The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

April 2017

Gleebooks Bookshop - Wednesday, April 05, 2017
Recently, I had a short stay in hospital, an event which came as a shock. Seeing the doctor one day, operated on the next. As you can gather I was quite unprepared, most of all I had nothing to read. So I searched through the books piled high next to my bed, looking for something to take with me and I found a copy of Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster. I had intended to read this when it was released, but something held me back. I was a bit worried what Tóibín would do to Nora—but being slightly desperate, I took the book with me to hospital, and was very glad I took the chance. I loved the character of Nora, a strong-willed independent woman, who is forced to make a new life for herself and her children after the death of her much loved husband. How Nora copes with being a widow is a wonderful story of someone learning to stand up for themselves and create a new way of living. Resisting being seen as vulnerable, the 40 year old Nora goes back to work, and as she struggles with her new life, problems with her boys, the rise of troubles in the south, she grows stronger and more independent. A favourite part for me was when Nora begins singing lessons. Her mother was a singer and Nora has inherited this ability. As I love singing, I was right there with her at her lessons and her recital. By a strange coincidence, Amy, the woman in the bed opposite mine, came from Waterford, quite close to Enniscorthy where the novel is set. So I gave her the book when I left—but I need to get another copy, as I feel this is one of those books that could take a second reading.
I picked up Sinning Across Spain: A Walker’s Journey From Granada to Galicia by Ailsa Piper because I have long been fascinated by the idea of walking the Camino de Compostela—having friends who have done part or all of the trail. Piper’s book is a bit different from the others I have read, as in the fashion of medieval believers who used to pay others to carry their sins to holy places, Piper offers to carry other peoples sins for them. She advertises for people to lay their sins on her, asking them to donate money for her journey—enough to cover her expenses as she makes her way along the pilgrim walk. So, shouldering the usual suspects—sloth, envy, lust, pride etc (some of which are her own), Piper chooses to take the longest path, starting in Granada and finishing in Santiago de Compostela, and then on to Finisterre on the Atlantic Ocean—a walk of 1200 kilometres. She never expected the journey to be easy, and it wasn’t. Other walkers interrupted her preferred solitary perambulations—alone with the sins she is carrying. But along the way she meets great kindness, gifts of food and lodging, and of course the beauty of the landscape. After her book was published Roman Catholic Priest, Tony Doherty emailed Piper, and a great friendship sprang up. This led to the publishing of their collected correspondence called The Attachment. It’s due for release this month, and Doherty and Piper will be at Gleebooks on the 19th April. I hope to see you there.
Lastly, a book I picked up among the proof copies at work is Where Hummingbirds Dance by Susi Prescott. Actually, it was among the proofs that my colleague, Ingrid, put aside for me thinking I might find it interesting—and she was right. Prescott’s memoir is the story of the breakdown of a marriage and a journey to a new life in a new country. Susi was a school teacher—teaching French—living with her husband and four children in a big house on Sydney’s North Shore. But when her husband, Richard, suddenly leaves after one counselling session, Susi’s world falls apart. She stumbles through the following weeks—falling, picking herself up and getting through it with the help of friends and colleagues who rallied around with wine and hugs. On the first night the children had dinner with dad, Susi drank a bottle of wine while watching a DVD and crying. The next day, with a terrible hangover, she decided that she had to do something with the rest of her life. First, she spends time in Nepal and Rwanda, working as a language educator. Next, she goes on a five week trek in Peru, during which time she visited a city called Arequipa in the Andes. There she finds a new life awaiting her. Wanting to stay but needing a job, she enrols in a Spanish language course and emails an English language institute in Arequipa. After a few weeks with no response, Susi emails them and finds, to her alarm, they are expecting her in three weeks. At the writing of the book she has been there six years—mostly spent working at the Colegio Elohim, an impoverished school at the foot of the Andes. Here she has found extremely difficult conditions. Children live in direst poverty—with fathers who drink and mothers who work hard to feed and clothe the family. She has come to love the children, and they her .On her trips back to Sydney Susi organises fund raisers and has managed to build two new classrooms—complete with a roof—which means no more rain coming in. During her time in Arequipa, Susi met and fell in love with Antonio—a man from the institute. Things didn’t go smoothly, with a clash of cultures part of the problem. This is a very interesting story of a woman searching for a new way of living and a new meaning in life, which she finds among the poor, destitute children of Peru. Susi Prescott is also at Gleebooks this month—on Thursday the 6th. Janice Wilder

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