Archives for category: Books
Victoria_College

This fairy tale castle of a university has a text engraved over its entrance (left). Pretty vines at times obscure it but make a lasting picture to hang in a home to inspire kids.

A child made cozy with books from the earliest age will do well at school and live a good life. This is true and vital especially  in the midst of the electronic revolution. Here are six cues to help make old-fashioned happiness come to your young ones:

  1. Post a beautiful picture, not just a framed text, containing a good book quote that is meaningful to you on a prominent wall in your home.
  2. Tell a circle of children a classic story relevant to them. Then have them each draw a picture of it.
  3. Give them each a colorful sticker to decorate their work as a seal of approval so they’ll be proud of it.
  4. Read a story to a child at night so she or he relaxes and falls asleep peacefully. Do not allow electronic phones, i-pods, etc. in the bedroom.
  5. Build a bookcase out of  boards and bricks someone else is discarding if you have no other way of getting one. It adds color, can hold things and even divide areas.
  6. Fill it with enticing books bought cheaply at community sales. Let the books’ spines expose their titles and their cover graphics excite curiosity. If they are good books, they will find takers.

My Particular Story

What set me up to writing this blog post was news received on Palm Sunday that our church is headed for closure because of indebtedness. For me it is a loss of literature and I will fight not to let that happen. 

When our congregation started nearly two centuries ago, the one book that needed to be taught to a child as early as possible was the Bible. At age four in 1937 I recall emerging from Sunday nursery school into the spring air feeling happy and confident. My story picture had a singing robin on it. I too was one with nature. God saw the little sparrow fall and counted every hair on my head. We were both that important!

When I learned to read I made out the words, “The Truth Shall Make You Free”, not quite hidden by vines clinging around the imposing door of Victoria College at the University of Toronto in a picture hanging in our front hall. 

That pretty much explains the path my life took. God really went up in my estimation when I learned the text was biblical. He had nothing to fear from my intelligence, my curiosity, my independence, my desire to be free, read, study and write to my heart’s content. In fact, that’s what He wanted. Somehow I had no trouble growing into the habit of metaphorical thinking. The spirit of love and creation would always be the strength inside, ahead of, around and behind me — even if churches close and we have to regroup around family and more literary ways.

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Enhancing-ImagesIt is one thing to have your blog flashed across the earth on the world wide web and another to have someone actually read it. Cozybookbasics has reached a peak of attracting readers in 95 countries of the world, enough to turn the WordPress Stats map orange with delight all over. Come with me to celebrate and see what trips any blog post may be able to take. The link shows the colorful flags of my readers’ countries:

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/countryviews/cozybookbasics.wordpress.com?startDate=2017-03-29&sum
marize=1&num=-1

Gray patches in the Middle East and Central Africa still challenge my blog’s universal presence as a reminder of passionate love for written creatures.

Two Observations and Tips

I’d love to know what magic search word lit up a single reader living in each of  Cameroon, Costa Rica, Albania, the Ivory Coast, Honduras, Brunei, Puerto Rico, Azerbaijan, Myanmar, Qatar, Venzuela, Moldova, Kuwait, Haiti, Mauritius, Kenya, Afghanistan, Barbados, Papua New Guinea and Egypt. Thanks for their initiative. It’s worth spending time on a careful choice of tags; I usually have ten or twelve.

It’s good for a blog to have an all-inclusive title. I used ‘cozybookbasics’ to write two posts — one on ‘How we Fell in Love, Built a Canoe and Got a House’ and one on ‘How to Build a Canoe the Aboriginal Way.’ A freelanced article on the latter topic started our home-based business on top of our journalistic careers. This blog post is our most successful, attracting over a thousand readers. Most of them live in 15 former USSR countries. The blog is shared on wooden boat building sites in the Russian and Polish languages. It was written in short cutlines underneath pictures so was easy to translate.

  • If you are a WordPress blogger, here’s how to get your map:
  • Click on My Sites at the left top of your edit page
  • Click on Years at the right of the top line
  • Scroll down and click on Countries on the right
  • Click on All Time at the right of the top line
  • If you are not yet a WordPress blogger, look on Google to find out how to become one. I found it free and easy to arrange.

Voilà! Smile and admire your own collection of big numbers and trophy flags — even if, like me, you’re still near the beginning of becoming a truly global blogger.

Happy Reading & Writing

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Kells Pasture

It’s Cozy

  • Stay for a week in a thatched-roof cottage near Waterford, where Vikings set foot
  • Watch Irish Sea fishers catch seafood to replenish what you’re eating for lunch
  • Imagine impish fairies hiding outside your door, coating the postcards you’re sending home with magical whimsy
  • Breathe in the smell of wild flowers, the bog, and pervasive, mystifying mist

It Has A Book . . .

  • Take a copy of your family memoir, A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void, to the Mayor of Kells. Have faith that  “A book always finds its own readers”
  • Look at stone ruins, graves and gates adorned with Celtic art, and the refuge to which monks fled from a bloody Viking raid to pen what’s now known as The Book of Kells
  • Deposit a copy of your book for reference at Trinity College Library, Dublin, resting place of the original manuscript
  • Hope that, along with an explanatory letter, your book will be cataloged as a legitimate addition to the long and quaint path of Kells memorabilia

It’s Basic

  • Search out Ireland’s soul. Pick up a rental car at  Dublin Airport early Saturday and count on luck to survive driving on the left side into the city.
  • Stop at a central café to ‘people watch’; read the daily paper to get a handle on the pulse of the times and the place
  • After walking around and sightseeing, have a beer at the James Joyce pub. Try to grasp what he was up to with writing Ulysses, The Dubliners and Finnegan’s Wake
  • Attend a music-only sung service at Christ Church on Sunday. This Celtic church was erected in the 11th century; the choir dates back 400 years.
  • Spend a day motoring out to the Ring of Kerry on the south coast to see magnificent scenery.

It’s Irish

  • Indulge your Irish genes by telling local people your great-grandparents were poor tenant farmers in Armagh County who emigrated to America in 1850 to find a better existence
  • Go to a concert of Irish dancing in the spirit of your grandmother who expected everybody to ‘step around’ fast to do the work of the farm
  • Be careful whom you tell your grandparents’ name was Campbell; old clan warfare hatreds still run deep
  • Spend what you can on souvenirs, such as linen and lace, and take all the pictures you can to keep your visit alive and help the Irish economy

This  blog complicates the  mystery of why anyone would write a family memoir entitled  A Book of Kells, Growing Up in an Ego Void. (Our surname was Kell and I was a preacher’s kid. There’s some doubt over whether our family originated in a community of ninth century monks).

Margaret Kell Virany, lang & lit lover, Norrie Frye note-taker, journalist, editor, autho

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A couple whose lasting love started because of an infernal war.

To present my parents’ life story and my growing-up story I hit upon two ways. First, I could combine the stories of two generations — but only if I could find a beginning, middle and end for a unified structure.

  • It couldn’t just be that they were born and died and did something fantastic as a climax near the end. I had important things to say about their effect on me as I grew up. I saw flaws in their relationship.
  • The central theme I wanted get at was one of ego. Altruism is without a doubt the greatest virtue. But babies need to suck in, see and exercise a healthy dose of ego joy in order to become competent, confident, caring adults.
  • My solution was to frame the book as a psychological detective story/family biography. I began by saying I was on a search for my parents’ lost egos. One question I wanted to figure out was why my mother denied him  one of her chocolates the week before he died, even though he begged for it.
  • That way I could keep the reader in suspense and also make the book an honest critique. That’s my way as a nonfiction writer.
  • The title was easy because our family name was KellThe Book of Kells is the famous ninth century manuscript that illuminates the gospels. I point out my parents and ancestors aimed to do that too, by the way they lived.41khlscocglSecond, I could write the book just as an inspiring love story — the quintessential Canadian romance. This approach might appeal more to a different group of readers. 
  • Like the first book, it contains excerpts from their love letters but the theme is a tribute to my mother’s courage and my parents’ idealism.
  • I tossed out the subtitle and included a dozen authentic pictures of my mother’s adventures instead.
  • The title comes from a hazardous five-day trek on a cariole toboggan made by my mother, my father and an aboriginal guide. The temperature dipped to 30-below-zero. If there was no one to take them in, they slept outside. She had to get to the hospital for her baby to be born.
  • Digital technology made it easy for me to do this. Both books are published under our V&V logo but printed-on-demand and distributed by CreateSpace (originally called BookSurge.)
  • Revisions are quick and simple to make. Then I order just the number of  books I think I can sell at bookstores, fairs, shopping malls, reunions, book clubs, seniors’ residences, libraries, book clubs, etc.
  • Most customers have a definite preference for which printed edition they want for themselves or as a gift.
  • I take my i-pad with me and can download an e-version of either book if that is what they prefer.

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Credit: Library & Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1982-124

Lucky me. I’ll be selling my books and displaying aboriginal artifacts this Sunday afternoon at a site once inhabited by the tribe who greeted the pilgrims on the Atlantic shore. No. The above picture is not a Currier & Ives Christmas card. It is a steel engraving by William H. Barlett famously published in Canadian Scenery Illustrated in 1842. As in the picture,  people will be gathering at the Lake Deschenes bend in the Ottawa River to be warmed and refreshed amid the nostalgic aura of dormer windows, conjoint staircases and veranda vistas.

  • The event this time (Dec. 4) is a light show and artisans’ sale after the Santa Claus parade down Main Street and the Christmas Bazaar at the British Hotel.
  • The Kitchi Sibi Anishinabeg first inhabited this site thousands of years ago. Chief Tessouat was a busy commercial middleman in the years of the fur trade. Champlain and his voyageur explorers rested at this pleasant spot in 1613. They thought they had found a route to China but at least were the first to get as far as Lake Huron. Charles Symmes from Woburn, MA built the Inn in 1831 and helped his uncle Philemon Wright found the townsite. Pioneer settlers made their way to Aylmer from Montreal by stage  coach and stayed overnight before continuing their journey. This was the landing place for busy steamboat traffic.
  • When we moved to Aylmer in 1976 we built a sailboat (from a kit) and berthed it at the Marina (above). One day after sailing I saw one of our municipal councilors, Denise Friend, charge across the parking lot to accost some gentlemen stepping out of a black limousine. They were officials of the Quebec government and had a purse to spend on heritage projects. Soon news came that the historic Inn reduced to rubble after being used as a flea market and consumed by a fire was to be restored. It re-opened in a good imitation of its former glory in 1978.
  • Today it is a Museum with fine exhibits as well as being a heritage gem of the Outaouais region. It will always be at the heart of the townsfolk of the Aylmer sector of the city of Gatineau. That’s why my books, indigenous artifacts and I will be smiling so happily from the inn-side this Sunday. The artifacts I have include a birch-bark basket, two birch-bark trivets, an ermine hat and scarf set and a pair of embroidered moccasin slippers. They’re from my parents’ days as missionaries on the Cree reservation at Oxford House, MN in the roaring twenties. Their story is told in A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void and Kathleen’s Cariole Ride.
  • Merry pre-Christmas season to you too!

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Here are my word offerings to help solve world dilemmas with a little perspective, humor and reminder of how basic the rules of grammar are. My brilliant Hungarian-born mate jokes that the English always run to the Oxford dictionary when they get into trouble. As a writer I am frustrated and dissatisfied if I can’t find the right word. That’s my job.

  • Why should I call a ‘he’ or ‘she’ a ‘they’ when that’s not what I mean and you, Dear Reader, are no fool?
  • Who am I to insult an LGBT by referring back with a word whose
    meaning we all agree ‘it’ doesn’t convey?
  • I am tired of having to drag the flow of my prose along with the reins of static punctuation marks.
  • I must have a precise word in my tool kit when I need it.

My new word is ‘shey’ (pronounced ‘shay’), a combination of she, he and they (no it) and an alternative to trying to singularize the plural ‘they.’
obamaboxing

Tip #1, to Mr. Obama: Until you pinpoint the name of our enemy, you
are not urgent. Make up your own word for it: ‘Mislam’ or some such. Step up. Get into the ring. Let supporters cheer. Mobilize the home front so we civilians will want to help police by telling them what we see, hear or know.
Tip #2 , to you: If there’s no word in the dictionary to express your meaning, make one up. Shakespeare did it all the time. Otherwise, what you write will not be forceful.

I will introduce ‘shey’ in my novel about the journey of a 60-year-marriage but, remember, I said it here to you first! The parents believed in bringing up their children with equality, regardless of sex. This was a modern idea in the 1960’s.

Quotations

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” Novelist and playwright Edward
Bulwer-Lytton
“In the beginning was the Word…” John the Evangelist

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Shangri-La … any earthly paradise – a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. (Wikipedia definition)

Tip: An author’s success depends on infiltrating as many communities as possible, both online and in real life (which, for some authors, at times feels like paradise.)

photo 1

No, this picture is not from Shangri-La but from Quebec’s magnificent Gatineau hills. I fulfilled lifetime ambitions to sit in a rattan swing chair and devour the best high tea in the world. Ten fine colleagues and myself were celebrating the centenary of the Canadian Women’s Press Club/Media Club of Ottawa.

What a wonderful week, exchanging reclusive writing for a sales stand at Prose in the Park (thanks Ottawa Independent Writers) and a seat on the top of the world (thanks home-owners Colleen and George)! To make paradise complete, wonderful people even bought copies of my book. I hope Fredericka, Jacquie, Susan, Wim and the young Australian couple enjoy reading A Book of Kells as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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Cookstownchurch

Watercolor by Cookstown artist Jay Kirk-Young

On May Day I fled my computer to go sit in the pew where my grandfather sat when he was raising a family in the early 1900’s in Cookstown, ON, north of Toronto. I was not alone. We were a flock of 200, the size of church needed in 1825 by a tiny rural village of 500 (not counting the animals) which had only three churches.

  • We sang the old hymns. We listened to memories. We seized this last inspiring moment. We and the old building with its organ pipes and choir loft harmonized and rode into the sunset with the Churchill Boys country music group. We squirmed during a too-long yet relevant sermon. We knew after two hours it was time to say the closing prayer’s “Amen”. We lingered over the last potluck in the basement. We hugged our relatives and new friend, the funeral director, whom we will meet again.
  • My grandpa (a speaker had reminded us by citing ‘A Tribute to Our Parents‘ written by my father) read the Bible every morning at the breakfast table.When hushed, everybody in the family, even the two hired men, got off their chairs and knelt to pray.
  • I wonder if I was sitting in the pew where grandpa sat before he died when he fell from an apple tree, where father sat the day he was sponsored as a candidate for the ministry, where mother sat on her first Sunday in a strange country as part of a family she didn’t know, or where I was held the day I was baptized.
  • We say thanks by celebrating occasions like the decommissioning of an old church, or by writing books about our families. The Cookstown United Church people, now comprising only 25 families, will continue to worship with the Countryside United Church people in the town of Thornton just up the highway. The building will not be destroyed because the core of the village, still of 500 but just about to be developed, has been declared a protected zone.
  • This is the heritage I celebrate in A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void. Then I wrote a second book, Kathleen’s Cariole Ride, singling out my mother’s winter bush adventures in northern Manitoba and including pictures.
  • Like the Lady of Shalott in my avatar, my creative efforts died while I fled from my writing web but now they are alive again.

On June 4 I will join other authors selling their wares at Prose in the Park, a wonderful, free outdoor family literary event in the market on Parkdale Avenue in Ottawa. I will be with friends from the Media Club of Ottawa and Ottawa Independent Writers.
What will really make it special is if you can be there too (in spirit, if not body).

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shalottavatarThe theme of a book can be compared to a diagnosis. I declare my novel is on the conflict between community and individuality. The two protagonists embody that classic divide. They are still grappling with it at the end of living more than sixty years together. My book will present itself as a story about marital love but its trouble-maker is this underlying malady. It will entertain the reader with anecdotes and antics from the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. It will also shed light on the all-in-you and the you-in-all.

Some Queries to Stimulate Your Interest in My Theme

  • Do you juggle community and individuality well enough in your life?
  • Are texts from a book versus your own preferences irreconcilable?
  • Do you think the balance should be 50-50? Who knows? Is that integrity?
  • Can you change either the community or the individuality in the one you are with?
  • Is the best society the one with strong individuals in charge of strong communities?
  • How can we make ourselves good heroes and heroines of the battle and not get discouraged? The compromises of my protagonists were successful. See their joy!

Writing Secret #5 from Reclusive Lady of Shalott

Tip: Consider your theme well. Imagine your reader relating it to personal and political problems of their own and the world’s, past, present and future. See it as a change agent.

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shalottavatarA spark of transformation is making a connection between writing creative non-fiction and becoming more empathetic and socially responsible. These ideas come from writer and professor Camilla Gibb. This blog post is based on an interview with her.

Here’s Her View

  • Literature holds a mirror up to us, revealing something of our interior selves
  • It transports us to other worlds where we recognize the parallels in our very basic human struggles to create meaning and attachment in our lives
  • It reminds us of our common humanity across time & space
  • Fiction offers an immersive experience, not just intellectual, but a visceral and emotional point of contact, both with our own lives and the lives of others
  • Through imaginary leaps, we access another point of view. Is this an empathic act? Or can it cultivate greater empathy?

Here’s Why

  • Studies suggest reading literary fiction increases our understanding of the feelings of others
  • Neuroscientist Jamil Zaki’s recent study found that college students’ self-reported empathy  has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the last 10 years
  • Greater social isolation seems one likely suspect. But so does the decline in reading
  • The number of American adults who read literature for pleasure has sunk below 50% for the first time ever
  • The decrease occurred most sharply among university-age adults
  • Zaki’s study conflicts with studies that suggest empthy is a fixed trait people are born with
  • If empathy is malleable, we should be able to encourage more of it

What Prof. Gibb Tells Her Creative Non-fiction Students

  • She insists her students read as much as they write
  • They look at making sense of their experiences largely by constructing a story of themselves
  • The narrative provides cohesion and meaning
  • The memory is subjective and selective but there’s probably social and psychological value in this
  • If we didn’t impose order on our experiences, we’d have difficulty finding any thematic continuity and cohesion
  • We’d struggle to communicate our experiences to others, a critical basis upon which relationships and community are built

How to Connect Your Writing with Social Justice

  • Trauma is the disruption of the narrative or our lives. We are the storytelling animal
  • Narrative plays a therapeutic role in reconstructing events in order to make sense out of them
  • A political role might be played when these reconstructions are shared
  • Witness literature, or testimonials are a way to begin uncomfortable conversations for purposes of redressing human rights abuses

What Prof. Gibb Tells Her Social Justice Students

  • She uses witness literature, testimonials and novels as a means of connecting them with events far removed in time and space from their own life experiences
  • She hopes to equip them with  history, framework and language for interpreting global conflicts that occur in their own lifetime.

Professor Camilla Gibb is the June Callwood Professor in Social Justice at Victoria College, University of Toronto. The above interview is based on an interview with her in Vic Report Winter 2016. She will be speaking on “When Fiction Fails a Novelist” on April 20. www.icu.utoronto.ca./alumni/VWA

This is #4 in my series on Writing Secrets from Reclusive Lady of Shalott.

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