Friday, 30 June 2017

"Through Black Spruce" by Joseph Boyden

    Preparing to lead two book clubs in their discussions of "Through Black Spruce" has taken a great deal of time.
   I found the dual narratives and the non-linear story line made the book a challenge to read in the first place.  I realize that many people enjoy this type of storytelling and I have tried to get beyond the structure and make sure that we get to the heart of the story and understand what Joseph Boyden was trying to say.
   We are reading this book for Indigenous Book Club Month, with the purpose of "increasing our awareness and understanding of the Indigenous people".
Joseph Boyden
   Joseph visited our city in 2006, when we read "Three Day Road" for One Book One Community.  This book is supposedly a follow-up, although it is very different.  It is the story of the son of one of the characters in "Three Day Road".
   There has been some controversy about Boyden's Indigenous roots.  I have read much of the firestorm, but mostly I appreciate the quote from Wab Kinew: "Indigenous membership is multi-faceted.    It can include blood but also adoption.  We cannot have identity police."
   Joseph has admitted that his blood connection is distant and that he has been unable to trace the specifics.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Sharon Butala (continued)

   This is Sharon Butala's second memoir.  The subtitle is "A Journey Through Love and Loss". I expected it would focus on her grief after the loss of her husband and her efforts in moving forward with her life- hence, the title "Where I Live Now".
  However, although it does deal with her widowhood, she also reflects on her whole life.  
  Sharon had married at 36 and moved to a large farm, where she connected to the land in a very personal, emotional way.  In 2000, she wrote a memoir, describing those years.  After 32 years of working the farm and wandering the fields, her husband died. What would she do?
  "Every time I looked out the windows to the north and nothing out there spoke to me, the light no longer caught a boulder and gleamed unexpectedly, shadows no longer moved and paused for me, a lump would come into my throat and my chest would ache.  In the days after all the work was done and the yard and fields were empty, slowly, I saw nature saying good-bye to me.  It knew as well as I did, and my neighbours and my friends, that I was leaving the countryside and my life as a country woman for good.  That I would not be back, that it- that life that had been mine- was over."

   Near the end of the book there is some reflection on death: "The people you have loved in life are still there in death; that is, through dreams and memories, and sudden flashes of understanding, you know they are still there with you."
  I have enjoyed Sharon's writing.  She is very expressive and reflective.  She started to write at age nine.  She believes that every author is trying to answer a 'great question'.  Her question is: "What is a human life worth?"  And in particular, "What is a woman's life worth?"

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

"Wild Stone Heart" by Sharon Butala

Sharon Butala
  I have mentioned meeting Sharon Butala and I discovered that she had written a new memoir since the passing of her husband.
  I put my name on the waiting list at the library and decided to read her earlier memoir while I was waiting for the recent book.
   It is the first time that I have read biographical material of someone that I have met.  It made the reading very different.  I was trying to connect what I was reading with how I perceived her.

   This book was written in 2000, about the early years of her marriage to a farmer who owned 13,000 acres of land in Southern Saskatchewan.  For twenty years, Sharon walked the fields, examining wildlife, grass, plants, rocks, just whatever she could discover.
  She thought she found a dinosaur bone, and she did find burial cairns.  She spent time researching the Indigenous people who had lived there in past years.  She felt very close to them and, when asked to speak she talked about the Amerindian because she had such a fascination and connection to their way of life.
  She had many experiences in the fields that she credited to the supernatural.

Monday, 12 June 2017

"Read For Your Life: Literature as a Life Support System" by Joseph Gold

   Since  "The Little Paris Bookshop" didn't follow through on the theme of reading as therapy, I went to my bookshelf for a non-fiction book that deals with this issue in a powerful way.
  Joseph Gold is a professor of literature as well as a family therapist.  In fact, sometimes he combines the two specialties in a practice of 'bibliotherapy".
   He says," When you read fiction or poetry you experience feelings, emotions, as well as thoughts and images.  You see pictures in your mind and you have feelings associated with the pictures.  Most people are not in the habit of identifying these feelings or even of being aware of them.  When you learn to do this, you can use your feelings about what you read to explore yourself, your relations, your attitudes to job, home, sex, children and parents, aging, death, and religion.  There is a direct link between what you feel about stories and what you feel about everything else, especially about yourself."
  I really appreciated his visual of 'a path'.  Imagine you have a favourite path that you know well and walk often.  It is mapped into your brain.  But, one, day, it is blocked- by flood or fallen trees.  "Your life story is like this path, and when it is blocked by grief or loss, unforeseen events such as war, job loss, earthquake, or divorce, it may feel to the sufferer that the path or story cannot be continued or recovered."

   Perhaps everyone is looking for empowerment, in one way or another.  I enjoy books that show the resilience of women.  My husband reads about war, actually, but his favourite author, Jeff Shaara, also writes about resilience.  He relates individual stories of resilience in the face of the horrors of war. "Resilience"- we all need it to live a full life.

  "Literature is healthful and maybe necessary as part of our overall response to the demands of life-living, working, forming families, and dealing with problems."

"Reading can lead to sound mental health and personal empowerment."

 I have once again, been reminded of the value of reading.

Monday, 5 June 2017

"The Little Paris Bookshop" by Nina George

   The cover and the advertising for this book interested me.
   The protagonist is Jean Perdu, who owns a bookstore on a boat, moored on the Seine River.  He calls it a 'Literary Apothecary', where he listens to individual stories and prescribes a book to mend broken hearts and souls.
    Jean was thought to have " transperception": "You can see and hear through most people's camouflage.  And behind it you see all the things they worry and dream about, and the things they lack".
  I found this aspect of the novel fascinating.  Quotes such as: "Books are more than doctors, of course.  Some novels are loving, lifelong companions; some give you a clip around the ear; others are friends who wrap you in warm towels when you've got those autumn blues.  And some... well, some are pink candy floss that tingles in your brain for three seconds and leaves a blissful void.  Like a short torrid love affair".
  On page 37, I read "Novels are for willpower, nonfiction for rethinking one's life, poems for dignity".  Then the novel went off the rails for me.
  Jean discloses how he has pined for a woman who left him 21 years ago.  He had begun an affair with her when she was planning to marry someone else, and continued the relationship for five years, in spite of her marriage to the other man.
  Jean took off on his boat, heading for the south of France.  A young, distraught author jumped on the boat with him.  They also picked up another man who was searching the rivers of France for his long-lost love.  The novel turned into 'three men on a boat', on a journey of personal discovery.  They relive all the sadness of their lives and the novel turns overly sentimental and sappy.  The initial theme of books as a curative is lost.
   The novel is advertised as "a love letter to books".  But that was only the first 40 pages, then it was "a journey of three love-sick men".
  At the end of the book, the author has two pages of book titles: 'Jean Perdu's Emergency Literary Pharmacy'.  I could have skipped from page 40 to the end.