April 28, 2010

One Word - Holmes

“Crime is common. Logic is rare. Therefore it is upon the logic rather than upon the crime that you should dwell.” The Copper Beeches, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Deciding which book to read next was actually surprisingly easy. You may or may not have heard of a little movie that was released during the holiday season…a couple of big name stars, a modern day update of a literary classic. After Christmas, my sister, brother and I decided to have a night out in honour of my mom and to celebrate her love of Sherlock Holmes. One cold evening we (Michelle, Donovan, Brock, MaryAnn and I) enjoyed dinner at a local pub and raised our glasses to mom. We then headed to the theatre, bought our tickets and popcorn, sat back and enjoyed Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in Sherlock Holmes.

Again, I will admit, I had never read the legendary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle books. Michelle and Brock had both read the books. In fact a few years ago Brock purchased a beautiful, special edition book which compiled the complete works of Sherlock Holmes for my mom. My mom knew about the movie and was intrigued to see how it would turn out. It was great.

Robert Downey Jr. was awesome, who can resist him? I had no idea if this was an accurate portrayal of the legendary character? Michelle and Brock assured me that the movie did capture the true essence of the books. So, I decided that if the books were as enjoyable as the movie then I had to give them a try.

My mom’s love of Sherlock Holmes did not end with reading the books. Her PVR was jam packed with Holmes episodes. She really had little time for “regular” television. Her television watching was consumed, not surprisingly, with mysteries. My mother recorded and watched every mystery program available. In fact her friends would call her and let her know when shows were coming on so she wouldn’t miss them! She never did. From Agatha Christie and Holmes to Rosemary & Thyme and Murdoch Mysteries…mom recorded them all. She even got into Murder She Wrote…although we had watched all the original shows way back in the eighties. Holmes was a popular choice on television, she loved watching those programs.

I decided to start at the first in Doyle’s series “The Valley of Fear”. This novel was quite interesting. The first half of the book dealt with solving the case at hand, while the second half of the book explored the life of the victim prior to the crime. It was as though Doyle wrote two different books and put them together. This was not at all what I had expected.

As for the characters Holmes and Watson, I adore them. Doyle’s writing is wonderfully timeless…passive aggressiveness never goes out of fashion. The interaction between the two old friends had me laughing out loud many, many times.

The second book I read was “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”. This novel contains a series of short stories, quick mysteries. The stories include “The Red-Headed League”, “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”. I soon realized that for Holmes it wasn’t the crime per se that motivated him it was his primal desire to solve the puzzle. Many times he didn’t care if the criminal was brought to justice, rather Holmes was only satisfied if he used logic to reach an adequate resolution. As for Watson, if he applied his keen observation skills to the case at hand, rather than to Holmes, he too could have been a master detective. However, without his keen attention to detail, we wouldn’t have the descriptive narrative that makes these novels what they are.

I can totally understand why my mom was delighted by these books and television programs. The cases are not always gripping, grim and grotesque; in fact sometimes they are quite mundane. However, the enjoyment comes from the relationships, the dialogue and the great mind of Holmes…I suppose the genius of Doyle.

I wish my mom could have joined us on that cold night in January. She would have enjoyed the food, the wine, the company and the movie.

April 15, 2010

The Bookcase

What is a bookcase? A case for books? That seems logical…but when I got to thinking about what goes into a bookcase many different possibilities presented themselves.

We can start with the construction of the bookcase itself. A bookcase can be made of whatever materials are available; stone, wood, metal, glass, laminated particle board, stacked up milk crates, whatever. The shelves can be evenly spaced or of varying heights. Bookcases can be “built in” or free-standing. Some have doors and some do not.

After examining the construction of the bookcase, what about the content …the books. For instance, is it really a “bookcase” if it only houses magazines? What if they are National Geographic, not Cosmo? I suppose this leads to the question of paperback versus hard cover. Can they coexist in one bookcase?

Once the books (or reasonable facsimile) are ready to go onto the shelves…in what order do you place them? There is much debate regarding how to order the books. Some people believe in alphabetical by author...while others enjoy books grouped by subject. Then there are those who throw caution to the wind, take the jackets off and group books by colour. COLOUR? I’m not sure how you ever find what you are looking for.

And what about objects? You know collectables, often times cheesy collectables, that find there way into bookcases…BOOKcases.

Bookcases take a lot of thought and care.

When your mom has a massive book collection, which has grown since you were a child, you spend a lot of time thinking about the construction of bookcases. In my childhood home my father built a gigantic bookcase on our stairwell landing. The enormous custom bookcase was over eight feet tall and over 6 feet wide. Whenever I was sent to my room upstairs…I’m sure I was innocent…I would sit at the top of the stairs and stare at those books. The top two-thirds of the bookcase were mom’s fictional novels. My mom was a diehard alphabetizer. New books had to somehow be swallowed into the fold. This meant that often times there were piles of books sitting on the front edge of the bookcase waiting to be inserted into their rightful spot. Mom spent big bucks on the hardcover editions of most books. I think she was just too darn eager to wait for the paperback version to be released.

The bottom third of the bookcase was reserved for “coffee table” style books. These books examined art, gardening, my father’s collections of WWI and WWII books, motorcycle books, books of poetry, encyclopedias, etc. These were the books filled with beautiful pictures and enormous amounts of knowledge. Does anyone even remember encyclopedias anymore?

As my mother’s collection grew and grew so did our need for spaces to put the books. Thus my father got out the wood, screws and saw once again…constructing a floor to ceiling bookcase in our livingroom. This bookcase was filled with more fiction. This case became home to my mom’s prized possessions. Her magnificent Agatha Christie collection…I’m not quite ready to read those yet….but we’ll talk about those another time. If memory serves me this is also where Sue Grafton’s books landed.

In my current home I have two half bookcases (about 3' tall). These bookcases are constructed out of simple veneered particle board...you may be familiar with the Billy collection. Half of one bookcase is almost exclusively schooling related texts, mine and Andrew’s. The others are various books of fiction collected over the years. The books run both vertically and horizontally. I wish I could say that there is an order to them…but really there isn’t. I seriously don’t know how my mom did it...I say that a lot. I can’t keep two miniscule bookcases alphabetized and she kept a small library in order.

Perhaps my most prized bookcases are the ones in my girls bedrooms. They too come from the Billy collection, we do love IKEA. These bookcases house a sampling of books from mine and Andrew’s childhoods, along with new books. The new books include bright baby board books, Eric Carle, Sandra Boynton, Disney, Junie B. Jones, Roald Dahl, the complete Mr.Men Collection, etc. There are the books I vividly remember reading…50 or so Dr.Suess books. Hans Christian Anderson, Grimm, Lee, Berenstein, Sweet Pickles Series, Silverstien, Golden Books, etc…the authors and collections of my youth. Not to mention the classics; Judy Blume, Trixie Belden, Alice in Wonderland, the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nihm, Wind in the Willows, Beatrix Potter, Gordon Kormon, Encyclopedia Brown, etc, etc…the books we haven’t even delved into yet.
Some of my most valuable books are the ones inscribed by my great-grandmother, my grandmothers and my mom. Books purchased and given with deep thought and affection. I hope someday my girls will hold these books in their hands and feel the emotion that I do. The wafts of memories that rise up from the pages. These bookcases are filled with joyous, imaginative, beautifully illustrated, humourous, sometimes scary, mysterious, well loved and well used books...placed in no particular order.

April 5, 2010

The Book of Negroes

"Slave Coffle, Central Africa, 1861 [Image]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #150, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/150 (accessed April 5, 2010). Annotated by Colleen A. Vasconcellos

My mom, being a professional reader, always kept an atlas beside the chair she read in. One day she explained to me the importance of this atlas. To her, it was important to understand where the author was taking you. Not to simply have a cursory understanding…to see the locale in relation to wherever you reside. I had never done this before. Perhaps the books I read were based in North America, or familiar locations…I don’t know. It was certainly important with The Book of Negroes.

The last book my mom ever read, I’m not quite certain if she read. The Book of Negroes, authored by Lawrence Hill, was the last book she held in her hands. My mom had begun reading it before she went into the hospital and a few weeks later, while at the hospital, she was done the book.

When my mom passed away we collected her things at the hospital, and this book was amongst her belongings. She had borrowed this book from a dear friend. A few weeks after her death, I picked up the book. To be honest I don’t always do well with “epic” novels. When you read in short spurts it is easy to get confused and after awhile close the book for good. I wanted to give this book a chance. I sat down with her atlas and the book. I remember that my mother had a hard time getting started reading it. She kept saying that it wasn’t pulling her in. However, I was gripped immediately. I knew then that my mom’s inability to be wrapped into this book had more to do with her mental state and less to do with the text. On a “normal” day this book would have grabbed her and she would have read it in a week. Instead it took weeks of laborious reading. I actually mentioned to her doctor that I was concerned that she wasn’t reading more. For some people this seemed logical…you don’t feel well, you don’t read constantly…it was not logical for my mom. It made me incredibly sad to see her with a book in her lap that she wasn’t reading. And then as her meds were shuffled…she started reading again…and made it to the end of this book.

I too made it to the end. I found it to be a most interesting book. Talk about overcoming adversity! Understatement! It was inspiring. It certainly made me feel that anyone can overcome any circumstance. Although it was a fiction novel…it felt real. This book follows one woman’s journey not only through her life, but across thousands of miles. Across oceans and back again. It highlights the unending desire of Aminata to return to her place of birth. Aminata’s ability to rise up when she is being repeatedly, and violently pushed down. This young woman, Aminata, is torn from her family, shipped in the most despicable conditions across the Atlantic to America and then bought to work on an indigo farm. There are moments of joy, like her relationship with the kind woman at the indigo plantation. Their mother-daughter bond was beautiful. Her relationship with her husband, Chekura, has moments of bliss and heartache. Following her climb to becoming a respected black woman, while difficult at times, was well worth the perseverance.

Unfortunately, my blog is out of order…when I started writing this blog I had forgotten that I read The Book of Negroes a few weeks after my mom died. I wanted to connect with her. This has been the most difficult entry for me to write, so far. I started writing it over two weeks ago…and I’m only just finishing it. I suppose this is why I started this blog. To talk about my mom, to talk about me. This book will always have a special meaning for me. It makes me sad that she didn’t have a chance to really enjoy her final novel. My mom loved Africa…she loved stories about empowered women…she loved stories about heritage.

The book is done…you can have it back now D. Thank you.