Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Ten Years

Ten years ago today, I started this blog.  It seems extraordinary that both so much and so little time has passed since then.

In January 2010, I was twenty-three years old and feeling very lonely in Calgary, the frozen wasteland I’d moved to right after university.  I enjoyed my job but the city felt entirely foreign to me, full of young people who knew their way to every bar but not to a single library, and I, raised to expect flowers and green grass in January, had no idea what to do in a place where I was literally snowed on every month of the year.

I’d been ill the autumn before with appendicitis and while recovering had stumbled across the world of book blogs.  I’d been silently lurking since then, amazed to find people who read books I loved, the kind of people I’d never found at university or in this strange city of cowboys and fast-talking oilmen.  Chief among these was Simon at Stuck in a Book.  Simon had been blogging for several years by then about books I either already loved or instantly wanted to read.  I loved seeing the conversations that emerged in the comments on his posts and wanted to be part of that.  Because not only was there Simon but there were Rachel and Darlene and Eva and Jane and Thomas and Harriet – in short, there was no end to all the people out there reading fascinating books.

And that is why I started a blog.  Because I wanted to be part of a conversation that I found (and mostly still find) impossible to have in person.  I had no real intention of writing many reviews myself, I just wanted to be somewhere on the edges.  (And, of course, my first comment was on one of Simon’s posts.)

I certainly had no idea that ten years later I would still be here.  But though my level of activity has changed over the years, the blog and this community has become an important part of my life.  I couldn’t imagine not being able to turn to all of you when I’m excited about something or when I’ve just thrown a book against a wall and need to rant about it.

When I started the blog, I was struggling and frustrated.  I was feeling isolated and like I would never fit in with the people around me (this was true. It was entirely the wrong city – culturally and climatically – for me).  As soon as I started writing, I was overwhelmed by a community that made me feel welcomed, who valued reading and understood the joy of old novels and obscure titles.  At a time when I was feeling timid (a first for me) and a bit lost, your support helped restore my confidence.  Feeling intelligent and capable, I then realised it was alright to admit that my Calgary experiment had failed; within a year of starting the blog I moved back to Vancouver for an altogether healthier and happier life.

So, after ten years, 1,609 books, 1,732 blog posts (including 429 photos of libraries), 12,539 comments, and a rather excessive 28 reviews of works by A.A. Milne (unequivocally a sign of Simon’s influence on my reading choices), THANK YOU.  It’s been wonderful and I’m sure the next ten years will be too.

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Merry Christmas

Wishing you all a happy and wonderful Christmas, however and wherever you are celebrating.

For me, Christmas is all about family and traditions and in our family those traditions are invariably Czech.  To bring a little bit of Czech Christmas into your lives, I wanted to share these Josef Lada paintings.  Lada was a Czech artist who is best known as the illustrator of the The Good Soldier Švejk but it is his scenes of rural life that I love best.  We had a book of them that I would pour over for hours as a child and I love them still.

Merry Christmas!

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Fifty Years Ago Today…

Happy Czechs in 1963

Yesterday was an important anniversary but today is an even more important one for me personally.  Fifty years ago today, my mother began her journey to Canada.

It began with a small journey, but my grandmother was distracted and terrified.  Her country, which had been so wonderful in her youth, had been occupied for the second time in her life.  Instead of Germans, Russians had now rolled into the streets of Prague.  Everything she had hoped and planned for her life had come to nothing.  But she had two daughters and she wanted better for them – and for herself.

She was a forty-seven-year old widow who had spent a few months taking English lessons, trying to recall a language she’d learned thirty years before and never had need to use.  She and her twenty-year old daughter were breaking the law – not just by leaving but by “kidnapping” a minor (my mother).  She had the visas for Canada, and a letter for the Czechoslovak border guards about going there to attend her brother’s wedding, and a lot of nerve.  With one suitcase a piece (after all, who would flee the country with so few belongings?), they set out.

They were lucky.  The border guards were – even months after the Soviet occupation began – miraculously still Czech and no one asked too many questions.  They made it through to Austria.

Which is when my mother, who had been stewing silently, reminded my grandmother of the one thing she had forgotten that day.

Her youngest daughter’s 14th birthday.

Eventually, she was forgiven.  My mother acknowledged that her birthday probably wasn’t the highest priority of the day – but, mind you, I think this took a while.  Possibly years.  Young teenage girls aren’t known for their emotional generosity, particularly ones who are already distraught about leaving their beloved homeland.

My grandmother felt guilty all her life for that slip, but she shouldn’t have.  She gave my mother a wonderful present that day: a future where she was able to live freely, conquer first school and then the business world based on her own (considerable) merit, travel widely, and dream of a big, bright future.  For all three women, it was a journey with a very happy ending.

But it’s been a good reminder to us all never to forget my mother’s birthday.

Happy Canadians in 1981

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After months of anticipation, a very great event occurred last Sunday: I became an aunt.  Arguably, that was the least of the changes: my brother and sister-in-law became parents, two sets of existing parents became grandparents, and a small and rather wonderful girl came into being.

But as I am unable to comment on any of their mindsets with confidence, let us focus on me.

I am rather adrift as to what it means to be an aunt.  Literature provides few useful guides.  If I wanted to be a terrifyingly despotic aunt, or a meek spinster aunt, or an emotionally withholding aunt, I am overwhelmed with bookish inspiration.  Children’s literature runneth over with aunts you would never want to expose your children to.  But what about the kindly aunts?

Eva Ibbotson offers a few: the aunts in Magic Flutes are wonderful, as are the equally supportive aunts in The Dragonfly Pool, but they are a bit timid.  Perhaps more suitable inspiration lies with the suffragette aunts in A Song for Summer, who love their niece even if they can’t understand why she would throw away an education to work at an eccentric boarding school.  That sounds much more like me.

But Ibbotson also offers up some joyfully awful aunts in A Company of Swans and in some of her children’s books.  She was, she admitted, a fan of using aunts in her books and deployed them in all their various facets.

And, of course, P.G. Wodehouse created aunts so terrifying I run from them as quickly as their lily-livered nieces and nephews ever did.  There are some nice ones mixed in but who remembers them?

Jane Austen certainly had a flurry of memorable aunts floating around in her books, from the very, very bad (Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park or Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice) to the very good (Mrs Gardiner, an excellent source of motherly counsel for Elizabeth Bennet) to the undefinable (Miss Bates – doubtlessly a good woman but who doesn’t pity Jane Fairfax for having to deal with her tiresome fussings and rather vocal timidity?).

But that does put me in mind of Fay Weldon’s excellent Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen.  If I could be the kind of aunt who dispenses sensible, non-binding advice while discoursing on Jane Austen I think I should be very happy indeed.  We may need to wait a few years for that though.  Until then, I will be content with cooing over her and buying obscene numbers of children’s books and looking forward to the day we can read them together.

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via here

While browsing at my favourite local bookshop this afternoon, a woman came in and started talking with the salesperson.  She was looking for a book for her twenty-seven year old son.  Her parameters were vague but historical fiction was preferred.  Something set in Asia would be nice.  And if it involved armies and war, even better.

It was at this point I had to step in.

It’s not that I don’t trust trained sales people to do their jobs.  I do, especially at this particular store where the selection seems very carefully curated to consist 90% of books that appeal to me personally.  I just happened to be uniquely qualified to make this particular sale.

After all, there was a copy of Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay directly in front of me.  It not only matched her particulars, it also happens to be one of my favourite books (confirmed when I reread it last year).

I plucked it from the shelf, passed it to the woman, and told her it was everything she was looking for.  The saleswoman had never heard of Kay (though thankfully she stocks his books) and certainly did not have my trump card – the last person I recommended it to was also a twenty-seven year old male and he loved it.

I am delighted to say I made the sale.  It is in fact the second time this year I have been able to hand-sell that particular book.  Book sellers of Vancouver, beware!  I am roaming the streets, ready to pounce on your customers and make passionate recommendations.


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Listening In

woman-listening-to-a-radioI seem to have come through my reading drought and am now happily reaching the end of Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie.  However, when I was feeling so unsettled with every single other book I tried to read, sometimes I just gave up, closed my eyes, and let someone else read me a story instead.  And it was wonderful.

While I have a few favourite podcasts (CBC’s Vinyl Cafe, BBC’s Home Front, and Rachel and Simon’s Tea or Books), I generally stick to audiobooks.  I listen to audiobooks regularly and find them a wonderful companion when I’m out walking, when podcasts can go by far too quickly.

Lately though I’ve been exploring the many, many programs available through the BBC Radio website and I’ve had many happy hours of listening as a result.  What to?  Well, here’s a brief list of some of the intriguing programs currently available (some of which I’ve listened to but most of which are still on my “to listen” list):

There is still plenty to listen to, as you can see!

I’m always looking for recommendations so please let me know what some of your favourite radio programmes and podcasts are.


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Happy Boxing Day

P1100625 (600x800)Happy Boxing Day everyone!  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are enjoying a suitably lazy aftermath.  We do our celebrating on Christmas Eve, which was lovely, and had a very low key Christmas Day.  We ate Christmas cookies for breakfast, went on a beautiful long walk, and then made Indian food for dinner.  I finally finished reading Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans (nowhere near as good as her recent novel, Crooked Heart) and, with no work until Tuesday, am looking forward to lots more reading between now and then.  And maybe, just maybe, even finding the time to write a book review or two.

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