Wow. Not much book reading happened this past week and a half. I blame it on the fact I was reading a non-fiction book. Not to say the book wasn’t good…because it was, very. Lakeland: Ballad of a Freshwater Country by Allan Casey won the 2010 Governor General’s award for non-fiction.
Below is a comment from one of the GG’s jury members:
This book takes readers on an enchanting and enlightening journey across Canada, exploring a quintessential element of the Canadian landscape and its very soul – lakeland. With his gentle, exquisite and sometimes playful prose, Allan Casey conveys a powerful message about the value of Canada’s lakes, introduces us to the people who cherish them, and offers both a celebration of and lament for these precious and oft-abused natural treasures. –Jury comment, Governor General’s Literary Award
I wholeheartedly agree. The chapters in the book were dedicated to different lakes across Canada: prairie lakes (which there aren’t many), maritime lakes, Ontario lakes, west coast lakes, etc. Lakeland really makes you think about how we, as humans, affect the lakes. Are we actually destroying them as we try to preserve them? It also made me yearn to explore more of Canada. I envy the author’s journey across the country; he visited many little-explored areas and met all sorts of local residents. It sounds like the experience of a lifetime.
Now back to my first paragraph. No matter how good I find a non-fiction book, I can never tear through it the way I can with a fiction book. I don’t find non-fiction books page-turners. With Lakeland, I’d read 20 pages, put it down, read another 20 pages the next day, and so on. This is my usual pattern with any non-fiction book.
Regardless of my inability to read non-fiction quickly, Lakeland is a Canadian gem.
I finished reading Alone in the Classroom a few days ago. Written by Elizabeth Hay, the novel explores family relationships across generations, the principal/teacher/student relationship, love, lust, hate, obsession, discovering who you really are. The story is intricate, with obvious main characters, but also secondary characters who flit in and out of the past and present. I found the relationships a little confusing at first, though once I read past the first couple of chapters, everything seemed to click.
When I set the book aside, done, I immediately searched out a family tree project I did in Grade 9―The History of the Montgomery-Harte Family. Like my title page? I hadn’t kept many of my high school projects, but I had always intended on saving this one because my teacher had written, “This is absolutely beautiful work. Hang on to this. You are sure to love this in the future.”
I remember having my doubts back in Grade 9 about her note, but my teacher was totally right. What a laugh reading through it! I discovered that my 14-year-old self listed Sean Aston as favourite actor, spaghetti as favourite food, reading as favourite pastime, and Three Men and a Baby as favourite movie. There were many other favourites, and it’s interesting to see how I haven’t changed in some respects. (Sean Aston is not my favourite actor anymore, however, and roti rivals spaghetti for my fave food.) I listed my best quality as honesty and even drew a picture of myself with a halo above my head. How embarrassing! What was I thinking? I can’t believe I handed that in.
It was even funnier to read the responses my parents and sisters gave. (My brother was only two at the time so he didn’t get his own page.) I need to show them this project. Anyway, Alone in the Classroom and my family tree project got me thinking… I would love to find out more about my family’s past. Add it to my to-do list, along with the documentary I’d like to make about my dad’s family immigrating to Canada. Back in 1969, his was the largest family to immigrate at one time―2 parents and 14 kids! I’d like to set the narrative around the fact that my dad has never been back to Glasgow. He was 15 when he came over, and is 60 now.
I just got back from having dinner with a friend at Yonge and Eg. I knew it would be about a 35-minute subway ride so I had to bring something to read. My choices? The hardcover I picked up at the library yesterday or my Kobo. I decided to take the hardcover since I was about 60 pages in and was really digging the story.
Now I’ve always been one to say I could never ever give up reading physical books. I like the feel of the pages, the smell of a new hardcover, the sound of the pages turning, etc., etc. But boy, do I ever change my tune when I’m on a crowded subway. My problem? I can’t hold a hardcover with three fingers and clutch a subway poll and hold my bag. But I could if I had my Kobo.
As the ride continued, I found myself desperately wishing I had chosen my Kobo instead of the big hardcover. I glanced at the people around me. I could see only one other person holding an actual book, while I spotted three people using reading devices. Other people were either dozing or playing around on their phones. In the past, this scene would have depressed me. Where were the books, people?! But this time, I started thinking about how small, sleek, and weightless my Kobo was; how it took up hardly any room in my bag; how no one ever jostled it; how it was comfortable to read in bed.
I started to resent my hardcover.
So I’ve come to a conclusion. I kind of prefer reading on my Kobo. Gasp. I never thought I’d write that. I feel like a traitor or hypocrite or something; I said I’d never get a Kobo…then I started to entertain the idea, then Trevor got me one for Christmas, then I started to really enjoy it. Now I’m preferring it over an actual book. I wonder, though, does it really matter how I read, as long as I’m supporting the publishing industry by buying books, whether they’re ebooks or physical books?
Maybe it does. There’s an awful lot of bookstores closing down.
I keep meaning to mention that it’s the 10th anniversary of Sloppy Firsts, a novel by Megan McCafferty and starring 15-year-old Jessica Darling. I read this book when it came out in 2001, and flew through it. It’s one of my favourites, and I read it every couple of years. I was almost turned off by the cover; to me, it looks like a light chick flick kind of book, and it’s anything but. The writing is witty, funny, at times angst-ridden, and contains some awesome turns of phrases. Plus, it’s written in first-person, which is my preferred kind of fiction to read.
The character of Jessica feels true, despite the fact that yeah, I didn’t know any kids like her when I was 16. She’s a total type A personality—crazy intelligent, verbose, disciplined, and self-aware, yet immature, selfish, and sometimes whiny. And then there’s Marcus Flutie. The only thing I’ll say about him is, oh my.
I read once that Crown, who published McCafferty’s books (there are 5 total in the Jessica Darling series, and they follow her from high school, into college, and after graduation) had a difficult time marketing Sloppy Firsts. One of the reasons? The book focussed on a high school girl, though the voice wasn’t teeny boppery; it read like a smart adult. Crown didn’t know whether to place the book on shelves in the YA or adult fiction section. I see their problem. McCafferty is around the same age as me, and the book feels like it’s been written for readers who are no longer in their teens, but like to revisit that time, if only to think, thank god that’s over.
Anyway, read Sloppy Firsts. I’m going to dig my copy out right now.