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Torontoc reads and also sees films in 2019

100 Books in 2019 Challenge

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Dec 30, 2018, 10:54am Top

Just setting up for 2019 I am reading some really big books now- I should finish one of them by the beginning of the new year!
I'll also list some of the films that I see.

Dec 30, 2018, 2:13pm Top

Welcome back! I like the idea of listing/reviewing films also - I may join you in that this year. Happy reading in 2019!

Jan 1, 10:13am Top

Thank you!
and the first book- I started reading it last week and finished it in 2019! I found that I didn't do much reading in Dec. - very busy with projects.

1. Moonglow by Michael Chabon. I read this book because one of my friends gave it a very positive review.I was slightly disappointed. I liked the novel but thought that there could have been more editing. Every time the plot moved forward there seemed to be some descriptive passages that went in a different direction than the events that were important in the story. The novel is narrated by a man. "Mike Chabon" who is interviewing his dying grandfather about family history. The reader is pulled into a story that might have some real elements from the author's life and family-but yet again it could be stories that were embellished. Mike's grandfather was an inventor, a man who went to jail for attacking his former employer ,and a soldier who was charged with finding German Nazi scientists for the Americans at the end of World War Two.He was obsessed about rockets throughout his life. He also married a refugee widow who had been hidden during the war along with her daughter. Mike's grandmother had mental illness -perhaps because her life in Europe.The reader discovers that Mike's mother was also affected by events in her life-the one described in the novel is her father's decision to have her live with his brother( former Rabbi and now full time gambler) while he is in jail and her mother is in a mental health institution. The stories are not fully told- everyone keeps secrets. The reader understands that the grandfather tells some but not all to his grandson. I found this an interesting book to read but I liked some of the author's previous works better.

I saw the Japanese film "Shoplifters" yesterday- Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda the story is about a very poor family who survive by working in low paying jobs and shoplifting. The young boy in this family group finds a four year old girl freezing on a balcony-he takes her home and the rest of the family- grandmother, mother and father find marks of abuse on the young girl's body. They take her in and she finds love and acceptance. However- the truth is not alway evident at first as the stories of each member of this family revealed. They have stayed together in order to survive and find acceptance. The story is both sad and hopeful as one traumatic event changes their lives. This film won the PalmeD'Or at the Cannes film Festival last year.

Jan 2, 1:32am Top

I like Chabon, might still give that one a go...

I look forward to your movie reviews too! I had a (very mild) tantrum over Xmas when I realised I hadn't seen a single movie that hadn't been chosen by someone else (one of the kids or Don). Suffice it to say, I saw a lot of Marvel last year. :P (I rather like Marvel, but it's rarely my #1 choice.) I did see "The Favourite" with the wonderful power trio of Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone. Very good, quite black.

Good luck with your 2019 reading and movie watching!

Jan 3, 1:51pm Top

>4 wookiebender: I really liked "The Favourite" but many of my friends ( not all) didn't like it- I thought that the acting was really good and of course the sets and costumes-wow!

2. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie I think that everyone must have read this book by now but I found it recently somewhere in one of my book towers. I enjoyed reading it. The author himself had been "re-educated" in the Cultural Revolution. He writes about two young teenagers who are sent to a remote village in the mountains and have been separated from their now disgraced middle class parents. They make the best of a bad situation and befriend the daughter of the tailor. They still have to work at manual labour but find ways to exchange back breaking work for other activities. They help another exiled teenager who would be able to leave if he can collect revolutionary songs from the local people. The story of how they try to hoodwink a very old miller is very funny. The boys mange to steal books - a collection of many European classics that have been translated into Chinese. How they use the stories to entertain the Tailor's daughter and some of the villagers shows cleverness. However they don't realize how the words and ideas of Balzac will change the seamstress's life. This is really good book to read!

Jan 6, 5:41pm Top

3. The Lost A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn In this part memoir/history book the author searches for the true story of how his great uncle, aunt and cousins died in the Holocaust. Mendelsohn remembers his mother's father telling stories about his family-the Jaegers- in the town of Bolechow. (Part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, then Polish then Ukrainian.) His older brother, Shmiel had actually emigrated to the U.S. in 1913 but went back to his home town, prospered, married and had four daughters. Mendelsohn's grandfather had letters from Shmiel begging for help as late as 1939. The reader is introduced to the complex story of this family and the author's growing interest in finding out what really happened to them. Interspersed with telling of the trips to the Ukraine, Israel, Australia and Sweden with his brothers, sister and other friends, Mendelsohn writes about his study of the torah and the commentary of the scholar Rashi( 11th century French Rabbi) and recent scholar Rabbi Richard Friedman on several passages that seem to related to the search for the histories of the Jaeger family. The author meets many older people with stories about Shmiel and his family and the town-some true and some perhaps not true. Mendelsohn discovers that the stories of how the family lived is as important as how they died. Some of the people he interviewed have amazing stories of their own on survival.This book is about more than dead relatives. Mendelsohn discovers some heroes and heroines who helped his family. It is both historical and personal as the reader learns about one family and the different journeys they took to either life or death in the 20th century.

Jan 9, 3:32pm Top

4. Winter by Ali Smith Ali Smith's writing sort of gives me a jolt- to sit up and react to her pointed comments about our present day society. The story combines the present and past of Sophia, her sister Iris and Sophia 's son Art. Art has got himself into a " situation' just before he is about to travel to Cornwall for Christmas to see his mother with his girlfriend Charlotte. Charlotte has left Art and is playing havoc with his blog. Sophia seems to be a rational older woman getting ready for her son's visit but events prove that she has issues that need dealing with. Iris is the exact opposite of her sister- always the radical she does come through to help Art deal with the crisis on Christmas. Art has hired a young woman to play his girlfriend, but Lux has her own ideas. She helps Sophia and also Art with their own problems with identity and decisions about their lives. The novel covers concerns with climate change, reckless use of arms and the growing realization that choices can be made for change- personal and perhaps political. I enjoyed the language, flights of fancy and essential grounding in understanding the contemporary world we live in.

Jan 10, 2:02pm Top

5.Christian Dior History and Modernity 1947-1957 by Alexandra Palmer This book refers to a show at the Royal Ontario Museum on Dior that took place a year ago. This catalogue was just published recently. The clothes referred to ( hard to call these creations clothes- some are amazing) were all displayed in the exhibit and are in the collection of the Museum. The history, the breakdown and descriptions of all the elements that went into the construction of these garments is exacting. In fact some of the dresses have had the patterns recreated- I now understand why the couturier design houses had so much influence on the development of style. Most of the photos are breathtaking- however the clothes in black are not photographed well. A black background does not do the garments justice. I enjoyed the read and look forward to looking at the photos again. ( the red dresses are spectacular)

Jan 14, 10:35am Top

6. Strangers with the Same Dream by Alison Pick Alison Pick is a very interesting writer- she wrote a novel that drew on her own personal family history and then wrote a memoir about her conversion to Judaism. This novel is structured like a Japanese film. ( the name I have forgotten) There are three main characters, Ida, David and Hannah, and we read about the same history told from their points of view. The time is 1921 and the place is Palestine where all three are building a communal farm in the north of what becomes present day Israel. The plot is more about the relationships that develop and those that deteriorate than the political. Ida is a young impressionable newcomer to this part of the world having escaped from a pogrom where her father was killed. David is the leader of the group that is establishing the new farm. He had been sent from another community as he had made a terrible mistake that jeopardized the relationships between the Jewish settlers and the neighbouring Arab community. Hannah is David's wife and has much resentment towards David for his actions. The reader see that the building up of farmland came with many sacrifices- from malaria, lack of medicine to treat what are today common ailments to inexperience. The building of this new society was not easy or necessarily understandable to the modern reader. I think that the author does convey the terrible conditions of clearing swamp and stone ridden land, the contradictions of rules agreed to by the new settlers and the problematic dealings with the neighbouring Arabs who are depicted in a sympathetic way. I do think that part of the story does become a little melodramatic but it is an interesting book.

I saw a play that was presented in the Inuit language of inuktitut by a performing group from Nunavut ( most Northern territory in Canada).The theatre sent all playgoers a translation of the play the day before and handed out the notes to all those in the audience. The story, Kiviuq Returns was a combination of story, dance and song. Parts of the play were narrated by Inuit elders on film that was projected onto the stage. It was very engaging performance.!

Edited: Jan 22, 9:44am Top

Another play
On Saturday night I saw a play - The Virgin Trial by Kate Hennig. This play had been produced at the Stratford Festival and this is a revival.The playwright has written three plays about the Queens of England- the first about Catherine Parr The Last Wife , this one about Elizabeth and the third-Mother Daughter about Queen Catherine and Queen Mary to be presented this coming summer.The weather was really cold ( -30C windchill) but since all the performances were sold out, I put on many layers of clothing and ventured out with two friends. We were glad that we did. The play concentrated on the time when teenaged Elizabeth was questioned about the behaviour of her stepfather Thomas Seymour and his intention for revolution against King Edward. The dialogue was contemporary and the costumes were set in modern times as well. The portrayal of Elizabeth as a very smart young woman who cannot be bullied and who can hide her true thoughts was really riveting. The plot may take liberties with accepted truths but it was so interesting!And because of that i pulled out a biography of Elizabeth and re-read

7. Elizabeth The Struggle for The Throne by David Starkey Ah- what can i say- Starkey chose to concentrate on the young Elizabeth and the beginnings of her reign.He showed how she did negotiate through some dangerous situations when she was threatened with treason and later how she worked through the problem of Protestant versus Catholic religious practices. A great re-reread

Jan 22, 4:42am Top

Wow, I love the plays you're getting to see!

Jan 23, 2:51pm Top

I look forward to seeing the third play in the Queen trilogy by Kate Hennig.

8. Eternal Life by Dara Horn I am not sure about this novel. The idea is interesting but does it have a resolution in the plot? No. Do I understand the motivation of the two main characters? Not sure. Dara Horn writes well with a thorough grounding in Jewish History and religion that is a main thread in this story. My verdict is still out after finishing this read. Rachel is the daughter of a scribe in Roman occupied Jerusalem. She becomes the lover of Elazar the son of the High Priest. She marries another man but in order to save her son from dying, she undergoes a process that gives her eternal life. After she discovers that Elazar had done the same thing, Rachel meets him in different disguises throughout the years. After living a long life, if Rachel burns then she is reborn so it seems as an eighteen year old and can live a new life. The reader sees her dilemma as she tires of being reborn. I still have problems with where th plot leads us the reader.

Jan 28, 1:50pm Top

9. The Unfinished Palazzo Life , Love and Art in Venice by Judith Mackrell This book's title is somewhat misleading. The author has written mini-biographies about the three women who lived and redecorated the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice. The three women- Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse, and Peggy Guggenheim- have some similar traits. All had many love affairs and were unhappy unless they had a lover who would help them enrich ( or really define) their lives. Luisa Casati and Peggy Guggenheim had terrible relationships with their children. The author seems sympathetic to all of these women. Luisa Casati had an immense fortune that she ran through during her lifetime as she became really her own work of art through fashion and events that she designed. Doris Castlerosse was probably one of the models for Noel Coward's play Private Lives. She really only had money when she was involved with a rich man. Peggy Guggenheim did put together the famous collection that would form the basis of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. Her life was a mix of bad decisions, good fortune, and original work. She created three important galleries of modern art during her lifetime in London, New York and finally Venice. There is a great gossip component in this history with many famous artists involved with the three women. I liked the read but thought that the decisions made by these women were selfish and inflicted misery on many people. Yet some of the patronage by Peggy Guggenheim certainly influenced the work of a number of important 20th century artists.

Jan 31, 3:15pm Top

10. Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page This is a well- written book- it won the Writers' Trust Fiction Award in Canada in 2018. The author used some of the letters that her father had written her mother when he was in the army in World War Two in this novel. Harry Miles is a young man who joins the British army at the beginning of the war. He was a very good student who found an interest in poetry at school. However he does not go to university, preferring to work. Just before he goes into the army he meets Evelyn Hill at the library. They marry and the reader sees how they both cope during a trying period of war. After Harry comes back, the two settle into a life together and they have three daughters. The story follows them throughout the course of their marriage. The reader sees the early love and the undoing of the relationship as they get older. Evelyn seems to have an unreasonable rage at things she cannot control. Harry tries to live with her demands and at the same time connect with his early love of poetry. The story is heartbreaking as the reader follows both into old age. This is a novel that well deserves the Writers' Trust Prize.

Feb 7, 9:48am Top

11. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan There are some writers who draw the reader into the story immediately. Esi Edugyan certainly does in her novel about the life and travels of the boy and later young man, Washington Black. Born as a slave on a sugar plantation, Washington is befriended by the brother of the plantation owner. Titch as he wants to be called, is an explorer and inventor. He trains Washington to be his assistant as he develops a flying machine. After a series of catastrophic events on the plantation, Titch and Washington flee from the island and embark on a series of adventures as they travel to the Arctic to see if Titch's father is still alive. There are issues of abandonment, a searching for a true identity and perhaps a sense of an odyssey as Washington later travels to find Titch although he has established a life of his own. This is a truly wonderful book and well deserving of the 2019 Giller Prize. The ending does leave more questions but perhaps the author wants the reader to think about how trying to resolve an issue is not really the end.

Feb 12, 9:39am Top

12. The Golden House by Salman Rushdie In this novel the reader is introduced to a most unusual family who live in a big mansion that borders the Macdougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District in Greenwich Village in New York City. Their story is narrated by a young man, Rene, who lives nearby. Rene manages to become a friend and observer of the Golden family as he imagines their lives as film that he wants to make. The Golden family appear suddenly in the area- they have come from India and are enormously wealthy. Nero ,the father has asked his three sons to take on names of Roman nobility. Each son has a story that will lead to tragedy. Nero marries a young Russian woman who will also change his life and that of Rene. The reader learns about corruption and the inter-gang rivalries that led Nero to leave India. Interspersed in the narrative are lengthy discussions about philosophy, literature, film, and the contemporary politics of the time of the Obama and later Trump presidencies. Those musings are not necessary in my opinion. This is not my favourite Rushdie novel.

Feb 15, 11:07am Top

13. Miss Mink Life Lessons for a Cat Countess by Janet Hill I wasn't sure whether this ER book was for children or adults. The illustrations are beautiful. The reader can see that the artist/writer paints so well and the cats and Miss Mink are depicted in a very charming way. That said, I think that this is a book for adults who need some encouragement in order to lead a better life. There are twenty lessons. Each are presented in a double page composition with lovely artwork and short pithy phrases. This is a gift book- I will ask my great nieces and nephew what they think and how the messages relate to them.

Feb 18, 9:57am Top

14. Stroll Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto by Shawn Micallef I have had this book on my TBR tower for a while now. It was published 8 years ago and some of the chapters were published in a weekly Toronto magazine. However it is still a good read and a guide to walking around the city. The author ( who has columns in a daily newspaper and publishes a great urban magazine -Spacing) has chosen some usual and unusual places for his walks. Some obvious areas ( Kensington Market) are not covered. I did discover some places that I had not considered. The information is not all historical- there are thoughts about the people who live in the area and the future plans for change and development. Some of those plans have been finished and are very successful- the Regent Park plan and the West Don Lands. Some are still controversial-the Portlands area.
Micallef discusses areas all over the boundaries of the city. He gives a good mix of information that helps the reader understand the city. The book is nicely published by Coach House Press ( an important Toronto literary press) and has good illustrations and a nice fold out map by Marlena Zuber.


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