Last year, on six weekends, I posed about being Buried in ReLit Print, sampling the novels, short stories and poetry (which is adventurous for me) on the longlists.

The longlists for the 2012 ReLit Awards were announced last Tuesday and I began making my reading plans that morning.

House of Anansi, 2011

Several of these (30 novels-15 short fiction collections-66 poetry books) were already on my reading radar, but many are new to me.

Four arrived on Friday, eight more are due to arrive on Monday, and I’ve pulled from my own shelves to make quite a stack.

But before I begin, here is what I know.

What I have read from these longlists is great stuff.

  • Edem Awumey’s Dirty Feet (translated by Lazer Lederhendler) was the first novel that I re-read immediately after first reading it, earlier this year. It made me want to eat, sleep and breath French, so that I don’t need to wait for translations. (From House of Anansi)
  • Suzette Mayr’s Monoceros was the first book of my Giller Prize reading last year that immediately made my personal shortlist. If you’re hooked on character-driven novels, and a kaleidoscope-style view of the world, this one will read like a page-turner for you. (From Coach House)
  • And after hearing about Jim Nason’s work on Black Coffee Poet, I had to read both The Girl on the Escalator and Narcissus Unfolding. He brings Toronto right off the page in his short stories, and even casual poetry readers like me can get pulled into a collection like Narcissus Unfolding. (From Tightrope Books and Frontenac House respectively)

So where do I begin?

Coach House Books, 2011

I finished my last story in my re-read of Alice Munro’s The Moons of Jupiter today, so that I can start reading other short fiction in earnest.

I like to read the short stories in a collection spread across several days, like jam on bread. and I don’t like my flavours to get all mixed up.

Now I’m ready to put something new on my reader’s plate, and I plan to start with Jessica Westhead’s and also sharks.

Her debut novel, Pulpy & Midge, published in 2004 by Coach House Books really stood out for me in that reading year and, even now, I occasionally see a couple travelling around the city who, I think, look exactly as I imagined Pulpy and Midge to look.

The cover of and also sharks (from Cormorant Books) will stick in my mind just as stubbornly, I’m sure, with its bizarre mash-up of paperdoll bodies and faces photographed in black-and-white.

There are fifteen stories in this collection, and I can already tell that I will have a hard time sticking with my sampling plans; this is one collection that I know I will want to devour completely.

Along with Jessica Westhead’s short fiction, I am also planning to read Rosemary Nixon’s Kalila this week. That seems fitting, because Rosemary Nixon is an author best known for her short stories, although I haven’t read any.

What intrigues me immediately about this work (from Goose Lane Editions), is that it’s impossible to tell what the story is about from the outside of the book.

Goose Lane Editions, 2011

Usually when I describe a book without referring specifically to the nature of its content, it’s because I don’t want to spin the story outside the context of the work. I want the reader to simply fall in and discover it independently. I hope that’s what I’m in for now with Kalila: complete immersion.

Another intriguing thing about Rosemary Nixon’s novel is the blurbing. The first two quotes come from Robert Kroetsch and Lisa Moore, two distinct and disparate voices praising this work.

(When I think about it, I suppose both authors are concerned with the depths of human emotion, of the extreme, but they are not writers I tend to think of in the same breath.)

“Reader, be humble. You are about to read greatness. You are about to cry, to rejoice. You are about to read a story that lifts our mortal lives into lamentation and wisdom and rapture and love. Death, where is thy sting?” (So says Robert Kroetsch of Kalila)

“Here is love and grief and coming through. Rosemary Nixon is unflinching and clear-eyed, a brave stylist who does what the very best writers do — she sees with her heart. Kalila is a gift.” (Lisa Moore)

(The third blurb is from Steven Ross-Smith, whose work I do not know, but the way that he describes Kalila made me put in a request for his book, nominated for this year’s ReLits, too, but for poetry. I’ll save that one for actual talk of the book next week, in my Sampler post.)

As for the poetry, you recall there are 66 books on the longlist? I have a stack of about ten at hand, and I will pluck one from the mix as the week goes on.

Stay tuned for the first ReLit Weekend Sampler on September 15, 2012. How about you? Do you have some ReLit reading in mind?

Are there certain titles on this list that you would like to see shuffled to the top of my stacks?