In the autumn of 2014, the press release celebrating Goose Lane’s 60th birthday landed in my mailbox.
It arrived when I was in a nostalgic mood, and I wandered around the house, randomly pulling their publications from the shelves.
Some I could distinctly remember purchasing and others I have picked up on a whim, trusting in the quality of the works they produce, in second-hand shops and at college booksales.
Pamela Mordecai’s collection of poetry, Certifiable, is divided into three parts: Jus a Likl Lovin, My Sister Muse and Certifiable. Sometimes sharp, sometimes soft: her poems capture a variety of moods and subjects.
My favourite in the collection is “The Angle in the House”. I’ve tucked it inside my copy of the first volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary. Here’s a peek into the poem’s middle, but it’s most powerful in its entirety:
Well, to start with,
I feel this sister mean.
Whole world of somebody
pile up on top them one
another and she out
looking wider berth for
she alone? Nobody
tell her all o’ we cramp
up out here truggline for
Soraya Peerbaye’s Poems for the Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names is reflective and evocative. Comparisons are sensorily rich, sometimes to tamarind and cardamon pods (an armonica, whales) and other times to penguins from the sea and veins (watermelon seeds spat, filigree). Scenes are as diverse as Mauritius and Antartica, with many interior landscapes of memory too. My favourite is the final long poem, “Reading the Yamana-English Dictionary”, but it is hard to choose: this is a beautiful volume, a favourite amongst my collections.
I picked up Linda Johns’ Birds of a Feather: Tales of a Wild Bird Haven in a rush one afternoon, when I knew I was going to have to sit and wait awhile for my older daughter; it’s the perfect book for a slightly distracting environment (and now I forever associate it with that waiting room). Her drawings provoke the same warm feeling that I had as a girl staring at the GarthWilliams’ illustrations in my Little House books, though Linda Johns’ are more precise and detailed. Though it’s not my usual style to wander in a book, I found myself browsing these pieces, content to flip through and choose by whimsy. Often amusing, sometimes sad, they may be a few pages long to more than a dozen, most frequently somewhere in between.
One that stood out in my reading was a story about a young pigeon. “But this one, though well disposed towards the other birds, chose alway s to be with us, not them, She sat in our laps dozing, or preening, her eyes utterly contented. She lay across our open books, the better to command our attention, and sampled our foods. Bread and crackers became her favourites, though several times I watched her picking diced celery out of my salad and swallowing it with enthusiasm. [..] She loved to cuddle down under our hands and doze, and she welcomes visitors with the same confidence. One day, Mack lifted her up to his face, pursing his mouth to emit kissy sounds, while the pigeon, squealing and excited, nibbled gently all over his lips. I felt I shouldn’t be watching.”
Sheree Fitch’s In This House Are Many Women now sits next to my copies of Bronwen Wallace’s poetry collections, defying the sorta-alpha-order in that bookcase. It was on my shelves unread for years, but now I wish that I’d read it in the early ’90s when I was discovering Bronwen Wallace’s stories in People You Could Trust Your Life To.
These poems are accessible and as likely to make readers wince as laugh aloud but, most often, nod along in recognition. I cannot choose a favourite, but I did particularly enjoy meeting up with the women in the poems on multiple occasions as I turned the pages (which happens with Wallace’s stories too). That was a pure delight. And, as such, the group of poems titled “Lucy in Parts” was a pleasure indeed.
Having spent countless hours with my own dolls and those of my friends and family, I was immediately keen on Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll. And I giggled to find talk of my Skipper Grows Up doll, which I received for Christmas when I was about twelve years old. When you twisted her arm, she grew up. Which is to say that her torso lengthened slightly and all those Judy-Blume-inspired-mutterings — “I must, I must, I must increase my bust” – paid off. (It was reversed just as easily, with another spin of her arm.)
“Growing Up Skipper slipped into prodcution while men managed the Barbie line. Earlier Barbie products had reflected a sort of sly, knowing, conspiracy-of-women approach to the muysteries of femininity. But Growing Up Skipper is a male interpretation of female coming-of-age, focusing not on the true marker of womanhood — menstruation — but on a tidy, superficial change.”
Sex, race, class: Forever Barbie takes on all the gritty details. There are scads of endnotes and quotes throughout the text, but the work reads comfortably: the research doesn’t get in the way for a second.
The first glimpse I had of Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer’s first novel (her second published work, following the collection Way Up) was the paperback from Goose Lane, which I borrowed from the Guelph Public Library. The number of times that I’ve returned library books unread is embarrassing to contemplate, but I had to find another copy of The Nettle Spinner after I finished All the Broken Things, one of my favourite books last year (published by Random House).
The press release about their birthday reminded me of many Goose Lane favourites, but I was caught in the swell of the season when their anniversary was announced, so the catalogue was tucked in with a stack of magazines, and I just discovered it there (along with many back issues of “The Walrus” from a previous year which I have recently enjoyed as well).
Later last year, however, even though I wasn’t talking about Goose Lane’s bithday, I was enjoying many of their publications (Ian Weir’s Will Starling, Margaret Sweatman’s Mr. Jones, Theresa Kishkan’s Mnemonic, Tamai Kobayashi’s Prairie Ostrich, Debra Komar’s The Lynching of Peter Wheeler, and Running the Whale’s Back, a collection of stories about faith and doubt edited by Andrew Atkinson and Mark Harris.
Just a few weeks ago, I read Mark Anthony Jarman’s Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, Peter Nowak’s Humans 3.0 and the anthology of love letters by Canadian poets, Where the Nights are Twice as Long, which was edited by David Eso and Jeanette Lynes.
And this summer the family has been leafing through their series of art books (Jack Chambers, Alex Colville, Emily Carr, and Iain Baxter&), enjoying them on the back porch, at leisure while the sparrows and squirrels peck and flit and beg and hoard.
Earlier this month, I finished reading Pauline Holdstock’s The Hunter and the Wild Girl, which is one of CBC’s 15 must-reads for this autumn. It is wondrous.
At first, I avoided all but the last paragraph of the cover, which states: “Holdstock spins an unforgettable tale that affirms the persistance of life, the power of human connection, and the fundamental urge to be free.”
Okay, I could not miss Charlotte Gill’s blurb on the front cover (and because I loved her Ladykiller, the blurb enticed me), but I aimed to finish before any spoilers could reach me.
Back in 2012, I realized that although I thought I was supporting independent publishers, the bulk of my reading was from mainstream presses. And, hey, they’ve got great stuff, too. This shouldn’t have to be an either-or situation. And every single reader will want to balance things in their own way.
Since then, I have read more books by small and indie publishers in each year, and as you can tell, there are still plenty of Goose Lane books in my stacks too.
Here’s to many more birthdays, for many more indie publishers, in the years to come!
Do you have an indie-press read in your current stack? Or one lined up?