BOOK PERSON | Vol. 15

"The vibes were immaculate" - a bookstore review by Joy Gyamfi, plus her favourite poetry, creative non-fiction and hopeful reading.

Hello pals,

I’m sure at least one of you is not into astrology, just statistically speaking— which is fine! This is a welcoming space. But I still need you to know that it’s Aries season, which some folks call “spring.” The beginning of a new astrological cycle, and critically, my time to shine.

Admittedly, I don’t feel particularly shiny lately, instead resembling— as Joyce Carol Oates might say— a wan little husk, particularly by the end of the week. But I did have my first outdoor picnic dinner on Wednesday with friends I have not seen since autumn, eating burritos in the park while my child ran wild in the grass nearby. And I also devoured True Grit in one big gulp, which was as good as last week’s BOOK PERSON Mike Hingston promised. Both restorative activities, highly recommended.

This week’s BOOK PERSON is Joy Gyamfi, a writer, activist and gorgeous photographer who also has wonderful taste in books that she was willing to share with you. What a gift! Already Aries season is generous.

Where are you from, and where do you live now?

I was born in Ghana. I've lived in the Lower Mainland for over 20 years on the unceded territories of several nations, ranging from Musqueam, Squamish, and Tseil-Waututh to Katzie, Tsawwassen, and Kwantlen.

Describe your literary tastes.

Open to everything, but constantly reaching for poetry, creative nonfiction, and the occasional YA.

What is your favourite independent bookstore in the whole wide world?

In terms of local, I love Massy Books because they're Indigenous owned.

I'm also a big fan of Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle based on the one time I visited there because the vibes were immaculate. They had the cutest coffee shop with the best merch. I added a tote bag to my already-too-large collection that said BOOK WORM on it.

How do you choose your books?

I have over 200 books on my to-read list, which is fairly easy to get on. What makes a difference however, is how a book gets bumped up to the top. I try my best to read from authors of colour, queer authors and authors from historically marginalized groups first.

For the most, part my recommendations come from community and buzz in the literary scene. I love reading what lots of other folks are reading so I can decide for myself if it was worth the hype or not.

Also - I love a good title.

Do you keep track of what you read? If so, what’s your method?

Goodreads. I love the yearly reading challenges and the organizational "book shelf" feature.

What are the last five books you read?

Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas
Trickster Drift by Eden Robinson
The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

What book is next to your bed right now?

Kindred by Octavia Butler. I've been meaning to read it for a while after finishing Fledgling, and I finally got around to purchasing it.

What's the best book you read last year?

So many good ones! I have three:

Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown
Circe by Madeline Miller
The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya

What was your favourite book as a child?

This is kind of embarrassing for me now, but Looking for Alaska by John Green. I used to be obsessed with his books as a youth. I remember being so enthralled by the philosophical aspects of the novel and feeling "deep" and "mature" for my age.

Do you read poetry?

Yes, I love poetry but can be kind of picky about it. Citizen by Claudia Rankine is one of my favourite collections because it explores the insidious nature of microaggressions.

Do you have a beloved under-the-radar author who you think more people should read?

I don't think Haruki Murakami is under-the-radar at all but I still want to highlight his work! My favourite of his novels is Norwegian Wood and I've read it several times. Somehow I never get tired of it even though I know how it ends. I also recommend his longer novel written in three parts, 1Q84.

Have you ever picked up a book expecting to be underwhelmed and found yourself completely knocked flat on your ass by how good it is?

I'm a reader that is almost always underwhelmed for the first 50-100 pages as my attention span is shit and it often takes a while for me to really get invested in the plot and characters, so I'll use this question to highlight a book that I loved and devoured in three days (which is fast for me.)

It's called Little Fish by Canadian trans woman and author Casey Plett. Excellent dialogue, characters that felt like real people and the setting of winter-y Winnipeg really captured me.

What book best represents a unique experience you've had?

Lez Talk: A Collection of Black Lesbian Short Fiction edited by S. Andrea Allen was full of relatable experiences for me as a black, queer, fat femme.

What book would you give someone if you wanted them to really understand you?

Black Queer Hoe by Britteney Black Rose Kapri. It's a poetry collection that explores black femme identity and sexuality. There's funny moments too.

What is the funniest book you have ever read?

So Sad Today by Melissa Broder. It was really depressing but also funny which was relatable and why I loved it.

Do you read scary books?

I read The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh for an English Lit course on plays and it was truly horrifying due to the content of the play: child murders, a totalitarian state and psychological torture.

What is a book that makes you hopeful for the future?

Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown — it has so many helpful tips and tools for anyone interested in making the world a better place.

If you were to add your own reading-related question to this interview, what would it be? And of course, I would love to know your answer.

What books would you recommend for writers or people who enjoy reading and writing?

For me, it's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Not only does she beautifully weave writing advice and life advice, it's actually full of practical tips and exercises.

What book are you most excited to read next?

What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon. I'm a big fan of her writing and fat activism as Your Fat Friend.

Speed round! What book pairs best with…

… a roaring fire? The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

… a summer afternoon at the beach? American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.

… a really delicious slice of cake? Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay.

… a long weekend with no plans? Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo.

… a long journey? A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott.

… a snow day? As Simple As Snow by Gregory Galloway.

… a park blanket and a picnic? Ruined by Lynn Nottage.

Reader’s choice

In addition to the wonderful recommendations above, Joy also suggested a bunch of brilliant new questions for this interview series— some of which you might see in the months ahead. I’m planning to refresh it every month or two, and so I’d love to know: what’s a question you think I should be asking my weekly bookworms to answer?