Monday, August 19, 2019

Women and Resilience

I was thinking about two (fairly) recent books I've read: Educated and Where the Crawdads Sing (book review here) and realized the similarities between them.  

Both were inspiring stories of strong, intelligent women who had suffered simply awful childhoods, one through physical and psychological abuse by her family and the other through neglect and abandonment. These women succeeded in rising above their horrific early years to build a successful life and make solid contributions to society. Their stories were totally engaging; they were the kind of books you wanted to read in one sitting because you couldn't bear to put them down.

Both books spent long periods on best seller lists, so I am not the only one who found them so captivating.  Fascinating that they were both published in the same year.  I wonder if, if these dystopian times, there is a heightened appetite for uplifting tales.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Where the Crawdads Sing

This book has endured almost a year on the best seller list but somehow the title and the description didn't resonate with me. I finally succumbed and read it. And loved it.

The book could be described as being about loneliness, and indeed that is a central theme, But, for me, it was more about the strength and resilience of Kya Clark who builds herself a life after, one by one, her family abandons her at a young age to make her way alone in the depths of North Carolina's swampland. She lives alone in her  isolated shack, evading the efforts of truant officers and interacting minimally with nearby townspeople with their deep disdain and distrust of the ' girl'.

With the inventiveness of a Robinson Crusoe, Kya creates a self-sustaining life with the loyal support of a black storekeeper deep in the swamp for the necessities of the body and the young boy who teaches her to read for the necessities of the spirit. There is a fascinating plot turn later in the book but for me the pivot point of the book comes early, when a young boy teaches Kya to read. So begins her incredible self-education and remarkable chronicling of the creatures of the swamp. The later plot seems secondary.

The swamp itself is a central character, laying its soft, languorous mantle over a story that unfolds gently over her years of discovery of the mysteries of the swamp and its creatures, the joy and treachery of love, and the satisfaction of self-education and research.

Other Book Reviews here

Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Book Club and the Book: Life on the Ground Floor

After years (maybe even decades) of yearning to belong to a book club, I attended my first meeting this week. What a great evening! Interesting book, congenial people, fascinating discussion (about the book and other topics), not to mention tasty munchies and a cosy fireplace on a very cold and icy evening. Life is good.

The evening's book was Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine by James Maskalyk. The 'presenter'  led off a well-organized and articulate introduction, with background on Maskalyk, a summary of his previous book Six Months in Sudan, some excerpts from book reviews, and an audio clip of an interview with Maskalyk on CBC's The Current. Then the floor was opened to general discussion.

Masalyk divides his time between the emergency department of St. Mike's an inner-city hospital in Toronto and a program at Addis Ababa University to train emergency physicians in Ethiopia. The book interweaves vignettes from these two settings, interspersed with sketches of visits to his grandfather in Northern Alberta. The structure of the book follows the letters of the alphabet, with musings on a topic for each letter: A was for airways, B for Breathing, C is for Circulation, and so on. This might sound plodding, but Maskalyk writes with such verve and the ability to put you right in the situation he's describing that the artificiality of the structure soon melts away. Medical information is brought to life with anecdotes about the patients he's taken care of and some of his descriptions wander into the poetic.

The contrast between the conditions in Toronto and Addis Ababa is incisive and thought-provoking. Medicine in Toronto is dispensed without any concern about potential costs, whereas in Ethiopia everything is in short supply from the blood that must be rationed among patients who all need it and the payments that are 'pulled creased and tattered from some worried mother's pocket'.  Equally clear are the similarities. Whether in Toronto or Addis Ababa, Maskalyk loves the the clarity of the ER - the sickest, most urgent first and the rest must wait. Emotions and biases must not distort those choices. Decisions must be completely independent of whether the patient is rich or poor, white or black, male or female.

For some in the book club, the sections where Maskalyk visits his grandfather showed the most humanity; they just didn't resonate as well with me and the opening section with his grandfather might have discouraged me from continuing if it hadn't been a book club selection. Once I got past that, I really loved the book and whizzed right along reading it. I definitely recommend this memoir.

More book reviews here.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

What's in a Word? Poubelle

Poubelle is the French word for trash can.  Who knew that word is named after Eugène Poubelle, who introduced trash cans to Paris in 1884. Building owners were mandated to provide these trash cans, much to their chagrin at the extra expense. Even more surprisingly, three types had to be provided, for compostable items, for paper and cloth, and for crockery and shells. Recycling back in the 19th C.

As an aside, ten years later, after a resurgence of cholera, Poubelle decreed that all buildings had to be connected to sewers.  Again, at the expense of the building owner.

What an interesting man.

By the way, I first became of Poubelle in a caption at the Art Gallery of Ontario's current exhibit, Impressionism in the Industrial Age, which focuses on the depiction of industry in the paintings of the impressionists. Interspersed are photos from the era as well.  Lots of interesting historical facts sprinkled throughout the exhibition. Like the fact that 300,000 people were displaced by the expropriations for the grand boulevards, wide streets and vistas of Haussmann's design for Paris that we so revel in today.

Other 'word' posts:

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