A bow to the past in Kansas

In the spirit of the rather fitful reporting to which this blog has devolved, I’m here this Monday afternoon to say that I was away four days in Kansas, hanging out with historians and archivists. (I believe I’ve mentioned before that these are some of my favorite people.) I’m on the Historical Commission of the Mennonite Brethren (MB) denomination, which meets once a year, rotating between the four archival centers in Kansas, California, B.C., and Manitoba. We hear reports from the centers, undertake various publishing projects (including both scholarly and popular history–last year’s was the fascinating mystery-biography, It Happened in Moscow by Maureen Klassen, which has sold astonishingly well), sponsor research grants and an archival internship, and occasionally plan symposiums, all to foster the preservation of, study of, and reflection on our history. Continue reading

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The strong memory of places

House on Kildonan Drive, Jane's Walk 2014

House on Kildonan Drive, Jane’s Walk 2014

H. and I participated in one of Winnipeg’s 24 Jane’s Walks* this weekend: the one along Kildonan Drive North.  It was a chilly, rather overcast day, but a large group of us gathered to wander along a river street associated with North Kildonan’s rich or famous—names familiar to the Mennonite settlement here like Henry Redekop, A.A. DeFehr, George Janzen, Henry Krahn, and  those connected to pioneering and municipal leadership like J.M. Morton and Angus Matheson McKay. Continue reading

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Six more books and notes

DownloadedFileThis weekend in The Globe and Mail, Ian Brown wrote, glowingly, “Why I read a six-volume diary by a Norwegian novelist,” on his experience of the first volumes (the article title is a bit of a misnomer, as not all six volumes are available in English yet) of Karl Ove Kanusgaard’s My Struggle. I recently finished the first volume of Knausgaard and have to agree, it’s mesmerizing, this attempt to speak of everything, to recall the mundane, the truth of himself and others, memoir-like, but without the narrative arc of fiction or memoir. I’m glad I read the first 441 pages of the project, to see what the fuss was about, but presently am not inclined to continue. To me, it invites a kind of voyeurism I’m not willing to sustain. Continue reading

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A baby, a novella

20140411-IMG_5769A second set of sticky notes about books is nearly ready to post, as promised, but I’m going to interrupt that brief series with two recent happenings in my life.

First was the birth of another granddaughter! I visited the family in B.C. for ten days, to help as best I could in a busy household with a new baby and returned with warm memories of the lovely child (who bears the distinguished name Honor) and many memories of the other children as well. Choice sayings by the nearly-three-year-old, for example, moments of closeness initiated by a child who tends to self-containment, and so on. Things a grandparent gathers and chuckles over or ponders upon. Continue reading

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Sticky notes on six books

Since my blog posts so far this year have been about reading, I decided to list some books I’ve enjoyed the past half year or so, just in case some of you like that kind of thing (as I do). These aren’t reviews, as much as sticky notes, or cheers. If you’re interested, you can always google for more information. So, six today, six to follow.

DownloadedFileWe’re Flying (2012), short stories by Peter Stamm. I learned of Stamm, a Swiss writer, through one of Eleanor Wachtel’s “Writers and Co.” interviews. This is a large, wonderful collection, translated by Michael Hofmann. One reviewer has called Stamm’s stories “small canvases of precision as he maps the imprecision of human emotion.” I was beguiled by his style. This is the book on today’s list I want to re-read. Continue reading

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On Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda

61zg5MSMHkL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU15_Well, what does one say about Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda?

I read the book recently, after it won this year’s Canada Reads competition in which five books and their defenders faced off to eliminate and leave standing “one novel that could change Canada.” Reviews of The Orenda have been laudatory; apparently there was a “gasp” when it didn’t make the Giller Prize shortlist. It has received sharp criticism as well, especially from aborginal reviewers like Hayden King. Continue reading

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A hair shirt and more reflection

I’m thinking a lot about the act of reading these days. Thinking that it depends on the stage one’s in.

From childhood’s diving into whatever’s available, hour after hour of sheer delight, the world opening to me…  through the required reading of high school and post-secondary education, with extracurricular books riding waves of deep longing and the quest to figure life out…  through the busy middle years of children and work, when books seemed especially memorable and piercing, perhaps because time for them was rarer…  through the ravenous reading in an emptying nest, as if to finally catch up with the Great Unread, when I began a book log to keep track and push myself… Continue reading

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