Posted in Paper Chase

Q3 Read It 2019

The much-celebrated novel, The Goldfinch, by American author Donna Tartt has now been made into a much less celebrated movie.  Knowing that the movie was due for 2019, I finally cracked open the Pulitzer Award winning book originally published in the fall of 2013 that had been sitting on my shelf for a few years.  It is well worth the wait and worthy of all the acclaim.  The Goldfinch centres around the 1694 painting of the same name by Carel Fabritius. Teenager, Theodore Decker’s mom makes them stop in at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where a terrorist explosion happens several minutes later.  Decker’s mom dies in the explosion but, in the confusion, Theo steals The Goldfinch painting and later takes it to live in Las Vegas with his deadbeat Dad and step mom where he then meets Russian teenager, Boris. The story follows his life from that point on, through many ups and downs and several scenes where Theo is not the most likeable character.  Mixing Catcher in the Rye with art heist caper and art history lesson, The Goldfinch is a gripping novel throughout its 784 pages.

9.5/10

Life with My Sister Madonna was a small gift from my now fiancé… that also sat on my shelf for a few years.  Written by Christopher Ciccone, Madonna’s younger brother who you can see dance in the “Lucky Star” video, it follows life with the Ciccone’s through the rise of Madonna up to her marriage to Guy Ritchie. There are certainly some interesting tidbits in the book of their upbringing in Michigan, move to NYC, behind the scenes at concerts, etc.  If all is true, Ciccone has several talents of his own – he directed two major Madonna concert tours, designed the interiors of many of her homes, and directed a music video for Dolly Parton. What isn’t clear is why he is more interested in just being in Madonna’s orbit rather than following his own star.  Surely someone who was a main player on several Madonna tours could work on other tours or events. Unfortunately writing is not one of his talents as the many pointless celebrity mentions are followed up with stories that amount to “I met this person, they were nice, they passed away, I was sad”. 

5/10

Like The Goldfinch, The Shining Girls from South African Laura Beukes also came out to high praise in 2013.  The story follows Harper, a time travelling serial murderer, as he hunts down one “shining” victim after another.  His plans begin to unravel when journalism student Kirby survives one of his vicious attacks and starts researching who he could have done this to her.  Beukes really makes the streets of Chicago come alive while bouncing through various eras. Horror fiction is not my typical style but the “Shining Girls” was very entertaining throughout.

8/10

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

Posted in Paper Chase

Q1 Read It 2019

The subtitle of Susan Cain’s 2012 New York Times Bestseller Quiet is “The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”.  Quiet is a well-researched look into how introverts handle a world that is geared towards celebrating the extrovert ideal.  There are many examples that introverts will readily notice in themselves.  The Harvard student who feels like he’s yelling if he talks above his normal, low speaking voice, the woman whose husband wants to entertain friends every week and the professor who has to seek out quiet areas after giving (very well received) speeches.

Cain’s writing style is interesting and can be quite funny at times.  Some of the material feels geared to more of an extreme introvert, can be a bit too rah rah for the quiet ones, and a bit too harsh in regards to society.  I would consider myself an introvert but have never been uncomfortable in work places that have cubicles and generally enjoyed my co-workers chatter.  However, I definitely seek out quiet at the end of the day in order to recharge the batteries. It is nice to read that some of the social tics introverts have are felt by others and that it’s perfectly OK to say no to nights out on the town vs staying at home to read.

7/10

Before releasing the commercially and critically unsuccessful punk rock album Animal Rights in 1996, Moby was a rising star in the world of dance music.  His 1995 release, Everything Is Wrong was rated as Spin’s album of the year and is solidly one of this writer’s favourite discs of all time. Moby’s first book, Porcelain, focuses on his rise through the New York DJ ranks to his mid-90s commercial failures and the recording of Play that would make him a mega star.  The conflicted Christian and staunch vegan, it is interesting to read Moby navigate New York’s music world while remaining sober through much of it.  The book is not only a look at Moby but also what living in NY was like on a shoestring budget.  It’s hard to like Moby at times but it’s a fascinating read for even those with a passing interest in the music industry and electronic music world.  The follow-up, Then It Fell Apart, came out on May 7th.

9/10

Prairie Fire – Volume 39, No.  4, Winter 2018

Prairie Fire – Volume 38, No.  4, Winter 2017

Posted in Paper Chase

Q4 Read It 2018

51qZ1FWdiIL._AA327_QL65_Ali Smith’s 2016 novel, Autumn, was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and also landed her in the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2017. The novel moves between scenes of central character Elisabeth visiting her 101-year-old former next-door neighbor as he lies in a care home, reminiscing of their visits when she was a child and her art thesis on Pauline Boty. Set to be the first in a four-volume series, Autumn is never gripping but is always interesting as the story takes place around the time of the Brexit vote. It has a surreal and has a dreamlike quality as it moves through time and back again.  The follow-up Winter was published in late 2017.

7/10

 

51xCkzASckL._AA327_QL65_I’ve been a subscriber to the James Clear newsletter for about a year now. Every week he sends out advice on how to improve daily habits.  This fall, Clear released his first book Atomic Habits that expands on those newsletters and offers much additional information. This is not earth-shattering advice that comes out of nowhere but instead offers tactics on how to get a little bit better every day and keep improving over time.  Instead of saying, “I want to lose 20lbs” and not following through, work on following the process of making it to the gym three times this week.  Fall in love with the process instead of the results and you’ll get there in the end.  Lots to unpack and learn from in this book.

8.5/10

 

515pYTNTrcL._AA327_QL65_In 2017, Jesmyn Ward won the National Book Award for the second time with her novel Sing, Unburied Sing.  The book chronicles a family living in rural Mississippi.  Meth addict Leonie and former prisoner Michael have two kids, JoJo and Kayla. The pull between the interracial parents is stronger than the love of the two kids who identify more with their aging grandparents.  Chapters are dedicated to different character’s points of views and often features beautiful writing.  “…like paint dissolving in water, its scales turned black… until it was the color of the space between the stars”.  While the story is a sad one, there is much to like here.

7.5/10

Posted in Paper Chase

Q3 Read It 2018

hydenSteven Hyden is the music critic at Uproxx and has appeared on such websites as Pitchfork, A.V. Club, Grantland (RIP), etc. He is also the host of the excellent podcast Celebration Rock. Twilight of the Gods is his second book following 2016’s Your Favorite Band is Killing Me. In this latest book, Hyden focuses on the classic rock he collected as a teenager growing up in Wisconsin. Rock music fans in the 40ish age range, especially those from the Canadian prairies and American Midwest, will find much to love and identify with here as Hyden is often very funny, a bit nerdy yet offers interesting perspectives on a wide range of music including several pages on his love of Phish.

With a civic election currently happening in my hometown of Winnipeg, Hyden’s look back at Chicago’s Disco Demolition night from 1979 proves particularly insightful with one of my favourite quotes of the year:

I live by one rule:  When documentaries are made in forty years about the present day, you don’t ever want to be on side of those pushing against history.  Rather, you want to be aligned with those who are trying to move the world forward a couple of inches.

9/10

 

SteinThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein caught fire with dog lovers around the world upon release in 2008, spending 156 weeks on the New York Times best seller list. The novel tells of a father torn apart from his family through the eyes of his dog, Enzo.  Enzo’s narration can veer from being stiff in places to extremely insightful in others.  One memorable passage appears towards the end when Enzo points out that, “We all play by the same rules; it’s just that some people spend more time reading those rules and figuring out how to make them work in their behalf”.  While the ending is predictable, the darker turns in the middle of the novel are not as expected.  And while you know the plot moments are coming, Stein does a good job at tugging at the heartstrings when you hit them.

7/10

BennettIt was fitting that the first book I’ve taken out from the Winnipeg Library in about 20 years was Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader which tells the story of Queen Elizabeth discovering books at a late age.  The 2007 novella by the English playwright is a quick read at just over 100 pages and acts as a love letter to the written word. The Queen experiences that feeling that many of us do of so many books/albums and so little time.  How do you cover all the important ground?  You can’t really but just be happy with your sliver in the world.  Towards the end, the Queen finds her voice by looking beyond just reading and starts writing.  As she states towards the end, “You don’t put your life into your books. You find it there”

6.5/10