Wednesday, 16 November 2011

"Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on "

I just finished my first Massey Lecture and it was excellent.  Every year I see them in bookstores and I always pick them up, read the back, and think to myself 'sounds interesting'....but I never manage to get to the next step of actually reading the lecture.  This year, I was at work unpacking boxes and boxes of books when I got my first look at this years Massey Lecture, Winter: Five Windows on the Season by Adam Gopnik.  I had several reaction upon holding this book in my hands.  First of all, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Massey Lectures, this particular lecture has 5 different covers, all pertaining to the topic, and they are all lovely and very much embody the theme of winter.  Second, the name of the author, Adam Gopnik, rang a bell.  Gopnik has written several non-fiction works, a couple novels for children, and is a staff writer for The New York Times.  Third, the theme appealed to me in a way that none of the other Massey Lectures up to this point had.  I love winter.  I love when it gets cold outside and we are forced to bundle up in sweaters and scarves in order to trek around the city.  I love sitting in my home drinking a hot cup of tea and watching the snowy (or more likely here, rainy) weather pass by through the window.  I love the holiday season in December where we all take time out of our busy lives to make more time for family and friends.  This list can go on and on.

Gopnik's lecture is fasinating in that it combines history and science with personal narrative.  His writing style is very readable, informative, and humourous; reading this makes me want to read more by him in the future. 

Winter is divided into 5 chapters.  Chapter one is entitled 'Romantic Winter'.  This section looks at, in Gopniks words, "winter as a poetic act - winter in mind rather than winter in matter." (pg. 7)  He discusses paintings, music, poetry, and literature and how this idea of winter has influence these cultural areas throughout history. 

Chapter two, 'Radical Winter' talks about how "winter is a place as much as a tiem, a season tht comes heaving into sight while we sit....and so we go to find it, we go towards...the North! And, for that matter, the South.  The search for that spatial winter, the search for the poles...." (pg. 54)  In this section we learn about the many explorations to discover the poles and how that has affected us as culture.

' Recuperative Winter' is the subject of chapter 3.  Gopnick explores the "making of the modern Christmas - winter's holiday" (pg. 93).  He walks us through the history of the holiday and how it is that we arrived to the point that we are today.  Being a big fan of the holiday season, I found this section particularly interesting, especially the history behind it.

Chapter 4 deals with a subject that, as a Canadian, is very close to my heart: ice hockey.  'Recreational Winter' talks about winter sports in general but spends a great deal of time discussing hockey in particular.  He asks the question "Why do we love it?  Why is this game so good when it's not being degraded and diluted by greed, violence, and stupidity?" (pg. 162)  As someone who has read lots of different perspectives on the game, I found Gopnik's essay to be really interesting and definetly a reminder on why I love the game.

The final chapter is entitled 'Remembering Winter'.  One line in particular stands out to me in this section: "Winter stress makes summer sweetness - and the stress of warm times makes us long for the strange sweetness of cold ones" (pg. 179). A lovely retrospect on why it is that we love winter, focusing on the idea of winter and memory.

If you love winter as I do, or you are simply curious on learning more about this season, read this book.  If you love the Massey Lectures, or are simply a fan of Adam Gopnick, read this book. Whatever your reason is, this is a book to read.

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