What I Read – July 2015

Ten Thousand Lovers – Edeet Ravel (Review Books, 2003)

This was a well-written, interesting, and engaging read. The characters are believable and fascinating. It’s easy to imagine that their lives began and continue before and after we meet them in the action of this novel. Set in Israel in the 1970s, Ten Thousand Lovers, tells the story of Lily, a young Canadian Jew studying in Jerusalem as she meets an Israeli man, Ami, and learns to see Israel with new eyes. Ravel does well at building a subtle sort of tension throughout the novel. It’s hard to put your finger on but you know things went end well here. Of course, this is aided by the general and historical tension of Palestine-Israel conflict. This is a story of grey zones, of questionable morality and that ever unanswerable question: Do the ends justify the means?

Many Dimensions – Charles Williams (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970)

If you will believe this way, then I also will believe. And we will set ourselves against the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

It’s fairly well known that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were members of a writer’s group called the Inklings. But I doubt that very many people could name the rest of the group’s members. I certainly can’t although now I at least know three of them. The third is Charles Williams.a

Like Lewis and Tolkien, Williams’ novel delves into the fantastical and the religious. Unlike the other two Inklings, Williams grounds his story in the real world of modern day (for him if not for us currently) England. One of our main characters is Chief Justice. There are questions of international relations and economic trade. All of it surrounding the Crown of Suleiman (more commonly known as Solomon). This crown bears a stone that enables one to travel through space, time, and thought. Many dimensions, indeed. And, crucially, the stone can be divided without any lessening of its power.

Williams skillfully sets up the forces of good, evil, and ignorance (perhaps equally dangerous). This is a story of right and wrong and the grey areas that those inhabit. Parts of it read like it could be an Indiana Jones adventure. Other parts delve into more esoteric ideas. The story is rather old-fashioned but readable. While it’s clear who the good guys are, there are still some big moral questions left unanswered and I think that’s how it should be. The ending is strange and a little unsatisfying (definitely not an Indian Jones-style ending) but fits with this strange novel. If you’re a fan of Lewis’s science fiction trilogy or Tolkien’s Leaf and Tree, I think you’d enjoy this novel too.

A Star Called Henry – Roddy Doyle (Vintage Canada, 2000)

I looked for a man with lovely eyes on Custom House Quay and found a fat dwarf standing on a chair and shouting out names over the heads of the dockers who waited at the quay wall.

Crude, strong, violent, handsome. This is Henry Star the second or the third, depending on whether or not you count his dead brother. Using his fists, his good looks, and his father’s wooden leg, Henry is fighting his way through early 20th century Dublin. He’s a Fenian, a cop-killer, a soldier of the streets, and an utterly unique character.

He’s also not as charming as he thinks he is. Henry is our narrator and so I started to disbelieve him when he kept reminding me of how good-looking and strong he was. He seems to get away with a lot and women seem to be willing to do a lot and put up with a lot for him. I can’t help but think that Henry Smart is very much a character written by a man.

Mostly though, this is a sad book. About a young man who has always been on his own. Who has lost or will lose every person close to him. A person who knows nothing but poverty and filth and is fighting for a society that will never offer him anything more.

Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey (Knopf, 2009)

As much as I didn’t enjoy Peter Carey’s short story collection, I love his novels. They are colourful, peopled with fascinating characters, full of depth, and a little absurd. The majority of them, as is this one, are historical. Parrot & Olivier begins in France, set during the Revolution. Olivier is a French nobleman, his family caught amid the turmoil of rebellion, their entire way of life changing. He is a bit foppish and very naive. Against his will he is sent to America for his own protection, accompanied by a servant called Parrot. Parrot is about fifty, English by birth but has lived many lives by the time he arrives in America with Olivier. The novel alternates chapters between these two very different characters, with very different voices (which Carey excels at), as they tell their own story and the story of their strange, growing friendship.

It’s an American story, really. About the changing attitudes of society, of nobility and the growing middle class, of a land where any person, at any time, can change the course of their life.

Sointula – Bill Gaston (Raincoast Books, 2005)

Vancouver Island is the farthest west a body can go. Hop a boat from here farther west and somewhere at sea you sail through the looking glass and you are east. So Vancouver Island is it. Where all young men stopped going west, but only because they had to. Everyman’s wanderlust stymied.

I think I’ve mentioned before that I generally enjoy Gaston’s short stories more than his novels. The novel of his that I’ve enjoyed the most was his most recent one, The World. Sointula holds some key factors in common.

We have a befuddled, divorced, middle aged man who sets off on an ill-advised journey, an old friend who is dying, a journey across some part of Canada. Like The World, I found the impulsive decisions that these characters made to be very stressful. Evelyn has flown across country – Oakville, Ontario to Victoria, British Columbia – to be with her first love, Claude, as he dies. She’s gone suddenly off her anti-depressant meds and starts living on the beach until she decides she’s going to head up-island and track down the son she hasn’t seen in ten years, Tom. And she’s going to get there by kayak.

I lived in Victoria for seven years. I know the beach that Evelyn camps on and I’ve been to a few spots on Vancouver Island. It’s a big island. She knows that Tom is tracking orca movement in Sointula, on Malcolm Island. It’s really far away from Victoria.

Along her way, Evelyn meets Peter Gore, a British-American trying to write a book about Vancouver Island while fighting a losing battle with his gall bladder and drinking himself into gout. (I found this guy nothing  but annoying and I think he could have been cut out of the novel without much being lost.) They join forces and start kayaking to Sointula, a one-time utopia started by a group of Finns and a charismatic leader. I spent most of their journey wondering how many months it was going to take and thinking about how much faster it would be to drive.

Fortunately, the big is well-written, as everything by Gaston is. The characters aren’t likeable but they do have a lot of depth. The descriptions of place are spot-on and Gaston captures a lot of Vancouver Island and what makes it unique. There’s lots of history and nature tied in that I found interesting.

The Red Notebook – Antoine Laurain (Gallic Books, 2015)

(translated from French by Emily Boyce and Janice Aitken)

This was a sweet and breezy little novel. A bookseller in Paris finds a woman’s purse – abandoned after a mugging – and pieces together the clues inside to discover who this woman is and to find her. There aren’t many surprises her but the descriptions are strong and the characters are likeable. There are some nice references to French authors and literature as well. (I confess I only learnt who Patrick Modiano is when he won the Nobel Prize.)

I had hoped that the story might use its Paris setting more but, aside from an encounter in Luxembourg Garden, the book could really be set in any city in the world. All in all though, an easy weekend read.

Confessions – St. Augustine (J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1949)

(translated from Latin by E.B. Pusey)

Press on where truth begins to dawn.

Finally! I read the whole thing! I can’t even remember when I started this book but I’m pretty sure it was before Pearl was born. While I obviously read a translation, I think I might have been able to get through it faster if I had had a more up-to-date version. My copy is a beautiful cloth bound Everyman’s Library edition but the English was quite old-fashioned. Also, this wasn’t a great choice to read while up in the middle of the night and trying to stay awake while nursing. What finally got me through it was reading it out loud. That made me really slow down to understand what I read. I think Pearl enjoyed it too.

And Thou, O Lord, art my comfort, my Father everlasting, but I have been severed amid times, where order I know not, and my thoughts, even the inmost bowls of my soul, are rent and mangled with tumultous varieties, until I flow together into Thee, purified and molten by the fire of Thy love.

Confessions is a classic of the Christian church. It’s one of the earliest personal memoirs and it’s frankly quite amazing to read something written so long ago that still resonates. Augustine’s doubts, fears, and joys are all emotions believers today will recognize.

But let me be united in Thee, O Lord, with those, and delight myself in Thee, with them that feed on Thy truth, in the largeness of charity, and let us approach together unto the words of Thy book, and seek in them for Thy meaning, through the meaning of Thy servant, by whose pen Thou hast dispensed them.

Currently Reading:

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

 

Check back tomorrow for what Pearl and I have been reading together this month. (You know, aside from Confessions.)

Ode to a Boathouse

IMG_5628It’s been two and a half years that Peter and I have lived in our little house by the sea.Two and half years of beach fires, ocean swims, trail hikes. Countless walks to the pier and drinks on the deck.

This little house is full of memories. Stormy nights and power outs, muggy nights with every window open and fans spinning. An early dawn when we woke to watch a raccoon digging up oysters in the shallows. The deer that ate our apples in the fall. The sound of a cougar, in the middle of the night, crying like a child under our bedroom window. And so many birds. Canadian geese, mallards, seagulls, stellar’s jays, robins, hummingbirds, bald eagles, and turkey vultures. I’ll always remember the Great Blue Herons nesting in the trees across the bay the week we brought Pearl home.

It’s not the first home in our married life but it’s the one we’ve been in the longest. There have been so many happy mornings over coffee, dinners shared with friends, exhausted nights after work. And there have been hard days and tears and nights spent lying awake wondering what the morning might bring. It’s been home, with all that the word entails.

At the end of June, we bought our first house. We’ve spent July renovating and we are frantically finishing details and packing up our worldly belongings and will be moved in by the end of this week. Peter’s been working hard at the new house while I try and manage the chaos at our current house. (I know I’m ready to be finished packing when our toaster breaks and my first thought is, “Well, one less thing to move.”)

Our new house is a little bit bigger (Pearl will have her own room!) and has an awesome backyard. We have made some pretty big changes to the interior that we’re really happy with and, for the first time, have gotten to pick our own paint colours!

We will miss our little house on the bay but there are many more good memories to be made.

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Five Months

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Every stage with this girl so far has been my favourite. But we’re getting into such a good one. I was never crazy about newborns before I gave birth to one – I always said I liked them better around six months (when their heads are not so wobbly). Well, Pearl can hold up her own head and she’s fun enough to satisfy my pre-baby opinions!

She is full of smiles and gurgly laughs. She can play peek-a-boo and she loves her pink bunny with a bell inside. She rolls over like a pro and is so close to being able to sit up by herself. She drools like crazy and will put anything she can in her mouth. Recently, she’s become very fascinated by what we put in our mouths and reaches for any cup or bowl or utensil I might have. However, when I tried letting her drink from a cup she got confused and just let her milk dribble out. And while she was great at drinking from a bottle as a newborn, we didn’t keep it up and she won’t take one anymore.

We’ve come to realize Pearl is a bit of an introvert. She needs time to adjust when going to a new place and she doesn’t like being passed around to be held. Her smiles are a little rarer in those situations but she’s doing better and better. She always has a smile for her dad when he comes home though.

And she naps now! I’m proud of this because I’ve worked hard for it. We went from snatches of naps only while being held to 15-20 minute naps in her chair or bassinet to full hour naps alone in her bassinet. In fact, as I type, she’s been sleeping for an hour, in which time I took a shower. (Ah, the excitements of parenthood.) A nap or two or three a day has down wonders for eliminating fussy periods.

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Recently, we dog-sat Bella the Dog. Pearl and Bella spent the first day completely ignoring each other. Then, suddenly, Pearl seemed to notice Bella and wanted to touch her all the time. She was fascinated by this moving creature who came to sniff her occasionally. Bella’s still not that interested in Pearl but we think she will be once Pearl starts eating solids (and dropping them on the floor).

We are currently waiting to hear the results of Pearl’s most recent ultrasound to check on the health of her kidneys. This is a check-up we’ve known would happen since we left the hospital in February. Her health has been so good though and we are so thankful for that. She makes us smile every day.

In the News…

Our local paper comes out once a week and covers news and events from Gibsons to Pender Harbour. My favourite section each week is the RCMP report. This column details crimes and misdemeanours that have taken place on the Coast. Generally, it’s a lot of traffic issues – drunk drivers, car accidents, an elderly person who gets confused while driving. What I enjoy about it is the lack of hardcore crime it displays. It’s usually petty thefts – like the attempt to steal a huge propeller on display in someone’s yard – or petty incidents like the teenager caught uprooting a shrub and throwing it into the street (the officer who caught him made him replant the shrub and then called the teen’s parents). These are submitted by the local Mounties and sometimes the write-ups are simply delightful. Like the one where a motorcycle hit a deer and “the deer fled the scene”. This week was a good one:

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In other good local news – the forest fire is 100% contained! I believe there is still some ground burning that will probably not be completely out until we get a good rain but it will continue to be monitored. In the meantime, the air quality advisory has been lifted, which Pearl and I are very happy about! Our whole community is so thankful for the firefighters and tree fallers who have worked to contain this fire. We are still under strict water restrictions and there are still many other fires burning across our province and in the prairies. I’ve never seen a July so dry.

My Life in Books

I got this idea from Barda Book Talk so go check out her post if you feel so inclined.

Any book lover will tell you that there are multiple books that have shaped their lives and point of view. I can tell you where and when I was when I read certain titles for the first time. Like One Hundred Years of Solitude on a beach in the Philippines or Gulliver’s Travels in a dorm room in China. Or Jane Eyre in a backyard in Roberts Creek. Here are some of the major reads of my life:

Njals Saga (Author Unknown)

The story in my family is that my dad read this to my brother and I as a bedtime story when I was about three. His rational was much like mine when it comes to reading to Pearl – this was what he wanted to read.

Njals Saga is a story of blood feuds in Iceland, starting around 960 AD. It tells of the arrival of Christianity in Iceland and the development of the judicial system. There’s lots of family insults and killing. Of course, I have no recollection of hearing this story as a toddler but I think it encompasses nicely the way books and reading were approached in my family. Reading was important, books were valued, and I was never told that any book was out of my reading ability. If I wanted to read it, I was allowed to try.

I came back to Njals Saga in university when I studied Medieval History and wrote my final paper on the book. It felt quite fitting.

Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight

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This was the first full chapter book I ever read by myself. I remember getting it out of the library in grade one and how thrilling I thought Lassie’s adventures were and how proud I was of myself for reading such a big book. A few years ago I spotted this copy – identical to the one from my elementary school library – in a used bookstore and had to bring it home to commemorate that first novel.

Plus, as a kid, I loved stories about dogs having adventures. Just loved them.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

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Tolkien was practically required reading in our household. The Hobbit remains as one of my favourite books. In grade three, I dressed up as Bilbo Baggins for Character Day at school and won a prize (stickers). In retrospect, I think I got that prize more for having read The Hobbit at the age of eight than because my costume was so spectacular.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje

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If you asked me today what my favourite book is, In the Skin of a Lion would be my answer. I love Michael Ondaatje’s writing and this was the first novel I read by him and is still my favourite. I love his poetic style and the way he winds characters and their stories together.

I read this one for the first time in a first year English course on Canadian literature. (I wrote a paper about Ondaatje’s use of light and I can’t remember a thing I said.) This is the same copy that I bought in the university book store way back then and it’s been well-loved and well-read since.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

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I tossed around a few ideas for my fifth choice but as soon as I thought of Mere Christianity, I knew it was the right pick.

If I’m reading non-fiction, it’s most likely to be a theological work. As a Christian, I believe it’s most important to read and study the Bible but I also think it’s important to read the works and writings of those more learned in the faith. Although Lewis never called himself a theologian, his writings have probably been more influential to how I think and talk about Christianity than any other author. (This includes his Narnia series and his science fiction trilogy.) Mere Christianity remains one of the best outlines of Christian faith to be had.

Drought in a Rainforest

IMG_2326It has now been almost a week since someone’s campfire burned out of control and a forest fire began here on the Sunshine Coast. As of the most recent report, the fire is 250 hectares and 40% contained.

Sunday morning the wind shifted and we woke to smoke and ashes in the sky all along the Coast. I woke up in a panic, the room an eery orange. The mornings around here are usually full of bird sounds, the odd chirp from a squirrel, the dogs next door barking. But Sunday morning was perfectly quiet and still.

This was our view:

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Everything outside had a thing layer of ash over it.

From our bedroom window.

From our bedroom window.

There are currently more than 100 fires burning in British Columbia, so our air quality is a result of our own forest fire but also those on Vancouver Island and near Whistler. The forest fire here is not even close to being the largest.

Since Sunday we’ve been under an air quality advisory, a warning to avoid unnecessary time outdoors. Our local hospital is full of those suffering from respiratory illnesses. Pearl and I have been on lock down since Sunday afternoon. Since she’s still so little, we are keeping Pearl and her tiny lungs indoors, windows shut.

Although it looks cloudy and foggy outside, it’s hot out. And it’s hot in our house without fresh air circulating. We’re all having trouble sleeping around here and last night I let Pearl sleep unswaddled since she was waking up every hour in a sweat anyway. This at least let her and I sleep for a couple of hours at a time, until she would stretch or startle herself awake again. (And six hours of sleep in two hour chunks is not the same as six hours of uninterrupted sleep.)

Setting sun two nights ago.

Setting sun two nights ago.

But I know I can’t complain. Although it might look like the end of the world out there, it’s not. We’re safe where we are and the fire is moving away from the town. Tragically, there has already been a life lost in the fight against this fire. People have had to evacuate their homes. There are men and women out there right now fighting this fire, my brother-in-law among them. Our community is grateful. If uninterrupted and sweaty sleep is the worst I have to deal with, I am very fortunate indeed.

Clearer but still hazy skies yesterday morning:

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Forecast calls for rain this weekend. We’ll be thankful for it when it comes.

Canada Day 2015

Canada Day is a big event around here. This year was extra exciting because it was Pearl’s first Canada Day. We were so excited to get her started in this Sechelt tradition. Unlike the Madeira Park May Day Parade, she stayed awake the entire time, clearly enjoying the celebration of her land. (Or chewing on the ear of her stuffed pink rabbit. Definitely enjoying one of those things.) We put her in her stroller this time (which we don’t actually use very often) and she was happy the whole time. At least until the very end when the emergency vehicles sounded their sirens.

Here’s a few pictures from the parade:

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This is the most Canadian float I've ever seen.

This is the most Canadian float I’ve ever seen.

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These street signs are not accurate.

These street signs are not accurate.

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IMG_5667Happy Canada Day!

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…and one with Bella, because being replaced as the baby of the family is hard.

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Reading with Pearl – June 2015

Soon enough, I know, Pearl will want to read the plethora of picture books and board books that she has (she already seems to like the look of the pictures). But for now, I enjoy reading her some of my elementary school favourites. It seems a little false to include them in my own reading tally of the month so I’ll keep them in their own section here.

Danny the Champion of the World – Roald Dahl (Puffin, 1998)

I love Roald Dahl’s books. I remember discovering them in grade three, hardly believing that such wit and snark against grown-ups could be allowed. Danny is a little more serious than most of Dahl’s writing for children. There are hints at the sadness Danny’s dad feels and the affection between Danny and his father is deep and real. There are classic Dahlisms though – the over the top character of Mr. Victor Hazell or the sly Sergeant Samways, for example. And, of course, Danny’s champion poaching plan.

Fantastic Mr. Fox – Roald Dahl (Puffin, 1998)

Continuing with Pearl’s introduction to Roald Dahl, we read Fantastic Mr. Fox. This is classic Dahl – the gross descriptions of the bad guys, the clever solutions, the endearing nature of the good guys. A quick and fun read.

Little Women – Louisa May Alcott (The Children’s Press, 1974)

“Money is a good and useful thing, Jo, and I hope my girls will never feel the need of it too bitterly, nor be tempted by too much. I am content to see Meg begin humbly, for, she will be rich in the possession of a good man’s heart, and that is better than a fortune.”

A definite classic for young girls. Re-reading it now after a few years what jumps out at me is how old fashioned it is. The language, the interests of the girls. As well, I don’t think I’d ever realized before that the girls’ father is away due to the Civil War.

This is an idealized view of the world for sure – the sort of genteel poverty that it displays and the pure-hearted nature of every single person – but it’s a sweet, fun read that might make you wish you had a sister or three

Good Wives – Louisa May Alcott (Puffin Classics,1988)

Many versions publish this sequel in one volume with Little Women and the movie lumped them together but they actually came out three years apart and the action of Good Wives begins three years after Little Women ends, starting with Meg’s marriage to John Brooke. We learn what happens next for the March girls – who gets married, who goes travelling, who has children.

If Pearl was older I either wouldn’t have read her this book or we would have had a lot of conversations about it. It’s painfully old-fashioned and not always in the rather sweet manner of Little Women. Over and over again, Good Wives talks about the roles of women as wives and mothers and it’s so out of date as to be painful. Alcott seems bound to explain to us what women are like and the roles they really want to fill (primarily as wives and mothers who let their husbands and fathers make the big decisions and guide them in every way). The most painful chapters are the ones dealing with Meg and John’s marriage. John is shown to be such a good husband because he trusts Meg with the household money. Meg fails as a wife when she begins to struggle with their young twins. She’s neglecting John, who seems to be pretty uninvolved in the raising of their children.

Even spunky, independent Jo is disappointingly mellowed out in this novel. She moves away on her own and begins to make money with her stories but by the end of the novel, she has given up writing and settled down to get married.

One day, I hope to read this again with Pearl and have lots of conversations about the roles of women and how they’ve changed and why that’s important. For now, we’ll put Good Wives back on the shelf for a few years.

Currently Reading:

The Gammage Cup – Carol Kendall