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Showing posts from December, 2009

Top 10 Reads of 2009

It's the end of the year, and the end of the decade. Everyone's making a list: bloggers, colleagues, newspapers, radio shows. And I have always been a fan of lists. So here goes; one more to add to the pile of lists made at the end of the year. Here are the books I most enjoyed reading in 2009, though only a few were actually published in 2009.



In no particular order:

1. The Children's Book - A.S. Byatt (2009)
A worthy successor to Possession, this novel is a lush, opulent tale spanning the transition from the dawn of the golden new century to the ravages of World War I and modernity. Though The Children’s Book has a long list of dramatis personae, at the center is Olive Wellwood, an E. Nesbitt-like writer of children’s books, and a bohemian mother of a large brood of children. Byatt pays tribute to the zeitgeist of the age by including everything: German fairy tales, wooden puppetry, exhibitions, art and pottery, socialism and free love. Her characters explore contemporary…

One More Scandalnavian

When I began working at the bookstore, there was a Scandinavian fiction display near the information desk. Having never read any at the time, I went to look at the books and saw that nearly every book recommendation was by a co-worker, Adam W. This storehouse of Scandinavian literature – he’s read Par Lagerkvist and Knut Hamsun and others – was the first person to recommend Norwegian Nobel Prize Winner Sigrid Undset to me, specifically Gunnar’s Daughter. I have yet to read Gunnar’s Daughter, but I’ve enjoyed reading her medieval trilogy, Kristin Lavransdatter (1920-22) – all 1124 pages.



Kristin Lavransdatter is a novel of tensions – between Christianity and the waning paganism, between this world and the next, between the head and the heart, duty and desire, wildness and piety.

The intense human experiences that make up a life – birth, love, sex, marriage, friendship, war, death – are recurrent. We are as violent, as exuberant, and as mundane as ancient characters in the Bible and in …

Scandinavian Winters

No sign of snow yet.

Our family’s Scandinavian roots are something which emerged from the closet every second year around Christmas when we flew north to Minnesota for two months. My father’s side of the family, the Edwalls, is a celebratory, gregarious clan which will take any excuse for a feast, or a game day, always ready to pull up a chair or begin a new tradition. Legend has it that my great-grandfather Nathaniel, or perhaps even his father, got off the boat in America and was ordered by the immigrations official to change his name as there were already too many Olsens in the country. So we became Edwalls: Baptists, teetotalers, loggers, woodworkers, musicians, missionaries. Tall, fair-skinned blond and redheads appeared in my generation, the brown hair and brown eyes and brown skin being my mother’s singular gift to my brothers and me.

Our Swedish-ness manifests in only two very distinct traditions: Santa Lucia on December 13th and The Lefse Song. Santa Lucia is the most sacre…

Say it isn't Snow

Do you ever feel that looking at the weather report is cheating?

Lately, I've felt guilty whenever checking to see what's coming; it's like looking into a crystal ball; it is seeing into the future and playing with fate. I do understand that if one is getting married or going to hike to the top of Mount Ranier, one wants to be certain that conditions are favourable. On the other hand, the majority of people looking at the weather (in my ignorant opinion) are doing it because it's convenient, because it's something they do everyday, because it's on the news or the radio or their computer screen.

It seems as though you are attempting to control the future, so that when it rains mid-day (as it inevitably will), you can open the umbrella you clairvoyant-ishly brought with you, and turn to the person next to you and say "I saw this coming."

Without weather reports, without knowing what the skies will bring, we are at the mercy of the outdoors. A co-worker,…