What I’m reading this month- April 2019

This has been a big month for us.

It used to be that I always remembered 4 April as the birthday of my best friend’s younger brother. Why? Can’t really say. Before we all got into guitars and other stringed instruments, Ira and I were into comic books, and there was a comic book fair one Saturday in Nanaimo that we got a lift to from Ira’s mom. His brother came, too, and it was his birthday, and I think that, as a younger brother myself, I was sensitive to the mild injustice of him going along to something his older brother was interested in on his birthday.

Two copies of Katie Munnik’s The Heart Beats in Secret on a tableclothThis year, 4 April has a much closer resonance. It’s the day my wife’s novel was officially published. Like, you-can-walk-into-a-bookstore-and-buy-it published. This is a massive achievement, and one I’m incredibly proud of.

I might say “envious”, too, but that’s not really a dynamic. There was a time that I fancied myself becoming a novelist. I think pretty much all kids who like reading think they could do it. And those artistic pursuits, alongside “actor” and “rock star”, are just so easy for kids to spit out when asked what they want to be when they grow up. “Accountant” and “burger joint manager” don’t roll off the tongue so easily. Though it must be said, at the same time that I was saying “novelist”, I was also saying “journalist” (Hemingway having paved the way for me and so many others), and I was able to maintain that one. Along the way, I kept writing poetry, sometimes stories. I kept the candle burning.

And that burning candle, which was also burning in Katie, was not a small bit of what attracted us to each other. We shared poetry by e-mail before we’d officially declared our interest in each other. And we were well up on discussing writing and literature – it rather nerdily characterised much of our dating life. After we’d married, we had a brief venture in a writers’ group with some neighbours and friends, and at the time both of us were working on a novel. I really liked mine, but I didn’t get deeper than the second exercise book in longhand. She finished hers. Kept it in the drawer. I recall reading a good chunk of the first draft: there was a beaver, and someone’s house burned down. That’s kind of what happens in your twenties.

The first thing to note is that she finished it. The second thing is that, deciding it was not very good, she started working on another one. Even that one is not the one she’s just published.

Katie and Michael Munnik at the book launch at Waterstones Cardiff

Photo by Abeer Ameer

This novel began pretty much the same time that we moved to Cardiff (funny, since so much of it is set in the Scotland we had just left). First it was writing it, then it was shopping it around, then it was editing it in light of comments and believing in it despite an apparent lack of interest. And then it was winning the Open Submission at the Borough Press. She already felt like she’d won the lottery a bit by being shortlisted – she was crafting ways to bring that accomplishment into the pitch letters that she’d send out the following autumn. Instead, those letters became redundant because they’d picked her: book deal, agent, everything.

That was nearly two years ago. It’s been a long stretch since, editing it some more and preparing to market it. Through much of that time, she’s been – wait for it – working on the next one. Because that’s what she does. When the rest of us stopped, she kept going. I’m old enough to know that few things get handed to you. Even the things you really want don’t always happen. So if there really was a novel in me, I feel like it would have come out by now. I’m not envious of Katie for publishing her novel, because it has been in her to create. I am proud that she’s been able to find a home for it – a place for other readers to find it.

I am also luckier than all of you, because I got to read it through – twice – in its various stages. So I know how good it is, and you’re all in for a treat. I won’t say any more about that. No one would place any credit in my review anyway. You’ll just have to buy it and read it yourself, though if audiobooks are your thing, you can hear a sample of it for free here:

I got to share a bit of what I do at the book launch on 4 April. No, I didn’t insert a brief lecture on social theory or Muslims and journalism. I played a curated selection of songs – Canadian songs, all of them, and ones that we felt had some thematic resonance with the book and its characters. One of them has a goose, which is in fact rather important. It was nice to play, to make the evening an event. Of course, pretty much no one else in the room could draw the same connections, as they didn’t know the story yet. But the playlist is here, so you can come back to it after you’ve read it and see if it makes sense to you like it did for us.

  • “Secret Heart” by Ron Sexsmith
  • “The Fighter” by Jenn Grant *(I made a Spotify playlist, linked below, but Jenn Grant’s record Beautiful Wild is not on Spotify, so I can’t include the song. In earlier versions of this setlist, I had a one-two-three of Junkhouse’s “Shine”, Jenn Grant’s “The Fighter”, and Stephen Fearing’s “On the Great Divide”. We scrapped that, but I’ve subbed in Fearing’s tune here because it’s closer in musical vibe. You can find Grant’s tune on YouTube on the link above. Or just, you know, buy it.)
  • “Empty Threat” by Kathleen Edwards
  • “Send My Troubles Away” by Old Man Luedecke
  • “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye” by Leonard Cohen
  • “It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken” by the Tragically Hip
  • “Lodestar” by Sarah Harmer

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