Category Archives: Books

Lucy and Lucille

I think one way you can measure the quality of a writer is by the degree to which their stories make you hold up a mirror to your own life.

That mirror was firmly in place when I read Elisabeth Strout’s new bestseller Oh William and David Bergen’s latest novel Out of Mind. Both books debuted this fall- Bergen’s in September and Strout’s in October. Both feature sixty-something female protagonists. In Strout’s novel, it is Lucy and in Bergen’s Lucille.

Interestingly both women have been characters in previous novels. Lucy was first introduced to us in Elisabeth Strout’s book My Name Is Lucy Barton and Lucille in Bergen’s book The Matter with Morris.

Both Lucy and Lucille have two daughters, they are divorced from their children’s fathers, and have had successful careers. Both are trying to make sense of some of the decisions they have made and evaluate and find their place in the present. Each has a huge sorrow from the past haunting them.

I admired both women’s ability to reflect thoughtfully on their lives. They inspired me to try to do that too.

Strout’s Lucy made me think about why I prefer living in big cities, why I fell in love with the person I did and what constitutes a sense of home for me.

Bergen’s Lucille made me think about the role I’ve played in my children’s lives at various stages, the way travel experiences have impacted my world view and how my identity has changed as I age.

I suspect David Bergen and Elizabeth Strout had no idea they were writing books that would be published at almost the same time and have so much in common.

I can recommend both Out of Mind and Oh William. Although there was some time between my purchase of the two books it might be interesting to read them one after the other.

You can tell someone is a good writer if their story makes you hold up a mirror to your own life.

Other posts…….

Our Favourite David Bergen Book

Olive Again

Great Reading And Great Writing

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Fine Free Libraries

When I visited the main branch of the Calgary Library recently I saw this sign announcing that their city libraries are now fine-free. This means patrons will no longer be charged late fees for not bringing back items in a timely manner. Winnipeg libraries have had a similar policy since January of 2021.

One of the reasons libraries have implemented this policy is that once families owed money to a library in late fees they simply stopped coming and that meant their children no longer had access to library books. In Calgary, they figured some 19,000 children had stopped coming to the library because of late fees.

Studies have shown children from low-income families are the ones most impacted. Their families can’t afford to pay their fines so they stop coming to the library even though these are exactly the same families who might not be able to afford to buy books for their children to read at home. Libraries should be places of equitable access and late fees undermined that.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Surprisingly research shows that when libraries eliminate late fees there is actually a higher return of books, circulation increases, as does library use. In most libraries that have eliminated late fees, 95% of the materials checked out are still returned. Of course, eliminating late fees does not mean eliminating all responsibility. If people lose books or damage them beyond repair, or never return them, they are still charged a replacement fee.

Patrons in a sitting area at the Calgary Library

A CBC report in February of this year indicated some 300 library systems in Canada have eliminated late fees. Some started doing this during the pandemic for obvious reasons and then decided not to reinstitute the fees when services returned to normal. Although eliminating late fees does represent a loss of revenue for libraries, usually about 1% of their budgets, most have found creative ways to balance those losses.

Late fees may soon be a thing of the past at all libraries. I think that’s a good thing.

Other posts……….

A Waterfall on the Library

What A Library!

My Childhood Reading Heaven

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Saint Maybe

This morning I’m giving a talk in a church and I’ll be addressing the idea of sainthood since we celebrated All Saints Day this last week. My inspiration came from a favorite Anne Tyler book of mine Saint Maybe. In the novel, a young man named Ian gives up his college studies, his career plans, and his girlfriend in order to help his parents raise two orphaned nieces and a nephew after Ian’s brother and his wife die. Tyler explores the possibility that Ian is a saint for what he did.

In my talk, I’ll speculate on whether maybe we can all be saints or at least try to be. To prepare for my presentation I thought about the lives of people I might consider saints and also examined the way the various religions of the world describe saints. This led to me creating a list of six saintly qualities.

A saint………………

Loves to learn

Shares what they learn with others

Has a kind and compassionate heart

Is a good listener

Is honest

Doesn’t think they are a saint

Do you know people who maybe would qualify for sainthood? Could you?

Other posts…………..

Mrs. Brown’s Daycare- This Woman Should Be A Saint

A Winnipeg Coffeeshop Named For a Saint

A Photo I Took is in A Books of Saints

Thomas Times Two

A Grandmother for Jesus

 

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Reading- A Photo Story

Yesterday The New York Times ran a photo essay that showed people reading in different places all over the city. The photos had been taken from the 1930s to the present. I decided to look through my photo albums to find images of people reading in different times and places.

Kids in my school classroom reading 1980s
My sister and I reading stories with my Dad in the 1950s
Me reading Thomas Hardy to one of my Hong Kong students in the airport before a school trip to Cambodia in 2011
Me in the 1960s enjoying a good book on the couch
My brother-in-law Paul reading a family history book I’d made with his grandson at a 2017 family reunion
Our son reading in a fort he made under the dining room table in the 1980s
Dave reading to a child at a tutoring center we worked at in Runaway Bay Jamaica in 2014
Our friend Roger reading from a book he had just published at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg in 2016
My husband Dave and my brother-in-law Ken reading in a house we rented in Iceland in 2017
My grandmother reading in her home in Drake Saskatchewan in the 1950s
My Mom listens intently while her oldest grandchild reads the Christmas story from the Bible in the 1980s
My friend Esther reading aloud an inspirational poem to me and two other friends in Kings Park in 2016
My mom reading with her sisters in the early 1930s
Our younger son reading Shel Silverstein poetry at our family’s Moose Lake cabin in the 1990s
My sister-in-law reading a book at a ball park in Arizona where our family was watching a major league spring training practice session
My Mom reading Jack and Jill magazine to us in the late 1950s
Dave reading on the train to New York in 2013

These are just a few of the many photos I found showing people enjoying reading in different places and at different times. If you are reading this blog on social media why not post a favorite reading photo from your album. Happy reading.

Other posts……..

My Childhood Reading Heaven

Reading Aloud to Teens

My Novel in the Great Outdoors

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A Sign of Affection From Grandpa

When I was visiting my brother in Victoria he and I were recalling the way our paternal grandfather showed his affection for us. We both remembered how he would rub his scruffy beard against our cheeks in a playful way. It hurt a bit and made our cheeks red but we didn’t protest.

On our trip home, I was reading Carla Funk’s memoir Mennonite Valley Girl. It is a collection of essays about the author’s teenage years in Vanderhoof, British Columbia. Carla is a poet and that shows in her detailed and descriptive writing. I was surprised to find in an essay titled Holding the Flame that Carla’s Dad used to show his affection for her in the same way my grandfather expressed his for us. Here’s how Carla puts it…..

He clamped my shoulders in a soft bear hug. He smelled like he always smelled in the evenings: sweat, smoke, and whiskey. His stubble chafed against the side of my face, like it did when I was small and he would pull me close and say, “What you need is a good whisker-rub,” then scrape his cheek against my own until my skin burned and pinkened and I begged him to stop.

I wonder if anyone else had a grandparent or Dad who showed their affection in that way? Was it a Mennonite thing?

Other posts………….

On My Grandparents’ Farm

Grandpa and Me

A Lesson From My Grandfather

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Three Books- Three Engaging Sources of Great Information

I just learned all about the Indian expulsion from Uganda instituted by Idi Amin in 1972 and….. how the Inuit community in Churchill Manitoba is preserving the tradition of dogsledding and…… what life was like for a poverty-stricken young girl in London at the end of the 19th century.

I discovered all that fascinating information in the most engaging way. I read three well-written and thoroughly enjoyable middle-grade books. Not many people realize what a valuable source of information middle-grade books can be for adults. They can provide an accessible way to learn about a whole host of topics from writers who are masters of their craft.

Orange For The Sunsets by Tina Athaide takes us back to 1972 in Entebbe, Uganda. Edi Amin has just declared that all citizens of Indian descent must leave the country in 100 days. This includes a young girl from a wealthy family named Asha. She narrates the story alternately with Yesofu her best friend. His African parents work as servants in Asha’s household. Yesofu and Asha are complex and interesting characters and Tina Athaide keeps events moving at a heady pace with plenty of suspense. Through the eyes of the two children, we receive a balanced understanding of a challenging political situation.

Tina Athaide was born in Uganda and although she grew up in England brings the knowledge of her rich family history to the story.

Qaqavii by Miriam Körner is the story of a teenager named Kitty who moves to Churchill, Manitoba with her single Mom. There are things about their past her Mom won’t discuss and Kitty is feeling angry, confused, and rebellious. She finds solace in a friendship with an Inuit boy named Barnabas whose grandparents take her into their circle of care and affection. The family keeps sled dogs and races them. Kitty develops a special relationship with one of the dogs named Qaqavii.

I hope to make a trip to Churchill someday and this book helped me get to know the community and also provided added insight into Inuit history and culture. Author Miriam Körner and her husband live in northern Saskatchewan with a brood of racing sled dogs and Miriam brings that rich expertise to her award-winning novel.

The Ghost at the Window by Elyssa Warkentin takes us into the world of the great private eye Sherlock Holmes and helps us explore the darker, more desperate side of London at the end of the 19th century through the eyes of a young girl named Janey who has only a little education and lives in abject poverty with her mother. Janey has spunk, bravado, curiosity, and a warm and direct way with people that comes to her aid when Dr. Watson and the great Sherlock hire her to do some detective work for them.

Like the movie Enola Holmes which provided a young female perspective on the Sherlock Holmes character in The Ghost at the Window, we gain new insight into the great detective’s personality. Dr. Watson declares at one point that the book’s hero Janey and the great Sherlock are “two peas in a pod.

If you think middle-grade books are only for kids I’d invite you to give one of these novels a try. Well-written, interesting and informative, they will help you understand why books for kids can be books for adults too.

Other posts………..

What Do An Award-Winning Author From Canada and a Political Activist from Uganda Have in Common?

Novels Written For Kids That You Just Might Enjoy

Vision and Voice

Enola Holmes

Mr. Holmes

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What Do Miriam Toews’ Latest Novel And Mine Have in Common?

A section of Miriam Toews’ latest book Fight Night really jumped out at me. Grandma Elvira, one of the main characters in the novel is explaining how to bury a person in the coldest part of winter.

Here’s what you do, she said. Heat up coals and lay them on the ground till it melts. Dig up that layer of dirt. Reheat the coals and lay them down on the ground till another layer of dirt melts. Dig it up. Keep doing that until you’ve got a six-foot hole. Done!

In my novel Lost on the Prairie set in 1907, my hero Peter is talking about the death of his brother Herman. He says, “We buried Herman during such a cold spell that we needed two wagonloads of hot coals to thaw the ground enough to dig his grave.”

The practice of using hot coals for burial was one I heard about from my father. When his grandmother was killed in a tragic accident in 1943 he was a teenager and helped to dig his grandmother’s grave using hot coals to thaw the ground.

I am curious where Miriam Toews learned about the practice. Did her own mother know about it? I had never heard of it till my Dad told me about his childhood experience.

Other posts………

Family Tragedy- Thawing the Ground For Burial

Elvira’s Mantra

All Equal in Death


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Elvira’s Mantra

In Miriam Toews’ latest book Fight Night, the all-female household at its heart is presided over by a grandmother named Elvira. She is quite a character. Elvira loves watching old episodes of Call the Midwife with the subtitles on and the volume level at its highest setting. She is a huge Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays fan. She literally saws books into sections so they are easier to hold while she is reading them and she can strike up a conversation with anyone. Elvira has no qualms about using the men’s washroom in the airport and has her toenails painted with a colour called You Couldn’t Handle Me Even If I Came With Instructions.

Miriam Toews says the character Elvira in the novel is inspired by her own 86 year old mother Elvira. Years ago I worked with Elvira who was a social worker sometimes assigned to the cases of children I taught.

Elvira is quirky and loveable but the thing I appreciated about her the most in Fight Night was the mantra she carols every time she says goodbye to someone leaving the house. Good luck! Have fun! Don’t work too hard! Elvira tells her granddaughter Swiv that in her hometown those three statements were subversive because people didn’t believe in luck, they thought having fun was a sin and believed work was the only thing they were supposed to do.

I like Elvira’s mantra. We all need good luck because in many ways life is a bit of a crapshoot and having someone express the wish that the odds will favor us, helps us remain hopeful and move forward with a little more confidence. Fun means different things to different people but Harvard researchers have proven that people who have more fun in life are healthier physically. When it comes to not working too hard a Forbes study has found that working an excessive amount doesn’t actually lead to greater career success.

Elvira’s mantra is so positive and provides some pretty sound advice.

Good luck! Have fun! Don’t work too hard!

Other posts…….

Miriam Toews Has A Complicated Relationship With Her Home Town

A Miriam Toews Sighting in Costa Rica

What’s Auto Fiction?

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A Night At The Museum

On September 22, just a week from today I will participate in an author event at the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach. Writers Andrew Unger and Mark Reimer will also be on the program. We will talk about our novels, share a reading from them, and answer questions from the audience before doing book signings.

I am really looking forward to this event, the first of three in Steinbach next week. I will be in Steinbach again on September 23 as the guest of two different Steinbach book clubs, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. Although we haven’t lived in Steinbach for some fifteen years we have so many friends there and visit frequently. I still write for the local paper The Carillon. My family moved to Steinbach when I was eight and I grew up there so I consider it my hometown.

I am especially excited about reading with Mark and Andrew because for a two-year period all three of us were teachers together in the English Department at the Steinbach Regional Secondary School. Both Mark and Andrew were terrific colleagues and it will be great to share the stage with them next Wednesday night.

Andrew has written the award-winning book Once Removed published by Turnstone Press. It is a humorous novel about a ghostwriter named Timothy Heppner who is assigned to write the history of his town. Andrew’s new book The Best of the Daily Bonnet will debut soon.

Photo by TIMOR SYROTA | THE CARILLON

Mark’s book is called The Four Horsemen and was published by Friesen Press. It tells the story of a family struggling to adapt to a new reality and deal with tough spiritual questions after their wife and mother dies.

Photo by Jordan Ross The Carillon
Photo by JORDAN ROSS/THE CARILLON

My novel Lost on the Prairie published by Heritage House is based on an incident that actually happened to my grandfather. It is about a twelve-year-old boy named Peter who becomes separated from his family as they are immigrating to Canada. Peter has all kinds of exciting adventures on his journey to be reunited with his parents and brothers.

I’d love to have some of my blog readers join me and Mark and Andrew on September 22 at 7 pm. at the Mennonite Heritage Village Museum in Steinbach. Just a note that this event will require proof of vaccination for attendance.

Other posts……….

Introducing Visitors from Hong Kong and India to Mennonites

From Brewery Flour to Millineries

A Visit From Makhno

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I’m A Winner!

During the pandemic when I wasn’t reading as much as I wanted to, I decided to join the Winnipeg Free Press book club. Look at all the wonderful books I’ve read from the interesting titles they have been discussing.

I watched the most recent book club meeting where author Kelly Bowen’s book The Paris Apartment was up for discussion and was pleased that some questions I had submitted were used.

My copy of Fight Night courtesy of The Winnipeg Free Press

I was even more pleased and pretty excited when Erin Lebar sent an e-mail and said I was the winner of a free copy of the book club’s September selection Fight Night by Miriam Toews and a Free Press tote bag.

Miriam Toews’ father Melvin was my teaching colleague for many years. In this photo, I am fourth from the right in the first row and Melvin Toews is in the middle of the second row, behind me and to my immediate left

I am particularly interested in Miriam Toews’ books because her father Melvin was my grade seven teacher and he was my son’s grade four social studies teacher. At different times during our teaching careers, both my husband and I were Miriam’s father’s colleagues.

I worked together with her mother, who was a social worker and was sometimes assigned to the cases of children who were my students. Miriam’s older sister was a friend of my brother’s and I could go on, but there are lots of connections that always make Miriam’s books particularly interesting for me to read since many of her characters are based on real people in her family that I knew.

Miriam’s book Fight Night will be discussed on Monday, September 27th and I already have a couple questions ready for her.

Thanks to the Winnipeg Free Press for starting the book club and thanks for the tote bag and free copy of Miriam’s book Fight Night. I feel like a winner not just because I won a prize but because the Winnipeg Free Press book club keeps me reading winning titles.

My posts about Free Press Book Club picks……..

We Are All Perfectly Fine by Jillian Horton

Treed by Ariel Gordon

Once Removed by Andrew Unger

Here The Dark by David Bergen

Older Sister Not Necessarily Related by Jenny Heijun Wills

Black Water by David Robertson

Five Wives by Joan Thomas

The Break by Katherena Vermette

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