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Sunday, February 24, 2013

"Heart and Soul" by Kadir Nelson



February 24, 2013

As any visitor to those hallowed halls can attest, lining the walls of the Capitol building in Washington D.C. are portraits and sculptures depicting the history of America. Lincoln is there. So is Washington--George, that is, not Booker T. For in fact there is "nary a black face in all of those pretty pictures," says the narrator of Heart And Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.

Kadir Nelson's paintings for Heart and Soul, with their quiet, proud dignity, go as far as any author-illustrator can to right this wrong in a book. Each one of Nelson's powerful pictures is worthy of its own wall in the Capitol's rotunda gallery.

As the voice of Heart and Soul, a nameless "Everywoman" recants some of the worst, and finest moments in the history of African Americans. She recalls their early days as slaves, through their service in the Civil War and two World Wars, alongside their long-enduring struggle for freedom and fairness in their everyday lives. While these broad brushstrokes of history should be familiar, the book's true power lies in a wise balance between dramatic events and the small acts of resistance and resourcefulness by individuals determined to build better lives for themselves and their families. The result is an exceptional portrait-by-portrait account of the contributions of African Americans to the greatness of their nation.

Monday, February 04, 2013

"The End of Your Life Book Club"



February 4, 2013

"No matter how tired I am, I can always read," says Mary Anne Schwalbe to her son while waiting for an appointment with her oncologist in The End of Your Life Book Club. "But maybe that's because of raising three children while working full-time. I think I got used to being tired all the time. If I'd waited until I was well-rested to read. I never would have read anything."

"The Club" of two life-long readers--mother Mary Anne and son Will Schwalbe--meets in the waiting room at Memorial Sloan-Kettering's outpatient care centre. In the two years of life remaining to Mary Anne (after her persistent jaundice, weight loss and fatigue were finally diagnosed as symptoms of pancreatic cancer) she and her son, a professional editor and author, discover new writers and rediscover favourite stories, reading "promiscuously" books both great and small.

It would be enough if The End were a personal, and finely honed list of must-reads. It is this, but it is more. Schwalbe knows readers, their habits and idiosyncracies. After all, he's one of us. The serendipities and "stumbled upons" that happen in bookstores, the art of dodging from admitting we haven't read the book on everyone else's rave list, the books we read when we cannot sleep, the books we carry with us everywhere, the guilt and anxiety we feel for possibly suggesting the wrong book at the wrong time.

The End is a book of many meanings. As a mother's story, it can't help but contain great wisdom--the simple and profound kind that can only be accumulated by seven-plus decades of life, many of them as a wife, mother, advocate of education and champion of refugee causes. Even though she is well into her seventies and terminally ill, Mary Anne Schwalbe sustains these activities until near the end of her life. But it is only books and family that she is surrounded by at the very end.

"Reading isn't the opposite of doing," writes her son, who has only ever known is mother as a do-er of extraordinary proportions. "It is the opposite of dying." 

Saturday, February 02, 2013


February 16, 2013

"That's one of the things books can do. They help us talk. But they also give us something to talk about when we don't want to talk about ourselves."--Will Schwalbe in The End of Your Life Book Club

A visit to The Lyceum


February 2, 2013

At a recent visit to The Lyceum in Vancouver, one of the Book Bandits asked me, "Is Waby's Bunny Jim real?" Which is a very good question. Especially when it comes to stuffy rabbits of the "Velveteen" variety. Sorting out what's real, and what only happened in my imagination is some of the best fun of sharing Mimi.

Well, to start, Bunny Jim was clearly real enough to another Bandit, Harnoor, who drew the picture above, and just like Marc Mongeau, made him come to life. But truth be told, Bunny Jim (who's name is  play on the Sunny Jim peanut butter we had in our house growing up) is "Teddy", a fine brown bear stuffy, who was waiting in Waby's crib for her to be born, and has only ever accidentally (and briefly, thank heavens!) been parted from her in the eight years since.

Thank you, Harnoor, for the wonderful drawing (above). Looks pretty real to me! :-)