I’m an excruciatingly slow reader, but that never stops me from having many books on the go at once, scattered about the house for me to dip in and out of as I go about my day.
I like to keep a book of poetry in my purse, to be pulled out whenever I find myself with a minute or two to fill. Currently I am loving Poems for Reluctant Housewives, my friend Jennifer Harris’s debut chapbook from Gasperau Press. Wry, heart wrenching, sharp as a kitchen knife, it taps into the heightened sense of domestic pressure felt by so many during the pandemic era.
I also always have a bedtime book on the go with each of my daughters. Right now, Zoe and I are reading Anna James’s charming Pages and Co. series, in which the protagonist, eleven-year-old Tilly, discovers she can wander inside the pages of the books she loves. My younger daughter Mae and I are currently enjoying Bee and Flea and the Compost Caper by local author Anna Humphrey.
I’m in the habit of keeping cookbooks on my bedside table to read them before I fall asleep. I’m currently working my way through Simply Julia: 110 Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food, by my all-time favourite food writer Julia Turshen. Turshen is a truly skilled recipe writer, consistently marrying clear, precise instructions with warm, encouraging prose. Her approach to food is accessible, simple, and inclusive, making her books the perfect gift for just about anyone. In this latest volume, she also offers tons of honest, nuanced reflection on the ways in which diet culture and issues of food justice impact our relationships with food and our notions of what healthy eating can look like.
My obsession with picture books trumps my love of all other genres, and you will find stacks of them all over my house. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a Mac Barnett superfan. I would be hard pressed to choose a favourite title, but his last few have been particularly juicy.
The Great Zapfino, written by Barnett and illustrated by Marla Frazee, is the work of two absolute masters of the form. Every aspect of this book works in total harmony — even the trim size, tall and thin, reinforces the verticality of the story, mimicking the dizzying highs from which the protagonist must jump. The text is barely 70 words long, but it sets the stage for Frazee’s black and white illustrations, which feel wonderfully loose yet rich with detail and pathos.
When the young narrator in What is Love? asks his Grandma the titular question, she replies that she cannot tell him, but if he goes out into the world he might find the answer for himself. He spends what turns out to be a very long time wondering about, asking all sorts of people “what is love?” He receives answer after answer, each of which is unsatisfying to him. “Love is a house,” the carpenter says. “Love is a fish,” the fisherman answers. “Love is a list that goes on for pages,” the poet replies. When, finally, he returns to his grandmother she asks him if he found his answer. “Yes,” he says simply. He doesn’t tell us what it is.
I love this book. I love the lush palate and the bold, organic shapes that form Carson’s very particular aesthetic vocabulary. I love its powerful use of metaphor, how it mesmerizes us with the beauty of its language only to turn around and assert the limits of language: it can help us explain our feelings and experiences to others, but never fully.
I especially love the ending; like the narrator’s wise old grandmother, Barnett refuses to hand us an easy answer. Love is not a fish, or a house, or a poem. It is not the grandmother or the garden. It is all of these things, and none of these things, and other things entirely. Like the protagonist, we must decide the answer for ourselves.
Kate Jenks Landry lives in Kitchener, ON, with her husband Michael and their pair of wiley, brilliant daughters. She spends her days writing, baking, reading, re-writing, drinking dangerous amounts of very hot coffee, re-writing some more, and endlessly walking her dog.
Her poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Acta Victoriana, The Harthouse Review, Ecolocation, and Room Magazine. Her debut picture book, Beatrice and Barb, is forthcoming from Kids Can Press in 2023, with a second to follow in 2024.