Archive for September, 2009

30th September
2009
written by Steph
In a way, this book does dig its own grave...

In a way, this book does dig its own grave...

One of the nice things about going to a used bookstore where the merchandise is pretty much dirt cheap is that it allows me to be more adventurous with my reading choices.  I would never plonk down $14 on an unknown author, but when a book is only $2 or so, I feel I can take some risks.  When I found The Gravedigger by Peter Grandbois, the mentions of magical realism and comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez made this a book I knew I wanted to read, even though I’d never heard anything else about it.  I decided to take a chance… but did it pan out? Before I talk about my reaction to the novel, the basic premise: Juan Rodrigo works as the gravedigger for a tiny rural village in Spain.  As undertaker, he is tasked with more than just burying the dead, he is also a gifted storyteller who is able to communicate with the spirits of the recently departed, sharing their life’s true story (both the highs and the lows) with all who remain behind in the land of the living in the hopes that he can ease their burdens and help them move on with their lives.  Both jobs come with quite the burden of responsibility, but Juan Rodrigo has one other important task he must undertake on a daily basis: raising his thirteen year-old daughter, Esperanza, who is as headstrong as her deceased mother.  And as Esperanza begins the fraught journey that every girl must take as she begins to blossom into a woman, Juan Rodrigo finds that this job is about become even more difficult. (more…)
29th September
2009
written by Steph

What was the first step again?  Admitting I have a problem?

What was the first step again? Admitting I have a problem?

No seriously.  I clearly have some kind of problem when it comes to book buying.  Why is it that I cannot go more than three weeks before entering McKay’s only to leave with more books than I entered with (in this case, I didn’t even trade anything in!), when I have more than enough books in our apartment to last me for at least a year?  Why did I go when I had just finished saying to Tony that I need to read through some of what we have so that we can reasonably make space for new stock?  And yet I go and buy 17 books (and this is after – and I kid you not – I put back at least 10 other books).  Clearly this is now verging on a certifiable addiction, right?  I knew I shouldn’t have gone into McKay’s at all, but my reason for doing so was that I just finished reading the most recent Douglas Coupland novel, and it was so AMAZING (and that is really all I can say for now, because I am reviewing it for BookPage… but stay tuned for more on that some time in November) that I had to go out and buy more Coupland.  Like right away.  Because I kind of wondered how the heck it is I had gone so long without reading anything by him, and I worried that I might somehow cease to exist if I didn’t rectify this by reading everything he has ever written.  So I told Tony I wanted to go to McKay’s to check and see if they had any Coupland and that was all I would buy… and then as you can see from the picture, clearly things went terribly wrong (or did they go terribly right?), because prolific as he may be, Douglas Coupland has certainly not written 17 books.  Ahem.  After discussing this most recent binge with my friend Taryn, I have decided that probably my first mistake was taking a cart with me while browsing.  Obviously I need to stop doing that. Do I get any leeway given that our grocery bill for the week was only $34?  Surely that balances out this spree somewhat, right? After the jump, we examine the damage!
27th September
2009
written by Steph
Book club pick for Sept/Oct

Book club pick for Sept/Oct

This book was selected for the upcoming meeting of my real-life book club.  I first read it back in 2004 or 2005 and enjoyed it so much that when I found a cheap copy at McKay’s during one of our initial visits, I bought it so that Tony could experience it.  If not for my bookclub, I’m not sure that I would have re-read it again any time soon, but I have to say the experience was not at all unwelcome. This seems to be one of those books that pretty much everyone has read, so I’m tempted not to give a synopsis.  Then again, judging from the way my bookclub voted (we are a bit different in the way we operate compared to most other clubs, I think: rather than a single person picking a book for us to read, the person in charge of organizing the meeting for that month picks 3 potential books and sends us the information.  We then all vote for which one we want, so that no single person can be held responsible should we not like the book! 😉 ), apparently there may be a hidden faction of individuals who are not familiar with this one.  So: the basic premise is that this novel revolves around a young, autistic narrator named Christopher.  Christopher has been tasked with writing a book for school, and we, the readers, are looking at the final result.  The story is told through Christopher’s eyes, which makes for an interesting and pretty unique reading experience given Christopher’s unusual way of looking at the world.  The novel’s main catalyst is Christopher’s discovery that his neighbor’s dog has been murdered, and he decides that he will discover who committed the crime.  Through his investigations he winds up uncovering a much larger secret that has been kept hidden for far too long, one that causes him to stretch and grow in ways he never thought possible. (more…)
25th September
2009
written by Steph
My BookPage review for October

My BookPage review for October

For the October issue of BookPage, I reviewed fellow Canadian Margaret Atwood's latest novel, The Year of the Flood.  The review is already up online, so I figured I'd give all of our S&TI! readers a sneak peak; you can read it here. My past with Atwood is somewhat tortuous and fraught - I had a highschool English teacher who thought la Atwood walked on water, but my 16-year old mind stubbornly revolted.  True story: my university admissions essay was about how I thought Jane Austen was more of a feminist than Margaret Atwood. Since The Year of the Flood takes place in the same timeline and world as Oryx & Crake, I know the two will be compared to no end.  While I didn't think The Year of the Flood was a novel without flaws, I do think I liked it more than O&C.  I found Toby & Ren to be more compelling narrators than Snowman, and whether I always agree with her take or not, I think Atwood shines brightest when she focuses on women.  Write what you know, I suppose.  She weaves an interesting story in which it's easy to get invested, one that I feel was richer and more fleshed out, and I think a lot of people will feel moved by what she has written here.  It isn't my favorite Atwood (I think the childhood years of Cat's Eye get that honor), but it is an absorbing tale.  Sometimes I felt the book got too preachy for its own good, but I won't deny that it takes less than six degrees of separation to trace her world back to the one we're currently living in; what she's saying needs to be heard, so I guess mission accomplished on that front. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
24th September
2009
written by Steph

This book is anything but.

Another double header! We're aiming to make this a regular feature on the old blog. This time we didn't read the feature out loud to each other (though we do have another title slated for that), nor did we read it at the same time. Steph read this and passed it along to me and we decided that we needed to discuss it with each other in order to get the most out of our readings. With out further ado... Steph’s Take Every once in a while, we as readers are lucky enough to have truly magnificent books pass through our lives, books that make us think, and even more importantly, ones that make us feel.  Often times I find that upon finishing a truly great book, I have to take a bit of a breather from reading so that time can cleanse my literary palate.  Finishing a great book results in me spending a few days thinking about what I’ve read, working through all of the emotions it has stirred up within me; in such a state, any book picked up in haste is sure to be a disappointment, my reading of it irrevocably colored by the previous Great Read, looming large in my mind.  And is so often the case with great books, they frustratingly defy description.  Disgrace, is one such book. (more…)
22nd September
2009
written by Steph

You know how sometimes we define ourselves as readers by what we don’t read?  Perhaps you say thing like, “oh, I don’t read poetry,” or “I don’t read anything published before I was”, (?) or “I don’t read sci-fi.”* And then you come across an author like Kurt Vonnegut, who defies all convention and those convenient little genre labels, and you get really quiet and think, “Huh.  Maybe I do like all of those things after all…” And then you feel confused and maybe just a bit ashamed for what you said. *For the record, I am fairly certain I have never said any of those things… Well, at least not two - ok, maybe just one - of those things.  I leave it to you to guess which one. Kurt Vonnegut is an author I’m sure everyone has heard of, but I wonder how many of us have actually read him. I read my first Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five, last year. I liked it well enough, but I wasn’t as blown away by it as I thought I would (should?) be. I remember thinking the book was smart and clever, but I guess because Slaughterhouse Five is about WWII, I expected it to pack more of an emotional punch. That being said, it was an enjoyable read, and I knew I wanted to read more by him in the future. For the longest while (perhaps coincident with his death), our local library had none of his books, but on our last trip, they had a huge selection, which seemed like as good a sign as any to give the man another shot. (more…)
19th September
2009
written by Steph
Great book, but mind the translation!

Great book, but mind the translation!

It may seem premature to start looking at my reading list and taking stock of trends and gaps in my reading for the year, but I fully admit that I’ve already begun to do so. Perhaps my passing the “50 Books Read” mark has had something to do with it (this is the first time I’ve read so many books in one 12-month period!). I didn’t have any hard set goals for my reading, as I don’t like to restrict myself in that way. I really just wanted to read more books, and hopefully find a few gems. Looking at my list thus far, one thing I was a bit saddened to realize is that I haven’t read many so-called classics this year. True, I have crossed some titles off the 1001 Books list, but even those titles tend to fall on the more contemporary end of the spectrum. While I’ve read many very good (modern) books this year, I have felt to some extent that I’ve read a lot of middling and mediocre books as well. I know that labeling a book a “Classic” does not guarantee that it will be a book that I find worthwhile or even one that I enjoy, but I suppose that I do feel that there must be a reason these books continue to be published and taught, centuries after their initial publication. Also, I do feel like I’ve grown unaccustomed to reading classics, and so while they are slightly outside my literary sweet spot, I also find them challenging. But in a good way!  I feel they cause my mind to stretch and flex in a way reading more contemporary literature rarely does, and even if at times classics may bog me down, I tend to feel invigorated afterwards, like nothing is beyond my reading comprehension. Anyway, back on track here, I decided to read Madame Bovary mostly because it was sitting in our apartment unread and also it was quite a bit slimmer than many of the other classics we have reposing on our shelves. I tend to find long books daunting, so I figured a shorter classic (which would already likely prove challenging in and of itself) was probably a good way to ease myself back in. (more…)
17th September
2009
written by Steph
Don't be surprised if Grossman gets his butt sued by Rowling, Tolkien, or Lewis (yes, the dead might rise from the grave to do so!)!

Don't be surprised if Grossman gets his butt sued by Rowling, Tolkien, or Lewis (yes, the dead might rise from the grave to do so!)!

Steph's Take (That's right, you get a double-header, folks!  Also, sorry this is a long one; I had a lot of feelings...): When it comes to publicizing books, you need only say one of two names in order for me to be guaranteed to want to read your book.  The first is Jane Austen.  This is how I came to buy such books as No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym (who has been called the Jane Austen of her day), Beginner’s Greek by James Collins (the book evoked a sense of Jane Austen), The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler (self-explanatory… I hope), and Jane and the Upleasantness at Scargrave Manor: Being the First Jane Austen Mystery (also self-explanatory, but perhaps less easy to justify).  The other name?  Harry Potter.  That is how I came to purchase Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (which if it were not for Tony, would still be classified as “unread”), and more recently, to borrow The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I read the first two chapters of the book, before showing it to Tony.  He said that it seemed like a book he would probably enjoy reading, so he read the first two chapters, and then we decided to read it aloud to one another so that we could experience it together.  It was a fun experience to share Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book together on the way back from our honeymoon, so we thought it might be fun to do it again. (more…)
16th September
2009
written by Steph
In case you haven't burned out on BBAW posts in which we share some our favorite blogs that didn't make the short-list for awards, here's another one!  At first I wasn't sure about whether to post this, because I realized it could be perceived as hurtful to anyone I didn't include.  So I want to be clear that if you're on my blog roll (which I need to, and will, update soon), or I've ever commented on your blog, then I clearly like what you do a good deal.  Also, if you were short-listed, I'm not going to include you on the list, so that we can all give some love to some of the overlooked blogs.  I've enjoyed reading everyone's lists, and have found quite a few blogs I didn't know about as a result, so I thought I'd return the favor and help your Google Readers overflow with all things bookish. (more…)
14th September
2009
written by Steph
It's oh so quiet... shhh, shhh!

It's oh so quiet... shhh, shhh!

Disquiet is a slip of a novel – the cover simply calls it “A Story” – so I will try my best to write a review befitting its size, rather than outstripping it. It made many “Best Book” lists in 2008, so when I saw it sitting on the New Fiction shelf at the library this past weekend, I figured it was worth a shot. If nothing else, it wouldn’t require much of my time! The writing is sparse and haunting, befitting the somber story that unfolds. An abused woman returns home to her ailing mother’s chateau in France, her two young children in tow. Her visit coincides with that of her brother and his spouse, who have tragically just given birth to a stillborn daughter.  The bulk of Disquiet (if such a thin tome can be said to have bulk) is spent circling around this family, plunged in different kinds of grief and agony, trying to keep their heads above the waves of despair and keep from drowning. Much of it is spent with bated breath, as Leigh’s writing imbues us with a sense of unease and uncertainty, as though if for all the misery, this is just the calm before the storm. In a relatively spare number of pages, Leigh quickly ratchets up the tension so that the eventual release provided by a thunderstorm of emotions and events is a much-needed relief. For a quiet novella, I felt there were great depths to plumb in terms of the sorrow it conveys. I was impressed by how much Leigh accomplishes so quickly, both in terms of establishing atmosphere and tone, as well as the story she tells; it is a great example of showing rather than telling. But I couldn’t help but feel that with even just 20 or 30 more pages, I might have found this book more satisfying. In some ways I felt the story she set out to tell was incomplete – one storyline is finally resolved, a breath held from deep within can finally be exhaled, but I felt I still had questions that needed resolution on another front. Perhaps my sense of mild dissatisfaction stems from my general preference for novels over short stories, but nevertheless I felt Disquiet straddled the void between inchoate tale and complete narrative.  It is the kind of read where you finish and wonder, "Well, what can one really say about this?"  I suppose, the answer is that I can say what I already have, as well as this:  Next time, I hope Leigh gives me a bit more to hold onto. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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