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Deans read books too (though not as many as we’d like)

It’s the holiday season and in my house, no surprise, books are a frequent gift. I love the idea of a Christmas tradition where people exchange books on Christmas Eve. In Iceland, it’s called “Jolabokaflod” or “Yule book flood.” I read a lot of philosophy and academic writing about universities and governance. Fiction feels like a treat.

People often express surprise that I have time to read fiction. It’s true that this is a big job but I do travel for work and I’m often on trains and buses heading to London (home of my former institution and the city where two of my kids and my grad students live) and Toronto. I’ve become a big fan of audio books for these trips.

September: My reading year started off, as it does for many of us here at Guelph, with Gryphons Read. This year it was Eden Robinson’s Son of Trickster. I loved the book but even more I loved meeting Eden Robinson. She said she started out writing a “trashy band council romance” but ended up writing a trilogy about trickster, a figure found in many Indigenous mythologies. We had a great visit with Eden in conversation with Brittany Luby and Nadia Timperio. Eden has a beautiful smile and laugh.

October: My next book of the semester, which I read in print, was Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. I picked it up because my friend Daniel Weinstock mentioned how much he enjoyed the author’s voice and how original the book was. In addition to being a research collaborator on issues of family justice, children’s rights, and more recently harm reduction, Daniel is also a member of Guelph’s International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation. I really enjoyed the book which turns the great American novel about a man and his marriage in crisis inside out. Stay with it through the first part, a critical feminist voice will join you later.

Later in October I participated in an international workshop,”Neglected Relationships,” in Munich. The title refers to relationships that haven’t been paid much attention by philosophers and my talk was on chosen family. I argued for the extension of the concept from queer community where it is very familiar to the choices we all make to bring people into our families and to nurture and pay attention to some family relationships more than others. One of the workshop talks was given by Kimberley Brownlea from Warwick University on neighbours. Brownlea discussed a novel by Jessica Francis Kane called Rules for Visiting. I asked questions about the novel and so Brownlea gave me her copy and I started reading it on the way home. It’s a quiet novel about a 40 year old gardener who sets out to visit old friends. As the review I’ve linked to suggests the protagonist takes awhile to grow on you and there are no easy answers or quick laughs here on the subject of friendship. I did enjoy it and I feel like I met a very interesting person.

November: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood was my fall foray into audiobooks. You know the story, I’m sure, I think everyone I know was reading it this fall. The audio version works well for this because of the different voices in the novel. It’s narrated by Ann Down, Bryce Dallas Howard, Mae Whitman, Derek Jacobi, Tantoo Cardinal, and Margaret Atwood

Next up on my reading list are Five Wives by Joan Thomas and Jesse Thistle’s From the Ashes: My Story of Being M├ętis, Homeless, and Finding My Way. Five Wives is the book being read by the Hags, my London feminist book group that I go back to visit from time to time. Here is Barb MacQuarrie talking about the Hags in Western News. I’ve heard Jesse Thistle on CBC talking about From the Ashes and then when my close friend and co-author Tracy Isaacs recommended the book, I went out and bought it.

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