Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: Beatrix Potter - The Complete Tales

I missed the book club get together last month, so couldn't quite wrap my head around this month's theme: Shame on you! Why haven't you read that yet?!. I needed to find a book I was "supposed to" have read, but hadn't yet. This was a hard one. A lot of the popular books, like Twilight or The Hunger Games, I haven't read because I think they're crap. Same with some of the boring classics. And it was hard to find recommended lists for this too, but after trolling the interwebs, I settled on The Curious Incident of The Dog in The Nighttime. I went upstairs in our library to pull it off the shelf, and got distracted by the Tolkien section. Oh to have the time to read the entire Tolkien section.

Near to Tolkien, I happened to spy a beautiful volume of The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter. And true to this month's "genre", I have never read Beatrix Potter! Sure, I "know" the tale of Peter Rabbit, but I've never actually read any of the little books! So I checked it out, and it sat on my coffee table for three weeks, then I hastily read it over 3 evenings. Yay for short kiddie tales with pictures!

March 2015: Shame on you! Why haven't you read that yet?!

Beatrix Potter - The Complete Tales
By Beatrix Potter
400 pages

This large volume has all of Potter's 23 animal stories and verses in complete, unabridged format and it includes all the original illustrations (colour and black and white)  as well. Did you know that Potter did all of the paintings and drawings? I had no idea. Also included are a couple picture sequences, and two unpublished stories. The stories are arranged in the chronological order in which they were published, starting with A Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902. Each story includes an short introduction, or background, about where/why Potter might've written the story, or to whom she dedicated it, or how the story setting related to her real life. The introductions do an excellent job of setting the scene, and helped transport me as the reader back to turn-of-the-century English countryside.

The stories themselves are quite cute. They are definitely of and for another time period, back when children were allowed to read stories about bags of bunnies being cooked in a Mr. Tod's (the fox) oven (spoiler - the bunnies are rescued). The animals are anthropomorphized, in their cute human clothes, the houses they live in, the items they keep and the activities to do (to market so we can have a dinner party!). And sometimes, there are even humans living alongside the animals. I did find the stories a bit...well, I'm not the target audience. Some of the endings are a bit twee or abrupt, some of them don't seem to have any point at all (like the one about Pig Robinson), and some are just plain boring (like sadly almost any story with a cat in it). But I can see how they would be lovely read-alouds to young children, who would quite enjoy the cute characters and idyllic scenery. It's also quite sweet how some of the characters are reoccurring, and the map inside the book cover really makes it feel like Potter created a world of animals and nature within our own world.

I think my favourite story is The Tale of Peter Rabbit, because, well, look at how cute he is!

It's also your typical morality tale of the "serves you right because you were naughty" variety. And, if you read the rest of the tales, when Peter Rabbit comes up again, he is much changed from his experience, and is basically a kind, upstanding member of the community, his veggie stealing days behind him. Aw.

I'd recommend this book, or any of the Beatrix Potter tales, to anyone who has small children. The artwork alone is worth a look, as some of her paintings are quite the portrayal of the perfect country life. This is a worthy collection for adult fans as well, so if you remember reading these stories as a kid, pick up this book and read them again to your own kiddlets!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Book Review: Frostbike

When I was looking to buy my new house, I made sure I was close to a direct public transit bus to work. As my house hunt progressed, I started to consider bike routes to work - and I totally lucked out! My new house is less than 6km from work and my bike route is awesome! It's all sidewalk, paved trail or quiet residential street, plus it's flat. In the summer it takes me about 25mins door to door, and in the winter about double. That's right - I biked in the winter! Well, not every day, but most days. I took the bus when it was super windy or during and for a few days after heavy snowfalls. And then I got lazy and found reliable free parking a few blocks from work so I drove during the dead of winter, but I'm back on my bike now! I love it. It's quicker than traffic. I don't pay for parking (or the bus). It's better for the environment. It's exercise. It's freedom.

So I was excited to read Frostbike!

By Tom Babin
304 pages

Tom Babin is a journalist currently at the Calgary Herald. One day instead of getting stuck in winter traffic, he digs out his bike, some long johns, and starts pedalling! But why don't more people bike in the winter? Babin sets out to dispel myths, provide tips, explore bike cities around the world and ultimately encourage everyone to ride through the snow. 

Frostbike is split into 3 sections. First is The Bike. Do you need a special bike to ride in the winter? Babin describes the winter bikes of the past, tests out a fat bike, and talks about the trial and error mods for his own bike. He discovers that with a few minor tweaks, you can ride any bike in the winter. So surely that's not stopping most people from winter biking?

Next is The City. Perhaps the most controversial, Babin talks about winter bike infrastructure, politics, and snow removal. He travels to the top winter biking cities to learn how all the people move around on their bikes and discovers bike infrastructure helps, but people bike in all sorts of cities with all sorts of winter issues.

Finally is The Attitude. Why did we stop playing outside in the winter? Why does no one ever walk around town in the snow? Why are outdoor winter sports participation rates dropping? Why don't we enjoy winter anymore? His advice? Just try it! And Babin closes the books with tips to help you love it.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who is thinking about winter biking, or to those who are wise winter bike veterans - Babin's book is an easy quick read that is informative and interesting. It's inspiring too, it might get you on two wheels.

Honestly, it was a tough sell in the beginning but I'm so glad I got into winter biking! It's harder in the winter, and it takes longer and sometimes it's cold and slippy but it's still better than getting stuck in traffic! I'm looking forward to the spring/summer/fall bike season, but next winter you'll find me and my handmedown mountain bike with studded tires back on the road. Try it! You'll like it!