Inspired by Landscape

Photo by S. Mattison

On March 21, 2023 member Helle K. presented on Canadian author Mary Lawson. Helle has been a member of the CWLC since 2010, when she was introduced to the club by member Ritta V. She discovered the works of Lawson through our program theme and fell in love with the way the author writes, reading some of her books twice.

Mary Lawson uses the isolation of small town Northern Ontario to create tensions and interactions between characters that would not occur in the big city. While the author has lived in London (UK) for many years, she draws inspiration from the landscape of her youth, setting her novels in the 1960’s and 70’s. Helle read a passage from Crow Lake, which described the setting of the story, which for Helle evoked memories of the northern Canada town where her own father worked.

After writing the very successful Crow Lake at the age of 55, Ms. Lawson wrote 2 additional books in the same setting, using some of the same characters. While not billed as such, Helle sees these first three books as a trilogy. The Other Side of the Bridge and Road Ends are page turners that highlight family dynamics and how people move forward from life’s tragedies. The plots come together as a result of how characters develop. Helle found that Road Ends is an apt title for the last of these three books, as this expression can mean the end of a journey, the end of a story, or the end of a life.

Helle next read from A Town Called Solace, the author’s fourth book. The books plot was inspired by a glimpse of 4 boxes through a window. The novel shows how three characters come together, and shows the reader what’s in the packing boxes.

While no one knows what the future holds, Helle hopes that more works are forthcoming from Ms. Lawson, perhaps even a novel set in London.

Shawna M.

Next week, we welcome guest speaker Dr. Robert Boschman. Dr. Boschman currently chairs the department of English, Languages, and Cultures at Mount Royal University. Along with essay anthologies, he has published a book entitled White Coal City: A Memoir of Place and Family (2021).

At this meeting we welcomed a new member. We love to meet new people who enjoy literature. Will you be the next new member?

Click here to learn more

Hand Crafted Scenes

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

On March 14, member Anita M. presented on the works of Elizabeth Strout. Anita’s career as a psychologist likely explains her love for this author and her works. Anita found herself curious about Elizabeth Strout’s characters. They seemed like neighbours that one gets to know over the years, sharing everyday things and significant events in their lives.  

Like Joan Didion, at a young age, Ms. Strout’s mother gave her scribblers in which to write down her observations of people. For Strout (and Didion) this resulted in an exceptional career in literature. Strout continues to write daily, by hand, arranging words that “fall on her ears the right way.”

Elizabeth Strout obtained degrees in English and Law, worked at a New York college, raised a family, and continued to write. Her observations of people came to fruition when at age 42 she published her first novel: Amy & Isabelle (1998). Like Strout’s subsequent books, it is situated in a fictional small town in Maine, similar to the ones she grew up in. The book became a bestseller and later a movie. 

The author’s third book, Olive Kitteridge (2008,) won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize and has been turned into an HBO series. This book is an interconnected series of short stories depicting life’s journey. In 2014, Ms. Strout moved to a more conventional novel form with The Burgess Boys, which has also become a movie. 

Anita’s favorite book is Oh William!, which takes place on a road trip that the protagonist Lucy takes with her first (now ex) husband William, a year after her second husband dies.

Anita shared many excerpts from the author’s books highlighting her writing style and  characterizations. She shared that the author creates scenes in which she sees herself in each character. Major or minor characters, such as Olive Kitteridge, may crop up in later books, and these characters evolve with time. However, Anita noted that each book can be read on its own. Overall, Ms. Strout deals with the complexities of life in a way that is not sentimental or judgmental, and which doesn’t offer solutions.

As in her previous presentations to the club, Anita showed her own natural ease, grace and depth of understanding, while covering a large body of work.

Janet H.  (and Shawna M.)

Join us on March 21, 2023 when member Helle K. will present on the works of Canadian author Mary Lawson.

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Screwball Dramedies of the 21st Century

Photo by Lidya Nada on Unsplash

On March 7, we gathered at the Library with old and new friends for the first CWLC meeting of 2023. It was great to see everyone.

Member Betty S. gave the a presentation on author Gary Shteyngart. Mr. Shteyngart’s work includes nonfiction, fiction, and scripts for television (Succession). Betty described his novels as screwball comedies of the 21st Century, but noted that they provide insight into the pitfalls of our time that may not be funny at all.

Betty started reading this author after she read a New York Times Book Review of Lake Success (2018). Her favourite Shteyngart work was his memoir Little Failure, which was what his parent’s called him. Betty discussed the author’s early years in the USSR, followed by his life in the “Technicolor pool” of the USA. She also gave a reading from Lake Success.

The author’s other novels are: The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (2002), Absurdistan (2006), and Our Country Friends (2021). In answer to an audience question, Betty said that if she was giving this author an award, it would be for his use of language, “clever, and when not clever, funny”.

Thanks to Betty for a great introduction to Gary Shteyngart and a great start to the year.

Next week, member Anita M. will present on author Elizabeth Strout (author webpage:

Shawna S.

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Coming Soon…The Spring Session!

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Just a reminder to members and to others who love a good book that our regular meetings resume in March – which is fast approaching. We will be reuniting with in-person meetings on the theme New Writers of the 21st Century.

You can view our program here:

Shawna M.

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In Memoriam – Elaine Bucknum

With sadness, the Calgary Women’s Literary Club informs you of the passing of member Elaine Bucknum.

Elaine passed away on December 07, 2022. She had been with the CWLC for over 22 years and sat on the board in various positions. She served as President (2008-10), Program Chair, Treasurer, and was currently an active Member at Large.

Elaine gave a presentation on author Deborah Levy only two months ago.

In the words of our President: “Over the past year, I personally learned that Elaine was a strong, beautiful, smart, and adventurous woman. Many of you have known Elaine for numerous years and will miss her greatly. She will be missed by all.

Elaine’s obituary can be viewed here:

When the Data Comes Together…

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On November 22, 2022 member Natashia H. gave her premier presentation to the CWLC on the works of Malcolm Gladwell. Mr. Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers — The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath. In addition, his work is widely known through print and visual media, and through his podcasts which include Revisionist History and Broken Record.

Natashia is a lover of non-fiction, and her interests lean towards math and sciences. When she discovered Malcolm Gladwell’s popular non-fiction books based on analytics, she found a refreshing narrative based on real-life stories, which provide new ways to look at life. She likens Malcolm Gladwell to a skilled detective, who raises entirely new questions, analyses information, suspends judgment, and removes assumptions to reveal truths. He is a skilled writer, making his theories, the research behind them, and the implications for application accessible to a general audience.

In The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Gladwell analyzed how a few “influencers” can wildly affect the success of a product or idea – although the work pre-dates the term. In Outliers: The Story of Success Mr. Gladwell interviewed business owners with mega-success, such as Bill Gates. He discovered success depends not only on drive and intelligence but other factors beyond the individual’s control. It is in Outliers the world learned it takes 10,000 hours of practice before mastery of anything. Gladwell also explores the concept of mastery. He posits that while raw talent is necessary for success, a supportive home life, opportunity and practice are part of most meteoric success stories such as The Beatles and Bill Gates.

In Blink, Natashia was drawn how people think without thinking (intuition). While intuition can be powerful, she cited Gladwell’s example of gender bias in the selection of professional musicians and how more women “made the cut” when auditions were “blind”. People who beat all odds are the subject of David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. Gladwell’s examples show that when the little guy wins, more than luck is usually involved.

In summary, Natashia urged everyone to look for the hidden patterns and use data to challenge “known truths”. Members and Natashia finished up the last regular meeting of 2022 with discussion and questions about the work of this well-known author.

Janet H. & Shawna M.

In the spring, we will continue our theme of New Writers of the 21st Century. Members will present on the authors Gary Shteyngart, Elizabeth Strout, Mary Lawson, Emma Donaghue, Joseph Boyden, and Andrey Kurkov. In addition, we will welcome Dr. R. Boschman as a guest speaker. The updated schedule will be posted soon… see you then.

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Thomas King

On November 15, 2022 member Anne-Marie D. presented the works of an author I am fond of, Thomas King. Dr. King was born, raised and educated in the US, but has lived in Canada for many years, working as a professor at the University of Lethbridge and now the University of Guelph. His life in Southern Alberta near Indigenous reserves is a backdrop for some of his fiction. He is a member of the Order of Canada.

Anne-Marie started her presentation with a video of the author dramatizing his poem: “I’m Not the Indian You Had in Mind”. The short film (see below) presents Dr. King’s viewpoint on Indigenous life in pop culture, in history and in today’s world.

King’s fiction and non-fiction showcase his commitment to Indigenous issues, the environment, his compassion and his wit. Anne-Marie discussed a few of her favourite works from his extensive bibliography. First, Back of the Turtle – a fable like morality tale about the aftermath of an environmental disaster. Next, she discussed Indians on Vacation, a comedic novel about modern indigenous life.

The Inconvenient Indian, on of Dr. King’s most well known works, is a non-fiction history/memoir/opinion piece on the history of Indigenous life after European contact and colonization. In some ways, it is an expansion of the ideas in “I’m Not the Indian You Had in Mind”.

Finally, Anne-Marie talked about King’s recent series of mystery novels, featuring Thumps Dreadfulwater, an Indigenous detective (who has more than a bit in common with the author) in a fictional town that seems to be in Montana. While the novels follow well known mystery plot lines, the setting, the use of Indigenous characters, and Dr. King’s sense of humour set them apart.

As always, members enjoyed a discussion of the author and his ideas about Indigenous affairs following the presentation.

Shawna M.

Next Tuesday, member Natashia H. will present on the works of Malcolm Gladwell. The meeting will be in person at the Memorial Park Library

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When is Conversation Timeless?

four women chatting while sitting on bench
Photo by ELEVATE on

On November 1, 2022 member Sandra E. presented on Irish author Sally Rooney. Ms. Rooney has had early success with her novels Conversations with Friends (2017), Normal People (2018), and Beautiful World, Where Are You?(2020). This success has made Ms. Rooney a celebrity, particularly in her native Dublin – a celebrity that she is uneasy with.

Ms. Rooney’s novels focus on the the relationships people have in their university and early working years. These relationships are presented through extensive passages of dialog between friends, highlighting politics, ideology and gossip. Sandra noted that the author was a successful university debater, a skill that is put to use when characters discuss the issues of the day such as what income is appropriate if you are a Marxist and whether email is now old school. Sandra noted that Rooney believes you can’t write about what people are really like without political adjudication.

In many ways, the views of people born in the 1990’s are reflected in the life circumstances, interests, and ideas of Rooney’s characters. Letters between friends are by email or text, not handwritten on beautiful notepaper. Yet, the love between close friends as they grow into adulthood is still evoked in the notes that they send to each other. Camaraderie is found through talking, debating, arguing and laughing.

So, will people still read these books in the year 2100? Yes, as long as young people discover their own identities through talking with friends.

Shawna M.

Join us this Tuesday by Zoom, when Robin S. presents on the works of Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel. Robin has been a member of CWLC since 2017 and is currently our Past President.

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Science, Celebrity and Pop Wisdom in the Age of Anxiety

Barbara R. on Timothy Caulfield

On October 25, 2022 member Barbara R. discussed the work of author Timothy Caulfield. Dr. Caulfield is polymath working in law and public health. He is currently the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta.

“I hope my work to debunk…still has a thread of empathy”

Members may be familiar with Dr. Caulfield through his books (The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness (Penguin 2012), Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash (Penguin 2015) and Relax, Dammit!: A User’s Guide to the Age of Anxiety (Penguin Random House, 2020); his television appearances as a subject matter expert; or through the Netflix series A User’s Guide to Cheating Death. He can also be found on several social platforms – learn more here.

Barbara has both a professional respect for Dr. Caulfield and a curiosity about his research into how well-worn societal “truths” about health may be wrong. This includes the role of exercise vs. diet in weight management, the value of pre-excercise stretching, and the use of interventions such as acupuncture and dietary supplements. Dr. Caulfield has written and spoken about the rise of the vaccine hesitant and anti-vaccination attitudes in our society long before the appearance of Covid-19.

If you have read his work or you have seen him on tv, you know that Timothy is willing to try the various therapies he evaluates. He follows up his anecdotal evidence with book science. His research is meticulous, and in the cases where Barbara looked into his sources, she found she couldn’t say he was wrong.

Barbara had a chance to speak to Dr. Caulfield – he said that he moved from academic bench studies to his current work because he has always been interested in celebrity and pop culture. He is curious and empathetic to people who want to find a way to make their lives longer and. better. He was influenced by the work Bill Bryson. He feels his work is successful when science and health risk are portrayed accurately.

As always, a lively discussion followed Barbara’s talk.

Next week, member Sandra E. will talk about Irish author Sally Rooney. Sandra has been with the club since 2016.  She has been Social Chair, Program Chair, and is currently the archivist.  Her previous presentations were on Jane Urquhart, Robertson Davies, and Janet Frame.  She is currently reading The Break by Katerena Vermette.  

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Guest Speaker – Poet Leah Horlick

On October 17, 2022 the Club welcomed guest speaker, Leah Horlick, the Canadian Writer in Residence, University of Calgary Distinguished Writer Program. She is the author of several collections of poetry: Riot Lung, For Your Own Good, and Moldovan Hotel.

Image from the author’s website. Photograph by Erin Flegg.

Ms. Horlick started with a brief introduction, relating her personal love for the Central Memorial Library. Then, she gave read a selection of her poems. The first, Amygdala, was from For Your Own Good, a collection of poems relating her experience of intimate partner abuse.

The next readings were from Moldovan Hotel, and included the title poem from the collection. Horlick’s went to Moldova in 2017, seeking insight into her Jewish family’s life before, during and after World War 2.

Following the readings, the speaker answered member questions about her creative process, the barriers to getting published as a poet in Canada, her early love of reading assisted by the Saskatoon library system, and why she was drawn to poetry.

Read more about Ms. Horlick and the University of Calgary Distinguished Writer Program here:

Shawna M.

Next week, member Barbara R. will be presenting the works of Timothy Caufield. Interested in joining us? Click here: