The Truth About Luck – Iain Reid

I have been eager to get a copy of Iain Reid’s new book so when I received a review edition from House of Anansi – a surprise, and a great one at that – I was ecstatic and did not wait to jump into the story. Reid’s previous book, One Bird’s Choice was one of my favourite reads of 2010 and my expectations were sky-high for The Truth About Luck. It rocks! Hard!

From the book’s description:

9781770892415_1024x1024 In The Truth about Luck, Iain Reid, author of the highly popular coming-of-age memoir One Bird’s Choice, accompanies his grandmother on a five-day vacation — which turns out to be a “staycation” at his basement apartment in Kingston. While the twenty-eight-year-old writer is at the beginning of his adult life, his ninety-two-year-old grandmother is nearing the end of hers. Between escorting his grandma to local attractions and restaurants, the two exchange memories and she begins to reveal details of her inspiring life story.
Told with subtlety, humour, and heart, this delightful comic memoir reflects on family connections; how we experience adversity, the passage of time, and aging; and most importantly what it truly means to feel lucky.

 

Sometimes you read a book and it is something you connect with so personally and deeply it can become nearly impossible to detach from it to assess or review in a constructive way. That happened with this amazing book. But, I have been thinking about it for a few days now and I feel – my personal attachment wrestled off to the side – the strength of Reid’s writing – the flow of the story and his ability to make us curious and really care about what he and his grandma are up to – make this book totally worth its 5-star rating.

Web_Reid_slideshow_01Along with some eerie similarities between Reid and I (hello worry, anxiety and writerly lifestyle you crazy trifecta, you), our grandmothers are very similar women. Both were born in the U.K. (his in Scotland, mine in England (in 1917) but with her family she moved to Scotland very early on in her life). Both women lived through two World Wars and the depression and both ladies worked hard for most of their lives. As well, they are very smart and funny people. So, in reading Reid’s book, it was like having my grandma here with me again. (Sadly, grandma died in the summer of 2009, at the age of 92.) There were moments in the book that had me laughing so hard, tears streamed down my face and my stomach hurt. In one particularly hilarious scene, Reid’s grandmother somehow becomes entangled in her seatbelt. This quickly brought to mind an outing my grandma and I had together many years ago. It was a very hot summer day and we were going out for lunch. My car at that time was nicknamed ‘Oven Car’ – it was a notoriously bad place to be on hot, unrelentingly sunny days. I helped grandma into the car and as I got settled into my own seat, she suddenly lurched forward, grabbing the dashboard while shouting “My Ass is on fire!” But the dashboard was really hot too. “My hands are on fire!”, she then yelled. “How do you live like this?”, she wondered out loud while simultaneously trying to get undone from the seatbelt in some failed attempt at escape and fumbling with the interior controls, searching for the non-existent air-conditioning. It was so hot. But it was so hilarious and quickly became a funny story we liked to re-tell.

There were other, quieter moments, in The Truth About Luck that were beautiful and heartfelt. I am glad Reid – encouraged by his brother Jimmy – went with the idea of giving his grandmother time together as a birthday gift. They spent five days at Reid’s home in Kingston, Ontario talking, eating, seeing some local sites and learning things about one another they hadn’t previously known.

I have, unintentionally, been on this trend lately of reading books with older people featuring as main characters – here, Reid’s grandma is 92; last week I read Terry Fallis’ newest novel, Up and Down. It features a 71-year-old protagonist. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, which I read a few months ago, was a completely endearing hoot. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and Helen Simonson‘s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand also feature characters of retirement age. Given our demographic trend towards an aging population, perhaps this is the new thing in publishing? If it is — I am a big fan. I can think of quite a few more books I have read and enjoyed in recent years that feature mature characters with interesting stories — I bet you can come ups with some great books too, if you think about it for a moment. As individuals, we have a lot to learn. Within developed societies, we take a lot for granted. Hearing about the experiences, challenges and triumphs of older generations should smarten us up and help us realize that older does not mean already dead. Older does not mean no longer worth our time. On the contrary, our respect, gratitude and time should be used to honour and value those who have come before us.

Helen Edna

Helen Edna

I remember talking with my own grandma about the idea that when people get old they often get forgotten. She used to tell me how lucky she felt to have her family around her and I would feel really sad thinking about those who either had no one or had people who choose to stay away. My grandmother always had more energy and more of a social life than I ever seem(ed) to muster and I really hope to live as excellent a life as she did. So, I thank Reid for his wonderful book but also for the fact that through his book I was able to spend some precious, dedicated time remembering my own grandmother and the shenanigans we got up to together. That is a great gift to a reader indeed!

This is a much more personal review than I usually write. But I suspect this is happening to a lot of people reading The Truth About Luck. I feel that most people will find it a challenge to read this book in a detached manner. Reid’s style invites you in to a comfortable, relatable story that opens you up for reminiscence. Oh, and in a totally weird yet even more personal aside:  I really need to get in touch with Reid’s mum to find out about her use of plain yogourt to help her diabetic cat. My wonderful dog recently developed insulin-dependent diabetes and he’s had a very rough go these past few months. He’s a bit more stable now, thanks goodness, and I am researching ways to help him further. Reading that yogourt could be some sort of miracle supplement to help my dog’s coat and general health, well — I need to know more!

Edited to add: Reid recently spoke with the 49th Shelf about The Truth About Luck. It’s a great article!

Book Lover’s Ball 2011 – Part Two

I had a great feed-back to part one of my Book Lover’s Ball post; thanks to everyone for reading about the wonderful evening. I received quite a few questions by email, so in part two of my coverage, I will try to answer all of your questions, while sharing some more pictures and details of the evening.

Question #1:

What was served during the cocktail reception?

Answer:

Celebrity Chef, Marc Thuet orchestrated the luscious cocktail reception. Guests were treated to several different hors d’oeurves, including: savoury crepe with smoked salmon and creme fraiche, steak tartare on a potato gaufrette and an amuse-bouche risotto with wild mushroom and aged parmesan . Everything was delicious and looked gorgeous too.

Question #2:

What did you have for dinner?

Answer:

Dinner was created by the Royal York Hotel‘s executive chef David Garcelon. Our menu for the evening began with a twice-baked goat cheese souffle with wild and cultivated greens, cilantro chutney in an herb buttermilk dressing. Next, we were treated to some amazingly tender, melt-in-your-mouth roasted Alberta beef loin with maple sweet potato Charlotte and tart huckleberry jus. This was served along side olive oil glazed, roasted winter vegetables that were really lovely. For dessert, our sweet spots were tamed by espresso chocolate truffle almond dacquoise pine nut crunch with amaretto anglaise and tiramisu espresso crepe zabaglione mascarpone cream with espresso soaked lady fingers and dark sweet cherry compote. Garcelon managed to create a meal that was wonderful while eschewing typical banquet fare. It is also impressive to note that Garcelon, as Executive Chef at the prestigious Royal York Hotel, juggles 6 restaurants, massive banquets and room service. Complete with a walkie talkie, he oversees 12 sous chefs and in the course of a typical day, he walks 8 kms. Garcelon manages a budget of $30-million, and a staff of 200. He earned his first gig as an executive chef at the age of 28. At the Royal York, he’s also become an advocate for local produce – even keeping an herb garden and 10,000 bees on the roof so that the hotel can take advantage of fresh herbs. At 42, David Garcelon is a decade younger than most chefs in such a high-profile position.

Question #3:

How does a fashion show tie in with a book event?

Answer:

This is a question I was asked, not only by readers of Literal Life, but also by people I was talking with, in person, following The Book Lover’s Ball. The fashion show was a great way for guests to be entertained after dinner. Staged in six scenes, one book was paired with one or two fashion designers. The creations presented brought the designer’s feel for the story they were representing to life in a way that was appreciated by the audience. The books that were used for inspiration were: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert; Mystify by Artist Arthur; Midnight at the Dragon Cafe by Judy Fong Bates; Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda; 007 Carte Blanche : The New James Bond Novel by Jeffrey Deaver; and The Ice Princess by Camilla Läckberg. The fashions ranged from fun and playful to elegant and ethereal. In particular, the designs of Romona Kaveza, paired with Läckberg’s winter-y novel were stunning. Introducing the fashion show was Lisa Tant, editor-in-chief of Flare magazine. Designers showcasing their fashions included: Nadya Toto, Shan, 2 Second, Samuel Dong, Yves Jean Lacasse, and Hugo Boss.

Question #4:

Where are the pictures of you, Jennifer??

Answer:

Fair enough! Since I attended the event on a media pass, I was flying solo for the night. I didn’t want to appear like a total goofball by doing the classic “don’t mind me, I’m taking a picture of myself” manoeuver. You know the one: you shoot your hand way, way out, holding your camera, and stretching your arm as long as it will go then hope you are in the viewfinder and snap off a photo of yourself. Somehow, trying that while one is unaccompanied seems mucho el-lame-o. I was snapped, with two lovely ladies by another media photographer but as of yet I have not been able to track that picture down. I did do something oddly fun, in an attempt to capture one photo of me dressed up all girly-like. Hello Magazine had a “cover shoot” opportunity set-up for guests. I stood, gamely, for their photographer in front of a green screen. He was great about helping me pose and took a couple of different shots. Then, his assistant would do her computer magic and…voila! I was on the cover of the magazine. “Voila!” took about 15 minutes to process and be ready for pick-up and, in that time, I became distracted by all of the beautiful people, the happy bartenders and, oh yeah!!, talking with some of the best writers in Canada. By the time dinner began, the memory of my cover shoot was distant and, unfortunately, forgotten at the end of the night. So, note to self: next time, don’t be a doofus! Ask someone to take a picture of you with your own camera, would you??

Question #5:

Who else did you meet?

Answer:

Who else did I meet?? Well, I thought I had done very well showing you some of the great authors I had a chance to chat with but, apparently, you want more!! Heck, I don’t blame you, really. I was so thrilled with how open and gracious the writers I had a chance to speak with were with their time. I tried to be respectful and not take up too much of any one author’s time but, truth be told, there were several writers I was lucky enough to meet with whom I could have chatted for hours. Okay, so along with the terrific novelists I told you about in my previous blog posting, here are some great photos of additional authors (a singer and a CBC radio host too) I also had the chance to meet (even if just ever so briefly): Greg Levey, Gill Deacon, Cathy Marie Buchanan, Terry Fallis (standing with the CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi), Kate Taylor, Tish Cohen, James Bartleman, Betsy Powell and Matt Dusk (again with Jian Ghomeshi). Here they are:

Question #6:

Was there anyone you didn’t get to meet that you wish you could have?

Answer:

Absolutely!! I would have loved to have had the opportunity to meet Zoe Whittall and Micah Toub. I recently read Toub’s memoir Growing Up Jung and thought it would be cool to meet the man behind the interesting upbringing. Whittall has been a Toronto writer I have long admired. As well as being a gifted novelist and poet, Whittall has been a strong voice for furthering and promoting gay rights. That her day-job is with Quill & Quire magazine, makes me ever so slightly envious, I will admit.

So, clearly, the idea I am left with is this: I must ensure to be on the media list for next year so I can pester even more writers with my, with hope, less than inane questions.

Question #7:

How much did it cost for you to attend?

Answer:

Well, I was very fortunate to receive an invitation (as a member of the media) from Kirsti Stephenson, the Director of Special Events & PR, at The Mint Agency. Kirsti and her team were responsible for creating the PR strategy and promoting this event for the Toronto Public Library Foundation. If I factor in the haircut, manicure, pedicure and other necessities to get ready for The Ball, it came to a grand total of…none of your business!! 😀 It was for a good cause: the libraries of Toronto!

I can tell you that tickets to the 2011 event were $600 each. Yes, this is very pricey but if you are a book lover I would really urge you to start saving some money, today, for the 2012 Ball. It is such a tremendous opportunity to mingle with so many talented authors in such a posh setting. It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be gorgeous for an evening while hanging with some of Canada’s finest literati! I will remind you again that money from the event goes to help Toronto’s public library system.

Question #8:

What the heck is the Toronto Public Library Foundation??

Answer:

From the library website: Toronto Public Library Foundation believes in the social benefits of a strong and healthy public library system. As a registered charity, we foster relationships with people of vision to enhance the impact Toronto’s Library can have on individual lives, above and beyond the core services that municipal funding provides.

Through its fundraising efforts, the Foundation provides enhanced support to the Library in three broad areas:

* Improved and expanded collections
* Enhanced programs and services
* Revitalized community spaces

[Toronto Public Library] believes that the character and quality of a city depends on the resources available to its people. We believe that a great library is a fundamental requirement for any city to achieve its full social and economic potential. Toronto’s Libraries are vital to the city, and vital to support.

For more information on the Toronto Public Library Foundation, you can visit their web site.

Question #9:

How many books do you read in a year, anyway?

Answer:

A lot! Oh, wait, is that not specific enough?? Okay, in 2010 I read 92 books. Some were for work, some were to share on this blog and some were just because I am a total bibliophile and can get a little twitchy if my TBR (to be read) pile gets too low. I will also admit a slight addiction to the web site, Bookshelf Porn. Check it out; you know you wanna!

So, this completes my coverage of The Book Lover’s Ball, 2011 edition. I hope you have enjoyed reading about this event. I have really loved sharing my experience with you!

Look for an upcoming post about Midnight at the Dragon Cafe by Judy Fong Bates.