I have just finished a great little book- about reading books, titled Tolstoy and the Purple Chair. I admit I picked it up mainly because of the title. But once I started to read this little gem, I was hooked. It is the true story of a woman who sets out to read a book a day for a year— a daunting task for a mother of four boys. So I was quite skeptical at first of how she would accomplish her quest, and actually, the big question for me was why, why would she do this?
The reading I soon learned, was to help her stand still and understand how to deal with the grief after the death of her sister. She read for hope and comfort and it was her only perceived link that she shared with her sister. She explains in one chapter that her father was put in a sanatorium to recover from TB for over a year. To her she equates her reading challenge as a kind of sanatorium that helped her heal, to get herself back together.
She began her journey with the literary gem The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery- later she recalls that from this book she learned to find “moments of beauty” whenever she could.
She at first foolishly thought she could read during the day when her kids were in school, in-between laundry and making dinner. But the author soon learns the only time available in her busy schedule is in the evening after everyone is in bed. She wisely chooses books that are only an inch in width, about 250-300 pages, but when one of her sons tells her to read Watership Down, a 500-page tome, she rises to the challenge. Each book is reviewed and posted to her website daily.
After reading Sankovitch’s book I felt inspired to read more. I have a list the length of my arm of must read books from her and one of them is called The Novel Cure by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin.
I encourage you to read this book— you will be truly inspired.
I had the pleasure of listening to an author talk at the Central Library the other night. I wondered if it was worth the trouble to take the C-train downtown instead of hanging out in my pajamas at home like I do every night. Gone are the days of my youth when I would go out dancing after midnight! The author that I was going to see was Barbara Gowdy— she was promoting her new book of fiction, Little Sister.
The audience I noticed was largely older women in groups laughing and talking. Barbara walked onto the stage with two pillows and went on to explain the constant pain she was in for many years, and how she had to write lying down in bed. Her stories were amusing and thoughtful. Once she burped and said, “oops, sorry I burped!” And I thought, what an adorable person! The audience at first was slow for the question and answer period, but soon got on a roll and someone asked her if she regretted anything or wished she had changed something after it was written. She said she realized that everything that she wrote or did, had to happen, and, as a result, the next book was created. I like how she also said that we are all different people at different stages of our lives, meaning perhaps the first book she wrote, that she claims were very serious–was written by a different her. She also discussed how many writer’s families, especially their mothers, don’t actually like their books.
And on the very hot topic of cultural appropriation, Gowdy says about her book The White Bone, she hopes that if some elephants read her book, they won’t be mad that she may have made mistakes in how they actually live their lives. She wrote The White Bone to help people understand the plight of the elephants–but says that she doesn’t think it had any impact at all. She added that one of Trump’s sons hunted and killed elephants for sport.
She also discussed the importance of reading fiction. Her example was that a man who only read cookbooks cheated on his wife with her close friend. He was surprised when everyone was upset and mad at him. If he read fiction Barbara went on to explain, he might have understood these basic truths about how life works. We all enjoyed her story of how her little sister came with her to the hospital to help her when she had a diagnosis of breast cancer. Her sister had a seizure in the hospital, was whisked away to surgery and was fine after. It was like her cancer saved her sister’s life, Gowdy said. An amazing story told by a truly fine storyteller.
I encourage anyone to attend any books talks that you are able. It made for a wonderful evening–it was definitely worth getting out of my PJs for a change.
I am a creature of habit. Whenever I go to a restaurant and find a meal that I love, I only order that same meal although there are many other enticing choices to choose from. This can go on for years. When I go to the swimming pool, I always choose the same locker and shower stall and when I go to yoga I have a favourite part of the wall that I like to do legs up the wall with before class. I like to have my same coffee mug in the morning for my latte and I place the same ring on my finger every day as I swish out the door.
And if you ever go grocery shopping with me you will know better than to not put that little cart token back in its special spot on my key chain!
Now, some of you may say this is a bit OCD— a little bit of Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory stuff happening here, but I say, no! these little rituals are actually good. It is the little habits that I can count on in a world full of change and uncertainty.
If you saw my office you would know that I am the opposite of OCD , tiny piles of papers swirl around my naked ankles as I sit and write this blog. Although I do have them in piles that only make sense to me.
And when my significant other makes fun of me for always liking the same food, I tell him in my defense, that really this works in his favour. I only like him. I don’t want to change my order. Just like the grilled chicken burger with a side of yam fries that I always order at restaurants, I will always order up the same red-headed guy. Once in a while I am persuaded to try some other meal at a restaurant and am almost always disappointed. I think,”Darn! I could of had the chicken burger.”
Here is a link to a very popular book about tidying up your life, it is about bringing order to your surroundings to create a sense of calm into your world- which I guess is what I am trying to do with my little rituals. I haven’t read it yet, but it is on my to- do list that is underneath these mounds of papers.
If it doesn’t exist on Google maps…. is it still real? I think of this as I sit in an adorable little Korean Bistro that I have overlooked as I have driven by after work for over a year. In the mood for a restaurant one evening we decided to look it up and couldn’t find it on Google maps. “Well, its not there anymore,” says he,
“Well, yes it is because I drive by it every day”.
“Well no, it’s not”—. and on and on it went. Eventually we chose Earl’s but we missed out on a nice cozy local restaurant. The whole area on 52nd ave. is an awful looking strip mall, colourless and dull looking from the outside. But in each of the little shops there are true exotic cultural gems that I insist anyone who lives in the NW should investigate if they haven’t already done so.
For a good long while Friday nights were Pho nights for me and my youngest at Essence of Saigon Garden. I had to look up the name because we just found it by a sense of hungriness and never even looked up at the sign to see what it was called. After we were Pho’d out we then moved two doors to the left for Indian food at Saffron. This is a delightful locally run restaurant with traditional food made by a mom with love. When we tire of Indian food I can now venture into this little Korean spot right a hop skip and a jump from the big high school. The man outside who is Korean says his favourite dish is the seafood soup. I sat inside waiting for my take out order and noticed a whole other culture inside. How lucky to have all these little gems of restaurants all within the same vicinity I thought as I waited for my dinner. I glanced across the dull parking lot and noticed an African specialty food store and many other places that make me think of a Geode, dull on the outside but once you open it up it is sparkly and shiny and gives you a little thrill, just as you are about to peer inside.
Hanging out in the lineup at Superstore is a great place to people watch in a big city. I get to see what sort of strange-looking alien vegetables old grannies from exotic countries are buying. Sometimes I ask them what they are making with said vegetable….” my son’s favourite, bitter melon soup!” I would perhaps be lead to believe this woman is a good mother, as she is making her sons favourite dish.
The next aisle over I watch as a small girl climbs out of the large shopping cart and begins to “ help” her mom by passing her everything in the cart including the large hefty family sized bag of frozen fruit from down below. The mom patiently lets her do this and I know she is the good parent who knows that the child is helping to give her something to do besides sit and feel helpless as a parent is busy doing “chores”. The child (I could tell) felt proud, while the mom just had to stand and smile at her as she did all the work. Although I know it would have been faster if she did it herself. I could see another child the same age fussing around with a chocolate cookie mashed into his face to keep him occupied but this apparently didn’t stop his whining. This mother was shushing and then yelling at her child who was obviously bored and full of energy… which could have been disappated through a bit of grocery handling I thought.
These two cases are obvious good parent versus bad.
Now, at a Sunday morning 90 minute yoga class the other day I was astonished to see a little girl, maybe four years old sitting alone in the waiting room. I noticed that for the first bit she sat staring at her little electronic device but later, she began to impatiently knock on the window—at who I realized were her mom and dad doing yoga together. Now—who am I to judge?
Another evening I came across a tearful young girl who lost her brother after her mom left him outside on a snow bank to teach him a lesson. They drove away and when they returned, the nine-year old was gone. The last I saw was a police cruiser searching him out. ( he was found, and is fine now.)
I am sure there are many people who will choose one side to the other. But if something did happen to your child, after you had your adult tantrum… because I assume that is what it was, then wouldn’t you be dreadfully sorry years later, posting pictures of your lost child on billboards and Facebook pages? This is a big city. Children are in need of people who put their best interests forward.
I was thinking of this as I devoured a great book that gives a clear example of bad parenting at work. Read Cea Sunrise Persons two memoirs, North of Normal and Nearly Normal. You will see how a mother who truly loves her daughter really fails her by not protecting her from the world.
I have read too many Chicken Soup For The Soul books lately. It is starting to affect the way I think. I am becoming too positive. Too soulful. Too grateful to be alive—too everything.
I can’t shake the story of a Chinese couple who lived in the back of a relative’s bakery for years, eating only buns and other bakery items to save money to buy their business. They could only wash in a tiny sink.
I have been reading word press sites like Frugal Endeavors, that tell you how to live simply while saving money. I have also been enjoying Cooking on a Bootstrap. Her blog has great money-saving tip like—
I have also been clipping coupons and googling how to save money, but I feel a more drastic approach is necessary. Some sites annoyingly tell me things like, “buy second-hand clothes and cook your own meals” ( a bit obvious and it doesn’t seem to be working). Moving to a big city has its challenges, especially raising a family here. How can a normal family reduce their expenses without moving into the back of a store, although, at this point, I think I would, if someone offered.
Some things in life are too hard to fight against like the ennui one feels after reading too many inspirational stories. And knowing that no matter how many coupons you clip your grocery bill will always be higher than you had bargained for. So I decided to return all of my Chicken Soup For the Soul books to the library. They were inspiring, but I felt a bit bad after reading them.
Plus, I don’t think I can convince my family to eat only dried out buns and to bathe like birds in a tiny sink.
But I won’t lose my sense of gratitude. That’s why I still enjoy those books. They remind me to be grateful for the little things, like knowing how to play Heart and Soul on the piano forty years after learning it. It sticks with you—
like thankfulness and appreciating the small things.
Once in a while I stumble upon a book that blows me away. This past week I have been totally destroyed by the novel Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I love it when I am swept deep into a character’s life, and I love it when I am surprised. I often speed along not stopping to wonder why there are little plays within the story, although I have a sneaking suspicion that they are trying to warn me of something bigger that will happen, but I am helpless to stop. I have to stay up late until my hands are cold and stiff from clutching the little paperback. I laugh and cry ( like a madwoman) and think “Yes! She is right that is just what marriage is like and then no! I can’t believe it. That is not what marriage is like!” I can only stop when it is finished and think, with a bit of jealousy that I don’t think I could ever write that well. But mostly I feel crushed in the soul that it is over.
I am certain there will not be another good book written out there ever again.
And I know this isn’t true. But I feel that way. I might be that man in the Twilight Zone left all alone in the world, left alone free to read all day long, but his glasses break. But in this case, I have my glasses ( they are always perched on the top of my head after all.) I have my glasses, but I am out of book. I feel wretched and pouty.
Until of course, I find another amazing novel and this whole business will start up again.
I am reminded of something that Nora Ephron said in her book, I Feel Bad About My Neck: “There is something called the rapture of the deep, and it refers to what happens when a deep-sea diver spends too much time at the bottom of the ocean and can’t tell which way is up. When he surfaces, he’s liable to have a condition called the bends, where the body can’t adapt to the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. All of this happens to me when I surface from a great book.”
― Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman
Even though Nora does explain this problem quite eloquantly, I must say that in all my years of being married to a diver, never once has the bends been referred to as the rapture of the deep.
But I understand that feeling. I am feeling it now. All I can do is go to bed.