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
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.