Thank goodness for technology, am I right? In this new age of social distancing, apps like Zoom and FaceTime mean many of us can connect with loved ones around the globe with ease. And with platforms like Instagram and YouTube, we can have a DJ dance party, a drawing lesson or a one-on-one meditation session from the comfort of our own quarantines.
But let’s not forget the value of some old-timey tech that has been bringing us together for centuries: books. Here’s a reading list from a grad that offers an opportunity to explore new genres and learn about points of view that are new to us. Matthew Stepanic, ’12 BA(Hons), co-owner of Glass Bookshop, jokes he has become a “literary therapist,” helping people find the right book. The shop is part bookstore, part gathering space, and it focuses on Canadian writing with special attention to marginalized voices and independent publishers.
“A book gives you that intimate one-on-one meeting with somebody, with their perspective and story,” Stepanic says. “You can learn a little bit about what their struggles could be as a queer person, as a trans person, as a Black person or as anyone else.”
Stepanic and business partner Jason Purcell, ’15 BA, ’18 MA, stock their shelves with a curated selection of books, many of which highlight the experiences of writers who are Indigenous, Black and people of colour, as well as members of the LGBTQ2SIA+ community. Their hope is that these works offer readers a glimpse into different ways of being in the world.
If you're stocking the bookshelf along with the pantry, Stepanic has five must-reads that will introduce you to new people, places and perspectives, all without having to change out of your pyjamas.
1) The Tiger Flu by Larissa Lai (Arsenal Pulp Press)
In this cyberpunk thriller, a community of exiled, self-reproducing women grapples with a mysterious flu that threatens to wipe out their kind. Following the death of a “starfish” woman with the power to reproduce necessary organs for members of her community, one woman tries to save her people by finding a replacement lifeline.
Lai’s award-winning novel parallels our current moment by exploring the consequences of a society dependent on technology and asks questions about how we protect our most vulnerable people in times of crisis. “If people are comfortable to explore and understand the pandemic while we’re still in it,” Stepanic says, “The Tiger Flu is something that I would highly recommend.”
2) Vanishing Monuments by John Elizabeth Stintzi (Arsenal Pulp Press)
This debut novel follows photographer and teacher Alani as they return home to their estranged mother, who has dementia. (The novel is one of few published works that features a non-binary protagonist who uses they/them pronouns.) Alani deals with painful memories while staying at their mother’s empty home.
“It’s an in-depth, beautiful, literary-spun tale that explores gender, memory and family,” Stepanic says, adding that Stintzi — award-winning writer of the compilation of poetry Junebat — is one of CanLit’s rising stars.
3) Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc (Coach House Books)
Fairy tales promise a happily-ever-after, but at what cost? In this work of literary criticism, Amanda Leduc looks at disabled characters in fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to Disney and how these stories shape our understanding of disability.
Leduc, who lives with cerebral palsy, poses questions about how we can better celebrate difference, Stepanic says. How can narratives make space for characters with disabilities? How can the canon itself accommodate writers with different abilities?
During a pandemic, where immunocompromised people are at greater risk, these questions are more important than ever, says Stepanic. The book allows us to reflect on how we can protect our most vulnerable and support one another according to our abilities and needs.
“It’s a good time to educate yourself on how people live with different abilities — how to make space for them in a society.”
4) day/break by Gwen Benaway (Book*hug Press)
What does it mean to be a trans woman? This is the question at the heart of Benaway’s collection of poetry. An Anishinaabe and Métis poet, Benaway thinks beyond binaries as she explores her relationship to her shifting identity, her body and the physical world.
The collection also addresses the ways society discriminates against trans folks. In this way, Benaway’s poetry is an extension of her work as an activist, advocating on behalf of trans Indigenous people. “She’s doing a lot of heavy lifting for the trans community,” says Stepanic. day/break follows her collection Holy Wild, which recently won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English poetry.
5) The Great Oklahoma Swindle: Race, Religion, and Lies in America’s Weirdest State by Russell Cobb (University of Nebraska Press)
The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the global economy, resulting in a time of financial uncertainty. Knowing that most of us have money on the mind, Stepanic recommends The Great Oklahoma Swindle by Russell Cobb, an associate professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies.
In a mix of memoir, social commentary and research, Cobb tells the story of his home state of Oklahoma, a struggling place rife with contradictions. While the state may be rich in natural resources, it’s lacking in funding for basic services like education and social welfare. Cobb looks with critical affection at the weird and fascinating history of this so-called flyover state to answer the question: “How did we get here?”