Immediately after I took Miriam Toews’* name in vain, I regretted it. She’s the Canadian author who wrote All My Puny Sorrows, and more recently, Women Talking. She writes about Mennonites, and mental health, and feminism, and is a really wonderful writer. She has mastered an authorial style that, when Margaret Atwood uses similar voices and techniques, I find vague and rhetorical and passive-didactic, and when Miriam Toews does it, it seems genuinely questioning, and playful, and curious. I saw her do a reading in Crystal Palace’s The Bookseller Crow bookshop several years ago, and she was humble and utterly charming.
I also know very little about Mennonites (I know a little more thanks to Miriam Toews). In 2014, I was on a road trip in the north of Montana, and visiting Kootenai Falls I came across a group of women who were modestly- (and rather old-fashionedly-) dressed, who I thought were taking part in some sort of re-enactment. Of a picnic. At a waterfall. I’m not very bright, but luckily bright enough not to ask them if they were part of a Picnic Re-enactment Group**. I’m pretty sure now that they were Mennonites on a day out. I didn’t know that at the time, because in the UK, Mennonites are not well-known – we’ve heard of the Amish, but that’s about as close as we get.
Miriam Toews writes very well about Mennonites. She’s not exactly an unalloyed fan, but she does show the strength and fun-ness of Mennonites, both men and women – especially in Women Talking, which I hadn’t read when I used Mennonites as a punchline for a group of people who don’t know how to have fun. For the record, they are probably a lot more fun than I am, and my idea of fun is to read a book by Miriam Toews, which is hellafun.
Toews aside, I have a lot of fondness for “Hey Friends, I’m Blowing Into Town” – I wanted to do my own version of “The Boys are Back in Town” refracted through the lens of my being the most boring friend in the world. I did live in a converted church for ten years, despite not being an Anchorite; I do like watching Naked and Afraid; I do love the idea of my arrival heralding a cacophonous anticlimax. Musically I was going for a showtune, but I don’t listen to shows***.
Next week, I stare directly into the Milky Way until it swallows my soul. Until then, you can read about all the songs from Year of The Bird here and pre-order the album here.
*pronounced “Taves” – as I do in the song
**is that a thing? I’d love to form a local chapter
***and the show hasn’t been written for it yet, to steal one of Nina Simone’s best lines