2015 Reading Challenge

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books by alberta authors

My friend Kristilyn is hosting the How Canadian Are You? – The 2015 Ultimate Canadian Reading Challenge over on her blog Reading in Winter.

I am going to participate in the “Local Lover Canadian Challenge” and read 20 books by Alberta authors this coming year – in large part because I discovered that I already own more than 20 books by Alberta writers that I haven’t read yet (as evidenced by the photo above).

Thinking about Kristilyn’s challenge made me look at my shelves and all of the books I have purchased over the years and not read. Part of it is an occupational hazard: when I worked at the library it was easy to bring books home with me, and I always ended up reading the library books first because they were “due” and other people were waiting to read them. I told myself that I could read the books I own anytime.

But that didn’t stop me from buying books (possibly another occupational hazard) and now I own an entire bookcase of books I haven’t read yet. There is a Japanese word for this particular vice: Tsundoku.

I’ve decided to create my own reading challenge for 2015, one designed to get me reading the books off my own shelf, to make a dent (if only a small one) in my own reading pile. Starting with the letters A and B in January, I am going to read books by authors whose names begin with each month’s designated letters (hint: February will be C and D).

I will post an update on both challenges here each month, to keep myself on track. Although I am doing this for myself, you are welcome to play along if you like in the comments.

Do you set reading goals/challenges for yourself? What are they?

A funny thing about memory

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The wonderful Saskatchewan poet Glen Sorestad (read a selection of his poems here) often marks solstice by sending out a poem on the darkest day of the year. In that tradition, I have decided to share a new poem – one that celebrates winter – here today.

maple trees in the fog

Hey – where did this poem go?

I was thrilled to find out that this poem will be included in the second volume of 40 Below. I’ve been asked to keep it under wraps until the book comes out. Look for this poem to reappear after the book is launched later in 2016!

January 9, 2015

Exchange House, Revisited

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In which I go back to a place I used to work at a job I used to hate.

When I was in London in September, I spent some time visiting places that were significant to me when I lived there for six months in 1998. This post is about one of those places.

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In the morning, I took the tube to Liverpool station and discovered I knew the way: up the stairs, behind the shops, down the little alley, and there I was. Intuitively, I travelled the shortcut I had used every day I worked in this building, without even realizing I remembered it.

I hated that job. It was a temp job, working for a brokerage firm that doesn’t exist any more, answering phones, typing letters, doing the filing. I hated it – for a bunch of reasons – but I stuck with it for as long as I could, saving my precious pounds sterling (worth much more than a Canadian dollar, especially back in 1998) to go backpacking through Europe later that year.

It was not the right place for me and yet working there taught me so many useful things about myself and about what I wanted to do with my life.

One lesson in particular stayed with me: the knowledge that I want to work at something I find meaningful.

For me, that is NOT brokerage banking. I spent several months watching a few hundred people in a high-stress environment spend their days (and their evenings and their weekends) shifting money from one account to another in the hope of ending up with more money at the end of the transaction.

After months of watching traders ride the highs and lows of the stock market, I realized that money – although nice to have – was not the only motivating factor for me. Making money was not enough: I wanted to do something that created something or helped people or contributed to the world in some way… a train of thought that eventually led me to a career in public libraries.

When I revisited this building, Exchange House, in September, I sat on the steps in front of the fountain, where I used to eat lunch (the fountain has been filled in is and is a grassy stage now). I wrote in my journal and remembered the people I used to work with and some of the things that happened while I worked there. And suddenly, much to my surprise, I was grateful for that horrible job and that experience, because it helped me figure out what the right place for me is.

Finding inspiration in history

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I discovered these dishes in the Vindolanda Museum, along Hadrian’s Wall, and have been thinking about them ever since.

This almost-complete set of Samian-ware pottery was imported into Roman Vindolanda from France and, after being broken in transit, was thrown away, unused, into the ditch of the fort.

Imagine the disappointment of the intended owner – and the thrill of the archaeologists who found these dishes almost two thousand years later!

As a writer, I have all sorts of questions:

Who were these dishes intended for?

Did whoever ordered these dishes get a replacement set? How long did that take? How much did it cost?

Not all the dishes are here… does that mean a few of them arrived intact? If so, what happened to them? Where they given to a slave or someone else, or did the owner keep them?

These questions could be the beginning of a story. My current project is set in Alberta in the 1930’s and I have been thinking about a set of dishes ordered out of the Eaton’s catalog that arrives broken…