Monthly Archives: December 2009

2009 reading list

Here’s what I read in 2009, with links to reviews where I have them. (Actually, I’ve commented at least a wee bit on most of what I read this year.)

  1. Letting Go of the Words
    by Janice (Ginny) Redish

  2. The Scream
    by Rohinton Mistry

  3. Great Expectations
    by Charles Dickens

  4. Catching the Big Fish
    Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity
    by David Lynch

  5. Soucouyant
    by David Chariandy

  6. The Importance of Music to Girls
    by Lavinia Greenlaw

  7. Old City Hall
    by Robert Rotenberg

  8. The Other End of the Leash
    by Patricia B. McConnell

  9. Sideways
    by Rex Pickett

  10. 28 Stories of AIDS in Africa
    by Stephanie Nolen

  11. Northanger Abbey
    by Jane Austen

  12. Master of Reality
    by John Darnielle

  13. Crabwise to the Hounds
    by Jeramy Dodds

  14. Margaret Lives in the Basement
    by Michelle Berry

  15. Revolver
    by Kevin Connolly

  16. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
    by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

  17. Rising, Falling, Hovering
    by CD Wright

  18. The Book of Negroes
    by Lawrence Hill

  19. The Family Man
    by Elinor Lipman

  20. Primitive Mentor
    by Dean Young

  21. In the Land of Long Fingernails
    A Gravedigger’s Memoir
    by Charles Wilkins

  22. The Sentinel
    by AF Moritz

  23. What the Body Remembers
    by Shauna Singh Baldwin

  24. The Dog That Pitched a No-Hitter
    by Matt Christopher

  25. go-go dancing for Elvis
    by Leslie Greentree

  26. The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh
    by AA Milne

  27. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
    by Jonathan Safran Foer

  28. Middlemarch
    by George Eliot

  29. Brooklyn
    by Colm Toibin

  30. The Dangerous Book for Dogs
    by Rex & Sparky

  31. The Winter Vault
    by Anne Michaels

  32. Stripmalling
    by Jon Paul Fiorentino

  33. The Cure for Death by Lightning
    by Gail Anderson Dargatz

  34. Then We Came to the End
    by Joshua Ferris

  35. Blackouts
    by Craig Boyko

  36. Homesick
    by Guy Vanderhaeghe

  37. The Cellist of Sarajevo
    by Steven Galloway

  38. Solomon Gursky Was Here
    by Mordecai Richler

  39. The Incident Report
    by Martha Baillie

  40. A Bend in the River
    by VS Naipaul

  41. This Shape We’re In
    by Jonathan Lethem

  42. The Grandmothers
    by Doris Lessing

  43. Frozen in Time
    Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition
    by Owen Beattie and John Geiger

  44. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
    by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

  45. A Gate at the Stairs
    by Lorrie Moore

  46. Paper Radio
    by Damian Rogers

  47. Negotiating With the Dead
    A Writer on Writing
    by Margaret Atwood

  48. The Disappeared
    by Kim Echlin

  49. February
    by Lisa Moore

  50. You Don’t Love Me Yet
    by Jonathan Lethem

  51. The Journals of Susanna Moodie
    by Margaret Atwood and Charles Pachter

  52. The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out
    by Rosemary Sullivan

You Don’t Love Me Yet, by Jonathan Lethem

You Don't Love Me Yet, by Jonathan Lethem

How interesting that author Bruce Wagner makes a fleeting cameo appearance in a party scene in Jonathan Lethem’s “You Don’t Love Me Yet”. Lethem’s slim novel about romantically adrift twenty-something Lucinda Hoekke, bass player in a fledgling alternative band, bears some resemblance to Wagner’s largely Los Angeles-based collection of novels and TV and movie screenplays. The title “You Don’t Love Me Yet” even echoes Wagner’s “I’m Losing You”, “I’ll Let You Go” and “Still Holding”, even though Lethem’s title doesn’t double as a typical telephone stock phrase/excuse. Actually, you would think he might have tried something like that, since Lucinda also answers telephones for a faux complaint line in an art installation.

Like Wagner’s stories, Lethem’s story is set in Los Angeles. His characters stumble (usually under the influence of one toxin or another) through the same decadent, emotionally parched terrain on the fringes of stardom, seeking and usually not finding professional, artistic or personal validation or fulfillment. While Wagner’s stories have Dickensian complexity, Lethem at least musters some Dickensian names – influential radio host Fancher Autumnbreast is a favourite – but isn’t able to match Wagner’s absorbing depth and insight, with one exception. Lethem’s characters are unsympathetic to a person, and their connections with each other don’t ring true, particularly Lucinda’s inexplicable and messy hookup with an enigmatic crafter of slogans that she meets when he starts calling the complaint line. The one exception is that Lethem captures vibrantly the alchemy of how individual musicians collaborate and cohere to make beautiful music.

Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, by Carl Wilson

Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, by Carl Wilson

“Through democracy, which demands we meet strangers as equals, we perhaps become less strangers to ourselves.”

This book is a fascinating exploration of artistic and aesthetic taste, and a kind, intelligent and moving defence of sentiment and sentimentality, using Celine Dion as the perhaps unlikely touchstone. Oh, and it’s cool and even laugh-out-loud funny.


This is a very cool endorsement:


Bestivus, a “best of” list for the rest of us

As 2009 comes to an end, many publications and pundits are offering their assessments of the best whatevers of the decade just past. Inspired by the best books of the decade list from Salon magazine, I’ve listed those from their list with which I agree, and I’ve added my own. These are the books that left the greatest impressions on me as a reader, through the authors’ craft, imagination and that magical je ne sais quoi that makes for a memorable reading experience.

The best books of the decade
A tribute to the fact and fiction we wouldn’t stop talking about in the 2000s
By Laura Miller

From the Salon list, here are the ones I’ve read that I agree are “best of” the last decade:

  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
  • The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathem Lethem

Additionally, here are other books I’ve read since 2000 that I think are “best of’s”, including links to previous reviews on this blog. (I’ll aim to add reviews for the others in, well, the next decade.)

Darkmans, by Nicola Barker


February, by Lisa Moore

February, by Lisa Moore

This moving book captures powerfully the sheer physicality of enormous, yearning grief. Lisa Moore has forged a memorable portrait of a brave, no nonsense individual on her journey to a form of peace after devastating loss. Moore traces in plain-spoken but evocative prose Helen O’Mara’s happy, passionate early life as a wife and mother, to the shattering loss of her beloved husband Cal in the Ocean Ranger disaster, to her struggle to raise her family and keep herself emotionally afloat. Moore engages the reader simultaneously on many levels, from the sensory to the functional aspects of getting on with one’s life to hints of the spiritual. While the focus is on Helen, the subplot involving John, her oldest child and only son, is also absorbing, tracing his development from childhood to adulthood, his career path and his acceptance of unexpected new responsibilities in his life. Throughout, the feisty resilience of the entire cast of February and their ability to even find rueful humour in life’s challenges is both diverting and inspiring.

February by Lisa Moore has been selected as a finalist for Canada Reads 2013. The book will be championed by comedian Trent McClellan, and represents the Atlantic Provinces region in the “turf war” themed competition.

February 14, 201331 years ago today, the Ocean Ranger sank. How fitting that today, February has been recognized as the book that all Canadians should read. What a fine way to honour the memory of the 84 men who perished in that disaster.

Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky

Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky

This is an engrossing and sensitive depiction of the complexities of human lives lived during the German occupation of France during the Second World War. It’s made all the more poignant by the fate of the author, who was arrested and died at Auschwitz in 1942. Her notes accompanying the manuscript reveal that she had envisioned an even more sweeping and ambitious work, but that she sensed that her time was running out. The novel’s appendices, detailing her notes and the correspondence of her last days and that of her family and colleagues as they tried to find and rescue her, are as riveting as the novel.

Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and Email Overload, by Mark Hurst

Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and Email Overload, by Mark Hurst

Mark Hurst waxes exuberantly optimistic on the promise of simple bit literate habits to make every computer user more productive and savvy. I think he underestimates how ingrained people’s habits are, coupled with their fear of the “mystique” of technology and their dependence on specific applications. His contention, though, that bits should be independent of a given company’s software or platforms makes very good sense. Even if you just develop a few of his suggested habits, you’ll be more in control of your digital world … and, whether we admit it or not, we all *do* have a digital world nowadays.