There’s quite a varied batch of books of different genres listed below. Travelling to London for six days allowed me to catch up with some of my reading. When I was awaiting my luggage at the carousel back in Toronto, a gentleman came up to me and said “I saw you reading during the whole flight!”. I have to have a book or two on a plane while travelling. Surprised that he noticed, but he also said, “I think you were the only person on the plane reading!” (no comment). December, a month without going to work, allowed me to reduce my reading pile. I am determined to read the ten books that are on my table, before buying any new ones. Ha! Ha! What follows is my reading diary over the past 31 days.
FREE LUNCH by Rex Ogle (autobiography)
As he enters sixth grade, Rex tries to hide the fact that his mother has signed him up for free lunch meals, He is also to hide the fact that his out of work mother and her boyfriend are abusive to him. This is a touch-the-heart story about a family who struggle to survive poverty. The story is all the more powerful because it outlines the true events of the author who struggles to stay optimistic.
THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis (middle years fiction)
I reread this novel because I’m going to see a theatre production in London at the Bridge Theatre. I’m going to see this play because of the terrific director Sally Cookson. Alas, the book didn’t wow me as much as the first time I read it 35 years ago!
THE BOY AT THE BACK OF THE CLASS by Onjali Rauf (middle years fiction )
A new boy arrives in class and is a refugee from Syria. This sparks curiosity in the students who sit around him who are anxious to seek answers about the boy’s past. As Ahmet’s story unfolds, a group of friends are determined to come up with a ‘great idea’ to reunite the boy with his parents. Statistics inform us that there are 65 million people seeking refuge and freedom in today’s world. This first novel is a worthy contribution to literature that helps middle age readers learn about the plight of refugees through one boy’s story. Winner of the Waterstones best book for children 2019.
IF YOU GIVE A PIG THE WHITE HOUSE by Faye Kanouse; illus. Amy Zhing (picture book)
An adult parody of the popular picture book titles by Laura Numeroff (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie) telling the story of a presidential pig who binges on Fox news, fast food and tweets.
TOUCHING THE VOID by Joe Simpson (nonfiction)
Joe Simpson and his climbing partner Simon Yates explored the 21 000 foot peak in the Andes. When Simpson plunged off an ice ledge, Yates tried to lower his friend to safety but eventually was forced to cut the rope in order to prevent his own death. The harrowing adventure is outlined in the book Touching the Void which I read in advance of seeing the theatre production in London. How could the story of mountain-climbing possibly transfer to the stage? Theatre magic!
THE READER ON THE 6.27 bv Jean-Paul Didierlaurent (adult fiction)
The book starts off a little surreal as the author tells the story of Gylain Vignelles who hates his job working in a pulping factory. But each day on the 6.27 train, Vignelles reads aloud from texts which gets the attention of a rapt audience of passengers. When the protagonist discovers the diary of a young woman, he sets on a quest to find out the location of the public toilets that she cleans. He is convinced that he is determined to find the love of his life. A bestseller from France, this book proved to be an enchanting testimony to a love of books and the love of one’s life.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ CHILDREN’S BOOKS EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE SO OLD AND WISE by Katherine Rundell (essay)
British children’s author shines a bright light on the world of children’s books, suggesting that when adults read children’s literature it can validate, stretch and change their world. “Read a children’s book to remember what it was to long for impossible and perhaps-not-impossible things. Go to children’s fiction to see the world with double eyes: your own, and those of your childhood self.” (p. 62)
THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman (fiction)
I read this novel in advance of seeing the play at the National Theatre in London. Gaiman is a master at presenting fantasy worlds that makes the unbelievable seem believable. This is the story of a man who digs into his past centred on the spells of three women who were his neighbours. Disclaimer: I never am ‘enthralled’ with fantasy but the layer of this story filled with childhood imaginations and coming to terms with loss is captivating. The theatre production is astounding!!!
THE BEAST OF BUCKINGHAM PALACE by David Walliams (middle years fiction)
I’ve gone to London for the past five Decembers and each time I go, there is a new release of a David Walliams novel. This adventure is set into the future, where people in dark London where people are starving. Prince Alfred has never left his Buckingham Palas home but when his mother is dragged off to the Tower of London, the boy is determined to save her (and the kingdom) (and the world). Hysterical. Of course!
NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE by Greta Thunberg (speeches)
A collection of 11 short speeches by young Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg who pleas for a call to action for adults to ‘start acting as you would in a crisis’. Thunberg shouts out that ‘our house is on fire’ since according to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we are less than twelve years away from not being able to undo our mistakes.” (p.19) and the lives of young children are in the hands of those adults. Thunberg was honoured with Time Magazines Person of the Year, 2019.
BOY GIANT: SON OF GULLIVER by Michael Morpurgo (middle years fiction)
Master storyteller Michael Morpurgo presents a refugee story with a twist. Omar and his mother are forced to flee their home and Afghanistan and Omar finds himself rescued on an island of wee folks who bestow him with the name Son of Gulliver. An adventurous tale of community, humanity and kindness. Bravo Morpurgo!
TEENAGE DICK by Mike Lew (script)
Is it better to be loved or feared? Shakespeare’s Richard III is now embodied in the life of a disabled teenager, Richard, determined to gain power, as president of the senior class, no matter the cost to those around him. Revenge is spurred on by the abuse he has received from others because of his disability but now Richard is set not only to defeat Eddie, the school jock, but fall in love with the dream girl at the school. I saw this play at the Donmar Theatre, London.
FAIRVIEW by Jackie Sibblies Drury (script)
This strongly reviewed off-broadway play has to be seen to best be experienced. But I was able to catch a performance of this at the Young Vic theatre in London. Fairview audiences are advised to never give the ending (you’ve never seen anything like it). Scene One provides insights into a domestic family preparing for Grandma’s birthday. The unfolding of the dinner turns out to be a surprise – for the audience – and takes some time adjusting to what is going on and what indeed the message is about confronting our views of race. A play that invites conversation. Even after reading the script, I didn’t entirely buy into the unfolding events – and ultimately, the play’s message. Let me think about it.
December 19 SHOUT OUT
WHEN ALL IS SAID by Anne Griffin (Adult fiction)
a debut novel by an Irish author. telling the story of 84 year old Maurice Hannigan sitting alone in a bar in the grand hotel. Over the course of the evening Hannigan raises five toasts to five people who helped to shape his life. I loved this book – oh those Irish! – though the deep losses and deep loves he has encountered are quite heartbreaking.
PET by Akwaeke Emezi (YA fiction)
A National Book Award finalist. By spilling her blood on her mother’s artwork, a transgender teenager brings a monster (Pet)to life from the painting. In a world where monsters have supposedly become extinct, Jam and her best friend Redemption, soon discover that there are monsters that continue to lurk and must be stopped. A rather strange novel. Adolescent readers who enjoy fantasy horror will find an intriguing read in this debut novel.
DOG SONGS by Mary Oliver (poetry)
A poetic tribute to man (and woman’s) best friend. The poet celebrates and pays tribute to the dogs who have accompanied her on walks, and loved her unconditionally. (“A dog comes to you and lives in your own house, /but you,/ do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the trees, or the laws which pertain to them.”) (p. 25)
December 22 SHOUT OUT
YOU WON’T ALWAYS BE SAD: A Book of Moments by Sheree Fitch (Poetry)
Poet Sheree Fitch’s son died on March 2, 2018, and to deal with grief and pain and gratitude, the poet lifts a heavy pen, which ‘became a wand of healing’. (“those who are on the other side/are never very/far/ away/ they are/ ever there/ over there/ waving/ saying we’re fine just fine.” (P.125)
DEAR SWEET PEA by Julie Murphy (Middle Years fiction)
When Sweet Pea’s parents decide to divorce, they think it’s best that life be as normal for thier 13 year old daughter as possible. They share custody and arrange to live on the same street (separated by only one house). Sweet Pea strives to accept things as they are but holding onto friendships proves to add to her middle year’s anxieties. Miss Flora Mae, a famed local advice columnist, is sandwiched between Sweet Pea’s two homes and plays an important role in the the girl’s life as she strives to get – and give advice. An engaging novel, particularly for tweenagers who may experience troubled parent relationships and changing friendships.
TRUST EXERCISE by Susan Choi (adult fiction)
A book award does not a great novel make. I was intrigued with this National Book Award for Fiction title since one of the central characters is a drama/theatre teacher but this book gets a thumbs down from me. I didn’t care about any of the adolescent characters and their troublesome relationships. I get more authenticity from reading YA fiction. Since I had nothing else to read on an airplane flight, I plodded on, but gave up with 50 pages to go. I ended up giving my copy to the stewardess on the plane and hope she gets more out of this book than I did. Feh!
FROM THE CUTTING ROOM OF BARNEY KETTLE by Kate De Goldi (Middle Years fiction)
This novel by New Zealand award-winning author Kate De Goldi (The 10 PM Question) was a good read. This author has a story for each of the characters that she introduces and the premise of this novel introduces a street of interesting folk. Barney Kettle, who is determined to be a famous film director someday, embarks on a documentary project that digs into the stories of a range of characters on High Street. A narrative about a homeless couple hiding in the post office adds another layer, and a sense of mystery to this book.