But before we wind down for the season, we’ve got one more instalment of 3 Novel Accessories, which has been the most delightful feature to put together. (See previously: Bad Ideas, The Luminous Sea, and Frying Plantain.) With this feature, we choose items from Toronto-based online accessory boutique Inner Muse that complement Briny Books titles both thematically and aesthetically.
“You know how people say, ‘You’ll laugh, you’ll cry’? You will. And you will.” —The Toronto Star on CROW
Stacey “Crow” Fortune has a tender heart, but she’s as tough as nails, and I wanted an accessory that suited her kickass punk ethos. This is not the bracelet of a woman who suffers fools gladly.
But Crow is not only steely—she’s witchy too, and comes from a long line of women with such powers. Onyx stone is a powerful force and helps the wearer during times of turmoil, and will ward against the evil eye.
And finally, these gorgeous earrings. They don’t just match Crow’s beautiful cover—but if you, like Stacey Fortune, have just shaved your head, these statement earrings will absolutely complete your look. Wear them to your high school reunion.
We asked Amy Spurway, author of Crow, to name three books she considers essential titles, the books that come to mind first when she’s asked to recommend an excellent read.
Tough question, because I think different books are—or become—essential at different points in our lives. What was essential for me two years ago, seems less so now, and the criteria for what makes a book important to me at any given time is also always shifting.
That being said, the following titles have an enduring place in my heart because they teach me something new every time I pick them up:
Dr. Seuss presents three modern fables in the rhyming favorite Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. The collection features tales about greed (“Yertle the Turtle”), vanity (“Gertrude McFuzz”), and pride (“The Big Brag”). In no other book does a small burp have such political importance! Yet again, Dr. Seuss proves that he and classic picture books go hand in hand.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, one of most comically heartbreaking, beautifully human books I’ve ever encountered.
Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous World War II firebombing of Dresden, the novel is the result of what Vonnegut describes as a twenty-three-year struggle to write a book about what he himself witnessed as an American prisoner of war. It combines science fiction, autobiography, humor, historical fiction, and satire in an account of the life of Billy Pilgrim, a barber’s son turned draftee turned optometrist turned alien abductee. Billy, like Vonnegut, experiences the destruction of Dresden as a POW, and, as with Vonnegut, it is the defining moment of his life. Unlike the author, he also experiences time travel, or coming “unstuck in time.” Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – Discoveries from a Secret World, by Peter Wohlleben is absolutely mind-blowing, and it profoundly changed the way I relate to nature in general, and trees in particular.
Are trees social beings? In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.
After learning about the complex life of trees, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.
Amy Spurway’s Crow was called “ridiculous—and ridiculously good” in The Globe and Mail, which just about sums it up. Go here to learn more about Crow and to find out why I finished reading it while sitting naked in an empty bathtub—and then read on for a conversation with the novel’s incredible author.
Briny Books: What’s the part of your book that you’re most proud of—the scene you can’t believe you pulled off, the part you most want to highlight, the passage you’d like to enclose in brackets with a note underlined: I WROTE THIS?
Amy Spurway: I’ll try to answer this without too much in the way of spoilers, but the part of Crow of which I’m most proud is the ending. It felt risky and I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. At one point, I was toying with a very different conclusion, but the voice of Crow herself would have none of it. Once I committed to this ending—at the insistence of a character who flat out refused to cooperate with anything else—the final pages just came flowing out.
And my favourite passage in there is Crow contemplating her death, saying, “…will the flickers of energy that steered my flesh and bones through the world simply evaporate? Will they too be absorbed by the earth and the trees and the land I loved? Or will my gaudy spirit hitch a ride on the saltwater wind and swirl away to a place where there’s nothing but golden light and good memories and the sound of Mama gently whispering, Get your bony arse out of bed before I kick it out.” I love the heart, the sorrow, and the sense of wonder in that particular bit. And of course, a dash of humour doesn’t hurt.
Briny Books: Was there a part of your narrative that surprised you as your book came together, suggesting that the author isn’t always completely in charge of her work and something deeper and weirder is going on?
Amy Spurway: There was most certainly something deeper and weirder going on at times, and I think it stems from the vividness of my characters and their voices. There were times when I felt like I was trying to direct a play while all the actors (i.e. my characters) were going off script, doing full-fledged improv. One example of this was the bit about the onions. I—the author—did not know they were onions until I got to that particular scene and the voice of Effie Fortune said, “They’re onions, ya fool.” And I just sat in my office laughing so hard that my husband thought I’d lost my mind. The entire process was full of such surprises.
Briny Books: Public readings (and learning to do them) are a big part of an author’s experience. But is there a part of your book that you know you’ll never have the nerve to read out loud?
Amy Spurway: Public readings are one of my favourite parts of this whole experience, and I’ve read the entire book out loud to myself at least a few times already, so there’s nothing I’d shy away from in that regard. That being said, I do try to be cognizant of my audience, so depending on the crowd, I will sometimes leapfrog over certain sections, words, or phrases on the spot to keep things a little more on the PG side if necessary. I see that as a heightened awareness of my responsibility as a performer.
Briny Books: What has been your favourite reader response to your book so far?
Amy Spurway: The response I’ve had from my fellow Cape Bretoners—who are scattered far and wide—has been phenomenal. I tried to make sure that I did the people and the place an honest, loving justice with this story and from what I can gather, I succeeded. My other favourite reader responses have come from outside the region. People who aren’t necessarily familiar with Cape Breton, but who still see some important piece of themselves, their lives, their communities, reflected in this book. It is, in many ways, a story that transcends such boundaries. I didn’t really realize that until I started hearing from readers in different parts of Canada and the US, so that has been absolutely delightful.
Briny Books: What book(s) is/are you reading at the moment?
Amy Spurway: I’m in research mode these days so my reading right now has a bit of a weird bent to it. Currently I am picking my way through: A Little Book on the Human Shadow by Robert Bly, Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English, and a giant reference tome called The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. I’m gonna look some kinda cute hauling that one out at the beach this summer!