Karen

Karen came on board a few years after we got up and running as a book club. But that was so long ago that I think she counts as one of the originals by now!

Karen - blog photoKaren is more likely than not to read the books we pick and to bring a very considered perspective, or cutting blow, to the discussions. She’s also the one who keeps us organized – taking the initiative to set meeting dates, send reminders, and ensure we remember to pick a book when we get a bit too caught up in the good food and great company. Karen is sophisticated, smart, put together, warm, kind, well-travelled. And with a wicked sense of humor that can almost make you forget all that other stuff!

And I want to give a special shout out to Karen’s mom – one of our honourary members! It’s always a special treat when she’s in town and is able to join us.

I put my five questions to Karen, and here are her answers, in her own words.

Favourite book….tough one. I enjoyed A Thousand Splendid Suns, Book of Negroes, The Language of Flowers, and The Beauty of Humanity Movement. Life of Pi was the first book club pick when I joined so that holds special meaning to me as well.

I like books that grab my attention right from the beginning, whether it be the characters or just the description of the different settings, as I love to travel.  I don’t want to suggest that the numerous other books didn’t have meaningful characters or stories, these one’s just had that certain something that grabbed me from page 1.

Favourite memory. Again, too many to count. But I think in general, just being around a wonderful, unique group of women is my favourite memory overall. I find it almost therapeutic and cathartic to be around people who are just genuinely good, with big hearts and open minds. I also love that our meetings are centred around the settings of the book and that each member has the opportunity to voice their opinions/thoughts on the book as we go around in a circle….very polite and Canadian.

Next book. Hmmmm….I think it would be cool to try a different genre, like a mystery.

Joining a book club. I would ask if they are compatible with the other members of the club. Are they willing to have an open discussion about the book and share their opinions?  I should probably say something about being committed to reading each book, but that would be hypocritical of me. Enough said.

I think we should celebrate as we do with all of our meetings…with good food, good wine, lots of stories and memories. And most of all…with lots of laughter! Although, perhaps the wine should be replaced by champagne in fancy glasses…much more celebratory, no?

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Have books, will go on vacation

With Canada Day weekend behind us, it’s officially cottage/vacation season (some would argue this starts after the Victoria Day weekend, but I beg to differ).

Whether at a cottage or enjoying a stay-cation, there is nothing better than curling up in a hammock/lounge chair/bed, pulling out a good book and reading the day away. For those international summer vacations, a good book is not only a great “airplane survival kit”, but it also helps me slow down and really immerse myself in the vacation. I have wonderful memories of combing the shelves at Shakespeare and Company in Paris and then spending hours in cafés reading and enjoying a glass of wine.

But what to read?

I have a tradition of re-visiting a favourite over the summer – usually it’s The Great Gatsby which is still my all-time favourite read, but this year I’m going back to Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, which caught my attention as I was packing a box of books to put into storage.

Whatever you choose to read, remember to try and match it to your destination and your interests.

A selection of summer reading lists:

http://www.cbc.ca/books/2014/05/the-ultimate-summer-2014-reading-list.html

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/video/globe-now/video-summer-reading-list-be-sure-to-give-these-three-books-a-try/article19413989/

http://www.writerstrust.com/home/recommended-reading.aspx

http://www.chatelaine.com/living/chatelaine-book-club/2014-summer-reading-guide/

http://www.tdsummerreadingclub.ca/staff/home

http://best-books.publishersweekly.com/pw/best-books/summer-reads-2014/top-10

 

 

Hyedie

I’ve had the pleasure of being friends with Hyedie for almost 12 years (wow!).

She is an original club member and is our artist and our activist. She’s wildly creative, talented, passionate, sensitive, and generous to a fault. In the book club, she’s always got a strong opinion and if a book doesn’t grab her early, chances are she’s not reading it. But she also more willing than most to read outside her comfort zone, and she also gives books second chances!

I asked Hyedie to write a few words about her book club experience.

Knowing that I’m probably the most social media savvy member (although it’s more of an addiction than being savvy) of the Joy of Reading Book Club, Lindsay asked me to write a blog post. And in a completely Lindsay manner, she assigned an extremely difficult topic for me to write on: my favourite book out of all the Joy of Reading Book Club books we’ve read. Our book club has read so many great books together, I’ve been sitting on this assignment for a while. Choosing just one book is hard!

Hyedie

Here are my top five:

A Thousand Splendid Suns (Kahled Hoseini)
The Book of Negroes (Lawrence Hill)
The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield)
On Beauty (Zadie Smith)
Middlesex (Jeffery Eugenides)
The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri)
Sweetness in the Belly (Camilla Gibb)

 OK, that was seven titles. See how hard this is?

​Since my assignment was to choose one book to chat about, out of these seven books, I’ll choose ‘On Beauty‘ by Zadie Smith to explain why it made it into my list of top seven favourite books.

I love stories that have a great, strong main character who grows and really discovers who they are by being tested and experiencing difficult situations. In ‘On Beauty’, however, there isn’t just one strong character there is a whole family of great characters that are struggling, transitioning and fighting to be true to who they are.

As the book unfolds, Smith is able to weave the lives of all these great characters together through a complicated mesh of plot and sub-plots. She explain all the complicated sub-plots without confusing her reader, nor does she lose the momentum of the story. In fact the book picks up a lot of speed in which all the events unfold, until the story reaches a dizzying climax before it ends.

I also love this book because the dialogue is amazing. Smith is able to pick up the nuances of how different people from different countries, social classes and gender speak. I read somewhere that for Smith, writing dialogue is very natural and comes quite easily to her. It shows. I don’t think any other author is able to show and strengthen a character’s personality, thoughts and struggles through dialogue alone.

Also as a graphic designer, I love, love, love the cover design. I think it’s beautiful but also so smartly designed.

Read more by Hyedie at www.cupcakeride.com/blog/

Stella

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be talking to the members of my book club to get their thoughts on our club, the books we’ve read, and what they’re looking forward to in our next decade of reading together.

This week, I chatted with Stella.

Birthday Boston  Niagara Falls  Niagar on the Lake 2010 045
Everybody needs a Stella in their book club.

Stella is funny, opinionated, motivational, and just the nicest most honest and humble person you’re ever going to meet. In the book club, she’s the one who gets excited about every book, reads 90 per cent of them, is always ready with an insightful comment – whether she loved it or hated it – and just generally encourages the rest of us in our lives and in our reading. She joined The Joy of Reading Book Club in 2006, and it’s hard to imagine what our little group would be like without her enthusiasm, optimism and personality.

Lindsay: What has been your favourite book club book so far and why?

Stella: I cannot choose simply one as a “favourite.”  There are several that live with me, years after having read them.  So, as a person who passes on her books, the following books are ones I have held on to, for my permanent library.

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khalid Hosseini
  • Both Camilla Gibb books, Sweetness In the Belly, and The Beauty of Humanity Movement
  • Lawrence Hill’s, The Book of Negroes
  • The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

These are to memory, some of my best reads. There are many more, but the ones noted are special because the characters are so very real and their experiences are so unreal, when in context, to a “common life,” so to speak. Yet the whole story works and captures the reader word by word, because people can be amazing when placed in circumstances that are out of their context, control, and place, etc. The fact that these esteemed writers have their characters rise to unthinkable highs and/or sink to unspeakable lows is amazing to me and the shear will of their beloved characters rising above all their challenges and demons to live permanently in my head, heart and spirit.  The subjects and characters are timeless and so is their impact on me.   Thus, they may be called “favourites.”

Lindsay: What’s your favourite book club memory?

Stella: There are so many!  Each one is special because the book club is continuously evolving with each member bringing their own piece to it.  Often, we choose restaurant venues which may compliment/reflect the book we would be discussing.  We do the meets at selected member’s homes, which are really special.  However, to be respectful of the question, I shall say there have been some extra memorable meets over the years.  Here goes:

  • We had a personal chef cook for us, at one of the member’s homes.
  • Our Christmas/New Year gatherings are always sure-fire fabulous.
  • It was great to have had the mother of one of our book club member attend our meet while visiting Toronto.  She actually read the book and made such a positive contribution to the evening.
  • Two book club members were being married the same year, and that gathering was special with a custom book created for them by the other members.

Lindsay: In an ideal world, what would we be reading next?

Stella: Homer’s The Illiad, the entire Greek Mythology Series from Bullfinch’s Trilogy, and The Holy Bible with classes for re-enforcement.

Lindsay: What advice would you give to someone looking to join a book club?

 Stella: I would ask, myself:

  • What would I like to get from a book club?
  • What would it mean to me to be part of this club?
  • Am I willing to commit to the reading and meeting to discuss it?
  • Am I open to trying new and different books? To different opinions, perceptions, experiences, etc?

Lindsay: How do you think the book club should celebrate 10 years?

Stella: However we may come together on it, one thing I am certain of … it will be a joyous, laughter filled occasion with plenty of stories and champagne bubbling over in long flute glasses.

 

Five tips for choosing a great romance novel

I’m a romance novel addict. Seriously. I bought my first romance novel when I was about 14, and I still spend anywhere from $8 to $20 a month on this guilty pleasure. Don’t do the math. It’s a lot of books.

romancenovels - small

I’ll be the first to admit that there tends to be a formula to romance novels, and a finite number of plots that seem work in the format. I go in with my eyes open when I buy a book. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to enjoy the read. So over the year’s I’ve developed a series of fool-proof (for me anyway) rules for picking a great romance novel.

1. If the character names make you roll your eyes when you’re reading the back cover, it’s not going to be a good read.

I don’t care what else is going on with the book, I’m not getting past chapter three if I can’t take the character names seriously. (Rhett and Tawney anyone?)

2. If the characters are reunited lovers, or if either of them has a kid, put the book down.

Old relationships and kids require more of the back story to be explained and that pulls focus from the main story. Girl meets boy, mayhem and/or misunderstandings ensue, girl and boy realize they are in love – it works because it’s simple.

3. If any of the characters has supernatural powers, read at your own risk.

Everything about a romance novel requires the reader to suspend belief for 150-350 pages. (They fell madly in love and are getting married after just six days? Sure, I buy that.) Introducing ghosts, ESP, etc. just makes it tougher to take the story seriously.

4. If it’s a cop/(potential) victim/witness, boss/assistant, or cowboy/cook/housekeeper story – buy it, it’s going to be good (assuming all other rules hold).

I have no idea why stories about these three particular pairings always seem to work, but my experience says they do.

5. Modern is better – although apparently exceptions can be made for ancient Scotland.

I stand by tips one through four, but I’ll admit this one is more personal preference (if Victorian-era damsels in distress work for you, go nuts). That said, nailing the dialogue, setting and cultural ticks of another era can be tough. I’m not saying it can’t be done (the Outlander series is wildly popular, and Monica McCarthy does it extremely well in her highland guard series), but when it’s done poorly it’s distracting. Best to stick with a modern setting.

 

Still on the fence about my e-reader

I found my e-reader yesterday. That I didn’t know where it was, and didn’t miss it, says a lot about how important this particular device is in my life.

I want to like it. I really do. I bought it on a whim, but with the best intentions – reduce the number of books piling up in my house. And at first I was really good at resisting the call of the book store and shopping online.

But slowly, the quirks of my e-reader started getting to me.

  • I can only buy one book at a time because having to process my card for each book makes me think about what I’m buying, and that doesn’t happen when I just hand over my card once for the handful of books I pick up at the book store.
  • I can’t see how much I’ve read – the “40 per cent” read message isn’t the same as watching the centre of a book get closer and then feeling the weight of the book shift from your right hand to your left as you pass the centre point.
  • I find the “## reading hours left” message a bit discouraging.
  • I can’t easily flip back a page or a few to re-read a sentence, or flip back to that family tree or timeline at the front of the book.
  • Tapping just isn’t the same as turning a page.

I gave it a good try, but I slowly started heading back to the book store. And today, about two years later, I’m almost fully back to my hard copy books. So are a lot of people I know. A quick scan of the subway car today revealed most readers turning pages instead tapping or swiping screens. So was the e-reader just a fad? Or is it just me – am I just a book person?

I’m not ready to totally give up on the e-reader just yet. I dutifully charged it and discovered that I have The Luminaries waiting to be read (yay!). But if I’m honest, I won’t panic if I misplace the reader again. I’ll just pick up my next book.

My favourite book of the 2010s

I was a bit late to the party when it came to The Night Circus. This awesome book by Erin Morgenstern was published in 2011, and I was sadly oblivious about it until a friend bought me a copy for my birthday in 2013.

Have you ever read a book where the words just feel good in your brain? That’s the only way I can describe it. The story, the characters, the language, the art … it’s just breathtaking.

I’m not going to write a review because I can’t possibly describe it without ruining some of the magic of the book (plus, so many other people have already done so, and I don’t know that my repeated exclamations of “it’s just awesome, so read it” would be adding much to the conversation). I will say that I wanted to start reading it again as soon as I hit the last word, and I have shamelessly pushed copies on most of my family and friends. The Night Circus is definitely my favourite book of the 2010s (and I’m not even going to put the “so far” caveat on that!).

Here’s a quick interview with author Erin Morgenstern. It’s from a few years ago, but still interesting to hear her process and her thoughts on the response from readers.