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Thinking Books, Not Tidy Books

A recommended reading list by Jessie Jones, whose The Fool is a finalist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry at the QWF Literary Awards. 

Book Cover the Fool

The QWF Literary Awards celebrate the best books and plays by English-language writers, playwrights, and translators in Quebec, as well as those translating English works from Quebec into French. Each award comes with a purse of $3,000.

For more information about the Awards and to see Giller Prize-winning author Sean Michaels announce all the finalists, check out the Gala page on our website.

Jessie Jones' The Fool is a finalist for the A.M. Klein Prize for Poetry.


I read many of these books while I was writing and editing The Fool. They investigate not only an object, character, or idea, but the ambient area around it, drawing the eye to details it might normally pass over, or causing you to sit with a thought that you might normally ignore or suppress. These are not tidy books, they are thinking books, and they’ve greatly expanded my understanding of what writing can do.


Book Cover Index Cards

Index Cards, by Moyra Davey

Whether in her visual art or her writing (or some vibrant combination of the two), Moyra Davey works toward ideas in the most fascinating way possible. Her ability to admit when she is “..sometimes getting it, sometimes not” lays a path of discovery that is so satisfying, it doesn’t really matter if she ever “gets it” in the end.

Index Cards is full of the accidental knowledge one accumulates when an author, artwork, or a subject lights a fire in your soul and you suddenly must understand not only everything about it, but everything around it. A world-expanding knowledge. She has a photographer’s eye for ambient detail and is capable of collecting and shaping these details into something greater than their parts. My library expanded considerably after reading this book.


Book Cover Yesterday at the Hotel Clarendon

Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon, by Nicole Brossard (translated by Susan de Lotbinière- Harwood)

Nicole Brossard is so keenly attuned to silence in her writing that it’s unsurprising she is capable of “lending an ear to ambient life”. For me, this novel plays in two distinct time signatures: one where the entire history of the world unfurls in a rapid time lapse, and another where time is weighted in sap. It is at this latter speed that one can see that the light is not merely yellow, but “blonde”, can feel the “body shuddering in a slow-motion farewell” in response to a missed connection, or find that all of the eighteenth century is held in an antique hand mirror.

Two women meet, talk, and circle a hotel bar in Quebec City while all of history rushes around them and through them like an unstoppable, ever-widening river.


Book Cover My Paris

My Paris, by Gail Scott

In a small Yorkshire town, a bartender asked me, upon learning I was a Canadian living in London, if I had “found acceptance there.” I think about this question all the time. What would “finding acceptance” look like and would I really want it?

My Paris resounds with this question. A writer from Montreal arrives in Paris intending to write from a small studio. All the ambient activity of a city outside her window—strangely assembled shopfronts, beautiful strangers, architecture, a sudden depression of mist—take on a theatricality that seems tailored for an outsider’s gaze. This ambient landscape, which a local has been trained to tune out, is vivid and mysterious in Gail Scott’s hands. Her experimental prose beautifully captures, for me, the overstimulation of a new place, the experience of trying to take in so much at once, and finding it all excruciatingly unattainable.The unattainability, she reminds us, is often by design: “Feeling momentarily resentful. Of centuries old goal. Of making Paris object of luxury.” Gertrude Stein haunts the streets and sentences of this book.


Book Cover The Weather

The Weather, by Lisa Robertson

What is more ambiently everyday than the weather? It inhabits us, wears our clothes, dictates our travel and commerce. The weather in the UK, especially, is a “mood”.

Lisa Robertson took inspiration from the infamous BBC shipping forecast—its own kind of experimental poetry—to create a collection that feels like a personal weather system under which days don’t pass, but “heap”. The repetition in the poems, and their facelessness (each section named after a day of the week, like this could be any week in any year) lends itself to a blurring of experience, all moments past and future occurring simultaneously: “Body of cloud of our minds. We want to speak the beautiful language of our times. Lashed by change. With no memory.” The poems are rhythmic, linguistically stunning, and the repetition shot through sharp details like light piercing fog.


Book Cover the Doll's Alphabet

The Doll’s Alphabet, by Camilla Grudova

The nightmares that stay with me are not terrifying, but unsettling. The Doll’s Alphabet has that same kind of gnawing, disquieting energy. In each of these stories, Grudova sees through the city into its subterranean spaces, into strange shopfronts and decaying structures, perhaps even into its unconscious.

Anything is possible here. Darkness abounds. That her characters accept and even seem accustomed to these conditions begs the question, What happened here? A secret society covers an apartment building in foam gargoyles. Women transform into insects and do hard labour to support men whose sole purpose is to write philosophy exams. Sewing machines have malicious intent and fantastical capabilities. There are no familiar or recycled details here; they have been cleanly plucked by a visitor to this place.


Book Cover the Albertine Workout

The Albertine Workout, by Anne Carson

What some (and by some, I mean myself) would see as a rigorous bit of writing feels like a light warmup for Carson. In fewer than 40 pages, she lifts stones in volume five of Proust’s novel, entitled The Prisoner, which one Proust scholar deems the one that you can safely skip, to reveal a dark, underlying obsession that haunts its pages. As always, she does this with her trademark wit and intellect.

The line between auto-biography and invention is found to be utterly permeable and something stranger, sadder, and more true about the nature of desire emerges.


Book Cover the Fool

Learn more about The Fool:

In tarot, the Fool represents continual beginnings, not being able to see or think past the excitement and potential of a new start. The Fool is also associated with zero—a literal loop.

Like Anne Carson writing poetry in the style of the poet alchemist Arthur Rimbaud, Jessie Jones renders her reflections with acerbic brilliance. In her debut collection, she examines the sensual, cruel, pleasing, and depraved state of being human in the twenty-first century. All pro, she’s ready to stage a coup d’état.

Reflective with a kind of circular logic edging toward a darker surrealism, these poems are at times comically satirical, but always grounded in fresh ethos. A pleasure of language and circumstance, where passengers on a boat peer through "a thick, absorbent mist" and the poet moves "through/the city like a bundle of kindling./ All day I wait for a bit of friction/ to transform me," The Fool sets its sights on a world riddled with panaceas designed to course-correct our lives.

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