Though I’ve been following the Giller Prize process over the past few years, it was last year when I made myself the promise that in 2020 I would read the whole list. Unlike the majority of other goals for this year, this one mostly went to plan. Mostly. Of the 14 shortlisted books, I’ve read 12 and still have plans to read the remaining two. As of Saturday morning, I have read all five of the shortlisted books.
I imagined that once I’d met that milestone, I’d have strong feelings, knowing exactly which book I felt was most deserving of taking home the $100000 purse and/or which authour I would reward if the prize were mine to give away. In reality, what I have found was that I am no closer to picking a favourite than I was before I started.
In the weeks since the longlist was announced, I’ve attended at least two online events with each of the nominated writers and that hasn’t made it any easier to choose just one. In fact, I am firmly in a place of total neutrality. They’ve all grown on me as people and their reflections on their works have added to my experience of reading them.
These five books are truly great examples of Canadian fiction and I recommend them all for different reasons. They are (listed in the order that I read them):
Now, we’re one day away from the announcement of the winner and I can honestly say that I will be happy with whoever takes home the prize. And I will most certainly cry about it.
Watch the presentation November 9th on CBC (here’s how to watch go here) or join me at the Giller Light Bash to benefit Frontier College, a national charitable literary association starting at 5:30pm PST.
P.S. If you’re into reading and books, join me on my new Instagram page: carlyisreading.
How are you? What’s new? Where’ve you been? (Please say home.) What’s keeping you occupied? What is your great pandemic discovery?
So, if you remember seventeen years ago to January, you may recall that I had one single solitary goal this year. (In truth, I had a few more than that, but there was only one that I actually got around to sharing here.) That goal was to read less.
Read less? What?
I know, I know. But I had something in mind. Here’s a good summary of what I where I was coming from at the time.
At the beginning of 2019, I made a decision to be selective about what I was consuming when it came to the podcasts I listened to. I used to listen to anything and everything. People would tell me their favourite podcast and I would immediately subscribe. My podcast app contained downloaded episodes that spanned every popular topic you could imagine – and only a fraction of them were even remotely of interest to me. But I listened to them anyway. It was entertaining, sure, but it was also a total waste of my time. I’m bringing this vibe to my reading year now as well. At the same time, I intend to be more selective about what I’m reading and even more willing to put a book down when it isn’t working for me.
So, yeah. I was going to read less in 2020.
You can imagine how that turned out.
Of course, the pandemic hit and we were all told to stay home and who am I to argue? I am the ultimate introvert and I already love being at home. I volunteer as tribute.
I managed to check out a good haul of library books before the library closed on March 16th. (I make it sound like it was situational, but as I’m sure you can imagine, I ALWAYS have a good haul of library books.) I also started to order books online and committed to doing so every 2-3 weeks as long as the library was closed.
I’d already been having mixed feelings about my relationship with books since before the shutdown was even a discussion. I love my library and really want to support it as much as I can, but at the same time, I want to continue to support the book industry and writers and publishers. Never spending any money on books wasn’t going to do that. This coronavirus actually struck a happy medium in that regard.
Like everyone, we started doing things differently in quarantine. We went out once a day for a walk or a run and we grocery shopped once a week, taking necessities for a front porch drop off to my parents at the same time. Other than that, we were home. We cooked more. We watched more tv and movies. We started to learn to languages. (Nod, Duolingo.) And, of course, I read more.
Just the other night (morning, really – I stayed up until 2am to finish Wild by Cheryl Strayed) I met my 2020 reading goal. That was my 52nd book of the year.
Of course, I wasn’t planning on scaling back my reading. I was just being flirty, silly. But I did wonder what to do with my reading plans. I’d stuck largely to my intention of limiting myself to reading only books that were meaningful to me – in other words, no Stephanie Plum and company – and I have felt good about that. In fact, there were times when I wondered if I should restrict my reading even further either by having even stricter expectations or by ditching fiction altogether. No related decisions have been made at this time.
The first time I logged into Goodreads after completing my goal, I felt pressured to think about what to do with my reading goal. If I left it as is – accomplished until January – then I was afraid that I’d just stop tracking what I was reading entirely. I don’t respond well to structured goals in many areas of my life, but reading is one (the only??) where I do. I’ve struggled with reading in the past and I don’t want to go back there.
Finally, since there were roughly 20 weeks left in the year (19 weeks, 5 days at the time) I decided to add one book for each week to my goal, upping it to 72 books in 2020. Coincidentally, this is the exact number of books I read back in 2019 when my goal was 60 books.
Along with meeting my goal came internal questions about what I’d been reading. Which books were my favourites, which books weren’t, how many of the books were truly memorable and how many had I really, really loved. I started by separating them into three groups that I titled: Loved, OK, and No.
I don’t really like to focus on criticisms so, no, I’m not going to show you what didn’t make the Loved list right now. I didn’t plan on ever revealing what was on the No list, but now I kind of wonder if it wouldn’t be a little bit fun sometime later in the year.
So, since you never asked, here are some of my random opinions and facts related to the books I have read so far this year.
Of 52 books, 16 landed on the Loved list, 31 were ranked as OK and 4 were easy Nos. One was, like, an OK and a half or OK.5. I couldn’t truly say that I loved it, but it was definitely better than OK.
Of the 16 books I loved, 10 were fiction, 5 were memoirs and 1 was non-fiction.
I listened to one audiobook, a memoir that was greatly enhanced by the reading by the authour. (Shout out, Jessica Simpson!) All the rest were hold in your hand paper books.
Two of the books I read were books I’d already read once before. It’s really no surprise that they were both Loved.
15% of the books I read were by BIPOC authours and 15% were by Canadians. I’d like to improve on both those numbers. 85% of the books were written by women.
And here were my favourites by category, some categories that I made up. What?
Fiction:The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel and How a Woman Becomes a Lake by Marjorie Celona. The Glass Hotel took me on a fantastical journey all around the world. It conjured up so much real emotion and experience in me that when I think of it, I don’t so much remember the details as I do the feeling I had while reading it. How a Woman Becomes a Lake intrigued me with its title and delivered like a gut punch lesson in compassion. Both were written by Canadian women and both were outstanding.
Memoir:After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey. I love memoirs. I don’t really want to hear anyone’s whole life story, but I do want to hear about the really interesting parts. Michael Hainey lost his father as a child and in this memoir he tells the story of how he pursued real answers around the circumstance of his death. I first heard about this book when Hainey was on the Family Secrets podcast. I had ordered his book before I even got to the end of it. Find his episode here.
Writer whose work I’d never read, but am thankful I finally did:Nora Ephron. Yes, the woman who wrote the screenplays for such movies as When Harry Met Sally, Julie and Julia and my favourite, Sleepless in Seattle. Her semi-autobiographical novel Heartburn is laugh out loud funny despite the sensitive subject of infidelity in a marriage. It’s a real girlfriends-at-brunch vibe and an all around good time.
Yeah, but: Yes, I did read Untamed by Glennon Doyle and yes, it was OK. I’ll see your Untamed and I will raise you a Love Warrior. Have you read that? You should. Although, I’ve started to suspect that the first Glennon Doyle work that you read may be the most impactful Glennon Doyle work for you. If you’ve had a different experience than that, please let me know. And you should read Glennon Doyle. She’ll help you find the way to who you really are.
Book club reads: My friend Julie and I decided to create our own book club. It’s called Fully Booked and we’ve just started our third book. We had a really hard time selecting our first couple of books and we ended up choosing a couple that she’d been given and that I had already read, though years and years ago. They were Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Wild by Cheryl Strayed in that order. I loved the inspiring feeling and the spirit of both – a sense of adventure both in exploring the world and in discovering ourselves.
Here are the remaining books I Loved in my first 52 of 2020:
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. There was a lot of controversy around this book when it came out and I researched it before I decided to read it. A loose description would say that the book tells the story of a woman’s attempt to flee Mexico with her son. It opened my eyes to a tragic experience that I have never had real cause to consider before. The media around it opened my eyes to a bigger discussion around the publishing industry and how we access art and literature. Daniel A Olivas wrote in this Guardian opinion piece: “Perhaps American Dirt will be remembered not as a great novel, but as a key pivot-point for an industry that desperately needs to change.” I suspect that he may be right, if not for anyone else, at least for me.
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. This one got off to a tough start. I wasn’t sure that I’d get all the way through it, to be honest. Right up until the halfway point in the book, I was on the fence. And then it made me absolutely fall in love. This is the story of a boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash, losing his parents and brother in the disaster. Ron Charles described it as “a novel about the peculiar challenges of surviving a public disaster in the modern age” here. Edward is very sweet and totally lovable and that just fed the strong emotional response that I (eventually) had to this book.
Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. “It’s a tale of books and technology, cryptography and conspiracy, friendship and love.” I mean, what more could a reader ask for? It’s also set in San Francisco which a vibe I thoroughly enjoyed.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. A student who’d been involved with a teacher at the age of fifteen flashes back and forth between that story and her modern day experience of the #MeToo movement, seventeen years later. Her reflection between the two is the real story of this book and is equally fascinating and heartbreaking. Note: this recommendation comes with a trigger warning.
The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blaylock. The tagline for this book reads: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel. This was a selection for my local library’s book club and I don’t usually enjoy historical fiction, but Margaret was definitely the more relatable sister.
Slow Motion by Dani Shapiro. This is tagged A Memoir of a Life Rescued by Tragedy. This is my second book by Dani Shapiro (I read Inheritance in February 2019 – extraordinary) who is an absolute master at memoir writing and it was an interesting perspective to know more up to date information than the Shapiro that wrote this had. Ultimately, she writes about how her young adulthood rebellions were quashed by a car accident that severely injured both of her parents.
Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. You know how people were all talking about how lockdown was giving us the opportunity to read the books we already had? This was one of those books for me. I’ve never worked in a restaurant, but I’ve been close to people who have and this book really nails the culture while combining it with the kind of moving-to-NYC story that never gets old.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. This novel is about family secrets and how they are created, accepted and the impact that they have on everyone who knows about them. More importantly, it revolves around the discussion of gender identity in ways that challenged and expanded my thoughts on the topic. I thought a lot about this story while I was reading and ever since.
Have you been reading more since you’ve been at home? If not, what have you been doing instead? Do you have any reading goals for 2020? How have they changed as a result of the pandemic? What have been your favourite books/podcasts/movies/tv shows/video games of the year so far?
When I got a text that said, “You came to see Valerie Harper with me and my sister, didn’t you?” I knew what that meant. I immediately felt that she must have passed away, but I waited for that confirmation text that came minutes later.
Yes, I’d gone to see Valerie Harper with my friend Rebecca and her sister, Ginnie. It was Ginnie’s idea because after a handful of meetings, we’d stumbled upon our mutual love for the Mary Tyler Moore Show and, especially, the spin-off, Rhoda.
When Rhoda’s appearance in Vancouver was announced, Ginnie orchestrated our trio’s attendance and we all relished the life experience she was so willing to share. It felt like we were in the presence of a true icon.
We continued to text back and forth last night – about that event, about the cancer she’d survived and about her death. At one point Rebecca said, “that was a while ago.” She was right, but I couldn’t put my finger on when. It could have been as long as a decade and, honestly, it could have been longer.
I looked through my Instagram feed because I’d secretly stolen an illegal and crappy camera phone picture of Valerie Harper sitting on stage. Turns out, I didn’t post it.
I tried to google Valerie Harper appearances in Vancouver, but as always when a rush of articles pop up after a famous someone’s death, there was no way to cut through the news articles.
Finally, I thought I must have tweeted something about it so I entered the perfect coordinates to find my way back into the search bar: Valerie Harper @carlyrigby.
The second was a celebration of the night we’d had (here.).
It felt victorious that I was able to finally put my finger on when we’d done that. As you can see, it was April 2015 when we saw her, almost 4.5 years ago.
I felt a rush of gratitude that I have tweeted so much of what I’ve thought, seen and done over the years. I found a new appreciation for how I’ve been documenting my life without fully recognizing that it’s what I’ve been doing. As much as I’ve wanted to be someone who journals, it’s just never stuck and my feelings about calendars has varied over the years. Sometimes I’m into keeping them, sometimes I’m not.
I started to notice earlier this year that my historical information wasn’t being saved in my Apple calendars and it made me kind of sad, but also kind of annoyed. At the time of discovery I’d been looking for some somewhat important medical timelines and because I couldn’t search the appointments, I couldn’t put a finger on when they’d occurred. I can’t remember how I eventually sorted it out – could have been a clue on my blog or perhaps email – but I did while at the same time becoming aware that I needed a better process. I want to know what I was doing on this day last year and all the years before that. I also want to be able to tell when it was that I did a thing.
In the meantime, since that realization, I hadn’t actually done anything about it. This morning, in a fit of brutal honesty, I admitted that as much as I love paper, that wasn’t going to be where I could keep up a personal history. Notes? Yes. Sporadic thoughts? Yes. Strategy? Yes. But not records. I get too bored too fast to keep up with the same thing for more than a few days at a time.
Having long standing social media and an active blog do give me a leg up, but there is plenty I don’t (and don’t want to) share publicly. Some because it’s too personal, some because it’s too boring.
Knowing that I wanted more, I started by searching diary apps. I thought that if I could have someplace I could write, save photos, video and voice memos, that would be ideal. I want the freedom to add as much or as little as I want. I want to be able to search it and I’d like to be able to download it as well. I relied on this article for guidance in where to look and I’ve actually decided to try using three different apps to see which one I like the most. I’m trying Day One, Penzu and Momento.
I’ll let you know how it goes.
How are you the historian of your life? How do you keep a record of your adventures?
I’ve been feeling them. Hard. No. More like haaaaaaaaarrrrrrrd. I have been struggling to get back into regular life, back into working, back into chores, all of it. I have had some times when I really wondered, am I okay? I felt out of sorts, unable to meet my minimal expectations of self-care. And I’m talking bare minimum – eating, sleeping, moving. I was unable to do any of it to my satisfaction. I’ve been going through my work routine and feeling exhausted by the monotony, challenged by the menial tasks. I wondered how I was going to get back into my routine and what happened to my job satisfaction and the rewarding feeling I get from doing my everyday tasks. I would try to focus my feelings, to breathe through my frustrations and find the bright side of the circumstance. I’d say a little prayer that the things coming at me would get easier to deal with.
Turns out that was the opposite of what I needed.
Because right at what should have been the end of my day today, something really challenging was thrown at me and I, in turn, threw myself into it.
And guess what happened. I got my groove back.
This evening, in the glow of being once again engaged, invigorated and excited about my work, everything was different. I felt better adjusted overall, doing the right thing for my mind and my body made sense and I really started to feel like myself again.
I’ve got myself into this habit where I don’t start writing my daily blog post until it’s nearly bedtime – or sometimes it’s actually bedtime. It’s become my tendency to leave it until the very last thing in the day – after I’ve washed my face, after I’ve brushed my teeth. Do you have any idea what that does for creativity? Or the feeling of fulfilment when you’ve done something worthwhile? Yeah, it sucks the ever-loving life out of both.
I need to come up with a new strategy. I need to come at it from a different angle. I don’t exactly know how to tackle that because often this time of night is one of my only chances to catch my breath, to take my mind of of a list, to have a few minutes to slow down and think of putting thoughts into words.
Everything is possible. I just need a new approach.
Kevin will be home in the morning and I’m looking forward to that. I’m not as good to myself when I’m alone as I am when he’s around. Also, I miss him.
My first day back at work went remarkably smoothly, but I was there late and brought a mild headache home with me. I’ve come to accept that’s how it goes when I am back in the office after an absence. Catching up on the action, the voicemail, the drama – it can really take it right out of you.
Thankfully with the groundwork I laid today, tomorrow will be a fresh start.
There are a couple of major influences happening in my internal world right now. One, as stated above, my home alone status is really starting to sink in. Two, I go back to work tomorrow. Neither of them is terrible on its own, but let’s just say, they’re on my mind.
I love being alone. I often tell people that if I didn’t force myself to go out, I could stay home for far longer than would probably be healthy for me. I might not ever get social again. Seriously. Everyone says that, but I actually mean it. I’m convinced I could stay home for weeks. But here’s the thing: I need Kevin here, too. If he’s out working or at a game or with friends, he at least comes home later. If he’s gone for a few days, it’s just so boring around here. And it seems like he’s going to be away a lot more with some recent opportunities that have come his way.
I also love my job. There are a few people I am really looking forward to seeing tomorrow. What I’m not looking forward to: setting an alarm, being confined to my office, wearing proper clothes. I’m also not really feeling the I have to go to bed at a decent hour (aka now) business that goes along with it.
I think it would be really great if I could have totally flexible hours and they’d probably even end up looking just like my already somewhat flexible hours, but not having the annoyance of structure feels heavenly right now.
Today, I went to Car Free Day in Port Moody. A few friends had booths there and I wanted to check them out, also it was nice to get out to my old ‘hood.
It was a good vacation. We had a blast in Toronto and I miss Summer Slam so much. I read three and a half books, two that I absolutely loved. I had a little time to fully relax without any obligations, to reset before getting back into the groove. I even came up with a few solutions for problems I’d put on the shelf when I left the office.
But as usually happens, I’m starting to look forward to our next trip, just over six weeks away from now.
Let me first admit that I am not someone who wants to be up in my neighbours’ business any more than I want my neighbours up in mine. I like knowing people to say hello and smile at, but I don’t usually get much closer than that. I have made friends with people in my city and I think it’s fun (and so typical of this city’s character) to see people I know when running errands or being out around town. It’s nice to have a chat in the grocery store or while grabbing a coffee, but there are only a few locals I spend time with. I don’t mind it that way.
I’d describe the local community as somewhat tight knit. When there is an event in the community, it creates a good buzz in local businesses and on social media. On a day when an event takes place, expect a lot of tweets telling you what’s going on and a ton of Instagram stories showing you.
This is a city that prides itself on having many community focused events designed to appeal to all walks of life. Just today, my Mom and I walked over to our city’s Pride Festival. While most of the continent is celebrating Pride month in June, Vancouver holds its annual Pride Parade on the Sunday of BC Day (August) long weekend. Here in New West, we hold our Pride festivities a little later, in this year’s case, they started a week later with events throughout the past week, the main event being the Pride Street Party on Saturday afternoon/evening (tonight.)
The main street through town was closed down to traffic and opened up to three stages of entertainment, tons of vendors, organizations, a handful of food trucks and even a wrestling ring for Royal City Wrestling performances. The street was pretty crowded with people having a great time and it was a really nice atmosphere to be in.
I’m not sure if there were fewer events like these when we were younger or if it’s just something we didn’t do, but Kevin and I will attend anything. We’ve wandered through street fairs in a number of cities while we’ve been traveling – a farmer’s market in Victoria, a night market in Daytona Beach, a sweets festival just last week in Toronto, to name a few. I’ve said it before, I know, but it’s one of my favourite things about us – I am enthusiastic to try anything and Kevin is laid back enough to go along with it.
Tomorrow, my Mom and I are going to take on a community event in her neighbourhood, my hometown. More on that later, but in the meantime, check the listings in your local area and find something to attend. You might just decide that you like it.
We just got home from Toronto, right? Well, Kevin is heading back there again tomorrow. Sadly, his uncle just passed away yesterday and Kevin was quite close with him so he’s heading back home for the funeral.
When you think of travel, you imagine vacations and celebrations and adventures and fun. While I’m sure Kevin will have some good times seeing family and old friends, the spirit of the trip is sad and this loss has cast a shadow over our house for a last two days since we found out.
Saw these mugs at Indigo tonight. Kind of wish I’d bought one.
I hadn’t really planned on heading to day one of the Minto Cup today, but since Kevin will be leaving tomorrow and he had to be there for work tonight, I decided to go along with him. It was a typical day one for any national tournament – teams feeling each other out and getting their legs. I have a strong suspicion of who the winner will be, but things can change so much in the next day as they settle in and get comfortable. It was nice to be out there and to see a couple of friends we haven’t seen in a little while and to do something different to take our minds off of everything else.
Aside from that, today was a total hibernation day. I didn’t even look at Twitter until we’d left for the arena late in the afternoon. I just needed some peace and quiet for a day – and now I’ll have a few days of extra quiet while I’m home alone. Now that we’re back, I just want to be at home. I don’t envy Kevin’s trek back where we just came from and I’m certainly sorry for everyone’s loss.
My weekend will consist of a trip down to the New West Pride Street Party tomorrow and aside from that, it’ll be just laying low and getting ready to go back to work on Monday.
Today marks the end of an entire year of daily posts. For twelve months, fifty-two weeks, 365 days, I’ve spent some portion of every day writing and sharing my thoughts, feelings, adventures, whatever. I’ve posted from Chicago, Las Vegas, Seattle, Vancouver Island, Toronto and from a whole bunch of other places much closer to home. I’ve written heartfelt essays, thoughtful opinions and even some silly stories along the way. It all started with this post and it’s crossed a heck of a lot of ground since then.
So, I decided that I’m going to write here every day and, more importantly, I’m also going to hit PUBLISH every day, too. I hit a road block in my head because I feel like every post need to have apointand astoryand asomething I’m not giving itwhen, I mean, really? It’s a blog for crying out loud. And it’s MY blog. And further, what’s the advice I always give to others when they’re stumped: just do it.
Thank you to all of you who have read regularly or even just periodically. Thank you for the comments, the texts, the tweets and the conversations that spilled over face to face. You may never know how much it means to have your companionship on this road. I am so thankful for your support.
For now, I’m going to keep at it and see how long it goes on for. Maybe things will change, maybe they’ll stay the same for a while longer.
We got to sleep in this morning and we even had a little extra time to explore our hotel and have some lunch.
I loved the Fairmont Royal York so much. My only regret is that we didn’t have more time to get it know it better.
The hotel was initially built beginning in 1928 and opened on June 11th, 1929. At the time it was the tallest building in the British Commonwealth.
For a hotel that old, they’ve done an amazing job of balancing the original designs with renovations and restorations.
I’d deliberately put off reading about the hauntings throughout the hotel until this morning because I didn’t want to freak Kevin (and maybe me) out. There seem to be three established hauntings in the building. One is a former porter who worked at the hotel and hung himself, another is a man wearing purple and wandering the halls. The third is children heard laughing and running up and down the halls. Obviously, we didn’t seen any evidence of the hauntings, but we did get to check many of the grand old rooms throughout the large property.
The second photo is from inside the Concert Hall. I walked in and it was dark, then after standing still in awe of its beauty for 15-20 seconds, the lights came on. The photo doesn’t do justice to just how gorgeous a room it is to be in. I can just imagine it’s much more splendid during an event.
One place that I insisted we take a look at before we leave was the Library Bar, for obvious reasons. It was our final stop and while we still had about thirty minutes before we had to leave, Kevin convinced me we should have a bite to eat while we were there.
The staff there were so great once they knew our time constraints. Everyone works too get us fed and out the door on time – and it was a success!
In a reversal of our arrival on Friday morning, we took the UP train back to the airport and were on our way back home without a hitch.
As always, coming home is bittersweet. I am pretty miserable about it, but I was at least a little bit happy that we got to see the cats.