The Pothunters by PG Wodehouse

To ensure my TBR list is truly unmanageable, I recently set a goal of reading all Wodehouse’s works in order of publication and…oh boy. Dude was prolific. This is going to take a while.

Wodehouse’s first novel was The Pothunters, published in the UK in 1902. Thank goodness for Project Gutenberg because I don’t think I’d have had a prayer of finding it anywhere else.

There are flashes of the trademark Wodehouse wit and humour here, but this is definitely the work of a young writer who hasn’t yet mastered his craft. I enjoyed the glimpse of life at a British boys’ boarding school at the very beginning of the twentieth century, baffling though it is.

Recommended only for a Wodehouse super-fan.

Off Script by Marci Ien

Whenever I happen to open Overdrive right after all the new arrivals have been added and see AVAILABLE AVAILABLE AVAILABLE some deep-seated competitive spirit kicks in and I start greedily downloading titles I wouldn’t usually bother placing on hold if they weren’t immediately available. I never learn. Clearly this hoarding behaviour can be traced back to my hunter-gatherer ancestors, and not just that one in particular who can spot jigsaw puzzles at a garage sale from fifty paces.

Anyway, this is my rude and roundabout way of saying that’s how I ended up reading Off Script: Living Out Loud by Marci Ien. No offence to Marci, who seems like a very nice person, but I have never watched Canada AM or The Social and had only the vaguest idea of who she was. Well, now I know.

She writes clearly and openly and I found her thoughts on being a woman of colour in Canadian journalism to be especially compelling. Anyone who is a fan of morning television would doubtless enjoy it even more.

Brighten the Corner Where You Are by Carol Bruneau

Confession time: I don’t care for the paintings of Maud Lewis. This is heresy for a Nova Scotian, but it’s true. Folk art just isn’t my thing. I knew a little about Lewis’ difficult life (the health issues, the poverty, the tiny, painted house) since these facts are added to our tap water, but have never felt motivated to learn more. (And no, I haven’t seen that Maudie movie because movies also aren’t my thing.)

I had faith in Carol Bruneau’s ability to make me care about Maud Lewis, however, so I ordered a copy and, lo and behold, my faith was justified. It’s very good.

It takes courage to tell a story so familiar to so many in such a fresh way and it takes skill to know when and how to inject that story with moments of lightness and grace and humour. Bruneau’s got ’em . I think Maud Lewis would be pleased.

Many Lives Mark This Place by John Hartman

This is a tough one. As much as I love the three primary concerns of this book (writers, art and Canadian landscapes), I really don’t love Hartman’s style of portraiture. Aside from his sitters all looking ugly and misshapen, I don’t care for the way their heads and upper bodies are floating above their chosen landscapes, with no connection between the two. It’s a strange choice since each writer contributed a piece about their relationship with the terrain. Why not show them actually in it?

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

When Dorothy Whipple submitted this perfect specimen of domestic fiction back in the early 1950s, her publisher was lukewarm about it, apparently, since the fashion in literature had turned decisively to action/adventure-type books and Someone at a Distance just didn’t fit the bill.

It’s true that the plot summary probably sounds boring to thrill-seekers: Avery and Ellen have been happily married for 20 years. They have charming, precocious children, a lovely house and extensive gardens, and work that they each find personally and financially fulfilling. Then Avery’s cranky old mother hires a beautiful, young, French woman named Louise to serve as her companion and it becomes clear the clock is ticking on Avery and Ellen’s perfect lives.

This is a quiet novel, for sure, but it definitely isn’t boring. Whipple is such a master at scene-setting and pacing and characterization that I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended for anyone who doesn’t care for (or needs to take a break from) Scandinavian police procedurals, courtroom thrillers or post-apocalyptic hellscapes.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

An excellent book that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Rubenhold encourages us to look past the sensationalism of Jack the Ripper to the desperately hard lives (and horrific deaths) of the women he slaughtered. These were ordinary women with regrettably common problems (poverty, addiction, unstable relationships) in a time when there was no social safety net or chance at independence and self-reliance for women.

It’s infuriating that these women were immediately written off as “just prostitutes” and have continued to be in the almost century-and-a-half since by writers and so-called experts and (ugh) Ripper tour guides — most of whom are happy to lazily spout the same old tripe about the women before getting to what they consider to be the really good stuff: gushing over a murderous psychopath revered for his ability to escape detection. How screwed up is that?

Read it.