Reading room

view of field

It’s long past time to write a new post. I’ve been immersed in writing other things. And reading reading reading. I hit a bonanza recently outside Misty River Books in Terrace. A little bookcase was set up on the sidewalk with a sign that said Free Books. I exercised incredible restraint and only grabbed two: Tanya Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. The latter contains one of the best sentences I’ve ever read. In talking about the partition of India, Roy writes: “God’s carotid burst open on the new border between India and Pakistan and a million people died of hatred.”

Seven Fallen Feathers

The books were free because they were publishers’ proofs. Lucky me. I haven’t read Talaga’s yet. I’m waiting for a day when my heart feels particularly strong. While Roy’s book is a novel, Talaga’s Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City (Anansi Press, 2017) is too true. It’s about seven Indigenous high school students who died in Thunder Bay. (Yes, that Thunder Bay.) One of them, Paul Panacheese, collapsed on his kitchen floor. Another, Robyn Harper, died in the hallway of her boarding house. The other five young bodies were pulled out of rivers surrounding Lake Superior. These are the seven fallen feathers Tanya Talaga wrote about, but we live in a country where feathers are constantly falling and hardly anyone notices.

Son of a Trickster

I just finished Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster and I’m kicking myself for reading it so soon. How will I ever be able to wait for the second book in the trilogy? I fell in love with all her characters, even the hard-to-love ones. And I’ve never read a book that disturbed me while making me laugh that hard. I was totally hoping Robinson would win the Giller tonight—and then I read Rachel Cusk’s Transit.


This novel is getting a lot of press for being so different. The Toronto Star said it feels “unlike any other fiction being written these days.” However, anyone who’s read Shawna Lemay’s Rumi and the Red Handbag may find a resemblance. I did. Yes, the two books are very different, but Transit‘s stream-of-consciousness rambles about philosophy and life reminded me a lot of Shaya and Ingrid-Simone in the secondhand clothing store. Cusk’s writing is gorgeous and inventive. She was a finalist for the Giller once before and didn’t win it. I hope she gets it this time. (But I’ll dance a jig if Eden Robinson wins. I just love her.)

I Am a Truck

I wanted to read as many of the Giller finalists as I could before the big gala tonight (listen, there’s very little in the way of entertainment out here in the bush) so I also grabbed this one off the shelf at Speedee in Smithers last week. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think it should win. For one thing, there’s a scene where one of the characters’ truck breaks down. He’s driving along and it starts to lose power, and then he sees a puff of smoke coming from the hood. Turns out the problem is his battery died. Huh? I’m the least mechanical person on the planet, and even I know that’s not what happens when a battery dies. If you’re going to write a book about a truck, you should know that. This kind of mistake irks me. See below.

How We Speak To One Another

Last weekend we watched the Netflix Joan Didion biopic The Center Will Not Hold. It was so well done and Didion fascinated me so much I decided I need to read everything she’s written, starting at the beginning. The Terrace library has its charms, but well-stocked shelves aren’t really one of them, and the only thing I could find relating to Joan Didion was a book of essays titled How We Speak To One Another. The essay in conversation with Joan Didion in the book is Emily Deprang‘s “On Joan Didion, on the Morning After My Twenties,” which basically trashes Didion, bringing me full circle to my own arrogant refusal to read more than a couple of pages of The Year of Magical Thinking because I couldn’t stomach how subservient Joan Didion was to her husband in her description of the hour before his heart attack. I had a similar hissy fit while reading Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, which came highly recommended by a good friend and which I gave my younger son last Christmas. He and his wife both liked it, but I couldn’t read past the point at which the dog says his owner’s wife drank orange juice for the folic acid. I get ridiculously irked by writers who don’t fact-check or at least hire a good editor to do it for them. Folic acid comes from foliage, i.e., spinach, buddy, not oranges. I suspect I miss out on a lot of good books because of this personality quirk. But there you go.

Quiet Time

It’s winter and we have a foot of snow on the ground. I feel so wonderfully quiet and cozy that I’m taking a social media break. The best thing about it is the room it leaves for reading and writing. If this blog goes quiet again, you’ll know why.

4 Responses to “Reading room”

  1. Jay Dee

    Love this , love you. Please read Didoon’s Magical year and then we can discuss. One of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

    • commatologist

      I thought about you when I wrote that. You must have thought I was such a ridiculous prig when I said that to you. And I know for sure karma will bite me on the ass on that one. Looking forward to reading and discussing it with you. xo

  2. theresa

    John watched the Didion documentary and I came in from time to time to see it. I found it strange. The way she distanced herself from so many things in the name of objectivity. (The child on acid in Haight-Ashbury in the late 60s, for example. Her refusal to say that it was obscene. Instead, she kept writing, observing, from a distance, very cool.) I did admire her memoirs and read them both just as soon as they were published (our library is terrific!) but again, I found her strangely off-putting. I think it must be a character flaw in me because everyone I know adores her and her work. The earlier work? Well, she’s interested in the workings of power and political life but I couldn’t exactly warm to her. Or trust her, quite.

    On the other hand, I agree with you whole-heartedly about Eden.

  3. Andre Morand

    Yes! Sloppy errors like the ones you describe drive me crazy. Such mistakes have halted my progress in a handful of books before. I think for me the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy a work if fiction gets irreparably broken. I plainly see the hand of the author and start to wonder whether it’s worth squandering more time on a writer too lazy to research what a dying car battery looks and sounds like.

    Anyways, thanks for sharing your thoughts on these pieces. You’ve given me several I’ll add to my own reading list.


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