Back again with the next instalment of Book*hugs Recommend, celebrating the year gone by and the season of book-giving. This round, Billeh Nickerson, Erín Moure, and Aimee Wall share their thoughts on how it felt to have a book come out during the pandemic, the highlights of their reading year, and which books they will be wrapping up for friends and family over the holidays.
Billeh Nickerson, author of Duct-Taped Roses
Duct-Taped Roses was my seventh book, but the first published during a pandemic. I enjoyed giving Zoom readings from my kitchen, though it was odd to have my dirty dishes mock me while I read. I became an expert on when to feed my cats so they’d be less likely to jump into my video feed. That, my friends, is commitment. I used to joke about the noises that audiences made at poetry readings, all those epiphanous oohs and guttural exclamations, but I started to miss those sounds very much. My first reading back with a live audience almost made me weep. Writers learn from audiences. I will never underestimate or overlook this fact again.
I would like to spend my time here acknowledging the work of long-time Geist magazine mainstays, Michal Kozlowski and AnnMarie Mackinnon, who both left their positions this year. They both contributed to and created so much beauty during their tenures. The Canadian literary community owes them a huge debt of gratitude. The literary arts are a labour of love. Buy books. Subscribe to magazines. Support independents. Thank people for fighting the good fight.
Erín Moure, winner of the 2021 Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation for This Radiant Life
Well, the book that came out this year was my translation of the latest book by Chus Pato, The Face of the Quartzes, which was published by Veliz Books in the USA. And I had a chapbook of my own poems just out from Vallum Poetry called Retooling for a Figurative Life. My last Book*hug book was a translation from the French of the amazing Quebec poet Chantal Neveu, This Radiant Life, which came out a year ago, at the end of 2020. It’s always a grand occasion when a book comes out, and I do my best to boost both the publisher and (when I am translator) the work of the original author… so lots of energy is needed. This year through the lockdowns I taught myself some video editing, so am getting better at creating wee poetry videos: made 3 for Chus’s new book that you can see on my YouTube channel…
And winning a Governor General’s Award? I can only quote from what I said to The Gazette: “salutary and humbling”! To be singled out alongside one’s peers is amazing, i.e. to be on a shortlist, so to be lifted apart from one’s peers, i.e. to be a laureate of a prize, is a bit scary, in my case, as I’d rather vanish into the crowd… but I receive it as a responsibility, it is a different or heightened “health” and must be shared, an energy that must be shared…and that calls upon me to continue….
I was very busy all year doing research reading for an upcoming project (with luck it will be out in 2023!). Apart from that, among my favourite new books read this year are Chantal Neveu’s latest, You, just out from La Peuplade in French, Phil Hall’s Toward a Blacker Ardour, one of his very best works, out from Beautiful Outlaw Press in 2021, along with Liz Howard’s Letters in a Bruised Cosmos, Jordan Abel’s Nishga, and Claire Finch and Sabrina Soyer’s translation into French of Lisa Robertson, Debbie: Une Épopée, out in France from Joca Seria in 2021. So many wonderful works, though, I could keep listing. Among novels, Tawhida Tanya Evanson’s Book of Wings stood out for me.
Aimee Wall, author of the Giller Prize long-listed novel We Jane
For the last ten years, I’ve kept a notebook where I record all the books I read every year. I don’t number the lists and I don’t often look back through them. But usually toward the end of the year, I do read back over the list at least once and it forms a kind of strange narrative of a year. This year was unusual in that I sat on a jury for the first time for the Governor General’s Award for Translation. Outside of my jury duties, some reading highlights might include: the third instalment of Deborah Levy’s “living autobiography,” Real Estate, and her 2019 novel The Man Who Saw Everything. Then Là où je me terre by Caroline Dawson, beautiful and acutely observed. Rickie Lee Jones’ spiky, electric memoir Last Chance Texaco. Intimacies by Katie Kitamura and Because Venus Crossed an Alpine Violet on the Day that I was Born, by Mona Høvring, translated by Kari Dickson and Rachel Rankin. A book by an American academic named Katherine Verdery called My Life as a Spy, and an incredible collection of film criticism by A. S. Hamrah called The Earth Dies Streaming.
And then my novel, We, Jane, came out in April. The silver lining of life still existing primarily on Zoom at that point was that our virtual launch could involve a conversation with the brilliant Geneviève Robichaud, joining from Sackville, and include friends from all over. It was a thrill this spring to hold the physical book in my hands after all this time. And then in a kind of perfect bookend to this continually surprising year, last week Geneviève and I connected on Zoom once again to join a literary translation class at Université de Moncton for a little workshop and I got to see a first glimpse of her thoughtful and inspired French translation of We, Jane, which was unexpectedly moving. I’m feeling very grateful.