#44 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling

First of all: never you mind, these books are fun. Lighten up. That being said, fun is about all the Potter books are. They aren’t great literature, or moral instruction, or a system around which to build one’s life. For an adult like myself, they are cotton-candy, something to read and enjoy in a day or so (I do have a job), and then to let dissolve into nothingness. A confection. Having said that, this was the most action-packed of the seven books, but also the one least concerned with building the world, which was my favourite part of reading them. Several people died who I was not expecting to die, and several people survived who I was not expecting to survive. The revelations about Dumbledore and his subsequent appearances (yes, he’s dead) were handled quite well, but the whole Jesus Potter thing was not. Beyond that, I have nothing… Continue Reading

#43 – Underworld, by Don DeLillo

Opinions, or so the bookish corner of the web tells me, are divided on whether or not Underworld is DeLillo’s masterpiece, or an appalling waste of time. English critic James Wood seems to be leading the charge against DeLillo. I can’t actually link to (ore even read) his article in The New Republic because it doesn’t seem to be online, but I can link to this article from The Boston Globe by Christopher Shea, about Wood and his current role in American letters, and I can certainly link to Garth Risk Hallberg’s rebuttal. From what I can gather, the gist of Wood’s argument against DeLillo, and Underworld specifically, is an excessive concern with paranoia, which Wood sees as incompatible with great literature. Wood also (apparently; I’m working with second-hand interpretive readings here) doesn’t believe there to be any real human beings in the novel, only… well, I don’t know what.… Continue Reading

#42 – Childhood, by André Alexis

In point of fact, I finished reading Childhood (or Childhood, according to the typography on the cover) on Saturday evening, but I was out of town, and I haven’t had the time to sit down at a computer properly since returning home. Some of you may recall my enthusiastic comments about Despair. It was hard to imagine, after reading such a collection of stories, where Alexis would go with a novel. He went with the fairly typical first-novel bildungsroman, but his execution was far from typical. The book, as the clever typographer noted, deals almost exclusively with the pre-teen years of one Thomas MacMillan (that’s two Thomases in a row), a young man raised in unique circumstances and raised by a succession of people who are, every one of them, both ordinary folks and raving loons. Thomas tells the story not only in plain, straightforward prose, but also through lists… Continue Reading

#41 – Shelf Monkey, by Cory Redekop

I bought this book for two reason. First, there is the cover. It’s gorgeous! The cover is simple, clean, very dynamic, and in person extremely attractive. Unusually attractive, in fact (it turns out that the cover flaps are too large to be practical, though, and they make the book unwieldy to hold at times; the extra-tight binding and narrow gutter don’t help either, but it still looks pretty). Second, there is a blurb on the back of the book from Canadian author Eric McCormack (no, not the actor) in which he indicates that he appears as a character in the novel. Eric was a professor of mine during my undergraduate years, and though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we are friends, we do know each other more than just to say hello in the hallway. And it’s always cool to see people you know showing up… Continue Reading

#40 – The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

I think this might be my first ever crime/mystery book. Ever. I’ve wanted to read Raymond Chandler’s books for many years now, since I first read an interview with another author (sadly, I can’t remember who, or in what publication) describing Chandler’s skill at describing, of all things, furniture. Later, I saw the excellent series of books put out by Vintage (my cover is not the same as the one shown, which I like better) and wanted to own them for their beauty as objects, as well as for the stories themselves. Finally, a few weeks ago, I managed to find a copy of The Big Sleep that I could afford (it wouldn’t do to read them out of order, after all). It was great fun to read. Chandler’s prose is energetic, casual, and surprisingly fun. I was worried that I would have to remind myself at times that Philip… Continue Reading

#39 – Who Do You Think You Are?, by Alice Munro

I’m almost embarrassed to say that this is my first Munro book. I had assumed, as perhaps many Canadian literary students would have, that I had encountered her work in high school, or in a compilation in an early survey course at university. I now find it unlikely. I can’t imagine any circumstances that might lead to forgetting that I had encountered such a strong voice. I’ve encountered stories of this kind before, of course. You can’t throw a rock in the Canadian literary world without striking a dozen authors who write stories in this vein. I have actually said on more than one occasion, and even in public forums, that such stories are exactly what it wrong with contemporary Canadian writing. Alice Munro is certainly not what is wrong with contemporary Canadian writing. She is very much what is right. Reading Who Do You Think You Are? (and I… Continue Reading

The Story So Far…

It’s eight and a half months into my Reading 2007 project, so I think that a status report is long overdue. The idea, for those of you who haven’t been following the blog over the last year, is that I write a mini-review of every book I read this year. I’ve managed to keep that up for all thirty-eight books that I’ve read so far, sort of. Most of the “mini-reviews” have wound up being rather disorganized and somewhat disconnected from any particular critical stance. And they also tend to be written within a half hour of my having finished reading the book, and rarely do they take more than a half hour to write. It was never my intention to be so slapdash (I swear I’m capable of more considered judgements), but I think I actually prefer it this way. I never intended this site to be a place… Continue Reading

#38 – The Bell, by Iris Murdoch

A professor of mine once told me that I should read Iris Murdoch, because she “basically invented A.S. Byatt” (it may be difficult to tell from reading this blog, but Byatt is one of my favourite authors). And having now read The Bell, I can see the truth in this statement. Murdoch’s style has a lot in common with Byatt’s, although it’s difficult to pinpoint specific examples. One gets the same sense of a complex intellectual involvement with the inner lives of a number of characters, expressed through simple and thoroughly proper English prose. The Plain Style, I guess. Robertson Davies with a better ear. It’s lovely and hypnotic to read, even when nothing in particular is happening, although unlike Byatt, it’s very rare for more than a page or two to go by without something of significance happening to someone. Events in this novel are like stones thrown in… Continue Reading

#37 – Iron Council, by China Miéville

The greatest strength of China Miéville’s New Crobuzon novels is the freshness, the outright alien-ness of the world and the peoples that populate it, and that continues to shine through in Iron Council. The problem with the book seems to be a lack of control. The idea of much-abused railway workers taking over a job site and stealing the train to form a kind of socialist utopia is a little far-fetched, but in a world where people have beetles instead of heads, it’s certainly workable. The problem is the execution. The idea that an awkward collection of working class folk, criminals, and prostitutes would be able to organize themselves, successfully fight a well-trained military, and then escape, all while having to continually tear up the track behind them and lay it anew ahead of them is preposterous, even in Bas-Lag. I understand that Miéville has socialist leanings (so do I,… Continue Reading

#36 – The Scar, by China Miéville

In The Scar, Miéville returns for a second time to New Crobuzon (or more accurately, Bas-Lag and the floating pirate city called Armada) in a novel that is far more refined and entertaining than Perdido Street Station, although I enjoyed that novel very much. The narrative spends most of its time with Bellis Coldwine, a peripheral character from the first book (I don’t recall if she actually appears, although her name is familiar, so I presume she was at least mentioned) and Tanner Sack, a Remade criminal (although he is possibly the most honest character in the book, and his crime is never once mentioned). I think it’s fair to say that these two characters are high among the reasons that I enjoyed The Scar more than Perdido Street Station. They are both flawed, with complex inner lives that can shift from cold selfishness and blind wrath to pity to… Continue Reading