Sometimes a stack of reading goes stale. For no good reason. You know what I mean.
Maybe you’re just bored with the covers. Or you’ve been teasing the books along with a page here and there, when they needed some quality one-on-one time.
That’s where I was with my stack, heading into Canada Day’s long weekend, but with a few days ahead, anything seemed possible.
Finally, I could sit down and play nice, really concentrate, devote myself.
But, instead, I wandered around the house and put together another stack.
All Canadian authors, some prose and some poetry, some non-fiction and a lot of fiction, a couple of re-reads and several fresh reads, some classics and some contemporary.
And as if that didn’t feel decadent enough? Just whimsically pulling books from shelves according to the mood of the moment?
I did not add my notebook to the stack. I simply read.
The first book I finished was Dany Laferriére’s How to Make Love to a Negro (the extended title in later editions adds ‘Without Getting Tired’). His satirical consideration of a black writer’s life in Montreal runs just over 100 pages, and the tone is immediately and consistently engaging. It’s not all that different from The Return (also translated by David Homel) in some ways, except that there is more writing at the beginning of that book and less as the story moves along when the writer returns to Haiti, and here there is less writing at the beginning and more as the story moves along but the writer stays in one place.
“I flip open the Remington’s top and replace the ribbon. The cursor moves as smooth as silk. I slip a white sheet of paper in the roller, move my chair in front of the machine, settle in with a bottle of cheap wine at my feet and, once the ritual is over, I put my chin on my palm, dreaming as we all do of being Ernest Hemingway.”
Each day I read one of Janine Alyson Young’s stories in Hideout Hotel. The characters hold jobs and inhabit places that are not commonly encountered in fiction, and they are either transient or drawn to places between, or places on the edge of impermanence. The women in these stories are strong and independent and vulnerable and unsure: credible and recognizable.
“I’d just finished my last class of grade eleven and was overwhelmed by summer, the anxiety of groundless days. I felt like I might float away down the forest path through Sung Spit to be pulled and lifted over hte overhang of the beach houses, over the rocks an dup into the hot-blue sky. Kendall lived for that kind of freedom; she was a year older than me and more or less a dropout.”
Dennis Lee’s Civil Elegies and Other Poems was originally published in 1972 as part of the movement to protest the disintegration of Canadian national identity, also explored in works like Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing and George Grant’s Lament for a Nation. My copy is one of the House of Anansi’s A-List publications which I bought as part of my HOA45 celebrations in 2012 and the introduction by Nick Mount so clearly outlines the importance of Lee’s work, that I read on eagerly, reading half one day and the other half the next. (It is responsible for Margaret Atwood’s Survival being added to the stack too.)
I sat one morning by the Moore, off to the west
ten yards, and saw though diffident my city nailed against the sky in ordinary glory.
And dreamed a better past. A place, a making,
two towers, a teeming, a genesis, a city.
On each day I read a section of W.O. Mitchell’s How I Spent My Summer Holidays, which I chose for the summer-ness of its title, although immediately I began to want to reread my favourite of his novels, the one which compelled me to buy his fiction whenever I spotted it on the shelf: Who Has Seen the Wind. There are some similarities, both books being set in the past (this one in the summer of 1924 primarily) and tales of coming-of-age, complete with chasing gophers from their holes, avoiding confrontations with adults, and swimming on long hot afternoons. But twelve-year-old Hugh is involved in situations which introduce matters of sexuality and mental health to the predictable summer routine. Admittedly, some aspects of this novel feel old-fashioned, both in content and style, but even so, there is one scene in particular which made me laugh out loud, verging on a full-throated cackle.
Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Summer Tree was the book which reminded me that fantasy wasn’t a genre whose enjoyment was limited to children. Somewhere in my teens, on the other side of Tolkien and McCaffrey, removed from L’Engle and Baum, I must have decided that I was too cool for wizardry and dragons. But Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar books reminded me of the power of fantastical storytelling, that peculiarly seductive sort of magic. It was also the first time that I had ever encountered an adult fantasy novel which was also set in a city that I knew, on the University of Toronto campus. (Though not an urban fantasy novel, The Summer Tree did introduce fantasy into urban life for me.) I did not own the trilogy when I first read it, and I distinctly remember being absolutely rabid for the third volume and, soon after, in despair that it was over. (My re-read of this volume continues.)
More on my mini-Canlit-read-a-thon on Canada Day tomorrow but how about you? Have you had a mini-read-a-thon lately? Have you been reading on a theme?