The Week in Books #18

Whew these Sundays keep whizzing past and I’m not ready! This week I’ve got a good stack of books to cover as I enjoy my last few months of real reading… I’ve heard this rumour that once you have a baby you don’t have time for anything else (probably some truth to that haha) so I imagine my reading time may take a hit. I’ll just have to power-read for the next 8 weeks to prepare myself 🖤

My recent selections covered some fiction and poetry, with an attempt to focus on authors for February, being Black History Month (though I try to read a diverse selection all year ’round).

First up was Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue from Cameroon. This was a really fantastic look into the lives of immigrants coming from one of the “shithole countries” Drumpf so affectionately dubbed a few months ago. Dreamers tells the story of a couple from Limbe, Cameroon, and their struggle to gain residency and employment in New York City. They end up working for a wealthy white couple as chauffeur and housekeeper, and form a bond with the family. Imbolo really captures the similarities and differences between both families with great detail, and I felt really laid out convincingly what it is like to be trying your hardest to live the American Dream when there are so many barriers to overcome. I definitely recommend this one as it is so relevant right now. The characters are beautifully crafted, the dialogue believable, and the plot flowed steadily through a series of very realistic events. Excellent.

Depression and Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim is a fantastic collection of poetic writing from someone who suffers from depression and anxiety (and who doesn’t, on some level, really?) I really connected with several of the pieces in this collection, which I blasted through on the ferry ride to Vancouver a few weeks ago. Great for poetry lovers and those with an interest in the topic of mental health.

James Baldwin: The Last Interview and Other Conversations. What can I say about James Baldwin that hasn’t already been said? The man was brilliant and these interviews were captivating. He was so eloquent and educated and opinionated, but at the same time his language is so accessible that everyone should be reading him. In act if you haven’t you should start here. This is a slim volume that packs a punch. I rarely do re-reads but I can definitely see myself returning to this collection of interviews. Ugh I’m just such a fan of his. If you want a taste of the wisdom coming out of James Baldwin take a look at this clip from the Dick Cavette Show.

Ah, Billy Corgan. I gave this two stars on my Goodreads account, and two stars is generous. I found this at Value Village and was unaware that Billy Corgan wrote poetry. And in a way, he doesn’t… because this was pretty bad. It lacked a coherent theme, I struggled to figure out what any of the poems were actually about, and the majority read as a string of random words that lacked any kind of flow. I’ve literally seen predictive text iPhone writing that makes more sense. I read this collection without looking at any reviews and once finished was unsurprised to see that most other readers were just as unimpressed. Too bad because I do still love many of his songs from the 90’s.

At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson. This has been on my list for aaaaaages but for some reason I just kept skipping over it. Well, I’ve finally tackled this collection of genre straddling sci-fi/fantasy and was pleasantly surprised, especially by the number of stories with cat protagonists! The story the collection was named for was a highlight for sure, as was the first story 26 Monkeys. Very imaginative and unusual. Thumbs up!

I picked up Disgruntled by Asali Solomon way back in the spring of last year and my bookmark was halfway through but I started again from the beginning and I’m glad I did because I didn’t remember anything I had read at the time haha. This is a cool coming of age story about 8 year old Kenya growing up in Philadelphia in the late 80’s, early 90’s with a radical father who idolizes Julian Carleton, a mother that celebrates Kwanzaa, and a habit of sleepwalking that gets her family into some trouble. Side note; how is it that I have been familiar with Frank Lloyd Wright my whole life (my father is an architect and I have a diploma in Interior Design) but didn’t know anything about the axe murders committed by his butler /handyman Julian?? This historical tidbit mentioned in dialogue from Kenya’s father Johnbrown caught me by surprise – read about the massacre, which occurred at one of Wright’s famous homes and claimed the lives of his mistress, two children and four others right here. This novelwas fairly quick to finish but I’m not sure if I love-loved it. Some cool things happened and it did make some important commentary on race, but overall the story wasn’t as cohesive as I would have liked. 3/5 stars.

Pastoral by Andre Alexis. I adored this novel from the Trinidad-born Canadian author of the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize winning Fifteen Dogs. Father Christopher Pennant arrives in Barrow to serve his first parish and witnesses several events – gypsy moths taking shapes in the sky, a man walking on water, a talking sheep – that have him questioning his faith. Simultaneously we have Liz Denny questioning her engagement to a man who admits he loves another woman named Jane and wants to be with them both. This is a slim book, under 200 pages, that moves quickly and keeps the reader engaged with a masterful use of language and beautiful descriptions of the fictional rural town of Barrow, Ontario. Father Pennant fits into the love-triangle narrative well and things flow smoothly to an insightful conclusion. There was the perfect blend of humour and deeper analysis of love as well as life, death and faith all crammed into the limited number of pages that left me very satisfied. Definitely recommend.

More to come next week! I’ve already finished this wonderful collection of short stories from Carmen Maria Machado, and finally started reading The Orenda by Joseph Boyden which would appear to be a Canadian literature requirement. I bought a copy at GIRO a few weeks back and the woman at the desk PLUS several people in the lineup were like You haven’t read this yet?! Hahaha. 🖤

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