What I Read – March 2018

Read:

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern (Doubleday Canada, 2011)

More style than substance though I enjoyed it while I was reading it. A month (or less) later, I can’t remember much but it entertained me at the time.

And No Birds Sang – Farley Mowat (McClelland & Stewart, 1979)

Mowat is a Canadian classic and I’ve read a few of his books now, all ranging broadly in subject. This is his memoir of his time serving during World War Two. It was recommended to me by a friend who has served in the Canadian armed forces. It’s an honest and brutal book.

(I reviewed a young adult novel by Mowat, The Curse of the Viking Grave, here.)

Nine Stories – J.D. Salinger (Bantam Books, 1986)

A re-read. Sometimes you just need some quick, interesting short stories, you know?

A Mariner’s Guide to Self-Sabotage – Bill Gaston (Douglas & McIntyre, 2017)

I wrote a review for this one! Read it here.

The Icarus Girl – Helen Oyeyemi (Nan A. Tales/Doubleday, 2005)

And another review! Read it here. Maybe I’ll actually start writing real reviews again.

Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller (Anansi, 2015)

Still hoping to write a real review for this book. Stay tuned…

Didn’t Finish:

The Gift of Rain – Tan Twang Eng

(After hearing multiple recommendations of this book I was really disappointed. I just could not get into it and found the beginning dragged on and on until I gave up. What clinched its abandonment for me was also the repeated negative portrayals of all things Chinese. As far as I could see, it wasn’t necessary and added nothing to the story other than making me dislike the narrator.)

Currently Reading:

The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien

When I was a Child I Read Books – Marilynne Robinson

Funny Once: Stories – Antonya Nelson

Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains – Yasuko Thanh

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What March Looked Like

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Does this picture sum up how Pearl feels about her baby sister?

Actually, Pearl is a great big sister and is often (not always) eager to help. She likes to get me diapers and blankets and choose clothes for Rose. She likes to bring Rose toys when Rose fusses and will gleefully tell me when she is being gentle with her little sister. Rose has some of her biggest smiles when she sees her big sister. Other times (sometimes in the same day or hour) are not so sweet and there have been whacks and scratches but I truly love watching these two interact.

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Lots of outdoor time. Lots of time in the “forest” at the end of our street. Lots of bike riding. The beginning of days on the beach. Exploring, climbing, rain or sun.

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The beginning of days in the backyard. Blanket spread in the grass for Rose (just as I did for Pearl at this age) while Pearl runs around. I bought that plant guide in an effort to answer Pearl’s endless questions about what is that and why is it there as we explore our world together.

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Wild St. Patrick’s Day.

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Painting and crafting and drawing. Always a hit as we wait out these rainy spring days.

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And a trip to Whistler at the beginning of spring break. Just a few days away but it was great to get out of town and have some fun together. We went sledding, had an afternoon at the pool and visited some family.

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Check out my post about our last visit to Whistler in 2016 to see pictures of baby Pearl in front of this same mirror! (We also went in 2013.)

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This is Pearl “reading” to Rose. She can completely recite “Big Dog, Little Dog” now and is pretty proud of herself. Rose is impressed.

Book Review: The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi

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The Icarus Girl – Helen Oyeyemi (Nan A. Talese/ Doubleday Books, 2005)

I’ve read one novel (Boy, Snow, Bird) and a short story collection (What is not Yours is not Yours reviewed here)  from Helen Oyeyei and it was interesting to go back and read her first novel. Icarus Girl is a strange, surreal, sometimes confusing novel. None of that is surprising, having read Oyeyemi previously, especially her most recent story collection but Icarus Girl seems to exist on a slightly different, stranger plane. My gut reaction to the novel is that it is more Nigerian. I’m not sure if this is entirely true (since my knowledge of Nigeria is mostly limited to the books of other authors) but Nigeria is much more central to this story than I’ve noticed in Oyeyemi’s other work.

Jessamy Harrison is eight-years-old, the daughter of a Nigerian mother and English father. Her family lives in England but head to Nigeria to visit her mother’s family for the first time in years. It is clear from the beginning that Jess is smart and troubled. She’s lonely, friendless, and prone to heavy anxiety and screaming fits. Each member of her little family seems to move in its own lonely orbit, occasionally bumping up against one another. It was hard to get a read on her parents’ relationship and what had drawn them together (and kept them together).

While visiting Nigeria, Jess befriends TillyTilly, a mysterious little girl who then shows up in England as well. At first Jess is delighted to have a friend but TillyTilly becomes increasingly strange and her powers and her knowledge are shown to be dark. TillyTilly begins to reveal secrets about Jess’ family and begins to act out some of Jess’ own darkest fantasies.

The book is creepy and strange. How much of what Jess experiences is real? Is it supernatural? Is it in her mind? How real is TillyTilly? How much control does Jess have over herself? What is captured brilliantly in The Icarus Girl though is the danger and isolation of childhood. I appreciate when I read a book that shows the loneliness and sadness of children because I remember childhood as a lonely and scary time. Not always and, hopefully, for most children these are brief periods, but childhood is not the idyllic period that so much media would have us believe. Children are often overwhelmed by the world. They don’t know what is true, what is real, who to trust. Jessamy’s tumble into madness? possession? demonstrates this vividly. The watery characters of the adults around her seems to reflect the growing knowledge of children who realize that the adults in their lives can’t always protect her.

There are many ways in which it’s evident that Oyeyemi’s talent has grown since she wrote this book as a student but her strange and powerful style is already evident.

Book Review: A Mariner’s Guide to Self-Sabotage by Bill Gaston

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A Mariner’s Guide to Self-Sabotage – Bill Gaston (Douglas & McIntyre, 2017)

My disclaimer: I know Bill Gaston in real life. He was one of my profs in university and taught one of my favourite workshops. He was a great prof and an all-round good guy. When he was a featured writer at our local Writers’ Festival a couple of years ago I was asked to introduce him before he spoke. I also know the team at D&M that published this book. So basically, I have a lot of reasons to praise this book. Fortunately, one of those reasons is that it’s quite a good short story collection.

Bill’s work has been nominated for and won many major literary awards in Canada and he is quietly at the forefront of the Canadian lit scene. As I’ve said before (I reviewed Bill’s last short story collection here and his most recent novel here.), I prefer his short stories to his novels and this latest collection shows off his strengths. His stories are familiar and approachable and yet each contain a dark and disconcerting undertone. A missing teenager, a plan for suicide, a secret about a sister’s dead wife – there is always something not quite right. Made even more disturbing by its very ordinariness.

This collection seems to have a theme of aging. Of bodies getting older and less reliable, of the loss of those who have surrounded us for so long. One character muses that, at fifty, middle age is past, since most of us won’t live to be a hundred.

As is Gaston’s tendency, many of these stories seem to end on the cusp of something. Some readers will dislike the feeling of being left wanting more, at the very edge of something tantalizing. I’ve come to expect it from Bill’s work and appreciate the way he takes the reader around the subject, slowly opening up the story, and allowing us to draw our own conclusions.

 

 

Pearl is 3!

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Last weekend we celebrated three years of Pearl. Three years of fun and laughter and tears and growth.

Pearl chose “raccoons” as the theme for her birthday party.

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Those are her raccoon friends, Douglas and Bandit. (And her baby sister.)

We had a nice, simple party with family and friends and cupcakes.

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Pearl is not always the most social kid, preferring small groups and staying at home. But she is beginning to blossom in this area and especially enjoys interacting with “big kids”. A visit for her birthday from her big cousins was a definite highlight for Pearl. We also have some wonderful friends locally who have older kids who are kind and gracious when it comes to playing with Pearl.

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It’s amazing how much Pearl has grown and developed this year. She is a real little person now, speaking in full sentences, learning to describe her feelings and asking questions about the world around her. We are entering into the “why” stage which, while  occasionally frustrating, also offers a wonderful opportunity to teach Pearl about the world and to see how she views things. Pearl loves to be outside, loves to run and climb and ride her balance bike.

Pearl has definite opinions now and no shyness in expressing them. She loves to wear pyjamas all day and would live off cheesy noodles if we let her. She loves to play with her stuffed animal friends, loves Duplo and building blocks and has a great imagination. She is often eager to help and especially loves to bake together. She enjoys books and is starting to enjoy longer stories – chapters from Winnie the Pooh and the Brambly Hedge stories are some favourites right now. It is so amazing to watch her develop and to see her mind form.

My sister-in-law made a scrapbook for Pearl with 20 questions for her to answer each year so I thought I’d share Pearl’s answers, to give a small flavour of our girl. Pearl insisted that I ask her the questions two days in a row so I’ve done a little picking and choosing in order to best represent who she is.

  1. What is your favourite thing to eat for breakfast? “Butter toast when my tummy hurts.”
  2. What is your favourite animal? “Bill. Owls. And Percy and Sarah and them Owl Mother.” (If you’re familiar with the book Owl Babies you might know where she got this answer from.)
  3. What is your favourite toy? “Roly-Poly”
  4. Who is your best friend? “Roly-Poly, Douglas, and Bandit”
  5. What is your favourite holiday? Halloween (first answer), Chinese New Year (second answer)
  6. What is your favourite drink? Chinese New Year drink (AKA chocolate-flavoured Vita Soy)
  7. What is your favourite book? Elephant & Piggie (first answer); Cock-a-Doodle Dudley (second answer)
  8. What is your favourite thing to do outside? Bike
  9. What is your favourite thing to eat for lunch? Cheesy noodles
  10. What do you want to be when you grow up? “I want to be an animal. I want to be a lady pig.”
  11. What is your favourite plant or flower? “My plant’s name purple. And green.”
  12. What do you want to eat for dessert on your birthday? “Sprinkle cake”
  13. What is your favourite colour? Purple
  14. What is your favourite song? “Come on Fountain” (AKA Come Thou Fount)
  15. What clothes do you like to wear? “These clothes”
  16. What is your favourite thing to eat for dinner? Pizza (first answer); cheesy noodles (second answer)
  17. What is your favourite place to visit? Beach
  18. What is your favourite fruit? Apples and oranges
  19. What is your favourite weather? “Hot weather”