Register Tuesday | April 16 | 2024

The Spring 2021 Book Room

Spring reads from Selina Boan, Cheryl Thompson, Carrie Jenkins and others

Undoing Hours

Selina Boan’s debut poetry collection charts an expansive journey into nêhiyawêwin, a language which opens up new perspectives for the “girl between two dialects” who “clicks beginner /cree on the internet.” In Undoing Hours (Nightwood Editions), Boan offers her community solace: “if you are hurting / if you are uncertain/ know that this body / can hold / itself to itself and undo at the same time.” In wildly enjambed, fragmented forms, these poems confront oppressive settler colonial ideologies by making space for “a shape of history denied so many times,” deploring how “violence / forms a country.” With writing that is playful, frank and inventive, she illustrates how language and time—even the microcosm of a word or an hour—are tethered to a way of seeing the world. For Boan, time is rather “a circle, in parallel, all at once.” This book, charged with tenderness and grit, also maps a young adult’s navigation of love, desire and familial constellations. In “email drafts to nohtâwiy,” she writes, “you told me being patient is part of being cree and i’m trying.” Boan’s skill is in rhythm, image and movement, each poem unwinding to arrive at surprising, porous ends. These poems both console and unsettle.—Melanie Power

Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty

Uncle Ben is dead. Or perhaps just retiring. Last summer, the rice brand behind the figure announced that he would be no more, following sustained protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Aunt Jemima recently made a similar disappearance. After nearly eighty years, the stereotype of a Jim Crow-era servant looks unseemly in the midst of an international outcry for racial equity. Uncle: Race, Nostalgia, and the Politics of Loyalty (Coach House) is a cultural appraisal of these images. Cheryl Thompson details how Uncle Tom, the titular character of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 novel, moved from the realms of Vaudeville and minstrelsy into the world of advertising. She traces how the Aunt and Uncle figures have been imagined and reimagined for different times. And she examines the work of subversive Black creatives and critics who have recontextualized the Uncle’s polarizing image over the years. Uncle is a deeply researched and compelling exploration of “the most resilient figure in American history.”Daniel McIntosh

Erase and Rewind

Reading Meghan Bell’s new collection of short stories is as gruelling and vivid as coming back to oneself after a traumatic experience. Erase and Rewind (Book*hug) captures the fogginess, fatigue and doubt people deal with after becoming a survivor of an assault or accident. It’s a book of disasters: the stories cover multiple sexual assaults, a near-death experience and a brutal betrayal. The writing is blunt and unflinching; Bell’s descriptions can be hard to read. But it’s worth it for her astute observations. We meet a wheedling, insecure man, pathetic in his Simpsons boxers, trampling over women’s boundaries to prove something to himself. There’s a husband who apologizes “with a loaded clarification. I’m sorry you’re upset.” And there’s a self-aggrandizing wealthy white dude who thinks his public professions of social awareness negate his privilege. We also see the small connections people are able to make with others after being harmed, leading to their first steps toward healing. This book is a helpful introduction to the aftermath of trauma, but it’s not recommended reading for those who have experienced it. It merits a warning for graphic descriptions of sexual assault, suicidality and self-harm.—Sarah Ratchford

Our Work Is Everywhere

Syan Rose describes her new book as “part graphic nonfiction, part thank-you note, part gay theory paper, part activist gossip column.” Our Work Is Everywhere (Arsenal Pulp Press) is an illustrated anthology of queer and trans resistance as told by the organizers, artists, healers and leaders who continue to fight for social change in America. Her book shares a series of interviews that read like diary entries or manifestos. Syan Rose transcribes conversations with sex work activists, advocates for Black femme mental health and disability and healthcare campaigners. Filling the space around the text with joyous and fluid illustrations, Syan Rose presents each participant as a work of art. “One day I decided my body was not a tragedy,” reflects Vivi Veronica, a writer and activist who focuses on mental health. “On that day I knew I would live forever.” In many ways, this line speaks to Our Work Is Everywhere’s mission. By capturing the thoughts and experiences of these activists, Syan Rose immortalizes their labour, affirming that they have been, and always will be, everywhere.—Brianna Dunn

Victoria Sees It

Victoria grew up in poverty, but an acceptance to the University of Cambridge gives her the opportunity to change her situation. It’s also where she makes her first-ever friend, Deb. When Deb disappears shortly after they meet, Victoria does everything she can to find her. Distressingly, she seems to be the only one who cares Deb has gone missing. “What made it all the more chilling,” Carrie Jenkins writes, “was how nobody else seemed even to realize that she was gone.” The journey tests the limits of the protagonist’s emotional and physical capacity. All the while, she’s forced to deal with the ghost of her dead mother, who haunts her and brings up past traumas. With vivid language and eerie scenes, Victoria Sees It (Strange Light) is an anxious trek through the mysteries of loss and self-exploration. Reading it will keep you wondering if everything around you is truly as it seems.—Asmaa Toor