The Week in Books #43

Made it through 7/10 so far

It was a bit of a slower week for reading but I still managed to get three more books off this most recent stack. Let’s get right to it.

1. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. This one took me a little bit of time to get through. It is a magic-realism/historical fiction that I felt could have been a bit heavier on the magic but was still entertaining enough for me to push through to the end, though it was a bit of a slog. It felt similar to Washington Black and also Conjure Women (all are set on southern plantations during slavery) but the magic element was unique. Coates is obviously a great writer with several excellent non-fiction books and also writing for the Black Panther comic books. I’m looking forward to whatever he does next.

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her—but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he’s ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia’s proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he’s enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram’s resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

Penguin Randomhouse

2. Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me by Anna Mehler Paperny. Journalists write the most informative non-fiction! This was very well researched and written. Paperny shares her first hand struggle with depression, suicide attempts, and time spent institutionalized, then dives deep into the mental health industry covering topics related to treatment, stigma, discrimination in the system etc. There are several chapters covering youth suicide in remote First Nations communities which was nice (though sad) to see acknowledged. A very thorough and illuminating look at how society treats depression that includes statistics from both Canada and the United States.

Depression is a havoc-wreaking illness that masquerades as personal failing and hijacks your life. After a major suicide attempt in her early twenties, Anna Mehler Paperny resolved to put her reporter’s skills to use to get to know her enemy, setting off on a journey to understand her condition, the dizzying array of medical treatments on offer, and a medical profession in search of answers. Charting the way depression wrecks so many lives, she maps competing schools of therapy, pharmacology, cutting-edge medicine, the pill-popping pitfalls of long-term treatment, the glaring unknowns and the institutional shortcomings that both patients and practitioners are up against. She interviews leading medical experts across the US and Canada, from psychiatrists to neurologists, brain-mapping pioneers to family practitioners, and others dabbling in strange hypotheses—and shares compassionate conversations with fellow sufferers.

Google Books

3. Cockroach by Rawi Hage. I liked this book though I kind of don’t know why because the unnamed protagonist, an Arab man living in Montreal, was pretty unlikeable. It has a real Metamorphosis vibe to it as he continually refers to himself as a cockroach and in many scenes he exhibits the behaviour of a roach as he scuttles around and invades peoples personal space. An interesting look at what immigrant life can be like in Canada, none-the-less, and also describes what life can be like in the Middle East (Iran and Lebanon, mostly).

The novel takes place during one month of a bitterly cold winter in Montreal’s restless immigrant community, where a self-described thief has just tried but failed to commit suicide. Rescued against his will, the narrator is obliged to attend sessions with a well-intentioned but naive therapist. This sets the story in motion, leading us back to the narrator’s violent childhood in a war-torn country, forward into his current life in the smoky emigre cafes where everyone has a tale, and out into the frozen night-time streets of Montreal, where the thief survives on the edge, imagining himself to be a cockroach invading the lives of the privileged, but wilfully blind, citizens who surround him.


Oops I bought more books 🙃 I found a whole bunch of good/interesting stuff at VV where books are buy 4 get one free (so 10 = 2 free books) and a donation gets you a 20% off coupon so this whole stack was just $30. Titles I grabbed: Peter Pan, The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner (in paperback which I prefer to the hardcover version I have), The Psychopath Test by Jon Robson, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell, Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, Seven by Farzana Doctor, Incarnations by Susan Barker, Trust Exercise by Susan Choi, All Decent Animals by Oonya Kempadoo, Orpheus Girl by Brynne Rebele-Henry, and And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile.

Some of the various books I’ve collected but haven’t read yet, 13/34 knocked off so far.

I’m still working my way through a number of books I picked up at thrift shops and book sales over the last few years, in addition to the new books I have ordered and am really looking forward to. Just a few left in this stack then I move on to the next.

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