Category Archives: Books

A Spark of Light

The current challenges facing abortion rights in the United States made Jodi Picoult’s novel A Spark of Light a timely read for me. 

In the story an angry father who believes his daughter had an abortion at a women’s center goes on a shooting rampage there, killing staff members and patients and taking hostages. Will he kill more people?

Picoult introduces us to several women that have had abortions. Their stories remind us of pro-active things countries can do to reduce their abortion rates since history shows us that criminalization of the procedure has proven to be very ineffective.

One of Picoult’s characters is an insecure teenager named Beth. She comes from a very religious family and has her first sexual encounter with an attractive Ivy League college student who flatters her with his attentions on a one- time visit to her community.  When asked why she didn’t use birth control Beth says she’d heard from a friend at church you couldn’t get pregnant the first time you had sex.

This kind of misinformation is a result of a lack of comprehensive sex education in schools, an education that should introduce high school students to many forms of birth control not just abstinence. As Picoult points out in a scene in her novel, ironically it is often the same religious groups that are anti-abortion who want to limit sex education in schools.

It is probably no coincidence that the Netherlands has the lowest abortion rate in the world. All secondary schools there have mandatory comprehensive health education programs that address sexuality and many forms of contraception. Teens in the Netherlands have wide access to confidential contraceptive services.

Joy, another character in Picoult’s novel is a struggling university student. She has several part time jobs. That means her employers don’t have to provide health care or maternity leave benefits. Joy finds herself pregnant despite the fact she was using birth control. She knows she can’t get a good job unless she finishes school. How will she study, support a child, and care for it properly?  She can’t afford prenatal care or health care for her child once it is born. Her partner won’t help. Joy herself was a product of the foster care system and doesn’t wish that fate on her child. So she opts for an abortion. 

Many studies prove countries with free health care, generous paid maternity leaves, subsidized post- secondary education, affordable daycare services and high minimum wage levels have lower abortion rates than countries that don’t offer those advantages.  Apparently about 75% of American women who have abortions cite economic factors for their decision.  They say they can’t afford a child because it will interfere with their work, studies, or their ability to care for the children they already have.

Ironically in the United States the Republican Party, supported by evangelical Christian groups that favor stricter anti-abortion laws, is also the party that wants to get rid of the subsidized health care system established by President Obama. They seem bent on reducing the number of government social services in their country even though it is those very services that would reduce abortion rates.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Jodi Picoult interviewed hundreds of of anti-abortion activists, pro-choice leaders and women who’d had abortions before writing her novel. She found them all very sincere and caring. She discovered whether people are pro-choice or pro-life they desire the same end result- fewer abortions. They just don’t agree on how to make that happen. Picoult hopes her book will open a dialogue that may allow the two sides to work together to meet their common goal.

Other posts………..

Tolerating Other Christians

Abortion and Summer Jobs

Blaming Satan is Misguided and Dangerous

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

I chose to read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine because my niece gave it a positive rating on Good Reads and I trust her instincts about books. I was quite taken with the story and finished it quickly.  

gail honeyman

Gail Honeyman

As an author hoping to get a book published for the first time I will admit that the ‘dreams do come true’ story of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine author Gail Honeyman probably influenced my appreciation of the book.  This is Gail Honeyman’s first novel and she wrote it as an assignment for a writing course she took while working full-time as a university administrator. She would write her novel on her lunch breaks. She entered the manuscript in a writing contest and one of the judges, who happened to be a literary agent, liked it and decided to take her on as a client.  Gail’s book was just named Book of the Year in Britain and Reese Witherspoon is turning it into a movie. 

I liked Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine because the heroine perseveres despite the fact that she leads a very lonely existence and has been dealt a horrible hand in the game of life.  I liked the story because it shows how a little kindness and personal interest can go a long way towards making a difference in someone’s life.  I liked the book because Eleanor is so straight forward and honest that many of her observations had me laughing out loud like……….

“I have often noticed that people who routinely wear sportswear are the least likely sort to participate in athletic activity.”

eleanor oliphant is completely fineSome critics say the transformation that takes place in Eleanor Oliphant’s life in this book is unrealistic.  That may be, but I was charmed by Eleanor and intrigued by the way she manages to finally open herself to other people.  This is a sad story that turns out better than one could have imagined. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is ultimately a hopeful book and I think right now many people are looking for just that kind of story. 

Other posts………


All Things Consoled

Coop The Great

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Movie or Book?

After I finished reading the book The Hate U Give I watched the movie of the same title.  I  liked the book better.  One of the themes of the story is  black lives matter.  Starr the African American heroine witnesses a white police officer shoot and kill her friend Khalil after a routine traffic pull over. Her friend is unarmed. Starr must decide if she will appear as a witness before a Grand Jury. The jury will determine whether the officer will be charged with a crime in the shooting.

Starr’s uncle is an African American police officer and in the book his character is explored in much more depth than in the movie.  This gives the book more balance so that we get a well rounded picture of a positive member of the police force and can see things from the police officers’ point of view too.

Starr’s Dad who has been heavily influenced by the teachings of Malcom X has taught his daughter to be proud of her racial identity and her black community

Starr’s father is a devoted follower of Macolm X.  The principles of the Black Panthers guide Starr’s upbringing and are more completely explained and discussed in the book.  This helps us better understand Starr and the choices she eventually makes.

The character of Starr’s white boyfriend is more fully explored in the book as well and I liked him more in the book than I did in the movie. 

One character in the book, DeVante is left out of the movie completely. That’s too bad. DeVante is a young black man Starr’s family tries to help escape from the clutches of a drug lord and gang leader. Although Khalil, the young man whose death Starr witnessed is dead, and Starr’s family can’t help him any more, they can help DeVante find a new life.  I think this provides an important piece in the family’s healing and makes the story in the book more balanced. 

I thought Amandla Stenberg did a great job of playing Starr in the movie

The movie ends differently than the book in a way that I thought was contrived and unrealistic. 

I read The Hate U Give  because I am doing a presentation on it for my writer’s group when I get back to Winnipeg.  I have to analyze the book using a fourteen point plot outline for how to write a good novel.  Ironically the text about novel writing we are using is a sequel to one about screen writing that was hugely popular. I think maybe the screenwriters and producers for The Hate U Give needed to read that text so the movie they made would have been as good as the book it was based on. 

Other posts…………

Now I Really Want To Go To Botswana

Winnipeg and Mennonites in Gone Girl

Don’t Trust the Trailer


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It’s Harder To Hate Up Close

beoming michelle obamaI just finished Michelle Obama’s book Becoming.  Her voice is straight forward and chatty- no doubt in keeping with her personality. I would recommend her book to anyone who wants to learn what it means to be a person of character, committment, candor and kindness.  

There are many things that fascinated me about Becoming and I’ve lain awake for hours the last several nights thinking about them. But what struck me most is the former First Lady’s appreciation and gratitude for the thousands of personal interactions she has been privileged to have. She made it a priority during her husband’s time in office to visit routinely and at great length with teenagers, mothers, injured military veterans, young women in leadership, elementary school children and a whole host of people she deliberately set aside time to talk with across the country and the world. This despite her incredibly hectic schedule of speeches and official functions and despite the enormous energy she invested during her term as First Lady in the major initiatives she spearheaded with drive and determination- ending childhood obesity, supporting military families and educating girls.

michelle obama with children at a child development center in north carolina public domain

Michelle Obama visits with children at a North Carolina Children’s Center

Those program legacies of hers may be important but what she says she treasures most about her time as First Lady are the opportunities she had to speak intimately with so many of her country’s citizens. If the photos I’ve seen in the media and in her book are any indication many of those encounters ended with a hug from her. 

Michelle says that now when her country is going through troubling times it is those one- on- one conversations she had that give her hope.  She knows first hand the United States is full of good and kind people who truly care about their country.  

Her book is an inspiration for us to try to change the cynicism and “us vs. them” mentality in the world by taking the simple step of engaging in relationship and conversation with all kinds of people, even those who may be very different than we are.  “I’ve learned that it’s harder to hate up close,” Michelle Obama says. 

Other posts……….

Friend For A Moment

Who Writes History?

A Poignant Book


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Who Writes History?

It took us more than twelve hours to get from our Winnipeg home to our home here in Mexico near the city of Merida. The hours flew by because I was reading a riveting memoir called educated by Tara Westover.  I marked a whole bunch of quotes I wanted to think about after I finished the book.  One was……..

“Who writes history? I thought. I do.”

Tara has been raised by a father who believes in all kinds of right-wing conspiracy theories and interprets history through their lens. She doesn’t attend school till she is an older teenager but once she gets to college and starts reading various historians she sees how they can have very different views of historical events.  Tara finally comes to the realization that we all write/interpret history in different ways depending on our world view, our personal experiences and the things we’ve read and studied.

I know from experience that people in the same family can have very different views and memories of their joint history. After reading Hans Werner’s The Constructed Mennonite I started thinking more about how we create and interpret our own version of our personal histories so we can live with them.

In recent decades we have begun to gain a greater appreciation for the fact that hearing about the same historical events through the eyes of different participants is valuable.  When I was in school I mainly learned about the events of Canada’s history through a British colonial lens.

I remember as a young girl being fascinated when I discovered the poems of Emily Pauline Johnson and realized that looking at my country’s history through the eyes of a Mohawk chief’s daughter might offer an alternate perspective.  I remember first hearing the story of Laura Secord and realizing that viewing the war of 1812 from a woman’s perspective might make it far more interesting to me. 

Looking at the home page of Fox News and CNN on any given day will offer proof that history can be seen through polar opposite lenses.  Completely different events are considered newsworthy by each media outlet and are reported from totally different perspectives.  It is up to us, the reader and consumer of news  to be thoughtful and open minded and try to formulate our own view on what is happening in history right now.  

“Who writes history? I thought. I do.”

I had planned to write a blog post about at least three of the many thought-provoking quotes I bookmarked while reading Educated.  But it seems one is enough for now. I recommend you read Tara Westover’s book and find quotes of your own to ponder. 

Other posts……….

The Constructed Mennonite

The Song My Paddle Sings

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Dabbling In A Dangerous Book

women-who-write-are-dangerousMy friend Esther gave me a book called Women Who Write Are Dangerous for Christmas.  At first I thought I would go through it systematically, reading one essay a day about different women writers.  Instead I’ve been dabbling.  I flip through the pages and find an author that intrigues me and read her story. 

johanna sypriIn the section called The Discovery of Childhood I read about Johanna Spyri the author of  Heidi.  It was a story I loved as a child. I reread Heidi in the fall of 2017 when we were cycling in Switzerland. In Women Who Write Are Dangerous I was interested to learn that after she married and had a son Johanna suffered from depression as indeed do several characters in her famous novel. It was in writing that Johanna found personal satisfaction and a measure of healing from her depression just as the characters in her novel find healing in nature and in new and restored relationships. In 1871 it was dangerous for a woman to openly say that she found creative pursuits more fullfilling than marriage and parenthood but Johanna did just that. 

toni morrison wikipediaIn the section called Women’s Voices in World Literature I read about Toni Morrison the African American author of so many great novels.  Just thinking about her book Beloved evokes the heartsick feeling it gave me.  In Women Who Write Are Dangerous I was interested to learn that Toni says she has never addressed herself specifically to an African American audience. Imagination she says is a force without gender, nationality or race preferences. When you think about how imagination can be an agent for change Morrison’s idea might seem dangerous to some people, especially those who prefer the status quo in our world.

I am going to keep dabbling in Women Who Write Are Dangerous. Thanks Esther for a great Christmas gift. 

Other posts……….

Reading My Way Through Germany, Switzerland and Austria

A Scary Story

Talk About Defying Convention


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A Poignant Book

all things consoled
All Things Consoled
is a poignant book. I instinctively knew I wanted to use the word poignant to describe All Things Consoled but I had to look up the definition to understand exactly why.  Poignant means ‘evoking a sense of sadness or regret’  and that is what Elizabeth Hay’s beautifully written memoir about caring for her aging parents will do if you have parents who have died or who are nearing the end of life. All Things Consoled may in fact be too poignant to read.  Sections fairly took my breath away – like the long list of things that prompt Elizabeth to think about her mother after her death. I could easily write such a list too. I cry just thinking about it. 

Elizabeth voices regrets as well about her relationship with her parents.  One in particular struck so close to home I had to close the book and leave it for twenty-four hours. Be prepared to take this book personally.  Some of the nerves it touched for me are too private to share here but one did make me chuckle and gave me a greater understanding of some incidents from my own teenage years. 

In a chapter called The Legs Elizabeth writes about how she shaved her legs at age thirteen when her parents had told her she needed to wait till she was sixteen to do so.  Her mom and dad ended up having a serious private talk with her about her rebellion.

family photo 60's

I don’t look much like a rebellious young teenager do I?

I remember similar serious discussions with my parents about being allowed to buy panty hose and wear lipstick and stop after school at a local restaurant with the other kids for fries with gravy and a Coke. On reflection Elizabeth realizes her parents were just scared about her growing up too fast, scared that if she broke one rule they had set out for her she might break others and that eventually her rebelliousness might lead her to become estranged from them. Since I was the oldest child in the family my parents no doubt harboured similar concerns about my rather innocuous signs of rebellion. 

The word poignant has its roots in an old French word that literally translated means to ‘prick’.  All Things Consoled pricked my conscience, my memory and my heart. 

Other posts……

Feeding My Mother

The Things We Keep 


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