Tomboy Survival Guide

Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote

Well, the first book on my Evergreen reading list was Ivan Coyote’s Tomboy Survival Guide. This memoir is written as a series of vignettes from Coyote’s past. I honestly think this is a strong contender for my favourite book of the year. Coyote is referred to as a storyteller and man-oh-man does that description ever fit. They have this conversational tone to their writing that makes me feel like I could just drift away into whatever it is they’re talking about. Coyote and I have had vastly different life experiences and yet I found their life stories very relatable, they have this way of getting right down to the core feelings of a given situation.

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Not Even Gonna Try

I’m just going to say it. It’s been almost a year since my last post. I could give you a long list of excuses but I won’t. I will say this though, I really missed blogging and I’d like to ease myself back into it. What better way to start than with this year’s Evergreen Challenge? You might recall I’ve been been attempting to read my way through the list Evergreen Award nominated books for the past few years (2014, 2015, and 2016). The nominees for 2017 are:

  1. Tomboy Survival Guide, by Ivan Coyote
  2. The Spawning Grounds, by Gail Anderson-Dargatz
  3. Serial Monogomy, by Kate Taylor
  4. The Name Therapist, by Duana Taha
  5. Middle-Aged Boys & Girls, by Diane Brcuk
  6. How Can I Help, by David Goldbloom and Pier Bryden
  7. The Hidden Keys, by André Alexis
  8. Five Roses, by Alice Zorn
  9. Carry Me, by Peter Behrens
  10. The Break, by Katherena Vermette

The first one I picked up was Coyote’s Tomboy Survival Guide, I’ll be posting my thoughts on it soon (hopefully it won’t take an entire year!).

They Left Us Everything

Another Evergreen book update. I just finished Plum Johnson’s They Left Us Everything. It covers the year and a half or so after the death of Johnson’s mother as she works to clear out the family home and prepare it for sale.

It was an interesting read, but it was one of those books where I just could not relate¬†at all to the people in it. I would say that Johnson comes from a relatively privileged background, the family home was full of family¬†artifacts¬†that could be traced back for centuries. Her family was full of prominent people doing important things and leaving behind solid records. They¬†lived in that huge lakefront home for well over five decades, some of them¬†were born, married, and buried there. There was just such a wealth of family history for her and her siblings to go through.¬†I don’t know if it was jealousy or what, but as I was reading this I kept thinking¬†I don’t really care. ¬†There was a lot that Johnson (at least in my view) almost treated like a burden, but that I think I would see as a blessing. I will admit that she seems to change her tune towards the end, but by that point I didn’t really like the person I was reading about.¬†I know that makes me sound callous, but that’s just how I felt.

Maybe this is a book I would have appreciated more if I encountered it at a different stage in my life, but reading it now I simply didn’t care for it.

All Saints

I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m not a fan of short story collections. So it was with some trepidation that I approached my next Evergreen read, All Saints by K.D. Miller.

And for about the first half of the book I dreaded¬†every minute of reading it. This book is comprised of ten short stories, all of them are connected in some way to All Saints, a fictional (I assume?) Anglican Church in Toronto. I was indifferent to most of the stories (perhaps even a little bored by them) but there were two ¬†that I flat out hated – I’m sure they had their artistic merit, but the characters were unlikable and they ended up in awfully¬†¬†depressing situations.¬†The turning point came towards the end, I actually quite enjoyed the last three stories. This was when things started to come together and I started to appreciate the way Miller crafted the collection as a whole.

This is the kind of book that garners all sorts of literary acclaim, and deservedly so. But that’s not why I read, I read books because I enjoy them or want to learn something or find them interesting, and this book just didn’t do any of that for me. I certainly would not prevent¬†anyone from picking it up, but I also would not recommend it either.

Local Customs

My latest Evergreen book was Local Customs by Audrey Thomas. It’s loosely based on the true story of Letty Landon, a¬†writer in the 183o’s, and her marriage to George Maclean that transplants her from London to¬†West Africa. A few months later she’s daed, seemingly by her own hand.

The story is primarily told from Letty’s posthumous point of view, quite an interesting technique. We also get passages from other main characters, but what I especially liked was the way some passages ended with dialogue asides from the characters.¬†I really liked this, it kind of reminded me of watching a DVD¬†with the cast and crew commentary turned on. It’s like seeing¬†the story unfold while also getting all these voices jumping in and saying¬†‘this is what I meant by that comment,’ or ‘I was thinking that action would lead to this result’ – it’s just getting that little bit of extra perspective that really makes this novel stand out.

I have to be honest, certain parts of this book made me really uncomfortable. Living in Canada in this day and age I’m just used to a certain way of being, and this book had¬†a definite ‘Us and Them’ vibe to it.¬†I just had to keep reminding myself Thomas was representing a certain time and place very different from my own.

The ending is kind of ambiguous, understandable given that this is based on historical facts. I think Thomas did something really interesting though – there’s one passage where the actual text is a bit different from the rest. At first I thought this was just a printing error, but having read the novel and thought about it for a while, I think that passage was actually the key to the mystery. Overall this was a skillfully crafted text, one that I think I will be reading again.

The Hunger of the Wolf

The first Evergreen book I chose this yer was Stephen Marche’s The Hunger of the Wolf, a¬†sweeping family saga. It follows the Wylie family over the course of three generations from their hardscrabble beginnings¬†in the early twentieth century to the death of the last true Wylie in present day, head of a multinational conglomeration and one of the richest men around. The whole time they are hiding a deep, dark family secret (I’m pretty sure I read a review and/or synopsis that mentioned it, but it’s not on the book jacket so I won’t reveal any potential spoilers).

The novel has an interesting framework; although about the Wylie family it’s told form the perspective of Jamie Cabot, the son of the caretaker at their remote cabin in Northern Canada. He pieces together their story from old documents, bits of local gossip, and of course his own childhood memories. I liked getting this mix of first person narrative (such as when we are treated to letters written by the Wylies) and third person perspective.

I had high hopes for this one, and I did enjoy it at first, the whole thing had the feel of a literary fairytale mashup. But I started to lose interest about half-way through and it was a bit of a struggle to finish it.¬†I don’t know how else to put this other than to say it was a very¬†manly¬†novel – it felt like one of those macho fast-paced movies about greedy Wall Street big shots, understandable given how much it focused on how the Wylie family clawed their way to the top of the corporate world. It wasn’t a bad book, in fact I think it was quite skillfully crafted, but it just wasn’t to my taste.

Evergreen 2016

I learned my lesson with Canada Reads* this year, I need to give myself lots of time to get through my reading challenges. I usually wait until May or June to start my Evergreen Challenge but there was actually some overlap with the Canada Reads titles so I thought it was the perfect chance to jump in.

This year’s Evergreen nominees are:

  1. All Saints, by K.D. Miller
  2. Birdie, by Tracey Lindberg
  3. The Hunger of the Wolf, by Stephen Marche
  4. The Jaguar’s Children, by John Vaillant
  5. Local Customs, by Audrey Thomas
  6. Punishment, by Linden MacIntyre
  7. Seconds, by Bryan Lee O’Malley
  8. That Lonely Section of Hell: The Botched Investigation of a Serial Killer Who Almost Got Away, by Lori Shenher
  9. The Left Us Everything: A Memoir, by Plum Johnson
  10. Under the Visible Life, by Kim Echlin

I’ve already read Birdie so there’s just nine left – I can surely accomplish that by October, right?

*By the way, in case you were wondering, after a week of debates Lawrence Hill’s The Illegal was crowned this year’s Canada Reads title, which means my prediction was correct.