September 21st, 2012
So, this used to be a book blog. Way in the way back before I got off track by babies and work and life and jobs and babies and fun and life and all kinds of other stuff, I actually used to read books. A lot of books. These days, if I finish a book a week, well, every two weeks, I’m lucky. And I’ve lost track now of where I am in terms of reviews and who knows what else. There are a couple of books that I’ve read in the last few months that I do remember… (more…)
May 3rd, 2012
I’ve been reading my bookshelves alphabetically for a while now, not consistently, if someone recommends a book to me or if I’ve got a book club meeting coming up, or if I’m particularly inspired, I stray, but I have managed to read many titles that have been sitting for ages this way, and I’m glad I’m doing it. I bought a copy of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch in 1992. That’s right — that book has been sitting on my TBR shelf for twenty years. I went through a phase in high school where I read all kinds of beat literature, Kerouac, who still remains a favourite, changed my world when I first read him. I didn’t know books could be like that — On the Road was the perfect book for me as a kid, it filled me with a wonderful sense of curiosity, spit me out into the world, on road trips, to different provinces, adventures away from home and I have such fond memories of the physical act of reading those books.
So, I bought Naked Lunch way in the way back from Pages on Queen Street and started it once, twice, three, times, read Junkie in between and loved it, and carted the battered paperback copy around to a half-dozen apartments. Then, when I finally gave in to the fact that I honestly just had to suck it up and read the damn book, it took me a good three weeks because, and I am saying this with all honesty, I could not understand what the heck was going on half the time. So, yes, I know it’s a moderately incoherent, rambling, deeply intense and evocative piece of writing by one of America’s most controversial figures in literature. I can see why it’s important. But maybe I’m so far passed the point now of looking at my life as a long list of the “cool” things that I have read that all I really wanted was the good junkie story and far less of the Interzone oddities.
I really, really liked the Appendix, where Burroughs outlines his drug use, all of the effects, and what worked in terms of him getting clean. His dialogue is terrific, and there are some amazing characters sprinkled throughout the book, but the whole “cut up technique” (as described in my 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die text): “which serves to render the reader equally unable to make full sense of the surroundings.” Indeed. “Narratives begin, interweave, become lost, and are found again; scenarios are glimpsed then vanish from sight.” Exactly. And then all I’m screaming in my head is “What on earth is going on and that’s a lot of naked peeps and body parts and excrement and swearing and shooting up and holy hell I am one tired mother right now.”
However, I did listen to a lot of Junkie via this great link that Brain Pickings posted via Twitter, and was reminded that it is, indeed a terrific book, especially when read by Burroughs himself. Really all I have to say about this in conclusion is that I am really glad to have finished it. That’s all.
Other books read: The Last Tycoon by Fitzgerald (#39).
April 24th, 2012
Just not being able to post about them as often, or, well, ever.
Aside, driving into daycare this morning, RRBB kept pointing at the window and saying, “snow!” He was so excited. We had so little snow all winter, and he’s been reading Duck and Goose: It’s Time for Christmas for months. Snow in April, who knew?
So, books. For a while there, I couldn’t read anything. I was stuck in my B’s at Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks (and that book still remains unfinished) and am currently half-way through Burrough’s Naked Lunch (which makes no bloody sense; I don’t care what people say about it; and it’s not remotely as good as Junkie, which I adored) and The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. But late one night after not sleeping because of the increased dose of prednisone, I managed to finish a great book by William Boyd called Restless about a young half-British woman who becomes a spy during the Second World War (#22). That restored me. I dashed off two Maeve Binchys that don’t even warrant a mention because they aren’t really “books” but more fluff to pass the time when you’re exhausted (#s 23-24) (what is up with her “character sketches in the place of actual “plot”?)…
Then in transit I read two books of poetry, Dionne Brand’s Inventory, which was really lovely and moving; and Ken Babstock’s latest, Methodist Hatchet, which was a little impenetrable for me, even though I found a few poems that took my breath away within the collection (#s 25-26). I still firmly believe that Babstock is the greatest poet of my generation, what he does with language and pacing amazes me at every turn. He also gave me the best advice about writing ever: “put some pressure on it,” and see where it goes. I love that turn of phrase, like my words are in a pressure cooker, giving off steam.
And, I’ve also read a pile of books for work for this public domain project we’re consistently working on — and have discovered that I absolutely adore George Orwell. Who would have known? His novel, A Clergyman’s Daughter, starts off almost like something Margaret Laurence would have written, and then just goes to the most interesting places. I adored it. I also found Homage to Catalonia fascinating and Burmese Days enjoyable (#s 27-29). I really didn’t like Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream at all but it put me in good mind in terms of hearing Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers in my head for days (#30).
And then we come to Save Me the Waltz (#31) by Zelda Fitzgerald. I adored this book. Sure it’s a little all over the place stylistically and a bit muddled in terms of plot, and well, something akin to character abandonment (where she introduces a bunch of characters who are never to be seen again and it’s kind of confusing) but the bits in the middle where Alabama (yes; it’s a terrible name for a main character) strives to become a ballet dancer are excellent, honest, true-to-life, and devastating when you look at the toll it takes on her as wife and a mother. The whole book looks at the struggle for women to actualize themselves when they are bound by their gender and their era, and I think it’s a real gem that deserves to be read more.
I also read The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald, which got better as it went along (and the whole thing with him putting plays in the middle of his book to carry the action forward was a bit much), and This Side of Paradise, which truly was amazing for a first novel (#s 32-33). And just yesterday I finished The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, and I was ridiculously surprised by how fun, witty and wickedly good it was (#34).
But before I get too carried away with all the older books that I’ve been reading through my days, I want to make sure that I note that the best book that I’ve read off my shelves in ages was The Free World by David Bezmozgis. It’s an epic book, of sorts, of a family leaving Latvia in the 1970s, landing in Rome, trying to get to the US but ending up on the way to Canada, and it’s incredible. Thoughtful, intelligent, well-written, engaging, and all kinds of other adjectives that I could list on and on — I couldn’t put it down. It’s just a great, great piece of storytelling (#35). Thank goodness I found this when I did because I was honestly about to abandon reading forever because of my Bs. But I’m determined to get through them this month so I can at least move on to my Cs…one of which includes Julia Child’s My Life in France for book club.
Oh, and speaking of which, we read Human Amusements (#36) by Wayne Johnston last month and all found it a bit lacking, wholly, so much so that there’s no point in saying any more.
March 17th, 2012
I am on page 107 of the 700+ page opus, Cloudsplitter. I have been carrying around David Bergen’s latest novel for weeks. I have two books of Ken Babstock’s poetry on my nightstand. I have even cracked a Maeve Binchy novel (well, I started it yesterday). And nothing is sticking! It’s the first week in forever where I haven’t finished a book. What is a girl to do? I did, however, read Jules Verne’s An Antarctic Mystery for work and really enjoyed it (#21) and a whole bunch of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales.
Instead of reading lately I’ve been watching Luther. But I’m going to have to get off my butt and get passed my “B’s” at some point because there’s a whole other alphabet on my shelf that’s feeling neglected. Maybe I need to switch it up and pick up a Z or two…just to get going again.
March 10th, 2012
So, let’s give up the ghost — I’m working on a massive public domain project at work, and it’s amazingly fun. We’re creating really beautiful ebooks from PD texts, and creating some fun content around events (like the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic) and it’s a really great list. It’s also a little like a cyclone — we whirl around and pile on more books into the never-ending spreadsheet and very rarely come out the other side as the wind whips us along.
As a result, I’ve been reading a whole pile of PD texts, from the utterly strange (John Jacob Astor’s A Journey In Other Worlds, #12), to the utterly brilliant (Hemingway’s The Old Man in the Sea), to lesser works by great writers (To Have and Have Not [an abysmally bad Hemingway novel, #13] and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe), to a whole host of nonfiction around the sinking of the Titanic (#s 14, 15, 16: The Loss of the S.S. Titanic, The Truth About the Titanic & The Wreck of the Titan), to some classic children’s literature that I had never actually read (The Secret Garden, #17), and the list goes on (well, to a reread of Tender is the Night (#18) even though I was sure I read it in university).
Anyway, by the time I’m finished reading through the books, checking the ePubs, getting frustrated with how Edgar Allan Poe uses so much flapjacking Greek, I don’t feel like blogging about the books at all. However, I am making great inroads in terms of my 1001 Books challenge, which is enough of a reason to continue with the public domain project in general…
PS – I forgot one yesterday, Gulliver’s Travels (#20), which I enjoyed immensely and had a great conversation with my RRHB about, he insists it’s the first of science fiction, I equate it to the rollicking adventure stories of the time, like Robinson Crusoe. I did admit that the end bored me a bit, and that I preferred the first three parts to the fourth, but, overall, it’s probably my favourite that I’ve read since embarking upon this project…
February 5th, 2012
Apropos of nothing, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we choose what we read. Does anyone pay attention to reviews (I did when I got the paper; but I’ve all but stopped reading reviews in my life at the moment)? What about marketing, does it work? What about the bestseller list, does anyone pay attention? For most of the year I wasn’t working in the industry, and not having to read anything for work, I was frequently stumped, standing in front of my shelves feeling utterly uninspired.
It’s the book equivalent of flipping through 100 channels and still finding nothing to watch — seeing 400-odd books on your shelves and not desiring to read a single one. And yet, I’ve collected them all for a reason, whether I enjoy the writer, or heard something good about the book, and until I give each title its due, I can’t get rid of them. But they weigh, weigh, weigh me down. I feel immense pressure to “get through” them — it almost takes the joy out of reading. All the lists, all the challenges, all the tries in terms of keeping my life organized — it comes out in microcosm with reading. I think on some level that if I manage to keep my books organized my brain won’t feel so scattered.
So this year I’ve just made two resolutions — I’m going to take the pressure off. I’m going to read alphabetically and then I’m going to read everything else organically. What does that mean? I’m going to read books that have been recommended to me by friends, colleagues, other bloggers and I’m going to carry on ignoring everything else around me. Those subway posters are usually terrible anyway.
My copy of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die characterizes Julian Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot as such: “This is a fascinating jigsaw puzzle of a book.” And while it’s not an untrue statement, it’s also a little dismissive of what I feel is the real, true accomplishment of this novella — Barnes’s complete ability to broadly reimagine the constructs of the “novel.” In a way, if you were reading critically, you could define the book in so many different ways: a post-modern collection speaking back to one of the greats of Western literature, Flaubert; a finely tuned, self-referential critique of the Ivory Tower nature of literary history and criticism; a highly personal story of a man (a doctor) relating so deeply to a story and characters (in Madame Bovary) that it allows him the space to come to terms with the state of his own life; and the more you read it, the more you see in it — that’s the utter brilliance of this work. (more…)
February 4th, 2012
Oh, Mo Hayder. I’ve told anyone who’ll listen that Mo Hayder is my favourite thriller writer. While, yes, sometimes there are gruesome aspects to her novels, but they are just so damn well written that even when the words make me cringe, I’m impressed by them. Hanging Hill is a standalone novel, written outside of her current series, The Walking Man books, and while there are familiar aspects to the story (a tough-as-nails cop; family conflict; great villains), this is one hell of a mystery.
First, let’s examine the set up: two sisters, recently reconciled, sit on a bench outside of a funeral. The reader (ahem, me) makes an assumption, it’s one you’re led right into like a fly to a sticky trap, about the funeral’s protagonist, if you will, and Hayder expertly unravels bits and pieces throughout the novel until you get to the shocker of an ending — and are stunned by its final pages. (more…)
After rearranging all of my books in alphabetical order, I was disheartened to have to start at the “As” again — but it meant that I am finally getting to some of the nonfiction that has been collecting dust bunnies for more years than I’d care to count, and hence: The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong. A friend of mine, Deborah Birkett, who used to run a terrific website called Chicklit, had mentioned Armstrong either in passing or in something she had written or in some conversation she may have moderated. I am pretty sure that’s how this book ended up on my shelves — through her recommendation.
Armstrong, a failed nun, a failed post-doc, a failed teacher and a failed television presenter (yes, I’m being harsh but bear with me), finally finds her calling when she, after a long struggle with real life, comes to writing about comparative religion. It’s funny, I finished The Night Circus, a whimsical novel about real magic only to come to a very real memoir about a woman who loses her faith so colossally that she fears she’ll never find her place in the real world, the magic in her ideas about God and religion, so to speak, lost for the foreseeable future. In so many ways, Armstrong’s struggles to find her right place in the world are so powerful that it’s impossible not to cheer for her every single time life churns her out in a direction she never imagined for herself. (more…)
October 27th, 2011
After reading Lucky Jim for book club, there was chatter about other “set in post-secondary education” novels and whether or not they were successful. One of the books that was mentioned was Lynn Coady’s Mean Boy. As I’ve talked about earlier, I’ve been on a quest this year to clear off my shelves and get through all the books gathering dust in my life. It’s an impossible task — I’ve been reading my “old” books in a haphazard, semi-alphabetical/dewey-like system since a few months into the RRBB’s life. I was, at first, reading “A” titles from Canada, England, etc., and then gave up and just wanted to power through one country before moving on to another. So, I’ve started with my Canada shelf, and I’m at C now (FINALLY) and have three Lynn Coady novels to get through (four if I add the *new* The Antagonist to the list even though I’ve promised myself that I’ll only read one new book for every one from the TBR pile), which means it’s weeks before I get through just this one particular author, sheesh. All of this rambling is to say that I’m knee-deep in Coady these days. I raced through Mean Boy, am half-way through The Saints of Big Harbour, and had actually started The Antagonist weeks ago before I felt too guilty for not reading all of her backlist. In a lesser writer I’d be frustrated by having to read so many of their books in such a short period of time. Lucky for me then to discover that I LOVE Lynn Coady. (more…)