The Only Story by Julian Barnes, hosted by Jill, October 28 2021

From Jane:

Thank you, Jill, for a lovely and lively evening discussing Julian Barnes and the Only Story. Sorry we could not maintain the connection with Bev and we missed Jeanne, Ann and Esther.

From Bev:

I must say I wasn’t fond of Paul but would not call him entirely cowardly. Perhaps a pompous young man that gets in way over his head and has this incredible sense of Loyalty and trying to figure out what is love. Challenged when he is asked about his relationship to Susan and lies, never really vocalizing the nature of their affair? I wondered how he was able to get his law degree and so I would assume Susan footed the bills. A very unhealthy relationship where he fumbles along but up until Susan spirals into dementia does he see that he must get out of the relationship and by that time although in retrospect he is more objective, his personal life is a shambles. And I am not sympathetic to Susan, she is the adult in this story or supposed to be. The reality is that the state of her marriage is of her own making. She married not for love but for security and a bandage over the losing the man she truly loved. Once when Susan was in a drunken state, she called Paul by the name of her former lover. That triggered the thought that perhaps Paul was a substitute for this lost love. I also wondered when her dementia really started. Or was she actually manipulative with Paul. After all we only see Susan through the eyes of Paul. But then again, the story is titled “The Only Story”.  I was watching the movie The Graduate earlier this month and the role of Mrs. Robinson started me thinking a little differently about Paul and Susan. A tragedy really.

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The Overstory by Richard Powers, hosted by Moira, Sept 30, 2021

From Moira:

Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful, insightful contributions to our discussion- I am so impressed that everyone read the book and I hope it stays with you and continues to resonate for a long time as it has for me.

From Jeanne:

Yes, it was a wonderful book club evening!! I’m adding my appreciation for Dean and his bbqing skills, altogether a great meal Moira and thank you for the thoughtful meat free menu. What I love about this book, aside from; the trees, the beautiful language and the impact that it has on almost everyone that reads it, is the message that there are so many levels in which change can happen and even the most insignificant seeming thought/word/action can have a significant effect which may not show up for generations, or be recognized ever, but that is how change happens. The understory and the overstory and all the stories in between have purpose. The ripple effect of kindness or a smile, the impact of one meatless meal, one choice that is made with an extra variable; nature, in mind, one tiny conscious thought all work their way through communication networks like the fungi and bacteria that spread invisibly through roots and underground systems, like the pheromones and signals through which trees talk to each other, like the wind and rain and like the ebb and flow of life and decay. I think our book club is an illustration, how our awareness of nature has progressed, no less and no greater than every other part, and our responsibility to respect and keep our activities in some kind of balance with nature will evolve. Whether this will be fast enough to save the species and the earth will be revealed in tree time. I’m very happy we are having these conversations and hope we will continue to up our energy and action towards issues that impact the future of our beautiful planet.

From Karen:

First, I must say we should consider making Dean an honorary member of our book club.  He has always smiled through our visits (even though we can be rowdy), has made the best martinis (remember Anna Karenina?) and now has demonstrated his expertise with the barbecue!   Moira, please thank him for putting up with us.  Very much appreciated. And as Bev and Jill attest below, our evening together was another great success.  Thanks, Moira, for your power point presentation (could you please send me the file so that I can put it on our blog?), and the yummy dinner.  You proved that you don’t need meat to make a meal delicious.  The conversation was stimulating and I too learn so much from everyone’s opinions.  And the story couldn’t be timelier.  I shall reflect on its themes today as I work in the garden.  Coincidentally I planted a Japanese Maple yesterday.  May it gain strength and life force from the surrounding trees and live happily in my garden for many years to come.

From Jill:

What a great evening that was. As usual after our book club meetings, I mull and consider everyone’s thoughts and opinions. I enjoy hearing different perspectives on the chosen book and learn so much more than my own personal opinion.
Thank you, Moira, for giving such an informative and detailed research background about the characters who in their individuality gave so much of themselves to protect the trees.
I learned a lot from this book, and how much human beings are involved in trying to protect and save these majestic beauties, all such a very necessary part of our environment and climate. Moira your meal was perfect and delicious for an early fall evening.
I have a documentary recording by Judi Dench about her passion for trees, that I watch occasionally.
She hires a man who is the head of the tree collection at Kew Gardens to learn more about her trees.
She says that since she was a little girl, she has always adored trees.
She talks and learns about they live, breathe and communicate. How they survive the harshest winters and what she can hear within the bark, (a special horn device is used that is put against the trunk and one listens through the other end of the horn, to hear water travelling up the bark. A mature tree needs up to 200 litres of water a day) to how they fight back against disease and how woodlands have shaped our history, and how trees live in communities. She’s heard of a tree that is 5000 years old. Imagine that.
On her property Judi Dench has nurtured her trees since she’s lived there. She is most attached to her beloved oak. I can well understand how she feels about her trees.  I have read The Hidden Life of Trees, so much to learn and understand about the majestic beauties that help to save our planet.

From Bev:

So good to see everyone in person. The hamburgers really hit the spot on a coolish fall evening. Thanks for hosting Moira. Great book choice. It seems in many ways all of us have developed a love of trees and this book was amazing in sharing with us the hidden life of trees. I will never see them the same way. It breaks my heart to see the devastations logging has had on our old growth forests. And even more so the impact it is having on our climate. > Thank you for using the closed captioning. I try to catch the gist of our conversations but must admit it can be a challenge and if my comments seem to come out of left field thank you for bearing with me. I enjoyed the way the author wove each character’s story into the narrative. As story telling is a profound way to change minds and hearts. Each character came from such a different space and yet they found themselves in a life changing struggle to save the trees at huge cost to themselves personally. Jeanne does a great job of story telling as she shares her thoughts and struggles making a discernible difference in fighting climate change in her blog. I am in awe of the challenges she sets for herself. I personally am not doing enough.

I am currently reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. Fascinating! And available at the library. Much of his work and the work of Dr Simard the Canadian botanist are referred to in the book. A very interesting and enjoyable read. I will never look at a tree standing alone in a field the same way.  Those who choose to march to a different drummer often face ridicule, harassment, isolation even imprisonment. I think of Mimi sitting day after day alone in self isolation; recalling the protest and haunted by the past and uncertain of her future. I guess we are all uncertain of our future.

From Jane:

Thanks, Moira, for the great evening and plant-based meal – I did find the book challenging (and long for my ever-shrinking attention span 😎) but as always, your insightful preparation and the book club members made me glad that we pick challenging books with such important themes. I keep thinking about this book and am now more aware of the echoes in real life that I am hearing and feeling everyday. It is easy to think that management of the earth resources/climate is too difficult and overwhelming to solve but we cannot give up and I am resolved to increase my efforts.

From Erin:

Moira et al,

The discussion has been percolating with me for 5 days now… and my delay is a reflection of my slow digestion of the richness of our gathering. I am struck by:

  • The timeliness of this book discussion given it took place on the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation… the understory of our presence on this continent… and the intertwining of indigenous practices with this understory of trees… and the earth, as their understanding is of being one with the earth… coming from and returning to the earth… in that way trees are a part of us, as we are a part of trees.
  • the spiritual aspect of trees and old growth forests and the vast biodiversity and the capacity for healing of that riches, either through medicinal qualities of specific plants, or simply by soaking in their presence…. today I was reading an article about the Japanese practice of “shinrin-yoku,” which literally translates to “forest bath”.

and so much more than I can articulate but that we all feel on some level… the spirituality and majesty of the ancient… an appreciation for all that is gained through years of existence… whether it be forests or the elders of our fleeting human life … and an appreciation of earned understandings that come with fully embraced and timelessness of an “in-the-moment” life journey. Thank you for welcoming us into your space for rich reflections and digestions… I am honoured to be a part and partaker.  

From Laura:

Thanks Moira (and Dean for co-hosting in the background). It really was a memorable evening, and the presentation, the meal, the discussion and the company were all such a pleasure in these times of staying at home. I read The Overstory a couple of years ago and was immediately struck by the image of thousands of hectares of virgin forests, and the loss of the beauty of it all as well as the Indigenous cultures that lived there. It’s a sobering thought to realize what it has all come to now. I was so impressed with what I learned about trees from the novel that I immediately bought several books about the wonder of trees and the history of the Indigenous peoples of North America for my grandsons. (Does anyone remember “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein? Not the best book, but a good lesson in how incredibly useful trees are to mankind.) Also, it was timely that I was away in B.C. the week prior to the meeting, where forestry is a huge component of their economy. Due to the pandemic and the forest fires, we stayed in very quiet areas in the area known as the Sunshine Coast, where a lot of the properties are accessed only by water. We took a plane trip up to the community of Bella Bella, which is fairly remote by our standards, and if you don’t mind, I’m attaching a small photo album of a few of the sights we saw. I was constantly struck by the beauty of it and of how we must find ways to actively protect what is left. I hope some of the images enhance what Richard Powers conveyed in his story.

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Permanent Record by Edward Snowden, hosted by Jeanne, June 17, 2021

From Jeanne:

Hi everyone

Thanks to everyone for the great evening, it was wonderful that everyone could make it to our first in-person book club since the pandemic shut down our world, I was thrilled to be hosting it here. It was definitely a team effort to make that meal, cooking with Josee has been the one thing I’ve been able to contribute to the community during Covid and a thing I could do to feel a little less helpless in face of the overwhelming need and suffering all around us. Thank you Josee for making that possible and for the great experience…. even when we faced those mountains of pots and bowls to clean after the meals were packaged!!!

I appreciated the thought and discussion everyone put into this book and the issues. It is challenging material and I am proud of us that we choose such books as this for our reading and that we can dive into discussing them openly together. And What a PLEASURE to discuss in person!! I’m grateful that we could continue our meetings over zoom, but delighted that we can have many conversations at the same time again!!

I found the second reading of Snowden brought me more thoughts about the issues some of which I’ve jotted here:

(With a little corollary now that I’ve edited and read it back to myself: This is an essay/list of my opinions about Edward Snowden and his story. It is not related to our discussion. I take this opportunity to espouse my thoughts because Karen asked for my summary for the blog and, although I’m sure she didn’t expect this, it seemed like I had a lot to say once I got started. I reserve the right to continue to think more also which is a sign of a good story. And although my thoughts might sound like I unqualifiedly approve of everything he does I mostly am trying not to get stuck in the leaves and lose the tree. So here you go, good luck reading the whole thing, maybe have a glass of wine with it, lol) 

1. I am impressed with his eventual self-confrontation when the confirmation that his worst fears about what his government was doing were proved true beyond any doubt, with his choices, his decisions and his follow through in actions. How many of us in his position would ignore, or run away from finding the proof of our fears in order to preserve our illusions about our government (or at least not have to face our fears head on), to preserve our lifestyle, our family’s wellbeing etc.. ?  And would we ignore what we found in order to do no damage to the government, security agencies and military that are the perpetrators but supposedly protecting their citizens. Imagine with this data what McCarthyism could be like… 

To me, whatever else he was and whatever anyone thinks of his choices, he has made it possible to live with himself and walk around with his head up knowing that he did what he thought was right for a bigger purpose than himself. I think a lot of people who face tough choices like that choose to take the ‘safe’ route, but they whittle away at their humanity and inner feeling of personal value when they make choices based on personal safety, status quo or any other reason that goes against what they know in their heart and gut to be right. We judge the actions of other people based on our own criteria, and the bottom line is No One will ever make a choice and take action on it that will be unanimously agreed on. To be honest I don’t know if I’d have the guts to do what he did, but I think I would lose respect for myself if I convinced myself it was okay to do nothing so I feel he was stuck between a rock and a hard place and he chose to confront the issue head on. To me this story is similar in essence to the story of the Good Samaritan, or the traveller who moved the rock in his path rather than go around or turn back. 

2. Our federal, provincial and, to a somewhat lesser degree, municipal governments, our military and bureaucracies have become autonomous creatures that are not reactive to anything except feeding themselves. Like the gypsy moth caterpillars they are consuming everything in their path without regard to sustainability or values other than greed and self-preservation. There is no accountability or responsibility to the country and citizens they were created to serve. The contracting, sub-contracting and incredible waste of resources and the tax dollars that ordinary people work for is criminal by any other standards. The biggest tragedy of all this is that we feel more and more helpless. Are we doomed? If this continues it will be like the trees. The leaves are coming back after being stripped by the caterpillars but they are not back as strong and healthy as their first magnificent, trusting growth. They are more tentative, they are dipping into their stored energy and hopefully these new, weaker leaves can gather enough energy to survive for the winter. It was scary to watch the big oak trees and most of the forest being decimated and I wonder how many more onslaughts they can weather before succumbing to this army set in motion by human arrogance and manipulation of a system designed to have checks and balances. 

3. Personal rights vs the rights of the state are subject to a lot of controversy. I think this is a subject we will never agree on the nuances and extent of how much power government should have and whether people like Snowden, Martin Luther King, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela … the list goes on, are committing acts against their government or are justified in speaking up for citizens, against government abuses and for marginalized groups of people. The books and stories I read seem to be kinder to them in history than during their lifetime and in the immediacy of their actions. I suspect that some of you may disagree with whom I’ve put together on this list, but these all meet the criteria of doing what they feel is right in a nonviolent action and staying true to their belief at a great personal cost. 

4. We, the readers, have choices now:

 We can make the story about him and his country and/or fellow citizens and judge him and use this as a reason to do nothing, or something. 

 We can make his decision and action redundant because we are being spied on all the time by the social media monoliths and corporations who use our private info for their material gain. And do nothing, or something

 We can literally make up anything we want about him and the story to justify doing nothing or something.

 And does it matter if we, the individual, do nothing, or something anyways??

5. Sadly for my peace of mind after reading this book twice, doing nothing is not an option. At the very least I have started changing my passwords, will continue and I am looking into some options for communication independent of the big bad companies. 

I am and will continue to talk about this book and recommend that people read it.

I choose to be inspired by Edward Snowden’s story. I hope that this story gives me the courage to do and say I feel in my heart is right for the greater good no matter how much it might inconvenience me, make me uncomfortable or make my life difficult (even my family’s too and beyond (especially if there comes a time when liberal views, independent thought and speaking up for environmental and social justice issues becomes demonized…  1984)), and no matter how much my head argues and justifies any other course of action. 

I believe the world needs more of us to stand up to the bullies and abusers and speak out for everyone’s rights. I believe that the silent majority of people are good and care and that individuals can work within communities to empower all of us to stand up and be heard. And when people are informed, given a means, learn to silence the judge inside themselves, get motivated to work together in small groups, miracles can happen.

Here is the Edward Snowden password YouTube link:

Here is the link for Edward Snowden message to Canada about his Guardian Angels

Here is the link for the recipe for Tahini Sauce

Tahini Dressing Recipe | Minimalist Baker Recipes

From Karen: The book club gods were with us again last night.  The weather was fine, the conversation was LIVELY (both personal catchup and discussion related to the book), and the food was delicious.  A wonderful way to inaugurate our in person meetings. (I checked the blog and the last time we met in person was April 16 2020 at Moira’s for Washington Black) Thanks Jeanne and Josee for the magic you created in the kitchen.  The Wellington outreach program is fortunate to have your help. 

And now on to Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record.  I admit I did not relate to Edward Snowden though his story raised important questions.  Yes, he is incredibly technically smart but I wanted to read more about the moral ambiguity of what he faced while working for the government.  Data privacy is complicated and controversial. Governments and corporations collect our personal data without impunity.  More data equals more power.  We live in a society where every action is seen “as a data point to be analyzed and traded like currency.” (From The Atlantic)  There needs to be balance and oversight – but how and by whom, is the troubling question.   

Great to meet again in person and debate our book’s themes together.  Thanks Jeanne for hosting.  Looking forward to seeing you all at Moira’s in September.

From Bev: Thank you Jeanne for suggesting this book. As Karen says it raises some very important questions and his revelations pose more questions than answers. Knowledge is power and have our governments given away their moral duty to protect their citizens? Or is the transformation in technology just too rapid for the elected to deal with and it is easier to contract it out not really understanding the consequences of doing so? Or has the military industrial complex usurped government to increase their power and wealth. And in this day and age we are daily grappling with what is moral/ethical.

Snowden is an interesting study. He comes from a historical American lineage. His family has a long history of serving in the military at high levels. He struggles with conventional learning and buries himself in the solitary world of computers. What child at age 6 would take apart a computer game to see how it works and then almost independently put it back together and the only thing that stopped it from working again is not knowing how to re-sodder the mother board. Brilliant but not charismatic/personable. So many geniuses seem to lack the ability to relate personally and so he may not engender a lot of sympathy.  Good books keep you asking.  Great meal Jeanne and Josee. And great work with the Wellington Square/ Burlington Food network.

From Laura: Jeanne, what a great topic to fan the flames of our first live and in-person meeting! Not that it needed any combustible materials, 😆. Although I am somewhat over-the-top about privacy issues, I have to admit one of my daughters and her husband have the same approach as Karen’s experience- meh- and the other just shrugs her shoulders. I myself feel it is a losing battle most of the time but still remain on the defensive side of the debate. Anyhoo, it was wonderful to rub elbows with everyone, and thanks to you and Josee for an incredibly delicious meal, for the second servings, and for sharing the info about the food programs at Wellington Square and other churches. 

I hope the in-person meetings can continue, and look forward to Moira’s date. Another thought-provoking book as well. Best wishes to everyone for continued good health. ❤️

From Ann: It was so great to see everyone and the humm of conversations made me feel more normal again- it’s been so long!   The meal was fantastic (and the take home meal was a great treat too).   I found the book thought provoking and also troubling because unless a ton of us “regular” people do something about it there is no reason to think things have really changed and it is hard to believe the government about anything really. A dilemma for sure. I think one thing I will do is check out my passwords though. That is certainly doable!   Thanks again.

From Jill: How lucky we were, to be able to finally get together and catch up with each other at long last! The ambience, wine and such delicious food made it one of the happiest evenings for me in months! Many thanks Jeanne for suggesting such a thought provoking intense read. I certainly learned a lot, and was quite in awe of Snowdon’s brilliant mind and his capabilities. Technology boggles my mind at the best of times and reading about him, and listening and reading everyone’s comments helped me to realize even more there are powers beyond our control whether we like it or not. 

Jeanne and Josee those many months of providing food for so many is admirable. What would many people do without volunteers like you and many others? I have just finished my leftover portion for lunch, yum! and wonder, would it be possible to have recipes for the chickpeas, sweet potatoes and the veggy mix? 

From Jane: Wonderful to see everyone, including Arthur, in real life. Loved hearing the buzz around the table – all the conversations and catching up. I did find this a challenging book and I appreciate the discussion led by Jeanne. As someone who had a career in technology there is a lot for me to think about – Just because we can build it – should we? And who is going to be the grownup in the room that helps protect the client from themselves. The US and the world was so shocked by the intelligence failures of 911 that they definitely over corrected and did not put in appropriate checks and balances.

I guess my issue is that I am not sure what we do about it now.  I will think about this book for a long time.  Thank you Jeanne for choosing a thought provoking book and for the amazing meal – we (and the community) are lucky to have you and Josee.  Stay well all and see you on September 16th at Moira’s.

From Moira: Sorry to have missed you all during the pre- Bookclub social but it sure was nice to see you around the table, thoroughly engaged in the Snowden interview. Jeanne, Could you send me the link to the interview that you were showing when I came in?

Thanks to both Jeanne and Josee for a delicious meal and bonus leftovers! I commend you for your volunteer work.

Snowden’s book makes me wonder how someone with a brain like his can stand to live in a world and try to communicate with the likes of the rest of us and yet he does an admirable job trying to do just that. I think a person who views most information in terms of 0 and 1 and can categorize it as such, does not have much trouble deciding the moral right or wrong of an action- both his and the governments- and that he would feel compelled to set the record straight regardless of the cost to himself. He did weigh the cost to himself and felt badly for his family. I am happy that he is living safely in Russia with his partner, whom I also admire, for her perseverance. 

I hope we see and hear more from Snowden in the future- we really need a guy like him working on OUR side. If you haven’t see the Netflix show, The Social Dilemma, it is a must.

The Social Dilemma focuses on how big social media companies manipulate users by using algorithms that encourage addiction to their platforms. It also shows, fairly accurately, how platforms harvest personal data to target users with ads – and have so far gone largely unregulated.

From Erin: Thanks Jeanne (and Josee)!  Adding my appreciation for all your hard work preparing a creative and lovely meal for the community and us 🙂.   Absolutely delicious and I think if I learned to cook more vegetarian/vegan meals with such amazing flavours, I truly wouldn’t miss meat.

I must admit today I’m walking around feeling a combination of guilty for living the way I do, and also scrutinized (as I walked around the golf course with my smart phone in my bag) wondering if I should ditch the cell phone, ditch the laptop, and go back to a Bell hard-wired land line with an answering machine-of the old rewind tape recorder variety.  It doesn’t really feel like an option anymore… for someone who wants to continue to be part of the world community. I too feel stuck in a dilemma?  What to do???  My trust in the government is waning… an entirely separate issue from the Permanent Record cached on the web, in that it seems public service has become a mechanism (for most not all) to get a piece of the action (access to tax dollars) and fleece their pockets, either while in office or later….   The contracting, sub-contracting business has me livid, and I have no idea what can be done about it.  It seems to be the way of the world… get someone else to do the dirty work, so you can keep your hands clean and be absolved of any responsibility, criminal or otherwise…. or sometimes, it’s just a way to pay workers less than government jobs that enjoy good benefits, job security and a pension.

My apologies for my ramblings… a very thought provoking and Orwellian book… 1984 is here… the timing isn’t that far off… didn’t Edward Snowdon say 1989 was the beginning of the internet?  

Thanks again Jeanne and all you wonderful women!

From Josee:   What a beautiful evening we shared! It was so very nice seeing you all and being able to hug, to chat and to be together after such a longer absence.  I cannot add to what has already been said. So many good points, ideas, opinions have been brought up. What an extraordinary group of women you all are. Edward Snowden will remain in our thoughts for quite sometimes. I’m quite sure. 

I’m still chuckling at Edward Snowden’s video replies that Jeanne showed us about « passwords «. How my Mom at 91 must think our world has changed.  Happy Saturday, take care

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The Innocents by Michael Crummey, hosted by Erin, Thursday May 13, 2021

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The Innocents is the coming-of-age story of Evered and Ada Best, young siblings who find themselves orphaned and alone in a remote, isolated cove in northern Newfoundland after their parents and infant sister succumb to fatal illnesses. In true Crummey fashion, the tale is set in a rural, bygone place that is simultaneously so brutal and bewitching that the island itself becomes a complex, unruly character.

The story traces the siblings’ bone-tiring bid to stave off death as they grow up in the only place they know as home. Left with little more than an unreliable skiff and a set of memorized idioms to guide them (“A body must bear what can’t be helped”), the siblings battle starvation, the relentless cruelty of rain, cold and winter, and, eventually, a foreign form of isolation: the unexplained onset of puberty. Crummey deftly portrays the physical elements of adolescence as yet another mystifying imposition of nature, but one that both alienates the Best siblings and irrevocably binds them*

*Excerpt from The Globe and Mail

From Jill: Erin, thank you.  I enjoyed your insightful and informative presentation very much. It is a story that stayed with me for a long time. I became enriched and learned so much more than I had read into the story from everyone’s individual thoughts and comments. However much we related to life, as it was, indigenous, biblical and otherwise, I felt our comments seem to weave and flow through situations in the book and into our own personal dealings with life, integrity, survival and compassion. To me, the core of the story was survival, compassion and strength.

From Ann: Thank you from me too for choosing a book that I might not have otherwise read. I read it a while ago but as with others it has stayed with me.   The conversation always makes me think of things I never considered and I spend more time rethinking my original impressions. 

From Bev: Crummy is such a treasure to the people and the history and culture of Newfoundland. I always learn so much from reading him. Never an easy read. He does not shy away from history. Past histories are often brutal. His characters show such resolve, resilience and humanity.  How will history remember us? Erin, Thanks for leading us through the complexities. I was going to ask Karen about her thinking about the book as a fable. I hadn’t thought about it that way. A book and author that stays with you.

From Moira: Thank you Erin For guiding us through the discussion on some pretty challenging themes. I am so glad you chose the book because although I read it some time ago, I enjoyed thinking and reading about it again. Also enjoyed thinking about it from a different viewpoint as Karen pointed out when she spoke about their landscape as a paradise.  Thanks to everyone for your insights on a complex but beautifully written novel.

From Jane: Thank you Erin for leading this month’s book club meeting – a challenging book with disturbing themes led to such a free ranging discussion about the place (rugged and beautiful Newfoundland), families, settlement, resiliency, indigenous peoples, religion, fables, taboos, and the sustainability of the earth.  I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the different conversations and views about the book.

From Jeanne: Thank you Erin for hosting a great discussion. I echo the previous comments! I always enjoy hearing the different perspectives on what we read and there were several that opened up thoughts for me about The Innocents that I’m still pondering… one of them being communication and another being where/how the concept of something being a ‘sin’ gets defined and what happens to relationships when we then judge ourselves and others on this measure. It seems that communications break down once someone feels they have something to hide, no matter how old they are or natural an instinct it is.

From Karen: Thanks Erin for choosing The Innocents and guiding our discussion with your presentation.  This was a novel with many levels of meaning and interpretation as evidenced by the group’s comments.    A great choice for the book club

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The Dragons, the Giant, the Women by Wayetu Moore at Karen’s on April 1, 2021

We continue with our Zoom book meetings – definitely not our preferred way to meet but still wonderful way to keep in touch and discuss family, life in a pandemic and, of course, books. Karen’s presentation is attached below (Note: Videos will not work in PDF format)

Thoughtful words from Jill:

Thank you Karen for such an interesting and in depth research. I once again, learned a lot from the Liberia history to the amazing hope, fortitude, love and above all survival of just one family.
While perusing one of the reviews, I felt this paragraph was quite apt for our present time, as for then. ” Those starving right now for physical contact with loved ones outside their immediate homes, will find special resonance in Tutu’s parents’ eventual reunion in Sierre Leone, when they wiped each other’s eyes and hugged for a long time”.
Another quote I read by Wayetu Moore, I found profound but also sad. ” Such is the danger of deep love, however beautiful, dying lingers close behind”.

And from Moira:

Thank you Karen for hosting a thoughtful discussion and for all the work you put into your presentation. I’m sorry we could not view it together however I hope you’ll send us the links and we can watch the videos ourselves. It’s interesting how many of our books have dealt with racism in some form; The Known World, Washington Black, The Dragons, …, Between the World and Me, Small Island, Ragged Company, Indian Horse , The Book of Negroes, The Help, (?)to name a few. As a white, fairly privileged white woman I am saddened, shocked dismayed etc at the cruelty toward people of colour but I can never fully appreciate the depth of their feelings of displacement and their sense of not belonging or being accepted. After reading, I am left with hopeless feelings about what CAN I DO? I want to take action but I don’t know where to start. Being aware and being educated is no longer enough. Jeanne writes about this in her weekly messages which is in fact, taking action. Cheers to Jeanne!Apologies for the outpouring, but this is what resonates with me after reading many of these novels.

And Bev continues with this dialogue:

Moira, I too struggle with what can I do?

I have found the book “Caste” by Isabel Wilkerson to be both challenging and provoking. In her epilogue she writes:“Human beings across time and continents are more alike than they are different. The central question about human behaviour is not why do these people do this or act that way, now or in ages past, but what is it that human beings do when faced with a given circumstance?
None of us choose the circumstances of our birth. We had nothing to do with being born into privilege or under stigma. We have everything to do with what we do with our God-given talents and how we treat our species from this day forward.
We are not personally responsible for what people who look like us did centuries ago. But we are responsible for what good or Ill we do to people alive with us today. We are, each of us, responsible for every decision we make that hurts or harms another human being. We are responsible for recognizing that what happened in previous generations at the hands of or to people that look like us set the stage for the world we live in and that what has gone before grants us advantages and burdens through no effort or fault of our own, gains or deficits that others who do not look like us often do not share.”
She encourages us to develop a radical empathy for those who must endure the indignities we have been able to avoid because of our privilege. To see and connect with the person in front of us. To reach across and act when we see a person treated unfairly. She likens it to the flapping of butterfly wings that shifts the air and builds to a hurricane across the ocean.
Jeanne has found a wonderful way to provoke us into rethinking, being aware, and sometimes acting.
It can be more personal in our daily lives. So small things. A small example and I know you too do this. I tip my delivery guy extra. I would really like to see essential workers paid a living wage and having benefits and getting their covid vaccinations. Actually I often wonder what skills and professions they had before they arrived in Canada. So as well as personally trying to pay appropriately for services I bug my local MLA, Doug Ford or whoever else. I will vote accordingly. I read and share ideas probably with like minded but maybe it might trigger something. Butterflies?

And from Laura:

Thank you Karen for your review of The Dragons, the Giant, the Women. You facilitated the discussion in a thoughtful and patient manner, in a way that I wish I were better able to do. Everyone contributed insight and observations that helped me have a better understanding of the messages of Wayetu Moore: the impact of her family’s harrowing experience in Liberia, their magical escape, and her oddly synchronous lived experience as an immigrant of colour in Texas, U.S.A. (where violence lurks but is mostly implied in a class structure and social rules that must be adhered to).
Moira and Bev, I enjoyed reading your notes, and they mirror my own dilemmas about complicity in perpetuating the systemic underpinnings of racism and classism. My first steps have been to seek ongoing personal awareness and sharing of knowledge, but I definitely struggle with meaningful action beyond that, so it’s helpful to hear your thoughts. And, Jeanne, your weekly notes also show how you are working your way through these issues and proposing actions that I appreciate hearing. I’m very grateful at this time to have the diversion of a shared book and a group of friends to work their way through it’s meaning. This past year has shown how much I really need it.

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The Yellow House by Sarah Broom, hosted by Laura on Thursday February 19, 2021

Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house’s entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure.

From Josee: Thanks Laura for a most insightful presentation. I thoroughly enjoyed your book and your presentation.  One thing that has stayed with me from last night is the map of the reconstruction areas/zones.  I understand the need to keep the ‘ touristic areas’ e.g., the French quarter open but as you pointed out Laura when the devastation and the need to rebuild are your impoverished and ‘fringe’ areas, it is with sadness that one again notices “the have and the have nots.”  Thanks again Laura, and all for a good evening. May we one day go on a road trip and enjoy all the goodness that New Orleans, Louisiana and the surroundings has to offer… most especially the wonderful food.

From Jill: Thank you so much Laura for such a detailed and interesting presentation! I will enjoy reading the pdf file again (attached below), so much history to absorb. A deeply sensitive memoir, and also apropos as February is Black History month. The story brought back memories of my visit and tour of New Orleans in November ’92, but of course I cannot imagine the horrors of living through a hurricane and its aftermath. Some words from the last paragraph of the document you forwarded to us, deeply resonated with me. Being a post war baby, I remember seeing hardships within my own family, more so on my maternal grandparent’s side, and their struggles to manage their family with only the very basic and simple home needs. However, it was a special place to visit, like a second home because they were there, and the familiar objects, books and pictures never changed. No updating or renovating in those days! When I put my little hand into my grandpa’s big hand and we walked together, I felt as safe, secure and loved as I ever could be. Apologies for rambling, but the story, and our conversation about families last evening brought back so many special and detailed memories. 

This is the quote from the last paragraph that I felt moved by: “Many people who have the hardest lives also possess the deepest levels of compassion and unwavering commitments to lifting others up. We must see people as they deserve to be seen and take care not to apply labels to them related only to the hardships they have endured. We must celebrate with them all the things that they have conquered despite these eternal forces”. 

From Jeanne: Thanks for choosing this book, for your research and thoughtful presentation of the history of Louisiana and the corruption, cruelty and inequity that have persisted since the first explorers claimed land for their empires. The discussion was thoughtful and thought provoking. Definitely a book that stays in the memory long after the last page is turned.

It never ceases to amaze me that the doctrines of freedom, democracy and capitalism I had been inoculated to believe were underpinning our North American wealth and privilege (privilege presented as rights) when I was growing up through school and through until somewhere in midlife were based on outright lies and completely ignored that this wealth was bought with the exploitation and abuse of people and resources that were plundered to colonize and develop the ‘new world’. 

Reading Sarah Broom’s story of The Yellow House was like peeling another layer and seeing the generational impact of slavery, discrimination and segregation. I visited Louisiana and New Orleans in 1996, and everywhere there were deep contrasts. I am glad I did not have all this information when I went or I do not think I would have enjoyed the luxury we stayed in.  This was a personal story of a family that grew up with a very different reality than mine and a real life testament to the power of love, family, courage and hope no matter the circumstances, we all have that in common. She shows that music and food, common purpose and community are powerful and create a connection that is deep and humanizing.  So much more I am thinking and will continue to … including relationship to House and home.

From Karen: Yes thanks so much Laura for suggesting the book and for taking the time to delve deep into its themes.  I read that Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House is “a tribute to the multitude of stories one small home can contain, even one bursting with loss”  I liked that quote.  And based on last night’s excellent presentation, you made it clear that her family’s story is also one of social and political injustice.  Your research reinforced the fact the Broom family’s misfortunes were not caused by a hurricane but were the result of an entrenched culture of racial injustice.  Very sad and very disturbing especially since it continues today.  

I agree with Josee that a trip to New Orleans would be enjoyable but after reading The Yellow House, maybe we should drive around the outlying areas to see what the “real” New Orleans looks like for the majority of its residents.

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Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb hosted by Jane, January 7, 2021

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, recounts the author’s story when she is left reeling after a breakup with the person she thought would be her “forever”. This book is a fascinating peek into psychotherapy from the perspective of a therapist who needed it herself and her clients.

From Karen: Thanks Jane for suggesting the book, and preparing a very thorough presentation.  I was always interested in the origins of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.  It was surprising to learn that word therapy began in ancient times and not with Freud in the 1800’s.  As someone said last night (Erin?) this book is very timely.  The pandemic, the political upheaval in the US, and personal challenges have upended my assumptions of expected outcomes.  It is comforting to read this book and realize struggle is the norm and positive change is possible, for those brave enough to take it on…   Thanks too for the yummy cookies.  I do miss our in person meetings where we shared good food, wine and wonderful conversation.  Hopefully this can resume sooner rather than later in 2021. 

From Bev: Another great evening. Thank you for suggesting the book Jane. I really enjoyed following the author and the clients as they peeled the onion to come to a resolution and to find contentment. Maybe contentment isn’t the word but I struggled to find another.  I have suggested this book to others. In this time of constant change, Covid-19 and political upheaval our world is unpredictable and full of stress. As Karen says it is comforting to know that struggle is the norm and that positive change is possible.

It may even allow someone to consider psychotherapy because “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone”. The cookie was delicious. Thank you Jane.

From Josee: Thank you all for a wonderful evening. Thoroughly enjoyed our discussions, and such an appropriate book for our time.  Thank you Jane on a fabulous presentation, and your selection of book.

From Laura: It was so good to see everyone on Thursday evening. Thank you all for being there with cookies and wine to share your thoughts and experiences.  Jane, as mentioned, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, so thanks for a great recommendation, a delicious cookie and an informative presentation. While reading I found it reassuring to be reminded that most of us struggle with challenging life events from time to time, that there are wonderful, sensitive Therapists willing to steer us through a crisis (Erin!), and that there is no statute of limitations on inner growth for anyone.  

From Jill: My thanks too Jane!  I was thinking as I was walking this morning, how reading your book choice opened up to me my own vulnerabilities. Hearing everyone’s opinions, insights and your excellent presentation gave me a lot of food for thought.  I really enjoyed the book, especially as Lori Gottlieb wrote with candour and presented her own vulnerabilities and feelings, but also with a sense of humour which we so need at the present time.  I hope I didn’t sound too negative last night, I was just trying to sort through my own jumble of feelings, that the book therapy ( and your words) exposed me to, in a good and positive way. 

I do appreciate your friendship and can’t wait for the day when we can hug, meet and chat in person again. 

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Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes, hosted by Bev, November 19, 2020

Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes is set in a small Kentucky town in Depression era America, the novel details the lives of five women who become traveling librarians, delivering books to those less fortunate in the rural communities of Kentucky.

From Moira: Thanks Bev, for bringing the book to our attention and for the links to author interviews. It’s always interesting to hear about the origins of the story and the process from the author herself.  I enjoyed learning about the ‘ack horse librarians. As I said, the description of the landscape and the women’s’ struggles to overcome physical challenges always appeals to me. 

From Ann: Great conversation as always.  I loved how a group of women with such different views and backgrounds can find each other and make the world a better place one book at a time. It sounds like another group of ladies I know.  I am looking forward to cocktail hour.  I say just use the pitcher if you don’t have a glass that size! 

From Karen: It was interesting to read about the Pack Horse Library project.  As you said Bev, they were a very special group of ladies to take on the challenge of delivering books to such a remote region.   Looking forward to seeing what Resse Witherspoon does with the story.

From Jill: My thanks too Bev! The pack horse libraries, and what those brave, hard working women endured thanks to the idea and tenacity of Eleanor Roosevelt was a piece of history I knew nothing about.  It was an enlightening and inspiring discussion and your links which I really enjoyed, helped give me insight into the background of the book and Jo Jo Moyes herself.  I have read her series Me Before You, Still Me, and After You.  Even though her novels are light reading and mostly romantic, she does touch on human aspects, situations and feelings involved.  They leave me with the thoughts, how would I deal with and what would I feel given those circumstances. I will look forward to reading at some point, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michelle Richardson.  The Giver of Star’s novel has piqued my curiosity. 

From Laura: Thanks Bev for a very interesting book choice, as well as the very informative supplemental information. I have always looked at Eleanor Roosevelt as a role model for courage and productivity. No surprise that she was the presence behind the Packhorse Librarian project.

From Jane: Thank you Bev for picking a book about a part of history that I had not previously been aware. I loved seeing the pictures of the actual horse librarians – they must have been very interesting and strong women who made such an impact in their communities.

From Josee: Just wanted to say thank you Bev for your excellent book choice and last night book discuss.
And to all, it was wonderful seeing you, even if just via a zoom session. Looking forward to our December “get together”.  

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Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, hosted by Ann on October 8, 2020

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper tells the story of 10 year old Melody, incapable of controlling her body or speaking her mind because of cerebral palsy.  Told in the first person by the remarkable intelligent girl, the story is a realistic and compassionate window into the life of one considered “disabled” by the world around her.

From Karen: Thanks for last night’s discussion.  As always no matter what type of book we read, I learn so much from the group’s insights.  Your discussion on the daily challenges you face teaching in a COVID world was especially moving.  Your students are very lucky to have you Ann.  May we all remain healthy in body and spirit as we enter into fall/winter and a second COVID wave.  Thank goodness we have our books and meetings to look forward to.  Here’s to enjoying more meaningful conversations and learning new things together.

From Bev: So sorry to have joined in later last night. I agree with Karen, that we learn and grow through our discussions. Ann’s book resonated with me and my years in education, trying to advocate for including special needs kids in the classroom. Their struggles and those of the teachers and parents who work so hard to accommodate and support them is inspiring.

From Moira: Thanks everyone for another good discussion and many thanks to you Ann for bringing this book forward and providing the links to author interviews and filling in the classroom realities. I’m always amazed when such a seemingly simple book has so much depth to it when we start reviewing, analyzing, questioning etc.  It’s the beauty of our Bookclub!

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Cookies from Jane!

What a treat it was yesterday (January 6th 2021) to see a car drive down the driveway. An unusual occurrence in these days of Covid lockdown. Cars coming down here are usually people scoping out the neighbourhood who take a wrong turn, I assume at least, because they continue in a circle and disappear back up the lane, or they are Ann’s kids driving down to her house or … The point is they rarely stop, but this one did!! And what to my wondering eyes did appear?? Jane Dandy emerged and came to the door, smiling wide as ever (under her mask), what a surprise and what a pleasure to see another human I know up close (at a safe distance).

I was puzzled of course, but not for too long, Jane was delivering a cookie, and not just a cookie!! A Burlington Bookclub Cookie! Who thinks of these things?? Well, Jane, who else!! A delightful surprise, a gift of warmth and connection on a gloomy winter day, in a world raging and confused, where it seems hard to feel connected to anyone beyond the immediate boundaries of our isolated islands.

Thank you Jane!! This is more than a cookie, and it is so lovely I’d love to preserve it forever, but…

I’m going to eat it tonight with my friends at Jane’s Zoom bookclub gathering, so I’m posting this picture on our blog.

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