Books by Joan Givner

ELLEN’S BOOK OF LIFE by Joan Givner
CHILDREN'S
Released: Sept. 1, 2008

Ellen Fremedon's family—Ellen most of all—is desperately stressed by her mother's illness, and a trip across the country to visit with friends provides only the briefest of reprieves before her mother's death sends everyone into the dislocation and alienation of grief. The discovery of a letter from her mother giving Ellen her blessing to find her birth mother pulls Ellen back into touch with the world. Her biological relatives—her birth mother, a prickly, successful lawyer, her Holocaust-survivor great-grandfather and the grandmother who embraces her newfound granddaughter—prove to be a gift not only to Ellen but to her father and younger brothers as well. Ellen's resulting interest in her Jewish heritage is cautious but keen; her father returns to an interest in the world by fighting against a waterfront development project in their small Vancouver Island town. The several threads of the story weave together without fanfare but with a calm assurance that creates a sturdy sense of character and believability. (Fiction. 10-12) Read full book review >
THE SELF-PORTRAIT OF A LITERARY BIOGRAPHER by Joan Givner
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Jan. 1, 1994

Autobiography, like surgery, isn't for the fainthearted. Here, noted biographer Givner (English/University of Regina, Saskatchewan; Katherine Anne Porter, 1982, etc.) coolly dissects her own family, career, and—occasionally—herself. Declaring that ``the writing of an autobiography induces a last-will-and-testament frame of mind,'' Givner proceeds to tell her life story in numbered paragraphs that are as much vignettes as reflections. She recalls her English childhood in a lower-middle- class home where books were rare—the family didn't even own a dictionary—and where gardening and listening to the radio were major diversions. Home for Givner was a place where ``every act- -even the simplest one of eating a meal, choosing a helping of this over that—was subjected to criticism, moral disapproval.'' Her parents were ill-matched, she thinks, with her mother's lack of imagination particularly exasperating. Only the author's success at school proved an escape from a crippling relationship with her parents—particularly her success at college, where she met and married a rich American. Givner elliptically describes the later breakdown of the marriage; her continuing academic success in the US; her move to Canada, where she remarried and gave birth to two daughters; and her teaching career in Saskatchewan. Equally elliptically, she details how her dissertation on Katherine Anne Porter became a book and how she came to write the biography of popular Canadian novelist Mazo de la Roche. Now in her late 50s, Givner ends with an observation that abruptly and disconcertingly undercuts the vehemence of her earlier discontents: ``To go out of your native land and to leave your people is to sustain a great incurable wound.'' Well written, and certainly tart and opinionated, but too narrow and small-scale, offering no riveting insights into writing or even just living. Read full book review >