Normal People

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

“She closes her eyes. He probably won’t come back, she thinks. Or he will, differently. What they have now they can never have back again. But for her the pain of loneliness will be nothing to the pain that she used to feel, of being unworthy. He brought her goodness like a gift and now it belongs to her. Meanwhile his life opens out before him in all directions at once. They’ve done a lot of good for each other. Really, she thinks, really. People can really change one another.

You should go, she says. I’ll always be here. You know that.” 
― Sally Rooney, Normal People

Have you ever finished a book, and then started it again the second you finished? I hadn't either. Why would anyone do that when there are a thousand other books to be read?

I devoured Normal People and then I devoured it again — the second time with a highligher. (Who does THAT?) and when people ask me why, I don't have an answer. I don't know why Normal People is the book I needed to read at the exact right moment I read it, but it was. And when people ask me what it's about, I can't really explain. What struck me most about it is it's a book about the people who fit in the margins — the people who grow you and change you but never really belong to your life's main narrative. The people who exist between friendships and relationships, but don't fit the definitions of either.

Everyone is talking about Normal People, so I know I'm not alone. But it's special, and it's stayed with me all summer. I keep reading the quotations I've highlighted over and over again. I think I might read it again.

The H-Spot by Jill Filipovic

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Three times I enthusiastically nodded while reading The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness by Jill Filipovic:

"Looking around at the women I know, there is no question that all of our lives have been shaped, and so many doors opened, by the ability to not get pregnant, or not stay pregnant, when we didn't want to. Our sexual and romantic lives have also been improved by being able to have sex for fun, because we want to, without risking our educational futures, our jobs, our health, or what we wanted in our partners, relationships, and lives."

"Politically, though, we treat sex like it's a vice instead of a normal part of human behavior — a sinful defect but also a consumer product."

Review: Screwed: How Women Are Set Up to Fail at Sex

Monday, 18 March 2019

This review originally appeared on

"The man screws; the woman is screwed." This is the assertion at the centre of journalist and television host Lili Boisvert's book, Screwed: How Women Are Set Up to Fail at Sex. First released in French Canada as Principe du cumshot, or The Cumshot Principle, Screwed argues that the dominant principle behind heterosexual encounters is that "desire is a male phenomenon and women are merely its object."

In "Me Hunter, You Prey: Passivity as the Cornerstone of Femininity," the first of seven chapters in Screwed, Boisvert explains: "In pornography, the 'cumshot' is the moment when the camera captures a man ejaculating onto a woman’s body or face. It's the final scene, and leaves the actress covered in sperm," she writes. "This image is a perfect representation of the principle underlying a typical heterosexual relationship: in our dominant conception of sexuality, desire originates with a man and is directed upon the woman."

A small book at only 200 pages, Screwed explores the idea that women's lives are dictated by their status as sex objects, and that from girlhood, women are conditioned to be passive.

Click here to read the complete review. 

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

Monday, 11 February 2019

"I have always been afraid of her ability to pull the rug out from underneath us, her capacity for cruelty and kindness in the same sentence, same action. I can see it in Grace too. It must be a prerequisite for being a mother, something that growing another person inside you does, heart and heartlessness, as though simplistic empathy has been scooped out and replaced with something more fundamental, something more likely to guarantee survival." — The Water Cure

The Guardian called The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh "an extraordinary otherworldly debut." Penguin Random House is promoting it as "The Handmaid's Tale meets The Virgin Suicides" (two of my favourite books) and "a dystopic feminist revenge fantasy about three sisters on an isolated island, raised to fear men." How could I not read The Water Cure? How could we not all read The Water Cure with all that is going on right now in the world?

In The Water Cure, "King has tenderly staked out a territory for his wife and three daughters: Grace, Lia, and Sky. He has laid the barbed wire; he has anchored the buoys in the water; he has marked out a clear message: Do not enter. Or, viewed from another angle: Not safe to leave. Here women are protected from the chaos and violence of men on the mainland. The cultlike rituals and therapies they endure fortify them against the spreading toxicity of a degrading world."

Shortly after King disappears suddenly, two men and and a boy appear, challenging all Grace, Lia, and Sky have known about the world they've been guarded from. The result is a tense and unsettling book not only about how unsafe and inhospitable the world can be for women, but also, at its core, it's about womanhood, girlhood, and sisterhood set against Mackintosh's strange, carefully crafted world.

Review: Putuguq & Kublu and the Qalupalik!

Wednesday, 16 January 2019
Something lurks beneath the sea ice of Arviq Bay. That is, if siblings Putuguq and Kublu believe their grandfather’s tale of creatures, called qalupaliit, who snatch unsuspecting children playing too close to the water.

Published by Inhabit Media, an Inuit-owned publishing company that preserves and promotes the stories and knowledge of northern Canada, Putuguq & Kublu and the Qalupalik! is the second graphic novel in a series. The first installment, Putuguq & Kublu, was included in the United States Board on Books for Young People’s Outstanding International Books List.

Read my full review at Quill and Quire.

Summer Cannibals at the Hamilton Review of Books

In case you missed it, check out my latest review — Summer Cannibals by Melanie Hobson — over at the Hamilton Review of Books. 

Favourite Reads from 2018

Monday, 31 December 2018

It was all about non-fiction for me this year, especially books written by women about women, with one hell of an amazing rock memoir thrown in. Here they are in no particular order.

Shrewed by Elizabeth Renzetti
House of Anansi

"The world would be a better place if women had more say in the running of things. At the very least it would be less fucked up."

Read my review of Shrewed at the Hamilton Review of Books. Here's a small snippet of it:
Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls by Globe and Mail columnist and award-winning novelist Elizabeth Renzetti is dedicated to “my mother, the light at one end of the tunnel, and my children, the light at the other.” This affectionate tribute is a fitting introduction to a fierce and insightful collection of essays that draws on the heartbreaking injustices women have faced in the past, while looking toward a future that only sometimes looks bright. 
In nearly thirty years as a journalist, Renzetti has written about the challenges, failures, and triumphs of the women she has profiled. This, of course, doesn’t make her an expert on all women, and in Shrewed, she’s careful not to make generalizations, noting the diversity of women’s experiences, especially among those in marginalized communities. However, as a woman in a male-dominated field, Renzetti has amassed insight into the many barriers women face in the workplace, in politics, online, and in the streets, forcing her to ask herself why and how the world is so inhospitable to women.
The Measure of My Powers by Jackie Kai Ellis
Appetite By Random House

"I was observant and careful not to be a burden. So from the time I began to speak, I also learned how not to."

I don't love cookbooks because they seem to require action out of me, and cooking isn't near the top of my list of favourite pastimes; however, one thing I love is a food memoir, in particularly if a food memoir is also a travel memoir, as is the case of The Measure of My Powers by Jackie Kai Ellis, a raw and intimate book about how food, travel, and life in the kitchen helped the author find "peace, comfort, and acceptance."

Refuse: CanLit in Ruins edited by Hannah McGregor, Julie Rak, and Erin Wunker

"What is it to refuse? To say no, but also to say yes to something else, to blow up, to fire up."

Injustice in CanLit is nothing new, but for the first time, there's a powerful collection of essays, with contributions from some of Canada's best emerging writers, that "provides a critical and historical context to help readers understand conversations now happening about CanLit." It's a crucial read for those of us who are active participants within what's referred to as CanLit and those unaware.

Let's Go (So We Can Get Back) by Jeff Tweedy
Faber & Faber

"Every once in a while, somebody would open the backstage door for a precious few seconds, and we'd catch a glimpse of the band onstage, silhouetted by smoke, green-and-purple lit black leather jackets, guitar necks, and cymbals. The music would burst out like a sonic boom, catching us by surprise, sometimes literally knocking us backward. And then the door would slam shut again. But for at least a couple of seconds, we were part of it, enthralled just to be there, grateful for even a few stolen notes."

This blog started with a Wilco lyric ("You are not my typewriter, but you could be my demon, moving forward through the flaming doors." — "War on War" by Wilco) so it will be no surprise that Jeff Tweedy's memoir, Let's Go (So We Can Get Back) was my most anticipated book of the year, and damn it delivered. With a few dozen Wilco/Jeff Tweedy shows under my belt, I loved reading more about how the band came to be and how it's survived/thrived, but it was Tweedy's descriptions of loving and devouring records and concerts at an early age that stuck with me most.

Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why It Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux
W.W. Norton and Co. 

"As a book that celebrated the events in young girls' lives and made them as interesting as any adventures on the high seas, Little Women made literature accessible and gave girls the idea that their lives were worth writing about."

It's been years since I've read Little Women, and I will revisit it soon, especially feeling equipped with the historical and cultural context provided by Anne Boyd Rioux's exceptional book, Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, which not only explores why Little Women still matters today, but also how it has moved generations of women, in particularly women writers. It's a wonderful book for all of us who ever dreamed of becoming Jo.

Dead Girls by Alice Bolin
William Morrow (Harper Collins)

"Like other writers before me, I have tried to make something about women from stories that were always and only about men."

Exploring the "dead girl" trope, so common in pop culture, from Twin Peaks to crime novels, Alice Bolin delivers an absorbing and insightful collection of essays "illuminating the widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead or alive) are used as props to bolster men's stories."

I'm Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
Penguin Random House

"What if you were to challenge yourself every time you feel afraid of me — and all of us who are pushing against gendered expectations and restrictions? What if you cherished us as archetypes of realized potential? What if you were to surrender to sublime possibility — yours and mine? Might you then free me at last of my fear, and of your own?"

Vivek Shraya's I'm Afraid of Men might physically be a very small book at less than one hundred pages, however, Shraya's exploration of "how masculinity was imposed on her as a boy and continues to haunt her as a girl" are weighty and raw. This is one of those books that we must all read.

The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World
by Sarah Weinman

"What drove me then and galls me now is that Sally's abduction defined her entire short life. She never had a chance to grow up, pursue a career, marry, have children, grow old, be happy."

I was reluctant to pick this book up thinking it might be just another true crime book about a "dead girl" (Note, this was the book I read just after Dead Girls by Alice Bolin). However, it seemed to keep taunting me on social media, and within minutes of reading the first page, I was hooked. What surprises me most about The Real Lolita is Weinman's ability to create a captivating historical narrative with so little evidence — tracing the experiences of a little girl mostly forgotten to history and an illusive captor who so often changed his name and identity to escape discovery.
Designed with ♥ by Nudge Media Design