A few books for the end of the year

A friend brought me a big bag of books, so I started in on them with alacrity. What a treasure! And most are books I would have chosen for myself. I also have books from the library, so I am good to go for a while.

bear mountain

The first one I read from the book bag was The Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotswinkle. I read something by him many years ago and although I can’t remember which book it was, I remember that I enjoyed his writing. I read in bed before I go to sleep, so I was reading this and laughing out loud. It takes a lot for a book to do that! The bear is question stole a briefcase containing a novel written by a sort of loser English professor in Maine. The bear ends up taking it to New York City, where he learns to stand on his own two feet and is feted as a sort of Ernest Hemingway. Since he is a bear, he doesn’t speak well and in fact speaks in terse phrases, but you can see the agents and critics taking these phrases and spinning their own understandings of them. It is really hilarious. Although the book was published almost 20 years ago, some things never change. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.

art of racing in the rain

Another book I read was The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. In a way, it is a guy’s tearjerker, as the story is told by a dog who, like his owner, loves racing cars. Through the dog we follow the story of Denny, who falls in love with and marries Eve. They have a little girl, Zoe, and then a few years later Eve dies of brain cancer. Her parents sue for custody and the Denny, with the help of Enzo the dog, keeps to his racing principles in spite of bumps in the road. I am not a dog person and I don’t know the first thing about car racing, but it was a nice story with a satisfying ending. I probably would not have picked it up myself, but I am glad it came my way.

girl saved king of sweden

I read The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared a few months ago, so when The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden came my way, I was happy to read it. However, Jonas Jonasson make me laugh quite as much with this one. I felt he was forcing it a bit and I definitely think that there were a lot of in-jokes about Sweden here. Like the other book, he referred to and incorporated real historical events with some real historical people. When the King of Sweden finally came into the story I found myself wondering if he had read the book and if he had enjoyed how he was portrayed in it. It was a fun book to read, all in all, but I wished I had known more about the political workings of Sweden in order to get the jokes better.

These next books are library books. I am reading less these days, and there have been a few books that I started and abandoned because they were so crappy– their names will not be told. I have also been getting into Canadiana, which is kind of interesting for an expat.

stone carvers

The first one is The Stone Carvers by Jane Urqhuart. This is set in the woods of rural Ontario, from the calling of an Austrian priest who decides to build a church in the village, with the help of a woodcarver, also from Austria, to the granddaughter of the woodcarver, who is a carver herself. She in fact, lost her first love to the First World War and goes with her hobo brother to Vimy Ridge to help on the monument to the Canadians lost in the war. She dresses like a young man in order to go, but is eventually found out. This spinster has guts and her brother does too, as he had been a soldier there and did not want to go. It was a good story.

my october

Another one is My October by Claire Holden Rothman. For Canadians of a certain age, like me, October 1970 was one of the few times in Canadian history where we had to deal with terrorism. One person was killed by the people wanting a separate Quebec and an Irish diplomat was kidnapped and held for two months. This story deal with a couple, Luc Levesque, who is a Quebec nationalist and writer, and his wife Hannah, who is an anglophone and translates his books into English. Their son, Hugo, is going through adolescent angst, particularly when he sees his father with another woman. Hannah’s father, an Austrian Jew, had been the prosecutor against the separatists. In the story he has had a stroke, but eventually Hugo lands on his doorstep. It is a good look at the separatist movement decades later, as well as the struggle within a family to deal with their family past. It did not sentimentalize the events and in fact was quite interesting and a good read.

guide for the perplexed

A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn was a little dense at times, as the title refers to a book written by a Jewish scholar in the 12th century. The story also includes a Jewish scholar from Romania who becomes involved in dealing with the pile of documents from the genizah of an ancient synagogue in Cairo. A genizah is where any paper with the name of god on it was thrown, a sort of garbage heap, now a gold mine for scholars. The other protagonist was an American Jewish woman, Josie, who has developed a computer program called Genizah, which keeps memories on a computer, with particular parts behind doors. Josie goes to Alexandria to help with the computer systems at the new library there and ultimately is kidnapped and has a copy of the Guide for the Perplexed with her. We see what some of the points are, which to me as a non scholar and non Jew were a little convoluted. The book goes back and forth among these main characters in an interesting way.  real guide for perplexed

It was interesting to see the concept of keeping memories, particularly since a few years ago I read another book about a genizah, possibly from the same synagogue. I completely forget the name of the book and a Google search came up with nothing, but in it the writer (from India, who had done his PhD thesis on this) followed the story through correspondence between a merchant and his mentor. At any rate, I was familiar with the concept of a genizah, and in fact I would say that a lot of my blogs here are from my personal genizah.

Happy reading in 2015!


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