Short stories, poetry, a young adult novel and more — here are four great books from Edmontonian and Canadian authors
By Cory Schachtel | November 15, 2023
Curious Sounds; a dialogue in three movements
Roger Mooking and francesca ekwuyasi, Arsenal Pulp Press (2023)
For many readers, a book can be more than just a book. But in the case of famed TV chef (and Edmonton-raised) Roger Mooking and francesca ekwuyasi’s Curious Sounds, that’s literally true.
It started as an album, Mooking’s SoundBites, which sets the book’s structure. The opening page provides a QR code for readers to download the record — which consists of 19, 90-seconds-or-less songs — and you’re encouraged to listen to it while reading.
The book itself starts as a conversation between the co-authors, interspersed among ekwuyasi’s essays, both of which reflect on creativity, inspiration, the Black experience, family and more. It then turns into a series of micro-stories (100 words at most) and song lyrics in between pages of Mooking’s visual art.
Arranged in three parts — “The Learning,” “The Living” and “The Leaving” — the authors write that this exploration through minimalism “is an interactive collection of fleeting moments and visuals that explore the beauty in chaos.”
This is How You Start to Disappear
Astrid Blodgett, University of Alberta Press (2023)
Everyone’s lives are filled with turning points, but we often don’t recognize them as such until many years later. That’s the case for many of the characters in Astrid Blodgett’s This is How You Start to Disappear, a collection of 12 short stories (most of which take place in Edmonton and around Alberta) full of heartache, mourning and years-later realizations.
A light holiday read this is not, at least not in terms of the topics and themes. But each story is so emotionally gripping, and economically told, that you don’t dread what’s to become of the characters — even the ones who face, or look back on, what you hope is the worst day of their lives.
Some stories have twists, some are straightforward. But they all deal in some way with families, and the bonds between the fully realized and relatable members who make them. All the characters — even the children who centre some stories — show an understated strength, no matter the size of their struggles. This deceptively dark collection of stories has one thing we could all stand to give and receive more of this season: compassion for its characters. An excellent work by Blodgett.
Sophie St. John can’t escape the presence of her world-renowned writer grandmother — not even in school, where she stars in a play based on the matriarch’s famous novel.
But while doing legal studies homework, Sophie uncovers an old lawsuit, filed by her parents when she was born, that shows she might not have long to live — and she might be rich. This forces the clumsy and emotional Sophie to confront family secrets under a ticking clock and, with new knowledge, bravely face her future, no matter how long it lasts.
A book for teens and young adults, Life Expectancy examines disability and dying in a story about life and love in the face of ultimate uncertainty in another great read from Hughes.
Conor Kerr, Harbour Publishing (2023)
After his debut novel Avenue of Champions won a 2022 ReLit Award (and was shortlisted for other awards), Conor Kerr’s Old Gods was a finalist for this year’s 2023 Governor General’s Literary Award, and it’s easy to see why.
Broken into three sections — “Just Passing Through,” “Métis Magic” and “Old Gods” — Kerr explores the Métis life and mindset in 44 poems. As a Métis Nation of Alberta member, and descendant of Ukrainian settlers, Kerr mixes a modern Métis prairie perspective with one that extends for eons, full of fishing lodges and Instagram, .22 rifles and Greyhound buses, yearned-for matriarchy and McDonald’s, coyotes, crystal clear water and bank accounts. There’s anger, romance and a desperate desire for an old world, and old way of moving through it, that seems too often out of reach for the writer’s liking.
One constant is the land, which seems to ground Kerr in the comfort of knowing that for all his (or anyone’s) struggles, he’s still a single stalk of wheat in the field of time, and even if it all comes crumbling down tomorrow, that’s OK, because “the land knows its way around me.”