Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Brida

May 14, 2017

Paulo Coelho. Brida. Harper, 2008.

A young Irish woman, Brida, goes to a teacher, Wicca, and a Magus, to be initiated into an ancient tradition. Translated from the Portuguese. 


Friday, May 12, 2017

A Walk In the Woods

May 11, 2017

Bill Bryson. A Walk In the Woods: Rediscovering America On the Appalachian Trail. Anchor Canada, 2015 / 1997.



I enjoyed the movie, and I know Bryson has many fans, so when this copy showed up at a local thrift store, I pounced. And I am not disappointed. Knowing someone who has walked the trail helped me feel as if I was there with the hikers, and wondering as they do, why people choose to do this. The joys of walking. The related tangents--history, geology, crime, flora, fauna, personal relationships. Environmental degradation and commercialism. And humour. 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

San Francisco Blues

May 1, 2017

Jack Kerouac. San Francisco Blues. Penguin, 1954, 1995.



Interesting. Never published during his lifetime. Poetry as jazz.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Night School

April 30, 2017

Lee Child. Night School. Delacorte, 2016.




It is 1997, before Y2K and 9/11. Jack Reacher, after being awarded another medal, is sent inexplicably to Night School, to learn “inter-agency cooperation.” They end up in Germany. The mission it to keep something (lost fifty years before and recently found) from getting into the hands of dangerous people. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Gift

April 24, 2017

The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, The Great Sufi Master. trans. Daniel Ladinsky. Penguin, 1999.

I wanted to reread Hafiz, looking for wisdom. And looking for the source of the phrase "turning into light." Found it [p.159] in "Is it true that our destiny / Is to turn into Light / Itself?" Found more wisdom closer to the end: "I wish I could put the swaying splendor / Of the fields into words." [p. 305] and "Plant / So that your own heart / Will grow." [p.330]


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Desire In Seven Voices


Desire In Seven Voices. Ed. Lorna Crozier. Douglas and McIntyre, 1999.

The books I read function as a kind of divination. What is it I am needing now, at this moment, this station in my journey? They come to me, they arrive, comfortably pre-read, as gifts, as loans, by word-of-mouth, or by serendipity, falling at my feet off the shelves of thrift stores and secondhand book stores which form the trap line of my urban life. I cannot afford to buy books new. Library due dates create too much anxiety. But "used" suits me fine. I read and enjoy. Some I adopt, squeezing them in to existing rows. CanLit. Poetry. First Nations. Non-Fiction. History. Art and Design. Others I return, or pass to a next reader, or donate, or recycle.



Yesterday's find is Desire In Seven Voices. Six essays and one story, by seven accomplished Canadian female writers--Dionne Brand, Bonnie Burnard, Evelyn Lau, Shani Mootoo, Susan Musgrave, Carol Shields, and Crozier herself. I love the female perspectives, the stories of awakenings, confessions, even gossip. And the explorations of other desires besides the sexual.

Crozier's essay--"Changing Into Fire"--is my favourite. Possibly because our backgrounds are most similar. Possibly because she seems, she and Shields seem, most aware, most evolved, if you think of that pyramid of self-actualization. Seeming to have the greater understanding. Beyond rebellion. Beyond working out unresolved childhood "issues." I love her line: "How did I learn to love myself and then love you?" [p.66]

Because the goal seems to be to explore rather than to define, I am left feeling teased yet still unsatisfied. This, I suspect, is the goal of this little jewel of a volume. Experiential. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Loving A Woman In Two Worlds

April 11, 2017
Robert Bly. Loving A Woman In Two Worlds. Harper & Row, 1985.


Poems about mature love. The two worlds seem to refer to this and another. Somehow, rereading Bly 30 years later, nice, but he doesn't take me there with him. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

No Sad Songs Wanted Here

Raymond Souster. No Sad Songs Wanted Here. Oberon, 1995.


Raymond Souster, 1921 - 2012, Governor-General's Award-winning Canadian poet, published dozens of volumes. The poems in No Sad Songs are accessible. I like accessible. They are crafted from every-day experience by a man who loves: Toronto, chocolate, jazz. A veteran who observes birds, trees, weather, who watches baseball, basketball, and the news on television, who pays attention to his dreams.

A Confederate General from Big Sur

April 9, 2017
Richard Brautigan. A Confederate General from Big Sur. Grove, 1964.


Brautigan's first novel. Set in the late Fifties, published in 1964, before Trout Fishing In America. Two men at loose ends, Lee Mellon and Jesse, the narrator, camp out on Big Sur. They are visited by free-spirited women and a crazy insurance salesman. To me, it seems that this is a story about vulnerability--economic, sexual, psychological. And about the tentativeness of identity. I know it is not fair to do this, but it's as if Brautigan foresaw his own future.

This Cake Is For the Party

April 6, 2017
Sarah Selecky. This Cake Is For the Party. Thomas Allen, 2010.



Scrumptious. I like that the stories are female-centric. No old men trying to seduce young girls. They are about relationships and entanglements. They are about trying to survive without a government job. They are about why we are who we are.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth

Drew Hayden Taylor. Only Drunks and Children Tell the Truth. Talonbooks, 1998. 



Thanks to Elsie for loaning me this book. Only Drunks... , a sequel to Taylor's Someday, addresses the identity crises of adopted Indian children scooped from their families and communities and raised in White culture. The birth mother Anne, who Janice met for a few hours the previous year, has died and Janice's sister Barb comes to Toronto to retrieve her and bring her home again. This play again (as with Tomson Highway's Dry Lips...) struggles with an aboriginal writer's dilemma. Who is the audience? And how can he tell a story which will be viewed totally differently by people from the different cultures. Although he does not tell the "crabs in a bucket" story, the opening scenes evoked its memory in this reader. Speaking as an outsider, to me, Barb and her two sidekicks seem to be bullying Janice and seem oblivious to her conflicts and struggles. They also project a "holier-than-thou" attitude towards her, assuming that they know what is best for her and what she "should" do. The one-liners are stale, but the play is twenty years old so I'll give him the benefit. And they would likely be more appreciated by the native audience who could get a laugh at recognizing the familiar of the unfamiliar stage set. The dreamcatcher too suffers from over-exposure and commercialism since the end of the twentieth century. The many stereotypes are also disconcerting. The family moving in to your city apartment. The Indian male "putting the moves on" every female he meets (which just seems to link "trickster" with "manipulator"). The belief that children are apprehended because of alcoholism in the home. And the belief that using alcohol is a positive way to bond. So not my experience, and one opinion I stereotypically associate with addiction and denial.

Hidden beneath the discomfort for me is also a new awareness of the grief experienced by the mothers who lost children and the impact of that grieving mother on the subsequent siblings. And the cognitive dissonance experienced by Janice, a trained lawyer who believes in "the system," to cope with the idea that "the system" caused the scoop and its subsequent consequences. This for me parallels the way the rest of us experience such cognitive dissonance about the residential school system scoops. We didn't do it (meaning I personally do not feel responsible for what happened). Most of those who worked within the system were sincere in their belief that they were helping educate children. Not everyone was an abuser or a criminal. Corporal punishment was the norm in all schools everywhere for most of those years. Many former students are appreciative of the education they received. I have heard some say they are glad they learned English at school and that they revel in their Christian faith. However, we have real difficulty teasing out all the issues involved, and putting our fingers on the biggest knot--the racism behind the belief that this sort of education was best for Indian children. That the ways of the colonizers were superior to the beliefs and customs of the First Nations people. And furthermore, we have difficulty accepting that those of us who believe that "educating the children" was for the best are racist--accidental, unconscious, or otherwise.

Who? Me?

And What do we do about that?


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bent Box

Lee Maracle. Bent Box. Theytus, 2000.

March 22, 2017


I love the cover. I love the title, the idea of the bent box as a place to collect and store sacred objects. I love seeing the work of a prolific storyteller, editor, cultural worker, presented in another genre (poetry). I love the way she loves the English alphabet, words, language, and the uses to which it can be put. The way she has loved it ever since she was a child. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Literary Lineage

My first literary influence was Margaret Laurence. 


Laurence was born & went to school 50 miles from where I grew up in Manitoba. She wrote about places I knew and people exactly like the people I was related to, including an old woman with dementia lost in an abandoned BC cannery. I was about 14 when I read The Stone Angel. When I read The Diviners I felt that there was absolutely nothing left to say. But I recovered somewhat after a few years. I went to university 50 years ago in the age of raging Canadian nationalism, after the Centennial. For many years I read only Canadian writers. Then my influences in order of importance were Leonard Cohen, Dorothy Livesay, Carol Shields, and Alice Munro. I took a course from Dorothy and I met Carol through the writers' guild. Before I was bitten by the Canada bug, I was into D.H. Lawrence and John Fowles. A gaggle of romantics, for sure. I have always been more interested in content than in style. I guess I like male writers who talk about sex and relationships and nature and addiction, and female writers who highlight the importance of the lives of girls and women. In my novel Embers, my first goal was to write a story with an older female protagonist. I am so tired of coming-of-age stories of teens inventing sex.



I know Cohen was influenced by Layton (very lusty) and in The Diviners Laurence returns to Old Country roots and to the ancestral writers who celebrated the Celtic heritage buried beneath Britain. This may also explain my passion for Irish literature (anything by John O'Donohue or Roddy Doyle). Coming to terms with "being on the wrong side of history," with being descended from oppressor colonials (how I hate the term "settler"), learning to meet and know Others, being able to empathize with and identify with victims and victim groups, giving voice to the voiceless are other running themes for me. And the importance of place. Our rootedness in place. Our place in the world.

For relaxation reading, I like detective stories where the protagonists always succeed in restoring order out of chaos. Lately, my two faves are Louise Penny (Quebec, Montreal & the Eastern Townships) and Ian Rankin (Edinburgh). Face it, I love Rebus, a man who loves his city and whose work is his life. And my guilty pleasure is Lee Child's Jack Reacher thrillers. So sorry to admit that. Although I always refuse to acknowledge the body count, these novels are page-turners, but well-written page turners, I like to think. Child has a lot to teach us about character development, hooks, scenes, pacing, and about hiding personal story within the larger political plots. Never thought of it quite this way until I took Nicole's CNF course. Thanks again. 


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Killing Floor

Lee Child. Killing Floor: The First Jack Reacher Novel. 1997.



Another lost weekend, starting and finishing a 500-page thriller. The first Jack Reacher novel, set in Georgia. Jack's brother has called him to Margrave in search of Blind Blake. Jack meets Roscoe, a local policewoman, and other residents of the mysteriously clean and well-kept town. Chaos ensues. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Two Pints

Roddy Doyle. Two Pints. Jonathan Cape/Random, 2012.


Hilarious. Two characters meet daily for a pint, two pints, in a Dublin pub and discuss the latest news, sports, family drama. Told completely in dialogue. 

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Sex, Death & Travel

Mona Fertig. Sex, Death & Travel. Oolichan, 1998.


The secondhand copy of this book I found at The Bookman has a beautiful full-colour French-fold cover. The title page identifies the collection as "prose poems" which is a good reminder that prose poems have been published for at least twenty years. I never cracked the code as to why some phrases are in italics although I have faith that there is a reason. I found the Travel section the most accessible. I imagine I have experienced the look and feel of Australia and some islands without ever having been there. The section on Death makes me wonder: are these prose poems non-fiction? It is still never safe to assume. A wonderful gift as I labour at my creative non-fiction course. 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Black & Blue

Ian Rankin. Black & Blue. Orion, 1997.



I still love Rebus, and this is an earlier title I somehow missed. Bible John and Johnny Bible, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Shetlands, Peterhead, and on the North Sea oil rigs. This is the cover of the secondhand paperback I found, but this is not the actor whose face I see when I read the novels. 


 And Rebus and Siobhan:



Monday, February 13, 2017

The Defiant Mind

February 12, 2017

Ron Smith. The Defiant Mind: Living Inside a  Stroke. Ronsdale, 2016.


A very interesting and beautifully written insider's account of recovery from a stroke. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Beautiful Losers

Leonard Cohen. Beautiful Losers. Viking, 1966. Bantam, 1967.


How many times have I read this novel trying to figure out some meaning? 

In the Forest

February 4, 2017

Edna O'Brien. In the Forest. Phoenix, 2002.

Ripped from the headlines. 

I suspect, an artist's frantic attempt to create beauty out of ugliness.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Waiting For Saskatchewan

Fred Wah. Waiting For Saskatchewan. Turnstone, 1985.


A very interesting selection of poems and prose-poems exploring grief, memory, genealogy. Some I found incomprehensible, but others were touching, revealing. Especially the China travels and the Elite series. A reminder that "mixed" is not always "Metis" and that identity is most likely a universal quest only complicated by race[s].

Friday, January 20, 2017

Even Dogs In the Wild

January 19, 2017
Ian Rankin. Even Dogs In the Wild. Orion, 2015. 



Thank you, Ian Rankin. I do love Rebus. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Adore

January 11, 2017

Doris Lessing. Adore. Harper, 2013.


This is the first Lessing I have read. Wonderful. Subtle. Believable. Short. and the additional material, bio and Nobel Prize speech, are also excellent. The importance of books and reading in today's world. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

I'm Your Man

Sylvie Simmons. I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. McClelland & Stewart, 2012.


There are not that many books which I find myself avoiding to finish, dragging my feet, putting it off, because I just do not want the story to end. I do not want to return to the everyday, to "Go back, go back to the world." I'm Your Man, the Sylvie Simmons biography of Leonard Cohen, is one of these. I didn't want it to end. At the same time, I have this feeling (the same one I had 40+ years ago after reading The Diviners) that there is absolutely nothing more to be said. Definitive. I will drown myself in the music.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fingerprints: The Origins of Crime Detection and the Murder Case . . .

Colin Beavan. Fingerprints: The Origins of Crime Detection and the Murder Case that Launched Forensic Science. Hyperion, 2001.


A very interesting read, especially for a true crime and mystery buff. What stood out for me was the connection Beavan makes between urbanization and the need to devise reliable means of identification. In rural areas and smaller villages, everyone knew everyone. Once rural populations fled to the cities, no one knew anyone else. Sometimes police officers or prison guards would recognize previously convicted felons, but even this, as with eye-witness identification, is often unreliable. The French (Bertillon) began a system of measurements, but classification was difficult, too difficult for most policemen "in the field." A doctor working in Japan (Faulds) and an official working in India (Herschel) devised ways of taking and classifying fingerprints. Then the task became one of convincing police and the courts to accept prints as evidence, and of claiming and awarding credit.