Skip to content

In my bed: April 2015

Insert “excuses for not writing wrap-up posts, that no one noticed I didn’t write, and the excuses are also humblebrags, and/or pleas for pity and/or compliments” here.

Let’s just call this 2015 so far.

Recommended reading
4 and 5 star reads that’d I’d recommend to almost anybody:

the bearLuminariesNWWhenEverythingFeelsbringupablutions

  • The Bear by Clare Cameron (review, sort of)
  • The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  • NW by Zadie Smith (audio)
  • When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid
  • Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (audio)
  • Ablutions by Patrick deWitt

Book Haul
Some notable acquisitions. Follow me on Instagram if you care to see my book mail and also my children.

Goose Lane Editions goodies

Goose Lane Editions goodies

  • The Secret Library by Haruki Murakami courtesy of Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf
  • Mrs. Dalloway courtesy of Robert at 101 Books. I won a contest and could pick any of the 101 books, so of course I picked his most hated book.
  • Humans 3.0, Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, and Where the Nights are Twice as Long courtesy of Goose Lane Editions: My mom saw these books at my house and told me several times how attractive they were. She was petting them. She likes shiny things.
  • Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz courtesy of Hello Hemlock. Read along in May and get ready to discuss in June.
  • Things You’ve Inherited From Your Mother by Hollie Adams courtesy of NeWest Press

Up to the Challenge
I am doing some reading challenges this year:

Also an excellent excuse to rewatch the mini-series. Boissiney sez: don't hate the player.

Also an excellent excuse to rewatch The Forsyte Saga mini-series. Boissiney sez: don’t hate the player.

  •  The Forsyte Saga Chronicles with Ali of HeavenAli and others, because why challenge yourself to read just one Victorian novel when you can read nine that total like 2700 pages? I’m on book two and loving it.
  • Book Riot Read Harder Challenge or at least one aspect of it. I find reading bingo challenges to be a bit… much. I will never keep track or remember to check things off. So I zero’d in on one square in Book Riot’s bingo card: read a book someone recommends to you. I’m taking that to mean someone in real life. So far, I’ve read The Japanese Lover by Rani Manicka (recommended by my mom,) Champlain’s Dream by David Hackett Fischer (my husband,) and next up, Let the Elephants Run by David Usher (my brother.) I wouldn’t have picked any of these books on my own.
  • Back from the DNF is my own little challenge and I hope to knock off another book or two.

Reading local
A little local non-fiction:

howtoexpecthowtoexpect2

  • Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything by Timothy Caufield which I wrote about here.
  • How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting: Stores of Pregnancy, Parenthood and Loss edited by Jessica Hiemstra and Lisa Martin-Demoor. I’ve already passed this on to a friend. I didn’t notice the dedication till I was about to mail it. A really beautiful book.

Where I’ll be
You might find me at these places IRL and on the internet over the next few months:

Lynn Coady and body guard

Lynn Coady and body guard

  • The 2015 Kreisel Lecture with Lynn Coady. Actually happened a few nights ago. Serious literature + Grover = awesome. More to come.
  • WriteReads talking about Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis. Yes, the other book won the vote. I changed my mind.
  • Book Bloggers International talking about book blogging in Canada. I am really feeling Reading in Winter’s absence right now, as she has written about this topic so eloquently in the past!
  • The Yeggies winning the Best in Arts and Culture Award (hopefully)
  • Book Expo America in NYC with ebooksclassics and JFranz.
  • The Group-Along: Yes, I’ve decided on my annual read-along and it shall by The Group by Mary McCarthy, inspired by this post on Uncovered Classics, by the fact that McCarthy is from Minnesota and now so is my sister, who always gamely joins my read-alongs, and by my years of devotion to Sex and the City (pre-movies,) which took inspiration from this book. Watch for a sign up post later in the summer.

But it looks like I’m working

 

 

peter-gibbons

I spend my days in the garden watching the plants grow. I pretend to be working but really I am just sitting in the sun. My mind becomes so empty that I forget the whole day has passed until the light fades and I start to get cold.

– Suzanne Desrochers, Bride of New France

With apologies to Slaughterhouse 90201.

Battle of the Books, Write Reads Edition: Fifteen Dogs vs. If I Fall, If I Die

If you didn’t get your fill of book battles from Canada Reads or the Tournament of Books, here’s one where you can have your say: help me choose which book to feature on Write Reads podcast in May! Yes, I’m guest hosting again. Check me out talking about Emma Donoghue’s Frog Music last year.

It’s new release month, so the contenders are both Canadian novels released in 2015 and they’re both new authors to me: Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis or If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie.

Click here if you’re ready to vote. 

If you’re not sure, let’s take a closer look at the contenders:

The synopses

From Goodreads:

Fifteen Dogs:

— I wonder, said Hermes, what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.
— I’ll wager a year’s servitude, answered Apollo, that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are, if they were given human intelligence.

And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto vet­erinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old ‘dog’ ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.

If I Fall, If I Die:

Will has never been to the outside, at least not since he can remember. And he has certainly never gotten to know anyone other than his mother, a fiercely loving yet wildly eccentric agoraphobe who drowns in panic at the thought of opening the front door. Their little world comprises only the rooms in their home, each named for various exotic locales and filled with Will’s art projects. Soon the confines of his world close in on Will. Despite his mother’s protestations, Will ventures outside clad in a protective helmet and braces himself for danger. He eventually meets and befriends Jonah, a quiet boy who introduces Will to skateboarding. Will welcomes his new world with enthusiasm, his fears fading and his body hardening with each new bump, scrape, and fall. But life quickly gets complicated. When a local boy goes missing, Will and Jonah want to uncover what happened. They embark on an extraordinary adventure that pulls Will far from the confines of his closed-off world and into the throes of early adulthood and the dangers that everyday life offers.

The covers

15dogs ififall

The blurbs

Fifteen Dogs: Montreal Gazette, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly – all the big players. But new media is in on it too; my fav Book Rioter Amanda Nelson wants to read it “pretty hard.”

If I Fall, If I Die: Impressive list of authors: Karen Russell, Philipp Meyer, David Gilbert, Patrick deWitt. Lots of skateboarding analogies: “This is a bruiser of a tale, one you will feel in your shins and your solar plexus.”

The authors

Andre Alexis

via cbc.ca

Publisher’s bio: André Alexis was born in Trinidad and grew up in Canada. His debut novel, Childhood, won the Books in Canada First Novel Award, the Trillium Book Award, and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. His other previous books include Asylum, Beauty and Sadness, Ingrid & the Wolf and, most recently, Pastoral, which was also nominated for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was named a Globe and Mail Top 100 book of 2014.

(NB: Alexis had a feud with David “No Girls Allowed” Gilmour last year.)

christiePublisher’s bio: Michael Christie‘s debut book of fiction, The Beggar’s Garden, was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a finalist for the Writers’ Trust Prize for Fiction, and won the Vancouver Book Award. Prior to earning an MFA from the University of British Columbia, he was a sponsored skateboarder and travelled throughout the world skateboarding and writing for skateboard magazines. Born in Thunder Bay, he now lives on Galiano Island with his wife and two sons. If I Fall, If I Die is his first novel.

(NB: Christie writes about parenting, too. Also he is devastatingly handsome. #AuthorCrushAlert)

The reviews

Fifteen Dogs: 4.61 rating on Goodreads, but only 18 ratings, as this book isn’t out till April 14.  Naomi at Consumed by Ink says, “Fifteen Dogs is the most creative and unique book I have read in a long time. It was funny, smart, inventive, moving, thought-provoking, and I didn’t want to put it down.”

If I Fall, If I Die: 3.40 rating on Goodreads, with a decent 600 ratings. Karen of One More Page says, “If I Fall, If I Die has layers upon layers to be dissected, analyzed, and loved. It was a pleasure to read a book that was able to capture so many voices so accurately with such beautiful prose and emotion. This is a book you won’t want to miss in 2015.”

Confused yet? Make your choice by next Tuesday and hear me, Tania and Kirtles break it down for you next month. May the best book win!

 

 

Patrick deWitt: Notes on a reading

Patrick deWitt wrote his first novel, Ablutions, in the form of second-person notes-to-self. The subtitle of that book is “Notes on a novel.” I took notes during deWitt’s Macewan Book of the Year appearance and tried to recreate the form. Here are my “Notes on a reading.”

wpid-2015-03-31-22.42.53.jpg.jpeg

Discuss the regulars. You arrive just after the #CanLit Crew, comprised of several bloggers and YouTubers who are all ten years younger than you. You discover this in the course of a conversation about what everyone was doing in 2008. Apparently you were the only one getting married and not attending university, or junior high. This special moment was caught on video. Of course you skipped ahead to find your own entrance and it’s around the 4:30 mark.

You finally meet Natalie of The Wandering Bibliophile as well, but sadly this is not captured on video.

Discuss the award. The Sisters Brothers is Macewan’s Book of the Year – Macewan being a University here in Edmonton, for those not in the know. You like this award because it’s kind of random – any books published in the last five years are eligible, and they take nominations from anyone. And rather than a stuffy ceremony, they make the author work for it – they must attend classes, answer student questions, and do a reading/interview for the public.  You attended Macewan back when this award was just getting started but you didn’t go to any of the events, even though one of your favourite authors was there – David Adams Richard – because back then, you just read books, you didn’t talk about them or understand why anyone would want to hang out with authors or other readers. You were unhappy and meeting other people who loved the things you loved probably would have helped. Better late than never.

You wrote about your first Macewan Book of the Year experience here.

Discuss the reading. You are disappointed when an author chooses to read from the very beginning of their book. It seems too obvious. You were not disappointed when deWitt did this, for a couple of reasons. One was the sign language interpreters. You have never seen someone sign a story before. You taught both of your children sign language and can ask for “more milk” or let someone know you have to poop, but that’s about it. You did know that sign language involves more than just the hands. You knew facial expression, posture, and the whole body get involved. Hands can’t move fast enough to convey everything. The interpreters are more like performers. From poor Tub the horse plodding along, to the hilarious description of a drunken Hermann Kermit Warm, the interpreters are very much in contrast to deWitt’s deadpan delivery. The other reason was that in hearing and seeing the first few pages of the book again, you realize the whole of the book is contained in the first five pages. The entire set up of the plot. The tension between the two brothers. The kinda-magical-realism of hearing a horse’s thoughts. And this line: “…and I lay in the dark thinking about the difficulties of family, how crazy and crooked the stories of a bloodline can be.” That’s some Tolstoy-level, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” shit. It was this first section of the novel that initially made you put it down. After hearing deWitt read it, you think it’s one of the most brilliant opening chapters ever.

wpid-2015-03-31-22.43.58.jpg.jpeg

Discuss gender roles. You think Elizabeth Withey of Frock Around the Clock (among other things) brought up the fact that this is a very “male” novel, in the course of her interview. It is. In kind of a DFW way. This is a story about men. Women are around because someone’s gotta be the love interest/prostitute/witch/mother figure. You’re not that bothered. You know exactly where to go for a feminine perspective on the old west.

Discuss luck. Prospecting for gold aside, this is very much a story about luck, as Withey reminds us. Curses and irony and karma – luck sums it up. As they say the word luck again and again, you remember watching hockey with your dad. When the Oilers scored (this was many years ago, mind) on a lucky shot, dad always said “You gotta be good to be lucky.” You always replied, “You gotta be lucky to be good.” That’s the trick with The Sisters Brothers – who’s lucky and who’s good?

Discuss the book signing. You are not one of those “look at me being awkward with authors” people. You are as awkward with authors as you are with everyone else. Which is to say – somewhat. You are not ready. The line moves much faster that you expect. Suddenly, you are standing in front of Patrick deWitt. You hand The Sisters Brothers over and ask him to make it out to Laura and he seems a little hesitant. He does not personalize the second book. You tell him a story about how an American friend who described him as “an author who needs more recognition” and isn’t that funny? Given his fame here in Canada. He acknowledges that things are different in the States. Why not move home, asks Jason, more nervous than you are. If it wasn’t for my son, I might, he says. You swoon. Inwardly.

wpid-20150331_224517.jpg

You skip the St. Patrick’s Day after party in favour of the grocery store and bed by 10:00 pm.

Just one of them days (that a blogger goes through)

Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity is hosting A Day in the Life, a blogger event where you can see how bloggers really spend our days, and how we fit it all in. The idea started when Trish posted her own “day in the life,” first as a stay-at-home parent, and then as a working parent. I admire Trish because she has a nice mix of book stuff and personal stuff – something many bloggers struggle with. There are nearly 50 bloggers linked up already and it’s just after lunch here in the Mountain Timezone, so clearly this is an idea the blogosphere was ready for!

So get ready to dig deep and peel back the layers on what really goes on in the life of a book blogger. Read more

#Yeggies 2015 Picks

The Yeggies are Edmonton’s social media awards. Since they began two years ago, I’ve been respectfully asking the board to add a literature section (I subtweeted them a few times.) I didn’t think it was fair; we’ve got such a great book blogging scene in Edmonton and we’re lost in the “Arts and Culture” catch-all.

Did they listen to me? No. Still no Literature category. But I got nominated this year, so, suddenly, I’m okay with it!

The big ceremony is May 9th. I have no idea what to wear, no one to bring (my husband is confused by everything I do online) and I hate making small talk, but other than that, it should be fun! *hyperventilates*

In the meantime:

  • Check out all the nominees here.
  • Check out all my posts about Edmonton books and authors and events, for which I was presumably nominated, on my Reading in Yeg page.
  • If you’re not in Edmonton, let me know: do you have a social media awards in your area? Or are we weirdos?
  • Open question, Edmonton or not: Who’s your favourite local blogger?

Reading in Bed’s 2015 Yeggies Picks:

Best in Political or Current Affairs: Daveberta. What little politics I follow, I like to do on Twitter. I have clicked through the odd Daveberta post though. This recent post on Edmonton MP Peter Goldring is a gooder: “It is unclear if the MP considers any other historical figures to be his arch-enemies.”

Best in Sports: Oilers Nation. I have’t watched a hockey game since the Vancouver riots (2011, not 1994) but I always read Wanye Gretz’s rants on the Oilers. Smart, funny, and good use of memes.

Best in Food: Edible Woman. She had me at the Atwood reference. Plus, she has a “perfect” chocolate chip cookie recipe and I’m a sucker for those. One day, I may find something better than the one on the back of the Crisco package.

Best in Film or Television: Dookie Squad. If you’ve ever thought, “there isn’t enough piss, shit, or vomit in my YouTube feed,” this’ll do the trick.

Best in Music: With the Band. Love the concept – the life of a photographer/manager/webmaster who’s “with” local band The Unfortunates.

Best in Arts and Culture: Abstaining, but I’ll give a shout out to sometime-book-blogger and founder of #yegbookclub Finster Finds!

Best in Family or Parenting: A tie, because these blogs are very different and it doesn’t seem right to pit them against each other. Frugal Edmonton Mama is the best for practical tips – recipes, activities, deals, shopping.  The Stay at Home Feminist is the best for long reads and feminist perspective on parenting (but not just parenting.) Both these bloggers clearly do the work – research, design, and understanding of their audience is evident. Their posts make me want to discuss and think and write something myself… that’s what blogging is all about!

Best in Fitness and Health: YEGFitness. Incredible bi-monthly digital magazine on all things fitness in Edmonton. YEGFitness is aimed at elite athletes (and those who aspire that way,) so I’m not exactly the target market, but as someone who works in the recreation field, I appreciate what they’re doing. Innovative business model too, if you care for that kinda thing.

Best in Humour: Ryan Byrne. Just spent twenty minutes reading old posts. Not in a stalkerish way… they’re just funny!

Best in Fashion & Style: I don’t really care for fashion blogs, but All Kinds of Lovely challenged my perception of what a “fashion” blog is –  check her out. I’m also weirdly fascinated by Adventures in Fashion and if I meet her, I’m going to ask why she doesn’t put her arms through her coats. Is that a fashion blog thing?

…Skipping all the “business” categories because I don’t care…

Best Twitter Persona: Michael Oshry. Walking that fine line between Elected Public Official and Funny Guy on Twitter. No bozo eruptions yet!

Best In Edmonton: I Heart Edmonton. Nice new website, and I like the diversity of what they cover. Plus, book reviews!

Remember Me

When you think about memory, do you think of the distant past? In CanLit, many classics are written from the perspective of a character at the end of life, remembering. The Stone Angel comes to mind. It’s a popular frame for contemporary authors too. Carrie Snyder’s Girl Runner, for example, or Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table.

These days, I’m more interested in the beginnings of memory.  My boys are three and five. What can you remember of these ages? At three, maybe nothing. Maybe a still image or someone’s voice. At five, you start to make sense of things. You remember chains of events. It’s pretty heavy, this sudden ability to remember and integrate and communicate your own life story. And as parents we wonder, how will my kids remember me?

With babies and toddlers, we’re afraid that we’ll do something to put our children in danger. We’re sleep deprived and don’t know what we’re doing. A couple years in and you realize: they survived. It’s okay. You think it’s about to get easier, now that they’re in school and potty trained (almost.) But it’s not easier. I was recently in a parenting class. Triple P, if you’re interested, and yes, I’d recommend it. The participants ranged from people like my husband and me, who’re basically okay, but run ragged and looking for some help, to people who are really floundering and some who were probably compelled by the court to be there. The thing that struck me is that we all had similar issues, and we all, with perhaps one exception, had at least one child in the three to five range. I think (part of) the reason these ages are so hard and so fraught is that we are starting to feel a whole new kind of fear: the fear of being remembered as something less than a perfect parent.

Maybe it’s coincidence that I’ve read a couple books lately that teeter on this edge of memory, but each of these helped me understand my kids and my fears.

The Bear

the bear

I thought I was afraid to read Claire Cameron’s The Bear because it’s a kids-in-danger story. I was tempted to flip ahead several times, to make sure Anna and Stick were alright (couldn’t indulge as it was an ebook,) but what really got me was five-year-old Anna’s memories of their parents.

Parenting media (ugh) tells us how to be afraid that something will happen to our children. They’ll be stolen from you if you turn your back for an instant. They won’t make it in life if you don’t interfere in their education. The Bear makes you confront the fear of something happening to you. We assume our kids need us – not just any adult, but specifically us – to survive, even though it’s clearly not true. We want our kids to remember us and carry on our legacies.

The Bear reminded me that, even at three and five, my kids are not just extensions of me. They can survive without me. And, that even if they don’t remember me the way I wish to be remembered, if their perception of me doesn’t match my own, it’s okay. It’s more than okay, it’s a necessary part of growing up. Kids can’t just be a mirror of their parents.

The Bear wouldn’t have worked if Anna hadn’t been old enough – just old enough – to remember her mom’s instructions, and her dad’s stories about the tail of the moon, and her brother’s tendency to run away and hide. Without any of that, she and Stick wouldn’t have made it off the island. But they also wouldn’t have got very far without Anna’s misinterpretations or her flights of fancy which reminded me so much of my five year old’s. Anna relies on memories of her parents’ but she relies on herself an awful lot too.

If you’re scared of this book too, well, you should be. There’s some hope for us parents, though. Without her parent’s quick thinking when the attack happened, and without the foundation of trust Anna obviously had, she wouldn’t have survived. Her parents mattered. They are remembered.

Detachment (my review)

detachment

Sometimes being too young to remember is a blessing. In Maurice Mierau’s Detachment, Mierau and his wife adopt two boys from the Ukraine – ages three and five. In The Bear, I wept for Stick because I knew he wouldn’t remember his parents. For Peter, the five year old in this story, his memories of an unstable home life and then an orphanage are a burden, and might have triggered his detachment disorder. Three year old Bohdan doesn’t remember anything before the orphanage. The difference between the boys and their ability to settle into life in Canada highlights the power of memory, and vulnerability kids have at these particular ages.

Unlike The Bear, we hear from the adoptive parent in this case, which doesn’t mean it’s 100% reliable narration. I was often wondering, “what would your wife say about this” of “what do Peter and Bohdan think about this now, ten years later?” This being non-fiction, people have asked – Miereau wrote about the strong connection readers have with this book in The National Post and I admit I felt like writing him an email too!

There’s a subplot about Miereau finding his own family history in the Ukraine which means we get memories flowing from all directions – none of those memories being his, exactly, but I recognize the urge to gather it all together and make it make sense. This book taught me about patience and listening and that we never have the full story, at age three or five or thirty five.

Yell Less, Love More

Yell Less Love More Orange Rhino

This blogger-turned-author, known online as The Orange Rhino, shares an “a-ha” moment that forced her to admit that she was a yeller, and it was not okay. Thinking she was alone in the house, she unleashed on her four kids one day. Nothing I wouldn’t have done in the same circumstances (and half as many children.) The momentary relief turned to shame when she realized her handyman was in the house and heard the whole thing. Her epiphany was based on wondering why it was acceptable to yell at children when you’re at home alone but not in front of an audience. What struck me is that her kids were all under the age of five – that is, approaching the onset of enduring memories. Do you want your children to remember you yelling and screaming? Suddenly everything is higher stakes when your audience can remember and communicate.

I do hope to write a full review of this book, but in the meantime, yes, Yell Less Love More worked. Since January 6 I’ve had two slip ups. Not yelling hasn’t magically fixed all my other problems, and actually illuminated some new ones, but it feels good. And I hope it goes a little ways toward being remembered by my boys, if not exactly as a perfect mother (whatever that means,) then as someone who was quiet enough to listen and calm enough to go to for comfort.

Are Gwyneth Paltrow and Jonathan Franzen Wrong About Everything?

I’m pretty much recovered from last year’s celebrity encounters with Joseph Boyden and Joyce Carol Oates, so it’s time to get star struck again! Recently I met a few celebrities and made plans to meet another. Let’s review.

1. Gwyneth Paltrow
Calm down, I didn’t actually meet GP. But I did attend the launch party for Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything by Tim Caulfield and she was there in spirit, and also in cardboard cut-out form. At one point, the line up to take a “selfie” with 2D Gwyn was longer than the line to talk to the author. At this point pretend I say something profound about celebrity culture.

This kept happening

This kept happening

Goopy and Me

Goopy and Me

2. Tim Caulfield
The real reason I was there, Tim Caulfield is an author, the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, a father of four, and a local celebrity himself.

Tim Caufield Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?

I can hardly call this a book launch. It was a fete. There was catering, live music, and free drinks. And it was weird being at a book thing without any book people – they were all University and health care types. Good thing I brought my sister as my date. She used to plan health care conferences and recognized many of the attendees as former speakers and delegates, including Caulfield. They didn’t recognize her though, and she wanted to keep it that way, so we retreated to a corner and she gave me the dirt on who’s a nightmare to work for and who only has their job because of family connections and so on. Just like celebrity gossip! With fewer nude leaks.

On Caulfield himself? “Everyone loves him. Especially women.” From what I saw that night? Absolutely true!

isgpwrong

I’ve read the first chapter of the book, and I love that Caulfield is an unabashed consumer of celeb culture himself. It isn’t about scolding people, or looking down on the masses who read Star magazine. It’s about examining the reasons we trust celebrities in ways that we don’t trust scientists or ourselves. I do hope there’s some level of feminist perspective in the chapters to come, as a large portion of the type of health & beauty advice Caulfield’s writing about comes from female celebrities and is aimed at female consumers. We shall see.

This book’s going to be huge. The timing couldn’t be better, what with vaccine debates back in fashion (seriously, it’s like a parenting forum exploded all over the internet) and GP-endorsed uterus steam cleanings.

3. Jonathan Frazen
I know, I know. No one wants to hear a book blogger rant about Jonathan Frazen right now. But in writing about Goopy, I realized that she and JFranz are hated for the same reasons:

  • They have big egos. Um. An actress and a writer have large egos? The hell you say! There is a segment of the population who kind of admire’s Franzen’s confidence, which I don’t hear too much about Goopy.
  • They don’t deserve what they have. When Goopy uses a new catchphrase, or steam cleans her internal organs, the world takes notice. She made up “conscious uncoupling!” (she didn’t.) She hates working moms! (she doesn’t.) She steams her vagina! (I got nothin’.) And people resent that. Same thing for Franzen. Is it possible to write an article about him and not mention “best living American author?” Apparently not! Being a good actress or a good writer is a very subjective thing, so many people will disagree. In this case, sorry guys, Goopy gets a free pass for life for Seven and Sliding Doors and Franzen gets a free pass for The Corrections. They’re both legit, no matter how insufferable.
  • They are oblivious. How can Goopy be so smug? So condescending? So full of unchecked privilege? Doesn’t she know how awful she is? I… think she does, actually. She probably knew exactly what was going to happen when she posted about “conscious uncoupling.” She’s crafting an image, it’s just not necessarily a likeable or relatable or even aspirational image. I feel the same way about Franzen. Every time he gives an interview, the same people make the same snide comments (myself included!) and as much as he lambasts Jennifer Weiner for “self-promoting,” he’s doing just the same. Like Goopy, he’s not oblivious. He knows what’s going to happen when he said YA isn’t morally ambiguous or that he hasn’t read any of Weiner’s books.

Speaking of self promoting, Franzen is headlining Book Expo America this year which is the main reason that I’m attending. Yes, I booked my flight on the very day that Franzen’s latest outrageous interview came out! It’s like he knew. Now, to try and get a selfie with him. Perhap there’ll be a cardboard cut-out for me to practise on.

Who’s the biggest celebrity author you’ve met? And bloggers: are you going to BEA this year?

The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart

 

Feminism isn’t about making things for women. It’s about women making things.

That is badly paraphrased, possibly from something by Sarah Nicole Prickett, but it’s an idea I come back to a lot. It can apply many places, and I think the original context was in response to some ridiculous “women’s” product or another, you know, a pen with pink ink “For Her” or some such. But it works for books, too. When I think about what it means for a book to be feminist, it’s not about writing stories “for women” with “strong female characters” or casting females in roles that defy gender expectations, exactly. It’s about writing from a female perspective and not focusing on a woman’s relation to everyone else (all those “The _____’s Wife” books!) or not only her relationships. Writing her interior life. Letting her be redeemed by something other than motherhood and marriage, or maybe let her not be redeemed at all.

My favourite book of the year and my favourite cover of the year.

My favourite book of the year and my favourite cover of the year.

The Bridge of Beyond isn’t very well known as a feminist book (or very well known at all, though the New York Review of Books reissue a few years back will help, I hope) but I would put it right up there with The Handmaid’s Tale or The Awakening or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Like those books, The Bridge of Beyond is set in a patriarchal, post-colonial, racist world but immerses us in the lives of women who are simultaneously defined by and able to transcend their oppression. Like Angelou’s memoir, this book made me think about how people survive horrific violence and oppression. This book made me think about the institutional and generational side, too: how does the Lougandor family survive through slavery and the after effects?

The story is about the end of slavery and in a way, the end of the Lougandor line, but neither are really over. The effects of slavery are still there, in the air and on the land and in the people. And though Télumée may be the end of the line in her family, it’s impossible to believe she won’t leave a mark on the land she walked or the air she breathed.

Let’s back up, though: on my first reading, I wasn’t even thinking about this book’s place in the feminist canon or anything like that. I was thinking that this book is a perfect reading experience. The word that comes to mind is “light.” You can probably guess that this book is full of horrific violence, abuse, and death, so how can I say it was “light?” I mean that the words flow effortlessly and reading it is like slipping into a dream state, almost. You will lose track of time. Your heart will hurt. But it’s not a grind. Not at all. Every word is perfect.

In the perfection of my rise, its speed and resonance, there was something disturbing, and I was puzzled at having obtained, all at the same time, the three crowns that can usually be hoped for only at the end of a long life. Love, the trust of others, and that kind of glory that accompanies every woman who is happy – these were gifts too great not to become dangerous in God’s sight. So sometimes, in the shade of my Chinese plum, I would tremble with fright, trying to make out the exact moment when the Almighty would take umbrage at my crowns. But then a little breeze would come and play with my skirts, my sleeves, my braids, and I’d feel I could go on like that until the end of time, and it was as if I was already embalmed, powdered, and laid out happy on my deathbed.

Did I mention this is a translation? Reminding myself that these perfect words aren’t even the original words was a constant source of wonder. Barbara Bray is a master.  She also translated a lot of Margaurite Duras, who I haven’t written about here, but will. The Lover has a similar dream-like quality. This book is full of regional sayings that I’m sure aren’t a straightforward translation:

If anyone offered to replace Toussine at the bedside for a while, she would say, smiling gently, “Don’t worry about me. However heavy a woman’s breasts, her chest is always strong enough to carry them.” She spent seventeen days and seventeen nights cajoling death, and then, ill luck having gone elsewhere, Meranee expired. Life went on as before, but without one vestige of heart left, like a flea feasting on your last drop of blood, delighting in leaving you senseless and sore, cursing heaven and earth and the womb that conceived you.

Now that I’ve set your expectations, let me tell you how glad I was to go into this book with none. I received a copy from the fine folks at Shelf Awareness, and it was pitched to me as “Cool if you’re looking for something outside of the written-by-White-European-Males world,” and that was the extent of my knowledge going in. I didn’t have time to get nervous about the translation thing, or the colonialism thing. I was just pleasantly, no, wonderously surprised to be reading what would go on to be my favourite book of the year. Maybe reading it on my first away-from-the-kids trip had something to do with it too.

Simone Schwarz-Bart. You can see Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle, the French title of The Bridge of Beyond. via lehman.cuny.edu

Simone Schwarz-Bart. You can see Pluie et vent sur Télumée Miracle, the French title of The Bridge of Beyond. via lehman.cuny.edu

One of the reasons I waited almost a year to review this book (other than laziness) is that I wasn’t sure how to comment on how race plays into it. In finally writing this review, I realized that I don’t have to. Like any other review, I pick and choose what to comment on, and I can just focus on the writing. I bring it up here because I’m seeing a lot of #reviewwomen and #readdiverse and what not, and I realize this book (or more precisely, this author) is a perfect example of that diversity – of gender, race, and language – but the way the book was pitched to me sums up why I’m loathe to categorize it in that way. This book is so brilliant and beautiful; it doesn’t need to be defined by what it is not, i.e. not white, not male. I don’t want someone to pick this up and think “this’ll be great for my diversity stats!” This post by FrenchieDee got me thinking along these lines (read the comments!) I will continue to read and review “diverse” book but I think we all need to step back and not make this about ourselves and turn “read diverse” into a humblebrag, “look at me, reading women of colour!” Let’s keep the focus on the books and the authors. End rant.

The Bridge of Beyond is a classic of literature, period. And if you’re in the mood for something translated, Caribbean, post-colonial, or feminist, you will not do better than this.

Find The Bridge of Beyond on Goodreads

The Bridge of Beyond with some "if you like these, you'll like this" books from my shelves

The Bridge of Beyond with some “if you like these, you’ll like this” books from my shelves

2014 Year in Review #2: Best Books

Self explanatory. Let’s go.

Best Books

Villette Charlotte BronteorendabridgeofbeyondmalarkyThe English Patient by Michael Odaantjewolfhallthesistersbrotherstransatlantic

Only eight books were good enough, and got a strong enough emotional reaction, to get the elusive five-star rating this year. For fun, I’ve tried to sum up my emotional state after finishing each.

  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte (Spaced out for the rest of the day.)
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden (Threw up. For real.)
  • The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart (Like waking from an extremely lucid dream.)
  • Malarky by Anakana Schofield (Despair, happiness, urge to read again.)
  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (Heart hurt.)
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (I said “wow” out loud, like three times. That’s my review.)
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Cried like a baby.)
  • TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Overwhelmed by how much I’d just read. Not number of pages.)

In making this list, I realized I only did a full, proper review of one book (Malarky) and didn’t mention three of them much at all (The Orenda, The Bridge of Beyond, Wolf Hall.) That’s messed up. If I’m not using my blog to ramble on about the books I loved, what the hell am I doing?

It’s not the end of the world that I didn’t review Wolf Hall, because really, you don’t need me to tell you it’s good (BBC is gonna do that for you. Also Damien Lewis. *swoon*) but I’m not impressed that I didn’t review The Orenda and The Bridge of Beyond, specifically, as it was mostly because I was afraid. I’m uncomfortable reviewing postcolonial literature, or, frankly, literature with racial themes – afraid I’ll say the wrong thing, that I’m not in a position to really “get it,” and so on. I procrastinated on The Orenda and The Bridge of the Beyond till I felt like it was too late. It’d all been said about the former, and I couldn’t remember the story of the latter.

There’s a whole movement about reading diverse, which is based on the “vote with your wallet” idea, but book bloggers aren’t always paying for their books. In this case, The Orenda and The Bridge of the Beyond were both freebies and so the fact that I’ve read them, and kept it to myself, really doesn’t do much for the cause.

Talking about books I love is why I’m here. It’s probably why you’re here. So I’m going to get over myself, and at least review the books that blow my mind this year. (Don’t worry, I’m still gonna snark on books, that is the other reason I am here.)

Overrated Books
mebeforeyouboysnowbirdgirlrunnercanmanThe Girls

I’m not going to do “Worst Books” because I didn’t read anything that was truly awful this year. Mostly because no one tricked me into reading dragon porn. However, I did go into several books with expectations that were not realized. Some of these are gonna be UNPOPULAR OPINIONS. Before you hit “comment,” realize that I liked all these books, just not as much as I thought I would:

  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyse: All the book bloggers liked it, even the ones who don’t like romance. I was prepared to be won over. I was diverted, but not much more.
  • Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi: I liked it A LOT but I was prepared to have my life changed.
  • Girl Runner by Carrie Synder: I feel bad about this one. I liked it a lot, and stayed up late to finish it and everything. I think if I hadn’t been drawing parallels to The Stone Angel, it would have been okay. But no one can compare to Hagar. (Review to come)
  • Mãn by Kim Thuy: Another one raved about in book blog land. Okay, the very small and specific #CanLit book blog land, but still. And I liked it, but it left no impression on me. I don’t think about it at all. (Probably not gonna review but I am going to read Ru as I have been assured it’s even better.)
  • The Girls by Lori Lansens: I feel bad about this one because it was an ethusiastic recommendation from a friend but I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief.

And, finally, the 2014 Reading in Bed Book of the Year:

Read more

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,977 other followers