Mini-reviews: some of the best reads of the last year

You might see full reviews of some of these in the near future, but for the present I want to spread the joy of 2015 while it’s still fresh in my mind. The result: three short reviews of some of the best books I read this year. CanLit, classic science fiction, and Murakami. What’s not to love?

booBoo / Neil Smith

If there’s one book that I demand you run out and read right this second, it’s Boo. You might recall I listed the first line of this novel as one of my all-time favourite openings in CanLit. I’ve recommended it to my roommate. I’ve recommended it to friends I haven’t really talked to since high school. I’ve recommended it to my grandmother. And now I’m recommending it to you.

Eighth-grade science nerd Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple wakes up in heaven and figures his faulty heart finally gave out. But soon the plot thickens – and Boo finds himself tracking down the mystery of his own murder.

Smith’s conception of heaven is hilarious and comforting and not overly religious, handled with grace and aplomb. Boo, after all, was an atheist before he kicked the bucket, and doesn’t necessarily intend on changing his mind now. Whenever “God” is mentioned in this story, Boo changes his name to “Zig” – sidestepping the religious connotations of the big man’s name in favour of something a little more conversational – because the focus is not on God, or heaven, even if they provide the necessary context. As a result, the book neatly sidesteps what could easily turn into a messy metaphysical debate, letting the story of a lonely, scientific child shine through.

Finally, there’s a twist ending, which I totally saw coming until it punched me in the sternum and broke my heart in half – as all good twist endings do. I haven’t had such a painful book hangover in years.

Do Androids Dream of Electric SheepDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? / Philip K. Dick

It’s a little ridiculous that it took me so long to get around to the work of Philip K. Dick, considering science fiction runs through my veins like platelets and I was practically raised by Heinlein and Asimov. Better late than never.

This novel depicts a future in which androids are practically indistiguishable from humans in every way- and yet must be distinguished. It’s mind-bending, philosophical, and a little chilling – calling into question what is truly human about humanity, and how racism might follow us into the utopic future despite our best efforts. I’d put it alongside 1984 and Brave New World in terms of canonical dystopian greatness. It’s still gnawing at the inside of my brain, the way that only good books can. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep inspired Blade Runner, and it’s twice as trippy.

Wind - PinballWind / Pinball / Haruki Murakami

I have to admit that Colorless Tsukuru left me cold, which is a shame because I pre-ordered the gorgeous UK edition only to give it away in disappointment. Wind / Pinball, on the other hand, was like settling down with an old friend – probably because these two connected novels are Murakami’s earliest works translated for the first time.

It’s a perfect example of Murakami’s classic, aimless protagonist – leading a normal and slightly strange life of routine, friendship, and oddly striking connections with absolute strangers. Metaphors seamlessly into real life until it’s not clear which  is which; is it a pinball machine, or something more? Are the twin sisters in his apartment real, or figments? What is the significance of a telephone switch panel, and why does it need a funeral? These are all questions Murakami makes you ask yourself, and I honestly loved every minute of it. If you loved Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, you’ll most likely dig  Wind / Pinball too.




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