Because I’m still buried in print when I’m on the move, here’s talk of the books I’ve been reading en route, while heavier volumes (like Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man) stayed at home.
I read nearly half of this book at the top of the steps between CasaLoma and Spadina House, which is part of an east-west trail traditionally used by Indigenous people along what was once the shoreline of (Great) Lake Ontario: Bob Joseph’s 21 Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act (2018).
In under two hundred pages, there are almost as many years of history covered, with the act considered in detail in under a hundred pages. A central tenet is introduced, with a timeframe (a historical beginning, often still active legislation), a quotation, an explanation, and complicating factors and points of contention (sometimes within and between indigenous groups, sometimes between indigenous communities and the Canadian government): twenty-one times plus five appendices. Succinct, accessible and informative. The fourth appendix includes a list of activities for the classroom and a list of ways to change the world: the sixth is to read books by indigenous authors, so unless you’ve started at the back of the book with that very page, odds are that you’re already changing things.
When the news is getting me down, and I’m anticipating a longer-than-usual commute on the TTC, I pack one of Kiyohiko Azuma’s Yotsuba&! series (14+ volumes) and read a chapter or two between magazine articles or poetry cycles.
Questions that preoccupied me in the beginning (why does she have green hair? where is her mother?) no longer trouble me. Yotsuba goes to the beach or an amusement park (in the thirteenth volume, she goes camping) and when she plays store in the sandbox she makes taiyaki (a pastry filled with red bean paste) in a mold shaped like a fish to “sell”. These are gentle stories, although a young girl facing change remains relevant. As the story progresses, the relationship with the neighbour girls (and their mother) acts like an extended family for Yotsuba, and in the thirteenth volume, we meet her grandmother!
Kim McLarin’s Womanish: A Grown Black Woman Speaks on Love and Life (2019) makes for delightful company in a coffee-shop (fair-trade, of course: slave-trade coffee leaves a bad taste in my mouth), just an essay or two at a time, because there’s so much to consider.
Beginning with an epigraph from Alice Walker’s definition of “womanist”, Kim McLarin’s volume of essays presents the bold and inspiring feminist presence that I hoped to find in Roxane Gay’s work. McLarin waxes her legs and she watches television, but more than anything else, she quotes James Baldwin and makes sense of the world in sentences. Even the shortest pieces are carefully crafted and almost immediately I gave up on note-taking: I was writing out entire paragraphs, then pages. The thirteen essays in Womanish, from “Alright, Cupid” to “Better than the Alternative”, through “The Upside of Loving a Sociopath” and “Mothering While Black” are considered and measured, provocative and engaging, and the quality of the writing is impeccable.