Monday, 23 April 2018

You're the Only One I Can Tell

Finished April 17
You're the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women's Friendships by Deborah Tannen, read by the author

This book continues to look at communication, as Tannen's previous books have, this time focusing on women's friendships. She looks at all types of friendships, from intimate to casual, similar in age to cross-generational, with other women and with men.
Mostly she focuses on friendships between women, but she also looks at those instances where women identified men as their closest friend and how those relationships were similar or dissimilar to those whose closest friendships were with women.
She looked at one on one friendship but also group friendship, and she looked at the nature of friendship, from those one can truly be oneself with, to those that required playing a certain role. In a few cases, she even looked at culture and how that affects friendships.
She has done a lot of research, but what I always enjoy about her books are the examples, where she actually looks at real life friendships up close.
Some things that I found fascinating was the fears that attach themselves to some friendship situations, that she describes as FOBLO (Fear of Being Left Out) and FOGKO (Fear of Getting Left Out) that can mean that we hide part of ourselves to fit in.
I don't have a lot of close friends, and I have old friends that I'm seldom in touch with, friends who've set limits on what kind of friendship they want from me (scaling back intimacy to the acquaintance level), and friends I can instantly pick up with after a long separation.
Interestingly, I've become both more careful in who I share some personal information with, and more open about some aspects of my life. And Tannen found all of these behaviours in her research. I really enjoyed learning more about the nature of friendship and about using that learning to look at my own relationships.

Friday, 20 April 2018

An Odyssey

Finished April 16
An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn

This memoir encompasses a few months in Mendelsohn's life, with forays into his life at earlier times, and reflections on this time later. Shortly before the spring semester when Daniel was going to be teaching an undergraduate seminar on The Odyssey, his father, eighty-one at the time, asked to sit in on the course. Daniel is a writer and a classics scholar. His father, had worked first for Grumman, an aerospace corporation, and then as a computer science professor, but he took pride in the fact that he had studied Latin as a young man.
His father travelled in from his home on Long Island weekly that spring to participate in the course, and shortly after, when Daniel was discussing the experience with one of his mentors, she suggested a cruise that was being offered that summer that traced the route of Odysseus' journey. When Daniel mentioned it to his father, his dad was enthusiastic, and so they went.
This book traces both the disussion of the book in the seminar and the corresponding personal conversations he had with his father, and the time on the cruise that corresponded to that part of the story. It also describes the author's feelings and experience around his father's illness and death soon after this trip.
This is a very personal memoir of a father-son relationship that had its difficulties, but also moments of great intimacy. My reading of the Odyssey occured more than thirty years ago, but this brought my enjoyment of that story back to me.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

Finished April 11
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson

So, your first question is probably, "what is death cleaning?" Death cleaning is something a person does, often when they are getting on in years, but sometimes at other stages of life. It is going through your possessions to reduce what you have to what you need and use. It is not about minimalism, but about use. And it is about doing this so that when your time comes, and the people you care about are dealing with the loss of you, they don't have to also deal with a mountain of stuff. It is about giving things away to people who need them, about being around to see them enjoy those things. It is about taking a hard look at your stuff and thinking about what you actually need or really enjoy having.
This short book has good advice, lots of humour, and a bit of philosophy. Magnusson is an artist, and as she says, used to having her creations leave her. She talks about her own experiences getting rid of people's possessions after they die, including with her mother and her husband. She acknowledges the difficulties that may arise, and suggests a variety of ways to deal with them.
Magnusson describes herself as somewhere between eighty and a hundred, and she's got experience that we can take advantage of. A practical book by someone who enjoys the experiences of life, rather than the accumulation of possessions.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Roughneck

Finished April 8
Roughneck by Jeff Lemire

This graphic novel is set in a small town in northern Ontario. Derek Ouelette was a major league hockey player, of the type commonly described as a goon. He is back in his home town after causing an injury in a move driven by anger in a game. Derek drinks too much, and lives a bit rough, and doesn't have a lot of friends. He still tends to erupt in violence when he gets angry.
But when his younger sister Beth also returns to town, he must change to accommodate her needs. Beth has left an abusive boyfriend, one who is also in the drug trade.
As Beth struggles to get past her addiction and move on to a new life, Derek must also change. We learn about their parents, and the influence that those parents had on them, both good and bad. As they now realize that they don't know much about their mother's family, they are interested in discovering more about her native background, particularly Beth.
This is a story of finding the support and strength to start again, to learn from mistakes and become a better person.
Lemire's books are always drawn with skill, and this is no exception. I loved the illustrations and how they added to the characterization.

Ben and the Scaredy-Dog

Finished April 8
Ben and the Scaredy-Dog by Sarah Ellis, Illustrated by Kim LaFave

This book is part of a series of picture books featuring the young boy Ben. Ben has two older siblings: a sister, Robin; and a brother, Joe. He is at first interested when he sees a new family moving in across the street, especially when he sees a child his own age. But when he sees their dog, he isn't as interested.
That is because Ben is afraid of dogs. He sees their big mouths and their teeth, and doesn't want to be around them. But the new family comes over to visit and brings the dog, Max, and then the new girl, Erv, invites Ben over to play with her Lotsablox.
Ben is worried about this because the dog will likely be loose inside the house, and Robin reassures him, giving him a phrase to say to himself when he feels fearful of the dog and tells him to think positive thoughts, "Big Brave Ben" is the phrase. He finds that the visit isn't as bad as he expects, because Max is afraid of the shiny floors and is sitting on a small rug. But when Erv has to go to another room for a bit, and Ben is alone with the dog, his fear returns, and he does as Robin suggested and thinks positive thoughts. When he things he hears the dog move behind him, he begins to hum. And when the dog comes closer, he finds it is a different experience than the one he feared. And he begins to find that Max isn't that scary after all.
I loved the drawings here. They really made the story come to life. And the story is a nice one, especially if you have a youngster who has some fears of dogs. This book could help.

The Bear and the Nightingale

Finished April 8
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

This book, the first in a trilogy, is set in northern Russia in the fourteenth century. Pyotr Vladimirovich is the boyar, lord, of the area, and he married a mysterious woman whose mother supposedly showed up in Moscow under strange circumstances, and married Ivan I of Moscow. Her name was Marina Ivanovna, and while she did not have her mother's powers, she was still a woman with a knowledge of magic. Marina and Pyotr have several children, including a girl, Olga, but as the book begins, Marina is pregnant with another girl, a girl who will have certain powers in the old magic, who she names Vasilisa, Vasya for short. Marina died following the birth, and her old nurse Dunya raised her and the other children, Sasha, Kolya, Olga and Alyosha. Dunya know the old tales, and told them often around the kitchen stove in the evenings.
Vasya grew to be a wild child, often with animals or in the nearby forest, gathering herbs. She sees and talks with the local spirits, both those of the house and stables, and those of nature. Vasya also finds that she has learnt the language of some animals, such as the horses. As the children grow, Pyotr decides to make a trip to Moscow, to sell, trade, take gifts to the rules, and find a husband for Olga. He takes along his two oldest sons, Sasha and Kolya.
They see many things and experience some unusual happenings. Sasha discovers a future for himself, and the Grand Prince has Pyotr take a woman for his new wife, along with choosing a husband for Olga. The new wife, Anna Ivanovna wished a different life for herself, and has a strong Christian faith. Shortly after, there is another addition to the household, the new priest, Father Konstantin Nikonovich, a painter of icons. He has been sent by the Metropolitan, the head of the church, and has also dreamed of a different life.
As the village grows more Christianized, the old magic is seen as evil by many, and the spirits grow weaker. And this change also has implications, both for the village and its people, and for Pyotr's family.
A fascinating tale with a fascinating setting. I loved the folktales woven into the story.

The Good Liar

Finished April 7
The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie

This novel begins with a terrible event that took place in downtown Chicago. One of the main characters in the book, Cecily is going to meet her husband Tom at his work when the building he is working in has an explosion. Cecily comes out of the subway to witness the event. A photographer captures her image, and she ends up becoming the poster child for the horrible event. More than 500 people were killed in the explosion and its aftermath, and more than 2000 injured.
The book then moves to a time approaching a year later. Cecily is on the advisory board of the organization that disperses the money raised for victims of the tragedy. Another member of this board is Franny, a young woman who was adopted as an infant, but discovered her birth mother shortly before the explosion. Her birth mother was a good friend of Cecily, who worked for the same company as Tom.
Another person working in the building was a good friend of Cecily's, who was also the mother of two young girls. Cecily has two teenage children of her own, Cassie and Will, and has remained strong for them. As the anniversary approaches, the man who photographed Cecily, Teo, is now involved in making a documentary around the tragedy, focusing on some of the families, including Cecily's.
Meanwhile, another woman, Kate, is hundreds of miles away in Montreal, working as a nanny and trying to create a new life. Kate has been hiding her connection to the event in Chicago, and is dreading the media coverage of the anniversary.
Both women, Kate and Cecily, have secrets that they fear coming to light, as we gradually learn about them and what they are hiding, we learn that there are others with secrets as well.
This was a book I found hard to put down, and definitely recommended.