Canada Reads 2015 Short List

2015-01-22 11.02.06

Sorry for the late post gang! I was away in Cuba for a wedding last week and I must still be running on Cuban time.

While I was away the Canada Reads 2015 shortlist was announced! I’m so excited! There are some great books on the list this year and Wab Kinew picked a great question and theme this year: What is the one book to break barriers?

I’ll be working my way through the shortlist and will be posting all of my reviews to give everyone the low-down on this years selection. Here are the books that made the cut:

1) And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier, translated by Rhonda Mullins

2) Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee

3) Ru by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman

4) The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King

5) When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid

The debate for the winner takes place on March 16-19! I’ll do my best to read all of these books before then.

Stones by Timothy Findley

4/5 stars.
Hardcover, 221 pages.
Read from December 08 to 13, 2014.

There were a lot of mixed reviews on this collaboration of short stories, especially from Findley fans, but as this is my first collaboration by Findley, I stand impressed. Stones is a novel about relationships and how the effect our lives, especially some of the harder aspects in life like death and loss. One thing I particularly enjoyed about this novel was how Findley wrote a few different stories on the same characters. What one short story lacked, the next one would pick up on, whether that was a plot detail or elaborating on a part of the character’s personality or relationships.

This book has depth. I found myself thinking about the characters long after I put the book down. The book blurb on Goodreads mentions something about relationships and urban settings in the 1980’s but I don’t feel that any of these stories relate to a specific time frame but rather it’s more about the context of relationships and how they change our lives.

“Bragg and Minna” is the name of the first story in the book and of the two main characters. Their story is one of the most potent. The story opens with how Minna has died and Bragg is going to pick up her ashes. Bragg is bisexual, potentially a homosexual, but he loves Minna The two of them have their own quirks but that is what brought them together. The couple splits up shortly after they had children, one with severe mental disabilities. Bragg never wanted children but Minna came to a breaking point with the matter. After the birth of their mentally disabled daughter, Minna took the children and moved away Australia, which is where, years later, she dies . The story is filled with nostalgia and regret as Bragg makes the long trip over to claim her ashes.

The following story, “Gifts of Mercy”, detail how Minna and Bragg met. This story makes the last one even more tragic.

From here, each story revolves around a new tragic character. From a professor inspecting a mask, a man suffering from PTSD as a result of WWII and the effects it has on his family, to a disturbing but fascinating read about a pair of married psychiatrists whose patient’s dreams start to become a horrifying reality for one of them.

The stories are so different in tone. Some are tragic, some border on horror and others are more nostalgic but all of them revolve around the intrinsic relationships that we make in our daily lives.  Overall a great compilation of short stories that I’d recommend to just about anyone.

The Woman Who Changed Her Brain by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young

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3/5 stars.
Paperback, 288 pages.
Read from November 26 to December 07, 2014.

This book was given to me as a gift and it is a book that I wouldn’t have normally picked up as I don’t have any learning disorders (that I’m aware of). However, this book is inspirational for anyone that underestimates the power of their own brains and is proof that we are more capable of rewiring our brains to change our thoughts and even behaviors.

Barbara struggled immensely for most of her life due to severe learning disabilities. She could not understand complicated conversations as she couldn’t make basic associations as well as not being able to understand basic math or reading. Additionally she is severely uncoordinated and accident prone which also relates to her learning disabilities. However, she is blessed with a remarkable memory and can retain vast amounts of information which is what helps get her through many years of school.

After 26 years of struggles Barbara comes across some work done on a brain damaged solider who has managed to partially recover from his injuries, as well as some additional information on how a brain can be changed. Through her research and schooling Barbara began to create exercises for herself in order to get the parts of her brain functioning properly. After an extensive amount of training Barbara started to notice improvements in things that use to be a massive challenge for her. Her own improvements lead her to start a school to help other learning disabled people. The book goes into detail about Barbara’s personal story and improvements as well many of her student’s personal success stories. She also goes into details with how specific learning disabilities effect people and what is going on in their brains. Unfortunately, she doesn’t go into too many specifics about the exercises that bring about these remarkable changes but I suppose she can’t reveal her program in a book or her school wouldn’t be successful. With that being said, her work is so immensely important that it really should be revealed so that more people can start applying her tactics.

Barbara shows that learning disabilities are so common and that they can cause life long devastation’s. So many of those affected think that they’re stupid but really it’s that their brains are missing specific connections and, like any muscle, just needs to be worked on.

I was so remarkably impressed with the success stories in this book. It makes me believe that I am capable of accomplishing anything in terms of changing my behaviors. As someone who has had mental health issues, I know that the symptoms are sometimes very difficult to deal, I can however choose I am going to deal with them and I can work towards rewiring some of my current behaviors. I think there is so much we don’t know about the capabilities of our own brains and this book gives me hope that we can make massive improvements in terms of mental health and learning disabilities.