this is not a review: summer reading

 

A Celibate Season,  by Blanche Howard and Carol Shields

A Vancouver woman leaves her family for a ten month assignment in Ottawa where she works on the National Commission for Women and Poverty. This is the 1980’s and she and her husband communicate by letter and occasional phone calls (when the phone bill has been paid and the line functioning). There are a few meet-ups during the ten months but they increasingly parallel the changes that each partner is experiencing as they discover themselves and each other through ‘abstinence’. Beautifully written, in alternating voices by Blanche Howard and Carol Shields in a kind of nifty repartee that just doesn’t exist anymore. Pity. (Also a gorgeous through line involving lentils… brilliant, actually.)

 

Excellent Women,  by Barbara Pym

How not to love a book that uses the word slut in reference to a woman who doesn’t keep an especially tidy kitchen.

“You’d hate sharing a kitchen with me. I’m such a slut,” she said, almost proudly.”

Or one who has no tea cups.

“I hope you don’t mind tea in mugs,” she said, coming in with a tray. “I told you I was a slut.”

(Set in the sluttish 1950’s.)

 

A Killer in King’s Cove,   by Iona Whishaw

A woman leaves England for a quiet life in the interior of B.C. where everyone seems on the elderly side and is suspected (or suspects) that most of the residents are running from something. The question is: who is, who isn’t?

I’m not a big mystery fan insofar as caring who dunnit, but I love a good story and this is one. Also, the fact that it’s set in the 1940’s and includes details such as a picnic where sandwiches are wrapped in brown paper (never mind the body that’s discovered in the creek at the same picnic)… and, well, you have my attention.

 

 

treasure among my stacks

Stumbled over during a recent bout of perusing…

“He says, slowly, that there is an island in Grand Lake called Glover Island. And Glover is the largest island on the island of Newfoundland. And on Glover there is a pond. And on that pond there is a smaller island. I want, he says, to paddle up Grand Lake and portage over Glover Island. Get to that pond and cross to the island and spend a night. He says there’s only one other island in the world with a lake holding an island, and a pond on that island with an island in that pond, and that place is Sumatra. And if you took a globe and put a finger on Newfoundland and another finger on Sumatra you’d see they’re pretty much on opposite sides of the earth.”   —Excerpt from a story by Michael Winter, as found in the essay: The Ends of the Earth, by Lisa Moore (The Walrus, July/August, 2006).

But what Michael Winter story is it from??

“Oh, Mrs. Turner is a sight cutting the grass on a hot afternoon in June! She climbs into an ancient pair of shorts and ties on her halter top and wedges her feet into crepe-soled sandals and covers her red-gray frizz with Gord’s old golf cap—Gord is dead now, ten years ago, a seizure on a Saturday night while winding the mantel clock.” —Opening paragraph, ‘Mrs. Turner Cutting the Grass’ by Carol Shields

“God, this is what literature is supposed to sound like—one man simply telling another man the simple humiliations and agonies and always-too-late epiphanies that add up to his and everybody else’s life—and not a sack of tricky tropes to be toted out and professionally employed in order to expertly con the reader into imagining a pretty little Book Club-approved daydream.”from What Happened Later, by Ray Robertson

“I grew up cynical, married an optimist. A field biologist who held the legs of songbirds pinched between thumb and fingers and described their plumage to me. We hiked through boreal forest, scrambled above alpine meadows, strolled the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. We walked beneath the ten thousand rustling wings of crows bedding down for the night on the electrical wires beside a remnant stand of trees. As we walked, beneath our feet we found the torn feathers of a grouse, the long shadow of a hawk. Death, I saw, is part of the beauty of this world, as painful as it is. And so, I learned to balance here. Walking with my optimist, I found I could stay standing even if the world would not stay still.”from the essay ‘A Container of Light’ by Lisa Martin-Demor, The New Quarterly #120.

“Everyone wants in on it. Everyone! Not just the cat, the pig and the dog. The horse too, the cow, the rhinoceros, the orang-outang, the horn-toad, the wombat, the duck-billed platypus, you name it. There’s no peace any more and all because of that goddamn loaf of bread… It’s not easy being a hen.” —from ‘The Little Red Hen Tells All’, in the collection Good Bones, by Margaret Atwood

“I remember a story my father once told me. A boy is playing in the sandbox in the schoolyard, and darkness falls. He hears the voice of his mother calling him in for supper. On his way home, he loses his way in the shadows and walks until his feet are sore. He curls up against the side of a stranger’s house and falls asleep. In the morning, the sun pries open his eyelids. He is back in the schoolyard. He realizes he is not the boy at all, but the sandbox, and so he is already home.” — from ‘Bouncing’, in the collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, by Stuart Ross

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