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
Book*Hug

"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
HarperCollins

"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.

Review: Summer Cannibals

Monday, 3 December 2018
This review originally appeared at The Hamilton Review of Books.

Stately homes that shelter family secrets have long been familiar in literature. With creaky floorboards and winding corridors, some dwellings become characters with personalities independent of their inhabitants. However, when thinking of such settings, one might think first of Misselthwaite Manor or Jay Gatsby’s West Egg mansion. Less often we think of a home in our very own city.

Perched atop the Niagara escarpment and weathered by years of neglect, the three-storey home in Melanie Hobson’s debut novel, Summer Cannibals, has three floors, two staircases, seven bedrooms, a coach house, a library, a butler’s pantry, and many secrets. While David and Margaret Blackford, the husband and wife who live inside the house, are fictional, the house itself is not — it is created in the likeness “with a few embellishments” of Hobson’s childhood home on Hamilton’s mountain brow.

It’s to this Georgian-style mansion, owned by the Blackford family for more than 30 years, that David and Margaret’s three adult daughters — Georgina (known as George), Jacqueline (Jax), and Philippa (Pippa) — are summoned. Pippa, the youngest, is pregnant with her fifth child, having left her husband and children behind in New Zealand. She is unwell, and her sisters plan to tend to her, but very quickly, readers discover that Pippa isn’t the only Blackford sister desperate for an escape. The result is a dark, twisted tale of long-buried secrets, unquenchable lust, vengeance, and greed.

Click here to read the complete review.

Review: Wages for Housework

Monday, 12 November 2018
This review originally appeared on rabble.ca.

Wages for Housework: A History of an International Feminist Movement, 1972–77
By Louise Toupin; Translated by K├Ąthe Roth

In order to understand the context in which Wages for Housework — a global feminist movement organized around the idea that domestic (or reproductive labour) was as "crucial for the survival of the capitalist system as more typically male 'productive’ labour'" — was born, one must consider or recall what it was like to be a woman in the 1970s.

In the first chapter of her ambitious book Wages for Housework: A History of an International Feminist Movement, 1972–77, feminist writer and retired university professor Louise Toupin provides a glimpse into daily life for women in the early 1970s — a time in which housework (also called domestic work or care work) was not considered to be real work, rather it was a "labour of love," or a biological duty imposed almost always upon women.

"In Quebec, for example, women could not serve on juries, and civil marriage and divorce had just been legalized, as had homosexuality 'between consenting adults,'" writes Toupin. She adds that access to abortions was only in the process of being liberalized, advertising of contraceptive methods was illegal, and "pay equity was an illusion." At the turn of the 1970s, "very few books dealt with the question of women as a political issue," and scholarly feminist studies were at their earliest stages.

Born in this climate, Wages for Housework saw the absence of earned wages as oppression, and waged men as the oppressors, giving women little, or no, bargaining power to negotiate their own conditions of work. "In reality, a wage is much more than money. It must be understood, in political terms, as a power relationship that structures society," writes Toupin.

Chronicling the Wages for Housework movement from its beginnings emerging from the International Feminist Collective in Italy in the early 1970s, Wages for Housework is divided into two parts — "The International Feminist Collective: Historical Overview and Political Perspective" and "Mobilizations around Women’s Invisible Work." It is the first international history of the Wages for Housework movement, which is much overlooked in the history of second-wave Western feminism.

Click here to read the rest of the review.
 
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