I wouldn’t live there if you paid me

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In 2015, the population of the Greater Toronto Area cracked 6 million people. That is more people than the whole of British Columbia and accounts for 29% of the total population of Canada. According to Statistics Canada, only 20% of Canadians live in rural areas. (I can’t wait to hear the update statistics coming out of our first real census since 2011.)

I am one of the 80% of Canadians who grew up and currently live in an urban area, which is why I am always bothered by children’s books that paint rural life as an idyllic paradise and city life as nasty, brutish and short.

Yes, yes, pros and cons for both choices exist, blah, blah, blah, but in the world of children’s literature, I come across proportionally more rural-based stories or read negative portrayals of cities and city life more often. Which brings me to the classic Aesop Fable The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.

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In the original tale, the city mouse scoffs at the country mouse’s simple meal and offers an invitation to the city. Upon his arrival in town, the country mouse tastes rich food but is almost killed by dogs while eating and decides he was better off with his simple, safe life in the country and returns home. Most modern adaptations take a to-each-his-own approach, but an undercurrent of rural superiority still remains.

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The music is too loud in the city

 

In the beautifully illustrated version by Helen Ward, the only hint of difficulty to rural living is “the aching hunger of a long, cold winter” and the cons of the city outweigh the pros. The story in Mousetropolis by R. Gregory Christie is more balanced but the illustrations don’t always support the city’s advantages. Jan Brett’s take is the most even of the ones that I’ve read, and the illustrations, with detailed, supporting stories in the margins of the page, complement the main narrative well without making a judgement on the mice’s choices.

I doubt my kids notice these distinctions overtly, my five year old prefers one of the more traditional tellings because he finds it funnier, but as city dwellers we have a surprisingly difficult time finding books reflecting our kids’ experiences. My three year old loves Toronto ABC by Paul Covello because he visits the places mentioned in the book. Some of the great ones we’ve come across in recent years include Symphony City by Amy Martin and Sidewalk Flowers by JonAron Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith. As the kids get older, we make a bigger effort to find overtly pro-urban stories, which portray cities not as places to overcome but places full of wonder, experience, and growth – just like the city we call home.

 

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Supplementary reading

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I should be reading books from my 50 Book Challenge list. I’m far enough behind already that I shouldn’t even be looking at other book covers let alone cracking the spines. But I couldn’t help myself when I heard about the release of The Name Therapist by Duana Taha.

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Taha is a television screenwriter and a contributor to the gossip site Lainey Gossip, which is how I first came across her work. She writes a column called Duana Names in which she offers, you guessed it, naming advice to expecting parents (and the occasional pet owner). The column is equal parts informing, amusing, and reassuring as she digs into a vast personal bank of names to suggest or, more often than not, tell people they aren’t going too far by picking a name not familiar to most ears. (Although, her column talking a soon-to-be mother of twins out of naming her son Kale is what put her in my must-read pile.)

So I’m sure you can understand why I jumped at the chance to read Taha’s book. With a name like Bryony, I’m often the one holding the “Friend” mug while everyone else has a personalized cup from which to sip their morning coffee, and I’ve written about my name and the novel from which it came before. But, now, I had the chance to read the experiences of another unusually named child.

For those of you familiar with Taha’s column, this book will feel like a deep dive into the topics and issues she only gets to briefly discuss there. For the uninitiated name nerds, you are missing out, as you will learn when you read this book.

The Name Therapist is partly a name memoir, but she uses her own experiences and “name pain” from having an unusual name as a starting point to discuss the stories behind how we name our children; living in a multicultural naming playground; naming trends, influences, stereotypes, and nightmares; and if we are defined by the name we have no say in choosing.

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Just like in her column, Taha’s absolute delight in talking about names is evident. She makes no apologies for her name obsession, more frequently wondering why no one else cares about names with the same intensity. Her writing, while informative and candid, is also light and quickly paced, which may be the only draw back as I wished she could have spent a more time fleshing out some topics such as the white-washing of non-European names or, on the other side, the trendiness of some cultural names to the exclusion of others (especially in light of increasing discussions of cultural appropriation).

Still, I was hooked in Chapter 2, Where Do Duanas Come From? when she names – first and middle – two people, just based on the time they were born, and I know people with those names! I wonder if she is asked to use that skill as a party trick? Come on, Duana, 20 questions and then guess his name. Plus the conversations she has with unevenly named siblings or the bit about Mormon names (I had no idea!) – the section on the name Jennifer alone is worth the read. Taha leads you through all the things you never realized if you have a name easily found on key chains and coffee mugs or has you nodding your head and saying “yes!” if you either carry a unique moniker or have kept a name diary since childhood.

And, while my name never came up, I won’t hold that against her. I’d like to keep Bryony out of the top 100 names anyway.

2015 in review

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I’m looking back as I’m preparing for 2016, so here is the 2015 annual report for re: read pages as prepared by WordPress.com. Thanks for visiting, and I look forward to reading and writing with you more in the coming year!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 800 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 13 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

A wish, a dream, a concrete plan

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I love structure and organization. I get excited when I see pretty boxes and I have different coloured pens and papers for making notes. So why I never wrote out a plan for my blog is a mystery to me. I had ideas. General expectations of when and about what I would blog. This hasn’t worked out for me too well as the consistency of my blogging is not strong, to say the least.

For 2016, one of my goals is to change that and to that end I am putting together a real plan with weekly scheduled posts, complete with topics, for the next few months. I am on an organizing kick and I must say it feels pretty good.

The first step in my plan is to make a commitment to the 50 Book Challenge. I will read 50 books over the next year, roughly a book per week, and blog about them for re: read pages. Knowing myself, I can’t just leave that to chance, so I am compiling a list in advance. I’m aiming to have a diverse list, with a balance between heavy and light reads (to give myself a break). I am keeping my focus on debut novels, historical fiction and David Adams Richards, but I’ll also try some books outside my usual interest, such as non-fiction and YA.

I am somewhat limited by my desire/need to source my books from either the library or my bookshelf as buying 50 books is not something I am prepared to commit to, thanks. This means that I probably won’t be reading the hot new title of 2016, unless I get a gift card this Christmas or score the top spot on the library’s hold list. But, in my mind, a good book is a good book no matter the year, so that shouldn’t hold me back.

I’ll share the complete list in a post to kick off the new year.

I think having a concrete goal with stages and objectives will really go a long way to helping me stay on track and be a more consistent and productive reader and writer. I’m hoping that the results I see will spur me to better work overall.

  1. I’m already excited.

Last weeks of a cold spring

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I can’t believe it is already midway through the first week of June. Bring on summer (because this spring has been too cold for my liking). As always, May was a packed month in my home. Both of my sons’ birthdays are in May (on the 7th and 18th), and I spend much of the month shopping, preparing, celebrating, and cleaning. Now I have a four year old who can’t wait for September so he can start school and a two year old who is preparing for life as a free-climber if the number of times I’ve pulled him off the third shelf of the bookcase is any indication.

We, of course, got them book-related presents. For the eldest, we made a trip to our local library and signed him up for his own library card. Thrilled doesn’t begin to describe his reaction. He proudly chose a book to take out: Seasons by Anne Crausaz, an old favourite.

For the youngest, we bought Jane Eyre: A Counting Primer from the wonderful BabyLit series by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver. We already own several of these books and he is happy to keep practicing his numbers with a new story.

On top of celebrating the boys’ birthdays, I had some exciting book-related moments on Twitter. I was retweeted by Irvine Welsh after I mentioned that I was rereading Trainspotting in preparation for a screening of the movie and discussion with Welsh with TIFF’s Books on Film series. I was giddy with amazement as I was momentarily flung into a wider audience; I picked up three new followers as a result of contact cool.

The very next day, I am astounded to share, I was mentioned in a tweet by none other than Sarah Dunant. I had been struggling with my novel (that’s another post) and tweeted that I was going to reread Blood & Beauty to inspire and improve my writing. And she gave me a shout out as she worked on finishing the sequel to that novel. I still get a smile on my face when I think about it.

I finished May with a meeting of my book club to discuss The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner. While not many of us could attend this month, we had a good conversation about the use of art in the story. I certainly enjoyed this book more than last month’s selection (see here for a refresher).

So while my May was very busy personally, it also set me up for a good month of reading and writing for June. I hope to share my thoughts the books that I read in May, the screening of Trainspotting, and a new idea for a story that I recently started developing. And, like last year, I’ll also be putting a summer reading list together.

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Book club report

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The consensus from the book club on Come, Thou Tortoise was that it didn’t live up to the hype on the book jacket. The novel got a solid Okay from the rest of the book club. Some enjoyed all the wordplay. Some, like myself, found it a little too much. But we all said it wasn’t as funny as advertised.

Come, Thou Tortoise

Come, Thou Tortoise

The overall story was well received, even if its telling didn’t impress as much. We all seemed to think that the pay off for the book didn’t come until very late in the story’s telling and that, ultimately, the conclusion was underwhelming. As I said during the meeting, you may enjoy it but if you have a better book as an option you may want to give Come, Thou Tortoise a pass.

My favourite comment from another member posited that all the animals in the book had a human equivalent, not just the bond between Winnifred and Oddly – for example, Uncle Thoby is Wedge the hamster. I had noticed the frequent animal interaction, but didn’t directly overlay them with a person. Thoughts like this are the reason I wanted to join a book club, to get another perspective that I may have overlooked, and I really enjoyed my first real book club experience.

Next month is another Canadian novel: The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner.

 

Tweeting while Reading

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Who says reading has to be a solitary activity? I’ve decided to live tweet my reading of Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant. I started reading it last night so follow me on Twitter @rereadpages to catch up and to see updates as I continue reading (#comethoutortoise).

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And please tweet your thoughts back at me. I’d love to read them!