Category Archives: Books

Reading My Way Through Germany, Switzerland and Austria

Before we left on our cycling trip in Europe I downloaded three books on my Kindle, one for each of the countries we would travel through.

My German book was Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum. Trudy is a Minneapolis history professor searching for the truth about her childhood. She won’t learn anything from her mother Anna who stubbornly refuses to talk about the past. We find out Trudy’s father was a Jewish doctor captured by the Nazis. Anna becomes the mistress of a German military man in order to save Trudy’s life. After the war an American serviceman marries Anna and brings her and Trudy to the United States. Trudy believes she is the daughter of the SS officer, who she can vaguely remember. This knowledge colors her whole life. Things change when Trudy undertakes a history project interviewing German war survivors living in America. I chose the classic Heidi by Johanna Spyri for my Switzerland book. I had not read it since my childhood. Heidi was written in the 1880s and I wondered if Heidi was the inspiration for female heroines of the early 1900s like Pollyanna in America, Anne of Green Gables in Canada, and Mary Lennox in England’s The Secret Garden. These are plucky, independent young girls who have had difficult lives and yet remain hopeful and are a positive influence on those around them. One thing I had forgotten about the book Heidi was how religious it was and how faith plays such a key role in the lives of Heidi and her embittered grandfather.

In A Whole Life by Robert Seehalter we are provided with a spare, simple, unemotional and honest look at the entire life of an ordinary Austrian man named Egger. He has a horrific childhood, a varied work career where he labours incredibly hard but is always a dedicated employee, a brief time of quiet married joy, a stint in the army that leaves him a prisoner of war, and then a retirement where he guides tourists on treks in the Austrian Alps. Outwardly there would seem to be little that is remarkable about Egger’s life but the fact that he is able to find inner calm amidst the difficulties of day-to-day living and accept his lot in life is remarkable.

From Those Who Save Us I gained an interesting perspective on the holocaust in Germany. From Heidi I enjoyed absolutely beautiful descriptions of the Swiss countryside and In A Whole Life I saw Austrian history and geography through the eyes of an ordinary man.

Other posts about books and travels……….
Eat Pray Love
Images From Ru

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Filed under Books, Bike Trip Boden See

A Book That Was Easy and Not So Easy To Read

Hunger by Roxanne Gay is formatted in a way that makes the book easy to read.  Roxanne has divided her memoir into short chapters, some less than a page.  Although these chapters can be read in chronological order each is a kind of essay or story unto itself.  I found myself skipping around reading only one chapter at a time, because the content of Hunger is not easy to read at all and sometimes one chapter was all I could process before I had to put the book down and take a break.  Roxanne is in her own words morbidly obese and in her book she tells us how that happened.  She was gang raped at age 12 and she hid the assault from her parents who she realizes in hindsight would have come to her defense and supported her. By eating obsessively she was able to create a body form that she thought would repel men and thus protect her from further sexual assault. 

hungerToday Roxanne is a university professor and well-respected author and journalist. She describes in detail just how difficult it is to manuever through family life, a career, romances and day-to-day to living when you are morbidly obese.  She tells us in the first sentence of this book that hers is not a tale of triumph.  This is not one of those stories where a person changes their life by losing lots of weight.  This is a story of a woman who wants to try to accept who she is, understand who she is, and have a future.  But……. this does not stop her from still imagining on some of the last pages of the book what it would be like to be slim and to feel comfortable in her own body.  

This is not a book with easy answers.  It relates a very troubling story. But you have to admire Roxanne for having the courage to tell it.  And if you look at the comments for reviews of her book you realize Roxanne speaks for plenty of other people who live with some of the same realities she does.  After reading the book I was left feeling very sorry for Roxane, while at the same time realizing that’s the last thing she would want. 

Other posts……….

Pray Naked In Front of the Mirror and Say This is my Soul’s Address

Healthy Environments?  Not Gyms or Arenas

Weighty Matters


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Filed under Books, Health

Things That Are True

At our last meeting my writers’ group discussed a recent Ted Talk given by writer Anne Lamott entitled Twelve Things I Know To Be True. I could really resonate with many of them.  Here are three I particularly liked. flat-iron-sunset

1.  Almost anything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes.  That includes you.  

When I am really stuck on a writing project or work assignment the best thing to do is just leave it for a while and go for a hike, take a nap, have a shower, read a book or go to a movie. Invariably while I am doing something completely different the solution to my writing or work dilemma reveals itself. Everyone needs to take a break sometimes and we shouldn’t feel guilty about just unplugging and giving ourselves down time. 

february baby 19792. Family life is both astonishing and hard.  

Welcoming a new child is astonishing.  Saying goodbye to a parent who has died is incredibly hard.  Watching your child accomplish something and knowing that in that moment they are truly and utterly happy is astonishing.  Watching your child go through illness, or disappointment, or loss is heartbreakingly hard. Having a family member affirm and support you is astonishing.  Accepting the criticism, silence and correction of a family member can be humbling and hard. 

hiking akaka falls state park hawaii trees

3.  God means goodness. God is a loving, animating intelligence.  Emerson said…… We learn from nature the lessons of worship. Go outside often and look up when you need to find God. 

I too think of God as good.  Bad things don’t come from God but God does send people to help us when we human beings mess up and bad things happen.  And I do feel the most worshipful and close to God when I am outside, looking at stars, walking in a forest, wading in the ocean, or tracking a bird in flight. 

In her Ted Talk Anne Lamott talks about nine other things she knows to be true.  You can hear about the other six on the Ted Talk site.

Other posts……….

Hawaii Inspiration

Thoughts on Hope

And That Led Me


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Filed under Books, Family, Reflections

Seeing Things In A Different Way

 I talked with someone who had experienced a disturbing situation recently. Immediately afterward they sat down and wrote out how they might view the troubling incident in eight different ways……. with perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity. After contemplating and responding to the event from each of those standpoints it seemed less daunting and distressing. I asked if it wasn’t hard to view challenging conflicts from all those different angles. I was told if you make a habit of doing so, it becomes relatively easy. 

dali lama and desmond tutuThose eight ways of looking at a difficult situation are the eight pillars of joy explained in the book The Secret to Joy which records a five day conversation between the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu.  Author Douglas Carlton Abrams weaves their dialogue together with narration.  I purchased the book for our church library and have just started to read it.  

In am looking forward to learning more about how I can use the principles in my own life.  I can already think of a number of situations and relationships where the pillars of joy might just come in handy. 

Other posts……….

Start and End Happy

Pura Vida

Coin Rings- Luck Springs

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Filed under Books, Religion

She Always Found Time for Creativity

The Lost Diaries Of Susanna Moodie

I just finished reading The Lost Diaries of Susanna Moodie in which author Cecily Ross provides a fictionalized account of the life of one of Canada’s first authors.  Susanna Moodie’s book Roughing it in the Bush was published in 1852.  

Susanna left her comfortable home in England to  accompany her husband John as he set off for Upper Canada where he was convinced their family would have a great future.  While he pursued one money-making scheme after another, none successfully, Susanna was often left alone with her small children to manage a household, crops, gardens and  livestock and to deal with blizzards, fires, illness and injury.  Yet despite her endless days of grinding work and demanding child care she somehow found time to write poetry, make journal entries and paint water colors. 

Her need to write and paint was no doubt partially motivated by the fact that she was sometimes able to sell her work and use the small amounts of money she received to help her family survive, since her husband was so woefully inept as a family provider.  But I think her creative work was also a way for her soul and spirit to survive the physically harsh and endlessly demanding life in her adopted country. She is an inspiration to those who might think they don’t have time to explore their creative self.  

Other posts……..

When Did You Stop Drawing?

When Do We Have Time? 

Creative Students


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Filed under Books, History

Indian Horse

I almost couldn’t bear to read parts of this book.  In Indian Horse author Richard Wagamese describes life in St. Jerome’s Indian residential school in Ontario with such descriptive prose that you are forced to put the book down at points to compose yourself and just breathe.  If that’s how I felt reading about it, what must it have been like for the children actually experiencing it? 

indian horseThe hockey team at the residential school is in some ways the salvation of Saul Indian Horse the character at the centre of the novel but in other ways it leads to the crushing of his soul and spirit. 

residential school children photo at the heard musuem

Residential school children in a photo at the Heard Museum in Phoenix Arizona

The book reminded me of an exhibit I saw at the Heard Museum in Phoenix- Remembering our Residential School Days and also of another book I read recently Bear Town where hockey becomes both a means of salvation and a destructive force in a small community. 

children residential school nwt public domain

Children at a residential school in the North West Territories

I bought this book for the Indigenous Relations section of our church library but wanted to read it myself first.  I will highly recommend it to our library users.  It makes me ashamed of what was done in the name of my religion.  It makes me incredibly sad children had to experience such suffering. It makes me realize it may not be possible to ever right this wrong. 

Other posts………..


Art That Makes You Feel Sick

What is the Doctrine of Discovery?

A Black and White Religion


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The Art of Rebellion

ART_OF_REBELLION_COVER_largeWhat would it have been like for a young woman who is an aspiring artist to be in Paris at the same time as Pablo Picasso?  You can find out by reading The Art of Rebellion by Brenda Joyce Leahy.  There’s a Picasso show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery right now and The Art of Rebellion would be an interesting book to read before or after visiting the exhibit.  

Pablo Picasso liked his women “short and submissive”  but Gabrielle the heroine of The Art of Rebellion is anything but submissive! She rebels against her parents’ plans to arrange a marriage for her and runs off to Paris to try to fulfill her dream of being an artist.  This was a positively scandalous choice for a woman at the turn of the century when the artistic community was almost exclusively male and a marriage to someone wealthy or titled was considered the height of  success for girls.  Brenda Leahy has done her research and paints a realistic picture of Paris at the time. She doesn’t shy away from having her heroine face the grim reality of surviving there on her own.  

woman in a hat with flowers dora maar 1944

Women in a Hat With Flowers by Picasso 1944 is one of the paintings in the current Picasso exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  The Art of Rebellion by Brenda Joyce Leahy has a woman in a hat on its front cover too!

You can even find a hint in one scene in The Art of Rebellion that Gabrielle actually encounters Picasso at an artist’s hangout in Paris. I’m a feminist and an art lover like Gabrielle so even though The Art of Rebellion was written for a young adult audience I enjoyed it too. 

Other posts……..

Launching Not One Book But Three

A New Book Set Right Here in Winnipeg

Red Stone


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Filed under Art, Books