A Pillow Book / Suzanne Buffam
Toronto: Anansi: c2016.
I picked this up after Kate Sutherland, poetry reader extraordinaire, mentioned it. And I'm so glad I did. What a charming, unusual read, one which now comes highly recommended by me.
Buffam's book, catalogued as poetry, is made up of short fragments of prose/poetry -- a style that I find particularly appealing, reminding me of a few previous novels I've read, but I think showing to better effect here in this book.
It contains brief sections of text divided by small circles reflecting the moon cycles represented on the cover. The content is creative and wide-ranging, including lists inspired by Sei Shonagon's original Pillow Book, as well as musings on sleep and lack thereof, and especially, pillows. I found the lists -- of such prosaic things as Books I'd Like to Read Someday (not as straightforward as it sounds), of Beautiful Names for Hideous Things, or a multiplicity of A-Z lists -- entertaining and yet providing a shift of perspective at the same time.
The narrator's anxiety about her chronic insomnia takes flight in her studies of insomniacs and the pillow-obsessed of the past. It all works together beautifully, with short but wonderfully twisty phrases that kept me reading past the time I should've been head on pillow myself.
Buffam is a Canadian author, living in Chicago, and the day to day realities of her life infuse the book. Her wider Chicago neighbourhood is evoked, even while she also focuses in on her daughter, known as "Her Majesty", her husband, and their routines. I found it very engaging, with lovely writing, sly humour, and much thoughtfulness. If you are new to poetry and would like to test it out with something closer to prose, this is a good bet.
You can enjoy this in snippets, like brief meditations one by one, or gulp it all down and then start over again. Pour yourself a cup of Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Peach Tea and sink into this book. You will not regret it.
This book calls out for a reading of the original inspiration, Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book. If you haven't yet read it, you'll want to give it a try after reading this homage.
Another title that includes a few random lists and musings, also told in this poetic/prose style (but with gorgeous collage illustrations too) is Diane Schoemperlen's recent By the Book. Lovely read, quirky and just odd enough for delight.