Omni Personal Shopper: The Raging Canadian Granny

Our next Omni Personal Shopper challenge features yet another profile that's a short story in itself. (The opening line alone would make any workshop swoon.) From Emma:

My eighty-four year-old grandmother is blind and deaf and in denial of those important facts. The youngest of thirteen and the mother of nine, she has always maintained that having a good book on hand at all times is the only way to stay sane. She was a journalist until her second child, and at the age of fifty-six, she went to nursing school and became a nurse at a hospice for AIDS patients.

Today, she lives with her daughter and three teenage grandsons. That is, when she's at home. She spends more than a third of her time travelling: visiting her children across North America; taking her dozens of grandkids on cross-Canada road trips the summer that they turn eleven; white-water rafting the Nahanni; going on cruises with her wheelchair-bound brother and sister-in-law; travelling to far-off places like China or Italy with, Elderhostel, a senior-only tour company; or simply going wherever she can find a good deal on a flight. (She has her own specially-modified Macintosh Computer that she uses to troll travel websites and to play internet hearts under the screen name "gojumpinalake") She's also an active member of Toronto's Raging Grannies Chapter, and can often be found, wearing a tea cosy as a hat, singing outrageous protest songs in front of the Parliament Buildings. 

She listens to audiobooks on an iPod Shuffle that she can operate by touch alone. My finds books for her; he knows her tastes and finds what he can. Sometimes, she'll hear about a book on the radio and ask him to get it. Since her eyesight started failing, she gave up on novels altogether, focusing instead on narrative non-fiction from around the world. Her favourite question is "but what do they DO? How do they spend their days?" and loves any book that begins to answer that question. Her particular passions are China, Tibet, Canadian West Coast Natives and the Canadian Arctic. However, I think that she would love something about South America. Of course, the task of finding her a book is made more difficult by the fact that it must be available as an audiobook. (I've read entire books to her, but, obviously, we both prefer the mobility and independence her Shuffle gives her) 

Well, that makes me want to take up internet hearts, or show up outside Parliament, just on the chance I might run into her. But to keep to the task at hand: she sounds like a wonderful person to find books for, although the audiobook limitation added a significant degree of difficulty. Here goes (all links are to audio editions, unless otherwise noted):

  • Let's get a few obvious choices on the table first. You and she both may know these already, but Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's world tour of female empowerment, is a wonderful and energizing book, and has found lots of readers this season. And Greg Mortenson, whose memoir of building schools for girls in the mountain towns of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Three Cups of Tea, has, among other things, earned over 1,700 five-star reviews on Amazon, has a follow-up out this month called Stones into Schools, which continues the story of his own brand of personal diplomacy.
  • In searching beyond those bestsellers, I kept her excellent question, "but what do they DO? How do they spend their days?" in mind. And a few audiobooks seemed particularly promising. Leslie Chang's Factory Girls profiles the young industrial migrant women whose ambitious labor is driving much of China's boom. (China Road, by NPR correspondent Rob Gifford, is another dispatch from the same territory.) Tamim Ansary's Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes puts today's political and religious confrontations in context and looks at world history from a different center than the one we're used to in the West. And combining nonfiction, audio, and South America was a tough assignment, but one did fit the bill: Isabel Allende's deeply personal portrait of her homeland of Chile in My Invented Country.
  • Mari also recommends Eric Weiner's Geography of Bliss: "Anyone willing to wear a tea cozy on their head must have a keen sense of fun. The Geography of Bliss takes readers along on Weiner’s yearlong quest for to the world’s happiest places and raises provocative questions about how we can create more happiness wherever we are."
  • If she wants to continue her travels, we also thought of a couple of our favorite pieces of travel journalism from the past few years. Rory Stewart's The Places in Between recounts his intrepid walking tour of Afghanistan just after the fall of the Taliban (a walk that was barely possible for a Westerner then and certainly wouldn't be so now) with a modestly brilliant style. The Lost City of Z is one of our favorite books of this year (and apparently almost everyone else's too): a journey into the Amazon in the modern style, following in the footsteps of an adventurer from an earlier age. And if she's interested in the other pole, and some fellow tireless protesters, she might like The Whale Warriors, the story of a Greenpeace founder's battles against whaling in Antarctic waters.
  • And lastly, Mari, as our Canadian editor, wanted to find some Canadian writers to suggest, but the audio pickings for Canadian books are pretty slim. But if you were interested in reading to your gran some more, her first enthusiastic recommendations would be Light at the Edge of the World and The Wayfinders, the two most recent books from Wade Davis, a Canadian ethnobotanist and anthropologist. Davis has spent 25 years studying how the world’s vanishing indigenous peoples live in relation to the natural and spiritual world, and why their ways are worth saving.
Thanks for asking, Emma. That was a fun challenge, and we'd love to hear what (if any) of these you choose, and what she thinks. --Tom

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Comments (2)

If you're interested in the Raging Grannies, take a look at our new documentary -- "Raging Grannies: The Action League," about a Raging Grannies gaggle in the SF Bay Area Peninsula. These women do not go quietly into old age! They inspire us with their dedication to social justice. Winner 2009 National Mature Media Merit Award. Available for both institutional and home use.

Posted by: pamwalton | Tuesday December 15, 2009 at 11:22 AM


I bought her "Factory Girl" and "Lost City of Z". I'll tell you how she likes 'em.

Posted by: Emma | Saturday December 19, 2009 at 10:28 AM

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