A, by André Alexis

A, by André Alexis bookcover-aAndré Alexis’ novella A packs an incredible amount to enjoy and ponder in its infectious 74 pages.

To start, it’s a charming celebration of place. As Toronto book reviewer and aspiring poet and novelist Alexander Baddeley makes his way through his city’s streets and neighbourhoods, they are shown as simultaneously muted and vibrant, welcoming in understated fashion:

“It was again November. Parkdale was grey, but it was a soft grey. Its streets were wet; its pedestrians in half-unbuttoned coats.”

It’s also a sly CanLit romp, oh my. Though the inspiration for Gil Davidoff is thinly veiled (“I’m writing about all the great television I’m making my son watch”), it doesn’t make the character and his ilk and their haunts and machinations any less deliciously observed and criticized. Baddeley circulates in the peripheral waves around other recognizable literary names (Alexis doesn’t always mask them), making wicked observations:

“… it seemed to Baddeley that there was something of the iguana to her …”

A is also a meditation on the nature of artistic inspiration. It offers reflections on mortality and spirituality, rendered haunting and given profundity as they emerge in the midst of the novella’s savoury mischief.

A, by André Alexis (BookThug, 2013)

The Two of Us, by Kathy Page

bookcover-pageKathy Page’s hypnotic short story collection The Two of Us reinforces its title from the first to the last of its unforgettable tales. Each story, unto itself and building successively, piece by piece, spirals in and out from the power of duos and duality. That power is dizzying, and intensifies and deepens with each relationship depicted … and discovered.

The force, the impermeability, the intricacy and the mystery of different types of bonds run the gamut in Page’s collection, from every type of familial configuration – siblings, parents/spouses, parent/child – to former, current and possibly future lovers, to teacher/mentor and student, to service provider and client, to colleagues, and even to human/animal connections. Each pairing offers something that strikes a chord – or something discordant, which still makes an impression, however uncomfortable – and many are piercingly moving.

Sometimes “the two of us” are lost, sometimes found, sometimes sadly not realized or discerned. Your heart breaks for the child who pursues what she thinks is the dog for which she has yearned and, woefully, has emulated with her adoptive family. Sometimes, the most striking and poignant reactions are for couples that seem at first glance to be the most ephemeral or perfunctory. A hairdresser called to substitute in for another stylist makes a startling connection with a client who has a wrenching special request.

Page’s words and observations range from the whimsical …

“On the way back to her house, Sonia posted the quiche into a letterbox.” (from “The House on Manor Close”)

… to the painful but vital:

“It’s such a soft but sudden feeling … the sensation of what used to be turning itself, in the space of a breath, into the beginning of something else.” (from “Open Water”)

Those words come from the final, extended story in the collection, in which one of the unique pairs is the main character, a swim coach and parental figure to a young woman who, although she has Olympic-calibre gifts, has decided to give up the sport. Somewhat buried in the story beneath this central and absorbing relationship is another pair: the two different identities, including different names, that the swim coach has assumed over the course of his life. While the story of the mentor and mentee is as richly affecting as all in this collection, Page reminds us tellingly that sometimes we cannot join in any kind of harmony with others until and if we can reconcile our own dualities.

See also

An added delight of The Two of Us is that the cover was designed by David Drummond. I’ve praised his work on covers for Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott and New Tab by Guillaume Morissette.

The Two of Us, by Kathy Page (Biblioasis, 2016)

What I read in 2016

When I graduated from university, I started to keep track of my books read in this wee diary that was a gift from my roommate.

bookdiary1

I started the books diary in 1983. It’s coming apart at the seams a bit. Over the years, I’ve backed up my list in databases, spreadsheets, Goodreads and other book apps du jour … but I’ve always updated this little diary as part of my reading routine. Yes, this book and this part of my reading ritual is getting on 34 years …

bookdiary2

Here are the books I read in 2016 – once again, diligently recorded in my book diary, along with a backup spreadsheet and Goodreads – with links to reviews where I have them. By the way, this is an exhaustive, “all of” list, not a “best of” list.

I continued my commitment in 2016 to a daily devotion to at least one poem … and usually more, as friends on Twitter continued to generously share their poem choices and reflections via the #todayspoem hashtag. Now five years in, I still haven’t missed a day, both contributing and enjoying selections from others in this edifying, often spirit-lifting and vital communal experience. I’ve now pondered the works of close to 1,000 unique poets, writers, translators, songsmiths and wordsmiths I’ve revisited or unearthed myself, and countless more via others wielding that often revelatory hashtag. On into its sixth year, I’m continuing with my #todayspoem habit every day heading into 2017. I hope many contributors will continue or join anew.

I welcomed some wonderful and insightful guest reviewers and correspondents to this blog in 2016. I’m so grateful for the time and thought they spent on their pieces, from which I learned a lot and hope you did, too. Let’s revisit them again:

Here are the books I read, reread and read aloud in 2016. Wherever I go, I try to carry a book with me, so for each book, I’m also going to try to recall where I was when I was reading it.

  1. Hope Makes Love
    by Trevor Cole

    I vividly recall reading this book at the cottage during the wintry first days of the new year.

  2. The Beauty of the Husband
    by Anne Carson

    I was reading this amazing book while waiting for a friend who was arriving by GO Train at Toronto’s Union Station. We were meeting another friend to go to a poetry reading – how perfect is that?

  3. Fates and Furies
    by Lauren Groff

    I distinctly recall reading this engrossing book snuggled in bed.

  4. A Little Life
    by Hanya Yanagihara

    I went through a protracted period of insomnia last winter and if, after trying to relax and consciously breathe myself back to sleep, I was still wide-eyed in the dark, I would turn on my little book-light and read. This book actually didn’t help get me back to sleep – quite the contrary – but it was stunningly memorable company during those sleepless hours. What an unforgettable wallop of a reading experience.

  5. The Mark and the Void
    by Paul Murray

    I read this two-volume paperback (a very interesting packaging of the story) mostly at our dining room table. It was February, when this household observes a month of abstinence from alcohol, so the accompanying beverages were likely tea and coffee.

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  7. Between You & Me
    by Mary Norris

    I took this entertaining book with me on more than a few subway rides.

  8. When Words Deny the World
    by Stephen Henighan

    This book kept me company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  9. The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl
    by Sue Goyette

    I read this gorgeous book (also a gorgeous book object) at home.

  10. Just Watch Me – The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968-2000)
    by John English
    (read aloud)

    A lot of our reading aloud takes place in the kitchen, with my talented husband cooking and me singing for my supper. We actually read a lot of this book during the interminable 2015 Canadian federal election and it was a great reminder that there were dedicated, thoughtful and honorable politicians of all political stripes as recently as just a generation or two ago.

  11. M Train
    by Patti Smith

    I read this sweet, luminous book at home.

  12. All the Gold Hurts My Mouth
    by Katherine Leyton

    This poetry collection was company on several subway rides.

  13. Birdie
    by Tracey Lindberg

    This book was warm and fascinating company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  14. Innocents and Others
    by Dana Spiotta

    Among his many talents, my husband is a great seeker and finder of first editions of books. When I fell in love with author Dana Spiotta on the basis of this intriguing New York Times Magazine interview, he made it his mission to find all of her novels for me. And then I read them all this year. To a book, they were amazing. I already can’t wait for what she’ll do next.

  15. Don’t Be Interesting
    by Jacob McArthur Mooney

    I read this collection (which had me at the John Darnielle references) at home and on public transit.

  16. Model Disciple
    by Michael Prior

    This collection was fine company during the continued streetcar rides to physio appointments.

  17. Tell: poems for a girlhood
    by Soraya Peerbaye

    You know what? I was so wrapped up in the entrancing, often horrifying but also heartwrenchingly beautiful world of this collection that I in fact don’t recall a specific place or moment when I was reading it. What does that say?

  18. Lightning Field
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this book at home, probably mostly at my desk and the dining room table.

  19. Providence
    by Anita Brookner
    (reread)

    I read this tiny, battered, much loved paperback on the subway, where a fellow passenger remarked that it was her favourite Brookner.

  20. Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments
    by Ulrikka S. Gernes, translated by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen

    This poetry collection accompanied me on more than one road trip.

  21. Who Needs Books? Reading in the Digital Age
    by Lynn Coady

    I pretty much read this in one sitting … with lunch.

  22. Sustenance … lunch with Lynn Coady's nourishing Who Needs Books? @clcualberta #canlit #books #bookstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  23. Caribou Run
    by Richard Kelly Kemick

    I read this very fine collection at home, on public transit and I recall packing it along to the cottage, too.

  24. The Mercy Journals
    by Claudia Casper

    I remember reading this haunting novel late at night at the cottage.

  25. Zero K
    by Don DeLillo

    I vividly recall reading most of this book in an incredible, absorbing whoosh while driving home from the cottage. (No, I wasn’t driving.)

  26. Saints, Unexpected
    by Brent van Staalduinen

    I remember reading this fine and amiable book while relaxing on the back porch.

  27. All That Sang
    by Lydia Perovic

    I pretty much had this captivating book read in a couple of subway rides and a sit on the front porch.

  28. Stone Arabia
    by Dana Spiotta

    I remember being absorbed in this book while sitting on the cottage dock with a refreshing beverage or two.

  29. The Quotations of Bone
    by Norman Dubie

    Subway reading, I do believe …

  30. Independent People
    by Halldor Laxness

    This one took a while to read – which was fine, as it was a read to savour and get immersed in – so I had it with me everywhere. It’s another book that a fellow subway rider remarked on, most enthusiastically.

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  32. I’m thinking of ending things
    by Iain Reid

    I had the good sense to only read this book during daylight hours.

  33. The Hatred of Poetry
    by Ben Lerner

    Some subway rides went quickly with this wise book for company.

  34. Thirteen Shells
    by Nadia Bozak

    I was reading and enjoying this book during a weekend visit with friends at our cottage.

  35. Yiddish for Pirates
    by Gary Barwin

    This book was thoroughly delightful company during a week’s vacation at the cottage.

  36. History’s People
    by Margaret MacMillan
    (read aloud)

    We read this book aloud – and learned a lot about greater and lesser known historical figures – during cozy reading sessions at home and at the cottage.

  37. The Cauliflower
    by Nicola Barker

    Not my favourite Barker, although Barker remains one of my favourite writers … I read this book while on my own for a working week at the cottage.

  38. The Dancehall Years
    by Joan Haggerty

    Remembering this book reminds me of our shade-dappled dock at the cottage.

  39. The Clay Girl
    by Heather Tucker

    I will remember The Clay Girl and the next book on this list, Still Mine, side by side and as my constant companions everywhere (home, out and about, cottage) for two or three weeks. I had the honour in 2016 of moderating a couple of special book club events for the Toronto Word on the Street Festival. Selected contest winners qualified for small, private book club meetings with authors Heather Tucker and Amy Stuart, and it was my job to introduce them to their book fans and keep the conversations going with pertinent questions about their respective books. I prepared exhaustively with questions and observations … but then didn’t need a lot of those preps because those book fans showed up excited, motivated and brimming with their own wide-ranging queries and reflections. It was really rewarding to see such warm and dynamic meetings of readers and writers – truly wonderful!

  40. Still Mine
    Amy Stuart

    See my comments about The Clay Girl … I also recall enjoying Still Mine on a coffee shop patio on a sunny Saturday morning while waiting for my husband.

  41. English is Not a Magic Language
    by Jacques Poulin, translated by Sheila Fischman

    This charming novella was good subway company.

  42. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
    by Mona Awad

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  43. The Best Kind of People
    by Zoe Whittall

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  44. The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses
    by Michael e. Casteels

    I recall being wrapped up in this enchanting little collection while waiting for my husband to join me for dinner out.

  45. The Tobacconist
    by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins

    I read this fascinating and rather prophetic book at my desk in my home office, as I prepared the readers’ guide / book club questions for this book, offered by House of Anansi Press.

  46. The Emily Valentine Poems
    by Zoe Whittall

    A squirrel jumped up next to me on the park bench I was sitting on as I read this while waiting for a friend in a parkette outside her office in downtown Toronto.

  47. Wenjack
    by Joseph Boyden

    I read this small, moving book in one sitting at home.

  48. Thrillows & Despairos
    by Chris Chambers

    I discovered this collection when I heard Chris Chambers read from it at the 2016 International Festival of Authors, and I ran to the book table and purchased it right after the reading. Immersive indeed!

  49. Do Not Say We Have Nothing
    by Madeleine Thien

    This beautiful book was constant, contemplative company at home throughout the fall.

  50. The Goddess of Fireflies
    by Genevieve Pettersen, translated by Neil Smith

    I remember standing on subway platforms with this book in my hand.

  51. Where’d You Go, Bernadette
    by Maria Semple

    I remember carrying and reading this sweet book on transit and waiting for friends at restaurants and before musical events in late November.

  52. Eat the Document
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this intriguing book, the final in my year-long Dana Spiotta-fest, at home.

  53. Based on Actual Events
    by Robert Moore

    Devoured in just a few subway rides, I believe …

  54. The Break
    by Katherena Vermette

    I had this absorbing book with me at home, out and about and even on a wintry trip to the cottage.

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  56. Life On Mars
    by Tracy K. Smith

    I stayed up late reading this gift on Christmas night.

  57. #Poetry break after all the holiday excitement … #airedalesofinstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  58. Pond
    by Claire-Louise Bennett

    I treasure this quirky read, a spontaneous gift from a lovely colleague.

  59. The Albertine Workout
    by Anne Carson

    Another Christmas gift, I read this poetry pamphlet pretty much in one gulp while sitting at my home office desk.

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In 2016, I read a total of 54 works: 32 works of fiction (novels and short story collections), 15 poetry collections and 7 works of non-fiction. I re-read one book, read 4 works in translation, and read 35 works by Canadian authors. My husband and I read two books aloud to each other this year and have a third in progress as we greet the new year.

Currently in progress, heading into 2017:

Looking back fondly on my 2016 reading, looking forward eagerly and with anticipation to my 2017 reading, I’ll simply conclude (as I’ve done in previous years) …

It’s not how many you read that counts. It’s that you read that counts.

Postscript (added January 11, 2017)

I love the discussion this post has sparked, both here and on social media, including some debate about whether or not such list-keeping is usual or kind of nutty/anal-retentive. Obviously, keeping these lists every year is part of enjoying my reading. I’ve added a bit more to my scrutiny of what I’ve read every year, not so much with a view to altering the flow of what I decide to pick up and read every year as to just be aware if there was more or different directions in which I should explore. So, for example, I’ve looked in recent years at how much fiction vs non-fiction vs poetry I read, and how many works in translation, how much Canadian versus international literature, how many rereads, read-alouds, etc, etc, etc. Because the lists are easy to scan, I can quickly figure out the author gender mix every year … just to see how I’m doing, usually not to be corrective in my reading habits.

One thing I’ve decided to add to my record-keeping in 2017 is the publication year of each book read, to gauge how much current/hot-off-the-press vs back catalogue/older stuff I’m reading. I love that everyone who has joined this conversation loves their reading, loves to examine it to some extent and loves to share it. We all learn and benefit from that.

Another postscript (added March 17, 2017)

emsley-book-journal2Sarah Emsley has segued a career teaching writing at Harvard University to her beautiful blog, where she writes about Jane Austen, Jane Austen for kids, Edith Wharton, Lucy Maud Montgomery and other writers, and about places she loves (especially Nova Scotia and Alberta). I am thrilled that she has taken a cue from this blog post to restart her own handwritten “books read” journal … and oh my, her journal and mine are twins!

The Dancehall Years, by Joan Haggerty

bookcover-dancehall-yearsYou’ll be drawn in slowly but steadily to this complicated but engrossing family drama set on the west coast, starting just before World War II. The lives of several families living, working and vacationing in a coastal cottage and resort region remain intertwined over generations, surprising with revelations to the end, closing at the cusp of the 1980s.

Haggerty’s prose ranges from lush and entrancing to terse and compelling, swooping from grand descriptions of the towering landscape to the minutiae of intimate relationships and interactions. A carousel of vivid characters rotates around Gwen Killam, introduced as a child relishing the summers on Bowen Island but observing, if not comprehending, signs of tension as the community feels the strains and effects of war even from afar. Haggerty follows Gwen and the community as they all grow and change, realizing each character unflinchingly but with compassion for all their foibles and motivations, making this novel palpably relatable and unforgettable.

See also:
Pickle Me This review of The Dancehall Years (July, 2016)

Thank you to the publisher, Mother Tongue Publishing, for providing a complimentary copy of The Dancehall Years.

The Dancehall Years, by Joan Haggerty (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2016)

2016 reading list (so far)

Hope Makes Love, by Trevor Cole

I like to do a little check-in partway through every year to see how my reading is going. As I’ve done in years past, I’m taking a look around the halfway point (ish) in the year at the books I’ve read so far, with links where they exist to books that I’ve reviewed (either here on this blog or briefly on Goodreads). As I’ve always pointed out, it’s a competition with no one but myself, but it is always useful and interesting to stop and reflect a bit where one is at with one’s reading, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Here’s the quantitative part: Of the 34 books I’ve read so far this year, 7 were non-fiction, 9 were poetry and the balance of 18 were fiction (novels and short story collections). One book was a reread. One book was a work in translation. Twenty of the books were by Canadian writers. Two books were read aloud in their entirety (er, over a period of time, not in one sitting), which is a wonderful way to share the experience with another reader/listener.

On the qualitative front, I think it’s been especially good year so far. Apart from where I’ve reviewed a particular work, I can say in broad terms that I’ve enjoyed and can enthusiastically recommend everything I’ve read so far this year (with perhaps some qualifications for subject matter with which individual readers might be uncomfortable). Could this be why my overall reading count seems to be up so far this year? A happy reader is a prolific reader? Well then, here’s to happy reading!

  1. Hope Makes Love
    by Trevor Cole

  2. The Beauty of the Husband
    by Anne Carson

  3. Fates and Furies
    by Lauren Groff

  4. A Little Life
    by Hanya Yanagihara

  5. The Mark and the Void
    by Paul Murray

  6. Between You & Me
    by Mary Norris

  7. When Words Deny the World
    by Stephen Henighan

  8. The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl
    by Sue Goyette

  9. Just Watch Me – The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968-2000)
    by John English
    (read aloud)

  10. M Train
    by Patti Smith

  11. All the Gold Hurts My Mouth
    by Katherine Leyton

  12. Birdie
    by Tracey Lindberg

  13. Innocents and Others
    by Dana Spiotta

  14. Don’t Be Interesting
    by Jacob McArthur Mooney

  15. Model Disciple
    by Michael Prior

  16. Tell: poems for a girlhood
    by Soraya Peerbaye

  17. Lightning Field
    by Dana Spiotta

  18. Providence
    by Anita Brookner
    (reread)

  19. Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments
    by Ulrikka S. Gernes, translated by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen

  20. Who Needs Books? Reading in the Digital Age
    by Lynn Coady

  21. Caribou Run
    by Richard Kelly Kemick

  22. The Mercy Journals
    by Claudia Casper

  23. Zero K
    by Don DeLillo

  24. Saints, Unexpected
    by Brent van Staalduinen

  25. All That Sang
    by Lydia Perovic

  26. Stone Arabia
    by Dana Spiotta

  27. The Quotations of Bone
    by Norman Dubie

  28. Independent People
    by Halldor Laxness

  29. I’m thinking of ending things
    by Iain Reid

  30. The Hatred of Poetry
    by Ben Lerner

  31. Thirteen Shells
    by Nadia Bozak

  32. Yiddish for Pirates
    by Gary Barwin

  33. History’s People
    by Margaret MacMillan
    (read aloud)

  34. The Cauliflower
    by Nicola Barker

Currently in progress:

  • The Dancehall Years
    by Joan Haggerty

  • Being a Dog
    by Alexandra Horowitz
    (read aloud)

  • Slow States of Collapse
    by Ashley-Elizabeth Best

How is your reading going so far in 2016?

Living with a Dead Language – My Romance with Latin, by Ann Patty

I’m delighted and honoured to welcome novelist and essayist Pauline Holdstock to the bookgaga blog. She offers a thoughtful examination of Ann Patty’s interesting memoir, both an exploration of Latin and celebration of learning and literature. Before we plunge into the review, allow me to introduce our esteemed reviewer:

pauline-holdstockPauline Holdstock is an award winning Canadian author, originally from the UK. She writes literary fiction, essays and poetry. Her novels have been published in the UK, the US, Brazil, Portugal, Australia and Germany. In Canada her work has been nominated for, and won, a number of awards.

Of her eight books, the most well-known are Into the Heart of the Country, longlisted for the Giller Prize, and Beyond Measure, short listed for a number of awards, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. It was the winner of the BC Book Prize Ethel Wilson Award. Pauline’s essays and book reviews have appeared in Canada’s national newspapers and have been broadcast on CBC radio. Her essay Ship of Fools was the winner of the Prairie Fire Personal Journalism Prize. Learn more about Pauline and her work at www.paulineholdstock.com.

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A New York editor, laid off from her high-powered job and forced into early retirement, moves to the country and sets out to learn Latin as a way to keep her mind engaged.

It’s an interesting and unlikely concept: a journey into a dead language as a way forward into a rewarding new life. At the outset of her memoir, Ann Patty paints a convincing picture of the new life she doesn’t want — a future bereft of purpose, prey to the inherent dangers of boredom, not least of which might be the alcoholism that destroyed her mother’s later years. And indeed in the course of the book a new life does slowly take form, one where Patty finds a new community to replace her vanished world of publishing, as well as an absorbing new pursuit.

Living With a Dead Language is more than an account of the intellectual challenges Ann Patty faced in her self-imposed undertaking. It’s also a memoir that gives glimpses of her career in New York, reflections on her parents and sketches of her friends and partners. Ambitiously, Patty has attempted to marry personal memoir with the Latin topics covered in her college courses. Sometimes it works. The poetry of Catullus, for instance, is the perfect launchpad for the wicked ways of decadent and driven New York, and Lucretius’ philosophy the perfect entry to her forays into Buddhism and the personal crises that prompted them. At other times the connections felt contrived, superimposed.

Often, I found myself wanting to be reading a different book. Her scheme, I felt, was doing the book a disservice. It was limiting. She was glancing off too many interesting questions while squandering precious time laying out the grammar topics covered in her various academic courses and meticulously illustrating their complexity.

Although the Latin language was what drew me to her book in the first place — I still consider it the single most useful subject of my high school education and daily reap the benefits of being forced to learn it — I had no particular wish for a refresher course in the basics of grammar and syntax or an advanced course in their intricacies. A chapter would have been all Patty required to demonstrate the syntactical elements of the language and convince us that its mastery presented a daunting challenge — especially for an older student who hadn’t, as she confesses, had to memorize anything in close to thirty-five years. The linguistic passages felt to me like the author revising her subject, making sure it had stuck, perhaps, too, simply wanting to impress us. I’d have welcomed more pages devoted to the wealth of coincidental knowledge — like those she offers on Roman calendars, or marriages, or burial practices, for example — that the study of Latin inevitably confers.

The book would have benefited, too, from a more rigorous treatment of some of the connections Patty tentatively introduces. Observations on the subordinate role of Roman women, for instance, are linked too loosely to an evocation of the limited version of feminism that flourished in the 1970s and followed by a sketch of the kind of pervasive passive aggression that her mother’s generation suffered earlier.

The book’s very title prompted many questions and connections that were never fully addressed. What does it mean to learn any language, for example? How does that open the mind? Or alter one’s perception of one’s own culture? And what about recent research on the plasticity of the brain and the effects of language learning. And how might the experience of learning Latin in particular enhance the brain’s abilities, working as it must with the new word orders possible in an inflected language? And what effect did it have for Patty in her own recognition of Italian when finally she goes to Rome.

“Don’t tell me Latin isn’t alive and well in literature” she says after making an amusing but feeble link between Ovid’s and romantic (small R) novelists’ predilection for sexy tresses. But what of popular culture’s apparently ineradicable interest in myth and supernatural influence? An afterlife? And what of the persistence of certain literary forms right across our culture — the epic, the elegy? Of certain figures of speech in literature? Much later in the book she does edge closer to examining those questions in a moving recollection of the death of a dear friend when in an “elegiac funk” she buys a copy of Anne Carson’s Nox. But enquiry and argument are not her modus operandi. Her writing is governed by emotion and enthusiasm, much, I imagine, as were her editorial decisions.

Most of all I’d hoped to see some discussion or even acknowledgement of the connection between syntax and thought or on the role of grammar as vital link between intuition/inspiration/idea and expression. It’s a vast and boggy philosophical field and perhaps it’s obvious why Patty wouldn’t want to venture there, but not offer even an observation on its effects on her own critical thinking …?

Finally, and most frustratingly, she only brushes against the whole question of elitism implicit in the study of a dead language. Her fellow students are a privileged lot as she remarks early in the book. But she doesn’t emphasize the liberating potential of studying for study’s sake, surely the true privilege. That becomes clear, to this reader at least, when, later, Patty visits Still Waters. Still Waters is Stephen Haff’s after school sanctuary for decidedly un-privileged children. Patty visits and works with two nine year-olds carefully translating a Latin picture book. Latin is on offer Haff’s after school program, along with yoga and violin — three subjects to exercise the mind, the body, the spirit. There’s a Buddhist “purposelessness” to all of those pursuits, an escape from what Haff sees as the “soul destroying and deadening” core curriculum.

Clearly Patty recognized the value of what she witnessed at Still Waters and it’s to her credit that she went on to volunteer both her time and newfound expertise there and to facilitate a connection with a wider community. It’s interesting but not surprising that she derived a true sense of purpose and reward from the experience, something she doesn’t mention in relation to her entry to the elitist academia of the Latinists.

The chapter on this visit was, for me, the most intriguing and sent me straight to Google. Here’s a quote I found online — a testimonial, to use the Latin — from one of the children at Still Waters. It could well express the feelings too of Ann Patty — ever enthusiastic, ever up for a challenge, ever ambitious.

“I love Latin! Latin is a big, beautiful puzzle. It is a mystery to be solved. I feel brilliant here.”
Still Waters in a Storm

Friends reading aloud / #sundaysentence for July 24, 2016

bookcover-mammals-ontario“Although most of us will never see a Wolverine, the knowledge that it maintains a hold in remote forests may reassure us that expanses of wilderness still exist.”

from Mammals of Ontario by Tamara Eder
(2002 Lone Pine Publishing)

My Sunday sentence comes from one of many vibrant sentences read aloud on Saturday night. Four longtime friends gathered at a cottage by a lake, comfortably tired after a sunny day of swimming, dogwalking, birdwatching and more, comfortably full after a delicious and lovingly prepared meal, to read aloud to each other. The reading selections came from a charmingly eclectic range of sources:

Such a wonderful way to knit together a special weekend spent with beloved friends …

Enjoy more #sundaysentence selections here.

#sundaysentence for July 3, 2016

bookcover-independent-people“She blushed furiously in the darkness and had not the remotest idea what to do or say, especially as it was after midnight; for poetry was meant to be read aloud in the daytime, but understood in silence during the night.”

from Independent People by Halldór Laxness
(1934-1935)

Enjoy #sundaysentence selections here.

See also: Of sheep, lungworm, coffee, and poetry, and God, and a lot, lot more

Saying thanks to The Poetry Extension and other hard-working poetry purveyors

I was recently asked to offer a testimonial for an arts initiative called The Poetry Extension. I was happy to do so, as I’d very much enjoyed their first (I hope of many) productions:

Here’s what I had to say:

I’m both a poetry reader and attendee, where possible, of poetry readings. I enjoy both the word on the page and the word brought to life. I’m blessed to live in a city that has much to offer in the way of literary events most days of the week. The majority of those events happen because of hard work by organizers, performers, venues and contributors.

If you can’t get out and/or you aren’t blessed to live somewhere that has lots of live literary events, the next best thing are virtual events. What’s wonderful about virtual events – in addition to being able to enjoy them in your pyjamas – is that they can bring together artists and performers for whom it might be difficult to be together in the same city or on the same continent, much less the same venue. That’s where initiatives such as The Poetry Extension are so brilliant, and why I was so effusive about the first of their events in March, 2016:

Amazingly, this virtual event established a balance of both professionalism and intimacy that you might not think possible in a bunch of colliding video screens in different countries. All of the readings introduced unique poetry voices in a warm, friendly, accessible format. I look forward to more such productions, and hope that The Poetry Extension can get the support it needs to make more of them possible in future.

Live or virtual, not only is it wonderful to attend such events, but it’s really rather easy to say thank you for the time and effort that goes into these vibrant offerings. Even a tweet, a Facebook comment, a quick email message are all gratifying ways to let our artists, poets, writers, performers and organizers know they are appreciated, and to let others know about the eye-opening works and events that might just be a click away. (Note, for example, that the next Poetry Extension online gathering will be livestreamed on Wednesday, August 31, 2016.)