what I read in August 2018

Art and Soul Reloaded by Pam Grout
The Clever Gut Diet Cookbook by Dr Clare Bailey
Crushing It by Gary Vaynerchuk
Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
Dinner Illustrated by America’s Test Kitchen
Draft #4 by John McPhee
Eating from the Ground Up by Alana Chernila
The Extended Moment: 50 Years of Collecting Photographs at the National Gallery of Canada by Ann Thomas
Feasts: Middle Eastern Food to Savour and Share by Sabrina Ghayour
Homemade by Reader’s Digest
In Praise of Wasting Time by Alan Lightman
Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively
Like She Owns the Place by Cara Alwill Leyba
Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley
The Love and Lemons Cookbook by Jeanine Donofrio
Medicine Walk by Laurie Lacey
Micro Mastery by Robert Twigger
No Patterns Needed by Rosie Martin
The Pretty Dish by Jessica Merchant
Shipwrecks Off the East Coast by Carmel Vivier
Styling with Salvage by Joanne Palmisano
There Are No Grown-Ups by Pamela Druckerman
Vegan Comfort Classics by Lauren Toyota
Waterfalls of Nova Scotia by Benoit Lalonde

at home with the Georgians

“Prize winning author Professor Amanda Vickery sets her sights on the golden age of homemaking – the 18th Century Georgian era. Through dramatic reconstructions, she traces the story of the unique relationship Britons enjoy with their homes, arguing that the Georgians’ obsession with decor helped to redefine the parts played by men and women in British society.”

Very enjoyable – I give it five chihuahuas out of five.

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About

Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About by Mil Millington.

From the back cover: “Pel Dalton leads an uneventful life. His days are spent bluffing his way through an IT job in the university library, pillow-fighting with his two sons, surviving family outings to the supermarket, and finding new things to argue about with Ursula, his German girlfriend. But things are about to change…”

Thank goodness for the glowing snippets of reviews on the book cover (“…wickedly funny…”, “…sharply written…”, etc.) because that back cover summary is lame and doesn’t come close to capturing the spirit or tone of the book. Pel’s life isn’t “uneventful” — it’s teetering on the brink of disaster. He’s consumed with trying to conceal just how out of his depth he is at work, is engaged in a love/hate (but mostly hate) relationship with Ursula and is overwhelmed with the demands of raising young children. It would be really depressing if the writing weren’t so witty and sly.

Millington’s novel is based on his website, which is so ugly and hard to read it makes my eyes bleed, but is very entertaining.

Final word: Highly recommended.

Mud, Sweat and Tears

Mud, Sweat and Tears: Tales from a Country Vet by Bud Ings. Acorn Press.

From the back cover: “Ings’ memoir is a rich, often humourous account of his first decade as a vet, at a time when there were few vacations, no modern tools of the trade, and no request too strange to attend to. It’s also the story of a past era, when PEI’s farms flourished and the animals were not only the backbone of the economy, but part of the family.”

I checked this book out of the library way back in July (yes, I’m slightly behind on my reviews) so I could take it to PEI for our annual week of eating, reading, beachcombing and eating. In an interesting turn of events, however, my father—who generally limits his reading to the newspaper and curling/golf schedules—saw it on the coffee table and snagged it for himself. His verdict? Two thumbs up.

Well sure, I thought, Bud Ings is not only writing about the PEI of my Dad’s childhood, but they also share the same exquisite taste in adopted first names. Would I enjoy the book as much as Bud Cameron?

::suspenseful music::

I did enjoy it. Ings’ details of farm life on PEI in the fifties are interesting, but even better are his descriptions of his encounters with the farmers—true characters, every one. Celebrity and tragedy memoirs are both more popular, I know, but I really believe these “regular person” memoirs are priceless for a glimpse at a world now long gone.

Recommended for fans of PEI, veterinary medicine or rural life in the fifties.

tales from outer suburbia

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan.

From the back cover: “Do you remember the water buffalo at the end of our street? Or the deep-sea diver we found near the underpass? Do you know why dogs bark in the middle of the night? Shaun Tan, creator of The Arrival, The Lost Thing and The Red Tree, reveals the quiet mysteries of everyday life: homemade pets, dangerous weddings, stranded sea mammals, tiny exchange students and secret rooms filled with darkness and delight.”

The cover of this book beckoned me from across the library one day and – I know I should be ashamed to admit this, but I’m not, or rather I’m mostly unashamed, but still a little ashamed, as with most things, come to think of it, since that’s just the way I am – I almost ignored it since I thought it was a graphic novel. Yes, yes, I know graphic novels are the way of the future and so awesome and revolutionary and whatever. Stop hounding me about how great graphic novels are. I don’t get the appeal, okay? Call me old (true) and inflexible (true) and a snob (somehow also true, despite my shame), but I have zero desire to read a graphic novel. (And don’t get me started on graphic novel versions of the classics because I will become truly unpleasant. What is wrong with WORDS? Words as they were written?)

In any case, I don’t need to rant about Tales from Outer Suburbia because it is a lavishly illustrated book of very short stories, not a graphic novel. It’s a picture book for adults, say. (Not those kinds of pictures for adults. I know where your lecherous mind went.) It would be perfectly suitable for kids and teens too, with its intriguing mix of the poignant and the absurd.

The illustrations are fantastic and I suggest you check out Shaun Tan’s website for samples of his work. Seriously, his talent and creativity make me want to barf. Life is so, so unfair.

Anyway.

Tales from Outer Suburbia: Highly recommended.

Shelf Monkey

Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop. ECW Press.

From the inside flap:

“Thomas Friesen has three goals in life. Get a job. Make friends. Find a good book to curl up with. After landing a job at READ, the newest hypermegabookstore, he feels he may have accomplished all three.

All is not peaceable within the stacks, however. Discontent is steadily rising, and it is aimed squarely at Munroe Purvis, a talk show host whose wildly popular book club is progressively lowering the IQ of North America.

But the bookworms have a plan. Plots are being hatched. The destruction of Munroe is all but assured. And as Thomas finds himself swept along in the maelstrom of insanity, he wonders if reading a book is all it’s cracked up to be.”

1. I love the word ‘maelstrom,’ don’t you? I really need to find ways to work  it into casual conversation more often. I also like ‘skullduggery.’ And ‘fortitude.’ And ‘slipstream.’

2. I love the cover of this book. Kudos (ooh, another good word) to the designer, David Gee, because it was the cover that enticed me to pick up the book in the first place. Yes, I am that shallow.

3. I love the book. It’s smart and funny and creative and (as much as I usually cringe at this word) thought-provoking, raising questions about what qualifies as ‘literature,’ about how our opinions are shaped and by whom, about our compulsion to try to shape the opinions of others, and about the evolution of a society that wants everything to be as easy, comforting and unchallenging as possible.

Very highly recommended.

Bossypants

Bossypants by Tina Fey. From the inside flap: “Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true.”

I was both eager and reluctant to read Bossypants – eager because I enjoy Tina Fey’s work on 30 Rock and reluctant because I’d heard several disappointing reviews of the book. The bad reviews all seemed to have the common theme, however, of the readers having been let down because they had really high (read: impossibly high) expectations. This is why I generally avoid books that receive the massive hype and publicity Bossypants received. How could they ever live up to the buzz? I’ve been burned enough times that I now refuse to read most bestsellers, including practically mandatory works like the Harry Potter series or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. I’m tired of getting my hopes up that a book will be really spectacular, only to find it’s simply okay. Or worse, that it’s terrible. This, I’ll think, this is what everyone is having kittens over? And then I’ll spend way too long wondering what’s wrong with me that I don’t enjoy the things everyone else enjoys and, really, I don’t need to spend any more time comparing myself unfavourably to others. Already got that one covered.

So. Bossypants. Thumbs up or thumbs down? I’d say thumbs up. Was it the finest piece of literature I’ve ever read? No. Was it life-changing? No. Was it funny? Yes, by times. It was laugh-out-loud funny occasionally. Sometimes it was thought-provoking and sometimes it was mildly interesting, but I never found it boring. Do I wish I had bought it from the bookstore (for $29.99) instead of borrowing it from the library? No.

Tina Fey comes across as humble and down-to-earth and honest and approachable and a wonderful departure from the ‘diva’ attitude among female entertainers that seems to be in fashion now. If you read the book from the perspective of ‘spending time with an amusing and charming person’ instead of ‘golden words from a comedy genius,’ I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.