The Week in Books #19! I’ve got quite a few titles for brief review this week as I have been doing a lot of sitting around recently. I’ve got under 4 weeks left in pregnancy-land, and I imagine I will be reading quite a bit in that time because I don’t have energy for much else, ha. On to the books:
Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. This collection of short stories is excellent. I loved that they were genre-bending and sensual, comedic and simultaneously very serious. I enjoyed all the stories and felt each one was strong in its own way; an entity appears in the life of a woman who has had weight loss surgery, a salesgirl discovers something creepy happening in the prom dresses she sells, and a whole Law & Order SVU story that lists blurbs of each episode in the series start to finish (I’ve never watched this show so I’m unclear on whether these are the actual aired episodes or a fictional account written into this framework, but either way it was an entertaining read). Definitely recommend for lovers of sexy imaginative feminist speculative horror fiction.
The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. This is one of those books where people are surprised when you say you haven’t read it. It took me a while but I did finally tackle it and was surprised by how quickly I blasted through it (sometimes really long books put me off, which I realize is silly but they can be a real time investment). Told from three different perspectives, The Orenda follows the Huron after their abduction of a young Iroquois girl named Snow Falls and the additional of a missionary who aims to convert as many “heathens” as he can. This story is pretty violent (there are some pretty wild ways to kill a guy in this novel), but I found it was very well written and definitely now understand why it is considered essential Canadian reading.
The Feminist’s Guide to Raising a Little Princess by Devorah Blachor. As I prepare myself to have a daughter of my own (!!!) I’m super interested in reading about ways to raise strong girls in the current and possible future political climates. This is a light and fluffy read about Devorah’s experiences raising a feminist daughter that unexpectedly fell hard for Disney Princesses and everything pink, despite what was wanted for her. It talks a lot about the Princesses with some interesting data (I’m an 80’s baby which is a little pre-princess boom but I was never that into them – I prefer the anthropomorphic animals found in Robin Hood as well as the seamstress mice from Cinderella) but it also talks a lot of Frozen, the indisputable champion of Disney princess movies. I’ve never seen it and felt like watching it first would make a lot more of this book entertaining. The writing was engaging but some sections didn’t work for me (namely the comedy lists), and overall the takeaway message was basically that it’s ok for your feminist daughter to be into wearing pink princess dresses so I’m not sure that an entire book was required to get that point across.
#Girlboss by Sophia Amorusa. This was another light and fluffy read, but I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I expected because Sophia and I have a LOT in common. We are the same age, drink the same fancy drink from Starbucks (and are slightly embarrassed about it), both had a similar experience with school as a teenager, lived a similar alternative lifestyle as early adults, and even had eBay shops operating at the same time. She has obviously gone on to be wildly popular, and I remember her listings always being so fun but bid way out of my price range, and shares some of they ways she found success. Namely focus on customer service via social media, taking care in packaging and sending the items they have purchased, and saving as much of your income as possible (she has already inspired me to put 10% of every income into my savings account, which is totally something they tell you to do when you’re still in high school but clearly I’m a fiscally irresponsible child masquerading as an adult – until now!) I’m majorly impressed that she has started up a multi-million dollar empire and took on absolutely $0 in debt during the process. Definitely goals!
That Lonely Section of Hell by Lori Shenher. This is an account of Vancouver’s missing women and the subsequent Pickton investigation as told by the lead VPD officer Lori Shenher. Despite the grim subject matter I found this book incredibly engaging, sensitive, and illuminating. I began my work in this area of Vancouver in 2008, six years after Pickton was charged, so I missed the era of social workers watching their clients go missing, but I did meet a number of clients that were affected by these crimes and the mishandling of the investigation, including individuals who lost sisters and cousins. It’s all so terrible, but Lori presents the events as they unfolded from his perspective (Lori lived as a woman during the time of the investigation, transitioning to male in the years following) in a very appropriate way. Great care is given to the families of the missing women and he has included letters he wrote to the victims to break up some of the investigation content which was a nice, humanizing touch. I thought it was excellent that Lori shared his experience of PTSD following the investigation and spoke about their experiences with stress leave, therapy and the physical manifestations of stress and trauma. I feel like people don’t talk about the mental health of police, social and mental health workers, and nurses working in this area often enough. Pickton’s crimes were horrible and the shock wave was felt through the entire community, including the victim’s families, friends, loved ones, support workers, and officers working on the investigation. I also thought it was positive that Lori refrained from sharing the upsetting details regarding the actual murders and only presented information that was critical to understanding the trial. The sharing of disturbing details from crimes of this nature, particularly sex crimes against women, is so unnecessary… but it happens all the time (the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is so guilty of this, the author glorifying the details of sex crime while excluding details of any consensual sex throughout the series). It seems very voyeuristic and really contributes nothing to the conversation, and instead allows the trauma of those crimes to travel to a wider circle of victims. There is another book on Pickton on my shelf that I will probably tackle just to compare, and it is even mentioned in this book, but I think I need a breather before I dive back in. This account of the events gets a thumbs up.
I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, The Staple Singers, and the Music That Shaped the Civil Rights Era by Greg Kot. We went to the mall for the first time in forever and I came across this book on sale in the music store (I think it was an HMV at one point but it’s called something else now and I’m totally out of touch haha). It grabbed my eye due to the name in the title (this will make sense to everyone soon) and that it was about music during the civil rights era. I wasn’t familiar with Mavis or the Staple Singers, but this bio covered everything and was fairly engaging. Mavis and her family performed gospel music in the 50’s, making the transition to rock, funk and soul throughout the following decades of their career. Their music was message-based and spoke out against racism which is what got the attention of Martin Luther King Jr. who went on to have them perform before his speeches. Mavis has been friends with Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, Prince and many other famous musicians, sold over 30 million records, and is still going strong today, all of which Greg Kot touched on in I’ll Take You There. Admittedly music biographies aren’t my favourite thing to read but the Civil Rights element made this informative and enjoyable to the end.
Fighting for Space: How a group of drug users transformed one city’s struggle with addiction by Travis Lupick. This book should be essential reading for anyone interested in harm reduction and drug policy in Vancouver. I spent 10 years working in harm reduction in The DTES and Victoria with one of the non-profits included in this book, including a year as personal assistant to the executive director, and it has really shaped me as a human being in more ways than I can articulate (I started when I was 24 years old). Travis covers many of the organizations operating out of the Downtown Eastside including DERA (Downtown Eastside residents association), VANDU (Vancouver area network of drug users), PHS Community Services Society (from its inception in the 90’s to the very public forcing out of the executive team several years ago) and many local activists including Bud Osborne, Anne Livingstone, Larry Campbell, Jim Green, Liz Evans and Mark Townsend, plus more. This is a very well researched account of how these organizations and activists worked together to get Vancouver a safe injection site, InSite, the first of its kind in North America. It is written with compassion and great understanding and takes us right up to the fentanyl crisis that hit late in 2016 (and within a year literally brought me to my knees and has essentially ended my time as a front line mental health worker because it has been just sooo horrifying.) This book is so important right now as it highlights how much work has gone into drug policy and harm reduction efforts by so many devoted and relentless individuals in Vancouver and how it has changed things nationwide. There is a lot left to do but progress is slowly being made, and this book is a great resource for anyone who hasn’t been familiar with the struggle for basic human rights being fought in Vancouver and beyond.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. Woooo this one is a doozy. I read this in one sitting because I was completely captivated, but also kind of because I wanted to finish it as quickly as possible due to the violent nature of Ishmael’s experience growing up in Sierra Leone. This book reads like a dystopian nightmare but the events are true so it’s even more depressing. Ishmael is just a few years older than me so it felt even more jarring to consider that these events unfolded while I was living a far more privileged and peaceful existence on the other side of the world but listening to the same Run DMC and LL Cool J songs as Beah. The world is such a strange place.
I’ve already got a few more books to review but this post is long enough. Gotta save some for next week! 🖤