According to author Nora Ephron, “Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later…Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it's a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it's a way of making contact with someone else's imagination after a day that's all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”
At the beginning of our mentorship journey, it quickly became apparent that something in our roadmap had to be related to reading. Marilyn’s dedication to her book club interested Stacey as she wanted to get back to reading – a pastime that had lapsed for a while. After discussing what we liked in a book we both knew we wanted to read work by a Canadian author, and something different than what we might normally pick. We settled on “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” by Madeline Thien, winner of the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and Governor General’s Award.
The book moves between families in various parts of China and Canada. The themes of oppression, sacrifice, music, writing and composing ran through the novel. Only a few chapters into the book, we started to realize that perhaps we had bitten off more than we could chew. The book had taken a turn into socio-political issues related to the Tiananmen Square protests and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, both topics we knew little about. New characters started emerging left, right and center throughout the book; and it was difficult to keep track of the storyline. The book flipped back and forth in time and within various characters and situations.
We would often commiserate during our calls and meetings about how the book was not the easiest (or lightest) read. Unbeknownst to each other, we both took a break and read other books. Our dedication to each other and a desire to complete a shared goal kept us at the book. We both admitted we wouldn’t have finished it if we hadn’t made a pact with each other. We’d often describe our experiences as “at least we are reading” or “this is definitely something outside of my comfort zone”.
As we struggled to complete this book, Marilyn suggested we set page goals to stay motivated. Giving up wasn’t an option! When the blog opportunity came up, we both agreed immediately that we’d write about reading this book.
Marilyn likes to think about how book titles reveal something about the story. Don’t Tell Us We Have Nothing didn’t resonate with Marilyn. It’s true that many characters in the book had no material possessions, and their musical composition and playing skills can never be taken away, but this was lost in the myriad of details about history and revolution.
Stacey thought the book carried some appeal, having won the prestigious Giller Prize. In the past, she had been attracted to books that had historical undertones. However, this one seemed to focus more on the characters and lives within the significant historical events taking place around them. This made it difficult to connect the historical significance with the storyline without pulling up Google to learn more.
We mused that reading a difficult book is not unlike working through difficult life challenges. Sometimes you just can’t handle a certain situation and need to take a break to come back at it again. It’s always easier to quit. Trying to learn about topics that aren’t your top interests forces you to expand your horizons and move outside your comfort zone. Being faithful to a shared goal also takes dedication, whether reading a book together or tackling any life situation with a partner, friend or colleague.
A shared experience. It is one way to sum up the completion of the book and this blog post. While it may have taken longer than expected, we both felt like we accomplished something when it was finished and most importantly, it is something we completed together.
We’re at it again! Our next selection is titled “The Right to be Cold” written by Sheila Watt-Cloutier. It is a Canada Reads 2017 Selection and follows one woman’s work trying to protect the Artic. Stay tuned!