Eco-fiction novel about a naturalist approach to an increasingly urbanised world
Content warning: domestic violence
I received a copy of this e-book courtesy of the author.
“Togwotee Passage” by L. G. Cullens is an eco-fiction novel about a boy called Calan who grows up in an abusive household in Wyoming, USA. After his father’s violence comes to a head, Calan goes to live with his aunt, uncle and two cousins on a ranch. For the most part, Calan enjoys his new rural life. He befriends an older Shoshone boy called Derek, and together they trek through the wilderness putting their survival skills to the test. However, once Calan’s mercurial cousin Brent begins taking over the family farm, Calan finds himself again adrift.
This is an interesting bildungsroman about finding solace in nature and trying to reconcile the desire for a sustainable lifestyle in an increasingly modernised world. Calan’s challenging upbringing leaves room for deep philosophical thought about humanity’s role in the natural world and the ways in which we interact with our environment. Calan’s views are further honed by his experiences as an adult, including fighting in the Vietnam War and working for a big city corporation, and I liked how Cullens used Calan’s dialogue to show how he changes and grows more sophisticated. There are some heartbreaking points in this story where Calan’s resilience is truly put to the test, and he is forced to rely on his chosen family. I also felt that as a character, despite his troubled childhood, Calan was very aware of his privilege as a white man and the discrimination experienced by his Shoshone friends. I particularly enjoyed the later chapters with Calan’s two beautiful Alaskan Malamutes. Cullens’s realist style is is complemented by his own digital illustrations which showcase the beautiful Wyoming flora and fauna and demonstrate a considerable artistic sensibility.
I understand from his biography and website that Cullens drew considerably on his own experience with Shoshone culture in writing this book, and he includes a lot of Shoshone language and spirituality in the text. I think I would have liked to have seen some more acknowledgement of his Shoshone friends who shared their culture with him, and Shoshone sources in the endnotes. Protecting indigenous intellectual property continues to be a contentious area, and I think these small changes would be a great starting point. There were also a couple of stylistic decisions that I wasn’t quite sure about. One was the occasionally overly-wordy dialogue that felt at odds with Cullens’ otherwise accessible and succinct prose, and the other was a handful of chapters later in the book that departed suddenly from third person to first person perspective.
A thought-provoking and poignant story about finding a path between two worlds.
I actually have no recollection of where this book came from. There are no clues on it either except for a faded sticker that says $16.99 on the back. Was it a gift? Did it appear in my street library? Who knows! The important thing was that it was short, because I had mere days left to reach my 2019 reading goal.
“My Name is Book” by John Agard and illustrated by Neil Packer is a short creative non-fiction book about the history of books. The book is told from the perspective of Book, an anthropomorphised representative of all books, who reflects on how books evolved from stories told by the fire to the eBooks of today.
Agard is a talented wordsmith who has a clear background as a poet. It is an easy, lyrical read with plenty of historical highlights, interesting designs, calligraphy, illustrations and poetry to keep the reader engaged. Although not particularly a poetry aficionado myself, it was Agard’s poetry, and the poetry of his partner Grace Nicols, that I enjoyed the most. The illustrations are also very beautiful, and I think this would make a really nice coffee table book.
I think it’s probably pretty self-evident that this is not a definitive history of books, but rather a creative non-fiction piece with historical elements. This book has a focus on written language as it developed from the Middle East/Northern Africa and spread through Western culture, and does not go into much detail about other independent inventions of writing around the world.
Nevertheless, a quick and entertaining read that brings books as physical objects to life.
Collection of illustrated short stories of reimagined fairy tales
If you listen to my podcast Lost the Plot, you may recall that I spoke to this author some time ago about her plans to run a crowdfunding campaign to publish her feminist fairy tales. Very excitingly, the campaign was successful. Even more excitingly, the campaign reached almost five times the original goal which meant that the book included four more fairy tales than originally anticipated. I received my copy late last year, and I couldn’t wait to read it.
“The Adventurous Princess and Other Feminist Fairy Tales” by Erin-Claire Barrow is a collection of illustrated short stories inspired by traditional fairy tales and reimagined from a feminist perspective. Barrow takes on some familiar stories such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and Snow White as well as some lesser known ones like Allerleirauh and The Goose Girl. Each story features a diverse cast and an empowering twist on the original plot of the stories.
The absolute highlight of this book is without a doubt the illustrations. Barrow’s striking and whimsical watercolours bring the stories to life and reinforce the image of diverse women at the centre of these classic tales. Barrow’s women are ethnically diverse, queer, disabled, older, larger, young and gender non-conforming. Barrow’s women have jobs, dreams and callings but most importantly, they have agency. They make their own decisions and when they ask for help, it is from a place of strength rather than weakness. The stories themselves are succinct and accessible, and girls and women of any age can enjoy them. I particularly liked the shorter stories that turn stereotypes on their heads and bring otherwise ridiculous stories to a satisfying ending.
Quite a few people have reimagined fairy tales, including, famously, Roald Dahl in his “Revolting Rhymes” and increasingly in Disney films. What is different about this book is that it is not just about empowering conventionally beautiful straight women, it is about representing women from all backgrounds. I think that the only additional woman I would have liked to have seen is a trans woman, and I look forward to seeing future illustrations and stories from Barrow.
An accessible and inclusive take on traditional fairy tales that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.