No PhDread Today

notebook2018I am not going to post a photo of someone else’s writing today.

This will be the first non-Sunday in about three weeks that no pictures of big, difficult texts written by the historians, philosophers, and theorists who founded the fields I study will appear on my Instagram and Facebook feeds. I was inspired to begin posting daily titles from my PhD comprehensive exam reading list thanks in part to the encouragement of a friend and colleague, and also by seeing my athlete sisters using social networks to stay involved and accountable for their own crazy goals as long-distance runners. I am not burnt out, and tomorrow, I’ll be posting my PhD reading titles again.

But for today, here is a picture of my writing—notes I began keeping over the Bering Strait on my way back from China last year summer. I turned to them again, late last night. This notebook may never amount to anything publishable, but I see now–weeks into the list of 61 texts I will be examined on this November to prove to the university that I ought to be allowed to continue in my doctoral studies, now that only-book-lovers-will-understand Tumblr memes have me growling “So you think reading is for fun, do you? DO YOU?”–that I need to send something out of my mind and into the universe before the universe can send anything more into my mind through the stack of books in my office. All of this expansion must be answered with a contraction.

Maybe that’s just my Classical Chinese philosophy readings talking. It’s getting harder to tell—and that’s why I suspect this impossible process might be working.

“Gush” Release in Calgary

GUSH YYC launch flyerCatch me in Calgary on Thursday 28 June as I help launch Gush: Menstrual Manifestos for Our Times. It’s a new anthology from Frontenac House edited by Rosanna Deerchild, Tanis MacDonald, and Ariel Gordon. My contribution has a laugh at how I can answer the old timey cliched question of whether I thought I was dying the first time I got my period with “No, I thought I was getting my period the first time I was dying.” Trust me, it’s funny.

Happy Girl

staplerOne of the nicest compliments I have ever received was from a friend I saw every day, for hours at a time, for an entire month, who told me I was the happiest person she knew. Great compliment. Hearing it made me even happier. That’s what compliments are for. That’s how it’s done.

Here’s how it’s not done. Happy people don’t know they’re happy unless they have bad days once in a while. The day the loved one who has been the happy person’s tiny and then not at all tiny companion for twenty-one years gets on an airplane and moves thousands of kilometres away tends to feel like a bad day. Yes, the day my brave and brilliant son moved to Ottawa all alone for an internship was a rough one for me. Hours after he left, I must have been dragging myself through my errands looking like I had just lost a best friend, because I had.

It was time to take my car to the tire shop to have the lug nuts on its new tires retorqued. The process is typically quick and painless. Oddly, this time, the tire technician started hollering at me. I didn’t hear him clearly but I could have guessed at what he’d said, the same way I guess in audiology booths and anytime anyone says anything out loud to me in Chinese. If I was right, it would mean this nice man who was making my car safe must also be a doofus. I didn’t want that and I gathered my hard-of-hearing status around myself and didn’t respond. Then he stepped closer, loud and grinning, unignorable. It was as I had feared. The poor doofus was saying, “Wouldn’t kill ya to smile, would it?”

No, it wouldn’t have. However, I do tend to be a bit more discriminating in making choices than simply choosing from the entire range of what would not kill me. “I don’t need to smile right now. Thank you,” I said. It was impossible to say it without sounding haughty and prim and I rushed to ask him a tire question so we could converse normally and just be pleasant without harassing each other.

I didn’t say, “Dude, I have a right to my feelings. Back off.” I didn’t offer him the justification I’ve just made here about giving up my firstborn son that morning. It’s private and I shouldn’t have to pay with explanations in order to, as we now say, exist in public, not even while sad.

I’m not going to go nuclear feminist on this, though I could. There is a widespread, widely-known problem of men exerting control over public spaces by policing the facial expressions of the women in them. The issue was raised in the national media in the context of a law school moot court competition just this week. When the man with the wrench approached me about my face, he was part of this problem. It’s real.

But sometimes, it feels like this is struggle is especially mine. It rises from things more grandadsoldierpersonal about me than mere gender. I inherited my grandfather’s face, a certain kind of Irish face which I love on him, on my baby brother, on my ginger nephew and on my middle son to whom I passed it along, but which doesn’t play so well on a woman’s head. On me, Granddad’s wise and trustworthy expression plays as nasty and not trying hard enough. Ever since my grade six teacher first complained about it to my mother, men and women who do not know me will sometimes stop me to let me know my sad-looking-not-sad face is a problem for them. There is always something of an assertion of power in these comments but I do allow that they are usually also meant as a sort of overbearing kindness—as if their special insight will liberate me.

Well, like I said in the beginning, this is not how it’s done. The number of moods improved by letting someone know their face is unpleasant is precisely none. Instead, try something like the response of another friend of mine. “Who says you look sad?” he demanded. “You’re not sad, you’re great.” Right there—that’s how it’s done.

 

Launches in Edmonton and Montreal

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Many thanks to the dear people who have given their time and energy to help me celebrate my new novel, The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner. As always, Audreys Books of downtown Edmonton hosted a launch in their basement (a good space for events if not for photos, Ha!) and I got to travel to Montreal to be part of the Linda Leith Publishing launch of its spring season at the Metropolis Blue International Literary Festival. Unlike my first book trip to Montreal, I had a traveling companion this time, my middle son who has been in French immersion education since he was six years old. Good news: it worked!

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The First Reviews of “The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner”

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Margaret of Antioch beating the devil, with his puny chicken-feet-hands, reminds me of the ladies in my new novel

It’s been about two weeks since the book was published and some kind words have appeared from readers. The was a post that went up on goodreads from no ordinary read but from author, scholar, and a former (and probably a repeat in the future) judge of a the AML novel awards, Michael Austin. He says:

So many people have used [the word apocalypse] incorrectly for so long that it almost never pays to know the real meaning–except when one is reading the work of an exceptionally talented modern novelist who always pays serious attention to what words mean.

A published review appear in the Spring 2018 edition of the Montreal Review of Books by Sarah Lolley. She said

There is sensitivity and lyricism in Jennifer Quist’s writing. There are keen observations and scenes of exquisite compassion[…]Readers wanting a fast-paced whodunit should look elsewhere. The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner is for those seeking something graver and richer, more nuanced and thought-provoking, something with no easy ending, however the verdict comes back.

And Kerry Clare author and book reviewer, blogger, curator at the 49th Shelf posted a review on her Pickle Me This site, saying

I loved this book. Quist’s narratives are always rich and compelling, and this latest novel is no exception. It’s sad and brutal, but also sweet and funny, and all its characters are so real. It also becomes such a page turner as the story progresses…

So grateful for readers who give writing reach and meaning.

The Playlists of “Morgan Turner”

WithoutcallingcreditsMaybe you don’t feel like reading a book right now. I understand completely. Fortunately, reading isn’t the only way to experience a story, especially if it’s full of music and pictures. And so we bring you a bit of a playlist from my newly released novel, The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner.

(Real-life friends and family: keep reading if you want to be able to talk to me like you’ve read my new novel, even if you haven’t got to it yet. Ha!)

The book’s protagonist is looking for meaning, and art is one of the places she looks first. Not at all an elite high-culture consumer, art for Morgan Turner is the movies, TV, music other people have cued up, and books from the stacks at the public library.  Much of it, she doesn’t even like (and, though it doesn’t matter, I don’t like all of it either). But here is a little of what she is watching and hearing.

Movies

In trying to understand evil, Morgan watches scary movies–typical canonical horror like Psycho and The Exorcist and, a little farther afield, Nosferatu. The most important movie in the book, however, is one hardly anyone has seen. It’s a movie about home fire prevention produced for Canada’s National Film Board by the Alberta Native Communications Society for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs (as it was called in 1975 when the film was made). Its title is He Comes Without Calling. Don’t Google it. Trust me. But please enjoy a few clips of it, including the mesmerizing opening snow-plough scene, right here:

 

Morgan also watches The Seventh Seal/ Det sjunde inseglet. The first scene, where the Crusader knight returning to Europe plays chess with Death on a rocky beach, is probably what this film is best known for, but don’t miss the final chess scene, in the forest.

 

Television

The television Morgan ends up watching is much brighter than the films she sees. You’re welcome. It’s Morgan’s coworkers who introduce her to South Korean romantic comedies. Here is one she loves: Secret Garden, where risqué action like this is a big deal.

 

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And here is a show she wants to love but can’t because the heroine falls in love with the wrong boy-band member in the end, stupid You’re Beautiful

 

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Music

The music in Morgan’s orbit is also out of her control. Sometimes it’s her brother’s electro-goth spooky Skinny Puppy. Sometimes it’s the bittersweet Psychedelic Furs someone is singing along to in her car, and sometimes it’s 我的快乐就是想你 by 陈雅森 。

 

 

Many thanks to the cab driver in northern China who had this song playing on repeat one sweltering Saturday morning.

Books

This book has books in it, from the Criminal Code of Canada to the Bible to The Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook itselfThe book that figures most prominently is probably a graphic novel version of Inferno from Dante’s Divine Comedy/Divina Commedia. I didn’t have any particular version in mind but I did imagine it illustrated with Gustave Doré’s definitive wood cuttings. Here is one of my favourite pieces from the Paradise book of  the Divine Comedy, the Celestial Rose.

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I think it’s probably Morgan Turner’s favourite too.

 

 

 

Author Copies of “The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner” Have Arrived in Alberta

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My kids forgot to mention the heavy brown box that arrived today until I found it by the front door myself. I un-boxed my author copies of my brand new novel on the kitchen counter while my charming low-key 16-year-old did some charming low-key cheering. For the first time, the cover is glossy instead of matte, which feels better in my fingers. The colours are from somewhere on the food spectrum and make me a little hungry. Now that it’s here, my husby is reading all of it from start to finish it for the first time. So, yeah, super nervous.

One week until it’s officially released!