Sunday, September 12, 2010

In the Summer of Stieg Larsson

It just took a few moments and everything is back to the normal of school, school supplies, entry into the system.  We are all trying to figure out our places  --  in the new school (Kai and Gabe in their late French immersion program), in a new program (Nicole in the flex program), in a new mindset (me, as I add a few University courses to my life so I can try to decide what I want to be when I grow up), and a rebuild of the kiln (Tom, as he finally relaxed after 1 1/2 years of teaching without a "real" break). 

This week the Manitoba government announced that report cards will soon be standardized across the province -- the hows, whats, details, are yet to be decided.  The best way for a parent or student to find out how they're doing is to talk with the teacher -- I've always found that you get the best information up front, and the best communication is at that level.  That's my biggest fear as I enter the academic part of the teaching world -- the parents out there.  I think I'll need some time and training to help with that! The real news, for me, is that the government plans to standardize in-service dates across the province.  That's huge.  However, it's one year too late for us.  Everything has always been one year too late -- the change to one year of maternity/parenting leave happened after we had three kids in two years.  I got some leave, but not enough to eliminate massive worrying and headaches about child care.  The intrepid couple who took on Revenue Canada to obtain two parental leaves for their twins have also created a new perspective.  When I appealed the fact that we could not claim child care expenses after we had the twins, we were rejected. I didn't use a lawyer... And we were doing what we should do legally -- ask the child care provider to claim their payment from us.  So it worked against us and against her because we were honest.  Oh well... others will benefit. And once in-service dates are the same from school to school to division, the challenge of finding child care could become more sensible.

The summer always seems to speed up as you hit August -- much of the book talk with our friends, and other folks at the lake, centered around the Stieg Larsson books.  Tom blazed through all three in a row, forced to buy the third book as a hard cover edition to fuel his addiction.  I got them once he was done, but I interspersed my reading with a few other amazing books.  Incredible books.  The Larsson books are certainly a phenomenon, but I found the second book too much of a gap filler.  Books one and three were certainly written to keep you going nonstop, or as nonstop as you could.

Debra Adelaide's The Household Guide to Dying is a smart and sensitive take on an Australian woman's story as she faces the realization that the cancer she's fought three previous times isn't disappearing this time.  Delia, the main character, is a columnist and writer and she continues to dispense some acerbic advice as she continues her writing with a useful guide to dying.  Read it.  It's great!

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (2004) is an astounding ride, six individual tales within the book, taking you from the 1850s into a future civilization with cloned people, followed by survivors of the fall of the civilized world, ending in the Pacific Ocean, where the book began.  Each story is linked by artifacts, a lure that kept me looking for a connection. I loved that book, so when I saw he has a new one, I put it on hold.  My summer reading included Mitchell's Black Swan Green, a fictionalized memoir in a year of a 13 year old boy's life in small-town England.  It's sweet, and it's sad, and the character is more than observant as he encounters real life in the early 1980s.  I've got his latest on hold in the library, but it's still 30 or so readers away from me.  That's fine.  I'll be busy for the next 8 weeks being a student, a parent, and an employee...

An encounter with Cree storytellers in early August was another amazing night -- Louis Bird, Duncan Mercredi, and Joseph Boyden talked and read and captivated a packed room at Aqua Books in downtown Winnipeg.  Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce are Boyden's well known novels, and on that evening his first book, Born with a Tooth, was suggested as another great story.  Louis Bird spent a substantial amount of time in the 1960s listening to, talking to/with, and recording, when given permission, the storytellers of the Hudson and James Bay lowlands in northern Manitoba and Ontario.  An amazing source of knowledge is the web site Our Voices, partly the result of his work at that time, and a record of his work as an aboriginal storyteller.  His story about a couple who hook a thunderbird when they are off on a fishing trip is trap from start to finish -- it's basically a fart joke, but wrapped in a long and entertaining story.  Mercredi grew up near Grand Rapids in Manitoba, straddling the world of pre- and post-electricity, after the power dam was built.  His grandmother singled him out to learn from the travelling snow walkers and storytellers, who linked the communities of their day with knowledge, news, and entertainment. Inspiring.  Hopeful.  A way to erase some of the imagery created by the stories of abuse that were raised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Finally, before this gets too long and boring, Tom's niece Lauren introduced me to Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees.  Set in 1964,  it is almost unbearable at first, but creates hope and love as 14 year old Lily runs away from her abusive and racist father, escaping with the family's black maid, Rosaleen, whose decision to register herself to vote sets the story in motion.  The ensuing events send Lily and Rosaleen to another town in South Carolina, where they are taken in by a family of sisters, named for the summer months, headed by August, a beekeeper. 

I reminder a day, about 25 years ago, when I worried about running out of good books to read.  Ha!!  It is personal pleasure to watch my entire family immerse themselves in books.  I know we'll never run out.


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