An Embarrassment of Critches

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Michelle Good
Genres: Humour, Non-fiction, Memoir
Pub. Date: Oct. 2021 (read Nov. 2021 on Audible)

I read Mark’s first book last year as an audiobook. It was a bit of an impulse buy when I was doing a bunch of jigsaw puzzles and looking for some humour to get me through the pandemic. It was funny and I really enjoyed it. You could tell the stories were embellished, but Mark is an excellent storyteller so it didn’t bother me. 

I was more excited to read An Embarrassment of Critch’s and quickly bought a copy on Audible when it was released. Mark narrates both books and I highly recommend doing the audio for this reason. I love all the different voices and accents he uses throughout the book and it made me nostalgic for Newfoundland. 

In my opinion, this book is the perfect companion book to Son of a Critch and I kind of see it as an extension of his first book. I know his first book is centered on his childhood, but when I finished it last year, my one complaint was that I wanted to read more about how he got into comedy and his time on 22 Minutes. That is exactly what An Embarrassment of Critch’s delivers and I had a lot of fun reading it.

I’m currently reading Rick Mercer’s new book as well and it’s really hard not to compare the two. In terms of laughs, I would give the edge to Mark Critch, but there’s more of a sincerity to Rick’s memoir that I thought was missing from Mark’s. I think this is totally fine since the primary intent of Mark’s work is humour and storytelling, but he does tackle several more serious topics as well. While he tries to reflect and be contemplative about his experiences (thinking mostly of his recount of traveling to Afghanistan), I couldn’t help but think his recollections were somewhat surficial and portrayed through rose-tinted glasses. In some ways his essay selection reads more like a checklist of his accomplishments rather than a reflective look-back on his career. Although, he does talk about some of his mistakes over the years, but I felt like his exploration of these errors in judgement were included as more of a PR move rather than any meaningful contrition about them.

But really these are minor complaints. I enjoy his comedy and love watching his impressions and sketches on 22 Minutes. He is an excellent storyteller and I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be picking up any future books he may decide to write!

In My Own Moccasins

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Helen Knott
Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pub. Date: Aug. 2019 (read Nov. 2021)

I picked this book up last summer when I was book shopping in Sidney on Vancouver Island (aka the book capital of the Island!). It’s been sitting on my shelf ever since taunting me. In an effort to finally read it, I put it on our book club voting list and it won as our December book pick. 

I was momentarily daunted when I first started the book because I thought it might be a dense read, but I was quickly pulled into Helen’s writing style and engaging storytelling. He holds nothing back in her book foreward, making it clear who she wrote this memoir for and that she doesn’t want your pity or judgement. It’s a sobering reminder that might be off-putting to some, but I thought it was so great because it set the tone upfront that Helen is the custodian of her own story and it is hers to share for her own means. Colonialism has taken enough from her and it is her turn to take something for herself.

I definitely don’t judge her and I hope I empathize with her rather than pity her. But mostly I admire her. Technically, this is well written and I was really impressed by her calibre of writing. She says she is a great lover of literature and self reflection and I definitely found both of these to be true. Memoirs can often be more about the story than the writing since we can’t expect everyone with a meaningful story to tell to necessarily also be a good writer. But Knott has both and it made the reading experience all the more enjoyable.

Emotionally, this book is a roller coaster. Knott splits her story into 3 parts: the dreamless void, the in-between, and the healing. The dreamless void is the longest part of the book and covers her struggles with all kinds of abuse, both from violent acts perpetrated against her, as well as her ensuing addictions to alcohol and drugs. It is the hardest section to read and very much like peeling back the layers of an onion. Her turbulent home-life and the many racial injustices she and her family face chip away at her self worth and she looks for relief in all the wrong places. However, where the right places would be, I really have no idea. 

Knott feels like a bit of an enigma to read about because through all her suffering and addiction, you still get glimpses of a very reflective and accomplished individual. She has pulled herself together on several occasions only to have it all fall apart again when she is unable to face her past trauma. What I admire her for are the in-between and the healing and these are the parts of her story that really stuck with me. She is able to identify the many ways in which colonialism and racism have worked against her and her family. She is able to pinpoint the long term impacts of residential schools while also not being afraid to look critically at herself. Many are unable to escape the cycle of abuse and addiction and I thought her incredibly courageous in being able to face her trauma head on and say, ‘no, I am worth something and I will not let this rule my life anymore.’

So while it is hard to read about the dreamless void, it is critical that we bear witness to it. Not, as Helen says, to educate ourselves or gain insight or humanize indigenous voices. But because these are voices we need to amplify and we have been silencing them for too long. We should be uncomfortable, but we should also be inspired. 

Please Don’t Sit on my Bed in your Outside Clothes

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Phoebe Robinson
Genres: Non-fiction, Humour
Pub. Date: Sep. 2021 (read Oct. 2021 on Audible)

Now that I’ve finished Phoebe’s latest book, I think you can officially induct me into the Phoebe Robinson fan club. I’ve read all 3 of her books very shortly after they were published and she has definitely become an auto-buy author for me. 

Her first book, You Can’t Touch My Hair, was pretty good, but I was bowled over by her second book, Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay. She has this wonderful mix of essays that are both funny and meaningful. She makes me laugh out loud, while also sending me deep into thought about how I interact with the world as a white woman. Honestly, I would love if every essay in her book was as unforgiving as her essays on motherhood and the white saviour complex, because these essays worm their way into my bones and stay with me long after reading. But I can understand how her more humourous essays also added much needed balance to the anthology.

I think this is probably my favourite book of hers to date because she covers so much ground in so few essays. The two essays mentioned above spoke to me more than some of the others, but I see so much value in everything she has written and she does a good job and writing to a lot of different audiences. No question, her essays on being a boss, travelling, and her hair are not written for me, but they still make me reflect on how differently we all interact with the world based on race, class, and gender. 

I also loved that this book dedicates a lot of time to talking about the pandemic and quarantining. Not in a negative way about how our governments handled the crisis or anything, but about how we as individuals dealt with suddenly being forced to live and work in close proximity to our partners for months on end. The pandemic is finally starting to show up in some of the books that I’m reading and it was so refreshing to listen to Phoebe talk about it. We’ve all been through something over the past year and I’m so excited for the type of literary reflection we’re going to start getting in the coming years.

I definitely thought some of the essays were better than others and I would have loved to get more, shorter essays instead of so few long ones, but I can’t deny that I loved everything about this book. Phoebe knocks it out of the park on the Audiobook narration and I’m determined to finally listen to her podcasts to fill the void until her next book comes out!

Crying in H Mart

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Michelle Zauner
Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pub. Date: Apr. 2021 (read Sep. 2021 on Audible)

I’ve had a bunch of people asking me my thoughts on this one and it’s a book that has me really conflicted. I’ve heard so many great things about Crying in H Mart, and I would definitely not hesitate about recommending this book. But I was really on the fence about how to rate it. I decided on a 3 star rating because I had started to lose interest during the last third of the book, but after writing this review, I found a lot more arguments for why this was actually a really good book, so I decided to increase my rating to 4 stars. One of the reasons I love taking the time to actually write reviews is it forces me to meaningfully reflect on what I’ve read.

Crying in H Mart is a memoir about the author’s relationship with her mother, food, and how the two have become intertwined. It is a deeply personal book. The primary reason I would recommend this is because the author has such raw honesty, it really did blow me away. She lost her mother to cancer a few years ago and this book is very much a manifest of her grief. It is sad and moving to read – it almost feels wrong to rate it at all, even highly, because the author so clearly wrote this book for herself more than anyone else.

The story does have some ebbs and flows. Like I mentioned, I found the last third a bit slow moving because it focuses more on the author’s life after her mother’s death (which I found somewhat monotonous and not as interesting to read), whereas the first half is so shocking in its honesty that you become completely engrossed. But what makes it powerful is it’s not just about the author’s grief, instead it’s an in-depth look at her complicated relationship with her mother, her culture, and her mixed-race family. A lot of her observations about her mother are very unforgiving. She doesn’t remember all the good things about her mother, but rather, she remembers everything about her mother – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It takes so much courage to write that kind of memoir about grief, which is why I applaud the author and ultimately why I decided to bump my rating up to 4 stars.

Even though parts of this story were less compelling to me as a reader, I feel like Zauner is committed to the memory of her mother as she was and the exploration of her grief through and through. It doesn’t matter what path grief takes or how it looks to other people, it only matters how it feels for you. It’s kind of beautiful to think that our memories of our loved ones don’t have to be confined to one narrative. We are not only the good things or the bad things that we did, we are all of those things, and I can see how remembering it all, good and bad, could be cathartic.

Overall, I think I would recommend the paperback over the audiobook. The audiobook is read by the author, which I usually love, but she is very monotone and I think that may have contributed to my fatigue with the book.

Two Trees Make a Forest

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Jessica J. Lee
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir, History
Pub. Date: Jul. 2020 (read Jan. 2021)

I was really intrigued by the title and synopsis of this book and picked up a copy from my local bookstore. Soon afterwards it was shortlisted for Canada Reads 2021 and I was even more excited to read it!

Two Trees Make a Forest is Canadian author Jessica J. Lee’s second book. As the name suggests, it’s about her travels in Taiwan whilst trying to learn more about her grandparents past. Her grandparents were both Chinese, but immigrated to Taiwan where they raised their daughter, before eventually all settling in Canada. Lee grew up in close proximity to her grandparents, yet in many ways felt like she didn’t really know them. They talked little about the past and though her family held a close connection to Taiwan, Lee knew very little about their life there. After the death of her grandfather, the family discovered a letter he left behind about his past, inspiring Lee to visit Taiwan and learn more about both her family history, and the unique history of the island.

This was a well written book, but it was a struggle for me to finish it. I found Lee’s stories about her grandparents and family to be really interesting, however, they are really only a small piece of this book. Revisiting the title of the book, it does tell us that this book is as much about “Taiwan’s mountains and coasts” as it is about her family, but I guess I was just expecting something a little different. This is not a story of Lee following her roots around Taiwan, but rather Lee finding herself around Taiwan, while simultaneously coming to terms with the family history that has been in many ways lost to her.

Lee is an interesting storyteller and the book focuses just as much on Taiwan’s geographical history as it does her personal history. She talks about the history of the island the geographical uniqueness of it. Her love for Taiwan certainly shines through and I did learn some interesting facts about Taiwan and it’s history, but I also learned a lot more about Taiwan’s trees and mountains than I really bargained for. On paper, as an avid hiker, you would think I’d love it, but I’m not really a big non-fiction reader, and certainly not a history reader, so it just didn’t quite deliver on something I was excited about reading.

So it’s a bit of a hard book to rate because I did think it was good, I just wasn’t invested in it. I read everything about her family history, but I ended up skim reading a lot of the geographical information. Good, just not for me.