Wrapping up 2022 with Local Reads
by Billie LeBel-Gagné
I can’t lie: when I first received a book as a holiday gift, when I was eight years old, I was disappointed. What could possibly be so interesting in a pile of paper compared to my other gifts? Thankfully, that book ultimately made me fall in love with reading. Discovering new worlds, getting to know characters, fictitious or real, learning new things: reading can transport you in so many different directions and is a gift in itself. Needless to say,books have been among my favourite gifts to receive ever since.
Last week, we published our Holiday Book Catalogue, with over 100 titles to choose from. If you’re still looking for recommendations, here are three more suggested reads by some friends of Read Quebec. As you’ll read, a common thread emerges from their suggestions: racism, sexism, identity and politics seem to be front and centre. Let their suggestions inspire you in your holiday gifting (and to-read list)!
Toula Drimonis: Seize temps noirs pour apprendre à dire kuei by Philippe Néméh-Nombré
Faithful to her interests in questions of identity politics, opinion columnist and writer Toula Drimonis recommends a French-language book by sociologist and Black studies researcher Philippe Néméh-Nombré. Seize temps noirs pour apprendre à dire kuei, out from Mémoire d’encrier, explores proximities and solidarity between the Black and Indigenous communities in Quebec. In sixteen parts, the book reimagines the history and the possibilities of the meeting of nations beyond colonial violence, from a black perspective. Drimonis considers it a deeply singular read, but not a light one by any stretch of the imagination: “A really interesting collection of essays on indigenous and Black identity in Quebec. It’s a unique take on things and he is well versed on the topic.”
Toula Drimonis is a Montreal-based opinion columnist, writer and news producer. She has worked in television, radio, and print in all three of her languages, and has appeared on TV as both panelist and contributor to English- and French-language current affairs and cultural news shows. Her first book, We, The Others, published by Linda Leith Publishing in 2022, is a poignant look at intergenerational struggles, conflicting loyalties and heartfelt questions of belonging.
Rachel McCrum & Rebecca West: No Crystal Stair by Mairuth Sarsfield
Poet and performer Rachel McCrum suggests an oldie but a goodie: a new edition of No Crystal Stair, by Mairuth Sarsfield. Originally published in 1997, the novel was republished by Linda Leith Publishing last year. Taking place in Montreal in the 1940s, in the Black community of Little Burgundy, the novel follows a young widow named Marion Willow, who is struggling to raise her three daughters, and holding down two jobs. No Crystal Stair dives deep into racism and sexism. McCrum describes it as rich and nuanced: “It’s a fabulous portrait of 1940s Montreal and gives perspective to the continuing complexity and diversity of lives in the city today.”
For AELAQ’s Executive Director Rebecca West, the re-edition and its launch hold a special place in 2022: “I picked up a copy at the April launch, where we had a chance to hear from the late Sarsfield’s granddaughter, Zinzi da Silva, amongst other literary luminaries. Having grown up half a block from the Westmount YMCA, which figures prominently in the narrative, I was fascinated to learn about the important role that it played in post-War Montreal, and the casual acts of racism that the staff had to endure. An enlightening and personal story, rich in history lessons without the pedagogy of a textbook.”
Originally from Northern Ireland, Rachel McCrum is now delighted to call Montreal home, where she is the editor of Font magazine, and works full-time as a freelance poet, performer, event curator, and workshop facilitator. Her debut collection, The First Blast to Awaken Women Degenerate (Stewed Rhubarb Press, 2018), was published in a bilingual edition with Mémoire d’encrier in 2020, as Le premier coup de clairon pour réveiller les femmes immorales.
Rebecca West is Executive Director of the Association of English Language Publishers of Quebec and Publisher of the Montreal Review of Books.
David Bradford: Dream Rooms by River Halen
Poet and editor David Bradford recommends the multidisciplinary Dream Rooms, by River Halen from Book*hug Press. Marrying poetry and non-fiction essays, the book is set in the years of River’s transition and follow deceptively simple daily occurrences from a deeply queer and trans perspective. Bradford admires the airy yet hefty way Halen describes this period of transition in their life: “The book is for me most enthralling and relatable in the not-quite-wholes Halen describes the accumulation of bright, sharp and/or difficult moments that carefully slip into each other as the poet’s formal loft meets the humble means with which they continue to find themself—and embrace who they’re finding.”
David Bradford is a poet and editor based in Tioh’tia:ke (Montréal). His poetry has appeared in, among others, Prairie Fire, The Fiddlehead, filling Station, The Capilano Review, Carte Blanche, and anthologized in The Unpublished City, a 2018 Toronto Book Awards finalist. He is the author of several chapbooks, including Call Out (2017), Nell Zink Is Damn Free (2017), and The Plot (2018). Bradford’s first book, Dream of No One but Myself, is an interdisciplinary inquiry into the versioning aspects of his and his family’s histories with abuse and trauma.
Billie Gagné-LeBel is a queer freelance writer and content creator who loves to explore questions of identity and mental health, alternative relationships and lifestyles, beauty, and all things pop/geek culture. She writes for her own blog and publications such as Grenier aux nouvelles and BE MTL, and does copywriting and social media creation for a range of clients.
Illustration by Nora Kelly