The Recommend: July 2014
It's The Recommend, our monthly series where readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.
This week we're pleased to present the picks of author Bill Gaston (The World); writer and speculative fiction blogger, Christa Seeley; essayist, editor, and digital media professor, Bruce Gillespie; author and teacher Kim McCullough (Clearwater); and Steve Stanton, author and former president of Canada's national association of science fiction and fantasy authors.
Bill Gaston picks In the Slender Margin, by Eve Joseph
"It would be an awful shame if anyone heard a nutshell description of this book—a memoir about death and dying, by someone who worked in hospice for decades—and passed on it because it sounds grim and depressing. Grim and depressing it is not. Open-eyed, yes. Joseph, whose older brother’s death when she was a little girl haunted her and possibly triggered her career in “the death business,” is a poet with a softly musical voice and unflinching gaze. She’s compiled a book of personal anecdotes, lore, reminiscence, and speculation that is by turns harrowing, funny, gentle, and moving-as-can-be.
While Joseph doesn’t take herself as seriously as, say, Didion, her work is in the same league of sophistication. It’s refreshingly free of the sentimental and Pollyanna, and yet it leaves you feeling somehow … good. I can’t imagine any reader from our death-denying culture not being enlivened, entertained, educated, and even bolstered by this book. Here’s someone with a marvelous and rare story to tell, and also the first-rate chops to tell it—an uncommon combination, I’d say. I’d also say that, though it’s something of a miracle, you would actually enjoy this book on a beach."
Christa Seeley picks Above, by Leah Bobet
"Above, by Leah Bobet, takes the reader deep underground the city of Toronto, where a group of fantastic and otherworldly people reside. They don't belong in the “above” and as a result have been forced to live among the cracks and shadows. Each is suffering from their own unique disability or flaw they struggle to survive and dream of life on the surface. Written in absolutely stunning, lyrical prose, Above is so much more than just a fantasy novel. It's an eye-opening critique of how we treat society's most marginalized groups, in particular the homeless and the mentally ill and relevant no matter what city you live in."
Christa Seeley is a writer, publishing professional, and managing editor of Inaccurate Realities: A YA Speculative Fiction magazine. You can read her rambling about books, comics, and writing on her blog, More Than Just Magic, as well as on Women Write About Comics. You can find her on Twitter @christasbooks.
Bruce Gillespie picks Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter by S. Bear Bergman
"I’m a little embarrassed to admit what a latecomer I am to the works of S. Bear Bergman, despite hearing so many of my friends rave about them (I console myself with the knowledge that being late to the party at least means the author has a decent-sized back catalogue ready for me to explore). Maybe you find yourself in the same position, in which case, Bergman’s latest, Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter, is a great place to dive in. It is, as I keep telling everyone I know, The One Important Book You Must Read This Year.
Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter is a collection of personal essays about families—the ones we start out with and the ones we choose for ourselves. That the stories revolve around Bergman’s own family, the heart of which is two trans men and their son, makes them timely, given how much discussion there has been about trans issues in the media of late. But to say that it’s a book about trans, or even queer families, feels too reductive, because Bergman’s reflections on relationships—with friends, lovers, parents and children—will resonate with most readers, regardless of their family composition.
Written with warmth and humour and a generosity of spirit that suffuses each page, Bergman’s stories are ones you’ll both want to linger over, appreciating each carefully crafted sentence, and race through, to see what comes next and what fresh insight lies ahead."
Bruce Gillespie is the editor of three collections of personal essays, including A Family by Any Other Name: Exploring Queer Relationships, as well as Somebody’s Child: Stories About Adoption and Nobody’s Father: Life Without Kids, both with Lynne Van Luven. He teaches in the digital media and journalism program at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus and is the editor-in-chief of J-Source.ca. You can find him on Twitter @bgillesp.
Kim McCullough picks Rabbit Ears, by Maggie de Vries
"Set in Vancouver during the time when killer Robert Pickton stalked and abducted sex trade workers, Rabbit Ears, by Maggie de Vries, is an important YA novel that seamlessly crosses into adult territory. De Vries delves into her personal connection to the murders to address the dangers sex workers face on the job and to humanize the murdered women in a way they were not at the time.
The novel alternates between two points of view: Kaya, a thirteen-year-old who struggles to make sense of her world and connect with her mother after her father’s death; and her older sister, Beth, who seems more concerned with stuffing her face than with any secrets Kaya may be hiding. When Kaya tries to outrun her pain, she falls into a life of drug addiction and prostitution on the streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Kaya’s sections are expertly written in the second person; her voice is strong and compelling. Beth’s lack of self-control where food is concerned magnifies the loss and futility she feels while searching for her lost little sister. This is, at its heart, a story about women caring for one another: mothers and daughters and sisters—whether by birth, or by choice.
De Vries does not shy away from the brutal realities of drug addiction and the lifestyle Kaya resorts to in support of her habit. At the same time, she treats these difficult subjects with a respect not only for her readers’ age and experience, but also for the women in crisis who inspired Kaya’s story. There is a gentleness in this novel that makes room for forgiveness and grace, not only on the page, but in echoes of the true story that lies behind the fiction.
Kim McCullough is a writer and teacher from Calgary, AB. She is the author of the novel Clearwater (Coteau Books, 2013) and was recently awarded a Writers’ Guild of Alberta award for her lyric essay, "Night/light." Kim has work forthcoming in both Grain and Room Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @ferniebound.
Steve Stanton picks Ride The Lightning, by Dietrich Kalteis
"This debut Canadian crime novel by Dietrich Kalteis is edgy and energetic—a scurrilous journey into the dark side of Canada’s seven-billion-dollar pot industry. The author uses unrestricted POV to reveal the thoughts of every character in this fast-moving drama, coupled with a surfeit of choppy phrase fragments and overuse of the -ing verb form, dragging more action into each sentence, flirting with danger. But it all comes together with technical effect to create a concise, chaotic tone aptly suited to this cast of degenerate, drug-addled, double-crossing desperadoes. Dietrich Kalteis is a fresh voice worth noting.
Steve Stanton is the author of the Canadian sci-fi trilogy, The Bloodlight Chronicles, and former president of Canada's national association of science-fiction and fantasy authors. You can find him on Twitter @SFStanton.