Our annual Gift Guide Week is here, featuring hand-picked selections by authors we admire for all the readers on your holiday gift list.
Our first gift guide recommender is poet and culture writer Natasha Ramoutar who shares five choice titles for everyone from "the one getting lost in every single taste" to "the one who gave you a pep talk in the bathroom at the club."
One of my best friends is in love with food in a way that makes me envious. She’s excited about it from every aspect, whether it’s the basil growing in her garden, the way she marinated her roast, or the communal aspect eating a meal together. Recently, I was reminded of the time that we made risotto in her kitchen. Similarly, another of my best friends is equally as in love with food. Like the first friend I mentioned, he has his own herbs growing in his new home. Although I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable about food, I love receiving photos of the meals he’s preparing and hearing about his approach. A long time ago, he told me that he only makes fish for people he loves. I believe he could count on one hand the people he has prepared this dish for.
Sheung-King’s new collection You Are Eating An Orange. You Are Naked. so beautifully captures the way that food can hold the image of our loved ones, in the same way that the risotto and the fish hold these memories. For example, in one of the stories, the narrator and his beloved are eating cucumber sandwiches. The beloved says that she likes cucumber sandwiches because they can be sophisticated without being fancy, then says, “You’re not quite there yet, but I think you have the potential of becoming a cucumber sandwich one day.” Tender moments like this over shared food are sprinkled throughout the book. For anyone interested in the intertwining of taste, texture, and the people we love, this collection is the perfect gift.
There are a few friends in my life who manage to weave mythic qualities into our everyday conversations in a way that always seems to disrupt time. Sometimes it’s a photo of the gardening shears they found in the forest, with no accompanying text and no way to know how long the shears have been there. Sometimes it’s the way our conversation runs from discussing ancient underwater dinosaurs to the urban legends about a bridge in our neighbourhood to a cartoon we watched when we were ten. These are the conversations that seem to run across every time and space, refusing any sort of neat chronology.
For these friends, I would get them a copy of it was never going to be okay. Moving away from a linear timeline of healing, jaye simpson confronts the “runes of colonization” and “the blunt b,/ the hollowness of the o, the blade of y” alike. They ferry us into haunted photo albums, then flit to the edge of Hades. The narrator morphs from altar and holy rite to burying their heart “in hopes my heart would be/ enough to keep them fed in the winter.” jaye simpson is a poet too divine to be bound by time or any other mortal instrument.
I have lived in the same city for my entire life, which means I have also watched it shift and morph before my eyes—often for the worse. Every day, I feel like the Toronto I love is slipping away. The pandemic has exacerbated the gentrification that’s been happening for years and in the past few months, I have watched many of my favourite galleries, restaurants, bars, and community spaces shut down. I often worry that one day, the Toronto I love will be gone completely.
Reading this play reminds me that this worry is perhaps misplaced. In the introductory note, playwright Amanda Parris writes, “Toronto is not good at remembering” and that Other Side of the Game is “an attempt to remember, re-centre and reconsider what and who gets forgotten.” This play is a celebration of the Black women who built—and continue to build and cultivate—a home. It reminds me that rebuilding is inevitable. That activism and advocacy are on-going projects. That we should be holding our homes accountable. And lastly, that in our most difficult moments, we show up for what’s most important.
If you have someone in your life who feels like I do, Other Side of the Game is the book for them.
Years ago, I remember waiting in line for the bathroom at a bar with my friends. Like most bars, the bathroom was laughably tiny with only two stalls dotting the interior, one of which had a broken door. As we waited, we struck up a conversation with another group in line. Compliments flew between us and they warned us about which creeps to avoid on the dancefloor. The conversation continued to naturally build, ending in a pep talk for each of us. That night was one of my favourite times out dancing, but what I always come back to is the memory of this group in line and their care for us. My friends and I genuinely left that encounter feeling a kinship, however brief.
Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars is one of my favourite books of all time and I wish I could go back in time, pull copies of the novel out of my bag, and hand one to each of them. The protagonist of the book, who is haunted by a ghost, a kung-fu expert, and a pathological liar, runs away from home. When she arrives in the Street of Miracles, she finds kinship with the Lipstick Lacerators, a group of glamorous warrior femmes who are on a mission to rid their home of violent men and avenge murdered trans women. For me, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars captures the beauty of community care. It is the perfect gift for everyone and anyone, but especially to someone who made you feel supported; even if that moment was as brief as waiting in line for the bathroom.
Within my close group of friends, there are many of us who find ourselves incessantly drawn to water. When we travel, we naturally end up at boardwalks and ports. When we’re at home, we’re often sitting on the rocks at the lake, or we’re engulfed by the forest as we search for the river’s edge. Many of our homelands are places surrounded by water in coastal and/or island communities. Our heritage and stories are woven into these waterways.
Michael Prior’s poetry collection Model Disciple is the book that I would gift to all of these friends. In the poem “Hermit Crab,” Prior captures all the delight and danger of the ocean: “Regardless of what you’ve been told/ I moved in because I didn’t want/ to hear the ocean anymore.” In contrast, “The Beginner’s Guide to Model Making” brings us back to shore, describing each of the speaker’s father’s ship models as “inscribed by his finger’s/ ridges, rippled beneath the pressure/ of his thumbs.” The speakers in Model Disciple are constantly finding new entry points into inherited and often painful familial legacies—a technique that my friends and I know too well.
Natasha Ramoutar is an Indo-Guyanese writer by way of Scarborough (Ganatsekwyagon) at the east side of Toronto. Her work has been included in projects by Diaspora Dialogues, Scarborough Arts, and Nuit Blanche Toronto and has been published in The Unpublished City II, PRISM Magazine, Room Magazine, THIS Magazine and more. She is the Fiction Editor of FEEL WAYS, an anthology of Scarborough writing, and the Social Media Assistant at the Festival of Literary Diversity. Her first book of poetry Bittersweet was published in 2020 by Mawenzi House.
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Thanks so much to Natasha for this thoughtfully curated list of books for all kinds of giftees on your list. Stay tuned this week for even more recommendations from authors.
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