Book Review: The Bird Artist

What drives people to cheat? What are we looking for when we step outside our relationships and commit adultery?

Is it that we’re lacking something in our current relationship, or that we’re truly unhappy with our spouse? Or maybe it’s more animalistic than that: maybe we’re acting on a biological instinct to increase the chances of our bloodline living on once we’re gone from the earth. I know the answer is different and complex in every situation, but I can’t stop asking myself, why? Why do otherwise decent people engage in selfish, hurtful behavior like adultery? Why did I do it, myself, after my first divorce?

883420These questions kept swirling around in my head after reading The Bird Artist, by Howard Norman. And while the answers I’ve come up with are still unsatisfying, I’m at least grateful for finding a book that encourages self-reflection and honest assessment through rich storytelling.

The novel is set in a small, coastal village in Newfoundland during the early 1900’s.  It hits you hard from page one, as it opens with the narrator, Fabian Vas, confessing his murder of the lighthouse keeper Botho August. While the murder drives the story forward, it is in no way the central theme or the book. Instead, readers become immersed in the Vas family’s struggle to navigate through life as they deal with adultery, familial duty, and passion and betrayal.

Despite its dark undertones, The Bird Artist is a lovely, quick read. The language might be stark, but the storyline is quite romantic and engaging. The main character is, in fact, a burgeoning bird artist who draws and paints shorebirds and corresponds with his taciturn mentor, Isaac Sprague. Fabian struggles to keep living a  quiet, simple life as his parents try to marry him off to a distant cousin. When his father leaves to make money hunting on a nearby island, Fabian’s life crumbles around him. At this point in the book, readers will realize there’s more than one antagonist in the book, a factor that kept me on my toes as a reader and helped keep the story’s pacing quick to the very end.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading his novel, and I think it’s a testament to the strength of the writing that even after finishing reading it, I couldn’t stop thinking about its overarching themes and how they relate to my own life. I can’t wait to read more of Howard Norman’s books, either. Norman is a writer and educator from Michigan who translates Algonquin, Cree, and Inuit folklore. When I stopped to ponder that fact, I realized that over the winter, I picked up at least three books by authors who are also translators: Howard NormanRichard Dauenhauer and dg nanouk okpik. And I can honestly say I loved them  all. Here’s a bit of their work, in case you’re interested:

I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place








As for me, I’m off to write poetry and sip delicious coffee under the midday sun (a rare occurrence in Tacoma in the early spring). Maybe I’ll be able to come up with an explanation for making the mistakes I did when I was younger, or maybe I won’t. I can only hope to learn from it, and to ask for forgiveness not only from the person I hurt, but from myself, as well.

Happy reading, my friends.

The Messiness of Life, Love and Stalled Book Reviews

It took me two months to sit myself down and write this damn book review.
But not for the reasons you might think. The book isn’t badly written or boring (it’s wonderful on both accounts), nor is it long or stuffy. The simple truth is that my [love] life exploded into a hundred little pieces this winter, and I was forced to stop, evaluate, and pick up each and every little bit of myself (whether I liked what I found or not) and build myself back into the woman I thought I was, the woman I wanted to be.

wake-up-to-the-joy-of-youWhy am I telling you all this? Especially after trying my best to keep it under wraps online and among friends and family? Well, because Wake Up to the Joy of You by Agapi Stassinopoulos, gave me some clarity and helped me hold onto my personal truths as my marriage (and I) fell apart. It was probably the best book I could’ve picked up at the time, and because of that, I feel like it’s worth sharing. This book couldn’t have landed on my doorstep at a better time.

And before you ask, let me just come out with it: no, this book didn’t save my marriage, nor was it meant to. It did save my sanity, though, and god bless it for that. Wake Up to the Joy of You: 52 Meditations and Practices for a Calmer, Happier Life, is a compilation of not-so-pushy-or-preachy essays focused on living a happier, more self-aware life. It doesn’t suggest making drastic life changes or overhauling your approach to people or problems, it simply calls for being more ‘awake’ to your own wants and needs, to participating in a little self reflection in order to build a better life.

Continue reading

A Bah Humbug Book Review: Nonsense by Jamie Holmes

Some books grab your attention the minute you start reading them, and some don’t. It’s a simple fact of being a bibliophile that every now and then, no matter how much careful attention you put into researching and selecting a book, learning about an author’s background, or reading a few pages between the aisles at a bookstore before you buy the litle beauty you’ve been holding for the last 30 minutes, you’re bound to get a dud every now and then. Unfortunately for me, Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing by Jamie Holmes was one of those duds.

Nonsense.jpgI did not enjoy reading this book. The biggest reason was that Holmes uses far too many case studies in any given chapter to prove his points. Most the content within each chapter consists of long-winded examples with have an unclear connection to the author’s proclaimed ideas. I’m talking 15-20 pages of detailed narrative in each chapter about seemingly random people or organizations struggling on their professional journeys. The author’s own viewpoints about ambiguity, uncertainty, and making sense of an unclear world are unceremoniously shoved into the last page or two of each section. Continue reading

Book Review: Extraordinary Ordinary Moments by Jorey Hurley

Let’s talk about mindfulness, my friends, and the beauty of directing our appreciation and awareness of beauty toward the moments left unnoticed throughout our day. Extraordinary Ordinary Moments, a journal written and illustrated by Jorey Hurley, will help you do exactly that.

This little journal is a wonderful addition to the desk of anyone in need of a little help slowing down to “appreciate the beautiful, the quirky, the surprising, and the overlooked,” the author states.

eomThe first few pages of the book include a short introduction in which Hurley explains how over the years, her daily meditations in sketching culminated in the collection of short writing prompts and simple illustrations which fill the pages of this journal. In every prompt, Hurley encourages readers to look at the seemingly-mundane details of their day-to-day lives and acknowledge their beauty.

Readers don’t have to work through the journal from front to back, either. They can simply thumb through the book until an illustration or prompt catches their eye, instead. The artwork is simple yet quirky, and small enough to leave ample room for journaling.

Some of my favorite prompts include pages encouraging me to acknowledge “something unnatural,” “something kind of gross,” something that makes you believe” and “ingenuity” in my day. Without pressuring me to write a lengthy journal entry or scrawl out profound ideas each day, this journal helped me reestablish a quick, daily practice of mindfulness.

Personally, I’ve been enjoying this journal since it arrived in the mailbox. It serves as a helpful reminder to slow down and re-center myself when I’m at my busiest. It doesn’t matter if I doodle, jot down a few song lyrics or write about the small details of my day. What matters is taking the time to appreciate the hidden beauty all around me. And to that end, I highly recommend Extraordinary Ordinary Moments.

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For more information on Extraordinary Ordinary Moments, click here, or learn more about the author, Jorey  Hurley.

Just sayin’: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.