April 23, 2014
I’m so happy to share some beautiful photos from last week’s events for The M Word in Toronto and Kingston. Thank you to my excellent friend, Erin Smith, for the Toronto shots, and to the wonderful Andrea Cordonier (who I got to meet in real life!) for the Kingston ones.
April 22, 2014
When I was in Kingston last week, I sat down with Hollie Pratt Campbell, editor of the Kingston Heritage and Frontenac Gazette, and we had a terrific conversation over a couple cups of coffee. She turned that conversation into a really great article about The M Word that totally gets the book and the power of all its stories together.
When Kerry Clare’s first daughter, Harriet, was born in 2009, she found herself with a new life obsession.
“It was my occupation, but it was also my preoccupation, because it was all I could talk about,” the Toronto-based writer and editor says of her new role as a mother, recalling the many books she read and conversations she had with friends on the topic.
“But I also began to see that my preoccupation was alienating for some people. I had friends who couldn’t relate to these experiences. I had one friend who was having fertility problems. She was having a miserable time and felt so apart from women and mothers and where she wanted to be in her life. I started to think about how [the experiences of women who are not mothers] fit into the motherhood narrative even if it wasn’t in the conventional way.”
You can read the whole thing here. I’m so pleased with it!
April 22, 2014
It is always a good day when we get a package in the mail from Kids Can Press. In particular, when that package has to do with a book that we’ve loved as much as we continue to love Ashley Spires The Most Magnificent Thing.
Remember that book? The book of which I wrote, “ It’s got everything. It’s got a dog, a girl who builds things, appealing illustrations that stand out against simple line drawings of an urban street-scape. It will appeal to both sexes. It’s got words, so many words, terrific verbs employed in the act of construction. It’s about coming up short, making mistakes and getting angry–the acknowledgement of such experiences is incredibly profound and has echoes of Sendak.”
So it was so cool to get this kit in the mail full of stuff for making, including a modified version of the book for us to “hack” and include in our creation. Harriet quickly set to work making blueprints, and was determined that her magnificent thing would be a monster.
The project came together fast. Harriet’s dad worked alongside her.
She cut, she stuck, she modified, she erred and tried again, and came up with something even better than her blueprints.
Like her mother, Harriet is blessed with not being a perfectionist, and so her final vision seemed more than satisfying. We hooked our guy up with the book, because monsters like reading just as much as anybody does.
What fun fun fun, and just an example of the creativity this fantastic book will inspire. Thanks, Kids Can Press! So happy to spread the word about a book we love as much as this one.
April 21, 2014
It was during the summer of 2001 that I started flexing the muscles that would soon come to constitute the foundation of my self, by which I mean that I started book buying in earnest, books that weren’t secondhand paperbacks on my course lists. It was a pretty fantastic time to be buying books. I wasn’t worldly enough to be aware of Toronto’s independent bookshop scene, but I lived at Bay and Charles and was pretty thrilled by this huge and marvellous Indigo shop that had opened up around the corner, and around the corner from there was Chapters, another mega-bookshop, and this was back when mega-bookshops actually sold books. You know, I have nostalgia for those days, when I thought Chapters and Indigo were wonderlands. Like the World’s Biggest Bookstore, but with comfy chairs, and no dingy lighting. Plus, that summer I was working on King Street East, and at lunch time, we’d stop in at Nicholas Hoare and Little York Books, and suddenly my paycheques weren’t going so far, but there I was with The Portable Dorothy Parker and Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, and I was this close to being a grown-up person who could buy books whenever she damn well wanted to. It was delicious.
Though I think I got it on sale, Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats. A hardcover on the remainder shelf, and I bought it at the Bloor Street Chapters. (I loved that store. I still resent the clothing store that later took over the space.) It may well have been the first hardcover I’d ever bought in my life, remaindered or otherwise. It was a monumental acquisition, fun, smart and quirky. As with White Teeth, it brought me an awareness that literature was being written right now, which had never occurred to me as I was plugging away at my English BA. That there was literature beyond my course lists, Joseph Conrad, orange paperbacks, and the New Canadian Library. Ruth Ozeki was a revelation.
And so I’ve been happy to be revelling in her wonderful new novel, A Tale for the Time Being. Everybody on earth already read this book last year and it was listed for all kinds of awards, but I only just got to it now, and it’s so wonderful. So full of everything, and there was the part that reminded me of Back to the Future, and the other that reminded me of A Swiftly Tilting Planet. It was heartbreaking, strange and really beautiful. Definitely worthy of all the acclaim.
This week, I also read Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson, who I’d never read before, and that was great too. I was inspired to finally pick it up by Theresa Kishkan’s blog post, and it was partly so great to read because I was reading the Persephone edition.
April 20, 2014
The best thing is that I am no longer terrified, and it turned out I didn’t have to be after all. It turns out that I am quite good at talking about The M Word, because it’s a book that I know through and through, and that other people are interested enough to be listening. Our launch party on Tuesday went without a hitch, with a huge turnout and a wonderful presentation by our contributors. It was a huge whirlwind, kind of like getting married, in that I’ve spent the days since dazzled by the goodness but also concerned about all the people I saw who I didn’t manage to say good-bye to. Many books were sold, and the whole cake got eaten. Ben McNally Books is the most wonderful place, and it was an honour to have our event there.
Thanks to Nathalie, who snapped this picture, which I adore. I’ll be sharing more pictures from the Kingston and Toronto events later in the week.
The next morning, I did an interview with CBC Ontario Morning, which was really exciting and which plenty of people heard! I took the train to Kingston that afternoon with Iris and my mom, and took part in a reading that night at A Novel Idea Bookstore. Once again, the contributors were fantastic. It was amazing and fascinating to hear these essays read, these essays that I know so well, and to access them on a level that’s entirely new. Very cool too that this was a whole other list of contributors but their readings were every bit as excellent as they’d been the night before. What a line-up we’ve got going on for us in this anthology!
So now we’ve got a bit of quiet before things start getting busy again around Mother’s Day. (The idea is that The M Word makes a really great Mother’s Day gift. We think that this is a very good idea.) Events are coming up in Burlington, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Victoria and Toronto, and I do hope you can make it to one.
And if you’re still not sure whether The M Word is for you, allow me to share our glowing endorsement by the kind and generous Angie Abdou, who writes:
“Stop everything. Withhold judgement for a minute. I promise you The M Word is not like any book you’ve read about motherhood. It is unexpected at every turn. Imagine your smartest and most articulate friend. Now fill the room with women as amazing as her, then spend as long as you like having honest conversations about your darkest, most secret thoughts around becoming (or not becoming) a parent. Say things you’re not really allowed to say. Say them well. Say them without judgement. That’s how immersion inThe M Word feels. As soon as I began reading the first essay, I realized how badly I needed this book.”
Thank you, Angie!
April 20, 2014
I came to crime fiction via Kate Atkinson, so Hilary Davidson is something of a departure. She’s less blurry about genre, more bare-bones, hardboiled. Though not so much that there isn’t a character here who isn’t always spouting literary allusions, this time Marcus Aurelius. And the spouter is Desmond Edgars, a fascinating character, a helicopter pilot who hauled his own good self out of a troubled youth by way of a good education and military service. Though there is a hollowness to him, something broken in his core, and what makes Blood Always Tells different from the other crime novels I’ve read lately is that Desmond’s emotional truth and complexity stays peripheral to a question that refuses to digress, despite Davidson’s plot with its many twists and turns. And the question, of course, is, Who done it?
But who done what? It’s not straightforward. The book opens with Desmond’s half-sister, Dominique, who’s putting a plan in motion to take revenge on her cheating boyfriend, but then the two of them get kidnapped and holed up in a creepy house in the middle of nowhere. It seems like Dominique’s boyfriend has set them both up to get money out of his heartless wife (yes, he’s married. Yes, it’s complicated) or else the wife is out to get them both, and luckily Dominique has better luck getting a cellphone signal than she does getting her bearings. She manages to get through to her brother Desmond who drops everything to come and find her, to come to rescue just like he always did.
Blood Always Tells is a novel steeped in atmosphere, and it took me a while to find my own bearings, partly because Dominique is not well defined, and the story of her boyfriend and his wife is vaguely preposterous. But once Desmond took over the story, I was hooked, his perspective adding a steadying force, which is essential as the story gets wilder and wilder. Suddenly, we’re dealing with stupid cops and hostile cops, drug dealers, glamour models, three different tragic family legacies, and the extraordinary lengths that one sibling will go to protect another.
The final time I sat down with this book, I had just a few pages left, but absolutely no idea how the story would be resolved. The only thing I was expecting was that I would probably be surprised, and I was, even shocked. Hilary Davidson has nerve, in addition to skill, and in this, her first stand-alone novel, she’s made her mark and it’s truly first-rate.
April 14, 2014
I am so pleased to have my essay, “Rereading Fear of Flying: On Not Being Pregnant in Mid-Air With Isadora Wing,” featured on The Toronto Review of Books today. It’s sort of a companion to my piece in The M Word, so the timing is particularly nice.
April 13, 2014
I first read Doretta Lau in The Journey Prize Stories with the story from which her first collection takes its title. “How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?” is the story of a group of Chinese-Canadian young people growing up in Vancouver who repurpose racist language and stereotypes for their own devices. It was so smart, daring and surprising, but most of all funny, and I’ve been looking forward to this collection ever since. Revisiting that story underlined my first impression, and I was once again stirred by its powerful conclusion in which the friends raucously paint over a mural depicting colonial scenes, ending up with an expanse of empty beige wall. And it’s as though in her stories, Lau picks up where the vandals left off, portraying the experiences of Asian-Canadians in her story but not in the ways in which we’re familiar with seeing them depicted in Canadian literature–heroic immigrant tales, family sagas.
For there is nothing familiar about Lau’s approach in her best stories, her reader dazzled by the possibilities of her fictional worlds in which the usual rules don’t apply. The rules of language, for one, as in “How does a single blade of grass…?”, and then the rules of physics in “God Damn, How Real Is This?”, in which people begin receiving text messages from their future selves, which sends the order of the world into chaos, or “Two Part Invention,” whose main character’s determination to start dating dead men leads to a relationship with Glenn Gould.
A few of the other stories, usually about lovelorn characters without purpose who live alone in apartments, blurred together a bit, lacking the focus and definition of the strongest stories in the book. But ultimately, this slim collection is impressive, marking the exciting debut of an original voice.
I wasn’t sure I would love Grayling, a novella by poet Gillian Wigmore. It takes place over the course of a canoe trip through Northwestern BC, has just two characters—none of the people and concrete I like best in my books. And yet, from the first sentence I was hooked, Wigmore’s remarkable prose creating an incredible momentum that parallels her character Jay’s journey on the Dease River. On the run after a health crisis, Jay is paddling to get anywhere, rather than to somewhere specific, but he is interrupted in his personal quest by a girl he meets en-route who sweet talks her way into his boat. The two characters’ personalities are often at odds, their company in so remote a place creating a curious intimacy between them. And we get to know them by what they choose to tell one another, knowing them even better too by their mysteries, by what they choose to withhold. The stories they exchange, their questions without answers, serve to add layers of meaning to the immediate action portrayed in the book and cast a kind of spell.
Wigmore’s writing is incredibly sensual, her prose vivid with bodies and their feelings (and their food!). The connection between the two characters is so rich and complex, resisting cliches and ever fresh, and so too is her story, which would earn a place in my hypothetical “Death By Landscape” anthology, even though no one dies exactly, because that too would be too easy, but instead her ending is mysterious and shocking, unsettling and swift.
Grayling was a runner-up for the 1st Search for the Great BC Novel contest, and one can certainly see how it stuck out in the crowd. For a debut novel, this one is remarkably assured, and here’s hoping that the multi-talented Wigmore has more fiction in store for us.
April 13, 2014
My reading life has belonged to me lately, after a very busy few months during which I was lucky enough to be reviewing one book after another. Even luckier—the books I’ve reviewed this spring were all really good. (My review of Miriam Toews’ wonderful, heartbreaking, hilarious All My Puny Sorrows will be out in Canadian Notes & Queries in the distant future.) But now I’ve got nearly all my deadlines out of the way, and I’m free to read whatever I choose. Whatever I choose from the 50+ books waiting for me on my t0-be-read shelf, not to mention the books I keep finding on the curb and bringing home (’tis the season!) and the books I’m buying too (my copy of Penelope Fitzgerald’s Collected Letters finally arrived last week at the Bob Miller Book Room!). I’m reading lots of new books for review here on my blog, and also older books for my interest only. If the number of books I have before me are any indication of my lifespan, I am probably going to live forever.
In spite of all this, when I read Sarah’s blog post the other day about Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety, my immediate response was, “I’ve got to have this.” And not just for one of these days, but for right now, this moment. I’ve loved Wallace Stegner’s books, which were introduced to me by Julia, who has delivered me to so many wonderful things. She gave me his All the Little Live Things, which I liked much more than his Pulitzer-winning Angle of Repose, and Crossing to Safety seemed similar in approach to the former.
It’s a writerly book, one that puts a writer at its centre and continually draws attention to itself as something written: “How,” asks the writer-narrator Larry Morgan, “do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these? Where are the things that novelists seize upon and readers expect?” It’s a strategy that might have failed in lesser hands. But with Wallace Stegner it feels hard-earned and true. He was 78 when Crossing to Safety came out in 1987. It was his last novel. His first novel was published in 1937. The wisdom and sensibility of Larry Morgan is hard not to conflate with Stegner himself. Aging, and often looking back on days long past, Larry is able to take the long-view of the lives of the two couples, with all their ups and downs: “If we could have forseen the future during those good days in Madison where this all began, we might not have had the nerve to venture into it.” I sometimes wonder how any of us has the nerve to go on, when we know that, at any moment, we stand to lose those we love or the life we know. In fact, losing those we love and losing, at least to some extent, our youthful vigor are inevitable corollaries of a living a long life oneself.
I’ve been thinking about these questions a lot lately, where that nerve to live at all comes from, and the way I live always a little bit terrified of reality coming along to snuff out my illusion that it’s all still basically worthwhile. (I think it is. I don’t ever not want to think so. Hence the terror.)
I also enjoyed Sarah’s story about how the book came into her life, got recalled to the library, how she ordered a copy online, found another in the Oxfam bookshop and had to buy that one, only to have the first book in the postbox upon arrival back home. So now she has two, and I wanted one too, so we ventured out yesterday afternoon to see if Seekers Books had one in stock and they did! I started reading last night and less than 24 hours later, I’m more than halfway through, absolutely adoring it. So happy to be reading it, besotted with its beautiful cover, a window. How perfect. We had an absolutely terrible night’s sleep last night with two coughing children, and so I was left alone to linger in bed this morning until 9:15 when I was delivered Iris for her morning nap, and there I was reading more until 11am when she woke up. I’ve not stayed so long in bed in years, and it was wonderful, and this book was the perfect accompaniment exactly.
April 11, 2014
Well, that was me sobbing in the kitchen today as I read Rachel Harry’s review of The M Word in The National Post. Sobbing. Who knew that happened? She writes, “The M Word is a meditation on the fickle emotional uncertainty awarded to mothers. It breaks down the walls of maternal isolation and offers companionship to anyone who has not had the fairy-tale journey to motherhood. These stories show us that the extraordinary gift of motherhood cannot be accepted without relinquishing something spectacular.” How amazing and wonderful that she gets the book so entirely. That there is sadness, yes, and hardship and yet: “stories of the searing joy found within the wholeness of a mother’s devotion.” The multitudinousness is the very point, and so’s the joy. I am thrilled, overwhelmed and incredibly proud of both this project and also the incredible women whose talents made this idea a reality.