Influence

25 08 2014

Over yonder in Facebook Land, I was nominated by my friend Jennie to list the 10 most influential books I have read.

It really got me thinking about that. Not my FAVOURITE, but my most INFLUENTIAL. (Fortunately, a few of them are not either, but both)

Books are what I would bring on a deserted island with me. They are essential to my life. Like so many others, I get lost in the words, time can pass with my nose buried, kids can repeatedly ask me questions with no response from me, my mind often wanders during my busy workday back to the pages of what I have waiting for me on my nightstand. Sometimes all I have with my book is a precious 1/2 hour before falling asleep.

These 10 books I’m listing have grabbed me, made me think, delighted me, horrified me. I have re-read all of them, some to tatters.

1. Anne of Green Gables – Of course this is on my list. My love for this sweet red head, for Matthew and Marilla, for the love that finally is brought to the surface between her and Gilbert and that friendship that I coveted for myself with Diana and Anne. How I wished as a child that I too would have a bosom friend. And I sure wish I could try raspberry cordial at least once! I went through two copies of this book.

2. The Stand – epic, horrifying, fascinating and alarming in its possibility of actually kind of sort of maybe happening to the world. Maybe not King’s finest writing, but whoooooooaaaa did it ever freak me out. And when he came out with the unabridged version that included an extra 400 or so pages, it thrilled me to BITS.

3. The Handmaid’s Tale – this was my virginal foray into the wonderful wacky world of my beloved Margaret Atwood. I have since gone on to fall in love with many of her books. Her precision of words in ways that no one could ever write, how succinct she can convey those indescribable emotions and her off-hand humour and unbelievable skill as a storyteller gripped me from page one. This was my first dystopian novel. I still wonder what the handmaid’s real name was, did she make it out? Did she have her baby? Who is in the Network? And May Day has always meant something different for me since I read this book.

4. I can’t remember the name of the book – but it was a collection of short horror stories, all gathered up in a cheap paperback, probably bought at the check-out at the drugstore. There was one story in that book that thrilled me to bits and looking back now, it seems as it was a cheesy,  ridiculous (and probably not well written) little tale of two best friends sleeping in, of course, a creepy house. When the one friend decides to investigate that strange thumping dragging sound downstairs, well, there was no subtly in that foreshadowing. Nothing was better for me at age 10 when the best friend returns to the room, without her head and the friend is sent into madness in a screaming hysterical fit.

5. Gone With The Wind – ah, this book. I can’t read it now without being disgusted by the racism but that story of Scarlett and Rhett was and is the most frustrating love stories ever. Those two…. I mean, come ON! Rhett could have done so much differently, and he was just as childish as Scarlett was. I do take it into consideration of when it was written, and when I did first read it around the age of 13, back in the early 80s, sadly, the race thing wasn’t as unacceptable as it is now. Still, it has stayed with me ever since.

6. Roots – now this one was my eye opener at a young age, still wrapped in my white privilege and not a lot of awareness of the true nature of the world and its history. I would re-read a section, sickened and somehow hopeful that I hadn’t read that right. I questioned it. The white masters didn’t really do that to the slaves, did they? And I would read it again, and my stomach would drop. This was the first book where I wept when I finished it. And what a finish it was, in the heart of Africa as he described being surrounded by Kunte Kinte’s tribe. The laying of the hands still gives me goosebumps to this day.

7. A Fine Balance – oh, Rohinton Mistry. You write so well, but so sparsely. Why oh why don’t you write more books? This novel is wonderfully nuanced, dreadful, joyful and so bloody epic. The depths of each character make me feel as if I would know each one if I saw them on the street. And the way he describes things. His style is butter, it’s soft and creamy and delicious to read. It truly envelopes the reader. The heartbreak, the love and the true human spirit is captured in these pages.

8. The Valley of Horses (and the predecessor, Clan of the Cave Bear) – let’s not mince words here. This was all about the sex. Primal cave man sex. My friends and I would giggle and squeal over sentences such as “like a bee, he dipped and tasted”. Ayla and her time with the Neanderthals was a good story, but her sex scenes with Jondalar were just what my burgeoning teenage lust needed. I sure wish I knew what that hand signal looks like (wink wink nudge nudge).

9. The Little House series – I can’t pick one as my most influential, mostly because it is truly just one long story of Laura’s life. I can still quote sections of each book, I still feel Laura’s anger at Nellie Olsen, I still feel all misty eyed at Almanzo’s subtle courtship. But for me, the whole thing is so wonderful because it was real. That family really lived and travelled and played the fiddle. Mary really did go blind. One day, I wish to travel to Laura’s home and actually see the fiddle, the platter, the organ. I still have the whole series as a complete set, bought by my mom for me at a young and obviously impressionable age.

10. Left blank on purpose. I know another book will come along and fill this spot and knowing that I haven’t read it yet is the biggest thrill yet.

Here’s to books and the love of reading. I’d love to hear your top ten!





Liquid memory

1 08 2014

The rise and fall of seasons is my life’s heartbeat. With each turn of the planet brings echoes of seasons of the past. The whisper of woodsmoke on a crisp fall morning or the blast of spring air rushing in the window: doesn’t really matter what it is, but these flashback moments evoke in me memories of long ago. Truthfully, they can fill me up with giddy anticipation or blanket me with melancholy.

But every year, every single year as the snow melts and the days lengthen, that sun shines strong and the heat grows, I grow too. I am more than me in the summertime. My roots cling deeper, my existence is more tangible. I feel more, I laugh more, I love more. Summer awakens something in me that slumbers the rest of the year.

The way I mark my summers now are by epic swims in the lake. I call these my prodigal swims.

These are what I recall when it’s dark at 4 pm. I cling to them, knowing that yes, summer will return. The memories of water dancing around my body, quenching my spirit, the balm to my very cold soul in mid-January. (and, yes, I know I go on about how much I love winter. And I DO! I love skiing and all that winter brings, but let’s be real here. Nothing beats sun-kissed shoulders and warm summer days.)

My favourite time to swim is in the evening. I sometimes run and reward myself with a naked cool down dip at my chosen spot along the edges of Queen’s Bay. The water here, I don’t know. It’s magical somehow. Slightly warmer than The Arm, of course, but there is a profound happiness I get by plunging myself in the water. Baptism? I could go as far as using that word.

These are long and relaxed swims, as I slowly move out far and deep into the Bay. There is distant hums of boats narrating these evenings. The flies hover over the surface, which by this time is usually like liquid glass. If I am lucky, rainbow trout and kokanee rise up to feast all around me. I swim, as the lake smell permeates my skin. It is a scent of warm air, of clean water, of fresh fish. Of joy.

I am usually alone. I consider the half hour swim a gift to myself. One where I don’t have anything to do but just be. I float on my back, filling up my lungs and I dangle on the surface, my eyes closed, ears submerged. I relax as much as I can. The water muffles the sound, and sometimes I lose myself in it, and when I do open my eyes, I am always slightly surprised that I haven’t really moved that much, because I feel transported in some meditative way. Transcendental enlightenment through H2O.

I always swim when I get the chance. I don’t want wintery regret, thinking I didn’t swim enough during the summertime. I am ravenous with these swims, they nourish my need. I am fulfilled. I am me.