Posted in Paper Chase

Q2 Read It 2019

 “He’s reading Balzac, knocking back Prozac”.  This line from blur’s “Country House” single from 1995 may not have been my introduction to the name Balzac but it’s certainly the most memorable.  While looking through Dog Eared used books, I came across a copy of Old Goriot originally published in 1835.  It tells the story of Goriot who is staying in a Parisian rooming house while his two daughters move in high society and pretty much ignore him. He then befriends Rastignac, a young man also renting a room at Maison Vauquer who is besotted with one of his daughters.  Reading it today, it is easy to see how true the cliché “the more things change, the more they stay the same” really is.  In 2019 the daughters would surely be all over Instagram and the young man would be commenting on every picture.

7/10

Exit West, Mohsin Hamid’s fourth novel, landed him on the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year list for 2017. Nadia and Saeed meet early in the book and develop a relationship in an unnamed war torn area.  The young couple discovers secret doors that lead to other lands, starting in Mykonos, Greece before moving to London then San Francisco.  There is a fantastical element to the book based on the doors but it also drives home that refugees are not just immigrants here to sap Western resources as some would have you believe. Instead, most are loving people caught in a terrible situation who are just trying to find their place in the world.

7.5/10

On the cover of Roy Jacobsen’s 2016 novel, The Unseen, Eileen Battersby from the Irish Times notes that is “easily among the best books I have ever read”.  No small claim and a fair assessment. The book was shortlisted for the 2017 International Man Booker Prize.  It takes place on an island in Norway and follows a family through many seasons of hardship. Written in a matter of fact style, it often just describes the work the family is doing.  Perhaps it’s growing up in Canada that makes me relate to the story and characters, Northerners have a certain kinship due to the weather. The only jarring moments is the scattered dialogue written in a pigeon English with Norwegian accents.  “Hvur’s it goen’ t’ get hier, swim?”.  It can get tedious but thankfully it is in short supply.  A celebrated book in Norway and one that is sure to continue finding fans throughout the world.

8.5/10

Eat Move Sleep from Tom Rath was a library pick-up, sitting on display of the health area.  The book makes the case for eating more vegetables, getting plenty of rest (8 hours per night) and making the time to move throughout the day.  It doesn’t hit you over the head with facts or numbers but rather reinforces the good traits that most of us already know.  The book is like talking to a friend who knows a lot about leading a healthy lifestyle and has tried different paths to get there.  While lacking any true “aha” moments, since reading this I have started to move more at work after sitting at the desk for too long and have become more aware of my step counts during the day.  It’s still a work in progress and Eat Move Sleep does have a few good ideas.

6/10

The Double Down Book Club makes infrequent but welcome appearances through the Ringer podcast network.  It is interesting listening to the guys from The Watch, Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan, speak passionately about their favourite books as much as they do their favourite albums and TV shows.  Books are alive and well! One of the featured authors from an episode last year was George Pelecanos. The Washington DC native sets his crime thrillers in that fair city.  Last year he released his latest novel, The Man Who Came Uptown

This was my introduction to Pelecanos and while I don’t read much modern crime fiction, this one had me hooked.  It follows the story of Michael Hudson, a recently released convict who discovers a love of books while in prison, and the prison librarian, Anna who is in a stable but unexciting marriage.  A chance encounter outside the prison gates leads to more meet-ups while PI Paul Ornazain tries to figure out who trashed a teenager’s party in the suburbs before it all intersects.   A great summer time read about the gritty streets of the US capital.

7.5/10

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Posted in Album Reviews

The National – I Am Easy To Find (2019)

There is a lot to unpack when reviewing the new album from The National.  I Am Easy To Find is the follow-up to 2017’s Sleep Well Beast and it’s music is featured in short movie from director Mike Mills with several female singers appearing on the album such as Lisa Hannigan and Sharon Van Etten.  Mills is named as a co-producer on the album became a de-facto member of the group during the recording.

First single “You Had Your Soul With You” leads off the album with disorienting drums and electronics before the noise falls away with Gail Anne Dorsey singing, “you have no idea how hard I died when you left”.  “Quiet Light” is a more typical track from the band with just Matt Berninger singing and it’s added orchestration. “Oblivions” deals with the trials and tribulations of marriage with Mina Tindle offering a counterpoint to Berninger’s ruminations. Fourth single “Rylan” has been kicking around for a few years and  is another classic sounding track from the band that adds electronics and is (nearly) anthemic.

It is telling that the title track is one of the best songs but features a lyric Guided By Voices which is the part that sticks though Berninger’s low rumbling voice beneath Kate Stables’ singing “I’m still waiting for you every night with ticker tape” is great.  At 64 minutes, there are several moments that are professionally done yet just flat out dull.  It was recently noted on Steven Hyden’s twitter feed from fans that several of the new songs sound amazing live.  It is easy to imagine tracks like “Where Is Her Head” would light up a crowd.  At times the electronic bits and orchestration of Aaron and Bryce Dessner blunts the excitement and takes away from the excellent drumming of Bryan Devendorf.  While the music is mostly quite beautiful, too often it blends into the background.

7/10