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Intimate insight into Carol Shields' life

The late author's daughter and grandson present biography at the Whistler Writers Festival
Remembering a great Anne Giardini and Nicholas Giardini appear at the Whistler Writers Festival in The Lives of Writers: Carol Shields, A Legacy, to present Startle and Illuminate. Photo submitted

Whistler hosts the 2016 Writers Festival from Oct. 13 to 16. Pique is running book reviews by attending authors to celebrate. For information and tickets:

From the jacket cover: "Shimmering with Pulitzer-prize winning author Carol Shields' unique style, sense, humour, vision and wit, Startle and Illuminate is the best possible guide to the writing process."

Your average carpenter understands geometry and physics at such an intuitive depth she'd be hard-pressed to explain it all.

The only sure way to learn from her would be to apprentice. Or maybe live with her; grow up in her home as her child or grandchild.

Shields was a craftswoman of words — one of Canada's finest — and in Startle and Illuminate her own daughter and grandson invite us into an apprenticeship.

The timbre and frame are language and perception, the geometry and physics of our interior lives, and Shields was a master, a saint, of the discipline. Editors Anne Giardini and Nicholas Giardini introduce us to their mother and grandmother and it is like wandering into their own holy living room among friends from the schoolyard... and this is Carol, she's enlightened the lives of millions of people and, look, she's made us all grilled-cheese sandwiches!

To be near such a person, so comfortably — that's the joy of reading Startle and Illuminate. How to write, why, for whom; answers to these questions cannot be explained, they must be absorbed, and this collection of excerpts from Shields' writing, lectures and personal letters is deeply that — absorbing.

And when we do finally lift our head from these pages, it's a coming up from a reverent bow, a return from an apprenticeship equipped and awake to a world newly illuminated.

Reading Shields with the Giardinis is hardly to realize we've been given lessons in writing because all that seems minor beneath the startling discovery we've just been invited into a life fully lived.

Startle and Illuminate. Carol Shields on Writing, edited by Anne Giardini and Nicholas Giardini, with a foreword by Jane Urquhart, is published by Penguin Random House.

Anne and Nicholas appear at the Whistler Writers Festival in The Lives of Writers: Carol Shields, A Legacy to present Startle and Illuminate, a writing book on craft written in Carol's own words. It takes place on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at