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Editors' Picks: Week of December 10–16

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The Measure of My Powers

The Measure of My Powers

A Memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris
edition:Paperback

INSTANT NATIONAL BESTSELLER AND SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2019 TASTE CANADA AWARDS AND THE RAKUTEN KOBO EMERGING WRITER PRIZE. For fans of Eat Pray Love, Wild, and H is for Hawk, The Measure of My Powers is the story of one woman's search for self-love, experienced through food and travel.
"With searing vulnerability and unflinching honesty, Jackie Kai Ellis takes us on an intense and immersive journey from her darkest moments to the redemption she finds through her love of food, Paris, and ultimatel …

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Excerpt

From "Farmers' Market, Vancouver"

Markets flooded me with life. Their colorful produce, the growth in each season on display, vendors selling flowers relaxed in full bloom, little pots of demi-glace, imported cheeses, and pecan shortbread that melted in my mouth. Around Easter, the local charcuterie would post fluorescent reminders to preorder hams, and I fantasized about baking them with honey and grainy mustard or brushing the top with a sticky, sweet pineapple-soy glaze, allowing the crust to caramelize and crys­tallize into a meaty lacquer box.

I would walk past each brightly colored stall, dawdling under the pretense of “grocery shopping” but secretly playing hooky from work, concocting imaginary meals with cans of smoky peppers in adobo sauce, white onions, cilantro, and masa flour, or sniffing varieties of Italian oregano like little green pearls still on their stems or bright green olive oils, and tasting the slow pro­gression of a tomato sauce in my mind.

I watched old movies about food, like Big Night and Mostly Martha, while I scoured blogs and websites in different languages for obscure recipes. I took on one recipe and then the next, madly working my way through countless books. My shelves were full of Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart, Maida Heatter, Rose Levy Beranbaum, Julia Child, Pierre Hermé, Dorie Greenspan, and Patricia Wells. I took books out from the library like when I was a child. I cooked from Deborah Madison’s vegetarian tome, got an Italian education from Marcella Hazan, and read books on canning, making jam, and growing food, poring over every­thing I could about those topics. I carried in my purse books by Michael Pollan and Margaret Visser, biographies on Jacques Pépin, and The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. But most importantly, it was M. F. K. Fisher who fed me stories that made me laugh, dream, wonder, and remember again what it felt like to be alive.

I searched for the perfect everything, from pound cakes to roasts, sour cherries to pork bellies. I was insatiable, and when I had consumed every bit of information that books and the internet could provide, I saved for weekend courses at local cooking schools. With textbooks in hand, I was both challenged and lulled to sleep as I read, cradling their weight in my lap before bedtime.

In the quiet church of my own kitchen, I cooked with the intensity of prayer as G looked on, uninterested. He didn’t care much about food, but that didn’t stop me. And when I shared what my hands had made, I saw that my friends and family tasted joy in my pies and passion in the glazes on my cakes. Although their hungers were different than mine, I understood them all the same and it gave me much pleasure to satisfy them too.

I knew, though, that they didn’t fully understand how urgently I was tied to food, and I was always aware of that strange separa­tion. It was faint, and if you didn’t know it was there, you might not think to ask. But I noticed it when I spoke of chocolate and the fine nuances in it: fruity, smoky, red or green. They could taste the flavors, but we did not taste the same thing. I would look longingly into their faces, searching their expressions and hoping to recognize myself in them, but I never did. I accepted that I never would, but I wasn’t sad; it was enough for me just to know I’d had a hand in feeding them in any way at all.

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Wanting in Arabic

Wanting in Arabic

Second Edition
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback

Wanting in Arabic is a refusal of convenient silences, convenient stories. The author dwells on the contradictions of a transsexual poetics, in its attendant disfigurations of lyric, ghazal, l?ecriture feminine, and, in particular, her own sexed voice. Without a memory of her father's language, the questions her poems ask are those for a home known through photographs, for a language lost with childhood.

Braiding theoretical concerns with the ambivalences of sexed and raced identity, with profou …

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The Saturday Night Ghost Club

The Saturday Night Ghost Club

A Novel
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback

SHORTLISTED FOR THE ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE: An infectious and heartbreaking novel from "one of this country's great kinetic writers" (Globe and Mail)--Craig Davidson's first new literary fiction since his bestselling, Giller-shortlisted Cataract City

When neurosurgeon Jake Baker operates, he knows he's handling more than a patient's delicate brain tissue--he's altering their seat of consciousness, their golden vault of memory. And memory, Jake knows well, can be a tricky thing.

When g …

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Excerpt

As a boy, I believed in monsters.

I was convinced that if I said “Bloody Mary” in front of a mirror, a hideous witch-woman would reach through the glass with nails sharp as splinters. I considered it a fact that the Devil lingered at shad­owy crossroads and went to dance halls in disguise, where he’d ask the prettiest girl to dance and reel her across the floor while spectators stood terror-stricken at the sight of the Devil’s goatish shanks, until the girl fainted dead away and the Unclean One vanished in a puff of brimstone.

There was no falsehood I wouldn’t swallow, no quilt of lies you couldn’t drape over my all-too-gullible shoulders. But for a boy like me—chubby, freckled, awkward; growing up in a city where the erection of a new Kmart occasioned our mayor to announce, “This marks a wondrous new chapter in our town’s history”—imagination was my greatest asset. Not to mention my defence against a foe worse than the most fearsome monster: loneliness.

My ally against that foe was my uncle Calvin. If I told him there was a bottomless pit in my basement, he’d say, “Tell me, Jake, is the air denser around the mouth of the pit than in other areas of the basement?” Cocking an eyebrow: “Do ominous growling sounds emanate from this pit of yours?”

Uncle C was the ideal nursemaid for my paranoid fantasies. His knowledge of urban legends and folk­lore was encyclopedic—with the added bonus that he seemed to consider most of it true.
“Hey,” he’d say, “did you know there are crocodiles living in the sewers of our fair city? The poor suckers get smuggled up from Florida by dumb tourists. Sure, they’re cute as a bug’s ear when they’re six inches long.

But when they grow up and get nippy? Ba-whooosh, down the porcelain mistake eraser. They get fat ’n’ sassy down there in the pipes, where there’s plenty to eat if you’re not choosy. Every year a couple of sanita­tion department workers get gobbled up by sewer crocs. The press bottles it up, unscrupulous snakes that they are, but it’s a fact you can set your watch to.”

Uncle C would fiddle with the beads of his brace­let—each an ornate pewter Cthulhu head, mouths and eye sockets sprouting tentacles—and offer a wistful sigh. “And that, Jake, is why owning a pet is a big responsibility.”

Once, when I was six or seven, I became convinced a monster lived in my closet. I told my dad, who did what 99 percent of adults do when their child makes this claim: he flung my closet door open, rattled coat hangers and shoved shoeboxes aside, making a Broadway production of it. “See? No monsters, Jake.”

But monsters make themselves scarce when adults are around, only to slither back after dark. Every kid knew this to be an unshakable fact.

Uncle C arrived for dinner that night, as usual— Mom invited him every Sunday. He got an inkling of my worry as I sat picking at my Salisbury steak.

“What’s the matter, hombre?”

“We have an unwanted visitor in a closet, appar­ently,” Mom informed him.

“But we’ve established that there’s no monster,” my father said. “Right, buddy?”

“Ah,” said Uncle C. “I have some expertise in this area. Sam, with your permission?”

Mom turned to my father and said, “Sam,” in the tone of voice you’d use to calm a jittery horse.

“Of course, Cal, as you like,” my father said.

My uncle pedalled home to his house, returning ten minutes later with a tool box. Once we were in my bed­room he motioned to the closet. “I take it this is its lair?”

I nodded.

“Closets are a favourite haunt of monsters,” my uncle explained. “Most are harmless, even good-tempered, if they have enough dust bunnies and cob­webs to eat. Do you clean your closet?”

I assured him that it was hardly ever tidied unless my mother forced the chore on me.

“Good, let them feast. If they get too hungry they’ll crawl over to your clothes hamper and eat holes in your underwear. No need to check the seat of your drawers for confirmation, as I can see by your expres­sion that yours have indeed met this cruel fate.”

Calvin cracked the tool box and pulled out an instru­ment—one that today I’d recognize as a stud finder.

“It’s a monster tracer,” he said, running it over the closet walls, making exploratory taps with his knuckles. “There are token traces of ectoplasm,” he said in the voice of a veteran contractor.

“Monster slime, in layman’s terms. What does this monster look like?”

“Hairy in some parts, slimy in others.”

“What’s its shape? Like a snake, or a blob?”

“A blob. But it can stretch, too, so it can look like a snake if it wants.”

“We’re dealing with a hairy, slimy blob with uncanny stretching capacities.” He gripped his chin.

“Sounds like a Slurper Slug. They’re common around these parts.”

“A slug?”

“Correct, but we’re not talking your garden-variety slug.” He laughed—actually, he exclaimed ha-ha.

“A little paranormal humour for you, Jake my boy. These peculiar and particularly gross slugs infest closets and crawl spaces. You haven’t been keeping anything tasty in your closet, have you?”

“That’s where I put my Halloween candy.”

“Slurper Slug, then, guaranteed. They’re not dan­gerous, just revolting. They could make a mortician barf his biscuits. If you let one hang around he’ll call his buddies and before long you’ve got an infestation on your hands.”

He rooted through his tool box for a pouch of fine red powder. “This is cochineal, made from the crushed shells of beetles. It’s used in containment spells.”

He laid down a line of powder in the shape of a keyhole 

“This,” he said, pointing to the circle, “is the trap. The Slurper Slug will traipse up this path, see, which gets narrower and narrower until the Slug gets stuck in the Circle of No Return. There it will turn black as night and hard as rock. Now, you’ll have to pull one hair out of your head to bait the slug trap.”

I plucked a single strand, which my uncle laid softly in the trap.

“Go ask your mom if she has any chocolate chips.”

I went down to the kitchen to find my folks engaged in a hushed conversation. My father’s shoulders were vibrating like twin tuning forks.

“Chocolate chips, huh?” Mom said in a Susie- Cheerleader voice. “I’ve only got butterscotch.”
By the time I got back, the closet was shut. My uncle instructed me to lay a trail of butterscotch chips along the door.

“The sweetness will draw that Slug out of hiding. Now listen, Jake, and listen carefully. If you peek inside the closet, the spell will be broken. Under no circumstances can it be opened until tomorrow morn­ing. No matter the sounds you may hear dribbling through this door, you must leave it closed. Do you swear this to me?”

“Yes, I promise.”

“By the Oath of the White Mage, do you swear it?”

When I admitted I didn’t know that oath, he stuck out his little finger. “The pinkie variety will suffice.”

I linked my finger with his and squeezed.

“Cross your heart and hope to die?”

“Stick a needle in my eye,” I said solemnly.

I awoke to sunlight streaming through the window. I crept to the closet and opened it. Just as Uncle C had said, the keyhole was now only a circle and in the middle sat an object that was dark as night and hard as rock.

My uncle was taking off his boots in the front hall when I stormed downstairs.

“The trap worked!” I told him, dragging him up the stairs to show him the blackened slug.

“Pick it up,” he said. “It may still be a little warm but it won’t burn you.”

Queasy warmth pulsed off the slug, or so it felt to me.

“It’s not every day that you can hold a monster in your palm, is it, Jake?”

That lump of obsidian would rest on my nightstand for years. Then one day I noticed it sitting between my Junior Sleuths magnifying glass and a dog-eared reissue of Stephen King’s Carrie, the one with the art deco cover. Opening the drawer, I swept the volcanic rock inside, embarrassed that I’d once been fear-struck by anything so infantile as a snot-ball slug in my closet. . . .

An hour later I took it out and put it back where it belonged.

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Out Standing in the Field

Out Standing in the Field

A Memoir by Canada's First Female Infantry Officer
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

Some books are catalysts. Shake Hands with the Devil was one. For 2017, that book is Out Standing in the Field. In her memoir, Sandra Perron describes her experience of the Canadian Military - one of the most important institutions of our nation. What she has to say is exactly what the top brass has been paying lip-service to for years, and doing nothing to improve.

In 2016, the Auditor General's Report noted that the military had no strategy to recruit women, even though they are required to me …

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I've Been Meaning to Tell You

I've Been Meaning to Tell You

A Letter to My Daughter
edition:Hardcover

In the tradition of Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, acclaimed novelist David Chariandy's latest is an intimate and profoundly beautiful meditation on the politics of race today.

When a moment of quietly ignored bigotry prompted his three-year-old daughter to ask "what happened?" David Chariandy began wondering how to discuss with his children the politics of race. A decade later, in a newly h …

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Excerpt

The Occasion

Once, when you were three, we made a trip out for lunch. We bussed west in our city, to one of those grocery-store buffets serving the type of food my own parents would scorn. Those overpriced organics laid out thinly in brushed-steel trays, the glass sneeze guard just high enough for you, dearest daughter, to dip your head beneath it in assessing, suspiciously, the “browned rice” and “free-range carrots.” And in that moment, I could imagine myself a father long beyond the grip of history, and now caring for his loved one through kale and quinoa anda soda boasting “real cane sugar.”
     But we’re both dessert people, a soda won’t cut it, and so we shared a big piece of chocolate cake. “It’s good for you,” you giggled. “Chocolate cake is very, very good for you.” You squirmed away as I tried to wipe your mouth, laughing at all of my best efforts. It was an ordinary moment. And an ordinary thirst was brought on by the thick sweet of the cake, and so I stood and moved towards the nearby tap to get us both a glass of water, encountering a woman on her way to do the same thing. She was nicely dressed, a light summer cream suit, little makeup, tasteful. We reached the tap at roughly the same time. I hesitated out of a politeness, and this very gesture seemed only to irritate her. She shouldered herself in front of me, and when filling her glass of water, she half turned to explain, “I was born here. I belong here.”
     Her voice was loud. She meant to be overheard, to provoke agreement, maybe, although the people lunching around us reacted only by focusing harder upon their own bowls and plates. And you, my daughter, sitting closest, didn’t understand, or else you didn’t even hear. You were still in a moment of joy, your own laughter filling your ears, the dark frosting between your teeth, and so I decided. I waited patiently to fill our glasses. I walked carefully back to you, never spilling a drop. I sat. I might have tried to match your smile. I might have attempted once more to wipe your mouth, or asked you to take a sip of water to prevent dehydration, the latest foolish fear of parents like me. I don’t remember. I sometimes find myself in this state during the course of an ordinary day. I was lost in thought and quiet, even after I caught your hand waving beforemy eyes. Your face now cross and confused. “Hey,” you asked, “what happened?”

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