Friday 29 August 2008

O ye rock gods!

I don't know why I don't read more Iain Banks - his stuff is always enjoyable (well, except for Walking on Glass, which was absolute shite), and enjoyable in that "this is a tale and an easy tale" kind of way - perfect for the waning of summer.

Banks has written pretty much one book a year since 1984 or so, if one includes his SciFi novels (which I do, and will get around to one of these days). It'll take me a while to catch up with him and in the meantime he'll be churning out more awesomeness; it's good to have something to look forward to.

(Speaking of having something to look forward to - I found out while browsing in the bookstore last night that Rohinton Mistry has a new book coming out in October! Woot! Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.)

I got Espedair Street through Bookmooch sometime last year and decided this week that I needed a major antidote to that Mishima biography, which I think I'm still a bit depressed and irritated about. My friend E. down in the King's Own Town suggested that I couldn't enjoy Mishima's biography because I assumed "that such reading might enhance your experience of his fiction" but that this assumption was misguided because it "stems from your academic background in the lurid, yet scant biographical details of Jacobean dramatists (plus Marlowe of course)."

Right you are and well said, E. Nothing keeps the flame alive like knowing only (to refer to Marlowe again) that a writer you like was a spy, reputedly liked to say outrageous and dubiously sincere things like "Anyone who loves not tobacco and boys is a fool", and was stabbed in the eye with his own knife at 29.

Again, back to Banks; I'm as flighty as a strung out rock god this morning - sorry. My choice of Espedair Street, it turns out, was a good one, for while the lives of 70s rock gods are often tragic, Banks has a way of describing the heavy stuff so lightly that it's not too painful. Rather, there's a sort of nostalgia for the destructive innocence of the time which, while very destructive indeed, is somehow made to look kind of sweet and a hell of a lot of fun.

Espedair Street is not the first fictional rock biopic I've read; years ago I had the pleasure of reading Paul Quarrington's Whale Music, which was also seriously good times. Someone made a film version of Whale Music and recently I saw the star - Maury Chaykin - in a local restaurant. Yes, I stared like an obsessed stalker because this is Canada - we stare but we don't approach.

Unless it's Brad Pitt (to recall last year's or the year before's Toronto International Film Festival) - if it's Brad Pitt, we throw our babies at his car and imagine that will endear him to us, given his propensity for adopting small armies of babies in every country he visits.

Wednesday 27 August 2008

Curious/Creepy: a clutch of crap I wouldn't be caught dead reading

Of course, there's not much of anything you're likely to catch me doing once I'm dead, but if I were reanimated after having kicked the bucket, I don't think my first, second, or even five thousandth impulse would be to pick up any of the following books - except maybe to tear them up threateningly while screaming angrily for more "BRAAAAAINNNS!!!" (Double entendres intended.)

Dude, Where's My Country? by Michael Moore. My political tendencies are very definitely to be found at left of centre but Michael Moore doesn't have anything to do with my revolution, thank you very much.

I have not read Moore's books but there's a reason for that: I've seen his crockumentary Fahrenheit 911, which while having at bottom some good points, turned out to be a vehicle through which Moore completely wanked his credibility into oblivion.

All the serious and respectable lefties in the world smacked their heads saying "Stupid, stupid!" as Moore in this film gleefully honed his skills in the argumentative style best known as "Grade 8 Debating Class/I Know You Are But What Am I?"

The Next Great Bubble Boom: How to Profit From the Greatest Boom in History: 2006-2010 by Harry S. Dent, Jr. The homeless man's Martha Stewart was reading this one. Apparently Dent's book isn't a best seller and it's not incredibly popular amongst those who've rated it on - it's received a total of 2 ratings with an average score of 3 out of 5 stars (same overall rating on Amazon. com, but with 55 reviews).

Maybe this book has tanked on Amazon because the majority of people in the US (his main audience, I think) have noticed, unlike Dent, that their economy has been using 2006-2010 (I know I'm projecting a little here) to implode not with a bang, but a whimper. Reading some infomercialist's delusional advice about how to profit from what's turned into a total economic shitstorm would be just another slap in the face, I imagine.

I won't be reading this book not for the above reasons, however, but because it would be boring, plain and simple. Plus, the leprechauns are making sure I have enough to eat and are paying my bills, so what would I need this sort of crazy "get rich quick" scheme for anyway?

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. In the library in the 9th circle of hell I'll be trapped in after having kicked the bucket, there will be an infinite number of copies of this book and I'll have to read them all, over and over and over again.

No, I haven't read this book and yes, I am a book snob. Any book that so actively peddles empty feelgoodedness makes me want to barf, in part because the majority of people do, in fact, seem to want to be told what to do (and read - damn you, Oprah!) and because other people exploit that and write books just to sell to them.

Wow, this is all pretty sour, hey? Don't take it personally - I'm just foolin' around, that's all!

PS-I'm always looking for Reading Lamp interviewees, so please get in touch if you're interested in being internet famous-ish! My email address is in my full profile.

PPS-I had a poll up for about 10 minutes before I took it down. I took it down because there seemed to be some kind of bug in the application and it was causing everything in my blog to go haywire (at least internally). I'm going to wait awhile and then try again.

Sunday 24 August 2008

Consumed by his own brilliance

Literary biography is a genre which has generally been quite foreign to me, except in relation to my graduate work. For the most part, I don't feel the need to learn much about the authors I enjoy; however, I've found Yukio Mishima's novels and short fiction so simultaneously brilliant and insane that I decided I wanted to know more about what made him tick. His work was truly unique, in my experience.

My research into the matter indicated that John Nathan's Mishima: A Biography, written only 4 years after Mishima's sensational and lurid public suicide, is considered the definitive biography on the man. After months of searching, I finally received it on order from This Ain't the Rosedale Library.

Well, my desire to find out more about Mishima was fulfilled but honestly, I wish that it hadn't been. This was not an enjoyable book. The writing was just fine but in no way notable and Nathan's constant harping on Mishima's "latent homosexuality" as the cause of pretty much everything in the novelist's life was irritating; in fact, it made me wonder if the self-identified straight Nathan was somehow either threatened or overwhelmed by Mishima's intense sexuality (as many people seem to have been, men and women alike). The point is, Nathan's reliance on "template criticism" (i.e., come up with a thesis and make everything fit into it, comfortably or not) made me wonder if I could completely trust anything he wrote about the deceased author.

If, however, what Nathan revealed about Mishima's character was either true or close enough to true, then I think I might not be able to enjoy his fiction as much in the future as I have in the past. Based on this portrait, it seems as though Mishima was not only a self-obsessed egomaniac with zero self-esteem but was also given to coldly "researching" his work, no matter what that meant (short of killing people): apparently, the horrifying kitten-killing scene in The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea was so detailed because Mishima did something similar himself - his explanation being he couldn't describe something he hadn't experienced.

The most gratifying parts of this book were the points at which Nathan quoted parts of Mishima novels that haven't so far been translated into English. I still found myself being drawn into Mishima's beautiful madness but with more and more resistance as Nathan continued to unfold the extent of Mishima's destructive and unlikable self-involvement.

In spite of my dislike both of Nathan's approach and what he said about Mishima, I'll still read the novels I haven't yet gotten to. I'll also read the Henry Scott Stokes' biography of Mishima I picked up a couple of months ago, if only to get some perspective on Nathan's biases about the man. Nonetheless, I think the love affair (purely platonic; Mishima was no David Mitchell) is probably over.

Thursday 21 August 2008

The Reading Lamp: in which gets schooled

In this installment of The Reading Lamp, it's made clear to me that if by Cicero's standards Roger is still in diapers, I'm not even a gleam in my daddy's eye. I'd say I'd try to do some catching up on my historical reading but there's a Douglas Adams novel or 4 I have to read first. I don't even have any Latin here to make up for my lowbrow tastes. Oh wait, yes I do (from C. Moore's Lamb): Semper Fido. Whatever that means.

Your name: Roger Brush

What are you reading now? I am reading two books at the same time: The 5th volume of Polybius’ history of the Punic and Macedonian wars, as well as The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, edited by Donald Preziosi, which is a collection of essays on art-historical and critical issues.

Where are you reading them? Largely on the living room couch, although if I have the energy, I will take a book to bed.

How did you discover these books? The Polybius is the latest sequential installment in my attempt to give myself an historical education. Cicero said, “Not to know what happened before one was born is to always remain a child.” Hence I am still in diapers! The book of essays I bought a couple of years ago, when Amazon was having a sale with deep discounts.

What do you think of them so far? Polybius is delightful; intelligent, reasoned and well informed. He also likes to point out critical, stylistic and temperamental flaws in the works of other historians. The essays in the Anthology were selected around various themes, such as Aesthetics and Style, and are generally lucid and approachable – sadly, a not too frequent occurrence with many theoretical works of recent publication. Notable among the heavyweights are Kant and Hegel.

What would your ideal desert island book be? Finnegans Wake. It contains a lifetime of discoveries and would probably drive you mad before despair overtook you.

What about a dessert book, a book you could read and then eat? Something in softcover; hardcovers give me gas!

Who is your literary boyfriend or girlfriend? (Could be either a character or an author, and if it’s an author, he or she need not still be alive.) Perhaps Nastasia Filipovna from Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. I picture her as an aristocratic Nastasia Kinski. Without the snake of course. Um, okay, keep the snake!

What writer do you think should be zapped out of history/existence and their works therefore never written? Wow, what power. Anyone who writes books along the line of 101 things to smell before you die or The 50 greatest feminine itch commercials of all time. Anything formulaic, trite and requiring an unjustified presumption of authority and expertise!

What book would you like to put into a mine shaft and blow up? Why? Not a particular book, but most newspapers, including (in Canada), The National Post and The Globe and Mail - lowest common denominator infotainment used to sell advertising. Infra dignitatum!

What's your favourite either unknown or underappreciated book? The Evolution of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes. To neuroscientists this is likely more fantastic than science fiction, but it is immensely imaginative and engaging.

How do you decide what to read next? My historical and philosophic interests are usually gratified chronologically. I read to encounter intelligence, so discovering the influences of an author one respects and admires is often a useful way to proceed.

Favourite author? Why? I suppose James Joyce. His scope, with the exception of Shakespeare, is unmatched. Microcosmic and macrocosmic.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

"And the dumbf***s shall inherit a fruit basket" (Amphibians 4:12)

This is the other book my sister gifted to me for my birthday, at my request. And I requested it because it was recommended to me by someone in far away Israel whom I haven't seen since our halcyon undergraduate days in Halcyfax. She said I'd "laugh my Gentile ass off", and she was correct (I'm quoting her loosely here; and by "quoting" I mean "making shit up").

Christopher Moore's Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal is a novelistic (and novel) re-imagining of the life of J.C., which includes the 30 years between his birth and the beginning of his ministry (for the most part excluded from the real Christian Gospels).

In this book, J.C. is the holy guy he's been understood as historically by Christians but he's also pretty funny and quite human. His best friend Biff, who's been edited out of the Gospels for reasons I can't reveal if you haven't read the book, is totally human insofar as he enjoys making a lot of jokes that are alternately hilarious and lame, and he likes all the pleasures of the flesh very much indeed. He also saves J.C.'s naive ass a number of times (because, in case you didn't know, J.C. and Biff spent many years in the east getting Kung-fu lessons).

One thing about the book, well about Biff really, that I found alternately funny and kind of annoying was how "Forrest Gumpy" Moore made him. I don't mean slow. I mean how Forrest Gump kept sort of inadvertently inventing things, like the lyrics to that John Lennon song; you know the one.

In Lamb, Biff "discovers" Darwin's theory of natural selection, gravity, and the earth's roundness; of course, no one believes him, not even J.C. I probably wouldn't have minded this at all if it weren't for the Forrest Gump connection (that silly-ass film may be why I've seen only approximately 7 films since the mid-90s), so it's a minor complaint.

Overall, Lamb was a really enjoyable read and I would recommend it to all my friends who are not part of the Christian right (from whom, surprisingly, Christopher Moore has apparently received no guff whatsoever).

Sunday 17 August 2008

I see a voice!

My seester gave me this book (as well as the book I'm currently reading, Lamb) for my birthday. Given my track record with gifted books, I figured I'd better dive right in with In Search of a Distant Voice before I looked up and found that years had gone by and I still hadn't read it (which has happened with a number of books that now glare resentfully at me when I walk by their shelves). I'm going to try to get to those neglected gift books once I'm done the 2008 birthday books.

Anyway, about Taichi Yamada's In Search of a Distant Voice. I discovered this while browsing somewhere and decided to put it on my wish list based on nothing other than the fact that David Mitchell praises another book of Yamada's (which I've yet to see anywhere in Canada).

I read this almost in one sitting and quite enjoyed it. It may either be a ghost story or the protagonist (Tsuneo) may be hallucinating in fantastic and mysterious ways - what exactly is going on is never revealed. Indeed, that's not the point. The point is what Tsuneo's conversations with the distant voice reveal about his complicated and painful relationship with the rest of the world and with his own past.

Good stuff, this - but heavy, so it's a good thing my sis got me a funny book as well, to act as an antidote. My first post on the infamous Christopher Moore is coming up soon, as is a fantastic new Reading Lamp interview.

Friday 15 August 2008

Seven-pound frogs and eye-licking geckos

I absolutely love David Attenborough's BBC nature shows. When I was teaching 6 hours a day in Peterborough, what kept me sane was getting back to my B (supposed to be a B&B but they couldn't think of what to feed me so it was just a B) and turning on PBS to find David Attenborough on Living Planet talking about birds (or mammals, or reptiles) and moving from continent to continent every 90 seconds.

I've also recently discovered that airplanes are much more bearable these days for having TVs in front of every seat which usually feature at least one hour of some awesome "David Attenborough in nature" time.

It thus won't be a surprise to you to reveal that when I saw this hardcover David Attenborough book in the Book City in the Annex my heart rate began to accelerate. When I opened it and saw all the colour photographs I started to hyperventilate a little. And when I saw that the pages were sewn in and not glued, I almost cried for here was a book designed to last. Of course, I bought it immediately, for everything about this backbreaking tome indicated that it was a book I'd keep forever and ever, amen.

That was back in March, I think, and I've just gotten around to reading it this week. It was SO GOOD. I learned so much about what crazy and awesome things nature hides away from those of us who don't have a camera crew and a large budget courtesy of the BBC. Frogs that weigh seven pounds. Skinks who are part of all-female populations which can fertilize their own eggs. Geckos who clean their eyes by licking them. Snakes and lizards with only one lung. If this weren't all completely compelling on its own, Attenborough was narrating the whole book in my head as I read it, and that made it perfect.

Long live the Attenborough! I would be jealous that he has THE BEST JOB IN THE ENTIRE WORLD and I don't, but he makes me happier by doing his job and I doubt I'll be next in line for the position should he ever retire. Le sigh.

Wednesday 13 August 2008

The steady accumulation of small realities

I was surprised at how different South of the Border, West of the Sun turned out to be from the other Murakami novels I've read (Kafka on the Shore and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World).

The first Murakami novels I read were heavy on the fantastic and the surreal and contained several narratives connected only in the most tenuous and metaphysical of ways (although I found the connections in Hard-Boiled much clearer and more compelling than those in Kafka).

South of the Border, West of the Sun was a straightforward, almost linear, narrative (and the non-linear parts were clearly flagged flashbacks to a realistic past) told by one person. There were no sub-plots, immortal soldiers hiding in the forest, or underground caves full of mysterious monsters.

On the contrary, this novel realistically told the story of one middle aged man's mid-life questioning of the meaning of his successes - being married with two kids, having a thriving business, and being able to display his financial success outwardly via expensive cars and pricey brand name clothing. At the core of his questioning of all these accepted markers of success is his inability to let go of the memory of his childhood best fried/first love and then the revival of his obsession with her when she shows up at his bar one night.

I have to say, that I really, really enjoyed this book. I had no idea Murakami was capable of something so straightforward and, well, human. The narrator was a compelling blend of confused and immature, and wise and reflective, showing the latter sometimes by dropping gems like this (discussing relationships): "What we needed were not words and promises but the steady accumulation of small realities" (p. 33).

I loved the writing (as always - even when I don't know what Murakami is on about, I love his writing) and I thought Murakami really captured the bittersweet nostalgia involved in looking back at a childhood love as the one true example of a real relationship. I think this may have restored a little of my faith in Murakami; only time will tell, however, if some other author will have to take over a renamed Haruki Murakami Syndrome.

Monday 11 August 2008

Who is it that can tell me who I am?

Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book has been sitting on my shelf for a long time, not claiming any sort of reading precedence because of how it came into my possession: I found it on the side of a road somewhere here in Toronto in a box marked "FREE".

People in Toronto fairly often get rid of books (and various kinds of furniture and clothing) this way; I've picked up a number of promising volumes on the road over the years (e.g., the complete short novels of Colette) so always keep my eye out for the random book box.

I've gotten rid of books this way myself and they're always scooped up very quickly, although sometimes only to go two doors down to be sold in the neighbours' bi-weekly yard sale. (These yard sales aren't incredibly successful because seeing the proprietor standing around smoking with a crying baby on her hip which she constantly instructs to "shaddap!" doesn't, apparently, draw in a lot of buyers.)

This copy of The Black Book turns out to be the first printing of the first English translation of the novel, but it came sans dust jacket and including some unsightly stains that I hope and assume are coffee. This copy also includes a mysterious post-it note in the front which says only "check 80926" and below that "92279". I can't imagine what this might mean. Did the last owner suffer in some way for leaving this note in a book he or she later got rid of?

(I love finding odd things in books, which is a good argument in favour of buying used books and going to the library; especially the library. I've found love notes, money, lecture notes, and many other intriguing things in library books.)

It's fitting, in any case, that this novel should have a little mystery regarding its previous owner as it is itself a mystery, but not just in the traditional "a crime occurs which must be solved" kind of way, because that part of the story is never resolved. On the contrary, the protagonist's inability to solve the physical mystery is intimately linked to his inability to solve the mystery of what it means to be himself and what it means to know anyone else, especially if they too (which, in this book, it seems they must be) are grappling with trying to inhabit their own identities.

This sounds a bit pretentious to me, as indeed, all Pamuk's novels do. But I find that what I would absolutely loathe in a lesser writer I really love when Pamuk works his magic with it. Things that I would mock for being designed to be read aloud in Earnest Young Poet voice, I look forward to with this writer (although I never have been able to get past the first 30 pages of another novel of his, The New Life).

While I do love Pamuk, he's not the kind of writer I could read very often or if I were in a hammock by the water trying to relax. Vigilant attention to detail is a must with his stuff or I find myself wondering what Hegelian/Lewis Carroll-esque nightmare I've just wandered into without noticing, and am forced to reread what I've found myself somewhat lazily skimming.

Friday 8 August 2008

The 2x4 as pedagogical tool

When it comes to short story collections, it's pretty hard to beat Thomas King's One Good Story, That One so I was hoping for genius of a similar stamp with King's latest collection, A Short History of Indians in Canada.

It turns out that while King displays some of his earlier work's signature surrealism in A Short History, he's for the most part gone for the 2x4; that is, hitting you up side the head with his message instead of cloaking it in the compelling dreaminess that characterizes work like Green Grass, Running Water and One Good Story, That One.

Overall, this isn't entirely a bad thing - I enjoyed many of the stories and it's good to know that King hasn't found himself, like so many other writers, able to only write the same book over and over again. That said, I found that the 2x4 was swung a little too liberally sometimes. Dealing, as King does, primarily in stereotypes (of both Natives and whites) tends to mean not having to drive home the message with some obvious proclamation of what it all means. I found King giving in to this inclination a little too often at points, and I feel that this is a sign that he doesn't trust his readers anymore to "get it." Because of this, I wasn't blown away by any of the stories here.

If I'm right about King worrying that Canada's general readership doesn't get it, I can't say this isn't a fair concern. I groaned when I read this exchange between two white characters: "'An Indian,' Alistair whispered to Evelyn, 'Now we're getting somewhere'" ("Rendezvous" p.171) - and there were many other moments this this in the book.

Yet, the same day I was groaning over the above, I read an article in The Toronto Star about that poor kid who got beheaded on the Greyhound bus near Winnipeg; in the article, two guys who are married and together run a convenience store or something were interviewed because they had to deal with the murderer's weird behaviour before he got on the bus.

The first guy interviewed talked about how there was something really strange about the suspect and how his behaviour freaked him out. The partner of said store witness guy said something to the effect of "When my partner says something freaks him out, I trust it because he's Native." I'm not even exaggerating the gist of this quotation. This guy is in a committed relationship with an individual Native dude, rather than forming his opinions of the whole race completely from afar as most people in Canada do, and yet he still went in for the embarrassing sound bite without even hesitating.

So, yeah, maybe King's right to swing that 2x4, but sometimes it made for less than stellar story-telling and dammit man, I want the whole package. I don't want the message, if there's a message, sacrificed to the story, or vice versa.

But like I said, overall this was a pretty good read and there were some pretty decent stories in A Short History, including "A Short History of Indians in Canada", "The Baby in the Airmail Box", and "The Closer You Get to Canada, the More Things Will Eat Your Horses." Even these ones, however, always had the 2x4 at hand and weren't afraid to use it.

Wednesday 6 August 2008

The Reading Lamp: intriguing Australian books

This is the second time I've had the pleasure of featuring an Australian reader on The Reading Lamp and I have to say that Matthew makes me really want to explore Australian literature much more than I have. Both Voss and Graveyard sound like truly kick-ass reads and I have reason to trust Matthew's opinion: Waterland is one of my favourite books of all time too.

Your name:
Matthew Hancock

What are you reading now? Ever After by Graham Swift.

Where are you reading it? On the train.

How did you discover this book? I have read three other Swift novels; I really enjoyed Waterland and Last Orders but disliked Shuttlecock. In fact, Waterland is one of my all-time favourite books, so on the basis of that alone I am happy to keep on trying even if I find some of Swift's books to be a bit hit and miss. I didn’t particularly seek this book out; rather, I tend to buy my books from secondhand markets around Sydney (Australia) and this one popped up on a table for $2.

What would your ideal desert island book be? Voss by Patrick White – a story of exploration in the Australian desert, a very large (almost deserted) island itself.

Who is your literary boyfriend or girlfriend? (Could be either a character or an author, and if it’s an author, he or she need not still be alive.) I would have to say that of all of my favourite authors John Steinbeck would be the guy I would like to sit down and share a drink with.

What's your favourite either unknown or underappreciated book? Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash – a non-fiction account of mass murder and mutiny off the coast of Australia in 1628.

Do you buy books or borrow them from the library? Either way, what is your favourite place to get books and why? Markets – there is always a bargain, a book being undervalued by its owner which ends up tucked away with 20 crap CDs and a bunch of unwanted clothes. Also, Sydney has a great shop called Gould’s Book Exchange which is a massive shop; it’s complete disorder containing thousands of secondhand books that need to be fished out from boxes and from shelves that make little sense (to the untrained eye). I recently found a signed copy of the Miles Franklin Award-winning The Well by Elizabeth Jolley for $4 – pretty cool.

How do you decide what to read next? I theme my selections. A couple of years ago, I started off reading subversive literature from the early 1900s, then I moved onto Australian historical fiction, now I am looking at female authors. I don’t strictly stay on the path but usually the majority of the works from a six-month period will be guided by the theme. But as I do buy many books from the markets I often stock up and will generally fall back on those books from time to time, which is why I am reading Graham Swift at the moment.

Who do you talk to about books? My partner and my blog (

Monday 4 August 2008

David Mitchell is so dreamy

One of the questions my Reading Lamp subjects are able to choose from addresses who their literary boyfriend or girlfriend is - this person can be either real or a character - and if real, either dead or alive.

Renaissance playwright, poet, and general bad boy Christopher Marlowe used to be my boyfriend. When I was introduced to David Mitchell, however, I let Marlowe down as gently as I could and immediately shacked up with Mitchell. So far, he's been a model partner, unlike Marlowe who was in the bad habit of getting into bar brawls which culminated in his knife being sheathed in his own eye.

I think Mitchell is by far one of the best writers working in English right now and it's a bloody crime that he hasn't won the Booker yet. I might respect the Booker a little more if it was capable of appreciating and rewarding Mitchell's genius. (I also want him to get the money so he can keep writing like crazy, and go on research trips to Japan, or wherever else he might need to go.)

But about number9dream. I've had this book for quite some time but was rationing it. I'd already read Mitchell's three other novels and know his new one won't be out until 2009 sometime. I was trying to keep it in reserve so that I wouldn't have to wait too long between Mitchell reads - even though now, having read number9dream, I'll be waiting 2-3 years between Mitchell reads. Le gigantic sigh.

number9dream is Mitchell's second novel and I've gotten two clashing reviews from two other Mitchell freaks I know. V. said she wasn't as wowed by number9dream as she was by his other novels, while K. forcefully and wistfully (because, having read it already, she no longer has it to look forward to) asserted that number9dream was Mitchell's best.

I'm not sure I can make such judgments. Mitchell's genius manifests so differently in each book that I feel unable to compare them. Cloud Atlas may be my favourite only because it was the first of his works I read. Part of why Mitchell is my literary boyfriend is that he shocks and awes me every time I read his stuff.

I find myself wondering how the person who wrote Cloud Atlas could possibly have written number9dream AND Black Swan Green. Mitchell is the master of creating wildly different narrative voices both within and across his novels, and if he weren't too good for it by far I'd say he should have written World War Z.

I think I won't give a plot summary of number9dream for two reasons. 1) I won't do it justice. It seems on the surface (or, more accurately, in the back cover copy) like a pretty straightforward coming of age story but it's so, so much more than that. 2) Just read it, dammit, and find out what happens! How Mitchell writes what happens is as important as what happens. Unlike so many writers, he provides the complete package - substance and style (or "sentence and solaas", in venerable Chaucer's words).

Saturday 2 August 2008

Let me eat cake/I like books

So, yesterday was my birthday and to celebrate I bought myself a book (of course) and had some cake in a glass. That's not a metaphor for tequila shots - there's a restaurant here in Toronto that makes a dessert called Decadent.

You pick your favourite vegan cake (chocolate fudge), your favourite soy ice cream (chocolate almond bark), and you blend these with some vanilla soy milk and then drank the best damned "milk" shake the world has ever seen. You also feel your metabolism stop to punch you in the neck.

I also, apparently, make lists for my birthday. The following comprises my favourite books published for each year of my life. (Yes, I was born in 1975 and could be your tragic teenage mom.)

I got this idea from another book blog and I have to say I had a difficult time filling out each year and apparently haven't yet read anything published in 2007. Entries with asterisks need some explaining (see below).

*1975 – The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
1976 – The Names: A Memoir by N. Scott Momaday
1977 – Dance Me Outside by W. P. Kinsella
1978 – Night Shift by Stephen King
1979 – The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
1980 – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
1981 – Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark
1982 – Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
1983 – Waterland by Graham Swift
1984 – The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
1985 – Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
*1986 – It by Stephen King
1987 – Tales from Firozsha Baag by Rohinton Mistry
1988 – Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
1989 – The Ancient Child by N. Scott Momaday
1990 – Immortality by Milan Kundera
1991 – Angels in America by Tony Kushner
1992 – The Crow Road by Iain Banks
1993 – One Good Story, That One by Thomas King
1994 – The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith by Peter Carey
1995 – Tie between The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman and Sabriel by Garth Nix
1996 – Tales from Watership Down by Richard Adams
*1997 – The Pillow Boy of the Lady Onogoro by Allison Fell
*1998 – The White Mercedes by Philip Pullman
1999 – Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
2000 – Tie between True History of the Kelly Gang and The Toughest Indian in the World by Sherman Alexie
2001 – The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
2002 – Dead Air by Iain Banks
*2003 – Mister Monday by Garth Nix
2004 – Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
2005 – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
2006 – Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
2007 – I haven’t read anything published in 2007 apparently
*2008 – His Illegal Self by Peter Carey

About my choices for 1975, 1998 and 1993 - those are pretty much the only books I could find for those years. I love Pullman and Nix but I don't think The White Mercedes and Mister Monday really serve as good examples of their genius. Further, I don't think I liked The Woman Warrior at all - but then again, I doubt I liked being born either, so maybe it's fitting.

1986: That year was seriously shiteous but having It to read - twice - helped. I'm still scared of clowns though. *Shiver*

In its test sample of one, His Illegal Self was the best book I've read from 2008. It may be there, in the long run, for the same reasons that The White Mercedes and Mister Monday are. It's like trying to find a cute guy in the English Department at any university of your choice: slim pickins.

1997: The Pillow Boy of the Lady Onogoro. HOT. Apparently, this book was created out of a 1oth-century Japanese manuscript fragment, but it reads seamlessly. Did I mention that it was hot? Phew. Where's my fan?

What surprised me most about this list was how few Japanese books ended up on it. But then I realized that all my favourite Japanese authors died in the '60s and '70s, many by suicide. What can I say? Morbid is my middle name.

Friday 1 August 2008

Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

It seems as though there's nothing that won't eventually be absorbed into one of these big online book monopolies, I mean stores. See the following article from

In direct resistance to such steamrolls of the indie book establishments (futile though it may be), a new used shop called Circus Books and Music recently opened up in my 'hood. I'll provide a review of it when I find the time to go up there and browse.

Breaking news: Amazon buys

News broke this morning that Amazon intends to buy, the Victoria-based online bookselling network. From the official release:

The acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals, and is expected to close before the end of the fourth quarter of 2008.

AbeBooks will continue to function as a stand-alone operation based in Victoria, British Columbia. AbeBooks will maintain all of its websites, including its Canadian website with Canada-specific content, such as reviews of Canadian-authored books and interviews of Canadian writers.

For Canadian observers, that reference to “regulatory approvals” will of course jump out. The question is whether Abebooks would be considered a bookseller, and thus subject to Investment Canada rules prohibiting foreign ownership. Watch Q&Q Omni early next week for a full story.