Read This: A Spring Reading List

 

Spring is here! This week, to shake things up, I have prepared a juicy list of wonderful books by – wait for it – PEOPLE WHO ARE ALIVE! Hurrah! It’s deviant. I like it. Here’s what I have been reading. You should too.

 

Brooklyn

  1. I finished this just the other day and I am quite lost without it. Isn’t that the sign of a great book? I saw the movie (once in theatres, where I ugly-cried publicly, and again in my living room, where I could snivel in privacy). This story is so close to my heart (see my letter to Yeats – of course I am a sucker for this story). The film was a perfect creation, which made me very wary of the book – the fear being that it would sully the magic in any way. The book is not perfect, but it beautifully draws out some of the details that the movie glazes over. It’s wonderful and intoxicating and you should read it.

 

Daydreams

2. Heather O’Neill is a wizard. I only got to know her in the last year: I first read ‘The Girl Who Was Saturday Night’ and I just guzzled it – then bought ‘Lullabies for Little Criminals’ but waited three months to read it just to ration her. ‘Daydreams of Angels’ is the first short story collection by Heather O’Neill. It feels like a book of fairy tales or fables. The stories address, as she puts it, ‘the physics of the world’, often through the voices or perceptions of children. What I love most is the energy, the looseness, the joy. It is easy to read; it is funny, it is dark, sometimes sexy, and still poses beautiful questions.  She manages to say a lot about life, and the world, and us in it. I have an enormous writing crush on her. Read everything she’s written. There is no one like her.

 

 

Feminists

3. This is a teeny tiny, enormously important book. It is really a speech, adapted from her TED Talk of the same name. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie manages to break down very tricky, outdated ideologies with warmth, humour, and intelligence. It is a quick read and her voice is sharp and smart. She is also a wonderful writer of fiction.  Check out ‘Americanah’. Beautiful.

 

 

Signature

4. Are you especially interested in female American botanists of the 19th century? Me neither! I am, however, very interested in mostly everything that Elizabeth Gilbert does. This is her first novel since the phenomenon ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and the vastly underrated ‘Committed. This is such a skillfully nuanced work about growth, travel, self-awareness. It’s beautiful. It’s witty. It’s sexy.  It’s unbelievably well researched. Everyone I know who has read this book has fallen madly in love with it. You will too.

 

 

Fifteen Dogs

5. I am not a dog person. I would not trust any person who ran up to me, smelled me and jumped on me while declaring their love (unless it was Ryan Gosling, then I would just go with it). I much prefer the retrained distain of cats. I’ve never really credited dogs with having much of an inner life: ‘Food! Friend! FOE. Squirrel! Wheee!’ This book has ruined all of that. The premise (revealed in the first page, but stop reading if you really don’t want context for this adventure) is that two Greek gods are chillin’ in Toronto’s oldest pub, bored. They make a bet that animals, if given human intelligence, would be even more unhappy than humans are. Their victims are the fifteen dogs spending the night at a local animal shelter, and what follows is a powerful exploration of what it means to be human. Yes. This is revealed through dogs. Just trust me. I have the great fortune of living in one of the neighbourhoods where the book is set (and detailed with perfect accuracy) and I simply cannot look at any dog I meet the same way any more. I also kind of want one now. Andre Alexis won the Giller Prize for this highly original piece of fiction.

 

 

Tiny Beautiful Things

6. Remember the amazing Dear Sugar advice column I talked about in my letter to Rilke? It’s a book! It’s one of those glorious little gems where you can read just one, or, if you’re me, you can binge and cancel plans so you can stay in bed to read this. This began as a column in The Rumpus and here Cheryl Strayed has written some of the most generous, clear, and compassionate advice out there for some very complicated questions. My personal favourite is ‘Write Like a Motherf****r’. When you are finished reading this and missing it terribly, you can hear Cheryl and Steve Almond (the first ‘Sugar’) on their wonderful podcast. This book is the oracle. I just love it.

 

There you go! Hope you enjoy some of these.

Happy Spring!

xo L

 

Emerson2

 

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Why I threw out my T.V:

Six years ago I moved into my very first Grown-Up-Lady-living-on-her-own apartment. It was a bright, one bedroom basement nest in a little brick house in Toronto’s East End. It was all mine. I could decorate it however I wanted, without the compromise that siblings/roommates/boyfriends required. I brought my books. I had a little bookcase in the living room, another in the front hall, one in my bedroom, and, eventually, one in the kitchen. Then another in the living room. Then a few strategically places piles. It became clear to me that I didn’t need a few little bookcases. I was a Grown-Up-Lady. I needed a grown up bookcase. I designed the bookcase of my dreams, full of nooks and cubbies, and had my mum’s carpenter friend build it for me. I picked the best wall in my tiny home, which, unfortunately, was the wall occupied by a clunky old TV that I only used to watch Jane Austen novels on VHS. So I did the obvious thing: I dragged that monster to the curb. It was easy. A few weeks later, this gorgeous thang arrived:

new tv
See? Pretty.

I took to sitting in front of it with my tea and just looking at it. It was enormously pleasing.

(Three years later I met an exceptionally lovely man. On our third date I told him this story and he got up from the restaurant table and kissed me for the first time. Turns out he found the book thing charming. Two years after that, he and his sweet sons hauled boxes and boxes of books into their home, where my books and I now live. My bookcase is next to his TV. Charming.)

So, the point is, books are a big deal. I was a kid who built a fort in the woods near my house just so that I would have a peaceful place to read. I read books at recess, on the school bus, and any other time I was expected to interact with my peers unsupervised. I met my first real best friend at the library. My love of books has, at times, become extreme (see my Letter to L.M. Montgomery) expensive (see my Visa bill) and invasive (see my home). Books are what have driven me to write. Books are how I make sense of the world, and myself in the world.

cropped-annie-dillard.jpeg

 

As I read, I often find myself in discussion with the writer, especially when a work is very dear to me. I am fascinated by other artists and how they lived and worked, and there are so many who I wish I could have had conversations with. I have gotten to know many of these writers not only through their books, but through reading their published letters. It is an art form that seems lost. A letter can be so personal, so revealing. I have decided to write to the makers of art who have most revealed myself to me.

First of all, I will only write to writers who have left this world. This is because I am too afraid to write fan mail to living humans. One time I posted on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook page and she REPLIED. Even though she was incredibly kind, the mere idea that we had connected gave me lots of weird anxiety. The blog title comes from the Tennyson poem ‘Crossing the Bar’, the Bar being Death, the idea of the great beyond. It is also a reference to the many times I’ve thought that I would so love to have had a pint with Al Purdy, a pot of tea with the Brontes, a gimlet with Noel Coward. So, here I will drink and chat with my old pals, and see what they have to tell me from Across the Bar.

I hope you enjoy it here!

-Lara