Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review: A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri

Have you ever finished a book and afterward had your heart pounding, tears running down your cheeks because of how amazingly emotional and intense the last few chapters were? 

Yeah, this was one of those books. 

I wasn't into it right away, but it definitely didn't take me long to actually want to sit down and read it rather than doing something else. The premise was interesting and kept me in suspense, the writing was good, and the characters were fun to spend time with because their personalities were written so well.

A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea follows a portion of the life of a young girl, Saba, living in Iran during the 1980s. The prologue starts with a hazy memory that Saba has of her mom and twin sister getting on an airplane to go to America, but then after that her and her father don't hear from them again.I love how it's never obvious what happened to them, and even members of her family and people in her circle of caregivers in her village aren't really sure, even after she asks. It makes it so that the entire story doesn't just rest on the main character suddenly remembering. 

However, while the suspense of what happened is what moves the story forward, it really becomes a background piece to the real heart of the story, which is Saba's character. The book follows Saba from when she's fourteen to when she's in her late twenties, and her growth over that time while she struggles with her own choices and fears. Above all it is a story about the transformation of Saba's views of herself, others and the world around her that come as a result of her own life experiences. Saba's character is inspiring to me, not because of any determination or strength she has - in fact for a lot of the book, she spends time taking the easy way out - but because she learns and grows. Really, what more do you need to make a good character?

There is so much that is good about this book. Not only are all of the characters fleshed out and present within in the story, but the writing itself is exquisitely clever. I love when authors can write one sentence that reveals everything in a way that strikes you right in the heart. I don't know how some authors do it, draw out such emotion from me with just a handful of words. (Yes, it made me cry). 

A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is a well-written, beautiful book about a young woman’s life in Iran, and her finally coming to have the courage to stand up to herself, and I definitely think everyone should read it. 

You can find it on Goodreads here.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

CanLit Reviews: Across Canada by Story by Douglas Gibson

Across Canada by Story is written by Douglas Gibson, who is a former editor at a major Canadian publisher. Throughout his career he published many books by well known Canadian authors. Now he's stepped onto the other side of publishing to write books. His first book, Stories about Storytellers, is a memoir about some stories he knows about the famous authors he's worked with, which I have not read yet. 

Instead I skipped to his second book, Across Canada by Story. The summary gives the impression is about his tour across Canada putting on a show based on his book, but really it's a whole bunch of stories about Canadian authors and literary places across Canada."This book of mine," Douglas
Gibson writes in the section about author Hugh MacLennan, "I hope, will give you some sense of the importance, and the literary magic, of our geography." I think that line sums up the essence of the book pretty well. Across Canada by Story is all about drawing connections between Canadian places and the literary. 

However, it is definitely written for a very specific, very Canadian audience. If you're looking for an introduction to CanLit, this is definitely not the book. Gibson talks about the authors and events in his book as if you grew up hearing about these things, which I'm sure a lot of people have. Since I'm relatively new to the CanLit scene (and relatively young), I hadn't heard of a lot of the authors that he told stories about, so I think I lost some of the enjoyment of it as a result. 

But the writing is good, witty and upbeat, and the enthusiasm the author has for Canadian literature is evident. If you’ve heard of and know well the people and places he’s writing about, then I’m sure it makes a great, fun collection of little stories about beloved Canadian authors. If you haven’t, it’s obvious the Gibson isn’t catering to you. He doesn’t really go into much explanation and kind of assumes you know a lot about the CanLit literary scene, which I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that are knee-deep in that scene that would find this book delightful. It’s just because I wasn’t the target audience that I enjoyed it a little less, that’s all.

It has encouraged me to go and search out more CanLit though, because it’s made me realize how much I’ve been missing out on, even books that are considered classics in Canadian literature. While I did struggle to get through some parts of the book, thanks to mostly the organization of it (all the chapter section titles were at the beginning of the chapter, which made each section flow kind of awkwardly from one to the next), I did still enjoy some of the stories. I think my favourite story was about Will Ferguson (author of 419) working as a tour guide on PEI and pretending that he could speak Japanese.

The best part about this book, though, is how Douglas Gibson connects Canadian geography and places with not just Canadian books, but Canadian literary places such as indie bookstores, events, or even bookish people, like bookstore owners. He paints a picture of Canada and its literature that is rich with things to be discovered. If you’re passionate about Canadian literature and its history within Canada, and want to learn some quirky stories about your favourite Canadian authors to boot, I’d say definitely give this book a read. 

Also there is currently a giveaway for this book on Goodreads! If you'd like to try to win a copy, you can enter here.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Why You Should Read

I used to think that it was okay that some people didn’t read. Whatever, that was their life choice, not everyone is into reading. I mean, of course I wanted to everyone to be into reading because I love it, and I want to everyone to experience the awesomeness of reading like I do, but when it came down to it, people could do what they wanted.

Since then, I've changed my mind. Now, I think, yes, everyone should read. I don’t care what people read, I just want people to read, something, ANYTHING. I believe wholeheartedly in the quote by Frank Serafini about how there’s no one who doesn’t like to read, there’s just people who haven’t found the right book. There are billions of books out there, of all genres, and I’m sure that somewhere out there, you can find books that you enjoy, at your reading level and within your interests. 

Just looking at my family, you can see how diverse reading tastes are. I mostly read YA fiction and dabble in a bit of adult and nonfiction. My dad reads mostly nonfiction. My mom likes adult thrillers and mysteries. My brother will read anything as long as you literally hand it to him. My sister likes books based on movies, or fun MGs, or even better yet, fun MGs that have a movie adaptation. We definitely don’t all read the same thing, but we all read. I’ve come to believe that reading books is extremely important, and I’d almost say necessary. 

Why do I think reading is so important?

One reason is that through reading, I have the opportunity to enter into someone else’s experiences and thoughts. I don’t think there is anything that is more powerful than a book in helping people step into someone else's shoes. I have lived so many different lives, often very different than mine, through reading. 

I know that it's possible to learn about other people's experiences through TV or documentaries or YouTube videos. But I think that books are much more effective at doing this. Often, especially in fiction, you are forced to take on the perspective of the main character. Even in nonfiction, you’re reading from the perspective of the author. You are thrown directly into that person’s perspective, and you are tied to it through the words that you are putting into your brain. The most obvious example of this would be first-person fiction. You are privy to the very inner thoughts and feelings of someone who is not you. 

How amazing and powerful is that?

The power that books have in connecting you deeply to someone else’s experiences is so incredibly important. First of all, when you have internal access to someone else’s lives and experiences, or another place in history (depending on what the book is about), I think it is almost impossible not to develop empathy for that person. 

Not only are you drawn into creating a personal connection with the characters, author or situations you read about, but you become a participant in those experiences yourself. When you read, you don't experience things second-hand like you do when you watch things happen on TV. Through the characters or author, you are participating directly in the author/character’s experiences. I’m sure you’ve probably heard people talk about getting lost in the world of a book, or feeling like the characters or world was real. In a really good book, I forget who I am and where I am. I am completely taken over by the lives of who or what I’m reading about. 

As a result of that deep, personal connection with the world of the book, empathy for the characters in the book is almost inevitable. You know exactly how it feels because you basically experienced it yourself. 

Of course the most important thing is that in the end, it’s not just empathy for the characters or the author. In the end, it’s empathy for people, for humans in general. It’s empathy for the people around you in your life. 

First, characters help give you an understanding of other people’s perspectives and experiences, and then you can apply that to your own life. You can begin to understand and feel for other people, because you are now able to share in what other people experience, or know what other experiences are like. You can realize the multitude of other experiences outside of your own. This is also why I think it’s also incredibly important to read diversely – to read books with characters that have different abilities or skin colour than you, or books about places other than where you live. 

Of course, it doesn’t stop with empathy. Books also have power to open your mind to so much. Learning is a huge part of why I love reading. I love learning. Learning is important for moving the world forward, for helping to get rid of prejudices, to help realize past mistakes and move beyond them. 

There is so much to be discovered through the world of books, both fiction and nonfiction. In fiction, learning comes from what I’ve already talked about in regards to empathy and other people’s experiences. Fiction also helps you to learn about the essence of who we are as humans. I could tell you about countless YA books I’ve read that have taught me about what humans are like and the strength people can have through so many situations. And in both fiction and nonfiction, there is so much to learn about everything, every topic you could imagine. Different countries, different places, different people, science, history, conflict... the list goes on. 

I know that nowadays there is an infinite amount of information available, thanks to the internet. But I think what makes books unique is that personal connection I’ve already talked about, that connection between you the reader and either the characters or the author. There is something deeply intimate about reading a book, that creates an inner personal experience and connection that just can’t be achieved in the same way anywhere else.  

In order to truly learn empathy and other things about the world, it is definitely necessary to read widely, and diversely. I admit that I’m not the greatest at this always. I often like reading inside my comfort zone, who doesn’t? I’m working on it, though. The world is a huge place, and it encompasses billions of stories. Why should you limit yourself to learning about one specific, particular experience? Reading should not only be about identifying with experiences similar to your own, but also about learning about experiences vastly different from your own. Every time I read a book about something so very different from my own life’s experiences, it causes me to step back and think.

That’s another thing that books do – they make you think. Or I think that’s what they should do, anyway. If you’re reading diversely, about people’s experiences, then you end up thinking about those experiences and the implications of them in regards to your own life. Books have opened my mind to so many new ideas, or opened up different perspectives on old ideas, or they’ve forced me to re-examine my own thoughts and make me ask myself why I think a certain way. Or they’ve made me think about human experiences. I think about different things, depending what book I’m reading, but they make me think.

So of course, I think you should read. I think reading helps people empathize, learn about the world, and think critically. My mind is blown open a little bit more each time I read a book. I think if everyone read books, widely and diversely, the world would be just that little bit of a better place.

Also, I love reading, and I want everyone to love it as much as I do. Just don’t stop looking for that “right book”. And whatever you do, please, please read.


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