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Difficult Beauty, Authenticity, and the Search for Connection

A recommended reading list by Erin Brubacher, author of the new book These Songs I Know By Heart.

Book Cover These Songs I Know By Heart

We've got copies of Erin Brubacher's debut novel These Songs I Know By Heart up for giveaway until the end of May!

Head over to our giveaways page for your chance to win it, and to check out everything else we have on offer!


Book Cover Fight Night

Anything and everything, by Miriam Toews

I couldn’t pick just one. Couldn’t do it. I love every one of Miriam Toews’ books. I think what I love most about them is that while they are full of the hardest things, they are somehow joyous even in the darkness. They also feel incredibly true. I learn about people from her books. A Complicated Kindness forever changed my sense of what a child needs from a parent. Fight Night made me reflect on what day to day attitudes I want to bring to my relationships. All My Puny Sorrows helped me to imagine someone else’s sorrow more compassionately. Toews honours the full personhood of each of her characters. It feels like she is serving them more than any idea of a novel. I think she writes with boundless integrity.

Book Cover Personals

Personals, by Ian Williams

This beautiful book of poems is framed by the idea of personal want ads. So it’s explicitly about people trying (and trying and trying again) to make connections. The long poem Ring, is about some of the same things I grapple with in These Songs I Know By Heart: imagining the trajectory of ones life to include the role of parent, or not. I read it differently now than I did when I first read it—because like most great art, it’s a poem that allows you to find yourself somewhere within, because of, not in spite of, it’s own specificity. You can return to these poems at different times in life and find different resonance. I also love the visual elements in this collection. Unlike some concrete poems where, however aesthetically pleasing, the form takes over the content, in Williams’ poems the form feels key to unlocking the content.


Book Cover Symptomes

Symptômes, by Catherine Ocelot

As a visual artist and writer of fragments, Ocelot has a subtle, singular style that transcends form. Her books are graphic novels that could be described as short story collections, works of poetry, or picture books. The central refrain of Symptômes is a support group called “solitudes anonymes” (loneliness anonymous) where strangers meet to soul search in each other’s company. At one point, the narrator Catherine tells her daughter about a theory that we are all connected by invisible strings; Symptômes is about the ongoing attempt at keeping those strings well woven. This beautiful, real and unpretentious book makes space for feeling big feelings and imagining one’s self as tied to all the people we encounter in this life—even when we feel alone. 

(Note: I believe there is an English translation of Symptômes in the works, but in the meantime, for those who don’t read in French, I think the images alone in this book are worth exploring — and the texts themselves are short enough that it might be a not too intimidating toe dip into French waters… But if you’re looking for a title that has already been translated into English, you could check-out Ocelot’s Art Life.)


Book Cover This Accident of Being Lost

This Accident of Being Lost, by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

I’ve only just recently noticed that House of Anansi frames the contents of this book as songs and stories— which they certainly are— but I have always thought of them as poems. Each poem is somehow simultaneously an intimate whisper and a line drawn in the sand. It is revolutionary truth-telling housed in declarations of love and longing for connection, with both human and non human relations. I love this book. I have now made a performance and written a novel in which it is recommended. As the narrator of my novel says: “The poems in this book are all fundamentally about decolonization, and also about the human heart and the vulnerability of necessary love. Reading Leanne Betasamosake Simpson makes me feel both the pull of things I know to be true, and the weight of things I can only keep trying to understand.”


Book Cover Run Towards hte Danger

Run Towards the Danger, by Sarah Polley

I could not stop talking about this book for months after I read it. Sarah Polley has gleaned so much from her experiences about how to (and not to) work and be with other people, and she shares these experiences with generosity and humility. As a theatre director who believes that how things are made shapes what is made, I found an art mentor in the pages of this book, in thinking about process as well as product.


Book Cover Authenticity is a Feeling

Authenticity Is a Feeling, by Jacob Wren (with contributions from many others)

As a performance maker this is one of the books I know I’ll keep returning to forever, but I’d also recommend it to anyone who likes reading the memoirs of one-of-a-kind creative people. The book marks the 20th anniversary of PME Art, a company through which Wren and collaborators make works that are essentially driven by the attempt at being one’s self in a performance situation—in order to better, or differently, connect with other people. PME has been a huge influence on my thinking as a theatre artist, and this book has so much to say about how we document live experiences, both in and out of art. In some ways too, it’s a treatise on memory, storytelling, and subjectivity—threads woven through all my work.


Ultimately, I chose all the titles above because they are books I love. As Jacob says in Authenticity is a Feeling, “…what works of art we feel to be authentic can also tell us a great deal about how we see things, what we value…” So the titles I’ve offered here make one picture of what I care about, and what influences me. There are very likely traces of each of these books in These Songs I Know By Heart.


Book Cover These Songs I Know By Heart

Learn more about These Songs I Know By Heart:

Married and divorced in her 20s, looking for friendship in her 30s, and contemplating pregnancy at 40, our narrator wonders if she’s going through life out of order. But Alice, The Turtle, The Kid, and other beloveds show her that motherhood is more than giving birth, art is never finished, and love is not linear.

Through a three-day canoe trip, chance encounters, fierce female friendship, step-parenting, IVF, pandemic isolation, and quiet moments between humans, These Songs I Know By Heart weaves vignettes of everyday mythology into an absorbing and honest meditation on the connections in our lives. With razor-sharp reflection, humour, and most of all love, we are reminded that there’s no formula to life and that instead, we must celebrate what makes the small moments of our lives extraordinary.




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