Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Bingo: Six Lines Complete

Only three more squares to go on my Books on the Nightstand bingo card! My earlier book bingo posts are here (two lines) and here (four lines), in case you missed them.

Following are my comments on the books for the categories in the two vertical lines outlined above in orange.

WESTERN: Law of the Desert Born by Louis L'Amour et. al. [Graphic novel]
In the bottom panel,
the sole of his boot
comes right out at the
reader, and his hat
breaks into the panel
above, creating a nice
sense of motion.
(Click to make big.)
Thank you to Melwyk/Melanie over at The Indextrious Reader for recommending some westerns approached from a different slant (see the comments below my first book bingo post). I was tempted by Mary Doria Russell's Doc, but decided to save that for another time. Instead, I went with a classic that has been transformed into a graphic novel.
Writer Charles Santino and artist Thomas Yeates adapted Beau L'Amour and Katherine Nolan's audio script of Law of the Desert Born, which had already been adapted from a short story written in the mid-twentieth century by Beau's father, Louis L'Amour.
Designed with minimal text and an oversize page format, Yeates' realistic black and grey washed illustrations are a significant aspect of the narrative. I found them immediately appealing.
In an afterward, Beau writes, "One of the best aspects of the audio script was that there were no gunfighters, no hidden treasures, no girl who was the daughter of 'the richest man in the county.' It was just about working stiffs trying to keep their heads above water and doing a bad job of it." 
Yes! And the main characters are not clearly good guys or bad guys. I loved the ambiguity and the layers of loyalty and betrayal. It's very noir and I could not guess how it would end. It was excellent and I could not have been more surprised.
I could have slotted this into my THAT YOU THINK YOU WILL DISLIKE bingo category (if it hadn't already been taken) since I wasn't too fond of L'Amour's Hondo. I was as wrong about Law of the Desert Born as I was about disliking the book I did use for that category (Soccer In Sun and Shadow.) So, thank you to BOTNS book bingo for leading me to two books I never would have read otherwise!

HAS A PLACE-NAME IN THE TITLE: The Green Road by Anne Enright (Intersection with a previous line. See Book Bingo: Four Lines Complete.)

WITH A CHILD ON THE COVER: The Door: Poems by Margaret Atwood
The photo on the dust jacket is of Atwood as a child. (Awww!) Did anyone back then guess what a literary powerhouse she would grow up to become? I'm excited about her new stand-alone novel, The Heart Goes Last, coming out in September 2015. Meanwhile, I still find books of hers that are new to me. I spotted this poetry collection on a truck of recently-returned materials at the library. I've now read it through several times. So good! Wry, poignant, and relevant to contemporary life. I would recommend this to people who normally avoid poetry.

Owl and Pussycat, Some Years Later
"So here we are again, my dear,
on the same shore we set out from
years ago, when we were promising,
but minus - now - a lot of hair,
or fur or feathers, whatever.
I like the bifocals. They make you look
even more like an owl than you are.
But sing on, sing
on, someone may still be listening
besides me. The fish for instance.
Anyway, my dearest one,
we still have the moon." 

In my head, I can hear Atwood's distinctive voice and cadence as I read her poetry. She makes me smile.

AN AUDIOBOOK: Kindred by Octavia Butler [Recorded Books audiobook: 11 hr: read by Kim Staunton] (Intersection with a previous line. See Book Bingo: Two Lines Complete.)

WITH AN ANIMAL ON THE COVER: Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido [Graphic novel, translator unknown]
This is an outstanding collection of three stories in the style of 1950s hard-boiled detective noir, except with anthropomorphic characters. John Blacksad is a private eye with a muscular human body and the head of a black cat. I know this sounds weird, but it really works. I can also recommend another in the series: Amarillo. Readalikes: Grandville (Bryan Talbot); Britten and Brulightly (Hannah Berry); and Richard Stark's Parker series (Darwyn Cooke). Also, if you liked Mort(e) by Robert Repino, try Blacksad.

AN ACADEMIC/CAMPUS NOVEL: SuperMutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki [Graphic novel]
It's a bit of a stretch to place it in this category, since it's more of a boarding school story, but whatever. Jillian Tamaki is brilliant and I love this anthology. The comics follow the lives of a group of students with magical abilities. My favourite characters include Marsha, who has a crush on fox-shapeshifter Wendy, and Frances, who is always staging feminist performance art. Check out some of it online here.

WITH A MYTHOLOGICAL CREATURE ON THE COVER: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson [Graphic novel] (Intersection with a previous line. See Book Bingo: Four Lines Complete.)

BY AN AUTHOR WITH AMERICAN INDIAN/FIRST NATIONS/INDIGENOUS HERITAGE: If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth [Listening Library audiobook: 10 hr 20 min: read by the author]
Louis Blake faces heartbreaking discrimination as the only Aboriginal student in his Grade 7 class in the 1970s. He is from a poor family on the Tuscarora Reservation, not far from the Canadian border in New York State. I picked this up because of a recommendation by Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. It made me laugh and it made me cry.
Readalike: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian (Sherman Alexie).

ROMANCE OR LOVE STORY: The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
(Intersection with a previous line. See Book Bingo: Two Lines Complete.)

SET IN EUROPE: Antennas Everywhere by Julie Delporte [Graphic novel, translation by Helge Dascher]
A fictional diary of a young woman in France who suffers a debilitating sensitivity to the electromagnetic radiation emitted by modern technology. I was immediately sucked in by this story and I love the impressionistic style of art and text, both of which are rendered in coloured crayon. Delporte now lives in Canada.
Readalike: The Voyeurs (Gabrielle Bell) for another graphic memoir with a melancholic atmosphere; Girl In the Dark: A Memoir (Anna Lyndsey) for another rare disorder connected to technology.
Coming up soon: Book Bingo Blackout!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Social Life of Ink by Ted Bishop

I sure do love sweeping social histories of a single thing and Ted Bishop's The Social Life of Ink: Culture, Wonder, and Our Relationship with the Written Word is exactly that. Learning new stuff through this sort of book is my idea of bliss.

Some random notes and quotes:

A calamophile is a "pen lover."

"Ink as solidified smoke." Carbon particles from soot provide the black in Chinese ink; the quality of the colour depends on the size and uniformity of the grains, and the particular shade nuance of black (violet/blue-tinged vs brown/red-tinged) depends on the source of the smoke.

When making your own ink from scratch, an initial step involves spontaneous combustion. I won't be trying this at home!

The correct ink formulation was as great a stumbling block as the mechanics involved in the invention of ball point pens.

Tattooing was popular among 19th-century aristocrats. "Lady Randolph Churchill (mother of Winston) had a snake tattooed on her wrist."

Bishop writes about owning three different shades of blue ink. "When the time came to refill my pen I would, I won't say 'agonize,' but certainly 'consider' which ink to use. I knew no one who did this. And it didn't stop there. I wanted to buy more ink. I was hiding bottles from my family. Ink was becoming a secret vice." I can relate. I avoid going to Delta Art because I can't resist their abundant selection of soft pastels, sold individually. I've only got about a hundred different colours already.

"Around 1025 Al-muizz ibn Badis, an eighteen-year-old prince in what is present-day Tunisia, produced The Staff of the Scribes: a treatise on inks and writing implements." Ibn Badis included recipes for inks, including coloured inks with names like 'yellow apricot,' 'pomegranate blossoms,' 'blood of the gazelle,' and 'colour of dates beginning to ripen.'"

"The work you're reading is simply black marks on a page. The text that derives from it takes shape in the mind. Thus all texts are shaped by experience and context, and are always different, even for the same reader." This reminds me of something said by Duncan Smith, creator of the readers' advisory online database NoveList: "There's no such thing as a good book." He meant that what makes a book good is specific to each individual reader's experience with it.

My experience with The Social Life of Ink was excellent. Part micro-history, part memoir, part travel writing: it's a finalist for the 2015 Alberta Readers' Choice Award. Online voting starts July 6.

Readalikes. These are some other micro-histories I've reviewed: Bitter (Jennifer McLagan); Consider the Fork (Bee Wilson); Indigo (Jenny Belfour-Paul); Just My Type (Simon Gardield); Rin Tin Tin (Susan Orlean); and The Story of Salt (Mark Kurlansky).

Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Bingo: Four Lines Complete

My book bingo card is filling up! If you aren't a regular reader of my blog, there's more information in my initial book bingo post, where I wrote about completing the first two lines (marked with pink X's in the image above).

The audiobook I finished yesterday completed two intersecting lines, outlined in yellow on the image above. Starting with the fourth column and going down, then across the second row from the top, these are the categories, their corresponding titles, and my comments:

THAT YOU THINK YOU WILL DISLIKE: Soccer: In Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano
Chosen especially for the category, I was not sure if I would get far with it. Me and sports are not pals. (Aside from curling, which I play but do not watch.) Fortunately, I was wrong about this one. It's about the history of soccer and it's chock full of fun facts. I wrote about it at length a few days ago.
BY ANY BOOKTOPIA AUTHOR: The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon [Books on Tape audiobook: 12 hr: read by Ann Marie Lee]
I had the pleasure of attending one of the Booktopia events in 2013. A list of all the Booktopia alumni on the Books on the Nightstand website made it easy to choose something for this category. The BOTNS podcast is where I heard about Lawhon's novel, which is inspired by a true historical event. A judge went missing in NYC in 1930 and his disappearance has never been solved. The three women closest to Justice Joseph Crater reveal a possible scenario in this compelling audiobook. There's a lot of dialogue and narrator Ann Marie Lee does a fine job of performing all the different voices.
ON A TOPIC CURRENTLY IN THE NEWS: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty [Penguin audiobook: 16 hr: read by Caroline Lee]
What I had in mind for this category was nonfiction of some sort, maybe On Immunity by Eula Biss. At the same time, I was trying to find a spot on my bingo card for Big Little Lies, a book I picked up because I had previously enjoyed The Husband's Secret by Australian author Liane Moriarty. AN AUDIOBOOK was already taken, and so was SET IN ANOTHER COUNTRY. Then I realized that Moriarty's novel deals with family violence and bullying, topics that are often in the news. Sadly. Big Little Lies combines social commentary with suspense and humour. A drunken brawl erupts among the parents at a school fund-raising trivia night and someone dies; the narrative then backtracks to the events leading up to that point. It's cleverly done, very engaging, and Lee is an excellent narrator.
SET BEFORE 1800: My Guardian Angel by Sylvie Weil
(Intersection with a previous line: see my initial book bingo post.)

A NON-HUMAN MAIN CHARACTER: The Tusk that Did the Damage by Tania James
The Gravedigger, an elephant gone rogue, is one of the central characters in this atmospheric and layered novel set in southern India. I reviewed it here.
SET IN ANOTHER COUNTRY: God Help the Child by Toni Morrison [Random House audiobook: 5 hr 45 min: read by the author]
There are books used in other bingo categories that could have been used here instead. Novels set in Australia, England, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Ukraine and the USA are counted elsewhere on my card. One of my categories is "WITH A CHILD ON THE COVER" and I was tempted... but Morrison's title has "the child" not "a child." Aside from the audiobook category (which was already taken), I couldn't see any other place to fit God Help the Child, which is set in current-day USA. It is an outstanding novel, not to be missed. Morrison revisits the themes of her previous writings, The Bluest Eye in particular, and just keeps getting better as her work grows more spare. See also my reviews of Morrison's Home and A Mercy.
HAS A PLACE-NAME IN THE TITLE: The Green Road by Anne Enright
It may be a bit of a stretch to use this one here, but a road is a place, isn't it? And this road has a name as well as a role in the plot. My bingo card, my rules. The Green Road is a story-cycle, a novel composed of a series of interconnected short stories. Far-flung members of an Irish family reunite for Christmas when the matriarch decides to sell her home in County Clare. The dysfunctional, yet loving, relationships reminded me of Enright's earlier novel, The Gathering. See also my review of The Forgotten Waltz. I like everything she writes.

PART OF A SERIES: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
(Intersection with a previous line: see my initial book bingo post.)

Nimona is a shapeshifter, pictured with dragon wings on the cover of this smart, very funny, full-colour graphic novel. Stevenson (of Lumberjanes fame) initially created Nimona as a webcomic. Nimona is a kickass heroine, a sturdy, irrepressible girl who can turn herself into a mouse, a monster, a rhinoceros, or anything else. She is super-enthusiastic about her role as sidekick for supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart, who may not be such a bad guy after all. You know it's all in good fun when the knights have names like Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, Sir Coriander Cadaverish and Sir Mansley Girthrod.

There are just five more empty spaces on my card, and I've got titles in mind for each of them. Back to reading!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald

A signed copy of Ann-Marie MacDonald's Adult Onset had been sitting unread on my bookshelf since the Writers Fest in Vancouver last October. (Festival highlights here.) I was delighted by the initial 20 pages, immediately after purchasing. And MacDonald was a fantastic speaker at the festival, where she said, "Everything I write is about truth coming out." Since then, however, other books have managed to come between me and Adult Onset. A guaranteed method to get back into it was to put it on the roster for my book club.

At our discussion last week, everyone loved it. We talked about it for so much longer than we usually do that we didn't even have time at the end for our customary round-the-circle sharing of other books we've been reading. Adult Onset is one of my very favourite reads so far this year. Why ever did I wait so long?

It's about a contemporary married lesbian couple. Hilary is away, working on a play in Calgary. Mary Rose - aka MR, aka Mister - is a writer at home in Toronto with their two young children. The challenges inherent in parenting a spirited two-year-old daughter dredge up painful episodes from MR's childhood and early adulthood. Meanwhile, MR's elderly parents are starting to lose their memories.

The novel is packed with cultural landmarks. For example, MR's father sends her an email to congratulate her contribution to the "It Gets Better" online video project in support of queer youth. Readers are treated to MR's internal monologue, presented in close third-person. As she composes a reply, "icebergs are evaporating and falling as rain on her February garden, where a water-boarded tulip has foolishly put its head up - are things getting better or worse?"

Having witnessed my own tulips buried under late snow, the reference to water-boarding made me smile. Immediately afterwards, it made me uncomfortable. Water-boarding is a serious issue: torture that leaves no visible mark. It isn't something to joke about. But my discomfort turned out to be misplaced; MacDonald knows exactly what she is doing. What seemed like an image tossed off for effect was in fact a portent. The large tulip on the back cover of the dust jacket should also have been a clue. MR is dealing with traumatic events, long buried, that have left no outward signs.

Aspects of the relationship between MR and her parents are heartbreaking, yet the part that made me weep is secondary to the main plot. (This isn't a spoiler, even though it is near the end.) It's when MR thanks her friend Gigi for coming when she needed help. Gigi tells her: "We never thought we'd be able to get married. We thought we were out in the cold, so we made the cold into a party, but cold is cold and family is family and you guys are mine."

I sobbed and sobbed, because MacDonald reminded me of how it used to be, back before gays and lesbians had human rights protection in Alberta. I still feel the hurt from when we were shut outside of mainstream Canadian society. When I was interviewed for the Edmonton Queer History Project, one of the things that surprised me was getting choked up about the Delwin Vriend case. There are a number of video clips from this history project available online here

Adult Onset is funny and devastating and true. It made me feel so much. It has surpassed Fall on Your Knees in my heart, which is saying a lot, because MacDonald's first novel is also dear to me.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Soccer in Sun and Shadow by Eduardo Galeano

The FIFA Women's World Cup is happening in Edmonton and I have friends with tickets to every event. Not that I have any desire to watch soccer myself, but people around me are talking about the sport, so I decided to experience it in my own way: via a book. Of course.

Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano's Soccer in Sun and Shadow turned out to be so much more interesting than I had imagined. Originally published in 1995, the edition that I read was revised and updated in 2013 and translated by Mark Fried. I loved it! The chapters are more like vignettes consisting of a few paragraphs. Galeano's style is engaging and the book is packed with fun facts. I kept wanting to read passages aloud to anyone who would listen.

    "In 1988 Mexican journalist Miguel Angel Ramirez discovered a fountain of youth. Several players on Mexico's junior team, who were two, three, and even six years beyond the age limit, had been bathed in the magic waters: the directors falsified their birth certificates and fabricated fake passports. This treatment was so effective that one player managed to become two years younger than his twin brother."

I learned that Albert Camus played soccer for the University of Algiers in 1930. "He had been playing goalkeeper since childhood, because in that position your shoes don't wear out as fast. Son of a poor home, Camus could not afford the luxury of running the fields; every night, his grandmother examined the soles of his shoes and gave him a beating if she found them worn."

One anecdote sounds like something from the Welcome to Night Vale podcast. In 1953, a Catholic priest offered a guarantee of victory to the Brazilian team Flamengo, provided the players attended his mass before each match and said the rosary while kneeling before the altar. Flamengo won the championship three years in a row and their rivals protested that divine help was unfair.

    "Steve Berlusconi, owner of Milan, forbade fans from singing the club's anthem, the traditional chant 'Milan, Milan,' because its malevolent vibrations paralyzed his players' legs."

  "A leading Spanish player, Pablo Hernandez Coronado, says that when Real Madrid refurbished its stadium the team went six years without winning a championship, until a fan broke the curse by burying a head of garlic in the center of the playing field."

When San Lorenzo's stadium in Buenos Aires was demolished in 1983, "weeping fans carried off fistfuls of dirt in their pockets."

    "There are towns and villages in Brazil that have no church, but not a one lacks a soccer field. Sunday is the day of hard labour for cardiologists all over the country. On a normal Sunday people die of excitement during the mass of the ball. On a Sunday without soccer, people die of boredom."

During the German occupation in 1942, Ukraine's Dynamo Kiev "committed the insane act of defeating Hitler's squad in the local stadium. Having been warned, 'If you win, you die,' they started out resigned to losing, trembling with fear and hunger, but in the end they could not contain their yearning for dignity. When the match was over, all eleven were shot with their club shirts on at the edge of a cliff."

Galeano gives a brief summary of every World Cup (played by men), making liberal use of corny metaphor. In 1962, "The Chileans had beaten Italy in a match that was a pitched battle, and they also beat Switzerland and the Soviet Union. They gobbled up the spaghetti, chocolate, and vodka, but choked on the coffee: Brazil won 4-2."

Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, one of my favourite books, is a fictionalized account of a tragedy Galeano places under the heading 'Fervor:'

 "In April 1997 guerrillas occupying the Japanese embassy in the city of Lima were gunned down. When commandos burst in and carried out their spectacular lightning butchery, the guerrillas were playing soccer. Their leader, Nestor Cerpa Cartolini, died wearing the colours of Alianza, the club he loved.
     Few things happen in Latin America that do not have some direct or indirect relation with soccer. Whether a shared celebration or a shipwreck that takes us all down, soccer counts in Latin America, sometimes more than anything else, even if the ideologues who love humanity but can't stand people don't realize it."

At the 1966 World Cup in England: "Someone had stolen the Rimet Cup, but a dog named Pickles found it in a London garden, and the trophy reached the winner's hands in time. England won 4-2. [...] Queen Elizabeth gave Alf Ramsey, the manager of the victorious team, a title of nobility, and Pickles became a national hero."
A few paragraphs of current affairs, expressed in tongue-in-cheek headlines, places each World Cup in historical context. i.e. 1954: "General Stroessner was being elected president of Paraguay in a close contest against himself. In Brazil the noose tied by businessmen and officers, money and guns, was tightening around President Getulio Vargas and soon he would burst his heart with a bullet. US planes were bombing Guatemala with the blessing of the OAS, and an army created by that northern power was invading, killing, and winning. While in Switzerland the national anthems of sixteen countries were being sung to inaugurate the fifth World Cup, in Guatemala the victors were singing 'The Star Spangled Banner' and celebrating the fall of President Arbenz, whose Marxist-Leninist ideology had been laid bare when he touched the lands of the United Fruit Company."

1994: "Serbs, Croats, and Muslims were killing each other in the pieces that had been Yugoslavia. In Rwanda something similar was happening, but television spoke of tribes, not peoples, and implied that the violence was the sort of thing black people do."

Galeano exposes the racism in professional sports, including the fact that "black players earn less than white ones." In 1916, "Uruguay was the only country in the world with black players on its national team."

Someone in my house happens
to be a former sports journalist
and so we just happen to have
a Zidane figure on a bookshelf. 
2006 World Cup: "French political leader Jean-Marie Le Pen declared that the country could not see itself in its players, for nearly all were black, and he added that its captain Zinedine Zidane, more Algerian than French, refused to sing the national anthem. The vice president of the Italian senate, Roberto Calderoli, echoed the sentiment saying that the French team consisted of blacks, Islamists, and Communists who preferred 'l'Internationale' to 'La Marseillaise' and Mecca to Bethlehem. Earlier, the coach of the Spanish team, Luis Aragones, called French player Thierry Henry a 'black piece of shit,' and president in perpetuity of South American soccer, Nicolas Leoz, opened his autobiography by saying he had been born 'in a town populated by thirty people and a hundred Indians.'
      At the end of the tournament, in practically the final moment of the final match, a bull charged: Zidane, who was saying farewell to soccer, head-butted a rival who had been needling him with the sort of insult that lunatic fans like to shriek from the upper decks. The insulter got flattened and the insulted got a red card from the referee and jeers from a crowd poised until then to give him an ovation. And Zidane left the field for good.
     Still, this was his World Cup. He was the best player of the tournament, despite that final act of insanity or integrity, depending on how you look at it. Thanks to his beautiful moves, thanks to his melancholy elegance, we could still believe that soccer was not irredeemably condemned to mediocrity."

I don't follow sports, but I had already been made aware of what happened with Zidane because of reading Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric. She uses Zidane as an example in the larger context of racism in contemporary society.
FIFA's corruption comes under Galeano's witty scrutiny. "Like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, FIFA's unjust system sentences first and tries later, so there will be plenty of time to cover up."

illustration by John Tenniel
    "Play has become spectacle, with few protagonists and many spectators, soccer for watching. And that spectacle has become one of the most profitable businesses in the world, organized not to facilitate play but to impede it. The technocracy of professional sport has managed to impose a soccer of lightning speed and brute strength, a soccer that negates joy, kills fantasy, and outlaws daring."

    "The goal is soccer's orgasm. And like orgasms, goals have become an ever less frequent occurrence in modern life. Half a century ago, it was a rare thing for a match to end scoreless: 0-0, two open mouths, two yawns."

This book is the opposite a yawn. Galeano's lively passion for the game has so enchanted me that I might even consider watching one of the women's World Cup games.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book Bingo: Two Lines Complete

Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, podcasters extraordinaire over at Books on the Nightstand, created Book Bingo to encourage listeners to have fun while broadening our reading horizons. I generated my own card on May 22 and started playing immediately.

Even though I have been reading with my bingo categories in mind, most of them have been books I had planned to read anyway. It was just a matter of slotting them into a relevant square, sometimes juggling placement for stragegic coverage when one book fit more than one category. But, in the spirit of the game, there are other squares that present more of a challenge. The following list of books are from the two lines that I've completed so far. (Pink X's, left.)

I've linked to my reviews, where applicable, although I haven't felt much like reviewing lately. Too much gardening - while listening to audiobooks, naturally. In fact, seven out of the following nine are titles that I've read with my ears.

BORROWED FROM THE LIBRARY: Republic of Dirt by Susan Juby
Sequel to The Woefield Poultry Collective (called Home to Woefield in the USA). You don't need to have read the first to enjoy this hilarious tale of misfits making a go at farming on an unpromising bit of land on Vancouver Island, told in shifting points of view with adept characterization. Kaitlyn Vincent, a marketing representative at HarperCollins Canada, offered me a review copy of Republic of Dirt, but I turned it down because I prefer to read library copies whenever possible. There is just no space in my house for all the books I read. (Every one of the titles in this list is from the public library.)
PART OF A SERIESThe Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein [Blackstone audiobook: 19 hr: read by Hillary Huber]
I liked this even better than My Brilliant Friend, which was the first in the series about a complicated friendship between two girls from a poor neighbourhood in Naples whose lives take different paths. The voice and characterization are so strong that I was totally immersed in southern Italy of the 1960s, where violence was inextricable from intimacy. As with the first book, this one ends on a precipice.

FREE SQUARE: Single, Carefree, Mellow by Katherine Heiny
The free square in the centre can be used for any category, so I chose this entertaining collection of short stories about women falling in love at the wrong time with the wrong men.

TRAVEL WRITING: Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer's Search for Wonder in the Natural World by Leigh Ann Henion [Books on Tape audiobook: 10 hr 40 min: read by Nicol Zanzarella]
This title was chosen especially for the bingo category. I read a lot of travel writing, so I scanned my TBR for something immediately available in downloadable audio. Phenomenal has been compared to Cheryl Strayed's Wild and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love - but I didn't like it as well as either. The travel part was interesting, and I felt a vicarious awe as Henion witnessed various natural phenomena, but there was a little too much woo-woo and a self-congratulatory tone when she described personal insights.
HAS WATER ON THE COVER: Panic in a Suitcase by Yelena Akhtiorskaya [Blackstone audiobook: 9 hr 36 min: read by Stefan Rudnicki]
An engaging novel composed of episodes in the lives of members of a contemporary extended Russian family. Some have immigrated to Brooklyn, some remain in Odessa, and they occasionally visit each other. Akhtiorskaya's warm, satirical style and ear for dialogue grabbed my attention from the opening lines: "The morning was ideal, a crime to waste it cooped up. They were off to the shore. That means you, too, Pasha - you need some colour, a dunk would do you good, so would a stroll. Aren't you curious to see Coney Island? Freud had been. Don't deliberate till it's too late. Strokes are known to make surprise appearances in the family. Who knows how long...? Now, get up off that couch!"
BY OR ABOUT A CELEBRITY: Joni Mitchell: In Her Own Words in conversation with Malka Marom [Tantor audiobook: 7 hr 50 min: read by Carrington MacDuffie]
These interviews, which took place over four decades, are fascinating. Mitchell faced a lot of hardships in her early years, and in later years struggled with her mental health. One memorable anecdote (among many) credits a toy hurdy-gurdy that played 'London Bridge Is Falling Down' as her first musical influence: "I used to always play it backwards because backwards it rocked. It had a different rhythm. The melodic intervals were quite surprising. It was really entirely a different piece of music - almost African in its rhythm. Once I played it backwards, playing it forward was kind of corny." 
AN AUDIOBOOK: Kindred by Octavia Butler [Recorded Books audiobook: 11 hr: read by Kim Staunton]
One of my colleagues started a feminist book club (yay! I work with cool people!) and this was Amanda's inaugural selection. I thought that I had read it years ago, but when there weren't any spaceships in this one, I realized I was remembering an entirely different Butler novel. In Kindred, a Black woman time travels between 1976 and 19th-century Maryland. It's an exploration of the dynamics of power, gender and race that remains relevant, even though it was first published in 1979. Our next book club selection is my choice: Artful by Ali Smith. In addition to being a huge fan of Ali Smith, I'm pleased that I'll be able to count that one for the essay collection bingo category.
SET BEFORE 1800: My Guardian Angel by Sylvie Weil, translated by Gillian Rosner [Blackstone audiobook: 4.5 hr: read by Vanessa Benjamin]
Some parts of Kindred are set in the early 1800s, but that's not quite early enough for this category. I looked through my TBR and found one set in the 11th century. 12-year-old Elvina describes the threat Crusaders bring to the Jewish inhabitants of Troyes, in northeastern France, in the spring of 1096.
ROMANCE OR LOVE STORY: The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
At first, I thought I was going to have trouble finding a book to fit this square. The plot of a traditional romance has two people who initially dislike each other, and then get together at the end. It isn't a plot that appeals to me, whether the protagonists are gay or straight. Rebecca Schinsky over at Book Riot recommends Sarah MacLean to fans of literary fiction who want to give the romance genre a try. So I read A Rogue by Any Other Name. Nope, not for me. My mom recommended one of her favourites, Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts. Nope. But never mind all that, because this bingo category is more broad. There are plenty of love stories in the books I read and this one by Nancy Mitford even has the word in the title!
I still have eight empty squares left. I've got titles in mind for all but one: Western. I feel like I gave traditional westerns a fair shake by reading Louis L'Amour three months ago. I don't feel up to facing another one like that. I can think of two nontraditional westerns I've loved: True Grit and The Sisters Brothers. Aside from rereading one of those, the only appealing book I can think of for this category is Lonesome Dove, which is on my TBR, but I already feel like whining about the page count (850+). A graphic novel might be what I need, come to think of it. I've already read Cow Boy by Nate Cosby, Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick et al, Bloody Chester by JT Petty, Daisy Kutter by Kazu Kibuishi, and lots of Lucky Luke comics. Does anyone have other suggestions?

Monday, June 8, 2015

Recently-Read Children's Books Round-up: June 2015

This is a quick round-up of some children's books I've read recently that are suitable for all ages. Adults, don't miss out on great books just because you're taller than you used to be.

Nicola Griffith (author of Hild, etc.) looked at what kind of books have won literary prizes and found that books about women and girls are less likely to win, regardless of the author's gender. See more about this enlightening study online here. I'm going to champion books about girls here today, plus one about lesbians, gays and queers of every sort.
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
You know the fantastic Lumberjanes comics, right? About five best friends who battle mythological beings at summer camp? (Did you know that it's going to be a movie too?) So, anyway, Stevenson is one of the creators of the Lumberjanes series. She is also the sole creator of Nimona, which started as a webcomic (view some of it here). Nimona is a kickass heroine, a sturdy girl with a pink punk hairstyle, and she can shapeshift into absolutely any form she wants. This makes her the ideal sidekick for a supervillain, Lord Ballister Blackheart... who may not be such a bad guy after all. You know it's all in good fun when the knights have names like Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, Sir Coriander Cadaverish and Sir Mansley Girthrod. Fun, and loyal friendships. (Grade 5 and up.)
The Story of Antigone by Ali Smith
The Baileys prize for women's fiction is one award that by its nature bucks the trend towards male-dominated fiction. I am so pleased that Ali Smith just won the Baileys prize for How to Be Both! It was my favourite on the Baileys list. How to Be Both is partly set in 21st century England and partly in 15th century Italy. Smith goes back even further in time to retell the Greek myth of Antigone. A brave preteen girl risks death when she takes a stand against injustice. Smith adds humour to this poignant story by choosing a crow as narrator and including a bumbling chorus of elders who speak in mawkish rhyme. This is a beautifully-designed book with evocative illustrations by Laura Paoletti. (Grade 4 and up.)
My Guardian Angel by Sylvie Weil, translated by Gillian Rosner
12-year-old Elvina tells about her life in the year 1096, when Christian crusaders threaten her small Jewish community in northeastern France. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Vanessa Benjamin [Blackstone: 4.5 hrs]. Engaging historical fiction. Readalike: Catherine, Called Birdy (and others) by Karen Cushman. (Grade 5 and up.)
Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith
In this wordless Canadian picture book, a modern girl dressed as little red riding hood accompanies her father on errands through the city. There is no wolf, unless it is sleepy urban indifference. The girl notices and picks flowering weeds, then distributes the flowers wherever she sees the need. Splashes of bright watercolour enliven the mostly black and white ink artwork more and more as the story progresses until the artwork is in full colour. Happy-making! (Preschool and up.)

This Day in June by Gayle Pitman and Kristyna Litten
The annual Pride parade took place in Edmonton a few days ago. Place a child on your lap and together you can relive the magic with this picture book set in San Francisco and told with sparse rhyming text. "Rainbow arches / Joyful marches / Motors roaring / Spirits soaring / Voices chanting / Doggies panting / Clad in leather / Perfect weather..." I love the cheerful illustrations, with so much happening on every page. "Love beats hate" is just one of the many slogans portrayed. (Preschool and up.)