Tuesday 9 April 2019

Do Not Become Alarmed

Finished April 4
Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy, read by the author.

This book has a lot going on, and more depth than I first thought. Liv and Nora are cousins who have always been close. Liv, a director, introduced Nora, a teacher, to her husband when she had a party that included some of the people involved in one of her films, Raymond is an actor who's had a decent amount of success, allowing Nora to stay at home with their young children, Marcus, eleven and June, six. He's also black, so the kids are mixed race.
Nora had a difficult relationship with her mother, who has died recently, and Liv suggested that the two families, including Liv's husband Ben, and childredn Penny, eleven and Sebastian, eight. take a cruise for the holiday season instead. The cruise leaves from the California coast and goes down the coast of Mexico and Central America.
On board they meet an Argentinian couple that they become friendly with. The couple has two teenage children, sixteen and fourteen.
Mostly they all stay on board the ship and enjoy the amenities, with the adults in particular enjoying the ability to check the kids into the Kids' Club and do their own thing. But as they reach a country that Liv regards as relatively safe, (unnamed, but evidently Costa Rica) they look at doing one of the shore excursions. Liv suggests zip-lining at a location that also has animals, but then the Argentinian man invites the guys for golf with a guy he knows that lives there. So the three women and the kids go on the excursion, an accident causes them to be diverted, the woman and the guide become distracted, and the kids disappear.
The story is told from multiple points of view, including both adults and children. So while the reader knows what is happening with the kids, the parents do not, and always seem to be a step behind what is going on.
There is also a side story of a young Colombian girl Noemi, who is being taken by her uncle from her home with her grandmother to her parents who are in New York illegally.
This is a story of many things, from white privilege to organized crime to migrants. Some of the characters are definitely unlikable, such as Penny, while others have more complex personalities. I liked Marcus quite a bit. I enjoyed the read and the ideas here.

The Summer of Sunshine and Margot

Finished April 4
The Summer of Sunshine and Margot by Susan Mallery

This novel takes place over a few months. Margot and Sunshine are fraternal twin sisters, raised by a grandmother, who has since passed away. Margot has gone to college and used her people skills and her love of travel to become an etiquette coach. She is particularly good at helping people adjust to new cultural situations. She has just been hired by Bianca, an older actress, well-known for her spontaneous and inappropriate behaviour that is engaged to a diplomat from a small European country. Bianca wants to make this relationship work. Meanwhile, she is living with her son Alec, an academic with an interest in history who has made a home of an historic monastery. Bianca wants Margot to live in while she coaches her.
Margot finds the monastery fascinating and uses her off time to explore the building and the grounds. She also becomes friendly with Alec.
While successful, Margot has a weak spot for her old boyfriend, a man who has dumped her repeatedly, but keeps coming back expecting to resume where he left off. Margot is determined that he won't be in her life again, but with a family history of women making bad relationship choices, she isn't hopeful for a better relationship.
Sunshine didn't go to college, finding herself easily diverted from her goals by the interesting men she's met along the way. She's had a spotty career as a nanny, making great connections with the children, but often leaving everyone in the lurch when someone attracts her interest. She too, is determined to stay the course in her new position as nanny to eight-year-old Connor. She's also determined to get her college degree, signing up for her first course. Connor's father Declan is worried about his son as the two recover from the relatively sudden death of Connor's mother from cancer. He has a busy career as a landscape architect, and needs some stability in his son's life. Sunshine and Declan prove to be sounding boards for each other as they each move forward in their lives.
This was a fun read, and I liked the relationship between the sisters, which was close without being cloying.

21 Things You May Not Know about The Indian Act

Finished April 3
21 Things You May Not Know about The Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality by Bob Joseph

I took my time reading this as I wanted to think about some of the things outlined here more deeply. There are so many things to be ashamed of about this piece of legislation. It was a way that the government reneged on the nation to nation agreements that had been agreed upon in the treaties, and tried to separate the people from their culture. In spite of saying they wanted to have the native people adapt they constricted them from accessing the markets available to other Canadian, separated families, and tried to prevent people from talking amongst themselves.
Everything done under the Act was done against the indigenous people, not for them, and when others tried to speak out about the wrongs being done, they were silences as well.
I think all Canadians should read this and think about how they would feel if they were the ones subjected to this Act.

Sunday 7 April 2019

Montaigne in Barn Boots

Finished April 1
Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles through Philosophy by Michael Perry

In this book Perry talks about his discover of Montaigne's writings, his affinity for many of his musings, and his own take on the philosophical ideas in Montaigne's work. This is an intensely personal book, as he talks about his own moments of doubt and his worries.
I've always enjoyed Perry's books, and this was no exception.
Perry has read Montaigne in translation, but also read many of the critical works about both Montaigne himself and his writings. He cites some of these ideas in his nine essays, as he delves deeper into the ideas of Montaigne.
His essay titles here illustrate the way he brings his own life into the ideas. In the first Reading Like a Chicken, where he talks about pecking his way around Montaigne gives us a glimpse into his approach to his philosophical reading. In Roughneck Intersectionality, he talks about the differences in background between himself and the philosopher and the things they have in common. In Confound the Fool, he talks about the unending quest for understanding human nature. In Shame, he reveals his own angst and failures around expectations and outcomes. In Marriage, he talks about Montaigne's unusual relationship with his wife, and his own marital dynamics. In Amateur Aesthetics he talks about his own cultural influences, the subjective nature of beauty, and about the importance of context. He says
I am free to savor six kale chips and an episode of It's Okay to Be Smart then dive into a tub of Costco Cheese Balls and a four-hour Reno 911 binge-watch. "I now, and I anon, are two several persons," Montaigne once said, the upshot being, the "other people" necessary to achieve the cosmopolitan state of generative tension required for aesthetic fruition sometimes reside within the same body.
something I can definitely relate to. In Kidney Stone Wisdom, he compares Montaigne's experiences with the plague of kidney stones, and his own. While Montaigne talks about his ongoing experiences as a chance to strengthen his character before witnesses, Perry summarizes his less dignified response to the experience and expands it to include other bodily frailties more evident with age, and how some of these have provided edifying lessons.
In Meditating on Faith, Perry discusses his own experiences with religion, meditation and yoga. From his fundamentalist Christian upbringing to his introduction, via his wife, to yoga and meditation, he shows his questioning nature. He talks about the struggles with monkey mind, yet how
Whether it is due to having been raised in a large family or just general wiring, I am able to withdraw deep into my head in nearly all circumstances. As a shy person I sometimes go into public to write, which may seem counterintuitive but in fact self-consciousness is a catalyst for withdrawal. The presence of strangers compels me to lower the louvers and focus directly in on the task at hand.
He ends with What to Do, a summary of what he takes away from reading Montaigne. He says,
It seems that somewhere around my current life stage, people make one of two moves: Some stiffen, dig in their heels, and attempt to block the future; others reinvigorate life by blending it with the spirit of youth. I hope I will -- and I am working to -- bend toward the second. I am not talking here about the embarrassment of an oldster trying to vibe with the kids. Nor am I talking about abdicating principles. I am talking about offering a hand, opening new doors, and sometimes -- when new blood is best -- stepping aside and standing down. 
An edifying and satisfying read.