a boy of good breeding, by Miriam Toews

Stealing a kiss from Elijah at Christie Lake, July 8, 2010.

Who

  • females
  • someone who likes a quick easy read, but still with a bit of depth (perfect mid summer read)

The Book:

Has anyone ever read this book? It was published when I was fifteen. It’s a sparkly gem with a cute cover and it’s CanCon to boot.

I ate this book up. It’s fast, it’s heartfelt and aches in your mind when you aren’t devouring it. Oh, and it’s FUNNY (as other Toews books are). I laughed often at the pure silliness of the book, and frequently shared character antics with Alan.

A young mother, Knute, and her four-year old daughter named Summer Feelin’, return to their small hometown. Knute’s mother has asked them to help care for her ailing father. Except that this is a huge problem for the town’s mayor Hosea Funk. The mayor is intent on the town maintaining a constant population of 1500. No more, no less.

Hosea has a crazy scheme to win the title of the smallest town in Canada, which would merit a visit from the Prime Minister on Canada Day. It means his mayoral duties included moving the town limits to include/exclude people, or stressing over the sudden population increase of triplets, and convincing the town’s only doctor to set up practise elsewhere. He is so dedicated to his plan that he will not allow his girlfriend to move in from Winnipeg even though it is putting a strain on their relationship.

The father of Knute’s child returns, throwing the mayor’s numbers completely out of whack. I can’t really give many other details because Toews is good about hiding things until the end, sad or happy, and they make the book even more appetizing.

The book is goofy and the characters are ridiculous and unbelievable. Except that they are the people you know: your own father, your in-laws, the neighbours you understand and love but who are incredible quirky if you just think about it.

The book is at the same time heartbreaking. The characters are separated by misunderstandings. Toews shows that herein lies the meaning of life. It hides somewhere in being part of a togetherness with people that surround us and frustrate us, but also encourage us and give us purpose and a life to live.

I loved A Complicated Kindness which won the G.G. (Governor General’s) award in 2004; I’ve read it twice.  If you liked that book, this one will satisfy you too.

I read A Boy of Good Breeding the first week of July, and I loved that it coincided with the timing in the book. I felt the excitement of approaching summer and the undefinable moment you realize that spring is over simply because the entire world’s mood changes. The short spring (even shorter in Manitoba) has its subtle delights, like keeping your coat opened for the first time, and planting, and the smell of manure deep in your nose. Toews described the dawn of summer beautifully.

Also, the culmination of the book is Canada Day and it filled me with true patriotic love. It’s neat to read Canadian fiction.  It made it a perfect summer read.

Light, airy, and lovely. And a breath of fresh air after Wolf Hall, and our family being in between houses, and at the beginning of summer.

Miriam Toews, you made me smile and laugh.

Cheers!

Check in next week for a review on One Week Job by Sean Aiken. Great for anyone who wonders what they should do with their lives…. ( ie everyone).

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Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I just finished this epic….. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Who?

  • people who like well researched and thorough historical fiction
  • those not daunted by a page count of 657, (seriously, this book is like 7 cm thick!)
  • someone with a basic background knowledge of the English Reformation and Henry VIII

The book:

I am writing a mini review, in response to this MASSIVE book about the life of Thomas Cromwell, a man instrumental to the English Reformation. Who is he, and why would someone write a 650+ page book about him?

Thomas Cromwell was born around 1485 of humble beginnings. Entirely due to his own merit, he advanced in King Henry VIII’s favour enough to rank as one of his most trusted advisors. This was a VERY impressive feat for the times, in which upward mobility was unheard of,  and a tribute to Cromwell’s amazing capabilities.

The separation of the English Crown and English Church from the Roman Catholic Church was a very important time in modern history. Even if you don’t care much about church or its history, the change that concerns Mantel  shaped our modern world in every way that I can think.

Mantel is impressive.  She weaves us a long, but compelling, story. Throughout, it was easy to pick up Mantel’s point: that the world went from rulers ( i.e. pre-reformation pope) who treated their followers like children, to people with power and finesse like the non aristocratic Thomas Cromwell. In Mantel’s depiction, Cromwell treats Henry VIII like a child, lovingly manipulating him for the good of the people. It’s an important shift, and I was able to see how wisdom and talent would soon rule the world, rather than title.

The book is definitely about more than that, but I think that is the most important thing.

I don’t think many people would finish this book, maybe I am wrong. I mean it won the friggin’ Booker right? But often the only thing that kept me reading was that I admired Hilary Mantel’s style. It is a beautiful read. Her writing is thick with nuance and grace. She is witty and clever and says the most by what she doesn’t say at all. The book brings to life 16th Century Europe and captures the energy of a truly amazing man. Her book made me want to crawl into the pages and comfort Cromwell, or give him a daughterly hug. She created a vibrant and endearing character.

Pick the book up, if this sort of thing interests you. I was glad to have read it (or maybe to be finally finished it, ha ha ha). Oh, I should mention, that for those of you who don’t know much about history, Henry VIII had Cromwell put to death in 1540. The book doesn’t cover that.

Any thoughts?


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy a book review of:

  1. “Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers. A book review by Alan Judson”
  2. “Committed” by Elizabeth Gilbert
  3. “One Week Job” by Sean Aikens

Farm City, The Education of an Urban Farmer

I just finished an insightful book called Farm City, the Education of an Urban Farmer. I would love for someone else to pick it up and read it too.

Who would like it?

  • anyone with a mild interest in gardening
  • people interested in eating local would gain some new ideas and insight
  • someone who enjoys honest and humorous non-fiction.

The Book:

In Farm City, The Education of an Urban Farmer, the author Novella Carpenter introduces the reader to her “homestead”. This is a non-fiction account of Carpenter’s farm in Downtown Oakland, California. It sounds like a familiar place, a downtown with regular violent crimes, highways beside decaying and abandoned buildings and old homes turned into apartments with absentee landlords.

In an abdicated city lot, Carpenter raises beds for vegetables and fruit and builds pens for her animals. Animals? In the city? This eccentric and somewhat crazy woman actually tends livestock in downtown Oakland. This leads to wild tales of turkeys killed by junkyard dogs, hens clucking down sidewalks, and neighbours complaining about the smell of her pigs. Oh yeah, she has pigs…. which she feeds entirely by dumpster diving at local restaurants.

Carpenter’s passion is personal food production. She wants to know her food and be enriched by it.  Home grown food resonates with me too. I have slowly developed a unease with the grocery food business. Grocery stores provide us with necessities; but food comes to us with no endearment and at great environmental cost.

Homemade food thrills Carpenter, and she loves the value it holds.  Each spinach leaf tangibly represents weeks of work, sunshine and water.  She is so close to her food that on cold nights, her young poultry stay in her living room. And she still thought it was worthwhile, even when she had to gulp down (pun intended) all reserve and kill and roast her own rabbits.

She considers food production part of our cultural history. We have innate desires to “make” our own food. She claims this is our heritage, and I understand this. I still enjoy gardening, even though summers of my childhood included weeding. My grandmother, at 76, still puts up enough veggies for the winter. Carpenter thinks such good and perfect things need not be sacrificed for city life.

Carpenter vs. Kingsolver

I kept thinking of Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. A detailed memoir in which the privileged Kingsolver gives up an urbanunnatural” life in Arizona to live in a backwoods farm, committed to growing most of her own food.

Carpenter is very clear that city life is interesting, less isolating, and just as natural.  We don’t have to be hermits to be farmers. It made me feel proud to be city-folk, (even though I grew up in very rural Ontario). Conscientious food consumers don’t have to pine for the country. I still occasionally yearn for the idyllic country, but having lots of space is not the only way to solve the grocery store conundrum. It made me rethink preconceptions about farming and food production.

Despite her lofty ideals, Carpenter struck me as rounded and mature, brimming with empathy. One hot July day,  she witnessed a junkie shoot up from her window. Sitting there, watching him, she was struck with the shame of her so-called “foodie righteousness.”

She had considered herself better than people who ate carelessly and only knew how to use a microwave to reheat frozen dinners. There are more important things in life then what food she eats and where it comes from. There are bigger issues in this world. I liked that the best about this book; Carpenter was convicted but compassionate. There is nothing worse than a self-righteous eater, when basically we are all just trying to survive.

It would be hard to believe this woman’s story, but she writes with such authenticity.

I am new at this “urban gardening/ food production thing,” but I was inspired.  The book extrapolated very clearly that urban food production is not a new or radical idea. Cities like Shanghai, produce 85% of their own food within city limits, and have done so since the beginning of memory.

So we are giving it a go: my family and I have a tiny spot in a friend’s plot at the local Hill Street community garden. And things are growing. It will be a good bean year, and every time I go to see the garden I am thrilled.  I liken the feeling to watching my children smile. It’s mesmerizing, and the spinach and greens are tender and not even a bit bitter.

The humour in this book, her wry sarcasm and honesty (my favourite part was when she confessed to actually having a sizable grow op when she lived in Seattle), even her occasional F word slip, made me feel like we were close friends.

I was also encouraged because this book is about love.  It is about love for a city and community, and for nature that can coexist.  And it is about the good feelings that come from building up your neighbourhood. Even if it’s something as simple as sharing homegrown food.

Some thoughts?

Continue reading Farm City, The Education of an Urban Farmer

I want to read and write more, more, more!

I love to read.

Unfortunately, reading is a solitary activity (usually).
I want to actively share. I want to actively engage.
So, I will share what I’m reading, and tell you whether it’s worth reading Past Page Ten.

In this way, this stay at home mother of two, this woman of little intellectual stimulation, will stay engaged too.

Reading to my kiddies

Here’s some links to some of the reviews others have liked:
(Click on the titles to read my posts)

  1. Generation A by Douglas Coupland
  2. Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje
  3. Farm City, The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter

book reviews

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