Three Books

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden. This was my over-New Year's Day book. Joseph Boyden is kind of shiny here in Canada these days because he just won some award, I think for his next book. Okay, okay, I did some research: he won the Giller Prize (sorry, that's the Scotiabank Giller Prize) for Through Black Spruce.

This book is about two Ontario Cree who sign up to fight in WW I. Actually the book starts when one of the men returns, and it's told mostly in memories, the soldier's memories of war and his elderly aunt's memories of her life.

I would have to say this was a very good start to a year's reading. It's a good story, I learned a whole lot about World War I (which isn't saying much because I know next to nothing about World War I anyway) and got lots of insight into Cree culture, another embaraassingly large hole in my knowledge, considering I claim to be from Northern Saskatchewan, some of the time. The book is beautifully written. I'll have to check out Through Black Spruce too.

Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa by Richard Poplak. Poplak was born in 1973 and lived in South Africa until he was sixteen, and ended up in Toronto. I was born in 1975 and lived in South Africa until I was seven, and ended up in Toronto. So I thought this book would be a cool read and might fill in some holes in my memory and my understanding of my childhood. The Globe and Mail loved this book, and I too love the book. It's hilarious and again, very educational (apparently there are no limits to my ignorance). Poplak crams in a lot of South African history among his droll tales of corporal punishment and weird racism. This book made me really thankful we got the hell out of dodge when we did. It also made me laugh out loud. (Dave, you should totally read this too.)

It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff by Peter Walsh. I'm not sure exactly why I keep reading organizing books, because it's not like I'm drowning in clutter. I can have close friends and family over almost without notice, and visits from less-close friends only call for maybe half an hour of picking up and cleaning the bathroom. So it's not like I'm a giant household screw-up. But it's true that it wasn't always like this. Our apartment was pretty hideous, and it has taken me a long time to recognize how much ongoing effort it takes to keep a house clean and tidy.

The other thing is I like is to have less stuff, and to only have the right stuff, and that's what this book is really about. Rather than just dig in to all that stuff Walsh insists that first you think about what you want from your life, what your dream life really looks like. Then he gets you to think about what you want from your home, and then he gets you to break it down by room. For each room in your house Walsh asks you to make a list of desired functions in the room, and get rid of everything in the room which doesn't meet one of those functions. Once the room is clean, you designate a physical area for each function, and then put everything away in the appropriate area.

This is a good notion and something I might implement sometime, to some extent, but I think the best thing about the book is the yearly schedule of stuff to do to keep your place in line once you have sorted it out.

Two other nice things about this book: lots of anecdotes. I love anecdotes. Second Walsh has a bunch of neat tricks for figuring out whether you use stuff: turn all your hangers inside pointing out, and only turn them back when you wear the item outside of the house. At the end of the year, get rid of the clothes which are still pointing the wrong way. Or: masking tape all your Tupperware closed and only untape it when you use the Tupperware. After six months (preferably six months including Thanksgiving and Christmas) get rid of all the Tupperware that is still sealed shut. Or, move all your kitchen gadgets and utensils to a cardboard box and only put them away in a drawer when you use them. If you don't use them in four weeks, toss them. I don't agree with that time-scale; I have useful kitchen tools that I use less often than four-weekly, but then I think I'm more of a cook than his target audience, who apparently can't find their kitchen counters under junk mail and clothes that don't fit.

Anyway, this is a good book; I enjoyed reading it and it's helpful too. I'm slightly embarrassed that I have so much to say about this rather unsophisticated book and apparently no more than a paragraph or two to say about the real books I read. I'm tired! And I have rather more hands-on experience with domestic organization than I do with apartheid or Cree culture or WW I. Not much excuse, I know. Maybe I need to work on being smarter. Some more.

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