Our Familiar Hunger, by Laisha Rosnau

A couple of summers ago, I was able to attend a poetry writing workshop with UBC Okanagan professor Laisha Rosnau, through the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. She is winner of the

Dorothy Livesay Award, and the BC Book Prize for Poetry.

We ate lunch, she did a short Q&A, and then we got down to it… pen on paper. She provided several writing prompts. Quite a group was squeezed around the tables at the pub, some struggling to see in the din. After scribbling for a while, we took turns reading short bits aloud. Afterwards, we broke into smaller groups to write and read more.

It was a satisfying afternoon. And best of all, I left with a copy of Laisha’s book, Our Familiar Hunger. (Nightwood Editions, 2018, Duncan, B.C.). I did not know it at the time, but the volume has proved to be stark, beautiful, and important.

The work traces through ads, farm dirt, blood, abuse, and the chronology of the migration of Ukrainian women to Canada, some legally, and some as trafficked slaves to service oil workers and farmers. Rosnau uses found texts, many sources, her own poetry previously published on the topic, and she mentions works which inspired her own. Having read volumes of poetry without a unifying theme, I can see why this one is an award winner. The theme unifies the work and creates a strong statement about a people.

Noise and light explode

and we think it’s the surging

between us, what we hold

under heavy skirts, but

it’s another spray of gunshot,

another soldier marching.

The history of wars and suffering bleeds through, as do softer moments:

We sleep in our own skin

and lie so close together

I can see how there is something

in the blue of your eyes,

as wide as sky pressed against

crops of wheat before lack

Often, people don’t like poetry because it seems obscure and impenetrable. Not this. Anyone can read, understand, and gain from this work.

Happy Reading.

DB

A Canadian Author

The Hobbit

by John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

I did say that I am not a huge fan of fantasy. That is true. This is another one of the very few fantasies I like. It is a classic. What more could possibly be said about this volume which hasn’t already been said? It is written by a master of the genre, it holds to all the high fantasy conventions, and it’s a fun read.

I was given this book to read by a ruggedly handsome young man. He liked dark ales, the mountains, unusual (alternative) music with haunting flutes and (other instruments) which seemed to pair mighty well with this story. I don’t know how it was possible, but at that time, I was almost entirely unacquainted with elves, fairies, hobbits, dwarfs, and other such people, before reading this book.

When I was very young, I read many folktales and fairy tales, from the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, and others. I was well acquainted with wicked witches and trolls under bridges, but those were things I had left behind when I latched onto realistic fiction as an older child. I was certainly far more protective of my young children than my parents had been of me. I shielded mine from the horrors and violence of fairy tales until they were older children. Perhaps my parents were not as careful because the stories seemed tame compared to the real-life horrors of living through their harsher times; or, there were kids to spare in my family. At any rate, I had many vivid dreams populated with monsters and bad people who I had to outrun and outwit. Perhaps giving younger children these hurdles sooner rather than later, through literature, serves them well? As parents, are we shielding our children from literature which could give them clues as to how to persevere through thick and thin?

 

The Hobbit.jpg

As I came to reread this book, I am a little embarrassed to say that I approached the book with a yawn, yet I was pleasantly surprised to find it offered me something new. Apparently Tolkien was not a fan of allegories in literature as were his pal, C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald (whose literature he admittedly looked to), and he denied tucking any into this tale. However, I could not help but formulate parallels to other stories while reading it (there is an Elfland and Middle Earth mentioned in Childe Rowland), nor could I keep from my mind impressions, allegorical meanings, which translate into universal truths. This is what good fiction does. Whether or not Tolkien intended this, I believe many readers enjoy his finely woven prose because of his extensive world-building (which took years) and his knowledge of language creation (from his profession as a philologist), creating richness.

As I write this, the ruggedly handsome guy who gave me The Hobbit is now a bit older and cutting the lush green grass at our own Bag End (Yes, I married him). Like Bilbo Baggins, I have come to appreciate the simple life. I do not need much to find contentment, beyond all the good gifts my life already holds; and I have gone through my own perilous journey to get here. Something which I notice now while reading the story is that Bilbo is not really the centre of the story. He is one player in the larger story which began long before he came along, and continued long after he disappeared. Aren’t we all like him in that way? We are all part of a larger narrative. Perhaps that is a truth for us all. We hardly have an idea of what our little part might mean in the greater narrative of our history in (Middle?) Earth. If you read The Hobbit again, you may get something completely different from it.

I had the fun of visiting the Hobbiton movie set several years ago during a trip to New Zealand. Here is an extremely condensed film showing some of it: Hobbiton

Here is the Film Air New Zealand plays as passengers get comfortable for the twelve-hour flight: Air New Zealand Safety Video

This book is suitable as a read-aloud for the whole family. Young children should know that it is okay to kill giant spiders, dragons, and goblins, provided they are bad.

When did you first read The Hobbit?

 

The Tombs of Atuan, Book II of the Earthsea Cycle

The Tombs of Atuan, Book II of the Earthsea Cycle

by Ursula K. Le Guin

 

Personally, I have never been a huge fan of fantasy. Although, I recently read that those who are not, have not come across the right book for them. This adage proved true for me, as I enjoyed this story.

The Tombs of Atuan is book two of this series, but I know I would not have been interested in the first book without reading this one. I think this instalment is a good entry point for those who are leery of the fantasy genre. There are some inventive place-names, and people-names, yet not so many that it detracts from the plot which is in turns mesmerizing with its clarity of setting and gripping when the main character discovers an intruder in the tombs.

As a young girl, the main character is taken from her parents to become the next, the always, high priestess of the tombs. She is carried along without having any say whatsoever in her life, until age fifteen, when the visitor comes. In reading the afterword written by the author, it is interesting that Ursula K. Le Guin felt she could not trespass beyond the life experience of most women of the time, when she wrote the story in 1969. Yet, together with her new friend, the main character is empowered to change her life. And he, along with her as his new friend, is able to find freedom from the tombs.

The Tombs of Atuan

It is truly an affecting story about friendship between a male and female, as well as a coming-of-age story for girls with themes about identity.

This is suitable as an independent read for ages 12 and up.

Happy reading!

DB

Just So Stories

by Rudyard Kipling

Just So Stories.jpg

I was first introduced to this volume as a parent of young children. I was a little skeptical about these tales, since they are outlandish– but in an oh-so-good way, as it turns out, since they are not meant to be truthful, but rather as a spring-board for lyrical word-making and image-imagining. There are plenty of new words never before used, and never since used, but which wake up the curious mind. As the introduction states, it “explodes like fireworks in your ears. It thrums with a uniquely twirly dancing rhythm that sweep you up like a magic carpet…” (Stroud vi).

Lingering somewhere between folktales and fantasy, these myths were created aloud as told to his daughter, then published in 1902; they continue to be popular today. Kipling is best known for his story, The Jungle Book. When possible, I post versions of books which offer extras. This particular edition, at only around $5 (Canadian), has an Author File, Who’s Who in the Just So Stories, Some Things to Think About, Some Things to Do, Did You Know? and a great Glossary, which you will need, when your young one asks, “what’s a quagga?”

Happy reading!

DB

 

English Fairy Tales

The book which I mentioned in the last post, The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Other Fairy Tales, is a compilation of tales from several authors: The Brothers Grimm of Germany, Hans Christian Anderson of Britain, Charles Perrault of France, and a few others who are lesser known. The tales were passed around and adapted by different folks and several variations developed.

For instance, one version of Cinderella has the step-sisters feet chopped off; another has them become statues who can see, hear, and feel in order to suffer while Cinderella receives her rewards for being virtuous. Another example is of The Three Bears: an old English version, thought to be the original, has an old woman sampling the bears’ porridge, chairs, and beds–yet even this version is said to have changed from a beast tale in which the old woman was actually a fox.

This particular book, English Fairy Tales, collected and edited by Joseph Jacobs, (originally published in 1898), contains many true “folk” versions. This means they are not romanticized or made more literary as many of those adapted by Hans Christian Anderson and Charles Perrault. They were, apparently, cleaned-up a bit by Jacobs, as the country folk liked their “bawdy” tales. However, they can still be shocking for children.

English Fairy Tales

 

For parents, I recommend pre-reading the book and choosing age-appropriate fairy tales. However, the book could be handed to a child of age 12 and up. Audio versions and e-books are either incredibly inexpensive or free, however, I am an advocate of unplugging and dragging a paper book around from a sofa, to a beach chair, to a stump in the woods.

Something else which is fun to imagine is that several of these English tales were actually verses (poetry) which were sung. Apparently, the English country folks were a jolly bunch.

Happy reading!

DB