BOOK PERSON | Intermezzo
Six distinctive recommendations + a GoodReads alternative.
I just spent ten days in Saskatchewan, our first family vacation in a long time. It was a wonderful trip, but the highlight for me was finally visiting Little Manitou Lake. I have been talking about visiting this lake for literally ten years, and thanks to my friend Kait, who supports and encourages my weird dreams, we finally made it happen.
Little Manitou is also called the Dead Sea of Canada because it’s five times saltier than the ocean, which means you bob around on the surface like a buoy, surrounded by the zillions of sea monkeys who populate the lake. Floating in a briny soup of tiny shrimp is not everyone’s ideal vacation, but to me it was sublime.
In celebration of distinctive experiences that may or may not delight you, I wanted to do something different this week. Instead of an interview, I have highlighted six pleasurably idiosyncratic books below: five from Book Persons past, and one from me. I hope one of them imbues you with the strange joy of drifting along the surface of a buoyant prairie sea, haloed by sea monkeys.
Nightbitch, Rachel Yoder. Recommended by me: The premise of this delightful, unhinged novel is simple: an exhausted woman, enraged by the endless grind of motherhood, finds herself literally turning into a dog. I loved it so much! Pleasurable, feral, furious, magical, totally bizarre. Not so much Kafka (Gregor Samsa was a drag; Nightbitch is taking a big dump on her jerk neighbour’s lawn and feeling great about it) as Mona Awad’s trippy, fantastical satire or Carmen Maria Machado’s sensual feminist body horror.
The Lake of Dead Languages, Carol Goodman. Recommended by Julie: “I refer to it as my “book brain cleanser.” I re-read this book when I want to read but also don’t want to focus or think too much. It is set at a declining all-girls school in the Adirondacks, and Latin, ice-skating, bobby pins, and a peacock-blue fountain pen figure predominantly in the narrative. It is absurd in the best way possible.”
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller. Recommended by Veronica: “Fuller’s memoirs are raw, magnetic, and unforgettable. Each book reveals more of her upbringing, telling her own stories but also stories about her family that aren't always hers to tell. While her family has faced a lot of tragedy, the books are funny and charming and revelatory. Fuller was born in England but raised as not-terribly affluent white girl in what is now Zimbabwe and Zambia. The books aren't political memoirs, but they are incisive about her and her family's position in a part of the world that was fraught with conflict for decades.”
Earthlings, Sayaka Murata. Recommended by Dina: “Her mind! The way [Murata] writes is so surprising, and this book is creepy, weird, funny, and freaky, but also oddly I identified with the emotional core of the characters.
Señales que precederán el fin del mundo, Yuri Herrera (In translation: Signs Preceding the End of the World). Recommended by Jorge: “It's just 128 pages, but the kind of pages where you'll savour every word, dissect every sentence, and find deep meaning in every scene. The story is about a migrant crossing the US-Mexico border, but it's also about revealing the larger story of violence against migrants.”
Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. Recommended by Megan. “LeBlanc spent more than ten years embedded in the Bronx following the lives of people connected to a heroin dealer named Boy George and wrote their story. The men in the book are charismatic and frustrating, but what makes the story amazing is the women. Coco and Jessica are tenacious, young, desperate, and resourceful. Their fierce love for their families is devastating. Mostly you never see LeBlanc in the book, but then you start to understand that she was there for everything — the rat infestations, the weeks there was no food, the sudden evictions — and you are awed by what it would take to be there for all the highs and lows for over a decade and to shape it into a coherent story that reads like a great novel.”
So many Book Persons have admitted to using Goodreads reluctantly, which I get: it feels like the only game in town. Lucky for you, Jess emailed me out of the blue with an alternative that will not help Jeff Bezos fund another vanity space voyage: StoryGraph. It was created by Nadia Odunayo, who designed it to address user frustrations with Goodreads and provide a less sinister alternative. (Here’s a helpful intro to StoryGraph and Odunayo that Jess shared as well).
Vancouver’s corpse flower is about to bloom again! I highly recommending visiting the Bloedel, not only because you may get “lucky” and arrive in time to sniff the fleeting, ghastly aroma of Uncle Fester, but also because it’s a geodesic dome filled with cool parrots. I wrote about his inaugural blooming in 2018 for Montecristo Magazine.
Patricia Lockwood wrote about the kinkiest artifact of CanLit, Marian Engel’s Bear, which she summarizes thusly: “Who hasn’t let a bear go down on her off some crazed librarian’s high?” A wonderful read with the most perfect summary of Alice Munro, which is ringing in my brain like a bell: “like a microfiche machine that contained clippings of all the weird prairie marriages that had taken place in the nation’s history.”
Happy reading, book persons!