Leftist book world responds to COVID-19

Friday, 19 June 2020

"Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different." This quotation by author and activist Arundhati Roy introduces Sick of the System: Why the COVID-19 recovery must be revolutionary, a book of essays released earlier this month as an ebook by Toronto publisher Between the Lines. Available through a pay-what-you-can model, it's just one of the ways Between the Lines has quickly adapted, imagining the publishing world anew.

Canada's coronavirus shutdown began right at one of the busiest times of the year for those in the publishing industry. International spring book fairs, where many book deals are made, operated at limited capacity, were postponed, or cancelled. When COVID-19 forced all non-essential businesses to close, bookstores and libraries were among the first to shut their doors. Book festivals have cancelled or had to quickly navigate unknown digital spaces to move programming online. With fewer opportunities to promote new books and the reduced capacity of printers, many publishers have been forced to delay spring releases.

"It's hard to get a full picture right now," says David Bush, publicity and promotions manager and member of Between the Lines' editorial committee, who expects we'll see how "disruptive" the current climate will be in the coming months. "The world is changing at rapid speed."

To read this full article, visit rabble.ca

Catherine Ocelot's Art Life

This review was originally published in the Hamilton Review of Books

Near the end of Art Life, Montreal-based cartoonist Catherine Ocelot’s introspective and playful graphic novel about her own life as a creator, she asks herself a question many of us could ask ourselves right now: “Should I stop watching TV and do some work?” Seated on her couch, books piled on a table beside her and a steaming beverage in hand, it’s clear that even in her quietest moments, she’s questioning her productivity. In many instances in Art Life, we see that there’s little division between her personal and professional life.

First published in French in 2018 as La Vie d'artiste, and named winner of the Prix Bédélys for best comic in Quebec, Art Life explores the role of artists (and in turn, art) in our contemporary world. In a series of vignettes, Ocelot has conversations with seven of her artist friends, each a storyteller, whether through film, comics, or other media. Together, they explore doubts, disappointments, and observations — some funny, some tragic — connected to living the “Art Life.”

Women: Let's Build our Own Table

From the time we're young, the world tells girls not to take up too much space. Be nice, we're told. Be small. Don't be too loud. Yet, there's another message women and girls of recent generations have been fed on repeat: You can be whatever you want to be. But the road to leadership and achievement is one lined by institutional and systemic barriers. According to No More Nice Girls: Gender, Power, and Why It's Time to Stop Playing By the Rules, a new book by journalist Lauren McKeon, current power structures aren't built for women to succeed.
"Women and others who've been historically excluded from power are more likely to battle gargoyles, to traverse rickety bridges (if there is a bridge at all), to leap over rusty spikes in the road. And god help them if they don't do it all while smiling," writes McKeon, the award-winning writer, editor, and author of the previous book F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism. Often called "too nice" for leadership herself, McKeon has written a groundbreaking book that asks women to consider "that if all women are set up to fail, it stands to reason that Indigenous women, women of colour, women with disabilities, homeless and precariously housed women, and those who are LGBTQ+ are only set up to fail more and to fall harder."

To read this full review, visit rabble.ca

Favourite Reads of 2019

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

I'm careful to never call my end-of-the-year list a "Best Of," because as much as I'd like to read all the books, I get through such a small percentage of the books I want to read each year. This is a list of favourites — the books I couldn't put down, the books I highlighted in, and the books I've recommended over all others.

This year's list wasn't easy. There were a lot of good books published in 2019, but I've narrowed them down into a top-ten list that's mostly Canadian and mostly written by women. This year's list is a 50/50 spit between fiction and non-fiction (a departure for me). Read 2018's list, which was dominated by non-fiction.

In no particular order:
Honourable mention (Three books I read in 2019 that weren't published in 2019)
  • Us Conductors by Sean Michaels (for a second time, because it's just so good)
  • Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
  • Her by Christa Parravani
  • Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette

Power and pleasure dominate two new books about women's desire

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

This review originally appeared on rabble.ca. Click here to read the complete review. 
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
(Simon & Schuster, 2019, 27.00)
Just Pervs by Jess Taylor
(Book*Hug, 2019, 20.00)
Desire can get under our fingernails. It's on our hair and in our eyes, and it sits on our lips with such urgency that at some moments the need to be touched feels like it could break us apart. Yet, in a climate where women prioritizing pleasure is seen as selfish and male fantasies often dictate heterosexual relationships, feeling desire, according to two new books about pleasure and power, breeds shame in many women, leaving it largely unexplored and rarely discussed.
In Three Women, a non-fiction work of reportage by American journalist Lisa Taddeo, and Just Pervs, the bold sophomore collection of short stories by Toronto's Jess Taylor -- pleasure, rather the pursuit of pleasure, is central; however, in so many of the stories told in each remarkable book, power imbalance and the scrutiny of others challenge women's agency over their own sexuality.
The result of eight years of immersive reporting, Three Women is touted as "the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written" and the "riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women," who shared their stories with Taddeo in person, on the phone, by text message, and email over nearly a decade. There's a familiarity to each woman -- Maggie, Lina, and Sloane; Each is young, white, cisgender, able-bodied and heterosexual. Each has been traumatized, overjoyed, othered and made fragile as a result of her sexual experiences or, in Maggie's case, sexual assault.

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."

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