Tag Archives: book group

The History of Love

6 Apr

I live in a reasonably small community. We are lucky to have a great library system in our area and I enjoy knowing my librarian (yes, I get quite possessive of my library and my librarian, or as I like to call her “She Who Controls the Flow of Books”) quite well; I have been visiting her, at our local branch, at least once a week for eight years now! Each branch in our system runs a monthly book club meeting. I attended the one at my branch, once. It was a bad, bad fit and I never returned; no matter how much Penny (my intrepid librarian) pleaded or attempted to cajole me. Now way! No how!

A couple of Saturday’s ago, out of curiosity, I inquired as to how the club was doing? Penny informed me that the group had imploded and was, alas, no more. It was a club that had really struggled for a number of years and finally expired. “A-ha!” I thought, “Here is an opportunity.” and filed the information away in my mind.

Fast forward one week and I am out to lunch (ha-ha, I know!) with my friend Janet. She tells me she was talking with Penny (yep, the town is that small, we all know each other!) and wondered, since the library book club was dead, if I would consider reviving the thing? Well, talk about great minds thinking alike! By the end of our meal we were quite excited about the prospect of pumping a little life into the library book club. I asked Penny if this was okay and she was thrilled. So the wheels are in motion and the group shall carry on, although slightly differently than before.

The library has already determined the books through until August so we will just be picking up where things were left off. We are, however, working on a list of suggested reads for the Fall of 2010 and into 2011. I am hopeful the person who is responsible for this, for the library, is amenable to the ideas we come up with.

The first book we are doing is called The History of Love, written by Nicole Krauss.

I read this novel when it first came out, in 2005, and the last words of this haunting novel still resonate like a pealing bell. “He fell in love. It was his life.” This is the unofficial obituary of octogenarian Leo Gursky, a character whose mordant wit, gallows humor and searching heart create an unforgettable portrait. Born in Poland and a WWII refugee in New York, Leo has become invisible to the world. When he leaves his tiny apartment, he deliberately draws attention to himself to be sure he exists. What’s really missing in his life is the woman he has always loved, the son who doesn’t know that Leo is his father, and his lost novel, called The History of Love, which, unbeknownst to Leo, was published years ago in Chile under a different man’s name. Another family in New York has also been truncated by loss.

Teenager Alma Singer, who was named after the heroine of The History of Love, is trying to ease the loneliness of her widowed mother, Charlotte. When a stranger asks Charlotte to translate The History of Love from Spanish for an exorbitant sum, the mysteries deepen.

Krauss ties these and other plot strands together with surprising twists and turns, chronicling the survival of the human spirit against all odds. Writing with tenderness about eccentric characters, she uses earthy humor to mask pain and to question the universe. Her distinctive voice is both plangent and wry, and her imagination encompasses many worlds.

I look forward to re-reading this book and for leading a book club discussion about it on April 15th.

No Gentle Segue…

5 Apr

I have taken a break from the daily blogging – recovering from the Olympic adventure & working on some fiction writing – but jump back into the blogosphere today. There really isn’t a gentle segue as I move into my prime areas of interest: writing and reading. If I couldn’t have my books and, well, words really as an outlet, I would be a mess of a woman. It seems to be a genetic trait as many in my family are also voracious readers and there are several writers in the fold.

My latest undertaking is an on-line book group at Goodreads. This social networking web site is to books and writers what MySpace is to music and musicians. I have been using Goodreads for about one year now and I love it.

The Goodreads group I have created, along with my friend Nathaniel, is called Bookish. We hope it becomes a wonderful forum to exchange great book ideas and news.

In other book-related happenings today, the Canadian Booksellers Association (CBA) has announced the nominees for the 2010 Libris Awards. In contention for Fiction Book of the Year are: Galore by Michael Crummey, The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon and The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre.

I read Galore in December, 2009 and it was my favourite book of last year. It is an epic novel set in Newfoundland. These two ideas are enough to earn my interest, but the incredible story and the poetic language Crummey has crafted turned me into a drooling faniac. Stephen Galloway, author of The Cellist of Sarajevo wrote this review of Galore for The Globe and Mail (spoilers included):

“Galore opens with a group of people in the fictional Newfoundland outport of Paradise Deep, slaughtering a whale that has inexplicably beached itself. Young Mary Tryphena watches as the body of a man, pale and stinking, is cut from the whale’s belly. Her grandmother, an old crone named Devine’s Widow, defies the town oligarch, King-me Sellers, and has the man carried up the hill to prepare him for a proper burial.

The man, it turns out, is in fact alive, though he cannot speak a word. In the spirit of compromise and illiteracy, he is given the name of Judah. He never does utter a word, and he never loses his stench, but his presence ignites a spark in Paradise Deep that sustains the story for multiple generations.

Crummey’s prose is flawless. He has a way with the colloquial that escapes many writers, an ability to make the idiosyncrasies of local speech an asset in creating an image in the reader’s mind.

“They’d scaled the whale’s back to drive a stake with a maul, hoping to strike some vital organ, and managed to set it bleeding steadily. They saw nothing for it then but to wait for God to do His work and they sat with their splitting knives and fish prongs, with their dip nets and axes and saws and barrels. The wind was razor sharp and Mary Tryphena lost all feeling in her hands and feet and her little arse went dunch on the sand while the whale expired in imperceptible increments. Jabez Trim waded out at intervals to prod at the fat saucer of an eye and report back on God’s progress.”

I have, for example, never heard the word “dunch” in my life. But still I know what it means, and have even from time to time felt it in my own rear side. There are writers who can send you scowling for a dictionary, and writers who throw you laughing into language. I went to the dictionary only because of this review, and “dunch” wasn’t there. It doesn’t need to be.

I believe that books, or at least good books, have a voice. I’m not talking about narrators or characters or that sort of thing; what I mean is that the book itself feels alive and it has a personality and sound all of its own, independent of whatever other stylistic devices are at play within its pages. In this respect, Galore succeeds brilliantly. It’s a book that will live in the minds of readers long after they’ve turned the final page.

Where Crummey’s first two novels took one or more characters and placed them in a historical context that allowed readers to see both the characters and Newfoundland, which is how most historical novels work, Galore achieves a far more difficult effect. The characters, plot and setting have been fused, in that this book isn’t so much about the people and the events and places that affect them as it is the folkloric sum of Newfoundland, and the characters, as individual and real and compelling as they are, are, for all their strangeness, archetypes, an odd and wonderful mash of biblical and pagan touchstones. It’s an incredibly difficult task to make characters such as these work as human beings as well as elements of folklore, and Crummey does it with as much skill and grace as Gabriel Garcia Márquez does in One Hundred Years of Solitude , a novel very much the forebear of this book.

We eventually follow the descendents of young Mary Tryphena through the years, watch as Paradise Deep flourishes and flounders, see the ripples of events that happened years before, see history repeat and morph and repeat again. In Galore , the ghosts are real and the real people live as ghosts. Things that shouldn’t happen do. You could, I suppose, call the book a sort of magic realism, though I’m not sure if that doesn’t confine it in a way I’m not willing to do. There’s something about the term “magic realism” that suggests that magic isn’t real, and besides that, the magic that takes place in Paradise Deep isn’t really magic, it’s simply a part of the known world, like gravity or rainfall.

We have, in Canada, a handful of writers who are able, in the minds of readers, to define a place. While I’ve never lived in, or in some cases been to, the Miramichi, Comox Valley, Cape Breton or Montreal, I’ve read David Adams Richards, Jack Hodgins, Alistair MacLeod and Mordecai Richler. As a result, those places live as vividly in my imagination as many places in which I’ve spent more time and about which I know more factually. Perhaps even more vividly.

Michael Crummey is without a doubt one of Canada’s finest writers. I won’t thrust the mantle of the voice of Newfoundland on him, as he may well in the future write about other parts of the world, and I will be happy, as a reader, to follow him there. Throw a rock on the Rock, burning or not, and you’ll hit a good writer (please don’t actually throw rocks at writers, or anyone). But the Newfoundland that exists in my imagination – the one that may not be real and if it ever was real likely doesn’t exist today – smells and tastes and sounds like Galore.”

I highly recommend Galore and sincerely cheer for Crummey to triumph and win the Libris Award.

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