Each year around this time, I take a social media break, and in 2017 it’s more extreme than usual: for the month of March, I’m not only staying away from Twitter and Facebook, but also YouTube, Instagram, Goodreads… anything with a “feed.” And this blog. I’m going to pretend the internet stopped evolving after 2006, basically.
I’d be remiss if I took off with out reminding you all about Canada Reads, which is going down March 27-30 on CBC (I am allowing myself to watch broadcast TV on YouTube. I gotta keep up on Workin’ Moms too!) AND letting you know that Write Reads podcast is staging its own version of the national reading debate.
“After Canada Reads” will be released in a special edition Write Reads podcast in late April. It’s sort of a homage to Canada Reads, but also sort of an anti-Canada Reads. If you enjoy the general concept of debating books, but find the topics and criteria for those debates to be somehow both insipid and alarmist (“the book Canada MUST READ RIGHT NOW”) – or if you just have a lingering ick factor due to the ex-host – this maybe be the reading event for you.
Oh, and I’m taking part! Of course.
The theme: The best/most memorable/most inspirational female character in Canadian Literature.
- A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
- Malarky by Anakana Schofield (this one is mine!)
- The Break by Katherena Vermette (also on the legit Canada Reads)
- A Chorus of Mushrooms by Hiromi Goto
- Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
So, while you struggle through the official Canada Reads without my insightful commentary about who lays the best smack downs, who has the best lipstick, and who needs to shut the hell up, remember to read along and get ready for After Canada Reads. See you all in April!
May is new release month at Writereads, your favourite-with-a-u Canadian book club podcast. I am guest hosting once again, which means I get to choose the book, and I’m taking liberties. Birdie by 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.
The trailer from Canada Reads.
When Everything Feels Like the Movies has pretty much entered the YA canon, in Canada at least. People read it and either wish it had been around when they were a teen, or want to get it into the hands of today’s teens. Yes, there are those other people who wish it to be banned and stripped of its Governor General’s Award, but I’m not here to talk about them or explain why this book shouldn’t be banned. Others have done so very eloquently, notably Lainey Lui* on this year’s Canada Reads.
Before I even read the book, I noticed something odd about the controversy. No one was saying “ban this book because the main character is gay” or even “ban this book because of explicit gay sex,” exactly. There were lots of “graphic” this and “sexualized” that, but it was all very vague.
Then I read the book and I met Angela. Jude’s sidekick/thwarted crush/betrayer, it was Angela who pulled me into the story because it so closely resembled my own. I don’t mean that literally, though I did buy acid from a guy in a photo booth once. But between me and my friends, we did all this stuff: we stole our parents’ prescriptions, smoked pot, did mushrooms, dropped acid, drank, smoked; had sex with people we didn’t love (and some that we did;) made lists of our conquests; used abortions as birth control. Some girls were open about abortions, some tried to hide them. You could usually tell by looking for a bruise on the top of the hand; that’s where the IV goes in.
(Aside: What are you using an abortion for, if not birth control? This phrase as a pejorative really pisses me off.)
Do I sound blasé? Does Angela? I have the distance of years but Angela’s in the thick of it. Why isn’t she more sad, more ashamed, like a victim should be? Noted well-digger and Canada Reads contestant Craig Kielburger can barely contain his sputtering outage when he asks Lainey to read this passage:
“How’d it go this time?” I asked her.
“I asked the doctor if he could suck out some fat when he took the fetus, and he looked at me like I was masturbating with a crucifix.”
It’s telling that much of the defense of WEFLTM is that it shines a light on important issues like homophobia and bullying, but Craig directs our attention to a passage about a heterosexual girl’s abortion. No homosexuality or bullying here. So what’s controversial? That she doesn’t feel shame? That she makes a joke? How shallow a reader must you be to take Angela a face value. Did Craig consider that perhaps a 14 year old doesn’t have the language to express her feelings about having an abortion and makes a joke instead?
If you’re outraged by this excerpt, it’s because you don’t think Angela is suffering enough, and that’s kind of fucked up.
In addition to not being sad/contrite/ashamed enough, Angela also has no excuse. We can accept Jude’s substance abuse and fantasy life because his real life is terrible – a violent, unstable home; bullying at school; and a toxic best friend. In Angela, we are confronted with a outwardly normal, privileged teenage girl making poor choices and we demand to know why. Is it abuse? Mental illness? The parents’ fault?
How about: drinking, drugs, and sex are fun? (You know, until they’re not.) I grew up in a stable home with great parents and many advantages, and I’m not just saying that because my mom reads the blog now (HI MOM) but because it’s very rare to see a character like Angela, who is fucked up and *not* made sympathetic with a hard knock back story, or put on “a journey” to overcome some big struggle. Sometimes there is no reason why. That’s real life. That was my life.
WEFLTM could be a lifesaver for LGBTQ teens. It could also be important to all the Angelas out there. Is the need as dire? Nope. Contrary to what Jude thinks, many Angelas grow up to be boring suburban moms who cut loose by having a second glass of wine on a Saturday night. But that ubiquitous bookish quote, “we read to know that we are not alone,”applies to us, too. When Angela slapped Jude across the face after he called he a “come dumpter” (oh, the profanity!) I cheered. I wish I’d had Angela when I was 15, and I hope many teenagers and adults of all genders and sexuality read this book.
*I still really, really need to know what lipstick Lainey was wearing on Canada Reads. The perfect red. It haunts me.
I know those “what you think X is, what X actually is” memes are played out and dumb so forgive me:
What book clubs want you to think goes on at book club: Ladies, libations, and literary discussion. Basically this guy’s wet dream.
What you think actually goes on at book club: a bunch of 30-something ladies drink wine, eat snacks, and pretend to have read the book for a few minutes before moving on to more important subjects, like, I dunno, shoes or something.
What actually goes on at book club: I have no idea. I’ve never been to one.
I know traditional book clubs are still a thing. Several people I know (some in real life!) love them. But for those of you who are too lazy to clean your house and/or have trouble interacting with people IRL, there are SO MANY other options. In no particular order:
The idea for this post came courtesy of blogger Kristen Finlay, who came up with #YegBookClub. It’s very simple, which is why is works so well: each month, an Edmonton-authored book is chosen and a date and time for the chat is set. Read the book, use the hashtag during the chat, and connect with other readers. You can still drink wine and no one has to know that you’re wearing your stayin’-in leggings.
The inaugural #yegbookclub pick was Todd Babiak’s Come Barbarians. I found out about it too late and hadn’t read the book but had fun participating anyway. This will be a regular event for me from now on. I was inspired to start the book that same night (it’s fantastic so far.)
Oh, and the author participated, AND gave a hint about the next book in the series: