January 2018, In My Bookbag

In which there is talk of the slim stories which have travelled with me within the city, while bulkier volumes stayed home.

Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Harbor (Translated by Marlaine Delargy) are awkward travelling companions.

As are some of the skinnies in my current stack, like W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, which seems designed to be read somewhere other-than-here, but not somewhere which requires that any additional baggage be carried as well.

Travelling with books: a delicate business.

Meeting a train at Union Station, a friend travelling from the west, I am waiting in a coffee shop overlooking Lake Ontario when she messages to say that she was late leaving.

This gives me a chunk of time with only Ernest J. Gaines’ A Long Day in November for company.

Originally published in 1964, published with Don Bolognese’s illustrations in 1971, it tells the story of six-year-old Sonny, whose father works on a 1940s sugarcane plantation.

The first part of the story considers his relationship with his mother, the second with his father and, in between, readers glimpse his school life and girl crush.

While the wind blows across the lake and the shore, and I sit, warm and comfortable, Sonny’s father seeks help from Madame Toussaint, who has had to give a great deal of advice to the men in the region.

She gives Sonny’s father some concrete advice, and adds this commentary:

“Women like to be in their own house. That’s their world. You men done messed up the outside world so bad that they feel lost and out of place in it.”

Brought back into print in 2013 by Ig Publishing’s Lizzie Skurnick Books, dedicated to reviving classics for young adult readers written in the 1930s through the 1980s,

A Long Day in November is a sweetly satisfying (but not all easy, not by any means) read.

On a weekend day, when it was impossible to avoid subway travel while the line was under construction, I tucked Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters (1988) into my bag, thinking it would be worth some smiles in crowded and bustling stations, moving between trains and shuttle buses.

The play takes me out of time and onto the roof, where the women are working and dreaming. Amidst the gossip and trash talk on the reservation, there is a lot of talk about bingo, which is where many of the dreams reside. What would each woman do if she won the jackpot?

The women’s voices are all-a-blur, their sisterhood sometimes literal, connections sometimes looser but still family-based. All of the roles are written for women and, in the background Nanabush, the trickster flits and flies. At times the women speak (or yell) simultaneously, and on-stage that would be impossible to decipher.

In the script, the women’s temperaments sometimes make the dialogue recognisable. Here’s Pelajia, for instance:

“I say we all march down to the Band Office and ask the Band Council for a loan that will pay for the trip to this bingo. I know how to handle that tired old chief. He and I have been arguing about paved roads for years now. I’ll tell him we’ll build paved roads all over the reserve with our prize money. I’ll tell him the people will stop drinking themselves to death because they’ll have paved roads to walk on.”

But sometimes it’s just a broader exchange, the speaker not crucial, rather a contributor to the mood. Which is, for readers familiar with Tomson Highway’s work, a most magnificent medley of inspiration and devastation, yearning and sorrow.

And, in your bookbag?

2018-01-25T17:17:13+00:00

25 Comments

  1. Danielle February 12, 2018 at 10:32 am - Reply

    Too many books in my bag this morning–forgetting (conveniently??) that there are also two books in my gym locker. I always struggle with hardcovers–so many times I want to read something in hardcover but if I do, then I really need to only carry it (alone) or with one other very small book–and you know how hard that is for me. So my hardcovers sit at home pining away. Why am I so greedy? (Needing to carry so many books with me).

    • Buried In Print February 12, 2018 at 11:55 am - Reply

      Well, you never know what reading mood you are going to be in, right? It’s hard to just take one with you: what if you have a spat with it mid-day and then you’re stuck sitting in silence for the rest of the day?! (BTW, I know who is in your gym locker – or, at, least, I think I do – so, yes, I’m betting that was an act of deliberation for sure. LOL

  2. Liz Dexter January 29, 2018 at 4:34 am - Reply

    I travel with my Kindle, I don’t count it as screen time because it’s a different kind of screen, if that makes sense? But i have to have some real books as well, in case the Kindle breaks, but then the Kindle in case I run out of real books!!

    • Buried In Print January 29, 2018 at 1:01 pm - Reply

      So it’s quite a delicate dance, then, which requires a lot of e-books and a lot of printed books. In short, lots of books. Yes, I get that.

  3. iliana January 26, 2018 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    Never heard of The Rez Sisters but I like the sound of that. It can be difficult to travel with heavy books isn’t it? Luckily there are all sizes of books 🙂

    • Buried In Print January 29, 2018 at 12:59 pm - Reply

      It’s a strangely uplifting story, a description which could apply to most of his work (how he gets hope into some of these stories is mystifying indeed).

  4. annelogan17 January 25, 2018 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    I read the Rez Sisters a long time ago, but remember being struck by it, even though I don’t remember anything about the storyline. It was my first introduction to Highway, such a memorable man and author!

    • Buried In Print January 25, 2018 at 5:42 pm - Reply

      I suspect it’s one of those stories about which one remembers the energy and timbre rather than the details. He seems such a wonder+full spirit, doesn’t he?

  5. Wendy January 25, 2018 at 11:30 am - Reply

    I love the cover of the Rez Sisters. (perhaps because of the bird) I’m curious as to whether you ever read on a kindle or kindle app? I prefer the physical book but it’s handy when I’m travelling. Tonight I fly to Calgary and I’m in the middle of “A visit from the goon squad” by jennifer egan. I picked up this book at the university of regina used bookstore…had never heard of this book/author before.

    • Buried In Print January 25, 2018 at 2:13 pm - Reply

      It’s striking, isn’t it. Although I went through a stage where I did a lot of e-book reading, I have shifted away from it, largely because I try hard to limit my overall screen time and sometimes it’s unavoidable, so I avoid it when I can (say, with books). I really enjoyed Goon Squad and I think she’s a very considered and intriguing writer; that one would make a great candidate for a future re-reading project, as it’s got a lot of moving parts. Although, as Susan was saying above, her Manhattan Beach has been getting mixed reviews, and not everyone loved Goon Squad either.

      • wendy January 29, 2018 at 12:30 pm - Reply

        Unfortunately I did not love the Goon Squad…I felt like I was reading a collection of short stories masquerading as a novel. insert sad face here but I did start Ann Patchett’s state of wonder on the weekend and I’m really enjoying it so far!

        • Buried In Print January 29, 2018 at 12:58 pm - Reply

          That’s too bad: I had a feeling it might not be a happy ending for you. I think what makes it a novel of stories rather than simply a collection is the thematic linking between and across the stories. But, I realise that’s not a helpful comment to make, especially when you are not fond of short stories to begin with. State of Wonder is quite a gripping story; I really enjoy her writing. (PS Thanks for reaching out on GoodReads. I’m looking forward to seeing what you’re reading.)

  6. Naomi January 25, 2018 at 10:39 am - Reply

    I really love both of those quotes!
    The Canadian edition of Granta is my secondary book right now – the book I read to fill in shorter time gaps. I’m loving getting to read some new-to-me authors!

    • Buried In Print January 25, 2018 at 2:06 pm - Reply

      I’m just about to start that collection, too: maybe if you’re not filling too many gaps, I can catch up to you!

      • Naomi January 26, 2018 at 8:08 am - Reply

        I don’t think you’d have any problem catching up! I’m only at Alexander MacLeod’s story right now.

  7. Rebecca Foster January 25, 2018 at 4:36 am - Reply

    I remember reading Gaines’ A Lesson before Dying in high school. When travelling I tend to just take my Kindle: 360 books to choose from; almost no weight added. I might supplement it with a thin paperback.

    • Buried In Print January 25, 2018 at 8:59 am - Reply

      The only other Gaines book I’ve read was A Gathering of Old Men, which I also quite enjoyed, with its chorus of voices all narrating the events of a conflict-ridden afternoon. I didn’t realise that A Lesson before Dying was taught in some schools: I’ve considered it from time to time.

  8. lauratfrey January 25, 2018 at 12:37 am - Reply

    A UK paperback edition of A Brief History of Seven Killings. This is why I like to have both a paperback and hardcover one the go, so I don’t have to drag a heavy book with me! I started this one while waiting you have blood drawn… read a fair amount in the lunch room at work too.

    • Buried In Print January 25, 2018 at 8:47 am - Reply

      But the Marlon James is a real chunky read! At least you know you’re not (likely) to run out of reading, wherever you take this one. I was just listening to an interview with him this week, in which he discussed the kind of music he was listening to while writing this book (anything BUT reggae!).

  9. Lisa Hill January 24, 2018 at 11:25 pm - Reply

    En l’absence des homes (In the Absence of Men) by Philippe Bessan. Having it in my bag forces me to do without the dictionary!

    • Buried In Print January 25, 2018 at 8:44 am - Reply

      I like the sounds of that, with the Proust link (although I haven’t read Proust properly – maybe next year). I can’t imagine reading Proust in French though, with all those meandering sentences; does Bessan write in that kind of style too? I’m always looking for challenging-but-not-too-challenging books in French so the skill doesn’t completely rust up.

  10. kaggsysbookishramblings January 24, 2018 at 4:45 am - Reply

    Current reading – Flaneuse, which is wonderful!

    • Buried In Print January 24, 2018 at 11:54 am - Reply

      Ooo, that’s on my TBR: GTK! Also, I picked up Perec’s Life today from the library (after a long wait on a hold list)…

  11. A Life in Books January 24, 2018 at 3:22 am - Reply

    I love the sound of The Rez Sistres. I try to pick out a novella or slim collection of short stories for train travel. For flying, I need something to get lost in shutting out the misery of being stuck on a plane despite having been cheerily told by the pilot to sit back and enjoy the flight.

    • Buried In Print January 24, 2018 at 11:53 am - Reply

      He is a magical writer. I wish he was more of a novel writer, but the fact that he is not has encouraged me to read out of my comfort zone to have more of his storytelling.

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