Autumn 2017 In My Reading Log (Non-fiction and Not-quite-fiction)

In which there is talk of true stories and stories that fall between the cracks of imagined facts and probabilities.

Kyo Maclear’s Birds Art Life (2017)
Arranged as though composed over a twelve-month period, this would seem to be the perfect book to read slowly, meditatively. To allow the pages to unfold over the course of a year, with time to reflect and ponder. I read it in two afternoons. Instead of one more chapter, I was whispering “one more month”. It was too much and, yet, it was just right. I remember reading Kyo Maclear’s debut novel, The Letter Opener, with the same enthusiasm.

This, however, is a work which would reward a closer read. The sense that the author’s thinking has expanded and changed over the course of her writing urges me to collect a copy with plans to read more slowly, more mindfully. It could be that birders or artists would respond most viscerally to her work. But the title not only beckons to those people. And perhaps that’s what drew me in most fiercely: this broad and insistent invitation.

“It is possible too that I was experiencing something known as ‘anticipatory grief’, the mourning that occurs before a certain loss. Anticipatory. Expectatory. Trepidatory. This grief had a dampness. It did not drench or drown me, but it hung in the air like a pallid cloud, thinning but never entirely vanishing. It followed me wherever I went and gradually I grew used to looking at the world through it.”

Ivan Coyote’s Tomboy’s Survival Guide (2016)
This is not the first of Ivan Coyote’s collections I’ve read; in fact, I’ve read so many that I expected to cherry-pick a few pieces from their latest, inspired by their recent listing for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Award for Non-Fiction (Kyo Maclear’s book is also on this shortlist) but not committed to a thorough reading. And, then, I read every one of them.

True, the format is inviting, with all these vintage images and text-boxes, both in the margins and between pieces (although just for show – the bicycle in the essay doesn’t look anything like the illustration chosen). But, really, it’s Ivan Coyote’s style of storytelling. And even though they make it look easy, I suspect that these pieces are finely honed, in private and in public, carefully sculpted to appear effortless.

“Tomboy thrums in your heart. It can’t be hidden by a haircut. It’s not about nail polish or not. It’s running right now in your veins. If it is in you, you already know. Tomboy blood is so much bigger than the outside of you.”

Much of what they say is simple and straightforward. Some of it seems intimate and revealing, and some of it makes me chuckle and snicker, sometimes simply smile. Twice, they made me cry here. Hard. Because just as they could imagine how desperately some readers might need to hear some simple and straightforward truths, I could imagine those readers too. Maybe I am one of those readers.

[Note: Thanks to roughghosts for the reminder to use they/their, rather than she/her, when referring to Ivan Coyote and their work. I have edited accordingly. See comment below.]

Clem and Olivier Martini’s The Unravelling (2016)
When you hold this off-size book in your hands, it completely fills your palms and spills over their edges. This is the kind of emotional and dramatic story which is difficult to contain. It is enduringly and strangely uncomfortable even in its compactness, just as the story of the Martini family’s struggles with healthcare is plainly awkward.

Not only the story of two brothers (Clem, who writes, and Olivier who draws), but also the story of their mother (who has been the primary caregiver for Olivier, while he has been living with schizophrenia) and her experience with dementia, and also the story of other family members who are required to fill the gaps which one might think would be filled by medical and social services in Canada.

“The truth is that it more closely resembles the flawed, wonky structures generated by the spiders given LSD during lab experiments in the sixties than the glorious, dew-dappled symmetry you might spy hanging from some branches on an early morning walk. This web is fashioned as much from good intentions and competencies as is from compensation, mistakes, and frailties. It sustains and supports, but only barely. Snap a single thread and everything tumbles away.”

Despite this dew-dappled image, this is not a kumbaya story; The Unravelling is a call to action. “Frankly I say screw making nice with schizophrenia. I am angry at schizophrenia.I am furious at the pain and damage it causes. I don’t want to ‘embrace’ schizophrenia – a disorder that killed one brother and torments another – I want to see it cured.” Plainspoken and deliberate, the brothers speak directly and passionately about the need for change.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s This Accident of Being Lost (2017)
This collection, part prose and part poetry, pleases the part of my reading brain that simply wants another story.

Simultaneously, it makes me step back from the page – tilting my head at it, trying to decipher whether all the “I”s are the author’s experience, itching to categorize each piece as fact or fiction.

Ultimately, I dive in – not caring about boundaries and simply eager for “more”.

Islands of Decolonial Love provoked the same kind of curiosity, and I am pleased that I bought a copy of this one, so that I could take my time, read a piece (or two, or four) at a time, then let the ideas in them swirl in my mind until they had stilled enough to read onwards.

This kind of work makes you laugh at the idea that anyone could ever separate the personal and the political.

This kind of work reminds you that laughter can be a powerful provocation for change.

“We know what your people think about us. We know you feel pity because the largst city in the country is on top of us, thrusting in and out like it’s our benevolent Wiindigo, fucking us in time to our screams like it’s death metal. Like our loss is tragic and we are small people. Like golf courses and dreamcatchers and selling out are all we have left.”

Like that. Indeed.

Which of these do you think would be the best match for you? Or have you already read some/one?

2017-10-25T17:17:49+00:00

24 Comments

  1. Wendy November 3, 2017 at 9:51 am - Reply

    I really enjoyed the Tomboy Survival Guide. Many moons ago I took a class at york university that studied gender in literature and have always been interested in gender identification. I have a couple of friends that are always asking me for recommendations for their book clubs and I’d like more people to read this book. I went to the dentist yesterday and had to fill out a form and of course they asked me to check a box for male or female and I left it blank. I’m also going to add The Unravelling to my like to read list.

    • Buried In Print November 8, 2017 at 9:06 am - Reply

      It’s very personable, isn’t it? Their style seems distanced and a little aloof – a reflective chronicler – but then the story strikes an unexpectedly tender moment and resonates more deeply. I was so struck by how many young people would hear these stories and feel accepted and understood. It would make a timely bookclub choice, I think. I was shocked last month to find myself asked to fill out a form which queried not only regarding male/female but also race. Some days it’s easier to believe that times have changed for the better; many days are other days. You’re not far, on the map, from the Martini brothers, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a copy of their book!

  2. […] Burnett’s The Idiot Brain Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps Hair Story Ivan Coyote’s Tomboy Survival Guide Ronald H. Davis’ Qigong through the Seasons Mazo de la Roche’s Ringing the Changes […]

  3. Wendy October 23, 2017 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    The tomboys survival guide is calling my name so I’ll see if I can get it from the library. I think I’ve mentioned before that Birds Art Life resonated with me deeply. Although I am a birder, I’m not sure if that’s why I loved the book. It was a very personal account of how she was feeling as a child, spouse, mother, friend and artist and the birding observations were only a part of her year’s account. I will let you know how I feel about Tomboys survival guide…so many books to read and I’m a very slow reader….I just started “we’ll all be burnt in our beds some night” by Joel Thomas Hynes.

    • Buried In Print October 25, 2017 at 4:28 pm - Reply

      Yes! I remember how much you enjoyed Kyo Maclear’s book; that was in my mind, too, while I was reading. I’m not a proper birder, meaning that I don’t pursue sightings or own binoculars, but I do spend a lot of time sitting and watching them in the yard, and have a favourite place nearby (city marshland) with different birds which I also visit regularly to observe them there as well. I’ve visited the places she writes about, but I’ve never seen those birds there (or, her, either)! I’ll be interested to hear how you find both of the other books you’ve mentioned, whenever you get to them (I know, it could be awhile). 🙂

  4. iliana October 22, 2017 at 4:12 pm - Reply

    All are new to me but I think I would like The Unravelling.

    • Buried In Print October 23, 2017 at 9:55 am - Reply

      I think you would really appreciate the candour and style of their story, Iliana!

  5. whisperinggums October 20, 2017 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    All new to me too, books and authors, but Birds Art Life and The accident of being lost grab me most.

    • Buried In Print October 23, 2017 at 9:54 am - Reply

      Both would be a good match for you, I think, WG. The former, stylistically, and the latter for the opportunity to align it with the reading you’ve been doing of indigenous writers in your corner of the world.

  6. Stefanie October 20, 2017 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    These all sound so interesting! I will be checking my library for them!

    • Buried In Print October 23, 2017 at 9:53 am - Reply

      Good luck with your search. I think you would find Leanne Simpson particularly interesting.

  7. Naomi October 20, 2017 at 10:27 am - Reply

    All 4 of these sound excellent. I own the first two now, so hopefully I’ll read them soon. I’ve been meaning to read one of Ivan Coyote’s books for a long time – I always hear about how good they are.
    That’s quite the quote from The Accident of Being Lost!

    • Buried In Print October 23, 2017 at 9:52 am - Reply

      But doesn’t that actually decrease the likelihood, now that you know they’re safe at home with you and do not have a library due date attached to them? 🙂

      I think this is Ivan Coyote’s longest book so far, so you will get a good sense of their writing whenever you do get to reading it. Quoting from Simpson’s work is difficult, I think, because the works seem all-of-a-piece; I hate to splinter them.

      • Naomi October 24, 2017 at 10:12 am - Reply

        “But doesn’t that actually decrease the likelihood, now that you know they’re safe at home with you and do not have a library due date attached to them?” — I was hoping this wouldn’t cross anyone’s mind! I’m certainly trying not to let it cross mine. 😉

        • Buried In Print October 24, 2017 at 10:53 am - Reply

          You actually had me LOLing there. Of course. Let’s go with the original plan about attentiveness and devotion to our own shelves.

  8. kaggsysbookishramblings October 20, 2017 at 8:07 am - Reply

    All new to me too, but This Accident of Being Lost sounds rather intriguing….

    • Buried In Print October 23, 2017 at 9:47 am - Reply

      I hadn’t intentionally included only Canadian writers here, but I guess it’s not completely surprising that these are less well known across the pond!

  9. Rebecca Foster October 20, 2017 at 5:07 am - Reply

    I read the Kyo Maclear book early this year and didn’t appreciate it as much as I expected to.

    • Buried In Print October 23, 2017 at 9:45 am - Reply

      Originally I had expected something more distanced, less personal. More about philosophy and outright querying and more consciously shaped maybe? But I was drawn into it all the same.

  10. roughghosts October 19, 2017 at 5:22 pm - Reply

    I’ve read This Accident of Being Lost. I loved it. I saw Leanne Simpson this weekend at Wordfest and had her sign my well-read copy. The Martinis are local, Clem I knew over 30 years ago and although I see him around at literary events I am no longer the same person or gender he once knew. Olivier was a fellow volunteer and client when I worked with CMHA. I’m not sure I would read the book, it is a subject and context I know well, but I wish them all the best with it. The same is true for Ivan Coyote whom I have also met and taken workshops with. Their (they/their, not she/her, by the way) experience is quite distinct from mine, but one I know and understand from friends and others in my community.

    So that leaves Birds, Art, Life which does sound very interesting. You may be pleased to know that I stocked up on CanLit at Wordfest—8 titles—4 poetry, 2 nonfiction and 2 fiction!

    • Buried In Print October 23, 2017 at 9:39 am - Reply

      Literary festivals can be delightful/brutal for your TBR! Ironically, I tend to buy more CanLit in general, so it’s the international lit that really pulls me into the tables under these circumstances, inspired to read and buy beyond my usual geographies. Plus, just hearing someone talk about their process of working with a manuscript often makes me that much more interested in reading the work, even when I might not have thought the idea intriguing previously. (Thank you for the reminder to correct my pronouns: much appreciated.)

  11. BookerTalk October 19, 2017 at 4:23 pm - Reply

    All of these are new to me…..

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