Wednesday, July 1, 2020

June 2020 Reading Round-Up

Lots of Canadian content and Black authors in my reading this month. Here are some highlights, starting with three audiobooks that are perfect for family listening.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi
Audiobook read by the authors

A remix of Ibram X Kendi's National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning

Jason Reynolds, who knows well how to enthrall a young audience, has revised Ibram X Kendi‘s important content. From the 15th century to the present, this connects the past history of racism to understanding how its poison is woven into the fabric of American society today. Outstanding family listening, with peppy music between chapters. (Lest anyone think that anti-black racism is only a problem in the USA, see Desmond Cole's The Skin We're In, further down the list in this post.)

It's not rocket science, it's racism.
----------
We have to be more than audience members sitting comfortably in the stands of morality shouting Wrong! That‘s too easy. Instead we must be players on the field, on the court, in classrooms and communities, trying to do right. Because it takes a whole hand, both hands, to grab hold of hatred, not just a texting thumb and a scrolling index finger.

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty
Audiobook read by the author

Caitlin Doughty, a mortician with an appropriately morbid sense of humour, answers questions from kids. “We can't make death fun, but we can make learning about it fun.” Hello putrefaction! Hello mummies and cryogenically frozen corpsicles! Entertaining AND informative family listening.

He won‘t be diving straight for the human flesh. But a cat has got to eat, and you are the person who feeds him. This is the cat-human compact. Death doesn‘t free you from performing your contractual obligations.


The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
Audiobook read by Nicolle Littrell

A 19th century Ojibwa girl‘s childhood: practically a classic (first published in 1999) and often suggested as an alternative to the problematic Little House on the Prairie. I‘ve intended to read this for ages and I‘m glad I found it on Hoopla. Narrator Nicolle Littrell‘s exaggerated voice moderations for the characters isn‘t my favourite style, but it works well for kids, plus the writing itself is appealing. 4 stars for the audiobook; 5 stars for print.

Omakayas tucked her hands behind her head, lay back, closed her eyes and smiled as the song of the white-throated sparrow sank again and again through the air, like a shining needle, and sewed up her broken heart.

Season of Fury and Wonder: Short Stories by Sharon Butala

All of the short stories in this collection are about old women. It's full of memorable characters and gorgeous prose and so, of course, I loved it. Winner of the City of Calgary WO Mitchell Book Prize.

In the weeks before the raven incident, the Americans, in a rage against ‘the elites,‘ (meaning anyone who knows anything—shades of the Red Guards!) elected a president whose ramblings, as well as being untruthful more often than not, frequently defied reason. I saw him as the purveyor of the original, many-formed mythological Lord of Chaos himself.
----------
Why should the life of an old person be a poor copy of the life of a young one? As if to be an old person was merely to be a failed young one. And then I began to wonder what the life of an old person could be on its own, as if there had never been a young person, with her ceaseless activity, her endless drama from excessive weeping to equally excessive excitement, inside this wrinkled and shapeless exterior.
----------
I have personally discovered over the years that if you constantly stifle your feelings out of concern for what you‘ve been taught is appropriate behaviour, you soon can‘t feel anything at all. Or at least, you have to dig very deep to figure out what your real feelings are, and that mostly this will not seem worth the trouble of doing.

Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies and Jays by Candace Savage

Avian brains are anatomically different from those of mammals—including humans—but birds are nevertheless intelligent creatures. Corvids are especially so, a category which includes crows, ravens, magpies and jays. Natural science makes up the majority of this large-format revised edition (1995, 2018) along with striking full-page photographs. Literary quotations run as sidebars, emphasizing the role corvids have played in human culture. (Note: it's easy to confuse corvid with covid. Just saying.)

…the discovery that young jackdaws had no inborn reaction to predators. They had to learn from their parents' example what to trust and who to fear.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Audiobook read by Kevin R Free

An astounding novel taking place over the final weekend of summer before the next year of grad school in the American Midwest. Wallace is a gay Black man dealing with suppressed desire, racism, a feeling of alienation, simmering tensions, fraught friendships, past trauma and recent grief. It‘s pretty intense and feels so real. I love complex characters and this audiobook brought me right into Wallace‘s rudderless heart and mind. 

The whole of his history feels dark and cold and far away but it‘s in him, settled down, like blood drying.
----------
“These old houses, he said, “they‘ve got shitty foundations.”
The Tradition by Jericho Brown

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, gay poet Jericho Brown shines a light on traditions of normalizing racism, rape, police violence and other evils. He battles hate with words of love and truth. “The opposite of rape is understanding.” Morning glories, delphiniums, crape myrtles and other flora represent family strength, pride, sorrows and lives cut short. References to Greek myth and use of a hybrid poetic form--the duplex--are just some the ways Brown adds layers of brilliance. Read his poem Bullet Points online here.

I begin with love, hoping to end there.
----------
I love a man I know could die
And not by way of illness
And not by his own hand
But because of the color of that hand and all
His flawless skin.

The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole
Audiobook read by the author

A powerful indictment of anti-black racism in Canada. Journalist and activist Desmond Cole moves month by month through 2017, each chapter focusing on an individual case of injustice and placing it within a larger contemporary and historical context. Engaging, eye-opening, infuriating, moving and inspiring. This book is for all Canadians, especially those of us who are white.

This idea that Canada's racial injustices are not as bad as they could be, this notion of Slavery Lite, of Racism Lite, of what my friend calls the "toy version of racism" is a very Canadian way of saying: remember what we could do to you if we wanted to. Passive-aggressive racism is central to Canada's national mythology and identity.

They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life, and Growing Up by Eternity Martis
Audiobook read by the author

A memoir that made me laugh, shake my head, and cry. Eternity Martis was one of the few dark-skinned students at Western University when she moved there from Toronto to get an undergraduate degree. Adventures with alcohol, drugs, and casual sex--typical extracurricular activities for students--are more fraught when experienced along with racism and intimate partner violence. Interspersed throughout are tongue-in-cheek Necessary Survival Guides for Token Students.

One of the pleasures of being an avid reader is the interconnectivity between concurrent books. In this case, Eternity Martis uses a term for misogyny faced specifically by Black women, misogynoir, which is also used in the novel A Song Below Water by Bethany C Morrow (see elsewhere in this list). Martis was involved in a production of Ntozake Shange's for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf,choreographed theatre piece created in the 1970s that is mentioned in Stamped, the first book that I wrote about today. 

When my mother spoke to people about my background, she never said I was Jamaican, but that my father was. I arrived at the intersection of two brown families from different castes and ethnicities.

...that bodies like mine must be suppressed for being loud, for talking back, for knowing our rights, for not being respectable enough, for not being grateful enough, for not fitting in, for walking late at night, for driving, for breathing.

The Reason You Walk by Wab Kinew
Audiobook read by the author

Wab Kinew performing his own work, including long passages in Anishnaabemowin, is what made this a 5-star, rather than 4-star, audiobook. In print, I would have skipped on to the translations. A moving memoir that affords insight into overcoming challenges—such as racism, addictions, and mental health issues—facing contemporary Indigenous individuals, particularly in the context of fatherhood, spirituality and the legacy of residential schools in Canada.

I happened to be listening to this on the 5th anniversary of the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada‘s final report. I learned from Kinew's memoir that the CBC had issued a memo to all of their staff in early TRCC days, ordering them to use official federal government terminology: to call individuals “former students of residential schools” instead of “residential school survivors.” Wab Kinew fought hard and successfully overturned that policy.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
Audiobook read by the author

“I am the fairy finding my own magic.” This inspiring verse novel—about a mixed-ancestry boy coming of age in London and discovering his love of drag performance—celebrates gender expression and being true to oneself. The audiobook has all the sadness and joy in the poet‘s voice. In the novel, the boy with Greek Cypriot and Black Jamaican heritage sees a black flamingo on the news while visiting family in Cyprus. I looked online and found a photo on the Audubon Society websiteI plan to seek out the print edition to see how the poems look on the page and also the illustrations by Anshika Khullar. Stonewall Award-winner.

Be a beautiful thing.
Be the moonlight, too.
Remember you have the right to be proud.
Remember you have the right to be you.
----------
The different ones are often the most strong.

The Song Below Water by Bethany C Morrow
Audiobook read by Andrea Laing and Jennifer Haralson

The addition of magical beings like sirens, sprites and living gargoyles add a whimsical freshness to this moving and powerful YA novel set in contemporary Portland. (“Keep Portland weird!”) The viewpoint alternates between two best friends and the audiobook uses dual narrators to good effect. The underlying issue of misogyny and, in particular, the silencing of Black girls‘ voices, resonates strongly with today‘s reality.

“I‘ve been asked more than a few times whether I agree with the destruction of public property […]. I‘m not sure I‘m allowed to speak. The question is always framed so that bringing up the destruction of human bodies sounds like a deflection.”


Sunday, May 31, 2020

May 2020 Reading Round-Up

Of the 30 books I read in May, these are the highlights:

Flèche by Mary Jean Chan

Mary Jean Chan grew up in Hong Kong and moved to England as a teenager. She competed in the sport of fencing, which is where the title of this brilliant poetry collection comes from. Flèche, which sounds like 'flesh,' alerted me to the importance of the corporeal in these poems. Of bodies that long for food and love. Discovering her lesbian self, multilingualism, and a complex daughter-mother relationship are some of the subjects. I keep finding new, bittersweet delights each time I reread this book. 

tell the one who 
detests the queerness in you that dead 
daughters do not disappoint
------
Wish
I would like to live like the trees
my lover often says look up!
as she admires a canopy of green
her tree-like behaviour astounds me
if you looked within me now, you‘d see
that my languages are like roots
gnarled in soil, one and indivisible
except the world divides me endlessly
some days I dare not look at the trees
they are such hopeful creatures
if the legislators of our world
looked to their trees for guidance
would they reconsider everything?

lately I‘ve been trying to write 
a poem that might birth a tree
a genuine acceptance of the self
continues to elude me


How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa

An outstanding collection of quiet stories, told with compassion and humour, about Laotian refugees. They are bus drivers, beauticians, farm labourers and factory workers—people with self confidence and integrity. People who carry a sense of home within themselves. People who know the power of laughter. There‘s a porous quality to the writing: the sense of possibility that lies in all that is unsaid and unnamed.

The note had been typed out, folded over two times, and pinned to the child‘s chest. It could not be missed. And as she did with all the other notes that went home with the child, her mother removed the pin and threw it away. If the contents were important, a phone call would be made to the house.
------
At the farm, where processing took place, carrots arrived from warmer climates and sometimes came in unusual shapes. She had to discard those. No grocery store was going to buy something that looked like a balled up fist and call it a carrot.
------
Raymond didn‘t know what happened out there in the ring—a flurry of jabs and punches, and then he was out. At the time, none of that hurt. The pain came afterwards, and matched the sadness he felt in his body like an extra set of bones. 
------
“What, you think you got a chance with that Miss Emily there? She‘s rich and educated. None of the things we are or are ever gonna be. Don‘t you be dreaming big now, little brother. Keep your dreams small. The size of a grain of rice. And cook that shit up and swallow it every night, then shit that fucking thing out in the morning. It ain‘t never gonna happen. That woman ain‘t for you.”

Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo

As it happens, I started reading this when a polar vortex
covered much of North America in May 2020.
“No matter how long you know someone, or how intimately, you can‘t really fully know them.” 

The underlying unease—all that‘s unspoken between two women who‘ve been married six years and also between two longtime friends—made for a suspenseful read. I love Shani Mootoo‘s nuanced exploration of a complex character, a South Asian lesbian artist from Trinidad who emigrated to Canada after attending university in Toronto. Bonus: insights into experiences of immigration.

It dawned on me that his experiences in Uganda itself was not only a story about his family or about the history of Uganda, but it was a part of Canada‘s history too, as are the conditions in the Middle East that have led to the arrival of the Syrians today. 
------
I began to wonder if the calm in which Alex and I lived was possibly a veneer, beneath which lurked a disquieting incompatibility.
------
An enormous amount of energy is required for a heart to toughen, and in the end it‘s draining. 

The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya

“The idea had come to her […] to write an entire album of songs that focused on the thrill of solitude, the luxuriousness of her own company.“

This novel comes with a link to an entire original soundtrack created by the multitalented Vivek Shraya.

The nuances of friendship, artistic competition and striving to assert individual identity by members of a minority group—in this case, South Asian Canadian women—are extremely well portrayed in this novel set in Toronto. Shifting viewpoints capture misconceptions, miscommunication and insecurities, all of which are exacerbated by social media. At least one of the women is trans, and I love that it isn‘t in any way an issue for these characters, who feel so real I ached for them.

Rukmini had made out that the girl‘s name was Malika from the mandatory name tent displayed on the edge of her desk but they had never spoken to each other. This wasn‘t unusual—there was an unwritten code of silence amongst brown girls in white rooms. Staying separate was a way to assert their distinctiveness and delay the moment when their classmates would “accidentally” refer to one of them by the other‘s name. 
------
She reached for her dad‘s old wooden harmonium, tucked on the bottom row of her bookshelf. He had given it to her when her parents had decided they were officially over the frigid climate and locals and moved back to Pakistan. 

Book synchronicity: I finished Shani Mootoo‘s Polar Vortex, then picked up Subtweet, wherein I read a text exchange between friends, suggesting they go hear Shani Mootoo speak at Harbourfront: “Cereus Blooms is one of my favourite books.” (Mine too! I think to myself.) Then this in Wisdom from a Humble Jellyfish by Rani Shah, the audiobook I had on the go at the same time: “Take it from the reliable night-blooming cereus: knowing what time of day works best for you helps you truly bloom.” 

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

A polyphonic verse narrative about queers? Yes, yes and yes! The lives of 12 British characters—women and nonbinary, all members of the African diaspora—intersect and interconnect in delightful ways. Evaristo‘s fluid style kept me rolling along, and that‘s a feat, since I read this at the beginning of May when I had been having difficulty focusing and I was reading this in ebook format (from Hoopla) on my tiny phone screen.

ageing is nothing to be ashamed of
especially when the entire human race is in it together

-------
it’s important to counterbalance the state of being cerebral with the state of being corporeal
-------
gender is one of the biggest lies of our civilization

Decline and Fall on Savage Street by Fiona Farrell

The format is definitely part of the strong appeal of this novel: alternating chapters follow the story of a fancy house in Christchurch, New Zealand, with the story of an eel in the nearby river, beginning in 1906 and advancing two years with every chapter in Part 1, switching to monthly in 2010, up to and after the first big quake. Not much changes for the eel, but the house‘s many inhabitants go through wars, social activism and events like 9/11. By the end you get a wonderful sense of history‘s sweep.

He never knows what to do now: to kiss or not, both cheeks or not. Or his usual solution, knocking noses in the middle. To hug or not. To shake hands or opt for his preferred stance: to stand back, nod and grunt in a way he hopes will be construed as reasonably affable. (COVID-19 observation: this passage was set in 2012. If it was 2020, he would definitely be opting to stand 2 metres away.)
------
Paul categorically refuses to use Barry-speak: consumers, clients, units. They‘re patients, damn it. It‘s a good word, an old word, for people who are waiting as they mostly do, with the touching submission of the ill and damaged, for him or someone like him to do his best to make them well. These are not consumers, fecklessly occupying their free beds, gobbling up some finite resource. They are patients.

The Red Chesterfield by Wayne Arthurson

I felt totally enchanted by this odd crime novella that's told in vignettes. A bylaw officer investigates a complaint about a yard sale, then spots an abandoned chesterfield nearby and then things go sideways when he finds a severed human foot. But this story isn‘t about that mystery. It‘s about a man‘s relationship with his brothers and his girlfriend who is also his boss, and …that intriguing piece of furniture that keeps showing up.

I knew going into this book that Edmonton author Wayne Arthurson is of Cree and French Canadian descent. I like how the central character is slowly revealed to be Indigenous:
1. A comment early on about his people having “a long history with the authorities, a lot of it bad.”
2. Later: “I light some sage, let the smoke blow over me. I‘m too jittery for the smudge to work.”
3. Still later: “Who is it?” [...] “Some Indian,” he says with disdain.”
------
When I sit, I don't fall to the ground. The red chesterfield is real.
It is also extremely comfortable, further supporting my belief that this is a chesterfield and not a sofa or a couch. Only chesterfields have this kind of bearing. The springs are well maintained, the fabric soft to the touch without being rubbery. My hands have tactile sensitivity, making them defensively reactive to materials. Velvet and velour give me the heebie-jeebies, while some leathers can be too smooth.

Killing and Dying by Adrian Tomine

Six impeccable slice-of-life stories told in comics format. Deadpan wit, emotional nuance, perceptive observations and lots of warmth for these sad, alienated, frustrated characters. These are the kinds of stories with a whole lot going on in the gutters and outside the confines of the pages. Tomine uses clean lines, matching subtly different art styles to the mood of each story.





La légèreté par Catherine Meurisse

Parisian political cartoonist Catherine Meurisse overslept and missed her bus… and thereby missed being killed or injured like her colleagues at Charlie Hebdo in 2015. In this emotional, philosophical and darkly funny memoir in comics format, Meurisse turns to beauty, literature and art for answers as she struggles through grief and disassociation to put her life back together. Also available translated into English with the title “Lightness.


Welcome to my planet.
Why a minute of silence in honour of victims?
What we need is a century of burning rage!

[my translation]

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Audiobook narrated by the author and Melania-Luisa Marte

I raced through this novel in verse, captivated by the situation and the characters. Two half-sisters, born two months apart, only learn of each other‘s existence after their father dies. One lives in the Dominican Republic and dreams of becoming an obstetrician, the other is an out lesbian in NYC. Both are kind, fierce and stand up for themselves. Their stories alternate, read by two different narrators in the audiobook, including the author.

If you asked me what I was, and you meant in terms of culture, I‘d say Dominican. No hesitation, no question about it. Can you be from a place you have never been? You can find the island stamped all over me, but what would the island find if I was there? Can you claim a home that does not know you, much less claim you as its own?

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Audiobook narrated by Tom Hanks

Family relationships, obsessions, resentments, forgiveness, and a mother who mysteriously abandons her children—all of these are ingredients that appeal to me. I don‘t know why I put off reading this, even though I‘ve enjoyed Patchett‘s previous works. Late to the party, but happy to say that I enjoyed the riches-to-rags saga very much, and the audiobook narration by Tom Hanks is wonderful. His delivery of the chapter numbers has a verve I haven‘t experienced in audio before.

There are a few times in life when you leap up and the past that you'd been standing on falls away behind you, and the future you mean to land on is not yet in place, and for a moment you're suspended knowing nothing and no one, not even yourself.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Book club responses…

A: I thought I would like it more than I did.
B: Spent a day trying to visualize the layout of the farm based on a descriptive paragraph early on, felt confused, and then I bailed.
C: Liking it so far, but not very far into it—Flora hasn‘t arrived at the farm yet.
D: Forced myself to finish it.
E: Hated! They don't talk like that in Sussex. My beloved Sussex is maligned in this novel.
F: Hated the Roz Chast illustrations on the cover so much I couldn‘t bring myself to read any of it (not in the mood for misery).
Me: It was hilarious! I loved it so much I plan to listen to the BBC radio drama adaptation.

“Does she go to school?” asked Flora. “How old is she?”
“Seventeen. Nay, niver talk o‘ school for my wennet. Why, Robert Poste‘s child, ye might as soon send the white hawthorn or the yellow daffydowndilly to school as my Elfine. She learns from the skies an‘ the wild marsh-tiggets, not out o‘ books.”
“How trying,” observed Flora.
------
“What‘s that you‘re making?” he asked. Flora knew he hoped it was a pair of knickers. She composedly shook out the folds of the petticoat and replied that it was an afternoon tea-cloth.
------
The dawn widened into an exquisite spring day. Soft, wool-like puffs of sound came from the thrushes‘ throats in the trees. The uneasy year, tortured by its spring of adolescence, broke into bud-spots in hedge, copse, spinney and byre.
------
He stood at the table facing Flora and blowing heavily on his tea and staring at her. Flora did not mind. It was quite interesting: like having tea with a rhinoceros.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

April 2020 Reading Round-Up

Audiobooks, comics, novellas and short stories: that's what has been hitting the spot lately. Here are some highlights from my reading life in April, plus one audiobook that's a cure for sleepless nights:

The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories edited by Jay Rubin
Translations by various people

I started reading a short story a day from this collection on Dec 1, 2019, then got derailed—first by a concussion, then by coronavirus anxiety. I finished it in April with a feeling of triumph. And I loved the book! Extending the reading time probably contributed to my enjoyment because I had time to savour each story. The 34 stories vary widely in content, style and original publication date. A lovely assortment.

My friend Shawn and I discussed one of these stories, "UFO in Kushiro" by Haruki Murakami, and then Shawn made a video:





The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls
by Mona Eltahawy, Audiobook read by the author

Mona Eltahawy's rage against the patriarchy really struck a chord with me. The necessary “sins” in her manifesto are anger, ambition, profanity, violence, attention-seeking, lust and power. I want to join her in dismantling an unjust system. Burn it down! I join her in celebrating the audacity of teenage girls around the world who save themselves and teenage girls who will save the planet. I join her in celebrating women and girls who sin.

We must reject civility. There is nothing civil about racism or misogyny or transphobia. Warnings precede profanity to protect the sensibility of the reader. Where are the warnings that precede patriarchy to protect the lives of women and girls?

Girls know their power. They are born knowing it, which is why patriarchy socializes it out of them and why it extinguishes the pilot light of their anger.

Saga Book One by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

If you haven‘t yet embarked on the Saga bandwagon, what are you waiting for? Adventure, great characters of all types, family dynamics of all types, humour, pathos, a vivid universe and fantastic art. Rereading issues 1-18 in digital format was such a pleasure. Sigh. The Saga graphic novel series is available in digital format through Hoopla at the library. Book One gathers issues 1-18 (Volumes 1-3). Fiona Staples, a comics artist from Calgary, has created the outstanding art.


Younger writers are always looking for “blurbs,“ one of the few words that
sounds exactly as awful as the crime it's describing.
"Just a moment, and I'll transfer you to my claims
adjustment supervisor. Your name again?"

"The Will. As in losing mine to live."

Saga Book Two by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Issues 19-36 (Volumes 4-6) are collected in deluxe Book Two. Insurrections on several fronts; drug addictions; several occasions where being “lady folk” is in question; Klara gets tattooed in a women‘s prison; The Will gets fat; The Stalk keeps making posthumous appearances; we see more of gay journalists Usher and Doff; a baby android gets older along with our narrator, Hazel... there‘s so much going on. I could happily reread this every year. Next up on my digital comics reading list is deluxe compilation Book Three. 
post image
But anyone who thinks one book has all the answers hasn't read enough books.
Hum by Natalia Hero


Whimsical, devastating, and hopeful. It's hard to describe this novella about a young woman living with the trauma of sexual assault. Her traumatic experience manifests as a hummingbird, a constant visible and audible companion. I was reminded of Chanel Miller's memoir, Know My Name: this slip of a book packs similar power, while approaching the subject in an entirely different way. 

I picked this gem up at Glass Bookshop in Edmonton, by the way. It was the cover by artist Louise Reimer that that drew me in. 

And I think Help. I need Help. But I don‘t say that, because you don‘t say that. You don‘t say you need Help unless you know what Help you need.

Actress by Anne Enright
Audiobook read by the author


Listening to Anne Enright perform her idiosyncratic sentence structure in the pitch-perfect voice of Norah is an absolute delight. It‘s intimate, funny and dark. There is so much nuance in this story of a mother and daughter, family secrets, misogyny, bad sex, Dublin, mental health, and the way our lives are performances. An outstanding audiobook for lovers of character, language and place.

…we kissed endlessly on a window ledge on the corner of Suffolk Street, where I left my bag behind, so drunk was I with kissing, the memory of it lingering for years, even as the window was knocked into a doorway through which people walk now, right through the ghost of our kissing…


The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here by Hope Jahren
Audiobook read by the author

Jahren makes the case that our world's current state, on the brink of climate disaster, “arises from a relentless story of more.” The statistics are depressing but “doing something is always better than doing nothing.” Consuming less and conserving resources are measures we can take while scientists continue to dedicate their lives to further solutions. 

The Story of More is more satisfying than Greta Thunberg's No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, which was a repetitive compilation of her speeches. Also, if you haven't yet read Hope Jahren memoir Lab Girl, it's also very good.

Barring something awful—famine, plague, genocide or forced control over reproduction—Earth will never again contain fewer than 7 billion people. We must learn to live together if we want to live well.

Henry George [1839-1897] was also right in that most of the want and suffering that we see in our world today originates not from the earth‘s inability to provide, but from our inability to share.

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
Audiobook read by Joseph Kloska


This 12-hour audiobook is clearly abridged, even though the edition notes in Overdrive state otherwise. Based on page length of print editions (784-906 pages) I would expect the audio to be at least 25 hours. Nevertheless, I found this thoroughly immersive and engaging, so hats off to narrator Joseph Kloska and to Katie and John Nickell, who are credited at the end of the recording for the abridgment. It's a fitting conclusion to the trilogy that started with Wolf Hall, one of my all-time favourite historical novels. Thanks to Hilary Mantel, “he, Thomas Cromwell,” will have a place in my heart forever.

[Ambassador Eustace Chapuys:] “Henry is a man of great endowments, lacking only consistency, reason and sense.”

[Thomas Cromwell]: "I like your deceit. It makes me think highly of you."

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Audiobook read by Nicole Lewis



First Look Book Club, a free email subscription which provides sample text from forthcoming books, got me hooked from the opening pages. My 3-month wait for a library copy was worth it. This nuanced exploration of racism and ethics opens with a Black woman caring for a white child and being confronted by a grocery store security guard. Later, the woman says to her white boyfriend: “I don't need you to be mad that it happened. I need you to be mad that it just like... happens.”

Zara leaned in closer. “That's the guy who filmed you that night?!” 
“Girl, yes.” 
“Why you so sneaky?” 
“I didn't think he'd come!” 
Still looking over the railing, Shaunie asked, “Is he wearing an Everlane sweater?” 
Emira rolled her eyes. “Why are you acting like I know what that is?”

Special mention as a soporific: 
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Audiobook read by John Lee; translation by William Weaver

I checked this out from the Hoopla database because Kamila Shamsie recommended it (in The Guardian) as a good choice for reading during the pandemic. I gave up trying to make sense of the content--Marco Polo telling Kublai Khan about fantastical cities he had visited--because I kept falling asleep. Then I realized that this was the book's superpower! I played the audiobook four times through, in 10- or 15-minute segments, whenever I couldn't sleep in the night.