|Outside of Perth-Andover, New Brunswick. Going to be beautiful when the sun comes up.|
And down home, when we weren’t “visiting” with family, friends, and neighbours, we were preparing food, or eating it, or lolling in Mum’s living room deciding what to have for an evening snack even when we knew perfectly well that we shouldn’t. Which necessitated doing a lot of this when we came home to Ottawa late last week. Hubby and I hit the ski trails hard our first day back. That’s because we have lots of beautiful snow, and it’s been sunny and -5°C… perfect cross-country skiing weather.
|Skiing at Stoney Swamp, New Year’s Day.|
And while all this driving and eating and chatting and skiing has been going on, like everyone else, I’ve been taking stock of the past year. Of what I’ve been wearing. And writing about. And reading… in particular. So I thought I’d share with you some of my conclusions. About books and 2016.
I haven’t written yet about Jo Baker’s novel A Country Road, A Tree. The novel deals primarily with writer Samuel Beckett’s life in France during World War II. His flight from Paris with his lover, the privations of life in Nazi occupied France, and his eventual joining of the French Resistance. You can read here how Baker became fascinated by Beckett while studying for her MA, and how a train trip in France cemented the idea of writing about his war, and the effects on him as a writer. As one reviewer describes it, the novel presents Beckett’s wartime experiences as the “artistic crucible” for his famous play, Waiting for Godot, “the unexpected success” of which was a “genuine turning point in Beckett’s life.” I generally do not like to read reviews of a book before I read the book itself, but if you do, have a look here and here.
|Samuel Beckett… in all his lovely, craggy, handsome glory. source|
Baker’s novel is beautifully written. And seems at times to emulate Beckett’s style, his observation of and obsession with small details, his use of silence: “This place, the little cafe in this little town, the scar along the counter top- this is everything for the moment. While outside in the cold cab, breath pluming in the air, the snow gathering on the windscreen, the press of a hairpin into her scalp, is also everything.” I love that quiet evocative scene. The title of the novel is taken from the opening stage directions for Beckett’s famous play. I didn’t know that when I was reading; I must confess I’ve never read Waiting for Godot. But I surmised as much. The words also mimic a scene in the novel where Beckett and his lover wait, and wait, by the roadside for their Resistance contact. Baker has certainly mastered the art of writing about waiting. She describes moments suspended in time, quiet, detailed moments. Often depicting painful, personal privations, hunger and bad feet, rumbling stomachs, blisters and bunions. Baker’s homage to Samuel Beckett is at times a difficult read, especially if you don’t like detail. But it’s definitely worth the effort. I loved it for its insight into Beckett’s life, and for its beautiful style.
|Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting For Godot” at the Cort Theater, New York, 2013|
Best Read of the Year… Non-fiction
I loved Kate Bolick’s memoir Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own. Bolick explores her own unmarried life, and the lives of several women she admires, her “awakeners” as she calls them. But you can read my earlier post about the book here. In writing that post I realized that I seem to have a bit of a thing for women who make lives of their own.
Favourite Re-discovery of the Year
I read and loved Christopher Brookmyre’s crime novels years ago, and then went off him. I seem to remember growing a bit tired of his humour. Suddenly the black comedy seemed too intrusive, too much the raison d’être for the book, instead of plot and character development. But I picked up these two novels a couple of months ago. And I was hooked all over again. I think he’s changed, folks. The humour is still there, but more held in check. Now his wry wit only serves to enhance his story, burbling to the surface in a wonderfully ironic moment or with a funny line. And the characters are engaging, the plots tight, and the writing superb.
|Christopher Brookmyre. source|
Favourite New Discovery of the Year
Thanks to Frances, whom many of you know from her blog Materfamilias Writes, for putting me onto Steve Borrows and his “birder murder mysteries.” The novels are set in Norfolk in the UK, but feature an ex-pat Canadian detective with a passion for birds. Burrows’ main character Domenic Jejeune is a talented, if rather unlikely, not to mention reluctant, detective. He’d much rather be watching birds than catching bad guys. Hubby and I both enjoyed the first two books in this series and are anxiously waiting for my name to top the “holds” list at the library for the third.
|When talking about birds, Burrows knows whereof he speaks. source|
Favourite Book Post of the Year:
I have an enormous fondness for Harper Lee and for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. I read and loved it as a young girl, and taught it for many years as a high school English teacher. And despite all that repetition, I still love it. So with all that history, when Lee’s purported “second novel” came out in 2015, I had to buy it and read it. And then with Lee dying so close on the heels of the publication of, and the ensuing uproar over, the “new book,” I had to weigh in on the book, both books in fact, and the whole media circus that surrounded the publication of Go Set a Watchman. I wrote my post “Harper Lee’s Long Good-bye” as a labour of love. Love for the author and her work. And also because I thought it was very sad that a woman who had abjured the public eye for so many, many years should be so surrounded by media hype in her last days. Yep, it’s my favourite post from last year. And it’s definitely the one on which I worked the hardest.
|On the set of the 1962 movie, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee and Mary Badham,who plays Scout|
A Couple of New Book Blog Discoveries
I’m always on the look-out for other blogs about books. I can’t read about fashion all the time, people. So here are a couple that I stumbled upon. You might like them too. Our Book Reviews looks interesting to me. Partly because the reviewers on this site agree with my views on Jo Baker’s A Country Road, A Tree, and Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series. And partly because I’m not familiar with most of the other authors they review. So I’m looking forward to discovering a few new writers. I’m also excited about finding Rohan Maitzen’s blog Novel Readings. Maitzen is an English prof at Dalhousie University in Halifax, and I love the mix of biographical and critical writings on her blog. No plots summaries here, thank goodness… I hate it when book reviews do that… just erudite, but totally readable, analysis and a true love of books, new and old. You should check out her blog.
So that pretty much sums up 2016 and books on the blog. I tried to write a book post a month last year… and did for the most part. Some months, though, travel interfered, and, well, other considerations. Important stuff. You know… like whether I should go grey or not. The answer is still NOT by the way.
And looking forward, despite all those articles that recommend bloggers regularly change up what they do, I’m hoping to continue writing a book post a month in 2017. I love our conversations about books. Many of my new author discoveries have come from you. Which reminds me, I just finished The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home, and enjoyed it. Thanks to Cosette for recommending that one.
Still we never know what will happen next year. We can’t always see around the next turn in the trail. Sorry for that cheesy metaphor. Or is it an analogy? Gad, thirty years teaching English and I always get those two mixed up. Besides I could see around the turn when I took this picture. I could see Hubby standing impatiently, shifting from one ski to the other. “Just take the darn shot and come on, Suz.” After thirty-two years, he’s still chiding me to hurry up. And I’m still lollygagging. So you see, sometimes things staying the same is eminently comforting.
|Stoney Swamp Trail, January 1, 2017|
How about you dear readers? Any good reads of 2016 you’d like to recommend? Let’s create a great long list for other people to peruse, eh?
Or… since I just returned from New Brunswick… maybe I should say a jeezly big long list.