“Annabel” by Kathleen Winter. I had requested this book from the library a couple of months ago (there are 114 holds after me, so it must be good?) but had no recollection of why, and stubbornly resisted trying to figure out, in case I changed my mind or something, since it was coming anyway. And now I see it’s longlisted for the Giller prize, so I guess I’m lucky to have it now, since there will be a run on it later.
Turns out it’s the story of a hermaphrodite in Labrador, from when he’s born (he’s brought up as a boy) until young adulthood. I was trying to decide, after reading it, whether it was more about gender, or about Labrador. The lives of people there (Wayne is born in I think 1968 – can’t check, had to take the book back because it was overdue) are very much about the bush, and subsistence living. Really good, really made me think. It took me a while to read because it had uncomfortable bits for me, but fortunately I had another thing I was reading at the same time, so I’d read 40 pages, and then switch to the other book, and then pick it up again when I’d gained some distance.
But the story is a lot about gender. There are a lot of strong female characters who influence Wayne, and really the only strong male influence is his father, who was an amazing character, really well-defined. I highly recommend this book. The characters, the setting, the choices that Wayne makes are so strongly drawn.
“In the Dojo” by Dave Lowry. Here I could kill two birds with one stone. It’s research for the karate zombie novel, and it’s on Sensei’s reading list! This was the book that I kept switching to when “Annabel” became too stressful. It was also a library book. I got a lot out of it in terms of expected behaviours I think I’m not meeting in Sensei’s eyes, and the background of different things.
But one thing I kept thinking about as I read it was language. A lot of the Japanese terms used in the book were not the same ones we use in my dojo. Some of them (Kagami Baraki, for example) have a different meaning for us than for the author.
There’s a woman in our dojo who is Japanese. Japanese is her first language. Sometimes when I’m teaching, I’ll turn to her and ask if something is correct, and she shrugs. Apparently the Japanese we use in the dojo is not the same as the Japanese spoken in the real world. That made me think about secret languages, and what happens at work, for example, where we have all these crazy acronyms, or when Ed starts using a huge amount of medical jargon. And that made me think about my parrot novel, which I think I should start drafting soon.
“The Forest of Hands and Teeth” by Carrie Ryan. It’s about zombies, so it’s research! It’s YA, and it’s written first person present, just like my zombie novel, so I can be insecure! This book was an incredibly quick read. A couple of things that bugged me: I never got a clear picture of some of the characters. Like, there are two brothers, Travis and Harry, and I’m never entirely clear on which is older. Maybe she said sometime at the beginning, and I missed it because I didn’t realize it was important.
“The Dead-Tossed Waves” by Carrie Ryan. The sequel to the above. The first chapter seemed weaker than the previous, and I’m starting to notice differences between how the author handles the first-person present voice, and how I do it. I guess that’s what Caitlin Kiernan meant when she was writing about the interauthor a few weeks ago. Why is the narrator telling the story in this way, and why? This voice makes flashbacks potentially awkward, I think. While the ending clearly indicates that there will be a third book in the series, I thought this book was better-written than the first one. It’s a lot more complicated, with a lot more stuff going on, various different problems and threats, and that’s what I like.