Monday, October 9, 2017

Meeting of September 25th, 2017

This is our first meeting since one of our founding members, Jolene, passed away.  We drank a glass of wine in her memory.  Members with us today are Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Michèle and Shirley.  Michèle served several cheeses and pâtés with grapes and figs, and with wine of course.  Naimimo bars, butter tarts and flourless chocolate cookies were served with tea and coffee. 

This month we are discussing Annie Proulx’s book, The Shipping News, Colette’s choice.  Annie Proulx, born Edna Ann Proulx in 1935 is an American author who began her writing career as a journalist.  She has written several novels and short stories.  Her latest novel is Barkskins.  One of her short stories, Brokeback Mountain, was turned into a very well-reviewed and received movie.  The Shipping News won several literary awards including the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  It was also made into a movie with Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench and Julianne Moore.  Ms. Proulx wrote The Shipping News while staying in a cottage near l’Anse aux Meadows in northwest Newfoundland.

The Shipping News is a story about a New York reporter, Quoyle, who decides to move to Newfoundland with his aunt after difficult family life overwhelms him.  The aunt has an ancestral home in Newfoundland and together with  Quoyle’s daughters they move and slowly renovate the home.  Quoyle eventually finds work as a reporter writing about the shipping news on the island.  As in many of her books, there is little joy in this story; characters who are mean spirited, sexual abuse is rampant and very little kindness is apparent. Certainly Quoyle is very protective of his daughters and eventually Quoyle and Wavey get together but it is left to the last 15 pages.  One of our members who has read several of her short stories that are dark and depressing, described this book as her « happy » book.  One member who recently read her newest novel, Barkskins agrees that The Shipping News is not as dark.

Newfoundland’s depressed economy as the cod supply diminishes and Quoyle and his aunt’s stories are influenced by the impact the economy has on the people of Newfoundland.  She describes well life as it is on the island; it almost felt like flipping through an album or a scrapbook, seeing bits and pieces of lives and events that eventually fit together.

Her writing style, did irritate some of us: very short sentences with no verbs, sentences with no subject.  However her descriptions of the landscape and the sea, the rugged beauty were very well done.  Her descriptions of the sea and the weather were full, beautiful and scary in some parts.

She captured well all the characters, the meaness in some of them literally jumped off the page.  Quoyle was a very sympathetic person despite being downtrodden.  He is an ordinary, not particularly attractive person, who copes and perseveres. He is a patient man and as the story develops Quoyle moves closer to a life that offers him satisfaction and love. 

There was a sense in the story from the characters  and descriptions of the pull where we come from has on us as we grow older, how a very strong sense of place stays with us even if we move away. 

It was a worthwhile read, thank you Colette for an excellent choice that generated good discussion. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation from Wild Swans to The Lotus Eaters - September 2017

One more time, the links are all connected from books read by our Muse and Views book club.

After reading about Wild Swans, the first linking book would definitely have to be our last book,  Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, a book describing one part of Mao's cultural revolution.

Follow that with another view of Mao's cultural revolution in Waiting by Ha Jin which outlines the government control in the rural countryside during the cultural revolution.

Then a link to Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie which is the story of the illiteracy resulting from that same cultural revolution.

Perhaps one could form the link then to The Pearl that Broke its Shell by Nadia Hashimi as it is the story of powerlessness and what happens at the loss of control of one's fate or future.

The next link could take us to Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. This book is a story of hardship and betrayal in 19th century China. It is also the story of friendship between women.

And for the sixth book, one that describes women's friendships and struggles would then take us to Vietnam with The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation - From Pride and Prejudice to Two Solitudes - August 2017

This is this month's Six Degrees of Separation contribution from the Muse & Views Book Club in Ottawa, Canada.  This month's has been prepared by Shirley.  It should be noted that Jane Austen is the favourite author of several of our members. 

1. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, the ultimate romance novel.   

2. It must of course be followed up with Mr. Darcy Presents his Bride by Helen Halstead because Mr. Darcy played such a large part in Pride & Prejudice and is loved by so many that we needed to keep him around 

3. The followup link is  The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger as the 'bride' becomes 'wife', the husband is all important. 

4. And then as we think of 'time' we link The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon. (December 2005

5. Then we take another turn and look to 'dog' as we read Charles the Bold: The Dog Years by Yves Beauchemin. (January 2007

6. The next  link is the 'years' to  One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. 

7. And finally we  finish up with Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan. (April 2005), a political classic. 

There it is, Shirley has managed again to use all books that we have read in the 19 years of the Muse & Views Book Club.  How long we will be able to do this I don't know but it is interesting! 

If you would like to see how others have linked Pride and Prejudice click on the link Six Degrees of Separation. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation from Picnic at Hanging Rock to La's Orchestra Saves the World

Here is Muse & Views Bookclub participation this month put together by Michèle and Shirley. Again all books are from our "read" list that you can find on our blog. I don't know how long we can continue using our list but here goes!  

Starter Book -  Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay
It is considered a classic from Australia. Young Ladies from Appleyard College go on a picnic at Hanging Rock.  Three girls gone for a walk, never come back.  Some believe this is based on a true story.  This is not a book read by our Book Club. 

1.     Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – John Berendt.  (read in 2000) Story with a suspicious death, based on a true story so they say. 

2.     The City of Fallen AngelsJohn Berendt.  The link here is the author. Though the story is also based on fact, apparently.  Story is set in the European city of Venice.

3.     The Mark of an Angel – Nancy Huston.  The link here is it is set in a European city, Paris, but there are also twists of history as the characters are affected by the violence unleashed by the Algerian  conflict and Saffie is affected by her youth in Germany during WW II . 

4.     Those WhoSave Us – Jenna Blum. The link here is the impact on Trudy’s life as an adult of her mother’s life in Nazi Germany during WW II.  We cannot get away from our past.

5.     All theLight We Cannot See Anthony Doerr.  The link here is WW II.  Again the impact on young lives.

6.     La’ s Orchestra Saves the World – Alexander McCall Smith.  Again the link is WW II, a different way of coping.

There it is, our meme for this month.  If you would like to see how others linked Picnic at Hanging Rock, click on the link Six Degrees of Separation.  

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Meeting of June 26, 2017

We met at Colette's and, although she was unable to attend, Jolene hosted.  Present were Beth, Carla, Colette, Jane, Linda, Michèle and Shirley. We began with a very nice wonton soup and lovely tea sandwiches, a very tasty dip and some nice cheese.  Jolene also made a wonderful frozen rasberry pie with a chocolate crust.  We also had a nice bubbly which some of us drank as a mimosa with orange juice.  Thank you Jolene.  The dessert was especially nice.

This month's book was Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien presented by Beth.  Ms. Thien was born in 1974 in Vancouver the year her parents immigrated to Canada. Her father was a Malaysian Chinese and her mother was from Hong Kong.  She studied Dance at Simon Fraser University and then completed an MFA in creative writing at UBC.  Do Not Say We Have Nothing is her fifth published book and second novel.  She also published two books of short stories and a children's book, The Chinese Violin.

Ms. Thien's last  two books, Do Not Say We Have Nothing and Dogs at the Perimeter, have dealt with repressive and cruel regimes in China and in Cambodia.  It has meant that she spent the last 10 years researching the devastation and cruelty caused by regimes that controlled the people of their country by fear, repression, starvation and cruelty.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is the story of three musicians in China, Sparrow a composer, Jiang Kai a pianist and Zhuli a young violinist. The story spans about 60 years beginning when Mao Zhedong came to power in 1949 through to the events of Tiananmen Square in 1989.  The story is narrated by Jiang Kai's daughter Marie who lives in Vancouver.  The story begins in Vancouver with Marie recounting her father, Kai's suicide in Hong Kong in 1989 not long after the events of Tiananmen Square.  The story recounts the trials and tribulations of the three musicians and their families through China's rollercoaster history, from the schemes of the "Great Leap Forward" era of the 1950's,  the famine especially in the countryside when Kai loses his whole family to starvation; the Cultural Revolution and the re-education camps that Zhuli's parents were forced to endure; the destruction of all Western- inspired culture when the Shanghai Conservatory of Music was closed and instruments were destroyed and the pro-democracy student-led demonstrations that ended with the massacres of Tiananmen Square.

Throughout the story the three musicians study and teach.  Western classical music is frequently referenced, beginning and ending with Glenn Gould's interpretation of Bach's Goldberg Variations.  Many of Ms. Thien's most beautiful passages come out of references to music such as Beethoven's Emperor Concerto when Marie is riding in the car with her father in Vancouver (pg 14) or when Sparrow listens with his father to Bach's Goldberg Variations No. 21.

"The seventh canon of Bach’s Goldberg Variations rolled towards Sparrow like a tide of sadness. Sparrow wanted to step out of the way but he was too slow and the notes collided into him. They ran up and down his spine, and seemed to dismantle him into a thousand pieces of the whole, where each part was more complete and more alive than his entire self had ever been.” Pg 74 
 All of us found the book to be a challenging read.  In the first half of the book, especially when it jumps from Vancouver to China and from one era to another, it is difficult to understand who is who and when events are taking place.  However, all found that the book is a worthwhile read.  One of our members described her phrasing as "delicious" and musical.  The complexity of the story required time, many of us taking three to four weeks to finish the book, and a couple of our members read it more than once.  It was informative as we learn a lot about China's modern history and how the decisions of its leaders impact the population and especially the two families we follow.

Beth suggested, for anyone who would like to learn more about China's modern History, Nien Cheng's book Life and Death in Shanghai published in 1986 and available at the Ottawa Public Library.  Michèle also suggested that we read Bob Douglas' review on the website "Critics At Large" The Power of Music and Remembering  .

Thank you Beth for selecting this challenging book and thank you Jolene for providing such wonderful food, good for the soul and spirit.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Six Degrees of Separation - from Shopgirl to Never Let Me Go

Well this month's meme was a challenge for Muse & Views Bookclub members.  Here is our participation and again (don't know how long we will be able to chose only from our reading list) all from our reading list with the exception of Shopgirl.

Shopgirl  by Steve Martin

"Lonely, depressed, Vermont transplant Mirabelle Buttersfield, who sells expensive evening gloves nobody ever buys at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills and spends her evenings watching television with her two cats. She attempts to forge a relationship with middle-aged, womanizing, Seattle millionaire Ray Porter while being pursued by socially inept and unambitious slacker Jeremy." (Taken from Goodreads)

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

A young woman from a poor background in a large city full of money, gets involved with a multi-millionaire from Upper East Side in the 1930’s .  Not all is great and good in High Society

Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright (read in 2002)

Tale of  two sisters in the 1930’s one who goes to find her fortune in New York city and discovers that not all can be great and good in high society .

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (read in 2006)

Here is another story about sisters, this one much more troubling.

The Language of Sisters by Amy Yurk (read in 2004)

One sister finds herself helping a disabled sister, despite her misgivings. 

The Boy in the Moon By Ian Brown

How a father copes with his disabled son who came into this world with challenges for his family and society.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

When and how we came into this world, has an impact on us and those around us and society.

There it is.  Those without a link were read before we began the blog. If you would like to see the links others have found beginning with Shopgirl, go to the blog Six Degrees of Separation.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Meeting of May 29, 2017

This month's meeting has been very special.  Linda's book choice for this month was Matrons and Madams by Her Excellency Sharon Johnston.  Our charming Linda through her connections, got us an invitation to Rideau Hall to meet with Her Excellency in person.  Present were Beth, Betty, Carla, Colette, Jane, Janet, Linda, Shirley and Michèle along with guests we were able to bring with us. We were 23 persons all together, including the original organizer of the Bookclub Marilyn Dow.

Bookclub members and their guests with Her Excellency Sharon Johnston

Muse & Views Bookclub members with Her Excellency Sharon Johnston

Her Excellency Mrs. Johnston was extremely gracious and gave us a lot of information about the research she did to write this historical novel and she read two paragraphs from the book, one about Matron Clara Durling and one about Lily Parsons.  During the discussion we learned that Clara Durling is based on Mrs. Johnston's grandmother who had been the Matron at the Galt Hospital in Lethbridge, Alberta.  Mrs. Johnston did a lot of research in Lethbridge, returning seven times and reading all the minutes of the Board of Governors of the Galt Hospital and newspaper accounts of activities and events that involved the Galt Hospital and the Matron of the hospital.  By reading the minutes she was able to acquire a fair amount of knowledge on the interaction between different board members and Matron Durling.  She was able, for example to better understand the animosity  one particular physician/surgeon had for her grandmother and incorporate this difficult relationship in the novel.

From questions that our members asked we learned that the process of taking this information about her family history and turning it into a historical novel was difficult and sometimes emotionally painful.

We also learned that this is the first of a trilogy of historical novels based on her family history.  The next book will probably be out in the Fall of 2018.  Though Mrs. Johnston was reluctant to go into great detail about the future novels, she did tell us, as we can guess from the end of this novel that the next book will be set in part in residential schools for indigenous children, a difficult and controversial topic in our country.

During the discussion, His Excellency Governor General David Johnston sat down with us for a short while to listen to Mrs. Johnston discuss her novel with us and he also put in his two cents about the research and writing process.

After the discussion, tea, coffee and apple cider along with some wonderful cookies were served and Mrs. Johnston signed her book for members who had a personal copy.  She was very generous with her time and the members and our guests were very appreciative of the time and information she gave us.

The Tent Room

We were afterwards, given a tour of the public rooms of Rideau Hall along with the Monck wing that is not always open to the public. We were also able to visit the Green Houses that are attached to Rideau Hall.  Our tour guide Sophie gave a us excellent history of Rideau Hall as we toured and were able to admire the impressive quantity and quality of Canadian Art that is displayed in the rooms.
Sophie our very informative guide and our Bookclub member Shirley

A bird's eye view of the Green Houses

The Green houses were filled with wonderful plants and flowers, many of them in pots to allow them to be used as decor when special events are held or special guest come to visit.  Their Excellencies Mr. and Mrs. Johnston have several grandchildren and we saw peaking under some plants, dinosaurs hidden by the Governor General himself!

It was an extraordinary meeting of the Muse & Views Bookclub and we thank our member Linda and her friend Norma for organising it for us.  We also thank Her Excellency Sharon Johnston for hosting such a memorable meeting for us.  Lastly of course, this being the home of the Vice-Regal couple of Canada, our member Janet gave us a Royal wave at the end of our meeting!

Janet giving us a Royal wave!