Birdie / Tracey Lindberg
New York: HarperCollins, c2105.
I recently read this book on the recommendation of Kate Sutherland, who said it wasn't to be missed, which was then seconded by Kerry Clare, whose review has recently gone up at her blog.
Her review says pretty much what I'd thought of this book -- it's a striking narrative voice, a story told of an experience not much explored from the inside, and a timely read in this era of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Lindberg tells the story of Birdie, otherwise known as Bernice Meetoos. Birdie has come through a lot in her life, and now that things have sort of relaxed into a safer setting, she's literally laid out; she's facing all of the abuse and trauma of her past while she lays still in bed.
From her childhood in which she suffered abuse, to her years on the streets, to her time in "the San", Birdie has survived and retained her sense of self. She has made it to Gibsons, BC -- the place where The Beachcombers was filmed -- in a sort of pilgrimage to the character of Jesse, her ideal of "a healthy, working Indian man". She has found herself a job which includes an apartment; she lives above a bakery run by a white woman who nevertheless becomes an important support for her.
As Bernice begins to reckon with her past, all of the issues she has been avoiding begin to arise. She takes to her bed, lying in a dream world while her landlady, her Aunt Val, and her cousin Skinny Freda take care of her physical needs. They worry about her, but Birdie is half-aware of them, as well as being aware of tv's The Frugal Gourmet, who is a guide of sorts for her.
But Birdie's focus is on her inner journey. Lindberg uses language in an energetic, twisty way -- combining words into phrases that perfectly catch Birdie's meanings: skinnyhappy, sistercousins, motheraunt, and so on. The narrative is circular, so you need to go with it, trusting that it will all make sense at some point, but I found that the energy and the sheer presence of Birdie carried me through. It did take me two starts to get going on this book, but once I was caught I raced through it. It's a beautiful, fresh, and vibrant way of telling a story, one that I admired greatly.
I think that this is an important read, covering so many current issues and themes, and it's told from a much-needed perspective. But even with the hard-hitting content, this is not a tough or dark read. It seems to power along, with the inclusion of humour and sarcastic observations which lighten the read. As noted in my 2015 year-end post, this was one of my top reads of the last year, and it's one I highly recommend to readers who like character and language focused stories.
One book that is also told from a woman's point of view, mostly in BC though much further north, in Kitimat, is Eden Robinson's excellent Monkey Beach. It's about Lisamarie, a young woman who recounts much of her past and the traumas she's encountered, along with a leavening of humour. It's similar in that sense, though it tells a story with a bit more magical realism in it.
If you are looking for another story from an aboriginal woman, move a little further east and read Rose's Run by Dawn Dumont, a Saskatchewan comedian. In this story, Rose Okanese decides to run a marathon to spite some her fellow Rez residents - despite the fact that she hasn't run in 20 years. But there's more than a marathon at stake... Rose is a smart-talking, funny woman; for a fast-paced read with humour mixed with horror, try this one.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Thursday, December 31, 2015
Already time for the yearly roundup of some of the best reads this year. I always wait until the very last possible moment to post my list; you never know what you'll come across around Christmas! I like to give every book I've read this year a chance to appear on my favourites list. Somehow the very last day of the year seems to have come very quickly in 2015.
I also create a statistical summary each year, mostly for my own geekish pleasure. As I've said before, I don't think of reading as a competition -- I keep track of numbers and various stats for my own interest, not to prove anything.
So without further ado, here is my reading year in numbers:
Total Reading: 135
Nongendered (multiple authors): 3
Non Fiction: 44
My Own Books: 34
Library Books: 90
Review Copies: 11
Author who I read the most from: Susannah Kearsley (3)
2015's Weird Random Stat - number of books with animals in the title: 8
So, once again I read many more women authors than men; more library books than off of my own shelves; and an unfortunately low number of translations. I must try to increase the number of translations in the new year - I always enjoy them.
I still read twice as much fiction as non-fiction this year, but that non-fiction number is higher than usual for me. I found I was reading many craft and sewing books this year, which added to the total. All in all, though, a pretty normal year for my reading.
Best of the Year
This is the first time I've ever had so many books on this year-end list that I haven't yet shared on the blog. It's been a slow year on the writing side of things!
So out of my Top Ten reads of the year, the first four I have already reviewed, but six more fantastic reads haven't yet been talked about here. Some of those reviews will be coming up shortly. For now, here is the list:
A Beauty by Connie Gault
An enjoyable story despite the unhappiness caused by main character Elena Huhtala, this novel set in southern Saskatchewan, among Scandinavian settlers, was a great read
Fairy Tale by Alice Thomas Ellis
Unexpected, sardonic, funny, and feminist, this was a total surprise, and I loved it.
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis
Governor General's Award winner, this meditation on human happiness and consciousness was a beautiful, thoughtful, deep read
To Love and Be Wise by Josephine Tey
A gentle mystery with great characters and a puzzling set-up; loved the denouement
Unblogged as yet:
The Girls from the Five Great Valleys by Elizabeth Savage
One of Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscoveries titles, this story of Montana in the 30's through the eyes of five girls was fabulously told
Krane's Cafe by Cora Sandel
A serendipitous discovery of this title led to one of the few translations I read this year, and this story of a wife & mother simply tired of her treatment by her family was worth it!
Birdie by Tracey Lindberg
An amazing book. Bernice (Birdie) Meetoos is on a quest to understand her past. Her dreams and visions are told in a fresh and powerful style which captivated me.
Tell Me a Riddle by Tillie Olsen
I finally read this classic short story collection. It's classic for a reason.
Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke
A charming set of short stories that I picked up after watching the BBC's new production of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I loved when I first read it some years ago. These stories are delightful.
Street of Riches by Gabrielle Roy
Roy is a Canadian must-read for me. I finally found a copy of this book & was well rewarded in this tale of young Christine's growing up in French St. Boniface, Manitoba.
I hope you've all enjoyed a fabulous reading year, and are looking forward to uncovering new treasures in 2016.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
In 2015 I really, really reduced the number of Reading Challenges I took on. Part of this was because I am doing so much non-blog reading that occupies my time, and part of it was because the challenges I have been doing are huge and lengthy projects.
These are the challenges I participated in during 2015.
Century of Books
Read one book for each year of the 20th century. While I had intended to complete this challenge over two years, it looks as if I will be stretching it to three years! Continuing on, I have 67 read, so 33 left to go.
I enjoyed participating in this yearly challenge once again. This year I only hoped to get one book read -- but I ended up reading three!
Black Feathers / Robert J. Wiersema
Lolly Willowes / Sylvia Townsend Warner
Fairy Tale / Alice Thomas Ellis
Canadian Book Challenge
For this challenge, I've reviewed 7 books so far; I have a lot more waiting to be reviewed, so I'll need to get at least 6 more reviews posted to reach the goal of 13. And then any extras to add to the total!
I missed out on a few short-term challenges and activities that I've enjoyed before, due to time constraints -- the Diversiverse event hosted by Aarti and Dewey's Readathon (since I was once again working that entire weekend -- seems that way nearly every year!) Hope I'll get back to those in 2016.
Challenges for 2016
I'm going to be continuing on with my Century of Books project, and continuing with the Canadian Book Challenge, as always. The only new year-long project I am taking on is this one:
Women's Classic Literature Event
The idea is simply to read classics written by women, at your own pace, for the duration of 2016. Classic is loosely defined as pre-1960 women's writing of all kinds. For this event, I'll read some more of the Century of Books list but also add in a few more outside of the "no rereads, no repeat authors" parameters I've set myself for that particular list.
I may pick up a few of the time-limited and/or seasonal challenges on my way through the year as well, but my year-long projects are the three above, which will all be interconnected and overlapping as well.
How about you? Are you taking on lots of challenges this year? Are you pro/con reading challenges?
Sunday, December 27, 2015
|My traditional calendar choice for each New Year!|
As usual at this time of year, I review and share my reading/blogging year with First Lines.
Simply put, we share the first line of the first post of each month and see what that overview tells us about our year. Often it can be an uncannily accurate summary.
If you haven't tried this before, give it a go this year; it's a fun exercise, and often summarizes the year quite efficiently. If you do, please share a link in the comments so we can all enjoy!
Anyhow, without further ado, here is my 2015 in First Lines:
What better way to begin a readerly year than by sharing a book on the phenomenology of reading?
from [What We See When We Read]
January brings thoughts of passing time, of the way the year flies by in sudden jumps, from one month to the next.
from [Phoebe's Way]
This is an interesting Canadian classic, of sorts.
from [Book of Eve]
Welcome April...Welcome Poetry Month!
from [Welcome Poetry Month]
Wolf Truly is turning 18.
from [The Mountain Story by Lansens]
It’s 1979, and school is not going so great for Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple – nicknamed for his pale countenance and fly-away hair.
from [Neil Smith's Boo]
What better way to celebrate Canada Day than to sign up for the 9th annual Canadian Book Challenge?
from [Happy Canada Day]
This novel immediately appealed to me; set on the Canadian prairies, centred on one woman's journey, a bit of eccentricity and some unexpected occurrences -- sounds like my kind of story!
from [Connie Gault's Beauty]
I just finished kicking my feet up in the last of the summer sunshine, and reading two new books back to back on the weekend.
from [Two Books, a Foodie, and a Fish]
I didn't want to miss participating in RIP X this year -- I've read along in this dark, mysterious challenge nearly every year it's been running.
from [Fall Means RIP X]
I have not added a new Cover Design in quite a while.
from [Cover Designs! #8]
I've seen the Classics Club chatting on twitter (@ourclassicsclub) and sharing the love of classics in the blog world for quite a while.
from [Classics Club: Women's Classic Literature Event]
So, a pretty straightforward reading year! Mostly book reviews, some mentions of various challenges, and even a reference to an irregular blog series.
Sounds like a low-key year to me, which it felt like too. Hopefully I'll be blogging a little more in the New Year as I try to complete my Century of Books project, and add on my Women's Classic Literature Event. And continue on with the Canadian Book Challenge of course!
Friday, December 25, 2015
They plunged their hands into the stockings again. And they pulled out two long, long, sticks of candy. It was peppermint candy, striped red and white. They looked and looked at that beautiful candy, and Laura licked her stick, just one lick. But Mary was not so greedy. She didn’t even take one lick of her stick.
Those stockings weren’t empty yet. Mary and Laura pulled out two small packages. They unwrapped them, and each found a little heart-shaped cake. Over their delicate brown tops was sprinkled white sugar. The sparkling grains lay like tiny drifts of snow.
May you all find your stockings full of delicious and lovely gifts today!
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Amazon Encore, 2013, c1994.
This is another of Nancy Pearl's Book Lust Rediscovery series; titles originally published between 1960-2000, and brought back into availability thanks to Nancy Pearl's efforts.
This book tells the story of three very different siblings born near the turn of the 20th century: Carlton, Jerry, and Daisy Malone. Brought up in the Midwest, as adults they spread out. Jerry heads to Montana to homestead, and on the heels of his arrival he also finds himself a bride. Daisy tries her luck as a singer in Manhattan, eventually reuniting with Jerry in Montana. Neither of them is that keen on Carlton, who stayed behind at home and made money.
The joy of the story is in the manner of telling. It goes back and forth, showing us these characters both old and young, told in letters and in regular narrative, moving between Montana and other possible lives. McNamer skims from moment to moment, filling in the colours of the story's outlines bit by bit. The story progresses, but as it does it also reflects and explains and explores the characters' thoughts and motives. It is a satisfying read, especially for the patient reader who loves a landscape and a history that are slowly expanded with each page.
There is a restlessness to the main characters, whether that's to make something of themselves as performers, or to succeed at land speculation in the West. This energy moves the story, and leads to some of the more outlandish events, like the attempt to invigorate small Shelby, Montana by hosting a World Heavyweight Championship in 1923. (spoiler alert: things don't go quite as planned).
In between the various occurrences, though, there are many beautiful moments of connection, and some lovely writing. It never gets precious, rather, there is the saving grace of Midwest realism, leavened with wry humour. The plot points exist, but the characters drive the story. It was an enjoyable and thoughtful read, one I'd recommend to anyone interested in stories of the western experience. Or to those who love great settings and great characters.
One of the parts I loved, was, of course, a Christmas scene. This is a quiet family Christmas; Jerry's family in Montana, who are broke, but seem to be enjoying their holiday nevertheless.
There are four of them gathered around a table with a red cloth on it and a small roast duck at its center. It is Christmas 1919, the one they believe to be their last in Montana... There is a small tree over on the hutch -- the train brought a stack of them one day from the mountains -- and it is draped with chains of paper rings and topped with a battered angel. The bare electric bulb that hangs from the ceiling is dark. There are candles on the table and in one corner the kerosene light. The light is fluttering and warm on their faces...
They eat peach preserves sent by George and his wife in Seattle; wild rice from Aunt Mina and Uncle Charles in the Twin Cities; cheese from Vivian's mother; tinned crackers from Daisy Lou....
The presents were always opened Christmas Eve so the house would have a day's warmth in it and the children would sleep through the night. Such meager gifts this year. Everyone so broke.
Maudie had yearned for a new doll with a nightgown and a traveling dress that she had seen in a neighbor's Sears catalogue. She got a small, cheaper one, and Vivian made all the clothes for it from scraps. She didn't like to sew, and it showed. There were signs of impatience on the little dresses, undone hems that made her ashamed when she saw them, though she had spent hours on the tiny scraps at night when she was half asleep.
Francis got a wooden replica of a World War airplane, made by Foster, a young guy who worked at the mercantile. Each child got an orange. And pencils from Daisy with their initials on them. And a one-dollar bill from their Uncle Carleton, which made the biggest impression of all and caused their parents to feel, for a bleak few moments, like bystanders.
The children got their mother a 1920 calendar from the mercantile. They had loved its size and color and had insisted on it, though Jerry had suggested a muffler instead. The calendar showed slim young women in fur coats, fur muffs, ice skating on a pond surrounded by pines. Thatched English cottages with chimney smoke like treble clefs. Lawns. Croquet. Parade horses with red plumes. A girl in a swing under a huge spreading maple, her blonde hair brushing the ground.
Jerry got from the children and Vivian a small cardboard case to hold his pens and pencils and silver letter opener.
Vivian's mother had sent handkerchiefs for everyone and a packet of well-wrapped fudge. Four pieces of it sat on a saucer like a prize.
This description reminded me of some of the Christmases in the Little House series, another western family making do. I thought this book was a great rediscovery, and I am so glad to have found it.
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
The Golden Arrow / Mary Webb
London: Jonathan Cape, 1932, c1916.
I've been a fan of Mary Webb's, ever since I read The House in Dormer Forest way back in university days.
I even have the full set of an old, cloth-bound collection of her work.
So I don't know why it took me this long to finally read The Golden Arrow, but I am glad I did. I was drawn in by the existential crises of one or two of the main characters, and by the country humour of others. And of course, the setting is excellently done. I don't know if Mary Webb's Shropshire can be topped for the balance of realism and idealism.
Mary Webb apparently wrote this over 3 weeks, inspired by the theme and the characters, some of whom were based on people she knew. John Arden, for example, is said to have been inspired by Webb's own father.
The story seems simple: Deborah and Joe Arden are siblings living in a small village. They're both at a marriageable age. Neighbour Lily has her eye on Joe. And into this mix comes a young minister, Stephen, who only has eyes for Deborah. Unfortunately for all that is proper, he is also in the process of losing his faith.
This set-up spools out into questions of love and what is right or wrong about relationships like those of the young pairs. Marriage or cohabiting are both pondered and practiced; it seems quite modern in a way. It's only the nature of different people and different ways of loving that cause the difficulties. And among all this emotional variation, there is picturesque writing and characterizations of all the people in their small circle. The sometimes ponderous descriptions and tragic characters are lightened in this novel by a fair leavening of humour and sarcasm, especially by Mrs. Arden, but also as a matter of local habit.
It's notable that the heaviness of some of Mary Webb's style both here and in other, darker books - as well as the general sort of rural tales at this time - led to the satirical response by Stella Gibson in "Cold Comfort Farm". Nevertheless, I enjoy Webb's writing and have copied out some thoughtful passages.
The Christmas scene comes in about 3/4 of the way through, when Deborah has come home to her parents after Stephen has decided to shake off this constraining domestic life and leave her. She is very depressed, but has dressed and come downstairs for Christmas Day. Tradition continues and carries them through the day, and it ends up soothing her spirit in unexpected ways. There's a quiet beauty to this, even among the humour and ribald jokes and dailyness of it all.
Faint tinklings -- quick and small as a robin's 'chink-chink' -- came up the dark slopes above Slepe on Christmas evening. The handbell ringers were coming Christmassing, as they did every year when the weather allowed them. ...
The gate clicked and John went to the door.
"Well, neighbours!" he said, "you're kindly welcome. What'm you going to give us?"
The postmaster, as head of the band, and bass bell, said he'd thought of 'Ox and ass', which every one knew to mean 'Good Christian men, rejoice'; though why the ringers always named it after a line in the second verse, no one asked.
"And a very suitable 'un," said Mrs. Arden, "for if we 'anna got an ox we'n two cows, and our Joe's an ass if ever there was one."
When the merriment subsided they grouped themselves in a semicircle, Job Cadwallader having been urgently entreated to come in at the right moment and not half a note too late as he always did; the postmaster cleared his throat and said in the tone of one inciting a mob to evil-doing --
The antique tune, sweetly and emphatically uttered by the bells, slipped out over the great plateau, pearl-tinted in the light of the stars and the rising moon. The sense of the words was in the air -- they were so well known by all -- and they brought the strange joy with which some old Christian hymns touch the human heart, a joy alien to those here - and to most human beings -- who are pagan at the core....
Afterwards John asked for "Lead, kindly Light," with a sorrowful glance at the silent figure by the fire.
"Oh! Laws me!" said Patty, "that gloomy thing agen! What a man! What do we want wi' encircling gloom and angels' faces, when we'm just going to sit down to Christmas beef an' pickle?"
"And beer," said the blacksmith, outside, in tones that would have been persuasive if they had not been stentorian.
"Ringing first," said the leader firmly....
"Well, thank you kindly!" said John at the end. "And, now come you all in, and have a drop and some pies."
They came in, shuffling, broadly smiling. The blacksmith was in high feather.
"Well, Joe!" he shouted. "What's one and one make?"
"Two. What a soft riddle!" said Joe.
"Three!" roared the blacksmith, with depths of meaning, and the less discreet laughed.
"Very mild for the season," said the postmaster, to cover this remark. "A mild, dropping time."
This is a quiet, lovely story, with many characters who are all different yet all surrounded by the same social conventions which must be faced individually. As shown in the quote above, there is some homely, country humour included, at the same time that the philosophy of love and belonging and religious instinct is also debated by Webb. I really liked this book; the character of Lily is bright and silly, and yet charming, and Deborah so dutiful and deep, even if her adoration of Stephen seems excessive at times. And Mrs. Arden is the perfect foil for both of these young women, with her practical care and getting-on-with-things approach. It's a good read for a slower time of year, so you can read at the proper pace of the story, and enjoy your time in rural England.