Book Snap #92

Title: Son of a Trickster

Author: Eden Robinson

Date Read: December 3, 2020

Two snaps.

More wonderful writing and captivating story telling.

Robinson moves neatly through the mess of Jared Martin’s life. He is a sixteen-year-old pot cookie dealer, smoker, drinker and son with the scariest mom ever.

Many tribes of Native American Indians tell stories that feature a trickster, which are mythical, mischievous, supernatural beings who take the form of animals. Jared’s grandmother insists that he is the son of Wee’git the Trickster, that dangerous shape-shifter who looks innocent but wreaks havoc.

“The world is hard. You have to be harder.” That’s Jared’s mother’s favorite saying. When he starts seeing purple men who follow him everywhere he goes, fireflies who wax philosophical about the universe, and river otters who look like people he knows, at first he thinks it has to be the weed. But Jared is about to find out some hard truths about himself and his family: these supernatural creatures are hell-bent on revenge against them.

The world is hard. Now Jared has to be harder.

Another clear winner amongst the titles in this year’s Canada Reads competition.

Book Snap #91

Title: Anxious People

Author: Fredrik Backman

Date Read: October 13, 2020

Two snaps.

I can’t say enough good things about Fredrik Backman.

I do however say good things about his novel Bear Town here; Us Against You here; and Britt Marie Was Here here.

Before I began recording my feelings about books I have read, I would have been publically effusive about his other titles: A Man Called Ove; and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry.

Backman weaves beautiful stories. Human stories. Beautiful human stories that are insightful, and empathetic, and honest, and ugly, and brave.

Anxious People is a story about a robbery. A botched robbery. Or, moreover a love story. No, a hostage taking. Anyway, doesn’t matter how they all got there. Eight odd strangers all show up at the New Year’s eve showing of an apartment in Sweden (but most definitely not in Stockholm)– and become unwitting confidantes, counsellors, and chums.

Here’s the passage I shared with my students today:

She could see winter making itself comfortable across the town. She liked the silence of this time of year, but had never appreciated its smugness. When the snow arrives autumn has already done all the work, taking care of all the leaves and carefully sweeping summer away from people’s memories. All winter had to do was roll in with a bit of freezing weather and take all the credit, like a man who has spent twenty minutes next to a barbeque but has never served a full meal in his life.

(Backman, p. 230-1)

When I got to the end, I wanted to start all over again.

New this September to book stores, on your bookshelf or to be read pile next!

Book Snap #88

Title: Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club

Author: Megan Gail Coles

Date Read: August 17, 2020.

Two snaps.

This year’s Canada Reads has had many winners in my mind. This is yet another amazing contestant, and I loved it.

The subject matter is heartwrenching and powerful. The writing is absolutely beautiful.

Set in Newfoundland, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club explores the lives and interwoven stories of Olive, Iris, John, George, and Damian as they prepare for guests to arrive at The Hazel, the over-priced artisnal restaurant in which they are employed. The book is split in to three sections: prep, lunch, and dinner. As guests arrive for Valentine’s dinner we begin to understand the complicated connections between the employees and their guests.

Coles pens a compassionate portrait of poverty; highlights the juxtaposition of privilege; and bravely confronts rape and sexual assault and the complicated and disasterous unravelling of its victims. Her forward to the novel reads simply: “This might hurt a little. Be brave.”

Her writing is nothing short of poetic prose to be slowly inhaled like clean laundry.

While waiting on an incorrigible customer, Iris detaches from reality and [feels] “Like a person drowning on the bottom of a pool, Iris is held down by some unknowable force, looking up through the shimmering blue crest at the surface just beyond her reach. She kicks and stretches and struggles. She tries to retain breath yet it escapes her. She watches the bubbles break.” (224).

A terrible rucus breaks out in the restaurant: “Damian approaches the scene reluctantly and hyper aware of the booze his body is focused on metabolizing. He places his man mask on as that is the only mask acceptabe in this particular circumstance.” (252).

When yet another dramatic incident unfolds and a guest calls Damian a faggot, “[George] had stood horrified over by the linen vestibule holding folded cloth napkins in a stack between both plams. Transfixed by the language. The man’s sharp decriptors came as no surprise. His nature held firm to everything George presupposed about the class of people that caused scenes such as this in dining rooms such as these.

Raw skeet, she had thought when she walked past the table hours earlier. (356)

And, as the dinner hour is cut short by the raging white out outside:

“Iris registers the sound of the wind first.

The power loss has created a vacuum seal temporarily absent of human sound. The first wave of shock cascaded over them but now everyone is held in place willing the music to return. They can suddenly and properly hear the storm surge against the corner picture windows. It is swirling and unpredictable. Great arms of it feel hauled up by a Precambrian grudge as if the weather patterns themselves were trying to break the place even further apart to right an ancient wrong. A great shoulder of air heaves itself against the door and blows it open. The candles near the entry fall victim to the gale and the whole front of house falls into complete darkness as Ben dashes out from behind the bar to push the door closed again. Shuttering them all in here together. Everyone can hear things being picked up outside and thrown down.

Don’t want that. Don’t want that either. Don’t want none of this.” ( 386)

Although Canada Reads has declared their winner, I submit that there are two better choices for this year’s win: Jesse Thistle’s From the Ashes, and Megan Gail Coles’ Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club.

Book Snap #87

Title: Little Fires Everywhere

Author: Celeste Ng

Date Read: July 8, 2020.

One and a half snaps.

I watched this series recently on Prime Video. I really enjoyed it. I knew it was first a book, and so I had to backtrack and read it. The book was better. And the series was pretty awesome.

The story is set in Shaker Heights, a planned community near Cleveland, Ohio. Everything in this community is planned out– the heighth of your grass, the colours of your home… and when Elena Rochardson rents to Mia Warren, we realize that the house is built to conceal the fact that is a duplex, separate entrances are within the front door, but from the outside the house on Winslow Avenue looks just like the rest. Appearance is everything in Shaker Heights.

Elena and Mia have a strained relationship through the course of the novel that intersects with their differing parenting styles; the relationships formed between their children; and the court case regarding the custody of a baby with whom each woman is differently connected.

Ng is a beautiful writer and many passages stood out as compelling. This one caught my attention in both the TV adaptation and while reading.

“Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she’d set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Pearl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there was something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly. Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”

A delightful read! Well worth your time.

Book Snap #86

Title: Daisy Jones & The Six

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Date Read: July 1, 2020.

One and a half snaps.

A really fun read! Jenkins Reid explores a unique format for storytelling in this fictional oral history that reads like the transcript for a rock band biopic.

Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s– we are taken backstage, on the bus, and in the studio with the characters who fuel the band: Daisy Jones & the Six. There are two founding brothers, handsome and talented Billy (lead singer and song writer) and the shy, dutiful Graham (lead guitar); Warren the surly drummer; Karen the feminist keyboardist; Eddie (rhythm guitar) and his brother, Pete (guitar). The Six get their start as a blues-rock band called the Dunne Brothers in the mid-sixties. As they grow in fame, they pick up Daisy Jones and the real roller coaster ride begins.

As they are interviewed, we begin to understand that memory is not always reliable; many characters outright contradict the recollections of their bandmates. Searching back over decades makes it difficult to remember the events clearly– but so does the haze of hard living in a rock and roll band on tour in the 70s– when many of them indulged widely in drugs and booze. But we come to understand the bandmates as fallible humans; more fleshed out than the flat characters known by their fans.

Dasiy Jones & The Six is an examination of fame, addiction, love, family, and friendship. The narratives of these fictional bandmates echo lyrics you have heard before and they thread throughout the story. Eric Clapton wrote about cocaine; David Bowie wrote about fame; Sister Sledge wrote about family– and everybody writes about love; it hurts, it scars, it lifts us up, it’s a battlefield, it’s a drug… But it is also all we need.

Get on the bus with Daisy Jones & the Six. You’ll have fun, promise.

Book Snap #79

Title: The Dinner List

Author: Rebecca Serle

Date Read: April 26, 2020

One and a half snaps.

I wasn’t expecting much from this one. The central idea of the novel clings to the pretense of a dinner in which you could select five guests, living or dead, to attend your birthday dinner. The main character invites her former college professer, Conrad; her estranged best friend, Jessica; the father who abandoned she and her mother, Robert; her long-time boyfriend and fiance, Tobias; and … Audrey Hepburn.

I guess I could swallow the use of a plotline in which a character would want to meet with the four people with whom she had unanswered questions and a desire to settle the score with, but I got hung up on the addition of Audrey Hepburn. Serle surprised me however, and handled all of the guests in a way that made it seem remotely plausible and moderately likable as a hook.

I was most interested in the revelations about her relationship with Tobias– which does land the novel solidly in the chicklit category– but still made for entertaining reading: complete with an unexpected twist.

If you find this one on your To Be Read pile during a pandemic– give it a read!

Book Snap #77

Title: American Dirt

Author: Jeanine Cummins

Date Read: March 21, 2020

Two snaps.

So, Oprah chose this one for her Book Club– and boy, did it stir up some controversy.

The complaints about the book mix concerns with its execution (including what some have said is Spanish not typical of Mexico), the identity of the author and the belief that a Latino writer telling the same story would not get the same support.

The novel tells the story of Lydia, a mother fleeing Mexico with her son, after a drug cartel kills her husband and family. Cummins has been accused of trafficking in stereotypes while appropriating a culture to which she does not belong.

Well, I am no rookie to controversies surrounding the books that Oprah has chosen for her Book Clubs. In 2005, she declared that James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, was revelatory and that James Frey was the man that kept her up at night.

You know what? Both times, Oprah was right. They were really good books. Regardless of the controversy that spins around them. Because, really, what is story telling? Connecting with another person is one of the highest forms of social being for humans, and at the heart of it is good storytelling. When I’m telling you a story, and you’re engaged in it, you match your thinking with mine. Both Cummins and Frey were able to do this– whether they fictionalized parts of their memoir or if “someone slightly browner” should have written it (as Cummins concedes in her Author’s Notes). More importantly, she did spend four years researching and writing the novel, but she also was compelled to write the story because she was frustrated by the discourse surrounding immigration in the United States.

I was appalled at the way Latino migrants, even five years ago — and it has gotten exponentially worse since then — were characterized within that public discourse. At worse, we perceive them as an invading mob of resource-draining criminals, and, at best, a sort of helpless, impoverished, faceless brown mass, clamouring for help at our doorstep. We seldom think of them as our fellow human beings.

(Cummins, p.381)

Cummins drew me in to Lydia’s story. I pained for her incomprehensible loss; I was bereft, as she was, at the impossible choices left for her and her son, Luca. I followed their journey through Mexico to the border with breath caught in my lungs and my heart in my stomach.

This is emotional story telling, balanced with terror. It is Narcos layered with This Is Us. It is about a mother who simply will not give up– because her son moves her to defy all the odds placed at her feet. It is fear and hope, and love and pain all mixed into a riveting page-turner I could not put down. Ignore the controversy. Read it.

Book Snap #75

Title: Mrs. Every-thing

Author: Jennifer Weiner

Date Read: March 6, 2020

One and a half snaps.

Finished this great story poolside on vacation this week!

Weiner tells the inter-woven tales of sisters, Jo and Bethie. From their days as young girls living with their parents in Detroit– their paths seem set. Jo is the athletic tomboy and Bethie is the pretty, crinolined little lady her mother was most proud of.

As the girls navigate the societal expectations of women throughout the 1950s and 60s: to be married; have children; be a good wife— Jo simultaneously struggles with her sexuality and not wanting any of the choices offered. She embarks on the trip of a lifetime, only to be called home for a family emergency. That return alters the course of her own, and her sister’s life too.

The traumas and tribulations faced by both Jo and Bethie beg the question: do we change, or does what happens to us change us?

This was a great vacation read that had me constantly wondering how it would all work out for Jo and Bethie. Pack it in your carry on and enjoy the ride!

Book Snap #72

Title: All Families are Psychotic

Author: Douglas Coupland

Date Read: December 29, 2019

Two snaps.

If you’ve read Coupland’s work before (Generation X, Shampoo Planet, The Gum Thief, Miss Wyoming, Hey Nostradumus!... ) then you are prepared for the kind of whirlwind adventure Coupland has concocted for the Drummond family. Otherwise, leave your Rockwellian ideals of family reunions aside and take consolation that your family is nowhere near as crazy as you first thought.

The family reunites to mark the important event of their daughter and sister, Sarah Drummond, about to launch in to space. The Drummond family then haphazardly reveal their multitude of psychoses to everyone around them as they count the days to take off at Cape Caneveral.

They stumble through kidnapping, blackmail, gunplay, and black market negotiations; but even as their lives spin wildly off their axis– we also see the tender relationships, the humanity, and kindness of these flawed characters as they mend and repair and build each other up.

The Drummonds are psychotic– but their madness is a foundation for deep love and compassion as they handle the real issues of our time.

Book Snap #71

Title: The Only Story

Author: Julian Barnes

Date Read: December 16, 2019

Two snaps.

What a messy love story.

He, 19. She is married and 43, but a chance coupling on the tennis courts sparks the connection that weaves them inextricably together over decades.

A rambling, stream of consciousness narrative takes us back through the ages, the choices, the thrills of turning heads in a society that whispered and snubbed them– and well ahead in to the future and the regrets, the complications and the misgivings.

Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.

Read about other of Chapters/Indigo’s CEO, Heather Reisman’s picks, or Heather’s Picks!