January 16, 2015

Canada Reads 2015

I haven't mentioned it here yet, but Bone & Bread is on the longlist for Canada Reads 2015!

The list was announced in December, right at a moment when I was on the point of bursting into tears after a very hard night with a four-week old baby, trying to recover from dehydration, having not slept for over 24 hours and expecting a house guest to arrive within the hour --- to a very messy apartment I had not yet managed to tidy up. It is definitely no exaggeration to say that regardless of what happens next, the appearance of my novel on the longlist felt like a gift that arrived at the perfect moment. It made me think of what Sara Crewe says in A Little Princess: "The worst thing never QUITE comes." ***

But now there are only a few days left before CBC announces the final five books, which means there are only a few days in which to savour the possibility that Bone & Bread might be selected. So this is me, savouring:

Ahhhhhhh.  Mmmmmmm.

For years I've had daydreams of a book of mine being discussed on this show. Ideally, defended by some well-read indie rock musician... have you noticed that the musicians' picks often win?

I'm cherishing this fantasy even more this week because my mother has just discovered CBC Radio and thinks it's the greatest thing ever. Yesterday, she was telling me about something she was listening to about Twitter and reading 50 books in a year that she thought I would be interested in!

I know there are lots of thoughts among writers, not all positive, around the notion of the themes that have been used in the program over the past few years, or the public voting that happened, or pitting fiction against non-fiction, or against the very concept of one book winning at all...but I don't think these issues are all that serious. Of course we all agree that Canada should read more than one book, but the producers are doing their best to make a lively show that will engage listeners. Another thing I've been hearing lately is a call to include poetry. And I do think it would be amazing to have an all-poetry edition. Maybe with poets as the panelists... although I suppose that might, ahem, undermine the celebrity aspect somewhat. (Well, for people outside of the literary community, anyway.) On the other hand, how else are we going to turn our poets into national celebrities?! This show should definitely happen. I want to live in a country that idolizes its poets. Hmm, but maybe this just illustrates how writers think differently than radio producers.

So can a book really change Canada, or break barriers? I think...yes. reader by reader, absolutely. Why couldn't it? I have to admit that when the theme of "breaking barriers" was announced ("books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes, and illuminate issues"), I did think of my novel because I believe that Bone & Bread does just that, in more than a few ways. But then we already know that all writing that put you into another person's perspective builds empathy and compassion just by taking us outside ourselves. Really, I think reading as a basic act is transformative and illuminating, so any of these books could fit the bill. And though of course I'm gunning for my own, I think can imagine great discussions emerging around all these titles. I'm especially rooting for Eden Robinson's wonderful Monkey Beach to make it through to the shortlist.

If you want to vote for your picks (just for fun...I'm pretty sure this doesn't affects the selection of the books, which is up to the mystery panelists) or just see what's in the running, you can do so on the CBC site here.

*** I'm not so naive that I actually believe Sara's notion. I do know that in many instances the worst thing does happen, but sometimes I can't help but see the world through the lenses of my favourite books.

January 6, 2015

Books I read in 2014

The first thing you need to know is that I feel like a failure. I was ultra geared up and ready for year two of the 50 Book Pledge, and I didn't make it, mostly because my belated charge to the finish line --- armed with poetry collections and graphic novels --- was interrupted by the arrival of the baby in mid-November. Ah, well. I came close! 43 books in 2014. And it would be more if I counted all the Dickens and Austen rereads, or the reread of a bunch of Lois Lowry's Anastasia Krupnik series, after I found a bunch of them at the McGill Book Sale. Or if I hadn't abandoned quite so many books partway through...or gone travelling for three weeks in UK (awesome), instead of sitting around at home reading (typical). 

You can see what I read here. Or find me on Goodreads.

Here is the breakdown according to the same categories I assessed last year:

By genre*

22 novels
7 children's/YA
4 poetry collections
3 graphic novels
3 memoirs
3 non-fiction 
1 short story collection

Compared to last year, I read the exact same number of poetry collections and children's/YA (huh), and just one shy in memoir and graphic novels. I read three more short story collections last year, but then again I read a LOT of short stories in 2014 for the Room fiction contest and the Journey Prize jurying. Five fewer novels.

* Some of the books fall into more than one genre, e.g. a graphic novel that is also a YA book or a graphic novel that is also a memoir, but I've kept each book to one basic genre.

By nation

15 American 
9 Canadian 
3 English 
1 Scottish 
1 dual American-Canadian 
1 Australian
1 New Zealander
1 Nigerian
1 Dutch 

I think this must be the first year in my life where I did not read mainly CanLit! Interestingly, the same number of Americans as last year.

By gender
30 books by 25 women
13 books by 8 men


The first two books I read in January, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Dinner by Herman Koch, remain among the most memorable reads of the year. I also really liked Americanah

The last two fiction titles I read in 2014,  The Opening Sky by Joan Thomas and The Freedom in American Songs by Kathleen Winter, were also outstanding. I have so much love and admiration for these women, so while I might technically be biased, I truly adored these books and you should still run out and buy them immediately. And as many of you might know, sometimes it is harder to be completely transported by the writing of someone you know...and I was. 

Also, the Susin Nielsen books are wonderful. Strongly recommended for the young people in your life, or just, you know, you. 


The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Harvey Karp was thoughtfully gifted to me by a friend and it was full of useful information that I have already put to use...and I can definitely endorse the basic premise and techniques outlined in this book. However, I feel like it was written for morons, or at least people with some kind of hyper-amnesia, like the guy in Memento. It really sticks with that principle of "Tell them what you're going to say, say it, then tell them what you've said," but it adds in "say it seven more times." It would be a lot better if it were condensed into about twenty pages written for neurotypical readers, or maybe just a large infographic. I cannot express the annoyance of having a newborn baby and precious little reading time that I then spent trying to power through this repetitive book that kept trying to prove a premise I was already willing to accept merely by picking it up. (Fourth trimester, yo.) That being said, thanks, Dr. Karp, for your valuable techniques!

And I didn't really love any of the Divergent trilogy, but the last one, Allegiant, was especially annoying to me in the way it ended. 

Best Discovery?

Well, I had a very relaxed stretch of reading after I finally picked up a book by Alexander McCall Smith at the library. I ran through a bunch of his Edinburgh-set mystery series (the Isabel Dalhousie books), which made for excellent light pregnancy fare.