Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bird in the House by Margaret Laurence

The discovery of an old book that becomes a new favourite is one of the pleasures of working in the library.  Such a book is Margaret Laurence’s Bird in the House. In this book, by one of Canada’s best loved writers, are eight inter-connected short stories of a young girl Vanessa Macloed, growing up on the Manitoba prairies during the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

This book offers a young girl’s view of her world.  She lives with her extended family in the fictional town of Manawaka, in the brick house built by her grandfather.  Vanessa is very interested in the people around her and often indulges in eavesdropping.  We meet the interesting and varied people that live under the same roof;  her strict, feared grandfather; her gregarious Aunt Edna, and her parents and little brother.  Through Vanessa’s voice we learn of family love and conflict and a young girl’s growing awareness of herself and the world around her. 

The title of this book comes from the old saying, “a bird in the house means a death in the house”.  This beautifully written novel about the beauty, pain and wonder of growing up is strongly recommended to anyone who wants to delve into some classic Canadian fiction.   

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mr. Owita's guide to gardening by Carol Wall

During the Easter season our thoughts turn to spring and all things green.  Deb in our Winkler branch came upon the memoir, Mr. Owita’s guide to gardening.  In this memoir, Carol Wall recounts her friendship with Giles Owita, an immigrant from Kenya who works part-time as a gardener. 

Wall asks Owita to help her reclaim her lawn, an eyesore that is becoming the worst looking yard on the block. Journal messages are exchanged, initially with landscape instructions, but soon they form a sharing supportive relationship.  Despite their differences in race, personality, and background, both Owita and Wall carry family and health burdens that are lightened by sharing them.  She is burdened by recurring cancer, aging parents, and an empty nest.  He is strangely accepting of having left his family, being HIV positive, and holding a PhD in Horticulture which is not recognized in his new country. Through their friendship, both truly help each other—in real tangible ways that change each other and their community.

The character’s positive outlook and willingness to grow is part of the enjoyment of this book.  If you enjoy inspirational memoirs or gardening books (or both), this heartbreaking yet heartwarming account of a life-changing friendship may be for you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Mid-Life Misadventure on Spain's Camino de Santiago de Compostela by Jane Christmas

A number of our local residents have participated Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage.  Curiosity, and the peculiar title, draw many into the book, What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Mid-Life Misadventure on Spain's Camino de Santiago de Compostela by Jane Christmas.

During an interview, on the spur of the moment, Jane Christmas blurts out that her intention is to walk this ancient pilgrimage trail, even though at the time she knows very little about it.  By the time she leaves, she is the assumed leader of a group of 14 squabbling middle-aged women.  This is not her idea of a pilgrimage.  After a week she loses her group and must face the trail alone.  Her emotions run the full gamut: fear, exhaustion, despair, courage and elation. 

So where does the psychic come in?  Jane asks the psychic if the pilgrimage is a good idea.  Even though she dismisses the psychic’s advice, she remembers her three warnings:  beware of catfights; the pilgrimage will be rougher than expected; and she will meet a mysterious fair-haired man.   

Not only are we treated to Christmas’ inner thoughts, but also beautiful descriptions of the countryside, its history and people.  For anyone wanting to know more about this ancient pilgrimage trail, this book is worth a look.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

A book on the best seller lists recently is Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings.  This novel is based on the real lives of Sarah and Angelina (Nina) Grimk√©, unconventional women who break from their high-society family to fight against slavery and for women’s rights. 

Set in early nineteenth century Charleston, Sarah on her 11th birthday, is given a 10 year old slave girl as a gift. Even at this young age, Sarah feels she shouldn’t own “Handful” as everyone in the house calls her. Handful’s mother makes Sarah secretly promise that she’ll free her daughter as soon as she can. In many ways, Sarah spends the rest of her life trying to keep that promise as she and Handful share a relationship very much influenced by the times. The three women constantly face the challenges of  making their way in a world where the role of a proper woman is very circumscribed.

Sue Monk Kidd has said, “It’s certainly a challenge to write from a place where history and imagination intersect.”  Deb in our Winkler branch calls this a brilliant novel of hope and daring and highly recommends it.