The Fold’s 2016 Reading List (Part Four)

fold-bannerThe FOLD (The Festival of Literary Diversity) is an annual event, in Brampton (Ontario, Canada) dedicated to telling more stories, to having audiences connect with a wider variety of storytellers. You can check out their lineup of terrific writers and storytellers who were a part of the debut festival in May this year, here.

Earlier in 2016, they posted a reading challenge, which I printed and dutifully began to read towards. (I’ve misplaced the link: sorry!)

  1. A book you’ve had for more than a year.
  2. A book outside of your ‘favourite genre’.
  3. A book you buy at an indie bookstore.
  4. A book by a person of a faith.
  5. A book by an aboriginal author.
  6. A book by a Canadian LGBTQ author.
  7. A book by a Canadian person of colour.
  8. A book by a FOLD 2016 author.

I’ve already discussed the following: Ernest J. Gaines’ A Gathering of Old Men (1983); N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Kingdoms (2010); André Alexis’ Pastoral; David Chariandy’s Soucouyant (2007); and Farzana Doctor’s All Inclusive (2015). And I’ve chosen Lydia Perović’s All That Sang as my selection for a Canadian LGBTQ author.

Today, a book by an aboriginal author, Harold Johnson’s Charlie Muskrat. (Which also counts towards my 13 indigenous reads for this year’s Canadian Book Challenge, the tenth challenge hosted by the Book Mine Set.

harold-johnson-charlie-muskratHarold Johnson’s Charlie Muskrat was a whimsical choice off my library shelf, on a Saturday afternoon browse. Only afterwards was I reminded via Twitter that he’s written several other books as well (which weren’t on the shelf), including Corvus, most recently, which sounds particularly intriguing.

However this was an excellent place to begin. And, speaking of beginning, you are probably wondering “Who is Charlie?” You’re not alone. “I thought he might be one of yours. His father was Greek and his mother was Cree. She thought he said he was Creek. You know the Indians in the States. But anyway, now we have Charlie and we don’t know what to do with him.”

Charlie is all over the book, as you might guess, but so is Harold Johnson: on the periphery as story-shaper but also in the guts of it, seeming to be both author and character. He creates drama and inhabits it. As does Wesakicak — the trickster.

“Wesakicak watched the mist swirl in front and around his moccasins. He was nowhere. Nowhere is a good place to be when you are trying to think. There are no distractions. Wesakicak looked up from his feet at the nothing that surrounded him. He turned full circle. Still nothing. Nothing in front or behind. No distractions, but no inspiration either. What to do about Charlie?Wesakicak had no idea. He walked onward not going anywhere. He waved at the mist in front of his eyes, tried to clear his vision, tried to see.”

But Wesakicak is not the only trickster. A black-robed figure prompts this exchange:

“’Do you remember the one we played on you in 1894?’
‘No, can’t say I was around back then.’
‘I was, honest, I was there. Fantastic. We snatched the earth right out from under your feet, the classic tablecloth trick expanded to a whole country. Now, that was magic. Certainly our best of all time, you should have seen it.’

There are many sharply funny incidents and exchanges like this one. Figures use a broom to sweep away the snow in front of cars which are slipping along road lanes (playing curling with cars), customs’ protocol is slightly altered (you can’t enter the US without a gun and a Bible) and readers witness bureaucrats scurrying around on Parliament Hill with bags full of money, worrying about being followed.

When a government employee, responsible for enforcing the Indian Fiscal Accountability Act, sees Charlie put quarters into a parking metre, the rep asks if Charlie got a receipt. His advice is complicated:  “In the event that receipts are not obtainable, and I assume that you used a public meter instead of an authorized parking facility, you are required by section twelve thousand nine hundred and eighty-four, subsection eighteen ‘G’ of the regulations pursuant to that Act to fill out forms ‘K’, ‘P’ and ‘V’.”

TenthCanadianBookChallengeBut sometimes the intelligence plays out more softly, quietly imbues the narrative.

“Four lanes flow into six lanes and flow into twelve lanes and I am a fish in spawn on a fast black river, and Thunder doesn’t know which way to go so he just goes. The black river glimmers and flashes between smears of windshield wipers. Slush and salt smaller the glass and I think I must be a Salmon to be swimming in salt water.”

Charlies Muskrat is much shorter than Green Grass Running Water, but it does have a similar tone, playful and insightful. It has a fable-like quality to it, and reminds us that “[t]he distance between the Ancestors and Future generations is not far, a short paddle in a light, fast canoe”.

It’s a short paddle, but a satisfying journey.

Other Fold Reading List posts are here, here and here. There are still plenty of weeks left in 2016: why not join?



  1. […] Robert Arthur Alexie’s Porcupines and China Dolls, Paul Seesequasis’ Tobacco Wars, Harold Johnson’s Charlie Muskrat, Tracey Lindberg’s Birdie, Richard VanCamp’s collection of stories, Angel Wing Splash […]

  2. […] (2010), the comics anthology Moonshot (2015), edited by Hope Nicholson, and Harold Johnson’s Charlie Muskrat […]

  3. bookishbutch October 26, 2016 at 11:48 am - Reply

    Hi, I am going to give this a try, I do believe I have a book for every category:-)

    • Buried In Print October 26, 2016 at 12:04 pm - Reply

      Oh, do tell, BB! Or, at least cough up one title that’s calling to you? 🙂

  4. Danielle October 17, 2016 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    Why am I so bad this year at setting myself a reading task/project/goal and not sticking to it? You have been admirably tenacious when it comes to your plans. Not that it matters (though of course I am noticing…ahem…I have not finished a single book from my pile yet this month. I hope I can put in a better effort for the last couple of weeks. I did read a playscript, but somehow that seems like I am cheating! I love the sound of this and would have thought it great fun to do, except it is just this sort of project I am failing so miserably at this year. What is going on anyway? 😉

    • Buried In Print October 17, 2016 at 3:54 pm - Reply

      A playscript is not cheating; in fact, you should give yourself some extra recognition as its something you don’t read very often, so that’s a good stretch really. I’m actually in a start-many-finish-few cycle right now myself. That has to happen every now and then, I think. But I know you feel you’ve been struggling with this for awhile now, so I understand you’re feeling frustrated with it. Maybe you could simply make a list now of the titles you plan to finish in 2016, so that you can begin to feel a sense of accomplishment as you begin to settle down with one, and then another, of them? (Wait: it’s not too early to make end-of-year reading plans, is it? Too early for another list? *grins*)

      • Dnaielle October 18, 2016 at 3:25 pm - Reply

        True…and since it was in conjunction with seeing the play it’s even better right? Advance planning and all that. That is my current cycle, too. I have sort of kind of done what you suggest, but only with the idea of finishing out the month and not having it be a complete washout. I have a mini list of books I want to finish this month, but I still find myself looking at really short books, or novellas to add to the list thinking it would be a quick read….better to finish one Already in progress. Heh, I have been making (mental) end of the year reading plans since like August…. My world could not function without lists–I kid you not!

        • Buried In Print October 20, 2016 at 12:24 pm - Reply

          Really, I can say n-o-t-h-i-n-g. There are 17 books in my “current reading” stack. Seventeen. Some of them are there because it’s intended that I take some time with them (like the short story collections for RIPXI) but others are lingering there for superficial reasons (the Greg Iles book is just too fat to hang onto comfortably and Steven Price’s book is just as thick but with very heavy paper so it’s a no-go for commute-reading). And even though I intend to read a couple of chapters in my current Oz book (the 9th) every other night, it turns into once/week before I know it and it takes a couple of months to finish a 200-page book for kids. Then, like you, I try to squeeze something in (usually because it’s due at the library) and that proves just how quickly I could finish something if I simply chose to do so. Oh, well: we don’t always have to be practical or sensible, right? 🙂

  5. Naz @ Read Diverse Books October 13, 2016 at 11:09 pm - Reply

    Awesome, more aboriginal writers to add to my list. I’ve been fairly good about reading at least 1 book by an indigenous writer a month, though I haven’t been great about reviewing them on my blog.
    I like short books, so I’ll add this one to my TBr. Thank you!

    • Buried In Print October 17, 2016 at 3:52 pm - Reply

      It’s funny how sometimes it’s a matter of reading the books or writing about them. And, when they’re especially short, it’s hard to make a review happen every time, as the pile is continuously growing. Which, of course, is the wonderful thing about having so many fine reading recommendations. Some very nice problems to have!

  6. Naomi October 12, 2016 at 9:37 pm - Reply

    A couple of years ago I read almost half of Green Grass Running Water, and then I put it down and never picked it back up. I don’t know why. And now I avoid it because it makes me mad to think that it’s been so long that I would have to start the book all over again. I still dither over it.
    Only one more to go for this challenge!

    • Buried In Print October 17, 2016 at 3:50 pm - Reply

      Could you just pretend that you haven’t begun yet? You must not have been in the right mood and a trickster got in the way so you would pick it up again later when you were actually in the right mood to love, love, love it!

  7. Karen October 12, 2016 at 3:47 am - Reply

    Sounds like a worthwhile project. Good luck with the rest of your challenge.

    • Buried In Print October 17, 2016 at 3:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Karen. It’s not as long as the Booker list, but it’s a great reading list all the same!

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