Book Review of Emma Donoghue's Akin
Emma Donoghue's Akin is a great reading choice for anyone who is interested in exploring family relationships. A passing interest in Science would be an added bonus as there are even amusing Science jokes thrown in as Donaghoe is clearly either very knowledgable about Chemistry or has done her research well. As far as book reviews go, my comments are mixed, but overall favourable.
Akin is a story about an 80 year old, retired Chemistry professor, Noah Selvaggio who reluctantly takes guardianship of his great nephew Michael, whose mother is in jail, possibly for a crime she didn't commit and whose father has died, perhaps of an overdose.
On one level this is a wonderful book. The relationship succesfully shows how despite the two generation gap, Michael and Noah have more in common than either might have imagined. On a slightly more universal level it reveals how change is a good thing and how regeneration of spirit and life interest can appear when it is least expected. In this respect the book is excellent.
Where my observations are less favourable of Emma Donoghue's Akin are regarding the substantial number of unaswered questions and 'maybe' scenarios.) I felt a little bit the same about what happened in the inbetween years of Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale and Testaments!) As mentioned we only get a small insight into what happens to Michael's parents, and there is little to indicate that that this will be thoroughly explored. It feels like a missed opportunity that could have been built into the structure of the book. This is something that I thought might have been explored in the New York Times book review of Akin.
The sub-plot of the story is also full of maybes.. Whilst visiting Nice we are encouraged to join the characters on an exploration of what role Noah's own mother played during the resistance movement of World War 2. Was she a traitor or hero? The unanswered questions here are more acceptable and create a tone of realism, There is no doubting Donaghoe's excellent understanding of this historical period.. (It came as no surprise to learn that she had spent periods of her adult life living in France in this area.)
Other aspects of the exploration, such as Michael's 'tech' expertise, juxtaposed agains Noah's ineptness are not completely convincing. Noah's intellect is such that he is likely to be more than skilled at basic google search. (Perhaps my concern here is more a reflection on myself than necessary!) The representation of the social services organisation also feels a little unconvincing. Would an old man really be able to take an eleven year old boy out of the country so last minute? Perhaps it doesn't really matter, but as a piece of realistic fiction, especially by a writer who is an expert in historical writing, I was not completed convinced.
Book Discussion Questions for Akin by Emma Donoghue
Michael's social worker warns Noah that Michael's behaviour can be challenging? How successfully did Donoghue portray this? What techniques did she employ?
In the story Noah is very distressed when he thinks his mother works as a German spy during World War 2, however, he learns later (spoiler alert) that she actually worked for the resistance movement. Can you find any parallels between this sub-plot and the story of Michael and his own parents?
What are the main themes explored in this story?What similarities of character did Michael and his Great Uncle Noah share?
Throughout the book Noah frequently educates Michael, explaining every day phenomena as Chemistry constructs. He even explains away his dead wife's imaginary verbal interjections in his life. and dismisses them when they don't equate with his desires. How did this enhance or detract from your understandng of character and affect your enjoyment of the story?
In the book Noah realises that Michael is saving him as much as he is saving Michael. He decides to stop smoking and take better care of his health in the hope of increasing his longevity of life. How do you think the unwritten future story of Michael and Noah will pan out?
In the story Donoghue makes several references to class and wealth. Do you think Michael's mum would have been less likely to be in jail if she was of a higher social standing?
What do you think really happened to Amber and Victor?
We learn far more about Noah's thoughts and emotions throughout the story than we do about those of Michael. What adjectives would you use to sum up Michael?
How would the story have been different if Michael had been a girl? Having discussed this explore what this reveals about your pre-existing views on gender and identity.
Do you think Noah made a wise or foolish choice to have Michael move in with him? Is Donaghue making any statement or judgement about Noah's and Joan's prior life and lifestyle choices? If so what?
Book Club Questions for Emma Donoghue's Akin (when you haven't read the book!)
Do you think it is possible for an 80 year old man to effectively care for a teenager?
In the story Noah dislikes Michael's swearing and playing of violent games on his phone? Why do generational differences of outlook like these appear and how significant are they?
Why does Noah throw away the hat he has cherished for so many years? Why does Michael rescue it the next day?
Michael has a keen interest in taking photographs and particularly selfies. Donoghue seems to be suggesting that he may have inherited some of his Noah's father's talent. Do you have any inherited talent that you would like to share?
If you were placed in a situation where you had the opportunity to risk your own safety and life in order to save others do you think you would be a 'hero' or a 'coward'?
Would you be prepared to 'take on' and bring up a teenager, if you were the only family in a position to be able to help? Why or why not?
Summing up of Akin by author Emma Donoghue
I had no idea how many books Emma Donoghue had actually written. I, like many other readers, probably know her largely because of the excruciatingly painful to read Room. Distressing and brilliant in equal measures. I was not disappointed by this later text and will definitely go on to seek out more Emma Donoghue books to read now. For me the ability to create convincing characters who the reader cares about is the number one requirement of godo fiction. In this respect Emma Donoghue was extremely successful.
Are you a Christmas Scrooge or Bob Cratchit?
Our family love Christmas. Saint Mick of Thana turns into Bob Crachit, full of Christmas spirit and good will. He is generous to a fault and surpasses even Tiny Tim in his kindness. The girls are full of Christmas cheer. They don their Christmas pudding earrings and Santa hats with aplomb. In accordance with family tradition we all play Christmas songs loudly in the car from November onwards.
My personal Christmas highlight has always been the school carol concert. This year I’m back in the UK so missed it, but now both girls have graduated from school it would have probably been too bitter sweet to attend anyway.
To be truthful Christmas does feel a little bit strange this year. I think it is because although we only have a week to go we are still not all together as a family. In fact, I had a full on row with the staff in Morrison’s the other day. I was definitely in the ‘right’ but uncharacteristically (I hope) I did react as a bit of a Christmas Scrooge. I have needed to remind myself it is more important to be kind than to be right? Anyway … what about you …
Where are you on the Scrooge Scale?
I’ll pass no comment on the responses, but feel relieved that perhaps I’m not too much of a Scrooge after all. Actually, as I write this I have Coronation Street on the TV. Playing in the background of the soap opera is the song ‘It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ which is juxtaposed against Barbara Knox, playing Rita Fairclough, crying into her photo album, bereft with loneliness. It is a pertinent reminder to add ‘Do you check on your elderly neighbours?’ to the above list. I guess that is the key way to demonstrate the kindness of Tiny Tim.
Reflecting back, over the years our Christmases have been very different. From safari trips and hot air ballooning in the Serengeti when we lived in Tanzania, to scrumptious all you can eat and drink lunches at our favourite Sheraton Grande restaurant in Bangkok to wonderful lunches with the most delicious food you can imagine at my brother’s and his wife’s house we have always been very lucky at Christmas time. This year Annie comes home tomorrow so then Christmas can really begin. I am sure that any lingering Scrooge will dissipate completely with the joy of her arrival. (For a day or two at least anyway!)
Book Review of Elizabeth Strout's Olive, Again
I read Elizabeth Strout's Olive Again without having read the first Olive Kitteridge, but I don't think it adversely affected my enjoyment of it at all. Olive, Again is quite simply one of the best books I have ever read. It would be a wonderful text to choose for an animated book discussion group. I defy anyone to not fall in love with the cantankerous, old, troubled, self-contradictory curmudgeon who is Olive.
In this novel we meet Olive about to embark on her second marriage to Jack after the bereavement of Henry (who I believe features as the local pharmacist in her first book). We leave her, somewhat reluctantly, living in a care home in Crosby, Maine, stating that "Truthfully she (I) does not understand a thing."
As a reflection on life we are encouraged to laugh, cry, and share the insight, or at times lack of insight Olive continually displays. Elizabeth Strout is pure genius in getting to the very heart of the human condition. There are no issues she shrinks from and explores topics as diverse as paedophilia to being a dominatrix to infidelity to incontinence. The extreme and the mundane sit side by side to create a normal and weirdly realistic view of small town life.
Although presented as a novel, the book is arguably a series of vignettes in which Olive features either centrally or on the periphary as a neighbour, friend or teacher. Within the book there is something and someone that everyone can relate to in their own neighbourhood. As a reader I haven't come across a book more likely to engender an empathetic response. It is the perfect book club choice.
Book Discussion Questions for Olive, Again
What five adjectives would you use to describe Olive? What is Olive's best and worst quality?
Both of Olive's husband's die before her. Explore how she felt towards both husbands. Do you think she preferred one ot the other?
Book Club Questions for Elizabeth Strout's Olive Again - when you haven't read the book!
Summing up Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout
As I put together these book club and book discussion questions it was interesting to note that it was just as easy to create questions for those who haven't read the book as it was for those who have. I have found that with other book club questions I've written too. I think that is testament to how well Elizabeth Strout explores the human condition. With relatively few words she masterfully creates unique yet universal snapshots of life that each and everyone of us can really relate to.
Personal Goal Setting
Personal Goal Setting - Is it for you?
Goal setting has always been quite important to me. This morning I happened upon a notebook and found some of the ‘yearly’ goals I’d made for 2018-2019. They included meeting my goodreads target of completing 50 books, (including 5 non-fiction titles); swimming four or five times a week; maintaining my beginning of year weight and keeping a positive outlook. So far I’ve only succeeded in one goal, but having said that the year’s not over yet! Also, I’m not too downcast so actually that maybe means I’ve succeeded in two.
The Benefits of Goal Setting
In truth, I don’t just set yearly goals. I set daily, weekly and monthly goals. I guess I’m a bit obsessed. I do find it helpful though and feel it has many benefits. To be honest I'd like to read a self-help book about it. I wonder what Mark Manson would think of goal setting as a life priority.
Goal setting provides structure and routine. Perhaps as an ex-teacher I can’t manage life without a simulation of school bells and a mindset of what needs achieving in what length of time. I try to make my daily goals more than just a list of jobs by remembering why the day’s goal needs completing. For example, if it is something like practise my piano for half an hour it helps to keep in mind that I am doing this because I love the pleasure that being able to play a piece without a mistake brings; I also love the process of getting there.
Goal setting gives me a boost when I accomplish something. I feel that it releases the same kind of endorphins that completing exercise does. (though sadly that particular boost is not something I’ve experienced for a little while!) In education there is a lot of talk about intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards and I think the boost from achieving personal goal setting is an example of just this.
Goal setting is a reflection tool and enables me to evaluate what matters. It also enables thought and analysis regarding whether my values and needs are constant or changing. I can reflect on the wider benefits of achieving a goal. For example setting a goal to maintain my weight serves to remind me how great I felt when I reached a healthy size and re-opened the door of enjoying shopping for clothes. Having a goal means that any slippage of an achievement can be dealt with. Having said that I don’t think I’ll be unusual in not worrying to much about maintaining my exact weight until after Christmas
Goal setting helps me become motivated. I love to read and books are my thing but this year concentrating on reading has been more challenging than ever before. I’m wondering if that’s linked to being fifty and next year I’ll need some goals to enable me to be more focused!
Goal setting stops me procrastinating. A deadline for me is a really useful tool so if I set a goal to have something accomplished by a particular date then I am far more likely to actually do it.
Goal setting is a positive affirmative choice. Remembering the point of setting a goal and completing positive actions towards meeting it is I think, a great way of feeling good. I much prefer this to having an outlook of having to simply go without or give up things without keeping in mind why.
How to Set Goals
When I was teaching we spent quite a lot of time looking at how to set goals. I am always keen on figuring out how I can read more. I think it makes great sense to discuss your goals with a friend or family member and to enlist their support in setting them. The first thing is to be clear about what the purpose of setting a goal is and how it is beneficial. Goals can even go beyond the personal and you may wish to set up a ‘family goal’ too. Having said that I’m not sure that my Saint Mick and the girls would be too pleased at my inflicting a family goal on them! I guess we can only really be responsible for ourselves, but it might be a motivator for us all to work towards something. Hmmm… I think I’ll have to think about that a little more.
Using the SMART target model is, I think a great way of setting goals. I’ve posted before about this acronym. In brief if a goal or target is specific, manageable, attainable, realistic and set within a timeframe then it is something that can be achieved and will go on to improve a person’s individual well-being. It is particularly useful when trying to overcome hurdles- be they emotional, physical or academic so is a super tool to use with young people.
The only downside of the SMART target approach to goal setting is that perhaps it doesn’t encourage too much risk, As I’m feeling fairly emotionally robust right now I’m thinking I might shake things up a little bit next year and change realistic to risk-taking. I don’t know what I’ll do yet, but it might be something to do with exercise! Any ideas?
Personal Goal Setting and Evaluation
As I’ve mentioned I haven’t been fully successful with my goals this year, (so far) but I don’t mind too much. Actually, that’s not quite true. I do mind as if I set a goal I like to achieve it. Being positive though, the process of working towards my goals has been worthwhile in itself. It is useful for me to reflect why I haven’t always completed my goals in a timely manner as then I can regroup and consider if I need to ‘up my game’ or can ‘cut myself some slack.’ I can definitely say I’ve made substantial progess towards meeting my goals but is that a cop out? I’m not sure. I view goal setting as a tool to help me live with purpose and direction and I see goal setting as a continuous part of life so do think it is worthwhile doing.
I do understand the counter viewpoint and know that some people avoid ‘goal setting’ with a barge pole as they simply feel too much a ‘failure’ if a goal isn’t met. That’s fair enough, but I couldn’t survive without my goals. I kind of do understand that but if the tool is used well then it is maybe time to consider if it is a ‘good goal’ in the first place. If it is then the failure to meet it might need a little more thought and action. Anyway, I can feel quite pleased today’s goal of reflecting on goal setting is almost completed. I knew this blog was useful for something!! Are you a goal setter? If so what kind of goals do you like to set?
Book Review of Mark Manson’s 'The Subtle Art of Not Giving a ‘F*ck’
Mark Manson - What's the fuss about?
When I start any book review, such as this one on ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck I am usually very mindful that the author has spent days, weeks, months, or even years working on their text. Criticism hurts and it is good to be kind when possible. Admittedly this can lead to fairly bland reviews when a book is just mediocre! Even though the likelihood of the writer ever reading my comments about their work are pretty slim, I try to honestly evaluate a book whilst erring on the positive. (A bit like assessing a kid’s work!) I definitely avoid stating anything personally negative about the writer themselves.
With my review of ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’by Mark Manson, I couldn’t do this. It was impossible to separate the author from the writing. Although I don’t think Mark Manson, would ‘give a f*ck’ it still feels harsh to share anything negative about the text.
I read ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck on a long ‘long haul flight from Bangkok to UK. I didn’t’ have a lot to do or read so pretty much completed the book in one sitting. Despite this my first impressions were not good!
What with its click bait title, its references to Jennifer Aniston as part of its overall ‘laddish’ tone, Manson almost alienated me before I had hardly started reading. I disliked and disbelieved in the ‘we’re all mates together’ tone of the first few chapters immensely; the authorial voice sounded arrogant and self-absorbed. I was utterly unconvinced by what I think was an attempt to be self-deprecating and thought the author came over as being somewhere between a complete sleazebag and a stereotypical 'rich kid'. His own sense of entitlement made me feel he was the least equipped person on the planet to write about, as he does, the sense of entitlement others feel.
Jump to two hours into the flight and I was fully immersed in the writing and prepared to engage in some intellectual thought about Mark Manson’s commentary. By the end of the text I was completely won over. I was prepared to dig deep and reflect on the validity of his arguments. Manson’s use of analogy and example were pretty convincing and served as a good tool against which to pin personal reflection. I am sure as Mark Manson progressed through the book he became kinder and wiser.
Manson makes a point of distancing himself from other writers in the self-help’ genre by casting aside the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as an end goal. He stresses the difference between short and long term fulfilment and personal choice is a recurring theme. Manson demonstrates that whilst we can’t always, or even often, control what life throws at us we can control how we respond to it.
Although, I’m not great at evaluating non-fiction text and can lose my way a bit, I think what Mark Manson is getting at is that we shouldn’t strive to be extraordinary. By accepting our ordinariness we can then learn what to ‘give a f*ck about’. (Call me old fashioned but I tended to replace ‘value’ and ‘care’ for the phrase ‘give a f*ck’.) As in other ‘self-help’ or other popularized ‘pseudo-psychology’ studies the message isn’t rocket science, but rather is a reminder to reflect upon what is driving our lives. In brief Manson is telling us to accept that we are not perfect but to get our priorities right.
The structure of the book isn’t as tight is it might be. For example the book takes an odd twist towards the end when Manson re-centres his arguments on the type of legacy we wish to leave behind. This underpins his whole argument but it needs pursuing in more depth as it feels like it is almost thrown in as an after thought.
Overall, despite some repetition and contradiction the book was definitely worth reading. As I’ve said whilst I appreciate what Manson is trying to do I don’t personally like his style of appealing to the reader by throwing in coarse jokes. It feels like he is trying to hard to not sound preachy so is overcompensating with his self presentment as an ‘edgy, boy come good’ type. Judging by his sales though my view is not a commonly held one. Best of luck to him. His Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and his sequel text Everything is F*cked - a Book about Hope, will certainly be bringing in the pennies, but I don’t suppose he’ll care!
Book Club Questions for the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F
Discussion Questions on the Subtle Art of not giving a F
Discussion Questions if you haven’t read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F
If you were to write a ‘self help’ book what would your key message be?