Library Corner: Books of My Life with Nicola Kuhn

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Nicola Kuhn

Nicola Kuhn

By Eileen Daniel

As a teacher-librarian at Rossland Summit School, Nicola Kuhn shares her love of reading with students while exposing them to the concepts of diversity, acceptance, and empathy.

It is also an opportunity to foster lifelong readers.

Rossland has been Nicola’s home since 2007, a fantastic community in which to raise her two children. When not reading, Nicola is outside doing the activities for which the Kootenays are known.

What is your earliest reading memory?

I struggled with reading at a young age and have a rather unpleasant memory of having to read a very boring book about a young boy who lived in the woods and had to cut down trees for firewood. It looked like a 1950s learn-to-read book, and I would have to read out loud to my mother. It felt like punishment. I did love being read to and clearly remember sitting on my grandmother’s lap as she read fairy tales from a giant anthology.

What is your favourite childhood book?

The Painted Bird, words and pictures by Max Velthuijs. I loved the vibrant paintings of this picture book about a painter who sold the one painting he never wanted to sell. He was pressured by a very persuasive buyer, but the artist lost his desire to paint once it was gone. The painting was of a bird in a garden. The bird in the painting knows how depressed the artist has become and flies out of the painting back to his creator.

What book do you read over and over?

I can’t seem to read any book more than once. I have tried because there are so many I loved and didn’t want the experience to end, but that initial experience can’t be reproduced a second time. If I were to read a book again, I would start with Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance. Upon returning from three months in India, this work immersed me in the sights, sounds and smells of a country I had fallen in love with. Like India, the novel covers the dichotomies of corruption and beauty, cruelty and humanity. The novel weaves the lives of four strangers together during a government declared State of Emergency in the 1970s. I may have to try reading it again …

Name one book everyone should read.

A number of years ago I participated in Rossland Reads and the focus was one book by a Canadian author everyone should read.

I chose Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse. In the end it was voted the winner. I was honoured to receive a message of congratulations from Wagamese as he is one of my favourite authors. As a survivor of the Sixties Scoop, Wagamese was alienated from his family and his culture, moving from one foster home to another, often experiencing abuse.

When he found his way back, the elders told him that he was meant to be a storyteller. He learned his craft from reading books and studying sentence and story structure in the public library. It was the library that provided security, shelter, and literary inspiration while he was living on the streets.

Indian Horse deals with the trauma of residential schools, the loss of culture, systemic racism, and the ensuing addiction. As part of truth and reconciliation, it is imperative Canadians, and the world, know what happened and how the ripple effects of this trauma run through families, communities, and our country.

Name an author that changed your life.

Shakespeare. I never would have thought the bard would be the one to change my life. Swimming out into the Pacific Ocean while in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I stopped to catch my breath. I was quite far out and was surprised to see someone beside me. Treading water, we began talking and the conversation quickly turned to literature, and I was asked what my favourite Shakespeare play was. I answered The Tempest, which now feels rather fitting, given the setting. I never could have guessed I would find my best friend and soulmate in the middle of the ocean but here we are 25 years later.

What genre would you read if you could only pick one?

I read a lot of works by Indigenous authors living on Turtle Island. As mentioned, Richard Wagamese is one of my favourite writers.

Indigenous literature provides another perspective and worldview connected to place. Storytelling is often used to teach cultural beliefs, values, and ways of knowing, and many of the works I have read have provided me with a deeper understanding of Indigenous People’s culture, including language.

Recently, many of the authors I have read have been Ojibwe and use Anishinaabemowin. I highly recommend the young adult thriller Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley. I couldn’t stop listening to it.

Yes, as a runner, I am always listening to a novel or podcast, and being able to hear the Anishinaabemowin spoken was really helpful. The book has it all: murder, hockey, romance, an FBI sting operation, and Indigenous culture and history.

I am not a fantasy or horror movie fan at all, but I loved Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach and her Son of A Trickster Trilogy. I am currently reading Nathan Niigata Noodin Adler’s horror novel Wrist about a windigo family that keeps me up at night.

What book do you like to give as a gift?

I love giving books as gifts and trading books with friends. When the pandemic first hit in March of 2020 and schools shut down, I started a virtual book club with interested students, and I would drive around Rossland dropping books off to kids at home. It made me so happy to know I could connect with students in some way and that we’d have a chance to talk about books together and stay connected as a community.

There isn’t one book I gift. It all depends on the individual and the books I think they would enjoy. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman being one that I bought for a few friends last summer because I knew they would be able to connect on a certain level with the protagonist.

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