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.
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
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
Five Little Indicans 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