BOOK PERSON | Vol. 30
Cinephile Sarah Bakke loves Rilke, abolitionist theory, and "Circe" by Madeline Miller.
Hello from the past!
I’m writing this edition in advance because when you receive it, I’ll be on Mayne Island, without wifi. I’m interviewing a writer next week for an upcoming assignment so I am bringing all of her work with me as research. No more details because I am nervous about it and don’t want to jinx myself. Also, you’re probably waiting for me to get to the good stuff: this week’s BOOK PERSON.
It’s Sarah Bakke! Film enthusiast, talented writer, former SAD Mag web editor, the only person I know who makes a mullet look genuinely cool. Her answers were such a joy to read, and she has a very delightful (if morbid) story about The Hobbit for you too. I made a lot of notes after reading this, but the book I put on hold immediately is Talent. Enjoy!
Where are you from, and where do you live now?
I grew up in a wee town just outside the city, called Tsawwassen. You may have driven past it on your way to the ferries. I still live in xwməθkwəy̓ əm, Skwxwú7mesh, and səlilwətaʔɬ territory, aka “Vancouver."
Describe your literary tastes.
It runs the gamut! I know this is a boring thing to say, I'm sorry. But over the last few years I've been reading a lot of cultural criticism/essay anthologies, queer poetry, literary fiction, and horror. My non-fiction choices tend to veer towards academia, and everything else is a fairly mixed bag (I like to think).
What is your favourite bookstore in the whole wide world?
Do you keep track of what you read?
Yes! I have a little blue notebook where I write titles down, after I've finished them. It's organized by year, and then at the end of each year I tally up how many books I read in total. Maaaaajor spike in 2020, wonder why.
What are the last five books you read?
In order from most recent to fifth-most recent:
Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
Infinite Country by Patricia Engel
The Creep by Michael LaPointe.
Been on a bit of a novel kick, lately.
What book is next to your bed right now?
I have three books by my bed at the moment! One of them I am midway through, two are patiently waiting. Talent by Juliet Lapidos is at the top of the stack, and underneath is Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo, and the newest Maggie Nelson.
What's the best book you read last year?
Hands down, Revolting Prostitutes: The Fight for Sex Workers' Rights by Molly Smith and Juno Mac. I learned so much from that book. It puts forth the argument that rights for sex workers are also labour rights, are also key to prison abolition, are also key to the abolishing of borders and resisting state surveillance. It is a deeply abolitionist book and blew my mind over and over again.
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?
Pride and Prejudice really stuck with me as a teenager, I think I've read it three times! Austen believes in the importance of minutiae, especially that of women's lives, and plays the long game with her readers' attention, which I respect.
Were you a big reader as a child? What was your favourite book?
I was a VERY big reader as a child—some might say "voracious." My favourite book was The Hobbit. I really loved high fantasy and historical fiction as a kid. Personal anecdote: When I was maybe six or seven my family had a pet parakeet named Kiki, and he was usually very noisy but seemed to calm down when I read aloud. So one summer I started reading The Hobbit to him, and would spend hours sitting in front of his cage. But he died before we could get through the last few chapters, so I buried him in the backyard and finished the book at his graveside, knees in the dirt. It was dramatic.
Do you read poetry? If so, do you have a favourite collection or poem?
Yes! I think my absolutely favourite is Rilke's Duino Elegies ("supernumerous existence wells up in my heart"... holy shit). I recently read Heather Spears' How to Read Faces, and there's a poem in there called "In your absence" which I love, too.
Have you ever felt betrayed by a book? Are you still mad about it?
Ugh, yeah. Jenny Slate's Little Weirds. I love her, she makes me laugh and laugh. But I just couldn't make it through her book, I thought the writing was so... pushy and convoluted. I was very bummed.
What's a book that you've changed your opinion on over time?
Oh, too many to count; all the books I read in high school out of misguided obligation (see: On the Road, Lolita, Catcher in the Rye, etc.) are so silly and distasteful to me now. All these white men of canonical ilk whose books are so, so masturbatory its ridiculous.
Do you have a favourite book that you think would make a great film? What is it, and who would star?
Amber Dawn's Sub Rosa would make an ah-mazing film. I'd be open to unexpected, left-field casting as long as Riley Keough was in there somewhere.
Which book do you give most often as a gift?
Circe by Madeline Miller. I was given it as a gift by a dear friend and just loved it to bits. I jump at any opportunity to pay it forward! If your interest is at all piqued by the classics and mythology, please read this book.
Is there a book you've been meaning to read, but just haven't gotten around to it yet?
So many... I have three Olivia Laing books that I bought with fervour, but have yet to pick up. Every time I finish reading something and have to pick what's next, her books stare me in the face.
What's the last book you devoured as fast as you could read it?
Detransition, Baby was a whirlwind of a read, I finished it within the span of 24 hours! I can't wait for Torrey Peters' forthcoming collection of novellas.
What's a book that took you a long time to read, but was ultimately worth it?
Derek Jarman's Modern Nature took me several months to get through, I think because his writing is so intricate and so emotional. The book is essentially his journals, spanning a period of time just before he gets really sick with AIDS; he chronicles his filmmaking practice and also the day-to-day of cultivating his garden. It took a lot of energy to read, but I felt connected to a kind of queer ancestry through text, which was ultimately fulfilling.
What book are you most excited to read next?
Can I list two? I cannot wait to read We Do This 'Til We Free Us by Mariame Kaba, which expands on abolitionist theory and mutual aid-based organizing. As well, I'm super excited to read The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save our Earth by The Red Nation.
Free-for-all: tell me about a book you love that didn't make it into your answers above.
My Mother Laughs by Chantal Akerman hit me hard, in the best way. It's a heavy read (Akerman, known for her contributions to experimental feminist film, writes about her dying mother and her own depression), but it cleaved me open and constructed gorgeous truths.
If you were to add your own reading-related question, what would it be?
Which book did you read on a gut feeling (as in, no one recommended it to you and you didn't hear about it anywhere, you just picked it off a shelf), and love? My answer: Among Flowers: A Walk in the Himalaya by Jamaica Kincaid. It was in the travel section at Massy and I'd never read any travel writing before, but the cover was soooo beautiful. Major, major gem.
Speed round! What pairs best with…
… a summer afternoon at the beach?
Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
… a big plate of salty french fries?
Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
… a long weekend with no plans?
Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by adrienne maree brown (you'll know why when you read it, lol)
… a road trip?
Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt — I think it'd be very fun to read aloud in the car and put on all the characters' voices.
… a breakup?
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn — it's a fucked up book and such a thrill, perfect as both distraction and channel for all kinds of emotions.
… a snow day?
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
… a park blanket and a picnic?
Any of James Baldwin's novels.