5 Reasons Bookish Things I’m Thankful For

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I’ve been doing posts this past year entitled 5 Reasons Why I Liked {Insert Book Title Here}. But today, I’m expanding this theme a little… By the way, these reasons are not in any particular order, and there are probably so many other things I’m thankful for. These are the ones that come to mind 🙂

#1 – Talking Books

I’m NOT talking about audiobooks here (although I love audiobooks, too!)… What I mean here is talking about books with other readers. Whether in person, or with the bookish community online. I love to find out what you’re reading, because I might want to read it, too! I love to discuss why I like certain books. I even like to discuss reasons I don’t like a particular book. It’s nice to know there are people out there who share my thoughts. And it’s also great to know there are people out there who think differently than me.

#2 – Book Downtime

Books have the ability to take us away to unknown lands. Yes, even in a contemporary read. I always read before bedtime. It’s the time I take to unwind from the stresses of the day. Sometimes a book will force me to read way past my bedtime, but usually I get in just a chapter or two. It’s something that makes me look forward to the end of the day.

This is probably why I’m not crazy about super-depressing books. I don’t mind that in little doses. Do I need Happily Ever After? I love Happily Ever After! But I don’t mind some slight ambiguity or even a touch of pessimism. I just don’t need to read the end of a book and feel the need to end my life. And that brings me to my next point…

#3 – Book Recommendations

This is related to number one, but it’s also slightly different. I love getting book recommendations. I love giving book recommendations. I love going to the bookish community, which includes blogs, Goodreads, Amazon reviews, bookstagram, etc. I like researching which books I want to read next. I look for recommendations by reviewers or bloggers who like books similar to the ones I like.

That way I know to avoid books like Jude the Obscure! (Sorry Mr. Hardy, I just can’t handle you anymore. Although I love your Far From the Madding Crowd. Probably because that was the last hopeful book you wrote.)

#4 – ARCs

And I’m also thankful for Advanced Reader Copies. I don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s kind of fun to read a book before everybody else. Of course that’s not strictly true, since there are a lot of other ARC readers out there. And I took heed of the warnings not to go crazy with my ARC-requests, so I haven’t really felt the worry of falling behind.

#5 – Libraries!

Ah, my home away from home. I love libraries! I do buy books, but I really can’t afford all the books I’d want to read. And frankly, I don’t have room to store all the book I’d want to read. That’s where the library comes in. I get to read wonderful books for FREE. (And when I get the occasional dud, it’s not a big deal. I just return it, happy that I didn’t actually pay for it.) There’s so much to choose from. There are new books and old books. Fiction and non-fiction. And audiobooks! And yes, even DVDs. Libraries make me happy 🙂


Your Turn

What are some bookish things you’re thankful for? Anything you’d add to this list?

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The Ups and Downs of Reading Biographies

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Now that it’s September, I feel like it’s time to read a good biography. (I don’t know quite why September does this to me, but it does.)

So, that’s my topic for discussion for today: Biographies. (And I’m secretly hoping for some good recommendations in the comments below.)

I like a whole range of biographies:

  • kings and queens
  • film stars and Hollywood directors
  • scientists and astronauts
  • authors and playwrights
  • people I’ve never even heard of!

What I’m looking for is a good life story, something interesting.

But before you start giving me your recommendations (see my secret hope above), here are my thoughts on biographies in general…

Note about the photo: These encyclopedias are FULL of mini-biographies!

The Upside of Biographies

I love stories and I also love history. And I also love getting a sneak peek at behind the scenes. Biographies blend these things beautifully! I love learning about the struggles… and especially how they overcame those struggles.

And it’s all true! While I love fiction, there’s something about reading true stories. To know this actually happened to a person. This can be encouraging. It can also act as a warning.

In a sense, reading a biography is like a leisurely visit to a museum about that person’s life. (Did I say how much I love museums?)

The Downside of Biographies

The person always dies at the end. That’s it. I always come out of a biography feeling really sad. Like I’ve just been to somebody’s funeral. (Which is not far from the truth if you think about it.)

Now, I’m talking about true biographies here. Not memoirs, or even autobiographies, because those are written (supposedly) by the author, who (by definition of the thing) cannot have died yet. And yes, I do like reading memoirs for this reason alone… that I know the main character will not die in the end.


What about you? Do you read biographies? What draws you to these books? Any good biographies or memoirs you’ve read recently? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for the Recommendation #1

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This blog post is a thank-you to all you book bloggers who bring various books to my attention. I particularly like that aspect of the blog community. So, here are three books that I read, thanks to you… (In turn, I recommend them to the rest of you!)


Phantom-TollboothThe Phantom Tollbooth // by Norton Juster

Recommended by Kimberly @ Narnia to Neverland
Genre: MG Fantasy
My Rating: 4 Stars

My Thoughts: For some reason, I have not read this book before now.

The book is part Alice in Wonderland, part Pilgrim’s Progress. (Although, from what I understand, Juster had read neither of these books… so, that’s just a coincidence.) As somebody who loves wordplay, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It isn’t plot-heavy, by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, Milo and his gang ARE on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason (who have been banished). But it’s the journey, not so much the destination, that’s important.

Actually, that’s it. The book delights in imagination. And (minor SPOILER HERE), at the end of the book, when the tollbooth disappears, there’s the hope that maybe, just maybe, you’ll find the tollbooth in YOUR room.

A Few Favourite Quotes from the Book

Here’s a taste of some of the wonderful words in this book. (There are really too many examples to list, so this is really just a small sample…)

“To be sure,” said Canby; “you’re on the Island of Conclusions. Make yourself at home. You’re apt to be here for some time.”

“But how did we get here?” asked Milo, who was still a bit puzzled by being there at all.

“You jumped, of course.”

The Phantom Tollbooth (Chapter 13)

and

“I am the Spelling Bee,” announced the Spelling Bee. “Don’t be alarmed — a-l-a-r-m-e-d.”

Tock ducked under the wagon, and Milo, who was not overly fond of normal-sized bees, began to back away slowly.

“I can spell anything — a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g,” he boasted, testing his wings. “Try me, try me!”

“Can you spell goodby?” suggested Milo as he continued to back away.

The Phantom Tollbooth (Chapter 4)


letter-from-new-yorkLetter from New York // by Helene Hanff

Recommended by Laila @bigreadinglife
Genre: Adult, Non-Fiction/Memoir
My Rating: 4 Stars

My Thoughts: This book was brought to my attention in a comment on my blog post about how much I loved Helene Hanff’s book: 84, Charing Cross Road.

This is Hanff’s “love letter” to New York City. I used to live in New York in the early 2000s, and I’ve discovered that there’s something very real about that slogan: I Heart NY. It is so true that this city has the ability to worm its way into your heart! The book is set in the late 1970s and early 80s, but even so, I easily recognized New York City. It didn’t change that much 🙂

Now, I don’t think this book is as good at Hanff’s masterpiece, 84, Charing Cross Road. (Which, if you haven’t read, I highly recommend.) But it’s a delightful memoir that gives us a peek into one of the most famous cities in the world.

P.S. I keep thinking the book should be Letters from New York (plural), but no, it’s Letter from New York (singular). Which feels weird and somehow wrong to me. But, you know what? That’s just a minor complaint. Hanff’s writing is wonderful and engaging.

A Few Favourite Quotes from the Book

First you queue up at Lord & Taylor’s to see their Christmas windows. This year’s windows feature Come Home for Christmas. One window has a replica of a JFK airport terminal, complete with life-like passengers, luggage and waiting room. Another has a replica of the George Washington Bridge, with the lights, the traffic—and a hapless driver stuck with a flat tire. My favorite window has a replica of a New York subway station, with crowds, a snack bar and a gent coming down the steps with a Christmas tree over his shoulder.   (1978, December)

A week later, there’s a high construction wall around each lot. But each wall has a hole in it large enough for two human eyes. New Yorkers think it’s their God-given right to supervise construction, and any builder who didn’t order a hole cut in the wall would find holes cut in it for him by volunteers. (1979, March)


HereHere // by Richard McGuire

Recommended by Zezee with Books
Genre: Adult, Graphic Novel
My Rating: 4 Stars

My Thoughts: This book is a journey through the life of room in a house. I initially was thrown off by the fact that it is NOT in chronological order. Instead, the years jump all over the place. But I like the effect. I really liked the windows into the various time periods, even before the house is built!

One sequence I loved was the family of kids taking the yearly family portrait on the couch. From the time the children a little (in 1959) to them all grown up (in 1983). It was fun to see the technology change with the house. And the decor!

And finally, I liked the surprise cameo by Ben Franklin!

WARNING – This book is really meant for adults, not children. 95% of it would be fine for kids, however there ARE a couple “adult” scenes; nothing super graphic. But it may be cause for some awkward questions.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

Since it’s a graphic novel, I’ll have to post one of my favourite spreads in the book:

here-inside

Books About Brainwashing

I find that books about brainwashing are hard to read. The type of book where the main character firmly believes that some horrible truth is actually good.

And yet, I find I’m drawn to these books.

I grew up on the stories of my own grandmother who lived in the Soviet Union. Her father and grandfather died in Stalin’s purges in the late 1930s. My grandmother made it out. And even though she was intrigued by the thought of one day going back to visit the places of her childhood, she never would actually go back. Out of fear that they would keep her there.

So, I’m fascinated by how children particularly are taught to blindly follow an ideology, without any sort of questioning. Usually it’s the first parts of these books, then, that are hard to read… because the child is so trusting. But then, as the book continues, the cracks begin to show. The child begins to see and hear things that don’t quite mesh with what they’ve been taught.

The children start to see that, maybe, there’s another way of life.

Below is a list of three Middle Grade books that deal with children who have been brainwashed. Interestingly, they are based in three distinct settings. But they all have some very common elements to them.


Breaking Stalin Nose // by Eugene Yelchin

breaking stalins noseSetting: Communist Russia under Stalin (late 1940s)

Young Zaichik is on the eve of realizing his dream of becoming a Young Pioneer. Of wearing the red scarf for Comrade Stalin himself. Of making his father (a top party member) proud to have such a son who is dedicated to the Great Communist Cause. But then, there’s a “mistake”, and his father is arrested in a night raid. However Zaichik is confident that Comrade Stalin will soon put things right. What follows is a day at school… a day that involves an accident, accusations, assemblies, and… a nose. Stalin’s nose.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In an earlier scene, Zaichik is eating a carrot…

I take small bites of the carrot to make it last; the carrot is delicious…

When hunger gnaws inside my belly, I tell myself that a future Pioneer has to repress cravings for such unimportant matters as food. Communism is just over the horizon; soon there will be plenty of food for everyone. But still, it’s good to have something tasty to eat now and then. I wonder what it’s like in the capitalist countries. I wouldn’t be surprised if children there had never even tasted a carrot.

Breaking Stalin Nose, Chapter 3


Red Scarf Girl // by Ji-li Jiang

Red-Scarf-Girl.jpgSetting: Communist China under Mao (1960s)

Ji-li is 12 years old when the Cultural Revolution hits China in 1966. She’s a staunch supporter of Chairman Mao. What she doesn’t know is that her family has a “black” past. Her dead grandfather was… horrors!… a landlord. Her father is taken to confess, and the family is constantly under the threat of persecution from the Red Guard. But through it all, Ji-li remains loyal to Chairman Mao and her greatest desire is to help move China forward in the great Communist experiment.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, Ji-li and her friends watch as two men are struggling to remove a sign from a local grocery store. The reason? The store is called the Great Prosperity Market. But that name is considered to be “Four Olds”…

Our beloved Chairman Mao had started the Cultural Revolution in May. Every day since then on the radio we heard about the need to end the evil and pernicious influences of the “Four Olds”: old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits…

The Great Prosperity Market sign is finally toppled to the ground.

Everyone cheered. People rushed forward to stamp on what remained of the sign. An Yi and I had found a few classmates in the crowd, and we all embraced, jumped, and shouted. Although what we had smashed was no more than a piece of wood, we felt we had won a victory in a real battle.

Red Scarf Girl, “Destroy the Four Olds”


The Giver // by Lois Lowry

giverSetting: Some “Utopian” Future

Jonas lives in a utopian Community, one that dictates the lives of each of its citizens. Jonas turns twelve, and receives his life assignment. He is to be the New Receiver of Memories. He is introduced to the Giver and starts his apprenticeship. And this is when Jonas begins to realize that there are truths hiding in this perfect world… where sameness is celebrated to the point where these people can’t even see colour. Jonas, like everybody else, does not question the ways of the community… at least not until his eyes are opened by his time with the Giver.

A Favourite Quote from the Book

In this scene, the Giver has just given Jonas his favourite memory… A scene of a family around a Christmas tree. A family that includes “grandparents”, a concept that is foreign to Jonas. (There are no grandparents in the Community.) The Giver then explains to Jonas that the emotion in the memory was the feeling of love.

Jonas nodded. “I liked the feeling of love,” he confessed. He glanced nervously at the speaker on the wall, reassuring himself that no one was listening. “I wish we still had that,” he whispered. “Of course,” he added quickly, “I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.

The Giver, Chapter 16


Have you read these books? Do you like to read these types of books? Are there any other titles you could add to these three?

If You Like Russian Fairy Tales

Bear and the NightingaleSo… I recently read The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

Everybody is raving about this book. So, what can I say?

Well, I liked it. But…

I probably didn’t like it as much as you. I don’t know why, because I love Russian fairy tales. In fact, that’s the reason I read the book in the first place. I loved the premise. (And the cover of the book. I mean, just look at it. It’s enticing me. Yes, even now. It’s drawing me in…)

So… this book did not make me want to write a review of the book. (I am definitely not inspired to write a review just now. Maybe later? Instead, I decided to come up with a list of books that I recommend for those who did love the book and loved it because of the Russian fairy tale aspect of the book.

Without further adieu, here is that list*:

7973Enchantment // by Orson Scott Card

While he’s probably best known for his sci-fi (Ender’s Game ring a bell?)… Orson Scott Card does a wonderful job with this book. It mixes Russian folklore and fairy tale elements with our modern world. In a sense, it’s a Sleeping Beauty story. The story begins in the modern day with Ivan, who travels to Russia as part of his graduate studies. But then he comes across a woman sleeping in the middle of the forest and… Well, I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it.

By the way, I am truly enchanted by this book. It is probably one of my favourite books outside of classic literature and have read it numerous times.


1369831Blood Red, Snow White // by Marcus Sedgwick

This book is broken up into three parts. The first part deals with the events of the Russian Revolution almost as if it were a Russian fairy tale. Actually, it’s very reminiscent of Old Peter’s Russian Tales (see below). The second part introduces us to Arthur, an Englishman who comes to live in Russia. It’s almost like reading a new book, but you begin to see how it connects with the first part. And finally, the third part shifts yet again, this time with first person POV. We continue our story, seeing Russia through the eyes of Arthur.

P.S. The Arthur in the book is based on the real life experiences of the author, Arthur Ransome. (If you don’t know who Arthur Ransome is, he wrote one of my favorite children’s series: the Swallows and Amazons books. And yes, Swallows and Amazons does get a nod in this “fairy tale”.)


old-peters-russian-tales-by-arthur-ransome-fiction-animals-dragons-unicorns-and-mythicalOld Peter’s Russian Tales // by Arthur Ransome

Speaking of Arthur Ransome… He really did live in Russia at the time of the Revolution. And he came to love Russia very much. Part of his infatuation led him to write a collection of Russian fairy tales. He created Maroosia and Vanya who live with their grandfather, Old Peter. It’s Old Peter that brings us the stories “that Russian peasants tell their children and each other.” Beautiful writing. Wonderful stories.


Honourable Mention…

The Crown's GameThe Crown’s Game // by Evelyn Skye
I just finished reading this. So, I’m not sure it even belongs on this list. It has some fairy tale elements, like Enchanters and magic. But it also seems a little like it shouldn’t quite be on the list. Probably because there are no bears mentioned in the book! (Tigers are are mentioned. But I don’t remember any bears!)  In all, I haven’t quite decided if it’s got that Russian Fairy Tale vibe. Anyway,  I liked the book, so I’m going to tag it on here for now.

City of ThievesCity of Thieves // by David Benioff
Again, this one isn’t so much a Russian Fairy Tale. It’s more of a coming-of-age story set in the time of World War II. And it’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but I remember a fair bit. It definitely has that Russian feel. It’s the story of two young men on a quest to find a dozen eggs during the Siege of Leningrad. Maybe it’s the quest that made me give it Honourable Mention status.

*Please note that none of these books are really children’s books. Although for some odd reason Blood Red, Snow White is listed as a children’s book. In my opinion, it is not. (Not that a child couldn’t read it.) In any case, the only book on this list suitable for kids is probably Old Peter’s Russian Tales. Those were meant for children of all ages. Grown-ups, too!

Got any books to add to this list? Please let me know in the comments. Because I love a good Russian fairy tale!