Tuesday, October 12, 2021

September 2021 Reading Roundup


Here are a few of the best books that I read in September, starting with four that are longlisted for the 2021 Giller prize.
 

Fight Night by Miriam Toews

“What makes a tragedy bearable and unbearable is the same thing—which is that life goes on.” Grandma‘s wisdom and zest for life, together with 9-year-old narrator Swiv‘s voice, make this a perfect novel. It's written in the form of a letter to Swiv's absent father. The fight of the title is both internal and external: against sadness, self-doubt, lack of courage, the patriarchy and religious dogma. The kid is a master of hyperbole and the book is hilarious—sometimes to the point of slapstick—and it‘s heartbreakingly real.

We all have fires inside us, even you. Grandma says you pour so much alcohol on the fire inside you that it‘s guaranteed to never go out.

When she swallows her pills she pretends they‘re tiny soldiers sent off to fight the pain and sometimes holds them up and says to them, thank you for your service, lest we forget, and then she swallows them and says “play ball!”

"Do you know Shakespeare‘s tragedies? People like to separate his plays into tragedies and comedies. Well, jeepers creepers! Aren‘t they one and the same? So, King Lear fails to connect with what‘s important in life and loses his mind… who hasn‘t? There is comedy in that, don‘t kid yourself. That‘s life! And life doesn‘t necessarily make sense. We‘re human!"

Grandma sang let it be, let it be, let it be, lord let it be. I told her lord wasn‘t the right word. The right word was yeah, let it be, not lord, let it be. She‘s right, said Ken. It‘s yeah, not lord. Okaaaaaaay! said Grandma. From the top. She sang it again but used the wrong lyric. She did it on purpose. She just likes opportunities to say lord because it makes her feel like she‘s praying.

I took the magazine out of the pocket on the seat in front of me and opened it to an ad that said ‘Literally in Love with Jumpsuits.‘ I put it back into the pocket.

Then I woke up and it was still the same day which was the longest day ever because of the time change and almost dying 400 times in water, air and on land. We‘d probably almost die in a fire before bedtime.

Lou poured everyone a glass of white wine to toast family. He looked sad and happy at the same time. That‘s a popular adult look because adults are busy and have to do everything at once, even feel things.

Astra by Cedar Bowers

A bisexual woman‘s life from birth into her senior years, as seen through the eyes of others. Each chapter jumps ahead in time and is told from the perspective of a different person. I love kaleidoscopic character-based stories like this. An added hook is that it‘s about an intentional community. To top it off, the writing is top notch.

I‘ve found it much, much harder to lose the people who never gave you enough, than it is to lose the ones who gave you everything.

Men sit around discussing liberation and free love and what a glorious new world they are creating, because now everyone can truly be “free” if they have the balls for it. And it‘s such bullshit. Clodagh has met hundreds of free men over the years, but she can‘t say she‘s ever met a free woman.

There was another question that troubled him now. How could he be sure that when he went home, he wouldn‘t revert to the boy he used to be? How could he stay the person he‘d worked so hard to become?

We Jane by Aimee Wall

“The thing to remember was that they were out in the middle of the Atlantic on an island on an earth simmering with heat and rage and people would have to see that they were eventually, once again, going to have to fend for themselves.” Women taking control of reproduction is one aspect of this brilliant novel, written with convincing dialogue peppered with Newfoundland expressions. Above all else, it's about queer women‘s relationships with each other.

You look back on where you came from and think why live like that. The slush, the snow in May, the forever blanket of fog. There are people who eat dinner in their backyards all year long and there you are, barely able to go out in your shirtsleeves except for a few days a year.

Don‘t get all sepia-toned on me. She would say things like that but then tell a story about some show at the LSPU Hall that had devolved into a fistfight, a full-on racket, and how that was the summer they put the clocks ahead two hours so it was light light light till late every night and everyone went a bit squirrelly, all this in a voice dripping with that sepia honey and Marthe would thrill to it quietly, getting to go to that place.

But it can be another way, Jane would say. It‘s already been another way, Jane would say. And Marthe would agree.
And just as Marthe was settling into the conversation, just as she was about to ask for actual details—what other way, exactly, did Jane mean—Jane would change the subject, or end the conversation. It was dizzying, but effective. Marthe was consumed.

Jenny had arrived in New York just in time to watch all the radical feminist groups disintegrate into power struggles and infighting but, she shrugged, all that‘s kind of inevitable. People are loath to talk about it because they don‘t want to make us all sound like petty bitches and, like, hurt the cause, but some of them were petty bitches! But just because it came apart eventually doesn't mean it failed. None of these things were ever meant to stay on in the same form forever.

Oh Trish, she‘s a bit different, you know, but she‘s best kind really, and my cousin thinks the sun shines out of her ass ever since she had the baby at home. Yeah. In the living room. She‘s a bit different, but you know. It was one of Marthe‘s least favourite expressions, the way people said it here. Oh, I see, well that‘s a bit different. As in, I find that outrageous, or weird, or incomprehensible, but I'm making a show of reserving judgement while actually judging because, you know, it takes all kinds.

Jane liked big novels, Great Works. Mann and Stendhal and the Russians and Henry James. She liked novels of ideas with the ideas woven into the world of the book, novels where vaguely weak sick people sit around the sanatorium talking about time and philosophy and art. Jane wanted, always, the transcendent. The almost over the top. She liked opera. Most anything played by Glenn Gould. She was impatient with anything less.

Back in the car, on the highway, Jane settled another paper cup of coffee into the cup holder, pulled a rumpled copy of Buddenbrooks, fat with damp, from between the seats: Read to me?
[…]
Marthe took the book from Jane‘s hand and started reading. She loved reading aloud, it was so rare that anyone wanted it.

The Son of the House by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

Nigerian Canadian lawyer and academic Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia has already garnered awards for this, her debut novel, which was first published in 2019 in South Africa. It‘s a moving family saga told from the viewpoints of two women who, in the opening chapter, have been kidnapped in Enugu. While waiting for their loved ones to raise ransom money, they tell each other their life stories. Feminist, heartfelt and dramatic.

Putting one‘s hands in various businesses would tell poverty that we were really serious about not making friends.

“Julie, I wish I had died in battle like Chima,” Afam had once confided in me.
“No, don‘t say that,” I had protested immediately. Because that was what was required: when people wished for suicide, you told them no. When they had nightmares like he did every night, you waved their fears away and told them that all was well. I should have let Afam speak.

When I stepped out, the sun was still trying to make up its mind whether it had to work yet another day. The car sputtered a little, also trying to decide whether its ten years on earth—that is, if you believed Innocent, the mechanic who sold it to me—did not yet qualify it for retirement.

Life was hard, but if you took it in little chunks, you could find some chunks that were good.

We Want What We Want by Alix Ohlin

“Child. We are done for in the most remarkable ways.” —Brigit Pegeen Kelly, from the epigraph.
In this remarkable collection of short stories, one of the best that I‘ve read so far this year, people‘s desires are the source of difficulty and pain… but can be done about that? We want what we want. I want more by Alix Ohlin. 

“I think I‘m burning out,” she said to Sam, and he thought she meant on work, but she meant on everything. Sam was stable and good for her, absorbing whatever she threw at him, the tofu of husbands, but it didn‘t help. She considered an affair, but it seemed like too much work. Anyway, her days were full of meetings and carpools; there was no time for malfeasance.

I first read Mulvaney‘s book, The Woman I Knew, when I was thirteen years old, an impressionable age. Although I should say that I was impressionable at all ages, especially where books were concerned. I wanted books to press themselves upon my body and mind, to change me in every way a person could be changed.

Oszkar is disgusting, potbellied and scruffy bearded. To this party he has worn shorts that fall below his knees and a yellow t-shirt that reads Silence is golden. Duct tape is silver. Looking at him, she thinks about people interviewed on the news after their neighbour commits some terrible crime, saying, “He seemed like such a nice guy. You would never suspect.” Oszkar is not such a person. You would suspect him of anything.

They break for soda and chips, which his mother brings downstairs on a tray. The look she gives Aziza broadcasts sharp betrayal; she wanted Aziza to lure Tim outside, instead of joining him here in artificial reality. But Aziza can imagine nothing more artificial than the reality outside, the hum of vehicles disappearing into garages, the angry wheeze of leaf blowers operated by men in masks, like a gardening militia.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Audiobook read by Aoife McMahon

I adored everything about this novel, including the way we get to know the four characters only through what they say and do, plus through their email correspondence and texts. It‘s written in third person with a point of view so limited that nothing is revealed beyond what can be observed from the outside. And yet I truly cared about these not-especially-likeable Irish thirty-somethings who manage to divulge so much to each other about their feelings.

For my part, the difference between lockdown and normal life is, depressingly, minimal. 80 to 90 percent of my days are the same as they would be anyway: working from home, reading, avoiding social gatherings. But then it turns out that even a tiny amount of socializing is different from none.

What if it‘s not only a small number of evil people who are out there, waiting for their bad deeds to be exposed, what if it‘s all of us?

Personally, I have to exercise a lot of agency when I read, and understanding what I read, and bearing it all in mind long enough to make sense of the book as I go along. In no sense does it feel like a passive process in which beauty is transmitted to me without my involvement. It feels like an active effort, of which an experience of beauty is the constructed result.

Great novels engage my sympathies and make me desire things. When I look at the Desmoiselles d‘Avignon I don‘t want anything from it; the pleasure is in seeing it as it is. But when I read books, I do experience desire. I want Isabel Archer to be happy. I want things to work out for Anna and Vronsky.

Maybe we‘re just born to love and worry about the people we know, and to go on loving and worrying, even when there are more important things we should be doing. And if that means the human species is going to die out, isn‘t it in a way a nice reason to die out?

Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir by Rebecca Solnit
Audiobook read by the author

I highly recommend this brilliant, clear-eyed and compassionate look back at the author as a young woman becoming herself and a writer within the ever-present and harmful context of patriarchy.

I came to understand visual art as a kind of philosophical inquiry by other means.

I am fond of sentences less like superhighways and more like winding paths, with occasional scenic detours, or pause to take in the view, since a footpath can traverse steep & twisting terrain that a paved road cannot. I know that sometimes what gets called digression is pulling in a passenger who fell off the boat.

It is the reader who brings a book to life. I lived inside books and though it‘s often assumed that we choose books to travel through them to get to the end, there were books I took up residence in.

I was told to move someplace more affluent, although some of my most malevolent harassment occurred in such places. To get a car. To spend money I didn‘t have on taxis. To cut my hair, dress as a man, or attach myself to a man. To never go anywhere alone, get a gun, learn martial arts. To adapt to this reality, which was treated as natural or as inevitable as the weather. But it wasn‘t weather and it wasn‘t nature and it wasn‘t inevitable and immutable. It was culture. Changing that culture and those conditions seemed to be the only adequate response. It still does.

It could have been me who found myself in a moment in which my fate was not my own, my body was not my own, my life was not my own. And I hovered on that brink and was haunted by it for a few years that reshaped my psyche in ways that will never be over, which was perhaps the point: to remind me that I would never be entirely free. This violence mostly targets girls and young women, as an initiation rite, a reminder that even after you cease to be a frequent target, you are vulnerable.

All our struggles can be imagined as turf battles, to defend or annex territory, and we can understand the differences between us as being, among other things, about how much space we are allowed or denied.

I think that a lot of girls and young women have this yearning, that is part desire to have a man and part desire to be him, to merge with this force, to be where power is, to be powerful.

In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova
Translated by Sasha Dugdale

Maria Stepanova set out to record her Jewish family‘s history in Russia, but the more she uncovered, the more she doubted what she thought she knew. This remarkable work of literature is hard to classify: it‘s a blend of memoir, fiction, 20th century history, archival documents, and essays about art. These all come together gracefully in what turns out to be a rumination on memory and mortality. The translation by Sasha Dugdale is lively and poetic.

I always knew I would write a book about my family […] because it was simply the case that I was the first and only person in the family who had a reason to speak facing outward, peering out from intimate family conversations as if from under a fur cap, addressing the railway station concourse of collective experience.

This white-hot near-religious belief in higher education was handed down through the generations and I remember it in my own childhood. “We are Jews,” I heard this at the age of seven. You cannot allow yourself the luxury of not having an education.

My china boy seemed to embody the way no story reaches us without having its heels chipped off or its face scratched away.

The whole country was at war with “cosmopolitanism,” a code word for Jewishness.

[The poet Valentin Stenich, the first Russian translator of Ulysses] was executed in 1938. It‘s said he did not conduct himself with honour at his interrogations. God forbid anyone should find out how we conduct ourselves at ours.

In December 1936 in a New York gallery, Joseph Cornell showed his first film to a small audience. It was called Rose Hobart […]
The 32-year-old Salvador Dalí was in the audience. In the middle of the screening he jumped to his feet and shouted that Cornell had robbed him. He insisted that this idea had been in his subconscious, these had been his, Dalí‘s, dreams, and Cornell had no right to use them as he wished.

In place of a memory I did not have, an event I did not witness, my memory worked over someone else‘s story; it rehydrated the driest little note and made of it a pop-up cherry orchard.

I bailed on four Canadian novels this month, all of them Giller possibles.
If I hadn't felt such pressure to read as many eligible titles as time allowed,
I might have had more patience. I may return to them at some point.



Monday, October 4, 2021

Giller Shortlist Wishlist

All five books on my Giller shortlist wishlist were published between August 24 and September 28, 2021. There must have been some special magic in the air! The official shortlist will be announced tomorrow.

A Dream of a Woman by Casey Plett
em by Kim Thuy
Fight Night by Miriam Toews
Glorious Frazzled Beings by Angelique Lalonde
The Strangers by Katherena Vermette

Sunday, October 3, 2021

The Shadow Knows: Video of My Reactions to the Giller Longlist

Shawn the Book Maniac invited me to talk about the 2021 Giller longlist on his Booktube channel. 

You can watch our 30 minute conversation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYCjcRuGFxw

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

My Indigenous Books TBR

One of the things my dear friend Shawn is doing to celebrate the fourth anniversary of his booktube channel is an invitation to submit a camera flip. In other words, he's posting videos other people have created. I made a 15-minute recording talking about some Indigenous literature that I plan to read soon. You can view the video here: Lindy on Shawn the Book Maniac's channel . And while you are over there, sample some of Shawn's offerings. My favourites are his Friday Reads episodes and also his playlist of Bite-Sized Book Chats. 

Shawn also is offering prizes to celebrate the happy occasion. Scroll through his recent episodes to find his Book Cover Fragment Contest and his Book Giveaways.

Keep on vlogging, Shawn!

-------------------------------

These are the TBR books I spoke about in the video:

Nishga by Jordan Abel

it was never going to be okay by jaye simpson

awacis: kinky and dishevelled by Louise B Halfe Sky Dancer

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson

The Swan Book by Alexis Wright

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

2021 Giller Longlist Reaction


Wow! My first reaction upon seeing the Scotiabank Giller Prize judges' longlist is surprise. Lots of surprises on this list, actually. 

It is a challenge to keep up with new Canadian fiction, so I'm happy that there's a Craving Canlit page on the Scotiabank Giller website. My fellow shadow jurors and I have relied on this list of eligible titles to prepare our own longlist predictions. One of the longlisted titles (Swimming Back to Trout River) wasn't on this site, so it escaped my notice entirely. 

Three of the titles won't be published until the end of September (A Dream of a Woman; Em; and The Strangers) and one was just released yesterday (Glorious Frazzled Beings). Another was first published in 2019 and then reissued in May 2021 (Son of the House), so I wasn't aware that it fell within the eligibility requirements.

I've only read four out of the twelve on the longlist, and my prediction yesterday included only five out of the twelve. Not a very accurate forecast. 

I'm overjoyed to see Fight Night on the list, because I consider it to be a perfect novel. 

What Strange Paradise speaks to our shameful times, of refugees treated like unworthy human beings. With the focus on individuals, and particularly on one child refugee, this novel is capable of opening hearts.

Astra highlights our connections to other people, and how perspectives shift depending on time, relationship, and viewpoint. Maria Mutch's Molly Falls to Earth does a similar thing -- and does it even better! -- using prose that sings, so I'm sorry that it isn't on the list as well.

The Listeners speaks to our times also: the splitting of society into two distinct groups, conspiracy theories, our search for community and for something more meaningful than the daily grind. I hadn't predicted that this would make the longlist because I perceived a few flaws, but it's a spellbinding novel and I'm not displeased to see it on the list. 

I'm surprised and sad that Sheung-King's You Are Eating and Orange. You Are Naked. didn't make the list. This one has an innovative fragmentary format, beautiful flowing prose, and captures the in-betweenness of having multiple nationalities so well.

I look forward to reading the rest of the longlist and plan to come up with my own shortlist before the official announcement on October 5, 2021.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

2021 Giller Prize Prediction

Tomorrow, September 8, the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist will be announced. This is my second year as a shadow juror, a role I take seriously even though it is just for fun. It is a huge pleasure to read so many great novels, short stories and graphic novels by Canadian writers. So far, I've read 46 eligible titles and bailed on an additional four. Some books that I think might be strong contenders have not yet been published, and so I will have to guess about them. Before revealing my longlist prediction (plus wish list) for the 2021 Giller, I want to talk about my judging criteria. 


This is what I'm looking for:

Life-affirming stories that acknowledge the complexities of existence and that make me think. I want lots of white space, by which I mean room to wonder and imagine, rather than having everything neatly laid out.

Style. Whether it's using a conventional structure or an innovative format, the writing is crafted with rigorous care. I want to experience freshness and surprise, through word choice and perspective. I'm especially drawn to a unique narrator's voice.

Believable characters. I slip into characters as I read, so I need to trust that the author is treating their characters with respect, no matter what kind of character I inhabit. Also, I immediately resist if I feel like my emotions are being manipulated.

Insight. Feeling a resonance with the issues our society is grappling with, such as colonialism, xenophobia, feminism, social isolation, conspiracy theories, and aging with dignity.

Setting. A sense of grounding in time and place that enriches the story experience.

Plot. The story must have intrinsic coherence and hang together. I want to sense the narrative arc over the course of a novel or short story, whether the action is internal or external.

Enlargement. An inner expansion that comes as a result of reading a particular piece of literature.

Okay, so here are my nine longlist picks in alphabetical order by title:


Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Fight Night by Miriam Toews

Molly Falls to Earth by Maria Mutch

Return of the Trickster by Eden Robinson

Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto and Ann Xu

Speak, Silence by Kim Echlin

We Want What We Want by Alix Ohlin

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. by Sheung-King

And, because there are so many fine possibilities, I also have a wish list composed of honourable mentions (which I've read) and books not yet published (which I haven't read, so they are marked with an asterisk):

Astra by Cedar Bowers

The Book of Form and Emptinessby Ruth Ozeki

Em* by Kim Thuy

A Funny Kind of Paradise by Jo Owens

Ghost Lake by Nathan Niigan Noodin Adler

Manikanetish* by Naomi Fontaine, translated by Luise von Flotow

The Strangersby Katherena Vermette

To Know You're Alive by Dakota McFadzean

What do you think? I look forward to seeing what the Giller judges have chosen this year.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

August 2021 Reading Roundup

I've highlighted ten favourites here, out of the 38 books that I read in August. If you are a fan of graphic novels, this post is for you, because five out of the ten are in comics format. Read on!


In. by Will McPhail


An introverted, self-centred cartoonist named Nick struggles to make authentic connections with the people around him. When he does, the graphite pencil art blooms into glorious watercolours; I rejoiced with every breakthrough. Nick's performance of life-as-he-believed-was-expected-of-him, plus full-page gags about pretentious coffee shops, kept me giggling, while family and relationship drama added a more serious undertone. This Scottish graphic novel is both funny and sad and I loved it.

I need a good bar to be sad in.

Cyclopedia Exotica by Aminder Dhaliwal

This book opens with pages laid out as if it‘s a reference encyclopedia, with pointed humour in the seemingly-dry entries. Example: “There were few job opportunities for Cyclopes beyond herding. Publishers turned away Cyclopean authors, while many popular Two-Eyed authors wrote stories featuring Cyclopean leads.” Afterwards, the content switches to slice-of-life comics panels following a diverse group of characters, some of them queer.

Cyclops have assimilated into Two-Eyes society, but their daily lives are a series of micro-aggressions and other challenges, in addition to quotidian joys. Representation versus exploitation in consumer marketing, is one example. This uplifting graphic novel presents a witty satire of external and internal prejudices faced by anyone who is different from the mainstream.

    Sometimes there‘s a story we tell ourselves and sometimes a story is told about us. Some parts of our story define us. But nuance and humanity is lost in the encyclopedias.


Menopause: A Comic Treatment edited by MK Czerwiec

This is excellent! Twenty-nine cartoonists with a wide variety of styles write about different aspects of menopause. I really appreciate the diversity because we don‘t all experience menopause the same way. Among the queer contingent of contributors are: Jennifer Camper, KC Councilor, Leslie Ewing, Ellen Forney, Keet Geniza, AK Summers and Kimiko Tobimatsu.

Delicates by Brenna Thummler

I didn‘t read the first graphic novel volume Sheets, about a middle school girl and her ghost friends, but I sure enjoyed this second volume. The topic of being bullied for being different versus being your own weird self is delicately handled, and a neurodiverse character is well portrayed. True friendship is precious. Expressive, colourful art. 

The Tea Dragon Tapestry by Kay O'Neill

Third in the gentle LGBTQ fantasy graphic novel Tea Dragon series from New Zealand, the characters are compassionate and the message of friendship and self worth is reassuring. “You are already whole.” Adorable comics for all ages.

Nature Poem by Tommy Pico

Tommy Pico‘s book-length poem embraces multiple identities—Indigenous, urban, queer—with a voice that‘s urgent, angry, sorrowful and intimate. Gay club culture, online dating apps and colonialism are just some of the topics addressed with wit and quicksilver mood changes. A quick read—75 pages—and so very approachable.

    oh, but you don‘t look very Indian is a thing ppl feel comfortable saying to me on dates.
    What rhymes with, fuck off and die?

    Mirrors love attention.
    Like everyone.

    Who even wants to go into space?
    I fucking hate traveling

    I don‘t like thinking abt nature bc nature makes me suspect there is a god.
[…]
    God wants everything, n I‘m like God—you, I‘m sorry, but you are too much of a time commitment. I have a work thing. It‘s not you, it‘s me.

Razorblade Tears by SA Cosby
Audiobook [12 hr] read by Adam Lazarre-White

“Folks like to talk about revenge like it‘s a righteous thing, but it‘s just hate in a nicer suit.” I agree 100% with this sentiment, voiced by one of the main characters, in an audiobook I loved—even though it's a violent action thriller about vigilante justice. What makes it so good? The character nuances and growth, the complexities of the issues exploredlike racism, homophobia and transphobia, and the consequences that are suffered. Plus, it is wickedly funny.

    Ike spied a silver BMW in the rearview mirror, driven by a woman with the most severe I-want-to-speak-with-the-manager haircut he‘d ever seen. She zipped by them doing at least 30 mph, like she had some dalmatians in the trunk that she needed to make into a coat.

    His blond hair was slicked back with so much product, a fly would break its neck trying to land on it.

What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad
Audiobook [7 hr] read by Dion Graham

The gripping, devastating tale of a 9-year-old Syrian refugee, only survivor from a boatload of desperate people. His safety is not assured, even after washing up on a tourist beach on a Greek island. Alternating before and after chapters build empathy and suspense.

    Vänna could not help but think of ancestry as a kind of shackle one could never fully unclasp. An umbilical cord that, no matter how deeply cut, could never be severed.

    Every man you ever meet is nothing but the product of what was withheld from him, what he feels owed.

    “You‘ve got a storybook view of the world.”
    Maher shrugged. “Books are good for the soul,” he said. “Books will wean you off cruelty.”
    “And what will you be left with then?” Mohamed asked.

Farewell, My Orange by Kei Iwaki
Translated by Meredith McKinney

A slim, emotionally-affecting and hopeful novel told in the alternating viewpoints of two immigrants to Australia. Salimah is an African refugee with two young sons. Sayuri is the highly-educated wife of a Japanese academic. The two meet at an ESL class and become friends. This story held me spellbound and continued to disperse gloom even after I had finished reading it.

    Beneath a blue sky, learning to write under a great tree that sheltered her instead of a classroom roof. The first letters she had written with her finger in the sand. Letters that a man‘s feet had trampled. The land where she lived, her family, her friends—all taken from her. And after that, the simple prayer that she live another day to greet the sun again.

    While one lives in a foreign country, language‘s main function is as a means of self-protection and a weapon in one‘s fight with the world. You can‘t fight without a weapon. But perhaps it‘s human instinct that makes it even more imperative to somehow express oneself, convey meaning, connect with others.

The Promise by Damon Galgut

A dysfunctional white South African family gathers for four funerals over the course of three decades. I love the chatty authorial voice, which slips nimbly in close third-person from character to character within single paragraphs. Clever turns of phrase—ie describing a lady as “much in favour of perms and cardigans”—kept me smiling, while the deeper thread witnessing social and political change touched my heart. I would be very pleased to see this win the Booker prize, a couple of months from now (November 3, 2021).

    Will people feel sorry for her all day because her mother has become that word? She feels ugly when she cries, like a tomato breaking open, and thinks that she must get away, away from this horrible little room with its parquet floor and barking Maltese poodle and the eyes of her aunt and uncle sticking into her like nails.

    Her new faith, which she experiences as a kind of waterproof garment she's buttoned down over herself, doesn't stop her from acting on her fears and desires, but it provides a way of washing them off afterwards. She will receive her penance and the karmic clock will be reset again to zero and she will swear to the priest that she will follow his instructions, that this is the last, last time that she will ever stray, and she will deeply mean it.



Saturday, August 14, 2021

July 2021 Reading Roundup


My top reads in July 2021:

Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Volume One: Summary: Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission


I thought it would be a dry slog. I was wrong. The writing is engaging and the content is immensely enlightening. I'm so glad that my friend Kathy agreed to buddy read this with me, because I've intended to read it since it was released in 2015, but kept putting it off due to fear of feeling sad and angry while grappling with the content. And it did make me sad and angry, but I'm very glad to have read it. This summary volume gives a good grounding in the complex ways residential schools have continued to affect Canada‘s Indigenous peoples. I now have a better understanding of what reconciliation means and feel more equipped to speak up when I encounter racism in my daily life.

Kathy adds: "the Report also places the Canadian Government's decision to create the residential schools in context. The report does a very good job of outlining the political, legal and religious views that made the Canadian Government's decision possible."

Essential reading for all Canadians. It's available free in pdf format on the TRC website.

Molly Falls to Earth by Maria Mutch

Bystanders surround a dance choreographer having an epileptic seizure on a sidewalk. This brilliant, kaleidoscopic novel takes place over seven minutes: her vivid memories, special people and long-held secrets are interwoven with scenes from a documentary about missing people. We are all interconnected: even strangers touch our lives, though our perceptions may differ. The included cityscape photos emphasize the personality of place—and New York City is definitely a character.

The city doesn‘t always know what to do with itself, so it invents, it makes new. You can‘t step in the same city twice.

Look up ‘seven‘ and it will say, absurdly, ‘six plus one,‘ but you won‘t be able to argue. The tautology won‘t end. The only way forward is forward.

The body is in time, it is time. It shows the passage of it. Which is why dance can be hard to translate, why filming it so often feels inadequate. The body reveals space, making us aware of what we take for granted. Conversely, the camera flattens space. Movement is something you have to be in the presence of, in order to fully see how a space is rendered in three dimensions.

I was overwhelmed with a love whose internal organs were shot through with what seemed to be an everlasting hate, but it was really only the flawed structure of this place, these bodies. And the fact that I kept people from the furnace of my heart—the place where they could so easily burn.

Zom-Fam by Kama La Mackerel

Kama La Mackerel is a trans Mauritian Canadian activist, artist and writer. Their debut poetry collection consists of eight long autobiographical poems. Family life—including spirituality, gender roles and colonial scars—on the former plantation island of Mauritius is vividly evoked. Kreol language, curry spices, coconut sweets, and burning sun. A tender and exuberant coming-out memoir in verse.

when i tell my mother that i am trans
[…]
she tells me that we come from a history & a culture
where women-men
& men-women
have always existed

-------

because colonial powers destroyed
people
lands
resources
cultures
but colonial powers
also scythed
the languages
of love

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Vivid, humorous voice—that of an indomitable old woman—combined with the depressingly ignorant voices of townspeople who have accused her of witchcraft. I was riveted by this historical novel based on real people who lived in southern Germany in the early 17th century. Entertaining and sobering. I wish it didn't remind me so much of the fearful superstitions I see surrounding Covid vaccinations and other science.

“I apologize for having no horse,” he said cheerfully. He didn‘t look like he‘d ever had a horse. Or even had a close friend who had had a horse.

I suspect the only thing I‘d be interested in reading would be a history. But I‘m told histories are hated, which is not surprising. People prefer to make it up themselves.

I had loved babies as a child, more than most people do, even. I loved their small fingernails. I loved the way they seemed to arrive older than their parents. I loved the courage they had to sleep as if there were no wolves, no soldiers.

He asked me to sit, encouraged me to have a bite to eat. He had a slice of apple on a tiny spear of some sort.
“What is that toy you‘re holding?”
“It‘s a fork. And I know you know it‘s a fork.”
“It looks like the tail of a devil,” I said. “Not in a bad way.”

A hummingbird once rested near my shoulder. It was a very ill omen. For one who isn‘t a flower.

I had Greta‘s voice in my head, telling me that all people are the image of God. Why not all voles, then? All fleas? They were God‘s creations, too.

The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager

The multiple strands of the millennium spanned in this novel-told-in-fragments are set 70 years apart, timed with each pass of Halley's comet. The stories feature pairs of brothers and sisters, often showing one excluded from their families, usually for the reason of one being queer, and the other remains with them in solidarity—so the Hansel and Gretel theme works very well. History is recorded by those who are dominant in society; it's refreshing to see things from a different perspective.

What is story if not the safe harbour for our most disturbing imaginings? I learned early that the notion of what will come to pass haunts better. But, too, it is about the storyteller—who you choose to trust and why.

A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong

Cartoonist Sloane Leong has mixed ancestry—Hawaiian, Chinese, Mexican, Native American and European—and she draws on that variety in creating the five main teen characters in this wonderful graphic novel. The girls each have drama at home, plus the usual body issues and school drama, but when they form a basketball team, they find friendships, rivalries and self-respect. Larger gender and social justice issues add extra depth. Glorious artwork in vivid fauvist colours.


Thirsty Mermaids by Kat Leyh

I love this charming and very queer graphic novel! The humour is never mean: it's the "fish-out-of-water" type. There's no sex. Instead, it's friendship to the max, reminding me of the Lumberjanes series which is coauthored by Kat Leyh, although this standalone is definitely for age 18 and up. I say that because the central plot is about drinking as much alcohol as possible, which is the premise for a couple of merfolk and a sea witch deciding to venture onto dry land. Poor decision-making while inebriated and the hangover price do counteract the alcohol message, by the way. Leyh's colourful, cartoony artwork has a fresh buoyancy.