I cannot say enough good things about Julie Booker’s debut collection of short stories Up Up Up. I’m so vain I probably think these stories are about me, but chances are, if you’re a woman, you will too. Booker writes with subtlety, humour and depth, revealing layers within the most mundane situations and grounding the most exotic adventures in reality. Her writing is, at times, laugh out loud funny, but it’s the kind of humour where it’s funny because it’s true, and you feel a pang of pain because it’s the kind of situation where all you can do is laugh.
Booker’s descriptions are snappy yet vivid: a character named Heather is described as having “a man body with breasts,” the blooming of an amaryllis as “disgusting… From cock to cunt in a matter of days.” I, quite literally, laughed out loud in a mall food court while reading her speed dating story “Breakup Fresh.” To that confession, Julie Booker responded, “A mall food court + speed dating have lots in common: quick turnover, a story at every table…and some who always leave a trail of garbage.” For even more samples of her writing, check out her incredibly entertaining pieces in the National Post’s Afterword.
I tried to choose a favourite story to write about, but honestly, I just liked so many of them. Booker’s stories talk about romance, friendship, body image, aging, and so many other things that were relevant to me, personally, and she handles them with such delicacy and candour that her stories felt even more real. “Geology in Motion,” for example, is about a pair of plus-sized friends taking a kayaking trip in Alaska. They go from making fun of the image of “two fat ladies in a kayak! In skintight wetsuits. Eek!” to buying supplies and going on the trip. Booker’s description of one woman’s fear and the other’s desire to keep pushing further made me want to cheer them on, and the way the story ends made me have to stop for a moment. Then, of course, I went on to the next story, eager to see what Booker had in store for me next.
“The Exchange,” about an aspiring artist and an aspiring art collector falling in love at the Art Gallery of Ontario, is more cynical than romantic. Booker begins with the (intentionally, on the author’s part) stilted dialogue of a carefully choreographed flirtation, and goes into a very matter of fact depiction of the development of the characters’ relationship. We hear the story from aspiring artist Diana’s point of view, and while she very logically interprets Henry’s actions, the violence of her emotions comes forth in Booker’s descriptions of her art work.
The best thing about Up Up Up being a collection of short stories rather than a novel is that each story offers a different type of reading pleasure, like a box of truffles instead of a single chocolate bar. There’s a wonderful feeling in treating yourself to one wonderful story at a time. Because these tales are so short, so much emotion comes from details: a line of dialogue tossed off by a character, or a singular character trait, like the clown in “Below Below” insisting on teaching in French even though she grew up in “Bumfuck-Nowhere, Ontario.”
Up Up Up is, quite possibly, the best book I’ve read all year, and I’ve read a lot of very good ones. To all women: buy this book. Read it, then pass it on to your sister, your best friend, your mother. Even better, if you’re in or near Toronto, go see Julie Booker yourself at the Harbourfront Centre, Wednesday, June 8th, 7:30 pm. The back cover of Up Up Up warns readers, “Prepare to meet your new favourite writer.” All I can say is, Ms. Booker, it’s a pleasure.