Today is Feb. 14. I initially planned to write about romance in this month’s column, but earlier this winter, my partner ended our seven-year relationship. As a result, I’m spending this year’s Valentine’s Day in the scowling ranks of the suddenly single.
As a result of this situation, I feel disinclined to write about romance.
Let’s stick to a broader, safer topic then. Conveniently, February is “I Love to Read Month.” At the Brandon Library, we have a modest fundraiser on the go. You can donate one or two dollars to the Library’s “Buy a Book Fund.” In exchange, you get a lovely pink paper heart. After writing on your heart your name, something you love to read – really, whatever you wish – the heart is added to a burgeoning display on the front of the Checkout Desk.
For those with racier tastes, we also have the “Blind Date with a Book” initiative to keep your pulse pounding. Our ingenious staff has parceled up several dozen library books in camouflaging red and pink paper. Each book is decorated with – you guessed it – hearts. The hearts offer enticing clues to the identities of the books within.
“Check out this spellbinding novel written by a Canadian,” entreats one volume. “This book takes place during the golden age of Hollywood,” another boldly proclaims. Like what you see? Take the book home with you, and unwrap it when you get there. “Blind Date with a Book” is the safest, most morally defensible way to get five or six dates onto your couch – all in one night if you play your cards right.
My mother recently visited me from Victoria. To the chagrin of my coworkers, she flew in on the coldest Jan. 31 on record; minus-42 without the wind chill. She flew out a week later, on a day of minus-38. In the days between, I don’t think the thermometer ever climbed above minus-20.
Mom’s hale and hearty. She took the whole thing as a grand adventure and went out walking every day. Still, a week of deep-freeze while your daughter works fulltime does not exactly make for the most exciting vacation.
What did Mom do to pass the time? She read, of course. Anticipating the weather, I checked out a slough of my favorite books for her, ready and waiting in my cozy apartment. She worked her way through The Glass Castle, followed by Washington Black, Esi Edugyan’s recent Giller Prize winner.
In The Glass Castle, memoirist Jeanette Walls recounts her tumultuous childhood growing up with a paranoid, alcoholic father and a deeply irresponsible, manic-depressive mother. The family spent years settling and uprooting in one American dive-town after another before finally coming to rest in Walsh, a depressed coal mining town in the West Virginian Appalachians.
The amazing thing about The Glass Castle is that Jeanette managed to extract herself from the cycle of poverty and instability her parents created, building a successful, functional life in New York City.
Washington Blackis also a tale of grim childhood. George Washington Black (“Wash” to his acquaintances) grows up a plantation slave in Barbados. By the age of 10, he’s witnessed suicides, beatings, and impalings. Like Jeanette Walls, Wash also escapes his circumstances.
On Mom’s final evening in Brandon, we shared some wine and talked books. I told Mom what I’ve told her many times before: “If I don’t ever make it as a famous writer, it’s your fault. You just didn’t give me a traumatic enough childhood to be worth writing about.”
On the positive side, Mom’s given me a couple other things that might help my career; a lot of love and a love of reading.
Happy “I Love to Read Month.”
Danielle is the Assistant Librarian – Programming and Outreach at the Brandon Public Library. You can contact Danielle directly at Danielle@wmrl.ca.