Friday, 4 January 2019

Guess who's back... back again...

Well I am back. Its been a while and I thought I was done, but I have been feeling the words well up inside me for some time now and decided that I might as well get back into it. No gimmicks this time; I enjoyed the teasing aspect of my reviews, however, I ended up with half read books all over the place while they awaited a written review and it was just too annoying! For the past few years I have been delving further and further into the book world. Reading is my favourite past time, followed closely by the collecting of books, and very few things make me happier than sitting in my book room; reading in the comfort of my second hand lazy boy, or going though my books. I have so many that I have been known to forget about some and delight in re-discovering the books sitting on my shelves. Through my reading bestie (and one of my best life besties) I have discovered the wonder and joy of booktube – a little corner of youtube dedicated solely to books and the lovers of them. This has led me to discovering so many people with obsessions similar to, and much bigger than my own. I have also found book lovers on Instagram, shared my love with them, found new books and even interacted with some beloved authors. I love books – I am not sure that I have made that clear yet – and it’s nice to see that there are so many people who share my love. I should have studied literature in school, I should have gone into library sciences or publishing. But I didn’t, so now I must immerse myself into this world in a way of my own making.
When I initially started this blog at the end 2014, I had dreams of becoming famous (you know, in terms of book blogging…). I had visions of free books from publishing companies and becoming friends with authors. This didn’t happen, obviously! I admit that I became a bit discouraged with the lack of readers. Even if I wasn’t actually expecting book blogging fame, I was hoping for a few more hits. I wanted people to read what I had written; to be inspired by my reviews, to pick up a new book, discover a love of reading, or re-discover their old love. However, I have always been a person of little patience; a not quite full blown millennial, I want things right away and hate waiting. I kept up the blog for just over a year the first time. I put a lot of pressure on myself and forgot my main reason for starting it; my love of reading and my desire to share that love. What does it matter that most of the time it was only my mother who read my reviews? She found a new author to love, so doesn’t that make it a success? One thing that I discovered is that blogging is not easy, it takes time to write the reviews and to try and find content that is new and interesting; and in a life that it already quite busy, it was difficult to set aside the time to make it a successful venture. See, the secret to becoming famous and to making an impact is taking the time to do it. Putting in the hours and making the sacrifices, and most importantly as my boyfriend reminded me earlier today (albeit under different circumstances); determination, motivation and persistence. I had to change my definition of success and I have to persevere until I get there. Instead of seeking glory, which honestly is near impossible in a world that is saturated with blogs and social media influencers, my goal is to, quite simply, share the love. I’ll post when I read a book that I feel the need to review, the good ones and the bad ones. I’ll continue sharing the love through the blog and social media and I’ll see where we end up.
I am a great believer in resolutions, in fact, I do them twice a year: New Years and my birthday; both can truly be considered new years. I don’t believe that its always a good idea to completely change yourself, nor is it always possible, but taking the time to reflect on what you want and where you want to go is never a bad idea. We are all over worked and under paid. It’s impossible to measure up to the constant barrage of perfect lives we see on the internet (remember, quite often their posts are their literal jobs and not actually real life) and nothing can be gained by trying. It’s also too easy to sink into despair and let life happen to you. Instead I am going to try and find the things that I love and do them for the sake of that love, rather than trying to keep up. I am going to seek out life and not let my fears or laziness hold me back.
So welcome back, mostly to my mom (she’s the only guaranteed reader I have). Welcome to Booker Tease 2.0. Let me know what you like, let me know what you don’t – just do it gently, I beg. I am a sensitive soul. Follow me here, follow me on Facebook or on Instagram. Don’t follow me at all, but creep on my profiles once in a while, I don’t mind.
2019 is going to be grand.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser

Short books vs long books; it’s an age old debate. Seriously – google short books vs long books and you will see at least a dozen of debates on the topic. Myself – I prefer the short books. There are too many books to read and not enough time to read them as it is. I can’t afford to spend weeks on one story. Don’t get me wrong – while I will be deterred by a book as thick as the NYC phone book, I will still read it if it sounds interesting enough, but I have never read a long book like that where I didn’t end up thinking that a few hundred pages couldn’t have been edited out. I generally find that the end of long books end up dragging – by the end of it my wrist hurts and I rush through just to get to the end.

Martin Dressler; The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser in particular got me thinking about long vs short books.  This relatively short novel avoids the traps of longer novels – we aren’t bogged down by things that don’t matter. Millhauser tells us what we need to know to further the story. It’s short and sweet. The book is the story of the eponymous Martin Dressler, the son of a cigar chop owner who dreams big and follows through with his dreams. In New York at the turn of the century, Dressler goes from bellhop in the Vanderlyn Hotel to building his own hotels before he turns 30. Along the way Dressler encounters many characters with dreams of their own – just generally not quite as bright as his. He then encounters the lovely Vernon family – Margaret and her two grown daughters; Emmeline, plain yet passionate and intelligent; and Caroline, beautiful, enigmatic, almost ethereal and not quite of this world. Like so many dumb people in this world, Dressler chooses Caroline as the object of his affection due to her beauty, over Emmeline with whom he has much in common. In fact, as Dressler gets to know the family better he realizes that Emmeline is his equal in every aspect. She is able to match him idea for idea – seeing the merit and beauty in his dreams where others think them too extravagant. And to be fair – Dressler doesn’t really ‘choose’ Caroline so much as he falls into what everyone else expects him to do. He marries because he is expected to marry – not because he has any deep desire for Caroline; Dressler is much to obsessed with his ambition to care about love.

Millhauser does a great job of capturing the atmosphere of the times; as we watch Dressler grow we watch the city grow with him. New York at the turn of the century was the place to be, something new was always happening, people were always coming up with bigger and bolder schemes, everyday there was something new to discover. It was time when I think it was a little easier to make a name for yourself. There were so many new things happening - but there was still so much room to fill. Right from t
he beginning Dressler knew that there was more out there for him than his father’s cigar shop.  When he is offered the position as bell boy in the grand Vanderlyn Hotel he is nervous because he is afraid it will restrict him, he doesn’t know quite what he wants to do yet – but he doesn’t want to limit his options. Honestly I didn’t really like Martin. He was a little socially awkward and was very singular in his need to keep doing things better and bigger. It would drive me crazy whenever Dressler would get annoyed that someone’s vision wasn’t as big as his, or they didn’t see things the same why he did. He almost couldn’t understand how someone could be satisfied with less than everything. The fact that I didn’t really like him didn’t at all impede my enjoyment of the story however; I don’t think you are supposed to like him. Dressler is that singular type of person - driven beyond everything else to accomplish what he needs to accomplish. I use the word ‘needs’ purposefully. Dressler is driven to realize his creations; to the point, at the end, where it doesn’t really matter if they are successful or not.

The story is almost set up in snippets of Martins life. Years pass where we see nothing, but then we are brought back in when something good or big is about to happen. They only place where I thought the story was lacking was towards the end – Martin is spending all of his time with Emmeline. He entices her to follow him from project to project, she is the only one who understands his visions after all, but all the time he spends with her is causing tension in his already tense marriage. Things here start to get quite interesting, but as with the rest of the novel we only get snippets of what happens. I would have loved to learn more from other characters perspectives – How Emmeline felt about being a true match for Dressler, while he preferred arm candy instead; and from Caroline about (she is a pretty fascinating character in general, that we never learn enough about) living as a notch on Martins life event belt. This was definitely a good story though- incredibly well written and such a good historical snapshot of one of my favourite times and places.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan

I want to be friends with Kirsty Logan. Is that weird?

When I started my Twitter account it was with the sole purpose of trying to attract more readers to my blog – I’m pretty sure that that hasn’t happened, although I must say that the publishing companies and some authors have been great about re-tweeting my reviews, which definitely makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. However! What I have really gained from Twitter, is a bunch of ladies that I love following – Kirsty Logan, Sarah Perry, Kerry Hudson, Jessie Burton – I love watching them interact with each other, I love reading their books and I literally just want to be friends with them. Whenever I tweet any of them, I get a response, and they just all seem so sweet and lovely. It really makes me wish I lived overseas and could somehow fandangle a ‘random run-in’.  But I’m a creep like that.

The Gracekeepers is Logan’s first novel – and I must say that she has done a brilliant job with it. I don’t really want to compare this to Station Eleven, as the books are totally different, but like Emily St John Mandel (another Twitter fave), Logan has created a deeply rich post-apocalyptic setting, where the setting is vitally important to the character of the story, but not at all the thing that you focus on. Logan has created another perfect blend of a story driven genre novel. This time we are in a world where the sea has taken over and there are very few landmasses left. Humanity has divided itself, as it always does, between the haves and the have nots. In this case the haves are the landlockers; those who live on the few islands, able to grow their own food, build their own shelters and have a refuge during the storms. The rest and, once again mirroring real life, the majority of humanity are the damplings – those who are forced to live a nomadic boat life. Travelling from island to island in the hopes of getting a real meal and living the best they can off the few fish and seaweed cooked any way you can imagine. “Ah, so you’re angry because they are rich? Because they don’t have to scratch around for every single thing they eat or touch or use? You have a lot to learn little fish. There’s no use in the poor hating the rich. There’s more to the world than landlockers versus damplings.” Unlike Station Eleven, in The Gracekeepers we never find out what happened or when, we are just plopped in the middle with no explanation.

In the same sort of way we come across the characters of this story. We have North, a circus performer with the traveling boat circus Excalibur; North is a rare character in the circus world due to her act – performing scenes with her tame bear. North was born on the circus, like most of its performers, it’s the only home she knows; but North harbours a potentially dangerous secret, one that might upset the precarious balance of the floating circus. Callanish, a landlocker by birth, now lives as a gracekeeper – one who buries the dead damplings at sea. She has taken this life as a form of punishment for something from her past, and she also harbours a secret that she fears will potentially destroy her. The life that she has chosen is a lonely one – gracekeepers live alone on a house in the sea and rely on food from mourners in exchange for the burial rites. She hasn’t really taken to the life and feels the loneliness very acutely “Around them the graces shuddered in their cages and the sea sucked at the moorings. It was not difficult to pretend they were the only people left in the world. It was so easy, in fact, that perhaps it wasn’t pretending. No one would ever know what happened out here. Such small crimes”. North and Callanish cross paths after a terrible storm and are brought together by their secrets and their fears. “I’ve never actually gotten this far before. I’ve tried to tell people, but I couldn’t manage it. You already know so I thought it would be easier.” While they end up parting ways almost immediately, they are both so struck by one another that they start to see life in a new way, Callanish tries to atone for her past and North tries to figure out a better way to live.

The Gracekeepers is a pretty quick read. I read it over a period of two days, but could have easily finished it in one. The writing is incredibly beautiful, lyrical and it just flows so smoothly, I had read half the book without even realizing it. It almost felt like I was reading a long short story – all of the characters could easily have their own stories; which were something I loved about this book. The characters were all larger than life – from ‘Red Gold’ Stirling, the circus ringmaster, who longs to bring his family back to land and respectability – trying to accomplish this by marrying his son off to North and forcing her to live on land, his horrible wife Avalon, who chose her name to appeal to Red Gold and wants nothing more than to live on land, doing anything she can to get it “When people are cruel it’s often said that they have no heart, only a cold space or lump of ice in their chest. This was never true of Avalon. She had no heart, everyone knew, but there was nothing cold about her. In her chest burned an enormous coal, white-hot, brighter than the North Star. North knew the truth about Avalon: she was made of fire, and she would burn them all.” Even the secondary characters, the clowns and acrobats in the circus, the messengers who bring news to the gracekeepers, even North’s bear – they all had a certain something that left me longing to know more about them – to read them in their own stories. My previous encounter with Logan was through her short story collection – The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales. I have only read the first couple of stories so far – but the titular story, The Rental Heart, I can honestly say, is probably the best short story that I have ever read. Logan is a master of the short story, of packing as much punch as possible into those few pages, it’s incredible.  One of the things that I honestly loved best about this novel was that I felt it to be a unifying thread (or story) connecting all these other potential stories. I will be very sad indeed if she doesn’t, at some point, write another collection based on the characters from The Gracekeepers.

There are definitely elements of old folk tales in this book and I loved how Logan wove them in throughout the narrative. I guess, really, that everything that happens, to North at least, comes from folk tales, but its not overt in any way. Its just a starting point for the story. A jumping point. I would have loved to read more on that aspect, but I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything - I think that the small amount of actual fairy tale ends up making to book more accessible to a wider audience.  My only actual complaint about this book at all was that the ending was a wee bit rushed, another review that I read commented on the fact that something very tragic happens and the character involved doesn’t really seem to react – which I didn’t really notice at the time, but upon reflection agree with – it would have been nice to see more closure with that. Generally, I am always a fan when things are left unsaid; when parts of stories are left untold or endings are left unresolved (I should not say always… Firefly ending prematurely will always sadden me). And while the ending of the main story in this novel was definitely resolved, there was so much more that was left open. There were people and stories that were alluded to, without really being developed – and this worked perfectly for me. This story wasn’t about them; it was about North and Callanish. I think that anything extra would have distracted from them, from their story. That being said, I still have my fingers crossed for a short story collection based on everyone else!