Whatever gets you through

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading experiences. And by that I mean reading a series, back to back to back, and getting so immersed that you forget to eat, clean, sleep, that you have kids. It’s kind of the best thing.

I remember it happening for me in my early twenties when my then boyfriend, Scott got me to read the Lord of the Rings – something I never would have thought I’d touch, let alone devour. We were living in Toronto and I read the first one before the first movie came out. I loved it, I think I’d also read The Hobbit when we went to the big theatre at Richmond and that was it, I was love. We came out of the theatre, went right in the Chapters that used to be beside it and immediately bought the other books and gobbled them up. I needed my own copies, not Scott’s old beaten up ones. I remember being on the last book and had a few hundred pages left one weekend when we went to visit Scott’s parents. You know you are going to one day have the best in-laws ever when they have no problem with you ignoring them and hiding in bed all weekend to read. Of course sharing the books with Scott and constantly updating him on ‘where I was’ made it all the more wonderful.

Fast forward to many years later – and I’m about to divulge a major, amazing secret! Scott and I are in Waterloo and our kids are 10 and 7. Our oldest gets sick, like hit by a truck with mental illness and life is completely turned upside down – within a day our lives are ‘before’ and ‘after’. There was no time to cry or dwell, just to act. Doctor after doctor, basically the most rudimentary form of survival. One night, he was sleeping somehow, and I was desperate for anything good, anything. I did a weird thing. I emailed the staff at Parnassus Books, the bookstore in Tennessee that Ann Patchett owns. I wrote that our family was in crisis and what books would they recommend. I don’t know why I did this. But within a day I got an email and the subject read FROM PATCHETT. Ann and I became email pen pals for the next seven months. She was beyond generous. She told me what to read and kept me going. She told me to read the Ferrante series and I did, running for weeks between my couch, my computer to write to her about them and Words Worth Books to buy the next book. I met Ann last in October 2019 after the release of The Dutch House and she barely remembered me, which was exactly how it should be. Our correspondence was absolute heaven during some of the worst months of my life – my grandfather also died during this time- and it was the best reading experience I’ve ever had and I’ll always be so thankful for her kindness.

And then there was Jo Walton! Scott and I read the Small Change series I think in the summer of 2019 and again, it was a series I hadn’t been expecting to love so much! We breezed through them in perfect hammock days. Sharing all of these books with someone makes it all the better.

Rory and I read the Lara Jean series by Jenny Han together a few years ago which led to watching the movies together on Netflix every year when they came out on Valentine’s day. Also perfect!

And that brings me to now and the Oxford Time Travelling Series by Connie Willis, an author Scott has read and loved for years. He figured I’d only read and enjoy To Say Nothing of the Dog but then I asked for The Doomsday Book for Christmas, tore through it and loved it even more and immediately got the last two, Black Out and All Clear from the library and spent all of January (which has been a really hard month for me) reading them. I finished the last one Saturday night and Scott and I stayed up late gushing over them and it was amazing. Best Christmas present for sure.

Reading does it again, gets me through, keeps me going, makes everything so very good, especially when I get to share it with someone amazing.

Connections

About a month ago or more ago I got an idea for what I want to write, really write. I stop and start so many times, I have great trouble with that, but this is good! It’s a mystery, that’s all I’m going to say, maybe. I’m also going to say that since getting this idea, I may not exactly call them signs, but I do seem to be getting encouraged to start from many different places.

First, there were the Connie Willis books, chalk full of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers references. I need to read these. I am reading the last of Willis’ Time Travelling Historians series and it’s perfection and maybe while reading To Say Nothing of the Dog is when I got my idea.

Second, I was thinking about mysteries and how of course I need to start reading more. There is an English series by Richard Osman about the Thursday Murder Club, a group of octogenarians in a retirement home who solve mysteries. The library had a million holds on the first book and it was during a week when I’d pre-ordered and bought my own million books from Wordsworth so I added myself to the hold list and forgot about it until my jaw was locked shut with pain one night, so badly I was in tears and had to go to the dentist to pick up a temporary night guard. What is outside the dentist? A lending library with Osman’s first book inside. I didn’t take it, I didn’t have another one to swap for it and I think I got a bit spooked. I drove away with a painful jaw and empty hands.

But! I did realize how crazy this was and luckily the lending library is around the corner from my kids’ high school and I went back for it the next day, spontaneously and still without a book to replace it with but I plan to add a bunch next week when we go back to the dentist because William needs braces.

Third, I heard about this book, The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections about a librarian in Toronto who solves a mystery! And not only does it sound beyond wonderful, but Kerry Clare interviewed author Eva Jurczyk and they talked about how to write a mystery and so many wonderful bookish things! I’ve ordered my copy and can’t wait to pick it up next week.

This of course is also connected to my absolute LOVE of Lane Winslow mysteries written by the Iona Whishaw. My Nana adored Lane also and bingeing the entire series was one of her greatest pleasures during lockdown. The newest Lane comes out this April and it’s going to hard to read without Nana. The cover was revealed and I showed it to her the week before she died, and we talked about them again. I’ve pre-ordered it and have decided reading it won’t be sad, it’ll make me feel close to her.

Just like writing my mystery will! Yes, it’s about an adult granddaughter and her Nana solving mysteries in a retirement home! Of course it is, and hopefully so much more.

Please, push me to keep going, check in on me if you can. I’m deciding to be brave by putting this out there. This would mean so much to me and know I’m cheering you all on at all times as well! Depression does get in my way – my own and my childrens’ if I’m honest, as does life which is the same as for everyone. But I was obviously looking for signs of encouragement and I hope they will keep on coming now that I going to get to work.

Growth

I’ve been using the Forest app for years to give myself time off my phone to get shit done. Yesterday I was playing with it and noticed a link to another app and followed it and it led me to a tree personality test. They’re fun, meaningless and I did it while sitting on my rug and petting my dog. It took five minutes. The above image was the result and it nearly took my breath away.

I’ve written here about my Nana’s love of the sparrows at the feeder she had suctioned to her window. But just a few feet past that window, were about six baby ginkgo trees that the retirement home planted before Covid. She told me about them when I was reading Rules for Visiting, a novel I love by Jessica Francis Kane. The novel is about a young women who works as a botanist for a university while grieving the death of her mother. Chapters have simple sketches of trees and one is of the ginkgo and I remember having just read that chapter when Nana told me about her new baby trees.

She loved those trees. They were planted in the fall of 2019 I’m guessing and she was so excited to wait until the next spring and see their growth. Only one didn’t make it through the winter and had to be replaced. She talked about those trees so often over the next two years. She missed them when she went to live with family in Orillia in 2020 for a few months. I wish I had a picture of them.

I bought Kane’s book for Nana and I think she read about half of it, never got to the Ginkgo chapter which is near the end because, like so many of us, she went through times when it was just too hard to concentrate. She did love what she read and like so many other books, it gave us so much to talk about. So yesterday, when the Ginkgo tree came up as my personality tree…what can I say? That it’s one of those beautiful, unexpected gifts and connections.

Lent Reads #6 and 7 or the Day my Coffee Looked like a Pink Fish

I’m rusty this morning. It’s been a long two weeks with hard days but many fun things. Work that put writing off, so I grabbed a book as often as I could.

I reread To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, I hadn’t since university. It amazed me (shouldn’t have) how relatable it was, how it’s themes are prevalent in so many books not to mention what I’m writing now. Women and what they have and what they want and when guilt and ambition that mash up against each other. The night when Mrs Ramsay wants so much to go to the beach with the younger people but feels torn and ends up staying home because she feels she should. I wanted her to go. I wanted Lily to paint more and not worry about Mr Ramsay. There is so much there and my thoughts are still whirling.

I’m also still recovering from not enough sleep; turning the clocks back but more from staying up way too late to watch the Grammy’s with Rory (totally worth it, they were amazing!), and then another really bad sleep. But the days are longer and it’s Spring and I choose to fully accept what that means. High temperatures and the possibility of snow in a month. New rainboots and chilly walks in my forest and having to juggle mitts and the dog leash to get at the mini eggs I hid in my coat pocket. It means perfect sun in the kitchen while we make dinner and being surprised when it’s already 8pm even though it’s still light outside. It means bursts of energy and making plans that might not come to fruition. This year is means signing up for Mama Earth Organics to deliver to our door every Wednesday, something I’ve been meaning to set up for years. Spring, so far this years, has so many thoughts of ‘has it really been a year.”

But it means time is passing and bringing us closer to vaccines and family visits and school in person! It means the latest and last Trickster book is out and that the new Lane Winslow will be out soon! It means for a few hours a week I open a window and will soon put the flannel sheets away. It means tomorrow we get to celebrate another anniversary of when we got together – this years it’s 23 pink fish for us. It means radlers and lighter blankets and finales of our favourite shows and thoughts of new fun takeout and ice cream. It means making plans, but taking things slow because that’s what we need and that’s always ok. For me, it’s going to be about finding a good balance between the guilt (worry) and reasonable ambition to get to my own lighthouse, as much writing as I can do in the upcoming months.

Lent Read #5

Oh the day last week when I read the short story Vittorio by Shirley Hazzard! There was no covid, no distance learning, no thoughts about what to have for dinner. Just me on a terrace somewhere in Italy in the sun, perhaps smoking my first cigarette.

I was watching an online event last week with Lily King and Ann Patchett and they reminded me of everything I love about books – talking about them! They got so excited getting to share their favourites titles with each other, and that’s when they started talking about Shirley Hazzard who I’ll admit, I didn’t know. Lily keeps Hazzard’s Evening of the Holiday on her desk at all times and when she squealed and held it up to show Ann and hugged it to her face, I immediately put in an order for it at my book store. Then Ann got so excited and talked about her favourite, The Great Fire with such joy that now I have it out from the library along with a gorgeous new collection of Hazzard’s short stories with an introduction by Zoe Heller. I am working my way through them and each time I open the covers it’s like sunshine pouring out from within. The details, the dialogue, the descriptions of Italy and spring in England make winter and everything else right now melt away. Her characters, the unspoken drama she leaves to be interpreted by the reader! Talk about spring fever!

It’s so wonderful to be reminded that lovely surprises can still happen at any minute.

Best Book Club (Lent Read #4)

Lily King’s The English Teacher has strong Olive Kitteridge vibes.

I’m deep into Lily King’s backlist. Now that my back is better, I’m not reading and quite the rate I was when I spent the day in bed. We are in a lovely routine right now with every one working on school the first half of the day while I’m writing. Lily King’s books are gorgeous and exactly the books I need to remind me why I love reading and writing so much.

One of the highlights of every day is still talking to my Nana. I’d recently sent her a picture of my new little office, beside my bookshelves in front of a sunny window. Her reaction was “how many books do you have!?” and she said she loved seeing that picture because it made her realize how I’m still the same kid she used to take to the library and the bookstore and we’d spend hours picking out the perfect thing to read next.

Our conversation took off and we talked about how, like so many woman my age, read Flowers in the Attic too soon. She told me she secretly read it while I was which I didn’t know and made us laugh. We talked about Judy Blume and how Blubber had made me cry because I hated how much the main character was teased. We talked about how it couldn’t be possible that Are you There God, It’s Me Margaret? is now more than 50 years old and that we want to read it again.

We talked about the gaps in our reading that we want to fill. Agatha Christie and more Jane Austen. She wants to read Jane Eyre. She told me that when she worked at the Whitby Public Library, despite the author being from Whitby, it took years for staff to order Dixon’s Hardy Boys or Keene’s Nancy Drew series because they were so badly written. Nana had to fight for finally get them on the shelves.

She told me – and I loved this – that when she moved to the new library – the library that is now the Whitby library – they had their first Young Adult display. She turns 94 next week and I’m going to buy her Gabrielle Moss’ Paperback Crush, as is described on the front as “the totally radical history of ’80s and ’90s teen fiction. I love my copy and it’ll be great to go through the pages and titles together during over calls and see which covers and authors she remembers. What stories they bring up.

We talked last night about how she was always tripping over me during my Harriet the Spy phase (which I like to think has never ended) and how she always knew by a certain joyful laugh that I was reading Anastasia Krupnik. We talked about my love of stories that took place in boarding schools and how my aunt in England would send my the Enid Byton Malory Towers series. How I would bawl over Jean Little’s sad stories of other kids with CP. It was the perfect sort of conversation you have when everything falls away and you’re flying, same feeling I get when I’m writing. It makes me so happy to be reminded that I have been so very lucky to have this consistent goodness in my life, books and writing, since I was so small. And that I get to share it all with her.

Lent Reads #3

Oh this book! This writer! I have her entire backlist on hold at the library. I am probably late to this party but I don’t care. This is the kind of reading I love.

I read Writers and Lovers when it came out last year and it was easily on my favourite of 2020. This one is so different – except for the love triangle – but also so, so good. I know, my book reviewing skills are rusty which is odd because this is a blog supposedly about things I read. I don’t care. Onward.

I’m trying to read as many books as possible during Lent. I took Instagram off my phone to read and write more. I miss it already but I’ll stick with the plan. I’ll start to read my fourth book today – New Book Day as well call is here, the day you are lucky enough to finish a book and start another. Such a good day.

I love books, like Euphoria, about women and science. I loved Ann Patchet’s State of Wonder (of which Euphoria is very reminiscent) and Nell Freudenberger’s Lost and Wanted. I loved Melissa Barbeau’s The Luminous Sea and Lauren Groff’s The Monster of Templeton and Chemistry by Weike Wang. The lives fighting to maintain their identify, their passion for their work often in danger of being sacrificed for the other part of their lives, loves, family. It’s the passion for their work that I love reading about, their tenacity, and why it’s so important to cling to – as if don’t already know.

**Added – The Signature of All Things buy Elizabeth Gilbert. I will forever love moss because of this book.