Friday, June 01, 2012

What I read -- May 2012

Two of these I had started in April, so that month wasn’t as much a wasteland as it looked like (and I was sidetracked for a good reason!), and this month isn’t as awesomely prolific as it looks, either.

“Headhunter” by Timothy Findley. At Ad Astra, this was described as an urban gothic fantasy, so I thought I’d read it. I’ve read at least one other of his books, “Not wanted on the voyage”, which I read at least twice, so I figured I’d like the style. The story is Heart of Darkness but takes place in Toronto, which even if I didn’t like the story and the characters would make it an entertaining read for me, since I’m deeply involved with the setting. (I often say that there are a whole lot of different reasons I’ll watch a movie, and it doesn’t necessarily have to have a good plot, decent characters, or engaging acting to keep me entertained – it can also have really awesome art direction or fabulous costumes or an amazing setting. Many people are not so tolerant. Books are similar. Sometimes it’s just the research that keeps me going.) It’s a tale of psychiatrists and their patients and their patients’ families. I sometimes had a hard time keeping the characters straight, because there were a lot of them.

Written by someone else, this might have been classified as science fiction, but if it had been, people would probably expect more rigor from the science. I wanted an explanation of who wanted to kill the birds, but that wasn’t forthcoming. The ending was satisfying and rather dark.

“Boys Adrift” by Leonard Sax. The Amazon reviews led me to believe I was going to find this book irritating, but it was recommended by the other oboist in my band, so I gave it a shot. The first page described the boy really well, but I was already seething by page three. I thought the problem was going to be I’m female, and I’ve gone through some pretty un-motivated periods too, and he keeps saying rather gender-specific things and then saying he’s not being gender-specific here. I find that disingenuous. But actually, Leonard Sax has a tin ear for dialog. And also, I found the book a bit thin, padded perhaps. It seems like it was written a little too much for a grade six audience, like if you read only one non-fiction book a year, it’s probably a book like this.

He proposes five reasons why boys are unmotivated: changes in the school system, video games, plastic, ADD drugs, and lack of intergenerational ritual. I’d like to propose a sixth: tree pollen. I read in the National Post a few days ago that cities plant predominantly boy trees because girl trees are messy. But boy trees put out tons of pollen in a desperate attempt to find girl trees. The hopeless despair of this tree pollen demotivates boys. It also makes preteen girls dress like prostitutes. Argue with me, Leonard Sax!

“Wado Ryu Karate” by Hironori Otsuka. This is the style I practice, and one of my friends lent me this book by the founder of the style. He asked for it back, so I read it. The first section about the role of martial arts was interesting. The katas and pictures were less so, being very repetitive, and because you can’t learn a martial art from a book. It really takes interaction with others. As I told a student last night, you can’t do karate without occasionally touching people.

“The Thornbirds” by Colleen McCollough. Candice at work wanted me to read this, to the point where she started putting quotes from it on her status report. OMG, melodrama may not be the genre for me. There’s kind of no plot. It reminded me of “who has seen the wind” by WO Mitchell, which I had to read in Grade 10. I remember writing an essay about that one, the theme of which was “things go along for a while, and then somebody dies”, on which my teacher wrote something like “Yes, that’s the point.”

“Magic Bites” by Ilona Andrews. I read her blog sometimes. A couple of years ago she did a series where she had people send in the first hundred or so words of a piece, and then she would take it apart the way she would take her own work apart. It was really fascinating, and I wish she’d do something like that again, though I can see where it would take up a huge amount of time. So, I was at the library having one of those “I should really get something out since I’m here” moments, and picked this up because I didn’t want something that would take up too much time and effort. I found myself while reading having an interesting dichotomy of hating all the exposition while at the same time wanting more explanation of the world.

“1491” by Charles C. Mann. At Farthing Party, someone asked the room who had read this book, and most of the hands went up. I might have lied and raised my hand too, but I’d meant to read it, and I even bought it! It must have been TNH, because then she bragged that she read 1493 in ARC. Anyway, in order to turn the lie into a truth, I read the book.
It’s the sort of thing I like to talk about at the dinner table. For some reason, the boy was resistant to the idea that there were so many more people here prior to Columbus than convention indicates. Usually he’s pretty open-minded, so it struck me as odd. 
I was worried this would be one of those books that starts with an awesome premise but gets really repetitive towards the halfway point. I need not have been concerned, this book sustained itself well. I'm glad I read it. 

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