Bookmas: that most holy, wholly secular holiday for shelf monkeys everywhere
Today’s not-so-secret BookSanta: Elisabeth de Mariaffi!
Elisabeth de Mariaffi is the Giller Prize-nominated author of the collection How to Get Along With Women (Invisible Publishing, 2012) and the forthcoming novel The Devil You Know (HarperCollins, Canada 2015). Her poetry and short fiction have been widely published in magazines across Canada. In 2013, her story “Kiss Me Like I’m the Last Man on Earth” (download the story here) was shortlisted for a National Magazine Award. Elisabeth now makes her home in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where she lives with the poet George Murray, their combined four children and a border collie-making them CanLit’s answer to the Brady Brunch.
What 2014-published fiction would you recommend?
This was such a big, giant year; it felt like everyone had a book out. I had the best conversations with other writers about Michael Crummey’s Sweetland. I really expected to see it on more prize lists this year, but there’s no predicting these things. I read Claire Cameron’s The Bear all at once, on one long flight from Newfoundland to BC. I think it’s really hard to use a child’s voice throughout a novel, and this one succeeds so well. It also made me think about bears a lot when I was running through Stanley Park over the next week. Like, a lot.
What 2014-published non-fiction would you recommend?
What one 2014-published book do you believe needs more love?
It actually would be easy to say Sweetland again here. But if we want to look at newer writers and smaller press titles, I would have liked to see How Does A Single Blade of Grass Thank The Sun? by Journey nominee Doretta Lau on the Giller Longlist this year.
What book that you’ve read in 2014 (not necessarily a 2014 book) would you recommend?
I read a lot of Ann Patchett in 2014. Starting with her essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Then The Patron Saint of Liars and then Bel Canto. I’m taking a break now. Bel Canto achieves what I aspire to, I think, with some future novel I have yet to write — it does the same perfect thing that Lisa Moore’s Caught does — it begins on a premise that can only really have one ending. I mean, rationally, you know at the beginning how this story has to end, but the writing is so excellent that somehow the ending is a shock. And breaks your heart.
This questionnaire has taught me a lot about what I don’t read… I can’t think of a series of books, really. Oh, wait! The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency — that’s a series! — by Alexander McCall Smith. I’ve read at least the first five. I’m a secret mystery junkie. Perfect holiday (or vacation) reading. There, I do read series! (Whew.)
What author would you recommend?
Depends on the recommendee, and what they are looking for. But one book I have really pushed at people a lot is Stephen O’Connor’s short story collection, Here Comes Another Lesson. It’s not a 2014 book. There’s a lot of good in there, but personal faves are “Ziggurat” and “Love”. I first read “Ziggurat” in maybe 2011 and I still go back over that story in my mind all the time. If you go to this link you can hear Tim Curry reading “Ziggurat” as part of the Getty’s Selected Shorts program. (I actually just found that link, so if it’s no good, don’t blame me. But what a cool thing Selected Shorts is. Yay Getty.)
What’s the one book you’ve read in your lifetime that you think everyone should read?
As a kid? Charlotte’s Web. Harriet The Spy. Maybe The Pushcart War. As a young teen, Animal Farm. And at any age, The Old Man and the Sea. That’s not really a fair question, so I’m not giving it a fair answer.
Let’s go specific: what books would you recommend for
- The science-fiction fan: This is not really my genre, but I like Ray Bradbury’s short stories. I don’t think he liked being categorized as sci-fi, though. Categories are difficult things. There’s a sci-fi element to Mark Anthony Jarman’s story, “My White Planet”, but it’s not at all a sci-fi book. I do like that story a lot.
- The horror fan: Um, also not my genre… ha. BUT everything I hear about Nick Cutter’s The Troop makes me want to read it. If I wasn’t, you know. Scared of scary things.
- The fantasy fan: Let’s change “fantasy” to magical realism, okay? There’s some of that in Galore, by Michael Crummey. One of my all time favourite books, ever.
- The strict realism fan: I like Hemingway. And Alice Munro.
- The thriller/mystery fan: I’m reading Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger right now. Creepy. I don’t know exactly how to genre-classify it, so I’m putting it here.
- The non-fiction fan: Best American Essays. I read the collection every year. Also, last year I really liked Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan.
- The (your nationality) fan: Depends whether you mean Canadian or Hungarian. But Tamas Dobozy’s Siege 13 fills both requirements. It’s great.
- The (genre I couldn’t think of) fan: Poetry! You forgot poetry! (what is this, CBC Books?) MxT by Sina Queyras.
If, god forbid, people couldn’t find any of your books, who else would you suggest they seek out for a similar literary fix?
I think if you’re looking for short stories, read Aimee Bender. That’s not saying I think we do the same thing, I don’t like to compare myself that way — but I think if you like my short stories, you will love hers.
What would you recommend for the holidays in a non-literary context?
I always buy booze for my kids’ teachers. Does that count?