Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Seasonal Book: Jayne Barnard's Where the Ice Falls

So far, 2020 has been busy. January was Alzheimer's Awareness Month, and now February is ... well, flying by, mostly.

Fortunately, my evenings for the past few months have included time for reading. And although I don't write reviews, as I've said, I enjoy reading and I enjoy sharing books and resources. (Which is the purpose of the label "go there and read this.")

In that spirit, here is a book I've enjoyed reading recently: When the Ice Falls, by J. E. Barnard.

Full disclosure: Jayne once lived in this region, our paths have crossed in real life. She's a lovely person, and an excellent writer. Her work has won awards and she obviously doesn't need me to say nice things--so all of the things below have no agenda other than letting you know of a book you might really enjoy.

Where the Ice Falls is the second in a series, The Falls Mysteries. The first, When the Flood Falls (July 2018), gots lots of positive attention. I enjoyed it and scribbled "Jayne's next" on my "books to check out" page.

Like its predecessor, Where the Ice Falls has lots of things going for it--an all-too-human protagonist, her realistic and flawed friends, and their widely varied families. The greater community includes lots of real people, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, different life paths, and different experiences of physical and emotional health. The mystery part is real and serious. The solutions aren't at all obvious. You can relax into the book, buoyed by smooth prose and first-hand knowledge of the terrain (Alberta's mountains).

It was especially appropriate for me because the book is set roughly late November through the Christmas holidays, and that's when I read it! Always a nice coincidence. But not necessary--don't wait until next winter to read it!

Another interesting element: all the main characters are women. I especially enjoyed that.

The third in the series, Why the Rock Falls, is due in July of 2020. When I finished Where the Ice Falls, I left "Jayne's next" on my list. Summer reading to look forward to!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Listening to Grief

I doubt I'll ever be finished writing about Alzheimer's and dementia. Still, I meant to write a wrap-up post for 2020's Alzheimer's Awareness Month.

However, I'm changing course, a bit. In recent days, I've been talking with friends and family, those who feel safe and those who don't, those who feel optimistic and those whose hope has flickered so long it's going out.

Grief is everywhere, or so it seems.

In late January, this article crossed my desk: David Kessler's, at LitHub, on how we experience grief, an excerpt from his book Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. The article full of wisdom, much of which I hadn't considered, even though I feel more at home with grief than some I know.

For example: grief and mourning are different--grief is what we feel, mourning is our action.

For example: from a researcher in Australia, the story from a northern indigenous village--that when someone dies, people move something from their house into their yard. Furniture, even. So when the grieving person looks outside, she sees that the village understands what she feels: everything is different.

For example: "When people ask me how long they’re going to grieve, I ask them, 'How long will your loved one be dead? That’s how long. I don’t mean you’ll be in pain forever. But you will never forget that person, never be able to fill the unique hole that has been left in your heart.'"

And mostly: Everyone who is grieving needs to have that grief acknowledged--witnessed. Which does NOT mean listening for a while then saying, "this too shall pass," "everything happens for a reason," or "what is, is."

Just listen.

So: in these days of great grief, I'm listening.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

From the Other Side of the Table

So last night, I participated in a special signing and fundraising event at the Thunder Bay Chapters location.

For every copy of my book that I signed, I gave an amount to the Thunder Bay chapter of the Alzheimer Society.

For the purchases everyone made between 6 and 8 PM, the local store gave 15% to the local Alzheimer Society (at no extra cost to the consumer).

It was fun! I signed some books! And I bought some things! And other people did, too! And we all raised some money for people in Thunder Bay who need support.

Here's what it looked like from my side of the table.

People came with stories, and I was extremely glad to have the Alzheimer Society present with lots of information about programs, communication, and even just lots of basics.

I'm still processing other elements of the event. So more later. But yep, it felt pretty authory to be there and sign my name!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Combating Overwhelm and Loneliness: More Resources

January is Alzheimer's Awareness Month. This year I've been sharing resources, as I did last year.

I have also shared my own excitement about the upcoming book signing-fundraiser event  (happening next week!) for my book, Reverberations: A Daughter's Meditations on Alzheimer's.

Today I'm pleased to be able to pass on link to a site we all need, even if we don't yet know it. That place is

As their website says,

Whether you are a caregiver, family member or living with dementia,
you’ll find the help you need from decades of caregiving within
– memoirs, caregiver guides, novels, children’s books, and blogs –
plus the encouraging real-life experiences behind these works.

I would add this: If you currently don't fall into one of those categories--caregiver, family member, or person with dementia--you will. Sooner or later, dementia will touch all of our extended families. And we all have a lot to learn. 

One reason I began taking the notes that formed the basis for the essays in my collection was that I couldn't find the information I needed anywhere. Even at the Alzheimer's Association (as it's known in the US), I couldn't get a sense of what lay ahead for my mother and my family.

This website fulfills that need. 

A dementia diagnosis can be bewildering and embarrassing--it's hard for some of us to admit we need help of any kind, let alone for a brain illness, let alone for an illness involving cognitive decline.

It's hard to admit that your partner or parent, whom you respect and admire so much, is slipping.

It's hard to know what of the symptoms you see is the disease at work, what is the person's response to the disease, what can be managed, and how.

It's hard to talk to other people--people you don't know--about something so personal, something that may feel frightening and overwhelming.

This website will help you navigate the complex feelings that arise when dementia enters your life. It's low-risk--there's a lot of good information right on the site. They also recommend other resources--blogs and books and other online information.

A side note: if you're "reading women" this year, this site is a goldmine of memoirs. And if you're "reading Canadian," Cathie Borrie's book, The Long Hello: Memory, My Mother, and Me is a great place to start. 

In the coming months, my book will be included among those resources--a high honour. For all of us, this site is an excellent place to start learning. I highly recommend checking it out.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Exciting Book Fundraising Event!

It's exciting to announce this fun event coming up in just a couple of weeks!

It's a book signing! It's a fundraiser! It's an OPPORTUNITY to BUY BOOKS!

I would never counsel someone who's trying to manage spending to buy books just "for a good cause." But if you're going to buy books or lifestyle items anyway, why not choose a time that benefits others as well as yourself?

On January 29, from 6 to  8 PM, I'll be at the Thunder Bay Chapters, signing copies of my book, REVERBERATIONS: A DAUGHTER'S MEDITATIONS ON ALZHEIMER'S. For each copy of the book I sign that evening, I'll donate $5 to the Alzheimer Society (minimum $100). You can bring books you bought before--that's cool. You can buy a book that night and I'll sign it--also cool.


You can raise money for the Alzheimer Society just by spending money that night between 6 and 8 PM. Just mention it to the cashier and they'll donate 15% of your purchased items--at no extra cost to you.

Although the big gift-giving occasions won't roll around for another 11 months or so, Valentine's Day is coming, Family Day holidays might be smoother with new books (or lifestyle items), and if you go somewhere for March Break or Easter Holidays, you might need hostess gifts (or a great new book for your flight).

I'm making a list myself--my husband and I are in a book club, and although we get some books from the library, we often buy them. And without an independent bookseller in town, we patronize Chapters.* My extended family is a boookish lot and appreciates a good lifestyle item. And then there are the titles languishing on post-its and "someday" lists. What better evening to scope out some of those ideas?

As I've said, January is Alzheimer Awareness Month. We all need to know more--about resources for people who have dementia, about signs and symptoms, about ways to support people with dementia and their care partners in their day-to-day lives, and about ways to help eliminate stigma against people with dementia. People from the Alzheimer Society will be there to answer questions and provide information.

So please come--it's a great chance to get your book signed, look over a bunch of books and other fun items, and support a wonderful cause. And say hi!

* I have also spent money this past year through Briny Books and highly recommend their curated list, as well as Gladstone Press, which I also highly recommend.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Two to Start With

January is Alzheimer's Awareness Month.

Alzheimer's is important.

It's of course important to me, not only because I have personal experience with it (and wrote a book).

It's important to all of us, because it's a disease the Baby Boomers can't escape and science hasn't yet figured out.

It might be tempting to think, "Oh, medical research will take care of it," blah blah, "breakthroughs," "potential vaccines," "genetic testing."

But don't think those things and turn away. While medical researchers accumulate knowledge, people continue to get dementia.

And many of the rest of us pretend people with dementia don't exist or "should be locked away," or we think "isn't is sad they aren't themselves," and their spouse/child/grandchild is a saint, and hoo boy aren't we glad it's not us.

Surprise! It is us--of if not us, it will be, or it will be someone we love. Even if dementia doesn't come close to us, people with dementia are still people.

And most of the rest of us are woefully underprepared and uneducated.

Last January, I shared some information about statistics and resources to learn more.

Also, here are two books to start with:

* In Pursuit of Memory: the Fight Against Alzheimer's, by Joseph Jebelli. Excellent, thorough, and eminently readable explanations of the research to date, written by a young physician from the UK. He does a wonderful job of finding the human element in each research stream. We care about the people with dementia he talked with, and those who are doggedly pursuing new information about how dementia works.
* All Things Consoled: A Daughter's Memoir, by Elizabeth Hay. A Giller-nominated writer sharing honest stories about her parents' decline--I mean, what's not to love, it's Elizabeth Hay. On this page, you can see her mother's artwork. Yes, she gives just one perspective on what happened to her family--just one family. And families are different, and dementia is different in each person because that person is unique. Yet there are also similarities, and she's a gentle-yet-brutal companion as she shares her family's stories.

Speaking of sharing, more resources will be here later this month. But these two will help you start.

And you should start. Because it's important.
Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Two That Stuck: #2019 #History

Disclaimer: I read, and I enjoy it, and I read for many different reasons. I have opinions about books, which I might share in person but will likely not reduce to stars on any of the popular platforms.

From time to time, I share books. I don't share everything, which means I quite enjoy some books but don't share them here.

I wrote a little more about reading, and books, earlier this month. Which includes links to other books I've written about.

THAT SAID ... I may write more about books in 2020.

Today, I'm saying something about two books that have stuck with me throughout 2019. They are The Cooking Gene and All Among the Barley.

One afternoon when I was old enough to think of being with my parents as "visiting" them, but not late enough in the 1990s that visits were all about my mother's Alzheimer's, a mealtime conversation turned to family history. (We Agnews were a barrel o' laughs.)

While we lingered at the table, my father pulled out a piece of paper (8.5 X 11, with printing only on ONE side so still perfectly useful) and a blue ballpoint pen from the stash (multiple colours plus one of those four-colours-in-one) in his pocket protector (BARREL o' laughs, Agnews).

And, just like that, he drew a history of our Faris connection (through his mother) back to "the immigrant." Who came from Scotland, I think, and had been a baker, and had been named William, and came in about 1781. Unless I've mixed up a few branches of the family, which is entirely possible.

OK sure he was a historian, and a social historian so interested in families and institutions of daily life. But anyone who cared to could probably confirm and correct all of that information. Records exist. And it's entirely possible that they're online.

It's miraculous to have that much family history available to you, a fact I didn't appreciate AT ALL until I read The Cooking Gene, by Michael W. Twitty. Like my father, Mr. Twitty is also a historian--of food and culture--and studies African American history through the movement of people and food. (Foodways: a wonderful word.)

I shudder at the ads for DNA testing "to determine your ancestry," because the tests are limited, and "blood" doesn't give license to co-opting a cultural artifact or practice. I mean, sure: play bagpipes and eat pasta if you want. You don't have to be Scots or Italian to do that. Just know that having ancestors from anywhere in the UK or Europe doesn't make your pasta-eating or bagpipe-playing somehow more authentic.

And for sure, Indigenous peoples are understandably leery of the limits and uses of DNA testing, as noted in a book by expert Kim TallBear.

But DNA testing can play a different role for African-Americans. As their ancestors were enslaved in Africa and brought to North America, their cultural history was lost. Through DNA testing, people like Mr. Twitty can learn some of the information my father had at the tip of his ballpoint pen.

It's not easy to interpret DNA results. Although much of The Cooking Gene is ABOUT genetics, it's also not ALL about genetics. And what he learns may be refined as more people are tested (making databases bigger and inferences more detailed and accurate).

As he says (p. 131), "Twenty years ago, someone like me couldn't even have dreamed of knowing what we know now, and I hope to be able to correct what I know over and over as the details get refined. I have no desire to be perfectly right. I just love the journey."

He's provided many wonderful resources at his blog, Afroculinaria. I strongly encourage you to read the book, at minimum.  He's also on Twitter @koshersoul and Instagram @thecookinggene.

My father's been on my mind quite a bit this past year for a variety of reasons. My book, of course. The state of the American presidency. And in general, because he would take such a dim view of our cultural amnesia. He'd probably call it what it is, deliberate ignorance.

Which brings me to the other book ABOUT but not ALL about something: All Among the Barley, by Melissa Harrison, which is about nature, and growing up, and history, and living somewhere vs. visiting. All of which combine to make it an irresistible read (which I wrote about here, in another context).

Two elements of the story stay with me. First, it's set in the 1930s--the autumn of 1933, to be exact. The Great War is over, but bad stuff is happening in Europe--and as Edie, the protagonist learns, in England, right there at home.

In the summer of 1933, my father was 16 and was on his way to (or just finished) serving as Valedictorian of his high school class. By the end of the decade, he was in the history PhD program at Harvard (where he met my mother, a mathematics PhD student) (at church) (of course). A pacifist and cautious thinker by nature, he was exactly of the age to serve in the military. I have a vague memory of hearing him tell about failing his PhD oral exams in the afternoon of December 7, 1941. He did serve in the Navy in Hawaii. And he would be appalled at the events occurring in North America and UK/Europe today.

The other part of All Among the Barley I'm dwelling on serves as a cautionary tale to me. The "stranger who comes to town" and sets off much of the plot of the book, Constance FitzAllen (one of the best names ever), is in the area to learn traditional ways of farming. But she's less interested in what farmers actually do and more interested in her romantic notions of what they should do because at one point, they did.

Good lesson. As I find my way here, a place I have loved with child's eyes for a long time, I must remember that I'm no longer a child. When my grandfather built our camp 96 years ago, he used the tools available. My grandparents and my parents didn't live in black-and-white or sepia, and I shouldn't try to duplicate their world in my own, different time.

Except, sigh, when it's not so different.

Besides writing novels, Melissa also writes about nature for various publications in the UK.

Here's a recent column she wrote for Caught by the River. As usual, she writes thoughtfully about what's changed for her in the past twelve months, in relation to travel and our global climate castrophe. She's honest about a travel plan she'd do differently. And she concludes, "I want to believe in the transformation I'm seeing around me. I have to hope it'll be enough."

We should all hope so. She's also on Twitter @M_Z_Harrison and a good addition to anyone's stream.

These two books challenge their readers, respectfully, and reward the investment of time and thought a conscientious reader gives them.

A few other books from 2019 will appear here in the coming months, and I have every confidence that 2020 will bring more. Good reading to you.