Plights of a Bookworm #3: The Book Fail

I’m not good at sports. So when I get talked into participating in one and I inevitably get hit in the face with a football or I bruise my tailbone falling on the ice while missing the puck, it doesn’t break my heart. I know from the outset that failure is a very likely outcome, and with those expectations, my self-esteem is buffered.

However I am, or so I like to think, a “good reader”. “Good” in the sense that I enjoy it, I read a variety of books and can usually retain and discuss their content with some degree of intelligence. Hence, my ability to read well is linked to my self-worth in a more critical way than sports (or crafts, or dancing, or training my cat not to bite people…).

And so, the 3rd Plight of a Bookworm is…The Book Fail.

If you’re not really into books, just reading this blog because you know me or find me mildly amusing (thank you!) than you probably don’t really understand what I mean. You probably don’t “fail” at books. You stop reading them because they are boring or too long or difficult or complicated or you find another book you’d rather read. You can stop reading a book for any number of reasons, and feel no shame. Good for you!
However, if when you read the phrase “Book Fail”, you immediately and uncontrollably clenched your fists and whispered “Anna Karenina”* or “Les Miserables”, then you’re with me on this.

It’s a pretty major blow to the self-esteem to fail at something you think you’re good at. To put a book back on the shelf or bring it back to the library unfinished? SO Disheartening!

Especially one that you felt so smug about reading in the first place. Looking down on the people around you on the subway with their Maeve Binchy’s while you’re looking so smart with your tome of choice. Then to fail? Devastating!

Then when people ask you about it later, like “Oh, was Les Miserables the musical anything like the book?” And you have to own up to your failure or lie about it? The Worst!
(also, no judgement if you lie. None at all ;))

But let’s try to practice a little self-forgiveness this year, fellow bookworms.

If we never failed, it would mean we were living a life without challenges. Which would give us nothing to strive for, which would make for a very boring life indeed. So keep reading those tough books! Some of them won’t be for you, and that’s ok. The fact that you’re failing means that you’re trying your best.

Others maybe deserve another try when you have more brain-power to spare, and when you finally finish them, you’ll feel so much better than if you just re-read “Shopaholic Ties the Knot”. The bigger the challenge, the sweeter the success!

Although the Book Fail might be a plight of a bookworm, it’s also a sign that you’re doing something right.

*In my defence, ALL of the names in that book were SO similar, and they were Russian. I’m already bad with names, so turning back every few pages, going “Which Alexi is she talking about?” is the least fun ever.

Never-Fail Books for Gifting

Books. Basically the perfect gift.

Why?

  • They always seem more thoughtful than they really are (i.e. “ I read this book and totally thought of you and you alone”)
  • They make everyone involve seem smarter (“I knew you would prefer literature to a bottle of hootch”)
  • Books are damn easy to wrap.

Even if you’re not a bookworm, think books as a solution to your gift-giving pickle!

Here are a few of my never-fail* books for gifting

*usually

Book: “No Easy Day” by Mark Owen. The first hand account of Seal Team Six and their mission to kill Osama Bin Laden. This book actually came under some controversy because of all that is revealed inside (isn’t that the best hook ever?) I didn’t understand most of the army tactical jargon, but it was very interesting. Lots of action and insight into high-risk operations.

Never-fail recipient:  Brothers, Fathers, people who love video games more than books, or my good friend M., a police officer who is always combing my bookshelves looking for something to read “with some action in it”.

Book: “The Emperor of all Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee. A fascinating book (which will make an appearance in “Review Time”) about cancer. More accurately, a biography of cancer; its discovery, development, cancer research and its impact on politics, medicine and popular culture. Mukherjee draws from his own experience as an oncologist to lend a compassionate, human aspect to the book.

Never-Fail Recipient: Co-workers, friends you fear are more intelligent than you are, and any doctors or scientists you happen to know. This book is impressive and in-depth, with enough science to satisfy people in the healthcare field but accessible enough to be enjoyed by just about anyone.

Book: “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova. This book is the story of a Harvard Professor who, just shy of her 50th birthday, is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. What really draws you into this book is that the narration is first hand, so you are inside Alices’ head. When she forgets a name or discovers she is in the wrong house, it’s almost as if the reader has made the error. A really great, book club-worthy read.

Never-Fail recipient: Moms, Mother-in-laws, anyone who misses Oprah’s book club (or just misses Oprah).

Book: “The History of the World According to Facebook” by Wylie Overstreet. A really clever and cute look at what it would be like if key players in history had Facebook. As in, ALL of the key players, from Boston creating the “Tea Party” event to John Wilkes Booth “Like-ing” Lincolns’ post about hitting up the theatre later. For me, the whole WW2 section makes me laugh every time, with Winston Churchill telling Chamberlain to “GTFO”. It’s like if slapstick comedy was in book form. Except better.

Never-Fail Recipient: Teenagers. I know, I know, Facebook is SO over, it’s all about Vines now or whatever. But they’ll still get a kick out of it, and maybe they’ll learn something! Also history buffs will LOVE this.

Book: “The Painted Girls” by Cathy Marie Buchanan.  Following in the steps of Mr. Hugo (but 80% shorter and 100% more reader friendly), this book takes place in 19th century Paris. In it, we follow 3 sisters whose only hope for income and survival is to become popular ballet dancers at the Opera Garnier. Although the paths they set out on are identical, their successes, failures and outcomes are very different. A lovely book, with very realistic and detailed descriptions of 19th century Paris. The author captures the beauty of the city, its art, music and vibrancy as well as the filth, hunger, illness and desperation that haunted most of its citizens. A little bit “A Tree grows in Brooklyn” a little bit ” A Moveable Feast” and a lot of “Les Miserables”.

Never-Fail Recipient: Travellers, friends who love fiction and my friend A.,who loves the musical “Les Miserables” and believes Paris to be among the most lovely and interesting places in the world (rightfully so, its amazing…in fact here’s a picture of me and my husband in Paris because…why not? ;))

Happy gifting!

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Pinterest WIN!

I don’t think anyone would describe me as crafty. I visit pinterest more as a spectator, to see what the more talented people are up to.

And then I started planning a wedding.

I wasn’t interested in carrying a bouquet of flowers down the aisle but, as a good friend put it, I had to carry SOMETHING down the aisle so that I wouldn’t “swing my arms like an idiot”.

As some of you might remember reading, my grandmother left me a box of…romantic…books. And so when that same friend sent me this pin, even though in general I am against destruction of books, I decided to give this a try. I assembled my materials, I had a backup/ support staff of sisters in waiting, and I tried my best to forget my prior pinterest fails.

And I won!

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Review Time: The Book Thief

The only thing I needed to hear to convince me to read this book was that the narrator was Death.

The narrator…is DEATH?! Sold.

I’m a sucker for a hook, like a great narrator, a fascinating setting or a talking pig and this hook did not disappoint (with the narrator, I mean-no talking pigs 🙂 ). The characters in Markus Zusaks’ The Book Thief are wonderful people, deep and complex. But the real star, what takes this book from good to great, is the portrayal of Death as the narrator. Death is seen here as a sympathetic but unrelenting entity. Over-worked by the horrors of the second world war, we are almost reminded of a war-weary field surgeon in the mix of despair, necessary detachment and black humour that Death exudes. He (she?) at times laments at the unfair nature of his work and at humankind’s capacity for murder: “So much good, so much evil. Just add water”.

A touching, profound and, at times surprisingly funny, narration.

The story is a beautiful ode to the power of books, set in a WW2-era German town located between Munich and the concentration camp of Dachau. Liesel Meminger, a young German girl is sent there to live with a foster family to keep her safe. Illiterate at the beginning of the book, we see Liesel learning to read first as just something to do when the nightmares keep her up at night. Eventually she embraces reading as salvation, a way to maintain hope while living in a country that would exterminate its own people and having to pretend to embrace politics she has no way of understanding. She also has to learn how to mask her fear and behave with discretion when her foster parents take a huge risk and hide a Jewish man in their basement. This man shares her love of books and together they escape what has become of their world by stealing books.

This is a book about courage, friendship, kindness and compassion. The story has its share of sadness but it is a artfully written and uplifting childrens book that any adult would enjoy just as much.

English essayist and literary critic Walter Pater once said “Books are a refuge, a sort of cloistral refuge, from the vulgarities of the actual world.” A sentiment beautifully captured in The Book Thief.

Charitable Giving-Bookworm style!

For many people, myself included, Christmas is that time of year when we feel a little bit more generous. Maybe you put a couple boxes of pasta in the food bank hamper, toss some spare change into Santa’s bucket or buy an extra “Big Hugs Elmo”  for the toy drive. There are so many wonderful ways that we can acknowledge our good fortune by giving a little something to those who may be without. Some of you may have a personal connection to a charitable cause that you feel passionate about and contribute to regularly, which is great.  But if not, why not have a little peek at some reading and book related causes?
I always find that when you really believe in the cause you are supporting, the experience of giving is so much more rewarding. It is so easy to become cynical and discouraged when it comes to giving to charity, with fraudulent charities popping up everywhere and organizations coming out with questionable practices and ethics (ahem, Salvation Army). It is sad that we have to be so careful with our charity budgets, and no one can be blamed for just giving up. Educating yourself about a cause you feel passionate about and then doing something to help can be just the ticket!
And so, for your charitable-giving consideration: three really great (and 100% legit) reading-related charities.
Did you know that the school library budget for one child in 1970 is expected to cover the needs of 9 children today?

And that many Canadian children, especially those from low income, new immigrant and non-english speaking homes, only experience pleasure-reading through their school libraries? The Indigo Love of Reading Foundation encourages supporters to help in any way they can. You can donate money to buy books for high-need schools. You can get involved politically, petitioning the government for better funding. You can even get some people together and adopt a school in your community, putting books in the hands of kids in your own ‘hood.
2. Your Local Library

Every week during the summer when I was little, my Dad would drop me off at the library with his library card (Because my bullshit Childrens’ card only allowed 6 books out at a time). He would come back an hour or so later and help me carry out a stack of books as tall as I was. The library was such an integral part of my childhood, I would be a completely different person without having had the freedom to try out as many books as my heart desired, chat up the librarians about the new Sweet Valley Twins saga, and attempt to teach myself sewing, paper doll making, gymnastics, cooking, small business ownership and gardening, all via independent study 😉

Sadly, in these “stop the gravy train” times, badly needed library funding for books, staffing and programs is often first on the chopping block. So donate to your public library! Or follow this link to MY public library, Toronto Public Library. Support the libraries in your community so that they can continue to provide books to lend, as well as programs for childhood and adult literacy, art and music programs, community access to technology and workforce readiness programs. Libraries are a staple of the community, a dollar donated to the library will add so much value to the places we live.
If you don’t have money to give, donate your used books! Or donate your time and volunteer with the library itself or one of its programs!
ABC is a Canadian non-profit organization committed to fostering lifelong learning and literacy throughout Canada. So important, because it’s never too late to learn to read or improve your reading skills, skills which will never become less vital. Four out of ten Canadians aged 16-65 fall at or below level 3 literacy (high school completion level). These adults have serious problems with all printed materials, lending serious complications to finding employment, and making dealing with health and legal issues almost impossible.
Aside from being the group that started Family Literacy Day ( Jan. 27th), this charity started LEARN, Canada’s 1st national media literacy campaign. Basically, they raise awareness around adult illiteracy, encouraging adults who struggle with literacy to contact the agency, at which point they are put in touch with teachers and programs to help. ABC has helped tens of thousands of Canadians acquire literacy skills and make reading a part of their lives.
Honorable Mentions:
  • The Malala Fund, the organization started by Malala Yousafzai that fights for girl’s education worldwide.
  • Gifts of Hope by Plan Canada. Offers a variety of gifts you can give to people who need them the most. Give a goat, a box of books or a newborn check-up!
So If you’re looking for a way to give that means something to you on a personal level, consider one of these wonderful causes. Or if you’re passionate about art or music, donate to your city’s symphony, or a local childrens art program. Have a hard to shop for aunt who loves animals? Instead of another cat figurine, donate in her name to the SPCA or adopt an endangered animal on her behalf from WWF. There are lots of ways to make a difference this season, just think outside of the Santa bucket, and be sure to do your research.

Books, falling from the sky like some kind of beautiful dream…

Robots! And they come bearing books!

This past week, Amazon has been talking about testing out delivery drones, able to deliver lighter orders to customers in city centers in under an hour. I have so many questions about this, including “What if…someone…shoots down the drones and steals the books?” and “I have a slow-moving cat. Will the drone hover to avoid landing on her, or just shoot some sort of pellet gun to move her?”. But in general, I welcome our new robot helpers and look forward to climbing up onto the roof to retrieve my promptly delivered books.

Full story here