Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Among the Lost

Among the Lost: in Dante's Wake: Book 2 / Seth Steinzor
Burlington, VT: Fomite Press, c2016.
220 p.

I was recently offered a chance to read this, via Poetic Book Tours. I quickly agreed, as I read Book One in this set of Dante-inspired poems, back in 2011 and was intrigued by what might be offered in this follow up. I'm glad I got the chance to shadow this poetic journey a little further!

This second volume carries on, from Book One's Inferno, to Book Two's Purgatory. In this case, purgatory is a not a jagged mountain but a cityscape. Dante still guides our narrator at the beginning of this book, as they fall from Hell and fling themselves into purgatory. As Dante says, 

This is the City of Purgatory. Remember,
now it's your world, no longer mine.
You, who scrape the tops off mountains for coal,
who fill the valleys with garbage, who scrape the

meadows level for parking, who fill the marshes with
concrete and pylons, who build and tear down,
who level the high places and raise the low, have
flattened Purgatory. Now the
eminence that was lit when your lives were dark
is worn away, by you! And you
have grown your city upon and with its rubble.

The flavour of the story goes on much like this. The structure comprises 33 Cantos, following the narrator, also named Seth, as he pursues his track through Purgatory, still in search of Victoria (who impelled him to begin his search originally). 

In this volume, once Dante situates him in his surroundings -- after landing in a hospital room with a woman giving birth, initially -- Seth is left to his own devices to wander and try to determine where he should be heading. His only instruction is to meet Dante at the Presidential Library at sundown.

Seth begins a trek with many asides and many distractions, almost giving up. He meets many different kinds of people, encounters protestors, homeless men, young skateboarders, union men, famous celebrities, and more. Each has some kind of lesson to impart, even if unknowingly. Finally he arrives at what he thinks he is seeking. But of course, it is not what he's expecting. The range of characters and manners of speech that Steinzor includes in this book is what made it most compelling for me; I kept reading to discover who in the world (who in Purgatory?) Seth would enounter next.

I found this volume a little less satisfying than the first, probably partly because I'm much less familiar with the Purgatorio than with the Inferno, and because there were, again, many references to American politicians/current events that I just don't get the nuances of, despite knowing about them in a broader sense.

But the narrative style was still very enjoyable, with some of the writing really standing out for me. I was especially fond of this passage from the closing pages (which sets up the final volume to come quite nicely)

Distant, the city.
Quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet;
hush, hush, hush, hush
say the waters that fill this crescent I stand on.
My breaths join their flow and ebb.
How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
How many atoms compose a star? The
night is replete with angels dancing on pinpricks.....

If you're interested in modern poetry responding to the classics, from the vantage point of our current socioeconomic and political situation, this might just be the series for you.

Thank you to Poetic Book Tours & Seth Steinzor for the copy of Among the Lost & the chance to participate in this book tour.

Tour Schedule:

Jan. 10: the bookworm (Review)
Jan. 12: Wall-to-Wall Books (Review)
Jan. 17: Nerdy Talks Books (Review)
Jan. 18: The Indextrious Reader (Review)
Jan. 19: Everything Distils Into Reading (Review)
Jan. 20: Eva Lucia Reviews (Review)
Jan. 21: Readaholic Zone (Review)
Jan. 23: Book Nerd Demigod (Review)
Jan. 24: Eva Lucia Reviews (Interview)
Jan. 25: Diary of an Eccentric (Guest Post)
Jan. 30: Necromancy Never Pays (Review)

Follow the blog tour with hashtag #AmongtheLost

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Happy Malanka!

photo credit: PlastCalgary via Flickr

Happy New Year, according to the Julian calendar -- today is New Year for Ukrainians, and the big celebration, Malanka, is New Year's Eve. If you were at a Malanka last night, you'll probably be too tired to read this...

The good thing is that it is New Year's all over again -- so if any of my suggested possibilities for a resolution so far have been interesting, you can make them now! Great redo if your first choices aren't working, too ;)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Building Community Through Conversations

Resolution: Build Community!

If you would like to build community and open conversations in a time of aggression & polarization, these books may be just the thing.

Community Conversations: Mobilizing the Ideas, Skills, and Passion of Community Organizations, Governments, Businesses, and People / Paul Born
Toronto: BPS Books, c2012.
222 p.

How do we converse as diverse members of our communities? How do structure those conversations so that we're really hearing each other, and gathering in many voices? Paul Born tackles these questions in this very practical book of techniques and examples of doing just that. He is President of Tamarack Institute, an organization focused on this subject which has been working hard on these kind of massive projects for years -- their website is full of great resources to explore, following on from each of these books.

I really liked the structure and the practical nature of this book. Born talks about creating community through holding conversation -- and he means structured conversations with goals and outcomes and so on. There are 10 specific techniques shared which he has used to make this happen, and for each one he shares further online resources to explore. I can see how one or many of these would really benefit when trying to improve communication among community members. Some are very organizational, some are more relaxed and informal, but all have the outcome in mind.

The first part of the book is a general overview of conversing, engaging, collaborating & casting your vision; the second is a look at all 10 techniques he recommends. And what I love about both these books is that for each suggestion, there are numerous notes and links and resources shared for further exploration. This was a thought-provoking book, and I'm also very glad to have discovered the Tamarack Institute's website, newsletter, resources & more. Really encouraging to read of positive action occurring in communities.

Deepening Community: Finding Joy Together in Chaotic Times / Paul Born
San Francisco: BK Books, c2014.
169 p.

How could I resist a title like this? It says what I'm feeling lately. How do we rebuild a sense of strong social cohesion?

Born discusses this conundrum, defining 3 types of community: shallow, deep & fear-based. I think we can look around and see all of this in our society now, though in this construction, "deep" is the ideal. As I read the key characteristics of each, it was clear to me that I exist mainly in shallow community right now -- with connections to others but not a traditional, deep sense of depending on others and having the drop-in-on-your-neighbour-when-they-need-something knowledge of those around me. But I also started to wonder if that was due to social conditions, or if it is that I'm an introvert, and the idea of hanging out with all my neighbours a lot doesn't actually sound that great to me! This would be very interesting to discuss with anyone else who has read this, hint hint.

Born outlines the four pillars of deep community: sharing our stories, taking the time to enjoy one another, taking care of one another, and working together for a better world. All of these are great principles, all of which I agree are vital to building stronger communities. But I'd like to see them expanded upon with a little more nuance, taking into account cultural and/or personality differences, as noted above.  

This book felt a little more personal, with lots of talk about Born's upbringing in a more rural Mennonite community, which I didn't relate to as much. It felt very extroverty and nostalgic to me, even while I'm obviously interested in the idea of community, which is why I'm reading it. These personal stories were a bit repetitive as well, and while there was lots of good in this bok, I ended up skimming a fair amount. It's good but I'd recommend trying Community Conversations first if what you're looking for is actionable steps toward fostering conversation and understanding.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Saving the World, Step One

Resolution: Save the World!

If you want to become more politically active this year and make your voice heard, here is a great read by the leader of Canada's Green Party (written before she was in that position, and was working as the director of The Sierra Club). It's focused on the Canadian political landscape but many of the points are useful to everyone.

How to Save the World in Your Spare Time / Elizabeth May
Toronto: Key Porter, c2007.
207 p.

I thought this looked intriguing, as I've always had a great deal of respect for Elizabeth May. Now that I've read it, I feel like I know a whole lot more about her, and have even more respect for her accomplishments.

This book really is about saving the world. It is a strategy document; how and why to go about making your voice heard -- from setting your goals, getting in the news, lobbying, fundraising, and more, it gives a logical overview of how to be both seen and effective. It's broken up into chapters on each topic, with stories from May's own life of activism and key points based on her experiences in both small and large groups. Each one builds on the last, with useful tips like giving a politician an answer: know the facts and the costs of what you are proposing, and don't be against something, rather, be for something better.

May insists upon decorum and decency as important to successful activism. This reminds me of a recent interchange in Canadian Parliament, where she took another MP to task for unparliamentary language. She clearly still holds to the importance of decorum in politics!

But the book as a whole is inspiring. She's a very positive and optimistic person despite her lifetime of fighting for change against the status quo. This quote early on is the heart of her message:

"Is it winnable?" may be the world's most pointless question. Our assets are not quantifiable. Persistence, passion and commitment will outrun mere money every time. 

The biggest and most despair-laden question is the big one: "Are all our efforts too little, too late? Is the planet so damaged by human-caused pollution -- toxic wastes, ozone depleters, greenhouse gases -- that no matter what we do we are doomed?"

Get a grip! This is a dangerous frame of mind. It provokes nothing but grief and drains your energy into sheer paralysis. Philosopher George Grant once told me, "The greatest sin is the sin of despair."

For Americans in our present climate, you might find this Indivisible Guide useful, as it provides a strategic step-by-step plan to making your voice heard by your Member of Congress in the same way that May speaks to the Canadian governmental structure in this book. However, May's book still provides plenty of practical, tactical info for every protestor, activist, or concerned citizen of any country to take to heart.

It is a little dated already in some ways -- social media in particular, which May acknowledges will change before she even finishes the book -- but otherwise a useful and thorough overview of activism techniques for Canadians. I finished the book with a lot more understanding of May and more respect for the years of work she did even before joining politics. And many ideas!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

All In: Entrepreneurial Inspiration Part 2

Resolution: Start that business you're dreaming of

All In / Arlene Dickinson
Toronto: HarperCollins, 2013.
304 p.

This is the second book I've read by Dickinson; she is a very successful entrepreneur & was an investor on Dragons Den for years. Plus, she's a decent person, both online and as shown in her first book Persuasion. I'm more likely to take advice from someone like her who is first of all a good human being, then a businessperson. And an experienced, successful one at that. 

All In is partly business advice, partly life advice and just a little bit also a promotion of her new (in 2013) online community, You, Inc. While I'm not all that interested in the online community, I was very interested in this book. 

Within the first few pages I was able to see things differently thanks to her comments. And the book supports the idea of being "all in" -- when you're an entrepreneur you don't think about "work life balance", as often working is life and vice versa. This is a book about the entrepreneurial lifestyle as a whole, not a simple look at how to start a business.

She does state that sometimes you do have to sacrifice things you might have wanted to do because of business needs (she gives the example of having to cancel a vacation with her girlfriends because of a business crisis that arose suddenly) and that sometimes people might have a hard time accepting that, especially if you are a woman. I like that she doesn't sugarcoat the hard work that it takes to be in business for yourself, and also that she doesn't play down the fact that much of this is harder for women because of systemic issues. She also believes that some people have an entrepreneurial personality that will make it easier for them to manage this kind of lifestyle, and I agree; a tendency toward both risk and optimism seems like it would be helpful, as a natural inclination.

Anyhow, if you are at all interested in the self-employed life, or even if you're not but you know others who are, this would be a great read. It will help you understand the personality and philosophy behind someone who is "all in", who is focused on their business first. And it will help you judge whether that kind of commitment would be something you would be up for - and if so, it will encourage you to jump in. All in. 

For more thoughts from Arlene, you can find her most often on twitter, at @ArleneDickinson or on Facebook

Monday, January 09, 2017

Lighting Your Fire: Entrepreneurial Inspiration

Resolution: Find Your (Business or Life) Passion 

If reading about all those creativity tips gets you excited about changing your life, here's one to read on finding your passion, whether that's for life in general or more specifically, in your career. 

The Firestarter Sessions: a soulful & practical guide to creating success on your own terms / Danielle LaPorte
New York: Harmony Books, c2012.
333 p.

Danielle LaPorte is  a cheerful, passionate life and business coach, well known now for her website and her many courses, books and products.When I first saw The Firestarter Sessions a couple of years ago, though, it was my introduction to her work. I've just reread it, and been re-energized by it at this time of year.

The format of the book reminds me of my recent David Usher read: it also has random sized fonts on various pages, and lots of questions and lists to fill out. Here's one example of the interior, from her website:

It's bigger and more content-heavy, however. LaPorte is a very strong, encouraging, positive voice whose specialty is business & entrepreneurship. She's run various online businesses & been successful in many areas. Now she's sharing her experience. It's a bit "girlfriendy" for me, but not too much so - it didn't put me off the book at all. Nor did it stop me from checking out her website and the many programs & resources there. I guess I'm late to the game with Laporte -- she is apparently one of Oprah's "Super Soul 100". Things I didn't know...

Anyhow, this read ties in nicely to the whole idea of expanding creative ways of thinking, in this case focused on personal development. The tone is firm and positive - she is an Oprah/Marie Forleo/Gretchen Rubin kind of writer. But she also has an edge of take-no-crap Canadianness that I really enjoy ;) If you're ready for a book that requires honesty from the reader, this would be it.

I find her style and the content of this book inspiring, for real. The questions she asks really help to move past the excuses we all make to ourselves, and to identify what it is that we want to happen -- and then what needs to be done to get there. No thinking small or yes-butting here. This is a book that would reward rereads and re-working of the questions and answers each time you engage with it. I can see it being helpful especially to those who are ready to make changes, and who are accustomed to writing their way toward finding answers for themselves. If you are thinking about life changes this year, check this book out, and then take a visit to LaPorte's website for more. 

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Happy Ukrainian Christmas!

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Happy Ukrainian Christmas to all!

On this day of celebration, I'll be reading some Ukrainian Canadian literature
 and eating lots of good food -- always important for a proper Ukrainian celebration!

Best Wishes to everyone who celebrates :)