Sunday, September 16, 2007

Oh, incidentally . . .

That title is supposed to be my catchy hook to introduce a book of short stories, Incidental Music, by my good friend and next-door neighbour, Carol Matthews. It was launched today in a lovely event in downtown Nanaimo hosted by the amazing Thora Howell, former Canadian Bookseller of the Year, friend and supporter of writers everywhere, and organizer extraordinaire. To honour the book's title--a reference to the motif that links most of the stories as well as to titles of individual stories as well as of their organization into sections--a trio (all of whom live on our little island) played chamber music while we were coming in as well as several selections once Carol had been introduced but before she started reading. I've read two of the stories in earlier incarnations ("A Song for the Green Man" and "Spherae Mundi") and enjoyed them immensely, so I'm really looking forward to settling in with the whole collection. Carol's so observant, so curious about the world, and she brings together seemingly disparate elements in a way I'm tempted to call magpie-like except that magpies don't transform their findings into such whimsical wisdom. The stories I've read so far manage a light witty tone with a certain heft that testifies to their writer's experience, and I love the way Carol can acknowledge the very real problems of these times while nevertheless clearly displaying a love for life, for the world's riches, and, above all, for all us flawed humans.

What's even more impressive about this collection is that it follows by barely a year Carol's first book, The First Three Years of a Grandmother's Life. Even more inspiring is that both these books have come since Carol "retired" although that word can only be judiciously applied to what happens next door to me -- I'm not sure "retired" has ever looked so productive. And there's another book coming out in a few books about Carol's engagement with that scourge of our times, breast cancer.

Should you want to pick up/order either of the two books pictured here, I should give you a bit more information. Incidental Music is published by Oolichan, and The First Three Years by Ryerson UP (distributed by Sandhill).

And although you may not have had the chance I did today to hear Carol reading her work -- she has a rich, full, contralto voice with enough volume to fill a hall without the aid of technology -- here's a photo of her doing so. It's not a great shot, but I do think it conveys some of her intelligence, passion, and strength. Thanks for a lovely reading, Carol, and for the gift of your writing.

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