Among other books enjoyed in September were some standout novels that will be featured later this month, including Michael Crummey’s Sweetland and Magie Dominic’s Street Angel. There was also Diversiverse and the launch of RIP IX, and much musing on future Read-a-Thon choices. Award longlists began appearing (including the Toronto Book Award and the Giller Prize) and IFOA reading began in earnest (Nadia Bozak’s novels made a real impression). Below are some brief thoughts on some works read recently.

Richard van Camp’s The Lesser Blessed (1996)
Zarqa Nawaz’s Laughing All the Way to the Mosque (HarperCollins, 2014)
Maira Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty (2007)

Lesser Blessed vanCampRichard van Camp’s The Lesser Blessed (1996)

“I had rewound the Outfield’s song ‘Baby, When You Talk to Me’ and got it ready so that when she answered, I would press ‘play’ and she’d hear it. Man, she just had to know how I felt. I also had Judas Priest on standby: ‘Turbo Lover’ was set to go, and if the conversation followed along, I had backup, too. Van Halen was locked, cocked and ready to rock.”

Larry is in love with Juliet. A member of the Dogrib nation, he thinks of her like a white caribou, whom he chooses to keep in his sights, beautifully alive. When Johnny Beck, a Métis, moves to Fort Simmer, a small northern town, alliances shift and possibilities present themselves. “It was okay, not much to do if you’re not into booze or sports. I mostly read and listened for stories.” Richard van Camp’s style not only captures the realistic grit of coming-of-age but affords room for the unexplained, a sense of mythic power which hovers beneath the seemingly mundane choices that the characters in his stories make (or fall into). The Lesser Blessed is a slim volume, but the characters stretch beyond its binding.

Zarqa Nawaz’s Laughing All the Way to the Mosque (HarperCollins, 2014)

“Dear Reader, I’ve written this memoir so that one day, should you find yourself facing a pint-sized Muslim trying to save your soul, you will be armed with understanding of the other side. You will have all sorts of interesting knowledge to catch them off guard with, like ‘Isn’t there a prayer that you’re late for?’ or ‘As soon as you figure out the moon issue, I’ll listen to you,’ and the perennial ‘Exactly how clean are your genitals?’”Laughing Mosque Nawaz

Zarqa Nawaz has been accused of not knowing the difference between poking fun at Muslims and making fun of Islam, but although she may occasionally veer into the former camp, she steers clear of the latter. Laughing All the Way to the Mosque is fast-paced and entertaining, also filled with useful observations as promised (for instance, hajj and fudge do rhyme but one actually is a religious requirement and the other the author eats as though it is a religious requirement). Tales about the filming of “Little Mosque on the Prairie” will interest all readers, although those who have seen some episodes of the CBC television series will be most keen. Most remarkable is the author’s conversational and inviting tone; a firm resolve to read just one chapter is bound to swell beyond that page-count.

Maira Kalman’s The Principles of Uncertainty (2007)

“You might admire my egg slicer collection. What is better than a sliced egg sandwich, eaten by someone named Sally at a luncheonette counter on a drizzly day in New York City?”

Kalman Principles UncertaintyMaira Kalman’s collections, which comprise the thing-y-ness of this volume, are fascinating. From postcards (of Hotel Celeste or Santa Lucia) to numbers on tags and tapes (all shapes, sizes and origins) and paper packets, from photographs of people she has walked behind to things that have fallen out of books.

The artwork is boldly coloured, dramatic strokes shaping a particular person or a view, sometimes more detailed bits, like a garbage receptacle in Paris or a pair of shoes. Be it a subway platform or a chocolate bar wrapper, there is an unmistakeable energy in these observations.

We are reminded to take in our surroundings attentively and ambitiously, whether a hat or a favourite aunt. Creatively, the volume inspires and urges a mood of reflection, but also leaves one with a strange sense of longing, perhaps for what cannot be collected on a page.

What has stood out for you in your recent reading?

Were you pleased with your bookish September?

What are you looking forward to reading next?