Tag Archives: Canadian Literature

Tomboy Survival Guide, by Ivan Coyote

Cover of the book Tomboy Survival Guide. Cover is bright orange, with a black-white drawing of a human heart.Ivan Coyote is the kind of storyteller who finds their way into the heart of anyone who takes the time to listen. In fact, one of the stories in Tomboy Survival Guide is kind of about just that! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you don’t know who Coyote is, I implore you to look into their work – they are a Canadian writer and storyteller who grew up in the Yukon. Their stories reflect their endless fascination with and love for people of all kinds, and they have a remarkable ability to pull beautiful things out of tragedy and pain. All of their story collections thrum with humanity (to the point where they even bring out the reluctant poet in me, apparently!)

Cover of the book Gender Failure, with a sepia-toned portrait of Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon sitting next to each in suits and tiesTheir most recent collection, Tomboy Survival Guide, is particularly dear to my heart, though. I originally discovered Coyote when they were touring with Rae Spoon, one of my favourite Canadian musical artists. The two artists collaborated on on the multimedia show Gender Failure, exploring their experiences growing up and failing to fit into the gender binary. I saw this show three times while it was touring, and I cried at each performance; it was that good. (The stories and lyrics from this show were also published as a book by the same title, so go ahead and check it out* for yourself!)

Tomboy Survival Guide also follows up on a collaborative performance project of the same title, that Coyote developed with an all-tomboy musical ensemble, an dit explores many of the same themes as Gender Failure. Here Coyote digs back into their own life, growing up from their tomboy roots into a young butch adult, and finally embracing the uncategorizable nature of their gendered experience. Funny, vulnerable, and sometimes sad, this is ultimately a heart-warming collection of memories that, like all of Coyote’s writing, inspires me to be a stronger and more compassionate person.

Maybe it will do the same for you.


*pun very much intended

Birdie by Tracey Lindberg

Birdie is the nickname of Bernice Meetoos, a “big, beautiful Cree woman” from Northern Alberta who has made her way to Gibsons, British Colombia. On the surface her travels have been in pursuit of her childhood crush, the actor Pat John (Jesse from The Beachcombers television series), but her journey goes much deeper.

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Not long after her arrival, Bernice “takes to her bed”, not eating or speaking or even moving, but she continues to voyage within herself. Her secrets are slowly revealed throughout the novel as she tries to come to terms with (and sometimes recall pieces of) her painful past. At the core of this book is the relationships between women, and how they come together in times of need, as Bernice’s cousin Skinny Freda, motheraunt Val, and employer Lola (who all have their own secrets) rally around her and try to will her back. This book is particularly relevant in light of calls that led to a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Tracey Lindberg’s first novel is beautifully written, interspersed with fragments of poetry and Cree storytelling tradition. It is not without humour (see: Birdie’s preoccupation with Pat John, as well as her obsession with reruns of the cooking show The Frugal Gourmet) despite sometimes dark subject matter.

Birdie was one of the books selected for CBC’s Canada Reads 2016. Though The Illegal by Lawrence Hill eventually won this “Battle of the Books”, defender Bruce Poon Tip felt so strongly about the importance of Birdie to the Can Lit canon that he is giving 10,000 copies to Canadian high schools.

As well as Canada Reads 2016, Birdie is tagged on our Adult Summer Reading, Brilliant Debut Authors, and Escape the Ordinary lists. Be sure to reserve your copy of Birdie soon, and check out these lists for some other amazing reading recommendations!

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis: Is intelligence bliss or blight?

Alexis-Andre-Fifteen-Dogs

If animals were granted brainpower, would they want to be humans? Or at least, would they die happier? When I was reading Andre Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs, I happened to read a children’s comic book about talking animals, Scarlett: Star on the Run  at the same time. My imagination started to fly with this weird pair.

 

In Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis,  fifteen random dogs in a veterinary clinic  in Toronto were bestowed with human intelligence by Apollo and Hermes for a bet: if dogs had human intelligence, would they die happier? The fifteen dogs suddenly became capable of figuring out how to open the cage lock and fled the vet. Most of them chose to stay with the pack and settle at a corner in High Park. As they sensed changes in themselves soon, all of the dogs started thinking and making choices on what they would like to be in the small society they just started building. 

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