Imaginary Text

How I Became a Tree

by Sumana Roy. Yale UP 2017
3 stars - Dec 2022

Somewhat meandering, at least in my reading of it. Roy talks about tree-ness and what the being of a tree must be and mean, and comes at it from a LOT of different angles. The best ones are, I think, in her readings of historical writings (e.g., Rabindranath Tagore) than in her personal reflections, which I had a hard time relating to.

Bluets

by Maggie Nelson. Wave Books 2009
4 stars - Oct 2022

Beautifully written collection of tidbits and reflections on heartbreak and longing, with blue as an anchor. I liked this much more than On Freedom.

On Freedom

by Maggie Nelson. Penguin Random 2021
3.5 stars - Oct 2022

Wide-ranging treatment of freedom, identity, inclusion. She is of a generation, I think, that valued transgression for transgression’s sake rather more than anyone does today, and the work is coloured by this – although it does allow her to go places that would otherwise perhaps remain less examined. Which may be another way of saying I’m not the target audience for this book?

Map of Another Town: A Memoir of Provence

by MFK Fisher. Vintage 1983 [1964]
4 stars - Sept 2022

This is one of my favourite of Fisher’s memoirs, an account spread across two different stays – in the 50s and then again in the early 60s – in Aix-en-Provence. She loves this town, and it is part a love letter to the town and partly to the people – individual people – that she knew there. Just pure reading joy. I read this as escapism and it worked really well, even though she was also relating how the Algerian Crisis was playing out in the South of France.

Ducks

by Kate Beaton. D&Q 2022
4 stars - Sept 2022

A powerful, thoughtful, and nuanced docu-comic in the vein of Pyongyang, Persepolis, and the like (these all are monochromatic). A terrific portrait of the social and cultural realities of massive industrial projects like the Tar Sands. Also a tender portrait of Atlantic Canadian migration, family, and identity.

A Sentimental Education

by Hannah McGregor. WLU Press 2022
4 stars - Sept 2022

A remarkable memoir of sheer will and bravery in the face of adversity.

Misery

by Stephen King. Viking 1987
3.5 stars - July 2022

Pretty good page turner. Not a bad ending. Movie with Kathy Bates.

Orwell’s Roses

by Rebecca Solnit. Viking 2021
5 stars - July 2022

A mind-expanding book, on so many levels. Not really just about Orwell, although lots about him, but really about Orwell and his roses being the centre of a spider-web of connections, each of which gets Solnit’s treatment. Tremendous scope, deep research, fabulous insights, graceful storytelling, and she never seems to break a sweat. Must re-read.

Monolithic Undertow: In Search of Sonic Oblivion

by Harry Sword. Third Man Books 2022
3.5 stars - June 2022

A book of immense scope and ambition: the history of the drone in music, as a compositional form, and as a means of hynotic self-dissolution. He begins with neolithic caves that have resonant chambers, which he argues (quite reasonably) are meant to echo and reverberate, for ritual purposes. We then shift to Berber music and the Beats, Indian ragas and the entire 60s counterculture – from Coltrane to the Beatles to the Velvet Underground and their avant garde precursors – before shifting into something a little more like modern rock criticism in his takes on the Stooges, Black Sabbath, NYC no-wave, and the Melvins, among many other ‘slow and low’ practicioners. From Sabbath a whole history of doom metal emerges, as well. At the end of the book, there’s a chapter on rave culture, chill-out techno, and other electronica, but he doesn’t connect the dots quite – nor does he with folk and acoustic music traditions at the end. I learned a lot from this book, but I don’t think it really made a coherent argument. The first couple of chapters set things up, and then he goes into gory detail about all these bands, and the through-line gets lost a bit.

Lines: A Brief History

by Tim Ingold. Routledge 2016 [2007]
4 stars - June 2022

What a marvellous, maddening, illuminating, frustrating little book, recommended to me by Fred Lesage. I liked it because of the myriad insights that are revealed, most of which are things one has long felt but never fully thought through or articulated, and so there is an easy satisfaction with the way he places things together, juxtaposes images, draws (!) conclusions. I didn’t like it because of the breezy, un-self-examined gaze of the anthropologist, which is so ready to throw the cross-cultural comparisons together in the blender, without stopping to think of one’s own epistemological situation, or contingency – except in the broadest whiggish, post-classical way. Interesting bits on the history of punctuation in the oral-written transition. Among so many other things!

After Beowulf

by Nicole Markotic. Coach House Books 2022
4 stars - May 2022

This cheeky retelling is really entertaining and illuminates all sort of facets of this old chestnut – especially the relationships between the named (and unnamed) characters. Anyone reading Beowulf should also read this; between the two you’ll get a much richer sense of it all.

Spíləx̣m: A Weaving of Recovery, Resilience, and Resurgence

by Nicola I Campbell. Highwater Press 2021
4 stars - May 2022

This is a lovely – and complex – memoir. Nicola Campbell is Métis and Nłeʔkepmx and Syilx, and the descendant of multiple generations of residential schools and other traumas. The story is of her sometimes cozy, sometimes existentially threatening childhood and youth, and her struggle to work through all of that and shed the pain – both personal and inherited – in order to fully be herself. Along the way she recounts a large amount of Indigenous experience and knowledge, from Métis, Nłeʔkepmx, Syilx, Sto:lo, and Musqueam traditions, having lived and worked for substantial amounts of time with all these communities. About half prose and half verse, the poetry adds depth and nuance to the narratives. She doesn’t dwell on the traumatic episodes she has endured, but she lets you understand how they have scarred her. And so it is a story that is both instructional and yet domestic and familiar.

The Tree Whisperer: Writing Poetry by Living in the World

by Harold Rhenisch. Gaspereau Press 2021
5 stars - Mar 2022

A challenging and mult-layered book that I will probably have to read at least another couple of times before I get it all. At the start of the book Rhenisch makes what appears to be a metaphoric claim, about the writing/editing of poetry and pruning fruit trees, but over the course of the book he makes it clear that it’s not a metaphor; he means it completely literally. In the course of that, he makes a very particular framing of how poetry works (or doesn’t – especially in the modern/post-modern world) and also elaborates a poetic approach to tending apple trees (while making the case that this is the only sensible way of approaching it). There’s a lot of autobiography shot through this, in order to ground the points he’s making, and he covers an awful lot of territory. But the basic point of the book is really quite clear. And, justifying the 5-star rating, it made me think differently about both poetry and about fruit trees. So that’s a win. The only troublesome aspect of this book is where Rhenisch comes across as somewhat smug and self-satisfied in places. I’m not sure if that’s entirely fair, or if that’s an artifact of my reading… only a re-read will tell, I think.

Poison book

by Inkheart.
3? stars - Mar 2022

The Tree Forager: 40 Extraordinary Trees & What to Do with Them

by Adele Nozedar. PRH 2021
4 stars - Jan 2022

Adele Nozedar is this wacky Welsh post-punk naturalist/occultist/author/forager. The book is a strange mix of folklore, recipes, field guide, and prose poetry. A little bit like The Book of Difficult Fruit but with more folklore. Very rich and interesting!

Small Things Like These

by Claire Keegan. Grove Press 2021
4 stars - Jan 2022

This is a little gem of a book. On one hand, it is a Christmas story in an old tradition of Christmas stories that tell of a particular character’s trials of faith and heart amidst the contradictions of the season. On another level, it is a story of the Magdelene Laundries, an Irish scandal with parallels to Canada’s Residential Schools. A lovely physical and visual object, and a beautiful seasonal read.