Odes to the Utah desert, a dELiA*s shoutout, and heavy vacation reading.


The best thing I read this week was Mandy Len Catron’s perfect essay on the loneliness of Justin Bieber. Regardless of whether or not you are at all interested in Justin Bieber, it’s a thoughtful reflection on the universal human need for meaningful connection. If you, like me, feel as though you have been surviving on emotional Soylent this year, substituting Zoom hangs and group texts for genuine social contact, then maybe it will resonate for you too.

Another thing you’ll definitely enjoy? This week I have the supreme pleasure of sharing the reading recommendations of Lizzy Karp. Lizzy grew up in Salt Lake City and now lives in Vancouver, which I suppose means she is destined to live near libraries designed by Moshe Safdie. She has a cute dog and makes amazing playlists, and she also has some excellent books to share with you:

Describe your literary tastes.

One 2020 project was thinning out my shelves and, yes, colour coordinating them. So, I love my books hardcover without jackets and a beautiful spine! I have a balanced diet of non-fiction and essays, fiction and short stories/poetry. I spent years studying "Canadian Literature" and poetry, so have a pretty extensive collection of both. If a book makes me think, laugh or cry, I immediately give it to a friend to experience. Essay collections have been my go-to for the last few years, as the genre has really evolved. Oh, and I listen to a handful of audio books a year (on LIBRO) — but only if the author reads them.

What book is next to your bed right now?

Homie by Danez Smith.

Where do you read at home?

In bed! I sleep on the right side, smushed by a cute furry terrier. I have a large stack of books under my bed that I organize by interest, library due date, and if I'm enjoying them. I read about an hour or more a night.

How do you choose your books?

Is there anything better than browsing in a bookstore? I can't wait for that to come back... for now, it's a combo of newsletters, text threads with well-read pals, and a book club!

Embarrassing to admit, but I used the Vancouver Public Library app to curb my Instagram habit, so I cruise that A LOT. But for me it's really about topics. I'm currently obsessed with the following: why work/capitalism is stupid, queer history, women's bodies making human bodies, Indigenous voices, music history (especially the disco era) and sharp, funny women. I know I love a book if I tell my book-loving friends about it a few pages in.

What was your favourite book as a child? Could you summon to mind a favourite quote even now, through the haze of nostalgia?

Alligator Pie, by Dennis Lee. I still have the worn, original copy from 1974. The trippy illustrations, the introduction to Canadian places like "Kamloops.” I loved how weird, scary, funny and smart it was. With lines like, "In Napanee. I'll eat your knee. In Winnipeg. I'll eat your leg," maybe it's not a surprise I've been a vegetarian for a long time.

What did you read most avidly as a teenager?

Truthfully I mostly read: dELiA*s, Seventeen Magazine, YM, and zines made by pals. But, the book that truly shaped me as a teen was Toni Morrison's Beloved.

This book took me out of Utah, and into a world of voices, stories and shapes I was ready to see. It's how I really learned about slavery, epigenetics and the power of narrative. And to see my teacher break the rules to teach us this —in a white, mostly-Mormon school— showed me how to impact people from the inside of structures that don't serve them. Thanks, Ms. Thackary!

Have you ever read a book about your hometown?

Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, Terry Tempest Williams. Any book about the Utah desert — oh, Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang is a good one!

Do you have a favourite author?

Terry Tempest Williams. She's from Salt Lake City too, and writes about the land and land conservation so beautifully. I met her once at a party at a fancy film festival and cried when I touched her hand.

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?

How We Fight for Our Lives, Saeed Jones.

Which book have you read the most times in your life?

Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels. I've grown out of it a bit, but this really expanded my understanding of how to gather and tell Jewish family histories.

Which book do you give most often as a gift?

I've given 10 copies of Greenwood by Michael Christie this year. Mostly because it was the first story I could read in April after the pandemic stole all of our lives and brainpower. It's a story that really takes care of you, and the design of the book as a tree is something so many folks in my life have been drawn to. I've also given away a bunch of copies of Big Friendship, by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. Giving books is my love language!

What is the funniest book you have ever read?

Shit, Actually by Lindy West is a recent LOL.

Generally speaking, I'm interested in books you love, but I am also desperate to know: What’s a widely-praised, critically-acclaimed book that you hated?

Please don't come at me... The Handmaid's Tale.

Is there a place you dream of visiting, now that you've read about it?

Sally Rooney's horny Dublin.

What's your favourite vacation read?

Remember vacations? I have a tendency of bringing 400+ page intense books on holiday. Photos remind me of getting through Marlon James A Brief History of Seven Killings on the beaches of Hawaii, and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara while camping.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed your opinion about something?

Recently, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott and Can't Even by Anne Helen Petersen.

Petersen does this fantastic job of naming the invisible tangled horrors that touch our life. Capitalism, perfectionism, gendered labor, etc. I know her research is thorough, and maybe she needs some more time with an editor, but she along with Jenny Odell and others have given me permission to untangle my relationship to work and look towards systems, rather than my own broken habits.

And Alicia Elliott— I listened to her book, and felt completely broken open by her story. She opened me up to sitting with and getting to know an identity that is multifaceted, complicated, strong and changing. There’s this section about her relationship: “That’s not to say we’ve fully shrugged off the roles we’ve been assigned. You are a man; I am woman. You are a settler; I’m Onkwehon:we. These differences are stakes in our ground, mapping boundaries that feel like bruises. Anytime we push against them it hurts, but we both know we must be more than historical vessels holding pain; more than performers re-enacting ancient scripts. Despite our best efforts, different shades of abuse will still colour our interactions—sometimes soft and diluted like watercolours, sometimes harsh and angry like charcoal. Cycles are hard to break.”

Last but not least: favourite bookstores?

Type in Toronto, Collage Collage for kids books in Vancouver, and Massy Books in Vancouver, too!

Reader’s choice:

I have been asking folks what their favourite devastating book is, and so far the only response is A Little Life. I am beginning to wonder: is this tome such an epic bummer that it has eclipsed all others? I personally prefer to weep over Miriam Toews, who has a sense of humour about heartbreaking sadness, but everyone’s different. If you do your literary crying over something that isn’t A Little Life, please tell me all about it!

If you know a BOOK PERSON, please send them my way so I can pry into their shelves. All preferences welcome!