time!

Why I Want to Write Books, Reason # 3

“Sometimes people write novels and they just be so wordy and so self-absorbed … I am not a fan of books. I would never want a book’s autograph.

“I am a proud non-reader of books. I like to get information from doing stuff like actually talking to people and living real life.”

– Rapper Kanye West in a recent interview, on why he doesn’t like reading books. He is the co-author of the book, “Thank You And You’re Welcome”.

<smites own forehead>

 Seriously? SERIOUSLY.

Um, Kanye? Books can actually be like TV shows. If you don’t like the one you’re looking at, you can CHANGE it.

Oh, and by the way? If you haven’t seen this (it’s been out for over a year), I think you should:

As for all you folks who have kids who “don’t like books”, please keep them away from me.

Because if I see them, I will smite THEIR foreheads. Repeatedly. And then you’ll have to call the police.

Siiiigh. I think it’s now time for a lie-down …

Childhood Flashback # 1

So, as I was updating my Facebook profile with some of my favourite books, my thoughts wandered back to some of the books I read as a kid.

And then before I knew it, I hit Google and came across this little story pictured at left.

Oh. My. God!

You really don’t understand many times A WEEK I had this book read to me when I was three or four years old. It was just your run-of-the-mill, cheapie supermarket Little Golden Book. But I’m sure I drove my mom crazy every time I wanted to read this. It’s just so cute, I had to share.

And now you have yet another piece of insight into what makes me the weirdo I am today.

You can actually read the whole book here.

D’s Loquacious Reads for October

Hey kids, I hope you’re having a good weekend! Sorry this is so late, considering there’s only a couple days (and a few hours left) in October. But I just finished two more books that I wanted to share with you …

First off is this beauty off to the left – Break No Bones, the latest in the Temperance Brennan series by forensic anthropologist-author Kathy Reichs. This time, Dr. Brennan’s on a dig with some students when she comes across a skeleton that doesn’t look like it belongs. What she discovers in her post-mortem sets off a series of events that, once again, have her digging beneath the surface – so to speak – and, in true Reichs style, even have her brushing with death.

Couple that with a love triangle between her, her current lover, police detective Andrew Ryan and her estranged husband, Pete, and you’ve not a nice, sort of light read for those lazy afternoons (or in my case, long subway commutes back and forth). Her stuff’s not bad, if you’re into the suspense/mystery/murder genre with lots of professional jargon.

This book, on the other hand, is a complete departure from Ms. Reichs’ work. Shout out to my friend Kristy, who recommended I read this book (update your blog, girl!). It’s AWESOME!

War Reporting for Cowards was written by Chris Ayres who, as a 27-year-old foreign correspondent, got an early morning phone call from his boss, asking if he wanted “to go to war”, and without really thinking (because he really wasn’t awake!), agreed to be embedded with the U.S. Marines for nine days during the early period of the war in Iraq in 2003.

Problem was, he never wanted to go, and was too chicken to tell his boss, so the results of his journey to embedding has a few darkly hilarious results. His book is a candid look at what happened to him before and during the embedding process, as well as what landed him there in the first place.

C’est tout, mes amis! Take it easy for now, and I’m willing to read things any of you might have to suggest, or are willing to lend me. I’ll promise you’ll get it back! Lates.

D’s Loquacious Reads for September/October

Hey folks,

Happy Thanksgiving. Sorry it’s taken so long to write … life – and a busted computer – got in the way.

Ever go through those periods of time where you don’t read any books for weeks and weeks, and then you’re suddenly hit with this insatiable urge to read a whole bunch of ’em at once, even though you know you don’t have much time for it?

Well, that was me in September. Here’s three books I’d heard about and recently got around to cracking open:

David Gilmour’s A Perfect Night to Go to China won last year’s Governor-General book awards, and with good reason. It’s actually pretty good. I didn’t really know much about this book going into it – silly me, I actually thought part of it took place in China. So much for that theory.

The book is narrated from the point of view of a man whose young son goes missing one night when the father steps out of the house briefly, leaving the door unlocked. The novel follows the narrator’s slow unravelling of his marriage and himself as he searches for his son.

Aside from being a fairly fast read, I found the way the story was woven to be a bit fantastical, which you always want from time to time. I wonder, though, if I read the book maybe a tad too fast and didn’t soak it up like a real bookworm should. The ending took me a bit aback (of course, reading between subway sleeps may have contributed a bit to that, too). I’m not going to ruin it here. Just read it for yourself.

I then decided to depart from fiction for a while and picked up Norah Vincent’s Self-Made Man. I actually watched a TV interview with her and heard another colleague – who’d read the book – talk about it, so I really had wanted to read this one for a while.

Vincent, a syndicated columnist, decided to go undercover as a man for a year, to really get a sense of the male experience. What she learned surprised her, not only about men, but about women, too. The experience also ends up affecting Vincent in a way that she didn’t even anticipate.

I thought this book was not only well-written, but I think it’s a book both men and women should read. There’s no bashing of the sexes here. Just frank, honest observations by an individual of one gender delving into the world of the other.

Last, but not least was this book – The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. I had heard about this book, but it’s taken me this long to get around to reading it. I was actually warned by the librarian checking out the book to me, “Get ready to cry.” I thought she was kidding. And believe me, I’m pretty sure I came close a couple times.

The book tells the tale of Amir, an ethnic Pashtun living in the United States, who returns to Afghanistan to make amends for an event that had happened earlier in his life. The narrative then akes the reader backwards in time to Afghanistan – Kabul, to be precise – and the life Amir leads with his father, and his poor Hazara friend/servant Ali and his little son, Hassan.

Hosseini’s was an Afghan-American, first-time novelist who took time off from his job as a doctor to write this book. And believe me, the time was well-spent. At the huge risk of sounding like a cliche, this book is breathtaking and heartbreaking. I’d seriously sometimes read a chunk of the book on my way to work, and by the time I’d closed the book, I’d get up stunned, trying to process what I’d just read. I seriously DON’T understand why this book didn’t win an award.

I don’t know if I plan on seeing the movie adaption when it comes out next year (because I don’t want to end up being one of those purists that kvetch when they cut parts of the book out), but I encourage anyone who hasn’t read this book: Read it. It’s that good.

That’s it for now. We’ll see if time allows me to do this again in about a month’s time. Happy reading!