The PROBUS Club of Applewood
in Mississauga
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Book Club
The Parade - September 2021
The Parade by Dave Eggers

Discussion of the book included the related features of parables, allegories, and fables.  All agreed that this novella is very sparse on detail and character development, with an intense concentration on the end of the road to the North.  The characters with generic names in a generic country damaged by a generic war are readily imagined anywhere in the world.  The characters 4 and 9 resemble the Odd Couple, minus the humor.  Nonetheless, 9, with his carefree attitude, eventually forced 4 to take some responsibility for his feckless partner.  Some members found it an easy read, while others had to force themselves to finish it.  The story does give some detail about life found along the road, as well as the unintended consequences of a single-minded attention to one goal.  The value of providing outside help is shown to be doubtful at best.

Rating for the book:  6.3.
The Deficit Myth - October 2021

The Deficit Myth, by Stephanie Kelton

A possible subtitle could be “How I learned to stop worrying and love the Deficit”.  There was general agreement that the book’s viewpoint was US-centric, verging at times on a polemic approach.   Although the group has had varying degrees of exposure to economics, the book was an easy read and thought-provoking.  Many historical figures and events in economic were covered, including the effects of attempts at balancing budgets. Parallel events in Canada have shown the prolonged impact of (and slow recovery from) increased interest rates.  There is some magical thinking in the book as well:  actual methods for controlling inflation are not discussed, for instance.  It was pretty easy to skim the latter pages of the book, because the author was banging on the same drum throughout. The interaction of politics (particularly those of Bernie Sanders) and economics is clearly presented.  The spectre of politicians with little economic background making far-reaching economic decisions is concerning.

Rating of the book was 6.6.
Greenwood - November 2021

Greenwood, by Michael Christie

There was general agreement that the length of this book reflected the many decades and generations it covered.  The reaching back in time was similar to some books by Edward Rutherfurd (e.g. Sarum).  Each of the generations in the book is touched by the forest in some way, and the inter-relations among trees as well as people is brought to the fore.  The writing is excellent and flowed well. Some found the movement back and forth in time to be disconcerting. The saga of a former prison inmate trying to spirit a milk-intolerant baby across the country in boxcars, while being relentlessly pursued by a railroad bull and an opium-soaked industrialist’s henchman sounds rather melodramatic, but actually reads believably.  There was a feeling that the episodic nature of the book resembles a ‘made for Netflix’ type approach.  Some members found there was too much characterization, while others didn’t.  The trees do become part of the dramatis personae.  The weaving into the plot of names of some prominent tycoons gave realism to the story.  More detail regarding the apocalyptic ‘great withering’ would be of interest.  The author’s pessimistic outlook with regard to the trees and environmental issues is understandable; themes of survival provide a degree of counterpoise.

The rating of the book ranged from 6 to 9.5, with an average of 7.7.  

David Williams
Convenor
The Ever After of Ashwin Rao - December 2021

The Ever After of Ashwin Rao, by Padma Visnawathan

There was general agreement that the book’s prose style flowed smoothly, though the shifts in time and viewpoint were confusing:  many ideas, words, states of mind are blended together, resembling a fugue state.  There is a sense that the book contains many short stories.  Visnawathan fully depicts the rallying of the community to support those who lost family members.  The author also provides rich detail regarding rituals and relations within and among the religious communities of India.  The stages of grief are well-depicted, particularly the consolations of religion.  While the character Ashwin Rao comes across as somewhat flat, this could be viewed as a result of his being a psychologist who approaches patients in a non-directive manner.   Cultural differences emerge between generations born in India versus those born in Canada.  A disturbing subtext to the story is the indifference of the general Canadian public to the bombing of a plane.  Similarly disturbing is the lack of rigor in investigation of those responsible, and the unsatisfactory result after an excessively delayed trial.  The story snapped back into focus when the former Mrs. Venkat identified herself.  The concluding quote from the book, from Lakshmi Sethuratnam, “I guess that’s what I’m asking: why do we have to live for something?” Now she sounded defensive, irritable. “Why can’t we simply live?” Is arresting.


Rating of the book:  7.0

David Williams
Convenor
Our Little Secret - January 2022

Our Little Secret, by Roz Nay

There was agreement that this short book is well-written.  There was considerable interest in the interrogation:  the detective’s methods and questions were subtle, although not following usual police interview procedure.  The other characters were engaging, if somewhat unlikeable.   Similarities were noted to the 1992 movie, The Hand that rocks the Cradle.  Details on the protagonist’s time at Oxford were well presented.  The gradual emergence of the protagonist’s monomania and need for control was too gradual for some readers.  In some respects, the plot was rather formulaic.  The ending was certainly abrupt. 

Rating for the book:  6.75

Other titles mentioned during the meeting:
On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder
There is nothing for you here, by Fiona Hill
Bertie’s guide to life and mothers, by Alexander McCall Smith
Macbeth, by Jo Nesbo
Confessions of a Sociopath, by M. E. Thomas

David Williams Convenor
Neglected No More - February 2022

Neglected No More, by André Picard

This book generated considerable discussion by the group, and many personal stories relating to ourselves and our families.  The need for quality control in the burgeoning long-term care industry emerged as an overarching concern throughout the group.  Despite a plethora of studies and reports, the implementation of recommendations has been deplorably slow.  Problems such as the need for training, proper pay scales and benefits, and regulation for personal care workers are described in the book, although specific solutions in the book are few.  The Long-Term Care Homes Act, 2007, Ontario Regulation 79/10 is clear about expectations for eldercare, but there was agreement within the group about the need for enforcement of the Act:  it needs teeth (there is no specific reference to a regulator within the Ontario Act).  A National Long-Term Care Services standard is in draft stages as well:  provinces will need to opt-in to the standard.  Ontario seems more interested in large projects such as highways than in Long Term Care.  Federal Veterans hospitals did a splendid job of caring for elderly veterans:  this sort of facility has quietly vanished from the eldercare scene.  The desirability of allowing the elderly to live at home (as is common in Asian communities) was discussed, along with the need for a financial adviser to thread the manifold sources of support.  Providing support in a phased manner, particularly with live-in personal care workers, is allowing more effective use of human resources.  Given the better performance of public vs for-profit long term facilities (particularly in terms of COVID-related deaths), it would be preferable to see more public long term facilities constructed.  They will be needed with the oncoming tide of 80+ individuals. 

Rating of the book:  6.8

Other titles mentioned during the meeting:
Inside the O’Briens, by Lisa Genova
Still Alice, by Lisa Genova
Remembering, by Wendell Berry
Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles 

David Williams Convenor



Two Solitudes - March 2022
Two Solitudes, by Hugh MacLennan

Hats off to Tom Axworthy for his suggestion that we should take on a Canadian classic every 6 - 12 months.  For many in the group, considering this book entailed an examination of neglected bookshelf corners, and the discovery of other titles which had fallen into the shadows.  The title has been around for so long that many of us thought we had read it before, so we were surprised to discover otherwise.  Instead of a dry political treatise, it was a surprise also to find an absorbing novel on our hands.  We all agreed on MacLennan’s superb descriptive language, whether he was considering people or places.  The story put human faces on francophone and anglophone people, and addressed many of the tensions between these groups, including financial, military, emotional, and religious/political concerns.  The quiet revolution in Quebec demonstrates the decreased control by religion.  More than two solitudes were discussed in our meeting:  not just Canada/Quebec, but Eastern Canada/Western Canada, educated people/less-educated people, immigrants/earlier immigrants, current immigrants/aboriginal peoples (referred to sometimes by Quebeckers as ‘autochthones’).  There was good detail on the depth of the roots of the Tallard family; the anglos come across with little attention to their roots, and considerable emphasis on rapacity and opportunism: the Yardley character was an exception.

Rating for the book:  9.0

Books referenced during the meeting:

Barometer Rising, Hugh MacLennan
Hugh MacLennan, George Woodcock (Toronto, 1969)
Wolf Willow, Wallace Stegner
Obasan, Joy Kogawa
Stories about Storytellers, Doug Gibson
The Tin Flute, Gabrielle Roy
Champlain’s Dream, David Hackett Fischer

David Williams


Five Little Indians - April 2022
Five Little Indians, by Michelle Good


Most of our members agreed that this book, the year’s winner of Canada Reads, should be read by all Canadians. Several commented that they approached the book with some trepidation in the fear that it was another recounting of the residential school’s abuse.

They were pleasantly surprised, however, that when they got into the book they discovered, while there was reference to the abuse, in fact this story was about five teenagers and their struggle to survive. They had aged out of the residential school system and were dumped in downtown Vancouver without any support system, any references, any viable skills, or financial assistance. The story chronicles their life and death challenges, their ups and downs, triumphs, and tragedies and in some cases their success and survival.

Most readers agreed that the author writes in a straightforward manner, not overly colourful, but simple, economical, and powerful. The characters are well drawn, and you get involved with them, understanding their pain, and their demons. The story is not without humour and in the end, there are some glimmers of hope.

In essence our members felt the book was enlightening, not unnecessarily graphic and well presented in bringing to their attention the impact of the residential school system and how it scarred the young survivors: the loss of their native traditions and heritage, their inability to resettle in their traditional communities and the racism they had to face outside the school.  The story also tells of the harm not only to the students but also to the families left to deal with the loss, absence, and a lack of information about their children. One of our group spoke of the realization that people who have lived these stories still live amongst us because the last residential school didn't close until the mid 90s.

This is still a story of our evolving Canada.


Rating of the book (estimate): 9.0
When All Is Said - May 2022
When All Is Said, by Anne Griffen

This book was enjoyed by all in the club, garnering an unusual rating of 9.1.  The writing was skillful and the storyline firmly in hand.  The ending of the book was clear from the beginning, and neither the author nor the chief character wavered; nevertheless, opinion was divided as to whether Maurice Hannigan had sufficient reasons to continue living.  The plot device of the gold sovereign was well-developed throughout the story.  Maurice might be termed ‘a hard man’, though he certainly reflected on many of the events of his life.  Guilt was not prominent in his emotional repertoire, and revenge, with its corrosive effects, was a dominant strand.  Melancholy, loneliness and grief were woven in there as well.  There were occasional flashes of wry humour.  The dialogue was so well done that we could really hear the accent and turn of phrase.  This is a book we would recommend.


Another title mentioned during the meeting:

WE DON’T KNOW OURSELVES
A Personal History of Modern Ireland
By Fintan O’Toole
Finding the Mother Tree, by Suzanne Simard

Several book club members referred to a helpful TED talk by the author (TEDSummit, How trees talk to each other, June 2016), as well as CBC interviews.

The book took several directions, starting out as an account of the author’s early experiences as a member of an old-style logging family, then moving into her career as a developing forest biologist, to coverage of the struggles of a scientist dealing with a misogynistic, inflexible hierarchy, to an account of her battles with breast cancer. The process of designing long-term experiments to understand the relationships among the forest flora was very well described.  A great deal of persistence and ingenuity yielded improvement in our understanding of why seedlings on their own in a completely cleared forest do not fare as well as others in the presence of forest facilitators:  the trees were not competing with each other, but rather helping each other.  The role of nitrogen fixation was well-described. 

Rating for the book:  6.8

David Williams
Finding the Mother Tree - June 2022
                                                                               Semi-Annual Lunch

It's been over 2 years since the Book Club has met in person. In pre-pandemic days, we met in person at Chartwell Port Credit. All through the pandemic we met on Zoom and had a very successful experience. We have decided to continue meeting on Zoom every month and twice a year we'll meet in person for lunch.

This Wednesday (June 1/22), we had lunch at the Clarkson Pump to review Finding the Mother Tree, by Suzanne Simard, and to narrow the book selection for the next 12 months. The new list of books will be published shortly.
Book Club Announcement
Lincoln Highway - July 2022
Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles

The author is in some ways a victim of his own success, as several members found it not as engaging as A Gentleman in Moscow.  Not all members enjoyed the meandering nature of the story.

Towles’ understated, fast-paced narrative style was appreciated. The length of the book drew several comments. The changes from first to third person for different characters was interesting, as was the different style of each character.  It was interesting that Duchess, though illiterate, was very articulate all the same. In some ways, the book resembled a collection of short stories.

Rating for the book:  7.0

Other books mentioned during the meeting:
The Figgs, by Ali Bryan
Bloomsbury Girls, by Natalie Jenner

David Williams
While Justice Sleeps, by Stacey Abrams

The group is impressed by the growing number of books written (with or without assistance) by people in the political sphere.  It is remarkable that authoring a book is only a small facet of the active political life of Stacey Abrams.  Generally the group ranked this as a good summer thriller read. 

The many-threaded plot is kept moving steadily, despite many tangents and digressions (particularly the chess code for parts of the plot). Although the characters are fully-formed, there seemed to be no room for character development.  There were more coincidences in the book than usual.  The protagonist was almost too perfect, and without any fatal flaw. The ending was somewhat flat, and left several loose ends:  did the Justice get to wake up?  What happened to Major Vance?  The construction of the book is similar to the episodes in a TV series. 

Ranking for the book:  7.2

Other titles mentioned during meeting:
Jesus and John Wayne, by Kristin Kobes du Mez
Discworld series, by Terry Pratchett

David Williams
While Justice Sleeps - August 2022
The Dictionary of Lost Words - September 2022
The Dictionary of Lost Words, by Pip Williams

The club was uniformly impressed by this book, as reflected by its rating (9.85).  The book is well-written:  the wording of letters in the story is excellent, and they help to move the story along.  Its length was offset for some by the fact that the story spanned a hundred years; others felt that there were several threads which could have been expanded considerably.  The group who laboured in the Scriptorium for 49 years to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary was exclusively male, though doubtless many who contributed words were female:  the author sought to redress this imbalance by introducing the character of Esme. Assembly processes will inevitably leave omitted parts:  many of those omitted words related to women.  The image of a child under the Scriptorium table was charming.  The development of female characters was better than that of male ones.  Esme’s father and mother were left rather undeveloped.  The class system was clearly shown, and the relationship between Esme and Lizzie was well described.  The work of getting the vote for women was woven throughout the story.

Other books mentioned during the meeting:

The Soviet Sisters, by Anika Scott

The Mother Tongue, by Bill Bryson

The Professor and the Madman, by Simon Wincheste

David Williams
The Next Age of Uncertainty: How the World Can Adapt to a Riskier Future, by Stephen Poloz

There was general agreement that this was a challenging book, something of an uphill battle, but worthwhile because it crystallized the many forces acting upon economics.  Among these, Poloz isolated five:

- Aging population
- Technological progress
- Income inequality
- Rising debt levels
- Climate change

The image of these forces acting like tectonic plates underscores their long-term effects, unpredictability, and inexorability. 

Other forces mentioned in our discussion included global pandemics and wars.  Details regarding the author’s personal life (particularly regarding housing) added a needed leavening to material which was otherwise objective and cold:  a cheerful account of scary stuff.  The relationship between government and banks yields different results (e.g. high inflation in Argentina where the government controls banking, vs lower inflation in Switzerland where banking is separate from government).   The importance of immigration appeared in many places in the book. 

Our earlier book on Modern Monetary Theory (October 2021, The Deficit Myth, by Stephanie Kelton) was referenced by Poloz, and in some ways served as a primer for the current book.  Other sources were cited, including Thomas Carlyle “Economics is not a gay science. It is a dreary, desolate, and indeed quite abject and distressing one; what we might call, by way of eminence, the dismal science”, and Habakkuk (active around 612 BC) who forecast the destruction of oppressive forces.

The concluding chapter was felt to be weak, lacking optimism, and with few concrete policy suggestions.  The idea of taxing consumption vs taxing income was interesting, as were comments on guaranteed income and company support for mortgage/housing.

Rating for the book was 7.6

David Williams
Convenor
The Next Age of Uncertainty: How the World Can Adapt to a Riskier Future,
October 2022
Barometer Rising
November 2022
Barometer Rising by Hugh  MacLennan

MacLennan started writing about Canada at a time when Canadian literature  was very underdeveloped and continued to do so the rest of his life, becoming the Dean of Canadian novelists.  MacLennan studied history at Oxford and his novels have a consistent theme—the impact of geography on events and our lives. The group was agreed that the strength of MacLennan’s descriptive powers was manifest in his description of the Halifax explosion, the largest man made Explosion before the atomic bomb .  He lived through it as a child.  MacLennan’s description of Halifax in general was also clear.  In the book the aftermath, including the omnipresent broken glass, sounds like actual reporting—there’s a great immediacy to the details. There is good detail regarding the geography of Halifax, though the addition of a map of Halifax would have improved the reading experience.  The weather and the economic climate in Halifax at that time were both dismal.  In 1917, Halifax, like Canada, was working to understand its relationship with Great Britain. The author did touch on the rights of women as well as the evils of war profiteering. 

The book is well-written and has a good narrative flow. The Neil character was rather nebulous at the start of the story, but did acquire definition as the plot developed.  The Angus character was very sympathetic. 

Through this book, we encounter a quote from Virgil  “Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit,” which could be loosely translated “One day we may be gratified to remember this.”  

At the end of the book, there was one less incompetent brass hat, even though this one was fictitious.

Rating of the book: 8.8
David Williams
Convenor
Click to see Upcoming Reading List - 2022/23
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