WHAT I HAVE BEEN READING LATELY
By Michael Ondaatje, McClelland & Stewart, $34
Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient was voted best Man Booker Prize winner in 50 years.
The theme of love and conflict during WW2, adapted into the Oscar-winning film, is a recurring one in his books. As is that of lost children searching for their moorings.
In The Cat’s Cradle an 11-year-old boy leaves Colombo on a ship bound for England. Alone and left to his own devices, he discovers friendship and intrigue among a motley group of passengers. And in his latest, Warlight, Nathaniel and Rachel are unexpectedly abandoned by their parents and left in the care of a mysterious man they name The Moth. He was a man of many doors. Were there other professions he nestled into, even briefly for an hour or two?
The novel explores their coming of age in post-war England and Nathaniel’s efforts, many years later, to piece together the family story. The lost sequence in a life, they say, is the thing we always search out... Perhaps there was now a chance of discovering that missing sequence in her life. It was the possibility of an inheritance.
With Rachel and Nathaniel recalling events differently and with clues scarce and faded, the yearning remains.
We order our lives with barely held stories.
By Lucy Mangan, Square Peg, $31.99
What could be more delightful for a self-avowed bookworm than finding a book by another bookworm?
Lucy Mangan’s childhood brings back vivid memories of being reprimanded to get my “face out of the book” during breakfast, lunch or dinner. Mangan discovered books at a very young age and immersed in her imaginary worlds, felt more at home and among friends with characters than among peers at school.
Now, through repeated exposure to Other People you begin to acquire a carapace that will both protect and alienate you from them. I don’t say a cocoon or chrysalis. That would imply .... that there is going to be a process of magnificent transformation. There isn’t. There’s just going to be more of the same. It’s bookworm, not bookbutterfly. This is your life now.
Though the books Mangan devours in the very early stages of her reading adventures are unfamiliar to me – I was reading folk tales and stories from the Panchatantra at the corresponding age – we do have Winnie the Pooh and the Doctor Dolittle books in common. And by the time she gets to Enid Blyton, we are on the same page. There’s Rumer Godden, Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), Richmal Crompton (Just William series) and PG Wodehouse, Susan Coolidge (What Katy Did), Noel Streatfeild (Ballet Shoes), Frances Hodgson Burnett (Secret Garden), Lucy Maud Montgomery (the Anne books),
She provides back stories and little-known facts about authors and also her irreverent observations on those she doesn’t much care for as an adult reading them now to her son.
Reading Mr Men... is a discombobulating experience. The stories that once wholly enraptured me stand revealed, usually, as miserably flawed, broken-faced things. ...leave you hanging in midair, wondering what kind of blackmail material Hargreaves had on his editors that they allowed this to pass muster.
Mangan also tackles instances of racism, sexism and classism that are obvious to an adult reader in several of one’s old favourites. Why was Anne always the one (in Blyton’s Famous Five series) to whom cooking duties were assigned? To become aware the word swarthy was “shorthand for ‘foreigner’, ‘gypsy’ and ‘criminal’, and that the three were virtually interchangeable.”
Bookworms are often extorted to go out and “experience real life”. Lucy Mangan has the perfect response.
I have lived so many lives through books, gone to so many places, so many eras, looked through so many different eyes, considered so many different points of view... Books have not isolated me – they have connected me. What non-bookworms get by meeting actual people, we get from reading.
This book about favourite authors finds a place on my shelf of favourite books. It’s among kindred spirits
By Anosh Irani, Knopf Canada, $32
Madhu is a eunuch who was brought into the community of hijras – a person belonging to the third sex, neither man nor woman – by the head of her clan, Gurumai.
She is used to being called names as she walks the streets.
“The one I am most comfortable with, the most accurate of them, is also the most common: hijra. The word is Urdu for “migration”, and we hijras have made it our own because its meaning makes sense to us. I am indeed a migrant, a wanderer. For almost three decades I have floated through the city’s red-light district like a ghost.”
Now at 40, she has moved away from prostitution, her trade since her early teens, and is forced to beg on the streets of Mumbai. She also trains new arrivals or “parcels”, preparing them for the fate that awaits them in what she believes is as gentle a manner as possible.
In Kamathipura, a parcel died twice. The first death was the breaking in. The second, more painful, death happened when the parcel realized that she had been discarded by her own family.
But the latest parcel changes something within her. Will she be able to alter destiny?
The Parcel is a brutal, sometimes gratuitously so, look at the underbelly of a city. It is unflinchingly honest – no airbrushing the ugliness. At its heart is also the beauty that lies in the tortured souls that make Kamathipura, the notorious red light district of Mumbai, their home.
Life Among the Savages
By Shirley Jackson, Penguin, $18
A wacky and warm memoir of her family in rural Vermont. Children who won’t behave, furnaces that won’t work, a pugnacious corner bully and a husband who remains oblivious to what mothers and wives – the world’s first multi-taskers – accomplish every day to achieve the semblance of a smoothly running home.
An unfailing maternal instinct and incisive humour turn ordinary family experiences into adventures.
By SHIRLEY JACKSON, PENGUIN, $18
In the uproarious sequel to Life Among the Savages, Jackson chronicles the chaos of motherhood and small-town life.
Jackson’s savages – her four children – are all grown into full-fledged little demons.
Confronting a move to a new house, a faulty refrigerator, Little League and enough clutter to bury her alive, she fends off domestic nightmares with one hand while spinning charming and witty stories with the other.
A portrait of the 1950s ripped straight out of Mad Men.
Readers will find a little bit of themselves in the tales and see that laughter, really, is the best medicine.
Fox and Raccoon
By Lesley-Anne Green, Tundra, $21.99
Fox and raccoon spend their days playing together, but one day, when raccoon finds fox too busy to play, he decides four paws are better than two when it comes to doing chores and jumps right in to help.
He mails her letter for her, picks up eggs and juniper berries, and makes himself useful, quite forgetting what day it is.
The evening brings a lovely surprise for the helpful little guy.
A beautiful way to teach little ones the joy of helping out.
The adorable creatures in the tale were crafted by Lesley-Anne Green – who also happens to be a textile artist – out of wool, thread and fabric.
By Neal Shusterman, Simon & Schuster, $6.00
by Anush Singhal
Will we ever concur with the concept of death? Scythe, written by Neal Shusterman, is a dystopian novel where there is no death or disease; one cannot be killed in this world unless ended by a scythe.
The novel revolves around two teen scythe apprentices Citra and Rowan.
Both never wanted to be scythes and have to join the Scythedom, a stand-alone organization run by the head scythe.
Both apprentices were under the custody of Scythe Faraday in the beginning of their apprenticeship. After the first trial the Scythedom decided to increase the stakes and make it so that whoever is deemed worthy of becoming a scythe kills the other apprentice.
At this points the two teens fall into a whirlwind of disasters as their instructor kills himself and are then taught by two different instructors separating the two.
Throughout their journey the reader can see the bias and tinted views many scythes have.
This causes problems within Scythedom, separating them into two groups, the ‘Future’ and the ‘Old Guard’.
Overall, Scythe is a fantastic read.
It is bloody at times but full of suspense and mysteries.
Though slow in the beginning, after the first trial the whole novel picks up the pace.
The novel raises the question; can a perfect world have problems?
• Anush Singhal is a grade 9 student and a member of Brampton Library’s Teen Library Council.