My January Reads

                                                                     

In terms of my reading habits, 2021 was pretty typical (it’s nice that something was typical last year!). I read 95 books, close to my average of reading two books a week. If you follow my blog, you may remember that my reading fell off in 2020. I only read about 70 books that year which surprised me because, with Covid restrictions, I had more quiet time at home. However, back then, libraries were locked down for long stretches at a time, and I couldn’t borrow electronically. At least not easily (my Kindle is not library compatible) or in a way that would have made reading enjoyable. Thankfully, that issue is behind me, and I’m now able to borrow both physical and electronic books from our library system. And thank goodness. While lockdowns seem to be a thing of the past, Covid is still with us, so who knows what the future holds? One thing is certain, though, there will be plenty of good books to read. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

Lovish by Karen Rivers

Jackpot by Michael Mechanic

Books read to date in 2022: 2

Holiday Reading

Christmas is just around the corner, and that has me thinking about books. Books I might want to give as well as books I might want to read myself over the holidays. This week’s blog focuses on some 2021 non-fiction recommendations. While I generally love a serious read, this year I’m gravitating to lighter reads, or at least books that leave me feeling somewhat hopeful at the end. I seem to need that these days. First, two non-fiction recommendations for the kids on your list, followed by suggestions for more advanced readers.

For younger readers:

Finding Home: The journey of Immigrants and Refugees, written by Jen Sookfong Lee and illustrated by Drew Shannon. There are many reasons why people leave their homes in search of a new one. This book explores the history of human migration and how it has shaped our world, as well as current issues facing immigrants and refugees. Profiles of immigrants and refugees across the globe are also included. Ages 9 – 12.

The Power of Style: How Fashion and Beauty Are Being Used to Reclaim Culture by Christian Allaire. As a fashion-obsessed Ojibwe teen, Christian Allaire rarely saw anyone that looked like him in magazines or movies. As the current Fashion and Style writer for Vogue, he is working to change that. Clothes are never just clothes; style is self-expression, representation and transformation. Topics range from cosplay, makeup and hijabs to culture, politics and social justice. Ages 12 and up.

For the rest of us:

These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett. When novelist Patchett sits down to write a book, she knows how it will end. Life, however, often takes unexpected turns and it is this truth that Patchett touches on in this collection of essays, all of which have been published before. You’ll find reflections on writing and publishing, insights into living and dying, friends and family, as well as lighter pieces on knitting, Snoopy, and surviving a year without shopping.

The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl. The Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman takes us behind the scenes of his life as a rock star while also pulling back the curtain on his personal life. Entertaining, engaging and insightful. Perfect for the music fans on your list and even those who aren’t necessarily fans because Grohl is a master of the anecdote.

London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency by Kate MacDougall. A wonderful memoir about a young woman who left her job at Sotheby’s and started her own business as a dog-walker for busy London pet owners. The theme of this uplifting coming-of-age book is about chasing your dreams in spite of facing challenges. It’s charming and funny . . . and there are lots of dogs!

Winter Pasture: One Woman’s Journey with China’s Kazakh by Li Juan, Jack Hargreaves (translator). A bestseller in China for years and the winner of the People’s Literature Award, this tale follows Li Juan, a Chinese journalist, as she joins a family of Kazakh herders – and their camels, sheep, cattle and horses – to spend winter on a winter grazing spot in Xinjiang Province where the population density at that time was one person per every square mile. This blend of memoir, travelogue and nature writing gives us an incredible picture into a remote part of the world.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci. As you’d expect, this book is Tucci’s life through food – from his childhood growing up in Westchester, as a young actor in New York, through marriage and children, and on movie sets. As well as sharing some of his favorite food memories over the years, Tucci doesn’t shy away from discussing some of the more difficult times in his life, notably his first wife’s death from cancer and his own recovery from the same disease, but he can also be irreverent and sharply funny, particularly as he discusses feeding five kids through the pandemic. Bonus: there are recipes.

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. Some great insights here into health and mindfulness. Nestor is a journalist who began his journey into the world of breath reluctantly, and only because of health issues. Along with being part memoir, Breath also looks at breathing traditions throughout history, presents some thought-provoking research and offers practical takeaway tips too. Though it was published in 2020, Breath impressed me enough that I’m including it on my 2021 list.

Next week, some fiction recommendations.

My November Reads

 The news has been filled with images of the flooding we’ve recently experienced in B.C. While we’ve had our share of flooding here on the island, and subsequent road washouts or infrastructure collapses, we’ve been lucky compared to other areas of the province. Last week, we opened our home to evacuated friends when their road flooded and the Little Qualicum River threatened to spill its bank. Thankfully, their home stayed dry. Another set of friends on the Englishman River were also evacuated, and their home too was spared the worst of it.  However, as I write this, more rain – atmospheric rivers as they’ve termed them – is forecast. It’s unnerving at best and heartbreaking for those areas that are still flooded. All we can do is stay indoors, stay close to home (unless we’re in a flood zone!) and hope for the best. And while we wait out the rain, books provide a good escape. Here’s what I’m reading this month:

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Solitude by Michael Harris

Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography by Laurie Woolever

Books read to date in 2021: 79

My October Reads

And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees and changing leaves.” Virginia Woolf

To me, fall is a time of simple pleasures like going for a walk and observing the leaves changing colour. The change seems to start like a slow dance with a touch of red here and a dash of gold there, but then if the wind stays down, it picks up speed, and the colours change daily.  Before long, the trees are dancing at the last party of the year, shimmering with brilliant reds and oranges and golds. I love coming home after my walk and sitting in front of a cozy fire. I love the smell of soup simmering in the kitchen and knowing dinner is taken care of too. I especially love knowing there’s a stack of books waiting for me at the end of the day. Here’s what I’m reading this month.  

An Island by Karen Jennings

Memorial Drive, A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Books read to date in 2021: 71

The Power of Fiction

When I’m not writing or editing fiction, I write articles. This week, I’m writing a short piece on power bowls (they’re sometimes called Buddha bowls or grain bowls, but regardless of what you call them, they pack a potent nutritional punch, and they’re delicious).

That got me thinking about power in a general sense and about the power of words. The words we speak, the words we write. We’re familiar with the power of a memorable speech to inspire us (Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ or Winston Churchill’s ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches’ come to mind) or a powerful essay to make us think (E.B. White’s ‘Once More to the Lake’ or Roger Ebert’s ‘Go Gentle into That Good Night’ both do that).’

However, literature has innate power too. Stories and fictional worlds can inspire, provoke and nourish our souls in the same way power bowls nourish our bodies.

According to the Harvard Business Review, recent research in neuroscience suggests that reading literary fiction helps people develop empathy and understanding, as well as critical thinking. It helps reduce stress and make sense of the world too. The bottom line is stories can make us happier.  Research by the University of Liverpool’s Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society (CRISL) says all it takes is thirty minutes a week. https://news.liverpool.ac.uk/2015/02/06/30-minutes-reading-week-can-improve-life/

A small investment of time can yield substantial results. And that’s a powerful thing.

My Summer Reads

Life has thrown a few too many curve balls these last few months, so I’m taking most of the summer to be still. To listen, to think, and to enjoy simple pleasures like picking dew-touched blueberries, or the intoxicating smell of lilies on a warm night, or losing myself in a good story. You’ll find me back here on a regular basis come fall. But for now, I’m filling the well with silence and some great books. Here’s what I’m reading right now.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

The Atlas of Happiness by Helen Russell

The View From Here by Hannah McKinnon

Books read to date in 2021: 55

Quiet or Boring? You Decide

There’s been chatter lately on a few of my writing loops about quiet books. Everyone defines the term differently. Some suggest quiet books are stories that are forgettable, that don’t have exciting plots or that have stakes too low for the characters. Agents and publishers sometimes refer to quiet novels as low concept. By that, they mean books without flashy hooks or any obvious marketing angle, which makes them hard to sell. To those who don’t like them, quieter books are considered boring and a waste of time.

And yet, there are readers who love quieter novels. To them, the moniker ‘quiet book’ isn’t negative. It doesn’t mean a boring or plotless read. Instead, proponents define quiet books as introspective, character-driven stories that are rich with language and emotion. They frequently say that while the story may not be huge, the books take them deep into the character’s world and those characters always resonate in a personal way. Some even suggest that quiet books say things about the human condition that their faster-paced counterparts can’t touch on. Quiet books make ripples rather than waves. And yet ripples can be powerful in their own way too.

Around the same time as the quiet book discussion took place, a writer friend died. Jodie’s passing was sudden and unexpected, and it came just a few weeks after my father’s death. I couldn’t help noticing the different responses. There was an outpouring at Jodie’s passing. It was indicative of the fact that she touched a great many lives. She was an author and, before that, a school teacher and principal. My father, on the other hand, touched far fewer lives, and the response to his death reflected that. One life much quieter than the other, and yet both touched and impacted others.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to equate lives with books. Perhaps, as someone pointed out, the reason many people don’t enjoy quiet books is we live quiet lives (especially these days with Covid), and we’re looking to escape into a larger, noisier world.  

Whatever your taste in books, I’m on board with children’s author Barbara Park. She once said, “I happen to think a book is of extraordinary value if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two. In fact, I happen to think that’s huge.”

So, whether it’s a book or a life, whether it’s quiet or roaring with action, if it touches us in some way, that’s enough. That, as Barbara Park said, is huge.

My March Reads

The daffodils are blooming and the tulips on the windowsill are too. The seedlings have sprouted, and once they get a second set of leaves, they’ll make the pilgrimage to the greenhouse to harden off before being planted out in May. Gardeners live for warmer weather and more hours of daylight, but the downside – if there is a downside – is that the gardening season means less time to curl up with a book. At least for now. Once the spring chores are done and the seedlings are planted out, there’s usually more time. That being said, I can always find an hour or two after sunset to get in bit of reading. Here’s what I’m enjoying this month:  

Grit by Angela Duckworth

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a Life That Matters by Bernie Glassman & Rick Fields

Books read to date in 2021: 26

I Read Canadian

I Read Canadian Day, which is coming up on February 17th, is a day to celebrate Canadian books, to acknowledge the writers and illustrators who create them, the publishers who get behind them, and the independent bookstores where you can buy them. The I Read Canadian initiative takes place this Wednesday in homes, schools, libraries and bookstores across the country. All Canadians are encouraged to read a children’s book by a Canadian author or illustrator for even 15 minutes.  

The initiative began two years ago as a collaboration between the Canadian Children’s Book Centre; children’s author Eric Walters; CANSCAIP (the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers) and the Ontario Library Association.

The goal is to raise awareness of all Canadian books and to celebrate the richness, diversity and breadth of Canadian literature. And this year, as we seek to connect while remaining physically distanced, the goal seems to resonate even more deeply.

If you’re a teacher, librarian, home schooler or simply a lover of books, you can register to participate at the official website here: https://ireadcanadian.com/day/   And at noon EST February 17th, a series of videos called I Write Canadian will premiere on the CCBC’s YouTube channel, Bibliovideo. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoRQbrmtvSYMRm1emqkhP8Q?sub_confirmation=1

Set aside a few minutes to check out the presentations. And remember to read Canadian for even a few minutes on February 17th!

My January Reads

Every year, I track how many books I read. Since Covid forced us to spend more time at home last year, I expected to read more titles than usual. But that didn’t happen. I read only 70 books in 2020, and I’m usually well above the 80 book a year mark. While I regularly buy books, I also borrow heavily from the library, and our library was shut down for months because of Covid. I looked at borrowing e books but I don’t like to read on my phone, and I didn’t have a tablet.  Well, now I do. I didn’t need another piece of equipment, but I did need to communicate with my dad who is in care and struggles to use a phone. Being able to borrow e books from the library only added to the tablet’s appeal.  Just one month into the new year and I’ve already read more books than I had at this time last year. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Lemon Sisters by Jill Shalvis

Intimate Conversations with the Divine by Caroline Myss

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

Books read to date in 2021: 12