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Wisdom in Nonsense: Invaluable Lessons from My Father

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  255 ratings  ·  53 reviews
I broke all the rules that my dad gave me. Acclaimed novelist Heather O'Neill structures her book around ten key lessons she learned in childhood from her father. Wryly humorous and generous, she shares memories and stories that illustrate why it is good to steal things, why one should learn to play the tuba, and why one should never keep a journal. Her unusual mentors wen ...more
Paperback, 40 pages
Published February 15th 2018 by University of Alberta Press
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Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love Heather O'Neill, and I'll read every single thing she writes for the rest of my life. This is a tiny true book about the advice given to her by her father when she was a kid. It's funny, touching, and just a little bit sad. If you've read Lullabies for Little Criminals, you know there's more than a little dysfunction running through the O'Neill family's veins. That's what makes this 40-page book so worth reading.

Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
My dad was determined to take care of me properly. He made pancakes and cookies and sewed my clothes. He was actually good at that. He was a little worse at what he regarded as an integral part of parenting: the dispensing of life advice. But, nonetheless, it was one of his favourite things to do.

Wisdom in Nonsense is the transcript of a talk that Heather O'Neill gave as part of the CLC Kreisel Lecture Series in 2017 (the Canadian Literature Centre itself having the mission “to engage in sch
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own-it, best-of-2018
My only wish is that it was longer.

Often little girls are bombarded with praise for their superficial qualities and are informed, from the time they can understand a sentence, what the male gaze thinks of them. p8

Could I love HON more?
This little book made it so.
Twelve pieces of fatherly advice that mostly really were not so directly applicable.
Though she does consider them. She did try to go for the tuba, and I'll bet she knows a bit about art history. She also knows how to make her own decisions; any compromise she might make w
Aug 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: x2018-read, canlit, auth-f
Heather O'Neill's father had some funny ideas, and this tiny book of O'Neill's memories (originally delivered as a lecture as part of the Canadian Literature Centre Kriesel Lecture series) of things he had said had me grinning. He seemed like a character, and was clearly quite the influence on his daughter. ...more
I fell in love with Heather O’Neill’s charm and wit from her book, Lullabies for Little Criminals. She has such a vivacious outlook on life due to her upbringing. We are lucky to have such an author in the list of Canadian authors; Canadian voices.

This little book is exactly what the title states. Bits and bobs of wisdom passed down to O’Neill from her father and now to us. It’s definitely something to be taken with a pinch of salt, but seeing her father’s fortitude to not be taken down by anyth
Victoria Shepherd
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
A charming and humourous “how to” book.
Alana Fiander
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is my first review on goodreads - I read over 75 books a year but this book warranted an actual review. Stunning and life changing and made me want to create my own list of lessons. This author is a favourite of mine and I’ve read everything she has put out (to the point that I ordered her poetry collection from amazon because it wasn’t available at the library) and everything I’ve read I’ve given 5 star reviews to. She’s gritty and unapologetic and honest. This piece I got from the library ...more
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a short one. Very short! O'Neill gave this speech at the University of Alberta and I actually listened to half of it on CBC Radio. Her delivery was fantastic and I only regret that I tuned in late to the broadcast. Thankfully they also released her speech as a book. Phew!

I've never read any of her other work but I am sorely tempted. Her prose had such warmth but was also dastardly funny. I kept interrupting my poor boyfriend's own reading to read aloud bits of the speech! O'Neill captu
Nikki Stafford
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
If you've ever read Heather O'Neill's fiction, you'll know the father figures are always fascinating, dark, and deeply flawed people. I've seen O'Neill speak and she usually has some amusing stories of being raised by her father and how his personality bled into her books. This little volume is a lecture she gave, so you can read it quickly, but it talks a lot about her relationship growing up with her father. I hope some day she writes a much longer memoir about growing up, because the little b ...more
Brandon Forsyth
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
A totally charming little book about a very particular father/daughter relationship, and, more generally, the ways our parents both mess us up and give us everything. I laughed, I cried, I wanted more.
Prairie Fire  Review of Books
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Review from Review by Erin Della Mattia.

Heather O’Neill’s Wisdom in Nonsense: Invaluable Lessons from My Father begins with a piece of fatherly advice that must have sounded, to the young budding writer, as a challenge: “Lesson One, Never Keep a Diary”(3). O’Neill tells us that while chronicling the daily events of her life made it “seem worthy of a novel,” she suspects that it made her father, Buddy, feel “as though he were under surveillance”—the diaries could house unseemly i
Mar 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2018
I've gotten to the place where I am scouring the internet for anything else that Heather O'Neill may have written.

I didn't like that other people were able to read "Anne of Green Gables". None of the other readers loved her the way I did. I wanted what we had to be exclusive. If she was a real person, she would have had to file a restraining order against me."

Finally, someone who can put it into words. :)
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In which Heather O'Neill reminisces about her bizarre childhood, and her equally as bizarre (yet deeply loved) father. Everything she writes is pure magic. ...more
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Wisdom in Nonsense" is actually the text of the 2018 Henry Kriesel lecture that Heather O'Neill was invited to deliver and which the CBC broadcasts. It is freely available on the Net and definitely worth watching. As an unabashed Heather O'Neill fan I was delighted with this so-called novel about the wisdom her single-parent dad imparted to her as he was raising her. What was even more delightful is the understanding and acceptance that O'Neill expresses towards the unique circumstances in whic ...more
Sherry Monger
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Heather O'Neill is one of my favourite authors - her quirky views on life constantly surprise and delight you as a reader. This little treasure trove of memories, helps to explain O'Neill's off beat, eccentric, somewhat skewed assessment of her environment. O'Neill's father - a janitor, thief (when not already in jail) and philosopher - passed on what he considered the essential lessons in life. The result is a bright young girl who has been admonished to never keep a diary (it can be used again ...more
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In only 40 pages, Heather O’Neil is able to share her love of and the life lessons she learned from her dad, who at one point she admits with full disclosure was an a**hole. “My dad was determined to take care of me properly. He made pancakes and cookies and sewed my clothes. He was actually good at that. He was a little worse at what he regarded as an integral part of parenting: the dispensing of life advice. But, nonetheless, it was one of his favourite things to do.” What’s not to love in a b ...more
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this. I picked up this book on an impulse while browsing at the library. I thought it was going to be a poetry book but it did not disappoint with what it turned out to be. I thought the stories were full or humor and heart. I especially like how the author broke up some of the stories to remind people that her father was not a Robin Hood and was a flawed man. These stories are speak to me as a Canadian. I would highly recommend this book and am trying to find the other works by ...more
Feb 14, 2021 rated it did not like it
Okay maybe I didn’t get this book? I don’t even know how it ended up on my TBR shelf, but I read it to fulfil the shortest book prompt.
This is “life lessons” from the author’s father. Except he was not a wise man. He was uneducated (grade 3) and a thief. But thought he was street smart. Which is not wisdom. And though she tried to pull some deeper meaning from his lessons, it was a stretch at best.
Jun 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Brief, but pithy. This is perhaps best enjoyed if you've previously read O'Neill's "Lullabies for little criminals".
Her father was definitely not your standard issue Dad, and yet, peculiar though he was, he did give young Heather an interesting spin on life. From that bizarre childhood, she transformed herself into an amazing writer with a truly unique take on just about everything.
Kate Finegan
Jun 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
At 38 pages, this slender volume is definitely worth a read. I read it while eating falafel with the windows open, and it was just about the best dinnertime companion I could ask for. As a writer, I read a ton of articles and books on craft. What O'Neill does for me, in this book and others, is to show me the possibilities of the creative imagination, the wisdom in nonsense, as it were. ...more
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'm pretty addicted to the Kreisel Lecture Series. This little gab is short, sweet, and funny - life lessons from a man who, at least in hindsight, or at least in this hindsight, wanted the best for his kid. ...more
Julie McKenna
May 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“It was he who had given me, in part, the confidence to think of my life as being worthy to mix with those of the geniuses”.”

Heard her interviewed on CBC and pulled over to place a library hold on this CLC Kreisel Lecture Series print release. A very short but wonderful read.

A strange quiet funny sad book. There's something about O'Neill's style -- short sentences with simple language and slightly dated idioms. At first it's off-putting, and then you realize she has just used this unassuming prose to deliver just a killer line. ...more
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved O’Neill’s other books and this one is no exception. It’s a very short read and I enjoyed every page, learning a bit more about her history.

It’s comical, yet dark in spots. It’s amazing.
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
Picked up this book as it was new at the local library. Short and relatively sweet.
Ampersand Inc.
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read this short book in a matter of minutes, and the laughs were jam packed in there. O’Neill’s speech on the lessons she learned from her father throughout her childhood was a wonderful read.
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My only wish is for more. Such a character, this father.
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Whenever something new from Heather appears, I put down what I'm reading. A wonderful little book which gives us insight into the writer and how she got there. ...more
Angel Linfoot
Apr 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Enjoyed this just as much as I enjoyed Lullabies for Little Criminals, if not even more.
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Heather O'Neill was born in Montreal and attended McGill University.

She published her debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, in 2006. The novel won the Canada Reads competition (2007) and was awarded the Hugh Maclennan Award (2007). It was nominated for eight other awards included the Orange Prize, the Governor General's Award and the IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize. It was an international bes

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