Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Books, Books, Books

One of the great things about travelling so much is the amount of idle time I have waiting at airports, sitting on planes and just travelling in general which enables me to read a lot. And one of the main reasons I set up this blogwas to keep track of what I read and learn so here we go!

Ever since I got into reading Stephen Lawhead, my interest in history has definitely increased. Lawhead is an historical fiction writer which is a genre I hadn't been interested in in the past. Reading his stories though take me right into historical Britain or Scandinavia or wherever hehappens to be writing about. I know nothing of the history of these places or their culturesand it is so fascinating to me to see how Lawhead puts them all together. All this to say, I have been on somewhat of a history journey lately. (Is it a history or an history? Article confusion!)

This history journey took me into the arctic in the last 6 months. It all started with a book I read back in 2009 called The Ice Master. I talked about that in this post. More recently I read Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail: The Quest For Northwest Passage and the North Pole. This is an exhaustive history of what went on in the arctic during the 1800's. The main storyline being how so much of the western world was occupied withfinding a trading passage through the arctic. One interesting thing that stood out to me was how there seemed to be a belief among many well educated people back then that once you got beyond the pack ice of the arctic - closer to the north pole - there were temperate waters which could easily be travelled. Perhaps even temperate or even tropical land with people living on them. This belief caused many boats and lives to be lost.
This time in history would have been an exciting time to be alive. The Earth hadn't been fully mapped yet so these men were truly exploring the islands of the north arctic. Naming them after people who had helped fund their journey or even after themselves. Not knowing what layahead of them - more ice, temperate waters, land, being the first to discover the northwest passage or the north pole, these trips must have been exhilarating for these men. I enjoyed living vicariously through them for sure. And yes, I did look up adventure trips to the north to see if some of these places were available to visit. Indeed they are and they have now been added to my mental bucket list! I haven't even begun to tell of one of the main characters/explorers of this era, John Franklin. His story alone is worth the read. If you have any interest in history, exploration, the arctic, the British navy or Canadian history I think you would enjoy this book.

The Arctic Grail led me to more Pierre Berton books as I was really enjoying his writing. He is somewhat of a Canadian icon which was another reason I wanted to get acquainted with more of his writing.After spending some time in history I moved on to a book called Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis which I discovered through the Canada Reads program. I read about the author's journey to creating this book and I was hooked there. The story about him writing thestory was so interesting that I wanted to read this book.

Terry Fallis's publishing journey is a cross between a Cinderella story and a DIY show. When his manuscript for his first and very funny book, The Best Laid Plans, was passed over by literary agents, he began podcasting the story, one chapter at time, in 2007. The podcast became so popular that Terry decided to self-publish his manuscript.

Then, on a whim, he submitted his book to the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. It won! The following week, Terry signed with McClelland & Stewart and the happy ending to this Cinderella story seemed complete.

But there were more glad tidings to come. The Best Laid Plans made it onto the Canada Reads Top 10, and subsequently was selected by Canadian-born CNN broadcaster Ali Velshi for this year's debates.


For one who is not into politics this was a good foray into the life of Canadian politics in Ottawa. Some very funny moments and some rich characters. I'm looking forward to reading his next book which apparently is on the way.

After reading Best Laid Plans I asked a friend for some book recommendations. One suggestion was My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. This story was unlike any other book I had read. It is about a devout Jewish boy named Asher Lev who grows up with an unusual talent in art and his family and community and how they and he deal with this talent. To his father, who is an important man in the community, spending ones life on drawing is of no value and is an embarrassment.The Rabbi however seems to make an allowance for it. The book moved along nicely for a while and I didn't want to put it down until about two thirds of the way through where it just seemed to slow down. It was definitely a book I wouldn't have chosen but I'm glad I read it. It wasn't a foray into unknown history but rather one into an unknown culture which seems to me may be just as valuable.

While reading Asher Lev a new friend suggested reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the true story of a man who's determination, tragedy, resilience and redemption are very rare and maybe even unequalled. Here's a quick summary of Louie Zamperini's life. (spoiler alert) He went from a poor thieving immigrant child to a high school track star to an olympic runner who meets Hitler, to enlisting in the war against Japan, to crashing in the Pacific andbeing stuck on a raftfor 30??? days to being captured by the Japanese to becoming a POW and fighting everything that entails, to surviving the POW camps and returning to America. He gets married, is tormented by vivid dreams of his time as a POW, has trouble coping and becomes an alcoholic, becomes abusive to his wife, they almost divorce, the thought of going to Japan and killing one of his POW guards is the only way Louie believes he can get on with his life, Louie's wife gets saved at a Billy Graham crusade and convinces/forces Louie to go. Billy Graham's words reach Louie and he becomes a Christian. Overnight the drinking stops and the dreams stop, he still wants to go to Japan but now to forgive his captor. This is an incredible story and one that will not disappoint you if you pick it up. Highly recommended!

Unbroken was read while I took a break in reading Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I didn't know what to expect except for a very long book when I picked up this one. I'm half way through Anna as I write this but it has had some of the most beautiful writing in it I have ever read. A chapter on cutting down hay with a scythe in the Russian countryside with the peasants was so vivid and surprisingly moving. I had to earmark it to go back and read again later. This is my first experience with Russian literature and culture and so far I am really enjoying it. There is a lot I don't understand as I read so I'm glad there will be no test but I'm still greatly enjoying the depth of the characters and the complexity of the story. Maybe I will be on to War and Peace next. I don't know, that looks really long!

Below are all of the books I can remember reading in the past few months although I feel like I am missing one or two. You'll see the reference to fly fishing. I took out three or four books on fly fishing which may be a future hobby. Turns out I live next to some of the best fly fishing in Ontario so why not?

If you have any recommendations based on what you see here or know of me please pass them along!

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand
Fly Fishing - various books and authors
My Name Is Asher Lev - Chaim Potok
The Best Laid Plans - Terry Fallis
The Battle Of Lake Erie - Pierre Berton
Attack On Montreal - Pierre Berton
The Ice Passage - Brian Payton
The Search For The Arctic Grail and the North Pole - Pierre Berton

6 comments:

Emily Lynn 8/10/2011 1:25 AM  

Even though my years as an English major had me stuck in the land of classics and I've now graduated and am free to live outside its borders, I've still been willfully living in classics land. As many classics as I've read, I have yet to read anything by Tolstoy, so you have me beat there. And I hope to conquer War & Peace at some point while I'm in classics land. Not only does a reader like me find the challenge compelling, but my music theory professor insisted I read it at least twice. And I tend to listen to that guy when he says something! I'm sure you can make it through at least once!

Thanks for posting this, Glenn. I'm always interested in hearing about what people are reading and I might have to tackle some of these somewhere down the road.

Sue Titcombe 8/10/2011 7:42 AM  

Have you read The Book Thief? It's a fictional book set in Germany during WWII. As I was reading it, I realized I hadn't really spent a lot of time thinking about how Hitler and his plans affected the people of Germany during that time. It's a beautiful read with amazing characters. I think you'd like it.

glennlavender 8/11/2011 12:23 AM  

The Book Thief is officially on hold now at the library. Thanks Sue!

Anonymous,  8/17/2011 9:18 PM  

Studies in the Sermon On The Mount by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is an exceptional book. Not a novel, but very encouraging nonetheless. :)

Lisa B. 8/29/2011 1:09 PM  

If you were fascinated by Potok, I would very highly recommend his book "The Chosen" about two teenage boys growing up in Brooklyn Heights. The very best novel about the Soviet Union is "The Line" by Olga Grushin. It is very painful reading, but the perseverance of the Russian people (whom I love) is phenomenal. As for history, David McCullough can't be beat! "John Adams" is probably my favorite, but it's hard to choose.

Eric Hogeterp 2/03/2012 10:35 PM  

Hi Glenn & greetings from Ottawa! We've spoken at some of your shows & discussed reading picks. I've recommended Catholic novelist Michael O'Brien (from Combermere, ON) who's written Father Elijah, Sophia House & most recently A Father's Tale. His website is Studio O'Brien. You always mention Stephen Lawhead & I recently took the plunge. I picked up his novel The Skin Map from the church library & devoured it! Onward to the next one in the series. Read War & Peace last year and loved it. Highly recommend Dostoyevsky's Crime & Punishment and Brothers Karamazov (same translators as your Anna K). Finally, I really enjoyed the movie version of Potok's The Chosen when I was a kid. Difficult to find however....Hoping you & the band will make it back to Ottawa soon. Love your music! Shalom Glenn! Eric

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