The February Five

Now that I’m happily back to reading, I’ll share with you four of my top book picks for these wintry days… and one album.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Griffin)

This book challenges the usual YA label, and manages to be sharp and soft, sweet and harsh, beautiful and raw all at the same time. It’s a story about teenagers who don’t fit the mould, something to which I think most of us can relate, whether it happened to us as teens or at another time in life. It’s a time-travel piece, too, right back to the 80s, and all of the pop culture stuff made me feel simultaneously old and young at the same time. I was the same age as the characters during those angsty years.

Hellgoing by Lynn Coady (Anansi)

The Giller prize went to Lynn last year for this new short story collection. Thank you, Giller jury. Many of the stories will make you squirm, in sympathy or worry. It’s challenging to describe story collections, so I will simply list my two favourites: “The Natural Elements” and “Body Condom.” I like these stories for their humanity, humour, and honesty. This is a dynamic, disturbing and darkly humorous book.

Oh, My Darling, by Shaena Lambert (Harper Collins)

This collection of short stories shines a spotlight on families at points of crisis or challenge, and reveals the complicated nature of being a part of the human race. Shaena turns familiar situations on their heads, and dares us as readers to travel with her to new territories. My two faves in here are “Crow Ride” and “The Wind.” Oh, what a beautiful and intense collection. Probably my top pick for a story collection in 2013. (Perhaps a tie with Tenth of December by George Saunders. See post from June, 2013.)

Song & Spectacle, by Rachel Rose (Harbour)

Poetry that sings and reveals, Song & Spectacle is a collection of poetry that reaches for you and takes you, not only by the hand but around the wrist, too: come, see this, it says, tugging you along towards moments of loss and love and the complications of these two together. At the recent WordsThaw symposium sponsored by The Malahat Review at UVic, Tim Lilburn spoke on a panel about writing and the human spirit. He talked about the idea of that moment when you feel recognized by the text you are reading; when the text seems to know your experience and reflect it back to you. This is what Rachel Rose does for me in this collection of poems.

Love is Hell, by Ryan Adams (Lost Highway, 2004)

This is a ten-year-old album of amazing songs. Ryan’s beautifully written stories and vignettes sung alongside his piano and guitar melodies will make you feel, deeply. You might want to sing along, if you’re so inclined. But these are not all cheerful campfire songs: fathers on amphetamines, women who fade out like a dance, water pollution, imperfect love. There are moods within moods on this album. “Making snow angels in the gravel and the dirt.” Some reviewers have been less than kind about this one, first released as 2 EPs, calling it too moody, too reminiscent of Radiohead, Coldplay, The Smiths, Jeff Buckley, but I like all of those bands. I’m not afraid to say that I love almost every song on Love is Hell. Maybe you will, too.

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