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Books in Review 2012

Credit: penguin.ca

Credit: penguin.ca

Favourite book I read in 2012: No stand out winner, so I’ll list a few. I really enjoyed The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, so much so that I ended up rereading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. I also enjoyed The Birth House by Ami McKay and The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. These all seem quite domestic…

Most challenging (or unrewarding): I eagerly await new work from Ian McEwan, but I was disappointed with his previous Solar in 2010. This year’s Sweet Tooth felt lengthy and slow and painfully detailed and I couldn’t much care for the protagonist. I was also sorely disappointed to find the ending (or trick ending) to be extremely similar to Atonement. I was pleased that I recognized McEwan’s own old erotic short story as that of the writer in the novel!

Most anticipated: Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje and Dear Life by Alice Munro.

Most depressing: Everyone Has Everything by Katrina Onstad. I really enjoyed this, but it was a little too “close to home”.

Most disappointing: 419 by Will Ferguson. The front runner and eventual winner of the Giller Prize. The sections of the book set in Calgary felt amateurish. I didn’t believe the dialogue and I had little sympathy for the protagonist or anyone in her family. Though I can’t speak too much to the suspense/mystery/crime thriller genre, it was enjoyable in the way I might watch Law and Order reruns.

I’ll also add Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis as one of my least favourite books OF ALL TIME. It mostly suffered from high expectations with so much hype and everyone I know loving it. I know I’m the odd one out on this.

Quickest read: Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony. I “read”– or viewed – this young adult picture book very quickly even though there is a lot to consider visually. I haven’t looked at the app for this, but this book perfectly suits interaction.

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Books in Review 2011

Random House

Favourite book I read in 2011: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Amazingly readable science/biography of a little known woman who changed medicine. Inspiring, tragic, human and informative, everyone really needs to read this.

Most challenging: Light in August by William Faulkner. This has been on my list of “to-read” books since I was 17. I wrote a poem called “In August” and someone commented on Faulkner, though there is certainly no connection between the two.

Most anticipated: Habibi by Chris Thompson. I loved, loved, loved Blankets (wish I could have read it when I was 17!) and couldn’t wait to read this huge graphic novel. Not disappointed.

Most depressing: Light Lifting by Alexander Macleod. Beautiful and haunting finalist for the Giller. Stayed with me for weeks. Don’t read this if you’re feeling down already.

Most disappointing: Bossypants by Tina Fey. Though interesting, I really wished she’d gone farther with this.

Quickest read: The Hunger Games

Slooowest read: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. At more than 1000 pages, I’m only about a quarter of the way through at the end of 2011. Strange, strange, dreamy stuff and I have no idea where it’s headed but I’m loving every sentence.

 

Maybe I’ll read an e-book one day…

To follow-up my post on the printed book, I’m still not sold on e-books.

First of all, it’s a confusing mess. Thanks, Meghan!

Second, I don’t like to buy books.

I received an iPad as a gift and the first thing I set to do was get my public library’s e-books on it. Well, eventually this worked, thanks to a post by the Distant Librarian. 1) Sign in to library account, select and download file 2) Sign up for Adobe account 3) Get Bluefire app on the iPad 4) email file as an attachment and open on the iPad 5) Cross your fingers and hope that Bluefire recognizes the file (this took awhile)….

After this much work, I didn’t even read my selected book.

Pros: the iBook ereader and the Bluefire ereader are beautiful. Slick, fast, coloured, touchable. Everything I wish the Kobo had.

Cons: the thing is heavy! I cannot hold the iPad for an extended time with one hand. The glare (and fingerprints) is also noticeable and distracting.

I think I’ll hold out for an improved dedicated ereader and use the iPad exclusively for Scrabble*!

*All of my New Year’s resolutions are in jeopardy!

In praise of the printed book

As a librarian, I spend hardly any time with books. This is something that surprises others, especially would be librarians. I love books and collect them passionately. Finding the time to browse and even read a few good books is a rare occasion for me.

A couple of weeks ago, I attempted to read Johnathan Franzen’s new novel , on one of the Kobo ereaders my library owns. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. The text was clean and easy to read. Plus, the device is easy to hold relative to Franzen 500+ page physical book. However, I only made it a few chapters before reverting to the printed copy. I think I was able to read the paper faster.

There’s something intangibly rewarding about holding a weighty, thick book with crisp pages. Getting to that last page feels like an accomplishment. Another title I’ve been (slowly) making my way through is War and Peace – a long standing goal of mine. It’s physical weightiness combined with the thinnest of paper pages is a challenge I love. Interestingly, a character in Freedom reads War and Peace (quite quickly).

I won’t go into a review, but Freedom is one of those books that amazes the reader into thinking “how does one write something like this?” It is a masterpiece and one of the best things I’ve read in years. Reading a great novel makes me voracious for more and I now have piles of books in my apartment waiting for me to tackle.

On my list: Deafening by Frances Itani, The Corrections by Franzen, Light in August by Faulkner, Come thou, Tortoise by Jessica Grant, oh and War and Peace.

summer reading

I just finished reading Love in the time of cholera.  This is one of those books that, while reading, I had to force myself to put down and get some sleep.  I think I might like it more than One hundred years of solitude, but that might require a re-read. 

I’ve also been losing sleep over course selection for next year.  Okay, not exactly losing sleep, but feeling some sense that I should start thinking about it seriously.  Last year, I had 7 required courses and 1 elective, so course selection was easy.  My work schedule at the time was also a large factor, so I could only have class 2 days a week.  This year, on the other hand, I have a lot of freedom of choice, perhaps too much.

I’m also already starting to feel exhausted just anticipating the coming year.  I will be working two jobs, taking four classes (including a practicum) and hopefully trying to be more involved in both professional associations and student life.  With all this around the corner, I feel my summer quickly dwindling.  That said, I’m trying to fit in as many novels as I can while I can still stretch out on the balcony in the sun.

library anxiety

I always feel rather accomplished upon finishing a book.  Even if its meant reading instead of school work, cleaning the apartment, etc.  I also get to add a new entry to my “books I’ve read” spreadsheet, something I’ve maintained for about 8 years.  Doesn’t everyone do that?

I’m always surprised by the number of people I’ve met who claim to be completely repelled by fiction, saying things such as “I love to read, but I can’t stand fiction…I’d rather read something ‘real’ “.  I think the best part about leisure reading is just that…read whatever the hell you want.  I personally subscribe to a nice mix of fiction, poetry, philosophy, cookbooks, professional development literature and occasionally something about science.

I just finish Kafka’s The Trial, and while reading the introduction, was excited to see a reference to Dickens’ Bleak House.  I thought, I’ve read Bleak House.  It was a horrible February in 2004, and I never thought that I’d make it through, but approximately 1000 pages later, yes, it was finished.  I know that it’s a fact that will never impress anyone, but it’s also nice to feel some sense of justification for spending your time with a certain book.

Most of the time, I feel horribly inadequate thinking that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the literary world.  So then I just start reading again.

Middlesex. By Jeffrey Eugenides

I just finished reading Middlesex, a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Oprah Book Club Listed novel. At 500+ pages, the read was enjoyable, but I found myself feeling disappointed with the ending.

The novel is essentially two stories, one of a Greek immigrant family living in Detroit, and the other of Cal, born Calliope, the intersexed narrator who is raised as a female and then chooses to live as a male.

Some aspects of the plot were far-fetched, but richly imagined, namely the manner in which Cal’s father Milton dies. The section detailing Calliope’s summer love affair with her best fried, “The Obscure Object”, felt authentic for its adolescent melodrama.

As pointed out in the review by Daniel Mendelsohn in New York Review of Books, and I’d have to agree, the disappointment with the novel is its rejection of its own title. Instead of being a novel about the middle ground ambiguity of gender and sexuality, it seems to out rightly reject notions of bisexuality. Callie’s understanding of her feelings of attraction to her female friend, is that she “is a boy”, when she is not yet fully aware of her genetic characteristics.