Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Kay's Lucky Coin Variety

Kay's Lucky Coin Variety / Ann Y.K. Choi
Toronto:  Touchstone, c2016.
288 p.

I read this a while ago now, but didn't review it at that point. Between the time that I finished this and today, I've also discovered the CBC tv series Kim's Convenience, also about a family from Korea who runs a convenience store in Toronto. That, however, being a tv show, is a bit lighter and less intense than this book. I loved the show, and have to admit that I thought of Janet, the daughter in Kim's Convenience, when I revisited Mary in this novel. 

Mary, or Yu-Rhee, is a teenager in the 80s, when her family (parents, one brother) have moved to Toronto from South Korea and are trying to make a better life for their children with their convenience store. Mary and her brother Josh experience many of the issues that new immigrants face; the clash between parental values and those of the new social groups the children are forming; high expectations of achievement; racism, whether subtle or not; and the fact of having to work very hard to solidify a new life. 

Through the store, Mary meets many locals -- ranging from prostitutes to families to other store owners -- and this means the reader gets an overview of 1988 Toronto, in both its ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. Being a teenager, Mary has difficulty relating to her parents. She finds understanding in a high school English teacher who she has a crush on (and who is a weak, snivelling, taking-advantage kind of character who I despised).  But when she finally gets to university, she finds a teacher who truly inspires her to take ownership of her own life, and her own story. Mary's path is as much about writing as it is about surviving.

Unfortunately, while the premise is strong, and there was much to enjoy, I also found the writing style a bit dry and expository. I wasn't drawn into Mary's very eventful life as much as I'd expected, finding there was perhaps a bit too much "event" packed into a bit too little story. The book starts fairly reasonably, a family story that promises an emotional journey. Then all sorts of things start happening; accidents, attacks, quickly souring relationships, bad behaviour leading to disgrace, violence -- it started to feel as if Kay's Lucky Coin was a misnomer of a name, like the letters "Un" had fallen off the sign somehow.

Nevertheless, I still thought that this was a pretty solid story overall about a Korean experience that I'd like to hear more about. I'll be interested in what Ann Choi does next. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Alphabetique, with Blushes

Here I have two recent reads by Molly Peacock, an American born poet who lives in Toronto & counts herself as half Canadian as well.

I've read her book about poetry previously (How to Read a Poem & Start a Poetry Circle); now I'm getting to some of her actual poetry.

The Second Blush / Molly Peacock
New York: Norton, c2008.
85 p.

So as I mentioned, I haven't read much of Molly Peacock's poetry before. This collection is about domesticity, about her life with her husband, and the role of love in shaping our lives. It's very readable, 'poetry' in the sense that most new readers would recognize. 

She uses a lot of end rhyme, with short poems describing moments that are easily grasped. Yet they aren't simple, exactly. I found many of them evocative of emotion, of daily living, in an understated but resonant way. "Happy Diary", a list of things that have made the poet happy, complete with rhyme, is obvious but still lovely. And she takes basic activities like doing dishes, having a picnic, or going to yoga and turns them into poetry. 

I liked this collection;  it's set out in four sections and each has a certain feel to it. She is talking to the reader, inviting them into her poems, and it gives the book a warm and welcoming feel. I found that one, "The Flaw", was a favourite, as she used textiles as a metaphor, which I can really appreciate. And one called "Warrior Pose", about yoga class, has a few lines in it that struck me in our current climate. 

How can we think ourselves into the full bloom
of power and vigilance? Perhaps
by imagining buds curled in our palms,
opened by the ants of persistence
and fed by new focus into peony flowers,
huge, magenta and smothering our enemy's
surprised face with lunging beauty.

You can read some of the poems from this volume at her website (and listen to her read one) -- including my favourite, The Flaw.

Alphabetique / Molly Peacock; illus. by Kara Kosaka
Toronto: McLelland & Stewart, c2014.
160 p.

The charm of this book lies heavily in its gorgeous collage illustrations done by Vancouver's Kara Kosaka - you can see them all at her website. They are simply beautiful.

In its alphabetic focus, size and art, this book recalls two other titles that might be of similar interest to readers: Diane Schoemperlen's recent By the Book, and the non-illustrated but very brief & moving The End of the Alphabet by C.S. Richardson, which to me has the same quirky, intellectual tone.

In this book, Peacock posits a life and existence for each letter of our alphabet. And in each brief tale, the letter lives a little. With a lot of alliteration. I could continue, it's curiously catching. 

It's a mannered and clever structure, depending on wordplay and archness in the storytelling. The idea shapes the content. It's amusing, but don't read them all together at once; space out the stories so you don't get overwhelmed by the conceit and can enjoy each tale separately. I found that I had to take a little break from it after a few letters, and then just kept picking it up to read one or two more in between other books. That worked well. I enjoyed some letters more than others, of course, and I also liked how previous stories worked their way into later ones. 

I thought it was interesting and intellectually satisfying, but the beautiful images are really what have stuck with me. It's a small volume, with both images and words giving a bit of a dreamy feel to the reading experience.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Anne Carson's Short Talks

Short Talks / Anne Carson
London: Brick Books, 2015, c1992.
75 p.

Another in Brick Books' reissuing of classics from their backlist, done in honour of their 40th year of existence, this was the first volume of the collection.

It's fabulous.

Anne Carson is a classics professor and a former McArthur Fellow. She's won many awards for her work, but I must admit that personally I felt that this volume was the one I've most easily understood, absorbed, and enjoyed.

It's a collection of small poems in the form of paragraphs, ranging from a couple of sentences to nearly a full page. They are reflections on various themes, some funny, some wistful, all clever. Her study of classics comes through in many of the poems; intelligence and wit shine in this book.

A few of them reminded me of Sei Shonagon, and by extension also Suzanne Buffam's recent A Pillow Book. The resemblance is clear in pieces like "A Short Talk on Major and Minor", which starts with a brief list of each (in sentence format). There is also a certain similarity in the attention to daily life & the minutiae of experience between these two books.

There are other poems that are short talks on a topic which, as it turns out, the poem is really not about at all. And some of the very shortest pieces turned out to be favourites. I think the one that struck me most was "A Short Talk on the Sensation of Aeroplane Takeoff" -- it's a sentence long, but what a sentence! Joyful and unexpected. 

Another great reissue from Brick Books, I enjoyed musing over this one slowly and uncovering some new ways of perceiving the world. Recommended.

Listen to Anne reading a few of these pieces here:

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Happy Year of the Rooster!

Happy Year of the Fire Rooster!

It's another New Year! And in 2017 we are heading into the year of the Fire Rooster. What does this mean if you are a rooster? Well...according to astrologyclub.org
  "This is your year. You understand the flow of the energy this year. You’ll know when to wait, when to watch, when to act, and when to rest. Your timing will be impeccable. If you arrive late to the party, it was meant to be. If you forgot something, you will find you didn’t actually need it." 

As for me, I'll celebrate as usual -- with a booklist of rooster themed books!

This classic counting story follows rooster as he walks through a day and gathers animals around him, then returns home to his cozy house. Simple, with Carle's colourful illustrations, this is always a winner.

Based on a traditional folksong, this book is a cumulative story (or song!) with animals being added one by one to the eponymous rooster. You may also find that it includes a cd with this and 2 more songs by Pete Seeger.

Concepts of time, animal sounds, and the value of hard work all combine in this story of a rooster trying to awaken a farmer so he can get to work.
An ethnically diverse classroom goes to visit a farm and watch eggs hatching, in this cheery and rhyming story about opposites and springtimeIllustrated in a fresh and lovely style.

And now for an adult pick, a memoir in which journalist McGrory marries his vet, and inherits her family, including a loud, aggressive rooster... who ends up teaching him how to be a loyal husband and man. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

One Hundred Days of Rain

One Hundred Days of Rain / Carellin Brooks
Toronto: BookThug, c2015.
203 p.

I recently searched out this novel, mainly because it's written by someone I went to university with -- well, perhaps not "with", but at the same time as. While Carellin Brooks was not aware of me & my circle, we were certainly aware of her in her capacity as a Rhodes Scholar, which was very impressive to us. And then just as I finished this novel, I saw that the ReLit award nominee list was finally posted, and this is one of the nominees. It also won the 2016 Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction earlier last year.

Told in 99 short chapters, this spare poetic novel relates the story of a breakup. It begins with a domestic dispute, one noticeable enough for the neighbours to call the police. And it turns into an uncomfortable she said/she said situation, as our unnamed narrator is arrested. It's also unexpected, playing against type, as she's revealed as the more delicate of the two women. 

The story is told from her perspective, working through her actions and emotions as this separation and eventual divorce are processed, through many long days of rain. It reads almost like a first person narrative, with emotional distance established by the use of she, her etc. rather than "I": the writer tells the story, not the narrator. 

The continuous focus on the details of weather and varied kinds of rain (it's set in Vancouver) reflect the ways relationships can be perceived differently from moment to moment -- each slight permutation of rainfall is catalogued and described, and the occasional day of sun is celebrated. (after a point I couldn't help being reminded of Ray Bradbury's All Summer in a Day)

The brief sections, which all dissect the narrator's life as she struggles through this rather nasty breakup, carry a repetitive rhythm that made me think of music; layering one instant over another over another until a full symphony is produced. Our narrator has a young son who is caught in the midst of the arguments between she and her estranged spouse, M. The young boy's father is also in the picture, adding another stressor to her new situation. But she makes it through; each chapter is another step in her journey.

The writing is elegant and resists sentimentality. It's precise; Brooks doesn't use a deluge of words to describe the watery themes. I enjoyed the brief chapters -- like glimpses into parts of this character's life, now and then the past, and now again, each one illuminating just a little more about the failed relationship. As you read, the picture expands, and hindsight allows for a pattern and for a little bit of justification on the narrator's part. But, since you only see things from her vantage point, there is still room left to wonder what things looked like from the other side. It's raw and honest, full of sadness, regret, and yet still a bit of hope for the future, all while avoiding easy emotional storytelling.

I think it might be the sympathy shown for the characters that wins over the reader. Each of the people who surround the narrator have their pluses and minuses, each has a part to play in this major change she's going through. And each hurts in their own way, also. And yet there are so many little things that offer momentary escape, like a spontaneous trip on the ferry, a sunny day, even a brief connection to surprised strangers who all experience a moment of hail on the street together. 

The narrator is a sympathetic lead, and her story is told with nuance and precision. The poetic evocation of both the emotional and actual landscape of her life adds something really special to this story. The story is beautifully framed by the 99 chapter structure, the writing is satisfyingly complex, and the emotion is authentic and haunting. I guess I'm still a little envious of the ability of the Rhodes Scholar I admired 25 years ago! 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Embers by Wagamese

Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations
Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, c2016.
176 p.

This is a lovely, thoughtful book made up of musings and meditations by writer Richard Wagamese. His former blog was full of these kind of intimate pieces that I always enjoyed reading for their eye on the world.

So I was happy to see this new book. It is a small book, with beautiful full-colour photos throughout. There are many pages that have an image and a quote in fancy font, which look like they might fit right in on Instagram or Pinterest. 

(for an example, scroll down on this feature at the Tyee to see 3 of these illustrated meditations) 

And yet, this is more than a fluffy visual treat. Wagamese is a deeply spiritual writer, and he values silence and ceremony as a way of life. This is what centres him and brings his art to life. I deeply resonate with this, feeling that more silence and stillness would be very welcome right now. 

I could quote a lot of different passages to illustrate what I loved about this book. There are dialogues with "Old woman" about Creator and the meaning of life; there are appreciations of natural beauty and the small daily joys found in nature. None are more than a page long. This was a great read following on from my recent spate of poetry reading -- these small pieces feel poetic, feel like expressions of attention to the world. They are statements that stand alone, but that track Wagamese's spiritual journey, that are an expression of his personal pondering along the way. It's the kind of book that you can read slowly, page by page, or just flip through and admire the very nicely put together physical book, returning to read beyond just the quotes a little later.

Here are a few excerpts I found particularly meaningful in our current situation.

Me: What if we're wrong?
Old Woman: Wrong about what?
Me: All this ceremony, prayer, meditation. What if, at the end of it, all there is is nothing?
Old Woman: Then we still come out better people. 
Me: How?
Old Woman: Can you think of a better way to live than in gratitude? Can you think of a better way to be than to be kind, loving, compassionate, respectful, courageous, truthful and forgiving? Even if we're wrong, can you think of a better way to breathe than through all of that?

You can't test your courage timidly. You have to run through the fire, arms waving, legs pumping and heart beating wildly with the effort of reclaiming something vital, lost, laid aside or just plain forgotten. When you do that, you discover that we shine most brightly in community, the whole bedraggled, worn, frayed and tattered lot of us, bound together forever by a shared courage, a family forged in the heat of earnest struggle.

And one more dialogue that I loved, with my own interest in and practice of sewing as a craft and a metaphor: 

Me: What's the greatest teaching in life?
Old Woman: You have to make your own moccasins. 
Me: You're kidding, right?
Old Woman: No. You make them from the hide of your experience, all the places you have walked. You sew them with the thread of the teachings, the lessons embedded in all the hard miles. You stitch them carefully with the needle of your intention -- to walk a spiritual path -- and when you're finished, you realize that Creator lives in the stitches. That's what helps you walk more gracefully. 
I got busy learning how to sew. 

As you can tell, this is a highly quotable book. I read this copy from the library, but I'm pretty sure this is a volume I'm going to want to own. For Wagamese's take on life and spirituality, drawn from his absolutely focused desire to live in harmony with Creator, I recommend you also check out this book. 

One of my favourite pages :)

Sunday, January 22, 2017


I've been meaning to sign up for a diverse reading challenge this year. I just have to get organized! But to help me along is the #DiverseAThon, starting today and running all week. 

Need more info? Check out the DiverseAThon post at Read Diverse Books, where I first saw it... then was reminded by all the Diverse-A-Thon TBRs being posted by various blogging friends today. It was started by a group of BookTubers, and is being hosted by 5 of them this year. Since I don't play along in that arena I'd missed it there, so thanks to all the bloggers sharing it so I can join in. 

Here's my DiverseAThon TBR for this week, a few titles from the books that I have sitting on my get-to-soon stacks. I hope I can share these, if not this week, then soon after.

One Hundred Days of Rain / Carellin Brooks

Embers: One Ojibway's Meditations / Richard Wagamese 

Love, Anger, Madness / Marie Vieux-Chauvet

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Really Good Brown Girl

A Really Good Brown Girl / Marilyn Dumont
London: Brick Books, 2016, c1996.
77 p.

This reprint in the Brick Books Classics series is such a gem. I never did read it in its original incarnation, so was pleased to see it in this new series.

This new edition has an introduction by Lee Maracle and an afterword by Marilyn Dumont, which adds to the context of these poems from their original appearance in the 90s to our current setting.

But these poems really do stand on their own. Dumont's Metis heritage infuses this collection, with a set called "Squaw Poems":

“I am in a university classroom, an English professor corrects my spoken/ English in front of the class. I say, “really good.” He say, “You mean/ really well, don’t you?” I glare at him and say emphatically, “No I/ mean really good.” (from Memoirs of a Really Good Brown Girl)

or from The White Judges:

"At supper eleven of us would stare down a pot of/ moose stew, bannock and tea, while outside the white judges sat/ encircling our house.

And they waited to judge/ "

And also another set, "White Noise", talking about a different vantage point.

"There/ are times when I feel that if I don’t have a circle or the number four/ or legend in my poetry, I am lost, just a fading urban Indian…” (from Circle the Wagons)


"I say I'm Metis like it's an/ apology, and he says, "Mmh," like he forgives me, like he's got a big/ heart and mine's pumping diluted blood..." (from Leather and Naugahyde)

The poems in this book express her experiences passionately, and she talks about writing them, in her afterword. She mentions that many of them were written in the 80s, while she was reading many other Indigenous authors from across the world as well as black American women writers. All of these fed into this collection, as she created "expressions of confusion, sadness, hurt, anger and rage" hoping that it would free other Indigenous women to express their lives as well. 

It's a beautiful collection, with sections that may make non-Indigenous readers uncomfortable at times, questioning our own assumptions and understandings. But also enlightening and engaging for a reader like me. There was one poem that I found particularly lovely in the way it describes what a book can do for us. From Horsefly Blue:

"doesn't this light remind you of all those other times
you looked up from your reading
and were expecting to see
change and nothing
did change except the way
you looked, the way you met the light,
greeted it at the door as a friend
or smiled at it from a distance as your lover?"

I loved this book, and read it all in one big gulp, then went back to revisit it. There is so much in it to look at again and again. I'll close with one haunting image, in an excerpt from a poem that says so much with so few words, The Sound of One Hand Drumming:

"the    small    single    words
of brown women hang on
clotheslines stiff in winter and
thaw only in early spring but
no one takes them off the line because
no one wants last year's clothes,
they're the wrong colour and out of fashion and
if dead white men stopped writing for one thousand years and
only brown women wrote
that wouldn't be enough..."

I'm glad Brick Books reissued this classic so that I could finally read it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Among the Lost

Among the Lost: in Dante's Wake: Book 2 / Seth Steinzor
Burlington, VT: Fomite Press, c2016.
220 p.

I was recently offered a chance to read this, via Poetic Book Tours. I quickly agreed, as I read Book One in this set of Dante-inspired poems, back in 2011 and was intrigued by what might be offered in this follow up. I'm glad I got the chance to shadow this poetic journey a little further!

This second volume carries on, from Book One's Inferno, to Book Two's Purgatory. In this case, purgatory is a not a jagged mountain but a cityscape. Dante still guides our narrator at the beginning of this book, as they fall from Hell and fling themselves into purgatory. As Dante says, 

This is the City of Purgatory. Remember,
now it's your world, no longer mine.
You, who scrape the tops off mountains for coal,
who fill the valleys with garbage, who scrape the

meadows level for parking, who fill the marshes with
concrete and pylons, who build and tear down,
who level the high places and raise the low, have
flattened Purgatory. Now the
eminence that was lit when your lives were dark
is worn away, by you! And you
have grown your city upon and with its rubble.

The flavour of the story goes on much like this. The structure comprises 33 Cantos, following the narrator, also named Seth, as he pursues his track through Purgatory, still in search of Victoria (who impelled him to begin his search originally). 

In this volume, once Dante situates him in his surroundings -- after landing in a hospital room with a woman giving birth, initially -- Seth is left to his own devices to wander and try to determine where he should be heading. His only instruction is to meet Dante at the Presidential Library at sundown.

Seth begins a trek with many asides and many distractions, almost giving up. He meets many different kinds of people, encounters protestors, homeless men, young skateboarders, union men, famous celebrities, and more. Each has some kind of lesson to impart, even if unknowingly. Finally he arrives at what he thinks he is seeking. But of course, it is not what he's expecting. The range of characters and manners of speech that Steinzor includes in this book is what made it most compelling for me; I kept reading to discover who in the world (who in Purgatory?) Seth would enounter next.

I found this volume a little less satisfying than the first, probably partly because I'm much less familiar with the Purgatorio than with the Inferno, and because there were, again, many references to American politicians/current events that I just don't get the nuances of, despite knowing about them in a broader sense.

But the narrative style was still very enjoyable, with some of the writing really standing out for me. I was especially fond of this passage from the closing pages (which sets up the final volume to come quite nicely)

Distant, the city.
Quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet;
hush, hush, hush, hush
say the waters that fill this crescent I stand on.
My breaths join their flow and ebb.
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
How many atoms compose a star? The
night is replete with angels dancing on pinpricks.....

If you're interested in modern poetry responding to the classics, from the vantage point of our current socioeconomic and political situation, this might just be the series for you.


Thank you to Poetic Book Tours & Seth Steinzor for the copy of Among the Lost & the chance to participate in this book tour.

Tour Schedule:

Jan. 10: the bookworm (Review)
Jan. 12: Wall-to-Wall Books (Review)
Jan. 17: Nerdy Talks Books (Review)
Jan. 18: The Indextrious Reader (Review)
Jan. 19: Everything Distils Into Reading (Review)
Jan. 20: Eva Lucia Reviews (Review)
Jan. 21: Readaholic Zone (Review)
Jan. 23: Book Nerd Demigod (Review)
Jan. 24: Eva Lucia Reviews (Interview)
Jan. 25: Diary of an Eccentric (Guest Post)
Jan. 30: Necromancy Never Pays (Review)

Follow the blog tour with hashtag #AmongtheLost

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Happy Malanka!

photo credit: PlastCalgary via Flickr

Happy New Year, according to the Julian calendar -- today is New Year for Ukrainians, and the big celebration, Malanka, is New Year's Eve. If you were at a Malanka last night, you'll probably be too tired to read this...

The good thing is that it is New Year's all over again -- so if any of my suggested possibilities for a resolution so far have been interesting, you can make them now! Great redo if your first choices aren't working, too ;)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Building Community Through Conversations

Resolution: Build Community!

If you would like to build community and open conversations in a time of aggression & polarization, these books may be just the thing.

Community Conversations: Mobilizing the Ideas, Skills, and Passion of Community Organizations, Governments, Businesses, and People / Paul Born
Toronto: BPS Books, c2012.
222 p.

How do we converse as diverse members of our communities? How do structure those conversations so that we're really hearing each other, and gathering in many voices? Paul Born tackles these questions in this very practical book of techniques and examples of doing just that. He is President of Tamarack Institute, an organization focused on this subject which has been working hard on these kind of massive projects for years -- their website is full of great resources to explore, following on from each of these books.

I really liked the structure and the practical nature of this book. Born talks about creating community through holding conversation -- and he means structured conversations with goals and outcomes and so on. There are 10 specific techniques shared which he has used to make this happen, and for each one he shares further online resources to explore. I can see how one or many of these would really benefit when trying to improve communication among community members. Some are very organizational, some are more relaxed and informal, but all have the outcome in mind.

The first part of the book is a general overview of conversing, engaging, collaborating & casting your vision; the second is a look at all 10 techniques he recommends. And what I love about both these books is that for each suggestion, there are numerous notes and links and resources shared for further exploration. This was a thought-provoking book, and I'm also very glad to have discovered the Tamarack Institute's website, newsletter, resources & more. Really encouraging to read of positive action occurring in communities.

Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times / Paul Born
San Francisco: BK Books, c2014.
169 p.

How could I resist a title like this? It says what I'm feeling lately. How do we rebuild a sense of strong social cohesion?

Born discusses this conundrum, defining 3 types of community: shallow, deep & fear-based. I think we can look around and see all of this in our society now, though in this construction, "deep" is the ideal. As I read the key characteristics of each, it was clear to me that I exist mainly in shallow community right now -- with connections to others but not a traditional, deep sense of depending on others and having the drop-in-on-your-neighbour-when-they-need-something knowledge of those around me. But I also started to wonder if that was due to social conditions, or if it is that I'm an introvert, and the idea of hanging out with all my neighbours a lot doesn't actually sound that great to me! This would be very interesting to discuss with anyone else who has read this, hint hint.

Born outlines the four pillars of deep community: sharing our stories, taking the time to enjoy one another, taking care of one another, and working together for a better world. All of these are great principles, all of which I agree are vital to building stronger communities. But I'd like to see them expanded upon with a little more nuance, taking into account cultural and/or personality differences, as noted above.  

This book felt a little more personal, with lots of talk about Born's upbringing in a more rural Mennonite community, which I didn't relate to as much. It felt very extroverty and nostalgic to me, even while I'm obviously interested in the idea of community, which is why I'm reading it. These personal stories were a bit repetitive as well, and while there was lots of good in this bok, I ended up skimming a fair amount. It's good but I'd recommend trying Community Conversations first if what you're looking for is actionable steps toward fostering conversation and understanding.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Saving the World, Step One

Resolution: Save the World!

If you want to become more politically active this year and make your voice heard, here is a great read by the leader of Canada's Green Party (written before she was in that position, and was working as the director of The Sierra Club). It's focused on the Canadian political landscape but many of the points are useful to everyone.

How to Save the World in Your Spare Time / Elizabeth May
Toronto: Key Porter, c2007.
207 p.

I thought this looked intriguing, as I've always had a great deal of respect for Elizabeth May. Now that I've read it, I feel like I know a whole lot more about her, and have even more respect for her accomplishments.

This book really is about saving the world. It is a strategy document; how and why to go about making your voice heard -- from setting your goals, getting in the news, lobbying, fundraising, and more, it gives a logical overview of how to be both seen and effective. It's broken up into chapters on each topic, with stories from May's own life of activism and key points based on her experiences in both small and large groups. Each one builds on the last, with useful tips like giving a politician an answer: know the facts and the costs of what you are proposing, and don't be against something, rather, be for something better.

May insists upon decorum and decency as important to successful activism. This reminds me of a recent interchange in Canadian Parliament, where she took another MP to task for unparliamentary language. She clearly still holds to the importance of decorum in politics!

But the book as a whole is inspiring. She's a very positive and optimistic person despite her lifetime of fighting for change against the status quo. This quote early on is the heart of her message:

"Is it winnable?" may be the world's most pointless question. Our assets are not quantifiable. Persistence, passion and commitment will outrun mere money every time. 

The biggest and most despair-laden question is the big one: "Are all our efforts too little, too late? Is the planet so damaged by human-caused pollution -- toxic wastes, ozone depleters, greenhouse gases -- that no matter what we do we are doomed?"

Get a grip! This is a dangerous frame of mind. It provokes nothing but grief and drains your energy into sheer paralysis. Philosopher George Grant once told me, "The greatest sin is the sin of despair."

For Americans in our present climate, you might find this Indivisible Guide useful, as it provides a strategic step-by-step plan to making your voice heard by your Member of Congress in the same way that May speaks to the Canadian governmental structure in this book. However, May's book still provides plenty of practical, tactical info for every protestor, activist, or concerned citizen of any country to take to heart.

It is a little dated already in some ways -- social media in particular, which May acknowledges will change before she even finishes the book -- but otherwise a useful and thorough overview of activism techniques for Canadians. I finished the book with a lot more understanding of May and more respect for the years of work she did even before joining politics. And many ideas!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

All In: Entrepreneurial Inspiration Part 2

Resolution: Start that business you're dreaming of

All In / Arlene Dickinson
Toronto: HarperCollins, 2013.
304 p.

This is the second book I've read by Dickinson; she is a very successful entrepreneur & was an investor on Dragons Den for years. Plus, she's a decent person, both online and as shown in her first book Persuasion. I'm more likely to take advice from someone like her who is first of all a good human being, then a businessperson. And an experienced, successful one at that. 

All In is partly business advice, partly life advice and just a little bit also a promotion of her new (in 2013) online community, You, Inc. While I'm not all that interested in the online community, I was very interested in this book. 

Within the first few pages I was able to see things differently thanks to her comments. And the book supports the idea of being "all in" -- when you're an entrepreneur you don't think about "work life balance", as often working is life and vice versa. This is a book about the entrepreneurial lifestyle as a whole, not a simple look at how to start a business.

She does state that sometimes you do have to sacrifice things you might have wanted to do because of business needs (she gives the example of having to cancel a vacation with her girlfriends because of a business crisis that arose suddenly) and that sometimes people might have a hard time accepting that, especially if you are a woman. I like that she doesn't sugarcoat the hard work that it takes to be in business for yourself, and also that she doesn't play down the fact that much of this is harder for women because of systemic issues. She also believes that some people have an entrepreneurial personality that will make it easier for them to manage this kind of lifestyle, and I agree; a tendency toward both risk and optimism seems like it would be helpful, as a natural inclination.

Anyhow, if you are at all interested in the self-employed life, or even if you're not but you know others who are, this would be a great read. It will help you understand the personality and philosophy behind someone who is "all in", who is focused on their business first. And it will help you judge whether that kind of commitment would be something you would be up for - and if so, it will encourage you to jump in. All in. 

For more thoughts from Arlene, you can find her most often on twitter, at @ArleneDickinson or on Facebook

Monday, January 09, 2017

Lighting Your Fire: Entrepreneurial Inspiration

Resolution: Find Your (Business or Life) Passion 

If reading about all those creativity tips gets you excited about changing your life, here's one to read on finding your passion, whether that's for life in general or more specifically, in your career. 

The Firestarter Sessions: a soulful & practical guide to creating success on your own terms / Danielle LaPorte
New York: Harmony Books, c2012.
333 p.

Danielle LaPorte is  a cheerful, passionate life and business coach, well known now for her website and her many courses, books and products.When I first saw The Firestarter Sessions a couple of years ago, though, it was my introduction to her work. I've just reread it, and been re-energized by it at this time of year.

The format of the book reminds me of my recent David Usher read: it also has random sized fonts on various pages, and lots of questions and lists to fill out. Here's one example of the interior, from her website:

It's bigger and more content-heavy, however. LaPorte is a very strong, encouraging, positive voice whose specialty is business & entrepreneurship. She's run various online businesses & been successful in many areas. Now she's sharing her experience. It's a bit "girlfriendy" for me, but not too much so - it didn't put me off the book at all. Nor did it stop me from checking out her website and the many programs & resources there. I guess I'm late to the game with Laporte -- she is apparently one of Oprah's "Super Soul 100". Things I didn't know...

Anyhow, this read ties in nicely to the whole idea of expanding creative ways of thinking, in this case focused on personal development. The tone is firm and positive - she is an Oprah/Marie Forleo/Gretchen Rubin kind of writer. But she also has an edge of take-no-crap Canadianness that I really enjoy ;) If you're ready for a book that requires honesty from the reader, this would be it.

I find her style and the content of this book inspiring, for real. The questions she asks really help to move past the excuses we all make to ourselves, and to identify what it is that we want to happen -- and then what needs to be done to get there. No thinking small or yes-butting here. This is a book that would reward rereads and re-working of the questions and answers each time you engage with it. I can see it being helpful especially to those who are ready to make changes, and who are accustomed to writing their way toward finding answers for themselves. If you are thinking about life changes this year, check this book out, and then take a visit to LaPorte's website for more. 

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Happy Ukrainian Christmas!

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Happy Ukrainian Christmas to all!

On this day of celebration, I'll be reading some Ukrainian Canadian literature
 and eating lots of good food -- always important for a proper Ukrainian celebration!

Best Wishes to everyone who celebrates :) 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Let the Elephants Run, with Big Magic

Resolution: Be More Creative

If one of your resolutions this year is to amp up your creative juices, either of these recent reads might be helpful!

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear / Elizabeth Gilbert
New York: Riverhead Books, c2015.
276 p.

Another book by an author I am generally dubious about... Gilbert's Eat Pray Love has to be one of the books I've disliked most in recent years. Argh, so self centred! But I gave this one a try because of its topic.

And it's not bad. I like the focus on personal, everyday creativity. There are some pretty interesting points that she makes. The idea that we just have to show up, to be ready to do the creative work, is key. Persistence is the point that resonated most with me. She covers other areas, like Courage - managing and working through fears and expectations of greatness or horribleness in one's art. Or Permission; to give yourself the name of artist/creative person without having to be "successful" to do so. There are many things I enjoyed and noted down from my reading of this book.

But like many other readers, I have mixed feelings about it. Unfortunately, Gilbert's disingenuous argument that the arts are not as necessary as things like plumbing or roofing, that you shouldn't quit your day job, that most people won't succeed so just be happy with your mediocre hobby (well, I am also being a bit disingenuous here and perhaps overstating her case in my annoyance) bothers me, coming from someone who has made quite a career in the arts, via her creative life. I think she was trying to reduce the sense of perfectionism & fear that keeps people from beginning anything, but perhaps went a little far in the opposite direction!

Anyhow, this is supposed to be a recommendation for a book to help you with your creativity! And if you aren't bothered by some of the things I've mentioned you may really love this one. Even I was inspired by it, and found some good takeaways. Gilbert still seems awfully self-satisfied to me, but if this book were distilled down into something more like the length and breadth of her TED Talk on the topic, it would be just right. 

Let The Elephants Run: Unlock Your Creativity and Change Everything / David Usher
Toronto: Anansi, c2015.
227 p.

As the blurb for this book states: creativity is not magic; it is a learnable skill that any person or business can master.

So, equal but opposite approaches to the genius of creativity between these two books!

This book has much more of a freestyle, creative feel in its own right as a physical object. The pages are covered by random large font statements, colour, illustrations, lists for the reader to write things in, and there are even some photos tossed in there. Usher both recognizes that creativity shows up differently for different people and states that creative people can use that creativity outside of their original "field". For example, he always thought that his creativity was linked to music, but began to realize that his creative way of looking at the world, of understanding things, was applicable to his other interests in tech and business. So one's creativity can be brought to focus on varied areas of life. I love this. It's so true, and important to recognize the many sides to a creative mind. 

He ponders his own experiences, and shares his thoughts on the two pillars of creative success: freedom and structure. Everything he says ties these two elements together. I enjoyed this book and found it quite inspiring, and fun to read. I must admit I saw David Usher speak at a library conference a couple of years ago, and he performed one of the creative exercises he discusses in this book: it was delightful in person, and I found the book just as charming as he was as a speaker - he is quite charismatic. So this may have coloured my experience of reading this...but it's still a good read for anyone interested in creativity and how to foster it in everyday life.

So, get out there and create :)


Further Reading:

Another book on creativity that is based in the author's world is Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. It's a little more intense, perhaps, and delves more deeply into the necessity for discipline as an artist. But it's one that I find very, very inspiring, even if I will never be a full-time dancer, or artist of any sort, myself.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Better Than Before: Keeping the Resolutions

Resolution: Set Goals & Don't Flake on the Resolutions! 

 Oh yes, it is that time of year again... time to set some goals and make some resolutions. I'm going to be sharing a few books over the next week or two that might help readers meet some of these hypothetical resolutions -- or just might be interesting to check out!

If you want to change your habits and really get a head start on your New Year's Resolutions, start with this.

Better Than Before:  Mastering the Habits of our Everyday Lives / Gretchen Rubin
Toronto: Doubleday Canada, c2015.
xii, 298 p.

I've read all of Rubin's books, and I usually appreciate the content while being irritated with the tone. Rubin's style annoys me a bit, and her fixation on strategically optimizing happiness in her previous books was something I could never get behind fully. I wanted to, I just don't believe that "happiness" is the primary aim of life, so it was hard to fully engage. As she says herself in this book, in a conversation with her sister, "You think I'm judgemental?", and yes, that does indeed come across in all of her books. At least she acknowledges it here, sounding more self-aware.

However. I found that this book was both more suited to Rubin's style and that her subject matter was more practical and actionable. In fact, I really liked this book, and find it has a lot of useful ideas around making our habits work for us. And what better time to dig into this book and think about habits than at New Year's? A time when we all think about goals and set some (usually short-lived) resolutions... 

Rubin makes the excellent point, backed up by studies that she references, as usual, that willpower just isn't enough. To make a change, we've got to do more than just *want* to do something, no matter how much we want it. We've got to set up systems that support our goals becoming habits, habits that will become automatic and help us on our way instead of hindering.  As she says, "change our surroundings, not ourselves".  It's all logical, really, but she goes on to share action steps to get us to that point -- ie: if you can't help shopping online, erase the bookmarks to your favourite stores instead of depending on your ability to withstand temptation while browsing. 

The book is set up very logically, with an introduction to what she calls "The Four Tendencies", basically, four categories for the way in which people respond to inner and outer expectations. She then goes through how and when to manage habits for each of these diverse tendencies, and how to measure successes, as well as manage the excuses and prevarications we all make when trying to change our lives. She includes a lengthy bibliography, and notes that more habit-forming resources are available on her blog, GretchenRubin.com (actually there are tons of great things to check out over there).

If you want help with some Resolutions this year, this is a great book to pick up. I'm going to reread it and this time make some notes and try some of these strategies. While according to her Tendencies breakdown, I'm a mix of Questioner & Rebel (which may explain why I'm not very good at resolutions in general) there are helpful tips for all types of habit forming creatures, which I'm hoping will help me achieve more of what I'm hoping to this year. If you pick up this book I hope you'll find it intriguing too. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017


I don't usually make complex resolutions at the New Year; I like to set an intention instead. And the recent trend of choosing a word to represent your overall aim for the year resonates with me, even if I don't choose one every year.

This year, though... this year. It seems to call for a strong intention. I just wasn't sure what mine was, well, not until I spent some time writing in my journal on my Christmas break. Taking time to pause, to write, really clears my mind. And while I was doing this, my husband was reading some fascinating literary essays by Northrop Frye, including one on Wallace Stevens, one of our shared favourite poets.

He kept reading bits out to me. "Listen to this," he'd say, "or this --" and then as I was writing my way toward a word, The Word, he said, "Oh wow, listen --" and he read me this.

"The consciousness fighting back...is the consciousness rising to imagination."

So. Imagine is my word for 2017.
Imagine the world that could be. Imagine how to engage. 
And foster the imagination in general, foster creativity and hope and ideas, with others.