The ten titles below comprise fiction. nonfiction and poetry. Several titles were some favourite reads of the year and were absolutely are worthy of SHOUT OUTS. A few titles listed below were abandoned before I reached the end of the book. That’s OK!
BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU? by Sally Rooney
This book won the Goodreads prize as favourite fiction, 2021. 2. I hated this book. I started reading it about a month ago and when reached page 47, i put it down. When I heard it won the Goodreads honour, I decided to return to the novel and i plodded through it during this stay-at-home week due to Covid. When I reached page 223 of the 353 page book, I tossed it across the room and shouted FEH! I actually was relieved when I decided to give up on this book (223 pages gave it a good go) about Alice, Felix, Eileen and Simon, friends and couples living in Ireland. The relationships go back and forth from, I love you,l I can’t be with you and I just wanted Cher to come in and say “Snap out of it!’ I felt this way about Rooney’s novel Normal People (which made a very good television series. The narrative about the on-again, off again partnerships kept me going (a bit) but the book is interspersed with emails between Alice (a famous author) and Eileen (a frustrated editor) and the emails go on for 5 or 6 pages. If I got an email that was 2000 words, i wouldn’t be happy. I likely wouldn’t read those messages. The emails, however, giver Rooney a chance to philosophize and blab on about the meaning of politics and Jesus and love and life and happiness from a 30-something’s point of view. (I stopped reading when discussion in Chapter 21 goes to the meaning of ‘beauty’.) I actually like to read epistolary writing and wouldn’t this have been better as an exchange of short letters (ahh! the old days). Rather than long long emails. Sally Rooney wrote an early book called Conversations with Friends. Me? I don’t want to be part of any of these conversations. And I’m finished with reading Rooney’s blah blah blah. Great that this book was liked by so many people. I’d say there is a particular audience for this book but a single 72 year old fart ain’t one of them. I am going to toss this book in a box and leave, hang a sign that says ‘Please take’ and leave it in the hallway of my condo hoping that someone (30+) pick Beautiful World, Where Are You (no question mark) up and enjoys it more than eye did. FEH! I’m giving it one star because I enjoyed reading about Dublin, a city I very much enjoyed visiting.
BLACK NO MORE by George S. Schuyler
This title intrigued me because of a recent theatre production I saw of the novel. The story is about a scientific process that transforms black people into white-skinned citizens. Having bleached skin allows any black person who could afford the $50 procedure. the opportunity. to ent3r into previously forbidden territory (e.g. White Supremacy group, The Knights of Nordica who are on a mission to ‘fight for white race integrity’). That this speculative piece of fiction was written in 1931 is rather mind-boggling as we consider the world of Harlem, and the struggles of Blacks to fit in – and how the themes resonated today. Even at 150 pages, it wasn’t all that smooth a narrative as we enter the world of Max Disher and his entry into the world of white supremacists but nonetheless quite an intriguing story (both as musical play and as a fiction). What if all Blacks chose to be white? What would motivate them to change their race? What does it mean to be Black culturally, socially, emotionally? What happens if a former black person, now white, marries a white woman who then becomes pregnant? (disclaimer: I stopped reading this about after 100 pages of the 150 page book)
CALL US WHAT WE CARRY by Amanda Gorman (poems)
Amanda Gorman delivered her poem “The Hill We Climb’ at the 2021 Presidential Inauguration which garnered her deserved international attention. This anthology provides further validation of her wordsmithing genius but also provides a collage of history, language, identity. The poems challenge readers to draw on history and point to a future of hope and healing. Brilliantly, the poet draws on grief of the global pandemic. Many poems are HARD and deserve slow reading and often re-reading. I read the poems chronologically page by page and found myself turning down the corners of some pages to hold on to snippets. Sometimes, inspecting the parts, helps to understand the whole. How do you like to read poetry? What do you do if you feel you don’t ‘get it’?When you read Call Us What We Carry you will be invited to turn down your own pages (if it’s your own copy!)
I love the word that Gorman gives us in her poem ‘What We Did in the Time Being
Sample snippets / excerpts
~~~~How long can we stand the dark
Before we become more than our shadows.(p. 50)
~~~~We cannot possess hope without practicing it. (p. 52)
~~~~When we tell a story,
We are living
memory. (p. 74)
~~~~Hate is a virus.
A virus demands a body.
What we mean is:
Hate only survives when hosted in humans. (p.124)
CLOUD CUKOO LAND by Anthony Doerr
This is a remarkable book, a well-reviewed book, a complex, multi-narrative, multi-settings book that has wowed many readers. I’m not one of them. I was plowing through the book and after 160 pages decided to abandon it and I was relieved when I gave myself permission to do so. Why spend time on books that i’m not engaged with when I have many books around me shouting “Read me! Read me!”. As a bibliophile of sorts, I should have loved Cloud Cukoo Land better than I did because it is about importance of storytelling, of libraries and of books. But for me the book was like watching TV with remote control in hand, frequently switching channels to find out what’s on and what will keep your attention and discovering that I should just turn off the TV (or watch a cooking show). If this title was a Netflix series, I would likely have given up after the first few episodes. This novel frequently switches narratives and I couldn’t wrap my head around most of the too many episodes. The Science Fiction part set in the future on an interstellar ship did not in any way appeal. (no judgements please). Because a couple of friends highly recommended it, I felt I should continue, but great reviews and praise from from friends does not always make a good read. Anthony Doerr (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for All the Light We Cannot See) writes some beautiful beautiful sentences and some vivid paragraphs but alas, I wasn’t at all cuckoo for this 622 page book.
THE ORIGINAL BAMBI: THE STORY OF A LIFE IN THE FOREST by Felix Salten, Translated by Jack Zipes
I read a review of this book in the New York Times Children’s Books section, but it was clear that this was not a book for children. It isn’t. This book, originally written in 1923, is based on a 1928 English translation of a novel by Austrian Jewish Writer Felix Salten. The subtitle of the book captures the essence of the story, as Salten takes us into the woods. Any images of Bambi that we have from the Disney version are to be dismissed as the author presents an allegorical story of loyalty, courage survival, loyalty and killing. Adult readers will take what they will from the philosophical message of this book: perhaps the paradox of dependence and independence, perhaps a strong case for animal rights, perhaps the treatment of minority groups (Salten was an Austro-Hungarian Jew). The writing of this translation is at once descriptive and poetic. Black and white illustrations that appear throughout are exquisite portraits of the animals who give life to a forest and its surrounding environment.
A word from Jack Zipes before entering the forest (excerpt ofTranslator’s note)
“Bambi is a sad but truthful novel. It was never intended for children. Unfortunately, the little ones – not to mention their parents – have been fed a diluted version in film and numerous books. Salten, a brilliant Austrian journalist and lover of animals, was also a dedicated hunter, a killer of deer and other harmless beasts. His novel Bambi, written after World War I, is an allegory about the weak and powerless in the world. This story has great implications for the development of humanity in our conflicted world.”
SCARBOROUGH by Catherine Hernandez (2017)
This powerful book was listed for the Trillium Book Award, A Canada Reads Selection (2022) and A Globe and Mail Best Book. I had, of course heard about the book, but when I recently saw a trailer for a movie version of Scarborough, I decided to dig into the book, particularly since I admire stories that employ a multitude of voices. Hernandez poignantly conveys narratives of families who live in low-income urban neighbourhoods, smothered by poverty. Crime, abuse, hunger, education and racism provide a bleak landscape of a troubled community. Central to the narrative, is the plight of children who are enrolled in the Red Rouge Literacy program and it is the stories of these young people that give a punch to the heart as they (and their parents) struggle to be nourished with food, with education and with social activities that provide them with a place of belonging. The author presents a stark, poetic portrait of diverse characters characters in fairly short chapters. Hernandez is well deserved of the recognition and praise for her shining a light on the ugliness and resilience of those throughout the world who live in communities like Scarborough, Ontario.
Three days later: Just saw this remarkable, heartbreaking movie, with screenplay by Hernandez which faithfully depicts the events of the novel with remarkable performances of both adults and children.
AIN’T BURNED ALL THE BRIGHT by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin
Jason Reynolds is a popular – important – author of books for young people. I always look forward to a new title by this award-winning author. Ain’t Burned All the Bright is targeted for teens. but it is a book for those inside and beyond adolesence. From the book jacket: “this fierce-vulnerable-brilliant-terrifying-whaiswrongwithhumans-hopefilled, hopeful-tender-heartbreaking-heartmaking manifesto on what it means not to be able to breathe, and how the people and things at your fingertips are actually the oxygen you most need.” I stand on the line to say that this is the best book produced this year, YA, or not. It is a marriage of two artists creating a ‘manifesto’ of Black Lives Matter, of the Pandemic, of Climate Change. For me the book is is about the need to take a deep breath in times of trouble. The book is divided into three Sections: Breath One; Breath Two; Breath Three and each section is one sentence written by the brilliant Mr. Reynolds. The multi-media art work is fiery and explosive and evocative of the words. There is art in Jason Reynold’s poetry. There is poetry in Mr. Griffin’s art (I would love to own any one of these illustrations).The formatting and production value deserves special kudos.
If I had buckets of money, i would make sure that every black teenager owned a copy of this exquisite book Heck, make that ALL teenagers. They may not immediately ‘get it’ but let the book sit on a shelf, let them return to it in a week, in a decade ahead. Let them turn to a friend and share what they did get out of it, how they connected to the book, and how the book raised questions for them about their identity, race, climate,. The book invites them pay attention to what they see/ hear on the news, to slow down and consider what is going on in the minds of their family and friends and to think about what is happening in their today world. The book is dedicated: “For everyone we lost and everything we learned in the strangest year of our lives – 2020.” it is a book for yesterday, today and tomorrow.
It will take not so very minutes to go through this book, page by page. It will invite re-reading immediately and in days ahead. It will foster reflection as readers make meaning and think about what is happening in their head and heart. Thank you , thank you J&J for this special work of ART.
I’m sitting here wondering shy
my mother wont’ change the channel
and why the news won’t
change the story
and why the story won’t change into something new
instead of the every-hour rerrun
about how we won’t change the world
or the way we treat the world
SMILE: The Story of a Face by Sarah Ruhl
Playwright Sarah Ruhl tells her story of a decade living and coping with f Bell’s palsy. Following a high-risk pregnancy with twins Ruhl discovers that the left side of her face is completely paralyzed and as it turns out she is one of 10 percent of palsy patients who does not experience recovery. Ruhl describes her life as loving mother, wife, daughter, friend and dedicated playwright as she searches from a cure from a number of some helpful and some not so helpful doctors, therapists and acupuncturists. Ruhl brilliantly describes her physical, emotional and spiritual healing. It is a story of struggle, courage, resilience and perseverance through inner and external persona of a talented writer. Photos spread throughout, help readers to look into Sarahs’ face. Quotations from literary sources add insight and compassion to Ruhl’s personal narrative that cannot help but readers to look into the mirror and dig into their own souls and gratitudes.
It is January 3rd as I write this and I’m not being facetious when I say that this is the best book I’ve read this year. This exquisite book is sure to be at the top of my 2022 reading list. A raw, wise and astonishing memoir.
A CARNIVAL OF SNACKERY: Diaries 2003-2020 by DAVID SEDARIS
I am a David Sedaris fan. In fact, I’d love to be David Sedaris when I grow up. I’ve always loved his writing (Me Talk Pretty One Day, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim; Calypso) and after Theft by Finding, diary entries 1977-2002, I couldn’t wait for the continuation which we know have in A Carnival of Snackery (the name of an item on a menu in an Indian restaurant in London). Humour is funny thing (you can quote me on that), but I absolutely ‘get’ Sedaris’s microscopic observations and recordings of human behaviour. We are a wonky bunch. The author travels the world, giving about 50 presentations per year. Not only does he relish interactions with his drivers, with those who work in stores and restaurants but he commits himself to taking daily walks wherever he goes and collects any data that comes his way that can be considered, quirky, weird, or yes normal. (He is also dedicated to picking up bags and bags of litter carelessly strewn throughout his neighbourhood. ) Through his writing, Sedaris seems to make the abnormal, normal. Along the way we are given entry into his relationships with his 30+year partner, Hugh, his family, his neighbours, and his cantankerous father, so unlike his son. Sedaris collects stories, T-shirt slogans, billboard messages, rude jokes and I responded to these with glee and wonder and often laugh out loud delight. The author has his critics but me? I ‘d like to read his daily diary entries any day to give me a lift and a smile and thought. This book kept me great company while hibernating during lockdown restrictions. I think I shall re-read A Carnival of Snackery with pencil in hand to mark up my pages to record David Sedaris’s brilliance. I may need a box of pencils.
September 25, 2007, Paris: To honor the death of Marcel Marceau I observed a minute of silence.
April 29, 2014: I told Hugh yesterday that when I die, I want my body taken to an ice creamatorium. There I would like a traditional sundae service.
July 1, Raleigh: I met a woman from Gastonia, “There was an IHOP in our town that was located on Cox Road, and they’d answer their phone saying, IHOP on Cox!” she told me.
MAX EISEN, author of BY CHANCE ALONE: A remarkable story of courage and survival at Auschwitz, winner of the Canada Reads, 2019.
Mazel Tov: Max Eisen, age 92, is a recipient of the order of Canada, 2021.
In his Canadian Holocaust memoir, Max Eisen details details the rural Hungarian deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau, back-breaking slave labour in Auschwitz I, the infamous “death march” in January 1945, the painful aftermath of liberation, a journey of physical and psychological healing.