Because literature gave and continues to shower a universe of enlightenment to my life so far, sharing my reading experiences and thoughts is a form of personal mission. Along the way, I share the authors whose works enrich my reading life. One of those authors is the late Carol Shields.
You rarely see a Carol Shields novel or collection in major book shops. But if you are the type who make an almost weekly pilgrimage to a Booksale branch, most likely you have encountered The Stone Diaries and Unless, two of her most accomplished work, located at the bottom of a pile and sold for just 20 or 35 pesos.
Since Carol Shields’ titles are rarely found in the shelves of mainstream booksellers in this region of the world, my having collected all her novels is a small but valued accomplishment. I owe Booksale for this. Next to complete are her collections of short fiction and poetry.
Carol Shields novels are perceptions on human qualities in the course of daily life and personal history. While a good plot is important for me, I am equally fascinated by a character’s behavior and evolution because of circumstances beyond us. This stems from the belief that we as individuals should emerge bigger than our life’s trials or triumphs.
In Small Ceremonies, a charming story unfolds through the keen perception of biographer Judith Gill, the novel’s central character. Judith’s field of perception is occupied by characters both familiar yet strange to her – a professor husband who secretly utilized spools of wool to create a scholarly illustration of the vision of the poet John Milton; a daughter fascinated with a writer whose novels Judith find remote, perhaps overbearing; a son who is developing a relationship with a pen friend (this was back in the day when social media was not yet around and people from long distances correspond through handwritten letters); and a struggling writer whose rejected novels Judith secretly read and may have plagiarized. Through a biographer’s eyes, she observes that the realities of her family and acquaintances’ lives may not be absolute. As human beings perceive, they are influenced by their own personal history.
In the hands of Carol Shields, an ordinary life is enlarged and human idiosyncrasies become accessible. The next time you come across a Carol Shield fiction in a book shop, take the story home. Reading a Carol Shields story is a rewarding experience.