Tuesday, 4 August 2015

2015 Reads: July

July has always been the golden month of reading. For years, armed with grading gifts (considering you can't actually fail a grade until you hit high school in the New Brunswick school system anymore, and this originated at some point during my middle school career, so the concept of grading is ridiculous because I was going to proceed to the next grade regardless for most of my grade school life. But you don't argue with a new $20 bill at ten, now do you?), I and my brothers would beg to be driven to Chapters. In later years, my mom would just get us to fill an Amazon cart. And once we came home with our armloads of shiny new books, we all took up residence in various chairs to read. Summer had started.

Since those golden days of summer have long since ended, I now fit my reading around work and chores and various boring adult things. I won't be headed to my cottage this summer, so there will be no reading in the hammock or on an air mattress or around the fire (and for the record, I'm being incredibly childish about this, because I want to go). And yet, I've been cramming in plenty of reading lately, working my way through my to-be-read pile, which has gotten so very long the last few years. 

...And forgot The Dovekeepers.

36. The Dovekeepers - Alice Hoffman

I picked up this one as an emergency read at the Coles in the mall below my library. Since I work in a special library right now, there are approximately two books in the collection that I would even consider reading in my leisure time. Somehow I forgot my Kindle one day, and so I used my carefully hoarded Plum points to get this one for free. It's about the Siege of Masada at the end of the first Jewish-Roman War. I really enjoyed it - it tells the stories of four women and how they ended up in Masada, and their lives there. 

37. The Last Song - Eva Wiseman

This was a YA novel I picked up at a charity booksale sometime last year. It was not that great: it was set during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, but it lacked any real depth. The main character was the daughter of a prominent Spanish physician, and they turned out to be secretly Jewish. It could have had much more nuance and interest, but it didn't. It was probably aimed at preteens, and I wish I had known that before opening it.

38. Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee

I am still really conflicted about this book. Regardless of whether or not I think Harper Lee actually wanted this published, it's really not that good. It's not a complete story. It's a draft of a book that has the same characters as To Kill A Mockingbird but doesn't take place in the same universe. Because of the obviously unfinished nature of the work, I'm very uncomfortable with the publication of this, and I really regret buying it.

39. Sophie's World - Jostein Gaarder

This one is an exercise in philosophy and the construction of worlds. A story within a story within a story, if you will. It was incredibly interesting, although maybe not the best material for bedtime reading, as it tended to provoke thoughts rather than relax.

40. The Nazi Officer's Wife - Edith Hahn Beer and Susan Dworkin

This was narrative non-fiction about Edith Hahn, and how she survived World War II, going from a Jewish law student to a nurse's assistant and wife to a Nazi officer. It was fascinating and heart-breaking.

41. Me Before You - Jojo Moynes

So I picked this up because I was looking for an incredibly sad book and also it's going to be a movie with Emilia Clarke. And it was fantastic, and funny, and sad. The main character, Lou, is happily working in a cafe while living at home when she suddenly gets laid off. She's rather devoid of ambition, but goes out to search for a new job, and somehow lands a position as a companion for a quadriplegic man, Will. It's about how they change each other's lives. And it was wonderfully sad.

42. The Red Queen - Margaret Drabble

This is two stories: one, about the Red Queen, and another, about a researcher. The first half of the book is the Red Queen telling her story, in eighteenth century Korea, and the second half is about the researcher's trip to Korea for a conference and something about the Red Queen trying to get her story across to the researcher. Separately, they were interesting. But I don't think that together they had the effect the author wanted. It ended up feeling disjointed and weird, with some kind of pseudo-fantasy overtone of the Red Queen forcing her story on people from beyond the grave. 

43. Frederick Street: Life and Death on Canada's Love Canal - Maude Barlow and Elizabeth May

This is one of the two books referenced in the hyperbolic statement I made about my library above. This was published in 2000, so the issue has progressed considerably since then, but it deals with the Sydney tar ponds site on the former Sydney Steel Corporation (SYSCO) in Sydney, Cape Breton. For those of you unfamiliar with the Sydney tar ponds, I'll give a super quick rundown. The Wikipedia article is a pretty good summary of what happened if you want more info. For nearly one hundred years, there was a steel mill in the heart of Sydney. Runoff from the coke ovens used in the production of steel leached its way into Muggah Creek, a freshwater stream that fed into the Sydney Harbour. There were over 500 000 tonnes of contaminant in ponds, and even more in the soil. It was one of the worst environmental disasters in Canada. In 2013, the rehabilitated site opened as a park, with the contaminants being solidified in concrete and the park built over top. It took decades and millions to clean it up. This book details up to 1999, when the tar ponds were still alive and oozing, and contaminated soil was everywhere and the steel plant was nearly at the end of its life (having shut down production in 2000; it was sold and dismantled after that. The coke ovens were shut down in 1988). The amount of pollution from the coke ovens is horrifying, and the high incidence of cancer and many other diseases in Sydney is a direct result of the heavily polluted area. 

So what brings me to this issue? Other than a healthy horror of the tar ponds, being of the region, I am the granddaughter of a steel plant worker, who not only worked at the steel plant for most of his life (and almost certainly contributed to his death), but grew up on Frederick Street. Frederick Street was right next to the coke ovens, in Whitney Pier, and was a totally unfit place to live, as this book details the fight by the remaining residents of Frederick Street who had no idea that they were living on a toxic waste site, and their struggles to get the governments of the day to help them. It is a deeply saddening book. And though it is outdated now, it's an important book to read to understand the history of Sydney, the state of industrial Cape Breton as it is presently, and a grave environmental disaster.

44. The Postmistress - Sarah Blake

This was unexpectedly lovely and also much too short. It's about a small, seaside village in New England, and the way WWII touches them from afar. It focuses on Iris, the postmistress; Emma, the doctor's wife; and Frankie, a journalist over in Europe reporting on the war. 

45. An Abundance of Katherines - John Green

Another John Green book that is like all of the other John Green books. Yawn. A nice, breezy afternoon read about pretentious teenagers (having been a pretentious teenager, I find them amusing).


  1. I don't know why but your summary of The Red Queen cracked me up. And your family reading time in July is so sweet!

    I mean to read Watchman eventually and expectation is set to low after all the blowback. And it's not about all the disenchanted people crying about Atticus being ruined forever. Discerning readers and critics all seem to have different reasons for disliking it and now I'm very curious.

    1. The Red Queen was just weird. And not in a thought-provoking, mind-blowing way. Just odd.

      I think, from an academic perspective, Watchman is interesting. And I'd like to see some work done on how the texts relate after the frenzy dies down. I do regret buying it, but I don't think I would have gone the other way if I could go back to that decision. The shadiness around its publication became more apparent to me as I read it, so that's my main sticking point.

  2. I haven't read Watchman, but that's basically why I haven't been interested. I feel the same way about John Green.

    The Intouchables (2011) sounds somewhat similar to Me Before You. It's hilarious and on Netflix streaming (at least for the US version) if you're looking for a movie to watch before the Emilia Clarke one comes out!

    1. Ooh, thanks! We Canadians have our ways of getting American Netflix, as needed. :)


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