My Literary Girlfriend

January 26, 2010

I can’t say enough good things about Patricia Highsmith. I doubt that we would have got on as friends – her apparent bipolar personality combined with an abiding alcoholism would have made that difficult. But her beautiful mastery of both words and plot earn her a portrait in my mental Hall of Fame. I just finished Ripley’s Game, the penultimate story in her five tales about the laconic sociopath, and I was blown away by her ability to coldly document a family man’s slide into a part-time job as a mob assassin. Ripley is Dexter before there was a Dexter. Check out the WW Norton reprints of this series; they have really nice covers.

P.S. You can get them at BMV. I bought mine for $2.99.

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“The Road” in 2010

January 4, 2010

Yeah, so I haven’t written in awhile. Honestly, working through my personal backlog of books has made me a bit ashamed of the mediocre titles I’ve purchased over the past few years. Many of them are so ‘blah’ that I can’t bring myself to even document my reaction to them.

Thank goodness for Santa, who provided me with a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I’ve stayed away from McCarthy in general, mainly because of a particular bad review of his body of work from the Atlantic Monthly a few years ago. Though this story does start out slow, it turns into a total page-turner after the first third. I was so gripped by the daily push for survival by Man and Boy that I finished the book in about a day.

It is truly a book for our dark times. I even agree with George Monbiot that it may be read as a classic environmental jeremiad. Check it out for yourself.


Kudos to Austin Clarke!

October 16, 2009

Last night was my final public appearance as a member of the Toronto Book Award jury. Set in the sprawling new Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library, it was a great night to celebrate the great community of writers working in our city.

If you haven’t checked the Toronto Star today, you might not know that Austin Clarke was the winner this year for More, his Faulkner-esque tale of a Regent Park resident reflecting on her life in the city while searching for her lost son. His acceptance speech was full of good humour and bonhomie. He is a deserving winner and will be a great ambassador for both the city and the Toronto One Book program.

For two other angles on the evening, check out the City of Toronto and CBC web sites.


Toronto Book Awards Finale This Week!

October 13, 2009

This week, I’ll be attending the official announcement of the winner of the City of Toronto Book Award. Click here for the full run-down on the award, the authours and the jury’s assessment of the work.

It’s been a great three years for me on the jury. Unlike most book award juries, our main qualification for membership is our residence in the city and our mutual love of reading. Theoretically, none of us has any scores to settle with literary or publishing rivals. We just look for the “most evocative” account of the many stories unfolding in the city every day.


My 2008-09 Faves

September 16, 2009

Okay, so I keep a log of everything I read each year. For 2008-2009, I read exactly 113 books. Here are some of my favourites from the past year:

  • Howard Zinn – A People’s History of the American Empire – graphic non-fiction – He doesn’t “blow my mind” like Good Will Hunting suggested, but he does find new ways to present history in two ways: graphically, of course, and “from below.”
  • Jim Thompson – The Alcoholics, South of Heaven, The Killer Inside Me, etc – crime fiction – he’s gotten more popular over the years, especially after a series of movie adaptations starting with the Grifters. All in all, his first-person voice is note-perfect whether he writing the psychopath, the thief or the alcoholic.
  • Michael Lewis – Moneyball – sport journalism – I’m a tad jealous of this writer because he’s so darn successful, but you can’t deny his wonderful style. Even if you dislike baseball and all corporate cultures, you will find this story of a perpetual underdog competing cleverly with bigger opponents to be an engaging read.
  • Joan Didion – Miami – I don’t always follow her tangents, dut Didion’s clear writing is a joy and wonder to follow from page to page. Her sketches of the Cuban community provide more insight than you might find otherwise on television or in print.
  • Cory Doctorow – Content – internet journalism – this guy is on the cutting edge of the creative commons, etc. His dissection of the futility of digital rights management and “ownership” in the digital age is food for thought.
  • Howard Brenton/David Hare – Pravda – play – I love British drama and I love satire, especially when it turns its attention to the modern media. Great read for a gloomy afternoon!
  • The Bill McKibben Reader – environmental journalism – I was pleasantly surprised with McKibben’s mix of environmental activism and sincere spirituality. It’s a great introduction to his work and far more enjoyable than, say, clunky Paul Hawken.
  • John Steinbeck – The Long Valley and The Grapes of Wrath – fiction – I came back to Steinbeck after a long break and his work holds up over time. In the short story collection, “The Red Pony” will tug at your heart as strongly as “Old Yeller.” The novel will probably make you want to join the communist party.
  • Jock and Andy Diggle – The Losers – graphic novels – this re-vamp of the WWII team is updated for the post-9/11 age. I disliked the conclusion, but the story is a welcome break from the general stupidity of mainstream superhero comics. Note: a film version of this series should be completed next year, directed by Peter Berg and co-starring Idris Elba. It’s going to be great!

Whew! Now, I’m going to have to read through my backlog for 2009-2010. I’ll try to be more regular in my reviews. Smaller is easier than bigger to manage.


Books of Impact!

August 31, 2009

This is a response to something I did on Facebook. My friend Hume suggested that I (and many others) select fifteen books I’ve read that will always stick with you. Choose the first fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. In no particular order with further annotations:

  1. The Bible, edited by Jehovah – Okay, I don’t live by it, but I kind of agree with Northrop Frye that it is the template for most of Western Literature.
  2. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis – Too Christian for me now, but I loved these stories at one time.
  3. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner – his crisp prose and mix of fiction and non-fiction showed me a different way of writing.
  4. Memory of Fire by Eduardo Galeano – this is what Pierre Berton could have done if he thought “continental.”
  5. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. leGuin – beautiful story about “making choices.”
  6. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick – the basis for Blade Runner.
  7. Class by Paul Fussell – this book made me laugh at myself and secretly hope that I can return to my working-class ancestral roots.
  8. Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut – an ode to the art of illustration in a roundabout way.
  9. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – more prescient than 1984, assuming that both books are supposed to be prophecies.
  10. The Star Rover by Jack London – nice reincarnation story.
  11. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow – words to live by: “a educated man with a business is a king.”
  12. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – I can’t believe I did it!
  13. East of Eden by John Steinbeck – pretty Biblical in its plot and themes, but makes you want to move to California.
  14. Content by Cory Doctorow – opened my mind to different ways of viewing content “ownership.”
  15. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman – his mass media criticsm may seem quaint now, but he still makes some good points.

One person listed a series of magazines as one their “influential books.” This is a good line of thought to pursue. Why shouldn’t periodicals have as much influence on us as a book?