July 9, 2015
As wildfires rage through this extraordinarily dry summer, I find myself considering the role of the front line emergency personnel. Fighting fires requires an exceptional ability to manage personal fears and safety while combating one of Natures’ fiercest forces for the noble protection of property, personnel, and animals (livestock and wildlife). In our mountainous terrain here in British Columbia, there is a particular reliance on the Smoke Jumper – a fighter of remote wildfires who is deployed to the front line by parachute. I know I can say we are all immensely grateful to those who dedicate themselves to these risky battles. Our gratitude should extend to the firefighters’ loved ones who support them and share the real threat of great personal loss as accidents occur.
Uncommon characters faced with perilous adventures are tried and true elements of a good read. A number of books have been written, fiction and memoir, giving us an opportunity to learn more about the life of a Smoke Jumper. Whether you wish to read the personal accounts or visit the scene through a beach bag novel, one of these should help you empathize with the wildfire warriors working so hard for us all this summer.
Nicholas Evans of The Horse Whisperer fame has written a novel featuring Smoke Jumping characters based in Montana. Evans brings his documentary writing experience to all of his novels and his thorough research provides an element of authenticity. You’ll reliably find romance and personal growth in the stories too, of course.
Smokejumper is a memoir by a “Top Gun” of the airborne firefighting fraternity. Based in our neighbouring Cascade Mountain Range, Jason Ramos shares a very personal account of the fiery front lines including insight into the rigours of the training and the psychological preparation and toll. Along with co-writer Julian Smith, he shares descriptions of actual harrowing and adrenaline charged experiences.
Another memoir but from a slightly different perspective. This was highly recommended by Seattle’s Elliot Bay Book Company. Philip Connors writes beautifully and shares his very personal account of summers spent on lookout for wildfires in remote New Mexico. Here’s a link to an essay he wrote on the topic in The Paris Review so you can gather a sense of his prose.
And back to the novel … a Nora Roberts thriller probably belongs in every dusty beach bag. Here’s one on point, also featuring Montana scenery and, this time, a female firefighter as protagonist and romantic lead.
June 29, 2015
Somewhere in my travels through the world wide web, I came upon an image of a painting by Karin Jurick. I was smitten. Her use of such vivid colour and the ability to capture moments of pure relaxation delighted me. As I explored more of Karin’s work, I noted a commitment to featuring readers. She does it so well, I simply had to share with you. Learn more about Karin here on her Bio page. Karin also writes a daily blog, A Painting Today – the Results of the Life of a Paintaholic. Tune in and enjoy her prolific talents. Meanwhile, I do hope you are savouring moments like those featured in Karin’s work.
June 23, 2015
So here’s an enchanting prospect …
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, has been considered a beloved classic since its publication in 1922. Successful theatre productions and an award-winning film followed, based on the story of four London-based women, initially unknown to one another and all in varying stages of disgruntlement, who travel to Italy and share the cost of lodgings in a seaside castle for the month of April. Each is changed by the experience for the better, and for the reader’s enjoyment.
Skip ahead nearly a century and writer Brenda Bowen has taken inspiration from the original to create an “enchanted” experience for us herself, this time set in summery New England. In Enchanted August, four modern-day women escape their less than satisfactory New York lives for a reminiscent experience of house-sharing with strangers in an idyllic locale; personal adventures, enlightenment, and transformation ensue. A pretty new edition of The Enchanted April has been released in honour of the publication of its new relative and Brenda Bowen has even written the Introduction. I have an old edition but will have to find a way to read this new Intro.
I think these would be great companion reads – perhaps a Summer book club challenge to read both. The Enchanted April created a surge in tourist travel to the Italian Riviera, Enchanted August may do the same for New England shores. Vicarious travel from your beach blanket works too! Apparently if you enjoyed Beautiful Ruins, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, or Downton Abbey, these are for you. Alrighty then, I’m ready to be enchanted!
June 8, 2015
Well, fancy meeting you here! Longtime readers of this blog will know that a few times during the last five and a half years, this writer has gone AWOL. Poof! Thanks to the encouragement of a number of devoted supporters, I’m back. And back with the annual summer reading list!
In the past, some of you have taken this list to heart and committed to working your way through all the titles over summer vacation. Others have used it as a general guide and randomly tried a title here and there. A few have bookmarked the entry until being called upon to offer a Book Club selection. This list is for ALL of you. Here’s hoping there are some gems in here – I’ll be reading right along with you. We can compare notes. Click on the covers to be taken to websites which will offer you more details. The recipe for this booklist involved a few doses of exotic locales, a dash of good humour, a pinch of creative thinking, and a wee bit of visiting with interesting characters. Here’s hoping we can cook up a summer of great reading …
November 11, 2014
I do enjoy the melodic musings of the CBC’s Michael Enright and was particularly captivated by the personal tone of a recent broadcast. Something in his voice caused me to stop my splashing in the dishwater to listen more carefully. Here is the text of his speech and a link to listen as well.
“Alistair MacLeod had a red moon face, twinkling eyes and the smile of a young boy. He spoke so softly you almost had to lean forward to hear him.
He always wore a cap, usually tweed. Now any middle-aged man wearing a tweed cap can look very dorky – I know first hand – or elegantly countrified. On Alistair, a tweed cap was as natural as a purring cat.
He was the gentlest of men. He always had time for people, especially young readers. This may have sprung from his decades as a university professor, but I also think it had something to do with his Celtic upbringing in the highlands of Cape Breton.
He was not a prolific writer. He published only one novel and 20 short stories. It took him ten years to write his masterpiece, No Great Mischief. He wrote in longhand on yellow legal pads. His great friend and editor, Douglas Gibson, called him “a stone carver, chipping out each perfect word with loving care.” His work is unique, unlike any other writer I can think of. It has the clarity of dialogue of Flannery O’Connor and the diagnostic precision and descriptive powers of Alice Munro.
Alistair died last April. He was 77 and had suffered a serious stroke. The mass was celebrated in St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic Church in Broad Cove, Cape Breton. I miss him terribly.
His last work is called Remembrance; and this month, it has been re-issued in a splendid little book by McClelland and Stewart. Remembrance tells the story of three men, three Cape Bretoners, all called David MacDonald. The elder, knowing it will be his last Remembrance Day ceremony, waits for his son and grandson. His mind wanders back to the day he joined up in 1942 when he was 21 and newly married.
The story weaves his experiences of war and its aftermath together in a startling way. It’s a story that makes you sit up straight and take notice; it’s not maudlin or sentimental. And although Alistair says none of the MacDonald characters is based on his father, there are similarities. “My father went to war when he was 17,” he told a reporter, “and he wasn’t full of patriotic zeal, he was just kind of starving.” The book is only 47 pages long but it is a small, brightly polished gem. It is published to coincide with Remembrance Day.
The last time I talked to Alistair was in Moncton a couple of years ago. After our public appearance together, we repaired to his hotel room, along with his son Alexander, also a wonderful teacher and short story writer. We broke open a bottle of single malt, probably Talisker. We talked of many things, of art and writing and death and Irish wakes and the tunes of glory and the songs of the Island. It was for me, a magic couple of hours.
I don’t usually wear a poppy in November. I throw some money into the vet’s tin can but I am uncomfortable with the outward demonstration of remembrance. I’m not keen seeing everybody on television wearing one, for instance. Don’t know why. Perhaps because the First World War destroyed the lives of three of my uncles. I also think the membrane between remembrance and glorification is very thin.
But on Tuesday, I think I will wear a poppy. For the two soldiers murdered in Ottawa and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu last month.
For all the soldiers killed anywhere, any time.
And for Alistair.”
Listen to the recording here and to read more about the story, Remembrance, click on the cover image shown above.
November 11, 2014
As did many Canadians today, I attended a Remembrance Day service during which prayers, poems, and poignant stories were shared in honour of those who’d served and sacrificed. This Thomas Hardy poem was recited and keenly captures the wry reality of conflict.
The Man He Killed by Thomas Hardy
Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although
He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.
Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.
– See more at: http://allpoetry.com/The-Man-He-Killed#sthash.RMnyGtbD.dpuf
September 24, 2014
Three favourite authors are set to release new books and I am taking note. Looking out at the first truly rainy day in some time, it seems like a perfect time to sink into a cozy chair and settle in with some of the great Fall releases hitting the shelves. Let us know what you’re looking forward to reading!
I enjoyed this one …. so am looking forward to this one.
I enjoyed this one …. so am looking forward to this one.
I enjoyed this one …. so am looking forward to this one.
September 14, 2014
August 31, 2014
I’ve rarely been accused of being a trend setter but I feel I’ve sniffed a whiff of one recently. Back-to-School season, wherein we all crave a new pack o’ pencils, seems the most appropriate time to roll it out to you.
Beginning in France, and moving swiftly to the UK, has been news of a super solution to stress. It strikes me as a bit of an old-school fix but I like it! Colouring. Yes, colouring. Not the kiddie version, something a bit more intricate and therefore consuming, keeping one’s attention focused and settled into a peaceful, calm state. Remember Doodle Art? This is Doodle Art on steroids. Sales of amped up colouring books are moving from shelves rapidly now that “Anti-Stress” and “Therapeutic” have been added to a number of the covers, in some cases beginning to out-sell cook books.
(Here is a link to an interesting background article in The Telegraph.)
One of the most lovely colouring books on the market, and intended for adults, is created by Brit, Johanna Basford. She calls herself an illustrator and “ink evangelist”. Her work is absolutely wonderful and indeed inspires one to seek out his or her favourite colours and set to colouring between the lines. Her “Inky Treasure Hunt” titled Secret Garden is a trove of detailed images just pleading for your penmanship.
This looks like such a lovely way to pass the time, and more importantly in my opinion, a great way to escape our technological ties. Tackle tweeters in this garden with a magic marker rather than a keyboard. Here’s a sample page from within and click here to see a gallery of pages shared by proud pencilers.
August 26, 2014
Wouldn’t you love to perch upon one of these literarily-themed benches? If you’re visiting London, England this summer you can indeed take a seat. In fact, you’ll have a choice from among fifty benches positioned throughout the city. The benches will be auctioned off for the benefit of the National Literacy Trust in October 2014. This special event was planned to “celebrate reading for enjoyment” and, in so doing, also show off some of the wonderful artistic talent and strong literary heritage of the city. To read more about this endeavour and to get a glimpse of all the benches, click here. I think visiting the benches in person or even just pictorially will inspire us all to pick up an old, favourite read. Have you been able to guess the titles represented above?
Four different Books About Town Book Bench trails have been established: The Bloomsbury, The City, Greenwich, and Riverside. Relevant literary works in bench form have been positioned along each path. If you would like to vicariously travel a route, then visit one of the map pages.
Souvenir posters are also available for purchase through the travel map and bookstore, Stanford’s: