Matt’s Weekly Reads, September 3, 2022


Haven, Emma Donoghue (2022 – NEW RELEASE August 23, 2022)

This latest release from Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue left me with big, and ultimately mixed feelings. The plot, about three monks who flee their ‘worldly’ monastery to found a new monastic outpost on Little Skellig, unspools quietly, with the tension increasing almost imperceptibly. Much of the book is simply the basic, hard labour of daily life on this island that is little more than a rock — labour made all the harder by group’s leader’s unwavering faith in his own vision, no matter the realities of the life-threatening difficulties they face.

If you want beautiful and warm stories of monastic community and the richness and life-affirming tendencies within Irish monasticism, this not the book for you. The dangers of monastic zeal and the potential for abuse inherent in vows of obedience are on full display here. Make no mistake, this is the Christian tradition at its very worst, legalistic and lacking in basic humanity.

As a lover of books, I was a little disappointed by the lack of ‘life’ in the story. But at the same time, this was clearly the story Donoghue wanted to tell and she told it expertly. And the ending offered a lovely hint at the beginnings of a new and better foundation to come. I can’t say I enjoyed the experience of reading this, and yet, even just minutes after finishing it, I found myself amazed by what it accomplished and very impressed. Interesting read-alongs could be Matrix by Lauren Groff, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (any edition will do, but Benedicta Ward’s is a classic), or The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Olivier Clément, which demonstrates the heart of what the prior of this little community was lacking.

Read this if you’re interested in:

  • Quiet tension
  • ‘Man against nature’
  • Monasticism
  • Legalism

My Rating, 9/10

Reading in honour of the upcoming National Day for Truth & Reconciliation (September 30)

  • Be a Good Ancestor, Leona Prince and Gabrielle Prince (illustrated by Carla Joseph) (2022), 10/10: This is a beautiful, short picture book for young children with an important message about being a ‘good Ancestor’ in all of one’s relationships, with the environment, with each other, and with oneself. (Childrens, Picture Books, Own Voices, Indigenous Stories)
  • Pathways of Reconciliation, AimEe Craft (2020), 7/10: See my post of September one for my review.

Weekly Roundup

  • The Holiday Trap, Roan Parrish (2022 – NEW RELEASE, September 6, 2022), 9/10: I really loved this queer home-swap double romance. There’s sometimes a rivalry between ‘small town’ books and ‘big city’ books, so I loved how this one showed how both tropes are at their heart about finding belonging and community. In one plotline, Truman is reeling after finding out his boyfriend of a year is married with kid, and needs to get out of New Orleans for the holidays; in the other, Greta is suffocating on the Maine island where she was raised, and needs to get away from her meddling family. Their mutual friend Ramona suggests a house swap for a month, and both of their lives change for ever, with romance and friendship, and life lessons abounding for everyone. (Romance, Holiday, Christmas, Hannukah, LGBTQ2S+, House Swap, Small Towns, Big Cities, New Orleans)
  • Scott Pilgrim (Vol. 1-6), Bryan Lee O’Malley (2005-10), 9/10: I’ve long been a fan of the 2010 film adaptation of this much beloved series of graphic novels about a lovable slacker in a rock band in Toronto around the turn of the century, who has to fight his crush’s seven evil exes to win her heart. It was great to finally read the comics and they were as fun as reputed. Bonus: These could be the best Toronto books ever, offering a window into a part of city that gentrification has sadly seen disappear — even in the nine years I’ve lived here so many of the places featured in the series have been lost. (Graphic Novels, Can Lit, Toronto, Rock Music, Lovable Losers, Anime, Video Games)
  • Sunny Rolls the Dice, Jennifer L. Holm (2019), 6.5/10: This third graphic novel in the Sunny series was fine. It tells a small and very relatable story about growing apart from childhood friends during middle school. It was nice, but lacked the emotional resonance of the bigger themes of the first two books. (Middle Grade, Graphic Novels, 1970s, Nostalgia, Growing up, Gaming)
  • Empathy Works, A. Sophie Wade (2022), 8/10: In this recent release, Wade explores the increasing importance of empathy in business leadership, at all levels. She traces the origins of this shift to the rapidly changing labour and business markets, through the radical change in work dynamics caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The approach is accessible and practical, with helpful summaries and ‘habits’ at the end of each chapter. (Business, Psychology, Leadership, Empathy, Post-Pandemic Change)
  • The Dead Romantics, Ashley Poston (2022), 8/10: I wasn’t sure where this heartfelt and surprisingly profound book was going for much of it, and that was a delightful experience. Florence is a ghostwriter for a famous romance writer, but she’s had writer’s block since her boyfriend used her personal stories for his own gain; while on a tight deadline she finds out her father has died, and she has to return to the small South Carolina town she fled as a teen. (Romance, Paranormal, Grief and Loss, Ghosts, Publishing)
  • Akata Woman, Nnedi Okorafor (2022), 8/10: This is the long-awaited third installment in the Nsibidi Scripts series by the prolific Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor. While I have to admit that I got lost a bit at times in the plot that takes our heroine Sunny and her friends across worlds and non-worlds to reclaim a stolen artifact, it was great to be back in this world again. (Young Adult, Fantasy, Africanfuturism, Africanjujuism)
  • Meet Cute Club, Jack Harbon (2020), 4/10: I was looking forward to reading this gay romance set in a book club, but it really did not work for me. We’re told the two main characters have a strong connection, but aren’t shown that beyond just thinking each other is attractive; the stakes felt really low; the pacing was off; and nothing about either the ‘darkest moment’ or the ‘grand gesture’ felt remotely authentic. It’s really unfortunate because I think there’s a core of a very good story here; I wish it had been in the hands of a good, strong editor to bring it out. (LGTBQ2S+, Romance, Own Voices, Bookish Community, Racialized Heroes, Book Clubs, Worst Dad Ever)
  • Resilient Grieving, Lucy Hone (2017), 8/10: For my review of this postive-psychological approach to grief and loss, see my post of September 1.

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