Karamazov Brothers Book Five: 2 for 1 Post

breakfast club

I am behind on my blog posts on our Karamazov reading project. In my defence I started a new job and life generally got in the way for a couple weeks. Probably not a great excuse, but it’s the only one I’ve got.

Originally BJ and I agreed to do two posts about this part in the book. Because my husband is on top of things, he posted and followed the plan (you can see those here and here). On the other hand is me…so I am going to combine mine since you know, I like to break the rules.

What was cemented for me in this section, is that each character, especially the brothers, represent a part of humanity. And for some reason it reminds me of the Breakfast Club. (Maybe there was something about it on social media about it when I was reading this section that jogged my memory.) You know, the 80’s movie….Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald. There was the “a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal”…..and they all represented one segment of the high school population.

I am not equating John Hughes to Dostoevsky. Although…I guess I could make the argument that they both had the ear of the people in their respective times. I think both used these characters as an allegory for some bigger message. However…

The big bang for the buck part of this section is ‘The Grand Inquisitor’. Apparently this is the crux of the novel and what the book is known for. (I only knew this because BJ told me.) According to Wikipedia: “The Grand Inquisitor” is an important part of the novel and one of the best-known passages in modern literature because of its ideas about human nature and freedom, and its fundamental ambiguity.

Basically this “poem” is recited by Ivan to Aloysha. Ivan starts off by saying

‘WELL, first of all there has to be an introduction, a literary introduction, that is.’ Ivan laughed. ‘God knows, I’m no author!

This cracked me up. Obviously this is written by Dostoevsky so I feel like it’s a little wink and smirk at the reader.

So the story is basically that Christ comes back to life in Seville and performs all these cool miracles. But, the people turn on him and he gets arrested and put in jail. He is then interrogated by the ‘The Grand Inquisitor”. The Inquisitor dude basically says that people don’t need Christ anymore because they have the church and church has basically replaced him. Also, people, if left to their own devices will always make the wrong decision and it’s up to the church to guide them in the right direction.

The key to happiness, according to the Inquisitor, is for man (in the global sense) to turn over all decisions to the church. Because basically free will is the cause of suffering.

They will bring us their most tormenting problems of conscience—everything, they will bring everything to us and we shall resolve everything, and they will accept our judgement with joy, because it will spare them the great burden and terrible torment of personal and free choice that they suffer today. And everyone will be happy, all the millions of beings, except the hundred thousand who govern them.

Right. I guess I can see his point. But. This basically cements the view that Ivan is not a huge fan of organized religion. And the fact that he is talking to his brother, who happens to be a man of the cloth is what makes it….even more interesting. Aloysha interrupts once in while to give the opposing view. This is the one that struck me most:

Your Inquisitor doesn’t believe in God, that’s all there is to his secret!

And that, folks is the secret. So I guess this brings the whole Breakfast Club thing (kind of) full circle: you have the man of the cloth (Aloysha), the man of intellect (Ivan) and then the man of earthly pleasures (Dimitry).

On a side note, one of the funniest things I have read in this book so far….the father Karamazov writes a note to Grushenka and adds this:

“For my angel, Grushenka, if she comes to me,” and that two or three days later he added, “my little chicky-bird”.

Chicky-bird! I don’t know if it’s a translation thing. But I found that extremely funny.

Alright, now that I have fulfilled my blog post….onward to the next part!



Review: French Exit by Patrick deWitt

french exitI was super pumped to get approved to review this book. First, he is Canadian! Second, I read, and loved his novel The Sisters Brothers.

I will say that his style, for me, is reminiscent of Christoper Moore (ish) – kind of dark humour (I mean humor), a little absurd, and a little quirky. I happen to like those things in a novel.

This book is about Frances and her adult son Malcolm. They used to be part of the upper crust of the Upper East Side, but through scandal and bankruptcy they have fallen from grace. They make a hasty exit to Paris to live in a friends’ apartment there.

I don’t like to give too much of the plot away, so I won’t. (You are capable of reading the synopsis of the book on Goodreads.)

I like that this is different. It’s not the same old cookie cutter narrative. It’s funny (I was laughing out loud at many parts), and it’s also poignant and sad. I think that is a tribute to the author’s skill to be able to paint those emotions so well – and not have it be sappy or morose.

This book is about families – the ones you are born into and the ones you choose. And finding your tribe. Not to give too much away, but at a late point in the book a bunch of misfits are basically living in the French apartment – collected like stray cats. And they all seem to need something from each other. Not in the material sense, but companionship.

I really enjoyed this book. If you like your books a bit off the wall then this is a great read for you. And, if you like his other novels, you will for sure like this one.

I gave it a 4/5 star rating on Goodreads.

Full disclosure: I received this eARC from Edelweiss for a fair and honest review. (Thanks Edelweiss!)

Happy Book Lovers Day!

img_0515According to my Twitter feed, today is Book Lovers Day! How can I pass up an opportunity to celebrate! <throws some confetti>

I wrote a whole post about books and why I love them so much, and it wasn’t quite hitting the right note. So here is the thing…

I am grateful for books. I am grateful that I grew up in a country and a house where I learned to read and it was encouraged. I am grateful that I am in a position to buy books, to get them from the library. I am grateful that I have time to spend reading.

Upon reflection, I take the fact that I can read anytime/anywhere/anything for granted. I don’t think twice about picking up a book and reading it.

Today, I am taking some time to appreciate the gift of books and reading.






The Shortest Way Home by Miriam Parker

shortestIn this story, Hannah is just finishing up graduate school in San Francisco. She and her boyfriend Ethan decide to take a few days and drive to Sonoma for a break. Hannah ends up being enchanted (not like in the magical way) with a winery they visit and she starts to question her choices and what she is going to do with her future.

This book had me at Sonoma. The husband and I went there for our honeymoon and we really had a lovely time. We actually were in Healdsburg not specifically Sonoma. But I digress…..

The author did a great job in capturing the essence and the feel of the area. You get the feeling when you are there that the families and winemakers are passionate about making wine and instilling that love of wine to others. And that makes up the essence of this story.

Hannah’s story is also about following your passion and making decisions that others may not agree with or even understand. This is also something I have some familiarity with (move from Toronto to Toledo?!?) I think this is captured well in the story. Sometimes you need to do things because they feel right and not because it’s the logical choice. And Hannah struggles with that.

Overall this was a delightful story that kept my interest and is great for a beach/cottage read but also has enough depth to it to make it thoughtful and meaty.

I gave it a 4/5 star rating on Goodreads.

Full disclosure: I received this eARC from NetGalley for a fair and honest review. (Thanks NetGalley!)


When you have an unpopular opinion on a book

img_0368I was fortunate to have the chance to review the book ‘My Year of Rest and Relaxation’ by Ottessa Moshfegh. (You can find my review here.)

Here is the deal: I didn’t love the book. It did keep my attention, it was different but I just didn’t gel with it. Nothing wrong with that, right?

The book has received much buzz. Mostly about how awesome it is. There has been praise for its ‘dark humour’ and being ‘caustic and acute’.

A few weeks ago (yes, I am behind on the blog posts) when the review for the book was on the cover of the New York Times Book Review section. Obviously I was curious on what the reviewer had to say.

I will take a minute for an aside. One of the really cool things about this blog is that I (we, because my husband does it too) get access to books before they are published and can read them before there is any press or other reviews. It gives me a chance to make up my own mind on it. Not that I don’t when reading a book that is already out, but it’s a bit different.

Back to the New York Times…

The reviewer said of the book: “…darkly comic and ultimately profound new novel….” And went on to have positive things to say.

Huh. Maybe I missed something.

Here is the awesome thing about books – you don’t have to like every one. That’s why there are so many books in different genres.

I will say that the New York Times review did have some interesting takes on the book. The thing is, when I am reading it and then reviewing it I look mostly at the enjoyability factor. Did I like reading it and would I recommend it to my family and friends? I am not really into looking at the literary quality or the writing technique or all that other stuff (I leave that to my husband, who is way smarter about these things than I am).

I think that if I had read the review in the New York Times and then read the book, I would definitely have had a different reaction. Ok, maybe not definitely, but I think that I would have gone into it reading it with a different mindset.

The positive reviews don’t change the fact that I didn’t love the book. Also, just because I didn’t love the book, doesn’t mean it’s not a good book. So if you are interested in it, a fan of her writing or are just curious, go and get yourself a copy. Let me know how you like it!


Why libraries are important

img_0362I saw a disturbing trend on Twitter on the weekend, people were talking…”talking” about how Amazon should replace libraries. The good news is that most of the talk about this, or at least it was on my feed, was saying a big old HELL NO to this idea. That gave me hope.

This whole thing was apparently started by a piece in Forbes magazine: Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money (which they have since taken down). The good news is that when I googled the situation, this was the first article that popped up: Forbes suggested Amazon should replace libraries, and people aren’t having it.

Whew. But I still feel like I need to have my say in this. Because…well, what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t yammer on about things that I feel passionate about.

Some of my earliest memories that make me warm and fuzzy are about the library. The excitement of going in as a child and having basically endless possibilities of reading materials (I actually still get the same feeling now). My mom used to take me to the  story telling time at the local branch. All of these things instilled a life-long love of books and reading.

One of the first things I did when I made the move from Toronto to Toledo was get a library card. It was partly to get access to the reading material: magazines and books. But a large part of that for me was that it was an anchor and a way for me to start building roots in a new and unfamiliar place. It represents a sense of community and belonging to a group of people who love books and reading as much as I do.

I spend a lot of time alone during the day. And it gets lonely. One of the places I have frequented is the library. People are friendly. It’s mostly quiet. There are comfy chairs to read and tables with outlets to plug in your computer to do whatever work or research you need to do (or just plain old goofing around on the internet). But I was with people. I didn’t need to talk to anyone or make friends. I didn’t want to have to buy a $4 fancy coffee. I just wanted to sit and be in the world. How many other people find solace in the library when they have no where else to go?

I get that puts the “burden” on taxpayers. Why should I pay for someone to have a nice place to go and goof around on the internet? Here is why. Especially today where the world feels fractured and is so impersonal, we need to have spaces for people to go and gather and feel like they are part of a community. Where children can go and hear stories read to them and feel the joy of picking out a book and learn about caring for books and responsibility. Where people are there to help you find what you need – that book with the blue cover, or whatever you are seeking. The library is about more than books. It always was and it always will be.

I think that libraries have done a great job in keeping up with the times and technology and the needs of their users and give people a reason to use their services. How many businesses can say that? I can read magazines on my iPad or computer, I can watch movies, and I can even stream music now. Oh right, and that’s besides the books I can rent for free. This is because libraries understand that they are part of the community and bringing people together.

I am happy that there was a rally around libraries – all over Twitter there were stories from people who have sought help from their local library, how one actually had a stuffed animal sleepover and sent out pictures (cute!) and generally how the library is important to a lot of people. It gives me hope that the world isn’t as sucky a place as it sometimes seems.

Here is what I suggest: if you don’t have a library card go and get one. It’s super easy, and you don’t even have to go outside. Many libraries have online cards so you can check out electronic media. And if you are feeling adventurous, go to your local branch. It will make you happy. I promise.



Brothers Karamazov, Book Four: Oh Dimitry!

fingerFirst, an observation….there has been more action and activity in the first 250 pages of this book than most of War and Peace. Ok, maybe that’s an overstatement. However, Dostoyevsky definitely keeps the action moving, where Tolstoy would take pages and pages (and pages and pages) to expound on the meaning of life.

When I was back in University in the Shakespeare class that I took, the professor was big on the number of lines attributed to a character: the number they spoke, the number they were spoken to, etc. The most interesting was the number of lines spoken about a character that wasn’t in the scene. This applies to book four – Dimitry is no where to be found, yet most of the action (and inaction) is based on something that he did or didn’t do.

We find poor Alyosha turned out from the church (as the staret is basically hours away from dying) to attend to matters concerning the Karamazov family. He is basically going around cleaning up Dimitry’s messes.

So Alyosha is walking along, going to attend to the Katerina situation, where he comes across some school boys who are throwing rocks at each other. Trying to do the right thing, Alyosha steps in and is rewarded by the kid almost biting his finger off – which seems like a random occurrence – until we find out that our boy Dimitry had publicly humiliated the finger-biter’s father.

I was feeling sorry for Alyosha because he seems to be traipsing around cleaning up people’s messes and delivering money. But then I realized that the reason for that is he is the only character that is reliable. He has no skin in the game and through his eyes we see what is actually happening. Even the narrator is a bit sassy and isn’t completely reliable.

The other interesting thing is something that BJ mentioned in his post today – that reading the story back when it was written would be a totally different experience since there are a lot of ‘at the time’ references that only someone reading it then would get. For example, characters are described by their clothing – what cloth the coat is made of – and I am like, is that expensive, cheap, is the dude trying to be a show off. Who knows! It is like referring to someone’s shoes as either strappy Manolo Blahnik sandals or flip flops from Old Navy. At another place and time, people won’t get that reference.

So far, I am really enjoying the book. It’s funny and action packed and keeps you entertained. On to book five!