Whenever I see a book recommended by a best-selling author with Paris in the title, I can’t resist picking it up. Such was the case with Tatiana de Rosnay’s A Paris Affair. The author of the exquisite Sarah’s Key really dropped the ball on this one. Don’t waste your money. Unless you also enjoy scouring Ashley Madison’s pitiful list of thrill-seekers, you will find de Rosnay’s book of short stories depressing and even annoying. The book is a series of short stories written in the first person, describing the discovery of infidelity by a variety of characters living in Paris. It’s sleazy and, in my opinion, trite. In the beginning, I tried to find an upside such as the differences in perspective between the French and American or Canadian attitude to affairs. The result is the same. Lives ruined. Families torn apart. And it rarely has a happy ending.
My friend Terry and I just spent the most wonderful Sunday afternoon listening to and meeting authors in a pastoral farm setting that was total escapism. We’d read and loved books by Catherine Gildiner and Plum Johnson, were familiar with Terry O’Reilly’s CBC broadcasts about the advertising biz, and were introduced to an author unfamiliar to us, Trevor Cole.
As book lovers, we couldn’t have imagined a better afternoon. After driving through farm country about ninety minutes north of Toronto on Highway 10, we drove into Pegram Farm, a restored farm that reminiscent of a scene from Anne of Green Gables. The large brick farmhouse was surrounded by giant Manitoba maples and rolling fields, and the barn had been completely restored to function as an event facility. About two hundred people were seated inside the barn with warm sunlight and gentle breezes filtering through cracks in the barnboard.
The event, hosted by Mulmur Township and Shelburne Public Library, was a first-time venture. Each of the authors read a passage from their book and later responded to a question and answer session. Following the main event, we were invited into the loft to taste local gourmet h’ors d’oeuvres and beverages. Catherine Gildiner has authored a three-volume memoir that is a Baby Boomer’s dream read. Smart, funny and exceptionally adept at being in the most exciting places at the right time, Gildiner entertained us with her true-life stories of growing up in the fifties and sixties. Her reminiscences describe experiences many of us could relate to and some we could only wish we’d had.
Plum Johnson wrote They Left Us Everything, an account of dealing with the detritus of clearing out her parents’ home after they passed away. Located at the foot of Trafalgar Road in Oakville, Ontario, the house is not only architecturally unusual but was the home where her parents lived for sixty years and raised five children. Written with empathy and humour, it is a record of a process that Johnson expected to take six weeks and turned into two years, with plenty of introspection and soul-searching thrown in.
While I’d never read anything by Trevor Cole, his animated and colourful reading from Hope Makes Love, a fictional novel about a baseball player’s divorce and attempts to redeem himself, prompted me to add his name to my “To Read” list. Terry O’Reilly is familiar for his informed presentations on CBC radio about the history and behind-the-scenes take on the advertising industry. Since my friend and I come from advertising and marketing backgrounds in business we both loved his stories about experiences in the trenches.
Unfortunately for BOOMERBROADcast readers, this event has already taken place but I’m writing about it to encourage you to pick up books by these authors. Or, if they’re ever signing books or speaking in your area, do not miss hearing and meeting them. These books would make excellent gifts for your fellow Baby Boomers and they’ll thank you for introducing them to these authors. Click on each book for a link to Amazon:
Irish authors have a magical way with words. When I’m reading a book by an Irish author I can almost hear the lilt in the story-teller’s voice. They do, however, have a tendency to write rather bleak stories that rarely have a happy ending. Not that this is a criticism; it’s just that when I read I like to be uplifted. Many years ago I tried to get through Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. After reading several chapters of depressing narrative about dead babies, cold, damp tenant housing, starving children and drunken out-of-work husbands, I finally gave up. Despite the superb writing I just couldn’t take any more grief. In a way, Anne Enright’s The Green Road is true to the same genre of troubled Irish families but not nearly as dark and something compelled me to keep reading in case things turned around.
Rosaleen Madigan married beneath her station and produced four children, two boys and two girls, Constance, Dan, Emmet and Hanna, with her husband Pat in a west-coast village in County Clare. Rosaleen loved Pat and she loved her babies. But she ran into trouble when the children grew older and presented her with their individual challenges and personality quirks. As a result, she grew defensive and passive-aggressive. Her behaviour reminded me of Marie Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond. She martyred herself, became overly dramatic and frequently simply abdicated her responsibility. Family life was a troubled affair.
The lifestyles of her four children as adults were completely divergent. Unmarried son Emmet spent most of his time trying to save the world as an aid worker in Africa. Conflicted Dan moved to America to avoid having to confront his mother about being gay, and Canadian readers will enjoy the scenes from his life in Toronto. Constance, the eldest, married a local builder, had children of her own and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle living near her mother, while enduring their strained relationship. Hanna, the youngest was the bohemian of the family. As a frustrated actor with a baby, she struggled with depression and a drinking problem, a source of stress with her partner.
Anne Enright writes in a way that I really enjoy reading. In fact, I find she accomplishes what everyone says Alice Munro does so well, but I find Enright’s prose more compelling. She describes seemingly mundane, colourless everyday scenes and activities with a delicate painter’s brush—frayed nerves during antagonistic family conversations in the kitchen; frustrations with simply trying to do the grocery shopping the day before Christmas; accepting the realization that life did not turn out the way you hoped it would. These are experiences we can all relate to and Enright makes them engaging. The Green Road is basically a character study and is a fast read. I enjoyed it and if you like to read about family dynamics in today’s world, I think you’ll enjoy it too, with its gentle touch of Irish angst.
Boomer gals universally looked up to Murphy Brown as our hero and inspiration from 1988 to 1998. She was gorgeous but consistently dateless; smart but frequently inept; strong yet oddly vulnerable; in short she was an interesting, flawed and relatable character. Much like ourselves. Candice Bergen, who played Murphy Brown possessed some of these characteristics but playing Murphy with all her faults and fabulousness was the definitive role for which she will always be remembered. A Fine Romance is Bergen’s account of her life as a mature actor, her courtship and marriage to award-winning French movie director Louis Malle, motherhood, being widowed and building a new life, then marrying again later in life.
Born to a beautiful young mother and Swedish father, Edgar Bergen, who was famous himself in the entertainment business as the ventriloquist who brought us Charlie McCarthy, Candice Bergen grew up in a privileged environment. As a young woman she modeled, worked as a photographer for Esquire magazine and played supporting roles in several movies. It wasn’t until she was cast as Murphy Brown that she hit her stride and became the touchstone for a generation of Boomer women.
A Fine Romance is a fascinating read by a woman who is honest, intelligent and self-deprecating. Bergen is forthright in admitting to her shortcomings and mistakes. She suffered serious empty-nest syndrome when her only child, Chloe went off to college, acknowledging the value of her supportive network of girlfriends. “And thank God for my friends. Mothers in their fifties—running to beefy now, the traditional thickening through the middle—we clumped together in our middle-age camouflage: black pants, long sleeves. . . . compensating with wit, attention, intelligence, experience. Bringing to bear not the extra fifteen, twenty pounds we all seemed to be packing but our confidence in who we were. The sizable weight and force of our personalities.” We all understand the importance of girlfriends.
Bergen is also a dog lover which endeared her to me even more. In fact, she acquired one of her dogs, a Golden Doodle named Jerry, from a Mennonite breeder near St. Jacob’s west of Toronto, driving up herself to pick him up and take him home. What further impressed me was the opening paragraph in one of her later chapters: “Let me just come right out and say it. I am fat. In the past fifteen years, since I’ve married Marshall, I have put on thirty pounds.” She also mourns the loss of her once-luxuriant full head of hair, “because if my hair isn’t fluffy on this pea-sized head, I look like a golf ball on an enormous buoy.” It seems I’m not the only Boomer woman who worries about getting fat and going bald. Who can’t relate to that and admire her honesty.
In describing her marriages to Louis Malle and later to Marshall Rose, Bergen is frank in describing the high, lows and in-betweens. When Malle died, she devoted herself to being the best mother possible to their daughter Chloe and is justifiably proud of the fact Chloe grew into a caring, smart and capable woman in her own right. Many of the struggles Bergen endured are not that different from what each of us has experienced over the years with career, aging parents, loss of a partner and life’s disappointments. While she moved in socio-economic circles very different from most of us, her story confirms that life is complicated for everyone, including Murphy Brown and Candice Bergen. The book was an absolute joy to read. Although it seemed a bit slow at the beginning, once she got into the specifics of her life and its various iterations, it was totally engrossing. I highly recommend it.
If Clare Boothe Luce had been born in 1953 instead of fifty years earlier in 1903, she would now be opposing Hillary Clinton for the job of President of the United States. Luce was a woman slightly ahead of her time but what a time she had while she was alive. I’ve just finished reading the second volume
If you’re a voracious reader like I am, the cost of books can quickly land you in the poorhouse. At a cost of around twenty-five dollars for a hard-cover edition and slightly less for a trade paperback, it adds up. Combine that with the challenge of storing that vast inventory of hard-copy books in your already-jam-packed home and you have a dual dilemma. The solution is as simple as something called a library card—and it’s free. Library cards have been part of my life since I was very young but in the years when I was working there was little time to read for fun, much less actually get to the library.
After giving away several Rubbermaid bins of books (some of which I’d never read or only half-read) I decided to take advantage of technology and join the twenty-first century. When I retired, circumstances and technology combined to provide me with the means to read as much as I liked, which is considerable. At first I purchased books on-line or at the store, or borrowed from friends. Then, public libraries figured out how to offer books and magazines on-line and that’s when I hit the jackpot. If I don’t have at least one book on the go, I’m like a junkie in need of a fix. Having gone through various types of digital reading devices ( see To “e” or not to “e” . . . that is the question) I currently rely on three—my old basic Kindle, my inexpensive little Kobo and my iPad.
Book publishing is a complex and evolving business. I still have a problem paying $14.99 to purchase a digital copy of a book but at the same time I want the authors to be appropriately compensated for their work. Public libraries are struggling with their own issues around publishing rights. Until recently I didn’t realize they pay upwards of one hundred and fifty dollars for just one digital copy of a book. At several times the cost of a hard copy, this is a financial hardship for the publicly funded libraries and is a point of contention between publishers and public libraries. While online book sales offer greater opportunities for exposure to books, authors are making less than ever and very few can actually make a living writing books. But that’s an issue the publishers, authors, and vendors will have to sort out.
Borrowing e-books works just like the regular kind. You can search online by title, author, genre or topic, and if it’s available then download it or read it through your browser. If it’s out on loan already, you can add your name to the waiting list and when it becomes available you receive an e-mail advising it’s ready to download, then, bingo, five seconds later it’s on your reading device. And I don’t even have to leave the comfort of my LaZGirl. Love my iPad mini. What could be better!
Whatever medium I have in my hand, whether digital or hard-copy, I’m never happier than when I’m engrossed in a good book, traveling in my mind to different countries, different centuries and experiencing a variety of adventures through the eyes of fascinating characters. And, I suspect the chief book-picker at the library reads the weekly Globe and Mail book and New York Times reviews because whenever I see something reviewed that I want to read, within days it’s available on-line through my local library. If you’re not already a member of your local library and you love to read, get your fanny moving and sign up for a library card. It’s free and will be the best investment you’ll never make.