Reading Roundup: March 2021

Wisdom may be rented, so to speak, on the experience of other people, but we buy it at an inordinate price before we make it our own forever.

Robertson Davies, Leaven of Malice

As I was going through my book of quotes today (woefully out of date as it is since my novel reading has fallen drastically over the past few years…) I came across this sentence written by the brilliant Canadian author Robertson Davies – one of my husband’s favourites!

What struck me about this quote was the image of a price for wisdom. For me, that price seems to be time as I have so many things I am curious about, so much I wish to learn, and yet all of this takes time. Time which is hard to find as a first-time-mom working from home during a pandemic.

Why am I droning on about this, you might ask? Well. I’ve decided, in the interest of time and how much of it I have to commit to this blog at the moment, to only publish a post every Sunday for the foreseeable future. While I would love to be posting more often, it just isn’t feasible with a busy 14-month-old to look after and all of life’s other responsibilities at the moment.

And, besides, my husband might get entirely fed up with me if I don’t get back to working on my debut novel soon. He has been waiting to read it since we got together 5 years ago!

Thank you for your understanding, dear reader. And now – this month’s reads!

articles

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com
Guilt and fury: how Covid brought mothers to breaking point, By Natasha Walter

Though I have been incredibly lucky in my own experience of the Covid-19 lockdown (I only have one child who just turned 14 months and I currently only work a few freelance hours per month), this article really opened my eyes to how much mothers have been adversely affected by the pandemic. This article speaks mostly to the experience of mothers in the UK but it was still shocking for me to learn that the vast majority of moms were expected to take on all childcare and housework, simultaneously juggling their careers, while men were only expected to focus on their employment. I mean, we’re in 2021 people. Seriously?

We have to learn from this crisis. It has reminded us that, under a flimsy carapace, women are still poorer and still less powerful than men. It has exposed to us that women are still doing most of the caring in a society that doesn’t value care. It’s reminded us that we need urgency and solidarity if we are to make change. And it’s reminded us that change is way overdue.

Natasha Walter
From Circe to Clinton: Why powerful women are cast as witches, By Madeline Miller

A fascinating look at the history of “witches”, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and how this designation has been used to attempt to control and punish women for aspiring to hold too much power – or indeed becoming too powerful – for centuries. Even in modern day, we see powerful women being referred to as witches, echoing this notion that for a woman to gain any kind of authority she must have the use of some kind of unseen mystical or diabolical help. The author uses countless examples of witches throughout history to support her argument and, honestly, by the end I was in awe of the determination of these women rather than fearful of any of their supposed abilities. Sigh. We have so much further to go to attain full equality.

The persecution of witches, she said, had nothing to do with fighting evil or resisting the devil. It was simply entrenched social misogyny, the goal of which was to repress the intellect of women. A witch, she said, wasn’t wicked. She didn’t fly on a broomstick naked in the dark, or consort with demons. She was, instead, likely to be a woman “of superior knowledge

Paraphrased by the author from 19th century suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage (part of the inspiration for the Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz as she was Baum’s mother-in-law)
YA Debut Is an Ojibwe Murder Mystery Ten Years in the Making, Goodreads

Upon reading this interview, I immediately added this new title to my “to-read” list, an act which Goodreads makes extraordinarily easy (not an ad, just an opinion!). Angeline Boulley, the author, answers the interviewer’s question with so much depth of information and passion that you can’t help but beg to get your hands on her debut novel by the end of the interview. I particularly enjoyed her take on the importance of understanding the value of Indigenous authors, not only in their entirety but also what authors from the many different tribes can bring to the literary world and its denizens of readers. I for one have added quite a few books by Indigenous authors, including many I should have read by now, to my list and am purchasing some own-voices Indigenous children’s books for my daughter. The more diverse your bookshelf, the better!

I think that will have non-Native readers realize how much of what they read is centered in the white gaze. It was deliberate in that I wrote it so that it wasn’t textbook-y or an information dump. Figuring out how to convey information so that the reader, who might not know anything about tribal communities or Ojibwe culture, could be brought along but yet not spoon-feeding it and having them have to do some of the work.

Angeline Boulley
I’m struggling to talk to friends in lockdown. Being alone has been a relief, By Naoise Dolan

A heart-wrenchingly beautiful article on what life is like for the many among us on the Autism spectrum and how the lockdown has been both a blessing (less forced socialization) and a curse (less practice in socialization and connection with loved ones). Naoise writes with honesty and an incredible amount of detail that left me panting with the stress of having to work so hard just to navigate a conversation. I have friends who work with kids on the spectrum and while I already admired them greatly, they and their students have been greatly raised in my esteem for the hard work that they do every day. I am excited to read Naoise’s novel, which has been added to my “To Read” list on Goodreads and I feel as if I have quite a bit more reading to do in order to be alive to the challenges faced by those considered ‘neuro-divergent’ in our society.

None of this is because I dislike people. Actually, it’s the opposite: I love everyone and I give every conversation my all, which is exhausting. And I don’t have to do all this because autistic people are objectively worse at communicating. I have to do all this because most non-autistic people cannot competently adapt to my way of talking, and so the burden falls on me to adapt to theirs. We’re just as good as anyone else, but we’re a widely misunderstood minority and we have to conduct ourselves accordingly.

Naoise Dolan
Hunting for books in the ruins: how Syria’s rebel librarians found hope, by Delphine Minoui

Haunting in its description of the conditions in which Syrians are living under the crushing weight of Assad’s regime, this article somehow manages to convey a sense of hope in the midst of so much destruction and death. The tale of the Syrian youth who salvaged books from bombed out and abandoned houses to furnish their own defiant library is a heroic example of how the beauty of humanity and its glorious creativity can survive even in the most dire of circumstances. If you read only one thing from this list of items read this month, read this one. It’s an extraordinary story of the determination of the human spirit to persevere when all hope seems lost.

Reading to escape. Reading to find oneself. Reading to feel alive. Among the young people of Darayya, reading had even more meaning than that. Here, reading was an act of transgression. It was an affirmation of the freedom they had been deprived of for too long.

Delphine Minoui
On-the-land program strengthening Gwich’in language in Fort McPherson, by Liny Lamberink

A wonderful story of the reintegration of a First Nations language into their community. It is so encouraging to see these languages, which settlers tried (and succeeded in many cases) so hard to stamp out, being revitalized by their native speakers. My father is a linguist and through him I have learnt the crucial importance of languages to culture and community connection so I see this as a sign that our First Nations are taking back what is and always has been theirs. I only hope that we in the settler community (whether or not you identify personally as a settler – I still struggle with this term myself) will work to meet the bands and Nations halfway in order to work towards a full regeneration of the importance of First Nations to this land we inhabit.

I remember this hymn, I remember this verse, and we are just amazed how the language is still there, in our minds.

Anita Koe, Administrator and co-organizer
Cold comfort: how cold water swimming cured my broken heart, by Wendell Steavenson

I’ll be honest. The last time I swam in frigid water was at our family cottage in Northern Ontario in May and it did not go well. I ended up with rigid muscles and a horrid migraine. If you live in Ontario, you know how cold it still is in May the further north you go. And yet, the water was probably 16 degrees Celsius, nowhere near the freezing temperatures mentioned in this article about the restorative nature of cold-water swimming. Despite this vivid memory that still leaves me shivering, I’m willing to give this practice another try after reading this article. We usually open our cottage on the May long week-end but we head up there in the weeks leading up to the big opening to check things out and gradually clean it in preparation for our summer season. I don’t think I’ve ever needed a rejuvenating swim more than I have after this shit-show of a year so I’ll give it another go, might make a great blog post! Oh, and do read this article. It is beautifully written and describes the stages of grief with such crystalline clearness as to make the author’s healing palpable in every word.

Now the cold jangled for only a few seconds of short breaths, before my chest subsided into the water and I felt the sea envelop me, holding me weightless. Even on dull, grey days, light silvered the surface of the sea and sparkled my vision. My skin was numb so I had no sensation of temperature, but I felt tickles and frissons and ripples. I was simultaneously hot and cold, simultaneously surprised and calmed.

Wendell Steavenson

blogs

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com
IN 1842, IRISH IMMIGRANTS IN SCHUYLKILL COUNTY BEGAN AN INTERNATIONAL WAR OF WORDS OVER SLAVERY IN AMERICA, By Wynning History

A very interesting look at an exchange of publicly-printed letters between Irish community leaders in the United States and back home in Ireland on the subject of slavery. Several Irish political and social leaders, including Daniel O’Connell, first drafted an open letter which was later published in several publications in the States imploring their “brethren” in America to stand against what they saw as the horrors of slavery. Interestingly, something about how they worded their plea seemed to injure the pride of their former countrymen and the reply they received was as rude as could be in the mid-nineteenth century (including referring to the original letter as no less than a “vile fabrication”!) The blogger promises to include the reply of the writers in Ireland in their next post and I cannot wait to see their surprise at their emigrants’ refusal to denounce slavery…

It is in vain that American citizens attempt to conceal their own and their country’s degradation under this withering curse. America is cursed by slavery!

From Ireland’s original missive
Finding Happiness in a Year of Chaos, by Our Favourite Jar

In my humble opinion, this is an important blog for the majority of us to read as we head towards a potential of further lockdowns, yet again. The blogger breaks down 2020 into elements of happiness and ways in which it wasn’t all bad. A global pandemic is an incredible tragedy – so many of us have lost so much even if we have kept our lives (and some have even had that cruelly taken from them), but through it all there have certainly been moments of happiness. 2020 was not, by any means, a wasted year. For myself personally, my husband and I welcomed our first daughter in 2020. A bright light in the midst of what felt like unending darkness. I don’t pretend to know what hardships you have faced this past year, dear reader, but if you can I challenge you to look back and find the springs of joy amongst the muddy morass of self-isolation. It might do you, and your mental health, some good.

For me, I can’t write off a year. A year of my life, a year in which my children aged one whole year and changed so quickly. A year where we all lost so much. We can’t move forward and not acknowledge what 2020-21 took from us, but I don’t think pretending it didn’t happen is not a wise move.

Our Favourite Jar

books

Photo: Erin of the Hills

I admit I did not do too well on this account as I spent quite a bit of time catching up on reading older blog posts. However, I did manage to finish my father’s latest tome, The Peaceable Kingdom? A History of Terrorism in Canada from Confederation to the Present and I am halfway through my French read for the month – Ramsès: Le temple des millions d’années by Christian Jacq.

With this new schedule of only posting once a week on Sundays, the review of The Search for God and Guinness is set to be posted on the 11th of April and the review of The Peaceable Kingdom is not going up until May. Don’t worry, though, I have plenty of other things planned in the meantime to keep you all entertained!

I’ll get the hang of this. Eventually.

And that’s my reading roundup for the month! If you give any of these a read, tell me what you think. Also, if you have any recommendations that didn’t make the list, especially newsletters with more reading material for me to get lost in, please send them my way.

Thanks, as always, for reading. And remember…Life is beautiful.

xo Erin

2 thoughts on “Reading Roundup: March 2021

    1. Thanks for reading! The first time I did this I told myself I would limit it to 5 pieces but there are just too many out there to choose from. This is clearly why I only manage to read 2 books a month… If you read any of these, I hope you enjoy them!

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