A Book Takes You Places

It’s one of those things that promises so much, but takes so little to become involved with; a book exchange.

It’s not that different from those chain letters that used to surface decades ago, or those personal exchange campaigns (I remember one involving bottles of whisky). It’s a Facebook thing of late, and totally trusting the person whose newsfeed I read it on, I got involved. I felt it was perfect for summer reading (and there is plenty of summer left).

The idea is to send a favorite book to the person whose name you are provided, then send out a specialized message to those who respond to the message on your own feed.

Figuring out the system was easy, deciding what favorite book to send was far more difficult.

I have many, many favourite books. Recently, as part of another FB exchange, I posted only the covers of seven favorite books, and I realized I could have kept posting. Books, and reading, have been an important part of my life.

Books enrich life. Each book you read tells you something more about life, the world, or yourself. It’s one of the reasons we keep on reading. A book takes you places, always.

Given this exchange is ‘worldwide’ in nature, I decided I should send something from my home country. Canada has so many fine authors, and even more wonderful books. Many of my favourites are Canadian, so deciding which one to send was tough.

Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient would have been a good choice. The 1992 novel was just recognized as the best work of fiction from the last five decades of the Man Booker prize, but it was not my favorite. I’ve also enjoyed, throughout my life, the literature of Mordicai Richler. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz is a perennial favorite, and the words of Carol Shields have often captivated me.

Instead I decided on A Complicated Kindness, the book which won Mariam Toews the Governor General Award in 2004, and many other top honours. It’s a damn good book, on so many levels, with Nomi, the 16-year-old protagonist, dealing with life in an ass-backwards, deeply religious community. There is a great deal of family reflection in her struggle to find both meaning and belonging.

It’s not a coming of age story, but more one of coming into being.

Heartfelt and horrific at the same time, A Complicated Kindness is full of emotion and a strong sense of place. It’s the type of novel that makes you want to read more of the author’s work, and I have. Toews is a masterful storyteller who weaves geographic and cultural references, and a particular wit. throughout her work.

A Complicated Kindness resonated with me. I could feel the landscape of East Village — a fictionalized version of Toews’ hometown of Steinback, Manitoba — and I know well the time and dates of the book. I grew up in the same province. and lived not that far away, in another prairie city surrounded by wheat and silence. I could feel the Canada described in the novel, and I wanted somebody else to feel it too.

The world needs more Canada is a theme promoted by a Canadian book chain, and I couldn’t agree more.

If you would like to be involved in this worldwide book exchange, reply to the link on my personal Facebook page. You are only required to send out one book and should receive more than 30 books in response. What a great way to increase your summer reading list.

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