Characters That Stay With Us

I have an odd assortment of good friends.  Most of whom are made of flesh and bone but a few are less solid, having been penned to life.  These paper friends visit me in dreams.  Wang Lung, a great-grandfather (at last count he had eighteen grandchildren) still visits tea shops and is able to walk over to his beloved fields. I often find him standing at the top of an emerald hill staring down at the place where he will come to lie below his uncle and his father and not far from his devoted wife, O-lan.  Having worked hard to claim for himself property and success he is still a man humbled by nature. There is so much I want to know, I say, but I dare not ask him. I wonder if he feels bad about the way he treated O-lan? I wonder if he still yearns for Lotus who was far prettier than his wife and slender as bamboo?  Does he, I wonder, still bend down to scoop up earth with his hands.   Does he appreciate each day on the good earth  with his sons and Pear Blossom who remain faithful and attentive?

I know Huck Finn is adventuring in another world but he likes to tell me about his grand adventures in the Wild West after he and Jim parted ways.  He tells me he crossed paths with Pawnee raiders and rescued more than one damsel in distress.  I have Huck to thank for introducing me to the evils of slavery, robbers and conmen and to floating down the Mississippi river on a raft.  Huck Finn is the reason I crave adventure.  He also gave me the courage to plan my own escape when I was seven.   I didn’t follow through with my childish threat to run away but I had a satchel packed and ready just in case my mother threatened to tan my hide again for something my sister did.

I once threatened to ‘tar and feather’ a bully in primary school, thanks to Huck.  She stopped bullying me after that.

Reverend Stephen Kumalo and I still weep for his son Absalom who was found guilty of murder and condemned to die in apartheid-era South Africa.  I wonder if he and James Jarvis have undertaken any new projects? James, who after his own son’s death was forced to face the racial issues that divided his country.  James who tried to make amends. I wonder if the good reverend’s village Ndotsheni has prospered or if the men are still leaving to find work in the big cities?  I think I know the answer to this question but to hear Kumalo speak of these things in person would be a precious gift.

Which book’s character/s continue to live with you? 

Going Away

On the bus today, this short poem by one of my favourite BC poets (part of the poetry in transit series):

I’m waiting to write.
It’s like waiting for the bus. You know the bus will come.
I don’t know the bus will come. All I know is there’s a sign here that says “bus stop.”
You may have to flag it down.
I’m not flagging it down. I’m waiting for the bus that stops at this bus stop.
George Stanley

Wonderful, isn’t it?

Stitched Panorama

I suspect this may be my last “normal” post for the Summer.  Soon invited guests (as opposed to uninvited guests) 🙂 will arrive for a short visit and then in early August we leave the city to go on our annual Summer road trip which includes camping.  If all goes well, I will return with photos and news of our misadventures adventures in late August.  I know myself well enough to know there probably won’t be complete radio silence.  But then I could surprise myself and go cold turkey.  If I don’t (go cold turkey), expect to see me in the blogosphere leaving sun-addled/lake-chilled-beer-cheery comments on my favourite blogs.  I ask for your forgiveness for any odd or gobbledygook comments in advance.

I will be scheduling in some of my poems just so you won’t forget me.

I plan to get through a mountain of books.  I love reading under the shade of a tree with a view of water stretching before me.  Once I took a book out with me when we went tubing down a river and well, it didn’t work out so well for the book.  My Summer reads all return from vacation with shiny covers (tanning oil) and with sand between their pages (as opposed to toes). Sometimes when I need a whiff of Summer I just take out one of my Summer reads and smell the ocean on those rough sun burnt pages or run my fingers along a thin line of fine beach sand.

What about you? Are you going away? 

Happy Happy Summer! 😀 (to my Northern Hemisphere readers and is it ok to wish Southern Hemisphere readers a Mild & Happy Winter?)

Here’s to good times, glorious weather, happy gatherings and great reading!

Why You Shouldn’t Read Hungry

This past weekend I went on strike.  I woke up on Saturday feeling a little out of sorts and decided no household chores for me;  no ‘catching up’ with family or friends ; no shopping and definitely no web surfing.  I was going to read. Outside. On a deckchair.  In the sun.  With my big floppy hat on my head.

What did you do?

I started out by reading (and finishing) Mary Stewart’s The Stormy Petrel, one of those books that I had been meaning to get to for over a decade.  I was thoroughly enjoying the read when Rose (the main character) interrupted her writing (she writes Sci-Fi) to make herself scrambled eggs at about the same time my stomach started grumbling.  Loudly.

So I went indoors to make a pot of tea (Yorkshire Tea – strong) and a plate of scrambled eggs of course, with ketchup.  And this got me thinking about stories and food.


The air smelt of nightfall, bitter-smoky, like Lapsang Tea – pg 94,  Blackberry wine by Joanne Harris

I have always been able to do this: immerse myself so completely in a story that I even develop the character’s taste for certain foods.   Case in point:

When I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed last summer I stuffed myself with hamburgers and doughnuts, and I am not a doughnut- eater. This book is so raw, so unflinching in its account of loss and bravery that eating the foods the author expressly craved on her solo journey along the Pacific Crest Trail was comfort for my soul.


...I made my way to the counter, stacks of pancakes skirted by bacon, eggs in exquisitely scrambled heaps, or – more painful of all – cheeseburgers buried by jagged mounds of French fries. – pg 146, Wild by Cheryl Strayed

One of my all-time favourite authors Joanne Harris, wrote wonderful books where food provides continuity and is often central to the plot.  Reading her Chocolat and Blackberry Wine is, as you can imagine a sweet and fruity pleasure.

Blackberry 1976.  A good summer for blackberries, ripe and purple and swimming in crimson juice.  The scent was penetrating. – pg 255, Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harries

Luckily for me, not every writer decides to sit his or her characters down for a meal or write so eloquently and passionately about flavours and scents.  If they did, I would be much heavier.

We ate cheeseburgers and fries, then afterwards walked through the convenience store in postprandial ecstasy, loading our arms with full of chips and cookies and beer…pg 218, Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Do you find yourself writing about meals/food and flavours? And are you tempted to try out recipes or hunt down foods you read about in works of fiction or memoirs? 







The Trouble With Families and A Book Review

Children are quick to pick up on what their parents value or rather, what possessions are most valued by their parents.  My mother’s most prized possessions were her records and the record player.   My sister and I knew that because she had a routine. Mom would get home from work, throw off her shoes (yes, literally) put on a record and collapse onto the brown faux leather sofa with a very long sigh.  We were therefore very careful not to scratch any of her records but not so careful with the kitchenware.

Throughout all those nights of listening to records with mom we never heard her sing.  Not once.  So while my sister and I would flounce about screaming into our hairbrushes my mother would lie back and listen.   Fast forward twenty years, to one sultry summer evening on a beach, when my mother quite unexpectedly tells me that she had once been approached by a respected agent who had heard her sing at a party.  Turns out my mother had quite the singing voice.   My mother never took up the agent’s offer of representation.  She never pursued her dream of singing to audiences around the world.

This nugget of information unsettled me on so many levels.  It bothered me that my mother had turned her back on a wonderful opportunity,  a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.  It bothered me that she had never encouraged our own creativity (she barely encouraged me to keep up with my writing) and stifled her own gifts.  I felt my mother had purposefully distanced herself from my sister and I by keeping this and other stories about her youth to herself.   Imagine how I would have reacted if she had come out with a dark and ugly secret!

The point is, now that I am a parent I realize just how hard it is to tell which stories we can share with our children and which are best kept private.

Do you wrestle with this dilemma or are you an ‘open book’?

My favourite novels are almost all about the corrosive effects of secrets, especially family secrets.  I am sure every family has them just as I am sure that we all wrestle with various temptations and fantasies.   So when a dear friend of mine gave me a copy of Sue Miller’s While I Was Gone  I had to read it.



Jo Becker has a loving husband, a beautiful home, three daughters and a rewarding career yet she is plagued by a persistent restlessness.  A sense that an elusive something is missing from her life and she is ‘suspended, waiting.  Between all these worlds and part of none ‘.  She has a sense of being “utterly present and also simultaneously, far far away.”  So when an old roommate reappears and so do her memories of her life in her early 20s Jo’s impulses threaten to fracture her family.

I really connected with Jo.  She is a contemporary heroine: busy, distracted (perhaps unconscious) and flawed.    Aren’t we all?

What makes this a great read besides the fact that the characters are expertly captured and the story well paced is that the author’s wisdom and understanding of human nature shines through.    Wonderful read!   ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐





On My Bookshelf

ImageA photo of a few books on my bookshelf.  One of them I am currently ‘savouring’ – I refuse to rush through a good read.  Care to guess which one?

I hope to review it later this month.

There are certain authors whose work I purposefully prolong.  Donna Tartt’s The Secret History for example.  A book so beautifully written that I read it very slowly over the course of two months because I wanted to memorize entire passages.   Do you do the same? 

I don’t think it’s possible to ‘slow read’ all books.  A lot depends on the narrative pace and whether or not you’re the “instant gratification” type.

I am far – far – behind my self-imposed  “fiction” reading “quota” for this year.  I find I am reading a lot more non-fiction for work and the research for my own novel is taking up large chunks of my time.

I do though have an exciting list of “must-reads” for this year including a few self-published novels, some of them in genres I thought I would never read (part of my New Year’s Resolutions) so I am looking forward to reading them but I suspect I will get through most of them during my Summer break.

How are you doing?  Are you reading more fiction or less? 

Monday Inspiration: This Is How You Ought To Feel When You Read A Story?

With so many books and stories out there to choose from, have you ever found yourself wondering:

‘What should I be reading?’ or ‘Which books merit a place on my bookshelf?’

 I love reading interviews with writers and my favourite response to that question has to be Kafka’s:

I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? …we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. – Franz Kafka

I can think of many books that ‘woke’ me up.  Books that affected me.  Almost all of Alice Munro’s short stories for example move me deeply and Virginia Woolf’s way with words let’s the light in through the cracks in my head. Can you think of a book or a writer whose work has made you a better writer; a better reader; a better person?

I hoped to include a ‘bookish’ pic with this post but here’s what one of my favourite trails looked like yesterday.

ImageIsn’t is magical?

Immortal Love

I made a deal with myself at the end of last year that a) I would read more fiction in 2014 and more specifically b) that I would read more books in genres I have ignored or snubbed my nose at for far too long and c)I would buy a few books written by underrated authors and self-published authors or authors whose publishers don’t have massive publicity and marketing budgets.  I want to for example read more Fantasy and I’d like (finally) time travel and explore new worlds in Science Fiction.


Are there any genres that you intentionally or maybe unconsciously avoid?  Why?

Last night (or rather in the dark wee hours of this morning) I finished Kim Wilkins’ wonderful Giants of the Frost.  This is the story of Victoria Scott a scientist/meteorologist who accepts a position at an isolated island weather station in the Norwegian Sea.

But there are shadows outside her cabin window, a hag in her dreams and a disturbing sense of familiarity the deep, haunted forest.

On Asgard. the world of the old gods, Odin’s son Vidar has exiled himself from hos cruel family to await the reincarnation of his beloved; a woman his father murdered a thousand years ago

I was hooked from the short Prologue to the very surprising End.  This is a clever and intricately plotted love story populated by a host of very real mortals with very real everyday issues and desires and mythic creatures like a lake-dwelling draugr and a wood wight named Skripi (loved him!) made of branches and twigs and oily black eyes.  Also the author does an incredible job of bringing Asgard and its gods like Vidar, Odin, Loki and Thor to life.

It’s a happy day.  I have another favourite author.

What are you currently reading? 

A childhood in books

This post is inspired by Em’s  brilliant posts here and here.  It is not so much a response to the questions posed in these posts because I have moved around a lot and books – precious books – have been lost and donated and exchanged over the years and no longer grace my bookcase.  So this is more a rumination of sorts about the books that winged their way to me when I was a young reader.  Back then in my glorious youth I was very (very) generous, even eager to share my love of reading with others.   I am wiser now about who gets to foster my books for a few days.  I have been called names no doubt by a few Philistines but it’s ok I won’t have my books’ spines twisted out of shape or their papery ears bent in punishment.

I was born into a house of barren walls and empty nooks with the only warmth emanating from the generations-old, leather-bound Bible in my mother’s bedroom.   I was drawn to that book like a moth to a flame and I remember sitting with that Bible in my lap for hours on end paging through it before I could read.   It is my first memory with regards to books.  It stands to reason then that the Bible was my favorite ‘story book’ as a child.  I read it still, every day.

Steve Hanks

Painting by Steve Hanks

I was blessed with a fairy godmother.  I have no idea when my godmother realized I loved books (she only visited on my birthday and on religious holidays) but I remember receiving Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree series and a set of The Famous Five one super fine Christmas Day.     I must have read and reread those books a hundred times in my own secret place (in the crook of an entwining limb of our fig and apricot trees).

Just before my eighth birthday I plucked up the courage to ask for a book from my mom.  My sister and I knew better than to ask for anything because mother was always reminding us that ‘money does not grow on trees’ but I was desperate to OWN books.  While other children went to sleep dreaming of building sand castles I  was inspired by tales of great libraries like the Library of Alexandria .  If I hoped to amass an impressive collection in my lifetime I had to start early.   I needed another book more than I needed another pair of Bata toughees (we got a new pair every year for our growing feet because apparently our feet grew an inch or two on the anniversary of our births).  I seem to think I asked her for a book of Fairy Tales.  Something gloriously covered (velvety cloth, soft leather) and dusted with gold with faeries sprouting out of toadstools and unicorns in sunny dales.   But here’s what I got.   It was on sale.


Gus Ferguson’s ‘Snail Morning’.  This was my first book of poems.   Gus Ferguson’s poetry is arresting and clever and wry but I don’t believe this celebrated poet intended it for small children.  If I have any regrets it is that I lost this book.  I wish I still had it so I could share some excerpts with you.   I credit this book with gifting me with a love of molluscs but it is also the first book that made it abundantly clear to me that a great writer is a good observer.

My parents were never ‘together’.  They were married for ten years on paper  (they were teenagers when I was born) and my father led his own life.  So when he did visit – days that always seemed especially golden, especially bright – he would drive my sister and I to a bookstore downtown.    He would sit in a corner of the bookstore reading The Sunday Times while my sister whined that she would rather be shopping for shoes and I too happy to pay her any heed would browse for a few glorious hours.  We would always leave with a book.  One book.  And usually because my sister is younger and prettier and not a reader I would be the one to choose the book. Those were good times.  That’s how I amassed my collection of Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl.  If you’re a child or an evergreen teenager at heart I highly recommend using your parent’s guilt to get you books.

Do you remember your first book/s?  The book/s that made you fall hopelessly and helplessly in love with stories and words?    I’d love to hear from you.