book club · books · reading

Why I Love My Book Club

My book club is a place where I can seek refuge from the world for an hour once a month to have active and insightful conversations with the women who are part of it.  I like to think that the book club that I belong to is unique as our membership ranges in age from 40 to most recently, 94.  I love these women and what they bring to the club.

This past Saturday I attended the funeral of our leader Dorothy Johns.  She very recently bequeathed the title of leader to me as she became sicker with those things that plague a 94 year old person including poorer eyesight.  I was so humbled by this appointment and took it (and continue to take it) very seriously.  Dorothy was a force to be reckoned with. She was one of the kindest and compassionate people I had the privilege of knowing even if it was for a short time.

One thing we had in common was our passion for reading. Dorothy was a person who took the time to research the books we would be reading through our Hamilton Public Library spending hours researching the reviews of books and the author biographies. She often tried to incorporate best-sellers with Canadian authors into our list for the year.  This gave all of us the opportunity to read books we may have otherwise passed on while browsing the book shelves.

Being part of the this book club means a lot to me, as not only an avid reader, but a person who values the insight of the women who are part of it. Each woman brings a different perspective to the books we read including such first-hand accounts of living through the First World War.  Other women of the group have been incredibly candid discussing stillbirths and miscarriages as we read Call the Midwife.  For the one woman who shared her sorrow with us about her stillborn baby, it was the first time she had ever talked about her child openly.  There were a few tears shed that meeting.

Further the women in the group have worked in various professions including nursing, education and law.  They have lived through not only different decades but different centuries sharing what it was like to live through (and survive) The Great Depression in various parts of Canada and abroad in the 1930s.  They have lived to see segregation and Residential Schools be the norm of a society in the 1960s and beyond.  After reading Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, it sparked an intense and lively conversation around Residential Schools in Canada and how finally, Canadians are speaking about this horrific event in our storied history. One of our members who is incredibly passionate about social justice issues spoke so passionately about the issue and what she remembers seeing and hearing as a child.  I was so moved by her thirst for justice.

Book Club has also been a great place to laugh out loud as we discussed some ridiculous characters from novels recently read or the antics of some of the memoirists  (Farley Mowat in Otherwise).  Book Club is a place where there are no walls.  We laugh freely, can debate fiercely and most of all, share our love of reading.

I hope I can make Dorothy proud by following her example.  I have some big shoes to fill.

books · kids · thrifting · used books

Thrifting and Sifting for Gold

One of my favourite pastimes is to go on a hunt.  Not for the usual suspects like caribou, deer and moose (I’ll leave that to my brother and nephew), but the hunt for odd, rare and unusual books that may have missed my path in a conventional book store.

Today I did go thrifting with the intention of finding a colander (success!) but I also found a treasure trove of books at the St. Vincent De Paul (SSVP) in Cambridge, Ontario.  What I love about this thrift store in particular is the attention to detail in their displays (colour co-ordinated), the cleanliness of the store (no musty smell here!) and the treasures I find there.  The book department that is pictured has much to choose from.  I often gravitate to the children’s section as my boys love to read and be read to.  Because the price of books can be out of reach for many parents’ budget, I look to the thrift store and the local library to fill their desire to read.

Today I found a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson but written for children.  I studied Dickinson in university but also with my students and her poems can be complicated and dark at times.  It was refreshing to find this slim volume on the shelves to introduce some poetry to the boys.  I also found a copy of Cue for Treason which I was so tempted to buy but refrained as I don’t think my oldest would be ready for it.  As I further explored the very full shelves, I found some good books for my little one who is just starting to read and write.  Books about fire trucks, colours, and a moose who takes a bath will keep his interest.

A fan favourite in our house at the moment is the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.  Although my son has read most of them, if not all, I came across a new-to-me copy of the first book.  I couldn’t resist.  I can leave it in the car, bring it to the trailer or even to Grandma’s house for when he gets bored or needs to have a laugh.  Although I walked away with about seven books for the boys I was unsuccessful finding something for me.  I was not disappointed as this is part of the fun trying to find a new author on the shelf or a well-known one.  All in all I paid $22 for my books and other treasures at this gem of a store.

Aside from visiting this thrift store, I also like to visit my local Hamilton Neighbour to Neighbour Book Store when I can.  I discovered more of Ian Rankin here, Canadian fiction on their shelves and many copies of the Geronimo Stilton series.  A few titles for me and a few for the kids.  Again it is the hunt that excites me.  I also enjoy talking to the staff who are made up of volunteers about the different books and they may entice me to try an author I may have passed over.  Lastly as a bonus, the cost of the books is a fraction of what I would pay in a book store.

One of the benefits from thrifting for books is to donate the books when I am through with them (unless I loved it!).  I am sorry to be missing the Church of the Resurrection’s Annual Book Sale the second Saturday in May this year.  Many of my favourites and not so favourite books have made their way to the sale.  I love to see the patrons leaving with their huge bag of books knowing the books have a new home and they only spent $4. Cheap entertainment indeed.

So I will keep on the hunt thrifting and sifting for gold among the well-loved books of people’s past.  Who knows, maybe the next author I discover will be you!

books · crime · mystery

Murder, Mayhem and Mysteries

I accuse Colonel Mustard in the Billiard Room with the wrench!

Clue is one of my all-time favourite board games that I first discovered in my grandma’s basement as a child.  I would convince (force) my brother and sister to play the game with me each time we visited.  I was always so intrigued with the possibility of a puzzle to solve. So it was just natural that I would eventually become a fan of mystery novels.

A great mystery often starts with the crime in progress or just minutes after it has happened and many writers make use of the prologue to set the scene for events to come.  Whether I am reading fan-favourite Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, John Ball or even a Nancy Drew mystery,  the crime is what sets the story in motion.

My interest in mysteries has always been present as a reader but I did not discover the Queen of Crime until into my thirties.  Agatha Christie is according to her website, “the best-selling novelist in history, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare” (www.agathachristie.com).  What I love about her novels is the attention to detail and the exotic locations that some of the mysteries take place in.  I also have a particular fondness for both her detectives:  Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot along with other characters that represent the iconic detective character.  My first read of Christie was Murder on the Orient Express.  My department was looking for a new novel to read and there was an appeal of studying the mystery genre.  Something about this genre of writing has always fascinated me.  Whether it is the idea of solving a puzzle or following a set of clues; including red-herrings; I am usually intrigued by this type of story.  What I like most about Christie’s stories is her ability to lead the reader off-track suspecting one person when another is the guilty party.  Her novels also include very international and cosmopolitan characters who have traveled extensively and could be embroiled in the secrets and lies resulting in a robbery, murder or kidnapping.

Recently I have discovered Scottish writer Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus at my local used bookstore after reading Knots & Crosses with my book club.  There is something about Rankin’s depiction of Rebus that appeals to me.  He is good at his job; in that there is no doubt but the character is also at times, slovenly, gritty and human.  Although I have a long way to go in reading all of Rebus’ series, I like the history of how Rankin had no intention of keeping Rebus as a character, intending to kill him off in the first draft of Knots & Crosses.  Rankin also is conscious of  Rebus as he completes the new novels.  He is a crime writer I would have missed if not for my book club.

Further John Ball created the iconic detective Virgil Tibbs when he wrote In the Heat of the Night in 1965.  Although the book went on the inspire a movie and television series (which deviate from the plot of the book!), the novel needs to be recognized as a stand-alone intense mystery.  Tibbs is a strong character from the beginning to the end of the book.  Everything about him is professional, competent and detail-oriented.  I always liked to study this novel with my grade 12s because of the themes, the content and the message that some things will never change.  The novel often sparked controversy about that time period and the blatant racism that existed, the classism issues in the novel and how what we think of justice, is not always the case.  Tibbs is a remarkable homicide detective that in spite of the obstacles that are thrown in his way, he still manages to solve the case.

The mystery still remains one very popular genre today with titles like Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins) keeping the reader guessing at every turn of the page, to more classic detective stories like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  Whether it is classified as a mystery, crime novel, psychological thriller or murder-mystery, this genre will have reader’s guessing “whodunnit” until the last page turns.

books · death · library · NYC · reading

Some have Disney World. I have The Library Hotel.

Customs officer:  “Anything to declare Miss?”  Me:  “Just books.  Mountains and mountains of books.”

“Book lovers never go to bed alone…” is the tag line for the amazing Library Hotel.  I had the thrill of visiting their NYC location in March.  I wanted to do something spectacular and memorable for my milestone birthday.  And what better way to celebrate (for me!) than to visit this beautiful boutique hotel in Midtown Manhattan.  From the planning stages to the booking stage, I was pumped.  This small hotel boasted rooms organized by the Dewey Decimal system along with many other perks like a 24/7 Reading Room and fresh continental breakfasts served each morning.  The staff was delightful and so helpful as my husband and I organized our few days away.  We wanted to make the most of NYC while we were there.

Although both of us had previously visited NYC, it had been a while.  The hotel was thoughtful providing weather forecasts each evening for the next day, turn-down service and little touches like a card for my birthday with truffles.  Another perk of the hotel was the offer of FREE BOOKS in the lobby while we were guests there.  Although the copies were advanced editions, it was a unique perk of the hotel.

We were close to many places and favoured to walk as the weather had yet to turn to the nasty snow storm.  As we explored the city we found little book shops tucked away, the New York Public Library, The Strand Bookstore and Grand Central Station.  The streets were clean and the people friendly as I had remembered.  It wasn’t Las Vegas or any other spectacular holiday destination like Disney World but as a book lover, it was incredible!

We stayed in the Communication Room which housed its own library of books to read.  In my feature photo for this post, many of those books are photographed.  The rooms are small but cosy and we would read in our room or move into the Reading Room just to relax and unwind after a day exploring this iconic city.

Now let’s get to the books!  At the time of our trip I was reading Opening Heaven’s Door: What the Dying May Be Trying to Tell Us About Where They’re Going by Patricia Pearson. Certainly a heavy subject on a birthday holiday but it happened to be my book club’s pick for the month.  I found snippets of time to squeeze in chapters here and there.  I did like the book as it was well researched while connecting it to the author’s own personal experiences with death.  I certainly feel more educated about near-death-experiences (NDE) and how both secular and religious people can open their minds to experience what happens after we die.  From a personal perspective I witnessed much of what the author was exploring as my own father faced his final days in hospice three years ago.  The book offered me some comfort as I looked back on that sorrowful time yet I imagine this book is not for everyone as some of the nonagenarians in my book club opted; understandably; not to read the book.

As we prepared to leave my idea of paradise on a snowy March morning, I left without regret.  The Hotel Library was one of the most inviting hotels I have ever stayed in.  For all you book lovers like me, it is a must-see.  I look forward to visiting again or exploring one of their other locations around the globe.

books · genre · reading · science fiction · what if

A Step Out of my Comfort Zone – My Discovery of Science Fiction

It started in grade 9 English when I read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.  What should have been an epic entry into the world of Science Fiction turned sour very fast.  The book was confusing and choppy and at the time, my English teacher was having some issues or at least we think she was.  Perhaps if I had some better guidance I would have embraced Bradbury and his attempt to write in the short story genre (more on short stories in a later blog post).

Fast forward a few decades and I have learned to like and even enjoy the genre.  Why wouldn’t I as a self-professed lover of Star Trek, Star Wars and Firefly?  As I delved deeper into the genre at the behest of my husband, I learned to appreciate the genre for its unique qualities.  As Joyce Saricks says, “Even the biggest science nerd in the world appreciates a good story, and the SF novels that tell good stories are the ones we need to know to share, especially with readers who might not consider themselves fans of the genre.”  And she should know as the Queen of genre writing.

My first real attempt at enjoying the genre came as I read The Unit by Swedish author Ninni Holmqvist.  I was skeptical but intrigued.  As I read further into the book I started to see the appeal of this multi-faceted genre.  My conscience was rattled.  My ethical radar shot up as the story unfolded.  I started to think that this could happen to us!  After reading the novel I thought about it for days.  That is one thing I really appreciate about the SF genre is the WHAT IF? questions that stew in your brain long after the book is closed.

From that time I have read other SF books including most recently A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle which I would have loved as a 10-13 year child.  The genre is valuable for so many reasons and I often found that my students would gravitate to this genre reading such titles as:  1984, Ender’s Game, Frankenstein, Dune, I Robot, and The War of the Worlds.  

As for Mr. Bradbury, I rediscovered his writing through the highly original Fahrenheit 451 which offered me a good look into the dangers of censorship and defiance.  Book burning!  Oh the horror!!  I’m not done with this genre yet.

books · kids · literacy · reading

Good Night Moon

Bedtime reading with my children is non negotiable even when I am exhausted.  From the womb I was reading to my bio-baby and we have loved stories ever since.  So many parents can underestimate the importance of reading early and often to their children.

From the parent lens, I know the importance of reading to my children each day.  We talk about the stories and sometimes make up stories along the way and the results have been amazing!  We love to go to the library and bookstore and seek out new reads and old favourites.

Recently we read The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by the talented Kate DiCamillo.  The story was so beautifully illustrated by the Bagram Ibatoulline and we were utterly captivated by the story and the journey that Edward the China Rabbit made.  Aside from the wonderful story, it was a time for us to bond after the busyness of school and activities.  There were many questions about Edward and the different characters who found him every few chapters.  It took us many nights to get through the story but that time with my son was gold.  Next we hope to tackle The Little Prince by author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Tonight I had the pleasure of reading to my foster son a silly book with nursery rhymes. As I sang Three Little Monkeys and the other rhymes in the book, he started to participate and be silly with me.  This amazing child cannot get enough of books and is so wanting to read.  He will get there – that I have no doubt.  Yet because I do not know if he was exposed to reading in his first four years, I worry needlessly.  This beautiful child cannot get enough of the books that fill the shelves in our home and we are incredibly fortunate to have a supportive SK teacher who encourages his reading and writing.

So as a final thought about bedtime reading, I encourage all parents to take that time to read to their children and have them read to you when they are ready.  It will amaze you!