Friday, 23 June 2017

Sharon Butala (continued)

   This is Sharon Butala's second memoir.  The subtitle is "A Journey Through Love and Loss". I expected it would focus on her grief after the loss of her husband and her efforts in moving forward with her life- hence, the title "Where I Live Now".
  However, although it does deal with her widowhood, she also reflects on her whole life.  
  Sharon had married at 36 and moved to a large farm, where she connected to the land in a very personal, emotional way.  In 2000, she wrote a memoir, describing those years.  After 32 years of working the farm and wandering the fields, her husband died. What would she do?
  "Every time I looked out the windows to the north and nothing out there spoke to me, the light no longer caught a boulder and gleamed unexpectedly, shadows no longer moved and paused for me, a lump would come into my throat and my chest would ache.  In the days after all the work was done and the yard and fields were empty, slowly, I saw nature saying good-bye to me.  It knew as well as I did, and my neighbours and my friends, that I was leaving the countryside and my life as a country woman for good.  That I would not be back, that it- that life that had been mine- was over."

   Near the end of the book there is some reflection on death: "The people you have loved in life are still there in death; that is, through dreams and memories, and sudden flashes of understanding, you know they are still there with you."
  I have enjoyed Sharon's writing.  She is very expressive and reflective.  She started to write at age nine.  She believes that every author is trying to answer a 'great question'.  Her question is: "What is a human life worth?"  And in particular, "What is a woman's life worth?"

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

"Wild Stone Heart" by Sharon Butala

Sharon Butala
  I have mentioned meeting Sharon Butala and I discovered that she had written a new memoir since the passing of her husband.
  I put my name on the waiting list at the library and decided to read her earlier memoir while I was waiting for the recent book.
   It is the first time that I have read biographical material of someone that I have met.  It made the reading very different.  I was trying to connect what I was reading with how I perceived her.

   This book was written in 2000, about the early years of her marriage to a farmer who owned 13,000 acres of land in Southern Saskatchewan.  For twenty years, Sharon walked the fields, examining wildlife, grass, plants, rocks, just whatever she could discover.
  She thought she found a dinosaur bone, and she did find burial cairns.  She spent time researching the Indigenous people who had lived there in past years.  She felt very close to them and, when asked to speak she talked about the Amerindian because she had such a fascination and connection to their way of life.
  She had many experiences in the fields that she credited to the supernatural.

Monday, 12 June 2017

"Read For Your Life: Literature as a Life Support System" by Joseph Gold

   Since  "The Little Paris Bookshop" didn't follow through on the theme of reading as therapy, I went to my bookshelf for a non-fiction book that deals with this issue in a powerful way.
  Joseph Gold is a professor of literature as well as a family therapist.  In fact, sometimes he combines the two specialties in a practice of 'bibliotherapy".
   He says," When you read fiction or poetry you experience feelings, emotions, as well as thoughts and images.  You see pictures in your mind and you have feelings associated with the pictures.  Most people are not in the habit of identifying these feelings or even of being aware of them.  When you learn to do this, you can use your feelings about what you read to explore yourself, your relations, your attitudes to job, home, sex, children and parents, aging, death, and religion.  There is a direct link between what you feel about stories and what you feel about everything else, especially about yourself."
  I really appreciated his visual of 'a path'.  Imagine you have a favourite path that you know well and walk often.  It is mapped into your brain.  But, one, day, it is blocked- by flood or fallen trees.  "Your life story is like this path, and when it is blocked by grief or loss, unforeseen events such as war, job loss, earthquake, or divorce, it may feel to the sufferer that the path or story cannot be continued or recovered."

   Perhaps everyone is looking for empowerment, in one way or another.  I enjoy books that show the resilience of women.  My husband reads about war, actually, but his favourite author, Jeff Shaara, also writes about resilience.  He relates individual stories of resilience in the face of the horrors of war. "Resilience"- we all need it to live a full life.

  "Literature is healthful and maybe necessary as part of our overall response to the demands of life-living, working, forming families, and dealing with problems."

"Reading can lead to sound mental health and personal empowerment."

 I have once again, been reminded of the value of reading.

Monday, 5 June 2017

"The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George

   The cover and the advertising for this book interested me.
   The protagonist is Jean Perdu, who owns a bookstore on a boat, moored on the Seine River.  He calls it a 'Literary Apothecary', where he listens to individual stories and prescribes a book to mend broken hearts and souls.
    Jean was thought to have " transperception": "You can see and hear through most people's camouflage.  And behind it you see all the things they worry and dream about, and the things they lack".
  I found this aspect of the novel fascinating.  Quotes such as: "Books are more than doctors, of course.  Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you've got those autumn blues.  And some... well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful void.  Like a short torrid love affair".
  On page 37, I read "Novels are for willpower, nonfiction for rethinking one's life, poems for dignity".  Then the novel went off the rails for me.
  Jean discloses how he has pined for a woman who left him 21 years ago.  He had begun an affair with her when she was planning to marry someone else, and continued the relationship for five years, in spite of her marriage to the other man.
  Jean took off on his boat, heading for the south of France.  A young, distraught author jumped on the boat with him.  They also picked up another man who was searching the rivers of France for his long-lost love.  The novel turned into 'three men on a boat', on a journey of personal discovery.  They relive all the sadness of their lives and the novel turns overly sentimental and sappy.  The initial theme of books as a curative is lost.
   The novel is advertised as "a love letter to books".  But that was only the first 40 pages, then it was "a journey of three love-sick men".
  At the end of the book, the author has two pages of book titles: 'Jean Perdu's Emergency Literary Pharmacy'.  I could have skipped from page 40 to the end.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Narrative Modes

   As much as I enjoy books, I also appreciate organization- organization of books and organization of story.
    I have been complaining about 'disruptive' plotlines. Why do authors write this way? Whine, whine, whine.
   So I did a little research on that topic.
  Quote: "Fiction prose can be anywhere from obscure and difficult to clear and direct".
  According to Wikipedia, modernist literature began in the late 19th century.  It is a break with traditional ways of writing.  It experimented with the non-linear order in writing.  Authors such as: Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, Ford Madox Ford, Marcel Proust, and William Faulkner.  I have read these authors, and now I realize why they are not my favourites.
  Stream of consciousness has never appealed to me, but I can enjoy flashbacks in a novel, when they enlighten the plot.
  Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain" has been one of my favourites even though it has parallel plotlines.  I have read this books 3 times. It moves between characters but not time lines.
  Lucinda Riley's "Storm Sister' had a story within a story and I adored that book!  The 'inside story' was delightful!
  However, it is the constant back and forth in a disjointed narrative that has me completely frustrated.  I just get into one storyline and it switches- back and forth, back and forth.
  There are so many books with this structure, that I would like to give up reading new books for awhile and just read my old favourites that I can trust to take me on a delightful journey.
   But I guess I will still read books for my book clubs.
"There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.  Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, enter your blood, numb your thoughts.  Inside you they work their magic." ("The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield).
"In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.  I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself". (How Reading Changed My life" by Anna Quindlen).

Monday, 22 May 2017

"Wild Rose" by Sharon Butala

Betty, Sharon, Terri
   Isn't this a great picture!  Terri and I were attending a book weekend in Banff in 2008, when we met this author Sharon Butala. She had written a non-fiction book and we had an opportunity to visit with her there.
  Sharon has recently written a memoir and, while I am waiting to get that book, I thought I should read some of the fiction that she has written over the years.
  "Wild Rose" is a novel about homesteading on the prairies in the 1800's. But more than that, it is a story about Sophie.
  The novel begins with newly-weds Sophie and Pierre claiming free land and starting a farm in Saskatchewan.
  I was drawn into the story immediately.  I love "Little House on the Prairie" stories.
   However, after four years, and a son, Sophie was left on the prairies, with no home or money.  Her husband, Pierre had left and sold the farm.
  Some of my favourite stories are about women facing huge challenges in their lives.  I was cheering her on as she struggled to survive with her young son.  My interest in Sophie never waned throughout the book.
   However, it wasn't a fabulous read for these reasons:
- some really clunky syntax e.g. "His papers were spread out over the table and irritation appeared on his face, as she pushed open the door, that evaporated when he saw Mr. Campion enter behind her." 
On other occasions, she had so many phrases in one sentence that I lost the thread of the sentence.
  Could more editing have made the reading more comfortable?
- obviously Sophie did a lot of ruminating about her situation, and sometimes it was too much.  I wanted to get on with the story.  We heard the same thoughts over and over.
- Sophie's childhood was related in chapters of flashback, perhaps necessary and mostly done well.  But it still irritates me to switch back and forth.

  This is a long novel, but it did keep my interest.  Sophie was young and attractive, so she had lots of men interested in her.  What would she do?
   The ending is not conclusive, but quite satisfying.

Friday, 19 May 2017

"The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli

From my book club that loves the classics:

Machiavelli was born in Italy in 1469.
He was an historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer.
He also wrote comedies, carnival songs, and poetry.
He was secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence for four years.

This book was written in 1513 and is about politics, describing great men and their exploits in power.
Machiavelli rejected traditional morals in political action.
  He wrote about human nature as he saw it- corrupt!
Some quotes from the book will give you the message:
1.) "Since all men are a sad lot and won't be keeping their promises to you, you hardly need to keep yours to them."
2.) "Holding political power was possible only if a leader was ready to act outside the moral code."
3.) "It wasn't necessary to have a religious faith but absolutely essential to appear to have one".
4.) "I love my country more than my soul".
5.) "The desire to conquer more territory really is a very natural, ordinary thing".
6.) "It's better to get a reputation for meanness than generosity".
7.) "Outwitting opponents is better than behaving honestly"
8.) "It's better to be impulsive than cautious; fortune is female and if you want to stay on top of her you have to slap and thrust".

Generally this book is about using any immoral means to achieve glory and survival.  It includes examples of every political leader preceding 1513. You can just imagine how much I enjoyed reading about that.  However, everyone has heard of Machiavelli and this book provoked a huge discussion in our book club.  I was an observer.  No interest there for me.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Great Books

This newspaper article had been saved from August 20, 2011.  Last week, after several rainy days, we found a free day with good weather and prepared for a drive through beautiful country. 
"Great Books" is a renovated mill that now houses a book store and cafe.  It is located in Williamsford, a very small town, just south of Owen Sound, on highway 6.
 From here, it is a leisurely drive of a couple of hours.  We arrived at noon and were surprised at the popularity of the cafe.  It certainly has an unusual ambience since the barn is
 chuck-full of books.  And I do mean, chuck-full!

Tables are arranged amongst many book displays such as this and provide an ideal setting for a leisurely lunch.  The menu  is extensive and the food well-prepared.
The bookstore aspect blows the mind!  I have never seen so many book in one place!
  Perhaps not even in a library!  

There are several sets of stairs with books on every level and in room after room after room!

Of course, I needed to find a book as a souvenir of our visit.  But, belive it or not, the extensive nature of the collection makes it hard to choose.  But, I chose "Tono-Bungay" by H.G. Wells.  I will be leading a discussion of another H.G. Wells book "The Time Machine", so thought this would be a good read.

This cafe/bookstore also caters to weddings and other special events.  Wouldn't it be a great place for book clubs?
Actually, they had one in the past, but it was discontinued.
Maybe they could make another section into bedrooms and have weekend retreats for book lovers.
If I lived closer I would offer to volunteer with the books because the owners are kept busy with the cafe.
I could chat all day about books and help visitors find what they are looking for.
We had a very interesting and fun day!

Friday, 12 May 2017

"The Language of Flowers" by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

   This novel begins with Victoria Jones waking up on her eighteenth birthday in a group home.  Well, perhaps it was her birthday.  Since her birth date, location, and even her parents were unknown, the courts just picked a possible date for her birth.
  Victoria was an angry girl with a great knowledge of flowers- scientific descriptions and meanings.  It was her only connection with the world.

The language of flowers - every flower sends a message: dahlias for dignity; marigold for grief; dried basil- hate; periwinkle- tender recollections; mistletoe- I surmount all obstacles.

      The use of flowers for communication is creative and interesting.    This theme wove beautifully through the entire book. Victoria excelled at creating a floral bouquet for every situation, using just the right flowers to convey a sentiment.
"It wasn't as if the flowers themselves held within them the ability to bring an abstract definition into physical reality.  Instead, it seemed that Earl, then Bethany, walked home with a bouquet of flowers expecting change, and the very belief in the possibility instigated a transformation."
  I have very mixed feelings about this book because it it written in very short chapters that alternated between Victoria at age 18 and Victoria at age 9.  Once again, I barely got involved in one storyline and it switched.  
  There was something about the characters that drew me back to the book, but I wasn't really satisfied with the novel as a whole.

  This structure seems to be very popular.  The last book in my blog used the same structure.  It was a first novel for both of the authors. It seems like a very difficult challenge when an author is just starting out.  But many readers seem to enjoy this 'disruptive' style.  To me, it is just too 'disruptive'.


Monday, 8 May 2017

Letters to the Lost

   A bag of books found its way to our house and my husband picked this book out to read.
  He loves Kate Morton and this book reminded him of her writing.

   Jess took refuge in an abandoned house while escaping from an abusive boyfriend.  She found a box of letters and became interested in the love story behind those letters.
    The story moved between 2011 and 1942.  I would just get involved in one storyline and it would change.  I wanted to skip chapters to keep following one set of characters.  Eventually I got used to it, but didn't find the story riveting.
   There were bits and pieces of information dropped along the way, and they all fit together at the end.  I have read glowing reports of this books such as: "It is a beautifully woven tale of love and loss that breaks your heart and rebuilds it".  Perhaps I am too much of a realist, but I found it a little sappy and too difficult to put the pieces together.
  Also, the basis of the plot is an intruder reading personal love letters.  Add to that, the woman in the 1942 love story (that the letters were addressed to) was having an affair- her husband was a minister- not a good man, but the woman had to stay with him if she wanted to keep her baby.
  There were too many people intruding in other people's lives for me to enjoy this novel as much as others did.

Friday, 5 May 2017

"Into The Magic shop" by James Doty

   The sub-title of this memoir is "A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart".  Although it is a memoir, it is also a self-help book, just published within the last year.
   Jim Doty grew up in California with an alcoholic father and a depressed and paralyzed mother.  When Jim wandered into a magic shop, he met a woman who taught him a different kind of magic- the power of the mind to ease his suffering and draw to himself his greatest desires.
  It is a self-help book because there are exercises for learning how to relax the body, tame the mind, open the heart and envision your dreams for the future.
  Jim learned these lessons really well and eventually became a wealthy surgeon, realizing all his dreams, but he was not happy.  He had not really opened his heart.  He realized that "without wisdom and insight, these techniques can result in self-absorption, narcissism, and isolation". Then he learned that "the only way to change and transform your life for the better is by changing and transforming the life of others".
  He now is the director of the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University.
  He developed 'compassion beads' (using the alphabet from c-l) to use as a daily reminder of his purpose in life: compassion, dignity, equanimity, forgiveness, gratitude, humility, integrity, justice, kindness, love.
  You can see TED talks and other lectures given by Jim Doty on YouTube.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

"Karolina's Twins" by Ronald Balson

   This book was recommended to me by a fellow reader that I met in a book club.  She thought I would love it.  Well, it is a powerful book and I found it overwhelmingly sad.  Of course, what book about the holocaust is not sad?
   And how are we affected because of the emotional space that we are in from our life or from our last book?
  I had just been reading "The Seven Sisters" novels that have fairy tale elements- large mansion, boats on Lake Geneva, fascinating sisters with a mysterious but wonderful father.  Pure fiction.   "The Storm Sister" had a story within it of a young girl on a farm in Norway, singing as she brought home the cows.  That really drew me in and I was fascinated with this character who became an opera singer.  So much spectacular scenery and music.  I was not emotionally prepared for the horrors of the holocaust.

  Lena Woodward, a wealthy elderly woman was haunted by her life in occupied Poland during W.W. II.  She had promised her childhood friend, Karolina, that some day she would find 2 sisters that were lost during the war.
  And so, Lena hired a private detective and lawyer in her search.  She needed the lawyer because her only son was trying to declare her incompetent so that she would not spend money on this search.
another cover for the book
  The novel began with Lena telling the lawyer of her life during the holocaust.  The details were horrendous and were described day after day.
  When the search for the girls got underway, I was more drawn in to the novel.  The first section was important to the story but told in a blunt way.

  Ronald Balson, the author, is himself a lawyer, practicing in Chicago.  His travels to Europe provided the motivation for his novels.  This novel is inspired by true events.  His other books are "Once We Were Brothers", "Saving Sophie", and "The Trust".

  Readers interested in the holocaust will appreciate this book.  There are twists to the story and the writing is so good, that it has taken me time to be able to write about the story.  I even had difficulty starting into another book.

  I would like to go back to the green hills of Norway with the young girl 'singing the cows home'.
  One thing my new reader friend did not know about me is that I have been known to enjoy living with my head in the sand.

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Storm Sister

  How delightful to settle in with another of Lucinda Riley's books on the Seven Sisters.  I really love her writing!
  I wrote about the first book here.  
  Pa Salt, living in luxury in Switzerland, adopted the girls from all over the world and named them after the stars in the constellation "Pleiades".
  The girls have the last name D'Apliese.  Change the letters around and you get "Pleiades".  One of the many mysteries about Pa Salt.  Apparently his name is also an anagram.  Can't figure that one out.
    Pa has died and each book begins with this sentence: 
"I will always remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard that my father had died."
  Each book focusses on one of the sisters, telling about her relationship with Pa, and the information he left about her heritage.

Maia  followed the trail of clues to Brazil.  Her fascinating story was in book one.
Alcyone (Ally) finds her ancestors in Norway.  Book Two
Asterope (Star)  Book Three is being released this week.
Celaeno (CeCe)  Next year.
Taygete (Tiggy)  The Next year.
Electra  The next year.  A long wait, but so worthwhile.
Merope- actually there is no Merope- another mystery!
But this last book will reveal all the secrets of this unusual family.

  The books are long and filled with fascinating stories, that all intermingle.  I am loving this series.  It takes me on a wonderful journey.  I can wait and anticipate the next book.  However, I found this time that I had to look again at the first book to recall the intricacies of the plot.  I may have to buy the books, but they are only in hardcover at present.  If I wait until the end, they may release a lovely paperback version of the whole series. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

A Long Way Home

   "A Long Way Home" is a memoir written by Saroo Brierley.  It is a moving story of a five-year-old boy who is lost in India.
  I have been reading about the unbelievable number of children living on the streets in India- 400,000 was the number quoted.  Some children live there with their parents, some have escaped an abusive family.  Poverty and abuse are common in the big cities.
  Saroo was lost while out with his  older brother. He was five years old and his experiences on the street are hard to read.   
   But eventually he was adopted by a wonderful Australian couple. 
   I loved reading about this couple who chose not to have biological children, but instead to open their home to homeless children.  They prepared his bedroom with Indian artifacts and even fabric across the dresser from India.  Wonderful parents!
  At thirty, Saroo was able to discover his original family.  And so, he wrote his memoir.
  Hollywood came calling and changed a lot of things - the title for starters.  Saroo had discovered that his birth name was Sheru Munshi Khan and "Sheru" means "lion".  And now the book cover looks like this:
   I will admit that Dev Patel was very good in the movie, but this cover takes the focus off the little lost boy and puts it on Saroo's search for his home in India.  The strip across the face on the cover says, "The search begins".   Saroo used Google Earth for many months, searching for his home. Because he was so young when he left, he didn't know the real names for any of the cities and towns.  He claims it was like searching for a needle in a haystack.
  His search for his biological family was important to the story, but I hate this cover!
  Here is a worst cover!  What???
I am not a fan of movies, but this movie did inspire me to buy the book.  I should have read the library copy because I so dislike these new covers on the books, and that's all that you can buy now.
  The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards.  Nicole Kidman played the role of the adoptive mother.  That pleased me because Nicole Kidman had been Saroo's adoptive mother's favourite actress.  How exciting for Saroo's mother!  She deserved this thrill!  She is the hero in this story.

Friday, 7 April 2017

"They Left Us Everything" by Plum Johnson

   When Plum Johnson's mother died, she and her brothers were left with a 23-room house filled with 'STUFF' - rooms of old furniture, cupboards full of food, bins and bins of letters, documents, and diaries.
    What a great discussion this book evoked from our book club at the library.   Some of us were delighted by the idea of being left with so much of the previous generation.  Others were not so pleased.  I was horrified!
   This is a true story.  And Plum read all the letters, and diaries left by her mother.  AND, she related some of the contents of those personal writings in this book.  That was over the line for me.      When did diaries become public property?  It was bad enough that Plum read everything, but I was not pleased that she relayed parts of those writings for public scrutiny.   Horrors!

   This was the first cover of the book.  It certainly looks more old-fashioned.  I like the emphasis on the word 'EVERYTHING'.
  We were interested in discussing family relationships because everybody has family stories.  This book hit a nerve with many people.
  Mother-daughter relationships were mostly emphasized because it is usually the daughter that is caring for the elderly parents.  In this case, the father had died previously.
   The mother in this non-fiction book was most interesting.   When she was a young woman working in New York city, she sent her dirty laundry by train to her parents' home in Virginia for the servants to wash, iron and return (with a meal included).  The mother lived for a time in London, Hong Kong, Virginia and finally settled on the shores of Lake Ontario in this huge house, which was left to her children when she died at 93.
   This book has been very popular and here are two other covers for the book.
   I really love covers and I appreciate when the cover really captures the essence of the story.
  I don't understand the significance of the orange cover, but the bottom cover shows a line of bathing suits.  The mother of the family was very hospitable, inviting people to visit or even move in if they were in need.  The mother had a swimming pool built and kept a stock of bathing suits for visitors.

   This book, a memoir, won the RBS Taylor Prize in 2015.  The ceremony was in Toronto and the author received $25,000.00 along with the responsibility of mentoring a beginning writer.
  I was unfamiliar with this prize because I don't read much non-fiction.  But I was interested in reading the list of winners.  The prize was initiated in 2000 and the first winner was Wayne Johnston for his memoir "Baltimore's Mansion".  I loved that book!
  This prize is awarded for a non-fiction book that combines superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and subtlety of thought and perception.  We all agreed that this book has all these elements.
  It was a great choice for a book club!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Canada Reads is over for another year

  Our Canada Read discussion group met for one final hurrah.  But it wasn't particularly joyful.  We generally agreed that this was not a good year for Canada Reads.  You can read about our discussion group here.
  The book selection was not great- no real winners for me.  The panel never seemed to gel.

   The 'reality show' aspect was bothersome to Chantal and also to us.  We realize that the program is meant for entertainment, and it would not get such a following if it was a 'literary discussion'.    
  However, when they vote the best book off first in order to give their book a better chance of winning, it loses credibility.
  The selection of books this year included a fable, two science-fiction, one non-fiction and one literary fiction.  The fable won.

Humble the Poet was supporting "Fifteen Dogs" and did a very good job, but I still don't understand the book.  So, for me, it is Canada re-reads because I will need to read it again to finally understand what it is about.  It certainly is not about dogs, but about human consciousness.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Richard Wagamese

Richard Wagamese died on March 10, at age 61, and it has been hard to write this blog.
I met him in 2013 when his book "Ragged Company" was chosen for One Book One Community. Read about it here.
As a library volunteer, I had a chance to chat with him.  So perhaps  I feel his loss more than I have felt the loss of other authors.
His writing is stunning and painfully honest.  He has written fiction and non-fiction, and the painful aspects of his life come through clearly in both.
His parents had experienced the residential schools that he writes about in "Indian Horse" and were damaged to the point that they were unable to provide a home for Richard, so he was placed in foster care.  Eventually he was adopted, but he was unable to keep his First Nations heritage and identity so he left home as a young teen to search for a connection with his indigenous culture.  He was always honest about his struggles with addiction, as he searched for answers in his culture.

In my opinion, his best book is "Indian Horse".  I think it is a perfect novel - characters, plot, setting, language.  It has everything that makes a great novel for me.  It was one of five books chosen for Canada Reads in 2013.  Check my blog from 2013 here, back when I really did put videos on my 'video blog'.
This book is being made into a movie.  Sadly, Richard didn't live to see the final production.

This novel, "Keeper 'N Me" is fictional but has many similarities to Richard's life.
Garnet Raven, at 3 years old, was taken from his home on an Ojibway Indian reserve and put in foster homes.  In his teens, he ran away and lived on the streets of a big city.  Eventually, he was able to reconnect with the reserve and was initiated into the ways of the Ojibway by Keeper, a friend of his grandfather. This novel shows the power of community and traditions.

This book, "Embers" was written this year.  It is a  book of meditations.  Here is a quote:
"Life sometimes is hard.  There are challenges.  There are difficulties.  There is pain.  As a younger man I sought to avoid them and only ever caused myself more of the same.  These days I choose to face life head on- and I have become a comet.  I arc across the sky of my life and the harder times are the friction that lets the worn and tired bits drop away.  It's resistance until all there is left of me is light.  I can live towards that end".

I like this picture of Richard because he writes so much about appreciation of nature.
He has written 12 books and has encouraged and supported many young indigenous writers.

A wonderful storyteller, excellent author, kind and gentle human being!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

'Vanity Fair" by William Makepeace Thackeray

I have not posted anything on my blog for three weeks.  But I have been reading....and reading...and reading!
It has taken me three weeks to read "Vanity Fair"- reading bits every day.   The print is extremely small and the book is 900 pages - very clumsy and heavy to hold.  Uncomfortable and hard on the eyes.  This is exactly when an e-reader would be perfect. Unfortunately, when I took my kobo to Chapters, they couldn't get the book to load.  So...
Vanity Fair was written in 1870 and produced in monthly segments in Punch magazine.  It took 20 installments, so it was being read for nearly two years - a little longer than it took me. I'm sure it was a lot more enjoyable reading it then- not only because of the print and size of the book, but also because of references to the culture of the day.   There were 50 pages of notes, trying to explain words, expressions, references to people, places and events.  A very difficult read for the year 2017.But this particular book club that I have been involved with for twenty years, does not shy away from difficult books.  We read a classic every second month.

William Makepeace Thackeray 1811-1863

The title of this book comes from John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress", published in 1678.  "Vanity Fair" was a stop along the pilgrim's route, a fair representing man's sinful attachment to worldly things- this fair sold anything that would seduce people away from God.
Possibly the title now just refers to 'the world' and its attractions.

Charlotte Bronte was reading Thackeray's story in installments and was very impressed with his writing.  When it was half-way through, she decided to dedicate the second edition of Jane Eyre to William Makepeace Thackeray.

The novel is basically about two women who graduated from school together- one from a wealthy family and one living in poverty and shame.
The best part of the story was the picture of women's lives in the 1800's.  

Friday, 3 March 2017

"The Right To Be Cold" by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

It may seem that my last blog was my final word on Canada Reads. It was not.  
This is the last book of the five finalists for me to read.  And it was a pleasure to end with this book.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier was nominated in 2007 for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work as an environmental and human rights activist.
Her book begins "The world I was born into has changed forever .... While many of the changes are positive, the journey into the modern world was not an easy one- and it has left its scars."
This book is about those changes.
Sheila has spent her life educating the world about the affect of those changes on the Inuit lifestyle and eventually on all the world: "The Arctic is the barometer of the health of the planet".
The title comes from the fact that climate change has caused great devastation to the Inuits. 
Sheila has worked with the United Nations as well as numerous other organizations around the world, travelling to meetings as well as giving lectures and speeches for eleven years.  She believes that this is a human rights issue.
A long chapter explained the effect of toxins that end up in the coldest climate but originate elsewhere- mostly United States and China.  At one point she believed that if the rest of the world understood how their decisions about the environment affected the Inuit lifestyle, they would change. A little naive?
This biography is very detailed and bogs down at times.  But the information is vital in a changing world.
I enjoyed reading it.  Along with "The Break", the history and issues of the indigenous people were very well-outlined and explained. 
One was a fiction book and one was non-fiction.  Both were thought-provoking.  

Friday, 24 February 2017

"Company Town" by Madeline Ashby

Another Canada Reads choice:
From "Goodreads":
"Meet Hwa. One of the few in her community to forego bio-engineered enhancements, she's the last truly organic person left on the rig. But she's an expert in the arts of self-defence, and she's been charged with training the Family's youngest, who has been receiving death threats- seemingly from another timeline.
Meanwhile, a series of interconnected murders threatens the city's stability- serial killer?  Or something much, much worse...??
   This is a review of the book so the language is pleasant, but when you get into the book, it is filled with language that can't be used on T.V. or in newspapers. It is just plain crude.  I realize that the novel is about the sex trade and the language would be questionable, but why choose it for Canada Reads when you are recommending that everyone read it?  I don't agree with censorship, but I expect Canada Reads to choose the best of the best Canadian literature. 
   Sometimes, one character has a foul mouth and it fits into the story, but this language repulsed me.
   There are many people who loved this book.  Perhaps they are science fiction fans and are used to this type of language.

   So, once again, I've reached the limit of my perseverance.  The language was muddling my head, and, since I can't follow the science fiction aspect of the story, there seems to be no point in frustrating my sensibilities through the whole novel.

   Two years ago, I decided not to read "When Everything Feels Like the Movies".  It was too crude and rude for my brain.
 You may wish to read my 'rant' on that book here.

  Perhaps Canada Reads is aiming for a younger audience.  I have loved and supported Canada Reads for fifteen years, but I think perhaps I am 'aging out'.  I sure hate to give up on such a great idea.  Could we start Canada Reads for the older generation?

Monday, 20 February 2017


  I never recommend a book unless I have read it, so when my book clubs choose a book that I have recommended, I always read it again in preparation for the discussion.  
  This week, I have three book club meetings.  I am leading the discussion in two of the meetings- two books that I love. 
  Both of the books are well worth reading a second - or third time.  This is the third time I have read "The Hero's Walk" by Anita Rau Badami. You can read my review here.

   Later in the week, I am leading a discussion of "Girl in Translation" by Jean Kwok.  It is my third reading of this book as well.  You can read my review here.  These books are both extremely well-written.     Jean Kwok has said :"Sometimes our fate is different from the one we imagined for ourselves".  Both books reflect this theme.      Great books!    Happy to read them again!

Friday, 17 February 2017

"The Break" by Katherena Vermette

author- Katherena Vermette

"The Break" is a Canada Reads finalist this year.
   A 13-year-old girl is viciously attacked in an open field.  A young Metis woman sees, from her house, that someone is in trouble and calls the police.  The piece of land is called "The Break" and I thought that was the reason for the title.  However, there is a much larger theme in this book that is reflected in the title.
  This whole novel centres around the crime, drawing in all the family members- four generations.  Unfortunately, it is mostly the female family members because most of the men have left.     
  Because there are so many characters involved, the story seems disruptive.  But in hindsight, that seems to be the right format for this book.  It is about native women and their lives are very disruptive.  The generational pain is so apparent in the ways all of the women cope with their lives- drinking, crying, switching men. They are constantly looking for 'something'.  And, because the mothers are preoccupied, and the fathers are absent, the children have no stability or direction in their lives. 
   And so, the title: "Broken".  The women are all broken.  It is a cycle that just keeps repeating.  
  This book was ideal for discussion.  
We are very interested to see what Candy Palmater will have to say in her defence of this book on the Canada Reads panel, March 27-30.  Candy is a comedian/broadcaster.

Candy Palmater

Friday, 10 February 2017

Robert Sawyer

   Rob Sawyer is one of my favourite authors.  Why?  Just because I like him. I have listened to him speak several times and find him just fascinating. The way his mind works is of great interest to me.  But I have to admit right here that he goes way beyond what my mind can take in.              The New York Times has called him: "a writer of boundless confidence and bold scientific extrapolation".
Now there's a word that also fascinates me: extrapolation.
I think that is exactly what this author does in his science fiction- imagines what could or might happen, based on known facts.  He takes scientific theory and pushes it to the extreme- maybe, maybe, maybe this could happen. 

"Quantum Night" is on the Canada Reads longlist and I was intrigued by it.  Don't understand some of it- but he certainly does extrapolate to the extreme.
  The theme is the neuroscience of morality.  Oh, yes, he really goes for stretching the mind.
But I could really believe some of the theory.  That is, three stages of consciousness:
Q1  robotic, do what you are told or what others are doing
Q2  psychopathic- lack of reflection and rumination
Q3 developed conscience, thoughtful
Don't we all know people in all of those stages?  And in this book, they discover a way to move a person- maybe the whole world to a different level.
And Rob always has something to say about the U.S.  In this book, he really plays with the election and the relationship between the U.S. and Russia- with Canada in the middle.  Rob is Canadian.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Canada Reads discussion group

Here is our group of Canada Reads "keeners".  I call the group 'apricity" because we sit in a corner window booth and enjoy snacks and coffee, while we discuss books that have been chosen for Canada Reads.
Apricity means 'the warmth of the sun in the winter'.  It comes from the Latin meaning "to bask in the sun".  And the sun did come out for our first gathering.  It was delightful!
We shared thoughts about books on the longlist as well as our expectations for the discussions in March.
My daughter has observed that I have blogged lately about many books that I didn't enjoy.  She is right.  And the reason?  I am willing to 'hang in' there with Canada Reads because even though I don't enjoy all the books, sometimes I find a gem.  That happened last year- "The Hero's Walk".  I am reading it for the third time and love, love, love it!!!!  That makes up for the others that I didn't enjoy.
Maybe there will be a gem this year.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Canada Reads 2017

   Canada Reads has made the final announcement of books and panel.

   Their launch this year was very disappointing to me, because I had been at a Canada Reads launch in the past that was open to the public, where the authors and panelists each gave a short speech and visited with the public. It was very dramatic and exciting- worth the drive to Toronto!

   But this year, Canada Reads posted a photo of the panelists with the list of books early in the morning of 'presentation day'.The next day there was a video with each panelist giving a short blurb.  No mingling with the public.

Here are the books and panelists:

Chantal Kreviazuk
Chantal Kreviazuk
Chantal is defending "The Right to Be Cold" by Sheila Watt-Cloutier.
Chantal is a singer/songwriter/activist.
She was born in Winnipeg and now lives in Toronto with her husband and three sons.

Humble the Poet
Humble the Poet
Humble the Poet is defending "Fifteen Dogs" by Andre Alexis.
Humble's real name is Kanwer Singh, but he chose a new name for the stage.  He is a teacher/ poet/ hip-hop artist with a YouTube channel.

Tamara Taylor
Tamara Taylor
Tamara is defending "Company Town" by Madeline Ashby.  She was born in Toronto  and is an actress, with a role in "Bones".

Candy Palmater
Candy Palmater
Candy is defending "The Break" by Katherena Vermette.  She was born in New Brunswick.  She is a lawyer/ braoadcaster/ comedian.  She has hosted Q radio.

Jody Mitic
Jody Mitic
Jody is defending "Nostalgia" by M.G. Vassanji.  Jody lost both legs with the Canadian army in Afghanistan.  He is now a city counsellor in Ottawa, living there with his wife and 2 daughters.
Canada Reads 2017