Thursday, September 20, 2018


Paul Cowan. HOW THE SCOTS CREATED CANADA. Dragon Hill, 2006.

Very interesting round-up of Scots presence in Canada, mostly (but not all) since 1763. Trying to contact the writer to suggest additions. The Piper Richardson story and statue in Chilliwack, and his pipes now in the Royal BC Museum. Place names like Abbotsford, Banff, McGregor, etc. And the most famous of all in Canadian literature--Margaret Laurence, especially her novel The Diviners, in which the protagonist Morag Gunn traces her family's Scottish roots (Gunn, Logan, Wemyss, Simpson) as a step in her growing Canadian identity. Actually, now that I think about it, there is almost no reference in Cowan's book to the contribution of Scots women in the creation of Canada. Nellie McClung? Alice Munro? See her The View from Castle Rock. European traditions die hard. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Alice Munro. The LOVE of a GOOD WOMAN. 1999.

Why do I own so many unread books by Canada's Nobel Prize-winner Alice Munro? Partly, the collections of short stories do not have the push or pull of plot to get me into and lead me on to the end. But reading this book club selection makes me admit: she is such an intimidating writer, she knows so much about human beings and their motivations, it's almost frightening. 

Our club decided to each pick story and present it. I was going to do "Save the Reaper" because at first I was confused, lost in the present/past switches, and unclear what the title could refer to. Then the main character Eve remembers a fragment, not correctly, seemingly inspired by the fields ready for harvest. An allusion to the Lady of Shallot, long fields of barley and of rye, before she looks into the mirror at Lancelot and the curse is realized. So the reaper is a harvest machine. It is also the grim reaper, time, approaching death. It is also the biker hive Eve stumbles into, alluding to Grim Reapers, a biker group, and the way fear of aliens from outer space is nothing compared to the cruelty and evil just down the road. 

But then I read the title story. Wow. A murder mystery without any police or detective. In effect, we the readers are the investigators. And Munro deals out the clues from the first card, hiding the mystery under a tale of a specific town in a specific time--the happy days of childhood, the variety of home life, the aspirations of women for careers, the professionals who make house calls, the challenges within relationships and within marriages. 

Who is the "good woman" and whom does she love? 


Peter Robinson. PLAYING WITH FIRE. 2004.

Two people die in a fire on two narrow boats. Then a man dies is a fire in his caravan (RV). DCI Banks and his team look for the connections in the worlds of forgery and art fraud. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018


Helen Rose Pauls. BERRY FLATS. Chilliwack, 2017.

Very interesting collection of short stories about a Mennonite community in the Fraser Valley in the twentieth century. Gently, subtly feminist. Illustrated with great photographs and ephemera. 

Monday, August 13, 2018


Lee Child. A WANTED MAN: A Jack Reacher Novel. 2012.

533 pages read in 2 days. Yeah! Reacher is hitchhiking, picked up by two men and a woman to get them through roadblocks. Somewhere in Nebraska, and ending up near Kansas City. 


Gabriel Garcia Marquez. LOVE In the TIME Of CHOLERA. 1988. 

This is a Hawthorne Book Club selection discussed on August 9, 2018, so I am just going to post our post-discussion notes: 

  • Gabriel GARCIA MARQUEZ, “Gabo”, born in Colombia, South America, March 6, 1927. Died Mexico City, April 17, 2014. Raised by grandparents near a banana plantation. Studied in Barranquilla on the Rio Magdalena, Bogota, and Cartagena. 14-year engagement to Mercedes Barcha Pardo. M. 1958. Began publishing in the early 1950s. ONE HUNDRED YEARS Of SOLITUDE 1967. Sent on assignment in Europe, stationed in Paris, for safety. Home. Exiled to Mexico 1981. Befriended Castro in Cuba. Denied entrance to USA 1962-1996. Wrote & spoke only in Spanish (a political statement). Nobel Prize for Literature 1982. LOVE In the TIME Of CHOLERA published 1985, translated into English in 1988. Film 2007 starring Javier Bardem Benjamin Bratt. GGM also published Non-Fiction - The STORY Of a SHIPWRECKED SAILOR 1970, LIVING TO TELL the TALE 2003, MEMORIES Of MY MELANCHOLY WHORES 2005.
  • COLUMBIA, northern South America, bordering Caribbean, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Venezuela. Pop. 42M. Capital: Bogota. Home of the Medellin drug cartel. Spanish colony. Independence 1819. Civil War 1860-62. Thousand Days War (Conservatives vs. Liberals) 1899-1902. La Violencia Civil War 1948-58. Cholera killed 10sK in 19th century. 2016 President Santos awarded Nobel Peace Prize for attempts to end 50+ years of civil war.
  • Reasons NOT to read LOVE In the TIME Of CHOLERA: in translation, small font, 100-word sentences, page-long paragraphs, no dialogue (Spanish), 50-page chapters, omniscient narrator, unknown/unnamed setting, unknown history, parrots, magic realism (because I did not know what it meant).
  • Reasons to GO ON READING: see above--learn something about South America, learn something about magic realism, humour, physicality, sensuousness, surprises, flowers, insightful observations about character, politics, society, AGED protagonists (not another coming-of-age novel), glimpses into private lives, sex lives, many more themes beyond “unrequited love”.
  • Plot/Characters/Setting: In a city near the Caribbean with connections to Europe & the Andes, at the mouth of the Magdalena River, Florentino Ariza documents his 51 years 9 months and 4 days of unrequited love for Fermina Daza who was married to Dr. Juvenal Urbino for 50+ years. What do they each want? Does what they want change over 50 years?
  • Structure/Style/Magic Realism: The story begins with the death of the husband. In 6 major chapter divisions, it shifts back and forth between present and past—the history of Florentino’s love life (622 relationships documented in 25 journals, one-night stands do not count), the history of the marriage, the history of the couple’s (Florentino and Fermina) interactions and sightings. Omniscient narrator; little dialogue because, G M says, there is still a gap between spoken and written Spanish. This makes the style seem Victorian/Dickensian. Yet it is full or surprises, spot-on observations.
  • G M is celebrated as a writer of magic(al) realism. Ignore the “magic” as the term does not refer to fantasy or interiority or imagination. Magic realism means SHOWING SOMETHING COMMON or daily as unreal, MARVELOUS, or strange. Almost the opposite of abstraction. A combination of metaphor and heightened observation. The opposite of poetry which takes the real and finds the metaphor. Magic realism starts with metaphor and ends in reality. [the symbolic wedding night > Fermina remembers hearing her husband urinate] “Poetry is a plane taking off; Magic realism is a plane landing.” In magic realism, the emphasis in on the REALISM.
  • Humour: the parrot soup; the firemen in the house; the naivety; the sex positions; the woman using the pacifier; the strong sense of smell—corpses, sewers, urine, dirty clothes, flowers.
  • Themes: GM said that if you think this book is a soap opera about romantic love, you have fallen into his trap. What is he saying about love? Sex? Romance? Aging? Marriage? About private and personal communications (by stalking, letter, telegraph, telephone, government news releases, gossip)? About relationships, truth? About politics, the centuries-long civil war between Liberals and Conservatives? About technological advances and environmental degradation over fifty years? What really are the important things in life? Is the ending dark or light? Despair or hope?
  • Wiki: “…that lovesickness is literally an illness, a disease comparable to cholera. . . . The term cholera as it is used in Spanish, colera, can also denote passion or human rage and ire in its feminine form.  [Thus] the title is a pun: cholera as the disease, and cholera as passion, which raises the central question of the book: is love helped or hindered by extreme passion?”

Sunday, July 22, 2018


Gail Bowen. KALEIDOSCOPE. M&S, 2012.

Still enjoying these Joanne Kilbourn mysteries set in Regina. In KALEIDOSCOPE, Joanne retires, her house gets firebombed, and her running partner shot. Issues include urban blight, gentrification, cross-cultural communication, and the sources of violence.


Paul Cowan. HOW THE SCOTS CREATED CANADA . Dragon Hill, 2006. Very interesting round-up of Scots presence in Canada, mostly (but not all) ...