Category: Book Review
Hello, weekend. Hello, rain.
I don’t mind. I feel indoorsy today, sleepy. A long run is planned for late this afternoon, but I prefer running in the cool damp than hot hot heat. I’m baking bread. I’m sipping a cup of coffee and opening the newspaper — and finding a review that I wrote on an essay anthology called In the Flesh (read it here.)
That’s an awfully lovely discovery after a weird writing week. (The dinosaur story got sent yesterday; an interview for another story due next week went well; but I got very little work done on my new novel. It’s always easier to set aside work for prospective payment in favour of work for guaranteed payment.)
Above, a photo of my well-dressed recital children. With the approach of summer holidays, we are coming to the end of lessons. Last piano lessons last week. Last swim lessons next week. Highland dance recital next weekend.
(Soccer, however, will go on. And on. No matter the rain. But it wouldn’t be summer without soccer, at our house …)
Sheree Fitch, the author of Night Sky Wheel Ride, gifted my children with her new book. It is beautiful. Beautiful colours, beautiful lines of poetry, and deeply moving too. My eyes filled with tears as I read it quietly to myself.
What moved me so deeply is Sheree’s portrayal of the goodness of a strong sibling relationship. Set at a fair, brightly and magically illustrated, a brother and sister hope to ride on the ferris wheel.
Are we big enough this year, Mama?
Are we brave enough, Brother?
Sister, are you ready to fly?
The repetition and development of these seemingly simple lines struck me with their poignance. Yes, the brother and sister are big enough this year — a wonderful thing, a moment to celebrate, but also, as all parents know, a sign of change and age. There is always a fragment of mourning in our joy as we watch our children grow.
Yes, they are brave enough. Yes, they are ready to fly. Joy.
I love how the brother and sister are asking each other for support and reassurance. They are testing out their limits and fears together. They are being brave together. They are touching the sky.
Maybe it’s because I cherish my own siblings so much. (I posed the book, above, with a photo of me and my brothers, circa 1985.)
Maybe it’s because I hope my children will weather the rivalry and jealousy and squabbling, and find in each other real friendship and support.
Maybe it’s because Sheree knows what it means to love and to let go.
I don’t know. But this book touched me. And I hope you’ll take Sheree’s night sky wheel ride too.
stop and drink the nectar
The morning is fleeing! I’m running out of time. Stop, Carrie, breathe for a moment. Drink the nectar.
This afternoon, I’m hosting my literary friend Heather Birrell, with whom I will be reading tonight at The Starlight here in Waterloo. She’s been forewarned about the fact that somehow we’ve neglected to vacuum for, like, weeks, and that there are toys and papers and dishes and stuff on pretty much every horizontal surface, floors included, and she assures me that she’ll feel right at home amidst the chaos. Well, she’s got two young daughters. And a brand-new book. I think we’re good.
I want to tell you about her book. It’s called Mad Hope, and the title comes from a line in a pitch-perfect story, “Geraldine and Jerome,” which is set in the waiting room of a medical clinic and links up two unlikely-to-otherwise-meet-and-interact-characters. I happened to read it in the waiting room of a medical clinic (don’t worry, I’m fine). Be warned, if you’re planning to pick up this book and read it in public places: these stories will make you cry. Or maybe it’s just me.
I’m thrilled to say that Heather invited me to be an early reader of these stories, so I know exactly how damn good they are. And the book has been getting rave reviews all over the place. I’m going to get Heather to sign my copy today. You can too, if you happen to be in Waterloo and come out to the Starlight tonight; or in Toronto tomorrow, where we’ll be reading together again at Type Books.
And to add book news upon book news, my many-moons-ago boss, Noah Richler, has a new book out this spring too. It’s called What we talk about when we talk about war, and it’s about how our current government has been steadily distancing our country from its tradition of peacekeeping, preferring the warring nation metaphors instead. Noah will be in Waterloo on May 30th at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies. That just happens to be a free evening for me (!!), and I’m looking forward to hearing Noah speak. Join me? I’ll post more details closer to the date.
One last thing. Noah’s written a really lovely mini-review of The Juliet Stories, published on the 49th Shelf. In it, he talks about hiring me as an intern at the National Post, and his description of who I was then gave me a really lovely “how others see us” moment. Because who knows how others see us? (What I perpetually fear is that maybe I’d rather not know … it’s a personal hang-up. I need to get over that.)
this photo is unrelated to this post’s content; but I digress
Last night, I was invited to read at The Bookshelf in Guelph, which is not far from where I live. It also happens to be the city where my husband and I bought our first house. (I always drive by and peek at it; yesterday, I thought that it looked like it had been sold again; it was a smallish house, a “starter” home, on a fairly busy street.) Our first two children were born in that house. And I spent many an early morning at The Bookshelf with my eldest. He was an early riser (and I was not). Mid-morning was a foggy slog, for me. It helped to put him in the stroller and walk somewhere. It helped, also, to have a destination. So we often walked to The Bookshelf, which was open early. We would sit in the children’s section and read. Our home library is stocked with many board books that came from The Bookshelf.
But I digress. It’s what I do.
I was invited to read with Andrew Hood, whom I’d never met. Originally from Guelph, he now lives in Halifax, and he’s launching his second collection of stories, The Cloaca, with a tour. Catch him tonight in Toronto at the Gladstone. I read first, and then sat back and enjoyed Andrew’s performance of his work. Let’s just say I laughed a lot. He has a talent for dark humour. We shared the stage for a Q&A.
Toward the end of the Q&A, a question came from a young man in the audience — a Nicaraguan doing graduate work at the university. I’ll admit that when he introduced himself I felt a twinge of fear; if I worried about anything during the writing of the book, it was whether I could accurately capture a country not my own. (Okay, I might have worried about a few other things too; but that was top of the list.) But what he wanted to say was that he felt there was another character in my book: the character of Nicaragua. And he wanted to know how I had gotten Nicaragua so right. At which point I started breathing again. I didn’t have a terribly deep answer for him, but I think he’s right, the place is a character too, and if I got it right it’s because I wrote about it the same way I write about all my characters: with great affection. Maybe too much. I really love my characters. I know they’re flawed, but I love them anyway — or, not even anyway — I love them because of their flaws. And so I love Nicaragua for its noise and its smells and its danger and its wild beauty. I mentioned how loud Nicaragua is, and he said that when he first moved to Canada, he thought Canadian cars must not have horns. That’s how quiet we are here, by comparison.
I’m going to digress again.
We subscribe to The Walrus, and yesterday the June edition arrived. In it is a really fine review of The Juliet Stories. I can’t link to it, because it doesn’t appear to be online, but here’s a taste: “Snyder’s new book is the rare successful execution [of a novel in stories], a stream of sensual imagery that grows more sophisticated with each page.” Isn’t that lovely? Just as lovely is the reviewer’s excellent summary of the book: “The Juliet Stories highlights the lessons we learn in youth and with age, and the conflict between the freedom we value and the security we desperately need.” Love that.
One more digression.
Sitting on my desk right now (atop a pile of possibly important papers) is a registration form for a senior recreational women’s soccer team. I’m thinking of joining! Agh! That would mean five out of six of us would be playing registered soccer this summer (CJ will join in on practices, since Kevin is coaching two of the kids’ teams). It would also put us at soccer fields six out of seven days a week, sometimes at multiple fields on the same day. Is this too crazy? The funny thing is, the kids are totally excited. They want to see me play. I’m still wavering, wondering whether it’s too much. Also wondering whether I’ll totally suck. I haven’t played soccer since the age of TEN. That’s a mere twenty-seven years ago.
Wait, I have a final digression. It’s short.
Just discovered this amazing new Canadian magazine called Eighteen Bridges. It’s got excellent writers, long-form journalism, quirky and interesting subject matter, and I’ll give you a link to an article that shows what I mean. Jessica Johnson (an old friend from my National Post days) writing about, ahem, waxing. Girls, you know what I’m talking about. Or maybe you don’t. I personally lack any experience with it, and it was comforting to read about another woman in the same position. Um. Okay, it’s impossible to write about this without sounding all wink-wink. Forget what I’m saying; read Jessica’s piece instead.
And on that note …
On this morning’s run, my friend and I were talking about exercising. About how exercise keeps us balanced, mentally. Yet when we most need to move, to sweat, to feel alive in our bodies is often when we are least in the mood for it. Mental strength underpins physical strength; and we don’t always feel strong or motivated or inspired. I still find it unpleasant, every morning, when the alarm goes off early. I feel resistant to leaving my warm bed and the sweet state of sleep. Every single morning. There hasn’t been one morning when I’ve greeted the alarm by leaping up with joy in my heart. But I do it. And within minutes I’ve gathered my clothes, I’m brushing my teeth, and I’m already beyond the yucky feeling of I don’t want to. I’m ready to go.
What’s the lesson here? Establish a habit. Make a routine that runs counter to your immediate instinct. I’ve never once regretted getting up early to exercise. Yet somehow my mind forgets that every morning. But that’s okay. Because my habits and routine remind me. Other tips for exercising regularly, even when you don’t feel like it: Meet someone — makes it harder to change your plan last-minute. Set out your clothes the night before. Get up and go. Don’t think about it, just do it.
Okay, enough with the motivational messaging.
Today is the day I dreamed of yesterday. The kids left for school with minimal complaining. Lots of kisses from the two youngest. Hugs from the two oldest. Quick nap. Cup of coffee. Finishing the last of the interviews for this article. Sitting and dreaming. Quiet house.
Have I told you that next week is a writing week? It will be my first writing week in this new office space. It will be my first attempt to dig into the new book. I may not update here on the blog quite as often; then again, I may need to blog more often, who knows.
Here are four things that are making me happy this morning.
One is the status update of a writer friend I know only on Facebook: “A must read. I simply can’t stop underlining this book!” with a link to The Juliet Stories. (Wish I could peek in her copy to see what she’s been drawn to.)
Two is a book review by my friend Nath, who didn’t tell me she’d decided to blog about The Juliet Stories. I love hearing her thoughts. Maybe we’ll even talk about it someday while we’re driving to spin class together (or biking outside together–soon!).
Three is an invitation from the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival to do a writing workshop with high school students, and to meet students, on two different occasions.
Four is doing interviews for this freelance piece. I think of myself as shy, but I’ve been really enjoying interviewing people. Maybe this relates back to my original thought o’ the day: don’t automatically trust your immediate instinct. Why would I think of myself as shy? I enjoy talking to be people, and do it regularly. In high school, I was genuinely shy. But that’s more than half my life ago. Time to update the mental self-image.
Today, I am experimenting. Can I compartmentalize and work on two projects at the same time? I am going to attempt to develop my new character (ie. creative, not-yet-for-profit work), even while keeping several irons in the fire for a freelance piece I’m writing (ie. less creative work-for-pay). The new book, of course, has no due date, no deadline. The freelance piece does. I am obsessive about meeting deadlines (not necessarily a bad thing); except I’m so obsessive that I frequently meet deadlines well ahead of schedule. And honestly, I’m not concerned about meeting this one. I know I can do it. Things are moving along nicely. I know this. Still, my instinct is to worry it until it’s done. Thing is, I can’t finish this morning. There are interviews yet to do and other people’s schedules to take into account. More to the point, I don’t need to finish this morning. The deadline isn’t until next week.
So. Can I step back, set it aside, not worry about it, and work productively on something completely different?
As I say, it’s an experiment. It had better work, because, frankly, this could be my life for a long long time. It already is my life, you say? What with the children, and the cooking, and the triathlon training, and the book-writing? It’s funny, but those things all fit together in a long-term way that doesn’t trouble me. They’re all part of a steady routine, an ebb and flow that isn’t exactly predictable, and yet seems symbiotic somehow. More of this, less of that; more of that, less of this.
If I don’t write a blog post today, I’ll write one tomorrow. If supper is on the table late, well, eat some crackers and cheese, kids. If I have to drop a writing day to take a kid to the doctor, my book doesn’t know it. In all of these circumstances, I’m flexible. But give me a deadline and I focus to the point of compulsion. Hm. Maybe this goes back to childhood: feeling a sense of responsibility as the eldest of five, wanting to please, anxious over any perceived failure, stomach in knots if we were late for school. I was “high-strung.” Maybe, maybe, in some circumstances I still am.
My goal for today: Trust myself. I will get the job done. All in good time. And meantime, there is other work to be done, and it’s just as valuable, even if invisible.
Yesterday, a client of Kevin’s brought him a ripped-out page from the latest issue of Elle Canada. “Tracking the best in movies, books, music and art,” says the page. “This month, we’re inspired by free spirits.” And there is The Juliet Stories! I love that Juliet is being identified as a free spirit. (Wasn’t “spirit” my word of the year when I was writing Juliet?) There’s a dark side to being a free spirit, of course, and I suppose that’s partly what the book is about; but sometimes I wish I were more free of spirit — colourful, creative, adventurous, alive. Writing is my window into all those things I couldn’t actually be.
Finally, two exciting reading discoveries.
1. CJ is “reading” to us. I’m pretty sure he’s essentially repeating memorized text, but he links the words on the page with the words he’s saying. Out and about, he notices and reads signs (STOP is a good one), and he notices words and points out letters and letter sounds that he knows. Exciting!
2. Fooey read bedtime stories to CJ last night. For the record, I still love reading bedtime stories to the kids, but I’m not always available — last night I was walking Albus home from piano lessons. I got home in time to hear the tail-end of the last story, and give goodnight kisses. Sweet.
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