Favourite Reads of 2017

Sunday, 7 January 2018

In no particular order, here are the books that floored me, caused me to take pause, or entertained me in 2017. They are books that I dog-earred, wrote in the margins of (unless they were library books, obviously), and, in many cases, reviewed either here or elsewhere. I recommend each of them without hesitation.

Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear
Doubleday Canada
"Books have given me great stores of happiness, but if I am honest with myself I can see they have also taken something away. I glimpsed the real world between paragraphs of novels. I traced words when I might have touched the ground.”

The first books you read at the beginning of the year risk being forgotten by the time "best of" lists roll around in December and January. That wasn't the case for Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear, one of the first books I read in 2017, that remained one of my favourites. Seeing Maclear read from it at the Hamilton Public Library during gritLIT Festival weekend was a literary highlight of 2017.

To read my review of Birds Art Life, click here. Here's a snippet of it:
"Birds Art Life takes readers to city parks, harbours, and trails as Maclear seeks joy and solace through birding following a period in which her father's failing health consumes her. Though it is deeply appreciative of our feathery friends, Birds Art Life is hardly a manual for want-to-be birders. Rather, it's a contemplative journey exploring the ways in which the natural world can shape or influence our lives and art, yet at the same time, allowing us to escape them."

Brother by David Chariandy
McClelland & Stewart
"Memory's got nothing to do with the old and grey and faraway gone. Memory's the muscle sting of now. A kid reaching brave in the skull hum of power."

David Chariandy's Brother — a coming-of-age story that takes place in The Park, "a cluster of town houses and leaning concrete towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city" — should have won the Giller Prize, or at least, found itself on the shortlist. Small, at only 180 pages, it packs so much emotional force and each sentence is intentional and perfect. If there's one book from 2017 that I've been telling people they have to read, it's Brother.

All Is Beauty Now by Sarah Faber
McClelland & Stewart
"Still, his memories live in these streets — all those nights of dancing and drinking and swarming with joy — and the degradation brought with it a kind of decadence and seediness he has sometimes sought."

Sarah Faber's All Is Beauty Now is a stunning debut novel from an author I can't wait to read more from. With lyrical prose and complex characters, Faber has the ability to whisk readers away to the beaches of 1960s Rio de Janeiro, where the Maurer family is engulfed in tragedy after Luisa, the eldest daughter/sister, walks into the waters of off a crowded beach and is presumed drowned.

This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
House of Anansi
"I watch his back as he disappears and I wonder about the kind of love that exists before you really know someone. The kind that seems so pure but never lasts. The kind that is light, unencumbered by damage and issues and talking. Just I love you as you are right now in this breaking moment."

Quotes like the one above from This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson stunned me. I was lucky enough to review this one for THIS Magazine:
"Unique in its fragmented and casual, yet lyrical and elegant language, This Accident of Being Lost introduces readers to memorable and resilient characters, most grappling with uncertainty. From boreal forests to the Great Lakes, and from urban centres to rural communities, This Accident of Being Lost forces readers to look at Canada differently."

The Abominable Mr. Seabrook by Joe Ollmann
Drawn & Quarterly
Like most people, I had never heard of William Buehler Seabrook — the journalist and bestselling travel writer who "was willing to go deeper than any outsider had before" — until I read Joe Ollmann's graphic novel, The Abominable Mr. Seabrook. Advertised as "the daring and destructive life of the man who popularized the word "Zombie," The Abominable Mr. Seabrook is much more than that. To read about The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, read the glowing review in The Guardian.

The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of Eulogy by Julia Cooper
Coach House Books
"The eulogy is a particularly vexed art form, partly because it's a necessity, and partly because at its very heart it is an amateur's art."

I love each book I've read in Coach House's Exploded Views series; however, Julia Cooper's The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of Eulogy is my favourite so far. Exploring public mourning in the age of social media and celebrity culture, it's a tiny glimpse into grief in the modern age. As someone who is guilty of offering "bite-sized condolences" and "micro-eulogies" for favourite celebrities on social media, I was instantly intrigued from the first page.

Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant
Harper Trophy
In Quill and Quire, I called Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant a near-perfect book, and I stand by that. I have no doubt it is highly entertaining for children, but it's also a great example of a YA book that will be enjoyable for adults as well.

From Quill and Quire:
"Short for Chameleon is a near perfect book. It bursts with a unique voice and a delightfully surprising plot. This is a novel with incredible heart, telling the story of a boy who can “fade into the background with the rest of them,” but who slowly begins to create his own identity."

The Marrow Thieves by Cheri Dimaline
Dancing Cat Books
"Snow fell in a light dusting now. It looked like glitter scraped from the underside of clouds by the scrubby top branches of the pines. The skeletons of the green trees curved under the elegant weight of the snow, bowing and twisting like ribbons in the wind."

When I reviewed The Marrow Thieves by Cheri Dimaline for Quill and Quire, I knew it was something special; however, I didn't know that it would quickly become one of the most talked about books of the year.

From my Quill and Quire review:
"Dimaline thrusts readers into the complex lives of rich and nuanced characters forced to navigate a world that too closely resembles our own. At first glance, the book appears to be dystopian fiction swarming with adventure and danger; however, readers with an interest in social justice and a grasp on colonial history will extract much deeper meaning. The book is, above all, a cautionary tale, revealing an exaggerated version of what could happen to Earth in the not-so-distant future. It is a timely and necessary read referencing pipelines, melting northern territories, rising water levels, and the consequences of government policies that don’t protect the environment. Powerful and endlessly smart, it’s a crucial work of fiction for people of all ages."

Read. This. Book! It's so important, but also endlessly entertaining.

Honourable Mention
Here are the books that I loved this year that were not published in 2017:
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (1993)
  • Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman who Loved Him by Roy MacGregor (2010)
  • In My Humble Opinion: My So-Called Life by Soraya Roberts (2016)
  • The Killer Whale Who Changed the World by Mark Leiren-Young (2016)
  • You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris (2016)

Favourite Posts of 2017

Sunday, 31 December 2017
It's been quiet here, but it hasn't been because I haven't been writing or spending my time exploring. More than five years is a long time to sustain a blog, and most days this one seems to be in its final days. But that said, I'm not letting it die completely (yet), even if it simply acts as a hub to share other things I'm working on.

I'm proud that earlier this year I helped launch The Inlet with a number of peers and friends. Also, this fall, The Hamilton Review of Books released our third (maybe best?) collection of reviews, interviews, and essays.

Here are a few of my favourite posts from Not My Typewriter and beyond.

Not My Typewriter
Wine. All. The. Time.
Eating and Drinking in Vancouver
Behind the Scenes at Cirque du Soleil
Places from Books: Petty Harbour
Review: Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear
Hamilton Winterfest 2017

The Inlet:
Best Antique Markets Worth a Drive
Best Free Music Series to See Before Summer Ends
Best Places to Buy Pie
Hamilton Toy Museum
Auchmar House
Safer Gigs Hamilton
Connaught Fish & Chips
Bonanza Bakery

The Hamilton Review of Books
Review: The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern
Review: Baseball Life Advice

Review: The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History by David McPherson

This review originally appeared at The Hamilton Review of Books.

The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern: A Complete History ends with a call to action: “... I encourage you to do your part to support live music wherever you live,” writes David McPherson, a music journalist and the book’s author. “At the end of the day, that’s what will keep clubs like the Horseshoe Tavern open and viable for the next generation.”

A timely book of music nostalgia, The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern explores one of the country’s most famous music venues — an institution with a nondescript facade that has stood at 370 Queen Street West since 1947. While McPherson has written his book in commemoration of the ’Shoe’s 70th anniversary in December, it also comes during a year in which historic venues like Zaphod Beeblebrox in Ottawa and the Silver Dollar Room in Toronto have closed. In Hamilton, our own Baltimore House on King William Street shut its doors in the spring.

McPherson’s passion for music and the Horseshoe Tavern is evident as he takes readers inside the bar that the Tragically Hip immortalized in their song “Bobcaygeon” with the lyrics, “That night in Toronto/ With its checkerboard floors.” The Horseshoe Tavern was one of the first places in Toronto to get a liquor license and the first to have a television set. It was also the place for bands, including Blue Rodeo and countless others, to get their first real break.

To read the rest of this review, visit The Hamilton Review of Books

Review: Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me by Stacey May Fowles

This review originally appeared at The Hamilton Review of Books.

Award-winning novelist, journalist, and essayist Stacey May Fowles knows which sections of a ballpark are safest for her to sit in. She knows where she’s least likely to be harassed or to hear sexist, homophobic, or racist language. She also knows that despite being a space that is often unwelcoming to women, a ballpark is her “church,” a place that offers her a precious few hours of escape and a sense of constancy.

Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me is Fowles’ collection of enthusiastic essays that celebrates baseball and the “strange grip” it has on her, while also being critical of the sport. It is a much-needed look at baseball through a gendered lens, exploring topics including Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the correlation between sports injuries and mental health, and the male-dominated media’s “very limited and skewed depiction of women’s relationships with sports.”

On many occasions, Fowles’ fandom seems obsessive. “The emotion the game stirs in me is like an itch I can’t scratch, a feeling I’ll never really understand,” she writes in the book’s first essay, “It’s Enough That We’re Here: Thoughts on Baseball and Recovery.” At times, her wistful language and metaphors that compare baseball to romantic love might seem hyperbolic, especially for casual baseball fans. However, it is quickly understood that Fowles’ love of the game is deeper than an admiration for her favourite hitters and pitchers. Baseball is a refuge from her sexual assault, infertility, and “the thick fog of sadness” that overtook her mental health.

Read the rest of this review at The Hamilton Review of Books.

Wine. All The Time.

Monday, 13 November 2017

I read Wine. All The Time: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking months ago, over the summer; however, it's a book I've revisited dozens of times since. Written by Marissa A. Ross, a contributing editor and official wine columnist for Bon Appétit magazine, Wine. All The Time. is the perfect book for anyone interested in educating themselves about wine enough to hold an intelligent conversation, without having to plod through pretentious wine writing.

I dog-earred my copy and jotted down dozens of tips, but here are a few of my favourite takeaways from this energetic, educational, and hilarious book.

1) Learning about wine actually isn't that difficult. 
As Marissa A. Ross writes in Chapter One, she went from drinking the worst wines at aged twenty-two to drinking some of the best in the world by thirty. She's not a sommelier, but her self-education on all things wine related has brought her to where she is now. She argues that we can all better educate ourselves about wine in the same way she did, simply by paying closer attention what we're buying and drinking. Ross suggests approaching wine like we do small plates. "A lot of people are crazy about food," she writes, suggesting we become just as interested and adventurous when it comes to wine.

2) Wine writing doesn't have to be pretentious.
In fact, as Ross proves, it can even include the odd f-bomb. Wine. All The Time is casual and fun, and most importantly, accessible to people of all levels of interest — even those who are only just beginning to explore wine. It includes a glossary with definitions and key phrases, as well as maps, charts, and lists.

3) It's OK to start small when it comes to talking about wine. 
There's so much to learn about wine, including how it is produced and how to describe a wine's taste, but you don't need to learn everything all in one sitting. "No matter what you're drinking, you're learning, and are well on your way to becoming a confident wine drinker," says Ross. She suggests starting small when it comes to talking about wine. "It starts small ('I like light-bodied reds'), but the next thing you know, you'll be talking about notes of blueberry pie and how you prefer stainless steel fermentation for Chardonnay," she says.

4) How to be a confident wine label reader.
If you're like me, you've made a wine-buying decision based mostly on a bottle's graphic design. Wine. All The Time offers simple tips that helps readers decode wine labels, including deciphering terms like "the varietal," "the appellation," and "the vintage." Ross encourages wine drinkers to pay attention to where their wine comes from and what's in it. "... you can't care about where your kale comes from and not care about where your wine comes from," she says.

5) How to order wine at a restaurant. 
Successfully ordering wine from a restaurant, especially when confronted with a leather-bound wine list with hundreds of options, is still something I've yet to master. Luckily, Ross makes it easy with a section called "How to order wine in any restaurant," which follows another very useful section — "Buying wine for a gift." She offers simple solutions, including "Talk to the waiter/sommelier," "Don't worry about looking cheap," and "Don't get hung up on pronunciations," that makes restaurant wine menus seem much less daunting.

Quotable: This Accident of Being Lost

Monday, 9 October 2017

This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is, without hesitation, one of the best books I've read this year. It, alongside Brother by David Chariandy, which I'm reading now, make me think the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize really got things right this year. 

Here are two quotes from This Accident of Being Lost that are among the many I dog-earred. Read my short review of This Accident of Being Lost at THIS Magazine

Eating and Drinking in Vancouver

Monday, 7 August 2017

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” 
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own

One of my all-time favourite posts to compile was last year's Eating and Drinking in St. John's post, so I couldn't help but do the same following a solo trip I took to Vancouver back in the spring. I wandered mostly without an itinerary, stopping at coffee shops and restaurants along the way. Here are a few of my favourites.  

Purebread (159 W Hastings St. — Gastown Neighbourhood)


purebread is a Whistler-based family bakery with a location in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood. It boasts its simple mission as "to bake delicious bread, savouries, cakes and treats that bring a smile to people's faces." It was my first culinary stop in Vancouver, and it set the bar high!

49th Parallel (2198 West 4th Avenue — Kitsilano neighbourhood)


Located in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood, 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters' West 4th café has an enclosed patio perfect for rainy Vancouver days, and most importantly, it makes Lucky's Doughnuts on site. This peanut butter and jelly donut was absolutely one of the best things I've ever eaten — and I don't even have much of a sweet tooth.

Granville Island: Tony's Fish and Oyster Café (1511 Anderson St.)


Tony's Fish & Oyster Cafe, a dine-in café specializing in fresh seafood, has been located on Granville Island since 2002. I couldn't help but trying their amazing house-made clam chowder.

Granville Island Public Market (1669 Johnston St.)


Longliner Seafoods (Granville Island Public Market)


Longliner Seafoods carries only hand-selected seafood ranging from wild fresh or smoked BC salmon to local halibut. I stocked up on candied salmon and smoked salmon for my hotel fridge, which helped me get through much-needed midnight snack breaks.

Sprig (Granville Island Public Market)


Sprig is in the heart of Granville Island's Public Market where it serves up amazing contemporary Greek food, including this falafel pita.

Granville Island Brewing Company (1441 Cartwright Street)






















I can't visit a new city without doing a brewery tour, so while on Granville Island I did the Granville Island Brewing Company's brewery tour, and stayed to try a few different beers. The brewery opened on Granville Island in 1984 as Canada’s first microbrewery.

Vancouver Art Gallery (750 Hornby St.)


As everyone suggested it might, it rained A LOT in Vancouver, meaning museums and galleries were something of a refuge. The Vancouver Art Gallery was only minutes from the YWCA Hotel where I stayed and is "recognized as one of North America’s most respected and innovative visual arts institutions." It's also home to the Gallery Café, which is the perfect place to stop for a soup and sandwich on a drizzly Vancouver day.

Brassneck Brewery (2148 Main St.)


I'm no stranger to drinking alone when I'm travelling solo, so I stopped at Brassneck Brewery's tasting room to sample a few beers. In comparison the Granville Island Brewing, Brassneck is quite new, but it hasn't wasted any time. In the three and a half years since its opened, it has already brewed around 120 different beers. 

Poké Time (1258 Robson St.)


I've eaten my fair share of poké thanks to pokeh at the Hamilton Farmer's Market, but until visiting Vancouver I had never had a poké burrito. That changed thanks to Poké Time, which boasts multiple locations across Vancouver.

Bel Café (801 W Georgia St.)


My trip wasn't all play, no work. After a morning of meetings, I stopped by Bel Café for a much-needed coffee and was tempted by this incredible little Earl Grey macaroon.

Cartems Donuterie (2190 Main St.)


This post is clearly disproving my statement that I don't have a sweet tooth. After stopping at Brassneck Brewery, I stopped at cartems Donuterie, also located on Main Street, for this amazing Earl Grey donut.

Kishimoto Japanese Restaurant (2054 Commercial Dr.)


It's only a minor exageration to say that EVERYONE told me that I needed to try Vancouver sushi, so I met up with some friends at Kishimoto on Commercial Drive, and, hands down, had the best sushi of my life. I was warned there might be a line-up, and there was, but it was worth it. (And don't let me be the only judge of that — The Globe and Mail said the same thing.)

Rodney's Oyster House (52 Powell St.)


Rodney's has two locations in Vancouver — one in Yaletown and one in Gastown. On the evening before flying home, I stopped at the Gastown location, where I sat at the bar alongside a number of other solo travellers, mostly all from Southern Ontario. Freshly shucked oysters and west-coast wine isn't a bad way to end a vacation.

Beer Stores (Various)


This photo speaks for itself. There are so many amazing Vancouver craft beers to try from a variety of breweries, but sadly, I didn't have enough time (or drinking partners) to sample them all. Until next time, Vancouver!
 
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