Midnight reading

I finished Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing over the weekend, just in time for her to win a Giller to go with her Governor General’s Award.

donotsay

I have some issues with complicated grown-up books: (a) I read too many middle-grade novels and I’ve come to expect constant action, and (b) I read in little chunks of time between life interruptions.

So I was getting through the book last week, but I wasn’t getting into it.

Then one night I fell asleep at 8 pm while putting my son to bed. I woke up at midnight feeling like it was morning. I opened my book.

Suddenly, the dreamlike wanderings of lost and confused characters were entirely appropriate. The generations of musicians seemed clear and real and yet so tiny against the background of revolution and exile. I devoured a huge chunk of the book that night. Long before morning, I was in love.

When I finished the final chapter on Saturday, I lay unable to move until I’d made Min sit through a long, rambling summary of how bits of stories and music both tie us together and move on without us. And then I decided I might never be able to read another book.

I’m so thrilled she won the Giller.

Also, I may become nocturnal.

On vikings and the management of expectations

I took my son to see Rick Riordan yesterday.

Rick Riordan seems like a lovely man, and Kidsbooks did a fabulous job of the event. It was held in the Hellenic Hall (which maybe should have been the Nordic Hall for the occasion) and it was packed to the gills.

rrcrowd

My son was SO excited. I can’t properly explain how excited he was. And that, I think, was part of the problem. Because it was a vaguely unsatisfying evening. Which made me think about kids, expectations, celebrity, and the problems with balancing the three.

My son is a super-fan. But he’s also nine and was one of the youngest at the event. So he was thrilled to be pointed toward a free T-shirt table, then crushed to find the T-shirts in adult sizes. And he practically dislocated his arms clapping and cheering when a sword-fighting Viking emerged from the wings and ran around the auditorium. Then he was seriously confused when the Viking took off his wig and turned out to be a thin, bald man.

“Is that him?” he asked me repeatedly, comparing the bald Viking to the author picture on the back flap of The Hammer of Thor.

No, as it turned out. The Viking was a publicist, who — after neglecting to introduce himself — proceeded to give prizes to kids who tried to answer questions such as: How many weeks has Percy Jackson been on the bestseller list? How many countries have rights to Rick Riordan books? How many copies of Uncle Rick’s books have been printed?

The publicist had a strange idea of what might interest young readers.

rr_viking

When the real Rick Riordan finally emerged, he was warm, engaging, and funny. But he spent about twenty minutes on a slideshow which was basically an advertisement for the books released in 2016 and those coming in 2017. Again, my son waved his arms frantically trying to ask a question during the Q&A portion of the evening, but of course only a dozen of the hundreds of kids in the room gained their 30 seconds at the microphone.

rickriorden

Then the event was over, and we all went home.

I was thinking this morning about what would have had to happen for my son to be as ecstatic at the end of the evening as he was at the beginning. First, that sword-waving Viking would have had to be sent to Ragnarok. (Sorry, publicist.) And Rick Riordan would have had to personally shake my son’s hand, look into his devoted little eyes, and say “I’m so glad you love my books.”

I admit, that’s probably unreasonable.

So then I thought about what I expect when I go to see my favourite authors speak. I know I’m not going to get personal interaction. But I go to hear them reading in their own voices. I go hoping to hear wisdom — words that will keep me thinking in the days to come. And I go for inspiration. When I leave, I want to feel eager to start work on my own stories.

Both the overprotective mom and the writer inside me would have liked all those things for my son.

But he went home clutching his signed copy of the new Magnus Chase book, and he read well past bedtime. So maybe he’ll find his wisdom and inspiration in the pages, instead of the performance.

For the record, his question was going to be: “How do you come up with all those amazing chapter titles? They’re my favourite part.”

rrbook

Like Netflix, but better

I love having my own personal pre-reader. My daughter gets stacks of books from the library and basically screens them for me.

Sometimes she tells me they’re not worth my time. Sometimes after the first few chapters, she says I should read it once she’s finished. Then by the end, she’s less enthused.

Occasionally, she plops a book onto my lap and says, “I’m taking this back to the library tomorrow but you have to read it. Tonight.”

cover225x225

Her latest recommendation: The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brusker Bradley. It’s the story of an abused girl in World War II London who’s evacuated to the countryside, and there finds the strength to reshape her own life. Plus ponies.

What else could one need?

(My son is also reading, but his recommendations are slightly different. Most recently, he said: “Do you know the fastest person to eat three eclairs took 18.02 seconds? We should try to beat that.”)

Hometown weekend

The kids and I headed to Creston on the long weekend for the 75th annual Blossom Festival. Along with getting thoroughly spoiled by my parents, we went to the parade, tried some carnival games, and explored the farmer’s market. We also went for a tour of Spectrum Farms and the stables of the Therapeutic Riding Association. That stop was my personal favourite, because who was doing tours but… Luanne Armstrong.

Fortunately for me, I was with my librarian aunt and my book-obsessed daughter. My aunt introduced us all and my daughter immediately said, “You’re Luanne Armstrong? I read I’ll Be Home Soon and I voted for you in the Chocolate Lily awards!”

Ill-be-home-soon-web

It turns out I’ll be Home Soon won the Chocolate Lily (which my daughter now thinks was entirely due to her vote), and the four of us received the grand tour of the riding stables and met all eight horses.

When not hobnobbing with literary stars, we walked trails, played in parks, barbecued hamburgers (well, actually, we ate the hamburgers that grandpa barbecued), met old friends and a new baby, read books, attempted fishing in three-foot waves (don’t tell Min), spotted bears along the highway, picked lettuce from the garden, searched for snakes, and met a donkey.

What more could you ask from a Blossom Festival?

Summer reads

I’ve been reading the most wonderful books lately. Everything I pick up turns out to be enthralling. Which is bad for my work ethic and my sleep, but good for my soul!

If you need some summer reads, here are my recommendations:

North of Normal, by Cea Sunrise Person
I met Cea when I was in Ladner for an Authors for Indies event a few weeks ago. She’s this tall, blonde, gorgeous ex-model… who spent her childhood in the backwoods. And when I say backwoods, I don’t mean the backwoods of Crawford Bay, where I spent a few years. I mean the woods behind those sorts of backwoods. The places without roads and without groceries, let alone preschools or libraries or hospitals.

Cea’s in the middle of this picture. I’m on the right, and the lovely Ashley Spires (of Binky the Space Cat fame) is on the left:

ChUHF-_UcAAJVx1

Cea’s grandparents were all about living off the land and, while they failed their granddaughter in many ways, they certainly passed along their resourcefulness. If you grew up in BC or Alberta, and especially if your mother went through that phase where she sewed your clothes from corduroy and grew her own alfalfa sprouts (which I can’t eat to this day), you must read North of Normal.

north of normal

The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson
This is 100% a beach read. You need the book, a towel, a sunshade, a snack, and maybe a package of tissues. That’s it. You’re set for a whole week of your summer. It’s a beautiful story about a young Latin teacher thrown into the societal pitfalls of an English town in the months leading up to World War I. There is romance and friendship, with some great twists woven between. It’s sort of like Downton Abbey in book form. What could be better?

Unknown

Pleased to Meet You, by Caroline Adderson
I keep saying I don’t like short stories. Then I read a book of short stories and I love them. Maybe I only like them once they’re bound into book form? Or maybe (gasp!) my tastes are changing? This is a collection of Caroline Adderson stories published a decade ago, but I picked it up at a workshop on the weekend and now I can’t put it down. She’s so adept at wiggling into the heads of quirky characters, from an actuary-turned-poet to a hospice volunteer on the cusp of love. Love — and the yearning for it — is what all these stories are about. So for this one, you’ll need a glass of wine, a chair on the back deck, and a bright summer evening. Enjoy!

pleased

My Russian tour

I’ve been taking an accidental course in Russian history. I started with The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming. It’s all about the last tsar of Russia and his family, muddling their way through a quickly changing political world. The book is wonderfully written, sort of a sweeping family saga except tragically true.

bk_romanov_140px

The Family Romanov served as the perfect appetizer for the what turned out to be the main course: Symphony for the City of the Dead, by M.T. Anderson. This is another (supposed) children’s book about Russian politics and history, all carefully woven around the life story of composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

Shostakovich was first loved by the Russian people, then targeted by the government and treated as a pariah, then loved once again. He survived the siege of Leningrad during World War II. The symphony he wrote while starving in his beloved city became an international symbol of hope and humanity.

0763668184.med

The book was fascinating. My only issue is… it’s about a billion pages long. And it’s about Russian history. Are kids really going to read it? I devoured every possible book as a kid, but I can’t see my 13-year-old self choosing this one. And my daughter, avid reader that she is, didn’t make it through the more palatable Family Romanov.

What makes a non-fiction book a kid’s non-fiction book? That’s what I’ve been wondering, in between marvelling at the machinations of Russian politics. The prose in Symphony for the City of the Dead is clear and compelling… but shouldn’t that be a mark of good adult non-fiction as well? Anderson doesn’t assume the reader has prior knowledge of history, geography, or politics, and he offers plenty of background information… but wouldn’t more adults read Russian history if that were the case in all non-fiction books?

I have no real answers to these questions, except to say that both kids and adults should be choosing more non-fiction and these books are a wonderful place to start (for adults) and an impressive challenge (for younger readers).

I’m off to continue my Russian education with Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan. I’ll let you know how I do with my transition to actual grown-up biography.

y648

Book 9-1-1

Homes in Vancouver are small. We don’t have endless space for bookshelves. And my husband doesn’t share my view that books make nice decorations on the kitchen counter, or that stacks of hardcovers can serve as perfectly good side tables.

The kids have shelves in their rooms, where books are stacked in double rows. I have a shelf in the family room similarly crammed, as well as a couple desk drawers, two bedside table drawers, and one stack beside my bedside table (which usually escapes spousal attention unless it teeters too high).

Still not enough. It never feels like enough, and I’m always having to give away books that I love.

Then, last night, a friend called with a book issue. Her son was sick. He’d been sleeping all afternoon but at 8:30 pm, was wide awake and looking for something to read. Unfortunately, he was right in the middle of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and they’d forgotten their copy in Whistler on the weekend. Could I help?

I was so pleased to turn on my flashlight, sneak past my sleeping son, and withdraw the hardcover from the back row of his top shelf.

Even in a space-aware state, I’m still the person to call in a literary emergency.

Readings and lights

I visited Graham Bruce Elementary School in East Van yesterday, as part of a Books for Me! literacy program. The students had been studying DNA, so I told stories from DNA Detective, but I’m pretty sure a few of those kids knew more than me. When I paused for questions, someone asked about the effects of gamma radiation. And I said something super-smart, like, “uh…”

IMG_0583

They were a great group. Many thanks to Books for Me! and librarian Dee Mochrie for setting up the event. (You can always tell when a school has a great teacher-librarian at the helm!)

Just before the presentation, I scooted down the street to see a certain plaque at Sunrise Park. This week, the Vancouver Public Library and CWILL BC launched a program called Reading Lights. They’ve posted images from B.C. children’s books on street lights all over the city.

Just as I drove up to see the image from Deborah Hodge‘s Watch Me Grow!, the sun came out.

IMG_0582

Here’s her lovely plaque:

IMG_0581

It’s so fun to see these little bits of literature become part of the city landscape. You can check for plaques in your own neighbourhood here.

Saving the bees/schools/world

I’ve just finished reading The Summer We Saved the Bees, Robin Stevenson’s fun and quirky novel about an eco-extreme mom who sews costumes for her children and sets off across the country to do performance art, save the bees, and save the world. The book is narrated by the tween son, Wolf, who — though dedicated to the continued pollination of plants — would rather not appear in public dressed as an insect.

8348x

I loved the book, mostly because with just a small increase in my anxiety level, and a tiny decrease in my inhibitions, I could totally be that mom. I am one mild brain injury away from buying a camper van and setting off for the legislature to do performance art about seismically upgrading our schools. (None of which have had upgrades funded in the last six months, incidentally, because the province and the VSB are fighting again.)

Wouldn’t it be effective if we took all the kids at risk of being crushed by their schools and lined them up like dead bodies on the legislature lawn?

But… um… yes. I do realize the issues with that, and don’t really want to petrify and/or mortify my children, and therefore will not be enlisting them as performance artists anytime soon.

But here’s to all the moms who desperately want to save the bees/schools/world in any way possible.

The book’s a fantastic read, even if you’re not as neurotic as I am.