Oral Personal Histories of Women I Love: A Winding Process

No less than three times with three different people have I tried to compile and compose a personal history based on oral interviews.  First with my mother, then an elderly friend, and finally an aunt who was like a grandmother to me.  With my mother I just took notes, but with the next two women, I sat down for some beautiful, unforgettable hours and recorded interviews about all aspects of their lives.

The goal was grand: I wanted to transcribe the interviews, and extract and recount a narrative that reflected the woman’s voice and subjectivity, and convey all the fascination I felt for their lives.

Dear Reader, I failed.

I have learned a few lessons about oral storytelling though. For one thing, it takes eons to transcribe interviews and gives me a sore neck. Also, people do not talk in linear pathways, but take rambling strolls through memory, criss-crossing back and forth through time and across anecdotes, and don’t always bother with consistency (not to be confused with truth).  The most intense and interesting and integral revelations are often exactly the ones she will ask you not to include.  And that trying to piece together the vagaries of anyone’s life into tidy chapters that flow one to the next, and doing so with some decent literary texture, is a grueling and massive work.

Which is why I have three incomplete personal histories under my belt.

As suggested above, I viewed this, for a long time, as an utter failure. Two of the women I worked with have long passed away, and I presented neither with the book of themselves I had so clearly envisioned and told them about.  Their stories, their amazing stories, lie tucked away in cabinets or the recesses of my computer and no one knows them except me.

And yet… I’m not sure what has shifted for me exactly… maybe a greater appreciation for grey areas?… but recently I am not experiencing my unfinished projects as the defeats they once were to me.  It’s true I haven’t accomplished my written goals of preserving their lives, but I did take enough steps to at least preserve the ability to to do so.  Their stories are not public, but neither are they lost. At the least, I have the interviews, the raw data and materials that they shared.  With a bit of editing out to honour their wishes of what should not be shared, the histories of these women can be passed on, imperfect but intact, as they are.  Maybe my one of my sons, or my great grand niece should I be so lucky, will come across the files one day and do with them what I couldn’t, or something else entirely that I can’t imagine.  The chance has been preserved.

Or maybe it will be me who comes back to it.  It’s possible that the chance that has been preserved has been preserved for me, and the thought of this is as warming as the spring.  Maybe I will revisit these projects at a more right time and have better success pulling the pieces together, and the talk of failure will have even less hold than it does. I feel reassured by this possibility, how it brings me just that much closer to the lives of the women I love. They are remembered, and somehow with that, the process of preserving their history feels yet alive and well.

Family History: a map for the adventure of life

Last month I had an incredible experience. I was present for the birth of my nephew. It’s not the first birth I’ve been present for, I have three sons of my own, but it is the first where I was fully overwhelmed by the intensity of the situation. I wasn’t listening for my cue to push or holding my breath and bearing down. I was just there, committed to the moment, and as trite as it sounds, witnessing the miracle life. And what a miracle it is.

When my nephew took his first breath I was unprepared for the flood of emotions. Unlike the birth of my own children, at a time when my adrenaline was pumping and my heart exploding with love and gratitude, I was enveloped by a fury of anxiety and devotion. This perfect little person came into the world more loved than most with years of life to live.

And life can be messy. Life can hurt.

But knowing family that will always support him and stand by him through the valleys and peaks of life, will give him the courage to get messy. To get hurt.

When we’re born, we’re born into a family with complexities, eccentricities and deep-rooted psychologies. We’re not simply a mash-up of genetic material. We’re a complicated, mash-up of generations upon generations.

And if for nothing else, preserving my family’s history serves as a map for the adventure of life.

 

Oral vs. Written Family History: Not the Only Options

Which is the better way to preserve memory, stories told or stories written?  The debate is a long-entrenched one, with written documents claiming ascendency over the oral tradition in the western world.  So suspicious are we of oral testimony, even when you swear an oath in court, you do so with your hand on the Bible, a written text.

As anyone who has ever lost the contents of her computer’s hard drive or suffered a flood or a fire or an over-zealous co-habiting purger will know, written documents are exceptionally vulnerable.  The written record is only as good as its ability to survive the elements and the whims of fate.

My husband is an avid Franklin expedition historian, and he has been writing about the search for the missing ships of the ill-fated English captain for years. When researchers finally found the lost ships of the Franklin expedition, they were right where the Inuit had said they were all along.  I admit to feeling delight at that confirmation, not least because it validated the oral tradition.  I felt an odd sense of satisfaction in knowing that the written tradition that I hold so dear had not come through in this case.  I am overly dependent on writing and on photographs for recording history, and I like to think that something like a needle in a haystack could be found with stories that have been told for hundreds of years.

The oldest piece of English literature, Beowulf, is a marvel to me.  How did the bards manage to pass that poem down through time and generations?  How many hundreds and thousands of times did people gather to hear it before it was written down?

How do we know that what got written is definitive?  Does definitive matter?

It does in court, which accounts, perhaps, for covering both bases by swearing on the Bible.

There are other ways to confirm a spoken promise, though.  We also seal deals with handshakes, and it’s that tactile element of history that’s got me thinking these days.  In last week’s posts, Beth-Anne, Carol, Kerry, and I all chose objects to illustrate our family history that we can touch, and even though some of these are out of reach of small hands, some of them do get frequent handling.  I like the idea of capturing history in things that get frequent handling.

As poor as my memory is (Very poor.  For my own purposes, I’m squarely in the written and photographic record camp because I cannot be relied upon to remember anything.  I hoard books not just because I’m a bibliophile but because they are a (false) security blanket.), I do remember a designer on a TV show once saying about a very expensive front door handle that it was worth the price.  “It’s something that you will touch every day.”  That has stayed with me.  Something you will touch every day is worth paying more for, and something you touch every day would also surely be a wonderful piece of family history.

a knitted quilt my mother made, a treasure

a knitted quilt my mother made, a treasure

How does a tactile record of family history look?

I’m about to find out.  For Eldest’s Grade 8 graduation, I am having a quilt made for him from a selection of his old hockey, camp, school, books, movie and sports t-shirts.  They tell a story of who he was as a kid, a story that he will throw over himself every day, whether he sits to watch next season’s hockey games or read the next Hunger Games-like series that captures his imagination.  I picture him bundled up in it, and that’s the kind of (security) blanket in which I have full faith.  It is a gift I plan to give to his brothers, too, and to all three of them I will say the same thing:  If you ever tire of this and are tempted to throw it away, don’t.  Bring it back to me, and I will give it a home until the stories it tells speak to you again, as I hope they will for many, many years to come.

The Many Faces of Preserving Family History

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We’ve devoted this month to family histories because we are, quite simply, captivated by them. They feature in Beth-Anne’s, Nathalie’s and my life in various forms, not least of which our efforts to capture what is happening in our lives with our families now, which we know will become historical soon enough.

I love to listen, and have listened, for hours to my elders telling me stories of their lives.  I’m most struck by content of these family stories, but form can also be mesmerizing. There was the breath-taking quilt hand felted and stitched by a older friend who wanted a way to commemorate the pile of sweaters her mother left when she died.  Or the one I saw online that salvaged the favourite pieces of clothing of her children. Or a handmade item, like the sweater my mother-in-law knit for my husband bearing his name across the chest, that all three of my children have worn in turn.

Then there are photo books, photo walls and even birthday cards that depict the highlights of the year. The video footage, the journals, the personalized children’s stories or songs or paintings created by the people who love them most. The carefully saved letter stacks, the elaborate family trees, the sepia images captured on slides or cracked photo paper.  I’m greedy for all of it.

Here on the blog, over the last few weeks, we’ve given some windows into preserving our own histories, and this week, we’re delving into this domain a bit more. To share what we’ve done to document and capture what it is that makes up who we are and the ones we hold most dear.  Maybe talk a bit about what efforts we’ve undertaken and what has worked, and maybe also about what has stalled or been let alone altogether. Trying to preserve memories reflects a bit of the scope and depth of the histories themselves, and we hope you’ll find it as interesting as we do.

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Guest Post: Kerry Clare on Her Grandmother’s Rolling Pin

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I come from a long line of people who knew how to make things. I wouldn’t even believe it, were it not for the evidence in my living room—a chair built by my great-grandfather, a tall bookshelf my grandfather built years ago for my mother. Whereas I consider it an achievement that two weeks ago I pieced together a Canadian Tire bistro set. A table and two chairs that will no doubt fall apart in a few seasons, cheaply made and sold in a flat pack.

But of all the solid wooden things that connect me to my family’s past, the most important is my rolling pin. It was my grandmother’s, and I acquired it after she died. At the time, she was living in a retirement home suite with a kitchenette, a mini-fridge, no oven to speak of, so it seems surprising that she still had her rolling pin, but perhaps it was something she wanted to hold on to—as you do with a rolling pin.

It is a beautiful object, but heavy—it’s extraordinarily painful to have it roll off the counter and land on your toe. Made with smooth wood with intricate grains, and I can count the rings of the tree it used to be. The handles are moulded for a good grip, and excellent hardware inside ensures a steady roll as I push it across a sheet of pastry. And did you know that when rolling pastry, you only roll outwards in one direction? Not back and forth at all, like a steamroller, but just push it out once, perhaps again. Flip the pastry and do the same thing on the other side.

I didn’t know anything about pastry until I was in my late twenties when I was suddenly struck by the New Domesticity bug endemic among women my age. Though the time was right—I’d recently gotten married, I finally had a real kitchen, and a canister full of flour. And suddenly, I was itching to make things from scratch. To make pie. To claim my inheritance, I suppose, and prove that I too could make things. And also so that I could eat pie.

My grandmother’s pies were excellent, a staple of family gatherings. Usually apple (topped with vanilla ice cream), or pumpkin at Thanksgiving. My other grandmother made pies too, though hers were less crafted—her speciality was “chocolate pie,” which was Jello pudding in a pre-made crust, though she also did a mean lemon meringue. But that there was something “grandmotherly” about my pie-making didn’t immediately occur to me, not until long after I’d become a pastry maven and had been rolling my grandmother’s rolling pin for awhile. I’d been envisioning my baking as a new frontier. I hadn’t considered that my baking hobby, like the rolling pin itself, would be one of the few connections I have to my foremothers.

baking-as-biographyBut the connection is complicated. In her fascinating 2009 book, Baking as Biography, historian and folklorist Diane Tye riffles through her own mother’s recipe box to learn about how Canadian women lived in the middle of the twentieth century. That a wife and mother would bake, she explained, was simply expected, and what she baked would be dictated by her class and status, by where she lived, and how she was marketed to by companies that made things like gelatine and chocolate chips. And also what was in fashion: marshmallows, and coconut for exotic occasions.

But why did so few of these women pass their baking know-how on to their own daughters? Tye suggests a few reasons: feminism, not to mention instant baking mixes, would have made these women’s knowledge seem obsolete by the 1960s and ‘70s. And moreover, for many of them, baking was less a hobby and a passion than a time-consuming chore.

I don’t know if this was the case for my own grandmother. We didn’t talk that much, and most of the things I wonder about her it didn’t occur to me to wonder until after she was gone. That she kept her rolling pin until the end, however, suggests it was important. I always felt as though her baking was her way of showing affection, much like the obligatory letters she used to write me when I was at camp—usually imploring me to be a good girl. My grandmother was someone for whom to do what was expected of her was very important.

It was never quite as important to me, which is why it might surprise my grandmother that I’ve been giving her rolling pin such a work-out over the last decade. That I have inherited her affinity for pastry. That a part of her legacy lives on in my kitchen, with every pie I make.

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Kerry Clare is a National Magazine Award-nominated writer, and editor of the anthology The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood, which was published to rave reviews in 2014.  Her essays, reviews and short fiction have appeared most recently in The Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, Joyland, Canadian Notes & Queries and The New Quarterly.  Kerry teaches “The Art of Blogging” at the University of Toronto, is editor of 49thShelf.com, and writes about books and reading at her popular website, Pickle Me This.

 

 

My Grandmother’s Teacups

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When Nathalie first proposed the topic for this week – how a single object recounts some part of our family history – I knew this was a simplified project for me.  This is because there are only two older objects in my possession to choose from.  One is a batik sarong from my mother’s eldest sister; the other is a set of teacups from my maternal grandmother, who I saw for the last time as a four year old, and who I don’t remember.

I’ve opted to tell you about the teacups. A few years after my mother immigrated to Canada with me and my two siblings, she received word that my grandmother was dying.  My mother got on a plane for a final goodbye, too late in the end, and these teacups eventually came back with her.

There are five of them, blue and white.  I think they are made of porcelain. I don’t know whether they were once accompanied by a teapot; neither does my mother remember.

I don’t know if they were used for drinking, either for everyday or for special tea ceremonies, or whether they were ornamental items.  I don’t know whether they were treasures handed down to my grandmother or whether she bought them at the corner stall.  I don’t know where they were made, or the meaning behind the images on them, and have never tried to learn.  I have no idea if they are valuable or not, and couldn’t be less interested.

I do know that my mother has let me have them.  They sit atop a high ledge that surrounds my dining room, about a foot away from each other, and high enough that they are as secure as they can be from my three playful boys. Even so, it’s possible that a ball or plane or other projectile could shatter one (but hopefully not the others as they are interspersed). While the children are young, the only truly safe alternative is to put them away, out of view, and this I will not do.

When my mother came to Canada with her three kids and little else, she left quite a lot in Malaysia:  a large, close-knit family, a career as a nurse/midwife, a good standard of living, a life she built with her husband before he suddenly died.  For reasons only she will really know, she doesn’t, or can’t, talk much about the things she left behind.  I used to wonder about this, question it, evaluate it, because I so much wanted to know something, anything, more.

I don’t do this much anymore. I have my grandmother’s teacups, and I will be careful with them.  And if I’m not mistaken, it gave my mother some pleasure when I put them up on my dining room ledge.

Family Heirlooms According to a Purger

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Yesterday,while other families spent the day outdoors enjoying the soaring temperatures and sunshine followed by a festive display of fireworks, I spent it indoors doing something that gives me great pleasure.

Purging.

Closets, drawers and cupboards that is.

I delight in giving things the toss to the donation bin or garbage bin, it doesn’t matter; the high I get is the same. Thankfully, my partner in life shares my need for clutter-free living. Some extol the comfort they feel in keeping playbills and movie stubs, bric-a-brac and dated magazines, first teeth and hair clippings. I simply can’t relate.

Years ago we moved house and before any piece of paper, item of clothing or page of a book was packed, it had to pass muster. Do I really need this? Do I really want this? Have I looked at/used/wore/thought about it the past year? The past two years?

I held up a stack of my wedding programs. Toss. The pale blue cardstock littered the recycle bin save for one. A small shoebox overflowing with cards and letters was given the once over before dumping much of its contents in with the programs. I have saved a few items: baptismal outfits and meaningful, heart-felt cards and pictures (rarely get rejected), but for the most part, rightly or wrongly, I like to attach my emotions to people and memories and not to stuff.

I am not a complete Scrooge. I do own things that I care deeply about. Our champagne flutes that I carried around Europe on my back come to mind. Recently there was a casualty and our set of 6 diminished to the odd number of 5. My husband and I both looked at the cracked glass, and for a minute there was a moment we wished we could turn back the clock and be just a bit more careful, but it was short lived and I mitigated the blues by toasting the fun times we’d had with that glass.

The pottery my boys made, the hand-knitted blankets and sweaters, and my grandmother’s ring are among the material things that I own and would be sad to lose because they are truly irreplaceable.   I like to think that I have a carefully curated collection of material items from books to clothing that won’t burden my sons too terribly when I die.

I don’t expect the boys to keep much, and I’ve made the task an easy one. Just like my mother and grandmothers (all extremely Spartan women), I have little to bequeath.

But if I am to tell the tale of our family’s history through one object, it is one that is explicitly off-hands to curious, little fingers. It is the cake topper that adorned my grandparents’ wedding cake 67 years ago.

The bride and groom are stoic, with linked arms and pursed expressions, as if knowing that marriage and the years ahead are not made of taffeta and butter cream.

This small, ceramic figurine serves as a reminder of the long marriages that make up my family’s tree. Certainly they weren’t marriages without flaws and struggle. Certainly they weren’t marriages that were perfect or even near to, but certainly they were marriages built on something to last decades and serve as the foundation for a generous number of descendants.

When the time comes, many years from now, for my family tree to add branches, I will carefully pass the bride and groom down to my boys to serve as a symbol of unity, commitment and yup, hard work.

Ceramic Bowl, Used for Making Yorkshire Pudding

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I can hear the sound of fireworks as I type–my neighbours out celebrating Queen Victoria and our fossilized connection to the English crown–but to me, nothing says England like a dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Although I grew up with a Canadian passport, England was the country that most felt like home because it was where we went between countries, on most holidays, and to live for some stretches of time.  My grandmother was in Yorkshire, my aunt in Bristol, and my parents had a house in Surrey for a few spells.  In all three homes, come Sundays, you would smell the roast in the oven and feel the excitement of a special day.  And in all three homes, a Sunday roast meant Yorkshire pudding.  My grandmother scorned the use of an electrical beater and would beat the batter by hand, and the sound of her rapidly mixing the batter is on the soundtrack of my childhood.

We made it two different ways, either as one large rectangular pudding in a baking tray or as individual puddings in muffing tins, but whichever way it was made it was always the most popular part of the meal.  Yorkshire pudding does not keep, but we never had to worry about leftovers because it was always devoured.  My brother, a notoriously fussy eater, could have lived on it.

When my grandmother died and we went back for the funeral, one of the few things my mother chose from the contents of the house was the ceramic bowl my grandmother used for making Yorkshire pudding.  It was an object that held so many memoires of family gatherings and good times.  It had magic in its years of use.

The fact of my mother’s having singled out such an ordinary thing to cherish from my grandmother’s house speaks volumes about the combined power of food and memory, the power of these things to connect us through generations and over oceans.

I now include Yorkshire pudding on the menu for my special dinners.  They are not the weekly Sunday staple of my childhood, but a highlight of holiday meals, and my boys are proudly carrying on the tradition of leaving no leftovers.  I’m now vegetarian, so I like mine served with the mushroom gravy and lentil walnut loaf from Oh, She Glows, roasted potatoes and a mountain of green beans, but anyway you make it, it’s a crowd-pleaser.  This is a good recipe from The Guardian, and I would add that it’s very important not to open the oven door during the cooking time, otherwise the puddings will sink.

Sound of the batter being beaten and the sizzle when it hit the pan, the smell of the roast out resting while the puddings cooked, and the last-minute frenzy to gather all of us and get the meal on the table–all of those sense memories are captured in this simple bowl.

 

 

Theme Week: A History of Our Families, Through Objects

One of my abiding delights of late is to listen to podcasts while I take my long walks.  Beth-Anne has mentioned our obsession with NPR’s wildly popular and record-breaking Serial, and her love of the comic Grownups Read Stuff They Wrote as Kids.  I get my science fix with the Quirks and Quarks podcast from the CBC, and I am so enamoured of interviews with authors that I have exhausted the archives of Eleanor Wachtel’s Writers and Company, as well as all of the archived episodes of the Guardian’s books podcasts and the BBC’s World Book Club.

6204be3e2294b5a28411ddd18717793190c54c20What I love about all of these podcasts is their standard of excellence, and you really cannot do better than Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects for podcast excellence.  (You can download it here.)  In this series, MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, tells a history of the world through 100 of the objects housed there.  I have not only listened to all 100 episodes, I have read the book that accompanies the podcast and gone back to listen to some episodes for a second time.  In each episode, he considers one object, and that object becomes a prism through which to explore past worlds and the men and women who lived in them.  The stories are, truly, mind-bending; I was so often startled by what I learned.  It is so difficult to choose an illustrative example, because I really did love them all, but in the episode on the Gold Cape found in Mold, in north Wales, for instance, my sense of the isolation of the British Isles was thoroughly upturned.  The cape, made in 1900-1600 BC, is a beautifully intricate object made of gold, extremely sophisticated in its execution, and it was buried with amber and bronze objects that point to a web of trade and exchange that reached not only from Wales to Scandinavia, but even as far as the Mediterranean.  Nearly 2000 years before the common era, artisans were making and trading at levels of sophistication I knew nothing about.

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MacGregor’s approach is decidedly not that of the Guns, Germs and Steel variety, in which history is told as a series of conflicts and conquests.  Rather, his approach is to examine the globe’s common history, to look at synchronicity in the history of the world, to examine our commonalities.  In his introduction to the series, MacGregor describes the “necessary poetry of things”:

It is, as we know, the victors who write the history, especially when only the victors know how to write.  Those who are on the losing side, those whose societies are conquered or destroyed, often have only their things to tell their stories.  The Caribbean Taino, the Australian Aboriginals, the African people of Benin and the Incas, all of whom appear in this book, can speak to us now of their past achievements most powerfully through the objects they made: a history told through things gives them back a voice.

Taking in our cue from MacGregor’s poetry of things, this week at 4Mothers, we will be telling a piece of our family history through a single object.  We hope you will enjoy them.

In the mean time, be a podcast addict’s enabler!  What are your favourite podcasts? 

What We’re Reading

From Beth-Anne

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The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

The first book I read by Anita Diamant was The Red Tent. I finished it in a few days and spent the next year touting its greatness to everyone who asked for a book a recommendation, and many who did not. When I read on the book blogs that her newest release, Boston Girl, was available I downloaded it to my Kobo to read while on our beach vacation. The Boston Girl is the story of Addie Baum, daughter of Jewish immigrants. Addie’s granddaughter, a Harvard student, interviews her about her life. Addie reflects on her early days set during a tumultuous period of change and rapid development for the United States. Her girlhood stories reveal the inner struggles she experienced while desperately seeking out her American dream but remaining tethered to her traditional, Jewish family. The pages turn quickly on this uplifting tale of feminism, family and history – worth the read this summer!

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Between Gods by Alison Pick

Alison Pick grew up going to church, attending Sunday school and singing “Silent Night” at the Christmas service. She had no idea of her Jewish roots – a carefully guarded family secret. Her paternal grandparents narrowly escaped the Holocaust, and upon arriving in Canada made the decision to live as Christians. When researching for her Man-Booker nominated novel (one of my favourites) Far to Go, she felt an undeniable pull to her Jewish roots. The feeling was so intense that Pick set out to convert – not at all easy despite having a Jewish father. The author is brave. She bares all and doesn’t shy from portraying herself honestly. She’s open about her nagging depression and the conflicting feelings that she has about her faith (faiths?). She wrestles with this overwhelming desire for Judiasm while being deeply committed to her non-Jewish fiancée but understanding how unaccepted interfaith marriages are during the conversion process. This memoir took a while for me to connect with but it did. The way Alison becomes almost obsessive about her family’s history is something I can relate to. Alison agonizes over the final days of her great-grandmother in Auschwitz, and the lives that could have been. I find myself thinking about my own could-haves and while my family’s history is not anything close to this horrific; I can understand her longing to know. Her connection to her ancestors is primal. It’s been a long time since I dreamt about a book, and a few nights ago I awoke drenched with sweat and a racing heart. Her story has stuck.

From Nathalie

You guys, I totally binged on a mystery series this month!  I read and loved SIX of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway murder mysteries.  Ruth Galloway is a forensic anthropologist and she is one of the detecting protagonists I have loved most in a series.  She is independent, down to earth, imperfect, clever and strong-willed.  While reading the series I realized how much I really had been craving mysteries with strong female characters.  I did something I never do, and I began in the middle of the series.  This was a mistake because it gives away a big part of the plot that develops from book to book.  So begin at the beginning with The Crossing Places, and enjoy the ride!  The best news, the latest in the series is published this month.

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I have a soft spot for the trend in publishing in which a famous author is matched to a classic and updates and rewrites it for the present day.  Val McDermid’s rewriting of Northanger Abbey is especially brilliant.  She updates Jane Austen’s hilarious tale of a young woman too much influenced by gothic fiction, and she makes the heroine a devotee of vampire lit.  I am a sucker (!) for this kind of thing, always hoping to find in fan fiction something that approximates the joy that the original book gives me.  Northanger Abbey is my favourite of Austen’s novels, not surprisingly, because it is a book about books, and McDermid embraces the metafictional and intertextual aspect of the project wholeheartedly.  The book positively fizzes with it.  It’s hilarious, timely, and pitch-perfect.  (You can read my longer review of it here.)

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My latest foray into Austen re-writes is Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, which was enjoyable but did not knock my socks off.  Emma is, admittedly, a much harder update to pull off.  There is the problem of the governess, for one, and McCall Smith decides to preserve the role in the update.  I don’t know how things are in your neck of the woods, but governesses are not thick on the ground in these parts.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book for its homage to Austen and for its wit.

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From Carol

I’m in the middle of a mindful meditation course and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn is basically the textbook.  Kabat-Zinn is a leader in the field, and this big book covers all aspects of the benefits and processes of mindful meditation.  Told in Kabat-Zinn’s careful, gentle and repetitive way, the narrative voice parallels the practice of meditation itself.

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After reading this review of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, a Japanese de-clutter consultant, I knew I had to read it (the review describes Kondo as a fairy dominatrix in a prim little pink suit).  I’m in the midst of trying to get our house in some real order, and Kondo seemed like the woman to help.  She has committed her life to de-cluttering and organizing and has some basic steadfast rules.  First, you must discard (or recycle) first, before any attempts are made at re-organizing.  Second, you must hold every item you own and ask yourself whether it “sparks joy”.  If the answer is no, or hesitation, the item should go.  (She is ruthless about this, by the way.)  She also advises that tidying and de-cluttering should be done categorically and specifies that order (you start with clothes, which are easiest, and end with mementos, which are hardest).  There are many other suggestions, and I did in fact purge and re-organize my clothing using this method.  Perhaps because I had fewer items to start with, or because I am quite loyal to the things I like over time, I did not purge a third to two-thirds of my things as her clients routinely do.  I did rid myself of three bags of clothing though, and have a clean and spacious closet and dresser (using her upright folding technique to boot).  It’s tidy, and I feel better.  She doesn’t have that much advice for parents, clearly identifying more with the tidy hearts of children who still live with parents, but there’s still good solid value in this fun, internationally best-selling little book.

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