8

Canada Reads: The Woo-Woo

Next month, five different books will be discussed and defended with the ultimate goal of narrowing it down to one book that all Canadians should read. That’s the idea behind Canada Reads, an annual book tournament televised on the CBC. This year’s theme is “one book to move you.”

This year’s contenders and their chosen books are:

Someone I follow on Instagram is actually the literary agent for The Woo-Woo and she mentioned it in her stories so I decided that that would be the first book I’d read.

woo woo.jpg

The Woo-Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons, and My Crazy Chinese Family by Lindsay Wong is a memoir of growing up in a family struggling with untreated mental illnesses, believing instead that the afflicted person was possessed by ghosts. Lindsay’s mother was terrified of being possessed, taking her children to live in a mall food court for weeks at a time because the ghosts wouldn’t find them there. Her father used work as a solace, using his role as family breadwinner as an excuse for not dealing with any of the madness at home. To this day Lindsay doesn’t speak with her younger sister and her relationship with her younger brother is incredibly damaged. Her aunt once held the Lower Mainland hostage on Canada Day as she threatened to jump from one of the main bridges in the area.

That Wong manage to make it out alive at all is a testament to her strength. That she not only survived but was able to relive it all to write about it is something else entirely. While this memoir could be compared to Educated or The Glass Castle, I hesitate to make the comparison. For one thing, this book didn’t get to me emotionally like those books did. I don’t think that Wong is completely free of this story, I think she probably still lives it, so there’s an emotional distance that was likely necessary to write the book.

Reading about her childhood I felt anger and sadness for this little girl that couldn’t possibly understand how sick her family was. That there was no one at school, no friends, no friends’ parents who stepped in to offer Lindsay any kind of help, a place to go that was clean and safe. I’m still incredibly curious about how she has managed to become a functioning, capable adult from the violent, crass, unwashed teenager she writes about so callously.

The Woo-Woo is dark. I know it’s being billed as darkly humorous but I don’t recall laughing that much. What I felt was anger. Anger at her family, the city she derisively calls Hongcouver, at herself for not understanding sooner how broken her home life was. I had a hard time with some of the language used too. I have no doubt that it was accurate, that her parents absolutely used the word to refer to her but I hate the R word a lot and it was sprinkled liberally throughout. I like to think that it was a tough decision for Wong to include or not include the word but I still found it jarring to encounter it so often.

In the end, this was a horrifying look at the damage untreated mental illness can do, at the superstitions that can hold a culture hostage. But I’m not sure that The Woo-Woo has the emotional heft to win Canada Reads.

 

Advertisements
6

Too many books, too little time

Like everyone else, in January I got sucked into Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up on Netflix. I didn’t finish the series – I got halfway through before I realized that all the show made me want to do was go through all my stuff and throw half of it away.

Well we’re just about halfway through February and I am ashamed to say that I still have that feeling and I’ve done nothing about it. I mean, I’ve talked about it a lot, but all my stuff is still here, waiting to jump out at you from hidden household depths.

I did recently go through all of my books though. I got rid of a lot when we put up some new shelving. But now I have space to spare and I can’t just ignore that can I? Even though I keep telling myself that I will not BUY anymore books (just yesterday I made a vow that I would wait until after my birthday next month to buy any new books), I keep finding myself in line at the bookstore with new books in hand.

My bookshelves might have room to spare but my TBR cupboard does not. I’ve recently added the following to its buckling shelves:

Notes On A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig: I love Matt Haig, have done for years. I think there’s some real power in his words, especially his Reasons to Stay Alive. This is his follow up to that one, about how to find ways to live in the present when the world is asking us to live at warp speed.

The Come Up by Angie Thomas. Remember how much I loved The Hate U Give? Thomas’ second novel, about a girl who dreams of being a rapper when her world just sees her as a hoodlum, sounds like it’s going to be just as good. I’ve been waiting for this to come out for ages.

The Woo Woo: How I Survived Ice Hockey, Drug Raids, Demons and My Crazy Chinese Family by Lindsay Wong. This one is one of the picks for the Canada Reads debates next month. I’ve actually already started to read this one and it is bananas. Wong is my age and grew up in the same neck of the woods and yet, our childhoods and families could not be more different. This is a dark one.

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. I loved An American Marriage a lot. Before that book blew up, I had never heard of Jones. Imagine my delight to find that she actually has a few other books I get to read! Silver Sparrow is about the daughter of a bigamist, finding out about his other family and what that means for her own life.

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory. I really enjoyed Guillory’s The Wedding Date. I thought it was fun, funny, sexy and clever. I’m in the mood for more of that and since the author of the same has something else out, it seemed like the perfect fit. Nikole and her boyfriend have been dating for five months when they end up at a Dodgers game with a bunch of his friends. He proposes on the big screen. Nikole is blindsided and says no…

Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain from the Nineteenth Century to Modern Times by Lucy Lethbridge. As much as I love reading about aristocracy, I’m also finding myself more and more curious about those people who ran the fancy estates, the castles and the townhouses. This book is so very on brand for me!

The Mistresses of Clivedon: Three Centuries of Scandal, Power, and Intrigue in an English Stately Home by Natalie Livingstone. I mean, come on. Scandal, power and intrigue in an English country estate? Centered around women? I didn’t stand a chance trying to resist this one.

I’d like to tell you that after I hit publish on this, I spent naptime reading. But I have to finish this week’s episode of The Bachelor so…you fall behind one week, it becomes really hard to catch up!

10

Allergic to the Man Booker

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

We’re all aware that in the last few years there’s been renewed interest in feminist dystopian writing. Margaret Atwood gets trotted out to crown new authors and we keep searching for someone to write something that captures how we feel.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh definitely fits this description, down to a Margaret Atwood quote on the cover: “a gripping, sinister fable” she calls it. But if you look more closely, you will also see that this was nominated for the Man Booker Prize and you know what that means.

It means that the book will barely be readable, undone by lofty prose pretending to tell big truths about how to human.

water cure

Grace, Lia and Sky are sisters held captive on some kind of island by their parents. Their father, who they sickeningly call King (could be his name, could be a title, either way: ew), has disappeared after going to the mainland for supplies. He is presumed dead and it is up to their mother, a woman who takes far too much enjoyment out of meting punishments to the girls for their transgressions, to keep them safe.

But safe from what? Presumably men and the things that they do to women. But what is King doing to these women, his daughters? One of them is pregnant and how did that happen when he’s the only man on the ‘island’? With their father gone, Grace, Lia and Sky along with their mother must fend for themselves when three males find their way onto the island.

It seems like The Water Cure is supposed to be some kind of thrilling fable, a cat and mouse game on an island inhabited only by women and the man who has taken it upon himself to guard their virtue. But I spent most of the book just wondering what the hell was even happening. It seems like perhaps Mackintosh was so busy ensuring her prose was beguiling and vaguely sinister to remember to actually incorporate any kind of plot. All these shadowy insinuations on what happened to force the family to the island never come to anything, the reasons for the men coming to the island are hardly more clear and the ‘resolution’ if we can call it that, left much to be desired.

Don’t even get me started on the odd 2nd person storytelling in the beginning.

The Water Cure clocks in at just 266 pages but I lost count of how many times I checked to see how many pages I had left. I probably should have DNF’d this but I was so sure there would be some kind of payoff.

There wasn’t. Shame. I’d have loved to have found a cool new feminist dystopian novel.

4

Literary Wives: They Were Sisters

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

I wasn’t able to read this book – for the first time ever, the library let me down. Two different cities didn’t have one single copy. I couldn’t find a version online and I had run out of time to order a copy directly from the publisher.

But I hope that you will still take a look at the posts from the other bloggers!

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

And come back in April for Wait for Me, Jack by Addison Jones.

2

Canadian Chick Lit

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

You know how the more you read of a certain genre, the harder it becomes to enjoy it? I’ve been reading Chick Lit for close to twenty years (what?!) and I go through phases where I think I won’t ever enjoy another iteration.

I worried a little bit that that was happening with The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli but I’m happy to report that it did manage to redeem itself. Plus, this book is Canadian and you all know how that’s always been a challenge for me.

matchmaker

Raina Anand has just turned 29 and her nani is keen to get her married to a nice Indian boy. Raina has a great career, owns a condo in Toronto (no small feat!) and has a great group of friends – she’s a catch! The problem is that Raina’s heart isn’t in it; she’s still hung up on Dev, the guy she was with while living in London who definitely isn’t ready for that kind of step. When they broke up Raina was devastated and wore out the patience of her best friend, who is now planning her own big Indian wedding.

There was a point in the book when I was afraid it was going to become a story about a girl waiting on the wrong kind of boy to come to his senses and realize he wants to be with her, that she would only feel validation once he loved her.

Happily, the further I read the more layers I peeled back. The Matchmaker’s List is a kind of boy-meets-girl story made fresh by the cultural observations of an Indo-Canadian woman. It’s the story of three generations of women in a family trying to come to terms with what their relationships to each other and their community look like. Raina gets into all kinds of trouble by letting her grandmother think that she’s gay so she will stop trying to set her up. In borrowing a narrative that doesn’t belong to her, she realizes that she’s cheapening the story for those who it does belong to.

The Matchmaker’s List was funny, it was honest, it felt real. It’s a completely Canadian story while also being universal in its themes of love, family, and the journey to find our true selves.

17

A Slow Start to 2019

HELLO!

Remember me? I used to blog somewhat regularly…

I’ve been reading, making sure to carve time for it into most of my days. During naps, before bed. But that extra step to blogging feels like a massive one!

It doesn’t help that I’ve made some reading missteps already this year. I’ve only managed to finish five books so far in 2019 and I’ve only liked two of them (Becoming by Michelle Obama and A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Ann Fowler).

nine perfect strangers

I was so excited to get to read Liane Moriarty’s new book. You may remember that I LOVED Big Little Lies and have read everything she’s written, enjoying mostly all of it. Nine Perfect Strangers was the ONE book I got for Christmas and uncharacteristically I started reading it ASAP (what? Don’t you not read your Christmas gift books for years?)

For the brain candy read that I expected it took me way too long to get through it. For one thing, I didn’t really care about any of the characters. Moriarty writes about female relationships and that’s what I’m looking for when I pick up one of her books. This one had a group of random people in a health spa that has some seriously unconventional methods to get people to change their lives. When they all started tripping on mild doses of LSD that had been slipped into their smoothies I started yelling at my book.

the fave

When I finished that one (the relief!) I decided to shake things up by reading some non-fiction. Having just watched the movie The Favourite, I wanted to get started on reading the book by Ophelia Field. Having read about Tudors and Victorians for ages I’ve been leaning into the Stuarts. Field’s biography of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough and her relationship with Queen Anne was way longer and denser than I was ready for. There’s a lot of politics to get through and you kind of have to grin and bear it to understand the complexities of Sarah’s relationship with the Queen. I think the way biographies are written has really changed in the last ten years. Field’s The Favourite is more of a traditional biography and there wasn’t much life to it.

mrs fletcher

And then! Then! I read Tom Perrotta’s Mrs Fletcher! I remember reading a lot of positive things about Mrs Fletcher online when the book came out. I saw it at the library (thank God I didn’t buy it) and thought I might as well read it as not. I don’t know what I was thinking. When has a man writing a woman ever been a good fit for me? Has Perrotta ever spoken to a woman? Mrs Fletcher is trying to start the next phase of her life when her son has moved away to college. She gets addicted to porn, thinks about making out with a colleague and actually acts on it (sexual harassment) and ultimately finds her satisfaction getting remarried. Meanwhile her son treats women like disposable sex objects and is confused when he gets called out on it. HONESTLY WHY DID I READ THIS? I look forward to not watching the HBO miniseries but I’m sure it will win all the awards.

I’m going to try and hold onto the two books I read that I did really enjoy. I’m reading Sonya Lalli’s The Matchmaker’s List right now and so far it’s engaging and I don’t want to set it on fire so I’m hopeful. January reading has been kind of a bust but maybe February will be better.

How about you? How’s your January reading been?

12

Literary Wives: The Stars Are Fire

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

Please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

stars are fire

In post-war Maine, Grace Holland seems to have the perfect life. She has two young healthy children, her husband has a great job as an engineer and they own their own bungalow in a small beach-side town in Maine. But when fire breaks out after a summer long drought, pregnant Grace loses everything in one night and must find a way to build a new life for herself and her children. After going to help fight the fires, her husband Gene doesn’t come back.

After being hospitalized for the loss of her baby, Grace is reunited with her mother and children and they make their way to her late mother-in-law’s home. Reasoning that the home is Gene’s and as Gene’s presumed widow, the home is now hers, she sets to making the house habitable for the family. She finds work as the office manager for a doctor new in town, she learns to drive and buys a car.

And when everyone is happily settled into this new reality, not-really dead Gene returns badly injured with a different personality, like a bomb ready to tear everything apart.

My Thoughts

I spent the first half waiting for Gene to return – it wasn’t a ‘twist’ that was particularly well hidden. The stage was already set for him to be a horrible person – their third child was conceived after a forcible encounter, something that deeply shamed Grace. Although her life before the fire looked like one that would be envied, it was clear from the first page that it was all a facade. Gene drank a little too much, their life was rigidly structured, and socializing too much with the neighbours was frowned upon.

I liked reading this book. It could have been incredibly saccharine and heavy handed but Grace has enough hardness to her that she doesn’t become a stranded damsel. She is more than capable of handling the challenges that have been sent her way. I appreciated that we got to see Grace rebuilding her life on her own before the reappearance of Gene – it showcased her strength, her abilities and served to foreshadow how Grace could react should her life fall apart again.

This time Grace isn’t content to live the life that other people think should be good enough.

What does the book say about being a wife?

For a lot of the book, Grace isn’t a wife. She navigates her life in the aftermath of her marriage, when a natural disaster has robbed her of all of the material possessions and status she was supposed to want. In many ways, Grace is freed from her status as a wife. When she is married, she is unsure of what she wants and there is a certain inevitability to her days.

Her and Gene’s marriage is not a love match, they met and her mother urged her to marry him as he would be able to give her the kind of life that would be easy. Her mother also feels a certain relief in her widowhood, her husband having died in the course of his work as a fisherman. Grace’s mother doesn’t understand why Grace questions her life at all. For her it is simple: a husband provides and a wife makes a nice home.

I think Grace was traumatized by the death of her father and the withdrawal of her mother and she saw Gene as a way to have her own life. But that life isn’t what she thought it would be, probably because it was missing any kind of affection. Freed from the constraints of her marriage (albeit under fairly tragic circumstances), Grace is able to learn who she is and what she wants.

When Gene returns, he destroys all of that. He is horribly disfigured, angry, violent and crass. The aggressive tendencies he had already displayed towards her in the Before, are no longer disguised and in an effort to protect her children, Grace allows Gene to take his anger out on her. Mostly it seems like The Stars Are Fire is saying that being a wife is suffocating and horrible and one shouldn’t get married young to people who are virtual strangers. It is only once Grace gets to live her own life as a single person that she finds any kind of happiness.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! Join us in February when we read They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple.