Red Fern Book Review

Short Stories and Fantasy Fiction

April 26, 2021 Amy Mair Season 1 Episode 12
Red Fern Book Review
Short Stories and Fantasy Fiction
Show Notes Transcript

Whistler Public Library Program Coordinator Jeanette Bruce is in the virtual house to discuss  two favourite reading genres: short fiction and fantasy. Short stories keep us engaged and fantasy takes us away from the here and now. Sign me up! My mom calls with an update on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist and I learn about a brand new pasta shape from a podcast for serious cooks.

Books and resources discussed:
This is a Robbery, Netflix
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio
Moccasin Square Gardens by Richard Van Camp
How long 'til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
The Swan Suit by Kathrine Fawcett
The Little Washer of Sorrows by Katherine Fawcett
The Crooked Thing by Mary MacDonald
Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indiqueer Speculative Fiction, edited by Joshua Whitehead
Johnny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead
Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada's Chinese Restaurants by Ann Hui
Armchair Books, Whistler, British Columbia
Whistler Public Library

Follow Jeanette Bruce:
Instagram: @liljables
To read Jeanette's book reviews: Armchair Books
Info on the next Whistler Community Book Club, May 26 at 7 p.m.: Chop Suey Nation

Follow Red Fern Book Review:
Instagram: @redfernbookreview
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/redfernbookreview/

Amy Mair:

Hello, welcome back to the Red Fern Book Review. I'm your host, Amy Mair. And today we're going to travel two hours north, virtually, of course, to Whistler, and meet with Whistler Public Library program coordinator, Jeanette Bruce. And we're going to talk about short fiction, and fantasy. And she's got this great book club that she runs, and anyone can join, and I'm going to fill you in on that as well. But before we get to Jeanette, I want to talk to you about a couple of things that I'm listening to right now. And watching. So the first thing I wanted to do is give an update on my episode My Rembrandt. As soon as I finished recording, I immediately heard from one of my listeners, okay, it was my mom. But she wanted to let me know that in fact, there's a Netflix show that just came out all about the Gardner Museum theft. And you've probably seen it if you're hanging out on the couch like me, and it's called, This is a Robbery. And it's excellent. So if you're interested in this mystery, or theft, check it out. It's a four-part docuseries. And it does a complete deep dive. There are 3D models of the space. They talk at length with art director, police, reporters, criminals. I mean, it's all there. And if you're wanting a concrete conclusion, you're not going to get one but you're going to get a lot more information than you ever had. I learned a ton. So check that out. And the second thing I wanted to mention, my friend Shelagh talked to me about a great new cookbook that she's enjoying. And it's called the Milk Street Cookbook. So she's an excellent home cook, and I thought I would check it out. And when I looked it up, I realized it's part of a whole kind of culinary empire run by a guy named Christopher Kimball. And he has a show on public television. He has a magazine, he has cooking school and podcast and radio show all out of Boston at 177 Milk Street, thus the name of his cookbook and show. And so I recently dropped in, or tuned into his podcast. And it's excellent. His whole his whole philosophy is that ethnic cooking is dinner or lunch served somewhere else in the world. And so what he likes to do is explore different cultures and through food and find ways to bring people together. And I tuned in to a recent episode. And it was about how there's similarities between Sri Lankan cooking and Southern cuisine. And the other thing they talked about at length was there's a brand new pasta shape. And I don't know if you've heard about this, but they went on forever about it. And I was actually super interested in it. It's called something like Cascatelli. That might not be quite right. But it's designed in the shape of a waterfall. And it has been written about in the New York Times. And the other great thing were the listener questions. It's for serious cooks. But again, even if you don't cook, I think you'd really be interested in in what they have to say. So that's what I have to say there. And we are going to move over and talk with Jeanette. Jeanette, thank you so much for joining me today.

Jeanette Bruce:

Hi, Amy. It is such a pleasure to be here with you.

Amy Mair:

So with us today is Jeanette Bruce. And she is I almost want to call her an artist extraordinaire. She's up to all kinds of things in the arts up at Whistler, but one of her main things that she does is she works for the Whistler Public Library. She's a program coordinator there. And she's also involved with Armchair Books, which is one of my favorite bookstores. It is that quintessential old fashion, cozy bookstore. There's a little cafe in back. And what I like about that bookstore is it has a great staff pick shelf, and you'll see a lot of the kind of regular, you know, books that you would expect there on the bestseller list, but I always find kind of one or two kind of unexpected choices up there. So when I'm at Whistler I, I try to stop in. What Jeanette does, I'm gonna ask her about this a bit more, she does a book club, and does book reviews. And so tell me, tell me a little bit about the book club that you facilitate?

Jeanette Bruce:

Absolutely, well the book club was a, sort of the brainchild of myself and the Public Services Librarian at Whistler Public Library, Nadine White. So when I was a shop girl working full time at Armchair Books, I met Nadine, and lots of library staff, of course. You know, book, people always find other book people. And I got to know Nadine, and we started brainstorming about a partnership between the bookstore and the library. And it would be a monthly book club open to everybody, facilitated by myself. And I had never done anything like that. But I was just so excited to talk to people about books that I just took the plunge. And of course, Amy, you and your listeners know that sometimes it's hard to find a book club that isn't really just a social group, a friend group, you know, where you really get to talk about books. And so that was our aim with this book club was to truly welcome any adult who wanted to join us and actually talk about the book for for an hour. And so we hosted it at the library, I provided tea and snacks. And I'm using past tense because obviously we're meeting on Zoom right now. But we are still meeting. And we so we've been meeting virtually since March of last year. And it's actually the club has actually grown during COVID. People seem to really love being able to join from their living room or their bedroom, in their PJs, with a glass of whatever they like to be drinking in the evening. So we have our last, say, six or seven meetings have had 25 plus people in attendance.

Amy Mair:

Now could someone outside of Whistler join in?

Jeanette Bruce:

Yes, absolutely. That has been that's been one of the real pleasures, Amy. It's because because of course Whistler is somewhat transient, as you know. And for folks who are not listening from Vancouver or the Lower Mainland, as a ski town, people do tend to come and go from Whistler. And so one of the really cool things has been having previous members of the book club be able to join us again, virtually. And they might be in different time zones now. Or they might just be you know, in Vancouver, or we've got a whole sort of branch in New West that have been coming and folks from the island. So it's been really amazing. Just seeing who shows up every month.

Amy Mair:

Okay, so let's move over and talk about the books. And what we're going to do today is a bit of a two for one deal. We're going to discuss two books that are their short stories, and Jeannette recommended short stories, because I think universally right now reading can be hard for a lot of people. And so we're going to talk about short stories during this time, and then a personal interest of hers. she really enjoys fantasy. So I said I was game to explore fantasy, and I don't read a lot of fantasy, and I associate fantasy with wonderful children's books. So I I don't know if these are if we can call these gateway fantasy books or I think accessible to others. So I guess first talk, let's talk about short stories during this time, and then what your thoughts are around that.

Jeanette Bruce:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, I mean, as somebody who has reader as part of their identity, I'm sure you consider yourself the same Amy and lots of your listeners do. losing the ability to read or losing the attention span to read was a real it was it was sort of like a identity crisis for me last year. And so I'm really glad that I discovered the fact that short fiction could get me back into reading. And especially for somebody who reads you know, I don't know 60 or 70 books a year normally. Take it you know, it was taking me a month or six weeks to get through a book that normally would have taken me no time at all. So short fiction was sort of my lifeline when the pandemic first began last year. And, and I have been reading short fiction before that, but I think in the last year, I've truly become a convert to short fiction. And, and like you said, I'm also a big fantasy Lover. And so you're totally right. The first book that I wanted us to talk about is definitely a gateway. So it takes both boxes. It's a short fiction. But it also has some sort of baby's first fantasy, if you will.

Amy Mair:

Let's talk about it.

Jeanette Bruce:

Sure. And so it's showing Amy the cover now Van Camp's Moccasin Square Gardens. And Richard vancamp is a Dene author. So he's an indigenous author. And he actually came to the Whistler Writers Festival in the fall of 2019. So that was the last time the festival took place in person, and he had the room in stitches reading from the first story in this book. And it's actually it's called Aliens. So there is immediately a science fiction element. But the funny thing is that the story is, is actually just about a man asking a woman on a date. So it's a very familiar very, I don't want to use the word mundane, but very, you know, everyday occurrence. It's simply two people in a town and a small town, and they've probably known each other for a long time deciding to go on a date. So while there is, obviously a fantasy element, it's just a thread. So I think you can dip a tow in knowing that most of the story will feel commonplace. And there's just kind of a glimmer of fantasy. And I would say that there's only 10 stories in this book. It's mercifully, it's short. So that's the other thing, not only are the stories short, the collection itself is short. So you can finish it in not too long and feel sort of accomplished. But I would say that, well, eight out of 10 of these stories are sort of minimally fantasy stories. They definitely have magical elements, you might say magical realism. You of course, they're indigenous stories. So they also incorporate indigenous spirituality, Dene spirituality. There are two in there that are, like full on fantasy. And Funny enough, our book club read this book last last June. And those were the two stories that people said, Oh, I wasn't sure if I was gonna like them. But they they did, they ended up loving them.

Amy Mair:

So do they have like a map for you? A special world and their own language? And that's what we're talking about?

Jeanette Bruce:

Well, it's, it's interesting that you say that, because in fact, so the the two chapters I'm talking about are the Windigo wars, part one and part two. And I believe last time I checked that Richard Van Camp is turning those into a graphic novel. And so with additional stories, so I think that it will be a fully fleshed out fantasy world. So we just get a taste from these two short stories that were in the future. It's our world, but with a twist, right? And there are definitely non human creatures interacting with humans. And f course, one of the elem nts of sort of indigenous scie ce fiction, fantasy is ofte that indigenous characters have to use skills, traditional skil s, and sort of go back to the and to fight some sort of fant stical creature or some evil being. And that's the case here as well. So we see a future wher traditional knowledge is help ng indigenous people surv ve, which I think is so fasc nating and educational. Exactly. So you have a short story c llection with 10 stories. E ght of them have just those gl mmers of fantasy, and then two o them are, you know, you're yo 're fully ready. realized fanta y stories.

Amy Mair:

Okay, so tell tell me about the next book. Hmm.

Jeanette Bruce:

Okay, so, if Moccasin Square Gardens is the baby's first fantasy short story collection, How Long 'til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin? It's for the converted definitely. Okay. So I think you do need to prepare yourself for a fully fantastical, immersive experience with this with this book. And I actually have a couple of quotes. bookmarked. Do you mind if I mind if I read them? Because they're from the introduction, and they just perfectly sum up what this book is about, really. So the author says "It's a shameless pay into an afro futurist icon, the artist, Janelle Monae, but it's also a meditation on how hard it's been for me to love science fiction and fantasy as a black woman, how much I've had to fight my own internalized racism, in addition to that radiating from the fiction and the business, how terrifying it's been to realize no one thinks that my people have a future." So, that's a pretty heavy quote. But essentially, what it's saying. And what she speaks about in her intro, is the fact that science fiction and fantasy as genres have lacked diversity for many, many decades. And so and with some exceptions, of course, there are some wonderful authors like, Octavia Butler, is one of my favorites. And she's been writing science fiction with black characters for decades. But she was the exception, not the rule. So anyway, so N.K. Jemisin, is looking to celebrate a future with diversity, basically. And I just think that really sums up this book. But what I will say about the collection, and it's a lot larger than the other book, and it has a lot more stories in it. But what I will say is that the thing I loved the most about this book, is that the range of stories is just incredible. So you have just, for example, there's a story called Cuisine Day Memoir, and it's about an upscale restaurant that can serve meals from any point in history, and it will replicate them perfectly.

Amy Mair:

Oh, wow. Yeah, if I want to go there.

Jeanette Bruce:

I know, right? So you have a contemporary setting in a real city with real people who don't have powers or anything like that. But they're sitting down for this meal that is obviously fantastical. So there are stories like that, where the setting will feel familiar. And you're just there's one sort of conceit towards magic, that one is is so good. You have other stories. There's a story that takes place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but it involves dragons. So again, a real historical event, at with with real people suffering from real tragedies, but with a fantastical element. But then you have stories that are entirely the creation of N.K. Jemisin's mind and some of them have actually become her long form fiction. Some of these stories have become novels. One example is a story where you meet the city of New York. So there is sort of an anthropomorphized person who is the city of New York, which I know is hard to wrap your head around. But that actually became her most recent novel, which is called The City We Became so yeah, so and that's the other quote I have that I wanted to read, which is sort of a kind of vouching for short fiction. So she says, along the way, I learned that short stories were good for my long form fiction, writing short stories taught me about the quick hook and deep character. Short Stories gave me space to experiment with unusual plots, and story forms, future tense, episodic format, black characters, which otherwise I would have considered too risky for the lengthy investment of a novel. I started to enjoy writing short fiction for myself and not just as novel practice. So I you know that certainly makes me want to read more of her short fiction, especially knowing that it might turn into a novel someday. That's that's quite a tantalizing idea. That's really cool.

Amy Mair:

And you've got a couple of other short stories that you are going to you could just mention for people.

Jeanette Bruce:

Yes, absolutely. So one of my other favorites in the past year is, let's say fantasy adjacent. It's more fairy tales, really. But it's called The Swan Suit. And it's by Katherine Fawcett, who's based in Squamish, so she's local to this area. And it's actually her second collection of short stories. Her first was called The Little Washer of Sorrows. And it was also sort of based on fairy tales. So she has just this the most whimsical voice, and sort of surreal and absurd. Her stories, every single one, made me laugh out loud. And some of them are based on familiar fairy tales. But some of them are more just riffing on the idea of a fairy tale, sort of using the, you know, types of characters or the types of settings. So I loved that book, I highly recommend and if you're on the in the Lower Mainland, she's a great local author that you can support. And the other short story collection that I was going to mention that is also local is called The Crooked Thing. And that was by our is by another Whistler author, actually, Mary MacDonald. And her stories are more contemporary fiction, they're less less fantastical. So if you're listening, and you're skeptical, The Crooked Thing is more straightforward, contemporary fiction. But what I found sort of the through line of her book was his hope. Every story was about hope in its own way. And that really, I mean, that really resonated last year. In a very strange time, when, I don't know we didn't have a surplus of hope. So, yes, the crooked thing by Mary McDonald is another short story collection that I really loved in the last year.

Amy Mair:

That's great. And and what are you reading right now? What do you what's on your nightstand right now?

Unknown:

Well funny enough. I just picked up a book from the library called Love After the End. And it's, it is a short story. Oh, I didn't do it on purpose. But funny enough. It's actually edited by Joshua Whitehead, whose book just won Canada Reads. Yeah. So many of you listening probably know that Joshua Whitehead's book Johnny Appleseed just won Canada Reads, here in here in Canada. If you're listening in Canada, and I love Johnny Appleseed, when I read it a few years ago, and I saw that he had edited this short story collection, which is specifically a collection of queer indigenous romance stories. And so I thought I have to I have to read this, I have to try it out. So that is what I am just starting, so no comments yet.

Amy Mair:

I will check back in with you. Anyway, I wanted to thank you so much for joining me. And I love the different perspective. You're just two hours away, but I feel like you're reading different things you're reading, certainly reading different things than I'm reading. And yeah, thank you so much.

Jeanette Bruce:

Thanks for having me.

Amy Mair:

Thank you so much to Jeanette. And I wanted to invite everybody to check out her free book club. And her next one is going to be held on May, Wednesday, May 26. At 7 pm. And to find out more about it, you can go to whistlerlibrary.ca. And the book is called Chop Suey Nation by Ann Hui. And it is about this woman's journey across Canada to look at Chinese restaurants and through that she learned a little bit about her own history in home family. And just to review, I wanted to review all the things that we talked about today. And the first thing we talked about is This is a Robbery on Netflix. And the second thing we talked about was Chris Kimball's Milk Street Radio Podcast. And then the books we talked about We're Richard Van Camp's moccasins square gardens. And then we spoke about How Long 'till Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin. And we touched on The Swan Suit by Katherine Fawcett and The Crooked Thing by Mary MacDonald and Jeanette's currently reading Love After the End, an Antho ogy of Two-Spirit and Indoquee Speculative Fiction, edit d by Joshua Whitehead. And that s it. So thank you so much. And want to invite you to come back in a week or so, and I'm goin to talk about two books that I've really enjoyed this year called Hamnet and Judith and Kla a and the Sun. So thank you so uch, and I'll talk to you lat r.