Where have I been? What have I read?

You may have noticed that I’ve been MIA these last few weeks. Let’s call it a summer break: after finishing up the 80 pages of academic writing I had due in April, I didn’t have too many words left in my brain for book reviews. But don’t worry. I’m back, and I’m going to tell you all about the books I read while I was away – in tiny, one-sentence reviews.

You’ll probably see longer reviews of some of these pop up in the next few weeks – let me know if there are any that you’re particularly interested in hearing about, and I’ll move them to the top of the pile.

Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? / Jean Baudrillard
This book is the result of an old, grumpy, slightly terrified French philosopher thinking a little too hard about contemporary life, and it’s both really right and really wrong about a lot of things.

The Magicians / Lev Grossman
Dosed with unabashed nostalgia for the Narnia Chronicles, Grossman reimagines what it might mean to attend a school for magicians – and still find yourself disappointed at what the world holds.

In the City of Lost Things / Paul Auster
I first read this novel in the first year of my undergrad, and it’s weirdly stuck with me – and weirdly proved impossible to find in bookstores. Strong female protagonist journeys to the (apocalyptic, chaotic, decaying) city of last things to look for her missing brother – and learns too late that the city proves just about impossible to escape.

The Vegetarian / Han Kang
A Korean woman gives up eating meat after a series of unsettling, cannibalistic dreams; this small act of resistance quickly snowballs – producing social, familial, political, and artistic ramifications.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither / Sarah Baume
Okay – stop what you’re doing and get your hands on a copy of this book, because it’s easily one of the best I’ve read this year. The old, suspicious anti-hero at the centre of this novel can’t put his finger on why he’s suddenly possessed with the urge to get a dog, but once united, the two prove oddly and inseparably similar – wounded and muddling along as best they can.

All the Birds, Singing / Evie Wyld
The best way to describe this novel is as a weird one. Sheep? Sex workers? Australia? Arson? Mysterious beasts ripping apart lambs?

The Mirror World of Melody Black / Gavin Extence
The back cover makes this sound like a fun and unsettling romp through parallel worlds, but the truth is this novel is a beautifully frank look at the inside of mental illness.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing / Alan Moore (et al)
I’ve read four of the six volumes which chronicle this version of the Swamp Thing, and even though I’m not generally a graphic novel / comic sort of person, I weirdly and truly dig the trials and tribulations of this unlikely, plant-based superhero. Apocalypse! History! Memory!

A Complicated Kindness / Miriam Toews
A Mennonite girl in small-town Canada slowly and surely comes to grips (or else to no grips at all) with the fact that her gentle religion has torn (and continues to tear) her family apart. (It sounds inane but it’s not. It’s brilliant, and heartbreaking, and clever, and hilarious.)

 

So there you have it – that was how I spent my May. What have you read this past month that you loved / hated / felt unmoved by? Is there anything on my list you want to hear more about? Let’s chat!

 

 

 

The good and the bad of bookstore cats

NietzcheEvery job has its clichés – and in the case of working in an independent bookstore, most of them turned out to be true.

I used to work at a shop called The Book Man, and my time there was full of the best bookstore tropes: It was founded by a lovely old man who bought us pastries on the weekends. It was owned by his daughter, which meant it was a shop run by a family of beautifully bookish nerds who loved to read just as much as I do. I was paid overtime in books. People really did come in and ask about the book they’d seen on display last week – surely we knew which one they meant? You know, the blue one?

But the best cliché by far was our bookstore cat. Nietzsche was everything you could hope for in a store cat: he slept in an armchair most of the time, he was named after a philosopher, and people came to the store just to see him.

On the other hand, having a store cat had some surprising – and awkward – downsides.

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Cover to Cover with Fates and Furies

When it comes to covers, simple can be good. Simple can also be colossally awful. I’m still trying to figure out what it is that separates one from the other. For instance, I found the simple, similar covers for The Girl on the Train to be really, really boring. But faced with another set of simple, similar covers – Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies – I find myself head over heels. What gives?

The most common cover I’ve come across is the North American edition, but also what seems to be the pick for translated editions:

Hardcover    Layout 1Dutch_edition     Polish_edition

Something about this design appeals to me on a basic level. Is it waves? Is it frost? Is it a topographic map? Does it matter? Any of the above speak well to the title of the novel – evoking the sense of forces outside of human control. And I especially like how the waves overlap the text to a variety of degrees across these covers, even as the font, title placement, and image all remain the same.

Fates and Furies also avoids the Girl on the Train fiasco of one boring cover by supplying a couple of different designs across countries. I love the contrast between the North American edition and the UK edition – playful design and pattern, vibrancy and violence.

UK editionHardcover

Interestingly, the large print edition seems to have gotten its own cover, which riffs subtly on the original North American printing as well – confirming my perspective of waves.

LargePrint

Last but not least, the Spanish cover takes a completely different direction – keeping in the same colour scheme but moving towards more substantial imagery.

Spanish edition

Going back to the NA cover, I think my love for its simplicity comes from a place that is both surprising and unsurprising: unlike The Girl on the Train, I was bowled over by Fates and Furies. It’s funny – we’re always told not to judge a book by its cover, but I never thought I’d find myself judging a cover by its book.

How about you? What’s your favourite cover? Leave me your thoughts and opinions in the comments!

Cover to Cover is a weekly feature appearing every Wednesday. You can browse through past posts here. 

 

Grief and transformation: The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

didion

What is grief?

Joan Didion’s husband slumps over the dinner table. Heart attack. They’ve been together for four decades. She can’t imagine life without him. Now she doesn’t have a choice.

Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity. 

So begins Didion’s year of magical thinking – a time in which grief digs its fingers into every part of her being and changes the way she thinks, the way she reacts, the way she perceives the world and herself.

What is transformation? What is the power of a wish?

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Cover to Cover with Boy, Snow, Bird

English edition

This week on Cover to Cover, I want to talk about one of my favourite 2014 releases and the fact that it only has two good covers. Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi is beautiful and unsettling, and lingers at the corner of your vision for a while after you’ve read it. You know that odd, bright shadow that sits in your vision after you accidentally stare at the sun? That’s what this book will do to you.

And yet I’ve only found two covers that really do it justice. How is that fair? (Luckily, one of them seems to grace the most popular edition, so that’s the one you’re likely to see – pictured left.)

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