Monday, September 20, 2010

A Fable Fit for Everyone.


The Book: The Alchemist
The Author: Paul Coelho
Pages: 167
Year published: 1988
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

So I will start by clarifying why I read this book as part of a list about books in the 21st Century when it was, in fact, published in 1988. What you have to remember about this list I have chosen is that it is chosen "by the people" which is to stay that it does not necessarily follow the rules... or along those lines it doesn't even HAVE any rules. The garnering guideline here comes simply from the title of the list, "The Best Books of the 21st Century". And so, if the 122 people who have voted for The Alchemist were to be ignored, how sad would this "by the people" list be. After all, I wanted to read real books, gritty books, fantasy, fable, and tales... I wanted the people's reads. So, if some readers out there believe that The Alchemist is an important book in the 21st Century, I'm all for it. In fact, I have a feeling this very problem will arise in the future... there seem to be a few books that push beyond the boundary of the 21st Century, and I'm all for it. As long as I am reading good books then I am happy.

Okay, now... The real dirt on The Alchemist. Here is a quick background on the storyline for those of you who have never had the pleasure of reading it:

A young Spanish shepherd boy (who they refer to as "the boy" throughout, but is actually in reality over 18, so a boy-ish man I guess?) named Santiago sets out on an adventure to find a hidden treasure buried near the Pyramids in Egypt. He takes the guidance of a Gypsy woman and a mysterious king and decides to sell his sheep and set out for the Pyramids. He is to follow the "omens" to discover his "Personal Legend" (I will explain what this means later) and on the way Santiago faces love, danger, opportunity and disaster.

To begin, I will say that this book is more a fable than it is a novel. I make that distinction because it does not read like a novel, it reads almost like a parable (if you will), with a prophetic vision, a laboured lesson and an overarching theme that relates to human will and fate. Confused yet? Bare with me, this is my first review of the challenge. Perhaps, it would help if I explained to you the axis of the story, the "Personal Legend". Here is how they explain it in The Alchemist. The boy has just been approached by the mysterious king who says he is trying to help Santiago discover his "Personal Legend", from page 21:

The boy didn't know what a person's "Personal Legend" was.
"It's what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear, and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their "Personal Legend".

This quote here is the reason I can say I really connected to The Alchemist. Because, as much as it reads a fable there are life lessons woven so intricately into the tale of Santiago that it is almost impossible not to connect with the story. Everyone has their own "Personal Legend", and no matter how much of a pipe dream it may seem, I truly believe where there is a will there is a way. If you push hard enough you can make your dreams come true... unless of course that dream is something like running with the unicorns, or joining Peter Pan's posse of Lost Boys.... because that may just be impossible. Sorry to burst your bubble Pan fans. At the same time if you are reading this book for a story to get lost in you will be disappointed. The message is the medium in this case, the Santiago's story takes a backseat to the message

The one biggest piece of advice I would give a prospective reader of The Alchemist is to find time to sit down and read the book in its entirety. I really enjoyed the story, but putting it down every night and picking it up the next day made the story very disjointed. The time-line moves very fast and it is easy to get lost if you do not remember what you read the day before. I would have enjoyed the reading experience better if I had had the time to sit and read all 150 pages in secession. I would have been able to get lost in Santiago's world.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Phil Main Show!

So here's the background... I worked all summer with a radio superstar named Phil Main. I got to spend time with him very rarely but enjoyed our chats immensely when I did. AND NOW, I can enjoy our chats even more because Phil has invited me to have weekly/bimonthly chats with him on-air for The Phil Main Show! And no, I am not just musing about my life and talking about the mindless and boring... I am going to be reviewing books!

I am happy to say Phil and I are Facebook friends (I'm basking in the glory) and this means he got the chance to read my blog about the Best Book of the 21st Century (scroll down a few posts, you'll see it). And now, he has taken my challenge to read 100 of these books to the next level. So now I get to talk about the books on air... I'll tell you if they are worth your time, if they made me cry and if they will make it to my sacred "Books I'll Keep Forever" shelf (I mean something needs to keep company with To Kill A Mockingbird and The Colour Purple!). So on Wednesday Phil Main and I had our very first book chat and I thought I would post it for you all to enjoy! Much, much more where this came from. Stay tuned.

Here is the audio of our chat:



Check out the website for The Phil Main Show, on Monday - Friday from 6am - 10am on CKNX AM 920!

Also: My review of The Alchemist still to come today.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

They Save All the Good Stuff for Halloween!

Every once in while I get that feeling. You know the one... And to be incredibly sexist... that womanly feeling... stick with me here... where you look down at what you are wearing and think, "I need NEW CLOTHES!" It happens to all of us, right? Your pocketbook starts to burn through your purse and you are immediately drawn to the nearest Dress Barn, etc... (Dress Barn was a store I saw in the States and thought "is this real?"... I assure you, it is.)

So, at these moments I do what any smart, young, fashionable and poor twenty-something does: I went to Value Village. The VV Boutique if you will. I just go crazy in this place. It is the place where all the fabulous things get sent... when the fabulous wears off on the original owner. I can stay there for hours and hours on end. I look through every single article of clothing piece by piece. I can race through a rack of t-shirts faster than you can call the fashion police. I pick what I want and I take it to try on.

So to pass on my love for Value Village here are my very best VV shopping tips:

1. Only go to VV when you have a lot of time. Time is what you need for the good finds. Be patient.

2. Go by yourself. There is nothing worse than finding something at the same time as a friend. Then you have to fight over who gets to take it home (usually in that polite "you have it." "no, you have it" kind of way).

3. Always look through the discarded rack at the change rooms. Therefore, someone else can do the searching for you, decide they don't like it and they leave it there free and easy for you.

4. Try it on twice. There is nothing worse than getting home and realizing you spent $4 hard-earned dollars on something you hate. Try it on. Keep shopping. Try it on again. There is something about the light in VV that makes something ridiculous look good. Don't get caught up in this moment.

5. Give yourself a limit. That means don't go crazy. Know how much you want to spend and stick to it. UNLESS, you find that amazing pair of shoes you have always dreamed of (but really, that is every pair isn't it?)

6. Finally, hand sanitizer. You know why.

So now that you sat through my long list of rules I will reward you with a peek at what I bought. You can tell me if you think it's a hit or miss.

I present... The Turban Hat

Now, some of you are going to chuckle at this. But, I know at least one of you who is gasping for air right now... you know who you are. Personally, I think this is the best hat I've ever owned. I did however have a moment of weakness and ask some unassuming lady in the store if I would be crazy to wear this in public, and she said no... but really what else could she have said? So after bullying this poor woman into complimenting my hat I carried it around, tried it on a second time and decided to go for it. Who could blame me? Now, all I have to do is figure out where I am going to wear it. Here's one last look:


After the turban hat, my next purchase seems boring. But, I was super excited for this one too. Mostly, because it feels like it has never been worn, though I am sure it hung in someone's closet for decades. I would like to thank said person for being kind enough to preserve it for me, whoever you are. Here's a look:

I am using my experience in yoga to present this purchase. Warrior stance.... almost. In any case, when I put this shirt on I feel like something right out of a fashionable 1970s tennis match. I am looking forward to wearing this one in. So hit or miss on this one... whaddya think?

Here's what I think: there was no better way to spend $8.

Happy shopping!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Phil Main is the man!

So, if you are up this early... bright-eyed and bushy-tailed perhaps... you can listen to my friend Phil Main and I talk about the 100 Best Books of the 21st Century (*see below). Phil Main will be interviewing me at 9:15 on CKNX am 920 out of Midwestern Ontario. I will post the audio afterwards. BUT, to listen now visit: http://www.am920.ca/ and click "Listen Live".

Happy Listening!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Best Books of the 21st Century

I will start off by saying how incredibly cliche I feel while preparing for this post. Every blogger on the face of the Internet has tried it. Some fail. Some succeed. Some make a boat-load of cash off of it. I hope to do none of these. I am simply trying to amuse myself, keep my head in the game and my fingers on the keyboard.

So here it is: I am going to try and get through every book on a list of the 100 Best Books of the 21st Century. I figure we have had ten years of great writing and before I get into another 10 years I should explore what has already been done from the Millennium on. But, I was looking for something specific. I did not want a list that was arbitrarily made by some stuck-up English major (not that every English major is stuck up... just the chosen few... you know who you are) who never quite made it to professor level but still wishes to subject us to their high-falutin, strictly "literary genius" taste in books. I wanted the nitty-gritty, the "people-have-spoken", best-book-I-have-ever-read-even-if-it-was-written-by-a-stay-at-home-mom kind of list. I want trashy. I want memoirs. I want so-outrageous-I-can't-stop-reading. I want real people kind of books. I want every-Friday-night-book-club-and-lots-of-wine kind of books. I want to be entertained. I want so-good-every-major-studio-wanted-rights-to-it good.

And so, here is what I have chosen. There is a list on the website www.goodreads.com that list the 847 Best Books of the 21st Century. Good Reads is a website where you can keep track of all the books you've read, send book recommendations to friends or form an online books club. Basically a geek's guide to reading. So, the list is composed of books voted on by readers. This list in fact has been voted on by 2,660 members. I have taken the first chunk of books, the first 100 (because let's be honest, who can conceive of reading 847 books?? This blog would EXPLODE!)

And so, I will read them, enjoy them, and report back on them. I might even muse in retrospect on the books on the list that I have already read. (Is it weird to have memories that go along with books, like where you read it, who gave it to you, how you pictured the characters?)

So here goes:

The-People-Have-Spoken List of the Top 100 Books of the 21st Century

  1. The Kiterunner by Khaled Hosseini
  2. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  5. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  7. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  8. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  9. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  10. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  11. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
  12. Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
  13. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  14. Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix by J.K. Rowling
  15. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathon Safran Foer
  16. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  17. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  18. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
  19. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  20. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
  21. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  22. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon & Lucia Graves
  23. New Moon by Stephanie Meyer
  24. Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer
  25. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathon Safran Foer
  26. The Name sake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  27. Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer
  28. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  29. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
  30. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
  31. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  32. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  33. The Corrections by Jonathon Franzen
  34. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  35. Snow Flow and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
  36. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson and Reg Keeland
  37. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
  38. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
  39. What is the What by Dave Eggers
  40. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  41. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  42. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  43. Freakonomics: A Roque Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
  44. No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
  45. Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson
  46. Dress You Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
  47. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
  48. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
  49. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
  50. The Year of Magical Thinkin by Joan Didion
  51. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
  52. Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  53. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  54. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
  55. Naked by David Sedaris
  56. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
  57. Eat, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
  58. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  59. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  60. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
  61. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
  62. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  63. The Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  64. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  65. The Known World by Edward P. Jones
  66. The Devil in the White City Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson & Tony Goldwyn
  67. The Secret Magdalene: A Novel by Ki Longfellow
  68. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  69. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  70. The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
  71. The Host by Stephanie Meyer
  72. The Shack by William P. Young
  73. John Adams by David McCullough
  74. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  75. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  76. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
  77. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
  78. Dreams of the Ringed Veil by Robert Fanney
  79. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  80. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  81. Marley & Me: Love and Life with the World’s Worst Dog by John Grogan
  82. Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
  83. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
  84. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
  85. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
  86. Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
  87. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
  88. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami & Philip Gabriel
  89. Under the Banenr of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
  90. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
  91. Anasi Boys by Neil Gaiman
  92. Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman
  93. Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro
  94. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
  95. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
  96. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
  97. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad
  98. The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin
  99. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
  100. 2666 by Roberto Bolano

I have crossed out the ones I have read already. (Not very many... 13? Sad!)
The only problem I can see ahead is FINALLY being forced to read Harry Potter, Twilight and those Dan Brown books that I have sworn off for years. I'll let you know how much cringing is involved.

Happy Reading!