Friday, November 14, 2008

No I don't want to join a book club

- Virginia Ironside 2006, Penguin Books

This diary is what happens when grumpy old women meet Bridget Jones. Too young to get whisked away by a Stannah Stairlift or to enjoy the luxury of a walk-in bath (but not so much that she doesn’t enjoy comfortable shoes), Marie is, all the same, getting on in years – and she’s thrilled about it! She’s a bit preoccupied about whether to give up sex – “ouch! Ouch! Ouch!’ – but there are compensations, like falling in love all over again – but this time with her baby grandson, Gene.

When friends suggest she join a book club as she turns sixty, she says, “Book club people always seem to have to wade through Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or, groan, The God of Small Things. They feel they’ve forever got to poke their brain with a pointed stick to keep it working. But either you’ve got a lively brain or you haven’t. And anyway, I don’t want to be young and stimulated any more. I want to start doing old things, not young things.”

Pouncer is her close companion. He’s a cat. After her bunion operation, she’s wearing two great blue flip-flops and her feet are covered in bandages. "Pouncer took one look and arched his back and spat at them. I think he thought I’d brought home two new strange pets. To Sainsbury’s to buy some fish, and some special food they do that Pouncer likes. At least he liked it last week. It’s funny with cats."

At her birthday party, Lucy asks, “do you feel any different?” Marie says, “yes, I do. I feel absolutely marvelous. It’s clear now that I was born to be sixty. And to be honest, I can’t wait to be seventy.”

Maciej, her Polish cleaning man, is falling in love with her French boarder, Michelle, who doesn’t or won’t speak much English. Her friend Penny, the hypochondriac, thinks she has VD now, and soon to have AIDS. Long discussions about condoms continue. Archie, an old boyfriend, is still attractive …. Hmmmm.

Her best and longest friends are a gay couple. Hughie is dying with AIDS. He’s quite philosophical and in good humour about death. “Getting rather past my sell-by date, I’m afraid.” James is quite falling apart and can’t comprehend what life would be like without him.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Too Young to Fight

Memories of our Youth during World War II

Stoddart Publishing 1999
compiled by Priscilla Galloway

A collection from some of Canada's best-loved writers of children's literature. The contributors were children and teenagers during World War II.

Joy Kogawa, author of Obasan writes of experiences with her family at the detention camp in Slocan, British Columbia. Taken from their home in Vancouver to "relocation" camps in the interior of the province. Rounded up as "enemies", Japanese Canadians from up and down B.C. were housed temporarily inside the horticultural barns at Hastings Park in Vancouver before being sent to the camps.

"When we first arrived, we didn't have enough food. All that first morning, Mama, Tim, and I waddled through the forest on our haunches, like three ducks, picking dandelion leaves. Then back home at our newspaper-lined hut, Mama burnt sticks, making ashes, then ash water, in which she soaked the leaves overnight to get the bitterness out of them."

Roch Carrier describes rationing. "To control the consumption of gasoline, sugar, butter, meat, and flour, the government issued coupons to present to the merchants. Without coupons it was impossible to buy those goods."

I remember a bit of this ... collecting stuff to take to school ... drippings from cooking fatty meats were collected in tin cans. We joked about bringing our "fat cans" to school. My mum canned summer fruits without sugar. I think she tried saccharine. It was horrid, and we didn't eat it.

There are stories from eleven writers here. At this time each year in mid November, we read them again and remember.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


The Maquis, the Nazi resistance network, moves Jews, Allied Soldiers and fleeing Belgian soldiers to France and freedom. In November 1993 a “special ceremony inaugurates a monument in remembrance of an aeroplane fallen down on 1943 December 30th at the Heights near our village.”

The story begins in December 1943, when an American B-17 bomber is downed, and Claire becomes the caretaker of its pilot, Ted Brice. They fall in love … haunted by war, their love seems impossible, making it all the more precious.

This is not just fiction, but based on realities of many villages across Europe and the horror of it all is almost unbearable. There is love in the hole of hell itself

A movie made in 2003 stars the lovely Julia Ormond (of Sabrina and Legends of the Fall) as Claire and Bill Paxton (of Big Love) as Ted

Tara at Books and Cooks is giving away three copies of Testimony, Anita Shreve’s latest novel, just released. You can enter the draw to be made on October 28 by leaving a comment on her post. She asks that you mention your favorite of Shreve’s books. This is mine.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Infusions of Healing

In San Antonio we went to hear Frances Evans talk about Folk Medicine, Mexican-American Herbal Remedies. She told us about mal d'ojo and skunk oil, moldy bread (penicillin) and milagros, spider webs to stop bleeding, sugar and honey for bed sores, garlic for high blood pressure, vinegar and brown paper for sprains and burns. Beans from the mesquite tree, steeped to make tea, for an upset stomach, mud for an insect sting. The early Sears catalogs advertisied opium and cures for addiction.

This is one of the books she recommended. Joie Davidow describes hundreds of plants and their uses, how to prepare them, where and when to find them. Early chapters tell five hundred years of history, from the arrival in 1519 of Hernando Cortes at Vera Cruz up to the present day. My ears perked up at this because I lived for three years on Cortes Island in British Columbia. The island was named in 1792 during the expedition of Galiano and Valdes, presumably after Hernando Cortes.

Today, almost everyone in Mexico uses the traditional herbal remedies to some extent. The old medicines have never fallen of of use. Urban Mexicans use both ancient herbs and modern pharmaceuticals.

In south Texas many botanicas sell traditional herbs. Like their wandering Aztec ancestors, Mexican Americans are resourcesful people, learning to make use of whatever is available

Que magicas infusiones
de indios herbolarios
de mi patria, entre mis letras
el bechizo derramaron?

What are these magical infusions
of the Indian herbalists of my homeland,
that spill enchantment
over my pages?
- Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1648-1695)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Smoking Poppy

Graham Joyce has given us an update of a familiar tale (Conrad's Heart of Darkness)

When a divorced, middle aged electrician hears that his precociously intelligent daughter has been arrested in Thailand for drug-trafficking, he sets out with his drinking mate, an overweight fruit and vegetable seller and his son, a laconic born-again Christian, determined to bring her home. It's a journey during which he will be dogged by drug dealers, thugs of the worst kind, sorcerers and spirits.

Monday, June 30, 2008

My New Cookbook

I saw this book in the window of a used bookstore while wandering around one afternoon. The bright cover attracted me. Glancing through the table of contents and a few pages of recipes, I knew I had to have it.

There are quick and nutritious recipes, and easy - most take under 30 minutes to prepare. A vegetarian or vegan diet, utilizing plant protein, creates less of a demand on the world's resources and encourages a lifestyle that is compassionate toward Earth and all its inhabitants.

On Thursday evening, June 19, 2008, in Johnstown, PA, at the 34th Annual Vegetarian Summerfest of the North American Vegetarian Society, Joanne Stepaniak was elected to the Vegetarian Hall of Fame. She is the author of many books. This one, Table for Two, was published in 1996. She emphasizes compassion towards everyone, including meat-eaters.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Finding and reading this wonderful old classic was pure joy. I'd seen the movie many years ago, but not read the book.

First published over 50 years ago, Betty Smith's poignant, honest novel created a big stir ... her frank writing about life's squalor was alarming to some of the more genteel society.

Like the Tree of Heaven that grows out of cement or through cellar gratings, resourceful Francie struggles against all odds to survive and thrive. The opening line is this: “Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York”. Can you imagine that? Well, I guess the world was much different in the summer of 1912.

It's a simple story of a family in crisis. Johnny, the father, drinks too much and can't hold a job but is the light and life of the family. Katie, the mother, loves her family ferociously, but has been embittered by the strain that Johnny and their perpetual state of poverty places upon her. The story truly belongs to Francie and Neely, the two children, who survive by staying together, inventing stories and games for each other, and finding joy in their meager surroundings.

There is magic and heartbreak, heroics and cowardice, beauty and hideousness. It describes what it was like to be a poor child in Brooklyn in 1908.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Mermaid Chair

Not such a great book, but I so loved the movie ... it was filmed just a few miles up the road from where I'm living now ... Cowichan Bay on Vancouver Island ... gorgeous scenery and a young monk who was very nice to look at. There's a great line at the monastery - "the monks shuffled off in various degrees of huff."

I enjoyed her other book, The Secret Life of Bees. and hope to see a movie soon from this one ... just recently heard that it's in the making

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Watermelon King

We watched Big Fish last night ... again ... one of my favorite movies. Wonderful, magical characters and wonderful actors ... Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Ewan MacGregor, Billy Crudup, Helena Bonham Carter, and that beautiful French woman who won an Oscar this year for playing Edith Piaf.

So I remembered another book by Daniel Wallace that I read last year ... The Watermelon King. Susan Shreve called it "a marvelous combination of Chaucer and Roald Dahl." Such humor and humanity in this story of a young man in search of his identity. His genius has produced a tale both outrageous and heartbreaking. I hope to find more of his mystery and magic.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Douglas Glover has written the story of a French girl who went to Canada, gave birth to a fish, turned into a bear and fell in love with a famous author. Based on a little-known incident from Canadian history, Elle chronicles the adventures of Sieur de Roberval's wayward 19-year-old niece who was set ashore in 1542 (during Jacques Cartier's ill-fated third and last attempt to colonize Canada) as a punishment for lasciviousness, along with her old nurse and tennis-playing lover.

A lusty Rabelaisian riff on the discovery of the New World that has been described as a "mad creation myth dreamed by a French Eve." Elle is a libidinous 16th-century society belle turned Robinson Crusoe ... she takes on the Canadian winter with little more than a tennis racket (for whacking sea birds over the head) and a trunk full of ball gowns ... and survives.