Recent Book Explorations

I am still forging through Eduardo Galeano’s trilogy Memory of Fire. I am half way through the second book Faces and Masks, but I needed a break because the brutality of European conquest in South America, the genocide and enslavement of indigenous people in mines and plantations, as well as the slave trade from Africa, makes for tough reading. I think Galeano himself must have found the research and writing for this trilogy overwhelming at times.


The writing and research are magic though. Throughout he has compelling prose that leads you on, wondering why the human species is still here on Earth, performing the same gruesome thoughtless acts over centuries. If it were not for Corina Dross and the Portable Fortitude Playing Cards, I would never have discovered this writer.

Due to my interest in the subject of South America, propelled by reading Galeano over the past year, I borrowed a book from the library called Wild Coast: Travels on South America’s Untamed Edge by John Gimlette. It’s all about travels and the history of Guyana, which I only know about because of the Jonestown tragedy and mass suicides in the late 1970s. I am absolutely fascinated by this country and its horrible insects, dangerous fauna, and weirdly individual history.


He mentions British author Evelyn Waugh, who has never been a favourite author for me, but who travelled and wrote about Guyana, as did David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell, two favourite naturalists of mine. I am only a third of the way through this but it is great, I’m enjoying the exploration. I even ordered a book of Waugh’s called A Handful of Dust on inter-library loan. The title comes from a snippet of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, which I own.

Curious, I looked up which of Gerald Durrell’s books dealt with Guyana: Three Singles to Adventure. My husband and I have both read this, but since Gerry died his books don’t seem to be in-print or readily available at libraries. I asked my husband and he said we had it so I looked on the shelf with paperbacks and there it was! Obviously I don’t remember it or that it dealt with Guyana, so it must have been 30 years ago that I read it. It will be worth a re-visit after reading the Gimlette book.

My oldest sister recommended this book to me and I managed to scrounge up a copy in a branch of my local library: The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. It’s one of the few times I haven’t had to do an inter-library loan for something good. I like this period in history: the fading of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, and the terrible world wars that destroyed so much of humanity and society.


The poignancy of the family history reminds me of Lisa See’s wonderful book On Gold Mountain. You become attached to these people, involved in the family and the eras described. They were Jewish and the experiences of World War II make uncomfortable reading, but you are compelled to get through it, to read on, to discover the entire story. Woven among this is the history of Japanese netsuke, which is a subject I’ve been interested in for years.

Yesterday we went to a new flea market in town and I found two hardcover books for $1 each. The first is a history of playing cards that I’ve often wanted to buy, Playing Cards by Roger Tilley. I have reproductions of some of the transformation packs he describes, and the information about the packs from various countries is not something I have in any detail in my other books on playing card history. Not bad for a buck!


The second one is called Cat People by Bill Hayward, a photographer. This reminds me of another book in my collection called Cats and Their Women by Barbara Cohen and Louise Taylor. I was rhapsodic when I saw this book in the flea market because when it was published back in the 1970s, I worked for the publishing company and a poster of this book was on the cafeteria wall at work. I was so taken with it that I asked the secretary from the publicity department if I could have it, and she agreed so I took it home and eventually had it framed. It has been on my dining room wall for 26 years, but I never owned the book until now.

The woman on the cover is Laurie Baker, a metal sculptor. I was unable to find information on her or her work to see what she was doing today, but Bill Hayward is still active and involved in film arts, dance, and photography.

To cap off my book meandering today, I am showing an image of some poetry books I was recently using to layout some favourite poems of our family for my Dad who has gone into a care home. He is not too well but my sister was able to read him one of the poems at least, and I included some nice photographs for visual stimulation as he has dementia.


The yellow paperback A Pocket Full of Verse: Great English and American Poems was the book my Dad used to read to us from in the early 1960s. He had a very Churchillian and rhythmic way of reading aloud. What an old-fashioned concept today, but those poems fuelled my continuing love of poetry and writing. In our family, reading was very important, and we were encouraged and allowed to read and explore as we wished. I always knew that if I read well, and read widely, I could learn anything and thus do anything in life, which is not a bad parental legacy at all.

The Peace of Wild Things
By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.



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