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THE BOOK SHELF (you are never sad or lonely when you have a good book to read)

One of the absolute joys of retirement is having the time to read.

Books have long held a special importance for our family. Our father was a ‘hired help’ on farms which meant that we moved frequently (five times before I was 12 years of age) throughout the Alberta prairies. We would pack all our belongings, as best we could, in someone’s borrowed farm truck and head down the gravel road. We did not have a lot of ‘things’ – the same kitchen table, beds, a few chairs and end tables, sofa, and boxes of our treasures. One thing that was never forgotten, regardless where we moved or how much space we did or didn’t have, was mom’s bookshelf with her little library of books. I am sure we did not realize it then, but mom’s books were probably her sanctuary, a respite from the struggles, an escape into easier times.

My sister and I were picking from that book shelf long before we could read competently and probably long before we were ready, given our chronological age. Mom did not really censor our reading! We also needed our own respite from life - and reading was cheap when there was no money, filled lots of time when there was a lack of activity, and introduced us to a different world when our own little world was so small. We came to learn that you are never sad or lonely when you have a good book to read.

Then, by the time we were in our early teens, we had access to the town’s local library where the annual library card was 10 cents. You were allowed to take out 10 books per week each, which we did. Throw in the church library, and that meant we could easily have about 15 books to read – a week! (We had no understanding then that reading is key to a child’s development and vocabulary. Reading was purely for pleasure.)

Fast forward – reading kind of got lost in the shuffle of university and career. But the minute I had more free time, reading again became a priority. (I heard that Warren Buffet reads 80% of his time, or 500 pages a day, and as quoted in, he views reading to enhance knowledge, "like compound interest". Things certainly turned out well for him, although I am sure his readings were much more financially-oriented!)

Here is what I have read since ending work in mid-July:

The Girl Behind The Wall is historical fiction about the Berlin Wall dividing east and west Germany. This is a great read about two sisters (twins) who found themselves on opposite sides of the Wall when it was built. This book really puts you in the moment and captures the heart ache, the extremes that people went to in order to connect with family, and decisions that had to be made.

Between Two Kingdoms is a remarkable book. It is an autobiography by a woman facing a terminal diagnosis. It is raw and graphic as she writes about unbearable loss and grief. But it is about love and acceptance and resilience and a journey to find herself. It's also

about learning from those people who cross our paths. We need to not just live in those times that feel like wilderness, but to embrace them.

The Cellist is a thick, meaty political thriller! There is a multitude of characters that take you through Britain, Europe, Russia, Israel, and the USA with plenty of twists and turns. It's about corruption, high banking, deceit, and elections with a little music and romance thrown in. Although it is a work of fiction, you are left wondering, "What if . . . ?" It won't change your life, but it is a great read for cold winter days.

Anxious People is a quirky book and an improbable story that had me turning pages to see what happened next until I was completely sucked into the wisdom of the book. Through 12 characters and a weaving story that encompasses demographics of age, relationships, families, and careers, this book has many gems of reminders about life. Everyone of us has regrets, and we pass over people too quickly without getting to know them. We all struggle as best we can. This book is sensitive and wise, just like another by the same author, A Man Called Ove.

The Rose Code is about the brilliant minds that worked at Bletchley Park, England, during World War II, using their own developed automation to decrypt messages that helped to bring an end to the war. It is historical fiction but also contains real persons. The workers at Bletchley Park thought outside the box. Everyone fit in, and all were considered equal. Secrecy was so high, some people never spoke a word about it the rest of their lives. The book focuses on three very different women, their struggles, and their romances. This is an easy and enjoyable read.

one two three is written from the perspective of three sisters (triplets) who live in a small town decimated by the financial, emotional, and physical effects of toxic chemical run off from a local plant. The book is written in three alternating chapters from the perspectives of the three sisters. It's a book about the 'haves' and the 'have-nots', coming to grips with the past, forgiving, reframing, acceptance of things and people, resilience and building strength using the unique skills each one of us has been given, breaking out of cycles, and forging your way in the world.

And finally . . .

The Lincoln Highway is a saga covering a 10 day road trip across America in 1954. Three of the main characters just did their 'time' at a juvenile detention facility (one successfully, two escaped), and the other main character is a know-it-all little brother. The story is improbable but it does reel you in. There are lots of twists and turns, several other significant characters/'characters', and the author uses stories arising from unsuspecting sources such as mythology and vaudeville as a tool to enhance the larger story. The characters all have strengths and weaknesses. Our strengths can become our weaknesses. It's about family, loyalty, morals, friendships, and hard decisions. I found it helpful to read Amor Towles' (the author who also wrote A Gentlemen in Moscow) own discussion questions to achieve a greater appreciation of this book. Some reviews say this will go down as one of the great books while others say it is a little onerous. I am not sure.

What good books have you read lately?


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