“What is a friend?” Aristotle writes, but “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” This Valentine’s Day, we are celebrating the true love of friendship, turning to books which meditate on this oft-skipped over but endlessly interesting form of affection. In honour of our pals, our comrades, our book clubs, and our besties, we present a Pal-entine’s Day reading list featuring books which explore the beauty and politics of friendship.
Places Like These by Lauren Carter
In Lauren Carter’s forthcoming short story collection, Places Like These (April 2023), a widow visits a spiritualist community to attempt to contact her late husband. A grieving teenager confronts the unfairness of his small-town world and the oncoming ecological disaster. A sexual assault survivor navigates her boyfriend’s tricky family and her own confusing desires. A mother examines unresolved guilt while seeking her missing daughter in a city slum. A lover exploits his girlfriend’s secrets for his own purposes. Along the way, friends are made, sometimes lost. Lyrical and astute, Carter’s snapshots are a reminder of what it means to live and to strive alongside others, and to be witnessed in moments of piercing insight.
Participation by Anna Moschovakis
Here is a novel where friendship takes centre stage. Two reading groups, Love and Anti-Love, convene digitally amidst political upheaval and undefined environmental catastrophe, offering a prescient look at remote communication in a time of rupture. Anonymous participants exchange fantasies and ruminations; relationships develop and unravel. As the groups consider—or neglect—the syllabi, and connections between members deepen. Participation imagines intellectual curiosity as the bedrock of companionship, a shore against an increasingly fragmented world.
Hunger Heart by Karen Fastrup, translated by Marina Allemano
Hunger Heart is a sensual, profound work of autofiction about relationships, mental illness, and recovery by one of Denmark’s most celebrated literary writers. Fastrup immerses us in the alienations of her breakdown and hospitalization, but this is not primarily a book of heartache and damage. We are made privy to the electricity of love. As Karen’s sister, Anne, and close friend, Ida, stand by her, dialoguing across pains and misgivings, Karen finds the strength and tenacity to meet life’s challenges and to relish its gifts. Hunger Heart spotlights the importance of close friendships as both sanctuary and fortress in times of great vulnerability.
A Convergence of Solitudes by Anita Anand
Teenage lovers Sunil and Hima defy taboos to come together as India divides in two. They traverse the world to Montreal. As a teenager, their daughter Rani becomes obsessed with Québécois supergroup Sensibilité —and the band’s charismatic, nationalistic frontman, Serge. When a chance encounter leads Rani to babysit Mélanie, Serge’s adopted daughter from Vietnam, she fleetingly enters his inner circle. Years later, Rani, now a college guidance counsellor, discovers that Mélanie has booked an appointment to discuss her future at the school. As the two women’s lives intersect, Rani’s fascination with Serge’s music becomes a strange shadow amidst their friendship. Here is a novel which doesn’t flinch from the complexities inherent in friendship and connection, especially across generations and identities.
Plenitude Daniel Sarah Karasik
Plenitude is a playground for comradely love. Shaped by Daniel Sarah Karasik’s experience of grassroots social and political advocacy, these poems are an offering to those engaged in struggles for a better world—and an acknowledgement of the sometimes contradictory meanings of those struggles. A non-binary faun wishes their body had a variety of sex organs, interchangeable daily. A prison abolitionist scrutinizes Rothko paintings on the carceral state’s boardroom walls. The insurrectionary tactics of mass social movements spread, like a secret handshake, from Chile to Hong Kong to Toronto. Plenitude is a philosophical and tonal guidebook for anyone searching for joy and clarity in building a society where self and neighbour might flourish in harmony.
We, Jane by Aimee Wall
We, Jane is a remarkable debut about intergenerational female relationships and resistance found in the unlikeliest of places. Searching for meaning in her Montreal life, Marthe begins an intense friendship with an older woman, also from Newfoundland, who tells her a story about purpose, about a duty to fulfill. It’s back home, and it goes by the name of Jane. Marthe travels back to the island with the older woman to continue the work of an underground movement in 60s Chicago: abortion services performed by women, always referred to as Jane. We, Jane underscores to the the way our values and political commitments unfold under the influence of those we admire, and the complications of working in close community.
Talking Animals by Joni Murphy
Have you ever wondered what friendship between a moody alpaca and a sociable llama would look like? If so, good news: Joni Mitchell has already thought it out for you. Mitchell’s New York City is one in which Lemurs brew espresso, birds tend bar, there are bears on Wall Street, and a billionaire racehorse is mayor. Alfonzo and Mitchell, alpaca-llama duo take to the streets, noise music venues, and underground political arenas, doing their best to navigate a corrupt and endangered society, side-by-side. Talking Animals is an urgent allegory about friendship, art, and the elemental struggle to change one’s life under the low ceiling of capitalism.
7th Cousins: An Automythography by Erin Brubacher and Christine Brubaker
A stranger asked if we were walking to learn how to work and be together. This was certainly part of it.
In July 2015, Erin Brubacher and Christine Brubaker traced the migration route of their Mennonite ancestors by walking 700 kilometres from Pennsylvania to Ontario. Along the way they were hosted by a series of people with whom they had next to nothing in common. They were welcomed into strangers’ homes and treated as family. On their journey through the American Bible Belt they encountered folks with religious and political beliefs very different from their own and learned to question what conversations to enter and how far to take them. They accomplished this and so much more while navigating their own relationship and the challenges of being with another person, on foot, for 32 days.
Notes From a Feminist Killjoy by Erin Wunker
Following in the tradition of Sara Ahmed (the originator of the concept “feminist killjoy”), Wunker brings memoir, theory, literary criticism, pop culture, and feminist thinking together in this collection of essays that take up Ahmed’s project as a multi-faceted lens through which to read the world from a feminist point of view. Wunker thinks deeply about female friendship as a community-building and community-sustaining project.