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by Naomi Alderman
(Little, Brown and Company)
The Power is speculative, science fiction at its finest, a ‘what if ‘ premise where girls across the world discover latent powers- a ‘skein’ of muscles and nerves lying under the skin across the collar bone – which when activated allows the girl to generate electricity in varying degrees of power from mild to death-inducing. In some girls, where the power is very strong, they are able to waken it in older women. Over the years the paradigm shifts and patriarchies topple- government, armies become female-led. The power in effect gives women all the power. And herein lies the fascinating question at the heart of this book. If women rule the world will be it be a kinder, gentler more nurturing place? Or does power, any power, corrupt? What begins as a means for women to defend themselves becomes something else, something brutal and dark. Told from the perspectives of four characters - the daughter of a London gangster, an abused bi-racial American girl who becomes a spiritual focal point for the new movement, a rising politician and mother, a young African male photojournalist- this is a fascinating exploration of power dynamics, and gender dynamics. It is not a perfect book, resorting to a few shortcuts, but its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, and it is sure to provide plenty of fodder for thought and lively discussion.
I loved Mary Beard's SPQR. As one of the premier classical scholars of our times - and a witty, strong, accessible writer - she writes about deep and more recent history, showing the threads that tie our human time together. As a public intellectual, a woman who is well-known as an authority in her field, she has faced the usual torrent of anti-woman abuse online. Her responses to these attacks have been remarkable and impressive. Women & Power: A Manifesto is based on a series of lectures she has given about the origins of misogyny, and the structures of power. It is composed of two essays, The Public Voice of Women, and Women & Power. The scope of her gaze includes The Odyssey, The Metamorphoses, Medusa, Twitter, Lysistrata, With Her in Ourland, Anita Hill, Hilary Clinton, Black Lives Matter, and much more. She urges a re-think of the word "power" - with its present meaning understood by who it excludes - so that it becomes more of a verb than a noun. If power excludes women (with some exceptions for the "right" kind of women), then power itself needs to be reconsidered. A brilliant, concise, sly, well-written book, very much needed right now.
Lynda Barry is one of my all-time favourite cartoonists. I used to follow her comic strip Ernie Pook's Comeek, in a Toronto weekly, and that led me to her absolutely incredible character Marlys, a sweet, nutty, exuberant 8-year-old girl. Barry is a master cartoonist, and the characters, including the children she draws and writes are fully realized and authentic. It's a hazy dream of mine to take a course from her! Syllabus is the next-best thing. It's a book that uses her syllabus for a writing/drawing course that she teaches. You can use it as a book full of writing and creativity prompts, and also enjoy it simply as a beautiful book full of her wild, rambling drawings, collages, and words. Even taking a look at it will jumpstart the creative process! That's one of the wonderful things about looking at, or reading, excellent art or writing - it is inspirational to see the artist/writer working at the height of her imagination. I feel just about every writer and artist should have this book on their shelf. It's a classic.
Written & Illustrated by Matt Tavares
Every year I like to feature stand-out holiday picture books that, in my humble estimation, would make worthwhile additions to any festive collection. I am a sucker for a handsome-looking picture book, particularly at this time of the year, and my pick this month - Red & Lulu by Matt Tavares - is just that. Its cover features the book’s title in gold lettering and two cardinals flying over an urban street bathed in the glow of an enormous Christmas tree. We discover that these birds made their home in the branches of a towering evergreen tree in a family’s front yard. The highlight of their year was when the tree was decorated on a snowy winter's day and carollers gathered to sing “O Christmas Tree”; sometimes the cardinals even sang along. One day, however, the tree is felled and loaded onto a flat-bed with one of the birds still in its branches. Red desperately tries to locate his mate, tracking the truck to the city where he loses them. Forlorn and alone in a strange landscape, Red despairs he will never see Lulu again. That is until he hears the notes of “O Christmas Tree" and rounds a corner to discover their tree ablaze with colourful lights and Lulu tucked in amongst its branches. Children will be delighted by the reunion, and comforted by the birds’ decision to move to trees in a nearby park, and everyone will be enchanted by the luminous illustrations which are the foremost attraction of this book. Painted in watercolour and gouache, the scenes are cleverly executed from a bird’s eye view, affording the reader strikingly beautiful perspectives on both natural and urban landscapes. The back story of the tree that is erected every year at New York City’s Rockefeller Center is an interesting epilogue (combined with the fact it is donated to Habitat for Humanity for lumber) particularly given Nova Scotia’s annual donation of just such a tree to Boston.