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Read Behind the Headlines: September 2017
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Read Behind the Headlines: September 2017

By 49thShelf
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In which we embark on one of our favourite exercises, matching news stories up with great books. Read deeper...
The Lightning Field
Why it's on the list ...
Behind the headline: "Long-lost Avro Arrow model found at bottom of Lake Ontario"
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The Carnivore
Excerpt

RAY

 

In the beginning there was only darkness and heavy rain. Sudden black waters that ruffled and swarmed like a plague over the roads and fields, poured like Guinness into abandoned stairwells. Downtown, at the intersection of King Street and Spadina Avenue, a young man in hitched–up plus–fours tried fording one of the deepest sections of road on his bicycle. The wheels slid out from under him and he disappeared, then rose again sputtering and indignant. Cop or not, I laughed along with the sodden crowd. Two unshaven men carrying a spineless mattress from one building to its neighbour had it ripped from their arms by the current. One of them, a showy and well–muscled lad, dove in theatrically and performed three or four impressive freestyle strokes before standing again, suddenly waist deep. He flopped aboard the ruined springs and feigned exhaustion. Bravo! I thought. Bravo!

No one took any of this splashy weather very seriously, even though there were reports of similar scenes all over the city. The cbc’s meteorologist reported matter–of–factly on the radio that a hurricane was blowing itself out over the Appalachians. His confident forecast was for a little more rain that evening, then drying out after midnight. But the sky was fierce with fat, scudding armies of cloud. And at the lake, a debris–laden surf was beginning to wash in. There were logs and curled roofing shingles, wretched baby toys with broken or missing limbs, dislocated umbrellas and battered hubcaps; a buckled American stop sign.

Commuters were clutching at lampposts and hats, yanking overcoats tight and yelling to each other quite cheerfully, almost proudly, that they couldn’t remember the last time they’d seen a rain like this. The buses were packed and glowed like lanterns. Their drivers honked at the more timid drivers to give way. If it stopped soon, I thought, then there wouldn’t be much of a problem (though I had seen a few refugees evacuating basements already, clutching their record albums and a favourite pair of shoes, or a squirming, terrified cat), but another hour or two and it would lose its comic edge.

Worst was the traffic. Motorcycle cops were attempting to guide drivers towards the shallowest sections of road. A couple of detours had been established. A drunken crowd that had gathered on the roof of the Gladstone Hotel on Queen Street had taken to lobbing beer bottles into the rising sea. The fact that instead of smashing they simply bobbed west seemed to strike them as miraculous. One idiot was scrawling messages on paper napkins and stuffing these inside the Molson’s bottles, as if he had been stranded in this overrun cattle town long ago and had finally sensed the possibility of rescue.

When I found a moment I telephoned home to tell Mary that I wouldn’t arrive until later, when things calmed down. She was disappointed — she had wanted us to spend the evening together, packing. We’d planned a trip to Niagara Falls. She whispered (as if she might be overheard) that she pictured us in bed together tonight, riding out the storm, if I got her drift, and so I told her about the boy on the mattress.

"Do you think we’ll still be able to go away?" she asked me.

"You said the Queensway was flooding."

"We’ll drive around it," I said. "Or we’ll rent a boat." I was feeling strong, cocky even. But I was a respected policeman with a pregnant wife, and that struck me right then as the epitome of good citizenship. Everything about my predicament felt crystalline and pure. It was just the adrenalin kicking in, I suppose.

I told Mary I loved her and her throttled little gasp excited me. I would have to do that more often. But then, feeling suddenly delinquent in my duty, somehow adrift, I said only, "Mare, I have to go."

"Go! Go!" she commanded, and I felt oddly as if I was being ordered once more out of an Italian trench and across exposed muddy fields towards tangles of barbed wire. And I also felt, with an unsettling certainty, and with the wet telephone still in my hand, that I was about to die.

 

The reporter — a lovely young Chinese woman, Katie something — was bored, I think. She had talked herself into our home but now she wanted none of this florid indulgence; it was unusable. At best she would reduce it to a dozen melodramatic words: Fifty years ago today, Detective Ray Ignacius Townes spoke briefly to his wife before the full force of the hurricane struck Toronto. He had time only to tell her that he loved her…. What she really wanted from me were the so–called heroics. She had a deadline (and perhaps a dinner date), and her appetite for the story’s peripheral details was limited. The day after tomorrow something else would demand her attention. A killing at the Eaton Centre. A police strike. Tuberculosis in the shelters. Any of the sordid thrills Toronto routinely offers. Quite reasonably she might have been thinking that I should understand those things, that I should help her.

And it really was a dreary retelling. I’ve done it much better elsewhere. At cocktail parties and at the occasional speaking engagement arranged by the public library. Every few years a relative of one of the deceased will track me down with questions and I’ll try to tell them what they want to hear. And even now, hours later, lying here in my own bedroom with my notebook pressed against my knees, my heart isn’t in it. I’ve given up on my plan of repeating everything I said to Miss Katie Whatsherface. Mary crept away up the stairs an hour ago. I heard her pull a bottle of Chardonnay from the refrigerator and take it with her. I have driven her to drink. Saying goodbye, Katie kissed my cheek (a social nicety, that’s all it was, but a flyaway strand of her hair was for an instant, I swear, inside my mouth). Once she was gone, Mary began to shake. At our age such a rage is alarming, seems freighted with risk. I can imagine all too readily an aneurysm, blood flooding her brain, or her heart clenching too tightly around her disappointment. Her eyes did pool with tears but words were beyond her. She kicked lightly at my oxygen tank to make sure it was full and that its hoses were attached properly to the valves, and then she sniffed away. She has shrunk in recent years, become shorter, and in a long–ago moment of levity I even suggested we scratch a set of lines into the wall, begin an ironic measure of our annual decline. And as she passed into the kitchen tonight (though it might have been an illusion, I suppose, some trick of perspective) I don’t think she reached much above the halfway point.

Dinner arrived late and stone cold. She had eaten alone presumably, wondering whether to starve me altogether. I think it entirely possible I will die before we are civil with each other again.

And I do understand her anger. That hurricane changed everything. It put our house under a cloud and caused a permanent turbulence to clatter through its rooms. Mary only knows half of it and that’s apparently more than enough for her to never forgive me. She should have, but she didn’t. And as a result we have wasted much of the rest of our lives. Why in God’s name did she stay with me” Was it the memory of love” The faint hope it can be rekindled”

 

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Why it's on the list ...
Behind the headline: "Hurricane Plows into Florida..."
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Stars Between the Sun and Moon

Stars Between the Sun and Moon

One Woman's Life in North Korea and Escape to Freedom
edition:Hardcover

Born in the seventies in North Korea, Lucia Jang grew up in a typical household -- her parents worked in the factories, and the family scraped by on government rations of rice and what little food they could grow in their small garden. Every night before bed, Jang dusted the frame around the portrait of Kim Il-sung, as her little sister looked on. Afterwards, they would both bow and say, "Thank you, father."

But for the secretive nation, it was the beginning of a chaotic period that would see the …

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Policing Black Lives

Policing Black Lives

State Violence in Canada from Slavery to the Present
edition:Paperback
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Why it's on the list ...
Behind the headline: "Is racism different in Canada?"
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This Changes Everything

This Changes Everything

Capitalism vs. the Climate
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

WINNER 2014 – Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction
Forget everything you think you know about global warming. The really inconvenient truth is that it’s not about carbon—it’s about capitalism. The convenient truth is that we can seize this existential crisis to transform our failed system and build something radically better. In her most provocative book yet, Naomi Klein, author of the global bestsellers The Shock Doctrine and No Logo, tackles the most profound threat hu …

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Chasing Smoke
Why it's on the list ...
Behind the headline: "BC Firefighters aim to prevent wildfire spread with controlled burns"
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How Happy to Be

How Happy to Be

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
tagged :
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Excerpt

After she died, everything tasted worse. unlike my father, my mother had no contempt for the occasional dinner in a tinfoil tray, clean borders between tastes. I would imitate her walk down the frozen food aisle, breath frosting the air, hips sliding, shoulders back. A walk I only later recognized as sexy when I saw it worn by movie stars playing cocktail waitresses.

When she was gone, my father kept his eyes on the road
and drove his truck straight past the glass spaceship super-
market. He parked outside the health food store where walls and food were brown and moist. Pushing through the door was like stepping inside a redwood tree, all flesh and fibre. My dad wandered off by himself to finger the herbal teas and sugar cane, distracted and drifting, as if these foods were the source of all his sadness. He would look up, eyes running, unable to choose. So it was left to me, eight years old, to fill worn plastic containers with peanut butter and honey that lived in white tubs. But our old containers once held feta and butter and applesauce, and the system bred disappointment. Later, looking for the bumpy sweetness of jam, you ended up with yogurt, mean and tart. Longing for yogurt, you gagged on ropy tahini.

After my mother died, bread got crunchier and the house got messier and then we left Squamish, British Columbia, to see the country, driving east to Newfoundland until the edge and the water and then we turned around and went back west. We finally stopped at the Gambier Island compound, almost to the highway’s end, a boat ride from Vancouver, where there ­wasn’t a house at all but a monastery that resembled a roadside motel. A handful of soldiers had come back from the Second World War with Tibetan texts in hand, claiming a corner of the island. Unbothered by the farmers who lived there, they spent their mornings in walking meditation, barefoot up and down a beach so rocky their soles bled.

Two decades later, the hippies marched in, crossing water to escape the city. The soldier-­monks packed boxes of burgundy robes and headed north, out of earshot of the rumble. To them, the Sixties must have sounded like a couple arguing down the street; the window’s open and the noise gets closer and louder and closer and even though they swear it’s just a friendly conversation, it sounds like yelling to you.

The new arrivals made a compound out of the empty buildings and called it a commune. Our dinnertime, once set for three, became a long Formica table occupied by other people’s children. We slept in monks’ barracks, kids above and kids below in bunk beds and hammocks, swinging in space.

My father faded out gradually, escaping to the woods for days at a time, though this was nothing new. He half-­built a yurt, then gave up on pastimes and slept a lot. I was schooled in the gutted prayer hall and sulked in the classrooms, which ­weren’t classrooms at all but circles of stained throw pillows on cement floors. Other people’s mothers passing out finger­paints and encouragement.

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Why it's on the list ...
Behind the headline: "TIFF 2017: Party time on Day 3 of Toronto’s film festival"
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Why Not?

Why Not?

Fifteen Reasons to Live
edition:Paperback
tagged :
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Why it's on the list ...
Behind the headline: World Suicide Prevention Day: How to ‘Take a Minute, Change a Life’
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