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!

 

 

 

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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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Shostakovich: three books about a Soviet composer

In the second year of my undergrad, I took a Russian history course on a whim. Not too much of it stuck with me, to be honest – except an enduring love for Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

I’ve recommended his memoir to several people I know, with limited success. For some reason, biographies of soviet-era classical composers tend to be a hard sell to friends and family.

But with Shostakovich starring in two recent novels – written by an award-winning YA novelist and a Man Booker Prize-winning author, respectively – I think I might have more luck pushing his excellent memoir on the people around me.

In celebration of this trend, here are three excellent works about an excellent and oft-underrated Russian composer.

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Top Ten Tuesday: the elusive releases of 2015

Narrow Top Ten Tuesday logo copy

It’s time for another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted as ever by The Broke and the Bookish! This week is make-your-own-theme, so I took it as a chance to put together a list of 2015 books that I still haven’t managed to get my hands on – not including this fall’s  line-up of crazy excellent yet-to-be-released fiction. (Hint: that’s next week’s Top Ten Tuesday.)

Click on the cover image to pop over to the Goodreads page!

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A trio of nonfiction

I read a lot of books, but somehow very little nonfiction crosses my desk. Case in point: Goodreads tells me I’ve read 57 books so far this year, but only two of them have been nonfiction. Yikes.

There are definitely gems in the nonfiction I’ve read in the past few years (My Year of the Racehorse and After Visiting Friends spring to mind), so it’s not that I don’t enjoy nonfiction… there’s just something in me that balks at picking it up.

But here are three that are on my to-read list – a reminder that reading nonfiction doesn’t mean returning to those unwieldy Eyewitness volumes stocking shelves on public school shelves everywhere.

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Falling in love with the sport of kings: Kevin Chong’s My Year of the Racehorse

Kevin Chong's My Year of the RacehorseI originally reviewed My Year of the Racehorse by Kevin Chong in 2012, shortly after it was published. Nearly three years later, it remains one of my favourite non-fiction reads.

As the title suggests, My Year of the Racehorse spans a year of Chong’s life. He is an unapologetic narrator, and starts the year off like so many New Years: drunk and making a list of things to accomplish. But facing the items soberly the next morning, it hits him that he’s reaching a stage in his life where he should probably start checking them off. Become a home owner. Find true love. Settle down and start a family. See the world. Learn another language. Start a retirement plan. Get a tattoo.

None of these goals are going to be completed in an afternoon, so Chong resigns himself to his fate and starts at the top of the list. As he reluctantly admits to the reader, he should see about owning a house. Maybe it’s about time to settle down and stop renting. So Chong gathers up his modest savings and buys a chunk of property.

The kicker? Chong doesn’t buy a house, a condo or even a boat.

He invests in a racehorse.

“Why make a U-turn in my life,” Chong reasons, “When a couple of left turns around the park would do?”

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