this is not a review, this is a list…

 

I read Karen Hofmann’s What is Going to Happen Next  while in Ottawa, where, when I wasn’t reading or eating I was at the National Gallery….. stickers from which I stuck onto the back of the book so the two are forever connected now.

I loved this book about a family that falls apart and the siblings who find each other, whole or in fragments, many years later. Hofmann’s writing is gorgeous, her characters are so real, so well-developed, the story so engaging that I would rush back from the gallery each day just to see what they were up to.

“There are a few dozen seconds, maybe a couple of minutes, Cleo thinks, when one meets someone one hasn’t seen for a long time, when they appear as strangers, and their faces must be read objectively. And then there is a switch thrown in the mind, and the physiognomy suddenly becomes familiar again, recognized, seen now subjectively as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts. And more significantly, this new face is superimposed in the visual memory over the old, so that it disappears, and only the new now exists in that catalogue or whatever it is of known facts.”

~~~

Next Year for Sure , by Zoey Leigh Peterson, came to me from the library initially because it was there and it was easy and because this is often my way, to test run a book and then buy it only if I fall in love. (fyi, not only do I now have my own copy, I’ve given the book as a gift or recommended it to so many people.)

More than a great story, it’s a way of thinking about our relationships, intimate ones especially… how are these things defined and by whom and must it be the same for everyone?

The conversations, the honesty of feelings that span all kinds of spectrums, the wide open qualities that characters possess, lifestyle possibility, curiosity, generally, as well as ever shifting perspectives… all of if making every minute of reading such a joy (have read it twice now)… ‘joy’ as in hanging out with these people just to see what ideas we’d be tossing around today. Such excellent company. A rare thing to find this level of emotional authenticity.

In a nutshell… a wonderfully imagined, beautifully written story of how friendship endures, though relationships may change, all of it wrapped in the insecurity we feel despite what we know to be true.

“And he remembers wondering what it would be like to kiss someone who used the word indefatigable.”

~~~

I bought A Pillow Book  on someone’s recommendation and then let it sit on my TBR shelf for a couple of years. I liked the cover, and the slim size appealed to me and I was often tempted to open it but for some reason (even though I’d read reviews) I had the idea it was about pillows in a way that I couldn’t muster up enthusiasm for. And then one day I just opened it and began reading about pillow history and pillow trivia, which immediately felt less like history and trivia and more like the memoir it actually is, propelled by tiny truths that are simply triggered by pillows in some form or other.

“Without dreams, we die quicker. No one quite knows the reason for this. We know less about what happens on our pillows at night than we know about the dark side of the moon.”

Sprinkled throughout are really quite wonderful lists of unusual things, the sort of lists you might recite in your head on a sleepless night (if you were extremely creative). From one called ‘Altered Proverbs’… When in Rome, stay at the Ritz, or To forgive is human, to forget divine.

Another nice touch are references to the original Pillow Book which was written in the year 1002, as observations in poetic, prose and other forms, by Sei Shōnagon. It’s this book, and its intentions in a way, that Buffam pays tribute to in her style and structure.

“There are times when the world so exasperates me, recalls Shonagon, that I feel I cannot go on living in it for another moment and I want to disappear for good. But then, if I happen to obtain some nice white paper, Michinouku paper, or white decorated paper, I decide that I can put up with things as they are a little longer.”

Long story short— LOVED it. Can’t bear to re-shelve it just yet so it sits on my coffee table to be dipped into whenever the whim strikes. And now that I know what it’s about, it strikes often.

“Pillows, I say, when people ask what I’m writing about… It’s a book about someone who can’t sleep… who’s writing a book about pillows. The more pillows I write, however, the more strongly I suspect that what I’m writing about pillows is as much about pillows as last night’s dream about getting lost in an underground parking lot at the mall was about getting lost in an underground parking lot at the mall.”

 

 

 

 

 

i prefer walking quietly, alone, however…

 
I make exceptions for certain people.

And dogs.

And always birdsong.

But this morning I would welcome the company of a serious bird brain, someone who could tell me who’s singing from the top of every tree, following me with very obvious intent to serenade.

The sound is too big for a chickadee dee dee dee.

And it’s not a robin, or a cardinal (& so ends my song recognition repertoire).

A botanist would be handy too. I’d ask what is this shrub in pink bloom that every year I swear I’ll make a note to go back and find when it’s fruiting so I know what kind of shrub it is and then always forget to check…

But the only person I see is a guy standing at the creek, facing the morning sun, just standing there, and then he raises his arms in salutation.

I recognize the impulse.

And so I walk very quietly by…
 
 
 

it’s not about doors

 
Dear-Menfolk-of-a-Certain-Mentality:

In the event you’re confused about how to treat the wimminfolk ‘these days’, and we suspect you are, maybe this will help…

a) ‘these days’, by the way, have been ongoing since Mary Wollstonecraft had the chutzpah to point out (publicly and in writing) the inequities between genders in 1792. She was, of course, the first feminist or, as some of you might describe her, the first pain in your ass. She certainly heard enough of that in her day. As have all women who dare to point out inequities. Because our more important role is to smile. And if you think the inequities are tiring to hear about, imagine it from our end.

b) It’s not about doors. Or seats on buses. I mention this only because it appears to be no small detail in terms of your frustration/confusion.What do these chicks want?  Are you supposed to open the door or not, you wonder….

c) So, I repeat…  it’s not about doors.

Please understand… we know you live to be helpful, to treat women with chivalry because, after all, that implies horses and knighthood, a nifty metal ensemble, a shiny sword but, honestly, unless our arms are full of groceries or rocks or children, we can handle a door. Same with anyone, really, you needn’t single us out. We’ll let you know if we need help with a jar or a high up shelf but in the meantime we’d like to think you’re using all those knightly instincts being chivalrous to people in general, opening an equal number of doors for men with arms full of children and offering seats to old fellas who look tired. In turn, we, too will gladly hold a door for you should we happen to get to it first. Basic politeness is different than a sense of duty, or favour.

That said, if you just can’t move past the idea of imposed chivalry, that men exist in order to ensure the welfare and good treatment of women, you’re in an excellent position to do something about it given your clout in most things corporate, political, tyrannical and world domination, generally.

A few items you might like to work on:

Justice for sexual assault victims

Elimination of gender discrimination in the workplace, in the arts, in government, at my car dealership

The growing trend of women and poverty (aka feminization of poverty)

Gender based violence in… well, everywhere

Domestic violence and the need for shelters, community support, housing

The buy-in on your part to raise your boys to know it’s okay to show healthy emotion so that they don’t grow up like angry little grenades

The buy-in on your part to allow your boys to do more than excel at sports

The need to change the language that demeans girls:  throw like a girl, etc.

And the language that demeans women… the male server at the restaurant who calls the woman who is neither young nor a lady, young lady, while addressing the male at the table as sir.

Equality of pay

Equality of employment opportunities

Elimination of the pink tax. Why do pink razors cost more than blue ones?

Reproductive Rights

Missing and Murdered Women

Rape and Trafficking

Increased funding and research in the area of women’s health, i.e. maternal, menstrual, menopausal (part of human biology, not chick stuff )

Oh, and stop telling women to smile, okay? You like telling people to smile, tell each other.

~

Because these are the kinds of things that would actually HELP women.

Once you’ve taken these things as seriously as you do doors, and seats on buses, and opening jars, and similarly ‘helpful’ things, well, then, if you still want to open doors for us, go right ahead.

Thanking you in advance.

 

~

p.s. No one’s really sure about the origins of why opening doors is a guy thing but one theory is that it was safer to have the woman enter first so the guy, er, sorry, the knight, didn’t end up getting shot or stabbed in the event of any nefarious doings and/or plot on the other side.

Once again, thanks.

 

 

this is not a review: ‘braiding sweetgrass’, by robin wall kimmerer

 
 
Oh nuts. Time has whipped by and my inter-library (thank you, *Trent Hills!) copy of Braiding Sweetgrass  is due back before I’ve had the chance to read more than a few of its essays.

This is down to a couple of things. The stacks of books and papers in my house being the only one worth mentioning. (Tho’ if you must know, the other is an obsession with watching taped episodes of Escape to the Country, which occasionally cuts into my extracurricular reading time.)

In any case.

I did read enough to know that I’m not troubled by having to give it back because I’ve decided I need my own copy of the book. In the same way and for many of the same but also different reasons that I needed my own copy of Theresa Kishkan’s beautiful Mnemonic…  a memoir through the memory of trees and, often, the houses and lives surrounded by them, not all of them her own — “All my life, I have wondered at the feeling I have in particular houses, usually ones in which no one lives any longer.”

And Peter Wohlleben’s The  Hidden Life of Trees , which I read in a Kawartha forest cabin and then wandered among the birch and spruce in a whole new way, alert and hopeful for a sense of the conversations I now realized were going on all around me.

And The Sweetness of a Simple Life, by Diana Beresford-Kroeger, one of those tiny eye/mind openers that change your world in the very best way. Every bit of clover in my yard is because of her.

So, yes, I’m looking forward to adding Braiding Sweetgrass  to that particular shelf and to continue reading Kimmerer’s gorgeous essays on nature. Here’s just a wee slice from ‘Asters and Goldenrod’ where she writes about the reason she chose to study botany in the first place… a moment from her intake interview at college:

“How could I answer, how could I tell him that I was a born botanist, that I had shoe boxes of seeds and piles of pressed leaves under my  bed, that I’d stop my bike along the road to identify a new species, that plants colored  my dreams, that the plants had chosen me? So I told him the truth. I was proud of my well-planned answer, its freshman sophistication apparent to anyone, the way it showed that I already knew some plants and their habitats, that I had thought deeply about their nature and was clearly well prepared for college work. I told him that I chose botany because I wanted to learn about why asters and goldenrod looked so beautiful together.”

Kimmerer is my kind of guide through the natural world because she doesn’t see a difference between it and us. (Spoiler alert: she gets into botany school and learns the science, but never, thankfully, unlearns her innate connection and unique eye/heart/spirit for what is real.)

_______________

* That Trent Hills Library happens to be in Campbellford, a place I only discovered and fell into great affection with last year (they have a Stedmans!), is the kind of scrumptious serendipity that makes my heart sing. Also, I love the inter-library system.