Banter / Read With Us

FROM THE EDITOR

It’s been too long since we read together. Let’s start 2022 off right with a brand-new list of books to vote on for our next Zed: The Zoomer Book Club meeting. I’ve winnowed it down to three choices, two from Canadian writers and one from British writer Clare Chambers.

 

It may be my journalistic bias at work, but two books on our list feature intrepid reporters. The Swells and Small Pleasures couldn’t be more different, but I enjoyed them so much I just have to share them with you.

 

The third book, The Maid, is already No. 2 on The New York Times bestseller list, just weeks after its Jan. 4 release.

Here are the contenders for our first meeting of 2022. Register your vote by clicking on the vote button and I’ll announce the winner in two weeks and then we can start reading.

If you want a refresher on our last book club pick, below is my Zoom interview with Michelle Good, author of the award-winning novel Five Little Indians, followed by my July 14 book club discussion with Deena, Jocelyn and Teresa.

Kim Honey

 

Here is the recording of our July 26 interview with Michelle Good.

 

Here is the recording of our July 13 book club discussion of the novel.

VOTE ON THESE BOOKS

1Small Pleasuresby Clare Chambers

The premise of this novel reminded me of Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder, where an English nurse is hired to investigate a miraculous claim that a young Irish girl is thriving without food or water. In Chambers’ book, set in England in 1957, a North Kent newspaper reporter named Jean Swinney investigates a woman who claims to have had a virgin birth. Deemed a “women’s interest” story, Jean is dispatched to interview Gretchen Tilbury, who lives in southeast London with her 10-year-old daughter, Margaret, and her jeweller husband, Howard. 

As Jean investigates Gretchen’s claim, she breaks one of the cardinal rules of journalism and becomes friends with her subjects. The book has many twists and turns, but I loved its sensitive portrayal of women and the limited choices available to them at the time (as well as the sexist newsroom banter). Ultimately, it is about love: between parents and children, men and women, and women and women. As the title suggests, it will provoke discussion on how the smallest things in life can have the deepest meaning, as well as women’s rights, sexism, motherhood and caregiving to elderly parents.

2The Swellsby Will Aitken

Will Aitken was about to give up writing novels after two of his latest manuscripts were rejected, but decided to give it one more go. The Montreal-based arts and travel writer explains his painful creative process in this hilarious essay about The Swells. (He went through more than 20 drafts.) Aitken’s farcical novel about high-end travel takes a dark turn when class war breaks out on the opulent Emerald Tranquility cruise ship, and the trip devolves into terrifying chaos featuring pirates and a prison camp on an unnamed southeast Asian island.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never been on a cruise or, like Aitken, I have done some travel writing, but I am a huge fan of this satire on the wealth and privilege enjoyed by the .01 per cent. When most of us are (sensibly) avoiding travel, but cruise ships continue to sail despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic, the author perfectly captures “a boatload of white privilege,” and then immediately subverts it. There is much to talk about here, from the silly (lettuce gazpacho) to the serious (economic disparity and racism) to the terrifying (pirates!).

3The Maidby Nita Prose

There has been a lot of buzz about The Maid (also on our list of January must-reads), ever since there was a six-way bidding war for Prose’s first novel. After Universal bought the film rights in December 2020, they announced that Oscar-nominated Little Women actress Florence Pugh would star in the film adaptation. All this before the book came out Jan. 4! I raced through the cozy murder mystery and interviewed Prose – the pen name of Nita Pronovost, the vice-president and editorial director of publisher Simon & Schuster Canada – in November. You will fall in love with Molly Gray, a neuroatypical maid who has exacting standards of cleanliness.

When she finds a prominent guest dead in his bed at a luxurious Manhattan hotel, Molly unwittingly implicates herself. The reader will empathize with the maid’s social awkwardness and self-consciousness, but the clever thing about this mystery is how the line between fact and fiction is blurred because Molly misinterprets motives and clues. Like any good whodunit, no one is who he or she appears to be, and that includes the lovable protagonist. This novel will invite debate about mental disorders, class divides, family ties, social mores and red herrings.