Happy Canada Day!
I hope everyone is preparing for a relaxing, joyful mid-week day off to celebrate. I’m off to a barbecue at my parents’ in a few hours with forty to fifty (!!!) of our closest friends and family. Hopefully the weather holds up and we can relax outside by the barbecue and trees.
Canada Day also means the beginning of a new month and I’m going to tell you about the books I read in June. I managed to read two books, which is a slightly less than my average, but for some reason I took forever to get through one of them. I read both You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers and The Massey Murder by Charlotte Gray.
You Shall Know Our Velocity is Eggers’ first fictional novel. It was released in 2002 and despite my deep love of his work I had yet to read it. I picked up a copy at a local used book store for four dollars, hardcover, and was elated by this. I was also elated by the fact that the book starts on the cover. Yes, the words on the front cover are actually the beginning of the first chapter and this novelty was thrilling to me. What can I say? I’m a sucker for schtick.
I’m not sure why but this book took me forever in terms of my normal reading speed. It took me over a month and given that it’s under three hundred pages and overall quite enjoyable this was extremely slow for me. Prior to reading it I had read a non-fiction book and I knew I was going to read The Massey Murder next, also non-fiction, and I felt like I was suffering from a slight disinterest in the fictional world. I’ve never been a big non-fiction reader and since “discovering” its worthwhile stories and lessons I’ve felt an intense desire to read more. So maybe this Eggers experience was simply met with a disinterest in all fiction at the time.
That being said, this novel was great in the way that most Dave Eggers is. It’s strange, imaginative, and irreverent. It made me laugh out loud and it also made me think. Despite its completely off-the-wall moments (taping money to donkeys in an envelope that says, “Here I am, rock you like a hurricane” on it, anyone?) it was also quite touching. It provides an interesting look at what happens to a person when they lose someone, how death can affect your emotional and mental state, and how the people closest to you after that death change in your life, as well. If you can handle a little (okay, a lot) of strange in exchange for a good dose of humanity, I highly recommend this book.
The Massey Murder was recommended by my grandmother’s partner, Bill Freeman (who also just released a book himself called The New Urban Agenda and if you’re at all interested in Toronto, community, and politics, you should check it out), a few months back. I’ve had this copy since my birthday and kept meaning to get around to it but it’s sat there waiting the whole time.
As someone who grew up just outside of Toronto and now resides in the city, the story was interesting to me on many levels. I loved learning about the state the city was in one hundred years ago. I recognized many of the street names and even live less than a block away from Euclid Hall (now Keg Mansion) where some of the Masseys lived. I loved comparing the politics and attitudes that existed in Toronto a century ago to those that exist now. In some ways the city had evolved immensely and in others not so much. The battling of two separate political views on what Toronto should be is not something we are missing today, let me tell you. And while the newspapers may have changed a little in name or style, they certainly haven’t changed in their taking sides on political issues and imparting their bias on others.
Beyond the interest in how my city was managed and growing so many years ago, I was also very interested in this story from a feminist perspective. For those who don’t know, the Masseys were a very powerful family in Toronto. Their name carried a lot of weight and a lot of money. When one of the Masseys was shot dead by his young female maid, it created a lot of buzz throughout the city. When she said she did it because her master tried to “ruin” her, it was a huge scandal. I loved reading about how what the women’s groups were lobbying for at the time, how the war was affecting how women were viewed in the city, and ultimately what a woman’s purity meant in Toronto one hundred years ago (spoiler: it meant a lot). Growing up in the same city one hundred years later, when work, the vote, and my purity were my own right and business, it was incredibly interesting to me.
For anyone who is interested in history, Toronto, feminism, or scandal, I would highly recommend this book. It’s well-written, well-researched, and incredibly captivating.