Monday, 20 March 2017

Richard Wagamese

Richard Wagamese died on March 10, at age 61, and it has been hard to write this blog.
I met him in 2013 when his book "Ragged Company" was chosen for One Book One Community. Read about it here.
As a library volunteer, I had a chance to chat with him.  So perhaps  I feel his loss more than I have felt the loss of other authors.
His writing is stunning and painfully honest.  He has written fiction and non-fiction, and the painful aspects of his life come through clearly in both.
His parents had experienced the residential schools that he writes about in "Indian Horse" and were damaged to the point that they were unable to provide a home for Richard, so he was placed in foster care.  Eventually he was adopted, but he was unable to keep his First Nations heritage and identity so he left home as a young teen to search for a connection with his indigenous culture.  He was always honest about his struggles with addiction, as he searched for answers in his culture.

In my opinion, his best book is "Indian Horse".  I think it is a perfect novel - characters, plot, setting, language.  It has everything that makes a great novel for me.  It was one of five books chosen for Canada Reads in 2013.  Check my blog from 2013 here, back when I really did put videos on my 'video blog'.
This book is being made into a movie.  Sadly, Richard didn't live to see the final production.

This novel, "Keeper 'N Me" is fictional but has many similarities to Richard's life.
Garnet Raven, at 3 years old, was taken from his home on an Ojibway Indian reserve and put in foster homes.  In his teens, he ran away and lived on the streets of a big city.  Eventually, he was able to reconnect with the reserve and was initiated into the ways of the Ojibway by Keeper, a friend of his grandfather. This novel shows the power of community and traditions.

This book, "Embers" was written this year.  It is a  book of meditations.  Here is a quote:
"Life sometimes is hard.  There are challenges.  There are difficulties.  There is pain.  As a younger man I sought to avoid them and only ever caused myself more of the same.  These days I choose to face life head on- and I have become a comet.  I arc across the sky of my life and the harder times are the friction that lets the worn and tired bits drop away.  It's resistance until all there is left of me is light.  I can live towards that end".

I like this picture of Richard because he writes so much about appreciation of nature.
He has written 12 books and has encouraged and supported many young indigenous writers.

A wonderful storyteller, excellent author, kind and gentle human being!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

'Vanity Fair" by William Makepeace Thackeray

I have not posted anything on my blog for three weeks.  But I have been reading....and reading...and reading!
It has taken me three weeks to read "Vanity Fair"- reading bits every day.   The print is extremely small and the book is 900 pages - very clumsy and heavy to hold.  Uncomfortable and hard on the eyes.  This is exactly when an e-reader would be perfect. Unfortunately, when I took my kobo to Chapters, they couldn't get the book to load.  So...
Vanity Fair was written in 1870 and produced in monthly segments in Punch magazine.  It took 20 installments, so it was being read for nearly two years - a little longer than it took me. I'm sure it was a lot more enjoyable reading it then- not only because of the print and size of the book, but also because of references to the culture of the day.   There were 50 pages of notes, trying to explain words, expressions, references to people, places and events.  A very difficult read for the year 2017.But this particular book club that I have been involved with for twenty years, does not shy away from difficult books.  We read a classic every second month.

William Makepeace Thackeray 1811-1863

The title of this book comes from John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress", published in 1678.  "Vanity Fair" was a stop along the pilgrim's route, a fair representing man's sinful attachment to worldly things- this fair sold anything that would seduce people away from God.
Possibly the title now just refers to 'the world' and its attractions.

Charlotte Bronte was reading Thackeray's story in installments and was very impressed with his writing.  When it was half-way through, she decided to dedicate the second edition of Jane Eyre to William Makepeace Thackeray.

The novel is basically about two women who graduated from school together- one from a wealthy family and one living in poverty and shame.
The best part of the story was the picture of women's lives in the 1800's.  

Friday, 3 March 2017

"The Right To Be Cold" by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

It may seem that my last blog was my final word on Canada Reads. It was not.  
This is the last book of the five finalists for me to read.  And it was a pleasure to end with this book.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier was nominated in 2007 for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work as an environmental and human rights activist.
Her book begins "The world I was born into has changed forever .... While many of the changes are positive, the journey into the modern world was not an easy one- and it has left its scars."
This book is about those changes.
Sheila has spent her life educating the world about the affect of those changes on the Inuit lifestyle and eventually on all the world: "The Arctic is the barometer of the health of the planet".
The title comes from the fact that climate change has caused great devastation to the Inuits. 
Sheila has worked with the United Nations as well as numerous other organizations around the world, travelling to meetings as well as giving lectures and speeches for eleven years.  She believes that this is a human rights issue.
A long chapter explained the effect of toxins that end up in the coldest climate but originate elsewhere- mostly United States and China.  At one point she believed that if the rest of the world understood how their decisions about the environment affected the Inuit lifestyle, they would change. A little naive?
This biography is very detailed and bogs down at times.  But the information is vital in a changing world.
I enjoyed reading it.  Along with "The Break", the history and issues of the indigenous people were very well-outlined and explained. 
One was a fiction book and one was non-fiction.  Both were thought-provoking.