Category Archives: Reviews

What I read in 2017

As I mentioned last year around this time, I started a handwritten books diary in 1983. It’s coming apart at the seams a bit. Over the years, I’ve backed up my list in databases, spreadsheets, Goodreads and other book apps du jour … but I’ve always updated this little diary as part of my reading routine. This beloved diary grows ever more battered, but it has seen me through another year, and as it celebrates its 35th anniversary, I commit to treating it tenderly so that it will see me through another year of reading.

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Here are the books I read in 2017, with links to reviews where I have them. Again, this is an exhaustive, “all of” list, not a “best of” list.

I continued my commitment in 2017 to a daily devotion to at least one poem … and usually more, as friends on Twitter continued to generously share their poem choices and reflections via the #todayspoem hashtag. We’re now heading into our seventh uninterrupted year of poetry tweets. I gathered up all my 2017 tweets here, if you’d like to take a look.

In recent years, I’ve welcomed some wonderful guest reviewers and correspondents to this blog. I extended some invitations again this past year, but the reviews didn’t come together for various good reasons. I’m going to try again in 2018 to add some guest pieces to the mix here.

Here are the books I read and read aloud in 2017. Wherever I go, I try to carry a book with me, so for each book, I’m also going to try to recall where I was when I was reading it.

  1. Being a Dog
    by Alexandra Horowitz
    (read aloud)

    As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of our reading aloud takes place in the kitchen, with my talented husband cooking and me singing for my supper. Quite appropriately, our Airedale terrier Tilly and beagle-basset Jake were often in attendance as I read this particular book.

  2. The Small Nouns Crying Faith
    by Phil Hall

    This poetry collection kept me company on several subway rides.

  3. Swing Time
    by Zadie Smith

    I recall devouring this book pretty quickly, curled up in bed on a few cold winter nights.

  4. The Two of Us
    by Kathy Page

    This short story collection kept me company on several subway and streetcar rides.

  5. Dear Sir, I Intend to Burn Your Book
    by Lawrence Hill

    I read this essay in a couple of sittings at home. I have a home office, and it’s often easy to just fix a quick lunch and eat it at my desk while continuing with my work. I do my best, though, to step away from my desk and computer, eat lunch in the dining room and read a book, magazine article or something not displayed on a screen for a break. I know I read this during one of those lunch breaks.

  6. My Brilliant Friend
    by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein

    … and indeed, this Ferrante quartet took me through the winter and early spring. I read them everywhere.

  7. The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip
    by George Saunders, illustrated by Lane Smith

    I read this gorgeous book at home, carefully, at my desk. Later in the year, I was thrilled to meet George Saunders, and he seemed bemused to see the book when we asked him to sign it.

  8. The House on Selkirk Avenue
    by Irena Karafilly

    I read this novel during several subway rides.

  9. Minds of Winter
    by Ed O’Loughlin

    I initially read this rich, fascinating novel printed out in loose, 8 1/2 x 11 inch printed out pages at my desk in my home office, as I prepared the readers’ guide / book club questions offered by the publisher, House of Anansi Press. I was glad to get a proper bound copy later, as the book boasts a gorgeous cover … and oh, I imagine I’m going to read this one again.

  10. The Story of a New Name
    by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein

    As I mentioned, I read the Ferrante books everywhere.

    A post shared by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  11. Transit
    by Rachel Cusk

    I tend to avoid taking hardcover books along when I’m out and about, so I read this book at home, not on transit (nyuk nyuk). I recall having a lovely Twitter conversation about this and Cusk’s previous and related novel, Outline.

  12. A
    by Andre Alexis

    This was a quick read, so I think it might only have accompanied me on one or two subway rides.

  13. On Turpentine Lane
    by Elinor Lipman

    This was a cozy curl-up-with-a-dog-nestled-with-you kind of read.

    Cozy quilt, snoring beagle, @elinorlipman's latest, bookish beloved nearby.

    A post shared by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  14. Lincoln in the Bardo
    by George Saunders

    This was a sit-up-straight-and-pay-attention read, mostly at the dining room table, finished not long before we went to see George Saunders read and be interviewed by the incomparable Eleanor Wachtel at the Toronto Public Library Appel Salon.

    Yes!

    A post shared by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  15. Believing is not the same as Being Saved
    by Lisa Martin

    I took my time reading this poetry collection, and transcribed selections from it while sitting at my downstairs office desk.

  16. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
    by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein

    Again, I read this everywhere, including by candlelight during Earth Hour.

  17. Mitzi Bytes
    by Kerry Clare

    This novel was definitely a good subway ride companion. I remember being quite absorbed in it and almost missing my stop when heading out one evening to meet friends with whom we were going to a concert.

  18. Silvija
    by Sandra Ridley

  19. Violet Energy Ingots
    by Hoa Nguyen

    I’m pretty sure I travelled by subway and streetcar with both of these poetry collections in tow, as I finished them within 24 hours of each other.

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  20. The Story of the Lost Child
    by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein

    In the spring, I bade farewell to these constant book companions.

  21. Falling Awake
    by Alice Oswald

    This poetry collection was often particularly perfect company in my travels around the city.

  22. The Lonely Hearts Hotel
    by Heather O’Neill

    This was another sit-up-straight-and-pay-attention read, again mostly at the dining room table.

  23. World of Made and Unmade
    by Jane Mead

    I remember having this poetry collection with me once or twice when I was out running errands in the neighbourhood.

  24. Swallowing Mercury
    by Wioletta Greg, translated by Eliza Marciniak

    … and then there are the riveting reads that make you forget where you are when you’re reading them …

  25. Fever Dream
    by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell

    Yes, I definitely remember reading this one on the streetcar.

  26. The Burgess Shale – The Canadian Writing Landscape of the 1960s
    by Margaret Atwood

    I remember reading this piece in one sitting at the dining room table.

  27. So Much Love
    by Rebecca Rosenblum

    This novel made some subway and streetcar rides pass very quickly.

  28. Hot Milk
    by Deborah Levy

    I was reading this absorbing novel during our trip to Dublin.

    #fridayreads Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton / Penguin Canada)

    A post shared by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  29. A General Theory of Oblivion
    by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, translated by Daniel Hahn

    We attended the Dublin Literary Award ceremony when we visited Dublin. Right after the ceremony, we walked down the street to Hodges Figgis bookshop and purchased one of the last copies of this book in the shop. I read and finished it on the flight home.

  30. Conversations With Friends
    by Sally Rooney

    This was another excellent Dublin purchase (from Winding Stair bookshop’s local recommendations table) which I also read on the flight home.

  31. 4321
    by Paul Auster

    At 800+ pages, this was a fascinating but not at all portable read. I did attempt to read it in bed a few times, but after it tipped over on my sleepy head one too many times, I stuck to reading it on the dining room table.

    Tilly, Jake and Paul Auster are good lunch company.

    A post shared by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  32. Little Sister
    by Barbara Gowdy

    This novel was topmost on a stack of cottage reading for one of our first extended cottage stays this summer.

  33. Swimming Lessons
    by Claire Fuller

    Another cottage read …

    #sundayreads Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller (@houseofanansi)

    A post shared by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  34. Moanin’ at Midnight – The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf
    by James Segrest and Mark Hoffman
    (read aloud)

    We read this one aloud at home and at the cottage, always to a Howlin’ Wolf soundtrack, of course.

  35. Nuala
    by Kimmy Beach

    Another cottage read …

  36. spill simmer falter wither
    by Sara Baume

    Another wonderful purchase from our Ireland trip, I read this one slowly and carefully, both at the cottage and on the back porch in the city.

  37. The Pet Radish, Shrunken
    by Pearl Pirie

    This poetry collection was particularly good company during an extended and somewhat anxious wait for a delayed train at Toronto’s Union Station.

  38. Frontier City – Toronto on the Verge of Greatness
    by Shawn Micallef
    (read aloud)

    A lot of this one was read aloud (and thoroughly enjoyed) in our kitchen in, of course, Toronto.

    Next up on our #readaloud list: Frontier City by @shawnmicallef …

    A post shared by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  39. The Last Wave
    by Gillian Best

    I toted this novel all over, reading it at the nails place, at the cottage, out and about …

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  40. England
    by Nia Davies

    I read this striking chapbook at my home office desk.

  41. In the Cage
    by Kevin Hardcastle

    I had to read this novel and two others (The Prisoner and the Chaplain by Michelle Berry and Men Walking on Water by Emily Schultz) on very short notice to host three book club events at this year’s Toronto Word on the Street book fest. How fortunate that all three books were compelling, infectious reads. I gobbled this one up in about 36 hours at home on a sultry September weekend.

  42. The Original Face
    by Guillaume Morissette

    I remember reading this novel in a parkette near Skydome before meeting my beloved to take in a Blue Jays baseball game.

  43. The Prisoner and the Chaplain
    by Michelle Berry

  44. Men Walking on Water
    by Emily Schultz

    Toronto’s Word on the Street book fest was on a sweltering day in late September. I’ll remember that, and that the authors and I all managed to wear black clothes that day, and that their books were all superb.

  45. Pockets
    by Stuart Ross

    I read this wee, beautiful book at my home office desk.

  46. The Theory of Hummingbirds
    by Michelle Kadarusman

    I purchased this exquisite book at Toronto’s Word on the Street and started reading it on the streetcar ride home that afternoon.

  47. I Am a Truck
    by Michelle Winters

    This novel was fine company on several subway and streetcar rides.

  48. Brother
    by David Chariandy

    I devoured this book on a cottage weekend.

  49. Bellevue Square
    by Michael Redhill

    This novel was also a cottage read.

  50. The Curious History of Irish Dogs
    by David Blake Knox
    (read aloud)

    Another fine purchase from our Ireland trip, this was a great read aloud choice.

  51. If Clara
    by Martha Baillie

    This was meant to be a book suitable for toting along on transit, but I’m pretty sure I read it swiftly at home.

  52. Next Year For Sure
    by Zoey Leigh Peterson

    This book was fine company for our first neighbourhood silent book club meeting.

  53. Son of a Trickster
    by Eden Robinson

    I read this novel at home, on home office lunch breaks.

  54. H(A)PPY
    by Nicola Barker

    I read this singular book at home, giving it my full attention, as Nicola Barker books always demand.

  55. No TV For Woodpeckers
    by Gary Barwin

    I read this poetry collection at home and on the go, and transcribed at least one striking poem into my journal.

  56. A Line Made By Walking
    by Sara Baume

    This book was such good company for our second neighbourhood silent book club meeting.

  57. Panicle
    by Gillian Sze

    Like Gary Barwin’s latest, I read this poetry collection at home and on the go, and transcribed at least one striking poem into my journal.

  58. What We Once Believed
    by Andrea Macpherson

    I read this novel at home and on transit.

  59. Glory
    by Gillian Wigmore

    I pretty much inhaled this novel over the holiday season, at home and at my brother-in-law’s over Christmas.

  60. String Practice
    by Jan Zwicky

    I read this poetry chapbook at my home office desk on the last day of 2017.

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In 2017, I read a total of 60 works (a new record for me): 43 works of fiction (novels and short story collections), 11 poetry collections and 6 works of non-fiction. I did not re-read any books this year (but commit to doing that again in 2018), read 7 works in translation, and read 36 works by Canadian authors. My husband and I read four books aloud to each other this year and have another one in progress as we greet the new year.

I also kept track this year of the publication dates of the books I read. (I think this is fairly easy to track in Goodreads, so I want to go back to previous years to see what my mix of current versus older reading is year over year.) In 2017, the oldest book I read was published in 2000. I also read books published in 2004, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016, and more than half of what I read in 2017 was published in that year. Even before I go back and explore publication dates in previous years, I know right now I want to try to read (or re-read) more of a selection of older books in 2018. Let’s see how that works out …

Currently in progress, heading into 2018:

  • Stranger
    by David Bergen

  • The Left-Handed Dinner Party and Other Stories
    by Myrl Coulter

  • Collected Tarts and Other Indelicacies
    by Tabatha Southey
    (read aloud)

For another year, I’m looking back fondly on my 2017 reading, looking forward eagerly, with anticipation and even some curiosity to my 2018 reading, I’ll simply conclude (as I always do) …

It’s not how many you read that counts. It’s that you read that counts.

Pockets, by Stuart Ross

bookcover-ross-pocketsWhen I first read (well, devoured) Pockets by Stuart Ross, I rushed to Goodreads with my delighted reaction. I thought I would go back and expand on those thoughts for here on the blog, but you know what? I like that initial burst of enthusiasm so much, I’m just going to tuck it in here as is …

Fresh from the last page of this exquisite, poignant poem/novella, let me just tumble out some reactions, like a grateful exhalation. Pockets is a unique meditation on childhood and grief, shifting from dreams and hallucinatory half-dreams to sharpened-pencil-precise memories and images. The shifting continues between childhood and seemingly reluctant adulthood (“I was driving a car, but I can’t remember if I was a child or an adult. I reached a hand to my face. It was rough, unshaven. I was an adult.”) … from fleeting happiness to bewildered despair, from love to anger to yearning. Throughout, the title hovers and takes many forms. Pockets are places of safekeeping and secrets withheld, but most strikingly, pockets turned out (like those of a Red Skelton clown) denote everything from poverty to generosity denied to being drained of every last resource.

Each segment of these beautiful and sometimes quietly harrowing reflections is bottom justified on the page, and even that gives a sense of a narrator who has perhaps reached rock bottom in reconciling his sorrows. But … “Then, out of the sky, my mother’s hand reached down.” So small, Pockets invites you to turn to the beginning and read it again, where new pockets of grace and consolation will be revealed.

Pockets by Stuart Ross (ECW Press, 2017)

Thank you to the publisher, ECW Press, for providing a complimentary copy of Pockets.

Minds of Winter, by Ed O’Loughlin

bookcover-minds-of-winterMinds of Winter, by Ed O’Loughlin has been on my mind a lot in recent months.

As I’ve mentioned before, I regularly prepare readers’ guide discussion questions for some House of Anansi Press titles. Early this year, I had the pleasure of losing myself in Minds of Winter, then finding my way back out sufficiently to put together some questions that I hope did this sprawling, engrossing novel justice.

As I’ve also mentioned before, I’ve discovered that formulating these questions is an excellent way to more fully and deeply appreciate a work. You go in as a book’s advocate when you know you’re compiling questions, because you assume from the outset that people have been motivated to obtain the book, read it and discuss it with others, so there must be some respect for the book and positive perspectives on its value, out of respect for those readers. I didn’t have to work hard to remind myself of this advocacy role, however, because I quickly found myself wrapped up and captivated by the book.

The following are the reader’s guide questions that I developed for Minds of Winter. (These are the questions I submitted to Anansi. An edited version of the questions are provided to accompany the book.) If you’ve read the book, are these questions useful for exploring the book further? If you haven’t read the book, do the questions perhaps spark your interest in the book?

  1. “Maybe stories converge at the poles. Like the lines on the map,” Fay observes to Nelson as they realize her grandfather and his brother seemed to have similar interests and trajectories as they made their way in the Arctic. How does this observation inform the entire collection of stories in Minds of Winter? Are there logical and perhaps mundane reasons for why these stories seem to intersect – at both poles, in fact – or is Fay suggesting something bigger and perhaps more mystical?

  2. How does “The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens, the poem that stands as the epigraph to Minds of Winter, serve the story that follows? Select a line or phrase that could best capture the novel’s over-arching theme. For example, argue for or against:

    For the listener, who listens in the snow,
    And, nothing himself, beholds
    Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

    Are all of the characters who survive and even thrive in their time in the Arctic good listeners?

  3. Who are the most attuned listeners in Minds of Winter (referencing again Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man”)? As readers, we are given intimate access to Hugh Morgan’s thoughts as he listens and listens. Who else is a good listener, of either the Arctic environment or of others around him or her?

  4. What useful purposes are served in stories like this, where real-life characters intermingle with fictional characters or, from another perspective, fictional characters are put in front of a real life/historical backdrop?

  5. Exploration and mapping were historically male-dominated pursuits. In Minds of Winter, several women influence the explorers and voyages. Discuss three women who play significant roles or make important appearances in the novel’s different exploration stories.

  6. In the prologue to Minds of Winter, horologists are delving into the mystery of the carriage clock that is purported to be a disguised chronometer from the Franklin expedition. Horology is defined as both the science of measuring time and the art of making instruments for indicating time (Merriam Webster). Give examples from the novel of where the passage of time and use of timepieces helps or fails different characters or enterprises.

  7. The chronometer described in the prologue to Minds of Winter appears, disappears and reappears throughout the novel. The object is a resonant thematic component throughout the novel, but as part of the mysteries being explored, is it an important talisman or kind of a red herring?

  8. “The white planks of the deck were a snow field; the dancers were swirls in a blizzard, figments of a winter dream.” Minds of Winter begins with an elaborate society ball in Tasmania that juxtaposes political and military machinations with seemingly trite society intrigue. Give examples of the several ways in which this opening sequence sets the stage for characters, storylines and themes that follow.

  9. J.R.R. Tolkien once observed the following about the fictional maps designed to accompany his fantasy works: “They are more than illustrations, they are a collateral theme. I showed them to my friends whose polite comment was that they reduced my text to a commentary on the drawings.“ How do the maps included throughout Minds of Winter enhance – or distract or detract from – the novel’s storylines?

  10. Is there significance to explorer John Meares’ repeated declaration “I was trading in furs”, and his observations about whether others he encountered in his travels were or were not also interested in the fur trade?

  11. Does Minds of Winter give convincing evidence of the true identity of Albert Johnson, the Mad Trapper of Rat River?

  12. “Was it to rob her of freedom that Amundsen had sent for her? Is that what possession had meant to him? Was that why he’d flown away in the end?” Bess Magids muses in her final search for clues about Roald Amundsen’s fate. Who in the sprawling cast of characters in Minds of Winter has true freedom? Do all seem to be shackled to another person, to a commitment or obsession?

  13. “Some people slip through the cracks,” enigmatic RCMP Sergeant Peake concludes in his report that closes Minds of Winter. Is that true, or does someone only truly do that if no one remembers them anymore? For example, even though Sgt Peake purports to not know the people he is referring to in his report, we the readers do. Build a case to agree or disagree with this conclusion by connecting it to the concept of people dying two deaths: first, their physical death and second, their death when the last person who remembers them dies.

  14. “[the photograph] showed two men in winter clothing standing at the door of an old-fashioned ski-plane. It was not these men who had interested Bert, it seemed, but two shadows, one on either side of them, cast by figures just out of the frame. Bert had circled both shadows several times with a marker pen.” Several characters in Minds of Winter are situated more out of the stories’ frames than in it. Who casts the biggest shadow?

  15. Family relationships are clearly important throughout Minds of Winter, but are they largely a burden or a blessing? Give examples of both.

  16. Is Fay and Nelson’s final fate tragic or romantic? Is it surprising?

My fascination with the book didn’t end when I handed in the questions, however. A potential opportunity to promote a work of my choice from an Ontario-based publisher inspired me to record a 30-second review of Minds of Winter … which you can, er, endure right here:

… and if you don’t want to listen, here’s basically what I had to say:

Minds of Winter continues with the legendary Franklin expedition from where the likes of Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler and Stan Rogers left off. [Author Ed] O’Loughlin melds historical fact with enigmatic fictional characters, blending in World War I intrigue, Inuit life and traditions, polar climate and terrain, ghosts, hallucinations and maps, lots of maps. The maps are kind of ironic because this is a story about people who are lost or who want to be lost.

Oh no, I won’t make a habit of book vlogging. It’s good book reviewing practice, mind you, to force yourself to boil it down to 30 seconds. That was fun.

Thank you to House of Anansi Press for the opportunity to read an advance version of Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin.

See also:

Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin (House of Anansi Press, 2017)

Fever Dream, by Samanta Schweblin (translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell)

“I see my feet walking and I wonder if I am the one moving them.”

bookcover-schweblin-fever-dreamSamanta Schweblin’s vivid snapshot of a nightmare is at its most unnerving when it alights on paralyzing moments of bodily disconnection. What compels the reader to endure the at times unbearable tension of this deceptively slim novella is the equally powerful moments of tender connection and intimacy. The tale captures two portraits of intense motherly devotion against a murky backdrop of what might be a toxic environmental disaster, or might be some other (or otherworldly) form of menace. Those moments of connection also include the fleeting kindnesses of strangers, just as dreams sometimes forge emotional affinities where they are least expected.

The rewards of those moments of connection, and awe at the grip and momentum of Schweblin and translator Megan McDowell’s words are what will hold the reader to the end. It won’t be the closure of a clear explanation or resolution.

(As a haunted, rattled and very appreciative reader, I can’t begin to imagine how Schweblin’s Lynchian vision had to have taken root in translator McDowell’s mind. She likely had to live with and be immersed in it more than anyone.)

You’re relieved when a nightmare releases you back to reality … but you don’t soon forget it, you don’t soon disengage its tendrils.

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated from Spanish by Megan McDowell (Riverhead Books, 2017)

A, by André Alexis

A, by André Alexis bookcover-aAndré Alexis’ novella A packs an incredible amount to enjoy and ponder in its infectious 74 pages.

To start, it’s a charming celebration of place. As Toronto book reviewer and aspiring poet and novelist Alexander Baddeley makes his way through his city’s streets and neighbourhoods, they are shown as simultaneously muted and vibrant, welcoming in understated fashion:

“It was again November. Parkdale was grey, but it was a soft grey. Its streets were wet; its pedestrians in half-unbuttoned coats.”

It’s also a sly CanLit romp, oh my. Though the inspiration for Gil Davidoff is thinly veiled (“I’m writing about all the great television I’m making my son watch”), it doesn’t make the character and his ilk and their haunts and machinations any less deliciously observed and criticized. Baddeley circulates in the peripheral waves around other recognizable literary names (Alexis doesn’t always mask them), making wicked observations:

“… it seemed to Baddeley that there was something of the iguana to her …”

A is also a meditation on the nature of artistic inspiration. It offers reflections on mortality and spirituality, rendered haunting and given profundity as they emerge in the midst of the novella’s savoury mischief.

A, by André Alexis (BookThug, 2013)

The Two of Us, by Kathy Page

bookcover-pageKathy Page’s hypnotic short story collection The Two of Us reinforces its title from the first to the last of its unforgettable tales. Each story, unto itself and building successively, piece by piece, spirals in and out from the power of duos and duality. That power is dizzying, and intensifies and deepens with each relationship depicted … and discovered.

The force, the impermeability, the intricacy and the mystery of different types of bonds run the gamut in Page’s collection, from every type of familial configuration – siblings, parents/spouses, parent/child – to former, current and possibly future lovers, to teacher/mentor and student, to service provider and client, to colleagues, and even to human/animal connections. Each pairing offers something that strikes a chord – or something discordant, which still makes an impression, however uncomfortable – and many are piercingly moving.

Sometimes “the two of us” are lost, sometimes found, sometimes sadly not realized or discerned. Your heart breaks for the child who pursues what she thinks is the dog for which she has yearned and, woefully, has emulated with her adoptive family. Sometimes, the most striking and poignant reactions are for couples that seem at first glance to be the most ephemeral or perfunctory. A hairdresser called to substitute in for another stylist makes a startling connection with a client who has a wrenching special request.

Page’s words and observations range from the whimsical …

“On the way back to her house, Sonia posted the quiche into a letterbox.” (from “The House on Manor Close”)

… to the painful but vital:

“It’s such a soft but sudden feeling … the sensation of what used to be turning itself, in the space of a breath, into the beginning of something else.” (from “Open Water”)

Those words come from the final, extended story in the collection, in which one of the unique pairs is the main character, a swim coach and parental figure to a young woman who, although she has Olympic-calibre gifts, has decided to give up the sport. Somewhat buried in the story beneath this central and absorbing relationship is another pair: the two different identities, including different names, that the swim coach has assumed over the course of his life. While the story of the mentor and mentee is as richly affecting as all in this collection, Page reminds us tellingly that sometimes we cannot join in any kind of harmony with others until and if we can reconcile our own dualities.

See also

An added delight of The Two of Us is that the cover was designed by David Drummond. I’ve praised his work on covers for Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott and New Tab by Guillaume Morissette.

The Two of Us, by Kathy Page (Biblioasis, 2016)

What I read in 2016

When I graduated from university, I started to keep track of my books read in this wee diary that was a gift from my roommate.

bookdiary1

I started the books diary in 1983. It’s coming apart at the seams a bit. Over the years, I’ve backed up my list in databases, spreadsheets, Goodreads and other book apps du jour … but I’ve always updated this little diary as part of my reading routine. Yes, this book and this part of my reading ritual is getting on 34 years …

bookdiary2

Here are the books I read in 2016 – once again, diligently recorded in my book diary, along with a backup spreadsheet and Goodreads – with links to reviews where I have them. By the way, this is an exhaustive, “all of” list, not a “best of” list.

I continued my commitment in 2016 to a daily devotion to at least one poem … and usually more, as friends on Twitter continued to generously share their poem choices and reflections via the #todayspoem hashtag. Now five years in, I still haven’t missed a day, both contributing and enjoying selections from others in this edifying, often spirit-lifting and vital communal experience. I’ve now pondered the works of close to 1,000 unique poets, writers, translators, songsmiths and wordsmiths I’ve revisited or unearthed myself, and countless more via others wielding that often revelatory hashtag. On into its sixth year, I’m continuing with my #todayspoem habit every day heading into 2017. I hope many contributors will continue or join anew.

I welcomed some wonderful and insightful guest reviewers and correspondents to this blog in 2016. I’m so grateful for the time and thought they spent on their pieces, from which I learned a lot and hope you did, too. Let’s revisit them again:

Here are the books I read, reread and read aloud in 2016. Wherever I go, I try to carry a book with me, so for each book, I’m also going to try to recall where I was when I was reading it.

  1. Hope Makes Love
    by Trevor Cole

    I vividly recall reading this book at the cottage during the wintry first days of the new year.

  2. The Beauty of the Husband
    by Anne Carson

    I was reading this amazing book while waiting for a friend who was arriving by GO Train at Toronto’s Union Station. We were meeting another friend to go to a poetry reading – how perfect is that?

  3. Fates and Furies
    by Lauren Groff

    I distinctly recall reading this engrossing book snuggled in bed.

  4. A Little Life
    by Hanya Yanagihara

    I went through a protracted period of insomnia last winter and if, after trying to relax and consciously breathe myself back to sleep, I was still wide-eyed in the dark, I would turn on my little book-light and read. This book actually didn’t help get me back to sleep – quite the contrary – but it was stunningly memorable company during those sleepless hours. What an unforgettable wallop of a reading experience.

  5. The Mark and the Void
    by Paul Murray

    I read this two-volume paperback (a very interesting packaging of the story) mostly at our dining room table. It was February, when this household observes a month of abstinence from alcohol, so the accompanying beverages were likely tea and coffee.

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  7. Between You & Me
    by Mary Norris

    I took this entertaining book with me on more than a few subway rides.

  8. When Words Deny the World
    by Stephen Henighan

    This book kept me company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  9. The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl
    by Sue Goyette

    I read this gorgeous book (also a gorgeous book object) at home.

  10. Just Watch Me – The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968-2000)
    by John English
    (read aloud)

    A lot of our reading aloud takes place in the kitchen, with my talented husband cooking and me singing for my supper. We actually read a lot of this book during the interminable 2015 Canadian federal election and it was a great reminder that there were dedicated, thoughtful and honorable politicians of all political stripes as recently as just a generation or two ago.

  11. M Train
    by Patti Smith

    I read this sweet, luminous book at home.

  12. All the Gold Hurts My Mouth
    by Katherine Leyton

    This poetry collection was company on several subway rides.

  13. Birdie
    by Tracey Lindberg

    This book was warm and fascinating company on streetcar rides to physiotherapy appointments.

  14. Innocents and Others
    by Dana Spiotta

    Among his many talents, my husband is a great seeker and finder of first editions of books. When I fell in love with author Dana Spiotta on the basis of this intriguing New York Times Magazine interview, he made it his mission to find all of her novels for me. And then I read them all this year. To a book, they were amazing. I already can’t wait for what she’ll do next.

  15. Don’t Be Interesting
    by Jacob McArthur Mooney

    I read this collection (which had me at the John Darnielle references) at home and on public transit.

  16. Model Disciple
    by Michael Prior

    This collection was fine company during the continued streetcar rides to physio appointments.

  17. Tell: poems for a girlhood
    by Soraya Peerbaye

    You know what? I was so wrapped up in the entrancing, often horrifying but also heartwrenchingly beautiful world of this collection that I in fact don’t recall a specific place or moment when I was reading it. What does that say?

  18. Lightning Field
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this book at home, probably mostly at my desk and the dining room table.

  19. Providence
    by Anita Brookner
    (reread)

    I read this tiny, battered, much loved paperback on the subway, where a fellow passenger remarked that it was her favourite Brookner.

  20. Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments
    by Ulrikka S. Gernes, translated by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen

    This poetry collection accompanied me on more than one road trip.

  21. Who Needs Books? Reading in the Digital Age
    by Lynn Coady

    I pretty much read this in one sitting … with lunch.

  22. Sustenance … lunch with Lynn Coady's nourishing Who Needs Books? @clcualberta #canlit #books #bookstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  23. Caribou Run
    by Richard Kelly Kemick

    I read this very fine collection at home, on public transit and I recall packing it along to the cottage, too.

  24. The Mercy Journals
    by Claudia Casper

    I remember reading this haunting novel late at night at the cottage.

  25. Zero K
    by Don DeLillo

    I vividly recall reading most of this book in an incredible, absorbing whoosh while driving home from the cottage. (No, I wasn’t driving.)

  26. Saints, Unexpected
    by Brent van Staalduinen

    I remember reading this fine and amiable book while relaxing on the back porch.

  27. All That Sang
    by Lydia Perovic

    I pretty much had this captivating book read in a couple of subway rides and a sit on the front porch.

  28. Stone Arabia
    by Dana Spiotta

    I remember being absorbed in this book while sitting on the cottage dock with a refreshing beverage or two.

  29. The Quotations of Bone
    by Norman Dubie

    Subway reading, I do believe …

  30. Independent People
    by Halldor Laxness

    This one took a while to read – which was fine, as it was a read to savour and get immersed in – so I had it with me everywhere. It’s another book that a fellow subway rider remarked on, most enthusiastically.

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  32. I’m thinking of ending things
    by Iain Reid

    I had the good sense to only read this book during daylight hours.

  33. The Hatred of Poetry
    by Ben Lerner

    Some subway rides went quickly with this wise book for company.

  34. Thirteen Shells
    by Nadia Bozak

    I was reading and enjoying this book during a weekend visit with friends at our cottage.

  35. Yiddish for Pirates
    by Gary Barwin

    This book was thoroughly delightful company during a week’s vacation at the cottage.

  36. History’s People
    by Margaret MacMillan
    (read aloud)

    We read this book aloud – and learned a lot about greater and lesser known historical figures – during cozy reading sessions at home and at the cottage.

  37. The Cauliflower
    by Nicola Barker

    Not my favourite Barker, although Barker remains one of my favourite writers … I read this book while on my own for a working week at the cottage.

  38. The Dancehall Years
    by Joan Haggerty

    Remembering this book reminds me of our shade-dappled dock at the cottage.

  39. The Clay Girl
    by Heather Tucker

    I will remember The Clay Girl and the next book on this list, Still Mine, side by side and as my constant companions everywhere (home, out and about, cottage) for two or three weeks. I had the honour in 2016 of moderating a couple of special book club events for the Toronto Word on the Street Festival. Selected contest winners qualified for small, private book club meetings with authors Heather Tucker and Amy Stuart, and it was my job to introduce them to their book fans and keep the conversations going with pertinent questions about their respective books. I prepared exhaustively with questions and observations … but then didn’t need a lot of those preps because those book fans showed up excited, motivated and brimming with their own wide-ranging queries and reflections. It was really rewarding to see such warm and dynamic meetings of readers and writers – truly wonderful!

  40. Still Mine
    Amy Stuart

    See my comments about The Clay Girl … I also recall enjoying Still Mine on a coffee shop patio on a sunny Saturday morning while waiting for my husband.

  41. English is Not a Magic Language
    by Jacques Poulin, translated by Sheila Fischman

    This charming novella was good subway company.

  42. 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
    by Mona Awad

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  43. The Best Kind of People
    by Zoe Whittall

    I read this book at home and out and about.

  44. The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses
    by Michael e. Casteels

    I recall being wrapped up in this enchanting little collection while waiting for my husband to join me for dinner out.

  45. The Tobacconist
    by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins

    I read this fascinating and rather prophetic book at my desk in my home office, as I prepared the readers’ guide / book club questions for this book, offered by House of Anansi Press.

  46. The Emily Valentine Poems
    by Zoe Whittall

    A squirrel jumped up next to me on the park bench I was sitting on as I read this while waiting for a friend in a parkette outside her office in downtown Toronto.

  47. Wenjack
    by Joseph Boyden

    I read this small, moving book in one sitting at home.

  48. Thrillows & Despairos
    by Chris Chambers

    I discovered this collection when I heard Chris Chambers read from it at the 2016 International Festival of Authors, and I ran to the book table and purchased it right after the reading. Immersive indeed!

  49. Do Not Say We Have Nothing
    by Madeleine Thien

    This beautiful book was constant, contemplative company at home throughout the fall.

  50. The Goddess of Fireflies
    by Genevieve Pettersen, translated by Neil Smith

    I remember standing on subway platforms with this book in my hand.

  51. Where’d You Go, Bernadette
    by Maria Semple

    I remember carrying and reading this sweet book on transit and waiting for friends at restaurants and before musical events in late November.

  52. Eat the Document
    by Dana Spiotta

    I read this intriguing book, the final in my year-long Dana Spiotta-fest, at home.

  53. Based on Actual Events
    by Robert Moore

    Devoured in just a few subway rides, I believe …

  54. The Break
    by Katherena Vermette

    I had this absorbing book with me at home, out and about and even on a wintry trip to the cottage.

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  56. Life On Mars
    by Tracy K. Smith

    I stayed up late reading this gift on Christmas night.

  57. #Poetry break after all the holiday excitement … #airedalesofinstagram

    A photo posted by Vicki Ziegler (@vzbookgaga) on

  58. Pond
    by Claire-Louise Bennett

    I treasure this quirky read, a spontaneous gift from a lovely colleague.

  59. The Albertine Workout
    by Anne Carson

    Another Christmas gift, I read this poetry pamphlet pretty much in one gulp while sitting at my home office desk.

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In 2016, I read a total of 54 works: 32 works of fiction (novels and short story collections), 15 poetry collections and 7 works of non-fiction. I re-read one book, read 4 works in translation, and read 35 works by Canadian authors. My husband and I read two books aloud to each other this year and have a third in progress as we greet the new year.

Currently in progress, heading into 2017:

Looking back fondly on my 2016 reading, looking forward eagerly and with anticipation to my 2017 reading, I’ll simply conclude (as I’ve done in previous years) …

It’s not how many you read that counts. It’s that you read that counts.

Postscript (added January 11, 2017)

I love the discussion this post has sparked, both here and on social media, including some debate about whether or not such list-keeping is usual or kind of nutty/anal-retentive. Obviously, keeping these lists every year is part of enjoying my reading. I’ve added a bit more to my scrutiny of what I’ve read every year, not so much with a view to altering the flow of what I decide to pick up and read every year as to just be aware if there was more or different directions in which I should explore. So, for example, I’ve looked in recent years at how much fiction vs non-fiction vs poetry I read, and how many works in translation, how much Canadian versus international literature, how many rereads, read-alouds, etc, etc, etc. Because the lists are easy to scan, I can quickly figure out the author gender mix every year … just to see how I’m doing, usually not to be corrective in my reading habits.

One thing I’ve decided to add to my record-keeping in 2017 is the publication year of each book read, to gauge how much current/hot-off-the-press vs back catalogue/older stuff I’m reading. I love that everyone who has joined this conversation loves their reading, loves to examine it to some extent and loves to share it. We all learn and benefit from that.

Another postscript (added March 17, 2017)

emsley-book-journal2Sarah Emsley has segued a career teaching writing at Harvard University to her beautiful blog, where she writes about Jane Austen, Jane Austen for kids, Edith Wharton, Lucy Maud Montgomery and other writers, and about places she loves (especially Nova Scotia and Alberta). I am thrilled that she has taken a cue from this blog post to restart her own handwritten “books read” journal … and oh my, her journal and mine are twins!

The Dancehall Years, by Joan Haggerty

bookcover-dancehall-yearsYou’ll be drawn in slowly but steadily to this complicated but engrossing family drama set on the west coast, starting just before World War II. The lives of several families living, working and vacationing in a coastal cottage and resort region remain intertwined over generations, surprising with revelations to the end, closing at the cusp of the 1980s.

Haggerty’s prose ranges from lush and entrancing to terse and compelling, swooping from grand descriptions of the towering landscape to the minutiae of intimate relationships and interactions. A carousel of vivid characters rotates around Gwen Killam, introduced as a child relishing the summers on Bowen Island but observing, if not comprehending, signs of tension as the community feels the strains and effects of war even from afar. Haggerty follows Gwen and the community as they all grow and change, realizing each character unflinchingly but with compassion for all their foibles and motivations, making this novel palpably relatable and unforgettable.

See also:
Pickle Me This review of The Dancehall Years (July, 2016)

Thank you to the publisher, Mother Tongue Publishing, for providing a complimentary copy of The Dancehall Years.

The Dancehall Years, by Joan Haggerty (Mother Tongue Publishing, 2016)

2016 reading list (so far)

Hope Makes Love, by Trevor Cole

I like to do a little check-in partway through every year to see how my reading is going. As I’ve done in years past, I’m taking a look around the halfway point (ish) in the year at the books I’ve read so far, with links where they exist to books that I’ve reviewed (either here on this blog or briefly on Goodreads). As I’ve always pointed out, it’s a competition with no one but myself, but it is always useful and interesting to stop and reflect a bit where one is at with one’s reading, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Here’s the quantitative part: Of the 34 books I’ve read so far this year, 7 were non-fiction, 9 were poetry and the balance of 18 were fiction (novels and short story collections). One book was a reread. One book was a work in translation. Twenty of the books were by Canadian writers. Two books were read aloud in their entirety (er, over a period of time, not in one sitting), which is a wonderful way to share the experience with another reader/listener.

On the qualitative front, I think it’s been especially good year so far. Apart from where I’ve reviewed a particular work, I can say in broad terms that I’ve enjoyed and can enthusiastically recommend everything I’ve read so far this year (with perhaps some qualifications for subject matter with which individual readers might be uncomfortable). Could this be why my overall reading count seems to be up so far this year? A happy reader is a prolific reader? Well then, here’s to happy reading!

  1. Hope Makes Love
    by Trevor Cole

  2. The Beauty of the Husband
    by Anne Carson

  3. Fates and Furies
    by Lauren Groff

  4. A Little Life
    by Hanya Yanagihara

  5. The Mark and the Void
    by Paul Murray

  6. Between You & Me
    by Mary Norris

  7. When Words Deny the World
    by Stephen Henighan

  8. The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl
    by Sue Goyette

  9. Just Watch Me – The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau (1968-2000)
    by John English
    (read aloud)

  10. M Train
    by Patti Smith

  11. All the Gold Hurts My Mouth
    by Katherine Leyton

  12. Birdie
    by Tracey Lindberg

  13. Innocents and Others
    by Dana Spiotta

  14. Don’t Be Interesting
    by Jacob McArthur Mooney

  15. Model Disciple
    by Michael Prior

  16. Tell: poems for a girlhood
    by Soraya Peerbaye

  17. Lightning Field
    by Dana Spiotta

  18. Providence
    by Anita Brookner
    (reread)

  19. Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments
    by Ulrikka S. Gernes, translated by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen

  20. Who Needs Books? Reading in the Digital Age
    by Lynn Coady

  21. Caribou Run
    by Richard Kelly Kemick

  22. The Mercy Journals
    by Claudia Casper

  23. Zero K
    by Don DeLillo

  24. Saints, Unexpected
    by Brent van Staalduinen

  25. All That Sang
    by Lydia Perovic

  26. Stone Arabia
    by Dana Spiotta

  27. The Quotations of Bone
    by Norman Dubie

  28. Independent People
    by Halldor Laxness

  29. I’m thinking of ending things
    by Iain Reid

  30. The Hatred of Poetry
    by Ben Lerner

  31. Thirteen Shells
    by Nadia Bozak

  32. Yiddish for Pirates
    by Gary Barwin

  33. History’s People
    by Margaret MacMillan
    (read aloud)

  34. The Cauliflower
    by Nicola Barker

Currently in progress:

  • The Dancehall Years
    by Joan Haggerty

  • Being a Dog
    by Alexandra Horowitz
    (read aloud)

  • Slow States of Collapse
    by Ashley-Elizabeth Best

How is your reading going so far in 2016?