500 Reviews

Back in 2010, I wrote my first review on LibraryThing. It was for a book that I greatly enjoyed at the time called The Book Thief. I suppose I wrote that review for no better reason than to enthuse about a book that was, being a YA novel, outside of my typical reading zone. It was two years until I wrote another review and this time for a somewhat different reason. By then I’d stumbled upon one of the many groups on LibraryThing. The one that caught and held my attention was the 75 Books Challenge {for that year}. Many of the participants in that group, I’d noticed, posted a short review of each book on their personal thread in the group. And most also added those to the main page for that book in LibraryThing (the latter is by no means necessary; nor, for that matter, is the former). I liked what I saw and wanted to take up the habit as well. The habit stuck.

In the years since then, I’ve joined each year’s 75 Books Challenge. Most (but not all) years I reached that total. And for nearly all of those books I wrote a brief review. My typical review is between two to four paragraphs. I usually give a hint at the content in the first paragraph. And then I comment on the writing itself in what follows. I usually conclude with a recommendation for or against reading that book. Since I’m self-selecting the books I read, for the most part, I tend to read books that I am comfortable encouraging others to take up as well. There have been some notable exceptions but, given the total number of books read, the exceptions are rare. I try to be generous with my reviews but I’m rarely ecstatic. It takes a truly exceptional book to get me to rave about it. And then, of course, my reading tastes may be peculiar or at least highly particular.

When I set out to write these reviews, I hadn’t intended anything more than that. But like most positive habits, there are secondary or tertiary effects that accrue over time. For example, as I age I find that I don’t remember things as easily as I did as a young man. Maybe there are just more things to remember. But one thing I do remember easily, thanks to the review I will have written, is what I thought and felt about a book I’ve read. Indeed, for any of the 500 books I’ve reviewed, a quick glance at my review almost instantly brings the whole book back to life for me. I certainly hadn’t set out to write reviews as mnemonic devices. But I very much value their functioning in that way now.

I’ve also had a lot of fun.

Not every review I write is witty, or dryly ironic, or sly. But every once in a while, I do craft a review that tickles me. And I’ve been delighted to find that some of them have been enjoyed by others on LibraryThing as well. It’s a small pleasure, which is the best kind.

And so I’ll continue with my reviews and more especially with my reading. I’d be happy to discuss any of the books I’ve read. Just give me a moment to refresh my memory by reading the review I wrote when I read it and then fire away.

You can find my 500 (and counting) reviews here.

A Writer’s Life, in passing

Last month, a writer I knew passed away. It was a sadly familiar tale of misdiagnosis, radical and aggressive treatment, apparent respite, then recurrence, treatment, recurrence, and so on. Each treatment seemed more debilitating. Each respite less certain. Throughout this lengthy ordeal, Tracie kept writing.

I didn’t know her well. Or rather, I only knew her well as a writer. We met for the first time in late 2010. I was joining an already established writing group, a group of which she was a member. They had been together for a few years, meeting each month, sharing and critiquing each other’s work. I was fortunate they took me on. Eight years later, we still submit a short portion of what we have been writing recently to the others for comment.
I’ve been going back over the pieces I submitted to the group through the years in order to recall Tracie’s typical comment. She was naturally good-humoured herself and loved writing that raised a chuckle. “Funny!” she would write in the margin. “Too much!” But she also, perhaps due to her career as a family therapist, knew when you were getting to the truth of an experience.

Back when I first joined the group, Tracie was mostly submitting poetry. But once she submitted something entitled, “A Short Story.” That short story grew. And grew. And grew. A novelist was emerging. Later there was another novel, still being written furiously over this last year. And there was also Pecky.

Some time in 2016 we read the first of the Pecky books. Pecky is a talking duck who lives with a family in the suburbs but who has another life as a Hollywood star. “Funny!” It turned out that Pecky was a perfect vehicle for Tracie. She poured her time into the Pecky books, found a wonderful illustrator in Shirley Fowley, and managed the process of production, publication, publicity and distribution. Tracie’s readings at local bookstores were special events, complete with a real life Pecky who accompanied Tracie. Later Pecky would travel to Yellowstone, the Everglades, even Ottawa. “Too much!”

Tracie’s enthusiasm for writing, her generous critiques, her busy full life even through the worst of these past two years — I’ll always remember. She wrote for the love of it. And though I know she did many other things well — therapist, musician, mother — it was as a writer that I knew her. She will be missed.

Tracie Klaehn’s homepage.

 

Reading – a year in review, 2017

2017 was a good year for reading. I discovered new authors whose work I enjoyed: Jenny Erpenbeck, Álvaro Enrique, Zoey Leigh Peterson, Hiromi Kawakami and Lori McNulty. I continued my affection for authors with whom I had already been acquainted: Rachel Cusk, Ben Lerner, George Saunders, Patrick Modiano, Adam Gopnik and Robert Hughes. I also wrote short reviews of each book I read this past year and posted them on LibraryThing, a few of which I re-posted here on this blog. I’m already looking forward to another great year of reading ahead.

Stats from my 2017 reading list:

  •  32 were borrowed from our public library
  •  10 have Canadian authors
  •  10 were chosen due to personal recommendations from friends
  •  2 are by authors who appear more than once on the 2017 list
  •  1 was being reread
  •  0 was read aloud by my wife and me
  •  18 are non-fiction
  •  0 are ebooks

Books read in 2017 (60):

  • Chabon, Michael. Moonglow

  • Erpenbeck, Jenny. Visitation
  • Carter, Angela. Artificial Fire
  • Cusk, Rachel. Transit

  • Thien, Madeleine. Do Not Say We Have Nothing

  • Levy, Deborah. Hot Milk

  • Constantine, David. The Life-Writer
  • Babbitt, Natalie. Tuck Everlasting

  • Lerner, Ben. The Hatred of Poetry
  • Gretzky, Wayne with McLellan Day, Kirstie. 99 Stories of the Game
  • Groff, Lauren. Arcadia

  • Smith, Ali. Autumn

  • Nguyen, Viet Thanh. The Refugees

  • Grayling, A.C. The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century & the Birth of the Modern Mind

  • Paley, Grace. Just As I Thought

  • Galchen, Rivka. Little Labors
  • Enrigue, Álvaro. Sudden Death
  • Henighan, Stephen. The Path of the Jaguar

  • Li, Yiyun. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

  • Peterson, Zoey Leigh. Next Year, For Sure
  • Joyce, James. Dubliners

  • Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo
  • Fournel, Paul. Dear Reader
  • Wecker, Helene. The Golem and the Jinni
  • McGregor, Jon. Reservoir 13

  • Tóibín, Colm. House of Names
  • Ford, Richard. Between Them: Remembering My Parents

  • Sutherland, John. How to Read a Novel

  • McEwan, Ian. Nutshell

  • Martin, Manjula (editor). Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living

  • McCann, Colum. Letters to a Young Writer

  • Martin, George R.R. Game of Thrones

  • Tyson, Neil de Grasse. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

  • Tallis, Raymond. The Black Mirror: Fragments of an Obituary for Life

  • Modiano, Patrick. In the Café of Lost Youth
  • 
Grossman, David. A Horse Walks into a Bar
  • Martin, George R.R. A Clash of Kings
  • Kawakami, Hiromi. The Nakano Thrift Shop
  • Rovelli, Carlo. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
  • Kawakami, Hiromi. manazuru: a novel

  • Barwin, Gary. Yiddish for Pirates
  • Rosoff, Meg. Jonathan Unleashed

  • Meloy, Maile. Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It

  • Grady, Wayne. Emancipation Day

  • Hardcastle, Kevin. In The Cage

  • Johnson, Trevor and Neill, Hugh. Mathematics: A complete introduction
  • Acheson, David. 1089 and all that: a journey into mathematics
  • Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

  • Gopnik, Adam. At the Stranger’s Gate: Arrivals in New York
  • Baldwin, James. Giovanni’s Room
  • Smythe, Karen. This Side of Sad
  • St. Aubyn, Edward. Dunbar
  • Cline, Emma. The Girls: a novel

  • Wolitzer, Meg (ed.). The Best American Short Stories 2017

  • Sterne, Laurence. A Sentimental Journey and other writings

  • Erpenbeck, Jenny. The End of Days
  • Weir, Andy. Artemis
  • McNulty, Lori. Life on Mars: stories

  • Hughes, Robert. Goya

 

Running – a new era

I haven’t blogged about my running since the end of 2012. So this is a bit of a departure. Back then I was giving my year end running review and was rather proud of myself for breaking my yearly record. Ever since I started running in earnest I have been recording how long I run each time out. 2012 marked a significant highpoint for me. Indeed, I managed 30% more running that year than any previous year I had on record. But that highpoint was followed by, first, a lessening, and then a substantial drop-off as life (and death) distracted me from my regular routine. This year, I’ve regained my form and gone to a whole new level. Earlier this month, on 11 June, I surpassed my 2012 yearly total. With more than six months left in the year, every time I go for a run now I’m breaking new ground.

How did I manage this?

Mostly I just wasn’t thinking about it. In the late autumn of 2016, I took up running on the track at the Waterloo Recreation Complex a few times a week. By December I had increased my usual outing from 30 minutes to 50 minutes. Then I started adding stairs. I was seeing a fair number of people running the stairs and thought I’d give it a try as well. It’s not as easy as it looks! But it’s not as hard as you might imagine as well.

For Christmas, my wife gave me a FitBit Charge 2. It is one of the ones that tracks your heart rate. I was very curious about whether my heart rate was in a healthy range during my runs. It turns out that it was just fine. The FitBit had a secondary effect, however. One of the things it facilitates is very simple logging of one’s weight and diet. So I started recording my weight each day and being a bit more conscientious about not over-snacking. Modest reductions in my food intake almost immediately had a dramatic impact on my weight. Combine this with the fact that I’d also increased my standard run and one thing led to another.

Over four months I shed 30 lbs. As the weather improved, I moved my running outdoors. Again Fitbit added an incentive. The Charge 2 interacts with my smartphone so that, if I have the phone with me on a run, I am provided with a Google map of my route at the end and an accurate record of the distance and split times for each kilometre.

The last time I had run 10 km was during the Oxford Town and Gown fun run in 2006. According to my log book, I ran that 10 km in 61 minutes and 22 seconds with rain falling throughout and a temperature of 11c. And that was my best 10 km time to date.

This year, with my FitBit Charge 2 on my wrist and my smartphone strapped around my waist, I mapped out a few 10 km routes and decided to attempt to make this my new basic training run. I convinced myself that this would be much easier now that I was 30 lbs lighter. I ran my first 10 km on 29 March while visiting Providence Bay on Manitoulin Island. Needless to say it was rather cold up there at that time of year. But much to my surprise the time for the run was 60 minutes. Wow! 11 years after my last attempt at 10 km, I was able to run it more than a minute faster.

As the weather warmed up so did my times. Today my standard run is about 10.3 km. I usually complete that in 58 minutes. So I’m probably managing the 10 km in about 56 minutes. And I’ve done that 20 times already.

It’s a whole new era. I wonder where I’ll go from here.

Grand Porch Party 2017

Grand Porch Party 2017

Sunday, 11 June, is going to be a sunny, warm, musical day. It’s time for the annual Grand Porch Party. And this year our porch is playing host to three of the musical acts.

Between 2 and 5 pm, everyone is invited to stroll about our neighbourhood and enjoy the acts at 12 different venues (i.e. porches). You can plan your visit with this 2017 Performance Map.

The three acts performing on our porch are:

Check out all of the acts performing at this year’s Grand Porch Party.

I’ve trimmed the hedges (so that the performers will actually be able to be seen). I’ve cut the grass. We planted some flowers. And K. is undertaking the much more labour intensive task of painting the porch. All should be in readiness for the 11th.

Looking forward to a day of sun and music. I hope you will join us.