Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Appreciating the west

What a refreshing 250 page book! (laugh at self inserted here after the longer reads I have recently tackled).  There are so many reasons why I love to read - to learn something, to be moved, for escape, to grow,to laugh out loud, to name a few.  This was a powerful novel, especially considering that it is a first novel (although that begs the question, after you get this kind of praise and make it as the first book on a certain powerful woman's book club relaunch, where do you go from here?).  I really enjoyed the narrative - it was a different way to tell a story.  This novel is about Hattie Shepard, and each chapter is crafted from the perspective of one of her children or grandchild.  Over her lifetime, there are sweeping personal events that are related against the backdrop of history. 

After reading the section about the Jim Crow laws of the land, it made me appreciate we are not from the South, and that is not truly part of the fabric of the Canadian west.  Especially living in a multicultural city, working in a large institution that welcomes diversity, these attitudes seem so far away.  I recognize this is an idealistic comment and that there is racism here, and that different cultures rub up against each other and not always in positive ways, however I am glad that this isn't such a part of our history to escape or grow from, since parts of it are still alive and well in the south (we have our own issues to tackle such as the East Side or engaging our Aboriginal populations in a more positive manner since they are a growing part of our Canadian population). 

I have a somewhat weird comment to make about this book - I don't always read the jacket covers, but this one describes Hattie as "She vows to prepare [her children] for the calamitous difficulty they are sure to face in their later lives, to meet a world that will not live them, a world that will not be kind.  Captured here in twelve luminous narrative threads, their lives tell the story of a mother's monumental courage and the journey of a nation."  I can't really say that this describes the book - or perhaps my definition of courage is one that needs to grow when I reflect upon the contents of this book and what courage means to me.  We don't truly see a lot of Hattie beyond the first chapter (which shapes the course of her life with a preventable tragedy) and the final chapter (when Hattie seizes a moment to demonstrate love and kindness for one of her brood to perhaps change her life path in a way she never reached out to her direct children) and perhaps this is the point.  We see hints of the strong, dynamic, ferocious woman that is Hattie, fighting to keep her kids alive and fighting to keep her family together, but we don't always get insight in to her she truly is.  There are glimpses, such as in the chapter about her daughter Ruthie, but it can be like quicksilver.  This is a great book, and like a few of the books I have  been recently reading, I expect this to become a part of our modern canon. 

How the threads of the novel wrap together is beautifully crafted.  This isn't always an easy read to digest, this is telling a series of stories you don't often get a glimpse in to.  Like any good novel, there are transcending moments that connect humanity to each other, those gems within the story that make you stop and think and reflect upon what the words mean to you, in your drama as it plays across your stage. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hidden gems

 There are some days I do feel pretty lucky both about where I work, and where my kids are able to go to elementary school.  I was able to join B's class on a local field trip to check out a totem pole that is in the process of being carved.  The totem pole depicts a thunderbird on the top, with a killer whale on the bottom.  The picture to the left shows the killer whale's blow hole, and the picture to the bottom shows the top of the pole looking down from the top of the thunderbird. 

It was pretty magic getting to see an actual totem being created, and to speak to the artist.  He shared some experiences with us, and shared quite a few of the tools of the trade as well.  Ironically, the red cedar log (which is about 650 years old) was pulled from a log boom in the Fraser River close to where we live! A very remarkable morning!

It also helps that the sun is shining and the wind has chased the clouds away.   It is amazing how much your overall mood can change when it is NOT raining.  It has been a decent week - that is except for forgetting about my book club meeting this week!  It was originally for Wednesday, and it got shifted to Tuesday night. So much for getting to talk about our latest book.  SIGH, I seem to do well when things are scheduled and I have a plan, but when things shift, my focus shifts.  I was so focused on getting B out to track and field, fed, and then home, I totaly forgot about the fun I could have with my book club ladies.  Next month eh? 

It has been great to leave the Winter behind us.  Spring feels like a renewal this year, for all of us.  It has also been interesting now that we are in our second year in our new place - it isn't so new any more, and we are making changes to both the yard, and we are planning on repainting bathrooms soon.  It feels more like ours, like we are building out future, if that makes any sense at all.

Monday, April 22, 2013

An element missing from my "english" literature degree

I love to read.  Books like this remind me of why I have always loved to read.  I cannot remember a time in my life where books did not play a prominent role.  This has been floating around my "I would  like to read this" list for a while, and I was really glad that one of my bookclub friends suggested this as a bookclub read rather than me, just in case it didn't live up to the expectations I had for it.  This book totally delivered.  The prose was lyrical, the characters rich, the landscape diverse.  This is the kind of book you want a cuppa beside you, a good comfortable chair, and a few hours that you can steal away from the daily grind. 

I sometimes wonder what direction I should take in the "book blog" element of how I have continued to blog.  Should I provide a synopsis, should I provide a character anaylsis, or should I just shout from the rooftops to announce when I loved book, and when I did not.

This is a book that will stay with me for a while.  I really engaged with the story, and how it was told.  The first 200 pages pretty much deal with the birth of the conjoined twins that, one of whom becomes the narrator of this tale.  Books like this get me thinking about my degree in "English" literature.  I think back of what I read, and we really did read a lot of "dead white guys".  It was very much an "English" canon.  I have loved being a part of a bookclub to take different reading risks, to be exposed to different books and different authors, and to stumble across books I would never have considered in the past.  I think because of how long I took university courses, I did a lot of escapist reading.  What I am reading now is so much more satisfying than what I was reading in the past, that I hope literature programs are evolving in the west, and the east, north, and south to include different voices, and different landscapes.  This needs to be balanced with an appreciation for the local voice - what makes each region unique.  I had to really search out Canadian literature courses, and then, to get courses on BC literature, it was even harder.  We should be celebrating our local, and we should be balancing that with "other" voices.  Within the global context, how can we ever expect things to evolve if we continue to only hear our local voices, or the voices of a bunch of dead white guys, who although were brilliant, and form a great backbone of many literary traditions, should be balanced off with some modern, and some voices from other cultures.  Students should not need a bookclub to think different thoughts.  That being said, pretty cool when you stop and consider how these kinds of ideas are now being shared - with social media, with bookclubs, with informal gatherings.  Pretty cool if you ask me!

To return to the book at hand, this is an exchanting novel.  Exotic, rich, textured, thoughtful.  I caught myself a few times wanting to mark passages to use as references in this post, but alas, life moved on and I am not going to pick my way back through the book to find those passages.  Well worth the time.  Read this.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Likely, I should be asleep right now.

I was tired a few hours ago, and then Conner sneaked over to my side of the bed and climbed in, shaking me from the really good book that I am reading now (Cutting For Stone, a truly amazing book and one that will make my top 10 list for the year).  I thought about falling asleep, and then just couldn't seem to fall over that cliff.  Therefore, I am frittering away some time - budgeting, checking out new computers, checking out cell phone plans, and just wondering where all our money goes.  It seems like the more you make, the more you spend.  One of life's simple truths, much like nature abhors a vacuum, it also abhors money in the bank, that money is meant to be moving. 

I wish I could pinpoint what was up with January and February and why things seemed to go sideways in so many ways.  Our boys are doing well again - happier, making friends at school/daycare, and things appear more even keeled.  In time for the school year to end (OMG that was Grade 1), our morning routines are finally normalizing and we are getting out of the house at a better time, with a lot less yelling.   We have horseback riding, karate, and a run/throw/jump group going for Brandon, and I think that I need to get Connor going with some swimming lessons next.  I see skating for him in the fall.  Life is getting busier as they are getting older.  We were at the park last night for the track and field club, and just being out, smelling cut grass, watching people be active, I have missed this part of my life in the last few years.  When your kids are young and you work full-time, it is hard enough getting time to spend with your husband than be active.  I may be able to sneak in a few more walks!

It is all about getting in some kind of walk every day now.  Good for stress, hopefully good for my physique eventually!  As my 40th looms, I can't say I am having a midlife crisis (yet), but I would like to try Stand Up Paddling (SUP) this year, and another (gulp) 10km run towards the end of the year.  If I do it, I will run it at my pace.  I am so self conscious of being a "plodder", it is time to make my peace with a slow and steady pace (gets the job done right, all about the journey and not the destination, right???).

There are also moments I go back and forth whether or not I want to remain as chair on our childcare society.  The second year would be far easier than the first, and the experience is good, however, there is a but hanging in the air from our experiences in January/February.  *SIGH*.  Life never seems to be on a straight and narrow path.  I suspect I will see this through 2 years, and then retire from the board entirely at that point.  I will have felt like I have done my duty to the society, and ultimately, learned a fair bit along the way. 

I am grateful I do have rose coloured glasses perched off of the end of my nose perpetually and that I generally see the cup as half full.   It may be a bit idealistic, but it is a positive choice (hah).

Monday, April 8, 2013

A behemoth read

I had great intentions to make a few posts over the last few weeks, however, life went and got in the way again.  In the very least, if all I do is post around when I complete reading a book, it is something. 

"The past is obdurate. It doesn't want to change." The past is also a dangerous, fickle place — and woe to anyone who dares alter it. That's the mantra coursing through "11/22/63."

I found this quote when I went trolling for the cover image, and it is a good theme to keep in mind.  This is a really long book - almost 850 pages. There were times I felt impatient, ready to move on to another book, however, that doesn't mean I was not enjoying this book (I was and did), more so that I was starting to feel eager to read something new.  This book took me all of three weeks to read, and was overall very satisfying.  Great characters, nice historical developments, and a touch of bittersweet at the end.  King paints quite the protrait of the late 1950s heading in to the early 1960s.  This is more a novel of characters, rather than as an exploration in to time travel, a more Twiligh Zone feel to it.  It has been years since I have read a King novel, and it was a welcome joy.  I would say that this one is right up there for me with his short story that formed the basis of the Stand by Me movie.  I would say, the same kind of feeling that was evoked of times past.