Thanks to my daughter’s kind gift of an e-reader several Christmases’ ago, I have been able to weather our current isolation with relative ease, at least as far as reading is concerned. I’m happy to curl up with a good or, only sort of good, book. My tastes run from Scandinavian Noir to biography, global politics to local history. This got me thinking: what is everyone reading in these days of pandemic?
As fate would have it, I was enjoying a delightful journey through the life of Florence Nightingale on the two hundredth anniversary of her birth. Heart and Soul by Gena Gorrell uncovers the complicated life of this woman who has gained almost mythic proportions for most of us. Rather than the serene lady of the lamp that remains the focus of her popular legend Gorrell reveals a determined, often caustic, woman.
Nightingale’s remarkable accomplishments in the creation of the nursing profession and the Red Cross came at great personal cost and more than a few outlandish financial arrangements. In so many ways, her life exposed the contradictions of the traditional roles of women in her time and her burning ambition to change the world. This is an old story that benefits from fresh eyes.
I am a great fan of Karen Armstrong. This British writer and educator has dozens of books to her name: The Case for God, Twelve Steps to a More Compassionate Life, and The Great Transformation to name only a few. One dreary late March day I loaded The Spiral Staircase on my e-reader.
This is Armstrong’s second effort to try and reflect on her life journey, particularly her transition out of the convent, away from God and, ultimately, back to something deeply spiritual but different. Her questions about the institutional church resonated with me on so many levels. Why must we accept what makes no sense in order to be a ‘good’ Christian?
Threaded through this memoir is also the revelation that Armstrong struggled her whole life with undiagnosed epilepsy. Reading why her symptoms were ignored and dismissed offers a frightening treatise on the notion of Christian obedience. This is a deep and thought-provoking book but not a struggle to read. It’s Karen Armstrong at her best.
Finally, if there is any suggestion that I only ready intellectual tomes let me disavow that notion with my third selection: Albatross by Canadian writer Terry Fallis. I had great fun reading this fiction/fantasy book about a high school senior who is blessed with the perfect physiology to play golf, even though he’s never touched a club. It’s a fun romp through his scholarship years at Stanford University, his win at the Masters and most of the other major golf tournaments in the world. There’s a fascinating back story about an obsession with fountain pens which I understand completely.
?Throw in a bit of international intrigue, a long unfolding love story and, in true Canadian fashion, the victory of good over evil and you’ve got yourself a near perfect diversion from social distancing and ceaseless hand washing! While I had to suspend belief as I read about this character’s extraordinary accomplishments at golf, I was left wondering what it would be like if researchers could actually determine the precise physical attributes to succeed effortlessly at any sport. This is a light, fun read and you can feel patriotic devouring this CanLit gem.
So, what are you reading?