After a morning of cooking and baking, I’m happy to sit down with a steaming cup of chai tea and a slice of freshly baked Date Bread as I think about what I’ve been reading this past week. In place of my usual classical background music, I’ve pulled out my Leonard Cohen cds, in memory of that great Canadian icon, author, poet, musician, wordsmith… “it is you, who must leave everything that you cannot control.. it begins with your family, but soon it comes round to your soul” (from “The Sisters of Mercy”) We will miss your thoughts and words, Leonard!
I read a really great novel last week by Canadian author Trudi Johnson, From a Good Home: a St John’s family saga. This is the third debut novel I’ve read in a row, and they’ve all been awesome. From a Good Home tells the story of the Sinclair family history, and begins with the death of patriarch Charles Sinclair, father to Jeanne and Emily, and grandfather to Joe, Lauren and Gregory. His death throws the whole family dynamic out of sync, as it comes to light that when Charles was a young man, husband and father, he also fathered a child with one of the girls who worked in his household, Hannah Parsons. Now, sixty years later, the story is revealed and the family must come to terms with what this means for them and how this will affect their lives going forward. There are no real “main characters”, as they are all important to the story, and the ages of the characters range from early thirties to mid-seventies. It was a real page-turner, as details of the family secrets were meted out bit by bit, tiny morsels for the reader to devour as we forge ahead to reach the final, satisfying conclusion. It was a bit like that 1950's novel, Peyton Place, about a small town with scandalous secrets between social classes, but it reminded me more of the Maeve Binchy novels that I’ve read in the past, gentle stories about family and friends, and the bonds that develop in our lives to even the most unlikely people - it was more gossip-y than Binchy but less scandalous than Peyton Place. It was a thoroughly enjoyable novel, although I sometimes wished there was more to the story than seemingly every character’s obsession with the Sinclair family secrets. It was a novel filled with longing and regret, but also love and trust, and explored the many types of people who make up our family and our circle of friends - actually, it reminded me a bit of Maeve Binchy’s novel, Circle of Friends, as there are a group of young people who have been friends for years, moving from childhood into adulthood together. I would give this book a 9 out of 10, and would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys books that deal with family secrets, domestic stories, or anyone who likes, as one member of my award selection committee described it, a “juicy” read. (Note: according to the author notes at the end of the book, Johnson is working on a sequel to this - hurray!!)
And I’m nearly finished reading a collection of short stories by Canadian author Diane Bracuk, Middle-Aged Boys & Girls. I don’t normally read short stories, but we try to include at least one collection on our list of nominees for the award, and I think this one might be this year’s choice. So far there have been stories about: two friends, one obese but confident, the other slimmer but insecure; a woman whose husband has been stealing the female tenants’ underwear; a single mother dealing with her teen-aged daughter’s budding sexuality; and a former supermodel who must come to terms with her aging body. These are just a few of the stories that Bracuk shares with us, told with skill and sensitivity, and also a touch of dark humour. I am planning to read the rest of the collection today, and expect that the quality of the writing will continue. I would recommend this to just about anyone, but particularly anyone who is middle-aged and facing the changes that come with this phase in life. I know that short stories have not been very popular for many year, but I wonder why they continue to be unpopular at this time: in this day and age, when everyone multitasks and has limited time to do anything for any length of time, it’s a wonder that people have time to pick up a legthy novel and stick with it to the end. Short stories are small, bite-sized nuggets that you can read from beginning to end in one brief sitting, without a huge time commitment, and still have time to do all the other things that fill our days. Personally, I have no problem findng hours every day to devote to reading, an opportunity for which I am thankful each and every day.
OK, that’s all for today. Get outside and enjoy the refreshingly fall-like weather!