Quarterly Report

I won’t bore you (or myself) with the banal personal struggles that have been making it hard to blog. I’m just coming out of the busy middle of the semester, but it’s really the will I lack rather than the time. I’m going to keep trying, because I find writing about my reading helps me enjoy it more.

Partly as a quick way of doing that, I went back to Goodreads. All my 2018 reading is listed there, though I don’t rate and review it all. Here I’ll just touch on some highlights.

“Bookending” Resolution: My goal to start and end my days with reading has gone quite well, though I’ve slipped a bit lately. I find that in the morning something short and meditative works best; I’ve had more success with reading a couple of poems than with picking up whatever novel or non-fiction work I’m in the middle of. As a result, I’ve got nine poetry collections on my Goodreads shelf. I can’t say I’m the most thoughtful or attentive poetry reader at 5:30am, but that’s OK. Recent highlights included:

  • Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas, which I’d recommend to anyone who loved Claudia Rankine’s Citizen.  Natalie Diaz’s review is great.
  • Kai Cheng Thom’s A Place Called No Homeland. These are poems about trans and gender and Chinese-Canadian identity. About sex and violence and their intersections. Raw and personal and owing a lot to oral and spoken-word traditions.

In the meditative, dip-in-and-out spirit of my poetry reading, I’m considering trying some reading on Christian spirituality and prayer and/or a devotional for my morning reading. I’m happy to hear suggestions. I’ve requested some more poetry from the library as I’ve felt the lack in the last few weeks–I’m open to poetry suggestions too!

The Challenges of a Reading Challenge:

I’ve ticked off 18 boxes of the 50 in the Pop Sugar Challenge, which puts me ahead of schedule for the year. So I need to relax about it. It’s meant to be a fun way to broaden my reading choices, not anxiety-causing homework. (Yes, I have trouble not turning it into homework).

Almost everything I’ve read this year has come from the library, and library holds have also caused me anxiety. So for my next quarter goals: less anxiety, more reading books in my house! Or at least less anxiety, since there are currently 19 books on my library hold list. Most of them are “on order” which means they could come in tomorrow or months from now, and I have no idea which it will be. No doubt several will arrive at once. I am reminding myself that library books can always be checked out again.

I missed the TBR Challenge in March, but hope to plan around it better this month.

Standout Reading/Listening:

Winter, by Ali Smith. I didn’t love this quite as much as Autumn, but that may be just because I’d already read Autumn. I want to read them both again, because I feel I missed so much–and I should have written about Winter right away. Here’s my post on Autumnif that sounds good, read it and go on to Winter.

An Odyssey, by Daniel Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn’s 80-something father sits in on his freshman seminar on Homer’s epic at Bard College. Then they go on an Odyssey-themed cruise. This book wanders, as do Odysseus and the epic–deliberately, in the case of the texts. Mendelsohn reflects on teaching and learning, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, journeys and lives. His memoir bounces off Homer, but it’s not neatly correlated. Each story illuminates the other. I especially loved the glimpses into his classroom. After having to return the library book unfinished twice, I got the audiobook, and I’m pretty sure I’ll listen to it again. I  now aspire to read The Odyssey this year.

Brother, by David Chariandy. This a very Canadian novel in its setting (this article talks about Chariandy’s desire to make the immigrant-populated suburbs a part of CanLit’s landscape). And also one whose story–about an immigrant family, a black family deeply affected by violence and tragedy–will feel timely outside Canada as well (and maybe will remind Canadians that this kind of story doesn’t just happen Next Door). What struck me about it is the beauty of the writing and the way the central incident around which it circles is an absence for much of the novel. We move back and forth around it, but just what happened to the narrator Francis’ brother isn’t clear until near the end.

This family’s story is “political” in one sense, of course, but Chariandy’s tender observation and poetic writing mean that the characters’ love for one another, their humanity, at the center of the story. They never feel like props to make a point. (And honestly, when I think about it, that’s true of pretty much every novels I’ve read by authors of color that reflect “political” issues or racism. They’re stories about people in our messed-up world, not allegories about systemic racism, even if they illuminate that for readers as well. It’s (white) critics who tend to emphasize their politics or “issues” more than they would for a book by a white author (which brings me back to the Layli Long Soldier review linked above and is obvious but I need reminding of it now and then).

Other than that, I’ve continued to enjoy older British mysteries as my comfort reading, though I haven’t read anything standout. Right now I’m reading John le Carré’s first novel, Call for the Dead, which is basically a classic mystery, and enjoying it very much.

Podcast Recommendation: Finally, a non-book story that has been gripping, moving and enlightening me: Finding Cleothe second season of Connie Walker’s CBC podcast focusing on the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women. The story focuses on the Semaganis siblings, separated and adopted by white families during the Sixties Scoop, and their search (led by sister Christine Cameron) for their sister Cleo, who they believe was raped and murdered in Arkansas while trying to hitchhike home to Saskatchewan. That turns out not to be true, though don’t expect a happier ending. (Although it mostly isn’t graphic, this podcast is often painful listening, as Christine and her siblings have survived physical and sexual abuse and struggled with addiction and mental illness).

Walker, like the Semaganis family, is Cree, and I think this gives her a perspective a non-Indigenous reporter would lack. Her reporting is thorough, respectful, and considerate, and she lets us see the personal toll it can take on her. I knew a little bit about this part of Canadian history, but I feel I understand it better now–and certainly understand the damage that the perhaps (partly) well-meaning Adopt Indian and Métis program did. Like Chariandy’s this is a story that needs to be part of the Canadian story, a story lots of people would rather ignore. And like Chariandy’s, this is a story in which the people, not just the issues, are front and center. The love the Semaganis siblings feel for each other is clear, and a rebuke to a system that disregarded their family bonds. I’m grateful to them for sharing their experiences.



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12 Responses to Quarterly Report

  1. Janine Ballard says:

    “And honestly, when I think about it, that’s true of pretty much every novels I’ve read by authors of color that reflect “political” issues or racism. They’re stories about people in our messed-up world, not allegories about systemic racism, even if they illuminate that for readers as well. It’s (white) critics who tend to emphasize their politics or “issues” more than they would for a book by a white author ”

    So true.

  2. Sunita says:

    We both blogged on the same day, heh. After 3 months! Well, at least we blogged. And at least we’re reading!

    I’ve been eyeing the Chariandy book for a while, but none of my library’s Overdrive accounts have it, so I’m going to have to go to an actual building and get a print copy. I agree that novels by underrepresented authors are much more than allegories or ways to learn about racial/ethnic issues, but the ones I read tend to be both. By which I mean, writing stories about people and the world they live in means writing about systemic racism, etc. Which I know you know. And I definitely agree that readers outside the community being depicted tend to emphasize the non-personal or non-specific. If I compare how I read books on India vs. how I read books featuring, say, black Americans in rural Mississippi, the former feels like slipping into comfy clothes while the other feels like taking a journey to a new place and trying to make sense of what is not second-nature to me. One thing I liked so much about the Tayari Jones novel was the way she combined the two: the intimate was always front and center, but the general/systemic was also present.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I was thinking “I really should blog on the long weekend” and then I saw that you had, which was the kick in the pants I needed.

      I had a hard time saying what I meant–even though it’s obvious. Of course the personal is always affected by the systemic. I think the way that Chariandy tells his story makes it harder to lose focus on the personal. I hope I’m not saying “at least it wasn’t ANGRY,” but what I mean is that he focuses on the characters’ love for each other and the way they are part of a community. And the way the dominant culture focuses on violence in communities of color so often downplays the fact that victims were *loved* and are mourned. I don’t need to rehash for you the way news depicts them. This seemed like an important corrective to that dominant narrative, and of course there IS anger in that story too. Anyway, it’s worth going to a library for a hard copy!

      • Sunita says:

        “the way that Chariandy tells his story makes it harder to lose focus on the personal.”

        YES. This is what I meant with the Tayari Jones example. It’s not that the other stuff isn’t there, but that I was so engrossed in the relationship(s) at the same time that I was thinking about the systemic stuff. Which is of course partly the text and partly me. In the Jesmyn Ward novel (Sing, Unburied, Sing), I found the systemic stuff to take front and center, although the characters were really well delineated and the relationships were beautifully shown. But as I read, I just couldn’t stop thinking about the Big Stuff.

  3. Teresa says:

    Finding Cleo is so good. I still have to listen to the latest episode, but I have been absolutely riveted throughout. And I appreciate how Walker is navigating this complex terrain with so much sensitivity and determination.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes, I think she’s excellent. I didn’t want to say much about this because it isn’t my story, but my husband had an adopted brother (who died soon after we were married) and this podcast helped me understand their family history better.

  4. Marianne McA says:

    A Christian spirituality suggestion – someone loaned me a copy of Richard Rohr’s Falling Upwards. He’s a Franciscan friar, while I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Presbyterian, but I’d still absolutely recommend it. I’ve been meaning to get my own copy so I can reread it.
    (Caveat: he suggests that there are two stages to your spiritual life, and this is a book about approaching the second half – and while I think he says somewhere that you can reach the second half of your spiritual life at any age, it’s maybe aimed at the more middle-aged reader.)

  5. willaful says:

    My libraries offer ways to “hold” holds, which I don’t take enough advantage of. I’m feeling the stress too, especially since I borrowed dozens of books for my trip and then didn’t wind up reading much.

    Not only can they be checked out again, but — at least where I am — more checkouts are good for libraries! So you’re actually performing a public service. 🙂

  6. Dorine says:

    For a spirituality/devotion suggestion, try the Cure for the Common Life by Max Lucado. It’s really good for inspiring faith and understanding your path. It got me out of my funk. I think you’ll be surprised at what you discover about yourself. 🙂

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