Tag Archives: Non-fiction

At the Existentialist Café

Freedom, Being & Apricot CocktailsSarah Bakewell promises freedom, being and apricot cocktails at this here café, but I think what we get is actually – and I kid you not – a love story. Which is not to say that love stories and freedom, being, and apricot cocktails are mutually exclusive – least of all that last one, I’m sure!

I’m going to argue my case. It’s a love story firstly between Bakewell and the existentialist philosophers (and philosophy), but also, through the process of becoming witness to that story, between the reader and – I suppose it’s a pick and choose, but I truly do think he’s the protagonist here – Jean-Paul Sartre. Don’t get me wrong, now. Bakewell does an extremely good job picking apart existentialism and following it through the ages, from its inchoate stages through its evolution in Sartre and other customers of this existentialist café over time. She details their relationships with each other as they become friends, break with each other, try again, and break it off for good. There is a good mix of 1)historical context, which I appreciated a lot and helps give depth to the characters, allowing you to understand what may have served as possible motivators, 2)character development, and 3)the understanding that ideas are not static entities, are subject to change, and sometimes defy attempts at definition. Bakewell embraces #3 from the very start, and having read this book cover to cover, I leave satisfied not being able to provide a clean and simple definition of what exactly constitutes existentialism. But let’s talk about #2: character development. Continue reading

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

Online Courses! For FREE! No, really!

One of the less-known gems of the Vaughan Public Libraries online collection is the access we can give you to free online courses (just click on the Learn tab on our Lifelong Learning page). Here, you’ll find a list of different platforms available for various kinds of learning. We can help you out with, seriously, almost any topic imaginable, including options like: