Posted in Paper Chase

Q2 Read It 2020

A Giller Award winner from 2000, Mercy Among the Children is David Adams Richards’ story of an impoverished family living in small town New Brunswick is very well told but equally as bleak.  The family endures ridicule and abuse from neighbours while they have barely two nickels to rub together.  Sydney, the father, is stoic throughout but frustratingly so.  It feels like if he lashed out a few times at his distractors, the family fortunes would have been a lot different.

7.5/10

In 1998 The Modern Library ranked Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner’s novel, The Sound and the Fury as the sixth best English language novel of all time.  The novel is broken up into different narratives with each relating to the Compson family of Jefferson Mississippi. The book jumps back and forth in time and often in a stream of conciseness that makes it hard to follow. My favourite part of the book was brother Quentin wandering the streets and trying to find the home of a young Italian girl he befriends on his walk.  The reviews on Goodreads vacillate between rating The Sound and the Fury was one of the greatest books of all time to being completely incomprehensible. I fall into the latter, I had no idea what was happening and enjoyed very little this novel.

4/10

By David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas (Movie Tie-in Edition)

David Mitchell’s third novel, 2004’s Cloud Atlas was later adapted into a movie starring Tom Hanks.  Winning the British Book Awards Literary Fiction and nominated for several other awards, the novel is actually six connected stories that are split into halves.  The first story takes place in the mid nineteenth century and each book then takes place at a different point in time including well into the future.  Some readers will like other stories more. Letters from Zedelghem follows the tale of a British musicians working with a Belgian composer who then becomes involved with the composer’s wife. Luisa Rey is a murder mystery while Timothy Cavendish is an entertaining look at a British book publisher.

I wasn’t quite as interested in the more futuristic stories that took up a large portion of the middle of the book and turned into a hard slog of reading. The problem was that by the time I returned to the other stories, I had forgotten parts of what was happening so took several pages to get into it again.  An interesting concept but one that does have its share of flaws.

7/10

Slaughterhouse-Five

Another novel listed on the Modern Library List mentioned above, Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 book Slaughterhouse Five came in at number 18.  The satirical look at war and life, it tells the tale of Billy Pilgrim who fought in WWII then came back to the US to be an optometrist, gets married and is eventually abducted by aliens.  It’s a humourous book that also veers between space and time, which seems to be a theme in recent book choices, but is far easier to follow.  No matter where he is, Pilgrim seems to be one step out of sync with the rest of society as the world twists around him. “So it goes”, a true classic.

10/10

Posted in Paper Chase

Q1 Read It 2020

51BFIwAkPML._AC_UY327_QL65_ML3_A mere six months after David Bowie in January 2016, Paul Morley released his biography of the Starman entitled The Age of Bowie. Expertly written from a fan’s point of view, Morley shows his deep knowledge of Bowie’s work that focuses on the 1970s. The decade is broken down into chapters for each year with major events in the singer’s life with a rundown at the end of each chapter of that year’s great albums and singles. There are no interviews or quotes, all the material seemingly deep well of Morley’s experiences, it is an interesting way to approach the singer’s life. It is a dense book that could have used some pruning as ideas that could be wrapped up in a few paragraphs instead extend over several pages. In all, a good read from an expert music writer.
7/10

 

140871048xThe wonders of the local library was on display when several branches in Winnipeg had a copy of Brett Anderson’s autobiography, Coal Black Mornings. The pages were crisp as surly I was one of the first to have taken this quite good book home for the weekend. The Suede singer focuses on growing up in Sussex England, at the edge of a council estate to a family low on money. It follows Anderson as he moves through grade school, then college in Manchester before settling in London and starting the band that would make him famous. It was a coincidence that I finished this book right after the Bowie one listed above and it’s easy to see the similarities in their lives before becoming pop stars. The book offers a glimpse into English student life in late 80s/early 90s. Anderson has recently followed this up with another book that picks up where Coal Black Mornings left off.
7.5/10

 
51nORMtr7DL._AC_UY327_QL65_ML3_I picked up George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia from Portland’s famous Powell’s Bookstore several years ago where it dutifully sat on my shelf until February of this year. The book tells of Orwell’s time fighting Spanish Fascists in the 1930s. It provides fascinating detail on what life is like on the front lines during a war with several funny moments and Orwell’s excellent writing. I have to admit, beyond fighting fascists, much of the politics was a bit beyond me. What was interesting was the amount of propaganda in the press and how life simply carries on even in the country where the war is taking place. When he finally leaves Spain, Orwell notes that upon returning to England the milk will be dropped off in the morning like any other day. In his forward, Richard Trilling talks about Populism politics. In what seems like our currently chaotic political times, it is true what people say that so much of this has happened in the past and one only needs to look at history. Unfortunately, history keeps repeating itself but while the darkness is here, this also means some light is around the corner.
8/10

 
81F-QEaxkkL._AC_UY327_QL65_ML3_My introduction to Ali Smith was a year and a half ago with Autumn. Late this winter it was time to pick up the next volume in the four book seasonal cycle set – Winter. This was the last book I checked out at the library just before the world went haywire and the libraries shut down. The story follows Art as he travels to visit his Mother over Christmas with his (fake) girlfriend in tow. The book touches on politics, the environment and relationships. Autumn received the acclaim but I think I enjoyed this one even more. Lux, the fake girlfriend, makes an impact on the family and brings them closer together, before she disappears. Sometimes life is like that, meeting people that you will never forget even if they are only around for a few days.
8/10

Posted in Paper Chase

Q4 Read It 2019

I’ve been listening to The Watch podcast since it’s inception way back when on the old Grantland website.  Over the past year co-host Andy Greenwald has taken time away from the pod to be the show runner for his adaptation of Ross Thomas’ 1984 murder mystery, Briarpatch.  Upon hearing of his sister’s murder, Benjamin Dill returns to his small hometown to settle her affairs and look into what happened. Turns out she had a $250K life insurance policy, many questions about a possible double life she was leading and several suspects.

Before his death in 1995, Thomas had published 25 books and won an Edgar award for Briarpatch.  This is not life changing stuff but a solid read with several funny bits, interesting characters, a story that keeps things moving along swiftly.

7.5/10

I’m fairly certain Ryan Holiday came onto my radar through the Tim Ferriss podcast a few years ago and have been subscribing to his newsletter for about as long.  Every month Holiday sends out his reading list with lots of great suggestions.  Like James Clear, since we’ve consumed so much of his content, we wanted to support Holiday with his latest book entitled Stillness Is The Key. 

The book is laid out in three sections on mind, soul, and body with several short chapters devoted to each. Stories through the centuries come from Marcus Aurelius, John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Anne Frank, Tiger Woods, etc.  This book is a great jumping off point to dive further into teachings and philosophies that have been preached throughout the world.  It is a book that I will certainly return to throughout the years.

10/10

George Saunders’ first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, won several awards including the Man Book prize in 2017.  The book tells the story of Abraham Lincoln’s son, William, who passes away and who for a time is caught between heaven and earth.  The writing switches from written historical accounts of the events surrounding his death and fantasy of what happened after he had passed on. Several times when reading I found myself stopping and thinking about what was written. Certainly not an easy read, I’m sure I missed a few things but feel like this is one that I would re-read again someday.

9/10

Tayari Jones’ fourth novel, An American Marriage, was selected as an Opera’s book club and has won a couple of awards including the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019.  The book takes place in Georgia with African American Roy marrying Celestial.  A year into the marriage, Roy is accused of raping a woman in her hotel room and is sent to jail for several years.  Much of the book takes place in letters written between Roy and the outside world.

When picked for my fiancé’s book club, this was not a fan favourite so even though I knew it has been well received, I was not expecting to like it as much as I did. The characters are flawed but likeable in their own ways.  Everyone is just trying to get through life the best they can which added to the realness of the story.  As an added bonus, the southern expressions and teachings were nice additions for this Northern reader.

8.5/10

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