Final Fall 2019 Previews

Currently Reading: A Place called Perfect, by Helena Duggan

This post is in part a news update, and then I have two more exciting fall books to talk about! First, I want to talk about Carmen Maria Machado’s memoir, In The Dream House, that comes out in November, and then I will talk about the Canadian launch of Naomi Klein’s newest book, On Fire, which is already on shelves.

Blog Redesign

It’s coming! For those of you who don’t know, I’ve commissioned an incredible artist, Bill Underwood, who also goes by Ice, to create some beautiful work so that this space will reflect more about who I am, and what my blog is all about. It’s going to be spooky and delightful, and I can’t wait to show it to you… AND share it with you. Ice has graciously agreed to let me create some small tokens of my appreciation for followers of this blog featuring some of their artwork, so keep your eyes on my Twitter account when we get closer to the relaunch for the chance to snag some spooky literati swag…

Image is of a spooky cat. The body of the cat is purple and has skeletal-style shadows over its body. Two front legs are visible, as well as a thick tail that branches into two ends. The top half of the cat's face is a skull.
A preview of some of Ice’s final art for this blog!

Non-Binary News and Reviews

If your identify is part of the non-binary umbrella, and you want to give your work a little boost next month, mark your calendars for October 1st, which is the next #IAmNonbinary day. If you are not non-binary, it’s a great time to be an active ally. Peruse the hashtag, boost non-binary creators, and drop a little cash to those who need it if you can!

Thank you to Almost, Almost for posting some great ARC reviews of trans and/or non-binary books recently! They/Them/Their: A Guide to Non-Binary and Genderqueer Identities, by Eris Young, is a new book that was released on September 19th. Much of the content is UK-specific and the book trends a little toward the dense side, but it’s an interesting new resource to have on hand. You can read a full review of this book here.

The cover of They/Them/There: A Guide to Nonbinary and Genderqueer Identities is on the left. The title is purple text on a vibrant yellow background. The cover of Trans+: Love, Sex, Romance, and Being You is on the right, the letters are in the colours of the trans pride flag on a charcoal background.

Trans+, by Kathryn Gonzales and Karen Rayne is a broad sexual and relationship education text intended for teenagers. It includes references to additional materials, as well as #OwnVoices materials supporting the provided information. You can read a full review of this book here. Thank you again to Almost, Almost for providing such thoughtful reviews!

Useful Databases

There are so many people putting together great resources to support members of the literary community these days. I wanted to share two here. One is the Aromantic and Asexual Characters in Fiction database. This is a resource that is particularly useful to those interested in underrepresented groups under the LGBTQ2S+ umbrella. The other is the New Adult database, which is still in development. As it grows, this database will be an index of books that would otherwise be classified as “late YA” or “YA/adult crossover titles”. These books feature characters and themes relevant to those in the 18 to 29 age bracket and/or lifestyle bracket. This is a genre that has traditionally faced a great deal of stigma in publishing, and thus NA books can be difficult to find for the readers who find them relatable (like me!).

In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado

In the Dream House is the much-anticipated memoir of Carmen Maria Machado, following her feminist horror fairytale collection that was released last year, Her Body and Other Parties. Machado’s memoir tells the story of a prominent queer relationship in her life that was extremely abusive, and seems to have affected her deeply. It is also a book that plays with narrative style and genre, each chapter playing with a different literary form – including my favourite, the choose-your-own adventure book.

I have never read a memoir like this one. It was artistic and captivating, as well as deeply relatable and in that way, chilling. This was a book that rippled through me. I read it shortly after reading Machado’s short story collection, and in many ways, that was extremely satisfying. It felt as though I understood more deeply some of the ways in which Machado had used her experiences as inspiration for some of the stories in Her Body and Other Parties after reading this book.

I was in awe of this rich, devastating book. I am so grateful that it exists, and it seems like with this work, Machado was able to articulate experiences that are underrepresented both in literature and also in sociocultural conversation. I would recommend it to anyone, but particularly to people who are of the opinion that abuse only exists in relationships that include men. CWs for abuse perpetrated by a woman (physical, emotional, sexual).

On Fire, by Naomi Klein

On the left, the cover of Naomi Klein's new book, On Fire. It is a red cover with yellow text, where the word "fire" is represented by the flame emoji. The subtitle reads, "The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal. The author's name is in white text below. On the right is a popular image of Klein, a white woman with brown hair, looking directly into the camera. She is against a grey backdrop, holding her glasses in her hands, and wearing a black jacket over a pink shirt.

I didn’t preview On Fire in my last post about CanLit because I don’t know that I have anything to say about Naomi Klein and her work that hasn’t already been said over and over. However, the shop where I work in Toronto, which happens to be Klein’s local indie, was the book vendor for the Canadian launch last night, and when I left feeling inspired and touched after the event had ended, I knew I needed to say something.

I have been a fan of Klein’s work since Shock Doctrine, and the first time that I ever heard her speak was in 2016 at an event raising funds for families of MMIW, where she delivered a speech about Bella Laboucan-McLean. You can listen to Bella’s story as told by Klein, with music from Cris Derksen, here.

Since then, I had the pleasure of seeing Klein regularly, when she came into Another Story, often with a plate of pasta from Roncesvalle Italian eatery Alimentari, to sign copies of her books, and to pick up something to read. I’ve definitely missed my encounters with her since she took a position at Rutgers as the Gloria Steinhem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies. She was always humble, charming, warm, and sharp to interact with. She was no different at last night’s launch, which began with a video that Klein was involved in about the Green New Deal that left me in tears.

“I think hope is something that we earn,” Klein said early on in the evening, when she spoke about having spent the day conversing with the Canadian media. Admittedly, I came to the event assuming that I would leave feeling incredibly sad. I was impressed by Klein’s ability, after so many years in climate activism, to remain positive and motivated. She pointed out that she gets asked often how she can remain hopeful, and I appreciated her reframing of this idea throughout the evening.

The theme of Klein’s launch was undeniably one message: that climate activism is urgent, and that it must be intersectional. “We can each put the devil’s advocate questions to each other, and it is all just a massive waste of time,” she said, speaking about Canada’s centrist media, Jonathan Franzen’s recent article, and the distractions of conservative politicians in the climate dialogue.

Despite Klein’s many mentions of race, gender, and other aspects of intersectionality in climate justice, I would be remiss not to make a note that in her acknowledgements, I was disappointed to hear one of my most admired authors make a mention of Judy Rebick on the microphone at the AGO, as one of the activists who paved the way for Klein’s work. Although Rebick has undeniably made a huge impact in Canadian activism with her second wave feminist work on reproductive rights, and as founder of Rabble.ca, she has also maintained a trans-exclusionary stance throughout her life in the public eye. To assert that activism must be intersectional, but to overlook these problematic views feels antithetical.

Even as someone who follows the news around climate justice and global warming, I learned a great deal from Klein’s Q&A with Democracy Now’s Ishmael N. Daro, including but perhaps especially about a valuable voting resource as we approach Canada’s upcoming federal election: Our Time. Klein asserts, and I must agree, that our best case scenario for the upcoming election is to vote very strategically to achieve a Liberal minority government, in which Liberals are forced to make alliances with the NDP and Green Party.

The cover of No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, a plain grey cover with black text. The title is small, and the author's first name, GRETA, is the largest text, at the top of the cover.

One resource which Klein failed to mention during her launch that I would recommend especially readers who can’t make the commitment to read Klein’s longer works, is the new short book by youth climate justice leader Greta Thunberg, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference. I would also recommend Kai Cheng Thom’s new book, I Hope We Choose Love, to Klein and readers who enjoy On Fire. I reviewed it in my post two weeks ago. It feels to me as though Klein and Thom are definitely working in similar theoretical spheres with their philosophies for the future.

An excerpt from On Fire, which is available now, can be read here. I would like to close this post with Klein’s closing words from her launch, which were, “What scares me most is not the weather, it’s how people can turn on each other if we don’t invest in infrastructures of care.”

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.

Can’t Lit Fall Previews

Currently Reading: Your House Will Pay, by Steph Cha

Not to throw shade (except kind of really to throw a little shade…), but there is one Canadian book that has been getting some serious buzz this fall. And guess what? I don’t think it’s the most exciting CanLit that’s being released this season! Not even close. Let me tell you about what I DO think is the most exciting CanLit being released this season…

Empire of Wild, by Cherie Dimaline

The cover of Empire of Wild: A Novel, by Cherie Dimaline. The cover also notes that the author is the same as the #1 Bestseller The Marrow Thieves. The image is a mostly desaturated image of a green armchair sitting in the middle of a forest clearing.

I work at Another Story, an indie bookshop in Toronto’s west end. The year that I began working there was the year that Cherie Dimaline’s YA Indigenous speculative fiction novel The Marrow Thieves took the world by storm. When I chewed through it in one sitting, the cover was fresh and bare. Now, the cover is littered with medallions representing the awards that this title has won since its released, so much so that they nearly obscure the art. By the time the winter holiday shopping season rolled around, we were literally having cartons of this title delivered by hand from our distributors at the last minute to keep up with customer demand.

I was working at the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in Brampton in 2018 when I learned that Dimaline had secured contracts for four more books after the success of the Marrow Thieves, and on September 17th, the first of those will be available to the public. Empire of Wild is, like Dimaline’s last book, an Indigenous speculative fiction title, this time written for a mature audience. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on an ARC of this book.

I wasn’t disappointed. Much like when I read the Marrow Thieves, it took me a few chapters to really get into the pacing. As a settler reader, I sometimes find myself challenged by this aspect of Indigenous storytelling, but the more Indigenous lit I spend time with, the more that I am growing accustomed. Taking the time to get into the rhythm of brilliant books is always well worth it.

In Empire of Wild, Dimaline skillfully weaves her Métis heritage into a politicized, suspenseful narrative that centres around a woman’s search for a missing partner, the damage that Big Oil does in Indigenous communities, and the rougarou – a Métis mythical creature that calls to mind an anthropomorphic, demonic wolf.

CWs for this book include murder, other violence, possible abduction/abandonment by a family member, extreme right religious content, and substance use. It is an adult title, and it doesn’t pretend to be for a YA audience. I would definitely recommend this book. Is there any more enjoyable way to learn about social justice issues than through delicious, #OwnVoices storytelling?

If you are a settler and pick up Dimaline’s work, and then want to learn more about Indigenous issues, there are some great resources and books that can be read as follow up – including Billy-Ray Belcourt’s fall release, NDN Coping Mechanisms, which I recommend later in this post.

Other resources I would recommend are the final report of the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the content produced by Idle No More. Some non-fiction titles that would be fantastic follow up include 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, by Bob Joseph, Seven Fallen Feathers, by Tanya Talaga, Heart Berries, by Therese Marie Mailhot, and A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, by Alicia Elliott. Last but not least, if you can’t get enough Indigenous speculative fiction, I can’t recommend Jonny Appleseed enough, by Two-Spirit author Joshua Whitehead.

I Hope We Choose Love, by Kai Cheng Thom

The cover of I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl's Notes from the End of the World, by Kai Cheng Thom. A red flower with a yellow and red centre on a black background, with white lettering.

Kai Cheng Thom is one of the only authors whose work I savour. From her insightful articles and essays to her picture books, Thom’s writing is some of my favourite. She has an advice column in Xtra, and her recent essay on the legacy of trauma within queer communities has been resonating with lots of folks online. From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea is one of my all-time favourite, gender-affirming picture books to read with children and adults alike, and Thom’s artwork is sumptuous and vibrant.

I’ve read, re-read, and been repeatedly brought to tears by her poetry collection a place called NO HOMELAND, but I’ve actually held off on reading her fictionalized memoir, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars, which got some buzz recently since it was Emma Thompson’s Shared Shelf pick in March of 2019. I couldn’t bring myself to read it, because Thom didn’t have any other books, and I didn’t want to have read everything she’d published! I was so excited when I heard that Thom had a new project in the works, and now the wait is almost over, since her new collection of non-fiction essays, I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World, will hit shelves on September 24th.

Heartwrenchingly, I find myself hesitant about this new collection. It is beautiful, and brilliantly written. It is thought provoking, and that Thom brings a perceptive, and well-informed analytical lens to the issues that marginalized people face surviving the current political climate together. I would never hesitate to recommend any of Thom’s work (this collection included) to another reader, but I wondered even reading the title if perhaps our paradigms had diverged too far in recent times for me to find Thom’s newest work meaningful for me personally in the same way that I had her previous publications. Am I too cynical? Am I too white? Am I too hopeless? Am I too immature? Am I too angry?

I saw red flags that led me to believe this book was not for me. In the first chapter, Thom referenced works that make me deeply uncomfortable, for example, Sarah Schulman’s Conflict is Not Abuse, which is a deeply problematic work that can be used to gaslight victims of harassment. Thom also criticized “call out culture” or “cancel culture”, when I am of the opinion that if cancel culture’s existence isn’t a myth entirely, people often use this rhetoric when what they really mean is “consequences.” Yet, when Thom outlined her political views, I found nothing objectionable, and so I decided to proceed with caution.

Whatever it is about me and my social location, or about this political moment, I struggled with this collection. The format alternates between essays and poetry, and while much of the poetry reached me in a way that felt reminiscent of NO HOMELAND, the essays did not. They’re accessible and well-articulated, and I was often right there with Thom, until about three quarters of the way through. At some point in each of the essays, I found myself taking pause.

There was a conversation on Twitter recently about how instead of describing the written work of a marginalized person as “important” or “urgent”, we should be approaching these works as requiring “urgent listening.” I hold Kai Cheng Thom in great esteem, and while the conclusions drawn in this book are difficult for me to agree with, it is a book that I think warrants urgent listening, and probably for me, revisiting. I would definitely recommend it to fans of books like Emergent Strategy, by adrienne maree brown, and it may just become my alternate recommendation when folks come into my shop for Conflict is Not Abuse. In the meantime, me and my rage are looking forward to savouring Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars in the not-too-distant future.

NDN Coping Mechanisms, by Billy-Ray Belcourt

The cover of NSN Coping Mechanisms: Notes from the Field, by Billy-Ray Belcourt. The cover notes that the author is the winnter of the Griffin Poetry Prize. The image is a person with long, dark hair, wearing a black shirt, set against a backdrop of dry, tall grass or wheat, and a pale, clear blue sky. The person has their hands folded as if in prayer in front of them, and the hands are bound together with white fabric. They are holding a piece of wood that looks like a dried, dead tree, with a hole positioned over one of the person's eyes. The wood obscures the rest of the face.

I was honoured to be able to attend the Toronto launch of this book as one of the staff of Another Story, who are the book vendors for the literary events held at the Art Gallery of Ontario. As Belcourt himself noted during his talk, the event was very well-attended, and I spent the majority of my time behind the bookselling table admiring the spectacular beadwork and other Indigenous jewellery that so many of the people in the diverse crowd seemed to be wearing.

In my doctoral studies, I cite Belcourt’s work on animality in decolonial thought constantly these days. He is one of few Indigenous scholars based in colonial Canada who has written academic work in this area, and since I study working animals using an anti-racist and decolonial lens, his work has been invaluable to me. Because I had yet to read Belcourt’s Griffin-award-winning poetry collection This Wound is a World, I was intrigued by this new work consisting of both scholarly theorizing, as well as poetry.

The event, like the book (title pronounced N-D-N Coping Mechanisms), was varied in both tone and intellectual register. The book is a gripping commentary on the paradoxical horror and beauty of Indigenous queer life in colonial Canada. Belcourt noted that the book had already made the CBC Books Bestseller List for its first week out – but had, strangely, been placed in the fiction category.

Belcourt was joined at the AGO by fellow Indigenous author and scholar, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, who asked questions ranging from how Belcourt conceptualized success and envisioned his responsibility to future Indigenous queer authors, to probing for details about the men that Belcourt writes about in his new book. Belcourt himself joked about being born in the 90’s and thus having too short an attention span to write a novel, and also mused about who the anthropological object of his creative work was. I simultaneously enjoyed the evening, and felt (appropriately) like a complete outsider. At times, the conversation was theoretically challenging for me to keep up with – and I say that as a fifth year PhD student. I was both awed, and at times, a little lost. Both Belcourt’s and Simpson’s readings of excerpts from the book made me shiver.

There were a few moments in the evening that were particularly poignant for me. When asked why he writes, Belcourt responded, “I don’t know how else I would deal with all this shit.” As someone who has been eyeball-deep in affective scholarly work for the better part of my adult life, this was deeply relatable to me. In some ways, NDN Coping Mechanisms appeals to me as a work precisely because of this. I am interested and often validated when I have the opportunity to read about the experiences of other marginalized people who have found creative ways to cope with the state of the world, or who cope through content production.

I was also charmed and impressed when Simpson inquired whether Belcourt suffered from imposter syndrome, and he replied, “Maybe it’s just my generation’s thing of being like, I know I’m amazing!” The audience laughed, and Belcourt paused before continuing, “I know what I bring to the table.” As a bookseller and a member of the literary community, if I could have one wish for all Indigenous people, it would be that they all feel this kind of confidence in their work. Indigenous literature is certainly having a cultural moment right now, one that I hope will have a lasting effect on the literary scene in our colonial nation state, and I hope that Indigenous creators can all be aware of just how much they bring to the table.

Lastly, and to make reference back to some of my complicated feelings about Thom’s I Hope We Choose Love, Simpson mentioned during the launch that some of Belcourt’s lines of poetry would stay with her forever, and I think that the one that she mentioned is a good place to end this recommendation of Belcourt’s NDN Coping Mechanisms, which is available for purchase now. He wrote, “Revenge is more decolonial than justice,” something which feels equitable and firey and powerful to me. Simpson therefore asked herself, and Belcourt, and I think that it is a good question for everyone in the Canadian literary community to consider: what does revenge look like in CanLit?

Other Fall Books That Just Can’t Lit

…and if two books won’t be enough to stock up your TBR this fall, there are lots of other Canadian releases you should know about, for readers of all ages. These are some of the ones that I would recommend:

  • One Drum, by Richard Wagamese, October 19th
    Political non-fiction, Indigenous author.
  • On Fire, by Naomi Klein, September 17th
    Political non-fiction.
  • From Where I Stand, by Jody Wilson-Raybould, September 20th
    Political non-fiction, Indigenous author.
  • Breaking the Ocean, by Annahid Dashtgard, available now
    Memoir, Iranian-Canadian author.
  • Pickles vs the Zombies, by Angela Misri, September 21st
    Middle grade dystopian.
  • Angry Queer Somali Boy, by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali, available now
    LGBTQ2S+ memoir, POC author.
  • Hustling Verse, various authors, available now
    Poetry, authors are sex workers.
  • African Canadian Leadership, various authors, available now.
    Political non-fiction, POC authors.
  • I Promise, by Catherine Hernandez and Syrus Marcus Ware, available now
    Picture book, LGBTQ2S+, POC authors.
  • Blanket Toss Under the Midnight Sun, by Paul Seesequasis, October 22nd
    Photography, Indigenous artist.
  • We Three, by Markus Harwood-Jones, available now
    YA with polyamory and LGBTQ2S+ representation.
  • In My Own Moccasins, by Helen Knott, available now
    Memoir, Indigenous woman author.

PS, if you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving me a tip! It only takes a minute, and it allows me to keep creating content just like this, buying food for my dogs, and pursuing completion of my education in social work.