Tuesday, January 6, 2015


My reading life has taken a hit this year, broadsided by the relationship I cultivate with my harp every day.  Well, everything has a price.  Still, I did read beyond newspaper and magazine articles during the past year.  As I inventory the titles, I notice that the reasons behind the choices tell a tale as compelling as the books themselves!  In that spirit, here’s a taste of what I read during 2014, and why.

As nostalgia,
·  a reread of the Outlander trilogy (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, and Voyager) by Diana Gabaldon, mostly to appreciate and assess the mini-series that aired in August and resumes again in April.  The characters, all of them, not only Jamie and Claire, are like old friends I revisit from time to time.  I never tire of the story.
·  Written in My Own Heart’s Blood, by Diana Gabaldon, the ninth book in the series, a disappointment, sad to say, in a facile ending that might satisfy readers rooting for a happy outcome, but that I found difficult to accept even in the context of time travel and the requisite suspension of disbelief.

To entice my grandson, a rediscovery of my favorites in children’s literature for the very young :
·  Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Eric Carle, a repetitve book that will leave the child with an entire collection of descriptive verbs;

·   Jelly Belly, by Dennis Lee, especially “Rock Me Easy, Rock Me Slow,” “Five Fat Fleas,” and “Doodle-y-doo”;

·  The Random House Book of Poetry for Children, selected by Jack Prelutsky, especially “When All the World Is Full of Snow,” by N. M. Bodecker.  This is a precious collection; be sure to check out “Mama Doesn’t Want a Dog,” by Judith Viorst, and, for my teacher colleagues, “Miss Norma Jean Pugh, FIRST GRADE TEACHER,”  by Mary O’Neill;

·  Marcel Finds a Friend, text by Julian Beutel, illustrations by Dominique Beutel, produced for their nephew’s birth day.

To support professional activities,
·  Grading Smarter, Not Harder, by Myron Dueck (2014), a practical manual on grading that tackles thorny issues ignored by other assessment authors.  On the paradigm shift that might be required from some communities to accept that students have an opportunity to redo tests, he says:  “Those who have benefitted from the more traditional, regimented forms of testing may feel that their hierarcy is threatened as less successful students gain access to academic proficiency . . . the lord and ladies of academia do not wish to share power with the peasants” 
(p. 111 – 112).    Amen.

·  Never Underestimate Your Teachers by Robyn Jackson (2013), a book for instructional leaders on bringing out the skill and will in teachers.

To support local authors,
·  Remarkably Ordinary by Susan Harris, a Trinidad-born writer I met at a Christmas craft in our community.  Relating vignettes from her life experience, she shares what those experiences taught her about living intentionally.

·  The Other Side of Fear, by Marie Donais Calder, a Saskatchewan writer telling the story of her father’s experiences with the occupying force in Germany at the end of World War II.  When her father befriends a German boy and his family, he discovers that people resemble each other more than they differ, no matter where they live.  The strength of the book lies in that central theme.  Calder tells the story over a series of nine young adult novels (I have read only the first).

To risk the edge,
·  The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald, a German writer I heard referenced on CBC’s Writers and Company, hosted by Eleanor Wachtel.  As both Wachtel and her guest lauded Sebald’s prose, I thought I might learn something from reading his work.  This book recounts the author’s experiences during a walking tour of the eastern coast of England.  In a style reminsicent of Marcel Proust, Sebald weaves together descriptions, encounters with fellow travelers and friends, and historical details.  Throughout, his comments provide a fascinating perspective on varied but esoteric topics like weaving and raising silkworms.  For example, on writing he says:  One could not say whether one goes on writing purely out of habit, or a craving for admiration, or because one knows not how to do anything other, or out of sheer wonderment, despair or outrage, any more than one could say whether writing renders one more perceptive or more insane. (pp. 181-182).  The book was an enlightening read, but not a page-turner.

To further an area of interest,
·  Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond (1997), a book about why power and influence has graced some societies and not others.  Turns out, geography plays a pivotal role, and Diamond explains why in a very readable and clear style.  I read Collapse :  How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2005), a few years ago, and was hooked.  I had to track down the first book.

·  Runaway, by Alice Munro (2004).  When Canadian writer Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this year, I scoured my personal library for any copies of her work.  A master of the short story, Munro has perfected concise writing, especially gripping and information-packed beginnings.  A second collection I found, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001), sits on my to-read pile.  This time, I plan to finish.

Works in progress,
·  Buffy Sainte-Marie:  It’s My Way by Blair Stonechild (2012), whom I met while I was a faculty member at the University of Regina Baccalauréat en éducation program, and who, it turns out in a felicitous coïncidence, is my neighbor’s brother!

·  The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho (1988), a Christmas gift from my sister, seems to be an allegory about how to realize your dreams.  I’ve already jotted down a few gems.   Here’s one:  Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there. (p. 74)

Quite an eclectic collection, I see, to put a positive spin on a bizarre set of odd titles and reading purposes.  All of them have been worth my time, and some have been more compelling than others.   The gripping reads kept me glued to the book, of course, during long drives, at airport gates and in airplanes, at breakast and before bed.  The others, quaint and useful, required discipline, planning, and a lot more time, to complete.   I can’t wait to see how this year’s list will evolve.

Happy reading in 2015.

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