Lesley Crewe: Books for Difficult Times and Ordinary Moments

Lesley Crewe is one of Atlantic Canada's best-loved and bestselling writers, author of ten novels including Mary, Mary, Amazing Grace, Chloe Sparrow, Kin , and Relative Happiness, which has been adapted into a feature film. Her latest is Beholden—and here she shares a list of other books about people finding their way.

*****

All of these books are about making your way in the world. The beauty and horror of relationships, expectations, dreams and sorrows. How do any of us walk on, when life pushes you endlessly back and forth like the tide? We don’t want to be alone. Hearing stories about how others cope with their existence is reassuring, like having a lamp in the window. 

*

A Good House, by Bonnie Burnard

About the book: I loved the bits of ordinary small-town life revealed through the story of Bill and Sylvia Chambers. They were exactly like the people I grew up with. Not exciting or extraordinary, but their lives were important, regardless. It made me want to look at small things—the moments that make up our everyday lives, the ones we tend to ignore. 

*

You Better Watch Out, by Greg Malone

About the book: I have always loved Greg Malone as a performer with CODCO. His Newfoundland sensibility feels familiar to my Cape Breton way of thinking, and learning about his childhood in St. John’s was funny and heartbreaking—two combinations that can overwhelm you with emotion. It reminds you how vulnerable we are as children. And how tough. And that young self is never far below the surface no matter how many years go by. 

*

The Break, by Katherena Vermette

About the book: This book seemed outside my comfort zone, which is why I wanted to read it.  And as different as my life might be from those of Stella, Lou, Cheryl, or Paulina, the relationships and family ties are the same. When trauma happens, the ripples span outward endlessly and affect all the generations together. Kin is kin. We cannot be separated in life or death. 

*

The Nymph and the Lamp, by Thomas Raddall

About the book: I wanted to read Thomas Raddall as soon as I moved to Nova Scotia, because his name was everywhere. I knew all the titles of his books, but had never read any, which was shameful. I picked The Nymph and the Lamp because I loved the title. That’s often all it takes. This book enthralled me. A true love story, as wild as Sable Island itself. Such a romantic setting, yet harsh and lonely, like Heathcliff and Cathy on the moors. I love a good ending. 

*

Feeding My Mother, by Jann Arden

About the book: I’ve admired Jann Arden for years. Watching and reading her entries on dealing with her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s is a personal thing for me, as that was my own father’s fate. Jann tells the truth with humour and sorrow and invites you on the journey, which is a brave thing to do. I also love cookbooks, so this was a win-win. 

*

A Complicated Kindness, by Miriam Toews

About the book: This book made me so angry, which is always a great sign. I was 16 again and Nomi made me remember how unfair life could be at that age. How much you love your family and yet how disappointing and powerless you can be in the face of their decisions and actions. I wanted to pluck Nomi out of the pages and have a sleepover with her and together rail against the world: Let’s run away and start over. But love often keeps you where you are, for better or worse. I love books that make you feel that much. 

*

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

About the book: If I’m being truthful, this book launched a thousand other books for me. I was Anne when I read it and I understood her love for Prince Edward Island. My love was Cape Breton Island, and coming from Montreal, I would dream of it, when I was away. The scenery, the water, nature and animals were sacred to me and still are. It’s inspiring when you know that the author of a favourite book “thinks” like you do. Kindred spirits are important for children and I wanted to write a story just like Lucy Maud. 

*

Atomic Storybook, by Ed MacDonald

About the book: Another Maritimer. Atomic Storybook was funny, scathing, brutal, irreverent, and a pleasure to fall into. I love Ed MacDonald, his writing, his television productions and his sister, Bette. Again, his sensibility is my own. It’s more fun to be funny and to see the world with a fresh take. Not everyone gets it, but so what? That’s what reading is for. Different voices are necessary to navigate life. What would we do without books? 

*

About Beholden:

Meet Nell, the “spinster on the hill” near St. Peter’s, Cape Breton. Scarred by her own childhood, she swears she could never love a child and that she will never marry, denying herself a life with the man she loves. She’s proven wrong when a baby is born just down the road from her. Her love of Jane propels us forward through generations trying to untangle their own traumas and secrets. Eventually, we meet Bridie—joyful, kind, capable Bridie—and see her struggling through the echoing pain of those who came before her. Her choices, her bravery, her “nest of wonderful women,” and her ultimate refusal to settle for anything less than love, eventually redeem her and everyone around her—even the spinster on the hill.

October 22, 2018
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