Gift Guide Week: Lauren Carter

Today’s #ALUgiftguide book recommendations come from the insightful Lauren Carter who shares gifting picks for “your settler mom, wondering what she can do for reconciliation” to “your best feminist friend in university, circa 1992” and more, below.


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For your sister, a single mom who needs a good laugh: Roost by Ali Bryan (Freehand Books)

I’m a late-comer to Ali Bryan’s debut novel, Roost. A friend recommended it this year, so I read it in a few sittings with tissue nearby to wipe the tears off my cheeks—from laughing so hard. Seriously. I needed that.Taking place over the span of six months and book-ended by family gatherings, Roost tells the story of Claudia, whose mother has suddenly died. Single mom to two kids, she finds herself having to carry the emotional baggage for the three men in her life: her father, her brother, Dan, and her ex, Glen. With all this extra weight, Claudia struggles to get her own life back on track, stumbling into ridiculous scenarios like accidentally wearing maternity clothes to a work conference and getting a brush impossibly stuck in her hair.But the antics aren’t at all contrived, and they resolve with fulfilling outcomes, reminding us of both the absurdity and the poignancy of life. 

For your best feminist friend in university, circa 1992: The Red Word by Sarah Henstra (ECW Press)

A time-travel trip back to my own Ontario university campus on the eve of third-wave feminism, this book brought back memories. Frosh week, 1991: we, the freshmen women, instructed by upper-year students to remove our undergarments beneath our clothing and hang them on a line like an introductory lesson in who actually owns our bodies. For me, as for many other women, it got worse before it got better, but Sarah Henstra’s smart Governor General’s Literary Award-winning novel does not merely tally the too-many similar incidents. Instead, this fierce and gripping novel digs into character, moral quandaries, Greek mythology, feminist thought, and in the author’s own words, “the clash between ideas and real life that can happen to university students.” There are no easy answers. Just like in real life. 

For your settler mom, wondering what she can do for reconciliation: My Conversations with Canadians by Lee Maracle (Book*hug Press)

“Most Canadians think it is enough to know something, but this is not enough—you must commit to the continued growth and transformation of whatever you claim to know,” writes Lee Maracle, a Sto:lo orator in My Conversations with Canadians. This book is a good place to start—and a great gift for people in your life who want to engage in deeper learning around indigenous identity, Canada’s distorted mythologies, prejudice, and reconciliation, among other topics.Written in the Notes app on her iPhone as she traveled, the thirteen chapters are thoughtful, direct, smart, conversational responses to the many questions she’s been asked by audiences since her first book tour in the 1970s when audiences would often inquire, “Who wrote it for you?” They do not provide easy answers but instead deliver contemplations created out of Maracle’s memories, knowledge, and experience as a writer, thinker, storyteller, mother, grandmother.   

For your artist aunt who feeds the birds: These Wings by Kim Fahner (Pedlar Press)

This is a beautiful book. A magpie gazes skyward against a creamy yellow background on the cover as if contemplating its own flight. The sentient glint in the bird’s eye—painted in watercolour by Bozena Fatyga—reflects the vibrant, intelligent life in this fifth book of poems by Kim Fahner.Wings flit through the text, of course—crows, egrets, swallows, monarch butterflies, magpies—but landscapes also spread beneath them, seen through Fahner’s eye: “Tall grasses edge the road. / Mid-August sun cuts, slices / through green, gilds filagree. / Blink, lean in closer to listen.”But Fahner’s attention doesn’t just focus on the natural world. She leans in closer to listen to music too, writing about Shostakovitch’s fear under Stalin and she takes in art exhibits. The book presents several ekphrastic poems, reflecting on and building a broader meaning of works by artists Alex Colville, Janet Cardiff, Frida Kahlo, and others.  

For your friend whose partner is bipolar: Hidden Lives: True Stories from People Who Live with Mental Illness, edited by Lenore Rowntree & Andrew Boden (Brindle & Glass Publishing) 

Anyone living with mental illness or supporting someone knows how lonely the path can be. While we battle against stigma in this day and age, we haven’t won and, anyway, these conversations often need more complex platforms than the Internet can provide. That is exactly why this essay collection is so important.Described by Dr. Gabor Mate in the introduction as being “concerned with the very essence of psycho-emotional breakdown, refracted through the personal recollections of people directly touched by it,” the collection offers first-hand stories of life with mental health issues including eating disorders, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, and suicide.From Shane Neilsen writing about poetry precipitating a breakdown to Catherine Owen writing about OCD in her family, these essays share raw truths with honesty that is refreshing and affirming. I felt at home in these pages; this book would be a true gift for anyone hungry to know they aren’t alone.    


My wish list book: Sister Language by Christina & Martha Baillie (Pedlar Press)

Described by reviewer Shawn Syms as an “idiosyncratic co-autobiography,” Sister Language was collaboratively created by multimedia artist and Giller-longlisted author, Martha Baillie, and her sister, Christina, an artist who lived with schizophrenia until August 2019 when she chose to end her life on the verge of the book’s release.Passing their writing back and forth in a red binder, Martha and Christina created an exchange of letters and other writing. Set in different fonts on pages facing each other, the printed book becomes a kind of sibling scrapbook, illuminating the sisters’ very different ways of understanding, experiencing, and relating to language—not to mention their complicated relationship.“This beautiful, wildly-groomed book magnifies two brilliant minds in motion,” writes Kyo Maclear. “It is a story of what happens when ‘everyday’ language mutinies and shatters, leaving a fragile chimera of coherence. But mostly it’s a tale of unshakable, vulnerable, writerly love.”   * * * Thanks to Lauren for these thoughtful book picks! If you missed yesterday’s #ALUgiftguide recommendations, click here, and stay tuned for tomorrow’s picks.