For the Love of Books

I love reading. The Dylan Thomas poem below is titled on the Art of Poetry, but it captures the excitement and spirit of words, and books, and the joy of escaping between the pages.

Notes On The Art Of Poetry by Dylan Thomas

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on

in the world between the covers of books,

such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,

such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,

such and so many blinding bright lights,

splashing all over the pages

in a million bits and pieces

all of which were words, words, words,

and each of which were alive forever

in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

Artwork by Laurel Mae Hislop

Recent Reads

I highly recommend any of the following books.  Some are out new and others are happy discoveries of books that have been around for a while. They have made my winter bearable. Most are available through the Public Library.

To give you a taste, I’ve included the reviews I wrote in Goodreads.

"The Testaments" by Margaret Atwood

Before launching into “The Testaments,” I reread my hard copy of ”The Handmaid’s Tale” after twenty-five years. The writing stands the test of time, and this new novel furnishes a flawless ending to an extraordinary tale.

I had to tear myself away from this latest edition to make it last a few days. Margaret Atwood inspires me with her brilliant storytelling. She becomes more skilled with every book. Told in three distinct points of view, the narrative takes place following Gilead’s collapse. Because we live in troubled times, that society’s wreckage breathes hope for the future and sustenance for our souls.

To the PC mongers who take issue with putting a human face on Aunt Lydia, I say NO. Great villains must never be flat-out monsters. She’s compelling and memorable, as are the two young women chroniclers, both born in Gilead, but one raised in Canada, outside the cult-ridden state. 

"Wilding" by Isabella Tree

This publication is a thought-provoking rede on conservation and the environment. The foundation for the book builds from a decision one family made over a decade ago involving the management of their 3500 acre farm in West Sussex. The choice—to “rewild” their land and turn it back over to the earth, letting nature take its course. 

Isabella Tree describes the harsh condemnation the household faced because of this simple act. Then she recounts the surprising results of the experiment—not only success in recreating a bygone biodiversity, but the irrefutable long-term positive benefits for humans throughout the world. 

Although heavy with terminology from botanists, entomologists, ornithologists and other scientists concerned with the countryside, Isabella Tree makes a poetic, and often heart-wrenching case for using our earth’s own natural processes to tackle issues of catastrophic climate change.

"Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Owens 

I live in Canada, so did an internet search on crawdads before delving into this book. When I discovered they’re a freshwater crustacean, I wondered what the singing was about, so I dug into the novel. Not only is it a quick, exciting story, but Delia Owens also treats you to a universe of fascinating wildlife in the marshes of the southern United States—not all of them animals or insects.

It’s a rewarding mix of scientific saga and murder mystery and a great read. I just wish I’d not devoured it so quickly. 

"The Dutch House" by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s writing style wows me with every book. If you love stories that probe the snarls and struggles of family ties, this novel is a must-read. 

The story opens with the early lives of two siblings in the Dutch house. The residence, a mansion, is the focal point. It drives the plot, the tension, and the way Danny and Maeve navigate their world—while they live there and long after they’ve moved out. Even though the house is the marrow of the saga, Ann Patchett lays bare an unabashed horde of everyday human foibles. And, at the same time, she delivers an intelligent message on losing sight of what’s meaningful. 

"City of Girls" by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert’s book makes me nostalgic for the smell of cigarette smoke, heated irreverent debates, and incendiary, unprotected sex. 

Vivian comes from a conservative and well-off midwestern family. Most of the story unfolds during the Depression era of the 1930s, but her people do not experience the pinch as others do. In her hometown, she’s an ill-fitted lid. Vivian doesn’t find her place in the world until, at sixteen, her parents send her off to live with an aunt in a seedy playhouse in New York City. There, she roams free of the restrictions imposed by her family, and it’s a magical, quirky romp. This is a tale of enduring love and friendship between a whacky, wonderful troupe of characters. A fabulous yarn. 

"Daniel O'Thunder" by Ian Weir

When I opened Ian Weir’s novel, I felt I’d stepped into the early 1800s and onto a squalid London street. The antiquated language which Mr Weir executes just so—not too much to distract the reader—plunged me swiftly into his extraordinary tale. 

Although I have no great interest in religion or bare-knuckle boxing, the two elements at the heart of the storyline, the book was tough to put down. The principle character, Daniel O’Thunder, is as far-fetched as the narrative. He’s an illiterate Irish brute and a boxer or ‘pugilist.’ I mention this because of my prior ignorance of the term. In addition, the man is kind, selfless, and preaches to the masses. To find, fight, and defeat the devil is the boxer’s consummate goal. The narrator, Jack, an acquaintance of Daniel’s at the beginning, becomes a fervent follower of the peculiar muscleman and ends as his adversary. A riveting read. 

"The Opening Sky" by Joan Thomas

I had trouble getting into this novel at first. It may have been my mood when I started reading it. I’m glad I stuck with it though, as the narrative quickly hooked me.

Liz and Aiden are educated, privileged, and the middle-aged parents of 19-year-old Sylvie. The story takes place in Winnipeg, where the family members lead ordinary lives on the surface. An unexpected incident causes them to exam their relationships with each other and it tests their principles and beliefs. Sylvie’s ideology clashes with her mother’s. Liz and Aiden’s marriage is strained. Through these three characters, Ms Thomas explores the modern family. Her character’s insights are spot-on throughout the story. The family suffers from poor choices made in the past and the heart-rending consequences of uncontrollable events. 

This book speaks true of families and parenting, with all its trials. And every person who has been a parent, or has had one, can relate to the themes. 

"A Daughter Rebels" by Ann Birch

This is a book of Anns’, without the ‘e’. The story is told from two points of view—Annie Powell, the mother—Ann Powell, daughter and main character; and it’s written by one of my favourite writers, Ann Birch.  

Ms Birch used the real-life account of the Powell family of York (present day Toronto) to spin this tale. The novel begins in the early 1800s. Ann is nineteen, a freethinker, and oppressed by the extreme social strictures in the town. The plot chronicles this young woman’s survival over the next fifteen years. If you enjoy excellent historical fiction, you will love this publication.

The narrative is chuck full of provocative tidbits depicting domestic life in Canada 200 years ago. You’ll learn the figurative language of fans, why affluent households gathered and collected urine from their chamber pots, how turnspit dogs performed duties in the kitchen and in the church, and which herbs eased pain in childbirth.

Ann lives with her father, mother and sisters. Brothers turn up only occasionally. They’re away being educated, or advancing their careers, advantages that females of the day did not enjoy. The Powells’ afford their boys every opportunity and bail them out when they err, but sequester the girls in the parlour, chained to charitable needlework. This is sad for the heroine, Ann, who at a young age, has lit upon her intended vocation—midwifery. Helping women is her ambition, and she has no patience for sewing. 

Ann’s parents, who are ever busy wheedling for social stature in York, reject her dream to become a midwife. Such an occupation would stigmatise the entire family. Everyone, her mother and father included, expect Ann to make a reasonable match. To have both marriage and a career is not an option.

Ann toys with the idea of marriage when she meets a suitable man, during the War of 1812, who impresses her. But she soon realises her infatuation lies more with the sense of purpose the conflict offers, than with the prospect of a future husband. 

While in the family household, Ann must employ duplicity to learn and then to practice her chosen profession. In secret she assists with birthings and aids women who have no recourse when broken by wife-beating and paedophilia.

Life in York is a prison sentence for Ann. She escapes briefly on several occasions, to her brother’s place in Niagara and a stretch in rural England, but each time duty calls her back home. In York she remains at odds with her parents, in particular her father. The relationship with her mother is more complex, and the misunderstandings between them stitch through the narrative like a tricky piece of embroidery.  

As I read this book, it struck me how little some things have changed for women over the years. An all-male British aristocracy ruled York in 1807. Today the heads of multi-national corporations wield the power in the world. Women didn’t then and still do not have a place at the table.

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