Favourite 5 Books Read in 2015

Top 5 Books
I made it my goal for 2015 to read 52 books and I happily, although not so easily, accomplished this! Writing books and booze book recommendations helped keep me on a timeline and focused and also made it even more fun. Over the course of the year I read some great books, and some not so great books. The following are 5 of my favourite books that I read this year, for wildly different reasons. I hope a few of these make it on to your TBR list, you won’t be disappointed!

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

I was blown away by Ernest Hemingway’s description of an expat Paris and the process of writing. I honestly cannot believe how long it took me to discover this book. I probably like it more than any other Hemingway I have read, and that is saying a lot. As with anything Hemingway it should be taken with a grain of salt- certain things like his marriage are portrayed in a way favourable to himself that may have not been the actual case. However, this is one of my favourite depictions of Paris, the kind of Paris I imagine living in when Salix, Trevor, Dono and I are bohemians living in our Dono-designed split level. Although, I think we’ll be drinking a lot less.

I feel as though other travellers and purveyors of the arts will appreciate this book as much as I did. I’m not sure if it works better as an introduction to Hemingway, or if you would glean more being familiar with his works, but either way it is fantastic. There is a reason this is a widely treasured work.

Slaughterhouse-five – Kurt Vonnegut

Definitely one of my newly found favourite writers, I was introduced to Kurt Vonnegut through Bluebeard because it was the first book that came in on my library requests. Reading his other books as I patiently waited for Slaughterhouse-five only increased my antcipation for it, and it did not disappoint. The non-linear narrative style may be a little disorienting to some, but falls within the parameters of the usual Vonnegut writing technique. The story follows Billy Pilgrim through WW2, his later life, and even his brief detainment in an outer space, extraterrestrial zoo with a hollywood starlet. The story is interesting, poignant and Vonnegut offers a slew of opinions about humanity and life that put things in perspective. I will recommend Kurt Vonnegut to everyone and anyone and may even convert to Bokonism. Just kidding.

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

Let’s be honest, I mainly got onto Truman Capote through Breakfast at Tiffany’s because as an avid lover of everything Audrey Hepburn I felt I should read the short story that the movie was based on. This led to In Cold Blood, which is honestly one of the best books I have read. The novel attests to being “non-fiction”, however that has been strongly contested in the years following the book. The book follows the grisly murder of the Clutter family, a small, quiet nuclear family, that offered their farming community support. Capote and many other writers followed the murders and subsequent manhunt for the killers but only Capote offered a first hand account of  John Forsythe and Robert Blake. The novel is chilling and insightful, how much of it is true, I can’t say. After reading this book, one should definitely watch the gripping portrayal of Truman Capote by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie of the same name.

The Godfather – Mario Puzo

I was definitely surprised at how much I enjoyed reading this novel. This novel read like an intricate chess game, with interesting characters and plot. Even though I had some qualms with the representation of female characters in this book, I apparently liked it enough that I was making pasta and olive oil on the regular while reading this. I am genuinely sad that Puzo did not write follow up material to the novel in the form of a sequel or trilogy. I have yet to rematch the movie since reading the book, but I think I will appreciate it a lot more.

Half Broke Horses – Jeannette Walls

Out of my top 5 recommendations, this one just might be my favourite. Jeannette Walls is an amazing writer, and if you have not quite had the cookie cutter family history that it seems all your friends have had, you will appreciate the subject matter as well. I loved The Glass Castle but Half Broke Horses edges it out because of the unique narrative voice. Walls writing from the perspective of her grandmother Lily Casey Smith lends a voice of authenticity to the 1920’s-1950’s cattle ranching lifestyle. The novel covers so many great and interesting topics: women in factories during the war, industrialization, cattle ranching, and the treatment of first nations. This novel is a lot more lighthearted than The Glass Castle even though there is still tough subject matter.

Books that round out my Top 10: The Garden of Evening Mists, The Sister Brothers, Etta and Otto and Russell and James, The Martian, Love In The Time of Cholera 

HAPPY READING IN THE NEW YEAR! 

 

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Post Script

It is in the peripherals of the pages
that I like to exist these days
the sweet moments upon waking
or the hazy twilight moments before
sleep tightens its hold on my
already heavy lids.
In these seconds (minutes, hours)
I have no recollection of that
which I have recently lost or
the danger which invariably
finds its way back to me.
In this gentle shallow fog I am
perfect without form and
I do not have to worry about
the unfolding plot or whether
I am heroine or antagonist
and I am not frightened
that I don’t even prefer
one to the other anymore.

 

BB

Reverberation

Sometimes I feel as though
the very marrow of my bones
has a magnetic quality and
when you come too close
I can feel the pull coming
from within my body as if
my skeletal frame itself
is being willed toward you.

I try to decipher
from the irises of your eyes
whether your atoms are
screaming for me as well or
has my body betrayed me again-
am I just a shout in to the abyss
without an echo?

 

BB

Half Broke Horses Review

Half Broke Horses Review
To be read with: 2 oz of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, done as a shot as you lay they final cards that win the high-stakes poker hand.

Half Broke Horses is the follow up novel to The Glass Castle and follows the wild life of Jeannette Walls’ grandmother Lily Casey Smith. It’s a 180 degree difference in the source material and narrative voice, but it is every bit as entertaining and enthralling. The novel exudes a smooth rural tone, not unlike the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey I’ve recommended as an accompanying drink. The story follows Lily through the First World War, prohibition and the industrializing of cities across America.

The narrative voice of this novel is completely different from that of Walls’ other work. This is fantastic because it really sets the personality of Lily for the reader. She is a hard talking, hard working girl from the cattle ranch that feels too big for the small towns, and a little too small for the big cities. She breaks horses, teaches school, and eventually flies planes. She is true to herself and is really unconcerned to whether this will piss some people of. This book is not per se a memoir, as Walls’ grandmother died when she was eight, so these stories are taken from secondhand accounts and historical records.

The real life characters in this book are colourful representations of every walk of life, and Walls does a great job of setting the tone of the 1930’s through 1950’s. The interests covered in this book are expansive and I feel that they would hook a lot of people for different reasons. This book is upbeat and a page turner but there are also moments that break your heart and make you consider what it means to be a good mother, father, sibling, neighbour. The reader may look at these parts and consider them to be unlearned or socially uncouth, but there will be a time where someone is reading about our time and thinking the same thing.

For the fans of The Glass Castle there is a section at the end that delves into the life of Jeannette Walls’ mother, and her early life. You get an inside peek of the beginning, how Rosemary and Rex met, and foreshadowing of what life would be like for their children.

I really enjoyed this book. It had such a strong narrative voice, excellently drawn characters who were colourful but still full of human flaw. Historically, and on the personal level of this family, the book was intriguing. I would recommend to anyone who is a fan of memoirs, or fans of Idgie Threadgoode/Fried Green Tomatoes type heroines.

Interstellar

It may be pretty but
you should not fall in love with a shooting star
we burn much too bright
and we fall so very far.
You would do better
in looking for a bride
by marrying the moon
who is as consistent as the tide.
But if our burning effigy
is the only thing for you
please listen to me closely
and don’t say you never knew:
we are generous with our light
so love us if you must
but despite your best intentions
you may be left with dust.
The memory of departed warmth
will never pass you by
you’ll be reminded of our smile
in every evening sky.

 

BB

Autoimmune Disease Pt. 1

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I had been noticing it more frequently over the last couple months, but I never really thought anything of it. I was sure that most people were fending off assassin attacks both in the dead of night and the blazing light of day, and I didn’t want to seem like I was complaining for no good reason.

The first time it happened, I was walking home from a late shift at work. Passing the convenience stores that closed hours ago, with their clerks home and tucked in warm beds, I began to notice the unmistakable sound of footsteps echoing my own. Every step I took, a step was repeated. If I stopped, the footsteps also stopped. I tried to walk as normally as possible, attempting to use my peripherals for better scope, and clutching my keys in between my fingers. Finally prepared, I turned. Streetlamps shot snaking shadows across the streets and refracting off trees, but nowhere in the partially lit area could I see my stalker. Easing my tense fingers off of my keys, I relaxed and turned around to walk the last block left between myself and home. This is when the assassin struck.

Facing forward again, I jumped with shock at the figure of a large man in a cloak that stood before me. He reached into the dark folds of cloth and brandished a katana that looked sharp enough to cut through steel. I put down my bag and really wished I hadn’t done legs day at the gym the day before. I wasn’t going to waste my breath calling for help, so instead I drew a deep inhale and made the first move. I attacked to the left with a series of side kicks that felt like they were landing against metal. The contact sent reverberations through my body and I fell to the ground. The cloaked assassin raised his sword and swung with such force that I could hear the blade whistling through the air toward me. I rolled back on to my shoulders and flipped on to my feet just in time to feel the katana slice through the ends of my hair, leaving a tidy little dusting of blonde on the pavement. At that moment, feet apart, fists up, and ready to get my ass kicked, a tomcat knocked over some garbage cans in a nearby alley. My attacker was momentarily distracted and I lunged forward, neatly sidestepping the blade and pulling the handle from his gloved hands. I spun in a clean 360 degrees, rotating the sword in my hands until it protruded forward and when I faced my attacker again, I plunged the blade deep into his chest.

I had never killed anyone up until this point, but even then I was pretty sure that people were supposed to bleed when you stabbed them. Instead the cloaked man pulled the sword from his own chest, and both he and the katana flickered with electronic energy before disappearing completely. I was left alone in the night, a block from home with a sore foot and a shorter haircut.

A first assassin attack is something that never leaves you. It remains with a quiet nostalgia that the rest of the attempts on your life never quite replicate. The ninja twin sisters that left me a cozy throwing-star scar on my abdomen were lovely, but not quite the same. The giant half man half wolf was scarier than the cloaked man, but our fight lacked the quiet intimacy of my first encounter, and I felt no satisfaction as I sent the snarling, snapping beast to his flickering grave.

And so my life passed, going to work, hanging out with friends, and occasionally fending off attempts to kill me. I travelled the world and even though foreign assassins were nouveau and exciting, I never questioned as to why I was being targeted to such a degree. I figured that this was just what your mid-twenties were; having fun and trying not to die.

It was not until the kickboxing super nun that I really started considering where these assassins were coming from. But when you have the Mother Superior landing roundhouse kicks to your jaw, her black habit flapping in the wind, you really have to wonder how you got to this point. After enduring a difficult beating, I was kneeling on the cold pavement of a back alley downtown, blood dripping from my mouth and cuts above my eyes. The nun was staring at me with a look of such hatred as her fingers counted her rosary and I counted the seconds until my impending death. It was then that I really considered what I could have possibly done to receive this amount of negative attention.

Just when I thought she was going to bicycle kick my face into oblivion, the nun pulled out a syringe and a small glass vial full of neon orange liquid. She drew the radioactive substance up into the needle and plunged it into my neck, forcing its contents into my bloodstream. I screamed with agony as fire rushed through my veins. The pain was incomparable to any of the beatings I had taken from assassins. I fell writhing to the cement and rolled onto my back to look up at the nun.

“It is a mortal sin to take the life of another human being,” she said. “But I cannot let you become the person you were meant to be. This is the only way we could save the world.”

The last thing I saw as unconsciousness encroached was the nun flipping a USB drive at me before turning to leave. When I awoke, I felt different. As I got to my feet, I felt dizzy, and a little lightheaded. I chalked this up to the amount of blood I had deposited onto the concrete and made for home, just glad I was alive at all. However over the next couple days, I was noticing a high amount of fatigue, dizziness and emotional difficulties.

When I almost fainted at work, I finally decided to go the doctor. He took my blood and asked if he could feel my throat, after which he nodded with a grave look on his face. The tests came back and confirmed what he had suspected. I had an autoimmune disease. He couldn’t tell me how I had come to have this particular disease, but he didn’t have to. I knew it was the nun and I excused myself to rush home and finally see what was on the mysterious USB drive.

At home and making sure that my roommates would be gone for the night, I plugged the USB in to my laptop. It was sleek and black and hummed with an energy I had never encountered before. Once plugged into the port, my screen went black. The laptop became hot to the touch and a movie began playing on the screen. I recognized Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria through a montage of futuristic carnage. News reels flew by with my name mentioned again and again, in connection with the despair and devastation. I saw myself in photos and short clips of video, I had become more machine than person, cyborg and post-human, just like I wrote a paper on in University. I had become unstoppable, wreaking havoc on all of mankind.

Finally, when the video finished and I had absorbed the levity of the power I held in the future, a little messaged typed itself out across the screen:

“We sent our best assassins back in time to defeat you, but you were already too strong. Instead we have infected you with an autoimmune disease, so that the one who will eventually defeat you, is you. Your body will attack itself until you are no longer fit to become the totalitarian ruler you were fated to be.

And that is how I came to have an autoimmune disease. Touché future post-apocalyptic society, touché.

Visual Aid

Looking at photos has become for me now
a way to decipher the past like never before
there can be no new answers
only ones developed in a dark room years ago.
I look at one dated thirteen years ago and
first I cover the top half of your face with my thumb
and look at your smile-
it’s the same as it always was
controlled, as if you were keeping in a private joke
then I move my thumb so I can see
if the smile reaches your eyes.
They seem to be just reflecting the flash
and instead you are some where far away
so now I wonder if you were ever truly happy;
were you ever really hopeful or did you always know
there was only going to be one way

That this all ended.

BB

Twas A Night At The Winspear

Twas a night at the Winspear, when through Front of House
every creature was stirring, even your work spouse.
The patrons were tucked in the loges with care
in hopes that the conductor would soon be there.

The ushers were all waiting outside of their steads
for Production to give a nod of their heads
the tenders of bar and those at the door
heard the familiar bell- only five minutes more!

When out in the lobby there arose such a clatter
Trevor ran with his coffee to see what was the matter
away to Desserts he flew like a flash
to see what in the world was the crash.

The lights on Dress giving off their glow
gave the lustre of mid-day to the objects below
when what to my wondering eyes should appear
late-comers of course, to the Viewing Room my dear!

With a little door poker, so lively and bonnie
I knew in a moment it must be that Connie
more rapid than eagles her coursers came
she whistled and shouted and called staff by name.

Now Main! Now Desserts! Now Coffee and Martini!
On Upper! On Dress! On Alley Kat and Bellini!
Over to the Coatcheck, to the top of the wall
Pre-orders! Pre-orders! Pre-orders for all!

Then with a beep before the drinks were arranged
Zillur on the radio, “Can you please come get change”
as they drew in their bills and were turning around
Upper Bar came down the elevator with a bound.

Their eyes how they twinkled, their dimples how merry
their cheeks were like roses, their nose like a cherry
over to Martini they sold nine white wines
to be served chilled on Upper, hope you make it in time!

The supervisors split up, all the stations checked twice
making sure that the scotches were neat, pressed, or on ice
over to Founders tidying the drinks in a row
don’t worry about the pink slips, the donors will know.

Everyone to their stations and Patron Development in heels
we listen to the last piece and it gives us the feels
Stacy on the radio says something truly sublime
Merry Christmas to all, intermission is on time!!

The Garden of Evening Mists Review

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To be read with: the finest Japanese Sake, (provided by Tokyo Noodle Shop and Sushi Bar on Whyte Ave) or green tea hand picked in the lustrous mountains of Malaysia.

Every country has its dark history. I found this out when I was travelling beautiful Cambodia and visited the killing fields in Phnom Penh. The genocide initiated by the Khmer Rouge was one of the most efficient and devastating genocides in recent history and yet I had had no idea about it. Furthermore, a friend of mine who had a parent that lived under the Khmer Rouge had no idea until she saw my posts on Facebook and asked her mother about it. Every country has its dark history, but that does not mean that they cancel each other out. Instead, it is up to writers, artists, and historians to make sure that the victims are never forgotten, that their voices are never silenced.

The Garden of Evening Mists is about a young woman who is the sole survivor of a concentration camp under Japanese occupation in Malaysia in World War 2. Until reading this book, my knowledge of the Japanese involvement in the war was limited to Pearl Harbor and the dropping of atomic bombs in Japan. This novel delves so much deeper and incorporates the point of view from persons of both cultures.

The novel is beautifully written, involving details about Japanese gardens, the growing and processing of tea, and horimono, which is the art of full body tattooing. The lengths about gardening incorporated the different aspects and styles of each kind of garden and went into detail about where they come from in Japanese culture and what they are meant to represent. I am not someone who thought that they could be interested in chapters about rock placement in gardens, but Tan Twan Eng definitely proved me wrong. It was interesting and vibrant, where I think another writer could have allowed it to be dull. The tea chapters were no problem for me. I love tea. I have a tea advent calendar. I visited the fields of tea leaves in Japan and learned about growing tea. This book goes a step further and shows how different cultures view tea differently, the points in which they intersect and where they deviate between the Malaysian, Japanese and South African characters. Horimono was something that I knew very little about, and it becomes such a big part of the novel, it was really enlightening to learn about this taboo Japanese tradition. Explanations about Japanese art, and traditional Malaysian stories gave more dimension to the two nations at war.

The World War content itself is pretty heavy. It deals with a lot of wartime aspects that some people may find uncomfortable. It is brutal and devastating juxtaposed with the beautiful, languid writing style of Twan Eng. It pushes deeper in to the grey area of wartime survival. What would you do to survive? What would you do for your country? What side would you be on if your country was divided? The book is not black and white, and presents the story without passing the writer’s judgment on to the reader. Which is ironic because the main character is in fact a retired judge.

The Gardens of Evening Mists was a lovely read. It was not a light read by any means, and there were more than a few times that my heart ached. Tan Twan Eng excels at marbling the heartache with beauty though, and I feel that woven into a story about the atrocities of war, is the inkling of hope, that even when the world is dark, there will be good people fighting for justice.

Flash Flood

The news stations were reporting
that it was the end of days
water levels were rising and
soon we would all be dead.
I did not panic
I had lived my life well
and so I picked up a pen and paper
writing in blue ink everything
I could think of
about you and I.
I filled the pages and rolled them
into an empty bottle
corked it, sealed it with wax.
Then I stood in the backyard
and the water climbed higher
against my skin until it reached
my collarbone and then I released
the bottle
taking solace that
no matter what came next
our love would survive

 

BB