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Favourite Books from 2015

Rating books there’s the immediate buzz of bzzt, a no or a wow, but then 6 months pass and do they stay with you or are long gone?

My top more or less 10% favourite reads of 2015:

Another world:

  • 300 Selected Poems of the Tang Dynasty by Chiang Yee/Jiang Yi — The translation makes particular poets and eras feel distinct, unlike the officially sanction Chinese government translation which a converstion to terrible and dull verse. The poems are vivid in the touch of this translator to fold elapsed time. It’s a whole other world and feels like a transport. Closest comparison is a memoir: Like Color to the Blind: Soul Searching & Soul Finding by Donna Williams (Times Books, 1996) — Her second of many books looking inside perception that is overstimulated by Irlen syndrome and intense autism she makes a path to high functioning. Her mind at work is unique.

Perspective tilt:

  • A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1988) — A perspective shift in how to perceive privilege. An acerbic report of brown life in contrast to entitled classes and tourists. Powerful yet less sense of a life-met of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Elisabeth Beecher Stowe (1852) — Wild ride. It is a classic for a reason. It goes inside the lives, follows a lot of paths but gives a sense of what motivated people from all angles.
  • Clean Sails by Gustave Morin (New Star Books, 2015) — Yes, this is how to think and do typewriter poetry. Boggled at the planning and effort any given page must have taken once you have ideas liftoff. That is took 20 years is no surprise. Sensation of what all is possible.

Memoirs:

  • There is a Season: A Memoir by Patrick Lane (M&S, 2004) — A gorgeous bit of writing intercutting memory with gardening to reach a shape that is almost like a novel in reaching resolution. Compares favourably to Between Gods by Alison Pick (Doubleday, 2014) — A memoir that rapidly moves in the pursuit of individual and group identity. It has a sense of arc that coalesces but the darkness is far less than Lane’s.

History:

  • Confessions of a Fairy’s Daughter: Growing up with a Gay Dad by Alison Wearing (Alfred A Knopf, 2013) — We may never have read a book aloud to each other faster. 2 am comes on the heels of an early supper then reluctantly put it away for the night. While a memoir, it goes thru the zeitgeists of the century.
  • Obasan by Joy Kogawa (Penguin, 1981) — This classic is a dark but not unrelenting journey not from the pov of a child as the cover suggests but thru the whole life and community, psychology of choices, a long term asking us about the role of Canada and constructions of “the other”

Poetry:

  • Selected Poems: Alden Nowlan (House of Anansi, 2011) — Ah, this is why he is respected. Taken as a whole the poems are masterful and open. They let the reader into a time and place with room to infer what happened. Control of sound and scene with a  balance of self-assurance and humbleness.
  • The Best Canadian Poetry of 2014, ed, Sonnet L’Abbé (Tightrope, 2014) — a true broad section of what is happening in poetry in Canada with many styles and distinct voices.
  • Cut Up Apologetic by Jamie Sharpe (ECW, 2015) — As if the book were catered to my tastes. Sweet spots of interesting pivots and phrasings. Such uncommonly enjoyable poems. Likewise, Marry & Burn by Rachel Rose (Harbour Publishing, 2015) — A knockout book of poetry. Alert, playful, skilled, interesting in content and moving (and not much can move this rock-heart)
  • Doubleheader: Hurrah for Anything, Poemscapes & A Letter to God by Kenneth Patchen (New Directions,1958) —  How’d he do it? The extremely complex set interconnected yet in each part simple and odd. In comparison Hallelujah Anyway by Kenneth Patchen (A New Directions Book, 1960) — Even in re-read it feels bold in ideas. Handwritten with childlike drawings, if Grandma Moses took some LSD. Very different book yet from the same mind.
  • Honourable mentions: abecedarium by Dennis Cooley (U of Alberta press, 2014), Hastings-Sunrise by Bren Simmers (Nightwood, 2015), Their Biography: an organism of relationships by kevin mcpherson eckhoff (BookThug, 2015), A More Perfect [ by Jimmy McInnis (BookThug, 2015), The Testing Tree: Poems by Stanley Kunitz (Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1962), undercurrent by Rita Wong (Nightwood, 2015)

 

Chapbooks:

  • Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe by Marcus McCann (2015) — each publication by McCann is perfectly rendered so there’s no an ill-considered rhythm or word or syllable and going places that are interesting for journey and destination. Another wower the blue, blue there by Marilyn Irwin (Apt 9, 2015) — sweet to have all these astute crisp tight poems in one tidy bundle of yes.

Novels:

  • Eight Million Gods by Wen Spencer (Baen, 2013) — I love her books but the last few sagged. This got its mojo back. The wild run into Japan where the ancient gods are real, there in the subway and fields. Love the idea of needing to write as a medical condition. Females are main character which is a surprisingly rare thing. Compared against another murder novel, Hungry Ghosts by Peggy Blair (Simon and Schuster, 2015) — Ghosts was fabulous. I forced myself to put it down once but the parallel worlds in Cuba and northern Ontario reserve as the characters observe and piece together the murder was great.

About writing:

  • How to Tell a Story: The Secrets of Writing Captivating Tales by Peter Rubie and Gary Prevost (Writers Digest Books, 1998) — This was a rosetta stone for storytelling. It goes step by step thru motivation, how sub-plots mirror large plots and the distinction between plot and anecdote. For the kind, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (Simon & Schuster, 2000) is often touted. I don’t regret reading it but I don’t feel it left any impression other than empathy at his being struck by a vehicle. Still it was a compelling read, more memoir than how-to guide.

Not humans for a change:

  • Mongoose Watch: A family Observed by Anne Rasa (John Murray Publishers, 1984) — A third read. Watching the mongoose in attentive detail without presuming meaning. She learned by sound alone to interpret the vocabulary and recognize individual voices. The individuals live. Compare to: Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures  by Virginia Morell, (Crown, 2013). It is a survey of many researchers world wide and decades so reads less like a novel but gathers many species and observations into fascinating accounts. Honourable mention:  Spiders: learning to love them by Lynne Kelly (Jacana, 2009)
  • What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) — Utterly fascinating of what plants can perceive, how they react and communicate chemically within their cells. This should be baseline universal knowledge. I want to read it again.

Farming:

  • The Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen (Magna Large Print Books, 2014) — the story of a city girl who finds her calling among the ancient farmhills raising a large brood of kids. Similar in storytelling and humour to: Hit by a Farm: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Barn by Catherine Friend (Da Capo Press, 2006)

Classics:

  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson — This was far more psychologically interesting than any of the cultural derivatives would hint at. The relationship to self and others can become ghastly with shame. (compared against Around the World in 80 days by Jules Verne (Penguin, 1873), Verne is a Bruce Willis Action movie)

 

How about that. The pet radish, shrunken is on another favourite of the year list at Dusie.

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