My Top 10 All-Time-Don’t-Think-Too-Hard-About-It Reads

A good friend recently posted the following challenge on Facebook: “List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t think too hard about it — they don’t have to be “great works”, just the ones that have touched you.”

Since Luc and I haven’t had the time or energy to blog in recent months, we figured this would be a quick way to get us back in the blogging groove.

So here’s my Christmas gift to you all…my off-the-top-of-my-head top 10 list of books that have stayed with me:

  1. Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman
  2. Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards
  3. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  4. The Dark Tower series by Stephen King
  5. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  6. The Gate to Women’s Country by Sheri S. Tepper
  7. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  8. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  9. Take Time for Your Life by Cheryl Richardson
  10. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

And just because it’s the giving season, I’ll add a play and a poem:

  • Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
  • When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats

Happy Holidays and see you in January!

Check out Luc’s Top 10 reads

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Book Review: Songs of Huh? and What?

I picked up Songs of Love & Death — All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love for a few reasons.

First, I love short stories.

Second, the collection included a story by Diana Gabaldon, whose Outlander I read years ago and still remember as totally captivating.

Third, George R. R. Martin co-edited the book (along with Gardner Dozois), so I figured if the genius behind Game of Thrones gave these 17 cross-genre tales the OK, then they had to be worth reading.

Oh, yes. And it was cheap. $4.99 in the bargain section at Chapters.

Sadly, even at that bargain-basement price, I feel a little ripped off.

The dust jacket blurb promised everything from faeries and aliens to post-apocalyptic zombies, appearing in stories linked by the theme of ill-fated love.

And while the stories did offer an amazingly diverse (and strange…and bizarre…and downright weird) cast of characters, it was the stories themselves I found lacking.

In Jim Butcher’s “Love Hurts,” what starts out as a promising mystery (with a law enforcement wizard on the case of several seemingly unrelated suicide pacts) ends up with a monologuing vampire, and a shoot-out in a possessed Tunnel of Terror. Huh?

Then in Neil Gaiman’s “The Thing About Cassandra,” the girlfriend a man made up when he was an awkward 15-year-old shows up for real in his life decades later. Cool concept. But then all of a sudden the first-person narrative changes. “I” is no longer Stuart, it’s Cassandra. Did he make her up? Or did she make him up? Who the heck is Mr. Postie? And Stuart is now a pile of ashes on the floor? What?

Even Gabaldon’s “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” was disappointing. Granted, her author’s note suggests there’s more to this story in another story. But a great part of my love of short stories lies in the fact that the good ones are able to stand on their own as tiny little slices of life. Gabaldon’s doesn’t.

There are a few gems in this collection. “Blue Boots” by Robin Hobb is a sweet little happily-ever-after kind of fairy tale. “After the Blood” by Marjorie M. Liu is a creepy post-apocalyptic story (complete with forest zombies) which, although reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand (in miniature), is satisfying in its own right. And “Under/Above the Water” by Tanith Lee is a beautifully crafted and lyrical story of lovers missing each other in one lifetime but finding each other in another.

I expected more from “seventeen of the greatest modern authors of fantasy, science fiction, and romance.” And I feel I had to read through a lot of time-wasting, uninteresting or downright bewildering stuff to find the half a dozen or so worth reading in this collection.

Since I only paid $4.99 for the hardcover, that works out to less than a buck per deserving story.

If it goes an extra 50% off the last ticketed price, you might want to pick it up.

Check out Luc’s thoughts on Songs of Love & Death.

How Life of Pi Almost Ended My Marriage

Life_of_Pi_cover[1]

As I’ve mentioned before, Luc and I have very different tastes in books.

That’s not to say there hasn’t be some cross-over in our reading material over the years. Although I’d never pick up one of his world-war-whatever history books, I did give The Origin of Satan the old college try (I think I made it through the prologue). And I’ll always be thankful that he introduced me to the fantasy fiction of Guy Gavriel Kay (in particular The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy) as well as all things Tolkien.

But the sharing has always been a little one-sided. As in me attempting to read one of his books as opposed to him trying one of mine.

So when I read Life of Pi for my book club several years back, I was thrilled to finally be able to recommend a book to Luc that I honestly thought he’d enjoy as much as I did.

Let me be totally clear: I loved Life of Pi. I mean LOVED. It moved me. It affected me. It made me think. It made me believe. If I were on a desert island (or stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger for that matter), Life of Pi is one of the books I would want with me. It is the only book I have ever finished and immediately returned to page 1 and read again from cover to cover.

Here was my reasoning for suggesting Luc give it a try:

  1. It had a good dose of religious debate in it (did I mention The Origin of Satan?).
  2. It was set in an exotic locale.
  3. It required a certain suspension of disbelief (not unlike his beloved fantasy novels).
  4. It had an ending that, I believe, was open to interpretation.

I pictured him devouring Life of Pi beside me in bed, reading aloud the passages that spoke to him as they spoke to me. I pictured us having deep, philosophical discussions like we haven’t had since our university days, about religion, morality and the meaning of life. I pictured us considering the ending and endlessly reinterpreting what really happened on that boat.

What I didn’t picture was Luc flipping through the pages in bed beside me, barely scanning the words and muttering, “Right. He’s on a boat with a tiger. And he’s still on the boat with the tiger. And…he’s STILL…on the BOAT…with the TIGER…Oh my god! He’s STILL on the freaking boat with the freaking tiger!”

There’s this thing called “irreconcilable differences.” It’s grounds for divorce in many jurisdictions. I love my husband. I know it would never come to that. But if it DID, it would pretty much be open and shut.

Life of Pi, Your Honour. I rest my case.”

Check out Luc’s thoughts on Life of Pi.

What you’ll find on my nightstand

Luc and I both love to read. And that’s about where our similarities in this area of interest end.

Jen's Nightstand

Here’s what you might find on my nightstand on any given day:

My latest book club read: When friends and I started up our book club nearly 15 years ago, the only condition was that we read fiction. Perfect for me! Fiction is always my first choice for reading. Whether it’s novels or short stories, I love delving into someone else’s life, thoughts, relationships, choices, worlds. Anything that can make me laugh out loud or burst into tears gets bonus points. Next up is Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot. I can feel Luc cringing at the title alone, but I can’t wait to dive in!

A magazine: When the kids were little (we’re talking the newborn through toddler years) I could barely keep my eyes open long enough to read a page of whatever book club book we were reading, let alone finish the entire thing before our next meeting ( I have a whole row of books on my shelf that the girls tell me I did read and had strong, if not exactly articulate, opinions on, but they’re all a bit of a blur). During that time, I read more magazines than anything else. Much less stressful to pick one up, randomly skim through an article in a sleep-deprived fog, and if I completely forgot about it by the end of the day, well what did it matter? Now I read magazines for interest, inspiration, and all the pretty pictures (some day I’ll make that vision board!) Current subscriptions: Style at Home, Real Simple, Oprah and Best Health.

A self-help book: Although he’s never outright said anything against my collection of self-help books, I’m sure Luc has about as much respect for them as he does for, say, Dr. Phil. Recently I’ve been rereading Take Time for Your Life by Cheryl Richardson. I first read this back in 2002, and it helped convince me that my health and my relationship with Luc were at stake because of my job. I made the drastic move from working about 60 hours a week to working just three days a week. Now that I’m in a completely different phase of my life (10 years and 2 kids different) I’m finding its checklists, charts and challenges helpful for finding the ever-elusive balance a lot of us are looking for as women/wives/mothers/friends/employees. He may not be a fan, but I think Luc’s reaping the benefits…

A classic: A while ago I decided that considering I had been an English language and literature major in university way back when, there were several titles and/or authors that I had never read that maybe I should have. I set a goal for myself that in between new reads I would tackle some as-yet-unread-by-me classics. I nearly gave up after my first two attempts. I suffered through The Great Gatsby (sorry) and slept through Don Quixote (did anyone ever really finish that book?). Then I picked up Anna Karenina (swoon!). I have enjoyed every single word Tolstoy wrote in this marvelous work of art… and even discovered in its pages the phrase I want engraved on my tombstone (no, I’m not telling today, but the first person to guess gets 5 bucks!).

A how to organize your stuff/your closet/your house/your mind/your life book: I spend more time organizing my cluttered pile of decluttering books than I do reading them or following their advice (as the state of my stuff/my closet/my house/my mind/my life will attest). But just owning them makes me feel better. Especially if they’re alphabetized. Top of the pile: How to Organize (Just About) Everything by Peter Walsh.

Some non-fiction “lite”: Luc’s definition of non-fiction and my definition of non-fiction are so different that I don’t even think they’d make it into the same entry in the dictionary. Call of the Mall, The Power of Half, The Happiness Project, Slow Death by Rubber Duck and I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids have all enjoyed a place on my nightstand recently.

We may not be reading even close to the same stuff, but at least it’s something we can do together!

Check out what’s on Luc’s nightstand.