3 min

Picks for holiday reading

Reading is a perfect retreat from a family visit

FAVES. Mariko Tamaki recommends Tightrope Books latest collection of essays, featuring Allison Lee's "The New Face of Porn."

For me, there are two kinds of reading to be done during the holidays.

The first is the kind done at your parents’ house (either at your parents’ houses individually or, if you’re that kid, at your parents’ house, which may even be the home you grew up in). This is the holiday reading that goes with the time-honoured traditional holiday visit. The reading part typically takes place during the long stretches in between your arrival, the time when gifts are opened, turkey dinner and your swift exit. It may or not be the reading that occurs after your brother takes over the TV to watch a Christmas movie marathon or your mother decides it’s time to talk about the direction your life is taking. The joy of reading as a retreat from a family visit is that it’s an activity, unlike TV-watching, that tells your parents that your life is indeed headed in some sort of direction, the kind of direction that requires one to be able to read.

Whatever you read in these circumstances, the book in question must be thick and absorbing. For fans of the CBC, you might want to consider picking up Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall On Your Knees, which was recently nominated by Perdita Felicien as one of this year’s CBC Canada Reads picks. Of course, if you’re a lesbian, you’ve more than likely already read this two-inch classic (or died a horrible social death in the late ’90s). If this is the case, you might want to check out Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony, also nominated. If you’re super cool and you’ve read both of these texts, you should check out Tightrope Books’ latest collection of essays, haughtily titled Best Canadian Essays 2009, edited by Alex Boyd and Carmine Starnino. The essays in this book were all published in Canadian magazines, and the anthology overall essentially kicks ass. My personal fave is Alison Lee’s essay, “The New Face of Porn,” in which Lee discusses her feminist take on the new direction of porn (informed in part, I’m sure, by her experiences organizing the Feminist Porn Awards).

The other type of holiday reading is the far less private and far more embarrassing holiday classic read-aloud, which, depending on your religious or cultural background, ranges somewhere in and around The Night Before Christmas or the Story of Chanukah. It always kills me that the same thing gets read aloud at family holiday functions. It’s bad enough that we all know how these holiday functions are going to end; must we also suffer through the same fictional spoken narratives?

For those of you who are looking for something new to cap off your holiday party (if you’re also the sort whose family feels the need to cap it off with some sort of literary performance), allow me to suggest the following:


“The Forsaken” by Duncan Campbell Scott

This poem fits the bill if your requirements are that your poem be set in winter and be Canadian. The ending is a bit rough and it’s not exactly queer but I think it does sound fairly smart, which I enjoy.

“Daddy” by Sylvia Plath

Because if you haven’t made the connection between patriarchy and any holiday falling between the months of November and February, you’re not looking hard enough.

“Alligator Pie” by Dennis Lee

Did I say these would be traditional selections?

“Blues Spiritual for Mammy Prater” by Dionne Brand

Because there’s more to life than presents and mistletoe, and if the holidays aren’t a good time to reflect on history, when is a good time?

“pavlov’s dog 1” by bill bissett

This one’s slightly more challenging to read and, once again, it has nothing to do with the holidays. Still it might be an interesting exercise for your family/guests who would spend the rest of the night trying to figure out what message you were trying to send with your poetic reading.


Alternately you might want to skip the poetics and turn up the music instead. I don’t know why we insist on grinding holidays to a halt with moments of reflection. Dancing is way more fun.

Whatever you do, happy holidays to all and to all happy holidays. For gifts, buy local and support your local feminist/queer bookstores when you buy. Share your favourite books when you’re done with them and blog/review the ones you really love so the authors get a little more online traffic.

Toodle-loo everyone! This is my last column. It’s been really fun and I look forward to talking to you all again soon.