The FOLD 2016 #DiverseBooks Reading Challenge: The Final Chapter

The FOLD Festival of Literary Diversity recently released its Diverse Books Reading Challenge for 2017, which reminded me that I still have reviews pending for some of the titles I read for the 2016 Reading Challenge. (Recap: Blog Post 1 | Blog Post 2) And so, before I kick off the 2017 Challenge, here are other #DiverseBooks bookish highlights from 2016:

The FOLD’s 2016 Reading List

  1. A book you’ve had for more than a year.
  2. A book outside of your ‘favourite genre’.
  3. A book you buy at an indie bookstore.
  4. A book by a person of a faith (different from your own).
  5. A book by an Aboriginal author.
  6. A book by a Canadian LGBTQ author.
  7. A book by a Canadian person of colour.
  8. A book by a FOLD 2016 author.

#3. A book you buy at an indie bookstore

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I’m actually rather ashamed to admit I don’t remember which indie bookstore I bought this in. I visited a friend in Belleville last fall, and as we are both total bookworms, we went indie bookstore hopping in the area. We must have visited two or three that afternoon, and I remember buying at least one book at each store. A Disobedient Girl is the first Ru Freeman book I’ve read, and I love how beautifully she manages to evoke a sense of place. Set in Sri Lanka, the novel is about a young servant girl named Latha, who aspires to the wealthy lifestyle of Thara, her best friend and the daughter of her employers. A wilful act of rebellion leads to horrible, long-reaching consequences that threatens their friendship and brings realities of class and power to the fore. Parallel to Latha’s story is that of Biso, a mother of three who takes her children on a train to escape her abusive husband. As she fights to hold on to her freedom, her story unfolds to reveal threads that eventually intertwine with Latha and Thara’s story.

It’s a moving and beautifully told story that just completely transports you to the characters’ worlds. There are many beautiful passages, but one that stands out to me is from the very beginning, where Latha takes slivers from the family’s bar of Lux soap and rubs it into her armpits and the insides of her wrists. I remember Lux soap from childhood, and the image of such a young servant girl using such a strong flowery scent and having access only to tiny slivers, is such a potent image of wealth, privilege and the burning, heartbreaking desire to be part of that world.

Other books I bought on that trip are Margaret Atwood and Johnnie Christmas’ Angel Catbird (hilarious and fantastic, particularly for this crazy cat lady) and Anosh Irani’s The Song of Kahunsha (I haven’t read it yet, but I loved The Parcel).

#4. A book by a person of faith (other than your own)

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I’m not sure if Jonathan Safran Foer is Jewish, but his novel Here I Am delves a lot into Jewish experience. The novel is a compelling, thought-provoking family drama that asks what it means to be an American Jew. I grew up Catholic, and found a lot of the references to the Torah (Old Testament) familiar, and I enjoyed seeing how the familiar story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac is framed somewhat differently in Jewish tradition. The questions that protagonist Jacob Bloch asked about identity and one’s responsibility to their homeland resonated with me as an immigrant, and overall, I found Here I Am a hefty book, physically and mentally. It’s one to digest slowly, and well worth the effort.

#6. A book by a Canadian LGBTQ author

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The first in Jeffrey Round’s mystery series starring gay missing persons investigator Dan Sharp, Lake on the Mountain begins with a potential murder on a yacht then reveals a much bigger and more tangled mystery involving various members of a wealthy family. It reminds me somewhat of an Agatha Christie novel, with story being driven by characters and their secrets more than by the crime itself, and I will likely check out other books in this series next time I feel like a mystery novel treat for the weekend. I also really like the interaction between Dan and his son, and look forward to seeing that develop further in future books.

Books I Wanted to Read in 2016 But Didn’t Get Around To Reading

Alas, in the end, there just weren’t enough days in the year to finish the challenge. Or perhaps these happened to be the categories I found most challenging?

#1. A book you’ve had for more than a year

Octavia’s Brood is an anthology of science fiction stories from social justice movements that seems like something I’d love immediately, but I haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.

#2. A book outside of your ‘favourite genre’.

Short stories aren’t usually my cup of tea, but I’ve always wanted to try Octavia Butler, so I thought I’d give Bloodchild and Other Stories a try.

#5. A book by an Aboriginal author.

 

I heard great things about Indian Horse when it was on Canada Reads.

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Have you read any of the books listed above, or do you have another recommendation for any of the categories above?

 

Review | The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up + Spark Joy, Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo’s books on tidying up is a bit intense and sometimes unintentionally hilarious, but actually also full of really good tips for de-cluttering your life. Spark Joy is basically an illustrated guide to implementing the methods espoused in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I read Life-Changing Magic on audio, and Spark Joy is a useful companion volume, with a lot of visuals that I’ll use as a reference when I actually start implementing some of her tactics.

My main take-away from both books is that you should get rid of anything you own that doesn’t spark joy. That seems a pretty good rule of thumb when de-cluttering. Sure, it’s sometimes hard to look at a pair of socks and ask yourself whether or not it actually sparks joy, but certainly, when organizing my bookshelves (and piles of books that no longer fit on the shelves *ahem*) or my closet, this piece of advice makes a lot of sense.

This actually reminds me of a shopping trip with a friend a few years back. Every time my eyes didn’t light up instantly when I tried something on, he immediately recommended I return it to the rack. His advice has stuck with me since: “If you try it on and it doesn’t excite you or make you feel amazing, it’s not worth it.”

Before that shopping trip, I often bought clothes simply because they were practical, thinking only if they fit and not if they made me feel amazing. I’d always enjoyed shopping but when it came to certain kinds of clothes, such as those for work, I had a very utilitarian approach which, to be honest, wasn’t much fun. That friend’s advice was a game changer, inspiring me to trust my own instincts and try the most offbeat combinations just because. He made clothes a lot more interesting, and I learned how fun it can be to adapt my personal style to multiple situations.

So Marie Kondo’s advice to use the “spark joy” criteria in deciding whether or not to keep a particular item makes so much sense to me. It’s all about trusting yourself to know what is worth keeping. She also cautions against holding on to items that may have already served their purpose and no longer spark joy. For example, gifts from loved ones that you can’t actually use, or photos of scenery you can barely even place. She says that a gift’s purpose is to be received, a book’s purpose is to impart information, and so on, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about letting them go. This feels particularly relevant since as an immigrant, I’ve had to leave behind a lot of things when I moved. Part of me misses having those things around — old school projects, old toys — yet another part of me has come to understand that while the items themselves may be gone, the memories they represented remain and cannot be taken away as easily.

Her approach can sometimes be a bit intense. For example, I have no intention of thanking my socks for their work in holding my feet (sorry socks), but I see the benefit of not balling them up. (Kondo says it’s because they deserve to rest, I see it as keeping the fibres from loosening up/wearing out.) I also caution against throwing out all documents as she advises. I often throw things out when I’m stressed, only to realize later on that there are documents that would have been useful to keep. She’s also clearly a fervent advocate of living clutter-free, which to be honest, I can’t get as excited about.

Kondo says that for her method to work, it has to be a concentrated effort over a few months, and a rather severe cutting back on the items you own. I don’t know if I’m ready to commit to that quite yet, but certainly, I plan to do at least my closet and bookshelves and then take it from there. Coincidentally, clothes and books are also where Kondo suggests you begin, so I’m open to the possibility that I’m so excited by how I feel that I continue on with the rest of my apartment.

At the very least, I find myself already applying her principles to the books I read. If a book is not “sparking joy” by a certain point, I label it DNF (did not finish) and move on. Whereas I would have felt guilty before about not struggling through to the very end, I now trust that I’m making the right choice and freeing up my time for books I’ll actually enjoy. It actually feels quite liberating, and I’m having more fun reading.

Is the KonMari method for everyone? Possibly not, but I think there are some principles that many will find useful. And certainly, making decisions whenever possible according to what gives you joy seems like a good rule of thumb.

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Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of Spark Joy in exchange for an honest review.

Thank you to the Toronto Public Library, from whom I borrowed the audiobook of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I highly recommend reading Life-Changing Magic on audio, as it’s really good background for when you’re folding laundry or doing chores and will make you feel extra motivated to do a good job.

#RoadToRiverdale with Archie Comics and Penguin Random House Canada

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I love Archie Comics. I grew up on the classic stories, I love the new direction the company launched last year, and I was excited to see where the new CW series Riverdale took the characters.

So I completely geeked out at the invitation from Penguin Random House Canada to celebrate the launch of the new series with a 50’s themed party and advance screening.

The set up was pure treats and nostalgia.

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Coca Cola, jelly beans, celery and Cheez Whiz. Childhood afternoon snacks all over again. Not pictured: a Penguin bottle opener that was a challenge to use but super cute.

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Pop Tate’s Burgers! Jughead would have a field day!

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The falafel burger was my favourite, the chicken burger was delicious, and how awesome are the random Spam cans?

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The taro chips were really good. Alas, I never even got to try the brownies or macaroons.

Then came a treat I didn’t expect — a comic book Q&A panel with artists J. Torres, Ramón Pérez and J. Bone, and moderated by Evan Munday, co-creator and co-host of the Archie Comics podcast Radio Free Riverdale.

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Artists J. Torres, Ramon Perez and J. Bone, who have all worked on Archie Comics.

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Evan Munday as Mr. Weatherbee

Finally came the moment we all came for — the screening of the first episode of Riverdale!

The story revolves around the death of Jason Blossom, a Riverdale resident who according to his twin sister Cheryl, fell out of a boat and drowned. This show’s Betty Cooper is feeling the pressure to be perfect, and is working up the courage to tell Archie Andrews that she loves him. Archie has discovered a love for music, and wonders how to balance writing songs with playing football and working for his dad. Veronica Lodge has just moved into town, Reggie Mantle is a sleaze, Josie and the Pussycats are the town’s top band, and Jughead Jones is the thoughtful and observant narrator who captures the events in the town in his novel-in-progress.

I loved the episode, and can’t wait to see how things unfold throughout the series. Every character seems to have a secret, and while I have my theories on the truth behind Jason’s death, I’m also excited to see how these theories change as we get to know the characters better.

The main highlight for me is Camila Mendes’ Veronica Lodge, who is just capital-A Attitude and capital-A Awesome. She moves to Riverdale from New York with her mother Hermione, and just oozes style, sass and sophistication. A scene where she takes down Riverdale Queen Bee Cheryl Blossom with a mic drop-worthy speech just stole the show. Kudos as well to her stylist, because her outfits are amazing.

Casey Cott as Kevin Keller is another highlight. He’s hilarious, delivering zingers in practically every line of dialogue. He, Betty and Veronica make a good team, and I love seeing him and Veronica working together to draw Betty out of her shell.

One of the subplots, involving a new love interest for Archie, made me cringe, but otherwise, I really enjoyed the adaptation and thought it was a fun twist on the classic characters. Check it out for yourself — Thursday nights at CW in the US and Fridays on Netflix in Canada.

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Thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for organizing such a fantastic event!