Archive for June, 2009

At last, something worth reading

June 18, 2009

Once again, it’s the mid-week book review.  I picked up two books just prior to my Iowan Odyssey last month, (which was wonderful thankyouverymuch and I really should blog about THAT) and have now finished both of them, plus one more. And since I’m on a major deadline with four things on my to-do list that MUST be done in the next 90 minutes, why not stop everything and blog about books?

Things I Want My Daughters To Know, by Elizabeth Noble

Unlike Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons, Noble’s earlier books The Reading Group and The Tenko Club did not send me raving to friends about them. (all had similar premises, but only Angry Housewives, by Lorna Landvik, stood out for me). However, I didn’t dislike them enough to not want to try Noble’s latest venture, Things I Want My Daughters To Know.

It was much, much better than Noble’s other books I’ve read.

Structured around a dying mother and how her letters and journals carry her daughters through their first year without her, there were times when I felt the corners of my eyes prickling with tears as I imagined what I’d tell my own daughters – or what they might wish I would have told them. The fear that time will run out before all the right things have been said or done – is that everyone’s fear, or only my own? The daughters were sympathetic characters and written as one would expect sisters to be written – different enough to be individual but similar enough to be connected.

Huge thumbs up for this one, and enough to make me take my place firmly among those called Elizabeth Noble’s fans.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

I’ve seen Picoult’s books on the shelves (who hasn’t?) and heard her name mentioned now and again in book talk, but it was seeing the trailer for the upcoming movie version of this novel that prompted me to buy. The importance of artwork – in the last few years, despite seeing entire shelves filled with Picoult’s distinctive covers, all facing front, I have never been curious enough to pick one up and read the cover copy.

My Sister’s Keeper, for those out-of-the-know, is about 13-year-old Anna, who was born for one reason – to keep her older sister from dying. The crisis is that Anna has decided she doesn’t want to do it anymore.

My 17-year-old and I talked about this book for close to an hour once we’d both finished it, and that alone would have made it worth reading.  But the story is captivating. So often, we read headlines, and studies, or listen to debates about the struggle between science and ethics, butit’s hard to attach a face to the theory. Stem cell research, genetic manipulation, etc. are so abstract for most of us – we pick a side or develop an opinion without fully internalizing that cells and embryos become peopleSister’s Keeper posed some hard questions, and as the narrative moved back and forth through each character’s point of view, I found myself changing my mind and then changing it back again. Several times. In the end I found I really didn’t know where I stood after all.

The one thing I didn’t like, and the daughter agreed, was the ending. It was shocking and unexpected, and felt like a major cop-out on the author’s part.  So I put it down feeling pleased with the story and cheated by the conclusion.

Note: In my copy, Picoult’s Handle With Care is previewed at the end. I ploughed through the preview, but found the story so disturbing that I doubt I will be picking it up. The few pages there have actually instigated a few bad dreams and one nightmare. But maybe that’s just me.

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult

Having disregarded Handle With Care as a possibility, I at least decided to check out the cover copy on some of Picoult’s other offerings during my next book purchase. I chose Vanishing Acts and I’m glad I did.

Delia’s life is turned upside down – at least the life she thought she had, that is. From that pivotal point, Delia’s journey and those of those she hold dearest is also told from several different viewpoints, and Picoult does this well. Again, you find yourself taking sides, but for me there was no doubt at all, start to finish, of which player I was rooting for. Complex characters that evoke both sympathy and empathy narrate, in distinctive voices, their side of the story.

An interesting thing happened about halfway through though. I remembered the end of Sister’s Keeper, and all of a sudden, I wondered what Picoult was going to pull this time. I didn’t trust the author to deliver the ending I was half expecting and mostly hoping for. That has never happened to me when I’ve been reading before – liking a story and suddenly not wanting to finish it because I was afraid I wouldn’t like the ending. Authors might want to keep that in mind – reader loyalty is vital: don’t toy with it.

However, Picoult didn’t cheat me this time. Read it – you’ll like it.


There is no “me” in team either

June 17, 2009

Some people look ahead to the years when their children will be grown and envision vacations for two or candlelit dinners. Others imagine a time when the remote will always be right where you left it, when you’ll struggle to use a litre of milk before it goes bad, and when the washing machine becomes a place you only visit once a week.

Me, I’m looking forward to the day when there will never again be someone working into the wee small hours of the night on a “group” project. Alone.

I’m a reasonably intelligent soul. I get the purpose behind encouraging students to work as a group. I know that collaborative, co-operative efforts often crop up in the work world too, and that it helps to have mastered some sort of ability to “work well with others.”

But seriously. What is the point in assigning these things to little humans who can’t drive themselves to wherever the “group” has decided to gather, have no control over what time dinner is, aren’t allowed to miss Scouts/baseball/piano becuase “you made a commitment” and have a set bedtime? Not to mention the always-gotta-have-one group member who really doesn’t care all that much about getting a ‘C’ and so chooses not to participate or produces a half-assed effort that leaves the other group members left with the choice to pick up the slack or face the consequences of someone else’s actions? (or inactions, as the case may be)

And almost no one stays friends after a group project in elementary school, so I’m not quite sure what the kids are learning about building relationships.

If you’re going to assign group projects, then do ’em on school time. Don’t make group work my kid’s PITA. Because resentment, frustration and anger aren’t pretty in anyone. And it’s hard enough to teach kids’ to be responsible for their own stuff without demanding they be responsible for someone else’s.


June 7, 2009

Next Door Neighbour has been there for a few years now, but he’s the second in a series of never-seen-never-home-does-he-really-exist owners in that location, so there haven’t been many conversations over the fence over the years.  We know his first name, and have a vague idea of what he does for a living – someone’s comings and goings are hard to ignore when the houses are three feet apart.

His yard gets a little wild this time of year – wilder than most. We don’t say much, because there are times our yard borders on the absolutely-neglected as well, and we can understand a lifestyle where pushing a lawnmower around the back 40 doesn’t rank very high on the priority list. Not everyone is cut out for manicured flower beds, edged sidewalks and carefully tended perennials.

However, a few weeks ago, it appears that Next Door Neighbour acquired a room-mate of the relationship-type. There’s been a few more signs of life than usual, and a little more in-passing conversation. Yesterday, the backyard was getting hacked and raked and weeded. Later on, I noticed the two of them standing on their back sidewalk.

Their back was to me, but the stance was so familiar. The two of them stood, arm in arm, and gazed at the acreage, exchanging quiet conversation. There was some sweeping gesturing and pointing. It was cute.

And it struck me that I am familiar with that pose. To stand, side by side, and survey what’s yours. To take a joint apparisal of what you are responsible for, to discuss what it is, what you’d like it to be, what it could become. To describe enthusiastically your vision to another person, and listen, just as enthusiastically, to the other’s mind’s eye as well.

It’s a couple thing. In twenty years, how many times have we adopted that we-can-tackle-this-together position, and then moved on into the fray? I never realized, until yesterday, how universal this must be among couples. It’s kind of reassuring really. And a pretty neat part of being married.

And now you all think I’m a creepy stalker who stares at the neighbours out the window. But I’m not, really. For how can one write about the world if one does not look at it every now and then?