Canadian books make great Christmas gifts

Give Canadian books for Christmas. A nov­el idea some might say, but I’ve been giv­ing Canadian books as gifts for more than 40 years.

I come from a long line of read­ers. Being read to was a treas­ured part of my early child­hood. And I can still re­mem­ber the thrill of be­ing able to read on my own any time I wanted! When I was 10 I de­cided that in­cluded late at night.

Not sure if read­ing past bed­time was al­lowed, I draped a tow­el over the lamp on my night table to avoid de­tec­tion. Mom still saw the light un­der the door. But in­stead of giv­ing me heck, she said it was okay to read but not to start a fire.

Canadian books cov­er every genre and evoke every emo­tion. I’ve giggled, sniffled and even been creeped out on oc­ca­sion. Canadian au­thors have also in­formed and en­lightened me about our vast and var­ied mul­ti­cul­tur­al coun­try and provided in­sight into the hu­man psyche.

Although 99% of our books are currently living in a storage unit, here are a few of the Canadian books I found in a 60 second cruise around our apartment.
Although 99% of our books are cur­rently liv­ing in a stor­age unit, here are a few of the Canadian books I found in a 60 second cruise around our apartment.

Most of my fam­ily lives in the USA but, even so, Canadian books are al­ways on their Christmas wish lists. Some I’m wrap­ping as presents this year include:

Light Years: Memoir of a Modern Lighthouse Keeper by Caroline Woodward

Tide Rips and Back Eddies by Bill Proctor and Yvonne Maximchuk

Once They Were Hats by Frances Backhouse

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Watershed Moments: A Pictorial History of Courtenay and District by Christine Dickinson, Deborah Griffiths, Judy Hagen and Catherine Siba

There are oth­ers I can’t men­tion as my part­ner, fel­low au­thor Rick James, reads my blogs and would find out what he’s get­ting for Christmas!

With the ex­cep­tion of Station Eleven, which was pub­lished in 2014, the above books are all fall 2015 re­leases. But many Canadian books are what I call ‘keep­ers’ and have per­man­ent homes on my bookshelf.

So if you’re in­ter­ested in Canadian clas­sics, here are a few of my favorites:

Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier by Wallace Stegner

Books open the door to oth­er worlds, both ima­gin­ary and real, as well as dif­fer­ent ways of think­ing, eat­ing and mov­ing. They are com­pan­ions on dark, winter nights and al­low us to es­cape the drudgery or demons of every­day life. I can think of no bet­ter gift.




Preparing to Launch Part 2 — guest blog by Harold Macy

Whatever the occa­sion, go­ing to town re­quires thought as to dress, or could re­quire thought if one was giv­en to care. A quick run to the feed store or Central Builders is pretty straight­for­ward. But for such an event as a book launch, espe­cially if it is one’s own book launch, may call for a bit addi­tional consideration.

If it is a high-brow lit­er­ary event, would I wear the tried and true tweed jack­et with suede el­bow patches, pos­sibly over a sweat­er vest? — how time­less is that combo? Or is it so dated to be pathet­ic. Or per­haps I could try the po-mo look — lots of black, maybe even a fake pier­cing and a temp ‘tat.’

My cri­teria are not driv­en by the whims and caprice of the Style Section of the Globe and Mailwhich we buy each Saturday, but rather by neces­sity. Something that doesn’t show dog hair is high on the list. There is enough black hair in the seat crevices and cranny’s of my truck to knit a new hound. Something that relates to the weath­er, usu­ally water­proof, rein­forces the gum­boot archetype.

Harold Macy is the au­thor of The Four Storey Forest, As Grow the Trees, So too the Heart

But really, I don’t care. I take les­sons from my Grandpa. His long legs were per­petu­ally clad in blue den­im over­alls. Annually, upon Grandma’s ur­ging, he bought a new pair, stiff as boards, which he ini­tially saved for church. After a few months, they be­came his town and house pair. Eventually they were worn in the shop, on the tract­ors and in the calv­ing barn do­ing the chores he loved. After a year or so on this duty, they were fit only for wipe rags. Grandma made quilt squares from any sec­tion that was not thread­bare, grease stained or soiled by the wet but messy mir­acles of anim­als, but there were only few.

But it is not your clothes that are no­ticed at a book launch. It’s your fingernails.

I gave a talk re­cently and was set­ting up to sell and sign books to the good folks in line, money in hand. I glanced down at my hands and saw the half-moon of cargo delin­eat­ing each and every nail. Not only that but there was a stub­born smear of chain­saw oil giv­ing the edge of my hand a del­ic­ate blush of purple, not un­like a fresh bruise. Various scratches. Enough grit in my fin­ger­tips to make cop prints and a dust­ing of Merville Silt, appar­ently a par­tic­u­lar nox­ious ele­ment accord­ing to the Sears Carpet Cleaning Technician who does our rugs once a year.

So, as the first pink-fingered, smooth-handed lady passed me my book to sign, I al­most felt the urge to make some glot­tal grunt to match what really mattered, my hands there on the page. Now her page. Soiled. She glanced down at the vir­ginal page, at my stub­born grime and made a small si­lent “Oh” with her mouth. I felt her gaze, looked up, and gave a wan smile.

Don’t worry about the clothes, check your fin­ger­nails first.

Paula’s note: Harold ori­gin­ally sent the above in as a com­ment to Preparing to Launch, a guest blog by Susan Ketchen. It’s so well writ­ten — and funny — that I de­cided to run it as Preparing to Lauch Part 2

The sub­ject of clothes, fin­ger­nails and po­ten­tially em­bar­rass­ing mo­ments that hap­pen to au­thors at book sign­ings seems to have struck a chord for many writers. Check back in a couple of weeks for Preparing to Launch Part 3 & 4



Finding Hope

I had a hard time mak­ing ends meet when I first moved to the Comox Valley. It was 1988, the eco­nomy was slug­gish, my un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­ne­fits had run out and I was dip­ping into my mea­ger sav­ings. I ap­plied for many jobs but no one was hiring.

As of­ten hap­pens, I found the solu­tion to my prob­lem in a book. To al­le­vi­ate her fin­an­cial woes, the heroine in the nov­el I was read­ing took in laun­dry and iron­ing. A do­mest­ic god­dess I am not, but after cast­ing around for some skill to mar­ket, I de­cided to take in typing.

My first cli­ent was 70-year old Hope Spencer. A writer in her own right, she had yet to con­quer the ba­sics of her new com­puter. So I be­came her typ­ist in the interim.

But Hope be­came more than just a cli­ent. She knew the own­er of Blue Heron Books in Comox and sug­ges­ted I con­tact her re­gard­ing a part-time job. She also knew a pub­lish­er that might be in­ter­ested in a book I was work­ing on.

And she in­vited me to some of her parties. It seemed like Hope knew every­one and soon I began mak­ing con­nec­tions in my new home town. 

As it happened, both Hope and I be­longed to the Periodical Writers Association of Canada. Since I found it dif­fi­cult to at­tend PWAC meet­ings and so­cial events in Victoria, she sug­ges­ted we hold in­form­al meet­ings at her place. Hope provided tea, cof­fee and the use of her huge round table, which she said fa­cil­it­ated discussion.

And she was right — the brown bag lunches were lively and stim­u­lat­ing with writers of every genre talk­ing about what they were work­ing on and ask­ing for and giv­ing ad­vice. At times, PWAC mem­bers from Victoria made the trek up is­land to camp in Hope’s orch­ard, cook din­ner to­geth­er and talk about the writ­ing life.

In later years, ill health cur­tailed Hope’s activ­it­ies but not her in­terest or sup­port. Whenever she heard about a new book I was work­ing on, she’d call to give me leads I might oth­er­wise miss.

Once, she in­vited Rick and me to stop by after a late af­ter­noon book sign­ing at Blue Heron Books. When we ar­rived she served a vari­ety of old cheeses, crack­ers, a choice of $80 bottles of sherry and — ever frugal — leftover Christmas cake from the year be­fore. It was an un­usu­al com­bin­a­tion of tastes that, in typ­ic­al Hope fash­ion, proved delicious.

In ad­di­tion to mor­al sup­port, Hope of­ten pur­chased my books as gifts for friends and fam­ily. Once she asked me to come over and sign one be­fore she mailed it. She greeted Rick and me at the door wear­ing a turban and col­our­ful Chinese robe. 

Hope be­lieved col­our was an es­sen­tial part of life. 

The book’s in this room some­where,” she an­nounced, re­turn­ing to her phone con­ver­sa­tion. Hope or­gan­ized the ma­ter­i­al goods in her life by put­ting them in piles. We found the book un­der the sixth one.

Hope died a little over a week ago at age 91. Her Comox church ser­vice was packed with people from all walks of life in­clud­ing mem­bers of the Unitarian Church and the New Democratic Party. There were also writers from as far away as Victoria and Quadra Island. 

After the ser­vice there was a party at Hope’s house. She would have loved it – a di­verse group of people jammed into the small space, eat­ing, drink­ing the last of her homemade cham­pagne and talk­ing nonstop. 

Wherever Hope went, she brought her zest for life and spe­cial gift for con­nect­ing with people. Although no longer phys­ic­ally in this world, the leg­acy of her gen­er­ous spir­it lives on in the many lives she touched. I will miss her.

For better or worse

Writing a book is a lot like get­ting mar­ried. You have to make a com­mit­ment and in­vest time and en­ergy in the re­la­tion­ship. And you have to be pre­pared to stick it out “for bet­ter or worse.”

It all starts with the hon­ey­moon phase. That’s when you get an idea for a sure-fire best­seller. Just like you can’t keep your mind off your new spouse, you can’t quit think­ing about your story. You start draft­ing chapters and con­duct­ing re­search fuelled by a rush of adrenaline.

Then months, or per­haps years, later you’ve com­pleted one — or more likely — many drafts of the story. It’s not so much fun now. You have to work hard to keep up your interest.

You’ve read some of the para­graphs so many times the words no longer seem to have any sparkle. And some­times you secretly won­der if it would be bet­ter to just quit and start all over.

But you made a vow and are de­term­ined to keep it. You slog away and then one day you look at your ma­nu­script and think, “Hey, this isn’t as bad as I thought it was. There are def­in­ite pos­sib­il­it­ies here.”

Somehow things seem easi­er now. By strug­gling through the rough times, you’ve made your story stronger. You no longer think about hit­ting the de­lete but­ton. You want to see this one to the end.