To celebrate the summer of 2018, we are pleased to present an ongoing series of reading recommendations/reminiscences by Goose Lane authors past and present.
Today: Karen Smythe (This Side of Sad)
In late June, to prepare for new flooring in our basement (after a flood), I packed up some of my favourite books—which I’d been keeping down there on one dedicated book shelf—and I labelled the boxes alphabetically (eg: Berriault to Didion). With the project completed, I’ve decided to leave the books where they are. Though I’m not willing to part with any of them, I don’t often need to retrieve books I’ve read (those I re-read every year or two are kept elsewhere). Since there are only so many bookcases a small home can accommodate, and since there is no limit on the number of books my husband and I will continue to bring into it, storing a good many of those I’ve already read seems prudent.
This decision has freed up space for my ever-growing “To be Read” stash, which had been piled on the floor next to the bed for months and months (okay, years). With these now sitting properly on shelves, spines out (also organized alphabetically by author), I can easily see what I’ve gathered and make selections without toppling ten or twelve others around my feet. And what perfect timing: summer’s long days seem to make time grow, somehow, so that there are more hours available for indulging in favourite activities, including reading.
Recent releases already under my belt include Sheila Heti’s Motherhood; Lionel Shriver’s Property; Rachel Cusk’s Kudos; and Go, Went, Gone, by Jenny Erpenbeck. I got through these more quickly than I’d expected, but I’m trying not to buy any more newly published books just now (that basement floor was expensive!); so this summer, I’m going to tackle some of the books I’ve already paid for. William Trevor’s Last Stories is first on the list. One of my favourite writers, Trevor never fails to move me with his tales of ordinary people who lead extraordinary inner lives. Some of these stories I’ve already read in The New Yorker, but they will be well worth a re-read. Timeless stuff.
Speaking of time, I am also looking forward to Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love. I’ve come to her writing late, having read Great House this past winter. Her lyrical style captivated me in that novel; Krauss weaves profound themes into complex, compelling story lines beautifully. (Great House is on a re-read shelf, by the way).
I also enjoy nonfiction books that help me to grasp developments in neuroscience and neuropsychology, which are ongoing interests of mine, as well as physics. Black Hole Blues by astrophysicist Janna Levin is one I’ve been looking forward to for a while.
One book that I will be purchasing, despite my budget, is Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (translated from Polish by Jennifer Croft), winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2018. Tokarczuk is outspoken about Poland’s increasingly right-wing politics and therefore a very controversial writer at home (publishers had to hire bodyguards for her in 2014, after she made public comments criticizing “horrendous acts” in Poland’s history).1 From what I’ve read about the book, Flights travels the world and moves around in historical time, and its non-traditional structure appeals to my own interest in inventing new narrative forms.
Finally, there is a memoir I’d kept by my bedside for a few years: Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting. I once visited the Outer Hebrides, and it is one of the most beautiful and humbling places I’ve ever seen. Going back there in my mind with Bunting’s work to guide me will be a great summer vacation, in my books.
About Karen Smythe
Karen Smythe is the author of a short-story collection, Stubborn Bones, and Figuring Grief, a groundbreaking analysis of the depiction of mourning in fiction by Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Virginia Woolf, Edna O'Brien, and others. Her stories have also appeared in Grain, the Fiddlehead, the Antigonish Review, and the Gaspereau Review. She lives in Guelph, Ontario. This Side of Sad is her first novel.