Bookish Delights of 2012

I love having a birthday in early January. As the numbers for the calendar year change, along with my age, it feels like the right time to look back at the year just past. And what a wonderful year it was for bookish adventures.

The books I read were fun, challenging, intriguing, and covered more genres than ever before. I read poetry, non-fiction, biographies, mysteries, YA, short stories and literary fiction, with themes that included sports, mental illness, history, exploration, relationships and coming of age. Of course there were some disappointments but there were also some absolute gems. I laughed out loud to Jess Walter’s Financial Lives of the Poets, and fell a little bit more in love with Commissario Guido Brunetti each time I read one of Donna Leon’s wonderful Venetian mysteries. Chad Harbach charmed me with The Art of Fielding, as did Anne Giardini and her Advice to Italian Boys; both are tender stories told with insight and humour. I enjoyed Annabel Lyon’s depiction of Aristotle in The Golden Mean and finished up the year with the wonderful The Juliet Stories by Carrie Snyder. But I think my overall favourite for the year was Mr. Roger and Me by Marie-Renée Lavoie. How could you not love Hélène/Joe with her sense of adventure, love of family and salty tongue?

In addition to the reading, several book-related things happened to make this year one of the most memorable for me. First of all was the Twitter phenomenon/movement called #todayspoem, which began right at the end of 2011. This is how it all started: The basic idea is to begin your day with a poem (or end it, or just take a poetry break at some point during the day) and tweet a line or a link to it on Twitter, to share with fellow poetry lovers. The idea spread gradually, and now includes something like 240 contributors. When you search for #todayspoem you are presented with a stream of poetry tweets from a wide range of styles, in several languages, sometimes with audio or video. They are beautiful, amusing, evocative, graphic, and arresting. I’ve read more poetry this year than ever before in my life, and it is a constant delight. Some of my favourite poetry books were Richard Sommers’ Cancer Songs, Runaway Dreams by Richard Wagamese and Hologram by P. K. Page.

Something else that grew out of Twitter was meeting other women who enjoy both knitting and reading, especially Canadian Literature. How lovely to find kindred spirits. After some discussion, it seemed that the most obvious thing to do was to form a book club. Thus, the unique CanLitKnit was born! We meet at a pub, bring along our knitting and discuss the latest book on the agenda. So far we have picked short stories (Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner, Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro and Sleeping Funny by Miranda Hill) all written by Canadian women but all so very different. It is a fun, lively way to spend the afternoon and I feel privileged and grateful to be part of this group with so much energy and enthusiasm for reading and for creating beautiful hand-made items.

Reading and knitting also came together when Coteau books sent out a call for readers who liked to knit. They wanted to match up a knitter with each author on their spring book tour, with the knitter creating a garment or accessory for the author to wear on the tour, inspired by elements from their book. Of course I applied immediately and was thrilled to be picked for the FictionKNITsta Tour, along with two others from the CanLitKnit group! I was assigned to Cordelia Strube. After reading her book Milosz (which I adored) and browsing through many patterns, I settled on a scarf that synthesizes some of the book’s themes and will look great on Cordelia. (She has a vague idea of what I am doing but there will also be an element of surprise for her.) I can’t wait for the May tour to meet all the participants and see the authors wearing their fabulous garments.

Partway through the year I discovered a book called The Anatomy of Edouard Beaupré, by Sarah Kathryn York, a work of fiction based on the life of the Willow Bunch Giant. It really touched me and I am still pondering how to put my ideas and feelings down on paper. I grew up knowing about the Giant, as my parents came from Willow Bunch and Beaupré was my Uncle Ovila’s uncle. Beaupré lived a short, troubled life. He died at the age of 23 on July 3, 1904, while performing at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. His parents could not afford to bring him back to Willow Bunch for burial because of his size, and eventually his body ended up at the University of Montreal where it was used in teaching anatomy. My uncle Ovila discovered this by accident in the 70s and it took another 20 years of negotiations with the university before he was able to bring Beaupré’s remains back to Willow Bunch for proper burial. Reading this book brought back  memories of summer visits to Willow Bunch, but also made me think about what life must have been like for The Giant, so different and yet the same as all of us. A very powerful little volume. (In the meantime, I have come across another writer intrigued by Beaupré’s story, this time a poet. Her book of poems about him is currently under review with a publisher—fingers crossed.)

Last but not least, I started participating in the reading program Paws4Stories which I wrote about in my last post. My dog, Charlie, spreads happiness wherever he goes, and the fact that he is encouraging new, young readers to discover the joys of reading makes my heart swell.

The past year was wonderful and the new one has begun with David Bergen’s Age of Hope, one of the books in contention for Canada Reads. With such a great start I have high hopes for 2013.

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