yearinreading2015
Books

2015: A year in reading

(*) = a pick for top 10 of 2015

January

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

The Fever by Megan Abbott

Shopaholic to the Stars  by Sophie Kinsella

The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner

I’m just getting my bearings working at the new library that opens in Halifax. An almost hour-long commute on the bus means plenty of time to read and so I devour novels like light snacks. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night lives up to the Giller-prize hype and I find myself wishing I hadn’t put it off for so long, O’Neill’s first book Lullabies for Little Criminals still echoing in my mind from years ago. From there I pick up another much talked about novel The Paying Guests which is equally as good about a woman who falls in love with her married tenant and the tragedy that results from their affair. There’s something about affair story lines that always intrigue me, keep pulling me back for more, the ultimate question of happiness and fidelity never gets old. Landline was my first taste of Rowell which was surprisingly grounded considering the outlandish premise (a woman finds a way to talk to a past-version of her husband from a rotary phone in her childhood bedroom… I know, right?) and I thoroughly enjoy it the way you might enjoy a jelly-filled doughnut, which if you’re me, is immensely. I’ve already forgotten the newest Shopaholic book and what it was about, ditto the Weiner. Both are just filler, but fun filler, if you know what I mean. The Fever starts out strong but devolves half-way through.

 

February

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

The Mime Order (The Bone Season, #2) by Samantha Shannon

The Diviners (The Diviners, #1) by Libba Bray

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter

Paper Towns by John Green

My first non-fiction in I don’t know how long is heavy (430 pages heavy) but like watching Tom Cruise bounce on Oprah’s couch—distasteful but impossible to look away. Going Clear tells you everything you ever were curious to know about Scientology plus a lot more you maybe wish you didn’t. After all that, I need something I know I’ll enjoy so I pick up the new installment in a great fantasy series that I really love—The Mime Order. It’s every bit as exciting as I thought it would be. Which gives me a taste for YA-skewed fantasy so I go for Bray’s book which I’ve seen around for ages but never actually got my hands on. Then it’s just downhill from there. Kidding, Ugly Girls is good (though honestly not that memorable) and Paper Towns… is well, everywhere.

 

March

When Everything Feels Like the Movies by Raziel Reid

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Nobody Is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey

The Appetites of Girls by Pamela Moses

I start with one of CBC Canada Reads recommended books but really can’t enjoy it to be honest, not my cuppa tea. Which makes me want to skew back to familiar territory with Solnit’s book of fantastic essays. I enjoy Everything I Never Told You even with the sad lack of tension in what appears to be a mystery, it doesn’t grab me in the way I need it to. The Appetites of Girls is better, the way friendship through the ages always is but for all its hype I get my first flop of the year in Nobody is Ever Missing. I really dislike the writing style and the story is one long stream of consciousness run-on sentence that I have to force myself to stick with. If I wasn’t going for a reading goal this year I would have ditched this 1/4 through. It feels gimmicky and insincere.

 

April

The Walking Dead vols. 16-22 by Robert Kirkman

Outline by Rachel Cusk

In April I remember that I should catch up on The Walking Dead, so I do, furiously. I’ll never understand people who only watch the show or movie and neglect the comic or book—there’s so much more in pages than on screens, and when you put the two together, even how they differ just fills up the empty space. I’ve heard good things about Outline but I end up hating it. If we’re judging books on technicality then yes, it’s well-written but nothing about it catches and holds on to me, it’s like sitting through a lecture for a class you have no interest in passing. Its title feels so spot-on, for me, there is nothing but hollowness in the middle.

 

May

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn

The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum

Mouthful of Forevers by Clementine von Radics (*)

Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth

I write about most of these and some from June in Read my list: books for your next beach trip in The Coast. All around a great month for reading, The Country of Ice Cream Star is a stand-out, and I fall into poetry again. Clementine von Radics is the kind of poet that fans tattoo lines onto their bodies for—she gets under your skin—while Tamblyn proves people still underestimate her.

 

June

The Opening Sky by Joan Thomas

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Skin Cleanse: The Simple, All-Natural Program for Clear, Calm, Happy Skin by Adina Grigore

Still No Word by Shannon Webb-Campbell (*)

Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Maybe I have more time in the summer, I’m not sure, but I pound back books like shots. The Opening Sky is another broken family novel (I do so love those) this time following a teenage couple that gets pregnant which just drives their families further apart. The Girl on the Train is a bestseller for good reason, hard to put down but ultimately a bit of a let-down climatically. Still No Word (read my review at The Coast) by a local poet and acquaintance of mine makes it on my year-end list and Mother, Mother is so much better than I thought it would be, more credit due to the fact that it ends up standing up against most of what I read this year, but who would have known that in the summer. It’s about an over-bearing abusive mother and the three children and husband who manage to survive her.

 

July

Second Life: A Novel by S.J. Watson

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave (*)

The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

The Walking Dead, Vol. 23: Whispers Into Screams by Robert Kirkman

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (*)

I get married at the end of the month, surprisingly these books aren’t a blur. When I’m looking forward to something I’m more focused than usual. Second Life is a decent mystery about a woman whose sister dies and she tries to unravel the reason why—not great, but solid. Eight Hundred Grapes (read my review at The Coast) is light but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have heft. It’s a fun read all the way through about the choices we make, tradition and inheritance. I really loved it, and I guess it’s being turned into a movie so that’s even better. Hopefully they don’t ruin the magic. The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty is so weird. So so weird. But highly enjoyable regardless. A group of artist friends deal with the suicide of one of their own while each also wrestles with their own demons. One character is so beautiful she wears a costume to appear ugly just to live an uninterrupted life while another learns to control emotion with music. Perhaps one of the most original stories I’ve ever read. Love May Fail is OK. Nothing special. In The Unlikely Event (read my review at The Coast) is ambitious and Blume rises to the occasion.

 

August

Wake The Stone Man by Carol McDougall

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

Beyond The Pale by Emily Urquhart

His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay (*)

The Bones Below and New Shoes On A Dead Horse by Sierra DeMulder

The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

Wake The Stone Man (read my review at Atlantic Books Today) is informative and interesting but lacking something to really make me love it. I liked it quite a bit but it didn’t get to the heart of me. Luckiest Girl Alive lives up to the hype, a tense quick read the exposes the underbelly of high school, cliques and things that happen to us that we can’t forget and really shouldn’t. I really enjoyed it. Following up with Sarah Kay’s fantastic book of poems No Matter the Wreckage. She is one of the most talented slam poets I’ve ever heard. I love her and especially this poem “If I Had a Daughter.” I picked up the memoir Beyond the Pale after reading a review somewhere that raved about it. Emily Urquhart talks about her experience raising a daughter with albinism and the different mythical stories she discovered about the condition as well as some horrible tragedies happening the world over to people who have it. Really really good. Sad. Intriguing. His Whole Life (read my review at The Coast) was just fantastic. Perhaps my favourite book of the year. Hard to tell. It definitely made my year-end list. Elizabeth Hay always astounds me. The two books of poetry by Sierra DeMulder were also great, another talented slam poet. My favourite poem of hers is this one “The Unrequited Love Poem.” (“My body is a dead language/and you pronounce each word perfectly”). Check her out, she’s the real deal. I summed up the month with a return to Sci-Fi, I can’t help it, I just adore dystopian futures. The Affinities is one where people can take a personality test that allows them access to clubs of people exactly suited to them. It’s about looking for purpose, belonging, and what happens when you get it. (Not always good things…)

 

September

The Summer of Good Intentions by Wendy Francis

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

The First Husband by Laura Dave

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (*)

Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight by M.E. Thomas

I take a break in September and read three light novels in a row that are all mediocre before I settle in for Between the World and Me (read my review at The Coast) it deserves all the accolades it’s getting. A really vital read. Of course then I follow it up with the least vital read, a memoir that is passable at best.

 

October

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (*)

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

Back to fiction in the Fall. I’m not sure why this was such a lean month, maybe because I was devoting all my time to creating the perfect Gamora costume for Halloween. Another year-end top fiver, Fates and Furies (read my review at The Coast) is so good I can’t stop talking about it to anyone who will listen. Read this book, you will not regret it. I was so looking forward to reading Mindy Kaling’s newest memoir, I think she’s just the funniest, but it really let me down. Why Not Me? feels hurried, it just doesn’t carry the same spark her first one did.

 

November

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Barbara the Slut and Other People by Lauren Holmes (*)

Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz

How to Be a Grown-up by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead

I am a huge Margaret Atwood fan, however her newest novel The Heart Goes Last was lacking something special for me, it just didn’t do it… whatever “it” is that she usually does. I think it just fell a little flat, it was supposed to be a mystery but there was very little suspense. I didn’t care about any of the characters either. It was alright, but Atwood carries the weight of her career, no one wants to bother with an average Atwood novel. Barbara the Slut and Other People (read my review at The Coast, and on the blog) more than made up for it though. I could write more about this book of stories but I’ve used up enough time. It’s good. Read it. I had heard good things about Spinster but I ended up suffering through it slowly and painfully, barely made it to the end without clawing my eyes out. I’d rather read a textbook tbh. Big Magic (read my review at The Coast) was so so surprising to me. I have enjoyed Gilbert’s books in the past but who knew she could light such a fire under me. If you’re struggling with writers block or finding your creative purpose read this book, it does something to you, lights a match. How to Start a Fire and How to Be a Grown-Up were both really enjoyable, both sort of about finding your way when you’re in your 30s or 40s and still looking. All three authors are ones I’ve loved for a long while, so no surprise there. Ended the month with Seating Arrangements which got a lot of critical acclaim in 2012 and that I never felt like picking up but ended up really fully enjoying. But again, anything with a dysfunctional family, throw in a wedding, romantic disputes, an aging patriarch going through a mid-life crisis and I’m on board.

 

December

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3) by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) (*)

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty by Vendela Vida (*)

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

It just didn’t feel like the holidays this year. From above average temperatures (it felt like the first day of Fall on Dec 25) to just a general lack of spirit, I escaped to fictional worlds. The newest Cormoran Strike book Career of Evil (read my review at The Coast) really blew me away which was so surprising because while I really liked the first two books, they weren’t something I would rave about really. This one though, hoo boy. The same with The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty (read my review at The Coast) which was so great, but in a totally different way. More of a literary mystery, instead of a genre mystery. Both ended up on my year-end list though. Then I fell backwards into Rainbow Rowell’s world and I may never get back up. I had enjoyed Landline back in January so much that I decided to try some of her YA books, and Carry On was just sitting there on the new releases rack waiting for me. At first I thought it was pulling a little too heavily from Harry Potter but about 1/4 of the way in it really won me over. The love story was so unexpected and sweet, although, if I had read things in order it wouldn’t have been nearly as unexpected. Fangirl is about a college student that writes fan fiction about a fictional series like Harry Potter in the novel, Carry On is basically the fan fiction she’s writing in the first book, only Rowell says it’s not, it’s a totally separate thing. Not sure why she would give it the same title if it wasn’t though. Anyway, both really really good, easy, light, happy reads. I ended the year on kind of a low note with The Opposite of Loneliness, a book of stories and essays by an author taken entirely before her time, only 5 days after graduating from Yale with a promising future ahead of her, Marina Keegan died in a car crash. Her last essay, the titular The Opposite of Loneliness that was published in the Yale Daily News went viral and touched a lot of people. This posthumous collection is really very good, obviously reflecting her burgeoning talent and the promise of a long and interesting career that she would have had.

 

All in, I read 68 books total. Blew past my goal of 52 books in 2015 and there were so many good ones. One of the best years in reading so far.

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Books

Season’s readings

I wrote a gift guide for just about everyone on your list this year (or any year really). Give them to your shitty brother-in-law, your sad friend, a cool chick you know, any dumb kid and your favourite aspiring writer:

Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies
Give this book to a friend stuck in a shitty relationship or marriage—you hope they come to their senses but will keep your mouth shut until they do. Groff exposes a marriage over 24 years through competing perspectives of husband and wife Lotto and Mathilde. Dealing in secrets, complications and things left unresolved, Groff’s sharp prose cuts through the meat of one marriage and reveals the elegant way two people have of hurting each other without saying a word.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between The World and Me
Give this book to your brother-in-law, the guy who once sincerely tweeted #AllLivesMatter. Coates’ newly minted National Book Award for Non-Fiction-winning memoir is framed as a letter to his teenage son, in which he grapples with American history, both seen and unseen, and offers him advice for living in a world that more than ever seems balanced on a violent edge. Coates writes with emotion and persuasion and will infiltrate even the most misguided heart.

Check out these and three other gems at The Coast.

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Books

Barbara the Slut and Other People and me

Some things have been sticking with me lately. Stories that I can’t shake. Women I wish I knew, could sit next to, siphon strength off of. I first read Lauren Holmes’ story “How Am I Supposed to Talk to You” in Granta but I didn’t put two and two together until I was reading it again in Holmes’ new book of short stories Barbara the Slut and Other People (Riverhead Books, 2015) when the first paragraph was like recognizing an old friend in an unexpected place. The women in these stories are so interesting, struggling with completely different issues in their day-to-day but belonging in this book equally. The character who takes a job working at a sex toy store in “Desert Hearts” where she hides from the pressure and expectation of early adulthood after graduating from law school. The titular high school student Barbara who vows to never sleep with the same guy twice and because of that is never really seen by anyone other than her autistic brother, waiting for the promise of university to save her from a school of narrow-minded bullies.  “My Humans,” a story narrated by a lovably smelly rescue dog who is witness to all the strange smells and emotional misunderstandings of a failing relationship. God knows what dogs pick up on that we just can’t but this stood out to me as one of the strangest and enjoyable stories I’ve read in a long time. While not all the 10 stories holds the same magic that the ones I’ve talked about here, they are all truly fascinating as a primer on what Holmes is capable of.

I’ve read so much this year, and often when I finish a book I think about what I would say about it but then it’s gone and I’m on to the next one. This book made me pause. Made me stare out the bus window for a stretch and just sit, so content in what I had just experienced. It’s not often that a novel, let alone a book of short stories will do that to me. It’s been a good season for great books. I’ve been meaning to write about others–Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay.

Hopefully, I’ll get around to that too but I’ve been curled up all day watching Aziz Ansari’s new show Master of None on Netflix. What a great great show. It has so much to say about diversity on TV, sexism and has one of the best on-screen relationships I’ve seen since Coach and Tami. There’s joy in a show like this, and a level of craft that you might not expect from Aziz but he co-wrote and produced it, so I’ve got to give it to him. The episode Indians on TV in particular really sat with me, using real footage from other television shows of Indian stereotypes. I can’t wait to see where it goes in season two.

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Personal

On ordinary days that become perfect by circumstance

He found dentures washed up on a flea-ridden beach—smoothed down to half its dental cast by the timid waves that deposited large purple jellyfish like blood clots along the shore. We were looking for beach glass but here was the pride of his findings and he tucked them carefully away to be saved. Now they live in an antique mason jar on a ledge behind the toilet and if I see them on display I carefully rotate them back against the wall.

The day we get married the clouds won’t cooperate and I leave the decision in his hands but he knows I’ve never wanted to exchange vows in a church, so he makes the call I can’t and we’re standing under our handmade arbor regardless when the rain starts to fall. His eyebrows go up in perfect crescent moons and we both peer at the sky until a childhood friend donates her umbrella and his cousin holds another over his head and it can’t be coincidence that they somehow match the wedding colours in the photos we get back.

In the letter I forgot that I wrote to him that first summer that he admitted he’s been carrying all this time, worn down to the thinnest folds. He says “I read it when I’m feeling low.” And I hear all of the ways he’s held me to him even when we’re apart. And I see all of the ways we’ve been loving each other in tiny trickles that meet and grow into streams and suddenly our love is immense as a raging river and I don’t mind, I want to, be under its pull. Like I never needed to learn how to hold my breath. Like being near him helps me grow gills.

I read him my handwritten vows, voice shaking, taking slow and steadying breaths and trying not to cry. Here are the things I’ve learned and the ways I’ve loved you and will always try my very best to love you. And here are the ways fate made you family and the struggles we will always come through stronger. I empty my heart onto the page and later, people hold me in their arms and tell me how much they cried when we spoke. How we must be meant for each other. The love in the room is as pregnant as the sky and I feel it in the eyes that are watching us. I feel it in the hand of my best friend, entwined in mine under the table. In the words of my father, when he begins to speak Cree, and a shiver runs through the crowd. I feel it when my mother mentions how much my grandfather would have like to have been here, he is here, and the tear that winds its way down. Free at last.

Later, after the dancing, after my brother holds me and maybe for the first time, tells me to my face how much he loves me, how proud he is of me, after everyone is in their beds, and the room is picked clean, and my buzz is wearing off, and the dress is in a pile and he’s hung it on the door, and I peel fake eyelashes from my lids, after all of the emotion and the party and the hoopla we take our dog Sundance for a walk.

At 3am in a small dark town, settled, soft and the rain has finally stopped and we’re officially, stamped, marked, sealed, a family.

He holds my hand in his the same way he always has.

Wife he asks.

Husband I reply.

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Personal

The weight of you

Buoyed. Up and up. A ribbon like tether grazing the ground, simple enough to snag. And you told me once that there’s a cancer in me and you can’t bear to watch my cells battle it out. You were the disease and I cut you from me in slivers until nothing remained but the imprint of what you once touched. The damp outline of love.

All the sad songs you told me not to read into—the life we only lived between the lines.

Yesterday we were infested and today the ants are gone.

He left an entire watermelon out to lure them and when it was black three levels deep he flushed the colony down the sink and that was the end of that.

So I disinfect all my surfaces and remember what it was like before I met him. Before the fixes were simple. Before I knew what it was to want to commit, to want to grow, to grow up and grow old with someone.

How everything changes when you find the right fruit, when it’s already ripened, juicy and just laid out waiting for you.

I am teaching myself to write when I’m happy. What’s the emoji for it’s about fucking time? All those years I thought suffering was romantic, pacing bridges like it wasn’t so far to fall. Floundering in a world of oceans with no turtle shell. Nurturing the darkness and refusing to see that hurting myself only hurts me. And that sounds simple enough so why was it so hard to read?

Here’s what I’ve learned in my years of silence—when it’s good, when it’s really fucking life changing, you don’t need a platform, you don’t need an audience, you just need each other. A comfortable weight. A warmth that’s heavy without holding you down. The strength at your back.

The last bus home.

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Books

2014: A year in reading

January: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling), The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, Lazy Days by Erlend Loe

It’s always colder than I remember. I finally read JK Rowling’s foray into mystery wondering why she needed to publish it under a male pen name. It’s the year of #ReadWomen2014 and it seems fitting, somehow. It’s really really good, easily devoured. Swinging the opposite direction into Kidd’s historical novel about slavery and abolitionists that I just can’t get behind while Lazy Days just feels lazy.

February: The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen

It’s weird how I don’t even remember this book. It’s likely I’ll read it again in five years and not realize until 3/4s in. Everything is a jumble because this is the month we adopt our dog Sundance.

March: The Best American Essays 2013, The Likeness by Tana French

The essays are edited by Cheryl Strayed. I finally follow up French’s debut that I loved. This mystery is so strange I fall for it too and add all her other novels to my to read pile. The idea of a series that moves from supporting character to supporting character is great.

April: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

This comes through in a review pile but I never get around to it. A creepy horror novel about an apocalypse that comes about from some kind of creature that drives you insane just by looking at it. Survivors spend their lives blindfolded. It’s good, and feels original, which isn’t easy when it comes to this genre.

May: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle, Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Everything falls apart. My Grandfather gets sick. Americanah is the kind of life-changing novel that you’re lucky to come across in a year. The hype is real. I need to feel light so I flip to YA but it just makes me cry. Two equally mediocre novels follow it. We buy a house.

June: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Consumed: Food For a Finite Planet by Sarah Elton

I read Beautiful Ruins in the sun on my porch. When I close my eyes it could be anywhere. In Ohio on the way to the funeral home my mother and I take turns reading short stories aloud from The Thing Around Your Neck. I am so far away. Non-Fiction feels necessary now but only reminds me how broken this world is.

July: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, The Traveler by John Twelve Hawks

A good month for reading. I love everything I consume from the single mom raising a girl math genius, to the re-imagining of Snow White and the start of a trilogy about a big brother-esque future that eats me up. But especially Toews’ heart breaking semi-autobigraphical look at a pair of sisters, one who wants to die and the other desperately trying to convince her to live. It’s nominated for, and should have won, the Giller prize.

August: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks, The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness

We go to Portland and I finish the second in the Twelve Hawks series on the plane. We get engaged under my favourite bridge and I finish The Book of Life on the way home, the last in a trilogy about supernatural love only not shitty like Twilight.

September: A Life in Men by Gina Frangello, The Broke-Ass Bride’s Wedding Guide by Dana LaRue, The Golden City by John Twelve Hawks, The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman, Penguin 75: Designers, Authors, Commentary

My best friend gets married and I get to stand with her at her wedding. There’s a speech. It’s emotional. I read A Life in Men and remember our trip to Europe, how wrong it could have gone but didn’t. I finish the Twelve Hawks trilogy without a bang, the first two were way better. I also finish the Grossman trilogy which is great. It’s sort of like what Harry Potter would have been if it started in college and starred Malfoy instead. It’s hard not to see it as “borrowing” a little too much from C.S. Lewis and JK Rowling, though.

October: The Vacationers by Emma Straub, Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling), How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

It’s cold and Straub is a disappointment. We put up last minute Halloween decorations and I finish the month off perfectly with three awesome books.

November: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler, Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay, Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Possibly the best month of reading yet, all three books end up on my year end list.

December: The Dilettantes by Michael Hingston, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, Love Enough by Dionne Brand, The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi, Us Conductors by Sean Michaels, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

It all went by so fast I think. I finally read Hingston’s book that’s been on my shelf for awhile, it’s as good as I thought it might be. Really enjoyable. Fuller’s yet-to-be-released novel about a girl who’s kidnapped by her survivalist father and raised in a cabin in the woods where he tells her the world has ended is fantastic. It deserves a lot of love in 2015, I hope it gets it. I finally start yet another mystery series that I’ve heard so much about. Brand disappoints, as does Nafisi. I read Us Conductors only because it won the Giller prize and I had to see if it was better than All My Puny Sorrows. It’s beautiful, but no. I finish the year off with an instant favourite. Station Eleven is an apocalyptic tale told in many POVs about a virus that disseminates the world and then, 20 years later, a group of travelling actors and musicians that believe survival isn’t enough. It’s perfect.

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Books

On being Not That Kind of Girl or a Bad Feminist and saying Yes Please anyway

dunhamIt’s been a trifecta of fantastic female role models publishing memoirs or memoir-like essay collections lately. I read them all one after the other with little pause on the bus, holding down laughter and tears in equal measure. It starts with Lena Dunham (doesn’t it always?). Not That Kind of Girl is almost as uncomfortable as the worst sex scenes on Girls, which makes sense, because this is her life, this is her writing fodder. Strange how it feels worse when she tells it as truth instead of fiction. We are all unreliable narrators, that’s the main thing to take away, so I don’t understand where all this “Lena Dunham molested her little sister” frenzy comes from. Weren’t we all strange children, once? Can a seven year old molest another child? Doesn’t there have to be some agency in that? Doesn’t there have to be sexualization for an activity to reach that far? I remember several times as a child I was caught experimenting with another kid—curiosity always gets the best of us—but the only person reading into that is a deranged person. Did Dunham grow up without learning boundaries? Probably, yes, but isn’t that what speaks to us so much in her art? That struggle? Controversy aside, Not That Kind of Girl is all that I thought it would be—speaking heavily to this person I’m not sure I am yet. It’s universal. Even when it all comes easy, it still feels hard.

Not That Kind of Girl was simple, which doesn’t mean it wasn’t great. It was fast and hit me hard and felt over too soon. It made me remember those dark bits that sit inside me, spoiling. That’s where the art comes from—the hurt roiling and turning into something dense and gleaming.

Bad Feminist wasn’t easy. Roxane Gay’s series of essays was difficult even though all her ideas are laid out on a gay
nice plate of pop culture with sprigs of humour—don’t eat those, they’re decoration! It’s difficult precisely because it’s so damn good. As someone who is just as invested in pop culture and racial issues as Gay, it was hard for me to have to reflect on my own bias and prejudices that still exist because none of us are perfect. We are all privileged, bad feminists that wrestle with racial issues and what we let people get away with. I did like that 99% of the time I came down on the same side of an issue as Gay, and weirdly we like a lot of the same TV shows, movies and books. Like minds and all that. In one particular chapter she did manage to spoil Gone Girl for me, but that’s my own fault, I suppose. What I like best about Roxane Gay, who I’ve followed on Twitter for some time, is that she’s as undecided as I am—about what feminism means to her, what it should mean to all of us, and how to be a good one. If there is such a thing as a good feminist, anyway. I prefer to think we’re all just bad feminists in one way or another as well. I’m a feminist but I like “Blurred Lines.” I’m a feminist but I laugh at sexist jokes sometimes. I’m a feminist but I believe in marriage and entertain the idea of being supported by my husband, staying home and raising kids. I’m a feminist but I’m not a “perfect” one. But, what Gay gets at, is that it’s about claiming the title anyway, in whatever form you feel comfortable with. Because, everything else is just icing on the gender equality cake, right? It’s about supporting our ability to choose. Everything else is noise. Let’s try not to get distracted.

poehlerThankfully, I rounded out my two weeks of reading with the brilliant and hilarious Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. Which I would describe using its own title and life mantra—yes plzzzz, more plzzzz. If you enjoyed Tina Fey’s Bossypants (this is in the same vein) or just wish you were friends with Poehler and want to insert yourself in her life imaginatively using as many real facts and anecdotes as possible, well this will be perfect for you. Considering, first the simple paper quality her book is printed on, it’s thick and slippery like a fancy coffee table book (like I have any of those) which makes all the photos and handwritten notes pop off the page. She says at one point she wanted to have all these things just stuffed in the pages so they would fall everywhere if you shook it. Is it weird that it sounds completely magical to me? To be honest I didn’t know that much about Poehler’s personal life beyond her clearly amazing friendship with Fey and recent divorce from Will Arnett. So, reading about her childhood and how she got into improv was really interesting, especially since she has a great candid style of writing that makes you feel like she’s sitting across from you at a bar just shooting the shit and trying to make you laugh. I’m telling you, exactly how I imagine Poehler and I to be when we fake hangout. Sigh. It also was full to the brim with love for her ex-husband, her parents, friends at SNL and Parks and Rec, and of course her children. Poehler’s attitude in the book is so can-do, don’t give up on your dreams, make happiness, even when she hints at depression and rough times. This one, above all the others made me want to cry in front of strangers on the bus. I welled up. Required reading for anyone who is starting to doubt their purpose, going through a transformative time, needs some inspiration, or just wants to read about how awesome Poehler is. She is so so awesome.

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