BOOK PERSON | Vol. 27
Climate reporter Michelle Gamage endorses John Steinbeck, the uncanny valley of near-reality fiction, and having a giant stack of books beside your bed.
Last weekend, we visited Mayne Island with friends and I took Acts of Desperation with me, which is not exactly light reading. But it managed to transform an exhausting and exhausted subject— why do women stay in terrible relationships, the subject of a thousand reddit posts— into something intriguing and incisive. Thank you Veronica, who is on a hot streak of surprising me with bleak, provocative Irish fiction by mail.
Oh, but if you read anything this week, make it this investigation into the motivations of a mysterious book thief, who impersonates literary agents to seize hot manuscripts ahead of publication for mysterious reasons.
This week’s BOOK PERSON is Michelle Gamage, a reporter for The Tyee who is doing incredible coverage of the climate crisis and its impact on BC. I really appreciated her recent story on the vague and misleading term “net-zero emissions.” And it turns out we have the same two favourite childhood books! Delightful.
Describe your literary tastes.
Fiction for fun, non-fiction long-form for work and fun (I'm a journalist, reading is a big part of the job). Environmental, fantasy, adventure, sci fi, strong female characters, escapism.
What is your favourite bookstore in the whole wide world?
Tanglewood Books in Vancouver.
How do you choose your books?
Cover and spine art first; title second; publisher third.
I'm usually browsing used books so that's the best method, but I pay attention to recommendations by CBC Canada Reads for new and hot books.
What draws you in while reading?
I love worlds that are so close to reality but changed by just the smallest details, either to make them more beautiful or more horrifying. And then filled with characters I can relate to and either love or hate because of that. I'm thinking of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell.
What are the last five books you read?
Not on My Watch by Alexandra Morton (Random House Canada, 2021)
Nation by Terry Pratchett (Doubleday, 2008)
A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain (Bloomsbury, 2001)
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris (Little, Brown and Company, 2008)
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (Random House, 2015).
Did you ever read a book for school, or out of a sense of duty to the classic canon, and find it was unexpectedly good?
John Steinbeck, I fell in love. Travels With Charley is one of my all-time favourites to this day.
Were you a big reader as a child?
A toss up between Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card and The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman. They were gritty enough I felt like I was getting away with something by reading it, but the characters were my age. It was world-changing.
Do you read poetry? If so, do you have a favourite collection or poem?
Not much, but I like Rupi Kaur's work.
Are there any "classic" books you genuinely love?
Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
What's your favourite book that no one else you know has ever read?
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell (Penguin, 1959) and Happiness TM by Will Ferguson (Penguin, 2002)
Have you ever felt betrayed by a book? Are you still mad about it?
My Sister’s Keeper by Judi Picoult.
It's a heart-wrenching story about family and cancer, where the cancer kid lived in the end but her sister dies. During my family's own struggle with cancer and all the chaos that comes with it, I convinced my family to come with me to see the movie adaptation of the book because we could all really, really use a good cancer survivor story, even a fictional one. But in the movie adaptation the cancer kid die and the sister lives. I will never forgive Picoult for letting her story be changed like that. I'm still furious about it.
What's the best book you read last year?
During the pandemic year I found myself re-re-re-reading old favourites. My top reads were Dove by Robin Lee Graham (Bantam, 1972) for its relatable loneliness, and Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes (Broadway Books, 1996) and Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan (Anchor Canada, 2017) for their immersive escapism.
What’s next to your bed right now?
The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, The Truth by Terry Pratchett, and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. And yes, I'm reading them all... depends what mood I'm in before bed.
‘Tis the season where I have a big pile of books to read and yet all I can think about are the books that are coming out this fall. Unlike many of my Book Persons, I am a Rooney hype girl and will be scooping up Beautiful World, Where Are You as soon as possible. But I’m also eager to get my hands on the forthcoming releases from Miriam Toews and Louise Erdrich. Tell me: what are you most excited to read this fall?