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!)
Their 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, and it 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
Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: advice on love and life from Dear Sugar collects together some of the best columns Strayed produced while writing the “Dear Sugar” column at the Rumpus. If you don’t know who Strayed is, she’s the woman behind the memoir Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail; Reese Witherspoon played her in the multiply-Oscar nominated movie adaptation Wild.
Dear Sugar tackles much more sensitive and emotionally complex territory than traditional advice columns, and the questions in this collection range from people asking for help figuring how to decide whether they will have children, and how to move forward after infidelity, to one particularly memorable letter from a troubled reader simply wanting to know “WTF, WTF, WTF? I’m asking this question as it applies to everything every day” (Excerpt from her answer: “Ask better questions, sweet pea. The f*** is your life. Answer it.”)
Strayed’s strength is in the way that responds to her readers’ vulnerability with radical vulnerability of her own, sharing her own darkest moments and greatest failures, gently providing perspective, and often getting to the unstated heart of readers’ questions. Regardless of whether any of the readers’ situations resonate with you, Strayed’s stunningly wise and radically empathetic approach to life, communicated through truly beautiful writing, almost can’t help but change the way you see the world.
As an avid lover of genre fiction – especially science fiction and horror, but also YA (that’s young adult novels, to the extent that can be called a ‘genre’) – I set myself a self-improvement project of sorts last year. You see, I had never really read romance novels. I, like many others, had long written them off as so much trash, unworthy of my attention.
But when I started working in libraries, and really seeing the devotion many people have to the genre, I began to realize that I was almost certainly missing out on something. This was also when I had first started getting into YA, and I had really gotten into the romance elements of some of them (notably, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, and Kiera Cass’ Selection series).
I couldn’t help but admit what I had always sort of known; the general attitude toward romance novels, the one I had unthinkingly allowed myself to fall into, is really pretty misogynist. It is one of many examples of the ways in which media made by and for women is denigrated and seen as lesser than the real stuff.
And I decided to find out what I was missing, and if there was romance that I could love.
And so, I began reading about romance, learning its sub-genres, and trying to figure out where to even start. Because I’ve always had a soft spot for the likes of Jane Austen (though I must admit I’ve never had romantical feelings about her protagonists), and I had recently come off a major Downton Abbey spree at the time, Regency/historical romance seemed like the place to start. I’ll spare you the whole journey, but the short version is I have, in fact, wound up finding some really enjoyable reads! Continue reading