Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami “Life is Beautiful, Messy, Strange, and Chaotic”

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Haruki Murakami is a difficult author to write about. He is one of my favourite writers, who surprises and delights me each time I begin a new novel of his. If there is one commonality that ties his novels together, it’s the fact that his body of fiction defies categorization. Murakami frequently writes about people’s intimate life experiences while they deal with love, loss, growth, pain and revelation. Often these stories are set within a certain point in history, which adds a human dimension to our understanding of that time.

Murakami’s “Norwegian Wood” is just that novel. Published in 1987 to critical acclaim, “Norwegian Wood” has been cited as his best novel. “Norwegian Wood” tells the story of Toru, an introspective young man studying in Tokyo during the sixties. The story follows Toru’s coming of age while he navigates his new life in Tokyo as well as coming to terms with the unexpected death of his best friend, Kizuki. As Toru tries to understand Kizuki’s senseless passing as well as determine what path, both personally and academically to take, he rekindles his friendship with Kizuki’s girlfriend, Naoko.

Toru and Naoko soon realize that their feelings for each goes beyond friendship, which is further complicated by Naoko’s own inability to cope with Kizuki’s death. Naoko’s fragility makes it difficult to maintain a relationship with Toru, who eventually ends up falling equally in love with his classmate, Midori. Midori is radically different from Naoko, and Toru finds himself torn between the two loves of his life. As the plot delves deeper into Toru’s romantic and existential pain, Murakami effectively conjures the mood and atmosphere of the sixties, complete with historic and pop culture references.

The details of Toru’s experiences ultimately add up to Murakami’s sentiment that life can be beautiful and sad, tragic and unpredictable. Each and every one of us is on our own paths seeking truth in our lives and relationships. As we follow and listen to Toru’s first person narrative, Murakami reveals not only Toru’s thoughts, anxieties, and questions about life, but our own.

 

 

 

 

 

If I Forget You by Thomas Christopher Greene

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Picture this scene; a beautiful spring day in the city of Manhattan, a man is walking down the street when suddenly he sees the woman he fell in love with 21 years ago only to watch her quickly run away from him after they make eye contact. I don’t read a lot of romance novels but Thomas Christopher Greene’s novel If I Forget You grabbed me with this romantic scene in the first chapter.  Why did the girl run away from him? What happened between these two lovers that caused them to separate? Will they get back together in the end?

If I Forget You is the story of Henry Gold and Margot Fuller who fell in love during their college years.  But due to circumstances beyond their control and conflicting family status, Margot is the daughter of a wealthy family and Henry the son of a poor working class family, they are forced to separate.

Alternating between the years 2012 and 1991, the story is told from the perspective of both characters, a writing style that many authors have embraced lately. I enjoy this type of writing style because I find it keeps the story interesting. Switching between different eras and character voices allows the story to build at a slower pace as the reader learns more about the lives of Henry and Margot in the past and present.

Greene’s novel, as well as his characters, is not complex. It’s a simple, sweet love story beautifully written in lyrical prose. Therefore, if you are looking for something quick and light to read during your summer vacation, then pick up a copy of Greene’s novel If I Forget You.

 

Lindsey Long

Interview with Emma Hooper

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Picture of Emma HooperRaised in Alberta, Emma Hooper brought her love of music and literature to the U.K., where she received a doctorate in musico-literary studies at the University of East Anglia and currently lectures at Bath Spa University.  She comes home to Canada to cross-country ski whenever she can. You can find her online at emmahooper.ca.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write your debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James?

Emma Hooper: The characters of Otto and Etta are inspired by, and loosely based on, my maternal grandparents. My maternal grandmother taught in a small prairie schoolhouse, like Etta, and my maternal grandfather came from a farm family of fifteen kids, like Otto. His hair all did turn white when he was over in Europe for the war. It’s a family trait, actually. I’ve got a natural white streak, and my brother does too… .

Etta’s journey has a very Forrest Gump-like feel once other folks start to follow her and bring her supplies.  Was this intentional?

Ha! No, I can’t say any Forrest Gump relation was intentional, but I’m certainly not the first, or last, one to use this type of ‘inspirational journey’ plot… it’s a good one!  I think it’s pretty much inevitable that people will find another book/movie/story like yours, no matter what you’ve written. There are only so many basic plots and basic character demographics, so I don’t mind so much. The content, the details, the style and the tone of the writing are the distinctive features, I believe.

Thinking of the details, why does Etta decide to go east to the Atlantic ocean?

Two quick answers for that: 1) Personal history (retracing Otto’s steps) and 2) The Rocky Mountains…

Oh yes, the Rocky Mountains would be a rather big obstacle when travelling on foot! While Etta is off on her adventure, Otto bakes through her recipe book.  Are these recipes from a family cookbook?

Yes they are. They are my grandmother’s, and, like the ones in the book, the originals were full of little coded shortcuts and amendments that made it difficult for anyone but my grandmother to really get them right! Like Otto, I’ve tried the cinnamon buns so many times…though I wouldn’t say I’ve succeeded! Matrimonial cake/squares I’m better at. I’ve never tried the flax flower paste though…

You’ll have to give the paste a try!  Along with writing books, you’re the solo musician Waitress for the Bees and a member of the string quartet The Stringbeans.  Has music had any influence on your writing?

I think my musical background makes me overly sensitive to things like rhythm and pacing in my own writing. I can spend ages labouring over one sentence that’s perfectly okay in terms of grammar and content, but doesn’t have quite the rhythm, quite the right tempo. It pushes prose a bit more in the direction of poetry, I think (although I also think there’s no definite line there, no black and white. I like the idea of prose that reaches into poetry sometimes and vice versa).

So what are you working on now?

Putting the finishing touches on book two! It’s got mermaids…

That sounds exciting – I can’t wait! To finish up I have a few questions about what you read.  What book or author inspired you to write?

One of the first ‘big kid’ books I remember reading was called My Daniel; it had something to do with dinosaur bones and the loss of a brother. I remember crying and crying as I read it and LOVING it. With that came the realisation that writing, books, could have this hugely potent impact that readers could let themselves go into.

Nowadays, I admire writers who play with magic and reality, and who embrace joy as well as suffering in their books. Examples are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Karen Russell and Jonathan Safran Foer.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

Not exactly, no, I think everyone is allowed to have different tastes and things that will speak to them more or less. However, I do think that everyone should READ something! So, I guess my answer to the question is: Anything and everything!

That’s totally fair.  Finally, what are you currently reading?

A nonfiction book, actually, which is fairly rare for me, called Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James cover

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

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Tolstoy once said “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and this would accurately describe the background behind the novel, The Vacationers.  The Post family, Jim and wife Franny, as well as teen daughter Sylvia are heading to Mallorca for a two week holiday, which acts on the surface as the last family vacation before Sylvia heads off to college. The family is to be joined by their son Bobby and his much older girlfriend, Carmen, as well as Franny’s closest friend Charles and his new husband, Lawrence.  On the surface, everything looks ideal but things are not as they seem.

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Jim and Franny’s marriage is in a shambles due to his recent affair at work; their golden boy, son Bobby is deeply in debt and needs financial help, Sylvia is determined to lose her virginity and Charles and Lawrence are waiting to hear about a longed for adoption.  It is the underlying tensions that make the novel more real and add both pathos and humour.  Each of the characters is at a crossroads and the enforced quarters of the little holiday act to remind them of the both the joys and aggravations of family.

The characters in the story are refreshingly honest (though not necessarily to each other) and also conflicted about getting what they want while maintaining the status quo in the family.  After reading the novel, I checked out a number of the reviews and was surprised to find that the book had a polarizing effect, between those who loved and  those who loathed it. I for one was happy to spend time with the Posts and look forward to Emma Straub’s next book.

 

Interview with Jean E. Pendziwol

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Author Picture of Jean E. PendziwolJean E. Pendziwol is the award-winning author of eight published children’s books.  Her debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, will be published in 2017 by HarperCollins; her latest children’s book, Me and You and the Red Canoe, will also be published in 2017 by Groundwood Books. You can find her online at http://www.jeanependziwol.com/.

Shauna Kosoris: Your writing career began with the publication of the picture book No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons), which was published in 1999.  What inspired you to write this book?

Jean E. Pendziwol: My writing career actually began a few years before that. Prior to having kids, and continuing on a casual basis after they were born, I worked as a freelance writer, mostly for trade publications. I researched, wrote, photographed and did editorial coordination. Having young children re-exposed me to children’s books, and in particular, picture books. I love the format – the partnering of images and text, the challenge of working within a limited number of words, and, especially at that time, the ability to hold a story completely in my head before I even put pen to paper.  No Dragons for Tea was inspired by my daughter.  At that time, she was extremely afraid of fires, and more so, by fire alarms. I was concerned that she didn’t have the necessary tools to respond in an emergency situation and searched out resources. What I found were a number of books about fire safety that were all either didactic or frightening. With the help of our local fire prevention officer, Brian Berringer, I came up with the idea for the book. I was thrilled when Kids Can Press wanted to publish it! I was fortunate in that it was timely, relevant, accessible and engaging and it carried an important message.

I love that it spawned a whole series of engaging safety stories for children, too!  Right now you’ve published eight picture books, with another one tentatively scheduled for release next year.  What is the appeal of writing for children?

I love the challenge of writing picture books. There is a misconception that because the stories are short and for children that writing them is a simple task. It’s actually one of the hardest genres to get published in, which I fortunately didn’t know at the time I headed down that path. Several of my picture books are poems, and while written for children, have a universal appeal. Once Upon a Northern Night in particular has touched many people.  I love that my stories speak to people in an intimate way. And because I value and respect children, I want to create something for them that is valuable and respectful.

What’s the hardest thing for you when writing a picture book?

There are so many audiences to keep in mind. The audience for the story is a child, but it also needs to speak to the adult who will be making the decision to buy or borrow the book. Picture books are most often read out loud, and read many times over, and as a writer, these are things I need to consider.

Your debut adult novel, The Light Keeper’s Daughters, is due out next summer.  What made you switch your focus from writing children’s books?

I haven’t. I love and will always love writing for children; this is just another branch of the same writing tree. When I first started working on The Light Keeper’s Daughters, I intended for it to be for middle grade or young adult readers.  But as the characters began to take shape on the page and the themes and plot evolved, it settled into a story more suited to an adult audience. I was also at a point in my life where I was able to devote time to a more involved, lengthy writing process necessary for a novel-length story.

Has it been hard switching from writing for children to writing for adults?

For me, writing is always a learning process. Skills applicable to children’s writing are also important for adult writing; keeping the audience in mind; respecting the reader; ensuring that the voice remains consistent; and keeping the pace appropriate. I think my tendency to be a concise writer has served me well in my work for children and that has carried over to my writing for adults as well.

What can you tell me about your new novel?

The Light Keeper’s Daughters features two fascinating women, Elizabeth, who is elderly, blind and living in a senior’s home, and Morgan, a teenager completing community service hours for spray-painting graffiti. They are drawn together after the discovery of journals penned by Elizabeth’s father when he served at Porphyry Island as lighthouse keeper nearly sixty years ago. As they decipher the musty words, they realize they are connected through Elizabeth’s enigmatic twin sister, Emily, their lives shaped by the harsh Lake Superior environment and the secrets kept by a family for a lifetime.

I look forward to reading it next year!  So what are you working on now?

I’ve got a few projects on the go, some for children and some for adults… This, that and another thing.🙂

Fair enough.  What book or author inspired you to write?

I grew up sailing on Lake Superior, so had plenty of time for reading. Interestingly, I never envisioned myself being a novelist, although I always loved to write. Some of my favorite books included the Mary Stewart series about Merlin and King Arthur (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills), Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M Auel), Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Ken Follet. As a young child, I read Enid Blyton, and had A.A. Milne read to me.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I think that’s a difficult question – readers are so diverse, which is wonderful. Not everyone likes the same kind of book. Some of my favorites (other than the ones noted above) include To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield), Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Sijie, Ina Rilke), All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr), Skellig (David Almond) and the Little House books by Laura Ingalls. Oh, and Because of Winn Dixie (Kate DiCamillo) – pure genius in my opinion.

And what are you currently reading?

I just finished The Illegal (Lawrence Hill), I’m reading Fifteen Dogs (Andre Alexis), and have Amy Jones’ We’re All in This Together on the list.  I’m also re-reading some of my favorite middle grade books, looking at them from the perspective of a writer, including The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis), Coraline (Neil Gaiman), Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls), and Holes (Louis Sachar). And, of course, Because of Winn Dixie.

Cover Picture of Once Upon a Northern Night

We’re All in This Together by Amy Jones

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Most of us have watched a viral video online.  But what happens if that video involves someone from your family?  And you first hear about it on the news?

That’s what happens to Finn Parker in Amy Jones’ debut novel We’re All In This Together.  Finn sees a video of a woman go over Kakabeka Falls in a barrel and survive.  That woman just happens to be her mother, Kate.  Finn finds herself pulled back to a life, a town, and the family which she had abandoned.  Her twin sister, Nicki, doesn’t want her back in Thunder Bay.  Their dad, Walter, is mostly absent, out on Lake Superior rather than facing his family.  Their adopted brother, Shawn, is trying to hold the Parkers together while his wife, Katriina, is slowly falling apart on the sidelines.   And Nicki’s teenage daughter, London, is more concerned with meeting the marine biologist she has a crush on than having anything to do with her stupid family.

We’re All In This Together is written from multiple viewpoints, which lets you see the same events through often drastically different perspectives.  This was most evident between Finn and Nicki, who are identical in looks but totally different on the inside.  These viewpoints reinforce how real the Parker family is.  Sure they are dysfunctional in their way, but what family isn’t?  The story, while sometimes a bit crazy, will keep you reading.  We’re All In This Together gives hope for how even a splintered family can come back together in a time of great need.

We’re All In This Together is The Thunder Bay Public Library’s first One Book: One Community book.  For more information and to get involved in our fall events for this book, please visit tbpl.ca/onebook.

 

Shauna Kosoris is a member of the Thunder Bay Public Library staff.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

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This quirky book focusses on Etta, a retired prairie emma2school teacher who decides to fulfill a lifelong dream to see the Atlantic Ocean.  And, she decides to walk there.  She leaves a note for her husband Otto asking him not to follow her, and sets off one morning.  As with many literary journeys, hers is both physical and spiritual.  Etta reflects on her life as she walks, revealing how she happened into a job at a dusty one room school house, fell in love with a boy who was sent off to war, and ended up marrying another.  She becomes a reluctant celebrity as her journey is observed, documented and celebrated by people along the way.  Like Forrest Gump, she never asks for help on her walk, but folks are happy to provide it. An interesting twist is that James, a fox, joins Etta early in her walk and becomes her advisor and protector.  Etta’s memories paint a picture of how the war years deeply impacted daily life on the prairies — both the lives of communities and the lives of individuals. Otto, the husband Etta leaves behind, comforts himself by baking his way through Etta’s recipe box.  This is Emma Hooper’s first book and it has been translated into 18 languages, which attests to its universal appeal. She is definitely a writer to watch! This  book was chosen as Edmonton Public Library’s “One Book:  One Community” book last Fall.  Our own “One Book: One Community” book was recently announced, and is Amy Jones’ “We’re all in this together”.  Watch our website www.tbpl.ca/onebook for more information about what we have planned.

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