One of my reading goals for this year is to read more diversely and, lately, I’ve been focusing a lot on Native Canadian stories. This is mostly because I’m Canadian and should probably try and understand a little more about the people whose land I’m living on (and, I don’t just mean that in the figurative sense – Edmonton sits within Treaty No. 6 territory, so I live on Native land). But, it’s also a good year to focus on Native stories because it’s Canada’s 150th birthday. Or, if you are Native, it marks 150 years of colonialism. Needless to say, it’s a bit controversial in Native communities (some are celebrating as a means of reaching out to the rest of Canada and some are protesting as a means of highlighting the suffering at the hands of Europeans … and ongoing systemic racism).
Regardless of the importance of reading Native stories, I’ve read some good stuff this month that happens to be written by Native Canadians. First, I read The Break, which damn near broke me before page 100. It was a tragic but beautiful story that I wish more people would read. More importantly, I wish more people could see that this book isn’t overly dramatic and looking to shock for attention. I was really upset, when reading through others people’s reviews, to see that people were calling it “over the top” and suggesting that some of the characters were stereotypically or unrealistically racist. Despite all the anti-immigrant garbage in the news, despite the horrifying stories coming out through projects like the Truth and Reconciliation Report, and despite the cold hard facts that show that Natives often get the shit end of the stick (lack of clean water, higher rates of violence against women, etc.), people still think that The Break is a little over the top? It pains me! I really want to shake those people and ask why we shouldn’t believe Vermette’s experiences and knowledge. Or, anyone’s experiences, for that matter.
The good thing is that this book is a Canada Reads contender, on best seller lists, and being read by lots of people.
Along with The Break, I also read Vermette’s poetry book, North End Love Songs. The first poem made me feel like I’d stepped back into The Break. Many of the poems touch on the same subjects and take place in the same locations. But, the section that struck me the most was about a missing brother. She wrote a number of poems that strung together the relationship she had with him, who he was, his disappearance, and the eventual conclusion. It was a sad and beautiful tribute.
I also read Gregory Scofield’s Witness, I Am. I have to admit that I struggled a bit with the first section, but I found the collection, as a whole, to be interesting and incredibly thought provoking. I also loved that he included a lot of Cree words (with the translation on the side of the page, for easy reference). Canada, as a whole, seems to hide Native languages behind the excuse that there are so many of them. Though, some places are finally starting to make efforts to highlight and use Native names (I’m happy to say that Edmonton is doing this, though there are still some issues). But, we’re still exposed to so little in terms of Native languages. It’s a little sad that the only time I see it in books is when the author is Native.
Some of the topics Scofield addressed (the fact that he’s Metis, missing and murdered indigenous women, etc.) worked well with Vermette’s novel and poetry collection. I’m really glad I read them all close together, as they complemented each other.
My #getaholdofyourshelf February challenge was to read the prettiest book from my to-be-read (tbr) pile. I picked two: a very big non-fiction book (Defiant Spirits) and a wee poetry book (Witness, I Am). In retrospect, I should have known that I wouldn’t be able to finish a big book – I already had a couple of novels on the go, I started late in the month, and, for once, I think I want to read all of the Canada Reads contenders, so I needed to clear my in-progress pile before March. Technically, I did start Defiant Spirits, but I only read a tiny bit, so I put it back on my tbr shelf.
And, of course, I picked the worst possible challenge for my March’s #getaholdofyourshelf books: longest! Arg! This meant pulling Defiant Spirits back off the shelf – it and Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales are my two longest (I think the latter is the longest, so I’ll start with it). The Canada Reads contenders take precedence, so I will be lucky if I get through even one of these books. Maybe I should just leave Defiant Spirits on the shelf!
April may be dedicated to catching up on reading books for this challenge!
This is the full list of what I read in February. I wrote short reviews for most of them on Goodreads. The best book I read (listened to) was The Bear and the Nightingale., thought The Break was a close second. It was incredible. I may do a proper review of them in the coming weeks.
- The Break
- The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil (picture book/graphic novel)
- Paper Girls, Vol. 1 (graphic novel)
- The Witches of New York
- Anne Frank Remembered: The Story of the Woman Who Helped to Hide the Frank Family (audiobook)
- Milk and Honey (poetry)
- The City of Ember: The Graphic Novel (graphic novel)
- The Arrival (picture book/graphic novel)
- Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery (graphic novel)
- Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned (graphic novel)
- How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery (audiobook)
- Trees, Vol. 1: In Shadow (graphic novel)
- North End Love Songs (poetry)
- The Beauty, Vol. 1 (graphic novel)
- Descender, Volume Two: Machine Moon (graphic novel)
- Witness, I Am (poetry)
- The Lonely Hearts Hotel
- The Bear and the Nightingale (audiobook)
- In Real Life (graphic novel)
- The Giver (audiobook)
- Gathering Blue (audiobook)