Brooklyn – Colm Toibin (2009)

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Sometimes I happen to pick up the perfect book to read for one reason or another, and Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn just ended up being one of those incredible experiences. I’d been having just an OK reading life lately – nothing too exciting (although the African-Am titles in Feb were great) – and was strolling around looking for a domestic novel of sorts: nothing that dramatic and with a good story about everyday lives with easily relatable characters. Brooklyn was a perfect storm of great reading for me, and, as you can probably surmise, I loved every minute of reading it.

It’s an Irish novel set in fairly recent times (mid-20th century?) with a young woman growing up in a small town with not much to offer her. Her family’s priest knows another Irish priest in Brooklyn who is willing to set her up with a new life out there in the already well-established Irish neighborhood and her parents feel that it’s an opportunity that she could not turn down. This novel follows that journey and protagonist Eilis Lacey as she travels forth into the great unknown and a new life.

Toibin is a well known Irish author (see review of his 2005 The Blackwater Lightship here), and after thoroughly enjoying my read of the Irish writer Edna O’Brien Country Girls trilogy of novels, thought this would be a good pick for now. Additionally, I’d just seen the really good film adaptation of Brooklyn the other day and after having really enjoyed that, thought I would do a brief compare-and-contrast (as you do).

So it’s a narrative arc that’s not really that thrilling when you look at it from a distance, but when you are immersed in Eilis’ life throughout the story, it was such a strong pull for me to continue reading to find out how things worked out for the characters. In fact, it was so strong that I ended up staying really late a couple of nights as I just had to find out what Eilis chose in the end. (And I’m a dormouse usually, sleeping-wise.)

I’m not sure what exactly was so perfect about this book. The writing was great, the narrative arc was strong (without being predictable), but I think it was the actual characters (especially Eilis and her friend Tony) who really pulled me back into the pages each time. I became so immersed in their story that whenever I did end up putting the book down (for sleep and life etc.), it was a struggle to not pick up the story at every chance that I could get.

It’s a great feeling to have such a connection with a book’s story and characters, so all praise must surely go to Toibin for inventing such characters and then writing about them in such a way that I was really pretty riveted for the whole read.

I know. This sounds a bit gushy, but if you’re looking for a REALLY good read, a read that sucks you in and then keeps you there (even when you’re doing something else), you may want to try Brooklyn. It will definitely end up on my list of favorite books for the year, and I’m jazzed to try more of his work now. It was longlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize and other big booky prizes, all of which it deserves if you ask me.

Highly recommended. (The film is good too, btw.)

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 119

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 119: Roll of red ribbon.

 

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day four years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

Swabbing the decks…

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Sorry that my posts haven’t been happening for a while. You know how blogging is – it waxes and wanes like life, and life became very busy there for a while. However, I think that we’re back on track now (or at least moving that way), and so I thought I’d take a second or two to catch things up with you on the old reading and other fronts.

Reading-wise: I have been reading, but it’s been slower than usual. I had some (more) facial nerve surgery the other day and that seems to have affected my vision, hearing, speech and facial muscles which was not expected and not supposed to happen at all. However, Mother Nature is a tough chick and I am an impatient patient so I’m hoping that things will slot themselves back into their normal places in one way or another very soon. In the meantime, it’s meant that I’ve been stymied with my usual lifestyle which has meant less reading and all that kind of thing. (Vision is important. :-))

It’s been an interesting experience that has affected everything else that I do, so it’s a bit of an adjustment for me (and we all know how flexible I can be with unpredictable and unexpected change). I think it will end up fine, but I’m just wanting it fine right now so it’s frustrating to have to wait and see. I may end up with a new normal of sorts, but it’s not something that we can predict with any certainty right now so it’s the waiting game for all involved. Grumble grumble grumble.

Happily, we had a lovely trip to Mexico sitting on the beach, reading and snoozing and messing around doing not much at all, and so that holiday (combined with the medical stuff) has slowed things down considerably. I did finish up an ILL on vacation which was good. (I have no idea why I thought it was a good idea to take someone else’s hard cover 500-page book with me on hols, but there you go.)

“It’s the patriotic duty of every woman to knit – not only for men in the service but for those at home as well….”

book375Called “No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting” by Anne L. Macdonald (1988), this was a fairly straight-forward recall of a somewhat rather specialized recounting of domestic history in the U.S. of, you’ve guessed it, knitting. I had read this a few years ago and had wanted to reread it and it arrived just in time for me to lug, I mean carry, across the many miles between here and Playa Mujeres.

It’s always a bit of a risk when you do a reread, isn’t it, and this gamble was not bad/not good. Just rather neutral and I think that’s part and parcel of reflecting how you change and evolve over the years and experiences. Last time I had read it, I was new to fiber art and to domestic history and so thought this was the complete Bee’s Knees.

This time, I didn’t think it was bad at all but it didn’t quite strike the tone of Happy that I was hoping for and I take complete responsibility for that interpretation. The book contents haven’t changed so it must have been me who has, and I think I’m just a more experienced reader in the world of social and domestic history. Plus – the world of knitting (rather specialized even on a good day) was not really jibing with the view of the tropical beach that was right in front of me. I have no idea why I didn’t put the huge brick down and pick up another title more appropriate to the time and place, but there you go. Who says that humans are logical and rational?

book374 (2)So, the read was fine – not bad at all, but perhaps not suited for the occasion. Additionally, I was petrified that the ILL volume would get damaged in some manner from either the beach or a drink mishap and so the whole thing was rather fraught. I’m glad that I’ve finished it, I’m glad that I read it, but I think that now I can safely cross this list off my TBR/Reread records for the rest of my days (or at least until I get senile in which case it might be a whole new read…)

And now I’m bobbing around thinking about what to read next. After such a mammoth (page length wise) read, I’m know that I’m going to choose a shorter read. My track history of reading and finishing Scary Big Books  has been littered with failure so at least it wasn’t that and honestly, it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the read or anything. I did. I think it was just a timing situation that fell afoul of things more so.

Taking a bigger picture look, I’m glad that I can still read and do fun things, and now, as I rub my hands with glee, I get to choose a whole other book for me to dive into. As a fellow book nerd, I think that you can probably relate to this squee experience and so I’m looking forward to trawling through my shelves and seeing what flings its little way into my hands. I honestly have no idea which title it will be so I’m rather excited at this prospect. I’ll let you know as I know it’s going to be hard for you to sleep and concentrate in your own lives until this decision has been sorted out.:-)

book376I also happened to find a copy of the coffee book Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” (here is its blog) and I stayed up rather late last night reading this. Humans can be so very interesting and I adored reading this book.:-)

And had a quick read of Z. Z. Packer’s short story collection, “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”, which I loved. Short story collections can be a patchy thing for me at times, but I enjoyed this whole collection so go Z. Z. and thanks for that.

You know another good thing? It’s been pouring with rain the last few days (a notable occasion in this semi-arid city) and so the garden is looking happy and green. It’s quite strange to me just how surprised I get each and every summer when the garden suddenly springs to life before the endless hot summer months arrive, and I love it. (Speaking of plants, we checked with a Plant Expert Friend of ours who recommended repotting the failing ficus tree. This has been done and now we wait to see if things improve. (Updates as warranted.)

I’m off to choose a book!

Me, myself and I….

memyselfandiSo it seems that my reading levels had gone rather down in the past week or two. Pausing to examine this rather unsettling state of affairs, I can only blame my whispery concentration from the brain surgery and a large temptation from the Cross-Stitch and other Gods. I started doing some cross-stitch again last fall, and since I have picked it up, it’s difficult to put down at times and time just disappears down a fiber-art vacuum or something.

Plus – I’m not sure that I was totally sold on the book that I was reading at the time, so there was lots of picking up and putting down, when it probably would have been a better reading experience to just pick up and stay reading it instead of the constant interruptions. Oh well. The vagaries of a reading life…

So now the title that I was struggling with has now been returned to the library with a sign of relief and the ever-asked question of why it didn’t happen before now. Aaah, time mis-spent.

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In the meantime, we’re ploughing through House of Cards Season 4 (be still my heart!) which just goes from strength to strength in the narrative plot line, with an occasional spritz of the evergreen Doc Martin (English TV) with a palate-cleansing Baskets (FX with Zach Galifianakis) in between. Baskets is a clever and rather poignant story of a failed clown (Galifianakis) trained in a French school but now a failed rodeo clown, with a family that’s doing its best but even that’s not very good. To call it a comedy would be a stretch (although that is what its category is), but it’s a good oddball and rather strange show if you like that sort of thing.

Oh, and having a bit of an ongoing struggle with my ficus tree. I know that they are very sensitive to change, but mine looks rather spindly and the leaves are very dry and only barely attached to the branches. Does anyone have any ideas on how to help my tree? I spray it almost every day to help with moisture content (as I live in a very dry place), it’s getting fed, it is getting watered (without over-watering, I think), I don’t move it or give it any extra stress…. Am I missing something?

ficus

I’m also working my way through an on-line lettering class (not calligraphy but more like the lettering on chalkboards at coffee shops). Having fun, and I am hoping the new skills will transfer to my rather appalling handwriting to make it at least legible for people who aren’t me.:-)

And then we spent a few days hanging out here in Mexico… (Bliss.)

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And then I had some more surgery for my facial pain. (Long story.)

And then we went to Chipotle for supper the other day and saw that they had a PR push wrt very short stories on their cups…. Good going, Chipotle.

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And I read a bit.:-)

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 118

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 118: Ball of wool.

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day four years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 117

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 117: Large poppy flower.

 

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day four years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

Things on Cowboy’s Head No.116

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Things on Cowboy’s Head No. 116: Large plastic peg.

Cowboy had been coughing and so we finally bit the bullet, bought her a crate that is big enough for her (as opposed to making her look like a just-fed tick in a wire cage), and off we tootled off to the vet.

Oh. My. God. It was a never-ending and tense visit due to me being unable to communicate with Cowboy that she wasn’t going to instantly die right then in the examination room and that the vet wasn’t going to kill her.

Who knew that cats dribble when they’re stressed out?

So – she’s fine, physical-health-wise. However, I am pretty sure that it was enough to give Cowboy PTSD, and I don’t know that she’ll get to the vet any time soon after this visit. She’s working on giving me forgiveness for this evil transgression.

(Plus the kindly vet called her “overly conditioned” which is a nice euphemism for being… <whispers whilst covering Cowboy’s ears with my hands> rather round, shall we say?)

(Plus – get this: Cowboy is actually closer to being ten years old. I had thought she was around six or so, but ten? OAP status.)

Moving on to happier topics…

Background Note: Cowboy is one of our cats who showed up out of the blue one snowy January day four years ago. Since then, she has made us her Forever Home (which works with us). She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot (Olympic-level) and she eats a lot.

All of these points are helpful with this project that I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)