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.

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