My highlights from December include a designer box of short stories, world-class local poetry, a translated novella set in Ukraine, science fiction, historical fiction, a couple of memoirs, and lots of graphic novels.
2018 Short Story Advent Calendar, produced by Michael Kingston and Natalie Olsen
A limited annual edition. One short story per day, each in its own beautifully designed booklet. For four years in a row, I've enjoyed this treat. It's hard to pick favourites, but some of the standouts were by George Saunders, Jessica Westhead, Sara Levine, Doretta Lau, Rodrigo Fresan, Liliana Heker, Kim Fu, Eugene Lim, and RO Kwon.
I've been inspired to continue the daily habit by embarking on a project starting January 1, 2019: reading one chapter per day of The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, an epic Japanese classic.
Insomnia Bird: Edmonton Poems by Kelly Shepherd
New and found text, woven into a warm and witty nest of poems that map the exterior and interior places where city people, the natural world, and work intersect. Public transit, magpies, the North Saskatchewan river valley, and construction crews. A glorious celebration of the confounding way in which we experience our lives.
Magpie: twilight bird - two-lighted bird -
nest builder and robber of nests -
you hop and clatter on the road like hail.
Black and white offspring of the raven
|Kelly Shepherd, book launch|
at Audreys, September 2018
and the dove, the only bird
who did not go into the ark with Noah -
you gather in loud tidings,
you point the direction of the wind.
You pull behind you invisible threads,
you stitch stories together,
you needle through the sky!
(from Picamancy Charm)
Baba Dunja's Last Love by Alina Bronsky
Translation from German by Tim Mohr
"Bronsky instinctively understands that the way to a reader's heart is through great characters." -Library Journal. That pull quote from Library Journal is on the front cover and it's spot on. Baba Dunja is such a memorable character. A tiny Russian Ukrainian in her 80s, she's the first to move back to her home in Chernobyl's "dead zone" after the "nuclear incident." I loved this short novel so much, for its heart and humour. It reminded me of Olga Tokarczuk's forthcoming (February 2019) Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.
A biologist explained to me later that the stuff was stuck in my bones and gave off radiation around me so that I was myself like a little reactor.
But God was abolished from our land when I was little and I haven't managed to get him back.
I ask Marja if she needs anything from the city, I ask Petrow, and [...]
Petrow asks me for good news.
"Don't joke around," I say. "I can bring you honey."
"I don't want any honey," he says. "I don't eat honey because it's made of bee vomit. Bring me good news."
That's how he always is.
An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
An amazing, lyrical and intellectually stimulating novel. Time travel, dystopia, romance and refugees. It reminds me somewhat of Exit West, in the way science fiction elements are used as a shortcut to get to the real issues: displacement, social inequality, and the human heart. I raced through this in two days.
One car behind them honks. The voice of their driver, made tinny by the intercom, says, "You gotta go." They squeeze each other's hands so hard the skin of his suit bites the web between her fingers and there's no way they can touch skin to skin and the seat of her heart falls away and so does her resolve. But there is no more time. All the cars honk like the end of days.
You cannot put life on hold to have a moment of grief, so every second, half the people in the world are split in two. This is what they mean by life goes on, and the worst is that you go on along with it too.
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden, Graphic novel
What fun! A boarding school/science fiction space adventure with a diverse cast of mostly lesbian characters plus one nonbinary. It's over 500 pages long and I wanted more. So good!
[Elliot is non binary and mute. When their construction crew gets a new boss, Jules comes to Elliot's defence.]
Boss: You are all on very thin ice. Your insubordination will be reported and there will be consequences. Now, Jules, tell me about your work today.
Jules. Hmm. You know it's really tough to remember, Jo. But I'm sure you get that. You can't remember one person's pronouns.
Sanity and Talulah by Molly Brooks,
100% girl power, mad scientist madcap adventure on a space station. Action + friendship + supportive families + a cat with three heads = a winning graphic novel for readers of all ages.
|A nice diversity of characters.|
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka, Graphic novel
A moving memoir about growing up in a difficult family situation: Krosoczka's mother was a heroin addict, often in prison, and he didn't know his father, so his grandfather became his legal guardian. His grandparents were heavy drinkers and smokers, but they loved him. One of the best things they did was to pay for art classes after his school stopped offering his favourite subject. The ink wash art is wonderful, the story inspiring.
All the Answers by Michael Kupperman, Graphic novel
A fascinating father-son relationship memoir. Award-winning cartoonist Michael Kupperman's father Joel experienced trauma as a result of his childhood fame on the radio and TV show Quiz Kids. As an adult, he became ill and had to leave the room if someone even mentioned the show. So, nobody talked about it and it was like a rot that soured the relationships in the Kupperman family. A touching story of a son trying to understand his dad.
Where the World Ends by Geraldine McCaughrean
An atmospheric survival story in gorgeous prose with a slow pace and yet inexorable forward movement. Nine Scottish boys and three men are left stranded on a tiny island of rock in 1727. Based on a true story. Suitable for ages 10 to adult.
She was nothing akin to anyone Quill had ever met. There was the talking, for one thing. In sentences! Sentences as long as an anchor chain sometimes. They had him holding his breath to hear where they would end. Hirta folk were not great talkers.
"Jesus made all the herring in the world, am I right? So the herring surely came when He whistled? So when He was on the shore and His friends were out on the sea, He whistled up this huge shoal of herring and walked over the water on their backs--to reach the disciples, yes? And Jesus told St Peter to try it too... which Peter did--and managed it, of course! Then the herring said enough was enough and stopped cooperating and Peter started sinking."
Split Tooth by Tanya Tagaq
Audiobook [6 hr] performed by the author
The most memorable audiobook I listened to all month. I read the print version last month and loved it. (See my November Round-Up.) Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq not only performs her own words (short stories and poems) on the audio edition, she also includes a short vocalization between each piece.
We sipped the air. It was too cold to chug.