Where have I been? What have I read? Part II!

My last post (Where have I been? What have I read?) apologised for a couple weeks of silence and promised regular posts in the future. Next thing you know, three months have passed. In other, happier news, I’ve finished my MA thesis – which also explains what I’ve been doing for the last three months.

I’ve also been doing some reading for fun, if not exactly a lot of it. But here are some highlights of my summer reading – in tiny, one-sentence reviews. (And this time I really do promise this signals a return to my old book-reviewing ways.)

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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!

 

 

 

Root and tendon: the connective tissue of Lisa Moore’s short stories

Open

Lisa Moore reminds me of Thomas Pynchon, and at first I thought this was because I had just finished my first Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49, less than a day before beginning Open. But the longer I spent with Moore the more the comparison seemed to stick: hyperreal images, objects infused with surreal and sinister meaning, vivid colours and descriptions – like an image in Photoshop with the contrast and saturation turned all the way up. The result is something carnivalesque, a world that seems to spin like a drunk man. Moore has an almost obsessive eye for detail, for hidden meaning, for things that lurk beneath the surface.

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Grief, history, and metaphor: The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

high mountains_2.jpgYann Martel’s newest novel unfolds like a flower: subtle, delicate, and intricate.

I’ve been looking forward to reading The High Mountains of Portugal for a long, long time. It’s one of those books I greeted with a sort of wary anticipation – after all, what could possibly live up to Life of Pi? 

But I am so, so, so happy to say that this novel is so, so, so good.

The High Mountains of Portugal takes a form in three parts, each connected to the next by the fingertips:

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Top Ten Tuesday: the five-star reads of 2016 so far

thumb_circle_bookrockI’m stingy when it comes to giving books five stars; looking back on my Goodreads record for 2015, for example, barely ten per cent of books made the grade. Interestingly, it averaged out to about one a month in 2015 – and I’m apparently right on track to hit that quota in 2016. For today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted, as ever, by the Broke and the Bookish), I present four books that truly knocked my socks off in the last three months.

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Classic Canadian literature and the sexual being: Bear by Marian Engel

Bear… she was still not satisfied that this was how the only life she had been offered should be lived.

I often see this novel dismissed as ridiculous and racy in the wrong way; after all, bestiality is one of the sexual taboos that has retained its power across time and cultural difference. Whenever I mention reading this book, I’m met with the same snide response: Isn’t that the book about the woman who has sex with a bear?

And I mean, that’s not wrong. It is, in fact, about a woman who has sex with a bear.

But to stop at that description does the novel an enormous disservice. Bear is a parable of female sexuality – an intense and shocking allegory, sure, but there is so much more you can do with this novel than read it as a literal account of bestiality.

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Canadian apocalypse and the Re-read Challenge: Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland

Girlfriend in a comaThis is my first instalment in the Re-read Challenge since signing up or it in January, and here’s what I’ve learned through this challenge so far: I am great at rereading books and terrible at writing about them. I originally committed to 12 books, but I think I’m going to scale back to 6, which puts me at least a little bit more on track…

But anyway. Let’s talk about Girlfriend in a Coma. It’s a weird one, but a good one.  Continue reading

Top Ten Tuesday: The blossoming TBR of spring

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is all that is shiny and new on the to-be-read pile this spring. My spring to-read pile is looking more like a mountain, but that’s hardly new. This time of year inevitably gets a little crazy, so I’m trying to be realistic about what I’m going to read in the next three weeks – and this is the result. (Hint: it’s still not entirely realistic.) It’s funny how even cutting down this list to books that I’m desperate to read doesn’t make it that much shorter…

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Canada Reads 2016: Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter

Minister Without Portfolio

Michael Winter’s Minister Without Portfolio was one of the five novels nominated as this year’s Canada Reads choices – which landed it squarely on my immediate TBR.

I have to admit that the initial description gleaned from the inside flap did not thrill me: man goes to Iraq with the military, has a bad experience, returns to Newfoundland to attempt to piece his life together.

But luckily for me, this is one of those cases where judging a book by its cover turns out terribly wrong, because Minister Without Portfolio is easily the best book I’ve read yet this year. I’ve only read two out of the five Canada Reads selections so far, but I already know which one I’m rooting for.

Fun fact: Minister Without Portfolio was nominated for the Giller Prize the same year as Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing (and you can read my review here) but didn’t even make it to the short list. (For the record: this is not a choice I agree with, Giller Prize Committee of 2013!)

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