What to Read Next?

How do you decide what to read? Do you scan the latest bestseller lists? Do you have a library of unread books where you just close your eyes and reach for one? Does a friend inspire you to read the great book they just finished?

I had a lot of time to ponder this question when I was supervising a test at school. I realized, after having moved among the students with nothing to occupy my mind for several hours, that I don’t have a very good way of choosing my next book.

I love to browse physical shelves of books, touch the books, open the covers and flip through them. So, sitting on my book shelves I have a load of random books that are a result of “impulse buying”: they caught my eye and ignited my curiosity (and were too good of a deal to pass up!). I also love to browse online bookstores and making wish lists. It’s exciting to me how many different kinds of texts exist, and I want to read so many of them.  And that’s how I’ve been choosing what to read next.

But I just ran across my very old list of books that includes classics, award-winners and recommendations by friends, the media, the church, the library or websites I visit. I forgot about my Books to Read List because I stopped carrying it in my wallet. It got too long (to get all the titles typed on both sides of a single sheet of paper, which could fold to fit in my wallet, it had to be a 9-point font), and I didn’t seem to have much time to read anyway.  Even though the books I look at every day at home look like excellent books, I resolved that I was going to return to my list, as it is far less impulsive.

Image by Eder Capobianco, Flickr

Classic Novels – Image by Eder Capobianco, Flickr

I generally try to read books that will have eternal value, and change me for the better.  I think fiction affects me more than non-fiction, but it has to be well-written fiction. Classic novels seem trustworthy choices for quality fiction, and when I run across references to classic novels that I haven’t read, it bothers me to be missing so many stories that have stood the test of time for hundreds of years. So a section of my Books to Read List developed by browsing lists of the best books, such as the ones I found in the Appendix of James Wood’s book How Fiction Works, or an online list, such as Open Culture’s list of “The 10 Greatest Books Ever, According to 125 Top Authors”. I take great pleasure in the rare times I can tick off another one from this list of distinguished, admired books from authors around the world.

So what to read this summer? One fiction book from my Books to Read List is Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I have planned to read it ever since my son read and discussed it with me when he was in junior high school (about fifteen years ago). Not only that, the movie is out, and I don’t want to watch the movie until I’ve read the book, so the pressure’s on. Les Miserables is on the top of my fiction list.  I have recently started reading it on my Kindle, and with my larger font preference, I seem to be making slow progress! I get a bit overwhelmed when reading a huge book, but am staying interested.

For my next non-fiction book, I’m reading a book recommended to me by a friend, What are You Afraid Of? by David Jeremiah, with the hope of taking a frank look at my fears, and my faith. I’ve checked it out of the library and am about a fifth the way through it. So far, it is practical and straightforward yet empathetic.

What are at the top of your lists? What is the best book you’ve ever read? I’d love to read your comments.

Louisa May Alcott’s First Novel, The Inheritance

Written in 1849, first discovered in 1988 and published in 1997, The Inheritance, as expected, is a breath of fresh air. This is no surprise, considering the era in which it was written, when writers consistently wrote with dignity, delicacy, insight, and restraint. It is considered Alcott’s first novel, written when she was only seventeen years old.

 

My first reaction, as the plot unfolded, was that this story reminded me of MansfieldPark, by Jane Austin. In both stories, the heroine, a poor girl of low status with the highest of character, is indebted to the unkind head of the household, but is befriended and defended by the hero, a rich, honorable authority in the household. The ending was a bit common and predictable, but the details, reactions and the uprightness of her characters were not.

 

It’s a lovely book, but not perfect. I wouldn’t usually be excited about reading a novel that began with a detailed description of a house and its landscape, yet the opening sentences show that this type of flowery description must have been popular in that time:

 

“In a green park, where troops of bright-eyed deer lay sleeping under drooping trees and a clear lake mirrored in its bosom the flowers that grew upon its edge, there stood Lord Hamilton’s stately home, half castle and half mansion. Here and there rose a gray old tower or ivy-covered arch, while the blooming gardens that lay around it and the light balconies added grace and beauty to the old, decaying castle, making it a fair and pleasant home. The setting sun shone warmly…”

Alcott The Inheritance

During the first third of the book I was actually impatient, because we were seeing scene after scene which demonstrated with exaggeration just how good and sweet and self-sacrificing Edith Adelon is, how much the same is Lord Percy, and how much he loves Edith from the start. It’s a little too much for me, when a man reacts so decidedly, so quickly, toward a woman. And it is always hard to get into one of these eighteenth or nineteenth century stories about people who sit around all day, looking for ways to amuse themselves, because none of them has any kind of job or responsibilities to speak of. (Even if they are rich, don’t they have some contribution to make to the household or society?)

 

Again, the author shows her mastery of suspense. As soon as the conversations start, and we find out something tragic happened to the awaited Lord Percy, and we start to see the envy and evil in Ida, it is impossible to put down. The good and evil are sharpened, and go to extremes as the story goes on, and the reader can hardly believe (in a good sense!) how rotten some characters can be and how angelic and suffering Edith can be.

 

A little mystery is added with the arrival of an unidentified elderly man, and soon after Edith burns all chances of ever having any financial security or standing in life. We are in awe of her complete lack of selfishness, and frightened at such a level of undeserved trust.

Alcott The Inheritance 2

I enjoyed every page of this high quality book. But what makes it so extraordinary?

 

First, the focus of the heroine is different from that of a typical contemporary book: instead of seeking love, security, power, respect, revenge, or any other “worthy” goal (by some standards), Edith seeks the good of others. She seeks to serve and to sacrifice, and she is grateful, humble, gentle, truthful, and disciplined. How uplifting.

 

Second, she admires a man with the same qualities as her. Most contemporary heroines admire a man who has wealth, power, prestige, and good looks, but rarely does the heroine know much about his moral character and inner strength and convictions. Edith respects a man who respects her. The concept of “love” in this period of books is also different. Love in The Inheritance is based on what is inside, instead of what is on the outside.

 

Third, the expression of love is in good deeds and kindnesses in this novel, whereas contemporary fiction usually shows love expressed in sensual physical contact.

 

The fourth extraordinary quality relates to my pet peeve with fiction, a lack of believability. Although it is certainly made up of idealistic, romantic characters, I found the dialogue, plot and events realistic and natural.

 

This widely available book is a treasure, ideal for a young girl. An A+.

 

An interesting note: according to the scholars who found the manuscript in Harvard’s Houghton Library in 1988, The Inheritance is the novel Jo March writes in Little Women. To read an interesting article about the discovery of this manuscript, click here.

5 Hours in the Library and No Reading Allowed

Our grade 12 students did their final exams last week and I helped supervise the tests. I was with students in the library, and as supervisors, our job is to move among the students to ensure security, so we are not allowed to sit, catch up on our work, or check emails. Or read!

 

After several hours, most students had finished and left, and there were only a handful remaining which were well spaced apart. As I cruised in circles around the library, I began to scan the sets of books stacked on the counters and in the returns carts as I walked by. MacBeth, To Kill a Mockingbird, Life of Pi, Tuesdays with Morrie, War Child, A Long Way Gone, The Kite Runner, Of Mice and Men, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. How many of these had I read?

 

I mentally ticked off A Long Way Gone, as this was our school-wide reading project this year, a first hand account of the horrors of life as a child soldier in Africa. I’d read MacBeth when I was in high school, and more recently read Life of Pi, Tuesdays with Morrie, and Of Mice and Men, so I ticked those off, too. It was tempting to try to read one of the others on the sly during the next hour or so.

 

Soon there was one student left, and I found myself scanning all the shelves. Did they have any 808.02 books (writing books)? (To my disappointment, they did not.) What could a book called Guns, Germs and Steel be about? There were many intriguing titles. I found a sticky note and jotted down some of them to add to my reading list.

 

On the counter I also saw a sign that said “Summer Reading”, and nabbed one of the sheets of paper in the box. I was happy to see that I’d read a few of the ones on the list (but not many), and now have more recommendations of new works to balance out my many old books that I’ve recently acquired.

 

Here are the books that one teacher is recommending to our students. See how many you’ve read. Should they be on a list of top-notch books? Did you enjoy them, or not? Do any of the others strike your interest?

 

1984 – Orwell

The AshGarden – Bock

The Bean Trees – Kingsolver

The Chosen – Potok

Crime and Punishment – Dostoevsky

CrowLake – Lawson

Davita’s Harp – Potok

Fifth Business – Davies

The Grapes of Wrath – Steinbeck

Great Expectations – Dickens

The Great Gatsby – Fitzgerald

Heart of Darkness – Conrad

The Hero’s Walk – Badami

The Kite Runner – Hosseini

House of the Spirits – Allende

The Lovely Bones – Sebold

Life of Pi – Martel

The Metamorphosis – Kafta

Monsignor Quixote – Greene

The Mosquito Coast – Theroux

My Name is Asher Lev – Potok

Frankenstein – Shelley

No Great Mischief – MacLeod

Obasan – Kogawa

The Outsider – Camus

The Poisonwood Bible – Kingsolver

Pride and Prejudice – Austen

A Separate Peace – Knowles

Snow Falling on Cedars – Guterson

The Stone Angel – Laurence

Things Fall Apart – Achebe

Under the Ribs of Death – Marlyn

The Wars – Findley

Wild Geese – Ostenso

Windflower – Roy

WutheringHeights – Bronte

Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, MacBeth, The Tempest – Shakespeare

 

Happy Summer Reading!

Louisa May Alcott’s Pauline’s Passion and Punishment

“To and fro, like a wild creature in its cage, paced that handsome woman, with bent head, locked hands, and restless steps.”

 

We know Louisa May Alcott by her most popular books showing life in the late 1800’s that give us a safe, warm feeling. Most are stories of the March family: Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, Good Wives, and the best-known Little Women and Little Men. In my Books Read binder, however, are some lesser-known tales by Alcott.

 

In addition to Behind a Mask, originally entitled A Woman’s Power, which I wrote about previously, Alcott wrote another captivating story with a nasty, tragic “heroine” called Pauline’s Passion and Punishment. It is a story of bitter revenge, intensely focused and planned. What morally deprived women the author contrives! However, the redeeming quality of these books is that each story shows clearly the natural consequences of such evil.

Alcott portrait

Pauline is jilted by her beloved Gilbert and plans revenge by taking a kind young man, Manuel, as her husband. Manuel is deeply in love with her and agrees to marry her even after she explains honestly that her primary motive for marrying is to use him to make her former beau insanely jealous and remorseful. She even warns him that the prospects of her ever being a happy, loving wife for him are slim and empty. Both characters lost a lot of credibility for me at this point, and made me wonder if it also affected the nineteenth century readers the same way, but also reminded me that it is holding true to the intended story form of melodrama.

 

Pauline’s plan works perfectly and Gilbert desperately wants her back, even planning to leave his wife. In the meantime, Manuel meets and grows close to Gilbert’s wife. This part made it nearly impossible for me to finish reading, as it gets worse and worse, more horrible and tragic with each page. That is where I’ll leave off in relating the plot, but be assured that Alcott provides some literary “satisfaction” in the end, a good transformation, which was a great relief to this reader.

Alcott Little W inside

As in Alcott’s other books, we are still safe in knowing that we won’t have the unpleasant shock of reading offensive material, just a suspenseful and truly well-written story. As I did for Behind a Mask, I give this novelette an A for entertainment value and for a realistic moral message, but a D if you’re looking for wholesome, commendable characters.

 

Published in 1863, I believe this was also written using the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. Pauline’s Passion and Punishment is contained in the anthology Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott, as well as other anthologies. It can be found on Amazon, and for free through several websites offering classic literature, such as www.gutenberg.org.

The Versatility of Louisa May Alcott: Behind a Mask

Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, Eight Cousins, Good Wives. We know Louisa May Alcott by her most popular books, stories of the March family, depicting life in the late 1800’s that give us a safe, warm feeling. In my Books Read binder, however, are some lesser-known tales by Alcott.

 

One of these stories is Behind a Mask, originally entitled A Woman’s Power. It was apparently written using the pseudonym A. M. Barnard in 1866 during a time of economic trouble for the Alcott family. The author entered the manuscript into a contest and won one hundred dollars for it, which would be worth about $2,500 today.

Alcott Behind a M bk cvr 2

I actually skimmed this novelette first, and my first impression was that it looked boring. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the idea of an author with such a sweet reputation writing what the cover claimed were “blood and thunder tales” created by the “gruesome, gory, passionate, darker side of the writer…” So as happens often, when I actually started reading it word for word, it captured my attention and it was a discipline to put down.

 

All during the first chapters I felt like something was strange and a bit disjointed. Alcott drops little hints, and I became increasingly nervous and couldn’t wait to find out what was really taking place. In this mysterious tale, many relationships develop that build the suspense—some you didn’t want and you wished you could warn the characters away from them. With her typical talent for drawing us into her fictional world with men and women we want to spend time with, in this book we also enter into a dangerous adventure with the antagonist. We hold our breath for most of the story, and yet are still not plunged into a sordid playing out of base immorality, foul language or complete abandonment of propriety, as too many contemporary novels unnecessarily subject us to. It takes genuine talent to accomplish that, and I admire Alcott for this work.

Alcott Behind a M bk cvr 3

To give an idea of the premise, young, shy Jean Muir comes from Scotland to the Coventry household and joins the family as governess for Bella, yet no one can be comfortable or entirely sure about her. She was recommended by Lady Sydney, but the reasons why she left the Sydney family are a mystery. As she flirts with the men and the women become jealous, some love her, some hate her, the rest are tentative and wary. I’d spoil it if I told much more, but I’ll add that I’ve never been so gripped by a book that was filled with so much secrecy, manipulation and malevolence. I give it an A for entertainment value, but lest you consider buying it for your daughter, I give it a D for the lack of wholesome, admirable characters that you’d like your child to emulate!

 

Have you read this book, or Louisa May Alcott’s other thrillers?

 

Behind a Mask is available on Amazon as part of a set of Alcott’s novelettes, and for free through several websites offering classic literature, such as www.gutenberg.org .

Alcott Behind a M bk cvr

[Next review of Louisa May Alcott: Pauline’s Passion and Punishment]

Update about Calgary READS used book sale: going bananas!

As posted last week, Calgary READS is holding their huge used booksale on Friday May 23th and Saturday the 24th.  I revisited their site, and they now have information about a contest and the activities of those days that go beyond simply shopping for books (as if you could ever top that!).

 

They will be open late on Saturday night with STORY TIME for the kids from 6pm – 8pm and DATE NIGHT for the growns-ups from 9pm – 11pm.

Win!

How many fantastic books do you think you can fit into a wheelbarrow? Now’s your chance to find out!

The winner of their Twitter contest gets a 30-second opportunity to go #bananas4books at the book sale on Thursday, May 22 (in the daytime, at a time yet to be determined) and fill up a wheelbarrow with as many FREE books as they can!

Contest rules are also at  Bananas4books contest

It’s easy to enter this contest! Post a tweet on Twitter that includes:

  • the hashtag #bananas4books
  • the Calgary Reads handle @calgaryreads
  • and follow Calgary Reads on Twitter.

Sample tweet: I want to go #bananas4books at the CBC – Calgary Reads Book Sale May 23-24. @calgaryreads

Contest opens 3:00 pm Thursday, May 8 2014 and closes 7:00 am on Wednesday, May 21 2014. Only one entry per person. Participants may only use one Twitter account to participate. Each complete and eligible response automatically qualifies as an entry to the contest. Calgary Reads does not accept entries via phone, fax, mail or email. Calgary Reads staff and their families are exempt. The winner will be notified on Wednesday, May 21 2014 by direct message on Twitter.

 

And on top of all that, it’s a worthy place to spend your money to support literacy in Calgary!

For more details about donating books, volunteering, location, parking and times, see last week’s post, here.

Next up: the 2014 CBC – Calgary READS used book sale

With so many new and used book stores scaling down, or going out of business, especially the precious little mom-and-pop stores, it is a joy to see that charitable organizations still put in a lot of hard work into book sales, and can raise money from all the people still buying used books!

Calgary READS is an organization close to my heart, because their mission is to make reading a priority for young children.  They have grown from offering one tutoring program to now having over 18 programs and initiatives that work in schools and communities to support children and their families.  They receive no government funding, have the equivalent of only 6 paid staff and over 700 volunteers!  According to their financial statement, they raised just over $176,000 last year from the book sale.  It is my joy to bring my next batch of book donations to this sale, knowing I can help children who are struggling to read.

Sometimes I feel sad when I see how great of a struggle publishers seem to be having with print books, and when I realize how much electronic devices and videos are replacing reading.  But whenever I go to these sales, it makes me smile to see children of all ages looking intensely for their favorite authors, carrying around piles of books to buy and begging mom or dad for “just one more”.  There’s just no substitute for a print book that you can hold in your hands with paper pages to flip.

As noted on their website, the sale is AFTER the May long weekend and they won’t be open on Sunday this year, but will be open late on Saturday night with all kinds of fun activities planned.  Stay tuned for more details.

DayOneBookSale-06-0513Let me add that I highly recommend that you bring a wheeled travel or shopping cart to put books in as you shop.  If you’re like me, you underestimate how many treasures (or potential treasures) you will find, and end up carrying a pile of them around!

Shop May 23 and 24, 2014

The Calgary Curling Club, 720 3 St NW (on Memorial Drive)

Friday, May 23 9 am – 7 pm

Saturday, May 24 9 am – MIDNIGHT

Admission $2.00 per person (children under 12 are free)

 

Parking:

Limited free parking is available in the Curling Club lot and on the street. Paid parking is available on the east side of the Curling Club (which I highly recommend you try FIRST, because if there is no parking in the Curling Club lot, it’s a bit of an adventure trying to get back to the Paid Parking lot on the east side because of the heavy one-way traffic on Memorial Drive going west, the Bow River, and the green spaces around the area–see the map at the end of the post, or here ).

(Also, Thursday, May 22  is the pre-sale “by invitation only“, 5 pm – 8 pm.  Perhaps it’s for VIPs and volunteers….?)

 

You can drop off your donations (your gently-used books and DVDs *) at 2 locations:DayOneBookSale-09-0513

1. Calgary Food Bank, April 23 – May 9

5000 11 Street SE, warehouse door 3

Monday – Thursday from 9 am – 7pm

Fridays 9 am – 3pm

(No weekend drop offs)

and

2. Calgary Curling Club, May 10 -18

Saturday, May 10th and Sunday, May 11 from 9 am – 4pm

Monday, May 12th to Friday, May 16th from 9 am – 7 pm

Saturday, May 17th 9 am – 4pm

Sunday, May 18th 9 am- 3 pm

[*Note that they CANNOT accept: encyclopedias, text books, Harlequin Romances, Readers’ Digest books, book tapes, VHS, cassettes, 8-tracks or magazines]

Want to Volunteer? CashTable-01-0513

They have group or individual volunteer opportunities to help with collection, sorting, set-up and sale.

Email them at booksale@calgaryreads.com

 

 

 

The Curling Club is at the spot marked “A” in the map below:

Curling clubmap for book sale

 

Big Used Book Sale coming up in Calgary

If the used book sales are starting, it must be spring!

Today is the first day that donations are being accepted at Crossroads Market’s tent for the

12th Annual Calgary Book Drive & Sale

in support of Servants Anonymous Society of Calgary

Friday through Sunday, April 25-27, 2014, and May 2-4, 2014

 

Here are the details from their website:

Book Donations, gently used books, are being accepted April 5-21, from 10 am – 5 pm,
at the tent in front of OutPost Tent, Crossroads Market, 1235 26 Ave SE

Crossroads Booksale 2011

 

This year they are doing something fun by having Sneak Preview Night on April 24, the evening before the sale starts.  It is advance book viewing /buying at the same place as the donations and the sale, OutPost Tent, Crossroads Market, 1235 26 Ave SE, 3 – 8 pm.

Kiss 96.9 will be broadcasting LIVE ON LOCATION

City of Calgary FOOD TRUCKS will be in Crossroads Parking Lot

DON’T MISS THE FUN!

 

The actual Book Sale is Friday through Sunday, April 25-27, 2014, and May 2-4, 2014, at the OutPost Tent, Crossroads Market, 1235 26 Ave SE, 10 am – 5 pm.  Admission is $2.

 

I recommend shopping with a wheeled traveling or shopping bag–it’s great for avoiding sore arms from carrying around a pile of heavy treasures and “possibilities”.  I will be heading straight for the special gated area with the antiquarian, rare and just-plain-old books in the back right corner!

Book Review of This Day: A Collection of Simple Prayers

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a new treasure that I picked up recently at my favorite used bookstore, Better Books and Bibles.  It was made from prayers used in the Daily Broadcast Service of the BBC radio program, compiled by an unnamed and un-credited person.  There are no dates that I can find anywhere in the book, which I find intriguing, but according to the National Trust Collections and other resources, it was published in 1928 or 1929 by St. Martin’s Review, London.

IMG_0004 title only

IMG_0006

After some searching, I found that Hugh Liddon Johnston is credited with being the compiler.  I wonder why his name wasn’t listed.  Perhaps it was his own humble choice?  Or the publisher’s?  A similar book of his, When Two or Three, was published in 1932 as a new version of This Day; and a later version of This Day was apparently published in 1953.

IMG_0007

The Reverend H.R.L. Sheppard, who wrote the introduction, conducted the first church worship service ever broadcast on BBC radio on January 6, 1924 at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, in London.  You can find a fascinating and inspiring biography of him here.  He “preached in a style that made Christianity live for the ordinary listener.”  Amazingly, and fortunately, the Daily Service is still broadcast on BBC, here.

IMG_0009 introIMG_0010 intro pg 2

This is one of those books that looks pretty ragged on the outside (which isn’t surprising, being 86 years old and originating in London, England), but brand new on the inside and perfectly relevant to today.

In its 70 pages, each containing three separate entries, are one-sentence prayers focused on a short phrase of scripture.  What a simple and valuable way of praying, to be reading at any point in the Bible, and to stop at one place to speak to God.

IMG_0011 p8&9

In fact, lately, even before picking up This Day, my own scripture reading has naturally merged with prayer.  I always have questions to ask the Lord, but I also make comments and just start talking about my own thoughts and related ideas.  This book is a great starting point for that kind of lovely time with God.

It is not easy to buy, however.  Amazon U.K. lists This Day and When Two or Three, but shows all the volumes as not currently available.  But you can enjoy some of these images as inspiration for personalizing your own scripture reading and prayer times, and I hope you do!

Better Books and Bibles store in Calgary has moved

One of my favorite places in this whole city is a particular bookstore, which has not only new books, but also used books, and not only that but also Christian books.  I consider it a Mecca for booklovers and treasure hunters.  Last week I treated myself to a browsing session at their new location.

I posted before about their previous location on Meridian Road, and now they are even more accessible on 16th Avenue Northwest.  If you’re anywhere near Peter’s Drive-In, SAIT or Motel Village, you’re just minutes away from Better Books and Bibles, a couple of doors down from Whyte’s Flowers.  It is interesting that the shop next door to the east, formerly a house, used to be one of the biggest and best used bookstores ever.

You are welcome to bring in used books you no longer want, and with certain titles and authors you can either receive cash for them, or exchange them. In the New Book section, their theme is “Better Books”. They also have a great selection of Bibles, audiobooks, CDs and DVDs. It is also a great resource for church leaders to support the needs of a congregation.

I had a chat with David, the manager, who said that some customers found them through my previous blog post, which is wonderful, and I hope many more find them here!

bannerThe prices at Better Books and Bibles are more than reasonable, and lower than most used bookstores.  Of course I couldn’t leave without a treasure.  I found a copy of  This Day: A Collection of Simple Prayers.  (David gave me a great deal on it since it was my first time in the new store!)  I will be posting a review and some images soon.

Here’s how you can reach the store:

Website and email:  www.booksandbibles.ca , bbookbib@telus.net

Phone: (403) 233-2409

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BetterBooksBibles

Address: 636 16 Ave NW, Calgary, Alberta   (SEE MAPS BELOW)

(Parking in the back, accessible from the alley)

 IMG_0005

   HOURS OF OPERATION

Tuesday 10 am to 6pm
Wednesday 10 am to 6pm
Thursday 10 am to 9pm
Friday 10 am to 9pm
Saturday 10 am to 6pm
Sunday CLOSED
Monday CLOSED

There are 2 maps below, and a “touched up” Google street view image.

Do drop by and check out the riches of this store and the friendly staff!

contact info & sm map Google street view edited bigger map

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