September 20, 2016
Japan was my home for a while more than a decade ago, and it’s a place I’ll always be grateful to for its generosity, goodness, and what living there taught me about being a person in the world. And so I was especially pleased by the opportunity to review Are You An Echo?, a new book that’s part poetry collection, part biography, and a remarkable collaboration between many different people. It translates Misuzu Kaneko’s poetry into English for the first time, the poems complemented by her difficult life story, and also by the lost-and-found story of these poems themselves, which were “rediscovered” by the Japanese public when the poem “Are You An Echo?” was aired in public service messages on television after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
From my review:
…it seems fitting that Are You an Echo?, a book that brings Kaneko’s work and life story to English readers, is also an exercise in connection. The effort is a unique collaboration between American writer and translator David Jacobson, Canadian translator Sally Ito, Japanese translator Michiko Tsuboi (who studied at the University of Alberta), and Japanese illustrator Toshikado Hajiri. Editor and translators’ notes explain the fascinating creative process involved in this genre-bending mash-up, including on-the-ground research in Japan.
August 3, 2016
I was so pleased to be on CBC Ontario Morning today talking about great summer reads, and sharing the books that so delightful occupied my July. If you missed the show, you can listen again online at 33.15 minutes—I hope you do and take me up on some of these suggestions. This is a fine, fine stack of books.
June 6, 2016
So grateful to the folks at Globe Books for the chance to review Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, the debut novel by Ann Y.K. Choi, which appeared in the Globe and Mail on Saturday.
‘The question of “relatability” has come to be one upon which many a Goodreads review has hinged, much to the consternation of proper critics, who would like to see literary works seeking loftier ideals.
But while the reader’s desire to see her reflection in literature may tell us something of her solipsism, it sometimes reveals more about where the canon comes up short….’
May 5, 2016
Anne-with-an-E, Booky, Dustan, Daisy Stone Goodwill, Zenia, Aminata, and more…
Inspired by Duana Taha’s book, The Name Therapist, I’ve made a list of the most storied names in Canadian literature. I had the most ridiculous fun writing this post, and really could have written it forever and ever.
March 21, 2016
I recently had the pleasure of reviewing two absolutely beautiful picture books for Quill and Quire. Malaika’s Costume, by Nadia L. Holm and Irene Luxbacher, and Maya, by Mahakj Jain and Elly MacKay, are each exceptional books in their own right in terms of story and artwork, but when viewed together, all kinds of amazing connections occur, deepening the texture of both of them.
From my review:
“It takes considerable talent for an illustrator to do justice to the peacock, to come even close to matching nature in rendering its most exquisite bird. With their textured and evocative illustrations in Malaika’s Costume and Maya, Irene Luxbacher and Elly MacKay, respectively, give nature a run for its money. Their images are the perfect backdrop for these deep and engaging stories about characters grappling with a parent’s absence…”
I hope you’ll read the whole thing here. This piece was such a joy to write.
March 15, 2016
My friends at Plenty are talking about friendship throughout March, and I was pleased to contribute an essay I wrote about my nearly 25-year-old relationship with my best friends, Britt and Jennie (pictured above in Grade 10 French class, I think). I wrote about how with friendships that old, you eventually have a million things to apologize for, and also about how the Spice Girls taught us how a person should be, how our boyfriends were quite disposable, and how (in a numerical feat as remarkable as “2 Become 1”) 3 becomes 12.
December 11, 2015
The best news is that I’m finally getting better, and I’ve even been to a place lately that isn’t my bed—last night I ventured out to Harriet’s holiday concert to hear her sing in the Primary Choir. This weekend, we’re planning to hang up the Christmas bunting, and the plan is that by mid-next week, I might be up and about in the world again. But until then, and even after, we’ll be taking it slow. The nice thing about the Christmas holiday is that it’s a perfect time to have that happen.
But other things have been happening as well, perhaps sustaining the illusion that I’ve been more active lately than I actually have been. First, the Winter 2016 issue of U of T Magazine is being mailed out soon, and it includes a short piece I wrote about the curious trajectory of my life in blogging. I wrote about how I started blogging at a point when blogs were poised to take over the world, which never quite happened, but for me (and for many others) blogging has played an enormous role in my career and evolution as a writer and a person, even. Blogging has sustained me during periods of high and lows, and through the throes of literary disappointment, and it’s now integral to my process—so much so that my forthcoming novel is about the secret life of a blogger. I was really grateful for the opportunity to write this article, and you can read it online here.
For Understorey Magazine, I got to be part of a conversation with Ali Bryan, Alice Burdick, Lorri Neilsen Glenn, Natalie Corbett Sampson, Natalie Meisner, Shalan Joudry, and Sylvia D. Hamilton about whether it’s possible to be both a mother and a writer at once. (Spoiler: I say YES). There’s lots of great advice, stories and wisdom from women who’ve been there, and I love the effect of so many voices together. I love this line from Sampson: “Shutting the world and your experience out in a ‘no diversion’ and ‘no intrusion’ approach leaves you open to missing things that can be shaped into stories. ” Naturally, I encourage women to let their children watch Annie all summer long in order to get that novel written, which worked for me. Read the whole thing here.
And finally, I took part in a very fun conversation with Corey Redekop about what happens when a wonderful writer turns out to be a terrible human being. Examining my own bookshelves, I really couldn’t find a single horrible human being among them. My authors are mainly crotchety old women, which many people construe with horrible human beinghood, but crotchetiness is these writers’ entitlement, I think. I love them better for it. Anyway, we talked about whether being an asshole was a male writer thing, I refer to Barbara Pym’s Nazi sympathies, we discuss what red lines are for us as readers (not Nazi sympathies, apparently…) and what if Rush Limbaugh was authoring the next The Phantom Tollbooth. You can read it all here.
See? I have been busy.
November 19, 2015
My first professional book review was of Libby Crewman’s The Darren Effect in Canadian Notes & Queries in 2008. It was a good book, but a messy one, and I suspect my review probably achieved a similar effect, which sadly was not an aesthetic statement, but was just me figuring out my way. But it also meant that I was looking forward to Crewman’s follow-up, Split, which was published by Goose Lane Editions in September. I read the novel twice as summer turned into fall, and it’s a story that has stayed with me since, in its oddness and perplexities, its curious sideways appeal, but also in the vivid moments that Creelman so stunningly evokes.
A remarkable feature of Split, Libby Creelman’s second novel (after 2008’s The Darren Effect; she is also author of the acclaimed 2000 story collection, Walking in Paradise) is that it isn’t split. Whereas Creelman’s previous book was an impressive tangle of multiple storylines suggesting this short story writer was still finding her way into a different literary milieu, Split—for the most part taut, controlled and smartly plotted—signals Creelman’s arrival proper as a novelist. This new book is an ambitious, assured and most accomplished whole.
This wholeness is doubly (ha!) impressive considering the novel’s movement between two moments in time—2008 on the eve of both Barack Obama’s first election victory and widespread economic meltdown, and during the hot summer of 1975, the year after Nixon’s resignation and just months after the last American troops were removed from Vietnam. The former is the novel’s present day, during which Pilgrim Wheeler returns to her hometown in rural Massachusetts to find her childhood world drastically changed, and must finally reconcile with a tragedy that had wrenched her family apart decades before.
October 17, 2015
Today was the Lillian H. Smith Library’s 20th birthday party, and we rushed down to College Street after Iris’s nap to catch the end of it. The library has been a special part of our family for the last five years—I wrote about it first in 2011 as part of my “Wild Libraries I Have Known” series, and it also came up in my post about Joan Bodger and Mad Men. It’s truly an extraordinary place—we were there for the Crayon Creators event just a few weeks ago, and last summer completely by mistake we stumbled upon an amazing African drumming workshop because that’s the kind of thing that just happens at the Lillian H. Smith Library.
So we wanted to share in the celebration, and yes, we were told there would be cake. And there was! Plus spring rolls and cups of tea (ala Alice!—“Illustrating Alice” is the exhibit currently on at the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books). We were glad to see our beloved Joanne, children’s librarian extraordinaire. There were crafts and face-painting. And the gorgeous bookish birthday table…
Even better? Today was also the launch of the Lillian H. Smith Library Story Project, imagined and brought to reality by the amazing Christina Wong, a library page. Over the summer she collected stories from people with connections to the library, and put them all together on the site. I was happy to share stories about how the library has been so important to my experiences as a mother and our family life in the city: you can listen to it here. (Interestingly, it’s the first time that listening to my voice has not made me want to die… I’m really pleased with how our interview turned out.)
So far I’ve also listened to Andrew Larsen on the role the library has played in his development as a children’s author, and Ken Setterington on the story of Joan Bodger and her husband’s ashes. Looking forward to listening to the rest.
And I’m so happy to have been a part of this project, which celebrates one of my favourite places in the world.
October 6, 2015
This summer, I got one of the coolest gigs I’ve ever had, the opportunity to write a list of suggested Canadian fiction titles with which high school English teachers can freshen up their syllabus. As I write in the piece, I was inspired by Natalee Caple’s “Why I Teach Brand New CanLit,” which was about university classes, but her points were just as relevant for high school teachers as well. And it was no challenge to come up with the 25 titles I ultimately included in the list—I do suspect that teachers are actually spoiled for choice in this context, should they choose to be.
My list appears at Education Forum, which is the magazine of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation. You can read it here.