Category Archives: Books

The Things We Keep

The story in The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth reminded me of the novel Still Alice by Lisa Genova because it is also told in the voice of a person being effected by Alzheimer’s, although in this case it is not a fifty-something college professor but a thirty-eight year old motor cycle riding paramedic named Anna. Anna’s brother arranges for her to live in a care facility after it is no longer safe for her to stay with him and his young family. Here Anna meets Luke a man about her age who is also suffering from dementia.  They develop a romantic relationship that brings a momentary escape from their situation and adds meaning to both their lives.  But their families and the staff at the care home aren’t sure how to handle their relationship.

The Things We Keep has a second narrator, a young woman named Eve who is trying to start life over as a cook in the care facility where Anna and Luke live. Eve’s husband has died, leaving her and her young daughter Celementine destitute. 

The book made me think about how important it is to live in the moment, to enjoy and appreciate the here and now and to relish whatever love and happiness and meaning it brings. It also made me think about what life is like for people in institutionalized settings.  There is a whole network of relationships to navigate and a power imbalance to be handled with responsibility.  There are opportunities for caring and love but also hurt and harm. It made me think about the people I know who live in such settings and wonder how I might feel if I have to live in that kind of a facility someday. 

Other posts…………

Feeding My Mother

Where I Live Now

I Don’t Like Murder Mysteries but………

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A Riveting Read

I honestly couldn’t put the book Pachinko down.  I really admired the main character Sunja, a Korean woman living in Japan. I read for hours on end I was so eager to find out what was going to happen to Sunja and her family.

pachinkoI had no idea about the discrimination experienced by Koreans living in Japan, even those who have been there for generations.  In her book Pachinko author Min Jin Lee illustrates how that discrimination impacts four generations of Sunja’s family. I have visited both Korea and Japan. I had many Korean students when I was a teacher in Hong Kong.  I wished I had read this book prior to those experiences, but since it was just published last year that wouldn’t have been possible anyway. With Korea in the news so much today I appreciated the added insight the novel gave me into Korean history.  

statue of a family blue palace seoul

I photographed this statue of a family in Seoul

The only criticism I would have of the novel is that because I grew to really like and care for so many characters I might have chosen to resolve the conflicts in some of their lives in different and often less dramatic ways than the author did. If you are looking for a riveting read I can highly recommend Pachinko

Note: Pachinko is a recreational arcade game in Japan that can be used for gambling. 

Other posts……..

Hopeful Families in Korea

A Manitoba Boy Learn to Brew Beer in Korea

Kim’s Convenience

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The Break

There’s a whole world just down the street from me I know so little about.  Much of the action in Katherena Vermette’s book The Break takes place in Winnipeg’s north end in a neighborhood  just a few blocks from where I live, on streets where I walk regularly.  Selkirk Avenue is mentioned frequently.  I walk down Selkirk every time I go and volunteer at the MCC Thrift Store.  I’ve had lunch at the Windmill Restaurant where one of the characters takes refugee for a few hours. Although it isn’t named I think I work as a faculty supervisor at the high school some of the characters in the book attend. One of the young narrators in the novel is a patient at the Health Sciences Centre. I walk past it en route to a couple of other schools I visit regularly. 

There is a whole world in and around those streets where I walk and work and volunteer that I know little about- a world where gangs wield control and people live in fear of their retaliation, where some young adults are hardened and vicious, where a sentence can’t be uttered without throwing in the ‘f’ word a couple of times, where abuse and violence are everyday occurrences, where drugs are sold, and almost everyone smokes, a world where kids are neglected and hungry.

It’s a place where families are torn apart…. by sudden death, the child welfare system, a transitory life that shifts between Winnipeg and the reserve, by the criminal justice system, a century of discrimination, a desire for a different life but a strong emotional attachment to the old one, and by drug and alcohol dependencies.

It is also a world where there is love and family connectedness, hope, strong women, innocence, loyal friendships, sweetness,  a longing for roots, a nostalgia for tradition, a sense of community, artistic gifts, and a respect for elders.  

In Katherena Vermette’s book The Break the fact that world is brought to life by an author who has lived in it makes it all the more poignant.  The Break is not an easy read. But I am so glad I read it.  I will walk the streets brought alive by Katherena’s novel with both my mind and heart opened just a little wider now.

Other posts…………….

A Blast From The Past

The Palace Theater

Katherena Vermette on the Wall

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A Mother for King David- Who Knew?

Her name was Nitzevet. One Sunday in December the pastor of our church introduced us to a female character in the Bible I had never even given thought to… King David’s mother.  Isn’t it unbelievable that those of us who grew up hearing all the stories about the sheep tending, harp playing, giant killing, nation leading David never thought to ask who his mother was? She is mentioned twice in the Bible but not by name. The Talmud gives us more information about her.

She was the daughter of a man named Adael and married Jesse a distinguished leader who served as the head of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Torah law court.  Nitzevet had seven sons with Jesse but then he separated himself from her because of some rather paranoid religious concerns about his family lineage. Nitzevet missed her husband and one night arranged to secretly disguise herself and take the place of Jesse’s concubine so she could be intimate with him again.  Nitzevet became pregnant and had a son David.  Jesse thought David must be the son of another man because he didn’t realize he had slept with Nitzevet. Jesse didn’t disown David but because he believed his wife Nitzevet had committed adultery David grew up treated like a servant and outcast by his father and brothers until the time the prophet Samuel chose him to be Israel’s future king.  

I couldn’t find any images of Nitzevet online so I decided to create one myself.

We are led to believe that David cared for his mother and that she was a spiritual person who served God from the two times David refers to her in the Bible.  In 2 Samuel 22:3-4 he asks a Moabite king to provide his mother with protection and in one of his psalms he says… Turn to me and have mercy on me; show your strength in behalf of your servant; save me, because I serve you just as my mother did. Psalm 86:16 

I wish we knew more about Nitzevet, but she suffers the fate of many women, who are given only a passing reference in books written primarily about men, and chosen for the Biblical canon by men. What we do know about Nitzevet makes us realize David grew up in a troubled family situation which may help to explain why the great king had such a disastrous family life himself.   

Other posts………..

King David Was A Rapist

A Woman I Wish I Knew More About

A Facebook Page for Huldah

 

 

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Is Great Passion Healthy?

Her mother took advantage of her friendship with Primeminister Mackenzie King to have Elizabeth Smart’s book By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept banned in Canada when it was first published in 1945.  Despite her mother’s efforts Elizabeth’s book found a readership in London and New York. The release of new editions in 1966, 1977 and 1982 established By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept as one of the greatest masterpieces of poetic prose. 

I read the book recently to prepare for seeing Winnipeg’s own Heavy Bell perform a song cycle based on Elizabeth’s Smart’s book at the West End Cultural Centre on January 13. 

The  reason Elizabeth’s mother wanted the book banned is because it describes her daughter’s affair with a married man, a poet named George Barker.  Elizabeth would carry on a lengthy tempetous relationship with him and bear four of his children. Barker was not faithful to Elizabeth, was often abusive to her, and fathered fifteen children with other women during his lifetime, but Elizabeth adored him.  George and Elizabeth’s son Christopher says love made his mother blind and that included being blind to her children’s needs, which in the case of her youngest daughter may have led to her death. Elizabeth’s reputation as a writer far outshone that of her lover George yet she always contended he was the far better poet, even though critics begged to differ. 

Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth’s life certainly proves it is possible to have a love so passionate and all consuming that the practical affairs of life and one’s responsibilities to others pale in comparison.  Some people think  you haven’t really lived without experiencing such a love.  I disagree. Reading Elizabeths’ book made me think that love must be always be tempered with a good dose of reality.  A passionate love for another adult that destroys your self-esteem, or hurts your children, or leaves you broken or bereft mentally, physically or financially isn’t healthy or in your best interest.

 Yann Martel says in his introduction to the latest edition of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept …“A love that is lived has its prosaic aspects. Sure there’s love to be made, but there are also bills to be paid and groceries to be bought.”

Christopher Barker who wrote a book about his parents called In the Arms of the Infinite says when his mother was asked to declare who she thought one should give most love and attention to in life, your children or your man. ‘Your man!’ came back the firm reply. I don’t agree with this, certainly not when your children are younger.  

Do I believe in a passionate, all consuming kind of love?  Elizabeth Smart’s book proves it does exist. But like Yann Martel I am happy I have a love for my partner that allows me to maintain a kind of balance, one that doesn’t make me denigrate myself past the point of self-respect, or ignore the other important people in my life.  Perhaps a great passion can be healthy but I don’t think in Elizabeth’s case it was. 

I am looking forward to hearing Elizabeth’s words set to music on January 13th .  Her book intrigued me and I suspect that the song cycle based on them while help me see her writing and her ideas in new ways.

Other posts……..

A Book That Sings

Flaws Make the Character

Who Do Family Stories Belong To?

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A Book That Sings

“We lie like lizards in the sun, postponing our lives indefinitely.”

“The kelp in amorous coils appear to pin down the Pacific.”

“A wet wing brushes away the trembling night……. the vines assume their social airs ingratiating green with children’s fingers.”

Those quotes are from Canadian author Elizabeth Smart’s book By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept. I read the book to prepare for attending an upcoming concert by Heavy Bell  a Winnipeg music duo composed of Tom Keenan and Matt Peters. They collaborated on last year’s award-winning  musical version of Shakespeare’s Richard II directed by Christopher Brauer.  Now Keenan and Peters have written and recorded a song cycle based on By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.  They will perform it on January 13 at the West End Cultural Centre.  

“I have become a part of the earth: I am one of its waves flooding and leaping.  I am the same tune as the trees, hummingbirds, sky, fruits, vegetables in rows. I am all or any of these.”

I am looking forward to the performance because the lush and lovely language of Elizabeth’s book fairly sings itself off the page and I can see how its poetic images especially those related to nature would make beautiful music.  

Elizabeth Smart 1913-1986

In her book Elizabeth is describing a decades long affair she had with poet George Barker.  To say she was besotted with George is to do her a disservice.  She was passionately in love with him. Although they never married he was her very life’s breath. Smart and Barker’s son Christopher says his father always remained a Christ-like figure to his mother. 

There are many poetic Biblical references in By Grand Central Station I Lay Down and Wept and these too will lend themselves well to music.  The very title of the book alludes to Psalm 137:1  “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept.”  Ms. Smart quotes extensively from the Song of Solomon.  

I am certainly excited about hearing the musical version of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept.  I am sure I will appreciate the concert on January 13 even more now that I’ve  read the literary prose it on which it is based. But I am also glad I read Elizabeth Smart’s book because it raised lots of good questions for me about my ideas about love and life.  I’ll address those in another post. 

Other posts………

Richard II

A Bottomless Vortex of Books

Welcome to Our Neighbourhood

 

 

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Feeding My Mother

jann arden feeding my motherMy friend Marilyn gave me Jann Arden’s book Feeding My Mother.  On the one hand it was easy to read because there isn’t a great deal of text and the layout of the book is so colourful and eye-catching and contains so many excellent photos Jann has taken of her mother and the scenery around their Alberta home.

The text is interspersed with recipes.  Jann has a house just a few steps away from her childhood home where her Mom still lives.  Before her father died Jann routinely had her parents over for dinner and she still does that with her Mom.  Jann shares the simple recipes she uses when cooking for her Mom, hence the title of the book Feeding My Mother. The chatty tone, the hearty recipes and visual impact of the book make it easy to read. 

On the other hand the book was also very hard to read because it records Jann’s efforts to care for her mother who is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s.  Jann is fortunate because she has the financial means to provide in-home caregivers for her mother. But Jann’s pain in losing the mother she once knew and her struggles to maintain a patient attitude with her mother and a positive attitude about her mother’ situation, will resonate with anyone who has dealt with a seriously ill parent.  

The most poignant line in the book for me was when Jann realized her mother was rapidly losing her memory and asked her, “Do you think you will ever forget me Mom?”  Her mother replied,  “Well my brain might, but my heart won’t.”

Feeding My Mother helped me learn some new things about Jann Arden one of Canada’s most beloved musical artists and it helped me learn some new things about how Alzheimer’s impacts families and relationships. 

Other posts……..

Mothering

Sons and Mothers

My Mother’s Childhood Christmases

 

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