Two books

I have a tendency of reading more than one book at a time. Right now, Chang-Rae Lee’s A Gesture Life is sitting on my nightstand. It’s what I’m reading at home. Judy Fong Bates’ Midnight at the Dragon Café is in my bag. It gets read everywhere else, especially in my car as I wait for my daughter during her piano lessons and band practice.

A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee

A Gesture Life by Chang-Rae Lee

Lee, a Korean-American writer, immigrated to the States in 1965. A Gesture Life weaves some heavy issues into the storytelling, including the treatment of Korean comfort women by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II – something the protagonist witnessed during his years of military service. Needless to say, it has a profound effect on him that lasts a lifetime.

Midnight at the Dragon Cafe by Judy Fong Bates

Midnight at the Dragon Cafe by Judy Fong Bates

Fong-Bates is a Chinese-Canadian writer. I’m only a couple of chapters into Midnight at the Dragon Café, which was recommended to me by a friend. The book was the 2011 One Book Community Read for the city of Toronto.

The boy ate an apple

appleOne of my goals this year was to read books by writers of Asian heritage, or to read more stories with protagonists of diverse backgrounds. I regret that growing up and all through these years, I haven’t made it a priority to expose myself to stories told in multicultural voices.

Through high school, university, and college curriculums, I have been exposed to a wealth of brilliant writers, from Chaucer to Hemingway, and many Canadian writers in between. I didn’t even stop to consider that all the stories I read were told from a Western perspective. This has had an interesting impact on me as a reader and now as a writer. I assume every character I read about is white unless told otherwise. I’m not alone. When I wrote ‘The boy ate an apple’ on the chalkboard and asked a classroom full of students, “What ethnicity was that boy?” All of them, even the black and Asian students responded, “white”.

As Canadian educators, writers, and readers, we need to do a better job of promoting diverse voices and experiences. It is 2013, yet the reading lists for Independent Study Projects in senior English classes haven’t changed much since the 80s when I was in high school. To throw in the odd book by a black or Asian writer to “modernize and update” the list isn’t enough.

 

Recommended Read:

Requiem by Frances Itani

Requiem by Frances Itani

I recently finished Frances Itani’s Requiem, a story about Bin, a Japanese Canadian struggling with loss on many levels. Although set in 1997, the story takes readers back to 1942, a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Twenty-two thousand Japanese Canadians in British Columbia were interned, in what is one of Canada’s darkest periods in history.

April Poems

April flowers bring...

April flowers bring…

Emily Dickinson said, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Organized and sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets, Canada has acknowledged April as National Poetry Month since 1999. The United States introduced the idea in 1996. Great Britain celebrates October as their National Poetry Month.

Sometimes I struggle through a poem, lost in the words or its meaning. I love the freedom that comes with reading them. There are no right or wrong answers – there shouldn’t be. You can read a poem, and it is yours to interpret; yours to personalize. I love how some poems make me feel. Like music, they can provoke me to tears, to laughter. Or they can leave me thinking, reflecting. Sometimes, they even leave me confused and dazed.

A few of my favourites:

The Cross of Snow by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A haunting poem. Longfellow’s wife burned so badly when her dress caught on fire, she died shortly afterwards.

i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings
One of the best love poems ever.

I Am in Need of Music by Elizabeth Bishop
A classic.

And in honour of both National Poetry Month and the month of April:
Always Marry An April Girl by Ogden Nash

My favourite Canadian poets include: Leonard Cohen, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood and Catherine Graham.

More on National Poetry Month:

Celebrate National Poetry Month with CBC Books

National Poetry Month FAQ

St. Paul’s Square or St. Pauls Square?

apostropheWow – there really is an organization called the Apostrophe Protection Society.  It exists in England and thanks to its founder, John Richards, the apostrophe that had been banned from local street signs in Mid Devon, England, has been lifted.

Apparently the apostrophe debate has been ongoing for years there (see here). Town Council had argued in favour of removing the apostrophe. They stated that they were receiving too many complaints from the public about the proper use of apostrophes, and that the apostrophes were confusing the GPS systems.

As a former ESL student and ESL teacher, I could only imagine the confusion the absence of an apostrophe could create for students learning English. St. Pauls Square – does it belong to Paul? Or are there many Pauls?

More on this:

Grammarians rejoice as English town drops apostrophe ban

Apostrophe Protection Society

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss (paperback)

Proper Apostrophe Usage – Purdue Online Writing Lab

Life lessons

Autumn Birds by Ko Kil-Ja

Autumn Birds by Ko Kil-Ja

My mother, Ko Kil-Ja, discovered her talent and passion for Korean brush painting when she took up the art while recovering from breast cancer.  Today, she is a prolific artist who has had her work showcased in several exhibitions. In honour of her 70th birthday, I decided to post some important life lessons that I learned from her.

1. The world owes us nothing.

The reality that is my mother’s life – war, immigration, illnesses – suggests that the world can be a battlefield of obstacles and challenges. Conflicts can come at all levels: societal to personal, and everything in between. Watching my mother navigate through hardships has taught me the importance of being independent and self-reliant, especially as a woman. This is one of the most crucial lessons that I feel all women must learn if they are to achieve true self- fulfillment.

 2. We must give and give freely.

Whether it is through her charity work, her art or her teaching, my mother’s commitment to the world around her shows her belief that we should live life for a purpose greater than ourselves. Throughout history, all the great people have embraced this way of thinking and lived for a strong purpose. More than just a responsibility or obligation, this belief allows us to develop a sense of connectedness with others and opens our hearts and our minds.

3. Our passion can become our sunlight.

Finding her passion for meditation and painting, I believe, has changed my mother’s life. It has allowed her to embrace life fully and become the person she was meant to be. There is purpose and fulfillment in each day. There is beauty.

The wonderful thing about pursuing passions such as painting and writing is that they allow us to keep learning and growing as we move toward mastery.  We can not only enjoy the sunshine but can bask in its warmth and glow.

Year of the Snake

snake

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Happy Lunar New Year, and
welcome the Year of The Snake.

 

Just for fun:

Happy, dark, or ironic – Short stories with a twist

bookcasesWhether they are happy, dark, or ironic, I love twist endings. I stumbled onto “A Letter to God”, a short story by Gregorio Lopez Fuentes (translated by Donald A. Yates). It is about a poor farmer named Lencho who sadly loses his crops during a terrible hailstorm. Poor, but a man with strong faith, he writes to God and asks for money to help him get through the winter. The ending made me laugh out loud – it was so nutty. You can click on the story title to read it online. 

Some of my other favourite short stories with a twist include “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant and “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin.

It takes talent and good storytelling to create a twist ending that works. It can’t feel forced or heavy-handed to be effective.

Here are some links you might want to check out: