The Week in Books #103

8/14 ✅

The week in booky wooks. I picked out a few “skinny” books for this week and made it through three. I also went back to the rotary club book sale for a second pass though and picked up a few more titles before the sale ends today. Here we go!

1. How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa. I loved this collection. These stories are beautiful and immersive, you really get the sense of the characters and what’s going on in each little snippet before it is over and you are on to the next. They felt like fully formed snapshots of life through the eyes of a variety of different people, mostly the type that tend to fly under the radar. It’s very clear why this book won the Giller prize.

A young man painting nails at the local salon. A woman pluckingfeathers at a chicken processing plant. A father who packs furniture to move into homes he’ll never afford. A housewife learning English from daytime soap operas. In her stunning Giller Prize-winning debut book of fiction, Souvankham Thammavongsa focuses on characters struggling to make a living, illuminating their hopes, disappointments, love affairs, acts of defiance, and above all their pursuit of a place to belong. In spare, intimate prose charged with emotional power and a sly wit, she paints an indelible portrait of watchful children, wounded men, and restless women caught between cultures, languages, and values. As one of Thammavongsa’s characters says, “All we wanted was to live.” And in these stories, they do—brightly, ferociously, unforgettably.

A daughter becomes an unwilling accomplice in her mother’s growing infatuation with country singer Randy Travis. A former boxer finds a chance at redemption while working at his sister’s nail salon. A school bus driver must grapple with how much he’s willing to give up in order to belong. And in the title story, a young girl’s unconditional love for her father transcends language.

Tender, uncompromising, and fiercely alive, How to Pronounce Knife establishes Souvankham Thammavongsa as one of the most important voices of her generation.

Penguin Randomhouse

2. I Hope We Choose Love by Kai Cheng Thom. This is a powerful series of essays and poems about the social justice movement that offers solutions to some of the issues that arise within the movement. Kai addresses a lot of the hypocrisy among SJW (social justice warriors) which was actually a refreshing perspective to read as I have had my own negative experiences with folks within the arena of social justice (namely femme-phobia but also inaction when it came to intimate partner violence and abuse). I hope more people check out this book.

What can we hope for at the end of the world? What can we trust in when community has broken our hearts? What would it mean to pursue justice without violence? How can we love in the absence of faith?

In a heartbreaking yet hopeful collection of personal essays and prose poems, blending the confessional, political, and literary, acclaimed poet and essayist Kai Cheng Thom dives deep into the questions that haunt social movements today. With the author’s characteristic eloquence and honesty, I Hope We Choose Loveproposes heartfelt solutions on the topics of violence, complicity, family, vengeance, and forgiveness. Taking its cues from contemporary thought leaders in the transformative justice movement such as adrienne maree brown and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, this provocative book is a call for nuance in a time of political polarization, for healing in a time of justice, and for love in an apocalypse.

Arsenal Pulp Press

3. The New Me by Halle Butler. This quick little book is pretty hilarious. A young woman is having a crisis of self as she attempts to secure an administrative position at a design agency. She tries to get herself together but just can’t seem to handle what is asked of her and feels like her life is falling apart though she doesn’t understand why. I especially loved the emails she sends with the professional language and fake concern, I’ve sent more than a few of those myself. This book sums up what it’s like to work in an office and took me back to my years as an admin assistant with my very own Karen. It also reminded me a lot of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, so if you liked that one you’ll like this one too.

Thirty-year-old Millie just can’t pull it together. She spends her days working a thankless temp job and her nights alone in her apartment, fixating on all the ways she might change her situation–her job, her attitude, her appearance, her life. Then she watches TV until she falls asleep, and the cycle begins again.

When the possibility of a full-time job offer arises, it seems to bring the better life she’s envisioning within reach. But with it also comes the paralyzing realization, lurking just beneath the surface, of how hollow that vision has become.

Penguin Randomhouse

Another stack of books from the Rotary Club book sale in Nanaimo this weekend. I really had to dig to find books I was interested in and that I also hadn’t already read and/or had at home, but for $3 each it was well worth it and there was an entire mall filled with boxes of books to look through which was also very fun for me haha.

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