Although I always have a small stack of books underway, I have carried to extremes this act of multi-booking this summer.
Yesterday I finished Michael Crummey’s new novel (Sweetland), Alison Wearing’s memoir (Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter), Jan Zwicky’s poetry collection, the second volume in the Fruits Basket manga series, and Gene Luen Yang’s graphic novel Level Up (artwork by Thien Pham).
Maybe that sounds impresssive. Or impossible.
But I’d been reading all of them for a couple of weeks (and parcelling out Wearing’s work for even longer), a few pages or chapters here and there, and then, bam, the final pages.
Some of these will have full-length reviews in the weeks to come but for now, here are some thoughts about other recent discoveries:
- Guillaume Morissette’s New Tab (2014)
- Eufemia Fantetti’s A Recipe for Disaster and Other Unlikely Tales of Love (2013)
- Mark Sakamoto’s Forgiveness (2014)
- Alice Walker’s The Road Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers (2013)
Guillaume Morissette’s New Tab (2014)
If you are the kind of reader who annoys friends, possibly even strangers sitting nearby, by reading out passages from the book you have in your hands, with all the clever bit and fascinating observations that you simply must share, maybe you should avoid this book. Even if you think you are not that kind of reader, New Tab will probably turn you into that kind of reader. \
Relationships between roommates are not as orderly or predictable as opening up a new tab; replacing Dan is not as simple as closing an old tab, and interactions with Ines, Cristian, Brent and Pierre are suitably challenging as expectations are stressed and strained. Neither work nor romance are turning out as well as hoped, but dissatisfaction on those fronts can’t be resolved by closing down those connections either.
As a meditation on disconnect, there is not as much focus on traditional character development and story as there is, say, in Arjun Basu’s Waiting for the Man (which also considers the disconnect in our tab-filled existences), but there are so many laugh-out-loud and nodding-in-understanding moments, that one hardly notices.
Eufemia Fantetti’s A Recipe for Disaster and Other Unlikely Tales of Love (Mother Tongue, 2013)
“I stare at him, sitting across from me, still wearing his barbeque apron. He wears it every time he cooks, and each time I see it, I think, this must be what it feels like to lose an erection.”
These six stories pull readers through dramatic highs and lows in emotions, so in one instant a hand is covering one’s mouth in startling laughter and, in the next, the same hand works to hide a grimace. The prose is spare, the dialogue fragmented and realistic. Paragraphs are constructed with orderly sentences, clauses erupting to maximum effect on occasion, the contrast calling attention to important realizations and observations, or effective shorthand to characterization. Design-wise, the volume is striking, from its cover photograph and paradoxical pink-ness to the sketches of kitchen utensils. Oh, so domestic. Not.
Contents: A Recipe for Disaster, Sweets, Punch Drunk, Loss of Appetite, The Hunger, The Bread of Life
Mark Sakamoto’s Forgiveness (2014)
“Canadians arrived completely unprepared for the brutality of the situation. Hastings was worse than any rumour that had been conjured up. Not in their wildest dreams had Japanese Canadians thought they’d be locked up in cattle stalls among lice and manure. These were people: moms and dads and kids and grandparents. They had done nothing wrong. Their lives had been stolen. Everything was gone and there they sat in cattle stalls. Their sole crime being Japanese.”
Composed within the context of great love and admiration for his grandparents, Ralph MacLean and Mitsue Sakamoto, Forgiveness does not offer readers a multi-dimensional perspective of these individuals and their experiences; the prose is generous with emotion, description, and nostalgia, and readers are constantly aware just how personal this story is.
This is not a scholarly work, but these stories do have a broader historical significance, for instance, in the context of his grandfather’s experience as a Canadian in the Japanese POW camps in WWII and his grandmother’s experience as a Canadian in the Canadian government’s internment camps for Japanese-Canadian citizens in Canada in WWII.
All readers can understand the importance of knowing one’s ancestral stories, both as an homage and an act of gratitude. Forgiveness is necessary, not only to bridge gaps between individuals (Ralph MacLean and Mitsue Sakamoto appeared to be on opposing sides in wartime), but between wider groups too, in order to heal the wounds of the past.
A sensitively told memoir like Mark Sakamoto’s might begin as a personal tale, but it resonates beyond the pages of the family scrapbook and reminds readers that forgiveness is only possible when history is remembered and acknowledged and allowed to serve as foundation for new beginnings.
Alice Walker’s The Road Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers (2013)
Written between October 2009 and August 2011, these poems range from personal verses (written for friends on their birthdays) to public calls to action.
Always accessible, Alice Walker writes with purpose and steadfast belief in the artist’s responsibility to engage with the world, to provoke thought and discussion and response.
Whether writing about an encounter with a gecko in her backyard (one of my favourites) or exploring new possibilities for the world (for instance, Democratic Motherism), readers who have enjoyed Alice Walker’s earlier works will appreciate this collection immensely.
Any of these in your stacks?
What stands out about your reading in August?
What are you looking forward to reading next?