Books of 2013

December 7, 2013

January

Dave Cullen. Columbine.

Ken Jennings. Because I Said So.

Nate Silver. The Signal and the Noise.

Gavin deBecker. The Gift of Fear.

Kenneth Oppel. This Dark Endeavor

Ally Condie. Matched.

Nicholson Baker. The Anthologist.

Caitlin Moran. How to be a Woman.

John Boyne. The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket.

Dick Wolf. The Intercept.

Greg Malone. Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders.

The highlight from January was probably Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist. Alongside all the teen books and non-fiction, the novel was fun and touching, and I like Baker’s creative fiction. The sequel, Traveling Sprinkler, came out in the second half of the year, and is also a lot of fun.

February

John Green. The Fault in our Stars.

Shirley Jackson. We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

Kevin Powers. The Yellow Birds.

Richard Wagamese. Indian Horse.

Jan Andrews. When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew.

Eric Walters. Power Play.

David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview.

Bram Stoker. Dracula.

Highlights: Fault in Our Stars and Indian Horse. Ignore: Dracula. A friend called it a “slow-moving cheese wheel”, and that sums it up.

March

Franny Moyle. Constance (on Mrs. Oscar Wilde).

Stephen Hunter. The Third Bullet.

Paula Byrne. The Real Jane Austen.

Sarah Dessen. What Happened to Goodbye.

Charles Phillips. Illustrated History of the Kings and Queens of Britain.

March’s Third Bullet is when I realized I need to stop reading thrillers (mystery thrillers, not horror thrillers). I keep trying, but don’t like them anymore.

April

Sheldon Kennedy. Why I didn’t Say Anything.

Elsie Chapman. Dualed.

Michael Grant. Gone.

CS Lewis. Magician’s Nephew.

Sharon McKay. War Brothers: The Graphic Novel.

Paul Auster/JM Coetzee. Here and Now: Letters.

Allan Casey: Lakeland.

Mason Currey. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.

David Sedaris. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls.

More YA, more non-fiction, but it was mostly a lot of fun. Listen to David Sedaris’ books in audio…his delivery makes it. Lakeland will instill a love of Canada’s freshwater in anyone, environmentalist or not.

May

Brian K. Vaughan. Pride of Baghdad.

DFW. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.

Phil Robertson. Happy Happy Happy.

Georges St. Pierre. The Way of the Fight.

Corey Mintz. How to Host a Dinner Party.

Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot.

Attempted and abandoned: Aldous Huxley. Brave New World. Just wasn’t doing it for me.

A lot of variety this month, and they were mostly pretty good examples in their genre: graphic novels, non-fiction, the play…Oh, just noticed, no novels. Weird.

June

Morrison/Quitely. WE3.

James Martin. My Life With the Saints.

Andrew Sullivan. Love Undetectable.

Dan Savage. American Savage.

Lily Koppel. The Astronaut Wives Club.

Read the Martin and the Sullivan, whether you think they’ll have insight for your life or not. Ignore Dan Savage (lots of fun, but not a lot of insight) and the Koppel: read Wolfe’s Right Stuff instead.

July

George Packer. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America.

Neil Gaiman. The Ocean At the End of the Lane.

Rick Riordan. The Lost Hero.

Khaled Husseini. And the Mountains Echoed.

Wesley King. The Feros.

Katherine Longshore. Tarnish.

George Packer’s book is long, worthwhile, and terrifying.

August

Anne Serling. As I Knew Him.

Don Gillmor. Stratford Behind the Scenes.

Vincent Bugliosi. Reclaiming History.

Reza Aslan. Zealot.

Anne Serling’s book is largely a content look back at the life and work of her father, Rod, but also considers what it’s like to lose a parent in your 20s. Vincent Bugliosi’s consideration of JFK assassination conspiracy theories doth protest too much sometimes, is overlong, and doesn’t hold to the standards of argument he thinks it does, but his very detailed outlines of the life and actions of Lee Harvey Oswald has me convinced over all the conspiracy theories.

September

JRR Tolkein. The Hobbit.

Meet The Press: 65 Years.

Henrik Ibsen. Hedda Gabler.

Samuel Beckett. Waiting for Godot.

Samantha Shannon. The Bone Season.

Gilpi. The Secret Daughter.

Jeff Lindsay. Dexter: Final Cut.

A lot of re-reads, but they were all worthwhile. Read Gilpi’s Secret Daughter, which was beautiful even if heavy-handed at times. Don’t bother with Shannon’s Bone Season, no matter what the hype.

October

Diane Setterfield. The Thirteenth Tale.

Ramsey Beyer. Little Fish.

Rainbow Rowell. Fangirl.

Nicholson Baker. Traveling Sprinkler.

Aidan Chambers. Dying to Know You.

Malcolm Gladwell. David and Goliath.

John Lewis et. al. March, Book 1.

David Levithan. Boy Meets Boy.

Si Robertson. Si-cology 101.

GREAT YA books here. Look at any of Beyer (graphic), Rowell, Chambers, or Levithan. And everyone alive should take the time to read the graphic retelling of the first portion of John Lewis’ experience in the civil rights movement.

November

Carol Shields. The Stone Diaries.

Brian Jay Jones. Jim Henson.

Stephen Jimenez. The Book of Matt.

Allie Brosh. Hyperbole and a Half.

Don DeLillo. Libra.

Jo Baker. Longbourn.

Pick up Jones’ biography of Henson and Jo Baker’s reimagined world from Austen. Jimenez’ investigation into the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard would have been better as a longform article…there’s too much he just hints at for a book of this length.

December

Earle Labor. Jack London: An American Life.

Kathleen Winter. Annabel.

JD Salinger. Catcher in the Rye.

Catcher is a re-read with my teen book club. The Jack London bio is fascinating. Annabel is the real gem. A beautiful, Canadian novel. If there’s time this month: CS Lewis’ A Grief Observed, and Seth’s illustrated volume of Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches.

Not a bad year in reading. The headstart I got at getting close to 100 books with YA and novels was all sucked up by huge books like the Packer and Bugliosi. Maybe I need to get back to fiction…

Happy Holidays!

The Dream

August 5, 2013

A friend just shared with me Anne Serling’s book, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling. This was a piece I wanted to share, from a commencement address he gave in 1970:

“…It’s simply a national acknowledgement that in any kind of priority, the needs of human beings must come first. Poverty is here and now. Hunger is here and now. Racial tension is here and now. Pollution is here and now. These are the things that scream for a response. And if we don’t listen to that scream–and if we don’t respond to it–we may well wind up sitting amidst our own rubble, looking for the truck that hit us–or the bomb that pulverized us. Get the license number of whatever it was that destroyed the dream. And I think we will find that the vehicle was registered in our own name.”

Before reading this, I finished George Packer’s The Unwinding, tracking three “regular” Americans over the last 30 years. Like a modern, non-fiction Steinbeck novel. I think the truck, or the bomb, has hit. But I also hope that, in ingenuity, compassion, creativity, kindness, Americans have enough insurance to start over.

Longform

July 8, 2013

“Your heart breaks when even the best novel sags a tiny bit, as they all must, sort of like the give in bridge suspension. A great short story is more like a stiff plank across a narrow but bottomless crevasse. The plank will hold. But that doesn’t mean you are not in danger of freaking out and falling off.”

Sam Lipsyte, found by Sully.

Just a quick post about Mason Currey’s blog-turned-book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, since it’s a quick read and a lot of fun.

I’ve been hearing and thinking a lot about my own introversion, recently, thanks to books like Susan Cain’s. I’m not shy, I love meeting and talking to people, etc. etc. so it took a while to realize that my introversion manifests itself in my need of time to myself. That I get my energy from time alone, while extroverts gain energy from time in company.

So I was seeing these patterns in the authors, artists, composers, etc. that Currey profiles in his book. Certainly there are some extroverts among them who would disagree with Twyla Tharp’s assertion that her daily schedule is “actively anti-social…On the other hand, it is pro-creative.”

Reading Lists

April 19, 2013

Have made a decision. It’s time to stop taking things from the library for a month or two while I catch up on things I’ve bought and want to read. 4 books being returned today and added back to my library to-read list, including a novel by Gene Wilder (yes, that one) and GJ Meyer’s book about the Borgias.

To read, at home:

A couple by David Foster Wallace, Pale King and one or two vols. of essays.

Paul Auster/JM Coetzee letters, collected in Here and Now.

Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist

A Wendell Berry poetry collection (and some others…how is it I never “get to” the poetry?).

Lakeland: Journeys into the Soul of Canada.

And, if I get ambitious, I really should get into the first 2 complete vols. of LM Montgomery’s journals…all my committee-mates who have read all of them always amaze me with their knowledge.

So, there.

Books Read This Year

March 19, 2013

Dave Cullen. Columbine. A well-written, well-researched look at the unfolding of the tragedy.

Ken Jennings. Because I Said So. A fun examination of some long-held myths. Einstein never failed math, and we do use far more than 10% of our brains.

Nate Silver. The Signal and the Noise. Just the right amount of math, just the right amount of pop.

Gavin DeBecker. The Gift of Fear. Much talked about, but don’t bother.

Kenneth Oppel. This Dark Endeavor. Teen book club. Love these books. Gave me some sympathy for Victor Frankenstein that Mary Shelley never could.

Ally Condie. Matched. Teen book club. Dystopian teen romance. Fine, but no Hunger Games.

Caitlin Moran. How to Be A Woman. British, rude version of the Bloggess. Love it or hate it (I loved it.)

John Boyne. The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket. Fun! Loved the ending.

Dick Wolf. The Intercept. Meh. Overlong. Should have been a L&O episode instead.

Greg Malone. Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders. Interesting, but also would have been better as a documentary, Ken Burns-style.

John Green. The Fault in Our Stars. Teen book club. Stunning meditation on life, death, and story.

Shirley Jackson. We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Creepy! In a good way.

Kevin Powers. The Yellow Birds. War novel in the mode of Tim O’Brien. Beautiful and sad.

Richard Wagamese. Indian Horse. Also beautiful and sad.

Jan Andrews. When Apples Grew Noses and White Horses Flew. Love folk stories!

Eric Walters. Power Play. He sure knows how to write a gripping teen book. Sex abuse in the junior hockey system.

David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview. Some repetitive, some typically insightful points.

Bram Stoker. Dracula. Hard to know if this would be just as predictable, or would be more suspenseful, without knowing the story. Sadly, agreed with my friend who called it a “slow-moving cheese wheel.”

Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes. Unshelved: Too Much Information. Library comics, nothing but the best.

Franny Moyle. Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde. A sympathetic and well-rounded portrait of Constance and Oscar. Might be overlong for people less intrigued than I.

Stephen Hunter. The Third Bullet. Growing up on Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton always makes me think I should read thrillers, and this one’s about the JFK assassination, another former interest. I keep finding out it’s not my cup of tea.

Terry Graff. Masterpieces of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

Sarah Dessen. What Happened to Goodbye. Teen book club. Fun. Nice to get away from vampires, cancer girls, dystopian societies.

Up Next: Paula Byrne. The Real Jane Austen. And the 9 other library books I have at home. 24 books in 3 months ain’t bad.

Science and Politics

January 24, 2013

From Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail–But Some Don’t:

“What I do know is that there is a fundamental difference between science and politics. In fact, I’ve come to view them more and more as opposites.

“In science, progress is possible…The march towards scientific progress is not always straightforward, and some well-regarded (even “consensus”) theories are later proved wrong–but either way science tends to move toward the truth.

“In politics, by contrast, we seem to be growing ever further away from consensus…one is expected to give no quarter to his opponents. It is seen as a gaffe when one says something inconvenient–and true…

“The dysfunctional state of the American political system is the best reason to be pessimistic about our country’s future. Our scientific and technological prowess is the best reason to be optimistic…If I had a choice between a tournament of ideas and a political cage match, I know which fight I’d rather be engaging in–especially if I thought I had the right forecast.”

DFW

December 9, 2012

From David Foster Wallace’s essay “Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young”, in the collection Both Flesh and Not.

“And if Marx…derided the intellectuals of his day for merely interpreting the world when the real imperative was to change it, the derision seems even more apt today when we notice that many of our best-known [Conspicuously Young] writers seem content merely to have reduced interpretation to whining. And what’s frustrating for me about the whiners is that precisely the state of general affairs that explains a nihilistic artistic outlook makes it imperative that art not be nihilistic.

…Serious, real, conscientious, aware, ambitious art is not a grey thing. It has never been a grey thing and it is not a grey thing now. This is why fiction in a grey time may not be grey.

…If fashion, flux, and academy make for thin milk, at least that means the good stuff can’t help but rise. I’d get ready.”

 

A Real Story

November 30, 2012

Been reading quite a bit of biography/memoir lately, and, as with biographical films (Man in the Moon, Capote, Iron Lady, My Week with Marilyn), it often seems to be quite hard to capture the essence of a person’s life and make an engaging story. Most have flashes of brilliance (in the movies, the performances are all excellent), but to find one that’s a gem all the way through is unusual.

I didn’t know a lot about Gordon Pinsent. Hap on Red Green, voiceover work, CBC cameos, and the stunning Away from Her (will be making the husband watch it with me, soon, I think). But what I knew, I liked, and the great Newfie grin on the cover sealed the deal, so I took the book home.

One thing I hadn’t known was how much Pinsent is a writer, and it comes across loud and clear, here. It’s not stream-of-consciousness, but it’s very much a personal voice, and at first it takes some getting used to. But once you’re into it, it’s musical and engaging. There are a lot of small moments, but unlike some memoirs, there’s a feeling of the overarching narrative that puts everything in the right place.

A few passages are asides–I shouldn’t say that, they’re really some of the meat of the story–to his wife, actress Charmion King, who died in 2007 (Josephine Barry in the Sullivan Anne of Green Gables, as well as years and years treading the boards). It’s a real love story, and Pinsent’s insight gets richer and richer as he gets closer to the present day.

Great Canadian actors don’t retire, as Pinsent points out (with Chris Plummer and Donald Sutherland as additional evidence). I’m so glad he keeps saying, “Yes, of course.”

Pete Townshend to himself

November 23, 2012

Just finished Pete Townshend’s memoir,Who I Am. While sometimes episodic, and demonstrative of how people sometimes have difficulty separating the wheat from the chaff in their own lives, it’s an absolutely fascinating look into his creative, political, and personal journeys. This passage at the end, a letter from Townshend to himself as an 8-year-old, is an affirmation that I think would speak to many.

“Remember that the bad feelings you sometimes have today are helping to make you strong and talented and empathetic to the pain that other people feel. But you have a good heart and you will be okay at the end. Life can be hard, and what you will find hard is accepting how wonderful the life you are going to have actually is. This is because for some reason you don’t feel you deserve all this.

“You have a brilliant mind. Unfortunately you are not going to exercise it quite as much as you should. Your self-esteem is too low and you will lapse into laziness that will slow you up.

“…Respect yourself. Try to remember that not everything in life can be perfect. You will make mistakes. That’s inevitable. But you are not ugly. You will only be ugly when you behave in an ugly way.

“Enjoy life. And be careful what you pray for–remember, you will get it all.”