This week in reading: Jan 11 – 17

January 18th, 2015 Comments off


Lila – Marilynne Robinson’s latest novel.
Robinson is one of my favourite novelists and I think I read this one too quickly since it had to go back to the library. The prose is beautiful and I admire her ability to control the unfolding of a complex story through a single perspective all while working through a theological argument.

Eleanor and Park – Rainbow Rowell
Not my usual reading genre but it’s well done and I can see its appeal.

DiAngelo, Robin. “White Fragility.” The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy
Usefully decanters the idea and consequences of segregation. “White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. . . . This insulated environment of racial privilege builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress.” (DiAngelo 55)


Reading Fiction in Antebellum America: Informed Response and Reception Histories, 1820-1865. – James L. Machor

The densely footnoted first chapter is a good overview of literary criticisim’s movement from reader response to reception studies to history of readers to a theory-grounded approach to interpretative communities. I need to read a couple more chapters and then it goes back to Memorial.

Hunger Journeys – Maggie de Vries
This is suffering in comparison to Rowell. I think the problem is the amount of exposition and repetition.

Peripheral – William Gibson
Slow going for me so far — largely the function of interrupted reading I think.

Small victories — Anne Lamott
Finished about one third of this, set it aside, and the loan expired.

Categories: Reading

Impossibly young and clear-eyed

January 18th, 2015 Comments off

Yesterday would have been her 80th birthday. In this image from an unused passport, she’s in her mid-twenties, the mother of three.


Categories: Family, Memory

A Different Kind of Balance

January 18th, 2014 Comments off


The picture doesn’t do the colours justice but my toes are now the colour of heritage carrots.

The knee that I was more worried about and iced is sore-ish but nowhere near as purple as my toes.

Bruising between my toes is a new record for me. I don’t recommend it.

I’m now a convert to foot drying before dashing about.

Categories: 25 to Life

Looking For Balance

January 13th, 2014 Comments off

Work is settling into a slightly altered routine and so far I’m actually taking lunch breaks and not putting in extra hours in the office. The brain still churns away after hours which is as it should be but I’m making progress toward some version of balance. The recovered time is mostly going into reading — mostly pleasure reading.

I finished Spalding’s The Purchase and have decided that it’s not something I’d re-read or something I’d recommend to anyone. It’s not so much that the white characters are unappealing—that makes sense since the novel isn’t an apologetic for participation in the slave trade. The white characters are all wounded in some way, I suppose, but they’re mostly callous and profoundly selfish.  The Quaker protagonist breaks his religious principles by inadvertently buying a slave but in the aftermath his focus is steadfastly on the loss of this horse not the fate of the human being he has enslaved. The horse not the human being. More problematically, the enslaved characters are presented as unselfish almost altruistic characters—I’m not sure that the narrative ever allows them to show rage or despair. What sealed my dislike of the novel was the closing sequence in which both a white character and a black character escape northward. The focus is resolutely on the white character who manages to move to freedom quite easily and physically ahead of the black character. Partly historical reality, yes. But also a privileging of the white experience at the expense of a richer exploration of the enslaved. It’s not a bad novel but it’s not compelling. Morrison’s A Mercy is a more challenging read.

I’ve also finished a Paretsky and a YA novel: fluff. Not much to say about them. What’s more important to me is that I’m actually finishing novels: a welcome shift.

Categories: Books

Last lazy weekend

January 5th, 2014 Comments off

Moon Valley (L@mie)

Tomorrow it’s back to work for me after a much needed quiet two weeks off. I’ve slept more than I thought possible, nearly healed my wrist/arm/shoulder injury,  started reading fiction again,  and picked up a small but new research project.

No idea if I’ll be able to withstand the instinct to hurtle into overwork when I go back. Yesterday marked four months since my mother died and I can almost sense emotions shifting a bit, making room for other things.

Categories: Uncategorized

Trundling on

January 3rd, 2014 Comments off

I used to be one of those annoying people who regularly read more than a hundred books a year. In the last couple of years, I’ve started more books than the comparatively few I finished. The change came from  a shift in work (grad school and new job), preoccupation with family matters, and the demon that is Netflix. Bulk watching fairly mindless TV took less effort than reading even similarly mindless light reading.

So far this year I’ve finished Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods (okay) and Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist (worth a careful re-read).

An epistolary novel, The Antagonist is written in the voice of Gordon Rankin, a voice I recognize from growing up and going to school in vaguely similar contexts.  There are lots of quotable bits and I’m fond of this bit toward the end of the novel:

It turned out that if you spent a lot of time inducing the emotion of drunkenness, the emotion of boredom would station itself just around the corner, just on the other side of sobriety, and wait–not to pounce, exactly, boredom wasn’t an emotion that pounced–but to sort of collapse against you and hang on, like a girl at a party late at night.

There’s something interesting in the idea that drunkeness is an emotion, a form of relief from panic and anger and that there’s  a connection between drunkeness and boredom. It’s a cycle that you see played out in a lot of Maritime fiction and the lives its based on.

Categories: Books

Year’s End

December 31st, 2013 Comments off

We write these summaries each year—never with any serious planning or record-keeping—they’re more about what sticks to the memory and what amuses us than anything else.

This year the exercise was particularly difficult since the good things were overshadowed by the bad. In less than 18 months, we’ve had three deaths in the immediate family: father-in-law, mother-in-law, and mother. A generation of elders gone.

The largest of these, for me, was the death of my mother not quite 4 months ago. Her death wasn’t a surprise—it was the inevitable end of a life ravaged by dementia. Relief is a common reaction when someone with dementia dies, but relief has mostly passed me by. I’m left instead with a grief that is not far from the surface most days.

I started writing this in mid-December hoping to find a way to end on a hopeful note. Fresh woods and pastures new still elude me but life trundles on.

Categories: Uncategorized

Hoping for ordinary happinesses

December 31st, 2012 Comments off

Carol at MidsummerMost years Douglas and I try to come up with a good things/bad things list. It’s always a mix of the important and the mundane with the bad things usually falling into the mundane side of the account.

This year’s list is both shorter and sadder than usual. It’s been a hard year.

I tend not to talk much in public places about the details because they are tied to losses that cannot be undone: death and the dementia. Turning the pain of these very ordinary experiences into something redeeming eludes me much as my mother’s smile eludes my camera.

Each visit I take a dozen photographs trying to capture that moment when she notices someone is there greeting her and grins. I have a small hoard of blurry half smiles that don’t convey the moment of happiness that was disappearing just as the camera appeared. Most of the time, though,  I capture blankness, distraction, or sadness, and every once in a while, anger.

So: a hard year balanced with getting a job, completing my degree, and the ordinary happinesses of everyday life. In the new year, I hope most for more ordinary happiness: small things that pass unnoticed in the turmoil of life.


Categories: 25 to Life, Dementia, Family

Idling through a stalemate

December 28th, 2012 Comments off

Lately when folk ask me what I’ve been reading, I’ve come up short. It used to be a fairly normal and easy thing for me to read a hundred new books a year—a mix of popular fiction and serious with generous additions of non-fiction and comics. The last couple of years, reading time gave way to school work and since finishing the degree, I’ve started but usually not finished much pleasure reading. Part of difficulty is that much of what I used to read to fill my downtime doesn’t hold my attention anymore. This stalemate has happened in the past and it’s usually broken when I become interested in a new genre or a new topic: mystery novels gave way to manga; Antarctic exploration gave way to Canadian communists.

No sign yet of a new topic, largely because my thinking brain is taken up with adding to what I understand about the possibilities of my new profession. There’s a project brewing that builds on archival work I did over the summer but I’m not sure yet what shape it needs to take to be useful to others or to be publishable. I suspect it will need many more hours in the archives and more time spent working out theoretical and historical underpinnings.

Over the holiday season I have the luxury of time off but instead of working out those underpinnings, I’ve given myself the gift of sleep and idle time. Our holidays have always been spent very simply: the most visible outward signs that the routines have shifted would be the overflowing compost bowl and the new stacks of books. The largely idle days have been filled with reading.

Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch was once again amusing and I still regret giving away my heap of Pratchett novels as part of the pre-move down sizing.

Caroline Moorehead’s A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France has sad and hard subject material but is marred by repetitive writing and an avoidance some of the intrinsically difficult questions that come with survivors’ accounts. A review which I’ve lost track of has pointed me to Charlotte Delbo’s accounts which I might pick up in the New Year. As well, I’m curious about whether any history of book folk have looked at the ways in which the resistance created and circulated pamphlets, posters, and newspapers in Paris during the Occupation.

Pat Barker’s Union Street has been on my to read list for a long time.  It’s grown on me: I’m not generally a fan of short stories and Union Street is very much a collection of linked stories organized by the age of each story’s protagonist. What grew on me and will likely lead to a re-reading is the opening story which contains parts of all the other stories.

I was very impressed with one of James Meek’s earlier novel (The People’s Act of Love) and was looking forward to The Heart Broke In. Its portraits of sexual misconduct at the BBC, the excesses of celebrity culture and tabloid journalism, and the clashes between fundamental religious beliefs and scientific thinking resonate rather well with recent episodes in Britain.  All in all, it left me a little cold — partly I suspect because I wasn’t in the mood for social satire in which the unpleasant, usually male characters, drown out the not quite so unpleasant female characters.

And tonight I’ve finished Toni Morrison’s Homewith its echoes of Marilynne Robinson, is going to need a re-read and a long think. It’s deceptively simple.

Categories: Books, Home

The Cough That Will Not Die

November 25th, 2012 Comments off

We took a short vacation to see family in Kingston a couple weeks ago. Douglas had been back a couple of times since we moved here but it was the first time back for me. The visit was a mixed affair. The travel days were long and involved multiple forms of transportation—cabs, buses, planes, cars, trains—everything except a ferry (perhaps the next time we’ll fly into Toronto and close that gap).  There was sadness since it was the first visit after a family member’s long illness and too quick death. The nieces and nephew have sprouted up and everyone’s a little bit of a stranger and yet almost exactly the same person they were. The latest batch of fosterlings were charming and heart breaking. There was much good food and lots of talking. All in all a good visit.

Then on the flight home: the cold descended. The next week was spent in bed and the cough arrived. For comic relief, my voice was transformed into that of Patty and Selma Bouvier with bad chest colds. The week after that was spent at work trying not to cough on people and wishing that I could take cough meds without making myself much much sicker. Exhausting, annoying, nasty.

I’m finally on the mend with a voice that’s almost back to normal and a cough that’s soupy but infrequent. November is turning out to be the month of not getting things done. It’s twitch making.

Things I have learned during the enforced idleness:

  • Honey and lemon toddies are amazing
  • Honey on its own can stop a cough for about half an hour. No idea how to quantify the negative effect on dental health.
  • You can never have enough pillows or kleenex
  • Netflix and a private VPN are great things but it is possible to overdose on mindless, formulaic television and movies
  • You’d be amazed at how many lines of T. S. Eliot’s poetry have stuck in your memory
  • A closed office door doesn’t really spare your colleagues the sound effects
  • Students will come for help even they’re forewarned that you’re hacking up a lung
  • Old UNIX skills come back
  • Setting up a development environment takes less time than the dozens of seemingly random MSFT updates and reboots
  • Resting on a rainy weekend day is less annoying than resting on a sunny weekend day
  • Having someone at home to take care of you is an amazing thing
Categories: 25 to Life, Family