What Books, Writing and Reading Mean to Me

Scully and Christine in June 2010

If you don’t already know about HarperCollins Canada’s new Savvy Reader website, I want to be sure to tell you about it! It’s run by an absolutely wonderful group of book lovers and employers of HarperCollins Canada and there’s something delightful to be found there for every book lover!

I was honoured to be asked to contribute to The Savvy Reader’s new Blog Spotlight feature and today, they published my article on What Books, Writing and Reading Mean To Me.

This is my original version which is a little bit longer and was edited for space:

My mom told me that ever since I was a toddler my favourite toy or present was always books. She read to me constantly from the time I was a baby to the point when I could read on my own at five years of age. The fact that I could read at that age allowed me to skip kindergarten and ever since I was in grade school, I have written poems and stories myself.

I always dreamed of being a writer and I guess you could say that I am one, even though I don’t make a living that way. When I was 14, I wrote a poem about Shaun Cassidy that was published in a Scholastic Book Services title called Rock’s Biggest Ten. Since then, I’ve had quite a few poems published in newspapers, magazines and poetry anthologies and in 2008, I self-published a book of poetry called Eden Refugee through Lulu.com after being encouraged by my mentor – author, actor, former head of the CBC and all-around Renaissance man, Patrick Watson. It’s safe to say that I simply cannot imagine a life without writing or books!

There are so many reasons why I love books. I love the look of them, the smell of them, and the way they feel in my hands. Holding one is always like anticipating an unknown, wrapped gift, and wondering what it could contain inside. A good writer’s ability to transport you to different times, places, and worlds and to allow you to envision in your own imagination what it’s like there is extraordinary. I love to read on the couch, under a tree, on planes, trains and automobiles, and especially in bed in the morning while I enjoy my first coffee of the day. That’s the epitome of luxury to me! I haven’t purchased a Kindle or Kobo yet but I imagine that I soon will because I have three full bookcases in my home and little room for more. I think they’re pretty cool even though a printed version of a book will always be special to me. I love to read literary fiction, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, historical romance, chick lit, horror, poetry, spirituality/philosophy, biographies and memoirs.

I have been writing book reviews for years but it has only been in the past two years that I’ve really made a conscious effort to write about every book I read. I started my blog Scully Love Promo Reviews on Blogger in 2008 and switched to WordPress at in December 2009 (my business name changed to Bodacious Copy in November 2020). I write book reviews because I enjoy the process. I love to read, and I like to do what I can to help promote authors; whether they’re making their publishing debut or are already well-known names. I also write to give my blog content and to drive traffic to my website. I not only write book reviews, but I write CD and live performance reviews as well as blog about the arts in Kingston, Ontario (where I live), my clients and about social media.

I read other people’s book reviews but not as many as I’d like to because I’m busy reading books and writing my own. I look for intelligent reviews that are well-written and thoughtful, as well as those about the work of my favourite authors or in particular, Irish authors that I haven’t heard of. To say I am very fond of Irish writers is a glaring understatement and I go out of my way to look for books on the sale tables of Chapters or Indigo Books & Music that are written by them. My favourite Irish writers include: Patrick McCabe, Colum McCann, Neil Jordan, Roddy Doyle, Edna O’Brien and Maggie O’Farrell.

My reviews of books are usually based on my emotional reaction to the story. However, I also look for the following factors:

1. Did it move me?
2. Could I relate to the characters?
3. Was I captivated, fascinated, held spellbound?
4. Did it make me laugh, cry, think about it long after I finished the last page?
5. Was I intellectually challenged by the story?
6. Did I learn something I didn’t know before?
7. Would I want to read more work from the same author?

If the answer is yes to all of the above, then it would be more than likely that I would give the book a high rating and recommend it to my blog readers and these are the kinds of things I look for in a fellow blogger’s review as well.

My top 5 favourite reviews that I’ve written since I started blogging are:

1. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
2. Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann
3. Thaw by Fiona Robyn
4. The Complete Poetic Works of Michael Madsen Vol. 1: 1995-2005
5. The Wizard Within by Albert Thor

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is a book I just finished reading and it’s absolutely the best book I’ve ever read!  This is the kind of read I always hope for but seldom experience and it’s why I’ll spend the rest of my life reading as much as I possibly can.

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Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts: The Best Book I’ve Ever Read

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Book Review
Title: Shantaram
Author: Gregory David Roberts
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Released: 2003
Pages: 944
ISBN-10: 0312330529
ISBN-13: 978-0312330521
Stars: 6.0

The sensational epic novel Shantaram by Australian author Gregory David Roberts is one that I don’t think I will ever forget for as long as I live. It is the best book I have ever read and giving it 5 stars just isn’t enough to express how much I loved it and what a profound effect its author has had on the way I look at the world.

This is a book I savoured like a last bottle of water in the desert, while reading several others in between over a period of five months, because I never wanted it to end. Its gripping, visceral descriptions of prison life will make you squirm in your seat and its heartrending passages about the loss of loved ones will have you weeping uncontrollably, but it will also make you daydream, smile, and laugh out loud.

The theme of Shantaram is the exile experience, alienation, and man’s quest for meaning. It’s also about shame and self-loathing, sadness and hope, fear and forgiveness, poverty and true wealth, understanding and catharsis. And above all, it is about love.

Shantaram (which is actually the second book in a trilogy that has not yet been published) for the most part takes place in Bombay (Mumbai) and the author’s knowledge and love for the Indian people is so intoxicating and infectious that it will make you want to visit India with the hope that you will come to know its people in the same way. He describes the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feel of India (as well as his romantic retreat in Goa and the war torn and ravaged Afghanistan) with as much perfect detail, love and care as a famous artist put into his masterpiece with each strategic brush stroke.

Shantaram is the story of the indomitable spirit of a man who has lost everything – whose will to survive is astonishing – and the lengths to which he will fight to climb out of the abyss, absolutely astounding. The main character who has a number of names: Linbaba, Lin, Shantaram…is a man who feels damned and beyond redemption because of the crimes he’s committed (robbery, smuggling, gunrunning, counterfeiting, and working as a street soldier for the Bombay mafia) but who manages to find light, peace and salvation through the relationships he shares with the people he loves.

“It’s forgiveness that makes us what we are. Without forgiveness, our species would’ve annihilated itself in endless retributions. Without forgiveness, there would be no history. Without that hope, there would be no art, for every work of art is in some way an act of forgiveness. Without that dream, there would be no love, for every act of love is in some way a promise to forget. We live on because we can love, and we love because we can forgive.”

Based on many of the true life experiences of Gregory David Roberts – who after the failure of his marriage in Australia became a heroin addict, robber, inmate, escapee, and finally a refugee hiding out in India – Shantaram is stellar fiction that will leave you with many questions about how much of the story actually happened and how much was devised by Roberts’ literary genius. You may also find yourself falling in love with its author because of his intellect, charisma, and the sheer magnitude of his gigantic heart.

This book should be required reading for every college and university student on the planet. It’s a story that should be read, if possible, before embarking on the major part of your life’s journey. It is filled with so many exquisitely written passages and profound and remarkable quotes that you will be able to find something in it to express almost every situation you could possibly encounter.

“Everything you ever sense, in touch or taste or sight or even thought, has an effect on you that’s greater than zero. Some things, like the background sound of a bird chirping as it passes your house in the evening, or a flower glimpsed out of the corner of an eye, have such an infinitesimally small effect that you can’t detect them. Some things, like triumph and heartbreak, and some images, like the image of yourself reflected in the eyes of a man you’ve just stabbed, attach themselves to the secret gallery and they change your life forever.”

The characters, particularly his closest friends outside of the mafia council, such as Prabaker, Johnny Cigar, Qasim Ali Hussein and the slum dwellers, and the European crowd from Leopold’s Bar: Karla, Lisa, Didier, Ulla and Modena, Maurizio, Lettie and Vikram, Scorpio George and Gemini George, as well as Abdullah, Khader Khan and the other members of the Bombay mafia, are richly developed and fully realized and as a reader you become invested in them as you experience their joys and tragedies. I believe that some of these characters were amalgamations of several different people who Roberts knew in India in the 80s, but the world he creates through their eyes is as complex and colourful as the one we live in at this moment. Rarely, have I read a book that so completely transported me into the author’s world and seldom have I thought of one so much after I’d put the book down.

As I read the last few pages of this giant tome, tears trickled down my face, because of what Roberts had written in ending this part of his tale, and because I had come to the end and now I have to wait for the sequel to be published; hopefully in September 2011. Having a writer’s work that is this good, to look forward to, is something exceptional indeed. Gregory David Roberts’ life has been beyond extraordinary.

I won’t say anything more but READ THIS BOOK.

NOTE (as of March 2021): A TV series based on Shantaram and its sequel The Mountain Shadow is currently in production with Apple TV+, Paramount TV and Anonymous Content. Shooting was interrupted due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The series is set to resume filming in 2021.