May is new release month at Writereads, your favourite-with-a-u Canadian book club podcast. I am guest hosting onceagain, which means I get to choose the book, and I’m taking liberties. Birdieby Tracey Lindberg will be nearly one year old by the time the podcast comes out, so it doesn’t really qualify as new. But we need to talk about it. Not just because it’s by a local author, or about a contemporary Indigenous woman, or because it’s brilliant, but because I don’t think it got a fair shake on Canada Reads.
Birdie was the third book to get booted off Canada Reads this year (Americans: this is our public broadcaster’s annual books game show, like a televised Tournament of Books, and we are super smug about it,) and it was frustrating to see so much left unsaid. To be fair, there’s not enough time to really get into any of the books, even with four hours of air time (though they could cut down on the trailers and title sequences and dramatic pauses.) Here are a few thing I want to talk about:
Contestants were frustrated that Birdie’s timeline is not linear. At one point, Birdie’s defender, Bruce Poon Tip, said that to want Birdie to conform to the type of narrative we’re used to, we’re “colonizing” the book. What does that mean? We didn’t get to find out.
There was little mention of humour. Birdie’s teenage obsession with The Beachcombers and The Frugal Gourmet are so absurd and so specifically Canadian. Skinny Freda’s penchant for white guys, all of whom she refers to as “Phil,” reminded me of Cher Horowitz’s “Barneys.”
A lot of time was spent on how “other” this book is. Non-linear. Stream of consciousness. Compound words and Cree poetry mixed in. Yeah, it’s different (and made the other books sounds BOR-ing) but it also reminded me of so many other books! It has the unrelenting focus on interior life of Villette, the absurdity of Malarky, the horror and hope of Push. Birdie is unique but it’s also part of a tradition of women writing about women.
So, read Birdie, subscribe to Writereads, and listen in as Kirt, Tania, and I try to cram all this in to a one-hour podcast. It should be up in mid-May.
Halfway through #NovNov ’19, I don’t have as much to show for it as in previous years. Blame it on the Ducks. It has been an eclectic reading month so far, with a dud, a local success, a backlash, and a reading hangover that has me reaching for nonfiction to clear my head.
It’s that time of year again! No, not spring. This is Canada. It’s beautiful in Edmonton today, but the forecast for later this week includes a low of -18 (that’s about zero degrees for you Americans) and snow. No, friends, it is time for Canada Reads.
The drama! The bickering! The relatively-high production values! The distinctly early-aughts reality show vibe!
Despite restricting myself to only 35 new-to-me books in 2016, I had trouble narrowing down a top and bottom five. I also set out to document my 35 books on Instagram but kind of failed… I managed to get a few decent pictures though!
Best books of 2016, in order of when they were read:
Birdie by Tracey Lindberg: Like nothing I’ve read before. A travesty that it didn’t win Canada Reads, Alberta Reader’s Choice Awards, and wasn’t nominated for many others. If there ever was a book that Canadians need now, and that has literary merit and does something new with the novel. this is it!
Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood: Yes, we’re all mad at her right now. And this book, about how horrible women and girls are to each other, is perhaps fitting. I went through the strangest emotions while reading this: a mixture of sadness and relief that I’ll never have a daughter.
After Claude by Iris Owens: So good I read it twice this year. So funny for the first two thirds that I forgot how devastating the last third is.
The Diviners by Margaret Laurence: There are a lot of reasons to love this book. I’ll choose the fact that we witness the heroine lose her virginity in a scene where she is in total control, and she doesn’t 1) instantly orgasm 2) marry the guy 3) pay for it for the rest of the book. Sex positive CanLit circa 1973.
Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys: Speaking of books that are ahead of their time! All these books are about strong women (but not “strong women”) and Sasha is the strongest and brittlest of them all.
Disappointing books of 2016, in order of when they were read. I don’t have pictures of all these, because, ugh.
The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson: Read more like an educational pamphlet than a graphic novel.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: I love an unreliable narrator. In fiction. In memoir, not so much…
Bluets by Maggie Nelson: I just didn’t get it. Nelson is a writer I think I *should* like but just… don’t. And the fawning over her is just too much. I listened to her on a few podcasts this year and the hosts just grovel, Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy” style.
In-Between Days by Teva Harrison: I didn’t connect with the drawing style. When you look forward to the text-only pages in a graphic novel, that’s not good.
The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin: If Eat Pray Love was re-imagined as Eat Read Fuck. Which is funny since Crispin wrote a takedown of EPL (and even stranger, a defense of it six years ago.) This was my biggest disappointment. Crispin is an OG book blogger who’s gone on to be a respected literary critic. She is contrarian and sarcastic and smart. But this book swung between too show-offy and obscure and too juvenile (pretending not to know what the solution is to an affair with a married man that won’t leave his wife…) Won’t stop me from pre-ordering Why I Am Not A Feminist, though!
And now, the 2016 Reading in Bed Book of the Year:
The above image (used with permission) is pretty optimistic. Does anyone read all five books before voting? Don’t people just vote for the author they know, or the book that looks to be up their alley?
I love the Alberta Readers’ Choice Award in spite of my belief that it’s basically a popularity contest. Some great books have won (The Shore Girl by Fran Kimmel in particular).
A feature in which I tell you about my book-related media consumption in a conspicuous manner.
I’ve been driving for about seven years now, and I’ve wasted so much time listening to the radio.
It took me more than five years to realize I could borrow audio books from the library. That was great and all, but I’m trying to cut back on reading this year, so rather than go back to terrible radio commercials, I finally figured out podcasts.
If you are thinking “what is there to figure out?” please remember I am old and that those audio books I listened to were on CD. Anyway, here’s what I needed:
Speaker (Not affiliate, just a tip so you don’t have to go through two duds like I did)
Some good podcasts. See below.
The must listens
Overdue: I love this concept: each week, one of the hosts reads a book that “you should have read by now” and explains it to the other. These guys are funny and take the books just seriously enough, which is to say, not terribly. I enjoy the episodes about books I’ve read more than those about books I haven’t, but, you can definitely still enjoy an episode without reading the book. That’s kind of the point.
Writereads: Yes, I am a frequent guest host, but hear me out! CanLit is woefully under served in the literary podcast world, and Writeread’s monthly themes ensure there’s something for everybody. Writereads is a book club, so you really should read the book before listening to the podcast, but when I haven’t, I just listen to the first portion in which Kirt and Tania talk about their current reads and CanLit happenings.
Can’t Lit: Besides having the best name, Can’t Lit fills in a very specific niche by interviewing Canadian writers with a heavy focus on poets. No stuffy pretentiousness here, the interviews are offbeat and funny. No need to do the reading, though you’ll probably want to read all the author’s stuff afterward.
Backlisted: British writers John Mitchinson and Andy Miller (also an excellent Twitter-er at @i_am_mill_i_am) resurrect a forgotten backlist title every two weeks and it doesn’t matter if you’ve never read it, or heard of the author, or even intend to read it, the discussion is fascinating. I do hope to read one of the backlisted titles one day, and might start with this one:
Hidden Histories: This six-episode series is over, but it’s worth going back and listening. The topic at hand is “the great forgetting” of British female authors prior to Austen. I’d heard of Frances Burney and Mary Wollstonecraft, but I learned about Aphra Behn and Hester Thrale and many more. And the episodes are blessedly short.
Lit Up: Interviews with totally important authors, like Nell Zink.
No Resemblance: This podcast hasn’t even put out an episode yet, but check out the intro: writers submit short stories, which will be read by the host. This one’s local and I’m excited to see what kind of stuff comes in.
So, do you like stuff? Specifically podcasts? Tell me which ones!
The first six of the year were a bit of a bust. The Vegetarian blew me away at first, but hasn’t stuck with me. Since then, I’ve read two phenomenal books, which you will hear more about soon: Birdie by Tracey Lindberg and Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood.
My day in the life was not a standard one at all; I was on vacation, the kids were in school, and my sister arrived from Minneapolis.To mix things up, I documented my day with Snapchat*. I kind of messed up, though. Instead of saving all the individual snaps I did that day, I saved my story as a video. So take a little look see, or read on for the text version.
Wednesday, March 23 2016
6:07 am: Wake up for the day. This is a sleep-in, I’m usually up for the day by 5:30. Leisurely breakfast (green smoothie), get ready, catch up on social media.
6:57 am: Wake Benjamin up, give him breakfast (dry Cinnamon Toast Crunch)
7:00 am: “Wake” Henry up, as in, dress him and brush his teeth while he sleeps
7:24 am: Make school lunch with disgusting soy-based “peanut” butter
7:43 am: Henry still sleeping, Benjamin is ready to go
7:48 am: Benjamin dropped off at school. Benefit of living across the street is that I can go from “one child still asleep” to “at school” in five minutes.
7:53 am: Henry eats breakfast (Cheerios, he must pour his own milk, and the milk must fill the bowl)
8:20 am: Henry dropped off at daycare. FREEDOM… to do errands. Also, snow.
8:45 am: Errand number one: get car washed at fancy car wash. This is a once-per-year treat. This year I let them upsell me on the vinyl package. It’s so shiny! I read a devastating chapter of Cat’s Eye while I wait.
9:27 am: Errand number two: I am the Easter Bunny. I love London Drugs. I contemplated buying a copy of Birdie by Tracey Lindberg (I got it from the library,) not knowing it had been kicked off Canada Reads just a half hour earlier. Rude!
10:03 am: Errand number three: groceries. First time in Oliver Square Safeway since they renovated; it’s pretty uppity now. I’m also pretty sick of Jamie Oliver’s smug grin everywhere I look.
10:38 am: Pit stop: I pay almost ten bucks for a cup of tea and toast with peanut butter and jam in a fancy cafe (Cafe Blackbird) because I’m on vacation, damn it.
10:58 am: Errand number four: stock up on bras at My Filosophy. When you find the one, you just know. And you go back to buy it in multiple colours. I also tried on some clothes (vacation!)
11:29 am: Pick up Benjamin at school. I could pick up Henry at this time too, but, decide to have some one-on-one time.
12:03 pm: Lunch at Delux. Benjamin enjoys watching soccer highlights on the big screen (“why do they take their shirts off when they’re happy? Do girl soccer players take their shirts off?”) and free cotton candy.
1:21 pm: Emails and stuff while Benjamin watches some bizarre BBC Kids program.
2:45 pm: Screen time continues; blog for me, TV for him.
3:00 pm: Hide and seek. Neither of us are very good.
3:15 pm: Pick up Henry at daycare.
3:44 pm: Head to the park. Drama ensues when they don’t want to play the same game, and Benjamin finds a friend to play with and Henry doesn’t, and I end up carrying Henry home crying. Henry weights almost 50 lbs, so this counts as cardio.
4:30 pm: Read the boys a Star Wars book they bought at yesterday’s book fair.
5:00 pm: Jason arrives home with 24 beers in preparation for my family visiting this weekend. Not clear if the beer is for them, or him. I start making supper – trying a new recipe from Simply Nigella (out from the library and I’ll likely purchase; I’ve now made five recipes and they’re all great! Tonight I made Cauliflower & Cashew Curry.)
5:41 pm: All three boys refuse to eat the DELICIOUS curry. Jason barbecues hot dogs.
6:30 pm: Boys are back on screens after supper. I spend some… alone time with Jason. Five minutes later, Henry needs his butt wiped. So much for romance. No snaps of either of these events.
7:16 pm: Board game with Benjamin. Sequence Letters is great for letter recognition.
7:43 pm: Snack time. The boys made me buy a dragon fruit yesterday, so today I make them try it. I end up eating most of it. Very mild. Then we hang out and read/ have screen time for a bit.
8:15 pm: Jason puts Benjamin to bed. Benjamin goes down easy (always does.) I begin the nightly rigmarole with Henry, which includes stories, additional snacks, bathroom trips, stuffies, back rubs, and sometimes, all-out tantrums.
9:05 pm: Henry demands warm milk.
10:19 pm: Almost done. We’re in the “lying in bed beside him in a dark room, breathing steadily, trying to fake sleep/not really fall asleep” phase.
10:38 pm: He’s down. FREEDOM! (i.e. wasting time online)
11:30 pm: My mom drops my sister off at my house. She’s just picked her up from the airport; she is visiting for a couple days over Easter. Oh yeah, I bought a signed copy of Freedom and had it shipped to her house in Minnesota to avoid international shipping, and she’s brought it with her. Eeek! We stay up yakking for an hour.
12:30 am: To bed, more wasting time on my phone.
1:00 am: To sleep.
*It’s totally cool and normal for a 35 year old to be on Snapchat. Here are some tips for elder Snapchatters I found. Follow me, I’m lauratfrey!