Classic Canadian literature and the sexual being: Bear by Marian Engel

Bear… she was still not satisfied that this was how the only life she had been offered should be lived.

I often see this novel dismissed as ridiculous and racy in the wrong way; after all, bestiality is one of the sexual taboos that has retained its power across time and cultural difference. Whenever I mention reading this book, I’m met with the same snide response: Isn’t that the book about the woman who has sex with a bear?

And I mean, that’s not wrong. It is, in fact, about a woman who has sex with a bear.

But to stop at that description does the novel an enormous disservice. Bear is a parable of female sexuality – an intense and shocking allegory, sure, but there is so much more you can do with this novel than read it as a literal account of bestiality.

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Weary and musty: Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro


Too Much Happiness was my first foray into Alice Munro. I have to say: as a Nobel Prize-winning author, and a staple of the Canadian canon, I expected to like it. But I didn’t.

(This is the part where the authorities kick down my door and take away my citizenship.)

It’s not that I actively disliked it. I just didn’t really like it, either. There were funny parts and sad parts and shocking parts. There were parts that I think worked well. There were just a good many more parts that I don’t think worked at all.

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Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa by André Alexis

despair and other stories of ottawaI just talked about Fifteen Dogs not too long ago, but as they say, you can never have too much André Alexis.

(Okay. I’m the only one who says that. But that doesn’t make it any less true.)

And in a stunning, Shyamalan-esque twist, I loved Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa even more that Fifteen Dogs. So here I am, continuing to spread the Good Word of André Alexis.

As you might guess, this collection largely takes place in Ottawa. Alexis grounds these stories in geographically-accurate cross streets, real community halls, endearingly local shop proprietors. Which turns out to be important, because otherwise these stories risk going off the rails – portraying a version of Ottawa peopled with blood-sucking monsters, cannibals, prostitutes who model their hands against burlap, and dozens of doppelgangers named André Alexis.

It’s creepy, and it’s awesome.

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The sturdy, bitter heart of Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing

draft dodgers - lynn coady

It’s difficult to describe how I feel about this collection of (Giller Prize-winning) short stories but I’m going to try anyway.

This isn’t normally the sort of book I’d pick up, because short stories aren’t really my jam. But I’m taking a class in Canadian short fiction this semester and I think it’s going to be really good for me. I mean, even if I dropped out tomorrow it’s introduced me to Lynn Coady. That’s a win.

And while I keep saying short stories aren’t really my jam, I keep finding collections of short stories that punch me in the sternum, and new collections of short stories keep ending up on the to-read pile. So maybe I should revisit the prejudices I have against short stories.

But let’s talk about Hellgoing, as much as one can talk about Hellgoing.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Shiny and new on the to-read pile

Top Ten Tuesday - Bayrock, Bookrock - Sidebar crop copy It’s Tuesday, which means it’s time for a bit of bookish list action. Hosted as ever by the Broke and the Bookish, this week’s theme is books new on the to-read pile. As someone with a weird assortment of novels and school books piling up on my bedside table (and what is turning into an almost pathological addiction to requesting library books), this week’s theme is exactly up my alley. And who knows, maybe you’ll spot a couple of titles that will end up on your precarious bedside table stack too. Let me know if they do! Just click on a cover to hop over the Goodreads description.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Anticipated releases of 2016

Top Ten Tuesday - Bayrock, Bookrock - Sidebar crop copy2I’ve been out of the game for a while, but we’re back with a brand-new Top Ten Tuesday hosted as ever by the Broke and the Bookish!

Literally – brand new. These books aren’t even out yet. But I’m excited for all of them. Buckle up, because 2016 is looking shiny and clever – CanLit, magic realism, short stories, translations, and so much more.

Click on a cover for the full Goodreads description and release dates!

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Cover to Cover with Vampires in the Lemon Grove

I’ve been meaning to talk about Karen Russell for a long while – I mention her briefly in my Top Ten Tuesday fairy tale picks, and there’s a review of her short story collections in the works (I swear!), but for now let’s look at some beautiful covers. Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Russell’s sophomore short story collection, rife with gripping characters and magic realism.

The title story is about a vampire who finds relief by sinking his teeth into lemons instead of people. It’s also, in a way, a story about the surprising joys and disappointments of life.

As you may imagine, the crossroads of vampires and lemons makes for interesting cover composition:

British edition     Hardcover edition     Vampires

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Canadian whimsy and a review in subtitles: Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill

daydreams-of-angelsThis book in a nutshell:

Short stories, some funny and some sad but mostly sad; Giller Prize shortlister this year; whimsical tales with a whiff of magic realism; sweet and subtle CanLit in tiny, flavourful bites.

Other works and awards from Heather O’Neill:

  • Lullabies for Little Criminals (Canada Reads winner in 2007, Governor General’s Award shortlister 2007)
  • The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (Giller Prize shortlister 2014)

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Top Ten Tuesday: a mountain of autumn reading

Narrow Top Ten Tuesday logo copy

It’s Tuesday – and that means it’s time for another Top Ten Tuesday list!

This feature is hosted as ever by The Broke and the Bookish, and this week’s theme is fall to-read lists. Lucky for me, there are a ton of brilliant books coming out in the next few months that I can’t wait to get my paws on. Click on a cover image to pop over to the Goodreads page – and drop down to the comments to let me know if there are any other new releases that I should keep an eye out for.

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Cover to Cover with Animal Farm

Despite its short length, there’s enough imagery and allegory in Animal Farm to keep even the stalwart reader pondering for days. This, of course, makes for some great covers. Feast your eyes!

Animal Farmv3.indd   Kindle edition - 50th Anniversary Edition   Penguin Edition

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of pig imagery – I especially like the idea of the pig made out of other animals. I’m also a fan of the plain paperback edition – a solid font decision. I feel that typography doesn’t often get to be the hero of a cover.

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