Satisfying Clicking Sound, by Jason Guriel

“Avoid writing if you can. If you can’t, avoid cliché, and be precise. Don’t try to ‘express yourself’; self-expression usually amounts to expulsion. Try, rather, to connect with another: picture a smart but demanding reader, and try to hold her attention.”
- Jason Guriel … on hoarding and keeping your best lines off Twitter

I’m pleased to welcome back guest book reviewer Rebecca Hansford, who previously reviewed Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood here on the the Bookgaga blog. Rebecca recently graduated from Queen’s University, where she studied Biology and Psychology. As she previously observed, “Majoring in science instead of English was a tough choice for me as I have an electric passion for reading. I particularly enjoy fiction that integrates scientific facts, environmental issues and dystopian societies.”

bookcover-satisfying-clicking-sound

In Jason Guriel’s Satisfying Clicking Sound, the poet explores the contrasting elements of nature and technology currently existing in our society. Guriel’s style is of writing demands the reader’s attention in a profound yet disturbing way. For instance, Two Girls Splitting a Set of Earbuds describes two girls as flesh conjoined by an iPod, illustrating our dependence on our newfound technology and our inability to communicate without it. This brutal yet honest style of poetry is seen throughout his work, causing any reader to pause and ponder his thought, even possibly becoming repulsed at times. In his poem Poetry is Barbarous, Guriel fully exposes the vulgarity of his writing, as he compares a snowfall burying plastic swans and rabbits to real animals being buried to the throat. This vicious, yet captivating style of writing is seen throughout most of Satisfying Clicking Sound.

Although most of Guriel’s poems are blunt and difficult to digest, there was some free verse poetry with a more flowing style. In the Washbasin, Guriel compares painting and watery reflections to emphasize how the narrator feels he can live up to his father’s shadow. This poem was genuine, and the painting metaphor was beautifully tied into the poem. Dead on Arrival was another poem that appealed to me. Guriel remarks that stars are not aware of the fact that they burned out light years ago and therefore, they may not be aware of who they are themselves. Similarly, since we live our lives with the knowledge that we will die, is life futile? Will we ever know who we truly are?

In short, Jason Guriel’s Satisfying Clicking Sound is a fantastic read if you are interested in a more modern style of poetry. However, the last half of his work does bring forth some beautiful poetry with a less hard-hitting and vulgar style. Nonetheless, Guriel uses imagery in an astounding manner as he broadcasts his ideas regarding technology and society in a brutally honest manner. He will almost certainly hold your attention throughout his work.

Thank you to Véhicule Press for providing a review copy of Satisfying Clicking Sound by Jason Guriel.

Book traffic report #6 – an especially giving month

carrying-stack-books

This household continues to brim with books – but is maybe starting to offer just a wee bit of breathing space – as we continue to take a year-long look at how books make their way into (and out of) this place. This report reflects the month of August, which even though it included a cottage week during which all we did was read books, we still somehow managed to have a record month in the “outgoing” column.

At the end of August, the two columns on my home office whiteboard tallied up as follows:

Incoming: 4

  • All incoming books were paper.
  • 2 of the books were fiction, 2 were poetry collections.
  • 3 of the incoming books were purchased in bookstores (Book City and Sunworks in Red Deer, Alberta).
  • 1 book was purchased online, directly from an independent bookseller in the UK.

Outgoing: 48

  • 32 outgoing books were contributed to three local Little Free Library boxes.
  • 7 books were given to friends.
  • 5 books (mostly technical references) were donated to a workplace.
  • 4 books that were damaged or grievously outdated references were consigned to the recycling bin.

It pains me to have to put a book in the recycling bin, but on occasion, that seems like the only sensible thing to do … that really, it’s just going to take up precious space in a Little Free Library box and really, no one is going to take that wrinkled, discoloured Windows 98 technical reference manual.

2014 to date: 74 books incoming, 138 books outgoing

The ratio of read to unread book incoming or outgoing is still pretty much 1 to 1, with slightly more outgoing books leaving here read rather than unread. As I mentioned before, this makes me feel like we’re sending mostly loved or at least acknowledged books back out into the world, versus having more books pass through our home to which we haven’t given any attention.

So far this year, 38 fiction, 15 non-fiction and 21 poetry books have arrived, and 61 fiction, 53 non-fiction and 24 poetry books have departed. One further observation to one I made in our last report: many of the departing non-fiction books are admittedly out-of-date technology or topical content that perhaps doesn’t have great historical value. We are consciously adjusting so that if we are going to read non-fiction or reference that might have a “best before” date, we more likely to borrow that from the library now rather than purchase it. Perhaps that’s a “well, duh” realization, but anyhow …

Our outgoing numbers continue to confirm that we have an abiding affection for our local Little Free Library boxes. If those didn’t exist, I wonder if we’d be carting more boxes of books to garage/yard sales and the like. Somehow, Little Free Library boxes seem more thoughtful, don’t they? (Do many books still make their way through Freecycle, I wonder?)

The whiteboard is erased and ready for another month as we head into the home stretch of our year of flying books …

Carrying a stack of books. Photograph: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images (via The Times)
(http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/arts/books/article3307489.ece)

With each social media milestone, a continued commitment to literacy causes

I’ve mused in previous blog posts about the importance of literacy. From those musings, coupled with wise advice and support from book and publishing friends and acquaintances in real life and online, I’ve made a commitment to supporting literacy initiatives and programs … every time I hit a followership milestone on Twitter.

This time, I’ve made my donation as follows:

copian-logo
For 25 years, non-profit organization Copian (previously known as the National Adult Literacy Database) built Canada’s largest and most comprehensive digital collection of Literacy and Essential Skills tools and resources. This database/collection was a vital resource to numerous grassroots literacy organizations, libraries and individuals, not only providing materials but also comprehensive online training.

Earlier this summer, the Government of Canada withdrew vital funding, forcing the closure of Copian. The following coverage and reactions capture the dismay, confusion and disappointment:

Mainstay of Canada’s literacy movement topples: Goar
Literacy workers distraught as Ottawa eliminates their national database and resource centre.
by Carol Goar
Toronto Star
July 3, 2014

Q Essay: Literacy isn’t just a job skill
Q with Jian Ghomeshi
July 10, 2014

As Jian Ghomeshi points out in his audio essay: “Reading, writing, being able to find your way around your world safely and intelligently, all seem like the kinds of things anyone in Canada would support.”

The government says it no longer wants to spend money on “administration and countless research papers,” and instead want to prioritize literacy for the purpose of obtaining employment.

But literacy, notes Jian, does more than make you employable – it enriches your life.

As I’ve mentioned previously on this subject, much more important than numbers of followers or influence scores or whatever is that we are in this social milieu reading and writing and talking … about books and literature and print and digital formats and reading devices, and on to bookstores and libraries and the vital reading and writing experiences in all their forms. I value those who follow me and converse with me, those that I follow and learn from, and those that I come across even fleetingly in this vibrant tweeting, retweeting, chattering, enthusiastic and engaged environment. It’s not the numbers of them (although that there are an endless potential for book friends out there continues to take my breath away), but the quality of the discourse and the spirit, dealing with fundamental issues, not to mention myriad delights.

Numbers are just numbers. But then again, we can use those numbers in creative ways to challenge ourselves to remember, to recognize, to give back. Through this exercise, I’ve learned about other organizations and institutions supporting literacy, literary causes and books that I’d like to recognize in future, so I’m going to set a goal to do just that whenever I hit one of those “number” milestones. I challenge other book tweeters and bloggers to do the same.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride

In A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride takes you inside a young woman’s mind teeming so violently, body pained so volcanically, soul torn so profoundly that you’re left shaking by the last page … if you last to that point. You might not. As McBride inhabits this character at the cellular level, the effect is scorchingly intimate, uncomfortable, unbearable and possibly unreadable for some at times. The rewards and insights are great, though, for the reader that can persevere with this thorny, brilliant debut novel.

This young woman gives vivid voice to her troubled upbringing, her sexual abuse at the hands of a manipulative family member, and the self-abuse she plunges into to simultaneously feel and not feel what has happened to her. That voice is only tempered with tenderness and sweet, wry humour when she speaks of and to her brother, set back in his own life’s progress by early childhood illness that comes back to afflict him and unravel their already fractured family.

While always defiant and spirited, that vivid voice is not entirely discernible, however. Spewing a churning wellspring of language that is somehow both dense and fragmented, this unforgettable narrator’s words regularly tumble into inarticulate ranting, but can just as easily take exuberant flight as she wields her unique form of black humour. Even as strict meaning is sometimes blurred, though, you will somehow manage to feel, sometimes be strangely charmed and almost constantly be rendered uncomfortable but still compelled by this woman’s intensity, however desperate, misguided and destructive she is, to herself and those she loves.

Through her voice, you also gain a powerful sense of her physical presence. As striking and verging on impossible it is to take in the indignities visited upon her and that she seeks out, it is a comparatively minor impertinence with her deceased grandfather that oddly but most affectingly connects with the physical intimacy, sympathy and even empathy of the final days with her brother. Even if some of her capacity for fearless physical connection has been made in the most horrific ways, you can’t help but feel a breathless, twisted admiration at her perverse determination to survive.

Her particular ability to understand her brother’s confusion and humiliation is both disquieting and profoundly moving to witness – and still, miraculously, leavened with that feisty dark humour – even when her beloved sibling’s existence has ground down to the miserably mundane. Somehow, she alchemizes that misery into something expiatory and transcendent:

“Something. Words words. I’ll go on my own. Your temper that’s the devil up. Normal almost sight again. Pull the bed but melt like water. Gone to hell. All your muscles. You’d give me a hit but can’t. I. There. Lie back. Lie back. You have to. Don’t do this you say.

“Don’t. You have to. And I turn away. I say. Just go don’t worry it’s. Normal now. It’s fine. You. Strapped up in your body. You don’t live there. I. Don’t look. I hear you. Crying.

“Going in the nappy. Rage. Not fair. Not fair. You wait til I’m well. You can definitely kill me then I say.

“Quiet.

“Turn and you are back asleep. I. Know I life the cover. Clean up. And now you’re gone fast far. Breathing. Don’t see me. Don’t know I do. New one. Clean you. Put it in the bin. See. My one act. I might be a person. Beneath the. Where horrible can be a good act of contrition. Shush there. You there sleeping. My boy. My brother. Wish my eye for yours tooth for your tooth. You’re a better. No. It’s all fuck gone. Gone to the gone to the wrong wrong wrong. Be shush for you. I can.”

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is perhaps best read in as few sittings as possible to stay with the narrator’s linguistic and emotional rhythms. Ironically, maintaining that sustained attention is like gazing into the sun. You have to stop. You have to look away. You have to take a breath before resuming. In particular, the book’s last 50 pages (pretty much the entirety of Part V, The Stolen Child, an at least two-pronged title) are suffocatingly intense and emotionally lacerating as the heroine’s – yes, she is heroic – anguish reaches a crescendo.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing joins admirably other works known for distinctive if fractious voices that veritably leap off the page. The comparisons to Joyce are plentiful and warranted. More titles that come to mind include Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman and How late it was, how late by James Kelman.

Eimear McBride’s admiration of James Joyce and Edna O’Brien is immense and unabashed, as she reveals in this Guardian essay. Her tribute to Joyce can also be well applied to the rewards to the reader who stays with A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing to the end:

Difficulty is subjective: the demands a writer makes on a reader can be perceived as a compliment, and Joyce certainly compliments his readers in what he asks of them.

See also:

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for providing a review copy of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, by Eimear McBride.

Book traffic report #5

As this household continues to brim with books, we’re also continuing to take a year-long look at how books make their way into (and out of) this place. This report reflects the months of June and July, more than halfway through the year.

At the end of June, the two columns on my home office whiteboard tallied up as follows:

Incoming: 10

  • All incoming books were paper.
  • 7 of the books were fiction, 2 were poetry collections, 1 was non-fiction and purchased as a gift (so it quickly became an outgoing book).
  • 6 of the incoming books were purchased in bookstores (Book City and Ben McNally’s).
  • 1 book was purchased online, via Amazon.

Outgoing: 8

At the end of July, the whiteboard tally was as follows:

Incoming: 9

  • 1 of the incoming books was purchased in a bookstore (Book City).
  • 5 received books were complimentary copies from publishers or authors.
  • 1 book was purchased online from Amazon.
  • 1 book received was a gift and 1 was work-related.

Outgoing: 11

2014 to date: 70 books incoming, 90 books outgoing

So far this year, the ratio of read to unread book incoming or outgoing is pretty much 1 to 1. More outgoing books are leaving here read rather than unread, which makes me feel like we’re sending mostly loved or at least acknowledged books back out into the world, versus having more books pass through our home to which we haven’t given any attention. (Well, that makes me feel somewhat less guilty … does that make sense?)

So far this year, 36 fiction, 15 non-fiction and 19 poetry books have arrived, and 45 fiction, 30 non-fiction and 15 poetry books have departed. One observation: many of the departing non-fiction books are admittedly out-of-date technology or topical content that perhaps doesn’t have great historical value (but who are we to judge … perhaps some Little Library acquirers of those books will feel differently …?)

Our outgoing numbers continue to confirm that we have an abiding affection for our local Little Free Library boxes. If those didn’t exist, I wonder if we’d be carting more boxes of books to garage/yard sales and the like. Somehow, Little Free Library boxes seem more thoughtful, don’t they?

little-free-library

The whiteboard is erased and ready for another month of flying books …

Many ways to contemplate the books that make us proud to be Canadian

cbc-books-logoCBC Books has just served up another delicious helping of CanLit, a way for us to reflect on, ponder and debate the books that make us proud to be Canadian – not to mention a way for us to determine how complete and comprehensive our own reading is, and where we need to fill in some gaps. Here is the list of 100 novels that their team has compiled to meet these general criteria:

Canada has a wealth of writers telling today’s tales, revisiting our past and imagining our future. Literary or mystery, comic or graphic, historical or out of this world, the 100 novels on our list are must-read books.

CBC Books considered everything from cultural impact and critical reception to reader response to choose these titles. The authors all call or once called Canada home, and the novels are all in print. Enjoy!

CBC Books makes it easy for you to determine how many of the books on their list you’ve already read. I’ve read 55 (some of those multiple times), which pleases me in that it’s a nice balance of feeling I’m keeping up, but can always learn and discover more.

What is nice and kinda chewy about this list is that you can come at it from numbers of different angles. The list on the CBC Books page is sorted alphabetically by title, and also breaks out titles by specific types or genres, such as comics and graphic novels, historical fiction, mystery and more. How about these views of the list?

How about your own approaches to the great list which CBC Books has provided to seed our ongoing CanLit discussion – how would you sort, prioritize, add and delete?

CBC Books 100 Novels sorted alphabetically by author

It’s interesting to see which authors – new, established, historical – are represented on the CBC Books 100 Novels list, and which authors avid Canadian literature aficionados might think are missing.

Adamson, Gil
The Outlander

Anderson-Dargatz , Gail
The Cure for Death by Lightning

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid’s Tale
Alias Grace

Badami, Anita Rau
The Hero’s Walk

Baldwin, Shauna Singh
What the Body Remembers

Barclay, Linwood
No Time for Goodbye

Bergen, David
The Time in Between

Blais, Marie-Claire
trans. Derek Coltman
A Season in the Life of Emmanuel

Blunt, Giles
Forty Words for Sorrow

Boyden, Joseph
The Orenda
Three Day Road

Brand, Dionne
What We All Long For

Catton, Eleanor
The Luminaries

Choy, Wayson
The Jade Peony

Clarke, Austin
The Polished Hoe

Clarke, George Elliott
George & Rue

Coady, Lynn
The Antagonist

Cohen, Leonard
Beautiful Losers

Cohen, Matt
Elizabeth and After

Coupland, Douglas
Generation X

Courtemanche, Gil
trans. Patricia Claxton
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali

Crummey, Michael
Galore

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

deWitt, Patrick
The Sisters Brothers

Doctor, Farzana
Six Metres of Pavement

Donoghue, Emma
Room

Edugyan, Esi
Half-Blood Blues

Engel, Marian
Bear

Fallis, Terry
The Best Laid Plans

Ferguson, Will
419

Findley, Timothy
The Wars

Francis, Brian
Fruit

Galloway, Steven
The Cellist of Sarajevo

Gibb, Camilla
Sweetness in the Belly

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Govier, Katherine
Creation

Gowda, Shilpi Somaya
Secret Daughter

Gowdy, Barbara
The Romantic

Grant, Jessica
Come, Thou Tortoise

Hage, Rawi
De Niro’s Game

Hay, Elizabeth
Late Nights on Air

Hébert, Anne
trans. Norman Shapiro
Kamouraska

Highway, Tomson
Kiss of the Fur Queen

Hill, Lawrence
The Book of Negroes

Hopkinson, Nalo
Brown Girl in the Ring

Johnston , Wayne
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams

Kay, Guy Gavriel
Tigana

King, Thomas
Green Grass, Running Water

Kogawa, Joy
Obasan

Laferriere, Dany
trans. David Homel
How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired

Laurence, Margaret
The Stone Angel

Lawson, Mary
Crow Lake

Leacock , Stephen
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

Lemire, Jeff
Essex County

Lyon, Annabel
The Golden Mean

MacDonald, Ann-Marie
Fall on Your Knees

MacIntyre, Linden
The Bishop’s Man

MacLennan , Hugh
Two Solitudes

MacLeod, Alistair
No Great Mischief

Maharaj, Rabindranath
The Amazing Absorbing Boy

Martel, Yann
Life of Pi

McKay , Ami
The Birth House

Michaels, Anne
Fugitive Pieces

Mistry, Rohinton
A Fine Balance

Moore, Lisa
February

Mootoo, Shani
Cereus Blooms at Night

Morrissey, Donna
Kit’s Law

Nawaz, Saleema
Bone and Bread

O’Malley, Bryan Lee
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life

O’Neill, Heather
Lullabies for Little Criminals

Ondaatje, Michael
In the Skin of a Lion

Ozeki, Ruth
A Tale for the Time Being

Penny, Louise
Still Life

Pullinger, Kate
The Mistress of Nothing

Pyper, Andrew
Lost Girls

Quarrington , Paul
Whale Music

Ricci, Nino
Lives of the Saints

Richards, David Adams
Mercy Among the Children

Richler, Mordecai
Barney’s Version

Robinson, Eden
Monkey Beach

Selvadurai, Shyam
Funny Boy

Shields, Carol
The Stone Diaries

Smart, Elizabeth
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

Soucy, Gaétan
trans. Sheila Fischman
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches

Swan,Susan
The Wives of Bath

Tamaki, Mariko & Jillian
Skim

Thien, Madeleine
Certainty

Thuy, Kim
trans. by Sheila Fischman
Ru

Toews, Miriam
A Complicated Kindness

Urquhart, Jane
Away

Van Camp, Richard
The Lesser Blessed

Vanderhaeghe, Guy
The Englishman’s Boy

Vassanji, M.G.
The Book of Secrets

Wagamese, Richard
Indian Horse

Watson , Sheila
The Double Hook

Whittall, Zoe
Holding Still for as Long as Possible

Wilson, Ethel
Swamp Angel

Wilson, Robert Charles
Spin

Winter, Kathleen
Annabel

CBC Books 100 Novels sorted chronologically by publication year

Doesn’t this give an interesting perspective of how the CBC Books 100 Novels list spans recent and more historical choices? The CBC Books list offers 43 titles published before 2000, 57 in the last 13 years.

1912
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
Leacock, Stephen

1945
Two Solitudes
MacLennan, Hugh

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
Smart, Elizabeth

1954
Swamp Angel
Wilson, Ethel

1959
The Double Hook
Watson, Sheila

1964
The Stone Angel
Laurence, Margaret

1966
Beautiful Losers
Cohen, Leonard

1970
Fifth Business
Davies, Robertson

Kamouraska
Hébert, Anne
trans. Norman Shapiro

1976
Bear
Engel, Marian

1977
The Wars
Findley, Timothy

1981
Obasan
Kogawa, Joy

1984
Neuromancer
Gibson, William

1985
The Handmaid’s Tale
Atwood, Margaret

How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired
Laferriere, Dany
trans. David Homel

1987
In the Skin of a Lion
Ondaatje, Michael

1989
Whale Music
Quarrington, Paul

1990
Tigana
Kay, Guy Gavriel

Lives of the Saints
Ricci, Nino

1991
Generation X
Coupland, Douglas

1993
Green Grass, Running Water
King, Thomas

The Stone Diaries
Shields, Carol

The Wives of Bath
Swan, Susan

Away
Urquhart, Jane

1994
Funny Boy
Selvadurai, Shyam

The Book of Secrets
Vassanji, M.G.

1995
The Jade Peony
Choy, Wayson

A Fine Balance
Mistry, Rohinton

1996
The Cure for Death by Lightning
Anderson-Dargatz, Gail

Alias Grace
Atwood, Margaret

Fugitive Pieces
Michaels, Anne

Cereus Blooms at Night
Mootoo, Shani

The Lesser Blessed
Van Camp, Richard

The Englishman’s Boy
Vanderhaeghe, Guy

1997
Barney’s Version
Richler, Mordecai

1998
Kiss of the Fur Queen
Highway, Tomson

Brown Girl in the Ring
Hopkinson, Nalo

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
Johnston, Wayne

1999
What the Body Remembers
Baldwin, Shauna Singh

Elizabeth and After
Cohen, Matt

No Great Mischief
MacLeod, Alistair

Kit’s Law
Morrissey, Donna

2000
The Hero’s Walk
Badami, Anita Rau

Forty Words for Sorrow
Blunt, Giles

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali
Courtemanche, Gil
trans. Patricia Claxton

Monkey Beach
Robinson, Eden

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches
Soucy, Gaétan
trans. Sheila Fischman

2001
Three Day Road
Boyden, Joseph

George & Rue
Clarke, George Elliott

Life of Pi
Martel, Yann

Mercy Among the Children
Richards, David Adams

2002
The Polished Hoe
Clarke, Austin

Crow Lake
Lawson, Mary

Fall on Your Knees
MacDonald, Ann-Marie

2003
Creation
Govier, Katherine

The Romantic
Gowdy, Barbara

Lost Girls
Pyper, Andrew

2004
A Complicated Kindness
Toews, Miriam

2005
The Time in Between
Bergen, David

What We All Long For
Brand, Dionne

Sweetness in the Belly
Gibb, Camilla

Spin
Wilson , Robert Charles

2006
De Niro’s Game
Hage, Rawi

The Birth House
McKay, Ami

Lullabies for Little Criminals
O’Neill, Heather

Still Life
Penny, Louise

2007
The Outlander
Adamson, Gil

No Time for Goodbye
Barclay, Linwood

Late Nights on Air
Hay, Elizabeth

The Book of Negroes
Hill, Lawrence

Certainty
Thien, Madeleine

2008
The Best Laid Plans
Fallis, Terry

The Cellist of Sarajevo
Galloway, Steven

2009
A Season in the Life of Emmanuel
Blais, Marie-Claire
trans. Derek Coltman

Galore
Crummey, Michael

Essex County
Lemire, Jeff

The Golden Mean
Lyon, Annabel

The Bishop’s Man
MacIntyre, Linden

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life
O’Malley, Bryan Lee

The Mistress of Nothing
Pullinger, Kate

2010
Room
Donoghue, Emma

Fruit
Francis, Brian

Secret Daughter
Gowda, Shilpi Somaya

Come, Thou Tortoise
Grant, Jessica

February
Moore, Lisa

Skim
Tamaki, Mariko & Jillian

Holding Still for as Long as Possible
Whittall, Zoe

Annabel
Winter, Kathleen

2011
The Antagonist
Coady, Lynn

The Sisters Brothers
deWitt, Patrick

Six Metres of Pavement
Doctor, Farzana

Half-Blood Blues
Edugyan, Esi

The Amazing Absorbing Boy
Maharaj, Rabindranath

2012
419
Ferguson, Will

Ru
Thuy, Kim
trans. by Sheila Fischman

Indian Horse
Wagamese, Richard

2013
The Orenda
Boyden, Joseph

The Luminaries
Catton, Eleanor

Bone and Bread
Nawaz, Saleema

A Tale for the Time Being
Ozeki, Ruth

A list of 100 Canadian books (read or to be read) inspired by the CBC Books 100 Novels list

Needless to say, the CBC Books 100 Novels list stirred up a lot of discussion in a household with a pair of folks who are intensely avid readers and book collectors who also happen to work in very book-oriented professions (libraries and literary prizes). While we appreciate the obvious thought that went into the original CBC Books list, we couldn’t resist using it as the basis for own list. The exercise proved not only how challenging (perhaps impossible) it is to compile a definitive list – kudos once again, CBC Books! – but it also highlights just how rich the CanLit treasure trove is. Here’s how we approached our list and some of what we discovered:

  • Our list of 100 Canadian books / works of fiction simply had to include short story collections. Major literary awards for fiction in this country look at it that way, too. Canada is known internationally for its short story craft, with a certain Nobel winner as one of our greatest but certainly not our only ambassador in this realm. Our list wholeheartedly includes short story collections.
  • We felt there should be a bit more balance between books published pre- and post-2000. The CBC Books list is 43/57 – ours is 51/49.
  • We removed and replaced 15 titles from the original list.
  • On this newly compiled list, I’ve admittedly read a few more – 61 as opposed to 55 on the original CBC Books list. That means I still have some reading to do, which I don’t mind at all!

On the following list, I’ve highlighted where we’ve placed different books, or where we’ve substituted different titles for authors represented on the original list.

Adamson, Gil
The Outlander

Anderson-Dargatz, Gail
The Cure for Death by Lightning

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid’s Tale
Alias Grace

Badami, Anita Rau
The Hero’s Walk

Baldwin, Shauna Singh
What the Body Remembers

Barclay, Linwood
No Time for Goodbye

Bemrose, John
The Island Walkers

Bergen, David
The Time in Between

Blais, Marie-Claire
trans. Derek Coltman
A Season in the Life of Emmanuel

Blunt, Giles
Forty Words for Sorrow

Boyden, Joseph
Three Day Road

Brand, Dionne
What We All Long For

Buckler, Ernest
The Mountain and the Valley

Callaghan, Morley
Such is My Beloved

Catton, Eleanor
The Luminaries

Choy, Wayson
The Jade Peony

Clarke, Austin
The Polished Hoe

Clarke, George Elliott
George & Rue

Coady, Lynn
The Saints of Big Harbour

Cohen, Leonard
Beautiful Losers

Cohen, Matt
Elizabeth and After

Coupland, Douglas
Generation X

Courtemanche, Gil
trans. Patricia Claxton
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali

Crummey, Michael
Galore

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

deWitt, Patrick
The Sisters Brothers

Doctor, Farzana
Six Metres of Pavement

Donoghue, Emma
Room

Edugyan, Esi
Half-Blood Blues

Engel, Marian
Bear

Fallis, Terry
The Best Laid Plans

Findley, Timothy
The Wars

Francis, Brian
Fruit

Gallant, Mavis
The Other Paris

Galloway, Steven
The Cellist of Sarajevo

Gaston, Bill
Mount Appetite

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Govier, Katherine
Fables of Brunswick Avenue

Gowda, Shilpi Somaya
Secret Daughter

Gowdy, Barbara
We So Seldom Look on Love

Grant, Jessica
Come, Thou Tortoise

Grove, Frederick Phillip
A Search for America

Hage, Rawi
De Niro’s Game

Harvey, Kenneth
Inside

Hay, Elizabeth
Late Nights on Air

Hébert, Anne
trans. Norman Shapiro
Kamouraska

Hiebert, Paul
Sarah Binks

Highway, Tomson
Kiss of the Fur Queen

Hill, Lawrence
The Book of Negroes

Johnston , Wayne
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams

Kay, Guy Gavriel
Tigana

Kelly, MT
A Dream Like Mine

King, Thomas
Green Grass, Running Water

Kogawa, Joy
Obasan

Laferriere, Dany
trans. David Homel
How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired

Laurence, Margaret
The Stone Angel

Lavery, John
Sandra Beck

Leacock, Stephen
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

Lemire, Jeff
Essex County

MacDonald, Ann-Marie
Fall on Your Knees

MacIntyre, Linden
The Bishop’s Man

MacLennan, Hugh
Two Solitudes

MacLeod, Alistair
No Great Mischief

Maharaj, Rabindranath
The Amazing Absorbing Boy

Martel, Yann
Life of Pi

McKay, Ami
The Birth House

Michaels, Anne
Fugitive Pieces

Mistry, Rohinton
A Fine Balance

Moore, Brian
The Luck of Ginger Coffey

Moore, Lisa
February

Mootoo, Shani
Cereus Blooms at Night

Munro, Alice
The Progress of Love

Nawaz, Saleema
Bone and Bread

O’Neill, Heather
Lullabies for Little Criminals

Ondaatje, Michael
In the Skin of a Lion

Penny, Louise
Still Life

Pullinger, Kate
The Mistress of Nothing

Quarrington, Paul
King Leary

Ricci, Nino
Lives of the Saints

Richards, David Adams
Nights Below Station Street

Richler, Mordecai
Solomon Gursky Was Here
Barney’s Version

Robinson, Eden
Monkey Beach

Ross, Sinclair
As For Me and My House

Selvadurai, Shyam
Funny Boy

Shields, Carol
The Stone Diaries

Smart, Elizabeth
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

Snyder, Carrie
The Juliet Stories

Soucy, Gaétan
trans. Sheila Fischman
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches

Toews, Miriam
A Complicated Kindness

Urquhart, Jane
The Stone Carvers

Van Camp, Richard
The Lesser Blessed

Vanderhaeghe, Guy
The Englishman’s Boy

Vassanji, M.G.
The Book of Secrets

Wagamese, Richard
Indian Horse

Watson, Sheila
The Double Hook

Wilson, Ethel
Swamp Angel

Wilson, Robert Charles
Spin

Winter, Kathleen
Annabel

2014 reading list (so far)

Waiting For the Man, by Arjun Basu

As I’ve done in years past, I’m taking a look at the halfway point in the year at the books I’ve read so far, with links where they exist to books that I’ve reviewed (either here on this blog or briefly on Goodreads). As I’ve perpetually remarked – and really mean it – it’s a competition with no one but myself, but it is always useful and interesting to stop and reflect a bit where one is at with one’s reading, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Of the 22 books I’ve read so far this year, 3 were non-fiction, 5 were poetry and the balance of 14 were fiction (novels and short story collections). It’s kind of nice to reflect on this Canada Day holiday that 15 of those 22 books were written by Canadians.

  1. All the Rage
    by A.L. Kennedy

  2. Life After Life
    by Kate Atkinson

  3. canlit

  4. A Recipe for Disaster & Other Unlikely Tales of Love
    by Eufemia Fantetti

  5. canlit

  6. how the gods pour tea
    by Lynn Davies

  7. canlit

  8. Maidenhead
    by Tamara Faith Berger

  9. canlit

  10. Crazy Town – The Rob Ford Story
    by Robyn Doolittle

  11. canlit

  12. The Luminaries
    by Eleanor Catton

  13. canlit

  14. Prairie Ostrich
    by Tamai Kobayashi

  15. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life
    by Hermione Lee

  16. Bark
    by Lorrie Moore

  17. canlit

  18. Waiting for the Man
    by Arjun Basu

  19. canlit

  20. The Lease
    by Mathew Henderson

  21. canlit

  22. Grayling
    by Gillian Wigmore

  23. Sun Bear
    by Matthew Zapruder

  24. canlit

  25. Ocean
    by Sue Goyette

  26. canlit

  27. Cockroach
    by Rawi Hage
    (reviewed for bookgaga by Paul Whelan)

  28. canlit

  29. Dog Ear
    by Jim Johnstone

  30. canlit

  31. New Tab
    by Guillaume Morissette

  32. Congratulations, by the way
    by George Saunders

  33. canlit

  34. Based on a True Story
    by Elizabeth Renzetti

  35. Americanah
    by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  36. canlit

  37. All My Puny Sorrows
    by Miriam Toews

Currently in progress:

  • The Rise & Fall of Great Powers
    by Tom Rachman

  • Everyone Is CO2
    by David James Brock

How is your reading going so far in 2014?

Book traffic report #4

pile-of-books

In this household brimming with books, we’re continuing to take a year-long look at how books make their way into (and out of) this place. This report reflects the months of April and May, and brings us to almost the halfway point in the year.

At the end of April (National Poetry Month, by the way), the two columns on my home office whiteboard tallied up as follows:

Incoming: 13

  • All incoming books were paper.
  • 9 of the incoming books were poetry collections.
  • 6 books were work-related.
  • 1 book was purchased directly from a publisher at a book event.
  • 7 received books were complimentary copies from publishers or authors.

Outgoing: 17

  • 13 outgoing books were contributed to three local Little Free Library boxes.
  • 3 books were given to friends.
  • 1 book was returned to the library.

At the end of May, the two columns on my home office whiteboard tallied up as follows:

Incoming: 4

  • 3 of the incoming books were purchased in bookstores (Book City and Ben McNally’s).
  • 1 book was purchased online from Amazon.

Outgoing: 7

2014 to date: 51 books incoming, 71 books outgoing

So far this year, a total of 19 incoming books are read and 33 are unread, and a total of 46 outgoing books have been read … and 28 books that have lived in this house unread are now back out in the world, presumably to join a household where they will be read.

So far this year, 27 fiction, 11 non-fiction and 13 poetry books have arrived, and 37 fiction, 29 non-fiction and 8 poetry books have departed.

Our outgoing numbers continue to illustrate that we have an abiding affection for our local Little Free Library boxes.

A pile of books. Photograph: Lorna Roach (via The Guardian)
(http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2010/mar/19/how-not-to-title-a-novel)

New Tab, by Guillaume Morissette

New Tab, by Guillaume Morissette

For days after finishing New Tab by Guillaume Morissette, I kept thinking Thomas’ friend Shannon might pop up on Facebook chat. That’s how disarmingly, perhaps unwittingly, authentic the characters are in this book. That authenticity is especially surprising given that Thomas, Shannon and their shifting circle of roommates, workmates, classmates and various acquaintances are often just disembodied virtual entities, to each other and to the reader.

Morissette’s quietly witty novel is set in up to the moment Montreal and traces a year in the life of 27-year-old (well, somewhat inexplicably 26 to his ostensible friends and colleagues) Thomas, a disaffected video game designer looking languidly and yearningly, but not without an undercurrent of genuine determination, to change career and personal directions. Against a blurred-around-the-edges backdrop of dodgy accommodations, fleeting and vague relationships, substance over-consumption (it’d be harsh to call it abuse because it seems so tinged with a kind of innocence), Thomas makes his way. The reader peeks over Thomas’ shoulder at email and Facebook chat clues as to how he progresses, professionally and emotionally.

Thomas’ wit is wistful but rich and constant – a defense mechanism for a psyche both gently bewildered and perhaps singed around the edges from too much time spent online, and an ongoing, rueful delight for the reader, with gems such as:

“My approach with women was like stacking blocks really high in Tetris while waiting for a straight line that might never come.”

“It felt like I was trying to use social networks as a way to prototype myself.”

“Staring at my computer screen, I suddenly wanted to fold my Facebook into an origami crane.”

Morissette keeps the structure of New Tab loose, balancing Thomas’ frequently distracted state of mind while not creating a haphazard or unsatisfactory reading experience. The novel charmingly mixes the epistolary with instances where characters do reach across the static to try to connect, however awkwardly and tentatively. As much as the prevalence of digital communication (or miscommunication) seems to position New Tab as a kind of Virtual Reality Bites, in other respects, the form of correspondence is perhaps irrelevant – just that Thomas and his cohorts are corresponding and trying to communicate is key. In fact, New Tab and the likes of Pride and Prejudice share some literary kinship.

Finally, Thomas stumbles upon a connection between his current vocation and his aspirations:

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like video games and poems had a lot in common. They both tended to take themselves seriously, without caring whether or not the player or reader would be accepting them on those terms. In the story mode of any given Call of Duty, part of the pleasure, for me, came from making fun of the game as I played it, for taking itself so seriously. I sometimes experienced a similar kind of disconnect when reading poems, between the emotional landscape of the poem and my emotional landscape while reading it.

Video games were also often about the player achieving salvation, while poems were often about the speaker achieving salvation.

In the suddenly cinematic last few pages of New Tab, Thomas is propelled into the rest of his life. It feels like the Tetris blocks are falling swiftly and neatly. He is poised to open perhaps the most important new tab of all. The expectations might be downplayed, but you wish him well and kind of hope he pops up on chat or sends you an event invitation for his next poetry reading or book launch sometime in future.

An added delight of New Tab is another arresting book cover by David Drummond (the cover of Marina Endicott’s Good to a Fault is a favourite). The cover of New Tab creates a wonderful sense of physical setting, with slanted transitional light, which could be early morning, or could be early evening, connoting the changes with which Thomas is contending.

See also:

Thank you to Véhicule Press for providing a review copy of New Tab by Guillaume Morisette.

Waiting For the Man, by Arjun Basu

Waiting For the Man, by Arjun Basu

Thirty-something advertising copywriter Joe doesn’t even realize something is wrong until he unwittingly turns his own professional expertise to perverse advantage on his own personal meltdown. Inexplicably disillusioned and disaffected with a career, lifestyle and life that many might find enviable, at least on the surface, Joe simply stops living that life one day and parks himself on his Manhattan stoop to wait for the Man to signal what he should do next. Who is the Man? Each reader who follows Joe’s journey in Waiting For the Man by Arjun Basu is likely to have a different answer.

Joe’s decision to wait for the Man to direct Joe’s next steps can be interpreted many ways. Is Joe paralyzed by depression, truly experiencing something otherworldly and transcendent … or what? Whatever the answer, it almost seems incidental in Basu’s pithy handling (honed by the social media equivalent of an eternity crafting striking one-tweet short stories called Twisters) of Joe’s clinical reaction to his own crisis, as he plays willing party to turning that crisis into a branding and social media event of some magnitude.

As that event starts getting out of hand, Joe perhaps conveniently discerns the signal he needs to depart. The journey commences, replete with pursuing media and copious junk food – rather reminiscent of some of the adventures of a notorious big city mayor we’re all too familiar with these days. Joe’s journey, however, even includes some meaningful if fleeting human connections – connections with people more endearingly and sympathetically sketched than Joe himself. Joe arrives at what is presumably the polar opposite of his slick, fast-paced Manhattan life, a remote ranch/resort in Montana.

Or has Joe really found the dramatic change of scenery that is supposed to symbolize the significant … whatever … it is he’s seeking or craving? For a time at least, Joe works with his hands – peeling apples in the resort kitchen – rather than his head. That sojourn from his own fevered brain is short-lived, though, and it turns out the Montana ranch is as much in perceived need of branding – you know, to take the place to the next level – as any of the products for which Joe built identities when he was thriving, however shallowly, in Manhattan. While a dire turn of events for Joe’s search for whatever he’s searching for, it’s a great satirical turn in the novel.

It’s a wonderful and fortuitous coincidence that this reviewer came to be reading Waiting for the Man one day while listening to a radio in the background tuned to popular CBC Radio program Terry O’Reilly’s Under the Influence. Much of O’Reilly’s examination of the mechanics of how modern advertising and branding works, and how those mechanics sink their talons into consumers’ emotions and psyches, is in glorious play in Joe’s musings.

You’d be hard pressed to pick one @arjunbasu Twister as the best of them all (although the recent “We’d been to karaoke the night before I lost my job. Was it my singing? Or maybe the gun I’d found. In my boss’s purse. On my bedroom floor.” is a zinger). Similarly, it’s nigh impossible to pull a definitive quote from what is the most compelling aspect of Waiting For the Man – its entrancingly paced and parsed words. The book is rich with well-crafted sentences that have benefited from the rigour with which Basu creates his tweet-length stories. There is a tight, potent economy of expression throughout.

But are you going to feel a connection to Joe? Is it even critical to feel that to derive measures of satisfaction and meaning from Waiting for the Man? This reviewer is not dismissing the main character because he’s slightly off-putting, suspect and perhaps unbelievable – rather, very much crediting him because he’s slightly off-putting, suspect and decidedly believable. He’s us, desensitized by and rendered somewhat helpless under the cloud of branding and digital everything under which we live these days. He’s not quite the cipher of Chance the Gardener from the Jerzy Kosinski novel and movie Being There, but Joe is someone onto whom we can to some extent imprint our own disillusionment and dysphoria.

There’s this …

Deep in my heart I was doubting myself completely, but I could not bring myself to admit this. I could admit that the trip was a cheap spectacle cooked up by the media to fill some minutes during the summer’s newcasts. To Dan, the prize came at the conclusion of the journey. The event only had purpose at its conclusion. To me, this ordeal was a path to the start of a new journey. A new life. That’s what I had hoped.

… but then, right at the end, there’s this …

I may have felt freedom. I’m not sure.

Oh, Joe is us all right. He’s irritating and his fate is inconclusive, but we can totally relate.

Learn more about Waiting for the Man, by Arjun Basu

Waiting for the Man in ECW Press book catalogue, including excerpt

Waiting for the Man book trailer

See also:

  • Book Review | Waiting For The Man by Arjun Basu
    reviewed by Lynne for Words of Mystery
    Joe is just your average guy who like several people feels overworked and burned out. One night he has a dream of a man who tells him that he is waiting for him, and it is that one thing that causes him to leave his job and home in search of this mysterious man. What follows is more than just a story of one man’s journey …

  • Arjun Basu’s Waiting for the Man (2014)
    reviewed in Buried In Print
    “We crave narrative,” Joe tells us.
    And the Reader who picks up Arjun Basu’s Waiting for the Man nods: a narrative craver.

  • Waiting for the Man – Interview with Author Arjun Basu
    by Katherine Krige for A New Day
    Joe is a cynic and his journey isn’t easy. For one, there is a mini van. And lots of bad pizza. Showers and sleep are minimal … Sounds like the making of any great adventure, right?

  • Review: Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu
    by Alessandra in The Book Stylist
    Joe’s journey is a mental one, where he establishes an acute and cynical awareness about the world we live in, a world that is pockmarked in ruts and rigged like bear traps for the unsuspecting.

  • Waiting For The Man – Arjun Basu – Review AND Giveaway
    by Luanne in A Bookworm’s World
    Basu has crafted an unsettling, thought provoking first novel, one sure to leave you taking a second look at many aspects of our society and our own lives.

  • Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu
    reviewed by Heather Cromarty for Quill & Quire
    At an historical moment when everyone demands to be perceived as special and kids grow up wanting only to be famous, Montreal writer Arjun Basu’s debut novel ponders the possibility of escaping the ennui of modern life, where the safe, corporate dream jobs of our parents don’t offer the expected fulfillment.

Thank you to ECW Press for providing a review copy of Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu.