Reading in Covid Times

Oh my goodness! I am not going to write individual reviews for the books that I’ve read during this pandemic (so far), not for Goodreads or for any other reason because generally, I’ve not been pleased with the selection thus far.

I was reading Hope Matters by Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter when all of this began.  I know this because our March book discussion was canceled at Fish Creek Library.  This was all new and at that point I think I shrugged my shoulders and thought this would be over before we knew it and that all would go on as usual.  But now, all these weeks later, I realize how blessed I was in our group.  I miss the group very much.

When I began Hope Matters, I was really excited about it, but as I read further in, I struggled and I came up against a lot of walls.  Poetry is a tricky genre for people, generally, and this writing I found difficult to tunnel into.  I think that there needs to be a hook for the reader of poetry.  I am not saying the book is strong or weak.  I’m just saying that something about me would not let the words in.  If you’ve read the book, let me know your thoughts.

The Parcel by Anosh Irani was sitting on my bookshelf.  I purchased it while attending the last Wordfest event, here in Calgary.  This is a powerful and essential read.  It was a solid piece of writing that evoked a great deal of emotion and brought social consciousness to the forefront as I read.  I had heard similar stories before.  I think, also, that movies and Hollywood has given us a picture of what life is like in Bombay.  However, I feel that this author, having his own life rooted in Bombay, gave the reader an authentic experience of the subject.

My heart went out to the protagonist, Madhu.  I entered into her life and felt her exasperation.  While I’m grateful for having read this book, I must warn other readers that this is a dark story and it is very sad.  It pulled me down.  I thought to myself, at the time, “Lady, you need to find something a little lighter for these times.”  As these types of novels typically are, this is a story of redemption.  I recommend…but, with a warning.  This author is talented and honest.  You will like his writing.

I decided to read the next book that was on the list for our Book Discussion in April.  The book was also on the Canada Reads list, From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle.  Bravo to Jesse Thistle who gives us this powerful memoir, a story of human strength and an inspiration to anyone who feels that life has dealt them a very difficult hand.  The writing is good. But, a little voice kept needling me…”Why don’t you tackle some light reading, Kath?”  These books, while eventually reaching the resilience of the human spirit, are so darned sad, for the most part.

From Goodreads, 

In this heartwarming and heartbreaking memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful experiences with abuse, uncovering the truth about his parents, and how he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family through education.

An eloquent exploration of what it means to live in a world surrounded by prejudice and racism and to be cast adrift, From the Ashes is, in the end, about how love and support can help one find happiness despite the odds.

On my friend, Hollee’s, recommendation, I next read Starlight by Richard Wagamese, published after his death and with the support of his estate.  I loved this book…the protagonist was a wildlife photographer living on a beautiful piece of land.  Here, he intervenes in the protection of Emmy and Winnie.  It is written with such eloquence and heart that I was so totally engaged.  As I was running out of pages, however, I became disarmed because I felt that the ending was not going to be tied up comfortably for me…and it wasn’t.  I highly recommend this book.  It didn’t have the same impact on me as the other books I had read to this point of the pandemic experience, and beginning in March.

It was at this point that I picked up The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood.  Because Atwood was my first born’s favourite author during high school and beyond, at some point I decided that I would read all of Atwood’s writing in order to understand my daughter a little more.  Isn’t it funny that I think that might happen through books?  Erin was my BIG reader in the day.  I couldn’t keep her stocked in L.M. Montgomery books when she was younger.  She read them all.  And I haven’t.

Previously, I read Bluebeard’s Egg, a collection of Atwood short stories and really really enjoyed those!  I also sailed through The Handmaid’s Tale….maybe every one does.  But when it came to The Robber Bride…oh, my!  I crashed into a wall.  This book felt somehow surreal and it amplified my mood surrounding the epidemic that we were learning to endure at the very same time.  In this book, Zenia exercises such power over three different characters; Toni, Charise and Roz, that I felt a huge frustration at their naivety.  I was absorbed by certain sections where Atwood explores the particular motivations of her characters, but as a whole, it was just a really hard read.  After the book, I read various reviews and discovered that the author intended all sorts of connections to be made about the 60s feminist movement and a review of this writing even compares it to the grisly tale of the Brothers Grimm.  I found the book to be too raw in its subject.  It made me squirm. I haven’t decided which of Atwood’s books I will tackle next, but having used three weeks (WHAT??) to read this one, I thought I’d look for something ‘mindless’.  On this one, consider yourselves warned.

I enjoyed Ken Follett’s first trilogy back in the day, so I looked at my collection of Follett books on my shelf and chose one that dealt with the theft of a virus (NO, I’M NOT KIDDING) called Whiteout.  Sheesh!!  This one is one that you will whiz through.  It is mindless.  There’s a bit of a romance.  There is a series of cheesy good guy bad guy stuff happen in a very bad storm.  I really did give this one a try…finished it in three evenings, but it wouldn’t be one I’d recommend.  Goodreads mentions that it has startling twists.  Hmmm….I would beg to differ.

Onward and outward…in search of the five star pandemic novel, I saw plastered all over social media, a book title of interest to me, A Life Without Water by Marci Bolden.  Not only that, but the reviews were over-the-top, positive.

Sorry, guys.  This was a let down.  Another three evening read, A Life Without Water feels like the writing is diluted.  There is flavour, but it’s so weak that it’s disappointing.  While the premise might provide opportunity for a good story, I think that the writing has to really power up.  Amazon says...An unputdownable, heart-breaking, but ultimately uplifting story about the power of forgiveness. 

No. Don’t do it!

Again, Hollee posted something about this book, You Are an Artist by Sarah Urist Green.  I ordered it that day through Amazon and really like this book.  I highly recommend!

I think this book would provide some creative connection for high school students and for adults, spending time at home. It provides unusual approaches to making art in your own spaces and in your own communities.

My readers knew that eventually it would come to this, right?  Of course I’ve picked up my Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds identification book!  This morning, for the first time, in my neighbourhood, I saw a Thrush.  This was a very cool experience!  I also received a photograph in my messages from a friend who snapped a photo of a beautiful yellow and orange bird that she saw in Carburn Park yesterday!  I knew what it was!!  Seven years later, I’m very excited about identifying birds.  Get yourself a Bird Identification book!

My sister gifted me the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta…also, highly recommend.

Last night, I opened a page turner.  I’m already heart broken for the protagonist, little six-year old Kya, in the book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, but the syntax, description and opening up of the story are eloquent.  Thank goodness!  I’m living in hope that I’m now on the right track for the remainder of my pandemic reading.  I’d love you to let me know what books you are picking up through these times.  Leave me a message.  There was a great little CBC program on just after lunch today, asking folks what they’re watching on television…what they’re reading…what they’re listening to.  All good questions.  Again, I’m coming from a place of privilege, that I should have the time and ability to read.  I’m always grateful.

 

 

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