Monday 13 May 2013

Book talk on a chilly Monday in May...

I have no cup of tea in front of me as I write my post this morning.  I usually go to Nougat Bakery once a week for a delicious chai latte, but for various reasons, it’s been more than two weeks since I’ve had a cuppa there so I went early this morning to enjoy a “bowl” of chai with lots of froth and cinnamon, and a little cookie on the side.  YUM!  It was exactly what I needed on this chilly morning - when I walked to Nougat, it was snowing lightly!

This entry may be a bit disjointed, as I was away for a few days last week, and then yesterday was Mother’s Day, so not much reading got done by this reader since my last post.  Following up on last week’s entry, I wanted to let you know that I abandoned Studio Saint-Ex - not that it was a bad book, or poorly written, but it just didn’t grab me, so I had to let it go and move on to something else.  That was a wise decision on my part, as the “something else” turned out to be The Stop:  How the fight for good food transformed a community and inspired a movement by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis.  I’m not a non-fiction reader by any stretch of the imagination - I can probably count on one hand the number of non-fiction titles I’ve read in the past 10 years, but with this title, I had trouble putting it down.  It tells the story of The Stop, a food bank in an impoverished neighbourhood in Toronto, and the evolution of this community service, under the visionary leadership of Saul, into a “good food” movement.  Spanning 13 years, Saul takes the reader through the changes and challenges of The Stop as it moves beyond a place for economically-challenged community members to pick up a hamper of processed meals and dented canned goods to an after-school program, a Healthy Beginnings new mothers’ group, an East African Men’s cooking class, just to name a few of these wonderful programs.  Saul and writer-spouse Curtis intersperse anecdotes with statistics as they strive to bring awareness of poverty in our wealthy nation to the reader.  One of the main messages in this book, apparent right from the beginning, is that Saul recognized the stigma associated with the need to use a food bank, and he endeavored to offer this assistance to his users while maintaining their dignity.  He regularly points out the relationship between processed foods and illnesses, physical illnesses such as diabetes as well as mental health issues.  As he states, if healthy, organic foods are good for the wealthy, doesn’t it stand to reason that these foods are also good for those less wealthy?  This is an issue I believe in, and this book really made me think about the foods I regularly purchase for donation to our local food bank.  Next time I'm out for groceries, maybe I’ll bypass the boxes of mac and cheese and choose tinned tuna and dried lentils instead.  When I next go to Toronto, I will make a point of visiting The Stop and maybe their Green Barns as well.  I would recommend this to anyone, but be prepared to be alternately moved by the community members and outraged by our government’s politics surrounding poverty.  By the way, Andrea Curtis is the author of a children’s book, What’s For Lunch?:  How schoolchildren eat around the world which is an interesting look at food around the world.

The other book I started reading is The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai.  This recently published Canadian novel is part of my “required reading” (The Stop is also one of these titles), and tells the story of Shivan Rassiah, beautiful grandson of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese lineage who captures the heart of his wily, land-greedy, cunning grandmother.  Shivan grows up to become a handsome gay man and as the novel opens in the present day, Shivan, now living in Canada, is preparing to travel back to Colombo, Sri Lanka, to rescue his grandmother, now elderly and ailing, to remove her from the home—now fallen into disrepair—that is her pride, and bring her to Toronto to live our her final days.  I have only just started it, but it totally grabbed me and I can’t wait to delve into it again and lose myself in this dysfunctional family for another 300 pages.  This is the kind of enthusiasm I hope for when choosing a book, but which I encounter far less frequently than I would like.

And I was in Chatham last week for a few days, which brought to mind a couple of books associated with that small city.  The first is The Daughters Who Walked This Path by Yejide Kilanko.  I read this novel last year in the spring as one of my “required reading” titles and, although it is set in Nigeria, the author currently lives in Chatham and works as a Child Protection worker.  This moving novel tells the story of Morayo, a young girl coming of age in an oppressive, patriarchal society, whose experiences are both good and bad, and who finds  comfort in the network of women in her family and the community.  It was a really interesting read, and the author’s first novel.

Chatham also makes me think of Robertson Davies, that great Canadian writer, critic, professor, “man of letters” and novelist who grew up in Thamesville, a small town outside of Chatham.  I believe that Deptford, the town that is the setting for Fifth Business, The Manticore and World of Wonders (“The Deptford Trilogy”) is really Thamesville.  A visit to Chatham always makes me want to reread Davies’ novels, although my favourite is not part of “The Deptford Trilogy”  but  A Mixture of Frailties, a novel that tells of the experiences of a young Canadian girl who wins a music scholarship and goes off to Europe to study under some interesting, eccentric teachers.  This novel is the third in “The Salterton Trilogy”.

And because it was Mother’s Day yesterday, I was trying to think of books I’ve read which centre around mothers and motherhood.  I came up with only two titles offhand:  The Age of Hope by David Bergen and A Large Harmonium by Sue Sorensen.  I wrote an entry on Bergen’s novel recently, in which I expressed my initial excitement but ultimate disappointment with this rather depressing, flat novel about Hope Koop and her experiences with conventional life as wife, mother and finally widow.  Much more rewarding as a reading experience was Sorensen’s novel about a university professor in Winnipeg and her often hilarious but also moving experiences as a new mother, but also wife and faculty member.  Of these two novels, I would recommend Sorensen’s novel with much more confidence than Bergen’s novel.

That’s all for today.

Bye for now!

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