Read This: A Summer Reading List

Summer  is here!

Did I mention I have nine weeks off? Don’t hate me.

Before I abandon you for the summer, here is a list of lovely books for you. I have completely overthought it (‘The last one was six. Should this be six? But I want more! But not too many. Ok, one more. Is that one too heavy? Is that one too light? Are reading lists supposed to be new books? What does this list say about me? Does anyone even read this blog? etc…).

Screw it. Here’s a bunch of books that range from Really Lovely to Bloody Amazing. Read them on a blanket in the park with a Steigl Radler in hand. Or maybe in a travel mug. You know… laws.

Enjoy!

 

Fiction:

 

under the visible life

 

  1. Oh. This book is beautiful. Two pianists from very different backgrounds and with very different struggles form a very beautiful friendship. This book is about artists and the gorgeous and troubling nuances of race, and the limits women often face. It’s one of those books that is so delicately and beautifully structured that I don’t want to give too much away. Just read it.

 

Fates and Furies

2. President Obama’s favourite book of the year, which made me like him even more (certainly a better choice than Donald Trump’s favourite book, ‘Mein Wig: The Hairstyles of Tyrannous Men’). Simply put, this book is about a marriage. The remarkable thing about it is Groff’s meticulous structure – it is in two parts: the first half from the husband’s perspective, the second from the wife’s. It is a visceral reminder that our experiences are our own, and that we only ever really know ourselves. I spent an entire day in bed reading this book. It’s complex, intriguing, and startling.

 

Etta+and+Otto

 

3/4: A woman near the end of her life wants to see the sea. She leaves her husband and walks from Saskatchewan to the Atlantic Coast of Canada, and befriends a talking coyote along the way. Need I say more? This is a really wonderful book: poignant, quirky, winsome. While we’re at it, you should probably  read this one too:

harold fry

Basically any book where the elderly go on long walks. Makes my heart go bubbly.

 

 

The_goldfinch_by_donna_tart

5. This book won the Pulitzer Prize. No big deal. It is about 5,298,147,598 pages long, and it’s a big of a haul, but hey, it’s summer, you have nine weeks off (or is that just me?). Teenaged Theo loses his mother and in the process, gains a rather famous painting which becomes the great burden of his life. The narrtive voice is so remarkable in this book, and the characters so cleanly drawn. The last twenty pages make the first billion so, so worth it. Truly a wonderful book.

 

The Nest

6. Confession: I judge books by their covers. I really do. I am a real snob when it comes to what I read. I have this really gross affectation where I figure that if a book is popular, then it must be shite. What I am getting at here, is that a gold embossed book that was designed at Tiffany’s is not something I would usually want to be seen with on the TTC (Toronto’s epicurious public transit system). BUT. More than my snobbery, I am a sucker for stories about big, dysfunctional families with quirky, contrasting personalities (especially if one is a long-suffering-writer-sister). This is a really fun read, very well written, and my only complaint is that I think it should have been twice as long.

 

girl who was sat night

7. More Heather O’Neill? You’re damn right. Everything she writes is gold. I am visiting Montreal for the first time this summer, and there are only two things I want to do: 1) Openly weep at a  Celine Dion concert with my mum (tickets in hand! Whoop!) and 2) Walk around. Heather O’Neill has set her two novels and many of her short stories in ‘Daydreams of Angels’ in Montreal, and her descriptions are so vivid and so colourful. This novel follows Nouschka, daughter of a formerly famous folk-singer, and twin to a destructive brother, as she grows up in a changing Quebec. O’Neill is a master of metaphor, and Queen of Writing. I loved this one.

 

the paris wife

8. If I could have lived in any place at any time, it would have been Paris in the 1920s. This lovely novel is the story of Hadley Richardson, first wife of Ernest Hemingway, and outlines the first years of their marriage, the Paris year, and their demise. It’s a fun romp through the literary haunts of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein and the gang, and quite a stirring imagining of their inner lives. Really lovely.

 

Non-Fiction:

 

 

bad feminist

  1. In many ways, women have come a very long way in the last 100 years, but our current society, media, social media, have created some real trouble spots. ‘Feminist’ is a loaded word, and it can be hard to navigate the many layers involved in living this word these days. Roxanne Gay is like a really bad-ass big sister who is really current and cool and also fiercely intelligent and is kind of humbly and loudly announcing her big ideas about our present world. She is sassy and sharp and really un-pretentious.

 

sounds_like_me_

2. This is a book by my personal best friend Sara Bareilles who decided that being a remarkable songwriter and Broadway musical maker and PRINCESS ARIEL wasn’t enough, so she made us a book. Bareilles is somewhat notoriously irreverent and saucy (which is why we are such close friends) and so I expected this book to be a raucous tell-all sort of thing. Not so. She has taken a lovely approach in telling stories from her life as they relate to, and have inspired, her songs. It is personal, vulnerable, inspiring, and I cried about eight times. It is a quick read, but powerful and entertaining. One of my favourite books of the year.

 

hela

3. The incredible story of Henrietta Lacks, a tobacco farmer whose cells, taken in a routine surgery without her knowledge, and having an ability to regenerate unlike any discovered before or after, were used in developing medical vaccines, cloning, and research. Rebecca Skloot investigates this remarkable story as it continues through Lack’s family, who had no knowledge of their mother’s medical fame, and who themselves could not afford health insurance. The injustice, racism, and human right violations that spin through this story are incredibly frustrating. Oprah thinks so too, which is why she’s making it into a movie. A compelling read.

 

unspeakable

4. This was one of my favourite reads last summer. In this book of personal essays, Meghan Daum says the things we are not supposed to say. She is brash, funny, and also incredibly reflective, resulting in several moments of real affirmation, and some surprisingly emotional turns. My favourites are ‘Matricide’, ‘The Joni Mitchell Problem’, and ‘The Dog Exception’. It’s really smart, and pretty brave.

 

truth and beauty

5.   I just finished this beautiful book by Ann Patchett about her complex and beautiful friendship with the poet Lucy Grealey. It is a beautiful and immediate memoir, a hard and loving tribute to her friend, and such an intoxicating read. It’s really wonderful.

 

 

There you go, folks! Be sure to follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for weekly re-runs, and I will see you in September.

Have a beautiful summer!

 

xo L

 

p.s. If you have any great suggestions for my own stack of summer books, drop me a line, or leave them in the comments below!

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The Love that Dare Not Speak its Name: A Letter to Oscar Wilde

My dear friend,

I was saving you for when I needed lighter fare. You are one of my very favourites, and yours is one of the voices I aspire to – your wit, your charm, your sauciness have informed my own for 32 years. Your plays are among my best friends in literature. I was looking forward to a good romp among words with you.

 

But life, as it tends to do, has provided a call for serious pause. A week ago (only a week? Really?) a man opened fire in an Orlando nightclub. He credited a terrorist group, he has been remembered as unstable, abusive, mentally ill, and these are words we have heard often in relation to random, mass shootings. The United States, in their refusal to place effective regulations on the purchase of guns, have developed a rich lexicon for words to describe mass shootings. ‘Horrific’, ‘senseless’, ‘devastating’. They are usually the acts of individuals who are very broken, very lost. They are tragedies, every time. There are no words.

OW2

But this is a new kind of tragedy. This was not random. This was a gay nightclub. This was an attack on a specific community of people, which brings this particular tragedy into a larger call to awareness. This is a very specific type of hate, and it is acted out daily, all over the world, on many different levels. It is endlessly frustrating that so many human beings all over the world have to fight so hard to be accepted for who they are. I take this act personally. I have many friends who identify as LGBTQ+ and without exception I have been welcomed into their arms, their homes, their creative projects, and yes, their nightclubs. I can say from vast experience that you would be hard pressed to find a warmer, more joyous, more inclusive community.

OW7

 

In 1895, after enormous literary success, you were sent to prison for two years and hard labour. You had a lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, ‘Bosie’, an aristocrat, whose father openly accused you of being a ‘posing sodomite’. You charged him for libel. After some time you withdrew your charges, but this act, which you later regarded as a mistake, drew enough attention to have you subsequently charged and imprisoned for ‘gross indecency’. You refused to admit wrongdoing. At this time in England, under the Labouchere Agreement, ‘gross indecency’ was a criminal act, and this was used to persecute homosexual men in particular. Your trials gained a feverish attention, there was much public humiliation at your expense. You did not deny the charges. You did not admit fault, as per the law’s description of your charges. When the prosecution asked (quoting the ‘incriminating’ poem ‘Two Loves’ by Bosie, “What is ‘the love that dare not speak its name?'”(a phrase that also became a euphemism for homosexual love),  you responded thus:

“It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect… It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as “the love that dare not speak its name,” and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it… That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it. “

1895, a beloved playwright is forced to stand on a platform in the town square to be mocked for his homosexual acts.

I looked up ‘history of violence against LGBQT+ people’ and the list was so staggeringly long and volatile that it nearly made my heart stop. This list was just was what documented in the United States. It only documented the last 30 years. There are centuries and countries and probably millions of names of people who have been persecuted. There has been progress, Oscar. There has been change. There are many countries around the world where same-sex marriage is legal. I am so proud to live in one of them. There is incredible activism, there are support and inclusion groups in schools, there are artistic festivals and gay Pride is celebrated in various forms all over the world. In the wake of this most recent act of hate, I have witnessed such a pure and steady outpouring of love and solidarity towards the victims, their families, the community. I have read so many personal stories, calls to action, words of heartbreak and frustration. I have seen so, so, so much courage in the words and works of the LGBTQ+ community.

None of this removes their wounds.

June 12th 2016, a gunman enters an Orlando gay bar and opens fire.

Here is what I know about hate: it is almost always rooted in fear. People who hate so actively are threatened by what is unknown to them, what seems different, what they feel invalidates their own values, themselves. People who are so easily threatened are rarely happy, evolved, or truly secure in themselves. The more we learn about the man who expressed his hate so violently in Orlando last week, the more possible it seems that he himself was gay. Perhaps this was something he was unable to accept in himself. How tragic, how he chose to manifest this.

OW6

You did not do well in prison. Your health failed. You became depressed. It took a long time, and a liberal warden, do get you access to books, longer still for writing materials. How this must have killed you. You were given a page at a time, and could only write to friends and your lawyer.

You are Oscar Wilde. You found a way around it.

You wrote a letter to Bosie, outlining your past months, your affair, your trial, your feelings of desertion and disappointment in him. You offered your forgiveness. You called it ‘De Profundis’. This, and a poem about your time in prison were your final works.

“When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else – the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver – would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”

De Profundis

I keep thinking about your choice to charge your lover’s father for libel. His aim was to disgrace your name. Did you fight because you were ashamed? You were married to a woman, you had children, you were a public figure. It would have been fair to try to defend yourself for these reasons, in this time you were living in. Were you under Bosie’s influence, part of his efforts to provoke his father? Or were you simply defiant? Were you taking a stand for what you knew to be true, what you felt was fair and valid and worth the fallout? Were you one of the first gay activists, in your own way?

You were released from prison and lived in exile in France for the rest of your years. They were not many. Your spark was gone. You could not write. You died in a Paris hotel, quite broken and broken. This does not define you. Your story holds such power – it is being told (notably in the recent David Hare play ‘The Judas Kiss’, and its star, the perfectly cast Rupert Everett is making a film of your final days).

OW5

 

There are so many stories. There have been so many voices silenced by hate and fear. There are endless cries of ‘love is love is love’ and they are earnest and they are a sweet flicker of light in a dark time. There is a complex and beautiful blend of nuance in identity. There is fierce pride. There is such inspiring courage. Our world is changing. We have a long way to go. We have a lot of healing to do, a lot of stories to tell, and a lot of fighting for basic human rights that many of us enjoy without a second thought. It is on all of us to do this. It is everyone’s responsibility. There will be many more battles to wage.

There will also be dancing in the street in my city, in celebration of the freedom you began to fight for.

I will see you there.

xo  L