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RBC Taylor Prize 2019 Longlist

The RBC Taylor Prize is a Canadian Literary Award, presented by the Charles Taylor Foundation to the Best Canadian work of literary non-fiction. The prize was inaugurated in 2000, and was presented biennially till 2004, after which it became an annual award. 

RBC Taylor Prize 2019 Jurors Camilla Gibb, Roy MacGregor and Beverley McLachlin shared the longlist for the eighteenth awarding of Canada’s most prestigious non-fiction prize.

The jury reviewed over 100 books to reach this longlist and state that “It was no small task whittling down to this longlist of ten, and we anticipate many hours of re-reading and debate before we produce our short list, and, ultimately, the winner. We found the books breath-taking in their range of topics, and happily found so many of them serve as a useful barometer for current issues, from reconciliation to political trust. There is remarkable achievement here and we hope readers will celebrate that with us. “

The longlist books for the 2019 RBC Taylor Prize are:

RBCTP 2019 longlist IMG_1496cropped 4000

1.   Son of a Critch: A Childish Newfoundland Memoir, by Mark Critch, published by Viking/Penguin Canada

2.   Just Let Me Look at You: On Fatherhood, by Bill Gaston, published by Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Canada

3.   Jan in 35 Pieces: A Memoir in Music, by Ian Hampton, published by Porcupine’s Quill

4.   Lands of Lost Borders: Out of Bounds on the Silk Roads, by Kate Harris, published by Knopf Canada.

5.   All Things Consoled: A Daughter’s Memoir, by Elizabeth Hay, published by McClelland & Stewart

6.   Trust: Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country, by David Johnston, published by Signal/M&S **

7.   Seeking the Fabled City: The Canadian Jewish Experience, by Allan Levine, published by McClelland and Stewart

8.   Power, Prime Ministers and the Press: The Battle for Truth on Parliament Hill, by Robert Lewis, published by Dundurn Press.

9.   Heart Berries: A Memoir, by Terese Marie Mailhot, published by Doubleday Canada

10. Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age, by Darrel McLeod, published by Douglas & MacIntyre.

Noreen Taylor, chair of the Charles Taylor Foundation and founder of the Prize, commented: “What an amazing breadth of offerings this year. I can hardly wait to dive into the books I haven’t already read! Looking at this list it’s definitely going to be a busy holiday. What is so interesting is that this list reflects what Canadians are experiencing, worrying about and/or enjoying currently, and reminds Canadian readers how fortunate we are to have amongst us so many gifted and unique storytellers. Here’s to our publishers and their many distinct imprints for releasing a panorama of fascinating titles, and bravo to our jurors who performed the Herculean task of selecting this remarkable long list from amongst over 100 titles.”

Vijay Parmar, president of RBC PH&N Investment Counsel, added: “Once again, we have a longlist that showcases our national collective voice and the power that storytelling has to change our understanding and challenge our perspectives. Congratulations to the 2019 long-listed authors and thanks to our esteemed jurors for their time, dedication and reflection.”Key Dates: The RBC Taylor Prize Shortlist will be announced at a news conference on Wednesday, January 9, 2019, and the winner revealed at a gala luncheon on Monday March 4, 2019.

 

 

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Book Review: Tangles – A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me by Sarah Leavitt

Tangles - A Story about Alzheimer's, my mother and me by Sarah Leavitt Title: Tangles – A Story about Alzheimer’s, My Mother and Me
Author: Sarah Leavitt
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0-224-09422-1
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir
Pages: 132
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have often wondered while reading memoirs or something very personal: How do the authors manage to put all this down to paper? All the hurt, the anguish, the memory of it all, on paper for others to read. I do not know how they must feel to put it down – to go through those memories all over again, so they can tell it to the world. I am sure though it must not be easy to do that. This thought crossed my mind as I finished reading, “Tangles – A Story about Alzheimer’s, my mother and me” by Sarah Leavitt, a story of her mother’s illness and her love for her, and that is in a graphic novel format.

I had wanted to read this book since a while now, however something else kept coming in the way, pushing this one on the back burner. And when I finally did, it reminded me of someone who I had known with the disease and all the memories came rushing by. Anyway, back to the book. “Tangles” is one woman’s story about losing a parent and at the same time strangely enough, also finding a parent through Alzheimer’s. The content and context is heavy and may be that is when the book being in a graphic novel format helps.

“Tangles” is the story of Sarah and her mother and Sarah seeing her through Alzheimer’s. It covers six years of her mother’s life with the onset of the disease through her death and the emotional turmoil Sarah and her family goes through. For me it was about the disease and what it does to you as a person – at the same time what it takes from you. Fragments of memory are snatched slowly and steadily till it reaches a stage when you struggle to remember your loved ones. Sarah writes about it with a touch that makes you want to reach out to the author. The novel covers everything – the dark humour, the spark, the burst of energy and frustration, the reaction of the family, the last moments and the very angry moments as well.

To reflect on a disease through a graphic novel format is not unusual. A lot of writers have done it before. So it is only common if you tend to compare it with Fun House by Alison Bechdel or with Charles Burns’ Black Hole. The quality of illustrations is on the spot, making it seem real enough, which for me was very important while reading the book. The connect of the reader will but obviously be very high, given the nature of the book and yet at times the reader will forget that it is a memoir and Sarah’s mother went through it all. “Tangles” at the same time celebrates life – for what it is, for what it was and how it will be. The story is honest. It is raw. It is also quite tender. A story of a mother, her disease and her daughter.

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Book Review: The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai

The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai Title: The Hungry Ghosts
Author: Shyam Selvadurai
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9780670085750
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It was through a dear friend that I got introduced to Shyam Selvadurai’s works. We were younger than and wanted to read everything queer and take it all in. At such a time, I was introduced to “Funny Boy” by my friend, written by Shyam Selvadurai. The book was about a boy’s coming to terms with his sexual orientation and that too in an almost conservative Sri Lankan society. I fell in love with Selvadurai’s writing. There was no looking back since. I have read almost every single book of his (well including the latest one, there have been only four books to say the least) and loved them all, some a little less than the others and some a little more.

“The Hungry Ghosts” falls in the latter category. The title comes from Buddhist mythology, where the dead may be reborn as “hungry ghosts” – as spirits with stomachs so large that they can never be full. It is but left to the living relatives of the ghosts to free them of this desire by doing good deeds and creating good karma. Why am I telling you this? Because this is at the heart of this story, centered on a matriarch, becoming a living ghost and the relationship she shares with her grandson – who but after all must free her.

The book moves between Canada and Sri Lanka and Selvadurai does a brilliant job of describing the essence of both places with ease and panache. “The Hungry Ghosts” is centered on Shivan Rassiah, who is of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese lineage, and is a beloved grandson to his grandmother, who is extremely orthodox and at the same time, Shivan happens to be gay. As the novel opens, Shivan is living in Canada and preparing to go back to Colombo to meet his ailing maternal grandmother and get her to live with him and his mother in Canada, till her final days. This is the crux of the novel.

For me what struck a chord in the entire book is the fact that you can never let go of the past. It will keep hounding you or keeping up with you wherever you go, till it is at peace. The law of karma holds strongly throughout the book and sometimes most ironically so. Each character is stuck with his or her karma and that runs beautifully throughout the novel. There were times when I thought it was getting a bit much, but I could overlook it, primarily because of the writing.

Characterization is another strong point of Shyam Selvadurai. He gives all his characters their due and their voices are distinct. No one is either good or bad. Everyone has their own drawbacks, which makes them connect more with the readers. The fact of Shivan coming to terms with his sexual orientation and at the same time trying to make sense of Sri Lanka’s disruptive political scenario blends and fit together to perfection. This to me is great writing. The grandmother is overbearing and strong and yet has her own share of sadness which isn’t revealed till later in the book. The idea of the book is clear: Forgiveness and Karma.

This book worked with me on many levels as I was able to relate my life to what was taking place in the novel. I loved the Buddhist myths and fables that run throughout the book. It is almost as though they were much needed to propel the story ahead. I highly recommend this book to almost everyone who want to know more about Sri Lankan customs and traditions and also above all who want to read a good story.


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Book Review: New Selected Stories by Alice Munro

New Selected Stories by Alice Munro Title: New Selected Stories
Author: Alice Munro
Publisher: Chatto and Windus, Random House
ISBN: 978-0701179885
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

If there is one short-story writer I would like to meet and know more about, it would be Alice Munro. Her skill and magnificence of the craft have always left me speechless. She writes without caring, without knowing and without expecting or so it seems every time I read her collection of stories. There is something about them which maybe cannot be defined. It can only be felt by the reader. It will be felt by you if you pick up and read any of her short stories. She is that wonderful and adept at what she does. I am only humbled every time I read her works.

“New Selected Stories” is a collection of stories from five books spanning from 1998-2009, almost a decade, depicting the key aspects of her writing. Why is she so good you ask? Or for that matter, why do I revere her the way I do? That is because she knows how to notice human beings. She sees them in their weakness and strengths and puts it down in the form of a simple story sometimes, with only too complex characters and how their lives are led, day by day and as the years pass on.

The stories never lose momentum. She always knows what to say and when to say it. For instance, “Chance” is all about fate and what role it plays in a person’s life, when she meets a stranger on a train. On the other hand, “The Bear Came over the Mountain” is about a woman and her husband dealing with her Alzheimer’s. “The Love of a Good Woman” is all about what it means to love and more so what it means to lose.

I do not know why but every time I read a short story by Alice Munro, I am forced to introspect and think of events in my life. If a writer manages to do that, then maybe there is something about her. Her stories are just like life – bittersweet and often unexpected. You cannot put down her collection and do anything else. The only problem sometimes is the length of the stories, but I guess that is okay, because once you get engrossed in any of them, you do not want it to end. And honestly I do not know of how many authors I can say that? I can say that about Alice Munro for sure. All my money on her writing skills. She is beyond super. These fifteen stories will dazzle you every time you read them. You will reread for sure.

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Book Review: Runaway by Alice Munro

Runaway by Alice Munro Title: Runaway
Author: Alice Munro
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0-099-47225-4
Genre: Short Story
Pages: 335
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

When you read a collection of stories by Alice Munro, you need to give yourself a lot of time to intake what you have read. To so to say, “soak in” the experience. Her stories speak to you, they communicate in a manner you never thought they would. They astound you, they leave you speechless and sometimes they also wrench your heart – that is the power of Alice Munro’s short stories.

“Runaway” by Alice Munro is the first read of the year for me and I could not be happier for choosing this one. Her characters are lost and sometimes miserable. They are regular people, spread across the terrain she knows best – Canada. Having said that, the emotions and situations almost remain the same. It could happen to anyone, what happens to her characters – they fall in love, they experience the disappearance of a loved one, they are unsure and above all they are just human.

Alice Munro’s writing is of a quiet kind. Nothing monumental happens at the start of the story. It is just a build-up to what takes you by surprise or sometimes shock at the end of the story or in the middle. There are layers to her short stories, which sometimes cannot be found in a novel.

“Runaway” is a collection of stories about men and women who while appear sane and normal on the surface (so to say), there is a lot of emotional burden seething under. At the same time, they flow with the tide and give in to situations. Be it a housewife who wants to run away from her husband and life in the title story to a collection of three inter-linked stories about a woman Juliet and her life as it spans across time and relationships. Or it could also be of a girl grown up with her hippie and care-free parents, and waits as life unfolds in front of her, in an unexpected manner.

There is no other short-story writer I have loved more in recent times than Munro. Maybe Lydia Davis but that’s that I guess. A short story according to me anyway is more difficult to write a novel. As Jonathan Franzen, says in his introduction to the book, “I like stories because they leave the writer no place to hide”. This is so true. Short stories demand a lot from writers and sometimes only a master at her craft like Munro can deliver almost every single time. I would also highly recommend Franzen’s introduction to the book, which is a superb insight to the art of short-story telling and available only as a part of the UK edition.

I am very happy that I have read only two of her collections, because there is so much more to read of hers, so much to take in – the charm and lives of small cities, of how life goes on, of how it unfolds, little by little and does not stop there. Munro’s characters take a shape and form of their own. Her words get formed, slowly and steadily, till they become solid structures, which readers can go back to time and again. Here is one writer, who I hope continues writing, a lot more.

Also by Munro which I read and reviewed:

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

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