Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sarah by JT Leroy

I remember wanting to read JT Leroy's work back in the early 2000s when Sarah and The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things came out and there was a lot of buzz about them. Before I got to them, however, a literary hoax scandal broke about the author's identity. After I learned that these supposedly loosely autobiographical novels were written by a straight woman, Laura Albert, and not by a gay man with a tragic personal history of being forced to turn tricks as a child, I lost my desire to read them.

Author, a documentary about Laura Albert and her use of the persona JT Leroy, came out in 2016. Watch the trailer: Albert/LeRoy's story is quite astonishing. The film generated more controversy, revolving around archival tapes used without permission from the famous people who didn't know they were being recorded, folks such as Dennis Cooper, Gus Van Sant, Asia Argent, Courtney Love and Bono.

Sarah was reissued in 2016 (to coincide with the documentary) and chosen for my Feminist Book Club, so I've finally crossed it off my TBR. At our meeting, we spent a lot of time talking about how the story surrounding the author's identity affects the way we read her work.

We also tried to figure out how we would categorize this novel that Tom Spanauer called "road-kill beautiful." It reminded me of a cross between something by Chuck Palahniuk, and Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.  A dark fairytale: raw, horrific, funny, whimsical, offensive and sad.

The first-person narrator is a twelve-year-old boy - who likes to pass as a girl - living with his mother Sarah at a truck stop, part of a group of prostitutes working under the authority of a man named Glad.

I take daily lessons from various boys of Glad's, who affectionately refer to each other as baculum, which Glad tells me means 'little rod' in Latin. I practice rolling a condom on a man with my teeth without him knowing.
I had to google images of raccoon baculum after reading this.
Turns out, many kinds of mammals have penis bones.

Sarah always says before she goes man shopping, 'I look so good when I enter this bar, I'll make all the bitches nervouser than long-tailed cats at a rocking chair convention.'
(Other colourful expressions include "faster than a feather singeing in hell,""ready as snippers at bull-ball cutting' time," and "Don't pee down my back and tell me it's raining!")

I notice her left eye behind her Hollywood sunglasses is half shut in black-and-blue lumps hardly concealed by streaks of powdery beige foundation.
'The trick is to use an oil-based, yellow-tone foundation. You should never use matte!' Sarah would say, wincing while tentatively sponging on tan goop. 'I swear it should say so on the bottle: 'Do not under any circumstance use matte to cover your man's fist kisses.'

'I had my triplets using five layers of rubbers with a layer of tin-foil gum wrapper thrown in for good measure...' says a woman so narrow and white she looks like a body-of-Christ wafer.

'Mary Grace, you just got hit with very acidic ejaculit,' says another woman. 'I heard of truckers' juice so full of strip-mine slag they can burn through a wooden condom!'

I've heard it said too that women have brought their husbands that won't quit drinking their hairspray and nail-polish remover. Mommas have brought their strip-mine babies born with arms growing out of their heads like rabbit ear antennas. Grandparents have brought their grandchildren blinded from masturbating. Not one of them was ever cured.

The quotes above will give you ample notion of what you are getting in for with this novel. The sense of humour left me feeling a strange mix of charmed, dismayed and horrified. I recommend this novel only for those who are curious, and prepared to feel queasy over the portrayal of a child prostitute who has been taught to equate with love with abuse. It's also good for discussing issues of appropriation.

The Feminist Book Club followed up our discussion of Sarah by selecting a memoir written by an actual queer sex worker for the following month: Amber Dawn's How Poetry Saved My Life. I whole-heartedly recommend it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Books Round-Up: Best of May

If you are looking for some recommendations, it doesn't matter that these are from a few months ago, does it?
Best Thing I Read in May: Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore
The way we invent ourselves, even without realizing what we are doing; the weight of our formative on our adult selves; the way a perfect moment can sustain us through all the tougher daily grind of living: Moore puts it so well in this melancholy and enchanting novel.

"There were soft tall weeds growing up from the lake bottom, and they would do a charming kind of hula and then wind around your legs in a death grip."

"In Paris we eat brains every night. My husband likes the vaporous, fishy mousse of them. They are a kind of seafood, he thinks, locked tightly in the skull like shelled creatures in the dark caves of the ocean."

Best NonFiction Audiobook: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
[audiobook narrated by author: 3.5 hours]
I loved this so much, I listened to it twice in a row. Stars that jiggle, spherical cows, dark matter as our frenemy, the badassery of Einstein, and envisioning the density of a pulsar as like stuffing 100 million elephants into a chapstick casing: Tyson is endlessly entertaining in addition to being informative. 

"For all those who are too busy to read fat books, yet nonetheless seek a conduit to the cosmos."

Best YA Audiobook: The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
[audiobook narrated by Bahni Turpin: 11 hr 45 min]
The last author who sent me to find Tupac's music on YouTube was Jacqueline Woodson (After Tupac and D Foster). Thank you, Angie Thomas, for pointing me in that direction again. Starr is the brave star of this ripped-from-the-headlines novel: she's real and whole: a fictional teen who will live long in my heart. All the empathy and all the stars for this, and I hope they make the movie soon because I want to see that too!

Best Novel-Told-in-Short-Stories Audiobook: 
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
[audiobook narrated by Kimberly Farr: 8.5 hr]
If you loved Olive Kitteridge, as I did, then you will also enjoy Strout's latest collection of interconnected short stories. They are about various small-town people, all loosely connected to another of Strout's characters: Lucy Barton.

"As Patti drove into her driveway, and saw the lights she'd left on, she realized that Lucy Barton's book had understood her. That was it. The book had understood her. Lucy Barton had her own shame, and she had risen right straight out of it."

Best Poetry: Passage by Gwen Benaway
I re-read the poems in this collection compulsively, trying to come up with a coherent review, getting sucked back into the pages each time. Powerful words about all kinds of passages: childhood into adulthood; abuse into healing; city life into wilderness; coupledom to single; male to female. Outstanding queer Indigenous poetry.

"It's my promise,
an oath to the land,
to bear my wrecking with a certain grace.
not the grace of trees,
the smooth breasted laughter of bluejays,
but the grace of mollusks:
bottom feeder, black rimmed,
sharp under foot, slit mouthed,
small and as inescapable
as hunger."

Best Novel in Translation: Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi
translated from French by Jeffrey Zuckerman
Alternating POV between four young teenagers who are so real my heart breaks. The poverty and violence of their home - the slums of Mauritius - brands them all, but in unique ways: these are individuals. Knowing them has enlarged me. Transcendent prose lightens this fierce, short LGBTQ novel.

"I wipe my neck. The coarse feel of it surprises me. The lack of hair makes me feel more naked than ever. Then I remember: my mother sheared it off. When I saw myself in the mirror, I saw that I had a lioness's head. I had a mane of hunger."

Best Historical Fiction: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
"It's a poor woman whose ambition is only to be loved. She has better things to be getting on with." And that's exactly why I enjoy the female characters in this novel so much: they are busy doing interesting things. Lots of unrequited love and complicated friendships in an atmospheric Victorian setting.

Best Fantasy Graphic Novel: Eartha by Cathy Malkasian
A unique and dreamy world; memorable and endearing characters; gorgeous art; an adventure quest into a dangerous place - Malkasian gets all the elements right in this immersive, moving fantasy/fable for adults. Muted tones; a hefty 255 oversized pages. Queer content.

Best Arthurian Retelling Graphic Novel: 
Yvain by MT Anderson and Andrea Offermann
A rich, evocative retelling of one of the Arthurian tales, one that highlights the differences between men's and women's lives of that era. A happily-ever-after for the knight is merely obligation and constrained options for the queen. It's bitter and I prefer this kind of story over traditional romance. Gorgeous art with lots of movement.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Books and a Busy April

Another month, another 30 books. Even though I read the same number of books in April as in March, this time I only rated 7 of them with five stars in Goodreads, while March had an amazing 15 of them. Before I tell you about some of the bookish highlights, I want to mention a couple of other April things.
Our house is still cheerful with art, a few days after the show.
We hosted an open house art show and sale of Laurie's art, and so our place still looks like a gallery. I love it. We forgot to put out clean towels and so our guests had to wipe their hands on their clothing (I guess) but other than that everything went well on the big day. Earlier in April, we went to a lot of Edmonton Poetry Festival events and I'm impressed with how the festival keeps getting better. Laurie performed her work at a couple of places and she keeps getting better too. (Ha!)

I also saw a wonderful theatre adaptation of Peter and the Starcatchers at the Citadel Theatre, and a whacked-out dance theatre adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, performed by Toy Guns Dance students. Both of those were a lot of fun.

Now, on to highlight some of the books, starting with stats:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders 
[audiobook with multiple narrators: 7 hr 30 mn]
I expected this would make me cry. It didn't. I expected to love this audiobook. I did. So much so that I started again from the beginning after finishing it. Saunders has immense compassion for human frailties, while encouraging us to see the humour in those shortcomings. Lovely. The text loops and circles and dazzles. I wouldn't have guessed that a book about Abraham Lincoln's grief over the death of his child would be my favourite book of April, and quite possibly of the year so far.

Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, 
translated from German by Susan Bernofsky.
Revolutionary. Funny. Surprising. Surreal. Three generations of polar bears - interacting closely with humans - provide poetic, emotionally powerful viewpoints on personal relationships, culture, immigration, and politics.

The male members of the species Homo sapiens appealed to me a great deal. They were soft and small and had fragile but adorable teeth. Their fingers were delicately constructed, the fingernails all but nonexistent. Sometimes they reminded me of stuffed animals, lovely to hold in one's arms.

I wanted to wrap myself in the black woollen blanket of grief and brood over my clutch of sorrows until they hatched and flew away.

All of them were referred to as birds, even though the only thing they had in common was wings. the sparrow, a brown mixture of modesty and agitation, the blackbird with her unassuming humour, the magpie's painted mask, and the pigeon, who lost no opportunity to repeat her favourite motto: 'Really? How interesting. I had no idea!'

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid 
[audiobook narrated by the author: 4 hr 44 mn].
This love story about refugees was even better than I had hoped. Ethical, believable characters. Excellent usage of the terms 'natives' and 'migrants,' emphasizing the common experiences of shifting world populations. The magic doors you may have heard about that are in this book are an unobtrusive plot device used in a similar way to the trains in Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. Straightforward storytelling. Short and bittersweet.

Every time a couple moves they begin, if their attentions still drawn to one another, to see each other differently, for personalities are not a single immutable colour, like white or blue, but rather illuminated screens, and the shades we reflect depend much on what is around us. So it was with Saeed and Nadia, who found themselves changed each other's eyes in this new place.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis.
An adorable picture book with anthropomorphic insects and an invented language. I loved it so much I bought a copy to bring as a gift to Geneva next month, for twins who will soon be four years old. They live in a quadrilingual household, so this should be perfect!

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
An amnesiac child, a bizarre underground world, cheeses with killer attitude, wines that alter memories, a populace with faces blank of expression... this dazzling standalone fantasy has a twisty plot full of lies and deception. Ages 10-adult.

Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart
It's been five years since I first read this and it's every bit as good on rereading. Posy Simmonds says there's "no truer portrait of teenage and parental angst." I picked it up when I saw news that a film version is coming out.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson
High school is hard enough for Jared without parents who deal drugs and party for days. Then there's the raven who talks to him, and the annoying patter of the fireflies over his girlfriend's head - no one else sees or hears them. If Jared really is the son of a supernatural being, why isn't his life better? Gritty, witty and full of heart.

They had a four-bedroom house, but when they were alone it felt like a one-room shack. She'd talk to him through the door when he was on the can. The red glow of her cigarette was his night light as she sat beside his bed in the darkness. He smelled her Craven Ms in his dreams. A trail of her texts followed him through his day.

Richie disappeared into the cabin and came back carrying an AK-47. [Jared's] mom squealed and clapped her hands. they took turns firing into the trunk of one of the target trees, which quivered until it creaked, cracked, then fell over.
"Tim-ber!" they yelled together.
"Normal people buy their trees from the Boy Scouts," Jared said. "Normal people don't hunt their Christmas trees down and kill them."

"I know all the change in Georgie's piggy bank." Crashpad's mom made a V of her fingers, pointing to her eyes and then to Jared.
What did you say to that? On the one hand, it was hilarious. On the other, how craptastic was your life when old ladies felt the need to threaten you with movie gangsterisms?

In for a Pound by SG Wong
An entertaining hard-boiled female detective mystery, set in an alternate 1930s Los Angeles in which North America's west coast was colonized by the Chinese, and where it's perfectly normal to be haunted by ghosts... except not against your will. Second in a series; it's not necessary to read them in order. Wong is an Edmonton author and my Two Bichons book club was graced with her presence at our meeting in April. What a treat!

And speaking of treats, how about some Coconut Macaroons (from Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky cookbook) topped with Candied Kalamata Olives (from Crossroads cookbook)? Trust me. It's a surprisingly good taste combination! I had fun playing with recipes in these two:  

Flapper Pie and a Blue Prairie Sky by Karlynn Johnson 
(from the Kitchen Magpie blog).
Contemporary takes on desserts from the mid-20th century. Signature ingredients: saskatoon berries; chocolate; brown sugar; salted butter. All the good stuff. Photos feature author's vintage Pyrex. 

Crossroads by Tal Ronnen
Mediterranean first, vegan second. Lots of steps, but all six of the recipes I tried turned out great. Signature ingredients: nutritional yeast flakes; Kite Hill almond milk cheeses (I don't think these are available in Canada); and milk made from soaked cashews.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Behold the Awesome Books of March 2017

March might have been my best reading month ever. Out of 30 books, I gave five stars to 15 of them. So many great books! Do I know how to pick them, or what? Read on for highlights.

(Strangely, titles and authors beginning with the letter "O" have been prominent in my reading life.)

Most Outstanding Prose: O Caledonia by Elspeth Barker

If I describe this as a coming-of-age story set in mid-twentieth century Scotland, that sounds kind of ho-hum. It was Ali Smith's glowing recommendation that inspired me to pick it up, and then, as soon as I opened it and began to read about a teenager found lying dead on the stairs in her family's crumbling castle, I was hooked on the tale of what brought her to that point. Unforgettable.

"Pudding today was pink junket, the delicacy so relished by Miss Muffet; it reminded Janet of the blanching rabbits in the kitchen bowl, but she had perfected a way of ingesting it with almost no physical contact by tipping tiny fragments into the very back of her mouth and swallowing quickly. Soon the ordeal was over."

"Her name was dreadful too; all the others had names with some romance about them; even Rhona had a suggestion of inappropriate turbulence, a tawny river in flood rushing and foaming about its boulders. But Janet had nothing; its only possible association was with junket."

Best Essay: Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso

Will Schwalbe wrote that someone once told him that if you want to know what a book is really about, just read the last word. Manguso's thoughtful, gorgeous memoir is a chronicle of her journey through anxiety to mindfulness, and learning to trust in the future along the way. Last word of her main text: now- [with no further punctuation]. Last word of the afterword: faith. That worked! (Try it with something you've just finished.)

"And then I think I don't need to write anything down ever again. Nothing's gone, not really. Everything that's ever happened has left its little wound."

"Before I had the baby I remember feeling tired all the time. But after he joined me I could spend four days in two rooms, pyjama-clad, so tired I was almost blind."

"Living in a dream of the future is considered a character flaw. Living in the past, bathed in nostalgia, is also considered a character flaw. Living in the present moment is hailed as spiritually admirable, but truly ignoring the lessons of history or failing to plan for tomorrow are considered character flaws. I wanted to know how to inhabit time in a way that wasn't a character flaw."

Best Graphic Novel Fiction: One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

Two women use storytelling to outwit cruel and rapacious men. Scheherazade, a creation myth, a moon mother, the 12 dancing princesses... Greenberg draws on tales from around the world in this funny, feminist graphic novel, illustrated in a wood-cut style.

"These women must be charged with sorcery, witchcraft, reading and sassiness! Their behaviour is INTOLERABLE!"
"Lesson: Men are false. And they can get away with it. Also,
don't murder your sister, even by accident. Sisters are important."

Best Science Fiction: Infomocracy by Malka Older 
[audio 9 hr 49 min; narrated by Christine Marshall]

Cyberpunk. Political thriller. Global adventure. High-concept science fiction. However you classify this, it is compelling. If you like novels by William Gibson or Cory Doctorow, check this out.

"The Singapore hub was funded by the massive settlement accorded after People versus Coca Cola et al, the civil action when Americans realized that diet soda was depriving them of their right to be thin."

Best Nonfiction in Graphic Format: March, Book One 
by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell

I've been meaning to read this for ages, then my YA book club picked it for March and also there was a "March in March" group project on Litsy, the social media app for readers (where I hang out a lot). It is outstanding. Early life and civil rights nonviolent activism of legendary American politician John Lewis. Emotionally difficult material, very well presented. Powerful artwork. Inspiring! There are two more volumes in this autobiography that I look forward to.

Best Nonfiction: Books for Living by Will Schwalbe 
[audio 7 hr; narrated by Jeff Harding]

Warm and inspiring. Will Schwalbe is my soulmate. We grew up in the same era. We're both queer. We both read books in search of answers about how to live our lives. We've read many of the same books. I only wish I could write as well as he does about the effect books have on our psyches.

"Has any book saved my life? I think it would be more accurate to say that books like James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room helped me choose my life. If it hadn't been for the books I read, I would have wound up with a life very different from the life I now lead. Books saved the life I have."

"You can leave the books that you don't like alone, and let other people read them." [quoting ancient scholar Yuan Chunglang.]

"The greatest gift you can give people is to take the time to talk with them about a book you've shared. A book is a great gift. The gift of your interest and attention is even greater."

Best Lesbian Fiction: Black Wave by Michelle Tea

Tea is a longtime favourite of mine and she is at the top of her game in this one. Vigorous, generous, lusty prose - that alone is enough to charm me through the gritty alcoholism, promiscuous sex and - sure, why not - heroin too. Michelle is pretty much the same herself as in her memoirs and autobiographical fiction... except in third person. Then, in the second part, she moves from San Francisco to LA and it gets even better - all meta and how-do-you-write-your-own-story. And then the apocalypse began.

"Imagine, to stop worrying about money! Michelle was born into such anxiety, it had been her placenta, the water breaking between her mother's legs, dollars and coins scattered on the ground."

"'What's the book even about?' Quinn asked. 'If you've removed the main story.'
Michelle wasn't sure. Couldn't a book just be about life? Me, My Alcoholism, I think. The Nineties. Being Poor. The Feeling Of It All."

"Quinn was only the latest to protest her inclusion in Michelle's story - which, basically, felt like protesting their inclusion in Michelle's life, which didn't feel great, honestly, and besides, what were they doing there, then? But even this tantrum was the last gasp of Michelle's bravado. She'd grown weary of feeling like her writing hurt the people closest to her."

Best Audiobook: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney [audio 9 hr; narrated by Xe Sands]

Loosely based on poet and advertising copywriter Margaret Fishback, the Lillian Boxfish of this novel is a character I adored: forthright and witty, yet also respectful and open-minded. Her life story unfolds of the course of a 10-mile walk through the streets of NYC on New Year's Eve 1984, when she's 85 years old. She has such great interactions with people along the way. Hooray for feisty old ladies!

"I thought at times that poetry might be an elegant way of screaming."

"For though I was raised Protestant, my true religion is actually civility. Please note that I do not call my faith 'politeness.' That's part of it, yes, but I say civility because I believe that good manners are essential to the preservation of humanity - one's own and others' - but only to the extent that that civility is honest and reasonable, not merely the mindless handmaiden of propriety."

Best Picture Book: Tokyo Digs a Garden by Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka

I thought this Governor General award winner would be a retelling of Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House, because it starts off similar, but no. This is a much better version of happily-ever-after, because instead of having to leave an urban environment to find happiness, nature conquers the city. Yay! A subversive Canadian picture book that will make readers of all ages smile.
"Deer foraged in office lobbies. Rabbits burrowed under library carpets."
Best YA (tie): American Street by Ibi Zoboi 
[audio 8 hr 38 min; narrated by Robin Miles] and
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon [audio 8 hr; narrated by Dominic Hoffman, Raymond Lee and Bahni Turpin]

Similarities between these two:
  • perceptive 
  • poignant
  • Caribbean immigrant teens in USA
  • narrative structure incorporates tangential backstories of other characters
  • importance of family bonds
  • a light metaphysical touch: Fate, in Yoon's work; Haitian Vodou spirits in Zoboi's
  • a fierce, smart & determined young woman at the centre
Best Mystery: The Dry by Jane Harper 
[audio 9 hr, 48 min; narrated by Steve Shanahan]

Riveting and atmospheric multiple-murder mystery set in a small, drought-stricken Australian town.

Best Youth Nonfiction: Pride by Robin Stevenson

For age 9 and up. It's especially nice that this Stonewall Honor* award winner includes lots of young people in historical and world contexts. For example, we learn that trans woman Sylvia Rivera, who was in the first Stonewall riot, was kicked out of home and living on the street at age 10. A contemporary 12-year-old Canadian has filed a human rights complaint arguing for removal of gender designations from all birth certificates. Lots of bright photos celebrate diversity.
*Awarded by the American Library Association for GLBT books.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

February's Great Reads

Okay, so last month I read a whole bunch of great books and I gave 5 stars on Goodreads to ten of them. I'll tell you a little more about those ten (in no particular order).

Don't I Know You? - Marni Jackson
Interlinked short stories follow Rose's life from her teens right up to her 70s. In each story, Rose interacts with celebrities, often in mundane circumstances. I laughed out loud (Keith Richards moonlighting as a surgeon) and came close to tears (Leonard Cohen running an ice cream truck). The canoe trip with Cohen, Karl Ove Knausgaard and Taylor Swift was the perfect finale. Smart. Charming.

     "Leonard, this song of yours, A Thousand Kisses Deep? It is perfect. It cannot be improved upon," Karl Ove said to him. "Can I ask how long it took to write it?"
     "A thousand years, more or less." Leonard rasped. "I write very slowly. I write in geological time."
     "We are polar opposites then. My new book is already over 500 pages and the main character is still in utero." Karl Ove laughter at himself. "My publisher begs me to shut up."

Salt - Nayyirah Waheed
Loved this collection of poetry so much! Clarity of thought expressed in surprising ways. Occasional flashes of simmering rage. Minimalist.

     not ever
     afraid to tell me
     who you are.
     i am going to find

     - blunt

Memorial: A Version of Homer's Iliad - Alice Oswald
Brief elegies for each of the hundreds who died in the Trojan war. Gorgeous nature and family imagery together with violence. I read with dismay and sadness, yet also found Oswald's words are a balm. Homer's soldiers could be men dying in wars today. Respect for our mortality. This work of poetry filled me with awe.

     Like tribes of summer bees
     Coming up from the underworld out of a crack in a rock
     A billion factory women flying to their flower work
     Being born and reborn and shimmering over fields

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers - Max Porter
This one haunted me and I kept going back to reread parts. It brought to mind a couple of Ali Smith's works (Artful & The Story of Antigone) as well as a novel by Evan Roskos (Dr Bird's Advice for Sad Poets). It is also completely original, like nothing else I've encountered... except maybe grief itself. Surreal, comforting, brilliant prose.

     We will never fight again, our lovely, quick, template-ready arguments. Our delicate cross-stitch of bickers.

The Break - Katherena Vermette
Real. Polyphonic. Important. Sad. Eloquent. Indigenous voice. Hopeful. Heartbreaking.

     "My Kookom." She looks at her grandmother, serious and straight. "Girls don't get attacked in good neighbourhoods."
     Kookoo looks right back, just as hard, no, harder, even with her near-blind eyes. "My Stella, girls get attacked everywhere."

Panther - Brecht Evens
Whimsy meets nightmare in this Belgian graphic novel for adult readers. It's breathtaking, absurd, peculiar, visionary, grotesque, ornate and bizarre. It totally creeped me out and I loved it.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and Iraq - Sarah Glidden
What is journalism? A cartoonist records the work of independent American reporters in the middle east. Gilder's watercolour art make individual people and settings personal. Refugees, politics, a travelling companion who's a US vet of the war in Iraq, the financial need to sell stories, the heartbreak of millions of displaced people - each with their own story - this book important.

The Inquisitor's Tale, or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog - Adam Gidwitz
[Listening Library: 10 hr: narration by full cast including author]
Outstanding audio production includes music as well as a full cast. Saintly children and a dog in 13th century France. Farting dragons, cheese that smells like a cow's butt, ass/donkey double entendres. The enormous turnip folktale. A clear message about the importance of pluralism in society. Great for family listening.

Behold the Dreamers - Imbolo Moue
[Random House Audio: 12 hr 14 min: narrated by Prentice Onayemi]
Integrity, warmth, propulsion. Multiple perspectives. Complex characters in two families, one headed by a Cameroonian chauffeur with uncertain legal status in the USA, the other by a Wall Street executive. Set in NYC during the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Superb audio narration by Onayemi.

Lonesome Dove - Larry McMurtry
[Phoenix Books: 37 hr: narrated by Lee Horsley]
Of the seven audiobooks that I listened to in February, this is my hands down favourite. Westerns aren't normally by thing, but there are exceptions - Sisters Brothers; True Grit - and now, Lonesome Dove. It's got every doorway into reading - story, characters, setting and language - which explains its wide appeal. If you love hyperbole, don't miss this.

     The only man in the outfit who didn't fart frequently was old Bolivar himself - he never touched beans and lived mainly on sourdough biscuits and chicory coffee, or rather, cups of brown sugar with little puddles of coffee floating on top.

Thanks for reading. I'll post my February reading stats below and I hope you'll be back to visit my blog again!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

January 2017 Reading Stats plus Audiobook Recommendations

In July last year, I started doing a monthly summary of my reading, which I then posted on my Litsy account. I've decided to start sharing it here too.

I spent over two weeks in New Zealand last month, which is reflected in the number of authors from that country. 

There was a side trip to Australia during that time as well, which adds up to many hours in airplanes. I had expected I would have listened to more than eleven audiobooks, because that's how I prefer to pass the time when flying, but I guess it's because some of these were really long: I listened to 118 hours worth of audiobooks in January.

If you are looking for an outstanding audiobook, I gave 5 stars to three of them this month: 
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Matthew Desmond) - [Narrated by Scott Aiello; 11h 27m] 
I first heard about this about a year ago from Michael Kindness on the Books on the Nightstand podcast and have been wanting to read it ever since. It's such an important, eye-opening book, and so full of heart. Please read it! I guarantee you will not feel the same way about poverty afterwards.
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World (Peter Wohlleben) - [Narrated by Mike Grady; 7h 33m; translation from German] 
Quirky and fascinating. Scientific fact and fanciful musings. Some of the new research about how trees communicate with each other was also in Hope Larson's fabulous memoir, Lab Girl, one of my favourite audiobooks of 2016.
Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (Sara Gran) - [Narrated by Carol Monda; 9 h] 
"With each day that passed something ugly was growing in me. I watched it grow. I fed it cocaine. I loved it and held onto it, kept it alive."
Gritty hipster noir set in San Francisco that's more about the deeply-troubled bisexual detective than the solving of her cases. Claire strives to help every underdog except herself, disregarding her own safety and wellbeing. Start with book 1, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, then this. Then pray that Gran will write a third in the series.

More picks (four stars):
The Three-Body Problem (Cixin Liu) - [Narrated by Luke Daniels; 13h 26 m; translation from Chinese by Ken Liu] 
At about the 3-hour mark, I considered abandoning this when I got a little bored. Then I got swept up in its epic scope. Wow. Harsh lives in mid-20th century China and folks who think maybe it would be a good idea for aliens to wipe out human civilization. Thought-provoking science fiction. The Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, Book 1.
The Reader (Traci Chee) - [Narrated by Kim Mai Guest; 12h 31m] 
Fantasy adventure in a world where nobody reads. Except there is one magical book. Three storylines. Strong roles for women, including pirates and assassins. Love that the young people reject roles laid out for them and choose their own paths. Entertaining! Sea of Ink and Gold, Book 1.
Becoming Fluent: How Cognitive Science Can Help Adults Learn a Foreign Language (Richard Roberts and Roger Kreuz) - [Narrated by PJ Ochlan; 5h 34m] 
I love learning languages and am currently refreshing my knowledge of Slovak. This excellent audiobook has reinforced what I already know works for me: a) learn spoken and written at the same time; b) short, daily time blocks of learning; c) practice remembering and using vocabulary while handling daily objects instead of labelling everything in the house. What I need to add: more visuals of people speaking the language. A cool thing I learned about was the McGurk effect. Watch this video and see how your brain does interesting things when sight and sound don't add up: Seeing Is Believing.
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (Mary Beard) - [Narrated by Phyllida Nash; 18h 30m] 
"Many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, political violence, empire, luxury and beauty have been formed and tested in dialogue with the Romans and their writing"
"The only genre of mainstream Roman literature that can claim an origin outside of the elite is the animal fable."
"A crucial aspect of any organized community is its ability to structure time. [...] The modern western calendar remains a direct descendant of this early Roman version, as the names we give our months show."
"Adoption in Rome had never been principally a measure for a childless couple to create a family. If anyone just wanted a baby, they could easily find one on a rubbish dump."
An engaging, often surprising, thousand-year chunk of Roman history. Beard makes many connections between ancient history and our modern era, like: "Then, as now, the easiest tactic for a government trying to reduce the pension bill was to raise the pension age."
Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen) - [Narrated by the author; 18h 16m]
"People don't come to rock shows to learn something, they come to be reminded of something they already know and feel deep down in their gut: that when the world is at its best, when we are at our best, when life feels fullest, then 1+1=3. It's the essential equation of love, art, rock 'n roll, and rock 'n roll bands."
I considered bailing on this early on because I was annoyed by Springsteen's overuse of cliche. For example, his father is such a misanthrope that he has no friends, so he "pours his heart out" to his teenaged son, because Bruce is "the only game in town." I'm glad that I stayed with it, however, because he's had an amazing life. I was particularly interested in what he shared about his own and his father's struggles with mental illness.
"My dad would explain to me that love songs on the radio were part of a government plot to get you to marry and pay taxes."
On Trails (Robert Moor) - [Narrated by Jason Grasl; 10h 38m]
"On wild land, wild thoughts can flourish. There, we can feel all the ragged edges of what we do not know and we can make room for other living things to live differently. We must learn to infuse this sense of the wild back into the human landscape. For instance, to see even the trees in our backyards as wild things, and to reframe our understanding of the wilderness so that it can contain us within it."
Environmental journalism, contemplative and wide-ranging. Understanding how humans interact with landscape and how social organization relies on physical ways to connect, from ancient pathways to contemporary long-distance hiking to Internet networks. Fascinating.

Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition (Margot Lee Shetterly) - [Narrated by Bahni Turpin; 4h 11m]
Stories of African American women who have worked in aeronautical sciences since the 50s. Inspiring and enlightening. Suitable for the whole family, if you are planning a car trip.

Friday, January 27, 2017

2016: My Year in Books

Goodreads did this My Year in Books thing that's pretty cool. 

To my faithful blog followers, I apologize for going completely silent here. I've been overwhelmed by unfinished drafts of book posts and I have been considering whether or not to stop blogging entirely. Since May of 2016, I've been spending most of my internet time on Litsy, a social media app for readers. Litsy has been satisfying my need to share quotes, comments and reviews. I really enjoy all of the interaction with other readers. I would be delighted to have you find me there (@Lindy). 

What I miss about this blog is being able to quickly look back on my thoughts about previous books that I've read. Within the Litsy app, it can be done, but it requires a lot of scrolling to go back more than a month to find older posts. I'm not sure that I miss it enough to resume writing separate reviews here, but I might highlight my favourites at regular intervals.

Thank you again for following me at Lindy Reads and Reviews over the years. I started this project back in 2008 and have reviewed over 1,000 titles here. I'm not quite ready to say goodbye yet.