Matt’s Weekly Reads, September 10, 2022


My Government Means to Kill Me, Rasheed Newson (2022)

This book is many things: angry, raw, unflinching, powerful, Dickensian. But most of all, it is excellent. This is the story of a young, Black man, who flees his upper class family in Indiana and finds himself on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic of 1980s New York City. We meet the residents of buildings run by slumlords, patrons of bathhouses, ACLU lawyers, hypocritical politicians, the fiery activists at the heart of ACT UP, and tireless volunteers running illegal hospices from their homes. The desperation and alienation of the intentionally forgotten population of the City are palpable on every page. This is a hard, hard read. But an important and worthy one.

One thing I appreciated about Newson’s approach was how he showed — with great empathy — the difficult tensions that exist in any change movement, between the older generation and the new, and between reformers and revolutionaries. These tensions have no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ resolutions; they simply are, and Newson does an admirable job of conveying that.

My only minor complaint is that our lead character Trey is everywhere and meets everyone in that time and place. At times it reminded me a bit of Forest Gump in that way, and it took me out of the world a bit.

In terms of companion pieces, the most obvious one for me is the Broadway musical RENT, which is set just a couple years after this book ends and deals with similar themes of poverty, gentrification, and the HIV/AIDS crisis. Other interesting comps could be And the Band Played On (either the book or film), and the famous documentary Paris is Burning.

Read this if you’re interested in:

  • Historical Fiction
  • LGBTQ2S+
  • New York City
  • 1980s
  • Activism
  • Dickensian Fiction

My Rating, 9/10

Readings in honour of Canada’s National Day of Truth & Reconciliation (September 30)

  • Red Paint, Sasha taqʷšəblu LaPointe (2022), 10/10: This is a beautiful-insightful-painful tour de force of a memoir, written by a Coast Salish (in the book she notes at least Lushootseed and Chinook ancestry) poet and punk-rocker. Highly recommended! (Memoir, Indigenous Perspectives, Own Voices, LGBTQ2S+, Bisexual Representation, Multigenerational Trauma, Sexual Assault, Punk, Recovery, Resilience)
  • The Cultural Toolbox: Traditional Ojibwe Living in the Modern World, Anton Treuer (2021), 10/10: As part of my own project of decolonizing my attitudes and beliefs, I’ve been trying to learn more about the Indigenous cultures of the land on which I reside, which was a meeting place of various Iroquoian (Haudenosaunee and Huron Wendat) and Algonquian (Anishinaabe (Ojibwe)) peoples. This book by Minnesota Ojibwe knowledge-keeper Anton Treuer is a fantastic, accessible yet thorough, introduction to his local, but also pan-Anishinaabe beliefs and practices. I honestly could not recommend this more highly. (Indigenous Perspectives, Own Voices, Indigenous Identity, Sacred Practices)
  • Resurgence and Reconciliation, Michael Asch, John Borrows, and James Tully, eds. (2018), 10/10: This is an excellent set of academic essays on different ideas surrounding treaties, Indigenous resurgence, and Reconciliation among settler Canadians, Indigenous peoples, and the environment. (Indigenous Perspectives, Reconciliation, Ecology, Canadian History, Treaties)
  • Claiming Anishinaabe, Lynn Gehl (2017), 7/10: This volume is trying to do a lot: tell the story of the author’s fight to claim her Anishinaabe status against the provisions of The Indian Act, introduce Anishinaabe cultural perspectives, critique the dominant intellectual paradigm of Western academia, and discuss her own approach to academic work. From my perspective as a reader, it felt like it was trying to do too much and so suffered a bit as a result. But it tells an important story of the personal, and not just collective, impacts of The Indian Act, and her introduction to the Anishinaabe worldview was accessible. (Memoir, Decolonization, Indigenous Perspectives, Own Voices, Social Critique, Epistemology, )

Weekly Roundup

  • Much Ado about You, Samantha Young (2021), 7.5/10: This is a charming, but pretty typical, big-city-girl-finds-love-in-a-small-town, ‘belonging-porn’ romance. After a series of romantic, professional, and family setbacks, Evie leaves Chicago for northern England to run a bookstore for a few weeks and figure out what she wants to do with her life. Enter the gorgeous and attentive farmer Rowan and everything changes, for her and the folk of the village. (Romance, Small Town, Belonging)
  • Euphoria, Lily King (2014), 8/10: This historical novel follows three anthropologists on the island of New Guinea in the 1930s, a time of rapid change in the discipline, as older (blatantly racist) perspectives were beginning to be replaced by the more open approaches and attitudes we recognize in the field today. As such, there are big ideas in the background of this story, that colour — but do not overwhelm — what is at its heart about the three main characters and their different drives, beliefs, and identities (Historical Fiction, Oceania, Austronesian Peoples, Australia, Anthropology, 1930s, Paradigm Shift)
  • Shine Bright, Danyel Smith (2022), 8/10: This book is part memoir and part history of Black women in American popular music (and therefore criticism of the music industry’s simultaneous obsession with and exclusion of female artists of colour). I’ve heard a lot of rave reviews about this interwoven style, but it didn’t work for me. I’d have preferred a more straightforward narrative. But what really makes this book special — and it is special — is the first-hand knowledge and access of its author, who was the first Black woman to work as editor at Billboard and Vibe magazines. I doubt anyone else could have written this book and it’s definitely worth a read. (Memoir, Music Industry, Black History, Intersectionality)
  • The Lost Duke of Wyndham, Julia Quinn (2008), 7.5/10: This historical romance from Julia Quinn (most famous for her Bridgerton series) introduces a houseful of delightful (or delightfully horrid) characters, whose lives are shaken when a highwayman turns out not to be who he claims to be. This was cute; a perfectly fine historical romance, with little to detract or commend it. (Historical Romance, Regency, Mistaken Identity, Dowagers Behaving Badly)
  • The Earth Moved, Amy Steward (2012), 9/10: This is a fascinating book about the incredible role worms play in our ecosystems and possibly in our future survival. (Science and Nature, Worms, Agriculture, Ecology)
  • Seconds, Bryan Lee O’Malley (2014), 7.5/10: This is a cute graphic novel take on the ‘Sliding Doors’ trope. When restauranteur Katie meets a house spirit who offers her the chance to undo her mistakes, she jumps at the opportunity — but at what cost? (Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Paranormal, Sliding Doors Tropes, Regret)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: