Tag Archives: Susan Fish

Top 10 Books From 2014

‘Tis the season for “best of 2014” lists, and here are  my picks for top 10 books I’ve read this year. (Goodreads tells me I read 64… ouch! And I know I didn’t record everything there.) Some were published in 2014, and some are older. These are in no particular order, and each one is best in its own category.

Non-fiction:

Fiction:

My stash of books to read is already intimidating, but how about sharing some of your picks from 2014? I can always add a few more…

Review: Ithaca, by Susan Fish

Ithaca, by Susan FishIthaca, by Susan Fish (Storywell, 2014)

When your life revolves around your husband and his work, what do you do when you have to start over? Alone?

Ithaca is a coming-of-age story—for a 59-year-old woman.

Daisy Turner’s husband, Arthur, was a professor at Cornell University. She typed his notes and kept his home. And made soup for a crowd every Wednesday.

They married young, and Daisy found fulfillment as a wife and mother. Now her son works overseas, and she’s a widow. And most of her friends are really Arthur’s friends.

She finds herself developing a friendship with a man who is slowly losing his wife to illness, and with a young woman who’s an environmental activist. Daisy surprises herself—and her son—by signing up for a university course to learn about fracking. She doesn’t know what it is, but the protest signs are everywhere, and she’d like to learn.

There’s so much to appreciate about this novel. Daisy seems quiet and ordinary, but it’s that very ordinariness that connects with readers. She’s candid about her grief, and the struggles it brings. We can identify. As her concern grows about the possible environmental danger from the fracking proposals, we can relate to this polite, reserved, non-activist who’s afraid that by doing nothing she’s surrendering the fight.

Most of us have concerns about some issue or another, and we know that feeling of helplessness. It’s interesting to watch Daisy discover how she fits into the bigger picture, how she can express her concerns in a way that’s true to who she is.

Ultimately, I think that’s what the story is about: finding—and being true to—one’s identity. Prepare to be charmed by Daisy, and by the town of Ithaca, NY, along the way.

Ithaca is a mainstream novel, and certain characters occasionally use mild profanity. Daisy herself was raised in the church, left for a time, but returned as an adult. Her faith shapes her life, but she’s still human and still open to making poor choices, as are we all.

Susan Fish writes beautifully and with an honesty I admire. Here are some of my favourite lines:

I needed the present to hold me very close because the past was threatening to engulf me. [p. 15]

Mondays were the days I stayed in my housecoat and watched hours of television shows, just to hear a human voice. [p. 19]

She carried loaves of bread from the restaurant like she was Miss America and they were her flowers. [p. 20, Daisy, about another friend]

I’m a farmer, Daisy Jane. I save my anger for what really matters. [p. 91: Carmel, the young activist. I love this perspective.]

Susan Fish is a Canadian author and editor as well as the principal of Storywell, an online resource for writers. You can find her blog at susanfishwrites.wordpress.com. If you missed the character interview I did with Daisy Turner, you can read it here.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Character interview: Daisy Turner

Susan Fish is a Canadian author and editor as well as the principal of Storywell, an online resource for writers. Her new novel, Ithaca, releases October 1, 2014.

Susan Fish

Susan Fish

Today I’m chatting with Daisy Turner, the main character of Ithaca.

Janet: Welcome, Daisy, and thanks for taking time to join us. First, let me offer my sympathy for your loss. Would you care to tell us a little about yourself, and about Arthur, too? You were married a long time, and you’re bound to have shaped each other along the way.

Daisy: Thank you, Janet. I appreciate your sympathy. My husband, who died in May, was a geology professor at Cornell University. I was his right-hand man. Right-hand woman, I should say. I typed his papers for him and, as much as it isn’t fashionable to say this, I was very happy being Arthur’s wife and Nick’s mother, and running our household.

Janet: What do you miss most about him?

Daisy: Oh goodness, my answer to that would probably be different every day. What surprised me was that it’s the little things more than the big things, the things only I would know about him.

Janet: Shh… is there anything that’s easier about living alone again?

Daisy: This is actually the first time I’ve ever lived alone. I was very young when I married. I’m not sure easier is the word I would use, generally. Arthur had a heart condition and we had to adopt a low-sodium diet. It is nice to be able to season my food again.

Janet: Your son is working overseas, correct? Do you think you might visit him at some point?

Daisy: My son works in Singapore. We visited him a couple of years ago. I always keep a small rock in my pocket, a rock I picked up on a beach in Singapore. It helps me feel that he isn’t so far away. I imagine I will visit him again at some time, but he’s been good about coming home too.

Janet: I love that idea of the pocket-rock for connection! So much of your life revolved around Arthur’s schedule. I see you’ve kept the weekly Wednesday soup nights. How did those start? And do you find comfort in keeping up the tradition?

Daisy: I don’t think the people who come to Wednesday nights would let me stop even if I wanted to! But I don’t want to stop. It’s been part of my life almost since we moved to Ithaca. Initially it was just Arthur’s grad students who came to dinner, and soup was the easiest thing to make—because it stretches to accommodate an extra person or two. After a few years, it became a standing date.

Janet: Do you create your own recipes? And are you a local food cook, or does that matter to you?

Daisy: I cook for a large crowd so I have to adapt but I usually start with a recipe. Over time, it becomes my own. We have a vibrant farmer’s market in Ithaca and that’s where I get most of the food for my soups. All the vendors there come from a small radius around the town, so I suppose yes, I do cook local foods.

Janet: I confess I hadn’t heard of Ithaca before. It sounds like a charming university town, and I’d love to see the waterfalls. Please tell us about your home. What do you like best about where you live?

Daisy: I’m from the South originally but Ithaca has been my home since the early ’70s. I think I’d have to say—and I’ve never really thought about this before exactly—that there are two things I like most about Ithaca, and they aren’t that different from each other. One is the waterfalls and the other is the students. In both cases, what I love is the liveliness, the sense of movement. We have dozens of waterfalls in our area and I’m fond of all of them. You really should visit, and this time of year is a beautiful one with all the leaves in color. We aren’t a big city but Ithaca is home to Cornell, where my husband taught, and Ithaca College. Having the students around brings a freshness to our town; I always look forward to the end of summer when the students come back.

Janet: One of your friends keeps bees. Are you learning a few things about helping with them?

Daisy: I used to think bees were just a menace—other than the honey. Our friend Henry invited me to help him harvest honey recently, and it was fascinating to watch the process. I think we could learn a lot from bees. I’ll tell you one thing: bees eat honey but they don’t live long enough to eat the honey made from the nectar they collect. They have to depend on those who came before them, and they leave food for those who come behind them,

Janet: There’s a life lesson for humans in the bees’ pattern, I think! And there’s a new word in your vocabulary these days: fracking. I’m hearing more about that here in Nova Scotia, too. Do you think you’ll be able to figure out what it’s all about? It’s hard to know whose information to trust.

Daisy: I decided to take a course at the university to understand more about fracking. And yes, there are a wide variety of opinions on fracking—all of them quite strong too.  There’s a lot of excitement about being able to retrieve little pockets of gas from the shale, but I do worry that they are acting first and thinking afterward. That’s not the way to mess with things, if you ask me.

Janet: Your story isn’t particularly about faith, but you’ve recently returned to church. You’re even a Sunday School teacher now. Is there anything you’d like to share about what brought you back, or what difference faith makes in your life?

Daisy: I did come back to church. My son had moved to Singapore not long before the tsunami hit in south-east Asia. Singapore was not directly affected and my son was safe, but it unsettled me and it made me aware of how small I was and I needed something, Someone, who was bigger than a tsunami. I do teach Sunday School, and Father Jim comes to Wednesday nights, and I have a good friend who also came back to church with me. I feel like there’s solid rock under my feet now.

Janet: I find comfort in knowing there’s Someone bigger than me, too. Coffee or tea? And what’s your favourite season?

Daisy: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. Goodness, my favorite season… how can I choose? I don’t think I can pick one.

Janet: If you could do anything at all—travel, try something new, whatever—what might it be?

Daisy: I feel that that is exactly the question I am asking of myself these days. I don’t know the answer. There’s a lot that is new in my life, my new life without Arthur. I’ve had a nice, settled life until the last few months—and now I need to figure out what comes next.

Janet: Susan Fish is a fine person to write your story. Is there anything you’d like to say to her?

Daisy: She keeps asking me for my soup recipes. I was a bit surprised when she wanted to tell my story but she says she’s interested in grief and food and the power of community and sharing food, and I suppose my story really is about all these things, isn’t it? I would like to thank her for writing my story.

Janet: Daisy, I’m glad you joined us today, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you better as I read your story. I trust there are good surprises in store for you.

===

Ithaca, by Susan FishFor 39 years, Daisy Turner has been a professor’s wife, typing his notes and helping out. The centerpiece of her life is a weekly community dinner she hosts—one that always features soup. When her husband drops dead, Daisy has nothing to hold onto except, perhaps, the soup. Then, suddenly, Daisy finds herself entangled with a man whose wife is disabled, mothering a young activist-farmer, and swept into the controversy about fracking that has begun to concern their small Ivy League town.

Ithaca explores what happens when a quiet, almost sedimentary life meets the high-pressure forces of a small town. How do you rebuild after life as you know it is suddenly turned upside down—or is fracked?

Want to win a copy of Ithaca on Goodreads? Enter the giveaway before October 1, 2014.

Ithaca can be pre-ordered on Amazon or through your local bookstore. Book club members, this would be a great story for you to read together.

Susan Fish is a writer and editor (storywell.ca) in Waterloo, ON Canada. She loves to cook, walk her dog, and spend time with her husband and three kids. You can find Susan at her blog, Susan Fish Writes, and at Storywell.

Review: Seeker of Stars, a novella by Susan Fish

Seeker of Stars, by Susan Fish (Winding Trail Press, 2005)

Melchi has always been fascinated by the stars’ slow dance in the night sky. Even after exhausting days learning the family trade of rug making, he steals to the rooftop at night to gaze on his “beauties”.

When his father at last permits him to go and study with the astronomers, Melchi plays a key part in discovering the meaning of a new star and joins the expedition to Jerusalem in search of the newborn king of the Jews.

Told in the first person by an adult Melchoir who looks back over the events leading to his journey—and what happened at its end—Seeker of Stars carries an exotic taste as if this ancient scholar had learned English and invited us to hear the tale.

I love the richness of the language, both in feel and in word choice. Susan Fish says a lot in a very few pages, and creates memorable, complex characters.

This novella has become a part of my Christmas tradition. The season’s first strains of “We Three Kings” bring the story to life in my mind, but I save the reading—like a treat—to savour in the days after Christmas. Ideally I’ll read it around the time of Epiphany, when Christians observe the Magi’s visit.

You can read a sample of Seeker of Stars, or learn more about Canadian author Susan Fish, by clicking the links. Seeker of Stars has been in print for a few years now, but it’s still in stock at Amazon.ca or you can track down a copy through the author’s website or through Amazon.com. My favourite resource for used books, AbeBooks.com, even has a few copies.

Christmas Reading

I thought I’d start something new… Friday conversations. After all, part of the fun of blogs is getting to chat with people.

Since we’re into the Advent season and I just reviewed Melody Carlson’s The Christmas Dog, I thought I’d ask:

Do you like reading Christmas-themed stories this time of year? Does it help give you that Christmas feeling — or does it add to the sense of “I’m not ready yet!”?

For me, sometimes I enjoy reading a Christmas book over the holidays but it’s not something I seek out except… every year between Christmas and New Year’s I read Seeker of Stars, by Canadian author Susan Fish. It’s a novella about Melchior, one of the Three Wise Men, and I don’t fully feel I’ve celebrated the season until I’ve visited Melchi and his crowd. Must review this one so I can tell you more about it….

If you’re looking for short Christmas fiction, check out this month’s Christian Fiction Online magazine. Dee Stewart’s Multicultural Fiction column features eight short stories — and one of them’s mine!

So let us know… do you enjoy Christmas stories or not? Have any favourites?

Review: Northern Lights: An Anthology

Northern Lights: an anthology

Northern Lights: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Writing in Canada, Byron Rempel-Burkholder, Dora Dueck, Doug Koop, eds.  (John Wiley & Sons, 2008)

What does it mean to be a Christian living in Canada? Does our national identity affect our spiritual one?

The Northern Lights anthology came together as an exploration of “the many faces of being Christian in Canada” (p. 1). In essays and poetry, the selections attempt to trace out our “spiritual geography.”

Northern Lights is filled with beautiful and often thought-provoking writing. When I picked it up, I was glad to see some authors whose work I always enjoy, like Mark Buchanan, Susan Fish, and Linda Hall, and to “meet” many new-to-me authors. The best-known contributors are Bruce Cockburn, Michael Coren, Preston Manning, and Rudy Wiebe.

These are stories to savour slowly, not to rush. Some you may want to chew on for a bit, maybe mull over and discuss with a friend. I liked the ones in the first section, “Dance to Creation,” best.

The anthology is more an exploration of the significance of ideas and events than a simple telling of tales. It feels to me like a literary journal, or perhaps a university-level discussion—not hard to follow, but treading some deep water in places.

It’s almost inevitable to compare Northern Lights with Hot Apple Cider, since both anthologies of Canadian Christian writing released in the same year. They’re both fine books, and I’m glad to see them raising awareness that, yes, there are plenty of talented Canadian Christians who write. I hope many people will read these books and discover new favourite authors.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine—everybody drinks water.” Northern Lights may be a fine wine. Hot Apple Cider may be more of an “everyman” drink. We need both.

Northern Lights is a book well worth reading, and you’ll probably want to look for more works by the authors you like best. You can get it through your local bookstore or online through John Wiley and Sons, Chapters-Indigo or Amazon.ca.

God with Us

I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:10b-11, NIV*

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’-which means, ‘God with us.’
Matthew 1:22-23, NIV*

As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate the Incarnation – Emmanuel, God With Us – I wanted to share this video with you. Created by AJ Production Company, it features Todd Agnew’s song, “God With Us” (from my favourite Christmas CD, Do You See What I See?).

The video reminds me of a short novel that’s part of my annual Christmas celebrations. If you can find a copy, I encourage you to read Seeker of Stars, by Susan Fish. It’s the wonderfully evocative story of a young boy fascinated with stars and how he becomes a man who follows a star to Bethlehem in search of a king.

Have a wonderful and wonder-filled Christmas.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.