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I absorbed a lot of beautifully crafted, fascinating articles, books, podcasts, television shows and movies this year, and I thought I'd share some favourites. I'm Denise Balkissoon, a columnist and reporter at The Globe and this is a wide-ranging (but hardly exhaustive) list of eclectic and meaningful things I read, listened to and watched in 2017.
Thankfully for some of you, none of these selections have to do with U.S. politics: Though he dominated headlines, President Donald Trump isn't the only person that walked the Earth this year. These works reminded me that there are broader vistas to look at – or gave me a moment of respite in a turbulent news year.
In February, The Globe's Robyn Doolittle and her team released a breathtaking bit of reporting: Unfounded, a look at how over 870 Canadian police forces treat complaints of sexual assault. The series revealed a brutal stat nation-wide – 20 per cent of complaints are seen as not worth pursuing. Having airtight data for a truth many of us have always suspected is invaluable, and policy-makers and police across the country have vowed to do better.
On a lighter note, early 2017 also saw the launch of Riverdale, a dark, live-action take about perma-teens Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead. The show is campy to the point of cringe worthy and has some serious flaws, such as an early promise of real diversity (a black Josie and the Pussycats! An Asian Reggie!) that has sadly fallen flat (none of those characters get real story lines). All in all, though, it's still a guilt-free guilty pleasure in a year when I really needed it.
This was also a spectacular year for podcasts, and I particularly enjoyed those that snuck me into previously out-of-bound spaces. Those include Ear Hustle, made by prisoners at California's San Quentin, and Where Should We Begin?, recordings of actual marital counselling sessions. Both are funny, sad, occasionally embarrassing and very, very real.
This year marked the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation, and I was also really into podcasts that explored history I didn't learn in school. Those include The Secret Life of Canada, the name of which is pretty self-explanatory, and transgender history podcast One from the Vaults, which had a great episode on sex work in Vancouver in the late 1970s.
Also sesquicentennial-wise, I appreciated Robert Jago's piece in the Walrus about "green colonialism" or how the park system is another way that Indigenous people are kept off of their land. I've been considering my own relationship to both the wilderness and Indigenous treaty rights, which I wrote about in my Canada 150 essay, "Canada the contradiction." To that end, I also enjoyed Matthew Zapruder's poem, Being a Lake, in the New York Times magazine – "Surely there could be no better, in the way of dreamy aspirations: to be clear and cold and swum through by trout."
More of my year than I'd like to admit has been spent watching Paw Patrol alongside my three year old. I learned about their financial acumen from this great business story from Jason McBride in The Walrus, then considered heavier philosophical pup issues – "is Paw Patrol the toyetic gateway drug to a lifetime addiction to television and capitalism?" – in this brand new piece by Ian Brown.
Much of my non-fiction book reading this year centred on the ongoing effects of British colonialism. There was The Taste of Empire, E. M. Collingham's sweeping look at 450 years of Britannia messing with global food systems, and Gaiutra Bahadur's Coolie Woman, about women who travelled from India to the Caribbean as indentured servants in the mid-1800s, as my own ancestors did. Both are stuffed with information, but engaging and readable, illuminating more dusty historical corners.
I'm almost out of space, but some fiction faves – Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing is an astonishing feat. Each chapter is a note-perfect slice of one family's life, which weave together to link eight generations of black Americans to the Gold Coast of Africa. Less grounded in reality is Mohsin Hamed's bittersweet Exit West, about refugees from an unnamed country travelling through time and space seeking stability.
I don't see many movies in the theatre (see: three year old), but I did catch Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the Word. It's an energetic documentary about the influence of Indigenous North Americans on rock and roll, with a killer soundtrack featuring Jimi Hendrix, Pura Fé and Charley Patton.
So, those are my picks from this year in great content. Here's to an equally excellent 2018.
What else we're reading:
Isn't that enough? Fine, here's a hot tip: The entirety of the A Muppet Family Christmas is on YouTube.
"No women's work today, ladies." That's a line Marilyn Merrigan heard over and over when she was trying to get construction work in Edmonton in 1977. It was typically followed up with: "Not a diaper to change."
But Marilyn, who'd left Habour Grace, Nfld. at age 20 to start a new life in Alberta, was undeterred. For three months, she went down to the construction office, asking for a job. When she kept getting shut out, she, along with two other women, filed a human rights complaint. They banded together to "break the union," bringing a man from the human rights commission to the site. He witnessed the harassment, which eventually compelled the union to give her an ultimatum: Take a union course and pass all examinations to be qualified, or never contact the union again. Marilyn agreed, and headed north to Fort McMurray, where she passed every certification she needed, making her qualified for most jobs on a construction site.
For her first days on the job, Marilyn dressed in her brother's big clothes so she "didn't look sexy." She was there to work, but some colleagues had different ideas. One male worker routinely offered her his paycheque if she'd sleep with him. "He'd do it in front of everyone, so all the guys would see it."
Marilyn wanted to leave construction at several points. She struggled with the idea that she was expected to "just shut up" if she wanted to keep her job. But she knew there was value in breaking the "stereotypical ideal of women" not belonging in construction.
After four years in the construction business, Marilyn walked away. She learned the realities of how some men think, and when her son, Andrew, was born when she was 34, she knew teaching him to respect women would start from Day 1. Marilyn fought to gain equality for women, faced stage four cervical cancer at the age of 32 and now owns her own bow tie business in Edmonton. It's no surprise that Andrew nominated her as an inspiring woman. "I know there are men that to this day wonder whatever happened to me because I know I gained their respect. And hopefully I helped them raise their daughters with that same respect."
– Shelby Blackley and Shannon Busta
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