Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak – Edited by Mark Falkoff

What kind of spring is this, / Where there are no flowers and / The air is filled with a miserable smell? – Shaikh Abdurraheem Muslim Dost The above poem was etched into a styrofoam cup and passed between detainees in the infamous Guantánamo Bay detention camp. It is included alongside twenty-one other poems in…

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Marie Kondo

It is a truth universally acknowledged that we often judge books by their cover. In the case of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (2014), soothing blues and turquoises promise levity and peacefulness, both desirable states of being in a frantically disordered world. The KonMari method…

The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson

If you ask a PhD candidate studying English literature to name a book that had a profound impact on her life, chances are you’ll receive an impressive list as a response. Our thirty-first reader’s selections included Beloved (1987) by Toni Morrison, everything written by Carson McCullers, and Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) by Claudia Rankine….

I Am a Strange Loop – Douglas Hofstadter

Who am I? Why I am here? Why did it take me so long to get this thirtieth episode up and running? What is the self? What is human consciousness? Are we a perpetually perplexed species? In this episode we dive headfirst into questions of human existence and consciousness with a return guest and the…

Asking for It – Louise O’Neill

Content Warning: Please be advised that this episode features discussions of sexual assault, rape culture, victim blaming, and uses language that some may find triggering. Now is the time for difficult conversations. We need to listen to voices that have long been silenced and challenge those who promote fear among vulnerable populations. This is particularly…

This One Summer – Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

When summer finally arrives in Canada, people walk around cities and towns in a daze. It’s as if we’ve all woken up on another planet and are trying to remember long-forgotten survival skills. Once the shock wears off, people flood onto patios and into parks to pay homage to the sun and to melt the…

Matilda – Roald Dahl

I have always been an avid reader. As a child I devoured pretty much any book I could get my sticky little hands on, showing very little discretion regarding genre or subject. That lack of preference faded the day I encountered the work of Roald Dahl. To say I was obsessed with Dahl would be an…

Update: Roald Dahl Episode in the Works!

Dreamers, wishers, tricksters, and magic-makers rejoice! I am currently working on a new episode featuring the work of beloved children’s author Roald Dahl. Our twenty-seventh reader will share her thoughts on her favourite Dahl novel, her doctoral studies into the role of food within his work, and much more! This glorious episode will be posted…

The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien

Grab your best walking stick, find a supply of lembas bread, brush up on your Elvish dialects, and join me on a journey through Middle-earth with our twenty-sixth reader. After decades of composition and revision, The Lord of the Rings was published in three volumes (The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King) between July…

Jane Austen Panel – Part Two

Six readers. Six major novels. Six insightful conversations. This is the second installment in a two-part series on Jane Austen and her work. Austen has played a formative role in my personal reading history since the day I selected Pride and Prejudice for a sixth grade book report. I’ve often relied upon Austen’s novels for…

Jane Austen Panel – Part One

Six readers. Six major novels. Six insightful conversations. This is the first installment in a two-part series on Jane Austen and her work. Austen has played a formative role in my personal reading history since the day I selected Pride and Prejudice for a sixth grade book report. I’ve often relied upon Austen’s novels for…

Update: Jane Austen Panel Episode in the Works!

I am happy to announce that I will be working on a Jane Austen Panel Episode over the next couple of weeks. The episode will feature six readers, each championing a particular novel from Austen’s body of work. I’m sure that we will end up mooning over her wit, discussing her deft social criticism, placing…

The Botanist and the Vintner – Christy Campbell

I think it’s fair to assume that at some point many of you have sipped a glass of wine, nodded your head solemnly, and murmured: “Mmm. Yes, that’s good.” Whether you’re under the watchful eye of an eager waiter or in hearing distance of someone you want to impress, the appearance of connoisseurship in this…

Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White

Our twenty-second reader and I sat down next to a tall shelf bursting with children’s books to discuss her connection to E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952). In the sixty four years since its publication, this masterful tale of unlikely friendship has captured the hearts and imaginations of generations of children around the world. White’s simple…

Middlemarch – George Eliot

Ah, Victorian fiction; lengthy narratives, plots that may involve the return of at least one character from the dead, and the frequent determination of a woman’s character based on her gaze/finger slenderness. I admire Victorian authors for their commitment to realism and their vital reflections upon the complexity of human nature amid sociocultural change. When…

Cry, the Beloved Country – Alan Paton

I met our twentieth reader on a bright morning after a heavy snowfall. We cleared off a bench overlooking some subway tracks, buttoned up our coats a little tighter, and began a conversation about Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country (1948). Paton’s eloquent advocacy for racial equality and his depiction of the devastating consequences of…

The Holy Terrors – Jean Cocteau

Jean Cocteau was a true Jacques-of-all-trades. Throughout his life and career he garnered both critical and popular acclaim as a filmmaker, playwright, designer, author, and poet. His inner circle of friends and collaborators included Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, Coco Chanel, Eric Satie, and Marlene Dietrich. Cocteau penned Les Enfants Terribles (1929) during a week of…

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) often catches readers off guard. Centuries of stage and screen adaptations have resulted in a game of interpretative broken telephone that distances us from the original narrative’s poignant reflections on human nature. Our eighteenth reader studied the novel as a high school student and as an undergraduate. We sat down to…

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies – Jared Diamond

In this seventeenth episode I make a new friend, we grab some beer, and sit down to discuss Jared Diamond’s deconstruction of 13,000 years of human history, the spread of colonialism, and racial exceptionalism in Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies (1997). This ambitious work of non-fiction quickly became an international bestseller…

The Mediator Series – Meg Cabot

I met our sixteenth reader on a rare and well-deserved break from her postgraduate studies in law. It was clear from the beginning of our conversation that she was intent on building a strong case in defense of the oft slandered genre of young adult fiction. Her initiation into YA is attributed to late-night readings…

Devil in Winter – Lisa Kleypas

Join me in some word association: Romance novels. Cheesy? Trashy? Embarrassing? Redundant? In this episode listeners are encouraged to keep an open mind about this immensely popular and often disrespected genre. Our fifteenth reader begins the conversation by identifying Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter (2006) as the novel that initiated her interest in romance fiction….

The Blazing World – Siri Hunstvedt

This fourteenth episode features an in-depth conversation about Siri Hunstvedt’s expansive and confrontational novel The Blazing World (2014). I sat down with our reader to discuss Hustvedt’s tragic heroine, Harriet Burden, and her strategic exposure of gender inequality within the art world. The novel is provocative, insightful, and draws the reader toward an understanding of…

Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt

Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir Angela’s Ashes (1996) presents a startling account of the author’s impoverished childhood in depression-era New York City and Limerick, Ireland. The most remarkable aspect of this narrative is the endurance of McCourt’s sense of humour throughout years of starvation, disease, and horrendous living conditions. Our reader spoke to me via…

Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers

On a rainy afternoon our twelfth reader and I took a stroll around a neighbourhood readying itself for Halloween and spoke about Mary Poppins (1934), the first installment in P.L. Travers’ immensely popular series. Our reader fell in love with the story as a child and had plenty to say about its impact on her…

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) spans multiple generations, tests the boundaries of reality, and commands the hearts and imaginations of its readers. In this interview, our eleventh reader encourages me to dive right into this “larger than life” novel and to not be intimidated by its style or Nobel Prize-winning reputation….

“The Heat Death of the Universe” – Pamela Zoline

Our tenth reader and I sat down on a park bench in the shadow of a private all-boys school to discuss Pamela Zoline’s subversive sci-fi story “The Heat Death of the Universe” (1967). It’s an amazing work of short fiction that deftly portrays a housewife’s nervous breakdown alongside a discussion of physics and cosmology. We…

Oddly Enough – Bruce Coville

I met our ninth reader on a gloomy October evening for a delicious bowl of ramen and a conversation about the short story collection Oddly Enough (1994). Bruce Coville’s fantastical and often spooky narratives enthralled our reader at a young age and strengthened her interest in fiction. We talked about the humour found in the…

City – Clifford D. Simak

Our eighth reader selected the 1952 sci-fi novel City by Clifford D. Simak. The novel’s unusual narrative is guided by philosophizing dogs from the distant future who are in the process of reciting the oral history of humankind. The novel suggests the inherent violence of human nature and challenges the endurance of our species. After…

The Harry Potter Series

It’s easy to become nostalgic about the years before the Harry Potter series was adapted to film, before the theme parks were created, or before the associated merchandise generated more excitement than pages of text. In my memory the books were always enough. Each novel provided access to a magical world within our own where…

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing – Melissa Banks

I met up with our sixth reader after her return home from work as a community librarian in the Markham Public Library system. (A truly dedicated book lover never shies away from a conversation about literature even if they spend each day embedded in stacks of books.) After an introduction to her cat and a…

My Grandfather’s Science Fiction

Our fifth reader is my grandfather. He has been an avid science fiction reader since high school and has held a subscription to Analog: Science Fiction and Fact since 1970. Countless copies of the magazine reside upon bowed shelves in his basement, and I am regularly asked if I have any leads on a loving adoptive…

Veronika Decides to Die – Paulo Coelho

I met with our fourth reader in a crowded cafe (pardon the occasional hiss of the espresso machine) to discuss the novel Veronika Decides to Die (1998) by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. Our reader, a recent recipient of a Master’s in Social Work, discovered the novel during a self-guided study of fiction featuring narratives of…

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Our third reader selected Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved (1987). She studied Morrison’s account of slavery, profound loss, and a haunting as a high school student, an undergraduate, and as a postgraduate. Each re-reading uncovered new meaning and fresh details in familiar sentences. Morrison’s poetic style and skilled presentation of alternative narratives define Beloved as…

A Complicated Kindness – Miriam Toews

Our second reader selected the novel A Complicated Kindness (2004) by celebrated Canadian author Miriam Toews. We spoke about teenage reading, the author’s deft treatment of emotional trauma, and the profound empathy found in reading the right book at the right time. Our reader (a very talented writer) also emphasized the importance of reading in…

A Bird in the House – Margaret Laurence

Ah, the profound satisfaction of picking up the right book at the right time. The subject of this first post is the novel A Bird in the House (1970) by beloved Canadian author Margaret Laurence. This series of short stories chronicles a writer’s recollection of her childhood in the small fictional town of Manawaka, Manitoba….

Once upon a time…

You find them in books like pressed flowers; lines that reach out to you while remaining preserved in perfect stillness. It is my belief that books offer a special form of connectivity that allows readers to gain insight into the human experience and become enriched by new perspectives. This blog will provide recommendations for future…