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
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
I've only read two Colum McCann novels, but he's already one of my favourite authors. Dancer is very much like Let the Great World Spin in the way thaI've only read two Colum McCann novels, but he's already one of my favourite authors. Dancer is very much like Let the Great World Spin in the way that it draws from several points of view to beautifully illustrate one theme/event/person. I've read reviews that describe this shift in voice as bothersome, but I think it is one of McCann's finest techniques and allows him to truly shine as a talented writer.
Dancer is rich in historical context, first set in post-war Soviet Union and powering through to Europe and North America during the advent of AIDS. While the story focuses primarily on Rudik, a Russian boy turned ballet megastar, the distinct voices of other characters are very much heard as they struggle with poverty, government oppression, personal loss, and forbidden desire. Almost all the characters seem to want a life they can't have, and then there's Rudik who flamboyantly doesn't give a shit what anyone else thinks and goes after what he wants with mad obsession. But then some of the others slowly get what they want, too, and this filled me with a wonderful sense of hope.
Dancer is a completely different book by the time it ends, as it spans a period of almost fifty years. This allows you to truly invest in its characters and how different each of their lives become by the time their journey is over. Horrible things happen and misery ensues, but I think the overall message is quite inspirational in that the characters, especially Rudik, manage to carve out the life they want, no matter what society tells them they should want.
I'm very much looking forward to reading more of McCann's novels, and I hope more North Americans discover him....more
"You lean over and kiss the years because they're what's important."
One of the many beautiful lines in this glorious novel. I took a deep breath when"You lean over and kiss the years because they're what's important."
One of the many beautiful lines in this glorious novel. I took a deep breath when I read it.
In 1974 Philippe Petit strung a wire across the World Trade Centre towers and walked across. He called it "le coup". Others called it the greatest criminal artistic act ever. Colum McCann uses the true event to bind together the linked stories of his masterpiece of a novel, Let the Great World Spin.
When Petit was asked why he performed the stunt, he replied, "There is no why." And there's something about this novel that reflects his response, that shrinks things down to their smallest. There is a craft to it; events, places, people are broken down in such a way that they are at their most significant. McCann creates a small, small world that is amplified in its reduction.
It's refreshing to read something that plucks at the elements of the world--race, gender, class, etc.--and shucks them together so they're all on the same level. No one is better than anyone else. No one is happier, sadder, more fortunate, beneath anyone or anything. Things just ARE. People are people. Events happen. The world continues to spin whether or not people die, love one another, come together despite circumstance, or walk across a wire between two of the tallest structures on earth. THIS is what this novel is about. There is no beginning or end.
What a masterpiece. Read this, with patience. You'll be rewarded for it....more
I'm sorry, but I can't review this book. I don't think I'll ever be able to review a Tom Robbins novel. Every time I read one, which is about every siI'm sorry, but I can't review this book. I don't think I'll ever be able to review a Tom Robbins novel. Every time I read one, which is about every six months, I always think it's my favourite. Four books later and I'm convinced three of them are works of pure genius (Still Life with Woodpecker stands out as not being as good as the rest, but I was also really distracted by strange life circumstances while reading it).
While similar in tone and message, each Robbins book is so completely unique that it's difficult to pin down any specific elements required for a concrete review. I think I've just accepted that I don't have the ability to adequately review his novels, as they are so far off my intellectual radar that anything I write will seem like the flimsiest of skeletons compared to the depth of his writing. And I consider myself a relatively smart girl.
Next up will be Another Roadside Attraction, probably sometime in November. Like I said, I only read Robbins every six months. This is so I don't run out of Robbins to read too quickly, and because I feel I need about six months to fully process Robbins before ingesting more. Hopefully by the time I'm finished with his novels, he'll have produced another. It seems to take him a while, and I can understand why. I just hope he took some notes from Alobar in Jitterbug and lives a long, long time so he can keep producing.
What can I say about Tom Robbins? The man's a freaking rock star.
Jitterbug Perfume is an epic. It's about immortality, religion, individuality, pleasuWhat can I say about Tom Robbins? The man's a freaking rock star.
Jitterbug Perfume is an epic. It's about immortality, religion, individuality, pleasure, our primitive brain (specifically our sense of smell), the ridiculousness of life, conformity, escaping social bounds, and, well, LIFE. It's a love story. It's philosophical. It's a laugh-out-loud comedy routine. It's everything, and without a single cliché in sight.
Sometimes the everything-ness was exhausting, but only because I so desperately wanted--no, needed--to wrap my brain around the entirety of Robbins' message. I constantly felt like I was missing something, and I didn't want to let anything fly over my head. This is difficult because there are so many balls up in the air; one can't help but wonder how it's possible to catch them all. Robbins must have used charts, notes, graphs, large pieces of paper taped together and tacked onto his office walls to write this book. Either that or his editor really kept tabs on things.
The book was released in 1984, and some of the reviews I've read stated that the book is good despite its outdated ideologies. I disagree that Robbins' observations and commentary are outdated. He eloquently stresses certain simple and logical truths that remain quite relevant today: reduced stress can lengthen life span, organisms that consistently feel pleasure and purpose tend to stick around longer, individuality and meaning are being threatened by social constructs that urge us to conform to our surroundings, etc. While the search for immortality is ridiculous and unnatural (to me, at least), the basic tools for prolonging life are important and useful. I'm simplifying his message, but like I said, this book is difficult to summarize.
I couldn't help but wonder about Robbins' current stance on technology, on our "perma-connectedness" via the digital world. Would he say that it hinders individuality, that it's simply another tool we use to disappear and conform within social norms? Or would he think that we are freer to explore meaning and diversity with constant information at our fingertips? I'm not sure about this one. Perhaps I'll have to read some of his more recent work to discover the answer(s). ...more
In a manner more eloquent than I could ever manage, this book expresses everything I feel about modern feminism and why it's still very much a necessiIn a manner more eloquent than I could ever manage, this book expresses everything I feel about modern feminism and why it's still very much a necessity.
Heartbreaking. Beautiful. Consuming. These are only a small portion of words that can begin to describe Unless by Carol Shields. Reta Winters' daughter is so overwhelmed by her desire to experience every success and beauty the world has to offer, but her realization that she can never have everything as a woman is too much to bear. As a result, she shuts down: she lives her life on a street corner in Toronto, begging for money and wearing a sign that simply says "Goodness."
"Goodness not greatness." Yes, women can choose whether or not to stay home with their children or have careers. Yes, they have the potential and opportunities to become world leaders, business moguls, successful human beings. But are we completely, truly, utterly equal in that we have every opportunity for actual greatness, not just goodness, that a man does? Unless explores this question in a way that is genuine and sincere, acknowledging our feminine past as well as what still needs to be done for our future.
I cried while I read this book, and when I mulled it over afterward. I feel like it extracted my core and shook it up a bit....more
This book was a pleasure. You think it's going to be about the unpredictability of the independent music industry, life on the road, sex, drugs, and rThis book was a pleasure. You think it's going to be about the unpredictability of the independent music industry, life on the road, sex, drugs, and rock n' roll ... and it is. But it's so much more than that. It's about a young woman defining herself via the love of her life, a boy she has known throughout her entire existence. She knows nothing else, lives her life for him, even seems to become him, in some ways. The way she finally begins to define herself as an individual seemed very real to me -- it happens in starts and stops, and you really start to wonder if maybe she is him, despite it being obvious that she has a very defined personality of her own.
Frey has been praised for her ability to write realistic dialogue, but I hope she's also been recognized for the way her characters relate to each other. It's obvious that Frey is a very deliberate sort of writer, as I very much felt like I was reading something beautifully crafted, with each detail contributing to the Big Picture in an very careful way. Nothing felt wasted. I can't say enough about the rawness of the language; it strikes that perfect balance between importance and subtlety, something a lot of writers struggle with.
The thought of reviewing this book intimidates me. I'm afraid I won't be able to capture how much I loved this book, how each word touched me in a wayThe thought of reviewing this book intimidates me. I'm afraid I won't be able to capture how much I loved this book, how each word touched me in a way I won't forget. I have not read anything this profound in a long time, something so layered and symbolic of life, love, being... I feel like Andrew Davidson reached out and wrote the perfect book for me, and it just so happens he received the largest advance in Canadian publishing history for doing it. Well deserved, my friend, well deserved indeed.
The story gripped me from the very beginning, with the description of the crash and burning of The Narrator (nice touch that we never discover his name, even when Marianne carves it on her chest). The description of The Narrator's disfigurement and subsequent recovery was almost too disturbingly vivid to read, yet I was also way too invested and enthralled to turn away. After this, I was absolutely fascinated by the story of these two people, two outcasts of society, finding each other once again after 700 years of separation. This is a story of rebirth, and how a kind of renewed sense of life is sometimes required to be able to love completely. The language used to tell this wholly unique story was crisper than crisp, and I was left wanting to devour the words like I would a favourite dish.
I'm afraid this is really all I can say, as I'm left lacking the words to describe this masterpiece of a book despite being exposed to such stellar composition. I'll just say this one last thing: this morning I had 130 pages left to read, and I considered calling in sick to work so I could finish. I unfortunately couldn't, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't pull the book out at the office to sneak a few pages in while no one was looking....more
Only two books have ever moved me to tears: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and The Cellist of Sarajevo.
I'm a little speechless regarding how thiOnly two books have ever moved me to tears: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and The Cellist of Sarajevo.
I'm a little speechless regarding how this book made me feel. While I fully acknowledge that I could never in a million years know what it's like to live through such a brutal time in history, I think reading this book is (hopefully) the closest I will ever come. Via each of the three main characters, we are offered a heartbreaking yet strangely triumphant view of the Siege of Sarajevo that is just as large and important as it is reflective of the meticulous details of surviving such unfair and needless conflict. Each character is struggling to maintain the core of their being, each in their own way refusing to succumb to the baser elements of being human in a survivalist society. Whether it's walking rather than running across an intersection, refusing to shoot an unarmed enemy, or fetching water for an elderly neighbour, every character is still very much a human being, and not an animal among thousands of others just scrounging for enough scraps to survive.
This book is only partially about the brutality of war; it's about the humanity that can still exist within it. All I can say is, "Bravo."...more
I will remember this book for the rest of my life. I will remember the way my skin crawled as I read it, savouring all the horror, pain, restraint, anI will remember this book for the rest of my life. I will remember the way my skin crawled as I read it, savouring all the horror, pain, restraint, and marred beauty of its characters' lives. Anne-Marie MacDonald has left an unforgettable impression on my literary life, as I don't think I've ever read such a daring book.
I didn't expect this book to become a favourite. It's a good thing it did because it was damn huge, and it sucks reading 566 pages worth of crap. But at about fifty pages in, I started devouring it. It was like witnessing a train wreck (but as a thing of beauty); I simply couldn't look away. James' shameful "tendency" and his eventual confession to Frances, whose heavy, heavy burden was carried on my shoulders as I read her story. At times I couldn't believe what the author could do to her characters, and I sometimes felt like shaking her for it, almost as if refusing to believe these things would ever happen in real life. But they do. And Fall on Your Knees forces you to think about that, with undertones (and overtones, really) of the religious, cultural, and personal reasons for all the horrors of the world.
For a book containing such horrific content, however, it was beautifully written. MacDonald's style felt like a warm blanket, and I almost found myself sighing aloud as I read certain passages. I wasn't surprised when I returned to the very beginning of the book after having finished it, to find a short passage from Wuthering Heights. I had forgotten it was there, yet throughout the book I kept thinking about how much it read like the classic.
Two hundred years from now, this book will be considered a true classic....more
Excuse the pun, but this was, quite simply, a wonderful read. I've never read anything like it before. It makes me proud to know there are some trulyExcuse the pun, but this was, quite simply, a wonderful read. I've never read anything like it before. It makes me proud to know there are some truly great Canadian writers out there....more