November 28, 2010

Seasons - Marianne Jones, artwork by Karen Reinikka

I have been looking forward to writing this review, though I should probably say that my review may not be completely unbiased - Marianne Jones is my friend's aunt and Karen Reinikka is her mother!

This collection of poems and watercolours began as a project to raise money for the Red Cross School Nutrition Program which provides healthy breakfasts, lunches, and snacks to children and youth in Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario. Marianne Jones (who is a published poet in her own right) wrote 12 poems, covering the four seasons, and her sister Karen Reinikka painted 8 watercolours to illustrate the poems. I bought the "deluxe edition" that is bound in four separate volumes in a cloth-bound wrapper, however there is also a "chapbook" available with all of the poems and paintings in one volume. It is a very limited run, with only 26 copies of the deluxe edition printed (I have copy "K"), and 50 copies of the chapbook.

The poems are all short - many of them just a few lines - but beautifully evocative of this part of the world. A few well-chosen words can distill the essence of the feelings that the change of seasons bring. And the watercolour paintings compliment the poems seamlessly.

The books were designed, printed, and hand-bound by Chris and Laurie Wright of BookWrights Bindery in Red Rock (just east of Thunder Bay), friends of the Joneses and Reinikkas. The feel of the paper in the books is so delicate that my hands felt almost too rough to handle them.

As we are rapidly approaching the shortest day of the year, I want to end this post with one of my favourite poems from the Summer section. I can just picture the drive into town along Dog Lake Road, late on a summer night when the sun doesn't set until after 10.

A Little Night Music

Headlights illumine the yellow snake
splitting the road that leads home.
Above the road stars dance.
They dance to
the jazzy beat of the night.
Dipper twists and jives.
Roadside grasses sway ghostly.
They hear
the far-off song of the sky.
It's a long way
from earth to heaven,
a long way
to catch
those crazy constellations.

This counts as another book towards The Canadian Book Challenge at The Book Mine Set.

November 20, 2010

A Book-ish Quote

The other day at the gym, I was listening to a podcast of Eleanor Wachtel interviewing J. M. Coetzee, Nobel Prize winning author and professor of literature. One question particularly caught my attention.

EW: "You've admitted a fondness for narrative pleasure, but you're also proficient in difficult and demanding literary theory. Which kind of reading do you do, the first time you go through a book?"

JMC: "I read for the story and have no shame about that. I wouldn't want to make a distinction between pleasure on the one hand and thought or analysis on the other. In fact, the ultimate fruit, I would say, of a literary education is to produce people to whom intellectual pleasure is possible; and people who are not ashamed of reading for the story because reading for the story, to them, is not just unthinking fun, but it is an intellectual pleasure as well. Writing has everything to do with pleasure, and the kind of thinking one does about writing has a great deal to do with pleasure as well."

Yay! There are other people out there who appreciate a good story, but also like to think about it as well!

On an completely unrelated note, I also want to put a plug in for my baby sister, who recently completed her first Ironman competition. You can read about her experiences here. A bookish connection? Reading books allows us to experience things that we may never experience in real life. And since most of us will never experience an Ironman, reading my sister's experience will allow us to experience it through her.

November 19, 2010

Lucy's Launderette

It is pretty obvious that a book published by "Red Dress Ink" is going to be Chick Lit, and this book lived up to expectations!

The last several books that I have read have been a bit on the heavy and serious side, so I was in need of something light and fluffy for a change.

There's not much to report on this book. Anyone who has ever read any chick lit knows that it tends to be very formulaeic, and this book followed the formula to a T. Heroine of the story watches her life fall to pieces around her, hits rock bottom, and then gradually watches everything come together in terms of love, work, and personal fulfillment. A good modern-day fairy tale. In this case, Lucy is an artist who hasn't painted in years, works as a glorified gopher at an art gallery with a sadistic boss and hasn't had a boyfriend in years. After an affair with a cruel artist, quitting her job, burying her beloved grandfather, and trying to support the aforementioned grandfather's pregnant girlfriend; she ends up painting again, running a successful business, and with a handsome, rich, kind boyfriend. End of story!

A friend gave me her copy of this book years ago, and I was saving it for a time when I needed something fluffy and brainless to read, and it worked for me this week. The big thing that I liked about it (and the reason why Renée passed it on to me) is that Lucy is a very likable character. In some chick lit that I've read, I can't stand the main character, and want to tell her to just suck it up and get on with it, but I can see myself being friends with Lucy-in-real-life.

So that's about it for this book. And now on to something a bit heavier (another M. G. Vassanji is up next, though a big box of books arrived in my mailbox yesterday).

I debated on whether this book could count towards the Canadian Book Challenge over at The Book Mine Set, since the author was born in England, grew up in Victoria, BC, and now lives in Italy (I had a similar issue with Emma Donoghue's Room); but I have decided that it does count (the deciding factor is that it is set in Vancouver!).

November 12, 2010

Streams of Faith - Lois M. Wilson

Reading this book was like looking into a mirror and seeing myself reflected right back at me.

I bought this book back in the spring, and it has sat on my "To-Be-Read" stack since then. I think that I was avoiding it because of the description on the front: "Young women canoeists struggle with God, death, forgiveness and other important matters in their maturity." I was thinking that it would be just interviews with the women who had gone on these canoe trips 40+ years ago as teenagers, reflecting on their lives since then. But this book is so much more.

Lois Wilson has worn many hats in her life - United Church Minister, the first female Moderator (i.e. head) of the United Church of Canada, president of the Canadian Council of Churches, president of the World Council of Churches, Canadian Senator, Chancellor of Lakehead University, member of the Order of Canada, recipient of the Pearson Medal of Peace, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and, according to the book flap, mother of four and grandmother of twelve. Her full title as given on the back of the book is The Very Rev. Dr. the Hon. Lois M. Wilson, CC. Can you imagine introducing yourself at parties with a name like that?!

I purchased this book directly from the author when she came here to Thunder Bay in June to preach at an 85th Anniversary Service for the United Church of Canada (and my copy is autographed!). The day of the service, I came home from work exhausted, and wouldn't have gone to the service, except that I had read an interview with Lois Wilson a few weeks earlier, and I was determined to hear her speak in person. What an inspiration! She is 82 years old, but you wouldn't know it to hear her preach!

This book originated in several canoe trips that she took in Quetico Park in the 1960s with teenaged girls from the church here in Thunder Bay where she and her husband had a shared ministry. 40 years later, she wondered what had happened in the lives of these girls and so she tracked them down and interviewed them. Her interviews touched on many topics, and the chapters are broadly defined by these topics - faith and spirituality in a broad sense; relationship to the church (for both the women still active in the church and those who had left); life-changing experiences; forgiveness; death; feminism; interfaith dialogue; bearing witness in today's world.

There are segments of the interviews transcribed word-for-word in the book, but these interview segments are interspersed with Lois Wilson's own reflections based on her experiences in her multiple roles, as well as teachings from other theologians. I was baptized into the United Church of Canada as an adult - as a deliberate choice - and many aspects of what drew me to the United Church are reflected in this book. Social Justice, ministering to others as we would to Jesus, environmental justice, interfaith dialogue - all of these make appearances in this book. I kept finding myself nodding in agreement as I read; and I have now compiled a list of other books which I want to read, that were cited in this book.

One of my favourite passages came early in this book (and this is Lois Wilson's own voice at this point):
"It always depresses me to read that 90 percent of Americans believe in a higher power. My response is, 'So what?' Does it make any difference to their social, political, economic, theological views or actions? To believe in a higher power is a safe and comfortable thing to do, but it may make absolutely no difference to one's life posture. But to align one's life and work with the One who is creating and sustaining a just community is quite a different matter. 'To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God' (Micah 6:8) is one of the tougher implications of belief in a higher power!"

Now for all of my Protestant friends who are reading this, don't get me wrong. I do believe that salvation is "Sola Fide" or through faith alone; but I also believe that if we love God, we will want to serve him by serving others around us. Or to put it differently, the vertical relationship should be the model for horizontal relationships. Or to put it scripturally, "just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." (Mat 25:40)

The book was well written, and flowed well. I don't want to compare it to reading a novel, as I was much more deliberate in my reading of it, wanting to savour every word and reflect on each thought presented. But I couldn't wait to pick it up again, each time I put it down. I can see this being a book that I will turn back to again in the future.

Laura Marie - I will loan you this book next time I see you - canoeing and faith in one book - what more could you want! This book also counts as a selection towards The Canadian Book Challenge at The Book Mine Set.

And now, I will conclude with one more quotation from the book:
"Humour is a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer. Laughter can be heard in the vestibule, and echoes of it in the sanctuary, but there is no laughter in the Holy of Holies. There, laughter is swallowed up by prayer, and humour is fulfilled by faith. Laughter can't deal with real evil, such as I saw in Chile during the Pinochet years, or in South Africa during the years of aparthied. Laughter knows it is powerless to defeat tyranny or oppression. Only standing in solidarity with God in the midst of suffering can bring resolution and hope."

November 9, 2010

Giller Part 2 - and the winner is...

I've just watched the broadcast of the Giller awards show (live-streamed from the internet - very convenient since my cable package doesn't include any of the channels that it will be shown on).

And the winner is......
Johanna Skibsrud for her novel The Sentimentalists

And my thoughts are.....
I don't know.

This has apparently been the hardest book out of the whole shortlist to obtain a copy of. I haven't heard of anyone actually able to read it. My copy is supposed to be shipped to me some time later this month. I suspect that Gaspereau press hasn't been able to keep up with the demand generated by the shortlist, and will be even more swamped now that this book has won the prize.

So stay tuned. I'll be sure to offer up an opinion once I have had a chance to read this book!

November 7, 2010

North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell

For some reason, this is one of the classics that I never got around to reading before now. I love Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy; some of what the Brontë sisters wrote (love Jane Eyre, dislike Wuthering Heights, neutral on some of the others); and have even slogged through and enjoyed some of Dickens' works. (As a side note, Elizabeth Gaskell and Charlotte Brontë were apparently good friends.)

I approached this book with some trepidation, as it had been enthusiastically recommended by the same friend who recommended Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Wide Sargasso Sea. Well, I can happily report that she has finally recommended a book that I loved!

I was already familiar with the plot of this book, from the lovely BBC production (featuring the lovely Richard Armitage), and having now read the book, I can say that the plot of the film was quite faithful to the book with only minor changes. Basically, Margaret is 18 years old and transplanted from the pastoral south of England up to the manufacturing north (Milton, in Darkshire being a stand-in for Manchester in Lancashire) in the later years of the Industrial Revolution. She gradually adjusts to the different ways of thinking and acting, as well as the differences in how the social classes are defined.

Overall, it is a social commentary in novel form. England at the time was a very class-conscious society, yet Margaret tends to straddle all of the classes. Though her family has very little money, their roots are in the gentry, yet when they move to Milton, Margaret makes friends with, and socializes with both the factory workers and the factory owners. My favourite part of the book came when she is able to initiate a friendship of sorts between a factory owner and a factory worker. The differences between life in the "south" and life in the "north" are compared and contrasted (sometimes rather clumsily and pedantically, but at other times very subtly); as are the differences in values and class structure. The difficulties of the lives of the impoverished factory workers is highlighted, but the difficulties faced by the factory owners are also presented.

I loved Margaret as the heroine of this novel. She is such a human character - not perfect and not afraid to face her faults. She does grow and develop over the course of the novel - the only somewhat unbelievable aspect of her character is her age - she seems very mature in her thoughts and opinions for 18 years old. I could relate very strongly to her, and fancy several comparisons between Margaret and me:
- compassion for the poor
- working practically for social justice
- independent - not relying on anyone else
- not beautiful
- crashing through social barriers
- stubborn in our opinions

Anyways, it was a great book all around, and I'm sorry that I didn't discover it earlier. I've now borrowed the DVD of the BBC production from a friend, so having finished the book, I now have an excuse to sit down and watch Richard Armitage again!