My Year of Books: 2015

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Though I did it with slightly less enthusiasm (my interest in living online seems to be waning precipitously, though I waver occasionally), I spent another year tweeting my books using the #95books hashtag. I shall herewith provide the summary for 2015.

Why? For one thing, at the rate I’m going this might be the only thing I write in the coming year. But my primary interest is to be a reading cheerleader, especially for local writers. Perhaps something on my list will appeal to you, you’ll go out and buy it, or get it from your library, and enjoy it. I’ve tried to provide links to publishers’ and writers’ pages to help you learn more about the titles and authors, where possible. As I did last year, I fell well short of the 95 books aspiration, but reaching that is not an obsession, as I said last year, merely a motivational tool. In fact, with a 2015 total of 57 books, it appears that I am going to end the year one book behind last year’s total (I’m currently less than halfway through a book, so I should rightly count it next year – not because I’m such a stickler, but because I’m not far enough into it to write a synopsis).

And here they are, my books for 2015:

Bunny and Shark by Alisha Piercy (Jan 2)
On a Caribbean island, a Playboy bunny is shoved off a cliff into the sea by her husband, is attacked by sharks and saved by dolphins. With nothing but her wits she must find a way to survive. At times tense, darkly comic, and a little magical.bunny and shark

Once Upon an Elephant by Ashok Mathur (Jan 4)
A story of Ganesh, the Hindu deity, in which a man’s decapitated head and a headless elephant’s body are found, and a somewhat slapstick trial takes place. Humorous and socially critical.

Air Brake Manual: A Guide for Students by Government of Alberta (Jan 20)
Required reading for employment, but since I had to read it multiple times prior to being tested on it, thus keeping me from more engaging works, I counted it.

Ravensong by Lee Maracle (Jan 24)
Though it at times seemed didactic, Maracle’s novel set in/around Maillardville in 1954 depicts compellingly the effects of colonialism ravensongwithin one First Nations community, with the focus on a young woman named Stacey and her relations.

Map Reading by Patricia Boileau (Jan 24)
A poetry manuscript by a Vancouver friend who set a goal for herself and achieved it. (Would I only be inspired by her example.)

Leak by Kate Hargreaves (Jan 30)
Simplified description: Poems about bodies and their wounds, from which the title is drawn.

Buddy’s: Meditations on Desire by Stan Persky (Feb 2)
Buddy’s was a gay bar in Vancouver that closed right after my one-and-only visit in the late 80s (I didn’t do it!). Whether it’s from an army of loversbeing stranded in a giant prairie suburb, or in the disappointingly bland 21st century, this year’s only re-read was prompted, likely, by nostalgia.

An Army of Lovers by Juliana Spahr and David Buuck (Feb 17)
A (satisfyingly) hard-to-categorise novelish in which two San Francisco poets decide to collaborate on an epic poem but don’t produce one.

Burqa of Skin by Nelly Arcan (Mar 5)
Arcan was a Quebec writer who, perhaps, became what is all too often the detritus of the worst of patriarchal capitalism (if that makes any sense). The pieces in this collection may demand some effort by the reader, but they’re valuable reading.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (Mar 6)
A multidisciplinary expression of frustration about the ongoing (and increasing) struggle and danger of being black in America.

Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie (Mar 18)
I don’t read much memoir generally, for inevitably I think there could have been less filler, but I was interested in the history of the fatwa. “Joseph Anton” (derived from Conrad and Chekhov) was Rushdie’s pseudonym while he was in hiding.

Shuck by Daniel Allen Cox (Mar 22)families are formed through copulation
A novel about a male hustler/porn actor in 90s-era Manhattan, written by a former Manhattan male hustler/porn actor now living in Montreal. (As I write this, I’m thinking about the significance of the difference in outcomes between Cox and the previously mentioned Arcan, and the extent to which gender is a factor…).

Families Are Formed Through Copulation by Jacob Wren (Mar 22)
An apparently collaboratively-written (French-Canadian?) play about family life, or not, and subsequently coaxed into a book by Wren.

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens (Mar 25)
Published posthumously, this is a collection of Vanity Fair essays written by Christopher Hitchens as he was dying of cancer.

The Last Word by Hanif Kureishi (Apr 2)
A freelance writer is engaged to write the biography of an elderly big-name Indian writer living in England. Constructed as if it might inspire a film. Suspected by some to fictionally depict the writing of V.S. Naipaul’s biography.

Wreck Beach by Carellin Brooks (Apr 5)wreck beach
I finally got around to reading Brooks’s 2007 book about one of my favourite places on the planet. I still hope to write my own one day, though mine will focus more diligently on the less savoury / more savoury (choose your own bias) areas on the southern reaches of Vancouver’s nude beach.

Celia’s Song by Lee Maracle (Apr 11)
The follow-up novel to Maracle’s (previously mentioned) Ravensong. Celia, Stacey’s sister, was a minor-but-major, almost spectral character in Ravensong, but is the primary character in this novel. Maracle’s continued development as a storyteller since the earlier book is apparent.

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King (Apr 19)
Accessible book about the experiences of the indigenous peoples of Canada and the United States since colonisation began.

The Listener by Rachel Basch (Apr 20)
A novel I read for an intended review that I didn’t write, about a young man struggling with sexuality and identity.

My Body is Yours by Michael V. Smith (Apr 24)
Smith’s memoir about (among other things) non-standard masculinity, compulsive sex, and his father’s death is refreshingly candid in my body is yoursthis sexually-conservative era of compulsive normativity.

undercurrent by Rita Wong (Apr 25)
We pay scant attention to the valuable resource that drips and flows quietly beneath our feet, but poet, activist, and Emily Carr professor Wong has been working to draw more of our attention for several years. Her latest effort is this collection of poems about water and all it touches.

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis (Apr 27)
Hermes and Apollo bet on what would happen if human intelligence were transferred to a pack of dogs. I read an advance copy and found it engaging, though I was mildly surprised when it subsequently won the Giller. Maybe I foolishly allowed my scepticism about contemporary urban canine deification affect my judgement. Perhaps I’ll read it again.

Dolphin SOS by Roy Miki, Slavia Miki, & Julie Flett (Apr 27)
Inspired by a true story, in this short book for children three dolphins trapped by ice in Seal Cove are rescued by Newfoundlanders. Perhaps a restorative for Mowat’s A Whale for the Killing.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (May 4)a tale for the time being
Ruth (a version of Ozeki herself, presumably) finds washed up on a British Columbia shoreline a Hello Kitty lunchbox, inside of which is a diary written by a possibly suicidal young girl named Nao in Japan. As the book unfolds, Ruth reads Nao’s entries, thinks about them, discusses them with her husband and others, and contemplates what to do about them, if anything.

The Fly in Autumn by David Zieroth (May 4)
Poems by the North Vancouver writer to whom I feel I should apologise for thinking of Van Halen every time I say his name. Rest assured, The Fly in Autumn is much better than Just a Gigolo.

I, Bartleby by Meredith Quartermain (May 22)
A book of non-standard short stories by Vancouver’s Quartermain. It probably helps if you’ve read Melville’s work for which this was named, as I hadn’t, but if not, read it twice. It’s not a thick book and it’ll be worth the extra effort. Or read Melville too!

One Hundred Days of Rain by Carellin Brooks (May 24)
Another Brooks book. I should mention, I once worked with Brooks at a software phone sex company, where I am pretty sure she was just doing research for her first book, Bad Jobs: My Last Shift at Albert Wong’s Pagoda and Other Ugly Tales of the Workplace. I didn’t read it, for I already felt over-versed in the subject and, besides, I was afraid she might have mentioned me in a potential Bad Colleagues sub-section, and some things are best left unknown. Anyway, One Hundred Days of Rain is about about the aftermath of the end of a relationship in which Vancouver’s ubiquitous winter rain is a central character.

The Letter Opener by Kyo Maclear (May 26)the letter opener
Naiko works in the Undeliverable Mail Office with Andrei, a Romanian refugee. When he disappears, Naiko tries to find out what happened to him.

Transmitter and Receiver by Raoul Fernandes (May 27)
Poetry by one of the most easy-to-like people on the scene, and his poems only reinforce that.

Get Me Out of Here by Sachiko Murakami (May 29)
Murakami crowd-sourced airport-related observations from travellers and then wrote poems inspired by what she received. She didn’t use my submission, but I like to think that’s because I submitted it after the deadline, and not because it stank.

Now is the Hour by Tom Spanbauer (Jun 7)
Though I struggle a bit with some aspects of Spanbauer’s writing – questions of indigenous cultural appropriation arise, for instance – I can’t help but like his books (including, I admit, the possibly appropriative parts). His voice and style are distinct, and his writing technique seems more motivating and liberating than many more conventional community college workshop models, even if it’s become a bit of a religion to some (Spanbauer teaches classes in his home in Portland). Now is the Hour is (likely) a somewhat autobiographically-influenced coming-out-and-getting-away story about a young man in rural Idaho leading up to 1967.

My Tender Matador by Pedro Lemebel [trans. Katherine Silver] (Jun 10)
One of my favourite novels this year, it is set in Chile late in the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, during which an ageing homosexual my tender matadorreferred to as the Queen of the Corner is seduced by a young revolutionary.

Angel Wing Splash Pattern by Richard Van Camp (Jun 16)
Short stories about indigeneity by the Dogrib writer.

Jabbering with Bing Bong by Kevin Spenst (Jun 16)
First full book of poems from a writer of numerous chapbooks.

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi [trans. Raymond Rosenthal] (Jun 30)
Levi’s classic collection of semi-autobiographical stories based on the names of elements (another gross simplification).

Maiden Voyage by Denton Welch (Jul 11)
The maiden novel by a fey boy born to an English rubber merchant in Shanghai in 1915. He’d been sent back to an English boarding school after his mother died, but unable to cope there, he was shipped back to China, the voyage and aftermath that inspired the story. Not surprisingly, attitudes toward those colonised are rather racist.

How does a single blade of grass thank the sun? by Doretta Lau (Jul 15)
Imaginative short stories with rich prose and snappy dialogue.

Book of Sands: A Novel of the Arab Uprising by Karim Alrawi (Sep 19)
As the subtitle says, this is a book about the Arab Spring, more specifically a group of people whose lives are unfolding unavoidably in concert with the events of the period. Presumably set in and around Cairo, though the location isn’t named. I didn’t think I was going to like it early on, but I ended up liking it quite a bit. (Note: I read an advance copy)pet radish, shrunken

the pet radish, shrunken by Pearl Pirie (Sep 29)
Most recent collection from the productive Ottawa poet and Literary Landscape host.

The Queer Art of Failure by Judith Halberstam (Sep 29)
The token critical theory on this list. Halberstam rethinks success, mainly through examining pop-culture, especially animation.

The Horrors: An A to Z of Funny Thoughts on Awful Things by Charles Demers (Oct 21)
Latest book by the Vancouver comedian and CBC’s The Debaters favourite. Unlike some reviewers I didn’t “laugh out loud” or experience it as “hilarious”, but that’s because I’m far too serious and inclined to feel the pain of others and not a commentary about Demers’s well-known ability to make people laugh. Like most of Demers’s writing, I liked it for its honesty and, yes, its humour.

Deep Play by Diane Ackerman (Nov 01)
Someone gave me this book several years ago, presumably because they think (probably validly) that I could be more playful, and I finally got around to reading it after several false starts. After the fact all I can conclude is that play is not a one-size-fits-all concept.

The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them eds. Wayde Compton & Renee Sarojini Saklikar (Nov 02)The Revolving City: 51 Poems and the Stories Behind Them
The title is pretty self-explanatory – the poem is printed, and is followed by the author’s statement about how it came to be. I confess, my favourite is George Bowering’s rather contrarian refusal to follow the rules, but as a bit of a poetry philistine I also appreciate having access to the how-and-why of poems.

Shopping Cart Pantheism by Jeanne Randolph (Nov 03)
A satirical celebration of commodity worship set, appropriately, on the Las Vegas Strip.

perpetual by Rita Wong and Cindy Mochizuki (Nov 04)
A sort of graphic poetic political pamphlet about water and environmental destruction.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie (Nov 06)
Rushdie’s latest novel about an epic battle between the jinn recently released from another world that lasts 1,001 nights (my heavily simplified synopsis).

If our wealth is criminal then let’s live with the criminal joy of pirates by Jacob Wren (Nov 07)
A slim book containing two short stories and an essay.

Martin John by Anakana Schofield (Nov 10)
This Giller finalist is about an Irish sex offender sent to London by his mother to try to keep him from prison and his own inclinations. The mother is at least as fascinating as Martin John, and possibly the one this reader is least sympathetic toward, which is martin johnkind of fucked, but maybe that’s part of the success of this novel, which in my view should have taken the Giller.

This Is How: Surviving What You Think You Can’t by Augusten Burroughs (Nov 21)
A bit memoir, a bit self-help, a bit of the author’s typically sardonic humour, it’s probably what self-help should be closer to, though just because some things worked for Burrows in his crises doesn’t necessarily make for universally helpful advice. Best read, perhaps, with a combination of an open mind and a smidgen of scepticism. Note: it’s not necessary to, say, have moved to Calgary to appreciate the book.

Critical Condition: Replacing Critical Thinking With Creativity by Patrick Finn (Nov 30)
Finn’s argument that we’re too critical in our thinking, especially in the academic setting. I’m philosophically sympathetic to his thesis but I also felt at times that his aspirations were a bit over-optimistic. But then, I am generally too critical in my thinking.

The Motorcyclist by George Elliott Clarke (Dec 09)
At times I thought the main character’s pursuit of sex, and Clarke’s descriptions of it, were a bit over-the-top, but it kind of works too. Clarke’s way with words is fascinating, if sometimes a bit distracting, and the historical descriptions of African-American life on Canada’s east coast during the period is interesting. Apparently based on Clarke’s father’s diaries.

The Face: A Time Code by Ruth Ozeki (Dec 10)annals of gay sexuality
The Face is a new non-fiction series from Restless Books in which writers discuss their own faces, in whatever way they feel called. I had an advance copy that contain Ozeki’s as well as the two lower down on this list. Ozeki is the literalist of the trio, staring into a mirror for several hours and documenting what she sees, thinks, and feels, with her usual Buddhist perspective. I’m tempted to use her example as a writing exercise but I’m afraid I’ll just write about crows.

Annals of Gay Sexuality, Vol 1: The Contemporary HIV Zeitgeist by Robert Birch & Marcus Greatheart, eds. (Dec 10)
Multi-disciplinary anthology that resists the imperative to homogeneity and normativity in the conversation about queer sexuality. This inaugural volume focuses on sexuality and HIV, mainly in light of the influences of successful anti-retrovirals and PrEP, from both the positive and negative perspectives.

The Face: Cartography of the Void by Chris Abani (Dec 12)
Another title in The Face series. Nigerian-born Abani reflects on race and identity in his Igbo upbringing.

The Face: Strangers on a Pier by Tash Aw (Dec 12)
Another title in The Face series. Aw is of Malaysian origin but born in Taiwan, and his Face piece examines the trans-cultural experiences of his family.

Application for Release from the Dream by Tony Hoagland (Dec 16)between the world and me
Poetry recommended to me by Hernando De Daiso of Vancouver.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Dec 23)
Coates’s letter to his son in which he speaks of his own history with American racism and its ongoing injustice system’s violence toward black bodies. Toni Morrison’s blurb “Required reading” sounds like book marketing cliché, but it’s good advice.

 

 


I make these pie charts to satisfy my own curiosity about whether my reading has actually been as diverse as I imagine, but here are the demographics for this year if you’re interested (the totals are inflated by one, because when I made the pies I thought I’d be finished the 58th book by now):

genre sex
woc indigenous
sexuality