I love to read. I don’t get near enough free time to just … read. Sometimes, if I hear rain upon waking, I silently make a pact with myself that I’m just going to spend the day in the warmth and comfort of my bed and read all day. Then I realize it’s a weekday and I have to get to work. Or it’s the weekend, and I have about a million and a half chores and errands to tend to.
My favourite genre is historical fiction which takes me away from my current world and bends my mental senses every which way. I also love humour which bends my mouth and abs in every which way. The one genre of writing I stay away from is non-fiction. It’s way too much like the real world. Oh, I see. It is the real world. Maybe that’s why I don’t like it. I need to escape. Fiction and humour do that for me
So it came as a shock to me when I looked back on my list of summer reads and realized that the majority of books I read were non-fiction. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m growing up or something.
I read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed mostly because I really liked the picture of the shoe on the front cover. Also because since reading Jane Christmas’s “What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim” I’ve wanted to walk the Camino de Santiago. But that’s in Spain and really far away. After reading “Wild”, I really wanted to walk the Pacific Crest Trail. And you know what happens next, right? I’m going to read “A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson and want to walk the Appalachian Trail. Can someone please just write a book about that short cut trail to the liquor store in Manotick? Did I mention I’m not a hiker? Anyway, I couldn’t put the book down. Maybe it was like fiction to me because I’m never actually going to do anything like that.
Then I read “A House in the Sky” by Amanda Lindhout about a Canadian sort-of journalist who spent over a year as a hostage in Somalia. In part, this book ticked me off because listen, Amanda, I’ve been trying to teach my kids that there’s no short cuts to international fame and here you go and try take a short cut because no journalist would step foot in Somalia unless Oprah invited them. The seemingly endless nightmare she put her parents through as a result of her stupidity still stuns me. Yet she and her co-author Sara Corbett retell an experience that is terrifying and spellbinding. Amanda’s resilience and will to survive are nothing short of extraordinary. And as a mom, I just couldn’t put it down until I knew she was ok. I think her mom should write a book too. Wait. No.
And because a terrifying hostage story wasn’t summer-y and fluffy enough, I read “A Storm Too Soon” by James Tougias about a daring Coast Guard rescue off the coast of North Carolina after a freak storm caused a sailing vessel to capsize throwing its crew of three into a little itty bitty life raft amongst the 80 foot waves. Another page turner that I couldn’t put down until I was satisfied that everyone was safe. A special treat for me, though, was that I got to meet one of the survivors Rudy Snell who is from Ottawa and happens to be a neighbour of one of my book club friends. Oh yeah – and I’m never going sailing again.
Finally … finally … I finally read a book that wasn’t all about disaster and the wild outdoors. I read “Let’s Discuss Diabetes” by David Sedaris. Yes it’s non-fiction but it was funny. Oh he is a humour master, that David. It was so funny in fact that I was reading sections of it out loud to my family on the dock at the cottage this summer. (I got to spend a bit more time on the dock by myself pretty soon. It’s a good tactic if you want some alone time I’ve come to realize!)
I don’t think I’ve read four non-fiction books in my life and here I’ve cram them all into one summer. That’s ok. I’ve amassed a little army of historical fiction and humour books that will get me through this dreary winter.
But before that, go on! I urge you to go read these books before I change my mind about nonfiction!
What was on your reading list this summer (and spare me the non-fiction)?
So, there needs to be a reason? Certainly not in my books, but in this hilarious book, Reasons Mommy Drinks, Lyranda Martin Evans and Fiona Stevenson (Three Rivers Press, 2013) give 100 reasons that Mommies drink, along with 100 cocktail recipes (seriously ladies, you couldn’t come up with 365?!) that are almost as funny as the motherhood anecdotes after which they were named. I highly recommend reading it (and copying down the recipes!). It was a little tough reading a book about drinking during my annual month of detox, but then again, it was refreshing to recall all those ‘new mom’ experiences of new mothers – mostly because I’m well past that stage and can actually laugh at them now.
There is the cocktail aptly named “The Silver Scream” named after mommy’s first foray into humanity after childbirth at a Mommy and Me movie, or a yummy concoction called “A Mudslide” which follows a not so yummy experience with explosive poo. Well, who hasn’t had an experience with explosive poo and who doesn’t need a drink after it? Of course nothing celebrates baby’s first steps like a drink called the “Walk ‘n’ Roll”, and nothing will restore your sanity after listening to children’s music all day, like the “Raffi-tini”, best served “with Baby Beluga caviar” – bwahahaha! (Oh, yes new mothers, you WILL have that song in your head for the rest of your lives).
The book chronicles the first 18 months of motherhood and though I am now 18 years into motherhood, I still remember all those crazy, sleep-deprived baby days – and how badly I wanted a drink! Sadly, the book starts off with a series of mock-tails (buzzkill alert) until page 31, beyond the anecdotes of nursing. And sadly that’s pretty much how motherhood started in real life too, wasn’t it? I wish this book had been around when my first born was 18 months old and my second was already 4 weeks old. It would have given me great comfort – and great inspiration for cocktails – to know that, a) I wasn’t losing my mind, and b) I actually was losing my mind but I was in very good company!
The only negative I have about the book was the ridiculously small print size. I don’t know my fonts – all I know is I needed my 1.50 reading glasses to read this book instead of my 1.25’s and that made me feel old. Feeling old sucks. Feeling old makes me feel like making a cocktail…
The Old Fart Work of Art
Sparkling wine, Prosecco or champagne
Crème de Cassis
Pour a small amount of the crème de cassis in a chilled champagne flute
Top with sparkling wine then sit back and wonder where your teenagers are…
Another book in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series was launched on November 5, 2013. It’s called O Canada The Wonders of Winter with 101 stories about bad weather, good times, and great sports. A very typically Canadian book, it is filled with iconic Canadiana, community spirit, the great outdoors Great White North-style, hockey stories, snow stories, ski stories and stories about our internationally famous politeness and kindness and of typical Canadian holidays and traditions.
On page 178 of this book, you will find the forty-seventh story called The Angels of Hockey and it was written by me. The challenge for me was not in writing this 1,200-word piece, as the words and emotions flowed freely considering the subject matter which some of you might recall reading about in my post last year called, A Zamboni of My Own. That would be the one in which my husband decided that the best time to go golfing would be during hockey season on a weekend where all three of our hockey playing-kids were in three different hockey tournaments. I know. I know. I’m trying to forget it too.
No, the ultimate challenge for me turned out to be committing to the book launch party in Toronto and in publicly reading my story to about 100 people who had gathered to celebrate its launch. I realized, though, if I could marshal the resources required of a weekend with ten hockey games in forty-eight hours and not kill anyone – and write a story about it which would ultimately end up getting published in a Chicken Soup for the Soup book – surely I could get myself to Toronto to celebrate this personal achievement.
So, I took the afternoon off work and drove four hours to Toronto from my home in Ottawa and arrived at the Keating Channel Pub and Grill at Lakeshore Blvd and Cherry Street, with my sister in tow. After all, you never know if this is your ‘fifteen minutes’ or not! I was soon directed to a group of thirty or so other contributing authors and we sat and signed one or two or 300 copies of the book for the publisher. Just the day before, I had received an email from the publisher asking me if I would be interested in reading my story to the crowd. Of course my inclination was to say, “No way” but once again, you never know if this is your ‘fifteen minutes’ or not! I was one of four people chosen to read and, while I realize the crowd was a gracious gathering of almost entirely family and friends, my mouth felt stuffed with cotton the whole evening. So with a little liquid courage in hand, I stood and read my story, which took probably no more than four minutes and concluded with an appropriate amount of laughter and polite applause -mostly from my wonderful family, my cousins, their spouses, and my friends!
I can take forward the experience of ‘contributing author’ and ‘public reading’ to my repertoire and still have ‘eleven minutes’ of fame remaining!
Oh yes, and my husband wished for me to add this disclaimer: no husbands were harmed in the writing of this story. Not this time anyway.
I love to read. I love to talk about my reads. I love to share my reads. This is one of those ‘shares’. There have been some books make me laugh, some that make me cry and some that make me wonder. Isn’t it wonderful that books can do that to a person? I read today, while wearing my HR professional hat, that 2 out of 5 Millenials (those born between 1981 and 1995) have not bought a single book in the last two years, besides school text books (2011 Cicso Connected World Technology Report 2011). So sad. Anyhoo, besides the books that make me laugh, cry and wonder, there are also those books that make me tremble andd shudder – more so because it is NOT a textbook – here’s one of them:
Dear Me is a book, an anthology of letters, written by famous present-day people to their 16-year-old selves. Compiled and edited by Joseph Galliano, the UK-based book contains the letters of such notables as Elton John, Yoko Ono, Jackie Collins, to name a few, to their younger selves.
If they could travel back in time to meet themselves when they were 16 years old, what would these Oscar winners, pop stars, best-selling authors, comedians, musicians and one Archbishop say to themselves? What advice would they give themselves? What would they warn them about and against? Well, some are short and sweet, while others are honest and heartfelt anthropological essays. Just a few excerpts:
Liz Smith (actress): ‘never mind if they laugh at you – hold on to your dreams to the very end’
Anne Reid (actress): And stop thinking you’re an ugly duckling You look great! I wish I looked like you.
Debbie Harry (singer-songwriter): That the most obvious is often the best choice and can lead to something wonderful and satisfying.
Alison Moyet (singer-songwriter): You marry and have clever children and mess up just like your parents did. Forgive them. You will soon need forgiveness.
Elton John (singer-songwriter): Never chase love – it will find you when you least expect it
Archbishop Demond Tutu: Don’t be infected by the cynicism of the ancients in your midst.
Roseanne Cash (singer songwwriter): You deserve a lot better than the guy you are going to meet next year.
Adriana Trigiani (author): 16 is the new … toddler.
My oldest is about to turn 16. If he were him 32 years from now, what would want to say to himself? What would his 16-year old self want to hear? No, of course, he wouldn’t listen, anyway.
What would I say to myself, with now some 32 more years of experience on this earth? Somehow reading this book (and it’s a short, quick read), I thought this might be an incredibly inspirational exercise. Then again, why would anyone subject themselves to reliving the torture of teenagehood?
If I thought for a moment that my 16 year-old(s) will take this letter to heart, I’m as delusional at age 48 as I was at age 16. But if for no other reason than it allowed me to remember and perhaps be a little more compassionate as they live through their teenage years.
Dear 16-year old me,
So you’re Sweet 16. What a birthday party you’ve had having a dinner party you planned and prepared all by yourself around the theme “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” from Billy Joel’s album which I know is your favourite album of all time, right now.
I know you like to cook. While many of your friends were drinking beer under the bleachers and ruining their parents’ knives heating them on the toaster, you put together some amazing dinner parties . Newsflash: you will never be a chef. Sorry, I had to break it to you. But fear not, you’ll continue making messes in the kitchen for years to come and your kitchen will be the happiest place in your adult home.
Is there a reason you work so hard to be perfect? Stop now! It’s annoying to others and bad for your self-esteem. No matter how much pressure is put on you and how much more you put on yourself, you will never measure up to every person’s version of “perfect”. At the same time, you’re no better than the rest of them. Stop try to be so high and mighty. It only serves to highlight your insecurity, which people will mistake for snobbiness.
YES! FINALLY! Contact lenses!! Not wearing those coke-bottle-glasses WILL make a difference in your life!
You’re about to take your very first airplane ride to New York City and vow that one day you’ll live there. You will.
Later on this year, you’re going to quit ballet. You shouldn’t do that. It’s your only form of exercise. Who cares that you’re not going to end up in Les Grands Ballets Canadians. It’s fun and you like it. Why do you want to give it up?
On that note, it wouldn’t hurt for you to put those textbooks away and get out and get some exercise. Those “Freshman 10” (oh – you might as well know now – it was more like the Freshman 20) might never happen if you embrace fitness sooner than later.
The diary you’ve been keeping? Your daughter’s going to find it. You should find a better hiding place or practice poor penmanship sooner than later.
It’s a few years off but don’t bother rushing sororities in university. You know it’s not “you”. The sooner you stop sucking up to people you already know are full of it, the better. On the other hand, being a “little sister” in a fraternity? Good one. Free beer.
In a few years, your parents are going to tell you you’re making a big mistake by quitting a perfectly good job and high-tailing off to Europe for 5 months with your loser boyfriend. You’ll second-guess yourself, but don’t worry about. They’re wrong. That trip will turn out to be the best ‘mistake’ you’ve ever made. And that loser boyfriend has provided over twenty years of love and laughter, not to mention a lifelong security net. But your wanderlust, however, will never settle down.
Friends really do come and go. Sometimes you don’t take care of them, and this is a big mistake. You’re going to regret falling out of touch with some of those with whom you shared Life’s richest moments. Some of your friends will love you more unconditionally than even your family.
Love, Me (You)
There. I did it. And now that I’ve done it, I think I could easily edit it another dozen or more times.
I can’t say that this was a life-altering exercise nor can I say that I relived all my life’s so-called regrets, either. But for a moment, however brief, I do remember what “16” felt like…and I pray that sentiment helps me parent my own 16-year olds with a little more empathy. Not ‘understanding’. No. There is no way they’ll believe you understand them. No. Way.
What would you say to your 16 year-old self?
Shut Up and Eat! Tales of chicken, children and chardonnay
Okay you had me at chardonnay…
I recently read Kathy Buckworth’s humour memoir on feeding children. Really, this is subject matter that can ONLY be made into a humour memoir or else a miserable tragedy, so am glad she chose the former.
As her bio indicates, Kathy has written several humour books on parenting including The Blackberry Diaries: Adventure in Modern Motherhood (which I have not read because, well, I don’t have a Blackberry), Journey to the Darkside: Supermom goes Home (which I haven’t read yet either because I am still reeling from The Family Guy’s version of Star Wars and can’t venture to read a supermom’s rendition – even if it has nothing to do with Star Wars) and The Secret Life of Supermom (which I am decidedly NOT, so that too stayed too on the shelf). She also appears regularly on CTV’s CanadaAm (though as a working mom, I never get to see this, and if I am home, my choice for TV is seldom if ever considered).
But chardonnay? On that I DO consider myself an expert – she’s a woman after my own heart. Talking about kids in the same book title gave me pause to think but since the author is a mother of four, I guess she had to throw them in too!
I am a lover of books and of reading but every now and then I feel the need for a light read, a quick laugh and some reassurance that I am not the worst mother in the world and that’s what this book gave me.
How can you argue against gems of advice like?
On groceries: Go grocery shopping on a Friday night – only you and all the other loser parents are there.
On weekend kitchen rules: It should take one bowl, one measuring cup and one frying pan to make pancakes. Just sayin’.
On dinner: Most days I am absolutely thrilled if we can get through dinner without an explosive bodily function, head slap, or conversation that ends with one of my daughters stomping away and slamming a door”
Note: I finished the book and I don’t think she has quite accomplished that!
As an added bonus to her humour, she’s included actual recipes in this book! Well, okay, sort of, and no photos so don’t hold your breath. But coming from someone has spent $50 on a cookbook only to flip through the pages like a toddler looking at the pictures, if I use but one recipe from this book and had a few laughs, then it was worth the purchase (see Pork Tenderloin, p. 98, Creamy Pizza Fondue, p 99 and Crockpot Peanut Chicken, p. 106).
Kathy extols the virtue of dessert as a bribe, which I shamefully admit to having done as well, though my Clean Plate Ranger treats no longer make a appearance as often given my kids are now 11, 14, and 15 (they wish, though).
Because she’s funny, I shall forgive her potshots at American State Fair cuisine for we cannot no longer take pride in our country’s health statistics given that almost a quarter of Canadians are now considered obese [Stats Can] – not far off the similar percentage of 33.8% of Americans [CDC]. Alas, I only protest that she forgot to mention Deep Fried Mars Bars and poutine. Sigh.
Where I sometimes long for a book in which to wrap myself around lyrical prose and linguistic magic, in this light-hearted book, I found solace in Kathy’s attitude toward feeding kids, her commitment to eating regularly as a family, and knowing I could probably entertain her well at my home confident she wouldn’t stress over the errant dog hair on her plate – providing I had plied her well with chardonnay beforehand, of course!
So if you happen to be in the mood for a quick, funny read just Shut Up and Eat! No, I mean shut up and read, and pick up a copy of Shut Up and Eat! And pass the chardonnay, while you’re at it!
What is your favourite food at the Fair?
Anyone with kids in afterschool sports or activities knows that there is often that dead time during which you are – well – waiting. With three kids in hockey as well as several school sports and activities, I have done some “waiting” time bordering on excessive, even by Department of Motor Vehicles standards. I use this time wisely by catching up on really useful information and neighbourhood gossip like who is sleeping with whom, and which neighbourhood my teenagers have decided to vandalize next (hoping those two subjects NEVER overlap). Occasionally, I will retreat to my sanctuary – if there is a bench in the arena foyer – and just read. And so, the category “Hammock reading…” is part of my dustbunny chronicles (even though I rarely read while lounging in a hammock… it’s just such an incredible mental image).
Anyway, I think Hadley Richardson Hemingway is haunting me.
First, I wrote a post a couple of summers ago about Ernest Hemingway’s book, A Moving Feast, written about his expatriate days in Paris in the 1920’s . Though a great summertime read it was, inspiring me to work harder on this craft that is writing, I was haunted by the lesser character in the book, Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s wife (his first of four).
Soon thereafter, I stumbled across the Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song called Mrs. Hemingway and wrote about it as well, thrilled that I’d encountered another artist who’d felt a deep enough connection with Hadley to write a song about her. Perhaps Mary was haunted too.
Then, when I was in San Francisco this past summer, the SFMOMA was exhibiting The Steins Collect, a selection of siblings Leo and Gertrude Stein’s magnificent art collection from their own days in turn-of-the-century Paris as contemporaries of the Hemingways. I went to the exhibit, expecting to find Hadley lurking, but she was nowhere to be found.
And then Fall rolled around with back-to-school and back-to-hockey (read: back-to-waiting), and along with it, back-to-book-club for me. I learned it was my turn to host one of our book discussions and guess which book caught my eye on the shelves of our local libary? I picked up The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, because Hadley was pestering me once again!
The Paris Wife is about Hadley Richardson’s relationship with Ernest Hemingway, written from Hadley’s point of view. All the nagging questions I’d asked to myself during my reading of A Moving Feast were answered in The Paris Wife. Though it is a historical fiction, McLain takes great pains to stay as true to fact as possible. McLain’s literary story, and the Hemingway’s love story, began with Ernest and Hadley meeting in Chicago, continuing a brief long-distance relationship when she returned to St. Louis, and them marrying a few short months later. Though they originally intended to move to Rome, they were convinced by friends that all the great literary talent had descended upon Paris. So began the Hemingway’s five-year residency in Paris and so continues the book.
Hadley shared all her secrets with me in The Paris Wife, in a way that Ernest could never do in A Moving Feast. I felt as liberated as she did ditching her protective guardians in St. Louis, her sister and her sister’s husband, and breaking with societal norms by moving to Paris with her new husband. From Hadley, I heard all about Ernest’s frustration and exhilaration in writing In Our Time, and I could sympathize with her inability to conform to gaie Paris. I tagged along with Hadley and Hemingway as she accompanied him on his trips to Spain, where the inspiration for The Sun Also Rises was born, and I could totally bask in Hadley’s skiing adventures in Austria. Author McLain planted many seeds of sorrow by weaving in the occasional page or two, italizcized to catch my attention, and written in the voice of Ernest Hemingway instead of Hadley. In this way, I knew long before Hadley that her marriage was about to unravel … a foreshadowing that troubled me as a reader because I could not warn her.
I felt like I was a character in this book rather than a mere bystander.
I’m not sure if Hadley’s hauntings are over. Now, thanks to Monica over at Monica’s Tangled Web, I have a growing inclination to visit Key West, if for no reason than to give the ghost of Ernest Hemingway a piece of my mind for being such a lout to poor Hadley.
I have also since come to the conclusion though, that she and I were together as friends in The Paris Wife, Hadley and I differed greatly in that she was ultimately satisfied to be the secondary in Hemingway’s life and remained very much in love with him. His first and only true love, however, was always his writing. That is an understanding that I’m not sure I could reach with the love of my life.
I hope Hadley will share a hammock with you soon; I’m sure you will enjoy her company. I just wonder where she’ll show up next?
Have you ever been haunted?
Inspired by Stu Mills of CBC Ottawa Radio One, who has vowed to air a pumpkin story daily until Halloween, I’ve decided to write and post my own little segment of the Twelve Days of Pumpkin. This is my ninth piece… The Fourth Day of Pumpkin – Petrifying Pumpkin Prose.
In trying to come up with ‘pumpkin’ themed posts for this series, this rhyme popped up. While oldEngland is typically known for its nursery rhymes, this one actually originated in North America because pumpkins are not indigenous to England! As I researched its origin, I learned that there are a number of theories out there as to what exactly this Peter and his wife are up to – and none of them are particularly cheery!
Some say it has to do with a man whose wife is not exactly devoted to him. In fact, she’s a trampy wench. He decided to use a pumpkin as a sort of chastity belt in order to quell her wanton ways. Oh what we poor women had to endure in the middle ages [sad face]!
I read another version of its meaning in that the nursery rhyme had to do with taking the story about Peter’s wife’s faithlessness a few steps further. He found out about her disloyalty and murdered her. He kept her body parts in a pumpkin shell to stave off its deterioration [shudder].
Yet a third version of its meaning is that it’s about Peter the Great of Russia. His wife and sister plotted to overthrow him thus ending his tyrannical rule, but they failed. He had them committed to a prison – the pumpkin shell representing the penitentiary.
It’s true that one does not have to go far to find a nursery rhyme that has its basis in some sinister or gruesome historical event (i.e. Ring Around the Rosie), but this was the first I heard of the origins of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater. Dreadful. How very a propos for what is, by and large, a sinister time of the year.
Did I tell you my husband’s name is Peter?
A couple of summers ago, I read and posted a blog about Ernest Hemingway’s, “A Moveable Feast” http://thedustbunnychronicles.com/2009/08/20/taties-treat/]. Though I enjoyed the book, and took great inspiration in his obvious devotion to the task writing and the relentless struggle to combine words in proper succession that results in a masterpiece, I was always struck by his lack of attention or devotion to his young wife Hadley. Though they were newlyweds in the city of love (Paris), her character plays a minor role in the book. I kept reading between the lines wondering if this poor woman, who bore Hemingway’s first child while in Paris, played an equally inconsequential role in his life. While he ate and drank with the generation of literary expats in Paris who came to be known as the Lost Generation, I wondered what poor Hadley was doing? This poor, lonely, similarly tortured soul probably spent her destitute days desperately eking out an existence for herself and her child.
I finished the book, and as life happens, forgot all about poor Hadley though I continued to try to draw from Hemingway’s encouragement in my writing… with considerably less success than he.
I forgot about poor Hadley, that is, until recently. I purchased Mary Chapin Carpenter’s album, The Age of Miracles, primarily for soft background music for yoga or my post run stretching routine. The, last night after a run, I heard the song, Mrs. Hemingway, for the first time. So it would seem that Ms Carpenter had also read the book and may have had similar speculation about Hadley as I. Though the words are Ms. Carpenter’s, I wonder now how closely they reflect the life of Mrs. Hemingway.
It’s a sad love song for sure, but after listening to it, I smiled. How small the world is that I could share so unique a perspective with another human being so far removed from my own life about a person equally so far removed from both our lives. The song echoed my thoughts about a book we’d each read and which had left the same lingering but remote impression on us both.
We packed up our books and our dishes
Our dreams and your worsted wool suits
We sailed on the 8th of December.
Farewell old Hudson River
Here comes the sea
And love was as new and as bright and as true
When I loved you and you loved me.
Two steamer trunks in the carriage
Safe arrival we cabled back home
It was just a few days before Christmas
We filled our stockings with wishes
And walked for hours
Arm in arm through the rain, to the glassed-in café
It held us like hothouse flowers
Living in Paris, in attics and garrets
Where the coal merchants climb every stair
The dance hall next door is filled with sailors and whores
And the music floats up through the air
There’s Sancerre and oysters, cathedrals and cloisters
And time with it’s unerring aim
For now we can say we were lucky most days
And throw a rose into the Seine
Love is the greatest deceiver
It hollows you out like a drum
And suddenly nothing is certain
As if all the clouds closed the curtains and blocked the sun
And friends now are strangers in this city of dangers
As cold and as cruel as they come
Sometimes I look at old pictures
And smile at how happy we were
How easy it was to be hungry.
It wasn’t for fame or for money
It was for love
Now my copper hair’s gray as the stones on the quay
In the city where magic was
Living in Paris, in attics and garrets
Where the coal merchants climb every stair
The dance hall next door is filled with sailors and whores
And the music floats up through the air
There’s Sancerre and oysters, and Notre Dame’s cloisters
And time with it’s unerring aim
For now we can say we were lucky most days
And throw a rose into the Seine
Now I can say I was lucky most days
And throw a rose into the Seine.
Next time I am in Paris, I shall throw a rose into the Seine …. for Hadley …
In case you haven’t heard, Yann Martel is ending his 4-year correspondence with Stephen Harper, a decidedly one-sided communication project Mr. Martel penned, “What is Stephen Harper Reading?” I hadn’t really followed it too much but when the end of anything is announced, I need to make sure I haven’t missed out on something really important.
Yann Martel is the Canadian author of one of my favourite books, Life of Pi. On CBC Radio, Mr. Martel said the inspiration for this ongoing quest to inspire our country’s leader to read more books was his concern that when asked his favourite book of all time, Mr. Harper responded, “The Guinness Book of World Records”.
Not good, thinks Mr. Martel, and he decides the private reading library of our Prime Minister needs some sprucing up. Not only does he send him a new book every couple of weeks or so, he writes him a letter providing an overview of his choice for this particular choice…like a one-sided pen pal book club. Four years and 99 books later, little wonder why we haven’t seen a book penned by Mr. Martel for quite some time given the time commitment of this endeavour.
We should, I suppose, feel indebted to Mr. Martel for trying so earnestly and passionately to inspire our nation’s leader to read more. On the other hand, what if Mr. Harper had read everything Mr. Martel sent? For a poet and author read a book and write an eloquent letter about it to Mr. Harper is one thing. For Mr. Harper to read each of these books and pen a response to Mr. Martel would be – well – downright irresponsible. I am an enthusiastic reader but my every day is filled with family time, work time, shuttling 3 kids to and from hockey, groceries, laundry vacuuming, exercise and the occasional hangover. I am left with enough time to read one book a month …maybe. Perhaps I am a literary phony, but if our nation’s leader has time to read a new book every two weeks (and send off a note of thanks to its benefactor), I’d no longer be asking ‘what’s your favourite book?” , I’d be asking “what they hell are you doing with our money?!” On the other hand, that Mr. Martel has persevered for almost 4 years without a single response from Mr. Harper (not even a thank you note – how rude.) testifies to the eccentricity of some writers.
Mr. Harper is, am I am, extremely grateful for the Coles Notes versions of all these books. They will serve as a great resource for our book club selections (do you think Stephen Harper has a book club?), not to mention helping our sons through high school English. You can read more about Mr. Martel’s book choices and each of his letters to Prime Minister Harper, at http://www.whatisstephenharperreading.ca/
I describe myself as a consistent public library patron. As a child, I would frequently accompany my dad on his weekly library visits. Then, when my own kids were younger, I took them fairly often to collect armfuls of picture books or to take in a Storytime. It was a pleasant morning especially when the library was part of the same community centre where preschool swimming lessons took place! My kids are a little older now and their Internet research a little more sophisticated, and I find my own library connection is also primarily via the Internet. I browse the library web site searching for my neighbourhood Book Club’s selections or other recommended reads, request the next available copy, and go pick it up when I am informed it has arrived at my local branch.
On a recent visit to our little local library to collect one of my “Holds”, I noticed a new carpet had recently been installed. This is the about the only change I’ve noticed to this branch since moving here 11 years ago so this reno was rather thrilling. With the ever-growing popularity of mega bookstores and eReaders I began to wonder about what it costs to keep libraries operating these days.
The Ottawa Public Library boasts 32.5 million uses per year, 10 million borrowed items, 5 million in-person visits, 12 million e-visits, an operating budget for 2010 of $ 35.4m, a capital budget of $ 4.3M (part of which presumably paid for our new carpet!) and an astounding (at least to me!) 28.1 library uses per capita! I estimate my own to be 12-15 uses per year so there is definitely still a market for borrowing versus buying.
So I had a thought: Why have public libraries not made the consumer connection with books and coffee that Chapters-Indigo did alongside Starbucks? I don’t particularly care for Starbucks coffee but they, nevertheless, it’s the experience, so they always snag some of my coin when I browse for books. It would be an awesome partnership: books and baristas side by side at your local library! It would bring us all back to the public library with a vengeance. Maybe the only reason I go to Chapters-Indigo is because I know it will be accompanied with a delectable latte or cappuccino! A few things require careful planning in this business model not least of which would be the recruitment of chipper staff who are able to resist the continual urge to “shush” anyone who speaks out loud, and of course, a greater infusion of capital to replace the circa 1960’s reading furniture. A new steady stream of revenue less reliant on personal tax revenue could improve both library services as well as the library experience… maybe even increase those per capita visits! Who’s with me??