Archive | August, 2010

Book review: Cockroach by Rawi Hage

30 Aug

It was with some anticipation that I opened Cockroach by Canadian author Rawi Hage, and by the third page I knew it was a book like no other I’d previously read. The unnamed narrator, who I’ll refer to as Cockroach, is a middle-eastern immigrant living in Montreal. He endures a bleak existence of cold, poverty and unstable relationships with fellow migrants, and displays an anger and disdain for humanity in general. He doesn’t see himself as totally human anyway; he is part cockroach, and more comfortable away from the sun. He is dirty, a thief and a stalker.

Early on, the novel seems to be going the way of many other award-winners (in my opinion): moody, impressive, but with little in the way of plot. But gradually the reader is drawn into Cockroach’s world, learning, through conversations with his therapist, of his violent past and family tragedy in his home country. We follow Cockroach through a freezing Montreal winter as he attempts to find food and warmth, all the while seeming to struggle with his sanity. He begins a new relationship with an Iranian woman, Shohreh, who has an equally bleak history. Before long the pair is hurtling towards the novel’s dramatic climax.

I could barely put this book down during the last 200 pages (of 305) and I would highly recommend it.

My rating: 4 out of 5

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Weekly Geeks

29 Aug

At Weekly Geeks this week they ask these questions:Who do you read with? If you don’t read with anyone, why not?

These questions got me thinking SO much. Whenever I hear people talking about their partners, my ears always prick up when I hear the words “My husband (or wife) is reading this great book…” because I think, wow, that is a couple who must never run out of things to talk about.

Me, I’ve just always read. I was the girl in high school carrying around the massive Stephen King books and reading them in class because she was so bored. The only problem with reading all the time is that it can be so socially isolating if you don’t have the ‘right type’ of friends. At high school, I barely knew anyone else who read, and I often felt isolated in that a very important part of my life was not understood by my friends.

By the time I reached university I made more of the ‘right type’ of friends. To me, these are the ones who actually ask you, “What have you read lately?” when you’re catching up. They don’t need an explanation for why you don’t want to go clubbing with them every weekend because they know standing around with a drink in your hand can’t compare to the things going on between the covers of your latest book. These friends understand that spending a Saturday night at the local bookstore is a valid social activity.  🙂

I’m lucky enough to have had a few of these ‘right type’ of friends, and these friendships are amongst my most enduring: my friend V, who studied literature at university (lucky!) while I slogged away at a far less satisfying major; T, who reads everything but often books with a spiritual element; A, who I once worked for and who ploughs through books so much quicker than me that she always has recommendations; J and J, who, whilst they are dedicated party animals, manage to read significant literature during their downtime.

While I don’t actually read ‘with’ any of these friends in terms of sharing a reading space, they are never far away for discussion and recommendations of good reading titles. And now that I’ve entered the blogging world, there are many others who have read/want to read the same books as me. Hopefully lots of discussion will ensue.

And I’m still hoping that maybe in the future I’ll be able to say, “My husband is reading this great book…”

get grateful on sunday: 2

29 Aug
Here are ten things that I’m grateful for today:
  1. some people have actually looked at my blog! This is not something that I necessarily expected so early on, so thank you!
  2. for the existence of the blogging community, and the amount of information and different ideas emanating from this community, with such energy
  3. my life is just so calm at the moment. I wake up well-rested, go for a morning walk or do yoga, go to work and enjoy my day, come home and cook good food and then settle in to read and/or blog. Or watch Mad Men 🙂 This life may have sounded quite boring to the old me, but after a few very busy years it is just what the doctor ordered
  4. my workdays continue to be enjoyable and fulfilling. Some of the things I got paid to do this past week included buying candy for party bags, paddling in an outdoor pool on a hot day and a couple of visits to the local library (woo!)
  5. some semi-rude behaviour on my part was overlooked by the person on the receiving end. That situation could have turned out badly for both of us, and I’m grateful the other person had the grace to let it go
  6. I am being incorporated into the social activities of my new town. Today’s activity: 3-year-old birthday party. Let the candy-eating begin
  7. the kindness of random strangers. Being fairly new in the area (almost five weeks now!) and not having my usual social network around me, random conversations take on an importance that they wouldn’t usually have. It’s a good reminder to me that you never know what’s going on in a person’s life but you can always bring a bit of sunshine to it
  8. I’m not too afraid to try new things. I say ‘too afraid’ because I often feel some fear, but I do the things anyway
  9. I had an insight just this week into a situation that occurred three years ago and caused a lot of pain at the time, and for a very long time after. Sometimes it takes a LONG time to work out what the lesson was from a situation; apparently this took three whole years for me but now, I get it!
  10. I have lots of healthy (and not-so-healthy!) food to eat. I’m reading a novel where the main character is hungry and has no money, and there have been times in my life where I was in that situation (university anyone?). That’s the worst kind of worry, and I’m grateful I don’t have that worry now

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

canadian book challenge 4: reading list

28 Aug

canadian book challenge 4 Today is a wet wet wet Manitoba day. A perfect day for just sitting around and reading, and thinking about books.

I’ve decided on my reading list for the 4th Canadian Book Challenge. Although there’s no set requirement, I decided to go with John Mutford‘s suggestion to read one book set in each Canadian province and territory. This should help me learn a bit more about life in different parts of Canada, and also help me to kick my habit of choosing books mainly set in Montreal (it just seems to happen that way!).

This is my reading list:

Yukon: The Tent Peg by Aritha van Herk

Saskatchewan: Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell

Quebec: Cockroach by Rawi Hage

PEI: Ann of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Ontario: Fauna by Alissa York

Nunavut: Rankin Inlet by Mara Feeney

Nova Scotia: The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

Northwest Territories: Tatsea by Armin Wiebe

Newfoundland/Labrador: Annabel by Kathleen Winter

New Brunswick: Nights Below Station Street by David Adams Richards

Manitoba: A Jest of God by Margaret Laurence

B.C: Hey Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland

Alberta: The Outlander by Gil Adamson

I hope I’ve got the correct setting for each book. If not, I’ll soon find out when I read them!

I’m so excited to read each and every one of these books.

old town, new town

27 Aug

My old town:

My new town:

And yet I love them both.

Book Review: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

26 Aug

I have been trying to write a review of Eat Pray Love for a few days now. Each time I come back to the draft, I keep deleting paragraphs and wanting to start from scratch. My opinion of the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, and her adventures in Italy, India and Indonesia just keeps changing. My first book review here at Prairie Journals, and I’m not even sure what I want to say.

Gilbert reminds me of me: she was 34 at the end of the story (I’m 34); she ran away from home to travel the world at an age when most women are bogged down with babies and responsibilities (I’ve run away to live overseas twice since turning 30); she makes consistent efforts to improve her life while sort of being consistently dragged back down by old, hard to break habits (hate to own up to that too, but there it is). What doesn’t remind me of me is the impetus for her journey. Gilbert was living the American well-to-do dream with her husband when she realised she didn’t actually want any of it, throwing herself not into her work or friends but straight into another difficult relationship, the disintegration of which propelled her right to the edge of an emotional breakdown. Thankfully, Ms Gilbert recognised that perhaps there are better ways to mend the soul than shagging one bloke after another, and she packed her bags and headed off on a journey of inspiration and healing.

First stop was Italy, to immerse herself in Italian language and culinary delights. This section is an arm-chair traveller’s dream, with tales of world-class pizza and gelato plus mind-bogglingly handsome men as far as the eye can see. Luckily Gilbert has begun a period of self-imposed celibacy at this time, thereby avoiding further emotional entanglements. From her description it sounded like this was no mean feat.

In India, Gilbert swaps olive oil and carbs for wholesome vegetarian fair as she grapples with the rigorous ways of an Indian yogic Ashram. I need to come clean here and say that I did not read all of this section. I have completed my yoga teacher training and just didn’t agree with most of what Gilbert was saying. She struck me as someone that couldn’t leave her thoughts about herself at the door and put in the commitment required to improved her life through yogic practices. You need to have faith that these practices, which are thousands of years old, might just be worth doing properly rather than fighting it the whole time. I’ve got news for you Elizabeth: everyone finds meditation hard, it takes discipline. It’s not all bells and whistles, visions and pretty lights. Why fly so far to try so little? Like I said, I didn’t finish this section so she may in fact have gotten over herself and achieved enlightenment. I’ll never know.

Next stop was my favourite part of the ride, Indonesia. Bali, to be specific. Here, Gilbert meets up with the Balinese medicine man who first planted the seed for this journey two years earlier when she was there on a work junket. Gilbert observes him as he patiently helps patients from all walks of life, putting in very long hours for very little renumeration and smiling all the while. Bali introduces us to an assortment of other interesting characters, too. There is Yudhi, a Javanese man who married a New Yorker but was deported from the U.S. after 9/11. There is Wayan, a female healer who has done the unthinkable by Balinese standards and left her abusive husband. And then there is Felipe, handsome Brazilian man and lover extraordinaire. For those like myself who have not visited Bali, it is fascinating to read about the different customs which take up many of the waking hours of regular Balinese folk. I do however think there is a lot more to be told about the Balinese way of life than what is described here. Gilbert says the custom of living in rigid family compounds produces the most “sane, protected, calm, happy and balanced” people in the world, yet the Balinese characters she meets are generally few, if any, of these things. They are products of an economically unstable, patriarchal society that punishes anyone who does not conform. We meet a pair of orphans who have been pimped out to beg on the streets. The healer, Wayan, discusses how women are beaten or divorced by their husbands if they cannot produce a child, even if it is the man is infertile. Hmm, doesn’t sound happy or balanced to me.

I’ve been pretty hard on Elizabeth Gilbert, I know, but I did enjoy the book overall. Eat Pray Love is not just a book; it is a publishing phenomenon. I was working in a bookstore at the time of its release, and it was impossible to keep any copies on the shelf. If there was such a thing as ‘most-recommended book of all time’ I’m sure this would be a strong contender. Most of the popularity is not about the story itself, as the three countries examined are by no means unchartered territory. It is Gilbert’s unwavering engagingness, if that’s a word, that hooks people in and keeps them reading. She is just so likeable. Gilbert herself is aware of this, describing how she has just always been surrounded by people; this is one of the reasons she had the confidence to travel the world alone, as she knew she would just make friends wherever she went. This of course has been somewhat of an obstacle for her because she has never spent enough time by herself to know what she wants, or that sometimes it’s healthy and ok to be alone.

Would I recommend this book to others? Yes, with the warning that sensible people might find Elizabeth Gilbert to be on the slightly flaky side.

My rating: 3 out of 5

shopping, shopping

24 Aug

I’m just back from a very long but fun day of shopping in Winnipeg. The weather has cooled a bit since yesterday (not that I’m complaining about hot weather – I love it) so racing around from store to store was quite manageable.

When I visualised entering McNally Robinson, I pictured myself walking in, scoping out the place and then pretty much going, well, ballistic with my spending. Carrying a pile of books so high that I could barely see over it to make my way to the counter. In reality, I decided to buy only two novels, as I’m having trouble concentrating on my current reading whilst my TBR pile calls my name. I didn’t want to add too many voices to the calling. “HEY YOU,” the books call. “PUT DOWN THAT OLD BOOK YOU’RE READING AND READ ME INSTEAD. JUST LOOK HOW NEW I AM AND HOW PRETTY MY COVER IS.”

Anyway, I purchased two very promising titles from two excellent Canadian authors: Cockroach by Rawi Hage, and The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews. I also purchased a gold-covered journal for my sister’s birthday (I haven’t told her I started a blog, so I’m not giving away the surprise). I also bought a cute coin purse made of recycled materials and two pretty hair clips handmade in Winnipeg, also for my sister, so they’ll be on their way to Melbourne tomorrow.

The two moose fellows are clearly from a far less high-brow store than McNally Robinson, and were purchased at the Forks today for some children I know back in Australia. They’re in the picture because they’re cute though, eh?

When I asked the saleswoman at McNally Robinson if she had read Cockroach or the Flying Troutmans she said, to my surprise and disappointment, that she hadn’t, but that she’d heard great things about them. I don’t know why I expect staff in bookstores to have read the books I’m buying. When I worked in a bookstore I had hardly read anything that we sold. I was too busy, you know, working. If the truth be told, I think I really wanted the saleswoman to say, “Yes, I have read them both, and you have excellent taste”. Or even better: “Yes, I’ve read them both, and you have excellent taste. You are clearly a super-cool person, and as I am a super-cool indie bookstore employee, I would like us to be friends”. Then we would walk off into the sunset, or the nearest coffee shop at least, and talk about our excellent taste in books.

When I worked in a book store, I wanted to be a customer instead, browsing at my leisure and not having to wear the dorky book store uniform. Now that I’m the customer, I want to be the super-knowledgeable cool geek who’s working the till.

Ok, clearly I need sleep. Good night.