As a student, I don’t often have time to read for pleasure. Sometimes I get lucky and my Megabus breaks down, or there’s a problem with my internet during finals. Usually I feel like reading only happens when it’s my only option. However I did manage to get my hands on some pretty exciting books this year. It takes a lot for a text to surface in the bottomless pit of titles I have to read and will love!!!. These books managed to do just this, and I’m glad they did.I decided earlier this year that I would try harder to read in my spare time by swapping out some of my other pastimes (see: social media, anxiety, failed romantic endeavours, etc.). My plan consisted of buying more books, which would hopefully shame me into reading them whenever I saw them sitting on my desk. It kind of worked; I read more this year than the first two years of my undergraduate degree. This is either because I read the stacks on my desk out of monetary guilt, or because I moved out of my ex-boyfriend’s apartment and forgot how to leave my bedroom.
The following are a sampling of the books I read on trips home, sleepless nights, in waiting rooms, and while waiting for my Wifi to be fixed. These are my top five, in no particular order:
Otter by Ben Ladouceur
In the article, “Bear (gay culture),”, Wikipedia defines an “otter” as “a slimmer or less hairy bear.” Otter is Toronto-based poet Ben Ladouceur’s first collection of poetry. It is a collection in three parts: “The Honeymoon Festival,” “Rites of Spring,” and “Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men.” The back of the book asks: “If your lover speaks in his sleep, how do you know ‘you’ is you?”, and there isn’t necessarily an answer inside. From queerness and WWI to intimate details of male spaces, Otter is intelligent, stylistically advanced, and educated. Ladouceur seems to have queer history at his fingertips.
I found this collection on the Canadian Poetry shelf in a BMV in Toronto. The cover depicts soft blue sketches of half-dressed, tattooed men, stacked on one another. I turned to his poem, “Happy Birthday, Thomas Dearnley-Davison” at random, which begins:
Happy birthday, Thomas Dearnley-Davison!
Sorry to arrive empty-handed. The plan
was to give you some tallboys, a carton
of Viceroys and a quality handjob, …
There’s something refreshing about Ladouceur. Maybe it’s that he knows how to have a good time, without losing a grip on his poetic foundation. His poems are playful, but never juvenile. This may be Ladouceur’s first collection, but as Emma Healey says in her review for The Globe & ail, “it could just as easily be his 10th.”
The First Bad Man by Miranda July
My friend emailed me an e-copy of this book over the summer. I hadn’t heard of July at the time, but I mentioned her name at a party that night and a girl came out of the bathroom and screamed, “I love Miranda July!”. I later finished the book and felt a delayed kinship with that drunk girl.
The First Bad Man is July’s wonderfully absurd first novel (but not her first book). Unrequited love, a dirty, TV-obsessed teenage freeloader, and a chromotherapist who makes her clients pee in her office to save time. July isn’t afraid to get weird.
Her narrative flows with ease; before I knew it I had finished the whole book. She writes playfully, the way people write when literature isn’t their first medium. There is often value in coming to something later, and July is definitely a good example of this. Every time I bring up this book in conversation—which, for a while, was often—I heard a similar response: “I knew it would be weird, but it got weird.”
Where Did You Sleep Last Night by Lynn Crosbie
House of Anansi
My introduction to Lynn Crosbie was reading my sister’s copy of Life is About Losing Everything (Anansi, 2012) on a Megabus to Montreal. Crosbie’s work has a way of making me feel nostalgic for a place I’ve never been; and sometimes places I have been (see: Toronto). She writes without holding back, and knows how to highlight the painful parts of the mundane.
Where Did You Sleep Last Night in a way is Crosbie’s own take on fanfiction, but also more. The novel follows a teenage girl’s relationship with (the maybe real and maybe not real) Kurt Cobain. Crosbie masterfully writes passionate, all-in teenage love, though she manages never to condescend to her young protagonist.
It’s risky writing about an icon like Kurt Cobain—and not just writing about him, but writing him into the novel. Cobain appears under the moniker Celine Black: a moody, messy, 90s-grunge kind of guy in a band called Bleach—an homage to Nirvana’s first album. Celine tells the protagonist, “I hate joy and laughter.”
However celebrity call-outs are not a new form for her—her poetry collection, Queen Rat, contained what David Trinidad described as Crosbie’s “personal wax museum.” However this is the most thorough and focused of her pseudo-celebs.
Crosbie is slow and lilting—so much so that you never see it coming when she breaks your heart.
My Struggle Book 3 (Boyhood Island) by Karl ove Knausgaard
The third book in Knausgaard’s My Struggle series isn’t my favourite of his, but it’s still my favourite book from this year. I started reading the series over the summer while I was working as a sales associate in a baby store—but I won’t get into my struggle.
Boyhood Island is a return to Knausgaard’s childhood; an exploration of his earliest memories. It would be impossible to summarize the events of the book without it coming off as a mundane slice of life—and not necessarily a remarkable life. But there’s something to be said about whose life we’re getting an all-access pass to. There’s a reason we’re reading this guy, and not just any guy.
Karl ove Knausgaard is self aware, earnest, and relatable in ways that sometimes feel uncanny. When I picked up an almost-50 Norwegian man’s autobiographical novel, I didn’t expect to think, “this is so me.” And based on the reviews I’ve read—and I’ve read a lot of them—I’m not the only one who feels this way. Knausgaard has a way of capturing emotions I could never put into words, and flawlessly putting them into words. He slips in and out of his child-self effortlessly, weaving meditations on life, death, and pain, into a crystal clear narrative.
Asbestos Heights by David McGimpsey
I’ve seen McGimpsey read more times than I can count. He is always funny, always charming, and always … McGimpsey. Just like his Twitter—and well, his entire social media persona—Asbestos Heights is irreverent, chock-full of literary disses, and aggressively celebratory of the lowbrow. The book’s frequent refrain, “I love noodles,” says a lot—though I wouldn’t want to sell it short. Asbestos Heights is thoughtful, often sentimental, and refuses to back down.
This is David McGimpsey’s latest release, and his fifth collection of poetry. He dedicates it to his father, as well as some lucid and touching images:
The tulips my father planted back home
bloomed steady most Easter-times, sure as
the plans I sketched out to start feeling good
got crumpled alongside a map to Rome
McGimpsey juxtaposes the natural, beautiful, gentle, with brand names like Arby’s and Diet Sprite. He balances humour with raw emotion like it’s his job—and I guess it is.