this is (definitely) not a review: ‘hotel du lac’, by anita brookner


I have no interest in writing anything about this book. I’d rather just talk about it endlessly and how I finished reading it today for the ??th time and how sorry I am that I haven’t kept a list on the inside cover of the places I’ve read it because then I could add —

Among the lily pads, in the marsh, in a  boat named Lulabelle, on this September morning while a family of swans that I’ve been watching all summer is out for a sail, the young ones still brown, and the way they follow their parents, not even the hint of a desire to break from the pack.

For anyone who has had the pleasure… some reminders:

… a tall woman, of extraordinary slenderness, and with the narrow nodding head of a grebe…

he disliked the more sociable aspects of his calling, but had nevertheless booked a table in a cathedral-like restaurant, where the patrons cowered in worship before the marvels to be set in front of them.

[the] good… always think it is their fault when someone else is being offensive… [the] bad never take the blame for anything.

… The pianist has worked out his engagement and would now return to his winter occupation of giving private lessons to unmusical schoolgirls.

… Edith was obliged to listen to Mrs. Pusey’s plans, which were as usual, extensive, without being awarded any interest in her own. Reciprocity was a state unknown to Mrs. Pusey…


For anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure…. in a nutshell, the story is this:

woman stays in small Swiss lakeside Inn, observes guests, discovers meaning of life.




this is not a review: ‘notes to self’, by emilie pine


A fairly quick (one afternoon) read of six essays more or less chronicling the author’s childhood and adulthood into her 30’s and early 40’s. I found the writing immensely readable, free of pretense and ego in a way that’s rare in memoirs by writers of any age. Pine comes off as being honest and open with events without giving the impression that she’s shining a light on herself in some haven’t I led such a fascinating life? kind of way. Refreshing.

She writes about her father’s drinking, his silence and absence in her life yet her deep connection to him, the separation of her parents, the difficulties with her mother, the closeness she felt to her sister, her wild child teen years and her subsequent inability to have her own children. She writes about how it never occurred to her that she’d been raped, that what she experienced was actually assault not merely “someone forcing themselves on her”. None of this is especially out of the ordinary but in her candour, there is also never a dull moment. Also, her hindsight perspective taps into something so raw that you can’t help but do a quick review of your own screw-ups and wonder what was at the root of them, why were they important, what have you learned.

I’m not so sure Pine comes to a lot of conclusions, at least she doesn’t share them outright, but you can’t be this open on the page without having dug pretty deeply and maybe her conclusions are a still private matter, another book for another day.

In any case, the book as it is works. Not heavy reading, not heavy thinking, but something that stays with you in a way that makes you want to take an honest inventory of your own life.

Favourite essay: ‘Notes on Bleeding and Other Crimes’ in which she considers the shame inflicted on women (and girls) because of body image, the judgement of perfection/imperfection, the crime of hair where society says hair shouldn’t be and the bleeding – good lord, the crime and shame and embarrassment of bleeding. Never mind the pain. No one cares about that.

Sometimes I am doubled up in pain… I do not feel like a feminist hero in these moments, I feel like I want to go home and get back into bed. But in a world where women are still over-identified with their bodies, where women have to prove their intellectual ability over and over, what is the threshold for claiming this pain? If you have a headache, it’s strain from too much thinking (I’m so brainy, I’m so busy). If you have a sore back, it’s from overexertion (I’m so fit, I’m so active). A stress attack? (I’m so hard-working, I’m so important.) But a cramped abdomen? (I’m so female.) It’s unspeakable.

Later in the same lovely essay, she comes to the conclusion:

It’s time to recapture the childhood acceptance of our bodies as sign of who we are, of what we have done…. My cellulite thighs are strong, they have carried me up mountains and I love them.

Hear hear.

wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

I was going to write about sweetpeas.

About the ones a friend grows and how she lights up when she tells me she’s grown them forever, in every place she’s ever lived, and that she will continue to grow them. Forever, she says. She recently lost her husband and doesn’t grow a single other thing anymore except sweetpeas. I don’t ask why.

Or the ones that were always such a surprise, brought to me as a handpicked bouquet each week one summer when I lived in England under difficult circumstances and wondered if I’d ever get away — not from England, which I loved, but from the difficult circumstances — and how this sweet posy on a table in the middle of my difficult circumstances cheered me and somehow made me believe things would change for the better. And they did.

Or the ones I tried to grow, which didn’t take and I never planted them again.

I was going to write about those and more.

But then I went for an early morning paddle…


… and I forgot all about sweetpeas.


this is not a review: ‘treed’, by ariel gordon


There are certain books that become full-time residents on my coffee table or bedside table or table by the fireplace or sometimes, if the weather is good and the umbrella is up, the patio table. Weeks and weeks go by and the book is there, picked up regularly, set down maybe in a different place to be picked up again. And again. The more I love a book the longer it takes for me to shelve it. Re-reading is a favourite thing. I make meals of sentences, play a scene back in my mind, go back a page and work my way up to it again. I will read the same story or essay or poem over three days in a row, each time finding another layer of meaning or pleasure, some image initially missed.

Treed is one of those books. Currently living on my coffee table, this wonderful collection of essays makes me happy to know it’s there to fulfill any sudden craving I have for a discussion of tree love or a vicarious forest walk with one of CanLit’s most enthusiastic (and real life) forest walkers, the Winnipeg writer and poet, Ariel Gordon.

Gordon has a penchant for the urban forest and after reading about the trees of Winnipeg you practically want to book a flight and see it all for yourself. But you don’t have to… she’s very good at giving you the vicarious experience and her enthusiasm for woodland (& other) greenery is inspiring, the kind of person who instinctively sees, hears, thinks, imagines… who wonders and is constantly curious and learning, finding nothing in the natural world dull.

Just beyond the slough is a big old trembling aspen that has strange vertical scars on it at about chest height. It takes me a few minutes to realize that these are bear scratch marks, which makes me walk faster.

Gordon well knows that even along the same path through the same park or the same neighbourhood street, if you’re open to using all your senses, no two walks are ever the same.

When I was younger, I resisted naming. But I’ve realized, over time, that this tree, that tree, the other tree isn’t as precise as it could be. Names allow us, as writer and reader, to know that we’re talking about the same things. They’re suitcases that carry not only simply information but also historical allusions and memories of what it is like to stand in a field and be surprised by herd of white-tailed deer, for instance. It reminds us of the quality of the sun on their dun backs, little bluestem grass grinding between their teeth, the rattling leaves of trembling aspen on the breeze, the way the doe’s ears telescope at the least noise.

The next paragraph begins: I’ve started spying on barn swallows.

I love how she compares the community of trees to urban communities, the purpose of a tree’s architecture as important as streetlights, the grid patterns of roads. There’s so much to see and discover in her world of trees and, I’ll confess, while I, too, have never found a dull moment on any walk or in any part of nature, Gordon’s writing has made me see trees, specifically and  individually, where once I saw merely the beauty of the whole landscape.

In ‘Outage’, Gordon recalls a week spent in a farmhouse where she intends to spend her time writing but ends up paying attention to the stories and the life around her instead and we are so glad she did.

I come with my own stories and somehow land right in the middle of Sharron and Kerry’s, and through them, Ken and Alverna’s, to the first settlers on the land and the residents of Sandy Bay First Nation, moved and moved again to make room for those settlers.

In ‘Winter Walk’ she writes:

My favourite thing about a real xmas tree? Being alone with it…. I sit in the warm half-dark by myself and smell the tree’s piney scent. I sit quietly, sipping tea or sucking  on a shard of candy cane, and listen to my own heartbeat. I breathe tree.

A tree covered in vines that turn out to be tiny grapes inspires sentences like this:

Eating them – popping the grapes with my teeth and separating the flesh from the seeds with my tongue – is like completing a puzzle with my face.

In ‘Emergency Carrots’ she weaves various threads (including carrots), the memory of trees past and present, with concern for her husband’s health and safety, and it’s all so seamless. (It’s hard to pick a favourite from among the book’s sixteen essays, but this one’s a gem.)

And from ‘The Social Life of Urban Forests’:  

… every settled place across North America had elms and, eventually, an elm canopy. The arches of elm trees that we’ve cultivated here are just as much a construction as the streetlights, as the layout of the streets, their strange grids and confusions. Our communities of trees are as deliberate as the communities we build among ourselves.

The ending of this piece is simply beautiful… Gordon writes about trees that are marked to be taken down due to disease or other reasons, the stumps she finds in her travels, trees already felled… and if you weren’t at the start, by now you’re with her, not only in awareness, but empathy for the trees around us, those we take for granted on streets and boulevards, the urban canopies, the forest and field and farmland trees… and so when she tells you she sometimes stands on those stumps, stretches out her arms and reaches for the sun… you can hardly think of a sweeter homage.



wordless wednesday (summer postcards)


This morning I paddled under an 8 a.m. moon toward a bald eagle named after a British ski-jumper and thought about peaches eaten by a denturist in his dental chair while wielding a large kitchen knife… while I, manning my post at the front desk of his clinic, accepted dentures directly from the mouths of clients with handfuls of Kleenex that I (stunned) was able to quickly pluck from a box that was blessedly nearby. Such thoughts prompted by a discussion heard on CBC radio on the way to my paddling site, a discussion about once-upon-a-time summer jobs. The collecting of false teeth for the mad denturist (who also sent me to the liquor store during quiet moments to buy ‘medicinal’ bottles of brandy… that I was underage seemed not to be a deterrent, either to him or the liquor store… ah, them were the days) being my most memorable job, but there were others… some of which also included fruit. Picking strawberries, for instance. No fortune made. I ate most of what I picked and at the end of the season had zip to show for long days in a sunny field, except a tan and a rash.


Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman


wordless wednesday (summer postcards)


If I were on a patio or a porch or a chaise lounge in the garden of some B&B with a striped cat and a shaggy white dog. If there were umbrellas to hide under during sun and during rain. If the B&B had no wifi or Netflix but it did have a DVD player and a selection of Agnes Varda flicks and that one by her husband Jacques Demy about les parapluies. If it rained all day and I sat in a window seat reading A Gift from the Sea. If it didn’t rain and I walked along a grassy shoreline.

Or if I was at one of those picnic rest stops on the highway eating bread and cheese from a place I’d found in some small town along the way. Or the cafeteria of an art gallery where the food is surprisingly excellent and where I’ve taken a break from all the marvelling of what has compelled humans from the beginning of time to record experience and thoughts. Or if I’ve bought a sack of peaches and now sit under a tree eating them with juice running down my chin which I wipe off with my shirt.

And especially if I found a narrow alleyway, a sliver of peace in a loud city, where gravel and fences and the backs of old brick houses were covered in vines of varying description and a chair had been placed by the kindness of some stranger with a sign saying please sit, please contemplate, I would sit and contemplate and write postcards about umbrellas and rainy windows, good bread and striped cats.


And the tree under which the peaches were eaten.

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman




this is not a review: ‘leonard’s flat’, by steven mayoff


Leonard’s Flat , a slim, beautifully made volume of ekphrastic poetry, influenced by the art of the author’s uncle, Len Fligel, who Mayoff credits with being the long ago spark that ignited his own “creative ambitions as a writer”… is a tiny gem.

Ten paintings, nicely reproduced on thick, glossy pages, represent a slice of one family’s history but it could be any family. The subjects are simple and relatable:  bread on a supper table, chickens running in the yard, laundry, musicians, domestic scenes. Add to that Mayoff’s insights and recollections, the adult looking back at pieces of art he first saw when he and his mother lived with the uncle in his Glasgow home for a short time, the meaning of which art eluded him as a child yet never left some deeper place in his memory.

Because isn’t that how art works when it’s working at its best.

These ten poems feel like so much more than an homage… more like a testament to not only how we remember, but how we see, not only the past, but the present. Because art in any form is always about the present, no matter when it’s made, no matter when we find it.

“…Gathering round your
Glasgow table when
I was a boy offered

a haven for the stranger
I was to myself…

—From the poem, ‘Meal’