BOOK PERSON | Vol. 26
So many fantasy recommendations with Stu Popp.
This week I’ve been reading A Ghost in the Throat, a hybrid memoir/biography which literary critic Molly Young described perfectly as “a raw but erudite expression of a totally unique consciousness.” It’s also so intensely about motherhood, a subject I find challenging to read about because I am too deeply in it myself— it feels like watching a movie in a theatre while sitting in the first row— but it’s dense, absorbing and irresistibly subversive in form.
My latest book review is also out, for Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung, which I loved. I’m not writing any other reviews at the moment because I am trying to carve out something resembling a summer vacation for myself. We’re off to Saskatchewan for 10 days, and I’ll be bringing Crying in H Mart and Animal, neither of which probably qualify as “vacation reads,” but I’m excited about them. Though maybe, like author Lindsay Wong, I’ll just opt for Netflix instead.
This week’s BOOK PERSON is Stuart Popp: podcaster, avid reader, and the only person on this continent who matches my enthusiasm for the Fast & Furious franchise. As it so happens, we’re probably reverberating in the sound bath of Vin Diesel’s signature basso profundo right now. Enjoy:
Where are you from, and where do you live now?
I currently live with my part-time cat in Vancouver —the unceded, ancestral and traditional territory of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh people. I grew up in Fernie, BC - which is within the Ktunaxa ?amaki?is, the homeland of the Ktunaxa people.
What do you like to read?
I'll read just about anything, but my first and forever literary love is science fiction and fantasy - something I inherited from my dad and his vast collection of books. I also read a lot of comics and graphic novels on top of everything else.
What is your favourite bookstore in the whole wide world?
Big shout out to my first bookstore: Polar Peek Books. I think I kept them in business throughout the early 90s with my Redwall addiction. However, my honest answer is whatever bookstore is within walking distance of me and will tolerate me lazily browsing the new releases section.
What are the last five books you read?
Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano
Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark
Sword of Destiny: Tales of the Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski
The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey
What book is next to your bed right now?
Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson. It’s the first in a series that comes highly recommended by a friend. It's quite dense and I'm sort of bouncing off of it at the moment. Next on my reading list is The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers, which I am looking forward to!
What draws you in while reading?
Interesting layered characters, especially if they are our POV characters. I'll struggle if I have a hard time caring about the characters in a story and if the characters are interesting, I could just hang out with them for 300 pages regardless of whether the plot moves forward or not.
If the author has crafted an interesting world - especially in speculative fiction and fantasy - I will always want to know more. I'm the person that wants those three pages about the spread at the fantasy feast in Game of Thrones (sorry everyone else!)
What's the best book you read last year?
I really struggled with reading last year during the anxiety of the (not-yet-over) pandemic, but rediscovered my focus this year and have been reading voraciously. With that in mind, I'm going to pick a book I read earlier this year: The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin.
It is urban fantasy that explores the diversity of people and identities that make up a city and the ways in which gentrification and white supremacy threaten to unravel that. Jemisin's writing is bursting with energy and imagination and it lit my brain on fire!
Were you a big reader as a child?
I was! I famously spent much of my family's first trip to Ireland reading the Redwall series and ignoring the very real castles around me. I still want to try dandelion cordial! I'd say the only childhood books to rival Redwall would have been either the Hobbit or Jurassic Park (surprising no one).
Are there any "classic" books you genuinely love?
I have a deep love for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. They were my first forays into that sort of otherworldly fantasy (The Hobbit being my first "adult" novel that I read all by myself) and they've stuck with me. Of course, revisiting them with older, more-educated eyes, I might need to reclassifying them as problematic faves.
What's your favourite book that no one else you know has ever read?
The Jackelian series by Stephen Hunt. I'm usually pretty good at recommending books to my friends but these never seems to find the uptake I'd expect. I've had to resort to weaving references into my Dungeons & Dragons games instead. So I guess my D&D friends have sort of read them by osmosis.
Have you ever felt betrayed by a book?
Most recently Condomnauts by Yoss, I had really enjoyed a different books of his Super Extra Grande, but Condomnauts turned out to be misogynistic, fatphobic drivel. I'm not still mad about it, but I am still disappointed.
Which book do you give most often as a gift?
My number one most lent out book is Binti by Nnedi Okorafor - a wonderful work of African-Futurism that has yet to disappoint.
If we're strictly talking gifts, its any book by Shea Serrano. The mix of rap history, basketball, and pop-culture essays matches up with the interests of my friends and family almost perfectly.
What book would you give someone if you wanted them to really understand you?
My sort-of joke answer: my well worn-copy of Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Vehicles and Vessels. An early artefact of my induction into sci-fi fandom and the fact that I've held on to it for this long says a lot.
My sort-of real answer: The Selected Work of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larson. The only book I've gotten genuinely upset over when I thought I had lost my copy. It's got whimsy, adventure, a kid who is too smart for his own good, and hand drawn maps (I cannot overstate how much I love maps). It's essentially an Amblin Entertainment movie in book form.
What's the best book-to-movie adaptation you can think of? Or, which one is the worst?
It has to be Jurassic Park. Every character is 100% more likable in the movie, plus the movie nails the sense of wonder and scale that the book can only hint at. Plus, dinosaurs are very cool.
Is there a book you've been meaning to read, but just haven't gotten around to it yet?
Raising Steam by Sir Terry Pratchett. This is the final book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. This comedic fantasy series is probably my most beloved series of books. I've read all the rest - some 30 odd books - starting in high school when I was raiding my dad's bookshelf. I've held Hogswatch parties to celebrate the series' fictional winter holiday with my friend Leigh, a fellow Discworld fan, for several years. Pratchett passed away in 2015 which means there are no more books coming, so I suppose I keep putting it off so I'll always have one more to read.
What's a book that took you a long time to read, but was ultimately worth it?
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, if you count the near decade long gap between stopping and picking it back up and finishing it. It turns out I just needed a decade of growing up to get it. I found it near impenetrable in my early twenties, but devoured it in my thirties. It is a beautiful, provocative novel, and absolutely worth the wait.
Is there a place you dream of visiting, now that you've read about it?
Outer space. I want to experience it! But only if I get to go through a publicly funded program, because I am not here for this billionaire space race nonsense (just pay your taxes!)
Speed round! What book pairs best with…
… celebrating your COVID vaccine?
The Stand by Stephen King, because I don't recommend finishing right before a global pandemic hits.
… a summer afternoon at the beach?
American Gods by Neil Gaiman, because that is where I read it.
… a big plate of salty french fries?
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, no reason other than I bet Gideon likes fries and I wanted to work this book in somewhere.
… a long weekend with no plans?
Reamde by Neal Stephenson, this book is NOT short
… a road trip?
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, a sci-fi road trip by one of my favourite sci fi authors
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. It's not thematic (though Aziraphale and Crowley might be couple goals), but hopefully it will give you a good laugh and take your mind off of things.
Stu is adding a great question to this survey, which is: “What is your favourite fictional setting to spend time in?”
Stu’s answer: While I'm tempted to say Jurassic Park, in reality that would be terrifying, and I know my heart the answer is Discworld. Humour, spot on satire, send-ups of fantasy tropes, sausage-based holidays, progressive gender politics, no-nonsense witch grandmothers, and orangutan librarians - it truly has it all.
My answer: I’m always here for Philip Pullman’s alternate universe, where everyone’s soul is externalized through a daemon animal companion. Who hasn’t spent the last 25 years wondering what animal their daemon would be??