Archive for August, 2021

Five Novels Set in France

Monday, August 30th, 2021

These five novels are set in France. Not all are written by French authors but all tell of some experience, either fictional or biographical, of living in France.

Muriel Barbery – The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog tells the story of the main character Renee, a seemingly unassuming concierge of an elegant Paris building. She hides her true self from her tenants and thrives in her own secret world of philosophy and literature. The novel takes on a political aspect and studies the theme of class divides whilst at the same time showing the brightness and beauty that life has to offer.

Ernest Hemingway – A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast is a personal account of Hemingway’s memories of living in Paris as an as-yet-unknown writer. Hemingway nostalgically documents his life during the 1920s which involved much drinking and spending time writing in cafe La Closerie des Lilas. The novel provides accounts of other literary figures living in the area at the time such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.

Jack Kerouac – Satori in Paris

Key Beat writer Jack Kerouac travels to France to learn more about his heritage in this 1966 novel. As with many of Kerouac’s novels it is also a journey of spiritual enlightenment and Zen Buddhism. In tracing his roots he comes across a variety of people and the tale is told in the familiar spontaneous prose style of Kerouac’s other works.

George Orwell – Down and Out in Paris and London

Orwell’s first published novel, the semi-autobiographical Down and Out in Paris and London provides a portrait of society’s poor in the two cities of the title. The first part of the novel tells of his time in Paris. In order to survive the narrator works long hours as a poorly paid dishwasher, whilst in London he faces poverty and lives with the homeless. The Paris section of the novel is based on his personal experiences in the city after a situation where, after having had his money stolen, he took on low paid menial jobs.

Patrick Suskind – Perfume

An eery tale, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is an unwanted orphan with an incredible sense of smell but no personal odour of his own. This repulses other people and he in turn is sickened by them and their smells. He comes across a beautiful scent and finds that is it that of a young woman.

The novel shows the strength that scent has on emotions and how it influences others. Grenouille dedicates his life to preserving smells and this leads to the murder of young virgins to create a perfect scent that manipulates human emotions. Perfume takes a look at the perception of identity and how this affects human relationships.

Review – Beijing Coma by Ma Jian: Modern Chinese Literature Is Pushed Forward By Ma Jian’s New Novel

Saturday, August 28th, 2021

The student movement leading to the Tiananmen Square massacre and life in modern China are examined through this fictional account of a student leader attending Beijing University. Tracing his life and the impacts of living under China’s authoritarian regime, Ma Jian provides insights into how China’s changes are largely superficial. Ranging from China’s Cultural Revolution to the crackdown on Falun Gong, Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma is a stunning and ambitious novel bearing witness to events that should not be forgotten.

From The Cultural Revolution to Tiananmen Square

As a child, Dai Wei’s father was condemned to work in education camps as China cannibalized itself during its Cultural Revolution. Raised by his mother, he experiences the rapidly changing China of the 1980s with its beginnings of market liberalization. Ma Jian paints a personal story as he explores Dai Wei’s young love life and the abuses he faces by a rigid, rule-focused society focused on conformity.

As Dai Wei traces his father’s journey in work camps, he begins to expose the violent history that China would assume to forget, providing his own basis for later radicalization.

As a student at Beijing University, Dai Wei finds himself living with several progressive-minded friends which taps into his own desires to rebel against the repression that has punished his family and affected his life. He eventually becomes the head of security for the student movement allowing him to observe the student movement from its exuberant and naïve beginnings to its violent end. Throughout the novel, Ma Jian weaves the lives of Dai Wei’s friends into the narrative creating memorable, tragic profiles.

A large portion of the novel follows the hunger strike and occupation of Tiananmen Square. Confusion of names and rapid actions provide the sense of how energizing, vibrant, and disorienting the experience must have been. As head of security, Dai Wei observes the power struggles and battling egos of the exuberant and occasionally self-serving student leaders. Ma Jian’s vivid writing style creates a fast-paced story and his insights into the personal as well as political give Beijing Coma a strong balance.

The Tiananmen Square massacre and its descriptions in Beijing Coma are particularly brutal and graphic. Ma Jian conveys the sense of being an eyewitness, and watching the innocence of the students robbed by tanks and rifles is horrifying. The impending danger the students face invests Beijing Coma with urgency despite knowledge of the outcome.

Check it: Review of Four Letter Word by Knelman and Porter: Top Writers Explore the Modern Love Letter

Modern Chinese History

Dai Wei was shot in the head during the Tiananmen Square massacre leaving him in a coma. Living incapacitated, he relies on his memory to tell the narrative of his life, while his mother cares for him. Beijing Coma weaves two narratives together, the struggle of the students and Dai Wei’s actions are told in flashback through his memories, while his mother’s efforts to care for him are recounted as well.

Living in a coma for ten years, Dai Wei is visited by friends who relay a changing China to him while his mother finds ways to provide for his care. As a victim of the massacre, his mother faces government retribution and his health care is supported through unofficial channels and a reliance on faith healers. As Dai Wei sleeps, China undergoes rapid change, but the paranoia and repression of the government never end.

As his mother becomes a member of Falun Gong, a banned Chinese sect, the family undergoes greater difficulty, finally facing forcible eviction to build a new shopping center.

Ma Jian, whose previous work Stick Out Your Tongue, was banned in China, writes a provocative novel about being human in a repressive country. The callousness, paranoia, and cruelty of the government, and society, are buoyed by the earnest hopes of students fighting for democracy in China. As he sees his father, his himself, and then his mother affected by the machinations of the government over the decades, the sense that China hasn’t changed filters through.

Beijing Coma is centered on tragedy and is mottled with dark humor throughout, creating an entertaining and thought-provoking example of contemporary Chinese fiction.

Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis – Literature Review: Challenging Aspects of The Other, Disability, Superficiality

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

If there was an admonishment in literary form that gestured towards the maxim that one should not judge a book by its cover, Kafka’s Metamorphosis could be considered as such. The bizarre and darkly comedic tale masterfully obscures the particulars necessary to nail down details that a reader is normally used to navigating – literary signposts that in Metamorphosis have been displaced entirely.


A Multiplicity of Meaning – an “Ice Axe to Break the Seas Frozen Inside our Soul

Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis is a short and rather matter-of-fact tale of Mr Gregor Samsa – a travelling commercial salesman who is dedicated to both his work and his family. Gregor provides his family with nearly the entirety of his earnings, to be spent on sustaining his mean-spirited and abusive father’s retirement as well as sending his younger sister to the Conservatory to study classical violin.

Awaking one morning to find himself transformed into some sort of spider/beetle amalgam, Gregor’s first thoughts run towards his work duties and responsibilities to his family – not to shock and horror at his own grotesque form, as the overwhelming majority of people would be more likely to do in reality. This blatant suspension of disbelief lends a comic edge in the form of absurdism, perhaps necessary black humour in an otherwise grim tale.

After Gregor’s immediate pressures have ceased – his Manager has seen his new form and was duly scared off, his family has seen him and prefer to ignore him – the novel settles into deep contemplation. As time passes, Gregor’s bedroom becomes filthier, more besotted with debris – his own hygiene becomes questionable. His family, without his income, becomes emotionally strained and financially overburdened – having to accommodate lodgers while working at various jobs.

Through the Eyes of Another – “It Could Happen to You!”

Metamorphosis is told from Gregor’s point of view, as The Other, secluded and forcibly separated from his previous life, society, and even his family. Several parallels are drawn with a disability, not only the most obvious manifestations (Gregor’s spiderlike legs are crushed violently several times, and he is nearly fatally wounded by his father) but also in the patronizing and strained relationship that immediately develops between the new Gregor and his family.

The beauty of reading Kafka is that he is able to relate powerful and timeless concepts in such an eccentric and terse manner. How many who read Metamorphosis will be unable to relate to or at least empathize with, Gregor – a positive and ambitious young man who does the best he can for his family. And how many still will question why Gregor was chosen for such a cursed fate – surely he did not deserve such a tragic and hopeless end?

How fair is a capitalist system that chains a man like Gregor Samsa to an exhaustive, ill-paying job while healthy and discards him as useless fodder the moment he becomes useless in the pursuit of capital? How strong is familial love amongst family circles strained by poverty, disability, chronic illness, and ageing?

The answers to these implied questions illuminate the wry and subtle character behind Kafka’s work here in Metamorphosis as well as in The Trial and The Castle – a poetic and highly human insight into hopeless struggles that are part-and-parcel of the human experience.

Review – I Have The Right To Destroy Myself: Modern South Korean Literature From Young-Ha Kim

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

Playing with the tired themes of sex and death and bordering at times on sensationalism, Young-Ha Kim’s I Have the Right to Destroy Myself is still an engrossing read. Korea, and its heart of Seoul, is a dizzying place of high technology and modernity, but lurking beneath are dark desires and a disconnection with the surrounding world. This novel and its nihilistic characters prove memorable if at times slightly melodramatic read.

Modern Korean Literature

Young-Ha Kim’s I Have the Right to Destroy Myself is narrated by an anonymous person who facilitates the suicides of others. After completing a job, he then writes their story with the novel consisting of two women who make use of his services. The apathy of the characters, adrift and depressed, reflects the alienation of many in post-modern societies. The novel is dark and brooding, filled with meaningless sex and preposterous characters, but despite this, it remains engaging.

The novel focuses on various stories with the competitive brothers K and C being focal characters. They each are engaged in a relationship with a woman nicknamed Judith, called so after a Gustav Klimt painting. K is a speed-addicted taxi driver searching for meaning in his life while his brother C, a video artist, sheds those around him. As Judith mysteriously disappears, K struggles while C moves onto Mimi, a performance artist also utilizing the services of the narrator.

The middle section of the novel focuses on the narrator’s brief affair with a woman in Europe. Also dissatisfied, she is not at the point where she chooses death. The narrator and many of the characters come across as slightly affected with slightly forced references to art throughout the book. The narrator’s character is not really explored or developed, and the interlude fails to provide much depth to the story.

Check it: Review: Some Prefer Nettles – Junichiro Tanizaki: Tanizaki’s Novella Explores a Divorce in a Changing Japan

A Short Asian Novel

As K and C confront longing and death, and while the characters muse on art and life, the novel moves towards its ending. Although the plot is minimal, the writing conveys a sense of alienation and hopelessness which aids the story tremendously. The motivations of the characters, and their desire for suicide, are barely touched upon, while the conflict between K and C is only superficially explored. The novel however is short and is a good opportunity to explore a young Asian voice reflecting some of the concerns of his society.

Short Story Review – Maria L Bombal’s The Tree: Magic Realism in Latin American Fiction

Friday, August 20th, 2021

In brief, magic realism refers to an art or literary style in which the everyday is juxtaposed with the marvelous. In her short story, “The Tree” Maria Luisa Bombal uses elements of magic realism to present a complicated discourse about the human experience: how we strive to find meaning in our lives and to make connections with others, but often fail in these attempts; and how we sometimes have insights into ourselves and others, but often fail to fully understand or act upon those insights.

Bombal dramatizes the complexity of human experience in a narrative world where there is no boundary between reality and dreams.

Magic Realism Defined

Magic realism was first coined in 1925 by German art critic Franz Roh and was later adopted by Latin American writers from the 1940s onward. As it applies to fiction, the term refers to a way of writing that employs realism in representing ordinary events and descriptive details combined with fantastic and dreamlike elements and materials derived from myth and fairytales.

Maria Luisa Bombal’s “The Tree”

In “The Tree,” Bombal employs magic realist techniques to chronicle a woman’s journey toward understanding the truth of her failed marriage. The story begins with the everyday: a woman, Brigida, is sitting in the audience of a classical piano concert thinking about her childhood.

As she listens to the music, her mind wanders through the past, first to the idyllic garden of her youth when all possibilities seemed to open before her and her ex-husband, Luis, were still romantic and playful. It appears that Brigida may have been idealizing her past, however, when she suddenly realizes that she did not marry her husband for love.

Brigida’s dreamy memories gradually give way to visions of a disappointing and lifeless past. It is the first year of her marriage to Luis, a man who seems to have married her out of habit, and she thirsts for a love he cannot provide. In this loveless marriage, Brigida finds a place that eases the sadness of her awakenings: it is her dressing room where she can watch the gum tree outside of her window. Bombal uses the image of the tree to illustrate the way that Brigida creates her own reality.

The foliage of the tree reflected in her mirrors recedes into an infinite forest that prevents Brigida from truly seeing the reflection of herself and her life.

Throughout the rest of the story, until Brigida arrives at her final, most important insight, the everyday events of her marriage to Luis are juxtaposed with the marvelous fantasy world of her dressing room. As her marriage slowly deteriorates and she realizes she no longer loves her husband, the dressing room becomes her place to escape. The room is at once liberating and constraining; Brigida creates a space for herself to escape, but that same space also allows her to maintain a psychological distance from her life.

It is here that Brigida convinces herself that there is certain greatness in accepting her life as something definitive and irremediable.

It is not until the gum tree is felled, because the roots are raising the paving stones of the sidewalk, that Brigida is torn from the fantasy world that she has created for herself. When the tree is gone, her dressing room is invaded by white, terrifying light. Brigida’s private space is taken away and she finds herself wondering how she has remained married to Luis in a loveless marriage for so long.

The loss of her sheltering tree and its filtered light is the catalyst that brings Brigida to her final insight in the present, that she left her husband because of the tree, because she could finally understand her reality and realized there could be more to her life than placidity, submission, and resignation.

The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. ©

At the Heart of Magic Realism

Bombal’s story illustrates that magic realism is more than just combining realism with fantastic and dreamlike elements. It is also about complex imagery, a metafictional awareness of creating fiction, experimentation with different narrative techniques, and a blurring of the traditional boundaries between fiction and reality. And yet, perhaps, despite the labyrinthine structure and meaning of her text, Bombal is trying to reveal what is at the heart of magic realism.

Perhaps she is trying to tell us that if we open our minds to the fantastic in our own lives, our experiences will be enriched and we will come to understand that what is most marvelous is also most human.

Review: Some Prefer Nettles – Junichiro Tanizaki: Tanizaki’s Novella Explores a Divorce in a Changing Japan

Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

Kaname and Misako are trapped in a loveless marriage, but each lacks the courage to enter into a divorce. Considerations of face, timing, and reluctance to tell their young son Hiroshi of their pain lock them in a downward spiral of depression. While Kaname remains indecisive, he also discovers a longing for life in a more traditional Japan. As Misake and Kaname drift apart, this nostalgia reinforces the alienation experienced in a rapidly changing society.

Classic Japanese Novel

Misako, under Kaname’s tacit support, has begun an extra-marital affair. She wants to leave Kaname, who again expresses his desire for the West through a relationship with, Louise, a Eurasian courtesan. Kaname and Misako have begun to resent each other, but their personalities prevent them from making the final step towards separation. Tanizaki writes in a lucid style and does an admirable job of bringing their personalities to the fore.

Although much of the story is told from Kaname’s perspective, he lends weight to Misako and Hiroshi’s psychological makeups as well.

Some Prefer Nettles opens with Kaname and Misako attending a play upon an invitation from Misako’s father. Misako who aspires to be a modern woman with cultivated Western tastes is offset by her father’s young mistress, O-hisa. Kaname and Misako have difficulty in divorcing partly due to society’s expectations and being beholden to a more traditional standard. Although Misako’s lover is expected to take her in, divorce brings a sense of disgrace which the family would like to avoid.

Globalization in Japan

Kaname and Misako envision themselves as a modern Tokyo couple with predominately Western tastes. They enjoy Hollywood films, foreign literature, and Western food. Written in the 1920s, Some Prefer Nettles reflects a rapidly changing Japan, where cultural tastes have begun to differ and old ways have begun to die out. Kaname experiences personal turmoil as he discovers a preference for Japan he experienced in his childhood. Will he recapture his past or stay trapped in the present?

Kaname becomes intrigued with Japan’s past through Misako’s father and his strong adherence to traditionalism. His obsession with traditional trappings brings Kaname to traditional Japanese Puppet theatre. Kaname feels a stirring of nostalgia, and despite his Tokyo upbringing, he learns to appreciate the arts of Osaka. Some Prefer Nettles places Tokyo at the forefront of Japanese society while Osaka and Kyoto reflect a different class and period of time.

As Kaname delves into Japan’s artistic past and visits the countryside, he begins to question his current identity, while Tanizaki plays with the perspectives of tradition and modernity of different cities.

Female Characters in Japanese Literature

Tanizaki writes from a male perspective and this gives his female characters a certain flatness. Despite this, the archetypes presented to give insight into Tanizaki’s mind. O-hisa, forced into traditional roles by Misako’s father becomes Kaname’s ideal woman, despite his obsession with a Eurasian lover, and the modern tastes he and his wife prefer. O-hisa is being instructed in the arts of a geisha although she wishes for modern life.

Misako represents the women of a dynamically changing Japan. Still strongly rooted in the cages of culture, her want of freedom and ability to express herself make her Kaname’s equal.

Kaname finds himself choosing to prolong his loveless marriage with modernity through Misako and Louise or choosing the traditionalism represented by O-hisa. His obsession with tradition and O-hisa can be read as a desire for control. Kaname is lost in modern Japan and can only be sure of himself by mimicking Misako’s father who dominates O-hisa. This longing for surety remains undefined but encapsulates the emotions of many lovers and those disaffected by globalization.

Free Online Literature Reviews for Parents and Teachers

Monday, August 16th, 2021

For many parents and teachers, the cost of receiving regular journals or publications keeps them from staying on top of current children’s literature. The two sites discussed here are both free to access and filled with resources and information to keep parents and teachers on the cutting edge.

The Looking Glass Online Journal

The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Books is an online journal about children’s literature, which has been in operation since 1997. It is written, published and edited by volunteers who come from all the fields that surround children literature, such as writers, teachers, publishers, and librarians. Many contributors have ties to other literary works, such as the journals Children’s Literature, Quill and Quire, The Alan Review. It is therefore a very reliable source of academic articles, which are kept archived online for public access.

Due to its fluidity, the structure of the journal has varied, but it tries to publish three journals per year, in January, April and September. Each issue contains a number of different pieces, but they are all arranged according to categories that are supervised by individual editors. Clear headings make it easy to find articles that will be relevant and interesting to whatever work one might be doing at the time, both in the current issue and in the archives.

The articles are filled with information about how to interpret, present, and apply a diverse number of texts, but the most interesting thing about this resource for teachers is the openness of its submission process. It provides a forum for teachers to not only read and think about but also write and share their thoughts on the vast genre of children’s literature. This possibility would be a great asset to both personal and professional development.

Check it: Short Story Review – Maria L Bombal’s The Tree: Magic Realism in Latin American Fiction

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre is the center for a number of resources, including extensive links to authors’ websites and highlights from their two major publications: Canadian Children’s Book News and Our Choice. While the website format can be confusing and at times overwhelming, the resources available are definitely worth the time.

Among the highlights are very extensive lists of authors’ and illustrators’ websites as well Canadian publishing companies’ homepages, and selections from their publications. There is a good book review section, which is also tied to the Fleck Award for Children’s Non-Fiction, an award administrated by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

In addition to the free information available on the website, a $60 individual subscription grants access to the quarterly publications, and a $135 association membership would provide a school or library with even more resources and materials. This is a good resource for teachers particularly because of its Canadian content, and the number of links it provides to the ever-changing but always valuable resources available online and across Canada.

Both of these websites can provide book reviews and academic articles to keep parents and teachers involved in what their children and students are reading, and engaged in what those texts are really all about. For more information about printed journals to use in schools and libraries, have a look at Children’s Literature Reviews for Teachers and Parents.

Review of Four Letter Word by Knelman and Porter: Top Writers Explore the Modern Love Letter

Thursday, August 12th, 2021

What is the modern love letter? According to Victor Hugo in the nineteenth century, such communication was a “kiss in the post.” Classic historical examples are celebrated for their drama and emotional openness.

The collection Love Letters of Great Men, of Sex and the City fame, has many eloquent examples of men prepared to put their hearts in their beloved’s hands. To make such romantic declarations in our more cynical, scientific age, however, would seem at best insincere, at worst psychotic. What makes a good love letter today?

Technology and the Modern Love Letter in Four Letter Word

Four Letter Word is a selection of fictional love letters by celebrated writers, including Jeanette Winterson and Douglas Coupland. There are many references to modern technology such as texting and Facebook, but only one is actually written in the style of an email.

Lionel Shriver’s contribution is a series of increasingly desperate communications from Alisha to Seymour, a man she had a one-night stand with. The emotional, romantic style is totally inappropriate in this modern form and shows the suspicion given to overt declarations of love in our era. Indeed, Shriver seems to be satirizing the convoluted style of previous centuries. We are invited to laugh at the melodramatic Alisha.

Neil Gaiman in Four Letter Word

Neil Gaiman’s creeping, obsessive letter tells a darker story. The narrator has been watching his object of desire and has found out information about her through Facebook. This is a common fear – many fear being stalked, and many perfectly sane people do not openly state their adoration for fear of being seen as overly intense. The possible reasons for this cynicism are complex. Is it the news, which can bring the horrors of the world into our lives twenty-four hours a day? Perhaps many people are struggling to cope in our technically more detached modern era.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in Four Letter Word

Tellingly, one of the most positive contributions is also the most down-to-earth. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s calm, the rational letter ends with a casual, “So yes, I suppose we should begin to talk of the possibility of getting married soon.” The absence of histrionics makes it all the more believable. Chioma’s refusal to directly declare her love for Emeka ironically shows how much she does love him. Understatement seems more appropriate now.

Rosalind Porter comments on the ‘mountain of grief’ in her introduction, and certainly love is a dark subject in this engaging collection. The traditional format of most of the letters shows that, when dealing with personal feelings, technological innovations can seem too distant. Indeed, in one anonymous contribution, the narrator writes to the people she loves after ignoring their emails and phone calls. It seems the physical act of putting pen to paper is still the most meaningful in the twenty-first century.

How to Have a Great Book Group: Tips for a Book Club You’ll Love

Monday, August 9th, 2021

It’s never just a game when you’re winning.

If you are thinking of starting up a book group in your area, then welcome to the club! The popularity of book groups has grown massively in recent years. Despite the explosion of online and social media, books remain as popular and beloved as always. In fact, online media can help to promote books…

A book club is a great way to connect with other people and share a love of books – and it’s free – or at least, cheap! It’s also really easy to set up. So if you want to start a local book club/group, these tips are for you. They’re by no means the be all and end all, but they’re born of experience.

Top Three Tips for Starting a Book Club/Group

  1. Throw it open to everyone – You can do this by putting up posters around where you live or perhaps you can get a free advert in the local magazine. Ask for initial interest, and give your phone number and those of any friends setting the club up with you. All you need is a phone call or two back, and you’re ready to roll. By all means, also spread the news of the club by word of mouth, but open advertising will make sure it remains a club – not a clique.
  2. Make sure everyone is included – Some book groups like to set discussion questions, others simply listen to each other’s views on the book and the discussion flows from that. Whichever you choose, it is a good idea to make sure that everybody gets the chance to speak at some point. Some people are shy and won’t speak until they’re asked to. Going round the circle letting everyone speak in turn is one good way to include everybody.
  3. Choose books to review that are new to the whole group – If someone nominates a childhood favourite as a set discussion book, it can potentially make the discussion afterwards a bit awkward. Particularly if someone else thought it was terrible.

Four More Tips for a Great Book Club

  1. Hold it at member’s houses in rotation – It’s cheaper and comfier and you get to see the insides of each other’s houses – and nose people’s book collections! Plus the hostess or host gets the chance to provide drinks and snacks for the group.
  2. Do other things besides discussing the set book – Bring and talk about old favourites and new discoveries, swap books, quote from blogs and share favourite poems. This way it won’t be a big deal if someone didn’t get to read or finish the main book.
  3. Cap the numbers – Once the group gets to a reasonable size, you’ll have to stop letting new members join. It’s an obvious point, but many more than about 10 or 12 and there won’t be time for a full discussion. Plus you won’t all fit in the living room.
  4. Go online – A book group is really easy to set up on Facebook and it helps the group to organise and communicate. You can also continue discussions online – and invite as many extra members as you like.

A Few Further Hints

  1. Read book reviews online or browse bookshops and read their in-house reviews to help choose a book that will go down well. But don’t worry if you don’t think you’ll like the chosen book. Differences of opinion make for better discussions.
  2. Books cost money. But the internet has made ordering books cheaply much easier. Some libraries lend out sets of books for clubs, but the choice is likely to be more limited. A book club is a journey. Hopefully, these tips will help steer it towards an enjoyable and rewarding book sharing experience.

More: Tips for Book Club Organizers: How to Make a Book Group Run More Smoothly

Sacred Ground – Where Religion and Magic Meet: Magical Realism Mediates

Saturday, August 7th, 2021

The overtones of magic present themselves in more beguiling hues, stretching from pagan forests where sanguinary rites sometimes are still practiced to the richly incensed halls of the Catholic Mass. Magical realism is a form of literature in which both religion and magic not only meet but reconcile their differences.

Magical Realists Ask, “What is Real?”

Magicians and magical realists perceive reality as something malleable, plastic, layered, and spirit-infused. Poet, Wallace Stevens offered a magical realist definition of reality, “Reality is not what it is. It consists of many realities which it can be made into.” While concrete realists may seek crisp portraits of immutability, magical realism delivers a world in which the fantastical exists alongside the dancing atoms of brick and mortar.

Magical Realism and the New Gnosticism

The Gnostic experience of mystical revelation, that is, the direct experience of the divine or another world to the seeker is fundamental in magical realism. Such a leap into transpersonal experience eclipses the notion of faith, blurring semantic lines, in order to perceive clarity amid the apparent chaos of a work of encyclopedic myth and religious experience. Joseph Campbell‘s lifelong research of myth, on a worldwide scale, consistently arrives at a central thesis: unity is found in multiplicity.

Although heroes and experiences may be masked differently, humans have utilized myth with its accouterments of magic and mysticism to seek a transpersonal relationship with the Divine. Magical realists have used this journey as an inspirational tool.

Magic Is Not So Alien to Mainstream Religion

Magical and mystical thinking continues to exist, and in some cases flourish, almost rebelliously, in the margins of many mainstream religions, those that still cling to mystical roots. These religions include Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Native American religions.

Traditional Catholics might object to the use of the word “magic” in reference to their religion; however, miracles are noted to be occurrences in that system of beliefs. The notable quotidian miracle is transubstantiation, taken by the faithful as the literal changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.

The miracles of saints who achieve the consciousness of the Christos and alchemical-like abilities are myriad within the Catholic pantheon of spiritual masters. The traditional Catholic might eschew the label of “magical” as applied to her religion because of the historical connection with witchcraft and pagan mythologies. The magical realists work through historical labels to seek common human experience, which they see as mixing the ordinary with what is extraordinary, but still natural.

Check it: Types of Allegorical Novels: Spiritual Journey, Human Experience, Political and Social Satire

Summer Reading List for Book Lovers

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021

Summer is the perfect season to lay out in the sun or in the shade of a tree with a good book and a tall glass of lemonade. For book lovers, summer can be the perfect time to catch up on a list of books that have been waiting to be read. From the beach to the swimming pool, there are a number of books that any book lover should pick up.

Beach Reads for Book Lovers

Beach reads are fun, light, easy reading for taking along on vacation –whether that vacation leads to a beach or not. Having a few fun books along for reading during travel and vacation downtime ensure that there is never a dull moment.

  • The Passage by Justin Cronin was released in 2010, and tells the story of a post-apocalyptic America overrun by vampires. Cronin’s take on the vampire mythos is sure to satisfy older readers and teens that are growing bored with the Twilight fad. Although Cronin utilizes the common motif of a military experiment gone wrong to create the setting for The Passage, there is much more under the surface.

Literary Reads for Book Lovers

Literary reads are not always the best books to take on vacation, since their depth and complexity can become lost in the bustle of travel and sightseeing. Picking up a few literary books can satisfy that summer craving for brain food at home, however, and reading a good novel is one of the best ways to spend a summer evening.

  • Muriel Barbery’s novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2008) was translated in English from the original French, and the flawless transition of the story is a masterpiece of storytelling. The Elegance of the Hedgehog follows a young girl named Paloma living in a ritzy apartment, and the elderly concierge, Renee. Paloma and Renee have more in common than meets the eye –both are able to see through the absurdity of their lives, and find a friendship that transcends class boundaries.
  • Water for Elephants (2007), by Sara Gruen, is a story of the Depression set in an unconventional setting. After the death of his parents, Jacob ends up running away from school and landing on a circus train. The young veterinarian is given a job caring for the circus animals, but there is more to the situation than meets the eye. Jacob begins to fall in love with the animal trainer’s wife, and their relationship puts them both in danger. Told in the present tense, from ninety-year-old Jacob’s perspective and in his memory, Water for Elephants is sure to delight any book lover.
  • Neil Gaiman’s Carnegie Medal-winning novel The Graveyard Book (2008) is a book that will enchant and amaze fans of Gaiman as well as first-time readers. The story follows Nobody, called “Bod,” a young boy raised by ghosts after his family is brutally murdered. The book follows Bod as he grows, learning to survive within and without the graveyard. As Bod grows, the mystery of the man Jack who murdered his family also grows and deepens, threatening Bod’s safety and the safety of his graveyard home.

Literary Mash-Ups for Book Lovers

  • The best-selling Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) is not the only literary mash-up to grace bookstore shelves. A number of similar undertakings by new authors and by Ben H. Winters, co-author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, have been created. For lovers of great literature, these books are a refreshing and entertaining look at books many readers have considered untouchable.
  • Android Karenina (2010) is a remake of Tolstoy’s immortal Anna Karenina, only in Winters’ re-imagined Russia, robots are nearly ubiquitous. With its steampunk feel and Tolstoy’s brilliant storytelling lighting up the background, Android Karenina is a great book for anyone interested in these literary mash-ups.
  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (2009) is another of Winters’ creations, taking a classic Austen and adding creatures from the deep to this well-known love story. Austen fans will enjoy both Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Reading is one of life’s simplest pleasures, and finding a good book is a treat for any book lover. Summer is the best season to try new books and return to some old favorites.

Check it: The Power of One: Author and Hero: Bryce Courtenay’s Novel on Youth in Apartheid South Africa

Teach Science, Literature and Art: Read Aloud Science Books and Creative Expression Equal Classroom Fun

Monday, August 2nd, 2021

Although elementary science textbooks are packed with content and interesting material for children, most teachers of young children have found that science is best taught with active rather than passive lessons. One creative way to plan such lessons is by inviting outstanding science books into your classroom and using them as a springboard in planning motivational, hands-on art activities that are related to the reading selections.

There are so many elementary science books! How do I find the best ones?

Since 1973, in a joint effort by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the Children’s Book Council (CBS), a yearly list has been published of books selected as outstanding children’s science trade books. Books are coded according to science areas and instructional levels, making it a user-friendly teacher resource.

Science Lesson Components

Read Aloud Book

  • Select an animal-themed book at the listening level of your students. This level will usually be a bit higher than the average silent reading level of the class.
  • The reading should be done by the teacher so all students may participate in active listening and learning.
  • Let the length of the book determine how long the lessons extend. Shorter books may generate one lesson, while longer ones may extend longer.
  • Use the same teacher read-aloud skills as used with other teaching books-good eye contact, expressive reading, preplanned oral questioning, and classroom discussion of interesting facts.

Science Fact Map

On a chart or classroom board, stop and list facts learning about the animal as the book is being read. A combination of the fact map and oral discussion will reinforce learning for both visual and auditory learners.

Picture or Diagram Display

If possible, include in each lesson an enlarged picture of the animal being studied. Provide description cards that can be attached by students to reinforce listening for hands-on or kinesthetic learners in your classroom.

Hands-on Art Activity

When the read-aloud is completed, students should then participate in a creative art activity that will enable them to express some aspect of what they have learned. This may be an activity designed for either small groups or individual students.

Think creatively when planning and allow children the time and materials to create their own product from their learning experience. Encourage them to stretch their creative muscles!

Check it: Tips for Book Club Organizers: How to Make a Book Group Run More Smoothly

Sample Books and Art Ideas

This book has wonderful color photographs of frogs from all over the world. Make color copies of these frogs and create a teaching collage as the book is read that students might then refer to when creating their own frogs.

The perfect materials for this activity are flat river rocks, but if not available, paper bowls turned upside down may be substituted. Students may use crayons, paint, markers, construction paper and stickers to create their own frogs. Have each student write a sentence describing the frog and share orally in class.

Sponges, Jellyfish, and Other Simple Animals. 2006. Steve Parker. Compass Point Books, 44pp.

Have children work in small groups to create shoebox habitats for the creatures they have learned about. Paint and construction paper may be used for the habitat background, then synthetic sponges, wet spaghetti (for jellyfish tentacles), and other found objects may be used in creating the animals. Creative writing may also be an extension activity, perhaps using a story starter such as “If I lived in the ocean I would…”

Our job is improving the quality of life, not just delaying death.

The Power of One: Author and Hero: Bryce Courtenay’s Novel on Youth in Apartheid South Africa

Monday, August 2nd, 2021

Bryce Courtenay: Author Bio

The Power of One is a fictionalized story of Bryce Courtenay’s childhood. Courtenay was born in South Africa in 1933 and spent his early years on an isolated farm. Like his fictional hero Peekay, Courtenay began boxing for self-defense as a five-year-old at private school and then moved to Barberton. A German music teacher named Doc gave young Courtenay his true childhood education, which was followed by South African boarding school and Journalism school in London.

Forbidden to return to South Africa because he had led an educational program for native Africans, Courtenay moved to Sydney, Australia. He married a woman named Benita and had three sons, Brett, Adam, and Damon. Damon, a hemophiliac, contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during the early days of the disease. After Damon died tragically of AIDS, Courtenay wrote April Fool’s Day, the compelling novel that commemorated his son and brought attention to the AIDS epidemic.

Bryce Courtenay is the best-selling author of Australia. His many novels include a sequel to The Power of One, Tandia, in which Peekay’s story travels a separate path from Courtenay’s life. The Power of One enjoys international success and was made into a movie with Morgan Freeman. Courtenay continues to write prolifically. By his own account, he writes 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, 8 months a year.

You can find out more on Bryce Courtenay’s website.

Peekay: Character and Development

Though Peekay’s story parallels the author’s childhood, Courtenay is quick to point out that Peekay is “larger than life” (see the ‘In His Words’ section of Courtenay’s website). Indeed, Peekay’s intellectual faculties, athletic ability, and intrinsic goodness (demonstrated by his continual empathy for all types of people, even those whose characters are flawed) are at the core of the novel.

The Power of One is a modern bildungsroman, a novel about the moral and intellectual education of the protagonist. Peekay’s challenge is both to master his abilities and to define himself apart from them. He begins with innate intelligence and moral compass but meets various ‘teachers’ who sculpt his character and point his way. The end of this education and the beginning of his adulthood are represented by the last part of the book, in which he rejects the advice of everyone around him and goes to work in the mines.

This is the first step he takes without direction or help from any of his teacher figures.

Peekay’s fight with the Judge is his final step to reclaiming his selfhood. Peekay was marked by mistreatment from the Judge in childhood and has carried an abused child’s shame and self-doubt throughout his youth, despite his talents. Peekay’s childhood self emerges in the fight when he cries, “you killed Grandpa Chook!” (his pet chicken). He carves his mark, PK, into the skin of the man who had marked him emotionally and feels cleansed for the first time in years.

Check it: Types of Allegorical Novels: Spiritual Journey, Human Experience, Political and Social Satire