Friday, December 11, 2009

Favourite Reads of 2009 Part XI. . .

For our final list of picks from the library world, we travel to Oakville Public Library and glean what Susan Kun and Diane Crew - both from the Adult Collection Development Department - have been recommending this year.

Thanks to everyone who has participated over the last two weeks; these lists have been so much fun to read and I have some great new books to add to my reading pile and xmas shopping lists.

Susan's Favourite Reads of 2009:

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme
This is a lovely account from a wonderful woman's life. Julia Child embraced France and its culture and made it her own. We share her experience of attempting to learn to French cook in France - a daunting task for anyone. We can learn much from this story as she has a will to become very good at something that was not popular at her time. The writing was thoughtful and carried the reader along a journey - the best kind of memoir.

Cooking is more than creating food for basic sustance - it's about creating soul-warming comfort food for friends and family. This comprehensive volume, covers a tremendous breadth of recipes and reflects this new interest in food. Pouring over the glorious colour photos and learning about combining different flavours , makes this one of my favourite picks for the year.

The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver
The author delivers an imaginative and entertaining look at the implications of whom we choose to love. We follow Irina McGovern as it unfolds under the influence of two very different men. Irina, a Children's book illustrator is comfortable in a life in London with her partner Lawrence Trainer, a smart, disciplined intellectual at a prestigious think tank. Their relationship appears to be solid, until one night Irina finds herself dying to kiss another man; an old friend from South London, the stylish and fiery top-ranking snooker player, Ramsey Acton. The decision to give into temptation will have consequences for her career, her relationship with family and most importantly her life. This captivating work illustrates Irina's alternating futures with two men worlds apart, yet equally honourable. Shriver's exploration of the two destinies appeals to the what-if in all of us.

Globe & Mail columnist writes a no-nonsense book for those thinking about retiring with the what and how we should prepare. Allentuck clearly outlines areas such as; Registered Retirement Saving Plans, Old Age Security, tax-efficient investments, Canada and Quebec Pension Plans and how to build wealth. For an non-financial person, he provided the rethinking a whole new approach to something we all need to think about.

Susan Kun is Manager of Adult Collections and Woodside Branch at the Oakville Public Library.

Diane's Favourite Reads of 2009:

What a great year this was for fiction lovers! A couple of splendid books from two of my old favourites, writing at the top of their form: A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book and Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall were special delights. Apart from these, however, there were other less heralded books that gave me a lot of pleasure, and, as always, there were books written years ago, that had somehow slipped beneath my radar back in the day, but which made me wonder how on earth I had managed to live this long without reading them! In no particular order, here are some of the books that I particularly enjoyed this year:

Juliet Naked by Nick Hornby
He's one of my special favourite authors, so I rushed out to get a copy of this when it was published. It did not disappoint. Hornby's characters are always so right on. Tucker Crow, a singer-songwriter who gave up his career, and lapsed into total obscurity some decades ago, has a few die-hard obsessive fans, who chronicle every second of his brief span of fame, and argue with each other interminably (through the magic of the Internet) over minute points of style and meaning in his songs. What happens when the real Tucker appears in the life of one of these fans? This book tells us all about it with Hornby's own unique brand of humour, and his special gift of bringing losers with strange obsessions to full life on the page.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson
Translated from the original French, this is a book that has lived with me since I read it, and one which as I was reading, I could hardly bear to put down to eat, sleep or go to work, even though conventional "action", as such, is pretty much missing from its pages. The two central characters, an elderly concierge, Renee, and twelve year old, Paloma, both live secretive lives, concealing their true natures and their fierce intelligence from the world until a Japanese business man moves into the same apartment building, and brings them together and into the open. No summary could ever really do the story justice; it's one that has to be read and savoured - a truly beautiful book.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
She is a writer who really understands the old-fashioned art of story-telling, and this is one of those fabulous, just curl-up-and-sink-into-it, great reads! A four- year-old child is found wandering on a pier in Australia having apparently crossed the ocean alone. She is given a new life and a new identity, and it is up to her granddaughter to untangle the truth of what happened to her grandmother. The story interweaves past and present events, and as it unfolds, secrets which have been long-hidden and long-forgotten are brought into the light of day again, all building to a totally satisfying conclusion. Great fun to read.

A Girl's Guide to Modern European Philosophy by Charlotte Greig
Susannah Jones is a student at Sussex University in the 1970s, and this engaging debut novel chronicles her coming of age, and the choices she makes with the help of the modern philosophers she is studying in her courses. Charlotte Greig writes with charm and humour, and the ‘70s English university scene resonated very strongly with me, but Susannah has life-changing decisions to make, which cannot be taken lightly. This novel provides much rich food for thought and discussion.

The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell
This is one of those books which eluded my attention for years and I cannot think how I remained oblivious to it for so long! It won the Booker Prize in 1973, and was one of the six novels shortlisted for "Best of the Bookers" in 2008, (eventually losing out in the vote to Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children) Set during the Indian Mutiny of the mid-nineteenth century, it manages to succeed both as an exciting adventure story, and, at the same time, as a deeply thoughtful novel of ideas, holding up to scrutiny issues of race, class, the meaning of civilization and the effects of Empire. And, somehow, amidst scenes of despair and horror, it manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, too. If you like historical fiction, you should definitely seek this one out.

A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks
This book for me summed up the twenty-first century world as it exists for those who happen to be born into one of the more privileged nations. The focus on making money, the disconnectedness of individuals, the greed, banality, triviality and emptiness of daily life for so many, is balanced against the real joy to be found when, against the odds, individuals come together and find each other. John Veals, a hedge-fund manager, is as nasty a piece of work as any to be found in literature, and the games he plays with the fate of nations all in the pursuit of making a financial killing are blood-chilling. Who is the real terrorist in this novel? I know who I would pick!

Overqualified by Joey Comeau
And finally a short, amazing book which, in just 96 pages, (ostensibly cover letters for job applications to various companies) breaks your heart. As you piece together the story, you realize that the central character is hanging on to sanity by a thread; that a much-loved brother has died; that his home life was tragic and that his current romantic life is full of thorns. It's poetic and fragmented, sad and comic by turn, and like nothing else I've ever read.

Diane Crew is the Adult Collection Development Assistant at the Oakville Public Library.

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