Thursday, June 10, 2010
Just over two weeks ago my book club picked its next read. One of our esteemed members read a review in the Economist and we all agreed to give it a go. The following weekend I found myself in the Edmonton airport having just finished the Cellist of Sarajevo (review to come…). So I stopped by the bookstore and picked up my next book club pick.
I was beyond pleased that the author turned out to be Canadian (of a sort, born in England, raised in Canada, educated here and in the USA, moved abroad). I immediately texted the esteemed book club member to inform him of my pleasant surprise, to which he replied “well, if I’d known that…” but I was not deterred, I purchased the book and off I went reading!
I was even more surprised when that weekend a glowing review of the book appeared in the New York Times Book Review! Jackpot! The review, by Christopher Buckley, praised the book so much- “[the book] is so good I had to read it twice simply to figure out how he pulled it off”- I was even more eager to plough through it. Days later the movie rights were bought, by none other than Brad Pitt! My oh my! And it is the author’s first novel to boot!
So, with the NY Times on board and Brad Pitt on board, I had to add my review to the pile before it became outdated (like pretty much all my other reviews).
Without further ado, I present Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists. The novel is set largely in Rome and revolves around the staff of a dying English-language newspaper. Each chapter is devoted to a staff member, with their stories all interconnecting. These are spaced with brief chapters on the history of the paper. By the end, you have assembled a puzzle of the newspaper, seeing the newsroom, the foreign correspondents and the readers in one large scene. The individual stories are at times funny, compelling, and often tragic.
The characters include: Arthur Gopal, the obituary writer with a tragic homelife, Herman Cohen, the overzealous corrections editor, Winston Cheung, a young aspiring foreign correspondent, Ornella, the paper’s most eccentric and consistent reader, Oliver Ott, the strange owner obsessed with his basset hound, and many more.
The novel’s strength is in its ability to develop complex characters in such small snippets and to then interweave them into a complete view of the newspaper as a whole. The writing is perfect- easy to read, concise, smart. I won’t gush, the author probably has a big enough ego these days; but suffice to say this book is well worth the read (and maybe even all the fuss it’s getting).
To tempt you with what I have read and not blogged about:
George and Rue- Arthur C. Clarke
Apples to Oysters- Margaret Webb
Cellist of Sarajevo- Steven Galloway
Currently reading: Beatrice and Virgil- Yann Martel
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
A move back to the non-fiction world. I have been meaning to post about this for awhile and anyone who follows me on Twitter (@ToryBachmann) knows that I tweeted a 140 character review of this book a few weeks ago. I actually won a prize for it. If you follow @cbcreads* every week or so they give away free books to people who tweet a book review. So a few weeks ago I tweeted:
“100 Mile Diet: An interesting idea written by pretentious hippies Key point- when you eat ask yourself: Where did this come from?”
Obviously a few grammar issues, but hey! It is 140 characters and I had to add the hashtag for the contest- what do you expect?
So really, what can I say about The 100 Mile Diet? Well that is it- I really only need 140 characters. Very interesting idea. Asked a lot of great questions. It was just a snobby book.
The 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Eating Locally came out a few years ago (I, as always, am behind on the trends) and was written by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon. The couple lives in Vancouver and not to be judgmental, but you can definitely tell. If you think of your typical Vancouver hippy, then think of them writing a book this is exactly what it would be like.
The idea, being aware of what you eat and where it comes from, is so important, but I could use without the preachy moments.
Is it going to win any prizes for writing? I certainly hope not. This is definitely a case where the message is more important than the quality of writing. Is it a timeless Canadian classic? Nope. Hopefully the message is, but not this book.
I can say negative things about it, but it really did inspire me to look more carefully at what I eat and where it is grown. I mean, 100 miles is fairly unrealistic (and we live in Canada, can we please use kilometers?) but it made me think and hopefully made a lot of people think about what they eat.
So overall, yes it made me start an herb garden but no it did not make me like the authors.
And now you can look forward to a review of my prize- The Secret Life of Glen Gould
* I would have made this a link, but Twitter is experiencing technical issues and I can't access my followers list
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
For those not familiar with David Thompson, he was a cartographer and explorer in early Canada. Although born in London (1770), he left at the age of 14 to come to North America and never looked back. Thompson worked first with the Hudson’s Bay Company and later with the North West Company. He learned surveying only after an accident left him bed ridden. And survey he did- Thompson traveled vast amounts of land, becoming one of the earliest explorers to cross to the far side of the Rockies. Thompson was a contemporary of Samuel Hearne and Alexander Mackenzie, the former famously quipped that Thompson had surveyed in a short time what would have taken anyone else a lifetime to do.
Although, Thompson is known as the first European to travel the length of the Columbia River; his true legacy is in his maps. Thompson’s maps were used (largely unaccredited) into the twentieth century. His most impressive work, known as the Great Map (1814), spent many years hanging in the headquarters of the North West Company at Fort William. Having seen the Great Map in person (many times) it is impressive even today. First of all, it is massive (probably 12-15 feet long and 5 feet high) and secondly it is incredibly detailed and accurate- even 200 years on. I think Thompson is one of the most underrated ‘great men’ of Canadian history, so if you don’t know who he is head to Wikipedia ASAP.
Enough about Thompson, onto his book: Travels is definitely worth the read, particularly if you are interested in exploration or early Canadian history. It is a slow read and the writing can get a bit dense (he was a surveyor, not a writer after all). He devotes an enormous amount of detail to wildlife, geography, surveying, etc, but also provides many anecdotes about traveling in the New World and some acute observations on Native Canadian life and mythology. Thompson married Charlotte Small, a British-Cree woman, and always had an enormous respect for the people he encountered (note: his travels were in the late 18th and early 19th century, so obviously his bias was towards the ‘British way of life,’ but he remained much more respectful towards the land he was tromping through and the people he encountered than other explorers and fur traders).
If your interest in early Canadian history is fleeting, this might not be the best book for you. It takes some dedication to get through, especially if you have spent the last six months reading nothing but fiction, but the picture that Thompson paints of Canada is unbeatable.
Right now I am reading Don Gilmor’s novel Kanata, which has Thompson as a fictional character, so look forward to some compare and contrast.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
On with the show- Why didn’t I like Life of Pi? Well, in a way I did like it, at the beginning anyway. I was intrigued by the character of Pi, particularly his curiosity about religions; his unusual circumstances; his humour. And then he was on a life boat with talking animals. I have nothing wrong with this in theory; but in practice it just didn’t work. I felt as though I lost all the things I liked about Pi. As the days on the boat progressed and the tiger ate the other animals I felt less and less like I cared. I just didn’t buy into it. It wasn’t believable (not in the do I believe that this would happen in “real” life, but do I believe that in this fictional world, these characters that had been created for me would do this). The whole middle section seemed incongruous with the first part of the novel.
And then the ending, the twist (or not twist)- were they animals or humans? I didn’t mind this part, in a way I felt as though it tied into Pi’s wrestle with the various religions at the beginning. Pi started the novel by exploring truths and we finish the novel exploring the true story. But it was too late, I had lost interest and it wasn’t that surprising of a twist. As the whole story felt as if it was meant to be a fable or metaphor (not a bad thing) that Martel chose to lead us to such an obvious ‘what if’ bothered me. I have complained before about authors not letting me find my own way and Life of Pi fits into that complaint.
All in all, I felt like Martel had a great idea for novel and just didn’t execute it well. When it came out that the idea wasn’t really his (see Max and the Cats by Moacyr Scliar) I moved Life of Pi firmly into the not like category.
I have placed his new novel on hold at the library. I am 406th in line, but once it gets in I will try my best to be unbiased.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
The story is about a young boy, Piscine "Pi" Molitor Patel, who has grown up in Pondicherry India, but is moving to Canada. The novel is really in two parts- first, there is some background/character development in India with Pi, then the second part takes place on a lifeboat when the ship carrying Pi and his family (along with their zoo animals) overturns in the middle of the ocean and he ends up the sole survivor, besides a very large tiger named Richard Parker. There is a third part, much shorter, that ends the story with Pi telling the story of his time on the boat to investigators from the company that owned the boat that sunk.
I think I liked the book so much because of the way Pi is created. His character is so well developed through stories and anecdotes in the first part that when he finds himself alone on a boat with a tiger, it doesn’t seem so far-fetch that he is able to survive. In fact, the only part of the book I didn’t like was the end, when the investigators question the truth of his journey. I felt it unnecessary and undermined his story telling. I get that the end was important for closing the religious metaphor, but I still was not that fond of it.
Pi’s day-to-day life on the boat is so well described, so thoughtful. Martel is truly a great storyteller.
Now, a quick note about Martel. He also writes a blog- it is based around an idea he began a few years ago. Here is how he describes it:
“For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness. That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written. I will faithfully report on every new book, every inscription, every letter, and any response I might get from the Prime Minister, on this website”
And so he goes- right now he is at 78 books. Only once has the Prime Minister replied. And by PM, I mean his assistant replied, not Mr. Harper. However, recently, Mr. Martel received a letter from President Obama! The letter says he read Life of Pi with his daughter and they loved it. Take that Katy. Even though you don’t like the book, Barack Obama does :)
Next up- another non-fiction, The 100 Mile Diet- I am a good chunk in already, so won’t be too far off.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
So, in a desperate quest to feel more informed about my own finances, I took my dear sister’s advice and checked 76 Investing Tips for Canadian in Uncertain Economic Times out of the library. This book is a “For Dummies” book, recently published (as you can tell in the title) and covers all the basic of personal investing and finances.
This book was excellent for two reasons
1) It is Canadian. Many personal financial books are American and do not touch on important aspects of Canadian investments
2) It is really recent so has great information about current trends (TFSA anyone?)
I am going to admit, I know nothing about investing and financial stuff so this book was perfect for a solid basic introduction to everything from Life Insurance to TFSAs. A lot of stuff covered and makes me feel more confident to at least start planning for the future a little more.
So we can’t always read books that are fun and enjoyable, but if it has to be non-fiction and instructive, it might as well be as useful as this was.
Next, I am moving back to fiction and can lit. with Life of Pi. I am almost done, so the post shouldn’t be too far off.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
So first book to be disqualified on Canada Reads was Doug Coupland's Generation X. No surprise there- it was not a good book. I am going to be honest; I made it about 20 pages in and then returned it to the library. There was just no connection for me to the characters. None at all. I like Hey Nostradamus! but Generation X was just not for me. After reading Katy’s blog about it, I did not regret returning it after only a few pages.
Next to get the boot was Fall on Your Knees. Alright, I didn’t make it through this one either. I mean, I just got bored. I was not in the mood. Ok, I should have tried harder with the Canada Read thing, but what can you do. I was pretty surprised it was the second book to go. I was the most popular book of the lot. It has received a lot of press and is quite popular. But alas, not even popularity can save you on Canada Reads.
To bring it to two, Good to a Fault was eliminated. That meant that my two favorite reads (i.e. the ones I made it all the way throug), The Jade Peony and Nikolski were the final two. I mean, it made sense to me, those were great books! Katy and I have both posted about The Jade Peony already and we both really enjoyed it. I have now read two Choy books on this journey and he really is a great writer. Top Two definitely deserved! As you all know (I assume if you are interested enough to read a blog on Can Lit, you may also follow Canada Reads), Nikolski won.
And Katy has posted on Nikolski already, but I haven’t, so I will just take a minute to describe my feelings on it. I really liked it for a few reasons. First, all the characters were intriguing. Often books that jump between different plot lines are not enjoyable to me. I tend to like one story more than the other so skip ahead and read those parts. With Nikolski, however, I was intrigued by all characters and as the connection between them was exposed, I enjoyed the novel even more. They weren’t forced connections or unrealistic, but simple stories that just passed by each other.
I was also a fan of the Canadian-ness of the book- it was subtle, but Dickner managed to work in a distinctly Canadian flavour to the story. Whether it was the setting of Montreal, or the details of family members roving across the country (from postal outlet to postal outlet) I felt a very strong Canadian connection, which is nice in a Quebecois book (definitely no separatism here!).
Nikolski had a wonderfully modern feel to it, without being weird (*cough* Copeland) and definitely deserved the nod from Canada Reads. I was excited it won. So now, go out and buy it!
So there is your Canada Reads conclusion from the blog. Katy and I both liked the same books and predicted the same winner. We must be twins and psychic.
Next up for me: A quick review of a “For Dummies” book and I am part way through Life of Pi
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Monday, March 1, 2010
The Black Robe tells the story of a Jesuit priest who is sent to discover the fates of other missionaries. After some persuasion from Samuel de Champlain, a group of Algonquin agree to accompany Father Laforge and his young aide. Throughout their journey both the ‘whites’ and the ‘Indians’ are confronted with the numerous stereotypes that existed in the 17th Century New World (and some that still exist today). Moore paints a picture of early Canada that is at times terrifying- the landscape, the obstacles, enemies and even friends offer little comfort.
The novel, well novella really as it comes in around 200 pages, is wonderfully written. A forte of Moore’s is characterization. My sympathies switched every ten pages, leaving me feeling that everyone was right (and also that everyone was wrong).
Overall, it is a great period piece, something much different than other fiction I have read about this time period. But, there was something distinctly un-Canadian about it. I have no other Canadian books to compare it to; it was closer to other foreign fiction I have read, like a less quirky, less sprawling version of Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda and even closer to Heart of Darkness, as the story winds its way towards the unknown. It felt less personal, less about family; which has become the most recurrent theme to date in my exploration of Canadian literature. Not that this is bad, the novel was a good read, it just re-affirms that to be (truly) Canadian you can’t be easily lured away by sunny California.
I have to stray away from Canada for book club, but will return shortly.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
Monday, February 8, 2010
So early January, I went to the EPL and put all the Canada Reads books on hold (I actually had to sign up for a library card to do this…) while I was there, I got in a discussion about Wayson Choy with the librarian and she convinced me to pick up Not Yet while I was waiting for a Canada Reads book to come in. Though this challenge means I usually stick to one book by one author, I was intrigued and I have never read Wayson Choy, so I thought I could handle two of his. As luck would have it, The Jade Peony ended up being in the first wave of books to come in so I read two Choy books back to back.
Not Yet is Choy’s autobiography on his two near-death experiences and then the recovery from his extended hospital stays. It is fascinating and beautifully written and I think I would have got even more out of it if I had been a Choy fan before reading it. Either way, I loved it. Choy is witty and humorous, but still emotional. Choy has no immediate family and is not married (or partnered to someone- he is gay). There are some very touching moments that occur when he realizes that his “family” is strong and loving. With a close group of friends, he is not going to die alone, instead will have his make-shift family close by. It is a great autobiography that also provided some insight into his other novels.
Half way through reading it, the Canada Reads books started pouring in and since I was loving Choy so much, I decided to pick the Jade Peony to start with. The Jade Peony is the story of a family in Chinatown in Vancouver. It is broken into three sections and follows three of the children of the family through parts of their lives. The story really captures what life was like in Chinatown during the 1930s and 40s. We get snippets of news stories to help us place the world in context- news from China on the war with Japan, the Pearl Harbour bombings, etc.
It is tough to compared non-fiction autobiography to a fictional story (especially since parts are written from the point of view of a young girl), but Choy’s writing ability shone through in both books. I missed the wit and humour of Not Yet, but the complexity of the characters and the notion of family and identity rang true throughout both books.
The Jade Peony is probably the first novel I have read about Vancouver’s Chinese population and it was really very fascinating. The notion of being trapped between two worlds- the old country and the new- even for second generation immigrants is so well captured. These themes are so prominent in many Canadian novels- as we are a country built on immigration and really, starting not that long ago (compared to some places). Even Native literature demonstrates a constant struggle between old customs and new lifestyles (see any book by Thomas King). It is why “Canadian” is such a hard identity to describe.
Anyway, to avoid having the longest blog post of all time, I will conclude by saying I am so glad I was introduced to Wayson Choy and both his books are wonderful- in different ways. Check him out- you won’t be disappointed.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
I haven't made my way around to Paul yet, but I know Tory really enjoyed his King Leary. Sad to lose such a wonderful writer.
Friday, January 8, 2010
Has anyone out there ever heard of Anthony de Sa? I never have. I found this book on my bookshelf (it is new, 2008) and it is from Random House, so I assume I was graciously given the book by a friend of mine who works at Random House. But I have NEVER heard of this author. Apparently, this is his first novel and after some digging, I discovered it was short-listed for the Giller. But the whole time I was reading Barnacle Love, I felt like I was missing something, some reason why I was the only one who knew about this writer. Even though I liked it a lot, I kept trying to find a reason why it would have bombed and floated into oblivion.
Despite my digging for faults, Barnacle Love was a surprisingly great book. I really enjoyed it. The writing was excellent, the language great and while the plot wore a little thin after awhile, it was an intriguing story.
Barnacle Love is the story of Manuel, a Portuguese immigrant to Canada and his story as he arrived (by jumping off a fishing boat and swimming to Newfoundland) and then built a life in Canada (mostly in Toronto). The point of view shifts from Manuel to his son, Antonio (Tony), though it is still about Manuel. Manuel has a struggling relationship with his mother, who is back home in Portugal, and his role in the family he left behind. As is usual (it seems) with immigrant stories, Manuel (though he tries very hard) has a difficult time succeeding and prospering in his new country.
Interesting part about this book- once in Toronto, Manuel and his family settle on Palmerston Avenue, which is where Katy lived for awhile! And take my word for it- there are many many Portuguese still there. I loved being able to picture the setting and really know the places that Tony describes. I am sending this over to Katy soon- I know she will enjoy reading about her old hood.
I look forward to more from de Sa, this book was a surprising and delightful find from my bookshelf!
Katy wrote about Rohinton Mistry a few posts ago and I think we will have much more experience with immigrant writing as we continue with our challenge. It plays such a large role in Canadian society, so I am sure the same can be said of Can Lit.
Next, while waiting for my Canada Reads books to come in at the library (I know, I am way behind Katy), I am reading Wayson Choy’s Not Yet. This is an autobiography about Choy’s near-death experience and should prove interesting!
Update: Just got an email, my first Canada Reads book is in, so as soon as I finish up Choy, I will be getting started with Generation X. Better get reading….
Friday, January 1, 2010
- Measuring Mother Earth- Heather Roberston
- In the Skin of a Lion- Michael Ondaatje
- The English Patient- Michael Ondaatje
- Consolation- Michael Redhill
- Anil’s Ghost- Michael Ondaatje
- From the Fifteenth District- Mavis Gallant
- Coming Through Slaughter- Michael Ondaatje
- Smart Canadian’s Guide to Building Wealth- Pat Foran
- No Great Mischief- Alistair MacLeod
- Larry’s Party- Carol Shields
- The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz- Mordecai Richler
- River Thieves- Michael Crummey
- Green Grass, Running Water- Thomas King
- The Horn of a Lamb- Robert Sedlack
- A Student of the Weather- Elizabeth Hay
- Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen- Kate Taylor
- Clara Callan- Richard Wright
- A Fine Balance- Rohinton Mistry
- The Wars- Timothy Findley
- Good to a Fault- Marina Endicott