The Shipping News.


A fictional reading experience from her novel about northern Newfoundland, in this instance a conversation on a remote island off the northern coast, where all members of its 5 isolated families could read and write: My father taught all his children to read and write. In the winter when the fishing was over and the storms wrapped Gaze Island, my father would hold school right down there in the kitchen of the old house. Yes, every child on this island learned to read very well and write a fine hand. And if he got a bit of money he’d order books for us. I’ll never forget one time, I was twelve years and it was November, 1933. Couple of years before he died of TB. Hard, hard times. You can’t imagine. The fall mail boat brought a big wooden box for my father. Nailed shut. Cruel heavy. He would not open it, saved it for Christmas. We could hardly sleep nights for thinking of that box and what it might hold. We named everything in the world except what was there. On Christmas Day we dragged that box over to the church and everybody craned their necks and gawked to see what was in it. Dad pried it open with a screen of nails and there it was, just packed with books. There must have been a hundred books there, picture books for children, a big red book on volcanoes that gripped everybody’s mind the whole winter—it was a geological study, you see, and there was plenty of meat in it. The last chapter in the book was about ancient volcanic activity in Newfoundland. That was the first time anybody had ever seen the word Newfoundland in a book. It just about set us on fire—an intellectual revolution. That this place was in a book. See, we thought we was all alone in the world. The only dud was a cookbook. There was not one single recipe in that book that could be made with what we had in our cupboards. (p. 170)