Thursday, February 16, 2017

The English Patient (1992) by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient was published in 1992 and won the Man Booker Prize (along with Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth). The movie adaptation followed in 1996 and won an Oscar for Best Picture, among other categories.

I've been waiting to see the movie until I read the book. It's taken me awhile to get around to it, like, 25 years. When I came across a $1 copy of the book at a library sale last year, I bought it. These days when I really want to see a movie I don't wait to read the book.

The story is about four very different people who find themselves in an Italian villa/monastery at the end of World War II. Parts of the story told via characters' memories take place in North Africa, England, India, and Canada.

It was a challenging read at times. After I realized Ondaatje was presenting the characters with writing crafted in their own voices, it got a bit easier, particularly in sections dealing with the character who most annoyed me, the English patient himself. He was overly dramatic and pompous. He's actually a bit of a Lancelot character--seemingly above such things as love until he finds himself hopelessly attracted to and then madly in love with a married woman. Oh, how the mighty fall. In the movie, he was softened a bit, made charming by Ralph Fiennes. (Colin Firth plays the cuckold.)

Ondaatje does a superb job crafting his characters--obviously, the character of the English patient was so well drawn that he got under my skin, as he is probably meant to. In the book, the main love story is between Hana, a young Canadian nurse, and Kip, a Sikh sapper in the British Army. In the movie, this interracial love affair plays second fiddle to that of the English patient's love affair with Katherine, both of whom are white. The movie presents the character of Kip as an exotic and sexualized masculine element. He is relegated to the role of the female--with his long hair flowing, he's shown bare-chested in sexualized scenes that reverse the male gaze as Hana looks upon him.

One of the themes that the movie carries over from the book is how things take on different uses under extreme conditions. Hana uses books from the villa/monastery's library to repair stairs that have been destroyed. She uses a crucifix as a scarecrow in the garden where she's growing vegetables. In a scene from the desert in North Africa, a healer uses his cupped feet as a bowl to mix medicine. Hana's use of the books and crucifix show her resourcefulness, but symbolically these scenes also depict the idea that in war the knowledge in books and the trappings of religion can be useless or at least their original purpose is temporarily suspended.

It's been just about a week since I finished this book and as I continue to dwell on scenes and characters my esteem for the novel grows. When I first finished it I thought it was "just okay." Then after watching the movie, I liked it even more. Writing this post has increased my appreciation of the book even more.

Funny how that happens with some books. Alternately there are those books that I adore and praise immediately upon finishing that I now barely recall (or even forget I've read!). Scrolling through Goodreads and looking at the star ratings that I've given some books makes me cringe.

The Book Cougars discussed both the book and the movie as a joint read/watch in episode 7.

Author: Michael Ondaatje
Title: The English Patient 
Publisher: 1st published by Bloomsbury, 1992. Edition read: Vintage International, 1993. 
Bottom line: You'll probably want to read this one if you're into literary fiction about WWII.  If you're not into either, proceed with caution. From my Goodreads review: Some lovely scenes, some lovely sentences, but lots of beautiful writing just for the sake of beautiful writing annoyed me after a while. I yelled (in my mind, so as not to scare the dog), "Get on with the story already!" multiple times.
Reading challenge: score one for the #readmyowndamnbooks challenge.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Library Extension: An Amazing Plug-in for Library Users

Firefox has been my browser of choice for years now, but last month I decided to try something new and am giving Chrome a try.

Around the time I made this change, I happened to see a tweet by Austin Kleon about Library Extension. It's a tool that tells you if a book you're looking at on Amazon or Goodreads (and other sites, I image) is available at your local library.

I added the extension immediately, but was bummed to find that my local library wasn't yet included, so I added the next closest library to me. I also put in a request with Library Extension to add my library. Andrew wrote me back the same day and said he updated the extension to include my library. How cool is that?  I love this tool and thought you might, too.

Here's a screenshot of how it looks on Goodreads:

The Library Extension box takes just a few seconds to load/populate the information. It even tells you what formats are/are not available.

You can install the extension from their website ( or from the App Store ( 

A Firefox version is in the works and you can sign-up to be notified when its available.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

January New Books in the House, Blogoversary Mention

Happy Blogoversary to Me

My seven year blogoversary came and went on January 19th. I'd been hemming and hawing about what to write for it. I started several angry posts about bigotry, civility in politics, the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million, how the Russians may have helped elect a corrupt businessman/unqualified billionaire who's afraid to release his tax returns, and how the Electoral College failed to protect against demagoguery and foreign interference, but I deleted all of those drafts. People who are way more knowledgeable and eloquent have already written about these things.

Instead, I've decided what I really want to do is recommit to my book blog. I have two major areas on which I'd like to focus in 2017:

1) To be more involved in the larger scheme of things, I'll write more about the issues that come up in my reading regarding diversity and equality. This can be anything from highlighting an author's background to highlighting pros/cons/complexities in a book regarding issues that interest me, particularly around depictions of gender, sexuality, race, and age. 
2) I'll do more to document my bookish life--the books I read as well as the literary things I do, such as post more about the libraries I visit and other literary adventures. Maybe I'll even blog my own starts and stops at writing fiction.

New Books in the House

The last book that I purchased in 2016 was Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist, which I'm currently reading. Today I'm going to share all the new books that have come into my house thus far in 2017. This is something I'll aim to do on a monthly basis this year mainly for the purposes of self-documentation, but also to see if you have opinions on the books that have found their way into my life.

Let me know what you think! 👍  or 👎  or 🤷‍♀️.

Girl at War by Sara Novic (
Book mail!
My friend Russell, who blogs at Ink and Paper Blog, sent me this copy of Girl at War by Sara Novic. He saw my request for recommendations on Goodreads for books about women at war. Thanks, Russell! This one is patiently waiting near the top of my TBR.

January library haul! March, Queer, Something in the Blood (
Library haul! Was amazed to find all three volumes of March on display. 
I typically work at my local library several times a week and this year I'm going to resist the temptation to check out books during each time I'm there. I have dozens of books at home that I want to get to and will have a much better chance at actually reading them if I'm not hoarding library books. Exercising book discipline is hard.

Pictured above are:
  • March Trilogy by Andrew Aydin, John Lewis, and Nate Powell
  • Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele 
  • Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker by David J. Skal

January bookstore haul from the Book Barn (
Book Barn Haul -- Love their new pride bumper sticker. 

On Saturday I went to The Book Barn in Niantic, CT with my friend Jennifer. My intention was to buy one book, James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, but they didn't have it (at least not at the two locations we went to. They have four locations in town. I know, it's crazy book over-load and fucking awesome!). 

Books pictured above:
  • That Summer in Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Some Others by Morley Callaghan. A smelly old paperback that caught my eye. Callaghan was friends with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and "some others." This is his memoir about the summer of 1929 when all the boys got together after writing (or instead of writing) to drink and box. I'm tired of Hemingway and have never really been into Fitzgerald, but apparently I can't step away from the bookshelf when I see a book about them.
  • Jonah's Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston. I love Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. I've been thinking about re-reading that novel for the 3 or 4th time and instead decided to try another novel by her. But you know how it is when you love a book and so also love the author and don't want to risk reading another book by her that you might not like and that could potentially sour your earlier love? That. Gonna risk it.
  • I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Conde. Never heard of the author or this book, but it caught my eye and the first page drew me in. The back cover calls it a blend of fictional with the factual. Tituba was the only black victim of the Salem witch trials.
  • The Vampire of Venice Beach by Jennifer Colt. Looks fun, plus it has a Borders sticker on the back. Also, while I was looking at it Jennifer snuck up behind my like some kind of book recommending vampire and said, "Colt is a fun writer," so I am opening my home to yet another vampire.
  • Beneath the Bleeding by Val McDermid. It's been a while since I read some Val. The first page made me want to read more.
  • Darktown by Thomas Mullen. I've heard such great things about this one and couldn't pass it up. Crime novel set in 1948 Atlanta that revolves around the first black police officers hired by the city.
  • Writers in Residence by Glynne Robinson Betts. This one was miss-shelved in the US Presidents section so it jumped out at me. Black and white photographs of author homes, offices, etc., and not the usual suspects.

The Hidden Life of Trees and Hidden Figures from RJ Julia (
Short stack from R.J. Julia Booksellers
On the way home from The Book Barn we stopped at R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison to pickup a copy of Giovanni's Room, but they didn't have it either. However, I didn't leave empty handed. These two came home with me:
  • The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben. I love trees and this book has been recommended by a couple friends whose opinion I value.
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. Purchased this for my wife, Laura, who loved the movie. I haven't seen it yet. Laura recently found out that an old friend's father worked with Katherine Goble Johnson, one of the women featured in the book/film. They're still friends and he went to the premier with her.
  • I didn't realize the hidden theme until typing this.
What's going on for you book-wise in January? Are you on a buying spree...doing some retail therapy? Are you on a book-buying freeze this year? Exclusively using the library?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2017 Reading Goals

Happy New Year Everyone!

Masters of Literature Calendar - readalong prompt (
From Masters of Literature Calendar. Illustrations by Elisabeth Stoinich

Here I am, outlining a new year of reading goals/intentions/challenges. In no particular order, these are my main reading plans for 2017:

1. My numeric reading goal is always 52 books. I like the idea of a book a week. When life gets busy I don't have the added stress of hitting a high reading goal, nor do I shy away from big or challenging books.

2. I've already posted about participating in the Australian Women Writers Challenge (#AWW2017), which you can read here. I'll read at least four books for this challenge. Last night I started Emily Bitto's The Strays, so off to a good start.

3. The Classics Club. I have six books in mind for this ongoing challenge:
  • Carmilla, LeFanu, 1872
  • So Big, Ferber, 1924
  • The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck, 1939
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Smith, 1943
  • From Here to Eternity, Jones, 1951
  • Giovanni's Room, Baldwin, 1956
4. I'm doing a year-long read-along with my friend John Valeri based on the Masters of Literature calendar that I got him for Christmas from the New York Public Library gift shop (and of course I got one for myself, too). Within minutes (probably seconds) of opening the calendar, we decided to read and discuss a book by the featured writer each month:
Willa Cather hiking ( Source: Cather Archive
Cather out hiking (source)
  • January: Shakespeare - kicking things off with MacBeth
  • February: Austen
  • March: Baudelaire
  • April: Dickinson
  • May: Wilde
  • June: Woolf
  • July: Dostoyevsky
  • August: Proust
  • September: Shelley
  • October: Poe
  • November: Kafka
  • December: The Brontes
5. As regular readers of this blog know, Willa Cather is my favorite writer. I am intimately acquainted with her novels, but have only read her more widely anthologized stories like "Paul's Case" or "The Bohemian Girl," so this year I plan to systematically read all of her short stories.

6. I have a short list of books that I've been meaning to get to. The top two are:
  1. The Swarm by Frank Schatzing. It's an 881page long thriller about mutant creatures in the ocean. It has never been the right time to read this one--I need to get to it before spring/summer because I don't want to freak myself out while I'm swimming around in the ocean.
  2. Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe. I became interested in this one after reading A. Scott Berg's Max Perkins: Editor of Genius.
7. I already own many of the books listed here, so they'll qualify for Andi's #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge, which is often on my mind, because I have so many (potentially) fabulous unread books sitting on my shelves. In 2016, just under 20% of the books I read where books I already owned. I'd like to double that number in 2017.

Michael Ondaatje The English Patient Book Cougars readalong (
Okay, so there's my 2017 reading intentions, all of which I talk about on Episode 4 of the Book Cougars. Which reminds me: Emily and I are doing a read-along of The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje in February. If you'd like to join us, please check out Episode 4.

What are some of your reading goals for 2017 or are you free reading this year?

Happy Reading!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Reading Stats

2016 was a great reading year for me--SO many good reads!

Up until October, when Buddy Fitzwilliam suddenly appeared on the scene and changed my sluggish daily routine, I had been humming along in my reading life. He's been with us for three months now and while I'm not exactly back into a reading groove, we're starting to get into something that looks like it might eventually turn into a routine.

Buddy Fitzwilliam - #1 Reading Buddy (WildmooBooks)
Last read of the year with my reading Buddy

For years now my annual reading goal has been to read 52 books. That's one book a week and doesn't make me shy away from big books. It also doesn't make me feel pressured about reading when life gets crazy busy.

Here's some breakdown:
  • 58 books read
  • 37 by women
  • 20 by men 
  • 1 gender neutral
  • 3 published in the 19th century
  • 16 published in the 20th century
  • 39 published in the 21st century
  • 20 published in 2016 (super high for me and only 7 were ARCs)
  • 4 ebooks (same as last year)
  • 3 audiobooks (also same as last year)
  • 2 translated into English (one less than last year)
  • 11 qualified towards #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks 
  • 6 for The Classics Club
  • 1 for Australian Women Writers (#AWW2016)
List of books read. Yellow highlights are my Top 10 of 2016

Atwood, Kathyrn
Women Heroes of WWII: The Pacific Theater
Austen, Jane
Pride and Prejudice
Dogs and Their People
Caspary, Vera
Chbosky, Stephen
Perks of Being a Wall Flower, The
Chopin, Kate
Awakening, The
Christie, Agatha
And Then There Were None
Clark, Marcia
Blood Defense
Cornwell, Patricia
Chasing the Ripper
Doemer, Cornelia
Martin Luther’s Travel Guide
Du Maurier, Daphne
Ehrlich, Amy
Willa: The Story of Willa Cather, an American Writer
Eustice, Helen
Horizontal Man, The
Fleming, Jacky
Trouble with Women, The
Gilbert, Elizabeth
Big Magic
Gilman, George G.
Blind Side, The
Gorman, Jane
Blind Eye, The
Gyasi, Yaa
Hammett, Dashiell
Thin Man, The
Hawkins, Paula
Girl on the Train, The
Heller, Joseph
Catch-22 (DNF)
Hemingway, Ernest
Moveable Feast, A
Highsmith, Patricia
Price of Salt, The
Irving, John
Prayer for Owen Meany, A
Jackson, Shirley
Haunting of Hill House, The (reread)
Kiernan, Stephen P
Hummingbird, The
King, Stephen
Mr. Mercedes *
King, Stephen
Finders Keepers *
King, Stephen
End of Watch *
Kovic, Ron
Hurricane Street
Lagercrantz, David
Girl in the Spider’s Web, The
Lamb, Wally
She’s Come Undone
Longo, Stacey (ed)
Tricks and Treats: A Collection of Spooky Stories by Connecticut Authors
Maran, Meredith
Why We Write About Ourselves
McNamara, Frances
Death at the Paris Exposition
Oakley, Barbara
Mind for Numbers, A
Olson, Karen E.
Sacred Cows
Patchette, Anne
Bel Canto
Penny, Louise
Great Reckoning, A
Pinckney, Darryl
Black Deutschland
Raabe, Melanie
Trap, The
Rhys, Jean
Good Morning, Midnight
Rhys, Jean
Wide Sargasso Sea, The
Scottoline, Lisa
Final Appeal
Seay, Martin
Mirror Thief, The
Shoemaker, Karen Gettert
Meaning of Names, The
Speart, Jessica
Winged Obsession
Stein, Triss
Brooklyn Secrets
Strecker, Susan
Nowhere Girl
Thorson, Robert M.
Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England’s Stone Walls**
Tremblay, Paul
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock
Twain, Mark
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, A
Viskic, Emma
Resurrection Bay
Whitehead, Colson
Underground Railroad, The
Wilson, Anne A.
Woodham, Jane
Yun, Jung
Zacks, Richard
Chasing the Last Laugh

 * When Emily and I listed our Top 10 reads of 2016 on episode two of the Book Cougars, I cheated and listed Stephen King's Bill Hodges Trilogy as one book.

** Currently reading and will finish today or tomorrow. Usually I'm anal and work it so that I finish whatever I'm reading on the last day of the year and then start a new read on the first day of the year, but apparently I'm living on the edge these days. Oh, and there are two books not on the list above that I've already started but didn't list since I'm not near the half way point on either: Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin (audio and hardcover) and Chicago Whispers: A History of LGBT Chicago Before Stonewall by St. Sukie de la Croix (on my ereader).

I'm looking forward to more great reading in 2017 and my next post will be about my reading plans for the new year. The older I get, the less time I spend with books that don't engage me, so my overall enjoyment of reading seems to be increasing with each passing year.

Here's to health, happiness, world peace, and good reads in 2017!
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