Monday, 19 March 2018

Canada Reads: book 2

Book 2: "The Marrow Thieves" by Cherie Dimaline

   What an ominous cover!  It certainly does reflect the tone of the novel.  It is a young adult novel and I compare it to "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.  They are both post apocalyptic and very dark.
   In this novel, the indigenous people are being hunted AGAIN!  This time for bone marrow to solve the problems of the rest of the world.  A teenage boy, Frenchie, joins a group to escape the "Recruiters" who are rounding them up and taking them to 'marrow-stealing' factories.
  I recognize the value of great story-telling to shed light on important issues.  That is what dystopian novels do for us, but I find them so difficult to read.
  I also recognize that I get too involved in the novel.  At one point in the story, Frenchie listened to the stories of the others in this disparate group of people 'on the run'.  Each individual story was heart-breaking and Frenchie said, "I wanted to throw up.  I felt the bile burn at the base of my throat,  I couldn't take anymore".  At this point in the novel, I understood exactly what he meant.  Every story was so distressing. 
  But I realize that in this novel about 'the hunted trying to hunt', the basic question is: "What does it mean to be human?"
  Lovely to read about the Anishinaabe people.  But so, so sad.

Jully Black

Jully Black is called "Canada's queen of R and B". She will be defending this novel for Canada Reads.  She is known for championing causes and attempts to use her career as a platform to inspire others to celebrate the greatness that is in everyone.
Cherie Dimaline

But I want to also celebrate the author of this book - Cherie Dimaline, a Canadian Metis writer.  This book has won many awards.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Canada Reads 2018: Book 1

2018 theme: "One Book to Open Your Eyes"

Book 1: "Precious Cargo" by Craig Davidson
   What a great cover and title, although the title is also a Bruce Willis movie.
  But I love this cover- the colours, picture, and overall effect.  It does what covers should do- draws you into the book.
  I was really expecting this book to be my favourite, so I read it first.  However, I was disappointed, not really sure why.
  First, let's talk about the content of the book.  The subtitle is: "My year of driving the kids on school bus 3077".  It is a memoir.

Craig Davidson
  Craig Davidson had been trying to write, but was feeling like a failure.  In the midst of despair and poverty, he took this bus-driving job.  He was responsible for five children with special needs- autism and cerebral palsy amongst other emotional and physical disabilities.  He wrote the book to explain how the relationship with these children changed his life.
   I think the overwhelming theme is stated on page 202: "Why are some of us so fortunate while others are not?"  And so, it seems to be about the author grappling with life issues.  Probably for him, it was a year of emotional growth.  The book was written several years after the experience, when he was more settled into his life.  By this time, was experiencing acceptance as a writer and had a wife and baby boy.

  Why didn't I love this book?  Hmm.  Possibly I felt he was trying to be funny but missing the mark.  Perhaps I felt that it was pedestrian, uneventful.  It seemed like a short story that was padded and padded, with descriptions of the bus, the weather, etc.  I also thought he gave too much detail on the bathroom needs of one of the boys.  That is often my problem with memoirs - invasion of the privacy of other people, although I do realize that the author had permission from all of the parents and they saw the book before it was released.
Greg Johnson

   Greg Johnson will be defending this book for Canada Reads.  He is a 'weather guy'.  He is one of Canadian Geographics Magazine's top 100 explorers, and worked on the show "Tornado Hunters".

Monday, 12 March 2018

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Frances Hodgson Burnett

   "The Secret Garden" is such a profound, but simple novel!
I think it affected me deeply because the delights of nature seem to have been mostly forgotten in our world today.  The change of seasons and the birds and animals are not noticed as we hustle around, absorbed by technology.
   I was also affected because I am reading through the choices of Canada Reads this year and I am deeply disturbed by the content. My reading choices do affect my phyche and I find it disturbing to focus on man's inhumanity to man in such detail.

  Frances Hodgson Burnett told her friend Vivian, "I never could write anything that would bring unhappiness into the world.  There is enough of that in all our lives that we cannot get away from.  What we all want is more of the other things- life, love, hope- and an assurance that they are true.  With the best that was in me, I have tried to write more happiness into the world."
  Well, Frances, I appreciate that!  
  I was so interested in this author that I tried to find her biography. However, the only one that I could find was written by this friend, Vivian, who admitted that she did not want to cause upset, so didn't delve too deeply into Frances' life in the biography.
   But here are the facts:
Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) was born in Manchester, England, married twice and had two sons.  What her friend Vivian would not want to dwell on, is the fact that both marriages were very difficult and one of her sons died young.  Frances was extremely hard-working and was often not well.
  Frances' father died when Frances was 3 years old.  He had been a successful businessman but with his death, there was no income for his wife and five young children, who had lived comfortably in a large house with a maid and a nurse-maid in England.  So they moved in with relatives until Frances' uncle suggested that they join him in Tennessee, where his business was flourishing.  Frances was 16 at this time and was writing constantly.  
  However, the uncle's business did not continue to flourish and Frances' family lived in poverty in the United States. Frances' first story was published at 19- imagine that!  She was writing constantly for magazines and making a good income, so that she was able to move her family into a better home when she was 20.  Her mother died the next year.

Frances wrote 53 novels and 13 plays.
She is best- known for her three children's stories: "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1885), "A Little Princess" (1905), and "The Secret Garden" (1911).
"Little Lord Fauntleroy" really established her as a writer.  It was made into a play and was very popular.
Frances herself made clothes for her sons, using lace collars and frills.  In fact, she dressed her boys in velvet suits that became very popular.  She let their hair grow long and she curled it every day.
   However, the book that has lasted over the years is "The Secret Garden".
  Frances had a home in Long Island but also loved visiting England.  She had a vast social circle.  She crossed the Atlantic 33 times.
  In the 1880's, Frances became interested in a series of religions- Christian Science, Spiritualism, and Theosophy. I think these beliefs were woven into the writing of "The Secret Garden".
  I really enjoyed "The Secret Garden" and found the author most interesting!

Friday, 9 March 2018

"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett

classic book club choice
    Isn't this a delightful cover?  And what a wonderful story!                                       Mary Lennox, born in India, was "the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen".  She had a sour expression and was always ill.  She was 9 when her parents died in a cholera outbreak.  She was sent to England, to her uncle Archibald Craven, a hunchback who was also sour, who had a son, Colin, who was also sour and very ill- at least everyone thought that he was (including himself). What developed was a grand adventure for Mary, who had been kept in two rooms in a 100 room mansion with only servants bringing food.  But that didn't stop her inquiring spirit. She discovered the "Secret Garden" that was kept hidden and locked because Archibald's wife had died there.  Her exciting adventures with nature were shared with her young servant Martha and Martha's brother Dickon.  And, eventually, she shared the 'wonders of nature' with Colin, who had not been out of his room for years.  Thus began a journey of healing for Mary, Colin, and eventually spread to Colin's father, Archibald.
1.) "Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen".
2.) "Thoughts are as powerful as electric batteries".

"The Secret" that they discovered is the power of the mind and the power of nature.

   It was interesting to me that, back in 1911, the author used the term "The Secret".  It referred to the garden but also the healing they discovered there, by the power of their minds.

   It reminded me of the recent book called "The Secret", which is based on the law of attraction, claiming that thoughts can change the world! Of course, this theory is termed 'pseudoscience' because it cannot be proven, but who hasn't experienced how thoughts and words can change the perception of any circumstance?
  I was delighted with this book and even more interested when I read about the author.  I will write my next blog about....
Frances Hodgson Burnett

Friday, 2 March 2018

Freedom To Read

Freedom to Read Week
February 25 - March 3, 2018

   My daughter has suggested that I write a blog on this topic.  I think it is to remind me of the fact that when she entered senior school, she brought home almost every book that I had learned about when I took a course on controversial teenage novels.  Even earlier than that, she had brought home a book from the church library- "Go Ask Alice" by anonymous.  As she was reading, she was asking the meanings of words that I really didn't want her to know yet.  So I decided to read that book, and, actually, I agreed that she should read it.  Perhaps she was a little too young, but it was a book about drugs and I felt that it gave a really good understanding of what happens when teens get involved in drugs. But I really didn't want her using that language.  She is a social worker now, so I guess it didn't damage her too much.  Her language is fairly classy.

   Not many books are banned in Canada.  I could only find evidence of seven and I have never heard of five of them. 

Books that have been banned in Canada:
The Hoax of the Twentieth Century - a book that denies the holocaust
Lethal Marriage- the story of Paul Benardo and Karla Homolka
Lolita- a professor obsessed with a 12-year-old
The Naked and the Dead- an American novel of World War ll
Peyton Place- a steamy expose on a small American town
The Turner Diaries- blueprint for terrorism
White Niggers of America- about the F.L.Q.

   But here is a more interesting list of Canadian books that have been challenged.  I understand about books being challenged because I was a children's librarian and was challenged a few times- always by a parent who was not a reader but picked out quotes that were disturbing.  
   My thinking is that you cannot condemn a book unless you have read every word.  And, children can learn that they shouldn't use that language- what is the bigger issue in the book? (As in "Go Ask Alice")

Books that have been challenged in Canada:

"The Diviners" by Margaret Lawrence
"The Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill
"Three Wishes" by Deborah Ellis
"Underground to Canada" by Barbara Smucker
"The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" by Mordecai Richler
"Lives of Girls and Women" by Alice Munro
"When Everything Feels Like the Movies" by Raziel Reid
"Essex County" by Jeff Lemire
"The Wars" by Timothy Findley
"This One Summer" by Mariko Tamaki
"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood

  I have read seven of those books and all I can say is that "When Everyone Feels Like the Movies" was one of the worst books that I have ever read, but other readers feel that it has a message for the youth of today.  So be it!
  I wish I had something profound to say about banning books, but I don't.  I realize that it is a slippery slope, so let's appreciate our "Freedom to read"!

Monday, 26 February 2018

Gretchen Rubin

   I am struggling through the Canada Reads' choices for this year.  The theme is: 'Open Your Eyes' and I am finding that the books are not only opening up my eyes, but they are making me even more disturbed about the state of the world than I already was.  As though watching the daily news doesn't already affect me in that way.  Focussing on the horrors of the world is no good for my psyche.
  So...I picked up my copy of "The Happiness Project" to get me out of this angst.
  Well, I didn't really find Gretchen Rubin helpful even though she has done extensive 'happiness' research.

A friend recommended this Youtube song to help me out of my funk, and remind me that most people are good.

    With this cheery country and western song playing in my head, I just got back to the things that make me happy- family, friends and travel.  The books that I create, remind me of those great things in my life.

   So I planned some more trips and worked on books about past trips.  And I got back to reading my book club choices and thinking about all the book clubs that I have belonged to.  
   I have made two books about my travels with my friend, Terri on 'Bookwomen' trips. These trips combine books and travel. 
   These memories make me happy, so I better get busy creating more- memories and books.

Friday, 23 February 2018

The Pearl Sister

How I love this series!
This is the fourth book in the series.
Another book filled with interesting storylines, moving to different locations in the world.
A family of sisters who were all adopted, are now finding out the history of their birth families.
Each book is a long saga and there are two main alternating storylines in this book-  Ce Ce's present life and the story of her ancestors as she is discovering it. 

The author, Lucinda Riley, is speeding up her writing.  Her first books were a year apart, but this book was out 6 months after the last one.
Here are the other three books.

The Seven Sisters :Maia. Read about it here.
The Storm Sister: Alcyone (Ally) Read about it here.
The Shadow Sister:  Asterope (Star) Read about it here.

The Pearl Sister:   Ce Ce has dropped out of art college and is at loose ends since her sister Star, who had always been her shadow, has moved on with her life.
  I am particularly enjoying this book because it takes you to Australia.  I have been there and remember many of the places that are mentioned in the story.
   The complexity of the plot is astounding, weaving historical events into the storylines, with so many fascinating characters.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Sue Monk Kidd

   A book club choice for this month is "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd.  I have read it twice already, so this time I listened to the CD's.
   Click here for my thoughts on the book in 2014, the year that it was written.  I wrote in that blog that this book is missing the exquisite language of the author's previous books.  I now take that back.
   Everything about this book is marvellous!  Characters! Plot! Language! Setting!  It is inspirational and fabulous!  Perfect for February- black history month!

 "The Secret Life of Bees" is the first book that I read by this author.  I loved it! 
Location: peach farm in South Carolina
Lily Owens was four when she accidently shot her mother (while her parents were fighting).  Her father was cruel and eventually Lily ran away with Rosaleen, the black maid.  Lily and Rosaleen were taken in by the calendar sisters- August, May, June, April.  August had been Lily's mother's nanny.  This household of  black women nurtured Lily as she was able to come to terms with her life.  Marvellous, descriptive writing!  Couldn't put it down!  Strong, nurturing black women in the time of segregation. 

   I also loved this novel by Sue Monk Kidd.  A different theme this time!  
   Inside the church of a Benedictine monastery on Egret island, off the coast of South Carolina, there is an ornate chair carved with mermaids.  Jessie Sullivan returned to this island because her mother had cut off a finger and planted it in front of a statue of St. Serena.  She was consumed with guilt (after the assisted suicide of her husband) and followed the example of the saint.  The concern with the mother is difficult enough.
   BUT, speaking of guilt...Jessie fell in love with guessed it, (it is a monastery) a monk!  Jessie was at a difficult time in her marriage: "Twenty years - when the marriage glue gets so old it starts to harden and crack".  And so, the affair began.  Brother Andrew said,"We'll be damned and we'll be saved- both".
  In fact, the affair brought Jessie to life.  She said,"I had the sense of being out on the furthest frontier of myself.  It was a surprisingly beautiful outpost".
  But she did return to her husband, where: "There would be no grand absolution, only forgiveness meted out in these precious sips.  It would well up from Hugh's heart in spoonfuls and he would feed it to me.  And it would be enough".
    This book is filled with metaphors and similies.  Fabulous writing!

   And here is the author.  Sue Monk Kidd- fabulous author!  She has written other non-fiction books, but these novels are extraordinary!
   She lived most of her life in Georgia, but is living in Florida now.  I hope she is working on another novel!
   Her husband is a minister and some of her non-fiction books are of a spiritual nature.
   She was influenced in her 20's by the writings of Thomas Merton.

Friday, 16 February 2018

" Do Not Say We Have Nothing" by Madeleine Thien

   Three interesting covers for this complex, extraordinary story of China during the Cultural Revolution.  Actually the novel goes back and forth in time over decades. 

   Each of the three covers focuses on different characters in the novel.  The first cover shows the main character La Ling.  The third cover represents her father's friend, known by the name "Sparrow", who was a composer.  The middle cover, I believe, represents La Ling's great aunt and uncle who endured the cruelty of labour camps.  Actually, the great uncle went missing (portrayed well in the cover photo). 
   The most extraordinary thing about this book is the theme of classical music that weaves throughout the plot.  The early characters were involved in the Shanghai Conservatory, until the drastic changes of the Cultural Revolution.  The music constantly ran through the heads of the characters, especially Bach's Goldberg Variations, played by the Canadian musician Glenn Gould.  I greatly enjoyed listening to this music on YouTube.

  The title of the book comes from the Chinese song "The Internationale": 
          "Arise, slaves, arise!
          Do not say that we have nothing
          We shall be the masters of the world!"

   Can you believe that I was entranced with this novel?  I cannot believe it myself.  How the author drew me into the lives of these characters and entwined me into the complexity of the story.  Sometimes I had no idea what was going on.  There was so much chaos, violence, separation, and death.  The storyline was also chaotic- back and forth through the generations.  Of course, it was so much more heart-breaking, because it was based on fact.   But the beauty of the writing held me captive.
Madeleine Thien- author

Monday, 12 February 2018

"A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen

classic book club choice:
Setting: Norway, 1879
Characters: Nora and Torvald Helmer, married for 8 years with 3 children
Plot:  The marriage is the focus of the play.  Torvald treats Nora like a child, calling her his little squirrel, as they frisk around.  She is never taken seriously and Torvald claims to love her and desires to protect her and 'teach' her.  She plays into this role, since she was also treated like a child or doll in her relationship with her father.  
  At the climax of the play, Torvald is expressing his love for Nora by saying that he wished that she was in danger, so that he could risk his body and soul to save her.  Strangely enough, she is in danger and she finds out how he really reacts to a real dangerous situation.  Whoops!  Be careful what you say!
Nora reacts in a way that you would not expect in 1879.
What was the reaction?  Wikipedia says: "It aroused a great sensation at the time, and caused a storm of outraged controversy that went beyond the theatre to the world newspapers and society".

  This is a play and, although the words are wonderful to read, it is even better when you can see the facial expressions and tone of voice.  Very powerful!
  It is available on Youtube in a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Claire Bloom.  It is spectacular!

Friday, 9 February 2018

"Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business"

  Dolly is such a conundrum- so fake and glittery on the outside and so sincere and sweet on the inside.  I enjoy her music and have visited Dollywood.
  I was just in the mood for some 'downhome stories' and I also thought it would be fun to read about the Country and Western singers of the past.
  I smiled at her story of a 'pie supper'.  The girls took pies and the guys bid on them and sat with the girl whose pie they bought. It never happened in the town where I grew up, but I have read about it in other stories.  Living in the country has its benefits in their creative attempts at entertainment.
  Of course, the real creativity was with the mother who gave birth to 12 children before she was 35.  She sewed up gashes and kept her family safe and healthy while making games of everything- like making 'stone soup' for supper.
   The peddler came in an old school bus, with pots and pans rattling, people got their false teeth from the funeral home (really?), school clothes were made from flour sacks.  wow!  The stories she can tell about living in the 'hollers' of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee!

Another reason that Dolly is a conundrum is that she exudes sex, but has been married for 51 years and, by all accounts, is a one-man woman, although she admits that they are not together much because he stays away from the limelight.  But she always goes home to him.
She just turned 72.  Can you believe it?

Monday, 5 February 2018

A simpler life: part 6

  You may be pleased to know that I am ready to come out of that rabbit hole.  I have rambled on about antimaterialism, radical simplicity, living off the grid, sustainable living, the solitary life, ecological footprint, organic gardening, and on and on.  Perhaps it has been of interest to you, and perhaps not.
   One thing is clear.  Every life is different and we can appreciate but not evaluate another person's life.

  I will end with another Thoreau quote: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away".

  And a quote from "The Man Who Quit Money": "It's possible to compromise.  The gamut of those who take to heart the concept of living simply is wider than Suelo and the freegans. And it's crammed with people who don't want to boycott everything; they just want to buy less junk and do less harm."  
A good slogan is:
 "work less, live more, and consume more consciously".

   Well, I am ready to climb out of the rabbit hole, but will continue to consider "What makes a good life?"  Part of my 'good life' is reading.  Where will I go next?

Friday, 2 February 2018

"Into the Wild" by Jon Krakauer

A simpler life: part 5
  We cannot leave this topic without mentioning another popular book on this topic.

   "Into the Wild"(c1997) is the true story of Christopher McCandless.  He graduated from university in Atlanta in 1990, gave his money to charity and headed out 'into the wild'.
  He didn't leave many records, but there are passages that he underlined in the books that he took with him, showing his desire to test himself in nature.

    Here is a picture of Chris in his teenage years.  He discovered that his father lived a double life, with two families.  Chris pulled away from his family and never contacted them.  He hitchhiked across the country and headed for Alaska.  After 113 days in the Alaskan wilderness, he was found dead.
  This story was made into a movie in 2007 and the McCandless story became a modern myth, with many people, inspired by his story, desiring to hike to see the bus in Alaska where Chris died. They camp there and write essays in the logbooks that are kept there. "They ponder the impact that McCandless' antimaterialist ethic, free-spirited travels, and time in the Alaskan wild has had on how they perceive the world"(quote from the internet).  It is also reported that some of these pilgrims suffer the same fate as Chris. They are as unprepared as he was for the dangers of the wilds of Alaska.

   The author, Jon Krakauer, tells about his own reckless mountain climbing alone and tries to explain the appeal of 'the wild' for a young man.  The issue of 'finding oneself' seems to be prevalent in young men.  Do they feel a need to distance themselves from their families for this purpose?  Do they need to be alone?  Do they need to 'prove something'? What does make 'a good life'?  

Monday, 29 January 2018

"The Stranger In The Woods"

A simpler life: part 4
   Knowing that our book club was reading "The Man Who Quit Money", a librarian friend suggested that I read "The Stranger in the Woods"- another true story.
    I was repelled by this book when I first started it, because this man, Christopher Knight, lived his solitary life by stealing.  He lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, beginning at age 20, never speaking to one person.
  However, I am glad that I continued because it is a most interesting portrayal of a hermit, a person who does not want to interact with anyone anytime, but is closely connected to nature.
"He knows the season, intimately, its every gradation.  He knows the moon, a sliver less than half tonight, wanning."

   The author of this book, Michael Finkel, did great research on solitary living.  Not just a simpler life, but a solitary life.  He tried to help the reader understand not only Christopher Knight but this important question: "What makes a good life?"

"People have sought out solitary existences at all times across all cultures, some revered, and some despised".
  Would you believe that our desire to be alone may be partly genetic?  The author read a study about brain chemicals called 'pituitary peptide oxytocin' and 'vasopressin', describing how the presence or absence of these chemicals explains why some people need and want more or fewer interpersonal relationships.  Now that's interesting, don't you think?

  The author gives 3 reasons for withdrawal from society: pilgrims, protesters, and pursuers.
Pilgrims are religious hermits believing that seclusion leads to spiritual awakening.  There are 4 million in India.
Protesters are disillusioned with the world- wars, environmental destruction, evil people, etc. There are 1 million protester hermits in Japan at present rejecting Japan's present culture.
Pursuers are writers, painters, scientists, and philosophers (like Thoreau) "Not till we have lost the world do we begin to find ourselves".

As interesting as this is, it still doesn't describe "The Stranger In The Woods".  The missing piece for me was the fact that, when he was no longer able to live in the woods, he was believed to have either autism or schizoid personality.  Sadly, he had great difficulty living back in society.  All he wanted in life was to live and die in the woods.  What does make a good life?

Friday, 26 January 2018

Mark Sundeen

Mark Sundeen
   A simpler life: part 3
   After reading "The Man Who Quit Money" c2011, I was interested in learning more about the author, Mark Sundeen.
  His next book "The Unsettlers" c2017, revealed some of Mark's interest in a simpler life: "The comfortable life is a slippery slope toward the consumer life.  I wanted fewer bills, fewer rules, less stuff and more freedom.  Our brand of capitalism has laid waste to our land, our homes, and not the least of all, our souls".
  Although, at 41,  he married a woman who had been raised by hippies in a simple life, she realized that she wanted more of what the world had to offer - an education for a start. Mark realized that, although he was attracted to the ideals, he was repelled by the hardships.  And so, he decided to write a book about this topic and searched out couples that were leading lives of 'radical simplicity'.

  The first couple that he wrote about, fascinated me.  Ethan and Sarah arrived by train in Missouri, unpacked their bikes and rode to a farm that they had bought sight unseen.  Oh, yes, Sarah was 5 months pregnant.
  In order to raise a family with no money, no electricity, no insurance, they developed a community devoted to non-violent social change.  They became Quakers and became "The Possibility Alliance".  They realized that society had encouraged people to be 'individual', so living as a community required different skills.  But the group also created the security that usually comes from money in the bank.
  I was fascinated by their tremendous work ethic as well as their devotion to social change.  They had weekly meetings to express joys and challenges.  
   Their 3 inward goals were simplicity, self-transformation, and celebration.  Their outward goals were service and non-violent activism.  Wow!  They were organized!  But they loved to have fun also.  They began each day with an hour of meditation, prayer or yoga.  They were on a mission to change the world but began with themselves.
  The other stories did not interest me very much.  One couple lived in Detroit and bought up land in run-down sections of the city to build gardens.  Their focus was on eating locally grown, organic food.

   Another couple in Montana had electricity but no computers or cellphones.  They also did organic gardening.  They lived in a teepee but built a boathouse with a flush toilet and hot shower. Their business was called "Lifeline Produce".

  It appears that there is a trend back to farming, and this book mentions many other books that are written on the subject.

Monday, 22 January 2018

"The Man Who Quit Money" by Mark Sundeen

A simpler life: part 2

    "The Man Who Quit Money" is the true story of Daniel Suelo, born in 1961 into a fundamentalist Christian home in Colorado.  At college in Boulder, he struggled with the tenets of his parents' religion, and began reading the scriptures of all world faiths, while visiting a different church each week.
   He worked in a hospital for awhile as a phlebotomist (drawing blood).  He also worked for the Peace Corp in Ecuador. Actually, as he wandered, he picked up many different types of work. 
    But Daniel was very concerned about the environment.  He spent 3 months sitting in a tree to save it from being cut down. He lived 20 years in Moab, Utah, connecting with other like-minded wanderers.  He made some money by house-sitting and other odd jobs.
Daniel Suelo
    In 2000, he decided to live without money.  He was very concerned about his ecological footprint and decided to "use what is freely given or discarded and what is already present and already running".  So he lived in a cave while foraging for food on the land and in the dumpsters.
  Suelo's story parallels Thoreau in that they both were very deep thinkers, and although Suelo wrote a great deal, none of that writing has been published, although he does have a website and a blog. (He uses the computers at a library).
   Although Suelo worked on many jobs- Alaskan trawler, food kitchens, women's shelters, he never accepted money.  In fact, when publishers wanted to have his story written, he refused any pay. He was willing to give his story but wanted the books to be given away.  The publisher ended up agreeing to give away some copies, not all.
  The author went into way too much detail in some parts of the book (such as the pages on the U.S. monetary system and the difference between premillennialists and postmillennialists in his fundamentalist upbringing).
  But I tried to put together the pieces in order to understand this man, Daniel Suelo, who lived in a cave and ate other people's discarded food.  I believe that he was basically trying to solve life's mysteries.  His search was spiritual, as well as ecological.
  Daniel was one of many back-to-the landers.  And we will pursue this movement further in the next blog.

Friday, 19 January 2018

"Walden" by Henry David Thoreau

   A simpler life: part 1
"Walden" by Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau lived from 1817-1864, a Harvard-educated young man who built a shack in the woods, near Concord Massachusetts and lived there for two years.  What makes his writing interesting and important is his contemplation of life.  He was a philosopher and poet, but also a naturalist. The book has not been out of print since 1854.

The best thing about this book is the quotes:
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
 This is the only picture that I can find of Thoreau.  

The themes in this book are significant in every age. There are times when the complexities of life can overwhelm us and his simpler existence seems appealing.
What can we learn from him?
1.) appreciation of solitude- Quote: "I love to be alone.  I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude". 
2.) appreciation of nature- Quote: "Our eyes contemplate with admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of this universe.  The night veils, without doubt, a part of this glorious creation; but day comes to reveal to us this great work, which extends from earth even into the plains of the ether".
3.) appreciation of literature- Quote: "Reading is a noble intellectual exercise, not that which lulls us as a luxury and suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to stand on tip-toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours to".
4.) appreciation of life- Quote: "This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore".

I love the title of this book.  It reflects the importance of water-Walden's pond.  Water is the focal point.  Thoreau thought of water as "liquid joy and happiness".

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation".  Thoreau thought the world's values were topsy-turvy.  He marched to a different drummer and others have heard echoes of that sound.  We will look for this echo in the life of Daniel Suelo in "The Man Who Quit Money".  

Monday, 15 January 2018

Falling down the rabbit hole

   In Annie Spence's book "Dear Fahrenheit 451", she talks about... 
falling down the rabbit hole: books that lead to more books.
"Sometimes, a book can take you on a journey far beyond the story itself.  Sometimes, one thing leads to another....."
   Has that ever happened to you, dear reader of my blog?

   I started preparing to lead a discussion of "The Man Who Quit Money".  After the massive consumerism of Christmas, I was attracted by 'a simpler life' and discovered that the author had written another book following that theme, so I read "The Unsettlers".  Now I was really into 'radical simplicity', learning about living 'off the grid'.  Not that I am willing to give up indoor plumbing and a warm bed, but then I found "Off the Grid Homes" where they have comfort, but use the environment to advantage rather than depleting the resources.
  Issues such as global warming, ozone depletion, and acid rain are discussed with possible solutions.  In this book, "Off The Grid Homes", there are beautiful photos of six homes using alternative technology for generating and conserving energy.  Being 'off the grid' can still be comfortable, but, wow, it is complicated.  This book talks about 'sustainable living'- more to my liking, but not my understanding.  I believe my friend Gayle and her husband have used some of this technology in building their spectacularly comfortable home.  I do like comfort, but I would like a closer relationship to nature. Because I love the sky, I have fantasized about a house with a clear dome so that I could always see the whole sky.
   However, Daniel Suelo, "The Man Who Quit Money" would obviously never live in any of these fabulous homes.  He wanted to be free to live where and how he wished to live.  Is that possible in this day?  His book is called "A Walden for the 21st century".
  So, I plan to write a series of blogs on living a simpler life.  And we will start with Thoreau.

Friday, 12 January 2018

"Dear Fahrenheit 451"

   The subtitle of this book is: "Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks".  The author, Annie Spence, has spent ten years as a public librarian in the American midwest.
  This book is filled with short letters to a wide variety of books, expressing the author's love or dislike for each individual book.  The book is advertized as "a celebration of reading".  It has short, snappy chapters- one for each of her book choices.  And so, in response, I write my letter to her book:

Dear book,
  This is really weird, writing a letter to a book, that writes letters to books.  But I was a librarian and now I'm a book club lady and I know many of the books that are the object of your letters.
   I was delighted that you wrote to "Yertle the Turtle", talking about the moms and tots at the park, where a mom had you tucked into her bag.  There was an interesting letter to "The Hobbit", suggesting that he smoke some pipe-weed and hang out more with other hobbits.  I recognized lots of popular books as well as obscure ones. You wrote to "Penguin Roget's College Thesaurus in Dictionary Form", apologizing for not appreciating it more. You refused to buy "The Twilight Series" when you saw it at a yard sale, because it takes up most of teen's prime leisure-reading years. And I loved when you said you were going to kick "Fifty Shades of Grey" to the curb.
    I wanted to love you because 'books about books' are delightful and you are so creative!  
  Your choices are disparate and I had anticipated that you would use delicious words like that.
   But...can we talk?  What is with the potty mouth?????  You are a cute little book that lives  in a beautiful, cozy library- not down the street in the pub!  Your lewd, crude, rude language ruined you for me.  I will be returning you to the library and hiding you in some obscure corner so that no more readers have to put up with your squalid and odious language.
                          Straighten up and fly right!
                          Book Club lady
P.S. I appreciated the list of reading suggestions at the back.  But, even there....your mouth!  Please learn some words that don't start with" f"...or "sh"...  Thank you!

Monday, 8 January 2018

"The Golden House" by Salman Rushdie

 "On the day of the new president's inauguration, when we worried that he might be murdered as he walked hand in hand with his exceptional wife among the cheering crowds, and when so many of us were close to economic ruin in the aftermath of the bursting of the mortgage bubble, and when Isis was still an Egyptian mother-goddess, an uncrowned seventy-something king from a faraway country arrived in New York City with his three motherless sons to take possession of the palace of his exile, behaving as if nothing was wrong with the country or the world or his own story."

  This is the first sentence of "The Golden House"- long and convoluted but it really introduces the novel beautifully.  And lets you know that the sentences will be long and convoluted.
  And so, this "uncrowned seventy-something king from a faraway country" is the focus of this novel- along with his three motherless sons.
  The novel is full of foreshadowing- mostly sinister comments at the end of a chapter.
Charles Dickens
   The story is told through the eyes of Renee, a neighbour who is using this family as a subject for his next movie.
  What I learned about Rushdie's writing:
He can write fabulous sentences!
He lapses into 'stream of consciousness' and loves to go on tangents about fable, myth, and movies. 
His favourite author is Charles Dickens, who captured his own time and place- England 1800's, with exquisite detail. Rushdie aspired to do the same thing for New York from 2008 to 2016.  For these reasons, I found the book fascinating and challenging.
And here is a photo of Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie FRSL (Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature)

Friday, 5 January 2018

"Something is Always on Fire" by Measha Brueggergosman

   I was ready for something light to read over Christmas and found this biography.  I had seen Measha on Canada Reads- first in 2004 and later in 2017.  She is an opera singer and she opened the Scotiabank Giller Prize Ceremony in Toronto this year.   I didn't recognize her at first and realized that she had lost a lot of weight.  I knew there must be a story there.

   Her book begins in 2009 with open-heart surgery.  Yes, there was a story there.

   She had been molested twice before the age of 10.  As a result of being bullied, she had a complicated relationship to her body and also to food. By 28, she weighed 350-370 pounds.  She paid no attention to this. "Opera singing has a tradition of big voices in big packages".  Her career was doing well and her husband loved her unconditionally.  From denial, she turned to obsession, eventually having bariatric surgery, followed by joining Bikram yoga.  She lost 150 pounds.

   Measha had decided that she wanted to take a leadership course in yoga.  It was an intensive, 9-week course in hot yoga in Las Vegas- practicing twice a day in 42 degree heat for 90 minutes, plus learning anatomy and history in three languages.
  Although Measha had realized from a very young age, that she would spend her life singing, she needed to find the right education as well as private teachers, and later it was important to get managers and agents, that could help to mold her career.  I didn't realize that there were so many genres of music and she was interested in more than one.
  She had great success with her singing career but always struggled to keep a balance of career and family.  She lost twin babies and went on a 10-day silent retreat to work through her grief, rising at 4:30 every morning and retiring at 9:30- no talking, no reading or writing or any form of technology.  Meditating for 9 hours and 45 minutes each day.
  Towards the end of the book, she talks openly about the lovers that she has had (while married),  admitting that she is selfish and uncompromising.  She describes her husband in glowing terms but had been separated a few times and expected the marriage would not survive.  She wrote, 'It never occurred to me to be faithful".  I find that hard to believe.  Both her father and brother were Baptist ministers and she grew up in the church.
   This is just what I don't understand about memoirs.  Everybody, but everybody now knows all your inner secrets. What motivates people to tell the world every stupid thing that they ever did?  It is now a public record- for children, grandchildren, etc., etc.
  And...she admits that she had never read a memoir!

I will end with her quote:
"Here's the thing: either you write an imperfect book that is done, or you write a perfect book that never materializes.  You can be messy and classy.  You cannot be wise without making a ton of stupid mistakes, it's impossible.  I just sat down and said, "This is the book that I'm writing". I worked very hard to make sure that I could stand by it".

Monday, 1 January 2018

"Slaughterhouse Five"

   Grandson David has studied philosophy and is a fan of Nietzsche.  I had asked him about Nietzsche's theory of eternal return when I was trying to read "The Unbearable Lightness of Being".
  Perhaps something from that discussion made him think that I would be interested in this book that he had just read.  He offered me his copy.  And these pictures tell you what I thought of the cover.
The plot:
   Billy Bishop was born in New York state in 1922, became an optometrist, spent time in the army in World War II, married, had children, was in a plane crash, was kidnapped by aliens- but certainly not in this order - or any order that I could find.
   Billy Bishop traveled in time.  
  When he was captured by aliens, he was taken to their planet named Tralfamadore, where he learned that "all moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist."
   Billy Bishop was "unstuck in time", traveling between periods of his life, unable to control where he would land. Can you see my problem with this book?
   However, I really tried to suspend all rational thinking and just go with the flow as much as possible.  When Billy first experienced time-shifting, he was able to see his entire life, from beginning to end.  I have to admit there were parts of the plot that interested me, but it is certainly out of my reading comfort.
   I found several other covers that I would have preferred.
   There actually are many themes that are explored in this novel. Anti-war is the one aspect that caught the attention of college students.  The subtitle is "The Children's Crusade" because the soldiers in W.W.II were SO young.  The bombing of Dresden was actually experienced by the author.

   This cover shows that the book has won many awards, as a book and as a film.
   But, it has also been banned and is still being banned.