The Red Word (2018)


Sarah Henstra, despite most marketing blurbs I’ve read, is not merely a fresh young voice graduating from her YA novel Mad Miss Mimic (2015) to her debut adult novel The Red Word; she is a PhD-holding professor and graduate practicum director at Toronto’s Ryerson University. Her specialization is 20th-century British literature, upon which she has various scholarly publications. She is a board member of the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs (CCWWP), and she was on the steering committee of the 2016 Canadian Writers’ Summit. Already, she is busy with a new work of fiction entitled Dear Little Jo. Yet for all of her pedigree and hard work, Sarah Henstra has delivered a novel that finds trapeze-artist balance between wide accessibility and complexity. With such a sensitive and contentious subject, she somehow manages to avoid satire and kitsch on the one hand, and sterility on the other. The Red Word is gripping, important, and probably not what you expect.

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Thelema: An Introduction to the Life, Work & Philosophy of Aleister Crowley (2018)


Are you left wanting after reading the Wikipedia entry for Aleister Crowley (“The Wickedest Man in the World”) but also daunted by Richard Kaczynski’s 700-page Perdurabo? Colin D. Campbell’s introductory text is the answer. Neither exhaustive nor limpid, Campbell delivers a three-fold primer on Crowley and Thelema within 200 pages: biography, Thelemic philosophy, and Thelemic application. The prose is conversational, opting for passion over pretension even at the expense of an overuse of exclamation marks and a few knee-slappers. There is no complex thesis in the sense of a critical study—if there is a theme that drives the book it is that Thelema is more relevant than ever, with its very foundation built upon individualism sans conflict. Campbell’s subject matter carries with it its own inherent intrigue to which has been attached much fantastic baggage. This text offers a sobering look at a complex and shrouded figure.

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No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters (2017)


If we heed the advice of late-Renaissance polymath Francis Bacon and agree that the chief purpose of reading is “to weigh and consider” then Ursula K. Le Guin’s compendium of essays, No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters, is an essential text. The book represents a selection of her blog posts, spanning the years 2010 to 2015*, which may cause some would-be readers to recoil (i.e. those who cannot justify purchasing writing that is available for free online), but I submit that you’re paying a nominal convenience fee to have someone else pick the choicest texts from the expansive repertoire and compile them in a handsome volume. A lot of books promise the provocation of thought, but Le Guin actually delivers. Pass up on a few overpriced lattes if you need to—the stimulation here is far less ephemeral than caffeine.

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