Mary Anning (1799-1847) was a fossil collector and expert in paleontology from Lyme Regis in Dorset, England.  Among her most notable discoveries were an icthyasaur, plesiosaur and pterosaur (“saury” – won’t describe the ancient creatures here but you get the drift!) All important finds and instrumental in proving the theory of extinction: ancient species had existed at one time, in an age of “dinosaurs”.  Mary is a fascinating character in history, respected now for her extraordinary contribution to modern day understanding of prehistorical life and geographical history but challenged with a lack of recognition in her day due to her gender and low social status.  As an aside, she was also the inspiration behind the verse: “She sells sea shells by the seashore”.

Two accomplished writers were motivated to explore and capture Mary’s story in fiction for the rest of us to enjoy and, coincidentally, at just about the same time. The books were published within a few months of one another early in 2010. Curiosity by Canadian writer Joan Thomas is enjoying many accolades and celebration; it was  long listed for the Giller prize and named The Vancouver Sun’s inaugural selection in its new on-line book club.  Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier has also been reviewed positively and I’m sure will be picked up by those who’ve enjoyed her other terrific books: The Virgin Blue, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, Burning Bright and others.  I’m an enormous fan of her writing.

Each of the authors took a distinct approach to imagining Mary’s story. I think this makes a great opportunity to read both and compare the versions of her so-called life – perhaps a good Book Club task for one of those longer spells between meetings. If one had to choose to read just one based on the cover alone, which would you select?  Let us know what you thought if you’ve already read one or the other. Click on the book covers to be taken to the authors’ websites and note the similarity there. You’ll find great information on each site.

The Blessings of the Animals

September 28, 2010

You may remember my reference to Katrina Kittle in an earlier entry related to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop. I promised to write more about her and today is the day. Katrina spoke at the conference not about humour (though she was charming and witty to be sure!) but about the craft of writing. She is a writer who takes the responsibility of her role very seriously and while it is tempting to say she’s “gifted” the reality is her gift is her dedication to exploring social issues and then presenting their nuances in a most readable and inspiring way. Please do not be daunted by the tough topics (AIDS, Child Abuse, Addiction, Divorce …) Do yourself a favour and take the plunge. She is a sincere storyteller – you will find humour along with some sadness and be left with a hearty whiff of optimism. I have read The Kindness of Strangers and The Blessings of the Animals and am delighted there are two more to relish. (Traveling Light, Two Truths and a Lie)

I most recently read The Blessings of the Animals. The story focuses on a veterinarian (Camden) who is left by her husband and must forge a new understanding of herself and the important relationships in her life. The characters in the wide cast have intriguing stories of their own and are surrounded by a delightful troupe of wise animals, each with its own tale too. (Tale/Tail? I know … too much!) For the record, I’d like to come back in another life as Muriel the Goat – ahhh the sass! 

A wonderful discovery within the pages was a reference to a real-life Blessing of the Animals. This enchanting ceremony at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City (there are others around the world too) celebrates the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (this Sunday, October 3rd in 2010) and blesses the animals in his honour.  Katrina incorporates it into a  poignant part of her story but this video gives you a little peek of the real deal.

The cover of the the Blessings of the Animals book is so appealing. Katrina shares her feelings about it in her own blog:  “What I love about this cover for The Blessings of the Animals is that not only does it suggest (rightly) that a woman and a horse will be key players, but it speaks to me of love, of trust, of comfort (which one is comforting the other, or is it mutual?), and even hope (grass that shade of green can only be springtime). Combined with the title, hopefully it will compel potential readers to want to know more.”

Pick up a copy of The Blessings of the Animals and keep an eye on the news media this weekend for coverage of the feasts and ceremonies.

Click here for an earlier post on books and their covers.

 

I confess to an overwhelming desire to peer at people’s bookshelves. I try to do so politely but don’t you agree it’s such fun to see who they cook with, what fiction appeals, where they have traveled or want to travel,  what poets inspire … ?  It’s so revealing and usually leads to great conversation.  Now, I may peek, peruse or flat out ponder a friend’s shelf but I’ve never gone so far as to record its contents.  Talented artist Jane Mount does though and in a most wonderful way. These delightful little scenes capture the colourful spines of special collections. Here are Jane’s own words:

For a while, I’ve been documenting people’s bookshelves as a form of portraiture; you can actually learn a lot about folks by their books’ covers. Now, I’m working on a series of “ideal” bookshelves: sets of favorites in a genre—mine or someone else’s—amalgamated in a picture, even if they don’t usually live on shelves anywhere near each other.

We all show off our books on shelves like merit badges, because we’re proud of the ideas we’ve ingested to make us who we are. We are proud to display what has inspired us, as we should be, and we hope to connect to other people by doing so. When I paint someone else’s bookshelf and they have some of the same books I do, I feel amazingly joyful about it, and about them.”

Jane has a number of her works for sale on her etsy webpage but can also do custom bookshelves –  your bookshelf. Learn how and see some samples of her work:  http://www.etsy.com/shop/janemount  More information and a wide collection of her bookshelf portraits can be found at http://idealbookshelf.typepad.com/ 

Meanwhile, I’m in the midst of trying (it’s been taking me months) to pack up my boys’ baby books and I’m suffering. I end up sitting on the floor reading and remembering all those cozy times when the boys smelled so yummy after a bath and we snuggled up at bedtime with our favourite stack of books. I just can’t part with them.  A painted permanent record of our collection could be just the solution!  

 

What titles would you have painted together? 

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