GROWN-UP READS: June 2021

Listed here are ten books, varied in genres and styles and if I had to give ratings, there would be a range of ratings from one star to five star. I was reminded of one of Daniel Pennac’s readers rights: ‘The right to not finish a book’. and with book piles surrounding me, I gave myself permission to not finish some of the titles featured in this posting. That’s OK. 

 

SERIOUS S*ITS by Brian Bilston (poetry)

I really really liked You Took the Last Bus Home by poet Brian Bilston and recently ordered a few of his other titles.  This slim volume of poems (no page numbers) absolutely mystified me. Sorry, Mr. B. Just didn’t get ‘4m. But I look forward to digging into your other books  (“Their twisting spawning branches of agenda/ Were mutating the final coined phrase.”)

SHOUT OUT: FIVE LITTLE INDIANS by Michelle Good

The story of five adult characters who have ‘survived’ abusive treatment in Residential schools. The novel is presented in alternating voices. Each character has a story to tell about finding a place of safety in seedy downtown Vancouver when released with no money or support, after years of detention.  The lives of these resilient characters are interwoven over the decades, with Kenny, Lucy, Clara, Howie and Maisie each struggling to overcome the trauma they encountered at the mission.   It is a must-read novel that ignites compassion and some understanding of the courage and endurance of the tens of thousands of Indigenous children and their families who suffered through injustice.  A powerful read. A vital read. This book is the recent winner of the Writers Trust of Canada  and the 2021 Governor General’s Award winner for fiction. 

THE ANTHROPOCENE REVIEWED by John Green (essays)

 John Green, most noted as an author of YA novels (The Fault in Our Stars; Turtles All the Way Down) presents a series of 40+ essays, expanded from his podcast that digs into the meaning of life in the Anthropocene, the current geological age. .  I read each of these pieces chronologically but you can choose from a carousel of title topics that include: Halley’s Comet; Diet Dr Pepper; Canada Geese; Teddy Bears, Air Conditioning; Piggly Wiggly; The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest; and the Hot Dogs of Beajarins Beztu Pylsur.  Green takes a microscope to human behaviour and love of  the world. Impressive is the vast quotations Green has collected weaves into the essays.  (This list of  statements from authors, poets, artists, inventors) would make for in interesting publication). Lots of food for thought, lots of introspection and much to contemplate about ‘What it’s All About, Alfie. Each four-six page essay ends with a review of the topic (in his past, Green was a book reviewer for Booklist). I give this rich collection four and half stars. 

UNSTOPPABLE by Joshua M. Greene (biography)

Greene tells the remarkable story of Siggi B Wilzig’s astonishing journey from Auschwitz Survivor and  penniless immigrant to a a wall street legend.  Unschooled, Siggi used his wits pretending to have trade skills to help the Nazis run the concentration camps. This tenacity moved Siggi from selling neckties from the trunk of his car to becoming the CEO of a publicly traded oil company and a bank. Three vows were the engine of Siggi’s life: Never to go hungry again; to support the Jewish people, and to speak out against injustice. What a fascinating story of a man who defied all odds. What a fascinating man who lived with Resilience (capital R). 

MISS BENSON’S BEETLE by Rachel Joyce

Ever since reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, I have been a Rachel Joyce fan, seeking out any new titles that come my way. It is the 1950’s and Margery Benson, is fed-up with her teaching job and is sets out to a South Sea island determined to find a beetle that may or may not exist. Enid Pretty signs on as her assistant.  Opposites do attract, but not easily and not quickly. Travel adventures, mountain-climbing expeditions provide entertaining narrative filtered with a murder story, a theft, lost luggage, a soldier with PTSD, a snoopy British lady, cans and cans of Spam- and an encyclopedic knowledge of beetles.  This is a heartwarming story of a growing female of friendship and discovery of self. I loved this book (my favourite since reading about Mr. Fry). And it’s very funny. 

HEAVEN by Mieko Kawakami translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd

I think most contemporary realistic fiction that I’ve read for middle years readers present bully issues. (e,g,, Wonder, Egghead, Young Man with a Camera, Wolf Hollow)  I was intrigued to read this well-received 175-page novel by Japanese author Mikeo Kawakami because it was told from the point of view of a 14 year old protagonist. This is probably the toughest, painful books about the adolescent bully experience.  Bullied because of his lazy eye (the tormentors call him “Eyes”), the teenager suffers in silence accepting any torment and violence that comes his way. A friendship with a classmate who is also the victim of bullying provides some respite.  Warning: The abusive incidents are gut-wrenching.  Questions of why bullies behave the way they do and why victims remain silent linger in the head but the author provides psychological and esoteric explanations that ignite further contemplation about the rights and wrongs of human behaviours.  (I shall re-read Chapter 6). 

FOX TOOTH HEART by John McManus (short stories)

I tend to read short story collections chronologically and after the first 3, I gave up and ended up discarding his book with settings and characters on the dark side. Described on the back cover as ‘literary ecstasy’, ‘radiant prose’ ‘a flash flood’, ‘a shadow world’, ‘rage on the page’ there were other books I wanted to spend my time with. Perhaps, I will return to read a few more someday and perhaps feel the ecstasy, the flood, the rage.  

LAMPEDUSA by Steven Price

I was hoping to enjoy this Canadian novel, set in Sicily about a senior citizen who feels that he has nothing to leave to the world and so embarks on writing a novel but after 1//3 of the way through I found it to be rather tedious. Even though a good friend recommended it, I kept staring at my wanna-read piles and decided to abandon this Giller nominated book cause these days I needed more punch than this book was giving me.  That’s OK.

SHOUT OUT: HOW MUCH DOES A SCHOOL COST?: School Economies and school values  by Barbara J. Smith (professional reading)

I can’t imagine any school leader/ administrator or those aspiring to step into administrator’s role, not reading, learning or growing from this book. Master educator, Barbara J. Smith provides readers with bold ideas for imagining and teaching with a forward-thinking light. Concrete examples, research citations, speculations, stories guide educators to 1. Define greatness 2. Clarify parameters and conditions for best practices 3. Examine the nature of school budgets 4. Dream of a new ideal school 5. Contrasting ideal with traditional schools. This book is an invitation – and a challenge – to educators to reflect, prioritize, negotiate and put their cards on the table to create programming, staffing, professional development – and budgeting that works towards an innovative, GREATER education for schools, today and tomorrow. The book is divided into 20 short chapters, each ending with a component the component “Grappling with iIdeas” where Smith poses questions of concern that demand attention. It’s time to get into groups and discuss!!!

THIS TOWN SLEEPS by Dennis E. Staples

Marion is a mid-twenties gay  man, living in the a small town of at the outside of an Ojibwe reservation in northern Minnesota, who has a relationship with a farmer classmate Shannon, a closeted white man.  That narrative, along with the earlier mysterious killing of Kayden, a high school basketball star held enough interest but in this debut novel, the author complicates the storytelling  by shifting narratives from Marion to several other townspeople (i.e., Native Women) and these overabundant new revelations emerge – and confuse. Attention is given to Ojibwe culture and spirituality and  200 pages, this debut novel, with its back and forth perspectives, changing time periods, ghost story and realism was just a bit ‘too much’ to make this a satisfying reading experience for me.