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
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
Finding the Mother Tree - June 2022
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
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
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
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
The Next Age of Uncertainty: How the World Can Adapt to a Riskier Future,
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
The Apollo Mruders
The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield
There was general agreement that the book had some interesting technical details, particularly regarding space travel, but that it was not a success from the novel-writing standpoint. At times, the technical detail was obtrusive. The characters are rather thinly drawn, and they undergo no development. Many aspects of the plot could have been followed further. The ending was a page-turner, but melodramatic, with a Keystone Kops sort of feel to it.
The author’s note at the end was helpful in providing details about the real people, places, and events in the story.
Rating of the book: 5.7
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
Our Little Secret - January 2022
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
There was general agreement that this was a thought-provoking book, touching on major issues such as humanity, morality, and truth. Introspection is a hallmark of McEwen’s books. Is the destruction of the android Adam equivalent to murder? The human characters were not well-developed, and the narrative somewhat choppy. The chapters of re-imagined history, while interesting, tended to detract from the flow of the story. Setting the book in the 1980s did give the opportunity for imagined and enjoyable conversations with Turing. Two humans defined the emotional responses of an android: doubtless this gave rise to conflicting responses. The idea of an android being seduced is interesting, as is the idea of the android rebelling against the human ‘owner'. On the other hand, giving a device with artificial intelligence specific rules regarding morality did lead to a very conservative attitude, unlike the human moral approaches arising from moral relativism.
Adam’s final haiku: Our leaves are falling. Come spring we will renew, But you, alas, fall once.
Regarding the score for the book: 7.34
Other books/authors mentioned during the meeting: Sara Seager, The smallest lights in the universe: a memoir Robert J Sawyer
Machines like Me
1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir, by Ai Weiwei
First, some dates from Alan Lytle, as members found the timeline confusing:
1949: People’s Republic of China established
1957: Ai Weiwei born (a contemporary of Xie Jinping, b 1953)
1976: End of cultural revolution
1989: Tienanmen Massacre
Clearly, the author has lived through much of the turbulence of recent years in China, including the moving of his family to the nether lands of China. The writing of the book is fluent and straightforward, though it is long and not an easy read. Members felt it was a good learning opportunity. Although Ai’s family has been treated outrageously, there is no sense of rage in his writing: he gives us the facts and leaves the anger to his reader. The book provides numerous instances of totalitarian control of the large population of China.
Although there is little detail on Ai’s artistic process, clearly he has a strong sense of self and has been able to mount large, ambitious exhibits in various Western countries. The funding for such projects is not discussed in the book. Ai’s time in New York clearly had an influence on his art. Ai’s ability to live his life while under heavy surveillance was remarkable. His decision to live in Portugal at present is quite understandable.
Rating for the book: 7.3
Additional books mentioned: Disunited Nations, by Peter Zeihan; The End of the World is just the Beginning, by Peter Zeihan
1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir
There is Nothing For You Here
March 1, 2023
There is Nothing for You Here, by Fiona Hill
The importance of family, friends, and mentors is clearly shown throughout the book. With these supports, Hill was able to overcome difficulties such as financial need*, educational prerequisites, and her accent. The book incorporates a memoir, a history (US, UK, Russia), and a prescription for policy development. A sequence of events leading to the rise of populism is shown: Thatcherism/Reaganomics -> industrial decline -> cultural despair -> need for a saviour -> Brexit/Trumpism.
Hill’s wry humor shows in her accounts of experiences in the White House and in Russia. The enormous number of people in her acknowledgments underscores the importance to Hill of their support and guidance. Hill emphasizes education as the best way of closing the gap between the haves and the have-nots, and eliminating the space within which populists operate.
*significantly, the US Supreme Court was debating financial relief for students as our club met on March 1,2023.
Rating for book: 8.8
Book referenced at meeting: Windswept & Interesting, an autobiography, by Billy Connolly