December 5, 2013
Never Let You Go by Patricia Storms: Patricia is a friend of mine, and I love her latest book, the story of a parent’s unconditional love. This Mommy or Daddy Penguin is never going to let the baby go… except, well, let’s not be ridiculous about the whole thing. Baby Penguin will be let go to go to the bathroom, of course (and she actually mentions bathroom=hilarity). And Baby Penguin will be let go for lunch, to play, to chase the stars (and here there is a gorgeous spread of Aurora Australis). But other that that, of course, “I will never let you go,” says Big Penguin, portraying the elasticity of infinitude of parental love.
Mr. King’s Castle by Genevieve Cote: I’ve got a bias for this book as well, because it’s got a pink owl in it who was named for my daughter. It’s the follow-up to Cote’s Mr King’s Things, and similarly presents an environmental theme. That crazy cat Mr. King starts building a castle out of the pieces of the world around him, and he wants a big castle. So he builds and builds and builds and the castle is amazing, but he’s oblivious to the fact that he has robbed his animal friends of their habitats. When he realizes, he and his friends go to make it right, and he learns something about environmental stewardship in the process.
ABC of Toronto by Per-Henrik Gurth: I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this alphabet book, as Allan Moak’s A Big City ABC is the Toronto alphabet in my mind. But it turns out that Toronto is big enough for two ABCs. I love “D is for Dinosaur,” which shows my favourite dino skeleton from the ROM; “K is for Kensington Market;” and “P is for Picnic at Trinity Bellwoods Park.” Plus Union Station, Streetcars and “W is for Ward’s Island.” I love this book’s perfect specificity.
Loula is Leaving for Africa by Anne Villeneuve: This brand new book is a little old-fashioned, recalling Eloise a bit (or perhaps that’s just the chauffeur). I like this book’s eccentric twists–Loula’s mother is an opera singer, her father a designer of moustaches (?). Neither is much concerned that Loula’s three brothers are making her crazy, and so she runs away from home, on a voyage of the imagination to “Africa”, in the company of her family’s chauffeur Gilbert. The story shows that one needn’t travel far to really get away, and that the most wonderful terrain to explore is in the mind.
Shhh! Don’t Wake the Royal Baby! by Martha Mumford and Ada Grey: I picked up this one while we were in England, because Iris and the Royal Baby are contemporaries and it’s as good a souvenir as a tea-towel. It’s a funny story with smart illustrations about how the Royal Baby just can’t be put to sleep. My favourite part is when the Baby is almost down, and then Prince Phillip prances in kicking his heels and dancing, waking baby up again. I also like when Pippa and Prince Harry raise a ruckus planning a lavish party in Baby’s honour, with Pippa yelling, “More blinis! We need more blinis!” Of course, specific Royals (and their sister) are not named exactly, called “The Duchess” and “The Duke” (and oddly, Phillip gets to be The King, and Charles and Camilla don’t even factor, but let’s not complicate things).
December 5, 2013
That Iris has reached her half-year milestone means that everybody lied when they told me that feeling would return to my abdomen within six months. I mean, I know that nobody really needs feeling in their abdomen, but it’s the principle of the thing, you know?Anyway, I’ve got a lot of feeling in most other parts of my body, perhaps too much, so perhaps it all just evens out. And Iris is absolutely adored, this obscenely bald person who was born with a tooth. I like her less in the evenings when she refuses to be put to bed, but the odd time she actually makes it there, I start reminiscing about her goodness in about 45 minutes. And then last night she slept from 10:30 to 2:15, which was a monumental occasion. Also, she has finally dropped for 5:30 pm nap, which makes getting dinner on a whole lot easier.
Who is Iris at six months? Truth be told, we don’t wholly know, because she’s still unfolding. In the last few days, she’s started prattling on incessantly in baby mumbo-jumbo and we love it. She’s been eating solids for a week, and pureed peas and zucchini is her favourite so far. She likes to smear egg yolk in her eyes and then cry (as you do). She delights in her older sister, and while Harriet’s ego is a bit too big, it’s true when she says that she is Iris’s favourite person in the world. Her favourite book is Mr. Brown Can Moo, but she also listens to all kinds of stories and is really quite patient about the whole thing, even though sometimes she spends story time screaming. Her favourite way to engage with books is by eating them. Her favourite toys are the rice paddle, a pie plate, and Harriet’s stuffed giraffe. She thinks it’s funny when you blow on her tummy, she is happiest when being dangled upside down by her feet. She is never, ever wearing socks because I can never ever find a pair, and if you have a problem with that, then you can go and look for them yourself. She has become an upright person, eating dinner with us in her high chair and nearly sitting up by herself. It makes her so human-seeming! She is always being schlepped about in her Baby Trekker and she’s happy there, so everyone thinks that she is a well-contented baby, which isn’t technically true. She can scream unrelentingly like nobody we have ever met.
Six months is so much harder than the newborn days, when we bounced along in a blissful bubble of summertime, but then at six months we can (pretty much) handle it whereas we were all quite fragile then. These days, we are very, very tired, plus people who are 4.5 years old also come with their own very specific and complex needs. It’s a tricky business, and sometimes it all goes very wrong, but then there are these other moments when it’s oh so very right, and we know that a family of four was who we were always meant to be.
December 4, 2013
While it’s true that silence greets most literary books entering the world, there is something conspicuous about the polite silence that tends to greet a literary novel about a middle-aged woman. Now part of the problem with such an assertion, of course, is that it’s often one uttered by authors who’ve written unremarkable books about middle-aged women, books whose silence is understandable (and even a victory. If only David Gilmour’s next novel could meet a similar fate). But in the case of Rosemary Nixon’s Are You Ready to be Lucky? (and Shaena Lambert’s Oh My Darling, while we’re at it), the silence is nothing short of an injustice, for the book itself and all the readers whose worlds would be so enriched by it.
So let’s break the silence then, shall we? Rosemary Nixon’s collection of linked short stories is one of the funniest, most original books I’ve read this year. I started reading it on Friday, found it hard to put down, and had devoured it by Sunday afternoon. Are you ready to be lucky, indeed.
The first sentence of this book: “Roslyn high-steps up Bantry Street on an icy Alberta evening buffeted by the late-December gusts, holding high her sixty by forty centimetre tray of pineapple stuffed meatballs, trying not to look like a woman who, at the yearly No Commitment Book Club gift exchange, received a can of gravy and two books called How to Seem Like a Better Person Without Actually Improving Yourself and The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead.”
The last sentence of the book is: “You fucking keep on playing.”
And let me tell you about everything that happens in between.
Roslyn’s just been dumped by her long-time husband, awful Harold. Carrying her pineapple stuffed meatballs, she’s on her way to a party, on the way to meet her fate. The party’s at the home of her friend Stella, a woman for whom being dumped has become a lifestyle. At the party, Roslyn meets Duncan Bloxham, and he chooses her. (Her delight of this fact is indicative of the slim pickings for divorced women in their 40s.) Her whole life having already fallen down around her, Roslyn sees no harm is getting carried away by the moment, and it’s not long before the two are married. Duncan is a pathological liar, a conman, an Imperialist asshole with a cruel streak and a terrible temper, however charming with his British accent. He’s the kind of character of whom the reader will wonder, “What does she possibly see in him?” Except Nixon tells us: the sex is fabulous. By the virtues of his cunnilingus, Roslyn hangs onto Duncan longer than she should, staying by his side on various adventures before finally kicking him out of her life.
We follow the couple to a community of British ex-pats in Spain in “Costa Blanca News”, and while I liked this part, there was a little too much “blimey,” the other characters rife with British stereotypes. In “Left”, Roslyn and Duncan are in England where she meets his family, and the true depth of his idle deceptions are made clear to her. Duncan is the most fascinatingly obnoxious character, so incredibly annoying that you’d like to hit him, and he calls to mind real people. Actual Duncans exist–you probably know this if you’re a middle-aged divorced woman. Nixon just has the chutzpah to put him down on paper.
In “The Sewers of Paris”, poor Stella has been dumped again, and she contemplates the one trip she took with her ex, a vacation from Paris far from the romantic ideal whose highlight was a tour of the city’s sewers. And in “Besides Construction,” we meet Lloyd, handyman hired to fix the crooked house that Roslyn bought after her marriage to Duncan ended. And the two of them dance around the idea of attraction to one another, Floyd a salt-of-the-earth type, not Roslyn’s type at all, but then lately, who is?
“In Which Floyd’s Odometer Passes the Million Kilometre Mark” is a story structured as a pinball machine, which it has in common with the whole book, actually. These are characters who wind up and bounce off one another just to see where things go. There is no traditional narrative structure in the book as a result, no tidy endings, no pat conclusions. The game goes on. “You just keep fucking playing.”
We meet Duncan again, back in Spain with another new wife, and later with even another, this one who he’d bought through the mail and who keeps her shit in the fridge. The story after that one is my favourite, in which Roslyn is en-route to her son’s wedding and drives her car into a deer. Yes, her son, Roslyn’s son Theo, whose wellbeing has been consistently kept in the back of her mind as she bounced from one adventure to another post-divorce. As she hits the deer, thereby ensuring that she’ll show up to the wedding late and rattled, if at all, she is listening to Jann Arden’s Good Mother on the radio, and the irony is not lost.
It is rare that such humour is balanced with incredible prose, cliche-free and striving to be something new with every sentence. This is a book that satisfies, not because it goes down easy, but because it fulfils a need in the reader for something that’s so profoundly good.
December 3, 2013
During the final weeks of my pregnancy last May, I sat bouncing on an exercise ball and had the great privilege of reviewing Lynn Coady’s short story collection Hellgoing for Canadian Notes and Queries. Now, upon first read, I was a bit concerned, because the book was difficult, perplexing, and I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to write a review of a book whose parts I’d found so difficult to understand. But the solution to this problem is always to read the book again, so I did, and found the experience of figuring it all out so utterly engaging that it led to this quite effusive blog post.
And then Hellgoing went on to win the Giller Prize. Who knew? I certainly didn’t as I bounced on my ball. And how interesting to contemplate a book in the before and after glow of such enormous success. How interesting that such a complex, oddly shaped, thoroughly worthy book should win this prize. Such a triumph. I’m only a bit sorry though that my review might cease to matter so much so long after the fact, but alas.
The magazine will be out on news stands… soon? In the meantime, here is a taster with the opening of my review…
Because for a lot of successful novelists, short story collections happen when they’re making other plans, it is worth noting that Lynn Coady has been busy lately. Her fourth novel The Antagonist was shortlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize; she’s co-founded the award-winning magazine Eighteen Bridges; and more than a few of the stories in her new collection Hellgoing have been lauded already after initial publication in Canadian magazines.
So a reader could be forgiven for wondering if Hellgoing, Coady’s first short story collection since 2000’s Play the Monster Blind, is a literary grab-bag created to follow fast on the success of The Antagonist. And certainly upon first read, the stories themselves appear to be broad in terms of subject matter and approach—no more can Coady be categorized as a regional writer with a focus on her native Cape Breton; her characters range from a child, to a host of young urban professionals, to an aging nun; stories are told in first and third person, some traditionally structured and others with an edge verging on the experimental. These are stories that, as the book’s copy tells us, “capture what it is to be human at this particular moment in our history,” an enormous umbrella, and so the reader might wonder with how much deliberateness this book was curated.
But then that wondering reader would be advised to read deeper. First, because Hellgoing is published under House of Anansi’s new Astoria Imprint, devoted to short stories, suggesting a book put together with an eye for craft instead of umbrellas. Second, because Coady has emerged as one of Canada’s most inspired literary voices since Strange Heaven, her 1998 debut, with each subsequent book pushing her talent in new and interesting directions. Even in the most ragtag Coady grab-bag, there is likely to be method at work.
December 2, 2013
Living in the city and not having a car, we have always brought our Christmas trees home quite conspicuously, carried on our shoulders (which is a bit awkward when pushing a stroller or carrying a baby, but we’ve made it happen in all these circumstances). And that is part of the reason I am so enamoured with the Christmas cards I’ve bought this year, which show another quite ingenious method for bringing home Christmas in the city. These cards are by Wendy Tancock, whose site is here. The image is beautiful and who doesn’t love a streetcar? I’m due to start writing a pile tonight
December 1, 2013
Jennica Harper is the poet whose books I stay up reading late into the night. She has uncanny ability to zero in on my fascinations, articulate questions I’ve vaguely wondered about, to use the very things located in the world around me (songs, cultural lore, television characters, celebrity references) and spin their own mythology. In a recent conversation, she asked, “Is there such thing as a “gateway poet”? That’s what I’d like to be.” And she has certainly succeeded at this, most recently with her latest collection, the beautiful, quietly powerful Wood.
Wood is meticulously packaged, the trunk-ring design from the cover repeated on the endpapers.The package is important, first because it’s beautiful, but also because Wood is a project of parts rather than strictly a whole and how these parts fit together is a huge part of the book’s appeal.
The first section is “Realboys: Poems for, and from, Pinocchio”. Like much of Wood, this is a story about progeny and disconnect. Pinocchio who is not quite a son, whose burgeoning sexuality extends the “wood” metaphor further (ha ha), who takes on Gepetto’s disappointment that he won’t grow to be a man–Gepetto, the man who made him! Who longs for the accoutrements of manhood without really understanding what they are. The only thing that isn’t rigid here is language: “I make things hard.”
“Liner Notes” is section 2, a long-poem from the perspective of a young woman 10 months into her first serious romance, thinking over the matters of her life as she cares for a disabled child and listens to “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells. “Tommy James and the Shondells went on vacation in 1969/ and never got back together…” The connections between the band, the song, the girl and the child in her care. She is on the cusp of adulthood, and the child stands for an unspoken possibility for the rest of her life, a possible narrative thread. She is playing house, experimenting with roles, hypnotized by the melody “over and over”, by her own power, by the possibilities still before her. The child is a window onto a way of life that nobody ever imagines, evidence that life takes on its own trajectory. And what does the child know about being a realgirl, about being being human? What does she know about being beyond human?
“There are various interpretations of the meaning of “Crimson and Clover”/…Many continue to believe it’s simply about being high, floating, synesthesia/letting go.”
“Papa Hotel” is imaginings on the father figure as iconic Hollywood movie stars, continuing the father-child (dis)connection theme that began with Pinocchio. Like the previous section, it’s an exercise in the hypothetical (wood/would!). Or the poet is imagining a context for inexplicable behaviour instead? ”My Father, As Jack Nicholson”: “A man who knows a pretty girl when he sees one, and he’s always seeing/ one. He reads waitresses’ tags, calls them their names…”
Next is “The Box” (wooden?), poems about Harry Houdini and his wife, about their marriage–”They had no children”. The poet imagines herself into the experience of Wilhelmina Beatrice Rahner: “Now I’m the wife of the Handcuff King.” Poems about the tricks of their life together, and about their “Dream Children”. And then in “Wife”: Her imagined children are your imagined children. For all you know/ she was content, childless, her small womb unstretched, a balloon/never blown. Her belly skin taut ’til the end. You want her to want/ those children. Then she’d be missing something, like you…”
“Would” comes next, poems from the point of view of “you” in the preceding section, with a few variations. Once again, we’re delving into the hypothetical, including a poem about Lizzie Borden’s parents supposing that they, like the Houdinis, had had no children. The last line of a poem about the impossibility of real-estate is “Once more, knock wood for the happy ending.” A poem about miscarriage, another about the prospect of childlessness (and with these, we see a connection between this longing and Pinocchio’s), and then “Ring in the Grain” (see cover image, of course) about birth from the point of view of a witness, a record of the event addressed to the child front one cognizant enough to articulate the profoundness of the moment, note the details of the blur.
And then finally, “Roots: The Sally Draper Poems,” which you may have already read because they were published online last winter and then went viral and were quoted on Slate, which is pretty amazing. The poems are clever in their conceit, but their power goes beyond cleverness or pop-culture connections. This is Sally Draper specifically, buying a present for her specific father, for example. I loved the line in “Sally Draper: Upwardly Mobile”: At home, my mother had it made and brought to her by the help. Something/ I think about when I pour.” “Sally Draper Contemplates the Interstellar Mission” reaches back to Harper’s first book, The Octopus and Other Poems, while this whole sequence engages the same intimate knowledge of the teenage mind as her second book, What It Feels Like For a Girl. More hypothetical exercises, disconnected dads, an abortion, red lipstick. Last night of the book: “Would that be so bad?”
Wood appears to have emerged from several different projects whose connections were secondary, and yet how these connections function–how these poems speak to one another, echo one another, underline and overwrite–is the book’s most compelling quality. It’s a kind of puzzle to discern how these pieces fit together, and each reread will unearth a new layer of understanding (or perhaps another ring in the grain?). Which is good reason then to stay up reading late into the night.
December 1, 2013
November is done. This is a triumph. November was filled with arduous things, and then fate compounded it all by throwing funerals and sickness into the mix. But now it is December, and while my entire life (and yours?) these days feels like a hardscrabble round in a hamster wheel, we’ve managed to get our stockings hung and get a start on Christmas baking. Door Number One is opened in our Lindt Advent Calendar, and we’ve chosen the winner of our Christmas CD giveaway. This evening, the CD itself was playing, and it was wonderful, Elizabeth Mitchell’s voice creating a lovely, mellow mood. We sat down and read Margaret Laurence’s The Christmas Story, which I loved even more than I’d remembered–it’s a fantastic way to teach my kid what Christmas is all about. And it’s just one of a whole stack of Christmas books that we’ve pulled out again after 11 months away in boxes. I’m looking forward to getting to know them again.
November 27, 2013
“The more I read, the more I felt connected across time to other lives and deeper sympathies. I felt less isolated. I wasn’t floating on my little raft in the present; there were bridges that led over to solid ground. Yes, the past is another country, but one that we can visit, and once there we can bring back the things we need.
Literature is common ground. It is ground not managed wholly by commercial interests, nor can it be strip-mined like popular culture–exploit the new thing then move on.
There’s a lot of talk about the tame world versus the wild world. It is not only a wild nature that we need as human beings; it is the untamed open space of our imaginations.
Reading is where the wild things are.”
–Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?
November 26, 2013
We were already quite sure that travelling to England with two children was going to come with its challenges, and when Harriet threw up the night before we left, it was almost funny. Almost. Like how bad can things really get? It was sort of an amusing way to top off the whole experience, but then vomit turned out not to be the top, no, but instead just the beginning of the experience. She woke up in the morning even sicker, her eyes rolling back into her head. A couple more hours of sleep transformed her back into someone human-seeming, but we knew that we still had trouble on our hands.
The flight itself turned out not to be so bad, and Harriet threw up again just once. Iris was fine, and doesn’t sleep for long periods anyway, so her short naps in the carrier were to be expected. Neither Stuart nor I slept at all that night, but we arrived in Amsterdam pretty proud of ourselves for having survived the longest part of our haul. We had breakfast in the airport, bought Holland souvenirs, and arrived to board our connecting flight in plenty of time… when we realized that we were missing our passports.
It was all very curious. I’d kept all our travel documents together, and we still had the children’s passports. We couldn’t understand where ours had gone. Operating on sheer panic (and completely no sleep, remember?) I raced through the airport to see if we’d left our passports in one of the shops we’d visited. At the gate, Stuart and the very kind airline staff unpacked our carry-on baggage three times. They were as desperate as we were that we get on the flight, but when the passports failed to turn up anywhere–no dice.
We missed the flight and were sent to file police reports for our missing passports. With the police reports, we’d be able to leave the airport in order to go to our respective consulates and obtain emergency passports. To make things even more complicated, our respective consulates are in different cities. This was the point at which we thought perhaps we’d have to live in the airport forever, which seemed so much easier than running after consular officials. We were totally exhausted, and then had to call our family in England to let them know we wouldn’t be arriving that afternoon.
We had to wait for the real police to arrive after the immigration police called them about our predicament. They were kind but a bit incredulous, which we understood because the story of our missing passports made absolutely no sense. “I”m going to have to ask you to unpack your things one more time,” the officer told me, which I thought was completely ridiculous. There is only one place where our passports could have been due to my impeccable organizations skills, plus we’d unpacked our stuff three times already.
Or rather, the airline staff and Stuart had unpacked our stuff three times already. I hadn’t unpacked them once, and when I did, the first place I looked was inside the pocket of my new computer bag, and there are passports were. “Thank fucking God!” exclaimed my husband. “I knew they were there,” said Harriet the Horrible. “Every time,” the police officer said to me, “they’re somewhere in the luggage.” Me, I was relieved, but now a bit disappointed that the ending to this story had been so incredibly stupid, that I’d never be able to write an essay about the time I wandered around Amsterdam without a passport like Theo Decker in The Goldfinch, that our passports hadn’t been pick pocketed by a Russian thief called Boris, but instead, I’d just packed them somewhere dumb.
With the problem solved and no one having thrown up in ages, we raced to the flight counter to get on the next flight to Manchester. On the basis of our looking exhausted, and schlepping two small children, airline staff took pity on us and booked the next flight, charging us for administrative costs only. We had breakfast again, and within a few hours, we were in the air again, flying to where we were supposed be. And we even got there!
Only problem was that our luggage didn’t, which would have fine, except that our luggage included the carseats without which we couldn’t leave the airport. And so we had no choice but to wait for our stuff to arrive on the 5pm flight from Amsterdam, sitting in the Arrivals area at Manchester Airport, whose sliding doors open and open and it’s so cold in there. And because this is the north of England in November, it wasn’t long before the sun went down. We hadn’t slept in oh so very long, and when the luggage arrived, we still had an hour’s journey by car ahead of us. I drove while the children cried, and my eyes ached.
We arrived though, and fortunately we were in a land where I wouldn’t have to cook or do laundry for the duration of our stay. The next morning I even got to sleep all morning without a single child in my bed while wee Iris was held by her grandmother. I ate Dairy Milks for breakfast, drank strong strong proper Northern tea, had a full English breakfast and afternoon tea in a single day, bought too many books, was terrified while driving down oh-so-narrow windy roads at 50 miles per hour but never once crashed into anything, breathed in the sea air, walked on cobblestones, had fun with family, celebrated Stuart’s birthday, read lots of books, and decided that chocolate-covered digestives are the food I love most in the world.
It was exhausting though. Harriet continued to be ill, and then passed her cold onto Iris who is far too little for such a plague and now she’s still sick with the most agonizing cough. Iris also refused to sleep in her own bed at all, and so she was basically on me for most of the week, and one gets tired of such things quickly. Halfway through our stay (and mostly because of jet-lag, I think) Harriet started coming into our room in the middle of the night and crying that nobody loved her, which had the effect of making nobody love her. I was crabby, and nobody loved me either.
It was a very good week though, and so wonderful for our English family to meet wee Iris for the very first time, and for Harriet to have her first English visit that she will remember. Fun to be by the seaside and exciting to imagine our next trip back when Iris is a bit bigger, and how much further we’ll all be along by then. (Gulp. This is wonderful and terrible. Six months ago today, we were celebrating Harriet’s fourth birthday and Iris was just over a week away from being born. How very far we’ve come since then. How much road ahead there is to travel, but how quickly it all speeds by…)
I do love England. Land of green, rolling hills, unceasing cups of tea and tiny cars. And of bookshops, oh yes. I’d purchased Love Nina by Nina Stibbe, and it delighted me during my first few days of vacation. (I’d been hooked by a description of the book as “Mary Poppins meets Adrian Mole…”). After hitting the bookshop in Waterstones, I’d bought Mutton by India Knight, whose novels are always such a pleasure. I read that book for the rest of the trip, and will get through the rest of my English stack in the next few weeks. I did make the mistake of reading the Guardian’s Books of the Year piece after visiting the bookshop, and now I mustn’t rest until I have a copy of Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzgerald biography for myself.
We were owed something for our flight home, I think, and fate delivered. Harriet watched movies and Iris went in and out of sleep, enough in for me to read an entire novel. A short novel, Alice Thomas Ellis’s The Other Side of the Fire, but a whole novel still. Amazing! And they gave us ice cream en-route. It was great. Our luggage arrived back in Toronto with us, and we took at a cab home and nobody had a meltdown. It was a miracle, probably because our journey the week before had been such a disaster. It all comes out even in the end, I guess. And all and all, it was a very good time away.
November 20, 2013
I fell in love with Elizabeth Mitchell’s music when Harriet was a baby, and suddenly the whole world was a richer, sunnier place. Her music is the soundtrack to our family life, and I love that with her folk songs she gives us roots, but also keeps us rocking out to covers by Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Van Morrison. I love how she brought us Remy Charlip. “Alphabet Dub” on her You Are My Sunshine album is hands-down the best version of the ABCs ever.
Her latest is an album of Christmas songs, The Sounding Joy. And you can listen to a preview here, the song “Children, Go Where I Send Thee (Little Bitty Baby: A Cumulative Song)”.
More about the album for Smithsonian Folkways:
Grammy-nominated recording artist Elizabeth Mitchell releases The Sounding Joy, ann exploration of Christmas and solstice songs from the American folk tradition. Drawn almost exclusively from the often overlooked but deeply influential songbook of revered composer and anthologist Ruth Crawford Seeger, these songs evoke an era before mass media and the commercialization of Christmas, when sacred song, dance, contemplation, and gathering were prized above all else during the holiday season. Mitchell’s fifth album for Smithsonian Folkways, The Sounding Joy features husband Daniel Littleton, daughter Storey, and special guests Peggy Seeger, Natalie Merchant, Amy Helm, Aoife O’Donovan, Gail Ann Dorsey, Larry Campbell, Dan Zanes, and John Sebastian, among many other family, friends, and neighbors. This gorgeously reverent 24-song collection attempts to save these traditional American holiday songs from an “unmarked grave,” as Merchant puts it in her essay included in the liner notes.
Although the songs presented are specific to the Christian tradition, Mitchell’s husband Daniel Littleton cites the inclusive nature of the project, describing the assembly of musicians as an “ecumenical summit” of sorts, with participants of many religious and non-religious backgrounds coming together happily to bring the songs to life. Mitchell sums up the spirit of the album best in her notes: “However you and your loved ones celebrate the last month of the year, I hope it is filled with the sounds of joy.”
And even better than news of a brand new Elizabeth Mitchell album? Why, that Smithsonian Folkways has provided me with a CD copy to give away to one of you. If you leave a comment on this post by midnight November 30, I’ll include your name in a random draw to win the CD.
**Congrats to Suss. Thanks to all who entered. Hope you’ll get your own copies. It’s a really lovely album.