Alex Pugsley's new book is Shimmer, a collection of stories that follow characters through relationships, within social norms, and across boundaries of all kinds as they shimmer into and out of each other’s lives. It's one of our Summer Reading Picks, and up for giveaway right now—make sure you enter for your chance to win a copy!
CanLit is booming. Where once we had shaky structures, we now have a pantheon. Readers will have their own favourites from the firm of Ondaatje, Atwood, Shields, and Munro—mine are Billy the Kid, Murder in the Dark, The Republic of Love, and Happy Shades—but for this list of recommended reading I’m getting out of town and walking some favoured trails.
Heritage: A Romantic Look at Early Canadian Furniture, by Scott Symons
Scott Symons was a queer writer and critic who led a life so provocative he should have his own biopic. Actually, he is the subject of a documentary, it’s called God’s Fool, and it begins to illuminate the man who wanted to use the title, "The Smugly Fucklings,"for his novel about Toronto. When he was a curator at the ROM, Symons published this coffee table book about Canadian furniture with photos by John de Visser and a preface from George Grant. But it’s Symons’s prose which holds court. Here he is on the Os du Mouton armchair: “Benjamin Franklin … sat in a chair like this one! … With its warm swoop of wood, flowing, arching birchwood, curving and cusping, its nobility of back, tall and broad … See Ben sitting in a chair like this, fidgeting uneasily in all its pride, flare, and prance, high hip and Cavalier.” I am no expert on dropleaf tables or marble mantlepieces, but this book, I think, is a classic.
A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, by Alicia Elliott
On Friday, May 26, 2017, I was sitting at a table with seven other people at the National Magazine Awards. Before the awards-part of the evening, a woman at my table got up, went to the microphone, and gave a speech that combined acumen, calm, and outrage in equal parts. It was, as I told her afterwards, not an easy feat, telling a room full of know-it-alls that they don’t know it all. Later that night, she won the gold in the essay category for “A Mind Spread Out on the Ground,” shortly to be collected in the book of the same name, and that book, and that author, Alicia Elliott, seem to me newly canonical.
Liar, by Lynn Crosbie
A book-length poem from a woman spurned.
At once casting aside and reinventing the confessional mode, Liar is a booklength monument to love found, betrayed, renounced, and ultimately accepted as transformative. The white-hot immediacy of detail and scorching emotional honesty of Liar make for a compelling tour through one lover's accounting for her own actions and those of her beloved. From the delusion of ownership to the pain of estrangement, Crosbie's surgical intelligence exposes what romantics so often refuse to acknowledge: the lover's own complicity in her joy and suffering.
Eunoia, by Christian Bok
A vowel-obsessed novel from a poet inspired.
Stunning and masterful in its execution, Eunoia is a five-chapter book in which each chapter is a univocal lipogram. The word ‘eunoia,’ which literally means ‘beautiful thinking,’ is the shortest word in English that contains all five vowels. Directly inspired by the Oulipo (l’Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle), a French writers’ group interested in experimenting with different forms of literary constraint, Eunoia is a five-chapter book in which each chapteris a univocal lipogram – the first chapter has A as its only vowel, the second chapter E, etc. Each vowel takes on a distinct personality: the I is egotistical and romantic, the O jocular and obscene, the E elegiac and epic (including a retelling of the Iliad!).
ESSO NHL Power Player Album
When I was a kid, I was in a wheelchair for two years. Family ski trips for me weren’t spent on the slopes. I stayed indoors by the circular fireplace where people warmed their feet. That’s where I was when another kid showed me the book in his hands. It was a soft cover album for hockey trading cards. It featured every player and every hockey team. The player cards, which were like big stamps, were given away at participating Esso stations. The pictures thrilled me—the speeding forwards, the goalie masks—and when my brother and I got our own album, I would dream away the ski day thinking on Power Players to come. I doubt I’m alone in the Instant Nostalgia the Power Players inspire and for those wanting a fix, check out this ad featuring journalist Scott Young (Neil’s father).
Sex Slaves of the Astro-Mutants, by Crad Kilodney
Crad Kilodney was a self-published writer who used to stand on Yonge Street selling his chapbooks. Around his neck was often a handmade sign—"Shabby No-Name Writer, Literature for Mindless Blobs, Putrid Scum"—and the afternoon we spoke I asked if I could buy Sex Slaves of the Astro Mutants, a title I’d heard about and which naturally sent me over the moon. “All sold out,” Crad replied. “Collector’s item now. Impossible to find.” So, although I’ve actually never read the book, or even seen a copy, I think it might be the best-ever title of a Canadian book. The book I bought that day was The First Charnel House Anthology of Bad Poetry (poems written by Crad under fake names) and here follows, in its entirety, a poem called “More News.” “A Buick is discovered beneath the pilings, in the driver’s seat, a heap of human bones. ‘He just went out for seafood,’ the widow sobs, and in the back seat the lobsters he had purchased huddle together, their thoughts unknowable.”
Louis Riel, by Chester Brown
When I was in university, I worked as a banquet waiter at the hotel beside the Toronto Metro Convention Centre. One of the servers was Kris Nakamura who, besides being amazing at everything she did, was the ex-girlfriend of a comic artist named Chester. My roommate later showed me a comic Chester did called Yummy Fur and that was my first introduction to the artist who would go on to create Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography and, though the field is crowded now, I still think it one of the finest Canadian graphic novels.
Black Writers Matter, edited by Whitney French
I met Whitney French when she was the production editor of the March 2010 issue of Descant Magazine. When the issue was launched at the Victory Café, she was the emcee and I was one of the readers. Speaking to her afterwards, I got from her a sense of diligence, commitment, and integrity. Those qualities are on full display in her first book as editor, Black Writers Matter, published by the University of Regina Press. It’s an eclectic anthology, some pieces polished, some raw, but all vital. I remember wishing that a version of the book could come out every year. And perhaps in some way it will. For Whitney French has recently begun her own press. Check it: https://www.hushharbour.com/
Outside a 7-Eleven, teen boys Veeper and Wendell try to decide what to do with their night, though the thought of the rest of their lives doesn’t seem to have occurred to them. In Laurel Canyon, two movie stars try to decide if the affair they’re having might mean they like each other. When Byron, trying to figure out the chords of a song he likes, posts a question on a guitar website, he ends up meeting Jessica as well, a woman with her own difficult music. And when the snide and sharp-tongued Twyla agrees to try therapy, not even she would have imagined the results.
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