This book didn't review well with Canadian media, and I'm attributing that to lazy reading. A bold statement, but it's one I'm prepared to stick with.This book didn't review well with Canadian media, and I'm attributing that to lazy reading. A bold statement, but it's one I'm prepared to stick with. It makes me a bit sad this book wasn't better received, because Freehand Books deserves major props for their editorial choices. Every book I've read by Freehand has been solid, and it hurts my ex-publishing heart that they may soon close their doors. They recently suspended acquisitions and are phasing out their acquiring editor position, which is pretty much the kiss of death for this little Broadview imprint. And that's super lame.
Not Being on a Boat is about a divorced, retired man named Rutlege who has just purchased a lifetime retirement package on a cruise ship. He's in it for the long haul, set to travel the world by sea until he dies. We never actually learn much about Rutlege and his previous life, save for the fact that he's a divorced ex-entrepreneur with some questionable business practices. He's also pretty much a sociopath, which is a brave character trait for a first-time author to be tackling.
I can see how some might find the writing tedious, as events in the book are VERY slow to unfold. The story is narrated by Rutlege, whose flat, monotone voice is expertly crafted to actually BE tedious. The first half of the book describes Rutlege's daily activities, which include interactions with his personal butler, Raoul. Rutlege is in a constant state of evaluation, as he is very preoccupied with the quality of the customer service on the boat. He's forever acknowledging when he receives good customer service, mostly from Raoul, and complaining when the slightest thing is amiss, mostly to Raoul. After these evaluations, the reader always receives an emotionless, logical explanation for the positive or negative criticism--something that continues even as things start to go very wrong aboard the ship.
For a story that completely lacks a character arc, I was still captivated by what would happen to Rutlege as circumstances on the boat become increasingly apocalyptic. I despised the character but had no desire to stop reading, which in itself is demonstrative of Keith's talent. A quarter of the way through the novel, an encounter with civil war on a tropical island leaves a portion of the ship's residents taken hostage. This event is the catalyst for the slow deterioration of conditions on the ship, which is then unable to secure the necessary supplies for basic operations (food, water, and fuel, namely). Despite this major setback, the ship continues to put customer service at the forefront of its priorities to the point of ridicule. The ship's first-class dinner is reduced to the most meagre ingredients, yet it's still considered a black tie event. The boat is running out of clean water, to the point where bathing is limited, yet residents are drinking the finest champagne in the world. Even as Rutledge is made privy to the ship's difficulties, he is insistent that he be treated as one of the elite. Therein lies the book's massive satirical bend, Keith triumphantly skewering our society's sense of entitlement as it relates to what money can buy.
So many elements of the story just seemed to jive. The setting, a cruise ship, couldn't have been more perfect to showcase North American, baby-boomer excess. Rutlege is the supreme asshole that everyone has encountered at least once, whether it be at the table next to us at a restaurant or in line at a department store. As long as consumerism exists, that asshole will always be complaining that he isn't getting what he paid for. He'll always demand better treatment for a slightly higher price, and the sad thing is that he'll receive it if he pays. The Rutlege/Raoul dynamic highlighted this notion spot-on, as Rutlege understands paying a little extra for some special attention. It's interesting, too, when that dynamic changes as things start to get really bad on the ship -- or even more interestingly, how little the dynamic changes given the massive shift in circumstance. I won't give away the details, but it's this tidbit that indicates the amount of craftsmanship invested in the writing of the book.
I'd encourage anyone to pick up this gem, published by an independent press in Alberta. ...more
This was HILARIOUS! I love the puzzle that is an Oscar Wilde play, with all the misunderstandings between characters and fraught interactions. I loveThis was HILARIOUS! I love the puzzle that is an Oscar Wilde play, with all the misunderstandings between characters and fraught interactions. I love the little smirky contrasts in his dialogue, too, because they make his characters all the more ridiculous. I've never enjoyed reading someone's plays more....more
I'd been meaning to pick up this book for almost three years, having once seen it on a GoodReads list called "History of Random Things." I thought theI'd been meaning to pick up this book for almost three years, having once seen it on a GoodReads list called "History of Random Things." I thought the list in itself featured a great idea: base a history book on a common item and see how many angles one could uncover. For those who enjoy random trivia, it would be an intriguing way to gain an overview on world history while learning about something you'd never expected to study. I knew Salt would contain some wonderfully random information, but I didn't know just how far the book would reach into the narrative of world events.
Salt is basically a mineral that is formed when an acid and an alkaline collide. There are many different kinds of salt, and our body needs salt to survive even though we do not produce it naturally. This fact alone has forced us to be creative in the ways we obtain salt, either from the earth or the sea. Salt is found in most areas of the world; it's rare that a country does not have salt as a resource. But as with all things that are necessary for human survival, the need for this resource has been exploited by governments and the elite since 2000 BC when the world's first monopoly was established in China on salt. Ever since, countries across time and space have controlled the production of salt, taxed the poor for salt, fought wars over regions that contain salt, and placed tariffs on the transportation of salt. Kurlansky's book provides a complete telling of these events throughout history, beginning with percussion drilling in the Sichuan region of China, to sea salt extraction in the Mediterranean, to the development of the salt mining industry in North America. I thought it astonishing the influence salt had on politics and international relations, even thought it makes perfect sense that the resource would determine the status of a country given its importance to a population's well-being.
I didn't know so many foods originated from salt preservation, or pickling. For the longest time, the cod industry was largely dependent on the salt industry, as salt was needed to preserve the fish long enough to transport it to the masses. Salt prevented famine throughout the world, and I'm sure the earth's population would be a lot lower than it is now had it not been for salt preservation. Kurlansky does an excellent job of expanding the content to include other industries and inventions that developed as a result of salt without losing focus of the main topic. He carries the reader through such interesting stories as the Chinese invention of indoor plumbing as a result of extracting salt from the earth with bamboo, or famed chemist Humphrey Davy's discovery of magnesium, which prevents the corrosion of steel and other light metal alloys. It is in this way that the book exceeds a reader's expectations, as I learned so much more than I thought I would about the world.
Salt is almost never a tedious read despite being dense with information. Kurlansky's writing employs a perfect balance of engagement and precision, even taking the liberty at times to be sarcastic and humorous. It's rare that I anticipate a book this much and that my expectations are exceeded. I'll definitely be reading his book called Cod -- and more history on random things, for that matter....more
If Nathaniel Hawthorne were alive today, I would attend one of his readings and say, "Nathaniel Hawthorne, go fuck thyself."
According to the Centre foIf Nathaniel Hawthorne were alive today, I would attend one of his readings and say, "Nathaniel Hawthorne, go fuck thyself."
According to the Centre for Learning and Teaching of Literature, The Scarlet Letter is one of the top ten most taught books in American high schools (2008). I won't even make the argument that this list needs to be updated to include more contemporary novels, as I've read plenty of classics that are equally as compelling as modern literature (anything by the Bronte sisters, Tale of Two Cities, etc.). An adolescent's developing love of literature is too precious to be subjected to the cumbersome dreck that is this book. If I were to use The Scarlet Letter as a baseline for evaluating the quality of classics and literature in general, I would never want to read again. I'm glad I escaped my own adolescence unmolested by this text.
Join me in reading this sentence, wherein Hawthorne indulges in some masturbatory wordiness that I'm sure made him feel quite satisfied with himself:
"The young divine, whose scholar-like renown still lived in Oxford, was considered by his more fervent admirers as little less than a heaven-ordained apostle, destined, should he live and labor for the ordinary term of life, to do as great deeds for the now feeble New England Church, as the early Fathers had achieved for the infancy of the Christian faith."
F. My. L.
To recap the story, Hester Prynne is sent ahead of her husband to New World Massachusetts, where she is to establish their home in preparation of their new life in Salem. Some times goes by, and Hester's ugly old husband never shows up. So she takes it upon herself to get some badly needed ass in the form of Rev. Dimmesdale, one of Salem's most respected Puritan leaders. Unfortunately, the townspeople know she's a married lady waiting for her husband -- but she scandalously gets pregnant with the reverend's child. The book opens with Hester's release from prison after giving birth to her daughter and refusing to name the father. What follows is a recounting of how guilty everyone feels while Hester's husband befriends Dimmesdale so he can slowly kill him with ... herbs? evil telepathy? (Who cares?)
I begrudgingly admit that The Scarlet Letter was probably considered an important book in its time, if only due to controversy. The book boldly explores the inner sexual conflict of a woman who chooses to rebel against oppressive social convention, and I can see it looking to skewer prudish Victorian attitudes toward female sexuality. However, I WISH WISH WISH Hawthorne had not been the one to write a book with such an important purpose. His message is obstructed by his pathetic need to prove himself as a refined artist despite having been the descendant of the very Puritans he criticizes. While reading I could picture him behind me, pointing at each sentence and saying, "See what I did there? That's called foreshadowing." *cue pretentious chuckle*
I'm asking myself why this book is considered a classic. Is it because it was deemed ahead of its time? Is it because it caused controversy when it was first published? Is it because the writing is ... "intricate"? Who decided it WAS a classic? (As in who let this happen? Because I'd like a word with them.) I think "experts" may have let their haughty expectations get the best of them when including The Scarlet Letter on the roster of important literature. Just because a book INTENDS to do something important doesn't mean it actually DOES something important. Hawthorne's critical intentions are obvious, but he's too busy jerking himself off with big sentences and long digressions to actually accomplish anything.
American high schools need to tune this out. I can just imagine how much potential passion for reading has been snuffed out by Hawthorne. Never, ever read this book. ...more
Daniel Nettle's Happiness outlines some harsh truths: We're not meant to be happy, we're meantSo I've got some bad news.
You're not meant to be happy.
Daniel Nettle's Happiness outlines some harsh truths: We're not meant to be happy, we're meant to strive to be happy. We will always want what others have, even though finally attaining these things might not make us happy. "Liking" something and "wanting" something require two very different brain processes. Some of us are predisposed toward neuroticism, and there's not much we can do about it. And once we finally obtain something that makes us happy, we adapt to it within months and just end up fixated on wanting something else.
There are biological and evolutionary reasons for this, of course. An organism that is forever satisfied won't be as motivated to survive and reproduce as one that is competitive and forever striving for something more. Nettle expands on this basic premise in clear and engaging prose, sprinkling just the right amount of examples throughout to aid with understanding. One of my favourites is the life/dinner problem, which enlightens readers on why humans tend to concentrate more on negative affect than positive events. To paraphrase:
A lion is chasing a gazelle for meat. The gazelle's survival mechanism--fear--should ensure that it can run until it dies, as this is what would happen anyway if the lion were to catch it. The lion, however, will not run itself to death because there is always the possibility that another meal will come its way. Therefore, while it should still be motivated by the knowledge of reward, it doesn't make any sense for it to kill itself for one gazelle when another might come along. For survival purposes, the gazelle must be more motivated by its negative circumstance than the lion is for reward. And this is why it is perfectly natural for humans to focus more on negative stimuli; it makes sense for survival.
Happiness is a short book, and some of its conclusions might appear less than revolutionary. But it forces the reader to change her perspective on what may be within her control, and this is what makes Happiness an important read for anyone wishing to gain some basic knowledge of psychology. And while some of Nettle's conclusions may seem ominous when listed, the book is still upbeat in that it outlines the few ways in which we can control our own happiness levels, while stressing that any slight diminishing in negativity is still important and possible.
I look forward to reading more of Nettle's books, including his follow-up to Happiness, Personality....more
This book was GREAT for refreshing my memory of French-Canadian history. Since I am French-Canadian, the history of New France was repeatedly shoved dThis book was GREAT for refreshing my memory of French-Canadian history. Since I am French-Canadian, the history of New France was repeatedly shoved down my throat all throughout elementary AND high school, but it was actually nice to go back there. I also learned a lot about les filles du roi that I didn't know before, and I felt I came away from the book with new knowledge of my ancestors.
But man, does this ever read like a PhD thesis. This is probably because the author is an academic who actually IS writing her PhD thesis on les filles du roi. All throughout the novel, I was amazed at how fiction could be made to sound so academic. I couldn't dream up more straightforward prose if I tried! It also seems like she's milking every possible opportunity to squeeze in as much historical fact as she can, and this sometimes causes the narrative to trip over itself. Even in the last ten pages, Desrochers manages to fit in little informative digressions that interrupt the book's climax. She's desperate to educate rather than entertain her audience.
I won't be too harsh about this, however, because I still think it's amazing that an author with strictly an academic background was able to transform pure research into a story that is still compelling. For the most part, Desrochers pulled off her first novel even though it's clear she's not really a novelist....more
This book was just pure fun. I had some reactions expected of the chick lit genre, but I maintain these were worth the light read. For what it is, itThis book was just pure fun. I had some reactions expected of the chick lit genre, but I maintain these were worth the light read. For what it is, it was definitely a good time....more
I read it in two days. I couldn't put it down, and it's going to stay with me for days. I'll dream about it. It's also confirmed my desire to see theI read it in two days. I couldn't put it down, and it's going to stay with me for days. I'll dream about it. It's also confirmed my desire to see the Killing Fields in Cambodia before 2015 is over. ...more