Wednesday, February 28, 2018

February Reading Round-Up

Lots of diversity in my reading this month. Here are my top ten:

Winter by Ali Smith
Ali Smith astounds me with each new creation, each unfailingly wise and full of heart. The central story here is about the thawing of frozen relationships, interwoven with current issues - Brexit, Syrian refugees, fake news, the power of protest, etc. All the stars. All the love. All the gratitude for making me believe in humanity again.

Sophia has never known, and probably never will, what the straw was that broke the camel's back the night Iris left.
Straw. So light. Just a smoke.
Camel, broken back.
Such a violent piece of cliche.

Then the chipped-headless saints in reliefs popped into her head, and the ones carved on the fonts and so on, the knocked-off nothing-but-necks in Reformation-vandalized churches in whatever self-righteousness of fury, whatever intolerant ideology of the day. There was always a furious intolerance at work in the world no matter when or where in history, she thought, and it always went for the head or the face.

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein
An inspiring biography of Sandra Pankhurst, a trans woman in Melbourne, Australia who has experienced much trauma in her own life and now has a business that specializes in difficult clean-up jobs. I was touched by the kindness Pankhurst shows to the hoarders and other mentally-ill people that she deals with on a regular basis.

His grandparents come over on Sundays for dinner and, while they know Peter has his own room out the back, to them it is just a practical measure in a small house. What they do not know, as they sit there at the table with their son and daughter-in-law and four grandchildren eating "a roast and three veggies overcooked to the shithouse," is that this is the only night of the week that Peter is allowed inside the house, the only time he is given a meal.

Sandra's lack of friendships with other members of the LGBTQI community is not active; she would not turn away from someone on those grounds. But her frame of reference regarding that community is her drag days. Her aversion is not to gay people or trans people, but to the image of herself that she associates with that period of her life. She identifies her straight friends with a healthier, happier, safer and more productive self.

I'm not sure I will be able to tell you, exactly, how Sandra has made it through. I believe it has something to do with her innate calibration: an inherent and unbreakable conviction that she, too, is entitled to her live her best life. I believe it has much to do with the emotional machinery she has jettisoned in order to stay afloat. That is the buoying wonder and the sinking sadness of the particular resilience of Sandra.

A Promise of Salt by Lorie Miseck
A memoir of living through private grief amidst the media storm and public attention directed at an Edmonton murder investigation. The focus is not on the gruesome death, but rather Miseck's interactions with people around her, and her internal process over time, expressed in poetic vignettes. A member of my Two Bichons book club read this when it first came out in 2002, and I'm really glad that she suggested we include it in our project of reading local authors, which is now in its third year. Everyone in the group loved it.

After the funeral I stayed in bed for days and days and months. I have read that death awakens the dead in you. I slept and slept. I slept while my ghost crawled out of my bones each day and dressed before the children came home. The ghost washed her hair, her body, her feet so tenderly it left no mark. The ghost drew a smile on her face with lipstick and made meals, read them stories and pretended she was their mother, while I slept.

This is an inverted story, beginning at the end. And if the story begins at the end, is it an unfeeling? An undoing? I've heard any story twice told is fiction.

I've been told our prairie winters are exotic, that we who experience the hard fist of a prairie winter are unique. The rarity of this endurance proves a certain hardiness on our part. Maybe this is true, or maybe we are just fools, have forgotten we could live elsewhere.

Lost Words: A Spell Book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
This oversize picture book of acrostic poetry celebrates some of the nature words - from acorn to wren - that have been cut from the Oxford Junior Dictionary in order to make room for recent lingo. Sumptuous illustrations by Jackie Morris include lots of gold leaf. Some of the printed text is in gold-coloured ink. The font used for each feature word has letter elements that have disappeared: I love all of the attention to detail in the design of this gorgeous book. It's suitable for all ages and would make a lovely gift.

Magpie Manifesto
Argue Every Toss!
Gossip, Bicker, Yak and Snicker All Day 
Pick a Fight in an Empty Room!
Interrupt, Interject, Intercept, Intervene!
Every Magpie for Every Magpie 
       against Every Other Walking Flying
       Swimming Creature on the Earth!

Rustle of grass, sudden susurrus, what the eye misses:
       for adder is as adder hisses.

Kingfisher: the colour-giver, fire-bringer, flame-flicker, river's quiver.

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters 
by Michael Mahin and Evan Turk

The life of McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters, was a remarkable one, even in the condensed version necessitated by a children's picture book biography. Inspirational, lyric text. Electric, energetic collage art by Evan Turk incorporates bits of newspaper, along with oil pastel, watercolours, china marker and printing ink.

"Last I checked, you can't eat the blues for breakfast," said Grandma Della. "No child of mine is gonna waste his time with music."
But Muddy was never good at doing what he was told.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut 
by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C James
There's irresistible joy in this celebration of newly-cut hair. Lots of different African American styles, a distinctive barbershop setting, and a jaunty text that captures the feeling of a boy's happiness and pride. I picked up this fun picture book poetry because it made the honour list in four different categories categories at the 2018 American Library Association awards: the Newbery, Caldecott, and both author and illustrator categories of the Coretta Scott King.

It's how your mother looks at you
before she calls you beautiful.
Flowers are beautiful.
Sunrises are beautiful.
Being viewed in your mother's eyes
as someone that matters - now that's beautiful.
And you'll take it.
You don't mind it at all.

I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters
Absurd, warm and surprising. A short novel with great characters set in rural New Brunswick. Acadian French dialogue adds an extra layer of humour. When Agathe's giant of a husband goes missing, she asks the police how it is that they can't find him because "ye big comme crisse" (i.e. he's friggin massive). Agatha is sure Rejean would never willingly leave what he loves most: his truck and her. Fresh and fun, laid on a bedrock of kindness.

"Viens voir l'Acadie" was playing. It played every day; the French folk-music canon had hard limits. The sound had gone from a nagging drone to a roar, and bumping her head against the window frame was not scratching the itch.

#NotYourPrincess: Voices of Native American Women edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale
An outstanding collection of artworks and short literary pieces, all created by Indigenous women with an array of experiences from across North America. Poetry, comics format, personal essays, inspiring quotes: there's all kinds of good stuff here in a visually appealing scrapbook-like format. Art by Dana Claxton (including a couple that were at the Art Gallery of Alberta in the Face the Nation exhibit in 2008), Pamela J Peters,  Aza E Abe, Ka'ila Farrell-SmithDanielle Daniel and many more.
artwork by Ka'ila Farrell-Smith

we grow brave
in the absence
of any safe touch,
in our father's rage.
we have nothing,
everything is in us
our love of these
impossible bodies
our faith in this
unbroken sky
our trust of the
infinite universe
our should to burn
as an offering
to any being
who will listen.
-from Honor Song by Gwen Benaway

My Cheechum used to tell me that when the government gives you something, they take all that you have in return - your pride, your dignity, all the things that make you a living soul. When they are sure they have everything, they give you a blanket to cover your shame.
-Maria Campbell

The Customer Is Always Wrong by Mimi Pond
A big fat second volume to Pond's lightly fictionalized operatic memoir in comics format, about working in an Oakland diner in the 70s. In a Jezebel interview, it was noted that the first volume, Over Easy, "is one big party, and then this book is like the hangover." There are consequences to all of the drugs, sex and alcohol. Sweet, hand-drawn art washed in retro blue-green; memorable characters; accomplished storytelling; and so much warm humour.

Going into Town by Roz Chast
Rob Chast's love letter to New York City is utterly charming. It's a quick read in comics format and it left me with a smile and the desire to travel again to Manhattan, even though I've sworn off visiting the USA under its current administration.
"If you feel that there's 'nothing to do' while you're in Manhattan, then this is
DEFINITELY not the book you should be reading. Also, you might be dead."

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