Books from Spring, 2023

On Instagram (and sometimes to Facebook), I post about books I enjoy. Usually on Sundays, sometimes other days, and about once a week, give or take. But because not everyone is on social media, I also post some here. 

And note that these musings are less reviews than appreciations. I post about a book because something about it strikes me--perhaps the writing, though the storylines may be problematic; perhaps the plotting, though the book itself didn't inspire much reflection; perhaps the novelty (often for books in translation), even though I'm sure I'm only partly understanding the author's intent and their world, however grateful I am for the glimpse. 

Which is good for me to remember about all books I read: I may be only partly understanding the intent. And I sometimes miss what isn't written, so I appreciate others who point that out. But as I've said before, I do try to read with a generosity of spirit. 

And here are some recent books. 


Jonathan Dyck


“I know there are lots of good reasons to leave but I feel like I’m just starting to get to know this place.”

I loved this book. It’s interconnected short stories that make up a profile of a town in transition. I suppose you could say that it’s a novel in which a town is the protagonist, if you’re into exact labels.


A new generation is coming of age in a Mennonite community. A megachurch has joined (and now competes with) two more-traditional congregations, which celebrate somewhat more progressive and radically un-progressive values.


One of my favourite parts of this work is that characters who are older allow themselves to listen to and love the younger characters, and as a result, some of them change. It makes the book hopeful. Also, the drawings say so much. It’s fascinating to see the landscape through the eyes of the characters and know that different characters view it differently. And at least one of the stories showed events from two timelines in parallel, which added richness.


I think it’s the first graphic novel I’ve read (though I have my eye on a few others), not from any feeling about them one way or another, but because, you know, lots of books. In any case, thanks to other readers, for talking about books you’ve read on Instagram, because that’s how I came across this one.


Some more quotes:


“We’re so accustomed to seeing ourselves as exceptions.”


“I’m not saying it can’t be different. But you still see that mindset everywhere… Nature is either a resource to exploit or it’s an escape.”


“There’s no reason NOT to believe that other life exists out there. But, like, shouldn’t we be more focused on saving the place where we actually live?”


“This place…I feel like I know it. Like it knows me.”

Elizabeth Strout

Abide with Me and The Burgess Boys

Elizabeth Strout
Abide with Me and The Burgess Boys

“Loss is an assault; a certain exhaustion, as strong as the pull of the moon on the tides, needs to be allowed for eventually.” (From Abide with Me.)

These are two traditional novels by Elizabeth Strout, whose book Olive Kitteridge in 2008 inspired many book club discussions along the lines of “is it connected short stories or is it a novel?” 

I thought Abide with Me was okay—one of its point-of-view characters seemed entirely unnecessary and the protagonist somehow got a whole lot of insight in a very short period of time.

I enjoyed The Burgess Boys a lot. I appreciated the humanity of many of the characters, even the jerkier ones. I was fascinated by its examination of how single events early on can change the trajectory of lives—and how new information about the past may not make it any easier to change your life in the present.

A bookseller and I, in a weekend conversation, agreed that there are a lot of books in the world. So I can’t guarantee that I’ll revisit Olive Kitteridge or go forward with more Lucy Barton titles. But I was glad enough to have read these, so I’m sharing these thoughts. And much of the writing is just lovely.

More from Abide with Me:

“Don't pretend that you need to keep secrets from me just because you don't like the way I react to them."

“It was still October when the first snow fell. It came in the afternoon, light as white dandelion thistles being dropped from high in the sky. They took their time reaching ground, so light and sparse they floated. But there was a quiet steadiness to the snow, and by late afternoon, a soft covering lay over places where the ground swelled. Right before it got dark, the skies cleared and the temperatures dropped, and a cold wind swept through the towns by the river, so the new snow swirled like it was being swept by a fast broom. In the morning it lay where the wind had taken it, curled in long, arcing sweeps across a field, or mingled with dried leaves against the base of a tree. There was not much, but the ground was frozen and the branches bare. The sky was a luminous gray; it was to warm up, and then more snow was expected.”

From The Burgess Boys


“And it was too late. No one wants to believe something is too late, but it is always becoming too late, and then it is.”


“Bob was unutterably happy. He had not expected the feeling, which intensified it. He gazed out the window at the black stretches of evergreens, the granite boulders here and there. The landscape he had forgotten -- and now remembered. The world was an old friend, and the darkness was like arms around him.”


“Well, this, and this, and this have happened. It would not be accurate as told. She thought nothing could be told and be accurate. Feeble words dropped earnestly and haphazardly over the large stretched-out fabric of a life with all its knots and bumps. What words would she use to spread her experience before him?”


Flora Thompson

Lark Rise to Candleford


“She was fond of collecting stones of all shapes and colours, and for years played with the idea that, one day, she would touch a secret spring and a stone would fly open and reveal a parchment which would tell her exactly what the world was like when it was written and placed there.”


I’m bunding three different books into one in this post—Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green—published in two Slightly Foxed volumes, always lovely to hold. They’re memories of Flora Thompson, who was born and grew up in Oxfordshire in the 1880s, written decades later.


I had never heard of these books until I became aware of Slightly Foxed, thanks to Melissa Harrison and her nature writing. Slightly Foxed is a publisher of limited edition books and a quarterly magazine; they also offer a way to get general trade books from the UK into my North American hands while supporting a small business.


Flora’s alter ego, Laura, grows up in a hamlet—a cluster of tiny cottages occupied by farm and other labourers (her father is a stonemason). As she ages, she visits aunts, uncles, and cousins in a nearby town, Candleford, for extended summer holidays (and when her mother is having other children). In the third volume, she takes a job with a school friend of her mother’s in a village, Candleford Green, that isn’t yet part of the city of Candleford.


I enjoyed her descriptions of the similarities and differences in the communities (a hamlet, a village, and a country town), and the general information about life (bathing, toilets, homekeeping, baking, schooling) in the late 19th century. The narrative, such as it is, follow’s Laura’s growing up, but it’s in the background. Her focus is the community and that world, one decades in the past as she writes. Thompson shares keen-eyed observations of her neighbours and the communities, but with a generosity of spirit and an awareness of the changing social values coming their way. Meaning, wars.


“She was always saying that she would take [an heirloom metal photograph frame, studded in “real gems”] to a jeweller at Sherston and get it valued, ‘come Fair time,’ but she never did. Like the rest of us, she knew better than to put her favourite illusion to the test.”

Note: I love browsing what the folks at Slightly Foxed have on offer.