Category Archives: Books

Banning Books Is Always A Bad Idea

I watched the video recording of the budget presentations made to the Winnipeg City Council by concerned citizens in March.

emptyful a sculpture in the Winnipeg Millennium Library Courtyard

Two different presenters (at 1:27 and 3:22) spoke regarding the inclusion of certain books on the shelves of the city’s public libraries. Both presenters claimed there were books in the public libraries in Winnipeg that could be labelled pornographic and that violated the criminal code of Canada.

One presenter suggested the city freeze funding to the libraries till these books were removed or the library entered into meaningful dialogue with those who wanted them removed.

At one point when a presenter was talking about a book with LGBTQ content councillor Sherri Rollins who sits on the Winnipeg Library Board warned that the presenter’s references, in her opinion, were coming dangerously close to hate speech.

Photo I took of the Winkler Public Library

The city councils in Winkler and Altona have had a similar request with regard to the books in the South Central Regional Library and just a few days ago the Brandon School Board heard a presentation by parents wanting certain books removed from school libraries in their city.

Image created by Leah Weeland for The Baker Orange student media site for Baker University in Baldwin City Kansas

In my opinion, banning books is always a bad idea. Of course, parents should be able to decide what their children read but they should not be allowed to decide what other people’s children read.

What will be left on library shelves if every special interest group is allowed to have a say in what kind of books should or should not be in libraries?

People who serve as head librarians are highly trained individuals most with degrees in library science. They are hired to do a job and we need to let them do it. Part of that job is selecting the books that will be in the library.

I have served on many different library boards and committees in the past and know all libraries have selection policies in place to provide a guide for determining what kinds of books go into their library collections. These selection policies are created in a reasoned way with input from stakeholders.

Here in Manitoba, we need to be very cautious and thoughtful about how we handle requests for banning books lest we go in the direction of our American neighbours.

Image from the American Library Association

Requests for book banns and restrictions reached a record high in 2022 in the United States and what is even more scary is the American Library Association is getting reports of librarians receiving threats to their personal safety and being threatened with legal actions by those who don’t agree with their book selections.

Judy Blume a children’s author whose books were often banned in the 1960s has become a spokeswoman for the current effort in the United States to stop book banning.

She says…….”It’s not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”

Banning books is a political act. It is harmful to authors, readers and the intellectual integrity and freedom of society as a whole.

I hope we are able to put a stop to any attempt to have it happen here in Manitoba.

Other posts……….

Banning Books For Kids

Librarian on Horseback

What a Library!

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Filed under Books, manitoba, Politics

5 Book Questions

I missed World Book Day on Sunday but thought I’d recognize it belatedly by answering some book questions I’m often asked.

What book are you reading right now?

Right now I’m reading a book recommended by author Dora Dueck. It is called All the Beauty in the World. It was written by Patrick Bringley who worked for ten years as a guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

This is the perfect book for me because I am a writer and I work at an art gallery and on my one trip to New York City I did visit The Met.

Bringley is a wonderful writer whose descriptions of both the art and people he encounters at the Met are delightful and moving.

I can never decide if I love working at the Winnipeg Art Gallery more because of the fabulous art I get to know intimately or because of the fascinating people I meet so All the Beauty in the World resonates deeply with me.

What book will you be reading next?

My friend Roger Groening has asked me to read and review his upcoming book Man in the Meadow. I heard Roger read an excerpt at a literary event in summer and I’m anxious to read more. I chuckled my way through Roger’s first novel Knuckleball but from the cover this one looks like it has perhaps a darker tale to tell.

What book is your all time favourite?

I’ve written about this before but without a doubt it is The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. I love its independent heroine Kit, its historical significance, its touch of romance and I’ve reread it every year for more than fifty years.

Who is your favourite author?

Well that changes. Right now I’m reading everything Elizabeth Strout has ever written. I just love her spare yet richly rewarding style. She is the author of popular books like Olive Kitteridge which was made into a movie and it sequel Olive Again.

I loved the latest in her Lucy Barton series Lucy by the Sea.

I’ve started reading some of her older books like Abide With Me and she has other older books I’d like to read too.

What is a book that was turned into even a better movie?

I don’t think there are many. I always prefer to read a book before I see the movie.

I would have to say however that for me three exceptions to the rule that the book is always better than the movie would have to be Jaws by Peter Benchley, Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy and The Godfather by Mario Puzo.

Do you prefer to read e-books, hard copy books or audio books?

I prefer to read hard copy books as a general rule.

But when we travel somewhere on a plane I load books up on my e-reader because especially if we are going to be away for an extended time like we were in Africa recently I just can’t take that many books along.

I also have started reading at the gym on the bicycle and stepper and my e-reader is much handier to use there as well.

When Dave and I are on a car trip we like to listen to audio books. It makes the time go by faster and gives us something to discuss when we stop for meal breaks.

Our latest car read was The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles the author of A Gentleman in Moscow.

I’d love to hear what your answers would be to any or all of these book questions.

What are you reading?

What are you going to read next?

What is your favourite book and who is your favourite author?

Do your prefer e-books, audio books or the real thing?

Other posts about books……..

Mad Honey- I Can’t Say Too Much

Personal Connections For the Win

A Town Called Solace

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Mad Honey- I Can’t Say Too Much

Recently I received a message from a couple in my faith community who wanted to donate Jodi Picoult’s book Mad Honey to our church library where I serve as the librarian. I was happy to accept their donation despite the fact that any number of school libraries in Florida have banned Jodi’s books from their shelves recently.

I had planned to add Mad Honey to our church library collection even before the couple made their request. We have most of the author’s books on our shelves because they address such important social issues in a thought-provoking way and Jodi Picoult is well-known for her meticulous research.

With every Jodi Picoult book, you learn about something in great detail. It might be whales or bone marrow transplants or wolves or ancient Egpyt.

Mad Honey is no different. One of the main characters in the novel Olivia is a beekeeper and we pretty much learn everything there is to know about bees and the folks who tend them and harvest their honey.

Mad Honey centres around the trial of Olivia’s teenage son Asher who is accused of murdering his girlfriend Lily. Domestic abuse is one of the social issues the book addresses but not the main one.

I can’t tell you what the main one is because readers only find out after they are well into the story and the element of surprise at what that issue turns out to be is really vital to the plot. Suffice it to say it’s an important subject that requires a great deal more public education and understanding.

Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan co-writers

Mad Honey is a true Jodi Picoult book in every way but it is written together with a co-author Jennifer Finney Boylan. Jennifer, an accomplished author in her own right had an idea for a book for Jodi to write- put it out on social media- and Jodi saw the idea, loved it and said they could write a book together.

A quote from Mad Honey that I keep coming back to is…………….

“If you want to understand something, you first need to accept the fact of your own ignorance. And then, you need to talk to people who know more than you do, people who have not just thought about the facts, but lived them.” 

The couple from our church who recommended Mad Honey for our congregation’s library had a personal reason for doing so since the novel deals with an issue they have not just thought about, and learned the facts about, but have lived.

They represent many other families and Mad Honey can help us understand their journey.

Other posts………

Jodi Picoult- Fan Fiction Write Today – Classic Writer of the Future

A Novel So Long It Took Us Through Eight States

A Spark of Light

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Easter Classics That Have Stood the Test of Time

Yesterday was Children’s Book Day and since Easter is next weekend, I thought I would share some of my favourite Easter picture books for kids.

Good Night Moon is Margaret Wise Brown’s most well-known children’s book. But I can also highly recommend her Golden Egg Book illustrated by Leonard Weisgard and first published in 1947. It was always a huge hit with the kindergarten and grade one students I taught early in my career as an educator.

In the delightful story, a bunny finds an egg and tries to imagine what could be inside it.

Eventually, he falls asleep beside the egg and when he wakes up……. is he ever surprised!

You can tell from how worn this book is that it has been well-read and well-loved over the years. The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes was first published in 1939 long before equality for women was considered important. In that regard, it was a story way ahead of its time.

The leader of all the Easter bunnies has always selected a team of young male bunnies to make egg deliveries to children around the world but this time he also picks a female bunny who is a mother to join the team.

Everyone is surprised and perhaps somewhat sceptical.

But that mother bunny proves not only her swiftness but her kindness, wisdom and bravery when she is called upon to make the most dangerous and difficult Easter egg delivery of them all.

I first heard The Velveteen Rabbit story by Margery Williams recited from memory by one of the speakers at a reading conference I went to in North Dakota in 1980. I’ve been in love with the story ever since.

A toy rabbit is loved into being real by a little boy who won’t go anywhere without his rabbit.

But when the rabbit is thrown away for fear it is infected with scarlet fever germs the bunny worries about his future. Can he still be real?

The Velveteen Rabbit was written in 1922 and is layered with meaning. The more you read it the more you think of new life applications.

But for the hundreds of children, who’ve listened to me read this book, it is the actual story itself that charms them and draws them in.

Bunny Trouble was published in 1987. It contains a timeless story about a bunny who loves soccer more than anything else.

His love of the sport interferes with his assigned Easter egg decorating duties and gets him into lots of trouble.

I’ve called this post Easter Classics because these books were published between thirty-six to a hundred years ago. But……..they are all still readily available for purchase. That certainly speaks to their time-tested appeal.

Of course, I’d encourage you to buy the books but they are also all available online as read-alouds you can watch and listen to.

I’m looking forward to sharing these books with my Winnipeg granddaughter when she comes over for Easter Sunday dinner. My grandchildren in Saskatoon have received these books in their Easter baskets in the past.

Happy reading and happy Easter!

Other posts………..

Books About Death For Children

Show Us Where You Live Humpback

A Modern Day Charlotte’s Web

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Filed under Books, Holidays

Personal Connections For the Win!

I loved watching the Canada Reads competition this year primarily because it gave me a chance to observe Mattea Roach in action. What a delight to see this master debater at work!

Kate Beaton the author of Ducks- photo from the Drawn and Quarterly website

Mattea was defending the book Ducks by Kate Beaton. It is a non-fiction graphic novel that describes the author’s time spent working in the oil sands of Alberta in order to pay off her student loans.

Mattea Roach on Jeopardy- from Mattea Roach’s Twitter account

Of course, my husband Dave and I never miss an episode of Jeopardy so we were very familiar with what a knowledgeable and intelligent person Mattea is from seeing her become a star on the television game show where she emerged as the most successful Canadian contestant ever as she matched wits with competitor after competitor eventually winning 23 games and more than half a million American dollars.

The first brilliant move Mattea made in the Canada Reads competition was to choose a book to defend that she could connect with in such a personal way.

Kate Beaton the protagonist in Ducks is from Cape Breton and although Mattea grew up in Halifax she has Cape Breton family as well.

This personal connection with the Maritimes allowed Mattea to speak with heart and integrity because she too knows both the joys and challenges of being from the most eastern part of Canada.

Photo by the CBC from Matteo Roach’s Twitter page

Mattea had also been a university student. She got a general arts degree just like the character Kate in the book and Mattea ended her years of study with huge debt just like the main character in Ducks.

When people questioned the motivations of the young woman in Ducks for taking a job in the oil sands to pay off her student loans Kate was able to speak from personal experience to explain Kate’s decision because she knows too what it’s like to be a university graduate with debt who comes from a part of Canada where jobs aren’t plentiful.

Mattea Roach with the other panelists – photo from the CBC
Keegan Connor Tracy, Gurdeep Pandher, Mattea Roach, Michael Greyeyes, Tasnim Geedi

The second way Mattea used personal connection to achieve a victory on Canada Reads was by connecting her book to each of the show’s competitors and their novels in her final chance to defend Ducks. She went around the table and used what she had learned about the other Canada Reads panelists to make a final personal appeal to each of them to vote for her book.

I was not surprised to see Mattea win Canada Reads because after having observed her on Jeopardy and listening to her host the current season of the podcast The Backbench I knew what a quick thinker, articulate speaker and hard-working person Mattea is.

Photo by the CBC from Mattea Roach’s Twitter account

But I think it was using the advantage and power of personal connection that ultimately helped Mattea win Canada Reads.

Other posts…………

Reading Pictures

I Read Canadian

The Hero’s Walk- Canada Reads

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Filed under Books, Canada

Checking Out the Competition

I’ve been checking out the competition in the last while.

As many of you know I was nominated for a Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice (MYRCA) award last May. Students in schools across the province have a year to read all ten books selected by the MYRCA panel and then in May of this year, they’ll vote for their favourites.

I decided it would be fun to check out some of the books that I’m competing against so I’ve read most of them. Here are four of my competitors.

Taking the Ice by Lorna Schultz Nicholson is a story about a young boy named Aiden whose Dad, a professional hockey player has recently been killed in a car accident. Aiden loves hockey too but when his Mom decides to move back to her home town to care for Aiden’s grandfather, Aiden has to adjust to a new hockey team and prove himself worthy of being named the team captain.

I really appreciated the fact that Lorna included some of the problems facing the sport of hockey in Canada and that her hero exemplifies the best of the game. As the mother of two boys who played minor hockey for many years this novel really resonated with me.

I won’t lie. Birdspell by Valerie Sherrard was tough to read. The story about a grade six boy named Corbin is so heartbreaking. His mother has bipolar disorder and his father is largely absent so Corbin is left to essentially parent his mother and try to survive as best he can.

He tries really hard to handle all their problems himself but when his mother is hospitalized he is cared for by a kind adult friend, encouraged by his elderly neighbour, and shown a great deal of compassion by a classmate whose pet bird Corbin is keeping at his house. Corbin’s life at least for a time is more stable and there is hope for a better future.

They say it takes a village to raise a child and I was happy to see a village come together to help Corbin.

I know there are children who live with bipolar parents and this book will help them to feel less alone.

The story in Elvis, Me and Lemonade Stand by Leslie Gentile takes place in 1978. Truly Clarice is twelve and lives in a trailer park with her Mom who struggles to manage her drinking and hold down a job. She leaves Truly to fend for herself while she dates a string of boyfriends.

Luckily for Truly, a grandmotherly neighbour provides her with safety, security and love. The other trailer court residents also offer Truly support in various ways. The title references a lemonade stand Truly sets up to raise money to go to Vancouver to try to reconnect with her Dad. Elvis, Me and the Lemonade Stand Summer is a wonderful story and one I think adults born in the 70s will really appreciate too.

I’ve already reviewed Colleen Nelson’s terrific novel The Undercover Book List in a blog post and Peter Lee’s Notes From the Field in another and although I haven’t read The Great Bear by David Robertson I have read the first novel in the same series The Barren Grounds and am eager to follow up on the Narnia like adventures of the two main characters Morgan and Eli who have already found their way into my heart.

I just finished The Doll House and it’s a mystery tour through the past and the present in an old house that comes complete with an identical replica of itself in the attic – a handmade doll house. Alice has come to live in the house with her mother who is providing nursing care to the old woman that owns it. Alice is quickly swept up into a confusing world where she is no longer sure what is real and what isn’t.

There are ghosts and secret passageways and an element of creepiness and horror that aren’t usually my favourite in the books I read but I can see where kids will be drawn into the story and be dying to find out what is really going on.

Other posts…………..

An Amazing Birthday Present For My Novel

What a Week You’ve Had

So Much Novel News

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Lost on the Prairie

Golden Boy- A Novel That Reflects Reality in Tanzania

A novel I read during our time in Tanzania was Golden Boy by Tara Sullivan.

It is the story of a young albino man named Habo. Habo’s poor eyesight, something associated with being albino, means he hasn’t learned to read or write. His light eyes, yellow hair and white skin make him the target of his brothers’ cruelty, cause his father to abandon the family, and place his mother and sister in danger because poachers in Tanzania receive top dollar for the body parts of albino people that are thought to bring good luck. One of these poachers is after Habo.

Although I didn’t know it when I chose the book its story begins in a village near Arusha, a city we visited that is not far from where we were based during our time in Tanzania.

Eventually, Habo’s family is forced to leave Arusha and travels across the Serengeti (where we travelled on our safari) to stay with relatives in the city of Mwanza. When the threat from poachers becomes even more imminent there Habo decides to begin a journey all on his own to the city of Dar Salaam where things are not as dire for albino people.

His trip is dangerous and difficult but once there he is befriended by an elderly blind wood carver named Kweli and his life takes a gradual turn for the better.

Tara Sullivan – author of Golden Boy

Golden Boy was published in 2013 when the danger to albino people was at an all-time high in Tanzania. Since then an international outcry has resulted in new laws, stricter policing and a promise of more protection for albino children. However those in outlying villages remain in danger as this article points out.

When we visited the Step by Step Learning Centre in Arusha, the city where the novel character Habo initially lived, we met a young adult albino woman who had been in a horrible home situation where she was traumatized and abused before being adopted and taken in by a kind woman in Arusha who enrolled her at the school.

Her family had told her she was mentally challenged and would never learn to read or write but after being given time to heal from her trauma it turned out she was very intelligent and like Habo does in the book eventually became literate. She has now graduated from the Learning Centre and will be hired as a worker there.

I won’t use her name but it was lovely to see her smiling and looking so happy. She was confident enough to let me take her photo, something Dr Margaret Kenyi, the centre director approved of as well, since she thinks the story of albino children in Tanzania is one that needs to reach as wide an international audience as possible.

I always like to read a book set in a country I am travelling to. I had no idea when I chose Golden Boy just how appropriate and meaningful it would be.

Other posts……..

Freedom’s Child

Two Boys, Two Books, Two Sad Stories

Meeting the Street Children of Delhi

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Filed under Africa, Books, Health

Crow Stone Launches Tonight

“We stumble along past the polluted streams, as pussy willows lose their kitten plush, morph into pollen-dusty worms, then leaf into green leaves. Spring insists on life in spite of burned-out houses, charred trees, blackened fields.”

That’s just an example of the vivid meaningful descriptions you will find in Gabriele Goldstone’s new novel Crow Stone. It is the fourth in her series that tells the story of a young woman named Katya determined to survive one tragedy after another beginning in the early 1930s when she is forced to move from Ukraine to Siberia and then to East Prussia, and in 1945……. after Germany is defeated in World War II, back to work in a Soviet labour camp.

One by one Katya loses her family- her parents, her siblings, her aunts and uncles and her cousins until she is left all alone to fight the battle for survival.

Crowstone Gabriele’s latest novel about Katya has already garnered some excellent reviews – Kirkus called it …..

“Difficult, harsh, and worthy of attention” praising Gabriele for the way she paints the horrors of war vividly and comprehensively.

The excerpt below gives you an idea of what the Kirkus reviewer is talking about. It is part of the description of Katya’s seemingly endless walk to the labour camp after she and a large group of women have been captured by the Soviets.

“At night it’s still cold. We huddle like cows, on the thawing ground, drinking water from puddles like orphaned dogs. Rivers, contaminated with death, littered with empty prams, broken furniture and bloated bodies, continue to flow. Death contaminates us all.”

The amount of meticulous research Gabriele has done to write her series is so impressive as the supplemental reading references at the end of Crow Stone attest. She has also made trips to many of the locations in her novels to look for documentation and background material and to see the places she is writing about for herself.

Katya’s story is all the more moving and meaningful because it was inspired by memories Gabriele’s mother shared sparingly with her daughter throughout her life.

At the end of Crow Stone Gabriele lists the facts from her mother’s life she incorporated into the book and I found it so interesting to go back and find the bits and pieces of her mother’s story in the places they were referenced.

Another fascinating detail is that the cover of Crow Stone features the 1947 prisoner-of-war release papers for Gabriele’s mother.

I particularly appreciated the way Crow Stone shows us that it is not always easy to figure out who is your enemy and who you should hate. A young woman named Natasha, a former employee of Katya’s family, puts it well when she describes so many people caught up in the war as…….. those who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Crow Stone is a riveting engaging read, tragic and troubling certainly, but ultimately a tribute to the human spirit of survival.

Gabriele who is a friend of mine, and a member of a writers’ group I have belonged to for almost a decade, launches her book tonight at McNally Robinson Booksellers and I am so sorry that I will be travelling and will have to miss her launch.

I’m inviting you to go in my stead for what is sure to be a wonderful evening and a great opportunity to buy her excellent book and have it signed.

Other posts………..

Hatred Happens Insidiously

Broken Stone

Red Stone

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Utterly Fascinating

It has been a long time since I have been so utterly fascinated with a book! I just finished reading The White Mosque by Sofia Samatar.

I was so engaged by this book because of the fantastical but true story at its heart about a group of hundreds of Russian Mennonites who in the 1880s left their Molotshna colony in Ukraine and travelled to Uzbekistan.

They were led by a man named Claas Epp who had convinced them that Christ would return in 1889 and they needed to be in Uzbekistan to meet him. After many trials and tribulations, which Sofia Samatar describes in graphic detail, Epp and his followers established a village in a place called Ak Metchet- the White Mosque and lived there for some 50 years before they were all arrested by the Bolsheviks and sent into exile.

Sofia Samatar- photo from her website

I was moved by this book because of the way it describes things near and dear to me from my Mennonite heritage. Take for example Sofia Samatar’s description of Mennonite hymn singing.

“The beautiful harmony of Mennonite singing, taken in like breath in childhood so that even young children show a wonderful facility and ease with music…….

Music that most transportable of the arts accompanied the early persecuted Anabaptists, it murmured in their nights as they fled, it carried their stories from place to place, it sheltered their history, it bore them like an ark.”

Ella Maillart- photo from Wikimedia

My curiosity was aroused by this book because it introduced me to so many intriguing real-life characters that I want to learn even more about…….

– the Mennonite photographer Wilhelm Penner who helped birth the art of photography in Uzbekistan

Irene Worth a famous star of stage and screen, who was a descendant of one of the Mennonite families that trekked to Uzbekistan

Ella Maillart a Swiss photographer, travel adventurer and Olympic athlete who found her way to Ak Metchet in the 1930s and took photos of the Mennonite settlement there

-Diary keeper Elizabeth Unruh who was just a teenager at the time of the Claas Epp Trek but who writes about it in evocative powerful language

I was intrigued by this book because besides being a history book it is also a travel diary and personal memoir.

Sofia with her brother Del, a tattoo artist. They created a book Monster Portraits together.

Sofia Samatar is the daughter of Lydia Glick, a Swiss Mennonite from South Dakota whose masters thesis on Beowulf left a life- long impression on her daughter, and Said Sheikh Samatari a prominent Somali writer and scholar, and a professor at Rutgers University who worked for the American news show Nightline with Ted Koppel.

In the book, you learn about what it is like for Sofia to be part of a family with parents from such different places and backgrounds and religious heritages. How do you find a place to fit in? Sofia compares growing up amidst this diversity to being in ‘an electrical storm.’

Sofia Samatar – photo from the Free Social Encyclopedia

Sofia is a fascinating person. She is a professor of Arabic and African literature at James Madison University and the writer of four award-winning fantasy novels. She and her husband Keith Miller, who grew up in Kenya, lived in South Sudan for three years and in Egypt for nine. They are the parents of two children and I laughed out loud when Sofia illustrates their style of parenting with an image of them running after the school bus with their kids’ forgotten lunches.

The White Mosque is also a travel diary because Sofia describes in her beautiful and lyrical way a tour she went on to Uzbekistan in 2016. She was with a group of people some of whom were descendants of the Claas Epp pilgrims, to find the places important to their almost unbelievable trek across harsh and unforgiving terrain and the unique settlement they finally established at Ak-Metchet.

Sofia’s book also made me look at things from my religious heritage in a new way.

After reading her reflections on the Mennonite devotion to the Martyrs Mirror, I wondered why the people of my religious heritage are so enamoured with stories of suffering.

Her reflections on North American Mennonite service workers made it clear that their assignments in other countries perpetuate the false notion of people ‘saving’ those assumed to be less fortunate when really what service work does is provide rich opportunities for personal and professional growth for those who sign up for it.

Her story about Johann Drake who tried to swallow a Bible whole, made me think about why so many of us were taught to swallow the stories of the Bible whole without asking hundreds of questions about their origin and purpose or realizing the current Bible was a book of stories cobbled together over time by men with a political agenda.

I could probably write a dozen posts about different aspects of The White Mosque, and maybe I will, but this will have to do for now.

Huge thanks to Erin Unger who reviewed this book on her blog Mennotoba in October and brought it to my attention.

Other posts……….

Is It Wrong to Die for Your Faith?

Five Wives

A Carpet Conversation About the Universe

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Filed under Books, Religion

Small Things Like These- A Moving Story

Over the Christmas holidays, I read the novella Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan. In keeping with its title, Small Things Like These is a small book only a hundred pages. It was shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize and won the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction.

Novel illustration by Daniela Alfieri from the review in the Sunday Times

Set in 1985 it tells the story of a rural Irish man named Bill Furlong who sells wood and coal for a living. While making a delivery at the local convent he begins to suspect something untoward is going on there. What will he do about it?

Bill Furlong seems at first a simple soul devoted to his wife and five daughters and providing for them with honest hard work, but in Claire Keegan’s capable hands he becomes something so much more- a complex, thoughtful man with an interesting past of his own.

Small Things Like These is a beautifully written and stirring story and while it takes place at Christmas would be a perfect read any time of the year.

Illustration by Anna Gusella for the review of Small Things Like These in the New York Times

I knew a little bit about the Magdalene Laundries one of which plays an important role in Small Things Like These because I had seen the movie Philomena starring Judy Dench. But I had no idea of the scope and impact of the laundries on thousands of young Irish women till I did a little research after reading the novel.

The Magdalene Laundries ( named after Mary Magdalene in the Bible) were essentially ten workhouses in different locations in Ireland from which profitable businesses were run to raise money for the Catholic Church.

From 1922 to 1966 as many as 30,000 young Irish women were essentially held prisoner in these laundries and subjected to severe psychological and physical mistreatment. The woman were unwed mothers, the daughters of unwed mothers, and girls who had been sexually abused or had mental or physical health issues.

Many were considered burdens by their families or were sent to the laundries by clergy, police officers, hospitals and psychiatric institutions. Confined for decades while starved of food and education, forced to work in silence from morning to night, they were isolated from society. Punishments for refusal to work included food deprivation, shaving of hair, solitary confinement and beatings. Many of the women as well as their children died.

It was only in the early 1990s when unmarked graves were discovered on a Dublin convent’s land that a public scandal ensued and what had truly happened in these laundries came to light.

Although knowing more about the Magdelene Laundries makes me want to read Small Things Like These again, its story stands on its own without the historical background I have provided in this post.

The book prompts us to think about what things are going on in our communities that we don’t notice or choose not to notice. What is our responsibility as community members to do something about them? It reminds us that while we cannot change the past we can still confront it and deal with it.

Other posts…………..

Silent Prey

The Long Wait and Forgiveness

The Children Are Watching and Listening and Wondering

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Filed under Books, History