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!

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