Two Good Books

Two books that I highly recommend for their strong writing and amazing narratives are Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and the memoir, Educated by Tara Westover.

I think I was very late to the ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ party.  I had heard the title kicking about for quite some time.  This pandemic has provided an opportunity to read, probably, a little bit more than I usually would, sometimes staying up turning pages way later than is really acceptable, given that I babysit an almost-three-year-old most days.

Coming to books with my own insatiable appetite for the outdoors and for wildlife, particularly birds, this book filled me to the brim.  And while I appear to be quite an extrovert to most, I feel inwardly uncomfortable being in groups of people and feel awkward in the world of conversation.  As a result, this book by Delia Owens, retired wildlife biologist, is strongly appealing to me.

We see this part of the world, intimately, through the eyes of Kya.

By description, the protagonist has a most amazing collection displayed inside her primitive cabin, located in a remote marshland in North Carolina.  More than anything, I wish that I could feast my eyes on this.  Surely it was an image that I carried in my imagination throughout the reading.  I loved the idea of leaving feathers tucked away in secret places, treasured gifts from a special visitor. I think I know how Kya felt as I feel the same way when I discover a feather nestled in the tall grasses by the edge of the Bow River.

The story, suspense, character relationships read as believable and there are no moments of disappointment, at least not for this reader.  I was completely absorbed by this book and the hidden world of life on the water and in this magical place.  The fact that the protagonist becomes a writer causes me to look at some of the books on my book shelf differently.  This is one.

I highly recommend the book, Where the Crawdads Sing for its rich description and charming story.

Next, the memoir Educated by Tara Westover is a powerful true-life reflection.  This is another page-turner that totally engrossed me in a circumstance that is foreign and in so many ways, unbelievable.

Taken directly from the New Yorker review written by Alexandra Schwartz….this.

Westover was born sometime in September, 1986—no birth certificate was issued—on a remote mountain in Idaho, the seventh child of Mormon survivalist parents who subscribed to a paranoid patchwork of beliefs well outside the mandates of their religion. The government was always about to invade; the End of Days was always at hand. Westover’s mother worked as a midwife and an herbal healer. Her father, who claimed prophetic powers, owned a scrap yard, where his children labored without the benefit of protective equipment. (Westover recounts accidents so hideous, and so frequent, that it’s a wonder she lived to tell her tale at all.) Mainstream medicine was mistrusted, as were schools, which meant that Westover’s determination to leave home and get a formal education—the choice that drives her book, and changed her life—amounted to a rebellion against her parents’ world.

What I took from this novel was an astounding resilience and huge lessons about “education”.  We encounter the brilliant truths about the stories we are told in our childhood and subsequently, the truths we tell ourselves.  It is then a very complex process to integrate these truths with the lives that we live, the knowledge we attain and environmental impacts that come our way.  Tara makes a stunning effort to communicate what this journey entails.  This is such a powerful memoir.  Please do read it.

 

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.

 

 

Tanya Tagala and Sheila Watt-Cloutier at Convention

Thursday was a beautiful day. Cayley and I attended Teacher’s Convention together.  I’m proud that my daughter has chosen the teaching profession and prouder, still, that she takes her profession to heart.  She is a strong woman.  We share in a lot of the same concerns for our planet and its people.  We also really believe that there’s a lot of power in education and that it is essential to change, healthy perceptions and strength of character.

I have been blessed that over the last while, I’ve had a number of strong women coming into my circle,  These include artists, writers, mentors and friends. I feel in awe of their abilities to inspire and build up communities, families and their own experiences in so many impacting ways.  Strong women have always been in my life; don’t get me wrong.  But, recently, I’ve been really looking at what these women have done to influence me.  I’m noticing them more.

Our sessions in the afternoon began with a talk by Tanya Tagala, author of Seven Fallen Feathers and All Our Relations.  (No photos for any convention sessions, so, I’m sharing one of the Massey Hall lectures delivered by Tanya…very similar content.)

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This was a very powerful talk, delivered with humour, honesty and generosity.  Tanya’s first hand experiences and personal narratives increased our understanding of our story as Canadians.  I know that many of my readers do not feel as I do on issues of Indigenous peoples and their rights.  We are willing to fight for the rights of others, but so often neglect our responsibilities to our Indigenous, Metis and Inuit neighbours across the nation.  I just don’t see how we can walk away from the treaties that our ancestors signed, in good faith.  We are all treaty people.  This is not an imagined past.

I value Tanya’s work; her writing and her voice.  She is strong and positive and she speaks the truth.  Every child deserves safety, clean water and shelter….it is not a child’s fault that they were born under the weight of history!

Cayley and I went for a movement break after the talk.  We were quiet for the most part, but talked a bit about the open mic question session and what questions we feel are still unanswered for us. We were reviewing, in our minds, what needs to happen to shift our delivery of content in our classrooms.  It was lovely to meet up with Lana and Heather during the break.

Next, we heard, in the same hall, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a beautiful woman who I had met a Mount Royal University some years ago, with my sister-friend, Karen.   I feel blessed to have had a second opportunity to hear Sheila speak and encourage my readers to take the opportunity when you can.  Please read her book, The Right to Be Cold.

Sheila shared a great deal of information and global concern for the melting north and the melting permafrost.  We need this global cooling system.  There are species that now arrive in the north, never-identified by the Inuit peoples.  This strikes me as a manifestation of our consumption and greed.  It is so easy to forget Canada’s north, abandoning her for all of the social and economic concerns of the south.  We need to make these connections and be more deliberate in our protection of her.

There were such stiff rules about picture taking…and procedural rules around book-signing, but Cayley managed to grab a quick photo from a distance of Sheila and me, together, in conversation.

This is not a very becoming photograph…but…I took an opportunity to chat, give a context and express my interest.  Sheila is a beautiful, authentic and very smart woman who has accomplished great and wonderful things in her life.  Thanks, Cayley for sitting on the sidelines and capturing this engagement.  Does it seem like anyone around me is concerned?

After the session, Cayley and I went To Bar Anna Bella’s for a cocktail and to bond.  It was a lovely relaxed atmosphere and we were all on our own.  I had the Osmoz Gin from France.  Yum!!  Magic!

As we left, the winter festival was setting up.  I found it ironic and a little sad that this is what met us just around the corner.  Interesting that a great big ‘plastic’ igloo should appear out of nowhere.  Calgary moved on to the Glow Festival.

 

 

 

 

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

The Virgin Cure was Ami McKay’s second novel, after The Birth House.  I’m still looking forward to reading The Witches of New York.

I would include the book, The Virgin Cure, in a list of beach reads.  Let’s face it, Ami McKay is a fabulous writer and she certainly does a fantastic job of consistently representing female characters and their challenges in her writing.  So, why read this on the beach?  This book reads seamlessly, apart from the use of margins and abrupt breaks in pages, every now and again, to insert Dr. Sadie’s notations, quotes and memories.  This book didn’t challenge me and it did not cause me to connect so deeply with the protagonist, Moth, that I would cry at any point.  The Virgin Cure was a good book, but not a strong book, in my opinion.

I’m not giving anything away in regards to the story.  The inside book jacket did a disservice to Ami McKay when it says way too much!

So, what were the book’s endearing qualities?

There were certainly elements in the writing that kept me connected with the novel.  I loved the protagonist, Moth.  Her story is endearing, particularly in the opening chapters.  At some point it feels like the story abandons Moth/Ava and I felt a real disconnect between the events she was living and her emotional self.  The most tragic moment in the book happens with a lesser developed character, Alice, and for that moment, I took pause to feel revulsion.  Would the story have been better had these circumstances happened  to Moth?

The setting was certainly interesting…late 1800s in New York City.  Having read so many books recently, set during World War II, this book provided a different, rich and many-layered world, describing, in depth, the scenes and life on the streets of New York.  We are very familiar with the streets of east London from this same period, in many literary works, but to be transported to New York City was refreshing and well-done.

I love Ami McKay’s attention to objects and detail in her writing.  For example, I was really curious about the tear catcher.  Such a tiny element as this seemed to create an important thread through the handling of grief, power and relationship. McKay’s descriptions of period costumes and of the vaudevillian characters was superb.

So, what was not to like?

Doctor Sadie is telling this story and her relationships with the girls is handled, but not to the depth that I would like.  I wanted to dig deeper into her character.  Instead, I felt that her life was reported, not lived.

The narrative, while a very intriguing tale, does not go far enough.  I was appalled, but not emotional.  I didn’t feel the injustice in my bones and I think that is what is necessary for this to be a truly successful book.  It feels to be spreading out onto the surface of things.

This book can be read easily in three sittings.  It has very beautiful moments.  I love Ami McKay’s writing.  While this is a weaker novel, I am looking forward to working my way through her list.

 

 

 

 

Greenwood by Michael Christie

I met Micheal Christie at Wordfest, here in Calgary, this year.  Little did I know that a single reading and a very short little narrative shared about a coin of wood from a tree on his own lot, would lead me to my favourite book of 2019!

Greenwood is exceptional from beginning to end.  If there is any weakness at all, it is in the character Jake and the segments written in the context of 2038.  I wanted to get that out of the way, immediately.  But, as the depth of the other characters emerges, the reader feels as though they have come to know a family and its related friends and enemies deeply.  I was moved by this book so much.

There were some really personal reasons why I connected with this novel, but I highly recommend it because I believe that every reader is going to respond just as positively, and perhaps for other reasons.

First, I treasure the book, Greenwood, because it is well-written.  Michael Christie is a relatively young author, having previously been a skate boarder.  His other accomplishments include The Beggar’s Garden and If I Fall;If I Die.

His debut novel (and of course I will be finding it and reading it) was The Beggar’s Garden.  Apparently this is a book of nine linked stories and similar to Greenwood, it interests itself in characters that are easily ignored and who are experiencing authentic suffering, oft-times brought on by choices they have made.  In other words, his characterization is entirely honest and believable.

I am disappointed that Greenwood was merely longlisted for the Giller Prize.  Reviews on Goodreads are overwhelmingly positive.  I always go there after reading a book, not before.

Recently, I have read some disappointing books.  Picking up The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff, (The Orphan’s Tale) I was left questioning the flat characters, the undeveloped romances and the lack of attention to the actual code senders, highlighted even in the title. The Girls by Emma Cline and The Huntress by Kate Quinn left me equally disappointed, for similar reasons.  The characters had no guts and their narratives felt simplistic.  In The Huntress, I felt that the focus of the novel needed to remain with the female pilots, but taking World War II settings and trying to build romances is always a wee bit challenging.  While my own readers will find a number of positive reviews about each of these three novels, they did not appeal to me and my own sensibilities. I am using them as a contrast to Greenwood because everything that was lacking in them was delivered by Michael Christie.

In Quill and Quire, a review on his book, If I Fall, If I Die, published in 2015, holds true for Greenwood, as well.

…This atmospheric work of gritty realism explores themes of class mobility, self-determination, and the impact of mental illness…

The writing in Greenwood is descriptive, eloquent and the syntax, remarkable.  While the structure is complex, it flows and I found myself buried in what is commonly referred to as a page-turner.  Harris, Everett, Liam and Willow very-much entered into my life.  Their stories were fraught with struggle, lies, omissions and these vulnerabilities built the tension that captured my heart.

I am not going to summarize the book in this review…I don’t like to do that.  I will carry on sharing my personal reasons for treasuring this book.

Having once lost a treasured journal of my own,  and on another occasion, having had someone take my personal journal and read it, the story of Euphemia Baxter’s journal became a thread that was very important to me throughout the book.  The Secret and Private Thinkings and Doings of Euphemia Baxter  is an object of real importance to me in the reading.

The metaphorical/symbolic presence of trees is another element that won my heart.  Both poetic and inspiring this exploration is seldom accomplished by any other fiction writer.

My own interest in the genealogy of my family is also a passion and delight. Once finished this novel, I felt as though I’ve learned about the Greenwood family in its depths.  I celebrate the foibles and mistakes of the family members and found that part of the writing to be authentic and true.

And finally, my interest in trees, the lives of trees and the stewardship that they require is right up there in my concerns and my interests.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Michael Christie and highly recommend.  My new favourite!  Greenwood!

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Imaginairium: Wordfest 2019

The days are getting crisp…things are going to sleep for the winter.  I’m not writing as much, but I AM reading.  When this weather arrives, it’s wonderful to curl up and read.  In preparation for Wordfest, I read Birth House for the second time and loved it just a much or more than the first.

Birth House by Ami McKay is right up there among my favourite books.  I’ve read a lot of books by this time and so, there can never be a favourite, but there are heaps of favourites.  I couldn’t afford the time or the money for a lot of sessions at Wordfest’s annual event, however, I made certain to register for two of the sessions where Ami would be speaking and I purchased her most recent book, a memoir, Daughter of Family G.

The first session was delightful, a Cabinet of Curiosities, and featured a number of writers including Ami.  These authors each brought a single object to share, an item that connected with their books, process or lives.  It was an intriguing grouping, covering a big array of topics and styles of writing.  I picked up a few books that night.

Anthony De Sa shared a GI Joe camo jacket.  He shared a heartfelt story that I will not soon forget about Christmas at home and a loving gesture from his mother.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place.  Anthony is writer of Children of the Moon.  This is now in my collection and I am looking forward to reading it.  Eloquent!

Marina Endicott shared her first Greek book.  It was a book that her Greek Teacher gave to her.  “Wherever you go, there you find your teacher’.  Her teacher, she shared, was her first home.

Cecil Foster writes for his grandmother.  His talismans are ideas.  As he writes, he takes pause and contemplates what might make his grandmother laugh or what might make her cry.  The material, he described, doesn’t really matter.  The idea matters.  He lifted a glass at the conclusion of his presentation and made a toast to his grandmother.  His most recent book is on my ‘to read’ list, They Call Me George.

Michael Christie’s new book, Greenwood, is also in my collection.  He shared with us the story of building his new home on Galiano Island and about how, during a huge storm on the family’s first days in the house, blew over a tree that crashed into the family Subaru.  He shared a slice/coin of the big branch that caused the destruction.  His reading caused me to weep.

A magnificent novel of inheritance, sacrifice, nature and love that takes its structure from the nested growth rings of a tree, Greenwood spans generations to tell the story of a family living and dying in the shadows cast by its own secrets. With this breathtaking feat of storytelling, Michael Christie masterfully reveals the tangled knot of lies, omissions and half-truths that exists at the root of every family’s origin story. (From McClelland ​​​​​​& Stewart)

Ami McKay shared something her mother/grandmother said, “All of the flowers that our blooming in our todays are to be enjoyed because of the seeds that were planted in our yesterdays.”

Terry Fallis was very animated and shared several items via Powerpoint imagery; his fountain pen collection, a framed image of Robertson Davies and an old typewriter that he keeps close by.

And finally, Anosh Irani shared a map of one district in Bombay.  His story and the poetic gifts that he shared that evening, were beautiful.  I purchased his book, The Parcel.

What a tremendous evening.  Thank you, Wordfest.

The next day, I had the opportunity to hear Ami McKay talk about her family, in detail, and her struggles and strength as both connect with her life.  The initial disease suffered by my brother was Colorectal Cancer and so I was very interested in what Ami shared about her family’s journey with Lynch Syndrome.  I really appreciated the time that Ami took with me personally as I found myself first in line to have my books signed by her.  This was an inspiring book talk and I am presently 100 pages in to the book, Daughter of Family G: A Memoir of Cancer Genes, Love and Fate

I met Aracely outside of the Memorial Branch library.  Aracely is the moderator for the book discussions that I enjoy at the Fish Creek Library once a month.  She is smart, fun and very generous.  She is also in love with reading!  I was swooped up by her enthusiasm and headed over to the Central Branch for the Humble the Poet presentation.  Am I ever glad I went!  Such a timely and inspiring talk!  While I didn’t purchase it that evening, I’ve added Things No One Else Can Teach Us, to my list.

Good to meet dear friends, Diane, Bill, Catherine and Bob, sitting directly behind me.

Wordfest never disappoints.  I hope that next year I have it in my schedule to take in even more of the book talks.  They open up the mind, the heart and put you in touch with other big time readers!  Thank you, Wordfest!

A Book of Good Stories 1946

I purchased A Book of Good Stories at the Women In Need shop in Forest Lawn for one dollar, a few weeks back.  In the front, an inscription was written in that absolutely beautiful script taught between the 1930s and the 1960s.  The name that appears inside the front cover is that of Hillaria Paul.

I am looking to return this book to the family.  It was used as a text book in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  I know that the ‘stuff’ of our lives sort of accumulates and then we spend what seems a life time, getting rid of it.  I know that I’d give anything to own an old book that, once, one of my grandparents held and read.  Perhaps some one in Hilaria’s family will want this.

Outline by Rachel Cusk

Recently, I’ve found myself in the enviable position of reading during the day, instead of just before bed.  Reading nicely places another narrative in my head and I no longer ruminate about absolutely everything that’s happening in my own life, right before bed.  Naturally a worrier, my own life used to keep me up at night.

One of the books I read last month was one of a trilogy by Rachel Cusk, Outline.  I’m presently reading the second, Transit.

The structure and approach to Cusk’s writing in Outline is fascinating.  I hesitate to recommend this book, however, given that it is such an interesting read.  My friends don’t necessarily like my take on ‘interesting’ reads.  I missed the book discussion on this one.  It was held at the Fish Creek Library.  I did, however, drop my notes off to the desk one day, hoping that my group would get my take on the read.  In the end, I learned that the notes didn’t get passed on to them.  But, I wasn’t surprised to learn that no one in my circle enjoyed the book.  I wasn’t surprised with that news.

A female writer boards a plane headed for Greece.  She will be conducting writing workshops shortly upon her arrival and also taking in a bit of sun.  What happens on the flight is that she meets that person sitting next to her…he’s like every other person you stand next to in line or the one who sits across from you in class.  He is the person who sits alone at a table in the restaurant where you are reading your book and eating a salad at the same time.  These people in our lives are like ‘outlines’…we have no context with them…but, what Rachel Cusk does is she creates their stories, generously building their motivations, passions and needs…their vulnerabilities and strengths.  The reader is witness to the building of each character.  It’s remarkable.

I am fascinated with the exercises that the protagonist creates for her classes and with the participants’ reactions/responses.  I suggest, strongly, that you give this book a chance.

A couple of moments particularly delighted me.  I am captivated when one of the writer’s students walks under an open window and hears a familiar piece of music…oh my…so wonderfully- described and so rich in meaning! (page 138).  In truth, from beginning to end the syntax and the description is refreshing and new.

Cusk’s writing is thought-provoking.

On page 245…

“She had sat there, she said, and thought about her own lifelong habit of explaining herself, and she thought about this power of silence, which put people out of one another’s reach.  Lately, since the incident – now that things had got harder to explain, and the explanations were harsher and bleaker – even her closest friends had started to tell her to stop talking about it, as though by talking about it she made it continue to exist.  Yet if people were silent about the things that had happened to them, was something not being betrayed, even if only the version of themselves that had experienced them?  It was never said of history, for instance, that it shouldn’t be talked about; on the contrary, in terms of history silence was forgetting, and it was the thing people feared most of all, when it was their own history that was at risk of being forgotten.  And history, really, was invisible, though its monuments still stood.  The making of the monuments was half of it, but the rest was interpretation.”

In Rachel’s writing, her characters speak…they talk about themselves and we know them like we can not know other characters in other writers’ books.

I see parallels between Outline and my repetitive painting of a single bush at the edge of a pond.  It is the atmosphere, surroundings, weather/season, even the time of day that fleshes out what the bush is.  In part, this is why I responded to this book as I did.  The character (writer) surfaces out of the development of everything around her.

By Chance Alone by Max Eisen

Last week, I read Canada Reads 2019 winner, By Chance Alone by Max Eisen.

While books about this time of our history are very sad and very dark, it is so important, as a part of our education, that we continue to share these narratives.  This book is particularly well-written, so steeped in an authentic voice, that it is rich and heart-breaking.

Given that I believe that the human spirit is rooted in love and compassion, I am reminded when I read such historical memoirs as this one, just how horrible and brutal human beings can be. There is an innate spirit of hatred that has surfaced throughout our human story.  If a person focuses too much upon this, it can be very traumatizing.  So many atrocities in the name of power, greed and difference.

I strongly recommend this book.  It has been Max Eisen’s life work to bring his family’s story to light.  It is historical and contributes to the documentation of the experience of this time.

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”

This was a truly remarkable book.

The Girls by Emma Cline

Straight from the inside cover, “Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction – and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.”

I disagree. I love reading because it gives me the opportunity to make my own judgments on writing and what I personally value and see as good writing. Throughout The Girls, there are moments of poetic writing (Page 137. I lay there, staring at the framed photo that hung over the bureau: a sand dune, rippling with mint grass. The ghoulish whorls of cobwebs in the corners.) lively description or a flash of insight about what makes girls ‘tick’. But as a story line, this novel feels very contrived, and obviously based on the Charles Manson narrative. Sometimes, frankly, that just gets old.

In a more original way, the recent movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood invites the viewer to look at the cult story differently. But, the book, The Girls, just doesn’t do that. Contrary to the book jacket, I find the writing predictable and dull, anything but spellbinding. Hmmm…I’m negative about this one, aren’t I?

The great thing about book discussions is that when a group of ten readers convenes to analyse a book, I can find endearing and positive elements to every book and I can look at different parts or even sometimes, the entire book, with new eyes. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a reader who reads to its conclusion, every book I start. The book discussion on this one, was excellent. Thank you to the book discussion group at Fish Creek Library.

Being a part of the library book discussions gives opportunity to read books that I might not select. I like the huge variety that comes up. Sometimes I’ve got two or even three books going at a time and this can lead me into distraction. This one was an easy read…readers, you could do it in a few evenings.

I suppose the big ‘idea’ in this book is an old question, in my mind, “What is it that causes young women to latch on to ‘bad’ people? What is the allure? The obsession? How do young women allow others to have such control or power over them?”

While I see moments in Cline’s writing that are generous and beautiful, this particular story feels empty and familiar. So, on this one, I disagree with the New Yorker. Laughing to myself, at writing that.