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A Pillow Book

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  248 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Not a narrative. Not an essay. Not a shopping list. Not a song. Not a diary. Not an etiquette manual. Not a confession. Not a prayer. Not a secret letter sent through the silent Palace hallways before dawn. Making a daybook of oblivion, A Pillow Book leads the reader on a darkly comic tour through the dim-lit valley of fitful sleep. The miscellaneous memoranda, minutiae, dream ...more
Paperback, 128 pages
Published April 9th 2016 by House of Anansi Press
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Average rating 4.01  · 
Rating details
 ·  248 ratings  ·  44 reviews

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Jul 24, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a curious little book-- modeled on Sei Shonagan's book, this is also, ostensibly, the record of insomnia, a collection of thoughts recorded when one can't sleep. But I think in that conception there's also the notion that this is the cure, that like Shonagan's book, one can keep this close to your bedside and read a section or two to slow your brain and let you fall asleep.

I never quite made it to that stage of reading it before bed, but I think it would be good for that, giv
Khashayar Mohammadi
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: canadian, poetry
quite enjoyable
Mar 17, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Portrait of the artist as a white middle-class insomniac mother who is obsessed with pillows, pillow books, Sei Shonagan, and lists.

Buffam is witty and smart, her writing carries an elegance and some parts have a sharp edge of brilliance. I enjoyed reading this book, though it attended so much to normalcies in life of the speaker, and the most poetic and meaningful of its parts were not found in this everyday. The growth or trajectory of A Pillow Book was guarded and hazy, in pockets rat
If I could give Suzanne Buffam a hug right now, I'd probably sandwich her from all the emotion I feel. I'd also pull up a chair and two cups of tea, and just ask her to keep talking, because I didn't want "A Pillow Book" to end. It reminded me a bit of "Sequence" by A. F. Moritz which I read a few months earlier, although Buffam's work has a voice and style all of its own. This book is both a diary and isn't, is fiction and non-fiction, poetry and not poetry. It is and isn't so many things, all ...more
Apr 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Buffam is an unpretentious poet. I love her listy poems and her wit. I love how this book blurs the line between dream and awake. I love all the pillow trivia. I love how smart and intimate this work is. What a delightful genre-bending book.
Alana Gavin
Apr 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Made me think and made me laugh. Loved it.
Jul 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, poetry
super different and entertaining, and a subject i can get behind. this made me think in one breath and then laugh out loud in the next - i really enjoyed it.
Aug 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"Not a narrative. Not an essay. Not a shopping list. Not a song. Not a diary. Not an etiquette manual. Not a confession. Not a prayer. Not a secret letter sent through the silent Palace hallways before dawn.”

A Pillow Book, Suzanne Buffam’s 2016 book of poetry, is a great companion for anyone struggling with sleep. During the darkest hours of night and through the early hours of morning, at dusk or dawn, the poems in A Pillow Book possesses the hypnotizing ability to lull readers into
Joshua Buhs
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Meditations on both the Japanese classic by the same name, and insomnia.

The book is fragmented, a series of lists followed by a paragraph or two that amplify, in ways greater and lesser, the theme of the previous list. The lists, of course, are the last recourse of the insomniac, a way to tire the brain and allow sleep. The insights are often oblique, and often funny, too. Though when Buffam allows to much of a peek into her own life, it can seem a bit . . . anti-climactic. She's a v
Leigh Anne
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shonagon with the wind.

The speaker of this clever set of poems has pretty bad insomnia, so she keeps a pillow book. Modeled after the classic Japanese work by Sei Shonagon, Buffam's pillow book talks a lot about literal pillows and their use in various cultures. She also makes random lists, chronicles her dreams and nightmares, fusses over her child (lovingly dubbed "Her Majesty"), and worries about her strained marriage and less-than-stellar academic career (at least, compared to he
Mabel H.
Apr 13, 2018 rated it liked it
What a lovely book of poems, notes, and lists that captures the essence of insomnia--it's endlessness, and the anxiety, apathy, desires, and contemplation it induces. These idle musings on everything from lists of famous insomniacs to reflections on privilege are written with refreshing brevity and levity. It's a philosophical tribute to the famous Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book, so the form of this book is unique. But with such sly humor and compelling feeling, I found a friend in this book--an ...more
Waverly Fitzgerald
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, essays
Second on my list of favorite books read this year.
Mel Spady
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Do you like lists? Do you like dreams? Do you like sleep? If so, you will like this book. So much of my time with A Pillow Book was spent feeling like I was wandering around in my own head, which I feel is a sign of a good read. This book struck a chord with me. A deep and bass-y chord, one that will reverberate long past my closing the book. Quirky, quippy, and witty, Buffam’s work is both pointed and relieving at the same time. Read at night, or in the winter, or early mornings in the summer. ...more
Anna Wakefield
Feb 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely an amazing book! I loved reading what seemed to be someone's nightly thoughts, some funny, some existential, and some with historical tidbits! I also had the amazing opportunity to Skype with Suzanne Buffam, as we read this in my college literature class, and she is a fantastic woman! I can't wait to read what else she puts out!
Erin Panjer
Feb 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Suzanne takes historical excerpts, imaginative sentiments and lists and blends it into a charming readable text. She uses elements of improv, and engages the reader to imagine more than is on the page. Light, fun, warm, silly and informative.
Vincent Scarpa
Jul 29, 2018 rated it liked it
(Really 3.5)

Mostly enjoyable, though the premise does feel stretched rather thin by the end. Still, some great passages, like this one:

“If you wish to rise early, ask your pillow to wake you. Tell it exactly what time you wish to wake up and repeat your request politely three times. Go directly to sleep, taking care not to utter another word before your head touches down. In the morning you will wake well-rested, at precisely the hour you desire. Pillow, I say, shutting o
Feb 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm filing this under poems AND short stories because it really is a bit of both. Anyway, it's wonderful.
Nov 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Canarium Books is killing it this year. This is the second book by them that I’ve fallen absolutely in love with, after Darcie Dennigan’s Palace of Subatomic Bliss. This book, like Dennigan’s work, is a prose-poem hybrid of fragments, this time focusing on insomnia and thoughts confronting the ability to sleep, kind of an opposite dream book. Female-centric books of intellectually top-notch fragments for life.
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: collection
The following review was originally published, in Chinese translation, in LEAP 艺术界.

Inside a moon-like circle on the back cover of The Pillow Book is a list of things it is not: “Not a memoir. Not an epic. Not an essay. Not a spell. Not a shopping list. Not a nocturne. Not a dream book. Not a prayer. Not a novel. Not an apology. Not a dossier. Not a complaint. Not a manifest. Not a manifesto. Not a field report. Not a promissory note. Note a recipe. Not a résumé. Not a confession. Not a l
Reyna Eisenstark
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you read Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book, as I have, this book will be a delight. Not quite poetry, but a collection of lists and paragraphs written sometime at night in the midst of insomnia. Just like the original, some of the lists/paragraphs are not as interesting and entertaining as others, but some really are poetry or something quite like it.
Emily Ann
Nov 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A life seen in fragments. Reminded me of a more domestic Speedboat (Renata Adler).
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable pillow book by bed
Jennifer Croft
Oct 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Awesome. Funny, touching, great unifying concept. Loved this.
Carolee Wheeler
Jul 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
delightful. a slow burn.
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
A prose/poem collection built from insomnia, obsession with pillow books and pillows, dreams, and an investigation into how to make art.

There are a lot of lists, many set with one item for each letter in the alphabet. That said, I like this meta prose entry:
Things to buy. Things to fix. Things to fold. Things to freeze. Things to paint. Things to unpack. Things to order. Things to renew. Things to revise. Things to discard. Things to dismantle. Things to destroy. The closest I come to writing poentry:
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
the book has snippets of “list poetry,” glimpses into the author's relationship with Her Majesty, her young daughter (a bewildering figure to me - do all children act like that?), and Her Majesty, japanese empress and minor patron of sei shonagon, author of the original pillow book. i liked buffam’s lists the best. but some of the more prosaic sections were interesting too. occasionally though, buffam couldn't seem to draw the perceptive out of the banal, although sometimes these banal details c ...more
Melissa Barrett
Apr 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
A clever book that I found to be exceptionally readable & provocative. Reminded me of Maggie Nelson's Bluets, & prompted me to order Sei Shonagon's pillow book.

Some favorite lines:

-"I am not what is called 'a morning person,' by any measure, and yet I live, alas, in a morning person's world."

-"Reluctant: Men to parallel park with their father-in-laws in the car."

-"Those who sleep fewer, on average, than six hours every night, live, on avera
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It's usually the sorrowful or earnest books that save you.

This book is irreverent, unsure, drunken pillow talk. It saved me by accident so I bought it.

Thank you to the author.

I read the whole thing listening to Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster. My moonlight chaser.

Apologies to the author.

John LaPine
Mar 28, 2018 rated it liked it
a poem/essay about dreams, insomnia, the culture and history of pillows. takes a page from Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book, presenting lists as poetry. short read, easy language. can occasionally approach cheesy (author has an unhealthy hatred of Sleepytime tea, and refers to her young daughter only as Her Majesty, despite the daughter's protests), but I was entertained.
Abby J
Apr 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I didn't want this beautiful book to end; it was like living in someone's dreams. I will certainly reread it.
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Suzanne Buffam is a Canadian poet, author of two collections of poetry. Her first, Past Imperfect: Poems (House of Anansi Press, 2005), won the Gerald Lampert Award in 2006. Her second, The Irrationalist (Carnarium Books, 2010), was shortlisted for the 2011 Griffin Poetry Prize. Her poems have been published in literary journals and magazines including Poetry, Jubilat, A Public Space, Denver Quarterly, Colorado Rev ...more
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