Thursday, January 21, 2010

Canada Reads x2

It's not that I haven't been reading, it's just that I haven't been blogging.

The Canada Reads books have been steadily streaming into the library and I have finished numbers 2 and 3- they could not have been more different. I am going to somehow tie them together into one blog post though.

First up... Fall on your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, the most successful of the Canada Reads novels, as one of Oprah's Picks and for the numerous awards it has won. The novel tells the story of the Piper family, beginning with the marriage of Materia Mahmoud, a Lebanese whose father moved to Cape Breton and established a successful grocery business, and James Piper, a piano tuner, many years her elder. The couple, their daughters and other members of their small community form the centre of this tumultuous novel. The story has everything you would not wish upon any family: a disowned daughter, unhappy marriage, violence, rape, incest and the list continues.

Unfortunately, the plot weighs down the novel. I kept thinking nothing worse could happen and then it did and then it did again. I am not afraid of 'heavy' novels, some of my favorites are, but Fall on your Knees just didn't hold up for me. The depth wasn't there, I didn't see where all the shocks were central to the plot or character development. In Clara Callan, which had some similar plot lines, Clara's rape was a turning point in her relationship with her sister and a major turning point in the plot; but, it didn't overwhelm the book and I wasn't shocked by it. And past the plot, it didn't have anything to offer me.

On an entirely different note, Nikolski by Nicholas Dickner (translated by Lazer Lederhendler) is the story of three twenty-somethings as their lives diverge, converge or come as close to converging as one can in a small Montreal marketplace. The debut novel is eccentric, wonderfully written and in many ways among the more pan-Canadian novels I have read yet. It manages to span many, many provinces and regions; mostly thanks to Noah's Chipewyan mother who is constantly traveling the middle of the country in her mobile home, but also from the Atlantic coast (loads of fish imagery), to Montreal and all the way to furthest West Coast.

The novel is about wandering spirits, youth dealing with the decisions of their parents and all the wayward meanderings of a quirky, well passed along story. So far it is easily my favorite of the Canada Reads books.

That is 3 down, 2 to go. I am waiting on the others to arrive from the library; in the meantime I have started Michael Crummey's newest, Galore.

Some very sad Can-Lit news:

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

Barnacle Love by Anthony de Sa

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

End of the Year

As well as this book challenge, I participate in another one on facebook. The challenge is to read 50 books a year. Members are encouraged to define further terms themselves and at the end of August I added my Canada-only parameter. I managed to read 52 books this year, mostly because my commute time tripled in April. Of those 52, only 20 were Canadian, but since I didn't begin the Can Lit Project until later in the year, not a bad total.

Here are the 20 books, for those interested, a couple are non-fiction, but I added them anyway to boost the totals:

  1. Measuring Mother Earth- Heather Roberston
  2. In the Skin of a Lion- Michael Ondaatje
  3. The English Patient- Michael Ondaatje
  4. Consolation- Michael Redhill
  5. Anil’s Ghost- Michael Ondaatje
  6. From the Fifteenth District- Mavis Gallant
  7. Coming Through Slaughter- Michael Ondaatje
  8. Smart Canadian’s Guide to Building Wealth- Pat Foran
  9. No Great Mischief- Alistair MacLeod
  10. Larry’s Party- Carol Shields
  11. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz- Mordecai Richler
  12. River Thieves- Michael Crummey
  13. Green Grass, Running Water- Thomas King
  14. The Horn of a Lamb- Robert Sedlack
  15. A Student of the Weather- Elizabeth Hay
  16. Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen- Kate Taylor
  17. Clara Callan- Richard Wright
  18. A Fine Balance- Rohinton Mistry
  19. The Wars- Timothy Findley
  20. Good to a Fault- Marina Endicott
Here is hoping for another 50 in 2010 and more of those being Canadian.