The idea of this blog is to facilitate the love of reading by collecting news about new books, or sometimes good old books. It is also dedicated to stamping out the scourge of e-books, Kindles, Kobo's, i-Pads, and all other such abominations.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr

The Lost Painting will be available in paperback in November.

The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr

In 1994, Jonathan Harr had just completed but not published his wildly successful book A Civil Action. Finding himself out of money, he accepted an assignment to write a piece for the New York Times, telling the story of the recovery of a Caravaggio painting, "The Taking of Christ" that had been missing for 200 years. Harr was so taken with the story that he decided to pursue it in more depth. He returned to Italy, studied Italian and began to put the pieces together. The result is The Lost Painting. And what a wonderful exploration of the art world it is. I don't know much about art but I am interested in all things Italian. Harr brings to the book, a portrait of the tempermental and sometimes violent Caraveggio, who roamed the streets
of Rome, drinking and carousing, often causing a great deal of trouble. He has been identified by some as the first "realist" painter. The people in his religious paintings are the people you would have found in the streets at the time. He invented the dark background with a single source of light outside the painting. Very few of his paintings remain so finding a lost one is of tremendous importance to the art world.

Francesca Cappeletti, a young art researcher from Rome, working with her friend and colleague Laura Testa, were researching two identical copies of "John the Baptist" trying to identify the authentic one. While examining archives in a dank palazzio belonging to the Antici-Mattei family, they stumbled on a clue as to the origins of another Caravaggio "The Taking of Christ".

Harr takes us from the Roman world of Caravaggio to libraries in London and Scotland and finally to a small gallery in Dublin. He brings to life the personalities of the important people in the story: Francesca Cappeletti who doggedly follows clue after clue; Sir Denis Mahon, an elderly, English art historian who provides important information and help to Francesca; and finally Sergio Beneditti, an Italian art restorer working in the Art Gallery of Dublin. As well, the author gives us an insight into the world of art, its politics and jealousies. The book reads like detective fiction. Proving a painting is authentic is an onerous task. Whether you are an expert in art history or a novice you will find it is impossible to put this book down once you have dipped into it.

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Kate Grenville, the Australian author who won the Orange Prize for The Idea of Perfection, has written a remarkable book based on the story of her ancestors. Set in Australia in the early 1800's, The Secret River tells the story of William Thorton and his wife Sara who come from a poverty-stricken life in London where William was convicted of theft. A life sentence in the penal colony saves him from the gallows. Life is not easy in the colony and it takes years for Thornton to earn his freedom. When he does, he becomes a trader on the river. His dream is to find land of his own. He finds that land on Hawkesbury River and takes Sal and his growing family to live in an unprotected area. It is a crude and uneasy existence. Aborigines do not take well to the interlopers, cutting down the brush and planting fields of corn. Grenville is brilliant at portraying the conflict between the illiterate Thornton, who is desperate to find a way to accomodate the aboriginal population, other settlers who are much more antagonistic and militant and the aborigines who are determined to drive the settlers away. Sal and William have the grit and determination to survive in this hostile environment. Ironically as Thornton realizes his dream of owning land, he also understands that Sal feels is imprisoned by it and longs to return to London.

Securing the land comes at a terrible cost that takes its toll on William and Sal. Grenville explores marriage and the pressures it must absorb with sensitivity. It's a wonderful read.

The Secret River was published this year and is available in hardcover.
Kte Grenville is a Booker Prize nominee.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Poet of Tolstoy Park

I read the Poet of Tolstoy Park by Eric Brewer when it first came out in hardcover, about a year ago and because it is now in paperback, I think it's a book worth searching out.

It's the story of 67 year old Henry Stuart who has been diagnosed with terminal, non-contagious tuberculosis. It's 1927 and Henry, a retired professor lives in Idaho. His doctor has recommended that he move to a warmer climate and Henry, a widower, chooses to leave his home, his two sons and his best friend to journey to Fairhope Alabama, an intentional community near Mobile. He divests himself of everything, except at few clothes (giving away his boots to a porter on the train as he approaches Mobile) and a few books, including Tolstoy's Calendar of Wisdom, a book of poems by Rilke and a small sketch book. He does have his loom sent, so that he can continue weaving.

Inspired by Tolstoy's beliefs about land and wealth, Henry purchases 10 acres and builds a small round house of concrete block. His journey is to "perfect" the soul awarded to him." and he believes that one's unwillingness to give up possessions is the true spiritual burden.

Henry reclusiveness is hard for his neighbours to understand as is his distain for wearing shoes or purchasing those things that might make his life easier. This philosopher -poet is however happy to talk his ideas, which are not always popular.

Sonny Brewer, a bookseller in Fairhope Alabama has done a remarkable job of telling Henry's story. He brings to life the important people in Henry's life both in Idaho and Alabama. Interestingly 'those last few months of Henry's life' stretched into years and included visits by people like Clarence Darrow.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The First Three Years of a Grandmother's Life

Grandmothers are truly coming into their own. Many of us have had experiences with our grandparents that have enriched our lives. I had two remarkable ones. From one I learned how to get things done and from the other I learned about the power of stories. Stephen Lewis is working with grandmothers to solve many difficult problems in Africa. In Canada and around the world, grandmothers are taking on the task of bringing up children who are parentless.

So it is timely to find the book, The First Three Years of a Grandmother's Life, written by Carol Matthews. Carol has worked as a hospital social worker, an Executive Director of Nanaimo Family Life, and as an instructor and Dean at Malaspina University College. It may be that as Charlotte's grandmother, she has entered the steepest learning curve of her life. This book, based on a series of articles that were written for the journal Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, is illuminating. Charlotte is her own person, as Carol recognized from the moment Charlotte was born. It's not every grandmother that celebrates a granddaughter's ability to say "no" but Carol understands how important it is for Charlotte to do just that. Matthews brings the role of grandmothering into the 21st Century. When Carol and Charlotte view the Vancouver Santa Claus Parade at Christmas, Carol experiences the anomalies of the season: the two kinds of bag people--the shoppers, and the homeless. Over and over, Carol brings an awareness of the complex world our grandmothers find themselves in, a world that can be depressing and demoralizing. Somehow, the wonder and magic, and the fiddling angels that a child sees makes the world a better place to be. There is wisdom, humour and compassion in this book.
Carol will celebrate Grandparents Day, September 10, with a reading at 3:00 p.m. at St Pauls Anglican Hall in Nanaimo. Do join us.


I have loved hearing from all the people who have responded to this site. The design is due to the genius of Howard White who understands how a site can work. Last night, I found the Booker long list but I also found I couldn't find my way to post it. It takes a great deal of courage to tell you how hopelessly illiterate I am when it comes to technology. If my good neighbour, Mark, and my good friend Howie weren't close at hand I would be in deep trouble. I do love this site and eventually I hope to master it. Finding books, that are exceptional, is one of life's greatest highs. Having the opportunity to tell people is very special.

Booker Longlist

Here it is! The Mann Booker Prize has just announced its longlist of nominees for 2006. In some ways this is the most useful part of the whole Booker process for booklovers. The final choice is inevitably controversial, and even the shortlist often seems to be curiously arbitrary. But the longlist does serve as a pretty interesting roundup of the year's top novels. In English. By Commonwealth writers. Here it is:

Carey., Peter Theft A love story
Desai, Kiran The Inheritance of Loss
Edric, Robert Gathering the Water
Gordimer Nadine Get a Life
Grenville, Kate The Secret River
Hyland, M.J Carry me Down
Jacobson, Howard Kalooki Nights
Lasdun, James Seven Lies
Lawson, Mary The Other Side of the Bridge (Canadian)
McGregor, Jon So many Ways to Begin
Matar, Hisham In the Country of Men
Messud, Claire The Emperor's children
Mitchell. David Black Swan Green
Murr, Naeem The Perfect Man
O'Hagan, Andrew Be Near Me
Robertson, James The Testament of Gideon Mack
St Aubyn, Edward Mother;s Milk
Unsworth, Barry The Ruby in Her navel
Waters, Sarah The Night Watch

If you use Vancouver Island Regional Library you will be able to
order about 10 of the titles. There is no listing for the other 9.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Bus Griffiths dies

I'm sorry to have to say Bus Griffiths died Sept. 25. Bus was a lifelong logger from Fanny Bay who painted and drew in his retirement years, publishing the classic graphic novel Now You're Logging in 1978 and illustrating Bush Poems by Peter Trower as well as Patrick and the Backhoe by Howard White. His meticulously detailed oil paintings showing old-time logging scenes and wildflife are avidly collected by conoisseurs of logging and of folk art. Bus was a privilege to know, a simple, sweet guy who somehow was never sullied by the moral confusion of the age he passed through. To him the original good guys were still the good guys and the bad guys the bad guys, just like they told him in school. And somehow when you looked through his eyes, you could still see that uncomplicated, uncompromised world as well. It is there in all his pictures and stories, and that is their magic. He loved nature and his love of it shines through in his meticulous detailing of weather, of the bark on trees and in the posture of the proud four-prong buck. It is there in the innocent satisfaction he took in his work as a logger, only concerned with doing his job to perfection and never conflicted by the latter-day controversy that surrounded it. He was short, but built like a fireplug and took endless pride in his physical strength. Even as a very old man, there was something of the little boy about Bus. He enjoyed the celebrity his art brought him in his latter years, and kept up his spirits even after a series of strokes landed him in extended care three years ago, but he'd had a rough time the last six months and only a few days ago told Marg he was ready to go. The memorial will be in the Union Bay Church Oct. 21 at 1 PM with a reception at the Fanny Bay Hall follwing at 2 PM.

Contributed by: Raincoaster

Sunday, August 13, 2006

HEAT Bill Buford

Five years ago, on a visit to Venice, we hopped aboard Vaporetto 13 to have dinner at Ca' Vignotto on Sant'Erasmo Island. The meal, served in the early afternoon, included three pastas. The lasagna was unlike anything I had ever tasted, tissue-thin layers of pasta enveloping a delicate besciamella sauce. I have dreamed about that pasta.

After reading HEAT by Bill Buford, I know why I haven't experienced the taste since and why I am unlikely to even in Italy. The tradition of hand-made foods is declining.

Bill Buford, formerly fiction editor of the New Yorker magazine, is a home cook.
He invited Mario Battali the infamous chef of Babbo Restaurant in New York City to dinner, and somehow, gained permission to become a "kitchen slave" at Babbo.
Buford brings alive, the larger-than-life genius that Batalli is. He introduces us to the many cooks that make the restaurant function: the impossible Frankie; Andy,
whose obsession is to open a Spanish place, and the Latinos who truly make the kitchen work. As Buford, moves from kitchen slave to line cook we learn about the politics of the business, the sexism, the impossible standards for performance.
Along the way, Buford has many lessons to learn: he destroys 18 branzini, his first night on the fish station. Finally, he masters his station "cooking, fast, hard, effectively --the most satisfying evening of labor I'd ever experienced".

Not satisfied with the knowledge he has gained in his long apprenticehip, Buford decides to travel to Italy to learn pasta-making from Gianni and Betta, Batalli's teachers. It is there that he learns that the success of the pasta is due to the "pastina", a local woman who uses special rollers to produced the tissue-thin dough. In the process, he spends a great deal of time learning Italian so he
can read 15th century manuscripts, hoping to discover when eggs were first used in
pasta making. Obsessive!!

Buford returns to Italy, first to master the butchering of pork and later beef. The gifted, Dante-spouting butcher is his teacher but his real lessons come from the Maestro, the meat-cutter. He's is terribly disappointed to find that when he returns to New York, no one understands the cuts of meats he has learned about. There is much about the importance of local products in Italian food preparation.

The book is full of in-depth profiles of everyone he meets. The humour and there is alot of it, is mostly directed at himself. Amateur cooks will read and reread the
techniques and procedures he describes.
As Buford said in an interview, " One of the great charismas of food is that is about cultures and grandmothers and death and art and self-expressions and family and society and at the same time--it is just about dinner.

Buford is an exceptionally good storyteller. I borrowed this book from the Vancouver Island Regional Library, but I must have my own copy.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

CERTAINITY by Madeline Thien

When Madeleine Thein's short story collection, SIMPLE RECIPES, appeared a few years ago, I became a fan. CERTAINTY, her first novel is terrific. It takes place over a period of 50 years in Canada, Asia and Europe. Thein handles the transitions seamlessly.

Gail Lim, daughter of Chinese immigrants is looking for the untold stories in her family. As a radio documentary producer, she is obsessed with finding a way to decode a diary written during World War II by a POW in a Japanese camp in Asia.
A friend in Amsterdam is working on it with her.

Gail's father, Matthew, was a child in North Borneo during the Japanese occupation. To protect his family, Matthew's father collaborated with the Japanese. When the war was over, Matthew, unable to deal with the shame of his father's actions, left his village, first for Australia where he attended university and subsequently, Vancouver accompanied by his wife, the Hong Kong born, Clara. He is haunted by scenes from the war and by the relationship he had with his beloved childhood friend, Ani.

Gail travels from Vancouver to Holland to read the diary that has been decoded and then to find Spike Vermeullen, a photographer from Jakarta, who married Ani.
The story is told in turn by Matthew, Clara, Ansel, Gail's physician husband, Ani and Gail. Scenes set in the jungles of North Borneo, Jakarta during the riots, and Strathcona in Vancouver are filled with wonderful detail. Bit by bit we discover the hidden stories that haunt each of the characters.

With war much on our minds these days, this novel brings alive the terrible costs to
it victims, especially the children. I think you will enjoy it.

The Attack

As the tragic war has been unfolding in Lebanon these past few weeks, I have been immersed in THE ATTACK by Yasmina Kadra. Some of you will recognize him as the author of the SWALLOWS OF KABUL. Kadra is the pseudomym of Mohammed Moulessehoul, an Algerian army officer.

The novel begins in Tel Aviv, at the Ichilov Hospital where Dr. Amin Jaafari, an Arab-Israeli surgeon is working to save the lives of victims of a suicide bomber.
A suicide bomber has entered a fast food restaurant and killed 19 people, 11 of them children.

Dr. Jaafari's nightmare begins when his wife, the beautiful Sihem, is identified as the suicide bomber. He cannot comprehend what has happened. He had no inkling that his wife lived another life. Jaafari felt he had successfully bridged the Arab- Israeli divide by becoming a respected surgeon in an Israeli hospital, and making friends within his community. He and Sihem lived in a lovely home and he had realized the dream of his father, becoming a healer. Now he has lost everything. A note posted by Sihem just before the bombing convinces him that in fact she was the bomber. He is obsessed with finding out how Sihem could have
belonged to a terrorist cell and carried out this barbaric act while she seemingly lived an idyllic life with him.

His journey takes him from his home in Tel Aviv, where he was arrested, interrogated and badly beaten by his neighbours to a seaside village accompanied by his friend and doctor, Kim. He continues on to Bethlehem, a city "filled with hordes of refugees living in hovels". He finds his brother-in-law, Yassar who will provide some information and more importantly confronts the radical Imam Marwan.

We the readers are on a journey with Dr. Jaafari to discover what fuels terrorists
and terrorism. In exchanges with the Imam, his cousin, Adel and with a commander who
captures and tortures him, Jaafari must come to grips with the fact that his people are consumed with anger, hatred and rage from the humiliation they have suffered. When he chose to become a doctor, he distanced himself from the the rage and need for
retaliation. But in fact he can not escape. Sihem believed " there could be no happiness without freedom" and "no dreams were possible without freedom". Thus she was compelled to act.

The novel comes full circle. The characters, both Israeli and Arab are believable and the communities of the Middle East come alive. This book is an interesting exploration of how complex and difficult a world both the Arabs and the Israelis must deal with. I found it fascinating.

Talking about Books

It's taken me a bit of time to get used to the idea of a book blog. I have procrastinated knowing that once I start, I will be committed to posting notes regularly. While I enjoying talking about books, I have reservations about my writing skills.

I hope to used the blog to talk about books that I have loved or that have intrigued me. I look forward to feedback, discussion and recommendations.

I am grateful to Howard White for getting me started.