I rarely let anyone lend me books. Every book I’ve ever borrowed has either been damaged by one of my kids or I’ve been careless and devoured it in creases and dog ears. I try to be nice to books, since they’re so wonderful to me, but books are a place where I escape to, in much the same way as I do with movies. They inhabit my headspace and everything physical I do becomes an extension of the book’s world. I live in the books I read, hence it’s very hard to select a few reads as my top favourite. I’ve decided to select a few from a pile that I read this year to recommend to you.
This year I chose the worlds carefully, mostly because I found myself with no time to dedicate to “just books.” Luckily some of these were up for review and at least one was read because I had an interview to prepare for. My picks were culled from a need for pleasure than anything to do with what people would enjoy or not enjoy (although I do have a vivid memory of being very angry with a certain unnamed book this year). Through my activities and work, I reconnected with reading as a writer and being a writer as a reader.
Without further ado, here are some of my picks from 2013.
PostApoc by Liz Worth
I am tired of dystopian scenarios, but there’s something about them keeps pulling me back. In PostApoc, dystopia isn’t an end result, it’s a reality that has slowly been building up in the now.
Ang is a Torontonian teenager who explores her inner world by ambling through life. She isn’t coming of age. She isn’t looking for love. She might be looking for a connection, but at the core what she really needs is a reason for it all. The world is literally falling apart around her: people are disappearing, friends are decaying, the moon quietly falls into the ocean, and ghosts become wails in the night.
Worth experiments with stream of consciousness and surreal imagery to anchor her readers through the poetic medium she so deftly employs in her narrative. Much of Toronto is transformed into a fantastical Goreyesque dream world where anything ghastly that can happen does. The end of the world is not as frightening as it is palpably sad. I couldn’t help but think of my own children left alone with only their instincts to guide them. My heart raced as Ang traversed the despairing pages wishing I could comfort her in a motherly embrace.
PostApoc is a new way of looking at tomorrow. We can only hope that no one is left.
Drunk Mom: A Memoir by Jowita Bydlowska
“I’m exactly like the baby. Pounding his heels against the mattress when distressed. Give it to me. Give it to me right now…Now. Now. There is no waiting, no biding time. The wanting is enormous; it swallows him whole in lung-emptying breaths.
I get it. I get the screaming baby.
Because my wanting is just as powerful.”
Oh man, I get it. Reading that while going through bouts of depression, I felt it. I felt it hard and I still do. There’s something about Bydlowksa’s prose and the images that she evokes that makes her condition universal and relatable to anyone who’s struggling with issues.
Drunk Mom is the raw account of Jowita Bydlowska’s wrangling with alcoholism as a mother. After witnessing my twitter feed go off the charts with people condemning or praising Bydlowska for this book, I had to see what all the fuss was about. I’m so glad I did.
It’s a refreshing release from the self-conscious writing I’m used to in mother confessional blogs. Women are people. Mothers are people. We all have our flaws and make our mistakes. Maybe it’s social media that makes it acceptable to be so blatantly honest online and in print, however, has literature hit a new low because of it? Hell no! As writers, we need change; as readers we need to read new things and new perspectives. Mothers never get to give new perspectives because what is expected of us blindingly shadows who we really are.
With each misstep the author takes the more human she is, and with each step she makes towards sobriety, the more fragile her existence becomes. I’d love every new mother to read this account. It’s not all about alcoholism, but a unique depiction of motherhood. Does this make Bydlowska a tendentious writer? Does it really matter that much? Isn’t it time we cast off the apron strings and stop replacing them with the unrealistic superhero cape?
I put my foot down and say, YES.
When This World Comes To An End by Kate Cayley
I was browsing the poetry section in the bookstore one day and came across this collection of poems. I’ve always been curious about how this section in the bookstore is divided up. There are “Poetry” books and “Canadian poetry.” How do you discover or explore new poetry if all you get is the spine or the cover of the book to go by? This one has a picture of a horse diving into water in a supposed outdoor carnival trick. In my head, that horse made it quirky so I bought it. I love quirk.
“The slender scaffold bridges out
over the lake, the horse
halfway through a tense and sunlit dive,
its freakish grace transfiguring
the crowd, a trickle of the mildly curious.
Close your eyes.” -The White Horse Divers, Lake Ontario, 1908
See, that’s not quirky. That’s a poet’s view of a horse diving into the water as a carnival trick. That’s beautiful. Each of Cayley’s poems are like stories pulled out of a photograph or a situation. I found out that the poet is a playwright, and I can imagine setting and tone through the first few lines of the poems. I found myself letting go, watching the images pass by as I read the lines. Her codas don’t reach for more nor do they leave you hanging; she lets you run through the structure of her verses as if they were pictures strung together on a mantlepiece.
This was the first book I’d ever read entirely on the subway in one day. As more passengers got on the train, her writing affected me so much that I was making stories out of the minutiae around me. A spider I named Aldous, kept staring at me daring to meet it’s gaze, but Cayley’s book pulled me in that he got bored and left. I missed my final destination.
Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland -I read Girlfriend in a Coma, Microserfs (my favourite so far), and this in preparation of my interview with Coupland this past Fall for 49thShelf.
This book might have offended me a few times, but it was its offense that made me keep reading. Have you ever read something and said, “How dare they?” and it just made you want to find out where the author was taking you?
Raymond Gunt is a first rate scumbag. Bad things happen to Raymond, but he’s also an inconsiderate instigator. As a photographer he’s sent to an island to film a Survivor-type reality show and recruits his exact opposite, a charming homeless man named Neal. There are nuclear effects and filthy sexual shenanigans which lead our anti-hero from catastrophe to catastrophe to head shaking embarrassment. It’s hilarious.
Coupland is a master at quick dialogue. Much of this book reads like an extended British comedic sitcom where the characters know exactly what to say and when to say it. Punchlines are the realm of Raymond, but Neal is like every character in The Young Ones, full of the real chill pill that makes one sit back and say, “What hell am I getting so worked up about?”
Worst. Person. Ever. is an experience that made me stifle a giggle even when no one could possibly read what I was laughing at. Why was I laughing? Why wasn’t I outraged? Parsing that afterwards was the most fun I’ve had in the afterglow of reading.
Coupland keeps up with the times and isn’t afraid of trying something different. Try it, maybe you’ll like it.
Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis by Robin Richardson
I want to stroll through New York City when I re-read this book of poetry again. Robin Richardson is my new Jack Kerouac/Charles Bukowski pastiche artist.
“Bye , Baby Bunting,
father’s gone a-wheeling
through the Western
dives; bronze pocket-
watch to crown a stack
of poker chips. He listens
to the breathing of each
bluffer. Even masters
have a tell.” – Mother Buzzard
Richardson’s words encapsulate moments and posits them as a David Lynch-like confessions. You know there’s something beyond the metaphors, beyond the non-sequitosr, but you don’t reach out for the otherness; your forced to stay within the phrasing. Ghosts, graves, waffles, and film dwell in fluid verses and her timing keeps a steady rhythm reminiscent of a beatnik drawl. This book is wonderful to take with you during a rainy night or a relentlessly sunny day.
P.S. And also look at that cover. How could you not buy a book with that cover?
Those are the few on the top of my head. Of note, here are some reviews I put up for books that I’ve read this year that made an impression on me, but are not from this year.
1. Walden by Henry David Thoreau: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/590648487
2. Maya Deren and the American Avant-Garde edited by Bill Nichols: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/637315274
3. Of Lamb by Matthea Harvey: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/246484437
4. Kubrick: Inside a Film Artist’s Maze by Thomas Allen Nelson: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/612154574
5. The Road by Cormac McCarthy: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/500137812