Tag Archives: Carol Shields

Don’t Over Analyze- Just Enjoy

swannnovelSwann was the very first Carol Shields book I ever read and I loved it. I found a copy at my friend Perry’s house this summer when he was giving away books to prepare for a move. I just reread it last week and enjoyed it ever so much once again. The story is told from the viewpoint of four different people and Carol makes sure we know each one intimately before she moves on. The four- a publisher, librarian, biographer and English academic become fascinating characters in Carol’s skillful hands. There is something about each one’s life that is just a little sad. They all think of themselves in some way as experts on the poetry written by an Ontario farm wife named Mary Swann whose writing career is cut short when she is brutally murdered by her husband. In the last section of the book the four meet at a symposium in Toronto where the work of Mary Swann is to be discussed and analyzed by a gathering of literary experts. The book is a cautionary tale about not taking literary analysis too seriously. The New York Times review of the book called it a “gentle satire of English academia.”  It reminded me of a poem by Jean Little that I tried to keep in mind when I was an English teacher. 

After English Class

By Jean Little

I used to like “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”
I liked the coming darkness,
The jingle of harness bells, breaking–and adding to
–the stillness,
The gentle drift of snow. . . .
But today, the teacher told us what everything stood for.
The woods, the horse, the miles to go, the sleep–
They all have “hidden meanings.”
It’s grown so complicated now that,
Next time I drive by,
I don’t think I’ll bother to stop.

Other posts……….

Carol Shields

A Picture Perfect Afternoon

Stopping By Woods- A Children’s Masterpiece

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

A Picture Perfect Afternoon

carol shields labyrinth

I’d always wanted to visit the Carol Shields labyrinth in Winnipeg’s King’s Park. On Victoria Day I did with my group of friends the T-4s.

sketching in kings parkWe started our afternoon with a picnic lunch. My friend Esther had picked up all kinds of salads, feta cheese, pitas and humus at a Greek Deli. I’d made little desserts and brought an assortment of beverages. t-4s kings parkIt was a picture perfect afternoon. Sunshine, blue sky, puffy clouds, blossoming trees and the scent of lilacs in the air. 

sketchingAfter lunch Debbie painted a watercolor while the rest of us did some sketching.  

walking the carol shields labyrinthThen it was off to walk the labyrinth in Kings Park built in honor of Pulitzer Prize winning Manitoba author Carol Shields perhaps best known for her novel Stone Diaries. 

shields labyrinthAt the entry to the maze is a billboard explaining who Carol was and the significance of the labyrinth. 

carol shields quote wallAt the rear is a wall containing quotes from Carol’s writing.  

My favorite was…………

The whole thing about mazes is that they make perfect sense only when you look down on them from above. There can be one route or many. It means that are lives are open.- from the novel Larry’s Party

Before we started sketching Esther inspired us by reading the lyrics of a song titled I Think A Thing from a musical about artist Emily Carr called The Wonder of It All

Before we started sketching Esther inspired us by reading the lyrics of a song about the creative process called  I Think A Thing from a musical about artist Emily Carr 

A picnic, some sketching, good friends, good food and walking a literature maze.  It WAS a picture perfect afternoon!

Other T-4 adventures…….

Welcoming Spring with the T-4s


What’s Happening with the T-4s?




Filed under Books, T-4s, Winnipeg

The Oak Park Connection

What do Carol Shields, Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway all have in common? They all lived in Oak Park Illinois. 

In February I visited the home of writer Ernest Hemingway in Key West Florida. I wrote about it in a blog post called Six Toed Cats, A Spanish Birthing Chair and His Last Penny. I was surprised to learn on my tour that the Nobel Prize winning writer had been born and raised in Oak Park, Illinois. 

Frank Lloyd Wright Studio in Oak Park

Frank Lloyd Wright Studio in Oak Park

I had visited Oak Park in December of 2011 and toured the studio of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright. I wrote a post about that visit during which we saw many of the beautiful homes Frank Lloyd Wright had designed in the Oak Park neighborhood.  

I had written a newspaper column about Carol Shields shortly after her death.  I discovered that she was revered, not only in Canada, but also in Hong Kong where I made my home at the time. I later posted a version of that column on my blog and realized that like Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway, Carol Shields too had lived in Oak Park, Illinois. It is where she was born.

That seemed too much of a coincidence to me so I decided to find out if any other famous people had called Oak Park Illinois home. Was I ever surprised to learn that……

Comedian Bob Newhart was born and raised in Oak Park. 

and so was Ray Kroc the founder of the McDonalds franchise. 

comedic actress Betty White was born in Oak Park too

and Edgar Rice Borroughs who wrote the Tarzan series of books was raised there. 

And that wasn’t all. Wikipedia listed more than a hundred people who made a name for themselves in politics, sports, entertainment, literature and science and spent part of their life living in Oak Park. 

I’m not sure what made Oak Park such a breeding ground for successful people. Perhaps most cities produce their share of the rich and famous. Taking a look at the Wikipedia list for famous people from Winnipeg, I discovered it’s even longer than Oak Park’s!

Other posts about famous people…..

Getting Up Close and Personal with Thomas Edison

Dikembe Mutombo Has My Book

Meeting a Famous Children’s Author

Leave a comment

Filed under Reflections

Carol Shields

Today is International Women’s Day. Since I’ve been trying to feature Winnipeg people and places in What’s Next– I thought today I should do a post about a Winnipeg woman who really put our city on the map. I don’t think I realized the scope of Carol Shields reputation till I moved to Hong Kong in the fall of 2003 just after the Pulitzer Prize winning author had died of cancer. 

“Did you know Carol Shields?” I was asked that question in an almost reverential whisper in a Hong Kong bookstore. A few weeks after I’d moved to Hong Kong nearly ten years ago I used my Canadian credit card to pay for some novels at Page One, a well-known chain of Asian book stores. The clerk who handled the transaction wondered where I came from in Canada. “I live in Manitoba, close to the city of Winnipeg”, I told him. The clerk immediately asked if I knew Carol Shields.  I said I’d never spoken to Ms. Shields, but I had seen her in person at a book reading, attended a performance of a play she’d written, and I had read almost all of her work. The Hong Kong clerk led me to a table covered with black velvet near the front of the store. It featured a display of Shield’s books arranged around her photograph. “She was a fine author”. His voice resonated with genuine regret as he continued,” I was so sad when I heard she had died”.

Carol Shields the author of novels, non-fiction, plays and poetry wasn’t born in Winnipeg or even Canada, but in Oak Park Illinois. I visited Oak Park in November which was, by the way, also the home of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Carol may not have been born in Winnipeg but she lived here from 1980-2000, was a professor at the University of Winnipeg and the chancellor of the University of Winnipeg. Winnipeg serves as a setting in some of her novels. 
The first book of Carol’s I read was Swann. I was fascinated by the way a person’s reputation and life story can be shaped, distorted and embellished posthumously by people who have never even met them. (This same theme is elegantly explored in a novel I just finished The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst). However Swann opened my mind to the idea for the first time and it had me rethinking my blithe assumptions about all kinds of historical figures. 

I read almost all of Carol’s books after that, but admit I kept a soft spot for Swann, even though it isn’t one of her more well-known works. Stone Diaries her Pulitzer Prize winner tells the story of Daisy Flett, a very ordinary woman, whose life was really anything but ordinary. I remember the first time I read it, my favorite thing about the book were the photographs Carol included. I was so curious about her choice of photos and examined them for a long time. But because the book was fictional the photos were too, and so somehow they didn’t prevent me from imagining the characters looking exactly the way I wanted them to. 

I think Carol Shields is a good Winnipeg citizen to feature on International Woman’s Day because in interviews she often talked about how important her role as a mother of five children was in her life. She says she could never have written a novel if she hadn’t been a mother first. Near the end of her life when she was asked about her legacy she said her writing wasn’t her legacy, her children were. 

I took a photo of this bronze statue of Carol for my post about the Millennium Library. The library has an auditorium named after Carol. A replica of this statue can also be seen on the Winnipeg Citizen Walk of Fame in Assiniboine Park. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, People, Winnipeg