“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.